The Born-Again Balletomane's Blog

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Universal Ballet and you-know-who September 17, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — theworstat @ 1:38 am

Okay, scouted out the Instagram post and it says Womack starts in November as a “principal dancer” at the Universal Ballet.  Of course she’s not listed on the website yet, but I noted they have only 3 primas at present (as opposed to 6 premier danseurs), so it seems like there’s room.  However, remember Womack’s past questionable use of the term “principal dancer” when she was, in fact, a soloist?  When called out on that she whined, “no one knows what’s in my contract!”  Sigh; I’ve tackled this before.  Sometimes you just have to go along with normal usage.  Not doing so can cause a lot of interpersonal stress on the job, as well as causing you to appear dishonest.

Anyway, we’ll see how much of a “principal dancer” she turns out to be when her photo is finally up on the website.

It’ll be interesting to see how she fares in yet another foreign atmosphere.  I am relieved, however, that she’s soon to be gone from Russia.  It’s going to get difficult there for Americans in the near future, I believe, and aside from that she may have finally realized that even if the political situation were better (no Joy, it is not good, nor has it improved, nor will it; I don’t care what Daddy or the Russian media told you) she will never be Russian, nor accepted by Russians.  It’s a very isolated and insular society; always has been.

Even if this weren’t true, the fact is that if you’re from Country A and move to Country B, no matter how hard you try to assimilate, you never truly will.  You have to leave that to your kids and grandkids.  What tends to happen to immigrants is that they end up being people without countries, at least mentally.  And after a certain point, it never gets better.   Some part of you wants to go home, but when you go home, that doesn’t look or feel the same either and you’re not comfortable there.  I believe this is what Womack is experiencing now, in spite of her newfound love of New York City.  Even if she managed to find a job there, (and I think she recognizes that that door is probably closed unless she develops a stellar international reputation that would exempt her from starting in a New York company’s corps) for this and other reasons she would not be comfortable, at least at first.  You can go home again, but it takes time.

The basic fact is that she was never going to be Russian; nor will she be Korean.  She’d better learn to accept this now.

The interesting thing is that the Universal sometimes tours the U.S. west, so at least some of us may actually get to see Womack dance a full-length ballet or two.  They also run a large competition in the southeast U.S., so she may end up being exposed to U.S. audiences through that as well.  This could be good for her, because right now she’s almost an unknown quantity here except for a few Nutcrackers now and then.

Plus, as has been pointed out, the Universal is a much larger company with a broader repertoire than the Kremlin’s.  They do Romeo and Juliet; I know she’s long wanted to dance Juliet.  They do modern works, and she’s mentioned that she might be happier in those than in the classical ballets.  And she seems to be popular in southeast Asia.  As I said, it could be a great opportunity for her.

I do think she’s known for a while that she wouldn’t be going back to the Kremlin Ballet for long, if at all (she’s back now but apparently is being shipped to some outpost with a partner to dance DQ and Swan Lake?).  In spite of that, in a recent video she stated that she was looking to stay in Russia and go to school there.  When I heard that, I thought, WHAT?  Are you nuts?

It is clear that she is being frozen out at the Kremlin, as she has had to rehearse herself, alone, while others mocked her, and she wasn’t given any performances for months.  It had always seemed to be a cold, bullying atmosphere with inadequate resources (Russia, but specifically the Kremlin Ballet), but more especially recently when her longtime coach — the one who turned Joy into a true soloist — was clearly no longer interested in working with her.  Worse, the company had recently hired someone who appeared to be a replacement for Joy.  When stuff like that happens, kiddo, you’re gone — particularly if you’ve been criticizing your employer very publicly and have taken a vacation or two, one apparently without leave.

With this latest vacation, she had indicated that she’d told the Kremlin Ballet that she needed time to relax and rejuvenate at her parents’ clinic or something…then, once back in the U.S., she posted all sorts of tweets, posts and whatnot showing her posing in New York, Washington D.C., and with a mention of an excursion to Atlanta (to audition for the Atlanta Ballet?).  Yes, Hurricane Harvey gave her a ready-made excuse not to go to Texas, but still, it was pretty evident that she was not undergoing treatment (working with a personal trainer does not count) and didn’t give a damn who knew it; quite possibly she realized she had nothing to go back to Russia for.

Regarding an incident during this particular vacation, it was interesting to learn about the ties between the Kirov Academy and the Universal Ballet (I never thought to look at the Universal Ballet’s website, lol).  I was wondering what was going on when she posted photos of one of her former instructors teaching a class at the Kirov Academy, with glowing remarks about him and the school.  I thought, “Wasn’t she kicked out?  Why is she hanging around there?”  Well yes she was kicked out while in her early teens, and was devastated (supposedly she later took a summer intensive course in New York with Leslie Browne, who encouraged her to keep going in spite of what happened at the Kirov Academy).  But now I get it:  she probably was auditioning during her visit to the school and decided to keep her mouth shut about it while at the same time rebuilding one of her burned bridges.  To be fair, though, that one apparently got burned right out from under her; she didn’t do it herself.

