Is Ballet Viable? The State of the Nation(al) Stage

In a recent interview, Timothee Chalamet discussed his anxieties as a young actor, trying to get his break in off-broadway shows and independent films, around the longevity and relevance of film in today’s world, saying that “I don’t want to feel like I’m getting into opera or ballet or an art form that is slowly becoming less viable.”

It’s a comment he’s repeated in multiple interviews, yet, as the success of indie films such as Call Me By Your Name and Lady Bird shows (and the reason Chalamet is now well-known enough to be interviewed) supposedly ‘less viable’ art forms are not only becoming increasingly respected, but relevant. As a former dancer, it’s disheartening, although understandable, that an actor with the influence of Chalamet is making such discrediting remarks about other performance arts. In ballet especially, contemporaneity and diversity are being increasingly taken aware of – and the arts’ landscape is looking all the more interesting for it.

In my own hometown of Birmingham, it was announced last week that the Cuban ballet dancer Carlos Acosta will be the new Director of The Birmingham Royal Ballet. This is not only an exciting appointment for those within the dance community (Carlos Acosta is basically the James Bond of ballet; think Idris Elba in tights) but represents a much-needed shift in ballet away from the traditional, white establishment towards ballet that represents the wider population. At its core, ballet is beauty, strength, and storytelling – and these are universal.

To say that ballet is a slowly expiring artform does not only discredit the concerted efforts of institutions to make ballet more accessible – by offering student tickets, outreach programmes and live cinema screenings – but ignores the lives and aliveness of dance-makers working today. Freed, the ballet shoemaker, now makes pointe shoes in brown and bronze satin, in order to cater to the greater numbers of non-white dancers in ballet. Companies like Ballet Black (UK) and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater prove that ballet can be made relevant, and attract dancers from a wider range of backgrounds than ballet’s Euro-centric reputation suggests.

In ignoring the role of dance and opera within Chalamet’s own industry, and by separating these arts as elitist, unobtainable, one is necessarily making them so: why would anyone pay to see something someone they already admire has told them isn’t for them? Ballet has a language that can appear offputting – but anything unfamiliar can at first seem irrelevant. The first time I  read a comic book, I encountered a discourse which was wholly foreign, and it took a while to understand the particular nuances of this form. The difference is, comic books aren’t presented as elitist from the outset, and so people unacquainted with them are more likely to give them a chance.

We are lucky in Amsterdam to not only have a beautiful Dutch National Opera House but a thriving cultural scene, with cinemas offering live screenings of theatre and dance from across the world. For those up to the age of 16, the Dutch National Opera offers tickets for as little as €10 – and student tickets can be found for €15, regardless of the price category. That’s nearly as much as a cinema ticket, and a lot cheaper than a night at De School. The DNO also offers free, half-hour concerts on Tuesdays at 12.30pm, and one can also join a behind the scenes tour (which costs €6 as a student on Saturdays).

The ballet and opera worlds are filled with young, diverse and talented performers – as is the film world – so it’s a shame to see an actor discrediting the craft and relevance of other artists. If you think that an art form is becoming less viable, the only way to make it more relevant is by being a patron. We can directly influence the perspective of the arts by our own presence: the more young people go to see ballet and opera, the more artistic directors will take into account what is relevant to us, and adjust their programming accordingly. To make the change, we must participate.

 

Rebecca Took is a Masters’ Student at the University of Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer.

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Post Author: Rebecca Took

  • Columnist (Winter 2019)

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