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Ballet's "elitist" image --what do you think?Ballet-bashing? or partly accurate?


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#1 bart

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Posted 27 January 2006 - 12:19 PM

One charge made against ballet that simply will not die is the idea that it is "elitist" and consequently (by implication) to be avoided.

Dirac has a LINK today that expresses this view succinctly. The surprise, however, is to find one of our finest (former) ballet dancers expressing it!! (Even though the quote is out of context.)

Here's the way it's presented on our LINKS page:
______________________________________________________
QUOTE: Preview of Ballet NY by Donna Hartman for The Bradenton Herald.

Ballet NY: More than just tutus and tiaras

QUOTE
Ballet doesn't have to be boring, stuffy or elitist.

It doesn't have to be stiff tutus, classical music and by-the-book classical movement.

Dance for Ballet NY is quite the opposite, said Judith Fugate, founder of Ballet NY and former New York City Ballet principal ballerina.

"Ballet can be all kinds of different things," Fugate said in a telephone interview from her office in New York. "Sometimes, the public thinks of ballet as snobby with its tutus and tiaras.
___________________________________________________________

I can think of other adjectives besides "boring," "stuffy" and "elitist" that I've heard applied to ballet in the past year or so. "Irrelevant." "Escapist." "Limited." "Old-fashioned.".

Oddly, BALLET people who are pushing their own contemporary alternatives often seem to be the ones most anxious to perpetuate this image, if only to assure potential audiences that this is NOT what WE are.

Any thoughts about this?

For instance, how or why does this impression of ballet persist? Is there any justice to it? What can be done to challenge it or at least provide a counter-weight?

The relevant LINKS page is located at: http://ballettalk.in...showtopic=21543 Scroll down to the 4th article.

#2 Helene

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Posted 27 January 2006 - 02:22 PM

Oddly, BALLET people who are pushing their own contemporary alternatives often seem to be the ones most anxious to perpetuate this image, if only to assure potential audiences that this is NOT what WE are. 

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Yes.

I find it ironic and appalling that elite is considered a four-letter word when applied to the arts or education, but not when applied to sports. "Elite athlete" is a very positive thing to be.

In today's links, there was an article about Craig Hall, a student at the PNB school whose SAB audition was scheduled for the same time as the upcoming Super Bowl. (Seattle vs. Pittsburgh).

http://seattletimes...._ballet27m.html

Stuart Eskenazi writes:

Professional ballet and professional football seem like diametric opposites on the cultural brow. One is white wine poured gently into crystal glasses. The other is watered-down domestic beers sloshing in 32-ounce plastic cups.

Toe shoes vs. face paint.


He later goes on to write,

Think about it: Ballet and football have as many similarities as differences. Both ballet dancers and football players are athletes who endure grueling practices under the watchful eyes of demanding taskmasters. They must be precise, disciplined and exhibit amazing balance and body control. Their careers peak at an early age and can be ruthlessly curtailed by injury.


We discussed the ballet dancer as athlete issue before on Ballet Talk, but the tone of the article suggests that ballet should be given the same respect as professional sports. Until Bruce Wells is quoted at the end, when asked if he'd be watching the Super Bowl:

I'll probably go to the movies," he said. "I like to spend my days off seeing something riveting, intellectually challenging or visually beautiful.


There go those elitists again, lording it over the rest of us with their superiority.

#3 Mel Johnson

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Posted 27 January 2006 - 02:31 PM

"My tastes are very simple: Only the best will do." - Sir Winston Churchill

#4 dirac

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Posted 27 January 2006 - 03:30 PM

The surprise, however, is to find one of our finest (former) ballet dancers expressing it!! (Even though the quote is out of context.)


There’s a distinction between “elite” and “elitist” in common usage, I think. “Elite” is often (though not always) used in a neutral or positive context, but “elitist” rarely is. The latter word carries an implication of entitlement.

I don’t think Fugate was suggesting, even when you take the quote by itself, that Ballet BC supplies a non-snobby version of ballet in contrast to the customary snobby one or that she was trying to perpetuate said snobby stereotype. She intended to say that many people have a negative image of ballet that follows this line of thought, and that it’s wrong.

I'll be watching the game, myself.

#5 YouOverThere

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Posted 27 January 2006 - 05:38 PM

One charge made against ballet that simply will not die is the idea that it is "elitist" and consequently (by implication) to be avoided.


