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The new director of the Bolshoi Makhar Vazier has indicated that he believes that the classics are central to the Bolshoi's identity and future development. By implication he seems to be critical of some of the company's recent repertory choices as he also said that "you can't become good at dancing Swan Lake if you only dance it every three years". This statement is not a world shattering revelation but it is something that artistic directors and audiences need to remember.

 

We all want new ballets but do we need extreme physical novelty for its own sake? It has been suggested that this sort of novelty may come at a price in terms of technique, injury and career duration. If you were in charge of the Royal Ballet which works would you select as central to the company's identity? Which nineteenth and twentieth century works would you schedule for regular revival bearing in mind that MacMillan's Manon,Romeo and Juliet and Mayerling already seem to be on such a timetable?

 

At present the company stages seven full length or full length equivalents each year with four mixed bills. Should the company do more to turn over its entire repertory regularly so that the style of each of the nineteenth and twentieth century choreographer whose works are in the repertory is in the company's DNA or should it select a few works for preservation and then concentrate on new works?

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I really love the fact that the RB has an identity and that putting on MacMillan and Ashton ballets and programmes regularly is part of who they are. I think it's important to keep this going not only so that these works can be preserved but I think it attracts an audience. I've heard so many times that no-one does Swan Lake like in Russia or Balanchine like NYCB and I think we have that here with MacMillan and Ashton. 

 

My problem is that the classics, along with the MacMillan and Ashton ballets, are on a loop (let me guess, Manon, Swan Lake and Onegin in 2018?) which is beginning to get a little tired. There is a lot of focus and emphasis on commissioning new work and keeping the company current, however, the 'classics' haven't changed much in years. It's been said over and over again on this Forum that they should bring back some of the other ballets like Ondine or Bayadere which I think would wake up tired eyes! 

 

Variety is crucial though not only in putting 'bums on seats' but also to keep dancers enthused and happy about their work. Dancing the same programmes over and over again must be difficult which is why new work will always be important, however, I think they could shake things up with the classical repertoire too.

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To be fair, Bayadere was on not long ago (two runs in 3 years i think it was); next time Swan Lake on, it will be a brand new production, so that might be exciting (at least, I hope it will be!); Ondine isn't great when the eponymous character isn't on stage (it seems a whole lot of hooey filler made up in 5mins, to give Margot a rest between her variations); Manon and Onegin have both been on a lot recently and perhaps fatigue with them set in a little, as they did struggle a bit to sell out. Perhaps they'll get a rest for a year or two now. Wholly agree with the variety aspect though - for dancers and regular audience alike. However, the 'bums-on-seats' classics (the Tchaikovsky's, R&J, Fille) are almost bound to be on regularly, as people want to see them, and up and coming dancers want to dance them, to test themselves as dancers. New works need to be staged, and older works revived, where possible, to keep them in the rep. Not an easy balancing act, for any AD! Still, that's what they get the big bucks for.

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I agree that Ondine isn't all that but I'm mainly using those as examples to highlight that there is a lot of Classical repertoire that doesn't seem to be revived very often. It seems to me it's often the same ones, which I agree, are there because people love them and dancers love to dance them, but I think some more focus could be put on expanding this side of the RB's repertoire. They've got it down to a T with the new works, maybe now just some more thought for the 'traditional' pieces. 

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I agree that Ondine isn't all that but I'm mainly using those as examples to highlight that there is a lot of Classical repertoire that doesn't seem to be revived very often.

 

Yes, true - I'd love to see Sylvia back again for example - and I'm sure those more knowledgeable than me could name lots of others. Trying to balance all the needs, wants, and would-love-tos, and new stuff, all in 11-12 productions a season, can't be easy. Perhaps once the Linbury revamped, we'll get more smaller scale mixed bills down there, which could help mix things up a bit.

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Bayadere was last on in 2013, and as it won't be on next season the earliest we will be able to see it again will be Autumn 2017, which is a four-year gap. I guess that is kind of long for a three-act ballet! You might not like Ondine (I don't either) but there are many people out there who love it and would like to see it back. Considering the time and expense of its revival, as with Sylvia and Bayadere, it would be nice for people to have the chance of seeing it more than once every four or five years. On the other hand, as has been stated above, a balance has to be struck.

