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What are the 5 or 10 "best" ballet companies?


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#16 Haglund's

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Posted 02 March 2007 - 07:08 PM

-- I rag on the NYCB orchestra as much as anyone, but everyone realizes, I think, that most of the responsibility rests with the conductor. Yes?

-- I'm always a bit wary about calls for a national style, because of the underlying cultural characteristics that permit national style to emerge. Calls for consistent style are just as suspect. What does that mean other than physical homogeneity? The bigger question is: How can a company insist on a consistent or national style and respectably perform a diverse, international repertory? The Royal Ballet still ocassionally puts white wigs on everyone to achieve the desired homogeneity.

I'm no fan of Peter Martins, but I do credit him with changing the composition of the company to look more like regular humans. I question whether in the days of Balanchine we would have ever seen some of the pint size dynamos in the company today or even someone as tall as Reichlen. The company still looks somewhat wasp-ish. It's interesting to look at the collection of children in the Nutcracker each year, because it is far more culturally representative of New York than the company members.

#17 Alexandra

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Posted 02 March 2007 - 07:14 PM

I'm unclear as to why the Royal Danish Ballet would ever not be included in a list of the best companies in the world.


Many people argue that it's got the School, and the indigenous choreographer, and its school produces world class dancers, but it doesn't have a great corps (and one could argue that if it did, it wouldn't be Bournonville's company) and it doesn't have enough Bournonville ballets to live on, and nothing of equal value created since the 1870s to stand with it. Others would argue that School, Bournonville and consistently produced great dancers is enough to stay In.

I think there's a difference between SAB using those trained outside the walls and other companies taking in outsiders late in their training, is that, with very few exceptions, the SAB latecomers have come from NYCB-related schools, and/or taken summer classes and will easily fit in, whereas ABT has always taken people from a variety of Schools (and many with no School but medals).

As for getting booted out, that's an interesting question. In the 1960s and 1970s, I can't remember seeing any British or American reviewer linking POB in the Big Five (very sloppy corps, no native repertory, School, and school, on the downhill slide) but now most people do. Was it just because we didn't see them and so out of sight, out of mind? Or because they had slid so far they were out of contention? BUT because they have a great School, and have made their School their raison d'etre, and produce world-class dancers, they're back In.

All of this doesn't mean that other companies aren't "better" -- don't give great performances -- on any given Sunday. Arlene Croce wrote something that made a lot of this make sense to me (and will make some of you pick up brickbats). It was meant to describe, and be complimentary of, the Joffrey, then New York's third company: "New York City Ballet is a third-rate first-rate company. ABT is just plain second rate. But the Joffrey is a first-rate third-rate company."

#18 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 02 March 2007 - 07:16 PM

If nothing else, I've seen all the companies in question, most of them in their home theaters, within the space of about half a decade - the company I know the least are the Danes and I've seen Paris less frequently in the last three years than I would like.

That said, I'm with Alexandra. The companies fluctuate within the top group, mostly dependent on who's directing them. I think it's less useful to rank them than to talk about the calculus of the company - where it's heading and at what rate.

The companies in a period of strength and consolidation are the Bolshoi and the Royal. NYCB is treading water, the Mariinsky is heading into a rough patch; it needs to resolve its leadership issues to regain itself. ABT has had a consistent identity problem - it has dancers but no viewpoint. I haven't seen signs of this changing. When I saw Paris three years ago they were impeccably trained (the best of all of the above) but still running on Nureyev's momentum. That will not last much longer as his dancers retire, but I don't know the present state of the company. When I saw the Danes in 2000 they were also in a confused period, but again I don't know the present state of the company.

The most important point is, change the leadership and it all changes. They all have excellent dancers. That's not a point of distinction between the companies. 90% is what happens at the top and that can change in a matter of months. Both the Royal and the Bolshoi came into their good periods from distinctly worse ones.

#19 volcanohunter

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Posted 02 March 2007 - 07:30 PM

POB's emerging as a great company is relatively new, isn't it? As of the 80's, mustn't it be? When I lived in Paris in the early 70s, I was aware of them, and saw them once, but I was not overwhelmed by 'Notre Dame de Paris.'

