An investigation into the revival of ballet themes

World Theatre 1 Jan 1957English

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Contextual note

Lobet's report was printed in two columns with the original French text on the right side and an English translation on the left. Sarma only publishes the English translation.

The text was published as part of a special issue of the international magazine World Theatre on 'La danse et la vie' ('Dance and life'). Other contributions in the same issue were 'The dance in contemporary China' by A.G. Scott and 'The trends of modern ballet in India' by Mrs. Simkie, and the section 'Chroniques du monde / World reviews' on theatrical life in several countries. Members of the executive committee of the magazine were representatives from Chili, Italy, Yugoslavia, India, France, Turkey, Poland, the United States and Greece. The chief editor was the Belgian René Hainaux and it was published by Elsevier (Brussels-Paris).

Marcel Lobet comments on the replies of
Frederick Ashton (Choreographer - Assistant Director of the Royal Ballet, London), Kresimir Baranovic (Compositeur, Belgrade), Mladen Basic (Directeur de l'Opéra de Zagreb), Maurice Béjart (Danseur et chorégraphe, Paris), Boris Blacher (Komponist, Berlin), André Boll (Auteur et critique, Paris), Edouard Borovansky (Director of the Borovansky Ballet Company, Sydney), Vladimir Bourmeister (Maître de ballet, Théâtre Stanislavski et Nemirovitch-Dantchenko, Moscou), Janine Charrat (Danseuse et chorégraphe, Paris), Jean Cocteau (Paris), Birgit Cullberg (Choreographer, Royal Opera, Stockholm), Beth Dean (Dancer and essayist, Australia), Ugo Dell' Ara (Coreografo, Teatro alla Scala, Milano), Anton Dolin (Choreographer - Artistic Director of the London's Festival Ballet, London), Werner Egk (Komponist, Miinchen), Margot Fonteyn de Arias (Prima Ballerina of the Royal Ballet, London), Françoise et Dominique (Danseurs et chorégraphes, Paris), Bianca Gallizia (Coreografa, Teatro di San Carlo, Napoli), Sonia Gaskell (Artistiek Leidster, Nederlands Ballet, Den Haag), Martha Graham (Dancer and choreographer, New York), Tatjana Gsovsky (Choreograph, Berliner Ballett, Berlin), Arnold Haskell (Ballet critic - Director of the Royal Ballet School, London), Franjo Horvat (Chorégraphe, Sarajévo), Doris Humphrey (Choreographer, New York), La Meri (Dancer and choreographer, New York), Niels Björn Larsen (Danseur et chorégraphe, Theatre Royal, Copenhague), Irene Lidova (Critique, Paris), Jose Limon (Dancer and choreographer, New York), Alexandre Louchine (Decorateur, Théâtre Stanislavski et Nemirovitch-Dantchenko, Moscou), Colette Marchand (Danseuse-étoile, Paris), Aurelio Milloss (Coreografo, Roma), Igor Moisseev (Chorégraphe - Directeur de l'Ensemble des Danses nationales de I' U.R.S.S., Moscou), Oscar Navarro (Décorateur, Théâtre Expérimental de I' Université du Chili, Santiago), Galina Oulanova (Prima Ballerina, Théâtre Bolshoi, Moscou), Maia Plissetzkaia (Danseuse-étoile, Théâtre Bolshoi, Moscou), Mira Redina (Danseuse-étoile, Théâtre Stanislavski et Nemirovitch-Dantchenko, Moscou), Georges Reymond (Organisateur, Paris), Dusan Ristic (Décorateur, Belgrade), Elvira Ruziczka (Maîtresse de ballet, Staatsoper, Wien), Helen Tamiris (Dancer and choreographer, New York), Tomislav Tanhofer (Metteur en scene, Belgrade), Mikhail Tchoulaki (Commpositeur, Moscou), Walter Terry (Critic, New York).

Choreography has today reached a turning point in its evolution. On the one hand certain modernistic experiments seem to have exhausted their capacities for new ideas while classical or neo-classical ballets are enjoying unexpected success in countries up to now devoted to expressionistic and national dance; it is somewhat curious to note moreover that Russian ballet has a very marked conservative tendency while American ballet sometimes shows itself as distinctly revolutionary.

This suggests to the observer many questions regarding the future of the ballet. In the same way that painting has passed from the representational to the abstract to return already to the “ allusive ”, shall we also perhaps see ballet gradually give up the “ story ” ⎯ which made it a pantomime in former days⎯in favour of abstraction, considered as the expression of pure dancing?

