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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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#76 FauxPas

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Posted 05 July 2011 - 09:36 AM

The Royal Ballet has a school and so does the New York City Ballet. American Ballet Theater has just started a school but it is too new and the students are too young to create a new generation of stars right now. The other oddity about the Royal Ballet for several decades now is that most of the star dancers are foreigners who trained elsewhere. Acosta (Cuba), Cojocaru (Romania/Kiev), Marianela Nunez (Argentina), Rojo (Spain) and all those Italians, Russians, Brazilians, etc. Former principal dancers Sylvie Guillem (poached from POB) and Alexandra Ansanelli (poached from NYCB). There are very few English dancers perpetuating the Ashton/de Valois English school of ballet who are products of the RB school. To my eyes, Darcey Bussell is the last and she was sort of an atypical English ballerina - more American in her physical attack and boldness. Where is the younger than 35 or 40 year old English ballerina with that kind of star power? Royal Ballet School needs to redress this.

However, compare the NYCB roster with ABT's - most of the principals are young, fresh and trained at SAB home-grown product. As for Chase Finlay - he ain't going nowhere, he is in the right place at the right time. As for comparisons with the ABT and NYCB roster - this has changed a lot in 20 years. I actually find that NYCB is crazy strong in superb ballerinas right now (Mearns, Scheller, Reichlen, Bouder, Fairchild, Peck and on and on) but the male contingent is functional but not brilliant. I like Gonzalo Garcia and De Luz. To my eyes neither Jonathan Stafford or either Angle brother can compare with the best dancers circa 1991 when I started attending ballet in NY.

When I started going to NYCB in the early 90's they had a better male roster than ABT. ABT had the young phenom Julio Bocca just coming into his own as an artist. The rest were functional (Wes Chapman, Ross Stretton), short-lived (Ricardo Bustamante) or veterans finishing up their dancing careers (Kevin McKenzie, Fernando Bujones, Johan Renvall, Danilo Radojevic). Guest stars were coming in, especially under Jane Herrmann, such as Andris Liepa and Faroukh Ruzimatov (the Soviet bloc was opening up thanks to Perestroika). Guillem guested and so did veteran Russians like Maximova and Vasiliev and the lovely Lyudmila Semenyaka. However, compared with the company 10 years before when young Bujones, Baryshnikov et al. ruled the stage, small potatoes.

In comparison, NYCB had the young Peter Boal, Damian Woetzel, Nicolae Hubbe (a few years later), Albert Evans, Jock Soto along with still excellent veterans like Adam Luders and up and comers like Philip Neal. From 1990 to 1995, NYCB had the best male principal roster, much better than ABT. Then Kevin McKenzie went on a spending spree and bought and brought in José Manuel Carreno, Vladimir Malakhov, Maxim Belotserkovsky, Angel Corella, Ethan Stiefel, Joaquin de Luz and added them to the still going strong Julio Bocca. Suddenly there was a killer superstar male contingent there. The female roster was not as quickly refreshed. Veteran prima ballerinas Susan Jaffe and Amanda McKerrow were revitalized and inspired by their partnerships with Carreno and Malakhov respectively. But Gillian Murphy was the big ballerina discovery from the ranks. Herrera was already on the rise and artistically plateaued. Ananiashvili was acquired as an established superstar. But McKenzie never had the eye for ballerinas that he did for male dancers and he has coasted on his "Born to Be Wild" contingent for too many years. Hallberg and Gomes are holding up the company as their successors but where are their successors?

That male principal star explosion was 16 years ago and time has taken its toll. Some like Malakhov were pushed out when they had too many outside commitments - Malakhov one season was only offered a matinee "Swan Lake" and that was it. Corella clearly has been receiving the same treatment from ABT management. Most have simply aged out and retired. Or aged out and didn't retire... De Luz moved to NYCB due to personal stresses and repercussions from his divorce from Carmen Corella.

Now there seems to be a lack of brilliant new male principals in both companies. Antonio Carmena and Chase Finlay are rising up and comers. Craig Hall is a very fine underutilized dancer. But Martins has a new scintillating crop of young ballerinas who can thrill in the entire repertory. Finding men who match their level of brilliance is difficult.

So it looks like superstar quality men are in short supply worldwide and there is more demand than supply.

Also, major international companies have always, always lured star dancers from the competition, it has been standard practice for decades. Even the Bolshoi and Kirov-Mariinsky have been known to snatch up good men from Kiev, Perm or wherever when their own conservatory product doesn't live up to expectations or proves inadequate.

