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School of the North Carolina Dance Theatre’s Conservatory Program
It is a crisp fall morning in Charlotte, North Carolina, and fourteen year old roommates, Lindsay Woodall and Jane Yoon, are getting dressed – not for a day at school, but for ballet class. Charlotte, once a sleepy southern town, is fast becoming an arts mecca and mini metropolis, with the Balanchine-inspired dance company, the North Carolina Dance Theatre, co-directed by retired New York City Ballet dancers Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux and Patricia McBride at its center. It is here the two girls, among the youngest ever admitted to NCDT’s Conservatory Program, are headed for a day of big sweat and small glory, as they work their bodies and brains to the limit to achieve their mutual dream of a professional dance career.
“Only three months ago,” says Yoon, “my future seemed to be up in the air.” She was a student at North Atlanta Dance Academy, in Georgia, attending three different summer programs in widely dispersed areas of the country. She was a favorite with her teachers, dancing the only solo in her class at the Universal Ballet Academy Summer Session II demonstration. But she was becoming more and more dissatisfied with her work at NADA. “My teachers in Georgia were awesome, but I was too comfortable there. No matter how hard I tried, I always felt like I was slacking.” It was time for a change. But Yoon was also plagued by a worry that at just under 5’ 10”she was too tall to dance ballet. She would tower over her partners, she feared, and would end up scrunching down in the back row of any professional company that accepted her. So NCDT’s standard that welcomed tall dancers was the opposite of what she expected.
“Have you seen our company?” Darleen Callaghan, retired company principal and director of the school, asks. “More than half the women are in the 5’7” to 5’9” height range. Jane and Lindsay (Woodall is 5”7”) fit right in.” And NCDT is not the only prominent American dance company that looks for taller female artists. “San Francisco, New York City Ballet, Houston, Seattle, Canada’s National Ballet, all have lots of tall girls on their company rosters.”
Woodall, too, who started dancing at age nine and has been en pointe for only a year, was surprised by the sudden change in her life. “I danced at a tiny school in Arizona,” she says. “It was just for fun. Then we moved here, and I started taking classes at NCDT, and all of a sudden I had a big problem: homework.”
Any serious dancer who attends a public school knows what she means. “You come home from school and you have to rush to make the carpool on time. Then you take three hours of dance class. By the time you get back it’s nine or ten o’clock, and you still haven’t started your homework. Some nights you’re up till midnight or later.”
“I never seemed to get enough sleep,” Yoon agrees, remembering the juggling of her schedule that was so much a part of her life only a short time ago. “On Sundays, I’d stay in bed till 2 or 3 in the afternoon, I was so tired. That is, if I didn’t have rehearsal.”
Acceptance with NCDT’s Conservatory has put an end to this dilemma, for both girls. Now, instead of waking up at 6:30AM to get ready to catch a school bus, they can sleep until 7:30 or 8:00. Technique class begins at 9:30, followed by courses in pedagogy, Pilates, floor barre, composition, or dance history. Frequently they are joined in these classes with company trainees, apprentices, and, occasionally, full-fledged company members. Afterwards, they shower, eat lunch, and spend the afternoon completing their high school credits through Indiana University High School’s Independent Study Program.
“It’s an excellent choice for any serious dancer,” says Callaghan, who helped in getting the two programs – the NCDT Conservatory and Indiana University – together. Students work at their own pace, completing assignments, essays and tests either through the web-based option, where students to work on line and submit assignments via the internet, or the more traditional, paper-based option, where they send finished work to their instructors by mail. If they have to stop working on assignments to get ready for a performance, there is no penalty and no catch up.
“You just pick up where you left off,” says Yoon.
A further benefit of completing a high school diploma through Indiana University is that for many courses students can take advantage of dual enrollment. This means the credits they earn count for both high school and college. It is possible, therefore, for IU students to finish a diploma with a year of college under their belts – a great leg-up whatever future they opt for.
In the evenings, Woodall and Yoon return to the NCDT studios for their classes in ballet, pointe, modern, partnering, variations and jazz. It’s a full day of dancing, and that’s not including rehearsals. Casting assignments and performance practices are posted on the bulletin board, usually with only a few days’ advance notice before rehearsals begin.
