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Subject: "The barre, and the colour bar" Archived thread - Read only
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Conferences What's Happening Topic #2410
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Bruce Madmin

08-01-02, 10:57 AM (GMT)
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"The barre, and the colour bar"
This thread is for discussion of Katharine Kanter's "The barre, and the colour bar" piece in the December Ballet.co magazine:

Hope you have found the piece stimulating and please feel free to comment on it and/or interact with others thoughts below....

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  Subject     Author     Message Date     ID  
  RE: The barre, and the colour bar Viviane 08-01-02 1
     RE: The barre, and the colour bar Nigel 16-01-02 2
         RE: The barre, and the colour bar katharine kanter 16-01-02 3
             RE: The barre, and the colour bar Nigel 16-01-02 4
                 RE: The barre, and the colour bar katharine kanter 17-01-02 5
                     RE: The barre, and the colour bar Brendan McCarthymoderator 17-01-02 6
                         RE: The barre, and the colour bar katharine kanter 17-01-02 7
                             RE: The barre, and the colour bar Estelle 24-01-02 8

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08-01-02, 06:54 PM (GMT)
Click to EMail Viviane Click to send private message to Viviane Click to view user profileClick to add this user to your buddy list  
1. "RE: The barre, and the colour bar"
In response to message #0
   I can follow K.Kanter into most of her train of thoughts, although one may not exagerate the situation.

France shares the same problems with all other countries who have had colonies and/or have inhabitants of very opposite cultures. You simply can't look aside of this and, more : you never can 'oppose' things.
And there are a lot of other minorities who don't get an honest chance either.
London has a similar racial mix as Paris... and -only recently- some enthusiastic people created 'Ballet Black' .... A very applaudible initiative on its own...but it's a shame time and circumstances has proved that it's a 'necessity' in the 21th Century!

Fundamental changements towards integration can only be obtained on a long-term and basic ground....and to my opinion it has to start with education. I'm not talking vocational-only now.
Indeed, you will not solve the problem with pulling a 'couple of gazelles' out of the suburbs and 'park' them in the POB-school, no matter how talented they are ! One need to cultivate a new "sensitivity to art in general"in our society, this is badly needed. You have to look for it in the general academic schools with a magnifying glass !
Art, and the beauty of modest things need to be re-valuated. The power of music, f.i., is a perfect tool to soften anger and can canalize emotions...and so is dance... Talking and expressing oneself without words...has a lot of undiscovered possibilties for most of the people among us. And education is not using this ! They are focussed on results and prestations and forget they have sublime tools to create more balanced and broadminded people..(...and 'who knows' an environment that no longer object against a dance-career for a child or simply go to the ballet instead of football ? )

Sadly enough, there is indeed a long way to go and Katharine, I'm afraid "La République" will for a long time -if not for ever !- stay like that and France will keep his reknown 'chauvinism' for ever.
For myself, I think this governmental influence on culture (even if it's *sometimes* an ice-cold one) isn't such a bad case. Thanks to this, France has some of the most intriguing and epoch-making architecture-projects ! Yes, I agree most of them are symbols of power...but we may not neglect the smaller projects chaperonned by local authorities...they have a 'view'on art ! Something I - in my country- only can dream about.
Hmmm...I have to relativate this : It isn't such a bad case if the 'decision-makers' have a broad and solid cultural background...and do know their 'History'! Otherwise you can get streams of wasted public-money...

>Extra private lessons, a wide-spread practice, are anything but free. And the boarding school closes >down every weekend. This means that every student must have lodgings in Paris for the weekend, or >he cannot join the school. That, for purely financial reasons, straightaway excludes most of the >population.

