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Carlos Acosta on How to Fix Ballet

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What’s wrong with ballet today and what to do about it: Carlos Acosta gives Charlotte Higgins an earful, in The Guardian.

Experiment or face slow death: star warns of crisis in ballet

Acosta, the 11th child of a Havana truck driver, who was a break-dancer before he trained for ballet, conceded that there are talented choreographers working today: "Christopher Wheeldon has talent, and Russell Maliphant is very inventive."

But, he said, they were not being encouraged to make sufficiently large-scale or ambitious works.

"They are commissioned to make works that are 15 minutes long, or half an hour," he said. "No one says, 'I am going to put you with a great composer and with great designers; we are going to back you up and see what happens, and you can create a whole evening.'"


Edited by dirac
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I'm not sure why Acosta believes that full-length ballets must be the new masterpieces. Balanchine, Ashton, and Tudor had their large share of shorter ballet masterpieces.

Company directors continue to create full-lengths, from the original -- Ib Andersen's Mosaik -- to original takes on traditional ballet stories -- Kent Stowell's The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, to lesser-known Tchaikovsky scores -- to original choreography to the standard ballet scores. There have been commissioned full length-story ballets as well based on Dracula, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan, to name three that are scheduled for the upcoming season in North America.

Very few companies are going to throw several million dollars or pounds at an unknown or unproven choroegrapher, unless a commitment has already been made and original plans fell through. Neither Ashton nor MacMillan nor Balanchine started with the equivalent of a multi-million full-length production. They honed their craft in opera, revues, plays, and/or one-act ballets before being given a big budget commissions.

I think Deborah MacMillan's comments at the end of the article were salient:

"It's terribly important for dancers to have work made around them," she said. "The development of a dancer is partly through having this kind of creative dialogue." She added: "Working with choreographers creates open-minded dancers who get pushed. And their performances in staple works become more exciting. I feel sad for these young dancers at the Royal Ballet because they are brilliant. Kenneth used to create roles for dancers that surprised them - he got things out of people they didn't know they could do. That's what these current kids aren't getting."

I think there's a difference between choreographers who are new to a company and aren't familiar with the dancers and those that are raised within a company and can have long-term relationships with the dancers. They both have strengths and weaknesses. The advantage of someone who hasn't seen the company is that s/he -- assuming s/he is given casting choices -- can look at the dancers with fresh eyes. The questions then become whether the dancers and choreographer are temperamentally suited to each other and whether that first judgement was comprehensive enough to know if the dancers can fulfill the choreographer's requirements.

The advantage of someone who has worked with the dancers long-term is that they can choose those who can fulfill their vision and with whom they like to work. The disadvantages are two-fold: the inevitable cliques that form among long-term collaborators and having fixed ideas about specific dancers.

I like the trend I'm seeing on the West Coast of nurturing more in-house choreographers from among the dancers, although I wish they were getting more opportunities.

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Acosta makes a great point about that AD fetish of creating "Swan Lakes" which not only ruins Swan Lake (while greasing the AD's pockets) but retards progress:

We don't need a new Cinderella, or a new Swan Lake. Why spend £1m on a new production of Swan Lake when you could be working towards a new piece that could shape the future?...

Of course Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty sell. But we cannot just think about what will and will not sell, otherwise we will just go on doing the same thing, and we will never take this art form further.

That great hope Christopher Wheeldon has made two full-lengths, Midsummer Night's Dream and Swan Lake.


Well they were good. And the originals were pretty mediocre.

Maybe he should have expended his talents on something that was needed.

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