The Born-Again Balletomane's Blog

Just another site about the love of ballet

Ballet Words and Semantics June 23, 2017

This post is inspired by a comment from TheBrain1234.  Some of this will be serious, most of it will not.  Please, no one take offense; none is intended.

First, let’s get this out of the way: PRINCIPAL DANCER — one may be a principal for one production or for years; however, this title is generally only given to/used by those who have reached the top rung of the company they are dancing with (guest ballerinas and danseurs included).  It only technically includes character dancers (unless, like in the Maryinsky, principal character dancers are specifically named) and soloists/coryphees/corps members who are dancing the lead on one specific evening and will be back in the back row of the corps or wherever the next evening.  The New York City Ballet was the first major company to stretch this to the limit, I believe, as in some Balanchine ballets everyone becomes a star for a few seconds.  But most (not all) companies — even the NYCB — still have rigid pecking orders, and “principal dancer” is a title that belongs only to those at the very top.

There are also flat-structured companies like the present-day Joffrey that have no principal dancers at all (even though there are always a few dancers who seem to keep getting the lead roles).  Someone coming into the Joffrey and crowing about being a principal would definitely be in for grief, because no one would know what the hell they were talking about.

LAUREATE — One who has been honored (with a medal, usually) at a competition for their achievements in that competition.  Generally the awards are gold medal, silver medal, bronze medal.  At some ballet competitions there is a grand prize, above gold, that is almost never awarded; in fact, at a lot of competitions, sometimes the medals aren’t even awarded.  The word “laureate” comes from the ancient Greeks who honored triumphant athletes by placing laurels around their heads.  You didn’t get to wear that crown unless you won, which is to say

NOT EVERYONE WHO PARTICIPATES IN A COMPETITION IS A LAUREATE.  Ballet is not an elementary-school sport where everyone gets a participation prize at the end.

DIPLOMA HOLDER — I had honestly never heard this term before I watched (and read about) the Moscow Ballet Competition; however, I’m guessing it’s an also-ran, non-medal prize, as if to say “you did better than most but not as well as some, so here’s a sheet of paper recognizing you.”  The only thing I’m clear on is that a diploma holder is not a laureate.

BALLERINA — Honest, every female ballet dancer is not a ballerina.  The word is used so freely nowadays that I often feel the need to put “prima” before “ballerina” to indicate that a dancer is a principal.  It should not be that way.  Only principals are ballerinas, period.  There are, of course, “first soloists” and even “leading soloists” in some of the major companies; these women arguably can be called first dancers (but probably not principals or ballerinas in the strict sense).  Strip that confusion away and you have the following:

SOLOIST — This is a dancer who has achieved a high level of technical proficiency and/or has something else special and worthy of attention and development.  In the larger companies there are all kinds of soloists, from kids who step out of the corps to do demi-solos (coryphees), to dancers who perform nothing but major roles (leading soloists).  One thing should be clear, however: the titles of “principal” and “ballerina” are promotions and should not apply to soloists (unless, as stated above, they are leading/first soloists — even then I never heard any save one call herself a principal).

PRIMA BALLERINA — Literally the first first dancer, the leading principal in a company above all other ballerinas and dancers.  At least, that was the old terminology.  Nowadays the term prima ballerina seems to apply to all female principal dancers, because so many below the rank of principal are calling themselves “ballerina,” and/or being called “ballerina” by others.

DANSEUR or PREMIER DANSEUR — These poor men…back in the day (in some companies) “danseur” was an earned title equivalent to “ballerina,” used only by male principals.  The premier danseur was the male equivalent of the prima ballerina.  The term “danseur” may still be used as a title, but I haven’t seen it in long time, nor heard it applied to anyone since Anthony Dowell (who was often called a “premier danseur noble” for his aristocratic bearing, as Evgenia Obraztsova might in a previous era been called a soubrette).  Nowadays male principals are all heaped into a big lump and called principal dancers.  It’s awkward, but they no longer have a clear title.

