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Company Class - what do the dancers think


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I'm a huge fan of Company Classes. Where you as member of the public (me - adult beginner) attend the theatre to watch the daily ballet company class.

 

Having just watched another one recently, the following questions occur to me and I'd be interested in the thoughts of the board from the various backgrounds we have here (professionals, mums of, dancers etc....)

 

1/ Does anyone know what the company dancers feel about these events? Do they hate them as an invasion into their safe spaces or love them as a further oppertuity to perform?

2/ What do you think about small children (under 8 ) attending? I feel conflicted, I get why families might feel it a good short intro into ballet but equally becuase of the class methodology, I intrinsically feel that we as audience members should also adhere to class rules (no talking, no eating) allowing the meditative quality of the class to also encompas us? (COI - The small children who attend I have often found are understandably talkative the whole way through, eating popcorn and rushing in and out breaking my concentration).

 

I'd be really intersted in the board's thoughts

 

:)

 

 

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Being able to witness a company class is like visiting a work place (because for company members it IS their place of work, just like the theatre is for their performances.)  Many work places permit visitors when it doesn’t interfere with the work being done, so it’s up to the management to determine the benefits versus the costs of allowing visitors, how often and when.  (Even dance studios invite parents and family members to be observers of classes on occasion.) 

 

Dancers are routinely exercising and conditioning themselves in a class, not necessarily rehearsing usually, and are very used to being observed and scrutinized during their classes throughout the many years of their training and careers. They are generally well adept at focusing their attention, concentrating on what they are doing and need to get done, and ignoring routine distractions.  (Rehearsals following class, however, I can imagine to be closed (restricted) and free of any distractions, as work of a different nature perhaps needs to get done.)

 

Company management would set and enforce the protocol governing permissible behaviors, irrespective of age.  I don’t know that the delivering of an exquisite meditative experience would be a priority for a daily class as compared to giving a performance for which ticket prices and audience expectations are quite high.

Edited by BeaverElliot
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I watch the company classes of Northern Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet on Saturday mornings when I am able to.

 

Northern Ballet's class is only available for Patrons to watch and we are expected to know the rules - be quiet & no photographs.  Having spoken to dancers years ago some were uncomfortable with members of the public watching because it is their private time to prepare for the day ahead.  However it has become more prevalent for companies to facilitate watchers on a Saturday morning and the majority of the dancers feel comfortable with that.  In fact some Northern Ballet dancers have recently told us that having people to watch on a Saturday gives them a bit of extra oomph at the end of a long week of performances.

 

Birmingham Royal Ballet's Saturday classes are now open to members of the public to book and, while still adhering to the usual format they do make an effort to ensure that the members of the public enjoy the experience.  The ballet master taking the class makes a short speech at the start of class telling us what to expect and what the protocols are.  At the end of the class there are usually some party pieces - spins, fouettés, maneges for example.

 

As a ballet watcher (never having had any sort of dance class in my life) I find watching the class gives me a real sense of just how hard the dancers have to prepare for the day ahead and an appreciation of all they do.

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Eldest son works at the RSC and they accept when they are employed (he's a tecchie lad) that there will be members of the public in while they are working.  In their case the main issues are health and safety - if they have the floor up, working at height etc.

 

We were invited to watch ballet DS take class because there were no performances when we were visiting.  At his company this was an honour and they are used to having politicians etc visit and watch  class.  Again, there it was accepted that it would happen, if you want to be  funded you need the public on side (this was abroad in a country where the ballet companies were well funded from local and state taxes!)

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  • John Mallinson changed the title to Company Class - what do the dancers think

I believe the RB dancers are generally given the option to opt out take class in a different studio for these things, aren't they?  Certainly for the one class I've watched in the Hamlyn Hall it's been the junior dancers who've tended to appear.  Equally, I used to notice absences in ENB's on-stage classes at the Coliseum, and assumed there was a second class going on at Markova House - or, for classes that went on there, there would usually be a second class in the other studio due to studio size.

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I've attended a few ballet events (ENB, BRB) which have included watching a rehearsal or a class. I've also been lucky enough to attend company class in the company of a family member, and also in the teaching workshops of a family friend. These experiences have been quite special & I know that they are a rare privilege. So I agree with you absolutely about this, Rosewater, absolutely! I find it rather concerning that parents are so rude & ignorant as to allow children to behave in the disruptive ways you describe

 

On 25/03/2019 at 08:00, Rosewaterandsunshine said:

I intrinsically feel that we as audience members should also adhere to class rules (no talking, no eating) allowing the meditative quality of the class to also encompas us?

