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Royal Ballet - which way now?


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THIS AND SUBSEQUENT POSTS HAVE BEEN MOVED FROM THIS THREAD:

 

http://www.balletcoforum.com/index.php?/topic/4019-alina-cojocaru-and-johan-kobborg-to-leave-the-royal-ballet/page-6#entry63388

 

IT WAS ORIGINALLY POST #172 ON THAT THREAD

 

 

 

I am grateful that this thread has been allowed to remain open, since I think (some petty one-upmanship aside) it is one of the more healthy discussions which has been had here for some time.  I have been following and posting under various names on Balletco since the Ross Stretton era and have been saddened over the past few years to see the tribal, conservative, little-Englander approach (both here, in the various ballet blogs and on Twitter) come to dominate the discourse amongst Royal Ballet "fans".   The most prolific commentators seem to be seeking comfort in dialogue with and crumbs of personal trivia concerning their favourite dancers coupled with a knee jerk suspicion of any change or risk-taking - in fact of everything which makes top-level art and artists interesting.  

 

I think it is no coincidence that this trend has coincided with what I think I am not alone in seeing as stagnation at the Royal Ballet during the Mason era.  I agree with Capybara that with the exception of Nunez  (and I concede McRae on a technical level - although I find his stage persona cheesy beyond bearing) the Royal is not currently a hotbed of exciting talent.  Competent soloists are what we expect of any professional company - they do not make for world-class allure.  It is Osipova and Obratsova who those interested in seeing the boundaries of the art form pushed will come to see. After the loss of Rojo and Polunin, the number one priority of the company should have been hanging on to and making best use of a dancer of the quality of Cojocaru.  

 

None of this should be taken as a personal attack on Monica Mason - having seen her in numerous insights, rehearsals and talks over the years and (more importantly) having seen many years of her programming choices, my personal opinion is that she did an excellent job of steadying the ship, keeping people happy and maintaining a surface appearance of calm.  This is a good middle management skill and may have been thought necessary following the instability of the late 90s/early 2000s but it is NOT the foundation of interesting art.  The appointment of another middle management insider as her successor was depressing.  If the Royal is to remain a museum piece, a safe haven for competent dancers serving out their careers and for "not-too-risky" new choreographers given a token slot in amongst repeated war-horses, doubtless many "fans" will be completely happy, but many of us who no longer participate in rather one-sided discussions will be saddened by this conservative use of a heavily subsided company with the resources to attract the best of worldwide talents.

Edited by Janet McNulty
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Indeed, I grant you that McGregor is less conservative than Wheeldon, Scarlett et al. but I think there is an argument that his work for the royal has become formulaic and is much "safer" than the work he does elsewhere.  His choice of music is hardly challenging either.  Also, more worryingly, I think he has become the excuse for not programming other interesting choreographers because at the first hint of criticism, they say "Ah, but we programme McGregor so we can't be playing it safe". He has become the contemporary choreographer who doesn't frighten the regulars - his being English probably helps.  

 

I would like to see far more work by European choreographers, Forsythe and some of the more challenging Americans done at the opera house.  It is very heartening to see Tamara programming Kylian, Petit and Bejart at ENB and ironic that she feels able to do so at the helm of a company which has nothing like the stable financial base of the Royal.  It does make one wonder what might have been achieved if she had been put in charge of the RB's resources....

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good points. But a level of 'playing safe' has to be maintained surely - to preserve the great works that have defined the company in the past, and resonate with the punters that the RB is a ballet company, not a contemporary dance one. After all, the old warhorses still sell out to keep the bandwagon on the road, to allow SOME experimetation, which usually doesn't sell out (or should have been staged in the Linbury). The fine balance required isn't something I would fancy attempting - you sure can't please everyone all the time, that's a cert! Look at the hugely varied reactions to the current Don Q, for example.

 

As for Ms Rojo - I'd wager she will get the chance to rule the roost at the ROH one day, in the not too distant future.... (no inside track, just my personal hunch)

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I would be very pleased if your hunch were correct Dave! I agree with you that a balance needs to be maintained, but I would say the RB have tilted much too far in the wrong direction.  If you look at Paris Opera Ballet, Vienna Staatsballet or indeed ANY of the German or Scandinavian companies, you will see a much more varied and interesting repertoire, notwithstanding the inevitable warhorses.  In the US things are different, because in the absence of state subsidy almost every company outside NY and SF is incredibly Nutcracker-dependent, but RB has a subsidy, a premium venue, incredible name recognition and a faithful audience.  No excuse for playing it so very, very "safe".... 

