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Stunned and Stalled December 18, 2016

Filed under: ballet — theworstat @ 11:29 pm
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I haven’t posted in a long time after reading that WordPress is incredibly vulnerable to hacking.  It’s not a huge concern with this blog, but it is with another that I contribute to.

I’m also stunned by some world events, but again, that does not really apply to this blog.  Or maybe it does.  It may apply to all those American kids who are living and attempting to build careers as ballet dancers in Russia.

Of course the most famous of these is Joy Womack, who apparently had an appointment last week to get a green card to work in Russia.  She has, as of this writing, said nothing about how that went.  In fact, she hasn’t posted to YouTube at all in spite of having been in the U.S. for a week, last week (she’s now performing Odette/Odile at a ballet school performance in Belgium, I believe).

Why the silence? It could be that she found out that ballet is not its own little island.  It is hugely affected by outside forces.  This is always a shock to a sheltered youngster  I am not going to point fingers at millennials as so many others are determined to do.  Kids my age — which was long ago — were similarly naive, as were “generation X” and all the other cutsey-fakey “generational divides” that have come along since.  (I generally think all this “generation gap” bullcrap is just that – bullcrap; a hangover from the 1960’s that wasn’t particularly true then and really isn’t now.  Every generation is the same.  They just try to divide us up so they can sell us crap.)

I saw in the comments on one of Womack’s videos that an Israeli woman was trying to warn Joy to go home to the States.  This was a few months ago.  One has to wonder what she knew that we didn’t, since our media were so tied up in covering fluff ad nauseum.  I’m in no position to say that the U.S. dancers working in Russia are in danger, but it is a worry.  Then again, everything is a worry these days.

To change the subject completely, everything is also very, very strange.  Yes, I just said ballet is not an island…but this does not include ballet librettos.  There are lots of islands in that world: the “Indian” ballet La Bayadere contains nothing particularly Indian, for instance. I remember a story that the ambassador from India was invited to the opening night of Makarova’s ABT production of La Bayadere and was puzzled by the ballet. That’s because the great stories of ballet don’t occur in one particular place.  They create their own world and live in it.

Of course, companies in southeast Asia have ballets based on local folklore (so does Russia).  Librettos can arise and exist only in local conditions.  However this does not apply particularly well to time-honored ballet stories that are known throughout the world.

Yes the stories of La Bayadere, Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, and even Giselle have been toyed with and adapted.  But the standards remain the standards, and the “local adaptations” never seem to last long.

This includes the libretto for the Joffrey’s new production of The Nutcracker.  There’s the old saw that says, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  But the Joffrey fixed it.  And I can’t explain just what it was that they fixed.  The director said that the new libretto ties the ballet more directly to Chicago, but was that necessary?

So what’s the new libretto?  Damned if I can explain it, but it seems to be a single-parent Polish immigrant family with a daughter named Marie.  Some millionaire industrialist from the World’s Fair comes to thank Marie’s mother for her hard work on the Fair.

Excuse me while I go ask, “what the F.”

Chicago was hardly an outpost in the Victorian era.  It had its share of wealthy people living in mansions on the lake shore.  There was no reason to stretch a time-honored story such as The Nutcracker to the breaking point.  In many productions I’ve seen, Marie/Clara is the daughter of an upper-middle-class family.  What’s the big fat hairy deal with that, that it needed to be changed, and with a weird plot twist thrown in for…who knows why.

The thing is this libretto sucks.  It does not make sense.  Yes, you can have a single-parent family…but the rest of it?  Weird.

I haven’t seen or heard too many reviews of the new production, but the few I did come across seemed lukewarm.

I guess the lesson is that same old saw: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  And The Nutcracker ain’t broke.  Never was.  People don’t go to see it to get a new twist on it.  They go because Christmas is coming and they want to see the Nutcracker, not some artsy social commentary that’s weird at best and dimwitted at worst.

No matter.  I’m sure the new production is sold out, because one thing is always the same in this upside down world: you can screw up The Nutcracker and still sell tickets.

Nothing else in this world seems to be as reliable as that.

