Jump to content
This Site Uses Cookies. If You Want to Disable Cookies, Please See Your Browser Documentation. ×

Repertory: what should ballet companies dance?

Recommended Posts

A poster on another thread expressed a view not often found here, but one held by many people, and this is that ballet is a living art and must not stand still [few would disagree with that] and so should dance works by..... fill in from a list that would include modern or crossover choreographers (Morris, Cunningham, Taylor, Tharp, Tetley, Forsythe) as well as younger artists in those genres. It's sometimes said that ballet companies should acquire good works no matter what they are, and sometimes that ballet has been replaced by modern and contemporary dance and that companies should keep dancing Petipa, Balanchine, Ashton, Tudor, etc., but look for new repertory from the modern dance and contemporary field. And some would throw out anything not staged by a living choreographer.

What do you think? Where should ballet companies look for repertory? If you think there should be a mix, what should it be?

Link to comment

This is going to sound mealy-mouthed, but as I was walking home tonight, I was thinking about this, and what I came up with was that there was a a lot more latitude in what you grow in your garden as long as you tend it well. Of course, growing too many water loving plants and not enough shade trees or what have you means your garden is not well-tended, so. . .

I'm not a believer in dancers doing what they don't have training in, but I also think the repertory depends on the situation. Right now, a lot of smaller companies do not have the situation to do the classics adequately, even though that is what their market demands. I'd argue that the more vibrant the dance community in a city, the more a company can specialize; and the smaller the community, the more it should diversify. So that a municipal company that's the only game in town has to be all things to all patrons (not my idea of a good time, but I understand the need.)

Repertory also needs to be a function of what the dancers need, as well. The painful reality of most regional companies in America is you get to do a ballet three or four times. Then it's gone. If you're a male in the corps in a regional company, and they're bringing in Giselle, and you're not Albrecht, Hilarion or in the Peasant Pas, you are carrying wheat. And you're rehearsing it for a month for three performances. From a director's standpoint, this doesn't mean that Giselle should not be done, but it means you've got to try and find something for the men to do at another time to keep them engaged. Or the women who are itching to do something other than a swan or a wili. There's way too little money involved to not try and keep your dancers happy. If this means a few unorthodox choices, I think there is value as long as the core strengths of a company and the dancers are not neglected.

Link to comment

Leigh wrote that repertory needed to be varied and: "If this means a few unorthodox choices, I think there is value as long as the core strengths of a company and the dancers are not neglected."

For me, that's the key. But it still presupposes that the only thing in the firmament is either "Giselle" or contemporary dance -- a reality in some companies, yes, but is it necessary? I don't think so. Sorry always to brinig up the BAT guys (Balanchine-Ashton-Tudor) but when they were in their heyday, the dancers were "fed" by them and most of them were happy (even carrying wheat! Reading Sono Osato's book was an eye-opener for me. She was totally fulfilled working on one of the Lovers in Experience with Tudor in Pillar, a role that today probably goes to first-year corps dancers with sultry eyes.)

Why are choreographers not using the language of ballet to create new works? Why has "new" come to be equated with "modern dance" or "contemporary dance"?

Link to comment

Obviously, I think there can also be ballet that's new, or I wouldn't be trying to make it, and I wouldn't be here - but to expand on my point for the sake of discussion:

Thinking about it, what makes an art form rich in the long term for me is that every generation adds in to it. It's an additive process, and yes, some subtraction occurs from the press of history. Each generation makes its translation of the Iliad into English, the Fagles translation came after the Lattimore, but didn't utterly supplant it. Still, only a few people now read Alexander Pope's version from several centuries ago. Fewer still can read The Iliad in the original Greek; the language is no longer vernacular, but has become the province of specialists. It's been cut off by history, not an erosion. People spoke Greek 2000 years ago. That language is now not spoken in that form by anyone.

I think some of the issues with ballet (and opera as well) come from the fact that time has slowly moved them further away from the vernacular. No, no one ever did ballet in the street, but several of its steps sifted upwards from folk dance into the dancing at court. And people actually danced at court. In the 20th century, Balanchine was able to find elements of social and theatrical dance of his time, particularly jazz, that could be incorporated into ballet without changing its essential character. Like the Fagles translation, it was a way of adding what that time and milieu had to offer into a tradition.

People don't do social dances at present, it's not part of society and that provided an important link from vernacular to the concert art form. A different process with a similar result, recorded music technology meant that people did not make music at home, or learn to play an instrument. Classical music got cut off from the vernacular as well.

Obviously I'm pro ballet, but I'd argue the reason that we see more modern or contemporary work is that the vernacular feeds more easily into it. Not that ballet can't be danced to music that has more links to music people hear every day, but contemporary dance does it all the time. The very name of the style implies that it's "of its time". Ballet is getting cut off from the cultural milieu it's set in, and I don't think it's entirely ballet's fault. It may be a function of history, and we may have to see where the sands shift again.

Link to comment

I don't know anyone who argues that ballet should be what it was at the time of its founding; of course it evolves -- naturally, as time changes (as opposed to turned upside down on its ear and kicked, etc.).

