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Why have so few effective narrative works been produced in recent years?


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A significant proportion of the ballet going public wants to see narrative ballets and yet few are produced and even fewer are successful. What factors do you think stand in the way of their creation?

 

 Four of the most successful creators of story ballets in the twentieth century, whether one act or full length were Ashton, Tudor, Cranko and Massine.  If Ashton,Tudor and Cranko were young men starting out today who presented themselves for training to a major ballet school they would be rejected because of their age  before their physical suitability was considered. Massine would have been rejected because one of his legs was slightly misshapen.Is the pursuit of physical perfection by major ballet schools a major contributory factor to the dearth of effective choreographers? 

 

Are the ballet school pupils singled out as having some choreographic ability being rewarded for real skill or merely their ability to please their teachers by producing choreography in a style which they admire? Are they given the right encouragement and experience to develop their ability? Does the fact that most choreographers work in a small self referential world mean that they are condemned to reproduce what they already know rather than to create something new? Do they need a guide or mentor with  a wide knowledge of the arts such as Diaghilev, or to a lesser extent Rambert to help guide their early steps?

 

Is it the lack of opportunity to gain theatrical experience by working in the commercial theatre in their early years that is the problem? 

 

Does anyone have any ideas?  

Edited by FLOSS
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This is a very interesting question. The only living choreographer I can comment on is David Bintley who I would say does have a very wide range of interests over the arts and was mentored to an extent by both Ashton and de Valois in his earlier days. He was able to produce very popular narrative ballets such as The Snow Queen pretty early on. I am not saying that this was a great work but it was well liked by audiences on tour and very easy to follow. I cannot comment on The Swan of Tuonela as it was just before my time.

 

Edward II is an acquired taste but I think most audiences could find something to enjoy in both Hobson's Choice and Far From the Madding Crowd, both of which benefited enormously from their commissioned scores by Paul Reade.

 

For my money things have gone a bit downhill since then. Sylvia is fine if you just take it as an exercise in classical ballet danced to an established, luscious score but it is no great shakes really. Ditto Aladdin if you view it as merely a pantomime on points. I didn't see the revised Cyrano or most recently The Tempest.

 

On the whole I think his narrative ballets are pretty easy to follow and generally very well designed. They are always danced to the hilt by his company but the reverse side is that his choice of music is not always that memorable or even danceable and the lighting seems to be odder and darker with every production. I think he is a good case of great early promise but has never quite fulfilled it. I would say now that the productions tend to exceed the choreography in most cases.

 

I don't have the answer to FLOSS's question but then I doubt anyone has these days. I do wonder if choreographers are so rare these days that no one feels able to stand up to them and point out where they are going wrong. People quibble about the failings in a work like Onegin but I would so I would so love to see other ballets of that calibre produced these days.

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My impression is that on the whole full-scale narrative work still isn't really fashionable, though it seems to be making a bit more of a comeback recently. And the fewer people who make narrative works, the less creative cross-fertilisation and example-setting there is for those who do it, and, perhaps, the less demanding those who commission it can be.

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Well let me think...

 

David Nixon: Madame Butterfly, Dangerous Liaisons, Cleopatra, Ondine, Great Gatsby, Wuthering Heights, A Midsummer Night's Dream

 

Cathy Marston: A Tale of 2 Cities, Jane Eyre

 

Jonathan Watkins: 1984

 

David Bintley: his reworked Cyrano as well as the ones mentioned by TP above

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.... and whilst you're thinking, Janet, I do believe that the works you mention were commissioned by companies based somewhat north of the M25 ...... where the choreographers were also Company Directors, that's probably not surprising .... and I'll just say Goodnight rather than bang on about the way Cathy M and her narrative ability ended to be ignored.  Goodnight!

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.... and whilst you're thinking, Janet, I do believe that the works you mention were commissioned by companies based somewhat north of the M25 ...... where the choreographers were also Company Directors, that's probably not surprising .... and I'll just say Goodnight rather than bang on about the way Cathy M and her narrative ability ended to be ignored.  Goodnight!

