Ms Homans covers a great deal of ground, although I feel the lady is writing primarily from a north American perspective and there are definitely some factual inaccuracies when she writes about ballet in Europe. For example when she touches on the situation in Russia I feel she isn't fully enough aware of the current socio/economic set up in that country to have a good grasp of the dance scene there which remains highly conservative despite those ballet masters that look westwards for repertoire rather than encouraging home grown choreographers.
However I totally agree with the main thrust of her argument, this in particular:
Contemporary choreography veers aimlessly from unimaginative imitation to strident innovation usually in the form of gymnastic or melodramatic excess, accentuated by overzealous lightening and special effects. This taste for unthinking athleticism and dense thickets of steps, for spectacle and sentiment, is not the final cry of a dying artistic era; it represents a collapse of confidence and a generation ill at ease with itself and uncertain of its relationship to the past.
The great choreographers are now gone with very few of today's generation capable of creating adequately using the classical vocabulary and I believe that it is this lack of inspiration that in the past came from working with dance-makers and being part of the creative process that has resulted in the distorted technique that is becoming the norm. The shortage of creative talent has nothing to do with money by the way; Diaghilev was perpetually broke but still managed to launch the most concentrated array of choreographers in the 20th century.
Technically conservative, their dancing is opaque and flat, emotionally dimmed. And although many can perform astonishing stunts, the overall level of technique has fallen. Today’s dancers are more brittle and unsubtle, with fewer half-tones than their predecessors.
Ms Homan's observations are inarguably true alas, but the names selected as exceptions to the rule are not the ones I would choose as the brightest beacons of artistic excellence.
Classical ballet has always been an art of belief. It does not fate well in cynical times. It is an art of high ideals and self-control in which proportion and grace stand for an inner truth and elevated state of being. Ballet, moreover, is an etiquette as much as an art, layered with centuries of courtly conventions and codes of civility and politeness. This does not mean, however, that it is static. To the contrary, we have seen that when societies that nourished ballet changed or collapsed—as they did in the years around the French and Russian Revolutions—marks of the struggle were registered in the art.
Indeed. Society is currently in a state of flux with huge societal changes in the offing, the impact that will have in the arts in general, not just ballet, remain to be seen but even if revolution isn’t in the air, civil unrest most definitely is. It will be interesting to see how the arts world responds to the events that inevitably lie ahead.
Today we no longer believe in ballet’s ideals. We are skeptical of elitism and skill, which seem to us exclusionary and divisive. Those privileged enough to obtain specialized training, so this thinking goes, should not be elevated above those with limited access to knowledge or art. We want to expand and include: we are all dancers now. Ballet’s fine manners and implicitly aristocratic airs, its white swans, regal splendor, and beautiful women on pointe (pedestals), seem woefully outmoded, the province of dead white men and society ladies in long-ago places…………………………
……………..The fragmentation and compartmentalization of culture do not help. We have grown accustomed to living in multiple private dimensions, virtual worlds sealed in ether: myspace, mymusic, mylife. These worlds may be global and simultaneous, but they are by nature disembodied and detached. They are also fractured, niche environments and virtual “communities” based on narrow personal affinities rather than broad common values. Nothing could be further from the public, physically concrete, and sensual world of dance.
The dumbing down phenomenon once again. Personally I’m sick to the back teeth with ballet and all other art forms that require technique and expertise being described as elitist, just as I’m infuriated by turning to the arts pages of credible newspapers only to be confronted with reams of purple prose about rock groups and the like. Popular culture not only reigns supreme, it also tramples over established art forms and screams its propaganda in favour of the lowest common denominator. In such an environment it’s difficult for the arts to survive at all.
For classical ballet to recover its standing as a major art would thus require more than resources and talent (the “next genius”). Honor and decorum, civility and taste would have to make a comeback. We would have to admire ballet again, not only as an impressive athletic display but as a set up ethical principles. Our contemporary infatuation with instability and fragmentation, with false pomp and sentiment, would have to give way to more confident beliefs. If that sounds conservative, perhaps it is; ballet has always been an art of order, hierarchy and tradition. But rigor and discipline are the basis for all truly radical art, and the rules, limits, and rituals of ballet have been the point of departure for its most liberating and iconoclastic achievements.
Beautifully put, if I have quibbles with parts of this (and wish the article had better editing) I cannot disagree with anything she says in that paragraph. Even allowing for the errors it is an honest analysis of the state of the art of ballet in the twenty first century.