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Jane Simpson

New resident choreographer for Royal Ballet

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Thanks, leonid. My favorite quote, from Monica Mason:

‘When I spoke to the company, I told them: I’m not about to jettison every narrative and classical ballet now that Wayne is here.'

Well, that's reassuring.

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Agreed, dirac! The article also mentioned that his contract is tied, timewise, to hers - that is, to end in 2010. The article also interestingly mentions that she 'might' hire someone else to work on narratives!

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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 [ ... ]
Thanks, Azulynn, for that correction. Those of us who observe from a great distance may be impressed by the bits and pieces we see. This is quite different from knowing anything about what we do NOT see. I should have kept that distinction in mind.

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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.

I haven't followed the company very closely in recent years, since I've moved from Paris to Lyon, but I fully agree with what you've written: under Ms Lefèvre's direction, the classical repertory has been shrinking, and I'd say especially the 20th century neoclassical repertory (e.g. Lifar's works were completely neglected, the Tudor repertory that Nureyev has brought has disappeared, the Ballets Russes works haven't been performed much...) and she definitely seems fare more interested in the modern dance premieres, even though most of such works were very short-lived.

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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.

I haven't followed the company very closely in recent years, since I've moved from Paris to Lyon, but I fully agree with what you've written: under Ms Lefèvre's direction, the classical repertory has been shrinking, and I'd say especially the 20th century neoclassical repertory (e.g. Lifar's works were completely neglected, the Tudor repertory that Nureyev has brought has disappeared, the Ballets Russes works haven't been performed much...) and she definitely seems fare more interested in the modern dance premieres, even though most of such works were very short-lived.

When you look at the survival rate of new works in the ballet repertory of the 20th century, you have no need to recourse to a mathemetician to see that very few ballets become part of the accepted canon of important or great works.

When I hear of the need for new or modern works I cringe a little, because the important or great ballets

are are never old or new, they are by their quality and significance timeless.

It worries me also Estelle that there are still many ballets of the past Royal Ballet repertory that made the Royal Ballet what it is(or was) today, appear not to be considered for revival alongside new works. Which echoes your fears about POB.

The essence of any company is not just its style of dancing but the ballets that made the ethos and reputation of that company.

In Monica Mason's short tenure as Artistic Director of the Royal Ballet, there has been much to commend her decisions so I should really trust her management. However it should be remembered that the recent audience reception of McGregor's 'Chroma' is unlikely to be the same audience to support the backbone of the RB repertoire, the Petipa classics and the Ashton ballets.

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The article also interestingly mentions that she 'might' hire someone else to work on narratives!

Yes this is what I hoped might happen when I heard about it- I also thought this might be part of his role too: to find other new choreographers. I think everyone is focusing on what his artistic influence will be (naturally) but as I understand it his role will be also as a sort of 'director of new choreography' if you like... able to also find, mentor, manage other potential new choreographers for the company and no doubt due to his prolific and varied work history (in many areas not just choreography but producing etc around the world ) he will also be able to help connect budding choreographers with set and costume/ designers/composers etc. OK, perhaps I am just projecting my own wishes onto him but this is how I see it anyway.... we'll see!

However it should be remembered that the recent audience reception of McGregor's 'Chroma' is unlikely to be the same audience to support the backbone of the RB repertoire, the Petipa classics and the Ashton ballets.

Well yes.. but on the other hand, for all its exlcusivity, time and time again ballet is being shown to be totally accessable (in fact even totally seductive) to the non-ballet going public once they are pushed across that threshold and get to see for themselves what ballet is all about, as opposed to the cliches and myths which surround it. I figure Monican Mason might also realise that some of the audience who come for the first time just because of the buzz surrounding a trendy, modern, chique work like Chroma will actually go on to explore the rest of the rep because they simply get hooked on the dance. So many times I hear people say they got hooked on ballet 'by accident'. :mad:

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Revised version, will be up at www.danceviewtimes.com Monday morning.

Breaking News!

The Royal Opera announced Friday that Sir Elton John will be named Resident Composer immediately, if not sooner. Spokesman Reginald Foggybrane broke the news, which stunned the opera world and caused other Rocker Knights to spit nails.

