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Promising RB Graduates not going to RB


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#1 kdubzz

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Posted 21 September 2009 - 09:45 PM

This is slightly off topic (feel free to move to a more appropriate thread if one exists), but I've been noticing for some time now that many of the most promising young dancers coming out of the Royal Ballet School - especially female - seem to NOT be getting into the main company, or at least not right out of school. I believe I read Johan Kobborg lamenting the fact that the UK loses many of its most promising talents to other companies. Most recently, for example, I was surprised to see that the wonderful Delia Matthews, a top Prix de Lausanne winner, had gone into Birmingham Royal Ballet instead of RB. Same thing in past years, including the wonderful Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun, who ended up taking a soloist contract with SFB when she wasn't offered a contract with RB (despite being the Adeline Genee Gold Medal winner). Does anyone know why this seems to be happening? I presume it's just that there simply aren't places for these new dancers coming out of the school? Or is Birmingham RB being used as kind of a 'junior company', a stepping stone, for some of these dancers (I do recall that Darcey Bussell was first in Sadler's Wells RB before getting into the main company).

#2 carbro

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Posted 22 September 2009 - 12:06 AM

Off-topic for the thread on the RB's Cuban tour, from which this topic was split. If you don't see a topical thread, feel free to open one.

Unless she said something to that effect in a published interview, I'm not sure we know that Nutnaree -- or anyone -- wasn't offered a contract with RB. That's usually private, between dancer and company. Any number of factors could have influenced a dancer's choice -- repertoire, proximity to family and/or friends, coaches.

#3 JMcN

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Posted 22 September 2009 - 02:12 AM

I speak from a position of bias as I follow two non-London based ballet companies in England.

Maybe dancers choose BRB or other companies. For example, would Delia Matthews still be the equivalent of a "spear carrier" if she had joined RB or would she be getting good roles in mixed programmes as she has been with BRB eg the lead in David Bintley's Galantries and the girl on the hammock in Enigma?

A number of dancers have joined both BRB and NBT from RBS in recent years and most of them are getting leading roles within two or three years (if not their first year).

#4 Simon G

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Posted 22 September 2009 - 01:26 PM

I have to say this thread or rather the bias of it slightly irks me. For starters as Carbro so rightly pointed out, one can't assume anything based on the fact that a talented dancer chose not to or was not offered a contract with the Royal, we don't know the reasons nor the desires of the dancer for their career choices or their chosen company.

However, my biggest bone of contention is this continuing mindset of classing Birmingham as a second class company and the Covent Garden as the pinnacle of balletic achievement. For starters it's plugging in to this notion that the Covent Garden company is a world-class classical company, it's not, nor has it been for quite some time. Rather it's a world-class selection of principals from other schools and companies with a backdrop of RBS trained dancers as corps or if they're lucky demi caractere soloists.

Covent Garden RB has had a long history of under utilising and relegating talent to the sidelines and sadly letting a great deal of fruit whither on the vine and many dancers quite rightly see the Birmingham company as a much better bet to be used within a wide range of classical, commissioned and modern works and have a real chance of dancing constantly and be promoted. Bintley at Birmingham is brilliant at promoting and developing home-grown talent and giving that talent ample opportunities to progress and develop. Indeed all the male classical principals save two are RBS english trained and several started their careers at the Covent Garden company languised in the bottom ranks for a couple of years, before joining BRB and advancing. Jamie Bond, the most recent male promotion to principal being a case in point, ditto Natasha Oughtred. There's no point being in a "world class" company if all you're doing for a decade is pretty much of nothing except filling in crowd scenes.

Bussell was earmarked for Covent Garden from the start when every company in the world was in this bizarre ballet space race to make their own Sylvie Guillem in the late eighties, it's a bad example and indeed had she continued at Sadlers Wells and been able to develop her talents at her own pace perhaps she would have been the dancer she had the potential to be, rather than the Royals media-friendly figurehead.

Pipit-Suskun was I believe offered a Royal contract but for her own reasons chose to go straight in to soloist at SFB and indeed given the Royal's track record of under-using its young talent, can anyone blame a dancer for choosing to actually dance rather than an uncertain future languishing in the corps of a once-great company trading on past glamour and prestige.

