CriticalDance Forum

Globalisation - will 21C ballet companies look the same?
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Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Fri Dec 20, 2002 4:41 pm ]
Post subject:  Globalisation - will 21C ballet companies look the same?

Librarian is a very experienced ballet watcher, who has recently joined the CriticalDance team. We are delighted that he has agreed to write this introduction and Moderate this Forum.

How can we deal with the globalisation of ballet? All companies seem to be developing a similar staple of both the classics and the contemporary “classics”. Some are even sharing full evening works. Are we losing the individuality of companies? Their durability? Their uniqueness?

At any given point, one can go to see a production of "Swan Lake" somewhere
in the world. In the past few years, you could have seen it in London
by Dowell, in St. Petersburg by Sergeyev, in San Francisco by Tomasson,
in New York by Kevin McKenzie, on Broadway by Matthew Bourne, and any number of other productions by different choreographers and teachers. No one would
have argued against a proliferation of *good* Swan Lakes.

But what if, instead, in the interest of economy, of time or for any other
reason, you had gone from each of these cities to the other and had seen
different dancers in different places doing the same production with the
same orchestrations, the same costumes, the same setting, the same dramatic
emphases, the same "quirks"? That happens now, though not on quite such
a grand scale. Companies rely more and more on shared productions.
Sometimes, to share costs, the companies have an alliance from the very
beginning of building a production. Sometimes, to recoup production costs,
a company will look to rent the properties for a ballet out from place
to place. In such cases, the primary purpose is economy, minimalization
of risk, refilling their perpetually draining coffers, not the creation of
good ballet. Even if what they're perpetuating *is* good, some would argue
that they aren't building, they aren't educating, they aren't creating -
they're cloning.

- What do you think? If this continues to happen, will it have
an adverse effect on companies, on dancers, on repertories? On audiences? It doesn't just happen with full-length evening work, it happens with the shorter pieces as well; a look at a repertory list for major companies for the past five years might well give someone a clear 'track' on a 'pattern of movement' for different ballets.

- Are the directors to be blamed for wanting to reproduce something which
has been a success elsewhere? What effect is this having on dancers'

- Is this adversely affecting the natural development of style in choreography
and training? Will everything begin to look the same, or has it already?

- Will dancers who are "trying on" a style of movement for the first time
be more prone to injury? Should they be trained in one style or many? Is
there something good about having a distinctive style of movement in a school
or does that limit the dancers the school produces? Danish dancers, for
instance, dancing Balanchine will look different than New York City Ballet
dancers dancing Balanchine, regardless of how they've been coached. Does
that difference make any difference to the choreography in your opinion,
or, as some have argued, should Danish (or British or any other) dancers be
trying Balanchine (or any other non-native choreography) at all?

- Are these trends toward homogeneity hurting the dancers or the audience?
What are the possible solutions? Is it possible that this is one problem for
which the only solution is a seemingly unlimited supply of funds? Do you
feel that the preferences of the viewing public are either ignored or catered

Certainly a good number, if not all, of these decisions are
financially-related. No company or choreographer has ever been completely
free of the influence of numbers in ticket sales or donations. But someone
whose company's existence is potentially threatened multiple times every year
by the potential for failure of a single program offering is certainly going
to be influenced in their choices. Is success, then, contingent on sometimes
being allowed to fail?

<small>[ 20 December 2002, 06:07 PM: Message edited by: librarian ]</small>

Author:  Dean Speer [ Fri Dec 20, 2002 8:03 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Globalisation - will 21C ballet companies look the same?

I think sharing productions is a smart thing and this does not really mean that Company A will perform the steps the same way as Company B. The previous writer's comparison of "Swan Lake" is a good one, ditto with Mr. Balanchine's works. Music organizations share composers, yet we don't expect one orchestra to sound like or to interpret a work as another. This is because each conductor (read AD) brings their own sensibilities to the leadership and rendering of music. And so, Artistic Directors bring their own ideas and these ideas filter what the artistic product looks like in the end.

