e.e.cummings on being an Artist (with a capital A)

The Agony of the Artist (with a capital A)

(not complete, sadly, but most of it ūüôā )
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First we have the ultrasuccessful artist, comprising two equally insincere groups: ‚Äúcommercial artists,‚ÄĚ who concoct almost priceless pictures for advertising purposes, and ‚Äúfashionable portrait painters,‚ÄĚ who receive incredible sums for making unbeautifully rich women look richly beautiful. Very few people, of course, can attain the heights of commercial and fashionable art. Next we have the thousands upon thousands of ‚Äúacademicians‚ÄĚ ‚ÄĒ patient, plodding, platitudinous persons, whose loftiest aim is to do something which ‚Äúlooks just like‚ÄĚ something else and who are quite content so long as this undangerous privilege is vouchsafed them. Finally there exists a species, properly designated as the Artist (with capital A) which differs radically from the ultrasuccessful type and the academic type. On the one hand, your Artist has nothing to do with success, his ultimate function being neither to perpetuate the jeweled neck of Mrs. O. Howe Thingumbob nor yet to assassinate dandruff. On the other hand he bears no likeness to the tranquil academician ‚ÄĒ for your Artist is not tranquil; he is in agony.

Most people merely accept this agony of the Artist, as they accept evolution. The rest move their minds to the extent of supposing that anybody with Art school training, plus ‚Äútemperament‚ÄĚ ‚ÄĒ or a flair for agony ‚ÄĒ may become an Artist. In other words, the Artist is thought to be an unsublimated academician; a noncommercial, anti-fashionable painter who, instead of taking things easily, suffers from a tendency to set the world on fire and an extreme sensibility to injustice. Can this be true? If not, what makes an Artist and in what does an Artist‚Äôs agony consist?

You may have always secretly admired poor Uncle Henry who, after suddenly threatening to become an Artist with a capital A, inadvertently drank himself to death with a small d instead… Or both you and I may have previously decided to become everything except Artists, without actually having become anything whatever. Briefly, a person may decide to become an Artist for innumerable reasons of great psychological importance; but what interests us is the consequences, not the causes, of our decisions to become Artists.

Must not people learn Art, just as people learn electricity or plumbing or anything else, for that matter? Of course, Art is different from electricity and plumbing, in that anybody can become an electrician or a plumber, whereas only people with temperament may become Artists. Nevertheless, there are some things which even people with temperament must know before they become Artists and these are the secrets which are revealed at Art school (how to paint a landscape correctly, how to make a face look like someone, what colors to mix with other colors, which way to sharpen pencils, etc.). Only when a person with temperament has thoroughly mastered all this invaluable information can be begin to create his own hook. If you and I didn’t absorb these fundamentals, reader, we could never become Artists, no matter how temperamental we were.


If you and I didn‚Äôt have temperament, we should now become ordinary humdrum academicians. But, being temperamental, we scorn all forms of academic guidance and throw ourselves on the world, eager to suffer ‚ÄĒ eager to become, through agony, Artists with capital A.

Our next problem is to find the necessary agony. Where is it, gentle reader?
Your answer: the agony lies in the fact that we stand no chance of being appreciated… Not only is there a complete absence of taste anent the domestic product, but once an Artist is found guilty of being a native of the richest country on earth he must choose between spiritual prostitution and physical starvation. What monstrous injustice!

Let me show you a painting which cost the purchaser a mere trifle and which is the work (or better, play) of some illiterate peasant who never dreamed of value and perspective. How would you category this bit of anonymity? Is it beautiful? You do not hesitate: yes. Is it Art? You reply: it is primitive, instinctive, or uncivilized Art. Being ‚Äúuncivilized,‚ÄĚ the Art of this nameless painter is immeasurably inferior to the civilized Art of painters like ourselves, is it not? You object: primitive Art cannot be judged by the same standards as civilized Art. But tell me, how can you, having graduated from an Art school, feel anything but scorn for such a childish daub? Once more you object: this primitive design has an intrinsic rhythm, a life of its own, it is therefore Art.

