the danceview times
Volume 2, Number 2 January 12, 2004 An online supplement to DanceView magazine
Letter from New York
Looking forward to the 100th anniversary of George Balanchine’s birth, on January 22nd, the Public Broadcasting System will air the 120-minute documentary from 1984, Balanchine (in two parts, each an hour long), on Channel 13 in New York on Wednesday, 14 January, at 9:30 p.m. If you see nothing else concerning Balanchine this year, try to watch this program. Written by Holly Brubach and researched by Nancy Reynolds, it tells the vast, ranging story of Balanchine’s life as an artist with concision, liveliness, high taste, and a remarkable understanding of how narratives are absorbed through television. It also includes film excerpts of some of the greatest performances of Balanchine’s choreography ever to go before the camera. (Among those clips, incidentally, is Balanchine’s own performance in the ballet from the 1929 movie Dark Red Roses, the only film record known to exist of the choreographer as a dancer in performance. Dark Red Roses, the first talking film in England, was thought to be lost—indeed, Robert Hofler’s article in the current NYCB program declares it lost—however, just before the Balanchine documentary was put into final form, a copy of the film was discovered in an English barn, and the producers were able to pop it in.) [Ed note: for more information about this program, see Dale Brauner's preview below]
One of the
most illuminating passages of Girish Bhargava's bravura editing of Balanchine
is a series of clips that show a line of great Apollos, beginning
with a handsome 1969 performance by Peter Martins and working backward
through a joyous and musical excerpt from 1960 with Jacques d’Amboise
to the astonishingly physical and godlike Lew Christensen, shown on stage
in 1937. When one is able to compare performances this way, instantaneously,
one can recognize the qualities that make individual dancers great and
set them apart from anyone else. With the image in mind of Christensen’s
blazing approach to role of the young god, it is deeply saddening to contemplate
a story about the dancer that d’Amboise recounted this past Saturday,
in a “Times Talk” (Balanchine @ 100), moderated by Anna Kisselgoff,
chief Dance Critic of The New York Times, and featuring dancers
from several eras. D’Amboise’s anecdote concerned Christensen’s
breakdown on a battlefield, when he served as a soldier in World War II,
and the discovery of him in a field by Lincoln Kirstein, then serving
as a driver for an officer in Patton’s army.
Parts I and II
It seems nowadays, practically anybody of note—good, bad or boring—has a biography on television these days. With the creation of biography programs on A&E, E! and VH1, there are too many hours to fill and not enough famous people with lives truly worth reflecting upon. These biographies seem to be all cut from the same cloth as they follow the same plot—rise out of poverty, the highs, the fall from grace and the return to star in their own reality series.
Twenty years ago, PBS paid tribute to a true master of his field, choreographer George Balanchine, with a biography on its Great Performances series. With great research and thought, the makers of the program created a survey of interest and importance. It was called, Balanchine, Parts I & II, which was shown in two separate nights on May 28 and June 4, 1984. On January 14, to commemorate the centennial of Balanchine’s birth, PBS will for the first time rebroadcast the two-hour show on the American Masters series (fitting since Balanchine was proud of his adopted nationality and preferred being called ballet master). A DVD will be released in February.
by Judy Kinberg, written by Holly Brubach, directed by Merrill Brockway,
edited by Girish Bhargava, with Nancy Reynolds as research director—was
conceived to follow the example set by Balanchine’s Midsummer
Night’s Dream or Harlequinade—the first part
would follow the story line, the second would explore the themes of his
Some thoughts on Balanchine, with references to Arlene Croce
Scotch Symphony Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto #2; and
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
has been so deified since his death twenty years ago that it is difficult
to imagine a time when he wasn’t treated as a god. Writers, led
by the New York Times, now seem more intent on perpetuating the
myth than actively engaging with the work they are seeing. It is instructive,
then, to look back at reviews during Balanchine’s lifetime by Arlene
Croce, one of those critics most likely to be cited in praise of him.
As much as Croce supported Balanchine, she was no pushover for every ballet
that emerged from his ever prolific mind. She argued at length for what
she thought succeeded and what she thought did not. The ballets offered
in two performances this past week as part of the Balanchine centennial
celebration might serve as case studies: Apollo (1928), Scotch
Symphony (1952) and Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto #2 (1941,
1973) on Wednesday and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1962)
on Saturday evening.
Prodigals, Gods, and Music: "Heritage" Week 1 at New York City Ballet
Symphony/Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2
By Susan Reiter
It is certainly not a chronological survey of George Balanchine's repertory that is being presented under the rubric "Heritage" during NYCB's winter season. After all, the first post-Nutcracker performance was of a ballet from 1962. But these two programs during that first repertory week did focus on some of the earliest extant Balanchine works and provide an opportunity for focusing on what he was doing just prior to, and soon after, he came to the United States in 1933.
(1928) and Prodigal Son (1929), the two enduring masterworks
that survive (having never long been out of the repertory) from Balanchine's
five-year tenure with Diaghilev, he created two landmark male roles that
have challenged stellar danseurs through the decades. Seeing them both
this week reinforced how brazenly original the choreography is; even today
these ballets have a contemporary feel, thanks to the way Balanchine incorporated
off-center, edgy, sensual and jazzy movements into the ballet vocabulary.
The Art of Transformation
Skin I'm In
"If I love something enough, I feel compelled to inhabit it completely," John Kelly stated in a voice-over at the start of his recent program that opened the Joyce's annual Altogether Different series. Physically and vocally, Kelly has inhabited a fascinating array off delicate, beguilingly strange beings over the years. His transformations are carefully wrought and suggest he is not just borrowing the look or mannerisms of these people, but inhabiting their souls.
Skin I'm In (choreographed, directed and designed
by Kelly) revisited several of his creations from the past twenty years,
allowing viewers to renew (or make) a brief acquaintance with the opera
diva Dagmar Onassis, the eccentric, tormented artist Egon Schiele, the
cross-dressing aerialist Barbette, and others. Interspersed with these
selections were three vignettes created for this program.
© 2004 by DanceView