pherank

Who Would Be on Your All-American Ballerinas List?

85 posts in this topic

I've been thinking about this thread while I've been doing other things, but can only pop in for a bit.

For me, it still goes back to a sense of autonomy or leadership -- a ballerina is the center of her world. In some cases that world reflects a particular aesthetic -- Sleeping Beauty has a certain tempo and style, Symphony in Three Movements has another. But they both have a ballerina at their center.

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Grandeur....... it's not off-limits in Forsythe. Muriel Maffre had grandeur in "in hte middle, somewhat elevated.' She was like Garbo in it.

And there's a kind of comic grandeur -- Leclercq had it in western Symphony. Elizabeth Loscavio had it in Ballo [which SHE mad e hilarious] and in "Who Cares?"

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And there's a kind of comic grandeur -- Leclercq had it in western Symphony.

Absolutely -- I don't think that ballerina-dom is limited to dramatic work.

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Stephanie Saland was the Queen of droll grandeur. She also showed grandeur in Robbins' "Antique Epigraphs."

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I'm still interested in this, and so went back and looked at who has been mentioned so far. I don't really have a birth certificate criterion for "American ballerina" so I'm not asking for passports, but here is a list. Who's missing, and what do these women have in common?

Patricia Barker

Sara Mearns

Wendy Whelan

Gillian Murphy

Stephanie Saland

Muriel Maffre

Tanaquil LeClerq

Elizabeth Loscavio

Gloria Govrin

Merrill Ashley

Patricia McBride

Gelsey Kirlkand

Teresa Reichlen

Sarah Lane

Violette Verdy

Tiler Peck

Sterling Hyltin

Nora Kaye

Maria Tallchief

Diana Adams

Allegra Kent

Cynthia Gregory

Eleanor d'Antuono

Melissa Hayden

Carla Korbes

Carrie Imler

Rosella Hightower

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Wow, sandik. Thanks for doing this. tiphat.gif Threads with topics like this have a way of meandering on and on (sometimes for years), with more and more names being added, so that few of us can remember who was mentioned a couple of pages earlier.

You make it possible for us to sit down and think about the results (so far). My first impression is that there are so many differences among these dancers that it makes me question whether the category "all-American ballerina" has much meaning .... or importance. I'm looking forward to reading our members' take on your interesting challenge, especially as to the difficult question "What do these women have in common?"

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Using the handy online alphabetizer ;) - I'm going to add two principals to the list (and they appeared on Macaulay's original group) - Van Patten and Zahorian.

Diana Adams
Merrill Ashley
Patricia Barker
Eleanor d'Antuono
Gloria Govrin
Cynthia Gregory
Melissa Hayden
Rosella Hightower
Sterling Hyltin
Carrie Imler
Nora Kaye
Allegra Kent
Gelsey Kirlkand
Carla Körbes
Sarah Lane
Tanaquil Le Clerq
Elizabeth Loscavio
Muriel Maffre
Patricia McBride
Sara Mearns
Gillian Murphy
Tiler Peck
Teresa Reichlen
Stephanie Saland
Maria Tallchief
Sarah Van Patten
Violette Verdy
Wendy Whelan
Vanessa Zahorian

There are a few here that were born in another country and never held US citizenship as far as I know, so they would be more questionable for this list (e.g. Carla Körbes and Verdy), but then, dancers like Hayden and Körbes dance/danced in the US, are from the "Americas", and Hayden is North American. So I don't see much point in quibbling over those details.

What do they have in common?

Hard to say, because we would have to talk in the broadest of terms. But there is a shared repertoire amongst these dancers.

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Without meaning to sound glib, I would say (with the caveat that some of them I've never seen) that what these dancers have most in common is that each is singular and individual. The NYCB dancers share a repertoire, as do some of the others, but "in the broadest terms" (pherank's excellent phrase) I would say that what they have in common is a classical style, but a singular execution of that style. Some few were trained at SAB and share characteristics of the Balanchine school, but most were trained elsewhere, in different schools, and have more of an eclectic style that cannot be pinned down.

Can the same be said for dancers from other countries, or do dancers at POB and Mariinsky Ballet and Bolshoi Ballet have more in common stylistically than their American counterparts? I would say yes.

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If Verdy qualifies then I rather think Van Hamel should be on that list too -- she was more admired among many ballet fans than several other ABT dancers on the list. (But in fact, I would tend to want to refine the definition down so that dancers who grew up and got most of their training outside the U.S. would not qualify. And I guess all of us reading that list have a private sub-list of dancers named we doubt are ballerinas in the sense this thread intends.)

I think that absolutely individual distinctiveness is part of what makes one a ballerina (whatever the nationality) and that defining American qualities might mean sometimes zeroing in on qualities that aren't necessarily "ballerina" qualities, but qualities of American dancers that ballerinas embody in a particularly powerful and creative way. (Angelica made a related point as I was typing this.)

Perhaps a certain streamlined physicality or dynamism? A way of processing 'interpretation' first and foremost through dance in its relation to music?

