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Nurturing new choreographic talent


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#16 Simon G

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Posted 28 May 2009 - 01:06 PM

All true, SimonG, but as far as Balanchine was concerned, at least, he did a lot of these extracurricular activities from hunger. Iím sure his art benefited from them to some extent and he did not look down on this work, but if he had been able to concentrate on ballet full time, he would have done so. (I suspect the same is true for Ashton, as well.)



Hey Dirac,

Yes, I know, but I think that's what made him, and Ashton, perhaps it wouldn't have been their first choice but how different would their art have been without that huge eclectic tapestry of experience, those years in which they formulated their views on society, life, their world and how it would impact on the art they came to create.

That's the thing, I don't see those experiences as negative at all. In relation to Quiggan saying that everything that there is to be said, or done has been, true, but what is infinite in variety is the way the individual reinterprets.Would someone who's spent their whole life within a studio, first as dancer then as choreographer have that wealth of experience to draw from? That's part of my problem with Christopher Wheeldon, he knows his technical onions, you can't argue that but the outlook is as academic as a series of barre exercises - the intellectual motivation behind the work, kind of parochial.

It's the individual who has seen a great deal who makes work worth a damn. I think that's what I've been unclear in saying, i believe that instead of interrupting their progress as choreographers that wealth of life experience in no small part made them.

#17 Simon G

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Posted 28 May 2009 - 01:15 PM

Actually in relation to Balanchine did anyone see those interviews with Tallchief describing how he formed her or reformed her into a technical instrument capable of dancing his choreography?

I thought that really interesting, this came after Ballets Russes, those incredible early works which must have been danced in the Petrograd style, after his first US experiments and after those long fallow years of little or no ballet choreography, when Kirstein had seen in Balanchine the future and was willing to finance and put his considerable resources into creating their vision of "American" ballet.

What I found most fascinating was that here was a man who knew choreography but had a vision of how choreography should be reinvented and reformed in relation to a totally new approach to technique and he was reinventing the ballerina and her technique to express and interpret that - he was creating a new instrument for dance, both reimagining the old works and inventing the new.

By this stage Balanchine was a "mature" seasoned and highly exerienced choreographer, of course, but it was like he was being born anew - all those years had led him to a point where he was starting from scratch.

And I think that's what nurturing is reaching a point where the triumphs and failures create a full-blown artist.

#18 Ray

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Posted 28 May 2009 - 01:29 PM

Right, Quiggin, and as you've pointed out on other threads, Balanchine's genius didn't emerge from a vacuum but from an environment full of intellectual and artistic energy.

Regardless of whether the general environment is as intellectually and artistically stimulating as Balanchine found, he started to choreograph experimentally at a young age -- not without difficulty or criticism -- at school, using his fellow students. As cubanmiamiboy has pointed out, the number of students in ballet academies has grown beyond the capacity for companies to absorb, and at schools, there are still the laboratories for someone who is compelled to create classical ballet.


And let's not forget that the rise of Balanchine and the NYCB were made possible from the increase in public and private funding for the arts, especially from the Kennedy era onwards. And while Balanchine may have had to choreograph for his bread at times in his life, his career is really more than most a testament to the value of patronage: 2 Russian governments, Diaghilev's backers, Lincoln K., City Center, the Ford (and many other) Foundation, the NEA, etc.

#19 Helene

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Posted 28 May 2009 - 11:39 PM

One more point in the "going forward" vs. "becoming a museum" argument is that technique and style can be lost, if older works are not coached and performed, especially in an art form that is passed from dancer to dancer. (Although this is not exclusive to ballet: consider the loss of painting techniques and paint mixing, how to make Fortuny pleats, or the shellac formulas from the great Italian violin makers when they cease to be part of a living art and/or their inventors take their secrets to their graves.)

sandik and I had a discussion tonight at dinner, in which I mentioned that the Ballet Arizona female corps had to work very hard to create a unified style in this season's "Les Sylphides", and sandik pointed out that the ballet was ubiquitous for a number of years, during which time the style was a given, which is no longer the case.

#20 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 29 May 2009 - 08:04 AM

sandik and I had a discussion tonight at dinner, in which I mentioned that the Ballet Arizona female corps had to work very hard to create a unified style in this season's "Les Sylphides", and sandik pointed out that the ballet was ubiquitous for a number of years, during which time the style was a given, which is no longer the case.

A little :) , but thank God for the Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami and its repertoire. Guess which is one of their next season works..."Chopiniana" :yahoo:

#21 Alexandra

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Posted 17 July 2009 - 11:49 AM

Back to the topic :thumbsup: (As you can probably guess, I'm on summer break.)

I think every point raised on this thread has been interesting and well worth discussing. I also liked Kathleen's Latin analogy very much. Does anyone remember Ruby, the 15-year-old who came on in our early days to ask, oh so innocently, "Why doesn't anyone make ballets that use the steps I dance in class? If this keeps up, ballet will be like Latin. Everyone learns it, but nobody speaks it." (paraphrase)

I definitely want new work. Joan Acocella once wrote that a critic goes to the ballet with hope, like dogs to dinner.(only to find, I pessimistically add, that instead of the filet mignon they've dreamed of, or even a good hamburger, they're served the same dry pebbles or canned glunk labeled "dog food"). I agree with those who've said that ballet cannot survive without new work. (Although I'm not a fan of the "we will NOT be a museum company!" line taken by artistic directors who use that as an excuse for putting Swan Lake in 21st century Death Valley, say; I don't want to bomb all the museums in the world, either.)

