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Is Ballet Dead? Jennifer Homans in The New Republic: Books & Arts 10/14/10

Date: 20 Oct 2010
In the years following the Balanchine’s death his angels fell, one by one, from their heights. Classical ballet, which had achieved so much in the course of the twentieth century, entered a slow decline. It was not just New York: from London to St. Petersburg, and Copenhagen to Moscow, ballet seemed to grind to a crawl, as if the tradition itself had become clogged and exhausted. In part this could be explained by generational change: by the turn of the twenty-first century the artists who had made ballet so vibrant were dead and retired. Balanchine, Robbins, and Tudor; Stravinsky and Kirstein; Ashton, Keynes, and de Valois; Lupokhov, Larovsky, and Vaganova—they were all gone, and the dancers who had brought their ballets and so many others to life had left or retired from the stage.

Today’s artists—their students and heirs—have been curiously unable to rise to the challenge of their legacy. They seem crushed and confused by its iconoclasm and grandeur, unable to build on its foundation yet unwilling to throw it off in favor of a vision of their own. Contemporary choreography veers aimlessly from unimaginative imitation to strident innovation usually in the form of gymnastic or melodramatic excess, accentuated by overzealous lightening and special effects. This taste for unthinking athleticism and dense thickets of steps, for spectacle and sentiment, is not the final cry of a dying artistic era; it represents a collapse of confidence and a generation ill at ease with itself and uncertain of its relationship to the past.

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