CriticalDance Forum

Communication across the dance community
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Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Tue Dec 17, 2002 3:33 am ]
Post subject:  Communication across the dance community

The introduction to this theme has been prepared by Stuart Sweeney, who is currently taking an MA in Dance Studies and is a regular contributor to Dance Europe magazine as well as CriticalDance. He has recently accepted an invitation to join the dance section of the UK’s Critics’ Circle.


Communication across the dance community.

I have restructured the wording from the 21st Century ballet press release to facilitate our discussions. In any event, I understand that the press release wording is indicative and further development will be carried out before the conference.

- How can we develop better communication and dialogue across the dance community? In particular:

o How can we work to bridge the gaps between ballet and contemporary dance

o How can we work to bridge the gaps between historians, critics and academics and [Stuart adds] artists and audiences?

A fascinating area for discussion, which is clearly important for the future of dance. Most of my examples concern the UK, as it is the setting I know best. I look forward to hearing the current experiences elsewhere in the world.

Regarding ballet and contemporary dance, in my view links have strengthened a great deal over the past few years. Thus Mark Morris is one of the most sought after ballet choreographers worldwide and UK contemporary choreographer Wayne McGregor, having experienced working with Royal Ballet dancers in “Symbiont(s)”, will be creating dances for English National Ballet and the Kirov in the coming year. Perhaps this trend is because of the relative weakness of current choreography from the ballet trained world, but I do see this development in a positive light. More importantly, so do the majority of dancers and artistic directors I speak to. Nevertheless, I am aware that the compartmentalist viewpoint has its advocates, who oppose such crossovers.

In the UK, Deborah Bull has been a catalyst for closer links between ballet and contemporary through the Royal Opera House Artists Development Initiative, which lead to Wayne McGregor’s “Symbiont(s)” and collaborations with other choreographers, some of which work and some don’t, but are almost always interesting. Organisations that span different dance style, such as Dance UK also have a key role to play. In their recent Choreoforum meeting, choregraphers from ballet. contemporary and stage dance came together to network, compare notes and discuss common concerns.

Nevertheless, the great differences in funding for ballet and contemporary in the UK remain a concern for many in the contemporary world and can be a source of resentment. In addition, audiences tend to be relatively separate. However, the success of the Ballet Boyz, who have been taking high quality contemporary ballet and contemporary dance works around the UK, are leading the way in exposing audiences to cutting edge dance. Many ballet schools worldwide now teach modern/contemporary dance, partly to equip the dancers for wider career options, but also as a way to allow them to learn more about their bodies – a view propounded by Gailene Stock at the Royal Ballet and Altynai Asylmuratova of the Mariinsky. All these examples facilitate greater contact between the dance forms.

Thus in the UK, the process of bridging this gap is moving ahead. Questions that you might want to address:

- Are closer links between modern/contemporary dance and ballet moving ahead in the US and elsewhere in the world?
- Is such a trend desirable?
- Are there ways that this trend can be further encouraged?

Let’s turn now to the second theme, “How can we work to bridge the gaps between historians, critics, academics, artists and audiences?”

These five groups often do seem very disparate. My own experience of academic work is that it can be remote from dance art and is often ignored by dance artists. Nevertheless, the number of dance graduates and post-graduates is growing all the time and academic institutions are seeking out new ways of allowing artists to contribute to academia. Masters and doctoral programmes which have a choreography focus are now in operation.

Here in the UK, I suspect that relations between critics and dance creators are getting worse with trenchant views seeming to occur more frequently. I regularly see newspaper reviews that would not pass Criticaldance’s courtesy rule, if posted directly on this site. Interestingly, my impression is that the Scottish critics often take a more tempered view and try to avoid strident attention grabbing comments. Communication between critics and artists has often been kept to a minimum to maintain “distance” and “objectivity”, but is this a good thing? Could greater contact result in greater understanding?

Links between dance professionals and audiences seem relatively weak in the UK and I feel that we have much to learn from the US in this respect. Stronger connections could enhance understanding on both sides and may pay benefits for artists.

Turning to methods for communication, face to face seminars like the Dance East one, which is the first of an annual series, is one route, but the cost surely means that this will be an infrequent occurrence. E-groups are used extensively now by common interest groups in dance in the UK to take forward discussions, but personally I find these an awkward way to communicate over a period. Is the Internet and forums like this one a way of taking forward debates?

