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Steve Keeley

Miranda Weese

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Continuing a controversy I started in the "Ballet's Worst TV Exposure: Miss America" thread:

IMO, Miranda Weese is yucky.

I'm aware, in saying this, that there are others here who greatly admire her. We all have our own likes and dislikes regarding particular dancers, and one of us may like dancer A more than B, while another may feel that B can dance rings around A. But I don't just like Weese LESS than other dancers, I find her downright off-putting.

It may be interesting to compare notes on why we like/dislike Weese as it will illustrate the different qualities each of us feel is important in a ballerina. (Actually, I think it would be more fun if we also impugned each other's eyesight, sanity and ancestry in the process, but Alexandria won't allow that here. Oh well...)

In the "Worst Exposure" thread, I singled out Miranda's Odette as an example of a poor performance by a principal dancer of a major ballet company on national television. Under the circumstances that she performed, I granted there that that may have been unfair, but the fact is I've seen her on stage quite a few times and she was just as bad. (I saw her most recently in a performance of "Theme and Variations" that she single-handedly drained all the life out of.)

What don't I like about her? For one thing, her whole upper body seems to be along for the ride. She seems to hang out her arms as an afterthought. But her most serious shortcoming is her lack of expressiveness. I can see her moving on the stage, but I feel nothing from her. Sitting in the second row, I got the impression that she had her mind elsewhere, reviewing the things she needed to pick up from the grocery on the way home. A dancer is not merely a technician, but also a performer. If someone walks onto a stage and doesn't try to connect with the audience, or even to give a damn whether or not they're there, then I don't care how proficient they are.

That, ultimately, is what makes me like a dancer; does she (or he) communicate to me? Do I feel anything when watching her, or do I just think "Hmm... nice arabesque"? I can overlook some flaws in technique in a dancer who moves me. But no amount of skill in movement will make me enjoy a cold fish. (This is not meant to imply that I think Weese's technique is all that great to begin with.)

Do I have anything good to say about Weese? Yes: her footwork is terrific; sharp and fast and precise. She would be great in "Riverdance"; she could let her arms hang lifeless by her side and wear a blank expression while wowing the crowd with her flashing feet.

~Steve

[This message has been edited by Steve Keeley (edited October 01, 1999).]

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Well thanks Steve.

Interesting how certain dancers can get under one's skin. Kyra Nichols and now Evelyn Hart are my least favorites, but Weese ... I've always found her pretty exciting.

I remember the first time I saw her in Sanguinic in the 4 Temps. She was terrific -- so controlled and precise. Arms? Can't remember if she had any. Just remember those legs -- legs that made me not care about arms. But isn't Balanchine all about legs?

Too each his own I guess. We all have dancers who rub us the wrong way.

[This message has been edited by Lillian (edited October 01, 1999).]

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Makarova will always be my favorite.

I saw NYCB a lot in the Misha days and the ballerinas were beautiful. Nichols was wonderful.

I like Miranda Weese. She's beautiful and strong. She has quite an enchanting spirit.

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I might as well weigh in here as a Weese fan. I think she's one of the best things to happen to NYCB since Darci Kistler and after Wendy Whelan.

A lot of what I've written about Weese is either available on my website (http://members.aol.com/lwitchel/dance.htm) so I won't go into it here.

I don't find her inexpressive, but I don't think of her as an adagio ballerina, either. Her heart is in the allegros, through and through, and there's an entire swath of the Balanchine repertory she holds up now (yes, including Theme and Variations. I think we see this ballet differently. I don't consider it an agadio ballet.) She's also one of the few dancers who's both a virtuoso and witty, in an almost zany, gallic way. Her timing in Who Cares is so razor sharp, it makes one laugh slyly.

I think this is a case of "To each his own." Like another poster, I didn't think Odette was an ideal role for her, but I saw her the day after the telecast and thought she did a good job in an uncongenial role. As you know already, you're allowed not to like her. But she's still a good dancer.

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it may seem a bit rude for someone who has only seen NYCB twice in her entire life. I feel a bit uncomfortable saying anything having only seen Miranda twice, in different dances.

