With Oakland Ballet performing Eugene Loring’s “Billy the Kid” over the weekend, and American Ballet Theatre dancing Agnes de Mille’s “Rodeo,” it’s a good moment to read Allan Ulrich’s essay on Americana “heritage” ballets for Voice of Dance:
“In certain “with-it” circles, the neglect of a portion of the American legacy is almost perverse. You tell me why so many folks salivate at the mention of any and all Ballets Russes reconstructions and revivals, even if some of them, like Fokine?s “Polovtsian Dances” from Prince Igor are scarcely stageworthy in the 21st century. Then, tell me why the same folks roll their eyes and sigh patronizingly when someone drops Rodeo or Eugene Loring?s Billy the Kid into the conversation. Well, one reason is snobbery; anything with a hint of a Russian or French pedigree has gotta be better than anything Amurrican. Then, there?s the question of over-exposure. American ballets to American themes were once prevalent through the stateside ballet world, but not recently. “Dated” and “cornball” are tossed around, but these are adjectives I would sooner apply to the stale psychosexual tropes of Spectre de la Rose . . .
. . . we should not scorn the native tradition, simply because it is narrative based and derived, not from St. Petersburg?s Imperial Maryinsky Theater, but from the tradition of popular culture . . .
And don?t let anyone tell you this material cannot speak to us today. The final tableau of Billy, with the populace expanding inexorably Westward as Aaron Copland?s score sings with its unique rhetoric, is among the most affecting moments in the entire ballet repertoire. Even the snobs reach for their handkerchiefs.”