 

Good point, Ian.  I just wanted to say though - in Mr. Nixon's defence - that he has of recent late - and very much to his credit in my book - made a concerted effort to offer narrative opportunities to other promising (and younger) ballet choreographers.  Not having had the chance to see Ms. Marston's Jane Eyre I very much hope it will be revived very soon - especially after its inaugural critical success.  I must confess I was surprised that it [a] wasn't revived this season - as its initial run was very short and wasn't selected for a London showing.  I'm sure both will follow in due course.  Well, I pray they will.  

 

I learned - whilst doing a project in Paris this summer - that there were a goodly number of Parisian balletomanes who were also eager to see Ms. Marston's take on the Bronte.  I must confess I was surprised they were even aware of it.  (I don't hear many London balletomanes discussing works created by regional French ballet companies I confess.  Perhaps I just travel in the wrong circles.)  Northern Ballet might well look into taking Jane Eyre to the French capital - one of the two primary BALLET capitals in the world - before Brexit officially kicks in .. and while access to EU funding is still a possibility.  It could I think but enhance their already well respected - and well deserved -  balletic reputation.  

Edited by Bruce Wall
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Northern Ballet might well look into taking Jane Eyre to the French capital - one of the two primary BALLET capitals in the world - before Brexit officially kicks in .. and while access to EU funding is still a possibility.  It could I think but enhance their already well respected - and well deserved -  balletic reputation.  

 

Well, Brexit has upset the Euro exchange rate already, so I imagine my trips to Paris are likely to decrease.  Currently fifteen Euros for a programme at Opera Garnier.  Security arches at the entrance and armed police in attendance too by the way.  Oddly though hotel prices coming down, could it be that army patrols with weapons at the ready on the boulevards are already putting people off?

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Stuttgart Ballet has produced quite a few story ballets in the last two decades: "Lulu" (after Wedekind), "The Sandmann" (after E.T.A. Hoffmann) and "Das Fräulein von S." (after E.T.A. Hoffmann's "Mademoiselle de Scuderi) by Christian Spuck, "I Fratelli" by Mauro Bigonzetti, a "Hamlet" by Kevin O’Day which later also transferred to the National Ballet of Canada, "Orlando" (after Virgina Woolf) by Marco Goecke, "Krabat" (after a German youth book by Otfried Preußler) and "Salome" (after Wilde) by Demis Volpi. Spuck also made "Leonce and Lena" (after Büchner) for Aalto Ballet at Essen, "Wozzeck" (Büchner) and "Anna Karenina" for Zurich, Bigonzetti made a "Caravaggio" for Berlin. Munich had a "Shannon Rose by Youri Vamos, "The Tempest" by Jörg Mannes, "Emma B." by Jean Grand-Maitre, "The Silver Rose" by Graeme Murphy or "Serie Noire" by Terence Kohler. And don't forget John Neumeier who constantly produces story ballets, the last ones since 2000 being "The Seagull" after Chekhov, "Death in Venice" after Thomas Mann, "The Little Mermaid" after Hans Christian Andersen, "Parzival", "Orpheus", "Liliom" after Ferenc Molnar, "Tatyana" after Pushkins’s "Onegin", "Duse" about Eleonora Duse, an "Anna Karenina" to follow in June 2017. I wish you could see his "Nijinsky" which is SO, SO great.

 

So there is no lack of story ballets here in Germany, and I'm sure I have forgotten quite a few - you might ask why you don't know about them in Great Britain, but some of them even get other second or third productions, Spuck's Lulu or Leonce and Lena, Neumeier's Mermaid, his Nijinsky, his Tatyana. Few, very few have the quality of Cranko's Onegin or Neumeier's Lady of the Camellias, but not everything is bad - most of it, as you can see from the choreographers' names, is a tad more modern than Mr. Scarlett or Mr. Wheeldon, I suppose. Might that be the reason you don't know about them? No idea.