This said, what really I really got out of the previous posting was what I read to be the presumed sophistication of the audience. That they could and can tell the difference between productions, or between dancers intrepreting same roles, and as importantly that they CARE about these differences and find them at least interesting, if not valid -- even if they disagree with the product or don't like it.

So here we go with the critical need to educate audiences, both as to the mechanics of ballet (technique et al) and to artistic sensibilities (taste, expectations, form, subject matter, etc.). ADs already "program" audiences by programming ballets. This to me is the crux of the matter. If 3rd-rate ballets are routinely done (for example), then this teaches audiences that this is what ballet is and not to expect too much more. BUT when we hold them and us to a higher artistic standard and continually work hard to present and "program" top-rate ballets, then this is what audience will become accustomed to and will expect.

PNB in Seattle has been VERY smart in this regard and I believe that Seattle audiences are now some of the most loyal and aware. This has taken time -- nearly 30 years -- but it's been very much worth it.

I believe that all repertory companies, regardless of size, can find this artistic standard workable and is something that can be adhered to. This requires vision, hard work, tenacity, and good humour.

Economy of pocketbook does not have to mean ecomony of spirit. Ballet is a rich art that gives so much and following our highest sense of right will bring ballet along artistically and socially.

Instead of "dumming down," how about if we appeal to people's best sense of intelligence, worth, beauty, and joy? Like so many, I believe passionately in what we do and difference it can and is making in individual lives and in the world.

Author:  Azlan [ Fri Dec 20, 2002 8:55 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Globalisation - will 21C ballet companies look the same?

Great comments, Librarian and Dean. One ballet that comes to mind is Ben Stevenson's "Cleopatra," that was comissioned and performed by at least three different companies (Houston, Boston and Pittsburgh). As I recall the ballet received rather lacklustre reviews. One critic called it "gimmicky and histrionic." Here was a past discussion in our Ballet forum:

<a href=;f=4;t=000079 target=_blank>Stevenson's 'Cleopatra'</a>

Another is Lar Lubovitch's "Othello," co-commissioned by San Francisco Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, that has received mixed reviews:

<a href=;f=4;t=001300 target=_blank>San Francisco Ballet's "Othello" / PBS Controversy</a>

<a href=;f=4;t=001667 target=_blank>San Francisco Ballet 2002 Orange County Appearance</a>

It seems to me that both of these ballets were designed to appeal to a mass audience and not a very sophisticated one.

On the smaller scale, there seems to be a proliferation of pop ballet makers out there who seem to thrive in regional markets which is sad as it does nothing to educate the ballet audience.

<small>[ 20 December 2002, 10:01 PM: Message edited by: Azlan ]</small>

Author:  salzberg [ Sat Dec 21, 2002 5:34 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Globalisation - will 21C ballet companies look the same?

Originally posted by Dean Speer:
I think sharing productions is a smart thing and this does not really mean that Company A will perform the steps the same way as Company B.
That's a particularly apt comment, Dean, given that, as you know, Paul Taylor's dance Company B has been set on several American ballet companies, who look very different in it that do the dancers of the Taylor company.

<small>[ 21 December 2002, 06:36 AM: Message edited by: salzberg ]</small>

Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Sat Dec 21, 2002 5:42 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Globalisation - will 21C ballet companies look the same?

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I agree Deen that for medium sized companies in particular sharing the costs of a new large scale commission seems like great idea as budgets are squeezed and prices rise. Northern Ballet Theatre hire out their productions successfully and here is their webpage where they advertise this, with "Dracula" proving a notable success.

Perhaps more of a worry is where a handful of choreographers with international reputations have their work produced worldwide. I like Nach Duato's "Jardi Tancat", but I do wonder how many companies perform it? Where reps become very similar i think that is a concern. Bruce Sansom made the point in out interview with us that the Opera world was becoming almost look-alike with the same singers performig the same operas on stages far and wide. Thus there is a need for imagination and to seek out lesser known, but talented choreographers to make work.

