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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Changes at the ENB:


HullDancer

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Those companies you mention "peddling the classics" are doing sterling work, including visiting smaller regional theatres, with punishing touring schedules as they often only have one night in each place. However if classical ballet is to survive then it must do more than just look to the past. There has to be new work produced and performed - and audience appreciation developed.

 

Miss Rojo has said that she wants to bring in new works to the repertoire from established choreographers. ENB already works hard in their education and outreach departments, so I for one remain optimistic that there will be something to interest us all.

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You make it sound as if I say "peddling the classics" as a negative... far from it. That's my point, a lot of these small touring companies are doing fantastic business with just a handful of classic ballets, yet they are getting big audiences and are financially self-sustaining. Most importantly, they don't feel the need to "educate" the audience about ballet, which I think puts people of modern ballet the most, this concept that they have to be 'taught' to understand it. As an 'ignorant' ballet newcomer that's incredibly off-putting (education programmes for kids are another matter). But then this is the problem with all art forms, the snobs don't really want their art form to be accessible to the great unwashed, otherwise it ceases to be elitist.

 

Most ballet enthusiasts I know, came to the ballet world by the same route... traditional classics first. The pretty princess ballets whet their appetite, then once they are hooked they start looking at the likes of Giselle, or La Bayadere if they are feeling adventurous. Their first foray into what they think of as 'modern' ballet is usually neo-classical stuff by Balanchine or MacMillan, then if they are really looking for a challenge, they start taking an interest in the sort of work done by Northern Ballet, Rambert, Matthew Bourne et al. (This is speaking from a British perspective.)

 

I have yet to come across many people (other than serious dance enthusiasts) who truly enjoy contemporary ballet. I showed one of my classes a video of McGregor's Chroma for the Royal Ballet, and whilst the concensus of opinion was that it was amazing, they all admitted they wouldn't go and see something like that, yet they have all been to see a traditional tutu ballet. You say that if classical ballet is to survive that it has to do more than look to the past, but the facts (the ticket sales) say otherwise. What matters for audiences is entertainment value and traditional ballet offers that in spades.

 

There's a reason why the Royal Ballet chose a favourite like Romeo & Juliet to stage at the 02 arena... because the audience knows the story and they kind of know what to expect even if they have never seen a ballet before. The same with ENBs offerings at the Royal Albert Hall, they are chosen for their familiarity of plot and how they engage the audience, not because of their artistic values.

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Not at all, I didn't intend anything negative, I just put the quote in to save typing out all the names of the companies. However, I still maintain that to arrive at new classics like Romeo and Juliet there will have to be many other new works tried out. Not every new ballet is a winner - even Ashton and MacMillan produced some duff works. But the repertoire does need new additions if ballet is to survive.

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Hulldancer, it could depend upon the locality as well, because NBT does new-ish works and seems to be fairly successful not only doing "tutu" ballets. It sounds like her appointment will certainly provoke strong opinions, which could be a very good thing for ticket sales!!!

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Good points. And anything that helps boost ticket sales is a positive. On Northern Ballet, their approach works because Chris Gable decided they should concentrate on restaged classics, with new 'theatrical' work based on popular themes, hence Dracula, Christmas Carol, Huncback of Notre Dame etc. This is all about engaging the audience with a story that they already know more or less. Matthew Bourne has been successful by following a similar model, with nearly all his ballets being based on other well known works.

 

I guess I just have doubts, and as Miss Leigh was saying, change takes time (or at least it should). I remember Matz Skoog trying to make a big splash in his first season in charge at ENB, it was a fantastic season for the hardcore enthusiasts, but financially it was a disaster, so it was pretty much war for the rest of his time there. I would hate for this to happen to Rojo, it would be such a stain on an otherwise fantastic career. But then I guess I am forgetting that most company directors have fairly tempestuous relationships with the management. Nowadays it's all about budgets and pleasing the sponsors and donors rather than concentrating on artistic matters.

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I guess we shall see then!

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What an interesting thread! Thank you HullDancer and Doubleturn for your insights into British ballet today. I was a huge fan of ENB, when it was still London's Festival Ballet - I was one of the earliest Junior members of the Festival Ballet club and my parents and I went to quite a few performances each year at the Festival Hall, which was the company's London home. I even "manned the table" with my mother to get new members for the club, which was enthusiastically supported. The repertoire was pretty varied then, full length classics and triple bills of short ballets such as Graduation Ball and Etudes, as well as more modern dramatic ballets such as The Witch Boy and and of course Nutcracker every Christmas season!. The tickets were affordable and the technical standard very high - the wonderful John Gilpin, Anton Dolin (somewhat aging by the time I saw him) Andre Prokovsky, Louis Godfrey, Flemming Flindt, Marilyn Burr, Belinda Wright, Toni Lander, Anita Landi and many other first class dancers were in the company then. It would be very nice if Rojo were indeed able to balance the juggling act and keep the company solvent as well as audience appealing and innovative. Not an easy task I think...........

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