 

I do feel very strongly however that to be able to perform the beautiful 19th century classics properly is a pre-requisite of any classical company's success; the rest is a bonus, such as Balanchine for NYCB and Ashton/MacMillan for the RB, as ToThePointe said above. Of course, if companies are lucky enough to have genius choreographers creating not only pieces but whole new styles of dance for them, then they have to be flexible enough to interpret that choreography in addition to the classics.

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I think another reason to branch out in the classics is that the dancers will not only explore a different style and choreography but there are often more parts. That's something I love about Sleeping Beauty actually - all those fairies give some of the younger dancers a chance for a solo!

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Always hoped we'd one day get the full length Raymonda at RB, failing that I love the Nureyev third act.  I think La Sylphide suits the company and the Kobborg version is one of the best I've ever seen.  Of course a new Petipa ballet isn't out of the question as Sergei Vikharev is able to recreate from the notations.  Sadly though I don't think that will happen. 

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I just want to see the RB keep up a terrific standard of classical dancing. Anything that makes sure that they maintain the highest level of technique should be part of every season's programming. However, I am not knowledgeable enough to list specific ballets that would enable them to do that.

 

It is my understanding that many of the Ashton ballets, danced at the correct speed, and in the style that the creator intended, helps in this respect.  Especially those that use plenty of dancers, and require them to dance in perfect unison.  I think this enables the entire company to raise their standards in the classics. 

 

I am never sure about the MacMillan rep.  Just thinking about it, while the principals get a lot to do, the rest of the dancers seem to spend a good deal of time standing around reacting to the scenes unfolding in front of them.  Great for dramatic skills, but perhaps not so good from a dance point of view? 

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The Royal Ballet has a very wide ranging repertory in theory but in practice it is a totally different story. It is only when you look at the regimes of the directors who have run the Royal Ballet since it was founded in 1931 that you come to realising how dependent we are on the personal taste of each director for our knowledge and understanding of ballet's history and its significance as one of the most energetic and innovative art form of the twentieth century.

 

I am not at all convinced that the current AD has got the balance between old and new repertory right or that he has got the balance between the various strands of the historical repertory right either. Whole sections of the Diaghilev repertory are scarcely part of the current repertory. I think it matters because the audience has a right to see the great works of the past in fine productions performed with a real understanding of the style as well as the currently fashionable repertory.Some members of this Forum believe that the company's classics are carefully tended and programmed regularly. I wish I could share their faith.

 

If the new Bolshoi director is right, and he almost certainly is, then the main element in the quality of performances of Swan Lake or any other ballet lies in the dancers' familiarity and deep knowledge of the ballet in which they are dancing. If a dancer performs Aurora or Odette/ Odile at the Royal Ballet they will probably have the standard three performances in each revival and if it is performed once every three years they will only have performed it nine times at most in a nine year period. That does not seem enough to me for the performer to get to grips with a major role and learn from performing it.

Edited by FLOSS
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..., then the main element in the quality of performances of Swan Lake or any other ballet lies in the dancers' familiarity and deep knowledge of the ballet in which they are dancing.

 

or, if they dance it over a 100 times a year, and are drilled like troops

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I think it may be worth mentioning that there is quite a body of thought which indicates that if you want to see the Ashton rep done properly and with real respect for they speed and style needed you have to go to Sarasota and see that company.   I think the performance of the Ashton rep by both Royal Ballet companies is pretty inconsistent these days, much as it pains me to say it.

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Fonty, I think that you are right to be unsure about the impact that the performance of the MacMillan  full length ballets  has on the company's dancing skills. The truth is that his full length works don't provide that many opportunities for the entire company to dance using classical dance vocabulary.

 

In 2010 the company danced sixteen performances of Romeo and Juliet between January and March. Towards the end of the run it embarked on a MacMillan mixed bill which included  Concerto a ballet which he created on the Deutsch Oper  It is a ballet which requires a technically strong, disciplined corps de ballet as it exposes any, and every, technical weakness in those dancing it. The critics noted that the corps was not completely at one and then expressed surprise that it was so ragged as the company had been dancing MacMillan since Christmas. They did not associate the  weaknesses exposed by dancing Concerto  with the fact that the company had been dancing Romeo and Juliet.

