Four Keys to the Future

I hardly have time to write, nowadays, but what will become of Dance, and more specifically about Ballet, is always in mind. I worry, as you know, about their vitality and future.

I was reading this blog of Greg Sandow on the future of classical music (a passion, but I do not follow and study like Dance), and came upon this, that… could have been written for Dance, just by replacing the word music!

Since the link doesn’t embed in the text, I quote:

“We’re in a new era. To adapt to it, and build a new audience, here are four things you should do:

Understand and respect the culture outside classical music. 

Your new audience will come from the world outside classical music. Where else could it come from? And to reach these new people, you of course have to know them. Who are they? What kind of culture do they already have? You have to respect them, because if you don’t, they won’t respect you.

Work actively to find your audience.

The people you want to reach may not yet care about classical music. So they won’t respond to conventional PR and marketing. They won’t come to you on their own. And so you have to actively go out and find them. You have to talk to them where they live, where they work, and where they go for entertainment and for inspiration. You have to inhabit their world.

Be yourself.

Your urgency, your joy, and your passion will draw people to you. But you can’t be joyful if you don’t love the music that you perform. So never pander. Never struggle to be relevant. Perform music that makes your heart sing. Trust your new audience. Trust it to be smart, to be curious, and to respond with joy when it sees how joyful you are.

Make music vividly.

The people you reach will want to love the music you bring them. But can you meet them halfway? Are you bringing them something they really can love? Your performances should be entirely yours, performances nobody else could give. Your music should breathe. Contrasts should feel like they’re contrasts. Climaxes should feel like climaxes. Are you doing everything you can to bring your music alive?”

I’m grateful for Greg Sandow, prolixe me would never be able to write such a splendid resume!

Link to full text

 

On the Novosibirsk Theatre Affair

I have a long-term acquaintance in Novosibirsk. Many of our point of views are different, sometimes opposite, despite our friendship. Since I’m all for a free debate, I agreed in publishing here this friend’s opinion on what is happening in NOVAT, or Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre. It has a new management, lead by Vladimir Kekhman, a former business man with a passion for art. The new direction renovated the building, made changes in repertoire, brought great artists as guests, encouraged social groups like young people, renters, students and so on to fill the theatre with extra low prices. 

The text does not (NOT!) feature my own ideas, I just translated the best I could.

What happens in the “Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre” offends me! Our beautiful legacy must be cherished and carefully kept. Historical legacy must ALWAYS be kept, this should be a guiding principle in any Culture policy.

I really wish old theaters would go back to to candle lights, and to grass covered floors… to female roles being played by young men in wigs! Comfort for the audience is a small price to pay, when you have design and performances preserved forever as they were in the beginning!

I wish audiences to chat and eat while they watch the show, and freely enter and leave the room. I want them to use again porcellain chamber-pots, instead of modern toilets, to preserve the original mood!

It is true  “Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre” is not that old, but you must agree that the former toilets were hardly more comfortable than chamber-pots, and should not be replaced by incongruous, hardly fitting novelties.

If you care about preservation, magic may not flow from stage so easily, and great performers may not be as appreciated as they are in other theaters and countries… but this is a trifle, compared with the magnificent feat of preserving architecture  in all its original glory!  People would be proud of a whole evening sacrifice of their comfort for the sake of High Art!

Artists come and go… great performances may be lost or not appreciated, or even impossible to enjoy because of discomfort, aching backs, bad acoustics, seats without stage perspective – none of this matters, compared to preserving  “Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre” in its original amazing beauty and architectural uniqueness and glory.

The company members whose time and effort are dedicated to us must understand that their living Art is far less important than the Engineering Art made ethernal in cement, and not be despondent because I refuse to see them in more comfortable surroundings!

And the prices!!! I was proud that we never had to pay as much as in other cities to see the “Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre” artists – and refuse to be treated with less respect now!

Maybe artists of other houses in other cities are better, and deserve what is paid to see them. I doubt it – our company is VERY good!  But our company did not get suddenly better than it was – so why should I pay more to see a level of artistry that was available for a lesser price?

