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How once-mighty televised dance has fallen ...


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Having just read the Daily Telegraph's long obituary for Bob Lockyer, the televised-dance producer (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/obituaries/2022/06/17/bob-lockyer-producer-whose-films-established-modern-dance-forefront/), it's left me very saddened, and rather depressed:

 

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His monument was the BBC’s much-imitated Dance for the Camera, a 1990s series of some 50 original TV dance films executive-produced by Lockyer.

 

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When he joined in 1959, music and arts production in the BBC was booming, reflecting rapid postwar developments in publicly subsidised theatre, music, opera and ballet, and getting to grips with live broadcasting.

 

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Bob Lockyer’s innovatory format brought the BBC into the spotlight as an active patron of avant-garde dance and film creativity, spawning international dance-film festivals in Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

 

Where has it all gone?  :(  Even with a supposedly arts-based BBC4 (which of course won't be in existence for much longer anyway) the thought of dance coverage - or any performance coverage - on this scale is just a pipe dream these days.

 

Sorry to be gloomy, but I thought it was worth acknowledging :(

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31 minutes ago, Jan McNulty said:

I share your gloom Alison.  Even the much vaunted Sky Arts shows little ballet/dance and what is does show is at ludicrous times and frequently repeated!

True though this is Janet, at least they do offer some ballet rather than just dance - which seems to be the preferred option of the BBC these days.  

 

I grieve for the forthcoming demise of BBC4.

Edited by Two Pigeons
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My introduction to filmed ballet was on Cbeebies, believe it or not! They used to run the Acosta/Nuñez La fille mal gardée filmed in the mid-2000s. Considering how prioritised a short and snappy format is in regards to children's content, I'd find it hard to imagine them running a full ballet now. 

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This dismal assessment of the state of televised dance for me mirrors the news of the demise of Dance books. The  opportunities to experience , enjoy and develop your knowledge about this wonderful art form are becoming fewer. Ironically, it’s at a time when there is so much to celebrate in the richness and quality of our dance companies. What can be done? I wish we knew. 

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I do wholeheartedly agree with this reaction to the lack of dance on tv now.  I also am totally aware of the enormous contribution  of Bob Lockyer.  However, just for accuracy, he had absolutely nothing to do with Natalia Makarova's Ballerina series.  This was the work of Derek Bailey.

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32 minutes ago, MaddieRose said:

My introduction to filmed ballet was on Cbeebies, believe it or not! They used to run the Acosta/Nuñez La fille mal gardée filmed in the mid-2000s. Considering how prioritised a short and snappy format is in regards to children's content, I'd find it hard to imagine them running a full ballet now. 

 

They do ... but they are Northern Ballet's children's ballets that come in at about 40 minutes.

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Can you imagine them investing in a series like The Magic of Dance (complete with accompanying book) these days? 2021 was the 90th birthday of the RB - I know we had Covid but i don't remember there being much retrospective on the TV ...I remember the 50th anniversary documentary very well. And the fab Omnibus they made about Mukhamedov (still have it on VHS). And actually they did a great documentary when the Bolshoi came back after so long. We did have Men at the Barre - but as for recorded performances, when you think how many are filmed... ok cross now!

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24 minutes ago, Suffolkgal said:

 And the fab Omnibus they made about Mukhamedov (still have it on VHS). 

 

I still have it too though I transferred mine to dvd, and I think it's a gold standard in ballet docs as it had a wonderful mix of dance and information. Irek's personality really came across and it encouraged me to go and see his performances. I love the last bit when he's struggling with the intricacies of Colas' solo in La Fille. After coming from the Bolshoi with Spartacus being his signature role, nothing could be more different. But it's one of the reasons he wanted to come here, to avoid being pigeonholed in 'heroic' roles.

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One thing I will credit the BBC with is that they have maintained their screening of major (three act)  new work at RB. So, in more recent years we have had The Dante Project, Frankenstein, Woolf Works, The Winter’s Tale and Scarlett’s Swan Lake. I am hoping for Like Water for Chocolate. It’s slim pickings I know, but it’s something. There have been some relatively  recent half decent programmes like the Dancing in the Blitz, Nutcracker and the RB men ones, but nothing like the quality of the aforementioned in-depth documentaries.

