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Alexandra

Sibley on the contemporary repertory

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This is a quote from an article Ari posted on Links; an interview with Dame Antoinette Sibley.

She has more to say on the issues facing ballet across the world - from the blurring of national dance styles due to globalisation to the nature of the repertoire. Should artistic directors be criticised for offering the public an endless diet of Giselles and Sleeping Beauties? Should new, avant-garde ballets form the bulk of the canon?

Sibley seems to sit up straighter and her eyes snap: this is a subject close ot her heart.

"What exactly is contemporary ballet?" she demands, as if addressing an invisible audience. 'If it's people on stage with no shoes and running around with scarves, then no [i'm not in favour] ... we call them Euro-trash ballets, fun, interesting to see if a great dancer is dancing in it ... but to me, they do not promote the art. However, I do believe in modern ballets - works by Christopher Wheeldon, Kenneth MacMillan, Frederick Ashton and so on ... these aren't classical ballets, but they are [rooted in the classical tradition] while being modern."

Sibley also feels strongly about the need to maintain national ballet styles, under threat in a world of imported talent and massive cultural diversity in the ranks. The latter, of course, is a good thing, but can come at the expense of nurturing local talent.

comments?

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I bemoan the blurring of national styles. In old ballet photos, it's easy to tell by the bearing, or the angularity of an elbow, or the arabesque line, the nationality, if not the exact company, of the subject. Now, if I'm flipping channels and see someone unfamiliar in pointe shoes, I sometimes have to watch for several phrases before I can feel confident guessing which hemisphere they represent! It is my hope that Monica Mason will restore to the RB some of its former, courtlier style, having been so steeped in it herself. (I.e., perhaps Dowell's international career was not an asset to the the company.) I'm hopeful, but not optimistic.

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I agree, I agree :) I note especially your line that "perhaps Dowell's international career was not an asset to the the company." I think his dancing with ABT at the time that he did -- the Jane Hermann era -- changed his dancing. I have English friends who found him different when he returned, but I saw the changes as they were happening (and I take it you, too, noticed them). He became much more presentational, and started "selling" his dancing. I also think the backstage practices at that time -- lack of rehearsal, the "let's just throw it on stage" -- and the ABT sense of casting -- anybody who can do the steps can dance the role; the more casts the better -- colored his direction. I'm so glad somebody else said this first :)

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While I believe in some homogenization in teaching technical standards (we all want the best technique, after all), homogenization in artistic conventions seems dangerous to the art form, doesn't it? Once everything starts looking the same, it all becomes less interesting, even the archtype that inspired the imitations looks duller.... So what, should choreographers over the age of 20 be forbidden to see other choreographers' work? Only non related art forms? Isolation has lead to some benefit in the past: think Royal Danish, Ballets Russe? What is the solution in this era of globalization? Will poverty lead to creativity? (if they can't afford to see anyone else) Post modernism (with it's proclivity for quoting what the creator has already seen) seems to have kind of played its way out by now, hasn't it. Has technique reached it's limit or are there styles of technique for different eras (one era's technique emphasizing strength & elevation, a later era's technique emphasizing plasticity instead). Exocticism is kind of hard in the 21st century. Cross-fertilization from modern dance hasn't started a new ballet trend yet, has it? (Or is that Forsythe & imitators?) Mixed media is challenged not to be seduced by it's own gimmickry. Whither next? Shallow fashion? Depravity? Or is the audience for new ballet so small that it doesn't really matter... nothing can take hold?

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this is a variant of something i have been thinking about recently: my theory is that one AD with real vision could re-instate any one country's style (that we so much enjoyed to see in the past) - and that s/he might be praised internationally - after a good while for word to get around - but that s/he would be absolutely DAMNED in his/her own country (as being 'backward'=looking, etc.)

quite possibly, such a person wouldn't last long enough with the funding sources to even establish what they were trying to do...such a person would be mighty unpopular, methinks...

