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Choreographers' development


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Aileen wrote (in the Wheeldon triple thread):

 

"I've wondered how professional choreographers improve. Does anyone give them any feedback or suggestions during the creation of the work or after the work has been performed? The choreographer is an artist, and has a vision, but, as with any other human endeavour, s/he can learn from other people. The concept of training in the context of choreography seems a strange one but why should it be? What support and advice is there for emerging and even established choreographers? Or are they pretty much left to get on with it with minimal oversight by anyone else?"

 

 

My thoughts on this (and I hasten to note I have no special or inside knowledge). Like many of us, I'd guess they learn on the job. Learn what works for them, for their 'style' and how people react to it, how the dancers perform it, whether they find a 'muse' upon whom their work can blossom. Can they improve with input from others - possibly, though I'd guess much would depend upon inspiration, and that could come with their first ever work, or the last before they can choreograph no more. Basic choreography techniques are taught in school, if my understanding is correct, though some will take to it better than others; those that do, may eventually be drawn to it instead of dancing, or take to it more when their dancing abilities fade. By implication, if you can be taught choreography, and improve it with experience (and/or collaboration), then almost anyone could do it - the genius lies (as with anything I suppose) in being particularly good at it. Abd that surely can only come with making new works, and being allowed to experiment, and yes, occasionally fail.

The introduction of the collaborative process, one of Wayne MacGregor's briefs when he was made resident choreographer so I heard, was to give choreographers (potential and more established) the confidence to make collaborations - with dramatists, with artists (for ideas of sets/costumes), with composers, and so on. This does seem to have fallen by the wayside of late - no proper Draft Works this year, for example.

The choregraphers generally regarded as the greats - Ashton, MacMillan, Balanchine, etc. all had great works and duds interspersed throughout their careers - so did they 'improve' as such? Or was it more down to a particular set of inspirations that made for a great work - or causing confusion to reign and a dud did get made - and then everyone only remembering the greats and forgetting the duds? I feel reasonably confident that 20,30 or more years down the line, we'll only be remembering Wheeldon, MacGregor and Scarlett's great pieces, and pretty much forgotten those that didn't cut the mustard (Internet searches excepted!!).

 

Anyone else want to add their 2p worth?

 

 

 

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What an interesting topic. I know that in the past the Royal Ballet had a number of initiatives to encourage the development of new choreographers and that Leslie Edwards was involved with these initiatives. It is clear that the Royal Ballet School encourages and rewards young choreographers. Having said that I think that it is still correct for me to generalise by saying that I have little or  no idea of the way in which young choreographers are nurtured and developed or whether they are given any special advice or support by the companies for which they work.

 

I wonder whether we have become too fixated on the concept of the to lone self sufficient genius to recognise that the great nineteenth century ballets which still hold the stage were not created in an artistic vacuum and were often created in circumstances which suggest that their makers were more like jobbing creators of dance works than the inspired men and women  of choreographic genius who we believe they and their successors to be. Do we hold on to a belief that dates back to the Romantic era because we know so little about the lives and formative experiences of choreographers like Petipa and Bournonville, neither of whom has a biography in English, and even less about Arthur St Leon, Mazillier, Merante and Justament who for most of us are merely names which appear in footnotes?

 

Is it possible that the collective belief in the existence of the lone self contained genius. has got in the way of  creating the circumstances in which young choreographers can find and develop their own voices rather than producing works which bear a  close family resemblance to the company's newer repertory pieces and are barely distinguishable from much of the work produced by their contemporaries in other companies?