I heard that our artists are sad and disappointed, because we don’t want to see them in the new circumstances. As they are citizens of Novosibirsk too, they should be happy to perform to an empty house – empty of proud theatre goers that do not give in to senseless changes!

And guests artists, they may be great, even the greatest, but they must be aware that, if they accept to perform in the current bad taste decoration of “Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre”, they cannot expect US to accept their Art as a good enough compensation.

More! they surely are not surprised with our lack of interest  in their Art, when they know we don’t accept Vladimir Kekhman, the criminal that hired them!!! Lax, rotten capitalist West may not see his personal bankrupcy as a crime, but we know better, nobody fools us about capitalism logic and and international law!!

May this be a lesson to tyrannical authorities! If changes were wanted in “Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre”, all citizens had to be called in to give their opinions – and in a democratic way, colours, materials, interior design, lightning, furniture – all decisions about comfort, upholstery, acoustics, toilets, etc, and also about repertoire, casting, costumes, settings and choreography, had to be made with agreement of all citizens, and in a way that EVERY single one of them could agree!

Instead of wasting money in “modernizing”  the Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre  infrastructure, we should be staging OUR own performances, even if it means having just a handful of them.

The simple notion of renting the staging of another theatre is demeaning, and just the possibility that the sweat of “Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre”‘s troupe may have contact with sweat lingering in Mikhailovsky’s rented costumes is simply disgusting!!

Don’t tell ME that renting a staging is less expensive, I am not naive! Provided the production is completely OURS, a rare premiere is far better than having a whole selection of performances –  since the quantiy is OBVIOUSLY meant to enrich Mikhailovsky and Kekhman at our expenses, I can find no other logical reason! What is the point of so many productions, anyway? I don’t need more than one selfie in the lobby every season, I wouldn’t want to bore my followers in Instagram!

Finally: do you really expect me to remember one more ill-sounding bunch of letters every time I want to mention our beloved “Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre“? I refuse to use NOVAT instead – what a lack of respect for its grand, good sounding name.
Let other theatres use abbreviations… it’s their problem, they will have to face the inevitable, sad consequences of this kind of misguided modernization.

As with the unbelievable new site – provided there should be one at all! The traditional site of  “State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre” was replaced by a new one following standards used by several other theatres in Russia – its former originality traded for what amounts to just more information and ease of use in a so called “modern” look.

Images speak for themselves: the disgusting outcome of restoration in “NOVAT”

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Quote of Day – Lisa Howell, Dance Physiotherapist

Now we’re seeing labral tears (tear in hip joint) and issues in their back in 11 and 12-year-olds, which is very disconcerting because while they’re doing these moves to make themselves better dancers, they are often actually ruling themselves out of a professional career because they are getting injuries so young.

Lisa Howell, Dance Physioterapist, among others, of Australian Ballet
Lisa Howell, Dance Physioterapist, among others, of Australian Ballet

Lisa Howell is Dance Physiotherapist in Australia, where dance is becoming more popular than any sport except swimming.

Here the whole text

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Worse thing is,  I don´t even like that gymnastics-look trend in Dance. I see at all these popular pictures, and great dancers like Natalia Osipova and Sarah Lamb being bent and twisted until almost being turned inside out, and see no beauty and no magic. Choreographers like Wayne MacGregor and Alastair Marriott seem keen on that kind of “dancing”, that feels to me, specially when it comes in plotless works – where it doesn’t have even the excuse of imparting a meaning – just like a kind of perversion of Dance should be.

Weird pics like that make me sad.
ba-Ako Kondo of The Australian Ballet by Dan Swinson

Alina Blakova and Oleg Gabishev in Rodin by Boris Eifman
Alina Blakova and Oleg Gabishev in Rodin by Boris Eifman

196fc597b6ec4124b4f0ef6fc2296560

You see these strange things done more often by female dancers. Why? Are they more flexible as a rule? I hope, because I would not like to think this is a new way to fetichize woman's bodies.

