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The Star System - Rockwell in the Times


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#16 richard53dog

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Posted 07 January 2007 - 02:01 PM

And this is why we do not have a true interpretation of MacMillan's R&J with Lynn Seymour and Christopher Gable on film, and the ballet is still largely associated with Fonteyn and Nureyev. And let's not forget that when Sadler Wells Ballet first brought Sleeping Beauty to the States, the American people wanted to see Moira Shearer because of the fame she accumulated from The Red Shoes, but Fonteyn was pushed into the spotlight by dancing Aurora on opening night. In the latter case, an artistic decision was made over a financial one, and it was a brilliant move, but one can't help but wonder what kind of impression Shearer would have made. Both examples illustrate how the star system can be helpful or detrimental to the multiple people involved.



I know, I know. DeValois had a huge battle with Hurok over the NYC opening night of Sadler's Wells. She took advantage of his.....ah....lack of experience by agreeing to cast the beautiful Shearer as Princess Florine, which made her largely invisible and focused the attention on Fonteyn. So he thought he won but he actually lost.

Or did he??? I believe he still featured Shearer prominantly in the advertising and the audiences were happy to go to see the lovely redhead as well as the "new girl" (Fonteyn).

At least for American audiences it seems advertising , stars, and money all are interrelated. To borrow from another thread, currently Anna Netrebko may be the biggest name in opera right now. And I think the "package" that makes up AN is comprised of a bunch of complex elements.

#17 leonid17

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Posted 09 January 2007 - 07:13 AM

And this is why we do not have a true interpretation of MacMillan's R&J with Lynn Seymour and Christopher Gable on film, and the ballet is still largely associated with Fonteyn and Nureyev. And let's not forget that when Sadler Wells Ballet first brought Sleeping Beauty to the States, the American people wanted to see Moira Shearer because of the fame she accumulated from The Red Shoes, but Fonteyn was pushed into the spotlight by dancing Aurora on opening night. In the latter case, an artistic decision was made over a financial one, and it was a brilliant move, but one can't help but wonder what kind of impression Shearer would have made. Both examples illustrate how the star system can be helpful or detrimental to the multiple people involved.


I have always assumed when the RB decided to allow Kenneth Macmillan to stage Romeo and Juliet that consideration was made who would dance the first night in New York because it had to be a high profile event to attract ticket sales.

When Sol Hurok agreed to take a high risk new production of Romeo and Juliet as part of the NY season. the decision was made at least some months before the London premiere and as history tells us he wanted Dame Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev to dance the first night. This couple had been working on rehearsals for some six weeks before the premiere not a week or to as one might be led to believe. Even MacMillan would have understood the financial implications of this major production. Although Lynn Seymour and Christopher Gable most definitely met MacMillan's idea of the portrayal of the leading characters, one should not however forget that Dame Margot and Rudolf Nureyev also gave extraordinary performances in this ballet, which incidentally the film does not, or can ever, catch what takes place in a live performance even when it is a film of a live performance.

The decision for Dame Margot to dance the frst Aurora by the Sadlers Wells ballet in New York is the opposite story. She was unknown whilst Moira Shearer was a film star of whom I have never heard it said that she was a greater Aurora than Dame Margot.

From every description I have read or heard of from witnesses Dame Margot simply triumphed in the role and her performance led to the companies international standing.

It does not matter what audiences or critics want, they are not in the position of responsibility that Artistic Director or Impresarios are in, which is simply to keep companies alive and well and to make money through the creation and presentation of an art.

As a postscript I would add, keep hold of you Fonteyn/Nureyev film version as the current RB production is a disgrace even though Kenneth MacMillan worked on it and beware of mythology created by interested parties that becomes a historical record some years later. Ballet books have been full of such myths.

#18 Old Fashioned

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Posted 09 January 2007 - 03:15 PM

Although Lynn Seymour and Christopher Gable most definitely met MacMillan's idea of the portrayal of the leading characters, one should not however forget that Dame Margot and Rudolf Nureyev also gave extraordinary performances in this ballet, which incidentally the film does not, or can ever, catch what takes place in a live performance even when it is a film of a live performance.

The decision for Dame Margot to dance the frst Aurora by the Sadlers Wells ballet in New York is the opposite story. She was unknown whilst Moira Shearer was a film star of whom I have never heard it said that she was a greater Aurora than Dame Margot.

From every description I have read or heard of from witnesses Dame Margot simply triumphed in the role and her performance led to the companies international standing.

