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dirac

Books: New Jerome Robbins book(s)

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Guest Giannina
Originally posted by martyk:

another great quote (from Wilma Curly), regarding G.B.: "George hated the school [s.A.B.]. He wouldn't go there. And every time I hear the quote, 'First a school,' I want to throw up. He hated the school."

 

Is that, in fact, true?

 

Giannina

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Mel Johnson

Kinda hard to check, now, as Wilma passed on last year.

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Alexandra

Well, unless "George" had a double, it isn't true that he "wouldn't go there." There are an awful lot of stories by other dancers that are in conflict with that view. Perhaps Ms. Curley wasn't wild about the school, or maybe she caught Mr. B on a bad day :)

 

I'm also curious about marty's report that Robbins is portrayed as a man who "appears to have been the only person on earth to awe Balanchine."

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Guest atm711

Alexandra, I find your comments on Wilma Curley's opinion of SAB interesting. At the time I knew Wilma she was a child studying with George Chaffee, who doted on her talent. When she went on pointe he was careful in her choice of a shoe--he avoided a too hard toe box. It was a small studio with small classes, but it was time for her to spread her wings--she was not in the "right place at the right time". After her cocoon environment, she might have not found it too pleasant to be one of a few dozen.

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Alexandra

Thanks for that story, atm. My point was merely that the statement attributed to her in Lawrence's book, according to the first post on this thread, does not comport with dozens and dozens of other dancers' statements, as well as stories from people I know who spoke with Balanchine, or saw him at the school, etc. Also, if Balanchine had hated the school, he would have changed it. He certainly had the power to do that.

 

One of the problems with the New Biography, is that people are plunking down every quote they have, especially anything remotely provocative, without putting it into context. It's the National Enquirer influence, I suppose. The problem is that people believe what they read -- why shouldn't we? aren't publishers supposed to be responsible and not let anything in to print that isn't true? -- and so a quote like this one will be taken as "truth" by a lot of people. I'm not saying Curley didn't believe it, but when you have a comment that's 360 degrees opposite from what everyone else says, I think you have an obligation to investigate it, surely -- and you may well have discovered something that IS true. But if it can't be supported by any other experiences or evidence, I think it's questionable to use it, and if it is used for the irresistible shock value, then it should be footnoted and put into context. (Which, of course, it may well have been. I haven't seen the book yet, and was responding to the post.)

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Guest aliciamosier

Hi from a new participant in this wonderful forum. Not sure where exactly to post this, but there's an interesting review of Greg Lawrence's "Dance With Demons: The Life of Jerome Robbins" in the current New Republic (edition of July 9 & 16; no link to it on the website, alas). The writer is Jennifer Homans, a former dancer with the Pacific Northwest Ballet.

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Alexandra

Thank you, Alla. Welcome to Ballet Alert! Since the link isn't on line and many of us won't have a New Republic close to hand, could you tell us a bit about the review? (And the book, if you've read it.)

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Guest aliciamosier

Sure. The book is the first biography of Robbins, so it was eagerly awaited, but unfortunately it is not very good. The author, Greg Lawrence (the co-author of Gelsey Kirkland's two books), didn't have access to the personal papers that Robbins left behind (the bio is unauthorized). His research basically consisted of loads and loads of interviews -- some fascinating, some just gossipy -- which he strung together to make a book. His approach is anecdotal and psychological rather than analytical, and he gives very little insight into Robbins' works. In fact, in turning them into psychological exposés, Lawrence distorts certain pieces to the point of unrecognizability. The book is worth reading for a timeline of Robbins' life and works and a few good stories, but it fails miserably at offering any deeper insight into Robbins the creator.

 

The New Republic review spends a few paragraphs panning the book, which is sort of fun, but I was most interested in Homans' suggestion that the trouble with Robbins' later ballets ("A Suite of Dances," "Brandenburg," etc.) was not (as some have argued) that he was trying to imitate Balanchine, but rather that after "Dances at a Gathering," "Robbins' fascination for unvarnished movement had led him to an excruciating dead end." The exquisite craftsmanship and easy style you see in his best ballets became, in the 1980s, merely predictable. Homans writes: "There wasn't enough texture, grit, life." I too have been perplexed watching ballets like "Brandenburg," feeling that while they're all nice enough, the payoff is minimal.

 

That said, and this is another of Homans' observations, the NYCB dancers seem to relax in Robbins ballets in a way they can't anymore in Balanchine works, which demand a sort of sponaneity and freedom that's hard to come by in that company today. The Robbins ballets are better danced, Homans argues, because "Robbins sewed the instructions into the lining" (referring to his rigorous planning of every step, etc.) She seems to be suggesting that Robbins ballets are not "living organisms" in the way that Balanchine ballets are, and so they don't require so much in the way of vigorous, independent risk-taking (which, she suggests, doesn't much exist anymore at City Ballet).

 

It's an interesting argument, and I'd be curious to hear what others think about it.

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dirac

As an aside, it seems to me that a couple of reviewers have made too big a deal about Lawrence's not being permitted access to Robbins' papers and having the nerve to produce an unauthorized biography. I don't doubt that Robbins' papers have a lot of useful information, but after all we're not dealing with Thomas Jefferson here. And quite a few valuable biographies would never have appeared if the authors had folded their tents and stolen away after being denied "authorization." (Whether Lawrence's book is among these is another matter, of course.)

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Guest Leigh Witchel

Alla -

 

I'm going to extract a bit of your post about the current state of the Robbins and Balanchine rep (and the dancers) and make it into a discussion topic of its own.

 

Welcome and thanks for joining us!

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