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The Next Step is Tricky -- Post article today

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There's an interesting article in today's Post about the company -- both Septime Webre's directorship and the school.

The Next Step is Tricky

I've posted this on Links, but wanted to put it here also for discussion.

Webre is in the fourth year of a five-year contract, Mary Day just don't-say-retired as director of the School.

Here are some comments from the article about the school, and the direction of the repertory:

First, the school, from Amanda McKerrow (with her husband, John Gardner) decided not to apply to be Day's successor:

  "We came to the conclusion that we didn't have the same artistic values; we'd be in constant artistic conflict," says McKerrow. "I just can't agree with some of the things he wanted to do with the school. . . . We are a bit more purist than Septime."

McKerrow says she worried that the educational focus would not remain solely on the pure classical tradition Day had established, noting as an example that Webre had advocated teaching the students some works by neoclassical master George Balanchine, whose speed-driven, stretched-out style often takes ballet off its axis and exaggerates its shapes. "He had discussed an exclusively Balanchine-based school," McKerrow says.

"I have no problem with the children in the school learning a variety of styles, Balanchine being one of them," she adds. "But you have to teach them all equally so they're ready to go anywhere. It's so important nowadays."

Then the rep:

Perhaps this [last year's triple bill of "Concerto Barocco," "Pillar of Fire," and "Esplanade"] signals an opening for works of a more classical nature. Ballets by such masters as Jerome Robbins (one thinks of "Dances at a Gathering"), Michel Fokine ("Les Sylphides") or even Mark Morris would be a welcome change of pace and stretch the dancers in a more musically nuanced and sophisticated direction.  

Such fare is not in the future plans, however. Next season will include William Forsythe's stark, athletic study "In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated," Choo San Goh's "Momentum," a production of "Coppelia" that Webre will stage with South African teacher Charla Genn and a program to celebrate Balanchine's 100th birthday that will feature Act I of his "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (with New York City Ballet principal Benjamin Millepied as guest star) and "The Four Temperaments."

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A very interesting article. I note he's hired Jeff Edwards as an artistic associate; I wonder what that will mean (if anything - it depends on what his duties are)

I also note we've got another "Act I" only version of Midsummer out there. I really wish this were not being encouraged.

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I second, third and fourth your comments about "Midsummer." I think this is a pernicious trend, and I'm surprised it's being allowed. (Obviously, since it is allowed, the Powers, undoubtedly have taken pros and cons into account, disagree.)

Jeff Edwards is SAB trained, but had a varied career, so his hiring doesn't necessarily signal a move to Balanchine.

I found McKerrow's commitment to a specific style commendable; if SAB started hiring RAD teachers, I'd expect someone there would make comparable comments. But McKerrow certainly changed her dancing style from the Washington Ballet of the '70s, which was very after-Royal Ballet, to the American Kirov classical style that ABT favored in the Makarova era.

But I'm not distressed by next season's repertory. I think everything on the bill is quite a step up from the ghastly evening Kaufman refers to in her piece (that included the Dwight Rhodon trapeze piece and a Webre underwear ballets).

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Septime made some comments in Q&A, after Saturday's performance, that reinforce this. He said that his goal for the company repertoire was balance and variety, that each year he wanted to do at least one contempo, one story ballet, one Balanchine, etc. I guess it makes sense, then, that he would want the school to support his vision for the company.

Compared to where they have been in the past, he is taking the company in a more classical direction - so I would have thought the school already supported that. Maybe it is a matter of wanting the school less classical, and the company more so, in order for them to meet in the middle?

Seems like it would be a natural (from this perspective) to add Balanchine training to the school, since this is not currently the company's strongest suit.

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In the company's first decade, it did at least one Balanchine program every season, and sometimes one on every program, as did many regional companies then -- ballets like "Serenade" and "Scotch Symphony" were seen as useful in maintaining a company's technique. But the WB always danced them in its own accent -- it wasn't considered a Balanchine company.

