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


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#1 bart

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Posted 22 June 2012 - 11:38 AM

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.)

#2 abatt

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Posted 22 June 2012 - 12:00 PM

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.)

#3 vipa

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Posted 22 June 2012 - 01:44 PM

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!

#4 Kristen

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Posted 22 June 2012 - 02:53 PM

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.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.

#5 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 22 June 2012 - 03:59 PM

Copeland is not Principal material...at least not now.

#6 Jayne

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Posted 22 June 2012 - 09:31 PM

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.

#7 Plisskin

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Posted 23 June 2012 - 04:16 AM

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.

#8 ruteyo

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Posted 23 June 2012 - 04:47 AM

[font="arial, helvetica, sans-serif"]I agree with those who said that promotion should be based on merit and not on color/ethnicities/politics. [/font]
[font="arial, helvetica, sans-serif"]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. [/font]
[font="arial, helvetica, sans-serif"]Check out her Swan Lake rehearsal videos here:[/font]
[font="arial, helvetica, sans-serif"][/font]
[font="arial, helvetica, sans-serif"][/font]
[font="arial, helvetica, sans-serif"]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. [/font]

#9 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 23 June 2012 - 04:47 AM

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.c...?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.



#10 bart

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Posted 23 June 2012 - 05:02 AM

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.

#11 ruteyo

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Posted 23 June 2012 - 11:21 AM

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.



#12 Birdsall

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Posted 23 June 2012 - 02:28 PM

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.

#13 Meow

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Posted 23 June 2012 - 04:33 PM


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.

#14 sandik

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Posted 24 June 2012 - 08:12 PM

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.

#15 Barbara

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Posted 25 June 2012 - 03:55 AM

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


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