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When I was a dancer in France I was surprised to find that the Brontes' novels were well known and loved by the French.

 

Story ballets, music with tunes and representational art are considered low brow by the British establishment, so they lack support/commissions.

 

Edited for spelling

Edited by Pas de Quatre
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My guess is the main reason is financial. Quality full length narrative ballets take time (not months, but years) and relentless focus by the choreographer and dancers to create. Time and focus is what today's companies severely lack, as the must actively perform their current repertoire that takes dancer's time, and are also expected to produce something fresh each year to keep audiences piqued.

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 Akram Kham said in an open forum that he had insisted on his rehearsal period with ENB being of a given length with the focus exclusively on his Giselle. I believe that the dancers rehearsed solidly for 8 weeks before the Manchester previews.

 

Also, the fact that the RB was eventually unable to field the 3 intended casts for Frankenstein is, perhaps, an indication of the amount of rehearsal time needed for a new, narrative work. And, of course, McGregor has tended to work initially  with one cast for his 'story' ballets with other dancers appearing in later runs.

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Floss raises an interesting topic for debate:

"A significant proportion of the ballet going public wants to see narrative ballets and yet few are produced and even fewer are successful."

 

However, I think we need to consider what is meant by "narrative", what is meant by "successful" and whether we are talking about narrative ballets in general or just new ones.

 

On 20 June 2015, Northern Ballet held a symposium on narrative ballet which was chaired by Mike Dixon. The panel consisted of the critics Mary Brennan, Louise Levene and Graham Watts, Christopher Hampson, the artistic director of Scottish Ballet and dancers Tobias Batley and Dreda Blow. Janet McNulty was in the audience and so was I. The discussion lasted nearly two hours and in the last few minutes the chair invited questions from the floor.  Thinking of works like Les Sylphides and Jewels I asked whether a narrative ballet had to have a plot. Except for a mutter of dissent from Batley the panel seemed to think it did not. I repeat the question to subscribers to this website. 

Turning to the second question how do you define success?  Is it to be judged solely by the number of ticket sales or do we consider the work's artistic qualities?

As to the third question, unless we insert the adjective new between "see" and "narrative" in Floss's question, the proposition is self-evidently wrong.  There's more than enough productions of Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty  and Giselle  around the world. But I think there are good new story ballets coming out all the time. Katherine Barber mentioned that Ted Brandsen's Mata Hari.  I was lucky enough to see that ballet in February and I think she is right. It is an effective new story ballet both artistically and in terms of punters on seats by any standard.  I would say the same about Scottish Ballet's Streetcar Named Desire  which Hampson commissioned and indeed his Storyville for Ballet Black.  I suggest that Wheeldon's Winter's Tale  has merit.

 

The recently created narrative ballets that I don't like are those with dramaturges. If you want to make three act ballets more successful you should simplify the plot, have good costume and set designs and a nice catchy score. Of very recently produced work I'd say that Bintley's Tempest  ticks all those boxes, but then not everybody shares my taste.

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Turning to the second question how do you define success?  Is it to be judged solely by the number of ticket sales or do we consider the work's artistic qualities?

 

Why do you think this must be a difference? And who is to judge the artistic quality if not us, the audience? That would imply that most people in the audience do not consider artistic qualities in a ballet or in a work of art when they buy a ticket (but what instead: flashiness? virtuosity?) I think the contrary is true: in the long run, the artistic quality always triumphs. But I admit it sometimes may take a while. Or a long while.

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"A success".  I'd guess that ultimately means longevity: you could create a narrative ballet for, say, a 1-season tour, but what happens to it after that?  Does it get revived, and if so, is it well-received (i.e. does it still sell) the next time around, or did it serve its purpose merely in filling in the dates for that one year?  (The latter, of course, would also be a success in that it's done what it set out to do, but I don't think that's really what we're talking about here, is it?)

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I agree Alison - I think longevity must come into it ... and perhaps for something new the choreographer being prepared to tweak it to give it longevity.  I seem to remember that Swan Lake was not well received in its first iteration.

