Dance Magazine has a little reality check about the effect of competitions on one’s career:
Ballet as sport September 24, 2017
I was watching Womack’s latest YouTube video and heard some guy (her trainer?) suggest that perhaps each city should have a ballet team, quite as they have sports teams, and the best should be decided at competitions. Joy said, “that’s a good idea!”
No. Really. No. While competitions have become an integral part of ballet training in the past few decades (believe me, back in the day competitions were frowned upon), they are still not the end-all and be-all of ballet.
What have competitions improved? Overall flashiness. There are now some dancers who literally can kick their left ear with their right foot, reaching around the back of their head. Also, back in the day, a triple pirouette en pointe was prima ballerina territory; nowadays it’s basic training for intermediate students, and at the professional level everyone’s turning until they drill holes in the floor. Turnout also seems to be somewhat better, although even among Russians it seems to be optional at times.
What can’t competitions improve? Art. What Natalia Makarova called “the inner life.” What you get at competitions is students — and ballet dancers are perpetual students — reciting their lessons, but you very rarely experience radiance, or are transformed into another realm.
That’s ballet. Ballet is theater, not sport. In theater there are great actors and lousy ones, and the difference seems to be that “inner life,” or “the great imagination.” It is a rare quality that can’t be taught and often takes decades to develop; I seem to remember Anthony Dowell saying something like this: “the moment the brain kicks in, the body starts to go the other direction.” Yes, that is the agony of ballet life.
Seeking to turn it into a sport like figure skating or gymnastics isn’t going to help art in the long run. In fact, it may kill it by turning ballet into a robotic series of motions that are either done perfectly or we knock points off your score.
I think a lot of the problem with that modern choreography that Womack aspires to dance is that it turns ballet into just that — a shell, nothing but a series of physical tests. It is perfect for competition. But is it art? Generally not (there are exceptions).
The notable exception, Balanchine, is said to have used his dancers as a painter uses color. He looked for the unique “color” of each dancer’s art and created ballets using that. He didn’t just string steps together. That’s what’s being missed by most choreographers nowadays (or else their work is so abstract that you can’t tell what it’s supposed to be about unless someone tells you).
That is art. That isn’t just bodies moving, that is bodies moving for a reason — and clearly conveying that reason.
Competition stops at bodies moving. Yes, there are dancers like Evelina Godunova who transcend that, but most do not. And that is the problem with turning ballet into one big competition.
Universal Ballet and you-know-who September 17, 2017
Okay, scouted out the Instagram post and it says Womack starts in November as a “principal dancer” at the Universal Ballet. Of course she’s not listed on the website yet, but I noted they have only 3 primas at present (as opposed to 6 premier danseurs), so it seems like there’s room. However, remember Womack’s past questionable use of the term “principal dancer” when she was, in fact, a soloist? When called out on that she whined, “no one knows what’s in my contract!” Sigh; I’ve tackled this before. Sometimes you just have to go along with normal usage. Not doing so can cause a lot of interpersonal stress on the job, as well as causing you to appear dishonest.
Anyway, we’ll see how much of a “principal dancer” she turns out to be when her photo is finally up on the website.
It’ll be interesting to see how she fares in yet another foreign atmosphere. I am relieved, however, that she’s soon to be gone from Russia. It’s going to get difficult there for Americans in the near future, I believe, and aside from that she may have finally realized that even if the political situation were better (no Joy, it is not good, nor has it improved, nor will it; I don’t care what Daddy or the Russian media told you) she will never be Russian, nor accepted by Russians. It’s a very isolated and insular society; always has been.
Even if this weren’t true, the fact is that if you’re from Country A and move to Country B, no matter how hard you try to assimilate, you never truly will. You have to leave that to your kids and grandkids. What tends to happen to immigrants is that they end up being people without countries, at least mentally. And after a certain point, it never gets better. Some part of you wants to go home, but when you go home, that doesn’t look or feel the same either and you’re not comfortable there. I believe this is what Womack is experiencing now, in spite of her newfound love of New York City. Even if she managed to find a job there, (and I think she recognizes that that door is probably closed unless she develops a stellar international reputation that would exempt her from starting in a New York company’s corps) for this and other reasons she would not be comfortable, at least at first. You can go home again, but it takes time.
The basic fact is that she was never going to be Russian; nor will she be Korean. She’d better learn to accept this now.
The interesting thing is that the Universal sometimes tours the U.S. west, so at least some of us may actually get to see Womack dance a full-length ballet or two. They also run a large competition in the southeast U.S., so she may end up being exposed to U.S. audiences through that as well. This could be good for her, because right now she’s almost an unknown quantity here except for a few Nutcrackers now and then.
Plus, as has been pointed out, the Universal is a much larger company with a broader repertoire than the Kremlin’s. They do Romeo and Juliet; I know she’s long wanted to dance Juliet. They do modern works, and she’s mentioned that she might be happier in those than in the classical ballets. And she seems to be popular in southeast Asia. As I said, it could be a great opportunity for her.