Anyway, as mentioned by one of our commenters, a good percentage of Womack’s workplace problems are her own fault.  But also see the paragraph about immigrants above and multiply the typical problems of an immigrant by 100 if you’re someone like Joy.  I hope she’s learned something and will comport herself differently at the Universal, but that remains to be seen.  I’ll have part of the answer when her photo finally shows up on their website (and I do hope she does not use that awful Vampira-like headshot she’s been using while at the Kremlin Ballet).

All that aside, I honestly wish her the best.  Now we get to watch her in earnest.  No more hiding in Russia…and I’m sure she’ll soon reach the point where she wonders why she ever wanted to have a dance career in Russia.  The world is much bigger than that.  May she realize it soon, if she hasn’t already.

P.S. Please read the comments below the post “What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been.”  Very illuminating.

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You folks got way ahead of me! September 16, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — theworstat @ 9:44 pm

Just found out from reading the comments that Womack is heading to the Universal Ballet.  I’m very exhausted right now for some reason, but will write more later after a nap.  Thanks everyone!

 

What a long strange trip it’s been… September 8, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — theworstat @ 5:33 pm

No, I’m not going anywhere.  I’m talking about Womack, who supposedly came back to the U.S. for rest and treatment at her parents’ clinic and instead has ranged from New York City to Atlanta to Washington D.C. on some sort of…well I don’t know what she’s doing.  Good-will tour?  Looking for a job?

But she hinted on Twitter today that she stopped by the White House (she only showed it from a distance) and on Twitter seemed to thank the “president” for working on U.S.-Russia cultural exchange.  That should have come with a splarf warning, because some of my morning coffee ended up on my computer screen.

Not going any further into that subject here; can’t permit it (sorry).  But wasn’t she was supposed to go back to Russia yesterday or did I read something wrong?  Instead she’s hanging around in D.C.  She even posted something positive about the Kirov School, which I seem to remember she was tossed out of for not having enough flexibility or turnout.

*Sigh* we’ll see; I’m sure in a few days she’ll disappear back into Russia again, later emerging with a YouTube video whining about something or other at the Kremlin Ballet.  I’m guessing that at this point she is not scheduled for any performances, do you think?  Otherwise she’d be there doing nonstop rehearsals now.

Meantime, for those of you who were wondering about the fate of the Houston Ballet during Harvey, Pointe Magazine had this article.  I’m guessing in a few weeks they’ll have to run one on the Miami Ballet as well.  Such are the times we are living in; although some people seem to think ballet is immune from the world, it is not.

 

 

One of my favorite dancers, ever

Filed under: Uncategorized — theworstat @ 2:42 am

Anthony Dowell, All the Superlatives

 

Competitions and Careers September 5, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — theworstat @ 8:39 pm

Happened upon this article, which details the careers of past IBC winners.

Note that none of them went straight from a competition to a principal dancer role in a major company…or even a soloist role, for that matter.  Most of them took years to become principals after they won.  And none of them seemed to have used their medals to great advantage to build prestigious guest-artist careers, either.

Yes, such a win does look great on a dancer’s resume, but a career it does not make.  Just sayin’.

 

Them new-fangled pointe shoes September 4, 2017

Filed under: ballerina,ballet — theworstat @ 5:41 pm
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Didn’t want to put “GMs” in the title, but anyway, the subject has come up a few times in the comments.

Mind you I have only personally used the old-fashioned paste shoes, and that was decades ago.  I’ve never even seen a GM up close, and the informational video I posted on this blog was taken down from YouTube.  It did show an interesting few frames of someone bending a GM in their hand, and it was startling — it was like bending a bedroom slipper.  But yet it is said that GMs offer superior support.  I don’t get it; I guess I’d have to try GMs on to understand it, but doesn’t look like they make anything easier.

I do know that some schools still won’t permit students to wear them, and at least as of a few years ago, the NYCB forbid their dancers to use them.  This may or may not still be true.

In one of her videos, Womack warned student dancers not to use them — “they are for professionals” — yet in a later video she advised students to wear them.  I have heard that they make everything harder at first, so the “cheater” thing may be just a fit of pique at something new, just as ballerinas scoffed at Anna Pavlova’s stiffened toe boxes and flat platforms back when she invented them.  Yes, she did invent the modern pointe shoe!

Many of the ballerinas who do wear GMs still alter them.  But GM is supposedly working to customize the shoes for professionals so they can be worn out of the box (a very few dancers actually do that with traditional shoes as well).  Most of the GM alterations I see that are done by users involve that awful, ugly practice of darning the tips, which I continue to believe offers more psychological help than anything else.  Decades ago when I was dancing en pointe, almost no one darned their shoes; it was considered a thing of the past.  But it has caught on again in the past few decades and a lot of pro’s swear by it, so who am I to say much..except that unless the shoes are very carefully maintained, it makes them look unkempt and sometimes downright filthy.

