Listen to this wonderful but brief podcast, because there is nothing like hearing her speak- and it is only 10 minutes long. Several profound statements can be gleaned from this, as well as her basic working philosophy, her theories, and you begin to see why she is such a monumental and important voice in our modern choreographic repertoire.
“Gods often contradict
our fondest expectations.
What we anticipate
does not come to pass.
What we don’t expect
some god finds a way to make it happen.
So with this story”
― Euripides, Medea
As I talk to my children, and there are so many things I want to share with them, I find, more than anything, literature and not necessarily experience, is my guide. History repeats itself. At times, it becomes annoying to them, past annoying, a sort of zealous righteousness, they feel, where I am chief, not accustomed to being questioned, and I admit, I rule this way. Every mother must have a method, perhaps a style. For every woman is a Queen of her family and land, or should be. Some have voices, some do not and it is left for those who can to communicate what they can TRY to. Therefore, due to my own history, and thusly I love them. I have protected my own children to the best of my ability believing it is often better to run away, and live to fight another day, than to wear oneself out running in place-frankly, I just get bored with the scenery. I have been chastised for this, urged to let them make their own mistakes, as other parents do, but this dedication to them and the natural instinct of a mother conflicts with the story of Medea. Love does not equal murder, or does it? But, I have seen firsthand the failings of parents, and blame, that can come to them, for letting go too soon. In fact, there is a story in there somewhere. Mother’s and women in general, take a lot of blame. It’s not the blame we tell ourselves that will cause people to respect us, it is that pigeonhole we have been put in by society, and other women, too, which seems a paid critic of our actions and seeks to imbue us with other-worldly and impossible capabilities and qualities. In Medea, therefore, lies the greatest and most profound tragedies of all time. I do not believe it to be true, as I will explain.
There must me something inside me, as I am present today still, and they are, that passes this wisdom to me through the ages, some prophetic discourse, not just that which was passed down from my mother, and which makes me immune to their taunts and I know I must toddle on. I know I am right. As if led my some mysterious force, I teach my children, like the cat does hers to bird and climb, extending their circle of freedom and strength ever outward, or like a garden, helping them grow, I think. The ultimate result of this is that I am preparing them to ‘take over’ even if I am master of no land; I am master of myself. A survivor of the very beginning of man and this, too, must trickle down through the dna. It is proven, some of it does.
Now, as a young woman, and having read Medea and other ancient plays, it was inscrutable to me that Medea would take the lives of her own children. I am bent on changing this written persona, this character, drummed up by men and rabid women, who are determined to kill off other women-their competition. It is not that men do not also do this, but this ruthlessness is often attributed to women, like the apple and Eve, her sons actions, and all the problems of the world, can somehow, and usually are, blamed on women. Why except this? Considering a career in acting as a teenager, I thought, this was impossible to portray. Who would want to? It would be difficult to understand her pain, even if she were mad. What leniency does any women receive in giving up her children, let alone abandoning them, or leaving them to fend for themselves or worse, killing them. If possible, this was even more abhorrent to me, as a child, or alien, that any mother would be driven to kill her own children. That’s all. I think children do not read into literature, they take what they read at face value, or try to, and this is not a problem with children; it IS children.
They are unable to see what is before them, what lies ahead, life. I did not know, for instance, that there were several versions of the story, many in fact. In some, the outcome is completely different-she does not kill her children, or by untraceable means they are dead from some other cause, attributed to her, a sorceress and witch. What of the daughter of gods? Very likely that the memorials that remain to her on the island of Corinth are places of worship and devotion, and a place to pray for the safety of one’s children and in their passing, a place also to plead for their safe journey into the other world. As Medea herself says, “Alas! Alas! Often ere now-this is not the first time-my reputation has hurt me and done me grievous wrong. If a man’s really shrewd, he ought never to have his children taught too much. For over and above a name for usefulness that it will earn them, they incur the hostility and envy of their fellow men. Offer clever reforms to dullards, and you will be thought a useless fool yourself. And the reported wiseacres, feeling your superiority, will dislike you intensely. I myself have met this fate.” The book goes on to say that through dissumlation (guile) she was able to obtain Creon’s leave to stay in Corinth one more night, even though he feared her vengeance and her skill.
Why make Medea a source of an article on ballet? Because ballet is life, and art, and Medea, like other heroines of popular history, resurfaces again and again, and it should, though fewer people today study Greek or Latin, and those reputable translations of it go far back to when this leap was not so broad. But it surfaces for different reasons and every time I see, I say once again, oh, here goes, just like the attacks on Hillary Clinton and Cleopatra-any woman really. If anybody actually read this blog, I would probably get a lot of guff, but at least we know her daughter seems to be very well adjusted, and yes, she has had a good life. That might indicate a good mother. How could we elect a president who was a good mother? That might be bad for a country. How could a good mother be bad for a country? It has many, many mirrors of life within it’s very small text. Many stories in one. many parallels to the world today.
There are some stories that only maturity can make understandable, and Medea is one. For me almost every line is an epiphany and some relevance is macchiato-Sparknotes is not the way to understand it, but like many books and other works of art, one has to go back to the source and reread it, as I have been fortunate enough to have a cause to do and help to reexplain it to my children, or does one let them figure it our for themselves? I think it is important to shatter biases against women and obvious contradictions. That kind of behavior would be that of someone on The Jerry Springer show, and not someone as intelligent, talented, and powerful as Medea was likely to have been. But, this is how men see us. Still.
Medea is like an artwork one passes on frequent visits to a museum, when suddenly a meaning hits you, which you have not even been aware your mind was searching to connect to it with, or a ballet, which might be revised to demonstrate the passion with which life is lived and misunderstanding can result in the death of a hero, so how can it continue to be portrayed in the fashion that it is onstage? The choreography needs to change. It no longer represents what our culture knows about women to be UNTRUE and if we continue to let this dogma be regurgitated, then we are saying the same things, doubling back on our progress, and why would anyone want to act in such a play? But it is important. About as important as Bumpo is to Doctor Doolittle (which is now largely censored, but not Medea because it only insults women). It is important the way remembering The Holocaust is important, so not to repeat it, instead of repeating it to make it true. I think the whole world is confused sometimes.
What a woman suffers and how she is viewed then, as now, is also clear in Medea: “Life has lost its savor.” “Of all creatures that feel and think, we women are the unhappiest species,” and she goes on to elaborate the plight of women, which has only changed slightly in this day and age, and many of us can easily remember, or even know, her words are still the truth and she outline what devices and expertise a woman needs to make a man happy and contented, and how even when this is done well, beyond question, it will be twisted around, unappreciated, and that older age of a woman will turn a man’s head, then his heart, possibly, to another. He will abandon his own children and we see how men’s basest actions are upheld by others, as though being wrong, but acceptable, as they still are now, while a woman in many cultures may still be stoned for adultery.
Medea was one of the first modern women, not the first wisest woman, but as she says in the earlier part, superior and outspoken, envied, and hated. We know from other writers that this is true, though we refuse to look around us and acknowledge our own actions, suspect our motivation, or change our nature. And despite this rationality of her own words, we are then to suppose her a highly irrational and not only vengeful woman, but capable of great acts of evil and cruelty-infanticide. Unlikely that these two natures can exist in such a person. A mother. This is how people have existed forever and apparently how it has been acceptable to view women. I imagine female rulers would have been moved by this, and taught to think twice, as in a word of warning, or what NOT to do. There are no real changes to the nature of man or woman and there is little threat probably of a woman committing such an act-look around; not the most popular crime. But then, as well as now, it’s performance continues to fill theaters-even larger than this one.
