Ballet transposed

March 7, 2014 § Leave a comment

New York City Ballet’s Lauren Lovette and Justin Peck, photographed by Henry Leutwyler.

I spend a little time looking at paintings and sculptures by Degas. Ballet dancers. I draw a quick first conclusion, that photography is a more suitable medium in which to capture ballet, if it must be transposed. From movement, a static frame. Degas’s dancers strike me as amateur… Perhaps these are amateurs, painted, practising, there.  They are of course — lesson takers, or, caught between scenes, with their friends. Slouching. Elbows bent unbecomingly. Untidy. These things being of course what make the paintings interesting: that this object of perfection, the ballet dancer, might be caught offside, unprepared and human, in sloth or at ease; imperfect.

Ballet Dancers in The Wings (1900), Degas

Ballet Dancers in The Wings (1900), Degas

Ballet Rehearsal (1873), Degas

Ballet Rehearsal (1873), Degas

The 21st century, technology-slickened perfectionist in me, maybe, responds negatively to the lack of polish. Their lines, the curves of the dancers are not curved and not beautiful enough; the stretches not great enough and then, the compositions in their entirety: overly complex … not as beautiful as their counterparts in photograph. I feel, underlying this, that there might be something sad in my initial reaction and that I must commit a sort of heresy in expressing the opinion.

As I write this and take pause to consider, as I look again at the paintings, more carefully, I grow to appreciate them more. Their gentleness and colour. Their dancers and their scenarios. The great room of the ballet rehearsal. The truth is that I gave Leutwyler’s photograph just one appraisal, admired it and copied it here. I love the photograph not for the artistry but for the dancers photographed. Her arm, reaching up with its slight bend at the elbow, so beautiful. Their hands. Their muscles. Their pose, together and the tilt of her head and neck. They are quite perfectly beautiful, and I love their image for that.

Voila la difference.



February 26, 2014 § Leave a comment

Sounds like you really enjoyed the ballet!

22/02/2014 21:46
Lucie Verver

yeah, quite incredible


acting on the subconscious

that coupled with this music, tonight


22/02/2014 21:46
Nicholas Day

Is the story hard to follow when watching?  Or is that even important?

22/02/2014 21:48
Lucie Verver

I didn’t know the story previously

so I simply let it wash over me: watched

and I woke with the story, this morning

most interesting

I think that the story IS important, yes

but that it is communicated by the best choreographers

almost to the subconscious

came up through my dreams

22/02/2014 21:50
Nicholas Day


My mother used to take ballet very seriously.

22/02/2014 21:50
Lucie Verver



I never did before

not really

22/02/2014 21:50
Nicholas Day

As in she performed.

22/02/2014 21:50
Lucie Verver

this is the first ballet performed by adults that I saw

22/02/2014 21:50
Nicholas Day

Not sure how much she watched

22/02/2014 21:50
Lucie Verver

oh wow


how wonderful

I like…

I love the purity of it

the precision

and seeming simplicity. Timeless

22/02/2014 21:52
Nicholas Day

I’ve been to one performance before when I was younger.  I think I may have been too young.

I can definitely admire the ridiculous athletic ability it requires.

22/02/2014 21:53
Lucie Verver

yes, me too

and to begin with, watching this, I thought that that was all I was doing (and getting from it)

and I concluded, prematurely, that it was not quite worth it. Human feat, decoration.

But this was, evidently, more than that

I went to an opera, too, very young — too young

I think maybe we read many books too young too

go to art galleries as kids, exhausted, complaining… I used to get so drained in exhibitions, trying to commit concentration to each piece

22/02/2014 21:55
Nicholas Day

I’m not sure I’d want to attend opera still.  I’m don’t think I could ever understand it.

I usually found as a kid in art galleries, I wouldn’t pay attention to most of the pieces.  There would just be occasional ones that really caught my attention.

22/02/2014 21:58
Lucie Verver

I’m not sure that I would understand the opera either.


you were smarter than me.

do you go to galleries now?

22/02/2014 21:59
Nicholas Day

Not often.

Never in London.  It’s something I occasionally do in foreign cities.

22/02/2014 22:00
Lucie Verver

there are a few pictures that I liked, in London

I went to a few great exhibitions at the Tate/Tate Modern

quite nice sometimes just to go to a particular room in a particular gallery and sit

22/02/2014 22:02
Nicholas Day

To think?  Or take in all the pieces?

22/02/2014 22:03
Lucie Verver


and not take in all the pieces at all

sometimes to write

23/02/2014 15:20
Nicholas Day

So after we spoke yesterday, I spent some time thinking about art and what types of art I enjoy.  I came to the conclusion that one thing I really love is “clever” art.  It’s a theme that runs through many of my favourite books/movies/pieces.

