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Programming of and by Visiting Companies

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In the thread Programming of Standards, fendrock brought up the difficulties that companies face in scheduling their subscription seasons at home. I thought it would be interesting to have a similar topic devoted to programming by visiting troupes.

Usually, there is only one organization or theater in a town that presents visiting ballet companies. Most of the time they have a choice of troupes, although the smaller cities usually don't have a say in the selection of repertory. When a company is touring several cities, it has to present the same ballets in all or most places for financial reasons. But the bigger, more "prestigious" cities have the luxury of choosing both companies and repertoire.

A lot of wrangling goes on between the top venues and the companies as to which ballets will be presented. There are lots of considerations -- expense, how recently the company appeared in that town in certain ballets, the availability/suitability of the company's dancers to the desired repertoire, and the programming of other companies. Elsewhere, we discussed whether the Kirov will bring the "reconstructed" Sleeping Beauty or the Konstantin Sergeyev production to America next season, and one of the factors militating against the latter was the fact that the Royal Ballet will also be touring America at that time, bringing with them their new Makarova production of Beauty, which is heavily based on the Sergeyev version.

As an audience member, what do you want to see from visiting troupes? Ideally -- if we didn't have to bother with tedious things like money and competitive programming -- how would you arrange a company's offerings? Do you want to see their "signature" works, or their novelties, or both? Would you like to see the repertory structured around the company's stars?

I'll start off. :D As a resident of the Washington area, almost all the ballet I see locally is presented by the Kennedy Center. After five years here, I've become impatient with the organization's utter dependence on full-length ballets and what seems almost like terror at presenting works that are less than surefire. Excepting the New York City Ballet, all visiting companies present at least one full-length, and sometimes that's all they present. There seems to be a rule that we can't live without some company doing Swan Lake and The Nut. The deterioration in ABT's programming in recent years is especially alarming. When I first arrived, they always brought the inevitable full-length, but also a mixed bill that was usually pretty well-chosen, including serious and interesting ballets. But in the last couple of years they've relied heavily not just on full-lengths, but the most hackneyed ones: Romeo (twice in three years!), SL, Giselle, Nutcracker. We've never seen La Fille Mal Gardee or Sylvia, let alone shorter works by Tudor, Ashton, Balanchine, Robbins, etc.

What are your beefs with your own town's programming of visiting companies? What would you rather see? Or if you're happy with what you're seeing, why?

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(Faye Dunaway Mommie Dearest Voice): “NO MORE ROMEO AND JULIET! EVER!!!!!”

I agree -- the programming is utterly unadventurous and heavily reliant on full length ballets (although I appreciated the Kirov's Fokine mixed bill, last time around). I understand their reasoning, but, but.

In the best of all possible worlds, I would like to see visiting companies do the things that they most value and that make them special. It’s not that I don’t want to see the Royal in Swan Lake, for example, but how much more special to see them in A Month in the Country or Enigma Variations.

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Off topic, but - I would just like to see some visiting companies. :D I live halfway between NY and DC and no visiting ballet company has come here in the 18 months I've been here. Surely there must be enough people in the greater Philadelphia area to support a visit from a ballet company. Of course, it doesn't help that the very new Kimmel Center doesn't work as a ballet theatre.

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Visiting ballet companies in the Bay Area almost always perform in Zellerbach Hall on the UC Berkeley campus, which I understand has a pretty small stage that limits which productions can be staged. Large companies like the Bolshoi sometimes look crowded on that stage. So, my main beef with Bay Area tours is twofold: we don't have enough large theatres that can be used for ballet (lots of large theatres, but they're used for other things, namely Broadway musicals; plus the Opera House is occupied by the SF Opera when SFB isn't using it), which limits companies that tour here, both numerically and logistically--they can't always bring what they want because the stages aren't big enough. There also doesn't seem to be much synthesis between who brings what; one year we saw no fewer than three different Giselles (ABT and Cuba, plus SFB). Of course, many people would drool over the chance to compare and contrast three different productions of Giselle, but still... :)

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For what it's worth, I was pleased the ABT was set to perform two different mixed bill programs during its visit to Orange County visit last year. The works were to have included many contemporary pieces, as well as Wheeldon's VIII, Symphonic Variations and Les Sylphides.

But then the visit was cancelled by ABT. Well in any case, I was glad they were going to program it; it looked like OCPAC was taking the chance by feeding it to their subscriber base and upping the marketing focus on the ABT brand name. This programming was likely made possible because it directly followed ABT's City Center season - and therefore probably didn't require much extra rehearsal time.

So I don't think they're not trying to have more adventurous programming, but it has a lot to do with what the company has available to tour with. I'd call the Kennedy Center's decision to schedule the Kirov with Ratmansky's Cinderella and the newer version of The Nutcracker pretty interesting programming decisions - they're still story ballets, but they're the "new" that the company is performing. I think more programming clout comes with more and more of an established relationship. And as the Kennedy Center expands its programming under Michael Kaiser (re: the Kirov's 10 year relationship) perhaps they can do more with ABT. No idea why, with ABT, they're doing Nut and Romeo all over again, though...

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And now a report from the provinces . . .

