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The Rural Retreats 2005

by Lyndsey Winship

January 2005

Group photo: Johan Persson

Twenty-six directors returned from the Rural Retreats in Hertfordshire to a reception at the House of Commons where they celebrated the success of the weekend. The Retreat was organised by DanceEast and its director, Assis Carreiro, an inspiring woman who clearly has the vision and persistence to make things happen. Carreiro has proven that a regional dance agency can have a scope way beyond its parochial borders.

A wide variety of people attended the reception, from dancers Michael Nunn, Billy Trevitt and Agnes Oaks, to politicians, press and businesspeople, including unlikely supporters such as the Chief Exec of Ipswich Town Football Club (a sponsor of DanceEast).

All were in good spirits and felt it had been a very worthwhile initiative. Although, rather than emerging with bold statements about the future of dance, the directors spoke about how much they appreciated being able to talk to their peers about the day-to-day details of running a large ballet company.

This was the second time the Retreat had taken place, which meant that those who had been directorial virgins the first time round – Mark Baldwin and Ashley Page for example – now had plenty of experience to share. And yet the old hands found it as useful as anyone. Stuttgart Ballet’s Reid Anderson called himself the granddaddy of the group but he was the first to say they should do it again. “I’ve been Artistic Director for 18 years but you never stop learning,” he said.

Mark Baldwin said he had found that the assembled directors had much in common despite the many differences in size, style and location of their companies. One of his hopes for the future was to see greater cultural diversity reflected in in the dance world. While you may see more non-white dancers on stage these days, it was notable that among the company directors there was still only one black face, John Alleyne from Ballet British Columbia

Boston Ballet’s Mikko Nissinen enthused that he had found the weekend “very rejuvenating”. Reflecting on the loneliness of the artistic director’s job he said: “Usually the artistic director has an inner dialogue, now we get to compare our notes.”

Dinna Bjorn, Artistic Director at Finnish National Ballet had come up with some keywords that symbolised the weekend’s discussions: Creativity, authenticity, trust, courage and communication.  Ashley Page of the Scottish Ballet illuminated some of the issues they had been discussing, raising concerns over the standard of dancers currently coming out of ballet schools. He also felt that those dancers who did feed through to the companies weren’t as driven as previous generations, had shorter attention spans and expected to be spoon-fed ‘inspiration’.

Page felt he had taken away some interesting insights from one of the weekend’s guest speakers, Nicholas Hytner, director of the National Theatre, who spoke about the vogue in theatre for small-scale intimate works and cinematic acting. Hytner commented that actors and playwrights had lost the desire and ability to make larger works and Page saw parallels in the way that new choreographers tend to make chamber works rather than taking advantage of the possibilities of a large company.

Page also had the usual gripes about funding, saying he wants to commission new work for Scottish Ballet as well as buying in existing pieces, but a cut in funding come April could arrest the company’s very promising development.

Rt Hon Estelle Morris, MP, Minister for the Arts, addressed the guests with a very enthusiastic speech. “You’ve always known how valuable dance could be,” she said. “I sense that the world might be catching up with you.” Morris spoke about the value of the arts being able to speak across cultural boundaries and, in keeping with the government’s current anti-obesity drive, emphasised dance’s positive role in health and fitness. She did also praise dance’s value in itself, in bringing pure enjoyment. “You come out of the ballet and feel the world is a more positive place,” she said.

Edited by Jeff.

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