Jump to content


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


  • Please log in to reply
99 replies to this topic

#31 Cygnet

Cygnet

    Silver Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 732 posts

Posted 15 February 2006 - 10:17 AM

Does the US have an all black dance company? We have an all aboriginal dance company here in Australia and from what I have heard and read they are highly talented, skilled and yes elite dancers. Like I mentioned in the Australian Ballet forum, trying to see the aboriginal company is just as difficult as it is to see the Australian Ballet if you don't live in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane or Canberra.
I'd better get back on track for this forum, Perhaps Ballet is elitist, but then is it really so bad? We all like to be part of something special that reflects our cultural and artistic heritage. Be it black, white, asian, whatever. It is a shame I think when we can't accept that each race/religion will have it's own elite form of dance, music, communication. Perhaps we should be celebrating this elitisim, for each race, because isn't that what the philosophy of multi-culturalism is all about, not a common denominator?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Hi Bluenightdipper!

Forgive me if I'm a 'budinsky' in this excellent thread. The U.S. does (did) have the Dance Theatre of Harlem. It also has the Alvin Ailey Dance Co. (which
is predominantly Black but a modern dance company). DTH's ballet school is still open (last I heard), but the company has suffered financial distress in recent years, and has had to cease and desist performances. Here in Los Angeles,
there is the Debbie Allen Dance School as well as the Lula Washington Dance Theatre, which are avidly supported by the Black community. Also, on a different note, opera is supported as well. Socio-economic status is a big factor in what young Blacks pursue, and on how the community's families spend their discretionary funds. But we will make time for, and spend money on those companies which celebrate and uplift our culture and experience. IMO the hip-hop 'culture' does NOT do that, but ethnic and modern dance, jazz, and yes, ballet does!

I think the real issues are exposure, access and awareness on both sides. Once performing arts centers and opera houses are aware of interest, they will market to that community. For example, this past Christmas, an organization I'm a member of has a sub-committee called "Live Theatre for Children." We escorted Los Angeles inner-city children (ie. Black and Latino), to their first live theatre experience: "The Nutcracker." Once the Long Beach Ballet found out that the children were from South Central L.A., they donated the tickets gratis. It was a multi-racial cast and ballet company. I think that it meant ALOT for these kids to see other kids and professionals onstage who looked just like them . They wouldn't have known they have the option, if they didn't see that it was possible. I think that's what the arts are all about - infinite possibilities :wink:.

#32 Kate Lennard

Kate Lennard

    Member

  • Member
  • PipPip
  • 29 posts

Posted 15 February 2006 - 10:18 AM

Firstly ami I didn't know it was you who made that remark, however, I stand by the statement. The contention here is the use of the word "colour", if blacks are colored what are we "colourless"? The very use of the word is regressive, the notion that the choreography diminished by the mere use of ethnicity inane.

I didn't say DTH were aborignal. I was talking about marginalised black dance troupes, of which DTH despite their mainstream profile, was always sadly counted as being. That two of their principals had to transfer there from NYCB where they were told they would not progress beyond corps is sad, but a perrenial problem amongst black dancers within the main companies.

Acosta, whilst trotted out as being example of a black man's ascension within the white ballet world is a poor one. Would he have risen to the top had he not been actively recruited from the slums of Cuba by Alonso? One would hope, but I wouldn't bet on it.

It is a nonsense to argue that art is part of a multi-cultural tapestry if it is apart from society's culture as a whole. And yes, ballet has every right to be what it is, to be institutionalised within an opera house, to be what it is, to be elitist. However, what it then does not have the right to do is demand that society as a whole take notice of it, fund it, support it. Especially if great sections of that society feel there is absolutely nothing there which speaks to or recognises them.

The problem here is of course choreographically rooted, as new choreography is the lifeblood of dance and that is not being served or nurtured in any actively purposeful way that addresses society and as such would go far to dispel the elitist culture of ballet. As we all know the great Classics were politcally motivated. Agon pas de deux in its original chronological context of black Arther Mitchell and American goddess Diana Adams had a HUGE politcal impact. It was every WASP's parents' worst nightmare, yet at the same time it was high art. It can be done and should be done.

This thread was started ostensibly to discuss elitism within the public's perception, society's perception of ballet. An honest, valid and vital topic. But it's not fair then to shy away from the ugliness of the truth which lies beneath the subject matter.

A culture of elitism is fed on money, class, exclusion, racism and I suppose fear. Very different concepts from an elite athlete, musician, actor etc or dancer. Judith Jamieson, William Louther two of the most elite were at all times creating for and performing in society as a whole. Ethnicity was secondary to creativity and artistry. In the swarthes of white-faced swans ethnicity is irrelevant because it is completely unserved. But if it is unserved how then can it serve society?