It's also incredibly insulting to Birmingham Royal Ballet, its dancers, and personnel to view it as a stepping-stone junior company. It's not, it's the real deal in its own right, a classical major company presenting the full length classics, modern British and American classics and with a wide and varied policy of commissioning new works presented on main stage. The kind of company any young dancer would dream of joining. Given also that David Bintley sees his dancers as more than mere adjuncts to imported stars and actively cherishes the developing of young and emerging talent - BRB deserves to be seen and considered for what it is, a dream job for any dancer and not second best.

#5 Mashinka

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Posted 23 September 2009 - 02:54 AM

However, my biggest bone of contention is this continuing mindset of classing Birmingham as a second class company and the Covent Garden as the pinnacle of balletic achievement. For starters it's plugging in to this notion that the Covent Garden company is a world-class classical company, it's not, nor has it been for quite some time.


It's rare for me to agree with every word of a post, but Simon G's sums up my own views exactly. David Bintley has managed to retain the English style of dancing in Birmingham whereas successive RB directors have not. For many years I've preferred both the BRB and, making allowances for their more modest repertoire, ENB, to watching the stylistic mishmash that currently characterizes RB Performances. If I were a young British dancer I'd avoid the RB like the plague.

#6 leonid17

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Posted 23 September 2009 - 05:22 AM

However, my biggest bone of contention is this continuing mindset of classing Birmingham as a second class company and the Covent Garden as the pinnacle of balletic achievement. For starters it's plugging in to this notion that the Covent Garden company is a world-class classical company, it's not, nor has it been for quite some time.


It's rare for me to agree with every word of a post, but Simon G's sums up my own views exactly. David Bintley has managed to retain the English style of dancing in Birmingham whereas successive RB directors have not. For many years I've preferred both the BRB and, making allowances for their more modest repertoire, ENB, to watching the stylistic mishmash that currently characterizes RB Performances. If I were a young British dancer I'd avoid the RB like the plague.


It's is even rarer for me to agree with everything that Simon G has to say, but I think his appraisal is shared by many who once regulary supported the Opera House Royal Ballet much more than they do today.

#7 bart

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Posted 23 September 2009 - 05:43 AM

This is a fascinating topic with great responses so far.

I have a question from a U.S. perspective. It seems that what most non-UK people call "the Royal" has two great prestige advantages when it comes to consolidating a World Brand. One is their history. The other is "London." I've noticed that Birmingham and even Northern Ballet Theater both perform in London, but don't know whether they have regular annual seasons, or what. Is "making it in London" still considered to be as crucial as it used to be? (I keep thinking of the line from New York, New York: "if you can make it there you can make it anywhere.) Do the top dancers at Birmingham or NBT get the national exposure that a dancer at Covent Garden might plausibly hope for?

This matter is relevant to the United States, which has its own equivalents of "the Royal" (two of them based in New York City). On the other side of the prestige fence there are a number of very high-level regional companies (San Francisco, Seattle, Miami, Boston, etc.) which offer dancers performance and growth opportunities similar to those described by Simon.

#8 Simon G

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Posted 23 September 2009 - 06:07 AM

This is a fascinating topic with great responses so far.

I have a question from a U.S. perspective. It seems that what most non-UK people call "the Royal" has two great prestige advantages when it comes to consolidating a World Brand. One is their history. The other is "London." I've noticed that Birmingham and even Northern Ballet Theater both perform in London, but don't know whether they have regular annual seasons, or what. Is "making it in London" still considered to be as crucial as it used to be? (I keep thinking of the line from New York, New York: "if you can make it there you can make it anywhere.) Do the top dancers at Birmingham or NBT get the national exposure that a dancer at Covent Garden might plausibly hope for?




Bart,

The big thing about the Royal Ballet in London is a) the opera house, it's a real calling card for prestige the fact that the ballet and opera are enshrined there gives those respective companies this untouchable gloss. Which is a pity perhaps should those companies focus not so much on where the stage is, but what they put on it the Covent Garden RB might be in a better state.

b) the prestige of the company from the 40s to early 70s basically the company that De Valois, Ashton and Lambert created and artistically controlled and led.

