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Crystal balls out, your 50 year view..


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I thought it might be interesting to get people's views on the long term direction of ballet.  Purposefully taking a 50 year horizon so as to clear the decks of most of us and of current dancers and choreographers, and given that much of the discussion here is UK focused, let's base it on the UK landscape.  So, either extrapolating from the last 50 years or from current trends, what do you predict the world of ballet will look like here?  What will be the predominant style of choreography - and how far might a future 'contemporary' have gone? What current Classics will still be going and which will have disappeared? Will Wayne McGregor's 2025 boundary pusher 'Santa's DNA' have become the new Nutcracker? Will there be more or fewer large companies in the UK and will they be fully commercial or still subsidised?  Will the audience profile have changed?  Will technology have had an impact, either on venue, set, medium or even dancers?  Will 'athleticisation' of dancers have progressed to an extreme? 

 

P.S.  Any member under 30 might like to diarise this post to return to in 50 years and tally up who got it right ;)

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I do not wish to be a harbinger of doom but I would be very surprised if we have any of the currently state subsidised art forms we enjoy now in 25 years, let alone 50.

 

We may follow the American model of privately subsidised classical ballet and music but I think the advance of modern dance will continue pretty much unchecked.

 

I think what is happening in Birmingham at the moment is a pointer to what may well happen. The city took enormous pride in both its orchestra and its ballet company but its funding for both has been slashed and is most unlikely to be reinstated.

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I don't know what the answer is to this and in some ways I want to not think about it, but this really worries me. I'm not under 30 but given I still have grandparents the age I will be in 50 years or older, I have a good chance of still being around... 

 

It's actually pretty hard to verbalise the decline I would predict in classical ballet (the original classics through to the 20th Century greats) based on a combination of competition with other entertainment media (TV and film in particular which is ever expanding through digital channels), people thinking ballet is not for them and therefore audience numbers declining and a move away from public funding to a need for private funding which is harder to deliver. 

 

The golden age of ballet is surely long gone and without programmes to engage the audiences of the future - and getting more adults in their 20s and 30s to engage - personal connection with ballet and potentially audience volumes will surely dwindle and therefore so will our companies and the opportunities to see great classical ballet. Is that more doom and gloom than is called for?

 

What I do think could prevent this, but perhaps isn't even reaching the best/right/enough people are dance (ballet) appreciation events for children through to adults. The ENB have some great engagement programmes available for schools and for children and while they do some lovely insights events for people who actively seek them, it would be nice to see a bit more outreach. The Royal Ballet has its programmes of discount tickets for young people and first timers, but again, how do you broaden the appeal to even get potential audiences to your website/box office to even investigate what they could see?

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I am optimistic.

For the last 200 years, the art form has reinvented itself and found new audiences in waves.   It has survived (and indeed flourished during) cataclysmic events like the Communist revolution, the Depression and World War II.   I see no reason why it should not do so again.  

 

I expect Sub-Saharan Africa and the African diaspora will be the next great source of talent.   Perhaps choreographers, composers and artists will draw inspiration from traditional dance and music and adapting them to the classical tradition.   New markets will develop as an educated middle class with plenty of money and leisure emerge in Asia, Latin America and indeed Africa.

I agree with Two Pigeons that there will be pressure to cut or maybe even end direct public funding of the performing arts by bodies like Arts Council of England but I am not sure that is altogether bad.   I have never been very comfortable with the idea of the general public paying for a minority interest.   I think there are new income streams in licensing, merchandising and sponsorship that are available to companies, theatres and individual artists.

If there is a reduction in public funding I can see a shake-out in the number of companies though I think great national companies like the Royal Ballet and Paris Opera Ballet should survive and continue to perform the same sort of repertoire as they do now.   

I see greater use of communications technologies especially as graphics (and 3D  in particular) improve.   That will also contribute to the shake-out in the industry.

 

I think more and more people will take up or resume dance in later life.   Classes may even be funded by health insurance companies and national health services as a public health initiative.

Edited by terpsichore
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I think more and more people will take up or resume dance in later life.   Classes may even be funded by health insurance companies and national health services as a public health initiative.

Could be. My mother does an aquacise class that is funded by the Australian government. It's to help with the rehab on her tin knees, but she loves doing it and I think she would continue even if she had to pay.

 

As I have said before there are more people in the ballet classes that I do than there has ever been. In the past, the class has always been full at the start of term and dropped to 8-10 by the end. Last term there were still 15-20 in class and there were new faces coming right up until the end. Last night (first class for the year) they were turning people away and about 1/3 were new. It gets a bit crowded with 30 people but it doesn't worry me - there is always plenty of room at the front.

