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Dance On Pilot Project: New Creations For Dancers Aged 40+


Buddy

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This is something that I have a great deal of sympathy for.

DANCE ON PILOT PROJECT: NEW CREATIONS FOR DANCERS AGED 40+

WHAT WOULD IT BE LIKE IF EXCEPTIONAL DANCERS DIDN’T RETIRE AT 40 BUT CONTINUED SHOWING THEIR GREAT ART ON STAGE?

The image of dance is stamped with the extraordinary ability of young dancers. There are almost no choreographies that are suitable for the changed physical conditions of older dancers and very few dance companies that employ dancers aged over 40. This is a loss for dance and society, as experienced, mature dancers are especially capable of reaching the intellectual and emotional depths of choreographic material. Their radiance and impressive interpretative powers expand the audience’s dance experience by a key dimension.

DANCE ON creates a unique perspective on the development and presentation of this artistic potential. Internationally renowned choreographers and artists will be working with dancers from the project ensemble to create DANCE ON 1st EDITION, a basic repertoire of works for dancers aged over 40.

The DANCE ON FESTIVAL, with commissioned productions, international guest performances and a symposium, will mark a highlight of the pilot project. The DANCE ON 1st EDITION will tour nationally and internationally and reach a large audience. The cross-generational educational programme DANCE ON LOCAL, which will accompany the performances on the road, will generate sustainable socio-political stimuli in the local area.

DANCE ON will create strong alliances with co-production partners – on an national and international level. These alliances will ensure the DANCE ON concept is implemented sustainably and make an active contribution to establishing a dance repertoire 40+.

http://www.diehl-ritter.de/en/danceon

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I found this comment a bit odd.

"There are almost no choreographies that are suitable for the changed physical conditions of older dancers"

If I recall correctly, NDT ran a company for older dancers for a number of years, and commissioned several works. Alongside that, many older dancers have commissioned works individually, or continued to create for themselves as they've aged.

I'm not arguing with the basic premise (that older dancers are underused, and that we need even more work designed for their skills) but I get cranky when people who are asking for support make sweeping statements that make it look like they haven't done their homework.

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...experienced, mature dancers are especially capable of reaching the intellectual and emotional depths of choreographic material. Their radiance and impressive interpretative powers expand the audience’s dance experience by a key dimension.

In fact one of the things that really bothered me about some of the pieces NDT3 did was that they frequently had the dancers clowning around like children. I was never sure exactly how this made good use of the intellectual and emotional maturity these dancers had acquired. I hope the Dance On project makes better use of their interpretive skills.

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For example, in 2011, Kevin O'Day, Robert Glumbek, and Luches Huddleston Jr. performed "Full Bloom" at the Chutzpah Festival in Vancouver; this work was about being an older dancer. O'Day and Glumbek collaborated on "The Four Seasons," that they toured in 2013. O'Day, AD of Ballet Mannheim, choreographed "We will..." for Glumbek and Ballet BC AD Emily Molnar.

That doesn't cover the commissions and collaborations that Whelan, Guillem, and Baryshnikov -- mainly through White Oak, but as late as last year with Mark Morris -- have done, or the roles that are integrated into ballets like the Bournonville ballets or Kudelka's "Four Seasons," which featured Lorna Geddes and Hazaros Surmeyan in a great role, or Widow Simone and the Stepsisters in Ashton's "La Fille mal gardee" and "Cinderella." And, of course, Merce Cunningham, who created parts for himself into his '70's.

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Still, most dancers seem to ponder their next career. It sometimes seems that if they could just lighten up on some of the physical demands they could add on another ten years.

Added:

Wendy Whelan might prove to be an excellent example. Sylvie Guillem, whom I'm not that familiar with, may have accomplished this.

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It sometimes seems that if they could just lighten up on some of the physical demands they could add on another ten years.

That's a challenge for the dancer and the ensemble, which has a larger set of concerns. That's one of the reasons that people seem to create separate companies or projects, rather than integrating these dancers and works into the rep of a mainstream company.

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It sometimes seems that if they could just lighten up on some of the physical demands they could add on another ten years.

That's a challenge for the dancer and the ensemble, which has a larger set of concerns. That's one of the reasons that people seem to create separate companies or projects, rather than integrating these dancers and works into the rep of a mainstream company.

Maybe "mainstream" companies could change their priorities or the nature of some of their works, somewhat, and benefit greatly.

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Budgets are finite things, and employee salaries constitute the biggest chunk of a dance company's budget. If companies had a substantial number of older dancers no longer able to dance certain repertoire, for example, Swan Lake, and an audience that expected to see Swan Lake, there would have to be other dancers available to perform it. Could companies really afford to maintain a large number of 40+ or 50+ principals in addition to a complete roster of younger dancers, who would perform the repertoire the older dancers could not?

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In DC, Liz Lerman had (perhaps still has) a company for 65+ dancers for at least 30 years. She did some ery interesting pieces, using those dancers with younger ones -- example, an old woman remembering her young lover who, I think, had been killed in war; or a young man interacting with his old, dying father. (I only saw both of these works once, years and years ago, so my memory of plot/pretext may be inexact.)

