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British schools, foreign-born dancers?


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#1 dirac

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Posted 11 November 2008 - 06:38 PM

leonid posted these interesting remarks in the Links forum, so I thought I'd cut and paste. Comments?


Ballet dancers appear on the British government's newly released 'shortage list':

The Home Office yesterday announced a so-called "shortage list" of 800,000 jobs which employers will be allowed to recruit for from outside the European Economic Area.

The aim of the list is to restrict the number of foreign workers taking jobs here, especially as unemployment soars with the country entering a recession. However, the Government watered down the initiative by announcing a longer list than the one proposed by its migration experts earlier this year.


Having two major company schools who it appears can produce male dancers of some quality but not female in any number as in the past. Instead of the Royal Ballet School pretending to have trained graduate dancers who were in fact formed abroad so they can go into the RB as RBS graduates, perhaps we will see more dancers from beyond the EEC entering the corps de ballet in a more direct manner. The last RB School performance this summer did not bode well for the future of English dancers joining the company in the near future. I have not seen the graduates from the English National Ballet School. Perhaps the RB should have some more talented dancers from American to join the ranks?

#2 Memo

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Posted 11 November 2008 - 11:39 PM

I don't understand this mentality. Here in the US we seem pride themselves on being able to attract the best from all over the world. The Brits do not seem to appreciate that they are able to do that with several their top notch vocational training schools that attract talent from all over the globe. But when it comes down to the contract there is tremendous pressure to only hire the British born. Then on the one hand they complain about not being able to hire enough British Talent and then lament the foreigners who go elsewhere and wonder why they weren't offered contracts after all the scholarship money spent on training them.
Maybe those British Trained foreigners went elsewhere because they were not asked to stay. Thanks to the RBS (and other British Vocational Ballet Schools) for contributing to the ranks of the worlds ballet companies by turning out so many employable dancers year after year.

#3 ggobob

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Posted 21 December 2008 - 11:58 AM

Is this really new? If I'm not mistaken, Merle Park, who was head of the RB School as well as a great dancer, was born in what was then Rhodesia; and the head of the RB, Dame Monica was born in South Africa.

#4 Mel Johnson

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Posted 21 December 2008 - 01:17 PM

Even though the Empire is gone, the Commonwealth of Nations marches on. This factor has to weigh in somehow in the discussion.

#5 Ostrich

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Posted 23 December 2008 - 09:13 AM

If I'm not mistaken, Merle Park, who was head of the RB School as well as a great dancer, was born in what was then Rhodesia; and the head of the RB, Dame Monica was born in South Africa.


You are not mistaken :off topic:
A surprising number of well-known 'British' dancers were born in South Africa/Rhodesia

#6 Helene

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Posted 23 December 2008 - 10:46 AM

Didn't Royal Ballet accept students from the school into the Company if they were from Commonwealth countries, even when employment requirements were much stricter than today? (Lynn Seymour from Canada is another example.)

#7 ggobob

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Posted 28 December 2008 - 09:30 AM

Lynn Seymour...another good example of the RB's tradition of talent spotting. It just occurred to me that Wayne Eagling was born in California.

#8 leonid17

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Posted 28 December 2008 - 12:24 PM

Didn't Royal Ballet accept students from the school into the Company if they were from Commonwealth countries, even when employment requirements were much stricter than today? (Lynn Seymour from Canada is another example.)



You are right they did. But, all things changed when we joined the EEC and became subject to their laws and their legal judgements.

The law now allows non EU workers to fill jobs in the UK where there are particular shortages of skills. Before, special cases had to be made.

Mel Johnson stated, "Even though the Empire is gone, the Commonwealth of Nations marches on. This factor has to weigh in somehow in the discussion." Interestingly while EU members have an absolute right to work in the UK, Commonwealth citizens do not and are subject to a points based system quota.

Ballet companies are one of the areas of employment identified where a shortage of workers is seen and they can now employ I am assuming, dancers from any country in the world.

Among regular followers of the Royal and probably by many UK nationals, there is the understanding that the RB is more than the premier company, they are the 'national' company and having the accolade of Royal gives them this status. Once the status of “Royal” is given by a Royal Charter having first been recommended by her Majesty’s Privy Council, it changes a body from a collection of individuals into a single legal entity. Once incorporated by Royal Charter, amendments to the Charter and by-laws require government approva. The status is not open to any organisation only to those that offer the highest standards and represent the UK at its best.