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Another huge loss is The South Bank Show, just to show that it isn't just the BBC where ballet output is declining.  That produced a number of fascinating documentaries on dancers such as Sylvie Guillem and others.

 

It also won a major international television prize for its 'Macmillan's Mayerling' which charted the development of the ballet with its original cast.  Given that there are now at least 3DVDs of the ballet with different casts I regret wholeheartedly that there are only fragments with Wall, Seymour and (above all) Park.

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I find it absolutely astonishing that dance in all forms does not feature on an almost daily basis, since dance is a visual performance and TV is a visual medium.

I fear that audiences are being deprived on the elitist basis that they won't be interested. In the past TV producers thought it was their job to show people why they should be interested. Especially people who would never be able to afford the ROH, but could manage a telly.

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Might I suggest that you all write to my constituency MP, Nadine Dorries, and tell her how you feel. Feel free to encourage everybody you know to do the same.

 

She knows Sweet Fanny Adams about the arts, and needs enlightening.

 

 

 

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It’s even worse in the USA with public TV (PBS) rarely scheduling traditional classical arts programs, in favor of commercialized “diverse audience” offerings. The miracle is that we traditionalists are thrown a classical bone once a year with the Vienna New Years Day show! 

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8 hours ago, DVDfan said:

I find it absolutely astonishing that dance in all forms does not feature on an almost daily basis, since dance is a visual performance and TV is a visual medium.

I fear that audiences are being deprived on the elitist basis that they won't be interested. In the past TV producers thought it was their job to show people why they should be interested. Especially people who would never be able to afford the ROH, but could manage a telly.


i do agree with you DVDfan. And what better way to eliminate ‘elitism’ than to make the so-called elitist content readily accessible by all. 

Edited by Scheherezade
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What I find a bit sad is that all the ballet students are really familiar with certain virtuoso variations gleaned from Youtube,  but haven't really got a clue about the ballets they come from.  Most of the big classics are also on Youtube, but comps like YAGP have conditioned kids to concentrate on  tricks and showy variations.  

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I very much doubt that the BBC has ever had a clearly defined policy on whether it should cover dance or how it should do so. I strongly suspect that the BBC's reputation as an organisation devoted to promoting  ballet as an art form by making it available  to a wide public rests on its need to have something for its viewers to watch in the early days of the television service and subsequently on the initiatives of a number of individuals rather than being part of a long term corporate arts policy based on the Reithian principles of informing, educating and entertaining its audience. It is true that  the Vic Wells company and Ballet Rambert both appeared on television quite a bit before the war but I think that the coverage of both companies had more to do with the BBC's need to fill its schedule with programmes that would appeal to its then London based audience than anything else. I should be surprised to discover that there was any crusading or educational purpose on the BBC's part at that time or later. I very much doubt that there ever has been any strategic plan on the corporation's part to bring art in the form of ballet to its viewers. I suspect that the directors of both the Rambert and Vic-Wells companies were far more aware of the potential of televised ballet performances to act as a shop window for their repertory and dancers and its potential to build an audience for them than the corporation's administrators were.   

 

Apart from a few short sections of film which include footage of a young Fonteyn little remains which documents the BBC's pre-war ballet broadcasts. We know far more about the BBC's post-war ballet broadcasts and the work of Margaret Dale. De Valois clearly saw that working with the BBC was of benefit to her company as it would help keep her company in touch with the ballet audience which had been created during the war. Dale, a former dancer herself,was responsible for producing a series of recordings some of which are of great historic interest because of the dancers appearing in them.There is a Les Sylphides from the early fifties with a cast headed by Markova with Beriosova and Elvin in supporting roles and an introduction by Karsavina and an original cast recording of Fille Mal Gardee adapted for television. Perhaps we owe even more to John Drummond (born  in 1934) who seems to have worked hard to give dance a place on BBC2 when it was the corporation's arts channel. He was responsible for a two part Diaghilev documentary which used filmed interviews with surviving members of the company and introduced a number of initiatives to the channel's schedule with  ballet documentaries and occasional series such as Dance Month and Dance Makers.. I suspect that many of us  have a more positive view of the BBC's commitment to dance broadcasts than it perhaps deserves largely as a result of seeing the programmes shown during Drummond's time with BBC 2. Not every broadcast was motivated by the desire to make ballet available to its viewers sometimes it was technological advances which prompted a broadcast. As I understand it the Sibley, Dowell Cinderella was the result of the BBC's wish to experiment with outside broadcasts in colour. 

