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British schools, foreign-born dancers?


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#16 Helene

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Posted 12 January 2009 - 09:30 PM

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.

I'm fairly certain that Lynn Seymour wrote in her memoir "Lynn" that Marcia Haydee, who was one of her classmates at the Royal Ballet School, could not be hired into the Company due to there were legal restrictions against hiring non-British and non-Commonwealth dancers (or residents). Clearly there were exceptions, but I don't think many at that time.

#17 Memo

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Posted 12 January 2009 - 10:29 PM

My question is do you think the company should go back to that?
Should the nationality of the dancer be taken into consideration when hiring?

#18 volcanohunter

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 12:57 PM

I think the question is, why, since the Royal Ballet opened itself to "outsiders," are British dancers and British training having trouble holding their own in the new multinational pool? To put it crudely, why aren't British dancers and British training more competitive? Why are the Prix de Lausanne kids leapfrogging ahead of their British classmates? It's not about driving the foreigners out, it's about raising the standard of the natives.

#19 bart

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 04:53 PM

Memo and volcanohunter raise different questions, but both are interesting and will, I hope, provoke responses.

My question is do you think the company should go back to that?
Should the nationality of the dancer be taken into consideration when hiring?

I am ambivalent about this. I do understand, however, the artistic reasons for preserving a "national school" in the sense of a course of training, a technique, a distinct look or style, and a special repertoire.

I'd add another question: Does the survival of aa"national school" require that students be born and raised within that particular country?

I think the question is, why, since the Royal Ballet opened itself to "outsiders," are British dancers and British training having trouble holding their own in the new multinational pool? To put it crudely, why aren't British dancers and British training more competitive? Why are the Prix de Lausanne kids leapfrogging ahead of their British classmates? It's not about driving the foreigners out, it's about raising the standard of the natives.


Memo addresses a number of these issues in an earlier post. Similar questions have been raised about a number of jobs and professions here in the States, where foreign students and those from immigrant families seem to have greater rates of success than comparable students from native-born families. Maybe it has to do with the way people perceive the ratio between input (effort, cost) and output (benefits like earning potential, security, and prestige).

#20 Helene

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 08:43 PM

If you agree with the underlying assumption that the classics should be core rep, then the question is whether there needs to be a unified company style to do justice to the classics. If so, then the next question is whether a consistent style of training from a young age is needed in order to have a unified company style.

SAB, which dances neoclassical ballet, has been able to take dancers at the age of 13 and older, who supplant the students in the school who started at 8, in the upper ranks. Within 2-5 years of training, there is a home-grown corps. (I'll leave it up to the people who've watched NYCB regularly over the last decade to comment on the impact to the corps.)

Internationally, the major companies that adhere to this tradition of training students from an early age and creating a corps out of these dancers are Mariinsky, Bolshoi, POB, and RDB, although the Mariinsky feeds into many companies, just as SAB feeds many US companies. The Royal Ballet used to, and from reading a number of essays and interviews, many of the earlier generations of dancers from Commonwealth countries who joined the Royal Ballet mentioned the RAD syllabus.

If the goal is to create a corps trained in "international style", which seems to be a combination of many styles more than a defined style, then it makes sense for the Royal Ballet to take all of those Prix de Lausanne winners instead of RBS-trained British dancers, PdL winners are top dancers from a much bigger population, much larger than the population of Great Britain, just as SAB takes students from all over in its pre-professional ranks.

The Russian companies offered a huge economic incentive during Tsarist, Soviet, and now Russian Federation times to be one of the chosen to be trained, and they had a huge population of willing people to which to offer a chance. In addition, during Soviet times, having made an enormous investment in cultural programming on TV, so that culture was more widely spread and recognized. They and POB have come closest to maintaining a corps that, whatever the complaints, is at least trained consistently.

I'm always struck by Melissa Hayden's statement that you become a Balanchine dancer by dancing Balanchine's ballets, and Balanchine's statement to Kistler that now that she'd joined the company, he would teach her to dance. Dancing and rehearsing the ballets taught the dancers as much as the classroom, and it was a reinforcing feedback loop. Looking at the Royal Ballet rep, with so little Ashton, it's hard to imagine how the dancers can have the style reinforced enough to apply it to performances of Ashton ballets and the classics.

Also, does a company hire all corps members to be potential soloists, or to be career corps, with occasional solos and some growing out of the ranks? A company as large as the Mariinsky, especially with all of the touring, has enough corps members to take in bumper crops that are likely to grow through the ranks, while have a core of career corps, although from recent posts here, it sounds like they have gotten rid of many of the older corps dancers from the roster.

