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Why does ballet take off in some countries and not others?


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Curious to get your perspectives.  Ballet is of course well established where you might expect it to be, in the European and Russian / Eastern Europe historical heartlands, but also seems hugely popular in some other countries where perhaps it resonates with certain cultural traits - e.g. Japan, Cuba.  In others it is absent - in some cases for religious reasons (struggles in most Muslim countries) but in others less explicably. I've just returned from one of our occasional months in Thailand, where there is a very strong indigenous classical dance tradition, and a widespread cultural appreciation of beauty and ritual - so fertile ground but a really minimal ballet presence. So why for example Japan but not Thailand? Why Cuba and not Jamaica?  Is it some 'cultural alignment' or simply a reflection of historical efforts and contacts?

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Just a few random thoughts!

 

I think is is probably a reflection of historical efforts and contacts.  Would we in the UK have the ballet tradition that we currently enjoy if it hadn't been for the likes of Lilian Bayliss, Marie Rambert and Ninette de Valois?

 

In the case of Cuba it was and is Alicia Alonso who started off the mass interest I believe.

 

I don't think ballet is a well-established performance event in Spain.  They seem to have a lot of schools and have produced some dancers but look at the issues Angel Corella had in trying to establish and maintain a classical company there.

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what an interesting subject! I was going to say that it seemed to be more popular in countries where there is an appreciation of Western culture, but Jan out paid to this by pointing out that Spain does not have any great interest in ballet. So maybe countries where there is a strong ballet tradition have just been fortunate to benefit from enthusiastic and strong minded people who have encouraged appreciation of their art.

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Possibly also where there aren't competing "domestic" dance styles?  Spain has flamenco, Thailand, as has already been pointed out, has its own well-established classical dance form (as do places like India).  Mind you, Russia had cossack dancing ... but then there was a period in Russian history where Western, and particularly French, culture was seen as something to aspire to, and Russian culture (and language) was very much looked down upon.  Was that when ballet became established in Russia?  I'm afraid I'm not that good on dance history.  And of course Russia later went on to influence the communist countries ...

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AFAIK ballet in Russia was established by Peter The Great and his predecessor (I can't remember his name), using teachers who where prisoners from the war with Sweden. Empress Anne had a French teacher for the imperial children and Catherine The Great expanded the imperial school with an Italian teacher.

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I think also when the government or state activity supports ballet with interest and more importantly funding - like in Cuba and Russia it attracts people from all walks of life. I know our government funds some of the RBS costs but it's nothing on the scale that the Russian government does or the Cuban - which is compared to the UK, a very poor country. The Chinese and South Korean are also actively encouraging and funding ballet schools and training. So despite the enthusiasm for ballet without the funding you can only go so far. For every one 'billy elliot' there are hundreds of kids who just don't get the opportunity....

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Just a quick point. Peter The Great''s  predecessors had absolutely no interest in ballet, or any theatre dance. Anna was the one who set up the school.

 

I think Japan has adopted Western culture with alacrity because the Shinto religion, unlike Islam. Buddhism and, Christianity which pervaded all the social and cultural life of those countries never had the same cultural hold and, therefore, could not resist foreign imports. But Japan, while loving ballet, has no public subsidy tradition for western art forms like ballet. Hence the enormous number of, very welcome, Japanese dancers making their careers in Europe. And in Europe it was the courts which established theatre companies as part of monarchical hegemony. Perhaps if Charles 1 had kept his head British ballet, copying France, might have developed out of Court Masques.

Diaghilev had a big success in Spain under royal patronage, but years of Civil War and its aftermath seems to have killed that enthusiasm off and Contemporary Dance tended to pick up the pieces. Portugal also has some good schools but. like Spain, and for similar reasons, failed to develop a performing tradition. And now high unemployment and serious economic problems have stifled any development.

 

Italy is the fountain head of classical technique but ballet has always struggled against the overwhelming hegemony of Opera.

 

Perhaps only in the UK and the USA and where British connections are strong has ballet developed  free of court/state control, civil disturbance and opera domination and may be all the stronger for it. Classical Ballet is not the norm in most Opera Houses  in France

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It depends on the associations and politics too. There’s  a good amount of low level ballet for little girls in Ireland, not so much support at a higher level. 

 

Partly to do with the legacy of generations of little Irelanders and their vision of ruddy

faced peasant girls dancing a gelded version of Irish dance at the crossroads. 

 

Despite De Valois’s attempts. 

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24 minutes ago, Colman said:

...in an attempt to stave off imperial decline.

 

That might be a little unfair - I think it had more to do with the prevailing view after the war that the arts were good for people and worthy of significant subsidy, combined with the stroke of luck of having in JM Keynes a balletomane as the first chairman of the Arts Council.

 

It would be interesting to see a "family tree" of ballet companies and their influences, for example the Mariinsky leading to Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, leading in turn to the Royal Ballet (and its earlier incarnations), then Cranko setting out for Stuttgart.

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Some national ballet companies have ceased to exist over time, not surprisingly the Iranian company never survived the Ayatollahs and I don't think Portugal's Ballet Gulbenkian which seemed well established is still around.  It was a great pity that Corella  failed in Spain in view of the huge popularity of ballet there, but there were elements hostile to his success from the start.  I predict the next country to lose it's national company will be Turkey.

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Barnes2, I have to disagree with you.   Ballet was historically very strong in French Opera houses until fairly recently. Many British dancers worked in these Opera ballets, I danced professionally there for several years as did other English speaking dancers such as Australians and Americans. The situation was very similar to that in Germany except that there were many well trained home grown French dancers, so not quite so many employment opportunities for foreigners. 

