Jump to content
This Site Uses Cookies. If You Want to Disable Cookies, Please See Your Browser Documentation. ×

Suitable for Children?

Recommended Posts

In conversations with Alexandra, it's come up often that ballet is slowly being relegated to the kiddie corner and recent topics on the board are starting to reflect that.

A few different things seem to be happening - ballets like Nutcracker and A Folk Tale (see the thread in the RDB forum) are being seens as "children's ballets".

Extending this, it also seems that classical ballet is seen as the province of children; modern is "for grown ups".

How do you feel about all of this? I'll add that I think it produces Nutcrackers like the newest one for the Kirov's, where those in charge of the production are so intent on making something GROWNUP and ADULT that they stop listening to the music or looking at the ballet itself.

At the same time, ballets for children underestimate children. Children love beauty, but they also have a taste for the funny, the violent and even the gruesome. Look at Punch and Judy, the Brothers Grimm or Bugs Bunny!

The most recent ballet that I thought was a "fun for the whole family" work was Christopher Wheeldon's "Carnival of the Animals". It was honest, sweet-natured and funny, with lots of magic and wonder. And it had what I think is another secret ingredient; there was plenty to enjoy as you grew older too. Any adult could watch it without feeling pandered to.

So what do you think?

Link to comment

It's a good question -- another aspect of it that I find worrying is, again, a language one. The few new classical ballets being created are either explicitly intended as "kiddie shows" or school choreography. I'm always astounded, flipping through the Dance Teachers magazine how many classical ballets are made for students at spring shows. Yet when those choreographers hit the "big time" -- a professional company -- they make contemporary or crossover works.

I've noticed that several British critics are going out of their way to point out that Ashton's Cinderella has sophisticated, top-level choreography; they may have to, as audiences have been trained over the last 20 years to see a tutu and think "dumb" or "kiddie show."

And then there's the point of view that children should be exposed to fine art -- the best that they have the intellectual and emotional capacity to understand at any given age. In that way, "Concerto Barocco," or "Agon" are suitable for children.

Link to comment
"Children love beauty, but they also have a taste for the funny, the violent and even the gruesome. Look at Punch and Judy, the Brothers Grimm or Bugs Bunny!"

I can't help but think of English National Ballet's Nutcracker in this context. The designs and much of the conception is by Gerald Scarfe, a cartoonist whose political cartoons can be so savage as to make you wince. Choreographer is Christopher Hampson.

The guests at the party are effectively all Scarfe grotesques and include Grandfather who wears a kilt, mistletoe sprigged boxer shorts and staggers around on a walking frame, equipped with a hip flask and chasing his lady friend, a Miss V Agra. When the production was premiered last year this was condemed by most of the critics as inexpressibly vulgar and quite unsuitable for children. All I can say from my own observation is that the kids in the audience love it just as much as the very classical Jack Frosts and Snowflakes (which emerge from a large refrigerator well stocked with cans of Hoffmann beer).

Incidentally, I saw a lovely new dancer as the (pre-teen) Clara, by name Maria Kochetkova, so presumably russian. She's so new that she doesn't yet have a biography in the programme, but does anyone know anything about her. I gather Matz Skoog, the company's artistic director, thinks she has a huge potential.

Link to comment

There is kind of a connotation that modern dance, like religious atheism, is for the 'thinking' man, i.e., that only by turning away from tradition and expressing an 'irreverent' point of view does one achieve a more enlightened, sophisticated level of functioning.

And, a good deal of modern has become an exercise in shock value -- another way of asserting independence, even if it's cr_p.

I think it would be very valuable for youngsters and young adults to be encouraged to test their choreographic skills in classical venues as well as modern ones. There may well be a fear that since there IS so much tradition to live up to with ballet, that it is better not to try, whereas the degree of latitude inherent to modern dance does much to quell the fear of failure.

Link to comment

The trend is a result of the way ballet has operated. Ballet training is focused entirely on children; there is very little discussion of continued training of the (adult) professional dancer, let alone any other kind of adult dancer. Talk to 11-year-old ballet students, and many of them are expecting to quit in a couple of years; it's seen as a children's activity, something they had fun with as fantasy princesses, but they will drop as they enter adolescence. Ballet is marketed to children with Ballet Barbie. The Nutcracker really is a Children's ballet --- not only in its subject matter but also in the fact that it involves so many children. The Nutcracker is also so incredibly dominant, it skews the public's entire perception of ballet. Every time ballet avoids "serious" or "political" topics, choosing fairy tale subjects instead, that furthers its reputation as being for children. Children enter the profession as early as 15, a time that most other teenagers are just starting high school. The age of 18 is more common, still a child in today's society. The AVERAGE age of retirement is 28, an age at which many people are just beginning serious professional careers.

