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Ballet Dancers Doing Modern Dance


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Estelle, I'm entirely in agreement with you.  It's preposterous to think the classics can be maintained without proper attention...  That's why I was wondering if there has been a tally done of company repetoire... I think perhaps you have it worse in Europe than we have it here in the US?

Well, I guess the situation in Europe probably depends quite a lot on the country...

But for example, the present POB season includes:

-on the "classical" side:

-three Nureyev productions ("The Sleeping Beauty", "Cinderella", "Romeo and Juliet")

-one Roland Petit mixed bill

-Lander's "Etudes" and Robbins' "Glass pieces"

-I don't know exactly where to put Forsythe's "Pass/parts" and Neumeier's full length

"Sylvia"

-on the "modern" side:

-a Preljocaj double bill

-a full-length work "Hurlevent" by Kader Belarbi

-a full-length work "Orphée et Eurydice" by Pina Bausch

-two works by Trisha Brown

-some works by Francine Lancelot (inspired by baroque dance), Susanne Linke, Michèle Noiret, Laura Scozzi and Jérôme Bel

The Nureyev classics have quite a lot of performances (and they do seem to sell better than most modern productions) but as you can see, this season includes a larger choice of modern works than classical ones. Given all the training the POB gets, I think the dancers are not really threatened to lose their ballet technique, but what I find a bit worrying is that the POB is almost the only ballet company in France, so if even them dance less and less ballet, that sets a trend for other companies...

Also, *all* the new additions to the repertory this season are modern works (world premières by Bel, Brown, Linke, Preljocaj and Noiret and existing works by Bausch and Preljocaj). And I find that season really quite thin on the 20th century repertory: nothing by Balanchine, Lifar, Tudor, MacMillan, Fokine, Nijinska, only one Robbins...

I find it frustrating as an audience member (if the POB doesn't perform it, then there often is zero opportunity to see it in France- while works by choreographers such as Trisha Brown, Jérôme Bel or Pina Bausch can be seen regularly in other theaters like the Théâtre de la Ville) and I don't think it's very good for the dancers' training either. Also, many modern works premiered by the POB in recent seasons were very short-lived (never performed again after their first season).

And the proportion of ballet works has been even lower for the other few existing companies in France, like the Ballet du Rhin, Ballet de Marseille, etc.

hermes, could you please explain what you wrote about "Esplanade", as I'm not very familiar with that work ? Also, you wrote:

Two, ballet companies have more money than modern companies, so ballet companies get famous works of modern choreographers because they can afford them

I'd say it also works the other way around: a lot of modern choreographers are interested in working with ballet companies because they can get more money (and also better material conditions, e. g. more expensive sets and costumes, a live orchestra, etc.) At least it seems to me that it works like that in France...

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Does anyone have any insight on how the modern dance community is reacting to "their" works becoming fair game for dancers trained in any style, while nobody would think of setting a classical ballet on a modern company? How does that make them feel?

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How does that make them feel?

Now, that is a good question. I would suspect that employed modern dancers are too busy premiering the original works, or on the road setting older pieces by their choreographer to worry about the poor little rich kids. J/K

I do think the ballet world and the modern world are different culturally. Perhaps there's more convergence nowadays; but, the modern folk I knew coming up were always a little more (how to say it?) self actualized than their ballet counterparts.

For Estelle,

Esplanade is a Paul Taylor piece (though referred to as a 'ballet' by the folks who set it on me) to the Bach Double Concerto (more familiar to ballet audiences as the music for Concerto Barocco). Anyway, it features a bunch of dancers performing various pedestrian movements. It starts with a walking section that begins with two lines that start with simple patterns that become increasingly complex and interesting. There's a running section. There's a section with crawling that (though there's no story), has perhaps one of the sweetest endings I can think of. The last movement (I think there are five) is intense. There's giant leaps from the girls into the men's arms. There's no-look catches. It's really dangerous and fun.

