The Born-Again Balletomane's Blog

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Of choreographers and choreography December 8, 2012

Filed under: ballet — theworstat @ 10:10 pm
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Saw this interesting article in Pointe magazine: Seen, Not Heard

The article is mainly about the dearth of women choreographers in classical ballet (not modern dance, where there is no such shortage), and offers interesting insight as to why this may be occurring.  All I know is, it’s been an issue as long as I’ve been watching ballet.

The last time I watched any serious “modern” ballet choreography, it brought to mind a quote from a contemporary ballerina…something about being reduced to little more than a conveniently light body to be hauled around the stage.  I do remember seeing one ballet where the lone woman’s feet never touched the floor; she was handed from one male dancer to another.  I remember thinking that she must have been getting incredible mileage out of her pointe shoes.

More recently, I watched a video of a rehearsal of a modern ballet by the Paris Opera Ballet.  It seemed to be nothing more than a tangle of bodies interrupted by an occasional glare. Difficult to execute, yes…but worthwhile?  Not for me.

In fact, the thought has occurred that nearly all of the POB’s (and other companies’) modern works look one of three ways: (1) everyone is tangled up in a ball; then they untangle and then they tangle up again; (2)  the dancers are rolling around on the floor, or (3) they’re standing in a circle waving their arms over their heads.

In these ballets, the point of pointe is lost.  Women just wear pointe shoes and walk around on their toes.  There is no reason for it.  In fact, to me, there seems to be no reason for anything in these ballets.

Balanchine was different.  I admit I am not his biggest fan, but still, watching his creations as danced by the NYCB, they seem as fresh as if they were recently choreographed.  Mr. B. may have played with the classical medium almost to the breaking point,but he never went beyond that. And he never forgot that there were human beings on stage with a story to tell — whether or not there was actually any story to the given ballet.  He could convey heart and soul without splatting the dancers in fake blood.

And he allowed the women to move without being carried absolutely everywhere.  Also, I daresay that in Balanchine’s choreography, there is minimal rolling around on the floor and/or arm waving.  And I cannot remember seeing a Balanchine creation where there was a ball of dancers fraying and re-weaving and doing little else.

The basic rule that seems to get forgotten by most choreographers is that ballet is human.  Too much pure abstraction is boring; there has to be a beating heart somewhere.  The other rule — one mentioned by ballerina Natalia Makarova — is that ballet does not address heavy subjects (or current events) very easily or very well.   Occasionally it works, but the vast majority of “heavy” ballets I’ve seen have looked sophomoric.

Yes, love, betrayal and death are present in the old story ballets, but there is always some spiritual or mythological aspect.  Oddly enough, the strictly codified movements of classical ballet lend themselves well to the beating heart.  It’s as if they are a box that the human dancer can mold a bit with her (or his) own hands, heart, and mind.  The same movements do not lend themselves well to empty purity (rarely seen anyway), adolescent angst, or just dumb nothingness.  Any attempt in those directions is almost certainly doomed to failure.

Too often, it seems, modern choreographers forget these rules.  It leads to a lot of forgettable work.

That’s not to say that having women choreographers would change anything.  Still, it would be interesting to see if any actual wit or even just basic understanding crept into the proceedings were a woman to take the helm.

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