San Francisco Fifty Years Ago

(Kenneth Rexroth’s complete columns from the San Francisco Examiner)



July 1960

Three Poets in the News
Kabuki Theater
Poetry and Ballet
Ballet and Jazz
The Royal Danish Ballet



Three Poets in the News

The last few weeks have been exceptionally troubled ones in the history of the world. The papers have been full of earthquakes, riots, bitter quarreling between the two nations who hold in their hands (in the hands of a few fallible and none too saintly men) the destiny, in fact the survival, of the human race.

Still, unless somebody pushes the wrong button, it will all pass away soon and men will ask what all the fuss was about. Only the earthquakes will have made a small difference in the earth’s surface.

Horace said it long ago, and after him Shakespeare, and then Théophile Gautier. Homer has outlasted Troy more than 3000 years, and a poem to a girl all the Caesars, and a book of sonnets and plays the rise and decline of the mightiest of all empires.

Three poets have been in the news in this time of moving and shaking. Boris Pasternak died, officially dishonored in his own land that he so stubbornly refused to leave. Certainly the day will come when one of the few things remembered about Khrushchev is that he embarrassed the old age and hastened the death of a great poet.

Future ages will probably see little difference between our commercial mass culture and the Russians’ — except over there you have to like it, you can’t get away from it, and it is pretty much all there is. Imagine what life would be like if they locked you up for insisting that you didn’t like Wouk or Welk. What makes vulgar literature vulgar is the lack of all true comedy or tragedy.

The Russians, or rather their leaders, are still convinced they can afford little of either. Pasternak was certainly their greatest writer, and his work reminded me of that other great disillusioned revolutionary, Turgeniev, full of the wry pathos and comedy and melancholy of Russian life — somber nights, the flowing of vast rivers, plans that come to nothing, obscure lives that might just as well never have been. This is hardly wholesome literature for a nation constantly striving to overtake and surpass itself and everybody else. It’s bad for business.

Jules Supervielle was one of the most inconspicuous of all modern poets. He never wrote anything startling, he never did anything startling. He never signed any manifestoes. He was never part of any movement. His poetry was quiet, whimsical and uncomplicated. When he died last month the French realized, with a start, they had lost one of their greatest writers.

Like some of the other greatest poets in history, he wrote modestly about the great platitudes. In a period of rampant experimentation, he introduced a few valuable innovations in poetic technique, but so quietly you had to be a poet to notice them.

Supervielle wrote mostly about himself, nature, animals, lovers. He had no unusual ideas about any of these subjects. In many ways he was very much like Pasternak, if Pasternak had flourished in a less troubled country, or like our own Robert Frost. “Wry pathos, sad comedy, melancholy” — all life has it, not just Russian, but in France it was easier for Supervielle to laugh. He and his work both seemed so simple and unpretentious. But looking back, now that he is dead, all the critics realized that here, for once, they could apply to a writer a word — magnanimous — which isn’t merited by many writers nowadays. A great heart, a noble purpose, a quiet voice, how many modern poets have them?

In the midst of international turmoil and domestic politicking, the United States Congress authorized the preparation of a special gold medal, and instructed the President to give it to Robert Frost. No reason — just admiration and good feeling. Here again the future may well call this a lucid interval in a time of lunacy.

They say that President Eisenhower has been far from happy lately. He wanted to go down in history as a man of peace. He hoped that his last year in office might mark the beginning of a great new epoch in history, the beginning of the time in which men turned, at first little by little, away from war, and never turned back. Had this happened, surely he would be remembered with gratitude for many hundreds of years by men everywhere in all the world. It didn’t happen. Let’s hope he can console himself for a moment with this one small act of peace and honor.

Robert Frost doesn’t need the honor. His poetry will probably be here after both Congress and the Politburo are gone. But the President, acting for the American people, shares in the immortality of Frost’s poetry and of all great art, and acknowledges that, when all is said and done, it is a greater thing than the reputations of statesmen.

Since certainly no other paper in America, and few in France, will have quoted anything by Supervielle, and since you, patient reader, will probably never hear of him again, I think it would be nice to leave you with his farewell poem, written some years ago when he learned that he had a fatal disease. The translation is my own.


