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Changing directors


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#1 BalletNut

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Posted 18 January 2002 - 09:34 PM

One thing I've noticed, and read about, is the way that whenever a ballet company changes directors, the whole makeup of the company seems to change as well, to varying degrees of course. For example, after Michael Smuin's departure from SFB, a lot of his repertoire seemed to leave with him, and a lot of the old Christiansen works as well. Nowadays, with Helgi Tomasson as director, I have yet to see SFB dance any of Smuin's ballets. [I have, however, seen two Christiansen works...] Another case of this, which I have not seen as much of, is across the bay in Oakland, where Karen Brown took over the directorship of the Oakland Ballet. A few years ago the company had a repertory of many eclectic Americana and Diaghilev works, but after Brown came, Oakland Ballet seems more focused on modernish fusion pieces. There are also cases where the dancers follow the director, such as at the National Ballet of Canada, where several principals followed the outgoing director to Stuttgart, I believe.

My question is whether this is a good thing or not. On the one hand, dance is a very fluid art form, and needs to move forward. Yet there's a part of me that regrets the loss of a choreographic legacy in favor of entirely new works.

Opinions, anyone?

#2 LMCtech

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Posted 19 January 2002 - 06:39 PM

This is a great question. I ask myself this all the time. I think the attrition of choreographic works and dancers unfortunately inevitable when a new leader comes in.

Is it bad? Sometimes. Is it good? Sometimes. It all depends on the situation and the company.

I try to keep a level head about it. Mourn the loss, but welcome the future.

#3 Alexandra

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Posted 24 January 2002 - 10:13 AM

I had wanted to stay out of this until more people had posted, but since the thread has gone quiet.....I think this is too important a topic to let die a quiet death.

To me, this is one of the most central questions in ballet today. It's been an issue at some of the top companies -- both Britain's and Denmark's Royal ballets. It is NOT an issue, I think, at NYCB, and I don't think Martins has gotten credit for this. If a director at NYCB suddenly decided to do only Romeo and Juliet and Manon -- and new works in that genre -- mixed in with works by the new resident choreographer, say, David Parsons, and the Balanchine repertory was reduced to ten ballets -- THAT'S what's been going on elsewhere.

As Ballet Nut points out, though, this trend has hit second and third-tier companies as well. The great example was Boston Ballet, I think, where there was a very definite tradition -- in its early stages, but thoroughly in place, in the school (Vaganova) and the repertory (Petipa classics). As Ballet Nut pointed out, the Oakland Ballet had a tradition of revivals of Americana and Diaghilev Ballets and this profile has been changed completely by a new director.

The San Francisco Ballet example is one that, at the time, was considered a good change -- the board wanted to raise the level of the company and make it more classical. (That was the publicly stated goal of the board chairman, Mac Lowry.) It was a very controversial policy, for fans as well as dancers.

It is the Board who determines the direction that a company will take now. Sometimes I think they do it without understanding the impact -- there is no requirement for an Environmental (or Aesthetic) Impact Statement. There's no realization that bringing in X director in, say, Boston, who is not only not a Vaganova person, but in some ways an anti-Vaganova person will necessarily result in changes at the school and the company repertory. They may do this without meaning to -- so who's Vaganova? -- and be looking for a big name, a choreographer who's just had a hit, or a director, late of another company who's on the job search circuit.

I think, like all things, in many cases, results are what dictates success or failure. I think (and I may well be wrong on this) that the Oakland Ballet's Diaghlev repertory was an attempt to give the company a distinct profile; it was trying to do what SFB wasn't doing. In other words, perhaps the ballets were NOT the thing. If Brown was brought in to bring in a more contemporary repertory that was eclectic, but in a different way, then one could say the company still had the same artistic mission statement. If a new genius choreographer took over Company X and dazzled everyone with a new repertory, there would be fewer complaints.

