What does a dancer need to become a prima ballerina?
Posted 08 February 2001 - 12:24 AM
This is a fan's impressions; professional dancers on this board could doubtless say much more, and perhaps correct me, but perhaps they might feel constrained by...um..er...political reasons. Also, I'd like to avoid turning this into gossip, so I'm sticking to abstractions for the most part...but I can't quite ignore the issue, because deep down I'm persuaded that there are dancers out there who should have had careers that they never quite had...whatever the complex of reasons: personal problems, luck, or, indeed, politics.
Certainly with the big, international companies there is a minimal standard that the principal dancers must and usually do maintain. But there is surely some "politics," though much of it is a "taste" politics of the kind Leigh Witchel has already discussed: One director likes a certain look in his company's repertory and a gifted dancer with a different look may not be "pushed" or developed as her/his talent otherwise merits... (Hey, the Royal initially took a pass on DARCEY BUSSELL!!!! not for any sleazy reason, but because they thought she was more modern than classical -- sort of like Portland passing on Michael Jordan, only the Royal got to correct ITS mistake, whereas Portland paid with a lost championship.)Leigh also mentioned personality issues which are, after all, not always the same as artistic ones...but do involve issues of professionalism as well as "politics" or game playing...I've seen dancers underused at ABT (years ago) and heard about "personality conflicts" [RUMORS only] which could, after all, mean anything!
Occasionally when a soloist or principal seems to be being pushed "beyond" her abilities I have also heard rumors, including rumors about rich families donating huge sums of money that helped to keep the company afloat. I have heard this about dancers at ABT and the Kirov -- in both cases, my personal, NONprofessional opinion was that the dancer in question was respectable enough to pass muster but, in one case, perhaps not to the extent of her favor with management; but I had and have NO way of knowing if the rumors were justified.
I am, however, one of those fans who increasingly came to suspect that Baryshnikov was somehow undermining the opportunities of top notch male stars at ABT during his directorial tenure. (In each case, there was some reason why the contract "had" to be terminated; but the overall effect was a depletion of male principles that increasingly seemed less "necessary" than was claimed. When Andris Liepa was brought in as a guest star, he complained to someone whom I know, at how little he was being cast. My own feeling was that he was too little cast! However it's a little hard to judge to what extent this could be called "politics" ...
Occasionally a truly terrific ballerina or male dancer will ALSO at least be rumored to be the director's lover etc. ... and as at all work places, the personal interactions often DERIVE from the professional ones, not the other way around: why wouldn't a choreographer/director fall for his "muse"?
However, ballet is SO demanding from so many points of view -- even a less than gifted dancer in a tiny, local company has sacrificed tears and blood beyond what one can ever fully appreciate -- that I find it hard to believe that politics alone can sustain someone's career...it may take someone farther than they should have gone for a bit, or hold someone back (possibly a greater risk?)...but I don't think it can be a long term foundation for how companies are run.
I apologize if this has gotten too gossipy; I'll let it stand now but edit if the moderators feel I should...
[This message has been edited by Drew (edited February 08, 2001).]
Posted 08 February 2001 - 12:35 AM
I think it's impossible to come up with a definitive answer to the question, though, because there may well be great artists who, for political reasons, didn't rise to the top -- but, as they didn't rise to the top, we don't know about them. There are the stories of children being rejected by a school -- Pavlova springs to mind -- who go on to do great things, and I think Leigh is dead on when he says that one dancer might not be a good fit with one company, but may have interesting careers with another.
There are stories of dancers being set adrift when a new director comes in, supposedly because they were too loyal to the former director -- that's politics, but it's also good management. It's impossible to govern if you have little puddles of sedition here and there.
To mod-squad's direct question, the age old casting couch question, there have been examples of this, but some directors have good taste and choose only the finest for their dalliances, and in the cases where they don't, I don't think the "ballerina" has lasted long. It's like the scene in "Citizen Kane." Everybody could tell the girl couldn't sing. It's hard to keep something like that a secret.
Posted 08 February 2001 - 04:13 AM
Posted 08 February 2001 - 06:27 AM
Posted 08 February 2001 - 09:10 AM
At NYC Ballet, I think right now, Darci Kistler and Kyra Nichols are the two primas. It helps that one is married to the Director, but they are commonly the two dancers the younger ones refer to as a role model.
I think it's the grace they display on stage as well as off stage that stands the prima's out.
And just to continue the question a bit, does one become a prima after you've been a principal over time? Do they have to wait towards the end of their careers.
Say someone like the newly promoted Jennie Somogyi, is she a prima or is she too young?
Posted 08 February 2001 - 11:00 AM
Leigh Witchel - firstname.lastname@example.org
Personal Page and Dance Writing
Dance as Ever
Posted 08 February 2001 - 05:13 PM
"However, ballet is SO demanding. . . even a less than gifted dancer in a tiny, local company has sacrificed tears and blood beyond what one can ever fully appreciate"
Sometimes even more. . .
I do not know that anyone has made it very much higher than they should have because of politics, if they can't do what they are being askedm it is impossible to hide it. However, many dancers are held back because of all kinds of politics, whether they are married to the wrong person, said the wrong thing to the wrong person, are just to loyal to the last director.
Posted 09 February 2001 - 12:05 AM
Diana L, I wish the SAB students would look upon Kyra Nichols as a role model.
[This message has been edited by alexandra (edited February 09, 2001).]
Posted 09 February 2001 - 08:35 AM
Posted 09 February 2001 - 11:08 AM
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