Helene

Virginia Johnson

15 posts in this topic

On a tangential note, a posting on the DTH website today which mentions Ms.Harss' interview with Ms. Johnson also has a link to an article by Alyson Ross (Artist/Educator/Writer) called "The Price of Progress". Quite beautifully written.

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I thought Johnson's assertion that Micaela de Prince quit DTH for Dutch Natl Ballet because she wanted to dance with a "white company" insulting and dismissive.

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What Johnson said,

She really did want to be in a white company. That was important to her.

Assuming this is accurate and that DePrince had this conversation with her, why are DePrince's own wishes "insulting" or "dismissive"?

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We will never know exactly what was said by DePrince. We only know Johnson's interpretation of the situation. However, DTH is now just beginning to get back on its feet after years of financial difficulties. Dutch National Ballet is a well regarded and well established ballet company that has a more extensive performance schedule and a diverse rep, includng the classics. To make the decision to dance with Dutch Natl Ballet seem like it was based solely on racial issues is highly questionable, unless Johnson is using "white company" as some kind of shorthand for a financially stable company that performs traditional classics. The fact that she characterizes Micaelas' departure as "We lost one", instead of as a positive for Micaela, suggests that she was not happy with Micaela's defection.

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We will never know exactly what was said by DePrince. We only know Johnson's interpretation of the situation. However, DTH is now just beginning to get back on its feet after years of financial difficulties. Dutch National Ballet is a well regarded and well established ballet company that has a more extensive performance schedule and a diverse rep, includng the classics. To make the decision to dance with Dutch Natl Ballet seem like it was based solely on racial issues is highly questionable, unless Johnson is using "white company" as some kind of shorthand for a financially stable company that performs traditional classics. The fact that she characterizes Micaelas' departure as "We lost one", instead of as a positive for Micaela, suggests that she was not happy with Micaela's defection.

Admirable though it is for Johnson to commit to the important goal of "changing people’s perception," it would be understandable if individual dancers wanted to prove themselves in established ballet companies. For the time being, that would necessarily mean in largely white companies. Of course it's also understandable that this would disappoint Johnson.

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Dance Theatre of Harlem never had the prestige of the most established companies, even when they gave better performances. Now, it is the equivalent of a start-up. Start-ups generally take personal commitment to the mission beyond normal employment. DePrince was not brought up at the school, nor was she someone for whom DTH was a lifelong dream.

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This part of the interview made me sad:



MH: Is there anyone like that [Danilova) now?


VJ: Who has time, now, to do that? People used to be molded and nurtured. Now you have to have it, and you hold onto it for a couple of seconds, and then it’s on to the next thing.


----


I just finished an interview with the editor/writer Maria Popova and she answered this question:



Did you have an “aha” moment when you knew that editing and curating, for lack of a better term, was something you wanted to do?


Not at all. I also don’t believe in the terrible, toxic myth of the “aha” moment. Progress is incremental for us, both as individual creative beings and together as a society and civilization. The flower doesn’t go from bud to blossom in one spritely burst. It’s just that culturally, we are not interested in the tedium of the blossoming. And yet that’s where all the real magic is in the making of one’s character and destiny.



How can our culture create artists in a culture where art and human beings in general are expendable is my question.


N.


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I also don’t believe in the terrible, toxic myth of the “aha” moment. Progress is incremental for us, both as individual creative beings and together as a society and civilization. The flower doesn’t go from bud to blossom in one spritely burst. It’s just that culturally, we are not interested in the tedium of the blossoming. And yet that’s where all the real magic is in the making of one’s character and destiny.

Oh, I do like this, for all that it comes at a dispiriting part of the interview. Ballet is one of the human activities that really does need time to develop -- I've always said that it needs someone with a high tolerance for repetition!

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I also don’t believe in the terrible, toxic myth of the “aha” moment. Progress is incremental for us, both as individual creative beings and together as a society and civilization. The flower doesn’t go from bud to blossom in one spritely burst. It’s just that culturally, we are not interested in the tedium of the blossoming. And yet that’s where all the real magic is in the making of one’s character and destiny.