 

Another example, albeit not dance, is the film Bladerunner which was disliked by the critics when it first came out but which became a cult favourite and was lauded by the critics when it was re-released for the 25th Anniversary.

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terpsichore. Thank you for your comments.  I had thought that by using the word "produced"  it was clear that I was talking about the creation of new works. After all "produce" is a synonym for "make". No one who has responded so far has thought that I was referring to staging old works in an established form using an established choreographic text. If I had meant to refer to them I should have used the word "revive".

 

In this discussion I am interested in "narrative" ballets, by which I mean works which tell a story, not those which hint at relationships such as Liebesleider Waltzer, Dances at a Gathering or Les Rendezvous nor the ones which you have cited.

 

As to how I would measure "success" or gauge "effectiveness" I think that at the end of the day the effectiveness  of a narrative ballet is measured  by whether or not it bears repeated viewings over a number of seasons and is not completely dependent on its original cast for its effect.In the final analysis I don't think that it is the professional critics who determine whether or not a ballet is a success but the willingness of the ticket buying public to pay good money to see it not only in its initial season but at subsequent revivals. 

 

I think that Manon might be a better example of a ballet which survived in spite of the critics' response than Swan Lake. I know that the official story is that original Moscow production of Swan Lake was a failure, but the initial production did not disappear after a couple of performances, the usual fate of a failure, but clocked up a suspiciously large number of performances in Moscow before being "rescued" by Ivanov and Petipa and staged to a revised version of the score in St Petersburg. Now Manon got unfavourable comments about its length and some aspects of its structure and the choreographic effectiveness of its characterisation from British critics and a real panning from US critics. If it had been up to the Board it might not have lasted much beyond its initial season.

 

I don't think that the fact that the score was pot pourri of French music from Massenet operas such as Don Quichotte and Cherubin helped but there were other problems.The characters were not initially as fully developed as they later became. At the time of its premiere Wall's Lescaut was probably the most fully developed role. Mary Clarke characterised the ballet as "Basically Manon is a slut , Des Grieux is a fool and they move in the most unsavoury company". Ticket sales kept the show on the stage which gave the dancers the opportunity to develop their roles. But the point is that while it benefitted from being cut the ballet was reasonably theatrically effective from its premiere. It provided a through danced drama using classically based choreography, inventively modified, to inform the audience about the main characters, their emotions and the dramatic events they were experiencing. It was never a mere dumb show with a little school room based classical choreography to justify its description as a "ballet".

Edited by FLOSS
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In this discussion I am interested in "narrative" ballets, by which I mean works which tell a story, not those which hint at relationships such as Liebesleider Waltzer, Dances at a Gathering or Les Rendezvous nor the ones which you have cited.

 

 

 

Odd, FLOSS.  I realise that on this strand you can set terms because you started it, but FOR ME Liebeslieder, Dances and Rendezvous tell stories - much as in fact Jewels and Wink do.  So often successful narratives in ballet for me ARE the relationships etched.  I felt Jonathan Watkins did that very successfully in his 1984 ballet for Northern Ballet.  Did you consider that a 'narrative ballet'?  For me this is very true in Giselle - which is nothing if not its relationships - and why it has itself been so successfully adapted - and I say that having not seen - but very much looking forward to - the Khan version for ENB.  

 

The pieces you quote use the facility of the balletic language to define the story of certain characters in a way unique to ballet; in a manner certainly different from more linearly targeted vents.  (Liebesleider, of course, has the benefit of a 'literal' poetic source to compare and contrast with - much as, say, Dark Elegies).  They etch their (again what I would call narrative) segments in balletic terms beyond words.  For me THAT space - that which Gielgud called 'the unanswered questions; which Tennessee Williams termed 'the space between the bed and the chair' are more engaging as enticing 'narratives' (and, yes, I want to use that word because for me they tell stories) than the oft muddled narratives of ballets which aim to be more linear in their story lines such as Sweet Violets, Mayerling, Frankenstein (as per Scarlett), Alice, Anastasia in its three act form or even MacMillian's Manon such as you quote above.  In those there are often too many unfinished strands - which can lessen the impact of the whole.  I so admired Wheeldon's Winter's Tale for the clarity of its discernment.  Indeed, without a clear depiction of the banishment of Romeo in either MacMillan's or Cranko's R&J (as opposed to, say, the Ashton or Ratmansky take) one could argue that the tragedy of the narrative of the Bard's latter acts is somewhat made a mockery of.   Still, each to their own.  That's what makes the balletic art form so special; so alluring in it captivation.    

