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When and How to Retire


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#1 mmded

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Posted 30 March 2005 - 10:08 AM

With all of the recent publicity about Evelyn's Hart's acrimonious departure from Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet Company, I started to wonder if this is a common problem in dance. :P With so many young dancers trying to get positions in companies and with such limited budgets for salaries, who should make the ultimate decision about when it is time to give up a principal dancer position? The discussion has already started with the artistic director of Alberta Ballet aligning himself on the side of the RWB and I am sure it is only beginning. How does one weigh artistic beauty against fading physical ability? Should it be soley up to the artistic director of the company or should it also be the responsibility of the individual dancer to know when to step aside? I realize that dancers such as Margot Fonteyne and Suzanne Farrell had very long careers, but is it the same conditions in ballet companies today?

#2 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 30 March 2005 - 11:28 AM

It does happen.

Obviously there's no one simple answer to this question, but here are some points.

The person who *should* decide on the employment of a dancer is always, barring the precedence of local statutes and laws, the artistic director. That is his or her job. If this isn't being done right, s/he shouldn't be running the company.

Local laws will have something to do with this. Canada's laws on termination of employment are tighter than the US, for instance, and more pro-worker. We saw this when a more extreme version of this problem came up with Kim Glasco at National Ballet of Canada several years ago.

Some companies have mandatory retirement ages. Paris Opera's is at 40 for women and 45 for men (I do not know why it is different, Estelle might).

When a company has relatively limited performances, like Winnipeg, the situation becomes more acute. It's easier to deal more gracefully and fairly balancing the skills of an aging dancer with the ambitions of a younger one when there are enough scheduled performances to go around.

#3 BalletNut

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Posted 30 March 2005 - 12:12 PM

It also depends on what kind of roles would be available for a "mature" dancer to perform, and whether or not those would fit his/her talents and capabilities. This varies enormously from company to company. One would also have to take into account the fact that dancers' abilities and technique also vary for each individual, and some age more gracefully than others. For example, it sounds like Hart may have been able to make the transition fairly smoothly. Others, particularly the ones whose earlier careers were built primarily on technical fireworks, would have to find other strengths to focus on as their physical capabilities change. It's easier for some than others.

I think many--certainly not all--dancers retire while they're still in their prime so people will wonder, why is s/he leaving now, instead of why don't they retire already, or why didn't they retire sooner? Sometimes you'll hear more than one of these things being said about the same dancer, though not usually from the same person. :P

#4 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 30 March 2005 - 12:50 PM

The transition may not have been that easy for Hart. I recall last year news articles about her canceling performances as Aurora shortly before curtain. That's got to cause a huge amount of stress.

#5 Mel Johnson

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Posted 30 March 2005 - 02:43 PM

IMO, the very best time for a dancer to retire is when that dancer says it's time, but nobody else does! :P

#6 bart

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Posted 30 March 2005 - 02:50 PM

The decision by the dancer to retire is made easier if he/she has an alternative career to move into or towards. Thus the importance of programs like Career Transition for Dancers. A small example: I think Balanchine encouraged several dancers towards new careers even during their dancing years: Steve Caras in photography, Susan Pilarre towards teaching, etc.

#7 canbelto

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Posted 30 March 2005 - 03:24 PM

I think the time to retire is when the company starts planning "anniversary galas" for your benefit on a regular basis.

#8 Marga

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Posted 30 March 2005 - 04:18 PM

The decision by the dancer to retire is made easier if he/she has an alternative career to move into or towards. 

That is quite true, Bart, but it also depends on the personality, emotional maturity and realistic world view of the dancer. Evelyn Hart has said in interviews that she has no idea what she wants to do when she stops dancing.

While most of us wish there were more time to try different things in life and are eager to move on after spending decades following the same path, there are those few who have absolutely no desire to do anything but what they have been doing. In ballet, the addiction to dancing and the physicality of it can be so acute that good sense and reason never enter the mix, much less desire to do anything else.

She has been fighting her encroaching retirement for a few years already, mostly by being in a state of denial about the need for it -- ever.

Evelyn Hart is a "creature of the dance". There have been very few true creatures of the dance. Merce Cunningham is one, also, and fortunately, being a modern dancer with his own company, he, as Martha Graham did, can go on dancing until the end of his life or pretty close to it.
[snip-post edited]

Edited by hockeyfan228, 31 March 2005 - 08:47 AM.