Today, when a women speaks, stands up for herself, she is suspected of causing trouble and other women are too happy to abide and tolerate this wrong. What woman with children has not been steered into an unmanageable sea of troubles? And she gives guidance, too, for the strong woman, “it is not yet as bad as that, never think so.” Nevertheless, it enjoyed a lot of popularity, controversy and discussion, and not only has been made into more plays, poems and it’s references used most often of many plays, but there are nevertheless some very choice tidbits about learning and rational thought in this serious tragedy, and those SHOULD be passed on, so what gives? Well, you just cannot censor the authors, that’s all and everyone’s interpretation must be as wide as their differences. It’s all in the perspective, and that, I think, is the key to its everlasting popularity. Everyone, down through the ages, has had the same awareness of the theorem that is sets forth-is a woman capable of this? Why not? How? We are defined by motherhood and our views of the heath and home. Will it ever change, truly? Not as long as we give birth and nurture new lives, and if this is one of our purposes, and I believe it is. Where is intellect and can woman ever be described as having any by everyone, or we will continue to turn onto ourselves and others like us, forever? Maybe. Maybe this is nature, too, and about the survival of the fittest. Maybe this is our ANIMAL. And man’s is fornication. Ha.
Medea was the only tragedy that truly eluded me when I read it as a teenager. It is not a role for childless actors or inexperienced performers. I am not sure many ballet dancers even understand it. We are all some mother’s sons or children; and it has different meanings for everyone. Therefore I never considered it much and was quick to see one side of it, that a mother was wholly insane and allowed herself to become too tied up in her jealousy, and accused, as she is by Jason, as being only conscious of the sleight to her manner of affection, and being stung, turns on those most readily available, destroying all in the path of her righteous anger, monstrously killing her children to get even. Medea is described by Euripides as being vain and selfish and though capable of no good, adept at contriving “all manner of wickedness.”
Euripedes does not merely imply, but avers that women outlive their own usefulness and are perfidy itself, to the world. They are useful for bearing good children, perpetuating the line, that is all. Part of me wants this book banned, for my daughter and all other daughters of the future generations of the world, for unless we get beyond this image of ourselves, and discontinue to live it, then we will be viewed, or may be viewed this way forever. It is now down to interpretation by the theatrical group, or actors, and what they do with it, how they interpret this today, and no wonder it is not more widely performed as many of these views we are beginning to leave behind. But, like an idea, they can be reborn, in someone else, or in some other age, and are never really blotted out. I do not know which is worse now, as I grow older, this or the tale it tells basically. Perhaps this is one reason why people look to leave a world, when the one thing they have to look forward to, their vice, is taken away suddenly, there purpose, as they see it. It is good therefore, that women develop to some other purpose, to some other end of usefulness, and this could not state the reasons why better. This perhaps why it is a text widely used in Women’s studies across the world. This is probably the first example of misogynist literature that I can think of, and did I recognize this as a child? NO! And yet, dancers continue to dance it, artists continue to paint it and create about it, and writers continue to quote it, mostly as a warning, but also for the other intellectual and informative reasons that Euripedes words have a meaning today and many of the things he says are great things. You cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater. So one has to parse it down and not let it rest, discuss it, talk about it, unveil it, and for goodness’ sakes promote the other versions of the story and the facts remaining. History.
As in ballets or tragedies, or movies or any story, we are in the power of the author to give us facts and we must believe them, if this, then that. in that way, or there is no story. First a hatred of the man has to be developed and made to be the reasonable supposition by all, and sundry, and without THIS, the story really has no weight-we need to see, imagine, or know WHY or HOW she could have a motive, just like any crime story today, and this Jason does by defiling the sacred vow that stood between them, proper for this rage to build, and then, mistaking her anger for a benign, manageable one, typical (of a woman) and predictable, and twisting this into a cankerous wound which grows into the most vile of hatred and results in unimaginable evil (only attributable to a woman). Only a WOMAN is capable of this crime. In it’s singularity, it defines us, much in the same way that the worst man is a pedophile or rapist, as a woman may not do THAT. In the opposite sex neither crime seems as horrid, or ghastly,though they are. The rape being the epitomy of manhood’s dominant characteristic turned bad, and the killing of one’s own children, by a woman, the worst possible crime for a mother of the world. Both archetypes are bolstered by these pinnacles of high esteem, and therefore, the reverse is true, that our worst qualities are our best qualities turned inside out/reversed. So it is with Medea. This is natural, therefore in fact, and its genius lies in the opposition, in fact. Like good and evil, one cannot theoretically exist without the other.
But, by feminists (a 1960’s term) it is by this that we see women were subjugated to a position below men, due to their sex, frailty, weakness, and that men failed to see them as the warriors and fighters they are, and in at least Euripides version, Medea is going to act on the mannerisms and modes he has created her with, like Pygmalion, but for evil and not good. Otherwise his story would serve no purpose for his own ends-his audience, and whether is was famous for the same reasons it is today, then, is doubtful, but he must have been appealing to women everywhere to not let your jealousy get the better of you, so perhaps man’s means of becoming successful was always so. A Good Woman defined, and a Bad one. Easy. Good that the nature of women is to protect the home and the children at all costs, but according to Euripedes, not so with Medea. But likewise these dame demons rise up to thwart our success in powerful positions even today and it was not very long ago actually that women even got the vote, so our equality is not real, not for a long time. I doubt very much, except by some accident, that any men will vote for a woman for president when there is no history of one having been elected before. Men need to keep women beneath them in powerful positions, for what else do they have?
However, a Queen, at different times in history, has been a just ruler, delivered on the goods, and protected her country, just as a man has and in many countries women fight right alongside their men, when they have to, so why shouldn’t they be President. But here, if a women does not fight, she will not be President, but a man who is a conscientious objector will be elected President. Maybe the public believes that we cannot easily send people to their deaths, like Bond and Judy Dench as M, somehow the public wants to hear a man calling the shots and a woman is still a little ‘butch’ in office or in powerful positions. Some warrior queens, such a Cleopatra defied this mold, but the alternative was a sex symbol and men only willing to accept her power as being tied inextricably to her sexuality. A mother getting the ‘job done’ is likely not thinking about sex, any more than a ruler is when giving war orders. Maybe, just maybe, this is more tied to the idea of war being a man’s milieu and if it can be said that anyone is capable of fighting and killing, it is men. one little poisoning and woman is scarred forever, but men can kill and kill and kill-look at Rambo. The black widow was hardly as popular, or Lorena Bobbit. Viewed by men, hers is even more serious (or frightening) to men, than ALL the rapes, torture and female castration done in the world to women (or men). Odd that no one notices this. It doesn’t really matter who is President, as Obama’s terms have shown us. It is an office vacant of power, so why should men fear a woman as titular head of the country? She is a woman and that is enough, and Euripedes does repeat these views in 4,000 BC. How can we not tell this to our daughters and our sons? What is more important than for them to know that people are basically all very similar.
But, like Shakespeare, Euripedes uses a queen, and a descendant of the gods to derive his example, who were presumed to be vain and mighty anyway, and the gods could “get away’ with behavior mortals couldn’t, so surely, it appears, that Euripedes used this as a lesson to those mere mortals as the opposite of the way to behave. There is, however, so much between the lines, also spoken by Medea, which is true, and other things, relevant and concerning politics, that this is used as subterfuge to say something else, make a commentary on society, and Euripedes was no fool. Certainly this woman was a queen, by this age, were she in her own land, and Jason’s excuses are repeated in other versions of the story, that she acted in his behalf and even loved him because the gods forced her to, so in truth, these actions were foreseen and ordained. Her actions were preordained and she had some involvement, but not a lot, in his success in this version, for according to Jason, she is least powerful and also in use, by other more powerful forces, not only as a woman, but one forgets that it is just these arrogant godlike qualities she flaunts and he flippantly casts aside that cause the death of his children-his acts, not hers. But, she is less than a pure god, only derived of gods or part gods and the writer uses this to show the difference this one little bit of color in the blood can make, or here, the lack of a full does running in your veins. You are judged by men, if not by gods, for you are part of the realm of men, vulnerable. A god would not run, would not be mortal, killable, but she IS. And as a ruler, even related to the gods, women first, were held accountable, for even Jason seems to be above her. So is she really being painted as a murderer of children, or is her killing of her children, or Jason’s children a figurative death? The gods will get even after-all. Even Jason is not above the gods it says and she did ‘escape’ and did move on and on to future Kings, and kingdoms. Who is to say she murdered her own children, or not? It is more likely figurative language and not literally language which implies premeditation of a real sort. But, this story, it thought, logic and meanings also have a great impact on our laws, and define ‘the crime of passion.”
