The Born-Again Balletomane's Blog

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Really fascinating video November 16, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — theworstat @ 5:05 am

This video offers an astounding side-by-side comparison of four dancers dancing the same variation at the same competition.  I’m sure the person who created the video matched the music to just one of them, as the other three appear to be off — but then again, one dancer is head and shoulders better than the rest, and I’m wondering if they were also all using the same recording.

I’ve never seen a video quite like this one, so thought I’d share.

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Another view of competitions November 12, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — theworstat @ 8:15 pm

Ballerinas by Night

She starts by discussing pointe shoes, and she’s been through quite a bit with her mom dying (my sympathies to her and her family).   Then she discusses YAGP for a bit and actually comes up with a good view of it that I hadn’t thought of.

 

American National Ballet November 7, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — theworstat @ 7:29 am

Came across this alert from our buddy Ballerina Badass: American National Ballet

I was unable to find the Dance Magazine article she speaks of; I’m sure one of my regular contributors can do this.

If you can’t watch the video, apparently the ANB dismissed (from the website, it looks like all of) their dancers except for the two principals because they can’t pay them.  I heard that and thought, what the %($.

Anyway, view the video if you can.

P.S. Wow…after our contributor posted the article (see comments) I have to make corrections.  HALF the dancers were dismissed, not all of them, and one of the principals resigned.  Devastating.  Not only that, but the official reason given for the dismissals was not that the company lacked funds to pay them, but that they didn’t fit in with the company’s new direction, whatever that was.

And then there’s the business of the company compelling the dancers to sign “non-disclosure agreements” the day before the firings…

All in all, I don’t think I’ll mention this company again in this blog.  Too dirty.

 

The life of an itinerant dancer October 27, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — theworstat @ 7:40 pm

Anna Pavlova spent the bulk of her career as a freelancer; in fact, she had her own back-up company.  She started out in the Mariinsky, where, kind of like today’s Oxana Skorik, she was harshly criticized even as she rose (quickly) through the ranks.  Skorik was, of course, just plain weak at one point (from what I can see, she isn’t anymore); Pavlova, on the other hand, was more of a wild child who danced her own form of ballet.

The Russian revolution(s) of 1917 pushed her out of the Mariinsky and out of her country along with numerous other artists and aristocrats.  She danced with the Ballet Russe for a time (along with fellow expats and others) and then struck out on her own.

To this day her name is the first one many people think of when they hear the word “ballerina.”  So I guess we could say that as a freelancer, she was the greatest success in ballet history.

Of course, times are very different now.  Pavlova was playing to audiences who had never seen ballet before; those are harder to find these days.  Nowadays there are dancers and schools and companies everywhere; this was not true in the early 1900’s.  Definitely things are more regimented now, if for no other reason than that audiences are a tiny bit more educated.

Which brings me to the subject of the itinerant dancer in today’s environment…

There’s a woman on YouTube who calls herself Ballerina Badass.  She’s a freelancer who once told a story of being a member of a city ballet, I think in Ohio, where she was not well-regarded by her fellow dancers.  Then she got a big role and the sniping started in earnest.  Then she got fired.  Shortly after she got fired she was offered her job back, but she refused.

That was long ago; now she says she could never go back into the highly-politicized atmosphere of a ballet company.  Instead she dances in various seasonal productions of The Nutcracker.  She also, I believe, dances in competitions as well as doing various other stuff to stay solvent.  It clearly is not an easy life.

Being in a company seems to be another trade-off: your sanity for a steady paycheck.

All in all it does not seem that the life of a dancer is an easy one no matter which path she chooses.  But I guess the point is that these days the life of an itinerant dancer may be the hardest one of all — particularly if that dancer has little or no high-powered background and/or star quality to trade on.  Unless you’re looking for a freelance career being a back-up corps dancer (I know the Paris Opera has a squad of non-employee fill-ins ready to go in case of injuries to corps dancers; I’m sure other companies have this as well), you have to have either the very stellar international reputation, or else you have to settle for starring roles in student performances and in ballet outposts around the world.  Or else, like Ballerina Badass, you take any role you can, whether it be in the corps or a solo role.

In short, you have to be flexible in more ways than one.  And you have to take care of yourself, since no one will do it for you, or advise you, or even notice if you disappear.

That has got to be hard.  Looking at such a future, it’s easy to see why most opt for positions in companies.