Being able to work with choreographers like Dwight Rhodens, Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, Michael Pink, Mark Diamond, Jeanene Russell and Heather Ferranti-Ferguson is a second important benefit of the program. “When I began studying at the School of American Ballet,” Associate Artistic Director Patricia McBride explains, “I was fourteen years old, the same age Jane and Lindsay are now, but I didn’t have the advantage of working with a company. All we had was class – which is great for developing technique – but for discovering yourself as an artist, developing artistry, working with choreographers on new pieces can’t be compared with any other way of studying dance. It’s simply the best.”
It’s also a good way to find out if a career in dance is what you really want. “Our students live and breathe dance all day long,” Darleen Callaghan says, “and are fully prepared for employment in this profession – as performers and teachers, choreographers, program directors – they’ve even been exposed to the advertising and marketing and fund-raising aspects of a dance organization. They understand what’s involved. Of course there are no guarantees. But there is a significant value in training at a school that is affiliated with a company, and an advantage in seeing dancers every day in rehearsal and performance. It’s a whole different exposure.”
Woodall and Yoon are discovering exactly what it’s like to work with a professional choreographer. “I love being with the professionals, having them as fellow students in my classes, and being able to learn from them, as my teachers,” says Woodall. Currently Mark Diamond is rehearsing the girls for a revival of his dynamic and trend-setting Allegro con molto, Yoon as an understudy and Woodall in the cast. Both young women are also performing in Ferranti-Ferguson’s and Russell’s new pieces, which will premiere at one of several dance events in the upcoming year: the Winter Festival of Dance, in Gastonia, North Carolina, The North Carolina Dance Festival in Winston-Salem, The North Carolina Choreography Showcase, and SERBA (the South Eastern Regional Ballet Association) in Raleigh. “It’s exciting to be chosen,” says Woodall, and the work is so interesting you forget how hard it is.”
Yoon shares a page of her diary, written on the day she found out she had gotten the part:
Mr. Diamond’s class went well this morning, apart from my knee pain. He has decided that he would like Pauline [Huron], Alyssa [Botelho], and me to understudy his piece, Allegro, and Lindsay has the opportunity to perform it. I feel incredibly privileged, and see it as a sign of his interest in us.
Diamond’s choice reveals NCDT’s confidence in the commitment these young people demonstrate. “Our mission is to offer serious dance students the opportunity to incorporate college-preparatory academics with excellent dance training,” Callaghan maintains. “So we look for kids who are not only motivated to pursue a career in dance, but who have the focus and the discipline to do the work.”
Right now, there are eleven students in the Conservatory, and another six in the University of North Carolina Charlotte Dance Certificate Program, a course of study that allows them to obtain a certificate in dance while earning a college degree. “There’s a historical advantage in training in North Carolina,” says Callaghan. “It’s been just great for dancers. We perform Balanchine repertory, and we’ve also worked with a large number of upcoming and established of choreographers. With generous state funding and all the NEA touring grants – in the eighties NCDT was the number one touring company in the U.S. – we’ve always been financially secure, and consequently the company is very stable. We don’t see a lot of turnover among the professionals.”
What does this stability mean for trainees who dream of a dance future with NCDT? “We encourage the Conservatory students to take advantage of opportunities to prepare for employment with a dance company,” Callaghan affirms. “Maybe it will be North Carolina, but often not. Conservatory students attend every summer program audition that’s held in our studios. We believe that such exposure can only benefit the dancer.
“When you work with a variety of teachers and directors, you broaden your horizons, and the more you’re seen, the more opportunities you’ll have to do just that. We never hold students back. What would be the point of that? When a school or company shows interest in one of our students, it’s an affirmation for us. We know we’re doing good work. And we take part in the student’s decision to move on. Are this student and this company a good match? We counsel, we recommend, and we work with the dancer’s family. People want to know how to get into big companies. This is the way it’s done.”
This past year, several NCDT students distinguished themselves with substantial moves. One accepted a contract with Houston Ballet’s second company. Another was offered a full scholarship to Miami City Ballet School. A third, only twelve years old, has moved to the year-round program at Canada’s National Ballet School. “These are the success stories that tell us how well we’re doing,” says Callaghan.
