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Joan Acocella on ABT's female principals -- and Misty Copeland

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We already have a long thread on ABT's "male principal problem." Included in this are a number of posts about female dancers who are rising through the ranks (or not), and the larger matter of ABT's emphasis on guest dancers during its Met season.

Joan Acocella has weighted in on this in "Bring in the Ballerinas: ABT's Guest Policy" -- in the latest issue (June 25) of The New Yorker.

The article is not available on-line, though an abstract IS available, here:

http://www.newyorker...ancing_acocella

My eye was captured by the last few paragraphs, which includes a review of Natalia Osipova's Firebird ...

She darted, she pecked -- she was the avian sister of Kitri. Of course, a Firebird has to be like a bird, but to move us she also has to be like a human being.

That didn't happen until the second night, when the role passed to Misty Copeland, an A.B.T. soloist. Copeland's great virtues, apart from a strong technique, are deep-digging movement -- the seems to scoop the air -- good humor, and sexiness. So she was able to offset the Firebird's birdy qualities with something more lush. It was really not until she took over that I saw the erotic quality of Prince Ivan's capture of the bird. As the Firebird struggles in his arms, she repeated arches backwards, in what looks like abandon. And when he gives up and stops chasing her, she changes her mind and goes after him .... This gives a powerful undercurrent to the drama ... And it was just like Misty Copeland to bring it off.

Which is related to the guest-star business. Copeland was second cast; Osipova was first-cast. ... That's the way it goes when you have guest stars. Because of their presence at A.B.T. the principal ranks are full. But room should be found for Copeland, who has been a soloist for five years now. The company should have started pushing her hard long ago, partly just in order to help achieve the ethnic balance that classical companies so glaringly lack. (She is the only highly placed African-American woman in ballet in the city.) Now they should promote her for artistic reasons as well as political reasons. She deserves it.

I have never seen Copeland dance, but I relate to the idea of "deep-digging movement ... good humor, and sexiness," and human lushness. (That is how I remember Balanchine's Firebird being danced in the old days.)

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Personally, although I have enjoyed Misty's performances, I think she has a long way to go to be considered for promotion to principal. Has she ever danced a principal role where she was the focus for the entire evening in a full length ballet? Not to my recollection.Gamzatti is a short, although pivotal, role. Look at how long Part had to toil as a soloist before her promotion, and she had already danced numerous leading roles w. the Kirov and ABT. Don't even get me started on how Stella has been (mis)treated.

Also, do we really want to promote someone for "political" reasons and "ethnic balance" reasons? I don't think so. Promotions should be based on merit, not politics or ethnicity. Moreover, if we are aiming for "ethnic balance", why wouldn't Hee Seo, Yuriko or Stella be equally viable candidates? They are ethnic minorities too. At least Hee Seo has danced a signficant number of lead roles at ABT. (Just to be clear, I don't think Hee Seo or Yuriko are presently ready to be promoted either. Hee Seo has great potential for future promotion based on merit, not ethnicity.)

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Personally, although I have enjoyed Misty's performances, I think she has a long way to go to be considered for promotion to principal. Has she ever danced a principal role where she was the focus for the entire evening in a full length ballet? Not to my recollection.Gamzatti is a short, although pivotal, role. Look at how long Part had to toil as a soloist before her promotion, and she had already danced numerous leading roles w. the Kirov and ABT. Don't even get me started on how Stella has been (mis)treated.

Also, do we really want to promote someone for "political" reasons and "ethnic balance" reasons? I don't think so. Promotions should be based on merit, not politics or ethnicity. Moreover, if we are aiming for "ethnic balance", why wouldn't Hee Seo, Yuriko or Stella be equally viable candidates? They are ethnic minorities too. At least Hee Seo has danced a signficant number of lead roles at ABT. (Just to be clear, I don't think Hee Seo or Yuriko are presently ready to be promoted either. Hee Seo has great potential for future promotion based on merit, not ethnicity.)

Thank you abatt. These are my thoughts exactly, but you articulated them better than I!

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Abatt said it better than I could. This isn't an affirmative action operation. Having seen Copeland's Gamzatti .... she's a truly lovely dancer, BUT - and I posted this earlier - she was not in the same league as Cojocaru and Vasiliev on May 24th and to me it was painfully obvious, just as substituting Boylston for Osipova on the 28th didn't really work (WAY too tall for Cornejo). I feel for Copeland because she is fighting the ballet body stereotype (call me a jerk, but I have a problem with Gillian Murphy's breasts ...)

