Apollinaire: chorus, corps, reality TV, and the forgotten modernist project. With response from Paul Parish.

[This is the final post in a discussion of “Serenade,” “Liebeslieder,” and the corps that began here with me solo, continued here with Brian Seibert and me, and then, moved to regular Foot contributor Paul Parish magnificently here. For more on Balanchine’s “Serenade” (and who can get too much of “Serenade”?) here’s my response to Pennsylvania Ballet’s interpretation at City Center in November 2007.]
About the corps as Greek chorus: the corps in theater certainly stands in for us. In ballet, though, it seems to me less an Everyman than no man at all. It lends the ballet an impersonality that makes it extend beyond its players, encompass a different world from the one in which we live.
I know I’ve been saying and saying this–being a real bore–but I think it’s a big deal in this age of reality TV and memoir craziness, with the prevalent notion that the closer one gets to the personal, the closer one gets to epiphany, the truth, yadda yadda.
Basically, we’re living in a neo-Romantic age dusted with postmodern cynicism about the difference between art and life. That is, while the Romantics felt that art should imitate life, we now don’t believe in life–only “life.” Forget reality TV, reality life is just around the corner. Still, art’s in the same position: ersatz. Art and reality–or “reality”–are yoked. And the problem with the corps is it has no objective correlative.
Which means today it’s seen as a bit frou-frou, I suspect. Contemporary choreographers often opt for the chamber-sized when they could afford to do otherwise.
Balanchine understood the corps not as 19th century decoration but in modernist terms–as an alchemical principle–or in Emersonian terms of nature, the force of nature. Terry, in his “All in the Dances,” powerfully makes the point that Balanchine was a modernist in his means, whatever the emotional tenure of the individual work. He quotes Balanchine saying, “Romanticism you have to get from God. My business is to show you form.” Of course, the modernist cheerleader T.S. Eliot–whom Balanchine would have admired for his insistence that artistry wasn’t about personality–probably would have said God was form–or, better, the metabolism of its creation. But I stray….
[Paul wrote about an earlier, less on-a-rampage version of this post:
I DO agree with you about the corps — they’re like barely embodied emotions, the feelings that run in the group are made visible in them, but it’s not personal. It’s like mob energy, or what happens at the end of football games when the crowd storms the field and swarms up the goalposts and shake them till they fall over. Nobody’s in his right mind when they do that, and nobody is “himself” — the ego is dissolved away. Probably the same thing happens in lynch mobs.]
In any case, yes to big ballets, to corps galore! To Balanchine’s “Symphony in C,” to Forsythe’s “Artifact.”

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