It is beautiful to have chosen a living home
And stayed there awhile, and to have let the hands
Light on the world, as on an apple
In a little garden, to have loved the earth,
The moon and the sun, as old friends
Who have no equals, and to have committed
The world to memory as a bright horseman
Gives himself to his black steed, to have given a face
To words like “woman,” “children,” and to have been a shore
To the wandering continents, and to have come upon the soul
With quiet strokes of the oars, for it is scared away
By too brusque an approach. It is beautiful to have known
The shade under the leaves, and to have felt age
Creep over the naked body, accompanying the pain
Of the dark blood in ourselves, and gilding its silence
With the star, Patience, and to have all these words
Moving around inside the head, and to choose the most beautiful of them
And make a little feast with them, to have felt life,
Hurried and loved, to have ended it
In this poetry.

[July 3, 1960]

NOTE: Rexroth later published a somewhat different translation of this poem.


Kabuki Theater

This coming week the Kabuki Theater from Japan will be here, and in our family, for one, we are all going. Our two little girls are devoted to Oriental theater and we go to all the shows in Chinatown and to Japanese and Chinese movies, at least to those that reproduce the conventions of the old time theater. I can imagine nothing more entertaining for children, including the circus.

When my oldest daughter was 4 she loved to get dressed up in kimono and swords and give a performance of Benkei on the Bridge, a Noh play which she had seen just once in a movie. I see they are giving some episodes from The Forty-Seven Ronin on the second bill. This should hold spellbound even those little boys who care for nothing but horse operas on television.

Really great Japanese troupes seldom leave the country. About 30 years ago the Kengeki Theater played here for several weeks — mostly to a Japanese audience, in what is now the Marines’ Memorial Theater. There was a Kabuki company at the World’s Fair. A few years ago a popularized and feminized version of the Kabuki toured the world and came to San Francisco, where it played to enthusiastic, crowded houses.

Meanwhile, in Japan, the company and the girl star were violently attacked for misrepresenting themselves. True, they were not authentic Kabuki, but I thought they were fine and so did the rest of the family. We went every night. This coming week will be the real thing, the most beautiful and the most profoundly moving theatrical form left in the world.

Is “it’s fine for the children” good theatrical criticism? It certainly is. The greatest plays in history deal with permanent and characteristic human types involved in relatively uncomplicated situations, the simple predicaments all men everywhere might get into. True, the heroes and heroines and villains may have quite complicated responses to those simple situations, but these complications must be, as they are in life, deeply imbedded in clear and definite actions.

Psychological and moral depth must be there, but there only to be discovered by those in the audience who themselves have such depth. These qualities cannot be written on the surface or they destroy the integrity of the action. The surface meanings of the action must be such that anybody but a fool could understand them immediately. It seems to me that this defines a drama which can be understood at its simplest level even by children.

I have always taken my girls to every performance of Shakespeare, no matter how amateurish, that turned up in San Francisco. They never seemed to have the slightest trouble understanding what was going on. True, the understanding was in their own terms — but they kept track of the actions and enjoyed the jokes and thrilled to the tears and deaths. Behind the surface they saw lay mysterious tangles of the human mind that critics and psychoanalysts will argue over for centuries. I suppose that it is in this way that the greatest drama can be said to “teach life.” From our first experience we are tempted to take the pill by the sugar coating, but in drama, without the sugar coating there is no pill.

This does not mean that great drama is not true to life — that is the way life is. They may not deal with the most wholesome subjects, or with situations that we think of as common in our society, but who would deny that a child, or the simplest adult mind, could understand the great Greek tragedies of the family troubles of Orestes and Oedipus?

On the other hand, simplicity in itself is nothing. It must be like the lead at the tip of a pencil — the sharp point of action behind which lies a whole instrument or vehicle, made up of troubled and struggling human minds. At hand we have two perfect examples, both, it so happens, dealing with the Orient. The World of Suzie Wong is not a vulgar and trivial play because it makes prostitution attractive. It is immoral because it falsifies life and reduces human motives not to a simple, but to a silly pattern.

Its star is one of the most beautiful and talented young actresses I have ever seen in my life. Is it “good entertainment”? I think not. If you are easily moved, it’s fun to watch, but afterwards you feel tricked. You do not feel tricked by A Winter’s Tale or The Merry Wives of Windsor, both of which, incidentally, were written for no other reason than to make money.

So with the Japanese Kabuki and Noh plays. You may feel a little like a non-Catholic who has strayed for the first time into a Solemn High Mass on Whitsunday at a cathedral. Everything is in an incomprehensible language. Every motion is accompanied by mysterious music and outlandish chanting. The actors are busy doing things for no apparent purpose, yet they behave as though each act had the most tremendous import. Everyone is robed in the most splendid garments of red and gold. People treat each other with the most elaborate courtesy.

