- Agnes De Mille on “Oklahoma”
I think that the choice of using the ballet in the middle of the musical “Oklahoma” made sense in the way that Agnes De Mille explains it. Agnes De Mille describes this very common plot device in the story: a girl must choose between two lovers and in the non-verbal ballet she makes her decision. This sort of plot device is executed in many ballets without words. I thought about “Giselle” here and how much the ballet in “Oklahoma” had in common with it. Two men competing for a woman’s love. I think that the ballet works well to show that Laurie is afraid of Jud and is in love with Curly. If one was going to throw in a ballet routine into a musical to develop the characters and story through movement alone without spoken words or songs, this is the perfect opportunity to use ballet. I think it was well used by De Mille.
- “Lilac Garden”
Now this is my kind of ballet: a practice in the elegance and beauty of simplicity. I love the set: dark blue with just a moon, and the costumes: highly functional and they indicate character without being overt or obvious. When I think of the Edwardian Era, I think of FROSTINESS and a post-Victorian England that was a wee bit too much in favor of Prussia’s haughty Kaiser, Nephew Willy II. I love the violin solo to go along with the woman’s solo. The music combined with the dancing conveys the character’s emotion very well and also helps clarify who she is, whom she has feelings for, and what exactly those feelings are. I think that the music and dancing combine to show us the innermost feelings of the characters that would otherwise never ever be expressed in such a repressive society. I like that there is no use of mime. There are gestures but I feel like mime would take away from this performance, which to me is all about expression of repressed or hidden emotion. Mime is too paradoxically obvious and yet somehow cannot fully convey deeper emotions and feelings. Perfect combination of music and dance.
From the music, I got a lot of the emotion and from the dance I got a lot of the dramatic narrative. During one of the duets I understood that these two dancers were the lovers saying goodbye. Apart from the glaring absence of lilacs, I thought the plot was very easy to follow and I enjoyed in thoroughly despite having a red-hot prejudice against English Gardens—if there is one thing that defines TEDESTEN, it is his violent and passionate preference of French Gardens over English Gardens. My brother—an Oxford man—prefers English gardens because he’s a barbarian. One time when we were in Seville, Spain on a jaunt about the Parque de Maria Luisa we got into a heated dispute over which was superior: French or English Gardens. I sought to end the argument by relieving myself Jim Morrison-style in the section of the El Parque that was arranged in the fashion of an English Garden. This depraved act led to a full-blown fistfight. I lost badly and ripped my favorite shirt in the scuffle. The lesson I learned here was that you should not conduct yourself like Ernest Hemingway when you visit Spain no matter how badly you want to be the sophisticated manly-man FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS!
- BALANCHINE’S NEO-CLASSICAL STYLE
Attention to technique and discipline. Focus is more on the female dancer. There are conventional ballet movements used throughout. There is no mime. The set and costumes are minimal. Any sort of dramatic narrative is unapparent and beside the point. The focus is the dancers themselves. There is an impressive male solo and an impressive female solo. This is really straight-up, textbook, pas de deux.
I like this because characters and plots aren’t being forced upon me. There is a nice intellectual reprieve here. I can just sit back and enjoy the dance and music and be impressed with what’s going on without being bombarded with things like mime and tawdry costumery.
I would describe my viewing experience of this Tchaikovsky/Balanchine’s Pas De Deux as “refreshingly mindless”—and I mean that in the very best way possible. I don’t have to strain my little grey cells and force out some half-baked musings on whether or not the movement and music is conveying diddly-doo. It’s like turning on a great Mexican Futbol League Championship game and not knowing any of the players or news stories from behind the scenes leading up to this epic face-off. This is just unencumbered great stuff to watch. You know a good soccer game when you see one and you know a good ballet when you see one. You don’t need to know what the teams are or what’s going on. Just take in the experience and enjoy these peoples’ physical talents.
Ohhhhh Stravinsky…how you irk me… “Agon” means, “Contest” in Greek. The contest here is TEDESTEN vs. the CLOCK: how long I can go before I need a Klonopin. There’s four guys in some hideous costumes—soon to be joined by a bunch of ladies in totally awesome costumes. I do like that the sets and that costumes are simple but Jesus H. Christ: white shirts, black pants, and white shoes???? What the hell is that!!??? These guys look like schmucks. This look is only expectable if you’re waiting for a school bus to take you to your JAMES DEAN SUPER-KEWL HOLLYWOOD HIGH SKOOL in 1956 and it’s just too damn hot outside to be rockin’ that slick leather jacket of yours. I wear the non-spandex version of this when I’m trying to dress like a “normal” person. Underwhelming. HATE IT.
This is a perfect example of NOT being, “refreshingly mindless.” This is, in fact, the exact opposite of what I meant when I was describing the Tchaikovsky/Balanchine Pas De Deux. There’s a bunch of dancers and a bunch of music and even though you aren’t having a dramatic narrative with some characters all up in your grill, you end up just begging for some of that with Stravinsky. The music just goes in so many different directions that it loses my interest almost immediately because it’s always instantly apparent that it’s not going anywhere. Without a narrative to keep things cohesive, it’s just boring and it cannot hold my attention. It’s difficult to follow along and without structure an impartial audience quits immediately.