With all that, it's no wonder that ballet is seen as something for children.

Link to comment

ABT helped further this distressing trend by designating one of its programs last October/November at City Center as "Family Friendly." The ballets on the program were "Theme and Variations," "Le Grand PdD," "Three Virgins and a Devil,"

"Tchaikovsky PdD," and "Fancy Free." There was nothing on that program that rendered it any more or less "Family Friendly" than the programs designated "Innovative Works," "Master Works," or Whatever Works. I was particularly miffed because the "Family Friendly" program was given only on six matinees, and no evenings.

Link to comment

I think the perception that "fairy tales" are "children's fare" is at the root of the problem. It ignores hundreds of years of cultural history, both oral and written tradition -- fairy tales and myths are METAPHORS and that is why ballet has often chosen them for its subject matter. It's not about "real life". As Arlene Croce once wrote, "If it's swans you want, go to the zoo."

Link to comment

My daughter, then eight, was asked by the AD if she enjoyed Toni Pimble's Alice in Wonderland - supposedly for kids. She answered, "No, it was not very well choreographed. But, I really loved Our Town. The story was so clear and the choreography interesting. "(this is Philip Jerry's version).

Kids have great taste!! Serenade, Barocco, Swan, Giselle, R&J, etc. when done by the great companies all have appeal. The problem is we in the States are training generations to go to "civic" versions of these ballets while not attending the ABT, Kirov, etc. Or training a bad taste in ballet's name.......

Link to comment

What an interesting topic! Leigh, you offer so many good thoughts.

I do not know enough about ballet-going history to comment on whether ballet is getting relegated to the "kiddie corner". But I have some thoughts to add to yours on what constitutes good programming for kids. (First, though, it might be useful to reach some agreement/consensus about what age we are considering as "kids". Under 14? Under 12? Under 10?)

My husband works with producers of childrens' television to improve the quality of what is offered. He is fond of saying that what matters most is that the producers respect their audience. I think it is much the same for ballet. As Alexandra says,

And then there's the point of view that children should be exposed to fine art -- the best that they have the intellectual and emotional capacity to understand at any given age. In that way, "Concerto Barocco," or "Agon" are suitable for children.

I suspect that kids get taken to story ballets rather than more abstract offerings for two reasons. First and foremost, their parents have heard of Nutcracker and Swan Lake. Second, they suppose that kids will "understand" a story ballet better. In part, this reasoning does mesh with child development: kids cannot understand abstractions until their early teens. However ... at young ages, kids cannot sustain interest for long periods of time. And, frankly, how a kid is supposed to make sense of either Nutcracker or Swan Lake is beyond me. It makes much more sense to me to program for beauty, whimsy, humor, rhythm, or any of a number of rather abstract concepts. The kids don't have to understand them, they just have to enjoy.

As a side note, many of the most successful endeavors aimed at children, from Sesame Street to much good children's music, works on many levels. Adults usually enjoy it too.

Link to comment

I'm always amazed at how much kids do get. Two anecdotes:

1. I saw La Sylphide at the Met, and coming out I was behind a little girl, about 4, with her Dad. "I know what that meant!" she said. "Don't ever be mean to a witch!" Not the whole point, perhaps, but certainly not off point.

2. The very imaginative three-year-old son of a friend was taken to the Kirov's "Swan Lake" (on Michael's theory above). It was outdoors at Wolf Trap and they were on the lawn, so it was the most relaxing environment possible. He was afraid of storms. As the drums began to rumble in the overture, he dove under a blanket and would not come out for a half-hour. But then he watched. And for weeks afterwards, he would ask his mother, "What happened to the bad man?"

Link to comment

With so many recent cuts in funding for the arts, ballet company AD's and board members must feel they have to appeal to whatever it is that gets the most butts parked into their theatre. The marketing world and pop culture realized long ago that children, pre-teens and teenagers have the clout and the blunt so therefore they aim everything to them. Witness all the junk action movies that come out of Hollywood aimed at pre-teen boys. It makes money. I suppose they think that if they put on a big fairy tale ballet, not only will it bring in the parents, but also the kids and maybe the grandparents too.

