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Concern over Royal Ballet's direction

Claire S

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The first Royal Ballet season under Ross Stretton is about to start and already stories have made their way into the press about the new regime.

First, Irek Mukhamedov - one of the best-loved dancers at Covent Garden for the past decade - was told his services were no longer required. The director sent an assistant to tell him rather than give him the respect of saying it himself, there was no announcement and Mukhamedov slipped out the back door with hardly a murmur.

Then Sarah Wildor, a genuine home-grown dancer who was renowned as a true Ashtonian ballerina, decided to leave, two weeks after Stretton arrived, to avoid being made more unhappy.

Casting information - which used to be available months befores performances to allow fans to reserve seats for their favourite dancers - is dwindling to almost nothing. Nothing for Onegin, nothing for the Triple Bills and only the two lead roles in Nutcracker, Bayadere and Giselle. No explanation has been given for this.

Apart from the Sugar Plum Fairy's cavalier, only Principals have been cast in leading roles for the forthcoming season (as far as we know) whereas under the previous regimes First Soloists and Soloists frequently danced leading roles which allowed them to gain experience before promotion. Indeed this is how Alina Cojocaru attracted so much attention. In fact the newest Princpal, Zenaida Yanowsky, has not been cast in any leading roles according to the information so far. Sylvie Guillem is so far scheduled to dance Marguerite and Armand only.

I won't even mention the unimaginative programming except to say Nnutcracker and Giselle for the third year in a row.

The cumulative affect of all this is to create a very negative atmosphere for the start of the new directorship. Everyone expects there to be changes but so far they seem only negative ones, and I can'thelp feeling very envious of the people who are lucky enough to have snapped up two great former Royal Ballet stars - Wayne Eagling and Bruce Sansom - who not only were fine dancers but who seemed as considerate of their audiences as they were of their fellow dancers.

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Thanks for posting that, Claire. We won't really know, of course, until Stretton has been in charge for awhile. Unfortunately, it's been a pattern for the past decade for companies to bring in someone from outside the company who brings in his own agenda -- ideas about dancers, body types, repertory, etc. -- without looking at the company's traditions. IMO, this is fine for a company without traditions, but it has caused problems elsewhere. It's too early to tell what will happen in England.

I hope you, and other followers of the Royal Ballet, will keep us up to date on changes, as well as what you're seeing.

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This was in yesterday's paper in Australia, but I didn't have time to put it up until today. It's an Australian view of Stretton at the Royal:

Royal feathers ruffled as Stretton settles in

By Valerie Lawson

As autumn blows in to Covent Garden, the Australian newcomer, Ross Stretton, is undergoing the first rite of passage for a new artistic director: attack by the ballet fans and muted warnings by dance writers, such as Allen Robertson in The Times. Their message to the first non-Briton to direct the Royal Ballet is this: "Remember our heritage!"


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Part of the thinking of the Board in appointing Ross Stretton to be the AD of the RB was that he would make radical changes. That is the right of the AD. If you want to blame someone or some Body for what is to come, then don't blame Stretton - he probably made his personal ideas clear to the Board during the interview process as well as by his track record in Australia. Having said that, there was a lot of grumbling when MacMillan took over the RB. He was accused of having "deserted the ship" by going to Germany in the 60s. Then he brought back to the RB ballerinas such as Lynn Seymour. The fans of Merle Park and Antoinette Sibley were up in arms at the time because of the perception that Sibley and Park were losing roles to Seymour.

I think this kind of unrest happens every time there is a change of direction in a company. Fans are very fond of certain traditions and hate change. They feel that somehow they should have been consulted because of their loyalty to the company. Alas, it doesn't work like that. The only way fans can make their feelings known is to vote with their pocketbooks and stay away if they are not happy. They can also try to influence the corporations who support the company. There's nothing like money to make a point.

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