Back to the Past
In the 19th Century, ballet companies were led by a "Ballet Master". Now, the traditional role of Ballet Master has been split up into "Artistic Director", "Choreographer", "Ballet Master" and "Rehearsal Director". It's harder to coordinate four people than one; is it any wonder that good choreographers are so hard to find?
Consider what the "freelance" choreogrpher must deal with today, one who works for many companies: he doesn't get to hire the dancers, he doesn't know the dancers very well, he doesn't get enough time with the dancers to know them well. Often, choreographers are asked to make a dance on one set of dancers and perform it with another. So the choreographer chooses the same few dancers again and again. These are all reasons I've heard about why the Diamond Project does not seem to live up to its expectations.
I dance for quite a different kind company than that. We have one Ballet Master (Jose Mateo), in the 19th Century fashion. He is teacher, choreographer, artistic director, etc. He is everything to us as dancers. No, we do not get the diversity of dancing every new style that comes through. But we know what he wants better than just about anyone else, and he knows who we are --- he trained many of us, and continues to train the rest. He refuses to choreograph for companies other than his own because they would frustrate him, even if the dancers are very good. They do not know what he's looking for. He performs new choreography on the same people he made it for; and when he re-sets it later on other dancers, he changes it as needed.
The results have a certain artistic integrity that (judging by the complaints I've read) seems to be lacking in many other places. The critics seem to agree as well, and we made it into Dancemagazine's "Top 25 to watch" this year.
It turns out, we are using the "traditional modern dance model" of institutional organization. It is not without its problems. For example, the way we do things, it's not clear how long the choreography would last after Mateo is gone.
It's not clear how big this could be scaled up either. But apparently, ballet companies all grew to new sizes in the 20th century, especially in the latter half. The ABT of 1960 was only half the size it is today. The NYCB of 1960 was not the "institution" it is today (it was one company led by a genius). Dhiagalev's Ballets Russes had only 20-30 dancers. So maybe we've lost somthing in our drive to build bigger and bigger. Maybe we need to build more companies, rather than fewer mega-institutions. Ballet is, after all, an inherently regional enterprise. It's not televised like Major League Baseball. Probably the American funding model is responsible for this situation (the rich get richer and the poor never come into existence).
Looking into the history, it seems that most innovation in dance has come from genius individuals who had the resources to improve their dancemaking skills and produce their work widely for many to see. In every such case in America, that has been coupled with the creation of an organization. I have not seen one example of a great American innovator who did so within an existing Institution. The Diamond Project, for example, specifies that it is looking for choreogrpahers who use the language of Balanchine. This immediately ensures it will never see another Balanchine. After all, Balanchine did not use an existing language, but rather had the freedom to invent his own and to train dancers in it.
Europe has a longer history, and has produced so many innovators who worked within existing institutional frameworks. Bournonville, Petipa and Forsythe are three examples that come to mind.
It seems like a waste to build up these huge institutions only to see them slowly decay because they're incapable of harboring the next genius; then to make the geniuses struggle to create institutions in the shadows. Maybe we could figure out what Europe has done right over the past few hundred years.