In the years after the death of Choo-San Goh, the company's repertory declined sharply. Lots of good faith efforts to discover the next Choo-San Goh, but the years before Webre took over -- were pretty grim.

I think the company's direction at present is -- well, call it eclectic, call it confused. Webre wants to seem to go in several directions. More classical -- big ballets to attract the Kennedy Centery ballet audience. More contemporary, which seems to be his own natural bent and which some audience members prefer, too. It's a balancing act every director of small and medium-sized companies face, and it will be interesting to see how he proceeds.

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Call it eclectic, call it confused, but whatever it is, even if such a scattershot/market-driven approach to repertoire work for a company, it will not, work for a school. ever. Young dancers need a coherent, consistant syllabus. Pick your fave -- RAD, Vaganova, Balanchine, or Mary Day's brilliant blend of general classical (Day was an extraordinary teacher). But let's hope for the sake of the next generation of WSB dancers that they are not given the same zig-zag approach Webre brings to the company. Frankly, I like what he's done with some -- not most -- works and he's brought some fine dancers to town. If he wants a school that can feed his company, he need only add to a stong clear classical training some excellent technique-based modern training. Horton, Humphrey-Limon, Taylor --- anything but the vaguely Vegas lyrical mush or MTV-drop-and-squat stuff that passes for modern or jazz at some schools. Good modern technique will give the ballet dancers the range they need for contemporary, more athletic choreography.

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forgive me for having an opinion regarding an enterprise so close to home for many of you. BUT: (!)

i'm with samba - what a great post, samba! :innocent:

i cannot comment on the rep or the director/s, but i love some of the descriptions ("call it eclectic, call it confused" :blink: )

however, when it comes to a school approach, i can only admire mckerrow's stance. it sounds like HER training gave her a strong enough base to BE ABLE to alter her style as she wished. whereas i would IMAGINE that a purely Balanchine-style-based training might not enable a dancer to be as adaptable (as she was able to be), in their future careers.

there is a BIG difference between "teaching the students some works by ...Balanchine" and "an exclusively Balanchine-based school"

noting as an example that Webre had advocated teaching the students some works by neoclassical master George Balanchine, ... "He had discussed an exclusively Balanchine-based school," McKerrow says.

i don't know any of these people, and i realise some of the posters - (AND those noticeably absent) - will take this all more personally. i am only talking in generalities/ in principle, but, as i said before:

i second samba's post.

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:wacko: Very good, FarrellFan!

In reply to Mike Gunther's quote that you cited, I didn't read any wry irony in his post, :shrug: , but it would seem to make sense only if done in the reverse -- schooling the dancers classically so that they have a solid basis for a variety of performing techniques. Jazz and modern dancers often speak of the need for ballet training as the foundation underlying their chosen disciplines.

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As someone with a history with the company, take what I say with that bias.

Dancers need classical training into their teens (15, 16). At the age of thirteen, they sould be introduced to other dance forms, but hard part is having students understand that these other dance forms are as legimate as classical ballet. In a professional ballet school, students are led to believe that there is only classical ballet. Modern especially fights this, but Horton tecnique is fantastic for teens!

For WSB, what is needed is someone whose dancing career embraced a wide variety of dance, who was classically trained in a professional school, and who has the confidence and respect to work with Septime to give the faculty a strict curriculum. Everyone must be on the same page.

I find that dancers who are encouraged to move to rather than make positions work best in a repertoire such as Septime's. Also, Septime and the new director should teach every level in the school once a month. Otherwise there tends to be a school versus company mentality.

As for syllabus, for the first three years I think Vaganova order of teaching technique sets up the use of the whole body the best and from then on as long as the faculty agrees on the what and how, it is not important. But any fear of moving has to go and the confidence to fail has to be encouraged for contemporary choreography.

There may be a school - company schism, but bringing in a third party may only add another level. Better may be for Septime to be in the school and talk to the teachers about what he finds lacking. Then work together to add those qualities to the dancers they produce.

