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Alistair Macaulay's NY Times piece on the "perilous condition

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In Friday's LINKS, dirac posted Allistair Macaulay's NY Times piece on the current status of Ashton repertoire.

Starting with the proposition that "choreography is the most fragile of art forms," Macaulay outlines what has happened -- and is happening -- to several Ashton ballets since the choreographer's death. Despite the creation of an Ashton Trust several years ago, he finds that "the Ashton repertoire is in more perilous condition" than, for example, Balanchine's.

THE UNCERTAIN FUTURE LIFE OF ASHTON BALLETS

An example: Fille Mal Gardee, the rights to which were left by Ashton to Alexander Grant.

Many steps and gestures have demonstrably been altered since Ashton’s day; in one recent season at Covent Garden every single “Fille” performance seemed to bring the erosion of some further detail. The ballet still pulsates with the tenderness, love and joy that always made it one of the most life-enhancing ballets ever made, but it’s being danced in what Shakespeareans might fairly call a Third Quarto edition, with many details of Ashton’s finer poetry smudged. And who can be sure that when Mr. [Alexander] Grant is no longer with us, its more lovable qualities will survive?

Any thoughts about the article? Or ideas about the situation?

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I'm very glad Macaulay wrote it! Ashton gets very little attention these days (part of his point, of course). It is troublesome -- we've lost Massine and nearly lost Tudor and Fokine. Ashton had a brief revival in 2004 (the birthday year) but now he's a very small part of his home (Royal Ballet) repertory. I was interested to read the institutional situation (who owns what). I knew most of it, but am still glad to have it in one place.

I wish the article could have been longer -- after you deal with all the things Macaulay mentioned, there's still the problem that Ashton's ballet are so delicate that if you miss one nuance, you're not really seeing the ballet.

Of course, Petipa might say the same thing about his work, if he had the misfortune to stumble upon it today :tiphat:

Thanks for posting this as a discussion question, bart!

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Is anyone teaching Ashton style? If the dancers don't know the style, it's hard to imagine how to keep the repertory going.

If, for example, ABT performs Ashton ballets with as much regard as they just performed "La Sylphide", the steps might be there, but the ballets will be a shadow of themselves.

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From Macaulay's article:

Must we, only 21 years after Ashton’s death, settle for Third Quarto versions of ballets that once made him the toast on both sides of the Atlantic?
Is anyone teaching Ashton style? If the dancers don't know the style, it's hard to imagine how to keep the repertory going.

Which is worse: seeing a ballet in a stylistically impure or diluted form, or losing it altogether, never to be seen again in any form?

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In Friday's LINKS, dirac posted Allistair Macaulay's NY Times piece on the current status of Ashton repertoire.

Starting with the proposition that "choreography is the most fragile of art forms," Macaulay outlines what has happened -- and is happening -- to several Ashton ballets since the choreographer's death. Despite the creation of an Ashton Trust several years ago, he finds that "the Ashton repertoire is in more perilous condition" than, for example, Balanchine's.

THE UNCERTAIN FUTURE LIFE OF ASHTON BALLETS

An example: Fille Mal Gardee, the rights to which were left by Ashton to Alexander Grant.

Many steps and gestures have demonstrably been altered since Ashton’s day; in one recent season at Covent Garden every single “Fille” performance seemed to bring the erosion of some further detail. The ballet still pulsates with the tenderness, love and joy that always made it one of the most life-enhancing ballets ever made, but it’s being danced in what Shakespeareans might fairly call a Third Quarto edition, with many details of Ashton’s finer poetry smudged. And who can be sure that when Mr. [Alexander] Grant is no longer with us, its more lovable qualities will survive?

Any thoughts about the article? Or ideas about the situation?

Firstly Bart thank you for raising this issue.

I have always deferred to my elders who saw legendary dancers at their height and I am going to say that what Mr.Macaulay has touched upon, cannot be evaluated unless you have some experience of the Royal Ballet at its performing apogee. By this I mean a balance of filling the characters dramatically or the style of a role together with the technique to match either the era, or the best of those that had gone before.

The tragedy of the Ashton repertoire with the Royal Ballet is threefold and I am going to avoid the ownership of particular ballets which Mr Macaulay has touched upon.

Firstly, the sacking, for that is what it was, of Michael Somes, the most difficult, severe, but dedicated protector of the Ashton repertoire, when it should have been the sacking of the less than always first rate choreographer Kenneth MacMillan. I believe when Michael Somes went, so did the “Royal Ballet style” begin to trickle away and neither Anthony Dowell or Antoinette Sibley both Ashton specialists were in a position to save the decline.

Secondly, the subsequent appointments of Artistic Directors of the Royal Ballet who have failed Ashton, who WAS and IS, the Royal Ballet plus of course a few ballets by Petipa,Ivanov, Perrot, Fokine, Balanchine, De Valois, Massine, Nijinska, Cranko plus a good number of MacMillan's one act ballets not the overblown later 3 act works whose turgid and torpid moments diminish the impressive scenes that he also created.