It is Art because it is alive. It proves that, if you and I are to create at all, we must create with today and let all the Art schools and Medicis in the universe go hang themselves with yesterday’s rope. It teaches us that we have made a profound error in trying to learn Art, since whatever Art stands for is whatever cannot be learned. Indeed, the Artist is no other than he who unlearns what he has learned, in order to know himself; and the agony of the Artist, far from being the result of the world’s failure to discover and appreciate him, arises from his own personal struggle to discover, to appreciate and finally to express himself.

Four Keys to the Future

I hardly have time to write, nowadays, but what will become of Dance, and more specifically about Ballet, is always in mind. I worry, as you know, about their vitality and future.

I was reading this blog of Greg Sandow on the future of classical music (a passion, but I do not follow and study like Dance), and came upon this, that… could have been written for Dance, just by replacing the word music!

Since the link doesn’t embed in the text, I quote:

“We‚Äôre in a new era. To adapt to it, and build a new audience, here are four things you should do:

Understand and respect the culture outside classical music. 

Your new audience will come from the world outside classical music. Where else could it come from? And to reach these new people, you of course have to know them. Who are they? What kind of culture do they already have? You have to respect them, because if you don’t, they won’t respect you.

Work actively to find your audience.

The people you want to reach may not yet care about classical music. So they won’t respond to conventional PR and marketing. They won’t come to you on their own. And so you have to actively go out and find them. You have to talk to them where they live, where they work, and where they go for entertainment and for inspiration. You have to inhabit their world.

Be yourself.

Your urgency, your joy, and your passion will draw people to you. But you can’t be joyful if you don’t love the music that you perform. So never pander. Never struggle to be relevant. Perform music that makes your heart sing. Trust your new audience. Trust it to be smart, to be curious, and to respond with joy when it sees how joyful you are.

Make music vividly.

The people you reach will want to love the music you bring them. But can you meet them halfway? Are you bringing them something they really can love? Your performances should be entirely yours, performances nobody else could give. Your music should breathe. Contrasts should feel like they‚Äôre contrasts. Climaxes should feel like climaxes. Are you doing everything you can to bring your music alive?”

I’m grateful for Greg Sandow, prolixe me would never be able to write such a splendid resume!

Link to full text


Quote of the day – Wendy Perron

“This intrusion of acrobatics into otherwise lovely¬†dancing got me wondering‚ĶWhy?”

“Well I am here to say that the YAGP judges don‚Äôt need that particular kind of spectacular. Many¬†contestants who do fancy¬†acrobatics execute those moves without any feeling or awareness. There‚Äôs almost a disembodied feeling to those performances.”


“But here‚Äôs the best part of the story: After listening to Larissa and me speak about [contestant] Emma‚Äôs artistry, [her coacher] Charles decided to take out¬†the gymnastic ending to her solo. I was so happy and relieved to hear this! If one teacher can put his full faith in artistry and dispense with the extreme gymnastics, then¬†others can too. I think that would give each participant a chance to become a¬†dancer in the deepest sense.”

In “Competitions: The Pressure To Go Acrobatic“, ¬†in Dance Magazin, 24th March 2016, a comment on the¬†“annoying trend” of contestants showing-off acrobatic skills,¬†at the expense of artistry,¬†or instead of…

Wendy Perron


Anyone who reads my blog knows I couldn’t agree more… and I’m talking as audience, not as an expert!!
It IS an annoying trend, both of choreographers and dancers! If I wanted to see acrobatics, I would attend Gymnastics competitions, or contortionism shows, not a Concert Dance evening!.
What I WANT to see is meaningful content expressed through human movement, beautiful because human, and expressive because of use of body-language.

No insect-like looks and moves for me, thank you. ¬†And¬†“more-of-the-same”, like more turns, higher jumps, impossible lifts? Well,¬†maybe they¬†try to be graceful and meaningful instead? this accomplished, I may welcome feats if they¬†help¬†impart the message, if they¬†are consistent with the role… if not, please let them out!




On the Novosibirsk Theatre Affair

I have a long-term acquaintance¬†in Novosibirsk. Many of our point of views are different, sometimes opposite, despite our friendship. Since I’m all for a free debate, I agreed in publishing here this friend’s¬†opinion on what is happening in NOVAT, or¬†Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre.