It does not matter what audiences or critics want, they are not in the position of responsibility that Artistic Director or Impresarios are in, which is simply to keep companies alive and well and to make money through the creation and presentation of an art.

As a postscript I would add, keep hold of you Fonteyn/Nureyev film version as the current RB production is a disgrace even though Kenneth MacMillan worked on it and beware of mythology created by interested parties that becomes a historical record some years later. Ballet books have been full of such myths.


I'm not trying to deny that Fonteyn and Nureyev were extraordinary in R&J, nor assume that Shearer might have made a better Aurora, I was simply making the case that when a company places so much star attraction around one or two dancers then other talented dancers may be overlooked. People have wondered why there is no standout ballerina today the way Dame Margot was, and I believe part of the answer lies in the fact that companies now will realize the potential of multiple dancers. Perhaps this is why a run of Swan Lake will not go to one or two principal dancers, but an AD will decide to cast 4 or 5 different principals--and in many cases soloists and corps members--as Odette/Odile. I think it may be a bit like parenting: a single child is usually given all the care and attention from their parents, while it is more difficult for parents to give the same amount of energy and resources to each child if they have a brood of 5 or more.

*Editing to add:
A lot of people on this board have mentioned that they dislike the system of casting too many dancers in a single role that none of them get the chance to really refine their interpretation of it. Well say that this is to change today, and companies decide to revert back to casting one or two dancers for a role. Then people would complain that their favorite dancer wasn't cast in it. "What! How could so-and-so be overlooked?" And unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), no single dancer is going to have a monopoly over the public the way some had in the past. Nowadays, no one has the same favorites.

#19 Old Fashioned

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Posted 10 January 2007 - 12:48 AM

No doubt there are plenty of attractive, witty, and engaging dancers who could increase the audience for ballet, whether they are actually stars are not. (I'd love to see a pair of dancers on The Amazing Race. Foreign languages, airport maneuvers, tough tasks on little food and sleep - they would absolutely kill!) But today's dancers are not encouraged to think of themselves as part of entertainment. The public will make its own stars. But it has to know that individuals with star quality exist. Perhaps for the sake of company cohesion, ballet companies these days seem reluctant to exploit the natural appeal of their dancers.


Forgive me for playing into stereotypes, but there is a higher ratio of physically attractive people in the ballet world than in the opera world. The general public knows that dancers are slim and beautiful, but they are less likely to consider opera singers in the same way. So when someone like Anna Netrebko comes along, of course marketers are going to want to exploit her looks, telling an uninformed audience that opera singers can be beautiful, too. That wouldn't work quite as well in ballet...sure you can single out Julie Kent or Darci Kistler, both of whom are undoubtedly lovely, but then again so are the majority of the other women dancing along side them. Marketers want to dispel stereotypes that would normally keep people away from going to the ballet or opera. They want to show that opera singers are not necessarily old and plus-sized, and that male dancers can be "manly" men.

#20 leonid17

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Posted 10 January 2007 - 04:04 AM

*Editing to add:
A lot of people on this board have mentioned that they dislike the system of casting too many dancers in a single role that none of them get the chance to really refine their interpretation of it. Well say that this is to change today, and companies decide to revert back to casting one or two dancers for a role. Then people would complain that their favorite dancer wasn't cast in it. "What! How could so-and-so be overlooked?" And unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), no single dancer is going to have a monopoly over the public the way some had in the past. Nowadays, no one has the same favorites.


The Royal Ballet's staging of Sleeping Beauty during Nov/Dec 2006 showed six Auroras including the unknown Lauren Cuthbertson whose dancing apparently was unrecognisable having blossomed since her tutelage by Galina Panova, who prepared her for the Varna Ballet Competition where she gained a silver medal.

This is an example of where a classical ballet company can cast in depth with excellent performers, which is what the RB was once able to do over a long period of years.

As regards people complaining about their favourite dancers not getting opportunities I would say if dancers think they deserve major roles ask for them and if performances are not forthcoming, go to another company and see if first you can get employed at the rank you want.

It is a fact that many companies apart from the Russians and the POB, take fully (or almost) formed dancers into their schools and companies the RB is an example and they then promote them swiftly. I do not know the ABT experience.

I long for the days of ballerina's and not merely principal dancers, yes, there is a difference. I do not expect any dancer to now get star status as companies see such dancers as much of a liability as a blessing. Also in classical ballet companies, there are no 'muses' for choreographers or choreographers for muses in quite the same way as there were in the past.

