Reading the elegiac epilogue of Jennifer Homans’ history of ballet Apollo’s Angels, I am struck by her sense of doom.  As a ballet practitioner I have found much of the book a gripping and exciting account, and have been stirred by its scope and the provocation of its ideas as to ballet’s place in an often inimical world.   Yet aspects of her thesis trouble me; arising from her interpretation, inevitably condensed and therefore incomplete, of the rise and as she sees it decline of British ballet in the 20th century. This is a period part of which I have lived from the inside; as a child growing up schooled through that peculiarly British institution the Royal Academy of Dancing, inspired by images of Fonteyn and the Royal Ballet, later as a student at the Royal Ballet School, and then as a young dancer in the Royal Ballet companies experiencing the most richly varied ballet repertoire in the world in my own body, now transmuting this learning to communicate through teaching and choreography. (more…)

Last Sunday’s Observer magazine carried an article by dance critic Luke Jennings about young dancers at the Royal Ballet Lower and Upper Schools.  His contention is that the number of British born and trained dancers graduating from the Royal Ballet School into the Royal Ballet Company is diminishing annually. Of the talented and dedicated young dancers entering the School at 11 years old, the majority will be progressively assessed out, the number of places squeezed as they are increasingly joined by young dancers from overseas.  Of those British dancers who do succeed in winning a Royal Ballet contract few seem to make it to the top as principal dancers in starring roles.

Uncomfortable questions arise from these stark facts – about training methods and schooling, but also as to what companies are looking for in today’s international market.  What effect does such ruthless selection have on the cream of British ballet talent during and after the training process?  How important is it to develop a distinctive home-grown British style and dancers?  And ultimately what is the argument for taxpayer support if British children have such statistically slim chances of making it into the national companies?

To read Luke Jennings’ thought provoking article and some passionate discussion emerging from it:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2012/mar/25/will-they-make-royal-ballet