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Subject: "Ross Stretton's First Season" Archived thread - Read only
 
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Bruceadmin

04-07-02, 09:26 PM (GMT)
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"Ross Stretton's First Season"
 
  
This thread is for discussion of Lynette Halewood's "Ross Stretton's first season at the Royal Ballet" piece in the July Ballet.co magazine:
http://www.ballet.co.uk/magazines/yr_02/jul02/lh_strettons_first_season.htm

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: Ross Stretton's First Season Paul A 05-07-02 1
     RE: Ross Stretton's First Season Tim Powell 06-07-02 2
         RE: Ross Stretton's First Season Richard Jones 06-07-02 3
         RE: Ross Stretton's First Season Helen 06-07-02 4
             RE: Ross Stretton's First Season Brendan McCarthymoderator 06-07-02 5
  RE: Ross Stretton's First Season Alexandra 07-07-02 6
     RE: Ross Stretton's First Season Robert 08-07-02 7
         RE: Ross Stretton's First Season Sharon 10-07-02 8
             RE: Ross Stretton's First Season Paul A 11-07-02 9
                 RE: Ross Stretton's First Season MAB 12-07-02 10
                     RE: Ross Stretton's First Season Paul A 12-07-02 11
                         RE: Ross Stretton's First Season MAB 12-07-02 12
                             RE: Ross Stretton's First Season alison 15-07-02 13
                             RE: Ross Stretton's First Season Paul A 15-07-02 14
                             RE: Ross Stretton's First Season MAB 15-07-02 15
                             RE: Ross Stretton's First Season Paul A 15-07-02 16
                             RE: Ross Stretton's First Season tortie14 15-07-02 17
                             RE: Ross Stretton's First Season AEHandley 15-07-02 18
                             RE: Ross Stretton's First Season Jane S 15-07-02 19
                             RE: Ross Stretton's First Season tortie14 15-07-02 20
                             RE: Ross Stretton's First Season MICHAELT 16-07-02 21
                             RE: Ross Stretton's First Season AEHandley 16-07-02 22
                             RE: Ross Stretton's First Season Robert 17-07-02 23

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Paul A

05-07-02, 08:55 AM (GMT)
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1. "RE: Ross Stretton's First Season"
In response to message #0
 
   Lynette, a balanced and lucid account. Your exasperation is shared - the patio analogy sums it up for me.


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Tim Powell

06-07-02, 11:31 AM (GMT)
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2. "RE: Ross Stretton's First Season"
In response to message #1
 
   I agree with Paul, lucid and balanced are the words that sprang to my mind.
Lynette does make the point that there are other elements at work which or rather who can be the reason for some inexplicable actions by the AD and that not all blame should attach to
him/her.
One of the most inexplicable actions of the other elements was to appoint Stretton at all and what was evident at the outset is becoming depressingly obvious now.


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Richard Jones

06-07-02, 12:47 PM (GMT)
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3. "RE: Ross Stretton's First Season"
In response to message #2
 
   Yes, a lucid and balanced account. If Ross Stretton reckons he has followed the example of Ninette de Valois, he ought to look again. Vital to the success of her work was the musical direction of Constant Lambert; there have been musical shortcomings throughout the season that should not have been.

Lynette's comment about the style of Stretton's RB ("Any Company, Anywhere") sums up a great deal. If we add up his odd comments about MacMillan (educational work), his bizarre approach to Ashton (not much on display and overseeing the departure of a dancer such as Sarah Wildor), and his neglect of Balanchine (& Robbins), we find ourselves left with Any Bland Company, Anywhere. This is at a time when Balanchine and MacMillan have reached Russia. Victor Hochhauser and Raymond Gubbay must be rubbing their hands with glee; we will soon be waiting for their imports to watch what we used to do for ourselves.


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Helen

06-07-02, 12:51 PM (GMT)
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4. "RE: Ross Stretton's First Season"
In response to message #2
 
   I also enjoyed this summing up, and, like Paul, especially the rose/patio analogy.

There is an interesting letter from Alastair Macaulay in the July Dancing Times about the apparent lack of musical values in the Royal Ballet at the moment, something which is very important, I feel.


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Brendan McCarthymoderator

06-07-02, 01:30 PM (GMT)
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5. "RE: Ross Stretton's First Season"
In response to message #4
 
   LAST EDITED ON 06-07-02 AT 05:56 PM (GMT)

This was a really thoughtful and temperate piece from Lynette. We need to wait until Ross Stretton announces his third season before coming to judgement. That said, Stretton has worked all his life for repertory companies (AB and ABT), which essentially looked outside themselves for choreographic inspiration.

