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de facto segregated roles


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#16 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 25 July 2001 - 05:43 PM

I have to disagree. Not with the fact that Desmond Richardson is a very talented dancer, he is. Nor with the idea there should be more classical ballet dancers of every race. I'm anxiously awaiting the day Albert Evans gets his due at NYCB. But classical ballet isn't just about dance talent, it's knowing the ports de bras and having them drilled into you for years - and having some consistency with the rest of the company you're in. It's a dancer's center of gravity, it's his or her carriage. Desmond Richardson is quite talented, but he isn't a classical ballet dancer, and watching him at ABT made it rather clear of his limited use to the company.

#17 Victoria Leigh

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Posted 25 July 2001 - 05:46 PM

Not in Houston they're not, campvaldes! :)

Alexandra, I have no idea of the percentages and can only guess, but I'd say your estimate is high. Maybe by about 50%.

#18 Alexandra

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Posted 25 July 2001 - 08:51 PM

Ah, Victoria, you know what an optimist I am :) So one out of 20, in a good class at a good school (regardless of race, of course) might make it in a classical company?

#19 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 25 July 2001 - 09:07 PM

Some of that also depends on the age and the level. Once you get to the top level class in a top level school, the selection rate has already winnowed it down to a potential crop and the ratio is a little higher. At the youngest level of a feeder school? Maybe one in one hundred!

#20 Victoria Leigh

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Posted 25 July 2001 - 09:43 PM

Yes, I'd say one out of 20, at best, which is also being optimistic. And Leigh is also right about the percentage greatly increasing at the lower levels, even in a very good school. There will be exceptional years, where there might be two or three out of say, 25 in the top class, but generally one in 20 would be about it. Our percentage in Florida was higher, I think, but in a short period of time when I was teaching there we had a rather exceptional number of extremely talented students. Also, going way back to the years when I was trained in Florida there seemed to be a rather large number of working dancers coming out of there over a period of a few years. There were a couple of good schools in Miami turning us out (no pun intended ;) ) with great regularity down there!

#21 campvaldes

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Posted 25 July 2001 - 10:27 PM

I agree with you, about ballet and its specialization. But, I disagree with your point about Desmond's capabilities in ballet.
In that case, on the flip side, why are ballet dancers doing modern works, they don't look "exactly right" either. But the public still seems to enjoy these excursions?????

#22 Alexandra

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Posted 25 July 2001 - 10:58 PM

Not everyone enjoys them, I assure you :)

I agree with Leigh. It's a matter of muscle training. Ballet isn't just something you pick up in mid-career to try something out. There's very little pure modern dance left today, but in general, I agree with you: ballet-trained dancers without specific modern dance training and modern dance sensibility should stay out!

#23 Alina

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Posted 26 July 2001 - 08:22 PM

In reference to stagers of Balanchine works, I have been greatly privaleged to be part of numerous stagings and all tolled the commitment to the work and Balanchine that existed in these folks was well worth the bow and then some. In most cases the dancers stressed the importance to THEM for their stage presence even if the stager felt shy about the moment!

#24 bijoux

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Posted 26 July 2001 - 10:00 PM

I'll have to agree with dancefan about there being enough black talen out there in schools,but it is an issue of reality for many students.If they come from a family who hasn't been exposed to ballet before and their parents haven't seen many dancers of color onstage in featured roles,the parents aren't likely to encourage their child do pursue something they feel they might not succeed in.even if they come from the upper middle class,their parents might not put as much stock on ballet as they would classical music or theatre.There have been alot more musicians of color and actors who have been recognized than there have been ballet dancers,so it again comes down to whether or not the parents want to spend the time and money on an artform that doesn't seem to want to recognize the potential of a black dancer..Another component of this is that most black ballet students are one in twenty.Unfortunately,unless they have something exceptional about their dancing,they might not be encouraged by their teachers.I'm talking about great facility,or natural turns or jumps.When I was a child and i studied ballet,I had alot of natural facility most of my teachers hadn't seen in black bodies before9nice feet,high extension,long limb and I was smart)),so I was pushed and I got chosen for things that black students before me weren't.It is great when you are a child because you imagne it can only get better from here.But then I looked around and realized I was the only black girl in my class,and when I went to see ballet performances,there weren't any black women onstage.I had to wonder if I could ever make it in the ballet world .I think the same question lingers in many ballet students of color.Of course ballet students in general come to that question at some point in their training.There are so many talented dancers in the world,but so few openings.As a dancer of color,the question becomes,will they accept me as one of their own?Yes,Lauren Anderson and Carlos Acosta are the exceptions of today.Again I salute Ben Stevenson for having the determination to put them out there.Of course the audiences love them because they are great dancers,but it talks a director who is willing to take chances to let the audiences see his treasures.So I guess there are many reasons why there aren't many black dancers in ballet companies.The question remains,how can we change it? I don't mean by creating another Dance Theatre of Harlem.It just seems to me that it wouldn't be an issue if there were three or four black men and women in a ballet company.I mean there are several of any other race and nobody questions it.If there were more,nobody would be able to say,"you know,the black dancer they have..."

