“The Masters Are Dead and Gone”

Pretty much every possible thing you can do with a baby is controversial in some way, to somebody, including simple things that you’d think nobody would care about.
Like, How Are You Gonna Feed The Baby? (with my boobs) For How Long (one year) Where? (in public, topless, under a big neon arrow that flashes BOOBIES BOOBIES BOOBIES)
Ok to be fair it doesn’t seem like breastfeeding is all that controversial anymore. Seems like it’s pretty much assumed mammas are gonna nurse, unless they can’t for some reason, in which case the public consciousness agrees that we must support those mammas and not judge.
Or maybe that’s just the feeling here in Los Angeles.
But anyway, thinking about parenting controversies is fun and all but then I get distracted and start thinking about ballet and whether there are any big ballet controversies. Any balletical thing that gets people all in a twist the way baby stuff does.
And I thought about shoes? Like canvas slippers versus leather slippers?
But no, that seems like pretty much personal preference maybe influenced by local climate.
Different schools of ballet?
No, they all seem to respect each others methods publicly while knowing in their hearts that their way is the correct way. (Or maybe that’s just the Vaganova attitude.)
The most controversial post here on Adult Beginner, judging from the passionate comments it received, was the one where my midwives advised me to stop taking ballet during pregnancy. But that’s not exactly a ballet controversy, more of a pregnancy controversy.
So hmmm.
So then I thought about twitter and what has had my twitter feed all up in a lather, and suddenly was like Aha! Apollo’s Angels! That epilogue! People were totally offended when the book came out because of something in the epilogue!
Sounded like the gist of what upset people was an assertion that ballet is dead, or something, which just seemed to me like kind of a challenge/flame-bait/prove-me-wrong-children type statement, I mean obviously the author, Jennifer Homans, loves ballet, she wrote a frikin 550 page book about it, she doesn’t want it to be dead, right? So she must be laying that out as a challenge? If that’s even what the epilogue really says?
I mean, I remember seeing tweets from people refusing to read the book at all, out of anger about whatever was in this epilogue, which is a mere ten pages out of an amazing, thorough, fascinating, informative book that has made me feel way less ig’nant about the entire history of ballet.
So I happened to be in the middle of the last two chapters, the ones on ballet in the United States, and was totally excited when I got to the end and it was time to read this Scandalous Epilogue.
And there are a couple of Oh Snap moments!
It’s titled The Masters Are Dead and Gone, which is just kinda like BAM! Right from the get-go,
And she’s not impressed with today’s performers,
And the main message I get is that ballet, as far as choreography and performance, is in a state of retrospection.
Kinda holding onto the past in death grip like how the Adult Beginner holds the barre during ronde des jambes. Holding desperately while waiting for a genius to come along and bring ballet into it’s next evolution.
Which I think is interesting because, like, I get that looking to the past strangles the future, but as an audience member, I really like seeing works from the past. I was thrilled to get to see Swan Lake and I would love to see Giselle or lé Sylphide, and I am totally excited that the Joffrey’s production of Rite of Spring is coming to town next spring.
Which doesn’t stop me from totally lol-ing when Homans refers to the process of recreating the lost choreography for Rite via contemporary reviews, notes, and sketches as a Travesty.
Hee! That’s right girl, you wrote the book, you tell it like you see it, I’mma still go watch that thing!
I think part of why I wanna see the old stuff is a desire to see something authentic, something rooted in The Real, The Original, even if I know it’s a recent choreography.
I’ll let myself be fooled.
After all the Ballet Russe was totally selling Paris on an overly exotic fantasy tourist vision of Russia, and Paris went nuts for it.
Another thing the epilogue talks about is the world of ballet having become homogenous, like, she uses the example of England’s Royal Ballet, which, in 2005, had only two British principle dancers out of sixteen. Which keeps it viable, but looses the sense of seeing British Ballet when you go to see the British Ballet.
Which is like when I am in New York and I go see American Ballet Theater, and read through the bios and realize I’m not seeing anything particularly American. I mean, I know Being American is not ABT’s focus, but, you know, it goes back to that authenticity thing, I wanna see something that has an opinion and is real and really represents Something.
And then on the other hand I think I probably don’t know enough to judge.
Which Homans sites as one of the problems of ballet nowadays, the average person doesn’t feel they know enough to judge.
Which is a shame because when you’re afraid to judge a ballet the way you would judge a movie, you’re taking ballet out of the realm of entertainment and putting it into another category. Elite World, or Fancy Stuff For Snooty People, or something.
I have to go return Apollo’s Angels to the library; it is due the same day as my baby, and I don’t want to incur late-fees on either.
PS, Dudes, I finished the book! Feel like I should get my name up on a wall somewhere, like when you drink every cocktail at Tiki Ti!