I will not comment on Alexander Grant's staging’s of "La Fille...", as I believe the Royal Ballet have lost the way with this triumphant Ashton ballet many years ago, with a long series of miscasting or over parting. La Fille mal gardee was the third ballet that I ever saw and from 1961 onwards I saw the original cast at almost every performance (yes it really was that complete a ballet experience) until Nadia Nerina let the company.

Thirdly part of the problem and perhaps most importantly, has been the distinct decline in ballet criticism over the last twenty years, with only two or three critics in London waving the flag of their independent and knowledgeable views.

I cannot express my disappointment with the Royal Ballet over the last 20 years when publicity, has replaced substance and still failed to sell seats.

I have probably paid for 3000 tickets over the years and I sincerely plead that Terpsichore, or whosoever God empowers to descend and to renew this wonderful company who reached triumphant heights in the 1960's and 1970's which have yet to be matched in succeeding years.

I have to mention Dame Monica Mason’s remarkable achievement in pulling the Royal Ballet, from the absolute abyss. She is I believe now shackled by the economic situation (check out next seasons repertoire) and seeming pressures of changing the direction of the repertoire from what was once a successful academic classical ballet of the first rank, to now include dance works, far removed from what made and sustained the Royal Ballet’s world status.

Only time will tell as to the fate of a favourite company of mine.

PS I was grateful to see the comments of Alexandra, Helene and Peggy R.

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San Francisco Ballet did a handsome Symphonic Variations several years ago, Anthony Dowell directed it, and you could see its architectural strengths quite clearly. I don't know Ashton very well, but SF's production seemed superior to the one currently on YouTube with the Royal Ballet in 2007, which seems overly mannered and a little slack. You can see why so much of SV depended on dancers like Margot Fonteyn. But no one holds themselves like that anymore, no one operates out of that lovely reserve. The manner of being in the world of her generation no longer exists. Ashton may be more fragile in that way much more than Balanchine or even Tudor.

On the other hand the YouTube clip Cristian posted of Alejandro Virelles doing a bit of La Fille mal gardee is a delight. Maybe Ashton will come back to life through Havana!

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Which is worse: seeing a ballet in a stylistically impure or diluted form, or losing it altogether, never to be seen again in any form?

I think it depends on the ballet and whether or not there are filmed versions of great exponents of the roles and solid ensemble work.

For example, I think ABT's "La Sylphide", while it didn't fill the Met, is a ballet to which parents will take little girls in dresses with wings, regardless of what it looks like. (Those same kids wore the same dresses to NYCB's "A Midsummer Night's Dream".) More abstract or difficult or currently obscure works, not so much. There has to be something in the performance that makes people understand the underlying greatness, or the work will fall by the wayside and be lost.

The surviving originators of roles created in the 60's and 70's are getting on in years, and in the Ashton rep, there aren't enough companies that are producing his work and which can mine their knowledge. The Ashton "DNA" is getting lost. Someone asked Peter Boal in a Q&A about whether Ashton would be added to an upcoming PNB season -- there are several ballets that would have been quite wonderful for Louise Nadeau, for example -- and he replied that he didn't know Ashton's work. He's the AD of one of the top companies in the US, and Ashton's work hadn't come across his radar. Ashton's work should be like Petipa's: even if the "home" company doesn't perform it, it should be part of every classical dancer's dance education, even if the dancers have to seek it out themselves.

In the Balanchine and to an extent the Robbins rep, luckily, many of the originators coach and train dancers who coach and train the next generation, and former dancers like Francia Russell, who retired in her early twenties, were chosen presciently by Balanchine to stage as early as the 60's. All of the first generation can pass on what Balanchine taught them directly. That happened somewhat in the Ashton rep -- I saw a fine "La Fille Mal Gardee" done by the Australian Ballet about 15 years ago -- but not to the extent that when the Mother Ship was failing to maintain the rep, there are dozens of companies that could keep the DNA alive and well enough to be revived.

It's a ray of hope that a company like SFB will perform "Symphonic Variations" instead of seeking out the next NEW! high-impact aerobics routine.

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Macaulay touches briefly on the state of Balanchine, but doesn't mention that Balanchine and those around him created a "Balanchine Machine" to run quality control and maintenance on that repertoire. Ashton followed suit in one way by naming beneficiaries to receive the rights to certain ballets, but the mechanism of Estate, Trust, and Foundation was not established before his death. And the some of the beneficiaries found an unfortunate way of dying relatively shortly after him, taking the artistic and legal trail farther from the source. If this were Egyptology, the tabloids would have dreamed up "The Curse of SirFredhotep" long before today. I too am glad of the article just for spelling out who presently has the rights to what!

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Mel's post is a good cauitionary for choreographers. I hope that they are thinking about how to protect their work after they are gone!