You say, “This is all a meaningless ritual.” Then suddenly, for no reason you can tell, it all slips into place and you are caught up in the dramatic illusion, carried away by the spell. Gradually you realize, by means of the very ritual itself, that the performance is dealing with the most important issues of life, stated in the noblest terms.

The vulgar theater pretends to be realistic. Shakespeare, Greek tragedy, Kabuki, each is a more fantastic illusion than the other. Kabuki is far more formal than classical ballet, and like nothing that ever was “really” on heaven or earth. Yet when you come away you don’t feel tricked. Instead, you feel that, for a little while you have lived on another planet, where the ordinary life we live is restated in noble terms, with a beautiful clarity and ritual elegance.

[July 10, 1960]



Poetry and Ballet

Thanks to the people who wrote or phoned about the Supervielle poem. No, there is no collection of his poetry in English. Yes, I have translated other poems by him, but I have never thought of publishing them. Any of the many local poetry publishers care to make an offer?

The good thing about this response is that it demonstrates once again something I am always saying, that people do like poetry. They like good poetry that says something to them. It is true that for many years there has been a very poor audience for most current American poetry. But why not? Most of it has been, not “modernistic,” but dull academic stuff by petty people who lead dull, petty, academic lives. In the right circles it has been thought terribly unfashionable to write about anything so vulgar as love, death, nature — any of the real things that happen to real people. The reason, of course, is that real things don’t happen to petty people, and if they do, they can’t understand them, much less assimilate them and glorify them for others.

As for any hint of social responsibility — for many years the poetry prizes and fellowships and teaching jobs have been controlled by a little clique of imitation Southern Colonels of literature, disciples of Thomas Nelson Page and T.S. Eliot, the “classicist, Anglo-Catholic and Royalist” from St. Louis. Who, pray tell, outside a Confederate Veterans Home, has been interested in such stuff as that?

On the other hand, poets as widely different as Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, e.e. cummings, Dylan Thomas, Kenneth Patchen, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, sell better, much better, than most novels. It has nothing to do with modernist or conventional verse. It has less to do with social attitudes. T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, absurd reactionaries though they are, sell well, because they convey the immediate conviction of meaningful life. This is perhaps the primary function of the poet, to give life convincing meaning. “I am come that you might have life, that you might have it more abundantly.” People who fulfill that promise may be crucified, they are rarely ignored.

We should get over the cultural inferiority complex wished on us back in the days of H.L. Mencken. Who says America doesn’t honor poets? I have always been treated with a respect verging on reverence — as a poet — by my neighbors, and I have always lived in a very ordinary American working-class neighborhood. Not only that, but considerable numbers of the neighbors over the years have read the things I have written and enjoyed them. Mencken never seemed to notice that the people he abused so roundly read him. Fact is, he made a very good thing of it, moneywise.

More people by far in the United States go to symphony concerts than go to ball games. (Not that ball games aren’t fine, too.) Can the same be said for England or France? Indeed not. When I tell friends of mine who are editors of French papers that the readers of a San Francisco newspaper applauded my publishing a poem of Jules Supervielle, they will think I am kidding them. Oh well, some day doubtless we will outgrow our reputation as uncivilized frontiersmen. First, it would help if we outgrew it completely in our own minds.

Last Saturday we had dinner in Opus One. This is one of the more quiet and congenial places in North Beach. It is a great pleasure to eat where everybody seems to enjoy feeding you, and the food is good, half French, half Greek, cooked by Nausicaa, a Greek poetess who is one of San Francisco’s most remarkable personalities. (I might say that whenever, in this column, I recommend food or drink, “the management” knows nothing about it, and has not come through with any payola, not so much as a free drink.)

Then we went to see “Ballet 1960.” My, my, what a lovely evening! If the meal had been enjoyable because everybody seemed to have a good time cooking and serving and mixing drinks, imagine the pleasure of ballet where everybody in the company is having an absolute ball.

Ballet is terribly hard work. A ballerina works about as hard as a coal miner or a fry cook and counter man in a skid row restaurant. Most ballet companies are ridden with strife and jealousy. Nothing of this was apparent in “Ballet 1960.” They all acted like a bunch of model children have a hilarious romp. They knew what they were doing, they loved doing it, and they loved giving it to the audience. The effect on the audience was as might be expected. They went home in a state of profound euphoria. Everybody had a good time.

