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Jane Simpson

New resident choreographer for Royal Ballet

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And as has been said before, style "bleeds" from one ballet to another. The Ashton looked better because the dancers were doing it all the time. It doesn't take much McGregor before it affects the way dancers approach Ashton and Petipa - that even happened with a ballet choreographer - Kenneth MacMillan.

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quick notes...

The public announcement of McGregor's appointment, regardless of what was happening back stage, actually occurred 2 days *after* the *closing* night of the bill - not much there in the announcements then, to assist the ticket sales for the Bill.

The RBS *does* provide choreographic training, and some of this work has even been produced for the mainstage annual show at the ROH - it would be fabulous if this training was maintained more evenly through the company. I have not seen some of their 'First Nights' showings, so cannot gleam for myself what new choreography within the company is looking like at the moment...

And Alexandra, I hear you on the stats... (don't get me started.... Lies, damned lies, and statistics.....) But, I appreciate the ROH at least investigating what a portion of its audience thinks. There's also been surveys on Sleeping Beauty, Tosca, future improvements at ROH.......

Hmmmm.

All I can say now is that I'm awaiting with trepidation the announcement of the 2007-8 season.

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I'd just like to say how much I enjoyed Leonid's long post -- I agree with every word in it and think it presents a very good history.

Bart, there really are dozens and dozens and dozens of classical ballets that aren't performed. The Fokine, Massine, Nijinska, DeValois, much of Ashton; Robbins, Tudor and DeMille, Petit, Leo Staats, just off the top of my head. to make another satirical analogy, think of a symphonly orchestra saying, "Well, all there is is Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, so next season we're doing jazz, rap and some Tibetan chants."

Caroline M, Leigh is right about the point of view of the site, but we're always interested in a variety of opinions.

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Uauuuu pls., pls, I'm not able to follow you, I'm not English neither understand as much as you on ballet.

I need time to read and "diggest".

But It's great, I'm so excited, it's all so interesting for me!! Thanks a lot to everybody and mainly to Leigh Witchel

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.

I'm in Flavors industry, so I understand here very well...

Well I'll keep on reading, but I insist THANKS SO MUCH!!!

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I'd just like to say how much I enjoyed Leonid's long post -- I agree with every word in it and think it presents a very good history.

Bart, there really are dozens and dozens and dozens of classical ballets that aren't performed. The Fokine, Massine, Nijinska, DeValois, much of Ashton; Robbins, Tudor and DeMille, Petit, Leo Staats, just off the top of my head. to make another satirical analogy, think of a symphonly orchestra saying, "Well, all there is is Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, so next season we're doing jazz, rap and some Tibetan chants."

Caroline M, Leigh is right about the point of view of the site, but we're always interested in a variety of opinions.

Thank you Alexandra.

The RB used to perform Massine, Cranko, Rodrigues, Tudor, Robbins, Tetley etc and there are a good number of Ashton ballets thats should be revived.

I was looking on the net for something else and I found the following.

It is from a report that might suggest a trend in Opera House attitudes to their resident ballet companies.

The Scottish Parliament, Education, Culture and Sport Committee held on Tuesday 25 September 2001 to which Robert North former Artistic Director of Scottish National Ballet was giving evidence.

A Scottish MP in written evidence stated,” That the under funded Irish National Ballet became a contemporary dance company, audiences fell dramatically and the company collapsed."

The chair, then asked,” Given your experience of the dance world, is there a likely comparison with Scottish Ballet in the Irish experience? Should Scottish Ballet go down the contemporary dance rout?”

Robert North: The Irish example is frequently cited to me and exactly the same thing is happening all over Germany. Some people even think that the policy is to change a classical company into a contemporary dance company so that it will shut down—I will be brutal about this—and then the opera houses can have the money(just for opera). I am not suggesting that that is what is happening here, but that is what happens in Germany. I can give you many examples at another time, if you would like.”

Now it would be entirely mischievous of me to draw any similarities between these examples and the current Royal Ballet/McGregor affair and so I will not do so.

However, the view has been held by many, that the Board of the Royal Opera House has long favoured the Royal Opera over the Royal Ballet and has in succeeding years given more money to the Royal Opera. Everyone knows that opera is notoriously expensive to stage and so the financial divide has been seen as reasonable.

However, if both companies are suggested to have equal artistic status, perhaps the Board should occasionally significantly redress the funding so that the Royal Ballet can make a major thrust in extending and reviving the works from its earlier repertoire and properly engage classical ballet choreographers to create new (modern) ballets rather than pursue headline grabbing events to show that the RB can be trendy.