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I haven't read through the entire thread so some of my comments are made on just looking at the list. Forgive me but what about Ashley Bouder? She has put her stamp on some Balanchine ballets like no one has before.

I'm a fan of Sarah Lane's but she hasn't been given enough opportunities to be able to tell.

I guess I'm saying it's a confusing idea in some ways. If we are talking about distinctive individuals then there are lots - Monique Meunier was a distinctive dancer who went from NYCB to ABT but got opportunities in neither. Naomi Sorkin was a glorious American dancer.

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I was surprised no one mentioned Bouder until now. A decade or so ago, she was a star, and her performances were described in superlatives, and she even was invited to perform in Russia, in, if I remember correctly, "Giselle."

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I was surprised no one mentioned Bouder until now. A decade or so ago, she was a star, and her performances were described in superlatives, and she even was invited to perform in Russia, in, if I remember correctly, "Giselle."

Perhaps it is because she is one of Macaulay's "part-time" ballerinas? But then so is Whelan, but I dare say most of the US ballet audience consider her a significant dancer of the current era. We get to nominate whoever we like on this forum. ;)

New York City Ballet has several candidates. Ashley Bouder, Maria Kowroski, Janie Taylor and Wendy Whelan are mature dancers but part-time ballerinas — extraordinary artists in only parts of their repertory. The ascent of Sterling Hyltin, Sara Mearns, Tiler Peck and Teresa Reichlen, however, has been of another order.

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Oops, forgot Farrell - that's too big an oversight...

Diana Adams
Merrill Ashley
Patricia Barker
Eleanor d'Antuono

Suzanne Farrell
Gloria Govrin
Cynthia Gregory
Melissa Hayden
Rosella Hightower
Sterling Hyltin
Carrie Imler
Nora Kaye
Allegra Kent
Gelsey Kirlkand
Carla Körbes
Sarah Lane
Tanaquil Le Clerq
Elizabeth Loscavio
Muriel Maffre
Patricia McBride
Sara Mearns
Gillian Murphy
Tiler Peck
Teresa Reichlen
Stephanie Saland
Maria Tallchief
Sarah Van Patten
Violette Verdy
Wendy Whelan
Vanessa Zahorian

And do Boston Ballet’s Kathleen Breen Combes, Ballet Arizona’s Jillian Barrell, or MCB's Jeanette and Patricia Delgado deserve to be listed on this level?

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Anyone who saw Betsy Erickson dance the adagio of "Symphony in C" would tell you she was a ballerina. Same with Sophiane Sylve.

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Is Sophianne Sylve an American? I know she has been dancing in the US for a few years, but I still think of her as a French dancer (very beautiful, however).

How do we qualify adult dancers who move to the US to dance the American rep? When do they cross over to become "American"? Is Baryshnikov American after all these years? Makarova? It's a tangled debate, but interesting during the summer months when the American companies are on hiatus.

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Is Sophianne Sylve an American? I know she has been dancing in the US for a few years, but I still think of her as a French dancer (very beautiful, however).

How do we qualify adult dancers who move to the US to dance the American rep? When do they cross over to become "American"? Is Baryshnikov American after all these years? Makarova? It's a tangled debate, but interesting during the summer months when the American companies are on hiatus.

Still a French citizen, I believe. And a wonderful dancer. Sylve, like Verdy, is one of those interesting "cross-bred" cases (bad term, but I can't think of anything else at this late hour). They both had significant time receiving French training, but also lots of time at NYCB (and SFB for Sylve).

I'm wondering if analyzing the changes in the dance style and technique of these dancers wouldn't provide better clues as to what makes a dancer "American", rather than of the French or Russian schools.

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And what about Stella Abrera? Please could we add the classical and elegant Stella Abrera? We could then compare her with Veronika Part. Although both are exquisite ballerinas, Stella is eminently American, whereas Veronika, despite her decade+ in the US, is definitely a Russian ballerina.

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I'd also include Darci Kistler, Heather Watts, Kyra Nichols, Cynthia Harvey and Leslie Browne.

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In her early years, I would say Darci Kistler was a great Balanchine ballerina, but, sadly, that was also an injury-laden period. For more of her career, I think she was a good Martins dancer with signs of her former greatness, but is someone a ballerina if they display whatever qualities we define as making a ballerina for a limited time in their career, especially when they decline significantly for an extended period? Maria Callas followed a similar trajectory to Kistler: in most of her later years having showing signs of brilliance, but even when she struggled, but the standard of her material didn't decline. Callas was more of an exception, though: sadly, it's not uncommon for singers to be great for a relatively short period and then fall off the map.

If we can come up with what defines a ballerina, must a dancer show those qualities through a significant part of their careers to become a ballerina? Outside of prodigies, is it valid to call younger dancers with relatively limited reps and experience in principal roles, ballerinas? Is being a ballerina a series of qualities, regardless of how limited the experience? (If so, there's a corps dancer I see at PNB that I'd call a ballerina, but people would laugh at that if they saw her resume.) Must a ballerina be at least great, if not equally good, in all parts of her rep, aside from the occasional experiment and/or mis-casting? I think these are underlying issues that Macaulay was getting at in his "part-time" ballerina comment.

