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André Delfau Interview No. 04 [October 24, 1985]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0526
Run Time
0h 18m 35s
Date Produced
October 24 1985
Q: Why do you suppose that ballet Bolero isn't performed more?
A: Because Ruth has no company. It's not a ballet you could easily perform in another company.
Q: Why?
A: Because there will be some objections, I suppose.
Q: Not having the right dancers?
A: Not only that, but most of the companies found it kind of scandalous.
Q: Why is it, do you think, André, that there are so few ballets -- I mean there's Swan Lake of course, there are a number of others and many of Balanchine's ballets -- that are performed by other companies? But there are really not a great many of them, I mean, it's not the sort of thing . . . .
A: No, the classics. That's very interesting, the way things disappear and the way things remain. And you never know really. One of the most interesting stories is the story of Sleeping Beauty. Diaghilev wanted to revive Sleeping Beauty. It was completely forgotten, and it was never danced really in Paris and London. It was a Russian production with Tchaikovsky's music. It was for the court in Russia. And he wanted to show it to Europe, too, and he spent a lot of money with Bakst, fantastic costumes and sceneries, and it was a big flop in London in 1920 or '21, just after the First World War. It was a big flop because Diaghilev had his own very clever and brilliant elite, interested only in modern art, and they could care less about Tchaikovsky music and eighteenth century-style sceneries and costume. It was a period that they only wanted modern art. They were only interested in Picasso, Matisse, and they could care less about the Petipa choreography and the entire thing.
Q: I was reading about that.
A: Fashions, you see, and so . . . .
Q: Fashions, yes.
A: Yes, and so after that, of course, Diaghilev understood that and never tried to bring back another old ballet. He just did modern things until his death. And he was less and less interested in it himself.
Q: Now, the trend really has become, in most European countries as well as here, that choreographers become associated with companies and those companies do their ballets.
A: Well, it's a question of personality. I don't think a company could exist for a long time without a personality. And the personality could be not an artistic one, but it has to be somebody completely devoted to what it's doing. Like Lucia Chase for ABT, and without that the company is doomed. And we can see that now in ballet everywhere. When you have not a very strong personality to keep things together, it falls apart. Which is easy to understand.
Q: Yes, although it seems as though, for example, if you look at opera there are the great opera impresarios and people who have been the driving force behind a particular opera company. And yet, they will do other companies' productions of some of the more famous operas. I mean, they will bring in the sets and the costumes, and even the director from one opera company to another. But that doesn't happen in ballet, or rarely happens.
A: Well, in opera the question of creation is not so important, you see. Most operas are from one hundred years ago, and the last really important ones were made more than sixty years ago. The last was Alban Berg's Lulu and Wozzeck, and that's the last masterpiece. After that you have some [Benjamin] Britten operas which are very charming, lovely, but not so important. And so they are dealing with things already made.
     And in America, at least, ballet companies are supposed to create. And if you want to create something, you need a personality -- not two or three personalities, but one personality, you see. Because if you have two or three personalities, they fight with each other, and it's not very good. I think the miracle is when you have Mr. Balanchine and Mr. Robbins together for such a long time in the New York City Ballet. But, of course, the one never saw the other working, and they never interfered.
Q: Who would you say was the major . . . what choreographers would you say had been major influences on American dance?
A: I think Balanchine. There is no comparison with any other choreographer. Balanchine with Lincoln Kirstein as a kind of go-between, because Balanchine would have never reached the American audience without Kirstein, I think. Of course, Balanchine was the great genius and the great influence.
Q: How would you describe Balanchine choreography?
A: Balanchine's choreography came directly from Petipa and all the other classical [choreographers]. And other influence, very strong at the beginning of Balanchine, was the new spirit in Russia -- which was a very short life, because when Stalin came it was over, thrown out. But there was a spirit of creation at the beginning of Communist Russia. And it was when Balanchine was very young, and it was very daring and very acrobatic. And so Balanchine, the young Balanchine, was a combination of this classical, very strong and pure technique, and some acrobatic and daring movements. Ruth was the first one to ask Balanchine to make a ballet for her. You know that?
Q: I do know that.
A: And apparently, it was an acrobatic pas de deux. I mean, it was not pure classical.
Q: No. No. It was called Polka Melancolique.
A: Yes.
Q: How would you describe the Balanchine dancer?
A: The Balanchine dancer is cool, certainly. He has not to express emotions, or at least not exaggerated or theatrical. He is anti-theatrical. His body is supposed to say all. Not his face. He is Balanchine, the spirit of Balanchine on stage. He doesn't want personalities. He wants beautiful bodies and talent, of course.
Q: Of course. Now how would you contrast that with the spirit of Martha Graham?
A: Oh, Martha Graham is another thing. Balanchine was a performer for a very short time, you see. And practically nobody saw him dancing. And we don't know if he was a genius as a dancer, but apparently not. Martha Graham was a genius of a performer, you see. And it was the combination of genius as a performer and of talent as a choreographer that was on stage and made Martha Graham so important. And I don't think the ballets of Martha Graham are constructions of the mind that could resist time like some of Balanchine's. Because it was a combination of imagination, talent, and performing possibilities. She was a fantastic seller of her own ballets, you see.
Q: So, essentially what you're saying is a Martha Graham ballet without Martha Graham is . . .
A: Is half . . .
Q: Is half, yeah.
A: . . . of what it was. Maybe I'm wrong, I don't know. But this is my feeling.
Q: No. How would you compare the choreography of Ruth Page to the choreography of Balanchine and Martha Graham?
A: Oh, it is very different, very different from both. Balanchine is pure dance -- like you have some pure poetry, it's pure dance. And the less interference, the better for him. Sometimes he has to, but it was a kind of concession to the audience. Really he doesn't want anything on stage [except] the body and the dance. And Ruth is not like that at all. She has a very strong feeling for stories and emotions, and she is theatrical, you see. And I never saw her dancing, but I'm sure she was as a performer very theatrical herself. But it's not like Martha Graham. It was not a most important part for her. When she was doing a ballet, she was not thinking about telling a story and doing it well.
Q: And that really traces back to another earlier, the earlier Italian and French and Russian storytelling traditions of dance.
A: Yes, yes.
Q: Why do you think it is that in this country the sort of premier name and the most fashionable forms of ballets has been Balanchine?
A: Because he was the first. I mean he was the first to take the tradition of classical ballet and make a new direction of it. Make the classical go in new direction. Especially with Stravinsky's music, you see. And so they were both going the same direction, together. Musicians like Stravinsky and Balanchine were both going in the same direction, using the classical language which was unknown in America, more or less, you see. America created the
personalities like Isadora Duncan, Ruth St. Denis, and, of course, Ruth Page and Doris Humphrey and Martha Graham, and those dancers were not classically trained at the beginning at all, you see. They were geniuses, rough geniuses without the culture, without the education of the body that was the classical. Ruth had the chance to dance with Pavlova when she was very young. She was seventeen. So she has more of the classical training and spirit than the others. But most of American choreographers and American audiences, too, were not in relation with this big classical background, which was the background of Balanchine.
Q: Do you think that's going to change now?
A: Of course.
Q: In what way? What do you think . . . .
A: That, nobody could tell. Nobody could tell. There is not another Balanchine because there's never another person, never another Nijinsky, never another Diaghilev. So we have to wait and see what will happen. I think there is a lot of talent, of course, but there is some personalities very, very important and somebody like Paul Taylor, I think, is very, very American and very important.
Related Place
Chicago (production location of)