As for the immediate future, NCDT is looking to start construction of a new building with state-of-the-art studios, classrooms, a student center, comfortable dressing rooms, and possibly, dormitories. Currently, there is another plan afoot to establish dorm arrangements with a nearby community college. Yoon, an out-of-stater, lives with a host family, the Woodalls, which is a clear advantage for her and Lindsay, since they attend the same classes, and even study the same courses together through IU. But many people prefer the convenience of living in a dorm, an alternative that will soon become a viable choice for students at NCDT.
For more information about NCDT’s Conservatory Program and Indiana University High School’s Independent study Program, please contact Darleen Callaghan at (704) 372-0101.
A beacon summons lesser lights to itself.
The universe abounds with examples.
The moon invites lovers:
A windy night, their raven hair;
Sirens collect sailors, their chaos
Alarming the dark.
A dying star calls in her planets.
In the blink of ten billion years she collapses upon her core.
So your dazzling amour propre,
Its maw stuffed with children,
Swallows up the lights of my thought,
Then tugs at their darkness,
And gorges upon dawn’s conceit
Of sham sentiment:
I love you,
On a sightseeing trip through my father’s childhood,
we pass a large rattlesnake, about four feet long, a picture-book rattler
with a beautiful diamond pattern on its back, and fat, venomous jowls, dead in the road.
I ask my father to slow down for a look, but he says he’s seen enough
of dead snakes in his time to keep him, no need for another.
We are driving south, toward Ninnekah, to visit the houses, once twin,
but grown apart in age, just like people, where his aunties, Ida and Ella, once lived.
I am not sure why these houses are important. They are old, like the aunties
in the photograph my father shows me, already ancient when he was a boy.
They stand close to the road, one shut tight and partly covered with brambles,
the other naked, paint peeling, with a young girl and three babies
playing together on its sagging porch. The girl invites us in, of course:
Oklahoma hospitality. But my father would rather remember the house the way it was,
and I don’t ask about the past, its dead interior life.
Still, she obligingly takes our photographs with the Polaroid camera I have brought.
On the way back, past Ninnekah, I look for the dead rattlesnake,
but find only an empty place on the road where it lay. The photo I hold in my hand
shows my father and me standing side by side before towering honeysuckle,
the two houses and their shut up memories behind us.
My father’s arm is around me.
“How John Updike was so Totally Clueless about Stupid Ernest Hemingway,” THE KING’S ENGLISH, Winter 2005
| How John Updike was so Totally Clueless about Stupid Ernest Hemingway ▪► Colleen M. Payton [Acrobat PDF] ▪ [Table of Contents]I think far too much about Ernest Hemingway, and not enough about John Updike. I am too young for Hemingway to have scrambled my brains very much, and too old to have successfully avoided Updike for such an unreasonable length of time. I have some good excuses. I was educated in grammar and mechanics in the sixties, so that by the time I fell into the hands of the public schools, the long arm of Hemingway’s influence on literary style was pared down to an exclusive attitude toward commas: to eliminate them by every means. By the seventies, even the reading of his novels had fallen out of favor in high school English classes; so I waited to read him in college, with the same bored inattention, I might add, as I read The Rime of the Ancient Mariner or “The Emperor of Ice Cream“, or Dos Passos’ Three Soldiers. What had any of it to do with me? The answer, of course, was: nothing.
Updike, on the other hand, was new in those days, too new to make it on many college reading lists, but not so new that we hadn’t a scornful name for him. Updike was, along with his contemporaries Phillip Roth and Saul Bellow, a dick novelist, by which we meant his characters’ anxiety about their penises was the sole subject of his fiction, and his plots, settings, characters and symbols, even his breath-taking scholarship, were but gilding on the lilies of this laughable theme.
