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New choreography, economics, and the audience


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 20 March 2002 - 05:53 PM

There's a very interesting discussion on ballet.co today about the recent triple bill at the Royal Ballet, and some thoughts on audiences, programming, etc. Lynette Halewood started it off, and I think her post is one of the most well-stated I've read on this subject. I thought some of you might be interested in seeing it too. (It's a blissfully reasoned discussion smile.gif )

http://www.danze.co....ening/2574.html

#2 Estelle

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Posted 20 March 2002 - 06:08 PM

I agree that Lynette's article is very well written and interesting.

The situation in London sounds quite different from that in Paris: looking at the figures for the last two POB seasons, there were quite a lot of "modern" mixed bill that sold well, for example this season Ek's Giselle was 96% full (for 9 performances), last season the Forsythe and Kylian mixed bills were 100% full... As somebody pointed out, at the Paris Opera, the prices sometimes are lower for modern works, but not always: the prices for the Kylian mixed bill were nearly the same as the highest prices (which apply for "the classics"), with the top seats at 54 euros instead of 60. However, another factor is that the *number* of performances generally is lower than for classical works.

Probably there is a larger modern dance audience in France (especially in Paris)... For example, companies like those of Pina Bausch or Merce Cunningham regularly perform in sold out theaters. Also the POB prices are quite lower, in general, than those at the ROH, which might have an influence too.

#3 Alexandra

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Posted 20 March 2002 - 06:18 PM

I'm sure it is different in every city and country. I would think there would be a large audience for modern dance in London, too. I think part of Lynette's point was that the "new" works really weren't that new, and that that particular program was perhaps not very well-constructed.

In Washington (where we don't really have a ballet audience now) there's been a divide between the audience for the triple bills that are invariably programmed for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights, and the "full-lengths" which are on Friday nights and the weekend. And often -- whether it's for an evening of new ballet, or three Balanchine works, or an Ashton triple bill -- the week days do not sell out. Weekend performances almost always sell out.

Is part of this because Washington is an early to bed town and nothing during the week is going to sell out? Or the ticket prices? Or the name recognition? I don't know.

I think with an audience that's a regular, committed home audience -- not a predominantly tourist audience, which will, naturally, be more interested in either company signature works (Bournonville, in Denmark; well, in theory) or something they've heard of ("Swan Lake") -- there would be a high interest in novelty, whether it's Mats Ek's "Giselle" or a new production of something more familiar.

#4 liebs

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Posted 21 March 2002 - 12:58 AM

I'm not really interested in addressing the economic issues but this article certainly raises some interesting questions about that side of the ballet/dance field.

For a program of short works to be successful, it certainly would seem to need more variety than the one this article describe. And I personally don't find any of Duato's work interesting enough to warrant a second viewing.

But more importantly, it seems to me that ballet (for that matter, opera audiences) are essentially conservative. Most audiences except NYCB's, and perhaps the Joffrey's, seem to prefer full evening, story ballets. So, artistic directors have a dilemma that this article articulated very clearly - do you lead or follow the audience's taste?

I certainly don't have an answer but it is one that many companies seem to struggle to solve.

#5 Alexandra

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Posted 21 March 2002 - 01:10 AM

Interesting comments on repertory and programming, liebs. Isn't there a segment of the audience that that leaves out, though? Estelle pointed out -- on the thread where she posted POB's season for next year -- that most of the 20th century repertory is neglected, and Paris isn't the only company that programs either "classics" or very contemporary works. There are literally hundreds of stageable ballets that are being neglected.

I'm not sure that conservatism is linked to liking full-length ballets. The NYCB regular viewers would be "conservative" in preferring a Balanchine triple bill. I'd rather see a triple bill of good classical or neoclassical ballets than either (almost any) production of "Swan Lake" today, and certainly more than an evening of Nacho Duato and friends. It seems that a good chunk of the Royal Ballet audinece would, too. (I liked the ballet.co poster who, on another thread, called it "macaroni and cheese.")

I do think that many ballet companies are trying to serve two audiences -- the one which (they think) will only be lured into the theater to see trendy works and the one which (they think) will only see "Swan Lake" or "Manon."

I think this is a dangerous path. It pigeonholes people and it leaves out the segment of the audience who is -- or could be -- there for the long haul. The audience on which the reputations (I guess I can't really say "fortunes") of the major ballet companies were once built.

#6 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 21 March 2002 - 09:33 AM

I'm in Louisville for the week (choreographing with bronchitis - oh, joy), and this very question is even more pressing for the regional companies than it is for the national ones. I'm very much enjoying working here - Louisville Ballet has annually presented a choreographer's showcase that is traditionally entirely the work of company dancers or alumni. I think I may be the first complete outsider to participate, so I'm honored.

The dancers are working to create this performance on their layoff, on their own time, without pay. They're working longer hours and with fewer breaks than they do during contract weeks, and they're happy to do it; they're that interested in doing something new.

There are at least eight new works being made, interestingly, mine is probably one of the only classical or neoclassical ones. Why? Louisville's repertory and training tends to be solidly, respectably classical. I can't talk about consistency of style (I haven't seen enough of the company) but both the men and women in my small cast (three women, one man) are completely comfortable in the classical idiom and style; the women don't look like they don't do enough pointework - something I have seen in other companies. I think that's why all the company members opted to do contemporary work, for them, it's a change. Interestingly, I think I'm one of the few working abstractly. They all have stories they want to tell.

The company's repertory used to be more eclectic than it is now, and that seems to be a tender point with the dancers. The repertory used to include Esplanade, some David Parsons (The Envelope), and also a great deal of Tudor; even this year the company performed Lilac Garden and a later, lesser-known work, Fandango.

As with most of regional ballet in America, the story ballets are starting to take over the repertory, and sadly, the dancers are starting to resent them. Not because they hate Swan Lake, but because they hate not dancing, and the greatest balancing act for an artistic director is to figure out how to create dancing opportunities in the full lengths. Of the great ones, the only one that really deploys a company at all levels is Sleeping Beauty. The others give ripe roles a few dancers and leave others to gather wheat. This very issue is probably why we see the classics dickered with so often like at ABT; directors changing the ballets to give the men something to do. (It's one solution, I think it's the wrong one. I think it's better to add performances or create new ballets in addition to the full lengths rather than add jesters. But the reality in the regional companies is that there will be fewer performances, so that makes the problem that much harder to solve.)

As everyone knows, there is the very real issue of selling tickets. The question is asked here, "How do we sell Lilac Garden?" I think name recognition causes the preponderance of story ballets; Cinderella sold out here because of the recognition from the Disney film. People are starting to answer, "You don't sell the ballet, you sell the company." That answer, harder though it is, may lead again to a more balanced repertory for regional companies.

#7 liebs

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Posted 21 March 2002 - 12:56 PM

Yes, it does seem a shame that so many 20th century works are so rarely performed. I'd like to see not only more Tudor and Ashton but some other De Mille, some Massine and Fokine and works by people like Ruthanna Boris or Bill Christenson. How about some Tharp works that have been dropped by ABT or early Feld that Eliot doesn't want for his company. And I am sure that there are some European choreographers I haev left out.

Leigh, I think the issue of pointe work is an interesting one. If you don't have pieces, which extend that technique you cann't do new pieces that rely on pointework. But then how does a company like Louisville get through the full length classics.

It is also clear that dancers love to have works made on them. The enthusiasm Leigh described is echoed in most "choreographic workshops." Even if the piece isn't very good, I imagine the dancers are intrigued at being part of the process.


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