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Richard LH

Men now best at ballet, says Darcey Bussell

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From yesterday’s Dance Links

 

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/men-now-best-at-ballet-says-darcey-bussell-xxr79n28g?shareToken=55fa1a42b81528b5cb464cec4d19a391

 

I find this a rather confused and poorly argued article, and I am not sure how much is down to the original source (Dame Darcey Bussell (49) at the Oxford Literary Festival) or the Arts Correspondent David Sanderson (age not given).

 

“Men (are)  now best at ballet”  apparently because of  technical and physical ability.  Women are seemingly “struggling to keep up”. But no evidence follows  for this sweeping assertion.  Given the different attributes of male and female ballet dancing, and given all the many different forms of ballet across the world, how can you judge comparative male and female technical and physical ability  in any event? Even if the assertion were true, being “best at ballet” is a lot more than just  technique and physique.

 

The article suggests that whereas classical ballet has always been about the women, some sort of “transformation” of roles for male dancers has been taking place. But the  examples given (going back in time) refer  to Billy Elliott (2000),  Bourne’s Swan Lake (1995), Mayerling (1978) Manon  (1974)  and at the end of the article, further back to Nureyev in the 1960’s, and further back still to Nijinsky in 1911. The article also cites Ivan Putrov’s  Men in Motion but whilst that work is more recent (2012) it is  Putrov celebrating the role of the male ballet dancer over the last 100 years. So isn’t the truth that there has always been a certain to-ing and fro-ing as to the perceived comparative place and role  in ballet for male and female performers?  

 

It is difficult to fathom quite how  Darcey Bussell attributes any  particular “breakthrough” of any “barriers” in the "classical ballet bastille” to “shows such as Strictly Come Dancing, on which she is a judge”. Nor to Matthew Bourne, whose work is not classical ballet, but more (as he describes it himself) “contemporary dance theatre”.

 

Apparently “the changing dynamics and choreography of the ballet world could have repercussions for female dancers. A greater pool of technically proficient men, with more flexibility and precision than their forefathers, could begin taking the traditionally female roles that require, for example, en pointe manoeuvres”.  Thus raising the issue of gender identity and fluidity again (and rather ticking the box in terms of current favourite subjects for media discussion). But is this putative “repercussion” really likely?  Are there any examples other than that of Chase Johnsey at the ENB? 

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It was picked up and used by quite a few other papers.

 

Given the date I thought it was an April fool at first but I don't think it was...

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I thought so too.  I couldn’t believe that this tosh could be in The Times as anything other than a joke.  Sadly, but not surprisingly, it seems I was wrong.   

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I always look at articles by newspapers' "arts correspondents" with a degree of scepticism.

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22 minutes ago, Richard LH said:

 

“Apparently “the changing dynamics and choreography of the ballet world could have repercussions for female dancers. A greater pool of technically proficient men, with more flexibility and precision than their forefathers, could begin taking the traditionally female roles that require, for example, en pointe manoeuvres”.  Thus raising the issue of gender identity and fluidity again (and rather ticking the box in terms of current favourite subjects for media discussion). But is this putative “repercussion” really likely?  Are there any examples other than that of Chase Johnsey at the ENB? 

 

I can see where that's coming from - indeed, up to the taking roles and pointe work bit, where it falls down for me. This is just my 2p worth, as I can't claim any expertise or inside knowledge.

It seems to me that in much of classical ballet, the male is there predominantly to help the female balance during pirouettes and balances, and for lifts etc. More modern choreography has more equality generally, for each to dance steps so the focus on the partnership, rather than one of them showing the other off to the audience. And there are many more pieces now with an all male ensemble. When you think about it, in days gone by, most ballet schools for the very young would hardly have any boys - so the ones that did progress were being selected from a much smaller pool of dancers, than the girls were. Now that more boys going to ballet classes, there are more for the companies to select from, and so the quality has to go up. Which is then taken advantage of by today's choreographers.

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Thinking about your last line Dave. I think Directors may well be taking advantage as well. Have you noticed the number of tall

girls that have joined the Royal Ballet recently. Then one notices that there are number of tallish young boys in the lower ranks. Maybe one way of looking at the article would be that in the long run there will be more opportunities for taller girls to dance leading roles in the future

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Can anyone who has seen Darcey Bussell Evolved explain why this book would be featured at a literary festival?  It's a coffee table book of lovely photographs with a bit of text explaining the context of each picture - not what you might call literature.

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Darcey has always put 'bums on seats' and I suspect she is now well know enough to pull in the punters, despite the literary quality (or lack of it) of the most recent book.

 

She has had a very interesting life and I am sure a lot of people would wish to hear her be interviewed.  She will be far more upbeat and positive than several more authors.

