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So, who is a "superb" director?

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In our polls of NYCB and ABT directors, no one's characterized either director yet as superb.

Is there a "superb" director out there currently? Would anyone care to step up to the plate and name who they think is superb?

Any directors of the past you felt were superb? Is a director only superb in retrospect?

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Interesting question, Leigh. I'm not sure if one can really know this without having worked with a director personally, but it seems to me that there was a great deal of accomplishment and positive word about the work that the late John Cranko did at Stuttgart. His early death was devastating to the ballet world as well as to his company, however the body of his work to that point, and the good name and prominence of the company were major accomplishments. Who knows what he could have done had he not died so young.

Historically, I would have to think that Bournonville was a superb director. And of course there is Balanchine, MacMillan, Ashton, DeValois, Rambert.....but again, superb is relative and people who actually worked with them could very well have other ideas ;)

Does "superb" deal with their body of work, or the building of a company, or how well they worked with the dancers as well as with the board and supporters and the designers and management people, or does it expect all of the above? Most of us can only know what we have seen in terms of results, and therefore superb is based only on the works they presented and the dancers and designers that they hired. All have made mistakes of course, but were they outweighed by the successes? Does their personality in terms of how they worked with the dancers and others have anything to do with it? I don't know, I'm just rambling here, trying to determine if there is such a thing as a "superb" director! ;)

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A good question from Leigh, and more good quetsions raised by Victoria, I think.

I don't think that people paid much attention to company direction until recently -- the emphasis was all on choreography. For most viewers, a director is judged by repertory and dancers: do I like the ballets and are the dancers I like getting roles. To most dancers, they'll settle for "am I getting enough to dance and do I like my roles," I think. (I interviewed many Danish dancers asking them if Kronstam, who directed the Royal Danish Ballet from 1978 to 1985, was a good director and with about four exceptions the answer was, "I can't complain -- I got many good parts" or something of the sort, totally with reference to their own career, which is quite understandable.)

To me, a director is more long-term than that -- not what s/he does this season but -- especially a director who's in charge of an institution, which existed before him and will, one hopes, continue to thrive after. To me, a superb director cares for the ballets and the dancers in his charge. This means keeping the core repertory healthy and developing the dancers through the way the company classes are taught, the ballets are staged, and the new ballets chosen. I think experiments and failures, both in casting and in acquisition of ballets, are necessary to do this and should not be held against the director -- even obvious failures sometimes serve a purpose ("See, I told you that novelist you all like so much would be a disaster as a choreographer!") . I give high marks for a knack for casting, a sense for which dancers suit which roles, and also how to "bring a dancer along," as they say -- a sense of which role is a stepping stone for what other roles.

I think Balanchine (and Kirstein?) were superb directors. Balanchine is justly revered for his ballets and for his development of dancers, but he also gave space and time to Robbins, and to Tudor when Tudor was without a home, and he had a very good sense of the public, and how to entertain them without pandering.

I think Ashton was a superb director as well -- and I think he's totally overlooked in this area. Look at his company in 1969 -- Royal watchers would recognize nearly every name. He hit his peak as a choreographer during his tenure and he brought in ballets -- most notably Nijinska's "Les Noces" that enhanced the repertory. His stagings and fiddlings of the classics were beautiful and the company danced them beautifully when he was in charge.

DeValois, of course, who developed a company from nothing and kept it going through three generations of dancers.

I'd echo Victoria's comments about Cranko. He certainly developed dancers and built a repertory and an audience. He died while still in his 40s -- too early to judge.

