The Born-Again Balletomane's Blog

Just another site about the love of ballet

Some thoughts on the Moscow Competition June 20, 2017

Let’s get this out of the way: Joy Womack came in 4th or 5th in the Senior division; she’s now something called a “diploma holder.”  I thought her pas de deux from Don Q. was just fine; I was not surprised that her partner (Mikhail Martynyk) got a special award even though he was not competing.  It looked like he was cutting up just before they went on stage, and he was a total delight.

Joy is technically very, very competent, very light, fleet-footed, and sure.  Other dancers sit on their pointes; she gives a reason for being up there: she doesn’t defy gravity, she just doesn’t need it.  Her sharp features were a perfect complement for the role of Kitri (I believe the way she looks at present, Giselle or some other “soft” role might be a real challenge to accept; it would take real artistry for her to work past that).  It was her characterization that seemed to be her downfall; she needs to take it beyond fan-fluttering.  She also needs to remember that Kitri is in love with Basilo and would not be searching for a camera to smile at.  Other than that, Joy’s a big-league first soloist-level performer, no doubt.  She’s almost there.

In contrast (see below for explanation), Evelina Godunova, the Senior soloist gold medalist, was born that way: she’s very alive on stage, very different; huge personality, which jumped out at the viewer after sitting through so many painfully correct academic performances.  She is a born prima ballerina who expands the vocabulary of the art just by dancing; everything becomes hers.  I hope she won’t spend the rest of her career in South Korea.  Nothing against South Korea, of course, but she needs to be on a big, grand old ballet stage somewhere, one that gets regularly broadcast across the world.

Fifteen-year-old Elizabeth Beyer won the Junior division.  She’s one of what seems to be an upcoming generation of Americans that is stocked so full of potential superstars that it’s going to be very, very hard for any young dancer who was not simply born that way to get anywhere.  We may be in for an age where girls who may have become prima ballerinas in other eras — the ones like Womack who have most of the goods but need to be polished and polished and then polished again before they can be true primas– end up spending their careers in the corps or as soloists.  This is truly amazing to me, someone who studied ballet in a day when it seemed genuinely gifted, “born that way” prima-material dancers were so extremely rare as to seem almost nonexistent.

Elizabeth is charming and bubbly onstage, not unlike Giselle Berthea, and has a killer technique.  No she’s not perfect yet (either she was badly off the music in her Esmeralda variation during the gala, or there was a difference between what she was hearing onstage and what the audience was hearing, or maybe there was a lag in the broadcast feed).  But she’s fifteen.

And as for the choreographers….well, some of them won awards.  I don’t know why.  There seems to be a great big thing with dressing dancers in ugly workout clothes (or else cocktail dresses with black anklets), and sending them on stage to be tangled up with each other for an excruciating number of minutes.  The music is often just there for noise and not at all appropriate for the action on stage, and the action on stage doesn’t use the stage.  It’s just an exploration of how many times and ways a body can be lifted in the least amount of time possible.  They could accomplish it in a small closet, except for the connecting steps which seem to consist of rolling on the floor.

Did I mention that I detest 95% of all modern choreography?

Some nice offstage surprises included the elegant Evgenia Obraztsova doing commentary and interviews.  She and her co-host swung wildly between English and Russian and it was hard to understand their conversation; eventually a translator was at their side.  I’m grateful for that.

P.S. Womack did it again…she just showed up on my Twitter feed claiming to be a “laureate” of the Moscow competition (update on 6/22: she’s apparently deleted the tweet; at least I cannot find it anymore).  This fits in with her well-established habit of stretching the truth (remember when she was calling herself a principal dancer when she was still a soloist?), because strictly speaking, she’s not a laureate of the Moscow competition.  She’s a diploma holder.  See this link.




Be Careful What You Wish For March 4, 2017

During my YouTube haunt tonight, I found a new video by Joy Womack in which she blamed her on-tour loneliness on the fact that she didn’t come up through the corps and didn’t “bond” with anyone; also, she reiterated the “jealousy” excuse when talking about how her colleagues freak out whenever she pulls out a video camera.

At this point I don’t know what to say except that it’s getting old.  It’s obvious that she needs to leave Russia, but it’s not so clear as to whether she’ll be happier in another company elsewhere.  A lot of her problem is herself; until she realizes that, it’s going to be same-old, same-old.

ASIDE: the music she uses in her non-performance videos is hideous.  I keep fast-forwarding through it.  Where does she find this stuff?  It’s either repetitious to the point of where you want to scream…well, it’s always that way…or there’s some girl singing in a voice that sounds like she just sucked on helium.  Sometimes it’s just plain weird (once she had background music where some guy was reciting poetry or a speech or something).  Never does it have anything to do with what’s going on on-screen.

Often, this screechy background music is just plain TOO LOUD.

Anyway, on to my next rant…a video series called The Joffrey Elite.

This is a reality series and follows that sick, sad, sorry old formula to the last drop of BS.  The story is that a group of students are selected by the Joffrey Ballet School (NOT affiliated with the Joffrey Ballet!!) to become “the elite,” which is a group that performs at those silly team competitions that are springing up around the country.  You know, like Dance Moms, only with pointe shoes.

Along the way they have the usual staged backstage dramas (“you’re on probation!”) and the usual happy endings (“we got first place in our first competition!”), coupled with the requisite silly challenges (“we didn’t score 100%!”).  At one point I felt like shouting, “you didn’t score 100% because your students aren’t very good!”  Because they aren’t.  They are students: young, unfinished dancers ostensibly training for the lofty rigors of classical ballet.

If that’s actually who these kids are, this series will cost them eventually in real-world terms.  Let’s put it this way: why are serious pre-professional ballet students wasting their time on high school drill-team choreography?  Are they aspiring to be cheerleaders?  Meantime they are losing serious classroom and rehearsal time in the most difficult of all the disciplines of western dance.

Aside from that, the series is so trite and predictable and just plain stupid that it made me wonder why the Joffrey Ballet School got involved in this in the first place.  This particular school has a reputation that outstrips that of the Joffrey Academy (the school that is affiliated with the Joffrey Ballet), which is a young institution that just underwent a major management shakeup and as a result of all this, hasn’t gotten very far in its first 6 or 7 years.  The Joffrey Ballet School, in contrast, has a solid history that goes back to 1953 and has earned a reputation for producing fine dancers.  Kids fight to get into that school.

So why risk it?  What’s the end game here?  Are they wishing for fame and fortune by going down the reality-tv route?

This is not, after all, the Joffrey School’s first foray into the questionable world of reality shows.  They had a presence in the deplorable Dance Moms series as well.  At this point, I guess I can assume it’s a pattern.  But as I asked, why?  Is it doing them any good?

Is it doing ballet any good?

I can only hope that this doesn’t spread to other schools.  I know one company has already succumbed (Ballet West), but I’d hate to see it spread to other companies as well.  The one thing that may stop it is the dancers themselves.  One hopes that if Joy Womack is getting in trouble with her colleagues for filming everything they do while filming herself (a new form of collateral damage), maybe dancers across the U.S. will stand up with their unions and stop the reality-show trend in its tracks.  After all, it could end up making ballet look like one big, fake, stupid drama, kind of like professional wrestling.

One may argue that it exposes a whole new audience to ballet. But when you consider a typical reality-show audience…well, maybe ballet is better off without it.