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Why aren't there more (recent) ballet performances on DVD?

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As a fan of ballet, I'm shocked by how few ballet performances are on DV and Blu-ray. With amazing performances from dancers such as Gillian Murphy, Ethan Steifel, Julie Kent, Marcelo Gomes, and Veronika Part, why can't we have more performances on DVD and Blu-ray.

I was born in 1981, but thanks to DVD technology, I am able to enjoy the amazing performances of Vivien Leigh and Audrey Hepburn.

So why aren't there more (recent) ballet performances on DVD?

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I would have to say that it really comes down to money.

When you think about it, you have to pay the crew, dancers and orchestra all those residual checks and whatnot because of the union agreements, as well as production companies, finding a distributor and so on and so on and so on.

But I do agree with you with dancers like Marcelo Gomes wandering around, it is a bit upsetting. Also, look at PBS, we are lucky if we get one or two programs a year that are new or even related to dance. The audience for dance is growing, I believe, but not at the rate to spend 10s of thousand to hundreds of thousands of dollars to put on DVD.

It stinks, but money is money.

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So why aren't there more (recent) ballet performances on DVD?

For that matter, why aren't there more vintage ballet performances on DVD?

Many have been televised over the years, but few have reached the market. Once the production has been filmed, the costs of producing DVDs is fairly small - and at the prices ballet DVDs sell for, it would not take huge sales to more than pay for themselves.

I think the problem is more a small-minded marketing issue; they don't want to bring out older performances, as they may be favourably compared to new ones, and they don't want to release new ones, in case they undermine attendance at the theatre.

Both arguments, in my view, being false, and a missed opportunity to widen the interest in ballet, and serve those who cannot attend current live ballet (for whatever reason) plus those who want to enjoy the best of the past.

Just think - it would only take one major company to break with accepted wisdom to shake up the whole market.

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I would have to say that it really comes down to money.

When you think about it, you have to pay the crew, dancers and orchestra all those residual checks and whatnot because of the union agreements, as well as production companies, finding a distributor and so on and so on and so on.....

Dumb Questions: Why do France (POB) and England (Royal Ballet) have the money and the USA does not? Don't the French and British companies also have to pay crew, orchestra, dressers, etc.? Even with the notorious French syndicates/unions, France manages to put-out fantastic POB DVDs on what seems to be a monthly basis!!!

This is a crying shame for Herrera, Wiles, Bouder, etc. How many commercial recordings exist of, say, Damien Woetzel or Nicolai Hubbe or Kyra Nichols? They're gone - retired from dancing. How sad that they were of the generation that just missed the Glory Days of PBS' Dance in America and have just retired, before any correction to this problem could take place.

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Not a dumb question at all, but when you go into the european market, those companies are government subsidies. Here in the US, ballet companies are lucky to get an endowment through private parties.

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Sad. If it wasn't for private collectors and Youtube we would be unaware of many dancers performances. Even in Cuba, where ballet is government patronized there is a total lack of recordings,-(i think the only one being the 1964 Alonso's Giselle. The recent 2007 D.Q was french produced)

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Dumb Questions: Why do France (POB) and England (Royal Ballet) have the money and the USA does not? Don't the French and British companies also have to pay crew, orchestra, dressers, etc.? Even with the notorious French syndicates/unions, France manages to put-out fantastic POB DVDs on what seems to be a monthly basis!!!

The matter of producing DVDs is still closely tied to the issue of television broadcasts. To date the POB and the RB haven't issued any recent performances that weren't taped for television first. As long as PBS limits itself to a single ballet broadcast per year, which will be the San Francisco Ballet this Christmas, you won't get more than a single DVD out of the bargain. And to further complicate things, PBS often relies on foreign broadcasters to help do its work, hence Jewels from the Paris Opera aired under the "Dance in America" banner. The "Dance in America" series also showcases other forms on dance, leading to a very paltry presence for ballet. DEMCAD may not like my opinion, but relatively speaking I think that ABT is overrepresented on PBS. When was the last time you saw PNB, Miami City Ballet, Houston Ballet or Boston Ballet on "Great Performances"? It's supposed to be "Dance in America," not "Dance in New York." The fact that PBS tapes ABT performances in D.C. or Costa Mesa is a cosmetic fudge.

