Since the end of June, I have been out of the UK for my third annual research trip to South Korea. I always try to schedule a lengthy research trip during this time of year, as I can collect research materials while spending the summer with my family. Nonetheless, this trip was different from previous trips, where I had spent most of my time visiting the Korean National Ballet for observation. This time I have been busy collecting historical sources from various cultural institutions to evaluate the shifting notions of Korean identity.

For this purpose I went to the National Museum of Korea (NMK) for a couple of weeks to review the permanent exhibition hall, which mainly displays the domestic cultural heritage. The museum is divided into three floors, each of which presents two galleries: the ground floor is arranged into the Prehistory and Ancient History Gallery and the Medieval and Early Modern History Gallery; the first floor presents the Calligraphy and Painting Gallery and the Donations Gallery; and the second floor features the Sculpture and Craft Gallery and the Asia Gallery. I focused mostly on the structure of the museum, including the sub-divisions of each gallery, as the arrangement itself revealed the way in which the NMK constructs Korean identity. National identity is proclaimed by the NMK through its focus on the idea of national history with strong territorial, religious and cultural implications. Here, the concept of dance/movement is highly excluded, highlighting the importance of my role as a researcher to suggest dancing bodies and dance institutions as prominent agencies in articulating national identity.

It was also nice to see the current cultural exchange between the museums of Korea and Britain. The NMK’s Special Exhibition Gallery is presently featuring Princely Treasures: European Masterpieces 1600 – 1800 from the Victoria and Albert Museum. It is one of a number of special events that meet the NMK’s aim of bringing world history and culture to Korean audiences. It specifically focuses on the court and upper class life of the Baroque and Rococo periods through displays of paintings, sculptures, furniture, jewellery and fashion. The Ulsan Museum of Korea has also introduced a similar kind of event, Fantastic Creature, bringing approximately 170 cultural pieces from the British Museum. While I was delighted to see this kind of cultural connection between Korea and Britain, I hope to see a more active exchange between the dance fields of the two countries. 

Before I close, I would also like to let you know of some rather pleasant outside exposure our PGR blog has recently received. The official website of the Ninette de Valois conference has recently been updated with post-conference materials, and, thankfully, it includes a link to my short conference review, posted in May 2011. You will be able to see this by going to and clicking on ‘Links to articles on the conference’.

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Conference Review – Ninette de Valois: Adventurous Traditionalist (1st -3rd April)

Over the first weekend of April 2011, The Royal Ballet School (RBS) hosted a three-day conference on Ninette de Valois (1898-2001), the founder of the The Royal Ballet School and the Companies, to mark the tenth anniversary of her death. Even though this event took place last month (and hence is not the most up-to-date news), I thought it would be beneficial to share my experiences by reviewing the programme and its outcome.  

Entitled Ninette de Valois: Adventurous Traditionalist, this conference proclaimed de Valois’s philosophy and accomplishments as the founder and leader of the English ballet. The conference was held at different locations on each day – first at the Royal Opera House (ROH), then at The Royal Ballet Upper School, and finally at The Royal Ballet Lower School – allowing the audience to appreciate de Valois’s legacy in both an artistic and a geographical sense. With the aim of creating a cross-disciplinary exploration of her life, it encouraged a valuable exchange between dance practitioners, scholars, critics, and historians.

As a prologue, the exhibition, Invitation to Ballet: Ninette de Valois and the story of The Royal Ballet, at the ROH, was opened to the conference attendees in order to provide a visual introduction to de Valois and her legacy. An announcement by Jane Pritchard, the conference chair, marked the official opening of the conference, and David Bintley gave the introduction through a filmed interview. The highlight of the Friday programme was, indeed, the performance, Step by Step, or Theatre by Theatre, given by the students of the RBS and the artists of The Royal Ballet (RB) and The Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB). Representing de Valois’s choreographic life, the performance focused on reviving her own works. They showed a number of her early works, including Satan’s solo in Job (1931) and The Haunted Ballroom (1934), and also her later work, Vestris: Every Goose Can (1981). The role of the Betrayed Girl in The Rake’s Progress (1935), performed by a second-year student from The Royal Ballet Upper School, was further evaluated on the following day, when reviewing de Valois as a choreographer from the dancers’ perspective. The performance also included the works of Frederick Ashton, Bintley and Christopher Wheeldon, showing the choreographic lineage of the Royal Ballet Companies.

Supporting the practice-based programme of the previous day, the Saturday programme was a mixture of academic presentations, practical demonstrations and panel discussions. Exhibiting this combination, a well-structured morning session was presented, focusing on de Valois’s training system. To begin, dance scholar Geraldine Morris presented a paper on the development of training styles in England since the early twentieth century. Secondly, providing a practical demonstration of de Valois’s syllabus, Valerie Adams taught an advanced-level syllabus class to the second-year girls of The Royal Ballet Upper School. I was very excited to see de Valois’s syllabus as it has not been taught since the closure of the Teachers’ Training Course at the RBS. Her syllabus emphasised the execution of clear alignments and focused on developing fast and crisp footwork. Lastly, as a closing session on the training system, the conference presented a panel discussion between Adams, Julia Farron, Henry Danton, Michael Boulton and Michael Hogan. Through this session, they shared memories of de Valois and her teaching in the early days.

On Sunday, the diversity of de Valois’s role was assessed in the context of her partnership with Ashton and Kenneth MacMillan, her influence on the development of a notation system, and her contribution to the growth of Irish ballet in the late 1920s and early 1930s. I was delighted to see presentations by lecturers from our department: first, by Jennifer Jackson with Susan Crow on de Valois’s role in forming a collaborative group of artists, and second, by Helena Hammond on the influence of the Bloomsbury Group on the artistic approaches of the RB. The final programme of the conference was the revive performance of W.B. Yeats’s The King of the Great Clock Tower (1934), showing the exemplary collaborative work of W.B. Yeats and de Valois at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin.

Monica Mason closed the conference with a touching speech recalling fond memories of de Valois. As many of those in attendance knew de Valois personally by working with or for her, they shared this time to remember her and her legacy. While I was very thrilled to see the many ex- and current members of the RB, including major ballet figures such as Beryl Grey, Peter Wright, Antoinette Sibley and David Wall, and to hear the anecdotes and personal recollections of de Valois, I would have welcomed a deeper level of exchange between practitioners and scholars, especially on Sunday, when some of the major figures were absent. Overall, the conference yielded profound knowledge and rich discussions on de Valois, and successfully highlighted the significance of her dedication and contribution to building the English ballet. Nonetheless, the complexity of the term ‘English ballet’ was not fully articulated or defined, leaving further, and perhaps, more critical evaluations for future events.

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