Anyway, it takes it's toll. I remember a friend of mine showing me her bruise. It was the size of a paper plate around her hip and outer thigh from the many baseball slides in the piece. All of our feet were torn to shreds. We could wear little knee-pads, but they never seemed to fit right so the knees get bruised and bloody. Your shoulders are wrecked from rolling around quickly (I can still manage one of the rolls, to scare my students). Did I leave anything out? Well, if I did I can assure you that those parts hurt too. (There's this promenade where the girl steps right above - that's above- the belt. Well, it's supposed to be above the belt anyway). My friend Traci came to a Halloween party dressed like road kill with a shirt that read, "I Survived Esplanade". You get the idea.

What was your question again? Lol.

B.

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:wink:

The Nonesuch video to which carbro refers is also a wonderful period piece, with those great 70's afros and bell-bottoms.

Esplanade is five movements long. It begins with the Bach Violin Concerto in E Major and continues, as hermes mentioned, with the last two movements of Bach's Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor (Largo & Allegro), best known as the beautiful adagio and finale from Concerto Barocco.

The following link from the Paul Taylor Dance Company site gives a good indication of the type of movement in the piece:

http://www.ptdc.org/rep_esplanade.html

It's one of those dances full of "regular" movement that makes an audience member think, "I can do that," and/or "I want to do that, now!" when, as hermes described, it is an obstacle course and a mini-marathon to perform.

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In regards to ballet dancers doing modern dance, I think another way to look at these questions

Does anyone have any insight on how the modern dance community is reacting to "their" works becoming fair game for dancers trained in any style, while nobody would think of setting a classical ballet on a modern company?  How does that make them feel?

is to think of how the ballet community would react if the Paul Taylor Dance Company started doing Balanchine, or if Christopher Wheeldon began choreographing for modern dance companies. Of course, the analogy is far from perfect, since a) there are differences between modern dance and ballet companies and how they operate, and b) I'm not sure that the modern dance community is any more monolithic on this issue than the ballet community. :wink:

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hermes: thanks a lot for the explanation about "Esplanade". I actually saw it, but only once and it was about 6 or 7 years ago, and had no idea it was such a "dangerous" work to perform... By the way, do you know if the dancers of Paul Taylor's company also get injured as often when performing it (I'm wondering if the dancers' initial training might have an influence) ?

Incidentally, when I saw it, it was performed by a ballet company, the Ballet de Marseille. That's yet another example of company whose repertory became more and more influenced by modern dance under the tenure of its previous director Marie-Claude Pietragalla (who staged a lot of her own "crossover" works, and programmed some works by modern choreographers such as Maryse Delente, Tero Saarinen and Claude Brumachon, while performing fewer and fewer "real" ballets) and now is becoming a modern dance company as its new director is the modern dance choreographer (who never got any ballet training) Frédéric Flamand. They are supposed to have a mixed repertory, but it seems unlikely to me that they could keep a good enough ballet level if they perform only a handful of these every season. And that's sad for the Marseille audience, who will have no opportunity at all to see any ballet (while there are some local modern dance companies, and also some others going there on tour). So far, all the dancers are ballet trained, but I really wonder whether they'll stay with the company (the change of direction is very recent).

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So far, all the dancers are ballet trained, but I really wonder whether they'll stay with the company (the change of direction is very recent).

Interesting. Wasn't Roland Petite the director at some point in history? I don't even know if he's still with us or no. I love his pieces. They're so dramatic and someone usually smokes on stage.

I have no idea how companies are structured across the pond. I imagine that there has to be a Board of some kind. I wonder how much power they have and how responsive is the artistic direction of the company to the audience's expectations. But that's another topic for another thread I suppose.

Seems strange that they would hire a non-ballet person for the Director of a Ballet company. Should be fun to follow.

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I just came home from a performance of Rennie Harris Puremovement's Facing Mecca, and in the Q&A following the performance, Harris said that in the piece, he was closer to the mission of choreographing pure movement rather than hip hop. I assumed he meant rather than strictly hip hop, because to me long stretches of dancing did look like hip hop.

Harris also said that he is working with the Colorado Ballet on a new piece for the Company.

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hermes: yes indeed, Roland Petit used to be the Ballet de Marseille's director, actually he was its foundator. But he left rather suddenly in 1998, for reasons which were not very clear (it seemed that there were some strong conflicts with the mayor or Marseille or something like that). And when he left, he withdrawed all his repertory, so that the company had no repertory at all (and part of his former dancers left soon after the change of direction).

