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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Counting Down With Dance: Darci, Chris, and Black Swan

   Moving on to the dance community at large, it's difficult to pick just a handful of noteworthy headlines this year. Maybe I've just been paying a lot more attention due to the nature of my internship, but I know that no matter how I choose which items to write about someone will say "why not x?" or "you forgot y!" While choosing today's items I focused on the ballet world.

1. Darci Kistler's Retirement

     With Darci's final bow, New York City Ballet became completely Peter Martins-fied (*cue music in minor key*). Prior to her retirement in June of this year, Darci held fast as the last remaining dancer at City Ballet to be hired by George Balanchine himself. Her final performance last June marked the end of an incredibly long (by ballet standards) and illustrious career, but also a kind of end of an era. Although Martins has been at the helm of NYCB since 1983, I felt like some remnant of the Balanchine era still remained with the presence of dancers who had been trained by Mr. B. Although Balanchine's method of training continues at SAB (supposedly. . .) and his ballets continue to delight, intrigue, and confuse audiences around the world,  there's a growing disconnect between the master and the ballet's dancers now. With all the effort put into preserving his ballets and method, I can't help but feel like we're too caught up trying to "do" Balanchine, or cling to bygone era. Darci's farewell also held special significance to me because her book Ballerina inspired me to pursue ballet as a career. I went through a phase where I was obsessed with her and City Ballet and all things Balanchine. Even though I never ended up becoming a Balanchine ballerina like nine-year-old me always dreamed, that book and the Balanchine legacy shaped the trajectory of my training and career.

2. Christopher Wheeldon Leaves His Own Company

     Christopher Wheeldon formed Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company in 2006 only to resign as artistic director in February 2010. His departure caused quite a bit of drama, but as a complete outsider I don't feel I have any authority to comment on the situation other than that it didn't make Wheeldon or Morphoses' executive director Lourdes Lopez look very good. The company has since adapted a curatorial model which, to me, is code for "little artistic stability." Morphoses has kept on keeping on this season, but I'm interested to see how they fare without Wheeldon's name attached--not that they need it. The company has some of the best dancers in the industry and I've so enjoyed their performances in the past, I hope they continue to grow and bring new life to ballet.

3. Black Swan Makes Ballet Scary and a Little Perverse

     If you've mentioned ballet at a party any time in the last few weeks, someone probably brought up Black Swan, the new Darren Aronofsky psychological thriller. So many people asked me to comment on it "from a dancers' perspective" but honestly I don't feel like there's much to say. It was well done and a fairly accurate, albeit exaggerated, portrayal of the "subtle head-trips"  (as Wendy Whelan eloquently commented) dancers must often tackle on a daily basis. I found the relationship between Nina and other company members a little unbelievable--as competitive as the ballet world is, as my friend Ellen commented, your company becomes like your family. Often, only your fellow company members understand what you're going through and in my experience that creates a bond like no other. I also found the movie itself borderline pornographic and came very close to walking out of the theater. Even with its negative portrayal of the ballet world Black Swan seems to have made people take notice of ballet again. Hopefully we'll see an increase in ballet attendance next year and an economic boost for national and regional companies.
       I only wish we didn't need sex and blood to make ballet intriguing again.

1 comment:

  1. Well said :) I totally agree with your analysis of the end-of-an-era thing with City Ballet. It's very sad that in their efforts to "do Balanchine," they seem to have lost some of his vision. The whole "Balanchine technique" b.s. is what angers me most, for Balanchine wanted his mannerisms and way of moving to be a style, not a technique...he hired Russian teachers for his company and school for that very reason. What will happen when his former dancers are gone and can no longer set his works? Will we be second-handing Balanchine even more?

    Also, your analysis of Black Swan was definitely on point(e) (pun intended). I just hope it actually increases attendance, and that it's not some fad that all of a sudden people are interested.