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So let's talk about provincial and international companies.


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#1 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 08 December 2001 - 02:42 AM

I'm extracting a topic from the essay I wrote last month to make it easier to discuss. So what's a provincial company and what's an international company?

The distinction I make is that a company with an international style is an importer of ballet, bringing the world outside to its city. A provincial company is one that defines and reflects its home.

Of course, no company is solely one or the other. Paris Opera Ballet has a repertory that is both home grown and far-flung, but they are so uniform in style that it is uniquely defining.

Do people have more to add to this definition? Is your home city's company one or the other? Would you prefer it differently?

#2 liebs

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Posted 08 December 2001 - 04:28 PM

Leigh, I am very interested by your definition of provincial. It is certainly different than the way the term is usually used. In most current contexts, provincial is almost perjorative - taken to mean parochial or even small minded.

As you define, I would call NYCB a provincial company. It has a distinctive repertoire, although many Balanchine works are danced elsewhere, and a particular style. Even the classical ballets, Beauty, Swan Lake and the Nutcracker, are seen through the lense of the company's own style.

Formerly, the Royal Ballet could also have been described as a provincial company. From the lates 60's through probably the 80's, they danced a particular rep - Ashton, McMillan and the classics - in a highly recognizable style. I haven't seen them since they brought Dowell's Beauty to the Met but from what I read they seem to have begun a transition to an international company. Certainly Stretton seems to determined to take them in that direction and his choice as AD seems to indicate that this transition was desired by the Board.

ABT has always seemed to me (and I've been attending since the late 60's) to be an international company. And sometimes, it has just seemed to be a company with no artistic point of view.

I unfortunately have not and don't see enough of companies like the Kirov, Bolshoi or Paris Opera to have an opinion on their status. Clearly from the discussions on this board, the Cubans are a provincial company par excellance.

#3 felursus

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Posted 08 December 2001 - 09:58 PM

I would have said that the RB was the National company. In contrast, a company like Northern Dance Theater or Scottish Ballet were provincial companies (although the Scots might like to argue that Scottish Ballet - current problems aside) is really THEIR national company. What's the difference? A national company is more likely to tour abroad to represent its nation in major venues. Regional/provincial companies exist to spread their art to the local area first and to the rest of their nation second. If they tour outside their own country, they know full well that they are doing it on the heels of the national company. Ok - Britain has a problem here - they also have the ENB which does tour abroad to major international locations but still doesn't have the cachet that the RB does. The US does have a definition problem. The NYCB is basically Balanchine oriented - a specialty company. That leaves several other major companies vying for the concept of being a national company. ABT has the NAME, but there are other companies who also tour internationally and whose composition may be more "United States" (currently ABT seems to be heavily laden with dancers of non-USA origin). On the other hand there are companies that are CLEARLY regional/provincial in nature and do not try to be anything else. They are an important outlet for the talents of local and other American choreographers and some have attracted performers of an international caliber.

#4 Alexandra

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Posted 08 December 2001 - 10:48 PM

I thought I'd intervene to keep this discussion within the parameters of Leigh's article -- which is posted on the Ballet Talkers Reviews thread. It isn't really about ranking, but of "Provincial" being a distinct style developed by and for its home audience or "international" being a less distinct style, with no specific identity.

(I'd like to avoid the "we are not regional" arguments, at least on this thread smile.gif )

I agree with Leigh's points, although I think the naming will cause confusion. I've about this several times, and have used an analogy of "boutiques" versus "department stores". Or small, cuisine-specific restaurants versus fast food joints. I'm one who thinks the great companies are all provincial, and that "international" leads to bland, accentless dancing. The notion that when a company loses its identity and surrenders to "global glot" is when it not only loses its soul but its greatness is one of my Causes, so I'll stop there, and hope others will enter the fray.

(Leigh's article is long, but definitely worth a read smile.gif We're repriting it in this month's Ballet Review so that it will have a print life. )

#5 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 09 December 2001 - 12:35 AM

I'd definitely like to emphasize that what I'm talking about is outlook, not quality. Kirstein was exceedingly proud of the fact that NYCB served New York City above all else and quoted Auden describing himself as a New Yorker before an American.

