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

Ballet for everyone

Recommended Posts

I'm a simple minded soul and a dreamer. One particular dream of mine is seeing ballet being performed infinitely more widely than is currently the case. I can't speak about the economic feasibility of doing so, but is it really beyond the wit of man to gear ballet companies to greater community outreach?

I'm thinking mainly, but not exclusively, of schools. Is it really not possible to work out a way of fielding small groups of competent, if not top class, dancers to give children a taste of ballet, and hopefully a taste for it? I imagine that accountants would throw up their hands in horror at something that would probably have little or no return on expenses, but surely we're looking here at something which is for the greater good of society, and well worth investing in.

Production costs? Get the kids to design and construct sets, with the help of parents and local tradespeople. In any case, it's the dancing they need to see, not lavish sets. I imagine that the involvement of children would really 'get them in', and give them a sense of ownership of a project.

What happens to those dancers who don't make the grade for inclusion in a mainstream company? I could be wrong, but are not many dancers failures by a very fine margin, and still capable of turning in perfectly acceptable performances for children?

I expect to hear that great efforts are already being made in this direction. Am I just dreaming? All I know for sure is that most children in my neck of the woods leave school never having heard a bar of classical music, never having seen a great painting, and certainly never having seen ballet. What they do take away from school is an inbuilt suspicion and disregard of anything to do with the arts. They are left only with the received attitudes which consign them to a lifetime of prejudice against the arts in general, and ballet in particular. This is surely a tragedy, harking back to the bad old days when kids were denied a proper education as a matter of policy. It's surely the basic right of all children to be given the opportunity to enjoy the finest products of the creative and imaginative genius of man.

I'm very new to ballet, but I'm not new to the way it is generally regarded in society. As I get older, I just feel an intense desolation when I consider how receptive small children can be when shown all the 'goods' on offer. I recently showed my six year old granddaughter part of the RB Sylvia I possess. I asked her if she liked it, and she came back with an unhesitating affirmative - why would she not? And yet I'm all too painfully aware that my efforts will probably not be sufficient to protect her from the appalling prejudices she will encounter all too soon. If my efforts were backed up by healthy attitudes to ballet at her future schools, and exposure to live ballet, then her chances of including ballet in her loves and passions would be more assured.

Ballet on a shoestring. Economy class ballet. Cardboard cartons, orange boxes and milk crates for sets. Whatever it takes. Sure, my passion is affecting my ability to apply reason to this, but I can't believe for the life of me that what I dream of is an impossible dream.

This excellent forum seems to be brim full of knowledge, expertise, experience and passion for ballet. Can we get ballet out to where it is most needed?

Link to comment

I have noticed that you are from Perth, Australia. Western Australia has some wonderful ballet schools, Perth is particular, and a lovely professional company, Western Australian Ballet.

In the US, your ideas have been strongly implemented in grammar schools and middle schools in the form of "school shows" by civic ballet organizations, pre-professional programs of study and professional companies for as long as I have been involved in ballet, almost 50 years :wallbash: . I am sure "school shows" of some sort or another have been occuring even longer. These school shows have been funded privately and/or through city, county, and state funding. There was a time that the NEA, National Endowment for the Arts, a US federal government fund, made grants to arts organizations for such endevours.

You are correct in everything you say. If I may suggest, get involved in a local ballet organization. You have a good idea that can be developed in your area. :clapping:

Link to comment

Thank you, 'vrsfanatic' for your reply. Your advice on getting myself involved has been noted. Unfortunately, I am not as educated or as able as my post might suggest. I don't think I'm sufficiently articulate to be of much use in a group. My occupational background, mainly truck driving, hasn't really equipped me for dealings with genuinely educated people. My only really strong point is much first hand experience with the sort of ignorance and prejudice I alluded to in my post, which I have found so upsetting and depressing over the years. That is what has inspired me to summon all my limited resources to write with some sort of articulation on the subject.

I have taken your advice on board, and will certainly have a go at doing what I can. I am really hoping that my words might awaken a 'sleeping lion' or two in this part of the world, ones with some teeth, and the experience in getting things done. Passion is all very well, but there's no substitute for practical 'know how'.

In conclusion, an appeal to fellow Western Australians to read my post, and your reply. It would be great to have some practical feedback to make next week's 'Australia Day' an occasion for a little extra rejoicing.

Link to comment

Great post, hunterman, and it gives me the impression that you're plenty articulate when it comes to arts education! :) Remember that in the US, a great part of the Ballet Boom of the 60s was driven by Edsel - not the car, the original guy, Edsel Ford, son of Henry. Edsel wasn't particularly well-educated in the arts, but he sure knew what he liked, and was proved right by the tests of time. Although he died in 1943, his Foundation went on to support many and varied arts causes, not the least of which was ballet. Ford programs sent the New York City Ballet into public schools with a hard-to-beat education package featuring a lecture-demonstration of classroom material, technical audio-visuals on stagecraft and other arts as they related to ballet, and closing with an actual Balanchine ballet ("Allegro Brilliante" was a great favorite) as a closer. Edsel's artistic visions were carried on by his heirs. Get involved. You can lend a lot of "real-world" expertise to dance education. You're what's needed most! :wink:

Link to comment

Thank you for your encouraging and informative reply Mel Johnson. Much appreciated.

