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Alexandra

Black ballet dancers

70 posts in this topic

Dance Fan -

Re: The four cavaliers. It's an interesting concept, but I think it's equally possible that Balanchine was just trying to get rid of the Sugar Plum Fairy's Cavalier. He didn't like the role (he's quoted in interviews as saying the poor fellow was not in the original story) and pared out his variation for that reason as well.

There's precedent as well before Balanchine for the four cavaliers in the grand pas, it was done that way in Russia (by Vainonen, I think, Jeannie or anybody, do you know?)

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Perhaps I am mistaken but I think the Vainonen Nutcracker was choreographed in 1934 or there about. Therefore Balanchine would not have seen it. Unless it was seen while on tour in Russia. Or maybe he had heard of it. Maybe he took this idea from Rose Adagio?

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Right on on the 1934 date for the Vainonen Nutcracker, vrsfanatic, but Balanchine hadn't been back to Russia yet when his version was televised. If he had seen the Vainonen at all, it might have been during a western tour by the Bolshoi or Kirov on a "Highlights" program. Of course, as you say, it could have come from other sources, too, or just a case of parallel development.

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Leigh - regarding the Sugar Plum Fairy's cavalier: Perhaps Balanchine did dislike this part, but, as far as I know, the version with the four partners was done only for television. I have never seen it done that way on stage.

I think we've gotten away from the original subject of this thread (it has been interesting). Why is there so much resistance to black dancers in ballet, and is it because of racism, or are there other factors? In the past, one could say that not enough black dancers trained intensively, but that is not the case today. Is it just out-and-out racism, and if it is, what can be done about it?

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Dancefan, of course, we can have the discussion again, but you might want to look in the archives for a thread entitled Racism. It was an interesting discussion here several months ago. Maybe we could start a new thread for that?

We had gotten OT, although it was interesting. I had put up this thread to celebrate the black dancers who havegraced ballet.

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Dance Fan - although it's not stated explicitly in either Choreography by George Balanchine or Repertory in Review it seems the change was made in '58 and restored in '59 - and from the way Walter Terry and BH Haggin are quoted, I think it might have been done that way for a full season. Most of the quoted discussion centers on people's dissatisfaction with the omission of the cavalier. The NYC audience may have already been accustomed to Mitchell by then; this was one season after Agon.

Please don't get me wrong, there's plenty to indicate Balanchine's racial tolerance (Arthur Mitchell and his work in Cabin in the Sky are two examples) and I think your idea has validity and make sense. I just keep checking the sources I have because everything I've read to date suggests that while Balanchine definitely had opinions (and in fact, especially dealing with the Soviets, his positions were very hard-line) he tended not to be a man given to political actions.

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I would like to put in a plug for my hometown professional ballet company Carolina Ballet located in Raleigh, North Carolina. As for black ballet dancers, we have Christopher Rudd, originally from Jamaica, who trained at the Miami Conservatory and Isanusi Garcia from the Cuban National Ballet in Havana. And, of course, we are most fortunate to have the talented Debra Austin as Ballet Master.

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Thanks again to Leigh Witchel for the historical perspective. While it's true Balanchine seemed to be apolitical (although I seem to recall Danilova describing him as somewhat right wing), and although the NY audience might have been used to Arthur Mitchell by 1958, that broadcast went all across the country. And in 1958, segregation was the law of the land in much of the U.S. Hard to believe that there was no pressure on Balanchine to change the casting for the telecast.

Back to the original topic, Eric Vu An of the Paris Opera Ballet certainly had an interesting career. Although I believe he is half Vietnamese, he identified himself as black, and lamented that because of his color, he would never be given princely opportunities with the POB. Does anyone know where he is now?

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i guess, tho, that if there had been pressure to change it, it would have consisted in making him somehow not touch her at all, but the way it is, he (as the arabian) partners diana adams as sugar plum in just the way the other three do. when i saw it i thought it was rather brave, considering the way some might have reacted. remember that years later, when captain kirk kissed lieutenant uhura in star trek, there were places where that episode was not shown at all!

[ 07-22-2001: Message edited by: Mme. Hermine ]

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Originally posted by Dance Fan:

Back to the original topic,  Eric Vu An of the Paris Opera Ballet certainly had an interesting career.  Although I believe he is half Vietnamese,  he identified himself as black,  and lamented that because of his color,  he would never be given princely opportunities with the POB.  Does anyone know where he is now?

