Dance: May 2002

Friday May 31

BALLET VS OTHER: The School of American Ballet (SAB) at Lincoln Center and the La Guardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts across the street both enroll the city’s best dance students. But their styles are entirely different. “While their styles differ, the two schools have long had an amiable relationship. SAB is strictly a dance academy; students there must go elsewhere for high school courses. La Guardia, a public institution with a reputation for strong academics, has been a popular choice. But the dust has barely settled on a controversy that raises questions about the perpetuation of racism and elitism in the dance world, and the power of the private sector over public education.” Village Voice 05/28/02

SCOTTISH BALLET CHOOSES NEW LEADER: The beleaguered Scottish Ballet has named a new artistic director – Ashley Page, the choreographer and former principal dancer with the Royal Ballet. The company has been rocked since announcing it was ousting its former director and reinventing as a contemporary dance troupe. The Scotsman 05/30/02

Thursday May 30

FRANKFURT KILLS DANCE: In what it hopes will be a money-saving move, the city of Frankfurt has decided to close down Ballett Frankfurt, the city’s acclaimed contemporary dance company. The company is led by choreographer William Forsythe and has earned an international reputation. Says Forsythe: “Ballett Frankfurt has the highest income rate in relation to public subsidy of any cultural institution in Germany. We have a 96 per cent attendance rate at our performances, and I have earned this city 40 million marks [about £12 million] with my touring. What single other person has contributed that kind of money to the city?” The Telegraph (UK) 05/30/02

REINVENTING THE ENGLISH NATIONAL: Why is the English National Ballet’s Matz Skoog trying to reinvent the company? Why not? “Ever since it was founded in 1950 (as Festival Ballet), it has played second fiddle to the Royal Ballet. Not only does it receive a fraction of the latter’s funding – £5m from the Arts Council as opposed to well over £9m – it has less access to the best dance talent.” The Guardian (UK) 05/30/02

Tuesday May 28

MEASURING SUCCESS: Australia’s Chunky Move dance company is exploring success and failure. So it sent out a survey to people around the country “asking them to indicate their favourite and least preferred dance movements – flexed feet, you may like to know, did not score well outside Tasmania – music, costumes and choreographic style. On the basis of a statistical breakdown of the survey results, [choreographer Gideon] Obarzanek has created Australia’s most and least wanted dance work.” The Age (Melbourne) 05/28/02

RESISTANT TO CHANGE: The English National Ballet “badly needs a shake-up. At a time when ballet needs more than ever to supply a young, live, theatrical challenge to the dominance of the internet and TV over today’s culture, the major British companies have been beating a retreat into safe programmes. Now ENB sees its box-office competition no longer as the top world ballet companies but as The Lion King.” But recognizing change is necessary and actually being able to accomplish it are two entirely different things, the company’s new director has discovered. The Telegraph (UK) 05/28/02

  • ATTENTION SOCCER WIDOWS: Male dancers of the English National Ballet have posed in a giant poster ad “draped only in their national flags which are also those of 11 World Cup countries. It’s all in the best possible taste. The text promises: “For 180 minutes of pure artistry (and no penalty shoot-outs)”. We are targeting soccer widows. Our message is you don’t have to sit there on the sofa beside your old man – come and see our fantastic dancers instead.” The Guardian (UK) 05/27/02

Monday May 27

THE BOLSHOI’S MARKET FORCES: For much of its 200+ year history, the Bolshoi has set its budgets based on artistic need rather than theatre economics. This meant ticket prices could be low. Now things are different, and the Bolshoi has implemented a new ticket pricing scheme that more properly reflects the marketplace for its efforts. “This new ticket-sales system increased ticket revenue by 82 percent in its first month. Further price increases, made possible by a new distribution system with many sales points, should push up ticket revenue to $10 million—almost three times higher than last year’s figures—in the 2001–02 season.” McKinsey Quarterly (registration required) 06/02

Sunday May 26

END OF AN ERA? George Balanchine’s choreography built New York City Ballet into one of America’s great cultural institutions. “Now the unthinkable has happened: at the City Ballet, Balanchine ballets have become boring, pompous and passé. Since Balanchine’s death, what was once so vital has become dull and “established: a lifeless orthodoxy reigns. What happened? Balanchine’s ballets are not in trouble just because Balanchine died. They are in trouble because an era has ended.” The New York Times 05/26/02