#77 canbelto

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Posted 05 July 2011 - 11:21 AM

I feel as if the ABT has more of a problem with its female principals, as many have noted. I feel as if Paloma Herrera and Irina Dvorovenko at this point just "get the job done" and no more. Michele Wiles apparently left, but she was really stalled artistically. Julie Kent is aging and limited in what she can dance. Xiomara Reyes and Veronika Part are both limited by height and emploi in different ways. Gillian Murphy can't dance every night. It's nice to have Alina Cojocaru, Natalia Osipova, Diana Vishneva, and Polina Semionova guest but they have major commitments in other companies. Vishneva seems to dance less at the ABT every season and that's a shame.

I'm with nyususan in that I don't think Sarah Lane, Maria Riccetto, and Stella Abrera are real solutions either. Abrera isn't young, and she's had a whole bunch of injuries. Lane and Riccetto I've seen make almost novice mistakes in the middle of variations this season. I think there's more hope with Hee Seo, Isabella Boylston and Simone Messmer.

#78 bart

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Posted 05 July 2011 - 02:37 PM

A fascinating thread. Thanks to all.

Add me to those who think that a good part of the problem may be ABT's core rep. The biggest sellers are a handful of full-length ballets, each of which takes a week out of their very expensive Met spring season. You don't cast these ballets easily with up-and-coming corps members or new soloists. Even if it were possible to do so, ABT's audiences -- like those on Broadway -- seem to have become conditioned to demand the star experience.

Without a school (until recently) hiring from within becomes harder because developing from within is less likely. It's risky, also, to promote a principal prematurely. More than a few never develop the way they were expected to.

As FauxPas has said, attracting commitment from outside stars and serious hot-shots is also becoming more difficult. There is a lot of competition out there for the services of top level male dancers. International superstars do, of course, like to perform in New York. I suspect that, for many of them, ABT (and NYC) work best as a showcase to increases their exposure and marketability elsewhere. Not as a permanent commitment.

P.S. As a Miami-watcher, I hope that Rolando Sarabia gets a chance. Possibly as a guest artist at first, dancing in a number of ballets, until it's clear that there is a real fit between him and the company. Sarabia was inconsistent in the Miami repertoire -- superb in some works, lackluster and apparently uninterested in others. Someone mentioned earlier that he might need assistance in fitting productively into the ABT repertoire as a whole.

Would that be something that the ABT coaching system is capable of doing?

#79 Tapfan

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Posted 05 July 2011 - 02:39 PM

Might Danny Tidwell return to ABT? After all, prodigal son Sascha Radetsky was welcomed back.

#80 vrsfanatic

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Posted 05 July 2011 - 02:58 PM

Any "coaching system" requires talented, selfless ballet masters and willing particpants to be coached. This is not an easy combination to achieve. Since ballet masters and dancers are individuals, often ballet masters may be inspirational and good for one dancer, but not for another. It is similar to teachers in school. :wink:

#81 miliosr

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Posted 05 July 2011 - 04:33 PM

As a company who steals, or worst, a company that can't develop it's own natural talent in their own backyard? Either way it certainly wouldn't look all that favorable to ABT.

How is it any different than the 'Golden Age' in the 1970s? It wasn't like that was some great era for homegrown development even though it was a GREAT era in the company's history. Mikhail Baryshnikov, Natalia Makharova and Rudolf Nureyev had defected from the then-Soviet Union. Erik Bruhn sprang from the Royal Danes. Ivan Nagy was from Central Europe. Carla Fracci was from Italy. Anthony Dowell spent time away from the Royal at ABT. John Meehan came from the Australian Ballet. Cynthia Gregory and her then-husband Terry Orr jumped from San Francisco Ballet to ABT. Gelsey Kirkland, Mimi Paul and John Prinz all decamped from City Ballet. There were a few homegrown "company men" like Fernando Bujones and Ted Kivitt but, otherwise, the principals came from elsewhere. (And Bujones' rise was testament more to his own enormous talent rather than anything ABT did or didn't do.) For good or for ill, ABT has remained consistent to itself, even though the "But where's the school?" people would wish it to be otherwise.

In a way - without meaning too of course but with a cynical way at looking at things - they could be broadcasting to the ballet world their stable of dancers are rather weak. Something I don't think any ballet company wish to have as a reputation.