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3 Responses to “Stunned and Stalled”

  1. Sometimes, the comments on those vlogs are more cringe inducing than the vlogs themselves. Talk about bubble! Most of these people get their vision of Russian life and ballet life filtered through the lense of Joy Womack. In truth, Joy as a young, white woman living a privileged lifestyle in the center is probably no more in danger in Moscow than a young woman in the US living in a “transitional” neighborhood in a big city in the US. Is Russia anti foreign and anti gay. On the whole yes, but Moscow is a bubble compared to the rest of Russia and people are too busy with their own problems to be joining posses to hunt down foreigners. And the artistic community is its own bubble. Brooklyn Mack just did a gala at the Kremlin and I saw one review where the woman was in raptures. Most fans have been very positive about the olive skinned Brazilian David Mota Soares. And heck, Tsiskaridze is still popular yet I don’t know anyone who thinks he’s straight.

    On to the election. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Joy’s own politics lean right. I’m not saying she actually is a Trump supporter because she never talks about US politics. Just that if you told me a conservative Christian who has family members working in the oil industry voted for Trump, I wouldn’t be shocked.

  2. KatiSzed Says:

    Completely agree re: Joy. Sometimes one has to wake up and smell the paint thinner. I’ve been a bit surprised that after her promises to make ‘season two’ more regular, so far she only posted a few snippets on her Facebook. Maybe dancing principal roles with a ballet school isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? With the amount of time she’s been spending abroad and trying to plant roots elsewhere (aside from her moaning about some colleagues at the Kremlin) I wonder if she’s trying to re-locate. On the upside she stopped filming her fellow dancers without their consent. As for some posters saying she should go back to the states – I don’t think that’s in anywhere ‘unsafe’ in Moscow. Unfortunately these days the political situation is difficult now matter where. Just as I was typing this I heard of the attack in Berlin, Germany. I have close friends in Russia and the things that reach the news here is very different from the actual facts. Some Russians might be anti-gay, but what was actually making headlines in Russia was that the politicians didn’t want it advertised (i.e. on billboards etc) BUT they were also against lingerie ads/anything overly sexual in advertising. But of course the propaganda that made it past the border was that Russia is crassly anti-gay. (surely some people are, but that’s in most places)
    Re: new stagings: I totally agree. If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. I work in a theater and I’ve seen so many operas being pulled through a mill and ‘re-staged’ with some revolutionary new idea, and even though a lot of it is excellent and really works, there have been too many to count that were otherwise. I played a performance of Nutcracker in Dortmund and I was so disappointed – there were snippets (of the music) from Sleeping Beauty chopped in, and the staging/costumes etc made no sense. (Benjamin Millepied was the choreographer) but with all due respect I felt like it was more of an ego-gratifying trip than being respectful to the original choreography and music. Berlin did not get any favors by having Nacho Duato as artistic director, either. I’m all for contemporary and possibly ‘re-creating’ some pieces, but if you’re a choreographer, isn’t it so much more interesting to write your own history? I love the works the Chris Wheeldon has done in London, Martin Schläpfer regularly creates new pieces on his company in Düsseldorf/Duisburg, and one of my all-time favorite ballets was ‘Chaplin’ in Leipzig by Mario Schröder. (Absolutely genius – I played a number of performances and couldn’t see what was happening on stage but I saw the audience reaction, and finally I saw it myself and I have rarely been so moved to tears as I was then)

  3. theworstat Says:

    Thank both of you for your comments. I have to make a clarification, however.

    A bit of background on me: I’m half Russian. My Russian grandparents came here circa 1910 to visit, get an education and make some money. They had no intention of staying.

    Then came the Russian revolution. My grandparents became exiles. Mind you they didn’t do anything; they just got stuck. Both died in the U.S. Midwest 60 years later, having never seen their families nor their homeland again.

    My concern for the American kids in Russia does not stem from what the locals may do, but what governments may do. More and more, across the world, the two (the people and the various governments) seem to have nothing to do with one another, no matter where you go…except that governments can suddenly and permanently alter people’s lives on a whim.

    Right now the Russian government is very happy with the situation in the U.S. government, which is good for our expats there. But that may not last…particularly when they find out that people living in the U.S. tend to be very challenging to subdue. (Welcome to herding cats!)

    I don’t honestly care; they’re going to do what they’re going to do. Our government in the U.S. is thoroughly and deeply corrupt, and at least a third of the population is deeply brainwashed. There is nothing the rest of us can do about it. We will keep on living.

    It’s when they start tinkering with us as individuals (and this applies to ANY government), that I start having problems. And my attitude on this goes back to what happened to my grandparents.

    Political rant over. Let’s get back to ballet.


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