 

I work partly in the theatre and spend a lot of time in rehearsals, either supervising, running them, or watching others' rehearsals. They are places of serious work, but even more, they are places where we're trying things out, experimenting, and more often than not, failing, and needing to go to the next solution or experiment (and the next, and the next ...). Failure is necessary but difficult. You need to create a safe physical and mental space in which to fail and then develop through failure to success. There needs to be a bit of "Fight Club" rules about this sort of observation: what happens in class, stays in class.

 

So people who watch class need to be aware of the privilege, and behave correctly.

 

My only experience as a dancer being watched by strangers in class made me even more adamant about respectful behaviour as an observer of class or rehearsal. At DanceXchange in Birmingham sometimes in the summer there would be a sequence of classes organised by an outside hirer with some well-known teachers. Young dancers from 12 upwards were permitted to attend, but so were their parents. These parents would sit in across the back of the room, chat to each other, or talk to their children in between exercises. It was rude & disruptive.

 

I was trained to understand class etiquette: the moving dancer doing the combination always has right of way. But these parents didn't understand that and we sometimes had to dance around them in across the floor combinations from the corner. It really put me off those classes & I did mention it to the organiser. 

Edited by Kate_N
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When I used to attend lots of RB and ENB classes, they were packed to the brim (many dancers dribbling in late), were a mix of principals (all the big guns of that time, Bussell, Cojocaru, Nunez, Rojo - I'm trying to remember if Guillem or Acosta ever came to one), soloists and corps, and quite often the same dancers attended, so I can only assume they were there because they wanted to be!

 

Occasionally the class was taught by a guest teacher and these were particularly well attended and principal heavy - I speculated that the organisers might have rigged this to ensure a treat for the audience 😉

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Generally the only company class in public at The Australian Ballet is on stage at an unusual time (for the dancers) and is followed by a stage rehearsal, usually of a solo or pas de deux. These take place about half a dozen times a year, and cost about $30 per person. The class is seeded with at least two principals and as many senior artists as can be persuaded, and there's always some fun showy-offy stuff at the end. The ballet master is miked up and will take brief questions at natural breaks in the class. Very interesting. No questions allowed during the following rehearsal of course, but some afterwards. 

 

Otherwise there's a couple of studio classes a year available for patrons (here meaning big bucks donors) to watch, in very limited numbers I understand.

 

Or there's World Ballet Day, and even then they are careful to ensure dancers have a choice of attending the broadcast class or one in a different studio.

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My understanding from others more knowledgeable (who will I'm sure correct me if I'm wrong) is that on a standard day at the Royal Ballet there are three company classes in order to accommodate all the dancers, and that lower-ranking dancers get placed in one class or the other, while Principals get to choose which to attend.  I surmised from a comment made on World Ballet Day that these three classes are not necessarily simultaneous (I think it was Alexander Campbell who was presenting company class, which was later than normal as the RB WBD feed didn't go on air until about noon, and said he'd already taken class that day).

 

I'm not sure of the extent to which dancers may be permitted to exercise discretion about appearing or not appearing on publicly broadcast footage by picking one of the other classes that day.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I attended a RB class this week and it was really interesting. We had a full mix of principals, soloists, artists etc and I'm still trying to find out who some of the artists were by trying to match their photos with who I think I saw.  Quite frustrating actually but we could hardly ask for a roll call.  The pianist almost stole the show with his incredible repertoire of tunes, but stand out dancer for me was Itziar Mendizabal.  Principals included Matthew Ball who had only come off the stage 12 hours since in DonQ as had several of the other dancers I recognised. .    

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On 26/03/2019 at 10:35, RuthE said:

 

I'm not sure of the extent to which dancers may be permitted to exercise discretion about appearing or not appearing on publicly broadcast footage by picking one of the other classes that day.

 

I have no informed knowledge, but my understanding is that all the dancers have a pretty free choice as to which class they attend

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42 minutes ago, RobR said:

 

I have no informed knowledge, but my understanding is that all the dancers have a pretty free choice as to which class they attend

 

That isn't the case in all Companies as the male/female divide is often the practice. In the case of the 'open' RB Classes, some Principals (and others) seem attracted by the audience whereas other Principals/Soloists prefer to choose the class which isn't being observed.

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Some years ago on Saturday mornings when BRB were on tour there were 2 classes (due to restrictions on the size of the stage and the set) but they were usually for principals/soloists and artists/first artists.  At the studio classes in Birmingham that Friends could attend they were usually split by gender.

 

Northern Ballet (with fewer dancers) has only ever had one class on stage while on tour.

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1 hour ago, RobR said:

 

I have no informed knowledge, but my understanding is that all the dancers have a pretty free choice as to which class they attend

 

At an RB 'open' class a few years ago, the presenter (David Pickering IIRC) told us that principals had a choice of which class to attend, but other ranks went to allocated classes.

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