You see these strange things done more often by female dancers. Why? Are they more flexible as a rule? I hope so, because I would not like to think this is a new way to fetichize woman’s bodies.

ON YOUNG PRODIGIES… AND GROWING UP!

Young prodigies… unexpected skills

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - first composition at the age of 5, died when 35 years old.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – first composition at the age of 5, died when 35 years old.

There are nowadays so many kids with incredible skills, considering their age! In my FB Timeline, a pretty quiet one, I see several a year. They all, surely, have an unexpected skill… but will they all become great artists?

Every time I see one of them, usually with hundreds of thousands views, I feel pity: brought under  spotlights by their proud parents, they are now under the scrutiny of the world.

They will become very aware of themselves, freedom and innocence about their work fading away before they are ready to deal with flatter and the limitations of every human being. They stand out amazingly against the average in the beginning, we cannot help by cheering them… there is unanimity, because their youth makes us forgive them for not being “perfect” (whatever our particular definition of perfection) –  oh, they have time, one day they will be all we wish!

Barbara Follet
Barbara Newhall Follet – published her first acclaimed novel at the age of 12. At 25, deeply depressed, she walked away from home and was never seen again.

The bubble.

With great expectations coming from far and near, the child’s own expectations will grow.

They are at an impressionable age, and their identity develops tied to their skill and the decurring success …  and may be badly shaken when they grow up, when their age is no more out of sync with skill level – the high winds of success turning into a sedated breeze… or vanishing for good.

Young prodigies are very often overexposed – now with Internet, an extreme exposure – and live in a bubble of success doomed to burst when entering adulthood, or, better said, THIS component of their success is doomed.

I wonder if they, their parents and their eventual agents realize it is a bubble…  I have seen, far more often, a naïve belief that the child’s success is a small sample of all the acclaim that will surely keep  increasing as age increases too.

Artists and success…

Now forget early talents. Any great artist may have success, but will seldom be unanimity – one feature that distinguishes a mere artisan from the artist, is that the latter is unique, individuality is always fierce – dividing people’s opinion.

Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent Van Gogh

Some will love, some will find impossible to like.  Praise may increase during his lifetime, as his work matures – but if he is of the rule-breaking kind, critics will come along praise, and they may be as sharp as praise is warm.

Great success may come or not, and may or not depend on actual talent – more often than not, nowadays, it depends on luck, on shifting fashion, on the degree of exposure.  Great success never was, is, or will be an adequate measure of real artistry.

Now add the two…
… and we have bad news!!

Oh, not necessarily, but in most cases! Well known artists, especially in Performance Arts, and especially when young, come to rely on their audience’s response…

Joshua Bell, despite his US$ 3.000.000,00 Stradivarius, didn't live up to MY expectations.. for all they worth
Joshua Bell, despite his 3 million dollars Stradivarius, didn’t live up to MY expectations… for all its worth – not when I compare his interpretative power with my beloved Heifetz!

Only, there is a massive withdrawal of praise when a gifted kid grows up – just because the out-of-sync component is gone – now he/she is an artist as any other artist, that will not be forgiven anything more because of age – now he is expected to come up to “my” expectations (whatever they are). If he does not, “I” will be VERY disappointed, I may turn from an admirer into a critic – if I had never been interested and idealizing, it would be different!

The young talented adult sees himself  no more in the top of the mountain – even if it was not easy to keep balance there, he had felt it as his own already.  He slides down to some place he is not used to, where he is definitely not comfortable – the change in one or two years is so great, it may take away his drive, and balance, and self-esteem, make him doubt himself.

Shirley Temple - last movie at the age of
Shirley Temple – last movie at the age of 21

He may try to come up to all the multiple expectations and idealizations, and loose himself and his creativity while seeking to regain former levels of acclaim – not realizing it may never be reached again, and should not even be further sought.  He may receive unexpected attacks, scorn, and dismissal, and be utterly unprepared to deal with them. He may feel as the victim of an unfair world. He may enter in denial. He may simply give up.