"When the Ballet appointed Wayne McGregor as Resident Choreographer, well, that was a real wake up call for us," Foggybrane explained. "We could not be left behind. We don't want to lose out on the youth movement that's desperate to see the lyric arts, if only they could relate to them.”

Why Sir Elton? "Well, Madonna isn't British you see, and we're not sure she actually composes her own songs. So the Board mulled it over for a bit and lots of names were bandied about, but when they remembered that beautiful Candle thingy that Sir Elton sang at Princess Diana's funeral, there was really no question that he was the right man," said Foggybrane.

Unlike McGregor, whose recent work for the Royal Ballet played to screaming audiences and rave reviews, Sir Elton has never created a work for the Opera. "Of course not," said Foggybrane. "Don’t be silly. He's not an opera composer." Quite. But he will be now? "Oh, he's very excited by this and is working on the form as we speak. He's already got melody down, of course," said Foggybrane.

“And anyway,” Foggybrane continued, “who says he has to create an 'opera'? Who's to say what 'opera' is? McGregor isn't going to do anything that looks like "Swan Lake" or "Symphonic Variations" now, is he? Of course not! They don't want that — God, nothing like THAT. They want something that no one could possibly confuse with ballet." And if Sir Elton doesn’t produce an opera, but some kind of Contemporary Song Thing? "Who cares?" said Foggybrane. "It's all a matter of what the audience and critics will buy, and we think this is something we can sell."

When it was pointed out that Sir Elton, 59, may be acclaimed in his genre, but is neither young nor especially cutting edge, Foggybrane was quick with an answer. “Baby steps, baby steps,” he said. “We’re really lagging behind the Ballet here. They’ve been stuck with all those great Heritage Works, but haven’t found anyone to make ballets on the same level for years. So they’ve had to look elsewhere and bring in people from outside and call what they make ‘ballet.'  Brilliant, isn't it? They’ve been doing non-classical works for some time now but it’s new territory for us. We can't just dive in and pull out some Punker. But Sir Elton is still a big name to young people, and at least some of our longtime subscribers will know him. We think of him as a bridge between the traditional and the contemporary worlds.” 

Foggybrane admitted that the Opera’s problem was a bit different than the Ballet’s. “Of course, we don't have that many Heritage Works to toss out, just tons of Italians with a few Germans and Frenchmen thrown in here and there, but we do need new works. After all, how many times can you see 'La Boheme'? Young people don't like it, they just can't relate to it — good Lord, who dies of TB nowadays? And the singers need new works created on them, made for their very own vocal chords. That's what it's all about, isn't it?” We wondered how the singers’ classically trained vocal chords were going to take to New Tunes, but decided to save that one for another day.

Foggybrane reminded us that Sir Elton’s appointment is well within the operatic tradition. "We must remember that we've been stuck in a stodgy period for awhile now. We need someone to shake things up a bit. Verdi was a real rebel in his day. So were Beethoven and Mozart, not to mention Puccini." Yes, they were rebels, but they were rebels within their art form, exploring new paths without bulldozing the forest, someone pointed out. Foggybrane became impatient: "That's old thinking. Opera is old news now. No one’s writing it, and young people don’t come to performances."

That seemed to be the impetus. Young people aren’t coming to performances. Young people aren’t coming to performances. But even if young people are enchanted with the appointment, someone asked, will they be coming in droves to hear Sir Elton’s work at £170 a ticket? Could that possibly be a reason why The Young aren’t first in line at the box office? “Our prices are perfectly reasonable, considering the expenses of opera,” Foggybrane sputtered. “It’s such an elaborate art form—grand designs, great music, the most respected conductors, superb singers with years and years of the finest training. That’s what our subscribers expect when they come to the Opera and they're willing to pay for it. You don’t do performances that sear the soul on the cheap!” Foggybrane said, and who could argue with that?

[Edited Sunday, December 10, 2006, 6:00 pm.]

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Wonderfully funny. Having talken a lot of stick on my local website over "The Macgregorgate affair" I needed this. I shall let the locals not wise enough to visit this site to read Alexandra's so pertinent post.

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Thanks, all. I'll be putting this up on DanceView Times this week (probably slightly altered) as a commentary, but thought I'd try it out here first to make sure people would understand it was satire!!!!!

