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ABT's Male Principal ProblemPoll


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Poll: Promote From Within or Go On a Spending Spree? (73 member(s) have cast votes)

To solve its looming shortage of male principals, should ABT:

  1. Promote from within to fill the ranks (45 votes [61.64%])

    Percentage of vote: 61.64%

  2. Go out into the free market and hire male principals from outside the company (28 votes [38.36%])

    Percentage of vote: 38.36%

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#1 miliosr

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Posted 02 July 2011 - 09:09 AM

Just a little poll on the male principals question. Please feel free to elaborate on your poll answer. However, so as not to cause the moderators to put on their administrative beanies, please confine your posts to hypotheticals only (i.e. "I would like to see so-and-so join the company" would be OK but "I hear so-and-so will be joining the company" would not.)

#2 Helene

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Posted 02 July 2011 - 10:31 AM

The choices describe the shifts between when the company created great vehicles for stars -- particularly in the American rep that is, for the most part, sadly neglected -- and the Baryshnikov years, where he emphasized discipline and development from within, and back to a shaky middle-ground under McKenzie, where the boys in the ranks are fine until the ink is signed on a new guest contract. Those contracts sell tickets: I bought one to see Alina Cojocaru and otherwise wouldn't have bothered to try to see the ABT "Sleeping Beauty", and I didn't really care who her partner was. Now that Kobborg is listed, I care, not because he's just a bigger name than a Stearns, like Bolle, but because they have such a great reputation as a partnership. Stars also create factions and loyalty among fans, for better or worse; when I was growing up, it was Makarova vs. Fracci, for example.

It will be interesting to see if ABT can grow their school successfully, at least as a finishing school -- training dancers in their last year or two, rather than training them for 4-6 years like at SAB. The "finishing" schools need to provide opportunities for their graduates, or the program loses prestige and students. If they're serious about this route, then the current non-star company members are stuck between needing to make room for the former students and the stars that sell tickets, and it will be a decade before the stars could be replaced by home-grown stars. ABT is not the best place to grow; it's a great place to come in as a headliner.

NYCB is the engine that promotes from within by design, or at least since Balanchine was able to grow his own dancers from scratch. Until then, he assembled his crew from the Ballet Russe and ABT, and until the end, the men trained in Denmark. Francia Russell and Kent Stowell did the same at Pacific Northwest Ballet, for the most part: they brought in a number of dancers for the company from the outside, often from San Francisco Ballet, with many making it to the soloist and principal ranks, including Louise Nadeau, Olivier Wevers, Kaori Nakamura, Chalnessa Eames, Paul Gibson, Jeffrey Stanton, Kimberly Davey, Le Yin, Anne Derieux, Amy Rose, Batkhurel Bold, Stanko Milov, and Phil Otto, as well as some wonderfully trained dancers from Russia, who came to the US after the breakdown of the Soviet Union.

Looking at the roster at Pacific Northwest Ballet, now, for example, five of the Principals -- Chapman, Imler, Lallone, Porretta, and Postlewaite -- were finished at PNB school and rose through the ranks from apprentice -- and half the soloists did the same or were in PNB summer programs. Boal brought in a handful of his own dancers from NYCB (retired Miranda Weese, Seth Orza, Sarah Ricard Orza, Carla Korbes), but for the most part, he has been promoting up the ranks. Russell and Stowell would likely have done so sooner, but the two years in the hockey arena while the Opera House was closed for seismic repairs devastated the budget, and they didn't have it for salary and benefits. However, eight dancers left the roster a few weeks ago, including four Principals and one Soloist, and Boal said he'd replace all eight with apprentices (two Professional Division graduates who performed in big productions with the company this year) and corps members. We all expect a lot of promotions from within.

#3 ksk04

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Posted 02 July 2011 - 11:05 AM

I think Kevin has enough potential in the ranks to promote from within, but he needs to devote the energy to these guys, and not just chuck them aside. The main problem is if Kevin keeps hiring star guest women to pad the majority of the season, he will continue to be loathe to use soloists from within as partners or replacements. It just doesn't look good to your guest if you stick them with a soloist (potentially in a debut) because their original promised partner was injured (the only recent exception I can think of is Vishneva and Saviliev in Swan Lake years ago). The company women also bear responsibility in this...imo Irina could have taken someone under her wing this year with Maxim being out and she didn't, or couldn't, rather than being put with other male principals when the roster is already strained to its limit.

