I recently spent 2 weeks in Antwerp, Belgium. I was visiting 2 very good friends of mine, Garrett and Courtney Anderson, dancers with the Royal Ballet of Flanders. I got to spend some time taking class and watching the company rehearse and perform. Artistic director Kathryn Bennetts is well known among the dance community and she is a very active advocate for dance. It was amazing to see how involved she actually was with her dancers, making sure to teach class and be in the studio coaching as much as possible. The dancers seemed inspired and hard-working, and the over-all working environment seemed positive.
We interviewed Kathy for DancePulp, and she had a lot of interesting things to say about her company, her career, and dance in general. A few days ago I saw this video (see below) posted on Facebook. It was a shock for me to see this after just speaking with her a few weeks ago. She did voice her concerns to us about the state of the arts in Europe, but this makes it very real and disheartening. Her reason for resigning is due to a decision made by Flanders’ Minister of Culture, Joke Schauvliege, to merge the ballet company with the opera and have one supervising intendant for both. Kathy clearly states why this format doesn’t work in today’s world in her interview. She calls the decision made by Ms. Schauvliege, “Ignorant and arrogant…”
The video has spread through the dance community, and people are starting to take action, mostly the dancers of the Royal Ballet of Flanders, whose jobs and well-being are at stake. Kathy is a well-respected and influential figure in the dance world, and for her to make a decision like this and speak out about it must be taken seriously. There are several Facebook groups and campaigns being started. I’m a member of Ballet and Culture are no ‘Joke’. People are showing their support and indignation by writing letters to the Ministry of Culture and voicing their support for Kathryn and their opinions on why this decision was a poor one.
If you wish to express your support and write a letter, you can send yours to [ico_mail email=”email@example.com”]firstname.lastname@example.org[/ico_mail]. Please place in the cc of the email [ico_mail email=”email@example.com”]firstname.lastname@example.org[/ico_mail]
Important things to be mentioned in the email:
- The Company does not want an “Intendant” who will do the programming for the ballet
- The budget should be raised
- The actual proposition from the Minister of Culture will mean the end of the Royal Ballet of Flanders
I sent my letter yesterday, and here are a few other examples of the letters being sent:
Dear Ms. Schauvliege,
As a fromer Principal Dancer with the Royal Ballet of Flanders and a current Principal Dancer with San Francisco Ballet, I am very disturbed by the news of what is happening to the company. I remember when the Royal Ballet of Wallonie merged with the opera company, it didn’t take very long to get rid of all the dancers, which was , effectively, the end of the ballet company. This is an example from your own country’s history. We don’t want to see this happen again. The Royal Ballet of Flanders is the best company in Belgium and one of the best in Europe. Kathryn Bennetts has brought the company to another level, bringing them to the level of an international company with the help of the great dancers she has hired and a great repertoire. It would be tragic to lose this company. For example, in France, we have the Paris Opera Ballet, which, despite its name, will never merge with an opera company, so why would it make sense for Belgium to do that? With the meager budget Kathryn Bennetts has been working with, she has created magic from almost nothing. The company is the ambassador of Belgium when they tour, which will reflect on you internationally if the company is dissolved.If Antwerpen is world capital for diamonds,you should also know that Royal ballet of Flanders is a true diamond to your own country. without a current government, the Minister of Culture should make the right decision for the development of what good remains in your country. As a Frenchman, I always appreciate a good Belgium story, but this one is not funny.
Dear Ms. Schauvliege,
I’m a long-time member and supporter of the American dance community, having worked for world-renowned dance companies and, for the past seven years, written consistently about dancers, choreographers, and dance companies for an online audience. Reading through much of the media coverage of your current decision, I highly encourage you to revisit your current plans for the Royal Ballet of Flanders and its merging with the Opera. Kathryn Bennetts’ superb and dedicated direction of the Ballet has garnered international attention, which should if anything be commended instead of belittled.
Dance is, at its heart, a glorious expression of culture and society, including how we give weight and substance to the individual body as compared and in connection with the flurry of the masses. Dance doesn’t have a definitive endpoint; instead, it provides a physical atmosphere based on movement in which to challenge ideas, experiment with the intangible, and explore stories. Among the many dance forms, ballet, based on a rich and codified yet ever-expanding vocabulary, reaches out to people of all ages, from young children who have only an inkling of what life holds in store for them to the older generations who’ve helped build and shape our nations into what they are today.
Today’s economy is a difficult one. Everyone knows that, from the stupidly rich to the down-and-out destitute. Yet hodgepodging performance companies together like a mish-mashed quilt isn’t a proactive solution. Your decision immediately affects dancers, costumers, set makers, ballet masters, administrative staff, directors, families, local dancegoers, tourists, and children (amongst others).
Long term, combining the Ballet with the Opera waters down the overall importance of dance on the national and international stage as its own distinct form of expression, and it lessens the importance of a body’s ability to impact change. Truly speaking, without movement, how do we move forward and evolve? How do we consider, ponder, investigate, and grow? The most direct answer is: we don’t. And that would be a shame.
In short, please fund the Ballet appropriately, including a stable budget that will allow it to thrive as it properly should, and allow it to be led as a ballet company and not as a second-cousin off-shoot of the Opera. Choosing to do anything else would be a disservice to the people.
Becca Klarin (Hirschman)
San Francisco, CA
Dear Ms. Schauvliege,
As a member of the international dance community, and as a choreographer who will be shortly working with the Royal Ballet of Flanders, I urge you to reconsider your plans for the Ballet company, and its merging with the Opera.
During her tenure, what Kathryn Bennetts has achieved artistically and on the world stage with her company is amazing and inspiring. That this was done on on incredibly modest budget is all the more praiseworthy. While in Europe a few years ago, I remember changing my itinerary specifically with the intention of going to see a performance by this exciting company, that I’d heard so much. I attended a presentation of “Impressing the Czar” and was blown away by the caliber of the dancing and the vision of the company’s director. What an amazing cultural ambassador to have for your country and region.
I am based in North America, and understand all to the well of challenges of maintaining support for the arts. Artists here have always looked enviably to Europe as a place where the value of bold experiments in the arts is recognized. Please help keep this tradition alive.
I stand in awe of Ms. Bennetts, her determination, her strength of vision and her passion. She has put the Royal Ballet of Flanders on the map. In order to maintain the company’s exciting trajectory, she must be allowed free agency, an increased budget and continued artistic autonomy.
William Forsythe writes an open letter to Kathryn Bennetts.
Published in De Standaard November 4, 2010