It comes down to us in many ways, and the ways we have chosen and our own interpretation of it as well, so likely, not in the same way it was viewed, then. Is time so far removed and differences in culture so varied, as to make it obsolete? No apparently, for all the use of it, even today. One is better able to ask if Chaucer’s Tales were an apt description of people in that era, and they were, but it does not say much about the man. And it is relevant today because it still goes on, and we understand perfectly the people, their descriptions, greed and larceny, and even their little personality traits and characteristics which define them as what they are, without even a full grasp of the language, conventions or differences in our cultures. So this is a form of propaganda and some of it is being chewed up and revealed to us in smaller pieces or in a single event, so that we have through communication, or art, become wiser, about perhaps what we already know, but did not know that we knew.
Typically, many questions begin to formulate in the reader’s mind. In one sense, I felt the same kind of thinking going on when I watched The Black Swan. Here was something not normally a part of ballets which we see, not focused on, not alluded to, but thought, sometimes, or unspoken, except perhaps in groups, among the intelligentsia after the theater. Thought provoking, and for that reason, Medea is important to all art and to ballet. Ballet should provoke thought. Was Jason only using her? Was man infinitely more sane and calm than a woman, maybe merely more intelligent? Was she acting commonly and not in a dignified manner? Was she wrong? Jason, a hero, by her hand, was certainly, even in those times, betraying her, but even so, she was expected and encouraged (by the writer) to handle this differently, and to quietly benefit from his increased power and position. Is it possible that in his statements there is any truth about his intentions or feelings for the daughter of the king? He is seen as a typical male now, a man, increasing his position and power to benefit his own family in the long run. Were a mother to play this role, it would be the opportunity to emote, express, the anguish and pain one must feel and in no way is this remotely believable to me. It is only imaginable by the man, and is a man’s story of what a jealous woman could do. But for all this, their is depth and emotion to play in the role, just not the usual rantings and ravings which accompany its performance, what the people want to see, or what actresses and actors on the stage think was the intention of the writer. How silly to overact it.
But it is wrong, for no woman would kill her own children, only a man would for the purpose of showing her frailty, her actual and basic human fault. Women were ruled by emotion and men by their clear use of their intelligence. It is a cautionary tale to men as well, though and advises them to not only be on guard with women, not to underestimate the extent of their wickedness, and cruelty, but also to underline the basic differences of the sexes-a woman’s underlying deceit and a man’s right to purveyed goods. natural. And yet, other writers have revised this story, or tale, and we have access to some of these versions, too, though they are not the most popular, may be more truthful in their assertions that she killed her children herself to avoid them being killed by others, that they were killed for some other political reason, by Creon for instance, or to atone for she and Jason’s past deeds, and one, historically important and with some credence, that they died of natural causes, not related at all to any of these other versions at all, and finally, that they did not die at all, as these other versions attest. But this is based on history and from what we know Medea was a real warrior queen, possibly perceived a witch, and had god-like powers and abilities, and was at the very least skilled in medical knowledge and natural powers.
It is hard to say what the truth was or is, but what is widely available is the current version of the history and story we have, and that this is fairly universally accepted as a fictional story, and we have all been fed this version or tragedy for many reasons, including those limited by academics and this has had a profound effect upon the world in ways we do not even realize. But, if we are to interpret stories, art and history through whatever medium, as artists, it is incumbent upon us to have our own understanding of this and other stories in ballet. Failing to see in the Greeks, the possibility of hope, which among them Seneca, viewed as one possibility, and that she was a traveler, and explorer, sort of, more of a warrior, who went on, it is also said, to start a kingdom somewhere else, and fared fine for a woman, is a major failing in the story as far as I am concerned, and I think women today, dancing the ballet, and choreographers, enacting the ballet should take these different viewpoints into account if they wish to impress audiences today.
In fact, of Seneca’s version, only a few lines are extant, a quote. Some writers have latched onto this quote, and it appears in not only Columbus’ own book, but also one of Washington Irving’s Books and a number of other older writings about travel to the new world, there being life beyond those islands unexplored, and curious, or mysterious, and for some reason Seneca discusses this in his Medea, most likely regarding Jason’s travels and nothing more, but possibilities do exist, so the history of Medea continues to be increasingly important in some ways, but not the same ways, as it ever was, and in linking us to our past. While this all occurred before 400 BC, it is hard not to recognize the Indians in the North American continent named the Seneca tribe, and wonder if the Greeks, in their travels, did not come to this country long before we would have ANY RECORD of that travel and imparted onto those people’s some connection or name which may in future tie the Greeks into our history more largely than mythology or writing already does. Who knows. But it is a story rich in comparisons and analogy. I can imagine this, and therefore that it is possible that other likelihoods could exist, and not to rule out any possibility until we know the truth and for now I will just believe in my own version, which is rather unlike the one that follows.
Medea in most tales was an enchantress, a sorceress, another tale of men, who when dealing with a woman with a woman of depth and intelligence, or power, quickly fears her. The chief way a man can hurt a woman is by tearing apart her heart, and breaking a sacred vow, which is not the accepted story of Medea. What all people forget, who read a story, is that it is we who kill Medea’s children, and not she, in our minds. Little is spoken about it really. It happens somewhere else. We are witnessing the conscience and guilt, or aftermath. The absolute worse thing that, in any culture, can be said about a woman, is that she killed her children, or figuratively, that she killed their chances. Each day this story is played out all over the world, by women themselves, who kill other people’s children’s chances, and not much is said at all. In fact, this is how women are seen everyday, as being capable and ready to thwart those who would stand in the way of their own children’s greatness. It doe snot say much for women at all, that we play this role without any thought about how we appear or fulfill the man’s prophecy that we will do anything to advance our own children, and it is the subject of many a black comedy when women openly and laughably exhibit these behaviors, exaggerated actions, but typical behaviors for some women. Secretly, they connive, and plot, to do anything that will harm another, for probably little reason, and they will devote time, actual time and thought to methods to accomplish this-things to say and do, and they teach their daughters to also do this. Perhaps it is a survival mechanism, but I have seen women do this my whole life, and I have watched. It is one of those associations, and with those people, that I do not wish to waste my time. But it is no wonder that men overall think women capable of such dastardly deeds, for women do more to harm other women and children then they would dare to harm a man. Women fear violence. And men represent violence, and unknown.
“For in other ways a woman is full of fear, defenseless, dreads the sight of cold steel; but, when once she is wronged in the matter of love, no other soul can hold so many thoughts of blood.”
― Euripides, Medea
Medea appears again and again in histories of the ancient world and represent women in general. Mysterious, plotting, magical, evil, capable of acting without honor, or ethics to get what she wants and to those in question these mighty words appear, Hell hath no fury like a women scorned.” Hell, even. Women are mighty powerful creatures, but “creatures” like the hydra or cyclops, or witches. Not women, super-human or sub-even, but never equals, and a women as an equal is the only woman that no man fears, because she does not exist. Medea, therefore existed on the water line of many tales and stories, and represents those characteristics of women which a man feared, even in his mother. Now, what mother has not experienced the faithlessness of a man, his inconsistency, his disloyalty, his betrayal? Even worse than the pain of betrayal, or being cast aside, is the betrayal of one’s own son. After a woman thinks that she can experience no greater pain in life than that inflicted by a soulmate, and equal, a partner, and one does, one is surprised to find that the even worse than the loss of one’s earthly lover, is the betrayal by the love that secretly was greatest of all, that of one’s children. That bond which forms when their eyes and yours first meet, can be the most defeating blow of all. No matter, by that time, we women are well-prepared and experienced in loss. This final blow is described in Euripedes play, or any tragedy at all, because none has been written by a women, and no one but a women and child can know that loss. It is slow and like bad policy, incremental, but eventually, we realize that which we have been living for is lost. It was as imaginary as any book, and all in our own imaginations, and sadly we have transferred that hope to our children, so they may hope again, but we will never.