The Metropolitan Opera managed to circumvent the problem of reduced PBS broadcasts by going directly into movie theatres. I don't know who pays the production costs of those simulcasts, but PBS has certainly been happy to air the programs subsequently. Strangely enough, there are now more Met broadcasts on PBS than ever before, and these broadcasts are making their way to DVD. Potentially, ballet companies could do the same. Unfortunately, the Met broadcasts have been so successful, that no one else can elbow their way in. Between the live broadcasts and their repeat showings, most weekends are already booked. Still, the fact that ABT's Met season starts after the opera season's finished creates a window of opportunity, if movie theatres could be convinced that there's an audience for ballet out there, and I'm not sure that's the case.

For two seasons now, primarily during the Met's hiatus, one of the movie chains in Canada has been showing opera and ballet performances from the Opus Arte catalogue of (mostly) future releases, predominantly from the Royal Opera in London. What's telling is that while the opera screenings are shown on both Saturdays and Sundays, the ballet screenings show on Saturdays only, suggesting that their audience is smaller. Given that track record, I don't know that movie theatres would be willing to take a chance on live ABT broadcasts from the Met, much less live NYCB broadcasts from the State Theater or any other American ballet company.

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Good question(s), and some thoughtful answers, according to the principle, "Follow the Money", which explains so much in contemporary life.

While it's true that when the production is finshed, production costs stop, but many, many people, their heirs in some cases, and surviving organizations need to grant permission for the film or video to be shown or distributed. (Otherwise it's piracy.)

For example, I recently saw the premiere of a good, amateur black and white film shot in 1965, and I was awed by length of the list of "permitters" who gave permission for the showing, and for continued showings at the Dance Collection of the New York Public Library and, as far as I can remember, nowhere else. Had there been any prospect of commercial distribution, either on DVD or for admission in theatres (the premiere was a free event), wouldn't we expect the rights holders to be more interested in selling some of their permission? Or am I an old cynic?

Then there was another good point, the relative sizes of the opera and ballet audiences. Why?

The thing that dampens my enthusiasm for ballet on screen is that sometimes it's well done and we can enjoy the dance, and sometimes it's very intrusively done, and our enjoyment is constantly interfered with.

I'm not much of a fan of opera on screen, just because of the unnaturalness of what I'm often shown, in contrast to what I'm hearing. (Maybe someday we will have televisions smart enough to show the translation subtitles without the closeups of the vibrating tonsils, if I may be permitted a slight exaggeration, or views of the sometimes-confusing staging.)

But I may not be typical, and careful market research, to find out what people really like, costs money, too. Everything does. But if opera is more heavily subsidized than ballet, whether privately, as here now, or publicly, as elsewhere, I'd like to undertand the reasons for that too.

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The fact that PBS tapes ABT performances in D.C. or Costa Mesa is a cosmetic fudge.
I think it's more practical than mere "cosmetic fudge." The structures of those SoCal houses may permit better camera angles with less intrusion into audience sight lines. Also, the dimensions of the stages (which appear more compact than the Met's), allow to get more detail in shots of the whole stage.

The Met must be a very difficult place to film ballet.

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The fact that PBS tapes ABT performances in D.C. or Costa Mesa is a cosmetic fudge.
I think it's more practical than mere "cosmetic fudge."

Sorry if I chose a poor illustration. I just meant that filming a New York company outside New York doesn't change the New York-centric nature of Dance in America. I don't doubt that the other houses may be easier to film in.

Then there was another good point, the relative sizes of the opera and ballet audiences. Why?

