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Estelle

New direction for the Ballet de Marseilles

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It's official: the new director of the Ballet de Marseille and of its school is the Belgian modern dance choreographer Frédéric Flamand:

http://fr.news.yahoo.com/040927/202/42iw4.html

He'll become the new director of the Ballet de Marseille on December 1st, 2004. He has been the director of the company Charleroi Danse (successor of the late Ballet Royal de Wallonie) since 1991. Eric Vu An, former POB dancer and presently director of the (small) Ballet of Avignon, will be "ballet master associated to the artistic direction". I do suspect that Vu An is mostly a pretext so that ballet fans are not too angry...

So Flamand, who is by no means a ballet choreographer or ballet dancer, will be the director of a company which was so far supposed to be a ballet company (even though Pietragalla already had added quite a lot of modern works in its repertory) and

of one of France's main ballet schools. How logical... :(

I can't say I'm happy about that decision. There had been several articles about some local politicians (who probably know as much about ballet as I know about cardiology) wanting to choose Flamand, but Brigitte Lefèvre (for once defending ballet) being against that choice. It seems that Vu An's choice was a sort of compromise- but I don't believe much in two-headed directions, nor do I believe in companies which dance one ballet a year and modern works the rest of the time. :(

I wonder if some dancers will prefer to leave the company (but given the scarce opportunities to get a job in France, they might have not many choices). Also, nothing has been said about what will happen in Belgium with Charleroi Danse, and also in Avignon (as I guess Vu An can't have two full-time jobs).

If some people are familiar with Flamand's works (Marc ?), I'd be interested in hearing more about it... But so far, nothing makes me optimistic about that change.

And it really seems that French politicians (in that case, especially, from what I've read, the mayor of Marseille) don't think that the French audience outside Paris deserves to see any real ballet (even though they had publicly said after Pietragalla's firing that the next director should be someone with a strong ballet experience and that the repertory should remain classical). How sad ! :(

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It is sad. Not because there's anything wrong with contemporary dance, but because it's replacing ballet rather than co-existing with it. And it's even sadder when it happens like this -- because, I'd wager the guess, the people making the decision are not educated in the arts and don't know that there is a difference. We've seen it over and over. "We must return the company to a classical base." "Oh. Then why is next season's repertory going to be completely pieces by Mats Ek and Nacho Duato (and 15 other people with whose works we are less familiar)." Answer: "They are firmly rooted in the classical tradition!" Which, of course, they're not.

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It is sad.  Not because there's anything wrong with contemporary dance, but because it's replacing ballet rather than co-existing with it.

Yes indeed, it's really "to rob Peter to pay Paul" (in French, "déshabiller Pierre pour habiller Paul"). At least I hope that it won't mean that Flamand will take his own dancers from Charleroi to replace some Marseille dancers (I suppose that the Marseille dancers have steady contracts, as it is generally the case in France, but I guess it's quite easy to make people resign if one makes them understand that they have no chance to be cast and makes them feel unwanted).

Anyway, if I were a French ballet student's parent, I'd be seriously worried about my child's job opportunities in France, with fewer and fewer companies remaining. And one wonders about the logic of training ballet dancers in the Marseille school (which was founded in 1992, under Petit's tenure) while not needing ballet dancers any longer in most French companies.

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I wondered about possibilities for graduates when I saw the Conservatoire's spring program. There were five young women who looked extremely promising -- with stagecraft and allure as well as technique. Where will they dance?

One of the things that irks me about the current blending trend is that much contemporary dance uses ballet technique -- in the sense of the strength and athletic aspects of it, though not its sensibilities. So they may well take in ballet-trained dancers. But, as one of our young dancers (Rachel) said on this board: Soon ballet will become something everyone learns but nobody uses.

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I wondered about possibilities for graduates when I saw the Conservatoire's spring program.  There were five young women who looked extremely promising -- with stagecraft and allure as well as technique.  Where will they dance?

I don't know, it seems to me that some of the Conservatoire graduates often go to companies like Monte-Carlo, Ballet du Rhin or Ballet de Lorraine (but they'll get little opportunity to perform some real ballet here) , or to some German ballet companies

(but there are fewer and fewer of them, too).

One of the things that irks me about the current blending trend is that much contemporary dance uses ballet technique -- in the sense of the strength and athletic aspects of it, though not its sensibilities. 

And also in the sense of "balletic" bodies, I thin (slim, flexible, long-limbed... But not to use them in an interesting way).

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because, I'd wager the guess, the people making the decision are not educated in the arts and don't know that there is a difference.

