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The Man from Ulan Bator and Endless Series


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#1 katharine kanter

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Posted 18 January 2003 - 02:50 AM

Being half Russian, I am wont, in an idle moment, to sit and worry about what happens to a visitor from them thar' parts - Ulan Bator, perhaps, Minsk, or Tiflis - who flies in to Paris for a fortnight, hoping to survey the POB in all its fabled glory.

And what does he get in that fortnight ? Seventeen performances of "Paquita", including matinées. And on it goes, for two full months. "Paquita". Good Grief.

And for all concerned: the dancers must be bored out of their skulls.

Whatever happened to the policy of rotating repertoire ?

#2 Mel Johnson

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Posted 18 January 2003 - 03:15 AM

Sounds as if somebody wants to make a long-running standard of that one, after the fashion of the eternal Nutcracker seasons. Perhaps something to do with the stagehands' union? Is it a particularly "heavy" show? That is, is there a lot of stuff involved in the set and lighting? I once worked on a show that was so heavy, it bent the fly system! We used to have a fantasy Nightmare Program at Joffrey - "Petrouchka", "The Lesson", and "Pineapple Poll". And for an encore, we thought the stage manager could come out during curtain calls and throw herself headfirst into the pit!;)

#3 Estelle

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Posted 18 January 2003 - 05:55 AM

What do you mean exactly by "the policy of rotating repertoire"? Is it like what they do at the Comédie Française, alternating between several plays (or ballets) in the same week? It used to exist at the Paris Opera, but it was long ago, I don't know exactly when they changed (in the 1970s or before), nor why. But most companies in France seem to work like that now; perhaps, as Mel wrote, it is because of the stagehands' unions. Also, perhaps of some publicity reasons: it's easier to advertise for a long series of ballets than for ballets which change every day...

Sometimes, the people from Oulan-Bator (or somewhere else) can see more performances, for example when there's one production in Garnier and another one in Bastille , which happens quite often (but doesn't seem to be that much appreciated by the dancers, and especially the soloists, as they often have to dance in both productions and it causes an increased number of injuries). Also sometimes two programs are intertwined (for example "Jewels" and the Ek-Teshigawara program at the beginning of March, both at Garnier), but it's rarer.

Having an alternaning repertory would be more convenient for the visitors, but I wonder if it would be feasible with today's conditions, and especially with decent rehearsal conditions. It already seems to be quite a big problem, with the second, third, etc. casts getting far less rehearsal time and far less coaching than the first cast (from what a dancer told me), and it might be worse with an alternating repertory. Well, at least a visitor to Paris has more opportunities to see some ballet than two decades ago, as there are far more performances now than before. On the other hand, that increased number of performances might be one of the reasons for the lack of rehearsal time for each work...

#4 Alexandra

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Posted 18 January 2003 - 06:28 AM

Rotating repertory is disappearing everywhere, unfortunately, and it's always blamed on the unions. (What does this mean? Does this mean that they have to pay the unions more when they actually work? When they hang one set for the week, or the month, what do the stagehands do for their salary?)

A similar change occurred in theater. Until mid-20th century theater companies were repertory companies: a company of actors with employment for the year. Then someone figured out that it was more "efficient" to schedule a few small-cast plays, and then they realized that when they were doing a play with 8 people, the other 30, or however, people weren't doing anything (rehearsing being not doing anything, I suppose) and we moved to the Broadway idea: one show, everyone -- playwright, director, musicians, actors -- are hired for that one show. Ballet will undoubtedly move in that direction.

In the 1950s, there was not only rotating repertory, but the programs were mixed -- none of this "Program I, Program II, Mother's Day Program. At New York City Ballet, you'd get a Twelve-Tone Evening (all of the ballets would be to twelve-tone music) and then, a few nights later, one of those Twelve Toners would be the middle ballet on a different program. That was one of the beauties of repertory, because juxtaposition can make such a different. See "Violin Concerto" in October and "Symphony in 3 Movements" in March, and you might think they are similar. See them on the same program, you notice the differences.

The dancers do get bored silly and the principals don't get enough work. The corps may dance every night, but if there are six Auroras, that's one night in six. On one of the old-fashioned mixed bills, with three or four ballets -- especially the old demicaractere ballets, with dozens of good roles -- dancers had a much more varied diet.

#5 Jane Simpson

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Posted 18 January 2003 - 06:28 AM

It's not just Paris - the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden are currently doing 6 performances of a triple bill, but that follows something like 17 Swan Lakes and 20 Nutcrackers; in February there is nothing but Manon, and then 19 Sleeping Beautys before we get to the next mixed bill. This is Ross Stretton's idea of a good time, and won't, I hope, be Monica Mason's.