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24 minutes ago, Two Pigeons said:

Darcey has always put 'bums on seats' and I suspect she is now well know enough to pull in the punters, despite the literary quality (or lack of it) of the most recent book.

 

She has had a very interesting life and I am sure a lot of people would wish to hear her be interviewed.  She will be far more upbeat and positive than several more authors.

I'm sure you're right.  I have never been to a literary festival and had rather more highbrow expectations! 

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IIRC David Sanderson was one of the journalists involved in reporting on ENB early last year. I don't recall that being poorly written.

His latest article is a report of a 'chat' and, as members of The Ballet Association and The London Ballet Circle who regularly write reports on dancers' talks know, the task is not an easy one - not because of the guests but because of the need to turn conversation into print and do justice to what was said.

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"The retired dancer said that women were struggling to keep up with the technical and physical abilities of male ballet dancers."

 

If this is an accurate quote of what she said, I don't understand at all.  Why should women even think about "keeping up" with male technical and physical abilities?  Surely the two sexes should complement each other, not compete with each other.  

 

 

 

 

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25 minutes ago, Fonty said:

"The retired dancer said that women were struggling to keep up with the technical and physical abilities of male ballet dancers."

 

If this is an accurate quote of what she said, I don't understand at all.  Why should women even think about "keeping up" with male technical and physical abilities?  Surely the two sexes should complement each other, not compete with each other. 

 

Yes, and I think that both female and male ballet dancers are now incredibly strong and perform to an incredible technical level. There does seem to be more emphasis on/evidence of great physical strength nowadays, in both sexes.  But the strongest male dancer is always going to jump higher than the strongest female dancer, and I don't envisage Kitri holding Basilio up on one arm any time soon. Maybe DB meant that more big strong men are going into ballet now; but I've no idea if that is actually the case.

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Is it possible we’re overthinking this? I know I say all sorts of rubbish when I feel under pressure to say something interesting - thank God no-one would want to publish it!

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11 hours ago, Lizbie1 said:

 I know I say all sorts of rubbish when I feel under pressure to say something interesting 


Surely not...! but I would suggest that the source in this case is rather more prominent, namely  (I guess)  the ballet figure most well-known currently to the general public. I doubt she voiced these opinions  just off the cuff or simply  because she felt  under pressure to say something interesting.

 

So I don't really regard this discussion in response, on the comparative roles of  men and women in ballet, as "overthinking" (any more than anything else on BCF)! 

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I’m sure I’ve heard of her making similar remarks before but I thought it was more in the sense of the boys catching up with the girls after an era in which they had been very much secondary (apart from a few famous standouts) rather than assuming the lead in some sense.

 

Perhaps that the pace of improvement in women’s technique has been slower than that of the men’s (which is inevitable if you think the men started from  a lower base).

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1 hour ago, Richard LH said:

Surely not...! but I would suggest that the source in this case is rather more prominent, namely  (I guess)  the ballet figure most well-known currently to the general public. I doubt she voiced these opinions  just off the cuff or simply  because she felt  under pressure to say something interesting.

 

I’m pretty sure everyone does so, whether they recognise it or not. All I’m saying is that Darcey Bussell is, as well as being a prominent figure, human, and I don’t think we should attach much import to what she said on a single occasion at which none of us was present and able to give any wider context.

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17 hours ago, AnneMarriott said:

I'm sure you're right.  I have never been to a literary festival and had rather more highbrow expectations! 

Just a little background information.

There are many literary festivals across the country and the larger ones, such as Oxford, have a large programme of events across multiple venues which cater for all types of readers with appearances from literary fiction authors, academic writers through to mass media,  bestselling  and celebratory authors, with everything in between. A large part of the funding comes from the publishers who bring their authors to the festival , and understandably have certain writers who they wish to take on tour. if you have a literary festival near you , take a look at the programme and you will be pleasantly surprised at the variety of sessions on offer. High bow or whatever ….

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Lizbie1 said:

 

I’m pretty sure everyone does so, whether they recognise it or not. All I’m saying is that Darcey Bussell is, as well as being a prominent figure, human, and I don’t think we should attach much import to what she said on a single occasion at which none of us was present and able to give any wider context.

 

But we are not responding, for example,  to some informal chance  remark, but to a fairly  lengthy newspaper report of  expressed views, given at a public event. 

https://oxfordliteraryfestival.org/literature-events/2019/march-30/evolved

 

So the context is known. Any of us not  present naturally have to rely on the accuracy of the press  report and I did say at the outset that I was  not sure how much was down to  Darcey Bussell  or the Arts Correspondent David Sanderson.  Either way,  it seems to me that  the subject matter raised is  reasonably worthy of  discussion - I didn't start the topic just because Darcey Bussell  was the reported source. 

