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Why British ballet is dancing with death


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I have just read it Ribbons and it is indeed very sad. They take very few from their own ballet school and one personal comment was to use trainers from abroad if the company are not impressed with the training from their own Royal Ballet School. I personally do not know why they do not take even 25% of their own from White Lodge, what they prefer in the ones that they do recruit? How many British students are there in White Lodge to begin with?

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It was vague, and quite short - I expected to scroll down and find more. It's similar to what I was saying about no British born and trained Principals in ENB. It's a tricky subject to discuss without people thinking you're being xenophobic though.

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It is a difficult subject to discuss. In my opinion it's one of the biggest issues with the big UK companies, but it's hard to even identify the cause of the problem, let alone rectify it. There are a lot of British dancers in the lower ranks of the RB, for whatever reason they just aren't breaking through.

 

I agree with her comments on the relative low profile of ballet dancers today. As has been said elsewhere, the only one that has had any kind of significant profile outside of the ballet world recently has been Darcey. Maybe the RB could advertise Lauren, Rupert and Ed a bit more, as I do think homegrown people becoming successful does have a knock on effect. Then again, maybe they don't want to be heavily promoted and would prefer a quiet life. Alternatively, maybe they could just try and convince Darcey to make a comeback? :)

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It is sad that our main ballet company has so few high ranking British dancers. It's hard to imagine that that would ever be the case in a Russian company.

 

When did it all change? I mean when was the last era when most RB principals were British?

 

And did it change because the talent was (thought to be) no longer there or did standards remain the same BUT weren't perhaps seen as quite high enough any longer? I hope that makes sense!

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At BRB - 4 out of 10 principals; 4 out of 8 first soloists; 7 out of 10 soloists; 5 out of 9 first artists; 9 out of 20 artists

 

At NB - 3 out of 6 leading artists; 1 out of 1 principal character artist; 1 out of 1 leading soloist; 1 out of 3 first soloist; 1 out of 3 soloist; 2 out of 4 choryphee; 9 out of 18 dancers; 3 out of 5 apprentices

 

So at the moment (bearing in mind there may be changes from the Autumn) around 50% of the dancers in these 2 companies are British.

 

Of course the companies only have a choice of available dancers when recruiting at any level.  Does this mean that the odds are weighted against British DCs coming through the British schools?

 

The other thing to bear in mind is that in the olden days RB/RBS was available to British and Commonwealth so there were plenty of Commonwealth dancers in the companies.  (And there are still Commonwealth members in the companies),

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If I'm not mistaken, in her time, dancers in the RB had to be English or from the Commonwealth; does anyone know when this ended?

I also remember reading here or there (mostly articles from Alistair Macaulay) that the standard of the company got relatively bad in the 80's, if that was while the company still only employed British dancers, maybe that's why they changed the rule, or maybe once they had to open the pool to European dancers they thought they might as well hire the best from all over the world?

I also believe that around that time the training from the Royal Ballet School was inadequate for the company (the symbolic example being brought up was that the Ashton step was no longer being taught), it could also explain why the company started hiring from all over the world.

 

As a ballet watcher, I don't have any problem with dancers not being British (especially coming back from the Alina Cojocaru gala at Sadler's Well), however I understand why it can be frustrating for ballet students and their parents, but the fault is that of the schools, not the companies.

It also seems the Upper School cares more about making sure their students can find employment when they graduate (which is understandable), which will also be an incentive for them to have the best students from all over the world rather than students from White Lodge.

 

The other point is that a British born dancer would great publicity and would increase awareness for ballet in general, I perfectly agree, even if the days of the superstar dancer are probably over in this country, but I have the feeling the RB is actually trying to increase publicity around British dancers (I don't recall dancers as junior as Claire Calvert and Melissa Hamilton receiving as much press, and add to that Lauren Cuthberson being in most of the cinema relays before her injury). But they don't yet have a British dancer who deserves to be considered THE ballerina the way Darcey Bussell was. Again, if there is a fault, it is probably that of the schools.

 

One last note, the RB seems to be seen pretty much the world over as one of the dream companies a dancer can aspire to, in part because it is open to all regardless of training, as long as it is the case the competition for places will always be between all the best dancers in the world, and I hope it stays the case for longer.

Edited by A frog
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Guest Autumn days

Could one reason be that nowadays the population in general is more mobile? It is not unusual to find non-British people in whole range of jobs. The companies (and schools) want thebest that they can get and the best are now more willing and able to travel. The overall population of Britain also needs to be considered: we are a small country and statistics would therefore suggest that to produce just a few principals is perhaps quite an achievement.

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I also agree that times have changed somewhat and that in order for the Royal to be one of the best companies in the world it must be open to all the worlds best dancers! And I do tend to like this.

 

However it does seem a little strange that so much is invested in the Royal Ballet School finding and training the best dancers even at Junior level and then so few do end up in the company. It seems a lot more dancers from other countries get into the senior school so one could start asking what is the Junior school actually for....it is a much coseted place for many young aspiring dancers from UK but is it doing the young dancers there justice then?