One of the problems is that a new director will bring in his own tastes in repertory and dancers. If a contemporary dance choreographer takes over, he will probably choose dancers whose bodies are less suited to the classical or neoclassical repertory. They may look just great in his ballets, but not in the former core repertory. This is when fans start to notice. The new director may also, of course, come in and throw out all the favorite dancers because they don't suit the repertory (s)he is planning to bring in.

What do you think about this? Take your own home company -- and I hope we will get responses from all over, not just New York on this one. Does it have a distinct profile? What would you think if a new director came in and shook the place to the foundations? How much should a board consider before hiring a new director?

#4 PK

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Posted 24 January 2002 - 10:32 AM

Alexandra,American Repetory Ballet(New Brunswick,NJ based)has a new director who's taken on some big changes.He announced from the get-go that audiences won't be seeing any tutu ballet,as he put it.Yes,as you say,the dancers are changing-very different body types,the repetoire more contemporary,etc.The reviews have been raving,but time will tell.The traditional Princton audience in the past has looked forward to the classics and this is very different.What you were talking about sounds just like this.Time.

#5 Lolly

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Posted 24 January 2002 - 11:11 AM

Okay, The Royal Ballet. We are about five months into our new directorship, and the initial fuss has settled down a bit. For me, I felt reassured by Ross Stretton being visible in the audience at performances, and have even seen Sir Anthony around too.

The repertoire has changed, no doubt about it. I have a ticket for everything, so maybe it would be better for me to get back to you in May and let you know how the first season went, but i'll try and give my first impressions! We've had Don Quixote (new) and Onegin (new). Between now and May (current booking period) we have four mixed programmes of new works, new choreographers and a heritage one throw in here and there (Marguerite and Armand next week, for example) I think that is too much all at once. I can't remember what I am supposed to be seeing, if everything is new all at once, it all merges together in my mind.

Just to illustrate this i'll use another example, I saw the Kirov's Balanchine programme in London last summer of Jewels, Symphony in C and Serenade, and cannot distinguish between them in my mind because I had never seen those ballets before. Yes, it gave me a taste of Balanchine but I know more about the style than the particular ballets.

The mixed programmes are interspersed with Giselle, which we had last April, Romeo and Juliet, which we also had in April, and La Bayadere. So you can see the new balance Mr Stretton has given to the company's works. He seems to think that the new works, or mixed programmes will bring in a newer and younger audience but i'm not so sure. Yes it is good to give opportunity to new choreographers, and the one act ballets give a way in to the more junior members of the company to be seen. But FOUR programmes! Sir Anthony might have had a couple, with something new from someone in the company, but now the choreographers in the company seem to have been handed to Deborah Bull to do something with in her Artist Development Initiative, which gives space for dancers to show their work in the Opera House's studio theatres, the Linbury and the Clore. So now they don't get the chance to perform on the main stage. (I do think the ADI is a very good thing, however, and have enjoyed what has been shown so far).

I've got to go to class now so that's my initial reaction! Mr Stretton seems like a nice man from what I have seen of him in classes and masterclasses, but i'm not sure he is the right man for the Royal Ballet. I do hope he is, so I will leave it till the end of the season before I make a true judgement. smile.gif

#6 Jane Simpson

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Posted 25 January 2002 - 08:20 AM

Lolly, is it the amount of new work you don't like, or the number of triple bills? If it's the first, I'm not sure I agree with you, and if it's the second I definitely don't! The RB's season has been running three months and I've only seen two ballets, and I'm longing for something different. The four triple bills you mention are all we're getting all season, so far as we know - the de Valois programme announced for the summer has been cancelled - and for my taste that's not nearly enough, particularly as several of the works are being featured in more than one of the programmes.

I don't think it's possible, or fair, to judge a new director on his first season; but if next season also is so heavily slanted to full length works I shall be both disappointed and concerned. Fortunately, in a recent interview Ross Stretton said that he plans to split the repertory equally between classics/heritage, existing 'world' choreography, and new works, and I don't see how he can do that without including a lot more programmes of short works in the future.