Helene writes:

The Ashton "DNA" is getting lost. Someone asked Peter Boal in a Q&A about whether Ashton would be added to an upcoming PNB season -- there are several ballets that would have been quite wonderful for Louise Nadeau, for example -- and he replied that he didn't know Ashton's work. He's the AD of one of the top companies in the US, and Ashton's work hadn't come across his radar. Ashton's work should be like Petipa's: even if the "home" company doesn't perform it, it should be part of every classical dancer's dance education, even if the dancers have to seek it out themselves.

Your comment regarding Peter Boal are really worth thinking about. How is it possible that even a man like Boal "didn't know Ashton's work?" I don't think this is a reflection on Boal, a thoughtful artist with far-reaching aesthetic interests, who spent his entire dancing career in a truly international dance capital. This lack of experience, lack of knowledge, reflects something much deeper. How can one know Ashton if you never see it -- or if you see it, even rarely, in unpersuasive, inauthentic performances?

It seems counter-intuitive, but restrictive policies such as those imposed by the Balanchine Trust actually seem to encourage more companies to do the work. The Balanchine Trust promotes and suports the work at the same time that it is keeping things under control. It operates with clearly defined rights, well-formulated rules, and -- hugely important -- assistance from authorized representatives of the Trust. This does not seem to be the case with the Ashton Trust

Does anyone know why the Ashton Trust seems to have been ineffective? Or have suggestions of what they might do to improve their work?

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There could be another factor at work, too: Ashton takes a lot of work that doesn't jive with dancers current expectations of expression or hierarchy. A number of works that have been added to the rep at PNB lately, for example, are "dancers' dances", ones that spark their imagination and in which any given corps member is not the fourth in the third row, some of which are more interesting to do, given the dancers' comments, than to watch, at least for me.

Ashton's works take discipline, modesty, and a certain amount of self-abnegation, as well as a commitment to a style of movement that is Volkova's legacy.

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Poor Macaulay -- clinging to the notion that the Ashton repertory has any life in it when it has already entered its death spiral.

The Ashton repertory (like the Tudor repertory) is as doomed as the Byzantines were behind the crumbling walls of Constantinople in the 1450s or the Nasrid Granadans were in their mountaintop kingdom in the 1490s. When the leader of the third best company in the United States is unfamiliar with the Ashton repertory, then it's over. (Note: I appreciate his honesty although it doesn't necessarily redound to his credit.) When the leader of the first or second best company in the United States can find room for five ballets by He-who-shall-not-be-named on his company's Spring schedule but not for Tudor's Gala Performance (which several posters on this board stated was a no-brainer), then it's over. A few performances here and there won't preserve the style over the long haul. (i.e. The Danes performing Five Brahms Waltzes as part of a novelty ballerina night won't make the RDB Ashton specialists any more than performing The Unsung as part of a novelty danseur night will make the RDB Limon specialists.)

I say follow Merce Cunningham's lead and stage multi-year "Viking funerals" for the Ashton and Tudor repertories. Let them slip into the night so we can all settle into the bi-polar world of the 21st century.

Gloomily yours . . .

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To add fuel to your gloom, Anton Pankevitch, who had danced with the Royal Ballet before coming to PNB, did a Q&A that I saw, in which in describing his career moves, said that he didn't like dancing Ashton, finding it "old-fashioned", but loved to dance Macmillan, whom he thought was a dance genius.

By "not knowing" Ashton's work, I assume Boal meant that he wasn't familiar enough with it to consider it, not that he had never seen any Ashton ballets, although from the tours they did in 80's, I know I saw a lot of Macmillan.

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Although I think it likely that, as Helene suggested, when Boal said he "didn't know" Ashton's work, he probably meant he was not terribly familiar with it or some such, I still consider the remark absolutely shocking. It reflects very, very badly on the state of ballet "culture" generally--something IS really wrong when the director of a major ballet company feels comfortable saying he does not "know" Ashton's work -- but I am afraid I don't think it reflects that well on Boal himself.

Dancing in New York for so many years, he had many opportunities to see substantial samples of Ashton's work reasonably well danced even if one assumes that early in his career he was not focused on the wider dance education necessary to be a director. And if he had a lacuna that large in his dance education once he became a director, it's surprising he did not make a point of filling it. (Ashton choreographed for NYCB early in its history; and if one assumes, as I do NOT, that NYCB is understandably the be all and end all for Boal's dance education, that fact alone might have sparked his curiosity.)

I could understand a director concluding that Ashton's style is so "particular" that his dancers would be unable to cultivate it properly, though whether or not that is the case for PNB I have no opinion. Perhaps Boal was thinking that and didn't want to say so?? I think I would prefer to imagine that was the explanation for his remark.

