The Corner

Culture

Truth or Excuse?

There’s an old saying in journalism: “too good to check.” Someone told me, years ago, that Lincoln Kirstein said a particular thing, and I’m stickin’ to it, come hell or high water. Anyway, this comes up in Part II of my series “Prima Ballerina” today, a series about Julie Kent. The relevant section:

I can’t, and won’t, forbear quoting Lincoln Kirstein, the late ballet impresario. He said — or is said to have said — “Modern dance exists for people who can’t do ballet.”j

“Ooooh,” says Kent, laughing. “Ouch.” “But it’s kind of true, isn’t it?” I say. Kent denies it, strongly.

“You know, classical ballet is like any other classical art form,” she says, “meaning that it has defined rules of aesthetics: This is correct and this is not correct. Some people have no interest in pursuing that at all. I don’t think Isadora Duncan had aspirations to be a ballerina.”

“Fair enough,” I say.

“I don’t think Martha Graham had any desire to create Sleeping Beauty,” she continues.

Again, fair enough. Still, I think Kirstein’s (alleged) remark is kind of true.

“People don’t say things like that anymore,” Kent observes. “That’s a reflection of another time.” “Maybe,” I say, “but I still love the political incorrectness of it.”

Julie Kent is amused but, ever diplomatic and gracious, noncommittal.

I believe the Kirstein remark, or alleged remark, applies to poetry, visual arts, music — a lot of things. If you don’t have the wherewithal to do something, you might say, “Hey, I can’t abide by your fuddy-duddy rules, squarepants. I gotta bust out and be free. I gotta be me.”

You know the type.

P.S. The truth is, as everybody knows, or should know, that there is great freedom within intelligent and proven rules. Think of Bach and his fugues. Does he sound confined to you? Is his expression limited? By the same token, formlessness, or mere willfulness, can be a kind of captivity.

P.P.S. If you want to go all Picasso, fine. But first, know how to draw, say, a house.

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