Turning to the young choreographers one sees them using mythological subjects as in the 18th century, or the Romantic period, while at the same time seeking their inspiration in current problems, even in psychoanalysis. Maurice Béjart has composed Symphonie pour un Homme seul (Symphony for a Man Alone) as well as a Prométhée.

One might think that politics and social preoccupations would have an influence on modern ballet. But success in this domain is rather rare.

Then, too, one can see a tendency among some companies towards a miscellany which enables organisers to choose from works of proven value as much as from new productions. For instance, the American Ballet Theatre included in its repertoire Swan Lake while producing, after the theatre and the cinema, a ballet version of A Streetcar Named Desire. Is this a token of confusion or of creative vitality? The time is ripe for an international investigation into the present trend of ballet, its chances of finding fresh sources of inspiration, the public’s favourite themes, and the future of ballet aesthetics.

This enquiry was the idea of Yves-Bonnat, President of the international association of Les Amis de la Danse. As he had not the time to conduct it on a world scale, « World theatre » asked me to undertake this task. I accordingly drew up a questionnaire, which was sent to the world’s leading choreographers, and also to a number of dancers, composers, designers and critics. From the number, variety and extensiveness of their replies we may assure the reader that the survey offered him here is complete. Our only regret is that we have not the space to publish these replies in full. We trust the authors will forgive us and accept our thanks...


QUESTION ONE : Will the ballet in future be more abstract than representational? In other words will it be directed towards “ pure ” dancing for the sole pleasure of line and movement, or, on the contrary, will it give an important place to the scenario and its content?

We wanted to find out whether ballet was following the same evolution as that of painting⎯that is away from the story and pantomime towards a more “ allusive ” form of expression. The success of ballets such as Etudes, by Lander, Le Palais de Cristal, by Balanchine, Variations and Grand Pas, by Lifar, could give us an indication. But it seems as though “ pure ” dance, without a theme, will only be fully appreciated by a small, special public. In a performance consisting of three or four choreographic works, the abstract ballet is placed at the end of the programme when the audience is sated with the “ story ” ballet.

The average audience will always prefer the ballet which has characters because it is the only one which is really theatrical. This is the opinion of Janine Charrat, of Margot Fonteyn, Bianca Gallizia, Oscar Navarro and of José Limon, who draws attention to the fact that the human body, the instrument of dance, is by its nature expressive and “ representational ”.

Maurice Béjart, one is left in no doubt, has a very personal conception of pure dance. He writes: “ I think that ballet will always gain by turning towards pure dance, but the latter is not and need not be the unemotional gymnastics nor the sterile intellectual performance that is usually known as abstract ballet. Dance can be pure and lyrical, and psychological, and express the essential feeling of the human soul, the scenario being no longer the shallow or “ theatrical ” story of traditional ballet, but a symphony of sensations and sentiments which speak to man through the dance form ”.

Janine Charrat links the abstract ballet with the absence of costumes, the ballet dancer’s tights accentuating linear purity: “ Abstract ballet, of pure line, if it remains visual and decorative, may have great appeal: it pleases the eye and arouses the same satisfaction as that caused by the fluttering of tu-tus. It could become the rival of the “ white ballet ”.

Tatjana Gsovsky is categorical: “ Contemporary dance is endeavouring more and more to throw off the dead weight of pantomime, its companion for centuries. ” This is also the opinion of Sonia Gaskell and Vladimir Bourmeister, the great Soviet maître de ballet, but opinions diverge on the new style, the kind of expression best adapted to modern taste. Many replies stress the action which must remain at the centre of ballet. This danced action must be concrete, incarnate, human and it must be the expression of life. This is why, in the opinion of several of our correspondents, ballet will become less and less of a pure entertainment. And this screams to be the first important point. The rest is a matter of shades of meaning and of vocabulary, the word “ abstract ” taking on different meanings if applied to Les Sylphides, Constantia, by William Dollar, or other calisthenic or geometric ballets.

In short, in choreography as in literature, this subject matter now tends to become more important. This will be seen more clearly when we examine the following answers.


QUESTION TWO : In ballet built round an “ argument ”, must the latter reflect questions of our time or keep to the themes, called eternal, of love in all its forms, death, joy, pain, fear, fatality, etc…?

Here again, most of the answers are eclectic and all show different shades of meaning. It is significant to find that almost everyone questioned mentioned The Green Table as the type of ballet which reflects the questions of our day. But this is more than 25 years old! It is probably because, even in this research which we are undertaking here, there is a desire to resort to well-tried experiences, tested by time.

