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Jane Simpson

New resident choreographer for Royal Ballet

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The Royal Ballet announces the appointment, as from today, of Wayne McGregor as its resident choreographer.

Interesting. McGregor's Chroma has been a big hit in the RB's latest triple bill but he works outside the classical tradition. He's also scheduled to make a piece for POB soon.

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I just heard about this about an hour ago and still haven't fully got my mind around it. I liked Chroma, and do like what I've seen of Qualia... but it's all just so...well, for the Royal, out there.

I don't think that it should be read as a huge statement about the future of the Royal Ballet, as in some sort of abandonment of the past or so - I'm sure we'll have a huge number of Sleeping Beauty performances in all the years to come. But at the same time, I do wonder how much of an impact it will have on style - Qualia and Chroma highlight and *require* hypermobility... And (as those who know me know!), that's not a 'pathway to the future' or 'mark of the modern' that I'm even remotely happy with.

I do think it's an interesting, provocative, and exciting announcement. Beyond that, I'm still trying to figure out what I think of it!

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Chroma was an interesting novelty and worth doing, but what benefit does the Royal get from this arrangement that they weren't getting from individual commissions?

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When I first saw the title of this thread, I thought it would be Wheeldon. From an outsiders point of view, I hadn't read enough about McGregor's work with the RB to suggest that the relationship was long or strong enough to predict this appointment.

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Chroma was an interesting novelty and worth doing, but what benefit does the Royal get from this arrangement that they weren't getting from individual commissions?

Exactly. And if he really does serve as a resident choreographer -- not just making one ballet a year, but making a lot of ballets and working with the dancers on a regular basis, which is what a resident choreographer like, oh, say, Ashton or MacMillan, did -- what this means is that within a few years, all of the ballets in the repertory will begin to look like McGregor ballets and he'll change the style. Why else have a resident choreographer? His works should be the native language of the company.

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After re-reading the press announcement, I get the feeling that Mason does plan for McGregor to have a broad role, but not one in line of Ashton or MacMillan. The things mentioned prominently are education, technology and collaboration. It's a guess, but I think she sees him as a one-man experimental wing for the company who can also serve as a liason between the main company and activities at the Linbury and Clore as well as the wider British dance community. The idea of McGregor assuming the role of even an Ashley Page doesn't thrill me (not that Page did it better than McGregor would) but Mason's done more things right than wrong so far; I'm willing to wait and see what actually happens.

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His works should be the native language of the company.

I ‘m not sure whether the company actually has a native language anymore as the old Royal Ballet style has all but disappeared. Chroma was a massive box office hit, but its worth asking if those long queues for tickets were made up of people eager to see the new Wayne McGregor or whether it was the affordable ticket prices being charged for that particular programme that was causing a stampede. One way or another though, Chroma was a massive hit and perhaps the RB management thinks its struck box office gold at last.

The RB has been flirting with McGregor for some time now starting off with a programme with some of the company along with dancers from his own group at the ROH's smaller auditorium, the Lindbury, before creating work for the main house. I'm wondering if this is a first move away from classical ballet and towards the POB model. The dearth of classical choreographers is nothing less than a global crisis and new work has to come from somewhere. Also there are now dancers within the RB, e.g. Watson, Galeazzi, Yanovsky, that are more impressive in the modern rep than the classical and several more that excel in these crossover works.

I would have put money on Christopher Wheeldon getting this particular job - shows how much I know.

:blush:

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He's also scheduled to make a piece for POB soon.

Jane, is he really going to work with the POB ? Next season perhaps ? That would be interesting news, as I've been curious about his style, and it seems like a safer bet for the POB than most of the choreographers they invite (lately, Benjamin Millepied, whose work was not very good IMO).

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Jane, is he really going to work with the POB ? Next season perhaps ? That would be interesting news, as I've been curious about his style, and it seems like a safer bet for the POB than most of the choreographers they invite (lately, Benjamin Millepied, whose work was not very good IMO).

Well, the press release says 'His plans include a new work for Paris Opéra Ballet', but that's all I know!

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From the press release Linked by Jane:

Tony Hall, Chief Executive of the Royal Opera House added, "This is a great appointment. [ ... ] The critical and audience acclaim for [ the Chroma program ] proves once again that The Royal Ballet is one of the finest and most versatile ballet companies in the world." [My italics.]
Note the importance assigned to versatility. The Royal seems to be expanding its product line, not unlike POB over the past years and NYCB under Martins. Mashinka refers to deep discounts in ticket prices for Chroma. Perhaps ROB is considering variable pricing as well. (That WOULD be a good idea.)

