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Are competitions ruining ballet?


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Just saw an article on Huffington Post talking about how ballet is getting more like competitive sport and concentrating less on artistry, largely because of competitions. She's talking about ballet competitions like YAGP as well as the more popular Dancing with the Stars and the like.

 

Couple of extracts:

 

"In recent years, the performance of dance has changed. The phenomena of dance competitions has pervaded the ballet world. These competitions, such as the renowned Youth America Grand Prix, ruin the art of dance and completely remove the soul and emotion necessary in the art of ballet. This is how ballet and other forms of dance have become closer to a sport than an art. Art is not something that can be judged on a scale of 1-10 because the judgment takes away the passion and creativity. Competitions simply highlight the athleticism of ballet and limit dancers to only performing tricks." 

 

"Dance competitions have also spilled over into mainstream television, with shows such as Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance. These programs eliminate the artistic side of dance and skew America's perception of the dance world and what dance truly is. On So You Think You Can Dance, aspiring professional dancers perform roughly one-and-a- half-minute routines and are then critiqued by a panel of judges, oftentimes actors or other celebrities who have absolutely no knowledge of dance and technique. Each instance in which a dancer kicks her leg above her head or does a quadruple pirouette, the studio audience erupts in applause and cheers. In actual ballet and dance performances, a dancer is expected to have these skills and enhances them by adding his or her own emotional performance to their perfected technique. For many, So You Think You Can Dance leaves viewers believing dance is a competitive sport. "

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brittany-kottler/ballet-is-an-art-not-a-sp_b_4718929.html

 

I'm not sure about the criticism of competitions like YAGP because many of them have been around for a long time, but I know we've talked before about how audiences seem to want to see more and more acrobatic dance (higher extensions, riskier lifts, exaggerated movements), and I'm wondering if that has anything to do with programmes like Dancing with the Stars and how they're catering to short attention spans and a need for more and more stimulating content at the expense of overall artistry.

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To be honest I no longer watch any of these programmes on tv here.

 

This is largely because I just cannot stand how the audiences are......loudly cheering whooping and clapping throughout so that it has a sort of circus performance atmosphere and everybody shouts ....the judges alike ....so don't bother any more.

 

There are many competitions worldwide of course and I don't think ones like the Prix de Lausanne for example do damage ballet much........though can't be sure......in the sense that some very young people are preparing solos which are a little advanced for them at times.....but the ones made specifically for tv seem a bit of a farce to me I'm afraid.

Edited by LinMM
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Always good to know the lens that is being applied...

 

The author and their bio:

 

Brittany Kottler

Student at Tulane University

 

Brittany Kottler is a senior at Tulane University majoring in English. She is the Editor-in-Chief of the online magazine, Her Campus Tulane. When she's not writing, Brittany can be found leaping in a ballet class, cheering for the Chicago Blackhawks, eating any form of carb or watching SNL.

 

 

Tulane University appears to be based in New Orleans. It's not clear how much ballet Brittany Kottler may have seen, at what level the companies performed at and over what timeframe she has seen performances on stage change.

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Well, like many of us, especially young and enthusiastic ballet students, she's probably relying on YouTube and DVDs for some of the older performances. Hopefully twenty-somethings are allowed to have opinions about the development of ballet over the years, even if they weren't there to see it happen in person.

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Well, like many of us, especially young and enthusiastic ballet students, she's probably relying on YouTube and DVDs for some of the older performances. Hopefully twenty-somethings are allowed to have opinions about the development of ballet over the years, even if they weren't there to see it happen in person.

Of course. But I think there is a difference between having a body of knowledge and doing some quick research and presenting some things as gospel.

 

"In recent years, the performance of dance has changed. The phenomena of dance competitions has pervaded the ballet world."

 

I just don't think this is true. Competitions have been around for decades and I don't think things have changed particularly. Ballet performance continues to evolve as it always has and dancers become more versatile and choreography more wide ranging.

