« Random observations | Main | What to do when your vegetables threaten to go to the great crisper in the sky »

September 30, 2005

Ballet as vocabulary rather than tradition

Via Ballet Talk, Alonzo King talks to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Somehow, people think that ballet sprung up in Europe, but that's a complete fallacy," he says. "Their definition of what ballet is and what it is not are two different things. Ballet is not a style. It's a science of movement.

A very interesting, very large point and one that goes to the crux of where ballet came from and where it is going. It opens an entire philosophical can of worms about otherness as well. King, who is African American, is insisting on his place and right to the form [added 10/1/05 in the greater sense - he's been a success in the field for years - it isn't as if he's trying to break into ballet] , and his right to completely discard traditions that he feels exclude him and substitute his own. As they say, history is the story told by the folks in charge and people are always trying to write rival histories. I think an argument can be made to defend King's position [added 10/1/05 - about ballet being science rather than style. Ballet did start in Europe and its roots are in European folk dances - one can argue that European folk dance may have come from somewhere else, but at some point you are no longer talking about direct influences]; one can certainly see the results in King's work and in dance today.

Otherness is a powerful driving force in art but one I've rarely felt, which is at least part of the reason I'm not a radical and also why I'm not an advocate of King's position. I don't believe in the results. I have always found King's work structurally weak and too much of a hodge-podge; it's generally in sections and I think if you altered the order of the sections it would not affect the work. In my book, that's a defect. For all I know, he might argue that structure is unnecesssary or outdated just as he's already argued about style. But for me, ballet is not merely work danced on pointe, using turnout and ballet vocabulary. Style is central, essential and the most beautiful thing about ballet. If the work doesn't reference ballet's style and structures it stops being ballet and becomes something else.

Absolute purity is not necessary or necessarily desirable, but to use a favorite analogy, grafting a style to ballet is like flavoring a steak. If you put a teaspoon of soy sauce on a pound of steak, you have steak with an Asian flavor and it's more interesting for it. If you use equal amounts of steak and soy sauce, you have something inedible . Proportion is everything; you need to decide what's home base, what's flavoring, how much is enough and how much is too much.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at September 30, 2005 4:00 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


Post a comment

Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)