No matter the story, a women is capable of doing great, evil, but great things for her man. She will even kill for him, if he will only take her away and marry her, as in the Argonautica of Apollonius. Of course, Jason agreed. Jason has to, like in most fairy tales, perform impossible deeds (only a true hero could perform) in order to accomplish the tasks (motif) which would enable him to carry away the princess. In real life, these would be equivalent to a good job and a home, setting aside bawdy and lustfully youthful pursuits and of course, the biggest knell of the marriage bell, other women. I think this is the “cold feet” that men get before a wedding. No other future liaisons. For woman, this is different. Most women. To obtain the fleece (the real jewel) as the woman is only born to accomplish the real mission. But without Medea, Jason could not have been successful in most stories, for it is her power through witchcraft, which enables or makes superhuman Jason, and this is what is needed to accomplish the tasks (in order to obtain the fleece). She annoints him with a salve-he is resistant to the fiery breath of fire-breathing oxen with which he has to plough a field. Medea provides him with a rock to throw into the field of soldiers created by the teeth of the dragon Jason then has to sow in the field. The soldiers attack each other, not knowing from where the rock has come. Medea then gives the dragon a potion of herbs, a thus asleep, Jason is able to fight and kill the dragon (drowsy or sleeping) which guards the fleece. Jason takes the fleece, and Medea (the booby prize) and sails away (on the ocean). Medea even kills her brother Absurtus to distract her father, so she could escape with Jason. In Apoollonius’ version Medea only helps Jason in the first place because Hera convinced Aphrodite or Eros to cause Medea to fall in love with him. This is a poor excuse in court today, but many women have tried it, and in France many a woman has been forgiven for a crime of passion committed at that time of the month.
“Of all creatures that can feel and think,
we women are the worst treated things alive”
― Euripides, Medea
Medea’s actions have been even more abhorrent in other versions, scattering her brother’s body parts across the island, so that her father would actually have to stoop and pick them up, which would delay him from his hot pursuit, and no mention is ever made of Medea’s conscience in these matters, or any softness to her. What is apparent is that it was conceivable, even in that day and age, to assume this behavior by a women would be believable. In another version, Absyrtus is killed by Jason (and Medea still loves him). So much for the adage, “a son is a son until he takes him a wife, a daughter a daughter the rest of her life.” But is all fairness, Medea is under a spell, not only of Jason, but one of the God’s, so unquestionably loyal (a given) and powerless against it. A women is also gullible and her mind can be controlled, therefore she is not worthy to lead, but will always remain a follower. In some stories, a stop is made on an island ruled by her aunt Circes (also a sorceress), to be cleansed of the murder of Absyrtus, presumably as she could not go on further with the guilt of her own deed. Forgiveness, and again the Roman’s were always big on the cleansing of guilt. There is nothing, virtually, which they cannot be forgiven for. And we see the tenets of early Catholicism already built into the culture, largely. So, it is also apparent that a women’s natural response to killing a loved one would be to end one’s own life. An eye for an eye, a chance for a chance, a tooth for a tooth, and in some American Indian tribal cultures, women whose sons were lost in battle wandered about the camp, their son no longer able to protect them, until they died in winter. No one would take them in and they took all of their belongings. Men have always been the providers and protectors in human culture. Except in rare cultures, where the women ruled and women did not treat other women this way. Rare.
“death is the only water to wash away this dirt”
Medea continues her treacherous and sometimes uncalled for cruelties and murder, killing the bronze man of Crete (Talus/Talos), who bars the port of Crete from Jason. In the Argonautica, Medea uses hypnotism, and drives him berserk, so that he kills himself. Talos’ death is a particularly symbolic one, in that he has one vein extending from his neck to his ankle, bound shut with a single nail. When the nail is removed by whatever means various stories tell, Talos is killed when this substance runs from his body. (Ichor is the ethereal golden fluid that is the blood of the gods/immortals.) Medea also made prophesies that came true, so not all of her myth was unreal, for Euphemus one day did actually rule over all of Libya, through Battus, his descendant. So such were the actions and the direct connection of success or failure felt strongly through even the later feats of one’s descendants. But the Argo rolled into port.
“Oh, say, how call ye this,
To face, and smile, the comrade whom his kiss
Betrayed? Scorn? Insult? Courage? None of these:
‘Tis but of all man’s inward sicknesses
The vilest, that he knoweth not of shame
Nor pity! Yet I praise him that he came . . .
To me it shall bring comfort, once to clear
My heart on thee, and thou shalt wince to hear.”
― Euripides, Medea
Medea also did good things, occasionally, with her magic, and one was to make Jason’s father, Aeson immortal, by giving him a transfusion (yes, they were performed even that far back in history), and it is fairly clear to me, that her wisdom was in her ability to heal, thus, she was a doctor, and we know that they were burned until the mid or late 1700’s in recent culture. So these qualities a woman might possess could do her good or evil. Only women have suffered this duality. A man is forever seen as straight and true. Still, Jason does fall in love with Medea eventually, and by the time they reached Iolus, Medea was able to conspire to convince Pelias’ own daughters to murder him. She convinced them that if they cut their father up in pieces, he would be reborn into a young version of himself. So they did. After killing Pelias (for Hera), they fled to Corinth. With Jason, Medea had five sons, and supposedly they were happy for over forty years.
“Do not grieve so much for a husband lost that it wastes away your life.”
― Euripides, Medea
It was here, in Corinth, where later, the trouble begins (as if the above were not shocking enough). Jason abandons Medea for the King’s daughter-and a younger woman-Glauce. Medea sends a dress to GLauce, covered in poison, which kills Glauce and her father, Creon. It is said, that two of her sons were murdered for their assistance in this crime. But Medea’s revenge continues, murdering two of their other sons, and leaving one remaining. She flies to Athens in a dragon-driven golden chariot, a gift by Helios (god of the sun) and her grandfather. In another version by the poet Eumelus, she kills her own children by accident, and in another story, the people of Corinth kill them (which I believe is more likely). Her murder of her own children seems to be strictly an invention of Euripides, though some scholars attribute it to Neophron. Her filicide was to become the accepted version in later or more recent fiction, however. And one writer, Pausanias, claims to have seen a monument to them in Corinth, ad records the five variants in his writings.
“Hast thou ice that thou shalt bind it
To thy breast, and make thee dead
To thy children, to thine own spirit’s pain?
When the hand knows what it dares,
When thine eyes look into theirs,
Shalt thou keep by tears unblinded
Thy dividing of the slain?
These be deeds Not for thee:
These be things that cannot be!”
― Euripides, Medea
Like a sensible women, fearing Jason”s wrath, she flees to Thebes in where she heals Heracles, a former Argonaut, from a curse which Hera has placed upon him, and led to his murder of his best friend, Iphitis. Despite Heracles protection and defense of her, the Thebans drive her from their land, so she is infamous for her deeds. In this version, she flees then to Athens where she meets and marries Aegeus and they have one son, Medus. Some writer’s believe this to be Jason’s surviving son with Medea, Hesiod. Never boring for long, Medea nearly convinces Aegeus to kill his own lost son, Theseus, and just as she is about to hand Theseus the poisoned cup, Aegeus recognizes that the sword Theseus has is his own, passed down to his own son. He averts the act. Not surprisingly Medea leaves once more, returns to her home, Colchis, and finding that her father, Aeetes has been deposed of by his brother, now King, Perses, kills her uncle, and restores the kingdom to her own father. In another version, she takes her son and flies in her golden chariot to some part of Iran, living among a culture known as Aryans, who then became the Medes.
“O what will she do, a soul bitten into with wrong?”
