Revisiting ‘Rite’… and Rights: 100 years after ‘Le Sacre’ exploded conventions, conventional women’s roles persist

christine-rite-one

American Repertory Ballet in Douglas Martin’s “Rite of Spring.” Photo by Peter C. Cook.

By Christine Chen
Copyright 2013, 2017 Christine Chen

(Editor’s Note, not necessarily implicating the author or reflecting the views of our sponsors, 2-23-2017: With an American president that Jane Fonda – who in herself contains several cycles of the evolution of how women have been perceived and have perceived themselves over the last nearly 60 years – has referred to as “the predator in chief” and a vice president cut straight from a ‘promise-keepers’ mold whose idea of women may be more luddite than the pagan worshippers of Stravinsky/Nijinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” Christine’s reflections below, first published March 13, 2013, are, unfortunately, today more pertinent than ever. — Paul Ben-Itzak)

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Last Sunday, we set the clocks forward. It was the first “spring rite” I performed this year (and it feels oddly premature given that it was snowing the day before in New York). Other spring rites which I’ll need to address soon include spring cleaning, spring training (for a half marathon my husband signed us up for), and of course, the spring season for American Repertory Ballet, of which I’m the managing director. This last rite’s ‘Rite’ — artistic director Douglas Martin’s new ‘Rite of Spring,’ which I’ll write about here — is all about rights.

One hundred years ago, Nijinsky’s “Rite of Spring” for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes notoriously provoked riots among the spectators in reaction to Igor Stravinsky’s score, the dance, and perhaps Roerich’s book. The subtitle, “Pictures of Pagan Russia in Two Parts,” better describes this libretto. At the end of each winter, a number of rituals must be performed before warmer temperatures can thaw the land and crops can flourish. I imagine Russian winters to be particularly severe, which would have made these pagan rituals all the more sacred and vital to those who performed them. After the last few brutal winter weeks here on the East Coast, I’m personally ready to dance myself to death to ring in the spring. And this is just what happens in ‘Rite’: at the climax of these spring rituals, a sacrificial victim dances herself to death, and from this, spring can spring.

christine-rite-two

American Repertory Ballet in Douglas Martin’s “Rite of Spring.” Photo by Peter C. Cook.

As I’ve been watching Douglas Martin’s ‘Rite’ develop, I realize how brilliantly he is both paying homage to, and reinterpreting this libretto. He has lovingly re-set the story in 1961 corporate America — for a ready reference, think AMC’s Mad Men. He lays bare the office relations, the gender roles, and the rituals we now look upon as antiquated, even while we fetishize the mod fashions. On the one hand, it’s a societal self congratulation on how far we’ve come, but on the other, it’s a call to take a look at our current society and to wonder what today’s cultural norms will look like to people decades from now.

In 1913, Nijinsky was looking back on the Russian pagan rituals and, by laying bare their barbarism, made people realize how far society had come (how could those silly people actually believe that sacrificing a woman would actually make the seasons turn?). In 2013, Martin is looking back on mid-20th century culture and, by laying bare the barbarism in that society, makes us feel similarly superior to those who came before us (how could those silly people actually believe that only men could be executives and only women could be secretaries?).

In the end, (spoiler alert) Shaye Firer, who plays “the chosen one,” dances herself to death. But for what this time? We then see Samantha Gullace rising like a phoenix from her ashes to break through the metaphoric glass ceiling. Shaye’s character sacrifices herself not so the seasons will change, but so the culture can. Her sacrifice allows the women who come after her to rise in rank. In a way, it’s a Rite of Second Wave Feminism.

Which has made me wonder where we are on women’s rights issues today. When I was a woman’s studies minor in the 1990s, Arlie Hochschild’s “The Second Shift” (the title is a play on Simone de Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex”), a sociological study of dual-career households, was a canon staple. Hochschild’s “stalled gender revolution” referred to the fact that while a revolution had occurred and women were now more equally participating in the labor force, gender roles at home had not shifted. Women still held down the bulk of the housework, hence putting in a “second shift.” This work-home balance issue is still swirling. Last summer, Anne Marie Slaughter (Princeton politics professor/ former director of policy planning for the U.S. State Department / dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs) positioned herself as “the chosen one” — sacrificially saying what perhaps others wanted to say in her now famous Atlantic article aptly titled, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” And even more recently, Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer drew feminist ire by banning telecommuting for the Internet giant’s employees. And yet, the positions these two women held and hold speak volumes about the status of the glass ceiling. Of course there are many other issues; this work-home balance just felt salient to me right now, personally. So, I leave you to consider what’s next. We’ve come so far, but where will we be next time we look back?