The question could have been put in another way : “ Have we, in choreography, the equivalent of Picasso in painting or of Bartok or Menotti in music? Will the half-century reveal a similar figure for ballet in the future? "

As the question was framed it gave rise in any case, to categorical statements of opinion.

Arnold Haskell wrote: “ Ballet is not a suitable medium for dealing with current problems, only with eternal themes⎯ The Green Table is no exception to this; war, alas, is an eternal theme ”.

Tatjana Gsovsky denied that there is a dilemma : “ The task of the artist ” she writes, “ is to give to the theme a form which reflects the spirit of this time. It does not matter whether the action belongs to the past, the present or the future! Did not Gluck and Mozart express the Baroque and Rococo spirit in works in which the action was located in Greek antiquity? “

José Limon goes further in this direction : “ Shakespeare, Bach and Michael Angelo can so speak to us across the centuries, their impact and glory undiminished, because, in their respective arts, they reflected, most eloquently, questions of their time ”.

With a slightly different meaning but equally affirmative, Françoise and Dominique reply : “ There are good themes and there are bad ones. Among the good ones, some reflect the question of our day (The Green Table), others keep the so-called eternal themes (Errand into the Maze by Marta Graham). Very often, the story itself is surpassed by the atmosphere which surrounds it. The atmosphere sets the style. And it is style which lifts today’s story to the eternal level ((The Green Table) and which gives to the eternal theme a life and a modern rhythm which stirs us (Errand into the Maze). ”

Here are three comments which are extraordinarily parallel :

Collete Marchand : ” The artist, seeking to express himself, is more preoccupied with style, with the syntax needed to facilitate his expression than with what will serve him as a pretext ”.

Bianca Gallizia : “As for the theme, one has to keep to eternal concepts, but they should be treated in a modern way ”.

Sonia Gaskell : “ The questions of our time are those of all times, but the rhythm of life has changed and with it also the manner of expressing these feelings ”.

Finally, let us quote Igor Moisseev who, without replying yes or no, greatly clarifies the question. His reply forcibly demonstrates that in this field, in any case, one cannot dissociate subject and form. This opinion has even greater weight since it comes from a great Soviet choreographer : “ …Ballet which reflects topical events necessarily deals with eternal themes… The eternal theme of love and death engrosses the heart and mind of modern man as absolutely as it did two hundred or a thousand years ago, but, in the 20th century, the attitude towards these subjects is very different. The theme of fate and punishment has been solved in a different way by Euripides, Shakespeare or Romain Rolland. I think that the problem of modern (or future) ballet is (and will be) to present modern man and the way he interprets the “ eternal ” themes or is affected by them. ”


QUESTION THREE : On the lines of a revival of the ballet theme, can good results be expected of an inspiration which has its roots in politics or the Social State? Give some examples of successes in this domain.

This question enables us to add further details to the opinions expressed above. Politics and the Social State do indeed predominate to-day.

Maurice Béjart is one of the few who separate one from the other : “ Politics, essentially transient and fundamentally sterile, are the field for artists who lack inspiration. The Social State can rise to the eternal and attain to the greatest art, where it concerns man. “

Janine Charrat expresses a slightly different opinion : “ I think that the role of the choreographer is not to portray an epoch nor to take sides in political or social problems. Like the revolving beams of a lighthouse, he must pick out here and there what is worthy of being transposed to the aesthetic sphere. A host of new ideas arise at each turn of history, and of new sentiments flavoured by the popular or intellectual development and it is from this living material in perpetual transformation that the creator of ballet must find fresh grounds for inspiration ”.

Françoise and Dominique make an unconditional reservation : “ Art may not be an instrument of propaganda. It has been shown that art atrophies in dictatorship countries. ”

Replies from England corroborate this. Arnold Haskell believes that politics and the Social State kill art. He points out that Pas d’Acier was tried by Diaghilev and lasted only one season.

In Italy, Bianca Gallizia admits politics and socialism to the ballet, on condition that the latter be satiric. The same idea is expressed by a Yugoslav choreographer, Franjo Horvat.

In the United States, José Limon quotes the case of Doris Humphrey who created a supremely beautiful formal dance, based on the Utopian society of which all humanists have dreamed.

Niels Björn Larsen for Denmark mentions the success of a ballet with a social tendency : The widow with the Mirror, which tells of a woman’s marriage of convenience and her efforts to escape the conventions which from then on imprison her. But isn’t a theme of the individual against society also an eternal one?

For Austria, Elvira Ruziczka cites The Golden Calf which displays the threefold power of money, the law and gambling.

Generally speaking, Western dancers and choreographers find that artist should not be committed to politics.