 

Perhaps a careful inspection of the early lives and formative experiences of the acknowledged great choreographers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries would reveal some common themes over and above an innate ability to create dances. Many dancers can put steps together, some can create ballets but few people have the ability to create memorable dance works which delight and engage more than a single generation of ballet goers. It seems to me that it is a mistake to see the choreographer as a self sufficient inspired genius who no one has the right to criticise or advise particularly in the early stages of his or her development or indeed during the creation of a work which involves a heavy commitment of time and money. It is said that de Valois suggested the Manon drunken pas de deux to MacMillan to lighten the ballet before  tragedy strikes. We all know that Robbins worked in the commercial theatre but so did Ashton and  Balanchine before they became established choreographers. I don't think that the men who employed them would have held back from saying if they thought that their choreography was not going to be effective and work in its theatrical context. I am not sure that leaving an established choreographer like Bintley, MacMillan or Tharp to learn from their mistakes is a sufficient response to a failure. Perhaps the failures of works like Cyrano, Isadora and Mister Worldly Wise should be used as case studies for those about to embark on a choreographic career as part of their training and also for those who authorise spending a lot of company money

 

Studying the early lives and formative experiences of choreographers as diverse as Massine, Nijinska, Ashton, Balanchine, Tudor and Robbins might reveal that "choreographic genius" is a subtle mixture of ability; "training" including both class and the opportunity to observe major choreographers at work; exposure to outside influences such as other forms of dance and theatrical art forms, fine arts and music and the avant garde; the opportunity to create and stage works for an audience not composed of dance professionals; trusted, cultured collaborators/ mentors who may advise on music, content, design  or simply act as a sounding board  and last but not least a market. As I said I have no idea what any company actually puts in place to assist career development. Perhaps those who have more knowledge about what is available will contribute to this debate.

Edited by FLOSS
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  • 2 weeks later...

I was under the impression that choreography is taught at the vocational schools and that sometimes students are identified as being potential choreographers while at school.  I would hope that the teaching would include an in depth look at the choreographic greats.

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Choreography taught?  Really...  Don't believe any of the greats of the past had any such thing as 'choreography classes'!  

I imagine you can be taught to craft a work that has reasonable shape, but beyond that....

And being taught could in fact stifle creativity..

Very much 'born and not made' in my opinion. 

And if they have a real need to do it, there are far more outlets nowadays then ever before in the history of ballet!

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Choreography taught?  Really...  Don't believe any of the greats of the past had any such thing as 'choreography classes'!  

I imagine you can be taught to craft a work that has reasonable shape, but beyond that....

And being taught could in fact stifle creativity..

Very much 'born and not made' in my opinion. 

And if they have a real need to do it, there are far more outlets nowadays then ever before in the history of ballet!

 

 

Do students get an opportunity to choreograph?  If they do, then I assume they may be given some guidance/mentoring as to how their work looks.  

 

Are students taught the history of ballet and productions so that they can learn through that method ideas for structuring their own works.

 

I was under the impression that some students realised they had a talent for / love of choreography rather than dancing themselves while they were still students?

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Do students get an opportunity to choreograph? If they do, then I assume they may be given some guidance/mentoring as to how their work looks.

Students at Elmhurst get the opportunity to take part in the annual school choreo competition. In the lower years there is more support from teaching staff than the upper school. Pupils don't have to take part but it is encouraged. During the lessons they choose their music, choose their dancers from their class mates and over a number of months choreo their piece. This week is the prelims when the school artistic staff will choose which pieces will go through to the finals. The finals audience is made up of friends of the school and the audience get to vote on their favourite dance. Guests, normally from BRB, choose the winners in the other categories.

I assume other vocational schools give their students a similar opportunity.

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Do students get an opportunity to choreograph?  If they do, then I assume they may be given some guidance/mentoring as to how their work looks.  

 

Are students taught the history of ballet and productions so that they can learn through that method ideas for structuring their own works.

 

I was under the impression that some students realised they had a talent for / love of choreography rather than dancing themselves while they were still students?

The answer to all of those would be a 'yes' I think, and in fact we know two students at vocational school who have recently had their work included in high-profile performances.

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I do question the idea that the great choreographers were great because they were inspired men and women of genius and that all you have to do is to give nascent choreographers access to music,dancers and stage time and a bit of mentoring.Is it really that simple? It seems to me that the great choreographers of the twentieth century present us with a far more complex picture of opportunities and influences than that. Here is a brief account of the three most significant British choreographers of the last century MacMillan, Ashton and Tudor. Of the three only MacMillan received anything like a conventional dance training. Both Ashton and Tudor embarked on training too late to pursue careers as great dancers but they came to the dance full of ideas and influences which are not the norm for those pursuing a career in dance today.

