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Does Ballet Need To Get With The Times?


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I think this topic has been discussed before but I find it so interesting that I wanted to raise debate and find out what everyone else thinks! I wrote a piece for my blog (please see link below) sort of as an open letter for choreographers to address current affairs more in their work. 

 

Did we really need to see another re-working of Carmen? Are there any ballets out there that address themes that resonate with our world today? If not, why?!

 

http://tothepointemagazine.wix.com/tothepointemagazine

 

http://tothepointemagazine.wix.com/tothepointemagazine#!Why-Ballet-Needs-To-Get-With-The-Times/cmbz/566870bf0cf20ee65add6223

Edited by ToThePointe
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Just because the concept has been addressed before does not mean it is still not relevant for discussion today, when themes and world politics have moved on from the times of Norman Morrice. I don't think it is 'dated' at all.

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I would say argue that Matthew Bourne is providing ballet/dance that resonates with popular culture of today. His vampires for sleeping beauty being one example of taking what is popular in other areas of 'culture' and bringing them to the stage. If you mean the troubles or themes of today, then I think that the issues have always been the same since forever in general.

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The themes may be the same, but not necessarily the issues. In any case, whether they are the same or not, the point the TtP is making that perhaps it is time for ballet choreographers to address some of the issues we face in the 21st century.

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Setting a ballet in a tube station doesn't exactly mean it addresses current issues or themes. It just means that it's set in the present day.

 

I'm talking about choreography that hones in on themes that grip our world such as obsession with celebrity culture, immigration, religion, crime etc...

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Isn't it more about what a narrative or semi-narrative (rather than abstract) art form could do? The modern dance world applies itself quite often to contemporary life. Has there been anything such at the RB since The Judas Tree in 1992? (Even that, though set in modern times, could be considered an allegory and timeless.)

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I would say that ballet as an art form, has been responsible for many discussions and pushing topics further than before. Regarding the sexuality of dancers, the politics of the bolshoi, the recriminations of not being chosen, acid attacks, espionage, etc.. I think this could be why hollywood and film makers are generally more interested in what happens behind the curtain than in front of it.

 

In Zürich Sleeping Beauty by Mats Ek is about a Junkie, which i guess was modern for its time and particularly a topic of discussion in Zurich at the time.

 

You mention, I don't think we will see 'Kardashian the Ballet', well we have our Kim Kardashian of the Ballet in Misty Copeland, and by this its not a race thing...it is where the promotion, press, agents, marketing, and celebrity have meant that Misty Copeland is the name on the lips of all americans as the 'best ballet dancer', and her shows are sold out. New books, films, TV shows, and all that Jazz, just not much of quality in dancing.

 

If anyone thinks that 'the Misty Effect' or Misty herself is promoting or helping ballet in general rather than herself, then I suggest they look a bit closer to the engines at work.

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Modern dance sometimes addresses contemporary themes with varying degrees of success. 

 

Ballets such as Ghost Dances and Swan Song showed us people oppressed by politics, still topical in my opinion.

 

Is there a choreographer around that would want to do a ballet on global warming?  Is there an audience out there prepared to watch a ballet about global warming?

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Making a ballet "about" something and actually "addressing" an issue may of course be two totally different things.  One may simply show, whereas the other one discusses - hopefully.

 

Was it Cathy Marston who made a piece in the Linbury a decade or so ago about migrants?

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A great topic. I've noticed how often new ballets are based on old works of literature. There's Frankenstein coming up at the RB and NB has recently commissioned 1984. McGregor did of course base Raven Girl on a newly written fairy tale, which was about identity and belonging. It was a great idea but the end result was not an unqualified success. The two big issues currently facing us are migration and terrorism. Would any choreographer be bold (brave?) enough to create a work about one of these issues?

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Exactly my point Aileen. 

 

I think it's time that ballet reflected the times more. Why shouldn't terrorism be a subject matter for a ballet? 

 

Also I've yet to see a same sex relationship explored through a ballet apart from Scarlett's 'Age of Anxiety' and that was clutching at straws a bit...

 

(Bourne's all male swan-lake doesn't count!!)

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Yes, it strikes me that 'bold' in ballet generally means contortion and extreme extensions in the choreography and peculiar costumes rather than challenging subject matter. It is a rather conservative art form compared with most other art forms.

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Matthew Hart's ballet Dances with Death was about AIDS.

 

He has spoken of the his struggle as a young, inexperienced choreographer to get this work on stage and reviews were very (shall we say, 'mixed') but it certainly spoke loudly about a contemporary concern in the 1990s.

