pherank

Who Would Be on Your All-American Ballerinas List?

85 posts in this topic

[Admin note: this question was originally in a thread to discuss Alastair Macaulay's article All-American Goddesses and merits a discussion of its own.]

More importantly - who would be on your list (I'm asking the BalletAlert Universe)? I know it's difficult to see all of the companies, but who else needs a name check?


Great question, and for that maybe we should create a thread for it in the appropriate place. Feel free to start one up, and I'll add my suggestions. ;)

Share this post


Link to post

Macaulay is speaking of current all-American ballerinas, but please feel free to discuss past greats.

For me, using Macaulay's definition -- by "American-born" I think he means US-born" -- from the past at NYCB I would nominate Maria Tallchief, Diana Adams, and Allegra Kent, and from ABT Nora Kaye, Cynthia Gregory, and Eleanor d'Antuono. My inclusion of Kaye makes it pretty clear that I don't think a dancer has to dance Odette, even the one-act version, or Aurora to be considered a ballerina. I'm perfectly happy to call a Tudor muse a ballerina.

Of course, his definition eliminates Paris-born Tanaquil LeClercq and Canadian Melissa Hayden.

Share this post


Link to post

I like your list, Helene, but as far as present day performers go, I was wondering why Macaulay didn't mention any PNB dancers.

Share this post


Link to post

Carla Korbes was born in Brazil and had her early training there, and he seems blind to Carrie Imler.

Share this post


Link to post

I think if Noelani Pantastico (HI) and Lucien Postlewaite (CA) had somehow gone to NYCB instead of Les Ballets Monte Carlo, Mr Macauley would be typing their praises. Both are very special in the Balanchine rep.

Share this post


Link to post

Carla Korbes was born in Brazil and had her early training there, and he seems blind to Carrie Imler.

Yes, Korbes would be the obvious choice, I suppose, but still, so many other talents.

The fact that Le Clercq and Hayden can't make the list, points up the weakness in the whole "American Ballerina" idea. Hayden is certainly one of the great North-American dancers of her generation, and Le Clercq was the first, and perhaps most representative, Balanchine-trained dancer. Her entire training was from the SAB, I believe. And then there's the fact that a Russian, named George Balanchine, is the single most important figure in American ballet, and the creation of an American approach to ballet. It's not where you were born, but your input into US culture that matters.

Share this post


Link to post

Looking at arguably the five great ballet choreographers to date:

August Bournonville: Danish-born, but his father emigrated to Denmark. He was trained by the Italian Galeotti and the French Vestris, and he lived and studied in Paris for five years. He had an aunt at Royal Swedish ballet, I assume through his Swedish mother.

Marius Petipa: French-born, raised partially in Belgium, also trained under Vestris, spent three years in Spain, moved to St. Petersburgh to dance at 29, where he worked with Perrot for almost a decade to learn his craft.

Frederick Ashton: Grew up in Ecuador and Peru. His early ballet influences -- Pavlova, Massine -- were Russian.

Antony Tudor: British-born, but his career was primarily at ABT and in NYC wherever he taught. Technically, he was from the Italian school of Cecchetti, whose artistic lineage goes back to Beauchamp, and, after becoming London-based, had a profound influence on ballet schooling in Great Britain and the colonies.

George Balanchine: Trained at the Imperial School, went to Paris, London, Copenhagen until Kirstein convinced him to come to America, where for over a decade, he mainly choreographed for American musicals and films.

Bournonville was the only one to stay where he was born for most of his life. The rest were peripatetic until they landed in what was to become their long-time artistic homes. There were a lot of shake-ups and "foreign" artistic influences in their lives.

Great American male dancers are yet another thread.

Edited to add: the whole categorization seems arbitrary when you think of kids like Aran Bell, for example. If he wasn't born on US soil, it's likely he was born on a military base or in a local hospital providing services to the military. However, he's been largely trained by Denis Ganio. I believe both Julian and Nicholas MacKay and raised in the US until they joined the school of the Bolshoi Ballet school, where they are studying through the pre-professional track, and not as a one or two-year finish to an otherwise US dance education. Michaela DePrice was born in Sierra Leone and was adopted as a young girl. Her life fits into one of the classic American narratives, but as she wasn't US-born, it seems like she couldn't count.

Share this post


Link to post

Macaulay is speaking of current all-American ballerinas, but please feel free to discuss past greats.

