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Royal Ballet at the end of Stretton's first season


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 20 July 2002 - 08:31 AM

KB raised the question of the Royal Ballet's changing identity on another thread, and since it's the end of Ross Stretton's first season, I thought it might be a good idea to post that as another topic.

Lynette Halewood wrote a very reasoned piece, IMO, about this for the July ballet.co magazine, for those who'd like to read it. (There is also a thread discussing this article on the ballet.co forums, if you'd like to read the readers' responses.)

http://www.ballet.co...irst_season.htm

Any comments on the state of the company (from those who actually see it frequently :) ) or, for the arm chair quarterbacks amongst us, from what we've read in reviews, and postings comments, about the current state of the Royal Ballet?

#2 Lolly

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Posted 21 July 2002 - 09:23 AM

Since no one else has been brave enough yet...

I don't want to write a huge long post about this as there are still two weeks of the season left (my opinion could all change if/when promotions are announced!), but I want to start by saying that on the last night of the season I sat there after the curtain had gone down and cried my eyes out, I thought life would never be the same.

Well, it isn't the same, but life goes on! What cheered me up quickly and still has an impression on me is the fact that Ross Stretton is in the audience all the time - he is visible (and possibly approachable, although I haven't tried!) - you get the feeling he cares and really knows the company well. He seems very hands-on.

As far as repertoire goes, it has had its ups and downs! There have been lots of new works (new to me) which have provoked a strong reaction in me, both good and bad. The good - In the Middle Somewhat Elevated and Onegin. The bad - Carmen. The not-sure-why-we-have-this-one - Por Vos Muero. And my all time favourite, Romeo and Juliet.

Regarding dancers, I think I have seen my favourites a lot! The younger dancers have been favoured and it is FANTASTIC to see what they can do - no more lounging in the corps for ages I hope. Having all the new corps members from the school is exciting, but I still think there should have been a showcase to introduce them as I can't tell them all apart yet!

I don't agree with criticisms of high ticket prices - I think there are plenty of seats at the lower end of the price scale, and have not found any difficulty in getting those seats. I may be being naive here but how can 3 or 4 be out of anyone's price range? At considerably less than the price of a cinema ticket or a packet of cigarettes, I think ROH is there for everyone - if they want it.:)

#3 Guest_kb_*

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Posted 24 July 2002 - 11:54 AM

"Ross Stretton is in the audience all the time - he is visible (and possibly approachable, although I haven't tried!) - you get the feeling he cares and really knows the company well. He seems very hands-on."


The Royal Ballet is in an atrocious state. It is no longer the company that at one point was considered to be the best in the world in terms of rosta, artistry, technique and risk. And this is not Stretton's fault, the rot began over thirty years ago, however the company is no longer the company of an artistic directorate it is the company of a board made up of non dancers, money men, corporate chairmans.

Stretton knows nothing about the RB or so it would appear from his progamming, but he is inoffensive, he is friendly, just as no one believes that Bush really runs the White House, so Stretton is little more than a puppet, he is the severing of the link between director and organisation, which is what the board wants. Also up for the directorship were Mukhemedov, Seymour etc but no one wants a hellraiser, what is wanted is a generic vision of ballet that has begun to overtake the whole of the major ballet world. And when Stretton resigns or leaves or is pushed out, the blame will fall on him, and the new director will arrive and it will be business as usual.

"As far as repertoire goes, it has had its ups and downs! There have been lots of new works (new to me) which have provoked a strong reaction in me, both good and bad. The good - In the Middle Somewhat Elevated and Onegin. The bad - Carmen. The not-sure-why-we-have-this-one - Por Vos Muero. And my all time favourite, Romeo and Juliet."

The repertoire has made one thing clear the company is no longer able to dance the classics which made their name, which were the benchmark of classicism around the world, which established the Royal and rightly so, as the direct descendant of the Kirov-Marinsky tradition. The triple bills are disturbing as they now align the company more than ever with ABT, the generic modernist ballet company, able to dance Duato, Ek, Macmillan (the later overblown, Lloyd Weber-esque moneymaker Macmillan) with equal homogenised emotionally insincere conviction. One thing the Stravinsky Triple Bill showed was that given free reign Dowell could put on a blinding Triple bill, it didn't need novelty, naff names or token nods to trends in modernism to make it work, Dowell knew good choreography. The fayre provided has been poor to plain crap.

"Regarding dancers, I think I have seen my favourites a lot! The younger dancers have been favoured and it is FANTASTIC to see what they can do - no more lounging in the corps for ages I hope. Having all the new corps members from the school is exciting, but I still think there should have been a showcase to introduce them as I can't tell them all apart yet!"