The British are Coming Out! The British are Coming Out! Queer Heritage from Bintley, Birmingham Royal Ballet, & Edward II

By Mark Dendy & Copyright 2000, 2107 Mark Dendy

(Editor’s note, 2-8-17, not necessarily binding on the author: On Saturday, addressing a gathering in front of the Stonewall Bar in New York, where in 1969 a police raid ignited the Rainbow Revolution on the same day Judy Garland died, Sex in the City star Cynthia Nixon, speaking after Egyptian out of the closet refugee Omar Sharif Jr.,  proclaimed,  “We are allies united by our Otherness… And if we didn’t know it before, thanks to Donald Trump we know it now.” How does Mark’s Flash, first published on the DI on September 29, 2000, relate to the Trump administration’s current hyper-speed other ostracization of the Poor, the Queer, the Trans, the Brown, the Black, the Public-school child, the Woman, the Scientist,  the Planet, the Atheist, the Jew, the Judge, the Pope (okay, that was before the election), the Samaritan, the Muslim, the Journalist, the Facts…. ? His second to last paragraph in particular makes me think that in a presidential universe alienated from and alien to so many of us,  perhaps the true Other is the one who only sees in one-dimension, and who has not yet realized that in America in 2017, we are the Mainstream. We’re also revisiting this piece because in Mark Dendy’s own work for dance and for the theater,  particularly “Dream Analysis,” he has always championed the notion that the Other, whether Queer or just plain queer, is us. Source for Nixon quote: Democracy Now.)

The re-publication of this piece is sponsored by Slippery Rock University Dance & Freespace Dance, whose opinions are not necessarily reflected in the new introduction above.

NEW YORK — Does the mother country have something to teach us about coming out in the opera house? We Americans tend to think of ourselves as the frontiersmen when it comes to art and homo art and new ideas and graphic sexual content onstage. It’s the Brits who are uptight, stuffy, conservative. Watching David Bintley’s Birmingham Royal Ballet production of “Edward II” at City Center the other night, I was reminded that this country was founded by people who were so uptight the British kicked them out!

“Edward II” is the really tragic tale of a king who lives openly in front of his court as a homosexual. His lover is executed by Edward’s distraught wife and her cohort. Edward is harassed, tortured, raped, pissed on (real water on stage) and finally brutally killed by nothing less (and I don’t mean this figuratively) than having a red hot poker shoved up his… well, you get the point. THE most sexually graphic ballet I have ever seen. Sometimes to a tasteless fault, but it is at its best unapologetic, bold, daring, rough-edged and brutally graphic.

The dancing of the second cast (I didn’t see the first) was good and solid. Robert Parker was excellent as Edward. As Queen Isabella, Ambra Vallo showed us not just the villainness, the betrayed and jealous, but the hurt and devastation that such a false forced relationship can cause. The pas de deux between Edward and Gaveston is luscious, physical and romantic without being schmaltzy. The satisfaction that comes from watching ballet dancers equally support each other and share partnering responsibilities is immense. (And possible in ballet only with same sex couples as opposite sex couples are too disparate strength-wise to achieve this.) This romantic bliss cannot last forever. Enter jealous wife. The proceeding pas de trois and the pas de deux with Isabella and Edward are choreographically some of the most beautiful in the production and further the story, and are danced magically.

Other moments, such as the witnessing of the offstage beheading of Edward’s lover Gaveston and Edward subsequently running on stage with a bag tied with a rope supposedly containing Gaveston’s severed head are so bad they are over the top. This of course is part of ballet’s charm to the modern experimentalist. Delsartian pantomime instead of movement and gesture that reveal real psychological and subtextual meaning.

The story is a great one — part of our queer heritage. Kudos to Bintley for having the guts to take it on and tell it like it really was, hot poker and all! In places it shines, in others, for this taste it needs to be polished. I personally didn’t care for the leather scene stuff being used to negatively define the heteros. Leather isn’t dark and murderous, it’s about brotherhood and trust. It’s primitive and tribal but not evil. Mr. Bintley might look again at such an easy stereotype to cloak his villains in. Stereotypes have been used about gays enough that we should be more sensitive when using them to define ourselves, especially as it pertains to the leather and trans-gendered sects of our tribe. There were also hilarious and wonderfully campy cuttings up with Edward’s inner court of jester queens! What a Fairy Tale this was.

The moral of the story: If you are gay, don’t let the socially dominant culture dictate to you to conform to the sexual norm. There will be an unhappy woman and she will have you for supper.

Choreographer, writer, actor and dancer Mark Dendy is the artistic director of Mark Dendy Projects. He has also created ballets on the Pacific Northwest Ballet and other companies, as well as choreographed for the theater. Mark Dendy’s “Elvis Everywhere” will be presented July 12 & 13 at the American Dance Festival & August 9-13 at Jacob’s Pillow.