Undoubtedly the Met has been able to capitalize on the decades-old habit of tuning in to an opera on Saturday afternoons. For regular listeners, being able to see what they'd been listening to all these years was obviously very exciting and a natural progression. The fact that star singers are also familiar to audiences because of radio is something choreographers and dancers can't hope to compete with.

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You're right--there aren't that many recent ballet performances on DVD. The only good ones I've seen with my own eyes are the 2006 performance of Swan Lake filmed at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia (available on DVD and now Blu-Ray disc), which is probably the ONLY officially-released film in the West we'll see of many of the current Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet stars and the 2007 (?) performance of Sleeping Beauty by the Royal Ballet, which became available on DVD earlier this year.

But if you're talking performances on TV, you're in far better luck. If you have a DirecTV subscription and can get access to the international feed of VGTRK's RTR Planeta channel, they frequently show a lot of the programming from VGTRK's Kultura channel, and that has a HUGE number of ballet performances from the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg and the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. (I have a neighbor who has taped a number of programs off the RTR Planeta international channel and I was able to see the 50th anniversary gala for Bolshoi Ballet legends Vladimir Vasiliev and Ekaterina Maximova that happened a few months ago and even the special gala performance of Don Quixote honoring Maya Plisetskaya from October 2005. :) )

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Ah yes, why there aren't any recent ballet performances broadcast on PBS, or past/present performances released on DVD...

The first reason of course is MONEY. To create a program or production costs money. But to get money, you have to prove you will make money; an unfortunate truism even if you can show the arts enhance lives in other ways. So...Is there proof of a sizeable enough audience for ballet performers, performances, broadcasts or theatrical showings to entice funders to support the production, or provide them with a return on their investment? Or is there possibly a benevolant philanthropist (is that a redundancy?) willing to give without receiving a large return? Often there is not, so many projects are CO-PRODUCTIONS between organizations, venues, and/or distributors, with numerous funders listed in the credits. Gone are the days of single sponsors.

FYI:

1) The original proposal for the "Jewels" project was for a production to be performed by the respective companies of each musical source: eg. FRANCE-Emeralds, USA-Rubies, RUSSIA-Diamonds. But the money, timing, negotiations fell through, and so we have POB alone, distributed to USA by PBS.

2) ABT's performances of "Corsaire" and "Swan Lake" were filmed at, respectively, the OCPAC or Kennedy Center, because ABT had a CO-PRODUCTION deal with each venue to help finance their production(s). PBS-DiA just picked the least expensive place to do it of the choices given them, not because one or the other venue had better camera placements or sight-lines.

Money is also needed for...RESEARCH, PRE-PRODUCTION, PRODUCTION, POST-PRODUCTION, MARKETING & DISTRIBUTION of a program or dvd. Seven words that leave out my four attempts to list the details in less than a 50 page document. But all or either of which can cost, at the least, several hundred-thousands of dollars, and at most, many millions. Meanwhile, no one outside those directly involved, has even seen a frame of film yet.

FYI: Why there are no PBS dvds of all those DiA performances of the past: They don't own the rights anymore. PBS usually gets a 3-year broadcast window, sometimes renewed, more often not. (A case in point--not an arts program, but a major problem & subsequent achievement--was securing the various rights necessary to re-broadcast "Eyes on the Prize" which took over 10years to get again.)

No rights, means no broadcast or other distribution method allowed. Currently, PBS does not have the time, incliniation, or money to research and re-purchase the rights to the various ballet performances in its archives, unless it is shown they will get a good return on their investment, which leads us back to that money issue again.

(In the interest of full-disclosure...I am currently producing a documentary, that's taken untold amounts of time and money to film, partially because I wanted to demonstrate that it was possible to create a classical company in this day and age, AND that the audience existed for such a company or video program.)

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I guess my "home team", the Royal Opera House have a distinct advantage here, having bought Opus Arte, and are in a stronger position than most to get their filmed productions (both past and current) out on DVD. Still, as far as I can tell, on recent releases, even they are still dependant on an initial TV broadcast, which would presumably cover a big chunk of the costs. At the end of the day, being a publicly subsidised company (although not as heavily subsidised as some in mainland Europe), they do still need to balance the books.

