Is ballet still the beautiful traditional dance form it always has been or is it crying out for a modern revival?
“ballet has almost endless scope for reinvention”
Some may see ballet as outdated an uninspiring when compared to modern dance styles like hip-hop and street, an exclusive dance form that is limited to petite white women, but I argue that this is far from true for three main reasons.
Firstly, despite its technical rigour, ballet has almost endless scope for reinvention. As a member of Exeter Dance Society, I recently attended the LSU Dance Competition in Loughborough where there were dozens of unconventional and exciting ballet routines, ranging from dancing to dubstep to telling the story of refugees, and even our own piece in homage to the film Schindler’s List. Each dance showed just how versatile ballet can be, proving it can be so much more than arabesques set to classical music. This is true in the professional world – choreographer Matthew Bourne has earned international acclaim for his humorous reinvention of traditional ballets like The Nutcracker and Swan Lake, and Alvin Ailey famously reclaimed the term ‘ballet’ for African-Americans when he founded the AAADT in 1958.
Ballet is also the foundation for many other forms of dance – for example, ballet technique is crucial in contemporary, jazz and modern dance, and basic aspects of ballet technique such as good alignment improve dancers’ ability in all dance styles – even street dance. Ballet has even been used in professional sport – notably in rugby – to improve sporting technique by targeting specific muscle groups and improving balance and alignment.
Finally, ballet is also becoming more inclusive. Last year, Misty Copeland made history by becoming the first African-American principal dancer for the American Ballet Theater, and is one of several African-Americans rising to prominence in the industry. Ballet is also becoming increasingly open to people who do not have traditional ballet physiques, as the Channel 4 documentary Big Ballet demonstrated in 2014.
Although brief, I hope I have made a convincing case that showcases ballet for what it is and has always been: brilliant.
“The sooner we allow it as free a development as literature or music, the quicker we can embrace new heights of creativity”
Ballet has been a love of mine since the cliché days of dance classes aged three therefore equipping me with a deep respect and sentimental love for pink tights and tutus. Ballet projects beauty, strength and power but the sustaining of its popularity and importance in the modern artistic sphere cannot involve sticking solely to the same strict conventions it was built upon. As much as I appreciate a good arabesque on relevé, I doubt its ability to stabilise ballet’s future as a major art form; a goal that I deem essential.
Ballet has always displayed a paradox by consisting of an aesthetically beautiful and delicate display whilst demanding strength, accuracy and dedication from the performer. The mastery of this contradiction is not newly achieved, and cannot be over-emphasised. Some say ballet ceases to be itself when it diverges from the strict forms and precise movements that constitute its origin. Yet the birth of a new and exciting regenerative ballet, with transgressive forms does not have to constitute a death of the old. To say that ballet can only be defined as such if it exists within its strict conventions is to do it a gross disservice. The sooner we allow it as free a development as literature or music, the quicker we can embrace new heights of creativity, ensuring the strength of ballet’s future and its developed appeal to the masses. Luckily, ballet is already successfully sprouting a naughty little love-child through the merging of traditional technique with modern culture to create spectacles that are fresh, sexy and largely appealing. We only have to look at the developing programme of established companies to see the mobilisation of this change. From Arthur Pita’s adaptation of Kafka’s Metamorphosis to New York’s Complexions Contemporary Ballet, it is clear that an ever increasing number of innovative productions are succeeding. They explore the paradox whilst remaining unquestionably balletic. Their projects are rebellious, and they are exactly what the institution needs.