It is not the same in the U.S.S.R. and no one will be surprised that our Soviet correspondents agree in considering that the ballet is an effective means of expressing political and social ideas.

Igor Moisseev declares : “ A social theme which disturbs a whole society⎯for instance, the theme of revolution⎯can certainly yield good results. As an artist, I am particularly interested in the emotions of the masses, which sometimes culminate in a wild paroxysm; these emotions are, of course, stronger and sharper than those of a single individual just as the flames of a fire are brighter than the weak glimmering of a candle. Thus, the social elements can considerably enrich the chromatic scale of a maître de ballet who would thereby try to express, not intimate feelings, but those of the masses all fired by the same impulse, the same inspiration and the same dream. In this connection, Assafiev’s Paris in Flames is very significant, his third act in particular. This is shown also in the Soviet film The Leaders of the Soviet Ballet. “

Vladimir Bourmeister is more concerned with the choreographic expression of a political or social theme. He condemns any resort to pure pantomime or a narrow prejudiced outlook, but he regards as legitimate the use of various dance forms. He gives examples. First, he takes the case of the ballet Youth by Tchoulaki, where Fenster chose the customs of everyday life to recall the heroic and romantic civil war period in Russia. The performance was, Bourmeister says, eloquent, poetic and at the same time topical. He continues : “ As for myself, when I was preparing the ballet The Coast of Happiness by Spadavecchia and Tatiana by Krein, I was drawn to less concrete methods. In The Coast of Happiness, the scene of the fight, as well as other scenes were embodied by the dance. But we rejected concrete details in both the setting and the choreography : there were no grenades nor desperate fighting attitudes. We strove to reproduce only the élan of combat, its extreme tension, the vigorous movement and the nobility of the fighters inspired by their ideal of the defense of liberty. The dance figures and motifs, the miming of the performers, the lightning effects⎯as the more important factors of an almost empty stage⎯were all correlated in the one scenic problem. ”

These technical details are interesting because they show the producer and choreographer engaged with a kind of expression which seems as far removed from pantomime as it is from allusion.

Mira Redina quotes, among successful political and social ballets, in addition to Youth and The Coast of Happiness which are mentioned by Bourmeister, Glière’s The Red Poppy. This ballet recalls episodes in the struggle of the Chinese people for their national independence. Frederick Ashton, though, does not think that this was a very conclusive experiment.


QUESTION FOUR : Would choreographical settings of the important events and problems of our times be likely to draw a larger public?

A good deal of the answers show that art remains, to a large number of people, a means of escape, to be exact, from the worries of the time, and as Irène Lidova writes, that art offers “ an escape towards the realms of pure poetry and pure beauty ”.

But what kind of poetry? “ Ballet ”, says Maurice Béjart, “ can no longer be satisfied with the love stories of sleeping princesses and effeminate lovers.”

On the other hand, to try to capture the reflections of our time in a ballet, often means being bound to a fashion, to a passing present-day taste. Georges Reymond points out that it would be impossible to stage to-day ballets such as Le Train Bleu (1924) by Cocteau and Darius Milhaud, and Beach (1933) by Françaix, Massine and Dufy.

It is not only that certain “ period ballets ” are insupportable when too strongly marked by an aesthetic taste, but also that our age is no longer favourable to the “ big show ”. Janine Charrat feels that the public looks for a picture of modern life in the art of cinema rather than that of ballet. Franjo Horvat, a choreographer of Sarajevo, mentions The Dictator. One could make a complete study of the choreographic aspect of all Chaplin’s work, just as one could study to what extent a choreographer can collaborate with the film producer. Helen Tamiris refers to the influence exerted by Hollywood on the best American choreographers and La Meri mentions the ballet sequence by Jerome Robbins for the film The King and I: here Siamese dance techniques were studied to produce an oriental version of The Little House of Uncle Tom. But let us not be led astray by the seventh art and so let us return to the views of Janine Charrat on the part ballet may give to the great events of our time. “ Ballet does not lend itself to vast horizons and, particularly, not to changing ones ”, writes Janine Charrat who adds that works such as Joan at the Stake or The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian, from which one could perhaps draw inspiration, are the prerogative of operatic stages. According to her, ballet, being more intimate, can more easily reflect the psychology of the present moment in single themes, and depict its torments and problems by reference to particular cases.

Escape and entertainment : these words recur often like a leitmotiv. André Boll mentions that the people like to be transported to other lands and times.