On a related note, it saddens me that after more than 20 years, the current (A.Dowell) RB production of Swan Lake has not been filmed. And now that we're heading into crunch-times for the arts, it seems less likely than ever.

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Many thanks 4mrdncr. It's good to have the facts about production and PBS rights. This topic comes up repeatedly, and we've been guessing from the outside each time.

Speight Jenkins, General Director of Seattle Opera, is frequently asked at post-performance Q&A's why productions like the Seattle Ring are never made into DVD's, and he always says "Money" and moves on, but he's never explained what costs so much or how much would needed to be raised. (Which would, unless a major new outside donor was found or an old was willing to up the ante, scavange funds from the General Ring Fund or the General Fund.)

PNB tapes all performances, none at production quality. Francia Russell used to make no bones about it at post-performance Q&A's: the camera was dying and they needed 10K for it. Needless to say, not many people expected PNB DVD's, if the company couldn't replace its video camera.

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Thank you, 4mrdncr. So the bottom line as to why France has so many productions on DVD: State Support of the Arts.

Next Two Questions: When will the USG support the arts on the French level? When will ballet get its 'Bail-out Package'? (...running for cover!!!!)

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Thank you, 4mrdncr. So the bottom line as to why France has so many productions on DVD: State Support of the Arts.

That's also true in Russia, where after all, what's the official title they have for the Mariinsky Theatre and Bolshoi Theatre: state academic theatre. This means much of their funding comes directly from the Russian government themselves. It would be like if the New York Symphony, New York City Ballet and New York City Opera had a direct funding from the US Federal government as a budgetary item.

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Great topic. Great contributions. I've learned an enormous amount so far in just a couple of days. Thanks to all.

Sejacko, I didn't know that the Royal Opera House owned Opus Arte. That -- along with the Met's decision to self-produce it's HD-Live -- is probably the way of the future. At least for companies with resources, a spirit of innovation and a certain amount of daring.

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On the other hand, how many classical companies are there in France today? Paris Opera Ballet, Toulouse, and ? How often does the "national" company of France tour outside Paris? The "national" company in Canada does a big-city Western tour at most every two years with a bow to Ottawa, four hours away but mostly sticks to Toronto. Alberta Ballet, on the other hand, tours, while splitting their season between Calgary and Edmonton, and Royal Winnipeg ballet tours extensively with two-three productions a year, throughout Canada and the northern US, this season venturing to LA as well. Sadlers Wells made itself touring; now it is English National Ballet that performs regularly in Oxford, Manchester, Bristol, Liverpool, and Southamption, in addition to London seasons, while Northern Ballet Theatre tours in the north.

State sponsorship is a double-edged sword. In the press in Great Britain, there are numerous calls to take away state funding of the arts, because it is too elitist. What the state giveth, the state can taketh away. US companies had to adjust to drastic cuts from the US government. Now US companies will have to adjust to cuts due to the pounding of foundation assets in the financial meltdown as well as the credit crunch.

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The "national" company in Canada does a big-city Western tour at most every two years with a bow to Ottawa, four hours away but mostly sticks to Toronto. Alberta Ballet, on the other hand, tours, while splitting their season between Calgary and Edmonton, and Royal Winnipeg ballet tours extensively with two-three productions a year, throughout Canada and the northern US, this season venturing to LA as well.

:thanks: This may be an aside, but I think it's important to remember that the National Ballet of Canada was never founded with any sort of 'national' mandate, inasmuch as it was not the initiative of the federal government but the private enterprise of some very determined ballet lovers in Toronto. It was actually a bit presumptuous on the part of the Celia Franca and the original board to call it 'National,' and many resentful Canadians (well, Winnipeggers) would have taken it as proof of a Torontonian delusion that their city lies at the centre of the universe, and so forth. In the television biography that Veronica Tennant completed just before Franca died, the great lady explained that the frequent touring the company did in its early days was necessitated by its inability to mount extensive Toronto seasons, which suggests that she would have preferred to stay put.

