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Homogenization of the Classical Ballet RepertoireArticle in November 2008 Dancing Times


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#1 miliosr

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Posted 04 January 2009 - 05:02 PM

Very interesting article by Gerald Dowler in the November 2008 issue of Dancing Times regarding the increasing "sameness" of repertory among the major international ballet companies (and even some of the not-so-major ones). (He says everything in two pages that I've tried to articulate on this board and failed to do!)

Dowler posits that, by trending toward the same repertory, these companies are losing their distinctive stylistic approaches as they ignore the legacy works that are/were peculiar to their original artistic successes. In other words, the move away from a "local" repertory toward a perceived international repertory standard has the (unintended?) effect of diminishing the distinctive company styles that go hand-in-glove with the original, "local" repertories. (He levels particular fire in the direction of Copenhagen [no Bournonville this season] and London [only one Ashton/only two MacMillans].)

My own feeling is that the trend toward a global mean is here to stay. But be careful what you wish for -- once certain works (and their corresponding styles) are gone, they're gone for good. (Cue ominous horror movie music . . . )

#2 Joseph

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Posted 05 January 2009 - 12:01 AM

Very interesting article by Gerald Dowler in the November 2008 issue of Dancing Times regarding the increasing "sameness" of repertory among the major international ballet companies (and even some of the not-so-major ones). (He says everything in two pages that I've tried to articulate on this board and failed to do!)

Dowler posits that, by trending toward the same repertory, these companies are losing their distinctive stylistic approaches as they ignore the legacy works that are/were peculiar to their original artistic successes. In other words, the move away from a "local" repertory toward a perceived international repertory standard has the (unintended?) effect of diminishing the distinctive company styles that go hand-in-glove with the original, "local" repertories. (He levels particular fire in the direction of Copenhagen [no Bournonville this season] and London [only one Ashton/only two MacMillans].)

My own feeling is that the trend toward a global mean is here to stay. But be careful what you wish for -- once certain works (and their corresponding styles) are gone, they're gone for good. (Cue ominous horror movie music . . . )


How can we access the article??

#3 miliosr

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Posted 05 January 2009 - 07:11 PM

I read it in the print edition. I'm assuming they have a Web site but I don't know if current articles are available on it.

#4 Hans

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Posted 05 January 2009 - 07:51 PM

I went to the website, but the article does not appear to be available online. I will have to get the print edition. :o

#5 miliosr

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Posted 06 February 2009 - 05:54 PM

So, here is Dowler's take on what constitutes the international repertory:

19th century ballets (in a multitude of stagings): The Nutcracker, The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake

Ashton: La Fille mal gardee

Balanchine: Agon, Apollo, Ballet Imperial, The Four Temperaments, Jewels, Prodigal Son, Symphony in C, Theme and Variations

Bournonville: La Sylphide

Cranko (if at all): Onegin

Forsythe: in the middle somewhat elevated, The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude

MacMillan: Manon


If you throw in Giselle, Balanchine's Serenade, MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet, Robbins' Dances at a Gathering, Tharp's In the Upper Room and something by Wheeldon, then you pretty much have it.

#6 bart

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Posted 06 February 2009 - 08:27 PM

miliosr, you describe very well the effects -- present and future -- of this homogeniation. Does Dowler -- or do you -- have any explanations as to WHY this is occuring? And what it is about these particular works by these particular choreographers that gives them entry into the magic circle?

#7 4mrdncr

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Posted 07 February 2009 - 06:24 PM

I'll give one guess:
All the above listed works are "proven" works with a "track record" of bringing in audiences and money to fill a declining bank account. They are easily understood by most audiences--even those with limited classical dance experience--and therefore most are money-makers for the companies that produce them. And like Hollywood, most big-time producers (or large classical ballet companies) prefer to "greenlight" a writer/director/actor (or choreographer) with a proven track record before taking a chance on the unknown.

#8 miliosr

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Posted 07 February 2009 - 07:18 PM

Dowler talks a little bit about the "masterpiece/moneymaker" aspect but he spends more time discussing two other phenomena:

1) Dowler posits that internationalization (which I take to mean as cheap jet travel, the fall of the Iron Curtain and the rise of the Information Age [i.e. blogs, YouTube, etc.]) -- has created a situation where dancers, choreographers, and companies can go pratically anywhere in the world (and audience members can watch them anywhere even if it's via YouTube.) But he believes this global movement has come at a price -- the regional isolation which produced distinctive repertories and company styles has disappeared and, consequently, the regional differences have blurred into one and a certain "international" style now prevails.

