A Whole New ABT? January 27, 2017
I admit I hadn’t looked closely at ABT’s website in a long time, in terms of checking out dancer biographies. What I learned when I checked today was pretty eye-opening:
— Most of the corps dancers appear to be JKO trained, and/or ballet competition medalists. This is unprecedented. Just a few years ago, a fair number of them were former principal dancers from small companies around the U.S and the world, and the rest came from scattered schools around the U.S. I remember back in the days of the Russian defectors, Soviet-era corps dancers were apparently being told that a corps dancer in, say, the Kirov would automatically be a principal at ABT. Ugly surprise, they too found themselves languishing in the corps at ABT. One tried to go back to the Soviet Union and was whisked away in a car when he landed, and was never seen again. Tragic. But the point of the story is that at one point, the corps at ABT was a life sentence for just about everyone, particularly if they were U.S.-born and bred. A few would make it to soloist, of course, but almost no one made it to principal. That’s still true — it’s true in all major companies — but at least now many of the principals started out in the soloist or corps level at ABT. Now there’s hope. Back in the day, there wasn’t much.
That said, according to what Womack said in her video, ABT corps members are still complaining about all the guest artists getting in the way of promotions and performance opportunities. Currently there is only one guest artist listed on ABT’s website, and she is the semi-retired Alessandra Ferri.
–Several of the principals entered the company as soloists (from smaller companies like Boston Ballet), but a more than a few others came up through the ranks at ABT. Believe me, this is an ENORMOUS change from the way things used to be at ABT. Obviously there are still a few who are entirely foreign-trained, and there’s only one “international superstar” if you don’t count home-grown David Hallberg — and she’s apparently retiring from ABT this summer, although she is not ending her ballet career (Diana Vishneva). I guess I might count the popular Maria Kochetkova in that category as well. But still, the majority of the principals seem to have started at ABT either as soloists, or in an apparently growing number of cases, in the corps.
–Most of the soloists appear to have come up through the ranks at ABT. I haven’t gone through all the bios yet, but one is a former principal from another country who spent an astonishing fourteen years in the corps before becoming a soloist. At least two others actually came from the JKO school; I’d thought it was still too early in the day for that — the JKO school is just not that old — but I guess not. Several others are former ABT summer intensive students and came to the company through the former ABT Studio Company (now ABT II).
All in all, it looks like ABT is putting their money where their mouth is as regards the JKO school, and developing their own dancers. Like I said, it’s a huge departure from the way things were back in the day. The dancers who are complaining now…well, they weren’t even born then. But believe me, things can be worse.
P.S. Here in Chicago, the Joffrey has totally turned over the management of the Joffrey Academy (not to be confused with the Joffrey Ballet School in New York, which is not affiliated with the Joffrey Academy or with the Joffrey Ballet). Don’t know specifically why that happened, but the company had been seeming to hire dancers from anywhere but its own Academy in the past (to be fair, the Academy has only been in existence for about 6 years). The AD of the Joffrey is now also the head of the Academy, so that may change. Stay tuned…
Rose Adagios and New York, NY January 25, 2017
Went to YouTube last night and watched part of the Bolshoi’s Sleeping Beauty, which had initially been broadcast a few days before. Olga Smirnova was Aurora…at least, she was dancing the role. It’s always hard for me to get used to a Russian Aurora, since I’m expecting that bubbly airhead and instead am faced with a stone-cold classicist who barely pays attention to her suitors unless one nearly drops her, or doesn’t quite get there in time during one of the balances. Of course I’m kidding, but only just.
Smirnova was a quintessential Russian Aurora. As Aurora gets more grown up as the ballet progresses ….I mean, she wakes up after something like 100 years…I’m sure Smirnova’s interpretation was just great by the end of the show. But as it was, it seemed like she was taking class from a very strict teacher and wasn’t much worried about appearing to be a giddy teenager.
Whatever. Sleeping Beauty puts me to sleep, anyway; it’s all those damn fairies. Just when you think you’ve seen all the fairies it’s possible to behold…DAMN! Another bloomin’ fairy. It gets old very fast unless one is into looking closely at the soloists for future prima ballerina possibilities.
