• Queensland Ballet performing 'Swan Lake'. Photo: David Kelly.
    Queensland Ballet performing 'Swan Lake'. Photo: David Kelly.

Is it more enjoyable to dance repertoire or new creations? Matthew Lawrence offers his perspective.

It is the age-old dilemma, and challenge for artistic directors, to find the balance between programming existing repertory
(the safer bet), and introducing new works (a risk). Audiences will often be split as to what they prefer, with critics – aware of the importance of advancing the art form – generally advocating fresh choreography. From a dancer's perspective, it's not just about the end product, but the process of getting the work to the stage.

As a dancer, I felt established repertoire had the advantage of being tried and tested; I knew what I was getting. Pre-existing works imbue one with a sense of history and tradition, linking one generation to the next. Those who have danced Odile from Swan Lake will be able to empathise with fear of left pointe shoe fatigue before attempting the 32 (audience counted) fouettés. And all Albrechts would tell you of their burning hamstrings after completing Giselle’s highlight: Myrtha’s imposed marathon of sixes.

Benchmarking is a trendy corporate “buzz word” now. In dance, benchmarking has been central to dancers since time immemorial. One dancer does two pirouettes, the next tries for three. Classical repertoire is full of pyrotechnic benchmarks, with each passing generation looking to “up-the-ante”. The challenge of repertoire often inspires the young dancer to dance. It certainly motivated me.

Simply completing a ballet from the classical canon can be an achievement; a benchmark. It used to be thought that you could not call yourself a ballerina, or a premier danseur, if you had not successfully completed the varying artistic and technical demands of traditional classical repertoire, particularly Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty and Giselle. Today this could be extended to Romeo & Juliet, Manon and Onegin. . .

This is an extract from a full feature in the August/September issue of Dance Australia. Read the full story! Buy the new issue at your favourite magazine retailer or subscribe here, or purchase an online copy via the Dance Australia app.

Top: Simply completing a ballet from the classical canon can be an achievement; a benchmark. Queensland Ballet performing 'Swan Lake'. Photo: David Kelly.


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