Well, apart from financial reasons...the POB-school has an extraordinary look on vocational training in general !
But I do agree with you about the VERY 'narrow' base for selection...some years all little girls seamed to be sisters !
It's not a bad case that it's a weekly boarding-school, although I do recognise the practical difficulties. And the 'private lessons' you speak about are something of immeasurable value to a ballet-student ! I'm convinced *every* talented young dancer should have a kind of 'mentor' outside the school. Someone you can talk to about all *little* details, rehears the personal-related difficulties, who can point you into another direction if necessary, who is your guide into that 'big' balletworld ! This is a task the school or the parents are not able to fulfill.
And to end : France is not an exception to the rule : even at the English vocational-schools you have the 'princesses'...and 'the others' !

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16-01-02, 00:47 AM (GMT)
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2. "RE: The barre, and the colour bar"
In response to message #1
   On the whole I think KK has a valid series of points, though her tendency to overstatement is occasionally frustrating. Here are a couple of brief comments:

1. The computation of audience figures is always a controversial affair. Nobody (except apparently KK) is seriously suggesting that only 3000 people altogether visit ballet and/or opera performances at the Opéra in any given year? At any one time, yes, but then that's seating capacity for you. So let's keep things in perspective there. I also don't go along with the idea that the population isn't interested in ballet - TV viewing figures certainly suggest otherwise.

2. KK is someone who usually shows a keen sense of history, but to advocate - as she does - some kind of return to the old ways of the ballet school in Paris is to put the clock back in a way that would land the Opéra administration in court for child and human rights abuses. Remember (and then try to forget) what "les rats" went through... And remember how the members of the corps were treated in the (even older) days of the Jockey Club traipsing in and out of the foyer de danse. Yes, working class mothers saw it as a way of getting their daughters into work if they made it in the school, but often at a horrendous human cost.

But the substance of KK's argument is one that ballet companies everywhere should think about very carefully indeed - it's a very stimulating piece.

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katharine kanter

16-01-02, 09:07 AM (GMT)
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3. "RE: The barre, and the colour bar"
In response to message #2
   Thank you Nigel, for your comments.

On the "3000", that remark was based on a statistical survey conducted about three years ago, published in one of the national newspapers here (seem to recall it was the Figaro), on the number of people who REGULARLY frequent either the lyric opera, or the ballet, in Paris. I suppose the papers must have got their facts directly from the Opera box offices, as I cannot imagine there being any other reliable source. In other words, the "3000" does not include those persons who come in once a year at Christmas, but people who follow the Opera on a regular basis.

There is scarce coverage of classical dance on French television (I don't possess one of those little boxes, but I do check the programme listings), and most of the monthly French magazines have either converted entirely to covering modern dance, or, like Les Saisons de la Danse, have recently folded. The only bookshop entirely dedicated to classical dance, the Cournand shop, closed about a decade ago. There may be far more interest than this reflects, but it certainly is not being given much chance for self-expression !

I would never for a moment suggest that we return to the untoward practices of the pre-Lifar period.

In any event, the only way forward, and I think we agree on this, is to reach out to broader layers of the population, which is of course why I wrote the article !

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16-01-02, 05:03 PM (GMT)
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4. "RE: The barre, and the colour bar"
In response to message #3
   Katharine: thanks for clarifying the audience figures - I think I may need to eat my words...but it does seem an amazing (and depressing) statistic. As for a dance bookshop, the closure of that delightful store in Paris was a great shame - I believe the person who ran it retired or even died? - and it's a lack felt by many - as it happens I was lunching with a friend in Montparnasse last week who was lamenting the absence of any replacement for it. Of course this is a situation which is not unique to Paris. Since David Leonard moved out of London, there is no dance bookshop there either (though of course he is if anything more active than ever down in Hampshire) and what used to be the Ballet (Book)shop in New York is a shadow of its former self - twenty years ago it was a marvellous place. Now what I am trying to suggest with this rambling is not necessarily that there's no demand for such a shop, but that central locations are just too expensive for such an enterprise, which is another issue altogether.