 

Tell me, - in your cherished estimation - and I mean that totally seriously having admired so much of your writing - would you consider Fancy Free or Lilac Garden to be a 'narrative ballet'?  I'd love to know.  

Edited by Bruce Wall
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Floss raises an interesting topic for debate:

However, I think we need to consider what is meant by "narrative", what is meant by "successful" and whether we are talking about narrative ballets in general or just new ones.

 

On 20 June 2015, Northern Ballet held a symposium on narrative ballet which was chaired by Mike Dixon. The panel consisted of the critics Mary Brennan, Louise Levene and Graham Watts, Christopher Hampson, the artistic director of Scottish Ballet and dancers Tobias Batley and Dreda Blow. Janet McNulty was in the audience and so was I. The discussion lasted nearly two hours and in the last few minutes the chair invited questions from the floor.  Thinking of works like Les Sylphides and Jewels I asked whether a narrative ballet had to have a plot. Except for a mutter of dissent from Batley the panel seemed to think it did not. I repeat the question to subscribers to this website. 

 

I had to polish my glasses when I read that, in case I had misread it!  Surely the whole point of a narrative ballet is that it has a plot of some sort?

 

I always think of some ballets as what I would call context, or mood ballets. (I am sure someone can come up with a better word for them.)  That is to say, the staging sets the atmosphere, and the dancers behave accordingly. Within the ballet there may be little hints of personality traits or relationships, but nothing is fleshed out. The performers are identified on the cast list by their costume, or the type of dance they perform, rather than having a name.  Some of my favourite ballets fall into this category, but I would not call them narrative ballets, at least not in the way that I understand narrative. 

Edited by Fonty
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Is the pursuit of physical perfection by major ballet schools a major contributory factor to the dearth of effective choreographers?

 

"Major schools" may be in pursuit of physical perfection but later we don't see it on stage. Today the ballet world is increasingly dominated by dancers with looks of athletic engines. Perfectly fit for the work of choreographers who treat them as anonymous "bodies".

 

 

Does the fact that most choreographers work in a small self referential world mean that they are condemned to reproduce what they already know rather than to create something new? Do they need a guide or mentor with  a wide knowledge of the arts such as Diaghilev, or to a lesser extent Rambert to help guide their early steps?

Ours is not the era of Diaghilevs or Ramberts, unfortunately, yet in every era artists need masters to develop, to grow, to mature. What kind of masters do young choreographers have today? Most of those "Masters" did not even master the full vocabulary of classical dance, even though some may have developed their own idiosyncratic vocabulary and choreographic language.

 

A very serious obstacle for talented young choreographers is that they need somebody who would support them and show their work. The opportunities presented to them are very limited. Either you develop your choreographic talents being a member of a big company like the Royal Ballet,if you are lucky to be supported by the Artistic Director, or you may never be able to realize any talent you have. The most interesting and talented people, I am afraid,today are precisely in the latter category, even if some of them managed to win major prizes at major choreographic competitions judged by the stars of the past. In the West practically no Artistic Directors would take a risk of putting on stage a production of somebody without a stamp of approval from the media, unless that somebody is his (or somebody's important) protégé. This is why "innovation" that Artistic Directors like to brag about is often a fiction: every year we get from them predictable mix of Forsythes, McGregors, etc., which to me at least is of strictly limited interest.