I think the school produces good dancers now! IMO the school is not really broken, so why all the fuss? There are excellent teachers there now, and as with all excellent teachers their way is the best. Perhaps there does need to be a leader, but unless that person is respected and admired and respects and admires the faculty and Septime, then there will be a period of turn-out the door.

I hope that I have not ruined any friendships with these comments, I adore all of you and more importantly have learned a great deal in knowing and watching you teach.

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Aside from recommending Vaganova for early grades (I don't know enough about teaching to say yea or nay on that) I agree with mbjerk. The school ISN'T broken -- why turn things upside down in what is one of the most respected ballet academies in the country?

I think the school must serve the company. I think Webre needs to figure out what kind of company he's going to have. Either turn it into a contemporary dance company or be a classical company. Then have the training prepare that. I don't think he can keep doing a New Now Evening, a kiddie show, Nuts, a Big Classical Ballet and another New Now Evening. And I don't think you can train for that. Now, they look like ballet dancers in the New Now stuff and not-quite-ballet dancers in Cinderella. In its chamber days, the company was recognizably neoclassical in everything it did. It had new work (with Choo-San Goh), it had Balanchine, which it danced in its own way, and it could also be convincing in the miscellaneous works that appeared from time to time.

If do they have Horton, I agree, that the students should be taught to respect it; good point. I also hope they'd be taught that it's different. :pinch: I wonder, though, if you have to turn to modern dance to keep classical students from posing? In ballet, the dancers should be "encouraged to move to rather than make positions" I'd hate for that to be relegated to modern dance only (not saying that's what mbjerk meant) and for ballet to be left with only pretty poses. So much has been stripped from it already.

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Yes Alexandra, I did not mean to leave it for modern to teach classical dancers to move. In my wanderings around the country, I do find students so conscientious and exact that they do not move from a line to a line through a line, they make poses and fall apart when asked to make an enchainment as a sentence/paragraph versus a series of slow, well articulated words. These are dancers at 16 and older with good training, but they are stuck in the mud. Yes, precise words need to be taught in the early years but I hope those words become eloquent, moving, individualistic expressions in a short while.

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nothing to add, except just to pop in to let you know that i am appreciating some of the very sensible and intelligent comments posted here. i will make a thread over in TEACHERS for the suggestion that a school - ANY school - might do several years of vaganova training at the outset, as a base...certainly a suggestion which is worth a little critical thought ( - in general, i mean - not necessarily with regard to WSB)...

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I'm going to disagree with Mbj here, which is very rare indeed! :wub: I do NOT think it should or needs to be left to modern dance to teach ballet dancers to move. If they are taught to move instead of pose, meaning that ballet is taught with movement built in, as I believe it can and should be, then one will have dancers who can move. BALLET dancers who can move. I do agree that they are hard to find these days, but I do find them, and I do teach them to do it, so it is being done by some people. Unfortunately, there is also a lot of posing being taught, and a lot of dancers who do look wonderful at the barre and totally fall apart in the center. I see that too, and agree with mbj that is certainly exists. But that is the fault of the teachers, not of ballet. :rolleyes:

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Victoria - we do agree! I did not use a double negative as I agreed with Alexandra that modern should not be what teaches ballet dancers to move.

I did not mean to leave it for modern to teach classical dancers to move.

I do not think that modern more than ballet teaches ballet dancers to move unless the dancer is inclined in that direction. Modern does help ballet dancers find more of their bodies and can show them more about expression.

BUT, I am a bunhead through and through and find well-taught, musical ballet classes contain all that is needed.

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I would not worry about what the future will bring with Septime.If you look at the facts of his record and what he brings to whatever he does the results are amazing.Yes WBS has produced great dancers but this doesn't mean new ideas have to be a bad thing.And why does he need to decide what kind of Company he has? Why must it fit into a mold?Look at ticket sales and audience response now!Septime is not quite like anyone else so neither are his ideas-it's a good thing!

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And why does he need to decide what kind of Company he has?

That's part of the job description of an artistic director. Like any enterprise, there's an overall direction, a mission statement, a vision of what the company is supposed to be and what direction it's going. That's why Kaufman raised the question.

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