For me, using Macaulay's definition -- by "American-born" I think he means US-born" -- from the past at NYCB I would nominate Maria Tallchief, Diana Adams, and Allegra Kent, and from ABT Nora Kaye, Cynthia Gregory, and Eleanor d'Antuono. My inclusion of Kaye makes it pretty clear that I don't think a dancer has to dance Odette, even the one-act version, or Aurora to be considered a ballerina. I'm perfectly happy to call a Tudor muse a ballerina.

Of course, his definition eliminates Paris-born Tanaquil LeClercq and Canadian Melissa Hayden.

Unfortunately, for those who did not see her ---surely the first American ballerina would be Rosella Hightower---she was a full fledged ballerina when she left her native shores for France.

Actually, Nora Kaye danced Swan Lake (Act 2), Black Swan PDD and Giselle----apparently the word 'emploi' was not in her vocabulary.

Share this post


Link to post

Macaulay is speaking of current all-American ballerinas, but please feel free to discuss past greats.

For me, using Macaulay's definition -- by "American-born" I think he means US-born" -- from the past at NYCB I would nominate Maria Tallchief, Diana Adams, and Allegra Kent, and from ABT Nora Kaye, Cynthia Gregory, and Eleanor d'Antuono. My inclusion of Kaye makes it pretty clear that I don't think a dancer has to dance Odette, even the one-act version, or Aurora to be considered a ballerina. I'm perfectly happy to call a Tudor muse a ballerina.

Of course, his definition eliminates Paris-born Tanaquil LeClercq and Canadian Melissa Hayden.

And now, apparently, Gillian Murphy. From a correction posted today (7/9/13) at the bottom of Macaulay's original article:

An earlier version of this article misstated the number of American-born young women dancing in six different American companies who deserve to be called ballerinas. It is at least 10, not 11. One of the ballerinas, Gillian Murphy, is an American citizen and was raised in the United States but was born in Britain.

I'd have a higher opinion of the article had Macaulay made an effort to explain just what he means by "ballerina" and then shown how the women he discusses exemplify the term (or don't, as the case may be). The whole "Can there be such a thing as an American Ballerina?" riff comes off like a quickly improvised hook on which to hang the list of dancers he happens to like.

And don't even get me started on bloviating like this: "as she matches music with movement, she shows how the immense scale of ballet can turn musicality into a vastly three-dimensional form." Lordy, what does that even mean? Or the straw men: "For many people, a ballerina must also be an embodiment of the Old World … To some, an American ballerina has always been a virtual contradiction in terms." Who are these people? Not ABT, as Macaulay suggests; if its management thought an American-born ballerina had the kind of star power that they believe Cojocaru and Osipova have, they'd be running after her with a contract and a pen whether she embodied the old world or not. And the stuff about pointe work as the functional equivalent of foot-binding is beyond silly. Sure, ballet often exploits the realities of human sexual dimorphism, but that doesn't mean that it must necessarily be "an art form whose stage worlds are almost solely heterosexual and whose principal women are shown not as workers but as divinities" -- and Macaulay knows it. And frankly, any definition of "ballerina" that doesn't include Wendy Whelan "full time" just makes no sense. Yeah, she's on my list.

OK -- rant over.

Share this post


Link to post

Actually, Nora Kaye danced Swan Lake (Act 2), Black Swan PDD and Giselle----apparently the word 'emploi' was not in her vocabulary.

I misspoke: I didn't mean she had never danced the roles, but that her renown and reputation, at least decades later, were based in other rep.

Was it different when she was dancing -- we people at the time drawn as much to her Giselle as to her Hagar?

Or the straw men: "For many people, a ballerina must also be an embodiment of the Old World … To some, an American ballerina has always been a virtual contradiction in terms." Who are these people? Not ABT, as Macaulay suggests; if its management thought an American-born ballerina had the kind of star power that they believe Cojocaru and Osipova have, they'd be running after her with a contract and a pen whether she embodied the old world or not.

OK -- rant over.

In general ABT doesn't even run after non-US-born and non-US-trained female dancers with a contract and a pen unless they come from the Royal Ballet or a Russian company. I think the reasons Kochetkova was invited as a relatively last-minute replacement were that she was Bolshoi-trained, she is somewhat known in NYC from her gala work, and, most importantly, she's short enough to be a partner for Cornejo. If she were Natalia Magnicaballi's height, I doubt she would have been considered even if Hallberg had been scheduled.

Share this post


Link to post

For me, training and where you have your career are what makes someone an "American" performer. The idea of worrying about things like "place of birth" or claiming that "American" means "the U.S." only, seems oddly out of date.