I am also inclined to think that with all great ballet choreographers--from Perrot to Petipa to Balanchine--we have to assume from generation to generation that elements and details will be lost and changed (yes, the "third quarto" text) but that many of their ballets are still worth preserving and can still survive to be effective and powerful works of art. I am not ready to say we should jettison a repertory or even a work simply because it doesn't look as it did (even allowing that it DID look better). Of course, we should try to preserve what's great--and fight on its behalf--but I tend to think a mezzo-mezzo performance of Ashton's The Dream still beats most of what is out there...and who is to say that a new performance tradition in another generation might not find a way to bring it to better life again in any case?

I am aware that sometimes the performances are so lame that the ballet is effectively wrecked, but I don't think we have reached that point yet with Ashton -- or Balanchine -- and am not inclined to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

(By the by, I think it is not only the Balanchine Trust that deserves credit for the "life" of the Balanchine repertory or even the number of former Balanchine dancers directing other companies, but also the simple fact of NYCB dancing huge swathes of his repertory steadily over the years and periodically taking it on tour: I know many people have been disatisfied with some of their performances over the years, but in New York there is a lot of Balanchine and a lot of varied Balanchine on a steady basis; a very different picture from Ashton at the Royal Ballet. An old saying has it that you can't be more Catholic than the Pope--if the Royal doesn't keep Ashton alive, well, that's not much of an inspiration or guide to anyone else.)

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Is anyone teaching Ashton style?

Unlike Balanchine, Ashton did not teach, which may have had some long term consequences. Alexander Grant has said that dancers do not have to be trained in an “Ashton style” – properly coached, they can dance his ballets.

I could understand a director concluding that Ashton's style is so "particular" that his dancers would be unable to cultivate it properly, though whether or not that is the case for PNB I have no opinion. Perhaps Boal was thinking that and didn't want to say so?? I think I would prefer to imagine that was the explanation for his remark.

Hi, Drew. Nice to hear from you. There could be any number of reasons for Boal saying what he did. It’s possible that, as Helene notes, he meant to say something to the effect that doesn’t know Ashton’s work as well as he does Balanchine’s or Robbins’, for example, which would be reasonable enough.

(It may also be, however, that he doesn’t think, for his own reasons, that Ashton is right for his company but doesn’t want to say so bluntly.)

(By the by, I think it is not only the Balanchine Trust that deserves credit for the "life" of the Balanchine repertory or even the number of former Balanchine dancers directing other companies, but also the simple fact of NYCB dancing huge swathes of his repertory steadily over the years and periodically taking it on tour: I know many people have been disatisfied with some of their performances over the years, but in New York there is a lot of Balanchine and a lot of varied Balanchine on a steady basis; a very different picture from Ashton at the Royal Ballet. An old saying has it that you can't be more Catholic than the Pope--if the Royal doesn't keep Ashton alive, well, that's not much of an inspiration or guide to anyone else.)

I agree. Balanchine (and Robbins) have one of the world’s great companies dedicated to performing their works. Other companies of varying size and strength may have Balanchine in and out of their repertories, depending on the AD, but for NYCB to be dancing the repertory year in, year out, is crucial, regardless of what you may think about Martins' stewardship of the company.

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It reflects very, very badly on the state of ballet "culture" generally--something IS really wrong when the director of a major ballet company feels comfortable saying he does not "know" Ashton's work -- but I have to say I don't think it reflects at all well on Boal himself.

I have to take exception to this statement (hopefully I am not just being defensive of "my" local AD).

I only "know" Peter Boal since he arrived here in Seattle some 5 years ago. Perhaps in NYC he was one way, but here another (altho I doubt that). In my observation of him here, he seems like a very straight forward person. He doesn't seem to "shade" his speech with an eye to how it might be preceived. I really like this about him. I trust him. He gives me the real scoop. At the same time he adroitly stays away from pronouncements that could cause him or his company grief or internal strife. He is easily respected and liked.

Given my prespective, Boal's comment that Helele heard seems to me to be nothing more than a truthful answer to a simple question. Boal is very thoughtful, and it is clear to me that he puts great effort into picking his reps. I've heard him state his overall goals and process on more than one occasion. He seems to see himself as someone who is a position to educate his dancers and his audience to a wider world of dance than was traditionally the case in Seattle. He says that he's doing that step by step. For example, he has said that he specifically focused on increasing the dancers acting ability (he's succeeded masterfully I think considering the progress the dancers have made from Mailliot's R&J to the recent Dances at a Gathering). He strikes me as a careful person. He is not inclined to take massive risks, altho risks he does indeed take.

I think his remark reflects that thoughtful care so that he doesn't take either the dancers or the audience "too far, too fast". Being on the modest side I think he is sticking with that which he knows best, and that which he is confident will move the company in the direction he has charted. He's simply not going to mess with stuff he isn't totally confident is within his sphere of knowledge. From my prespective I think his "Ashton" comment comes primarily from his basic honesty and his respect for both the dancers and the audience. He's no gun slinger.