That's multi-culturalism, not a notion that there is something for everyone. That's ghettoisation.

#33 Helene

Helene

    Administrator

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 11,201 posts

Posted 15 February 2006 - 10:20 AM

A series of thoughts,

Mel Tomlinson wasn't my favorite dancer at New York City Ballet, but I remember looking at the roles in which he was cast -- the Arthur Mitchell roles in Agon and 4 T's, death or underworld figures in La Valse, Orpheus, and the closing piece in the Tchaikovsky Festival -- there seemed to me a line between the types of roles in which he was cast and those in which he wasn't that transcended ability or body type. Albert Evans has said that he's not interested in the classical prince/cavalier roles, but it would have been interesting to see if he had wanted these roles to see how frequently he would have been first cast as Siegfried or in Diamonds.

Opera provides more variety for both men and women -- by definition, they are stories -- but it still is uncommon for a black opera singer to play a romantic lead other than Aida, who's supposed to be Ethiopian, or Carmen, who can be cast "exotic," at least in the US. (Not counting Porgy and Bess or Margaret Garner.) Vinson Cole is, in my opinion, one of the finest tenors on the planet, but he's not touted as a "hot" romantic lead, despite being cast in the standard rep in Seattle, and I've never seen Thomas Young, a great Elijah Mohammed in X and Aron in Moses und Aron cast as Cavaradossi, Don Ottavio, or any other standard heroic role of any tenor genre.

I saw a documentary a few years ago at the Seattle International Film Festival, whose main topic was the schism between popular dance among the poorer, more African-based community in Cuba, and the lighter-skinned elite. A woman from a flamenco-based company gave her spiel about how the art form was European, and implied that this was somehow superior, and only light-skinned people moving in light-skinned ways would do. I thought this was ironic, because the National Ballet of Cuba is the most integrated-looking ballet company I've ever seen, with the widest color range of people. (Apparently, Alicia Alonso doesn't subscribe to this woman's view.)

Are the dancers in National Ballet of Cuba considered elite in Cuba? I would think so, given the number of fathers who are happy to push their sons into a field that gives them as much recognition and respect as baseball, although not nearly the same potential financial rewards outside Cuba. Dancing is perceived as opportunity, a way to gain respect in the community, and this appears to have transcended race, I believe, because training is subsidized and is available to the gifted, not just to the middle class to wealthy -- what's more "elitist" than that? -- and the evidence that it is possible to succeed regardless of skin tone is right on stage.

Until fifty years or so ago, professional sports in the US was all-white or nearly all-white. That didn't make baseball or basketball elitist, even among the black community. The black community had the Negro Leagues and equivalents, and kids of all races played those sports at an early age. Participation wasn't limited to a specific body type or skin color, and there were local, community forms of the sport beside the major leagues. It was just a matter of time before professional sports, and popular music for that matter, would become integrated, even if sports and music management has not: they are commercial ventures, and the pressure of the marketplace demanded the best players over time, since "winning," not form or style is the object. It's ironic that we see the effects of "the market" on programming that seem to dumb down the rep, but for all of the supposed "hipness" of Draculas and hip-hop- and pop-based "products," they are still being danced by beneficiaries of a tradition that has been handed down for centuries and which limits participation not only to specific range of body types, but seemingly to a specific range of skin tone, with few exceptions.

Watching the Olympics, I also find it interesting that the "X" sports -- moguls, aerial skiing, halfpipe -- are as lily-white as downhill skiing, figure skating, or any of the other sports that are considered elitist, and for which training is also limited by the ratio of income to geography, are hugely popular and considered populist. The hip young former inline skaters -- a generally popular and affordable sport; add skates to asphalt and stir -- who've converted to long and short track speed skating are white as they come, yet are not considered elitist. I think this is because there is a connection between participation in the "building blocks" of the sport -- rollerblading, skateboarding -- and the elite participants, and, again, it's conceivable that it's only a matter of time before they are integrated, because some kids on a skate board can envision him or herself "doing that." Those who stumble on the sidewalk, just like I used to flub my way through tendu at the barre during adult classes, still feel a connection to the activity itself.

#34 bart

bart

    Diamonds Circle

  • Board Moderator
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 7,320 posts

Posted 15 February 2006 - 11:50 AM

This discussion has expanded from the original topic, which can be quite a refreshing thing.

Let's just be aware, however, that there are no universally accepted definitions of terms like "multiculturalism," "racism," "ghettoization," "poverty", or even "elitism."

Each of us surrounds our own usage of these labels with slightly different intellectual and emotional connotations, often rooted in personal experience.