The Covent Garden address can't be underestimated it's why the ROH garners the vast majority of arts funding, it's why those huge world stars flock to perform there and also why the RB at Covent Garden seems so reticent to actively develop new dancers and their technique and talents - to justify the huge prices for seats they want fully formed virtuosos. The time, effort and nurturing needed to create homegrown stars seems too much for the administration.

Another problem is that the Covent Garden Royal is a well paid job, with full benefits, fixed contracts and employment rights - a major draw for any dancer. It's why dancers from other schools and countries flock to London, the Royal offers as much security as a dancer can hope for. The problem a lot of dancers who find themselves relegated to "spear carrier" face is that they're artistically and professionally unfulfilled, but are terrified to leave that security.

There's been so much written about how the British school doesn't produce dancers of high calibre, but I think that's wrong, the problem is that the company doesn't produce mature dancers from the basic raw talent those dancers finish their training with. Bintley at BRB seems committed to this.

Northern Ballet Theatre used to be a classical ballet company however, it's now more of a ballet dance theatre company for many reasons, some may be changing audience tastes, another is that they just can't compete with the Royal, specifically Birmingham Royal and English National who are committed classical companies, have much more history and tour extensively as well as much greater budgets to stage the classics with a full company of dancers. Northern dances rarely in London and then in very short seasons. Birmingham Royal does dance in London once a year and the Covent Garden Royal tours rarely if ever in the UK but does tour abroad. A real bone of contention for non London based ballet lovers as their taxes are used to fund the Royal and its touring.

The short answer to top dancers receiving exposure is no, dancers at the BRB, ENB, NBt and Scottish Ballet rarely if ever receive the wider recognition the Royal dancers do, or rather the London based media recognition. But very very few of the dancers brought to wider prominence at the Royal actually are British, trained at the Royal Ballet School, are full products of the school or company. The Covent Garden company loves sensation because that creates media interest and of course ticket sales - even when creating that sensation does harm to dancers, it would sadly seem. Bussell, being a case where rapid elevation really stopped her creatively, Cojocaru, the 2001 Romanian sensation, has had huge injury problems because she was given a workload too heavy for her young technique and body. Tony Hall keeps droning on about "new Nureyev's" - two years ago Steven McRae was the new Nureyev, this year Sergei Polunin was annointed with that title - Hall loves his spin, but doesn't seem to realise how banal such a pronouncement is. Nureyev was a product of time, place, political situation and of course Fonteyn.

#9 bart

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Posted 23 September 2009 - 07:54 AM

Thanks, Simon. I really appreciate your ability -- and willingness -- to put these matters in a larger context including the politics and economics of it all.

#10 JMcN

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Posted 23 September 2009 - 02:15 PM

It's a real bug bear of mine that companies not based in London do not get nearly the same amount of exposure or plaudits as RB.

When I first started watching ballet in the mid 1980s I mostly went to London and saw quite a lot at ROH. To be honest, I got quite disillusioned because too often I saw the corps standing on stage mostly looking bored to tears. You never get that at BRB or NBT.

Perhaps if the film of Mao's Last Dancer takes off internationally there will be a positive effect for BRB and Chi Cao (whom John Percival described a couple of years ago as surely the best classical dancer in Europe and the US!). I've certainly enjoyed following his career from the day he joined BRB.

#11 Simon G

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Posted 23 September 2009 - 02:27 PM

It's a real bug bear of mine that companies not based in London do not get nearly the same amount of exposure or plaudits as RB.

When I first started watching ballet in the mid 1980s I mostly went to London and saw quite a lot at ROH. To be honest, I got quite disillusioned because too often I saw the corps standing on stage mostly looking bored to tears. You never get that at BRB or NBT.



JM,

That's it exactly and why I got so riled with the original tone of this posting. BRB dancers (sorry it's been a while since I saw NBT) are top flight dancers in a top flight company. Comparison to Covent Garden RB is invidious and pointless and indeed it's Covent Garden that comes out lacking.

As you say with BRB you get homogeny of style, a company which looks like a company and a committment to performance from a group of dancers who all look like they actually want to be there.

The London-centric bias is just ridiculous, when NYCB came to London last year there was so much bitching about how poor they were in comparison to the Royal, but I think that was severly misplaced complacency and parochial pride. With NYCB what you got was a company trained in a style, together in a style with a corps from Corps to principals trained in a school which still was the lifeblood to a company. When was the last time anyone could say that about the Covent Garden company?