 

MacMillan said that he learnt how to choreograph by watching Ashton in the studio but I can't help feeling that Cranko played a much greater part in his development as a choreographer than he was ever prepar to admit. They were both in the junior company at Sadler's Wells when MacMillan was still dancing and Cranko was creating his early works for the company. Cranko gave Macmillan advice and support when he began choreographing. When Cranko moved to Stuttgart he gave MacMillan the opportunity to make works which the Opera House Board had vetoed because they used major orchestral scores. It is more difficult to identify the choreographers who influenced him but Kurt Joos,Antony Tudor and Cranko seem strong contenders He seems to have come into contact with Georgiadis who designed so many of his greatest works because of de Valois who insisted that he should meet the young designer who was making a name for himself at St Martin's College of Art. The company at Sadler's Wells gave opportunities to new choreographers which would not have been available at Covent Garden and where failure would not attract the sort of comment that it would have done in Bow Street.

 

 

Ashton did not come from nowhere. He had begun his dance training with Massine who passed him on to Rambert because she also taught Cechetti technique. He saw Pavlova and Duncan dance and was influenced by both of them. He danced for the Ida Rubinstein company when Nijinska was the company choreographer and she allowed him to watch her while she was at work in the rehearsal studio. While dancing for Rambert he became involved with a ballet that she was creating. He made some suggestions and she encouraged him to complete the work. The ballet in question was A Tragedy of Fashion. He found work in the commercial theatre working for C.B. Cochrane where he collaborated with dancers like Buddy Bradley . Markova ascribed his impeccable timing of his works to his experience in the commercial theatre. Alexander Grant said in interview that in order to understand Ashton you had to understand Massine.During his career he benefitted from the advice and support of Rambert for whom he made his first ballets, the stage designer Sophie Fedorovitch and Karsavina.

 

 

Then there is Antony Tudor, he also saw Pavlova and perhaps Loie Fuller. Like Massine he had been engaged in theatrical performances. He left his job as a butcher in Smithfield and went to work for Rambert who gave him free tuition;mentored him;transformed him from William Cook into Antony Tudor;advised him on what to read;got him free access to performances by the Ballet Russes which enabled him to see the new works of Massine, Balanchine and Nijinska and above all encouraged him to make new works for her company.

 

Perhaps the real secret is that it is easier to be creative and successful in circumstances which encourage new choreographers and choreography;where the audience want to see new works; the new works are not in competition with an established repertory which audiences want to see and in which dancers want to appear. Perhaps the essential factor is that the person in charge of the enterprise needs to be a cultured,enlightened despot who has the power, the knowledge and the will to ensure that inadequate works don't make it onto the stage.

Edited by FLOSS
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Thanks for that, Floss.  I am interested to know in what way they were influenced by seeing Pavlova dance.  I know that she made enormous impact on everyone who saw her, but the impression I get from reading about her performances is that her repertoire was quite small.   For some reason, I don't associate her in my mind with great and imaginative choreography.  However, I freely admit that the only piece I know that she danced is the Dying Swan.

 

On a different issue, I notice that there are several worldwide choreographic competitions, but they all seem to be for contemporary dance.  Is there a world famous competition for new classical ballet choreography?

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betterankles, on 06 Mar 2016 - 8:35 PM, said:snapback.png

Choreography taught?  Really...  Don't believe any of the greats of the past had any such thing as 'choreography classes'!  

 

 

I imagine all great writers had to learn to read first...

 

Indeed, and choreographers learn to dance - even if late in the day - or at least the vocabulary of dance. 

Teaching classical ballet dancing, is not teaching choreography - it is the equivalent of teaching to read and write.   

 

Have all or most great writers been 'taught' to write?.........

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betterankles, on 06 Mar 2016 - 8:35 PM, said:snapback.png

 

I imagine all great writers had to learn to read first...

 

Indeed, and choreographers learn to dance - even if late in the day - or at least the vocabulary of dance. 

Teaching classical ballet dancing, is not teaching choreography - it is the equivalent of teaching to read and write.   

 

Have all or most great writers been 'taught' to write?.........

