Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Jennifer Homans And Joseph Cornell On The Memory Of Balletic And Other Performance-Based Art Forms

"Classical ballet today has enormous prestige, but not because it is thought to be aesthetically innovative or cutting-edge. Its current stature rests more on its tradition and its past. In recent years we have seen lavish productions and reconstructions of many nineteenth- and twentieth-century classics performed across Europe, Russia, and America by the Kirov Ballet, the Bolshoi Ballet, American Ballet Theater, New York City Ballet, the Royal Ballet, and the Paris Opera Ballet. The modernist project of making ballet "new" is subsiding, and we are settling into a curatorial age dedicated to preserving the old. Ours is the era of the canon.

But what is the canon in classical ballet? In most arts, such a question would trigger passionate and even rancorous debate. Not so in ballet. A few works are universally known and accepted as "the classics": from the nineteenth century, La Sylphide, Giselle, Coppélia, The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, and La Bayadère; from the twentieth century, Les Sylphides, Petrouchka, L'après-midi d'un faune, Apollo, Serenade, Concerto Barocco, and Agon. Many would expand the list to include other works of the modern era by Jerome Robbins, Antony Tudor, Frederick Ashton, and Kenneth MacMillan; and we might easily agree to add more ballets by George Balanchine. But few would dispute the core group, which constitutes the canon in classical ballet today.

If we look closely, however, this list is quite peculiar. It includes only a handful of ballets, most of which originated in nineteenth-century France or late imperial Russia, with a smattering of twentieth-century works--and many of those by Russian-born choreographers. Even the nineteenth-century French ballets we have today are not really French: La Sylphide premiered in Paris in 1832, but the version we know originated in Denmark in 1836. Giselle was first performed in Paris in 1841, but as two French scholars have ruefully noted, "The only and true Giselle is Russian"--the version we know derives from the St. Petersburg production of 1884. Coppélia, from 1870, is in fact the only truly French ballet in the canon. This is quite remarkable, considering that the fundamental precepts of the art form were codified in France in the seventeenth century, and ballet has enjoyed an unbroken tradition there to the present day." ...

Jennifer Homans "The Memory of an Art" The New Republic On-line Post date: 11.18.06 Issue date: 11.27.06



Joseph Cornell: Navigating the Imagination
Nov. 17, 2006 through Feb. 19, 2007
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C., United States

"Joseph Cornell: Navigating the Imagination" is a landmark exhibition that expands the critical and public appreciation of Cornell as a modern American master. This major retrospective, the first in more than 25 years, presents new insights into Cornell's career, illuminating the richness of the themes he explored across all media. The exhibition features 177 of Cornell's finest box constructions, collages, dossiers, films and graphic designs, as well as an array of source materials from the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Joseph Cornell Study Center. More than 30 Cornell works will be on public display for the first time. "Navigating the Imagination" presents a number of new ideas and new opportunities for understanding Cornell's work. The exhibition marks the first time that his films, a greater range of his collages and the open-ended projects called "explorations" are being shown in the company of the box constructions for which he is best known.

"Ideals are like stars; you will not succeed in touching them with your hands. But like the seafaring man on the desert of waters, you choose them as your guides, and following them you will reach your destiny."--Carl Schurz, Address, Faneuil Hall, Boston, April 18, 1859. From the series Great Ideas of Western Man.
ca. 1957-1958
Joseph Cornell
Smithsonian American Art Museum

Link to 203 images of Joseph Cornell's works in the current exhibition of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Mr Cornell was haunted by the ephemerality of the beauty of the balletic art form and ballerinas.

Photo credit: (c) Estate of Joseph Cornell via Smithsonian American Art Museum. With thanks.


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