The change is too great for some, they never recover, and their Art is lost in drugs, unbalanced behavior, in aggressive attitudes that turn away fellow professionals and public, in neurotic disorders. I have seen too many young prodigies that were unable to unfold as adult talents – such a loss for all of us!

On the other hand…

The first years of adulthood may be hard, and suffering inevitable, but some, fortunately,

Jasha Heifetz -
Jasha Heifetz – “God’s Fiddler”

survive to be greater than ever – those that don’t feel sorry for themselves, that learn to respect their inner voice more than any external opinion,  that learn to deal both with bad critics and unreasonable idealizations – if they are graced with any level of empathy, comprehension of what happened to us and to themselves will just enrich their work.

Anyway, it is now that their real artistic life can begin, because paradoxically, now they will have more freedom and will be able to reach new depths…  now, having got ridden  of the youth label and all that came in its wake. Now they are just, and at last, what they are… and this is MORE, not less!

All in all…

Sometimes it is inevitable, some talents are so great they stand out at a tender age already, no matter what. But all in all, I wish parents were wiser, and more aware of the consequences of bringing their talented children under the spotlights – or, if it can’t be helped, that they would be wise enough to prepare them for the bubble bursting process.

Saint-Saëns

 In Ballet!

Everything in Ballet must happen so fast! Dancers have nowadays a terribly short active life, in average, less than 20 years of actual dancing! So all are in a hurry.  Dance competitions bring us a few precocious talents every year. A few of THESE  rise meteorically, and are just 19, 20 years old when they arrive “at the top”:  a principal in a big company – by that time, they are already world famous! And then what? They have suffered/will suffer incredible, ever increasing demands from their public, and are even more prone to early injuries than the average dancer.  AND also grow up, no matter what.

Sergei Polunin
Sergei Polunin – soloist at Royal Ballet at the age of 19, principal at the age of 20.

Right now, we have several young prodigies at some stage of their transition period: choreographer Justin Peck, dancers like Misty Copeland, Ivan Vasiliev, Sergei Polunin are well known examples,. I hope they all grace us with long active, fruitful lives – in the History of Ballet, you find pretty few like them before.

Ivan Vasiliev
Ivan Vasiliev- Bolshoi soloist at 17, principal at 21.

To be a ballet professional was never as hard as it is nowadays, and even so, I have big hopes in some of them – in some… more than in others! Future will show if I got them right!

Uffff – too many issues!

I’m having trouble feeding my blog, because I have so many issues dancing (!) around on my head… I’m writing about all of them at the same time, and nothing is ever ready to post! I’m so confused I posted  THIS before it was ready, sorry!

mess of letters

Issue #1: the recent episode of  Bolshoi x Stanislasvski conflict involving Ivan Vasiliev brought back memories of several similar conflicts, involving both him and other dance professionals, that often guest around the world. It made me reflect on the current ability of ballet companies to effectively cope with the changes in their reality: the increasing numbers of independent great stars; the cost/benefit of their productions; customer satisfaction; visible aging of their audience in live performances; globalization of information; the new ways (mostly digital and far from ideal, but THERE, their importance increasing as we speak) to access ballet/dance productions; the inadequate competitive attitude in a risk situation. I wonder if their funding agencies impose restrictions to effective management? It seems (lack of information!) they have, most of them, professional managers, so why are they so slow to adapt? Does that sound too businesslike? Well, it should!!! Dance companies, as every enterprise and institution nowadays, CANNOT ignore good business practices! Ignore them, nowadays, is to be doomed!

Issue #2: important dance professionals in UK complained about UK dancer’s training – they say contemporary dance schools do not prepare them well enough. On it’s wake, I became aware of information on UK’s Dance audience’s, agencies and training (I did not know where to find that, before). There is a LOT to think and ponder about here, and I follow the debate, and write to clear my ideas, and re-think, and get new information, and re-write… It has been highly interesting, but I’m still processing all these new data!