This is what makes the theater worth going to. This is “show business” in the real sense of the word. When perfect rapport and good will start flowing back and forth across the footlights you have something that the movies and television can never give. This is what makes “audience personality” and great audience personalities are very rare. Eleanora Duse had it — but so did Al Jolson, a ham if there ever was one, so did Pavlova, so did Danilova, so did Kreutzberg. Louis Armstrong has it, so does John Lewis. As Lester Young said of swing, “if you don’t have it, you’ll never even know what it is.” When a whole company has it — that’s something.

Maybe I had better explain what “Ballet 1960” is. It is the inner circle, so to speak, of the San Francisco Ballet. It includes most of the more finished dancers of the parent company. They have formed a smaller group to gain greater freedom to do new things. This means freedom from expense and cumbersome technical responsibilities as much as anything — it does not mean some sort of “revolt.”

Many of the criticisms that have been made of the San Francisco Ballet, by myself and others, have been the result of conditions under which the company has to operate. Many of these conditions are beyond the power of the Christiansens or anybody else to change overnight. The smaller group has been formed to get around some of them. And get around them they surely do! This is ballet for dancers and balletomanes, for people who know what’s happening.

There seems to be a quite adequate number of such people around, maybe not enough to fill the Opera House for a long season, but plenty to fill a small theater several times over. The turnaway compared favorably with the Newport Jazz Festival or the Un-American Committee hearing — but was handled peaceably with the promise of many more performances to come.

I don’t really feel much like “criticizing.” We all had a real good time, especially our Katherine, age 5½. We sat in the front row, right on top of the show, in the tiny Contemporary Dancers Theater, and she got a clear idea of what it means to be a ballerina — the joy, the excitement, and the hard work. It was a pleasure to watch her face, solemnly taking thought of her own future.

One thing — some of the pieces were “jazz ballet.” These two words in combination raise more questions than even “jazz poetry.” Next week if I might, I’d like to take most of the column to discuss some of them.

[July 17, 1960]



Ballet and Jazz

Last week I promised that, if nothing intervened, I would air my opinions about jazz and ballet. Nothing has, except the Democratic Convention, so I guess I will, but first I would like to say just a few words about politics, a subject I dislike and usually avoid.

For anyone who can remember the bitter and exhausting fights that went on in the party conventions of the ’20s, it is very apparent that a great change has come over American politics. It has affected both parties about equally. In fact, as long as it ran a candidate for President, it even affected the minuscule Socialist Party. This, of course, is the steady drift to unanimity.

Along about the first of the year it was already obvious to any informed and moderately cynical observer who the candidates of the two parties, barring accidents, were going to be. Nobody else really had much of a chance. The real decisions were all made long before the conventions opened, in fact, even before the primaries. Is this a good thing? I, for one, am not prepared to say, but it certainly bears thinking about.

For over a hundred years the American Presidency was decided after a complicated struggle between various factions, all fought out in the open, and responsive to a large degree to expression of the popular will. We think of the politics of unanimity as being characteristic of the more or less totalitarian regimes of Europe. I wonder. Ever since Franklin Roosevelt, we, too, have had our indispensable man. Now in both parties the basic decisions, of candidate and platform both, are arrived at by methods different from what we used to think of as the “democratic process.” These methods may well be better than those which produced the candidacies of Davis or Coolidge or Harding, but they are certainly different, and it would be wholesome to recognize them for what they are.

Now, back to the arts, always a more troublesome subject than politics. There were two numbers in the recital given by “Ballet 1960” which purported to combine ballet and jazz. I got the impression, talking to some of the people, that they were proud of these two numbers and thought they were doing something valuable and different. They were fun to watch, everybody seemed to have a good time doing them, but were they ballet and were they jazz? I wonder.

One, danced to the music Symphony in Jazz by Lieberman, was just not jazz at all. I don’t know who Lieberman is, but his title was a misuse of the language. This is popular program music of the kind written by Mr. Grofe. The other, Session, danced by Sally Bailey, Zach Thompson and Roderick Drew to drumming by Ran Kaye, was more a romp than a dance.

Again, everybody had a wonderful time. Ran Kaye was both a good drummer and a terrific “audience personality,” but I don’t feel that, dancewise, the possibilities of jazz, or to be specific in this case, Latin American music, were really exploited. I think the whole problem is a lot more difficult than, so far, this group has realized.