P.S. One must also realize that the "culture" here in Seattle is far less cyncial than in many other places in the world

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SandyMckean: I don't doubt Boal's seriousness or honesty, qualities that he had as a dancer as well. I did wonder if he had other things in mind when he said he "didn't know" Ashton only because I found the statement so surprizing from such a serious ballet artist--no cynicism behind my comments or as best I can tell elsewhere in this thread.

And, though I haven't seen PNB, I have read many positive things about Boal's directorship of the company, a company which I also see repeatedly described and reviewed as "major." To me, "major" means it is a company of more than merely regional interest. (I live in a city with no such company.) In that context, I was disconcerted by his remark -- since Ashton is one of the greatest choreographers in the ballet tradition, arguably the one twentieth-century peer of Balanchine. (Of course, I don't expect Boal to have or to claim the deep familiarity with Ashton he has with Balanchine or Robbins, and I'm not particularly invested in whether or not PNB dances Ashton or should dance Ashton about which I can have no opinion.)

I tend to think that what would help the Ashton legacy most at this time would be for the Royal Ballet to invest more heavily in dancing his ballets on a regular basis and drawing on the experience of earlier Ashton interpreters who are still around (those who worked with him directly) to help rehearse and coach the ballets. (I assume they do the latter to some degree but don't really know.) Just a few years ago, I did see the Royal dance what I thought were fine performances of Symphonic Variations (with Cojocaru and Yoshida in the Fonteyn role) and A Month in the Country (with Bussell and a not very Ashtonesque but definitely very compelling Guillem in the Seymour role) and a pretty good performance of The Dream. But as noted above they seem to have been dancing Ashton less in recent seasons.

I'm headed to New York to see Sylvia for the first time next week as danced by ABT-- can't wait.

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There's an article somewhere that I read (I think I either read it in a journal, Dance Now or a book) regarding the changes that had crept in La Fille Mal Gardee. The writer (it might have been Geraldine Morris) was supposed to document the current production and began noticing parts in the ballet that differed slightly between older dance scores and several videos that span the generations. Fille is a good ballet to study for this because it's been filmed several times for TV through the generations (not to mention house recordings). There is a fine line in staging between making the dancers do everything exactly the same way Ashton had (thus stifling the dancers) and sucking the life out of the dancers and making changes in order to keep the spirit alive.

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To me, the importance of what Peter Boal said regarding Ashton has nothing to do with Boal himself and everything to do with the swift decline of the Ashton repertory in the international ballet repertory. The underlying subtext of Boal's remark is that he sees no need to become more conversant with Ashton. And why should he? The Ashton repertory is in retreat everywhere and adding it to repertory would only detract from Peter Boal's real interests -- City Ballet dance (Balanchine, Robbins) , Euro-dance (Forsythe) and downtown New York dance.

I agree. Balanchine (and Robbins) have one of the world’s great companies dedicated to performing their works. Other companies of varying size and strength may have Balanchine in and out of their repertories, depending on the AD, but for NYCB to be dancing the repertory year in, year out, is crucial, regardless of what you may think about Martins' stewardship of the company.

This to me is the key -- having a flagship company performing the works year in and year out. Balanchine and Robbins have an institutional home that will perform their works regularly and forever. Not so lucky for Ashton (the Royal) or Tudor (ABT). That's why I find Merce Cunningham's decision to disband his company so baffling. Without a Cunningham company to perform the works in perpetuity, how soon before the drift starts?

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dirac writes:

Unlike Balanchine, Ashton did not teach, which may have had some long term consequences. Alexander Grant has said that dancers do not have to be trained in an “Ashton style” – properly coached, they can dance his ballets.
It would be wonderful if this turned out to be true. What do others think?
I am aware that sometimes the performances are so lame that the ballet is effectively wrecked, but I don't think we have reached that point yet with Ashton -- or Balanchine -- and am not inclined to throw out the baby with the bathwater.
I think his [Peter Boal's] remark reflects that thoughtful care so that he doesn't take either the dancers or the audience "too far, too fast". Being on the modest side I think he is sticking with that which he knows best, and that which he is confident will move the company in the direction he has charted. He's simply not going to mess with stuff he isn't totally confident is within his sphere of knowledge.

Reading Drew and Sandy in the light of dirac's comment, I began to think about how one MIGHT re-introduce Ashton into the current repertoire.

If one wanted to bring the audience as much in touch as possible to the Ashton style, and assuming that coaches were obtainable who could do the best possible job, which Ashton ballets would you suggest for a company either in the first tier (Paris, New York, ABT) or in the second (U.S. regionals and smaller European companies)?

Drew has mentioned "The Dream," which seems like a brilliant choice given its relatively small scale (compared to Balanchine, anyway) and the spotlight it puts on the two leads. What else? Thinking of Helene's point about the need to please dancers, wouldn't the Isadora Duncan pieces to Brahms please almost any ballerina capable of dancing them, especially since they make a great impact in such a short time? Patineurs? Symphonic Variations? Even if one of the 3-acts were considered too big a risk, couldn't you present selectdions from Cinderella, Sylvia, or Ondine? I would think that dancers might love material like that. It would be a start, anyway.