You've hit the clou sur la tete, Alexandra... It's often no better here. From huge government agencies to local non-profit boards, bureaucratic minds fail to understand the differences between types of music, drama and dance. It's a sure fire way to end up with homogenized copy-cat art forms. Democratized and watered down.

I find it hard to believe the French regions can't support a true ballet company.

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I think the politicians know exactly what they're doing. With most audiences modern dance is much more popular than classical tutu stuff, which is much more intimidating, and doesn't seem to be "expressing our emotions" as directly and naturally.

The Dutch National Ballet does triple bills regularly, with, say, a Balanchine piece, a Paquita and a fresh choreography based on ballet technique. The contemporary piece always gets the ovations. I overheard a patron telling his companion once that it was such a relief you don't have to worry whether all the dancers move in time in contemporary stuff.

Well, there you go. Contemporary is much easier on the eye.

BTW the Dutch National Ballet employs tons of dancers from France, from Toulouse, from Monte-Carlo, from Nice, from all over the place - enough to keep one Amsterdam cigarette store in business.

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I think the politicians know exactly what they're doing. With most audiences modern dance is much more popular than classical tutu stuff, which is much more intimidating, and doesn't seem to be "expressing our emotions" as directly and naturally.

Frankly, I don't believe it's the case there. It also was the local politicians who had chosen Pietragalla (who was supposed to maintain a classical repertory), and as far as I know, their decision was based mostly on her fame as a Paris Opera Ballet principal (and also the fact she was known thanks to some cosmetics advertisements...) I wouldn't make bets on their knowledge of dance. And it's possible that the unfortunate experience with Pietragalla made them behave the opposite way, i.e. refuse to hire former ballet principals.

And while I don't know much about Frédéric Flamand's works, I'm not really convinced that modern dance is more popular with French audiences- especially as much of the modern dance which is shown in France is quite far from "expressing emotions naturally" (and I'd say a lot of companies survive mostly because of state support, as they don't exactly fill the theaters). I don't know what the audience figures are for the various kinds of performance, but for me the popularity of modern dance over ballet in Marseille is far from obvious (and Frédéric Flamand is virtually unknown in Marseille).

The Dutch National Ballet does triple bills regularly, with, say, a Balanchine piece, a Paquita and a fresh choreography based on ballet technique. The contemporary piece always gets the ovations. I overheard a patron telling his companion once that it was such a relief you don't have to worry  whether all the dancers move in time in contemporary stuff.

When you say "contemporary", do you mean "fresh choreography based on ballet technique" ? I'm not sure I understand well what you mean... Unfortunately, in France "fresh choreography based on ballet technique" is very rare (excepts one or two attempts at the Paris Opera by Jean-Guillaume Bart or José Martinez, and perhaps Thierry Malandain, who seems to be quite successful in Biarritz), and Flamand's works are not at all based on ballet technique. And from what I saw at the Paris Opera, many of the modern works added to the repertory in recent years were received quite tepidly and didn't survive their first season (e.g. Duboc's "Rhapsody in blue", Gallotta's "Nosferatu", Hoche's "Yamm"...)

BTW the Dutch National Ballet employs tons of dancers from France, from Toulouse, from Monte-Carlo, from Nice, from all over the place  -  enough to keep one Amsterdam cigarette store in business.

Err, do you mean that the French dancers smoke more than other dancers ? :unsure: Well, at least it's good to know that some French ballet students manage to find a job in the Netherlands. By the way, it's a pity that the Dutch National Ballet almost never tours to France !

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In the States, contemporary dance is not as popular as classical ballet -- the general audience (people not really familiar with ballet, but curious, say) will go to a "Swan Lake" before they'll go to a contemporary triple bill. (This is based on what sells out big houses, like New York's Met, or D.C.'s Kennedy Center.) And the really experimental modern dance plays to very small audiences.

There certainly are many people who prefer contemporary to classical, of course, and I think there are certainly people who find classical ballet intimidating and contemporary more accessible, but despite all the talk about how contemporary draws in new audiences, the numbers are not there.

Aside from Tanzteater, which is expressive, the French contemporary dance I've seen has been resolutely undramatic -- just the steps. (Would one consider Maguy Marin the French version of Tanzteater? I don't know what else to call it. But it's whimsical rather than drawing on dark emotions. At least, what I've seen has been.)

I'd love to see some fresh choreography based on the classical technique. Where is it!?! Not the stuff where the dancers put on toe shoes and kick as high as possible while doing contractions, and then dive to the floor and writhe, but really, a new ballet.

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Alexandra,

the graduates from the¨Paris Conservatory, for most of them, won't to go to Marseille, at least when they're still young (I mean around 18-20 !) because Marseille has a school linked to the compagny and they tend to choose young dancers among their own graduates. Howewer, some conservatory graduates joined later in their career, as Benjamine Dupont, eg.