It is a redundant exercise to bring choreographers to work with the Royal Ballet, whose work we are frequently able to see for ourselves at venues such as Sadler's Wells and the Barbican, performed by their own companies. This was not the case at the Australian Ballet: there Stretton needed to bring a wide rep from outside. Perhaps the test should be along the following lines; is the work being purchased of uncontested excellence?; will it otherwise not be seen in London?; can the Royal Ballet bring something distinctive of its own to the performance? Such a test would rule in Mark Morris's Gong, while, perhaps, excluding Mats Ek's Carmen and Nacho Duato's Por Vos Muero (which I liked, but felt the RB did not bring a decisive dimension of its own to the work). Different criteria would apply in the case of new commissions.

Just as no artistic director of NYCB would risk sidelining the Balanchine inheritance and tacking completely away from it, Ross Stretton should not contemplate a retreat from the Ashton/MacMillan legacy. This is not a matter of sentiment merely; the RB's future creativity can only grow out of a lively sense of its past. Ross Stretton should tend the garden he has inherited and make his first priority the encouragement of new work that grows out of the company's own sense of what it is and where it is.

In fairness to him, he has been here just under a year. He has probably learnt much in the meantime and he is on record as regretting some of his early decisions. The arts politics of London are more intense than any he will have experienced: a different artistic director would similarly struggle to please a broad and disputatious constituency.


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Alexandra

07-07-02, 03:30 PM (GMT)
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6. "RE: Ross Stretton's First Season"
In response to message #0
 
   I also enjoyed the piece very much and loved the garden analogies. It was nice to read something so measured and temperate! I do think it's perfectly appropriate to judge a director after a year. The judgment may change in the future, but if one waits until the end of a three or five-year term constantly saying, "We need to give him more time to see what he's really going to do," one may miss the opportunity to raise problems.

I was also pleased to see Lynette's comments that the company was becoming like any company, anywhere, as this is one of my causes I think the loss of national and individual identity is one of the most unfortunate trends in today's world of dance. I saw it happen in Copenhagen during the early 1990s (and certainly the trend there has continued) and wrote in 1993 that the company was being turned into "The National Ballet of Anywhere Else" -- really, into an imitation of American Ballet Theatre -- and I see the same thing happening in London now.

It's ironic, because in the 1970s, the Royal was considered a finer company than ABT in the 19th century repertory and with its Ashton and MacMillan repertory. ABT tried to imitate it, and got into the "classics" business big time. Now the policy of hiring stars, programming some "classics" -- any classic will do, in any state or staging -- and a few evenings of "cutting edge" ballets (whether they are or not either cutting edge or ballets doesn't seem to matter either) has become an epidemic. Do you have chain department stores in England yet? We have one called Wal-Mart. It's huge -- there are stores in nearly every state, they all stock anything, nothing distinctive nor of particularly fine quality, yet all very inexpensive. They move into a town and put every small shop or boutique out of business. And you can can't tell one in Virginia from one in Arizona. Ballet companies are becoming Wal-Marts. I liked the boutiques better.


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Robert

08-07-02, 11:36 PM (GMT)
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7. "RE: Ross Stretton's First Season"
In response to message #6
 
   I am afraid I did not enjoy the article, it filled me with gloom. It looks as though we will just watch the Royal Ballet and the idea of British Ballet disintegrate. I cannot think how he has the cheek to say he admires Ninette De Valiose. He has no intention of doing any of the things she was trying to do, or the balletís she choreographed The dream of a national ballet that came in this country after the death of Diaghilev has gone. We are in for anonymous international ballet with clever imported dancers doing fashionable eurodances. What use is the Royal Ballet school?


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Sharon

10-07-02, 10:06 PM (GMT)
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8. "RE: Ross Stretton's First Season"
In response to message #7
 
   Stretton has no sence of tradition,he is making the Royal into another E.N.B, which is a very nice company who works very hard bring dance to all, but The Royal is the flagship of perfoming arts for the UK, so we WANT OUR COMPANY TO BE 75% dancers from the Royal Ballet School we have dancers in the company who have been trained at the school but not being used for principal roles, why bring in so many overseas dancers, also lets use our traditional choreographers, some new pieces yes, but Stretton is running amuck, leave the modern works for Sadlers Wells, Ross if you read this please think again, and rember TRADITION


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Paul A

11-07-02, 01:48 PM (GMT)
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9. "RE: Ross Stretton's First Season"
In response to message #8
 
   I know we tend to be voluble particularly when we have have something to gripe about but I am struck how little support for Stretton there is here.