His successor was the former Paris Opera Ballet principal Marie-Claude Pietragalla, but she had to resign after some conflicts with the dancers (who accused her of moral harrassment) and the new director was chosen only a few months ago.

There is no such thing as a Board: the Ballet de Marseille is a state-funded company, financed by both the state and the city of Marseille (and perhaps also the region), and the decisions are made by the ministery of Culture and local politicians. The problem is that they don't seem especially knowledgeable about ballet, or dance in general... When Pietragalla was chosen, she wasn't even a candidate (she still was a POB dancer) and had no experience as a company director, and in my opinion, she was chosen mostly because of her fame as a dancer (and also the fact that she was known by the general audience because she had appeared in some advertisement).

And this time, a majority of the candidates were modern dance choreographers, who were in my opinion not especially interested in the Ballet de Marseille dancers, but mostly in the big public subsidy for the company (it's the second most subsidized company in France after the POB). The choice of the director was a complicated story and took several months, and I have no idea why they chose Flamand, who already had his own modern company in Belgium.

There were some threads about the Ballet de Marseille there:

http://ballettalk.invisionzone.com/index.php?showtopic=2738

http://ballettalk.invisionzone.com/index.php?showtopic=10476

http://ballettalk.invisionzone.com/index.php?showtopic=17701

Well, I'm sorry to be getting a bit off-topic, but unfortunately what's happening in Marseille already happened in several French companies, like the Ballet de l'Opera de Lyon, Ballet du Nord, Ballet du Rhin and Ballet national de Nancy et de Lorraine: a company gradually abandoning the ballet repertory, and being transformed in a modern dance company (with sometimes still one or two ballet works, but fewer and fewer). I think it often was motivated partly by financial reasons: programming modern works often costs less, because one doesn't need as many dancers, the sets and costumes often are less expensive, there isn't the cost of pointe shoes, etc. Sometimes the modern works they perform are interesting, but what is extremely sad in my opinion is that there is now about zero opportunity to see any ballet in most French cities (and even in Paris, the choice is scarce this season). And so much of the audience doesn't even know what ballet is... Also, the employment opportunities for ballet students are rarer and rarer.

It seems to me that the situation isn't yet as serious in the US, but it'd be sad if it became as in France.

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It seems to me that the situation isn't yet as serious in the US, but it'd be sad if it became as in France.

Wow. Thank you for the explanation. I can't help but think that Mr. Petite's influence must've provided the funding Marseilles enjoys. There's some irony there. The saying, "Before seeking revenge one must first dig two graves," comes to mind.

Do you think the audiences in France are simply bored with regular ballet? I wonder because what's to stop someone from starting their own company? Or would one have to go through the ministry of culture. etc. I don't know. If there are butts for the seats, it seems someone entrepreneurial could find his niche. Hmmm. What's the situation in Saintes? So far, that's my favorite little city in France. Lol.

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Wow. Thank you for the explanation. I can't help but think that Mr. Petite's influence must've provided the funding Marseilles enjoys.

Probably, as Petit is an influential choreographer and also used to be supported by some local politicians (e.g. the late mayor of Marseille Gaston Defferre). And also there's the fact that Marseille is France's second or third city.

Do you think the audiences in France are simply bored with regular ballet?

I don't think so: for example, this season at the POB, "The Sleeping Beauty" was sold out very quickly while the theater was not very full for several of the modern dance programs, and also when some ballet companies tour, they generally get quite a large audience. However, now there's so little ballet to be seen in most cities that I wonder if people will soon forget what ballet looks like...

I wonder because what's to stop someone from starting their own company? Or would one have to go through the ministry of culture. etc. I don't know.

No one is obliged to ask for public support to start a company, but in general creating a company requires a lot of money, and especially for a ballet company. And private sponsorship for dance is very very low in France. Most dance companies, ballet or modern, depend a lot on public subsidies, I think it'd be very hard to have a financially viable company without public support.

Well, we've been going a bit too off-topic, let's go back on topic again ! But perhaps now you understand better why, as many French ballet fans, I'm often worried when I see the repertory of ballet companies including more and more modern works...

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