 

Perhaps we have moved to a point where there are several excellent training schools throughout the world the RBS being one of them but we are in a global market now so one has to accept that there is now much less guarantee than there was that a child from UK at our own excellent school RBS will be offered a place in the home company. Sorry a bit rambling

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Could one reason be that nowadays the population in general is more mobile? It is not unusual to find non-British people in whole range of jobs. The companies (and schools) want thebest that they can get and the best are now more willing and able to travel. The overall population of Britain also needs to be considered: we are a small country and statistics would therefore suggest that to produce just a few principals is perhaps quite an achievement.

 

We're a small country, but we have a large population (the 22nd largest I believe, out of around 200 countries), and there are areas where we completely punch above our weight (rowing, sailing, cycling, music, fashion) so I don't necessarily think the populations size is such an issue.

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Well here's an interesting point in a topsy turvy world. When I was at the RBS in the 60's you had to be British or Commonwealth to be accepted. White Lodge girls and boys were pretty much guaranteed a place in the upper school and they were normally only expected to do two years (the rest of us had to do 3) finishing in the Graduate Class. Company recruits were taken from Graduates and also a few from the top class below Grads - Theatre Class, which was usually where the good ones not from White Lodge were placed. The "foreigners" were only accepted into a special class for overseas students and the standard in the overseas class was lower than the rest of the school.

 

So what on earth has happened in the last forty-five plus years? The EU for a start, I suppose, but also non-EU too. The school gives scholarships to outstanding students in the Prix de Lausanne and YAGP for example. I am wondering if in order to preserve their reputation as one of the best schools world-wide, they prefer taking super talented students from abroad whose training has been more intense than the average British dancer. Still that doesn't really explain why they now take so few from White Lodge.........

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Membership of the EU and, more significantly, the greater willingness and ability of students and dancers from the former Soviet Union, the old communist block, China and the Far East, Central and South America to come to the UK has hugely increased the pool of talent from which the UK schools and companies can draw. As others have said, in the past the RBS was only open to UK and Commonwealth students. I'm sure that many other countries also bemoan the lack of homegrown talent in their ballet companies. There are actually two separate issues: the (relatively) small number of British students in the UK upper schools and the companies' recruitment of dancers trained abroad rather than those who have trained in the UK, whether they are British or not. I suspect that there's nothing wrong with the training in the UK schools. It's just that there's incredible competition for a very small number of places in the schools and companies.

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Without denying that there may be (or even is) an issue here, we have been here or hereabouts so many times before, with never a conclusion reached.  Might it be worthwhile defining, if that be possible, what "British ballet" as used in the title of this thread might be?

 

1.  Is it 'The Royal Ballet' as a company?

 

2.  Is it only a matter of the number of British-born Principals in the RB?

 

3.  Is it the sum of the RB, ENB, BRB, NB and SB as a total presence in British cultural life?  And Ballet Black, and Richard Alston, and the Balletboyz, and Rambert Dance, and Random Dance and many others?

 

4.  Is it the number of students at RBS who started at the first year of White Lodge?

 

5.  Is it the sum of British-born dancers and choreographers working out side the UK?

 

That list could go on and on but, without a much closer definition of 'the issue', I fear we will flail about once again to very little purpose.

 

I'm off to bed - but for what it's worth, on any broad definition, I say the 'dancing with death' thesis is untenable.  If we took only this Forum as a piece of evidence, we have nearly 44, 000 posts from some 1200 registered members in just 16 months that suggests there's life in the old dog yet.

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I agree that we have been here before and that the article is slightly lacking depth. However, I think the broader point is that more must be done to make ballet popular and relevant to new generations. Whenever I go to ROH (which isn't very often!) most of the audience looks to be over 50.

 

Briony's solution is to create home-grown British stars to capture the Public's imagination. We love a bit of patriotism - look at how we get behind our sporting heroes - so maybe she has a point.

 

I know previously with these discussions, it has been suggested that it's not so much the training as the cultural difference between British teenagers/young adults and those from abroad, with us being reserved and not wanting to be seen as big-headed by pushing ourselves forward and maybe lacking confidence compared to those from abroad.

 

Also of course is the current fashion for ADs to be impressed by extremes of flexibility, which is often encouraged in training abroad, but I do think the tide is beginning to turn on this one.

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I really cannot understand why anyone is giving this brainless article the time of day.  Ms Brind thinks that Chanel suits are the answer to the "problem"! If she hadn't married into the aristocracy I can't imagine that even the Telegraph would print this drivel.   If we must have constant rehashings of this debate (which so often drifts into boring xenophobia) then surely it could be had on more realistic terms than this....

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I think you may have missed the point Dischuffed.  The Royal Ballet used to be considered part of the British establishment, and an ambassador for all things British when touring abroad.  Official Embassy receptions would be part of the package and dancers were expected to be beautifully groomed and presentable - none of the trackies and trainers that are the norm these days. 