All of this seems to be a reasonable strategy in business terms. My concern, already expressed by others, is that changes in education, teaching, and coaching may move the company -- intentionally or not -- towards a new approach to movement that undermines its ability to preserve (and even expand, in the sense of encouraging new work in a classical manner) its own classical style.

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From the press release Linked by Jane:
Tony Hall, Chief Executive of the Royal Opera House added, "This is a great appointment. [ ... ] The critical and audience acclaim for [ the Chroma program ] proves once again that The Royal Ballet is one of the finest and most versatile ballet companies in the world." [My italics.]
Note the importance assigned to versatility. The Royal seems to be expanding its product line, not unlike POB over the past years and NYCB under Martins. Mashinka refers to deep discounts in ticket prices for Chroma. Perhaps ROB is considering variable pricing as well. (That WOULD be a good idea.)

All of this seems to be a reasonable strategy in business terms. My concern, already expressed by others, is that changes in education, teaching, and coaching may move the company -- intentionally or not -- towards a new approach to movement that undermines its ability to preserve (and even expand, in the sense of encouraging new work in a classical manner) its own classical style.

At the premier of 'Chroma' the audience was arguably not a typical RB audience.Top price seats

were approx 67US dollars as opposed to approx 160US dollars for Sleeping Beauty, so who is surprised?

Younger members of the audience welcomed McGregor's dance work, I did not as I thought it was completely

the wrong sort of direction for a classical ballet company to go in. Chroma was also in my opinion not a very good dance work when a new 'ballet' of quality was really was required.

On the same programme Christopher Wheldon's new work was a ballet and a choreographically successful one at that, spoilt only by the relentless second- rate music of Michael Nyman.

Truthfully for me, the evening was only saved by a rather good performance of Balanchine's 'The Four Temperaments.'

You are quite right Bart to raise the question of whether such works might undermine the RB's style and

after watching last night's performance of 'The Sleeping Beauty' I was considering if in such a short time it had already done that. Port de bras were sketchy and free, execution of steps by corps and soloists were weak and it was if the die had already been cast. An under par performance by Cojocaru and Bonelli did not help and only Marinella Nunez as the Lilac Fairy and Sarah Lamb as Princess Florine in my opinion should have gone home happy with their performances.

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I want to thank leonid for posting (on today's Links) an article in wihch Monica Mason explains and defends the appointment. For those who haven't seen that Linkn, here's a quote:

His appointment will appease critics who have accused the Royal Ballet of becoming a "museum company" dedicated to preserving an ageing repertoire but it will also worry some of the more traditional ballet enthusiasts.

Ms Mason attempted to reassure them last night: "It is not my intention to turn the Royal Ballet into a contemporary dance company," she told The Times. "But as I said to the dancers this morning you always have to try to keep pushing the boundaries . . . [ballet] is an artform that is only kept alive by being bold and daring and exploring new territory."

For all their classic status today, Ashton and MacMillan did exactly this, she said.

"They created a wonderful roster of work for us but none of it was created comfortably. We rely on these people to make audiences sit up and take notice and that’s what Wayne did with Chroma." McGregor said: "As the newest member of this exceptional collaborative team I look forward to sharing a rich and stimulating artistic future."

It's very clear that Mason considers McGregor's role part of a line of succession that runs from Ashton and MacMillen.

The complete article is here: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-2482593.html

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I hope those quotes were taken out of context. Otherwise, I look forward to Mr. McGregor's new version of La Fille Mal Gardee.

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Golly, this is a shock. I can certainly understand why the RB might want to have an ongoing relationship with an artist like McGregor, especially given his work with new technologies, but somehow the title resident choreographer makes it sound like a different kind of aesthetic shift.

Any idea what will happen with Random Dance -- is he still going to direct?

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At the premier of 'Chroma' the audience was arguably not a typical RB audience.Top price seats were approx 67US dollars as opposed to approx 160US dollars for Sleeping Beauty, so who is surprised?

I was also at the premiere of Chroma and can’t say the audience looked that much different from any other night. From my seat in the amphi I could look down and see the usual scattering of empty seats in the stalls where (as usual) the corporate patrons simply hadn’t bothered to turn up. The ballet regulars appeared to be out in force as it was a first night, but the ROH actually has a very small regular ballet audience, probably no more than about 5% - 10% of the house.

