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Classical/Contemporary, Round 10


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 01 March 2002 - 12:18 PM

Two sections of yesterday's article in the Globe and Mail about the new artistic director at Alberta Ballet jumped out at me. (Ari found this and posted the link on links. If you want to read the whole article, go to www.globeandmail.com and put "Alberta Ballet" in the search box on the home page.)

What do you make of this?

quote:


In Montreal, a dance-mad city more oriented to the avant-garde than to ballet, Grand-Maître is not as familiar as Edouard Locke, Marie Chouinard or Pierre-Paul Savoie. "Montreal audiences might be surprised to hear this, but they don't really understand ballet, there is not a great tradition here," Grand-Maître says. His sentiments might be shared by the National Ballet's James Kudelka, who was admired but not always understood by the city's fickle audiences.

Later, Grand-Maitre gives more of his definition of ballet:

quote:


"Alberta Ballet is the right company for me," he says, his face breaking into a smile. "It's a fine, young ensemble of 25 dancers. It's a company with a very eclectic repertoire. Mikko has brought the dancing level to very high standards. They do Balanchine, they do neoclassical and more and more contemporary works."

This interests me because Kudelka was "too classical" for Montreal and "not classical" in Toronto. Grand-Maitre is not my idea of a classical choreographer, and Alberta Ballet reportedly rejected applicants who were "too ballet" in favor of somebody "more contemporary."

Are we moving (not fast enough, oh, please, speed it up) to ballet/contemporary/modern divide? No longer just ballet/modern?

#2 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 01 March 2002 - 01:56 PM

In all seriousness, though I'm sure it will sound to some as though I'm being flip, this sort of discussion always makes me feel as though the parties involved don't honestly know exactly what they're talking about.

#3 Alexandra

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Posted 01 March 2002 - 02:00 PM

I understand what he's talking about smile.gif (I certainly have a different definition of "ballet" than Grand-Maitre, but I understood what he's saying.) I'm curious, pmeja, what you think showed lack of understanding? Or did you mean that such a discussion itself isn't worthwhile because (generally) no one understands what they're talking about smile.gif

[ March 01, 2002, 02:32 PM: Message edited by: alexandra ]

#4 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 01 March 2002 - 07:18 PM

in a way i'm not sure, alexandra. a discussion like this always ends up frustrating me no end because what it always seems inevitably to degenerate into is a catfight about a definition of terms, and people wanting desperately to leave others with an impression that they can define something better than anyone else, with more than just a hint of superiority. i don't think most boards of directors have any idea of what 'ballet' as opposed to 'contemporary' as opposed to 'modern' means any more than the next guy, and i think there are directors who don't know what they mean either. i get irritated at being a part of an audience whose intelligence is demeaned because i've liked something when the pundits say i'm not supposed to, and god forbid i should have the gall to ask to see more of the same, or at least more of a variation on a theme. i know i sound terribly frustrated but i really am! i think we waste a lot of energy on this and the whole profession could end up running itself into the ground instead of just being and developing naturally. no one allows talent to flourish at a decent speed anymore; so many directors/choreographers etc. seem so intent on proving that they have the hot new key, the latest manifestation of genius, and aren't (god forbid) content at all to serve genius, they al have to be it! not only is it terribly rushed but everyone wants to be the first to discover something or someone and runs to discredit the thing/person in question if they haven't done it first. who suffers in the end, in my opinion, is everybody. except the boards of directors and the ceo's.
sorry to run on, and this is all stream of consciousness, but you get the idea.

[ March 01, 2002, 08:37 PM: Message edited by: Mme. Hermine ]

#5 Alexandra

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Posted 01 March 2002 - 11:17 PM

I think there are a lot of discussions that take place here that may seem esoteric or irrelevant to some people and are bread and butter to others. These are things critics -- and directors and choreographers -- talk about all the time. The reason directorships, repertories and a company's whole personality changes -- not to mention people losing their jobs -- are the result of issues like these. When people raise issues of what's going on in the larger context, or criticize a performance, or the like, it's not intended to make anyone feel inferior and I don't think the discussions here are phrased that way. But this forum is precisely for topics such as this, and I very much want people to feel comfortable raising them. I'm sorry if it's off-putting to you, but then, why not just avoid those posts? smile.gif

For those who do find this issue relevant or interesting, I hope this exchange won't make you hesitant to respond to the topic. The way the issue of repertory is stated in these quotes is a bit different from the way it's been tackled here in the past, and I'd be interested in hearing views.

#6 julip

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Posted 02 March 2002 - 02:25 AM

Well, I'll have a shot at it (all those performance art theory classes in school have to come to something now tongue.gif ).

This week I have been attending the senior thesis concerts at the college that I graduated from, it's very interesting to go to them because you have the opportunity to see everything from the avant-garde performance art bent dance works, to the fairly classical contemporary ballet. It is hard to seperate contemporary from modern, and modern from avante garde...but possible. I'll give examples from this particular series of shows.