On the other hand i have just seen English National Ballet's production of Marks Morris' "Drink to me only", which is such an outstanding work that I am delighted that UK audiences have the chance to enjoy it. So I guess we are talking about the need for a balance of distictive national rep combined with the 19thC, 20thC and the forthcoming 21stC classics from around the world.

<small>[ 21 December 2002, 06:43 AM: Message edited by: Stuart Sweeney ]</small>

Author:  librarian [ Sat Dec 21, 2002 6:12 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Globalisation - will 21C ballet companies look the same?

That's a good argument for seeing things, Stuart, but do you think it's a persuasive one for your (read your anywhere) company to do them all? Is it maybe a reason why there ought to be more touring so we can see others do them? I know the economic problem, but speak here only of the artistic one. If everyone felt more touring was the answer, then I suppose we would have to figure out how on earth they used to make it happen and then how on earth it could happen now.

Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Sat Dec 21, 2002 8:14 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Globalisation - will 21C ballet companies look the same?

I've copied this posting from mehunt on this theme:


I have to say I'm disappointed that so few American directors are going over there. The globalization issue is one that really affects the companies over here.

I have mixed feelings about it. I love the idea of preserving the unique identity of dance troupes, but some of us only get one chance in ten years to see the Stuttgart Ballet over here for example. So in a selfish way, I love that companies acquire works by Duato and Cranko and van Manen, because we have so few opportunities to catch them.

<small>[ 21 December 2002, 09:15 AM: Message edited by: Stuart Sweeney ]</small>

Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Sat Dec 21, 2002 11:58 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Globalisation - will 21C ballet companies look the same?

Librarian, we are very lucky in London in that companies want to come here and every other year we see either the Bolshoi or the Kirov plus some of the leading companies from around the world.

However, the costs are becoming prohibitive for many. As an example it cost Pacific Northwest Ballet some $500,000 for the privilige of coming to London and being savaged by the London critics. I think we will see more of good companies like Latvian National Ballet because of their low cost base, but for the Western companies the standard question is, "How much can you afford to lose."

It's going back a long way, but i remember in the biography of Dame Alicia Markova, she describes how the artists when touring in the US didn't get expenses and had to pay for hotels out of their pay. As she had a room with a bathroom, there was a constant queue of people making use of her facilities. Decent pay and working conditions don't come cheap.

<small>[ 21 December 2002, 01:03 PM: Message edited by: Stuart Sweeney ]</small>

Author:  djb [ Sat Dec 21, 2002 10:18 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Globalisation - will 21C ballet companies look the same?

I see the "ABT-ization" of ballet companies (by which I mean continually importing existing stars and competition prizewinners, rather than cultivating and giving priority to talent from a company’s own school) as a bigger threat to diversity than having similar repertoires. I think it’s interesting to see the same piece performed by different companies, but I think it would be less interesting were the companies to lose their unique styles.

<small>[ 22 December 2002, 12:41 AM: Message edited by: djb ]</small>

Author:  librarian [ Sun Dec 22, 2002 6:26 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Globalisation - will 21C ballet companies look the same?

I am certainly not against the idea of guest artists now and then, but vehemently against making them a company's lifeblood, so to speak. American Ballet Theatre seems to have a different agenda, and are who they are, and it doesn't bother me with them unless it's done to excess, but other companies need, in my opinion, to do this sparingly. I think that to a great extent, an audience gets just as excited over a brilliant debut in a role by someone from the "home team" (whether home-grown or a permanent company member) *if it's handled properly*. I think proper publicity is important, though I am not certain how well members of publicity departments (or other departments, for that matter) of most companies understand their subject or the audience. (I have seen, for instance, a company manager looking in on a rehearsal of a full-length "Don Quixote" first act and inquire whether this was "Sleeping Beauty"!).