Anybody?


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MAB

12-07-02, 11:11 AM (GMT)
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10. "RE: Ross Stretton's First Season"
In response to message #9
 
   Being director of the RB is clearly similar to being the manager of the England football team Ė everyone believes they could pick a better team.

Frankly I've heard it all before, at least Ross Stretton is so far being spared the venomous hatred that was directed against poor Kenneth MacMillan when he was director. No one can please all the people all the time and while agreeing with many of the points raised by other posters regarding the past season, it is fair to remind people that the RB went into serious decline long before Stretton took over. It is however fair to say that he appears not to be taking any steps at all to halt that decline.

Lynette Halewood alludes to the dubious Covent Garden Board that is ultimately responsible for what we see at ROH. The people on this board are those responsible for employing Stretton in the first place and it would be naÔve to assume that Ross Stretton makes any kind of decisions without their approval. Clearly he was engaged by that board because his vision of the future of the RB matched that of the board members; personally I have doubts as to whether RB directors are actually able to wield any kind of personal power at all.


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Paul A

12-07-02, 02:50 PM (GMT)
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11. "RE: Ross Stretton's First Season"
In response to message #10
 
   Thanks for an interesting posting:

>at least Ross Stretton is
>so far being spared the
>venomous hatred that was directed
>against poor Kenneth MacMillan when
>he was director.

I've read about this before but never known what this entailed - was it comments about his choreography? standard of dancing? repertoire? personal attacks?

>the RB went
>into serious decline long before
>Stretton took over.

True - but it was on an up in the later Dowell years.

>It however fair to say
>that he appears not to
>be taking any steps at
>all to halt that decline.


Is this right? He seems to be strengthening the links with the RB School. He seems to have dancers' confidence judging from what he hear from them.
>
>Lynette Halewood alludes to the dubious
>Covent Garden Board that is
>ultimately responsible for what we
>see at ROH. The
>people on this board are
>those responsible for employing Stretton
>in the first place and
>it would be naÔve to
>assume that Ross Stretton makes
>any kind of decisions without
>their approval. Clearly he
>was engaged by that board
>because his vision of the
>future of the RB matched
>that of the board members;

But that doesn't mean the board decisions are good ones. To me it appears they still don't know whether they are trying to be popular and relevant (which I think is what they are aiming at)- or whether they want to be the creme de la creme for a minority audience. Stretton's direction seems to belong to the former.


>personally I have doubts as
>to whether RB directors are
>actually able to wield any
>kind of personal power at
>all.


Well certainly not in number of performances.


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MAB

12-07-02, 05:05 PM (GMT)
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12. "RE: Ross Stretton's First Season"
In response to message #11
 
   The attacks on Kenneth MacMIllan came from all sides, from audiences, press and disaffected dancers. The criticism was aimed at both his choreography and his management skills. Looking back he doesn't seem to have been such a bad director because if nothing else at least he managed to improve the standard of male dancing in the company which lagged behind that of the women at the time. Macmillan liked dancers with strong personalities and encouraged certain dancers at the expense of others and as we know, hell hath no fury like a dancer scorned, or their fans for that matter. So there was lots of ill feeling around at the time. Ironically these were the days when the Fonteyn/Nureyev hysteria was at fever pitch and the RB corps de ballet was the wonder of the world wiping the floor with any opposition and people would sleep out in Floral Street for standing room and returns. A golden age in fact.

My personal opinion of the ROH board is that it cares about revenue first and foremost and artistic considerations come a very poor second. Lavish spending on the opera company with the ballet picking up the scraps has been a management feature for decades and the situation is unlikely to change. We can only speculate on what would happen if a forceful assertive director led the Royal Ballet but my guess is that such a person wouldn't last a season and would be replaced by "Yes Man". That doesn't mean I'm accusing Stretton of being a yes man, but I suspect that his vision of the future of the RB must have a lot in common with the ideas of the board members.

