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NYCB - a "short" company?


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#1 Dale

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Posted 03 January 2008 - 08:40 AM

There's an interesting feature about Teresa Reichlen in today's New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.c...amp;oref=slogin

Part of the article is about how it's hard to find parts for Reichlen, who has been dancing mostly the solo, "tall" girl roles that don't require partnering, such as the Neary role in Rubies and the second soloist in the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2. The piece says she thought she might end up at PNB because it's known as a tall girl company, even though there are always the Farrell roles at NYCB. Sylve's departure got me thinking how there seem to be less taller women in leading roles at NYCB than ever before. When the taller women are cast, it's usually in the glamour parts like the Stripe Tease girl or the leader of the Wrens in Union Jack. Of course, there are more roles than that. Balanchine loved the taller ballerina his whole life (more to see). But with Kistler at the end of her career, Nichols retired, taller dancers like Meunier and Korbes left... There was a period of time, with Kistler, Nichols, Ashley, Calegari and others, that the taller women reigned supreme in all sorts of roles, not just the "tall" solo parts.

There's still wonderful dancers at NYCB - tall ones too...Kowroski, Mearns, Reichlen, Bar...but they seem to be used so limitedly. Has NYCB become a "short" company and does it matter?

#2 Helene

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Posted 03 January 2008 - 09:02 AM

There's tall and there's tall. It seems like somewhere between 5'8 and 5'9" that there's a tipping point. I believe Merrill Ashley said she was 5'7.5" in her memoir. She also had very small feet, so her rise on pointe might not have been the entire 6" that's generally cited.

A 5'9" dancer who rises to 6'5" on pointe needs a man like Stanko Milov to partner her, unless it's a role where the man is supposed to be shorter when she's en pointe, like "Mozartiana."

I remember Arlene Croce once saying in a review from the 80's that NYCB was having an attack of the "tinies." If the overall height of the dancers is going down, at least in those roles that are cast prominently, it wouldn't be the first time in the Company's history.

#3 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 03 January 2008 - 09:12 AM

The company has definitely trended shorter since Martins took it over.

Much of it has been precipitated by the rise of short, virtuoso men who need partners. But also, Martins is an allegro choreographer by nature and shorter dancers look better in his work. Adagio work, where a taller dancer might shine, isn't where his heart seems to lie.

#4 Dale

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Posted 03 January 2008 - 11:24 AM

You're right Leigh.

re: Ashley's height. Farrell danced at 5'6". She had longer feet that lifted her up to nearly 6' on pointe, but I'd still classify Ashley as a tall dancer. But my post wasn't to quibble about heights, but rather if taller dancers are being utilized as they once were and if ballets cast once with larger silhouettes are still satisfying.

#5 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 03 January 2008 - 12:49 PM

Even an allegro ballet like Ballo della Regina is changed when cast short. When Merrill Ashley did it, part of the amazement was a tall woman moving that fast. The ballet was cast unsatisfactorily for a while, but then Weese and after her Bouder brought a lot to it. But there wasn't the same frisson of speed; Weese instead did it with wit and Bouder. . .well, does it like Bouder.

#6 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 03 January 2008 - 02:12 PM

When I first started attending regularly in the mid-to-late 70’s, NYCB definitely seemed like a company of glamazons at every rank. The principal women do currently trend short, although some – such as Somogyi (and the much-missed Weese, sigh) – punch above their weight, so to speak. (I never realized Somogyi wasn’t tall until I saw her standing next to Peter Boal. My jaw dropped when I saw Weese comfortably partnered by De Luz in the “Voices of Spring” section of Vienna Waltzes a season or two ago. I had always thought of her as at least a “medium.” I agree with Leigh's point about Ballo looking different when she danced it, but I somehow never chalked that difference up to height so much as to the special sparkling-crystal-on-lustrous-silk quality of her way of moving.) But there are a greater proportion of taller women amongst the soloists – Bar, Lowery, and Mearns for instance, and some up-and-coming taller men to partner them as well.

Garnetta (fka Coco) Gonzalez seems a genuine throwback to the glamazon era -- I hope we see more of her soon. (I was lucky enough to catch her SAB workshop performance in Union Jack. Most. Glamorous. Wren. Ever.) And if K. Gilliland isnt' tall, her long, willowy limbs (and her nicely deployed rubato) certainly create the impression that she is.

#7 printscess

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Posted 03 January 2008 - 03:52 PM

I find the shorter men of the company much more exciting to look at. I was shocked but happily surprised when DeLuz was hired (to partner Megan Fairchild) since he does not fit the mold that Martins aspires to. IMO, shorter men turn faster, jump higher and are just as good as partners as the 6'+ tall guys who can barely get off the ground.

About 2 months ago there was a wonderful article in the Arts and Leisure section of the NYT asking why shorter men cannot be princes? The article was about Herman Corenjo on ABT. He was told years ago that he can be the best friend, but never the prince. Now he is the prince and it has been a long time coming and a major breakthrough for shorter men.

#8 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 03 January 2008 - 05:22 PM

Hmm.

I'd disagree about partnering skills. It's not that short men can't partner (plenty can) but it changes things. The most potent example I had was when Merrill Ashley coached Ana Sophia Scheller (who is not tall) in Ballo with de Luz. She spent the entire time during Scheller's solo variation getting her to move big, with risk and abandon. And then Scheller danced with de Luz and the tune changed. Because de Luz didn't have the bulk to stop her if she was off balance suddenly Scheller had to be exactly at a certain spot and angle. It changed the ballet.

Also some short men have an eloquent line and many don't. Some tall men can move fast, more can't. Rigid typecasting will calcify a ballet, but it's worse for the ballets to think all roles are interchangeable like pop-it beads.

#9 Mel Johnson

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Posted 03 January 2008 - 05:29 PM

And remember, Midsummer Night's Dream was traditionally a two short-joke ballet. Oberon never did a pas de deux with Titania, and Francisco Moncion was the Duke, engaged to marry Hippolyta, in the original, Gloria Govrin!

#10 liebs

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Posted 03 January 2008 - 06:32 PM

And some ballets just look wrong with smaller dancers in the cast. A Mozartiana at ABT with with Corella and Ricetto was one where I could not see the choreography, which was made for Farrell. It just looked wrong. We've seen that at NYCB too, as when Judith Fugate was allowed to dance Chaconne.

#11 zerbinetta

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Posted 03 January 2008 - 06:45 PM

And some ballets just look wrong with smaller dancers in the cast. A Mozartiana at ABT with with Corella and Ricetto was one where I could not see the choreography, which was made for Farrell. It just looked wrong. We've seen that at NYCB too, as when Judith Fugate was allowed to dance Chaconne.


And yet Nina Ananiashvili, who is likely shorter than Ricetto, was able to reveal the choreography wonderfully; she made it her own. But Nina dances Huge; Ricetto does not.


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