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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: the arts and the black revolution

Siegel, Marcia B.
Noblesse oblige: the Harkness ballet's first New York season,   pp. [314 and 315]-325 PDF (11.3 MB)

Page 325

ballets of many styles, to give
choreographers their every wish in
casting, rehearsal time, and production.
As a matter of policy, the company
seems to oppose revivals in preference
to mounting new works. But at the
same time, Harkness presents itself to
the world with all the trappings of a
major company, and it is not unreasonable
for the world to expect it will present
major works. Since becoming director,
Macdonald has purged the repertory
of some of its excesses; he needs to
exercise even stronger control. To
encourage new works is one thing,
but to present them with full
expensive productions in a big New
York theatre exposes their creators to
the toughest public scrutiny. Even if
a piece is later withdrawn because it was
not successful, the damage has been
done. The Harkness Foundation
is a kind of fairy godmother of dance.
Not only does it endow the Harkness
Ballet and associated choreographers,
composers and designers, but it maintains
the Harkness Ballet School, supports the
current Hunter College Dance Series
and the annual free dance performances
at the Delacorte Theatre in Central
Park, and helps various other worthy
projects in small ways. It could also
afford to present truly experimental
works in modest tryout conditions, and
to restore to the repertory some of the
authentic lost treasures of American
costumes, with emphasis on plot
rather than performance, or with
bagpipes and an animal act if we so
desired. Unless it is a tremendous
put-on, the questionnaire reveals a
cardinal weakness in the company's
philosophy. Art simply cannot be
made to the order of a patron,
an audience, or a critic. It must
come first from the guts and vision
of an artist, and this is the one factor
to which the Harkness has yet to commit
its fortune.
Not content with its immense wealth,
the Harkness Ballet also wants to
be loved. The Foundation distributed
a questionnaire at the New York
performances asking what the audience
liked and did not like about its programs.
The questionnaire seemed to indicate
that if enough people voted for it,
the Harkness would prepare a ballet
with spoken or sung narration,
with more elaborate sets and
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