My attitude helped me avoid for years both the pleasure and the work of reading Updike except in the most factitious way, as a species of party game. I played “find the dick in Updick” in somewhat the same way Father Guido Sarducci used to “finda the Pope inna the pizza” on Saturday Night Live. But Hemingway, the dick novelist par excellence (but perhaps not the original dick novelist; there’s Moby Dick, for example), bothered me in the years between the completion of my thesis and the publication, in 1986, of The Garden of Eden. The truth is, I was reading him. He had insinuated himself into my consciousness; he was my hip flask at the church picnic, my secret vice. And what I fretted over most, what I found to be Hemingway’s most crazy-making and wonderful quality was his mastery of conversation, not of what’s said, but of what’s never said. What was he really talking about?
He had me.
Naturally, when Charles Scribner’s Sons published The Garden of Eden, I rushed headlong to buy it. I would like to say I slept on the pavement in front of Barnes & Noble the night before it hit the shelves, though of course I did nothing of the kind – the word headlong is a metaphor for the way I read the book the first time; I actually don’t remember how I bought it. I do remember entertaining normal trepidation about what posthumous and unfinished might mean for the text. But as it turned out, this was no Islands in the Stream, with its infuriating beating about the bush (Speak up, damn it! Shit or get off the pot!) — I threw that 3-volume waste of wood pulp against the wall. No, Eden was Hemingway grown young again, his character, David Bourne, innocent, raw, and conflicted, and the writer himself ready at last to have it out, wise in his acceptance of contradiction as natural to our condition, and knowing, once again, when to be quiet.
Updike, too, was impressed. In “The Sinister Sex,” his critique of The Garden of Eden, Updike notes its apparent naiveté with some awe. “Hemingway’s own innocence, even into his fourth marriage, enabled him to reach back from his workroom in Cuba, through all the battles and bottles and injuries and interviews, into his youth on another continent, and make mythic material out of his discovery that sex can be complicated.” Updike goes on, however, to make the tedious connection between the characters in The Garden of Eden with Hemingway’s his real-life wives, Hadley and Pauline. Forget for a moment the heresy of biographical interpretation. Allegory tempts us all to folly. If we can assign specific identities to the elements of the work (L is for Lucy; S is for Sky; D is for Diamonds) we can allow ourselves to be stupid; we can comfortably miss the point. How glorious it is not to have to think, and Updike wallows in this glory.
But good allegory always offers something more. Yes, the character Catherine Bourne is both Eve and Lillith, sexual helpmeet and death-dealing temptress. Marita, whom Catherine introduces to David to form their love triangle, is serpent but also fruit. She is the font of feminine generosity that makes all men knowing. She comprehends good and evil, while offering the clarity David dreads as a sort of Fall, but that he needs in order to work.
The elements of the Genesis setting and plot are all there for us. The couple has tarried for an extended honeymoon on the utopian French coast. Ever present amid the beauty and peace of their existence is the sense of the temporal, and death is foreshadowed from the beginning: “He held her close and hard and inside himself he said goodbye and then goodbye and goodbye.” Bourne (the name is a pun on the idea of first man, or Adam) masters the natural world when he hooks and subdues a wonderful fish. He and Catherine delight, and Hemingway’s narrative delights with them, over the pleasures of fresh, simple foods, and light, clear vintages. Interestingly, as the relationship sours, their drinking becomes both more ineffective and more numbing, and culminates in two ghastly scenes when Catherine, drunk on absinthe and later on champagne, attacks David’s writing. Also, they are naked and unashamed (“[S]in is what you feel bad after, he told himself, and you don’t feel bad”) as their sexual games evolve into gender switching. Catherine penetrates her husband anally: “He lay there and felt something and then her hand holding him and searching lower and he helped with his hands and then lay back in the dark and did not think at all and only felt the weight and the strangeness inside and she said, ‘Now you can’t tell who is who can you?’” He is transformed and feminized, for the moment becoming “Catherine,” while she becomes not “David” but “Peter”.
David and Catherine are both contented with the experiment, which he calls the “devil things,” as long as it is carried out without witnesses, and they protect their innocence with a covenant. Catherine promises not to “let the night things come in the day”. But she breaks this promise almost immediately when she brings home Marita, whom she sleeps with herself, and then insists David sleep with as well.
