Tweeted from the War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, on 2nd February, 2012:
But is the full-length ballet dead? You asked it but you didn’t answer it. I thought Onegin was HOT but average age of the audience on the night I went was about 65. I don’t think I could convince any of my friends to come with me. Attention span only as long as those numbers in So You Think You Can Dance.
I think it depends on which city you are in but in general the more sophisticated, subscription audiences demand a season with both full-length ballets and mixed bills, and would be unhappy if you gave them too much of one or the other. When big companies tour, audiences usually want to see one grand full-length production. Maybe this makes them feel like they’re getting their money’s worth, compared to a ‘white’ ballet with minimal-looking set, lighting and costumes.
But not all productions of the great classics are created equal – I would stand in line for hours for a ticket to Romeo & Juliet if it was Kenneth MacMillan or John Cranko’s version, but not anyone else’s. And there are so many rubbishy Swan Lakes out there (don’t get me started on the ones with a happy ending). La Bayadère was butchered by Rudolf Nureyev in his staging for Paris Opera Ballet, but, thankfully, we have Natalia Makarova’s brilliant 1980 revival to sustain us. And, more recently, Alexei Ratmansky has been recreating some of the full-length classics with great originality and wit.
Attention spans, as you say, have shortened, but that’s not the reason why many full-length ballets fail. Many choreographers are just not able to sustain interest through three acts. The most recent full-length debacle was Peter Martins’ silly, over-hyped Ocean’s Kingdom for New York City Ballet, set to Paul McCartney’s music. (The less said about this the better.)
Personally I think the modern ballet world has not seen anything close to the calibre of MacMillan’s 1978 Mayerling for the Royal Ballet. But we are always hopeful… The Dutch National Ballet and SF Ballet have just announced a co-production of Cinderella to be choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, which is likely to be spectacular.
Don’t knock SYTYCD – I think they’ve done a great service to the dance world by attracting new audiences (even if only for 90 seconds at a stretch). And there are a few seriously talented choreographers working on SYTYCD – Sonya Tayeh comes to mind. She’s choreographed for Los Angeles Ballet and I think one day might even give us a knock-out full-length.
I do not have a solution for the aging demographic of the American dance-going public. Younger dance lovers generally cannot afford tickets. It’s a different story in Europe where theatre-going is more of a populist activity. And Cuba, one of the poorest countries on the planet, where every man on the street knows his ballet and has an opinion on every dancer and every production.
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