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Originally posted by grace

my theory is that one AD with real vision could re-instate any one country's style (that we so much enjoyed to see in the past) - and that s/he might be praised internationally - after a good while for word to get around - but that s/he would be absolutely DAMNED in his/her own country (as being 'backward'=looking, etc.)

quite possibly, such a person wouldn't last long enough with the funding sources to even establish what they were trying to do...such a person would be mighty unpopular, methinks...

I can prove that theory, Grace :) That's what happened to Kronstam in Denmark. When he became AD in 1978, he went back to the company's roots after more than a decade of experimentation with a heavily modern dance and theater piece repertory and very indifferently danced classical ballets, and turned it back to a classical company in a season -- not relying on memory here, but on videos from 1978 (before) and 1979-80 (after) as well, in addition to numerous interviews with dancers and theater administrators. He did this with the backing of the Minister of Culture, and everything was fine until that Minister of Culture died during Kronstam's second year. (Apparently, none of the critics dared to oppose this, and wrote "finally, there is classical dancing on Kongens Nytorv again.) But after the death of the MoC, all of a sudden "Kronstam is not a new thinker," "why don't we have John Neumeier come in and turn Napoli upside down?" etc etc -- and that is from one of the milder critics.

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- A bit late here, but.....

;)

I like Mr. Johnson's remark.

There are several brave, lonely artistic-directors (which usually also means "chief choreographer" in the smaller ballet companies) here in Germany who hang onto the classical ballet tradition with an admirable tenacity.

They are generally ignored - at best - by the critics; and can only hope to stay in their jobs, a chance for "advancement" to a larger theatre is not possible without critical aclaim and the subsequent support by politicians.

The Zeitgeist is not in favor of classical ballet.

:mad:

-diane-

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Diane, could you tell us a bit more about those ballet German companies? It's a bit fascinating for me to see that in Germany there are so many ballet, operas and orchestras, by contrast to the very centralized situation in France... But the French press seldom talks about the German cultural scene. So it'd be interesting to know in which German cities there still are some ballet companies, what kind of repertory they're dancing, etc.

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Does anyone know what sort of reviews the Kirov's reconstructions of The Sleeping Beauty and La Bayadere received in Russia? I suppose they could have been tempered by the fact that the Sergeyev versions remain in the repertoire, or by the fact that they were danced by Zakharova and Vishneva, but were the reconstructions seen as 'backward' there?

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Estelle, I am trying to research a bit in order to be able to tell you more.

The companies which I know personally are in Wiesbaden and Koblenz.

These are relatively small companies; Wiesbaden has around 30 or so dancers, Koblenz only about twenty or even less.

They do both classical and neo-classical work, but the tendency is towards classical.

That is what the ballet-going audience usually wants.

Many of the much smaller theatres have been cut back so much in recent years - down to eight dancers or so - that to attempt a classical (story) ballet would be totally illusory.

So they ditch the classical altogether and go for tanztheater or perhaps "modern" dance, which is a catch-all phrase for anything not ballet and not pure acrobatics or musical-theatre. Some of these companies refuse to take part in operettas or musicals, further damaging their already tentative status in the eyes of those who hold the money-bags.

;)

Naturally it is not easy to put on ballets with so few dancers.

With thirty or so it can be done pretty well; everyone dances a LOT.

But with just sixteen to twenty dancers, it is much harder.

Then it is sometimes possible for the director to be able to hire dancers just for one production; taking perhaps five months of the season of ten and a half months.

The pieces done range from rather obscure-seeming, original works using a largely classical ballet vocabulary, to Sleeping Beauty, Coppelia, La Fille mal GardeƩ, Giselle and even Swan Lake, though that is not at all easy with so few dancers.

From other companies I only know what I have been told or have read.

I'll keep looking and report back when/if I have found anything I deem interesting enough. :)

-diane-

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Thank you for that, Diane. I'd love to hear more about the "rather obscure-seeming, original works using a largely classical ballet vocabulary." That's what we don't have much of here, and what we do have is usually very derivative -- watered down Balanchine.

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Just to say I've created a thread about "Small German companies" in the "Other international companies" forum.

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