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Although I think it likely that, as Helene suggested, when Boal said he "didn't know" Ashton's work, he probably meant he was not terribly familiar with it or some such, I still consider the remark absolutely shocking. It reflects very, very badly on the state of ballet "culture" generally--something IS really wrong when the director of a major ballet company feels comfortable saying he does not "know" Ashton's work -- but I am afraid I don't think it reflects that well on Boal himself.

When you think of where he was coming from, it was a company that had a resident and, while he was a student, living god, one who was not particularly kind to most dancers who went out of the temple for outside classes and coaching, and didn't welcome back dancers who left to dance the classics, as Ruthanna Boris described. Suzanne Farrell said something to the effect that Balanchine told her that he could teach her everything she needed to know, and she accepted that and never looked elsewhere. After Balanchine's death, there was a renewed religiosity in the company regarding his work, and from that environment, Boal left for Europe to do something that appealed to him, much as the contemporary rep he's brought to PNB seems to do. (I was surprised when he returned to NYCB; I thought he would stay in Europe for the rest of his career.)

If Boal received an education in Ashton at NYCB, it was that Balanchine didn't think those ballets worth preserving in his company, or the Company would have programmed them.

The Ashton repertory is in retreat everywhere and adding it to repertory would only detract from Peter Boal's real interests -- City Ballet dance (Balanchine, Robbins) , Euro-dance (Forsythe) and downtown New York dance.

I think this is it in nutshell: he's managing where his interests lie, while retaining the big full-lengths that bring in the money and that his long-term audience counts on (the Stowell "Swan Lake" and "Nutcracker", the Hynd "Sleeping Beauty").

(By the by, I think it is not only the Balanchine Trust that deserves credit for the "life" of the Balanchine repertory or even the number of former Balanchine dancers directing other companies, but also the simple fact of NYCB dancing huge swathes of his repertory steadily over the years and periodically taking it on tour: I know many people have been disatisfied with some of their performances over the years, but in New York there is a lot of Balanchine and a lot of varied Balanchine on a steady basis; a very different picture from Ashton at the Royal Ballet. An old saying has it that you can't be more Catholic than the Pope--if the Royal doesn't keep Ashton alive, well, that's not much of an inspiration or guide to anyone else.)

I actually see it as combination of having NYCB and putting in the roots quite early by giving ballets to a number of companies worldwide and by hiring ballet masters like Francia Russell to do the stagings. That happened for decades before Balanchine's death and the Trust was formed. In many ways, the Trust sounded like business-as-usual, while Ashton had been pushed out and neglected by the time he died, which I think is why the Ashton Trust has been so weak.

One of the things leonid points out is the power struggle at Royal Ballet between the Ashtonians and Macmillan, and I think that one of things that was key in NYCB's success was Jerome Robbins, two things in particular: Robbins did not want to take over for Balanchine, and he was, essentially, running a company-within-a-company at NYCB. He got to encourage and promote "his" dancers, especially in Balanchine's last decade, he had ballet masters dedicated to his rep, Balanchine gave him first pick of dancers during festivals, Robbins' ballets were programmed regularly, and I've never read that when he wanted to create a ballet there, he was blocked. There was no need to overthrow Balanchine.

(It may also be, however, that he doesn’t think, for his own reasons, that Ashton is right for his company but doesn’t want to say so bluntly.)
He doesn't seem to "shade" his speech with an eye to how it might be preceived. I really like this about him. I trust him. He gives me the real scoop. At the same time he adroitly stays away from pronouncements that could cause him or his company grief or internal strife.

I can't say whether he was being diplomatic in this case, but I don't think he says everything he thinks out loud, and I've guessed a number of times that he was being diplomatic in his answers. That doesn't make me trust him less, because while I'd like to know a lot of the "real" answers, he doesn't owe me an explanation, and in many cases, no matter what he were to answer, he would be causing the company unneeded grief.

I tend to think that what would help the Ashton legacy most at this time would be for the Royal Ballet to invest more heavily in dancing his ballets on a regular basis and drawing on the experience of earlier Ashton interpreters who are still around (those who worked with him directly) to help rehearse and coach the ballets...I'm headed to New York to see Sylvia for the first time next week as danced by ABT-- can't wait.

Have long-time Royal Ballet watchers seen the ABT version? If so, how does it compare to the original performances, and will what we're seeing maintain a lifeline? I saw "Sylvia" in London a few years ago, and loved the ballet, but I didn't have a clear sense of how it had changed, and wondered whether I was like something that was quite different from what the ballet was supposed to be. I didn't get to see the Royal Ballet in the 50's or 60's or even the early 70's, and I only saw late Dowell in the 80's from that legacy.

Alexander Grant has said that dancers do not have to be trained in an “Ashton style” – properly coached, they can dance his ballets.

Grant may be right, but he is also a controversial figure in Macaulay's article, and I would love to hear long-time Royal Ballet watchers weigh in on this.

