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Artistic Direction at ABT


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#31 Alexandra

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Posted 12 August 2008 - 09:35 AM

Interesting points, Helene. At the beginning, ABT, I have read, considered itself a Fokine company -- not quite a school, but at least an attitude. BUT it needed to be eclectic in order to dance Tudor-Robbins-DeMille, and other choreographers. I think this only became a problem when the company started dancing a lot of Petipa. It didn't have its own way (School) of dancing Petipa. KAB has been a feeder school to ABT in the past ten years. I've lost count, but I think they have seven KAB graduates (disclaimer: I teach ballet history at KAB), and it is a Vaganova school (and School), but, as Mme. Vinogradova once said about Michele Wiles, "They have already started to change her," after she had been in the company about a month. The current direction doesn't want that look/style/School. Too extreme? Too European? (That's a defensible point.) I think that's why they're trying again to start a school, and press releases indicate that they're consciously working on defining a classical style -- taking bits from several techniques, as the Royal did when it started.

#32 Mel Johnson

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Posted 12 August 2008 - 09:44 AM

BT's first members contained a large contingent trained by Mikhail Mordkin. Other sources were SAB (even then!) and various Ballet Russe students. Having a dedicated company in the city your school serves as a big plus; it provides a venue for consumers to view the finished product. The Kirov in DC is a good school, but what company do they fill? The Maryinsky? The Universal? There is no there there when your school is remote from the company.

Corps work was largely the province of the ballet master and/or the regisseur. Dimitri Romanoff was remorseless about "Les Sylphides" - not an eyelash out of place. Other corps as in Giselle were subject to the vagaries of the ballet master schedule and sometimes did not receive the heavyweight supervision needed to achieve "together would be nice!"

#33 Helene

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Posted 12 August 2008 - 11:08 AM

The current direction doesn't want that look/style/School. Too extreme? Too European? (That's a defensible point.)

Quite a change from when I first saw the company in the early 1970's, where having a European or Russian, or Latin American style sold tickets, at least among the principals. Makarova put on her own shows with Nagy as a tender, thoughtful partner; seeing Fracci and Bruhn in the same roles was like travelling to another continent.

KAB has been a feeder school to ABT in the past ten years.

Ironically, ABT is quite big for seven to make an influence, especially if the company is trying to change their style.

For a smaller company, with a corps in the 20-30 range, seven dancers could have a huge influence, especially if the Artistic Director chose those students deliberately for their style and training.

#34 Alexandra

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Posted 12 August 2008 - 12:26 PM

The current direction doesn't want that look/style/School. Too extreme? Too European? (That's a defensible point.)

Quite a change from when I first saw the company in the early 1970's, where having a European or Russian, or Latin American style sold tickets, at least among the principals. Makarova put on her own shows with Nagy as a tender, thoughtful partner; seeing Fracci and Bruhn in the same roles was like travelling to another continent.


Yes, in Baryshnikov's day they were aiming for a Kirov style and had a Kirov balletmistress to work with the corps. There were a lot of complaints that Baryshhikov had completely changed the company and was trying to turn it into Kirov West. (And a lot of people who were very happy about that.) But now there are dancers from lots of different schools (and Schools :o )

KAB has been a feeder school to ABT in the past ten years.

Ironically, ABT is quite big for seven to make an influence, especially if the company is trying to change their style.


For a smaller company, with a corps in the 20-30 range, seven dancers could have a huge influence, especially if the Artistic Director chose those students deliberately for their style and training.


Yes. The school isn't trying to be an influence. It's just a school -- one of many schools in this country that teach Vaganova. We have graduates in many different companies with many different styles, and I'm sure the others do as well.

I think that the pre-Baryshnikov ABT was proud to dance Tudor ballets "in Tudor," if you think of style as a language, and Robbins ballets in his style, and "Les Sylphides" like Fokine, and "Swan Lake" a la Ivanov. One of the divides between Europeans and Americans on the style question has long been that we criticize them for dancing Balanchine, say, in their own company's style, and they criticize us for not having a style.

#35 bart

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Posted 12 August 2008 - 12:46 PM

I think that the pre-Baryshnikov ABT was proud to dance Tudor ballets "in Tudor," if you think of style as a language, and Robbins ballets in his style, and "Les Sylphides" like Fokine, and "Swan Lake" a la Ivanov.

And, of course, they HAD Tudor -- and Robbins -- other lesser creators like de Mille -- in the studio. They also had Fokine earlier on -- and people who had learned directly from those who had participated in the original Swan Lakes.

#36 Alexandra

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Posted 12 August 2008 - 12:58 PM

Yes -- and that does help! :o

#37 vrsfanatic

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Posted 12 August 2008 - 01:48 PM

Not to make it a competition of any kind, but Harid also has had at least 7 graduates in the various ranks of ABT since 1996. If one scrolls through the bios of the dancers, both American and not, one will find that ABT has a rather large Vaganova influence amongst the ranks.

There were quite a few Vaganova trained and influenced ballet masters and one company teacher at ABT during the Barishnikov years and in the the School of Classical Ballet, the entire faculty was trained in a Soviet ballet program either as dancers, teachers and/or both. During those years an attempt was made to form a school and a uniform schooling.