 

At many smaller companies the Artistic Directors nourish their own choreographic ambitions and are jealously excluding all outsiders (with exception of those few Big Names) from even getting close to their dancers. This is happening, essentially, because most of them have a fairly realistic assessment of their own skills and they are right to be genuinely afraid that allowing a skilled outsider would immediately pose a mortal threat to their own position as a choreographer. No matter how brilliant and imaginative, and skilled you may be, without access to highly professional dancers it is impossible to create anything of real value.

 

I am too well acquainted with the situation in this regard at many companies to have any illusions that we are going to see a new Ashton, Tudor, Cranko, or Massine, any time soon.

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For some people (like Forsythe, like McGregor), the innovation may be in the language of the body itself, in the development of a different movement language or new structures for full-length evenings - not in repeating the same old patterns again and again. I think you have to respect that, assoluta. I don't think that Forsythe's deconstruction or Pina Bausch's dance theatre are "fiction", as you call it - they wanted to think further than telling stories, they wanted to try something different. If you don't like it, that's fine, but you can't stop the history of an art form at a certain point - music moved into the future, painting moved into the future, why not dance?

As much as I love their work, I'm sure we will not see a new Ashton or MacMillan, because most attempts at copying their forms or their story-telling just look like that: like copies. You know what Cranko said about Jiri Kylian once, asked if Kylián might become the next Cranko? He said: "Hopefully not. Hopefully he'll become a Kylián". I know how much you dislike Kylián in London, but that's the spirit. Maybe WE should try to move along with the choreographers, at least a little bit?

Also, you sound like there are so many great choreographers out there who just can't find a place to develop a piece - I don't think so. There are many possibilities today to try yourself out, if classical or modern, so many Young Choeographers's Evenings or experimental laboratoriums. I can understand if an AD hesitates to give a full-length evening to a nobody, because that's half of his budget for the season or more. If the choreographer was "approved" by the media and fails, it's not the fault of the AD alone. Sometimes there really is a reason that critics like a choreographer, sometimes he really has talent...

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Why do you think this must be a difference? And who is to judge the artistic quality if not us, the audience? That would imply that most people in the audience do not consider artistic qualities in a ballet or in a work of art when they buy a ticket (but what instead: flashiness? virtuosity?) I think the contrary is true: in the long run, the artistic quality always triumphs. But I admit it sometimes may take a while. Or a long while.

 

 

I think there are a lot of factors for some people to buy tickets to the ballet, which certainly not mean that there is a correlation between Artistic Merit and/or ticket sales. 

 

  • A Swan Lake, Nutcracker etc.. will almost always sell well, independent of the choreographer or who is performing it
  • A 'Star Name' will generally attract more sales, even if the choreography does not play to their strengths, or is terrible itself
  • A vaguely russian city name (St Petersburg Ballet) sells well beyond its artist merit (which is the reason it has this name)
  • Sometimes a city wants to see ballet and will go to shows to support the dancers (company)
  • A well known story made for ballet attracts many people who have no idea about the choreographer, but how bad can Romeo & Juliet/ Frankenstein/ Leonce & Lena / Woyzeck / Carmen be? 
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  • A well known story made for ballet attracts many people who have no idea about the choreographer, but how bad can Romeo & Juliet/ Frankenstein/ Leonce & Lena / Woyzeck / Carmen be? 

 

 

Clearly you haven't seen Frankenstein yet.

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Clearly you haven't seen Frankenstein yet.

 

 

Dear MAB, I have seen all of them (Spuck & Wheeldon), my point was that the public may go to see it and wonder ' how bad can it be?'  Very! is my personal answer. 

 

The added point, that these story ballets bringing in new potential ballet fans, when done badly, can turn them off the art for good.

Edited by SwissBalletFan
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 Bruce, you asked me whether I consider that "On the Town" and "Lilac Garden" are narrative works ? I will try to answer you. I accept that there can be a thin dividing line between narrative ballets and those evoking a mood. a time or place and that there may not always be total agreement on which side of the dividing line an individual ballet falls. As is clear from the titles, so far,proferred as narrative works during this discussion, the assessment and  the categorisation of individual ballets is very much a subjective one. My answer to your question is that I think that both "On the Town" and "Lilac Garden" are narrative works.