I do think she’s known for a while that she wouldn’t be going back to the Kremlin Ballet for long, if at all (she’s back now but apparently is being shipped to some outpost with a partner to dance DQ and Swan Lake?). In spite of that, in a recent video she stated that she was looking to stay in Russia and go to school there. When I heard that, I thought, WHAT? Are you nuts?
It is clear that she is being frozen out at the Kremlin, as she has had to rehearse herself, alone, while others mocked her, and she wasn’t given any performances for months. It had always seemed to be a cold, bullying atmosphere with inadequate resources (Russia, but specifically the Kremlin Ballet), but more especially recently when her longtime coach — the one who turned Joy into a true soloist — was clearly no longer interested in working with her. Worse, the company had recently hired someone who appeared to be a replacement for Joy. When stuff like that happens, kiddo, you’re gone — particularly if you’ve been criticizing your employer very publicly and have taken a vacation or two, one apparently without leave.
With this latest vacation, she had indicated that she’d told the Kremlin Ballet that she needed time to relax and rejuvenate at her parents’ clinic or something…then, once back in the U.S., she posted all sorts of tweets, posts and whatnot showing her posing in New York, Washington D.C., and with a mention of an excursion to Atlanta (to audition for the Atlanta Ballet?). Yes, Hurricane Harvey gave her a ready-made excuse not to go to Texas, but still, it was pretty evident that she was not undergoing treatment (working with a personal trainer does not count) and didn’t give a damn who knew it; quite possibly she realized she had nothing to go back to Russia for.
Regarding an incident during this particular vacation, it was interesting to learn about the ties between the Kirov Academy and the Universal Ballet (I never thought to look at the Universal Ballet’s website, lol). I was wondering what was going on when she posted photos of one of her former instructors teaching a class at the Kirov Academy, with glowing remarks about him and the school. I thought, “Wasn’t she kicked out? Why is she hanging around there?” Well yes she was kicked out while in her early teens, and was devastated (supposedly she later took a summer intensive course in New York with Leslie Browne, who encouraged her to keep going in spite of what happened at the Kirov Academy). But now I get it: she probably was auditioning during her visit to the school and decided to keep her mouth shut about it while at the same time rebuilding one of her burned bridges. To be fair, though, that one apparently got burned right out from under her; she didn’t do it herself.
Anyway, as mentioned by one of our commenters, a good percentage of Womack’s workplace problems are her own fault. But also see the paragraph about immigrants above and multiply the typical problems of an immigrant by 100 if you’re someone like Joy. I hope she’s learned something and will comport herself differently at the Universal, but that remains to be seen. I’ll have part of the answer when her photo finally shows up on their website (and I do hope she does not use that awful Vampira-like headshot she’s been using while at the Kremlin Ballet).
All that aside, I honestly wish her the best. Now we get to watch her in earnest. No more hiding in Russia…and I’m sure she’ll soon reach the point where she wonders why she ever wanted to have a dance career in Russia. The world is much bigger than that. May she realize it soon, if she hasn’t already.
P.S. Please read the comments below the post “What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been.” Very illuminating.
You folks got way ahead of me! September 16, 2017
Just found out from reading the comments that Womack is heading to the Universal Ballet. I’m very exhausted right now for some reason, but will write more later after a nap. Thanks everyone!
What a long strange trip it’s been… September 8, 2017
No, I’m not going anywhere. I’m talking about Womack, who supposedly came back to the U.S. for rest and treatment at her parents’ clinic and instead has ranged from New York City to Atlanta to Washington D.C. on some sort of…well I don’t know what she’s doing. Good-will tour? Looking for a job?
But she hinted on Twitter today that she stopped by the White House (she only showed it from a distance) and on Twitter seemed to thank the “president” for working on U.S.-Russia cultural exchange. That should have come with a splarf warning, because some of my morning coffee ended up on my computer screen.
Not going any further into that subject here; can’t permit it (sorry). But wasn’t she was supposed to go back to Russia yesterday or did I read something wrong? Instead she’s hanging around in D.C. She even posted something positive about the Kirov School, which I seem to remember she was tossed out of for not having enough flexibility or turnout.
*Sigh* we’ll see; I’m sure in a few days she’ll disappear back into Russia again, later emerging with a YouTube video whining about something or other at the Kremlin Ballet. I’m guessing that at this point she is not scheduled for any performances, do you think? Otherwise she’d be there doing nonstop rehearsals now.
Meantime, for those of you who were wondering about the fate of the Houston Ballet during Harvey, Pointe Magazine had this article. I’m guessing in a few weeks they’ll have to run one on the Miami Ballet as well. Such are the times we are living in; although some people seem to think ballet is immune from the world, it is not.
Competitions and Careers September 5, 2017
Happened upon this article, which details the careers of past IBC winners.
Note that none of them went straight from a competition to a principal dancer role in a major company…or even a soloist role, for that matter. Most of them took years to become principals after they won. And none of them seemed to have used their medals to great advantage to build prestigious guest-artist careers, either.
Yes, such a win does look great on a dancer’s resume, but a career it does not make. Just sayin’.