― Euripides, Medea
No less vividly represented today, the established view is not one of heroism, but rather one of filicidal tendencies and murderous methods, changing her good attributes, to those of the criminally insane, or at least evil. What is apparent is that she was a demi-god of some immortal persuasion, and that whether she lived for Jason, for a time, she moved on, and she was at least as great a warrior, with her less violent, but equally adept methods of winning battles, fearlessness, and cunning, shrewd tactics and strength of mental character, surviving the loss of her children, and in founding many cities, with which she is credited in actual history. And though intelligence in government was reduced to attempts to bring into power her own offspring, it seems as though she were caught, and suffered ostracism at times, but she always landed, like the Argo, somewhere new, like many women do. No one in art has been more represented or written about, or has surfaced in the poeems and writings of so many illustrious men, Ovid, Apollonius, Seneca, and all those poets above mentioned, employ her figure, and she rises again in literature as other warrior women do, such as Cleopatra, and Boadicea, and other Queens. What she appears to have been is an extremely brave and intelligent women, who is misunderstood by history, and cloaked in the same sort of contempt as women have been held in history by men, unable to relate to their personal battles and intelligence. Only a mother would know that Medea could not have killed her sons, even Jason’s sons, over jealousy; that is perhaps a man’s motif, but not possible of any woman, and certainly not the kind of resourceful and intelligent, even brilliant woman, Medea must have been. She is however, revered in art, staring back at us from vases and paintings, and widely apparent in Greek culture where women are revered as much as men in their chivalric deeds, and another reason why I will always be a fan of Greek culture. Medea is, like Gaia, or other earth goddesses, associated with death, and the grave, probably most evident in the chthonic culture and the due to the dramatic overtones of her slain children, and an actual sanctuary devoted to them in Corinth. The Greek word khthon is one of several for “earth” which literally refers to under the ground, or the interior of the soil, and not, like Gaia on the surface of the land. So, she is revered in death, and is probably a sub-god of Hades, or the female version.
“Stronger than lover’s love is lover’s hate. Incurable, in each, the wounds they make.”
― Euripides, Medea
Whether in drama, or poetry, history, or art, and especially in Music, Medea has always caused a sensation. Thousands of references occur and much is attributable to her, and many controversies are led by association of her mostly magical and evil side, so probably she has remained very popular because she represents a vivid and interesting possible interpretation, reviving classical themes to promote some personal opinion. She is allegory itself, in a way, and each of us, as we view our children running along a seashore, might be reminded of Medea who traveled much, did great, but possibly bad things, and was an actual person, I believe, who was raised to mythical status fro some reasons-stood out-because of her strength of character and positive attributes as a women, but whom through history men have decried as the worst type of woman. But, we should not do that to ourselves, or each other. One cannot help that believe her actions must have been those of a typically intelligent woman, who like Eve was blamed for the sins of man, thought to be naive and gullible, and dumb, and cunning, and snakelike. A woman who despite history, is found to have a story that all women can relate to, and as hard as it is to believe, was once a child who probably ran in the cold, barefoot, along the line of the shore, while her mother, picked up her shoes and followed, picking up and carrying her back to the house. It was always hard for me to picture her any other way, especially now, that I have been a mother and known that their is no greater loss in the world, at this point that of a lover or a friend, and that children will grow up and that we must continually fight to be understood, and not driven from the land, no matter how we are perceived, all women will do whatever they have to, for their children, but they would not kill them for a man.
“Tell me, how does it feel with my teeth in your heart?”
― Euripides, Medea
The story of Jason and Medea was familiar in many dramatic treatments in France, beginning with Pierre Corneille‘s version of Euripides in 1635. As early as 1454 however, the myth was presented as a dumb show in Lille, and, in 1489, the dancing masterBergonzio di Botta of Tortona adapted the tale of the Argonauts to a version that then became a model for subsequent danced entries in a variety of styles and tastes. In 1736, Marie Sallé, a dancer much admired by Noverre, danced the role of Medea in a version called Médée et Jason. Medea was portrayed by the English ballerina Mlle. Nency who “apart from her amazing dance talent, succeeded by showing in her acting ability all the soul and expression of that incomparable actor, the celebrated Garrick, in England where the dancer, trained by Mr. Noverre, was born.” Other terpsichorean roles included Fire (Medea’s burning mantle), Steel (Medea’s Sword of Vengeance), and Jealousy. Gaetano Vestris (who had travelled from Paris especially for the occasion) and Angiolo Vestris were Jason and Créon respectively.When the wild-eyed Furies first appeared on stage in the ballet, some audience members reportedly fainted while others fled the theatre. In 1780, a Paris libretto described the work as a “Ballet Terrible, ornamented by dancing, suspicion, darkness, pleasure, horror, poison, tobacco, dagger, salade (‘hodge-podge’), love, death, assassination, and fireworks.” The ballet was one of Noverre’s greatest success, and was constantly revived across Europe in the decades following the ballet’s premiere with or without acknowledgment of Noverre’s authorship or his supervision.[note 1]
Jump up^Gaetano Vestris (Noverre’s first Jason) was the dieu de la danse of the period, and freely appropriated and adapted Noverre’s Jason all over Europe. As a consequence, Noverre blamed Vestris for the poor reception his five-act version of the ballet received at the Paris Opéra in 1780. In 1781, Vestris appeared in his adaptation of Jason et Médée in London without acknowledging the original author of the work.
Enter. Edward Villella, former dancer and artist of The New York City Ballet. Who has not heard of Edward Villella? Well, until a few years ago it seems like not many of the new generation had, that is, until he built, over several years time, against much opposition, a ballet company in Miami-The Miami Miracle-from the ground up. From then on, we have enjoyed regular articles, references and symposiums featuring him although his videos are still a little scarce. Older, and wiser, but clearly fit, with the same, recognizable posture as Balanchine, D’Amboise, and other former male dancers of the era, steps up Mr. Villella, or “Eddy,” as friends call him. Older, yes, but not less handsome or engaging, intelligent, or talkative, than other dancers of the era who, now mature in years, seem to have something to say, are not merely saying something. He does a little jazz shuffle, entering stage right, and hops up onto the podium, clearly happy to be there, and talk about his passion-dance-with the assembled fans; it’s a full house.
The discussion, led by Jennifer Homans of The Center For Ballet and the Arts at NYU, and author of “Apollo’s Angels”, didn’t need much prodding; Mr. Villella was as ready as ever to discuss his viewpoints and perspective, relate stories, critique management, recent choreography, and his directorship, as well as probe the deeper meanings behind the ballet arts, at least from his position as a premier dancer for The New York City Ballet, when it was at its peak circa 1954-69. Ms. Homans and the Ballet Center have provided these evenings of intimate discussion and reception free of charge as part of their mission to make ballet more recognizable, accessible, and to also discover what is or has been there already and to preserve this information and knowledge, add to it, share it, and possibly look into the future of what may possibly be, by bringing a discussion about of the past, and its examples. It was in all a very interesting and inspiring evening particularly with the guest last night. A short q&a and a reception followed.
Edward Villella talked about his history with Balanchine and shared three short video segments which gave dancing interludes to the dialogue (much as I should do with these photos), reminding the participants that Balanchine was intricate, musical, and an artistic director who employed artists and gave them the opportunity to expand when they seemed ripe and ready, encouraging them to make their own statements, and to imbue each role with their own take and style, and often leaving them, as Mr. Villella put it, to discover what was already there, learn about it, listen to it, bring it out, highlight it, but not to actually create it, only to interpret it in their own way.
Edward expanded on how Balanchine communicated the intricacy and layers of the ballets, described how you felt it, and you were inspired by his stories, descriptions and development of the roles, and how ballet really is of the moment. He also explicated what seems to be missing nowadays is the passion that Balanchine brought to the ballet with his fellow dancers, and how inspirational he was to them, what that impact was like, and how it is not observable today in many cases. Ms. Homans commented on how many of those movements may be being lost-nuances-information-a concern of everyone important in the dance world today. These things were also “of the moment,” need to be recorded, and you feel that this is something that she wants to bring about, a larger vocabulary of dance-for dancers-in a world where colleges are teaching the perfect 15-word email. Know more, think more, be more studious!
This point of search, discovery, fortitude, and especially commitment was repeatedly interwoven in Villella’s short speeches by recalling past history and examples. And this, he explained, was his art, his passion, his whole life, even despite a break of nearly four years as a young man due to pressure by society, and by his father, not to pursue the career of a male ballet dancer (another fully-attempted profession which left him thinking only of dancing). He abandoned a future desired by others for him in order to fulfill his passion for dance; maybe, in part, because of George Balanchine. Mr. B., he made clear, was inspiration personified and he provided this inspiration to his dancers to perform their best and to continue dancing.
