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Alexandra

Which is America's top company?

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  1. 1. Which is America's top company?

    • American Ballet Theatre
      52
    • New York City Ballet
      50
    • Other
      18

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39 posts in this topic

Well, let's put it to a vote!

Voting on the issue raised by Tobi Tobias and being discussed on another thread. Which is America's top, number one, flagship classical ballet company?

(I'm limiting the choices to American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet, because that's what was in the article, and what the debate has been about. There's our favorite company, though, Other, for those who have anOther idea.)

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I chose ABT. I've pretty much stated my reasons on the related thread: basically, I feel that NYCB is too regional and stylized to represent all of the US, and its dancers are not strong enough, too weak and sloppy, and the performances are unpolished. I'm glad NYCB exists, but even though it meets the BA requirements for an "International Level" company, I don't think that automatically makes it the best in the country. ABT has better dancers, and it performs classical ballet. To be perfectly frank, its second-rate productions of the classics are, IMO, no worse than the weird Nutcrackers and Swan Lakes frequently seen at other top companies. NYCB has a school and a style, but ABT is made up of some of the best dancers in the entire world.

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Well, None is "other". The situation of American ballet companies now reminds me of the state of the Spanish Navy at the time of the 1898 war. Old, old battleships that were once first-class, now rated on a world scale as second-string, new ships made of poor material, painted to disguise their shortcomings, great fast destroyer flotillas that dropped their main gun batteries in order to gain more speed to use weapons which ultimately turned out to be defective, and the ship metaphor could go on and on. And submarines? As the Pentagon says, "We don't discuss submarines."

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Yes, please take Other to mean Other Option as well as Other Company, e.g.: Neither, Both, None of the Above, The mere idea of ranking companies is repugnant to me, It Depends, etc. :(

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Voted for ABT with following train of thought:

The quality of dancing is so outstanding -- corps, soloists, principals. Despite a repertory that is increasingly dull (and a programming system that discourages seeing as many perfs as one might like), it is, to repeat Alexandra's term, fun.

The traditional core of NYCB's rep is the crown jewel of 20th century choreography. As a whole (and with a few notable exceptions), they dance it by rote. It is criminal that the precious Balanchine oeuvre is polluted with third- and fourth-rate works (an occasional second-rate Wheeldon ballet is not unacceptable). The performance standard is abysmal. The dancers are not being nurtured technically or artistically. There is so much wasted potential there.

ABT is overachieving; NYCB, with its prodigious array of gifts, is the slacker of the ballet world.

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I think Carbro is right on target, but it's still MCB I travel to see...

(Oct 2 2007: FWIW, updated below in Post #37)

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I voted for "other."

ABT has the guys but, (and I apologize in advance if I anger fans), with 1 or 2 exceptions, the ladies aren't as strong or appealing. I might be in the minority but instead of the full-length story ballets I would prefer Tudor, Ashton & DeMille revivals. ABT has an incredible legacy (e.g., FANCY FREE, LILAC GARDEN) they don't take advantage of. Maybe their board doesn't like them or the money just isn't there...Since the George Harrison ballet was a hit, why not a company premiere for DEUCE COUPE?

Balanchine and Robbins give NYCB a valuable, unique repertory. For me, this is always going to be "ballet." If Christopher Wheeldon keeps making dances like LITURAGY and POLYPHONIA he might become part of my definition. Peter Martins is incapable of choreographing a great ballet, let alone an interesting one. There are wonderful dancers in each rank but some are never cast fairly and others seem, well, forgotten after initial interest and even promotion.

In the last two seasons I've been lucky enough to see Boston, San Francisco, and Miami. They're small, yet solid, enthusiastic, and combine the old and new extremely well. Then there's Suzanne Farrell's company that's performing more frequently and Ballet Tech, which I hope will dance again.

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I voted "other" a month or so ago. I think it's a false dichotomy.

Anecdotally: I've loved Don Q and Fille at ABT this spring, and Cojocaru in Bayadere. Last night, however, when I saw Brahms-Schoenberg at City Ballet and then crossed the plaza and caught the final half of Murphy's Swan Lake, the situation was reversed.

Brahms-Schoenberg was incredibly beautiful at City Ballet last night. And, having seen both, Peter Martins' Swan Lake is believe it or not better than McKenzie's. Not even the sublime Gillian Murphy could redeem such material, long before Von Rothbart took so very long to die, about the time that his doppelganger was seducing the princesses to the music of the Russian dance, I had to laugh to keep from puking. And, oddity of oddities, even the national dances were better performed at NYCB and the corps de ballet looked better at City. McKenzie's Swans were like a herd of cattle last night.

So go figure. We need both companies, I'm so happy we have both.

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When I was quite wee, & attending opera sitting on a cushion, there were wild & nasty arguments between adorers of Maria Callas & adorers of Renata Tebaldi. I still cannot comprehend this. They were both great but they were apple & orange. Why not eat both?

The same goes for NYCB vs. ABT ... there should be no question of "which" but, rather, "which one tonight".