But at least  no one is misusing the word “danseur.”

MODERN DANCE/CHOREOGRAPHY — Another term for “crap.”  Well, at least 90% of it is (occasionally one runs across a gem that will be passed down through the ages).

Ballet dancers often whine, “I’ve gone through my whole career and no one has created a ballet for me!”  Well, get over it — if they had, you’d probably have spent “your” ballet in an ugly costume, rolling around on the floor (see below).  A dancer is like a musician in an orchestra; very few dancers ever get their own choreography (much less create it), much as very few musicians ever write symphonies.  But I digress…

Back to the point, “modern dance” started to infect classical ballet way back in the early part of the 20th century.  Somehow its inclusion with ballet was viewed as progress.  Instead it has led to a lot of tangled masses of bodies that untangle and then tangle up again, a huge reliance on props, music that is excruciating and/or has nothing to do with the narrative, no clear narrative — as in a ballet about love can look exactly like one about a gang war, really ugly costumes (of course, the New York City Ballet has been guilty of that for decades), lots of rolling on the floor and people throwing themselves around by their stomachs, oodles of marching, and various other crap.

MUSEUM (as in “ballet will die if it becomes a …) — There is this myth that radical change is necessary for growth…and that growth itself is necessary.  Think about that for a while.  I’d write about it, but then this post would be as long as War and Peace.  Suffice it to say that individual artists — ballerinas and danseurs — are capable of renewing ballet by making it their own.  Absent artists like this, no art form is going to prosper no matter how much “new” or “modern” anyone throws at it.  That is true of painting, that is true of music, that is true of literature, that is true of dance.

What I’d add to that, however, is that ballet must adapt to its times.  This does not mean sending everyone writhing on the floor or crawling all over each other.  Maintain the technique, but allow new voices and viewpoints.  That is progress.

And for chrissake let’s agree on usages so when someone starts stretching the truth and by effect diminishing the achievements of those around her/him, we’ll know it immediately.  I don’t see any problem with the old ballet-company structure; it makes things very, very clear.  Like the five positions of the feet and arms, it’s just something you have to adapt to.  Art comes from rules (or personal reactions/adaptations of rules), not the other way around.

P.S. The views expressed in this article are not as rigid as they seem.



Lauren Cuthbertson November 2, 2016

A brief glimpse of a dancer who is heaven to watch:
Lauren as Juliet

And here’s Lauren in the Olympics:
The Sleeping Beauty


Me being a wet blanket September 24, 2016

First of all, I’d like to share Kathryn Morgan’s vlog about dealing with unsupportive parents (this is for U.S.-based ballet students; obviously the situation is quite different in other countries):
Kathryn Morgan

I was surprised at her comments regarding dancers actually making living wages in most medium to large companies in the U.S.  This certainly wasn’t the case decades ago, but I’m glad to hear it has changed.

I’m also glad to hear that more dancers are pursuing college degrees.  In the 1970’s, a lot of them were dropping out of high school to join companies.  Dance was terribly risky then…still is, but it sounds less so now.  The biggest chance now is the same biggest chance that’s ever been — that a dancer simply won’t make it.  I do know the school of the Paris Opera encourages their students to get college degrees while they are still studying ballet, because the odds against them going on to have a career in ballet are so scary.  I’m glad to hear that mindset has spread to the U.S.

And so, on to the subject of students…

Recently I received a comment asking me what I thought of two current students.  I have to reply that outside of having followed the school days of Joy Womack (now a prima ballerina) and Xenia Zhiganshina (second season in the corps at the Bolshoi), and maybe a few others, I generally don’t follow the careers of students.  They have to make a lot more noise than just crowing away on social media for me to be aware of them; i.e., they have to make it into the newspapers and maybe be invited into a major company at some incredibly early age.  Giselle Bethea comes to mind.

I do have a copy of a fashion magazine from years ago that shows a photo of a very young Olga Smirnova at Vaganova.  But she is the only one of several students featured in that article who has really “made it.”

