The Born-Again Balletomane's Blog

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Gelsey Kirkland August 29, 2017

The CBS News program 60 Minutes interviewed Gelsey Kirkland in 1986; here is the video.  This was around the time of the publication of her book, Dancing on My Grave.  I stumbled on the video on YouTube this morning and was shocked that I don’t remember seeing it when it originally aired.

I hadn’t known she’d starved herself intentionally to avoid playing the lead in the movie The Turning Point. The lead went to Leslie Browne, who had joined ABT as a soloist just a year earlier.  There was a lot of griping that Browne was the godchild of some higher-up in ABT and that’s why she got the role.  She had also been hired as a soloist even though she was not yet out of her teens — another thing that surely raised some hackles among fellow dancers.  Certainly the quality of Browne’s dancing at that time was good enough, but not overwhelming, even if later she became one of the most cherished ABT primas.  Even then she was continually savaged by the great but harsh dance critic Arlene Croce.  I don’t know if that ever stopped, or if Croce just retired.

Point is that the role went from belonging to an awesome prima ballerina — who had been an actual teen prodigy — to being played by a nervous young soloist, and no doubt The Turning Point suffered for it.  I did see the movie and remember thinking it was silly.  Then again, Browne was nominated for an Academy Award, and I believe for her entire career she was touted more as a dramatic dancer than a technician (that was the part Croce apparently didn’t appreciate).

Anyway, at the time it was widely accepted that Kirkland had become ill and anorexic because of her OCD behavior…and, of course, the drugs.  I would never have guessed she starved herself intentionally just for the purpose of avoiding a movie role.  I read the book and found that she placed blame on everyone and everything but herself; of course, although there is a lot of blame to go around in her story, not all of it belongs to other people.  In the end the book was just sad and hard to read.  I eventually donated it to a library.

After all her trials at NYCB and ABT, there was a nice ending: Kirkland had a happy landing at the Royal Ballet (as did Cynthia Harvey).  I’m guessing this is because of the influence of Anthony Dowell, who had similarly — but for different reasons — been frozen out at ABT.

Kirkland is now the head of her own prestigious ballet academy.  She has continued her search for more humane ballet training; it’s something I’d love to interview her about.  Certainly the claim of “that other person” that Russian training has all the answers is demonstrably false, and it’s long been known that the Balanchine technique (such as it is), is even harder on the body than the Russian (or any other kind of ) ballet training.

Anyway, do watch…and let me know if some of Kirkland’s behavior reminds you of someone we are dealing with now.  Let it serve as a lesson to this person if she reads this blog, which I think she sometimes does.

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The big wake-up call August 27, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — theworstat @ 6:30 am

Here’s a video of the Maryinsky’s current primas.  The thought occurred while watching that there is only one who is still in her twenties (Skorik, seen here overcooking Giselle just a bit — but definitely she is much, much stronger than she was in the past), and one in her early 30’s (Somova).  Two others are totally retired (Lopatkina, Makhalina) and one’s status has been somewhat uncertain, supposedly due to labor-relations issues (Pavlenko).  That leaves them with 4 ballerinas who could last the next 10 years (Somova, Kondaurova, Skorik, Tereshkina).

Admittedly I’m not up to date on who among the lower ranks is being eyeballed as a successor, but it seems that they need to come up with not just one or two, but several of them, fast.  Thoughts appreciated.

P.S. I do like “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated,” so I guess I can’t claim to hate ALL modern choreography.

 

 

Frequency of injuries in ballet dancers, and other things August 22, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — theworstat @ 11:04 am

Ran across this eye-opening article while researching the frequency of injuries in ballerinas.  I’d heard that Svetlana Zhakharova, for instance, is very frequently injured.  On the other hand there is the rock-like sturdiness of Evgenia Obraztsova — yet even she has occasionally had knee and other injuries.  She did, however, bounce back amazingly fast from giving birth to twins.

Keenan Kampa had reportedly always been physically fragile, and eventually a hip injury and a heart problem forced her out of ballet almost completely.   Darcey Bussell retired at least 5 years too early due to back problems.  Misty Copeland actually danced for six months on a broken leg (I believe it was a stress fracture caused by uneven use of the body; she was putting more weight on one leg than the other, which many of us do without knowing it).

Definitely kids who are not physically suited to ballet should be steered toward other careers, but it’s clear that even those who have great natural gifts, get hurt.  I think the problem we were discussing in a previous comment thread is actually another matter entirely: overuse, and the psychology behind it.