Well, we all know their stable of male dancers is, if not weak, then uncertain. So, I have to imagine everyone else knows it without ABT having gone into the market yet.

my sense of the unwritten rules of one company's acquiring another's dancer(s) is that there is no out-and-out 'stealing' etc. that the former co. however much it might like another's talent waits for that talent to show an interest in leaving and/or comes to audition at which point a contract can be offered.

My own sense is that the situation is a great deal more fluid than companies and dancers like to admit. They may say that a certain dancer only made a change after they auditioned but my guess is the change has been worked out in advance between both parties. But then I may just be cynical!

As for Chase Finlay - he ain't going nowhere, he is in the right place at the right time.

I agree with you but any discussion of possible candidates has to include his name. He is the 'It Boy' of the moment with the New York Times feature and the various Bruce Weber photo shoots.

I actually find that NYCB is crazy strong in superb ballerinas right now (Mearns, Scheller, Reichlen, Bouder, Fairchild, Peck and on and on) but the male contingent is functional but not brilliant. I like Gonzalo Garcia and De Luz. To my eyes neither Jonathan Stafford or either Angle brother can compare with the best dancers circa 1991 when I started attending ballet in NY.

And not even that functional at times. On my recent trip to New York, I was shocked at how sub-standard some of the male leads -- Marcovici and Askegard -- were. (Shockingly so in Askegard's case.)

What do you regard as the deficiencies of Angle the Elder? I was under the impression he is a strong partner.

#82 vipa

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Posted 05 July 2011 - 04:59 PM

A fascinating thread. Thanks to all.

Add me to those who think that a good part of the problem may be ABT's core rep. The biggest sellers are a handful of full-length ballets, each of which takes a week out of their very expensive Met spring season. You don't cast these ballets easily with up-and-coming corps members or new soloists. Even if it were possible to do so, ABT's audiences -- like those on Broadway -- seem to have become conditioned to demand the star experience.

Without a school (until recently) hiring from within becomes harder because developing from within is less likely. It's risky, also, to promote a principal prematurely; more than a few just don't develop the way they were expected.

As FauxPas has said, attracting commitment from outside stars and serious hot-shots is also becoming more difficult. There is a lot of competition out there for the services of top level male dancersi. International superstars do, of course, like to perform in New York. I suspect that, for many of them, ABT (and NYC) work best as a showcase to increases their exposure and marketability elsewhere. Not as a permanent commitment.

P.S. As a Miami-watcher, I hope that Rolando Sarabia gets a chance. Possibly as a guest artist at first, dancing in more than one ballet, until it's clear that there is a real fit between him and the company. Sarabia was inconsistent in the Miami repertoire -- superb in some works, lackluster and apparently uninterested in others. Someone mentioned earlier that he might need assistance in fitting productively into the ABT repertoire as a whole.

Would that be something that the ABT coaching system is capable of doing?


Very interesting comments. It is also notable that ABT (and presumably other companies) hire people who are competition winners and then use them as corps members. This is tricky. Zhong-Jing Fang was a competition winner maybe 10 years ago, got a few opportunities at ABT, stayed in the corps, had injuries along the way and now is definitely corps for ever.

This is not a fully formed thought on my part. Maybe as the ABT school goes on the company will fill from the school but right now you take a highly proficient dancer, who had won competitions doing difficult variation and expect that person to remain motivated year after year doing corps or the same pas de trois pieces over and over.

NYCB has a much better system because of the rep. (they also strongly discourage their students from entering competitions). I wouldn't blame any ABT soloist for going elsewhere. Also, it seems that succeeding in principal opportunities doesn't seem to get you anywhere (like Lane in Theme & Auora). Again this is a somewhat unformed train of thought.

#83 spinning2night

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Posted 05 July 2011 - 06:23 PM

Might Danny Tidwell return to ABT? After all, prodigal son Sascha Radetsky was welcomed back.

we can all hope and pray. the fact that he's at least returned to classical ballet is a start!

canbelto, you put it best when pointing out that ABT has a problem with it's female principal roster toom, but they've been fortunate to not have missed large portions of the season due to injury and other commitments. I too don't think Ricetto or Lane are ready for promotions. Obviously, as I have previously expressed, I think Abrera is more than ready and deserving of a promotion (for years...), and while her history with injuries are worrisome, she's been healthy since taking that whole year off.
And in fact, is a dancer's history with injuries really a good enough reason to NOT promote them, especially when they have shown that they are worthy when healthy?
How quickly ABT addresses this problem as a whole and how ready the dancers who get transitioned actually are to fill those shoes will affect the company as a whole greatly for years to come.