Oh, I do like this, for all that it comes at a dispiriting part of the interview. Ballet is one of the human activities that really does need time to develop -- I've always said that it needs someone with a high tolerance for repetition!

You can read the entire interview at: http://thegreatdiscontent.com/maria-popova or just google her. She's very inspiring! bow.GIF

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In case you didn't notice this article in the Links section, this is from yesterday's NY Times about DePrince. Her story is truly fascinating, and I admire that she is focused on her dancing rather than making personal appearances in the media.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/14/arts/international/for-michaela-deprince-a-dream-comes-true-at-the-dutch-national-ballet.html?ref=arts#

Seems like DePrince made the right decision to go to Dutch Natl Ballet

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According to the article, "She told her own story in a TEDx Amsterdam talk in November that has been viewed about 25,000 times. Consequently, she has become a celebrity in the Netherlands, where she has been profiled in newspaper articles and appeared on television talk shows, and has become an inspiration to girls worldwide." They both wrote books about their stories.

Her AD has imposed a moratorium since on appearances and interviews; I'm not sure how practical this would be in the US had McKenzie wanted to.

The most comparable thing in their situations is the racism they both encountered in the US, which DePrince's mother has spoken about, while Copeland, who is the barely veiled comparison, has spoken on her own. An African-born child, who is the victim of black-on-black violence and black-on-black prejudice "saved" by the white ballerina dream and white adoptive parents is compelling in a way to a white audience that a black American child's story isn't.

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I have not compared her to Copeland. You have.

De Prince's story is fascinating because her father was murdered, her mother died of starvation and she was dumped in an orphanage. The fascination does not have to do with the fact that she was adopted by white parents.

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I think the fascination with Michaela can be either of those reasons or both.

I have not compared her to Copeland. You have.

De Prince's story is fascinating because her father was murdered, her mother died of starvation and she was dumped in an orphanage. The fascination does not have to do with the fact that she was adopted by white parents.

I think the fascination with Michaela can be either of those reasons or both. Depends on who is doing the observing.

As to Viriginia Johnson's remarks about Michaela leaving DTH, I think she may have felt that Michaela's leaving was an indication of her lack of gratitude at having been given employment when none of the companies she was interested in, seemed to want her.

DTH seems to have always had a scrappy underdog, culture wherein it's management feels it has to prove things to the classical dance world at large. Outspoken former DTH dancer Nikkia Parish said that Arthur Mitchell would frequently keep rebellious dancers in line by reminding them that he'd taken a chance on them when other companies - meaning white companies - hadn't given them the time of day.

Emotionally blackmailing people in to staying with a company even when you aren't artistically fulfilled out of some form of racial solidarity isn't fair. But I wouldn't be surprised if that didn't occur on some occasions at DTH.

The irony of DePrince's situation is that in her case, and her case alone, she might have been better if she'd stayed with DTH, at least an extra year. Having seen her dancing after she graduated from JKO school, I can honestly say that she lacked polish and she may have been turned down by the big , white, companies she dreamed of, simply because she needed more seasoning. That being the case, she should have been grateful to DTH for giving her more time to grow. After all, one of their goals is to develop minority classical dancers. Perhaps she was grateful, but still wanted to move on at the first available chance.

Also, DTH powers that be, are frankly, just sensitive to the assumption that because they aren't a big, classical company with a huge endowment, they are therefore, second-rate. Hearing that kind of talk does not make Virginia happy. So leaving for that very kind of company probably doesn't make her happy either.

But then, Michaela isn't the only person as who's recently left for a white company. Gabrielle Savatto also left to go to Ballet West. But then, other black dancers whose careers have stalled at a white companies, like Alison Stroming, have filled the gaps at DTH.

I want Michaela to succeed because she wants it so much and because I want to see diversity in ballet. But would she have all this attention without her unique history? Probably not.

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