Back in the day (1970’s and ’80’s), preprofessional students at the School of American Ballet were warned away from taking more than two classes a day — yet many of them, after they left for the day, would take more classes at other schools.  This led to a lot of early-onset arthritis, stress fractures, and other problems.  I don’t know that it ever actually helped any of them in their later careers.  Instead, it seemed to hurt.

That is to say that in the world of ballet, even in the high-pressure world of the Russian academies (and of course, those elsewhere) it is entirely possible to work too hard.  Even the most perfect ballet body will break if it is over-taxed.  Only a very bad teacher would ever push a youngster past that point.

Of course we were talking about Joy Womack when this subject came up, and apparently she does not have the perfect ballet body.  Most of her problem seems to be with her hips (i.e., lack of turnout), which she has said are now arthritic.  She’s 23.  This puts me in mind of the figure skater Tara Lipinski, who had career-ending hip replacement surgery in her 20’s.  She may have won the Olympic gold medal, but the fact is she was never built for the punishment of landing triple jumps (or in her case, triple hops; her overall technique was poor, but what made matters worse was her youth coupled with overuse).  Worse, her mother apparently pushed her to land jump after jump after jump before she’d allow Tara to get off the ice.  Again, a good coach would never permit that.  Kids have limits, and sheer determination isn’t going to change that.

It was mentioned that Joy’s mother is a doctor and should have observed Joy’s problems and possibly put a stop to her career.  Yet parents can be blind.  I cannot say what the deal is with her mother, however, because I don’t know her or the situation.

I do know that in recent videos, Joy is almost hard to look at.  You worry; her skin is terrible and her body almost skeletal.  A reader mentioned that the treatments Joy is undergoing can potentially be dangerous to her long-term health; plus, she was just at a clinic in southeast Asia not long ago and is now saying she wants to come home and go to her mom’s clinic yet again.  Clearly the treatments are not working, nor are the supplements.  Supplements can be valuable, but only if the person taking them realizes that they are nothing in and of themselves.  They are supplements, not end-alls and be-alls.  They add to a healthy lifestyle; they do not create it.

Which is to say that I think the problem here is not entirely physical.  Sometimes you just can’t shape your fate by working harder and harder and harder; you just have to let go and let it be.

Anyway, read the article; it’s fascinating.  Anyone with a kid in sports knows the constant worry about your child’s health and emotional well-being.  Turns out ballet is just as bad.  I guess what I’m saying is that while ballet is dangerous and even the most physically well-adapted get hurt (sometimes frequently), a physical limitation coupled with high ambitions can be almost lethal to one’s future well-being.  Sometimes it’s better to recognize your limitations, and work within those…or leave entirely.

 

Knowing how good you are August 19, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — theworstat @ 5:34 pm

I’ve decided to leave my Womack-related rants on this blog.  It’s just too hard to make the tiny distinctions necessary to totally evict this subject from this blog; plus, I don’t think she’s being discussed in depth anywhere else, although I’m probably wrong.  Still, I have plenty of non-ballet-related rants piled up — so the new blog will live on.

Yes I know this is a huge reversal in just 24 hours, but I thought it over and realized it just wasn’t going to work and could get very confusing for both my readers and me.

Anyway, a thought occurred while I was posting a comment to a previous article: Womack has mentioned in the past that she is unsure of how good she actually is because she’s from the Kremlin Ballet (wow if you were in the Kremlin Ballet, how would you feel if a colleague said that?).  She’s been desperately trying to prove her greatness by trying to win prestigious competitions, and thus far, while she has done extremely well in the lesser competitions, she’s failed to set the world on fire in the big arenas (to be fair, though, she’s medaled or been mentioned at all of them, which is an accomplishment).

However, she’s finding out that even winning medals at prestigious competitions can potentially land you in the corps at a major company but no more.  That’s because ballet has become very competition-oriented, and there are competition winners positively everywhere.  It’s gotten to the point where it means almost nothing.

Dancers still age out at some senior competitions around the age of 27.  At that point it’s assumed they’re either in a company continuing with their careers at whatever level, or else they have retired.  Most have retired by 27; that’s just the way it is.  Competition is a kid thing, after all, and for someone who is in their teens or even in their early 20’s, a medal can mean a whole lot more than it does in the real world.

Welcome to the real world, Ms. Womack, about 4 years too early (I think she is 23).