On top of that, ABTs stable of men were famous not only for their bravura technique but also their sublime partnering and partnerships. It's clear this portion is falling to the wayside with the repeated reports of Hammoudi and Simkin botching moves with their partners onstage, and even Hallberg sometimes appearing out of his depths with the tall girls. Get Marcelo to teach a damn class or something.

With Carlos Lopez gone, he has only 5 soloist men. Salstein is not really a leading man type. Simkin can't dance with the majority of the women in the company. Radetsky has danced a lot of leading male roles with the DNB, but Kevin seems loathe to give him the push that would allow him to become a more refined dancer (injuries? too old? Stella and Sascha killed his puppy back in the day? Who knows!?). Matthews has gotten increasingly better, and needs more time out onstage. Saviliev is probably getting too old to ever promote, but he (in the past) has been a reliable back up to throw onstage.

This leaves the guys in the corps. Personally I'd like to see Sean Stewart out there more. Tamm, Hoven, Hammoudi?


I actually don't think that hiring Rolando Sarabia would be a terrible idea. I like him, and while he is injury prone, he would certainly be fine for several years to shore up the roster. He's exciting, has a good story, and could actually make ABT a home as opposed to living on the fringes as a guest for the Met only.

#4 Helene

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Posted 02 July 2011 - 11:24 AM

I think Kevin has enough potential in the ranks to promote from within, but he needs to devote the energy to these guys, and not just chuck them aside.

This is an important point: dancers need to be nurtured and given appropriate opportunities. Look at the growth opportunities that Balanchine crafted at all levels, from little breakout solos to extended soloist roles, providing so many roles to grow his dancers. He was sure to build these in especially in his story ballets. They're ready made; AD's need to know how to use them.

Peter Boal once said that the problem he has with most full-lengths is that they give major roles to just a few dancers, and the full-length rep ABT's bread and butter. Even the new PNB "Giselle", which greatly extends roles like Bathilde and Wilfrid, and beefs up many others, has four Principal roles -- Giselle, Albrecht, Hilarion (major in this production), and Myrtha -- with the two demi-soloist Wilis and four character roles. That leaves "Peasant Pas de Deux", which in many companies is used to cast another set of senior soloists or principals, because there are no national dances or other solos in the ballet, and you can't leave dancers on the bench. To his great credit, Boal cast it with five couples (performed with 4.5) and all but one cast was made up of young corps dancers.

#5 GeorgeB fan

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Posted 02 July 2011 - 11:38 AM

I don't see why we can't have both. For most of it's history ABT has been famous for inviting star dancers into their company and I really don't see why that tradition needs to stop.


That said...


I think it's very important - not to mention extremely necessary - for ABT to look within their own company and promote male dancers to principal status. From their soloists to members of the corp de ballet, ABT is peppered with strong, promising male dancers, who with training, can easily become principals in their own right. What the company needs to do is to nurture, guide, and most importantly, challenge their male dancers in roles that would push them harder into developing their techincal skills into even greater strength and refinement. That of course goes hand-to-hand at how those dancers are being trained and taught in the studio. Danil Simkin, for example, is a wonderful virtuoso but it's not surprising he's still a soloist. He has all the skills at being a principal dancer, but in many cases, he's still rough around the edges and his partnering skills can often get him in trouble...not to mention his ballerinas. He needs to be worked on - hard - in order to correct these problems. And the thing for me - IMO - that should have been corrected a long time ago. He's a star waiting to happen but ABT doesn't seem to be doing anything in order help him to achieve it, and if they are, they're not doing it strong enough.

Also ABT needs to make sure their dancers know they're being watched. That the promise of being eventually named Principal Dancer is actually within their reach. Sure invite guest artist but don't do it to such a degree in which your home team start believing they're being completely forgotten. I still cry when I think about Giuseppe Picone. He just didn't have all elements of being a Principal Dancer - he WAS - a Principal Dancer! But sadly for him - and by extention, we the audience - ABT kept him as a soloist. It got so bad that eventually Picone left. And that's another thing that ABT has a problem with - both males and females - they keep their truly promising dancers as soloist for far too long. In some cases the wait is understandable, but in other cases, some dancers slips through the company's fingers probably because the dancer has a sense of frustration at waiting, so they leave and go else where. And yeah, that does bring into question the skills of ABT's ballet masters. A great dancer is often taught by a great teacher...without that great teacher it's pretty hard to have a great dancer.