I have been doing a lot of thinking about what you and the others have said. It's the first time since I started thinking in earnest about arts education that I have been in any way challenged to actually do something about the present unsatisfactory situation. My first reaction was, to be honest, sheer panic, and it will take a few days for that to settle down. However, I have been giving myself 'Henry V before Agincourt' style talks all day, and it is having some effect!

Before getting involved, I could really do with a bit of buttressing to get my morale up, and I'm pinning my hopes on receiving as much advice as I can get through this forum. For one thing, I'm extremely daunted by the prospect of dealing with something I'm not 'the full bottle' on. I know that can't be remedied overnight, but my passion for ballet has been ramped up by orders of magnitude since joining BT, and with that has come a much better understanding of it.

Of most use to me at the moment will be seeing my topic throbbing with lively input from others, like your good self, equally concerned about getting ballet out to where it is needed most.

I'm off to my little den now to fire up my copy of the POB La Dame aux camelias, and hoping for the day when the local bikie chapter will be swooning over their own copy of it!

Link to comment

Hunterman, I was struck by something in your original post:

I recently showed my six year old granddaughter part of the RB Sylvia I possess. I asked her if she liked it, and she came back with an unhesitating affirmative - why would she not?

This, I think, should be your starting point. What does the child actually see and feel? Perhaps talking to your granddaughter about her own responses to the video would give you some hints about how to proceed.

So many people take the "classical culture is good for you" approach to education. It rarely works. Others take the Disney approach: "can I make it accessible enough (cute or thrilling or comic or gory) to hold the child's attention? That's even worse. Classical art either speaks for itself or it does not. Children are more open to important experiences than our current adult culture -- or even many parents -- give them credit for.

Just a few days ago I read an account of an audience of children at a Covent Garden production of the opera Eugene Onegin. The whole opera !!!

How would they react to such a long, personal, intimate story, with music of such sophistication? I need not have worried. The only moment when there was a minor disturbance was in the Duel Scene ... So caught up were these youngsters that in the final scene they applauded the entrances of both Tatyana and Onegin! There must be something very special about Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin.

A couple of possible suggestions: (1) talk to kids to get a feel about what they think; (2) present high-quality work; (3) don't condescend; don't pander; (4) prepare them (but don't over-prepare them) for what they will see; (5) encourage them talk freely about what they saw after it's over. It might help not to have too broad a range of ages at the same time. What works for tots will not work for 10-year olds middle schoolers.

Good luck, hunterman. It's a worthy project ... and one that should prove to be very interesting as well as useful.

Link to comment

Thank you Bart for those valuable insights. It's exactly the sort of stuff I need.

The other day, I had my four year old granddaughter on my lap watching all of the RB 'Still Life at the Penguin Cafe'. I didn't dare say a word, and honestly, I could have wept when I saw the determined attentiveness in her expression. The look of indignation on her face when I paused it to go to the bathroom was priceless. Why did I pause it? - good question. Although I felt that the leap into classical ballet might be a tad risky, I gave her Lyudmila Semenyaka's Don Quixote fouettes from 'Bolshoi in the Park'. It didn't go down quite so well, but I kept stumm, and she next wanted to go to my digital piano to mime her way over the demo recording of a Chopin Waltz, which I know she loves. It's always a good idea to keep a box of Kleenex tissues on hand for such occasions.

I think you're so right about going down the 'classical culture is good for you' route. Was it Hermann Goering who said "When I hear the word culture, I reach for my Browning"? No, I treat my little granddaughters like I'm handling fine Dresden porcelain. Drop it and it's gone for ever. I grabbed a copy of the 'Tales of Beatrix Potter' the other day, and I thought about having Olivia and six year old Charlotte watch that together. What do you think?

I seriously hope that I'm not giving the impression that I'm anywhere near in full command of what I'm doing, and don't need further advice. Far from it. Anecdotal evidence of similar experiences from other members will be all grist for the mill, and anything, anything at all that might be considered useful will be gratefully received. On the radar of this particular learning curve, my progress hardly rates a tiny blip.

Oh, and I'm going to dust off my old car boot sale acquired vinyl copy of 'Onegin',which I have never listened to, and see how I get on with it. Probably not as well as those children at Covent Garden! Gosh, I wish I'd been there.

Link to comment

There was a wonderful segment on youtube which unfortunately now has been removed. The video showed a classroom of children learning the mime in Sleeping Beauty. It was magical - they were so engrossed. My guess is that it might be one of the extras from the dvd with Sofiane Sylve. Does anyone know?

Link to comment
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

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