Simon asked if there really was a dearth of new choreography, and that's a good question, too. There are a lot of people making ballets -- many for schools, as I found when reading Dance Teacher Now, and many making work for smaller companies, but not that many people see them. I don't know if there are lost masterpieces, but I'm sure there are discouraged choreographers. So much work in dance, as in any field, is gotten through networking, and if you're not in the loop, you don't get invited to make a ballet.

We didn't see Balanchine or Ashton's very early work. Both had the chance to experiment outside the public eye. One artistic director told me that it was so hard to take a chance on someone today, especially in a company that has 4, 5 or 6 programs a year rather than a big repertory company, because you can't risk having a huge failure as one of three ballets. You have to have a HIT with a new work. How many people can produce a HIT right out of the box?

And how many choreographers have the chance to rework an attempt that wasn't quite successful? That, you can do in an institution, and an institution can also take more risks, and slip a small ballet into a busy season.

#22 bart

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Posted 17 July 2009 - 02:16 PM

As Alexandra says, there's no lack of projects which allow choreographers to experiment on a small scale. I've seen a few, including a couple by people who went on the the NYCB's summer program for new choreographers. In both cases, the success of one small work generated just enough training and resources to create another small work. Then another. Then another ... or nothing.

We've all seen "another little work" -- promising, often lovely or intriguing -- that makes its statement but leads nowhere. What's lacking today is the opportunity for the choreographer to learn how to make BIG work.

By "big" I don't mean "long" necessarily. Big work, regardless of length, takes the small bits and pieces -- from what the choreographer has learned in the studio, from earlier pieces, from observing and living life -- and deepens them. Big work weaves all of this together into new combinations. It's what makes the viewer know intuitively that there's more to be discovered.

Developing choreography doesn't come cheap. Our current cultural and economic climate is not set up for nurturing artists who by definition need dancers, studio space, technical support, costumes, light, the rights to music and the musicians to play it. Leaders of companies -- and the donors who support them -- need to learn lessons from Diaghilev and Kirstein.

I was wondering: Who among the leaders of the ballet world today -- companies, ballet masters in chief, artistic directors, foundations, etc -- are doing a decent job in this? What can we learn from them?

#23 SandyMcKean

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Posted 17 July 2009 - 02:54 PM

I was wondering: Who among the leaders of the ballet world today -- companies, ballet masters in chief, artistic directors, foundations, etc -- are doing a decent job in this? What can we learn from them?

I hate to suggest PNB right out the box because it's "my" company, and it's really all I know (well, I do sort of know a few other companies); however, I do think PNB does a good job of this.

PNB brings lesser known (but relatively safe) choreographers to the main stage in the main season. It also has a "Choreographer's Showcase" each year where company dancers apply to create a brand new piece. In the season just past, 8 pieces were done by 8 PNB dancers including the likes of Gains, Wevers, and Lowenberg (and 5 other dancers, some doing their very first piece). PNB also did a Festival mid-season for a couple of years which featured smaller companies from the west coast, but that is now defunct since it lost too much money.

Next, I know from personal experience how supportive PNB is to small local companies. I help out a small new-ish company here in Seattle known as the Seattle Dance Project that focuses on creating more modern style works for classically trained dancers (ADs = Julie Tobiason and Tim Lynch). Seattle Dance Project is made up of some 10 dancers many of whom are retired PNB dancers (including principals) and other dance professionals from the modern dance scene here. PNB gives them rehersal space; loans them marley flooring when required; contributes money (at least as individuals); gives them technical advise, and just about anything else that makes sense. Seattle Dance Project, in turn, commissions several new works per year (for example, I had the privilege to partially sponsor Heidi Verthaler (ex-PNB and Forsythe company dancer) who did a new and astonishing work called "Surfacing").

#24 Andre Yew

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Posted 17 July 2009 - 03:36 PM

I think there are three important things any emerging choreographer needs:

1. Patronage: not only to pay for the usual stuff (dancers, space, production), but also the stability to let the choreographer make dances consistently. They ought to be able to make and present (very important --- dances not presented to an audience don't count!) many dances so they can learn and progress.

2. Support: emotional support, encouragement, kicks in the butt. It's easy to make klunkers, but if you truly believe someone is talented, you won't let them get discouraged or give up when the going gets tough.

3. Push: making the choreographer work hard and be a little uncomfortable even. Make them work with dancers of varying abilities, with variable rehearsal time, and other constraints (some of which may not be under your control). Give them good constructive criticism (and make sure they listen), but always push to make the choreographer push their boundaries in some aspect for their next piece.

Sometimes the same person does all three things, and other times, it's 3 different people. None of this will make a great or even competent choreographer out of anyone: you still need to find someone with the raw talent to start out. My personal benchmark is seeing how they handle large-ish groups (between 12 and 20 dancers). Are their ideas for the group clear? It's easy to do something complicated and muddled, or simple and boring, but having a large group of people move around effortlessly while being interesting is hard and rare.

There are companies now with in-house choreographic development programs that present new work in smaller programs with smaller financial risk, but they aren't administered very consistently or they aren't giving them good feedback or they aren't given enough time to grow as a choreographer. I've seen choreographers do good things on school kids, too, but they have to careful not to be pigeonholed as a school choreographer. For the audience, I think many of these programs are not marketed as well as they could be as they're often not too distinguishable from a school recital or they get too pretentious.

--Andre


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