How emotion left dance
It is mystifying to find choreographers today taking form so seriously but leaving feeling behind. Is this a slow trailing off from modernism or a misconceived tribute to the idea of abstraction, or is it the beginning of a new way of thinking?
Before 2013 begins, catch up on the best of 2012. From now until the New Year, we will be re-posting some of The New Republic’s most thought-provoking pieces of the year. Enjoy. ALONZO KING is not a celebrity. He is virtually unknown outside the dance world, and even to insiders he is something of an outsider, a choreographer-monk working away with a small troupe of devoted dancers in San Francisco. It is not that his work has gone unrecognized: he has won dozens of awards and made ballets for companies as diverse as the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater and the Royal Swedish Ballet.
Paul McCartney’s new ballet Ocean’s Kingdom with choreography by Peter Martins is the worst ballet I have seen in years and an all-time low for the New York City Ballet. Here we have—in 2011!—a throwback to an antiquated 19th century form: the romantic story ballet, complete with underwater sea maidens and a silly pantomime story that is impossible to follow, much less care about. Martins, who took over NYCB soon after George Balanchine’s death in 1983, has been working for several decades to unravel modernism and revive this old fairy-tale art.
The Bright StreamAmerican Ballet Theatre Anna Karenina; The Little Humpbacked HorseMariinsky Ballet, Metropolitan Opera House Incredibly, the hit of the New York dance season this spring was The Bright Stream, a restaging of a Soviet “tractor-ballet” from 1935, about a Caucasian collective farm complete with hammer, sickle, and happy farmers making merry in a sunlit workers’ paradise. The ballet comes to us directly from Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre, where it was first restaged in 2003 with new choreography by the Russian choreographer Alexei Ratmansky.
Black Swan was a spectacular idea. This is not a movie about ballet—it is a ballet: Tchaikovsky’s evening-length Swan Lake transposed into a modern psychosexual thriller, an edgy cinematic re-make of a dance classic. The film’s director, Darren Aronofsky, spent years circling the cloistered world of ballet trying to find a way in: he watched dancers work and perform and talked to them about their art; he marveled at ballet’s uncanny mix of melodrama, camp, eroticism, and high art, and above all at its grueling physical demands.
Merce Cunningham died at his home in New York City on July 26, 2009, at the age of 90. He was one of the most important modern dance choreographers of the 20th century. Born near Seattle in 1919, his career spanned the postwar era: He made his first dance in 1944 and directed his own troupe, The Merce Cunningham Dance Company, for over 50 years from 1953 until his death last week. He created over 200 dances for his company, many of which are now performed by companies worldwide; he also mounted works on the New York City Ballet and the Paris Opera Ballet.