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Globalisation? or Americanisation?


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i've got a feeling the question that underlies this thread topic is a really dumb one...

- too obvious to talk about, maybe.

but then again, maybe not?

i don't know, so i'll put it up

- and if you all laugh at me, i'll take it down! ;)

i have been thinking about the term 'globalisation', as applied to ballet - quite frequently here, in recent weeks. it occurred to me that what we have in the world of ballet today is americanisation, rather than globalisation...

i mean: compare it to food... all over the world today, in western countries (which is all i have personal knowledge of), you can get McDonalds and Burger King and Baskin Robbins and Haagen Daz - but you can also get 'Chinese" and 'Japanese' and 'Italian' and 'Mexican', etc etc...

in ballet, the ideal female dancer now is what USED TO BE the (US) balanchine ballerina - tall, leggy, slim, pretty, energetic, colt-like. the ideal male dancer therefore 'has to' be taller, to complement her as a 'cavalier'.

ACTUAL balanchine works are in companies everywhere. i imagine some of you are thinking 'so are ashton's' or 'so are cranko's' or whatever...but surely not to the same extent?

the balletic choreography we have today, over so much of the world, is more INFLUENCED by balanchine's (in particular) than it is by ashton's or cranko's or macmillan's or bournonville's or van manen's, etc etc.

so - should it be narrowed even further? do we mean the 'balanchinisation' of ballet, all over the world - rather than its 'americanisation'? (i don't think so, myself - but i'm not sure i can explain why...)

what do others think?

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I agree to some extent, but I have a few observations.

In the 1950s, by video evidence, the dominant Western style was the English -- Fonteyn was the ideal.

In the 1970s, when I began watching ballet, there were two ideals: Makarova and Farrell. The ballerina silhouette began to change. I think for classical companies, it changed from Fonteyn's proportions to Makarova's. And at City Ballet, Farrell became the ideal, although not in companies that did the 19th century classics.

While you didn't see Farrell imitators at ABT or the Royal, you did see the ideal of the ballerina change to what Grace describes. I would do this as an experiment when I taught "dance appreciation." I'd ask the class -- which believe me, knew absolutely nothing about dance -- to describe a ballerina. They had no idea. So I'd say, "Tall or short? Long legs or short legs? Very thin or merely slender? Small head or large head? Long neck or short neck? etc." They'd unanimously come up with tall, long legged, thin, small headed long necked woman. As anyone familiar with NYCB will be quick to point out, this did not describe all of Balanchine's female dancers (including Farrell, who had hips!) by any means. But it was the idea people had of his dancers.

The next ballerina ideal was Sylvie Guillem. That's when the high-kicking, ballerina as gymnast started. And companies came up with their own versions of Guillem -- meaning they select dancers who meet the current technical or physical ideal. Bussell at the Royal, Zakharova at the Kirov.

Put men into the equation and it gets more complicated. The Russian male ideal moved from the heroic to the lyrical after they began to tour in the West and were pronounced stout. Both City Ballet and ABT always had tall and short. At present, the men at both companies are, on the whole, quite short. (And many seem still to be dancing "after-Baryshnikov.") In England, Dowell was the ideal, and that's gotten lost somehow.

So I'm not sure that Balanchinization means globalization. I think it's more complicated than that. I think there's a gentle ebb and flow of influences. Forsythe is a big influence now -- on dancers, if not on the general public here (although I realize he's a much greater force in Europe).

Right now, I'd argue there isn't a World's Best Company that everyone is imitating.

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I think Alexandra hit's the nail on the head with media influencing a lot. Considering American ballet, is derived from all the others, I don't know that's it an americanization that's occurring.

Right now it seems every company has "gimmicks" whether it's dancers who jump the highest or have the most exaggerated extensions, or like City Ballet has coming in the spring, we have an actor narrating (Wheeldon's new piece with John Lithgow)

The Balanchine Trust ensures some "standards" by which it's performed and it's probably cheaper to do something that's already considered "successful" as opposed to trying to come up with something new to sell tickets.

In most of the large companies, I feel the basic goal is to make money, not art. Which is quite capitalistic.

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grace, if you had written this 4 or 5 years ago I would have agreed with you, in terms of repertoire if not of dancer-type. But I get the feeling that there has been a change recently and that 'globalisation' is begiining to come much more from two different sources: the popularity of long story ballets like Manon and Onegin, and of more recent choreographers such as Duato.

(Incidentally, Alexandra, I don't see Bussell's success as owing anything to Guillem - she was already in the touring RB before Guillem had ever been seen in London, and her talent was so obvious it wouldn't have mattered what shape she was!)

