About this time last year, a wonderful gentleman from The Australian Ballet named Colin Peasley welcomed me to the Sydney Opera House to watch the company behind the scenes. I spent three hours or so talking to him, and watching the dancers in class and rehearsal. And whilst I did not know it at the time, I was watching Darcey Bussell from the Royal Ballet conducting the class – more here. Twelve months on, it is time for me to take stock of what continues to motivate me to do research into professional ballet dancers. Since motivation is the theme of my study, it stands to reason that I should examine my own changing circumstances.
This project was first conceived as a very broad topic. As discussed elsewhere, my interest in ballet was a fortunate amalgamation of two interests. I have been a subscriber to The Australian Ballet for a number of years but enjoyment of their performances took an interesting turn when I decided to blend it with my other love, cultural anthropology. It occurred to me in the middle of last year that I could study professional ballet dancers as a cultural group. Since that time I have been doing a lot of reading and working through social networking groups. Eventually, I narrowed down a specific research topic: “How do professional ballet dancers accommodate shifts in motivation through a lifetime of change, success and disappointment”. This question aims to identify what motivates dancers and discover how they deal with progress and development changes that they experience as they proceed with their career. A lot may be found written that takes a psychological approach to motivation, both generally and with regard to dancers. However, it is my belief that taking an anthropological approach observing ballet dancers on a day to day basis to examine what motivates them is something that is missing from existing research.
In September 2011 I started this blog “Anthropology En Pointe”. I also continued my engagement with professional dancers and associated people on Twitter, FaceBook, and various LinkedIn groups and individuals. Apart from interacting with people, another purpose was to collect industry data through suggested links and reading material. This and literature research has been the extent of my research to date.
My original vision was based on what has turned out to be an unrealistic assumption that I would be able to get agreement to conduct fieldwork at The Australian Ballet. Anthropology uses the methodology of fieldwork as a primary means of conducting research. This methodology is what sets anthropology apart from other research disciplines. It is what drew me to anthropology in the first place. So why a reliance on doing fieldwork in one particular company? It is very simple really, The Australian Ballet has a reasonably large number of permanent contracted dancers which would have provided a solid sampling of research data. It also has a unique touring schedule with an equal number of performances at home (Melbourne) and away from home (Sydney). They also have a broad repertoire and have gained a good international reputation over their 50 years. These are all good ingredients for making a successful research project.
In March this year I sent a proposal to conduct fieldwork with The Australian Ballet to David McAllister their Artistic Director. In an earlier discussion with David, it was evident that the company was going to be very busy with their 50th Anniversary in 2012, therefore I delayed my fieldwork request to propose conducting it in 2013. Unfortunately, my proposal was rejected on grounds which I appreciate and certainly have no criticism. It appears that they are a very hard-working company in any year, and I understand David’s concern for the welfare of his dancers. Although, I do think the proposed form of fieldwork would have been mostly non-intrusive. I looked at other companies in Australia and New Zealand and made proposals to them, without success. I have even considered researching other genres of dance, but they are not really the same in terms of what I was interested in. On reflection, I have decided that all of the compromises that I have considered would change the context of my vision too much. Going overseas was an option, but that introduces so many other concerns I would need to address.
In view of these circumstances, my original intention of completing a postgraduate research degree in anthropology related to professional ballet has been abandoned due to my inability to get fieldwork with the company of my choice. This decision is based on only practical considerations. My interest in researching professional ballet dancers and what motivates them has become something of an obsession and I will continue my research, as limited as it is, through social networking and reading. I will continue to conduct dialogue through this blog and other social media in its current form and will continue to seek suitable guest contributors on the subject. I will also remain open to any proposal I may receive inviting me to spend shorter periods of time (days, weeks) doing mini-fieldwork with their companies if they are willing to accommodate me. In this context, overseas companies are potentially viable.