Posted 28 December 2006 - 06:30 PM
PROMOTE THE STAR...or NOT?
Apropos to this thread, I once had a very interesting (and somewhat oblique) conversation about this very thing with a "star". The question was, should management cast them because they were popular and the public demanded it? If it was good for the bottom line, and past experience had sort of proven that, then why not? What determined the choice? Aesthetics or economics? Kevin McKenzie said in an article in the NYTimes last year, that in years past, he had DELIBERATELY mixed up an established (and sure money-making) partnership with no great drop in attendence or $. Therefore, if economics wasn't the answer; then aesthetics was a much more touchy (confusing, frustrating, and hurtful?) reason. And that brought up the subject of why people are cast in certain roles in the first place.
CROSS-TRAIN and CROSS-PROMOTE
My first thought was that others need a chance, too, to learn or grow into a part. One of the things I always admired about Baryshnikov's tenure at ABT was his willingness to promote from within, and not dance every star turn role (maybe to save those knees?). This could create new "stars" in a particular role, and provide more casting depth and/or back-up in case of injury. An example of the standard business technique of "cross-training". McKenzie does this too.
WHAT MAKES A STAR? TECHNIQUE or ARTISTRY? THE DANCER OR THE AUDIENCE?
My interest in a dancer--and especially a "star" dancer--is HOW and WHY are they greater? Technique is one reason "how", artistry one reason "why". If it's a question of technique, then one is comparing it to a standard. Who created that standard? And if many dancers have excellent technique, what makes a particular dancer stand out from the rest?
It's not just HOW they do a step, it's how they do it DIFFERENTLY. And here is the crux of that bias--again, it is a COMPARISON. Unless you have seen others perform the same step or role, then you cannot see or analyse what makes your favorite "star" truly stand out. Unless there is a "crowd" there cannot be one who stands out from that crowd. So, others MUST perform the work or role to provide a standard of comparison. And if technical mastery is equal, then again, it's how each does it differently. This is where the "artistry" comes in.
Now we are being SUBJECTIVE because each of us has our own standard of what "artistic" differences please us most. A rather astute 'star' once said (paraphrasing) "at a certain professional level, all dancers are technically great, art[istry] shouldn't be competitive, and for the audience [and maybe judges at competitions?] it just devolves to a [subjective] liking of one dancer over another." A star may be created first by an objective critique of technique or technical mastery, but eventually it devolves to a more subjective predeliction (too strong?) or affinity (too mushy?) for certain aesthetic "traits". What is artistry? Tell me it's not a personal (and subjective) standard.
What about stage presence, or charisma, on-stage and off? Charisma does help, if it reaches across the footlights to an audience. It draws an audience into the performer/performance, and by making them feel involved (and invested), creates an affinity. This consequently makes an audience forgive more if technique flags. I once said a certain dancer excelled in a role because of a synergy of looks, temperament, and technique. I thought it was the presence of all THREE traits, not just one that contributed. A more general audience probably goes by looks alone--the bane of many a "star" who wants to be taken as a serious "actor". Or dancer? (Take that Mr. Rockwell! for your sexist bemoaning of a lack of "glamourous" dancers.) Here, the audience (or media) creates the star.
ADS: PROMOTE THE DANCER OR THE DANCE? e.g.: ABT's banners in front of the Met 2006
First there was Stiefel & Murphy in the lake in Fabrizio Ferri's photo. Was this an attempt to promote two stars (not exactly good, considering Stiefel didn't dance at all that season)? Or an attempt to promote the romance of "Swan Lake"? Or just an interesting pic to make people look up? I think it was (hopefully) a combo of reasons 2 & 3. Ditto Alessandra Ferri in her husband's double exposure pic of Giselle; useful as both a promo for her in a signature role, and as an intriguing "ghostly" image to draw in the less informed audiences who saw it. And how many times have we seen the passionate close-up used to promote R&J? I still remember BB's photos by -?-Brandt in the early 90's. All tight close-ups of tight clinches by their "hot" (ie. popular not just physically) principal dancers. Ditto ABT in the past: Nancy Ellison's close-up of Herrera & Corella used at the bus stops, and this year Rosalie O'Connor's photo of Reyes & Corella on the Met banners. But I don't think the R&J banners this past season just promoted a "star" in a signature role (and again, what makes it a signature role or that dancer a star?) Rather, like the ghostly Giselle pic, or Siegfried/Odette in the water, it promoted the essential plot point of the ballet--using THE most expressive dancers in those roles to illustrate it. What, in fact, F. Ferri said was the point of his photos--and maybe why his example of R&J was Tybalt (Hallberg) killing Mercutio (Cornejo): the conflict as principal plot motivator, not the love story. So Rockwell can look at the banners as promos for stars--but I saw them as promos for ballets using the dramatic actions/exemplars to promote them. Good for the stars, but more importantly, good for the bottom line if it brought in the curious.