I can’t think of a stupider excuse in literature than, “The woman thou gavest to be with me did tempt me, and I did eat.” Hemingway himself calls it stupid by analogy, and is careful to use this word to draw attention to shifts in the narrative. We encounter the word first when David receives from his publisher an envelope of clippings, critiques of his new book. Catherine says,
It is the first hint of Catherine’s jealousy about what she views as David’s status as favorite (like Adam’s) of the gods. Catherine is jealous, and perhaps Eve was also jealous, and for the same reasons. Certainly Catherine is controlling, and she asserts her desire to curb David’s independence at every turn. “I’m happy now because you’re going to do it.” Her overriding of his self-respect is a consequence of her sincere inability to recognize her husband’s real merit as a writer. She calls his stories “illiterate,” “disgusting,” “horrible,” “bestial,” and “worthless,” and the act of writing a “solitary vice.”
“He writes in those ridiculous child’s notebooks and he doesn’t throw anything away. He just crosses things out and writes along the sides of the pages. The whole business is a fraud, really. He makes mistakes in spelling and grammar, too. Did you know, Marita, that he doesn’t really know grammar?” This is a brave passage for Hemingway to have recorded, exposing his own foibles as well as the folly of choosing a mate who can’t distinguish good writing from poor. Hemingway clearly believes that men (even stupid men, like Adam and like himself) are superior by nature, that giving in to a woman is weakness (David calls himself “wet” and a “slob” when he does so), and that the Eves of the world (but not the Maritas – make of that what you will) are willfully incapable of recognizing it.
Although Catherine cannot appreciate it, the story David writes is good, and we know it is good because Hemingway tells it to us, weaving it into the narrative of the frame as David takes up his pen each morning. It is set in Africa; a young David Bourne hunts a grieving, elderly elephant with his father, and learns about love, hate and responsibility. Like the adult Bourne, he makes a mistake and must bear the wages of his sin. This complicity in his own destruction, his tasting of the fruit, is the pride-motivated, attention-seeking remark that leads the hunters to their prey, and to a killing he learns to abhor. In the frame story, David’s error in judgment — his agreement to dye his hair to match his wife’s — is flagged with the word stupid. Catherine says, “‘[W]e’re damned now. I was and now you are…’ [A]nd he began to realize what a stupid thing he had permitted.”
So the Genesis story is here, along with interpretation, or analysis of cause: jealousy, willfulness and stupidity. Catherine’s inevitable death is thoroughly foreshadowed – we expect her to drive her car over a cliff at any moment – although Updike doesn’t see it. He entirely misses the point of Catherine’s use of the term “heiress.” Marita will inherit the marriage to Bourne, and she will also, on the allegorical level, inherit the consequences of sin, an aftereffect David will also succeed to. There are lots of discussions of money and how David’s writing is supported; he is now certain to receive a “wage” (giving us an interesting view of where Hemingway thinks writing comes from).
But what makes The Garden of Eden meaningful is not that Hemingway can retell the tale of mankind’s fall from grace. Likewise, what is important about the characters is not what we can identify about them in relation to his experience in Europe as a young writer, or about his marriages. What we must understand (and this returns us to my old question, “What has all of this got to do with me?”) is that the characters are not individuals as much as they are aspects of the self. Their relationships and interactions are the systems of David Bourne’s mind, and by extrapolation of Hemingway’s and the reader’s. Catherine says (and remember that David is also “Catherine”), “Anyway I am you and her. That’s what I did it for. I’m everybody. You know that don’t you?”
David Bourne knows and we know, so why doesn’t John Updike know? I think it’s because he is distracted by his search for the dick: “It is possibly a pity,” Updike notes sadly, “that Hemingway’s own inhibitions, if not those of the changing pre-war times, prevented him from telling us exactly what the ‘devil things’ are.”
But Hemingway does tell us, as demonstrated, that his character’s subjugation to the woman, of which the sexual penetration is a symbol, is the corruption that permits no salvation, the devil thing. Updike can’t find it because he is predisposed to find something else, “assertiveness and expertise.” Therefore, he collapses lazily upon a cliché, citing Bourne’s “feminine side,” and mourns his inability to get into bed with the characters. In doing so, he tells us quite a bit more about himself than he intends, and less than we would like to know about The Garden of Eden.