 

MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet centres on the tragedy of the two main characters. All the other named characters are on stage only insofar as their presence is required to move the narrative along. The dance vocabulary given to each character enables the dancer to portray the characters as individuals but while this is effective dramatically it means that the only male dancer  called upon to display the full range of his dancing and partnering skills is the one playing Romeo. Mercutio reveals his character and personality  through the technically demanding choreography which he dances; Benvolio, a lesser character, has less interesting choreography; Paris is only called upon to  display his partnering skills while the mandolin dancers really only reveal their athletic strength and their skill at leapfrog. I have a feeling that the lead mandolin dancer had a bit more actual dancing in the past.

 

As far as the female dancers are concerned only Juliet is asked to display extensive dance skills, her friends are given a simple dance vocabulary and the whores get to wear character shoes. As far as the corps is concerned it populates the market place and establishes the period in which the action takes place; it fights and dies; it decorate the ballroom and provides a background for the drama in each scene in which it appears  but it has limited opportunities to dance.

 

The impact of the ballet on the company's ability to dance other choreography was not so pronounced when the MacMillan full length  works were new because there was very little repertory which did not use classically based choreography. There were more mixed bills scheduled each season than is the case now and full length works were  scheduled interspersed  with mixed bills rather than in blocks involving fifteen or more performances of a single work with a bookend of a mixed bill, as is often the case today. As the repertory becomes more varied and less of it is classically based the company's ability to perform the classics and its classically based repertory is more of a potential problem than it once was. I just hope that the powers that be have noticed .

 

  

 .

Edited by FLOSS
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I was just trying to think of ballets that should be regularly included that fulfilled the function of making sure that the dancers kept their classical techniques in prime condition. 

 

I love Les Sylphides, but was deeply disappointed the last time I saw the RB perform it.  Generally speaking, I thought a lot of the dancing looked forced, heavy and flat footed.  Harsh, I know, but there are plenty of clips on Youtube showing how it should be done. 

 

Has the RB ever done the Kingdom of the Shades on its own? 

 

I am sure other people can come up with some suggestions.

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Has the RB ever done the Kingdom of the Shades on its own? 

 

 

 

Yes. a beautiful version by Nureyev, I think it had more value than the current full-length version.  I would love to see its return.

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If we could have Nureyev's Kingdom of the Shades back in the repertory with a full complement of thirty two shades I would happily abandon Markarova's full length Bayadere  which, for me, lacks the grandeur of Nureyev's production which he staged as a tribute to the quality of the company's corps de ballet. It is one of those occasions on which even if the arrangement of the choreographic text turned out to be after Petipa  rather than by him it is still something that I would like to see as part of the company's living repertory. 

 

What made the corps de ballet. of the time,so special was the repertory that it danced. The company's repertory  was very much based on classical choreography whether it was dancing the nineteenth century classics works by Diaghilev's choreographers or works  by Ashton himself the choreography had a firm classical base so that if rules were broken they were broken with a real understanding of the way in which the steps were being transformed.

 

The company danced a repertory which included the nineteenth century classics with interpolations by Ashton, the Swan lake that the company danced included a magnificent pas de douze in act 1,

a dance for the potential brides, a pas de quatre, Spanish dance and the Neapolitan dance in act3 and an act 4 choreographed by Ashton as well as his own ballets. In addition they danced the great twentieth century ballets created by Diaghilev's choreographers and Nureyev's Kingdom of the Shades and his Raymonda Act III. When it danced a mixed bill it really was mixed rather than being three ballets with a connecting theme of choreographer or composer. So the audience saw an opener, the middle ballet was often a piece of classical choreography, Swan Lake act 2, Kingdom of the Shades or Raymonda act 3 and ended with a light hearted ballet such as Façade. I think that the fact that the dancers were never far from classically based choreography was what made the company technically. It was the Ashton repertory and interpolations which gave the company its homogeneity of style.

Edited by FLOSS
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When I mentioned the Kingdom of the Shades, I wasn't sure what the response would be.  I half expected most people to say that they preferred the full length ballet.  I've never seen the Nureyev version, but I would love to see it again as part of a triple bill.