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{ ...} I thought I'd try it out here first to make sure people would understand it was satire!!!!!
You mean it isn't true?!?!? I've already sent him a congratulatory email. :) And one to Sir Reginald, care of the Royal Opera House, as well. :)

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It might be, by Monday :) I have to say I checked the ROH site to make sure he wasn't already Resident Composer (honest I did) and then checked Sir Elton's biography to make sure he wasn't RC somewhere. It's only a matter of time. Although opera fans seem to understand the nature of their art form a lot better than ballet fans do, so maybe they're safe for a decade or two.

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BREAKING NEWS

The Royal Opera announced that Sir Elton John wil be named Resident Composer immediately, if not sooner. Spokesman Sir Reginald Foggybrane broke the news, stunning the opera world and causing other Rocker Knights to spit nails.

"When the Ballet appointed McGregor as resident choreographer, well, that was a real wake up call," Foggybrane explained. "We could not be left behind. We don't want to lose out on the youth movement that's clamoring to see the lyric arts, if only they could relate to them. We knew we had to move now."

And here I thought it was December, but obviously it's August wherever Alexandra is!

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A not-so-off-topic side note... lately the ROH has been sending out surveys (apparently randomly) about its programming, etc. I know others have received some about other bills, but I received one about this triple bill. There's room for comment, and loads of little circles to check - including how satisfied you were with casting, with the performance of the principals (!!!!), etc....

One of the questions was regarding how many performances one watches, how many have been new works, etc... Seemingly trying to guesstimate a relationship between those who liked/disliked the bill and new/regular viewers? I wonder if they'll publicise results... I'd guess not, but still....

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That's wonderful Alexandra - (and I haven't heard my husband laugh so much for ages). I just hope you are not gifted with precognition! It's all too posible!

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Thank you, Alymer. (And it's good to read you again!) I'm afraid you're right!

I've edited my post, substituting the slightly revised version I'll put up on www.danceviewtimes.com tomorrow morning.

ami, thanks for telling us about the audience survey. It's a good idea to know what your audience wants, though these days people often gear what they're offering to these surveys, rather than educating them.

They do it in politics too, at least over here. Some years ago, if people said, "We want to abolish public education because the schools are awful" or "the most important issue to us is repeal of all taxes," a candidate who cared passionately about education would use the results so that his speeches would address the issues -- explaining how public schools could be made better. Today, he'd be just as likely to change his slogan to: "Close the schools and cut the taxes!"

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I'm alternating laughing and crying. More bravas!

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I’m only a ballet and dance lover and I’m reading with much interested all your opinions as experts in this art. I even recognize that when I first read Alexandra’s post I thought it was true :) but then I realized she was sarcastic about the decision taken by Mrs. Monica Mason.

Please forgive me for my interference or even for my audacity in telling something here, but don’t you find anything positive about that? Because the current repertoire would be granted, isn’t it? And the new choreographer will bring new innovative works that can attract new audiences, don’t you think so?

Maybe I’m completely wrong and I beg you to be indulgent with me as I’m for sure not at all qualified but I thought it could be an interesting thing and a much pondered decision from a Dame that has so well managed this institution up to now :unsure:

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Please forgive me for my interference or even for my audacity in telling something here, but don’t you find anything positive about that? Because the current repertoire would be granted, isn’t it? And the new choreographer will bring new innovative works that can attract new audiences, don’t you think so?

Not interference at all -- all comments welcome!

No, I don't find anything postive about it at all. The current repertory is not granted now. It's been dumped into something called Heritage Works which, just by its name, means Something We Have To Do, something that's in another room, as it were, not something we live and breathe every day. Oh, God. Must schedule 3 Heritage Works this season.

Secondly, why do they want a new audience that doesn't like ballet? It's a ballet company. There are plenty of companies performing contemporary dance. There are very few who can dance classical ballet. The idea that "classical ballet" is a "heritage style," a dead end, a closed road, and that all new work must be in a different language is one of the things that's killing ballet.

And thirdly and most importantly for the future of the company, as has been said above, the resident choreorapher becomes the company's way of dancing, their native language. And that will have every effect on what is danced and how it is danced.