Here's an article:

http://www.seniorsforliving.com/blog/2010/11/22/no-age-limit-for-liz-lermans-dancers-of-the-third-age/

Also, until recently, ballet companies kept dancers on the roster until they were 50, often for mime roles, but also for character parts that included dancing (like Bournonville's trolls in "A Folk Tale").

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Was the lowering of the retirement age at the Royal Danish Ballet primarily a cost-saving measure?

I was told so. "We have 20 girls over 40," as I heard people say in the early '90s. (And the plan had been in the works for a long time.) I think the same thing happened to several European companies. The Russian companies used to have hordes of middle-aged character dancers, some of them stars.

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Of course there are companies that perform a substantial number of narrative works and maintain a group of "Principal Character Artists." At the Bolshoi they go by the rather less glamorous and more tenuous-sounding description of dancer "working under contract," whereas previously they had been listed among the other soloists. There are other "character dancers" among the Bolshoi soloists, but they are all younger than 40.

But "character roles" are not what many ballet dancers have in mind when aiming for long careers. Sylvie Guillem plans to retire at age 50, but she hasn't been a member of a ballet company since she was 42, right in line with the POB's current retirement age. I doubt she was ever interested in portraying Siegfried's mother.

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The idea of reducing the physical challenges even with such 'staples' as Swan Lake is certainly doable. It goes against the seeming current trend of making even the classics more and more physically demanding, but the tradeoff might be highly increased artistry. It's up for discussion, of course.

Mikhail Messerer, Mikhailovsky ballet master-in-chief and member of the famous family (Asaf Messerer, Maya Plisetskaya….) alludes to something like this in a recent interview.

“Nowadays all dancers watch YouTube—they are taught by YouTube more than they are taught by their teachers and they pick up good things and, unfortunately, bad things too. But technique has improved tremendously as a result; you can watch yourself…. but from a dramatic point of view, expression is not always as it should be.”

http://www.timeout.com/newyork/dance/mikhail-messerer-on-the-mikhailovsky-ballet

(In his quote you might substitute the wording 'physically demanding technique' for "technique" and 'artistry' for "expression" and arrive at a similar conclusion. This would generally favor older, more mature dancers.)

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I'll be the first to say that there are problems in ballet today where musicality, style, drama and expression are concerned. But great physical proficiency and artistry are not inherently mutually exclusive things.

We should also consider that many, perhaps most, dancers are not interested in performing "lite" versions of ballets. People accustomed to pushing and driving their bodies from childhood are among the least likely to be able to accept lessened physical capacity in themselves. Somehow I think most ballerinas would be unlikely to say it's unimportant that they can no longer do this, that or the other because they've got oodles of artistry to compensate. What you often find in interviews with dancers who've announced their intention to retire is that they want to "go out at the top," to leave the stage while audiences are asking why they are retiring, and not why they are still dancing. They don't want to be seen in a "reduced" condition. Because there really have been dancers (and performers of all stripes) who have lingered too long. I can't find a video of it anywhere, but Carol Burnett's parody of an aged modern dance diva (read: Martha Graham) being carried aloft by a small army of male dancers is among the funniest, most astute and saddest things I've seen.

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We should also consider that many, perhaps most, dancers are not interested in performing "lite" versions of ballets. People accustomed to pushing and driving their bodies from childhood are among the least likely to be able to accept lessened physical capacity in themselves. Somehow I think most ballerinas would be unlikely to say it's unimportant that they can no longer do this, that or the other because they've got oodles of artistry to compensate. What you often find in interviews with dancers who've announced their intention to retire is that they want to "go out at the top," to leave the stage while audiences are asking why they are retiring, and not why they are still dancing.

Carla Korbes, who recently announced that she will retire at the end of the season, said something much like this at a post-show Q/A session last weekend.

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Thanks, volcanohunter and sandik. You both have made very good points. Let me just add this for a slightly different emphasis.

“But in a way, despite her success, [Wendy] Whelan was a late bloomer. She has said many times that it wasn’t until she started working with Christopher Wheeldon, in the early aughts, that she began to sense her own voice as a dancer. She and Wheeldon had danced together, and now she helped him find his way as a choreographer. The calligraphic lines of her body—the long, linear arms, the aristocratic Roman nose, the sinewy legs—became the basis for his style. Her diamantine edge softened into something more interesting: thoughtfulness, introspection, and a kind of self-knowledge.”

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultur ... an-retires

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It will indeed be interesting to see where this project goes in its initial two years of funding. (if I understand correctly...)

There may well be venues for them; I would imagine also combined with other groups it could be quite good.

There ARE many ex-dancers out there who went "into retirement" (though most are not getting any sort of "retirement money" - most of us are working several jobs to stay afloat) and many of them were really excellent performers in their day and could definitely bring something worthwhile to the stage again.

Those who apply for this group will be able to leave their present jobs and families for the required amount of rehearsal months, etc.