Edward Villella is part of the iconoclasm of American Ballet and that legacy of artists, muses, composers, visionaries, etc., the “geniuses” Balanchine’s period, carefully assembled and cultivated by Balanchine, Kirstein, Stravinsky, et al., into a New York City ‘local ballet company’ which would serve New Yorkers and the world more dutifully and consistently, it might be argued, than many public or government office-holders have, for now almost a century. Art is part of the fabric of New York, and not least among those provided services is ballet. But how Mr. Villella seems at odds with the current ballet mindset and panorama clearly and quickly becomes apparent as he is eager to live up to his own self-given mission to give not only his best, but also his opinions, viewpoints and perspectives fueled by a life lived in the arts, and to also voice his considerable concerns for the future, by example, comparing and contrasting those myriad differences from then and today. The audience sees plainly his position as a scholar and spokesperson, aptly done. He then proceeds to narrate, punctuate, clear up, and skillfully guide us through a brief engaging and informative personal history. It is obviously planned, laid out in advance of this evening, how his own point of departure was different from anyone else’s, but he never boasts this directly. Ms, Homans accentuates by giving her own opinions, too, and asking direct questions in a nice self-effacing way, without apologizing for them. The discussion seems frank enough. He expresses just how thankful he was to have the opportunities to dance the parts he did, and how amazed he was that Mr. Balanchine gave him the parts he did to work with, to create, and how this is his responsibility, and that of others, to pass on, what he thinks is, a very serious undertaking.
He said he was not sure of the present mindset of younger dancers being given this role and he seems desirous to reach them, and teach them, and he stressed this need and its importance. A few recognizable young dancers from NYCB sit in the audience, aloof, somewhat overwhelmed and intimidated, I would imagine by their responses. We are definitely not sure these people are aware how much is vested in them, or can handle that pressure or position, or even care-especially after viewing his videos, in one of which Mr. Villella is at the point of physical collapse due to his dancing exertions; he pushed himself to the limits of physical endurance. It was really quite moving. Perhaps, it is only the difference of years of maturity and reflection to cast this formidable shadow, but one cannot picture these students with the silver spoon mentality even reaching that juncture. What students have today is the inability to appreciate some other dancer’s humble beginnings, immense talent, and fire, but they do not fail to appreciate their own embraceable luck and good fortune. They do not understand what exactly this all means to the people who have been before them-what they will have to pass on, live up to. Maybe they will learn, if they try. You get the feeling that, if possible, Mr. Villella is not going to let them slip away without considering his proposition and challenge. His emphasis is that you bring technical ability and you learn the rest: acting, art, music and performance. The picture and responsibility get bigger, not smaller, not easier. It’s already there, but you must discover “it” for yourself.
Though not much of the laborious schedule and rigors of ballet under Balanchine were discussed, Tanny LaClerq’s death, the females of the NYCB, other male dancers, or the recent changes at the company, but the emphasis on his opinion was as clear as a bell. Afterall that is what we usually hope to see and hear, and we don’t usually, so we come to expect the worst from the best. But have you ever-could you ever-doubt Edward Villella? Doubt that he would deliver? He never fails. It was an honor and a privilege. Video segments are what we know of his previous accomplishments, unless we lived in that era-his unique physical accomplishments, his dynamic was different, his remarkable stamina, verve and bravado, are evident in some of those videos, our common history of ballet to us older folk, but to younger audiences this might seem extreme, a little too hard, too much, and too fatiguing. But what is there to dance if the spirit is not in it? Why are you here, his whole body seemed to say. It was the narrow margin of art versus the talented, but absent, unmusical, shallow and competitive performer of today-the poser- which Villella obviously chastises, and puts up for discussion and exhibition by saying, “this is what we don’t do” by showing dancers, “this is what you do.” There is nothing in between, or so it would seem, for Edward Villella. This could be similarly expressed by many great dancers of the past, is repeated in many interviews of former great dancers, but was handled differently here by a living legend.
Instead of limiting his listeners by these evidentiary great videos, he also gave them verbal assurances and confidence to see exactly how this might be accomplished firsthand, a directive, a mission. It was not surprising to see it attempted again, but it was handled differently, expertly. No artist’s message, expressed in their own inimitable way could fail to make it clear, and none of them (really) ever shirk the duty of the confidence, from their responsibility and openness to lay it on the line, despite some people’s aversion to hearing it, we understand their missive. But, Mr. Villella’s wisdom was much more gentle and urging. His points were clearer and accentuated with proof by example, and that, so many of the other artists of today cannot demonstrate. There is a world of difference in the actions. Mr. Villella’s actions just speak louder than anyone else’s I’ve heard. His examples are better. He truly practices what he preaches and he doesn’t preach much.
Much has been heard about Mr. Villella’s troubles, fatigue, exhaustion, injuries, and his unrivaled performances, which in my opinion, were all the more brilliant because it seems that if he was going to be a dancer, defy his father’s wishes, he had to be the greatest male dancer of his era, and possibly he was. He adds, that a lot of that was PR, played up, by the media, to show he was a rare performer to see, to promote the ballet, make it news, as a world-class performance of dancing. He claimed that his reputed speed, stamina, strength and agility, such as you might expect to see at a sporting event, were fabricated, but then you see the videos and remember. But he doesnt come across as insincere. But what of art? Perhaps he, like many other dancers always feel lacking, they don’t know the stories today, maybe they don’t seem believable. But looking at him in those roles, I would believe. I would! His attotude seemed to be that art could be exciting, death-defying, and a real punch in the face as well as all the rest. He brought it to life for generations of ballet-goers. Art for the he-man, the boxer, the street kid, the thug, the athlete-and Mr. Villella, was at one time or the other, all of those things. A regular guy, a New Yorker. He points out that he is married, has a wife-that ballet is not for sissies, but for real men, too, and family men, with family values. He makes ballet accessible for everyone. Maybe in his life his real ability, and he needed it to make a point to himself, in order to find acceptance from his own father, to keep an audience glued to their seats, and became one of the best at, was his ability to reach people-to communicate-he is expert at reaching people. He is obviously a skilled teacher and supporter of education and youth, and dance.
Maybe Balanchine played on Villella’s own personal conflicts, in selecting roles for him, those involving a father, because he knew this was in Edward’s vocabulary, his nomenclature, to state and to express it. It is clear from his perspective at least, that Balanchine’s suggestions to his artists invoked the best performances from them, and Villella said, “he knew you, he was a genius.” He gave praise, he thanked, he was lovable, and no wonder his dancer’s tried very hard to please him, or so Edward seemed to be saying, and is evident in all their admiration for him, the wide acceptance and repeating of his works, and the way his legacy is carried on by his proteges. Nowhere else is this more apparent than The New York City Ballet, or was, even though it is purported that more Balanchine works are performed in Europe than in the US. Balanchine had the gift of being able to use psychology, music, spectacle, different genres of dance, and hype, to create magic and everyone at his factory were in reality living their dreams. Part of that super-reality mixed with theatricality involved bringing to life ballets which demonstrated deeper and deeper levels of emotion brought about by human experiences to increase human understanding. Is that is what is being done today at the NYCB?
It is also very clear that the audience and their response was elemental to this process, the final countdown. But they were conditioned to expect greatness by Balanchine-not the reverse. Mr. Villella’s jumps were always just a tad higher, and his movements slightly more intense and large, and his acting at its best onstage, a performer of the highest caliber. Balanchine clearly knew how to elicit these performances from his artists, how to discipline them, and how to train them. Do they alone see this now, appreciate this, because without a force like him, they cannot recreate his masterpieces. Yet, they continue to share their unique perspective of this man, perhaps the organization’s most valuable asset is its dancers, and it should be the dance. It is also of major importance to younger dancers, and the future of ballet, to see exactly what is passed on in ballet, with many other things as well, and only they can teach. So why aren’t they all there? You definitely got the feeling that he feared for this future. But, Edward Villella remains one of the very few tangible ‘elite’ even if you catchphrase it as an “era”, those dancers dreamed of even greater things. It was hard work, day and night, for you the public and for Mr. B, whom they all sought to please. The New York City Ballet is still one of the foremost companies in the world attached to the major education division of ballet in this country, and therefore is the U.S.’s greatest ballet company. Perhaps the artists and director of that company needed to hear this talk even more than the audience did.
