The Death of Classical Ballet… kind of

Het Nationale Ballet's the Sleeping Beauty
Het Nationale Ballet’s the Sleeping Beauty

Pliés, tendus, degagés… there is a specific order in which we do barre. It is predictable, it is the same, and probably won’t change for another ten years. The progression of ballet has always been slow, but over the past thirty years we have really made a ridiculous amount of progress refining the technique. The past thirty years gapped the Baryshnikov era and Ballerina era. As we have finessed the biomechanics of the classical technique, we have come to the realization of how limited the classical framework is. This has caused dancers to get bored, and has caused dancers to focus on more turns, and more complex jumps. This isn’t something new… 

Ballet was dying, then came Balanchine and new era was ushered in… Ballet was boring, then came Baryshnikov and the age of male extravagance came… Then ballet was drawn out and not as exciting, we got tired of men doing the same double tours, and tricks. Then came the super ballerinas… With super high extensions, jumps that were just as good as the men and with more flexibility… And now ballet once again has started to decline, as the age of movement exploration has come… New ballets are being introduced, everyone seems to be a choreographer these days, but companies are trying to save classical ballets by remounting them. ABT has now staged 3 different Cinderellas in a ten year time span. Het Nationale Ballet redid their Sleeping Beauty, and Royal Ballet redid all of their classics plus added the full length Alice in Wonderland.

As ballet companies are trying to survive, their audiences are getting bored and leaving empty seats. Artistic Directors have failed to see the bigger picture (read more about my anger at artistic directors here), and the boards of directors are static, demanding, and stuck in tradition. Ballet as an institution seems to be falling apart. Ironically, dancers are becoming savvy, and multifaceted: becoming choreographers, starting their own projects, and using social media to change the fate of their careers. (Example: Misty Copeland and her campaigns for Blackberry, Prince, Under Armor, and Diet Dr. Pepper. She isn’t the only one.) 

Solution: Progress. As ballet is in a flux, and we are in a heightened state of choreographers… companies should take more risks in hiring unknown names. City Ballet’s Justin Peck was the perfect example. I admire Peter Martins for his faith in his company and the potential of his dancers. PNB has slowly started making the progression by allowing their company members to choreograph on students. Regardless, progress has to be made in the repertory category. Even if the works don’t survive, and are only for one season, at least it is something new. Yes choreographer’s fees are expensive, but so is the restaging of the classics. SPEND YOUR MONEY BETTER!

Dancers used to have the state of mind of staying at one company their whole life, slowly working their way to principal. But, because artistic directors have messed that progression up, dancers now look at companies for their repertory. Who do they want to dance with, what choreographers can they work with, how can they expand their vocabulary. They didn’t do a million tendus to stand in the back as a corps member, or to be in boots prancing around in mazurkas… Dancers train ridiculously hard, doing the most impossible of things for what?? To be placed in the back as a courtier in the Sleeping Beauty? To maybe dance waltz in Nutcracker? What was the point of it all then?

There is only room for one Juliet… when your company has 30 or more extremely talented, artistic women… #justsayin

New works give a chance for the entire company to dance. Trust me, in every company there are many corps dancers who are under utilized. I think this is why dancers are not having long careers with companies, they are bored. They didn’t see the point of it all. Why practice doing pirouettes if you are never going to turn on stage? It is sad to say, but if artistic directors don’t start making better choices for their companies, I am afraid that Ballet Companies are going to be on their way out, and Dance Projects, Guest Galas (like Vail), and such will be taking over. Dancers will at least have the chance to do it all, and with different people, and at least they are excited…

2 responses to “The Death of Classical Ballet… kind of”

  1. You have an excellent point about new works featuring more members of the company. I also like how you trace the history and the evolution of ballet within the past 20th century.

  2. I agree with you that ballet sorely needs new choreography. But so does it need high-quality original music compositions. Remember the way Balanchine and Stravinsky worked together? I find a lot of new choreographers using unbearably boring, monotonous or atonal music. Why is that? And why has hardly nobody ever complained about that? Is it because the choreography don’t know where to find good music or is a good resident music composer too expensive to hire? It doesn’t even have to be a resident composer, but someone the company commissions. But either the choreographers go into the classical music repertoire and use the same composers over and over, or chooses monotonous music that often gets the audience into a trance, if not yawning, state? Well, excuse my ignorance–perhaps that is the purpose! Anyhow, sometimes I see really good choreography that could have been much, much more interesting with a better choice of music.