 

I think there is a discussion around the athletism of ballet dancers these days and if that impacts certain types of ballet performance.

 

I cetainly don't want to put anybody off saying what they think around this - especially on this forum, which is not the Huffington Post.

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In the Doing Dance forum, Ballet training in the UK, post 301, our new member tutu anna describes the situation in Japan where in the absence of a national school the youngsters rely on competitions to get the best training for a professional career, which makes me wonder how many brilliant dancers would we miss out on if they did not have these opportunities.

Of course it's down to the judging panel to determine the outcome so I would look to them to maintain aesthetic as well as technical standards rather than a TV audience. (The influence of award sponsors and their expectations of TV exposure are perhaps a factor but not something I have enough knowledge to be able to comment on.)

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I'm just thinking of all the lovely dancers who were brought to the UK to train in the wake of competitions and who are now delighting us in various companies: Vadim Muntagirov, Ksenia Ovsyanick, Shiori Kase, Akane Takada, Yuhui Choe............the list goes on and on.

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Yes, that's true; however, in the thread about UK training over in Doing Dance, there's been some concern about how schools like RBS are concentrating on these competition winners in their upper schools, possibly at the expense of some of the local talent. However, I hadn't thought about whether some of these more popular TV shows (Dancing With The Stars and the others) were having an effect on what audiences wanted to see when they visited the ballet. Not the balletomane core, obviously, but audiences in general. I remember reading about a study where people were shown pictures of stick figures in various dance poses, from low arabesques all the way up to the six-o-clock version and similar for other poses, and apparently in every case their preference was for the most extreme. To me (brought up on ballet in the 1960s and 1970s), some of these extreme poses look ugly, and I've often wondered where this preference for acrobatics comes from - I assumed it might have been from watching Olympic gymnastics or Cirque du Soleil-type shows, but the influence of dance-type reality competitions on TV hadn't really struck me, mostly because I never watch them.

 

The reason I posted this article here, although the author isn't a well-respected critic of long standing (although I know some people here think some of said critics are a bit of a waste of space) is that the Royal Opera House linked to it on their Facebook page last night (well, this morning in UK time, I suppose) and wanted to know what people thought. So I figured that if ROH thought it was a conversation worth having, it was probably a conversation worth having.

Edited by Melody
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I think tall people,generally, can appear more attractive. Haven`t there been studies done that show tall people tend to be more successful in life,get the job,etc? Why are female catwalk models a minimum height of 5FT 9IN and not 5FT 4IN? Because the tall women [and men] make the designers clothes look amazing. Ballet is all about elongating limbs.So if your arms and legs are long to start with you`re [sort of] halfway there in creating the right look. We were never allowed to wear nail polish to ballet class,not even a light colour,because Miss Urdang used to say it looks like the ends of your fingers have been chopped off. That continuous flow is stopped.Both at Urdang and earlier at Northern it was made very clear to us that the teachers really liked long legged [and long necked] girls. I`m 5FT 7 but I wish I was taller. 

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I think that roles can look very different on dancers of different heights and I say vive la difference!  Some of the young ladies in BRB and NB are on the shorter side of tall and look just as wonderful to me as the taller "leggy" ones.  I always think shorter dancers tend to be much more deft on their feet and that tends to be my preference.

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Ballet competitions are only.one factor in the current ballet aesthetic.The number of people who have come into dance with a background in gymnastics with a gymnast's hyper flexible body is a factor.

 

The taste of individual artistic directors, particularly those that are major choreographers, plays an important part in the physical types that we see on stage. It may be a desire to change the look of the company as a whole  or the presence of a particular dancer  that causes the change.

Balanchine changed the face of NYCB when he began to choreograph for Suzanne Farrell.

