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Who Would Be on Your All-American Ballerinas List?(Past and Present)


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#46 pherank

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Posted 17 July 2013 - 12:42 PM

But to get at a slightly larger question, since there are ballerina roles in many 20th c works that don't necessarily have the "old world" quality that Perron references, what are the qualities of a contemporary ballerina, and who is making works today that highlight those attributes?

 

 

Certainly a valid question, Sandik. And a difficult one, I think, because it would be partly tied to the choreographers whose works they danced (and the choreographer's particular gestural language, which is under constant development), and partly tied to the dancer's company environment and training.

We need to know what Jiří Kylián desires in a dancer, and Wheeldon, Forsythe, Taylor, Tharp, etc. (and now-deceased modern dance choreographers like Alvin Ailey). And I think it would be difficult to identify any 'movements' at work as it seems to be part of the art of choreography to strike out on your own and not fall into place as a disciple of any one established choreographer.

The need for speed, hyper-flexibility, and Balanchine's notion of a continuous flow of steps seem to be well established in modern ballet. 'Pure dance' is popular amongst the modern dance choreographers (and cheaper to produce). But beyond that I can't say exactly what has been established. Do you think partnering has changed appreciably?

Something I didn't convey well earlier, as I fumbled for words, was that I doubt that people wanting to see great renditions of traditional story ballets are admiring the performances for their 'quaint' and 'antique' qualities. And just because the stagings and costumes depict past eras of human history, the audience doesn't necessarily feel disconnected - in fact, most of us are easily able to put ourselves in those places, times, and situations. And this brings me to the important part, something that seems unique to this artform: traditional ballets that are well staged and well danced provide the audience with a moment of living history. And if the performance is really exceptional, "transcendent" as some like to say, then for a short while, it is as if we see the unbroken chain before our very eyes: an unending ritual passed through the generations of dancers. I think that moment, for me, comes up most frequently and obviously in the procession of the Shades in La Bayadère. Watching the procession, its easy to feel as though we're seeing an ancient, but still living and still vital ritual. It's kind of eerie when the sensation hits you, but it is most definitely beautiful. This effect is much less common in modern ballets of the present day, in my opinion, but there was a time when a Martha Graham, or Isadora Duncan could evoke something deep and ancient in their dances. Modern ballets strike me as often being insular and private (as in 'your own private world'). The persepectives shown (if they can be discerened) are so often personal, interior, psychological and not communal. That is of course my own reading of the modern ballets I've seen, and I'm sure there are examples that contradict this.



#47 bart

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Posted 17 July 2013 - 03:27 PM

Sandik, phrank:  it's wonderful to read your thoughtful and thought-provoking exchange. 

 

When Macaulay makes what appear to be arbitrary or extreme statements,  I sometimes think he is trying to stimulate just this kind of reflection and discussion.  If this is true, Macaulay has succeeded here on Ballet Alert.  In just the past few posts you've given us a couple of insights that might keep us discussing this topic of about balelrinas (with all its ramifications)  for many months. 
 
For example:
 
sandik writes, in reference to Macaulay talking about partnering in something of Wheeldon's::
 
 

I'm paraphrasing wildly, but my impression was that [Macaulay] felt the lack of physical space between the two dancers undercut the sense of the woman as independent actor, which is a big part of how we see a ballerina.  A ballerina is autonomous, in a way that a danseur is not -- there are many contemporary ballets that have extremely challenging roles for the lead woman that don't necessarily create this sense of independence.  I think that's part of what Macaulay is trying to get at in this essay.

 
And phrank:
 
 

And this brings me to the important part, something that seems unique to this artform: traditional ballets that are well staged and well danced provide the audience with a moment of living history. And if the performance is really exceptional, "transcendent" as some like to say, then for a short while, it is as if we see the unbroken chain before our very eyes: an unending ritual passed through the generations of dancers. I
 
[...]
 
This effect is much less common in modern ballets of the present day, in my opinion, but there was a time when a Martha Graham, or Isadora Duncan could evoke something deep and ancient in their dances. Modern ballets strike me as often being insular and private (as in 'your own private world'). The perspectives shown (if they can be discerned) are so often personal, psychological and not communal.



#48 Helene

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Posted 20 July 2013 - 01:22 PM

 

 And the stuff about pointe work as the functional equivalent of foot-binding is beyond silly.

 

 

What Macaulay said was "In particular, the practice of dancing on point may one day seem as bizarre as the bygone Chinese practicing of binding women’s feet." which I don't think is the same as calling it the functional equivalent.  He may be thinking in photographic terms rather than video terms, but if people a century from now opened up the time capsule and saw the photographs side-by-side, they might think it odd.

 

He follows that sentence with "Do we still need an art form whose stage worlds are almost solely heterosexual and whose principal women are shown not as workers but as divinities?" which is why I'm having a hard time trying to keep the question from being a slippery target:  Is the woman in Aria I of "Stravinsky Violin Concerto" a divinity?  Is the women in "Costermongers"?  "Is the second soloist in "Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.2"? just to name a few Balanchine roles in pointe shoes?  Are any of the women in "Pillar of Fire" or "Dark Elegies"? Are the women in "Calcium Night Light," or "Ecstatic Orange"? In "2B"? In "Tide Harmonic?"

