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Michael

Dvorovenko and Ringer - What does a dancer need to continue to grow?

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A strong argument can be made that what makes a great ballerina great, is how the woman continues to develop after she's made a principal. How she'll continue to grow throughout her career.

From this point of view, comparing the opportunities to dance now available for Jennifer Ringer and for Irina Dovorovenko, who've both been made principals at their respective companies this spring, it's thus hard not to envy Ringer.

Looking at NYCB's schedule, Ringer danced Appalachian Waltz the 20th; Donizetti Variations the 21st; will dance Opus 19 the Dreamer the 22d; Appalachian Waltz the 23d; and will also dance principal roles at the 24th matinee and on the 25th.

By way of comparison, how many big roles has Irina Dvorovenko gotten to dance since Swan Lake on the 14th? And how many Swan Lakes will she have the chance to perform this year? I would think that it's very hard to ask a dancer to develop a strong and definite characterization, and a finished interpretation of a particular role, if she only gets to dance it once a year.

The ABT system of importing outside stars for the big performances may sell tickets, but it's inherently damaging to the opportunities of full time company members to develop. Those who want to see more of Irina D. better hope they don't bring in Vishneyva, in addition to Nina A., for a selected ten star cameos next year.

A company that grows its own is ultimately far more likely to grow you a real star.

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Michael - I couldn't agree with you more.

On the other hand...Ringer's case is the exception & not the rule, at least by Russian standards. At the Mariinsky or any other one of the great Russian opera houses, principals dance full-length ballets only two or three times a month. Obviously not the ideal situation for a star performer who is itching to get out on stage.

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Who's picking out their roles and why?

How much coaching will they get? By whom? Do they get any time to prepare?

I think this will have as much to do with any dancer's development as "number of times at bat." Not that sheer experience hurts!

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Leigh Witchel -dae@panix.com

Personal Page and Dance Writing

Dance as Ever

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All you say is true Leigh -- getting lots of opportunity to dance is not the only variable -- there are many others in a dancer's development. But, all other things being equal, getting enough of a chance is very necessary, don't you think?

You can almost see someone grow performance to performance. It's certainly been true of Ringer and of Jennie Somogyi this year. It was true of Weese last year.

I don't think that Ringer would have developed technically as much as she has this spring, and alo developed that confidence and command which is now so evident, if she hadn't been dancing so very much and, in particular, dancing Weese's roles, especially Sleeping Beauty.

Do you remember the question about who would be the main beneficiary of Weese's absence (we didn't mean it the way it sounds)? Somogyi has certainly danced more, and now in particular she's also dancing more of Meunier's roles - the Chairman Dances (silly, insipid ballet) tonight, for instance. (And she also picked up for Ansanelli's absence last night by debuting as the novice in the Cage). But it's Ringer who is really picking up Miranda Weese's place. Perhaps without that injury she would never have had the opportunity to dance those fleet allegro parts - what do you think? And dancing them, she seems to have become much more of an allegro dancer.

[This message has been edited by Michael1 (edited June 22, 2000).]

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What does a dancer need to grow (aside from his or her own attitude, of course)? I'd say being cast in the right parts; being coached in those parts by someone who understands the ballets and the dancer; adequate rehearsal time; regular performances. Casting, coaching, rehearsing, dancing.

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I'm under a rather old-fashioned idea that a dancer needs roles created especially for them by a good choreographer in order to grow professionally. By showcasing a particular dancer's talent in a certain area elevates them from the crowd. This was the case with many of Balanchine's dancers, both female and male, as well as dancers for Ashton, Taylor, Joffrey, Kirilan, Tudor, et. al.

Don

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Alexandra, you forget one little thing for a dancer - thinking smile.gif.

Andrei.

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Absolutely, Andrei, and hard work, etc. That's what I meant by "his or her own attitude."

Donald, I also think created roles are important, but there have been great dancers who've become great without them.

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Does anyone know how many roles were made on Natalia Makarova? "Other Dances" comes to mind, but I always got the impression that there were not many roles created just for her.

She certainly was a great dancer.

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While she was still in Russia Makarova had several roles made on her by Leonid Yakobson, in experimental ballets such as "The Bedbug", "Waltzes", and "The Kiss". He ran into trouble with the censors for political and artistic reasons and she stopped dancing for him after he left the Kirov. Roland Petit made some things for her toward the end of her career. I'm sure there are others I don't know about.

Makarova used to remark frequently on the paucity of roles created for her. An anecdote from Karen Kain might shed some light on this. For Makarova's Broadway outing, "Makarova and Company" she commissioned a new ballet from Lorca Massine, son of Leonide. On the night of the ballet's debut, Massine Jr. was appalled as Makarova apparently rechoreographed his ballet onstage. Partner Anthony Dowell complained to Kain that he didn't see much point in all those rehearsals if Makarova was just going to improvise anyway.

In Makarova's defense, the pas de deux may not have been that great in the first place and she decided to perform some remedial surgery. I don't remember hearing or reading that she messed around with the choreography of, say, Tudor.

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I saw Makarova at THE MET in the full length ballet THE BLUE ANGEL. I think it was choreographed by Roland Petit for her.

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Thanks for all the info - I never realized she had so many roles made on her.

(I read in a book a long time ago (where Makarova was being interviewed), that her "big" disapointment in comming to the West was that Western choreographers never used her "talents" the way she hoped they would) Of course, that was her point of view - there are always TWO sides to every story.... smile.gifsmile.gif

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But Yvonne, she DID have very few roles created on her in the West. The ones dirac mentioned were made for her in Russia before she defected.