In the case of the ROH, their marketing is that they provide a product of excellence at all times and this includes the casting of the RB. One ballet cast is therefore considered fully equal to another. To state otherwise would mean that they would not be able to charge the same prices for all performances which is undoubtedly a financial necessity.

When Dame Margot was queen of the RB and appearing with Rudolf Nureyev, the seat prices were at a premium and it was generally accepted by audiences as these were 'must see' performances.

Are there potential star performers around? Certainly the RB has four. It is whether the company allows them to become so and that they are able to fulfil that role with the right repertory and new roles.

Stars are manufactured by opportunities given to them, not merely born.

#21 dirac

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Posted 10 January 2007 - 02:22 PM

leonid writes:

The decision for Dame Margot to dance the first Aurora by the Sadlers Wells ballet in New York is the opposite story. She was unknown whilst Moira Shearer was a film star of whom I have never heard it said that she was a greater Aurora than Dame Margot.


From every description I have read or heard of from witnesses Dame Margot simply triumphed in the role and her performance led to the companies international standing.

Well....Shearer was more than just a ‘film star’ I think. She may not have been a better Aurora, but who knows what effect she might have had on opening night in New York? Most likely she would have been outshone by Fonteyn on the second night -- or she might have had a triumph of her own. Such things can make a difference.



#22 SanderO

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Posted 10 January 2007 - 05:48 PM

Speaking of the star system and public relations and the difference in ballet and opera... I attended a PR event at the met this afternoon for Anna Netrebko who has recently issued her Russian Album and was on hand at the book shop to sign copies.

This was the first time I ever have been to such an event and it occurred to me that since ballet is such an ensemble effort itwould be hard for a working dancer to do such a PR event. The Met was clearly promoting a star who is featured in their season this year, and Ms Netrebko is promoting her career as a soloist who appears with numerous companies around the world. You could sense the symbiosis.. and even Deutche Grammaphone was in on the action!

Principal dancers do seem to be have a star (celeb) quality and there may be some effort to promote them and in turn the company but it seems that the type of event this afternoon was one where the economic interests of the artist and the company aligned and were not at cross purposes.

The principal dancers in major companies appear to me to be more restrained and constrained by the "ensemble" nature of ballet/dance as far as the "star" system is concerned. After all... what can they sell as individuals? Not a new CD for sure...

It was interesting to see how many "fans" showed up for the event and had purchared her new CD.

#23 2dds

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Posted 12 January 2007 - 01:24 AM

This is a follow up to the points raised about Alicia Graf's career trajectory, history of injury and her personal estimation of her current capabilities...

Here is the link that further discusses Alicia Graf and the path that lead her past ABT and NYC Ballet to eventually land at Alvin Ailey. This article does include mention of her injuries—to which L. Witchel refers, as well as Graf's efforts to initiate contact with ABT and NYC Ballet (speaks to what she felt her body was capable of doing). The informal nature of the NYC Ballet contact by Graf, an SAB alum, would seem consistent with the lack of regular formal company auditions as most of the NYC dancers are drawn from SAB ranks...or already established at other companies (especially non-US companies).


http://www.nytimes.c...=rssnyt&emc=rss

I don't know if this article answers questions or raises them for posters on this thread, but I thought it was relevant and of interest. :unsure: I hadn't yet tracked it down when I posted previously, and didn't want to engage in hearsay. :bow:
I also tracked down an article on her brief stint with Complexions which also suggests that Graf felt she still had the ability to perform in a ballet (classical or contemporary) setting.

http://www.dancemaga...01da07853e167b4

Please note Graf's own reluctance to read too much into her lack of success in finding a spot with ABT or NYC.
She mentions how tough the current job climate is for all dancers, as well as the abundance of talented black dancers previously working at Dance Theatre of Harlem.

Although this post may still appear slightly off topic :off topic: to some, I guess (since there has been no follow up in the ongoing discussion on this thread), IMHO it remains relevant to the selection and marketing of "stars."

On the surface at least, this would seem to be another comparable case of a pre- or ready made star (like beck hen's observation about Vishneva being originally created as a "star" by the Kirov. In the case of Graf, the subsequent career and marketing of this star has worked out a little, shall we say...differently.

To those who find this a distraction/break in the ongoing discussion—no worries. I won't pursue this any further if there is no subsequent interest or follow-up.


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