Having recently looked at companies with both a provincial (to me, NYCB and Cuba are two) and an international viewpoint (to me, National Ballet of Canada is one) there are things to be said for both. NBoC is giving its audience what it wants, which is the world brought to them. It may not be as interesting stylistically, but it makes sense in the context of the city, the country and the audience. I don't think any company is only one or only the other. Look at Cuba's rep list and you'll see that it imports plenty of choreography, and that's not unhealthy, nor as far as we can see has it endangered their sense of identity. Like everything else, it's not what you do, but how, at what level of artistry and in what proportion.

The Danes seem to exemplify the conflict in a nutshell, and perhaps the ballet company is mirroring the national character with conflicting desires to celebrate and preserve its identity or have some sort of window on the much larger world outside of Denmark. In the most sensitive hands, this shouldn't be an either/or choice.

#6 Andrei

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Posted 09 December 2001 - 01:39 PM

I think the statement itself is wrong. Internationals companies can be provincial as well. In Russia we have another definition for the world "provincial". It's mean somebody who is trying to do the things which is not belong to them. So, it can be Balanchine or local choreographer's works, but somethings wrong with the presentation. The bad execution, gaudy costumes, the wrong amount of dancers, the sound of orchestra, the lost style, the lack of interest among dancers on what's going on on the stage make it happened. It's not necessarily to have all those mistakes, but if the company has even one, you start to understand that you are looking at the second rate performance. And what's more important, dancers understand it themselves and, let's say, don't really believe in what are they doing. You feel this "pretending" efforts in everybody.
So, for me Boston Ballet is provincial company, because they tried so hard to be in the top ten over the world and NYCB is capital one, even I don't like they approach to classical pieces, but the quality of performances is usually very high.
So, I come up with another contrasting, provincial - capital, instead of international.

#7 Alexandra

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Posted 09 December 2001 - 02:10 PM

Andrei, I agree, and your definition of "provincial" as opposed to what goes on in the capital is what most people would probably mean when they use the term. I think, though, that even capitals can be provincial, in assuming that their way is not only the best, but the only way.

But I do think that the distinction Leigh makes is valid -- different, but valid. Companies who create a repertory geared to the tastes of its audience, in contrast to companies who borrow repertory from here and there.

#8 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 09 December 2001 - 02:11 PM

This confusion is my fault for using a secondary definition of the word. As liebs pointed out, provincial is most often used to mean a restricted focus, but it also means a local one. Well, at least it stimulates discussion!

Andrei's right, there are plenty of companies and even cities that are provincial in that limiting sense, and the pretense of sophistication would be a symptom. But what of companies (or even places) that are provincial in a good way, that is, that their focus is local, and the company serves and reflects the city? In private conversations, Alexandra and I have often talked of "provincial" cities and companies like this (Vienna was mentioned as another example)

Perhaps there is a better term for the opposite of an internationalist viewpoint? Localist?

#9 pleiades

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Posted 10 December 2001 - 09:59 PM

It's interesting, I'm struggling to think of some sort of defining factors that determine whether a company is 'provincial' or 'international' and I wonder if it might have something to do with choreographic leadership. By that I mean. . . a place with a strong, identifiable resident choreographer might more easily fall into the provincial category given that its works tend to be 'home grown.' In contrast, a company without a strong internal choreographer or choreographic heritage is more likely to have a more varied repertoire as well as a more varied roster of artists (given that they're not necessarily chosen to satisfy a specific choreographer's needs/desires).

I am however, woefully uneducated when it comes to companies, repertory etc., so if my argument doesn't even come close to holding water apologies.

#10 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 10 December 2001 - 10:17 PM

It holds water, Pleiades.

For a company to have an "identity" of any sort, it seems they need either a strong and specific choreographer, or a strong director (or ballet master) or school.

I would assume a strong choreographer would tend to negate an internationalist approach, simply because it would narrow the focus of the company. But what about a strong school, like Paris? As I mentioned earlier, that's a company that seems to be both local and international in viewpoint.

#11 Alexandra

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Posted 10 December 2001 - 10:34 PM

I think pleiades has hit upon the fundamental distinction. There's another one of company mission, which would originally be determined by the founders, of course, and then either maintained or changed by succeeding boards of directors. NYCBallet was always intended to be New York's company -- with the confidence that New York was a cultural capital and would attract the best. ABT was designed to be a more national company, and spent much of its early years (especially the 1950s) outside of New York, taking ballet to the hinterlands -- and, I think, doing much to fuel the ballet boom by so doing. People won't love ballet if they don't see it.