But I remember thinking what nice elevation she had ... but that there was a decided lack of expression (esp. in Donizetti Variations).

Of course.. The lack of involvement with her face was better than a corps girl who performed the entire thing with this fake, ingratiating smile that never left her face for the duration of the ballet. I was transfixed by the smile, waiting for it to waver. I tell you, that smile threatened to ruin the evening- years later and the thing I remember most is that girls smile (and what a fabulous body Albert Evans has).

So even though I am possibly the most uneducated person to comment on the situation, there; you officially have my two cents.

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I'm going to keep my response to this brief, because we're about to head into the "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" kind of argument. I will leave arguing whether "good" is a relative or an absolute term, but to others. I certainly won't try to respond to you by saying that something is good because people like it, after all, if someone tries to tell me X ballet is good because it's the most popular, I'd laugh at them.

I also understand how Steve or you might feel because I could name a few dancers who made it to soloist or principal level that I considered unwatchable (but I'm not going to!) and wild horses couldn't get me to admit they were "good dancers."

To explain why I think Miranda Weese is a good dancer, I refer you, as above, either to my website, or do a search of this site under her name, and read several essays I wrote during the Tchaikovsky Festival. I think I state my point clearly enough there and won't duplicate it here. [edited note - I need to modify that - the search function here is working oddly and some of the posts have either been archived or trashed. I'll try and place last season's comments on Weese and other works on my personal site as soon as possible, but there are essays there going up to June of 1998 at present.]

[This message has been edited by Leigh Witchel (edited October 02, 1999).]

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I don't think it would be very fruitful to argue over whether or not Weese is a "good dancer." Clearly she must have some talent or she wouldn't be where she is and have so many admirers.

The more interesting line of discussion to me is how the different ways we look at ballet and dancers cause some of us to like/dislike someone in particular.

I checked through all my old comments written about NYCB performances to see what I wrote about Weese in the past, and found some positive comments. In January 97, writing about a performance of "Divertimento #15," I felt the entire cast was fine but "Of the principals, Miranda Weese impressed me the most in the 'variations' section, but that may be because of the variation (fourth) itself." In June 97, regarding Miriam Mahdaviani’s “Urban Dances, I wrote "Weese, Soto, and Somogyi were especially impressive."

When NYCB came to Costa Mesa in October 98, I saw Weese twice. The first time was in "Raymonda Variations": "The leads were Miranda Weese and Philip Neal. I enjoyed him more than her. Neal's movements were so sharp and clean and elegant that he gave the thin material a lot of dignity. Weese, while very competent, didn't generate much excitement in this role." But in "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux" I liked her better: "...danced by Miranda Weese and Philip Neal. Together they gave a polished and exciting performance. Miranda showed beautiful line and control, and Neal again impressed me with his sharp, clean and elegant movements."

That I did enjoy her performances in these roles meshes with Leigh's comment that "Her heart is in the allegros, through and through." The instances where I most disliked her were in the Odette adagio in "Swan Lake" (her Odile wasn't so bad) and in "Theme and Variations" during the adagio. (I do see this ballet differently than Leigh; to me its heart is in the adagio.)

This may be where how I watch ballet colors which dancers I like; it's in the adagios that a ballerina will win or lose my heart.

~Steve

[This message has been edited by Steve Keeley (edited October 03, 1999).]

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First, in answer to the (rhetorical) question "Isn't Balanchine all about legs?" how can one not quote Arlene Croce?

"The arabesque is real, the leg is not."

Second--about the opening of this thread-- Steve, I must be getting old or something, BUT: I think your not liking Miranda Weese the dancer is interesting, as are your reasons, but I must say I don't think it is fair to take it ad feminam and call her "yucky." Third, a question: are those little red emoticons with the closed eyes and open mouths little red screams or little red yawns?

[This message has been edited by Nanatchka (edited October 03, 1999).]

