Unreal Nature

October 2, 2016

Whatever One Loves

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:36 am

… It is no use wasting time puzzling over what one doesn’t love; one had better keep looking, and sharply, to see if there isn’t something one does, because it goes so fast …

This is from ‘Some Thoughts about Classicism and George Balanchine‘ [1953] found in Edwin Denby: Dance Writings, edited by Robert Cornfield and William MacKay (1986):

… Then, taking up the issue of style, [Balanchine] answered that there were of course several styles of classic dancing; he was interested in one particular one, the one he had learned as a boy from his great teachers in Petersburg — classic mime and character as well as academic style. He spoke as a quiet man does of something he knows entirely and knows he loves. He sketched the history of the Petersburg style.

[line break added] Then he took up aspects of other styles he did not care for — a certain sanctimonious decentness in that of Sadler’s Wells, a note of expensively meretricious tastiness in that of the Paris Opéra — these are not his words, but I thought it was his meaning. He was not denying the right of others to a different taste than his own; nor did he mean to minimize the achievements of these two great bodies, but only to specify points of divergence. He said he believed in an energetic style, even a soldierly one, if one chose to put it that way.

Balanchine had offered no rhetorical message. He had made his points distinctly and without insistence. It was several days before I realized more fully the larger ideas on the subject of style that his points had implied. He had suggested, for one, that style demands a constant attention to detail which the public is not meant to notice, which only professionals spot, so unemphatic do they remain in performance. The idea, too, of style as something a man who has spent many years of his life working in an art loves with attentive pertinacity.

[ … ]

… What Balanchine tries for as classic acting is not an emphatic emotional stress placed on a particular gesture for expression’s sake. He tries instead to have expression present as a color throughout a dance or a role, sometimes growing a trifle stronger, sometimes less. It is as if a gesture were made in its simplest form by the whole body as it dances. This is a grand style of acting not at all like the usual Broadway naturalism. In ballet a realistic gesture if it is overstressed, or if the timing of it makes the dancer dwell on it “meaningfully,” gets clammy; the grand style remains acceptable at any speed or intensity …

… There is nothing hidden or esoteric or even frustrated about the expression of one of his dance ballets. The meaning of it, as of classical dancing generally, is whatever one loves as one watches it without thinking why. It is no use wasting time puzzling over what one doesn’t love; one had better keep looking, and sharply, to see if there isn’t something one does, because it goes so fast there is always a lot one misses.

[line break added] Pretty people, pretty clothes, pretty lights, music, pictures, all of it in motion with surprises and feats and all those unbelievable changes of speed and place and figure and weight and a grand continuous rhythm and a tumultuous sweep of imaginary space opening up further and forever, glorious and grand.

My most recent previous post from Denby’s book is here.

-Julie

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