#21 JMcN

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Posted 14 January 2009 - 05:33 AM

Birmingham Royal Ballet has forged close links in recent years with Elmhurst; indeed Elmhurst moved to Birmingham a few years ago. Desmond Kelly, who recently retired from BRB (he was the Assistant Artistic Director), is now Director at Elmhurst. The company already has several Elmhurst graduates - most notably for me Laura-Jane Gibson, James Barton and Nathanael Skelton.

With an interesting coincidence of timing, I noticed an bulletin on the BRB web-site today announcing that Elmhurst is holding open auditions in China while BRB is on tour there.

Here's the link: http://www.brb.org.uk/4994.html

#22 Memo

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Posted 14 January 2009 - 09:56 AM

SAB, which dances neoclassical ballet, has been able to take dancers at the age of 13 and older, who supplant the students in the school who started at 8, in the upper ranks. Within 2-5 years of training, there is a home-grown corps. (I'll leave it up to the people who've watched NYCB regularly over the last decade to comment on the impact to the corps.)


I would like to see the percentage of dancers who are in NYCB have been fully trained say since age 11 by SAB. SAB very rarely takes dancers into the company without them dancing in the school first but how long they dance at the school is sometimes a formality and for maybe a semester for a year. However if you refuse the schools training the chance of you auditioning for the company is slim to none.

The Royal Ballet used to, and from reading a number of essays and interviews, many of the earlier generations of dancers from Commonwealth countries who joined the Royal Ballet mentioned the RAD syllabus.


thats true and although the school trains up to Advanced 1 this is not a factor as to who they take although I do not think it ever was, it just happened that more dancers were trained that way.

If the goal is to create a corps trained in "international style", which seems to be a combination of many styles more than a defined style, then it makes sense for the Royal Ballet to take all of those Prix de Lausanne winners instead of RBS-trained British dancers, PdL winners are top dancers from a much bigger population, much larger than the population of Great Britain, just as SAB takes students from all over in its pre-professional ranks.


I do not think this is correct. I think there was something new last year where 2 dancers from the Prix de Lausanne were offered apprentice slots, one of which was taken up I believe. However the Prix de Lausanne is more focused towards giving students scholarships and many have been given by the RBS to talented students as well as the RBS having a consistently good showing of winners at the Prix of students they were currently training. I do not think you could say that the RB corps is being drawn from the Prix de Lausanne. (please someone correct me if I am wrong).

Also, does a company hire all corps members to be potential soloists, or to be career corps, with occasional solos and some growing out of the ranks? A company as large as the Mariinsky, especially with all of the touring, has enough corps members to take in bumper crops that are likely to grow through the ranks, while have a core of career corps, although from recent posts here, it sounds like they have gotten rid of many of the older corps dancers from the roster.


I think the company would keep that information to themselves. I think they hire the best dancers they can find and think some will rise through the ranks and some fit well in the corps but then only time and individual dancer can really determine what happens from there. I also think all companies are different. Some really keep the corps very busy and many get to step up into soloist roles. Especially if there is new choreography going on and the choreographers are able to choose the dancers they want. That levels the playing field and gives everyone a chance at a role which I think is very healthy and keeps dancers motivated and "on their toes so to speak". My guess is the the more traditional companies have more of the status quo and more innovative directors might be more inclined to give new dancers more chances. However I do think that a cross section of hiring does happen when a director hires what he or she thinks as a solid corps member as well as dancers who are potential soloists. However I wonder if the factor of national origin comes into affect when hiring a dancer who a director really sees as having potential and being able to handle roles in the future or if they just want to hire the best dancer for the spot! I guess if they are a native of the country its a bonus but I don't think they will pass up a dancer they really love just because they are not a local. Put yourself in the directors shoes.........they must have pressure to do this as I am sure the Royal Ballet does, as there is a lot of discussion on this subject. But ultimately the audience then wants to see the best dancers, with a unified style, and the distinct presentation of that particular company, when they pay for that pricey ticket to the ballet do they not? What's a director to do?

Also as Helene mentioned about Melissa Haydens quote, if the coaching is not strong enough at the company level, the dancer is not going to continue to grow or develop an understanding of different choreographers. As they mature their knowledge and understanding increases and the coaching must continue to be very strong as the company level and not just in school in order for the dancer to continue to grow.

#23 Memo

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Posted 14 January 2009 - 10:07 AM

Why are the Prix de Lausanne kids leapfrogging ahead of their British classmates? It's not about driving the foreigners out, it's about raising the standard of the natives.


Can you give me an example of this?

