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East Coast/West Coast differences?


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 15 September 2001 - 06:18 AM

In interview with Karen Brown in today's San Francisco Examiner, there's this provocative quote:

"There's definitely an East Coast/West Coast difference," Brown says. "And I hope to be able to change that, at least with my company. I would like my dancers to be more tenacious, more assertive, more empowered, and to really be aware of how short a dance career is. There is no time to be laid back."

[url="http://"http://www.examiner.com/ex_files/default.jsp?story=X0913OAKLANDw"]http://www.examiner.com/ex_files/default.j...y=X0913OAKLANDw[/url]


I suppose one could debate if that's true or not, but perhaps more interesting is the question, do Oaklanders have a right to be laid back if that's the way they see life? It's another take on the question, should a director come in and turn a company upside down, or try to build on the character of the company?

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 17 September 2001 - 09:04 AM

What? No takers? West Coasters, is Ms. Brown's assessment correct, in your judgment? Any Coasters, this is another angle on the new director coming in and changing the character of a company. Good? Bad? We'll see?

#3 doug

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Posted 17 September 2001 - 12:08 PM

OK, but I don't know that I'm equipped to respond. I'm a born-and-bred Northwesterner. Ms. Brown seems to imply the West coasters are more laid back than East coasters dance-wise. I can't say if that is true or not but can comment on my fairly limited live ballet-watching experience. PNB is my main ballet experience on the West Coast. PNB has been described as more demure than other "Balanchine companies" and I have always felt that is because their interpretation of Balanchine ballets is based on versions and style from the 50s and 60s. However, when I saw THE FOUR TEMPERAMENTS at NYCB last year, I was struck by how bland it seemed compared to what I was used to in Seattle. Perhaps lack of exposure to West coast-based dance by others in the country has led to assumptions?

[ 09-17-2001: Message edited by: doug ]

#4 Alexandra

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Posted 17 September 2001 - 12:15 PM

Originally posted by doug:
Perhaps lack of exposure to West coast-based dance by others in the country has led to assumptions?


That was my first thought. The Oakland dancers may well have been "laid back" but....there are stereotypes everywhere.

What about the larger question, Doug (and anyone) about what seems to be a trend of the new director coming in and changing the company's direction, aesthetic, or character? In PNB's case, for example, would the new director in, say, 2010 [NOTE: This is purely hypothetical :)] be "within his/her rights" to make it a non-Balanchine-oriented company? Who would/should make that decision? Board, dancers, audience? How much of a vote do the dancers and audience have?

We've seen in Boston that a company with a consciously-Vaganova orientation was turned from that course. Oakland had carved out a name for itself as specializing in Ballets Russes era revivals that no one else was doing. Now it will have a much more contemporary twist -- not, it seems, from any request from dancers or audience, but because that is the background of the director. The same thing is happening in Scotland, where Scottish Ballet is being turned from a classical ballet company to a contemporary dance company. What do you think about this?

#5 doug

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Posted 17 September 2001 - 12:43 PM

Just some initial thoughts. I would venture a guess that directors in the US, where most dance organizations don't have much of an established tradition or those that do haven't had it for long, will do what they want to do, i.e., what they specialize in or what they are good at (in someone's opinion, possibly their own!). This would mean that a company like Oakland will change at the whim of a new director.

Is "artistic director" now a trade or skill such as a "computer programer" or "piano professor"? Does the resume go out to all possible job opportunities, despite the nature of the dance organizations? The difference would be that the computer programer has a very specific job to fill, as, likely, does the piano professor at a university, while the artistic director would have the freedom to completely change the face of the organization for whom he/she went to work. Should there then be a training course for artistic directors? Or are artistic directors becoming more like executive directors or arts administrators?

Again, just initial thoughts.

#6 Alexandra

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Posted 17 September 2001 - 01:27 PM

Good question about the nature of the job. Once upon a time, artistic directors had to be ballet masters -- meaning they could teach class, develop dancers, and choreograph a repertory. Now, too often, they're retired dancers needing a job. There are exceptions, of course, but it's ojt for the most part.

The Kennedy Center's new training program is a good step on the road to formalizing training, but it's not just for ballet directors (not to imply that it should be). The notion that someone who wants to be an artistic director apprentice himself to a master for a few years -- ha! (And who are the masters?)

I think, like other things in the arts world, this will be in freefall until new Masters emerge, and a paradigm solidifies.

#7 LMCtech

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Posted 18 September 2001 - 12:33 PM

OK...Here goes from the West Coast.

She has a point about the difference between the Coasts. I moved back here because I couldn't stand how uptight and hyper everyone on the East Coast seemed. I never really thought that carried over into ballet, but I guess you could argue that. Keep in mind that it has been very difficult for Oakland Ballet to KEEP motivated dancers because their contract is only 20 weeks long. Any dancer who was ambitious left for other better oppurtunities.

Some words about Oakland. This is one of the country's most ethnically diverse cities, and their ballet company did not reflect that. Karen Brown's vision for the Oakland Ballet seems to include making it a ethnically more diverse company that does works that are more interesting to the Oakland commmunity and that can retain more talent. That will naturally change the direction of the company, but considering they were not doing very well financially before, any change is probably welcome.

#8 lara

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Posted 24 September 2001 - 12:50 PM

Alexandra,

>> Now it will have a much more contemporary twist -- not, it seems, from any request from dancers or audience, but because that is the background of the director. The same thing is happening in Scotland, where Scottish Ballet is being turned from a classical ballet company to a contemporary dance company. What do you think about this?<<

I think the change in the direction of the Scottish Ballet came not from a director but from a board that made the decision to change the company from classical to contemporary. If this really happens after all the dust settles from the battles that are forming, then the board will seek out a director to steer the company on that new course.

I was thinking that a board hires a director knowing what that director likes, how they perceive dance etc. And that they agree with whatever changes that director will bring with her/him. That the change is not sprung on a company willy nilly nor is it a surprise to the governing board.

If the board has a choice of which director to hire they will hire the one they feel will take the company the direction they want it to go so the "whim" of the director really has not much meaning, don't you think?

Lara

#9 Alexandra

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Posted 24 September 2001 - 01:06 PM

I think there are many boards who don't have a clue what the artistic position of the director is. Many people on boards, especially of smaller companies, are very well-intentioned people who want to be civic minded, but are not knowledgeable about the arts. There are exceptions, of course, but pretty much they're you and me choosing designs for houses, or the new head of the hospital -- intelligent, willing people, but we won't know if they've forgotten to put in some of the plumbing, or the finer points of which decisions should be made by doctors and whether it's okay to have the nurses be pick up laborers.

(The Scottish situation seems to grow more complex each day, with charges and countercharges and "no, we didn't mean that at alls," and as I know nothing more about it than what I read in The Scotsman (on line) I can't comment on that case more specifically. It seems, like recent events at Boston Ballet, it's hard to determine who did what and who wanted what, just that there is now a problem.)

[ 09-24-2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]

#10 lara

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Posted 25 September 2001 - 01:42 AM

>>I think there are many boards who don't have a clue what the artistic position of the director is.<<

Then by what criteria do they hire an artistic director?

I am having a hard time accepting that people who sit on a ballet board do not know anything about the ballet or how they want their company to look!

#11 Estelle

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Posted 25 September 2001 - 08:51 AM

Well, I wouldn't like to sound cynical, but I'm afraid criteria like "he was a famous dancer so he must be a great director" or "she's well known by the audience because she did some commercials for cosmetics" might influence some people too...


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