Many of us live in towns that do not know the luxury of feeling peevish about two many Kirov R and Js. We get visits from Russian companies whose sole reason for exisiting seems to be touring "reduced" versions of the classics, with casts of "young dancers" and . I am not talking about Maryinsky or Bolshoi, but organizations like Russian National Ballet and St. Petersburg Ballet (the later of which was the topic of an extended discussion here recently).

Last night the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach got a one-night stand of Sleeping Beauty from the Russian National Ballet Theatre (of Moscow), along with the 45-piece Sofia Symphony Orchestra. (Quick, get me a pot and soup ladel and call me the South Florida Percussion Virtuosi.) The audience was younger than at Miami City or Ballet Florida performances. I assume that they were -- like me -- happy for any chance to see this classic performed at all, since we are out of the major-league touring orbit by many hundreds of miles. 45 dancers (they said) and a 40+ orchestra are a rarer here than a weekend evening without a charity ball.

What can I say? The director of the company, a grandson of the founder of the Moiseev company and a former Bolshoe character dancer in his own right, made a point in his pre-curtain comments that, while this was the original Petipa version, the ballet was too long had been shortened. He did NOT mention that this was done by cutting out almost all the dancing by the corps (except simple waltz steps and lots of wavy-arm activity). Or that almost all the difficult dancing in the soloists parts would be cut out. Or that the evening would actually be lengthened by a conductor who seems to think of Tchaikovsky primarily as a composer of largos and dirges. Very, very slow. Very, very lifeless. And, I would think, almost impossible to dance, since the principals were actually given quite a bit of the original choreography and had a lot of time to fill between the steps that were left. (Not to mention many long, slow sections, usually deleted, with lots of courtly walking round the stage. My companion commented that the young people sitting on the banquettes during the court scenes seemed to be fighting the temptation to check their watches.)

For a rather high ticket price we got some pluses: Lovely and high-quality costumes, a wonderful Carabosse, lovely young Russian girls, an Aurora (not clearly identified in the program) who was quite beautiful and capable to impressive balances, extensions, and even the occasional affectionate glance at her parents or the Prince.

Is this kind of touring good for ballet? I think not. The audience can sniff out a counterfeit classic. Its response was as tepid as I've ever seen it at the Kravis. Near the end of the Wedding Act, after the umpteenth break for bowing after each minute or so of dancing, hundreds thought it was over and began drifting out. Why not?

This tour (I believe Giselle is also touring) is a collaboration between the company and the promoters resonsible for the Opera Lirico d'Europa, which tours regularly with leaden and incredibly uneven productions of Tosca, Aida, etc.,

The point: if your town gets ABT, Royal, Kirov, NYCB, or even a major regional, be GRATEFUL. You are not likely to see corps members who can manage only an "entrechat un", jumps in which only the front leg is in control, or a Rose Adagio which is actually one of the peppier parts of the ballet. Buy your tickets and think of us.

Edited by bart

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Well, after THAT .... I hardly dare complain. So I won't.

ABT and the Bolshoi do regularly tour to Chicago. ABT is pretty recent, though. They always bring big story ballets: Swan Lake, Bayadere, Don Quixote, Giselle, and (big but relatively rare) Raymonda. Eifman comes through each year with whatever he is doing currently, although my budget hasn't stretched to see it ever. Smaller companies tend toward repertory programs, although I've not seen as many of these as I would like (meaning I don't get to the performances, not that the performances aren't happening). And we get the St. Petersburg Ballet too.

My sense is that, as big as it is, Chicago is still viewed as pretty provincial. I don't think anyone would try out an adventurous program. Bring out the war horses!

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Ever since PNB abandoned the experiment of adding multi-week stint by a visiting company to the subscription season -- NYCB and Australian Ballet are the two I know about -- the two organizations that present dance are the Seattle Theatre Group and the University of Washington, both through their World Dance Series. Both series are dedicated to all kinds of dancing. Last week's performance by Savion Glover produced by STG was one of the highlights of the dance season, although it was as much about his being a jazz instrument as it was about his dancing. (Both were spectacular. ) Sadly the sold-out performance was at the smaller Moore Theater instead of the larger Paramount, leaving a crowd of rain-soaked potential buyers disappointed. UW and STG have presented a couple of actual ballet companies each year, and one or two more with "ballet" in their name. STG has presented a major company every three years or so, while UW tends to book smaller companies for its smaller stage.

One of the frustrations of living in Seattle is watching the most of the major Companies -- as well as singers and instrumentalists -- visit California repeatedly and refuse to venture North to Seattle and/or Vancouver. If they didn't cross the Rockies, it wouldn't be quite as painful, but it's a "so close, yet so far" situation.

Most happily, STG was able to present the Bolshoi in Seattle last fall, in three (or four?) performances of Don Quixote and one of the new Romeo and Juliet. I admit to being a total whiner when I say I had to travel to all the way Berkeley to see Raymonda, which was worth four Don Q's. I have no idea why the ballets were distributed this way; perhaps it had to do with the logistics of the sets and costumes. However, if the Bolshoi showed up every year with Don Q, I would probably go four of five years, just to see the dancers, even though it's not on my list of favorites. I even went to see Giselle when ABT brought it, because it was my only chance to see the Company. While I'd love to see them bring a Two-Tudor/Mozartiana triple bill, that would never happen. Smaller companies, like Lyons Opera Ballet, tend to bring triple bills, although Eifman has brought his full-lengths to Meany Hall through UW.

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