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Think Tank for Ballet Directors

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I've copied this from www.Londondance.com. It's information about a conference that Dance East is sponsoring about the direction ballet should take in the 21st century. Since it's a press release from Dance East, I assume it's legit to post it here. Comments on the agenda?

Think Tank

DanceEast, the National Dance Agency for the East of England, recently announced the launch of Rural Retreats, part of its Snape Dances programme.  

Rural Retreats is an annul think tank offering leading artists and cultural leaders time out to discuss key issues.  

The first Rural Retreat: Ballet into the 21st Century, will take place over three days from 10 January, 2003 at Snape Maltings in Snape, Suffolk hosted by Aldeburgh Productions.  

The Retreat will bring together the artistic directors of ballet companies from around the globe to discuss key issues currently facing the ballet world and its audiences. The retreat is closed to the public but it is anticipated that outcomes resulting from the discussions will be disseminated more widely.  

Facilitated by Prof. Christopher Bannerman, Head of the Centre for Research into Creation in the Performing Arts(ResCen) at Middlesex University and with discussions led by guest speakers that include writer and broadcaster Charles Handy, playwright and Artistic Director of the Young Vic, David Lan and Dr. Mee Yan Cheung, Judge director Quality and Equality.

The retreat offers time in the rural surroundings of the East Anglia coast for the directors to delve into the challenges facing ballet and discuss ways forward for the art form. These include:  

·The globalisation of ballet repertoire  

·Evaluating old habits and traditions including the hierarchical pyramid of ballet company structures  

·Developing the Artistic Directors of the future and supporting their development and training and developing the 'dance' workforce  

·Creativity in ballet and the role of new choreography  

·Bridging the gap with the wider dance community  

·Balancing the needs of audiences and artists  

Directors confirmed to attend the Rural Retreat are:  

John Alleyne(Ballet British Columbia)  

Reid Anderson(Stuttgart Ballet)

David Bintley(Birmingham Royal Ballet)  

Dinna Bjorn (Finnish National Ballet)

Christopher Bruce(Rambert Dance Company)

Ricardo Bustamente(Ballet de Santiago)

Iracity Cardoso (Gulbenkian Ballet)

Wayne Eagling (Dutch National Ballet)  

Espen Giljane (Norwegian National Ballet)

Anders Hellstrom (Goteburg Ballet)  

Johan Inger (Cullberg Ballet)

Marc Jonkers (Companhia Nacional de  


James Kudelka(National Ballet of Canada)

Ivan Liska (Bayerisches Staatsballett)

David McAllister (Australian Ballet)

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This sounds a lot like the "ballet summit conference" held in Toronto last summer. It was sponsored by the National Ballet of Canada. Some of the same directors listed in the DanceEast press release were present. The difference is that this "retreat" includes the directors of many smallish companies, while the Toronto conference was limited to world-class (or near world-class) troupes.

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I think anything that pulls directors out of the "I don't have time to even think about doing things differently" syndrome is a good thing. Would that there were time and cash enough, I think directors also need to get out and *see* more dance.

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I think directors meetings are good things, too -- and every other "industry" has trade meetings, so why not dance? (NOT that I thinkl business is a good model across the board for dance, but in this case I think it's all to the good.)

I also think it's interesting that directors get together to talk about artistic issues, not just how marketing and other necessary shop talk issues. I've interviewed several directors of smaller companies and, especially if they're the only company in the state, or region, it's a lonely life -- they can't talk to the dancers about their problems (as no boss can talk to the staff), and they don't get any feedback on repertory, etc.

I'm iinterested in the composition, too. As Ari noted, the Canadian one was the big guns; this one seems to be attracting smaller groups. I first read about this on Ballet.co a ffew months ago, and the Bolshoi and Royal Danish ballets as well as ABT direcors were listed -- they're now off the list. NYCB, Paris, and the Royal, and San Francisco, were NOT on the list (at least at the time I checked it.) People couldl be busy, of course, but the fact that the "hierarchical pyramid" issue is raised could indicate that this is an issue not of interest to the larger companies.