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I couldn't guess, but one of the effects of the Internet is to connect up people involved in minority sports and arts, so I imagine small scale ballet and amateur ballet will expand - and at some stage the serious amateurs are going to become choreographers and "real" dancers, and stuff will develop out of that.

 

We're at the end of a political cycle, I think, so I wouldn't extrapolate current trends in arts funding too far, but it's impossible to guess how large scale ballet - or any large scale elite art - is going to go. Will international fans, connected to the big companies by social media  and so on spend money with them, travel more to see them? Will this suck money away from smaller companies?

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I think the question about what sort of repertoire the companies will have is actually the more interesting poser.  We have had a number of posts over various threads mourning the decline in the Ashton rep and this is at a time when we still have coaches and teachers who worked with him during his lifetime.  Much as I would love there to be a huge increase in the valuation of his work across both Royal Ballet companies I cannot see it happening long term.  this will be exacerbated if we have an increasing number of taller dancers who cannot reproduce the speed his works should be given to realise his full vision.  

 

I cannot see the Macmillan works declining in the same way.  The physical (as opposed to dramatic) demands his work makes of the dancers are different and there will always be a long queue of performers wishing to dance his ballets.  Practically everyone who aspires to ballerina status can dance Juliet or Manon irrespective of their height.  The same cannot be said of Lise or Ondine.

 

I see alarming pointers in what seems to be happening in Denmark.  Here we have one of the oldest schools and companies in the world with a very specific style and repertoire linked to their founder choreographer.  For all that a number of companies have produced the works of August Bournonville, some very successfully - particularly when directed by a fellow Dane such as Schaufuss of Kobborg - some less so.  However, in the cradle of this school of movement, Copenhagen, there seems to be a sort of love/hate relationship with his work and there appears to be a current trend to update it almost out of recognition.  

 

the trouble is that when you have a very specific style and school of training and it gets diluted as the works of other choreographers and types of movement are introduced no one seems to appreciate what they might be losing until it is too late.  I have seen dancers from both the Kirov and the Bolshoi express concerns along these lines.  What we are starting to get is ballet companies which are all beginning to just look like each other and the specific native styles are disappearing.

 

As an art form ballet is far more subject to change than others, such as opera.  You may perform Verdi or Puccini in traditional or modern dress but the basic text remains the same.  You employ singers who can fulfil the demands of the composer without any great alteration.  With ballet the way of performing the choreographed steps changes to reflect the gifts of the dancers performing them.  For example, you might recognise that both Galina Ulanova and Sylvie Guillem are dancing Giselle but HOW they are dancing the role is entirely different.

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As usual, Two Pigeons makes some interesting points but again I am not bothered. I think the trends that she identifies simply indicate that tastes change. As to her concerns abut what is happening in Copenhagen and other places, If they can change one way they can change back the other way.  Some ballets fall out of favour but are revived many years later. 

I am grateful to Two Pigeons for drawing attention to the differences between Ashton and Macmillan in their demands on the dancer.   The point had not occurred to me before.   Having said that, companies perform works that paying audiences want to see rather than dancers want to dance.   I think audiences will want to be cheered up by Lanchberry's orchestration, Lancaster's farmyard designs and Ashton's humour in 50 years time just as much as we do now.   I also think the same audiences will want to see sword fights, hear Prokofiev's score and admire the bedroom pas de deux in Rome and Juliet.

 

Inevitbly some of the works that we enjoy right now will have to go to make way for popular new works of the future but I don't think that is a bad thing.   Some of those new works will be discarded in the subsequent 50 years and some of the very best of today's repertoire will be revived.

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I am not sure that  the following argument I often hear actually makes any sense: ' too few young people go to ballet/opera/ etc and therefore the future audience will dwindle.'

Don't peoples' tastes change as they get older?

Perhaps most of us didn't go to so much opera and ballet in our younger,say,15-30 years- ?

 

It would only be a concern if figures showed that the percentage really was much lower now than in former years. But do the real figures show that?.

 

I would guess that in all the years I have been going to concerts of baroque music the audience has been predominantly older people- it hasn't changed. Plenty of old people coming along to fill those seats.

 

I am optimistic. Everything changes all the time as the Buddha rightly says: change is the only eternal truth. But, I am not convinced things are slowly getting worse.

There seems to me to be more enthusiasm generally for ballet than I remember 10, 20, 30 years ago. Houses are full.

 

It is true that funding is the big problem- BRB for example, is suffering. But, this could change- perhaps we can all do our little bit towards fighting this particular trend and supporting our fine national and regional companies.

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I am not sure that  the following argument I often hear actually makes any sense: ' too few young people go to ballet/opera/ etc and therefore the future audience will dwindle.'

Don't peoples' tastes change as they get older?

Perhaps most of us didn't go to so much opera and ballet in our younger,say,15-30 years- ?