 

There was a time when there seemed to be a great deal of classically based dance on television but this was attributable to a number of factors specific to a particular time and place. Many of those in positions of power and influence in the world of arts administration and broadcasting in the 1970's and 80's, including John Drummond,  had grown up in an artistic world which took ballet seriously.t. Buckle's 1954 exhibition to mark the twenty fifth anniversary of Diaghilev;s death had rekindled interest in the works that he had commissioned for his company. I can't believe that Drummond did not attend. The pioneers who established ballet as a serious art form in this country were alive and well and still actively engaged in the world of dance that they had created. They were taken very seriously, their opinions were sought and their views were treated with respect as were the works which they had commissioned. They had not at that time been reduced to mere caricatures or the source of amusing anecdotes.Then there was the so called ballet boom which was essentially popular interest in ballet prompted initially  in  this country by the Ballets Russes and rekindled after Diaghilev's death by the pioneering work of Marie Rambert and her choreographic discoveries who included Ashton, Tudor and a number of other important choreographic talents working at the Mercury Theatre and de Valois working at the Old Vic and Sadler's Wells. The Wells eventually became the home of de Valois' ballet company where she worked with Lamberst and later Ashton to create the company which we know today as the Royal Ballet. These and other companies sustained interest in ballet with the new works they created. The desire for entertainment during the war added considerably to the ballet going audience while the creation of new works kept the interest alive. Ballet had not been reduced to a museum art form as the major western choreographers of the twentieth century were actively engaged in making new repertory and would continue doing so well into the late 1970's and early 1980's.

 

The audience for ballet  could not easily be characterised as an elite following an elite art form at that time as the ballet audience encompassed a much wider range of socio-economic groups than is the case today. Subsidies ensured the arts were accessible This was the art world before Thatcher and the Murdoch press. It was a time when it was not fashionable to sneer at the arts as elitist or complain that subsidies only benefited the middle classes. Perhaps most importantly it was long before John Birt became Director General. His populist tendencies were to do untold damage  to arts coverage at the BBC. I can't imagine that he would have cleared the schedules to broadcast a sizeable chunk of the second act of Giselle  Fortunately Mr Birt lay in the future.  Ballet at this time was not just accessible financially it was also accessible geographically because companies toured far more extensively than they do today. Men like John Drummond, Clive Barnes and Clement Crisp would have encountered ballet at university if they had not done so earlier. ACE had not at this time rationalised and rationed access to ballet by giving companies tour schedules which spread them too thinly across the country to establish a critical mass of ballet goers in any one place. De Valois company in its various forms toured to both Cambridge and Oxford where the arts administrators of the  future are educated.Both university cities were on the tour schedules of other ballet companies such as Ballet Rambert and companies on tour performed a far wider range of their repertory at each venue than they do today. All these factors meant that in the 1960's and 70's ballet could not easily be dismissed as an elite art form. That accusation only became viable as subsidies were reduced and elements of the audience were priced out of the theatre.

 

As far as televised ballet performances in the 1970's and early 80's are concerned we should perhaps bear in mind that there were any number of significant events and anniversaries to be marked as first Rambert and then the Royal Ballet marked their fiftieth anniversaries. Looking at the Royal Ballet televised performances between 1978 and 1981 the company celebrated de Valois' eightieth birthday, marking it with a broadcast of her new production of Sleeping Beauty; Ashton's seventy fifth birthday was marked by a documentary and a number of programmes of ballet performances. The fiftieth anniversary of the foundation of the company in 1981 was marked by a documentary and a broadcast of MacMillan's new ballet Isadora. In addition to these company focused events there were also royal celebrations which took place at Covent Garden and found their way onto television. There was the gala to mark the Queen's Silver Jubilee and finally the Queen Mother's eightieth birthday which saw a revival of Mam'zelle Angot and the premiere of Ashton's last major work Rhapsody. I can't help wondering whether these royal events were televised because they were seen as newsworthy rather than for any significance they might have as arts programmes. That it was thought worth while to televise ballet performances is evidenced by the fact that commercial stations also became involved in doing so from time to time