The target audience? Thatís the corporate audience, the one that scoffs the smoked salmon and guzzles the champagne and gives little thought to what happens onstage. Those are the people to woo, the ones most likely to contribute to Opera House funds in return for a mention in the programme, not us strange eccentrics who bleat about standards and traditions and complain when seat prices go beyond the average wage earners means.


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alison

15-07-02, 01:19 PM (GMT)
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13. "RE: Ross Stretton's First Season"
In response to message #12
 
   >My personal opinion of the ROH
>board is that it cares
>about revenue first and foremost
>and artistic considerations come a
>very poor second. Lavish
>spending on the opera company
>with the ballet picking up
>the scraps has been a
>management feature for decades and
>the situation is unlikely to
>change.

Yes, I've been reading John Tooley's book about the ROH, "In House" recently, and it makes interesting, if depressing reading, the final chapter "The Years After 1988" particularly. And *how* many new opera productions is the Royal Opera getting next season?!

>
>The target audience? Thatís the
>corporate audience, the one that
>scoffs the smoked salmon and
>guzzles the champagne and gives
>little thought to what happens
>onstage. Those are the
>people to woo, the ones
>most likely to contribute to
>Opera House funds in return
>for a mention in the
>programme, not us strange eccentrics
>who bleat about standards and
>traditions and complain when seat
>prices go beyond the average
>wage earners means.

Tooley made some reference, I can't remember when, to a decision that premium seat prices (i.e. Grand Tier ones, I presume) would be pegged to 10% of available seats. Looking at next year's guide with its specific breakdown of seating prices, I notice that the top price bracket now covers around 740 seats, nearly 1/3 of the House. I wish I'd taken notes when I started reading it - there was so much I could comment on if I could only remember where it was!


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Paul A

15-07-02, 01:52 PM (GMT)
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14. "RE: Ross Stretton's First Season"
In response to message #13
 
   And *how*
>many new opera productions is
>the Royal Opera getting next
>season?!

Including their second new production of La clemenza di Tito since the reopening.

But I won't force that point as many of the opera productions are shared - and the RB has had a longish history of short lived Sleeping Beauties.

>Tooley made some reference, I can't
>remember when, to a decision
>that premium seat prices (i.e.
>Grand Tier ones, I presume)
>would be pegged to 10%
>of available seats. Looking
>at next year's guide with
>its specific breakdown of seating
>prices, I notice that the
>top price bracket now covers
>around 740 seats, nearly 1/3
>of the House.


Worryingly true.


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MAB

15-07-02, 02:30 PM (GMT)
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15. "RE: Ross Stretton's First Season"
In response to message #14
 
   Nevertheless there have been a great many non-shared opera productions that have been shown only a dozen or so times or less, even if the productions turned out to be popular and well received.

There have been five productions of Sleeping Beauty in the past fifty years.


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Paul A

15-07-02, 03:10 PM (GMT)
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16. "RE: Ross Stretton's First Season"
In response to message #15
 
   >Nevertheless there have been a great
>many non-shared opera productions that
>have been shown only a
>dozen or so times or
>less, even if the productions
>turned out to be popular
>and well received.


Potentially we will see them again in future seasons - or indeed could see more if the opera season were longer. There's an enormous back catalogue of both ballet and opera.

>
>There have been five productions of
>Sleeping Beauty in the past
>fifty years.

I was thinking of the two that were short lived - certainly shorter lived than their creators would have imagined.



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tortie14

15-07-02, 04:58 PM (GMT)
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17. "RE: Ross Stretton's First Season"
In response to message #16
 
   Thought the article excellent and the garden/gardener analogy very apt and I generally agree with the analysis.

In Stretton's defence the lack of respect for Ashton heritage is partly Sir Fred's own fault - from his biography it is clear he had little vision for the future and did not seen the need to preserve the "Ashton heritage" so instead of having an Ashton Trust (as Balachine set up) to promote his work and ensure it was cared for he left ballets to different people and some have now ended up with beneficiaries who have no connection with the ballet itself, so they become a golden goose to their owners - hence some poor productions with ghastly new sets and costumes. Had Sir Fred left his ballets to a trust with a board including dancers who were closely involved with the creation or had first-hand experience of working with Sir Fred, his ballets may have done better and such a trust might have been able to promote his work, there could have been an inbuilt bias to the Royal Ballet to ensure the company remained as the Ashton flagship. As it is, Ashton ballets go whoever will pay the "owners" to put them on - so Fille is now in the Kirov rep.

