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Legacies...who has them, who lost them?

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Good question -- sad, but good. I have a Croce quote for this one: "The central fact of ballet history of the last decade is the disintegration of the company and of the company style. It has happened everywhere, and to companies with once invincible reputations: the New York City Ballet, the Royal Ballets of Britain and Denmark, the Bolshoi, the Kirov. Such companies were fortresses of style; they absorbed change, withstood adversity, challenged each other for world domination, and through it all, maintained a healthy local accent and native vigor that inspired civic pride even in the non-ballet-going public."--Arlene Croce, The New Yorker, July 10, 1996.

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This isn't an answer to Calliope's post, but reading Croce's quote, I was struck by the fact that that quote would probably be true of any other art and many other disciplines during the 1980s and the 1990s.

As ballet is an art which requires extensive financial investment, perhaps those 'fortesses of style' were merely products of the post-WWII society in which each country found it important to present its 'national treasures' as exactly that - national treasures. After all, neither NYCB nor the RB have a long history and in fact their national (or comapny) style was forged during WWII or very soon thereafter. What tradition do they really have? Maybe we just expect them to have a lasting tradition because Balanchine and de Valois presented their companies as national companies?

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I'd never read that Croce quote. I really is a generalization about anything that's gone through change.

And I agree GWTW that the nationalism of the companies does play a part. Do they have legacies merely because we need them to?

The companies that have these legacies, always seem to stray away from what made them the legacies to begin with. I guess that's what I don't understand.

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I think GWTW raises an interesting point about the post-War economy having an influence, at least in America. But Britain did not experience a post-War boom, quite the opposite, and the Russian economy was struggling as well.

I do think, though, that age and legacy are not synonymous. Balanchine was starting from scratch in one way -- he had to find dancers -- but not in another. He was transplanting a tradition and giving it a native coloring. Other companies here and iin Europe that began in the 1940s didn't have that, and don't have a legacy. DeValois also imported a repertory and teachers (from the Ballet Russe) AND had another structure -- that of the Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg -- in mind as a model AND deliberately chose a choreographer (Ashton) who could produce works to suit that model. Neither company was accidental. They began as institutions.

Institutions have legacies. I think that's what institutions are about -- creating, preserving, and passing down. We have institutions so we don't have to reinvent the wheel every 10 years. We also have experimental companies that are born with no intention of becoming institutions because their concern isn't creating a legacy, it's experimenting.

I think people often confuse the two, and that this is the cause of much rancor (on the internet and in real life!). Some expect experimental companies to act like institutions. Others (more, these days) expect institutions to act like experimental pick up companies.

I think the reasons for the decline of the great "fortress companies" are many -- but not financial. There is much more money around now to be spent on the arts than in the 1930s and 1940s. It's simply that the people running these companies don't have the same vision, and internal political struggles in some of them (I except NYCB) or careless appointments by a board that doesn't undestand the art form has resulted in the appoiintment of directors who are more interested in their own careers than in preserving the legacy, or who are too weak to stand up to the board or the dancers, or who are not artists and do not know how to preserve the legacy, even though they may want to.

There is one socioeconomic fact that is now coming into play in a big way, and it's a confluence of repertory trends (the death of character ballets and, hence, the need for character dancers) and the Baby Boom. At a time when dancers are being forced off the stage at younger and younger ages, there are more and more of them in their 30s and 40s needing jobs. Onceuponatime in the goodolddays dancers could dance well into their 50s and there weren't as many of them. Not as many pigs trying to muscle into the trough, as it were. Finally, there's the Video Problem. Balletmasters once had their jobs because of their memory and their eye. To remember those complex character ballets one needed an eye for detail and an eye for style. Now, literally anyone can stage a ballet, and anyone does. ("Here, take this video. Come back Tuesday. A little more energy. Jump higher." This passes for coaching today.)

The one great company that Croce does not mention is Paris, a company which is often slighted in American criticism for reasons I have never understood. Whatever its problems -- and the current repertory is a problem -- Paris is still a great institution. What has sustained it through decades of creative drought is its school and its belief in its school.

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Paris has an odd situation, of all the great national companies. It goes through great long periods of hermitage and reclusiveness, where if you want to see what they're dancing, you have to go to Paris. In the past they have experienced periods when even the étoiles had a tough time getting permission to dance anywhere else. Every couple decades or so, they seem to hunker down into the cinnamon-branch nest and self-immolate, then rise again in a new form like the Phoenix. So, Leo Staats is ignored, Lifar goes out of fashion, and who is this Saint-Léon fellow you mention? Technically, any work that has been presented at the Opéra remains in its repertoire, but has anybody seen the original "Flore et Zéphyre" lately?

The other national companies, including those in Russia, experience the same sorts of things. With the coming of the Revolution and the rise of Soviet ballet, the Imperial was in great measure put away on the back shelf, and not touched upon for long periods until revived, perhaps with a new hermeneutic of "Marxist-Leninist Realism" applied in the meantime. Even before that, Petipa watched a rehearsal of a restaging of one of his works by Gorsky, and was alleged to have said, "Will someone tell that young man I'm still alive?"

George Templeton Strong, the NYC diarist of the nineteenth century made an observation the that the United States is such a new nation that we crave a deep history and mythology which is to our liking, but may not, in fact, be present. The same thing applies to ballet companies, too. We all trace ourselves back to Noverre, but the genealogy from him to us is sometimes unclear and littered with side branches to the family tree which withered away to nothing.

Alexandra is right, institutions are designed to have long memories, but I don't think that they do a very good job of preserving a "company style" over a great period of time, as the Ballet Theater of yesteryear was a far different creature from the American Ballet Theater of today. Longtime fans still argue if NYCB was a more interesting company when it was still at City Center than it was after it moved to Lincoln Center.

So what is a legacy? I don't suppose that it's a technical standard of dancing. Dancers today are far more advanced than they used to be, but I see little good coming out of it. I rather doubt that it's administrative policy - that can change like the wind! Can it be a philosophy toward dance, even more so than "creating, preserving and passing down"? Every company seems to fall down on one or another of these criteria over their histories, and still the institutions soldier on.

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