#9 dirac

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Posted 30 March 2005 - 06:35 PM

She has been fighting her encroaching retirement for a few years already, mostly by being in a state of denial about the need for it -- ever.


Most of us are in denial about the loss of our faculties and capabilities as we age, to some extent, but one of the benefits of obscurity is that we delude ourselves in private. Dancers (and athletes) must face the hard facts of physical decline much sooner, and in public. In a sense they enact for us this decline, and when we say, “So-and-so should have quit years ago!” sometimes we’re actually saying, “So-and-so should have quit years ago, so I could always think of her in her prime without having to acknowledge the fact of aging.”

Farrell didn’t really dance as long as she might have – her hip injury began making its presence known when she was thirty-eight, I believe. (With the demands of her extraordinary repertory, I doubt if she would have made it to fifty, even in perfect health.)

#10 canbelto

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Posted 31 March 2005 - 04:44 AM

I also think that it's not just about knowing when to retire. It's knowing what you can still dance, and what is beyond your ability. I think Mr. B did it the right way with Melissa Hayden. He knew it was time, she knew it was time, so Mr. B did things the kindest way possible: a farewell ballet (Cortege Hongrois). And a new role for Mr. B: flower boy. It'd be nice if every ballerina's retirement were so sweet, but that's just not possible :wink:

#11 Estelle

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Posted 31 March 2005 - 11:06 AM

Some companies have mandatory retirement ages.  Paris Opera's is at 40 for women and 45 for men (I do not know why it is different, Estelle might).

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Actually this has been changed recently to 42 for everybody (if I remember correctly, a former female corps de ballet dancers had won a trial because she had protested against gender discrimination about retirement), but the change will be progressive for the dancers who are close to retirement (e.g. some will retire at 44, 43, etc.)

I'm not sure of the reason why the ages were different for men and women. I've sometimes read the age limit was chosen in a period when the company didn't have enough men in the corps de ballet, so they preferred to keep them as long as possible, but I'm not sure it's the real reason.

#12 dirac

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Posted 31 March 2005 - 11:46 AM

I think Mr. B did it the right way with Melissa Hayden. He knew it was time, she knew it was time, so Mr. B did things the kindest way possible: a farewell ballet (Cortege Hongrois).


The ending of the story might have been kind, but it appears to have been rough going on the way. Hayden told Robert Tracy that Balanchine took a role from her on the grounds that she was too old for it, and for some years before her retirement he apparently made it clear in other ways that she should get out of the way. I also seem to remember B.H. Haggin reporting that the last straw for Violette Verdy came when Balanchine handed her role in “Emeralds” to Christine Redpath.

#13 Marga

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Posted 31 March 2005 - 01:12 PM

Since the editing of my previous post by a moderator has removed its essence, I will let published words speak for me so you can draw your own conclusions about what retirement might mean to Evelyn Hart:

Quotes from the introduction to Max Wyman’s biography of Evelyn Hart, published in 1991 by McClelland & Stewart Inc., Evelyn Hart: An Intimate Portrait:

Max Wyman: “Perhaps the most significant of all the items on display at her home is one of the smallest: a tiny, framed postcard, sepia-tinted, of Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, who in the words of Ruth St. Denis at her memorial service in New York, ‘lived on the threshold of heaven and earth as an interpreter of the ways of God.’ If there is a single dancer to whose example Evelyn aspires, it is Pavlova.” pg.15

Max Wyman: “Ethereal, spiritual, she shows us the raw, ungovernable centre of her soul.” pg.15

Veronica Tennant: “Her spirit infuses her body. She has an extraordinary, God-given instrument…..there is so much in her soul and her spirit that she wants to express……there’s a bountifulness about it, it seems to replenish all the time, and it emanates from every part of the body. Whenever I watch her dance I’m absolutely transported.” pg.15-16

Galina Yordanova: “I don’t see anyone in the world like her – she’s alone.” pg.16

Rudi van Dantzig: “There are certain people who are almost born for what they do…..Ulanova was one. It is as if Evelyn is created for dance.” pg.16

A Vancouver fan: “I can barely breathe as I watch every second, every movement you make. You are to me the most rare and precious of all that true dance is….. May your soul soar.” pg.16

Max Wyman: “Since childhood, the need to dance has consumed her, and she has fought against great odds to fulfill that need.” pg.17


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