Here's to hoping Kevin sees what's right in front of him and does something about it.

#84 vipa

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Posted 05 July 2011 - 06:37 PM


Might Danny Tidwell return to ABT? After all, prodigal son Sascha Radetsky was welcomed back.

we can all hope and pray. the fact that he's at least returned to classical ballet is a start!

canbelto, you put it best when pointing out that ABT has a problem with it's female principal roster toom, but they've been fortunate to not have missed large portions of the season due to injury and other commitments. I too don't think Ricetto or Lane are ready for promotions. Obviously, as I have previously expressed, I think Abrera is more than ready and deserving of a promotion (for years...), and while her history with injuries are worrisome, she's been healthy since taking that whole year off.
And in fact, is a dancer's history with injuries really a good enough reason to NOT promote them, especially when they have shown that they are worthy when healthy?
How quickly ABT addresses this problem as a whole and how ready the dancers who get transitioned actually are to fill those shoes will affect the company as a whole greatly for years to come.

Here's to hoping Kevin sees what's right in front of him and does something about it.


I agree about Abrera. I disagree about Lane. She is an interesting case to me. I haven't seen the bad performances that some others have reported on BT. I don't doubt the reports. On the other hand as a new corps member she did an excellent Theme and Variation, and has done very good Themes since then. She also delivered as Aurora. It must be very discouraging for her to get no benefit from those successes. Maybe Lane has plateaued because she has the goods, but is only used when needed for a short guy.

Bottom line - you have a corps member who delivers on Theme in her first year - develop her - didn't happen.

#85 spinning2night

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Posted 05 July 2011 - 07:54 PM

i guess, the thing that's bothered me about Lane is she appears too young on stage. She delivers the goods, but it seems to appear as though she isn't completely mentally engaged in what she's doing. It isn't that she lacks emotion, but rather that she can be one-dimensional at times. I'm sure through a promotion, she could develop this further, but I guess I personally don't see what's so special about her.

In regards to Ricetto, I've really likes her all the times I have seen her, but it seems she has consistency issues. Also, I can definitely see that even if she has a "good" performance, she doesn't possess the standout star-quality that commands your attention (i.e. when i saw her as the LIlac Fairy, I found myself watching the other fairies when all of them were on stage on only zoned in a Ricetto when she had a solo).

#86 spinning2night

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Posted 05 July 2011 - 07:55 PM

also, since the thread should be discussing the men...
does anyone know exactly what Herman's injury is?

#87 Jayne

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Posted 05 July 2011 - 10:41 PM

I've been reading this thread, and here are some observations:

Dancers are like any other artists, they take time to grow as dancers, actors and athletes. While many of you say "promote from within" and "give them chances to dance principal roles" - are you also willing to watch a few years of perforances that are not virtuoso before they grow into principal "stars"? ABT pays the bills with story ballets, which means feast or famine for dancers - especially the men. Either you're carrying an entire ballet, or you're carrying a speer on stage right. Not much in between.

I wonder if ABT could leverage ABT II to somehow include these growing dancers, maybe with more performances around the country where they are not expected to be at the standard set by the "stars", but perhaps some sort of tours that allow them to work out those principal roles repeatedly while on the road. The younger dancers are less likely to be tied down by children, so their schedules would allow it.

Another idea would be to set up a formal exchange program with another large company, such as Royal Ballet for some one-offs, pairing a "homer" with a guest. Examples: David Halberg guesting at RB with - say Marianela Nunez - and then some sort of return exchange at ABT.

#88 Helene

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Posted 05 July 2011 - 11:49 PM

also, since the thread should be discussing the men...
does anyone know exactly what Herman's injury is?

No official news yet.

Dancers are like any other artists, they take time to grow as dancers, actors and athletes. While many of you say "promote from within" and "give them chances to dance principal roles" - are you also willing to watch a few years of perforances that are not virtuoso before they grow into principal "stars"? ABT pays the bills with story ballets, which means feast or famine for dancers - especially the men. Either you're carrying an entire ballet, or you're carrying a speer on stage right. Not much in between.