The text does not feature my own ideas, I just translated the best I could.

What happens in the Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre offends me! Our beautiful legacy must be cherished and carefully kept. Historical legacy must ALWAYS be kept, this should be a guiding principle in any Culture.

I really wish old theaters would go back to to candle lights, and to grass covered floors… to female roles being played by young men in wigs! Comfort for the audience is a small price to pay, when you have design and performances preserved forever as they were in the beginning!

I wish audiences to chat and eat while they watch the show, and freely enter and leave the room. I want them to use again porcellain chamber-pots, instead of modern toilets, to preserve the original mood!

It is true  Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre is not that old, but you must agree that the former toilets were hardly more comfortable than chamber-pots, and should not be replaced by incongruous, hardly fitting novelties.

If you care about preservation, magic may not flow from stage so easily, and great performers may not be as appreciated as they are¬†in other theaters and countries… but this is a trifle, compared with the magnificent feat of preserving architecture¬† in all its original glory! ¬†People would be proud of a whole evening¬†sacrifice of their comfort for¬†the sake of High Art!

Artists come and go… great performances may be lost or not appreciated, or even impossible to enjoy because of discomfort, aching backs, bad acoustics, seats without stage perspective – none of this matters, compared to preserving¬† Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre¬†in its original amazing¬†beauty and architectural uniqueness and glory.

The company members whose time and effort are dedicated to us must understand that their living Art is far less important than the Engineering Art made ethernal in cement, and not be despondent because I refuse to see them in more comfortable surroundings!

And the prices!!! I was proud that we never had to pay as much as in other cities to see the Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre artists Рand refuse to be treated with less respect now!

Maybe artists of other houses in other cities are better, and deserve what is paid to see them. I doubt it Рour company is VERY good!  But our company did not get suddenly better than it was Рso why should I pay more to see a level of artistry that was available for a lesser price?

I¬†heard that our artists are sad and disappointed, because we don’t want to see them in the new circumstances. As they are citizens of Novosibirsk too, they should be happy to perform to an empty house – empty of proud theatre goers that do not give in to senseless¬†changes!

And guests artists, they may be great, even the greatest, but they must be aware that, if they accept to perform in the current bad taste decoration of Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre, they cannot expect US to accept their Art as a good enough compensation.

More!¬†they surely are not surprised with our lack of interest¬† in their Art, when they know we don’t accept Vladimir Kekhman, the criminal that hired them!!! Lax, rotten capitalist West may not see his personal bankrupcy as a crime, but we know better, nobody fools us about capitalism logic and and international law!!

May this be a lesson to tyrannical authorities! If changes were wanted in Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre, all citizens had to be called in to give their opinions Рand in a democratic way, colours, materials, interior design, lightning, furniture Рall decisions about comfort, upholstery, acoustics, toilets, etc, and also about repertoire, casting, costumes, settings and choreography, had to be made with agreement of all citizens, and in a way that EVERY single one of them could agree!

Instead of wasting money in “modernizing”¬† the Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre¬† infrastructure, we should be staging¬†OUR own performances, even if it means having just a handful of them.

The simple notion of renting the staging of another theatre is demeaning, and just the¬†possibility that¬†the sweat of Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre‘s troupe may have contact with sweat lingering¬†in Mikhailovsky’s rented costumes is simply disgusting!!

Don’t tell ME that renting a¬†staging is less expensive, I am not naive! Provided the production is completely OURS, a rare premiere is far better than having a whole selection of performances – ¬†since the quantiy is OBVIOUSLY meant to enrich Mikhailovsky and Kekhman at our expenses, I can find no other logical reason! What is the point of so many productions, anyway? I don’t need more than one selfie in the lobby¬†every¬†season, I wouldn’t want to bore my¬†followers in Instagram!

Finally: do you really expect me to remember one more ill-sounding¬†bunch of letters every time I want to mention our beloved “Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre“? I refuse – what a lack of respect for its grand, good sounding name.
Let other theatres use abbreviations… it’s their problem, they will have to¬†face the inevitable, sad consequences of this kind of misguided modernization.

As with the unbelievable new site –¬†provided there should be one¬†at all! The traditional site of ¬†Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre¬†¬†was replaced by a new one following standards used by several other theatres¬†in Russia –¬†its former originality traded for what amounts to just more information¬†and¬†ease of use in a so called¬†“modern” look.

