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Retirementa sad topic :(


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#1 polyphonyfan

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Posted 25 June 2012 - 05:12 PM

I’d like to discuss a topic which is painful to balletomanes and ballet dancers alike, but one that I think deserves more attention- retirement. Brilliant dancers virtually discarded after they have given their strength, bodies, and hearts to the art that they love. They are just supposed to step out of the way, and be content with it. I think it’s kind of cruel personally. And I think that these cast-off performers have the right to be heartbroken, but I think that they can take that heartbreak and pour it into creativity.

I think it would be wonderful if “retired” professional ballet dancers would band together to create their own dance projects in which they could choreograph and create their works to perform in together. Just because a director might assess them to be technically “past their prime” does not in any way mean that they are no longer worthy performers. Of course, changes can be made in choreography over time to accommodate the changing needs of the body, but that can be a great opportunity for creativity and not a cause for despair. Modern dance projects today are more frequently featuring disabled performers, and if physically-challenged dancers are capable of giving moving performances (and they most certainly are) then there is absolutely no reason in the world for “retired” professional ballet dancers to wither in the shadows. The repertoires which today’s ballet companies perform are just a fraction of a seemingly infinite number of ways of expressing music through motion and emotion, so why shouldn’t “retired” dancers tap into their creative sides and explore these choreographic possibilities? Sadly, I think that many ballet dancers are taught to be “clay” for someone else’s creations, and are not taught that they themselves can be “creators” and can construct their own ballets and dance works and thereby make performance opportunities for themselves when others do not or cannot provide them. [size=4][font=Calibri] The “dance film” genre would also be a good venue for creative collaborations and performances of “retired” dancers. [/font][font=Times New Roman]Ball[/font]et dancers need to realize that they indeed can do this on their own![/size] Posted Image

I am not arguing that established ballet companies should be done away with, far from it, but I do think that if the ballet world could develop more of an “indie” scene, it would be greatly beneficial for performers at any stage of life and help the progression of the art in general. And I do think that an “indie” element in ballet could greatly complement the already established company model, not be an adversarial “subculture” . On the contrary, it can just be another “voice” in the beautiful and diverse world of dance, no more of a “threat” to the traditional ballet company than F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing style is a threat to Jane Austen’s literary voice. Posted Image

#2 dirac

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 04:04 PM

Some have already done so, polyphonyfan (and welcome to the board). Nureyev and Baryshnikov both looked to modern dance while they were still active as ballet dancers for creative nourishment and more pragmatically as a possible backstop for that time when ballet was beyond their capacity. (Nureyev, alas, continued dancing classical roles long after his sell-by date.) Here is a link to an article from some years ago about Martine van Hamel.

…..van Hamel, 48, had a somewhat more painful separation. She left Ballet Theater because "things had petered out" for her, as she put it. "I had no future," she said. "They couldn't use me anymore. Or didn't want to. In a way, I had had enough. I didn't feel I wanted to do the same ballets over and over. Especially the hard ones. They don't get any better after a certain point."

Miss van Hamel had begun to choreograph at Ballet Theater and after her retirement she continued to create pieces and dance in occasional performances by the New Amsterdam Ballet, a chamber ballet group she formed. But she, too, was immediately interested when Mr. Kylian approached her in 1992 about joining a company for "dancers between 40 and death," as he put it. "You sort of trust Jiri to do the right thing," Miss van Hamel said. "And it was a very adult kind of situation. Everyone was doing it because they wanted to. It takes a little bit of maturing to get the best of a choreographer."


There was a time when ballet dancers could continue well into their forties and fifties, albeit with steadily diminishing returns, but technical demands and the wider range of non-classical works ballet dancers are required to perform nowadays have more or less ended that. Ballet dancers, like athletes, face a short career span and that is just how things are. Like you I agree that retired dancers can and should explore other options in dance.

#3 Amy Reusch

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 07:32 PM

I miss NDT3

#4 diane

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Posted 27 June 2012 - 03:07 AM

I agree, Amy. :( They were magnificent! There are many, many excellent dancers around, and I am sure some of them would quite welcome a chance to continue to perform, though not at the same technical level as when they were in their prime.

It is sad that that there is not the support for it, though.

(NDT III had only a few dancers and nearly always played to sold-out houses, but that was still not enough to cover costs. -sigh-)

-d-

#5 polyphonyfan

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Posted 27 June 2012 - 12:34 PM

I had forgotten that Baryshnikov explored other forms of dancing after his ballet career was over, I wish others would do the same. Dirac, thanks for the article about NDT3, I really enjoyed it. I especially liked this insight:

“What do "mature" ballet dancers have that younger, newer performers may not? "It's not only being mature," Miss van Hamel said. "It's the fact that you've lasted that long. You're pretty good. You have in a way an extra edge in that sense. And there is a stage savvy or an intelligence to the way you move. Also a letting-go, a willingness to take chances or go with what's happening to you or with the pice. You're more willing to go over the edge. Maybe that's specific to ballet dancers. They are so nervous about giving up their balletic identification they are often not willing to experiment to the fullest."