Edited by Richard LH
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On 02/04/2019 at 05:53, Richard LH said:

“Men (are)  now best at ballet”  apparently because of  technical and physical ability.  Women are seemingly “struggling to keep up”. But no evidence follows  for this sweeping assertion.

 

She may have meant that ballet became very physical, very athletic, and men are coping better than women. This is a fact, and the evidence is everywhere, from San Francisco to London. A sad fact for those who were drawn to ballet by its inner delicacy, its finesse, poetry expressed through the medium of movement.

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1 hour ago, assoluta said:

 

She may have meant that ballet became very physical, very athletic, and men are coping better than women. This is a fact, and the evidence is everywhere, from San Francisco to London. A sad fact for those who were drawn to ballet by its inner delicacy, its finesse, poetry expressed through the medium of movement.

 

I agree that the change is a fact, but not that men are coping with it better than women. I see no evidence at all for that.

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1 hour ago, bridiem said:

 

I agree that the change is a fact, but not that men are coping with it better than women. I see no evidence at all for that.

 

Yes,  I agree bridiem. 

 

Change is a fact - especially if you look outside the big classical companies.  

 

If a company has a significant contemporary ballet rep. then it might be an idea to train and select dancers that have the ideal physicality for that.  This facility and aesthetic can be different from that of the ideal classical dancer.  Still can't see  this as women struggling to keep up..  More that  there is scope for vocational school and artistic directors to broaden their view of what a ballet dancer should look like.The upside is also more diversity.

 

(just trying to make lemonade out of lemons here)

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Posted (edited)
3 hours ago, bridiem said:

 

I agree that the change is a fact, but not that men are coping with it better than women. I see no evidence at all for that.

 

How would you know it, unless you are a ballet professional, or you're frequenting classes at one of the top ballet schools and have close contacts with those who teach there, and with the dancers taking the classes?

Edited by assoluta
stylistic

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Posted (edited)

I have wondered if female dancers are slightly stuck between the choice of portraying femininity and grace or athleticism and power? I've not been following ballet for that long, but have sensed a rise in gymnastic ballet. I think this can result in more specialism for roles where certain attributes are required. Male roles are less nuanced like that, it seems to me.

Edited by thewinelake

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56 minutes ago, assoluta said:

 

How would you know it, unless you are a ballet professional, or you're frequenting classes at one of the top ballet schools and have close contacts with those who teach there, and with the dancers taking the classes?

 

Assoluta, you appear to be suggesting that you on the contrary are in such a position, yet you offer no credentials or sources for your earlier statements. Without these, it's very difficult to treat what you have posted as anything other than rumour or conjecture rather than facts or evidence. Would you care to offer us some substance to back up your claims?

 

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Posted (edited)
53 minutes ago, thewinelake said:

I have wondered if female dancers are slightly stuck between the choice of portraying femininity and grace or athleticism and power? 

 

That is a good question, but from what I have seen, top rank female dancers today have an amazing ability to successfully portray  both - as exemplified, I thought, in the recent RB triple bill where they were switching between the physicality of  McGregor's Infra and the neoclassical grace of Balanchine's Symphiny  in C.

 

So as I see it, the physicality and athleticism that modern dancers (male and female) have now developed, does not necessarily preclude displaying the inner delicacy,  finesse, and poetry of ballet  to which assoluta refers above. In fact, in some ways a greater range and strength in movement, guided by good choreography, can provide further opportunities for displaying such qualities. 

Edited by Richard LH

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1 hour ago, assoluta said:

 

How would you know it, unless you are a ballet professional, or you're frequenting classes at one of the top ballet schools and have close contacts with those who teach there, and with the dancers taking the classes?

 

I think there would be some evidence of it at performance level (which there isn't), and also in the rate of injuries, which doesn't seem to me to be greater in women than in men. (Though the rate of injury does seem to be greater in both men and women than it used to be, though that's only an impression.)

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12 minutes ago, Ian Macmillan said:

A short-lived truce, I see.

 

Ian I am not quite sure what you are referring to - do you have an issue with the topic itself, or just the tone of some responses ? 

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35 minutes ago, Richard LH said:

 

Ian I am not quite sure what you are referring to - do you have an issue with the topic itself, or just the tone of some responses ? 

 

I did wonder that myself.  I think this is an interesting topic.

 

Speaking personally, as someone who underwent serious ballet training, it is a discipline that has always required strength and athleticism from both sexes.  However, in the past it seemed the idea was to develop those qualities in the ladies, while not looking too muscular.  The trend now seems to be veering towards taller, stronger looking  female dancers.  Whether or not this adds to the aesthetic appeal is a matter of personal taste.  However, I am sure I am not the only one who has seen a performance of one of the classics by a particularly sinewy looking female, and struggled to equate her appearance with the character she is supposed to be playing,  

 

 

 

.  

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