 

 

 

No, probably not but for as long as I can remember published writers have to seek deals with publishers and have editors to help/mentor them.

 

Self-publishing is a different ball game as I have discovered when down-loading self-published books to my kindle.  Some are fabulous and others could do with either a blummin' good editor or not being published in the first place.

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Jiri Kylian and John Neumeier started choreographing while they were dancers at Stuttgart Ballet under John Cranko, and William Forsythe joined Stuttgart Ballet not long after Cranko’s death. Uwe Scholz was given early choreographic opportunities by Marcia Haydee. Reid Anderson has programmed a wealth of new creations since 1996 - just looking at new pieces in recent years, Katarzyna Kozielska has just had the premiere of her second ballet for the main stage, Demis Volpi will be creating a new full-evening ballet later this season, Marco Goecke is producing new pieces on a regular basis, and Christian Spuck started in Stuttgart and has since moved to Zuerich. And I’ve surely missed out on some names!

How important is, in addition to encouragement by the AD, the stimulation through peers who also embark on choreographic adventures? Stuttgart saw, in 1958, the creation of the Noverre society as a forum for new choreographies, both by dancers of Stuttgart Ballet and elsewhere. An English-speaking article here http://www.networkdance.com/articles/Landgraf-on-Dance/12223 gives an insight into the role of that organisation as part of a review of one of their annual performances in recent years.

 

POB has recently appointed four of their dancers as artists in residence https://www.operadeparis.fr/en/academy/about. They follow the creation of a ballet and have access to a team of young dancers from Paris Opera Ballet School in a workshop. I’ve also read somewhere that they receive lessons in dance history and that two existing choreographers provide support to them. The four artists in residence will share a mixed programme next season.

 

A thought – I remember from a post that I’ve read earlier that also Ashton and MacMillan created ballets that were not such a success. Did this trigger a similar discussion at the time? Has the commercial need for instant success increased, and/ or have the expectations of audience and critics increased? With busy company schedules, do choreographers nowadays have less time to review/ reflect/ take in feedback/ make amendments before the opening night?

 

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edited for typo

Edited by Duck
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that's an interesting point - new ballets don't have a preview run like general or musical theatre, before opening night. Makes one wonder if more could be put on as previews, and then 'tidied up' before hitting the main stage on opening night. I suppose lack of funds, time, dancers' scedules etc prevent that sort of thing.

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From my history reading it seems that pretty much all the "greats" created plenty of works that did one run and were dropped or extensively reworked. We see the ones that survived - and some of those may have languished for decades before being revived.

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Ballets disappear from the repertory or are altered for all sorts of reasons which have nothing to do with their quality. A change of director is usually the reason for changes of repertory and the loss of ballets. But even companies with artistic management continuity can experience changes which affect their repertory. Losing sets, costumes and scores;moving to a new theatre;changes in public taste and new audiences all influence the choice of repertory which may lead to the loss of ballets. A change of company personnel; restaging a work for a new company and the choreographer's second or third thoughts may all lead to radical revisions of ballets which in their original form were regarded as excellent works.

 

The fact that Balanchine frequently revised his works does not indicate that he was remedying defects. He altered his ballets to suit new casts and companies. He created his Palais de Cristal for the POB and reworked it for his own NYCB as Symphony in C. He reworked ballets for individual dancers so that the choreography suited them much as eighteenth century composers reworked their operas for new casts to provide performers with a text that showed them to best advantage. Second thoughts led him to rework Apollo by removing its opening scene showing the birth of the god. None of these changes are indicative of poor choreographic quality.

 

As far as the early Ashton repertory is concerned not all the loses indicate that the lost ballets were of inadequate quality. The Sadler's Wells company lost its sets, costumes and scores when it escaped the German invasion of Holland in May 1940. Not all of the ballets affected were subsequently revived. As the male dancers of the company had had their call up deferred for two months to enable them to go on the British Council tour to Holland I have no doubt that the loss of male dancers to military service played a part in the decision about which of the lost ballets should be revived at that point.

 

The post war move to Covent Garden led to the loss of ballets which were regarded as unsuited to the company's much larger new home. Then there were ballets such as Dante Sonata which had a great effect on audiences before and during the war but lost their impact after the war and were dropped.