Utterly untrue. The company has closed its ears to the dancers who made it great in the tradition that made it great. This happened well before Stretton, however, dancers such as Harvey, Galeazzi, Cooper!! are plain bad. Rojo this season showed none of the greatness of her initial RB performances in Giselle, Shadowplay and Ondine, and who could blame her, she was expected to carry the workload for three full length classics, three new works, all premieres all in as many months. She looked workmanlike at best, tired, stressed and is now off on injury. Cojocaru has had to cancel performances and dancers such as Yanowsky, Sasaki, Palmer, Hatley, Yoshida, Benjamin, Revie, dancers of potential and proven greatness have been conspicuous in their abscence. A few token nods to soloist roles amongst underused first artists is not progressive casting. One thing is certain in the current RB the casting of any major worth has been confined to a select few.
The casting is also unfortunately taking the ABT mould of technique for techniques sake, virtuosity at the expense of artistry. Guests such as Stiefel and Corella have been bland to the point of not noticing their presence till the pyrotechncs began, this is excellent for money making full houses, but is meaningless in terms of how the ballet is served.



"I don't agree with criticisms of high ticket prices - I think there are plenty of seats at the lower end of the price scale, and have not found any difficulty in getting those seats. I may be being naive here but how can 3 or 4 be out of anyone's price range? At considerably less than the price of a cinema ticket or a packet of cigarettes,"

Here I have to disagree completely. Those 3 and 4 tickets are in seats I wouldn't put my worst enemy in. Seats which sold for 1 or 2 only last year. The house is expensive by the standards of any large opera house anywhere in the world. The house was victim of horrific mismanagement financially, and the refurbishment was carried out at considerable cost to the tax payer and to public funds, the house garners the highest percentage of Arts Council funding. When it reopened a more egalitarian pricing system was promised, to make the house available to anyone - and what total BS that has proven to be. Nearly 70% of the seats in the house are now in the top price range, the seats have continued to rise in price at the level of over three times the national rate of inflation. The majority of the seats are now out of the price range of most people in the UK, because they are block booked by the corporate sector, who fund the house, who want sensation at the expense of quality, who look at Ashton and are bored and respond to the bathos of crowd pleasing drivel such as Manon, Onegin and Carmen.
The Royal is not an egalitarian organisation, to say that seats are available 100 feet away from the stage, lined up against the ceiling along the sides of the walls, and those seats are only 4 so the ROH must be for everyone, has all the sincerity of saying "let them eat cake", or in light of the current programming "let them eat cak".

The Royal was founded on the spirit of a dream of a national company for the whole of the UK. It was founded by a pioneering dream of the ideal of ballet as an art form, an ideal that has more or less reshaped the way the whole world views, practices and appreciated ballet. In the spirit of that dream some of the greatest ballet dancers the world has ever seen were created, nurtured, and enriched the course of ballet, the course of dance and choreography. What we have now is an homogenised, generic shadow of the dream of greatness that made the Royal what it once was.

#4 Brendan McCarthy

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Posted 24 July 2002 - 12:47 PM

A few thoughts about KB's posting:

1. One realises already that Anthony Dowell protected London audiences from a great deal of choreography that was plain bad. Ek's Carmen was a depressing experience: one dreads Preljocaj's Le Parc next year.

2. Because no British government is likely to fund the ROH fully, any artistic director of the Royal Ballet will have to make considerable compromises. Sometimes, however, I wonder if production values need be so high. A present-day commission may cost upwards of 300k. Yet Ashton's Symphonic Variations, with its memorable designs by Sophie Fedorovitch, was made on a virtually non-existent budget.

3. There is little purpose in the RB performing a rep that London audiences can frequently see performed at such theatres as Sadler's Wells and the Barbican by the companies for which these pieces were made. The state's spending on the Royal Ballet is part of an investment in the UK's future creativity. The litmus test for Ross Stretton's directorship is whether he can develop work that grows out of the company's heritage and its sense of what it is and where it is. His year 3 programme, when it is announced next March, will be the decisive test.

#5 Lolly

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Posted 24 July 2002 - 01:24 PM

Oh dear! My debating skills are being tested!

As I said in my first post, I want to wait to find out what shifts in the rankings happen before committing myself, but I do want to defend the cheap seats! Yes of course it would be marvellous if we could all have great seats all the time - but wouldn't it be a bit silly if the top half of the House was just decorations or something and there were no seats? I can't afford to get good seats all the time - I will pay a bit more if I particularly want to see a certain cast or ballet, but for the most part I sit in the cheapest seats. My absolute favourite seats are 6 at the moment - I prefer those above any of the 73 top price ones. You are preparing yourself for disappointment if you say they are rubbish seats - so what if you are missing a corner of the stage? - the view from the boxes isn't that great either! How can it not be egalitarian - I am seeing 5 performances there this WEEK!

Brendan, I agree with much of what you wrote. I would rather see the "heritage works" than the new stuff. Maybe they should hand out a questionnaire to find out what people want. The problem with that might be that if we don't see new things, we mayn't know what we are missing. It's a quandary.

#6 Brendan McCarthy

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Posted 24 July 2002 - 01:36 PM

Lolly - while I agree with you that the RB needs to pay more attention to its heritage, I feel it equally important that the company develop new work out of its own history, genius and imagination.