IMHO it's just another case of people bashing something that they don't want to take the time to understand. Anything that pushes the limit of creativity is obviously going to be challenging for the audience as well as to the artists (rock musician Robert Fripp says that his definition of good music is music that takes almost as much skill to listen to as to perform). If having to use your own intelligence to appreciate someone else's performance is "elitist", so be it.

Edited by YouOverThere, 28 January 2006 - 07:30 AM.


#6 kfw

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Posted 27 January 2006 - 06:21 PM

I'll be watching the game, myself.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Not me (sniff, and come to think of it, in all mock elitist silliness, a sniff that sounds just like Balanchine's). I'll be watching the Ballet Russes movie. :) (And taping the game!)

Stiff tutus, classical music and by-the-book classical movement = boring, stuffy or elitist? Are there really many people who would be attracted to the ballet under any circumstances who make so facile an equation? If so, I wonder if the blame doesn't lie in part on both sides of the culture war divide, with those who equate any distinctions of merit in regards to culture with bigotry, and with those who turn their noses up at any critique of populist aesthetics.

#7 carbro

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Posted 27 January 2006 - 07:05 PM

There is no question that ballet is strongly rooted in elitist tradition. It was court entertainment and not generally enjoyed by the masses in the way that, say, Shakespeare was. But that does not make it difficult to enjoy. Pretty girls in tutus or leotards, handsome men in tights. Who has a problem with that? And the athleticism? And the theatricality? Go back a few times and you begin to develop an appreciation for what's really going on, whether or not you know it.

#8 kfw

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Posted 27 January 2006 - 08:12 PM

carbro, I think you put your finger on it, except that I'd say that the tradition isn't elitist ("we're better than you") but, rather, has elite roots, i.e., in its origins only the elite could even experience it. But it's not Schoenberg. It's an art form and a tradition that people of all classes and backgrounds can potentially enjoy, and whether that's for the beautiful music or the beautiful bodies or the breathtakingly athletic movement, there is something to appeal to everyone.

Still, practically speaking, the handsome men in tights do pose a problem for many men in that the tights and the ballet vocabulary read, at first sight, as effeminate. To such men, "pretty girls in leotards" is just my line -- don't you like pretty girls; don't you love to watch them move?

#9 Paul Parish

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Posted 28 January 2006 - 12:19 AM

Well, the tradition is split --

TO simplify grossly, ballet is rooted in folk dance, since it's rooted in court dancing, which was rooted in folk dancing. The people who're NOT to the manner born are the bourgeoisie, the middle class.

The aristocracy was in feudal times the military class -- peasants farmed and raised the food the people needed, the aristocracy defended the country. Ballet rose out of their horse-training -- cabrioles are jumps that HORSES do in battle -- and military dances (sword dances, etc), and of coursetheir own social dancing (which as Thoinet Arbeau pointed out, was an excellent way to find out the strengths and charms of a marriageable mate). The peasantry, meantime, also danced at festival time and eventually formed the core of professional dancers who lived at court, trained heavily, and swelled the ranks of court entertainments and did all the spectacular dancing (the "anti-masques' in Ben Jonson's time).

Royalty found ballet useful in presenting court propaganda -- Louis XIV found it very helpful to appear as the all-conquering sun in front of his courtiers, since he'd almost been killed in a rebellion as a child and needed to impress upon all of France that he was not just the king, he was "the state" itself and ruled by divine right. It was also very useful, in preventing civil war, to bring all the aristocracy away from their power bases in the provinces and make them live and dance attendance on him at Versailles and spend half the day perfectng their dance technique and rehearsing the roles they'd perform in the perpetual round of court entertainments devised by lully.

Centuries later, Stalin found it almost equally useful to present Soviet propaganda in the form of Socialist-realist ballet.

#10 carbro

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Posted 28 January 2006 - 12:46 AM

Ballet: The opiate of the rebels.

#11 bart

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Posted 28 January 2006 - 05:20 AM

Coincidentally, I just received an email from Ballet Florida, a company which does mostly ballet-based contemporary works, and which recently has begun a long-needed expansion of its marketing and p.r. efforts. (I have to say that I enjoy this company a lot and am a supporter.)

Here's the text:
------------------------------------------
QUOTE: "Whose Ballet Is it Anyway?

"There's a rumor floating around Ballet Florida that 'we are not your grandmother's ballet." The truth is, that in the traditional sense, we are in fact NOT 'your grandmother's ballet' but then again -- OUR 'GRANDMOTHERS' AREN'T TRADITIONAL EITHER."