Currently ABT is in a period of transition. They are losing their strongest principal males - either to retirement or because those dancers have other interest. Not to mention Father Time is catching up to them. Whatever the case ABT has to start seriously thinking about where their new principal male dancers will be coming from. They can't solely rely on guest artists...and Gomes and Hallberg can't dance everything!

#6 abatt

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Posted 02 July 2011 - 11:43 AM

They have been giving Hammoudi a lot of opportunities lately, but he has not been impressive. He nearly dropped Simone Messmer in Lady of the Cams of few weeks ago, and last night he could not manage an overhead lift of tiny Fang. In the Bright Stream performance I saw, Hammoudi had some good moments, but there were numerous instances where his dancing was sloppy. Simkin seems destined to be the next male principal there.

#7 Helene

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Posted 02 July 2011 - 11:51 AM

Assuming that it's really a deficiency, and not a matter of having been thrown into roles and/or partnerships at the last minute -- a small dancer doesn't guarantee a light-to-lift dancer with a strong core or proper balance between the two -- it should be company's job to be sure that he gets any additional training, physical and/or technical and training/rehearsal time, so that he can partner skillfully.

Did he do some lifts well? I saw a wonderful young dancer in the Goh Ballet "Nutcracker" last December. He did an amazing amount of tricky partnering with three different girls and women, most of it exemplary, but I'll bet most people remember a pretty awful splat in the Snow Queen/Snow King scene. (The poor woman was stunned for a few moments.)

#8 FauxPas

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Posted 02 July 2011 - 02:32 PM

One thing I must mention is that the principal roster - male and female - is spotty, full of dead wood and needs an overhaul. The last time this happened was when McKenzie took over as director back in 1994. He kept the established stars - Jaffe, Bocca, Ferri, McKerrow, etc. But ageing veterans were eased out and he went into the free market and snapped up Carreno, Malakhov, Stiefel, Dvorovenko, Belotserkovsky and Ananiashvili. Corella was just winning international competitions and came to the company barely out of his teens. Then he promoted some dancers from within like Paloma, Ashley Tuttle and Julie. Later came Cornejo, Murphy, Gomes and Hallberg.

Lets run up and down the roster:

Maxim Beloserkovsky: Nearly 40 and prone to repeated injuries. The company is pulling roles away from him. He is tied to his wife and partner, Irina Dvorovenko who is still in top form technically. He is not. Major problem and you can't retire or fire him without firing his wife, who they need.

Roberto Bolle: Not a kid, around 35 years old. Also belongs to two other major ballet companies and is a guest, touring attraction world-wide. Not a lot of time to give to ABT. Then there was that little incident last year when he canceled with an injury and then danced in Europe for big fees while recovering. Sir Rudolf Bing fired a couple of Italian star singers for pulling the same stunt in the 1950's - notably tenor Giuseppe di Stefano. Still I would rehire him and try to get more performances out of him for a few years. He is tall, a great partner and needed.

Jose Manuel Carreno: Retiring this year though he has danced better this season than he has in years. Frankly he looks like he has a year or two left in him of top quality dancing. He will be missed.

Angel Corella: Not what he was 10 years ago but the "Coppelia" I saw revealed most of the technique and all the charm intact. Obviously ABT didn't like it when Angel struck out on his own limiting his appearances with the company. Make it up with Angel, ABT - you are losing more than you are gaining.

Herman Cornejo: Truly great dancer limited by his height. ABT took too long in promoting him in leading roles. Now prone to injury - he seems to have a major injury every Spring season. Also tours with his brother-in-law Angel Corella's company taking him away from ABT for long periods of time.

Irina Dvorovenko: Love her or hate her she is a formidable technician and actress. But she is tied to her husband and he is frequently injured and not what he was. She danced very well this season. He didn't dance at all after the opening gala.

Marcelo Gomes: A backbone of the company and a star who gives everything to his ballerina and the audience.