 

 

 

I certainly didn't go to the ballet so much between 18 and 30ish because of the challenges of too little money and very small children, I think that will always be the case. What I see as the difference between now and my parents' and grandparents' generation is that there are so many other things vying for our attention. Nothing will ever beat live theatre of whatever kind, but the general trend, in everything we do, is that there is more and more choice and fragmentation as people carve out new ways of doing things - dance included. In the 21st century, our children's point of references are completely different. Where once (8 year olds were consuming ballet books and annuals  and were fascinated by the stars of the ballet world (and there were 3 or less tv stations), their points of reference are completely different - tween popstars, children's TV programming across kids only channels, mobile phones and tablets, the 'selfie' society and choice, choice and more choice... I think if we don't find a way to operate for the audiences growing up in today's digital world which has a completely different context to even my childhood in the 80s, there is a risk to the preservation of some of the culture that we enjoy today, or the perceived value of it which enables it to self perpetuate. 

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I am not sure that  the following argument I often hear actually makes any sense: ' too few young people go to ballet/opera/ etc and therefore the future audience will dwindle.'

Don't peoples' tastes change as they get older?

 

 

.

 

I know mine did - for rock'n'roll gigs in venues large and small across London town (60-2000 capacity), Reading festivals etc - to ROH and smitten by Miyako Yoshida in Giselle. From 3-5 gigs a week, to now 3-4 ROH visits, and a transitional period of a couple of years of going to both (which was utterly knackering, but great fun)

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I know mine did - for rock'n'roll gigs in venues large and small across London town (60-2000 capacity), Reading festivals etc - to ROH and smitten by Miyako Yoshida in Giselle. From 3-5 gigs a week, to now 3-4 ROH visits, and a transitional period of a couple of years of going to both (which was utterly knackering, but great fun)

 

 

I was a "rock chick" in my youth and then got into theatre and cinema too then contemporary dance and finally onto ballet.  As I have seen more and more ballet I have seen fewer and fewer of the others.

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I'd still say exposure to ballet for younger people is important as it opens their minds and puts it on their horizon of options, perhaps particularly for boys, and probably lowers the age at which they will develop an interest in it.  I've taken my sons and their sundry girlfriends and hangers-on to a few ballets, both classic and contemporary.  Before going for the first time they were both dubious to say the least, but were immediately enthused by the experience, which overturned their preconceptions.  They have yet to fund going to one themselves, as their limited dosh still goes first to clubs and bars, but I am confident that as soon as they get to a position of having disposable income, it will be something they will do while still young.

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I was a "rock chick" in my youth and then got into theatre and cinema too then contemporary dance and finally onto ballet.  As I have seen more and more ballet I have seen fewer and fewer of the others.

 

That's a problem for me too. I was horrified to discover that I had seen 72 ballets, no operas, about 3 concerts and very few films or plays last year.

 

This year I am making a conscious effort to redress the balance and have already taken in one concert at the Bridgwater Hall (albeit conducted by John Pryce-Jones who is the musical director of Northern Ballet) and HDTV transmissions of Nabucco from New York and The Tempest from Stratford.

 

However, I am in danger of backsliding as I am seeing Ballet Theatre UK's Romeo and Juliet at Wakey on Saturday, at least one performance of Mary Skeaping's Giselle in the Smoke, Scottish Ballet's Hansel & Gretel in Newcastle and the Maltese national dance company in Donny.  

 

As I keep a dance blog I get a lot of invitations to performances some of which I ask friends in London to cover.    I can only see one show once a week without neglecting my job or housework so I shall have to do a lot more delegation if I am going to get some balance.   Always looking out for volunteer reviewers.

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I was horrified to discover that I had seen 72 ballets, no operas, about 3 concerts and very few films or plays last year.

 

There's just not enough time to do everything!  Having said that, last year I managed (not including cinecasts) 96 trips to the ballet, 19 to the opera, 18 to the theatre and 71 concerts. 

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When I started my regular ballet going in my mid teens, I discovered that the ballet fans were almost all keen opera goers too, that doesn't seem to be so much the case now, it's more either or.

 

Perhaps this might be the place to relate a staff room conversation of a few years ago when a young colleague described a trip to the ballet with his girl friend.  He had gone a few weeks before and remembered the ballet had a French title.  Had he enjoyed it?  "Yes", he liked the leading male dancer very much, was highly impressed in fact, I asked if he remembered a name, he couldn't, but from the description he gave, he saw Carlos Acosta, almost certainly with Nunez.   The conversation turned to ballet in general and I discovered there is actually a degree of hostility towards aspects of the art.  Male dancers were awarded a pass as they were admirably athletic but the sight of a woman in a tutu was anathema to my female colleagues as was the practice of dancing on point.  These ladies all had phds, double firsts etc. but no doubt had an awareness of feminist politics too. 

