innopac

Loss of continuity in dance

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Mackrell writes about how 'There is no sense of family in dance now' in this article. (Posted in Wed May 26 links.)

The videos of Ashton, mentioned in these posts, are such an example with Ashton talking about how he watched the young students all the time, watching their development and looking for talent. And part of the familiarity with a dancer (character and abilities), must be a major part of the impulse behind future works. What do others think about her article?

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Thank you for starting the topic, innopac. I would be interested to know if others feel the same way Mackrell does. She seems to be speaking mostly of the current situation in contemporary dance.

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Thank you for starting the topic, innopac. I would be interested to know if others feel the same way Mackrell does. She seems to be speaking mostly of the current situation in contemporary dance.

You are correct, but for me she does not make this clear.

New works are always welcome in a classical ballet companies repertoire but there may be a correlation between the number injuries the Royal ballet has experienced in recent and the result of performing works that their eight years of training did not prepare them to execute.

Ms Mackrell begins her article with a direct point of the long service of Miyako Yoshida with the Royal Ballet and continues to talk about the sense of family in companies.

That sense of family in the Sadlers Wells Ballet was maintained through the continuing employment of older dancers and especially through dancers of the company who became influential choreographers. When the company became the Royal Ballet and choreographers like Cranko and MacMillan appeared alongside Ashton and a sense of continuity of progress within the company and a sense of family truly existed.

When Ms Mackrell states, "These days, that degree of attachment is rare. Dance today is rapidly reinventing itself – and dancers want to experiment with as wide a range of choreographers and styles as possible. Factor in the current precariousness of their professional lives – the short-term contracts and minimal wages – and it's not surprising many feel they have to keep on the move to survive."

In my opinion, this critic gets it all wrong. Of course members of the Royal Ballet feel attached and love the work and the works they perform. I do not believe that young dancers especially, “and dancers want to experiment with as wide a range of choreographers and styles as possible.”

Here Judith Mackrell is touching on a very interesting subject without mentioning the realities that it echoes. There has been a political influence for instance with the Royal Ballet in which pressures from some critics seem not to want to have to watch the same ballets over a period of time. From this a band wagon has been formed , to seek the reduction of academic classical by having the company dance so called modern works to attract a so called younger audience. Younger audiences will never keep theatres of any description alive. It is regular patrons sitting in the more expensive seats, which help contribute to financial viability.

As to modern works, I believe dancers soon learn how hard the tradition is and many of them, even if they do not succeed, aspire to becoming a soloist or principal in the classical ballet repertoire first and foremost and interestingly, few dancers of this company have ever made the transition to a company in search of a wider range of styles possibly because there is a sense of family at the Royal

Short term contracts and minimal wages I would suggest, applies to smaller companies rather than the Royal Ballet, which is where Ms Mackrell's premise for this article began and she then gets confused as if Ms Yoshida’s experience of belonging to a major academic classical ballet company might be compared to dancers in a series of UK modern dance companies. It is also interesting that she makes no mention the Rambert Dance Company which has a continuum with the Rambert Ballet Company making it the oldest of the modern companies in the UK.

What has “It's no accident that the pioneering choreographers of the last century – Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham et al – worked with a core of dedicated performers. Dancers are a choreographer's instrument it's tough when they don't stay in one place.” got to do with her UK experience she has been talking about?

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The videos of Ashton, mentioned in these posts, are such an example with Ashton talking about how he watched the young students all the time, watching their development and looking for talent. And part of the familiarity with a dancer (character and abilities), must be a major part of the impulse behind future works.

That would apply more to resident/semi-resident choreographers who work with the same company over a number of years and watch the dancers' development. For itinerant choreographers, they really don't have the opportunity to stay to watch. From all descriptions I've read or about which I've heard in Q&A's, a visiting choreographer often watches class or rehearsals and chooses dancers rather quickly. It's a rare case to have a workshop or workshop-like period with a visiting choreographer, although it sounds like Twyla Tharp did a PNB for, if I remember correctly, four to six weeks in which she created two new works for the company's season opener.

Thank you for starting the topic, innopac. I would be interested to know if others feel the same way Mackrell does. She seems to be speaking mostly of the current situation in contemporary dance.

You are correct but for me she does not make this clear.

She switches from an example of a Royal Ballet "lifer", Miyako Yoshida in the first paragraph to discuss only modern dance for the rest of the article.