If these ballets are treated with loving care and a healty dose of respect for the important place they hold in ballet traditions then I quess I don't mind. But maybe that's asking for too much?

Anyway Leigh is right about these people underestimating children. Children respond to music and movement. It doesn't have to be wrapped up in a pink tutu, sparkingly tiara and adoring prince. My daughter's most favorite ballet on video is Balanchine's The Four Temperments. And she is only three! She runs around the house doing the egyptian arms from the 2nd theme. Expose kids to good classical ballet and they will take care of the rest.

Link to comment

Just an addition to the "underestimation of children" theme, Roald Dahl said that it was much harder to write his children's books than his adult books and short stories, because the children were such brutal critics, not letting you get away with anything.

I'm finding this discussion very provoking (in a good way) because I've always thought of classical ballet (in all its aspects) as being very adult: from the training where you endure and even learn to enjoy the "boring and painful" for the sake of what will come, to the story line where you realize over time that the silly, or even stupid at times, story is the equivalent of that bit of the Titanic iceberg you could actually see, to the complexity of the interrelation between steps and music.

How is this "for" kids? Not that it's inappropriate or above their level but it hardly seems geared to the kindergarten audience.

In another direction, what about the (alleged--I've missed all the actual references) increasing emphasis on the eroticism in ballet, as referenced in Jan.'s Dance Magazine. This seems more like the blow-em-up, sex and violence appeal we're used to seeing in the movies.

Link to comment

Perhaps the idea of a family-friendly or child-friendly performance refers to the audience and not the program. Someone who is hesitant to bring children to a ballet might be comforted to think that a little more squirming around in seats would be tolerated at such a performance, and someone who is wanting an audience of quiet adults would choose a different performance.

Also, I prefer to see a "traditional" Nutcracker (whatever that is), but welcome other visions. I would just ask that the advertising would indicate if the interpretation is much different than what I might assume it to be.

Link to comment

I think that in this issue - respect for an audience - a lot of the malaise of many media lies. Fiction writers have discovered, to their horror, that young readers not only process huge amounts of information, but can readily interpret it, which has worked out very well indeed for people like J.K. Rowling. American animation lost its edge when it forgot that its audience was more than just children and proceeded to destroy the "edge" that they had once enjoyed. The Japanese anime industry recognized the niche market and rushed into it. Music markets forgot to program for what the kids actually like, and put on more of what adults THINK children like, without checking with the children. Turns out the stuff the adults tend to enjoy most, the kids enjoy most! Live-action movies, same deal. Bland everything down, and you bore the tears out of a portion of the market that you will be heavily dependent upon for years. We've condescended to our kids so badly and for so long, that no wonder we find it strange that they don't make arts a regular place in their lives. "After all, we've provided them with what we think they should have!"

Link to comment

And even more so than J.K. Rowling, Philip Pullman with the Golden Compass-books, which --love them or hate them--certainly don't talk down to their audience. As do most respectable children's authors.

I love those new ArtsCouncil ads with the shrunken bank managers disguised as children taking sticks away from dogs and turning off the music in the car. So funny and chilling at the same time. I think Mrs Stahlbaum has a strong point, that some of this must (I hope) be to attract the families whose children who will be the audience in time to come.

Major Johnson's remark about Anime also reminds me of a recent exibit at the MFA of free standing day-glo sculptures of mushrooms and "cartoon" stills; and brought me back to FunnyFace's post about modern art being for the rebels and intellectuals. I'm not much into modern things in general, but I remember looking at those toadstools and wondering why the heck I'd wasted 30 minutes wandering outside the Greco-Roman room.

Link to comment

Speaking of ballet being considered a children's art, I remember a certain individual who thought it was "cute" that I "still like ballet," as if I had simply not outgrown that prissy phase associated with little girls playing dress-up in pink tutus and jewelry and prancing around being "ballerinas." I agree that our culture is largely responsible for this, what with those Barbie ballet videos and their dumbed-down versions of ballet stories, and also with another point here, the paradigm of modern dance and fusion ballets being the thinking person's dance form and classical ballet being painted as the realm of the simple-minded, prissy, old-fashioned, and snobbish.

I'm with whoever said that as long as ballets are treated with respect for their place in the repertoire it's perfectly fine for them to be marketed to children. The problem seems to be that once a ballet is deemed a "children's ballet," it is somehow considered less than ballets designated as "adult."

Link to comment
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...