 

I'm old enough to remember a time when ballet images were common place, my sister in law even had a compact with a pair of dancers on it and such images adorned everything from chocolate box lids (they still do in Russia) to crockery, and I even owned a waste paper bin with a scene from Swan Lake on it at one time.  Today, ballet is something that has to be sought out rather than being an aspect of general culture.  I am very much in agreement with an earlier poster that felt popular culture is obliterating the traditional arts.  This problem is more of an issue in English speaking countries and there is definitely a healthy number of younger people in audiences abroad.

 

Personally I imagine ballet will survive, but perhaps only in those places where general interest in the arts is more widespread than here.  The level of education is important, with music being an important component of the curriculum, arts appreciation has to be taught and that may well be where emphasis on other subjects is actually harmful. 

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 The conversation turned to ballet in general and I discovered there is actually a degree of hostility towards aspects of the art.  Male dancers were awarded a pass as they were admirably athletic but the sight of a woman in a tutu was anathema to my female colleagues as was the practice of dancing on point.  

 

 

Why?

 

 

 

I've got to admit that I have found the same with some of my female friends.  I've no idea why and needless to say they wouldn't consider going to watch a ballet to prove or disprove their preconceptions.

 

I've found with men that they can be hostile to the concept of "men in tights" too.

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The "men in tights" hostility I understand - the amount of effort many men need to go to to avoid looking as if they might in some way be approving of anything that might be associated with the feminine cooties in case someone might think they might be gay is *terrifying* - but I don't get the female version. 

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The "men in tights" hostility I understand - the amount of effort many men need to go to to avoid looking as if they might in some way be approving of anything that might be associated with the feminine cooties in case someone might think they might be gay is *terrifying* - but I don't get the female version. 

 

I suppose tutus could be deemed by some women (or people generally) to be silly, demeaning etc, and going on pointe could be deemed to be artificial, flighty etc. (And so not appropriate for modern women...) If your thinking was that way inclined. (Which mine isn't.)

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I suppose tutus could be deemed by some women (or people generally) to be silly, demeaning etc, and going on pointe could be deemed to be artificial, flighty etc. (And so not appropriate for modern women...) If your thinking was that way inclined. (Which mine isn't.)

 

 

I suppose, though it seems like a lot of thinking to be doing about something you're not interested in. I'd find it easier for the plots (such as they are) to raise feminist hackles, but it's a bit hard to take against those if you've never watched ballets. 

Edited by Colman
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Returning to the question of what ballet will be like in 2067 there is another trend that I should have mentioned and that is  improvements in special effects technology.   I was very impressed by the special effects that the Royal Shakespeare Company used in yesterday's performance of The Tempest which I saw in the National Media Museum in Bradford.  There have been so many advances in stage technology with computer graphics.   If  technology advances at the same pace over the next 50 years time the mind boggles at what producers should be able to pull off at the end of that period. 

That might solve other problems like attracting young people to the ballet.   I think kids will come if there is something to see.   There was quite a young crowd in the Lowry on the two nights I saw Red Shoes.   There are plenty of opportunities for a bit of technical wizardry in say the second act of Coppelia or Drosselmeyer's tricks in The Nutcracker.   Combined with great choreography, a great score and great dancing, I think it will draw in the public in droves.

Bangorballetboy I take my hat off to you.   I don't know how you find the time to see so much.   You are very different from the solicitors and patent agents who instruct me. I have had to keep quite about my ballet classes and outings ever since my clerk said "Nobody pays yer to be a ballerina, does they miss" to which I was very tempted to reply "Nobody pays me to be a barrister either."   I suppose it must help living in London as you save the  2 to 3 hour journey in each direction but even so. 

Edited by terpsichore
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The staging of Red Shoes was very well done - and really fast paced to boot, especially in comparison with the classics which develop their stories very slowly. I find the conversation above as to which ballets will endure quite an interesting one. The drama, passion and emotion of a MacMillan ballet is what I think would continue to capture imaginations and as long as there is life in the traditional pantomime, I still see Ashton's  story ballets enduring, because they have so much charm. People will always have an affinity with stories... Having said that, there is still so much that has not endured, but why? Is there a magic formula for creating a ballet today which will still live on in generations to come?

 

 

I very much agree with MAB that arts appreciation has to be taught - this is something I feel very strongly about, having had a teacher at a (state) primary school who created a wonderful programme of music appreciation when I was at school. Aside from ballet, the classical music I have most appreciation for today is that which I fondly remember from his simple intiative of having a piece of music playing at our daily morning assembly across a week and 2 children giving a summary of the composer/history/story if any at the final assembly of the week. That would have been a good 35 or more weeks per year for 4 years - a considerable amount of music was covered.  

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