#24 Hans

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Posted 14 January 2009 - 11:08 AM

To answer Memo's question, from what I can gather from the NYCB website it appears that approximately 13 of NYCB's 101 dancers either began their training at SAB or enrolled there before age 13, without attending the summer program. Ages are not always given on the site, but if a dancer started training at SAB in, say, 2003 and was made an apprentice in 2004, it is a pretty safe bet that s/he was not eleven years old at the time. :thumbsup:

#25 leonid17

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Posted 14 January 2009 - 02:21 PM

I am ambivalent about this. I do understand, however, the artistic reasons for preserving a "national school" in the sense of a course of training, a technique, a distinct look or style, and a special repertoire.

I'd add another question: Does the survival of a "national school" require that students be born and raised within that particular country?



To answer your second point first.

Definitely no. If that had been the case in the 1940’s and early 1950’s, the Royal Ballet could have never achieved its international status as it depended upon the likes of Helpmann, Elvin, Grant, Larsen, Beriosova, Nerina, Jackson, Rassine, Rodrigues, Ashbridge, Rassine for its development and they were all born outside of the UK.

There are a number of questions to be dealt with in this topic and the first point to be made is, that some might say that the proper title of the Royal Ballet is the Royal Ballet of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland which is to say that its premier status makes it the national ballet of the UK and therefore a subject for national pride.

The Royal Ballet of Sweden and The Royal Danish ballet could be said to hold a similar national status to the Royal Ballet and a comparison with the number of non-nationals in these companies would be interesting. How many non-nationals are in the Paris Opera Ballet, the premier company of France or the Bolshoi Ballet and the Kirov Ballet the premier companies of Russia? How many non-nationals are in the National Ballet companies of Cuba, Canada, Hungary, Korea etc?

In the Guardian of 18 September 2008, Luke Jennings reported that, “Last week, the Royal Ballet told a committee advising the Home Office that very few British applicants "have the required level of artistic excellence or aesthetics" to dance with the company.” and later, “ The barest trickle of dancers has progressed from the school to the company over the last few years, and the lethal delicacy of that statement to the Home Office sends an unambiguous message about the state of relations between the two. He goes on to say, “

Let's deconstruct the Royal Ballet's statement. What they're actually saying is not only that most British-trained dancers aren't technically good enough to join the company, but that most of them are also the wrong shape.” and further that now, “those dancers going into the Royal Ballet company from the school, a high percentage have been students recruited overseas, polished for a few terms, and rebranded as RBS graduates.”


On the other hand, the Royal Ballet Schools website states, “ The aim of The Royal Ballet School is to produce dancers possessing a strong, clean classical technique with great emphasis on artistry, musicality, purity of line, co-ordination and a quality of movement that is free of mannerisms. The intent is to produce graduates who are capable of integrating effortlessly into The Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet and other top professional dance companies.” What is meant by, “top professional dance companies” I am not sure, but as far as I can see, graduates are not going to the top half-dozen companies in the world.

What concerns me about dancers joining the Royal Ballet from a different background in schooling and identity, is that there is ample evidence that they have not been successfully coached to dance in that very national style, that made the Royal Ballet so successful and was of course so different from other ballet companies. The question arises, how long does it take to learn a different style of performing to the point when it becomes second nature so that every person on stage blends in one harmonious style.

What needs protecting, is the ‘English Style’ as propounded by Dame Ninette de Valois based upon the original RAD method and developed through the performance of classic productions of Petipa,Ivanov, the Diaghilev Ballet heritage and especially realised in the choreographic style of Sir Frederick Ashton.

It is my opinion that the Royal Ballet under the direction of Sir Kenneth MacMillan lost its way artistically and aesthetically, which Sir Anthony Dowell did endeavour to regain, but it was too late. The baleful influence of MacMillan upon the Royal Ballet’s repertoire has undermined the artistic status of the company which can no longer perform various choreographers ballets with fidelity or subtlety and invariably lack any sense of the once much lauded “English Style.” This is not the fault of foreign dancers, but a loss of tradition in reprising the core repertoire that made the company great in its own style. The lack of a continuing tradition of performance means that today’s dancers have no models as examples to follow when old ballets are revived.

Can the ‘English Style’ be revived? Is it worth reviving?

Dame Monica Mason has pulled the company somewhere close to the right path, but I see no particular evidence of either the right climate or desire existing for the company to regain the “English Style” whilst there continues the revival of discredited works like “A Different Drummer” or “Isadora”, the appointment of Wayne McGregor and the constant revival of MacMillan full length ballets. But it can be revived now, but perhaps not, in ten years time.

