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Joy Womack has left the Bolshoialleges corruption


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#76 writer

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Posted 16 November 2013 - 07:31 AM

I recently read the biography of Monica Loughman, the first westerner admitted into the Perm State Ballet back in the 90's. While she had a lot of difficulty with the theater and some pay issues, she was given a lot of roles to dance and was not asked for sponsors. However, this may be because the theaters were enjoying more state support back then.

 

I always find it odd that there is so much resistance to Womack, but Loughman was given a lot of corps work, taken on all the tours despite visa issues, and even eventually given solos. I am not sure if this was because she was from Ireland and not the US, but I find it strange that she was accepted more easily back when the country was less accustomed for foreigners.

 

Either way, I think Womack is dodging a bullet here. The theater seems to be going through some serious issues and she should dance somewhere she is appreciated.



#77 canbelto

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Posted 16 November 2013 - 07:47 AM

Perm is a smaller theater with a smaller troupe. I'd imagine that many corps de ballet members double in solo parts. The Bolshoi is a 200-member behemoth and I'm sure all 200 members all think they deserve solo parts, but only a small portion of them ever get those parts. In that climate it's not surprising that there are middlemen who take bribes from insecure corps de ballet members in exchange for lobbying for that corps girl to get a solo. 

 

It's good that Womack was able to find another company and get out while she's still young. 



#78 swanchat

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Posted 18 November 2013 - 06:00 AM

Maybe instead of asking for solo roles, the right question should have been how to be cast in the corps. Maybe the person was annoyed at her for asking to dance solo roles when she hasn't even been cast in the corps. Maybe the person made an unwise comment about paying for the opportunity. We really don't know what actually happened here. It's interesting to me that she "has so much respect" for the person who said the alleged comment that points to extortion. If she's not willing to give details, then why should we believe it without question? It's not that I don't feel for the girl but she does seem young and unaccustomed to experiencing the consequences of actions and statements. She needs the strong guidance of mature people to advise her right now. If she "just wants to be a ballerina," then be willing to work in the corps and earn the confidence of the company leadership. Time to mature without the pressure of being on stage as a soloist is a gift and the special nature of that gift seems to elude her and many others of her generation.



 



#79 Helene

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Posted 18 November 2013 - 08:14 AM

If she's saying that the person who told her about paying for roles was telling her "how it really worked," rather than being in on the extortion, it does make some sense that she's not disclosing the name and avoiding having that person be discussed in the media.  Whether the person was serious, sarcastic, playing with her naivite, trying to convey the message that she was out of line, or simply downright cynical, we only know what she says about her reaction to the news.

 

When Gelsey Kirkland wrote in her first book that when she was a young person in the company, she was told that Balanchine would give major appliances to female dances who would let him grope them.  The ballet community was up in arms that she dared slur Balanchine that way, instead of thinking how creepy it would be for a newbie to the company to hear this about a man that to many was godlike.   Assuming she's sincere, this may be more about how Womack reacted than the intent of the speaker.



#80 writer

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Posted 19 November 2013 - 05:06 AM

I am thinking this is more how the conversation went down. She inquired and they said she probably would not get roles without paying, given her inexperience. I do not think this rule applies to primas, but to those who just want buy a role even if they are not ready.

 

I am confused as to why at 19 she would think she would get solos. Absent a few prodigies like Smirnova and Vishneva, very few dancers start out with solos in their teens in ANY company, let alone a great one with 200+ dancers. Perhaps the comment was just the straw that broke the camel's back and her leaving was a long time coming.

 

I hate to make a sports analogy, but this reminds me of Tim Tebow, an American Football player. An athlete that does well in school, but not in the pros. When in school, he only has to compete with the best school-aged players. In the pros, he has to compete with all athletes that were the best of their schools.

 

Every person in the Bolshoi, even the lowest corps member, was the top of his or her graduating class. Now she has to compete with 100 female versions of herself, some who have been dancing with the Bolshoi and improving for 10 years or more. She may have had her confidence built up too much in school and not realized this.



#81 puppytreats

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Posted 19 November 2013 - 09:08 AM

I am thinking this is more how the conversation went down. She inquired and they said she probably would not get roles without paying, given her inexperience. I do not think this rule applies to primas, but to those who just want buy a role even if they are not ready.

 

I am confused as to why at 19 she would think she would get solos. Absent a few prodigies like Smirnova and Vishneva, very few dancers start out with solos in their teens in ANY company, let alone a great one with 200+ dancers. Perhaps the comment was just the straw that broke the camel's back and her leaving was a long time coming.

