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Scottish ballet faces feuds. (News).

There's not been so much bitter feuding in the highlands and lowlands of Scotland since Mel Gibson brandished his sword and sporran in Braveheart. At the end of the summer, an unwelcome spotlight fell on the Scottish Ballet when its artistic director, Robert North, was suddenly informed by the British Home Office that he had just ten days to leave the country or face a prison sentence. The timing of this brouhaha came swiftly on the heels of an announcement by Scottish Ballet that its board was planning a radical change of direction for the company's repertoire and style for next season.

North's travails were due to a mix-up in the company's paperwork. The American-born director, who was hired by the Scottish Ballet two years ago, had apparently been working under a "leave-to-stay" order rather than the necessary work permit. As the deadline for deportation approached and headline banners hit the newsstands, North's cause was taken up by the Scottish Parliament, who demanded that the arts minister, Allan Wilson, put pressure on the Home Office in London to renege on the order. In the nick of time, these efforts, together with legal submissions from the company, proved successful. Not only was North saved from packing his bags but, more important, he escaped the possibility of being ineligible to ever work in Europe again.

"It's been an absolutely horrible experience for him and for his wife," a spokesman from the company told Dance Magazine. "But everything has been completely resolved. Robert has his work permit and has started back at work." A new season and a saved director, maybe, but the company's troubles don't end there.

The company's classical ballet roots are to be pulled up in favor of contemporary dance. North, whose contract is due to end in 2002, said the decision, made without his involvement, was "a stitch-up, unethical, and possibly illegal." The dancers expressed dismay and concern about their futures, and outsiders have called the decision "misguided." Many others fear that this means Scotland will not have a national dance company anytime soon. The SB spokesman told Dance Magazine that the company was planning to act as both presenter and producer--presenting its own contemporary works while also bringing other outside companies to perform the pure classics.

Scottish Ballet has never trod an easy path. It was founded in 1969 when Peter Darrell transferred his Bristol-based Western Theatre Ballet to Glasgow. But Scottish funders found the repertoire too controversial--they wanted pure classics. Darrell obliged, but he added his own touches of realism to them--Swan Lake, for example, became a drug-induced reverie.

The company constantly struggled with lack of funding but enjoyed enough success to attract guest stars such as Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev. Darrell hoped to tour throughout Scotland and produce new works, but his vision was shattered when funding could not keep pace. Darrell died suddenly in 1987 without realizing his dreams.

The search for a new director was far from easy. Dance icons like ballet's punkrebel Michael Clark, America's Gelsey Kirkland, and Mark Morris were rumored to have shown interest. Nanette Glushak from NYCB, Galina Samsova, and Scottish Ballet dancer Kenn Burke took the reins at different periods. Then in 1999, the board appointed North.

North danced with London Contemporary Dance Theatre and Martha Graham and is a prolific choreographer--his most famous international work is Troy Games. At Scottish Ballet, he was hailed as being the savior of the thirty-six strong company. However, more recently he has been accused of mediocrity, and his contract has not been renewed. Scottish Ballet desperately needs a new leader--not necessarily the bare-kneed, kilted kind but one who will restore trust and loyalty in its dancers, its board, its sponsors, and especially its audiences, who will now have to change their traditional views of dance.
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Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Willis, Margaret
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EUUS
Date:Dec 1, 2001
Words:634
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