Some possible lines of discussion in this topic:

- Does the work of academics matter to the art form – is greater contact between academics and artists desirable?
- Are critics becoming more fierce in their criticism? If so, is this a problem?
- How can communication between the various dance stakeholders be improved?
- Can the Internet play a major role in this area?

<small>[ 12-17-2002, 04:34: Message edited by: Stuart Sweeney ]</small>

Author:  Joanne [ Wed Dec 18, 2002 4:18 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Communication across the dance community

In response to your points about links between the worlds of contemporary and ballet, within the educational framework in the UK these links are beginning to develop. The majority of GCSE and A Level Dance courses focus on Contemporary dance and many of the major independent syllabi in the UK are including a free work section in the ballet syllabus which encourages students to develop thematic ideas in the contemporary style. A recent update to the IDTA Modern Jazz syllabus includes a lot of contemporary based exercises.

I think in the next ten years the UK will begin to produce dancers who have an understanding and appreciation of many different dance forms. They may not necessarily excel at different forms but perhaps some of "snobbery" and poor relation syndrome in the dance world may begin to disappear.

The cross links between ballet companies and contemporary choreographers is an interesting one and will hopefully produce some exciting performance opportunities in the UK. However we do perhaps have to bear in mind the uproar that Scottish Ballet have contended with in the last two years. I know the ideas that Stuart has mentioned are on a less radical scale but perhaps from a training perspective, ballet schools have to look at offering some degree of contemporary training as standard to better equip the dancers of tomorrow.

My belief is that perhaps a way of bridging the gaps between dance forms has to be dancer and training led. Unfortunately the difficulty here is that with dance being such a competitive art form dancers are under immense pressure to specialise and be good at either ballet or contemporary to stand a chance of success. Therefore Artistic Directors have got to have a clear idea first of how they see their companies developing so that training needs can be addressed.

Author:  Cassandra [ Thu Dec 19, 2002 11:25 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Communication across the dance community

Regarding the growing links between ballet and contemporary dance, I often feel this is out of necessity rather than pure choice as choreographers both willing and able to work within the purely classical vocabulary become fewer and fewer. There are a number of major modern works that come into the "crossover" genre and look quite superb when danced by classical artists, such works as Swan Song and Ghost Dances by Christopher Bruce spring to mind. And it is worth remembering that Glen Tetley was alternating between modern and classical companies thirty years ago. Personally I welcome such works going into the reps of major ballet companies but am still worried about the dearth of purely classical creators.

Regarding the current attitude of dance critics, I’m afraid standards have dropped over the years, not just in courtesy, but also in general dance knowledge and in the ability to write wittily and engagingly about what should be a beloved art form. Jaded reviewers are no substitute for the writers that were able to convey their enthusiasm for dance to the public in general. Sure, there are exceptions, but I can’t help feeling that uninspiring reviews contribute to the growing apathy that is developing towards classical ballet.

Author:  Azlan [ Fri Dec 20, 2002 9:41 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Communication across the dance community

Stuart, just from a cursory review of your comments and anecdotal observation, I believe much of what you say apply to the US as well.

One thing I see has happened here is a fracturing of the community, in several different ways, depending on where and who you are: ballet versus modern; ballet and modern versus ethnic; East Coast versus West Coast; East part of town versus the West part (!); etc. etc.

Author:  mehunt [ Fri Dec 20, 2002 3:36 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Communication across the dance community

I agree with Joanne though. It reminds me of Twyla Tharp's quote, "There are no ballet or modern dancers, just good dancers and bad dancers."

Concerns about globalization aside, I love to see that companies are cross-pollinating and traditionally ballet companies are bringing in modern works. I feel like the divide has been less marked in Europe though, where so many companies, like Nacho Duato's troupe and Cullberg Ballet, Lyon Opera Ballet, all display dancers that have obviously beautifully classically trained dancers but are not afraid to do very experimental modern work.

It does seem to go more of one way though, no? Traditionally modern companies are not really interested in presenting ballet works it seems to me. It is a sad thing that in general the impression I get is that ballet is considered to be passe (no pun intended) whereas I wish that the focus would be on what to do to make classical ballet alive and relevant.

Author:  Joanne [ Fri Dec 20, 2002 4:12 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Communication across the dance community

Do we think that as Cassandra says that is partly the fault of the critics who write about ballet - their reviews often seem jaded. Or is it that we are just not getting enough new classical ballet choreography and perhaps we are just seeing the same tired productions.