To hear Clement Crisp tell it, the POB was a great company in the first half of the 19th century, it was great under Lifar and became great again under Nureyev.

But I remember hearing an interview with Yuri Grigorovich when, for some unfathomable reason, the POB decided to revive Ivan the Terrible. When asked about Nureyev, Grigorovich was dismissive of his choreography (fair enough) and downplayed his artistic leadership. According to Grigorovich, the POB is great because of its school, and if it's great today, it's because of Claude Bessy, not Rudolf Nureyev.

I'm not agreeing with Grigorovich, but I can see how a great school is the source of a company's resiliency. I remember when the Bolshoi visited New York in 1990, the headline of the Dance Magazine review read, "Bolshoi means big, bol'noi means sick." Yet quite of few posters have voted for the Bolshoi as the finest company in the world. Ratmansky couldn't have pulled that off if he didn't have excellent dancers at his disposal, nor could Nureyev have turned the fortunes of the POB around so quickly if he didn't have brilliant young dancers to do it with.

#20 Dale

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Posted 02 March 2007 - 07:38 PM

-- I rag on the NYCB orchestra as much as anyone, but everyone realizes, I think, that most of the I'm no fan of Peter Martins, but I do credit him with changing the composition of the company to look more like regular humans. I question whether in the days of Balanchine we would have ever seen some of the pint size dynamos in the company today or even someone as tall as Reichlen. The company still looks somewhat wasp-ish. It's interesting to look at the collection of children in the Nutcracker each year, because it is far more culturally representative of New York than the company members.


What about Gloria Govrin? She was a tall dancer during Balanchine's time, as was Farrell (I know, 5'6" or 5'7" but at the time she was considered tall), Mimi Paul, Nina Pedorova, Diana Adams, Kyra Nichols, Maria Calegari, etc... Balanchine championed tall female dancers - "more to see," he said. As for the other end of the spectrum -- Suki Schorer, Nichol Hlinka, Gelsy Kirkland, Patricia McBride, and more.

#21 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 02 March 2007 - 07:51 PM

A school is essential, but you can look at companies that have floundered even with great schools to know that Grigorovich was wrong - and I've seen POB do Ivan the Terrible. Nureyev had a point.

Not only that but Grigorovich is discounting Nureyev's eye for talent. Bessy may have produced them but Nureyev developed them. Ask any of his "children", including Guillem. He may not have been a great choreographer but he was a better director than he gets credit for.

In the same way, Ratmansky is dealing with the same school his predecessor had. So why would it be the school that accounts for the improvement in things, and not Ratmansky?

#22 volcanohunter

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Posted 02 March 2007 - 08:19 PM

A school is essential, but you can look at companies that have floundered even with great schools to know that Grigorovich was wrong...

Indeed. The state of the Bolshoi towards the end of Grigorovich's tenure is proof positive of that.

#23 Alexandra

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Posted 02 March 2007 - 09:01 PM

Baryshnikov on Charlie Rose just said that, when he was directing it, he knew ABt would never be a company at the level of Paris Opera because it couldn't afford to have a great classical academy. :clapping:

#24 drb

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Posted 02 March 2007 - 09:36 PM

Baryshnikov on Charlie Rose just said that, when he was directing it, he knew ABt would never be a company at the level of Paris Opera because it couldn't afford to have a great classical academy. :)

Yes, and that is more than just a school per se. Mr. Baryshnikov made the statement in the context of discussing his decision to bring in great modern dance choreographers while he directed ABT. I think in this context, ABT would never be at the level of POB in the classics. Ironic that ABT would make the all-too-obvious error of showing Bayadere to Paris! The same management that couldn't recognize the exposure of taking Kingdom of the Shades to POB's turf probably wouldn't know how to use products of such an academy.
It is good that ABT is recovering a little bit of its tradition in the Fall seasons. But even if it had an academy, would the young dancers from it ever get a chance???