The question of a school and schooling however has yet to be sustained long enough to produce a generation of dancers to feed into the company since the 1960s. Hopefully they will be able to maintain the existing school long enough to see positive results. It is highly unlikely however that the company will hire students from only their school.

Only time will tell. :o

#38 canbelto

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Posted 12 August 2008 - 02:12 PM

I'm of two minds about this. One is that for a ballet like La Bayadere, having 32 perfectly trained Shades that are all sprung from the same School is breathtaking. If you don't believe me see the POB and Kirov dvd's. The ABT will never have that kind of perfect uniformity. Even if they did, say, Symphony in C, their corps de ballet will never look as natural as the NYCB, or even the Kirov, who dance in the style of the School no matter what.
On the other hand, at the ABT there is a feeling of Marco-Polo-esque wonder. When East meets West, North meets South. This kind of meeting of disparate styles has produced some of the greatest partnerships, and it would never happen at companies where everyone is from one School, and Outsiders Not from the School are not welcomed.
For examples of great partnerships that happened when two dancers of disparate Schools met, there's Fracci and Bruhn, Makarova and Nagy, Fonteyn and Nureyev (well they weren't ABT but you get my point), and in more recent times, Bocca and Ferri, Acosta and Rojo, Cojocaru and Kobborg, etc, etc. This year when I saw Marcelo Gomes and Veronika Part dance together, I realized "only at the ABT would this happen." Two dancers from two totally different places and schools, dancing like soulmates.
What I do think could be VASTLY improved with the ABT is the quality of their productions, from Swan Lake to Sleeping Beauty, and their programming/repertoire.

#39 garybruce

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Posted 12 August 2008 - 03:21 PM

I've only seen ABT twice in the past 10 years, but my experience of Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty was not overwhelming.

I'm not talking about the excellent, if not always well cast, leads. I'm talking about the combination of all dance elements in the production. (I assume this is is one of the things that garybruce meant when he used the term "art direction" at the beginning of this thread.)

The Sleeping Beauty, for example, was wonderfully danced by just about everyone on stage. But it was not danced in a a stylistically unified or consistent manner. Nor was it danced in a way that suggested either the the royal setting, the presence of powerful spirits, or the grandeur of the themes. As a package, it looked "nice." It was danced with great technical skill if not with all that much sense of time and place. It was bright. It was snappy. It was youthful. It was, even with extensive editing, rather faithful to the broad outlines of story and music.

Perhaps, on second thought, that IS what "American" style means to most people. For something like SL or SB, I prefer the aesthetic unity still visible in companies operating from and within a sense of "ecole."


Yes, that is what I was referring to--the ways in which the various dance elements cohere in a single overall vision of ballet. And perhaps the American contribution to ballet may just be our athletic approach to everything--presented with pace and energy but not much sense of tradition or even story context. Given the various schools of thought, any AD should select which would take precedence over the other styles in terms of his company's repertory, instruction and production values. But Kevin McKenzie has been AD of ABT for 18 years, which means the ABT Board of Trustees want this directionless direction or he would be history.

#40 Alexandra

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Posted 12 August 2008 - 03:31 PM

Yes, that is what I was referring to--the ways in which the various dance elements cohere in a single overall vision of ballet. And perhaps the American contribution to ballet may just be our athletic approach to everything--presented with pace and energy but not much sense of tradition or even story context. Given the various schools of thought, any AD should select which would take precedence over the other styles in terms of his company's repertory, instruction and production values. But Kevin McKenzie has been AD of ABT for 18 years, which means the ABT Board of Trustees want this directionless direction or he would be history.


I agree! I think you've nailed the approach -- but I don't think that dancing the 19th century repertory "with pace and energy but not much sense of tradition or even story context" is much to be proud of.

#41 Mel Johnson

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Posted 12 August 2008 - 03:35 PM

And pardon the personal observation, but I truly believe that McKenzie owes his long tenure at least in part to being a really, REALLY nice guy! :o

#42 carbro

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Posted 12 August 2008 - 05:00 PM

In part, no doubt, but the board must be happy with his product. After a while, in the nature of these things, doesn't a board become the boss' board, anyway?

It should also be noted that ABT rarely takes young corps dancers directly into the company from . . . whatever school/s provided earlier training. ABT II (Formerly Studio Co., formerly ABT II :o) serves as a transitional phase where, presumably, the young dancers master whatever stylistic elements the artistic staff demands.

#43 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 12 August 2008 - 07:04 PM

For examples of great partnerships that happened when two dancers of disparate Schools met, there's Fracci and Bruhn, Makarova and Nagy, Fonteyn and Nureyev

And don't forget, way before all of them, the first "in" BT's partnership, where the Caribbean met Europe: Alonso/Youskevitch.

#44 Amy Reusch

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Posted 12 August 2008 - 07:45 PM

Are "showcase for stars" and "choreographer's vision" mutually exclusive? Did showcasing blockbuster superstars like Baryshnikov do wonders for the box office but sink the company once Tudor & choreographic company departed? ABT always showcased stars, didn't it? Why has no choreographer been resident since Tharp left? Was Tharp's rehearsal process so expensive that they were loathe to go there again? Why is there no resident choreographer?

#45 Mel Johnson

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Posted 13 August 2008 - 02:59 AM

It's not the rehearsal process that's so expensive with Tharp, it's Tharp herself. Her fees are just as high as Jerome Robbins'.


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