As I said above, the odds against a ballet career — even for kids in top schools — are huge.  Anything could go wrong, and usually does.  Plus, it’s usually impossible to make an accurate prediction of who will be a star someday and who will not.  Former ABT ballerina Cynthia Harvey is an example of one whose career began and almost ended in the corps de ballet (Lucia Chase didn’t like her).  There are hundreds more every year who never even make it into a company’s corps.

There are several kids on YouTube right now who are convinced they’re going places.  Some of them have talent.  Probably none of them will get anywhere.  That’s why I won’t promote them here.

Sadder still are the ones who…well, there was one girl who declared herself a great dancer because she was born with banana feet.  Her videos consisted  of nothing more than her flexing and pointing her bare feet.  The comments below her videos pretty effectively shot her down, but still…at a certain age, hype can be a career.  For some people, that’s for their whole lives.  But it doesn’t usually fly in ballet.

This is another reason I won’t generally publicize students.  Sorry to be a wet blanket, but that’s the way it is.


Burst into tears September 18, 2016

Filed under: ballerina,ballet,Uncategorized — theworstat @ 6:19 am
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I never thought this drunken, spinning pas de deux could make me cry, but there it is:
Guillem and Cope


Trigger warning August 31, 2016

Filed under: ballet — theworstat @ 12:17 am
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At least, it’s a trigger for me to see a dancer placed in a cage and have it passed off as ballet:

The Joffrey

Thankfully the horrible moment is not long and I got through it.  I just hate to see horse pucky celebrated as ballet, though, and had to remark on it.

On a much more satisfying note, the Joffrey will be performing their modern-day Romeo and Juliet this upcoming season.  Now, that is interesting.

To be absolutely fair, this video shows that the Joffrey is not all about placing dancers in cages or other contraptions, and calling it art.  Nor is modernism about that (or if it is, I am going to shout “horse pucky!” every time I see it), and the Joffrey generally makes a good case for modern ballet.

They’re getting better at the classical stuff, too, which makes them all the more exciting.


Rethinking Dmitrichenko August 29, 2016

Released from prison

I admit that I’m shaky on the history of the Dmitrichenko/Vorontsova/Tsiskaridze/Filin thing.  I’m even more confused after reading the above-captioned article, in which Dmitrichenko more or less denies anything happened.

At the time of the acid-throwing incident, I was having trouble reconciling the repeated statement that Vorontsova was Dmitrichenko’s common-law wife.  She was, after all, just 21.  In the U.S., in states where common-law marriage is recognized. it takes seven years to establish a such a union.  Of course, this is Russia we’re dealing with here, but…

Again I think of Joy Womack, and the endless controversy surrounding her time at the Bolshoi.  Will we ever get to the bottom of it?  Probably not.  (However, I was struck by the similarity of Womack’s situation to that of another Bolshoi outcast — Vorontsova.)  Again, this is Russia we’re dealing with here.  Lies are huge, and become the truth.  The problem is that there are so many of them that they seem to cancel each other.  In the end, we are left with nothing.

At the time of the incident, I remember being shocked by the callousness of Tsiskaridze claiming that Filin either wasn’t really injured, or was faking the extent of his injuries — I forget which.  But knowing the murky depths of Russian interpersonal politics…well, it’s impossible to arrive at a plausible truth that works for all the players.  Even now, there’s an oft-repeated rumor that Filin has been seen driving a car.  And he continues to work in ballet.  That requires sight.  Yet no less than the uber-honest Obraztsova says that yes, Filin’s injuries were and are real.

All that said — that is, the complete truth will never be known — I will focus on Dmitrichenko’s dancing (about which I know little except for a few videos), and his career.

There’s no doubt, based on the little I’ve seen, that Dmitrichenko has star power.  He seems to be the ultimate drama king, riveting to watch.  He definitely could have a career as a character dancer that would last decades.