 

Off the top of my head the best regional companies were: Rouen, Lille, Dijon, Lyon, Avignon, Grenoble, Strasbourg, Nice, Marseille, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Nantes, but I am sure I have missed some. Sadly as elsewhere financial cutbacks mean that many have now disappeared.

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14 hours ago, Barnes2 said:

Perhaps only in the UK and the USA and where British connections are strong has ballet developed  free of court/state control, civil disturbance and opera domination and may be all the stronger for it. Classical Ballet is not the norm in most Opera Houses  in France

 

Maybe not now, although contemporary dance - a form of concert dance, just like ballet - is strong across France. And we need to remember the huge influence of the French Opera ballet in Britain from the 1830s onwards. That period - roughly 1820-1850s - was the highest point of the Romantic ballet craze, where some of the classics of the repertoire were all over London & Paris. 

 

And the Russian establishment of the great companies in the 2nd half of the 19C was very much about modernising Russia - given that the  French language & culture were seen as markers of high culture since the 18C, I suppose ballet - the Italian via France - was an obvious cultural import to show that Russia was part of modern Europe in the 19C.

 

There's a wonderful book by Alison Broinoswki, The Yellow Lady, about Japan's relationship with the West (mostly via Australia, as she was an Australian diplomat in Jaan for most of the 1980s). She argues that Japan made a deliberate decision in the 19C to engage with the West. They didn't have to (cf China), but saw it as a way of reinvigorating and strengthening Japanese culture. I don't think (from memory, it's a while since I read her book) she writs about ballet; but again, like Russia, it might be that ballet was part of the adoption of selected Western high cultural forms to demonstrate engagement and modernity.

Edited by Kate_N
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It might be fanciful, but I think there was also 'fertile ground' in Japan for ballet as it has parallels with some cultural traits - attention to minute detail, acceptance of discipline over a long period of training / development time, an appetite for abstraction and symbolism. These are all reflected both in Japanese dance forms and in martial arts.  As a karate practitioner, when I first became interested in ballet, I was struck by these parallels, and even by how class structure is similar. Having said that, my cultural preconceptions about Cubans are probably entirely different, so bang goes that theory! 

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The excellent 2006 documentary Ballet Russes- and now book of interviews- by Michael Meylac- (Behind the Scenes at the Ballet Russes)shows how dancers of the Russian ballet were blown by history, like seeds from a thistle,  round the world, but, of  course, their legacy could only develop if they fell on fertile ground.

 

In Britain we do indeed have a lot to thank Maynard Keynes for, and a government attitude of mind that art -the best art- was for everyone, as you say, Lizbie1.

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On 2/20/2018 at 01:40, Quintus said:

... Why Cuba and not Jamaica?  Is it some 'cultural alignment' or simply a reflection of historical efforts and contacts?

 

Ballet in a lot of countries took root after one or another Ballets russes company toured it between 1920-ies and 1950-ies, sometimes spending there months, taking in and training aspiring young dancers and leaving behind some of the dancers they brought, who decided to settle there. This is "why Cuba and not Jamaica".

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On 2/20/2018 at 13:06, Shade said:

I must admit I always think of France as the cradle of ballet.

 

It is, and not just its craddle, it was its very centre until the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, the ensuing Commune and the coming of the French republic.

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16 hours ago, Lam said:

I always thought that the state's support is also important factor in keeping ballet institution alive and well as a vital performing art. 

 

From am German point of view: YES, absolutely. We have state subsidized theatres and many ballet companies - you know the important ones, but there are also many small ones from eight to 30 dancers. We have some great ballet academies but still very few German dancers - and that's another interesting point to discuss: Germans love to watch ballet, the performances are full and very often sold out. But Germans don't want their children to do ballet, it seems, whereas so many fine dancers from Spain, Brazil and also Italy have to leave their home countries because there are no jobs, no classical ballet companies. Don't people love to watch ballet there, or is it a money/state/funding problem? In Spain, they tried again and again, they have so many fine dancers, but not a single big classical ballet company (I'm talking about 60, 70 dancers). Also Italian dancers leave because there are no jobs - I'd say this it is a funding problem, because every Euro from their small, ever dwindling state funding goes to the opera, THE Italien art form. Classcial ballet is secondary there, as it may be in Spain to Spanish dance?

 

 

 

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Classical ballet is actually very popular in Spain, I should know as I've twice followed a touring company where I have friends the length and breadth of Spain, I've also acted as their sound engineer in the Canaries.  The impresario told me that at one point they could claim a subsidy from  the government for taking culture to outlying areas but  recession related spending cuts have put a stop to that.  Audiences vary from good to excellent, only in Marbella can I remember a number of empty seats.

 

There is a popular belief that the Spanish are so into flamenco that they have no interest in other forms of dance.  Nothing could be further from the truth as flamenco is native to Andalusia and although it has its followers elsewhere it reflects the culture of just one particular region.  I imagine it would be a hard sell in Barcelona where the Catalans even closed the bull ring.

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8 hours ago, Angela said:

Italian dancers leave because there are no jobs - I'd say this it is a funding problem, because every Euro from their small, ever dwindling state funding goes to the opera, THE Italien art form.

 

Not to take this too far off-topic, but although Angela may well be right re ballet vs opera performance in Italy, it is an open secret that Italian operatic singing training has collapsed. There are just no teachers in Italy any more, say my opera friends.

 

So while opera is certainly an Italian art form, it seems it isn't currently being properly protected for the future. 

 

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2 hours ago, Geoff said:

So while opera is certainly an Italian art form, it seems it isn't currently being properly protected for the future. 

 

As we hear of crumbling walls in Pompei: which art,which culture is still protected in Italy??

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