#35 kfw

kfw

    Sapphire Circle

  • Moderators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,299 posts

Posted 15 February 2006 - 05:07 PM

That two of [DTH's] principals had to transfer there from NYCB where they were told they would not progress beyond corps is sad, but a perrenial problem amongst black dancers within the main companies.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Kate, has anyone ever thought that DTH (or many other U.S. companies) had the top talent to compare with NYCB? In other words, how many white NYCB dancers were told the same thing?

ballet has every right to be what it is, to be institutionalised within an opera house, to be what it is, to be elitist. However, what it then does not have the right to do is demand that society as a whole take notice of it, fund it, support it. Especially if great sections of that society feel there is absolutely nothing there which speaks to or recognises them.

Great sections of society (like the slums where Acosta grew up?), or many people in society? By your logic we should then defund just about every art. Few taxpayers are going to like everything, but if inner city kids can learn to love Shakespeare, they can (and when given a chance often do) learn to love ballet. Far fewer will get the chance if we defund and let companies die or retrench.

As we all know the great Classics were politcally motivated. Agon pas de deux in its original chronological context of black Arther Mitchell and American goddess Diana Adams had a HUGE politcal impact.


Impact and intention are two different things. Of course Balanchine could predict the impact, but that doesn't mean he cast the dancers to make a statement. Likewise, I'm curious about whatyou think were the political motivations (vs. cultural ramifications) of the 19th century classics.

#36 kfw

kfw

    Sapphire Circle

  • Moderators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,299 posts

Posted 15 February 2006 - 05:12 PM

I think you're both misinterpreting my points. No one is saying that ballet must be inclusory, however, the fact that it isn't means it cannot defend itself effectively against allegations of elitism when juxtaposed against the majority of cultural and sporting pursuits which on face value are.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Thanks for your response. I don’t think it’s correct to look at racial and ethnic makeup alone and then speak of inclusivity or exclusivity. Those terms suggest intention, but surely the proper operating intention in the ballet world is to serve the art, not to represent the larger population? For that reason, I don’t think a ballet company is the place for affirmative action.

Likewise, if good ballet is “progressive” according to cultural-political standards, fine. But why should it have to be? Why should it have to reflect societal concerns? Why can't it just bring us joy?

When you say that the cost of training to become a dancer makes the sport elitist, what’s the import of applying that term? Do you mean that the cost is somehow unfair to people who can’t afford it? I lacked the coordination to have become a dancer – does that make the art elitist? Are people who do succeed in becoming dancers not just elites as you properly distinguish the term, but elitist? I don’t mean to be sarcastic. What I’m trying to ask is, of what use is the term “elitist”? Is it only useful because it describes how non-balletomanes feel? As with inclusivity and exclusivity, “elitist” implies an attitude. Plausible incidents of intentional racism aside, do you see that attitude anywhere else in the ballet world?

#37 bart

bart

    Diamonds Circle

  • Board Moderator
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 7,320 posts

Posted 15 February 2006 - 08:07 PM

I'm fascinated by the divergent views of multiculturalism showing up here.

Here's Kate Lennard's take on it:

High art is overwhelmingly white, and any form of art or entertainment which is situated within society as we know and live it today and does not reflect the multi-culturalism of society and the attendent issues thereof cannot be seen as anything other than divorced from society. Apart from it, elitist.


And here's kfw's:

Like all good art, ballet is rooted primarily in particular aesthetic and cultural traditions, not political agendas, however important. What art or work of art can speak to or for everyone? And why should it have to? Western society is multi-cultural precisely because it is made up of specific cultures, and a society that truly "celebrates multi-culturalism" allows all of its cultures to thrive. It doesn't subject them to political tests.


The first position seems to set a standard requiring all art forms to reflect the demographic/class/race/gender/makeup of the society. There are without a doubt many things that ballet and other art forms could be doing to increase inclusion. But the logical implication of this point of view, it seems to me, is that inclusion is not enough -- the art form must actually mirror the society to have legitimacy. I cannot think of a single cultural activity -- not jazz, not hip hop, not films, not basketball -- that could pass this rigorous test. A great deal of value in our culture(s) will have to be tossed out if we follow this position to its logical conclusion.

The second position views culture as something of a mosaic, with many different interrelating parts, some more inclusive and some less so. I like this position better. I think it more accurately reflects what is actually going on in the culture. Some parts of the mosaic grow, change, and reinvent themselves easily; others less so. Classically based arts -- which do indeed tend to be supported more by economic and social elites -- are among those which are the most resistant to change.

My own feeling is that the "elitist" image of ballet has relatively little to do with racial composition (unfortunate though that may be) and a great deal more to do with socioeconomic class. Ballet is to an extent defined and delimited by the extremely rigorous, demanding and narrowly focused training required for dancers, and by the relatively high level of sophistication required of audience members before they are able to get the most out of what they see.

