[Sylve is] 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.
I don't know Sylve's work (just one video of Swan Lake before she came to America), but Verdy, after several decades working with Balanchine at NYCB, definitely qualifies as an "American" ballerina. Of course she always retained her "French" personality and excelled especially in ballets by French composers. Her specialty was speed, delicacy, subtlety, wit.. But a glance at the index of Nancy Reynolds' Repertory in Review demonstrates how wide her range of NYCB performance was.
-- Symphony in C (1st movement) -- Orpheus (Eurydice) -- Firebird -- Swan Lake Act II -- Scotch Symphony -- Lew Christensen's Con Amore -- Western Symphony (Allegro movement) -- Glinka Pas de Trois -- Agon (second pas de trois) -- Gounod Symphony -- Episodes (premiere) (the Balanchine section) -- Sonnambula (Sleepwalker) -- Panamerica (premiere, Brasil section) -- Theme and Variations -- Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux (premiere) -- Electronics (premiere, Balanchine -- set to a contemporary electronic score) -- Raymonda Variations (premiere) -- Balanchine's Midsummer Night's Dream (premiere -- Divertissement) -- Irish Fantasy (Jacques d'Amboise) -- Brahams-Schoenberg Quartet (premiere, Allegro) -- La Guirlande de Campra (Taras, premiere) -- Jewels (Emeralds) -- Glinkiana (premiere, polka movement) -- Haydn Concerto (Taras) -- La Source (premiere) -- Dances at a Gathering (Robbins, premiere) -- In the Night (premiere, Robbins) -- Sarabande and Danse (premiere, John Clifford) -- Printemps (premiere, Lorca Massine) -- Pulcinella (the girl, premiere) --Choral Variatiosn on Bach's Vom Himmel Hoch (premiere) -- Four Bagatelles (premiere, Robbins) -- Sonatine (Ravel, premiere)
All of this was in the U.S. dancing as a principal in a U.S. company. There's no Bugaku or Slaughter on 10th Avenue on this list. No Coppelia, for some reason. But just about everything else is there. Right now I'm remembering the vivid impression she made on me in Pulcinella (with Villella).
Especially in the early days, she -- like the other principals -- had to dance many things outside her fach.. She was the opposite of a "part-time ballerina," in the sense that she danced and danced, often creating a role or substituting for someone who was injured. She was brilliant in almost every ballet she touched.
I just finished reading Mary Cargill's excellent recap of the NYCB Spring 2013 Season in Dance View ...
Just wanted to say how much I got from this piece as well. As someone who does not live in NYC and missed the season, it was the next best thing to being there.
IIf 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?
Great questions. As this thread has progressed (it's in its 6th page now) more and more and more names are being added. It seems that "ballerina" is very much in the eye and heart of the beholder. I suppose each of us has his or her own definition of the term. My own is fairly strict. It involves such qualities as
-- technical genius in a variety of repertoire
-- charisma: the ability to hold the eye, to to fascinate, to excite
-- the ability to convey emotion through movement
-- a high degree of consistency, at least in the same roles or type of role (for example, I disagree with including Heather Watts on this list, largely on the grounds of INconsistency)
-- whatever it is that makes major choreographers want to create work on you
-- the quality of unforgetability, in the sense that after you have stopped dancing, you leave us with vivid visual and emotional memories. The kind that make one grateful that you were there when "X" danced. The kind you talk about every time the topic of great dancers comes up in conversation.