restricted access Part IV. Ballet Makers
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FOUR Dancers ofthe Hamburg Ballet in John Neumeier's Mahler's Third Symphony. Photo: Holger Badekow. @ allet classes look remarkably similar everywhere. Individual teachers may emphasize different points of technique. Analytically minded ballet masters may codify their procedures in pedagogical manuals which can be used as the bases for carefully graded training methods. The persistence ofcertain approaches to ballet training in different parts of the world may help develop local or national ballet styles. Nevertheless, the basic structure of a ballet class scarcely differs from city to city or nation to nation. Although ballet students from one country who enroll in a foreign school may occasionally be puzzled by what they encounter, they seldom find their lessons totally bewildering. But what is true ofballet in the classroom is not necessarily true ofballet onstage. The theatrical works that are known as "ballets" may all employ academic technique, yet choreographers can put that technique to many surprising or even shocking uses. And choreographic styles that please audiences in one city may be execrated elsewhere. Ballet lovers everywhere can grow contentious as they champion their favorite choreographers. The critic Edwin Denby once remarked that the feelings ofballetomanes can be as intense as those of"a passionate coffeedrinker newly arrived in a strange country andfor the first time tasting the brew that there is called coffee." Although, like certain kinds of coffee, certain types offoreign ballets may never be to our taste, if we are not hopelessly bound by our predilections we may, through increased acquaintance with the ballets ofother lands, come to have a renewed appreciation ofballet's creative possibilities. However, stylistic differences are not the only issues troubling ballet lovers today. As a result ofa worldwide ballet boom, we are blessed with scores ofwell-trained dancers. But, since creative artists are usually rarer than interpretative artists, we do not have enough talented choreographers to supply all those dancers with gratifying repertoires. Moreover, some bal- 142 / Choreography Obseroed let choreographers do not appear to be sure how to develop the vast technical vocabulary ofsteps they have inheritedfrom the past. The reviews in this section examine the various ways in which some prominent choreographers from several countries are drawing upon their balletic heritage. GRIGOROVICH AND THE BOLSHOI (JSven without Alexander Godunov's defection, the Bolshoi Ballet's engagement at the New York State Theater (1-26 August 1979) would have been unusual. This was a season consisting entirely of works by a single choreographer: Yuri Grigorovich, the Bolshoi's artistic director. Rarely has a visiting large-scale ballet company devoted itself to only one choreographer here, the few exceptions including Bejart's company and the Stuttgart Ballet under John Cranko's direction. However, the Stuttgart also offered a traditional Giselle, whereas Swan Lake, the one "classic" in the Bolshoi's repertoire, turned out to be Grigorovich 's revised version of that ballet. This was obviously a season that tried to demonstrate why Russian balletgoers value Grigorovich so highly. It was certainly an interesting season, although Grigorovich's choreography did not win universal approval . But that was partly because Grigorovich was dealing with a set of choreographic problems rather different from those which concern our own choreographers. His solutions to them did not always amaze us simply because the problems themselves were not so pressing to us. Grigorovich comes from a nation where the evening-long narrative ballet remains the norm. One of his problems, then, is to prevent his own evening-long ballets from sprawling. He has avoided sprawl by means of an almost obsessive concern for unity. In addition to Swan Lake, four of his major works were presented. Each was different in mood. Each was unified and stylistically consistent. Each, indeed, had its own special "look." Ballet Makers / 143 However, having achieved unity, Grigorovich was not always able to find choreographic variety within that unity. Either because his choreographic vocabulary was essentially limited or because, in his quest for unity, he deliberately limited his vocabulary, his ballets had the misfortune of getting off to a striking start and then gradually running out of steam. The least satisfactory of them was The Stone Flower, which had not been seen here since the Bolshoi's first visit in 1959. Prokofiev's allegory concerns an artist's rejection of an art of merely formal perfection in favor of an art that somehow aids humanity. Curiously enough, the scenario theoretically ought to allow for considerable choreographic variety, since its scenes range from a gypsy festival to...


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