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Ballet Dancers As Brands

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There is a provocative and interesting article in today's NY Times which discusses ballet dancers as "brands".


The issues discussed are at the heart of what some people are complaining about at ABT - namely, that it relies on "brand name" international stars, and thereby frustrates the development of its own "in house" dancers. The article questions whether there is such a thing as a unique company style anymore.

In my experience, I have noticed striking differences in the way other companies perform Balanchine as compared to the NY City Ballet, and those differences continue to exist despite the "globalization" of ballet.

I was amused by Osipova's comment that "so far" she intends to stick with the Royal Ballet. I don't have a problem with dancer's doing guest stints all over the globe, but her switching companies 4 times over 2 years, and breaking various contracts in the process, is a bit much.

Any thoughts?

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I think this reflects what's been going on in the rest of the world - entertainers (singers, movie stars) have been forging their own brands too.

Dancers are now capitalizing on this.

As far as dancers or companies losing their "style", I can see both sides of the argument for and against it. In general (and literally "in general"; I'm not saying this is a definite) a lack of style (or mannerisms even) can make it easier for dancers to pick up choreography more quickly, especially more modern choreography and make it easier on the choreographer in that he/she might have an easier time teaching it. However, if style is lost completely, we certainly lose the lovely nuances that each "style" provides.

A more homogenized look, style, way of talking, way of dressing, etc. is certainly an affect of globalization in every area of life now.

That's all I can muster at the moment.

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I'm not sure whether I'm thinking of exactly the same thing as the two of you, but I think that the "style" is part of the ballet, as much as or sometimes even more than the steps and gestures.

When Balanchine supervised NYCB, seeing it perform was something I had to have, but since the mid-'80s, under Martins's regime, watching it does nothing for me, and so I rarely do. (Young people, under about 45, can compare the videos in pherank's valuable thread, for example, and see whether they notice any differences other than tempos among renditions by different companies since Mr. B's time, which is also represented there. The dance film and video archive of the New York Public Library at Lincoln Center may provide even better opportunities.)

An efficient, well-prepared "homogenized" way of dancing certainly is a wide-spread phenomenon and, for some of us, a problem, today. People go to see, and marketers publicize, a way of dancing associated with a dancer, not with her dance, or its maker. I'm glad there are people happy to see that, but increasingly, educated by experience, I prefer to stay home. (And watch some videos!) Rather than watch merely great dancing, I'd like to see a great dancer show us a great dance, with all its nuances. (Am I spoiled by the old days? I suppose I am.)

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Whenever I have the privilege of seeing the Mariinsky, one thing that strikes me is the uniformity of the look of the corps in terms of every nuances of their dancing. They move as one. That is in contrast to other companies like ABT, for example, from what I've seen. So I think there still is a uniformity of style, at least in the corps, of the Mariinksy.

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The opera star paradigm for star dancers means a standard repertory. Osipova can jump around in interchangeable Giselles or Juliets. (True, If she joins a company for a season, she may add some of their other repertory: at ABT Ratmansky made roles on her in new works).

The opera paradigm is an absolutely standard, "greatest hits," repertory.

Not a good thing for La Danse as my ideal. Maybe a good thing economically for the big companies?

It's not surprising though that an Osipova would advocate for this. First, she's walking that walk. Second, it's a walk that totally maximizes her $ and freedom economically. Being a brand is big bucks. You absolutely can't blame someone in this culture either for wanting or getting the big dollars, which are modest really compared . . . she's not a hedge fund. The money we saw ABT principals making isn't what a fifth year associate makes at a Wall Street law firm.

As it shakes out, maybe even it's not bad for La Danse. We get to see her all over the globe; and meanwhile the companies continue to do their own thing. If the second half of this equation holds, then we can have our Danse and Natalia too.

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This happened in the 1970's as well. There were stars for the "big hits" and other groups decided to go different routes and make new ballet, contemporary works, or just strange stuff to experiment. Some people will pay bank to see Osipova, others want to go see choregraphy new and freshly minted. To each his/her own.

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It’s commonplace for contemporary opera stars to travel, and it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re limited to standard repertory items. The “standard” operatic repertory is also much more expansive than the ballet’s very small one.

As a rule (exceptions noted) ballet stars have grown both as stars and artists by identifying with one house and style and generally staying close to home. I think of Markova and Fonteyn. Ashton said the former was making a big mistake by leaving Sadler’s Wells (and him) and he was right. The peripatetic stars of the 1970s did not always benefit artistically from their travels.

Times are changing, of course. The breakup of the Soviet Union has led to greater international opportunities for dancers who once would have remained behind the Iron Curtain. International travel is easier and cheaper than ever. A dancer doesn’t have to be with ABT to enjoy a role made on him by its resident choreographer – Ratmansky is probably arriving on the next plane to do a ballet on your company if you’ve got the price. (Or Wheeldon, or any other hot choreographer du jour.) And it’s impossible to blame dancers for choosing to make hay while the sun shines. It's a short career.

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