I just finished Jennifer Homan's Apollo's Angels this past weekend. It was a great over view on dance. Although I felt Homan's could have added more background on the economic status of ballet in the past. That would have given the layperson not steeped in ballet subculture a deeper view into what is being lost now and what is staying the same.
Homans has come to the very sad, wistful conclusion that ballet is now dying. A few months ago, I would have rolled my eyes. But now, now I think she has a very good point. But the art isn't dying in a vacuum. Our whole culture is collapsing. Homans is just another writer who has made the connection between technology balkanizing our culture,ourselves. The first person who made this connection in regards to the internet was Jaron Lanier. In his two books, You Are Not a Gadget and Who Owns the Future, he touched upon the internet effect on culture and how it is strangling it. But rumblings of this fall were even noted by Marshall McLuhan in the 1960s in which he foretold that we would lose our identities in a global village atmosphere.
Why does this hurt ballet? Ballet has always been a rather remote aerie. It is easy for insiders to miss how greater culture sustains it. Whereas it has always been dependent on the rich to fund it, its life's blood has always been the middle class. It is the middle class who believed in it, in its worth, in its singular ability to separate wheat from chaff. It was the middle class who offered up their children to the art. Some at great sacrifice. As the current economic situation worsens, the middle class dies away, there will be no believers taking up the quest for any art. It becomes a static, a rich person's game of hobby horse.
In regards to fandom, the internet does allow people to make connections. But it doesn't democratize these connections instead they turn into insular, authoritarian little covens. In these covens people don't think but echo one another and turn away from debate. As people retreat into their little fantasy worlds, they disconnect from the greater culture. What was once the arbiters of greater culture (newspapers, magazines, pop music, films) are now left with a dwindling, apathetic audience. The only way to make a dent is to scream inanities to gain notice.
The internet culture is a culture of NOW. There is no yesterday...there may be no tomorrow. If my blog disappeared tomorrow it would not be missed. Maybe it would show up on Way Back When search engines but it would be as if it never existed. All the dance I've witnessed and wrote about...would be gone. Now multiply my disappearance with a few hundred other dance fans keeping watch. Some of us more knowledgeable than others. Even though our writings are hermetic and insular they are still an important piece of culture for ballet. The mass disappearance would be a brain drain. Ballet history not only depends on its dancers but its audience as well. If one side disappears, ballet disappears with it.
And who watches ballet now? We know some elite do, but let us be honest. Since the beginning most rich people have only used ballet as a vanity vehicle to either show off themselves or their money. Their interest in dancers only extends to how their current hobby horse dancer fares in the race. But the dwindling middle class still believing in ballet are the true witnesses to ballet history. And the bulk of us are old and getting older. The ones who witnessed the rise after WWII are now all gone. Each year, the ones who saw Fonteyn dance, Plisetskaya and the others of the 50's/early 60's are disappearing. The baby boomers who had Nureyev, Makarova, Kirkland, Baryshnikov and Gregory are now just beginning to dwindle. The last generation to know good ballet and can judge it according to some knowledge...Generation X (young but still old enough to remember Kirkland/Baryshnikov and the twilight of the Balanchine/Farrell years) are all now old. Are we being replaced?
I don't think so. Not when you have cause celebre such as Misty Copeland rising to principal status. This is a dancer who established her reputation on the brain drain that is occurring in ballet today. Her rise depended on the internet destroying culture. Because the internet only knows what happened during its short lifespan. The early 90's to the present. What came before the 90's in culture, and in relation ballet, might as never existed. The young today don't remember Dance Theater of Harlem's Creole Giselle and Virginia Johnson's triumphant performance. They don't remember how it was broadcast on Public Television to much acclaim. Johnson is just a passing name on a signpost that has no bearing on the Copeland march to lebensraum. The other dancers who paved the way for her are just steps to gild her ascension. She and her PR machine counted on no one remembering and isolating those who do under the catch all accusations of racism. Many who support her claim that she is bringing more people to ballet. But what kind of people? People who can take the place of the current witnesses? People who know good dancing? No. What she is bringing to the table are the people who were raised on Reality TV. Copeland is a reality tv star. And the best part is, it doesn't have to be reality but REALITY. The show biz kind that you make up to push your star further than it would be able to shoot.
Ballet is not egalitarian. It is not democratic. In fact NO ART is egalitarian. It depends, it lives on finding the best. Just as sports depend on superior athletes. Destruction hasn't occurred to sports because it has such massive sway in what is left of our culture. But the fine arts? Destruction reigns in order to placate whatever politically correct agenda the elite like to push. Can't paint in the classical manner? Screw it! Make prints of a photo of a film star and color it all the colors of the rainbow THAT is art. Still can't do that? Just throw paint cans at a canvas. There you go ART! But if you still can't do that, then just pee into a container and insert a cross into it. ART! Can't compose like the classical artists of the Mozart epoch or even match the Romantics of the 19th century? Just do some atonal shit, with random bleeps from a machine. There you go, YOU are a composer! Now in dance, you can't complete the 32 fouettes in ballet's greatest classical piece? Oh well! Get your PR machine to scream racism and have your fans argue that the fouettes aren't really an original requirement in the ballet anyway. Don't have the body or the stamina? Elitism!
All of these are dangerous precedents and none of the other fine arts have recovered. None of them celebrate high culture or talent in the way they have done for centuries until the current modern era. Now it is has happened to ballet. And I think Homans is right, ballet is dying. Talent that isn't recognized, not promoted or nurtured will move on. What is left will be the dregs who know how to virtualize it as a reality show. We are now entering the simulacrum of ballet. Its all taped with laugh tracks now. The new audience will not be able to remember what doesn't exist for them. They will not be able to judge talent against viewing experience but can only accept what is packaged for them by the internet. They get bubblegum girl/boy band dancers who may or may not be able to dance.
Labels: art, ballet, books, commentary, culture, history, internet, reviews, technology