Copeland may be under the impression that the dancers currently eclipsing her just have a "name" http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/13/arts/dance/american-ballet-theater-dancers-in-conversation.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all, but that's not it - they're principals for a reason. I think Seo is a stellar dancer, but I don't think she's "arrived" yet either. It's not a black, white, ethnic issue - which brings me to a topic I haven't seen discussed - the article about Kevin McKenzie in Sunday's NY Times - where he discussed these disgruntled dancer issues - probably needs a new topic posting.

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I think it's hard to become principal material when you're never offered the opportunities for full length ballets. ABT has a wealth of principal women - both foreign and domestic. But perhaps Abrera, Seo and Copeland will land elsewhere as principals. SFB has been known to hire stars away from other companies, and Houston has hired a few (and was home to another African American principal, Lauren Anderson, who could coach Copeland for the full lengths). Copeland is from California, maybe the chance to finish out her career where family can come see her? There are plenty of daily flghts from the major Los Angeles Airports that go to San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose.

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I think it's hard to become principal material when you're never offered the opportunities for full length ballets. ABT has a wealth of principal women - both foreign and domestic. But perhaps Abrera, Seo and Copeland will land elsewhere as principals. SFB has been known to hire stars away from other companies, and Houston has hired a few (and was home to another African American principal, Lauren Anderson, who could coach Copeland for the full lengths). Copeland is from California, maybe the chance to finish out her career where family can come see her? There are plenty of daily flghts from the major Los Angeles Airports that go to San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose.

That's actually what I was going to ask. Has Copeland even been given a lot of leading roles in full length ballets? I know she did the Firebird this season, but that's all I can think of.

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I agree with those who said that promotion should be based on merit and not on color/ethnicities/politics.

I have a lot of respect for Copeland as a dancer and the achievements she's made, but Acocella's last paragraph misses the point. Copeland shouldn't just be promoted based on the fact that she is the "highly placed African-American woman in ballet in the city." She needs to be promoted based on the fact that she is one of the best African-African ballerinas who is world-class. Look at other parts of the world. For example Celine Gittens at BRB, who might be classified as someone of similar color, is someone with far more potential as a classical dancer.

Check out her Swan Lake rehearsal videos here:

http://vimeo.com/41988175

http://vimeo.com/41767682

Again, promotion must be based on merit, not your colour. But that being said, I do think Copeland is a wonderful dancer, and I do wish her the best with the challenges she has been fighting throughout her career.

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Copeland may be under the impression that the dancers currently eclipsing her just have a "name" http://www.nytimes.c...&pagewanted=all, but that's not it - they're principals for a reason. I think Seo is a stellar dancer, but I don't think she's "arrived" yet either. It's not a black, white, ethnic issue - which brings me to a topic I haven't seen discussed - the article about Kevin McKenzie in Sunday's NY Times - where he discussed these disgruntled dancer issues - probably needs a new topic posting.

Kevin McKenzie, from that article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/17/arts/dance/american-ballet-theaters-director-kevin-mckenzie.html?pagewanted=all

The people it hits hardest are not the people who are new to a company and not the people who are clearly gifted and moving up. It’s the people who have already been through that and now are going, “Is this it?” I say, “What exactly is so bad about being a flagship soloist or even a junior principal who maybe isn’t right to do all the roles?” That’s what gives the company the depth we have — that the girl who’s playing Giselle’s mother is as moving and believable as the guest artist who’s maybe recognized as the greatest Giselle in the world.

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I find myself in agreement with Jayne's point -- that there are other companies than ABT out there, many of them first rate by any set of standards.

ABT's conservative business model seems to be to stress the glamour and return again and again to a small menu of the most recognizable story ballets in the classical rep. Stars sell tickets to the audience that wants that kind of rep.

Maybe ABT is NOT the place for dancers who do not fit the mold or are not sufficiently box-office worthy to fill the Met and other huge auditoriums. Maybe, in other words, ABT is NOT "America's National Ballet Company" as its publicity claims. After all, opting to be a museum of classic story ballets, performed by a wide range of exciting international stars, is a valid mission all on its own.

Alternatively, maybe the arrival of a genuinely serious, talented, prolific house choreographer, Ratmansky, will open a small door to ABT's changing its policies eventually. Possibly with a change of administration. After all, Baryshnikov reinvented the company in the 1980s, and that worked for a while.

P.S. for clarification: Acocella's article makes a distinction between "guest stars" (like Cojocaru, with only three performances this spring) and those willing to make a longer commitment for the entire Met Season.(Osipova, who has committed to the entire run.

PP.S.: Thanks, Ruteyo, for the clips of Celine Gittens. She captured my heart at about 1:00 into the second video. I hope we will hear and see more of her. Definitely.