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If you look at all the other WORLD CLASS companies in this world (and for me, the best representative of this is the POB at this moment), they have an official school and a company -- a history and a tradition which defines their unique heritage. IMO, you CAN'T have a great, world-class company without a great school. They also have their own residential opera house, an institution which allows them to nurture their repertory and their style in a given place. To me, this is what a top-rate ballet company must be. And in adhering to these definitions, NYCB seems to fit the picture. ABT has fine dancers, but they're all imported. That's great. But it's not really an "American" (national) company in the sense that NYCB is. POB is a "French" company in the same way. ABT's also a touring company. There's nothing wrong about being a touring company, but it just doesn't give them the advantage and the prestigious status of a company that has its own residential opera house in which they provide a full season throughout the year. On the other hand, I do believe that at this moment, ABT's imported principal men are stronger than NYCB's principal men. But stronger technically doesn't mean stronger artistically. However, the pool of talent for women is much stronger at NYCB....and to name a few of my favorites: Korbes, Fairchild, Flynn. When I speak of talent, I don't mean "technique" which seems to be a competition over at ABT. I mean the quality, the presentation, the aura, the artistic....

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These are valid criteria, Terry, and I don't disagree. But the quality of the school is critical. I was very dismayed by the overall appearance of the students at this year's SAB workshop, because in choosing specifically non-Balanchine rep, it was very obvious that the youngsters are being taught Balanchinian permutations instead of basic, solid technique. For example, it was clear that most of the young ladies were dancing with clenched toes instead of stretched, spread ones.

On the other hand, ABT Studio Company, while not strictly speaking a school, is nurturing artists. Since it mostly presents original choreography, it is not always easy to gauge the technical level of the members. But there is undeniably a high level of technical competence and expressiveness.

Most of the ABT Studio members spend one or two years training in the "junior company." Likewise, most SAB students who go into NYCB spend a year or two training in the school. Is there a major difference here?

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Originally posted by carbro

Most of the ABT Studio members spend one or two years training in the "junior company."  Likewise, most SAB students who go into NYCB spend a year or two training in the school.  Is there a major difference here?

Yes, I think there's a major difference. There are satellite schools long associated with SAB, and SAB keeps in touch with those schools which serve as feeder academies. SAB has a syllabus and is a school. It's not a junior company whose major concern is performing.

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I think there's a difference in institutional structure as well.

I saw the Monday gala performance of SAB and thought it was one of the strongest crops in the past few years, particularly in Hubbe's setting of the Ballabile, so go figure.

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Terry, is NYCB really our 'national' company? Its name certainly makes it sound regional, and I do not believe it truly represents American ballet, which does not consist of one style, but is a mix of many styles. I believe ABT better represents this mix, whether it has the institutional structure or not.

Alexandra, please correct me if I'm wrong, but as far as I know, SAB does not have a written syllabus the way the Vaganova Academy and Royal Ballet School do. In my experience, the teachers contradicted each other on matters of technique and style, which makes sense, as those matters are easily debatable according to who worked with Balanchine when and on what ballet. We've had discussions about this in the Teachers forum, and there are people both 'for' and 'against', but I have yet to see proof that there is a teaching method or syllabus underlying the Balanchine style. I don't think a school needs its own syllabus to be a world-class institution (but it helps), but its style should at least be consistent.

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ABT has been advertising itself as "our national ballet company" in the New York area, which I actually find irrirating because I don't view it as such. Mainly for the reasons stated above. Most of the stars are not home grown. It doesn't have a real school. And it doesn't have much native choreography. But it does tour -- which in this context can work in its favor. Many more Americans see it live. And I think that counts for a lot.

Nevertheless, I've been surprised that I haven't seen much comment about its self-promotion as our national company, even in the New York area.

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I know you didn't ascribe this view to me, justafan, but I'd just like to make it clear that I don't view ABT as our national company, either. As far as I know, we don't have one. If we were choosing a national company from the existing US ballet companies, I'd probably vote for ABT, as I find its mix of nationalities to be appropriate in terms of the US and its culture, but right now, I can't think of a company that for me really fulfills the role of a national company in the sense of being an institution, &c.

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Does a national company have to tour and be ethnically/politically/culturally representative of its nation? (I agree that ABT's tours connect it to cities outside New York, and I think it's important that it tours.) I don't mean this in the current PC sense of the term and perhaps we could avoid yet another debate on racial diversity, since we've just had two in the past month :) But diversity in a broader sense -- must it be urban/rural, Irish/Spanish/Anglo/Creole, etc.?

I don't think of the Kirov, the Bolshoi and Paris as representing the cultures of their countries, but they represent their respective countries' idea of what BALLET is. Or is this idea outmoded?

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Hans, I understood your point of view and didn't mean to suggest that you were promoting ABT as our national company. Actually, I don't think many faithful balletgoers -- certainly in New York -- would consider ABT the national company. Indeed, as has been stated, neither NYCB or ABT is a true national company.

I find it irritating because it is an example of ABT seizing on the word American in its name to merchandise itself. I find it a bit self-aggrandizing. But because of its name, and the fact that it has bestowed the title on itself in advertising, the casual balletgoer would likely accept the moniker as fact.