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The little red thingies are supposed to be the emoticon for embarrassment. As in, "boy, was my face red." (For those who plan to be embarrassed in the near future, this is made by the : (for the eyes) and the o for the open mouth. Oh, dear. I didn't check this. It's in the faq. But I think that's it. redface.gif

I never commented on Libby's "idea" -- giving the rankings a la skating competitions with smilies and frownies and blushies. I must confess I see real commercial potential there. Maybe we can use it for "Le Corsaire" when it shows on PBS. BTW, for those who wish to show more complex emotions, there's also a big grin -- I think that's the : and the D, i.e., biggrin.gif If we ever see a production that is the antithesis of yucky. (Not the worst word one could pick, is it, Nan? Or does it have a hidden meaning of which I'm unaware?)

Alexandra

[This message has been edited by alexandra (edited October 04, 1999).]

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It depends on what he means by "yucky. " "Yucky "seems to me--and mind you I have no business objecting to a passionate fan's visceral reactions, when you get right down to it, do I?--to be an indictment of the person, not the performance, being an indication of *disgust*. Without further unrequested line editing of my distinguished friend Mr. Keeley's interesting post (with which, mind you, I am not in disagreement), I will say only that I found myself feeling sorry for the ballerina. I would always prefer that one criticize performing rather than being. This comes from knowing devastated actresses who have fallen prey to the wasp-sharp barbs of John Simon.

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I'm a bit too busy to start looking up quotes (and I'm sure I'm opening up a huge can of worms here) but I believe in both Merrill Ashley's and Sauzanne Farrell's autobios they say that often when Balanchine choreographed, he left many of the arm positions to them, focusing primarily on the legs.

Secondly, I see nothing wrong with criticizing a ballerina's appearance (its all part of the package, I'm sure Jeannie agrees with this) and lastly I understood exactly what Steve meant when he said yucky. Good word -- should be used more often -- especially for a crowd with a sense of humor. biggrin.gif

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Balanchine and arms: I think this is one of the many aspects of Balanchine that's been misinterpreted. It has come to be believed that Balanchine didn't care what the dancers did with their arms, which has morphed into "arms don't matter." But. There have been a passle of interviews in the past five years or so with Balanchine ballerinas about arms. He did care. He worked on arm positions in class. One of the most beautiful lines is from Maria Tallchief: Balanchine would tell her to hold her arms at a very specific angle, so she would be "looking over the balustrade, into the lake." (See the interview with Nancy Reynolds in the Ballet Alert sampler.)

There may well have been certain ballets and certain ballerinas where Balanchine did not set specific arm positions -- he gave Farrell in particular a lot of latitude in many things, including musicality. But that doesn't mean that he allowed the arms to flap about, or that he didn't think that the arms were part of the body.

Alexandra

p.s. Just remembered another one. The wink. ; plus ) wink.gif I don't know how we could fit this into our rating system, but it's there.

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I have to come down firmly in the middle in the Weese question. Sometimes she can be a bit inexpressive and technical, as in T&V. I didn't see her Sleeping Beauty, but a friend, who usually likes her very much, said it was a real disappointment as a performance. But I loved her in Rubies and in Who Cares, in both parts she has danced. I think it is especially disappointing that she has not taken control of the major classical parts, because she looks as though she should be able to, but maybe depth will come in time. And about Balanchine and arms--I have interviewed several Balanchine dancers who said he did care very much about arms and the upper body, that sometimes details were lost on stage, but that epaulement was very important to him. To me the proof is in the watching, and there is nothing worse that seeing the flailing, sloppy arms and grasping hands that are becoming more common.

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What kind of coaching are the City Ballet women getting for these classical roles? I don't think she is entirely to blame here.

I mean, who the heck showed Miranda Weese what to do with her arms? Peter Martins?

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Lillian---cheers on the last comment! I have been on vacation and came back to such a controversial topic!

I do go to City Ballet alot. I used to not like Miranda Weese at all. I think partly because she got promoted to a soloist over Jenifer Ringer and that just bugged me. But as the seasons have gone by, I've found her growing on me, especially in comparison to what's coming up in the company now.

But I question I want to pose to those of you out there, is...who are the corps dancers to look up to in a Company like NYCB? Darci, Kyra, Wendy? I think the Company's poor showings sometimes is their lack of role models. Everyone knows Suzanne Farrell has been all but banned on having an influence in that Company. But in day to day classes, if there are no dancers with beautiful port de bras and just real emotions, how are the younger generations to learn. Let's face it, City Ballet dancers are not coached in the "emotions" department. It's all....fast, faster, faster.