Television and film have had to develop 'lean production' techniques. I wonder if the RB needs to do something similar. It would be a dereliction of duty to banish all new work to the Clore and Linbury studios, with only one new commission a year on the main stage. Ashton and MacMillan were producing new work all the time for the main stage: some of it was less than wonderful. But it was only because they had regular opportunities on a large stage that they were able to refine their craft. Some of our young choreographers, such as Cathy Marston and Tom Sapsford, deserve a chance on the main stage - to fail, if necessary, and to fail and fail again. Licence to fail is the sine qua non of eventual success. Relegating new choreographers to the safe margins of the Clore and the Linbury is not to risk anything at all.

#7 Lolly

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Posted 24 July 2002 - 01:45 PM

Oh yes definitely - can we include William Tuckett please! I rather meant getting in outside stuff which modern companies do too. I am in full support of developing choreography from the inside. Hopefully the gala will have widened scope for this - wasn't it in support of the idea? The ADI has been great so far - the things I have seen in the Linbury and Clore have been fresh and perhaps should have been included as part of the many triple bills this past season.:)

#8 Alexandra

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Posted 24 July 2002 - 05:15 PM

As one of the armchair quarterbacks (sorry if that doesn't translate; it's an American football term, referring to the fan who spends the week complaining that the coach did this, that or the other thing wrong but doesn't have to go out on the field himself) I'm in agreement with many of the points KB and Brendan raised.

I don't think we'll learn anything more about Mr. Stretton after another season. He has a clear pattern. In my opinion, what has happened is what could be predicted to happen when someone from outside the tradition is brought in to run a company like the Royal, with a special heritage and tradition. I think one of the many things wrong with ballet today is that it's being run on a corporate model -- corporations bring in a new boy to shake things up. What a good idea! Let's do that too! But it doesn't work that way. I admired Lynette's piece on ballet.co very much and I think her analogy of a ballet company to a garden is quite apt.

I also agree, though, that the problems didn't start with Stretton, but began in the mid-'70s. Of course, there were complaints before that, there always will be, just as there will always be people who enjoy what they're seeing and don't feel that problems outweigh what they like. But the company started moving away from its heritage in the mid-'70s, moving away from having good, solid classical productions as a base, and whatever MacMillan's merits as a choreographer may be, his talents for being the ballet master of a large company -- and a repertory beyond his own work -- were wanting. I think the company took a good sharp turn down the wrong road with Morrice -- who was outside the company but at least had watched it .

There were reports in the '90s that Dowell was under the thumb of the directorship and wasn't able to bring in the repertory he wanted. One can argue that a company director needs to be strong enough to stand up to a board, but I'd wager that the board wouldn't have a director who did stand up to them. If Dowell's last season was the season he'd wanted to have all along, but could not, then it's even more of a shame.

I sympathize with those who missed the Glory Days and think that everything now is, on balance, fine. It's horrid to be told constantly that things aren't the way they used to be. More to the point, I think, things aren't the way they could be.

The prices are a problem. I began hearing complaints about this in the 1990s, when "Swan Lake" and "Romeo and Juliet" began to take over the repertory and over and over and over and over. Vicious Cycle then sets in. We need more money; what sells? Who has enough money to pay what we want them to pay? And then the audience becomes businessmen, who want to entertain their clients with a good evening out and certainly aren't going to plunk down -- what is it now? 100 pounds? or more? -- for An Evening of Who Knows What? They want a name brand. And so the company gives them the name brand, and so it goes. There are other solutions to this, but once set on Swan Lake highway, it's hard to get off.

One final word. Of course new work is needed, but bringing in modern dance choreographers to work with ballet dancers isn't the way to do it. New BALLETS are what is needed. Ballet is a specific language. If English playwrights stopped producing stageable plays, theater companies wouldn't panic and start importing German playwrights and put on those plays in German. They'd try to figure out what was wrong and train English playwrights.

#9 katharine kanter

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Posted 25 July 2002 - 01:22 AM

In response to a quote from KB:

"The Royal was founded on the spirit of a dream of a national company for the whole of the UK. It was founded by a pioneering dream of the ideal of ballet as an art form, an ideal that has more or less reshaped the way the whole world views, practices and appreciated ballet."

That is precisely what De Valois wanted. No-one has ever said it more succintly. Schiller's ideal of the theatre.

KB, whoever you are, you should write articles and fight to get them published. Not only can you get your ideas across, they are important and polemical ideas.

#10 Brendan McCarthy

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Posted 09 August 2002 - 03:01 AM

According to today's Independent, members of the Royal Ballet in the performers' union Equity have held meetings at which they came close to passing a vote of no-confidence in Ross Stretton. They are concerned, in particular, at the lack of information on casting. "We never know", one dancer said, "whether we will be involved in a production or when that will be."

#11 Lolly

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Posted 09 August 2002 - 03:12 AM

It's in the Evening Standard too. Oh dear.:( http://www.thisislon..._text_id=634820


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