26 February 2013 at 5.27pm | Comment on this article
Passionate debate over the balance between creativity and technique was the defining characteristic of day two of an education symposium during the Royal Opera House's visit to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Does the introduction of a creative focus - in both the teaching and learning of ballet - detract from the importance of technique, and the standards that children will achieve? Are there similar implications for discipline?
These were two issues that provoked the most vigorous discussion. While some delegates felt strongly that teaching must concentrate solely on technique, I was particularly struck by a comment made by one young dancer: "Ballet is not a technique; it's an artform that requires technique."
On the issue of discipline (which emerged as a major one for Rio colleagues), again there were differing views on what discipline means and how to develop it in children. There was agreement though that discipline is a life skill, and the useful point was made that we need to present it as a positive thing, and explain to children why we think it's important and valuable.
Other themes that stood out were the importance of sustainability (in relation to both to dance initiatives and the policy/funding frameworks that support them), advocacy for the value of dance in children's educational and social development, and dialogue between colleagues who share a commitment to working with children in classical ballet.
The level of interest and intensity of discussion in the symposium were clear demonstrations of that last point. A visiting dance journalist suggested that there hadn't been an event like this for many years, so it was great that ROH could play a role in making it happen. And as we'd hoped, we learnt a huge amount that we'll bring back to our own thinking and practice.
And so to our day of practical activity, in which teachers from our Chance to Dance programme worked with children and young people from a variety of dance projects across Rio. The aim was to give the participants a taste of the way we seek to enable children to work creatively in and with ballet. The dancers varied in their levels of experience and technique, and also their familiarity with working creatively. The increasing number of smiles and laughs as each workshop progressed were for me a clear indicator of a growing confidence and sense of enjoyment.
Seeing each dancer in turn commanding the vast expanse of the Theatro Municipal mainstage, executing a jump they'd devised themselves, will be one of my abiding memories of the work in Rio. And at the end no one wanted to leave; they'd have stayed happily dancing on that stage until our Royal Ballet dancers arrive later this week to take over!
What's your view on the value of developing children's creativity, as well as technique, when teaching ballet?
Find out more about the Royal Opera House’s trip to Brazil and read a Q&A with Brazilian Royal Ballet Dancer Roberta Marquez.