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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.

I'm not happy with the McGregor appointment, although I enjoyed Chroma rather more than DGV. That said, as much as agree the lament, I couldn't let this note pass - there's also an RB core audience that is NOT 'expensive seat'. Several of us here are some of them! Thta doesn't make us any less concerned with the RB, its history, and its future. And no, not all of us are those 'youngsters these days'.

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It is within the context of the Royal Ballet's history that the appointment is so shocking. I find it sad that, as Alexandra mentions, there is a trend not to believe in the power and possibilities of classical ballet. Ashton's own improbable story is the most inspiring counterexample to this attitude.

A young man who is transfixed by Pavlova as a child in Lima, Peru, travels to England to take his first ballet lessons at age 20, studying under Massine, Rambert, and Nijinska! Nursing the dream of classical ballet for years, someone who would never become a great dancer went halfway around the world to become a great choreographer instead. The Royal Ballet drew others from afar, such as a young Margot Fonteyn from her girlhood in China, Lynn Seymour from Canada, Elaine Fifield and Robert Helpmann from Australia, Deanne Bergsma from South Africa, and many, many more. What did they come for? What did they believe in? Classical ballet was the shared language of this group, and the diaspora of Russian exiles they learned from. All of this shared value and sacrifice, and Wayne McGregor has never taken a ballet lesson? Why not?

Ballet's vocabulary is simply broader than that of much contemporary dance. As a young viewer at NYCB, I attend mixed bills. I've never seen the work before and have no reason to accept received wisdom. How do I rank the choreographers? 99% of the time it will be 1. Balanchine 2. Robbins 3. Wheeldon 4. Martins. Balanchine's Episodes simply has a more varied and innovative palette of movement than Jorma Elo's last work for ABT.

In my view, "contemporary" or postmodern dance also breaks less formal ground than pioneers of modern dance like Graham, Limon, or Horton. All of those dancers have "techniques" named after them, just as there is a ballet technique to work from. There was a formal coherence, a vocabulary that could be expanded, altered or subverted. Throw away dance techniques, classical or modern, and you may make a conceptual or intellectual statement, but you have lowest-common denominator movement.

This is not an indictment of McGregor specifically, but his appointment seems to me the wrong direction for a ballet company to go in.

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It is within the context of the Royal Ballet's history that the appointment is so shocking. I find it sad that, as Alexandra mentions, there is a trend not to believe in the power and possibilities of classical ballet. Ashton's own improbable story is the most inspiring counterexample to this attitude.

This is not an indictment of McGregor specifically, but his appointment seems to me the wrong direction for a ballet company to go in.

Your contextualisation of young dancers coming to London (my home city) to form and join the Sadlers Wells/Royal Ballet I found very moving. Because it relates something both of the inspiration to dance, the sacrifice and the bravery of leaving home at a turning point in their development from child to adult to artist with no surety of success.

Beck Hen you added meaning to something I knew, but took somewhat for granted.

I have watched the Royal Ballet since 1961 when I was still at school and during the sixties and early seventies attended more than a hundred performances a year. So you can tell that I have an admiration for the company and its history.

I would say that Monica Mason has attempted to revive something of the values that epitomised the RB of my youth but there are things that can possibly never be re-established when the patient in the process of resuscitation, has an experimental treatment imposed upon them with no scientific trials having been undertaken.

I think Miss Mason has been blown off course at the behest of pressures statistically imposed by central government whose funding says you must meet targets of audience capacity, no matter what artistic concerns you have with programming. If you can also attract a younger/new audiences in the process, and get wide publicity, you will have also met another government target.

The director of marketing at the Royal Opera House will be very happy with the reviews from the less knowledgeable and less wise critics as they are now in greater numbers in the British press. To get two large exposures with a premiere by McGregor and the announcement of his appointment as Resident Choreographer must have sent the Marketing Department to order Dom Perignon.

This simplistic view of how artistic organisations with a history can operate shows no real understanding of how the art of classical ballet is established and nurtured.

Classical ballet is a 'high art' form which takes many years of difficult hard work to achieve standards and despite good foundations and practice still remains a fragile art form to maintain.

Having seen a number of McGregor's dance works I cannot see how he will make a lasting contribution to the RB, but he does know how to please a non-classical ballet audience.

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I would like to echo Alexandra in her praise of Leonid. I could only wish to have seen what he has seen with his eyes and his wisdom and knowledge of ballet is a treasure. Thank you Leonid.

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This is only wild conjecture but this is my guess about a likely course for the next few years - and why, though I think McGregor's designation as RC is a mistake, I'm not up in arms.