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I didn't mean to suggest that graduates of the Conservatoire usually went to Marseille, but just asked where they would be able to find work -- in response to Estelle's original comment about how companly after company in France changes from classical to contemporary.

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In the States, contemporary dance is not as popular as classical ballet -- the general audience (people not really familiar with ballet, but curious, say) will go to a "Swan Lake" before they'll go to a contemporary triple bill. (This is based on what sells out big houses, like New York's Met, or D.C.'s Kennedy Center.) And the really experimental modern dance plays to very small audiences. 

...

I'd love to see some fresh choreography based on the classical technique.  Where is it!?!  Not the stuff where the dancers put on toe shoes and kick as high as possible while doing contractions, and then dive to the floor and writhe, but really, a new ballet.

I agree with Alexandra -- traditional ballets are a much easier "sell" here than either modern dance or "contemporary" ballet. There are all kinds of elements that go into this preference, but it's definitely noticeable.

And yes, I'd be interested in seeing some new ballets too!

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http://www.liberation.fr/page.php?Article=242013

An article by Marie-Christine Vernay, quite enthusiastic about Flamand's nomination

(the title means more or less "Frédéric Flamand saving the Ballet of Marseille"). Not very surprising, considering that Ms Vernay clearly doesn't care about ballet (she seldom reviews it and really doesn't seem interested in it).

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There have been some updates on the web site of the Ballet de Marseille:

-an introduction by Frédéric Flamand:

http://www.ballet-de-marseille.com/pres.htm

-a biography of Frédéric Flamand:

http://www.ballet-de-marseille.com/bio-flamand.htm

-some announcements for the upcoming season:

a "classical" program called "La mémoire de l'innovation" (3 performances in

March at the Marseille Opera) with Nijinsky's Afternoon of a faun", Balanchine's "Apollo", Limon's "The Moor's Pavane" and "Bournonville's "Konservatoriet"

two full-length programs by Frédéric Flamand, one in June "Silent collisions"

(3 performances at the Théâtre de la Criée) and one in July 'La cité radieuse" (2 performances at the Théâtre de la Criée)

Wel, at least they still perform some ballet (though the inclusion of Limon's work in the "ballet" category is quite surprising...) but the number of performances is quite low, and the corps de ballet won't get much to do. I wonder which tours are planned ?

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  . . . (though the inclusion of Limon's work in the "ballet" category is quite surprising...)

I'll say! Is it a "classical" program, Estelle, or a program of "classics"? Big difference there, at least in English.

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  . . . (though the inclusion of Limon's work in the "ballet" category is quite surprising...)

I'll say! Is it a "classical" program, Estelle, or a program of "classics"? Big difference there, at least in English.

Well, the page about the upcoming programs is there

http://www.ballet-de-marseille.com/actunidieunimaitre.html

and it just says "programme classique", which, I think, would mean "classical program"

(program of "classics" would be something like "programme de "grands classiques").

However, there are not many details on that page, so it's difficult to understand what is really meant. But since Limon's work is or was in the repertories of several ballet companies (in France, the POB, the Ballet du Rhin and the Ballet de Lorraine, though they haven't performed it for at least a decade), perhaps some people believe it to be some ballet. And for example a lot of French critics call choreographers like Kylian, Duato or Ek "neo-classical", which I really find odd (especially for Mats Ek, as his style doesn't use any ballet steps...) I sometimes get the feeling that for some critics, any dance work which includes some decent music, a vocabulary requiring some technicity, and some links between the music and the steps is considered as ballet (especially as there are more and more modern works soundtracs which are a mixing of several noises and speeches, steps taken from ordinary gestures, no plot or logic, etc.)

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In the Summer 2006 issue of the late, lamented Dance Now, Jean-Guillaume Bart had this to say about the appointment of Frederic Flamand as artistic director of Ballet de Marseilles:

Two or three years ago I was commissioned to create a short ballet for the School of the Ballet de Marseille. It was a fine success, the girls were ecstatic because they could perform in tutus and realise their dream of being classical ballerinas. But then a bit later one hears that Frederic Flamand is taking over the company in Marseille. They might as well close the School. There's no use for it anymore, since it will no longer find a company for its graduates to join.

I don't know what's become of the school but, if this reportory is any indication, then Jean-Guillaume Bart was right:

http://www.ballet-de-marseille.com/-THE-REPERTOIRE-

Funny that board members were stressing about Limon's The Moor's Pavane. The Moor's Pavane might as well be Swan Lake compared to this repertory!

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