Hmm...how long have you got? As I am out the door soon, I'll be brief, which may be as well anyway.
It is easy to describe The Royal Ballet Company as ballet and Merce Cunningham as modern (contemporary in the UK). I use these words to help describe to people what I have seen and to give a snapshot picture of an event. Thus, if someone asks if I went to the ballet last night, if I saw a contemporary Company then I would say so, to give a different picture to the enquirer.
So far, easy-peasy. The problem arises, I believe, in moving to the stage of trying to strictly define these terms, so that companies and works can be categorised. This would enable such statements as, 'Kylian is not a ballet choreographer.'; 'Ballett Frankfurt is not a ballet company.'; 'Washington Ballet should not be performing this work, it is not ballet.'
As an aside, the pressure for definition is all in the direction of the statements given above. My experience of the contemporary dance world is that people are not interested in such categorisation, perhaps because they may well have been to a variety of different classes themselves.
I have a number of problems with the attempt to strictly define 'ballet' in relation to companies and works. Firstly, the term is used differently in different countries. The Germans and perhaps the French use it to cover a much wider range of dance than I would in everyday speech. Secondly, the use of the terms changes with time. A significant number of people are happy to describe Frankfurt as a ballet company, whereas, 50 years ago, I suspect that few in the Anglo-Saxon world would.
Thirdly, a number of ballet choreographers, and many would say some of the most interesting ones, are working in a different style to their predecessors, wich is a continuation of the innovations of Nijinska, for example.
Fourthly, not only have I tried to show that such strict definitions are not possible, I am also out of sympathy with the use to which such attempted definitions are employed. I see the examples (Kylian/Frankfurt/Washington) I gave earlier as part of a campaign to try to turn back the dance clock, which I do not support.
In fact those who try to define ballet in a strict way usually end up using argument by authority ie 'We can tell the difference', rather than giving a proper definition.
However, I do agree that it is possible to define the term 'ballet' in relation to a type of dance class and that is clearly understood. Nevertheless, this does not provide a way of differentiating companies or works. For instance, a lot of companies that we would describe as contemporary such as Nederlands Dans Theatre are ballet class trained and (I assuume) do ballet class still. As does Rambert Dance, alternating with Cunningham classes.
Thus, as an English dance-goer, I will use terms such as ballet, contemporary ballet, contemporary in everyday speech. However, if someone wants to engage in a discussion as to whether Frankfurt is a ballet or a contemporary company, I won't really be interested. Except perhaps to say that I am happy to go along with the self description of a serious artist such as Forsythe.
In short, I'll stand up for my right to be wishy-washy on definitions. And I've missed my train!
Last edited by Stuart Sweeney on Wed Jul 20, 2005 7:42 am, edited 1 time in total.