In terms of rep, there's a difference between companies with a dominant choreographer -- Balanchine, Ashton, MacMillan, Grigorovich, and Bournonville in periods -- or those who primarily "After Petipa" rep of various shades -- where there are exemplars of that rep through the generations, and the norm in North America, where even if there is a house choreographer, typically the Artistic Director, and a neoclassical aesthetic, there is a wide range of rep. I don't know if anyone would argue that Fonteyn wasn't a ballerina, certainly in her rep, but would she be considered a ballerina if she had to dance Forsythe today, Balanchine tomorrow, Tudor the day after next, Kent Stowell's "The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet" next month, Tomasson after that, "Giselle" the month after that, followed by "Rodeo," not to mention the Morris, Taylor, Tharp, etc. etc. that makes up the typical rep of an American/Canadian ballet company?

Going down a different path, have there been any Americans who grew up as children in America, but were mostly trained in national academies like Royal Danish Ballet, Moscow, Vaganova, or POB? I don't know of any until recently, i.e., since the Russian schools began to take tuition-paying foreigners, and many of the ones who are now dancing were "finished" at the Russian schools, having had most of their early training in the US.

It will be interesting to see if the McKay brothers, who are training in Moscow and began studies in Russia at a young age and no older than many of the male peers, are Russian dancers or bring something distinctly American. They have at least two older sisters who dance in Germany. According to their "Youth Arts in Action" mentor bios, his sisters trained variously at the Kirov Academy and other US programs (I'm guessing summer programs) as well as in Monaco and the Royal Ballet School, and Nadia Khan's bio lists private training with Eva Evdokimova, Masha Mukhamedov, and Rosella Hightower and the summer program at the Cranko school; both have unusual (Vaganova-based) training in the US and usually diverse training in Europe, and now they dance in Germany. Coming from an international family ballet background might be just as influential for the McKay brothers as being American, or their dancing might turn out to be indistinguishable from their Russian peers at Bolshoi Academy.

If it's a matter of training, then it seems to me that a dancer who grew up in another country and was trained outside the US, especially in one of the older academies with a specific style and curriculum, wouldn't be called an American ballerina -- unless she was substantially molded in America, which is pretty much what Balanchine did until he was producing dancers from scratch through his school. The continuum would be those dancers who were trained in another country until they were teenagers, but got their final training in the US and who spent the majority, if not all, of their professional careers in North America, dancing a wide range of repertory, and having works created on them throughout their careers. Melissa Hayden said, "You learn to become a Balanchine dancer by dancing Balanchine ballets." Of course, that meant dancing a substantial number of Balanchine ballets, not having a few Balanchine evenings scattered in the rep, and, for her, having Balanchine give class, for him a lab for his ballets, and working directly with him. I look at Carla Korbes, for example, who trained in NYC from the time she was a young teenager, and while she is a unique combination of qualities, I don't look at her dancing and see any specific school in her basic training. She's more emotive than many Balanchine-dancers, but that wouldn't be unusual in American dancers at ABT. Kaori Nakamura trained mostly in Japan until she won Prix de Lausanne and used it to attend SAB, but her professional career has been in North America, and her movement quality isn't recognizably from some other place.

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Carla Körbes

Korbes is not American. I believe that's why the Times didn't list her in the article .

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Carla Körbes

Korbes is not American. I believe that's why the Times didn't list her in the article .

Oh I know she's not, but we've hashed out this issue of passport citizenship v aesthetic citizenship earlier in the thread -- I think the birthright citizenship thing was in the Times essay in order to keep the number of dancers discussed to a size you could cover thoughtfully in a newspaper piece. For the purposes of our discussion, we can use whatever criteria we like, and I think it's much more interesting to include dancers who, for whatever reason, are really integrated into the current American dance scene.

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It's a tangled debate, but interesting during the summer months when the American companies are on hiatus.

It's almost August -- aka the silly season in journalism...

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It's a tangled debate, but interesting during the summer months when the American companies are on hiatus.

It's almost August -- aka the silly season in journalism...

That must be the reason for Breaking Pointe Season 2. ;)

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Well since you bring up La Callas - if Mr Macauley had made an argument about singers using the same criteria, would La Callas be considered a "part time singer"? Technically speaking, she wasn't the end-all be-all, but her choices in sound and acting made her eminently interesting. I think we could say the same about many dancers.

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I just finished reading Mary Cargill's excellent recap of the NYCB Spring 2013 Season in Dance View, and towards the end, she wrote,

However, [Chase Finlay's] all-American, openhearted dancing makes him look like he was born on the 4th of July.

Daniel Ulbricht is another performer whose personal calendar seems set on July 4...

There's an openness and directness that is attributed to the American male dancer; Balanchine said that Americans "walk like men." I don't think it's so cut-and-dried when talking about women, let alone ballerinas.

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