To date there has never been a good jazz ballet. The nearest thing to it was written long ago — Darius Milhaud’s La Création du Monde, which sounds a little like one of the full-dress Ellington-Strayhorn productions, and written some years before they were.

John Alden Carpenter’s Krazy Kat used a certain amount of ragtime and some self-conscious Whitemanish material. It was a sensation in its day but it dated very quickly and is no longer done. Sidney Bechet’s The Night Is a Sorceress is hardly ballet — it has since been taken up by “modern” dance groups, and the music is rejected by practically all jazz critics. I think this judgment is harsh; it has a lot of Haitian mystery to it, and considerable rhythmic imagination. Still, it is musically pretty thin, and owes its effects largely to the mood it creates. Frankie and Johnny at least is in the “jazz idiom,” but again, I am afraid it is both musically thin and awfully self-conscious.

The fact of the matter is that not enough goes on musically in most jazz to give a ballet company enough to do. “Serious” composers who adapt jazz to larger forms invariably do not know what they are doing. Furthermore, choreographers, and I guess dancers, too, think in terms of the popular stereotypes. Jazz is supposed to be wild, crazy, hot, abandoned — savage drums in the jungle while the missionary soup comes to a boil. It doesn’t matter who — Ruth Page, Agnes De Mille, Balanchine, there’s a sort of “ballin’ the jack” figure with snapping fingers in the air, that looks like Clara Bow doing the Black Bottom, that they all love to give the chorus every chance they get. It is acutely embarrassing.

Try it yourself. If you know ballet, put on a good Count Basie record and try to “cast” it. Try to visualize a ballet company keeping busy. There is always something for a principal, sometimes two, but start dividing up the rhythm section amongst the chorus — what have you got?

Furthermore, the forms themselves are too much alike. Try to match something like The Nutcracker or Swan Lake, let alone Stravinsky, movement by movement, with jazz records, for musical variety. It is pretty hard to do. Again, the big production numbers, attempted by even some of the greatest bands in jazz, turn out to be failures — as jazz, or just as music, let alone as ballet material. The most charitable thing to say about something like Ellington’s A Drum Is a Woman is that it is not Ellington at his best.

Still, I don’t think the problem is insoluble. First, somebody in ballet has got to bone up on what is jazz and what isn’t. Then, start modestly and quietly. Debussy’s Afternoon of a Faun is not a long or complicated piece of music, yet it is still one of the great classics of the ballet repertory.

Forget about Clara Bow, and try a calm little mood piece, using a bona fide, universally recognized, good jazz orchestra, live or recorded. Then try something which has considerable formal variety, for instance the Modern Jazz Quartet’s One Never Knows. The piece Cortege on this record would make exactly such a short, modest, quiet number as I have suggested.

Finally, work with a good band, with an intelligent and articulate leader. Get a jazz composer to write a suite especially for ballet. There are plenty of good ones for every taste, from Benny Carter to Alec Wilder, take your choice . . . my choice would be Charles Mingus. These men are not stupid or musically illiterate. They’ll give you more capers to cut than you can find in The Nutcracker. I suggest “pure” ballet, white or in leotards, but if you need a plot, it might be a good idea to get a scenario from a poet who understands the depth and breadth of human emotion of the best jazz.

But please, pretty please, forget all about Clara Bow going “hot ziggety-zig.” Like, man, it’s the cat’s pajamas.

[July 24, 1960]



The Royal Danish Ballet

August 12, 13, 14 and 15, the Royal Danish Ballet will be here. This is the full company’s first visit to San Francisco.

A few years back a small troupe of the stars played here and made a very good impression, at least technically. They are beautiful dancers and a constant pleasure to watch, but for their American tour they picked tried and trusted chestnuts of the international repertory, and they chose to present them in a more or less “pops concert” style.

The full company is, at least in Europe, a different matter. Let us hope that it has not, out of a mistaken wish to play down to American audiences, left its special splendors and originality at home.

One of the big troubles with foreign companies on tour in the States is that they insist on doing programs they think are what the folks in Oconomowoc want to see. They are either insufferably folklory, or they stick to fare as innocuously internationalized as the menu in a third-class London hotel.

One of the worst offenders in this regard, for my taste, was Sadler’s Wells. For all their noble style, the repertory some seasons was pretty close to being “tourists’ ballet” and hardly distinguishable from the London summer performances, for tourists, of the Royal Festival Ballet. Gradually they are learning, and in the last couple of years we have seen choreography that truly expresses national groups at their individual best.