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As a congenital hair splitter, I'm interested in the notion that there's a distinction between THE BEST, or "top" American company, and the "representative" American company. They could be the same, or could be different -- the Joffrey, especially in its Robert Joffrey days, was certainly American and very representative of a lot of American values and cultural norms (youth, energy, a lust for the new and a sincere respect for the past).

Justafan, I remember reading in the early 1980s a review by Clive Barnes in which he took ABT to task for having publicity material for a London engagement that explained "ABT is, like the Royal Ballet," words to the effect that it was the top company. And Barnes said, actually, ABT is more akin to the [then] London Festival Ballet, while NYCB is analogous to the Royal." There would have been those who would have agreed with Barnes then -- based largely on quality of indigenous repertory -- but there were undoubtedly those who felt that ABT's assertions were accurate. So that debate is still raging, at least here :), 20 years later!

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I wouldn't say that a national American company has to be ethnically diverse (though it would be appropriate), but I would like it to have its very own classical style and to be able to perform a range of styles of choreography. This is not the same thing has having a corps de ballet that is so stylistically diverse as to be distracting. My own criteria would include performing solid versions of the classics as well as Balanchine and newer choreographers, and I think ABT could do this right now if it wanted to.

Alexandra, I like this paragraph:

I don't think of the Kirov, the Bolshoi and Paris as representing the cultures of their countries, but they represent their respective countries' idea of what BALLET is.
That makes perfect sense to me, though presumably a country's culture will influence its idea of what ballet is.

Also, in terms of being either the best or the most representative, I think the Kirov and Bolshoi might provide an example of this. The Kirov is usually regarded as the best Russian company, but it could perhaps be said that the Bolshoi is more representative--less aristocratic, &c--geared more toward "the people." Can the same be said of companies in other countries--say, the Royal Ballet and English National Ballet? I hope Russia knows how lucky it is to be the only nation in the world with TWO world-class ballet institutions! This is not to say that the best company cannot be the most representative, or vice versa, of course, and some companies do a very good job of combining the two.

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Interesting points, Hans. When I said "culturally diverse" I meant it in the broader, pre-PC sense: Do we have to have cowboy ballets, ballets about the Puritans, industrial ballets, Rocky-Mountain-High-ballets, tropical ballets, etc? (No, I'd say.) But someone who lived in Boston might well say that cowboys had nothing to do with their America (not to mention what someone living in Pueblo might mutter about it). In the 1940s, there was a vogue of trying to invent national ballets (in England as well), to use national history and culture to forge an identity. I think that was a good idea -- it helped bring in audiences and make them think that ballet was "theirs" not a European import.

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Ok, now I understand what you mean :). No, I don't think we have to have ballets about stereotypical American subjects. We have some, and for me, it's enough. Of course, the Russians and Danes have ballets based on their folklore, like The Firebird and The Little Humpbacked Horse, but of the greatest "Russian" classics, two take place in Germany and one in Louis XIV France. Likewise, Americans have "Rodeo" and "Stars and Stripes" and "Western Symphony," but that type of ballet isn't the foundation of any company's repertoire. IMO, the best ballets don't need an obvious cultural basis, though a setting adds flavor, interest, and local color to the most timeless choreography--just consider the variations on very similar fairy tales found around the world. In other words, if US choreographers make dances for US dancers, and if their choreography is any good, they won't need to put everyone in cowboy hats or sunbonnets to get their points across. Good choreography is good choreography, wherever it is performed. The cowboy hats can help attract a local audience, but if they were to be removed, the work shouldn't fall apart.

Even historical events don't have to be unerstandable only to the people of the nation in which they occurred. In Excelsior, though it's set in Italy, with Italian historical figures, it wasn't difficult to understand the discovery of electricity, the steam engine, &c.

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I've been silently following this thread for a while. I think it is addressing different sets of issues, like apples vs. oranges.

It is no longer possible to think of the "Swan Lakes," "Sleeping Beauties" or "Giselles" (a mixed-parentage ballet for sure) as the provenance of any one nationality. They are the basis for World Ballet. Perhaps the same could be said for some of the Balanchine works.

The content of a company's rep will change with the times. During the Romantic age (which continued through ballet's high Classical period), the creative artists explored exoticism and fantasy. In the 1940's, during wartime, national themes were prominent in American ballet. The Joffrey was riding the crest of the Youth Movement in the '60s and '70s, as boomers came of age.

When we talk about the "top" company, do we necessarily mean the most influential? Or do we mean the one that gives the most satisfying result on a consistent basis? If we are discussing the most influential, that would have to be NYCB. Most American students, where ever they are trained, are prepared to dance Balanchine who gave a definite signature to American ballet. ABT is an amalgam of what's around, with special reliance on the classics. It is a follower, while (by tradition at least), NYCB has been an innovator.

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Terry, is NYCB really our 'national' company?  Its name certainly makes it sound regional

Using the same analogy, New York Stock Exchange is just a regional exchange where people from Brooklyn or Queens come to buy and sell stocks; Chase Manhattan (now JP Morgan Chase) is just a local Manhattan bank; New York Times is just a local newspaper...

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