I’d say while she’s still under 25, aiming to join a big company in the corps is still a worthy goal — particularly if she joins one in the U.S., where even the corps dancers are actually paid living wages.  Also, getting into the corps at ABT is an honor that few dancers (even competition winners) can claim.  Is it better to earn starvation wages as a soloist or principal in a tiny company while you continue to doubt you’d make it in either role in a large company?  I don’t think so — at least, not at this point.  At this point, cold hard cash has to come into play as well as accolades.  It will also allow peace of mind as to her actual role in the real world of ballet.  And it will win her respect.  Honest.  Keenan Kampa went from being considered for soloist rank at the Boston Ballet to being in the corps at the Maryinsky, after all…and retired a few years later with self-respect intact, even though she had never officially been promoted beyond coryphee.  In retirement, she knows who she was and can carry that forward.  No re-inventing the wheel.

Also, in the corps or as a demi-soloist Womack would get to be among the young dancers in a major company — something she admits she has missed out on — and, as mentioned above, finally know how good she is and get a sense of how good she eventually can expect to be (after all, very, very few ballet dancers have arrived, fully developed, at age 23).  Maybe that’s what she’s afraid of; sometimes I think it is.  But it’s also something endless competitions will never really let her know.  Competitions are a snapshot; membership in a company is more like a movie with a developing plot.  In the end you find out where you belong in the plot.  That’s scary, but it can also be worthwhile.

 

 

Little video about Diana Vishneva’s last performance with ABT August 18, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — theworstat @ 7:50 pm

She says some interesting things here:

New Yorker video

 

New Blog

Filed under: Uncategorized — theworstat @ 12:39 am

I’m going to be changing this blog slightly in the near future.  I had intended to start covering my own return to ballet class after decades of absence, but (1) the school I was targeting stopped offering adult classes, and (2) my body is going out of its way to not cooperate.  Right now I’m fighting with plantar fasciitis, which I have never had before.

So I think instead I’ll concentrate on the latest news from various companies and competitions around the world.  I was thinking of asking the Joffrey if they want to use this blog for in-depth coverage of their company, but I now live too far from Chicago for that to really work out well.  Perhaps in a few years when I (am intending to) move back, I will ask them.

Anyway, in the future, most of my rants that involve Joy Womack and other gossipy ballet figures will be on the new blog, which I am intending to call “Random Rants.”

There will still be the occasional Russian scandal discussed here or other such things, but as for Womack in particular, I don’t see where her personal issues have much to do directly with ballet anymore.  Let me know if you agree or not.

Regardless, the new blog will be there and will be comprised of little rants about stuff that don’t fit on this blog.

Here’s the URL for the new blog.  No, there’s nothing there yet, but there will be:
https://randomrants570.wordpress.com/

 

Major changes at the top August 12, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — theworstat @ 3:48 am

Learned months ago that Maria Alexandrova was leaving the Bolshoi; apparently she’s been convinced to stay on as a contract player, as has Nina Kaptsova.  Both were born in 1978 and are nearing 40.

They are leaving at a time when the Bolshoi’s roster of ballerinas is as strong as it’s ever been.  Although Zakharova is getting up in years too (she’s in her 40’s) and may be slowing down, they always have the Maryinsky to pluck new stars from — always plenty of talented, neglected dancers there.  They already have Zakharova, Obraztsova and Stepanova, and snatched Smirnova straight out of the Vaganova Academy (there’s at least one more who is in the corps, Xenia Zhiganshina, and I’m sure there are many others).

And of course, with 200 dancers in the troupe — over half of them women — they have a lot to choose from.  And so there is little to fear for them in the retirement of a ballerina.

I went from thinking about that to thinking about the situation at the New York City Ballet, oddly enough.

Peter Martins has been in control of both the company and the school for a long, long time, as a reader pointed out.  And he’s done well in maintaining the integrity and the status of the company.  But I started wondering how long this can continue.  He is no longer a young man.

Anyone here know if there is an heir apparent?  I’m not NYCB’s biggest fan, but they are one of two truly great American companies.  There are several just one step down from them (San Francisco Ballet and the Joffrey come to mind), but NYCB and ABT are the top two.  It would be a shame to lose one of them.  ABT has been through the fires, nearly collapsing in the late 1980’s and into the 1990’s, but has come out better than ever.  As for NYCB…well, it’s looking like it’s hanging by a thread.