Edward Villella said that he would never describe himself this way, a “jumper,” he says, as though in all the roles he danced in this was the perceived reason he was selected, how he was featured, why, and his main “selling point.” He did not, was not made to, see himself this way. All the dancers were encouraged to think as a group, then. But it was plain to us, to the audience, why this charismatic and exciting performer was featured so often-maybe not enough if public videos serve right. His acting was exciting, his masculinity and energy palpable, his stamina was fatiguing just to watch, and he had bravado in spades. At that time, by dancers in this country, he was truly unmatched, and unique. Ironically, he remains alone today in that regard to a large extent. If memory serves there were many unheralded fine dancers of that institution, and where are they today? They are needed to reinforce the ideals of American ballet. The public, everyday people. because of Edward Villella, began to view ballet differently. They began to attend ballet performances in overwhelming and unprecedented numbers. He sold tickets! His impression was felt across the country, through tv, and by description, by millions of people in their homes, and ballets became popular-attendance was up!
He made an impact around the world, too, but in America, where he was needed most, he did the most good for our ballet. His presence must have been felt too, in Russia, and London, and the rest of the world, where later dancers followed his path exactly, seemly inadvertently, benefiting from the swathe he tore. It became a competition-he was not the man to follow. He was not only a major star of ballet in the 1950’s and 1960’s, he paved the way for others, such as Rudolf Nureyev, and Mikhail Baryshnikov, to appear in the the forefront of future ballet productions, in roles he had made famous, and increasingly made more famous in those ballets over a long career, and which he alone performed, often, when others were out due to injury, staples of The New York City Ballet and the world. As Edward Villella says, although these roles were worked on him, their difficulties are evident in the lack of ability of most performers to do them today, with perhaps the exception of a few similar stars, such as Mikhail Baryshnikov, Daniel Ulbricht, and some of the dancers Edward Villella has trained himself, such as at The Miami City Ballet, possibly. Not all of them shine in exactly the same or numerous ways in them, that Edward Villella did, or they would be household names.
Consequently, the search for dancers to recreate his original roles, brought us dancers of the same ilk, and then Russian, gradually, since the late 60’s-70’s, and not so many after the 1980’s were able to perform them as imaginatively or as well as he did at all. Now it is a feat just to teach and stage some of them once per year or decade. Edward Villella did them every night. He was a blueprint for what made ballet acceptable to major audiences in the public sense, what was to be expected, and allowed, and he set the barre higher, though he probably did not realize it at the time. No wonder so many of them fall short of it today! Now he does a tour, making up for lost time, by putting forth his presence and knowledge today and sharing that with others, letting people know that he is more than willing, anxious even, to convey those secrets to young hopefuls, companies, and audiences. Edward Villella was really one of the first American male dancers, along with Jacques D’Amboise, and others, who set the stage for an American prototype of the male ballet dancer, with the help of a Russian choreographer and composer, Balanchine and Stravinsky. The videos and discussion also included : an excerpt of A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream with Villella as Oberon, Jewels (Rubies tcherzo-furioso, specifically), and discussions of The Prodigal Son, Agon/Apollo, and a few of his other roles (Sleeping Beauty, Scotch Symphony, Nutcracker) were alluded to, including some I have never heard of, such as Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto, which had a deeper meaning for Villella (he says) too. But to Villella, all of these roles, and Balanchine’s choreography, are conveyed with the caveat that the choreographer’s role is not to create a stamped role for a performer, but is the role of a teacher- to give the performer the chance to ‘discover’ it himself. By inspiring the dancer, suggesting, and individualizing his approach to a role, and so that the line where the choreography, music and dancer or artist begin, as well as the live impact or performance, is nearly invisible or becomes one unique blend or “a moment in time.” “Dated” Villella says, possibly, but rife with meaning and ‘great things’. Mr. V does not think, and this is my interpretation, that performers today work hard enough, take ballet seriously enough, or convey enough emotion or passion in their dancing. I think this is perhaps the most important thing he said last night.
Several times, he spoke of his concern today, for Balanchine ballets, the loss of their details, and the ignoring of the many layers of his productions, the dancer’s lack of investigation and art, even ability to dance(!). He also spoke of his desire to work on coaching and teaching these things, passing down those details to new dancers and entire companies, successfully, as he has tried to do with Miami City Ballet. He wants to encourage ALL dancers to dig deeper into the legacy and history of the art of ballet, art and cultural history, to discover new meanings relevant to them, and to today, seek to convey more to the audience, not less, and to especially add something besides a smile, behind which, apparently, lies “nothing.” He repeated these warnings and concerns often, also criticizing the current mode of the backers of the art, critics, and board members, in taking the egotistical ‘front seat’ ahead of the art of ballet. He said in some ways for this reason alone “art suffers”, and a little of his particular problems with Miami Ballet in general, but also other institutions.
He is a Balanchine expert, and despite his many other performances, roles, and directorships, he remains a student of Balanchine, so why would they hire him if they didn’t want the Balanchine/Villella influence? This also emphasizes the need for organizations and individuals to do their research before pursuing a line of art they do not understand and he feels we all, they all, need to know more. We do, and we need to communicate about it more, not just in pictures, but in words, and in art-our impressions, our versions, even if we’re wrong, it opens discussions about it, if only to correct, or argue-it is something. SOmething is always better than nothing. Always. Dry critiques, tweets, and posts do not do art justice. All in all, this was a very enjoyable, provocative evening well-spent, and as you can see, INSPIRING. Spent in the company of one of my life-long favorite dancers, Mr. Edward Villella. Thank you very much Center For The Ballet and the Arts and readers of Mysylph.
To find out more about Edward Villella, read his book Villella, Edward, with Larry Kaplan. Prodigal Son. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992. Levin, Jordan. (another is in the works concerning the “two” Golden Ages of Ballet-one being ‘George Balanchine’s’ age, the other the previously known of Russia)
To see an introspective grouping of performance and rehearsal photographs which often deliver the ‘moment’ in many productions, please visit The Billy Rose Theatre Division Collection at The New York Public Library. Search term: ‘Edward Villella.’ The New York Public Library Digital Collections
Kateryna (Katja) Khaniukova, who has been dancing with English National Ballet these last 15 months, returned home to the company where she was a much loved principal dancer – Kiev Ballet. Graham Watts reports on the night and ballet in a country at war…
Kiev Ballet (National Ballet of Ukraine) Don Quixote
Kiev, National Opera House
5 June 2015 www.opera.com.ua
Ballet enjoys significant popularity in the Ukraine and the Kiev State Choreographic Institute – now run by Nobuhiro Terada – has produced some of the world’s leading dancers (Alina Cojocaru, Sergei Polunin, Denis Matvienko and Ivan Putrov to name but a few). Another recent export is 25 year-old Kateryna Khaniukova who joined English National Ballet in March 2014 – a Rojo recruit, sufficiently attracted by the ambition and inspiration of the company’s artistic director to relinquish the status of principal ballerina in her home city of Kiev, to become a junior soloist in London. As a first thought, it may seem odd for Khaniukova to have swapped this elite home status for a lower place in another company’s hierarchy but Tamara Rojo’s drawing power and the expanding repertoire of ENB is clearly worth the risk.
It is even more remarkable given that Khaniukova had no prior intention of leaving Kiev to dance elsewhere. During a brief visit to London, she was advised by her coach in Kiev – Alla Lagoda (also a former mentor to Cojocaru) – to take class while away, thus becoming a relatively unknown guest at ENB’s morning ritual. Her impeccable technique immediately attracted Rojo’s attention and the subsequent offer of a contract. The expressive quality of English ballet was a powerful incentive but the potential of working under Rojo was the decisive factor. “We had only seen her on DVD”, Khaniukova told me, “and so the opportunity to come and work with an artist of such dramatic quality was something that I just couldn’t miss. I wanted to absorb all those feelings into my work”.