Originally posted by Dance Fan:
Regarding the pool of available black talent,  I have to disagree with Alexandra.  I believe there are more than enough serious black ballet students to increase the ranks in the major companies.  But it's a chicken and egg kind of thing - if there were more opportunities,  you would see more dancers pursuing them.  Because of the cost of training (and the cost of toe shoes) an inordinate number of white dancers come from wealthy families.  Although the black middle-class is large and growing larger year by year,  it is difficult to justify the expense of professional ballet training when the financial "pay off", in the best of situations, is not great.  I have known of several outstanding black dancers who chose not to go on dancing because their families expect them to achieve economically.  Add to that the limitation of segregated roles, and you have the recipe for scarcity.



#25 campvaldes

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Posted 27 July 2001 - 01:02 PM

Reading the previous post made me think up
these questions: 1)If Anderson & Acosta are so great (and I think they are after seeing them in Don Q., in WASH.DC), how come they have not been to NYC more than once or twice?
NYC..the "DANCE CAPITAL OF THE WORLD"!?!?
THEY HAVE GUESTED TOGETHER OR SOLO IN MANY CITIES ALL OVER THE EARTH!!!!
2) Ben Stevenson said that
people have questioned his judgement casting
A&A in ballets like "Nutcracker".
This sets up a troubling situation. First, they might not have seen A&A dance, and they
have criticized S anyway. Or, more troubling,
they have seen A&A dance, and don't like two
black ballet dancers performing in certain ballets, no matter their talent & artistry.
Now, I know that ballet fans in Houston adore A&A for the most part. Maybe Stevenson's critics are really not ballet fans, but simply people who are prejudiced. BUT, prejudice is a subject that rears its ugly head from time to time.

#26 Alexandra

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Posted 27 July 2001 - 01:24 PM

Or it's possible that people do not think "A&A" are great dancers for reasons that have nothing to do with race :) Sorry to be the contrarian, but I've seen both dance and I do not put them in the top rank (and it has nothing to do with race or skin color). I have several friends who insist that Acosta is really top of the line, but in the performances I've seen, he gets the steps but nothing in between. I've seen Andersen dance several roles and remain unimpressed. She has an adequate, though not stellar, technique, and I thought her performances were very muted -- again, not a good actress. I'm not writing this to bash either dancer -- I have read, over and over, on this board and in print, that Lauren Anderson is the nicest, friendliest, etc. person in the whole entire world and she may very well be, but I'm referring only to stage performances -- but my overall point is that not ranking either or both dancers at the top of the pile doesn't equate with racism. (Not that it matters, but I've never thought of Acosta as "black." I think of him as "Cuban.")

#27 campvaldes

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Posted 27 July 2001 - 01:36 PM

OK, even if you don't think them as topnotch
dancers, are you not troubled by the criticism of Stevenson's casting them in ballets, like the Nutcracker???????

[ 07-27-2001: Message edited by: campvaldes ]

#28 Alexandra

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Posted 27 July 2001 - 01:59 PM

I really don't have enough information to be troubled by it. I don't know what was said, nor the reasons, nor did I see the performance, so I can't judge what was said, nor the motivation for saying/writing it.

If someone is bothered simply because two black dancers were cast in "Nutcracker," then of course it is troubling -- more than troubling. But without context I can't make a judgment.

#29 Dance Fan

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Posted 29 July 2001 - 09:46 PM

Alexandra it may not matter to you, but your description of Carlos Acosta as "Cuban" rather than black is not incidental. A very large percentage of the Cuban population is black, descended from the same kidnaped Africans as black Americans. But in many fields, from baseball to ballet, black Cubans, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, etc. could get jobs that black Americans of similar skin color could not get, simply because they had a Hispanic last name. If Lauren Anderson were Laurena Acosta, would that change the perception of her as a black dancer, and wouldn't that likely have an effect on her career? I just read a story in the New York Times that stated that the great jazz composer Jelly Roll Morton was allowed to stay in the same hotel in Indiana as the members of a white band he was recording with, because they told the management he was "Cuban". The same man, the same great talent, and yet if he proclaimed his identity as a black American, he would not have gotten a room, and perhaps he would not have made that early recording. These petty distinctions that mean little to the white population have had, and continue to have, powerful effect on the lives of black people.

#30 Dance Fan

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Posted 30 July 2001 - 10:20 PM

Regarding my previous post, I actually believe Lauren Anderson has had a pretty good career, no matter her race or ethnicity. But if Albert Evans were Alberto Vasquez, maybe he'd be doing Siegfried at Covent Garden along with Carlos Acosta.


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