Other than that, it's a great idea! :)

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I’m only a ballet and dance lover and I’m reading with much interested all your opinions as experts in this art. I even recognize that when I first read Alexandra’s post I thought it was true :) but then I realized she was sarcastic about the decision taken by Mrs. Monica Mason.

Dear Carolina M,

Almost everybody that contributes to this forum is like you a ballet and dance lover and

the beauty of ballet talk. is that everyone can contribute a view.

I cannot agree that Alexandra’s post was sarcastic, but I do believe it was satirical and given the seriousness of the discussion I think it is an apposite response.

Firstly the Royal Ballet is a classical ballet company that has performed new works in its history created by choreographers who had a history of working in or studying classical ballet. New ballets in the RB repertory in the past that would be considered to have been fairly ground breaking, were created by choreographers who knew how classical ballet dancer’s bodies worked and that their works would fit in the overall RB canon.

Wayne McGregor has no such background in classical ballet.

Modern dancers cannot in general, perform classical ballet at a level that would be acceptable in a Petipa ballet. Likewise I am never really convinced when classical ballet dancers appear in overtly modern dance works. Skills may be present in such cross-over performances and perhaps also personality, inspiration and star quality. I am however, generally left with the feeling that I have witnessed a 'stunt' to attract popular media coverage, rather than a wider dance audience, or an artistic theatrical experience.

Many 'great works' of the classical and neo-classical repertoire remain 'modern' because they speak as loudly to today's audience as they did to audiences in the past.

'Chroma', whatever you may think of this work (I thought it poor on several levels) was undoubtedly a stunt. The publicity and marketing confirm this and the announcement of Mr. McGregor's appointment as 'Resident Choreographer' two days after the works premiere, confirms this. The whole affair smacks of the current 'celebrity making event' that has infected the media in outrageous proportions and to which once respectable bodies are now ready to stoop.

'Chroma' was given at a subsidised performance (especially low prices were introduced) which mean that the standard repertory of the Royal Ballet, the Petipa classics, and the standard repertory of 19th century opera enabled this. I do not see such sibsidising practice as wrong, if it is truly necessary to introduce new works that will enhance the repertoire and it is the repertoire that is the important matter in this 'McGregorgate Affair'.

On the same bill as 'Chroma' was a new work by Christopher Wheeldon that was as entirely 'modern' as McGregor's but used the training and the skills of the company that suited the dance genre they belonged to. Balanchine’s 'The Four Temperaments' completed the bill and confirmed that there is no such thing as a 'modern' work meaning contemporaneous to the actual day, as Balanchine’s work is convincingly as modern as both McGregor's and Wheeldon's works might be called , yet was created 60 years ago.

The question is are new 'stunt' works equal to necessary works, that will expand the repertory of a classical ballet company and give audiences and dancers new challenges. I would say not at the expense of the plenty of appropriate works from the historic RB archive of ballets and elsewhere, that can make the real contribution to the repertoire that an inappropriate 'stunt' work cannot. The answer to my question therefore is no. That is of course if you believe in the ethos and value the history of the Royal Ballet.

I have sat through very many uneven full length works and failed works by Kenneth MacMillan that drove me to despair as the Royal Ballet lost its uniqueness of style established by the works of Ashton, DeValois, Cranko and indeed MacMillan who had earlier contributed so much. From the 1970's the RB went into a performing and aesthetic decline, during which time the Ashton repertoire and the 19th century ballets lost style and detail.

Of course the Royal Ballet has changed over the years as the Royal Ballet School, especially in recent years, has lost its way and no longer produces dancers of the calibre of Bussell and Cope that alone Sibley or Dowell. Without the import of some excellent dancers from other traditions, the Royal Ballet could not exist, but this has to some degree added to the gap in the performing tradition of the RB’s core repertoire which undoubtedly will improve as dancers frow further into roles.

These are matters which reflect upon the Board of the Royal Opera House who in the last 36 years have as far as the Royal Ballet are concerned made only one appropriate major appointment and that is Monica Mason as Artistic Director.

Unlike previous incumbents, Miss Mason is identified with and has shown that she identifies with, the defined ‘uniqueness’ that once separated the Royal Ballet from other classical ballet companies.