 

Welcome to America, Mr. Trump

harris-1-kowroski

Maria Kowroski in Balanchine’s “Mozartiana.” Photo copyright Erin Baiano and courtesy Dances Against Cancer.

harris-2-who-cares

Sterling Hyltin and Amar Ramasa in Balanchine’s “Who Cares?” Photo copyright Erin Baiano and courtesy Dances Against Cancer.

harris-3-wong

Alex Wong in Rachael Poirier’s “747.” Photo copyright Erin Baiano and courtesy Dances Against Cancer.

harris-4-noces

Juilliard Dance students in Nijinska’s “Les Noces.” Photo copyright Rosalie O’Connor and courtesy Juilliard.

Story Copyright 2011, 2017 Harris Green
New Editor’s Note by & copyright Paul Ben-Itzak

(Editor’s Note, 1-31-2017: This piece, comprising reviews of performances by and of the Juilliard School, the School of American Ballet, American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, Venti Petrov’s “El Cid” — an epic tale which in part concerns Spain’s Christians *and* Muslims banding together to repel foreign *military* invaders — and a star-studded Dancers Against Cancer benefit with performances by Maria Kowroski, Daniel Ulbricht, Matthew Rushing, Alex Wong, Sterling Hytlin, Amar Ramasa, and others in work by Balanchine and others, was first published on June 24, 2011. Serendipitously re-viewing it this morning for inclusion in the DI Archives, I was struck by how both Harris’s text and the accompanying photographs, while neither written nor shot with this intent, formulate an eloquent aesthetic response to Donald Trump’s attempts to exclude from the United States a myriad of immigrants and refugees, beginning with an executive order last Friday. ((Among many other pictorial and textual elements in this story, following Mr. Trump’s logic, neither Stravinsky nor Balanchine, as citizens of a country besieged by Bolshevik terrorism, would ever have been admitted to France, let alone the United States.)) The new headline above, thus, as this note, are my entire responsibility and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of either the critic or the photographers. For continuing coverage of the national and international political, legal, and community response to Mr. Trump’s efforts, check out the daily broadcasts of Democracy Now.  — PBI)

NEW YORK — Because off-Broadway theater has long proved essential to this city’s artistic life, “off-Broadway dance” should not be considered a patronizing term for what is offered away from City Center and the gilded confines of Lincoln Center when major companies are between seasons. One reason I would hesitate to apply the term to recent spring offerings of the Juilliard School’s Dance Division, however, is that this institution’s renovated home, the Irene Diamond Building, is not only on Broadway but a stunning steel and glass addition to the neighborhood. Another is that the program “Juilliard Dances Repertory” (March 23-27), by including Bronislava Nijinska’s rarely seen but historically essential 1923 setting of the Stravinsky powerhouse “Les Noces,” made a stunning contribution to our artistic life out of all proportion to its occasionally raw, unflaggingly dedicated performance by 34 students. (For more on this ballet as interpreted by the Paris Opera Ballet, see Paul Ben-Itzak’s Flash, elsewhere in these DI Archives.)

To receive the rest of the article, subscribers can contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at paulbenitzak@gmail.com. Not a subscriber? Subscribe to the Dance Insider for just $29.95/year ($99 for institutions gets full access for all your teachers, students, dance company members, etc.) and receive full access to our Archive of 2,000 exclusive reviews by 150 leading critics of performances on five continents from 1998 through 2015. Just designate your PayPal payment in that amount to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or write us at that address to learn how to pay by check or in Euros. You can also purchase a complete copy of the Archives for just $49 (individuals) or $129 (institutions) Purchase before February 14, 2017 and receive a second, free copy for the recipient of your choice. Contact Paul at paulbenitzak@gmail.com .

A Tale of Two Shrews

tulsa-shrew

Soo Youn Cho & Alfonso Martin in Tulsa Ballet’s production of John Cranko’s   “Taming of the Shrew.”  Photo copyright Julie Shelton and courtesy Tulsa Ballet.

Review Copyright 2011, 2017 Alicia Chesser

New introduction by and copyright Paul Ben-Itzak

(Editor’s Note ((not necessarily reflecting the opinions of the author, Ms. Chesser)):

A word needs to be said here about the cultivating of taste and the caretaking – in the active sense of that word – of a heritage, and the critical role an artistic director plays in these complementary missions.