Enough already. The central thrust of your argument is a really important question. I'm not convinced that any major traditional company has given it enough serious thought. That's a charitable analysis of the situation as we find it, and I fear (as you clearly do) that a more sinister conclusion is also possible. In France, but also in Britain, to say nothing of the US (your point about Dance Theater of Harlem is well taken), progress - if there has been any - has been painfully slow.

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katharine kanter

17-01-02, 09:43 AM (GMT)
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5. "RE: The barre, and the colour bar"
In response to message #4
   With regard to Gilberte Cournand of the Cournand Library, God willing, she lives yet ! because we did see here at Garnier a few weeks ago. She's a tall, very thin, stately old lady, who always wears some sort of scarf or bandana round her brow.

Between the United States and Denmark, I believe there exists some sort of umbrella organisation called DANCE, for cultural exchange. As the name indicates, and given the great reputation of the Danes in the area of concern to us, it has, if I recall rightly, tended to be focussed on exchange of ballet scholarships. However, so far as I know, there have been no black Americans sent to Denmark. Perhaps someone could set the record straight here if I'm wrong.

One does not have to have 20-20 vision to see that Western society is on the skids. All the word "culture" really means, is "how people think", individually, and collectively.

We are not going to get out of the doldrums, by scraping bits of rubbish and shavings off the floor, but rather, as Martin Luther King said, by going "to the mountain top". The extreme violence spilling out of the Bantustans, is actually an expression of the intense, mind-boggling, boredom inflicted upon young people, who've been given nothing exciting or challenging to DO.

We've got to get these kids' noses out of Reality TV, or video games or whatever, and get them to learn to have fun using their minds. No matter the skin colour. Classical music, classical dance, and the sciences, are the Himalayas of what this society has produced. Everyone on this planet has a right to start climbing, a right to be fitted out with oxgygen gear, i.e., education and training. Those of us who are in the artistic milieu, must make bold decisions, to shew how strongly we feel about the basic human right to use one's mind.

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Brendan McCarthymoderator

17-01-02, 10:08 AM (GMT)
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6. "RE: The barre, and the colour bar"
In response to message #5
   LAST EDITED ON 17-01-02 AT 11:42 AM (GMT)

I wonder if Katharine might cast some light on why classical dance now has such a weak foothold in France? Here in England approximately 70% of the Arts Council's dance budget is spent on ballet. While arts administrators are determinedly trying to reduce this percentage and to divert funding to contemporary forms, their ability to do so is constrained by the clear preferences of dance audiences.

Is it the case that ballet never had strong roots in the French regions? (I merely ask - I don't know). If it once had roots, and these have been neglected or abandoned, why has this happened?

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katharine kanter

17-01-02, 10:56 AM (GMT)
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7. "RE: The barre, and the colour bar"
In response to message #6
   LAST EDITED ON 17-01-02 AT 12:02 PM (GMT)

There is a lady in France, a mathematician I believe, who is very fond of the ballet, and who would doubtless have a better grasp of the statistics on funding for modern dance than I. Mlle. Estelle Souche, is her name, and she does, I believe, have a home page. I shall try to consult her on this point.

What appears below should not be understood as a partisan, political statement. It is no more than an observation on the turn events have taken.

When François Mitterrand came to power in 1981, he was surrounded by advisors, notably Jack Lang, then his Culture Minister, now Education Minister, who shared his condescending view of the intelligence of the population. A determined effort was made to promote so-called "modern" or "contemporary" art forms. (I do not wish to enter into a polemic on the issue of "modernism" here.)

One of the concerns to the group around Jack Lang, was to replace classical ballet, by modern dance. If my memory serves me right, the former POB étoile Claire Sombert, who was Inspectrice de la Danse until two years ago, gave an interview to the magazine Dance Light that was absolutely scathing, on this point.

Like most things in France, I believe that the whole operation had been discussed through by the early 80s, with the chappies in the Finance Ministry.

