In matters of funding, Ballet is included the Dance sector. On the surface, this seems both obvious and acceptable – but how can a highly developed and established artform compete with emerging and experimental contemporary work, when funding decisions are based on artistic merit?
The value of new work and established practice are unquestionable; but they are very different disciplines. Ballet companies are presenting work which is a distillation of centuries of development; admittedly, the work isn’t always new and when it is, it rarely represents a daring step in artistic progress. Regardless, is the presentation of high-quality dance not enough to merit public funding? Contemporary dance represents a different aspect of the art, with the focus on exploration of practice and creation, with the performance component being largely incidental. So can these two disparate wings of dance be fairly assessed side-by-side; one being a performance art and one being focused on the creative process and investigation.
I do not mean to diminish the merit of investigating contemporary dance as an act of creative achievement; it is a very important activity in the furthering of dance practice and the very concept of what dance is. Neither do I intend to say that ballet is a stagnant and anachronistic artform; most companies will engage new work, but as avant-garde as contemporary ballet is, it is generally entrenched in classical technique to a greater or lesser extent, so there is only so far the boundaries can be pushed.
In a different, albeit closely related corner of the artistic realm, we have Music and Opera. A parallel may be seen between their relationship and that of Dance and Ballet; the latter being a subsection of the former. However Opera is always regarded as a separate entity, a luxury not afforded to ballet. Opera has always had the upper hand over ballet, indeed the first instance of dancing en pointe was in the opera Robert Le Diable; but surely both have advanced far enough from their respective beginnings to give them autonomy from their parent disciplines.
Under the economic circumstances in which we find ourselves, funding is becoming more of a contentious issue for dance companies and dance artists. Sadly we don’t have the same culture of arts patronage as they have in the USA for example, where companies can rely heavily on the generosity of individuals; we have to live by the decisions of others who assess the worthiness of our various causes, and in competition with those from every stratum of the dance spectrum.
I do not aim to make any recommendations here, neither do I want to extoll the merits of one area of dance practice over another: but I would like to see the different areas of dance treated with respect to both their aims and heritage – it would make it fairer for all involved.