Reviewing a 2010 Royal Albert Hall English National Ballet performance of Derek Deane’s production of “Swan Lake” in these pages ((see elsewhere in these DI Archives)) which successfully appealed to what she dubbed “middle-brow” tastes, Victoria Watts commented, “I see the merits for the company in presenting an unpretentious evening of dance with high production values and an astute awareness of what its audience might want.” When he took over the artistic direction of Tulsa Ballet in 1995, Marcello Angelini could certainly have settled with this standard. This is not to be snobbish about middle-American tastes; when it comes to story ballets, even New York ((or Paris)) sophisticates can be fooled by opulent trappings. And, having toured with Nureyev for years and been weaned on ballet in the birthplace of Taglioni, Angelini certainly had the chops to dazzle. Furthermore, as his “Nutcracker” proved ((see elsewhere in these Archives)), he can also whip out an original libretto when the occasion calls for it. Financially, it certainly would have been an easier path to tread than to convince his board to front the expensive costs not only of rights, but of international shipping of sets and costumes for a European production like John Cranko’s “Taming of the Shrew.” But Angelini – and here I have to guess that Nureyev’s influence n’etait pas pour rien – realizes something that not only more ballet company but more fine arts museum directors would do well to remember: When you are directing a ballet company – or, for that matter, even a modern company with a rich patrimoine – you are not just there to divert your audience, you are also there to share your rich heritage with them. You’re like a bookseller or librarian whose purpose should not just be to promote new titles but to introduce his readers to the classics, including 20th century classics. You also don’t pretend that everything started with you. And you are not there to serve your ego. ((Or pocket-book; large ballet company directors are often paid extra for their choreography.))

I also can’t help but think of New York City Ballet chief Peter Martins, who, with the doubly richest repertoire in American if not world ballet, from not just one but two giants, Balanchine and Robbins, continues, year after year, to infest the company’s repertory and waste his audience’s time with his unimaginative ((at best)) choreographies. For every Martins ballet that perturbs a program, I can’t help but think “Another 20 minutes of my life waisted, when he could have shown me more Balanchine or Robbins.” ((There is *one* argument that can be made for a ballet company’s director creating new work, even if the choreography is middling; to push and develop his dancers. This is why I don’t quite put another Balanchine disciple, San Francisco Ballet director Helgi Tomasson, in the same category as Martins; in his early work for the company, at least, even if it was compositionally not much more interesting than Martins’s, one of his laudable aims was to elevate the company’s technical level, which he found lacking when he arrived in 1985. Other Tomasson creations, notably “Nana’s Lied” for star Elizabeth Loscavio, allowed certain personalities to flower. I suspect that Angelini, who carefully chooses his choreographic outings, had similar motivations to this last for revising “Nutcracker”: the company’s production was tired, and a new setting couldn’t help but enhance the dancers’ emotional investment and enagement.))

Angelini, by contrast, is kind of the reverse of the gold-miner who descends on a country to mine its riches. ((This is not to ignore his cultivating of local talent and new work, for which he successfully pushed for the construction of a separate theater devoted to this task.)) He’s like the immigrant who arrives *with* a treasure trove of riches to share with his adaptive country. In a time when a new American president is making Lady Liberty blanche with shame by not opening *but closing* our borders to “the tired and the poor,” Angelini’s case ((I also note that both the stars featured in the above photo have “foreign-sounding” names)) also serves as a larger reminder that immigrants are not here to take and to diminish the cut of the pie available to natives but to give, and to expand the horizons of us all. – Paul Ben-Itzak)

TULSA — Classic tutu ballets like “Swan Lake” and “The Sleeping Beauty” are often thought of as the ultimate yardstick for measuring the maturity of a company. But other kinds of ballets can measure qualities every bit as important as the technical prowess the classics put to the test. John Cranko’s 1969 “The Taming of the Shrew,” which Tulsa Ballet performed last month at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, is one of those other kinds, a work that tests skills such as theatrical range, character acting, and the ability to sustain narrative continuity. ‘Shrew’ has more in common with the Ballets Russes classics TB performed regularly in its early decades than with the ‘white’ ballets in the classical canon. In a ballet like Ronald Hynd’s “The Merry Widow” (which, incidentally, TB is bringing back next season), it certainly matters whether steps are done correctly, but it matters more that the dancers make the audience able to see the story and get behind the characters. ‘Shrew,’ based on Shakespeare’s play, is like that, which made it refreshingly different after the high-toned technical seriousness of TB’s last two programs, which included “Swan Lake,” a fine rendition of George Balanchine’s “Theme and Variations,” and a mesmerizing performance of James Kudelka’s haunting “There, Below.”

To receive the rest of the article, including more photos, subscribers can contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at paulbenitzak@gmail.com. Not a subscriber? Subscribe to the Dance Insider for just $29.95/year ($99 for institutions gets full access for all your teachers, students, dance company members, etc.) and receive full access to our Dance Insider Archive of 2,000 exclusive reviews by 150 leading dance critics of performances on five continents from 1998 through 2016. Just designate your PayPal payment to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or write us at that address to find out about payment by check or in Euros. You can also purchase a complete copy of the Archives for just $49 (individuals) or $129 (institutions) Purchase by January 31, 2017 and receive a second, free copy for the recipient of your choice. Contact Paul at paulbenitzak@gmail.com .