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cabrales

New York City Ballet

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I have a cogent response to all of this -- but it'll have to wait until I'm not dog-tired and halfway through a bottle of Petit Chablis.

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1. It's true that both Rodeo and Serenade acknowledge gender differences. But of the two, only Serenade is sexist. That's because Rodeo acknowledges gender differences in ballet in order to subvert them. Whereas Serenade offers up the worst, most injurious stereotypes: the woman is presented as nothing more than An Object of Male Desire/An Ideal of Beauty. Don't get me wrong: I think Serenade is a great ballet, a masterpiece. But it also pisses me off. And if ballet continues to rely on such stereotypes, it's going to die. Because educated people will no longer accept them. (You can try to minimize this by recasting it as "pandering to the sociopolitical preconceptions of the target audience" -- but then you can minimize anything by using ugly words to describe it.)

 

2. Now to say the same thing more generally. The problem isn't so much recognition of gender differences in itself (although gender-neutral casting should be the rule in ballet much more than it is, the way it is in modern dance; gender differences between dancers just aren't as great as you seem to claim). Rather, the problem is gender stereotyping. If women are always presented as princesses/victims/objects of desire/ideals of beauty, then something is wrong. (This is a problem with Wheeldon as well as Ratmansky.) If ballet continues that way, it will go the way of mainstream "grand" opera: something appreciated mainly by either an ironic audience as camp, or by people who pay attention only to technique (as the content is so execrable). (Or, of course, by brain-dead socialites.)

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Which Serenade?

 

But again this is a case for popularity, which is sort of uninteresting to me because it's an empirical forecasting question – and not even a well-defined one. I mean, what's more popular, Puccini or Adès?

 

I mean, it's also worth noting that After the Rain is, like, a super broad, massive crossover smash hit. That's not really consistent with your model.

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The broader point is that this is all niche as hell anyway. Is there any necessary link between the approval of this audience and "artistic merit" as its own thing? Like, Ratmansky's work clearly doesn't lack for artistic merit. So what's the point here?

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Art needs an audience. It won't survive if it alienates that audience.

 

Further to that, and in response to some things you said before, there's a difference between "transgressive" and "reactionary". Ratmansky in his work isn't making any arguments in response to the principled opposition to gender stereotypes; he's simply repeating those stereotypes.

 

Moreover -- and this is a problem that I believe has infected both America's artistic and political culture -- people seem to have forgotten that "transgression" as an artistic end, as advanced in the late 19th and 20th Century, had a moral component. What was supposed to be "transgressed" were the worst tendencies of our society, not the best. If you "transgress" emerging anti-racist norms, for example, you're not "transgressive". You're racist.

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Do watch D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation frequently? It's really great cinema. Wonder why we don't watch it now? What if most movies were still like that?

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I could be the only one here who took "History of the Motion Picture" at university. Only problem was that it was an 8am class and it was terribly easy to drift back off to sleep in the dark and cozy little theater.

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Bizarrely, were okay with Eisenstein. How about that? And we dont generally stop reading writers who necessarily have views we disagree with.

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These aren't "views", though. They're stereotypes. As I said, these pieces aren't making arguments. They're simply relying on stereotypes that we may no longer accept.

 

There probably comes a time when that no longer matters: no one is bothered by European Christian religious art, whatever their views of religion or Christianity. We even accept Bach's St. John Passion, despite its anti-Semitism. Maybe it's while the stereotypes are being contested that this makes a difference.

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Thinking about it, a difference between Bach and sexist ballet is that with Bach, anti-Semitism seems external to the form, and so is fairly easy to disregard (and just kick back and enjoy the music). Whereas in ballet the sexism is so pervasive, and seems so central to the style as it's come down, that it seems like it's baked in the cake.

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Yeah, that was a bit of a throwaway argument. You could also point out that nobody really watches Eisenstein for entertainment any more either.

 

More directly, while art needs to find an audience in the sense that if I make a painting, then burn it, but never tell anyone, I won't have accomplished anything of note, it's not the case that said audience necessarily has to overlap with, say, young, trendy, mainstream people. The audience doesn't even have to be contemporary with the artist! If ballet, being more expensive, must accord more with the mainstream, then that's to the weakness of the art.

 

More broadly, I don't think the case against reaction is really coherent without having an extremely Whiggish view of history. What were those "worst tendencies"? Like, who's to answer that question? Except potentially retrospectively by applying anachronistic moral judgments.

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And I didn't mean Bach. I was thinking Plato or Aquinas. But better yet take Milton – "Of nature her th' inferior in the mind" – I don't see how one disregards that line.

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