I don't think much will change from as it is now.

McGregor will make one piece a year for the company. He won't alter his professional situation with regard to his own company or guest commissions. A lot of his association will be with Firsts, the Linbury and Clore and other programs outside the main stage - perhaps in mentoring and curatorship - and this will cause political problems with already established programs within the RB.

He may do one large scale work - perhaps even a full length something or other to épater le bourgeois (and how!) He may also do some sort of curated festival of new choreography bringing smaller contemporary companies into the opera house - or new technology. There's already something in place for the former - so more toes to step on - but McGregor will be more visible. These will be more valuable for relations with the wider British dance community than for producing good dance.

I think he will last out his contracted three years and then resign, citing scheduling conflicts. The better of the works will stay in rep about a decade more, and then be dropped as dated. And life will go on.

I could be dead wrong, of course. It all remains to be seen.

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Having seen a number of McGregor's dance works I cannot see how he will make a lasting contribution to the RB, but he does know how to please a non-classical ballet audience.

ROH audiences can hardly be called "non-classical".

If a different audience demographic was in evidence after the first night, it was almost certainly due to the much-reduced prices luring Londoners into a venue that they are usually priced out of.

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If a different audience demographic was in evidence after the first night, it was almost certainly due to the much-reduced prices luring Londoners into a venue that they are usually priced out of.

And might not the same "new audience" turn up for other programs if they were similarly priced?

In the Washington suburbs, there are two theaters that program one Russian classical company a year -- a different one each year, and it doesn't seem to matter which. the tickets are a $40 top, the houses are always sold out, and they are the most racially and age-diverse audiences you see here.

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Over the years the ROH audience has altered drastically, in the 1960/70’s the house would be packed with enthusiasts, but with the generally acknowledged decline in standards at the RB the once loyal audience for ballet has dwindled. At the premiere of Chroma I went with two friends, one in her eighties who has seen just about every RB production for the past six decades and the other in his thirties – too young to remember the RB glory days. They both enthusiastically go to every performance they can manage, but are aware that they are part of a diminishing minority of dedicated ballet-goers.

The ROH has had to bend over backwards to attract new funding since the 80’s and that means going all out for the corporate audience that buys blocks of tickets (mainly in the stalls) and are given all sorts of incentives to contribute to ROH funds. I remember being highly aggrieved on being denied entry to the vast Crush Bar at Covent Garden due to a corporate event on an occasion when I was with two very distinguished Russian dancers, one of whom wanted to look around the theatre. In any other house in Europe she would have been allowed to at least go in for a quick look, but not in the new Covent Garden, which ironically is supported as much by my taxes as by the corporate champagne crowd.

Laughable ticket prices will remain the barrier that prevents a wider public attending RB performances, as London is now officially the most expensive city in Europe and Londoners’ salaries have a lot of demands made on them so theatre-going of all kinds becomes a low priority. The success of Chroma brought out a number of ‘lapsed’ balletomanes who queued in the cold for day tickets and returns on the night; often both as I’m told the queues were prodigious in the mornings.

I really don’t think the appointment of ‘trendy’ Wayne McGregor will have any impact on attendances unless they lower prices for every new work he puts on. He certainly has his fans that support Random Dance and they will no doubt take themselves to the RB too – if they can afford to, but he is popular with the regular RB audience as well and I’ve discovered from asking around and reading comments on other dance forums that my ambivalence about his appointment puts me in a minority. The general consensus is that his acquisition is a brilliant move.

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I really don’t think the appointment of ‘trendy’ Wayne McGregor will have any impact on attendances unless they lower prices for every new work he puts on. He certainly has his fans that support Random Dance and they will no doubt take themselves to the RB too – if they can afford to, but he is popular with the regular RB audience as well and I’ve discovered from asking around and reading comments on other dance forums that my ambivalence about his appointment puts me in a minority. The general consensus is that his acquisition is a brilliant move.

I agree with everything you said except the last two sentences.

It seems to me that Chroma was essentially two things, a marketing event and the creation of McGregor as a celebrity upon which the Royal Opera House Marketing Department will undoubtedly make and manipulate his status to satisfy the Arts Council and many individual Member of House of Commons, that think that a new and young audience will be attracted to the Royal Opera House by hid headline grabbing works. In fact there were very few young people present at the premiere rather it was late thirty year olds who were sold on 'heavy metal' music which 'White Stripes' were asociated with some decades ago.

The consensus you refer to is a small number of not very experienced or educated London critics and I am sorry to say people to whom ballet is an entertainment and a 'fan' (short for fanatic) event and not art event.