And on to other things…as ever, Joy Womack. I wondered and wondered what was going on with her. She left Russia in November and never went back except for one day — and that was to be her application day for a Russian green card. Apparently she didn’t get one; she’s now stranded at her brother’s place in New York City, unable to return to Russia due to visa issues.
It’s turned out not to be such a bad thing. Of course she probably won’t get an offer from ABT, as in one of her previous videos she didn’t really badmouth them, but she did mention that they do not generally promote their own dancers beyond soloist because they have so many guest artists.** Not a great move if one is thinking of future job prospects; prospective employers generally don’t like to have their flaws pointed out. But she’s taken class with them at least twice, so they’ve now seen her up close and personal. And considering her newfound love for NYC…
…To be fair, she is not talking about joining ABT. She’s having a ball taking classes at Steps on Broadway and is speaking almost like she works for Gaynor Minden. What she did say about her future performing career was intriguing: she is thinking of “putting together a team,” whatever that means, and touring.
Judging from that, it sounds like she means to be a freelance ballerina. Like I said, what she really meant by that remains to be seen.
It does sound like she is no longer obsessed with carrying on with her career in Russia (Katisized, you were right!). It could be that she’s finally accepting the caustic reality that her situation there was never secure and didn’t look to improve beyond being a prima in a tiny company. It could also be that she’s decided to look past Russia strictly because of the visa issue. And it could also happen that when/if her visa finally comes through, all this NYC love will become a passing fancy and she’ll be back to trying to hammer her Russian dreams into reality, unhappy and drained as that seems to leave her.
I observed that she seems much, much happier right now than she’s ever been (almost like a giddy Aurora!) except for during one brief working trip to California a few years back. If this is so, maybe there’s a message for her in that: forget your Russian dreams, kiddo; your bouquets are all right here at home.
Freelance possibilities aside, it would be most interesting to see her take a place in a U.S. company and watch how she looks in the same mirror as home-grown dancers. Obviously if she got into ABT or the San Francisco Ballet, she would likely have to step down to soloist. Would she be able to step up again? That would be fascinating to see. Plus, we would finally really get a chance to closely observe her dancing, live and in person on a steady basis, and make solid judgements based on that.
She is not famous for being clear about anything. The only thing for certain right now is that she can’t go back to Russia at the moment, and maybe she shouldn’t even try. There’s no use in continuing to try to build a house of cards, no matter how solid the foundation seems to be.
** That is true now, and has been for decades; it’s too early to tell whether having attended the JKO school will make any difference in an ABT corps member’s or soloist’s future, or if the company will ever stop relying so heavily on guests to fill out its principal roster if indeed it gets more than enough talented kids out of JKO. It sure didn’t work with the previous ABT school, which folded in the early 1980’s — but then again, that school was never as serious and well-organized as JKO; it had no set ballet curriculum (the JKO school does), and no junior division to speak of; it consisted mainly of preprofessional classes, which may or may not have been open — meaning that anyone could attend (although I do remember seeing a call for auditions at that school). The only really major dancer I can remember whose training was strongly attributed to that school was Fernando Bujones. And I may not even be remembering that correctly.
Of course Womack never attended JKO, and she does not have enough standing as a prima ballerina to join ABT as a stellar guest artist, either. And so she would have to start out as a soloist or worse, a member of the corps.
Terrible photos January 15, 2017
Haven’t felt very inspired lately, so sorry for the quiet. I did, as I periodically do, go to the websites of some major companies just to see who has been promoted, etc. On the Bolshoi’s website I found a whole bunch of photos of primas, apparently new, and apparently shot by the same photographer. They all made the primas in question look like they were at least my age (I’m pretty damn old). Not that that’s a bad thing, except that professional ballet, especially at the elite level, is a young woman’s game. While I’m at it, I have to mention that most of the Bolshoi’s primas are pretty women, and these photos make them look drop-dead plain on top of well past retirement age. Take a look:
See if you can pick out which photos I’m talking about. Just for a giggle.