Is the English style worth reviving, certainly. It was distinctive and what was wonderful about it, was although it grew out of seemingly English personality characteristics, it had universality, but remained distinct, that made it popular around the world. Its revival, it would bring back that individuality that the Royal Ballet once had and gained from such ballets as, Les Rendevous, Symphonic Variations, Pineapple Poll, Gloria, Scenes de Ballet, Two Pigeons, Solitaire, Wedding Bouquet, The Dream, Requiem, Enigma Variations, Rhapsody, Les Patineurs, Requiem, Danses Concertantes, Month in the Country, Rakes Progress, and Checkmate etc.

The Royal Ballet’s style was also developed through a certain authority inherited from their performances of “Swan Lake”, “Sleeping Beauty” and “Giselle” in an authenticity of Imperial Russian performing style, which had long been lost in Soviet Russia.

#26 Helene

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Posted 14 January 2009 - 03:03 PM

I agree with so much of your post, leonid. The only thing I would mention is that I don't think RBS's success can be measured by the number of students from the school who join the top six international companies, since the Mariinsky, Bolshoi, POB, and NYCB rarely take anyone who haven't been trained by their schools, and the same is pretty much true of RDB, although they seem to have opened up to more foreign-trained dancers lately. ABT doesn't have a school, but they are taking more dancers from their second company.

#27 Hans

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Posted 14 January 2009 - 03:06 PM

Doesn't ABT have the Jackie O. School now? Not that it can really be compared with RBS, &c., yet.

#28 Helene

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Posted 14 January 2009 - 03:25 PM

Although there's not complete consensus on this, a lot of critics feel that Balanchine's spirit was kept alive by the Children of Balanchine who transplanted across the US and started companies of their own or were critical in developing dancers who could dance his works.

Was there a similar migration of proponents of British style who feed into companies that maintain the style, even if RBS doesn't? Or if RBS is, but the Royal Ballet doesn't want dancers trained in this style, are there companies that take and nurture these dancers?

Or is the style all but lost today?

#29 Memo

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Posted 14 January 2009 - 04:34 PM

I was trained by 3 dancers mentioned above who danced with the Royal Ballet in the "hey day" so to speak. Rowena Jackson, Philip Chatfield, Brian and Dorothea Ashbridge throughout my career as a pre professional and professional dancer. (I was also privately coached by Rowena Jackson as a small child maybe 9 or 10 and remember those sessions very clearly still today) I feel that the style was very distinct and unique. I am attracted to the style and it reminds me of my training and I really enjoy the "look" of it. However dancers schooled in the Russian tradition or Balanchine work done really well, also fascinates and intrigues me. I saw Ashley Bouder dance a few years back at a gala and found her truly thrilling to watch. As these dancers have gone out into the world however has it been watered down or mixed with other styles to meet the demands of a more athletic finish needed for todays contemporary work? Are low legs are great lines given ANY VALUE in todays ballet market as a young dancer goes out and tries to find a position?
One of the big complaints and debates today about the ballet world is that it is so steeped in tradition that it does not keep up with times.
Has the real "Royal Ballet Style" gone or is it constantly evolving?
Also are one or two dancers joining the company a year because that is what is available? Is what contracts the director is allowed to offer? They can only offer what they have. If they are satisfied with their company and do not have need to fire anyone, they can only offer spots that have been vacated. They do not have an unlimited supply of contracts to hand out they are all on strict budgets.

#30 bart

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Posted 14 January 2009 - 04:41 PM

What needs protecting, is the ‘English Style’ as propounded by Dame Ninette de Valois based upon the original RAD method and developed through the performance of classic productions of Petipa,Ivanov, the Diaghilev Ballet heritage and especially realised in the choreographic style of Sir Frederick Ashton.

I agree with leonid that a company's "style" can only be maintained if the company continues to perform, in depth, a repertoire for which that style is required.

The "children of Balanchine" companies dance a lot of Balanchine and rely on ballet masters, ballet mistresses, and coaches steeped in the Balanchine style. This doesn't require them to dance ONLY Balanchine. A company which works hard to maintain its distinctive style -- in its schools, company classes, and repertoire -- can still dance lots of other things, even on a regular basis.

If a company has been fortunate enough to inherit a distinct method, style, and look, it seems a shame to give it up or let it fall apart. I have the impression that this has happened in Britain in a haphazard fashion rather than by design. They added this, tried to do that, experimented with this AND that, and eventually lost contact with their base. To maintain something like the "English style" you have to be conscious of it and create policy (not just lip service) to protect it . That means teaching it to your aspiring young dancers and allowing them the chance to perform the relevant choreography on stage on a regular basis.


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