 

The fate of A Very Young Dancer October 19, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — theworstat @ 5:37 pm

Inspired by a comment on my previous post, I found this article from 2011 about the fate of the little girl depicted in the book A Very Young DancerNYT

I was a bit too old to be drawn in by the book; by the time it was released I was nearly 20 and was slogging around in intermediate classes in the Chicagoland area, with no point in mind because I knew I’d never get a professional job as a dancer.  However, many of the reader’s comments rang true with me, and indeed I covered the issue of ‘affluenza’ in a previous article here (Great Expectations Meet Reality).

I guess the modern-day equivalent of the book A Very Young Dancer is the ballet competitions plus various social-media accounts, or perhaps a reality show.  But the background of these kids is almost always the same: Mom and Dad have lots of money.  Ballet is, after all, expensive.  And the sense of entitlement is seldom beat out of these kids by tough teachers at various schools, as we have seen.

Here in Chicago, the Joffrey Ballet is working to reach out to underprivileged communities in order to tap into a new and broader talent base.  If anyone wants, I’ll reach out to them to see how their program is going.  As with figure skating, perhaps it’s the future.

 

Small update October 17, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — theworstat @ 4:37 pm

I’m sure my regular commentators have noted that a few days ago Womack uploaded her first YouTube video in a long time, and that she is now absent from the Kremlin Ballet’s roster.  As usual this video was so vague that I couldn’t tell which company she was talking about when she said she’d be a “guest artist.” She is not listed as such at the Kremlin (however, it could be that she is simply not yet signed for any performances as a guest artist), and is not yet listed in any capacity at the Universal, so like I said, I do not know which company she was talking about.  Certainly it would seem a bit strange if it were the Kremlin, from which she seemed to be burning her bridges with abandon even as she agonized about leaving Russia, but she gave such mixed signals about that that it was hard to tell.  She did not mention the Universal in her video, but has mentioned it elsewhere.  There was also a brief mention of a “new coach from the Bolshoi,” which was interesting — why would the Kremlin assign her a new coach if she was leaving?  Then again, the Universal has close Russian ties — many companies in southeast Asia seem to have those — so she may have been assigned someone to groom her for her new job at the Universal.  As usual with Womack, who knows?  Stay tuned.

 

Gender roles/ballet/being tall/other things October 16, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — theworstat @ 6:29 pm

“There is no such thing as equality in ballet” (as regards gender roles) — Alexei Ratmansky

“The ballet is a purely female thing; it is a woman, a garden of beautiful flowers, and man is the gardener.” — George Balanchine
(Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/g/georgebala146229.html)

“Everyone’s looking at her anyway…” — Anthony Dowell

“Ballet celebrates masculine strength and feminine flexibility” — some kids’ encyclopedia, early 1960’s.

Gender has become a scary subject to approach; anything you say can be blasted endlessly — and will be — by total strangers who know neither you nor your circumstances.  In the end you can wind up being the kid on the playground that nobody will talk to, and often you will have little idea which verbal mine you stepped on because there are so many.

However, any community needs agreed-upon realities.  So let’s agree that sexuality aside, traditional ballet tends toward two physical genders.  Okay?  Thank you.

Now, is that right or wrong?  Generally, it is right in traditional ballet.  Ballet is not verbal, it is visual.  The vast majority of its public doesn’t spend a lot of time trying to figure out who is what in each ballet, nor do they want to.  They are there for the beauty of the movement and for the story being told.

Modern ballet is different.  The big thing now in ultra-modern ballets seems to be, “let’s have a nebulous situation such as “violence,” and have a bunch of bodies wobbling around and rolling on the floor when they aren’t climbing all over each other.”  Everything and everyone ends up looking very much the same no matter what the subject when you approach it that way, and gender is indeed no big deal.

Back to the subject of gender in more traditional ballets: need everything be so rigid?  Probably not.  But the eye has to be trained, and it can’t happen overnight.

That said, I don’t support Ratmansky’s statement totally, nor do I support Balanchine’s.  Balanchine’s attitude was born of a millennia of sexism and misogyny.  Should he be blasted for this?  Yes and no; it was all he knew, but it must also be pointed out that he may have saved the ballerina during the 1960’s through early 1980’s rise in male dominance in ballet — an era in which Nureyev had the temerity to try to make Swan Lake entirely about Prince Sigfried (leading to perhaps the most spare and boring production of Swan Lake in history, even though the POB continues to worship it), and Baryshnikov tried to focus The Nutcracker almost entirely on the Nutcracker Prince (stamping out that ballet’s signature character, the Sugar Plum Fairy, in the process; if I remember correctly, her centerpiece variation is danced by Clara, who is wearing a glittery nightgown rather than an elegant tutu).

