The Born-Again Balletomane's Blog

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Joy Womack Joins the Bolshoi, and “Scandal” July 18, 2012

Someone commented on this entry and I approved the comment, but then it disappeared.  My apologies for whatever happened.  All I can say is that it’s Mercury Retrograde time again, if you believe in that stuff.

Anyway, Joy Womack starts her professional journey in August with the Bolshoi.  I wish her the best.

Article with video here.

There are now two U.S. Americans in the Bolshoi and one (that I know of)  in the Maryinsky.  As I suspect that many if not most of my readers are young, I have to tell the gentle reader that one cannot imagine how hard it is for me to wrap my head around this.  Back in my day, studying at the hallowed Russian ballet schools was out of the question for those of us in the west.  No one even thought of an American dancing with either the Bolshoi or the Maryinsky (Kirov).  It just didn’t happen.  Heck, I’m half Russian and have relatives there whom I have never met.  Back in the day we used to try to send them things, and finally they wrote back that it was all being stolen, (of course they did not use the word “stolen”), so please don’t bother anymore.  My uncle did visit Russia when it was still the U.S.S.R., but was made as uncomfortable as possible during his stay.  This was not by our relatives, but by other people there.

There were insurmountable walls back then.  Really insurmountable.

Eric Conrad believes that cold hard cash may be more responsible for bringing the ballet part of the wall down than anything else.  See his vlog: Scandal at the Bolshoi.  His take on David Hallberg joining the Bolshoi is extreme, but may be true.  He doesn’t say much about Joy Womack; then again, she actually trained at the Bolshoi’s academy (in the Russian class) for the past three years.  If he tried to say that she or the Maryinsky’s Keenan Kampa (who also trained in the Russian class) are not properly trained, as he does about Hallberg, I’d have some rather severe questions. (Viewing the vlog again, I have to add that it seems he may be a little confused about Womack’s and Kampa’s status at their respective Russian academies.)

As it is, I do have one question: what is the worth of bringing a supposedly unworthy American dancer to the Bolshoi if there is no strong ballet culture in the U.S. that would be keenly interested and fork over money to watch him?  It would seem that you can’t make both claims at once.

I could chuckle that this seems to be the summer for extreme statements about dancers, but I admit that I did wonder why Hallberg was hired by the Bolshoi.  Companies in other parts of the world will hire anyone, no matter what their training, as long as they can do the tricks.  In Russia this has never been so in modern history — at least not that I’m aware of.  And then all of a sudden, there was the situation with Hallberg at the Bolshoi.  Why bring in a mature dancer, set in his ways with training foreign to the environment, when there are plenty of home-grown dancers they could develop?   (Do look at Conrad’s vlog.)

Another thing: according to one source, about which I have already written, Oxana Skorik’s rise through the ranks at the Maryinsky has also been cause for considerable consternation; the feeling is that if the film A Beautiful Tragedy had never been made, she would not be in this position because she is a bad, or at least ill-trained dancer.  As I just mentioned, one Russian vlogger went out of his way to make her look bad and offered theories about dark conspiracies at the top of the Russian ballet world, and higher-ups groping for Western money, as the villains of the melodrama. This does tie in a bit to Conrad’s claims about Hallberg, but again…A Beautiful Tragedy was and is known only to a minority in the U.S., so if the Maryinsky has promoted Skorik in a search for U.S. dollars, it’s a pretty bad marketing choice.  If she really is that inept, word will get around even in the ballet-barren West, and all memories of images of a poor little bullied, anorexic ballet student in Perm will quickly fade among whatever small number of ballet fans we have.

In other words, we do recognize a bad dancer when we see one — even if she has been the subject of a documentary.

All that said, I have to admit — as I have already, frequently — that I am no expert.  Apparently because I am not an expert, in Conrad’s estimation I should keep my mouth shut if I disagree with him even slightly.  BUT, remember that this blog is mostly the personal opinions of a life-long ballet fan who took a long break and came back to discover a changed world (of ballet).  As I’ve stressed before (and had someone freak out about before), these are my opinions, not necessarily cold hard facts, and I have a right to say what I want.  I am exercising that right here and will continue to do so.

On another subject, take a look at some adult students of Bolshoi Academy teacher Ilya Kuznetsov in the video below.  Mind you I don’t have any idea how much training these women had before reaching adulthood, but still, this video does show the possibilities (with good training, of course) for those of us beyond the age where we can consider becoming professional ballerinas.  It’s very inspiring.

adult ballerinas

Conrad has an adult ballet training course on video; you can find it on his blog: Black Swan Fitness.

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2 Responses to “Joy Womack Joins the Bolshoi, and “Scandal””

  1. Jeff Says:

    Hmmmm, it seems like an awful lot of sour grapes going on in the ballet world. It seems to me that if you now have Americans dancing at the top levels of Russian ballet, it’s going to start to be harder to justify putting American dancers out of work, and hiring eastern dancers just because they have that “Russian” connection.

    And also, (gasp!) Maybe American dancers are actually good! Joy Womack is a wonderfully gifted dancer and I’m not surprised the Bolshoi snatched her up. Any company would be proud to have her.

    And, frankly, I’ve never heard of Eric Conrad. If he’s so fabulous, how come he isn’t directing for or for his own major company? Back in the day, for two minutes, I danced for the late George Balanchine. And he used to like to watch me dance from the wings. He was Russian, wasn’t he? Evidently, according to Conrad, I’m doomed before I begin to take a step, due to my unfortunate condition of being “American”.

    Great post, by the way.

    • theworstat Says:

      Thanks, Jeff. I don’t see where Conrad has posted another vlog since his diatribe that prompted the response on this blog (not that he read it). But I’m waiting. He does owe us an explanation.

      Great to have you here, Jeff!


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