Having said that, I'm surprised I'm the first to nominate Suzanne Farrell. Locally trained in the Midwest -- caught the eye of a visiting American ballerina -- whisked away to Manhattan to continue her study -- catching the eye of the company director -- rising quickly to the top rank of one of the great ballet companies. What's more "American" than a story like that (if Horatio Alger is your template wink1.gif ).

Also, if you think about the qualities that Macaulay looks for in a true ballerina, she had them all. This includes what may be the hardest for any performer to attain -- the power to "own their own space and light up the space beyond themselves." Farrell had the quality very early on, and worked hard to perfect it.

Which makes me think about Jeanette Delgado. She has that quality. But she also always dances as a team player, conveying the feeling of how delighted she is that others on stage are doing so well. That's rare in a "ballerina," and most appealing.

Share this post


Link to post

Like bookends, to Farrell there is McBride.

I only saw Farrell live late in her career and McBride after her prime. The best I saw of Farrell is on film/video. While that's true of all of the NYCB ballerinas I mentioned, I didn't see them after their primes, and LeClercq never had a chance to be at hers.

Share this post


Link to post

I think this could be 2 threads, possibly 3: current great American ballerinas, past great American ballerinas, and how to define a great American ballerina.

As to defining "American", I'd say that anyone who was birthed abroad to American parents is still American, especially given the large number of military bases that the US keeps all over the world. My cousins were born in Wiesbaden and Panama City, but they are both very American, and speak with Alabama accents (because their parents were stationed there after Panama).

Share this post


Link to post

Surely Aran Bell is American, but how would that be meaningful if his training is POB-based, one of the foundational rather than eclectic classical styles/curriculums? Gillian Murphy, Tanaquil LeClercq, and Michelle DePrice received all of their dance education in the US, but they wouldn't qualify.

Share this post


Link to post

I would propose that although Alastair Macaulay may be a full-time dance critic, he is merely a part-time ballet critic. A full-time ballet critic ought to be able to draw audiences in by his/her insights into those aspects of a production or a ballerina that deepen one's appreciation of the art, broaden one's understanding, and move one up to a higher level of experience when attending a ballet performance, not drive them away with a plethora of negative reviews. A full-time ballet critic would not waste his words on ad hominum criticisms of a particular dancer or on crafting sentences that sound erudite but have only some vague or no meaning at all (see Kathleen O'Connell's post above). A full-time ballet critic would attend the most important performances on a company's calendar and not bow out of the closing ballet of a company's season with its most exquisite ballet partnership and therefore have nothing to say about one of its most accomplished and refined ballerinas. I would say that Clive Barnes was a full-time ballet critic, but Alastair Macaulay doesn't make the cut.

Share this post


Link to post

Surely Aran Bell is American, but how would that be meaningful if his training is POB-based, one of the foundational rather than eclectic classical styles/curriculums? Gillian Murphy, Tanaquil LeClercq, and Michelle DePrice received all of their dance education in the US, but they wouldn't qualify.

I feel this is the crux of the matter - whatever it is that makes an "American/US" Ballerina, in stylistic terms, has little to do with place of birth. Obviously training has a lot to do with one's aesthetic choices, but environment, and influence from choreographers and fellow company members can't be underestimated. As an example, Maria Kochetkova is no doubt sold to new audiences (think ABT) as "Bolshoi-trained", but she's developed into something decidedly un-Russian when seen in non-Petipa ballets. And that's coming from her years at SFB, working with current choreographers, and traveling the world doing endless galas. I almost find this more interesting: what turns a "foreign" dancer into an "American" dancer?

Enjoyed Kathleen O'Connell's rant very much. ;)

Share this post


Link to post

There are a number of great American ballerinas past and present.--I'll say for me that "American" in this context means trained primarily (not necessarily exclusively) in U.S. and has U.S. family background (say, a parent) wherever they happen to be born.

I'll name one from the recent past who, in my judgment, ranks as one of the all time greats from any continent or any tradition: Gelsey Kirkland...

Share this post


Link to post
I almost find this more interesting: what turns a "foreign" dancer into an "American" dancer?

Great question. I'm repeating it because I don't want us to lose it. Possibly it deserves a thread of its own, Helene? The first dancer who jumped to mind is Violette Verdy.

Share this post


Link to post

I would propose that although Alastair Macaulay may be a full-time dance critic, he is merely a part-time ballet critic. A full-time ballet critic ought to be able to draw audiences in by his/her insights into those aspects of a production or a ballerina that deepen one's appreciation of the art, broaden one's understanding, and move one up to a higher level of experience when attending a ballet performance, not drive them away with a plethora of negative reviews. A full-time ballet critic would not waste his words on ad hominum criticisms of a particular dancer or on crafting sentences that sound erudite but have only some vague or no meaning at all (see Kathleen O'Connell's post above). A full-time ballet critic would attend the most important performances on a company's calendar and not bow out of the closing ballet of a company's season with its most exquisite ballet partnership and therefore have nothing to say about one of its most accomplished and refined ballerinas. I would say that Clive Barnes was a full-time ballet critic, but Alastair Macaulay doesn't make the cut.