Promote from within on a reasonable course means rep or versions of the rep that include opportunities to work up the ladder towards the secondary leads and then the leads, as well as good coaching, so that when a dancer is given an opportunity, that dancer is ready enough for the audience to be happy that they were there to see that dancer's first performance.

#89 angelica

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Posted 06 July 2011 - 10:52 AM

I've been reading this thread, and here are some observations:

Dancers are like any other artists, they take time to grow as dancers, actors and athletes. While many of you say "promote from within" and "give them chances to dance principal roles" - are you also willing to watch a few years of perforances that are not virtuoso before they grow into principal "stars"? ABT pays the bills with story ballets, which means feast or famine for dancers - especially the men. Either you're carrying an entire ballet, or you're carrying a speer on stage right. Not much in between.

I wonder if ABT could leverage ABT II to somehow include these growing dancers, maybe with more performances around the country where they are not expected to be at the standard set by the "stars", but perhaps some sort of tours that allow them to work out those principal roles repeatedly while on the road. The younger dancers are less likely to be tied down by children, so their schedules would allow it.

Another idea would be to set up a formal exchange program with another large company, such as Royal Ballet for some one-offs, pairing a "homer" with a guest. Examples: David Halberg guesting at RB with - say Marianela Nunez - and then some sort of return exchange at ABT.

I've been following this thread and would like some feedback as to how fellow members might look upon this idea: How would you feel about giving soloists major roles in certain ballets without initially promoting them to principals? This would take care of the idea expressed somewhere that MacKenzie (I think?) feels that in order for a dancer to become a principal, he/she must be able to dance principal roles in most, although not necessarily all, of the repertoire. There is precedence for this in Kajiya's DQ and Seo's R&J. For example, I would love to see Sarah Lane dance Swanilda. She participated in a program at the Guggenheim Museum in which Susan Jaffe, speaking of her new role as coach subsequent to her dancing career, demonstrated how she coaches dancers, with Lane in Coppelia as the example. Lane was delightful. This is generally how soloists become principals, is it not--by dancing at those Wednesday matinees? It does seem unfair to deny dancers in their prime an opportunity to dance major roles because all the principals have to have their turn. Could not a principal defer to a rising potential?

This could be done on the male side of the equation also, not necessarily in the same performance.

As for Stella Abrera, I think she should definitely be promoted.

And thank you to those who enlightened me about how to "box" text.

#90 puppytreats

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Posted 06 July 2011 - 11:54 AM


I've been reading this thread, and here are some observations:

Dancers are like any other artists, they take time to grow as dancers, actors and athletes. While many of you say "promote from within" and "give them chances to dance principal roles" - are you also willing to watch a few years of perforances that are not virtuoso before they grow into principal "stars"? ABT pays the bills with story ballets, which means feast or famine for dancers - especially the men. Either you're carrying an entire ballet, or you're carrying a speer on stage right. Not much in between.

I wonder if ABT could leverage ABT II to somehow include these growing dancers, maybe with more performances around the country where they are not expected to be at the standard set by the "stars", but perhaps some sort of tours that allow them to work out those principal roles repeatedly while on the road. The younger dancers are less likely to be tied down by children, so their schedules would allow it.

Another idea would be to set up a formal exchange program with another large company, such as Royal Ballet for some one-offs, pairing a "homer" with a guest. Examples: David Halberg guesting at RB with - say Marianela Nunez - and then some sort of return exchange at ABT.

I've been following this thread and would like some feedback as to how fellow members might look upon this idea: How would you feel about giving soloists major roles in certain ballets without initially promoting them to principals? This would take care of the idea expressed somewhere that MacKenzie (I think?) feels that in order for a dancer to become a principal, he/she must be able to dance principal roles in most, although not necessarily all, of the repertoire. There is precedence for this in Kajiya's DQ and Seo's R&J. For example, I would love to see Sarah Lane dance Swanilda. She participated in a program at the Guggenheim Museum in which Susan Jaffe, speaking of her new role as coach subsequent to her dancing career, demonstrated how she coaches dancers, with Lane in Coppelia as the example. Lane was delightful. This is generally how soloists become principals, is it not--by dancing at those Wednesday matinees? It does seem unfair to deny dancers in their prime an opportunity to dance major roles because all the principals have to have their turn. Could not a principal defer to a rising potential?

This could be done on the male side of the equation also, not necessarily in the same performance.

As for Stella Abrera, I think she should definitely be promoted.

And thank you to those who enlightened me about how to "box" text.



Was it Lane or Seo?


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