“ In the U.S.S.R., never so much as today has the rich and sumptuous life of the tyrants (Ivan the Terrible, Boris Godounov) so entranced the masses. And can we not see in the country of Babbitt, an extraordinary recrudescence of the fairy world of childhood? ”

According to Arnold Haskell, dance is escapism : “ Its great theme is good versus evil and it is possible, of course, to call one “ capital ” and the other “ labour ” and so gain some cheap applause, but the public will always prefer Aurora versus Carabosse ”.

José Limon does not think that the choice of a contemporary theme necessarily draws a larger public. He in turn puts some embarrassing questions : “ Which important events and problems of our time? The inauguration of a new President of the United States? The revolt of the Hungarian nation? A critical session of the United Nations? The closing of the Suez canal? The cold war? If any of these themes were selected, how to deal with it : as a literal narrative? As an allegory? Or a parable? Is drawing a larger public the objective, or producing a work of art? I have seen a political subject, the execution of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland, performed at the Folies-Bergères to the delectation of a very large public. Antigone, by Anouilh, also a political theme, using a classic plot, but relating it to the German occupation of Paris during the last war, had only a modest, unspectacular run in New York. ”


Upon consideration, our first four questions undoubtedly raise the problem of the very technique of ballet. And it would have been easy, by following most of our correspondents, to broaden the discussion by speaking of style, or more simply, of choreography. The “ important event ” referred to in the fourth question brings up the conception of space and evokes perhaps the geometry of choreography. Aurelio Milloss tells us, in this connection: ” Dance is the only art which depends upon space and time and to these a third dimension must be added which is the synthesis of space and rhythmic time. A movement in space when controlled by man has a power which dance can interpret through what is called, in art, the Golden Number, which gives vigour to harmony. And in the same way that we arrive at the number through the figure, in arithmetic, so we arrive at choreographic harmony by counting. Today, choreographers and dancers no longer want to count. Did Michael Angelo and Bach not count? What they did, because they had genius, was to pass from the figure to the feeling ”.


QUESTION FIVE : Psycho-analytical research has already inspired several ballets. Do you regard psycho-analysis as a means towards the revival of choreography? Give some examples. How far can the pursuit of the erotic, shown by so-called avant-garde ballets, be carried in this respect?

This is the point which has aroused the most positive reactions. We will pass over the truisms expressed by some in connection with the distinctions to be drawn between psycho-analysis, eroticism, sexuality and pornography. These categories are sufficiently clear to leave no discussion.

Nobody will be surprised to find that Maurice Béjart considers psycho-analysis as a source of artistic inspiration. But he asks : “ Where does psycho-analysis begin?... Where does it end? The first act of Giselle could spring from psycho-analysis! In any case it did inspire me for the ballet Voyage au Coeur d’un Enfant (Journey into the Heart of a Child). Eroticism responds to a deep-felt need of our epoch. In this field, the film, novel, theatre and poetry have gone much further than ballet! ”

José Limon is as affirmative as Béjart : “ I regard psycho-analysis, or man’s examination of and search for himself, as a fecund and potent source of inspiration for the dancers ”.

Françoise and Dominique see in psycho-analysis a contribution but not a source of revitalisation. For them, “ the eroticism of avant-garde ballets is not as strong as that found in the ethnic dance. More shocking, perhaps, but less powerful. And one has to confess that in this field it is difficult to go further than the power of suggestion of the African dance or, nearer home, Spanish dancing ”.

Colette Marchand points out that in choreography the limits of eroticism are so quickly reached that one can only turn round in a circle.

In brief, as Irene Lidova and Janine Charrat advise, one must suggest rather than depict. It needs more poetry than realism. According to Bianca Gallizia ballet, which is a carefree form of art, does not lend itself well to the heaviness of psycho-analysis.

Birgit Cullberg admits that the theme of eroticism is important for the choreographer, but that progress must be sought not in the direction of shock realism, but rather in the elucidation of the complexities of psychology.

On this point, the English are adamant. Frederick Ashton does not hesitate : “ I certainly do not regard psycho-analysis as a means towards the revival of choreography. What examples I have seen by a choreographer who has ill-digested his subject have been of the utmost tedium. ”

And Haskell is positive : “ Psycho-analysis has resulted in the muddled, often incomprehensible, symbolism of the modern dance once popular in Central Europe and now in the U.S.A. Sex themes have been exploited by the French who have had far too much sense to threat them in terms of psycho-analysis. The French, in the person of Petit have the tact and skill to know exactly how far they can go. When others bring sex to ballet, e.g. the Americans in The Cage it is a disaster. ”

On the other hand, Irène Lidova mentions, in favour of psycho-analysis, two American ballets: Letters to the World by Martha Graham and Pillar of Fire by Tudor. And the Americans do in fact lay claim to their place in this field. José Limon mentions ballets in which Doris Humphrey has utilized the fantasmagoria of the mind (Night Spell and Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejias) and those where Martha Graham has explored the dark recesses of the human spirit : Errand into the Maze and Death and Entrances. He himself has symbolized the agonized ambivalence of modern man in a parable based on Judas Iscariot in The Traitor.