This has little to do with the multiculturalism as usually defined, which, though interesting in itself, has a way of leading us towards a variety of dead ends when carried to its more extreme conclusions.

#38 sandik

sandik

    Rubies Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 4,516 posts

Posted 16 February 2006 - 09:53 AM

I'm curious about whatyou think were the political motivations (vs. cultural ramifications) of the 19th century classics.


On a tangent, this is actually a very interesting question. In retrospect, dance scholars and historians have interpreted the work of this period in many ways that have both political and cultural connections. The clear hierarchical structure of the ballet companies at this time, with their specific categories for performers and their roles, does appear to mirror the Byzantine complexity of the Tsarist monarchy. Both of these institutions are products of a long process of development, and each reached a kind of organizational apex at this time. Whether this is the end result of intentional actions, or just a happy accident is an arguable point, but it's a fascinating comparison.

On a smaller scale, "Sleeping Beauty" is often held up as an hommage to the tsarist court, its "happily ever after" ending seen as either a justification of the current situation, or as a kind of Platonic ideal of monarchy.

Petipa was very aware of his role as an employee of the Imperial family, and did indeed make artistic decisions (especially casting) based on his understanding of what might please his employers. While those choices had motives of self-preservation, they were political in nature.

#39 dirac

dirac

    Diamonds Circle

  • Board Moderator
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 25,213 posts

Posted 16 February 2006 - 10:44 AM

Yes. And quoting Paul Parish from earlier in this thread:

........... 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.



#40 kfw

kfw

    Sapphire Circle

  • Moderators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,299 posts

Posted 16 February 2006 - 06:09 PM

Thanks for those interesting points Sandik, and dirac/Paul. Still, ballet reflecting the social hierarchy as it evolved, the court knowing (naturally) how to make use of a popular art and pastime, and the artist knowing where his bread was buttered . . . in my opinion these don’t come near to defining the classics, even Sleeping Beauty, as politically motivated. Certainly Petipa’s political convictions were not what made his art great. But opinions do vary.

#41 Kate Lennard

Kate Lennard

    Member

  • Member
  • PipPip
  • 29 posts

Posted 17 February 2006 - 01:06 PM

Dear Bart and KFW et al

I was going to reply at length to the posts, however I truly think there is little or no point in pursuing this thread any longer.

My views have been misinterpreted and "logical" conclusions drawn by others which I feel have misrepresented the issues and which I myself would not have drawn.

One question where other than in race, poverty and affluence is the battle of socioeconomic cause/effect and outcome most clearly and passionately fought?

But I digress. I would however suggest that in future when a valid and powerful issue such as elitism is raised then perhaps it would be best to ignore it completely if the darker and most distressing subtexts are to be ignored so completely or cause such rancour.

KL.

#42 kfw

kfw

    Sapphire Circle

  • Moderators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,299 posts

Posted 17 February 2006 - 02:58 PM

I would however suggest that in future when a valid and powerful issue such as elitism is raised then perhaps it would be best to ignore it completely if the darker and most distressing subtexts are to be ignored so completely or cause such rancour.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Kate, despite disagreeing with your views, I enjoyed reading them. It's always good to have one's own view challenged.

#43 bart

bart

    Diamonds Circle

  • Board Moderator
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 7,320 posts

Posted 17 February 2006 - 08:44 PM

I very much agree with kfw on that.

#44 Hans

Hans

    Sapphire Circle

  • Moderators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,104 posts

Posted 18 February 2006 - 10:48 AM

I feel the same, although I know how time-consuming and difficult it is to respond to so many posts!

#45 DefJef

DefJef

    Member

  • Inactive Member
  • PipPip
  • 77 posts

Posted 25 May 2006 - 12:16 PM

This is not a serious topic. Ballet is a art form which requires enormous discipline. It is esoteric and like much of art requires a decent amount of commitment even as a viewer.

We can all walk past the master pieces in the Louvre or the Met and see the same painting as someone who has studied art and art history and even history. The more educated and experienced person will take more away from the experience.

I am a naive consumer of the arts... but I have been at it for 4 decades since I began architecture school. I am in awe of the talent, skill, vision, dedicationand creativity of these artists... all of them.

Ballet is something which takes enormous amount of time to perfect... first to train the dancers and then to get them choreographed together into a ballet. It is not the least bit elitest. But appreciation and consumption of art is for those who have or make time for it. Obviously, workers who do 3 jobs just to stay alive cannot go to the met. In that sense, the cost of viewing is obscene and troubling.

I would give up lots of things to be able to see the ballet and attend the opera... and I do. These are special and unique moments and anyone who experiences them cannot help to sit in awe. I do.


0 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users


Help support Ballet Alert! and Ballet Talk for Dancers year round by using this search box for your amazon.com purchases (adblockers may block display):