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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Books: Balanchine's Tchaikovsky

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First I want to thank atm711 for recommending this book!!! smile.gif It's full title is "Interviews with George Balanchine, Balanchine's Tchaikovsky", by Solomon Volkov, translated from Russian by Antonina W. Bouis. It is so easy to read and so interesting! It's not a deep work, being Balanchine's recollections and conversations (primarily about Tchaikovsky) with Solomon Volkov in the months before Balanchine died, but it sheds enormous light on his personal character and his choreographic impetus. I'm sure all of the long-time balletgoers have already read this, but if you haven't you should.


I came to this board with mixed understanding of Balanchine and his ballets, with feelings something like dislike,.. not the exact word I'm looking for, though why I don't exactly know? I still have some question about his relationships and use of women in his life. But he certainly offers a beautiful humanity I never saw written about elsewhere. Though it is subjective (coming from the man himself), I found a lot of easily understood discussion about composers and their relationship to various ballets and it appears I admire many of the ones he admires. I'm even convinced somewhat about Stravinsky's danceability. And it sheds light on how his style of neo-classicism was born. And to find that Tchaikovsky was still alive for Balanchine, as Mozart must have been for Tchaikovsky definitely sealed my growing attraction to Balanchine's art. "Mozartiana" is now a must on my list. Isn't learning fun!! smile.gif


I'd like to hear what others think of it.

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Guest Saut de Chat

An indispensable work for all ballet dancers and anyone interested in ballet. Sorry I don't have the time to say more, but definitely go see Mozartiana. It's gorgeous--try to see Darci Kistler if you can smile.gif.


In great haste,

Saut de Chat

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Happy to see that you enjoyed this, Paul. It is on my very short list of favourite ballet books that I give to people who share my enthusiams.


You may also enjoy "Balanchine's Mozartiana"/Robert Maiorano and Valerie Brooks. It is more technical, but well written and the photographs are wonderfully evocative. Although it is still in print, any library should be able to obtain it for you if you don't want to purchase it.


NYCB is doing Mozartiana during the winter season, first performance January 5th...

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I now love that book, but I have to admit that when I first read it, I didn't understand its significance. I remember thinking that it was trying to capitalize on Balanchine's name (I think it was published shortly after his death, but I may be wrong on that). I would hasten to make it clear, if it's not already, that this was a stupid thought!


I'd second everything that Paul said, then add, it's a small book, but a big one. Often, you can find out more about an artist from such conversations than you can about a treatise, like "Noverre's Letters." Anybody can say what he wants to do, but in this book, Balanchine is talking about what he believes.


It should be required reading for anybody who thinks that Balanchine is only Stravinsky.



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I've read it (translated into French) a few months ago, and agree with all the compliments that have been written. It's a lovely book, and it really helps understanding Balanchine and Tchaikovsky (and loving their works).

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Guest Nanatchka

Concerning Paul W's post: While contemplating Balchine's "relationships and use of women" in his life is perhaps interesting biographically and psychologically (Moira Shearer in her odd Balanchine bio is especially trenchant in her observations about the "wives"), it is not really germane to liking or not liking the ballets. There is in them no display or suggestion of abuse of women in any way, unless deification is abusive. I think there are choreographers whose attitudes towards women are utterly and dismayingly clear in some if not all of their work ("The Cage" by Robbins being a case in point), but this is *in the work,* not something one learns in researching the life. In other words, you don't have to think Mr. B. was stellar date night material to think he was a stellar choreographer.

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I agree completely Nanatchka!! An impression of mine (whether true or false) that he may have easily lost interest in women, particularly as they aged, is not relevant to his choreographic genius. There are statements in the book which do give me reason to believe he held a different view of women than I do, from a number of perspectives.

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I too have Balanchine's Tchaikovsky at home and enjoyed reading it, especially for the throwaway obiter dicta on dancing and music. You should be cautious about the factual material Balanchine provides about the circumstances of Tchaikovsky's life; new research has produced a lot of new data. Solomon Volkov actually gained a certain notoriety for a similar memoir from Dmitri Shostakovich, wherein the composer (I may garble the facts here; it's been awhile)made statements about his relationship vis-a-vis the Soviet regime that were hotly disputed (it was Volkov's, not Shostakovich's, veracity that was being questioned.) I'm inclined to accept what he says Balanchine said -- the text sounds similar to interviews with him I've seen and read.


On Balanchine and women: my first instinct is to say that of course you can separate the life from the work, but when you're dealing with someone as consumed by his work as Balanchine I think a more complicated response may be needed. Sure, he didn't psychologically brutalize women as Picasso did (and please, Picasso fans, don't get mad, I admire the man) ; but he did not always behave responsibly. In Suzanne Farrell's case, for example, you do have to wonder a little about a sixty year old man who puts a vulnerable teenager into virtual social isolation. I don't mean we have to condemn him -- I mean it might be worth looking at the creative imperative that drove him to do what he did in her case and others.


I would also add that "deification" of women is not necessarily a positive trait -- it can lead to maltreatment of actual women who fail to live up to the worshipped ideal (I'm not implying Balanchine was guilty of this.) There are many people who think Suzanne Farrell should be running NYCB today. May I suggest that perhaps one of the reasons she's not doing so is that Balanchine never really encouraged the women in his company to choreograph or take on real power positions, apart from ballet mistresses and administrative assistants? (In Balanchine's Ballerinas, Ruthanna Boris indicates that he didn't exactly welcome her choreographic efforts with open arms.)


I apologize for the lengthiness of this missive. This is a fascinating topic.

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Guest Manhattnik

I guess others will disagree with me, and, certainly, Volkov's book does give wonderful glimpses into Balanchine's way of thinking. Perhaps I'm oversimplifying or being overly romantic, but I don't see much of any division between Balanchine the man and Balanchine the artist.


There is so much of himself in his work, I've always believed that if one wanted to psychoanalyze Balanchine, one would need to nothing other than observe his ballets. One of the things I love so much about his work is the sense it gives me that I'm seeing right into his mind, a mind filled with dreamlike visions sent to him, perhaps, by God. Or Tchaikovsky.


I don't think any other choreographer, even Graham, put so much of himself (or herself) in his work. I do think everything you really need to know about Balanchine is right there in his ballets. You just have to be observant.


Contrast that with Peter Martins' ballets, which, to me, seem to be an exercise in hiding his persona from the world. I learn very little about Martins' soul from his ballets, except that he keeps himself very hidden. It's like his ballets are smokescreens. But that, in itself, is very telling.

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Guest Manhattnik

Regarding Mozartiana, Darci is indeed wonderful, as has often been noted here. I'd just like to toss in a mention of how ethereal Kyra Nichols can be in the role. It's not what I'd have expected from her, but I was happy to be proven wrong. If you can't see Darci, you'll do just as well seeing Kyra.

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Thank you for raising this topic, Paul. I had read the book when it first came out and had forgotten it. I went back to it this week, reading it again with pleasure. It is such a civilized book. I had forgotten that. Just about conversation and art.



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Guest Kevin Ng

Manhattnik, I agree with you. Kyra Nichols is indeed divine in "Mozartiana". When I was in New York in the spring season of 1996, I had the good fortune of seeing her "Mozartiana" three times. I also saw her in this ballet back in 1991.

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