Werner Egk point out that there is a close relationship between psycho-analysis and mythology and Borovansky mentions as a psycho-analytical ballet Petrouchka. From Australia too, Mrs. Beth Dean points out that the reactions of the public differ from one country to another : “ London seems to have acclaimed Roland Petit’s Carmen but was not impressed by A Streetcar Named Desire ”.

Frederick Ashton considers that choreographers cannot go much further in this direction than Carmen or his own ballet Illuminations, inspired by Rimbaud.

In conclusion, Martha Graham seems to be upheld as the champion of psycho-analysis and Béjart of eroticism (in Le Teck, for example).

Austria being the birth place of Freudism, we think it interesting to quote Elvira Ruziczka in this connection : “ There is one point which artists should never lose sight of in psycho-analytical studies. That is that psycho-analysis has been called by its founder the “ indiscreet science ”. If, thanks to psycho-analysis, men have learned to think and to act in a freer and more enlightened manner, the artist, for his part, must continually endeavour to respect scrupulously in his figuration what is aesthetically tolerable. Everything can be presented, provided it is done with tact and good taste. Everything depends here upon the personality of the artist, his ability to feel how far he may go in the degree of his figuration. This cannot be learned; that is why transgressions are inevitable. This subtle sense must, in my opinion, be particularly developed in the choreographer and dancer, because the slightest gesture, the slightest movement is enough to overstep the limits of what is aesthetically permitted. ”

The Soviet artists approve of psycho-analysis as a revelation of an inner world, provided it does not lead to subjectivism. Igor Moisseev explains : “ I have never regarded the study of pathological tendencies in the depths of the subconscious as a blessing. The value of an artistic work consists in its objective importance, in the expression of a feeling proper to a great number of human beings ”.

Here as for the previous question, the observer must admit that, in spite of the utmost efforts of the artists to regard things from a universal point of view, they are, to a certain extent, conditioned by the psychological climate in which they move. This can be observed in their words as well as in their achievements. English and Americans are violently opposed to all that concerns psycho-analysis; and, towards eroticism, the Latin world does not react in the same way as the Anglo-Saxon world or the Slav world.


QUESTION SIX : To what extent is the future of ballet linked to that of music? Could new music give rise to new ballets? Or could bold new themes lead to the development of a hitherto unknown form of musical expression (musique conrète, etc.) ?

This question was addressed to composers, but dancers and choreographers have answered it⎯which is all in the spirit of this investigation which aims at putting the choreographical discussion at the converging of the different ways which lead towards ballet.

Janine Charrat classifies the matter by taking up a position behind Lifar who, in his book Music through Dance, writes : “ Formerly music was written “ for ” dance. Then choreography was “ set to music ”. Today, a fusion has been brought about : a special “ form ” exists made up of music and dance possessing its own rules like the sonata and symphony⎯BALLET ”.

André Boll wisely adds : “ All new music (sérielle or concrète) is capable of inspiring a “ choréauteur ” providing however that its structure is not in total disagreement with the rules of dance technique and expression.

For Margot Fonteyn, the ballets which have survived, from Giselle to Diaghilev, owe it to the excellence of their musical score and Anton Dolin corroborates this remark by pointing out that the best ballets have been inspired in the first place by the music.

The German composer Boris Blacher is very affirmative when he says : “ Whether music be concrète, electronic or traditionally instrumental, the most important thing is for the music to be in accordance with the chosen subject. The only thing which I consider unfavourable, is to dance to existing classical or romantic music ”.

In Italy, Ugo dell’Ara and Bianca Gallizia would like to see a close collaboration between the composer and the choreographer.

The Yugoslav composer Kresimir Baranovic, recalling the fruitful collaboration between Stravinsky and Fokine, mentions, as successes, Petrouchka, The Rites of Spring, and Ravels’s Bolero.

In the U.S.S.R. , Maria Plissetzkaia, the dancer, writes that music is the most essential thing in ballet : “ Music must be expressive to the utmost, but have a deep content. The duty of the ballet artist is thus confined to expressing this content through dance ”.

The Russian composer Tchoulaki stresses the popular character of music and pays tribute to Tchaikowsky : “ He was able to create his ballet-symphonies in the form of dances, and that is why he will remain for ever our spiritual leader in the art of ballet music ”.