What happened to Giselle?  Nothing that I remember, since the entire point of the story is Giselle’s forgiveness saving Albrecht’s life.  Both of the main characters are transformed in the plot — one can’t dominate the other in that regard no matter how hard you try to change things around.  The ballet may be called “Giselle,” but it’s a two-person show.  It’s the same with “La Bayadere,” which is essentially the same story.

No one tried to tamper with The Sleeping Beauty, either — thank goodness, because that could have gotten ugly.  That story seems sexist at its base; however, the Prince who saves the day in that story is not really an active player and can’t have any dominance in the ballet no matter how you might try to rearrange things.  He just saves the day because he’s a guy.  I say this while recognizing the power of the Lilac Fairy in the narrative, since she’s the one cast that spell to begin with.

As for Ratmansky, he’s right as far as the classical ballets as performed by your usual ballet company are concerned.  I’ve seen Swan Lake performed entirely by men, but one went into those performances knowing that this would be the case.  Makes a difference.

I guess the question here is whether traditional gender roles need to be continued, should a major modern narrative ballet ever be created.  I’m not talking about new productions, I’m talking about entirely new ballets (Alice in Wonderland comes to mind, but I’m thinking more of a brand-new ballet based on a modern story).  Again we go back to the visual cues thing because it is a consideration.  Do the girls need to be ethereal and the boys strong?  Maybe not.  Hard to tell, not knowing the story.

Which kind of brings me to the subject of very tall dancers.  When I was dancing decades ago, girls had to be small and light — otherwise they would not be hired.  There was a huge worry that skyscraper-tall women, especially when on pointe, would out-height their shorter partners and it would look funny because, you know, girls have to be shorter than guys.  At the time the attitude of society toward tall women was harsh; it was felt that they were neurotic, should not wear high heels, and their marriage prospects were limited because they could not be taller than their husbands, etc. There was also this theory that it was very hard to find tall male dancers, as shorter men danced better.  The truth was that there were (and are) very few boys in ballet schools and companies had to take what they could get.

5’5″ was the female height limit in most U.S. companies; the only exceptions were the New York City Ballet and Ballet West, where some of the women were nearly six feet tall.  A comment by a reader long ago on this blog mentioned that her daughter, a ballet dancer, was very tall and was having trouble finding a job in the U.S.  I remember being shocked at this; I was under the impression that the last push for tiny dancers had been during Baryshnikov’s reign as AD of American Ballet Theater.  During Baryshnikov’s tenure I remember passing outside the stage door after an ABT performance in Chicago, and being struck by the numbers of minuscule dancers waddling out the door past me, tossing disdainful looks behind them.  I had honestly never seen so many tiny adult humans in my life, not even in ballet class. (In fact, when Baryshnikov briefly joined the NYCB, Balanchine went out of his way to put him in his short-guy place; there was no remolding the company to make the women shorter.)

Then the other day I happened across a story about one Sara Murawski, a very tall dancer whose height apparently cost her a job (and for some reason she was told about it as she was heading out on stage to give a performance).   She’s now one of two principal dancers of a brand-new company, the American National Ballet, which says that it will celebrate diversity among its dancers.  As they only have two right now, it’s a bit hard to tell where they’re going with this — but I’m guessing Murawski’s height got her in, as well as her dancing.

This pushed the point home to me that the height problem is still a big one in U.S. companies (and in the U.K.’s Royal Ballet).  I guess since my first exposure upon my return to ballet-fandom had been to the Russian companies, where height, height, and more height is worshiped, I hadn’t realized that tall female ballet dancers in the U.S. still face obstacles.

But yet they do.  And yes, it all ties back to gender roles and just plain old sexism in those old ballets.

Like I said, should that be carried over into modern-day stories?  Probably not.  But is it necessary in the old stories?  Certainly the Russians have inadvertently proven that the height issue is not an issue (unless you cast a 5’10” dancer as Clara/Maria in the Nutcracker).  But the sexism/gender rigidity?  It’s right there in the stories.  Not much you can do about it.

P.S. — when I was first exposed to traditional tarot cards, I was shocked by the sexism they displayed.  Men depicted in the cards did, and still do, represent one set of characteristics and women quite another.  Not surprisingly, women’s roles tend to be slightly negative, as are the cards associated with femininity (such as The Moon).  So you see that this is a deeply-ingrained prejudice that ballet is not equipped to tackle by itself.  Tarot cards are centuries old; these attitudes have been in place even longer.  Our entire society needs to decide that there is a problem and then address it.