Of the Danes, the only company whose history I know well enough to go back before my own viewing, Hans Beck is a saint to me. He preserved not only Bournonville's ballets but his aesthetic -- and did this because he had the sense and the taste to see that there wasn't anything better around and he wouldn't settle for second best, and that included his own work. Instead of throwing out everything, he preserved, trying to keep the company afloat until the next Bournonville came along, and those who'd seen Bournonville's ballets during B's lifetime wrote that Beck's stagings had revivified them after a fallow period. Harald Lander dominated the company for 20 years, was an inspired director by dancers' testimony, certainly developed dancers. If he wasn't a great choreographer, he was an adequate one and fed the company for 20 years. Henning Kronstam brought the company back after 12 years of being directed by a choreographer (Flemming Flindt) who wasn't a great institutional director, in my view, because he was interested primarily in his own work and the dancers he liked and because he turned the company more and more towards modern dance and theater pieces and away from ballet. Kronstam developed two generations of dancers, restored the Bournonville repertory, and was a brilliant stager/director in his own right. He also lead the company during troubled times -- they were homeless for nearly 3 years while the theater was being rebuilt and didn't lose a dancer. I think he's a good example of a director using what he had to the fullest.

From the little I've read, I think Konstantin Sergeyev was a very good director -- but I'd shut up in an instant on that one in the presence of Russians who know the company far better than I and lived through his directorship. From what I know, he developed and inspired dancers and provided solid stagings of Petipa's works.

Finally, while I don't think I could quite say "superb" for Nureyev, I think what he did for Paris was remarkable. "They're still living off him" a friend who watches the company more than I told me, and it seems true. In several interviews Marc Haegeman has done with French dancers for DanceView, the same phrase comes up -- "Rudolf's choreographies can be discussed, but those ballets keep our technique at the highest level." No mean accomplishment, that. And what amazes me the most is that he apparently walked into the room, looked around, saw exactly who was principal dancer material, who were the good soloists, and made it happen.

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Joffrey had the reputation for being a superb director, certainly, though there were often caveats. Part of his repertory (the revivals, the experimental ballets) was praised; the house works wereoften not.

To me, Joffrey was not an institutional director, but a different kind. More in the Diaghilev tradition, creating a company, and changing the personality of that company rather frequently.

My view of Joffrey is shaped because I was one of the readers for Sasha Anawalt's biography, and so had many conversations with her about her discoveries. He seemed, to me to not quite know what kind of a company he wanted -- an American dilemma, we can have anything and so we want it all. He wanted to be a great classical company, he wanted to be a Diaghilev company, he wanted to be City Ballet, he wanted to be Roland Petit (in the sense of having a small, intense, dramatic company). I think (and this is very personal and not at all the general take) that he was coming to find the kind of company he really wanted to be when he died. I think if he had lived then all that he had done would be seen as very fruitful experimentation.

He''s not on my personal list (much of the rep was too pop for me), but he'd certainly be on that of many others, I'm sure.

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That's a good way to put it, Calliope. I think he had an enormous appetite -- which is a very good thing. A stingy person couldn't be a good director, much less a great one.

I think, too, what Victoria said about it being hard to know without having worked with the director is important. (And I know she means much more than "is he a nice guy?") The inside/outside view is hard. There are directors with (often carefully cultivated) good public reputations, though if you talk to dancers or others connected with the company they'll give a very different story. Sometimes it's just, "No, he's lousy, because I should be dancing Albrecht!" but sometimes it's much more considered than that.

In the best of all possible worlds, all views would at least be recorded -- dancers, choreographers, musicians, critics, viewers -- and then, one hopes, a historian could put that all together. But that's a very biased view on its own, of course :)

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It seems to me from the responses that "superb" is a judgment of history - one's legacy is what determines it. It would probably be hard to call any director who didn't have a decade or two of work to look at "superb". Alas, it seems to take very little time to determine the opposite. . .

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I wonder if anyone has any candidates for a "superb" or at least "very good" directors working today? I'm not for judging people on a season by season basis, but there are directors working who've been at it for more than a season or two.

Anyone you'd consider a very good, or model artistic director?

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I will try to open a can of worms perhaps no one is brave enough to open or else maybe I am wrong!

Perhaps Martin Fredmann of Colorado Ballet. I worked with him back in the mid 1980's and believe me what he has accomplished in Denver since 1988 is remarkable with the Academy and the Company. Currently, what directors are there out who have survived for more than a 10 year period and continue to raise the quality of the Company and School. I know they are in Colorado so not very many have the opportunity to see them, but he has taken a Company in shambles, quite Civic actually and raised the level of the Company and School to much higher standards.

What about Bruce Marks and what he did with Boston Ballet and School! This was remarkable!