David Hallberg: A beautiful artist and with Gomes holding the standard of the male contingent to a high level.

Paloma Herrera: Still a good, not a brilliant ballerina but stalled as an artist. Starting out as a teenage prodigy she hasn't developed into a great classical ballerina. Her technical level has been surpassed by Ananiashvili and Murphy during her ABT career. Best in modern repertory with good coaching - i.e. Zina in "Bright Stream" this season. Possibly she should have gone to NYCB.

Julie Kent: A lovely refined dramatically gifted eloquent ballerina but she is in her early forties and her dancing shows it. Beloved and will remain on the roster until she chooses to leave. However, she is not going to be carrying a big load in the future and that future is limited.

Gillian Murphy: Prima ballerina of the company and greatest technical virtuoso now that Ananiashvili has retired. It is bothersome that she is marrying Stiefel and will follow him for long periods to New Zealand. Major loss to the company which needs her full-time.

Veronika Part: A heartbreakingly frustrating and setback strewn long-delayed ascension to principal status. Alexei Ratmansky seems to like to work with her so now she has more support in the artistic administration. Her dancing can still be variable and her height and womanliness limit her roles but she is becoming a mainstay of the company.

Xiomara Reyes: I like Xiomara though I realize she is basically a soubrette with some strong acting and technical skills. She looks very young but isn't - she has been dancing for 20 years. She has had her share of injuries but danced a very good season this year and I look forward to her Aurora next Wednesday. I don't see her dancing with the company for more than five years.

Corey Stearns: Developing rapidly as a technician and a partner. His stage presence is wooden and bland though he cuts an attractive figure onstage. Lacks the partnering skills and stage presence of Gomes. I am not sure if he is being helped or hindered by all the major roles being thrown at him at once - ABT might have spread the wealth around a bit to Joe Philips, Sascha, Simkin, Hammoudi and others.

Ethan Stiefel: How is ABT going to retire Ethan? They are going to have to. He has been teaching recently and not been dancing anywhere else. He is taking over the New Zealand Ballet next year. He comes for the Spring season to dance roles he has danced for a decade with the company and withdraws because he is "unprepared". He knows the parts and productions and ballerinas very well. What is going on here? Not at all the dancer he was when he joined the company, the time is nigh for him to go. I would have retired Ethan this season and kept Jose on.

Diana Vishneva: An international superstar but one that ABT seems to have lost interest in. A member of the Mariinsky and guest ballerina all over the world, she doesn't have a lot of time for ABT beyond the Spring Met season. She danced only two roles with the company this season and stayed only a few weeks. Osipova seems to garner more attention and excitement these days. Very few projects have been mounted specifically for her - the "Dame aux Camellias" was brought in mainly to give something for Julie Kent to do at this point in her career. The Tatyana next season is a new role for her (also one of Julie's best roles).

Michele Wiles: Really only shone as a soloist and in the modern repertory seasons at City Center. Good in Balanchine and surprisingly strong in parts like Hagar in "Pillar of Fire". She really was stalled in the big classical roles.

And that's it folks. So really only Gomes, Part, Hallberg, Murphy, Dvorovenko, Herrera (with her limitations) and Reyes holding the season together. The rest are either immature (Stearns), prone to injury (Beloserkovsky, Cornejo) or ageing out (Stiefel, Kent) or spend most of their time elsewhere (Bolle, Corella and Vishneva).

I personally feel that Rolando Sarabia might thrive were he given a regular company to work with, constant chiropractic and podiatric medical attention and if Kevin really worked with him to regain his full technique. Caring attention might give Sarabia a renaissance. Like a fixer-upper house, he could be acquired cheaply and remodeled into a showpiece. Sarabia also was supposedly good in the Tharp repertory in Houston or Miami during his short careers there and that kind of versatility is important for an ABT principal.

I like the opportunities being given to Hammoudi but he looks underprepared for some of his roles. More in depth coaching and rehearsal is needed for these corps guys to shine in soloist and principal parts.

#9 puppytreats

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Posted 02 July 2011 - 03:13 PM

Faux Pas, I do not agree with everything you say, and I do not have the knowledge to give an opinion on or evaluate everything you say, but your comprehensive analysis deserves applause.