Is there a funding issue here too? Is it easier to get funding for new experimental contemporary works than it would be to get funding for new classical ballet choreography? I am not talking about Royal Ballet productions but for a small dance company faced with applying for a grant, do they stand a better chance with contemporary or ballet?

<small>[ 20 December 2002, 05:13 PM: Message edited by: Joanne ]</small>

Author:  LMCtech [ Fri Dec 20, 2002 5:16 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Communication across the dance community

I wonder how much the media contributes to the A vs. B issue. Especially in the West Coast vs. East Coast debate in the US. I don't think that most dancers feel this contention, but critics seem to and artistic staffs seem to as well, often based on what they read somewhere.

On the other hand, I think that dancers feel the devide between modern and ballet ballet very keenly. Many modern dancers have an inferiority complex that is usually completely unjustified, and many ballet dancers have a superiority complex for equally unjustifiable reasons. It would be nice if all dancers and critics could come to the agreement that different forms of dance aren't better worse, but just simply different and require different skills and strengths from the dancers who do the form.

Author:  Matthew [ Fri Dec 20, 2002 7:09 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Communication across the dance community

Stuart - What a fascinating topic. I think one thing that you alluded to, and which I believe needs to be clarified, is the hidden assumption that building bridges and increasinng commnication in the dance community is inherently beneficial. My gut feel is that it is, or at least should be, benefical, but I am not sure that i can support that belief.
I wonder how important the form of communication is - for example, on CD, in a virutal community that I think is nurtured carefully, I personally derive a very positive experience, but would it be the same, if for example, we were discussing the same topics at a public forum regarding say, city funding of the arts. I very rarely find this format of communication positive.
Anyway, perhaps before we design bridges we need to really know why we are building bridges, because traffic can flow both ways.

Author:  Azlan [ Thu Jan 09, 2003 1:24 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Communication across the dance community

Maybe it takes something completely different to encourage ballet folk to reach across the community. Here is something Mikhail Baryshnikov was forced into doing when recruiting Yvonne Rainer for White Oak Project's PASTForward tour:

I asked her [Rainer] “does this program make sense to you?” She said, “I have a dream list.” Her idea of an evening. No one was hostile, but no one was enthusiastic. Some people wanted to create new work, not restage old material. I asked David Gordon to direct because he is also involved in theater, he has a sharp directorial eye. Then we needed Charles Atlas for the socio-political context; he’s doing a an introductory film. We are looking back, reexamining what was interesting and controversial, what they did, what they wanted to say. The show is about retracking, retracing.
Click here for more of this interview on by Gabrielle Barnett.

<small>[ 09 January 2003, 02:30 AM: Message edited by: Azlan ]</small>

Author:  Patrizia Vallone [ Sun Jan 12, 2003 1:43 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Communication across the dance community

In Italy we have serious problems about ballet reviews in our most established newspapers and magazines, since the space given to dance articles is VERY restricted. Critics have to write their reviews in very few lines, so they look like more a shopping list like dancer such and such in that role, and so on, no space for critical comments. In less established press, dance is simply ignored.

Unfortunately, in Italy dance suffers for been attached to opera theatres, so most of the funds available goes to opera and ballet gets peanuts. I was recently at a press conference at the Rome Opera House, at the presence of the intendent Dr. Francesco Ernani and artistic directors conductor Gianluigi Gelmetti and ballerina Carla Fracci, who introduced the 2003 season. Ms. Fracci was asked why they don’t invite established choreographers to work with the ballet company and she had to reply that they cannot afford to pay their fees.
It’s very sad, but in Italy ballet is just the Cinderella of the arts.

About manners in reviews, I believe that one should never be rude, but sometimes you see on stages such upsetting stuff that you loose all your temper! The critic should be wise enough to write and not to write, and reader will get the message.

Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Sun Jan 12, 2003 3:10 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Communication across the dance community

Many thanks Patrizia for these thoughts about the Italian scene - not very encouraging. But you do have Mauro Bigonzetti! I hope his Aterballeto company comes to the UK soon.

<small>[ 12 January 2003, 06:31 PM: Message edited by: Stuart Sweeney ]</small>

Author:  Patrizia Vallone [ Sun Jan 12, 2003 4:55 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Communication across the dance community

Dear Stuart, Aterballeto is the happy island in the Italian dance desert. Actually, the company has a different status from other Italian ballet companies, since it’s not directly attached to any opera theatre.
Someway, it’s an independent company, supported by the state and by the local administration. (I’ll check better on the company website , I’m not very good in financial stuff!)

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