JUSTIFY THE LOVE: In 1997, hoping to create and encourage an alternative contemporary dance company, Australia’s Victoria government put out a tender for a company it could support. A group called Chunky Move won the support, but ever since the group has been mired in controversy. “It is, perhaps, not unfair to suggest that by their excellence and versatility, the Australian Ballet and the Sydney Dance Company have unwittingly undermined the evolution of alternative groups such as Chunky Move.” But now it’s time for the company to prove “to the dance public and arts funding bodies that their investments and faith were not based on false judgment.” The Age (Melbourne) 05/25/02

BALLET IS GONE WITH THE WIND: Atlanta Ballet has canceled plans to create a ballet based on Gone with the Wind. “Board members felt the company could not take on the $1 million fund-raising drive to create the original full-scale ballet while it was trying to reduce its debt and balance its budget.” Atlanta Journal-Constitution 05/25/02

Thursday May 23

FORM OVER FLAMBOYANCE? It is the eternal question of every artistic competition, whether the subject be music, dance, or pairs figure skating: is flawless technique more important than artistic merit, or vice versa? Judges at such events, who tend to be professionals in the field, often prize technique, since they are trained to look for detail and minutiae, while critics and writers may take a broader view, preferring a passionate but flawed performance to one of careful calculation. A recent edition of one of North America’s premiere dance competitions illustrates the point. The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 05/23/02

Wednesday May 22

WHAT EUROPE NEEDS: The three-year-old Carolina Ballet, based in Raleigh, North Carolina, travels to Europe with a production of Handel’s Messiah. This is, writes one German critic, the kind of dance not seen in Europe anymore. It should be. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 05/21/02

Tuesday May 21

IF YOU CAN MAKE IT THERE… Is the Paris Opera ballet school the best in the world? ” The school was founded by Louis XIV in 171. Of the 300 or so who apply for entry each year, some 30 are accepted; after one year, 10 survive; and of these, only a handful graduate.” The New York Times 05/21/02

A REAL NATIONAL DANCE? Classical ballet is struggling in Ireland in a cut-down form. “So should we still aspire to having a full-time national ballet company in Ireland? ‘I don’t think the audience is there to sustain that type of company. A healthy dance culture should have all forms of dance but a full-time classical company certainly wouldn’t be viable.” Irish Times 05/16/02

  • RESPONSE – DEFENDING THE FULL-LENGTH: Should Ballet Ireland give up traditional full-length classical ballets and think about becoming a modern company, as an Irish Times dance critic seems to have suggested? The director of Ballet Ireland argues full-lengths are just what the company’s audiences want. Irish Times 05/17/02

Monday May 20

BALLET SUMMIT: Artistic directors of 11 of the world’s leading ballet companies are meeting in Toronto to discuss the future of the art form. “Audiences are shrinking and many of the big companies, especially in North America, are finding it hard to compete in a crowded entertainment market. The economics of ballet companies, many of which live hand-to-mouth, make it almost impossible to take the kind of artistic risks needed to keep the art form vibrantly alive.” National Post 05/18/02

  • SENSE OF CHANGE: In a public session, the artistic directors talk about the future: “The artistic process is about change. We shouldn’t assume that ballet will go on forever and ever, (Ballet) is a living art form. It’s not a museum and it’s not a church.” Toronto Star 05/20/02

DEFENDING THE FULL-LENGTH: Should Ballet Ireland give up traditional full-length classical ballets and think about becoming a modern company, as an Irish Times dance critic seems to have suggested? [Editor’s note: that story doesn’t appear to be online] The director of Ballet Ireland argues full-lengths are just what the company’s audiences want. Irish Times 05/17/02

Friday May 17

TURNING AROUND RAMBERT: When Christopher Bruce took over the Rambert Dance Company in 1994 “audiences had dwindled frighteningly, and Britain’s oldest dance company – 75 last year – was in danger of being killed off. ‘People were saying there was no place for a repertory company, and the sword was hanging over both London Contemporary Dance Theatre and Rambert. I didn’t believe this at all.” Now, after many years of struggle, Rambert seems to have stabilized, and Bruce is ready to move on. The Independent (UK) 05/13/02

Wednesday May 15

HARTFORD RIGHTS A WRONG: Five years ago Hartford Ballet fired Kirk Peterson, its dynamic young artistic director. He had built a viable company that was starting to get some respect, and after he left, the company eventually went bust. “After five years, the firing is seen by many as one of Hartford’s biggest boneheaded moves instigated by an ill-advised board.” Now reconstituted as Connecticut Ballet, new management has invited Peterson back as a guest choreographer. “It was a leap for both parties that showed imagination, risk and a love of dance.” Hartford Courant 05/12/02

