Thursday, 19 January 2017

Positioning Ballet - International Ballet Conference

The Dutch National Ballet will hold a private working conference at its studios in Amsterdam called Positioning Ballet between 10 and 12 Feb 2017 to coincide with the opening of Made in Amsterdam. The Purpose of the conference is to give artistic directors, choreographers and dance journalists from around the world an opportunity to exchange ideas about the future of ballet. The UK will be represented by the Royal Ballet's Director Kevin O'Hare (who also sits on the board of Northern Ballet), Tamara Rojo and Judith Mackrell of The Guardian.

The timetable for the conference is as follows:
Saturday 11th of February
09:30 – 10:15 Walk-in
10:15 – 10:30 Opening
10:30 – 11:45 Talk & discussion: Heritage
11:45 – 12:45 Lunch
12:45 – 14:00 Talk & discussion: Diversity
14:00 – 14:30 Break
14:30 – 16:00 Talk & discussion: Identity
16:00 – 16:20 Short Break
16:20 – 17:00 Wrap up

20:15 Premiere: Made in Amsterdam 1

Sunday 12th of February
11:30 – 14:00 The next step! (guest speakers and lunch)
14:00 Premiere: Made in Amsterdam 2
16:00 Reception

The discussion on "Heritage" covers "the art of programming", "ballet as re-enactment" and "heritage and innovation," There is only an hour and a quarter to cover all that ground - less than the time required for a typical ballet class - and it covers such interesting topics as "Which works are kept in the archive, based on which criteria? When is something still relevant? And when should it be revived?" I for one would just to know the decision-making process by which works like the Royal Ballet's Anastasia and Northern Ballet's Swan Lake are revived. As for "heritage and innovation" I should love to learn whetherTamara Rojo has more to say about shillelagh-wielding wilis.

"Diversity" is a topic very dear to my heart. Only 75 minutes to discuss:
"How can ballet companies better reflect the diversity of the metropolitan society in which they operate? Which steps must be taken in order to make the ballet world more inclusive? It is a fact that the stark differences in our society run along the lines of ethnicity, culture, gender and sexual orientation. During the working conference, we will focus primarily on ethnic and cultural diversity. We will also take a look at some good practices – projects that are successful in diversifying dancers, choreographers, organisation and audience."
On my very limited experience of two galas and half a dozen shows, the audience at the Amsterdam Music Theatre or Stopera seems a little more typical of the population at large than the audience of a ballet night at Covent Garden and certainly The Grand.  But it may be wishful thinking and I have no statistics to back it up. It would be interesting to find out what if any sociological research has been carried out.

Incidentally, it is encouraging that Corinne Vigreux who helped to found Tom Tom sits on the National Ballet's supervisory board.  It is rare for a tech entrepreneur to show such interest in the performing arts - at least in this country.

The last top is "Identity" and includes a discussion on whether it is still possible for ballet companies to reflect their geographical location. The company notes:
"Companies are increasingly engaging in co-production, and choreographers and dancers travel all over the world. This requires individual companies to position themselves clearly."
But was it not ever thus? Petipa was a Frenchman and Pavlova danced everywhere.  Why should a ballet company be like a football team? I am not Welsh but I am a Friend of Ballet Cymru. Too much emphasis on place reduces choice. When was the last time Northern Ballet danced in Birmingham or Birmingham Royal Ballet at The Grand or Alhambra?

I congratulated the National Ballet on this initiative.   I hope they will consider making the discussions available to the public.

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