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Small specialty or broad range?


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Poll: Small specialty or broad range? (0 member(s) have cast votes)

Small specialty or broad range?

  1. A specific theme or style to the repertory (6 votes [85.71%])

    Percentage of vote: 85.71%

  2. A wide, varied repertory (1 votes [14.29%])

    Percentage of vote: 14.29%

Vote

#1 BalletNut

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Posted 09 July 2002 - 09:43 PM

I was wondering about people's opinions on this, given all the talk about "The National Ballet of Anywhere" and the homogeneity [?spelling?] of repertoire worldwide. It seems that there are companies that have a very generic repertoire of box-office hits and canonized masterpieces, and there are also companies which have a distinct style or trademark, and rarely if ever perform anything that doesn't fit their specifications. When I ask which is better, I mean many things: first, which would you rather see; which would you rather dance; and which is better for the larger prospect of the art of ballet? I'd also like to hear which companies people think fit either description, and why a *particular* company might be motivated to go in one direction or the other.

#2 Ari

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Posted 10 July 2002 - 06:36 AM

For me, a distinct style is the most important feature of any ballet company. It's what makes me want to go back and see more of the company. If I can see several companies with pretty much the same repertoire, it will make no difference which I'll buy tickets for. It's very disconcerting to me to see different dancers in the same ballet dancing in different styles. Perhaps if I were a dancer, I could be fulfilled just focusing on the talents of the individual performers, but as a non-dancer, what I want out of a ballet performance is the feeling of seeing a total work of art, which demands stylistic consistency.

However, I've come to have a grudging respect for those companies that emphasize variety in their repertoire. Because I lived in New York for so long, I had the opportunity of following NYCB, which has a distinct style, while at the same time being able to see a wide variety of other companies and other styles. But I realize that not everyone is so lucky. If I lived in a small city that had only one ballet company, or a city that only got to see professional ballet when ABT came to town, I would probably prefer variety to stylistic consistency.

I don't think that it's altogether necessary to choose between the two options, however. The old Royal Ballet used to be able to dance a wide variety of ballets and still maintain a distinct style of its own. Nowadays, with the company having ditched its own style for the generic approach to ballet, it's become the National Ballet of Anywhere. POB may be the only major company left that still maintains that delicate balance, although it's hard to tell when I see them so infrequently.

The trouble with trying to balance the two approaches is that a company runs the risk of being criticized by both sides—the adherents of the company's style complaining that the company is changing its profile by dancing "foreign" works, and supporters of the ballet's style griping that the company's dancers don't do the ballet "properly."

#3 Alexandra

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Posted 11 July 2002 - 07:03 AM

I think Ari's summary of the issues is excellent. I also want a company to have a recognizable style -- to me, it's what separates the Great International Level Companies from the rest of the pack.

People who watched the Ballets Russes say that they were very conscious of different styles, and that they danced "Les Sylphides" differently from "Swan Lake" -- they weren't just generic ballet blanc, but very different works. The line was different in each, for starters.

I thought Ari's point about companies in smaller cities, or cities where there isn't much dance, needing to have varied repertories was interesting, too. There are very few one-choreographer ballet companies here. I can think of the Ohio Ballet when Heinz Poll was choreographer -- nearly completely his works. But in Europe, in contemporary dance, there are one-choreographer companies, the two most notable being in Frankfurt (Forsythe) and Wuppertal (Pina Bausch) and that raises another question: They are very specific styles, a very specific aesthetic. I admire Bausch, I'd go see her company perform whenever it was in town, but I think I'd get fidgety if that was the ONLY company in town.

Does the Hometown Ballet Company have an obligation to perform a variety of works? If they have a resident choreographer who's either A, mediocre; or B, a quirky genius, would you be happy to see only his/her works?

#4 Estelle

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Posted 11 July 2002 - 07:24 AM

Alexandra, you forgot Hamburg (Neumeier) among the
German companies (and also to some extent Kylian and the NDT, and at some point Ek and the Cullberg Ballet but now there are other choreographers in its repertory). And if you include modern companies (which is the case for Pina Bausch), there are quite a lot of others...

In those cases, I think that perhaps the "only company in town" can be solved is there is a big enough density of companies in the country (I'm quite impressed by the large number of ballet companies in Germany, generally with a lot of performances each season and a rather large repertory), people can travel a little bit to see something else (which might be different in the US because the country is larger). Also another solution might be touring companies (and exchanges organized between them- pity it is so rare...)

