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arts

Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

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Ballet  
 
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Despite its precarious position as a touring company with no home theater, American Ballet Theatre has survived for more than sixty years and currently has an unrivalled complement of male superstars, including José Manuel Carreño, Angel Corella, Julio Bocca, Ethan Stiefel, Vladimir Malakhov, and Maxim Belotserkovsky.

The New York City Ballet was created by an odd couple, Lincoln Kirstein (1907-1996), a rich, sometimes closeted gay man, and George Balanchine (1904-1983), the much married, ostentatiously heterosexual choreographer. With a home theater provided by the City of New York and, later, a huge grant from the Ford Foundation, this alliance produced the most politically powerful ballet organization in the United States.

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Balanchine, after his initial success with Diaghilev, was a failure in Europe, but he spectacularly revived his faltering career in New York City and came to dominate the ballet scene for nearly thirty years. Like Petipa, he believed in the primacy of choreography and insisted his ballets were "pure'" movement.

Dancers' individuality was suppressed as they were meant to be simply machine parts in the structure of his choreography. Nonetheless, two of his best known ballets remain Apollo (1928) and Prodigal Son (1929), both specifically tailored to highlight the special talents of Diaghilev's lover, Serge Lifar. Typical of Balanchine's celebrated "abstract" ballets are Theme and Variations (1947) and Agon (1957).

Along with Fokine, Balanchine is one of the few major twentieth-century choreographers who is recognizably heterosexual. Uninterested in choreographing for male dancers, Balanchine's fixation on the female is remarkably misogynistic, conspicuously in his requirement that the poitrines of his danseuses be flat as a boy's. This dictum has made the anorexic look de rigueur for his women dancers, which creates a weird stage picture in contrast with the pumped up bodies of today's male dancers.

Kirstein's preference for hunky, working class, "straight" men (as personified in Filling Station) and his abhorrence of "effeminacy" resulted, for many years, in his male dancers' faces looking like those of bloodless corpses on stage, as in their make-up they dared not put any color on their lips or cheeks. Formerly a leading dancer and currently the company director, the heterosexual Peter Martins is now choreographing ballets that more comfortably feature men and make them look good.

The Harkness Ballet (1964-1974) was founded by Rebekah Harkness (1915-1982). The remarkably gay-friendly Mrs. Harkness possessed such vast wealth that, in the manner of European sovereigns, she was the single patron of her company. A distinction of the Harkness Ballet was the excellence of the male dancers--and their often semi-nude costuming.

Most Harkness ballets were extremely sexy and many were suffused in , as, for example, the works of John Butler (1918-1993)--A Season in Hell, the story of Verlaine and Rimbaud, and Sebastian (1963) to music of Gian-Carlo Menotti. Also noteworthy are Monument for a Dead Boy (1966) by Rudi Van Dantzig (b. 1933) and Gemini (1972) by Vincente Nebrada (b. 1932).

The company mostly toured abroad, in the great theaters of Europe, to great acclaim, giving its dancers and choreographers a cosmopolitan experience unknown to their American colleagues.

The Joffrey Ballet, founded by Robert Joffrey (1930-1988), began as a small group touring in a station wagon. Support from Mrs. Harkness allowed it to grow into a major institution in American dance. It was famous for the youth and vivacity of its dancers.

Joffrey gave up his promising career as a choreographer--his ballet Astarte (1967) was the subject of a Time magazine cover story--to focus on building his company's repertoire, which featured the hyper-kinetic ballets of his lover, Gerald Arpino (b. 1928), as well as reconstructions of masterpieces.

Among Arpino's ballets are Viva Vivaldi! (1965) and Olympics (1966); reconstructions from the Diaghilev repertoire included Nijinsky's L'Après-midi d'un Faune and Le Sacre du Printemps. Since Joffrey' s death from AIDS in 1988, the company, directed by Arpino, has gone through several transformations and is now based in Chicago.

Other Major Choreographers

Other major choreographers whose work has enriched the art of twentieth-century ballet are Sir Frederick Ashton (1906-1988), Maurice Béjart (born ca 1924), and Rudi Van Dantzig.

Celebrated for his gay wit and high style, Ashton first scored with the 1926 ballet Tragedy of Fashion. A pioneer in establishing British ballet as a notably gay workplace, Ashton was a member of the gay coterie of the late Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, whom he taught to tango. His relationships with men were not secret, particularly with dancer Michael Somes, whom he featured in many ballets, but homoeroticism was not an element in his work.

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