Back to Weese though, we also have to remember she's barely in her mid-20's . how is it that we can expect so much maturity from dancers barely out of their teens?

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I see your point Nan; perhaps I should have said her performances were yucky. I thought it was clear from the content of my post that I was casting no aspersions on MS. Weese as a person, but rather criticizing her work.

Having since reviewed my notes and discovered that on several occasions I've been impressed by Weese's work, I should have just said I have found her adagio work yucky.

I also wasn't complaining about her looks; she's certainly pretty enough. My major objection is the cold, mechanical way I've seen her perform adagios. She seemed to be going through the motions, with no attention paid to either her partner or the audience. At the last performance of "Theme and Variations" that I saw her in, I got the distinct impression she would rather be elsewhere. I squirmed through the entire adagio, and the performance left a bad taste in my mouth that still hasn't gone away.

Thus, my use of the word "yucky." (Although I've seen many disappointing performances, the only other ballerina who has ever inspired me to say "yuck" is Sylvie Guillem, for the same reason. Sylvie's technique is astounding, but I have always found a repellent coldness at the heart of her dancing.)

~Steve

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I found Lillian and rrfan's comments quite interesting (as one who believes that "it's the coaching, stupid!" should hang in every artistic director's office). One reads with increasing frequency from young dancers that there is no coaching there. They're not complaining, just telling it like it is, as they say. We have an interview coming out in Ballet Alert! with a young dancer who, in all innocence, and as a throwaway remark, says, (this is a paraphrase): "We're just told to get out there and do it." Who would have guessed?

rrfan, your comment about models is a good one, I think. Dancers can learn from teachers and those who stage the ballets as well as from actively dancing stars (one reads how Danilova and Doubrovska were an influence on their students).

Alexandra

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I started following up on this thread last week and now have to jump in and say that it would have been wise if Ms. Weese used a couple of videos (maybe Plisetskaya for Odile and Mesentzeva or Asylmuratova for Odette as an example) if she didn't have any good coaching available for her roles.

Her lack of expressivity and her flamenco hands to portray a swan were an annoyance.

I can't discuss the rest of her work because I've only seen her on PBS but GOSH!!!!!

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In defense of the PBS showing. While it's not the greatest excuse, Miranda was thrown into the performance a mere 2 hours before the curtain went up. Now I know dancers have a lot of pressure performing live, but tv is a venue I don't think ballet should belong to. One of the unique things about live performance art is that every night is a new performance. To judge a dancer by a performance that, fortunately or unfortunately will remain on tape forever is not fair.

I've seen Katharine Hepburn flub her lines on stage and I doubt anyone will argue the talent of that woman!

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Thank-you for your interesting recasting of your "yucky" remark, Steve. I think it illuminates two different ways of writing criticism.(This being a public venue. In private conversation, anything goes, of course.) Were the ballerina in question to read your first post, she would simply have to regard herself asyucky. Were she to read your amendment,she would understand something about how she appeared in performance to a seasoned eye. I personally will say anything about a choreographer that I feel impelled to, ditto about theater directors and artistic directors. They are their ship's captains, and they ought to sink with them. (Although may a director has taken the heat for an intransigent actor not of his own choosing, and many a dim bulb has shone bright under a director's invisible hand.) Towards perfomers I usually feel much more kind-hearted. Whatever it is, they have to go out there and do it, and wear it!

[This message has been edited by Nanatchka (edited October 05, 1999).]

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Since it has been mentioned that in the "Swan Lake" broadcast, Miranda Weese was a last-minute replacement and that this should be taken into account, I thought I'd be fair and add the following information regarding that horrible "Theme and Variations" performance.

That was a Sunday matinee, and Miranda Weese wasn't scheduled to dance that day; the program listed the cast for T&V as Wendy Whelan and Robert Tewsley. Due to illness or injury Kyra Nichols, scheduled to dance in "Diamonds," was replaced by Wendy, and Miranda replaced Wendy in T&V.

I have no idea how much notice she had.

~Steve

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