Issue #3: the general Prodigal Son Parable feeling about Ivan Vasiliev’s “return” to Bolshoi, and its consequences – there are very nice, really exciting consequences, and also, I foresee, some that may not be that nice. As always, Ivan Vasiliev has my interest as himself, but also as an emblematic dancer who raises issues that go far beyond him. There is a difficult, tense, even painful trade-off between an artist’s right and need of independency, and the means to realize his artistry – in Performance Arts even more than other kinds of Art. When I see dancers and choreographers potential unfulfilled, I long for them to find a “home” to fully realize them, but… which of the dance agencies available nowadays is willing to let them realize their potential to it’s full extent? Not a new question, and I don’t have an answer! I keep a keen eye on all agencies I can… there seems to be a great polarization: those “homes” that can afford to stage properly the greater ones, are the less bound to favour their individuality, and vice-versa! Either way, the artist looses, and WE loose!… that’s why I cannot but worry and wonder about solutions! This issue, obvioulsy, is related, but not the same, as Issue#1.

Issue #4: what is Dance about, nowadays? A recent interview of my amazing Natalia Osipova brought me once again to this issue. She is SO accomplished, I cannot imagine a more beautiful 2nd Act Giselle as hers, OR a more fiery Kitri, and the improbable possibility of a dancer to excel the way she excels in BOTH prooves her greatness! She is, however, haunted by doubts about herself, and seeks harder and harder for perfection, but to such an extent! it broke my heart…! Problem is, to be perfect does not mean, necessarily, to create magic, and she, sensitive as she is, KNOWS that, and fears that. Is perfection important to create an objet d’art? If at all, in what ways, and what KIND of perfection? When I reflect about this, I always feel Terpsichore – “the joy in dancing” – looking, very interested, over my shoulder…

Issue #5: I have a post to finish about overuse of strange – and ugly – movements and costumes in contemporary dance (that I love). I’m reticent about them, and try to explain why  – just a humble, but as so often here, radical personal opinion. It involves body-language, the symbolic universe of a culture, and relates the way we see and interpret movements with words, smells and music – for now. I wouldn’t dare to question their artistic value or the creator’s need of them, but I can give a feed-back on how I receive/perceive them!

… and new issues keep arising!

It strikes me as little odd that in “other lives I lived”, in business, science, human science – and for all I can see but lived not, in other kinds of Art and every other organized human activity, issues like that are deeply important and openly and fiercely discussed… but I find so little open discussion and open opinions in Dance! I want to stand up and cry BRAVO everytime I see someone dismiss platitudes and state unconformity in a loud voice! … in good time, all these voices will grace this pages! But they are few, too few…

People who have a light of their own

Do you know someone like that? They are rare. They too find stones on their way, like all of us. This is dedicated to one in particular, who had to deal with some big boulders for some time now.

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When you have a light of your own, you are blessed in many ways.

It makes you unique, and rare. It makes you excel, and be creative, regardless of your activity. It gives you drive to keep going forward, when any other would give up. It brings you a deep-seated freedom no one can reach or limit.

It makes impossible not to notice you, or to forget about you. It shines on people around you – the world as a whole becomes a little bit brighter. Looking at you, people see more truth. You are a beacon.

Your are contagious, you rekindle damped lights around you, and make new ones spring to life.  You bring solace, regardless of your good deeds.  You bring hope, regardless of your achievements.

Your light cannot be turned off, not even by you; it can be damped, but no one was borne, yet, able to extinguish it.

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Your light makes you tough and brave, as you fend off those who fear and envy it –there are fair amounts of them, of those with secret places that must remain in the dark.

It makes you strong, as you hold off  those seeking to control its shine – there are fair amounts of them, who try to stiffle it down or use it for their own good.

It makes you kind, as you realize how blessed you are, compared to the sombre crowds you walk among.

It makes you generous, as you realize that sharing makes it shine all the brighter.

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God bless you – you with a light of your own – life flows stronger around you.

May you never doubt you have it – may you always use it, full power, both for your sake…  and ours.