featured photo
The Kitchen
Brought to you by
Body Wrappers;
New York Flash Review Sponsor
the New York manufacturer of fine dance apparel for women and girls. Click here to see a sample of our products and a list of web sites for purchasing.
With Body Wrappers it's always
performance at its best.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home

Flash View, 4-3: The Vision Thing & The Sexism Thing
Lack of Vision and Inclusion at the Royal Ballet

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2002 The Dance Insider

PARIS -- The Royal Ballet has announced its line-up for next season, and for those looking for either vision or gender equality in programming, the news from the Royal Opera House is bleak indeed.

Let's start with the vision thing. Here's what Royal Ballet director Ross Stretton has to say of the six ballets being added to the Royal repertoire:

"David Bintley, Mats Ek, Jiri Kylian, Mark Morris, Angelin Preljocaj and Christopher Wheeldon are all recognised as being amongst the foremost exponents of their art form and I am enormously grateful that they have found time to work with the Company this Season. The diversity and range of their work will undoubtedly provide many exciting challenges for the dancers."

Whether you spell it with an s or 'z,' the use of this word 'recognized' really makes me mad. Mr. Stretton is not saying he has programmed the works by these choreographers because he believes in them, or even because they will 'challenge' audiences and dancers. He's indicating that he's selected them because everyone else says they are good. Because the common mean, whatever that is, has "recognized" them. I would like to ask Mr. Stretton: What has happened to programming by personal taste? What has happened to programming by exercising your own judgment -- which, after leadership stints at American Ballet Theatre and the Australian Ballet, Mr. Stretton presumably has in spades? What has happened to Vision? If one has achieved the high position of artistic director of the bloomin' Royal Ballet, one should not be looking around at what everyone else has programmed before making a decision. One should not be following the pack. One should be leading. I respect the reality that a programmer also has a responsibility to include a certain number of evenings that will ensure box office. But a season of the duration of the Royal's certainly has room for some works that will challenge the audience, and that will grow it.

I am not so much criticizing Mr. Stretton's choice of choreographers (except that it's sexist; read on!) -- which, with the possible exception of the unexceptional Mr. Wheeldon, is hardly assailable. Rather, I am criticizing the lack of risk. Encountering the Paris Opera Ballet this season has re-awakened my interest in ballet. It's not that the dancers are better than U.S. dancers, nor even really the choreography. Rather, it's that as a programmer, dance director Brigitte Lefevre appears to revel in risk. It almost doesn't matter that Blanca Li's new "Sheherazade," commissioned by Ms.Lefevre as part of a Diaghilev tribute program, was, in my opinion, little more than choreographic froth. The important thing is that in commissioning a ballet from Ms. Li, Ms. Lefevre showed that the Opera is not just a museum, but has its finger on the pulse of contemporary Europe, in which Ms. Li figures prominently in the zeitgeist. Laura Scozzi's take on the Boris Kochno scenario originally choreographed by Balanchine on the theme the Seven Deadly Sins likewise missed its mark, in my view. But from a curatorial vantage point, the inclusion of a new take on a Kochno-scripted classic infused the Kochno tribute program with contemporary vitality. And finally, while etoile Kader Belarbi's "Hurlevent" achieved mixed results, the commissioning of a new, evening-length story ballet from a current company dancer is only commendable. Even though Mr. Belarbi's take on Bronte's "Wuthering Heights" seemed to run out of steam by the second half, this audience member felt engaged and stimulated and excited to be 'participating' in the unveiling of a brand new ballet. New ideas were there on the ancient Garnier stage -- and isn't this a big part of what experiencing art is about? (To read my reviews of Ms. Li's, Ms. Scozzi's, or Mr. Belarbi's work, just enter their names in the search engine window on our Home page.)

On another, no less important note, Mr. Stretton's season includes 0, count 'em zero original ballets by female choreographers. (Natalia Makarova will be staging a new production of the Petipa "Sleeping Beauty.") Even a Spring tribute to the late Royal Ballet founder, Dame Ninette de Valois, includes ballets by Bintley, Kenneth MacMillan, and Frederick Ashton -- but none by de Valois!

When a season or festival simply features more ballets by men than women, while we can point to the numerical imbalance and encourage more awareness of such disparities, the sexism can certainly be unconscious and unintentional. (As in, say, last weekend's Dance Salad gala in Houston, where an evening programmed by a female presenter included three works by women to 10 by men.) But when a male director of a company like the Royal Ballet, founded by a woman, plans a season of 13 ballets in which NONE are created by women, not even on a program dedicated to the company's female founder, I think we need to shout in the strongest possible terms: If it walks like a dog, talks like a dog, and acts like a dog, it is a dog. Or, in this case, END THE SEXISM, MR. STRETTON.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home