#6 Alexandra

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Posted 18 January 2003 - 06:46 AM

ABT does the same thing in its spring season. It looks like an opera company. There might be one or two mixed bills.

When I look back at older programs, I get quite jealous. Three ballets, each one headed by Stars. In the old opera houses, programming was once quite adventuresome. In Denmark, the drama department's leading actress would do a monologue from "Joan of Arc" as the centerpiece of an otherwise ballet program. Or the ballet's leading mime would do Beckett's "Act Without Words" on the same bill with a play. To me, THAT'S crossover programming :)

And too advanced to even contemplate now, I'm afraid.

I think in the old rotating repertory days, when a company kept 40 or 50 works a year fresh, it was because there wasn't the amount of company turnover that there is today, and since the dancers had grown up in that repertory, they knew the ballets, from watching them if not from dancing them. It was a real "repertoire," in the sense that this particular set of ballets was not only known by the dancers, but their particular forte. (As in, "I have 50 winter squash recipes in my repertoire.")

#7 Estelle

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Posted 18 January 2003 - 06:54 AM

Originally posted by Alexandra
Rotating repertory is disappearing everywhere, unfortunately, and it's always blamed on the unions.  (What does this mean?  Does this mean that they have to pay the unions more when they actually work?  When they hang one set for the week, or the month, what do the stagehands do for their salary?)


I hope that someone who knows all that works can answer...
Actually, at the Paris Opera, sometimes, even when there are long series, they have to change the sets because it's alternating with operas in the same theater (for example there were a few evenings of "La Cenerentola" in the middle of the december series of "Paquita").

Also I wonder if the rotating repertory policy hasn't been made more difficult when the ballet company has to perform in the same theater as an opera, as usually opera has some kind of priority (as what Sylvia wrote about Monica Masons's speech about the Royal Ballet and having to plan five seasons in advance) and perhaps it is easier to plan long series five seasons in advance than a rotating repertory?


A similar change occurred in theater.  Until mid-20th century theater companies were repertory companies: a company of actors with employment for the year.


That's how it still works at the Comédie-Française, and they do have an alternaning repertory (and they perform in three theaters). But as far as I know, it's the only French theater company which still works like that: there are some other "permanent", state-funded companies in France, but they have some series of performances. I wonder if it's just a question of money (the Comédie-Française is the most subsidized theater in France).


In the 1950s, there was not only rotating repertory, but the programs were mixed -- none of this "Program I, Program II, Mother's Day Program.  At New York City Ballet, you'd get a Twelve-Tone Evening (all of the ballets would be to twelve-tone music) and then, a few nights later, one of those Twelve Toners would be the middle ballet on a different program.  That was one of the beauties of repertory, because juxtaposition can make such a different.  See "Violin Concerto" in October and "Symphony in 3 Movements" in March, and you might think they are similar.  See them on the same program, you notice the differences.


That does sound quite exciting indeed. It seems that the New York City Ballet is one of the only companies still doing that? What do the Danes do now? I wonder if such a programming might be easier to do with a relatively homogeneous repertory (a lot of Balanchine and Robbins at the NYCB, a lot of Bournonville - in the past - at the RDB...)?
There are quite a lot of complaints in Paris about the dancers being obliged to dance works of very different styles (say, "Giselle" and Forsythe) in a short delay, especially when there are performances in both theaters, and the fact that it might lead to an increased number of injuries. So I wonder what it would give if they had to alternate daily between such works?

#8 Alexandra

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Posted 18 January 2003 - 07:01 AM

I think the Danes are now on a Program I, Program II track -- and with mostly full-lengths, at least this season. Tiime for another Fokine revolution! (in many ways :) )

Estelle, in the old days the ballet companies shared with the opera too, and in Denmark, with the theater. It does make things more complicated, but it's workable. One of the stories I heard from several administrative people in Denmark about Kronstam was that he could keep the schedules for five years in his head and know exactly what rehearsal rooms would be needed by the drama, the opera and the ballet, so if someone said, "We think we'd like to substitute this for that," he'd say, "That would cause a problem, because you need the big rehearsal room for that play and the opera will be needing that same room that month." I'm sure he's not the only person in history with that ability! And they do have computers now. But it does require thought and planning.

I think there's a probem between switching from "Giselle" to Forsythe and the increase in injuries begiinning in the 1970s coincides with the omnivorous repertory, if I can use that term -- dancers dancing a mixture of styles. (I think we were writing at the same time, and I mentioned the advantages of a homogenous repertory in my post above.)

Hmm. It's fun to "come to Paris" to discuss these things :) Thank you for posting the question, Katharine.

#9 Estelle

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Posted 18 January 2003 - 07:01 AM

Alexandra, I was writing my post while you posted yours...