One feels very bad for Martine Van Hamel for having to experience the feeling of “things petering out for her” after a brilliant career, I cannot imagine how hard that must have been on her. But I am glad that she did go on to have other performance opportunities. NDT 3 was a great concept! I am sorry that it only lasted 15 years, but it is a step in the right direction. Financial issues and funding is unfortunately a persistent problem in the arts world. Posted Image I think it would be amazing if NDT3 or a similar company could be revived/created and perhaps give performances at university theatres, dance festivals, or some other venues that would be less costly and perhaps hire up-and-coming or relatively unknown choreographers who would be willing to work pro bono or for reduced wages in order to promote their work, or perhaps even the dancers of such a company could also contribute their own choreography. If live performances would somehow not be feasible, they could perhaps set up a website where they could post and promote videos of their performances, or even live streams of studio performances! Nothing beats the joy and exhilaration performing in front of a live audience, nonetheless, the internet is the farthest reaching international stage yet contrived and it a great blessing for dancers to take advantage of.Posted Image

#6 dirac

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Posted 27 June 2012 - 01:11 PM

You're very welcome, polyphonyfan. I also forgot to mention a more recent example of an aging ballet star extending herself to contemporary dance, Sylvie Guillem. I saw her not too long ago and she looks great even if I wasn't wildly enthusiastic about her choice of vehicle.

#7 Amy Reusch

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Posted 27 June 2012 - 07:49 PM

I guess they can't all be Frederick Franklin.

#8 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 28 June 2012 - 06:22 AM

I am not arguing that established ballet companies should be done away with, far from it, but I do think that if the ballet world could develop more of an “indie” scene, it would be greatly beneficial for performers at any stage of life and help the progression of the art in general. And I do think that an “indie” element in ballet could greatly complement the already established company model, not be an adversarial “subculture” . On the contrary, it can just be another “voice” in the beautiful and diverse world of dance, no more of a “threat” to the traditional ballet company than F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing style is a threat to Jane Austen’s literary voice. Posted Image


I think there is an "indie scene" in ballet -- i.e., companies that operate outside of the established ballet company model in terms of mission, scale, artistic vision, what have you. I'm thinking of groups as diverse as The Columbia Ballet Collaborative, Miro Malgloire's New Chamber Ballet, balletnext, Morphoses, New York Theater Ballet, Cedar Lake, etc etc etc and that's just in New York.

One might argue that the whole downtown dance scene is "indie" -- and it's packed with arresting dancers (of every size, shape, and color) and engaging choreography done on a shoestring (and astonishingly cheap to see). Let me hasten to add, however, that just because it's not "ballet" doesn't mean it's necessarily easy or any more accommodating of an aging body than ballet. (They can't all be Robert Swinston. Posted Image )


NDT 3 was a great concept! I am sorry that it only lasted 15 years, but it is a step in the right direction. Financial issues and funding is unfortunately a persistent problem in the arts world. Posted Image I think it would be amazing if NDT3 or a similar company could be revived/created and perhaps give performances at university theatres, dance festivals, or some other venues that would be less costly and perhaps hire up-and-coming or relatively unknown choreographers who would be willing to work pro bono or for reduced wages in order to promote their work, or perhaps even the dancers of such a company could also contribute their own choreography. If live performances would somehow not be feasible, they could perhaps set up a website where they could post and promote videos of their performances, or even live streams of studio performances! Nothing beats the joy and exhilaration performing in front of a live audience, nonetheless, the internet is the farthest reaching international stage yet contrived and it a great blessing for dancers to take advantage of.Posted Image


I wholeheartedly agree that there can and should be life after departure from one of the established ballet companies. But given the realities of making dance happen, I'm not surprised that projects like NDT 3 are rare. First of all, it costs a surprising amount of money to put on a show, even at a "cheap" venue, and even if a lot of the people involved work for free. (And in some cases they simply may not be able to for union reasons.) Live musicians cost money, but securing the rights for recorded music costs money too. Insurance costs money, and any venue worth using will demand that you have it. Just moving a piano into a hall that doesn't have one costs a small fortune. Lighting, wardrobe, sound systems all cost money. (Take a look at the nine-page technical rider for Morphoses' Bacchae to get a sense of what the checks get written for. Keep in mind that Morphoses is likely targeting university theaters, dance festivals, and small venues like the Joyce.)

And the operative word in "freelance" can't be "free." If I were an up-and-coming choreographer trying to figure out how best to allocate my time, energy, and creativity and get the rent paid, I might opt to go shake the grant tree for myself. After all, if I'd been deemed good enough to make a work for retired ballerina X, I ought to be deemed good enough to get paid for the effort, too. Then there's the sheer hustle, grit, and administrative skill it takes to find the money, put everything together and get the show on a stage somewhere -- those retirees are going to have to have the kind of commitment it takes to make things happen. Art is hard.