(Maybe in my favourite music too?  But that’s not so clear.)

23/02/2014 15:20
Nicholas Day

It’s one reason that Shigeo Fukuda is one of my favourite artists.  As well as his fantastic posters, he made a lot of awesome illusions.  Sculptures that seem to defy reality.

You look at it and think “how could anyone think of that?”.

23/02/2014 15:21
Nicholas Day

I think it’s also why I really love magic.  Magic is a mix of art, cleverness, technical skill and the ability to defy reality.  It’s often up close and personal yet still so impossible.  Stuff like this is just so beautiful:

24/02/2014 09:48
Lucie Verver

Magic — my brother loves magic, too. The tricks. The performance. The illusion.

Clever art…. mm.

I like the kind of art that moves me, I guess, profoundly — lengthily. That will actually develop within me, once I’ve understood it (an ongoing process, sometimes). That will enable me to develop my thought, in relation to it and beyond it, and that will allow me a different perspective. I appreciate art for beauty of course, too. But beauty that moves — beauty simply being a way in which art may move.

Nicholas Day

Do you have any good examples of art that has moved you once you’ve understood it?  I often feel that some pieces of art are too hard for me to understand.  I’m not sure I could ever decipher the author’s original intent when creating a piece…

I guess I sometimes just judge art externally, and that is why I often find my self drawn to clever art.  It has another dimension so to speak for me to appreciate it (externally) from.

Lucie Verver

Good example: the ballet that we saw last week.

As for deciphering the author’s original intent, I don’t tend to worry too much about that. Take the work from the author, so to speak.

Alice Munro (short story writer, Nobel 2013) in an interview:

“Because there is this kind of exhaustion and bewilderment when you look at your work….All you really have left is the thing you’re working on now. And so you’re much more thinly clothed. You’re like somebody out in a little shirt or something, which is just the work you’re doing now and the strange identification with everything you’ve done before. And this probably is why I don’t take any public role as a writer. Because I can’t see myself doing that except as a gigantic fraud.”

— I quote her there because I think the quote points to the difficulty in trying to pin a piece to its author: the author constantly altering, in flux, but the work too once it becomes a text (is published and read and interpreted, consumed subjectively).

I hated watching the recent documentary of J. D. Salinger because it did injustice to his stories, tainted them, somehow, presenting a ‘biography’ (whilst failing to quote a single line of course, of the prose). And I love those stories — quite apart from the man who wrote them.

How many authors know the precise reason for their creating what they create? And if not the reason, the intent with which they create the works, as you say. Well: perhaps some projects do start off like science experiments; with their objective. No doubt. And of course, many artists will wish, for their own reasons, to convey particular things and messages through their works — the extent to which art is didactic varies widely. Ultimately, what you receive; what you understand, is their achievement. An individual reception. An individual instance. Subjective.

I like to wander about galleries without “knowing” the painters, the sculptors. To know of them adds something, certainly, but to walk in in ignorance and to appreciate just the product, externally, may be a wonderful thing too (and results in a different sort of criticism).

Lucie Verver

** and then, on a greater scale, there are great works (those that make the canon?) that will have a larger and more important effect upon many — leave an imprint upon a period, even alter it.

Lucie Verver

Take music, for example. It does not ask to be understood — you just listen. It may move you without you knowing precisely why.


February 22, 2014 § Leave a comment


We went to the ballet last night, to the Opera to see Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin choreographed by John Cranko.

E-mail shortly after:

“Ballet this evening, beautiful, elegant, dated. Purer. Simple.”

“I watched and thought: this is false. Life is much more ugly.”

I watched and, admiring the elegance of the dancers in their precision and their costumes, wondered if I might move with greater grace, in future. Wondered why we did not wear such dresses, such colours. Wondered at the simplicity of it all — dated. False. Not life-like. I felt: a little cheated. That it was indeed beautiful, but an escapist lie. Decoration.

The thirds, divided, passed quickly. Each interval a shock, time vanished with the scene. I watched and, as a friend of mine when reading Beckett: let it wash over me.

I have not read Pushkin, not yet, and I did not understand at first. I did not understand indeed until this morning, waking from a dream, the story fallen into place.

“I wake today, from a nightmare, having understood now the story of the ballet. And I see it is true, and continues to be true. Pushkin: Onegin. Indeed, that it taps in to my very fear, or I do, my own — leaving the opera house, going home to bed and dream. Wake feeling betrayed, non-specific.”

“The lover [the romantic lover] is jealous, though that may be called now immature and old-fashioned. Specific.”

I would like to go to the ballet more often. This great art. I would that more people went, more often. Such accomplishment… Great art that may condense, swirl, complex, and take root in you — be born anew, something true, within you. Received.

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