The Born-Again Balletomane's Blog

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Reality Ballet January 30, 2017

The following is a comment from a regular contributor.  I found it interesting.  Please read through it; I’ll add my thoughts below.

From atlanticw

I find the entire Joy Womack situation bizarre. I noticed she has not been promoting her prima bars in a long time and I thought it odd. I then checked the company’s Facebook account and apparently they stopped producing the bars in September 2016-claiming their manufacturer closed unexpectedly. The prima bar site is now stating it will start selling some sort of vitamin supplement which goes along with her physician parent’s business. The more likely scenario is that no one was buying her stuff and they just quit producing. As if the world needed another granola bar-particularly one that was very expensive.
She left to guest star at some ballet school in Salt Lake City and posted that she was taking classes at Ballet West. Now she is taking classes around ABT. Sounds like her plan was likely to attempt to get in somewhere in the US and it’s not panning out. As someone who used practice US immigration law, I find it difficult she had no idea her Russian visa would be expired. While all governments are unique, deadlines are pretty much set for those things and the terms are clear. Absent any issues at the actual border crossing her visa would be valid until it expired- and she should have known very well its date.
I did see she was attempting to get a Russian green card. She has alluded in the past to not being sponsored by the Kremlin which again is bizarre. I feel that a state run ballet company can sponsor someone if they really want to get it done and they just clearly didn’t care enough.
I can never really tell her skill level but from videos I don’t think she seems like an exciting dancer to watch. That, paired with her attitude and the liability she poses but her youtube channel I can’t see many companies really going for it. It is true that stars like Misty Copeland are all over social media, but she doesn’t seem to be bashing people or sharing every single little detail about her life like she’s a Kardashian or something. Joy would have been better off staying more anonymous and then attempting to audition around the US. She’d be lucky for a spot in a regional company like Ballet West. For a company that even had its own cheesy reality show (breaking pointe) they still probably couldn’t even deal with her antics.
To me, she literally embodies the generation Z/younger millennial desire to be ‘instagram famous’. Everything is about perception and optics, yet nothing to back it up.

Regarding the Prima bars, I too noticed she stopped mentioning them months ago, but I never bothered to take the extra step to go to the website and see why.  Who knows what the backstory is…there always seems to be so much that doesn’t add up in her case.  I did see the two recent videos promoting “bodyhacking,” and was alarmed.  She could really fall into an expensive trap there.  I used to work in a medical setting and know how tight the restrictions are and how careful one has to be about making even quasi-medical claims.  The FDA has driven numerous small supplement companies out of existence for making spurious claims, and clients are quick to sue when promised miracles don’t happen.  It’s a very tricky sector of the market; if one enters it at all it’s safer to do it in only one state (restrictions vary widely from state to state), and engage in doublespeak whenever possible.  That is to say, don’t make any solid claims whatsoever.  Leave it all between the lines.  Womack’s “body hacking” videos didn’t do that.

Whether it is true that her entire career is nothing but a cover for a marketing scheme, or that she thought she could bluff her way into superstar prima-ballerinadom by becoming famous on YouTube and social media (and sell stuff on the side!)…well, as Atlantic says, it’s impossible to tell because we in the West haven’t really seen her dance.  Yes she rose quickly to principal status at a small Russian company, but there have been rumors about her father’s political influence that haven’t been answered.  Then again, this sounds ridiculous, but there were questions surrounding Evgenia Obraztsova’s mother’s influence as Genia began advancing at the Maryinsky.

The rare bits of feedback from audiences inside Russia haven’t always been positive, but the fact is that some Russians seem to have a problem supporting non-Russian dancers.  Not that they don’t or won’t; see David Hallberg as a recent reference.  But Keenan Kampa, really the most similar case to Womack’s in terms of training and outcome, admitted that the hostility of the Russian audience was part of what drove her from the Maryinsky.  Of course she had also developed a heart problem as well as a severe hip injury, but one wonders if she’d have left even if the physical problems hadn’t occurred.  I now believe she would have.

Aside from the career-ending physical problems, the main difference with Kampa is that we had seen her dance.