The older Winnipeg company was the one that ultimately received the Royal Charter (before the Royal Ballet received it!), and at the inaugural Governor General's Performing Arts Awards in 1992 RWB founder Gweneth Lloyd was among the recipients (Betty Farrally was already deceased). Celia Franca received it two years later. Ludmilla Chiriaeff, founder of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, was squeezed in in between the two to prevent Quebec from feeling slighted. Evidently these were some of the 'censures' Franca had to endure for grabbing the title 'National' without asking anyone's permission.

The RWB has always been a touring company, though perhaps it tours a little less now than 4-5 years ago. Ballet Jorgen and Atlantic Ballet Theatre are quintessentially touring companies, playing smaller venues that the bigger companies are never likely to visit.

What's really interesting to me, and this is surely a topic for another forum, is that Canadian ballet companies never visit Winnipeg. The National Ballet visits Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia every other year, Alberta Ballet tours B.C. and Saskatchewan, Ballet BC tours Western Canada periodically, Atlantic Ballet visits smaller cities in Quebec, Alberta and B.C. in addition to playing the Atlantic provinces, and Ballet Jorgen plays smaller venues throughout Canada, but the RWB seems to have some sort of quarantine wall around Winnipeg that prevents the others from visiting. This can't be a good thing for students of its school, who only ever see their parent company live.

And no, you're not likely to see many of them on television. The last one to get an airing on the CBC before it gave up on the performing arts was Alberta Ballet, which has managed to produce two DVDs in the last year, just under the wire, I think. As for the others, most of their programs are sitting in CBC vaults, not likely to be released commerically in the near future and likely to pop up on Bravo or Artv only when Canadian Content quotas need to be met.

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Dumb Questions: Why do France (POB) and England (Royal Ballet) have the money and the USA does not? Don't the French and British companies also have to pay crew, orchestra, dressers, etc.? Even with the notorious French syndicates/unions, France manages to put-out fantastic POB DVDs on what seems to be a monthly basis!!!

The matter of producing DVDs is still closely tied to the issue of television broadcasts. To date the POB and the RB haven't issued any recent performances that weren't taped for television first. As long as PBS limits itself to a single ballet broadcast per year, which will be the San Francisco Ballet this Christmas, you won't get more than a single DVD out of the bargain. And to further complicate things, PBS often relies on foreign broadcasters to help do its work, hence Jewels from the Paris Opera aired under the "Dance in America" banner. The "Dance in America" series also showcases other forms on dance, leading to a very paltry presence for ballet. DEMCAD may not like my opinion, but relatively speaking I think that ABT is overrepresented on PBS. When was the last time you saw PNB, Miami City Ballet, Houston Ballet or Boston Ballet on "Great Performances"? It's supposed to be "Dance in America," not "Dance in New York." The fact that PBS tapes ABT performances in D.C. or Costa Mesa is a cosmetic fudge.

The Metropolitan Opera managed to circumvent the problem of reduced PBS broadcasts by going directly into movie theatres. I don't know who pays the production costs of those simulcasts, but PBS has certainly been happy to air the programs subsequently. Strangely enough, there are now more Met broadcasts on PBS than ever before, and these broadcasts are making their way to DVD. Potentially, ballet companies could do the same. Unfortunately, the Met broadcasts have been so successful, that no one else can elbow their way in. Between the live broadcasts and their repeat showings, most weekends are already booked. Still, the fact that ABT's Met season starts after the opera season's finished creates a window of opportunity, if movie theatres could be convinced that there's an audience for ballet out there, and I'm not sure that's the case.