 

This brings me on to another question. Why did the Royal Ballet get rid of so much that was created by Ashton, and so many of Nureyev's creations for the company?  It seems to me that a lot of this was done when Anthony Dowell was AD?  As Dowell was so good in the Ashton rep, it seems a strange move to make.  Also, it would appear that Makarova seems to have exerted a considerable amount of influence on the company with regard to new productions, not necessarily to the good of the company, IMO. 

 

I have deliberately phrased this in a vague way, because I am not too sure of the actual facts, only my own perception of the direction in which Dowell seemed to take the company after Ashton and De Valois no longer had any say in the matter.  Given Dowell's background, joining the Royal Ballet School at 10 years of age, and coming right the way through the company, he was about as pure an example of the English style as we are every likely to get.  So surely he was in a unique position to carry on this tradition.  Why did he see fit to set about removing large chunks of it?

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Interesting question, Fonty.  Although I'm not quite sure quite how many Nureyev creations there were?  I mean, he staged the Kingdom of the Shades, and Raymonda (was that just Act III?), and had a Nutcracker production (which must have been got rid of before Dowell took over - isn't the current (revised) one a 1984 production, or am I imagining it?  I'm struggling to think what else there might have been, but then this is all a bit before my time.

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Was it as little as that, Alison? I just read recently that De Valois seemed to like his choreography, and rated his Nutcracker one of the best she had seen. I thought he had done more than that, but I admit I don't know much about his work. 

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I totally agree with De Valois about Nureyev's Nutcracker, I still regret that it was cast aside.  Nureyev did a full length Raymonda for the then touring company in the mid sixties but it was soon ditched, apparently some excuse about the sets.  The only original choreography was a version of The Tempest, but I wasn't impressed by it, it never looked like a stayer to me.

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I can't remember any other ballets that Nureyev did for the ROH Company, other than those mentioned, I didn't like his Nutcracker but loved Kingdom of the Shades, but then that was all we could see of La Bayadere at the time in this country. Have never understood why the RB don't have the full length Raymonda, and Nureyev's Act 3 would be such a good ending ballet for some of the recent rather dark triple bills!

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I think that we have to remember that up until the 1980's the RB was not a company that thought itself in need of more nineteenth century repertory or of outside choreographers because it was a company actively engaged in the creation of new works and the conservation of the greatest ballets from the Diaghilev repertory. It had been established as a creative company not a museum company and de Valois was very much aware of the need to maintain ballets in the company's active repertory. She would have agreed that you do not have a chance of dancing and mastering ballets like Sleeping Beauty or Swan Lake and the roles of Aurora and Odette/ Odile if you only dance them three times once every three years. At the time that Nureyev was dancing with the company both Ashton and MacMillan were active choreographer producing new works for the company. Although Aahton did not create a great deal in the aftermath of his removal from the directorship and MacMillan's productivity declined while he was director Nureyev's choreographic contributions were clearly not seen as essential to the company's future.

 

The only gaps in the company's repertory when it came to ballets created by outside choreographers were Bournonville's La Sylphide and Cranko's 1965 creation Onegin. De Valois is said to have wanted to acquire La Sylphide but she failed because the company was not prepared to give Fille to the Danes in exchange. As far as Nureyev is concerned apart from his Nutcracker and Raymonda he is said to have offered to mount Don Q for the company, an offer that de Valois politely refused I suspect on the grounds that it would not suit the company. Even now it seems that she understood more about the company's temperament and character than several of the subsequent directors who have mounted and then abandoned various productions of Don Q.

 

Nureyev's production of Nutcracker for the RB was challenging but far less full of the sort of unnecessary choreographic equivalents of a show jumping fences which seem to have crept into later stagings of the work. When I saw the Viennese production I wondered why I had liked the ballet so much when I had seen it at Covent Garden as it seemed stuffed with technical challenges which are not in any way expressive and only there because they are difficult.

 

The Nureyev Tempest was, in my opinion, lacking in real choreographic content. It is deceptively simple story but, I think, virtually impossible to stage as a ballet which is why I am curious about what Bintley will do with his ballet based on the play.

 

I think that the change in the company's repertory during Dowell's directorship has a lot to do with the declining standards in the company and the school which suddenly became very apparent in ballets like Swan Lake which in the production which preceded Dowell's required a larger number of good classical dancers than the company was able to muster. It called for twelve for the act one waltz, four for the pas de quatre, two for the Neapolitan Dance as well as the roles of Prince and Swan Queen in act three plus the female corps and the company no longer had the depth required for it.