#25 Hans

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Posted 02 March 2007 - 09:55 PM

Excellent question, drb. ABT can have as many schools as it wants, but none is going to be successful unless it produces ABT-caliber dancers.

While I don't see a need for every country to have a "national" style, I do think each company needs to have its own style, and that has nothing to do with physical homogeneity. Style is about particular ways various steps are done, precise angles of the head and arms, and various "default" positions and movements for certain steps. It is also about the quality of movement used during various steps and about how the dancers relate to each other.

#26 Brice

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Posted 02 March 2007 - 10:46 PM

[H]opefully the JKO is much more serious than that. And not to be argumentative -- because I'd do whatever I can to help raise ABT's status -- but almost all (if not all?) of those Studio Company dancers that you cite come from academies not affiliated with ABT, such as Kirov Academy of DC, Central Pa Youth Ballet, No. Car Dance Theater, Harid, etc.

And while 90% or so of NYCB's dancers are SAB grads, few of them got all their training there.

Not being argumentative, either. Just pointing to the absence, in the US, of a real national academy -- or two -- as in Denmark, Russia, France and to a lesser degree, if I have the right sense of it, England.


Yes, but difficult when ballet training begins at age 8, and talent is spread all over the country, for dancers to get all their training from SAB. Very few families are willing to part with their dancers until they reach at least 13-14-15.The JKO school will never truly be able to attract national talent if it does not have the same structure and support that SAB offers - residence hall, cafeteria, etc. The relationship SAB has with NYCB in terms of feeding dancers into the company is unique as well as commendable.

#27 carbro

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Posted 02 March 2007 - 10:54 PM

The relationship SAB has with NYCB in terms of feeding dancers into the company is unique as well as commendable.

Forgive the nitpicking, but "unique" only in the US. Kirov, Bolshoi, Perm, Kiev, POB, RB and RDB all have residential programs for their students.

#28 volcanohunter

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Posted 02 March 2007 - 11:43 PM

Kirov, Bolshoi, Perm, Ukraine, Paris, London and Denmark all have residential programs for their students.

For that matter, so does the National Ballet of Canada, though I can't say the company has an unmistakable style. Perhaps that must be formulated by great choreographers. Transplanting Cecchetti training and classics with an English School emphasis across the Atlantic isn't the most obvious way to spawn a distinctive identity. But I agree with Hans completely about the importance of a "default" style for each company, and I would think this would be difficult to achieve without uniform training.

#29 mmded

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Posted 03 March 2007 - 05:30 AM

Here is a quote by Reid Anderson, director of the Stuttgart Ballet Company on the importance of ballet schools to companies. The link is http://www.acts.hdm-...de/reviews.html

"I fear that both ballet schools and ballet companies tend to be the first target for cuts. So you’re always aware that the future of dance could be a bit gloomy. Stuttgart is a positive exception. People here have made ballet part of their lives. But elsewhere, few people realize what happens when you start cutting. One key example is cutting subsidies to ballet schools. When you do this, you remove a vital support from the local ballet company. Large casts draw upon a pool of dancers from the school. One third of my dancers come from the John Cranko School. A company of sixty dancers plus a local school can do almost anything. Without the back-up of students from the school a company loses flexibility and has to concentrate on small shows."

#30 Brice

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Posted 03 March 2007 - 05:40 AM

The relationship SAB has with NYCB in terms of feeding dancers into the company is unique as well as commendable.

Forgive the nitpicking, but "unique" only in the US. Kirov, Bolshoi, Perm, Kiev, POB, RB and RDB all have residential programs for their students.


Nitpicking forgiven, I actually agree wholeheartedly, and should have stated "in this country", and while criticism's of SAB are legitimate, as no instituion is perfect, it is an academy with the necessary support and structure to train dancers for the company, and the relationship between the school and the company is very solid. It is understanfdable why young dancers wish to train at an academy that not only is attached to a company, but has a longstanding tradition of moving dancers from school to company. And while SAB is not the ony school that does this (SanFran,Miami, PNB...), the relationship between ABT and the JKO school is still not determined.....


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