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…