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Old School touring


dido

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Background: I am reading Markova: the legend by M. Leonard and have just hit his account of Markova's touring under Hurok's Ballet Russe and independantly during the WW II, and it has brought up a whole lot of thoughts and confusion for me. I'm not even sure if this is a good BT topic, but it's bugging me and you folks were the only one's I thought might be able to help me understand it.

How could the small and erratically funded companies of the 10's -50's (or later--I just don't know) tour literally hundreds of cities every year, often doing one night stands in every town, yet it's practically impossible to see a world class dancer today without spending a bajillion dollars and traveling to L.A.; NY, Paris, London, Moscow or St. Petersburg (I'm not listing them all, but you get the idea)? (I do realize that the unionization of dancers is a huge part of this, and that it's not longer, thank goodness, possible to treat the dancers so appallingly). Still, this was happening at a time when most families didn't have enough money or materials to acquire a new pair of shoes every year.

All of the War Year ballet biographies that I have read stress how much "ordinary" people flocked to the ballet, how much they were willing to give up, what a struggle it was even to get tickets. Leonard's account of Dolin and Makarova's trip to the Phillipines may be a little condescending to some tastes (including mine) but I don't doubt that the second performance in X town was in such great demand that they had to give in the baseball stadium instead of the theater. My ony question is: Given the awful times around the world, why aren't people turning to the theater as they once did? Is it, sadly, as simple as television?

I'm sorry this is such an enormous and rambling question, but any insight would be greatly appreciated.

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Is it, sadly, as simple as television?

TV and Movies would be my main explanation. They are probably also why live theater is very much in decline, except for Tourists going to Blockbuster revivals of Famous Repertory, or of Andrew Lloyd Webber.

The thing here, Dido, is that in this area "explanations" are always just guesswork. There's no way you can really know any of this. There really can't be any solid explanation. The facts just are what they are.

Regarding the old tours, I have always loved the idea of Alexandra Danilova appearing in High School gymnasiums, if not chicken barns, from the Dakotas to Idaho.

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I think it is a question of increased competition for people's expendable income. There simply weren't as many choices available back then for how people spent what extra money they had. As to why they're not choosing ballet, I don't have any problem blaming TV and film who have contributed mightily to the public's decreasing attention span. If you're used to having your entertainment carved up into tiny pieces, it's very hard to wrap your brain around "large pieces" of high art.

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This is a very interesting question, and definitely appropriate for Ballet Talk. :) Perhaps money has something to do with both ends of this "decline." The types of tours undertaken in the Good Old Days would probably be prohibitively expensive for most companies, large or small, taking into account not only union issues but also travel costs, advertising, performance and rehearsal space, and transportation of costumes and scenery. Additionally, and unfortunately, many ballet companies on tour tend to charge quite a bit for tickets; when NYCB came to the Bay Area in the late 90s, the cheapest seats were around $35 a pop. Many "ordinary" people can't afford that anymore, especially those who have other expenses, and those who can are less likely to go as often, unless they're as gung-ho as those of us who post on this forum. :P I also wonder how much tickets cost for the old touring companies, and whether they were any more affordable to audiences Back Then, than ballet tickets are today.

I do think, however, that the attention span factor has something to do with this decline, unfortunately, as does a serious lack of quality arts education in this country. And whatever the truth may be, many of us tend to remember the past with a certain nostalgia. :excl:

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I personally don't believe that the unionization of dancers has produced as much inflation of ticket prices as the amazing and sometimes appalling hikes in the rates and requirements for musicians and stagehands. Dancers' salaries have considerably improved since the days of whistle-stopping, but nothing like the increases in pay to their support personnel. I do not, however suggest that these workers not be justly compensated, but they have seen increases of at least 300% (adjusted for inflation) since the Ballet Russe days. It hardly seems fair. Perhaps the audience should unionize!

http://www.city-journal.org/html/eon_3_12_03sm.html

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  :P  I also wonder how much tickets cost for the old touring companies, and whether they were any more affordable to audiences Back Then, than ballet tickets are today.

Back then I could earn $1.00 an hour as a part-time typist---this paid for my ballet tickets....standing room at the Met Opera House was $1.80 and my balcony seat at the City Center was $1.10.---I guess someone can translate this into today's economy.

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Interesting, atm711, the proportions are roughly the same for a secretarial job I once held, where the hourly pay was $12, and balcony seats at SFB were roughly the same as that.

I guess a general lack of interest in and knowledge about the performing arts is indeed a major factor in the decline, then. :P

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I personally don't believe that the unionization of dancers has produced as much inflation of ticket prices as the amazing and sometimes appalling hikes in the rates and requirements for musicians and stagehands.

When Lew Christensen described touring in Striking a Balance -- I believe it was the tour with Kirstein where they ran out of money and had to come home -- he talked about crawling under the stages to run cables for the show.

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