I think actually another problem with the Royal at Covent Garden is the price of seats, with the majority of seats now being in the 80+ range for ballet and 150 range for opera the majority of Covent Garden's clientele are sadly block booking corporates and what they're fed is a diet of "international" stars, and poorly thought out programmes the majority of which are the Covent Garden's badly designed three act classics and stodgy Macmillan three acters. A quick look at the rep for the past x years and you'd never think that the Royal has one of the most varied, richest and exciting reps in the world.

The range breadth and beauty of the BRB dancers is brilliant - it's just such a pity that they're seen so often as "sloppy seconds", for all out dancing and company style they put Covent Garden to shame.

#12 JMcN

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Posted 23 September 2009 - 11:29 PM

Simon - your words are music to my ears!

Both BRB and NBT have a company style and look like a company when you see them on stage.


A friend of mine told me off a while ago for being disparaging about RB and she is correct. I never really go to see them (ticket prices and rep) so I can't comment too much on the current company. I just like to shout from the rooftops about BRB and NBT.

In case anyone thinks I am being too parochial and biased about those companies, I do try to see as many visiting companies as possible, usually at the Lowry. In fact, I saw an exhilerating performance from Rambert there last night. Rambert have got some sensational dancers at the moment.

#13 ruteyo

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Posted 26 September 2009 - 02:34 AM

There are 3 points I'd like to address:

1) I feel that there are actually more exciting young ballerinas to watch at the corps and soloist level currently at BRB than the RB. For me, this includes Delia Matthews, Celine Gittens, Sonia Aguilar, Momoko Hirata, just to name a few. All these lovely ballerinas would be getting equal opportunities, and just as much attention even if they had joined RB. Again as Simon as has suggested, the London-focused media bias is extremely unfortunate.

2) Another important issue about the recent trend in hiring RBS graduates: in the past 5 years or so, it seems like those who win the Prix de Lausanne Apprentice Awards (not the Scholarship Award) are having an easier time getting into the RB rather than those who went through the RBS system. I won't name names as this may offend several students and company members. If you scrutinize the evidence closely, what does this say about the recent policy of the RB? Is it better to maximize your chances of a Prix de Lausanne medal and buy your way into the RB through a one-shot competition system rather than FULLY investing several years in the RBS school itself? Ideally, De Valois would have definitely valued the latter as the valid gateway into the company. I think the RB's recent hiring trends will cause further polemic with regards to the politics of the RB-RBS hiring relationship. I personally think it's terribly unfair to some of the RBS graduates, who otherwise could have gotten into the Royal Ballet, HAD they garnered a pseudo-company position as a "Prix de Lausanne Apprentice" in the first place.

3) I have one more thing to add, which I forgot to mention earlier. I think the ABT-NYCB vs the Regional Companies comparison won't have the same kind of relevance in the UK. While BRB isn't located in London, there is no way that BRB would ever be qualitatively classified as a "regional" company if it ever existed in the US. ENB, BRB, RB = they are altogether national, top companies!

#14 Helene

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Posted 26 September 2009 - 08:07 AM

I have one more thing to add, which I forgot to mention earlier. I think the ABT-NYCB vs the Regional Companies comparison won't have the same kind of relevance in the UK. While BRB isn't located in London, there is no way that BRB would ever be qualitatively classified as a "regional" company if it ever existed in the US. ENB, BRB, RB = they are altogether national, top companies!

Oh, but it would. In the US any medium-large company not based in NYC has to prove, over and over again, that it is not "regional", which is often a buzzword for "provincial". I think that's why San Francisco Ballet seems to have passed "Go" and abandoned any further attempt to prove itself on a national level and to have gone straight to trying to prove itself as an international company.

#15 Mel Johnson

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Posted 26 September 2009 - 11:13 AM

But let's simplify, and talk about the root issue behind this thread - students of a company-affiliated school not going into that company. 'Twas ever thus. Students from La Scala went to dance in Paris, Parisian students danced in London, School of American Ballet students joined American Ballet Theatre - it happened everywhere, continues to happen, and will continue as long as human nature is involved in selecting where an employee will work, and on the part of both the hirer and the hired.


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