It is therefore a disappointment to some, that currently of the 23 most senior dancers, only 3 are UK born.

I do not know if the legal nature of the contracts for all the RB senior dancers is the same, but in the past, the designation was something like,(1)permanent member contract(2) permanent guest contract.

For me who has been watching the RB for more than 40 years and who has seen dancers graduate from the Royal Ballet School and ascend to principal dancers, I am personally unhappy that the RB School no longer appears to fulfil its function as it did in the past.

As to foreign(such an ugly word) dancers I am more than happy to watch the dancers we have in the Royal Ballet as they have in some cases brought qualities missing for a long time.

The criticism I most widely hear is that the defining style of the Royal Ballet has been lost. If this is the case and I believe it to be true it is not the problem of the dancers making but education in the English style as Dame Ninette de Valois called it, not being either taught or desired by the management of the RB.

In Ashton’s works especially I count it my loss and it is a loss for everyone else as far as I can see.

#9 Memo

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Posted 11 January 2009 - 11:52 PM

It is therefore a disappointment to some, that currently of the 23 most senior dancers, only 3 are UK born.

For me who has been watching the RB for more than 40 years and who has seen dancers graduate from the Royal Ballet School and ascend to principal dancers, I am personally unhappy that the RB School no longer appears to fulfil its function as it did in the past.

As to foreign(such an ugly word) dancers I am more than happy to watch the dancers we have in the Royal Ballet as they have in some cases brought qualities missing for a long time.

The criticism I most widely hear is that the defining style of the Royal Ballet has been lost. If this is the case and I believe it to be true it is not the problem of the dancers making but education in the English style as Dame Ninette de Valois called it, not being either taught or desired by the management of the RB.

In Ashton’s works especially I count it my loss and it is a loss for everyone else as far as I can see.


Leonid, I have not seen the company other than on video for several years but I would say that the dancers at the school definitely have a distinct style that in my opinion is classic "Royal Ballet Style". In my opinion dancers are chosen based on their ability to attain the style or having been perhaps trained in a similar fashion or having a natural affinity for the "style". To me it is very apparent in the dancers at the upper school. The look is distinct and very very understated and appealing to look at. I love the look. When it is reflected in the corps it is not seen anywhere else. I really enjoy seeing a corps with a distinct style I think that is what makes a company great

#10 bart

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Posted 12 January 2009 - 06:12 AM

Regarding the decline in the number of British dancers in the British national company: what are the main explanations have been offered for this? Have suggestions for reform been offered by anyone in a positioin of authority?

(I write as someone who recently watched, while channel-surfing, the rather wonderful scenes concerning Billly Elliot's audition for the School. :wink: )

Is this a matter of decline of interest on the part of potential students? Competition from other artistic forms? Decline of recruiting efforts, starting with the youngest students, around the country? A de-centralization of the British ballet establishment, and a corresponding increase in British-born dancers in Birmingham, etc.? Lack of funding? Lack of caring? Or the dread (and rather useless) explanation: "All of the above?"

Surely things could be done to correct this trend -- IF those in charge think it's worth correcting.

#11 Memo

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Posted 12 January 2009 - 08:20 AM

I think there are british born and british trained dancers in almost every company in the world. Royal Ballet School had 100% employment again in 2008. The world is a lot more open it seems that many more dancers are able to travel for their training then they did 20 years ago. Maybe the British born dancers are branching out. Maybe the Royal Ballet is too.

#12 JMcN

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Posted 12 January 2009 - 08:32 AM

I think there are british born and british trained dancers in almost every company in the world. Royal Ballet School had 100% employment again in 2008. The world is a lot more open it seems that many more dancers are able to travel for their training then they did 20 years ago. Maybe the British born dancers are branching out. Maybe the Royal Ballet is too.


I think Memo has made an excellent point.

I've just had a quick look at the BRB web-site. At senior level one of the current eight principals is British-born alongside 10 out of 18 soloists and 19 out of 32 first artists and artists.

I personally don't mind a person's country of origin, or (to a lesser extent) their training background. What matters more to me is the loyalty they show their company. All the long-standing principals within BRB have devoted the bulk, if not all, of their careers to BRB and that matters more to me than an accident of birth.

#13 Cygnet

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Posted 12 January 2009 - 10:25 AM

Regarding the decline in the number of British dancers in the British national company: what are the main explanations have been offered for this? Have suggestions for reform been offered by anyone in a positioin of authority?