The alternative to appointing Wayne McGregor(by the ROH Board), is to recognize and begin to develop choreographic talent at the Royal Ballet School and give opportunities for public performances. To allow choreographic development for a wide range of RB dancers through opportunities such as the groups that Leslie Edwards once led. To also search out across the world for new choreographers that will enhance the RB repertoire in a way that sustains its difference in a classical ballet world where many companies are dancing identical repertoires.

I personally cannot see how Mr. McGregor can make the necessary sustainable contribution to the RB ballet, having seen his ‘populist’ work (with some members of the audience) at the Royal Opera House and Sadlers Wells and denounce his appointment as Resident Choreographer as wrong-headed and sending out the wrong message to the RB’s expensive seat core audience.

The Royal Ballet is required to improve its audience attendance, especially for 'triple bills'. Does 'Chroma' presage future 'stunt' works with their attending publicity and subsidies. Will critics hoping to achieve the vulgarity of 'celebrity' status by association, support such events. I hope not and I doubt it.

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I am one who hopes -- naively, perhaps -- that it would be possible for these huge national ballet companies to encourage and perform both classical and contemporary work, each at the highest level. It may be okay for the Metropolitan Opera to stick largely to the traditional repertoire, because opera has such a vast and deep body of classical work to draw from. Classical ballet does is not so fortunate in its rep, which -- though extraordinarily beautiful -- is much smaller and more limited in scope.

The question that has to be addressed is how DO these vast companies present both classical and contemporary work while not adulterating or crippling the nature of the classical base. Even if you try to draw a line or create a barrier between the two types of ballet, such lines/barriers usually turn out to be very permeable.

Alexandra raises an excellent point:

And thirdly and most importantly for the future of the company, as has been said above, the resident choreorapher becomes the company's way of dancing, their native language.

I suppose that it is conceivable that this would be avoided. But given the extraordinary influence that the company choreographer position once had under Ashton and MacMillen in the past, it seems that the Royal is exceptionally vulnerable to a new kind of stylistic take-over today.

P.S. Leonid was posting at the same time I was, and I very much appreciate what he's written, which has answered one of my biggest questions. Especially:

Firstly the Royal Ballet is a classical ballet company that has performed new works in its history created by choreographers who had a history of working in or studying classical ballet. New ballets in the RB repertory in the past that would be considered to have been fairly ground breaking, were created by choreographers who knew how classical ballet dancer’s bodies worked and that their works would fit in the overall RB canon.

Wayne McGregor has no such background in classical ballet.

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P.S. Leonid was posting at the same time I was, and I very much appreciate what he's written, which has answered one of my biggest questions. Especially:

Firstly the Royal Ballet is a classical ballet company that has performed new works in its history created by choreographers who had a history of working in or studying classical ballet. New ballets in the RB repertory in the past that would be considered to have been fairly ground breaking, were created by choreographers who knew how classical ballet dancer’s bodies worked and that their works would fit in the overall RB canon.

Wayne McGregor has no such background in classical ballet.

My God Bart. You are a quick reader.

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Without this sounding like a pile on, you'll find the general tenor of the site tends to be towards this opinion, CarolinaM. When Alexandra founded it, one of its purposes was to be a place that was against indiscriminate fusion of classical and modern dance.

Here's an analogy. If you add a teaspoon of soy sauce to a steak, you get steak with an interesting flavor. If you decide that's great and use them in equal measures, you get something inedible. In every mixture, you need to know what's the base and what is flavoring.

A teaspoon of McGregor is an interesting flavoring. Equal proportions McGregor and Ballet is not knowing what is what any longer.

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And thirdly and most importantly for the future of the company, as has been said above, the resident choreorapher becomes the company's way of dancing, their native language. And that will have every effect on what is danced and how it is danced.

It was very noticeable at the end of the Ashton centenary how much better the company was dancing. Cleaner, crisper, with far more attention to ports de bras, and generally a more lively approach. And not just in the Ashton ballets - it showed in everything they did. It would appear that the technical demands that Ashton made on his dancers - principals, soloists, corps de ballet - forced them all to raise their game a notch or two. I'm not sure what we can look forward to with Mr McGregor. Yet more extreme extensions, I suppose and probably more injuries.

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