No Such Thing As Bad Press, Right?

Once again “ballet” took the limelight recently and was brought to the masses; this time to an audience of millions as part of the Olympic closing ceremony. As a Darcey Bussell fan, I had held high hopes for the success of her involvement and given the setting, it could have been spectacular. I stand disappointed.

Ms. Bussell, five years on from her retirement from the Royal Ballet, showed she still has it. Sadly, the choreography (the only word that adequately describes this is “naff”), costumes and music were a puerile attempt to get viewers to swallow the bitter ballet-pill. I was once of the opinion that so long as dance was being represented in such a public arena, all was well – I have now revised my thinking. A very dear friend once said to me “it doesn’t matter that people are reading books, if the books they are reading are awful”; the same goes for ballet – it would have been better had it been absent from the closing ceremony, rather than being present in such a cheapened form.

An artform, such as dance, can only survive if it maintains its standards. If its popularisation depends on lowering these standards, then the artform is doomed to failure. Ballet is not what we saw in the Olympic Stadium on Sunday evening, and trying to say it is only serves to under-cut what dancers and choreographers have strived for centuries to promote and preserve. And it wasn’t only the production that I must find fault in, but some of the dancers – many of whom seemed very unfamiliar with the pointe shoe. I’m all for giving something a go, but when an audience of millions is watching, there’s no place for ballet-dilletantes.

I am fully aware that with the opening ceremony and athletics taking precedence, there wasn’t much time to rehearse in the performance space. Such details being known very much in advance should have served as an opportunity for the production team to pare down their ambitions. Classical Ballet, and Darcey Bussell, both have suffienct integrity to stand their ground in such a setting, without all the hoopla that we witnessed. It would have served both better to have been given something more in keeping with the art’s heritage, rather than dragging dance further into the gutter and away from it’s lofty past.


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7 thoughts on “No Such Thing As Bad Press, Right?

  1. Lisa says:

    Way harsh, totally disagree but I suppose you had to be there!

  2. Jennifer Jackson says:

    I wonder about dance on this scale? How limited are the choreographers by the event, its demands and the brief? The music, concept and costuming were prescribed and the massed ranks of a drilled corps de ballet were sadly neither entertainment or art.

  3. Linda Morris says:

    I am not a professional dancer but love ballet as an art form and so was also extremely disappointed in the closing ceremony “ballet” in fact felt embarrassed by the whole corps choreography. I know it was a big stage so to speak and for a large general audience but hopefully even more need to present something that would linger in the mind(for the right reasons!!) Maybe better with less dancers and some more dramatic and relevant choreography for the corps after all ballet isn’t just about dancers being on pointe. However the whole evening was really just a pop concert there was little other more cultural content so perhaps the ballet was a last minute inclusion and there was not time to produce something worthwhile. Still Darcey Bussell’s entrance was just about worth waiting up for!

  4. Carla Escoda says:

    It was a purely sentimental moment, and Darcey Bussell would look beautiful in a bathrobe brushing her teeth, but I agree the choreography looked more like it belonged on the stage of So You Think You Can Dance than in an opera house. (Those of us who reside in America missed the thrill of the live broadcast of course so had to be content with watching snippets on YouTube weeks later.) That said, these popular formats, reality shows, and dance competitions play an important role in attracting viewers who are otherwise uneducated about dance and who would normally never see a performance.

    I’m guessing the organizers toyed with the idea of a smaller, much more professional troupe, or even a pas de deux – which Dance Dialogue would have been happier with – but the immense show that the Chinese put on in the previous Games has upped the stakes. Of course the Chinese can order ten thousand young dancers into a hall for a month, lock the doors, and drill them until they are absolutely perfectly in lock-step, but that would be unthinkable in the Western context 🙂 I frankly found the Chinese opening ceremony terrifying in scale and hope that organizers in the future will come to their senses and give us Carlos Acosta and Sara Mearns and be done with it.

  5. Malika says:

    Diarmaid, I have just come across your website and I have enjoyed reading some of your articles over the Christmas break. However, having read your article on the ballet section of the Olympic Closing Ceremony (although it was several months ago now), I feel compelled to respond to it.
    I would agree that from a spectator’s point of view (particularly one with a trained eye) the piece had its faults. I would also accept that any piece performed to the entire world will receive criticism in some form. However, I’d like to shed some more light on the performance.

    Most of the dancers in the piece were not “dilletantes” as you refer to them. Many of them, like me, were of an advanced level in classical ballet despite not being professional. Among the participants were a number of professionally trained dancers, some of whom dance with the English National Ballet or are students at the Royal Ballet School.

    It is unfortunate that the BBC shot the piece in the way they did and of all the girls to show, showed the few dancers who like you say, were “very unfamiliar with the pointe shoe”. In our defence, these few dancers were professional commercial dancers, not classical ballet dancers and were the only few that couldn’t cope with some of the choreography en pointe. They were also recruited at the last minute. Whilst these dancers are skilled in their own genre of dance, unfortunately the shots of them struggling reflected on the piece and the other dancers as a whole – which is a shame both for the other dancers and those watching.

    I should perhaps also mention that Alastair Marriott (who as a dancer and choreographer I would struggle to brand as “naff” in any circumstance) had to re-choreograph much of the corps routine at the last minute because of the size and shape of the stage. He and his co-orindators Jonathan Howells and Cindy Jourdain had a huge task to achieve and did so in my opinion.
    Christopher Wheeldon choreographed Darcey’s section with the four male dancers and I also struggle to see why you would call it naff, but I would accept that you base this on personal opinion only. There is an interesting interview with Cindy explaining more, which you may find interesting here:
    I hope this gives a little more clarity on the skill and tenacity that went into the show and on the general level of ability of the dancers, rather than those few who struggled.

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