I get the impression several people who did not need to retire or move elsewhere were pushed out unnecessarily, leaving the gaping hole bemoaned here. My review of interviews with Jose indicated to me that he was not ready to retire or leave. Maybe I am reading something into his expressions or words, but I was not convinced that he felt the burning desire to become a freelance dancer at this stage. Others have stated that Angel feels unwelcome and underused. Stiefel's excuses sound suspicious, as Faux Pas notes. If many are being pushed out when seemingly replacements are not readily available, broader questions arise. I am left to ask, "Is some grand strategy at play?"

#10 vipa

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Posted 02 July 2011 - 03:42 PM


I think Kevin has enough potential in the ranks to promote from within, but he needs to devote the energy to these guys, and not just chuck them aside.

This is an important point: dancers need to be nurtured and given appropriate opportunities. Look at the growth opportunities that Balanchine crafted at all levels, from little breakout solos to extended soloist roles, providing so many roles to grow his dancers. He was sure to build these in especially in his story ballets. They're ready made; AD's need to know how to use them.

Peter Boal once said that the problem he has with most full-lengths is that they give major roles to just a few dancers, and the full-length rep ABT's bread and butter. Even the new PNB "Giselle", which greatly extends roles like Bathilde and Wilfrid, and beefs up many others, has four Principal roles -- Giselle, Albrecht, Hilarion (major in this production), and Myrtha -- with the two demi-soloist Wilis and four character roles. That leaves "Peasant Pas de Deux", which in many companies is used to cast another set of senior soloists or principals, because there are no national dances or other solos in the ballet, and you can't leave dancers on the bench. To his great credit, Boal cast it with five couples (performed with 4.5) and all but one cast was made up of young corps dancers.


Totally agree Helene - you made the points I was going to. At NYCB a dancer can be on stage every night in rep doing real technique both in the corp & as a soloist. In ABT even if you've gotten a few shot at Peasant Pas it's a far reach from that to Albrecht.

#11 Helene

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Posted 02 July 2011 - 04:18 PM

Wiles received a public bouquet from Kevin McKenzie after a performance of "Swan Lake" last week, which is normally ballet-speak for leaving the company, especially without a sing-along to "Happy Birthday". However, as I learned the hard way, twice noting that PNB dancers were retiring when they were leaving, we really don't know what she's planning to do next, until there's (official) news.

#12 miliosr

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Posted 02 July 2011 - 04:43 PM

I understand the conundrum Peter Boal is referring to -- how do you train the corps members up to dancing the leads in the full-lengths when there are so few good parts to train in? But what is ABT supposed to do? It's the kind of company it is, which is a company that presents stars in classics. Would Giselle with corps dancers sell in New York???

#13 Helene

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Posted 02 July 2011 - 04:48 PM

The issue isn't so much casting corps members in the leads in the full-lengths, but that the full-lengths don't have the enough parts, in general, to develop the corps members into the leads, especially Romantic and Classical leads. The male virtuoso dancers have it easier with jesters, Golden Idol, peasant pas, "Swan Lake" pas de trois.

That's why I mentioned that the full-lengths are ABT's bread-and-butter. I don't think people would necessarily boycott if one of the names was home-grown and less than a star, but I do think McKenzie has to hire from the outside to sell tickets.

#14 vipa

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Posted 02 July 2011 - 06:28 PM

Another issue is that Kevin M. doesn't seem to want to encourage partnerships. Irina and Max are a team, but that is probably contractual and doesn't really sell tickets. On the other hand ballet has a history of partnerships - Fonteyn/Nureyev, Fracci/Bruhn, Sibley/Dowel, Kirkland/Barishnikov, Cojocoru/Kobberg.

A friend of mine from England told me that Rojo/Acosta are considered a "hot" ticket as a couple.

I think partnerships can matter. For me - ABT this spring, I saw and loved Cojocaru's Giselle. I was not going to see her SB (not in my budget and I saw and loved it last year). The minute I knew Kobberg was in, I bought a ticket.

#15 fan2546

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Posted 02 July 2011 - 06:48 PM

Definitely promote Radetsky. Also is Mikhail Ilyin still there? I saw him in Giselle in a peasant pas de deux and wondering why is he still in corps de ballet, he should be at list a soloist in my opinion.


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