Yes, the company turnover probably is a big problem- if you have to teach 40 ballets to half of the dancers, that's a problem... One thing that looked good to me when I saw the Ballet de Bordeaux is that many of their dancers had been there for a long time, one of the dancers in "Aureole" had been there for about 25 years indeed! I think it's a good sign. Chronical instability is one of the main problems of many French companies: the directors change very often, and with them the repertory changes, and the dancers change, so everything has to be build again from scratch. It rarely gives good results...

It seems to me that the mixed-bills vs full-length is a slightly different issue from the rotating vs long series issue, isn't it? I wish there were more mixed bills too, and the demicaractere repertory wasn't ignored so much. This season, the POB has only 3 mixed bills, and two are contemporary works only (Lock-Kylian and Teshigawara-Ek)- plus one of one counts the Béjart mixed-bill... That's even less than in the previous seasons. I don't know why such a programming. It might be a question of money, if full-length works sell more (but when seeing how Sylvia was empty last tuesday, that's not sure!) - but that's not even sure, for example every time there's a Balanchine mixed-bill, it's sold out very quickly. And I do regret some mixed bills of the Dupond period, for example it's a pity they don't perform "Le Tricorne" more often...

#10 Jane Simpson

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Posted 18 January 2003 - 07:03 AM

The strange thing in London is that part of the justification for the huge amount of money spent on rebuilding Covent Garden was that there would be far better backstage facilities, and far more room, so they could keep the sets for several different productions ready all at one time.

And yet, forty years ago in the old building, we could see six different full length ballets in one month, sometimes two different ones on the same day, and the triple bills were always mixed and changed as Alexandra describes at NYCB.

#11 cygneblanc

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Posted 18 January 2003 - 07:54 AM

Well,
I don't have a lot time now, so my response will be short, I hope I will have more time later : for some of my schoolwork during my undergraduate studies I had to interview some people in the POB and in the Chatelet, and we have to notice that in the POB case both the financial aspect and its legal statutes are primordial; The scheduling has to be done according to the legal rules governing the POB : shortly it is a "state institution" (not a municipal one as the Chatelet) financed by the State and whose management is controlled by "the Cour des Comptes" and the French Finance State Department. So they can't do what they want, when they are doing the schedule they have do deal with that, and the POB can't be a "laboratory", as the Chatelet Theater for exemple, because of its legal statute. There is a lot of fuss made by some people about the cost of the Paris Opera (you have to notice that financially speaking there is no separation between ballet and opera) and about the Bastille Theater and about the running of the National Theater of Opera.
So here's a summary:
Shortly, they have to programm some works that are 1) not too expensive 2) POB must sell the maximum of tickets

#12 katharine kanter

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Posted 18 January 2003 - 12:23 PM

on how much the taxpayer lost on every empty seat at "Sylvia" ?

#13 Alexandra

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Posted 18 January 2003 - 12:30 PM

Probably quite a lot, but isn't it dangerous to go down the Box Office road? We all do it. When something we like/support sells out, it's "The People have decided!!!" When something we like/support does poorly, it's "We have to take a chance on art, money doesn't matter, what's good and what's popular are two different things."

#14 cygneblanc

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Posted 18 January 2003 - 02:07 PM

Katharine,
For each seat the governement give to the Opera about 100 euros (it varies each year), so for an empty seat of an "A" performance prize, the opera is losing 73 euros and the taxpayer 100 euros. Sylvia, financially speaking, is a fuss, but what an idea to program that piece at Bastille during the holidays. Everyone is going to Garnier for Paquita !
Alexandra, I'm not sure if people of the French Finance State Department are very sentitive about the "art" road ( For their defence, they 're being paid each month for saying what they're saying".
We have to remember that in France, the "government of culture" as we call it, is a very polemic subject, partly because of our history and the fact that some french kings were looking to control art, especially Louis XIV. In the last century problems were related to two personnalities: André Malraux and Jacques Lang, the most known state secretaries of culture. Also important is François Mitterand and his "grands travaux " : I have no good translation to offer but during his two mandates he had a lot very big and expensive cultural edifices constructed among them the Bastille Opera. it is sometimes said France isn't cultural-free, because of the state -control on culture.

#15 Mashinka

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Posted 20 January 2003 - 05:59 AM

I was in Paris over the holidays and can confirm that everyone WAS going to the Garnier. But what an audience! I was almost blinded by the number of flashlights prior to the start. Okay so I'm a foreigner in Paris myself but I'm always amazed by the number of tourists that seem to make up the majority of the audience. Does the Bastille attract a different audience because its building is less attractive and hasn't had a book/film/musical written about it?

By the way I thoroughly enjoyed Sylvia, its a masterpiece compared to the tacky piece of Kylian that we've just had foisted on us in London.


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