"They know that ballet does not have to be bland and boring. It is vibrant, exciting, athletic and at times, down right sexy!

"While on occasion the Company does present incredible classical and neo-classical works, Ballet Florida audiences expect to see new and cutting edge dance created by world-class choreographers, performed by exciting and talented dancers that love to show off their stuff!!"
-------------------------------------------

I detect the same put-down quality that I found in the article on Ballet NY. It's rather like those individuals whose favorite method of building themselves up is taking swipes at others.

I've seen many ads and press releases using this approach from many other companies. In their attempt to attract new audiences, they perhaps unintentionally hammer home the idea that classical ballet is old-fashioned and that the public is right in avoiding it.

Whatever the intention, ballet people themselves are increasingly pandering to -- and perhaps even stimulating the growth of -- prejudices that alienate potential audiences from traditional ballet. (Trusted old brand names like Nutcracker excepted, of course.)

When "traditional" becomes a bad word among the practioners of an art, something very significant has occurred.

#12 carbro

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Posted 29 January 2006 - 07:56 PM

It occurred to me that all these defensive sounding pitches are merely recognizing the persistence of a stereotype. It's easier to say "We aren't like that" than "Ballet isn't like that."

#13 YouOverThere

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Posted 29 January 2006 - 08:45 PM

I've seen many ads and press releases using this approach from many other companies.  In their attempt to attract new audiences, they perhaps unintentionally hammer home the idea that classical ballet is old-fashioned and that the public is right in avoiding it.

Whatever the intention, ballet people themselves are increasingly pandering to -- and perhaps even stimulating the growth of -- prejudices that alienate potential audiences from traditional ballet.  (Trusted old brand names like Nutcracker excepted, of course.)


On the other hand, contemporary art is often considered to be "elitist" (and it often is "unaccessible" to people without a strong interest in the art form), so to be "cutting edge" may get an arts organization a reputation as being "elitist" even if they are "contemporary".

#14 Cliff

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Posted 29 January 2006 - 11:01 PM

Ballet has multiple images in popular culture.

It signals a refined elite with classical music with tiaras, tutus, tights, and toe shoes. In contrast, ballet also indicates a childly innocence for young girls. Something common and trivial. Ballet is a respectful modifier for descriptions of operations involving intricate coordination, such as space travel and military operations. Nobody every mocked a paratrooper landing by calling it a ballet. I'd like to see a Swan Lake review claim that the 101st Airborne couldn't have done it better.

#15 Bluenightdipper

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Posted 13 February 2006 - 10:28 PM

I personally believe, the perception (real or otherwise) of ballet (or any other form of dance, art, music, or sport) is more often than not verbalised most loudly by those whom have never tried to appreciate the work that goes into such endeavours. I also believe that people are more than ever afraid of not being accepted, fitting in or liking what everyone else does (Tall Poppy Syndrome), therefore if it is not everyday it must be ridiculed and branded elitist or pointles.

Another factor perhaps in the "elitist" attitude to ballet is perpetuated by the "management" (for want of another word) of companies. I'm not too sure how ticket pricing goes in the US but in Australia more often than not tickets are priced such that to become an avid follower of a Company or even just Ballet one must be of a certain socio-economic status. It is cheaper to get season tickets to the footbal than the the Australian Ballet. Finer margins and "more bums in seats" doesn't seem register. One wonders if by design or by force??

Perhaps the most overlooked reason is society as whole these days. People (again all of my comments are merely my thoughts on th matter and by no means definative) seem to derive more pleasure these days and only seem to be able to make themselves feel better when they are putting someone else down for any reason they can find. One can hardly scream at a soloist to "get a move on" like at the football, or cricket for example, whilst eating a pie and drinking a beer. Ballet requires discipline not do, to watch and from that comes enjoyment (for the dancer and the audience). The irony is whilst the "older" population becomes more and more undisciplined and young girls are often criticised for not being disciplined and having no direction, in a small regional area of tasmania there are more than five ballet schools all full with young girls wanting to learn the art of ballet.

I know I like to think of myself as achieving something that not everyone else can, but then, I also see my husband achieving something that I can't do in his rockclimbing endeavours (rockclimbing also appears to me to have the same perceptions as ballet in regard to elitisim). At the end of the day he appreciates the work and skill that goes into my dancing and I appreciate the work and skill that goes into his rockclimbing. I think they call that one respect.

Art imitates life or life imitates art, a case of the chicken and the egg.

Just my thoughts.


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