Jump to content


New resident choreographer for Royal Ballet


  • Please log in to reply
72 replies to this topic

#46 leonid

leonid

    Platinum Circle

  • Foreign Correspondent
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,382 posts

Posted 11 December 2006 - 05:59 AM

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.

#47 bart

bart

    Diamonds Circle

  • Board Moderator
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 7,310 posts

Posted 11 December 2006 - 06:03 AM

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.



#48 leonid

leonid

    Platinum Circle

  • Foreign Correspondent
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,382 posts

Posted 11 December 2006 - 06:13 AM

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.

#49 Leigh Witchel

Leigh Witchel

    Editorial Advisor

  • Editorial Advisor
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,466 posts

Posted 11 December 2006 - 06:27 AM

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.

#50 Alymer

Alymer

    Bronze Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 337 posts

Posted 11 December 2006 - 06:34 AM

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.

#51 Leigh Witchel

Leigh Witchel

    Editorial Advisor

  • Editorial Advisor
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,466 posts

Posted 11 December 2006 - 06:38 AM

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.

#52 ami1436

ami1436

    Bronze Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 325 posts

Posted 11 December 2006 - 06:44 AM

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.

#53 Alexandra

Alexandra

    Board Founder

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 9,234 posts

Posted 11 December 2006 - 06:55 AM

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.

#54 CarolinaM

CarolinaM

    Senior Member

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPip
  • 161 posts

Posted 11 December 2006 - 07:03 AM

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!!!

#55 leonid

leonid

    Platinum Circle

  • Foreign Correspondent
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,382 posts

Posted 11 December 2006 - 07:18 AM

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.

#56 ami1436

ami1436

    Bronze Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 325 posts

Posted 11 December 2006 - 07:19 AM

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'.

#57 beck_hen

beck_hen

    Senior Member

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPip
  • 128 posts

Posted 11 December 2006 - 11:14 AM

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.

#58 leonid

leonid

    Platinum Circle

  • Foreign Correspondent
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,382 posts

Posted 11 December 2006 - 02:49 PM

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.

#59 SanderO

SanderO

    Silver Circle

  • Inactive Member
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 621 posts

Posted 11 December 2006 - 03:39 PM

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.

#60 Leigh Witchel

Leigh Witchel

    Editorial Advisor

  • Editorial Advisor
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,466 posts

Posted 11 December 2006 - 03:57 PM

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.


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):