"Other Dances," "The Blue Angel" and the one by Massine -- I think I remember one by Tetley, too -- is NOT a lot of ballets.

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I read in a book a long time ago (where Makarova was being interviewed), that her "big" disapointment in comming to the West was that Western choreographers never used her "talents" the way she hoped they would

The key to that statement, Yvonne, is "the way she hoped they would." After she defected, Makarova made some half-hearted attempts to dance the repertoire that was denied her in Russia, but she never gave herself over to a new style or choreographer. I remember her saying once that she was "sick of experiments" and that real ballets were three-act works centered around a heroine and her problems, and she wanted to be a heroine.

MacMillan was once supposed to be making a full-length story ballet for her, but it never came off. Given her free and easy ways with the standard repertoire, I suspect that Makarova was difficult to work with and was unwilling to submit herself to a choreographer's authority.

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Good points, Ari. Many stars can't, or won't, submit to a choreographer, one of the reasons Balanchine generally avoided stars (and caused them a lot of grief when he did work with them, thinking of Erik Bruhn's two unhappy years with the company and Peter Martins' two equally unhappy years sitting at the Ginger Man).

However, you gotta give Makarova credit for sticking to her aesthetic guns. In her book (a wonderful one, if you can find it), she also chides Baryshnikov for working with Twyla Tharp, calling him a sell out.

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An apochryphal Makarova story from a friend.

When Makarova left Russia, she did guesting early on and was doing Giselle where my friend worked as costumiere. As he was pinning the skirt of her costume, she was unpinning the bodice. . .

He handed her the bowl of pins and said, "When you're done, I'll come back in."

Her assistant came out to intervene, promising that she would behave if he'd finish fitting the costume. It seems it did take a little work to handle her!

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Leigh Witchel -dae@panix.com

Personal Page and Dance Writing

Dance as Ever

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But when you're that great, anyone will do anything to keep you happy.

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I cannot comment with any authority on Makarova! But while having roles created for you or at least being able to dance good ballets are vital to a dancer's development, I think coaching is in a way paramount. A good coach not only passes on his/her intimate knowledge of a ballet - knowledge that cannot be transmitted on paper or through video - but creates a physical and emotional bond with the dancer that I think is somehow vital, in that it allows the ballet to really live.

I believe that even the most inexperienced dance audience can sense when those physical and emotional 'links' from present to past are absent. They may not be able to pinpoint exactly WHY a performance is dissatisfying. But I think audiences will know something is missing. This is true for classical ballet, modern, etc.

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I'll go with coaching. Having roles created for you helps smile.gif but I think of the Bolshoi dancers who went for more than a decade without a new ballet, yet still there were new stars and interesting personalities.

Sonora, I agree with you that the audience can sense when those physical and emotional 'links' from present to past are absent (and I loved the way you phrased that!) but I'm not sure that very inexperienced people could be expected to. In my experience, especially in a time when technique is so dominant and audiences are, in effect, being trained to only look at the athletic element.

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Yes, I hate to sound negative but it does seem that technique is what is being presented to audiences, and what is required of dancers, over what you might call artistry (I don't know of a better word offhand). I think it's part of a general cultural climate, at least in the U.S. I do feel that in order for ballet to remain vibrant both dancers and audiences have to be given something more substantial to think about than just technique. This is a huge responsibility, I think, that falls on the shoulders of all those who are teaching and coaching and staging ballets, and also those who write about dance.

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Sonora & Alexandra, I just read the last two posts and I couldn't agree with you more. One of my favorite dancers is Alessandra Ferri. While she isn't always so strong in the techinical department, the lyical beauty of her dancing just draws me into whatever she is performing.

I don't know how many roles she has had made on her, or even what kind of coaching she has had, but as with Gelsey Kirkland, I'm willing to follow wherever they lead me in the dance.

The ability to "touch" the audience is very important IMHO. But I guess that leads us back to beginning....can the ability to "touch" be taught, or is it something a true artist is born with??

Of course, Ferri and Kirkland are just my examples of ballerina perfection. I'm sure you all have your own ideas of perfection and what makes perfection too! smile.gif

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Like in our questions about "Is it Art?" I don't think you can underestimate the importance of the viewer in this equation. It's what you see and interpret that makes it touching, as well as what the dancer is doing! It isn't just the artist, or the dancer, it's us; that's why I think there can't be a totally objective scale of art or artistry. That's also why I think we count fouettes or pirouettes, because at least they can be counted!

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Leigh Witchel - dae@panix.com

Personal Page and Dance Writing

Dance as Ever

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Very true Leigh, (about the counting). I never thought of it like that before.....! smile.gif

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On rethinking this, I think coaching and direction, and receptivity to that direction, are as important as having the chance to dance.

Look at Paloma Herrera, for instance, who is famously unreceptive to correction. She's amazing, she does things no one else can do (balances, for example) but she's really stopped developing far short of her potential. With all of that technical athleticism, beauty, charisma, and grace, what couldn't she do if she was determined to keep gaining?

If a dancer, when made principal, thinks, "O.K., I'm famous, the audience loves me and I'm being paid the big bucks, so why should I do anything different," that's fatal.

Thus, what a dancer needs to keep developing, in addition to the chance to use it, is the right direction, and even more, the determination and humility to keep working at it just as seriously as they did when they were fifteen years old in class.

[This message has been edited by Michael1 (edited July 09, 2000).]

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