 

I hate to make a sports analogy, but this reminds me of Tim Tebow, an American Football player. An athlete that does well in school, but not in the pros. When in school, he only has to compete with the best school-aged players. In the pros, he has to compete with all athletes that were the best of their schools.

 

Every person in the Bolshoi, even the lowest corps member, was the top of his or her graduating class. Now she has to compete with 100 female versions of herself, some who have been dancing with the Bolshoi and improving for 10 years or more. She may have had her confidence built up too much in school and not realized this.

That sounds facile.  

 

A lot of people are creating a lot of negative push back against girls who allegedly complain or quit based on this appearance of impatience for undeserved or unearned solo roles.  I really doubt that happened.  Certainly, the news and gossipy boards love to talk about it.  Marketable armchair psychology. The publicity machine thereby accomplishes its mission, I guess.

 

You would be disillusioned, at the least, if you had been young, idealistic, naive, trusting, passionate, a perfectionist, devoted to creating art and beauty, taught to be an obedient follower, far away from home, and then came to a hostile environment in which you learned about and/or experienced, claques, acid attacks, threats, hacking, defamation, circulation of false emails and facebook hacks, unfair labor practices, nonpayment, breach of contract, breach of trust, glass in your toe shoes, political influence, improper treatment of respected artists, disloyalty, gamesmanship, forced abandonment of a teacher and star not currently in power, sexual favors with patrons and possibly others, infighting, and how the game is played through the making of payments.  All while you were worrying about money you had not been paid and while you were starving and aching and exhausted, physically and emotionally, from working all day.    

 

But I guess it is easier or more useful to say she was greedy and aggressive and a small fish in a big pond.



#82 Helene

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Posted 19 November 2013 - 09:41 AM

She was a small fish in a big pond, like most of the people in the company who are corps members, period. Every dancer in the company is in a situation where the director was attacked by acid and subjected to email and Facebook hacking and threatening phone calls the Fall before, and the nominee for the job before him was subject to a vile email and online campaign to smear him. Every corps member is living on a tiny salary in one of the most expensive cities in the world and without family money, significant other money, or sponsorship money is living with his or her family or in a group, like young people do in cities around the world. If there is glass in toe shoes, political influence, sexual favors with patrons, etc., 1. Every member of the company is working in the same conditions and subject to the same 2. She was not like David Hallberg, who did not attend the school and did not speak the language -- I'm not sure if he's yet learned Russian -- and whose lack of Russian language skills was accommodated: she attended the school, speaks Russian, and had three key years in which to observe what was happening in the main company: students are constantly performing with te main company throught their schooling. If she chose to keep her illusions when the truth was staring her in the face, it's really no one else's responsibility, however understandable the "everything's beautiful at the ballet" meme is prevalent.

As far as her contract was concerned, Urin has said they screwed up due to lack of experience with US dancers and tax issues. Her contract would not look like Hallberg's or a guest contract, and tax treaties between the US and Russia are different than tax treaties between Russia and other countries, because very few other countries in the world require tax reporting and payments even when their citizens are not physically resident in the US (or territories or working on behalf of the government and treated as residents.). Were they neglectful: certainly.

Almost every corps member at the Bolshoi was once a star pupil in the school, given private coaching and fussed over and was then relegated to the corps and neglected, not given solo parts, especially major ones. It's not surprising she felt frustrated, but she's really not much different and no more special than almost every other corps member of the Bolshoi. If she wanted something different -- she could have read Plitsetskaya's memoir to see that the Bolshoi in her head had little to do with reality -- she wasn't going to get it by magical thinking.

#83 tutu

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Posted 19 November 2013 - 10:37 AM

It's not surprising she felt frustrated, but she's really not much different and no more special than almost every other corps member of the Bolshoi. If she wanted something different -- she could have read Plitsetskaya's memoir to see that the Bolshoi in her head had little to do with reality -- she wasn't going to get it by magical thinking.

 

By some accounts, though, Womack wasn't coming up with these ideas about being different herself—or at least not on her own. Didn't she receive a red diploma? And the repeated statements that she was "widely expected to be soloist" in 2013 or similar—those can't have come without at least a bit of support from other sources.



#84 volcanohunter

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Posted 19 November 2013 - 11:13 AM

The Bolshoi last held auditions on September 16. Twenty-four applicants were invited to participate, and they came from Moscow, St. Petersburg, Ufa, Saratov, Voronezh and Minsk--so only Belarus was represented among foreign countries. In a TV report on the auditions Sergei Filin emphasized that he was looking for dancers who learned quickly and would be able to fit into the Bolshoi corps without difficulty. He also said the company was looking for tall dancers. Ultimately nine were hired.