While there are some ballet dancers who've embraced guesting, the major companies with affiliated academies to which most graduates aspire have pretty solid retention rates among those who stay in ballet. The majority of dancers will remain in the corps, and at some point, either they realize that they aren't going farther in the hierarchy or someone tells them. Then it's a matter of a number of reasons why they might stay -- ex: pensions, prestige, a decent living, wanting to stay in the area, individual relationships, inertia, great rep, a resident genius -- many of which have little to do with a sense of family or loyalty, much like other working people. Another factor is change; for example, many PNB dancers have said in Q&A's that Francia Russell and Kent Stowell were like Mom and Dad to them, and that it was an adjustment to work for someone who was not interested in being Mom and Dad.

Family is such a weird concept anyway. Many of Balanchine's dancers from the '30's, 40's, and 50's have described working with Balanchine in his companies and pick-up groups and how it felt like a family; this wasn't the case as the company grew larger, NYCB became an institution, Balanchine didn't need them to "Win one for the Gipper" anymore -- Tallchief in interviews frequently said that he married her to ensure her loyalty to what would become NYCB -- and they all became older, with Balanchine more interested in youth.

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Unhappy families maybe. Cunningham worked with different groups of dancers who went off and started their own companies, I don't know after how long but seemingly fairly quickly in the sixties.

Within Diaghiliev there seem to have been factions, and afterwards there were two Ballet Russes troupes for many years, and ballet companies in Florida have had their recent creative tensions.

Guest choreographers like Christopher Wheeldon and Mark Morris seem to grasp quickly whom they want to work with as they block out their commissioned works. Dancers do leave to work in companies where they can do a greater range of work, or newer work -- but in some cases seem to get less.

Mackrell may be overromanticizing – and I'm probably overgeneralizing based on my outsiders knowledge mostly of a few companies in the US.

Leonid:

the political influence for instance with the Royal Ballet in which pressures from some critics seem not to want to have to watch the same ballets over a period of time and there is a band wagon, to seek the reduction of academic classical by having the company dance so called modern works to attract a so called younger audience.

Yes, their impulses are correct as journalists -- to embrace the new -- but the avant garde that they're shepherding us toward really doesn't exist anymore (for many reasons) ...

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Unhappy families maybe. Cunningham worked with different groups of dancers who went off and started their own companies, I don't know after how long but seemingly fairly quickly in the sixties........

Mackrell may be overromanticizing – and I'm probably overgeneralizing based on my outsiders knowledge mostly of a few companies in the US.

Good points. There's also the quite recent example of the abrupt dismissal of several senior Cunningham dancers not long before he died.

Many of Balanchine's dancers from the '30's, 40's, and 50's have described working with Balanchine in his companies and pick-up groups and how it felt like a family; this wasn't the case as the company grew larger, NYCB became an institution, Balanchine didn't need them to "Win one for the Gipper" anymore.....

Some of those older dancers also had stories of getting pink slips in the mail. Probably the concept of family applies, if it ever applies, to a chosen few at the beginning. Perhaps all company leaders need a little ruthlessness in their makeup.

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This topic reminded me of a note I received some years ago, on School of American Ballet stationery:

"April 4, 1995

Dear Mr. D'Angelo,

The SAB/NYCB family is a large and very extended connection of many varied people, but it is a family nonetheless. And when one of our family members dies, it's a loss for all the rest of us.

I was deeply sorry to hear of your wife's death and, on behalf of all the aunts, uncles, cousins, and in-laws, extend my deepest sympathies. We shall all miss her.

Please accept our heartfelt condolences.

Sincerely,

Peter Martins"

My wife was not a dancer or teacher; she was just a fan. For many days I would take out the note and cry over it. After all these years, this is the first time I've made it public. -- Lou D'Angelo

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Thank you for choosing to share that with us, Farrell Fan. A very kind gesture from Martins, and very generous of you to post it here.

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Thank you for choosing to share that with us, Farrell Fan. A very kind gesture from Martins, and very generous of you to post it here.

I agree on both counts. Thank you Farrell Fan.

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Farrell Fan, thank you for sharing that note with us. It is wonderful to see SAB/NYCB recognize how much your connection with the company meant to you and your wife.

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Thank you indeed. I was talking with a friend earlier this week about the need to act as a witness in life -- to see and remember good things, no matter how small. This is by no means small, but it is unexpected, and so is even more wonderful. I'm so grateful to have read it.

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As to modern works, I believe dancers soon learn how hard the tradition is and many of them, even if they do not succeed, aspire to becoming a soloist or principal in the classical ballet repertoire first and foremost and interestingly, few dancers of this company have ever made the transition to a company in search of a wider range of styles possibly because there is a sense of family at the Royal

Also the mountain has come to Mohammed in a sense. Classical dancers don't need to leave their companies to do modern work because so many choreographers in contemporary dance make works for ballet companies sooner or later.

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