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About Helene

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  1. If you don't know until you try, then you can't ensure that you've cast the best performance on the stage. I think the AD's obligation is to know when to call the experiment quits.
  2. Kirkland's last years were after Baryshnikov took over ABT, but she was a mess by then. Her years dancing with Baryshnikov started in the Chase years. Cynthia Gregory joined ABT a decade before Baryshnikov did, and she was an established dancer long before he took over ABT. Martine van Hamel was a Principal Dancer before Baryshnikov defected. Harvey joined ABT in 1974, the year Baryshnikov defected, but he made her his prima when he took over ABT. I remember performances from the Baryshnikov decade well, and I remember a lot of dullness. While I wouldn't fault Harvey's technique, once for me was enough. It's hard to imagine and remember now, but it took a major mind shift to accept Cynthia Gregory as an actual, bona fide ballerina who was worthy to set foot on the same stage as Russian and European dancers. A bit like accepting Kappell as a bona-fide pianist and Bernstein as a "real" conductor.
  3. Somova and Skorik are from Russian companies, whose dancers are still expected to reflect the virtues of style of their schooling, along with a certain standard of technique, and they were considered epic failures by some in meeting these standards. ABT does not have the same expectation for schooling, and, frankly, I don't think people cared as much. New Yorkers could buy tickets to other performances over a long season, as opposed to being "stuck" with whoever was being cast on tours that lasted a week, for the most part. There are other precedents for ABT dancers not meeting the expectations of the group before them, particularly in the Baryshnikov years, where the dancing did not meet standards set by Makarova, Bruhn, Fracci, d'Antuono, etc. in the years before Baryshnikov defected and took over the company. This is cyclical and didn't suddenly emerge when Copeland or Seo came on the scene.
  4. You missed the many, many posts about Seo's deficiencies, as well as her lack of positives, unlike the positive you found and posted about during intermission of Copeland's White Act.
  5. Balanchine might have disagreed with you: he cast non-bravura dancers in non-bravura roles on occasion, and bravura dancers in Romantic-style roles, and that made many a critic and audience member scratch his or her head. (His answer was that they were his ballets.) For example Arlene Croce called Stephanie Saland's "Square Dance" a failed experiment, and Balanchine was in charge at the time.
  6. I saw him when National Ballet of Cuba performed "Don Quixote" in Vancouver, and I loved, loved, loved his big, plush movement. His last name in the program was "Gounod," so it was very easy to remember
  7. I've only had the privilege of seeing her live a couple of times during visits to NYC, but I loved her in both of them
  8. The writing's been on the wall for several seasons: the Company needs taller men, and great, but shorter, talent has gone elsewhere.
  9. Nor have her past experiences retroactively changed because she was promoted.
  10. And, once again, she was asked, and she told about her experience from her point of view.
  11. That is a legitimate viewpoint, but not the only one. There are a lot of dancers who excel in solo roles -- "Swan Lake" pas de troi, Peasant pas de deux, Amor in "Don Q," soloist in "Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2," "Scotch Symphony," not to mention a myriad of demi-soloist roles -- who can't translate that into the lead or have the ability to create a dramatic arc and develop a character through a full length. For years, Royal Ballet had a touring company: they took the best of the best, like Sibley, directly into the corps, but the rest spent their first year or two on road. It was those young dancers who performed the classics throughout Great Britain. A great description of this is in Lynn Seymour's memoir and Barbara Newman's "Striking a Balance." That was where they got their stage experience, learned pacing, developed stamina, and strengthened their technique. Occasionally, there's a dancer with preternatural gifts and/or who's been trained at The Barn, but, on the whole, dancers don't spring from the head of Zeus. Some dancers debut major roles out of town, like Copeland's DC appearances with Washington Ballet, and with ABT in Australia. NYCB has, for over half a century, thrust young dancers into lead roles. I prefer to see the growth of a dancer over time, and, in Seattle, I can. I also prefer thoughtfulness over technique -- sandik often writes about choices -- and seeing that the dancer has thought through what he or she is doing, and seeing the wheels in the brain turning and learning something new from that, even if it's just in part of a ballet, particularly a full-length.
