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Elitism? A case study in Scotland


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 26 September 2001 - 10:41 PM

No one here seems very interested in what's going on at Scottish Ballet -- but it's generating three and four articles a day in the British press. There are larger issues at stake here. I hope at least some of you will read this article and that it will spark discussion :) We've talked about elitisim -- yes/no, good/bad -- before, but the Scottish Ballet issue has turned it into a street fight.

What do you think?

Scottish ballet 'facing ruin' in elitism row

Dancers claim move to drop classics will alienate audiences and slash takings

Gerard Seenan
Thursday September 27, 2001


Like its fellow disciplines in the arts, the world of ballet is not unfamiliar with the concepts of slander and polite chicanery. But the animosity which has driven Scotland's national company yesterday threatened to descend into a barre room brawl.

As Scottish Ballet's dancers called for the resignation of the company's chairman and chief executive, its artistic director, Robert North, claimed "monstrous egos" with "elitist views" were destroying dancers' careers and jeopardising the company's existence.

Read more:
[url="http://"http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,558730,00.html"]http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,...,558730,00.html[/url]

#2 Diana L

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Posted 27 September 2001 - 04:43 AM

I have to say, I agree with dancers. If I took a job and all of the sudden the job description changed, I wouldn't be too happy either.
Maybe they should incorporate a "Diamond Project" type of a deal. 2 weeks of contemporary pieces, it would be a good trial run to see if the audience in fact is there. To just change it though seems a bit drastic.

#3 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 27 September 2001 - 05:35 AM

i listened to the entire broadcast of the hearing along with another board regular. it was really astounding. from what i understand, it will be available on line for 30 days after the hearing date. i don't have the link handy but will post it later if no one else has by then. i am on my first cup of coffee, so i'd rather postpone my assessment for a few hours! :)

[ 09-27-2001: Message edited by: Mme. Hermine ]

#4 Cliff

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Posted 28 September 2001 - 12:54 AM

It seems that the Scottish Ballet has financial problems and that management's answer is to alter the artistic direction from classical ballet to contemporary dance. Thus, saving money by dropping expensive productions like _The Sleeping Beauty_ and _Swan Lake_. Is isn't clear that any less radical changes were considered.

Is the issue really elitism? Or are the dancers just referring to the word "elitism" in order to garner more public support?

Cliff

#5 salzberg

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Posted 28 September 2001 - 06:49 AM

A couple of random notes and observations:

A. I wasn't sure that the terminology was the same on both sides of the Atlantic, so I checked with a friend in Scotland (who has, in fact, danced with SB); "contemporary", in this case, means "contemporary ballet", so this isn't a "Hartford Ballet/Dance Connecticut" type of thing.

II. It's kind of refreshing, actually, and a measure of how far we've come, I think, to see an advocate of classical ballet refer to another dance form as "elitist".

3. "Barre room brawl" is priceless.

Four. This is, in reverse, what happened in Houston over 25 years ago, when the board fired James Clouser and brought in Ben Stevenson.

[ 09-28-2001: Message edited by: salzberg ]

#6 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 28 September 2001 - 07:01 AM

hi jeff!

i listened to the whole broadcast, and it seemed as though their use of the word 'elitist' was in the context of the fact that their ballet performances sell much better than the mixed-bill, 'contemporary' performances, and that 'elitist' to them meant that the board was wanting to present dance away from the taste of the larger part of their audience.

#7 Estelle

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Posted 28 September 2001 - 07:03 AM

It sounds very similar to what happened to the Ballet de Nancy about two seasons ago: the city wanted to give less money to the company, so it was decided to have fewer dancers and switch to a contemporary repertory. It kept a sprinkling of classical repertory (this season Nijinska's "Les Noces"
is the only one) and the rest is a mixture of styles (Karole Armitage has become a resident choreographer, and there are creations by other contemporary choreographers, and also previously existing works by Cunningham, Taylor, Monnier, Duboc, Gallotta...) The repertory of the Lacotte periode, which included mostly several reconstitutions of full-length works, many Balanchine works and
some works of the Ballets Russes, have been abandoned. I don't know if the audience has increased or decreased since the change occurred.

As Cliff, I wonder if "elitism" has anything to do with the issue...

#8 Alexandra

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Posted 28 September 2001 - 09:36 AM

The definition of "contemporary" there does include modern dance -- it seems to me "anything that isn't classical ballet." But this isn't a completely new direction for Scottish -- Robert North isn't classical ballet either. (It's interesting that a few years ago, their web page was touting how contemporary they were -- new now!!!! -- yet the splash page photo was a woman in Kitri's costume, fan, red tutu and all. There seems to be a disconnect here.)

There's also a disconnect between the "taste of the audience" and money. There must be better reasons to have a contemporary repertory other than it's cheaper -- fewer dancers, lessened toe shoe costs, etc.

[ 09-28-2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]

#9 felursus

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Posted 03 October 2001 - 12:44 AM

I, too, listened to the Scottish Parliament webcast. First of all, what the British mean by a switch from "classical" to "contemporary" is what Ballet Rambert did some thirty-odd years ago now. Something similar has been done with a number of European companies. Robert North was trained in the classical idiom before becoming a 'contemporary-style' dancer. One of the points he made was that classically-trained dancers can learn to move in other styles, but dancers trained purely in the contemporary idiom cannot perform ballet. Another point he made - although he was extremely careful not to impute such a plot to the Scottish Ballet Board - was that several German ballet companies were 'converted' to contemporary-style companies and then failed and were completely disbanded. This then left more funds for the opera companies operating in the same theater. He did, however, let on that there are some ballet board members who are also connected with Scottish Opera. The battle for funding is definitely hotting up. One of the reasons - indeed perhaps the main reason that was given for the change - by an official of the Scottish Ballet Board - was that the Scottish Ballet had been rejected a number of times by the Edinburgh Festival. The reason given (at least as explained by the SB board member) was that Scottish Ballet did not 'meet the standards' of the Edinburgh Festival.

Does anybody from Britain have any comments on this? I haven't seen Scottish Ballet in over 20 years, and so I can have no insight into this issue at all.

Robert North also made some valid economic points: yes, it is more expensive to put on productions of ballets such as "Sleeping Beauty" et al, but they do draw a good-sized audience. When the company put on triple bills - contemporary ballets in the classical idiom - they sold far, far fewer tickets. He pointed out that the savings in production costs would be wiped out by the loss of ticket sales. North also pointed out that there were a number of established contemporary dance groups in Scotland, and that a change in format for Scottish Ballet would mean a) that there would no longer be any classical ballet company in Scotland; B) there would be no "national" company in which a student at the SBS could aspire to dance; c) it would increase the competition amongst contemporary companies and possibly lead to one or two having to close down. The board member took the tack that although the change in format would mean that the general public would need to be "educated" in the contemporary idiom, they would come to appreciate the high standards they (the board) intended to set, and the audience would grow.

Having said all that, there is quite a movement in Britain in general, against "elitist" art. The infamous GLC arts grants under "Red Ken" back in the 70s went almost exclusively to contemporary companies of all kinds. Underground art was almost main stream. (Hard to imagine.) Art was considered to be "better" if it originated out of some enormous angst engendered by the common experiences of some particular group of people - as long as they hadn't come from the court of Louis XIV! I see they are at it again.

#10 Brendan McCarthy

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Posted 03 October 2001 - 07:24 AM

A full transcript of the parliamentary committee hearings into Scottish Ballet is now available. [url="http://"http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/official_report/cttee/educ-01/ed01-2402.htm"]Scottish Parliament[/url]


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