Paris. Ah, Paris. It's just the way they are. Walter Sorrell's Dance in Its Time takes it back to the 12th century. The city has always had a sense of flair -- not trying to please anybody, which might be the best way to please, or at least attract the attention of, everybody.

#12 pleiades

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Posted 10 December 2001 - 11:16 PM

Here's where ignorance comes into play -- I know so very little about Paris Opera Ballet beyond Nureyev's involvement and Sophie Guillem's Giselle. I do find it interesting that it's the only major company I can think of with a word other than dance in its title ("Opera"). It may, on some unconscious level, explain something -- with a name that hints at schism.

#13 Alexandra

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Posted 10 December 2001 - 11:40 PM

Pleiades, many European companies have "opera" in their official title and/or share a building and administration with the opera company. Originally, ballet was a part of opera -- the dancers appeared in operas; in the very early days, dancing, singing, music and poetry were all intertwined. It took ballet a couple of centuries to break away. I think the official name is (in translation) Ballet of the Paris Opera.

I agree with Leigh that Paris breaks the rules. It hasn't had a great native choreographer in several lifetimes. It's kept its identity through its school -- which has changed radically (from French to Italian to Russian-influenced) while retaining something intrinsically Parisian.

National Ballet of Canada was once a smaller-scale Royal Ballet, I think (when I first saw the company in the 1970s). Very much modeled on what DeValois had accomplished in the '40s and '50s, but without a native choreographer. I saw them do "Merry Widow" about 15 years ago and was struck how BIG and important they made the ballet seem. They knew how to fill the stage; very much in the old Royal manner. It wasn't exactly an identity, but it wasn't globalglot either.

#14 Alexandra

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Posted 13 November 2001 - 12:42 PM

Thank you so much for posting that, Leigh. It's a wonderful piece. There's a lot in there that's worthy of discussion, and I hope it will smile.gif

#15 Manhattnik

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Posted 23 November 2001 - 09:22 AM

Regarding Dim Lustre, I must say that when I saw Kent and Steifel in the leads, all I could think was that there was a great ballet lost in there, somewhere. Steifel was just going through the paces, and Kent was in her "one-size-fits-all" melancholy mode.

But with Graffin and Jaffe, it worked. Both are great actors (especially Graffin) and you could see how these two people who clearly have very strong feelings for each other and are at least somewhat happy become increasingly distraught and overcome by the memories the evening keeps on invoking. It's not so much that they're being pulled away from each other, but into themselves, as into a pit from which they can't escape. Although they do reach out to each other one last time, it seems inevitable and appropriate that they should abandon each other at the ballet's end.

And, God, weren't those sets awful?

I do think Dvorovenko's first-movement ballerina in Symphony in C was priceless. Melissa Hayden calls this role the "Hostess with the Mostest," but Dvorovenko left no doubts that she was, in fact, the guest of honor. Not since the memorable performance turned in by the Kirov's Irma Nioradze have I seen a dancer so oblivious to the spirit of the ballet, or so determined to turn this role into a classical ballerina show-piece.

Technically, Dvorovenko was magnificent, although some of the footwork was a bit too fleet for her. Her presentation, though, was quite marvelous, for all the wrong reasons. I could see the ballerina from Etudes ("The party can start now -- I am HERE!"), Raymonda, the gal from the Peasant Pas, Gamzatti, even the Queen of the May, but not much Balanchine. Dvorovenko was selling, selling, selling, and her ballerina mannerisms, like, say, a slighty, saucy tilt of the head when landing in arabesque from a grande jete, are just plain not appropriate for Balanchine.

Wrong-headed as her approach may have been, Dvorovenko was anything but dull, and her almost-feral energy and craving for attention was, as always, awe-inspiring. I remember seeing her successfully whip off one of those tricky fourth-movement pirouettes and, I swear, she concluded not just by flashing her highest-voltage stage smile, but licked her lips, either in triumph for having nailed the step or as if she were contemplating devouring the entire audience for dessert.


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