Which is a shame, because it means the issue is less likely to be debated from both sides.

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Ballet.co has a whole "conference" (a group of forums) for this conference. Those who are interested might wish to check these from time to time.

You'll note that their version of both agenda and attendees is slightly different from the one posted on londondance.com -- it's quite possible theirs is later.



Critical Dance has also set up a group of forums devoted to this conference:


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I think the conference is about more general topics than commissioning specific ballets. They're important topics, and it would be nice to discuss them :)

I'd say it's a good idea to have a meeting of artistic directors and an exchange of ideas about where ballet is and where it is going. What do you think of the agenda? Where do you think ballet is going?

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This was the final communique:


The largest ever gathering of heads of international ballet companies concluded a three-day think tank in Suffolk this weekend (January 10-12), hosted by Dance East, with a commitment to form an international network of Artistic Directors to address issues of rights and royalties, creativity and risk-taking and corporate governance.

Twenty-five Directors attended the retreat, representing fifteen countries and all scales of ballet company and individual experience. Five Directors have been in post for only a few months while others have been directing for up to 16 years.

The directors identified the importance of on-going communication, open exchange and mutual support to help them fulfil their role as custodians of the art form. Every company director present confirmed a commitment to:

. producing conditions conducing to the creativity which is at the heart of the art form;

. including new work as part of an individual and distinctive balance of repertoire. They recognised that new work was vital for dancers and audiences.

The following statement reflects the nature of the debate:

"We recognise the impact of artistic, social, economic, technological and political change and the implications of these changes for the future of the art form.

"It is clear to us that nothing happens in our art form except through the collaborative effort of many people and that ballet companies represent an international community of individuals working towards the same goal."

The Directors agreed that certain issues were of concern to all companies represented at the conference, and that these could most effectively be addressed through working together. To that end, an informal, international network of Artistic Directors was established.

Major issues discussed during the weekend included:

. The need to find better ways of ensuring access to the existing repertoire, including addressing issues of rights and royalties;

. The imperative to take risks as a vital ingredient in a healthy and creative environment;

. The need to find new ways of supporting successive generations of choreographers and artistic directors;

. The social changes that require a wider range of ways of encouraging dancers to develop a clear understanding of their artistic and professional responsibilities;

. The ways in which the support of the whole team underpins the organisation, and is critical to the effective operating and continued growth and development of the individual ballet company – and thus of the art form as a whole;

. Making explicit the responsibilities and the concomitant rights of artistic directors within the context of corporate governance.

These issues will be progressed through the contacts and working

relationships established over the weekend.

The next comprehensive meeting of Artistic Directors will take place in 2005.

Artistic Directors who attended the Rural Retreat: Ballet into the 21st

century are:

Boris Akimov (Bolshoi Ballet)

John Alleyne (Ballet British Columbia)

Frank Andersen (Royal Danish Ballet)

Reid Anderson (Stuttgart Ballet)

Mark Baldwin (Rambert Dance Company)

David Bintley (Birmingham Royal Ballet)

Dinna Bjorn (Finnish National Ballet)

Christopher Bruce (former Artistic Director, Rambert Dance Company)

Ricardo Bustamente (Ballet de Santiago, Chile)

Iracity Cardoso (Gulbenkian Ballet, Portugal)

Didier Deschamps (Ballet de Lorraine, France)

Wayne Eagling (Dutch National Ballet)

Espen Giljane (Norwegian National Ballet)

Kevin Irving (Goteburg Ballet)

Marc Jonkers (former Artistic Director, National Ballet of Portugal)

James Kudelka (National Ballet of Canada)

Ivan Liska (Bayerisches Staatsballett, Munich)

Monica Mason (The Royal Ballet, London)

David McAllister (Australian Ballet)

Kevin McKenzie (American Ballet Theatre)

Mikko Nissinen (Boston Ballet)

David Nixon (Northern Ballet Theatre)

Madeline Onne (Royal Swedish Ballet)

Ashley Page (Scottish Ballet)

Matz Skoog (English National Ballet)

The Rural Retreat was supported by the Arts Council of England, East England Arts, the Jerwood Foundation, the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, the Rudolf Nureyev Foundation, Freed of London, Visiting Arts, the Embassy of Sweden, Canada Council for the Arts/Conseil des Arts du Canada, Canadian High Commission, the Swedish Embassy, the Royal Netherlands Embassy, the Royal Norwegian Embassy, Royal Opera House and Aldeburgh Productions.

