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September 20, 2005

Karole Armitage - when the avant-garde mellows

via Ballet Talk, a very interesting profile of Karole Armitage in the Houston Chronicle. Interesting to see what happens when an enfante terrible is no longer enfante or terrible.

I didn't agree with all of Armitage's opinions, but that was more personal preference than considering her in error. I am in complete agreement with this last paragraph. It's certainly not the words of an iconoclast.

Unlike many younger choreographers, however, she doesn't think the classics need tweaking. "Ballet companies have a real obligation to do work of our time. And dancers should do things off pointe, because everything is about the body," she said. "But decorating classics in a new way is ridiculous. What is brilliant about Swan Lake is great choreography with a tremendous understanding of the human psyche. Newer versions are never as deep. It's good for commercial reasons, but it's superficial. I don't think it's advancing the art form."

I agree fully with her first two statements. My own view of classical art is that it's additive. Each generation needs to throw what it has to offer into the pot and stir. So contemporary work is essential. The question becomes, what are we going to add to the pot? Work in soft slippers is valuable to the dancers as well, because there are things a point shoe can do that a soft slipper cannot, built also all sorts of intermediate positions of the foot that are possible in a soft slipper that are impossible in a pointe shoe. We need both.

My personal opinion on the classics may even be slightly more radical, though my guess is Armitage would have presented a more nuanced argument had there been space and time. She sounds thoughtful. I personally believe that the classics must change over time but that change is gradual, rather like continental drift. But when you look at a work after fifty years, bodies have changed, fashions have changed, cultural mores have changed. The work needs to stay in context and that will mean small changes. The stagers of the work need to view themselves as advocates for the work and ask themselves as they set it, "What does the work need to look and feel to the present audience as it did to the audience of its time?"

Posted by Leigh Witchel at September 20, 2005 3:53 PM

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