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Who's Next


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I don't know all the likely candidates, so I can't answer with a name, but if I were on the search committee I would want someone who:

1. ...was trained by and grew up in the Royal Ballet, who recognizes and respects the national character of the company and plans to build on the past.

2. ... will follow Ninette De Valois's precepts, that the repertory should consist of: the classics, contemporary classics, national works, and novelties (by which she meant new works that may not become classics, but which are needed to stimulate the dancers and provide a diversion for the audience). Even distribution of these.

3. ....will actively encourage new classical choreography. Who wants to bring ballet into the future -- but to do it from within ballet, not from without. London already has several excellent contemporary dance companies. It needs a ballet company.

4. ....can develop dancers, not just pick a few stars and put them in everything, but make the company look like a company again, with everyone involved, every dancer having a chance at roles.

5. .....if not a choreographer him or herself, can coach and stage ballets.

6. ...... can work with the theater's bureaucracy and can manage -- although the day to day running of the company can be delegated and supervised. What's needed is artistic vision and the ability to carry out that vision, not marketing skills.

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Thanks, dirac. There's a bit of a nasty undertone to that one -- but that may be unfair. It may be the kind of breezy, "we're in the know but don't take anything too seriously" tone the editors want.

I actually think it's good to see speculation about who should take over the Royal Ballet in the press -- even if it's just speculation. It's good to turn a light on the process every now and again. Shows them people care.

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I have a few London friends who admired Jeffries greatly as a dancer -- considered him to be a sincere, intelligent artist and a thoughtful man. I don't know much about him as a director -- of the Hong Kong Ballet, I think, so Kevin may have an opinion there.

Why, Grace? Just curious -- what do you think he'd bring to the job?

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ah! - i was hoping i'd get away without answering the 'why' bit... (just laziness...) :)

you write that you have heard that jefferies is "a sincere, intelligent artist and a thoughtful man"...i would agree with that. and - more or less - that answers the question.

however, to add to that: he has the requisite background. 'requisite', in my view, in that he is a rightful inheritor of the (RB) tradition, so to speak. ...having served his time in the organisation, through the levels...knowing well everyone who has mattered there over the last 40 years or so...he incorporates the values which made the company what it was and is, while, at the same time, having his feet on the ground, and being a nice person (which is not always the case, with artists who have had such a sheltered upbringing, into a highly prestigious position).

he is completely familiar with the RB traditional repertoire. he was a superb actor, as well as an accomplished dancer and partner. he now has (5 years i believe) experience in the director's role, running a reasonable-size company (HKB, as you say) - and i agree that it would be interesting to hear kevin's views on this possibility.

he is married with a family, and is mature enough to have developed the better attributes of the older adult, without being so old as to be close to retirement age.

above all that, he was hugely respected within the company (as was/is monica mason). he was affectionately regarded by all levels, from what i saw. (perhaps you could say that he is in a similar position as david macallister was/is with the australian ballet - someone who everyone knew, who was a popular person, a welcome appointment, someone who 'everyone' genuinely wants to succeed...)

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Frankly I've been disappointed by Stephen Jefferies' directorship of the 40-strong Hong Kong Ballet since 1996. In view of his Royal Ballet background, I am dismayed by how little he has made use of it to benefit the Hong Kong company as well as audiences. In recent years he has only introduced one Ashton ballet - La Fille Mal Gardee - into the company's repertory, which was quite decently danced by the two casts that I saw. In the first year of his directorship, one of the first programmes that he planned was an Ashton programme which consisted of "Les Patineurs" and "The Two Pigeons", the first of which had already been acquired by Jefferies' predecessor as director. It is annoying that both master works had not been revived since 1996.

The new ballets introduced by Jefferies have been by and large story ballets with a Chinese theme, which are undistinguished in terms of choreography, e.g. Matthew Hart's "Mu Lan", Domy Reiter-Soffer's "White Snake". The programming under previous directors was far more interesting - e.g. Balanchine masterpieces such as "Who Cares", "Tchaikovsky Pas De Deux", and "Allegro Brillante" which have unfortunately been ditched by Jefferies; or even some pure dance works by Choo-San Goh. Jefferies hasn't presented a mixed bill programme for at least two seasons. In comparison the diverse programmes offered by other Asian companies such as the Singapore Dance Theatre and the National Ballet of China are far more satisfying. (The National Ballet of China in "La Sylphide", which they danced on tour in 2000, is one of the few highlights in the Hong Kong ballet scene recently.)

I also don't comprehend why Jefferies has not brought more guest artists from the Royal Ballet. Tetsuya Kumakawa was the only Royal Ballet dancer (he had already left the Royal by the time he came) who has been invited to guest in Hong Kong.

On the plus side, the technical standard of the dancers has risen since Jefferies took over, though the acting ability of the company in general leaves a lot to be desired. Jefferies' own productions of Swan Lake and Nutcracker were respectable, but his Sleeping Beauty was atrocious, revising Petipa's text unnecessarily in many places especially in the Prologue. I will never forget Jefferies putting two dancers in one of the fairies' solos in the Prologue. Jefferies also acquired a production of La Bayadere from a South African company, in which one of the three shades solos was excised.

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A slightly digressive comment -

There is one fairy variation in Sleeping Beauty that a few choreographers have set as a duet. I could be wrong, but I think it is the second of them (the one that ends with step-over turns) and people have cited the marking of the text with two names "Coulante & Fleur de Farine". Nureyev is one who has done this. My guess is the choreographic reason is to bring the number of fairies to seven so that the Lilac Fairy (or in Nureyev's case, the dancer who danced what we consider her variation - the Lilac Fairy was entirely a mime role) could be central. I'm neither defending or condemning it, just mentioning it to say that Jeffries may not have made it up on his own.

Back on topic!

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It is also perhaps worth pointing out that in the past former Royal Ballet dancers who have moved to direct other companies have received severe criticism for staging too many pieces from the Royal repertory. Both Alexander Grant in Canada and Brenda Last in Norway found this. It's quite a delicate balancing act pleasing purely local audiences. Ashton must have received his worst-ever notices in Norway!

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Originally posted by Leigh Witchel

Nureyev is one who has done this.  My guess is the choreographic reason is to bring the number of fairies to seven so that the Lilac Fairy (or in Nureyev's case, the dancer who danced what we consider her variation - the Lilac Fairy was entirely a mime role) could be central.  

Actually, Leigh, apparently Marie Petipa danced the original Lilac Fairy variation. Nureyev's production was one of those that reacted to the release of a photo from the Maryinsky archives showing Marussia in heeled shoes and a chemise-shift that would have been impossible to do the Prologue variation in. What nobody at the time knew was that that was a picture of her in the Spell scene (Act I) and later, when she didn't have any dancing to speak of. And all those productions changed just on the strength of one uninterpreted photograph! Makes you believe in the power of archives!;)

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