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I think the globalisation of repertory is a different issue from the globalization of body type, and I agree wiith Jane that the current wave is of story ballets and duatodance, or after-Kylian works (faux classics and not-ballet, as I usually put it). I think the case could be made that the dominant choreographer in the sense of having th emost influence is MacMillan. He's won the MacMillan/Cranko battle in the sense that it is his version of Romeo and Juliet that predominates. One could argue that the story ballet traces from the gradual popularity of "Manon" (although I found a piece by John Martin written in 1956 that says Ashton's "Romeo and Juliet" is a fine example of 19th century princples of classical ballet reworked in a 20th century form, and that "50 years from now, when the story ballet" is again dominant, we can trace its rise to "Romeo.") But there is also the MacMillanization of the classics -- at ABT, for example, Siegfried now has a court Bad Girl to entice him. Bathilde's characterization in their "Giselle" owes more to "Manon" than Giselle.

I didn't mean to doubt Bussell's talent, just to point out that, with those high extensions, she's in the Guillem mode. I think it's a question of directors picking people and also encouraging certain things. If the dominant ballerina was a superb turner, or known for her modest demeanor, the same dancers who are stars today would be dancing differently, I think. (Except the Very Great Stars, who'd do their own thing no matter what.)

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i am just exploring this idea - not agreeing or disagreeing with anyone who has posted, but rather just teasing out the threads of what seems to be in my brain...

when the world speaks of globalisation, in general, it is often a code-word for americanisation: the fall of communism/the rise of capitalism and of economic rationalism, an expectation of at least the APPEARANCE of democratic values, an opportunistic get-rich-quick culture where the strong thrive and the weak struggle, a rise in social violence, too-early teenagerhood, wild-child behaviour/'freedom' and 'creativity' in child-raising rather than discipline, fast-foods, easy divorce, multiple marriages, celebrities as role models, etc etc. don't get me wrong - i have lived in america and loved it, and i still love americans as individuals (although i'm not too hot on their foreign policy) - so this ISN'T mean to 'bag' american traits - just to enumerate SOME of the aspects which we DO think of, when we list american influences which are now accepted as commonplace, around the world.

when we think of the ballet image that is now accepted around the world, it has more in common with the (balanchinean) american ballerina image than with any other country's.

who do stereotypical 'ballerinas' look like now? fonteyn? seymour?chauvire? jeanmaire? haydee? gregory? kain? - not really. but farrell: YES!

bussell just happened to arrive at the right time, and as jane says was well-established, in english public taste, well before guillem was allowed into the country - let alone 'the' company! they look similar, in retrospect - but bussell established the taste for long-leggedness in the RB. guillem was a co-incidental beneficiary of that taste.

but both are an amplification of the farrell ideal. +, as alexandra says, the athleticism/gymnastic style.

i agree that forsythe is a driver of choreographic taste in recent times, but HIS base was balanchine and, by his own admission, the 'speed' and brashness of america...

still just playing with the idea... :)

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I think you need to separate out the swats at what you consider American culture and day to day life from the aesthetics of ballet. And I take issue with many of your swats at what is typical American culture but that discussion doesn't belong here. (There are a lot of capitalists in Europe and Australia too!) What does child rearing or divorce rates have to do with globalization of anything except to put down what your definition is of what American culture is? And wild quick maturing teens?

If anything a majority of Americans have never been to a ballet and look down on it as elitist and part of the hoity toity high arts. That topic has been gone over before. Now if you talked about Super Bowl fever sweeping the world in a global sweep you may have an argument for that is American to its core. We have also had discussions on whether there are really American themed ballets--the list was short even for Balanchine. I don't think you can call Balanchine American--he is Balanchine who happened to open a ballet company in New York.

What is the perfect ballet body? It follows trends...who are the dominant choreographers and what do they look for? That is how the Balanchine ballerina was born.

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oh dear - dancermom has taken offence.

i agree with you, myself, dancermom, that some of the above-listed things aren't necessarily 'american' or ONLY american. i am not 'swatting' - not at all. these things are big big issues - not swattable! most of them ARE, however, things people in the rest of the world think of, when they think of american culture, and the aspects of it that are copied in their own countries. as you suggest, australia is a very good example. it used to be based on english culture - when i was born and raised, way back in the dark ages - but these days, it is considered - by australians - to be 'very american'. (as alexandra says, this is said to be due to the influence of the media.)

i agree with you that it is best to leave aside any debates as to whether my descriptions of american influences are fully accurate. regardless of that, i'm sure you DO have an image of what 'america' and americanisation might mean, to other cultures...