As for Mitterrand himself, he was bent on ramming through his bizarre, cultish projects: the new Roman Coliseum, aka the Bastille Opéra, and, most terrible, the Très Grande Bibliothèque. The Bastille Opéra, now surrounded by wire netting because huge chunks of the façade are falling off, ate up something like 80% of the Culture Ministry's entire national budget, whilst being built.

What the cost-ratio of modern dance is, relative to classical ballet, I do not know precisely, but I would estimate that it is something like ten times cheaper.

A campaign was then launched (note that major daily newspapers, "Le Monde" and "Libération" no longer report on classical dance) to convince the population that classical ballet - and classical art in general - is only for the Sloane Square set, and that essentially, who needs it ? One should recall here, that it was Mitterrand who first put entrance fees, to the national museums.

Money was thrown at modern dance troupes. Pick up any theatre guide, any newspaper, in Paris or any provincial city, and you will note that 97% - if not 1000% - of all dance activity today, is "modern", save for an occasional recital by an Indian troupe, or by some Eastern European touring troupe.

The Ballet National de Nancy, that had been led by Pierre Lacotte, was taken over by Karole Armitage about two years ago, and changed to a modern troupe. The same was done to the Lyon Opera Ballet, but that must have been over a decade ago. The same thing happened to the Ballet du Nord, i.e. the Lille troupe. There are rumours about that the same may be done to the Ballet de Marseille, if Pietragalla does not measure up. There was a big battle over the Ballet de Nice, that was supposed to be disbanded, or turned "modern", and I must avow my ignorance over to who won.

Another high-level Paris institution, and one that formerly enjoyed a great reputation, is the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Danse et de Musique (CNSM).

The classical music department of the CNSM is reputed amongst the best in the world.

As for its Dance Department, it functions as a "finishing school" for top students from the provinces, and from the Paris municipal conservatories who have either been rejected by the Opera School, or have chosen not to enter it. A while back, a Modern Dance Department was created, alongside the Classical Dance Department.

However, the CLASSICAL dance students, I have been told, spend a sizeable chunk of their time doing modern dance. The Jeune Ballet Classique, the performance-outlet for the CNSM students, now peforms almost entirely "modern" works. In other words, the Classical Dance department has been "dumbed down".

Others who are more knowledgeable, could perhaps come in here with facts and figures, and correct any errors I may have made.

Claude Bessy, whatever one might say about a number of aspects of her rule at the Opera School, has been very exercised about what I believe she too, sees as a conscious, deliberate effort to wipe out the ballet. Although I am not, as an outsider, in a position to assert this positively, it may be the case that she has remained as Director for over a quarter of a century because, despite the disagreements so many have expressed with her methods, and with her artistic viewpoint, she is as tough as nails, and has fought for the ballet, scratching, punching and kicking as few would.

If classical ballet has survived here at all, it is probably owing to the flat-out dedication of a handful of professors, like Rosella Hightower at Cannes, Juan Giuliano, the people at the Opéra School, along with many others whose names I do not know. And the flat-out dedication of the leading people in the POB troupe, notably M. Legris, who have never for a moment ceased to improve and experiment with their dancing. Their motto appears to be NEVER SAY DIE.

How do the classical dancers themselves see it ? This is what the étoile Elisabeth Maurin had to say in an interview to a German newspaper in 1995:

"In this country (France - ed), all the ballet schools, save for the Paris Opera, are in deep trouble. I know of schools where, a decade ago, there were 150 students, and where they're but ten or fifteen now.

"The reason is, first and foremost, the economic crisis, as parents know full well that there is little work in the profession. And, more importantly, I believe, the impact of television, video and whatever goes along with all that – gymnastics, clubs where the little girl does what they call "movement classes" (expression corporelle), the parents "stretching", and the little boy, judo. People are less and less willing to undergo any form of suffering. They've got in a habit of escaping into FACILITY.

Because classical dancing involves great suffering."

