Is classical dance an endangered species? Given the relatively healthy state of ballet and other forms of dance in communities across America, is the immediate future of classical dance even an issue? Concern over this question has generated a symposium this month in Lausanne, Switzerland, called, "What is the future for classical dance?" It poses some interesting ideas worth exploring.
What do we mean when we talk about classical ballet? Strictly speaking, in Western dance, the classical period refers to the second half of the nineteenth century when such works a, Petipa's The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, and The Nut-cracker e created in Russia. The classical period follows the Romantic (epitomized by Filippo Taglioni's La Sylphide and the Coralli/Perrot Giselle) and precedes the neoclassical (Balanchine's Agon, for example). The basic vocabulary of steps used in Western classical dance, however, has a heritage that goes back almost 500 years and incorporates forms that originated in Italy and France. Today, a classical ballet company is composed of dancers trained in the classical tradition and performs some of the great ballets of the past; and new works tend to utilize the classical technique. Good classical training is widely available, and many excellent American schools produce first-rate dancers who perform in companies around the world.
What is constant in all of this is that classical implies a high standard that is widely accepted. Some may disagree on the importance of classical dance - some of our greatest artists, such as Martha Graham, have done so. Ultimately, however, even Graham's modernist movement - which she called contemporary - eventually included training in classical dance. Paul Taylor is another who still complains when his modem dance works are called ballets. We may reasonably ask in Taylor's case why so many of his works such as Aureole and Company B, built on modern technique, are among the most successful additions to classical ballet company repertoires? The answer is that changes in taste and expectations are taking place.
That leads us back to the question, Where is classical dance headed? In Western culture, the word modem is often used in a context of rejection of traditional forms, of revolution. But history shows us that today's revolution becomes tomorrow's established order - the old order is replaced with the new. To survive, the old must absorb the new - the best of the new, one hopes. If this doesn't happen, the result is stagnation and death. Only an unreasonable person would insist that dance forms are permanent, fixed against all change, that the inevitability of change is bad in itself
In the short term, the current trend in Western classical dance seems to be toward a healthy fusion of ballet with various forms, especially modem, while trying to maintain the high standard of classical training as a solid base. …