When Macmillan became director of the Royal Ballet he was required by the Board to reduce the overall size of the company Ashton commented that Macmillan had got rid of all the character dancers  and that there was no one left to dance his ballets. The result was that what the audience saw, whether they were watching the nineteenth century classics or MacMillan's own works, was a style of dancing that reflected his taste, just as Ashton's taste had been reflected in the Royal Ballet's style from the 1930's until his retirement in 1970.If there is no major choreographer around to establish and maintain a house style and very little concern for such things such as line or choreographic style then technical advances take over for good or ill and ballet ends up much like music did at the end of the nineteenth century where the works of Bach and Beethoven were performed by large orchestras on the basis that that was what the composer would have wanted if only he had had such an orchestra available to him.

But we must all remember that ballet like opera has been in terminal decline since its inception. If we look hard enough we might find a letter complaining that Camargo had destroyed the  art of ballet.

 

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There are some leg extensions to second position which when the hip is distorted can look a bit ugly whereas in arabesque the back high extensions do look good I think.

 

I suspect that smaller dancers are quicker in petit allegro sections where very quick footwork is required.

 

 

I'm pretty sure the ballet higher extensions came from Olympic gymnastics though and in Russia in particular more dancers seem to have started off in gymnastics first.

Did Sylvie Guillem start off in gymnastics does anyone know I heard this in conversation just this morning but didn't know whether the person was mistaken or not as I thought she trained wholly at Paris Opera School but she may have started in gymnastics when very young.

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I think it has gone too far in some cases. The hyper extension of some dancers makes some of the steps/lines look broken and not pleasing to the eye. For modern choreography it doesn't look out if place but for the classics it does and in turn loses some of its artistry. This might just be individual dancers I have seen but think The Marinsky is going that way.

 

I understand that ballet/dance has to evolve but everything surrounding a ballet dancer, like nutrition, cross training etc has become no different to any top athlete and sports person.

 

There seems to be loads of competitions. I had never even heard of YAGP until a couple of years ago when First Position came out. The only ballet competition I knew about was the Prix de Lausanne.

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The trouble with most ballet competitions is that each candidate only has a few minutes to "wow" the judges. So catchy, flashy steps are pushed to extreme.  Creating a role and sustaining it through a complete ballet is quite different, but too often these days flashy technique is being carried over and incorporated.

 

The Prix de Lausanne stands apart, in that even though there are only a few dancers put through to the final, it is the marks for how they have worked all week long, not just for the solos they show in the final, that are added up to decide the winners. 

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Going back to an earlier post - Sylvie Guillem definitely did start as a gymnast.

 

I think Varna was one of the earliest international competitions - in Bulgaria - it used to have a great kudos attached to winning.  Colin Nears made a film about it for the BBC many years ago.  It was still going a couple of years ago, but I have been told that the ethos is now very different - and possibly corrupt.  Many of the great Russian dancers got their early chances via the Moscow Ballet Competition in Soviet times.  Mukhamedov did - and I believe Nureyev may also have entered, but I'm not sure and haven't got his biography to hand.

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I love the more petite dancers as Janet says there is a lightness and speed that is not generally present in those who are taller. I don't care much for extreme hyperextensions either, as Lin mentioned the ones in second are worst with tilted hips, a very awkwardly positioned arm and a lot of crotch on show!

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Many of the great Russian dancers got their early chances via the Moscow Ballet Competition in Soviet times.  Mukhamedov did - and I believe Nureyev may also have entered, but I'm not sure and haven't got his biography to hand.

Yes, Irek won the Grand Prix and Gold Medal at the Moscow International Ballet Competition in 1981 but Nureyev as far as I remember took part much earlier only in one competition - at the VII World Youth and Students Festival in Vienna in 1959 where he danced with Alla Sizova and they both won Gold Medals. Two years later he defected to the West.

The international competitions in Varna started in 1964 and in Moscow in 1969.
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Did anyone see the young lady Hee Sun Kim (from Korea) in the Varna yesterday ? I only caught a small part of it, but I thought she was lovely. I have no idea who she is or where she dances/studies....Anybody ?? x

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