He attended six out of seven performances. I'd say whether you disagree with him or not he did his job as a ballet critic.

As for "all-American" ballerinas I'd say Tiler Peck and Sterling Hyltin are the embodiments of the "American" ballerina: wholesome-looking, technically fearless, unpretentious and un-mannered in their dancing style. I never saw her live but Patricia McBride from the videotapes would strike me as having the same qualities.

Share this post


Link to post

I would propose that although Alastair Macaulay may be a full-time dance critic, he is merely a part-time ballet critic. A full-time ballet critic ought to be able to draw audiences in by his/her insights into those aspects of a production or a ballerina that deepen one's appreciation of the art, broaden one's understanding, and move one up to a higher level of experience when attending a ballet performance, not drive them away with a plethora of negative reviews. A full-time ballet critic would not waste his words on ad hominum criticisms of a particular dancer or on crafting sentences that sound erudite but have only some vague or no meaning at all (see Kathleen O'Connell's post above). A full-time ballet critic would attend the most important performances on a company's calendar and not bow out of the closing ballet of a company's season with its most exquisite ballet partnership and therefore have nothing to say about one of its most accomplished and refined ballerinas. I would say that Clive Barnes was a full-time ballet critic, but Alastair Macaulay doesn't make the cut.

He attended six out of seven performances. I'd say whether you disagree with him or not he did his job as a ballet critic.

It isn't a question of numbers, it's a question of which six performances he chose to attend. Certainly the jewel in the crown of ABT deserves to be included. Remember what happened when Carabosse wasn't invited.

In any event, I was making a parallel to Macaulay's use of the term "part-time ballerina." If he can make such a statement, he doesn't merit the distinction of being called a full-time ballet critic.

Share this post


Link to post

It isn't a question of numbers, it's a question of which six performances he chose to attend. Certainly the jewel in the crown of ABT deserves to be included. Remember what happened when Carabosse wasn't invited.

In any event, I was making a parallel to Macaulay's use of the term "part-time ballerina." If he can make such a statement, he doesn't merit the distinction of being called a full-time ballet critic.

To each his own but I've seen Veronika Part's Aurora and I wouldn't call it the jewel in any ballet company's crown. I found her horribly miscast. When I saw her as Lilac Fairy it was a different story altogether -- all was right within the kingdom. Anyway I still think attending six out of seven ballet performances more than fulfills the duty of ballet critic.

Share this post


Link to post

Anyway I still think attending six out of seven ballet performances more than fulfills the duty of ballet critic.

Perhaps, but as someone who missed all the SBs this year, I would have appreciated hearing what he had to say about Part & Gomes at the last performance. I might often disagree with him, but still find him interesting to read.

(I might add that I was also disappointed that LaKarsavina did not record the bows at the last performance. And Robert Gottleib, another must-read critic, only seems to have attended one SB, one R&J, and no SLs or Onegins...)

http://observer.com/2013/07/beauty-and-beyond-abts-premiere-of-frederick-ashtons-a-month-in-the-country-is-a-highlight-of-the-season/?show=all

Share this post


Link to post

Robert Gottlieb is a part-time critic. Insightful and a must-read, and we're lucky for the time he does spend doing it, but still part-time.

Share this post


Link to post

Robert Gottlieb is a part-time critic. Insightful and a must-read, and we're lucky for the time he does spend doing it, but still part-time.

Excellent point -- but as he's 82 and retired from a distinguished publishing career, I guess he has a good excuse.

Share this post


Link to post

Anyway I still think attending six out of seven ballet performances more than fulfills the duty of ballet critic.

Perhaps, but as someone who missed all the SBs this year, I would have appreciated hearing what he had to say about Part & Gomes at the last performance. I might often disagree with him, but still find him interesting to read.

Exactly, California. I would add that most people on this forum who attended the Part/Gomes performance, I among them, thought both Part and Gomes were superb.

Macaulay is such a loose cannon, however, that perhaps it's better that he didn't attend Part's performance because you never know what he might have said about her left pinky. I just wish he would focus more on the positives in every dancer's performance, illuminating their virtues rather than highlighting their faults. I think part of a ballet critic's job is to spread the gospel.

Share this post


Link to post