Age(s) of Anxiety

Would be so interested in seeing this:

I’ve had my set of suspicions about the work since watching the Royal Ballet’s World Ballet Day transmission–if you think this poem is about the plot, you’ve missed the point entirely:

Robbins veered massively from the plot, but that was because I think he actually understood what the poem was getting at–even if Auden didn’t give him that credit.

I also think it’s odd how Robbins is being written out of the history of this work in all of the Royal Ballet publicity. The way this work has crossed and recrossed the Atlantic–and who claims it for themselves–is a topic in and of itself. As I said in a paper I presented at the annual CORD conference in Iowa this week:

The connection to the poem also inscribed Robbins’ work into a somewhat different artistic lineage than that with which he had, up to then, been affiliated. In the early 1940s, ballet was still largely understood as a European or Russian art and, while that was in the process of changing, there was still a ways to go in terms of proving the United States’s ability to “naturalize” the practice, as articulated by Rebekah Kowal in the most recent edition of DRJ (Kowal; Fried-Gintis). While this was a particular concern for ballet and for Kirstein’s project at City Ballet, it was also a more general cultural concern in post-war America. As Robert Von Hallberg writes, while “Traditionally, Europeans had figured in American thought as guardians of the past; after the war, America took over the military guardianship of Europe, and with it came a challenge: could Americans measure up culturally as well as they had militarily?” (Von Hallberg 3). He continues, “We answered this challenge by assuming the outward signs of European tradition, the way one might undertake the administration of a museum” (3). One of those pieces of European tradition was the ballet as an art form. Another was Auden himself, who, following the opposite trajectory of T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, left the United Kingdom for New York in the early days of World War II. His naturalization as a U.S. citizen in 1946 and subsequent winning of the Pulitzer Prize—awarded only to US citizens—in 1948 was seen as emblematic of the United States’ absorption of European culture, of its new status as the epicenter of Western culture. By choreographing a version of The Age of Anxiety for City Ballet, Robbins created an American dance out of the materials of a European art form based on the newly American poem of a famed European poet. This liminal, contested positioning of the poem itself—is it American or British? And what could make it one or the other?—writes both it and its adaptations into the kind of transatlantic modernist artistic trajectory that, previously, Balanchine and Kirstein had existed within, but Robbins had not.

What is the claim being made now by writing Robbins back out of the story?

On another point, what does it mean when we turn back to poetry as a source for dance ideas?  It feels like it’s happening again with a vengeance right now and the last time was during the Cold War…epilogue to my dissertation?


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