Auguste Vestris


A Society for the Advancement
of the Ideas of Auguste Vestris

November 2002

The intense, even fierce criticism levelled at little me over the last few weeks, on account of what I fondly thought were mild-mannered comments on current events in the ballet world, have led me to consider founding a Society. For the time being, as Dante would say, it is a Party of One, but new membership is welcomed.

I     The society will bear the name of Auguste Vestris (1760-1842), because, as the professor of Carlo Blasis, Jules Perrot and Auguste Bournonville, we may conclude that he was a/ a Man of Principle, b/ a Genius, and c/ who knows, possibly a helluva lot of fun to be around as well.

Vestris - what more suitable choice in this age of the Dictatorship of Beauty ? Though a celebrated dancer, he is said to have been stunningly unattractive, even, a Toad.

Let us have Toads, if they can but dance ! Let us have the short, the fat, and the ugly, if they can but dance !

That is not to suggest for a moment that the dancers that the Society will appoint as members Honoris Causa, are Toads. Indeed, some may be quite the opposite, but what counts in such matters, is the Principle of the Thing.

II     The way the Society will work, is as follows.

It has been founded in France, first, because Vestris taught here, and second, because its head, the Party of One referred to above, lives here, at present.

Above all, France has always had a peculiar importance for the ballet.

The Society will, until further notice, have no finances, no membership cards, no bureaucracy, and no paper work, except for the essays people may wish to send in.

III     Principles

The Society's very modest aim is to encourage, yea, even here in benighted Western Europe, the return to certain principles, the principles of Leonardo, which are as new, as they are old, and as old, as they are new, viz,

(i) épaulement, as Leonardo would have it,
(ii) a sharp distinction between:

- A- the face, and B- the foot,
- A - the leg, and B- a baseball bat.

There will be a no-man's land laid out between the territories in Group A, and the territories in Group B. No-one will be allowed to cross that no-man's land. It will be mined.

(iii) classical mime technique,

(iv) a vision of the ballet as a THEATRICAL art form, where balletic gesture is subordinated to getting across the musical and the dramatic point.

IV     The Society would like to hold Lecture-Demonstrations, though it will no doubt be unable to do so, because it has no funds, and everyone is so busy. Had it the wherewithal, it would hold Compare and Contrast Days. Dancers would be invited to demonstrate passages in the two styles, and professors would be invited to express their views.

For the time being, the Society will have to content itself with a very restricted sort of activity.

1/ It welcomes essays, statements, book reviews, or just plain questions, from any competent, or intellectually curious person, distressed by the state of technique today, and in a Reforming Mood.

2/ It welcomes proposals for new dance libretti based on serious historical subjects, such as those Noverre discusses in his famous Letters. NB: This excludes all remakes of 1960s Hollywood movies.

3/ It welcomes concrete, material proposals for the improvement of classical dance technique that would need to be aired more broadly.

4/ It will take nominations from the general public, for dancers as members Honoris Causa of the Society. That will not be anywhere near as nice as being promoted solo dancer, with the salary that goes with it, but it does cut a fine caper nonetheless.

Criteria will be strict, though. Classical rigour, a dignified reserve, and musicality.

For example, although the Party of One referred to above, is on the verge of becoming a screaming, hysterical Alina Cojocaru Groupie, smudged mascara, bouts of uncontrolled weeping and all, NEVERTHELESS Miss Cojocaru cannot, for technical and stylistic reasons, be nominated, at least, not for the time being.

I think the first two members Honoris Causa of the Vestris Society should be the Dane Thomas Lund, and Emmanuel Thibault.

Had one more occasion to see Miteki Kudo, she might be a candidate as well. Or perhaps the beauteous Ould Braham ?

But, the world is big, and Paris is small, too small. I welcome nominations from far-off countries that one knows too little about, such as China, or Russia. Are there people out there, who can keep their legs down, and who can dance ? Please advise.

V     The Vestris Society will look benevolently on the balletomane, but not on the Fan. In fact, the Vestris Society takes a dim view of its own founder, when in a Cojocaru-groupie mode. The balletomane knows that ballet is, or should be, a worthwhile art form, and is distressed by the contempt with which most intellectuals regard it. While the Fan, or Groupie, brings down opprobrium on us all.

VI     The Vestris Society will encourage utterly uninhibited and wide-ranging attacks - though penned with style and decorum, of course - on choreography degrading to the artists. Choreographers who confuse Ipanema Beach at high noon with the Opera stage, and ballet dancers, with the clients of a Brazilian plastic surgeon, will wish they hadn't.

A sub-section of the Vestris Society, known as the Vestris Unit for the Prevention of Cruelty to Dancers, may eventually have to be set up.

VII     The Vestris Society is concerned to hear of talented professors, holed out in the bush, by that I mean places like the Dakotas, Inverness, or the Kamchatka Peninsula, unsung, ignored by a wider public. We must find these people, and sing their praises !

Professors, unlike their disciples now gracing the stage, are not public figures, so we shall have to crave their permission to discuss their work. But, discuss it we must !

Once they have been selected, they will be appointed Vestris Fellows, Honoris Causa.

VIII     The Vestris Society does not buy the idea that only the light-skinned, shall join the world's top companies.

It therefore welcomes the nomination as a member Honoris Causa, of black dancers who meet the aforementioned criteria.

The Party of One looks forward to your contributions.

K.L. Kanter