 

Were some of the lost post war Ashton ballets bad? I don't know. Sylvia could easily have slipped into oblivion. the fact that it was reworked and turned into a one act work suggested that it was a weak work. Its revival in 2004 in its original form showed it to be a work of considerable worth. The fact that it brushed up so well makes me wonder about Madame Chrysentheme and Persephone. Were they poor works which deservedly slipped into oblivion or were they simply ballets that were not adequately appreciated? Chrysentheme was described by Richard Buckle as the best work that Ashton had made in years while Mary Clarke thought it "a lovely and delicate work of art". As for Persephone the short film snippets that I have seen and the short reconstructed section of choreography suggest an intriguing work made even more intriguing by the conflicting accounts that I have heard of it, in some cases from the same person.

 

While I am sure that some of the lost works such as Les Sirenes were deservedly lost I am not sure that the fact that even the best choreographers of the twentieth century produced a few duds is of any great assistance in furthering a discussion about the development of choreographers in the twenty first century or explaining why so much new work is instantly forgettable and looks so much like every other new piece.

Edited by FLOSS
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Do students get an opportunity to choreograph? If they do, then I assume they may be given some guidance/mentoring as to how their work looks.

Are students taught the history of ballet and productions so that they can learn through that method ideas for structuring their own works.

 

I was under the impression that some students realised they had a talent for / love of choreography rather than dancing themselves while they were still students?

At White Lodge the students study history of art and undertake choreo sessions where they develop their own dances. They then are encouraged but not expected to enter a choreography competition. Once through to the final stages, they are supported by the teachers to ensure that all classmates are in 1 of the dances and that it is polished!

The years 7,8 &9 have the final of this next week being judged by a panel that is supposed to include Lism Scarlett and Kevin OHare.

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Fonty you seem surprised by the idea that a ballerina who danced to what Ashton described as "tea room music" and in choreography best described as undistinguished could be an influence on a major choreographer. I think that we need to remember that Pavlova was a dancer appreciated equally by major dancers and teachers and those who knew nothing about ballet including a thirteen year old schoolboy in Peru whose life she changed. Ashton said of her that she had a limited technique but that she was the greatest theatrical genius he had ever seen. He says of her that danced with her entire body,was graceful and expressive and had beautiful arched feet.

 

While much of what he said about Pavlova is very similar to what de Valois said about the effect and emphasis of Cecchetti's teaching as it applied to female dancers it does not account for the effect that she clearly had on her audiences. Nijinska described her as a great dancer whereas in her opinion Karsavina was merely a beautiful woman. At a time when most female students at the Imperial school and dancers appearing on the Mariinsky stage were trying to emulate the bravura technique of the Italian guest dancers she was recognised by her teachers, including Cecchetti, as someone different and apart in possession of gifts that could not be taught. Perhaps her impact is in large part explained by the contrast between an expressive theatrical genius and the generation of technicians who surrounded her.

 

As far as Ashton is concerned she seems to have been the epitome of the ballerina. The book Following Sir Fred's Steps makes it clear that he spoke about her to the dancers with whom he was working using her as a reference point for them in their work. He wanted them to emulate the pliancy, freedom and expressiveness of her movement (she danced, he said , with her entire body),her epaulement, her grace and her speed. She seems to have made him appreciate dancers who had beautiful feet leading him to draw attention to beautiful feet and deflecting attention from feet that were less than beautiful in his choreography.

 

It has been suggested that in many ways he choreographed for Pavlova in the ballets he created from the ballerina roles in his earliest ballets to his last great work Rhapsody. There is an excerpt from Markova's documentary Ballerina in which he speaks about Pavlova. It includes excerpts from several of her ballets. The more I look at the excerpts from The Fairy Doll the more I think that bits of its choreography found their way into the choreography for the Fairy godmother and the seasons in his Cinderella. I am not sure that it was the result of a conscious decision as he said he did not much like Pavlova in the role but when I look at the dancers in the 1969 recording pf Cinderella, all of whom had Ashton in their DNA, the more I feel I see a connection between the two works. See what you think.

Edited by FLOSS
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