I do not think preserving tradition was high on Dowells priorities either and under his reign the Ashton/Macmillan heritage did not fare at all well. I suspect that it was a case of "familiary breeds contempt". It is evident in the way Ashton is now danced that that vital "handing down" chain has been broken - they might do the steps but have little sense of meaning or feel for the style.

So I don't think it is all down to Stretton but he certainly has done nothing to reverse the trend of decline. And a season dedicated to Madam with none of her works seems laughable to me.


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AEHandley

15-07-02, 09:07 PM (GMT)
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18. "RE: Ross Stretton's First Season"
In response to message #17
 
   >As it
>is, Ashton ballets go whoever
>will pay the "owners" to
>put them on - so
>Fille is now in the
>Kirov rep.
>

A good thing, surely? I don't understand why ppl insist that only the creator's original company can dance a ballet. As long as it's properly taught (and I don't see who can object to Alexander Grant doing the work in this case!) the more companies who can perform a given work, the better. I would be well dischuffed if I weren't allowed to play Shostakovich because I live in Hampshire.


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Jane S

15-07-02, 09:30 PM (GMT)
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19. "RE: Ross Stretton's First Season"
In response to message #17
 
   LAST EDITED ON 15-07-02 AT 09:31 PM (GMT)

A couple of things:

Balanchine didn't set up the Balanchine Trust; like Ashton, he left some of his ballets to people he cared about. The Trust was set up after his death.

And it's the Bolshoi, not the Kirov, which has just taken Fille into its repertory. Like Anneliese, I don't see anything wrong with this - or with ABT doing it either. Alexander Grant goes to great lengths to make sure it is done properly.


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tortie14

15-07-02, 09:52 PM (GMT)
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20. "RE: Ross Stretton's First Season"
In response to message #19
 
   Sorry - perhaps I overstated the case or did not explain myself well. My point was basically that I think it a shame that the Bolshoi or Kirov or whoever are dancing Fille and NOT the Royal - the company on which it was created. When other companies have more Ashton than the Royal - that is all wrong in my opinion. I would think it equally wrong if NYCB ended up doing one Balanchine ballet in a season. I wish there was a better appreciation for Ashton and his work by the Royal Ballet generally (his Act IV Swan Lake and other bits ended up at ENB because they weren't wanted by the Royal). I agree that Alexander Grant is exactly the right person to be putting Fille on - and he would have had a leading role and lots to give to the Ashton Trust had one been set up. Point taken about Balachine Trust but I wish we appreciated Ashton as much as the Americans who put together the Balachine Trust.

And I do think something has been lost with the rep becoming very similar so that their programmes are almost interchangeable and the distinctiveness is going. But that is very much in line with globalisation and not unique to ballet.


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MICHAELT

16-07-02, 06:21 PM (GMT)
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21. "RE: Ross Stretton's First Season"
In response to message #20
 
   IMO, the heart of the problem is a company which is trying to dance in too many different styles - a bit of this, a bit of that, from Petipa to Forsythe. There's no heart to the dancing, no continuity, no stylistic unity.

Look at all the great companies through ballet history and what strikes one is that either they danced a narrow repertory (Kirov, NYCB) or ALL their dancers come out of one school (Paris). This is no longer true of our pick 'n' mix RB, and it leads to (a) high rates of injury, with dancers forced to use different muscles the whole time; and (b) ironically, a sort of blandness, inasmuch as nobody dances with much depth of feeling - if you watch the marvellous 1971 Cinderella video I mentioned in a previous link, you'll see how thirty years on the RB's dancing has lost its precision and detail - everything is skating over the surface, or copying someone else's big effects.

Running around grabbing at big name choreographers isn't going to solve anything. Focusing on Petipa-Ashton-MacMillan - the English line, if you like - in the longer term might. give the company the identity that it currently lacks


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AEHandley

16-07-02, 08:20 PM (GMT)
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22. "RE: Ross Stretton's First Season"
In response to message #21
 
   I sort of see where you and others are coming from now. But isn't it also rather hard on the dancers to freeze them in this way? THere isn't an easy answer, I think, but it is a shame if the home company of a choreographer ceases to be the prime showcase for his/her works. Back on my fence...


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Robert

17-07-02, 02:12 PM (GMT)
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23. "RE: Ross Stretton's First Season"
In response to message #22
 
   I hope that some of the new money for the Arts goes towards a retirement package and a ticket for Australia.


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