Images speak for themselves: the disgusting¬†outcome of restoration in “NOVAT”

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Quote of The Day – Paul Lightfoot

Tatyana Kuznetsova, respected Russian dance critic, asks: Why in such a small country like Holland, are there so many talented choreographers from different generations?

Lightfoot: Because in the Netherlands there was no ballet tradition. Clear field. The Dutch set up the first company  55 years ago Рjust decided it was time to get hold of their own ballet. getimageAnd yet Рthey are very tolerant, open to any culture, it is a historical feature. When the Dutch colonialists plied the oceans in their ships, they did not destroy them in new countries, they absorbed everything, studying around. Unlike English, which was perceived as hostile to any foreign culture. Therefore, in the Netherlands, with such a mentality, it was very easy to create an international ballet company.
And of course, there is good financial support from the state. Maybe not the same as in Russia, but still two-thirds of the money our NDT receives from the country and the city of The Hague. The Dutch sometimes ask: “Why do you call the company “Dutch”, if you have¬†only three or four Dutch members?” And I say: “Look, it is¬†international, but¬†it also is Dutch, in that you¬†know how to respect and use the culture of other nations.” For me, a foreigner, this is a great place to live.

Paul Lightfoot, choreographer, since 2011  Artistic Director of the Ballet company of NDT РNetherlands Dans Theatre. Interview in March 2016, when Paul Lightfoot and Sol de León were staging one of their works in Bolshoi.

Link to interview


The outcome is a logical, direct consequence of the Culture policies in Netherlands, as much as its society  attitude regarding Art.
The countries where Concert Dance was traditionally stronger face nowadays a chronic shortage of really¬†great choreographic work: England, Italy,¬†France, Russia. ¬†On the other hand, innovation is a constant in¬†Netherlands, Scotland, Monaco, Germany…


Ms. Tatyana Kuznetsova says herself:¬†Unfortunately or fortunately, our country is unlikely to repeat the fate of France: “Contemporary dance in Russia will not become popular. In France, two things coincided: first, the revolution of flowers¬†in the ’60s, when the whole of society updated, requiring a different aesthetic and ethical life, and second, the active support of the state. To modern dance to¬†became widespread in Russia, we need the¬†demands of upper and lower classes to be completely different.”

Link to interview


Considering that Concert Dance¬†is nowhere as loved as in Russia… sad!¬†

The outcome THERE is, they have a shortage of choreographers not only in contemporary, but in classical and neoclassical too. Choreographers and Artistic Directores who try anything new, from choreography to scenery, face so strong an opposition that they usually give up after no more than 2 or 3 years.

You must be really hard-skinned to introduce change, as the tale of Vladimir Kekhman shows. He was able to turn Mikhailovsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg into a striving company, but innovation process  was far less dynamic than he wanted.  When he tried to do the same for Novosibirsk (Siberia), however, opposition was nothing less than furious. 

In consequence,¬†Russian companies,¬†more often than not¬†¬†“import” works and choreographers when¬†they decide¬†to stage¬†more up-to-date works – knowing they will¬†meet¬†supercilious disgust of a good part of the Dance community, and the complaints of dancers unused to move outside the classical standards.

Again… how sad that such a huge infrastructure, so much skilled professionals and a loving public are¬†used just to perpetuate the past.



Emploi and double-standards

How can you explain¬†that dancers that don’t fit certain visual standards are considered unsuited for Ballets where Form is privileged,¬†¬†while dancers without any acting skill are considered suitable for ballets where Content is more important?

Has Ballet definitely given up on being a performance Art?

Is any flawed performance accepted, as long as physical standards are obeyed?

Absurdity… you see performances that, if not for the costume, could be of any ballet! Solor undistinguishable from Ali, Desire identical to Franz, Colas¬†plus¬†a guitar becoming Basilio… Aurora with feathers in Swan Lake, clad in red in Don Quixote…

Even this, however, is not so bad as having Giselle identical to Juliet and Margherite… or Franz as unpleasant as Prinz Rudolph!

Oh, come on, spare me!!!