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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Agony and the Ecstasy

I've been enjoying the BBC 4 series "The Agony and the Ecstasy - a Year with English National Ballet."

It's been a real eye-opener.

A lot of the dancers earn £23k or less and it's such a hard life. They are forever rehearsing and being corrected by their repetiteurs. Injuries are rife, some of them career threatening.We met a male dancer, aged 36, who was still a soloist and desperate to advance, but probably in the autumn of his career. He was returning after injury and dancing in a new production of Romeo and Juliet along with Max, aged 20, who had been chosen for his first lead role as Romeo. A poignant contrast.

Both men had to dance several roles in the one production, because ENB is short of dancers and starved of funds. The new govt has already imposed cuts of 7%, equating to just under £500k. ENB could save this if it stopped touring. Every tour costs £100,000 just to start with. But, in a catch 22, they would then lose their Arts Council funding which is given for touring. It's very sad. So they have to cut down on the number of dancers or skimp on their productions, maybe doing fewer of the big classical extravaganzas.

I have loved ballet for years, although it got off to a bad start. The deputy editor on the Plymouth newspaper where I was a trainee reporter threw some complimentary tickets at me for "La Fille Mal Gardee" in the big top. I took my mum; it was the first ballet we had ever seen, and we hated it. Fortunately we tried again with "Manon" and this was much more to our liking. We have since always hated any "Freds" (Frederich Asheton) as they tend to involve nymphs, fauns and dancing bears. We have seen the Kirov (Maryinsky), our favourites; the Bolshoi, the Royal Ballet of course and various touring companies. I saw the first ballet to be performed on the tiny stage of Swindon's Wyvern Theatre, a modern production which brought forth titters in the audience.

I saw Rudolf Nureyev twice. Both times he was over the hill, but what a performer! He obviously lived for the acclaim. Unforgettable.

I would loved to have seen the great Nijinsky (not the horse) - the subject of a recent post. No footage exists, surprisingly, as there is footage of Anna Pavlova.

The Agony and the Ecstasy is on tonight - check it out on iPlayer.

3 comments:

Sharon J said...

I do enjoy ballet but I know nothing about it so probably don't enjoy it as much as I should. I'll try to catch this on iPlayer - it certainly sounds as if it could teach me to appreciate it at least a bit more. I've no doubt it's a tough career choice so their dedication must be indisputable.

Anne @ The Frump Factor said...

Very interesting. I'm not a ballet follower, but I always think of it as being so refined and classy -- I tend to forget about the grueling physical demands, working conditions and cultural (funding) constraints. I find myself wondering if you've seen "Black Swan" and what you thought. I haven't, yet.

Hospitable Scots Bachelor said...

Every now and then the BBC earns its licence fee, doesn't it?

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