 

As to what is different now. The commissioning process is reportedly far more bureaucratic than it was forty years ago. The BBC is being required to make swingeing cuts  to its programmes which must mean that programmes about elite art forms are unlikely to be seen as being of much interest unless a human interest story or two can be woven into the  programme. The last two programmes that I can recall on the BBC which included full length ballet performances were the all Ashton mixed bill broadcast in 2004 to mark the centenary of his birth and the broadcast of Bussell's farewell performance. Neither was issued in full on DVD although some of the centennial programmes was subsequently issued commercially. The most important performance in the all Ashton programme, the long awaited revival Daphnis and Chloe in the Craxton  designs was inexplicably omitted. It would be fascinating to know precisely what prompted those decisions and why the Royal Ballet stopped working with the BBC and took everything in-house. Does cinema streaming generate more income than the BBC can offer and more importantly does it really reach a wider potential audience in this country than a broadcast on terrestrial television at Christmas would secure? Perhaps things are better handled elsewhere but publicity for Royal Ballet streamed performance in cinemas near me seems haphazard at best.

 

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In addition to the TV showings of full works, the BBC showed ballet excerpts as part of wider programmes, when I was a girl. Children's TV often had some ballet; I first encountered Bournonville, danced by Henning Kronstam and Kirsten Simone, no less, on children's TV. And if my father was out in the evening, teaching drama at night school, my mother would let me stay up to watch Eric Robinson's concert programme if there was ballet included, as there often was. What's important about both these examples is that ballet was then treated as mainstream, not some weird elite art form.

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My youngest daughter is now thirty. She had stopped ballet as after starting school she was too tired to go. A few months later I found her sobbing as she watched a segment of Blue Peter which featured ballet. I asked her what was wrong and she admitted that she really missed ballet. So back we went for the next 13 years. She still dances for fun and in amateur dramatic shows.

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2 hours ago, FLOSS said:

The fiftieth anniversary of the foundation of the company in 1981 was marked by a documentary and a broadcast of MacMillan's new ballet Isadora. In addition to these company focused events there were also royal celebrations which took place at Covent Garden and found their way onto television. There was the gala to mark the Queen's Silver Jubilee and finally the Queen Mother's eightieth birthday which saw a revival of Mam'zelle Angot and the premiere of Ashton's last major work Rhapsody.

 

I have a recording of the television broadcast of the Queen Mother's eightieth Birthday gala and have never been able to understand why they only showed the pas de deux from Rhapsody whereas they broadcast the whole of Mam'zelle Angot.  Does anybody know the reason for this?

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And they omitted completely a very fine performance of A Month in the Country starring Anthony Dowell with Natalia Makarova making her debut.

 

Talking of which I really do wish there was a chance to see the programme the BBC produced to mark Sir Fred's 75th birthday.  It started with SWRB in Les Rendezvous (in the proper costumes) led by Marion Tait and David Ashmole.  Then there were 2 diverts, Monotones 2 then Tweedledum and Tweedledee with the original cast of Collier, Sleep and Fletcher.

 

If all that wasn't enough the finale was of the original cast of A Month in the Country with the luminous Seymour.  During the curtain call Sir Fred gathered up Lynn's long blue ribbons and kissed them, echoing that moment from the ballet.  History before our eyes.  Please may someone dust it off and give us all a chance to see it all once again.

Edited by Two Pigeons
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There’s an excellent article in next week’s Radio Times written by Waldemar Januszczak, ex head of arts at Channel 4, about the axing of TV arts  programming on the BBC and Channel 4. He is scathing in his criticism and argues that both have betrayed their public-service remit. I have to say I have come across very few current and former arts’ presenters, producers and the like who have voiced similar dismay. 