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I think, Swiss Ballet Fan, that it would be a bit difficult to choreograph a ballet when you are not a choreographer, just as it would be a bit difficult to dance Swan Lake if you weren't a ballet dancer.

 

I agree that it could be the case, however in terms of suggesting a choreographer 'step up to the barre and show us' is a little bit too easy, especially when a whole forum can talk about whether the Gypsies in 2 Pigeons is racist, or of an 'older' time. 

 

In my view the OP is saying, why isn't it the case? and 'Does Ballet Need to get with the Times?' 

 

I think you only need to spend a very brief time on the pages of this forum to know that modern ballet is contentious enough for the watchers.

 

In a world where people have been killed for a cartoon, comedians don't comment on Islam etc, I am lost to why a non-verbal art form should in anyway attempt to tackle such a complicated matter. I feel it is better that people read a newspaper, study the complex matters behind all of these issues before going to watch a person in a leotard  (with tights....of course you can't subject the audience to a badly lit exposure of body parts) that is white (otherwise its clearly racist), to evoke feelings about terrorism. This is the key point, the art has to ADD something to the discussion, what can dance add to this?) I for the life of me wouldn't know, or listen to the fallout.

 

My comment was not as flippant as I made out, I watch Young Choreographers t Ballet Zurich where the dancers themselves create choreography, and there were some very nice pieces by a young dancer about the practices of interrogation and observation in the modern world, and so I would think that if this is an idea the OP has, they can create it. A 'choreographer' is someone who creates art, and it can take all forms of expression.

 

 

Come to think of it, I have just created a choreography in my head about today's modern society called 'Politcally Correct Ballet about Terrorism and Migration' Where a dancer stands in the middle of the stage dancing then 'undoing the moves' going back to the start, then trying some other mdances moves and then going back to the same spot. Because any movement, and intention, and action will be interpreted and be contentious, so sometimes its better to undo, or leave it unsaid.

 

The choreography steps represent my keys on the keyboard about what I would like to say with my post, but even then words and questions about this subject, but they get deleted, because well....it just isn't politically correct.

 

 

Now where do I collect my Benois de la dance award?

Edited by SwissBalletFan
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Forgot about Jonathan Watkins whose As One addressed modern themes.

 

1984 is timeless and as relevant today as when it was written.  Perhaps that could be a way of addressing some current issues.

 

Modern dance sometimes addresses contemporary themes with varying degrees of success. 

 

Ballets such as Ghost Dances and Swan Song showed us people oppressed by politics, still topical in my opinion.

 

Is there a choreographer around that would want to do a ballet on global warming?  Is there an audience out there prepared to watch a ballet about global warming?

 

Again both Ghost Dances and Swan Song are still (sadly) relevant to issues within the world today.  Christopher Bruce also choreographed Land about the then military junta in Poland.  

 

Not quite global warming but David Bintley's Still Life at the Penguin Cafe was about the extinction of species.

 

 

Exactly my point Aileen. 

 

I think it's time that ballet reflected the times more. Why shouldn't terrorism be a subject matter for a ballet? 

 

Also I've yet to see a same sex relationship explored through a ballet apart from Scarlett's 'Age of Anxiety' and that was clutching at straws a bit...

 

(Bourne's all male swan-lake doesn't count!!)

 

Same sex relationship - David Nixon's Swan Lake for Northern Ballet!

 

I think many of the choreographers of the 20th century have looked to the present or recent past.  I'm thinking of works like Tudor's Echoing of Trumpets and Jooss' Green Table.

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Maybe ballet has too many limitations - pointe shoes, turn out, ballet positions, music. We are used to seeing ballet expressed in a world of fantasy and to convey romanticism. And it's not always done very successfully - the number of choreographers that have produced what might be considered great or timeless work is very small. I think audiences may, as a result, have built a kind of stubbornness or resistance to any change. Maybe modern and contemporary dance by comparison have so much more freedom of expression that choreographers can be more adventurous, so that current issues can be addressed readily and audiences in turn are very receptive? 

 

I like the point that art shouldn't have to cater for audiences. I think that maybe these kind of issues are best done through exploring personal relationships within that context. Or maybe done quite abstractly? I'd be very interested to see how a choreographer might tackle migration, terrorism or climate change through these prisms. My problem is that I'm so often disappointed by new choreography, choice of music or the disconnect between the two in new ballets these days, I think any interesting message may be lost.

 

Edited to correct typo.

Edited by Sunrise
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