 

The curious thing is that while the segment emphasized that the audition was for the corps and that's where the dancers would be expected to perform, Boris Akimov complained that the candidates were uninteresting and lacking individuality. Filin complained that the quality of dancers was unsatisfactory, that they were insufficiently trained and prepared--and of course in Russia that sort of observation by an AD about the quality of training at its schools is a very loaded comment.

 



#85 puppytreats

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Posted 19 November 2013 - 11:25 AM

What is a red diploma?

#86 tutu

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Posted 19 November 2013 - 11:29 AM

Red diploma means you've graduated with perfect marks in academic subjects and perfect marks in every artistic subject. From what I gather, it's not given out terribly frequently, but someone else can probably speak with more authority as to this point.

#87 puppytreats

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Posted 19 November 2013 - 11:33 AM



If she were 19, and had spent only a year in the company, I think she woke up pretty quickly.    
 
I did not say that she did not face much competition.  I did not say that she could or could not come up to speed eventually, or did or did not want to pay her dues.   I am just saying that the arm-chair psychology type of quick clean up proffered by the theatre or the media, to avoid discussing the issues she faced or avoid ameliorating them, is reductionist.  
 
Did she even say she was leaving because she could not (yet) get solo roles?  Or did she say that she was insulted or (shocked or frightened?) that she was told about payments of fees related to solo parts.  I read her say she was insulted by the sexual offers that she had received and the demand for a sham marriage.  Certainly, that has nothing to do with being a small fish.  
 
Maybe the poor girls who did not leave did not have that opportunity.  Maybe they are not paid so they are forced to become involved with rich patrons, like wage slaves.

#88 Helene

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Posted 19 November 2013 - 11:41 AM

Please link to where she said she was hit on sexually and the "arm-chair" psychology of the theater, of which I see no evidence. Urin was direct and business-like, and didn't stoop to personal attack or condescension.

The sham marriage was for citizenship reasons, and, was, of course illegal, but she did what she needed to do for her career, which she still thought was worth it at the time. She wasn't tied up and led to the altar, and the marriage was to the son of a well-connected person.*

 

*Please see correction later in the thread.  She was married to a fellow student.



#89 swanchat

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Posted 19 November 2013 - 11:49 AM

From the NY Times phone interview with Womack:

 

 

Ms. Womack has declined to name the Bolshoi official who said a $10,000 payment would get her a soloist role. She said the figure was mentioned after she had repeatedly pressed managers about her desire for prominent roles. Since her graduation, she was offered few chances to perform, she said.

From this quote, it seems that one of her main goals was to dance "prominent" roles. (Like her fellow corps members, I'm sure). If she wasn't given opportunities to perform, then that goal seems unlikely in this company. This is not an uncommon state among ballet dancers. To advance in their careers and meet individual goals, sometimes dancers need a "change of scenery." In those cases, it's usually wise to do this without burning bridges...



#90 writer

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Posted 19 November 2013 - 02:26 PM

But I guess it is easier or more useful to say she was greedy and aggressive and a small fish in a big pond.

 
I wouldn't say it was greed, but it was unrealistic to think any dancer would get lots of solos and prominent roles at 19. Yes, there are exceptions, but most girls her age in any company in the world are in the corps.  I don't blame her for what happened, in fact I believe the school and the adults in her life led her to believe something that may not have been true.  If they didn't see potential then it was their duty to have a serious talk with her about it, not let her enter into this toxic environment. She may have not know what was up at the theater, but her teachers and the people who let her in sure as hell did. It may have been unwise to let her start down a path if she was that naive.
 
I don't doubt she has been through a lot, and I think she is obviously a very strong person to withstand it so far.  Dancers should not be subject to the conditions you describe. However, I was pointing out that she is obviously not the only person in the company who is subjected to this maltreatment. And she is not first dancer in the world to not be getting the roles she feels she deserves. All sorts of professions have this same type of problem. Take a big New York law firm for example. Every attorney there would have been top of her class at an Ivy league law school. You think she's going to be doing high profile trials after her first year?  That doesn't mean she isn't smart or has the potential to grow, but it means she is a first year and will be treated like all the other first years in the firm.
 
Clearly the Bolshoi is not for the faint of heart. I have no doubt she will excel, but this may not be the right fit.


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