(and they might perhaps be stereotypic things, just as one might think of THE australian as being a roughly spoken leather-skinned beer-swilling paul hogan wrestling a crocodile while wearing a cork-brimmed hat...)

if we go back to the issue of ballet, can you see what i am getting at?

i DO think that balanchine IS american ballet. OK: he is dead. and there is FAR MORE to american ballet than balanchine - always was. BUT - his style became synonomous with ballet in america, for the rest of the world.

does that help understanding?

mel - forsythe said that himself, so i didn't question his own view of his own influences....or are you querying whether forsythe is an influence on choreographic taste today?

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Grace, I'm not sure I understand what you're saying (or exploring :) ). Is it that the Balanchine ideal is sweeping the world (an idea I'd challenge, anyway) because he was American? Do you think that if he'd stayed in France, for instance, and developed his own company there, that his influence would be less powerful? Are you concerned with globalization because it eradicates differences among local traditions, or because it's the American behemoth imposing itself on other cultures?

Off the topic somewhat, you also mention that Australian culture used to be based on English culture (as was true of all former British colonies, including the US). Don't you think that could be called the Anglicization of the indiginous cultures?

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oh gosh, ari - too many questions!

but: GOOD ones! ;)

"Anglicisation"? YES!

re balanchine:

"Do you think that if he'd stayed in France, for instance, and developed his own company there, that his influence would be less powerful?"
fascinating thought! instant response: YES! but then...hmm....a topic for another thread, methinks. :)
"Is it that the Balanchine ideal is sweeping the world "
well, no - that's not what i'm asking - although you COULD re-phrase it that way - but then it becomes narrower, and more dated.

i suppose what i am asking is, similarly to what alexandra has posted (in another thread): that there is probably a concensus, when the word 'globalisation' is used, re politics or culture or anything else in the everyday stream of things, that it is almost synonomous with Americanisation. going on from there, when we talk of 'globalisation' in BALLET, are we talking of Americanisation? i am inclined to think we are - but others may hold other views. that is what i am trying to clarify - even for myself - to see whether i REALLY do think that - or if i am just a bit mixed up about it!

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(This is the post Grace referred to "from another thread" which has been now moved to this one : ) )

I'd just like to put in a quick word, not just for this thread but for cross-cultural discussions generally. We'll never be able to have a discussion if people keep "taking offense" every time someone attempts to make a generalization about a country or culture. Ithink we should take comments in the spirit in which they were made. If they were intenced to be an insult, "You Martians are greedy stupid pigs!" then please take offense -- if you get the chance to do so before I delete the comments. But if someone is innocently trying to explain what he or she means and uses a cultural example I'd suggest we take it for what it is. This has come up in discussions about Russians, the French, the Irish, the English, Austrailians, and New Yorkers in the past year or so. Truce, please :)

Golden rule of the internet: No matter what you write will be misread by somebody. And no matter how offensive you think something is, there's a very good chance the person writing it didn't mean it that way.

What is Americanization? I think there's a consensus even on the American media that there's an Americanization of culture -- our pop music and films, blue jeans and McDonalds have spread around the world, and our economic system of efficiency and eocnomies of scale are what are usually referred to in the general press when discussing "internationalization." And in the general American media -- newspapers and TV -- I think "Americanization," "globalization" and "internationalization" are used interchangeably. Now, this may be a very Americentric view of things.......

Now, back to ballet :)

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Now I'm even more confused about your topic, Grace. In your first post, you wrote:

in ballet, the ideal female dancer now is what USED TO BE the (US) balanchine ballerina - tall, leggy, slim, pretty, energetic, colt-like. the ideal male dancer therefore 'has to' be taller, to complement her as a 'cavalier'.

ACTUAL balanchine works are in companies everywhere. . . . the balletic choreography we have today, over so much of the world, is more INFLUENCED by balanchine's (in particular) than it is by ashton's or cranko's or macmillan's or bournonville's or van manen's, etc etc.

But in your last post you said that you didn't mean that the Balanchine ideal is sweeping the world (as I'd rephrased what I thought you said).