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I think that is right Alexandra. Speaking to a number of the directors afterwards, I had the impression that they primarily drew solace from discovering that they had problems in common. I am not sure that they came to startling conclusions about ballet and its future. It is ever thus with end of conference communiques. When politicians meet, their officials have often drafted the final statement before the event.

That said, it seems to have been a very meaningful event for those who attended. One director to whom I spoke this lunchtime said that he had gone to Snape expecting a clash of egos. It was very far from that, he said, but an honest sharing of problems in the knowledge that what was said would remain within the confidence of the meeting.

Another participant told me today that it was the young directors present, who were most realistic about ballet's problems and about the extent of the creativity deficit that needed to be made good if audiences were to continue to be engaged.

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Thank you, Brendan. It's understandable -- much of the discussions would have been about specific problems, I would imagine, and they don't want to put that in a statement.

I think these meetings are good -- I'll say that until they come out with a statement that "We've all agreed to do nothing but new stagings of Petipa and balleticized operas because that's what sells" or "We're scrapping everything in the reps around the world and only doing stuff made last week. We're throwing out toe shoes and live music because they're too expensive." I don't think either of those things will happen, but one always leaves a loophole :P

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I think there is one issue emerging from all of this that does bear further discussion: that the highly determined nature of ballet training tends to work against creativity.

A culture reinforcing the discipline that means a corps of 32 swans moves in absolute synchronicity may not be a culture in which new ideas and new ways of doing things can flourish. Are there ways of managing companies that reconcile the (conflicting?) demands of classical aesthetics with those of creativity?

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Mbjerk, I was afraid of that :P

Brendan, I would find it very disturbing if directors of what they still call "ballet companies" believe that "creativity" and "ballet" is an oxymoron. This is something that modern dancers have said for years. "WE are creative; we invent movement. THEY are stupid and dull; they cannot invent movement, they get it from a book." And this is a complete misunderstanding of what ballet is.

The great neoclassical choreographers of the past century took ballet's language and used it "creatively." That's what needs to be done today, instead of trying to turn every ballet company in the world into a contemporary dance company. They are two different genres. This doesn't mean that "Swan Lake" is the only possible definition of ballet -- that's another dead end.

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Well, I can't say I'd object to a new staging of Laurencia or La Vestale...;).

By the way, Balanchine, Bournonville, and Petipa were all dancers, so I can't really say I agree that ballet training intrinsically stifles creativity. All dancing is creative to some extent, whether you're Shade #37 or improvising a solo. To be a successful dancer (or any type of artist), one must by nature be a creative person. If you don't dance very well, you might stay in the corps for a long time, but if you dance like a robot, you won't get into the company. (On second thought, considering the way ballet is performed these days...:rolleyes: )

PS: Oops, Alexandra, we must have been posting at the same time.

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Hans, I was just copying over a post you made on the Repertory: what should ballet companies dance? thread:

Hans wrote:

I agree entirely, Alexandra and Rachel. One thing that bothers me is the widespread (though fortunately not universal) notion that "choreography" means "not ballet." Of the choreography classes I've had, one was particularly excellent in helping the members of the class to concentrate on something specific and express it through movement--any movement we chose. Another was horrifying--we were encouraged not to blend music and movement to communicate an idea but rather to "break free" of classical restraint and "open up." The "choreography" (it pains me to type the word in such a context) consisted of conjuring up the two weirdest poses we could think of and moving between them for eight counts of silence. When we'd thought up our movements, improvised music was arbitrarily applied to the surface. The resulting "dances" were devoid of meaning, incoherent, and amazingly boring. I suspect the teacher might have meant for us to come up with subjects to express on our own, but the most advice she offered was something like "try using more round shapes in your dance." Not terribly inspiring.  