 

Times have changed, but have we thrown out the baby with the bathwater?

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Ah, yes, BUT SHE WAS AN ENGLISH WOMAN!!! .... lol ... and for all I know STILL IS!!!!

 

(The above is written striving towards GOOD humour.  Sadly that has, I'm told, NEVER been my particular strong suit. ... Still one can but try.)  

 

Mea culpa ... in advance  :)

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Sad indictment on the state of this country when people think national pride in being British and wanting Britons to succeed and be ambassadors for the country is 'boring xenophobia'

Edited by Ribbons
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I don't know with certainty, but I'm pretty sure that when the Royal Ballet tours there is an embassy stop or party or reception scheduled, and I doubt the dancers attend those in trainers.

Pride in being British and wishing for dancers to represent the country is one thing, complaining that British ballet companies employ foreign dancers is another.

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As I recall Miss Brynd was better known for her relationship with a married Royal than for her dancing,need I say more !!!

 

Married Royal?  Sorry but I remember her as the last outstanding British dancer that the RB produced.

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This is a badly written article to say the least!  The author can't decide whether the RB was English or British!  Ms Brind also seems to have forgotten that the RB used to be British and Commonwealth. 

 

The subject of the "makeup" of British ballet companies has been going round the houses for years - it used to come up on the original Ballet.Co and has certainly been discussed on a number of threads on this new Board recently.

 

As has been said many times the process starts earlier with the education/training of the dancers of the future.  Are our schools doing a disservice to British DCs?

 

Additionally,  I admire loyalty and there are any number of dancers not UK-born (as well as UK born) who have given their careers to their chosen companies and whom we have been able to enjoy because of that.  I think most people on this board know who my favourite dancer is.  My ballet-watching experience would have been so much poorer if I had not been able to watch his career blossom over the years.

 

Sorry for the ramble on what is a complex and oft-discussed issue for which there is no easy resolution.

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Good to be able to read a more detailed version.

 

IMHO The Royal Ballet's new AD Mr Kevin O'Hare is working on it but it will take time for their current crop of young & upcoming fully RBS trained dancers like Leanne Cope, Clare Calvert, Yasmine Naghdi, Francesca Hayward and James Hay (they most spring to mind as they were given great opportunities this Season and have danced roles well above their rank) & Naghdi, Hayward and Hay were also winners of The Young British Dancer of the Year competition :)  The RBS trained dancers are very familiar with Ashton and McMillan as part of the training, which also includes Character dancing, something I think foreign trained dancers are unfamiliar with.

&

surely homegrown talent at ENB and BRB  is equally encouraged :)

 

The past RB Director loved and encouraged foreign dancers more I think, don't know why.

 

I certainly am amongst the Balletgoers who love to see our homegrown talent succeed (nothing wrong with "proud to be British" no).

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I don't think anyone is saying that there shouldn't be non-British dancers in the RB, not at all. I think most people welcome the diversity. The issue is that British dancers don't have a proportional place in the principal count and seem to be punching below their weight.

 

I don't know if anyone else saw the 'focus on style' article in Dancing Times in May about the English style which was the last in a series of focus on style lectures from different schools e.g. russian, french, italian etc? I found it fairly dispiriting and damning with feint praise about the girls from RBS:

 

"Possibly they were a bit young and even unformed compared to the Russian and French dancers earlier in the series. However, this is another aspect of the British dancer; they mature a bit later because they have such a broad education

 

Maybe someone should tell the ADs?

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Nothing wrong with maturing a bit later though. One doesn't want to get to the stage as with gymnastics that we'll be seeing companies full of 12-16 year olds because everyone starts to force earlier and earlier......slight exaggeration to make a point!!

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I've heard it said before that British dancers develop later than others, and though my knoweldge of British dancers is not extensive, I think Bussell, Cope, Watson and Pennefather either did their best work, or are doing it, in their 30's. That's probably true of most dancers though, I guess.

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You won't see companies in the UK employing dancers younger than 16 because that would be illegal. It *is* a problem if you mature later because you will be competing for places in the schools and companies against more advanced dancers of the same age. I remember reading an old article about "students to watch". One was Clare Calvert. In the article Gailene Stock described Clare as a beautiful dancer but then went on to express anxiety that she might be overlooked by the RB/the companies in favour of flashier foreign-trained dancers. It seemed to me that GS needed to find out what the RB/the companies actually wanted and train their students accordingly. I think that part of the problem, with the RB at least, is that the repertoire is now much wider and so a beautiful Ashton-type dancer is possibly going to be overshadowed by one who is very strong, technically assured and full of bravura, even if s/he is a bit untidy. In Russia they start full-time training at 9, or at least they used to (Alina C and Vadim M certainly went away to vocational school at that age) and so it's hardly surprising that students training in Russia are more advanced than UK students of the same age. Marienela Nunez was dancing professionally at 14 and only went to the RBS for a few months because she couldn't join the RB as she was not yet 16.

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