The Buzz, 8-17: Stanton,
We Have a Problem
Gielgud Resigns from Houston Ballet
Copyright 2005 The Dance Insider
After two years of wet-nursing
rookie artistic director Stanton Welch, Maina Gielgud has resigned
as artistic associate at Houston Ballet, citing fundamental differences
in vision, highlighted by what she says was Welch's threat to cancel
her production of "Giselle" last season.
When Houston's board
of directors hired the green Welch in 2003, it was the concurrent
signing of the veteran Gielgud (disclosure: a friend) that mitigated
Welch's lack of experience. Where the Australian choreographer --
a Gielgud protegee -- had never directed a dance company, his mentor
had steered Australian Ballet for over a dozen years, as well as
the Royal Danish Ballet. (It was in Australia that she gave Welch
his first major choreographing opportunity.) A former star of Maurice
Bejart's Ballet of the 20th Century, intimate to Royal Ballet founder
Dame Ninette de Valois, and stager of the authoritative "Giselle,"
Gielgud provided the directing resume Welch lacked, lending the
Houston decision much-needed credibility among the Houston dancers
and supporters, as well as in the international dance community.
Indeed, a source close to the company said the commitment of Gielgud
or someone of equal stature to assist him was a condition of Welch's
"When I accepted the
position," Gielgud told the DI, "I had looked forward enormously
to assisting the newly appointed artistic director... to attain
a shared vision for the company. However, my role, authority and
responsibilities were never clearly defined, and the situation became
increasingly ambivalent and uncomfortable for me. In addition, it
became apparent that our views on artistic matters had diverged
rapidly in relation to the long-term goals, vision, ideals, management
style and methods of directing a classically based ballet company.
This culminated in a threat to cancel my production of 'Giselle,'
after a number of my casting preferences for this ballet were overruled."
The Dance Insider contacted
Houston Ballet Monday morning to ask Welch to comment on Gielgud's
departure, her charges, and statements he'd made elsewhere. A Houston
spokesman declined to forward the DI's questions to Welch, claiming
that he would not be able to answer them in time to meet our Tuesday
night deadline because he was in Melbourne rehearsing "Sleeping
Beauty" on the Australian Ballet. Instead, the spokesman issued
the following statement from Welch: "During this critical two-year
period of transition from one artistic director to another, (Gielgud)
played an important role. We recognize her significant contribution
in (Bejart's) 'Songs of a Wayfarer,' (Serge Lifar's) 'Suite en Blanc'
and 'Giselle.' We wish her all the best in her continuing career."
Welch's discussion of
Gielgud's exit with the Houston Chronicle was not so circumspect,
setting new lows for tactlessness. "Maina is from a different generation,"
he told the Chronicle's Molly Glentzer in an August 10 report. But it was precisely Gielgud's
being what Glentzer aptly described as "a glamorous direct link
to ballet's past" that gave the lightweight Welch's directorate
some heft. "I certainly don't think it's going to damage the company,"
Welch told the Chronicle, and therein lies the problem: There are
none so blind as those who will not see.
Welch revealed his fundamental
lack of understanding of the potency of classical ballet right out
of the chute when he stated, in announcing Houston's 2003-2004 season,
that William Forsythe's "In the Middle, (Somewhat Elevated)" "made
classical ballet relevant; it made a lot of people want to choreograph
in a classical style again. It brought ballet into the 20th century."
In fact, ballet has
never been out of the 20th century, let alone the 21st; what's varied
at times is the agility and ability of choreographers to use it,
of stagers and coaches to adhere to it and of dancers to own it.
In classical story ballets, the tales themselves are eternal. All
it needs is a gifted stager who understands this, and willing dancers.
"Giselle," for example,
choreographed by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot with a book by Theophile
Gautier and Vernoy de Saint-George inspired by a tale from Heinrich
Heine, has at its heart the themes of all-consuming love; betrayal;
vengeance; and forgiveness. It's the (classical ballet) choreography
and dancing that reveal these.
Reviewing her production
for Houston Ballet in June, Glentzer said Gielgud "makes a swell
case for keeping classical ballet tradition pure and alive." And
the Dallas Morning News observed that she insisted "the dancers
pull the story out from their souls until they become sophisticated
actors tapping deeply into the human experience."
Far from being the relics
that Welch suggests, it's solidly educated teachers like Gielgud
who understand all ballet has to say to us TODAY, when the intentions
of the creators are properly executed and invested by the dancers.
Indeed, wrote the Morning News, "Her coaching brought out a new
level of artistry in the company."
Welch will attempt to
replace Gielgud with a patchwork of coaches and stagers next season,
some of them quite respectable, but this misses the point. Just
passing through town to set a ballet, they probably won't threaten
Welch's authority, so he'll feel better -- but they also won't have
the same authority with the dancers as did Gielgud with her more
permanent presence. As for Gielgud, she won't lack for work, with
plans already in place to teach and coach style for the National
Ballet School in Canada, serve on the jury for the Prix de Lausanne,
and re-stage "Giselle" for the Australian Ballet. Which is not to
say she's not suffering; she will miss working with the Houston
dancers. "They are an exceptional group of people," Gielgud told
the DI, "not only in terms of their talent as actors as well as
dancers, but because of their sincere wish to progress further towards
their individual potential, and because of their willingness to
take risks. So I am extremely sad to feel unable to continue helping
them to pursue their career journeys."
The larger tragedy here
is that American ballet is facing a crisis in vision, as evidenced
in lackluster programming and general direction. Fueling this crisis
is that ignorant ballet boards -- from New York to Boston -- appear
to be more interested in gladhanding, sweet-talking pretty boys
than experienced teachers who understand the fundamentals and value
the history of the art; little men with big egos have supplanted
selfless servants of dance. It's truly a map to steer ballet into
the dustbin of history.