The comments about many ballet (and this goes for other dance) companies not keeping on dancers who cannot physically do "everything" are good. In an ideal world there would be enough money to at least hire these older dancers to do roles which would be better served by just that; but in reality it is not so in most cases.

Sad, but true.

-d-

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Buddy, I absolutely understand the argument you're making here -- even in dance, where the generations change just a bit slower than gnats, artists need time to mature. We see this all the time in our field, if people are lucky enough to return to a significant role and delve further into the possibilities. But as others point out here, those next generations are coming up as well, and need to keep challenging themselves in order to grow. The sticking point for all of this is, of course, money -- if you have six or seven different programs during a season (aside from the ubiquitous Nut), and maybe 5-10 performances in each one, how do you spread out this limited resource? How do you manage to keep everyone moving forward?

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I think, sandik, that it's a matter of keeping things on an equal scale -- physical challenge and artistry/expression. Physicality seems to be very prevalent now. Maybe it's time to think about artistry somewhat more. Galina Ulanova, if I recall one video correctly, could barely get her jumps off the ground by today's standards, but after Anna Pavlova, she is perhaps the greatest ballerina ever. (By the way, I believe that she was still perhaps the best in the world in her fifties.)

Diane, thanks very much for your insights. I gather that you were a dancer. Do you think that more focus on artistry, less physical demand, might have lengthened your career? Would it be worth considering for today's dancers in terms of an overall performance quality?

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Buddy, yes. smile.png

But, on the other hand, I stopped dancing pretty much "as soon" as I felt that I was starting to have doubts as to my ability to offer the very best. I _wanted_ to be able to do everything; I did not want to do "less"; even if that had meant "more artistry".

I wanted it ALL - or nothing. There comes a time when the physical powers you can muster are not enough to compensate for the pain.

Now both of my DDs are professional dancers; they are still young, they are still strong. The challenges (physical) are stronger now, I think, than in "my time".

We shall see what happens.

I wish this new company of older dancers all the best.

(editing to add: yes, I do think that some more artistry would be good, even at the "expense" of a few knock-out physical fireworks; but I do not think it is going to happen)

-d-

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(editing to add: yes, I do think that some more artistry would be good, even at the "expense" of a few knock-out physical fireworks; but I do not think it is going to happen)

Ok, I guess that I'll have to start choreographing. flowers.gif

Maybe such efforts as the Wendy Whelan/Christopher Wheeldon collaborations can move things in this direction.

I also like the idea of young dancers staying young and healthy.

Thanks again for your 'insider' insights. I can really understand and sympathize with what you say in regard to your own choices. So let's see what the future brings. Hopefully something good for everyone.

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When dancers say they want to go out at the top, though, very few have the opportunity to dance in roles where they would continue to be at the top, and among the ones who do, they are almost always character roles. Most dancers have the choice of doing another Kitri or Odette or "Agon" Pas de deux that wold be compared to their Kitri or Odette or "Agon" Pas de deux from five or ten years before.

If there aren't roles to grow into and be compared to other people who've done those roles, and it isn't in the mindset of the dancers that these roles are valuable, not the consolation prize, there's no incentive to continue.

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f there aren't roles to grow into and be compared to other people who've done those roles, and it isn't in the mindset of the dancers that these roles are valuable, not the consolation prize, there's no incentive to continue.

This does look like a very interesting statement, Helene, if I understand it correctly. Are you supporting the idea that roles be created for maturing (and older) artists?

I do have to say, though, that there is always room for growth in the roles that you listed, if the physical requirements don't leave the 'maturing' artists out of the running.

[typo corrections made and sentence two slightly reworded]

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When there was a professional figure skating circuit, and Dick Button created his "World" professional championships, which were actually limited invitationals, it was the rare newbie professional out of the eligible ranks that won anything. They would come in and do programs with the equivalent of the 32 fouettes and 180 degree extensions, but it was the professional skaters, with lower jump difficulty but more artistry in their programs who would win the titles, as the marking and judging criteria were different, and the seasoned professional's programs were different.

I'm talking about roles and choreography where the technical demands weren't at the extreme, and where there wouldn't be arguments about changing the text because a dancer couldn't do the brise voles or whatever anymore and where the dancer wouldn't be comparing him- or herself to him- or herself in the same role a decade apart.

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So perhaps in dance, this implies that roles could be created from the outset that can grow somewhat indefinitely. A young dancer could assume the role but the long term aim would be artistic growth, as few, if any, dancers grow in physical prowess in their later years. Thus the roles would have to be physically less demanding and more artistically promising.

Added:

I do some figure skating (perpetual beginner stuff and I use a helmet) and I sometimes wonder if I could make a 1/2 rotation "waltz jump" as rewarding as today's competition four rotation jumps.

Added added:

This idea is not so strange, since in ballet your rarely, if ever, see a dancer attempting more than a double rotation jump, although I'm sure many are capable of it. I'm certain that I've seen competition level skaters doing triples in their off ice practicing.

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