Now he is the director of the Ballet de l'Opera d'Avignon et des Pays du Vaucluse, a small (state-funded) company associated to the Avignon Opera. In 1995, he had become the director of the Ballet du Grand Theatre de Bordeaux, a much larger company, but stayed there only for two years (it seems that there were a lot of local conflicts there), and also during that period he suffered from a severe injury (broken Achilles tendon). The Ballet d'Avignon is a small company with limited financial means, but he seems to be quite active there (and also choreographing for the company).

I remember reading an interview of Vu An in which he said that his father is from Vietnam, and that people were surprised to see that when he was a kid his hair was very curly, until they remembered that his mother had ancestors from the Antillas... :)

There's a photo of him at the following URL: http://www.galadesetoiles.com/bios/vuan.html

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In the book "I Remember Balanchine" somebody was quoted as saying Balanchine at one time expressed his desire to have a company with all black woman -- I believe the phrase "Nubian Princesses" was used.

On another note -- I think Aesha Ash at NYCB is a wonderful dancer. I remember when she danced Rubies at the SAB workshop a few years ago, what a sensation. Currently, she's done a luxurious "Coffee," and a spirited Dance Hall girl in Western Symphony (4th movement). She's extremely proficiant technically and has wonderful stage presence.

Also at NYCB -- Henry Seth is a beautiful partner, a true cavalier. He was a late fill-in for Jock Soto in Jazz a few seasons back and showed he can really dance.

Craig Hall is somebody who the company appears to have high hopes. He was one of the leads in Christopher Wheeldon’s Scene de Ballet and Polyphonia.

Of couse, I think the true test will be when these dancers do true classical roles. Ash already has in corps roles and demi-solist things, but Seth and Hall have not. Although, Hall was one of the cavaliers in the Rose Adagio.

Away from NYCB, I'm a real fan of Alicia Graf and Caroline Rocher at DTH. It's too bad Graf does not appear to be back anytime soon due to a severe injury.

Re: Misty Copeland. I also saw her in Swan Lake and thought she was just fine. She did some classical pas de deux in the ABT Studio Company performances and was given rave reviews.

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Also from the Opera de Paris and about the same generation as Vu An, there is Jean-Marie Didiere whose father (I think) is from Senegal. He now does a lot of mime roles - the High Brahmin, Lord Capulet,but has always been a very interesting dancer. At one time I seem to recall he took some time out to dance with Karole Armitage.

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Yes, Jean-Marie Didière is an interesting dancer. I think he is a bit older than Vu An

(Vu An is about 35-32 and Didière was at the POB school with Dupond, so must be about 40-42). He's one of the senior members of the company now, but still is very active, he got good reviews for his role as "Monsieur de GM" in "Manon" a few months ago, and also danced the Rajah in "La Bayadere" during the American tour of the POB, and Don Lopez in Paquita.

There also was Raphaëlle Delaunay, who left the company in 1997 (she was 21) when she was a coryphee: she joined Pina Bausch's company, and last year joined Kylian's Nederlands Dans Theater. Here is a page with a photo of her: http://www.ndt.nl/English/NDT1/Delaunay.html

I wish I had had more time to see her when she danced in Paris. I have a good memory of her in a video of some EBU competition in the early 90s (Zenaida Yanowsky had won the gold medal, and Ms Delaunay had had a bronze medal).

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I was curious about the "sugar Plum" in the nutcracker ,so I asked around to see if boston Ballet had had any sugar plums or cavaliers of color and was pleased to hear that they had .appherantly back in the 70s or 80s,there was a South African man in the company who danced cavalier and a guy named Anthony Williams.More Recently,Roger Cunningham (who left the company a few years ago to dance in Europe)danced cavalier.Erika Lambe danced Sugar Plum last season and although it must not have been a published performance(they do alot of kiddie matinees)I think she is the first woman of color in Boston Ballet to have danced Sugar Plum fairy.I will look forward to seeing if she dances it again this year.they seem to use her in strong roles( demi character/Balanchine),so it is nice to hear that she was tried in something classical.I know that I have mentioned her alot,but I see boston Ballet all the time and she is a black dancer who looks black.although I haven't seen some of the dancers mentioned in this thread,the ones who people consider "beautiful"or "classical" don't look black from the audience.don't get me wrong,I think it is a tremendous effort to even represent dancers of color,but in the "black"ballerinas of today,it is still only Lauren Anderson who is ever mentioned in the classical sense.Misty Copeland and Alicia Graff are so fair skinned it is difficult to tell what nationality they are.Of course they are both very promissing dancers and are representitives of the new generation of dancers,I just wanted to put in something nice about someone who might not get menntioned.I read a thread about Christina Johnson a little while back and have to agree that she was a beautiful dancer,but not just classically.She was very versitile and that is what makes dancers memorable.i am not discuonting the fact that she was fairskinned.She is a beautiful dancer period.I also don't want people to get the impression that I am pushing the darker skinned dancer,I just rarely hear them mentioned,so I thought I would mention one myself.