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I have not seen SFB since the Smuin days so you know that was a long time ago, but the fact that the Company was re-juvenated and has remained on top says a lot. Yes, Mr. Tomasson has longevity, financial security, what seem to be from, a distance the ability to keep "people together" (at least I mean dancers and staff are not running away). The School is going through turmoil at the present time, but...

When I think like that, what about Francia Russell and Kent Stowell, they certainly have done very fine work in Seattle! From basically nothing to a very reputable School and Company although I must say again I have never been there.

Must we always refer to Artistic policy as our criteria? I do not know the answer. I must think on that one! I can say that certainly the development of a School, with very high professional standards, should be included in the assessment.

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I am an East Coaster, therefore I really do not have a West Coast perspective on what is happening in SF with the school, but I do know it has changed dramatically over the past 10 years with Direction as well as Faculty. I recognize the efforts of School administrations to sell the complete package of a School, the program as a whole instead of Faculty. I cannot say I agree with that entirely however. I basically pass judgement upon a school in terms of its' stability based upon dramatic changes of Direction and changes in faculty. The school today is a very different school than it was 10 years ago. Maybe it needs more publicity so it is better understood on the East Coast what is happening. I do not live in a metropolitan area connected to a company school, but we do produce dancers who are getting very good jobs. Whereas 10 years ago SF was top of the list with our students, very few now even inquire as to what is going on in SF! The Company is still held in high regard as an artistic and stable organization, but the school does not hold the same drawing card as it did, say even 4 years ago! IMO!:)

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My feeling is that turmoil is far too harsh a word, though the school is indeed going through changes. Mr. Tomasson has moved rather slowly in adjusting school staff so that it reflects the needs of the company, focusing first on the changes with the company itself. I'm sure there were many factors involved in this. I can't say that the quality of training has in anyway lessened.

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Yes, perhaps turmoil is too strong of a word to describe the changes made in faculty, direction and the state of the school. The issue of the Direction of the School having changed more than twice in the passed 5 years can have perhaps created the perception of instability to an outsider looking in!

As stated before, I have not "seen" personally what is going on in SF. I only am passing on perhaps some of the perceived issues with the School. As always, that does not make these perceptions necessarily agreeable.

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From the outside (because I haven't had the opportunity to see the company more than a few times), it seems to me that Villella has done a remarkable job in Miami.

A director from the recent past, Basil Thompson, also did a superb job in nurturing dancers and raising the standards of the Milwaukee Ballet, which became an excellent troupe under his care. We attended several performances while he directed them, including the one at which he retired from the company (to join the faculty at the University of Iowa); the affection evident in the onstage tributes was clearly deep and genuine.

Ever since the far-too-early death of Robert Joffrey, Gerald Arpino has been a great cheerleader for his company (and I don't mean that in any negative sense). Since they moved to Chicago, we've been to numerous Joffrey events -- at all of which Arpino has spoken about his dancers with great affection and contagious enthusiasm. It's also interesting to watch him as he sits in a side box at Chicago's historic Auditorium Theatre at every Joffrey performance -- he seems totally absorbed as an audience member and responds with heartfelt applause.

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From an insider's point of view, it is very hard to give any director an overall "superb". I agree with all of the things that have been said about all of the directors mentioned, but , and I hate to say this, they all have their bad points, too. However, a director often becomes a figurehead- whatever happens to a company is blamed on them, whether it is their fault or not. Likewise, they are most often given credit for great acheivements when there were others involved or responsible for said acheivement. It is not a bad thing- it is just the way that it is.

I can try to describe the perfect director- let's see... open and HONEST communication with the dancers- an ability to develop dancers at the right pace- an idea or focus for the company that is communicated to the dancers- openness to new ideas, choreography, ballets, styles- respect for what new dancers bring with them into a company- patience- respect for older dancers as well- an ability to listen to problems and questions and being willing and able to discuss thes things- ..... there are so many qualities. I think most directors have at least a few of these things- or I hope so at any rate. I know that it is hard in this day and age to run a ballet company, so I have to give them all credit for trying.

I do hear very good things also about Suzanne Farrell

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