So, in what way do you see ballet as having become globalized/Americanized? I'm just trying to understand your point. :confused:

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Globalisation/Americanization/etc. is usually about simplification. We (at least those of us who don't live in the USA) often use it to describe something that reaches to the lowest common denominator. Perhaps the fashion world wide for abstract ballets (a.k.a. (a long way) after Balanchine), after-Kylian, Forsythe etc. is because you need to work only (!!) on technique and not on style (in the sense of a Company style), and at present the standard of technique is such that it has now become a fairly low common denominator. This can also explain the dearth of what Alexandra calls demi-charactere ballets - new and old. In a strange way I think it can also explain why full legth ballets based on well known books are successful - one the audience knows the plot, you don't have to work so hard at teh demi-charactere/atmospheric part of the ballet.

Hope the (very rushed) above makes some sense.

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I'd argue that Balanchine may actually be an aberration in the American style of ballet as it develops, rather than the archetype. During the Ford Foundation era his company was the model, but that's shifting to a much more eclectic repertory style and company profile that is exemplified by the Joffrey Ballet. I think the Balanchine style dominated solely by the quality of the output, but I'd venture to say that the non-narrative nature of it, and the formality of a large part of the repertory is alien to the temperament of the country. Whatever my own preferences are, if I had to name the most "American" ballet company, I would say it would be the aggressively populist Joffrey.

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If Forsythe feels that his base is Balanchine, then his self-image is even farther outside his actual self than I previously imagined. People laughed when Stravinsky said that he stole from Mozart, but you can go into his works, and find the quotes - he was telling the truth. Forsythe's æsthetic is based, if anywhere, in Hans van Manen, except there aren't many of those nasty old academic steps that just confuse you.

As to being a "force" in ballet, I would call him just notorious; another ladler-out of eurotrash, but then that seems to be hot these days.

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Balanchine may be an aberration in the development of American ballet, as you write, however he definitely has influenced the global style of ballet. Oddly enough, it is the very features that you point out as unamerican (not in the McCarthey way, obviously) such as non-narrative and formalism which have been picked up by ballet companies around the world. [Just as the American ethos is about individualism and self-realisation and everybody ends up eating Big Macs.]


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Regarding Forsythe, I think the links to van Manen and to other European sources are apt but I still think an association from Forsythe to Balanchine can be made as well whatever one thinks of the results. It's not consistent, and I think he uses that style of work more when he works for other companies (NYCB with Behind the China Dogs, POB with In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated) than his own where something like The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude is more of an anomaly than the norm, but I still think Balanchine can be counted as one of Forsythe's antecedents. Along with van Manen, Pina Bausch, club dancing, Robert Wilson. . .

GWTW - I wonder if Balanchine's influence on other nations was similar to what I described before - something so accepted as the standard that everyone followed it. . .for a time. When I go abroad (admittedly, I certainly don't go everywhere) or read other company's repertories, his influence seems to be waning. Even where the ballets are being acquired (as in Russia) I'm not sure I see them influencing the choreography being currently made. Russia seems to have a strong expressionist streak, with Eifman and the Chemiakin productions where the choreography is subservient to design. For what it's worth, it seems to me that the dominant influences outside of America include Bejart and Kylian (via Duato) more than Balanchine. I'm not enjoying saying this at all, but I think Balanchine's influence may be on the wane. The trend is much more sensational and expressionist today.

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This is becoming fascinating :)

GWTW, I think you nailed it. "American" has come to mean "least common denominator" or "very populist," depending on one's point of view -- here we just call it "modernization." (To see how far we've come/fallen, try to get ahold of a McGuffey's Reader from 100 years ago, and see what 12 year olds then were expected to comprehend.)

I'd vote with Mel on Forsythe. I've never seen anything Balanchinian there. I don't think of the work as "abstract" as much as "sterile." Alonso King, I'm told, thinks of himself as a Balanchinian, too. Perhaps in his sense of modernism, but that's it.

But I do agree with Leigh that the Joffrey model is now the pre-eminent one -- I've written this before, as well. I first noticed it when I started doing the print version of Ballet Alert! I do a preview issue, and look at the repertories across the country. When I started it, in 1996, I thought that regional companies were imitation-NYCBs. That's the conventional wisdom, stemming partly from the Ford Foundation grants that went to NYCB-related companies, and partly, I think, from the East Coast assumption that everything is derived from Balanchine :) But neither Balanchine's aesthetic nor his ballets are that much in evidence now.

20 or 30 years ago, Balanchine ballets were the classics of small companies. They'd dance "Serenade" and "Concerto Barocco" for the same reasons that ABT once danced "Swan Lake Act II" and "Les Sylphides." It kept the company's technique rigorous, it identified it as a classical ballet company. (Lucia Chase wrote about the importance of this when Ballet Theatre first went to Europe. If we'd only brought our Americana ballets, she wrote, we would not have been considered a classical company.)