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I wanted to clarify something in my above post. When I said that the real test would come when these dancers are put in classical roles, I did not mean it as a test to the dancers, but to the artistic directors and to a portion of the audience.

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And I'd like to clarify -- since it was I who called Christine Johnson "classical" that I didn't mean at all the way she looked or her skin tone, but the way she danced classical roles; it refers to the discussions on employ that we've had.

But thanks very much for your mention of Boston dancers, bijoux -- you're right; they don't get mentioned often. Skin color is another delicate matter -- in DTH, though, there were quite a few dark-skinned women -- Abarca, if I'm remembering correctly, and Karen Brown, for example. To compound the delicacy of the question, skin tone often changes with lighting. I often think that some Ailey or DTH dancers are light-skinned while they're dancing and realize during curtain calls, when they're out of the stage lighting, that they're not. (I don't mean that I think it matters, but that this is another area where perception and reality are often different.)

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at some time in the 1970s, ruth page had lydia abarca and paul russell in as guests to dance sugar plum and cavalier in her nutcracker.

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Paul Russell danced with Scottish Ballet at the time when Peter Darrell was running it. He was the first Golfo in their production of Napoli and was really good - though very different in approach from the usual stock baddie. However I guess Poul Gnatt who staged it, must have approved and I know that Kirsten Ralov, who came to see the production said that she liked his interpretation. I think he probably danced Gennaro at later performances.

Darrell also made a role for Augustus van Heerden, a black dancer from the Boston Ballet in the Scarlet Pastorale. It ended with him being strangled by Fonteyn. The role was later danced by Antony Dowell, but he didn't seem to be quite as home in it.

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sorry.I didn't mean to put Christina Johnson in that category(of skin tone)It was more of a comment to say that I agreed with the fact that she was a special dancer , and because she is light skinned,I wanted to add something in because I had just made a comment about skin tone in regards to some of the up and coming dancers of color.I think christina is from a generation where the color issue was something to be careful with .She is fair,but there is still something about her.I think I meant more that we(society and directors) should be at a place where it is ok to consider a dark skinned dancer good enough or classical enough.Of course Arthur Mitchell and Alvin Ailey have done it with their respective companies,but could you imagine how wrong it would be for a director of color not to recognize the talents in his own company regardless of skintone?This is always such a touchy issue,so I will just say it is great that you guys are recognizing the talents out there .I might not be a professional,but it makes me really proud to hear about dancers of color who are doing their thing and opening the doors every day for a future where nobody has to be idientified by their skin color or ethnic makeup.

Originally posted by alexandra:

And I'd like to clarify -- since it was I who called Christine Johnson "classical" that I didn't mean at all the way she looked or her skin tone, but the way she danced classical roles; it refers to the discussions on employ that we've had.

But thanks very much for your mention of Boston dancers, bijoux -- you're right; they don't get mentioned often.  Skin color is another delicate matter -- in DTH, though, there were quite a few dark-skinned women -- Abarca, if I'm remembering correctly, and Karen Brown, for example.  To compound the delicacy of the question, skin tone often changes with lighting. I often think that some Ailey or DTH dancers are light-skinned while they're dancing and realize during curtain calls, when they're out of the stage lighting, that they're not.  (I don't mean that I think it matters, but that this is another area where perception and reality are often different.)

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Bijoux, I'm sure the situation will change; it's getting a little better with each generation. I agree with you that there is a prejudice, among both blacks and whites, about skin tone -- more for women than men.

It will change, I think, through time and critical mass. As long as there are one or two black dancers in a predominantly fair-skinned corps, they will "stick out" and it will disturb the eye -- or the eyes of those who see color, which is most of us. Put in four dancers (out of 18, say) and especially if the remaining 14 are a variety of skin tones, and the eye adjusts.

I've written before about the National Ballet of Cuba when I first saw it. For the first five minutes of their "Giselle," the racial mix bothered me; it wasn't something I was used to, and it didn't look like a Silesian corps (yes, I know that the POB or ABT corps may not look very Silesian to Silesians :) ). But this went away in 5 minutes, because the company was so good and because it was so mixed. No one could "stick out" because there was a blend of facial features and skin tones. What bound them as a classical company was the bodies and the technique/style.

I think this discussion has been a good one as well, and I hope there are some young dancers who have read it (we have several people registered with names like "blackballerina," so I'm presuming we have at least some Young Dancers of Color who read these boards. Get out there and dance, and get your name up on a discussion board in ten years time!

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