I agree with Leigh's point on ballet moving away from the vernacular -- it's the central problem of 20th century art (not to sound too much like Tom Wolfe). Serious literature is written by university professors for other university professors. Experimental dance is done in lofts to an audience of other choreographers. Audiences listen to pop music because serious music is unintelligible to those who are not serious students of music. (None of these are original points, all are made constantly in articles about art.)

But aren't classical/pop ballet and classical/contemporary ballet-dance two different subjects? All contemporary dance is not pop. All pop ballet is not contemporary dance.

Is the only way for ballet to evolve to turn into pop dance? Ashton and Balanchine both used pop elements and made ballets out of them (Several Ashton variations are based on social dance: the pas de quatre in Swan Lake -- the cha-cha and the charleston; the Mexican hat dance solo in Devil's Holiday, for example; Balanchine, of course, used jazz elements. But they made BALLETS with these elements.)

What seems to be happening -- despite the Diamond Project, which has as its stated objective creating new works using the classical vocabulary -- that new works start and stop with the pop material, that the emphasis is on "new movement," the modern dance idea of making up your own movement vocabulary, rather than the ballet one of using the existing vocabulary -- yes, of course, in different ways, by each artist and in each generation, but using it.

Link to comment
Guest Ballaweenie5

I think all ballet companies should do classical ballets because when they get into all the new contemporary pieces, its just doing jazz on pointe. When people start calling it ballet it takes away the main purpose ballet was enjoyed. I think they should make just separate companies for contemporary ballets or at least just include some contemporary pieces. When the artistic directors and dance teachers make up ballets, I think that's cool. I don't know I guess to sum it up, I love classical ballets a lot more!:)

Link to comment

I disagree that all contemporary ballet is just "jazz on pointe". I will give you that most of it is and therefore most of it is dismal, but not ALL of it is, and the stuff that isn't can be really very good.

I think it is important to have a balance, though I do think that some companies really should just do classical repertory or contemporary because their dancers are skewed in one direction or another. So maybe I should amend my first statement to: Companies should have a balance of classical and contemporary ballets, if they have the dancers and rehearsal staff to support that.

I've said before and I'll say again that I think having a ballet made on you is an essential experience in the full and total development of a dancer as an artist, but I do agree that there has been some really bleak work made in the last few decades by mediocre choreographers who really had no business working with major ballet companies. I wish today's Artistic Directors could better assess a choreographer's abilities before they actually invest in them.

Link to comment

I think that ballet companies should perform neo-classical ballet. Repertory should be based on the fundamental ballet language, but should incorporate new ideas that reflect the present time, hence allowing ballet to evolve.

Many ballet companies are using modern dance instead of neo-classical ballet in their repertory. More modern pieces are being created than ballets that reflect our time. If the evolution of ballet is abandoned, ballet will eventually become the original Greek Illiad.

It seems that new choreographers tend to be more interested in devising entirely new movement than using already established terminology. Has the evolution of ballet halted with the death of Balanchine? Of course there are many choreographers whose work both reflects the modern day and is based on classical terminology: Martins, Forsythe, etc. But are there not enough new ideas to allow ballet to evolve successfully?


Link to comment

Welcome, Rachel! And thank you for posting that. (And thanks, too, to Ballaweenie5 for reviving this thread!) I am absolutely thrilled to have newer posters chime in, on any side of this issue.

I agree wholeheartedly. I think ballet got off-track when it turned to modern dance for repertory instead of developing choreogaphers from within the discipline for all the reasons Rachel stated. I also think -- as several people, including me, have mentioned here before -- that the result has been unfortunate for modern dance as well. Rather than starting their own companies and experimenting with a personal language over a long period of time, modern dance choreographers take a few moves and try to graft them onto ballet dancers. The fact thast modern dancers take ballet classes to "improve" their technique hasn't helped.

I'm for a vibrant modern dance AND ballet scene. But Rachel is right -- if ballet doesn't start creating new ballets, it will become a dead language.

Link to comment

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.

Addendum: Yes, there are ballet schools out there that do an admirable job of training ballet dancers, but they are unfortunately few and far between, and are often either thought of as crumbling away or insignificant in terms of widespread influence.

Link to comment

I agree completely with Hans, especially regarding the hodge-podge of dance genres in ballet schools. The idea behind the introduction of other dance styles, is that a ballet dancer needs to be well rounded to have a professional dance career.

Of course some dance forms do aid one in dancing certain ballets. It's good to know how to waltz if you are dancing Balanchine's Vienna Waltzes. If you are to dance a feasible Street Dancer in Don Quixote, it might be beneficial to understand the flair of flamenco.

However, emphasis isn't placed on modern dance training in ballet schools so that you can execute a proper contraction in one of Balanchine's works. Modern dance is studied because modern dance is an important part of a ballet company's repertory. The only reason that modern dance is in a ballet company's repertory is because no one has bothered to choreograph anything that is neo-classical. I find it hard to believe that we've gone as far as we can with ballet's evolution. All it needs is a little creativity. If I wasn't training to become a ballet dancer, I might try to choreograph something interesting that IS ballet related.


Link to comment
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...