Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Ballet West in Asia

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Long before I got to know Ballet West I wrote Taynuilt - where better to create ballet?  31 Aug 2013. It is a beautiful location and I saw for myself when I attended a class there how the surroundings inspire the staff and students.   In a grand jeté en tournant exercise the instructor, Jonathan Barton, pointed to the surrounding hills urging the class to "soar like the mountains" (see Visiting Taynuilt 4 May 2018). Nobody who has seen a show by Ballet West can doubt the quality of the training that is available there.

And yet Ballet West alumni have to work harder than those from other schools to establish themselves in the profession. In Visiting Taynuilt I explained why. Ballet West is a long way from London and indeed a long way from just about every other major population centre in the British Isles.  If a company in London (or Leeds, Birmingham or Glasgow for that matter) wishes to fill a vacancy and can find excellent candidates immediately from the Royal Ballet School and possibly a handful of other ballet schools there is very little incentive to spend time and money looking further. That may be unfair but it is perfectly understandable.  The same sort of thing happens in other professions including my own.

So what can Ballet West do about that?  Well one partial solution is to look beyond London to the tiger economies of East Asia where there is an insatiable appetite for dance. That is exactly what Ballet West seems to be doing with its International Touring Company. According to the company's website it is a professional ballet company devoted to delivering world class ballet productions globally. It comprises 32 dancers including Jonathan Barton, Natasha Watson, Uyu Hiromoto and Joseph Wright. It will begin with 6 performances of Daniel Job's production of Swan Lake in Genting, Malaysia between 24 Aug and 2 Sept 2918. Performances in Macau and other places are envisaged for the future.

According to the Malaysian website Star Online, those performances will take place at the Genting International Showroom which describes itself as a hi-tech multimedia entertainment venue seating up to 1,000 people with the latest sound and lighting system a revolving stage and flying towers.  Apparently the season was heralded by a flash mob ballet with 80 dancers on the SkySymphony stage. If that report is accurate and all the advertised facilities were used it must have been quite a spectacle.   The Star Online website quotes Gillian Barton as saying that “This will be the first professional full-UK cast, full-length Swan Lake ballet in Malaysia."

As well as providing work for British dancers this summer (see the Auditions Notice on the Dancers Opportunities website) the tour should offer opportunities for young Malaysian dancers. The Star Online website reports that there will be masterclasses at the Arena of Stars on 22, 23, 24 and 30 Aug.  It is entirely possible that some of those dancers will wish to undergo further training abroad in which case Ballet West will be the first overseas school to spring to mind.

With a GDP of US$340 billion Malaysia is already an important economy and it is growing rapidly. English is widely used in commerce, education, government and the arts. Malaysia has many links with the UK.  It could be an important market for the creative industries generally and not just the performing arts.

Ballet West's International Touring Company will not employ all Ballet West's students but it will employ some and that is an important start. More importantly, however, it shows that there is a place for enterprise in the arts just as there is in any other industry. Those who don't find work with the touring company have an example of how they can create a niche for themselves.  As in so many other walks of life it may not be enough to be good at your job. Maybe you need to be an entrepreneur as well.

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