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Contemporary dance replacing ballet, another angle

Ed Waffle

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I remembered a piece by Croce where she discussed Donn as a good candidate for the "man in trousers" (as opposed to "man in tights") roles in the Balanchine repertory, but couldn't find it in either "After Images" or "Going to the Dance." She did mention his debut in "Vienna Waltzes" in passing, though, calling it "tactful."

There were several good comments on this thread that I wanted to pick up. First, Ari's (that Estelle quoted, too):

By the same token, when an innovative choreographer premieres a new ballet, it's easy to see only its unusual aspects, and that may equate to "unclassical" in some people's eyes. So I get very uneasy when people start pigeonholing works of art as though there were clean, bright lines between categories that are always obvious.

I think the point Ari made that often only the unusual aspects are seen is very true -- often, too, it's only the surface aspects that are noticed. Some of the quotes in Rep in Review stressed that the classicism was under the surface. I'd also agree that there aren't clean, bright lines between categories, and that the ground is always shifting. But I don't think that means one abandons trying. Skimming through Rep in Review again this afternoon, I noticed the Butler and Cullberg ballets -- the crossover dance of their day -- were in rep, and there wasn't an outcry over this, just discussion of the works on their merits, or demerits. I think this was because the core of the company was so solidly ballet -- far too conservative for many -- that it wasn't an issue. They were novelties, taken in as an experiment, or to suit a dancer.

Leigh's comment about Four Ts ("The shapes and their plastique are distorted off the classical axis") made me think about how much we consider straight lines part of classicism today, but that wasn't always so. I think this is a post-1950 phenomenon, at least in Western ballet. There are off-center solos in bits of 19th century and early 20th century choreography -- the woman's solo in "La Vivandiere," the third man's solo in "Napoli Act III" -- and it's hard to find a straight line in the earlier photos of Bournonville ballet. In a grouping from Sylphide, Act I, for example, where the Sylph, James, Gurn and Madge are standing together, they're tilted, as though bent by a strong wind, and there are many other examples of this. And Fokine's axis was off-center; in "Les Sylphides," wrote Chase in Charles Payne's book on ABT, the sylphs tilt forward a bit, the spine is curved. I think the definition of classicism has become restrictive, as though it's only "Concerto Barocco" or "Shades." There's no room for the character classicism Barnes mentioned, though that was once a huge part of ballet -- and a way for ballet to deal with darker, inward looking contemporary material.

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I agree wholly with the statement that the definition of classicism has become restrictive, not allowing for character classicism. (see above)

As most of my work is with children, I see how they respond so well to nuances in character portrayed by the tiniest of changes in body-weight-placement or angle.

This sensitivity to the unspoken, and to extremely subtle movement, is probably inborn in us humans, and it is a shame to disregard this "language" when doing anything theatrical. (This is an ongoing discussion with some actors I know, who put far too much emphasis on the spoken word alone; perhaps the way some would put so much emphasis on the "classical ballet vocabulary" done in straight lines alone, being of the opinion that anything else is not "classical".)

Alexandra also wrote, further up the page:

"What about the original question, about the model that seems to be emerging in Europe of having one central classical ballet company and, rather than regional or satellite

classical companies, the rest of the country being

contemporary dance, for economic (production and ticket sales)

as well as artistic reasons? Is that a good model?"

I do not think that this model is working (here) as far as bringing in more audience and selling more tickets. On the contrary; it appears to be causing many to hand in their season-tickets in disgust or disappointment. Then it becomes much easier for the "powers that be" to decide to do away with the dance-sector of a municipal theatre entirely. ("See? No one is coming anyway!!") So, in my somewhat cynical view, perhaps this has been the motive all along for the politicians and those-who-decide.

Should there even be so many smaller ballet companies?

Personally, I would like to see it that way. Perhaps not in every city over 50,000; but at least in most cities over 100,000. They could support a smaller company which helps keep the art alive and is, to my mind, as important as music. Not all of these smaller companies can or do perform to a live orchestra. That is sad, but it is still better than not performing at all.

I have seen what happens when there is only one company (which dances classical ballet) in a large area. There ends up being NO ballet for most of the people who do not live in the main city.

The bigger companies hardly ever tour, and what family of more than two kids can afford to travel to another bigger town and pay for tickets? (besides the fact that performances are often mid-week....)

Another reason I prefer to have many smaller companies is that in this situation, there _is_ room for experimentation.

Many choreographers originated as ballet dancers in small, middle or large regional ballet companies; where they got a chance to try out their craft- often in rather different pieces than the "traditional ballets".

These so-called "young choreographer" performances are still a part of many companies, and are usually very well received by the public.

(I think someone mentioned these "workshops". The pieces are usually not taken into the regular rep., but are offered once or twice a season/year. For that amount, there is often a different audience, and sometimes there people come to the "regualar" performances as well.)


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Thank you for that, Diane. It's very interesting to have European perspectives, as so many who post here are Americans. I'm glad you've joined us and hope you post more :(

On the character classical issue, I think this may be partly because, as several people noted, it's often so hard to draw a clear line, and so, perhaps, we try to draw very hard and clear lines. To use Balanchine as an example, again, he used German expressionism, folk dance, modern dance, gymnastics, jazz dance -- any movement that interested him AND would suit the piece he was doing, but his works are ballet. Much contemporary dance -- almost all that I see -- picks a movement from here, and another from there, and the only purpose seems to be to be able to say "I go beyond ballet. I stand ballet on its ear," etc.

I was also interested in your comments on audience, company size and ticket sales. That is a dilemma. If the company isn't good, people won't come -- and I think people may be drawn in by whatever the marketeers sell them: it's all new! We've got a Big Star! or just good old See Swan Lake!. But if what their selling isn't good, people won't come back.

But people in small towns can't travel every weekend to see big city ballet, and if they don't see ballet, then ballet becomes more and more invisible.

The other solution is touring -- either the major companies touring the big cities, the smaller companies touring the towns in their regions. I think that's one of the things we're missing.

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Originally posted by Alexandra

But people in small towns can't travel every weekend to see big city ballet, and if they don't see ballet, then ballet becomes more and more invisible.

The other solution is  touring -- either the major companies touring the big cities, the smaller companies touring the towns in their regions. I think that's one of the things we're missing.

In fact, in many French cities, the only ballet companies that people get to see are companies from Russia, Ukraine or some other Eastern European countries. For example, the Ballet of Kiev seems to tour regularly in some middle-sized French cities, there are also various companies from Moscow but I don't know how big they are or which are their level. The production values often seem ot be not very high (taped music, old sets...) but at least people see some ballet. Probably those companies are more present because of economic factors, and also there is a large number of ballet companies in Russia; but also I remember reading some interviews of directors of French regional ballet companies complaining that for some theater directors,

ballet was associated with Russia, and so they'd rather hire any Russian company, even not very good, than hiring a French company (it was a few years ago, when there were more active ballet companies in France).

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I've moved a post by Alymer, about seeing a ballet danced by dancers from a different company or style, onto a thread of its own in aesthetic issues. It's a very interesting point, I think, and I didn't want it to get lost.

You can find it here http://www.balletalert.com/forum/showthrea...=&threadid=6896

Estelle, I hadn't thought of that aspect of it. To people in those towns, then, ballet might become "foreign" (which has been a problem in America) and further divorce people from its own tradition.

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