As far as the choreography goes it’s clearly a break from the hardcore, technical conventions of ballet technique but I would make the argument that the boundaries here are more than bent; they are broken. When you break from structure of any artistic medium, you run the risk of losing your audience. I would sight how inaccessible a lot of Marcel Duchamp’s work is and the vast majority of all Dadaist work. The movements are more natural, I’d use the word “flowy”, and I’d say as a whole they are “free” reactions to the music. Do the free and natural movements and deviation from conventional ballet technique work with the music? Yes, I would say they do because of the nature of Stravinsky’s work regardless of my feelings toward it. But as well as the choreography and music “work” together, I just think this is a break from structure that I don’t think even tries to, “EXPLORE THE BOUNDARIES OF BALLET AS AN ART IN AN AVANT-GARDE WAY, MAN!”
I think it’s inaccessible in the way sometimes jazz can be inaccessible. I like a lot of weird music. I like art-rock. I like shoe-gazer music even though I’m not the kinda guy you’ll ever catch candy-flippin’. But when it comes to a lot of jazz it’s a lot of music that’s for musicians—specifically for other jazz musicians. Maybe if I knew more about ballet I’d be down with this Neo-Classical style but I can’t even pretend that I can handle it. HOT TAKE ALERT!! : I think that Kanye West’s latest album, “YEEZUS” puts Stravinsky to shame. Neoclassical, dissidence, juxtaposition, sudden, unexpected, (read: unwanted), and unanticipated changes/whatever-interpolation-style music doesn’t have to be jarring to listen to. “YEEZUS” is an artist masterpiece where keys and time signatures are completely disregarded and a dramatic narrative is successfully and cohesively apparent throughout the album. I would start a fistfight in an English Garden in an instant if some self-aggrandizing dudebro proclaimed that Stravinsky was a superior composer to Kanye West. I’d win that fight and then pee on his Stravinsky gym mixtape just to rub it in. Stravinsky can eat a bag of ripped peat moss.
- MARTHA GRAHAM
I like her monologue about the dressing room. Sort of a Virginia Woolf, “Room of One’s Own” essay flashback to my days as a young scholar in A.P. Literature. I agree with her, I’d KILL to have my own office on campus. Or a van that I could put an office in like an FBI agent. One day I’ll write that essay when I end up living in a van called, “A VAN OF ONE’S OWN” by TEDESTEN. Hobos of the world will demand I get the Pulitzer!
“NIGHT JOURNEY”: Ok, so we’ve got a dance interpretation of Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex”. The STAR WARS prologue tells us, the audience, what the plot of this dance is and what emotions will be shown by the characters via dance and music.
I think it’s interesting that this is based on the climactic scene from the famous Greek tragedy “Oedipus Rex” because Isadora Duncan, the pioneer of Modern Dance, was also really inspired by the Ancient Greeks. Early Modern Dance appears to have been heavily influenced by choreographers’ common inspiration and interest in Hellenistic aesthetics and themes.
From what I could see I think some techniques that Martha Graham developed for Modern Dance included dramatic narrative-driven/plot-motivated movements that also expressed character. I feel like she found a way of combining natural movements that were made in reaction to the music that combined to both represent the characters and to motivate the action. For instance, everybody freezes and the blind seer Tiresias enters with this strange, hopping motion that (somehow) tells us he’s blind and also concerned. We also understand that this is a tragic scene by the way that back-up dancers are gesticulating and reacting to the music. Emotion, character, and action are all conveyed using a combination of natural and stylized movements.
I don’t really feel any which way about Martha Graham. I don’t know why, but it reminded me of the way people move in opera. Something about the combination of natural and stylized movement. I wasn’t into it. I guess because I’ve read and seen “Oedipus” I didn’t feel like I’d go out of my way to see someone’s Modern Dance interpretation of it. I didn’t like it but I didn’t dislike it. It worked as far as showing me “Oedipus” but I feel very whatever about it.
- DORIS HUMPHREY AND CHARLES WEIDMAN
More Hellenistic-inspired dress and set. Free and natural and flowing movements to go along with the music. This is a non-narrative exploration of Modern Dance. I have no idea what was going on or what happened. All of the movements were subtle in contrast to “NIGHT JOURNEY”. I think that her interest in natural body movement and interest in nature and movement itself is apparent here. In “Water Study” I thought she was trying to demonstrate how through movement the human body could be anything in the natural world because we are natural beings ourselves. The lightness in the movements in “AIR” were much, much more subtle and I thought it didn’t show humans trying to BE air but rather humans behaving in the manner of air. I had to watch it twice because I misread the title and did not realize she was trying to portray “AIR” but it all made perfect sense.
This was a bit of a toughy for my dyslexia/ADHD and it was a VERY slow two and half minutes. I agree with what I can only guess Humphrey was trying to articulate: air really is pretty boring.
90 seconds of glory in “LYNCHTOWN”. Wowie zowie I don’t know what I just saw. This group of men worked together in a tightly choreographed piece that was clearly an exercise in Modern Dance. I think I’d have to see more of Weidman’s work to make a real judgment or critique here. I’m certain this is physically difficult. It was a good display of physical discipline and teamwork. I think all the dancers worked well together and danced well along to the music but I really don’t know what was going on. Is this just dance for the sake of dance? I guess I just don’t know how exactly to approach Modern Dance. I don’t have a good grasp on it whereas I’ve got something of idea about what’s going on in a ballet.
At the risk of ending this Ballet Jambaroo on a rather flat note, I’ll say it was well executed!