Now, Balanchine is not the core. Almost every company has one Balanchine work a season, but few have one work on each program, which was the old model.

What's the Joffrey Model? What's a Joffreyesque company?

1. An eclectic repertory, which means partly classical ballet, partly pop ballet, and partly modern dance or crossover (which Joffrey pioneered). Unfortunately, the part of the Joffrey repertory that was the most revererd (by critics if not audiences, anyway), those revivals, the shelter and care he gave to choreographers like Massine and Ashton, is not part of the equation now.

2. A generally even division among men and women, rather than the mini-Royal Ballet one would have seen in the 1970s, with more women than men, enough women to make a corps for "Swan Lake II."

3. An emphasis on trendy works (Joffrey started trends; Joffreyesque companies follow them) pitched to young audiences.

4. Populist, in the sense that it's not a repertory aimed at connoisseurs.

5. A mix of body types -- NOT the tall, thin, aloof pinhead/bunhead ballerina at all. Joffreyesque companies allow a wider range of body types and are not after one particular body type to set a company image.

6. Budget-conscious ballet. Small-scale works, taped music (which was why companies first turned to pop music, I'd suggest.)

And that, to me, is the globalization/Americanization of ballet.

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hmm...i don't feel informed enough to step back into my own debate, now! these posts touch on quite wide-ranging issues.

just to clarify, after i confused ari.

in your last post you said that you didn't mean that the Balanchine ideal is sweeping the world
what i meant was that your re-wording (overly) narrowed what i was trying to say. that's all.

globalisation as "simplification" - never thought of it that way!

lots of interesting ideas here - many of which i agree with. for those who are talking about how balanchine WAS the big deal internationally, but is no longer - i agree with you. i too feel we have moved on from that. but we did not throw it all out and go in another direction entirely - we *accepted* some of the things he was famous for/associated with (like the body type) - and have now moved forward on top of that (i think).

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I think, unfortunately, what many people "got" from Balanchine was a simplified message:

1. "Just dance it dear" (meaning, in the simplification, "Whatever you do, don't move a muscle in your face, and don't think")

2. Put steps to music, call it by the name of the composition, and you have a balanchineballet

3. Costumes and sets are unnecessary -- and it's so much cheaper without them!!!

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i am still mulling this one over, in the background, and am grateful for the insights offered here.

in another thread, the word 'homogenisation' came up.

what a great word! very useful.

this will help me explain my initial question.

i was thinking that the word 'globalisation', if taken literally, implies that things 'from all over the globe' get picked up, or get spread, 'all over the globe'. this could be likened to homogenisation - where different things get all thrown in the pot together, and stewed till it all comes out the same.

whereas 'americanisation' implies that (only) american things get spread all over the world.

this is what i was getting at with my initial query: in ballet, do we really have a homogenised form of ballet, or homogenised fashion in ballet, spread everywhere?

or do we have what are essentially (stereotypically considered to be) "american" fashions/tastes/characteristics, spread everywhere?

still thinking...

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Interesting points -- and I think the distinction you make, grace, between "globalis/zation" and "Americanis/zation" is a good one.

I think if we look at history there has always been a fluidity, and a dominant influence that filters down throughout the dance world, from the spectacles of the de Medicis, through the great Italian turners, and down to today's high kickers.

I think there are other aspects of American ballet -- managerial ones, fundraising ones -- that will begin to filter round the globe, too, as ballet becomes more and more expensive and governments become less and less interested in funding it.

I've already said so much on this thread that I don't want to say more -- others, please :D

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I think the "Balanchinization" has more to do with the fact that, say what you will about his choreography, but the guy was PROLIFIC. His ballets number well into the triple digits, even when you subtract the "lost" ones. Of these, a large number are still being performed, much larger number-wise than any other single dead choreographer, just because the volume of his work is so large that there is just more probability of bumping into something of his.

But globalization is nothing new. The Italians in Russia, Bournonville's connection to France, the Ballet Russe in Paris and Western Europe and their influence on the dance scene there, even Mr. Americanization himself, George Balanchine, were foreigners imposing their own dance traditions on the local dancers. And Balanchine, it should be noted, got plenty "Russkie go home" stuff in his earlier days in the US. I wouldn't rush to stick Forsythe into this pantheon, but what he's doing isn't new or shocking or damaging at all, at least not any more than anyone before him, if nothing else in terms of the idea of a foreigner choreographing on natives of his--or her--adopted country. I think the better term is "homogenization," and there is a thread from about a year ago, I think, called "National Ballet of Anywhere" which addresses this topic.

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