QUESTION SEVEN: Is present-day taste moving away from ballets with extensive staging and giving preference to works which are more “ expressive ” in their moderation?

Here too the opinions are quite definite. Béjart, naturally enough, disapproves of the big stage settings because they do not allow for the creation of that human symphony which he so values. As against this, many correspondents are faithful to Diaghilev’s formula, which they consider as still being valid. They are nevertheless aware of the restrictions imposed by financial requirements. As André Boll explains: “Is not simplicity the resort of the “ economically weak ”? Every work demands its own scenic style : Sheherazade without Fokine or Bakst is no longer Sheherazade; La Symphonie pour un Homme Seul without the starkness required by Maurice Béjart would lose all its emotional power. ”

Simplicity is also recommended by Niels Björn Larsen of Denmark (who believes that choreographic pattern is superceding the stage set), by José Limon, by Bianca Gallizia (who disapproves of scenic verism and unnecessary details).

A true note is struck by Sonia Gaskell who states: “ The general public prefers the big stage setting : the élite circles, on the contrary, prefer simplicity ”.

And this brings us back again to the comments received on the first question. The large public prefers the “ big show ”, spectacular and gorgeous with a profusion of characters. On the contrary, perhaps in reaction, the true ballet lover looks for pure dance and moderation in dance and action.

Because they are speaking to the masses, the Yugoslav and Soviet producers see things differently. Tomislav Tanhofer, of Belgrade, writes : “ The taste for an “ expressive ” theatre has always been a sign of decadence. In general, such a theatre is limited to an exclusive group of “ enlightened ” aesthetes, picked and blasé and it is possible that such a theatre is only a product of the aestheticism of the moment. Such a theatre never lasts for very long and never leaves behind any deep imprint. “

Moisseev is in favour of moderation and declares that he would be delighted “ to stage Stravinsky’s Petrouchka or Ravel’s Bolero because their brief, concise music of limited intensity contains a great variety of feelings in a very brief form “. But he adds that the big performance which lasts a whole evening is also acceptable with its elaborate setting. Moisseev is at present working on a production of Spartacus by Aram Katchaturian in which he faces the problem of conveying a great social theme in a simple performance devoid of all verbosity.

Mr. Mladen Basic, Director of the Zagreb Opera Company, provides a conclusion which is valid for all countries which pay special attention to the education of the people : “ The widening of the ballet-going public is linked to the gradual education of the masses who become interested in the art of the stage. ”


QUESTION EIGHT : Can one hope to see, as in the days of Diaghilev, the re-establishment of a relationship between choreographers, musicians, painters and poets which would lead to a creation of new aesthetics and which would spread from dancing to the arts?

Although this question opened up wide horizons for the future and was meant to bring about a comparison between the different forms of aesthetic expression, it did not arouse much response from our correspondents. Only Janin Charrat replied clearly and fully and thereby provided a first conclusion : “ The taste of the theatre- orballet-lover remains faithful to the art of painting. Yet, simplicity reposes the audience who are not indifferent to the greatness of some of its forms; Vilar, for instance, with his art of lighting, has created amazing effects of atmosphere. The ingenuity of a great producer can sometimes replace scenery. People make use of his name hoping to work the same miracles. But what was a miracle, and has now become a legend, is surely for us today a “ daily means ”. Diaghilev may not have had disciples, but he has had initiates who imitated him : the more successful works of today are generally those which have been produced through the cooperation of the writer, the musician, the painter and the choreographer. It even frequently happens, when affinities intermingle, that the combined inspiration of the authors changes even the texture of the work, each contribution fusing together and unifying the whole. Dance finally brings about the synthesis of thought, rhythm, movement and colour. “

This is reiterated by André Boll : “ There is no question of beginning the Diaghilev experiment all over again : we shall no longer speak of “ agreement ” between choreographers, musicians, painters and poets, but rather of a team formed by a representative of each art, a team capable of creating a collective work, following a previously established hierarchy, and which may change according to each case ”.

Most of the answers, even those connected with the previous questions, tend to give priority to the choreographer, as far as refusing, as does Jerome Robbins, all considerations which are irrelevant tot the intentions and the convenience of the choreographer, which excludes even the principle of an investigation such as this. But how we appreciate Birgit Cullberg when she acknowledges that, if the choreographer plays the leading part in ballet, it is necessary for him to be or to have been a dancer and also that he be cultivated. (Incidentally, Sonia Gaskell deplores the lack of culture of some dancers.)

“ We do not need another Diaghilev ”, says Birgit Cullberg, “ but a better education for the choreographers if ballet is to become an independent art ”. And that is where we will all agree.