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I think it is no coincidence that this trend has coincided with what I think I am not alone in seeing as stagnation at the Royal Ballet during the Mason era.

 

For some reason I seem unable to use the Quote function, so I've just picked out the relevant sentence from Lindsay's post.

 

I would disagree with this comment. Mason's role at the RB was to maintain the existing repertoire, as well as commission new work.  What you see as stagnation, I see as an attempt at preserving the very works that made the RB a company of world wide renown in the first place.  All international companies have to strike a balance between heritage and encouraging new creative talent - a very difficult task!  The fact that the balance seems to have swung in the direction of the old, rather than the new, is possibly because the new works commissioned did not popular, and did not stand the test of time.

 

Regarding Cojocaru, she was promoted to Principal just before Mason took over, (I think?) and has remained with the RB for 11 years.  In that time she has danced all the major roles, so clearly Mason thought highly of her during that time.  

 

As far as Guillem is concerned,  she always struck me as a dancer who did things her way, whether or not this was what the choreographer originally intended.  I also remember her saying she turned down various roles because she didn't like the costumes. In a small company, this sort of individual approach might be fine, but in a large company you cannot have one individual dictating in this way. 

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Lindsay - very well said (and said quite beautifully).  I would add to your point about some posters 'seeking comfort in dialogue with and crumbs of personal trivia concerning their favourite dancers' that another dislikeable aspect of this is the casual use - on this forum anyway - of first names, plus reported stage-door personal conversations with their favourites, giving the general impression of privileged RB insider knowledge  which the rest of us are not party to. As a lifetime avoider of hopeful stage-door waiting, that dislike is probably personal to me, but I'd guess others may share it.

 

I also think your words about MM are fair and thoroughly well-balanced, and will likely be a useful quote for any future biographer. I believe her appointment was the exactly the right one at the time, and must have come as a relief to the dancers (and to the company as a whole) so she will most likely be remembered by the general ballet-loving public with warmth only.

 

Finally, as Dave's posting has reminded us, it was MM who appointed Wayne McGregor as resident choreographer, and - much as I dislike his work - that was a surprisingly bold choice for MM, another point that will  surely be seized on by her future biographer.

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I would be very pleased if your hunch were correct Dave! I agree with you that a balance needs to be maintained, but I would say the RB have tilted much too far in the wrong direction.  If you look at Paris Opera Ballet, Vienna Staatsballet or indeed ANY of the German or Scandinavian companies, you will see a much more varied and interesting repertoire, notwithstanding the inevitable warhorses.  In the US things are different, because in the absence of state subsidy almost every company outside NY and SF is incredibly Nutcracker-dependent, but RB has a subsidy, a premium venue, incredible name recognition and a faithful audience.  No excuse for playing it so very, very "safe".... 

 

I'm a great believer in seeing RB do more new thing as well - if not perhaps convinced that some of the choreographers you mention are the way forward. Kevin O'Hare at hist first annual; press conference stressed - several times - that new work was the cornerstone. Diplomatic of course but I think he said that the established rep was fine and it was the new that needed to be the priority now. And I remember thinking "At last!". That said his choice of choreographers  is not necessarily everybody else's. And the UK does sit between the USA and Europe - artistically and also in terms of funding. I think the European houses get much more state funding then companies get in the UK. Now that RB have control of the dance aspects of the Linbury (ROH2 as was) it would be nice to see them use the space much more and not just for in-house choreographers. A whole series of bright young, and not so young, choreographers should be piling through. SFB did 10 new works in 3 days and Scottish Ballet recently did something similar - there is a need to think bigger (but not bigger budgets!)

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chrischris - that is rather an odd assertion.  If you mean that the current ROH audience are overwhelmingly conservative, then I won't disagree with you there.  And if you are simply looking to please them and keep the theatre as a museum piece then by all means carry on with grown women pretending to be fairies forever.  But if we are at all concerned about dance being a living art form then maybe we should seek out the audiences who are currently going to the Place, to the more experimental events at Sadler's Wells and to contemporary dance festivals.  Or even theatre and concert goers who have no experience of dance but have open and curious minds.  Looking at the soldout and enthusiastically received run of Artifacts at Sadler's Wells last year, I suspect there is an appetite for thoughtful choreography which is not being met by the current ROH offering.