One has to wonder what was in Womack’s mind once she entered the Bolshoi’s school — an event which is still a source of controversy; although she was undoubtedly a student there, I still haven’t seen clear evidence about whether she was in the Russian class or the foreigners’ class.  She continues to insist she was in the Russian class, yet at least one teacher at the school said she was in the foreigners’ class, and of course there are fellow former students and others who say she was in the foreigners’ class.

Did she begin to think that she might sell her wares in the U.S. on the basis of her being an American graduating from a Russian school and soaring into prima ballerina stardom in Russia, the cathedral of ballet, in a just few years?  If so, she never realized that the market just isn’t there.  Most people in the U.S. aren’t interested in ballet except for a few dancers  who are genuinely unique (Misty Copeland comes to mind), and those of us who do love ballet would want to see her dance, live, before becoming convinced and then maybe buying something more than a ticket.

Another point is that we do know ballet here in the west, and we no longer easily accept that the Russian ballet school is infinitely superior to all other schools (in the upper body, maybe, but the Brits and others are pretty good at that part too — so what’s the big deal?).  We have too many brilliant schools of our own.

Because of facts like that, hiding behind the former iron curtain was never going to help her for long.  She had to — and still has to — come out and show us something.  Snippets of Swan Lake, even lengthy ones, aren’t going to do it unless you’re like Svetlana Zakharova, a genuine prodigy who explodes like a flash of lightning on camera, no matter what you actually think of her dancing.

For most dancers ballet performance requires, sooner or later, living proof. Cameras flatten everything and distort it, and individuality, unless sparkling, is often lost.  I’ve been depending on videos of dancers for a long time (as I no longer live close enough to a large city where professional ballet performances are held) and let me tell you: on video, very few classical dancers make an impact.  It’s as if ballet on video is a whole different art form.

Womack did say on one video that she felt that if she left Russia, she would no longer be unique.  She said something to the effect that there were “thousands like her” in the U.S.  I thought that said a unintentional mouthful.  All I can add to that is that much of what I see her doing on videos is fouettes.  Nice, powerful fouettes, even if she travels like crazy (to be fair, most dancers do).  But what about everything else?  I watched the snippet of her in class with ABT, and although almost no one ever really looks outstanding in class..she didn’t either.  I had to struggle to pick her out; as it turned out, she was the girl hanging around doing a million fouettes after everyone else had trotted off, and she was apparently holding up the following group in the process.  That’s the way it looked, anyway.  To be fair, the camera angle was so narrow that it was hard to tell what was really happening.

Interesting to read the stuff about her visa.  That part boggles my mind, and it’s good to hear from someone who actually worked in that field.  Again, it seems there is another low gray cloud surrounding Womack’s story, to the extent that she’s given a story.  David Hallberg has never had a problem with his visa, has he?  And I don’t hear anything to that effect from other American dancers in Russia, either…not that they blast everything over social media.  And so we are left wandering in the dark.

This “visa problem” is also rather interesting in light of the fact that the Kremlin Ballet apparently recently cracked down on her video habit.  The two could be related, but I’ll allow that they’re probably not.

Anyway, what I’ve seen of her dancing leaves me feeling that she might be a good fit at a major company as a soloist (or a coryphee if any company in the U.S. has them; I think SFB does).  Her interpretations of roles seem to be at the soloist level — very carefully reciting her advanced lessons, but with no lightning bolts of insight and no unique language of her own.  (Again, I am left to judge via snippets on video.)  It could be that she is just too young to achieve that, but then again, one thinks of the very young Giselle Berthea (still a teenager and currently in ABT’s corps, but not in the corps for long if what’s said about her turns out to be true): apparently the kid was born that way.

Maybe that’s the entire issue with Womack’s dancing: perhaps she wasn’t born that way, (and that’s okay!) but is trying to make us believe she was.  Like I said, we have no way of knowing until she shows us.  And like Atlantic says, maybe she’s damaged herself so much on social media that she’ll never get a chance in a U.S. company, or even one in Europe.  This could be why she’s hinting at putting her own touring company together…if indeed, that’s what she’s hinting at.

Who knows…


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

Filed under: ballerina,ballet,Uncategorized — theworstat @ 1:20 am
Tags: , ,

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:

Bolshoi Primas’ New Headshots

See if you can pick out which photos I’m talking about.  Just for a giggle.