For two seasons now, primarily during the Met's hiatus, one of the movie chains in Canada has been showing opera and ballet performances from the Opus Arte catalogue of (mostly) future releases, predominantly from the Royal Opera in London. What's telling is that while the opera screenings are shown on both Saturdays and Sundays, the ballet screenings show on Saturdays only, suggesting that their audience is smaller. Given that track record, I don't know that movie theatres would be willing to take a chance on live ABT broadcasts from the Met, much less live NYCB broadcasts from the State Theater or any other American ballet company.

Hey, I prefer ABT, but I'll take Pacific Northwest, Houston Ballet, Miami Ballet and New York City Ballet, too.

I'll take whatever I can get. But give me something. Classical. Modern. Anything.

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Sejacko, I didn't know that the Royal Opera House owned Opus Arte. That -- along with the Met's decision to self-produce it's HD-Live -- is probably the way of the future. At least for companies with resources, a spirit of innovation and a certain amount of daring.

Yes, the ROH bought Opus Arte last year, more info here.

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A thought in passing about Natalia's (rhetorical?) question: We are the government, they represent us.

Brief anecdote, not on the original topic, but along the lines of, If more people knew what we know, there'd be more "government support" for the arts: Not able to browse the internet from home these days, I was doing so in a computer shop in my neighborhood, and sensed that the no-nonsense middle-aged proprietor was watching somewhere behind me as I enjoyed some YouTube clips of MCB's Symphony in C. Not given to speaking softly, he did so for the first time in my experience. "That's beautiful!" he said, under his breath. (We set to work burning the clips to a VCD. Oh, now what have I said?)

Meanwhile, there's Michael Kaiser's institute at the Kennedy Center for training people in marketing performing arts. Kaiser, you will remember, was the man who put ABT and RB and the Ailey Company back on their feet (sorry) when they were going bankrupt. He latest book on that has been noticed elsewhere here, but there's a short treatment, a primer, on the Kennedy Center website, relevant to this phase of the discussion, I think:

http://artsmanager.org/strategic

In particular, the chapters in Section 3 have good food for thought, or at least they did for me.

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Yes, the ROH bought Opus Arte last year, more info here.

And not a bad price, too, considering ...

The purchase has cost the opera house £5.7 million, which was funded through special accumulated reserves held by the Trustees of the ROH intended for infrastructure and capital projects.

Of course the Royal Opera House already has an inventory of operas and even some ballets to add to OA's list. The Met is obviously in this league; £5.7 million [a little more than $8.888 million in today's market] would not be a stretch, given the right donor(s). The Met already has the technology and staff in-house to produce and film all kinds of performances.

Besides the Met, who? Speaking of the U.S., the Kennedy Center could possibly organize it. And, as a kind of self-defined "national" theater, it would be able to service cities like San Francisco, Seattle, Miami, Houston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston -- all of whom have ballet and opera companies capable of doing work that deserves preservation on video and which has the potential for selling well.

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Here's the original thread on the ROH purchase of Opus Arte.

http://ballettalk.invisionzone.com/index.php?showtopic=24909

Some of the questions raised then have since been answered, though the ROH has yet to produce a DVD independently of the BBC. As has already been pointed out, the purchase of a distribution company doesn't pay for the production costs of filming a ballet or opera.

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This is a crying shame for Herrera, Wiles, Bouder, etc. How many commercial recordings exist of, say, Damien Woetzel or Nicolai Hubbe or Kyra Nichols? They're gone - retired from dancing. How sad that they were of the generation that just missed the Glory Days of PBS' Dance in America and have just retired, before any correction to this problem could take place.

I quite agree with you! :wallbash: But I always had the impression that the NYCB somehow didn't want very much to have their productions filmed or broadcasted, a bit in line with their less stardancer-fixated image, compaired to f.ex. ABT. But maybe I'm wrong and it all comes down to limited financial ressources in that case too.

There are a couple of dvd's with Balanchine ballets, mostly footage from the seventies, which are very interesting but aesthetically rather dull and very seventies-like (not the dancing, I think of some of the costumes, the settings and especially the lighting). It would have been great to have an impression of the style of later generations conserved on a recording too.

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