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Ross Stretton resigns

Jane Simpson

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I was interested to read that Lady MacMillan was also born in Australia -- I hadn't known that. I find the "Get that Aussie" charges farfetched. I do think that any outsider will have a hard go of it, and with reason, I think, at any company that has an established aesthetic.

What if someone came in to New York City Ballet who came from a different aesthetic, whether it be a Ben Stevenson, bringing a repertory of his own full-length balets, or a William Forsythe with his own creations, or even the just discovered Marius Petipa V, with Absolutely Authentic Stagings of 20, count 'em, 20 grand Petipa ballets. They would not be welcome in that company, and there may be comments about that "Russian stager who doesn't know our ways," or "We don't need Brit full-lengths here." The point wouldn't be about ethnicity, but in reaction to a change in aesthetic.

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alexandra wrote:

any outsider will have a hard go of it, and with reason, I think, at any company that has an established aesthetic.

i agree.

i DO think, from my experience of this institution (both the company and the theatre) - and for that matter the city and the whole country (!) - that there unquestionably IS a negative attitude to australians - which any australians there have to attempt to overcome, if they are to be taken in any way seriously - but you NEVER can. don't imagine that... you will always be 'an AUSTRALIAN'...with all that that implies in terms of 'their' attitudes to you.

but: it would appear that alexandra's take on this situation is far more the appropriate and significant one, re stretton.

personally, i would like to see gailene stock's name left out of this discussion.

imagine seeing, for example, on a german discussion board, posts suggesting that since one american AD isn't flavour of the month in germany, maybe an american ballet teacher who is head of a school in germany, is likely also to leave, or be ousted... it kind of comes across as if they are conjoined twins, or something...


there is no reason to relate the one situation to the other. the school and the co are run separately. maybe in america, schools 'attached to' companies are run more closely together - i don't know...maybe that explains the assumption of some posters that the two are linked in some way...i'm guessing...but there is no reason here, to surmise that what happens to one, affects what happens to the other - they merely happen to have been born in the same country, and originally trained in the same ballet school/danced in the same company. i'd rather imagine that stock would prefer to be left out of it, also! :)

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I agree that linking Stretton and Stock is in appropriate and take your conjoined twins point, Grace.

I had a long talk recently with a visiting London critic who didn't agree with the idea that Stretton was mistreated in any way because he was Australian (she brought up Helpmann, whom she, and many others of course, greatly admired). In fact, she said, "He's not really Australian. He was only born there. He spent his whole career in America -- and what he brought in were the things he learned there." I don't think I'd disagree with that :)

The "tall poppy" is interesting. It reminds me of a Japanese proverb, "The nail that sticks up is hammered down." The Danes have a version of it too -- "Do not ever think you are special." It's called Jantelov (Jante's Law).

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in response to alexandra's words:

...she brought up Helpmann, whom she, and many others of course, greatly admired). In fact, she said, "He's (Stretton's) not really Australian. He was only born there. He spent his whole career in America -- and what he brought in were the things he learned there."

i too agree with this about stretton. unfortunately he brought in those very same things (from ABT) to the AB, as if that formula was the 'one-tried--and-true' way to run a ballet co.

i wondered about his judgement the first time around (at AB) - but to see it happen twice, when the 'ABT'-ish approach hadn't even been particularly well-received the first time, really made me wonder about his intelligence...

about helpmann, i would differ. i would consider him an example of the attitude i mentioned above. i was living in london when he died, and was appalled by the meanness of spirit, of the obituaries i read there - just plain spiteful, as if his achievements had been resented all along, because he WASN'T english.

funnily enough, i have just this afternoon watched a TV program about this attitude to 'colonials' in england. one australian expat made the point that, as an australian, you are completely outside the english class system, so 'they' find it hard to know how to treat you - because how to treat you is, to at least some extent, dictated by where you 'would' fit, in the heirarchy.

at the same time, it always seemed to me that this CAN be used to advantage. because 'they' can't pigeonhole you, into one particular level, you can be free to move about socially, in ways which english people might not think to, or dare to.

i don't want to set off a war with british readers. so, my apologies, if these sentiments are different to your perceptions about the experiences of australians in england.

btw, the phrase 'tall poppy' is such a well-known expression in australia that it sounds quite old-fashioned now. there was even a book titled 'Tall Poppies', about significant australians (in the 1970's, i would guess).

back to stretton, and his australian-ness: you can nevertheless bet that NO other australian will get a look-in there (at RB) for ANOTHER 50 years, now that HIS stint has turned out so badly !!!


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no, no - it's not about being a 'foreigner' - it's specifically about being 'australian' - although we seem to have agreed that australian-ness is NOT the (main) issue, here, re stretton.

it would be rather hard to explain the distinction, if you are completely unaware of it ?... - but i imagine that sophisticated americans DO have an inkling of what i'm talking about... i don't want to turn this thread into one about intercultural attitudes, so perhaps just to say that australians are TRADITIONALLY held in a *PARTICULAR* type of DIS-regard by the english, especially when it comes to anything intellectual or artistic or refined - therefore certainly not to be trusted with great british cultural institutions (until recently, obviously)....

and IMO, mason became an 'honorary' english person many many years ago - as i guess aylmer realises, if s/he thinks people might be unaware of her nationality. i guess it has, to some extent, to do with embracing british values - so that someone like wayne eagling remains forever canadian - because he is inclined to be provocative (as helpmann was) - while people forget the canadian-ness of someone like jenny penny, because she was likeable and never outrageous (publicly, i mean - i didn't know her personally).

some people blend in, and some remain forever 'outsiders' - to some extent by their own choosing.

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Grace, I'd imagine this issue could be debated in boxing rings among Britons and Australians :) "Insiders" and "outsiders" view questions of acceptance so differently...

I didn't read the Helpmann obits, so I can't comment on them. I've never heard Helpmann spoken of in any but laudatory terms, but I may have hit a different subgroup of critics :)

It won't help, but the one London critic I mentioned this to said, "But everybody here likes Australians -- they're so open and honest!" But then, she's Scots. :)

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There was a notoriously bitchy obituary of Helpmann in The Times*, which had just started a new policy of 'warts and all' obituaries, but so far as I remember it was about Helpmann's personality rather than his nationality. And it raised a lot of protests, from de Valois and Ashton among others, which made front page news in another newspaper - so presumably was not typical of what was written in other papers. The dance magazines' tributes were, as Alexandra says, laudatory.

* not written by their dance critic

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Kathrine Sorley Walker has written quite a bit about Helpmann, for the American journal Dance Chronicle (available in some libraries; it's a scholarly journal and very expensive) and, I believe, Dance Now. She's also written several articles in both publications about bygone British companies -- International Ballet, Camargo Society, etc -- that I admire very much.

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quoting jane simpson: "...about Helpmann's personality rather than his nationality" - yes, yes - i didn't mean it to read as if the comments were about his nationality.

it's a long time ago now, but i thought that the snipes were undercutting his achievements, too...i am pleased to hear that 'people' (other than me!) were bothered by it - i don't recall being aware of that. thanks for the info, jane.

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