I used to think that the issue of adding a huge piece of elastic to the top of the shoe was one only faced by dancers with exceptional feet that tend to spill over the top of the vamp, but then I noticed Yulia Stepanova does this and her feet are just okay.  It may also make the dancer feel more secure in some way; I don’t know.  But Alessandra Ferri definitely needed the extra elastic, and used it.  On the other hand, I don’t remember seeing extra elastic on Svetlana Zakharova’s shoes (I believe she uses GMs).

I understand the objection NYCB had/has to GMs is purely aesthetic.  The shoes do tend to hide the shape of the foot.  If a dancer has average feet, these shoes can make them look subpar, and true banana feet can look average in them, and so forth.  Once you get used to the sight of GMs it’s said you can actually spot them from the back of the theater, lol.  But for the average ballet audience, I don’t see this as much of a problem.

Apparently studies have shown that dancers who wear GMs are less prone to injury*.  Plus, the shoes last up to three times as long as paste shoes, which can break down in a matter of minutes.  Having had a pair of ill-considered Gambas break down in one beginner class decades ago (why I had purchased such a light pair of shoes, I don’t know), I can see where that is a huge problem for an actual ballerina faced with dancing the Rose Adagio.

I have also heard, however, that dancers who wear GMs are more prone to bruising and losing toenails, etc.  Can’t verify that either.

Personally I have seen dancers who had problems with pirouettes suddenly become able to turn more than competently after switching to GMs.  Womack was one of them, and the other I can think of offhand is Oxana Skorik.

I’ve also heard that GMs are quieter than paste shoes, but personally I haven’t noticed this.  All pointe shoes are noisy.

As for the Russian soloists’ objections to GMs…I don’t trust it.  A Russian newspaper once ran an article speaking out against GMs, claiming that because they are plastic (basically), they are bad for dancers’ health, and Russian shoes (made of paste) are so much healthier, and blah, blah, blah (yeah, having to strengthen your boxes with shellac is SO healthy!).

Apparently there’s been a little campaign there against GMs, which are an American shoe, yet many of the top dancers in big companies still use them.  There seems to be an issue here of whining in the face of reality, which tells me that the actual problem may be political in nature and have nothing to do with the shoes.  Expect it to intensify in the coming months if that is so.

Freed keeps bringing up the issue that GMs are not recyclable and their own shoes are…but plastics recycling is a big business, so I don’t get that either.  I haven’t heard much about ballet companies recycling shoes, to be honest.  I think the Royal Ballet does?  But I’m not sure.

So anyway, there in a nutshell is what I know about GMs.  Lots of questions, very few answers.

*I don’t have any links to studies, but I’m sure the GM website does.

 

 

 

Gelsey Kirkland August 29, 2017

The CBS News program 60 Minutes interviewed Gelsey Kirkland in 1986; here is the video.  This was around the time of the publication of her book, Dancing on My Grave.  I stumbled on the video on YouTube this morning and was shocked that I don’t remember seeing it when it originally aired.

I hadn’t known she’d starved herself intentionally to avoid playing the lead in the movie The Turning Point. The lead went to Leslie Browne, who had joined ABT as a soloist just a year earlier.  There was a lot of griping that Browne was the godchild of some higher-up in ABT and that’s why she got the role.  She had also been hired as a soloist even though she was not yet out of her teens — another thing that surely raised some hackles among fellow dancers.  Certainly the quality of Browne’s dancing at that time was good enough, but not overwhelming, even if later she became one of the most cherished ABT primas.  Even then she was continually savaged by the great but harsh dance critic Arlene Croce.  I don’t know if that ever stopped, or if Croce just retired.

Point is that the role went from belonging to an awesome prima ballerina — who had been an actual teen prodigy — to being played by a nervous young soloist, and no doubt The Turning Point suffered for it.  I did see the movie and remember thinking it was silly.  Then again, Browne was nominated for an Academy Award, and I believe for her entire career she was touted more as a dramatic dancer than a technician (that was the part Croce apparently didn’t appreciate).

Anyway, at the time it was widely accepted that Kirkland had become ill and anorexic because of her OCD behavior…and, of course, the drugs.  I would never have guessed she starved herself intentionally just for the purpose of avoiding a movie role.  I read the book and found that she placed blame on everyone and everything but herself; of course, although there is a lot of blame to go around in her story, not all of it belongs to other people.  In the end the book was just sad and hard to read.  I eventually donated it to a library.

After all her trials at NYCB and ABT, there was a nice ending: Kirkland had a happy landing at the Royal Ballet (as did Cynthia Harvey).  I’m guessing this is because of the influence of Anthony Dowell, who had similarly — but for different reasons — been frozen out at ABT.

Kirkland is now the head of her own prestigious ballet academy.  She has continued her search for more humane ballet training; it’s something I’d love to interview her about.  Certainly the claim of “that other person” that Russian training has all the answers is demonstrably false, and it’s long been known that the Balanchine technique (such as it is), is even harder on the body than the Russian (or any other kind of ) ballet training.

Anyway, do watch…and let me know if some of Kirkland’s behavior reminds you of someone we are dealing with now.  Let it serve as a lesson to this person if she reads this blog, which I think she sometimes does.