With the world of dance evolving at such an overwhelming pace, it is comprehensible that some may argue that a dance company’s repertory is no longer relevant to the sector. Focusing on two of the most predominant strands – ballet and modern dance – we see such an influx of new choreographers and new work that older works may get forgotten. Alternatively, with such innovative ideas and collaborations emerging, artistic directors may feel it necessary to drop repertory works in order to make room for newer works which complement today’s social and cultural context which continues to change.
Ballet companies of vast range have recently been seen to instate successors of their current artistic directors; although we are not privy to all the reasons behind these alterations, we may speculate that these may be due to the changing demands of dance audiences and indeed the skills of the dancers. For example, the employment of Wayne McGregor by The Royal Ballet: a match made in heaven? In their inception, ballet and abstract dance were worlds apart, yet The Royal Ballet has demonstrated to the dance world by its grandiose stance that it is indeed healthy and appropriate to work diversely, challenging dancers and audiences’ perceptions alike. McGregor with his own company, Random Dance, is light years away from the virtuosity and splendour of The Royal Ballet (all subjective, of course), yet the two share dance in the incredible skill and flexibility conveyed by all his dancers. Furthermore, with Kevin O’Hare appointed as the new Artistic Director of the company, we might even expect to see him reaching past Monica Mason into the repertory sundry in the reworking of pieces that have been silent for so long.
Whilst there is much capacity for the creation of new works by companies of any kind, it is arguable that the creation of new may also come through the rejuvenation of old. To reference The Royal Ballet again, Mason’s production of Balanchine's Jewels earlier this year was indeed a jewel, enabling audiences to view a work over fifty years old by such a prestigious and renowned choreographer. Jewels may even be viewed as ‘new’ old work that is as relevant today as it was when it was first created. Often older works become the defining features of ballet and modern dance companies alike, creating the legacy of the company and carving out its history. In other instances, the culmination of newer and newer works may refine the company’s stance. The Merce Cunningham Dance Company, for example, has performed works created by Cunningham between 1942 and 2009, with Cunningham constantly seeking to question norms and break through perceived dance boundaries throughout his expansive career. His innumerate collaborations and experiments with technology greatly informed his work, enabling him to continue to create excitement and curiosity.
To consider the number of past works by great choreographers that have been lost throughout dance history is to embark on an incomprehensible journey. Those that have survived, however, have done so through the use of notation, video archives and second and third generation dancers of any one company. Throughout the growth of modern dance, Martha Graham refused initially to have her works filmed, maintaining distance from commerciality. The dance world is extremely lucky to retain few of her initial company members, able to pass on her work and legacy. In a similar vein, Cunningham instructed his company to disband following his death and the company’s legacy tour, due to the fact he did not want his company to continue under another’s name. Whilst these examples may seem a little melodramatic, their work was their lives. However, recently it has become even more so apparent that choreographers are ‘guesting’ with other companies to work in collaboration with contrasting principles and techniques. As a result, the tightly linked network of the dance world becomes even more clear and it is therefore arguable that to ensure no more works than necessary are lost, we must all join forces and support each others’ ventures.