Updike’s nervousness with Hemingway’s silence about sexual details also prevents him from recognizing the importance of the novel’s presentation and discussion of the writing process. More than any other aspect of this work, David Bourne’s sitting down to write, and Hemingway’s sitting down with him and with us to show us how it’s done, is the most significant and interesting part of the novel. Here he is voluble rather than reticent, here willing to get naked. We see him address the blank page and subdue it. We see him plan and complete. And when the work is lost (Catherine burns it because it’s not about her), we work through the satisfaction of its reconstruction with him.
This is the redemption of the creative process revealed, and it has everything to do with us.
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Two new books about master choreographer and dance teacher George Balanchine were published in November 2004. They are Wall Street Journal theatre critic Terry Teachout’s All in the Dances A Brief Life of George Balanchine, and New York City Ballet board member and New Yorker Magazine editor Robert Gottlieb’s George Balanchine the Ballet Maker, for Harper Collins’s Eminent Lives series. We might wonder how these additions to the growing Balanchine library can really be useful. Good biographies are available already, Bernard Taper’s Balanchine, for example. Then there are the catalogues, critical collections, and memoirs of dancers Toni Bentley, Suzanne Farrell, Tamara Geva, Allegra Kent, Peter Martins, Maria Tallchief and Edward Villella.
All, including Teachout’s and Gottleib’s new books, tell variations of the same story. The child that would become the greatest choreographer of the 20th century is abandoned by his family at the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg. After suffering years of privation caused by the Revolution, he escapes to the west, is hired by Diaghilev as a composer of opera ballets, and at 21, is made ballet master of the world’s finest, most innovative company, the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo. Diaghilev’s theatre became a sort of training ground, where Balanchine developed neoclassicism, dance that is grand in manner, inventive, lucid, witty, sometimes poignant, but never pompous or
sentimental. He composes ballets that differ radically from one another in scope, style and theme, and makes them one following another, sometimes in a matter of weeks.
At NYCB, Balanchine shared artistic directorship for 20 years with Broadway giant Jerome Robbins, and gave him tremendous support during the composition of his ballets, offering not only the raw materials – dancers and space – but educated interest and encouragement. Greg Lawrence, in his Dance With Demons: The Life of Jerome Robbins (2001) quotes Balanchine’s longtime administrative partner. “Here I was, just a young choreographer, and there was the master of our age bringing in props to help me, as if he were some fourth assistant to the stage manager,” Robbins reported with amazement. But he learned from Balanchine the key to satisfaction in the creative life. “He made me see that the work was more important than the success, that work in progress was what mattered most.”
What conflicts occurred seem to have been spawned by differences in values between dancers who cared for themselves first, and Balanchine who was interested primarily in work. In Prodigal Son: Dancing for Balanchine in a World of Pain and Magic (1998), Edward Villella illustrates this friction. Villella was rehearsing Donizetti Variations, frustrated with the part, with the time he had to learn it, all compounded with his chronic hip pain. In fact, the only aspect of the piece he felt happy about was his handsome costume. One afternoon, Balanchine summoned Villella to the basement of the State Theater, and began to dig through the wardrobe. At last he resurrected a bright orange tunic and a pair of yellow tights, “the color of baby vomit.”
“Put these on,”
Villella, already slight of stature, appeared to be cut in half by this outfit. He looked as though he were dancing on his knees.
Villella saw the episode as an exercise in domination, Balanchine beating his chest and demonstrating his power.
But we see at the heart of their conflict a debate about what is most important. For Balanchine, the answer was always, even during the well-publicized debacle with Suzanne Farrell, dance. Dancers who threatened to quit were told some version of: “I’m glad you’ve decided. Go in peace.” As Peter Martins relates from his own surprised experience, in Far From Denmark (1982), those who failed to appear in company class or rehearsal simply were not cast. Balanchine’s “do-it-now” attitude and rhetorical, “What are you saving yourself for?” were a revelation to Martins. But all the dancers who have published memoirs, and this is a failing that most strongly marks their descriptions of Balanchine, saw him through the necessary prism of their self-absorption. All can tell what happened, their side of the story, but they can’t tell why, not convincingly for readers, because each of their accounts is filtered in personality: Villella’s macho insecurity, Martins’s European-bred expectations (which he slowly un-learned), Farrell’s naïve imperviousness, Tallchief’s brass-tax practicality.