Another thing that nobody even mentions, like the Emperor’s new clothes, is that many foreign companies are not very good by any standards. The Paris Ballet is simply dreadful. They can’t keep time, a habit they look on as an Anglo-American affectation. They habitually lose each other on stage. The very positions are only rough approximations and hasty assumptions. They don’t know the music is there. Of course, for a generation, they were under the direction of a man who boasted that he loathed music, all music, and looked on it as an intruder in ballet. Paris is not the worst. Just because it’s transatlantic is no sign it’s good.

The Royal Danish Ballet is very good indeed. It has the longest continuous tradition in Europe. On August 15 you can see Vicenzo Galeotti’s The Whims of Cupid and the Ballet Master. This is the work of one of the first ballet masters in Denmark, an Italian who assimilated himself completely to Denmark and knew how to develop the native potentialities of its first dancers. It was put on the stage in 1786.

All during the first half of the 19th century, Copenhagen was lucky to have an even greater artist, one of the primary inventors of the Romantic style, August Bournonville. The company is giving three of his works, Napoli, The Conservatory, and La Sylphide. The last, which is one of the two or three finest ballets surviving from the 19th century, is not to be confused with the Chopin Les Sylphides.

The company is famous for its version of Les Sylphides, too, which it calls Chopiniana, but the company is not presenting this. La Sylphide is a dramatic ballet, a Scottish legend of a fairy in love with a mortal. The music, as I remember, is by a Danish composer, Herman Lovenskiold. There is nothing muggy or sentimental about it. They handle it with a clean, efficient lyricism, a combination of precision and wistful melancholy.

Romeo and Juliet is Frederick Ashton’s choreography for Prokofiev’s music, first performed at the Copenhagen Ballet Festival in 1955. This, of course, is one of the most sumptuous of all modern ballets. The Danes give it their own special flavor, quite different from the versions of other companies.

Mona Vangsaa and Henning Kronstan, for my taste, seem much more like the real Romeo and Juliet than do most other performers. After all, they were a couple of innocent, desperate children. Their roles do not permit the slightest hint of hardness or professionalism. I suppose the whole company has certain characteristics that fit it especially for Romeo and Juliet, a kind of sweetness, lyrical innocence and carefully controlled abandon. This last quality is very important. It means powerful emotion which pushes at the very limits of the most highly developed technical skill.

Some years back when I saw Frank Schaufuss as Mercutio and Niels Bjorn Larsen in their mortal duel, I was reminded of the transcendental rhythmic accuracy of Japanese swordplay, with its overtones of Zen mysticism. Similarly, Margrethe Schanne and Erik Bruhn in La Sylphide manage to convey a mystery and pathos so delicate that, for once, you really are convinced that La Sylphide herself is a fragile, nonhuman spirit that a hostile human breath could destroy.

Don’t let me give the impression that the company lacks ordinary balletistic skill. Far from it, they are so skillful, indeed, that in lesser pieces they are, if anything, a little too finished. When they have nothing more important to do, they tend to approximate the spit and polish of high precision entertainment dancing.

When they first appeared in Paris after the war they dumbfounded the French critics. If caustic Parisian ballet critics put down Balanchine as “highbrow Rockettes,” heaven only knows what they thought of the Royal Danish Ballet. Since they didn’t have, as an initial assumption, an inferiority complex about Denmark like they have about the United States, they gave the company nothing but praise, unadulterated huzzas and plaudits.

If Paris accepted a style as unlike Serge Lifar, let alone Petit, as could be imagined, with such enthusiasm, the company should certainly be more than welcome in San Francisco, where we share in a modest way many of their ideas about what makes good ballet.

I feel a little rash, writing this story, in advance, about a company I have only seen in Europe. But actually I have perfect confidence in the Royal Danish Ballet. I know well the pieces they are giving, and the dancers (audience-wise, not personally, I’m not much of a backstage-trotting critic) and I am morally certain that they will be one of the big weekends of dance, not just for 1960, but absolutely.

Like the Grand Kabuki, these are great artists with a great style which they have spent two centuries perfecting, and there is no possibility I will be disappointed.

[July 31, 1960]


“San Francisco Fifty Years Ago” is an ongoing project of posting all of Kenneth Rexroth’s columns for the San Francisco Examiner (1960-1967). Each of the columns is being posted on the 50th anniversary of its original appearance. Copyright 1960-1967 Kenneth Rexroth. Reproduced here by permission of the Kenneth Rexroth Trust.

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