Younger members of the audience welcomed McGregor's dance work, I did not as I thought it was completely the wrong sort of direction for a classical ballet company to go in. Chroma was also in my opinion not a very good dance work when a new 'ballet' of quality was really was required.

Speaking as someone who could never be called a ‘younger member of the audience’ and whose ballet going pals are in the main as long in the tooth as I am, I can put my hand on my heart and say we all loved Chroma and until reading Leonid’s post I thought that the audience reaction had been 100 per cent positive. The critics (with one miserable exception) were close to ecstatic as it was a powerful work danced with commitment and obvious enjoyment by all the company members. As for it being ‘the wrong sort of direction for a classical ballet company to go in’, the RB has been dancing modern works of this kind for years now and at least McGregor engages with the company and presents the dancers in a positive way unlike those dreadful acquisitions from Forsythe a few years back.

You are quite right Bart to raise the question of whether such works might undermine the RB's style and after watching last night's performance of 'The Sleeping Beauty' I was considering if in such a short time it had already done that. Port de bras were sketchy and free, execution of steps by corps and soloists were weak and it was if the die had already been cast. An under par performance by Cojocaru and Bonelli did not help and only Marinella Nunez as the Lilac Fairy and Sarah Lamb as Princess Florine in my opinion should have gone home happy with their performances.

Actually Leonid, sketchy port de bras and weak execution of steps has been an unfortunate feature of the Royal ballet’s performances for a number of years now and the slipshod dancing you witnessed is fairly standard with or without new ballets by Wayne McGregor.

Chroma was a terrific addition to the RB repertoire, but I have serious reservations about McGregor being resident choreographer, he is a choreographer of undeniable brilliance but one that I imagine does best with a group of dancers dedicated to his works – exactly what he has at present with his Random Dance company, in the long run I don’t think this appointment will benefit the RB, Random Dance or McGregor himself.

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I hope those quotes were taken out of context. Otherwise, I look forward to Mr. McGregor's new version of La Fille Mal Gardee.
The issue may be: "La Fille Mal Gardee" mal gardee versus "La Fille Mal Gardee" bien gardee. Perhaps MacGregor would make people feel more confident if he addressed in specific terms this issue of how to protect, preserve, and even extend the classical tradition of the company, while at the same time fulfilling his other aesthetic goals.

As to the introduction of contemporary ballet: this is going to happen anyway. If MacGregor is good at is (as Mashinka and ami1436 suggest, though leonid disagrees, and Leigh finds his biggest success to be an "interesting novelty"), why not give him a shot? Or, rather, a platform -- that is, more than a one-at-a-time commission.

The balance of classical/contemporary can never please everyone, but it certainly seems do-able, if one considers the example of POB.

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Whoa :)

You're not saying that POB is an example to follow for a good balance of classical/contemporary ballets, are you? Their classical repertory is held up only by the quality of their training - choreographically it can, to put it mildly, be discussed.

Although I'm not sure of McGregor's brilliance (I've seen Random Dance do "Polar Sequences" and it felt very, well . . . random.) I did think that Chroma was a good work, and good for the company. My biggest problem with McGregor's association with the RB at this point is the title. He's not a resident choreographer and never will be one, unless he intends to disband Random Dance and start studying ballet. There's no point in McGregor addressing how he intends to deal with the classical repertory or the preservation and production of same, because I assume he doesn't. Why not Permanent Guest Choreographer?

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Good question about the future of MacGregor's involvement with/ commitment to his own contemporary company. Have any of the reports mentioned this this? A related question: just how exclusive a commitment is the role of company choreographer supposed to make to the ROB? Is this compatible with having other institutional connections such as directing another company?

I like Leigh's question about whether POB is

an example to follow for a good balance of classical/contemporary ballets[?]
My impressions are based entirely on videos, and on reports on Ballet Talk and by other writers. I would love to hear those more involved with the company to weigh in on this issue.

My own feeling is that -- given the dearth of good (living) choreographers working in the classical idiom, plus the need for great companies to continue to challenge dancers and audiences with new rep -- POB may be doing the best possible job. Certainly it seems the best from my limited vantage point.

Their classical repertory is held up only by the quality of their training - choreographically it can, to put it mildly, be discussed.
An interesting distinction. I hope that it will be discussed -- and this thread seems to be a good location, since several sources have made the comparison (favorably or not) between the Royal's approach to "balance" and classical tradition and the POB's.