About adultbeginner

Had my first ballet class Ever at the advanced age of thirty-two. Yikes.
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15 Responses to “The Masters Are Dead and Gone”

  1. Ashley says:

    ::cough:: Carolina Ballet doing both Rite of Spring and Giselle this season ::cough::

    Actually, I think she’s not giving enough credit where credit is due. Ballet is something more of a historic preservation art form in some respects. By continuing to hold on to and perform older ballets they’re showing respect for what came before. By filling in where something got lost, they’re both showing that respect and making it their own and new and modern. You also have to take the birth place of the company members with a bit of understanding of how the world is today. You don’t walk down the streets of LA or NY or even podunk USA and expect everyone to have been born there because that’s just not how the world is anymore. If everyone you work with is relocated from somewhere and that’s ok then it has to be ok for the members of ABT to be drawn from around the world. When it comes down to it, it’s the same thing. They’re co-workers who come from different walks of life doing the same job for the same company. Big deal.

    I don’t agree with what she writes but I also don’t think it’s worth getting all hot and bothered over and protesting her book.

    • Yeah, good point, the World has gotten kinda homogenous, so the world of ballet can’t help but follow.
      Also, totally awesome season. North Carolina, you better go see these shows and make the Adult Beginner jealous.

  2. Laura says:

    Ballet (actually pointe) shoe controversy summed up in 2 words: Gaynor Minden.

    Also, congratulations for finishing the book!

  3. LWP Elle says:

    I also looked at the comment in the epilogue of AA as a challenge to do something to make ballet more relevant to our time. As for controversy, there’s always the same old art vs. athletics thing going on. ( see this article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/risa-gary-kaplowitz/the-taming-of-the-tutu-a-_b_1739994.html)

    • Totes. Reminds me of that completely insane mind blowing Swan Lake by the Great Chinese State Circus, where the white swan totally stands on her partner’s head. I was white-knuckle-gripping the iPad while yelling Omygawd at the screen, and watched it several times in a row, but yeah, not getting much of a tragical cursed princess longing for freedom and true love vibe.

  4. tyler says:

    whaaat cool that you’re talking about this – i just bought that book, like, friday! on a whim! on my way to a wedding where my husband was being a groomsman and i was being bored for hours during photos and stuff. i lovelovelove it so far, and i love your interpretation of/thoughts on the epilogue. totally haven’t read that part for myself yet though…maybe in a few weeks……..

  5. Crystal says:

    Actually, I thought the most controversial post on here was about the bananas. ;)

    The biggest ballet controversies that come to my mind are the body image/eating disorder-type ones, and the “who slept with Balanchine and when”-type ones.

    (I haven’t read Apollo’s Angels yet, because I skimmed it and it seemed pretty Canada-lite. The National Ballet of Canada? Les Grands Ballets Canadians? Major companies that hosted Baryshnikov and Nureyev. Sheesh, Homans!)

    Signed, a Canadian adult beginner who loves bananas and this blog…

    • True, Canada-lite.
      Homans should totally do a second book about all the countries that weren’t in Apollo’s Angels, it would be interesting to read how the ballet diaspora continued/continues to spread.
      Ha! Word, that bananas post got pretty heated.

  6. Katy says:

    You definitely deserve a medal! (…and now my copy is staring resentfully at me from the bookshelf. But not quite as resentfully as No Fixed Points which I have neglected even more assiduously.)

    I always thing breastfeeding is a bit like pointe work. Before you start everyone will tell you it’s unspeakable agony or they never got a blister and don’t see what the fuss is about. There are all sorts of superstitions and preparations that people suggest and there’s no way to know if they’ll work for you until you try. Then, once you think you’ve got the hang of it, someone comes by and tells you that you’re doing it wrong.

  7. Tiffany says:

    I thought your review of this book (and ballet) were very thoughtful. It sounds to me like you know more than enough to judge, so keep right on keeping on! I haven’t read the book, but from what is being said about it… sounds to me that Mrs Homans is speaking from a first world prospective. It’s easy enough to call something dead when you’re bored with it because you’ve grown up around it your entire life. In the spring of this year I had the opportunity to go to Africa to be part of an International Ballet Competition. I was interviewed along side a 15 year old boy who blatantly said that for the longest time he thought “ballet was for white people” (Which is a left over assumption from the Apartheid). Now that someone has come along and thankfully changed his perspective he has found an art he loves and is in pursuit of a professional career.

    There are places all of the world that don’t even know what ballet is (or have the wrong idea of it) and who’s fault is that for not sharing it with them? American ballet dancers, especially, are particularly snobby and entitled. I’m saying this having danced numerous places around the world and being American myself, it’s rather embarrassing. We have no appreciation for what we have and take it for granted (a first world point of view) and because of this we are constantly trying to change something instead of appreciating it for what it is. If anything, we are killing it ourselves… instead of embracing it’s history and teaching those around us about it. Ballet is not dead, but if it is “dying” it’s not because of the classics. Someone has to take responsibility and that falls back on those who know ballet. If things are going to change, we need to start outside our box (by teaching friends about the art – like you said, the way they know movies & other entertainment – and branching out to introduce people from countries that don’t even have ballet schools much less companies) not inside it (with new “innovative” choreography to classical ballets).

    Love your blog. xo

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