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I was moved by Quiggin’s post because it reflects a mind that is clearly appreciative of the ART of ballet in an aesthetic manner and I would like to quote some extracts fro his post, “ San Francisco Ballet did a handsome Symphonic Variations several years ago, Anthony Dowell directed it, and you could see its architectural strengths quite clearly. You can see why so much of SV depended on dancers like Margot Fonteyn. But no one holds themselves like that anymore; no one operates out of that lovely reserve. The manner of being in the world of her generation no longer exists. Ashton may be more fragile in that way much more than Balanchine or even Tudor.”

Here are twenty reasons for me, why Ashton is a significant choreographer and why his unique style is worth re-capturing for all time through performance:-

Façade, Les Patineurs, Les Rendezvous, Symphonic Variations, Scene de Ballet, Cinderella, Illuminations, Daphnis and Chloe, Sylvia, Birthday Offering, La Fille mal Gardee, Le deux Pigeons, Marguerite and Armand, The Dream, Monotones 1, Monotones II, Enigma Variations, A Month in the Country, Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora, Rhapsody.

I could have added a few more to this list of ballets less popular, which I personally enjoyed, but only when they had exemplary casts performing them.

Helene quite rightly says, “Ashton's works take discipline, modesty, and a certain amount of self-abnegation, as well as a commitment to a style of movement that is Volkova's legacy. “ I would add that it requires serious even subtle artists to make Ashton ballets work and dancers have to absorb the style as Helene says, as well as mastering the sometime trick steps.

What makes Ashton a high-art choreographer is that only artists can be truly subtle and speak through choreography in such a way that its language is always resonating at a higher level to that of straight forward virtuosity. His choreography as well, demands of the viewer a different, more subtle reflective, appreciation mode, because for Ashton, ballet is an art and not an entertainment.

With Ashton you are not after all going to go hell for leather, as in a virtuoso variation but even at speed, Ashton’s choreography keeps you in the mode of his emotional and psychological world where resolution, as in Symphonic Variations, grows organically out of truly slow opening movements. In this ballet, he takes you into a reflective world of feeling and symbolised relationships in a highly subtle way and then ends with a joyous, life giving, finale. The music has spoken, the dance has echoed and we have experienced a journey in an almost religious atmosphere. Ashton has taken precisely where he wanted to and this is what all great artists achieve.

Ashton's refined choreography does not belong to the past and he is of course not alone in this. When there are truly only a handful of masters in this genre of classical ballet, you wonder how this creative artist is becoming lost in the company to which no other choreographer has given so much.

I cannot agree with everything Mr Macaulay has said and I am sorry to see his quoting what after all sounds like gossip regarding that distinguished ballet artist Alexander Grant who has contributed more to ballet than any critic has.

He reports, “ In 1997, at the Roehampton conference on revivals and reconstructions of ballet, the notator Michele Braban recounted how she had had to spend so long analyzing the differences among various filmed versions of “Fille” that she had finally been required, for sake of economy, simply to record the version currently being danced as the new standard text; this story became more distressing when it emerged that nobody had even given her a copy of Margaret Dale’s definitive film of the original “Fille” production.”

Ho Hum. This film is certainly important, but it was shot in a studio and adapted for the small screen with many shots focusing on one aspect of the stage (set) with the loss of other stage actions. So not so definitive after all.

Firstly I would say that the RB Company’s and dancers mind set is not the same as it was in 1961 nor are the talents equal to the original cast which I witnessed. The last performance that I saw was a disgrace and that was not production changes it was performance. The corps had no sense of relationship to the work they were dancing and the principals were a long way from the interpretation of either Nadia Nerina or Ann Jenner in the role nor the right kind of period cheekiness of David Blair.

Michael Somes, whose strictness and overriding affection for the Ashton repertoire was legendary, finds Mr Macaulay commenting on another distinguished RB artist whose departure in my opinion led to a general decline in the company’s performance of Ashton especially by the corps de ballet.

Drew hit the mark when he states, “I tend to think that what would help the Ashton legacy most at this time would be for the Royal Ballet to invest more heavily in dancing his ballets on a regular basis and drawing on the experience of earlier Ashton interpreters who are still around (those who worked with him directly) to help rehearse and coach the ballets.” Only problem is, not everyone can coach or even wants to. One person who does coach is Dame Antoinette Sibley.

Mr Macaulay goes on to report, “When dancers of Ashton’s 1952 “Sylvia” say that the 2004 version — reconstructed from a film of a 1963 rehearsal — and its latest revivals feature steps on the downbeat that should be on the upbeat, who will listen?”

Having seen the film in question, which if my memory serves me right was silent, the quality was so poor and the speed of the dancing was odd to say the very least and it showed Doreen Wells in the leading role.