I have spoken to a good number of friends who like me have 40 plus years of attending RB performances, who not only disliked the Chroma in terms of unsuitability, but also thought that the patient(ie the RB) was still in the recovery stage in performing the classics and Ashton repertoire and not yet ready, for such an extreme activity as McGregor's dance work.

As the celebrity machine begins many critics, not all however, appear to want to become trendy 'celebrities' by association having written enthusiastically about Chroma. This is a similar desire of people who attend pop concerts.

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Hmm I think you may be giving the Marketing Department a bit too much credit here! I don’t think the audience’s response could have been engineered or manipulated by the marketing alone- well if they could, maybe they should do it more often!

To me, opinions of both ‘fans’ and ‘ballet lovers’- as you would have it, though I think the distinctions are not at all clear cut- can only enrich the ballet community.

(FWIW, I also know people who have followed the Company since its early years who did appreciate the works on this triple bill.)

:P

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In fact there were very few young people present at the premiere rather it was late thirty year olds who were sold on 'heavy metal' music which 'White Stripes' were asociated with some decades ago.

Decades?

Leonid, I have virtually no auditory familiarity with rock music, but I do know from reading the arts pages in the papers that the White Stripes are a rather young band; I checked and their first album dates from 1999.

Of course the whole idea that an art work would be good or bad on the basis of the age of the audience is rather silly.

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And while I'm not super-familiar with their music, it is *not* heavy metal. Think more bluesy rock...

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It seems to me that Chroma was essentially two things, a marketing event and the creation of McGregor as a celebrity upon which the Royal Opera House Marketing Department will undoubtedly make and manipulate his status (quote)

There is an interview with Wayne Macgregor in The Daily Telegraph which partially clarifies his position and his expected contribution to the RB repertoire.

The article also includes information of new works he is creating for another major company.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jhtml...btballet130.xml

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Thanks for that Link, leonid. A very useful article, with lots of provocative thoughts that help claraify some of the speculations so far on this thread.

The aspect of "public relations gold" behind the apointment is an interesting one. As is the following:

"I would never see myself as becoming the defining force at the Royal Ballet. It's about widening the net. It's a very different role from the resident choreographers of the past, because the Royal Ballet is a very different company now, and the world is very different now. Monica told me to find out how I wanted to contribute, and I think I'll take an active role that we'll define as we go.

[ ... ]

"No, I won't be making two or three pieces a year, more like one. I am already committed to a portfolio of work for companies around the world." Next year, for instance, he will work with San Francisco Ballet, fulfil a research fellowship in the US on artificial intelligence for a Random project, direct a musical in Paris with the singer Youssou N'Dour, and make an hour-long new ballet for the Paris Opera Ballet, before fitting in something "short" for the Royal Ballet next autumn.

So McGregor will redefine the term "resident choreographer" as something nearer "chief associate", and his contribution will be in the value he adds to the Royal Ballet's artistic identity, rather than in remoulding it. He admits to having "a more anatomical interest" in the dancing body than some, which has led to his being dubbed a cyber-choreographer, a futurist, an alien.

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My favorite line was

People forget how well connected I am.

I doubt he lets anyone forget for long.

Is it just me or have his interviews with Zoe Anderson and Ismene Brown felt like this hypothetical conversation:

Him: I'm becoming a vegetarian.

Us: That's interesting. How are you going to adapt to no longer eating meat?

Him: No, you don't understand. When I say I'm a vegetarian, I'll still eat chicken and fish on occasion.

Us: That's not really a vegetarian, then, is it?

Him: I think you have a very old-fashioned view of vegetarianism.

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Maybe that ability to define things precisely as he wishes is part of "the value he adds to the Royal Ballet's artistic identity." :thumbsup:

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Our boy Wayne has given an interview to the Scotsman (in today's links courtesy of dirac)

When I ask him whether he'd like one day to run the Royal Ballet itself, he refuses to give an entirely straight answer, but implies that he would very much. "Do I need to have danced Ashton or MacMillan to be able to preserve its future? No, because there are many other brilliant people who'd do that better than me (whom I could employ]. I think I absolutely have a responsibility and care for heritage ballet, but I also have strong views about what could dynamically engage us in the future and how you really get people to be curious, and then comfortable, with going to the Royal Opera House."

In fairness, this could be the reporter's interpretation of his answer, but if his ambition weren't so loathsome it would almost be charming. Could someone tattoo on a visible part of his body "I HAVE NO QUALIFICATIONS FOR RUNNING A BALLET COMPANY" please?

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