 

Bruce - I too was hopeful about the new management's emphasis on new work, but then slightly dismayed by the announcement which followed of the well-trodden trio of Wheeldon, Scarlett and McGregor as house choreographers.  But I am interested to see what David Dawson will do and will be very happy if O'Hare comes through on some of his promises.

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There would be uproar in my house from my teenage daughter if the RB were to stop programming "safe" repertoire. Her room is full of posters of "grown women pretending to be fairies" (plus Shakespearean characters, Swan Princesses, and Wayward daughters! ;-)

 

She studies Contemporary alongside Ballet, and at her request we are going to see the Penguin Café triple at Sadlers Wells, but she lives for her yearly outing to the ROH to see a "safe", traditional ballet. I think there is room for heritage works to sit alongside new material at the RB. :-)

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Lindsay, what you are saying is that you prefer certain styles.  I prefer the more traditional, classical ballets.

 

I would rather see grown women pretending to be fairies, dressed in gorgeous tutus, and dancing to glorious classical music, than see grown women rolling around on the floor, pretending to be humans experiencing a sexual orgasm, to the sounds of someone banging a dustbin lid.

 

And if that makes me conservative, so be it!

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Just to be clear, nowhere did I say they should stop doing the warhorses.  Just that there should be a better balance between those and programming which is perhaps more thought-provoking.  You have your opinion whereas I'm more interested in humans and in sex than I am in fairies.  Vive la difference.  No need to be upset or offended that we don't all have the same tastes.

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Sorry Lindsay, but I find this idea that there are thousands of people desperate to see experimental and bounday pushing ballet really absurd. Companies constantly put on the old classics because they are the only things that guarantee a full house. The experimental works and triple bills do not. You mention Rojo; while it's great for people like you that she is pushing the boundaries and bringing in new work, they are not selling, and it is my opinion that either she or ENB will not be around in the long term because the company is bleeding money. Ballet just does not have a following big enough to move too far away from the classics.

 

I also find this talk of ballet 'stars' hilarious. There are no 'stars' in ballet in the UK. You mention Osipova and Obratsova.The number of people in the UK who have heard of these two dancers probably numbers no more than a few hundred, and the idea that the RB needs them to survive, or will struggle to survive the loss of Rojo, Cojocaru, Kobborg etc (more 'stars' that, to be honest, the overwhelming majority of people have never heard of) is in my opinion fantasy. You could put Beatrix Stix-Brunell on  stage as Aurora, say it was Cojocaru and I would guess only a few people in the audience at the RB would know you were lying. Similarly if you substituted Polunin for Kish. I don't believe the names of the dancers matter to the majority of people going to the ballet, most of whom I think go to the ballet to see Swan Lake, Romeo & Juliet, The Nutcracker etc.

 

While I see your point, I think that if companies severly restricted their performances of the above mentioned classics, they would very quickly close because the alternatives they have tried to commission and perform for the most part don't make money.

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That's what makes London such an exciting place to be when you are a dance fan! If I want to see Contemporary Dance or Experimental work I go to Sadler's Wells, for the great Classics I watch the RB at ROH, or BRB. I am not a lady who dreams of being a Fairy, I am a young-ish Ballet fan and very much love the traditional atmosphere of the ROH! 

 

If I want to look at "Contemporary Art" I go to Tate Modern, and if I want to admire the "Old Masters" I go to the National Gallery...(Lindsay) you get what I mean. Conservatism is nothing to be ashamed of.

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This thread is taking a very interesting course, although rather away from the original topic, and I suspect it ought to be broken off into another thread at some stage - I have work to do, so will leave it for now.

 

The most prolific commentators seem to be seeking comfort in dialogue with and crumbs of personal trivia concerning their favourite dancers coupled with a knee jerk suspicion of any change or risk-taking - in fact of everything which makes top-level art and artists interesting.  

 

Ah, Lindsay, considering that the top 10 posters on the board currently consist of 6 Moderators and 4 other people, to none of whom I think your comments apply, you might want to reconsider your statement "the most prolific commentators" :)

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chrischris - it's a sad prospect for our artistic future as a nation if only comfortable majority interests are to be indulged.  It's also indicative of the mindset that to be "British" is to be backward-looking and dreaming of empire and past-glories.  By all means be nostalgic, but combine that with a daring and experimental open-mind which looks to the future.  Many artistic innovators over the centuries were not well received at first and some never will be, but if they had not had  the opportunity to try our culture would be much the poorer.