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Okay, I apologise in advance if this is incoherent, especially next to everyone else's postings. I'm procrastinating, so the boards are a good place to be.....

I agree with Mashinka about the audience make-up for the Chroma triple bill. From both the amphi and stalls circle standing, one could see an audience full of what looked fairly 'typical' for the ROH....

And, for what its worth, the children and youth at the Coppelia matinee earlier in the year were just as vocal in their appreciation. In fact, I'd rather say that the adults at the Chroma bill were louder (!) (I found this most shocking and unusual for a British audience, but that is another story).

I agree with Leigh, in that I feel my main problem is with the title. What does a resident choreographer do? He's obviously not going to choreograph only for the RB, who knows how many works a year he is obligated to, and whether he will, or is meant to 'transform' the company or add another layer to its 'traditional style'.

I mean this as a serious question: what do we expect of a Resident Choreographer? What was Wheeldon's impact on NYCB? What are expectations for Possokhov (sp?) at SFB?

From the press release, it seems to me that Ms. Mason is looking at McGregor as not only a choreographer, but as someone who will be part of a larger strategy of presenting the company, and developing young *creativity*. Not dance technique, but hopefully fostering dance creation.

From the release:

Monica Mason said, "I am thrilled that Wayne wants to develop and deepen his relationship with The Royal Ballet. He will create new work, guide our young choreographers and already has plans for a major project with our Education Department. His special talent and his curiosity for new technology will enrich our creativity and assist the Company in embracing fully the exciting opportunities the 21st Century offers."

Wayne McGregor said, "I am absolutely delighted and honoured to accept this incredible opportunity from The Royal Ballet. I look forward to developing my creative relationships with all of the inspiring dancers currently flooding the Company ranks as well as building nurturing and engaging partnerships with the burgeoning choreographic talent in-house and the education and access programmes at large.

There's a heavy emphasis on coaching young choreographers, and the Education Department. bart, in a post above, inferred that this is a change to how the RB trains. It is not - although I easily understand why one might think so. The Education Department at the ROH puts on 'insight events' and ecuational events about ballet and opera. What the 'major project' might be, who knows, but if it is about movement and exploration, and (as an adult dancer, I hope), about including people in the process (ENB's Education Department does a FABULOUS job of this), power to them.

I think the crux of the matter lies in some of the first posts here, and reiterated above by Leigh. What is the advantage of having McGregor as a 'Resident Choreographer' as opposed to 'Permanent Guest Choreographer' or so? I'd say, from the release, it's probably in the guidance of young choreographers in the company (coaching for whom has said to be lacking), this education project, and 'technology' (whatever that exactly refers to). I still don't think this is the making of a 'new' company.

I do have my fears, still, about a stylistic shift to what beck_hen (I believe) eloquently called 'gumby ballerinas'. This is not to say that hypermobility/extreme flexibility hasn't been used by others at the RB (Monotones, anyone?) But, I'd hate for it to become the constant norm.

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Parenthetically, I'm glad that you liked the Royal in 4Ts, leonid, unfortunately I was banging my head against the railing watching it. They just don't get it at all. Everyone kept trying to act - Edward Watson was one of the worst offenders. It's Phlegmatic, not The Lesson. I'm starting to be convinced that American and English styles of ballet translate as well as Russian and English literature - the steps or words may make it through but the intent doesn't.

One other thing to stir into the mix - the person in the company who looks truly inspired in McGregor's work is Watson. He's also the weakest in both Ashton - I've seen weak performances of both Daphnis and Oberon where he just couldn't do the steps, or more importantly the port de bras - and less importantly Balanchine. On the opposing side, Lauren Cuthbertson and Ricardo Cervera, two fine dancers, don't have enough edge to do another McGregor piece, Qualia, justice - it needed its originators (Watson and Leanne Benjamin) and Watson's unorthodox lines. If McGregor's work become more than novelties, how to respect both the choreographer and the institution?

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This thread has gotten very interesting. My initial response to the issue of his title (permanent guest v resident) was 'don't quibble, Sybil,' but you're absolutely right in pointing out that it's the intent that matters. Like the distinction that colleges make with assistant and associate professors, one relationship is like dating, and the other is marriage. A resident generally precludes other residents, while a guest can be one of several. So if the RB is thinking marriage with Wayne McG, what does that mean for them?

