Jane Simpson

Never Far from Dancing: Barbara Newman

11 posts in this topic

This sounds an absolute 'must have' - former dancers (Seymour, Ashley, Alonso, Ananisashvili...) talking about life after dancing, mainly teaching and coaching.

There's a review by Paul Arrowsmith on DanceTabs with enough tanatalising extracts to make me go and order it, right now!

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I've just started to read this. Many thanks for your review!

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It's taken me a long time to read this book. I loved "Striking a Balance," but "Never Far from Dancing" was not nearly as enjoyable: for the most part, it was a catalog of mostly three complaints: 1. Dancers now have it good 2. Dancers now don't do things right 3. Current choreography is awful. (I almost tossed the book in the garbage after reading Desmond Kelly's "We sucked up injuries in my day" rant.) There were three notable exceptions: Alicia Alonso, Antoinette Sibley, whose voice hasn't changed, and Nina Ananiashvili, who was still dancing and running her company when the last interviews were done. Ananiashvili was the one who still sounded so live, it was a pleasure and a joy to "hear" her. For the most part, it was a depressing read.

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I appreciated the historical information, but I agree with Helene that there was a certain amount of "those kids today..."

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I enjoyed it. It’s not as comprehensive or as entertaining as Striking a Balance, true. In part this is because the subject matter has less surface glamour and more grit – the passing of the years, the challenge of finding work as stimulating and rewarding as the career dancers are forced to give up all too soon, when in most professions they would still be regarded as relatively youthful, the difficulty of sitting in the audience watching someone else dance your roles (and not always so well) and the joys and frustrations of teaching, coaching, and - more rarely - running a company.

I liked Desmond Kelly’s forthrightness. There is indeed an element of “You kids! Get off my lawn!” in what he and others had to say but that doesn’t mean all their observations are necessarily off the mark even when I didn’t agree. Kelly may not always think much of the younger set, but the interview makes clear that he devotes himself to them, and as a teacher he’s talking from the trenches, “pouring water through the sieve,” as Balanchine once wrote to Suzanne Farrell.

I especially enjoyed hearing from Donald MacLeary and Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, and Lynn Seymour tells it the way she sees it, as always. Also Merrill Ashley.

Thank you, Jane, for the heads-up about the book. I wouldn't have heard of it otherwise.

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Perhaps classical ballet is in better shape in the US than it is here.I did not find all the negativity that some of you say that you found in the book. I would not describe Desmond Kelly's interview as a rant .It seemed to me that each of the former Royal Ballet dancers had some very pertinent things to say about the amount of experience that they were able to get early in their careers. The extensive tours of twelve, fourteen or more works with eight performances a week gave all of them a solid grounding in the works of Petipa,Ashton, MacMillan and others. No wonder they brought so much to the ballets that they danced.It is the difference between dancing Swan Lake or Fille twice in a season and fourteen times on tour.It is about the strength, stamina and insight that the dancers derived from that experience.What they say about coaching or the lack of it and the way that choreography has been watered down (Seymour) or altered (McLeary) was for me most illuminating.

Perhaps the problem is that seven of the interviewees are former Royal Ballet dancers but what they say about coaching and rehearsing roles and the overemphasis on pyrotechnics at the expense of artistry goes a long way to explain the type of performance that we see to often in certain ballets. McLeary's working relationship with Guillem explains how and why choreography is altered and how certain dancers get away with it;David Wall's comments on the adverse effect that learning from DVD can have on the individual dancer's development of a role even when they have coaching helps explain some of the performances that we see.

Of course we may not want to read that, in the experience of an interviewee, the current corps of dancers are more concerned with technique than artistry; or that some of them have little or no interest in anything except technique or that for many the efficient reproduction steps of is thought to be all that is required in order to dance in a ballet. But those comments are based on long experience as a dancer and coach and deserve to be given serious consideration. Ananiashvili was still dancing at the time that she was interviewed and is engaged in restoring and developing a company with dancers who, perhaps, have a somewhat different attitude to their art. Sibley makes only occasional forays into the rehearsal room and only does so to coach dancers in her old roles, perhaps as a result, she tends to work with dancers who are more concerned with artistry. I think that it is a book that anyone interested in ballet should read.It may make you think.

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... It seemed to me that each of the former Royal Ballet dancers had some very pertinent things to say about the amount of experience that they were able to get early in their careers. The extensive tours of twelve, fourteen or more works with eight performances a week gave all of them a solid grounding in the works of Petipa,Ashton, MacMillan and others. No wonder they brought so much to the ballets that they danced.It is the difference between dancing Swan Lake or Fille twice in a season and fourteen times on tour.It is about the strength, stamina and insight that the dancers derived from that experience...

Very true. We've discussed the frustrations of limited performances many times on this website, but it always seems to boil down to resources -- the best way to learn the depths of a role is to perform it many times, and that requires a commitment on the part of the artist and the company.

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Almost of the RB dancers made that point earlier in "Striking a Balance," either having toured extensively in the early years of the company or having been part of the separate touring company after it was established and took in most of the school graduates.

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As far as I can see the seven former Royal Ballet interviewees have, each in their own way, identified the cause of much that is

wrong with the Royal Ballet. The loss of the training ground provided by the the touring section; the lack of the systematic coaching regime that the major Russian companies have, has probably done more damage than anything else. However;the weaknesses at the school under Park's directorship; Lady MacMIllan pushing her husband's cause for all that it was worth; Dowell's weakness as director,his apparent capitulation to the Board when it came to questions of repertoire and his admitted failure to stand up to Michael Kaiser are all factors that have contributed to its current difficulties

The problem is,I am not convinced that O'Hare has got what it takes to sort the company out Mason , it seems to me, decided that rescuing and restoring repertory was a more pressing issue than developing dancers. But all the switching dancers around in the recent run of Symphonic Variations does not suggest that O'Hare has any idea of how to deal with the company's problems..Giving everyone the chance to have a go ;resulting in a series of inadequate performances in major mature Ashton works rather than programming his earlier ballets that had trained the company in its early days, is not the way to develop dancers.The failure to give Ashton a more central role in his programming and his decision to mount a production of Don Quixote does not do anything to make me reassess my view of the current artistic director's capacity to deal with the company's problems.

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Thanks for posting, AshtonFan. I'll have to re-read the Mason section in light of your comments.

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