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Thanks Bart! Just wanted to add this (recent) video clip because interestingly Copeland talks about an issue related to this discussion. She's a lovely woman, by the way, you can tell from the way she speaks.

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In one way, what Copeland talks about in that video makes ABT seem like an "American" ballet company after all. I think we all think of it as a showcase for international stars and so it is barely American, but actually what Copeland describes is a very American concept.....melting pot and to have people from all over the world coming together and creating a whole culture of differences.

I liked her clip. By the way, if nobody ever mentioned she was African American I would never know. I would actually think she is white with a tan. But I am a total mix (Japanese American) too, and many people can never tell what I am.

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Personally, although I have enjoyed Misty's performances, I think she has a long way to go to be considered for promotion to principal. Has she ever danced a principal role where she was the focus for the entire evening in a full length ballet? Not to my recollection.Gamzatti is a short, although pivotal, role. Look at how long Part had to toil as a soloist before her promotion, and she had already danced numerous leading roles w. the Kirov and ABT. Don't even get me started on how Stella has been (mis)treated.

Also, do we really want to promote someone for "political" reasons and "ethnic balance" reasons? I don't think so. Promotions should be based on merit, not politics or ethnicity. Moreover, if we are aiming for "ethnic balance", why wouldn't Hee Seo, Yuriko or Stella be equally viable candidates? They are ethnic minorities too. At least Hee Seo has danced a signficant number of lead roles at ABT. (Just to be clear, I don't think Hee Seo or Yuriko are presently ready to be promoted either. Hee Seo has great potential for future promotion based on merit, not ethnicity.)

Thank you abatt. These are my thoughts exactly, but you articulated them better than I!

I second you both.

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Thanks for the clip of Copeland's interview. We've spoken often and at length on this forum about the affect of a school on the look of a company, and usually cast it in a good light -- that similar schooling gives a sense of ensemble that coaching alone has trouble creating. Copeland's point of view (that ABT's lack of a school can be seen in a positive way) is one I hadn't really considered in awhile, and I'm glad to have a chance to think it over again.

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But ABT now has the JKO school. How will this change the dynamic in years to come?

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How many of the kids at the JKO school will actually make it into the company, and of those how many will make it out of the corps? It seems to me that there are many prestigious ballet schools in the US (SAB being the most important), but the JKO School doesn't necessarily rank very highly among the most coveted programs that the highly talented students will flock to. Am I wrong?

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How many of the kids at the JKO school will actually make it into the company, and of those how many will make it out of the corps? It seems to me that there are many prestigious ballet schools in the US (SAB being the most important), but the JKO School doesn't necessarily rank very highly among the most coveted programs that the highly talented students will flock to. Am I wrong?

Judging from a preliminary search online, I would hazard that you are.

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What search online? Are there any stats on what percentage of the grads of JKO School now have contracts w. ABT?

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What search online? Are there any stats on what percentage of the grads of JKO School now have contracts w. ABT?

According to the Education andTraining section of the ABT website , 15 graduates are in the ABT corps( including 2 apprentices).

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What search online? Are there any stats on what percentage of the grads of JKO School now have contracts w. ABT?

You asked if it ranked among the coveted schools talented students would flock to. Judging by the number of people online expressing interest in it or NYCB--"which should I choose?" It seems that talented students are taking it seriously.

I said it was a preliminary search and didn't realize you were asking for stats on placement. It seemed you were asking about appeal to students, whether THEY felt it was a good program and my impression (preliminarily) is that the answer was yes.

A recent article (2012) about the school in Dance Magazine (i think?) notes their high placement rate in recent years.

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How many of the kids at the JKO school will actually make it into the company, and of those how many will make it out of the corps? It seems to me that there are many prestigious ballet schools in the US (SAB being the most important), but the JKO School doesn't necessarily rank very highly among the most coveted programs that the highly talented students will flock to. Am I wrong?

Abatt, I've recently (within last 2 yrs) visited many top-flight academies in the world. While very pleasant, the JKO School's year-end performance didn't come close to Vaganova, Moscow (Bolshoi), SAB, POB school, Kirov (DC), La Scala school (Milano), or even the recent Joffrey School performance in NYC. I admired several soloists (Shu, Gabe, Michela) but some of the offerings in the program seemed a tad amateurish, e.g., the two DeMille/Broadway excerpts. Some featured soloists would never make the cut in the schools listed above. JKO has a way to go but is full of promise, IMO. They're not yet at the stage that they can serve as the main 'feeder academy' to ABT. (After all, how many years does it take to develop a top-top ballet academy?)

p.s. La Scala Ballet Academy, by the way, was a huge surprise...as I had erroneously assumed that they've been on a downward trajectory since Enrico Ceccheti (sorry!). They're doing something very right in Milano. My Italian friends feel the same way, too...a very great director there who manages the 'big picture quality' well. I should open a new thread just about them.