Another thing that offends me at ballet schools is the "something for everyone" method of class schedules. You get a ballet class in the morning, then jazz, modern, spanish, character, and maybe men's, pointe, or a pas de deux class that usually features more contortion and weight-lifting than anything remotely relating to art--because "not everyone wants to be a ballet dancer." This prompts two questions from me: Why, then, do they go to a school with "ballet" in the title? (It's one thing if you're twelve and you like ballet but think tap is fun too--not that they're necessarily mutually exclusive--but serious ballet training must begin somewhere.) And "What about those who do want to be ballet dancers? Do we get mime classes, music lessons, or unbiased dance history?" No. I don't mean that one person can't have lessons in modern and ballet; in fact, I think they should, but it does a disservice, as Alexandra said, to ballet and modern (and musical theatre, and jazz &c.) to turn everybody into a jack-of-all trades, master of none. It is high time to look at what that system really accomplishes, and I'm glad we are, even if ballet companies aren't (much).  

*takes deep breath, tries to pull wildly off-topic post back to repertory*

In other words, what I'm trying to say is that until dancers are trained to perform ballet intelligently--that is, with an understanding of its history, music, &c--I don't really see how we can expect companies not to take an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to repertoire. It's simply what their dancers have been trained to do, and especially considering that most artistic directors are former dancers, they're just doing what they think the public wants and continuing what they've learned from their training--that ballet is old (& therefore irrelevant) and unprofitable, and not just in the financial sense.  

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Alexandra, I did not mean to imply that the language of ballet was somehow inferior to that of contemporary dance. I simply do not believe that.

However it is the case in the other arts, and in business, that in heavily prescriptive cultures, characterised by unyielding discipline, lack of independence of thought, and a punitive attitude to failure, you simply do not have creativity.

Perhaps the heart of the discussion is this: that cultures that are very functional in terms of the disciplined reproduction of the master-works may not be very good for choreographers. Ballet choreographers have to grow through and emerge from the ballet system. But that system may be problematic for creativity.

In music, creative and interpretative artists have quite different formations. Might there be a case for something of this in ballet?

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Alexandra wrote:

"WE are creative; we invent movement. THEY are stupid and dull; they cannot invent movement, they get it from a book." And this is a complete misunderstanding of what ballet is.

Exactly. It's like saying writers aren't creative because they don't invent words.

As in my post that Alexandra quoted above, I believe the lack of creativity today has more to do with an equivalent lack of education--those involved in the dance community don't know where ballet has been, so how can they figure out where to take it next? This is very different from the education of a musician or painter--they learn about the histories of their arts and so have perspective on where they stand relative to how they got there. As for the highly disciplined nature of ballet, all the arts are like that--and in music for example, many composers have also been celebrated interpreters of others' works. As far as culture goes, it is true that disciplinarian governments tend to squash art, but such an environment can also drive people to create.

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I disagree. I do not believe that ballet is somehow exempt from the conditions that govern the emergence of creativity in other areas of life. Dancers are taught, by and large, to execute movement with great precision. They are not taught, in the main, to be playful with ideas. If you do not acquire this playfulness when young, it is rather unlikely that you will acquire it later.

Most of the directors at Snape accepted that the art has a crisis of creativity and that it is heavily reliant on a relatively narrow rep. When I was a producer with the BBC, one of the organisation's senior managers told me after a visit to 3M that she was astonished to find that a commercial organisation should be thinking more systematically about its creativity, than was one of the most important broadcasting organisations in the world.

There is a well-sourced body of evidence for the conditions that support the emergence of creativity. All I was attempting to do in my earlier postings was to draw some attention to this. Indeed the organisers of the ballet summit were themselves open to the possibilities of learning from others' experiences. A former professor from the London Business School was among the few outsiders to be at the conference all weekend. By all accounts, the artistic directors found his interventions immensely helpful.

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