I haven't seen any of his work for the RB, just some things for his own company, but those seem very different in style and intent from my image of the RB. Pacific Northwest Ballet recently did a new work by Victor Quijada, a choreographer with a mixed background that includes a great deal of club and street dancing. The new piece was like an exploded view of breaking, where things have been slowed down, taken apart and set in place so that the audience can see them more clearly. It was a fascinating work, very well received by the audience, but as I was seeing it the second or third time I was asking myself how it fit in with the rest of the rep.

It's not that I think a company's rep needs to be homogenous (and this is certainly not the first modern-influenced work PNB has commissioned) but I do think that everything needs to work together in some fashion. There needs to be something about the work and the skills needed to dance it that relates or informs other aspects of the rep, or this is just a beautiful orphan. And it's that concern that I see reflected in this thread -- that no matter how interesting or well made or challenging McGregor's work with the company might be, that it doesn't really 'go together' (to recall the old Sesame Street song). Or will this prove to be an exciting collaboration for both sides, remembering some of the work that Tharp made during her resident time at ABT?

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Sometimes a phrase or short paragraph really helps me to organize and understand my own inchoate thoughts and feelings about a topic. You have done this for me here, sandik. You've also helped push me off the fence. Thanks.

It's not that I think a company's rep needs to be homogenous (and this is certainly not the first modern-influenced work PNB has commissioned) but I do think that everything needs to work together in some fashion. There needs to be something about the work and the skills needed to dance it that relates or informs other aspects of the rep, or this is just a beautiful orphan.

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I like Leigh's question about whether POB is
an example to follow for a good balance of classical/contemporary ballets[?]
My impressions are based entirely on videos, and on reports on Ballet Talk and by other writers. I would love to hear those more involved with the company to weigh in on this issue.

If I may add something as a Parisian who follows closely the POB : please do not use it as an example in how to balance classical/contemporary ballets. We here (I mean most of the ballet-goers I know) are starving for more classical ballet, and most of us wish Brigitte Lefèvre, the company director, would quit. She has been head of the company for 11 years now, and things have definitely not improved under her direction. Most of the recent creations have been dreadful (Millepied, Brown, and a bunch of other choreographers whose names I can't even remember). The injury rate is very high (currently three out of the five scheduled Swanilda in Coppélia are injured, and the run hasn't even started), and we're lucky if we get three "real" classics (I'm not including La Dame aux Camélias or the awful rereading of Coppélia by Patrice Bart) each season. That's not enough - take for instance the Etoile Marie-Agnès Gillot, who dances a full-length ballet once every season at best (Swan Lake last year and that's it), since her build does not allow her to dance Giselle or Aurora for instance. She's gorgeous in contemporary works, but this is not enough to maintain the highest level of classical dance.

I would actually be glad if Wayne McGregor was named Resident Choreographer in Paris, as at least, from what I've read, his works actually sound exciting for the audience :)

Sorry to sound depressing, but it is very frustrating to have a company of such high level wasting its talents on works which are not worth it.

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Parenthetically, I'm glad that you liked the Royal in 4Ts, leonid, unfortunately I was banging my head against the railing watching it. They just don't get it at all. Everyone kept trying to act - Edward Watson was one of the worst offenders. It's Phlegmatic, not The Lesson. I'm starting to be convinced that American and English styles of ballet translate as well as Russian and English literature - the steps or words may make it through but the intent doesn't.

One other thing to stir into the mix - the person in the company who looks truly inspired in McGregor's work is Watson. He's also the weakest in both Ashton - I've seen weak performances of both Daphnis and Oberon where he just couldn't do the steps, or more importantly the port de bras - and less importantly Balanchine. On the opposing side, Lauren Cuthbertson and Ricardo Cervera, two fine dancers, don't have enough edge to do another McGregor piece, Qualia, justice - it needed its originators (Watson and Leanne Benjamin) and Watson's unorthodox lines. If McGregor's work become more than novelties, how to respect both the choreographer and the institution?

I did actually say that it was a rather good performance of the 4Ts by the Royal Ballet. I was not comparing it too performances seen by NYCB many years ago.

Further publicity for Wayne McGregor was to be found in tonights London Evening STandard by Norman Lebrecht which can be read on his site at this link:

http://www.scena.org/columns/lebrechtindex.htm[/url]

I should warn you that Mr Lebrecht has his own brand of hyperbole that I suppose is fine

for those who worship at the shrine of minor celebrities. If the Wayne in the title of this article had been Wayne Eagling, I would have responded more enthusiastically to his musings.

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