Dowler's thesis isn't new. Arlene Croce rang the alarm bells in 1996 (!) in a New Yorker article titled "Our Dancers in the Nineties". Even 13 years ago, she was worried about what was happening to the world's major classical ballet companies.

(What I would compare the Dowler/Croce thesis to is the phenomenon Terry Teachout has written about regarding opera singing/classical musical playing at the dawn of the recording industry. Listening to the those early recordings today reveals extreme differences (bordering at times on eccentricity) in singing/playing styles between performers depending on region. But as performers and listeners alike began to listen to recordings en masse, the eccentricities disappeared as everyone began to converge around a new "international" mean.)

2) Dowler also thinks the artistic directors of the world's foremost companies have a hand in it because they are in a competition with each other (my words, not his) to have the biggest, brightest, "most international" repertory. That they are increasingly programming the same works (and, by extension, chasing after the same trends) doesn't seem to have occurred to anybody. (In defense of the company directors, Dowler does point out that local choreographers of talent are thin on the ground and, therefore, company directors don't have much recourse when it comes to finding local talent to reinforce a unique company style via an unique repertory.)

#9 miliosr

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Posted 30 March 2009 - 05:32 PM

http://online.wsj.co...0175560705.html

Here's the money quote:

"The choreographer [Balanchine] hoped to make his mark and that of his company with fresh and experimental new works in a dance world that was then all too ready, in Balanchine's view, to see ballet in a kind of bell jar of nostalgia, where revered works from the past were a company's ne plus ultra."

Oh, he doesn't see the irony in what he's written!

#10 bart

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Posted 30 March 2009 - 06:12 PM

Oh, he doesn't see the irony in what he's written!

I have to differ with you on this, miliiosr. The whole point of the WSJ article is that Balanchine's Swan Lake expressed his own carefully thought out and evolving reflections on the traditional version.

Here's something from near the end of the article:

Unlike any number of more elaborate multiact stagings nowadays, Balanchine's one-act creation does more than call itself "Swan Lake." It calls viewers to the heart of its music and, in so doing, mesmerizes them.

There's nostalgia here, of course. But it's not the kind one seals up and displays in a bell jar.

#11 Hans

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Posted 30 March 2009 - 07:05 PM

Does the quote refer only to Swan Lake?

I ask because NYCB seems to have become just as much of a 'museum' (not that that's necessarily a bad thing) as many other long-established ballet companies.

#12 miliosr

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Posted 31 March 2009 - 05:22 PM

What I was objecting to was the snooty tone -- "Oh, those poor unfortunates stuck in their nostalgia and unable to recognize the way forward!" Accusing past audiences of nostalgia makes me grit my teeth when here he is writing about a work that's 59 years old. Is there really nothing more current for him to write about in his column? If the answer is no, then I have to ask myself whether the classical ballet has a creative future if all it can do is endlessly recycle the warhorses from the 19th century and the Balanchine repertory from the 20th century. (I'm overexaggerating to make a point but the point remains.)

And as for the notion that Balanchine's version "speaks" to modern audiences more than other versions, that would probably come as "news" to a lot of people around the world.

#13 bart

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Posted 31 March 2009 - 06:17 PM

What I was objecting to was the snooty tone -- "Oh, those poor unfortunates stuck in their nostalgia and unable to recognize the way forward!" And as for the notion that Balanchine's version "speaks" to modern audiences more than other versions, that would probably come as "news" to a lot of people around the world.

I must once again disagree, miliosr.

Happily, you've posted a link to the article, so everyone can make his or her own decision as to matters of content or tone.

For anyone who is curious about the Balanchine version, or who loves or detests it, Greskovic's piece is well worth reading. :wink:

#14 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 31 March 2009 - 07:38 PM

The whole point of the WSJ article is that Balanchine's Swan Lake expressed his own carefully thought out and evolving reflections on the traditional version.

Don't kill me people, but the more and more I read about B's SL "version" the more I compress my brain to try to understand what makes it different from other takes. What I saw was just a traditional Act II with some IV additions...(the mechanical swans and the props making it even more antique-looking on my eyes...). As per the music, isn't the same beautiful T's used in every production ...?
Don't know, but I couldn't really see that famous Odette's depersonalization so often talked about... :wink:

#15 miliosr

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Posted 01 April 2009 - 04:38 AM

And speaking of the homogenization of the international repertory:

http://www.nytimes.c...n...1&ref=dance

http://www.nytimes.c...n...1&ref=dance

(Although, in Hubbe's defense, he is bringing in out-of-left-field choices like Ashton's Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan + Limon's The Unsung + new commissions in 2009-10.)


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