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One of the most appealing dancers in the documentary First Position, Micaela Deprince, was awarded a full scholarship to the JKO School at the 2010 Youth America Grand Prix competition. This, despite dancing with a foot injury and not having a conventional ballerina appearance. (Ms Deprince is black and has a stronger, more compact, more curved body type than the current fashion prescribes)

At the film house yesterday, her's was the most popular story and her prize got the most effusive audience response. Her JKO scholarships suggests that the school has an openness to a couple of realities --

1) they need to develop many more pre-professional students than a single company could possibly accomodate;

2) classical ballet can be, as it used to be to a limited extent in the 40s as and 50s, a form suitable to a variety of body shapes, sizes, and colors.

Regarding this issue -- and Misty Copeland -- I was delighted to find a long piece in the Spring 2012 issue of BALLET REVIEW -- a long interview with Ms. Copeland (trained at a variety of schools, including San Francisco Ballet), Natalie Wright (trained at PNB), Riolama Lorenzo (trained at Harid and SAB), Nikkia Parish (SAB and Texas Christian University), and Aesha Ashe (SAB).

The long article-with-interviews by Ian Spencer Bell is called "The Caramel Variations." Ballet Review is not online, but if you are able to subscribe, beg, or borrow a copy, you will be well-rewarded.

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Her JKO scholarships suggests that the school has an openness to a couple of realities --

1) they need to develop many more pre-professional students than a single company could possibly accomodate;

But this is the case at every company-affiliated school. I know most of us here go to whatever 'graduation' performances our local schools present, and I'm willing to bet that the percentage of senior level students who go into the host company is quite small for almost all of them.

At the Pacific Northwest Ballet School, of the 14 level 7 and 8 students who are leaving the school, two are heading for PNBs professional division, three are going to another school and one is joining a small company. Of the 11 professional division students leaving, two are becoming apprentices here -- the rest are going elsewhere. I have a feeling these are not unusual numbers

Without taking anything away from our discussion about ethnicity in ballet, I'd be curious to hear from some regular ABT audience members about Copeland's assertion that the variety of stylistic backgrounds in the company is a strength. With the number of works in the repertory that require a large, unified ensemble (Swan Lake and Bayadere being just two), do you see Copeland's idea played out on stage, or is that primarily true for soloist and small ensemble parts?

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I have to agree that Misty, while wonderful to watch, is not yet ready for promotion by any means. Abatt mentions Stella Abrera, who I could see as a principal, but what about Maria Riccetto? She has danced Giselle (although sadly not this season). Ratmansky cast her as one of the Natalias in On The Dniepier and Clara in the Nutcracker, both principal roles. She is one of my favorite Lilac Faries (second only to V. Part).

My fear is that Isabella Boylston or Hee Seo, both whom I admire for many reasons, will get promoted first. I find Maria's dancing more musical and nuanced, and again, she is such a fine actress. Neither Seo or Boylston has the consistency of Riccetto (in my opinion).

I can't even imagine Misty being promoted at this point.

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I have to agree that Misty, while wonderful to watch, is not yet ready for promotion by any means. Abatt mentions Stella Abrera, who I could see as a principal, but what about Maria Riccetto? She has danced Giselle (although sadly not this season). Ratmansky cast her as one of the Natalias in On The Dniepier and Clara in the Nutcracker, both principal roles. She is one of my favorite Lilac Faries (second only to V. Part).

My fear is that Isabella Boylston or Hee Seo, both whom I admire for many reasons, will get promoted first. I find Maria's dancing more musical and nuanced, and again, she is such a fine actress. Neither Seo or Boylston has the consistency of Riccetto (in my opinion).

Maria is leaving for a year to be a guest principal at Julio Bocca's company where she guested last year as Medora. IMO, her fate will be sealed when she returns--ie. Kevin will give her a slew of new roles and a promotion based on what she's done with Bocca, or she will be "Flagship Soloist/Junior Principal" #2 for the rest of her career at ABT.

Misty is principal "material" (she has a star quality and ability to connect with the audience as made clear in the Firebird), but she needs a couple 3-acters under her belt to test her mettle and further her acting chops. After this season, Misty, Kristi, and Simone (debatable as she's done Myrtha) will be the soloists who haven't lead an evening length ballet at the Met, so I think once casting goes out next year for the Met we will see clearly McKenzie's plans for her.

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