Author:  librarian [ Sun Dec 22, 2002 6:40 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Globalisation - will 21C ballet companies look the same?

Stuart, concerning minimizing risk, does it not depend on whether a company is self-presenting, and if not, who is carrying the risk for an engagement? I would be interested to know, for instance, whether risk is generally shared, generally on the company's side or generally on the presenter's side. I have to presume that the company itself rarely shoulders that responsibility and probably goes to an international engagement with some sort of sponsor from their home city, state or country. Additionally, for instance, I believe that if a company that comes from another country comes to the U.S. and appears in a union house, typically they are required to offer a pay scale to their dancers that is equivalent to the basic minimums of the union governing that house (in most cases, AGMA), unless they've negotiated differently, and that minimum is in many cases a lot more money than those dancers have ever seen at once.

I think I've veered off the subject drastically. But if the idea is that barring the possibility of seeing touring companies do the ballets we've heard about, we're better off seeing our companies do them, I have to weigh in and say maybe we don't need to see them that way. Maybe we could go even further out on a limb and say that if those companies wanted to make (having negotiated the minefield of rights, permissions, etc.) films available in a limited market (similar to, say, having a football game televised only in areas far from the original venue) that might be preferable and even a source of some income (though I don't want to over-estimate sales of such films, as typically they're only made available for a limited period of time before they're taken off the market. Complicated business, at any rate.

Author:  Malcolm Tay [ Sun Dec 22, 2002 1:50 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Globalisation - will 21C ballet companies look the same?

I hope I'm not repeating someone else's comments here, but is it possible that certain works are acquired in order to generate reputation for the company? This would, of course, apply more to younger ballet companies still trying to build a good repertory, still trying to establish themselves at home and abroad. I'm thinking of a company like the 15-year-old Singapore Dance Theatre. When it acquired works by Kylian ("Stamping Ground", "Songs of a Wayfarer") and Duato (what else, "Jardi Tancat"), I think more than anything, SDT was trying to show that it has matured, that it has the technical and artistic capacities needed to perform these acknowledged masterpieces. Especially when they perform these works successfully. However, a company also won't look very good when it doesn't do an acclaimed ballet any justice, so I suppose it would work both ways.

<small>[ 22 December 2002, 02:52 PM: Message edited by: Malcolm Tay ]</small>

Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Sun Dec 22, 2002 2:50 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Globalisation - will 21C ballet companies look the same?

That is an interesting comment Malcolm amd its also valuable to have a Pacific perspective on this theme.

It does add to the prestige of a company to have works by famous choreographers in my view. I also find myself being impressed by companies that have Balanchine works in their rep., which indicates that they have attained performance and stylistic standards to meet the thresholds set by the Balanchine Trust. Am I mistaken to think this way?

<small>[ 22 December 2002, 03:50 PM: Message edited by: Stuart Sweeney ]</small>

Author:  djb [ Sun Dec 22, 2002 3:06 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Globalisation - will 21C ballet companies look the same?

My first inclination is to say you are not mistaken. But I don't know just what the Trust's standards are. When I was a student in a performing arts college, the Trust gave permission for a couple of students to perform a Balanchine pas de deux. While these students were very good (but not as good as today's students at that school are), I would not say they were at a professional level. So maybe the Trust has different standards for different circumstances.

<small>[ 22 December 2002, 04:08 PM: Message edited by: djb ]</small>

Author:  Azlan [ Sun Dec 22, 2002 7:06 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Globalisation - will 21C ballet companies look the same?

Good question, Trina. I have seen the Trust give permission to companies that don't deserve them and vice-versa. I know a complicated story in which the Trust revoked the permission given to a company because of complaints from a disgruntled employee of the company (who was a friend of the Trust) only for them to later reverse the decision because three friends of the company came to its defence. It helped that these three individuals were much higher up the pecking order than the disgruntled employee.

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