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On 26/06/2022 at 13:48, FLOSS said:

Apart from a few short sections of film which include footage of a young Fonteyn little remains which documents the BBC's pre-war ballet broadcasts. We know far more about the BBC's post-war ballet broadcasts


As a PS might I draw attention to the marvellous series of academic journal articles by Janet Rowson Davis, “Ballet on British Television”, published in Dance Chronicle in the 1990s? Over the course of several articles she covers the period 1932 to 1959. Mouthwatering but also tantalising and heartbreaking, because of how much has not survived, even buried in the archives. 

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On 26/06/2022 at 19:08, Two Pigeons said:

And they omitted completely a very fine performance of A Month in the Country starring Anthony Dowell with Natalia Makarova making her debut.

 

Talking of which I really do wish there was a chance to see the programme the BBC produced to mark Sir Fred's 75th birthday.  It started with SWRB in Les Rendezvous (in the proper costumes) led by Marion Tait and David Ashmole.  Then there were 2 diverts, Monotones 2 then Tweedledum and Tweedledee with the original cast of Collier, Sleep and Fletcher.

 

If all that wasn't enough the finale was of the original cast of A Month in the Country with the luminous Seymour.  During the curtain call Sir Fred gathered up Lynn's long blue ribbons and kissed them, echoing that moment from the ballet.  History before our eyes.  Please may someone dust it off and give us all a chance to see it all once again.

oh gosh i remember that one! thanks for the memory ... i hope this has not already been mentioned, it may have been in this or it may have been in Magic of Dance or something else - but Margot Fonteyn making her farewell in a vignette to a piece by Elgar (possibly one of the chansons or it may have been salut d'amour). she did little echoes of her great roles and at the end Sir Frederick came on and they sort of chasseed off together ... 

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34 minutes ago, Suffolkgal said:

oh gosh i remember that one! thanks for the memory ... i hope this has not already been mentioned, it may have been in this or it may have been in Magic of Dance or something else - but Margot Fonteyn making her farewell in a vignette to a piece by Elgar (possibly one of the chansons or it may have been salut d'amour). she did little echoes of her great roles and at the end Sir Frederick came on and they sort of chasseed off together ... 

Indeed, it was Salut d'Amour.  Created by Sir Fred for Dame Margot's 60th birthday/official farewell.  They did exit together executing the Fred step.  It was only ever performed twice.   The main performance followed by an encore and it was included in The Magic of Dance.

 

Dame Margot then appeared with Robert Helpmann doing the Tango in a full performance of Facade.  I will go to my grave with this as the one of the most treasured memories of my life as it was my very first visit to the Royal Opera House.  What a start!

 

I cannot tell you how wonderful it was to see Fonteyn appear 'live'.  Her technique may well have faded but her sheer magnetism blazed so brightly it was just dazzling.  I promise you this isn't nostalgia.  It really was like that and the whole evening just drowned with love and admiration.

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Oh Thankyou! I shall look too. I did see her live in Norwich of all places, I still have the programme. Bless her memory. Lynn Seymour was dancing as well, what an artist ... I quite often go to see Sir Fred’s grave ( it has a hedgehog on it as I am sure you are all aware) and his crinkle-crankle wall. I did meet him once at the stage door, and we had a brief chat about Suffolk. It’s very exciting was his admonishment to me when I said Covent Garden was more exciting than our county! This has reminded me of the lovely tv documentary about him after he died ending up with his housekeeper (mrs dade?) saying in her gentle Eye accent- he was a very nice person and will be very much missed. Along those lines anyway. And some film of him walking in his lovely garden. I have just run through the channels and it’s such a depressing journey! 

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On 26/06/2022 at 13:48, FLOSS said:

It was a time when it was not fashionable to sneer at the arts as elitist or complain that subsidies only benefited the middle classes.

A time that seems sadly far off. I find the philistinism in this country is getting worse and it's very depressing these days- a country where a politician ( Angela Rayner) can be laughed and sneered at simply for going to an opera performance -  as if that is somehow a political issue in itself (OK, Glyndebourne, but really is it all that different from Glastonbury or Wimbledon that we are all supposed to follow avidly..)

 

I am not that old but I was brought up to believe the arts were for us all regardless of who we were - but now it seems ballet, opera, claassical music are just for 'posh' people.

 

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