 

Nina G. - I agree, and most of my London dance going is not at the ROH for that reason.  The reason I raise the issue is that the ROH receive such a disproportionate amount of the arts council funding which goes to dance while contemporary companies struggle on a shoestring or in many cases are going out of business altogether.  It seems to me that with guaranteed funding comes a duty to contribute to the life of the art form.  If that duty is not fulfilled then the funding should be given to people who will take it seriously.  

 

alison - I should clarify that I meant the most prolific posters in the general online RB discussions (various blogs and twitter as well as here) and not in this thread.  In fact, I was making the point that this thread was a refreshing break from the usual "fandom"

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Lindsay, I find that a tad patronising. I'm in my 20's, i'm very left wing, I have no nostalgia for Britain's glory days or the empire. I'm simply a realist, I like the classics, understand why companies constantly put them on at the expense of new work that doesn't sell and have my doubts that ballet is an art form that can be at the cutting edge nowadays. Indulge your interests by all means, but it's difficult to indulge an interest for a long time if that interest is only bringing 400 people in to a 2000 seat theatre.

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You are right, Alison, this thread has taken a different slant, but not sure where you would split it!

 

Now, this is a question for people with far greater knowledge than me about ballet.  How many new works were created in Mason's reign at the RB, and how many have stood the test of time?  Or will stand the test of time, if they were only created in the last couple of years.

 

I am asking for personal opinions, I know, but I can't think of many new works I have seen over the last 15 years that I would rush back to see. 

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I find it surprising that Alice was the first full length work created in nearly 20 years, but perhaps people overstate the amount of money the RB/ROH actually has. Sure, it gets a huge subsidy, but the outgoings of the building and the two resident companies must also be huge.

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I would add to your point about some posters 'seeking comfort in dialogue with and crumbs of personal trivia concerning their favourite dancers' that another dislikeable aspect of this is the casual use - on this forum anyway - of first names, plus reported stage-door personal conversations with their favourites, giving the general impression of privileged RB insider knowledge  which the rest of us are not party to. As a lifetime avoider of hopeful stage-door waiting, that dislike is probably personal to me, but I'd guess others may share it.

 

Ann, I very much doubt it's personal to you, since I rather tend to share it.  And I think reminding people of another part of the AUP here would not go amiss:

 

"Privacy Gossip about dancers or other company members, e.g. ballerina x is pregnant, is not tolerated unless such information has been confirmed officially or in print. Comments of this sort are likely to be removed."

 

While I don't think it literally applies here, I think the spirit does: "private" interactions with dancers and others are just that: private, and privileged, and I'm sure that if dancers thought their words or actions were going to end up being reported on the Internet where anyone can read them they would be a lot more cautious about what they said/did.  Serious consideration should be given as to whether anything a dancer says or does in a private situation should be ever reported on here in any form whatsoever, even anonymously.

 

And that's it from me for now: I'm off back to my hearing aids!

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I like the classics, understand why companies constantly put them on at the expense of new work that doesn't sell and have my doubts that ballet is an art form that can be at the cutting edge nowadays. Indulge your interests by all means, but it's difficult to indulge an interest for a long time if that interest is only bringing 400 people in to a 2000 seat theatre.

 

Is this really true? I remember visiting a modern bill at ROH some years ago, which was completely made up of new works (it was the evening with McGregor's "Qualia"), and the house was full on two occasions. And of course it's not true for the rest of Europe - triple bills do sell well at Amsterdam, Stuttgart, Munich or Düsseldorf. There's a huge audience for modern ballet in the Netherlands and in Germany, for example.

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I actually think that MM's appointment of Wayne MacGregor was inspired. He not only introduced a very different style of choreography to the RB (plus the innovative use of multi-media) but gave his many fans, who would probably not have set foot in the ROH otherwise, an incentive to go and watch the RB. In addition, ballet companies around the world are desperate to perform his works, which enhances the reputation of the RB as the company which first commissioned his work.