The name of Diaghilev, by the way, does not impress certain persons questioned… From Belgrade, Dusan Ristic writes that Diaghilev in his “ cocktail period ”, himself destroyed the balance between the elements in question “ by stressing, in turn, the dancers, the painters or the musicians, all newcomers whom he sought for unremittingly lest he should fall “ out of fashion ”. This is why in his ballet La Chatte everything is subordinated to Lifar, and, in the Ode by Nabokov, to Tcheclichev’s interesting setting. ”

Neither is Alexandre Louchine impressed by the Diaghilev period. He is convinced that “ future aesthetics will develop in the opposite direction to pure, passionless technique, that the unlimited possibilities offered by choreography in the expression of emotions, thoughts and human suffering, be increasingly exploited. We find a striking example of this in the art of Galina Ulanova…”. As we shall see in conclusion, Louchine here expresses a rather general feeling. We cannot however pass over, without remark, his quick appraisal of Diaghilev’s role. After all, interpreters may change or go, but work remains. Apart from professionals and specialists, nobody knows who were the interpreters of the worked created under the reign of Diaghilev, but everybody knows the significance in the history of ballet, of Sheherazade, the Fire Bird, Petrouchka, Parade, The Three-cornered Hat, The Rites of Spring, The Prodigal Son, Story of Joseph, etc.



To build some form of synthesis out of the numerous opinions received from so many different countries, as a result of this investigation, we will say that ballet today tends to develop on two different planes :

The State-recognized companies, backed by sufficient financial means, will always tend to stage spectacular ballets because these are in the taste of a wide public. These ballets, whether borrowed from the repertoire or not, are based on poetry and fantasy in the West, and have political or social tendencies in the Eastern countries.

As for the smaller companies, they prefer the more expressive ballets, centered on man and presented with an unadorned simplicity of setting and costumes. It does not matter that this asceticism is dictated by financial requirements, because this simplicity, in the end, encourages choreographic and aesthetic experiment. The task of the small companies is to experiment and this will finally direct ballet into paths which are increasingly artistic. International competitions for young choreographers which will take place as from this year, in Aix-les-Bains and elsewhere, will certainly promote fruitful experiment and will perhaps give rise to a new style which will leave its imprint on the second half of the 20th century.

To find a new style is a preoccupation worthy not only of the transition years, but in the period when man is once again reinstated. The object of this inquiry⎯the revival of ballet themes⎯might easily have provoked only aesthetic reflexions (sic) or utilitarian considerations in these days when the ballet and the theatre are too often bound up with questions of money. But we found that the debate was carried by our correspondents on to a definitely humanist level, in the widest meaning of the word. Not only did those we questioned rise above an egoistic or commercial outlook, but most of them went straight to the point, namely, the position of man in the universe.

This may perhaps surprise some observers for whom ballet is nothing more than a pastime; these people must understand that ballet today is in full command of its particular language and it intends to apply this to the highest aims in order to engage the attention of the best minds. There is no question of extracting a new dance philosophy from modern ballet in the manner of Socrates or Valéry, but of admitting that many choreographers today, have a welt-anshauung⎯-a conception of the world⎯which places them far above the dancing masters of previous centuries.

To be convinced that these “ choréauteurs ” and choreographers seek less to divert man than to “ concern ” him, one need only listen to José Limon rising up against all attempts to “ dehumanize the movements of the body, to rob it of its ancient capacity to speak profoundly and unerringly of man and his ambient air, to sterilize it, so to speak, to reduce it to a machine for making linear patterns.” The same note is struck by Doris Humphrey who says : “ I would hope that choreographers might wish to keep the dance human… The potentialities of the human being, physically, emotionally and mentally are practically limitless… Dance could go on saying things about people indefinitely without recourse to older themes ”.

From Soviet Russia, Vladimir Bourmeister also pleads for a dance incarnated in man in such a way that the interpreter is more than a soulless puppet : “ The aim of every choreographical performance is to express in dance the state of mind of the principal characters and the situations in which they find themselves. “


In the light of these comments, one can see that the choreographers of two different worlds meet in a broad humanism attuned to the anxiety and the sensibility of our half-century. Whether he seeks to penetrate the mystery of man and the secret of his individual destiny, or whether he expresses the joys and the torments of man as an element of society, the ballet has become an independent, richly lyrical means of expression, capable of moving, of overcoming even, those who formerly only sought to be entertained.

Even if this investigation only revealed this new trend in the art of ballet, we should be glad that the way has been cleared where men of good intention should meet, no matter from where they may come.