(I write as someone who recently watched, while channel-surfing, the rather wonderful scenes concerning Billly Elliot's audition for the School. :wink: )

Is this a matter of decline of interest on the part of potential students? Competition from other artistic forms? Decline of recruiting efforts, starting with the youngest students, around the country? A de-centralization of the British ballet establishment, and a corresponding increase in British-born dancers in Birmingham, etc.? Lack of funding? Lack of caring? Or the dread (and rather useless) explanation: "All of the above?"

Surely things could be done to correct this trend -- IF those in charge think it's worth correcting.


The Guardian's Luke Jennings addressed this issue and the consequences in this September 18, 2008 article.

http://www.guardian....ballet.training

#14 volcanohunter

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Posted 12 January 2009 - 11:16 AM

I personally don't mind a person's country of origin, or (to a lesser extent) their training background. What matters more to me is the loyalty they show their company. All the long-standing principals within BRB have devoted the bulk, if not all, of their careers to BRB and that matters more to me than an accident of birth.

No doubt. But the issue at hand is the quality of British training. If the Royal Ballet School graduate most likely to achieve principal status is a Prix de Lausanne winner who spent one or two years at the RBS, having received the bulk of his training elsewhere, what does this say about the quality of the RBS? Why are so few of those who trained at the RBS from their early years achieving the same results? The fact that a slim majority of RB principals have no connection to the RBS whatsoever, and that most of those who do spent a relatively short period of time there would seem to reflect badly on the training offered there.

If the Commonwealth presence in the Royal Ballet has been reduced, why has this happened? Has it simply become too expensive for young Australians, Canadians and others to study at the RBS, leading most of them to train at home instead? As far as I can remember, the last Canadian to be a principal at the Royal Ballet was Jaimie Tapper, who trained and began her career at home. Is Leanne Benjamin, now in her mid-40s, likely to be the last "colonial" to climb through the ranks to the top?

I first saw the Royal Ballet live in 1981 in New York. The programs from that tour list 23 principals, including character artists, the vast majority of whom were born in England, plus 5 "colonials" and one "foreigner." Looking through the roster, filled with English and Celtic surnames, the only conspicuous foreigner, besides Gerd Larsen (and Genesia Rosato, who is, of course, a native of England), is Alessandra Ferri. I don't need to tell you that the Royal Ballet I saw in 2008 looked very different.

#15 Memo

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Posted 12 January 2009 - 11:37 AM

I found the article very interesting. I disagree that Gailene Stock has not done her job. (but I am a big fan of hers so I am definitely bias) I think that she has an uncanny eye for talent. She is not partial in anyway she calls it like she sees it and she also is a great judge of temperament as well as talent and she has an ability at the school to usher these young teenagers with discipline and compassion in the direction of their professional careers. I think having 60 teenagers from all over the world (and may I say predominantly brits) in one place keeping them in check and focused is a huge responsibility and the way they handle it with a positive teaching technique rather than compliance by humiliation is to be admired. I will say however there are two things to consider. Huge talent, I mean principal quality talent is hard to come by and very very rare and if the Royal ballet has the resources to go all over the globe to find it, or has the draw to bring that kind of talent to them then that is to their benefit. In any company they are from all over the world because that kind of dancer is hard to come by and reach that point at different times in their careers.

Also as the director of a ballet school in the US, and the child of a director of a ballet school outside of the US and having listened to Gailene Stock speak in public about this on several occaisions, societies view on the early training changes from country to country. Taking into consideration that you are starting with a young child with considerable natural talent, In an environment where the parents feel that a balanced life and maybe ballet 2 days a week you are not going to reach the destination in the same way as an environment where the child has access to ballet classes 6 days per week 3 hours a day. Training a dancer to the point where they may be ready to be accepted into a vocational school honestly takes going to the limit as far as the amount of classes and the time spent on this effort. Some people are just not willing or wanting or able to go to that extreme. And as someone who has been there as a professional dancer, a teacher and as a parent of a professional dancer it is ALL CONSUMING. Many parents begin to pull back with young talented dancers and become overwhelmed by the huge commitment that is required. From what I have heard there is just not the social support in the UK for that kind of intense commitment for children of a very young age. Where as in Russia or China parents may be more willing to put their children in a situation to be able to receive intense training without other outside interests or activities at quite young in order to improve their situation as adults. The thought process is just different.
I don't know if I am explaining this as well as I could. It is complicated. And trying to establish how and where the "talent" is coming from is really impossible to define let alone control.


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