 

Both works were created by choreographers familiar with Massine's methods of ballet construction and character creation which they then developed. As an aside it would be interesting to know more about Massine's experience of appearing as a child actor in Moscow. You can't help wondering how much that influenced his approach to creating narrative ballets. His ballets liberated the  demi- caractere dancer .How much do they reflect of Gorsky's Stanislavskian influenced attempts to make ballet appear less artificial and his own his experience as an actor ?.

 

Tudor who, in his youth, had a keen interest in all forms of theatre and experience as an amateur actor and received his dance education with Marie Rambert for whose company he made Jardin aux Lilas, manages to tell you about the psychological states of the four main characters in his little tragedy of love, duty and rejection played out in time it takes to perform the ballet. Tudor manages this through the choreography and the body language.he gives Caroline. Her Lover,The Man She Must Marry and An Episode in His Past. In this ballet the precise angle of the dancer's head and hands or how stiffly the dancers hold themselves speaks volumes and gives incredible depth to the characters and their situation in the society in which they exist.

 

Robbins whose dance education included studying expressionist dance, dancing on Broadway and with Ballet Theatre now ABT at a time when Fokine,Tudor and Balanchine were all working with the company made a valuable contribution to the  ballet repertory when he created Fancy Free. In it we are introduced to three young sailors on shore leave and witness their adventures or perhaps  their thwarted adventures as they drink,pursue two girls. show off to them,fight with each other, succeed in losing the girls,and, just as they are about to leave they see a third girl and set off in pursuit.of her.In the ballet Robbins manages through the choreography and business he gives his three sailors to create three differentiated characters for them. 

 

In both ballets, it seems to me,the choreographers have created a scenario with a clearly defined social context in which the detailed elements of stage action in the choreography are at least as telling as the dance element, if not more so.Both succeed in creating a sense of a  specific time and place rather than mere evocations of time and mood. They endow their dancers with character through the style of movement that they give to each of those who play a central role in the scenario. This makes them more than mere ciphers or types. The way in which they open their ballets draws the audience into the narrative and the way that their ballets end clearly signals the end of the narrative which the audience is to see, even if, in the case of Fancy Free you  might speculate that the action that you have seen on stage will be continued all night until the men have to return to their ship.

 

For me Liebeslieder and Les Rendezvous have a very tenuous almost non-existent narrative intended as a hook to secure the audience's attention to the choreographer's creation  which is more concerned with dance content than drama or narrative. You never know who these people are, other than the choreographer's marionettes.Creating pas which hint at relationships but which are essentially a choreographer's  response to the music to which he has set his ballet does not turn it into a narrative work.I don't think that Balanchine inadvertently created a narrative ballet when he created Liebeslieder. It seems to me that he chose to reveal his  response to the music and text to which it is set through a a series of pas which have the effect of film close ups or vignettes but because they lack an over arching narrative context which frames them fall on the non narrative side of the divide.You may choose to interpret them as little dramas,but apart from the room and the their costumes which tell us where and when the action is taking place we know nothing more about the dancers as characters.The choreographer has chosen not to reveal who the dancers are to his audience.  All the audience knows about them is what it observes in the room in which the "action" is played out,

 

Dances at a Gathering  is another interesting example of the non narrative work that can appear to have a narrative depending on who performs it.Robbin was insistent I believe, that Dances was not a narrative work and yet, as danced by its original  RB cast it appeared to be a ballet full of meaning with a sort of narrative running through it.  

 

This probably does not advance the discussion very much but it is the best that I can manage at present. Except to say that with the exception of Balanchine none of the other major twentieth century choreographers Ashton,Tudor or Robbins appear to have had anything remotely resembling traditional dance training from childhood and I can't help wondering whether this was of benefit to them as choreographers rather than a hinderence..

Edited by FLOSS
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