March 22, 2023

Contemplating the Differences Between Bruce Marks and John Hart – Ballet West Directors

About the Author: Suzanne Wagner
By Published On: March 22, 2023Categories: Ballet, Blog Daily

Contemplating the Differences Between Bruce Marks and John Hart – Ballet West Directors



The continuing unsettled and demanding challenges of the temperament and style changes from Bruce Marks to John Hart seemed to escalate.

As I have stated before, the rarest of the rare is an Aquarian boss. Bruce Marks was Aquarian. He had an ability to bring his ideas, freedoms, light, enthusiasm, joy, and unique progressive ideas into fruition. The types of ballets he created or that he brought into the company were exciting, new, and allowed Ballet West to stand apart, style wise, and showcased what dance might become if it got out of such a stuffy “classical” box.
Bruce Marks loved to promote young, American choreographers and will forever be known for helping expand the creative styles that are American Ballet today.

Coming from SAB (School of American Ballet), which carried the new American Style, and being exposed to the very radical ideas of European, German, artforms, made Bruce’s ways so very interesting, exciting, and attractive to the hopeful mind of my young artistic self.

Just as actors want a role that has some meat in it, dancers also want roles that are not just a reflection of the old Romantic era values.

It is not that these values are bad because they are not. But I believe the human mind and heart have evolved past the saccharine sweetness of just classical ballets and have evolved into more complex emotional patterns that express things that can heal, help, confront, and challenge current levels of human values and systems.

At that time Ballet West went from wildly innovative in the ballet world to (with Mr. Hart as the director) a poor carbon copy of the Royal Ballet with brief moments and glimpses into the possibilities that could exist if fostered correctly.

No one wants to just be a lesser version of another time and place.
We were not the Royal Ballet, nor could we ever be. We all want to find those places that allow the deeper emotional expressions inside us to find an outlet and push up against the old values that have outgrown their usefulness.

I believe that at that time, ballet was at a turning point to shift many things.
The discipline of the ballet style and the demands of the classical technique give great control and beautiful lines to all dancers.
The base line that ballet training gives is critical for grace, control, strength, and the mental capacity to understand the delicate and subtle nature within the human body.

But I know that ballet (as a tool) was also attempting to evolve into something more.

With Bruce Marks at the helm of our ship, we were in a strong wind, rushing towards unknown distant shores. We were Vikings embarking into the unknown, fearless, and ready.

But with Mr. Hart, that ship was turned around and we headed back to a port in England because the captain wanted what was comfortable to him.
John Hart did try in his way to bring more innovative ideas through such ballets as, Ophelia, by Val Caniparoli (American) and Anna Karenina by Andre Prokovsky (A Franco-Russian trained dancer and choreographer). And the Ballet West dancers were stunning in these innovative roles and I saw the best that our company could offer and was so very proud of them all.
Both these ballets carried the style that inspired freedom and a wild abandon. Val Caniparoli set Ophelia for Ballet West in 1988. Andre Prokovsky set Anna Karenina in 1987.
Each cast that danced these roles had their own very unique expression of the complexity of the Hamlet and Ophelia story or the emotional Russian pathos of Anna Karenina.

That is what makes ballet interesting to me. That one can have a type of choreography that is not so repetitive but instead expresses the freedom and flow of movement that is possible.

The multiple lead casts in these ballets, and the expressions of these main characters were all so wildly different and unique.
Each one touched my heart in various ways.
I can still see each couple dancing together with the raw, emotional expressions of their own authentic projection of what this choreography gave and inspired within them to come fully into the light.

Sometimes certain choreographers have the ability to showcase the personalities dancing certain roles that are involved in the artform rather that show off the choreography itself.

That is a very unique talent that Val and Andre had.
Andre Prokovsky died in 2009. But Val Caniparoli is still out there stretching dancers and giving us opportunities to reach beyond our own know reality.

Ophelia was the last premier that I did, and it was one that I deeply enjoyed. It was a fitting exit to my career. And I am grateful for that memorable moment in a flaming red dress that held me up in turns because of its perfect balance. Thank you, David Heuvel (the ultimate costume designer for Ballet West) for such a lovely final costume that made my movement into spinning, floating, magic.
I took the stage for the last time and relished in the fullness of the moment. I allowed myself to keep turning even though the music continued, feeling as if I would be forever spinning on one foot, in the lights and shining more brightly than the spotlight on me.

I wondered if an audience realizes that such a moment is a dancer’s final curtain call. I wonder if they sense on a subtle level that we are giving everything in that one moment as a burst of divinity to the Goddess of Dance.
As I bowed and curtseyed for that final precious moment, the smells of rosin filled my nostrils, the sweet smell of sweat rose off my costume, and I looked at the standing audience for that final time trying to take it all in.

Life in that moment had lifted me up and fortunately in that last breath, she had gently put me down.

In life, a graceful entrance and exit is all anyone ever longs for.

Mary Ann Lind and I both saw the writing on the wall. We knew that the time had come and together we retired from ballet at the end of that special season and night.

Neither of us regret that choice.

I had watched Rudi, not be able to know when the curtain was coming down and I had vowed to learn from his mistakes. I could see the addiction of performing and having audiences screaming bravo.
I felt the terrible pain of watching an aging dancer not be able to quit because of ego, even when the body had had enough.
I wanted to leave on my own terms and at the top rather than be pushed out in the typically unceremonious way of most Directors of Ballet Companies.

The young and vibrant are always nipping at the heels and point shoes of those above them and as with all games in the wild, the young will replace the old.
In my heart, that was the way of things.

In my stepping down, I could see the young dancers that would be able to rise and become their dreams. It was time for me to allow them the doorways that had been so graciously given, again and again.
I was proud of what I had done.

I was going to be so proud of them as I watched some rise to amazing heights.

Many did not know that I was forever behind them urging them forward.

Perhaps now, they do know.

~Suzanne Wagner~



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