Disclaimer...This is all IMO

Classical-Contemporary Ballet--obviously uses solid ballet technique, and one doesn't need solid modern dance technique to accomplish it. The choreography tends to center more on the technique of the dancer opposed to the comopositon itself. In this concert there was a work where the dancers performed steps that could have been taken out of a ballet a hundred years ago--however, it was to somewhat new music and they 'modernized' some of the arms. A pirouette was a classic pirouette, an arabesque was always clear and centered. There was no pushing to the rhelms of modern dance with contracted and curved bodies and centers of balance pushed off kilter.

Contemporary Ballet--cannot be executed without solid ballet technique as well as solid modern dance technique. The choreography could be said to have 'the heart of ballet and the mind of modern dance'. In this concert there was a work where the dancer was en-pointe that blended these two techniques. For example, an en dedans pirouette in a contracted parallel position with the head completing the curve of the back.

Modern Dance--the extremes of ballet technique are not necessary to this, such as exagerated turn-out and the like. However, if one does not have a sound body technique of some sort that is relevant to the type of momevment being done...then the work is impossible to do. The choreography (if done well) tends to center around the composition itself as opposed to being centered around the technique of the dancer.

Performance Art (Dance)--unfortunatly, sound body technique is not always needed for this sort, although there are many performers who are very capable of pushing there bodies to further extremes. These works are all about the performance themselves, and secondly the composition--the composition usually serving to set up an 'in the moment' performance. This concert, for example had a work where the dancers placed objects around the stage that they then proceeded to cut up and paste to a large paper strung up in the back...after a bit they sat one girl down and cut her hair, and tying it into bundles served it with milk and cookies to memebers of the audience. By itself, the compositon described seems rather humerous...but in performance the dancers were able to move one to tears from the loss and the cutting and the sorrow.

Avante Garde--this is the tricky one. Ok, so. Avante Garde IMO is more about the compositon and less about the performance. It also tends to not find secure body techniqe necessary, instead it seems to be more concerned about making a point, being different or 'cool', or just simply shocking. In this concert, for example...there was a work where a clothes line was strung up on a diagnol across the back of the stage. Methodically the performer took clothing from the basket and hung it up on the clothes line, then she scattered more of the clothing around on the ground. After that she put on makeup on stage and 'did her hair' (this dancer was shaved, so that provided a laughing moment). There was no full body movement at all...just walking around performing tasks. There was also no real performance quality, although if I was in a theory class that would be debated for quite awhile.

Hmmm, that turned out to be rather long...but good to get my mind going again in that manner.

#7 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 02 March 2002 - 06:13 AM

yikes. that didn't come out sounding right, did it? a lot more defensive than it should have been.
the discussions themselves don't make me feel inferior. and i didn't mean that to be an indictment of you or any of the posters on the board, alexandra. i do feel, though, that many of the people who most directly and immediately affect company identities don't really know much about what they're doing, and tend to make drastic decisions about those identities without giving any thought to whether or not any aspect of what the company has done thus far is valid or wanted by the people who come to see them, and trash a company's heritage of many years, sometimes in a matter of a couple of months, because they've got this idea that they have to make a mark as quickly as possible. and of course, sometimes they do, because people don't generally seem to be allowed to do it at a more natural pace, to let things develop over years, anymore. so sometimes the discussions (and again, i'm *not* talking really about the fine folks at balletalert!) are frustrating because it seems like they're just exchanging newspeak, without any feeling for their subject.
is that clearer? i should never do stream of consciousness...

#8 Alexandra

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Posted 02 March 2002 - 12:29 PM

julip -- wow! I think those are very solid definitions. (Whether one agrees with them or not -- I think I do, but that isn't the point smile.gif -- they're very clearly stated and distinctions made.

pmeja, I agree with you that most boards of directors don't know the difference. I'd maintain that's one of the problems. I think some choreographers/directors think about these things a lot and others perhaps do not.

I asked this of a company director long ago -- innocently, before this had become an issue for me -- if he thought it was difficult for the dancers to perform triple bills of modern dance during the week and then do "Swan Lake" on the weekend (which was the pattern for that company at that time) and he thought for a moment and said, "I've honestly never thought about it that way. It's all about marketing" [paraphrasing here; this is a 12-year-old conversation]. Their surveys showed that half the audience liked contemporary dance and half liked the classics, and this was the way they were attempting to serve both audiences. I think that happens a lot now smile.gif (In an interview several years later, the same man had a different opinion. He said he was watching his dancers struggle with a Martha Graham work and thought, "This isn't right. They aren't trained to do this, and I'm not giving them what they have been trained to do.")

What I found especially intersting about the Grand Maitre quotes was the reference to choreographers like Kudelka, who were considered to "classical" for one company that had a contemporary dance profile and too "contemporary" for one that had a classical tradition.

[ March 02, 2002, 12:34 PM: Message edited by: alexandra ]


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