Edited by FLOSS
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I think that the change in the company's repertory during Dowell's directorship has a lot to do with the declining standards in the company and the school which suddenly became very apparent in ballets like Swan Lake which in the production which preceded Dowell's required a larger number of good classical dancers than the company was able to muster. It called for twelve for the act one waltz, four for the pas de quatre, two for the Neapolitan Dance as well as the roles of Prince and Swan Queen in act three plus the female corps and the company no longer had the depth required for it.

 

Well, that makes me ask the next obvious question:  What happened to the school in the 1970s?  I can accept that perhaps no truly great dancer came along to replace the likes of home grown talent, such as Fonteyn or Sibley.  But the school had been going for many years by then, and standards should have been such that they could still produce a good corps and soloists, capable of performing the existing rep, surely?  

 

I refuse to believe that there was a dearth of suitable children in the 70s.  The school always attracted recruits from abroad, so even if the UK didn't have enough candidates of the right caliber, there was a little place called the Rest of the World to choose from!

 

I am concentrating on the females here, perhaps unfairly, but they would have provided the backbone of many of the classics. 

Edited by Fonty
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Actually, I just thought I would check and see who the Artistic Director was before Dowell took over, and I discovered it was Norman Morrice.  I must confess I have never heard of him, I don't think I was watching any ballet at that time.  He seems to have come from a contemporary dance background.  Is there a connection here between his time as AD, and the declining standards in the classical rep?

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Morrice, if I remember right, wanted to try and keep the company more home-grown and not depend so heavily on starry guest artists, although I don't suppose that had a lot to do with the standards of the school. Unfortunately that decision coincided with a time when the school wasn't producing dancers of the caliber of Francesca Hayward and Yasmine Naghdi. I know at some point around then, the school switched to a Vaganova-based curriculum in an attempt to raise the standards but I don't know the details of the timing - I do remember that at some point there was concern that the standard had slipped badly. The lower standards at the school might have had something to do with de Valois no longer being involved, since she concentrated on the school during Ashton's tenure as Director but I don't know how long she was a major force there after that.

 

I suppose once the company started concentrating more on the MacMillan works than the Ashton ones, they needed a somewhat different skill set, and that might not have been so conducive to high standards in the 19th century classics. After a thread a few weeks/months ago where someone mentioned Jeremy Isaacs' biography of his time at ROH, I bought a copy of that book; I gathered from reading it that he personally had a high regard for Ashton's work but that his tenure coincided with the time after Ashton's death when MacMillan was the resident choreographer, and Isaacs was under some pressure to showcase the MacMillan repertoire on account of MacMillan was alive and kicking and still producing for the company while Ashton wasn't, and that Dowell went along with it. I suppose it was maybe a matter of MacMillan being around and having advocates and Ashton no longer being around and not having such forceful advocates, and management taking the easier route through this thicket.

Edited by Melody
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the declining standards in the classical rep?

On this point I once had a remarkable opportunity to compare and contrast. I watched the 1978 Sleeping Beauty (Royal Ballet live for Christmas, on YouTube) and then the second half of a friend's private copy of an earlier BBC transmission of the Royal Ballet Sleeping Beauty of 1969 (Sibley/Dowell, sadly not generally available). Leaving aside the principals (about whom one might have an interesting but different discussion) the most striking change is simply one of how much better the corps was in 1969. Cleaner, crisper, faster, more fleet of foot. A big difference, yet less than ten years in between.

 

Although many postings on an earlier thread praise the 1978 performance (in comparison to nowadays) just about everyone was more enjoyable to watch in the 1969 show.

Edited by Geoff
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On this point I once had a remarkable opportunity to compare and contrast. I watched the 1978 Sleeping Beauty (Royal Ballet live for Christmas, on YouTube) and then the second half of a friend's private copy of an earlier BBC transmission of the Royal Ballet Sleeping Beauty of 1969 (Sibley/Dowell, sadly not generally available).

 

Hi Geoff.

 

I am interested to hear about your impressions about the 1969 production of Sleeping Beauty as I am very interested in that production as a whole. I know that the BBC wiped it from their archives so I was curious to find out if your friend has the whole performance or just the second half - I would give an absolute fortune to watch it for myself.

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