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24-01-02, 11:20 PM (GMT)
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8. "RE: The barre, and the colour bar"
In response to message #7
   That's an interesting discussion, but there are so many different things in it that it's hard to know what to start with...

While I agree with some of the arguments of Ms Kanter's article, I couldn't help being shocked by sentences like "France is a country of apartheid". Surely racism and discrimination are big problems in France, but I don't think that using such exaggerate terms is helpful. In the previous years in Marseille, about one third of the first year college students I taught to had African
origins, does that sound like "apartheid"? Anyway, that is a political discussion which might be a little off-topic on this board.

About the recruiting base of the POB school: there probably are some racism problems, but I think also that a great part of the problem is social: there are no or very few immigrants' children at the POB school, but I suspect that the number of children whose parents are unemployed or plant works, for example, is very low too. That's partly for the financial reasons which were mentioned (I agree that the fact that the school closes every week-end is a problem indeed. However, I think that Claude Bessy can be credited for transforming the school into a boarding school, because before that all the students had to come from Paris, or to find someone to host them in Paris all the time, which made it even more difficult for the children from other French regions), and partly because of a lack of exposure to classical ballet. Also, I think that for some minorities, as Viviane wrote, there might be some cultural reasons: some Muslim families (not all) are very concerned about modesty issues, especially for the girls, and for example there have been problems with sports classes in junior high schools and high schools (some parents refused that their children attended such classes because they didn't like their daughters to put bathing suits to go to swimming classes, or to have too much physical contact with the boys, etc.), so wearing ballet clothes and doing some partnering with members of the opposite sex might be frowned upon. Also ballet has the image of something very "western"...
And the prejudices against boys dancing ballet still are very strong, alas, in much of the population.

As Viviane wrote, having a few dancers of African origin in the POB would do little to solve the whole problem... After all, Zinedine Zidane is one of the most popular people in France, and that hasn't done much to solve the problems of job discrimination, housing discrimination, etc.

About the 3000 figure, I was a bit surprised by it too- do you remember how they defined "regularly"? Lyon has a much smaller population than Paris, and their "Maison de la Danse" has 14000
subscribers every year. Most of their programming is modern dance, but it'd be surprising if they had more subscribers that the Paris Opera (I don't know where to find the figures of the numbers of subscribers).

>There is a lady in France,
>a mathematician I believe, who
>is very fond of the
>ballet, and who would doubtless
>have a better grasp of
>the statistics on funding for
>modern dance than I.

Magazines such as "Les Saisons de la Danse" (what a pity they stopped being published, even though I didn't like much the policy of their last director) or "Danser" publish regularly some figures about public subsidies for dance, but I'm afraid I don't remember muich of it.

However, the total subsidy for ballet is much larger than the total subsidy for modern dance- but that's because the Paris Opera is (by far) the most subsidized French cultural institution
(I don't remember exactly its budget, but I think it's above 60 million euros every year). So on one side you have a big institution with a huge budget (but I suspect that the Opera spends in fact much more than the ballet), plus a handful of classical or semi-classical companies with big budgets, and on the other hand a lot of modern companies.

There has been for many years a debate about it between people supporting ballet and people supporting modern dance: the ballet
fans say that the total number of performances is much lower for
ballet than for modern dance, and that there is less and less ballet outside Paris, ad the modern dance fans reply that ballet
gets far more money than modern... And in fact both are true (but clearly maintaining a ballet company is far more expensive than
maintaining a modern one).

I will reply later to the rest of the discussion, but let me say that, while I'm far from being a fan of Jack Lang (who is the minister I depend on, by the way, because he now is the Minister of Education and Researchh), I do not believe in a secret plot to eliminate ballet and replace it with modern dane, and I think he has done a few good things as a minister (for example the law about the prices of books, which was very criticized at its beginning, and now nearly everybody agrees that it has helped saving some independent bookstores).

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