 

What roles are we talking about to define a ballerina? Is "grandeur" a requirement?  In the Russian and French companies, that traditionally meant being cast in and excelling in certain iconic classical roles, like Odette/Odile, in the style of the school in which they were trained, although POB extended this in recent decades to being able in modern rep as well.  If the definition is equally good in the classics as in neoclassical or current rep, then, when it comes to 99% of American female dancers -- i.e., those who weren't trained in Moscow or the Vaganova Institute, the Kirov Academy in DC and a handful of other schools -- they are given an eclectic stylistic education, and they aren't going to look like the dancers who are trained from childhood in the few great European institutional schools, and often it is those virtues that are used to dismiss American-trained dancers. Given the permutations of "After Petipa," those schools show a continuity of training (with inevitable blips), but this isn't Imperial training. 

 

I first saw Patricia Barker in the "Nutcracker" movie from the mid-'80's, and although it was Stowell's neoclassical choreography, not Balanchine's, I recognized her as a Balanchine ballerina, and, she confirmed my view when I saw her Polyhymnia in the 1993 Balanchine Celebration, and after I moved to Seattle.  I thought in her last few years, when, under Boal, she no longer had the responsibility of being the calling card for the company and Stowell's muse, she relaxed and became a Ballerina in other rep as well.  However, for me, being a Balanchine ballerina was enough in itself for her to be a Ballerina (with the capital "B"), just as I wouldn't think of Alexandrova any less of a Ballerina if she wasn't equally stellar in Balanchine than she is in Petipa.  That wouldn't fly in Russia or France.

 

As far as Balanchine having Russian teachers in his school, some, like Danilova and Doubrovska, were trained in the Imperial style, but they danced for Balanchine in one of his most creative periods in which he was also ballet master, and they knew what he wanted."  Although they and others did, Balanchine famously told Kistler when she joined NYCB from SAB, "Now I will teach you to dance."



#49 pherank

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Posted 22 July 2013 - 03:47 PM

You cover a lot of territory here, Helene, so let's see…

1) 'What roles are we talking about to define a ballerina? Is "grandeur" a requirement?'

Sadly, I can think of no obvious cultural reference for "grandeur" in modern day U.S. society. I suppose the word comes up when talking about the Grand Canyon, Yellow Stone National Park, the Hoover Dam - that sort of thing. But only in writing and not in everyday speech. The word "grandeur" doesn't come up much at all for the Twitter generation. It has almost been relegated to the category of 'arts jargon'. Great Britain/The United Kingdom would be different because they still have a monarchy and a direct link to the actual origins/references of this word.

The dancer's repertoire would have to include a substantial number of "grand" works for grandeur to be a requirement. I can see the need for a certain grandeur in particular Balanchine works/roles, but in Robbins or Paul Taylor? No, not really. Neo-classical ballet is the last period of ballet that often requires a sense of nobility and elegance from the dancers, and this atmosphere harkens back to the Imperial world that created it.

Given the present day examples of significant ballerinas in the U.S. (for example, Sara Mearns, Wendy Whelan, Gillian Murphy), as long as their individual repertoires have a large component of traditional and neoclassical ballets, then it's fair to expect them to have an understanding of royal/imperial aesthetics, and furthermore, they must excel at reproducing those aesthetics. But I can see a time when ballet depends very little on the philosophies and aesthetics of the Age of Empires. But what we have now is not an adequate replacement: there is no unified style or aesthetic to work with. Today's art world is a hodgepodge to be sure. We may be in a post-postmodernism phase - we know technology seems to be driving things (for better or worse), but there's no longer a credo or obvious value system to even latch onto, or denounce for that matter. We just Tweet stuff.

2) 'However, for me, being a Balanchine ballerina was enough in itself for her to be a Ballerina (with the capital "B"), just as I wouldn't think of Alexandrova any less of a Ballerina if she wasn't equally stellar in Balanchine than she is in Petipa.  That wouldn't fly in Russia or France.'

Works for me too, for the simple reason that Balanchine founded an actual school of ballet with a large and significant repertoire. And he was smart enough to get the most talented living American choreographer to join in (Robbins), as well as others. So there's a lot to be learned just to handle that repertoire.

Dancers in the present day have their work cut out for them, even at the Mariinsky and Bolshoi. Most principals have to dance in a wide range of styles and works. Although in Russia, "foreign" works go to the dancers who can actually pull them off and not look too foolish (they do have pride). And not all Russian dancers have an interest in non-traditional roles. There's going to be a handful wanting to take on Forsythe, for example, but many who don't have an interest, and they won't be pushed into it in Russia. Meanwhile in the U.S., I can't imagine an SFB principal dancer saying, "I don't do Forsythe/McGregor/Scarlett". Then you don't dance as a principal.



#50 Helene

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Posted 23 July 2013 - 06:34 AM

The exceptions to the rule for grandeur in Robbins were Stephanie Saland in "Antique Eipgraphs" (performance), and , for many interpreters, the women in the second and third pas de deux in "In the Night" (roes).

#51 sandik

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Posted 23 July 2013 - 11:01 PM

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.



#52 Paul Parish

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Posted 24 July 2013 - 08:21 AM

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?"  



#53 sandik

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Posted 24 July 2013 - 09:38 AM

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.



#54 Helene

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Posted 24 July 2013 - 02:17 PM

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

#55 sandik

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Posted 24 July 2013 - 10:54 PM

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



#56 bart

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Posted 25 July 2013 - 10:28 AM

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?" 



#57 pherank

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Posted 25 July 2013 - 12:23 PM

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.



#58 angelica

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Posted 25 July 2013 - 04:36 PM

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.



#59 Drew

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Posted 25 July 2013 - 04:45 PM

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?



#60 vipa

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Posted 25 July 2013 - 05:04 PM

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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