Ari, it's interesting that you mentioned the POB among the companies with a distinct style, because in my opinion, that style is far more a matter of schooling than a matter of repertory now. The POB doesn't have that much of an indigenous repertory: it makes a while it hasn't had a genius choreographer like Balanchine for NYCB and Ashton for the Royal Ballet, and much of what's been added to the repertory recently is danced elsewhere too (Forsythe, Ek, Neumeier, Bausch...) or is some modern/contemporary dance which is a bit at odds with the company's style (Li, Duboc, Preljocaj...) Also, in recent years some works which were characteristic of the company were quite absent from the repertory (Lifar's works, Lander's "Etudes", the traditional version of "Coppelia"). So now the repertory which is most characteristic of the company might be Nureyev's productions of Petipa's classics.

A company which seemed to have a good balance (that's just an impression, since it was before I was born) was the Royal Ballet during the De Valois/ Ashton period, with its own choreographers, and also excellent productions of Petipa's classics and works like Nijinska's "Les Noces". (By the way, there's an article by Lynette Halewood on ballet.co.uk about the last RB season and its repertory policy which is very interesting.)

#5 Alexandra

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Posted 11 July 2002 - 07:35 AM

Estelle, I didn't forget Neumeier :o I would call Hamburg Ballet a ballet company and, more importantly, like them or not (and I don't) Neumeier has tried to create a varied repertory, with a mix of narrative and abstract works. I used Forsythe and Bausch as examples of major contemporary dance companies that I'd call "auteur" companies, modeled on early modern American modern dance companies, which existed only to present the work of that choreographer.

I agree that Paris's style comes from its school. The Royal Danish used to have the same problem -- no resident choreographer of genius, but a distinct style -- and solved it the same way -- by bringing in works by other choreographers and dancing them in a way that became recognizable as a style. With them it was as much an approach -- finding the drama in works -- as anything to do with technique.

#6 Estelle

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Posted 11 July 2002 - 07:58 AM

Actually, when looking at the 2001-2002 schedule of the Hamburg Ballet, it looks quite a lot like an "auteur" company, as all the work they dance are choreographed by Neumeier, except a production of "La Bayadere" by Natalia Makarova, and some shorts works (in mixed bills) by Christopher Wheeldon, Jiri Kylian, Gustavo Sansano. There are works like "Giselle" or "Swan Lake", but all of them are Neumeier's versions. I guess that the people who don't like Neumeier in Hamburg must feel a bit bored! (But his company seems very successful there.) So it didn't look very different to me from the Frankfurt Ballet which has a few works from other choreographers in its repertory (at some moment they danced "Agon" for example), even though Forsythe's works are very different from Neumeier's.

I think that an important point, for a company with a main choreographer, would be to invite other choreographers from time to time, and also if possible to train others, so that the company doesn't become repertory-less when the main choreographer dies or retires. That's what happened to the company of the late French choreographer Dominique Bagouet (he was quite influential, Preljocaj and Kelemenis were among his dancers), his premature death in the early 1990s made some people conscious of the fragility of some companies and their repertories. Also, the lack of ballet-oriented choreographers in France might be linked to the fact that during the Lifar period, he staged a lot his own choreographies but didn't encourage anybody else in the company to choreograph too...

#7 Alexandra

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Posted 11 July 2002 - 08:57 AM

Estelle, by "auteur company" I don't mean that all the works are by one choreographer, but that they're all more or less in the same very recognizable style. Neumeier is trying to do a one-choreographer varied repertory a la Balanchine (he's said this), creating a broad repertory containing all kinds of ballets. The "auteur" companies to me are more like boutiques with a more single-minded aim. (The difference between a mainstream film director and Truffaut or Godard) I haven't seen the Frankfurt company for several years, but when I did I think Forsythe was aiming for something different. As Eliot Feld is here. He's experimented with a lot of different types and styles, but whatever mode he's in, all of the ballets will reflect it. He's not aiming for "something for Dad, and something for the kids, and something for the fans, and something for the aficionados."

I think Estelle has hit another nail on the head with the problem of one-choreographer companies and succession. The problem is that if a choreographer is any good, he'll want bodies to move HIS (or her) and so Choreographer No. 2, by his very existence, will change the way Choreographer No 1 worked. In America, Doris Humphrey tried the "heir" approach with Jose Limon; the two were very different But the company was again leaderless after Limon died.

The only way to preserve work is through an institution, I believe -- the ballets, or their shells, will remain, but inhabited by different bodies.

To the original question, I think that the variety, as much as the occasional brilliance, is what makes New York a great dance capital. You can see anything there, many different models. It would be impossible to be bored. Every city simply can't do this.


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