I am not at all surprised that the revival was questioned. I saw the performances of this 1963 production with Doreen Wells in the lead and in the same production I saw Dame Margot Fonteyn as Silvia partnered by Atillio Labis who caused an absolute stir with his looks, partnering and technique. Roberto Bolle in 2004, created the same response, whilst partnering Darcey Bussell miscast as Sylvia.

On the first night of the 2004 revival, overheard in the interval in the Floral Hall between the sipping of champagne could be heard a cacophony of complaints among the older regular audiencel regarding errors of staging and the reproduction of the designs.

There are always problems reviving ballets and no one imagines any of the famous reconstructions of this last decade or so resembles their original productions. How can they, when dancing and production values were quite different to recent times and all the ranks of performers then, had reputedly outstanding personalities can we say the same today?

I concur with his last statement, “Must we, only 21 years after Ashton’s death, settle for Third Quarto versions of ballets that once made him the toast on both sides of the Atlantic?”

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The Ashton repertory is in retreat everywhere and adding it to repertory would only detract from Peter Boal's real interests -- City Ballet dance (Balanchine, Robbins) , Euro-dance (Forsythe) and downtown New York dance.

I think this is it in nutshell: he's managing where his interests lie, while retaining the big full-lengths that bring in the money and that his long-term audience counts on (the Stowell "Swan Lake" and "Nutcracker", the Hynd "Sleeping Beauty").

This is my feeling too.

He doesn't seem to "shade" his speech with an eye to how it might be preceived.

I can't say whether he was being diplomatic in this case, but I don't think he says everything he thinks out loud, and I've guessed a number of times that he is being diplomatic in his answers.

I agree that Boal is basically very diplomatic; OTOH, when I say that he does not "shade his speech", I mean that he doesn't say things simply for effect, to accomplish some unspoken objective, or for how it makes him look. He answers questions in a straight forward manner while maintaining his diplomatic style. If he wants to duck an answer, he says so. If he doesn't want to "go there", he just doesn't go there. I have found I can take him at his word. Hidden agendas, ulterior motives, or sophisicated complexity just don't seem to be part of his repertory.

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There are a couple of nice reports on Birmingham Royal Ballet's recent performances of Two Pigeons here:

http://ballettalk.invisionzone.com/index.p...c=29771&hl=

Thanks to Members Nanarina and JMcN. :devil:

Does anyone else have their own recent (or not so recent) Ashton performance reports? It would be marvellous to read them in the context of this discussion. How IS Ashton doing in performance nowadays, as you see it.? :dry:

For the record, ABT is perfoming Sylvia at the Met from June 29 - July 4).

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Mr Macaulay goes on to report, “When dancers of Ashton’s 1952 “Sylvia” say that the 2004 version — reconstructed from a film of a 1963 rehearsal — and its latest revivals feature steps on the downbeat that should be on the upbeat, who will listen?”

Having seen the film in question, which if my memory serves me right was silent, the quality was so poor and the speed of the dancing was odd to say the very least and it showed Doreen Wells in the leading role.

From what I’ve read, the reconstruction of Sylvia was done pretty liberally, with a lot of guesswork involved.

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The fact that Peter Boal is not terribly familiar with Ashton's work does bother me, but it does not surprise me. I would not be surprised if such a statement came from Helgi Tomasson, Kent Stowell, Francia Russell, Edward Villella, or Peter Martins, either, because of what Helene mentioned in one of her posts: dancers at NYCB were/are not encouraged to educate themselves regarding ballet outside the world of Balanchine under the assumption that it is not worth watching. This is, of course, ridiculous, but the fact is that when you consider all the companies led by former NYCB dancers who only want to program Balanchine, watered-down Petipa, Robbins, or new choreography (regardless of quality) it is really not surprising that Ashton is unknown here, apart from ABT (which apparently performs only The Dream, Sylvia, and occasionally Les Patineurs) and the Joffrey Ballet, which does not have much of a visible presence outside Chicago.

Re: Ashton style, it appears to me that Ashton is similar to Bournonville in two ways: the importance of the upper body (port de bras, épaulement, expressive face) and petit allegro. Few dancers today can do both competently, much less well.

There may be a small glimmer of hope in the fact that many Ashton ballets are filmed (even if the quality is not the best) and notated, considering that several Petipa ballets have recently been restored to coherence (somewhat). Of course they do not look the way they did in the 19C, but many cobwebs have been cleared from them, and when they are performed as living works of art, as the Bolshoi's "Le Corsaire" was this past week, they sparkle and enchant. We are now in a much better position to restore Ashton's ballets (although we may not be much longer) than we are to restore Petipa's works, and I hope we will not allow Ashton's works to be edited as heavily as Petipa's were over the years. Another bright spot may perhaps be found in the Royal Danish Ballet's continuous performances of Bournonville throughout the centuries, but if the Royal Ballet does not get its act together and take on such a role, audiences 100 years from now will not have the opportunity to appreciate Ashton the way Copenhagen has appreciated and preserved for us such treasures as La Sylphide, Napoli, &c.

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