#7 Alexandra

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Posted 25 January 2002 - 08:34 AM

I'm concerned about this term "heritage works." This is new to me. Is it code for "works which we'd like to dump because we think they're outmoded but we don't dare?" As soon as a ballet is termed a "heritage work" to me, that means it's dead in the mind of the artistic staff (or whoever dumps the ballets in that bin.) "Oh, we don't have any heritage works this season. Damn and blast. Go down to the freezer and get three of them."

#8 Lolly

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Posted 25 January 2002 - 03:55 PM

Jane, it's the fact that our own choreographers aren't getting the chance to show what they can do in what I would think to be an ideal opportunity - when they don't have the pressure of box office because their work is combined with something already well known. Also, the mixed bills aren't each different - they are each a re-hash of each other with several ballets being shown again a bit later in the season, along with something new. I resented this a bit, because although I think it is always good to see something twice, even if (and often especially if) you didn't like it the first time, I find it exploitative. I already get a ticket to see everything, sometimes with a couple of different casts, so I feel a bit cheated to get a ticket for a mixed bill later in the season when I will have already seen part of what is on offer. (I am in no way complaining about ticket prices, it's just I don't live in London.)

Is this change in repertoire a good thing? I strongly believe that we really need to make the most of people like Monica Mason and Donald MacLeary who have great links with the company's history, so they can pass on all the roles they know. But of course this needs to be balanced with the new, so the company doesn't get bored and everyone is artistically stimulated. (Deborah Bull is doing sterling work in this area of course, and I have enjoyed the products of the ADI so far.) It's just my impression that the mixed bills are too much too soon - I think it would have been far wiser of Mr Stretton to let things lie for a while, let people get used to his style and slip his ideas in a bit more gently. A lot of people are very precious about the company and were very put out about the "outsider" even getting the job, so it may have been more prudent of him to not change too much to start with.

But, as I said before, I think he seems nice, and am fully prepared to give him every chance before I make the "yes/no" decision. He has his vision, and i'd like to see it work out. smile.gif

Alexandra, as far as I understand the term, "heritage works" are those which have been made especially for the company. So not works which we want to get rid of - ones which we dearly want to hold on to! Maybe because i'm young, and only in the last couple of years have been going to everything on offer, I haven't seen everything I want to see from this "section", but whilst we have access to the dancers who created the roles, and had them created for them, why aren't we making full use of this valuable link with the past? Yes, onwards and upwards and all that, but we have so many great works already! I almost feel like I haven't filled in the gaps in my ballet history lesson yet, and want to see the heritage works before I see the new works. But then doesn't every generation think they just missed something fantastic? I think I did, but if the dancers we have in the company at the moment are anything to go by, another great era is just around the corner... smile.gif

#9 LMCtech

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Posted 25 January 2002 - 08:31 PM

Okay, flip to a different locale.

Alexandra already mentioned Oakland and SFB, but I'm going to elaborate because I sat thru both of these AD changes.

First, San Francisco Ballet. When in the mid-80's an uproar started to arise about the quality of the ballets being presented by the city's only major professional company, the board made the decision to look for a new director who could commit more time to the company (Mr. Smuin was terribly overbooked with outside projects)and who could make them into a world class company. They found that person in Helgi Tomasson, who has done both of those things. The transition was not without bumps, with many audience members screaming about SFB becoming NYCB West. The screaming has mostly stopped. The die-hard Smuin fans can still go to see his works albeit with a smaller company in a smaller venue, and the other balletomanes have a world-famous company to watch in the Opera House. The one thing I do miss is the legacy of the Christensen brothers, which Smuin seemed to have more of a commitment to than Tomasson.

The Oakland transition has been mostly positive. Oakland Ballet was woefullt in the hole, and I believe partially because the company did not reflect the diverse population of Oakland or its multi-cultural tastes. What does an African or Latino American care about the repertory of the Ballet Russe? The present more exotic and contemporary repertory is much more successful and has caused buzzing around the city that was never there before. The company is not out of the woods, but I think they are headed in the right direction. So the Boards decision to change artistic direction by hiring who they hired was also successful. And I don't miss their old rep at all.


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