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Is this really true? I remember visiting a modern bill at ROH some years ago, which was completely made up of new works (it was the evening with McGregor's "Qualia"), and the house was full on two occasions. And of course it's not true for the rest of Europe - triple bills do sell well at Amsterdam, Stuttgart, Munich or Düsseldorf. There's a huge audience for modern ballet in the Netherlands and in Germany, for example.

 

That last comment was really about the ENB, who often struggle to sell things outside the classics. the RB will always sell, but as Grand Tier Left just mentioned, the tickets for modern or new works are often a lot cheaper than for R&J or Swan Lake.

 

I understand we can't post youtube links (?) but there is an interesting debate available on youtube chaired by Ismene Brown where the issue of the lack of originality or daring by artistic directors is discussed, and it does seem to come down to lack of money and demand.

Edited by chrischris
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Those fairy spouses Oberon and Titania have a fairly climactic pas de deux in the Royal Ballet's "Dream" if the dancers get it right. It reminds me of a few modern marriages I know, despite the input of the dead white males Shakespeare, Mendelssohn and Ashton. And how many times do we see a young man ditch a loving, supportive partner in pursuit of an unobtainable, idealised vision of a woman, as seen in "La Sylphide"?

But I love having the opportunity to see the "modern" pieces as well and the Royal Ballet's pricing policy is a big factor in this: they make it cheap enough, in comparison to the classic rep, for a waverer to take a risk.

As others have mentioned, ENB have taken a big financial risk with their recent splendid but less well-attended Bejart/Kylian/Williamson/Eagling/etc offerings, which they need to fund with the fairy ballets. While the RB doesn't have to live on the edge like that, I wonder whether an issue of cross-funding of the Royal Opera House's other activities limits the RB management's options?

 

(Sorry, I can't edit on my current device so I'm re-posting - mods please tidy up if possible!)

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You are right, Alison, this thread has taken a different slant, but not sure where you would split it!

 

Now, this is a question for people with far greater knowledge than me about ballet.  How many new works were created in Mason's reign at the RB, and how many have stood the test of time?  Or will stand the test of time, if they were only created in the last couple of years.

 

I am asking for personal opinions, I know, but I can't think of many new works I have seen over the last 15 years that I would rush back to see. 

During the reign of MM there were over 30 World Premieres and just under 20 Company Premieres. As to how many of the former, and even the latter perhaps, will stand the test of time, we shall have to wait and see. 

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Just to be clear, nowhere did I say they should stop doing the warhorses.  Just that there should be a better balance between those and programming which is perhaps more thought-provoking.  You have your opinion whereas I'm more interested in humans and in sex than I am in fairies.  Vive la difference.  No need to be upset or offended that we don't all have the same tastes.

I am neither upset nor offended. :-) But neither should you be upset that there are plenty of people who love classical ballet, beautiful music and wonderful tutus all in the stunning ROH. Haven't you ever heard of "Horses for courses"?

 

If that makes me one of RB's "fandom", that's absolutely fine by me. :-)

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spannerandpony: to reiterate the point again, I am not saying that the Royal should not perform their warhorses.  Neither am I "upset" that people enjoy them.  In fact, although you couldn't pay me to sit through another Nutcracker, I am happy to see a good Giselle and love Romeo and Juliet (for me, Prokofiev's music is the best "classical" ballet score by a mile).  My original point was that they should not be programmed to the virtual exclusion of new work.

 

However, I would also say that even in relation to the classics the RB has not exactly sparkled in recent times.  Classical ballets are very exposing of technique and one of the reasons the loss of Cojocaru is to be mourned is that the ranks of the Royal are currently extremely thin when it comes to the ability to perform leading roles in this repertoire.  With a few honourable exceptions, the recent DQ was very exposing of these shortcomings, not only in the leads but in key, difficult solos like the Queen of the Dryads or Espada. I can understand why Kevin O'Hare is bringing in guest principals and hope that he continues to do so.

 

I would also strongly disagree with chrischris's comment that there is no such thing as stars and therefore it doesn't matter who we substitute in lead roles.  I think it is very insulting to audiences to condemn them as unable to distinguish between a solo by the likes of Rojo/Polunin/Cojocaru/Acosta/Guillem and A.A.Nother from the corps de ballet.  If we are to follow that point to its logical conclusion then let's save money on funding a company and just use the graduate class of the RBS each year paying them minimum wage to get through the steps.  What is the point of art at all if we are not to push for the highest standards?  It is not worthy of a company that claims to be world class.

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