Monday May 13

GOOD YEAR FOR AUSTRALIAN BALLET: The Australian Ballet reports a healthy year – the result of “good box office in Sydney, a short but successful season of Manon in Melbourne, and a substantial increase in government funding.” Sydney Morning Herald 05/13/02

Friday May 10

FOOT FETISH: Chris Wheeldon is “one of the few choreographers in the world today excited by classical ballet. While his European colleagues run amok in soft-shoed philosophising and radical revisionism, Wheeldon carries the torch for classicism. He does it mostly in America, his adopted home, but he’s now back in his native Britain to make a ballet at Covent Garden.” The Times 05/10/02

Tuesday May 7

BALLET’S LATEST STAR: Christopher Wheeldon has been a full-time choreographer for only two years. But it’s been a packed two years – he’s resident choreographer at New York City Ballet, where he’s been hailed a star. And “if anything, Wheeldon has almost too much to do. He’s in London now, making his first big work for the Royal Ballet. He came here from California, where he has just created his second production for the San Francisco Ballet, Continuum. And, just three weeks after arriving back from the Covent Garden premiere, he has another show on in New York.” The Independent (UK) 05/06/02

PORTRAIT OF THE NEW ARTISTIC DIRECTOR AS A YOUNG MAN: Mikko Nissinen blows into town as the new director of Boston Ballet. It’s a rock star performance, meeting the staff, the dancers and the company’s supporters. Can he make them forget the company’s recent turbulent times? ”I’m in a great time in my life. I have a fantastic job. I’m one of the youngest directors of the major companies anywhere in the world. Isn’t that great? I’m going to be around for a long time.” Boston Globe 05/07/02

TURNING A BACK ON BALLET: Adam Cooper was a star of London’s Royal Ballet. He played the grown up Billy Elliott in the movie. Then he gave up ballet for musical theatre. Why? “I felt trapped at the Royal Ballet. It is such a tiny world and there is so much snobbery. Some people think ballet is the only important form of dance, and some dance critics perpetuate that view by the kind of work they cover. But there are so many more areas of dance to explore. I very much wanted to use all of myself, not just a tiny part.” The Guardian (UK) 05/07/02

Monday May 6

GRAHAM – FORCING THE ISSUE: Dancers of the former Martha Graham Company are performing this week for the first time since the company shut down in 2000. Rights to Graham’s choreography are still in dispute in the courts, and dancers say they’re performing not to force the rights issue but because they want to keep the work alive. Others fear the dispute will only be further deadlocked. “This is going to impale the dance community on the horns of a dilemma. I see it as a no-win situation.” Newsday 05/06/02

SAN FRANCISCO BALLET AT CROSSROADS: San Francisco Ballet is 70 years old – America’s oldest dance company. The season just ending was one of pleasant surprises and surprising disappointments. With some major retirements coming up, SFB is at a crossroads. San Francisco Chronicle 05/05/02

Sunday May 5

GRAHAM TO DANCE AGAIN EVEN WITH LAWSUIT: Ownership of Martha Graham’s dances is still in legal dispute. But dancers of the Martha Graham Dance Company, who haven’t performed together since May 2000 when the company closed because of financial problems, is putting on a performance of Graham’s work this week in New York. The New York Times 05/05/02

DIAMOND OUT OF THE ROUGH: New York City Ballet’s Diamond Project is ten years old. At least one critic’s expectations for its success at the beginning were quite low. But it has proven a major addition to American dance. “Essentially, the project proclaims that the classical idiom in dance is still worth exploring and exploiting. Part festival, part workshop, it has, at its best, challenged choreographers to stretch their creativity. At its weakest, it has presented the insignificant. Many of the 40 works created so far for the project by 23 choreographers have been discarded. Yet at least 14 Diamond ballets have been picked up by American and foreign dance companies, and more important, many have entered City Ballet’s repertory.” The New York Times 05/05/02

Thursday May 2

LOOKING FOR PRINCESS DI: Peter Schaufuss, the ex-New York City Ballet star, and ex-director of the Berlin Ballet, English National Ballet and the Royal Danish Ballet is putting together a ballet on the life of Princess Diana. “The Princess Diana ballet will follow musicals and operas based on her life in Germany and New York.” BBC 05/01/02

BOLSHOI ON THE ROAD TO RECOVERY: “After almost a decade of turmoil, uncertainty and artistic decline, Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater seems on the road to recovery. The theater, which houses both a ballet and opera company under its venerable roof, has a newly reorganized leadership team and has released plans for an ambitious new season. But soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, a legendary figure at the theater until she left for the West in 1974, says that far more drastic changes are required.” Andante 05/02/02