Originally posted by Leigh Witchel
I don't think people who say these things are either unenlightened or malinformed. The aesthetics of ballet do require explaining.
I agree with that. The "why are women so thin" is a question I've heard several time from (well-meaning) people who had attended their first ballet; for example I remember attending a perfomance of a Lyon Conservatoire with a friend and her boyfriend, and his first reaction at the intermission was "but they are so sick! Are you sure they're healthy? It's worrying to watch them." while my friend and I, who were more experienced hadn't thought about it...
Also among your initial questions, I think that there are some which are related to the art form itself ("what makes ballet relevant?"), and some others with the organization of companies etc.
("why are there so few minorities?") and the answers are different. A bit like my field of research, mathematics: asking if mathematics are relevant/ useful is a criticism of mathematics itself, while asking why there is less than 20% of women among the French mathematicians is IMO a valid question (but the fact that some changes might help doesn't mean that mathematics itself is bad).
vagansmom, I agree that some people criticize some aspects of ballet while accepting the same things for art... That's one of the reasons of my question "Is Mozart relevant?". I think that, in France, ballet isn't generally as "high art" as much as classical music, painting or literature, and so people criticize it more easily...
Leigh, I agree also that it's good to insist on the positive aspects of a work. Because convincing people that works of the past don't have to be judged by today's standards isn't enough to make them feel like seeing it... For example, a few years ago I had tried to read some novels by the Frnech novelist Henry de Monfreid, but found them awfully racist and colonialist, I realized that part of it could be explained by the fact that it had been written in the 1930s, but the book was so unappealing to me that I didn't finish it; on the other hand one of my favorite novelists is the Hungarish author Gyula Krudy, though I do find some of his books misogynic, there is so much else to enjoy in his works that it's enough for me to appreciate them.
So for example when some people tell me "but the plots of ballet works are stupid, they're simplistic fairy tales", instead of trying to convince them that fairy tales can be great I try to convince them to see a non-fairy tale ballet, or to enjoy some other aspects of fairy-tale ballets like the musicality, the great technique of the dancers, etc. (hoping that, if they get attracted to ballet enough, they might reconsider their initial views).