#9 lovemydancers

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Posted 28 June 2012 - 06:59 AM

There was a time when ballet dancers could continue well into their forties and fifties, albeit with steadily diminishing returns, but technical demands and the wider range of non-classical works ballet dancers are required to perform nowadays have more or less ended that.


I think this statement is key, and I suspect a fair percentage of retiring dancers do not want to continue in the dance world. Burnout aside, I can see how the perfectionist tendencies of these dancers could deter them. No perfectionist wants to risk producing anything less than they are (or were once) capable of.

#10 Amy Reusch

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Posted 28 June 2012 - 08:50 PM

There is more to dance than the pursuit of perfection. If these "not retired" dancers reprised old roles designed to show off acrobatic feats and perfect line, they would be guilty of making poor artistic decisions... But, there is more to dance than the pursuit of perfection.

#11 polyphonyfan

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Posted 28 June 2012 - 11:30 PM

dirac,

I remember reading about that! As I recall, the reviews I saw expressed much the same opinion as you do: Sylvie Guillem- great, choreography- not so much. :) I now recall that Diana Vishneva is kind of moving in that direction too, even though she is still involved in her ballet career.

#12 polyphonyfan

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Posted 28 June 2012 - 11:34 PM

[size=4]Kathleen O'Conell,

Thanks for the links! [font=Calibri]That’s a good point about The Columbia Ballet Collaborative and The New Chamber Ballet etc. They are indie! That’s great. [/font][font=Wingdings][font=Wingdings]J[/font][/font][font=Calibri] The more the merrier.[/font]


[font=Times New Roman][font=Calibri]That’s true that even “less expensive” can still be expensive enough. I still would like to think/hope that the bill could be kept to level that was manageable even if the members of the company had to help to cover some of the costs. There are some public domain recordings of classical music out there which could possibly be used, and there are certainly public domain scores of classical piano music, a fortunate dance studio has a piano in the classroom, so, in theory, if a company could give a performance in such a studio, then they would just need to hire a reliable pianist (perhaps a music student). In a studio performance, they could still make use of lighting and props for dramatic effect. (I am guessing that renting a studio would hopefully be less expensive than renting a small theater). As for costumes, if every dancer covered the cost of their own costume (I know, lol, that sounds so “recital-like") it could help keep the total bill down. Like you say, “art is hard” and I suppose it would come down to how much the dancers wanted to go “DYI”. But like the cliché goes “necessity is the mother of invention”, you never know how creative you can become when the situation requires it, especially if your only other option is facing life with dwindling performance opportunities. It would be extremely challenging, no doubt, but it might nevertheless be a challenge worth taking. Posted Image [/font][/font][/size]

#13 innopac

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Posted 05 July 2012 - 12:10 PM

[size=4][font=times new roman,times,serif]Retired dancers are a ballet important resource[/font][/size]

[size=4][font=times new roman,times,serif]by Judith Mackrell, Guardian, 24 November 2006 [/font][/size]

[size=4]http://www.guardian....06/nov/24/post8[/size]



#14 dirac

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Posted 06 July 2012 - 11:18 AM

Thank you for that article, innopac. I liked this story:

....Shortly before his death in 1979 Leo and his wife Janet took Massine to a concert of ancient music at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. It was a bitterly cold night and the Kersleys were anxious to get Massine into their car as quickly as possible. But when the great man came out of the hall he became transfixed by the crowd of skateboarders who'd taken over the subterranean spaces and walkways of the South Bank. This was when skating first hit London and according to Leo, Massine was utterly fascinated by the sport's rhythms and manoeuvres. He stood watching in silence for ages and when he was finally persuaded to move said grandly "I'll make a ballet out of that."



#15 polyphonyfan

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Posted 19 July 2012 - 04:44 PM

Innopac,

Thank you for the article! I thought that this was fascinating:

"It's not just that these veterans of the profession have vivid recollections of ballets that are now lost to the stage, it's also that they can conjure up a whole different world of personalities, working practices, and eccentricities."

I recently saw an interesting article in Dance Magazine about dancing at different ages called "Listening to Your Body" by Kathleen McQuire: http://www.dancemaga...ng-to-your-body In the section "The 50s & Beyond" it relates this:

[size=4]“Technique to me is about intelligent dancing now,” says Pat Catterson, who at 66 continues to dance and tour with Yvonne Rainer. “It’s not about virtuosity. It’s about helping me to produce consistent results and keep my body in balance.” Catterson continues to take class five to six days a week. When she stretches, she finds she needs to cushion her joints against the floor to feel comfortable since they are less padded than when she was younger. She sometimes has to refresh parts of her warm up several times in one rehearsal when the choreographic process is stop-and-go.[/size]

For Catterson, the joy of dancing has not left her. She is realistic about her limitations, but refuses to allow the skepticism of others to infect her passion. “I’ve learned that you cannot let fear overtake you,” she says. “Yes you have to be sensible, but if you let fear cripple you, then you just move correctly and you don’t dance anymore. Dancing is a combination of control and abandon, and you have to have that abandon to feel like you’re dancing.”


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