Taruskinfest Lives On!

Coming soon to a library or JSTOR platform near you! Two special issues of the Journal of Musicology in honor of Richard Taruskin. These six contributions were first presented at “After the End of Music History” (aka “Taruskinfest”), the conference for which I was co-organizer in February 2012 at Princeton. Special bonus: the first issue includes a response from RT himself, with a Wizard of Oz allusion in its title, no less!

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Society for American Music 2014

What a fantastic meeting of the Society for American Music this past weekend! And what fun to get to present about one of Ballet Caravan’s last gigs, their performances for the 1940 World’s Fair Pavilion of the Ford Motor Company, starring Dobbin the horse! (Yes that’s two men in the costume…) Although it might seem silly at first glance, A Thousand Times Neigh, a short ballet that told the story of the transition from the horse to the automobile, was universally praised by critics. Variety called it an “ace attraction,” and the New York Sun predicted that “Dobbin is destined to be one of the great names in American ballet.” John Martin in the New York Times was also quite taken by the ballet, arranged by William Dollar, praising it as “choreography that clings to the academic ballet tradition without being in the least highbrow.” Whether this had any bearing on the decision by Ford Foundation to make major grants to ballet in the late 1950s remains to be seen!

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Catholic University of America – Musicology Colloquium

Many thanks to Andrew Weaver and the Catholic University of America Musicology Colloquium for inviting me to present today! I spoke about my ongoing research on two of George Balanchine’s early American ballets, Serenade and the Ivy League satire Alma Mater. This picture of part of the Alma Mater cast shows the football Hero with his bride and groomsmen and is from a photo spread done by the American Ballet for Vanity Fair in 1935.

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Cannibals at the Met – from the Oxford University Press Blog

I’m a guest blogger today for the Oxford University Press blog or “OUPblog” as they call it. They invited me to offer some additional thoughts on my article about the Metropolitan Opera’s HD broadcast initiative. I am grateful for the opportunity to muse on some of the more recent developments of this ever-evolving phenomenon! Read my post here.

Ballet in Cinema – The Pharaoh’s Daughter from the Bolshoi

Yesterday I made a long-overdue pilgrimage to a “Ballet in Cinema” event! A surprisingly full house showed up at the Chelsea Clearview Cinema for the 11 am(!) screening of The Pharaoh’s Daughter, as broadcast last fall from the Bolshoi Theater. As with the Metropolitan Opera’s “Live in HD” program, summer is the season for encore presentations of performances from the previous year.

As for the ballet itself, The Pharaoh’s Daughter is…something, all right. It was the first ballet created in Russia by Marius Petipa, using an exceedingly conventional “specialist” ballet score by Cesare Pugni with a libretto based on an orientalist tale by Théophile Gautier. Very briefly put: an English nobleman journeys to Egypt and in an opium-induced reverie falls into a star-crossed love affair with the daughter of the Pharaoh. Along the way there are innumerable occasions for every sort of 19th-century ballet number, including a dancing monkey and a “ballet blanc” featuring the spirits of the great rivers of the world. Most of it was innocent fun and games, with the exception of several characters in decidedly un-ironic blackface. One wonders when if ever Europe will get the memo that this sort of thing just can’t be done anymore.

French choreographer Pierre Lacotte oversaw this recreation of the ballet, which had not been performed since the 1920s, when Soviet authorities decided it was not in keeping with their aesthetic ideals. The choreography did not aim for or achieve any great innovation or reinvention, but neither did it live up to the more exciting dancing “after Petipa” that we are familiar with. I for one found myself longing for a more radical re-imagining, but you take what you can get.

Especially poignant was an intermission interview with Sergei Filin, the Bolshoi artistic director now famous as the victim of a horrific acid attack. This performance occurred before those tragic events, lending the show an retrospective mix of innocence and melancholy.

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