Leaving the Ukraine permanently was not so easy. The Maidan Square Revolution erupted soon after her return and the visa centre was in the line of sniper fire. It took weeks to sort out the paperwork through all this chaos, during which time Khaniukova’s parents – both doctors – were tending to the Maidan’s victims. The requisite passport pages were eventually stamped and Kateryna (informally known as Katja) was able to join ENB, two months later than planned.
A cold night in February 2014 saw her farewell performance at the Kiev Opera House, given to a skeleton audience sheltering from the troubles outside. Just like Pavlova and others dancing on in St Petersburg through the 1905 Russian Revolution, Katja felt that “…dancing ballet seemed so pointless when people were dying on the streets a few hundred yards’ away”. Since the ballet being performed was The Nutcracker, the land of the sweets must have seemed a million miles away!
What a difference in just 15 months! Khaniukova’s return to Kiev for a one-off performance of Don Quixote was accorded the glittering, red-carpet treatment of a major premiere. Fashion magazines were there to photograph the event; TV stations filmed it; a documentary film crew followed the ballerina wherever she went over the whole weekend. A “sold-out” theatre included an audience of politicians, journalists and assorted celebrities from the worlds of sport, film and the arts. It was an occasion that fully demonstrated the power of Ukrainians’ affection for an artist who had left to make a mark elsewhere; turning up in their droves to welcome Katja home.
The National Opera House of the Ukraine (named in honour of Taras Shevchenko) is a gorgeous – if slightly dishevelled – architectural gem, designed by Victor Schröter. A curved neo-renaissance exterior – the façade a neat double-height row of columns and porticos – sits under a domed roof topped off by impressive statuary; enclosing a classical interior, based on the Viennese model of the early 20th Century. As so often the case in Central European cities, this opera house replaced another that was consumed by fire (allegedly caused by a candle left alight after a performance of Eugene Onegin) and the new building on Volodymirska Street was opened in September 1901. The backstage areas and studios are spacious although in need of refurbishment and the public parts are a splendidly ornate warren of corridors and passageways with a surprise around every turn. Unnoticeable to most but key to those who perform there is a flaking, apparently uneven, wooden stage with a vicious rake.
The version of Don Quixote in the Kiev repertory is a typical hand-me-down interpretation of Gorsky’s 1900 revision of Petipa’s original 1869 ballet, seen through the prism of many further retouches through the years of the Soviet Union. It enjoys detailed painted – but generally dull – backcloths to represent generic scenography and vivid, decorative costumes (not least, the gorgeous crimson and black tutu with gold embroidery worn by Khaniukova’s Quiteria in the final act celebrations). In many ways, the design of this Don Quixote was a cipher for the opera house in which it played: both beautiful and decrepit; grand elegance slightly worn out by age. It would sit appropriately within a Venetian setting.
There are some additions to the traditional libretto including a gypsy pas de deux to music with which I am not familiar and is neither by Minkus or Drigo. The conductor – Herman Makarenko – told me that this addition was by a little-known soviet composer and had been added during the mid-twentieth century. He couldn’t remember the name but my guess is that it was composed by Vassily Soloviev-Sedoy for the Bolshoi’s production in 1940. Anyone with better information is welcome to comment below.
The comic-book characterisations of the title character and his side-kick, Sancho Panza, were accomplished in broad-brush style, respectively by Sergei Litvinenko and Nikita Sokolov. The latter is a fine name for this ballet since it was another Sokolov (Sergey) on whom the very first Basil was created in the premiere of Petipa’s ballet at the Bolshoi in 1869 (and incidentally, he was alsoSwan Lake’s first-ever Rothbart) Litvinenko was a most appropriate, tall and lanky, tourist-book evocation of the wandering, chivalrous knight. If in need of another job he could become a Don Q look-alike around the arid plains of Castilla La Mancha (where only a week previously, by coincidence, I visited the tiny village of Santa Quiteria and met a matador!)
Elsewhere in the cast, I was taken by fiery performances from another Kateryna (Kurchenko) as the Street Dancer and the vivacious Mercedes of Ksenia Novikova; plus a gypsy solo with swirling red skirt and elastic spine from another Ksenia (Ivanenko). Maxim Kamishev was a haughty Espada (known as Esparto in the Ukraine); Irina Borisova brought regal elegance to the Queen of the Dryads; and yet another Kateryna (Kalchenko) was ethereally fleet-footed and busy as the Cupid. One overriding impression that remained with me throughout the ballet was of ultra soft landings on this hard uncompromising stage. All the dancers’ jumps were generally high and long, yet their landings were largely silent.
Khaniukova was reunited with her former dance partner, Viktor Ishchuk, who graduated into the Kiev company in 2001. He is ideally cast as Basil, the carefree but indigent barber of Barcelona. In a modern adaption he might suit being a skater boy since Ishchuk has that quality of naturalistic, blithe and buoyant chirpiness. He is a dancer with the prodigious virtuoso skills required for Basil but there’s also a charming “devil-may-care” dishevelment around the edges.
Khaniukova’s Quiteria is a delicately-framed but ebullient minx. As merited by the special circumstances of this show, she was truly a divinity returned from exile. An adoring audience lapped up every second of her return, beginning with that gleeful opening solo in the Barcelona marketplace. By the time of her fast terre-a-terre entry to the harp accompaniment in the final act variation, Khaniukova had the whole audience clapping along with every step; not something I have experienced many times before.
Few ballerinas have an entire armoury of elite skills but Khaniukova seems without any weakness. She spins and jumps strongly (her jeté is an object of marvel), possesses an intuitive musicality, extraordinary flexibility, graceful port de bras and épaulement; and she gilds the lily by capturing the romantic, comedic and Machiavellian essences of Quiteria with exquisite, expressive acting. It was a performance perfectly pitched to the gala occasion of her homecoming. Remarkably, she and Ishchuk managed to rise above having almost no time to rehearse together, holding it all together securely through their collective body memories. It was only when Khaniukova was required to dance in harmony with Borisova and Kalchenko during the dream scene that any lack of rehearsal was detectible.
Don Quixote is such an anomaly in the classical ballet repertoire. The performer in the title role never dances and is merely a supporting character artist; it is an adaption that bears almost no narrative relation to the original novel; a rare example of a comedy amongst a horde of nineteenth century melodramas and tragedies and an even rarer example of a ballet being named after a man and not the leading female.
The layered contributions from Petipa and Gorsky in versions that went back and forth between Moscow and St Petersburg have left us with the best of both worlds in Eastern European stagings that have followed – including this archetypical production in Kiev – with comedic fun, pantomime characterisations and – most especially – the opportunity to see state-of-the-art ballet technique, expertly performed.
One might add that Don Quixote is a ballet of hope, best represented by the title character’s chivalric quest for honour and a happy ending. In that sense it seemed very appropriate to the current situation in the Ukraine, a country under threat from its eastern borders. The notion of honour and a happy ending are especially relevant to their troubles of today.
In addition to this excellent gala performance, my weekend in Kiev included a tour of the Kiev Ballet School, meeting legendary teachers (such as the octogenarian, Vladimir Denisenko) and watching an awed class of young dancers receive a signed pair of Tamara Rojo’s pointe shoes. Kiev has a second fully-fledged opera house with a full-scale ballet company, which rejoices in the wholesome title of the Kiev Municipal Academic Opera and Ballet Theater for Children and Youth. Walking past the theatre on Mezhyhirsta Street on Saturday afternoon, my charming guide suddenly disappeared inside and – within seconds – I found myself being ushered into the central box to see the final act of Valeriy Koftun’s Cinderella, which had dancing of a decent, professional standard. An opera house just for kids – no wonder culture thrives in the Ukraine!
Reblogged from Dance Tabs http://www.networkdance.com/ballet-news/A-special-Don-Quixote-in-Kiev-as-Kateryna-Khaniukova-Returns-Home/24872
Running from October 13-25, 2015 at The Joyce Theater, the José Limón International Dance Festival will assemble dance companies and colleges from 7 countries around the world to join Limón Dance Company in sharing 16 of Limón’s masterworks with a wider audience. Visit the Joyce Theater webpage here to purchase tickets.