It is not surprising, therefore, that Balanchine’s most important relationship was with someone he could communicate with on another level – through music – Igor Stravinsky. Their dynamic repartee and shared vision overflowed into the composition process. For example, Taper relates, during the creation of Orpheus, in 1948, Stravinsky asked Balanchine about the length of the pas de deux.
“Oh,” Balanchine replied, “about two and a half minutes.”
“Don’t say ‘about,’” Stravinsky corrected, reprovingly. “There is no such thing as ‘about’. Is it two minutes, two minutes and fifteen seconds, two minutes and thirty seconds, or something in between?”
Balanchine’s understanding of music freed him from what Stravinsky called, “the tyranny of the beat.” He was able to demonstrate, without dancing a part full out, the essence of a movement, so that dancers would mourn their inability to reproduce the elegance, the gusto, the earthiness – whatever the part required – that Balanchine showed in the studio. He believed that if ballet is any good, it doesn’t need program notes or other explanation. “The curtain should just go up and if the spectators understand what’s going on it’s good, and if not, not.”
So what can Teachout’s and Gottleib’s books add to all this?
Gottleib’s work as part of a series of biographies aims for authority. It winnows out gossip, scandal and drama, presents conflicting accounts evenly, and adds to the story in two previously unexplored dimensions. One, he talks about Balanchine’s relationship with his family and with Russia. Tallchief, Villella and Farrell all remember the 1962 NYCB tour to the Soviet Union with approbation.
They talk about the shabby accommodations, the lousy food, the sense of being trapped. Especially they remember their dismay when Balanchine suddenly abandoned them, took off for New York and was gone for a week, right in the middle of the tour. Gottlieb tells this story from Balanchine’s point of view. We see the pain and discomfort Balanchine felt dealing with family and friends from the past, with loss, with the high-pressure Soviets who seemed to be using the tour to prove something. So he went home and ironed shirts, tended Tanaquil LeClerq, spent an evening telling baudy stories and singing songs, a full one hundred of them that had been listed in the Times as the most popular of popular songs. It was a necessary and healthy break.
ttlieb unlike other biographers, presents Lincoln Kirstein as more than moneybags, more than a tool that moved Balanchine from Europe to the States. He writes compellingly of Kirstein’s frightening mental illness and misguided belief that he was superfluous to Balanchine and to the company. The truth is, Kirstein made tangible differences: in developing the repertory, attracting funding and creating liaisons with artists working outside of NYCB.
Teachout’s new book is important, too. It stands over and above the others, first, for the quality of the writing. We believe what he has to say because he tells us how he knows. His speculation is careful, and he has an instinct for development – he knows what details to leave in, what to throw out. All in the
Dances is the only published biography that separates awed understanding of Balanchine’s artistic achievement from a clear-eyed, sometimes unflattering view of the man. Teachout tells frankly about Balanchine’s womanizing and affairs. He condemns his pursuit of Suzanne Farrell as “inappropriate,” and presents a dismaying account of Balanchine’s treatment of LeClerq. Most shocking for those of us who have been weaned on our perception of Balanchine’s all-embracing multiculturalism, coming as it did before there was a word for it, is the great choreographer’s unworthy stoop to conquer: he calls Jerome Robbins “Jerry the Fairy.”
Both Gottlieb and Teachout explore the question of the future. With Balanchine and someday even his students no longer around to set and exceed the standard, how will his choreography survive? But Balanchine, who lived his life very much in the present moment, may have sniffed, “Who cares?” Certainly he claimed to have little concern for the fate of either his choreography or for NYCB after his demise. “Apres moi, the board,” he said, characteristically.
But anyone who observes the offspring companies – Pacific Northwest Ballet, Miami City Ballet, North Carolina Dance Theatre, among many – sees his influence as so profound that it is difficult to conceive of American dance, indeed the dance world without it. He offered loving tribute to the past (as in the Nutcracker and Swan Lake) while at the same time translating American culture to a performance milieu that shows us a broadened vision of humanity