The question of his career is the huge one, and it all hinges on whether or not the story of the acid attack and his involvement in it is even a bit true — and the extent of Filin’s support base within the Russian ballet community.

Dmitrichenko wants to get back into the Bolshoi.  Filin is still working there (with students now, apparently, and not directly with the main company).  Doubtless there are dozens or even hundreds at the Bolshoi who can’t stand each other, yet continue to work together…but attacking someone physically is another matter entirely.  The current director, or whatever his title is, says that Dmitrichenko can audition just like anyone else.  The question after that is how much influence Filin still has, and how much danger he would actually be in.  (My guess is not much — even if Dmitricheko got back into the Bolshoi, why would he repeat such an attack on someone who no longer wields much power within the main company — but what do I know?)

Could Dmitrichenko go elsewhere?  Who knows.  Womack did, and so did Vorontsova, (and both have done well in their new environments), which proves that there are those in the Russian ballet world who are willing to thumb their noses at the Bolshoi.  Of course, in Russia there are lots of other companies, and no doubt lots of strong souls like the director of Womack’s company.  But there are not many companies where Dmitrichenko’s considerable star power wouldn’t be wasted on a vastly reduced audience.

This is a situation I’ll be watching with interest.  Its outcome will give me a glimpse into the murky depths (and that’s what they are) of Russia’s ballet soul.








Those who have disappeared…and pay issues August 4, 2016

Filed under: ballerina,ballet — theworstat @ 2:02 am
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In the case of Evgenia Obraztsova, the news is entirely happy (and I kinda suspected it by the vague way she answered a fan’s question on her website; later one of my correspondents here confirmed it): she’s expecting.  That’s why she has disappeared from the stage.

In the case of Keenan Kampa, the beautiful soloist/coryphee at the Maryinsky, the news is less happy: Keenan Kampa on High Strung.  I had no idea that she’d been having heart problems in addition to the problems with her hip.

It’s a shame; the world has lost a potentially fine prima ballerina.  When she began with the Maryinsky, I didn’t see it, but toward the end of her tenure, I did.

With her beauty and presence I’m sure she has much to contribute in Hollywood.  And she’s still young enough to have a long career there.

Ballet is such an iffy thing.  In decades past, Evgenia, who has hung on through thick and thin (mostly thin during her years at the Maryinsky), would be facing the end of her career due to her pregnancy.  Nowadays, however, all kinds of dancers have all kinds of kids.  Everything seems to be working in Evgenia’s favor…finally.  She waited long enough.

But one never knows when an illness or injury will strike, as in the case of Kampa. Imagine training day in and day out for a decade or more, and then that happens.

Keeping that in mind, off I go to the next subject.

The excuse for paying some professional athletes so much is that they contribute to the bottom line and their careers are short.  I wonder why the same is not true, in terms of pay, for dancers.

A lot of it may have to do with the fact that dance tends to be a female sport, and women are notoriously underpaid.  Also, in the history of ballet, even the more famous ballerinas tended to also be mistresses of wealthy men, and so forth.  But this is a history that no longer applies today.

Another problem may be that ballet is expensive, and most companies not on a government payroll are operating on a shoestring, (nothing so substantial as a pointe shoe ribbon).

But even then, the pay in Russia is said to be so bad that soloists are living in groups in one-bedroom apartments.  And no one in the U.S. is getting rich by dancing, either, unless they’re Misty Copeland or someone else who has a side business.

It’s interesting.  Ballet companies are, after all, businesses, just as professional sports teams are.  So how is it that one can afford the megabucks salaries and the other cannot?  Would appreciate thoughts on this.

P.S. if you are commenting on this article, please refer to Kampa as KK.  A long while back I was getting trolled by someone who claimed to be her sister, and as a result everyone who used Keenan’s name in a comment got blacklisted.  This is why I remain so sensitive about trolls, troublemakers, and general idiots: in the end, everybody suffers for their selfishness.