  12. First, I'd like to make the distinction between a Principal Dancer and a ballerina. Sometimes there's overlap, and sometimes there's not. In many ways, promotions depend upon the company. Sometimes it's a matter of structure, sometimes it's a matter of money for the more expensive contract, sometimes it's personal relationships -- boards, generals/politicians -- sometimes it's the Artistic Director and/or a powerful member of staff, sometimes it's for company morale, or a dancer is somehow recognized -- but that's usually when a long-time corps member is promoted to soloist, more than a long-time soloist promoted to principal, although that happens, too -- sometimes it depends on the company's structure. For example, Peter Boal at PNB has said that with company size in the mid-range (45-50), he can't have 20 soloists, because he needs people to dance in the corps. Often dancers languish in the soloist ranks in companies like NYCB or ABT, because they aren't dancing all the time in the corps, and the principals get their share of the leads. I remember reading Arlene Croce saying that Nichol Hlinka was promoted to principal at NYCB -- she spent a long time in the soloist ranks, not getting cast much -- after she lost those few extra pounds. (Which did not make a difference in her dancing, but in the company's perception of her as a dancer. Which is why we got Carla Korbes in Seattle.) One example of the first is Paris Opera Ballet. To be promoted through principal -- Etoiles are chosen by the head of the Opera -- dancers have to compete, and only if there are open spots. An internal jury decides who gets the spot(s). Many US companies have three levels: principals, soloists, and corps. In AGMA (union) companies, the working conditions and pay scales for at least corps and soloists are covered by the union contracts. However, some have more ranks, and most European companies have at least five. Somova and Skorik were given top billing long before they got the principal rank. Novikova and Osmolkina, for example, are still in the First Soloist rank. There are only three companies in the US with rosters over 70 in those ranks: NYCB, ABT, and SFB. SFB, for example, has 41 corps members on its updated roster. PNB has 51 principal, soloist, and corps dancers on its 2016-17 (not yet updated) roster. SFB has 31 principals and soloists. PNB had 20 at year-end, with similar proportions at both companies. Houston Ballet has 59 in those ranks. PNB needs to keep the ranks balanced, as well as needing to find the money to promote dancers, which was particularly acute when the company was deeply hurt financially when the Opera House was closed for seismic renovations -- it re-opened as McCaw Hall -- and the ballet and the opera performed in Mercer Arena, in which the permanent seating was fixed toward the "ice," not a stage. Plus the dot-bomb and the 2008 financial crisis. There are a lot of moving parts that translated into confusion among the audiences when it comes to how dancers are promoted. Sometimes it's promise, which means you'll see the dancer grow into a rank, sometimes it's having spent a long time proving him or herself, sometimes its usefulness -- size, being a great partner, learning fast, being a good team player, staying healthy, reliability in all ways -- sometimes it's being a particular type that the AD loves, sometimes it's a change in rep, etc. For me, a principal has to be able to carry whatever ballet she is in. There's a dancer in Seattle who has been carrying full-lengths since her second season in the company, yet doesn't have the rank, and others over the years in a number of companies who have the rank, but not the ability.
  13. When I arrived in Seattle, I knew many of the dancers at PNB, but I didn’t know Carrie Imler or Batkhurel Bold. I entered Studio A in May of 2004 and settled on the floor to watch a rehearsal of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Carrie was Titania. She was engaged in the required custody battle with Oberon as penned by Shakespeare. She wasn’t as tall as the Titanias I had seen before, and my first thought was that she might be more suited to the role of Hermia. The following scene, known as the “Athalie”, is where Titania and her cavalier execute challenging choreography among their court of fairies. She simply devoured the space around her even if was the air above. She made the musical score come to visual life, seeming to conduct an entire orchestra with each step. If ever there was a dancer’s dancer, it is Carrie Imler. Through pristine technique, laser-focused musical phrasing, and sheer zest for movement, Carrie refined the role of Titania for me in just one sitting. Not long after, I saw Bold perform as Prince Ivan in Firebird opposite the diminutive Kaori Nakamura. In a way, it was a perfect role for Bold. He loomed over Kaori with a back twice the width of hers and legs that seemed not to know the limits of flexibility. He moved like a panther (and still does), but this animalistic dancer demonstrated a rare sensitivity in his handling of his partner. It was more than just lifting her with ease or making sure she could execute pirouettes successfully. He approached Kaori with true tenderness, care, and humanity. This was not the role; this was Bold. Bold and Carrie have spoken about the privilege they have known in every season and every role of their careers. I heel a similar privilege has been afforded me in working with these two. Retirements aren’t easy. Careers aren’t easy. PNB is a tight-knit community and the analogy to a family is spot on. Balancing highlights and glory are plenty of scars and bruises along the way. On the other side of the curtain, we run the gamut of emotions and with each incident the bonds between all of us grow deeper. I am so proud of Carried and Bold—particularly for the strength and maturity they have demonstrated. The onstage triumphs are easy to recall. For Carrie it’s Aurora, Swan Lake Titania, Myrtha, Kitri, Vespers, Waiting at the Station, The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, and now La Source. It’s also how she managed a challenging hip injury and returned to the stage so triumphantly in Square Dance (at 9,000 fest above sea level in Vail Colorado. Thanks, Peter!) It’s her successful balancing of “Ballerinadom” and motherhood and how giving she is as a teacher, coach, friend, and daughter. She is an inspiration and will continue to be so in so many ways, but especially in our School as she teaches the next generation. Your may have noticed Bold starting to smile a few years ago. It may have something to do with his marriage to Lesley, but I suspect that was just part of it. The smiling has become chronic. He even started chatting, joking, and laughing—a lot. He is such a pleasure to have in the room and so supporting and encouraging of every dancer in our Company, from the newest apprentice to veteran principals. His heart is big and seems to be growing. Bold would literally throw himself in front of a bus for any of his partners or peers. I’d be worried for the bus—this guy is strong. He’s come into my office injured, on more than one occasion, and offered to dance so his partner would not miss a performance. This was often Carrie. His devotion to those around him completely outweighs his concern for himself. In planning this farewell performance, he wanted the spotlight on Carrie and only begrudgingly allowed us to honor him as well. I came to him with a long list of roles I wanted to see one more time: Rassemblement, Moor’s Pavane, Diamonds, Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven. Can’t we have just a few more multiple turns and gravity defying leaps? We will savor the roles Carrie and Bold dance tonight, but remain even more grateful for the wealthy of spectacular performances we have witnessed over the past twenty-one years. Thank you, Carrie and Bold, for giving so generously to our company and to our lives. You will continue to inspire, and we are all so pleased to know you and to have experienced your rare gifts on stage and off. Congratulations on your extraordinary careers. Take a bow. Peter Boal
  14. There were two essays, one by Francia Russell and Kent Stowell, and the other by Peter Boal, in the Encore booklet: As painful as it is to see Carrie & Bold retire, there is a sense of inevitability about them ending their wonderful careers together. What a great artistic partnership this has been! More than twenty years together, in the studio and the stage. And it all began at the Kennedy Center, where each of them first saw PNB and was inspired to audition for us. CARRIE has that rare gift of putting audiences at ease. With both exciting and secure technique, sumptuously beautiful line, engaging warmth, and intelligent musicality, she guarantees her public a great performance, as her colleagues marvel in the wings. We first saw Carrie on the opening day of PNB School’s 1994 Summer course and knew instantly that she was ready for the Company. Waiting a year for a contract, she was the ideal student and a role model for her colleagues, who included Jodie Thomas and Maria Chapman. It was clear that she was destined to be one of the most important dancers PNB would ever have. In a recent conversation, Carrie first said she had no favorite roles, that her career was full of favorites. But three that stood out were Ronald Hynd’s Merry Widow and Kent’s Juliet and Carmen, her first role after being made a principal. We also talked about her first Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty. Carrie was an understudy in the back of the studio with no private rehearsals. When Louise Nadeau suffered an injury, and other dancers were exhausted, we asked Carrie if she thought she could perform one of classical ballet’s most daunting roles the next afternoon—without a stage rehearsal. Her instant reply was: “Sure. I think I can do that.” Her calm seemed surreal, but we knew how deep and strong her emotions are. And we knew her abilities. As expected, her performance was a triumph. Only Carrie! In our minds’ eyes we can still picture BOLD, a handsome, painfully shy, 18-year-old doing his triple tours in a corner of the studio at the Kennedy Center. We didn’t even know he was there to audition, and that was the only way he knew how to impress us. It worked, and our hearts went out to him forever. Several years ago, Bold, Le Yin, and Karel Cruz described what it had been like for them to leave their families at very early ages to study ballet. In each case, their parents were doing what they thought best for their son: an opportunity for education and training in a respected profession—Le Yin’s in China and Karel’s in Cuba. Bold’s story seemed the most dramatic. Perm, in the Soviet Union, was a long way from Ulan Bator in Mongolia—in distance, culture, and language. Bold was just seven years old, on a four-day train journey with some other students and a chaperone, watching his homeland disappear. These dancers’ love for their families is deep in ways we can only attempt to understand, but it’s good to note that each has had a stellar career, married a fellow PNB principal dancer, and has a new family in America. Bold would be the first to agree the was a bit of a handful at first, but his great gifts as both dancer and partner were never in doubt. Astonishing technical feats, huge, easy jumps, and a magnetic presence made him an instant attraction, and, as he matured, he became a mainstay of the Company, partnering every ballerina—most frequently Carrie—and dancing leading roles form strictly classical to wildly contemporary. A partnership like Carrie & Bold’s is a rarity in our world of dance. All the roles they have danced—a vast number of them together—display more varied and exciting careers than any young dancer in the world would dare to dream. Now neither of them is in any doubt that they are making the right decision at the right time. Carrie’s new life really began when she and her husband Hans Miller welcomed little Markus Miller into their family. And Bold’s began last June when he and Lesley Rausch were the radiant stars of their wedding by the beach in Honolulu. Carrie is an experience and superb teacher, so we know how she will continue. Bold says his relationship with ballet ends this evening, but we hope he will change his mind in time. Knowledge like theirs, characters like theirs, will contribute to whatever they decide to do. Tonight we applaud their two brilliant careers and feel proud to know them, to love them, and to be in the audience to see them dance one last time. Kent & Francia