Tapfan

Why does City Ballet have so few dancers of East Asian descent?

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When you look at the rosters of companies like NBC, SFB, PNB, ABT, companies across Western Europe and even many companies in America's heartland, you see men and women of East Asian heritage, many in prominent roles.

But City Ballet still looks like a 1950's coed New England prep school.

Considering the appreciation for, study of and a history of mastery of the high Western arts (classical music and dance) amongst people of the East Asian diaspora, it's next to impossible to believe there isn't a motivated and talented pool of people who meet the qualification standards for acceptance into the City Ballet arts organization.

This lack of Asian representation I find as puzzling as if there were no people of East Asian descent studying at Ivy League schools. The mere idea is preposterous.

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I don't live in NYC, and so I don't see the School of American Ballet workshop shows every year, but since NYCB draws almost exclusively from that source, I would want to know what their demographic looks like.

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Granted the lack of Asians, I'm not sure how well the prep school comparison holds. I remember reading an interview with Jennie Somogyi where she said her father was an auto mechanic. I get the impression that many dancers, like her, come from families which are comfortably middle class - they can pay for ballet classes, after all - but aren't highly educated.

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I know that City Ballet's primary source of hires is their feeder school. If SAB has few Asians or Asian Americans at the school, why is that the case?

In many companies in North America and Europe, people of Asian descent seem to be slightly overrepresented when compared to the population at large. Why is that not the case in NYCB?

In Ian Spencer Bell's Ballet Review article about women of color at SAB, dancers Paloma Lorenzo and Nikkia Parish made statements that made the post-Balanchine powers that be at City Ballet and SAB sound like a reactionary cabal that was practically hostile to women that didn't look like Wendy Whelan.

Is there a possible culture there wherein the Balanchine disciples who run the place think that way?

I know what the stereotypes are about black women and SOME non-white Latinas. Too muscular or fleshy. Can't control their power. Flat feet.

But East Asian women? Even if you go by what are admittedly offensive and hoary stereotypes, they still are the very definition of the ethereal, female ballet dancer.

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I don't live in NYC, and so I don't see the School of American Ballet workshop shows every year, but since NYCB draws almost exclusively from that source, I would want to know what their demographic looks like.

I attended the Workshop performance on this past Saturday afternoon. I noticed a number of students of Asian descent on stage. This was particularly true with the 24 little itty bits that danced in the Waltz of the Golden Hours from "Coppelia". Whether any will eventually make it into the main company is anyone's guess.

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But what about now? Why are there so few dancers now when other companies have much better representation?

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But what about now? Why are there so few dancers now when other companies have much better representation?

I think it unfair to think of NYCB as a 1950's coed prep school without knowing the back rounds of the dancers. I know from watching interviews that NYCB dancers come from all over the country and are from diverse economic backgrounds. There are a lot of factors involved. Most dancers in the company spend 1 or more summers at a SAB summer intensive. That's a self selective group of who auditions and who wants to travel to NYC and live there for a summer. After that a select group is invited to stay for the school year. Again there is some self selection involved. After that there is an invitation to be an apprentice and then to join the company. Tapfan I don't know if you are implying that there is a conspiracy but I can't imagine one exists. I also know that scholarship money for at SAB is generous for those that can't afford it.

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SAB doesn't recruit students. You (the dance student) have to seek them out, audition, be invited to summer, and then be invited to stay for the full year. Compare that to a place like the Kirov School in DC, which has a very high percentage of Asian students (mostly Japanese, I think), and which actively recruits pupils by establishing relationships with schools and teachers overseas.

Also, if you look at the SFB roster, all of the Asian dancers are foreign. Not a single Asian American. (There is 1 Asian Canadian.) When I was at SAB, there were a fair number of Asians in the lower levels (children's division), but when we got to intermediate/advanced, they melted away. Their parents didn't want them to sacrifice academics for ballet by attending PCS. I know that's anecdotal and feeds into a stereotype, but I do think it's telling not even SFB has an Asian-American dancer. (PNB has 1, and he trained at SAB.)

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I'm not implying that all the dancers and students in the City Ballet nexus are affluent.

But the racial makeup just seems odd when compared to say, The Royal Ballet or San Francisco Ballet. After all, City Ballet is a major company and New York is a major international city in a heavily populated and diverse metropolitan area.

Conspiracy is too strong a word. And I know that the chief task of an arts organization like NYCB is to get the best programs and dancers on the stage regardless of race.

What I don't understand is why more of the dancers don't happen to be Asian. They are amongst the best everywhere else.

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Difficult to compare San Francisco to New York. SF has always looked to Asia in the way New York looks to Europe, and of 2010 San Francisco had a 33% Asian demographic. Also SFB a multinational company by nature, with French, Cuban, Brazilian and dancers as well as Asian and it does a diverse range of ballets. NYCB does Balanchine and Robbins, which take a lot of specialized training not readily avaiable outside New York.

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I thought the core rep of both PNB and SFB was Balanchine.

And SAB may not recruit students, but then, what school does? My point isn't that more people of Asian descent should be in City Ballet so they look enlightened. I'm surprised they aren't there because City Ballet is supposed to be so good.

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If a sterotype were having an effect, I would suggest that "ethereal" is not the definition of a female NYCB ballet dancer.

I would suggest that "ethereal" might be much more in demand in companies dominated by 19th century repertory.

However, the more interesting observation is the lack of native Asian-Americans.

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But City Ballet still looks like a 1950's coed New England prep school.

Principal Amar Ramasar looks nothing like any New England prep school students I'm aware of. He is of Pakistani origin, I believe - South Asia rather than East Asia.

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I heard an NYCB "Dancer Chat" last year with a corps member from one of the boroughs who had gone to SAB after being recruited and trained by Eliot Feld's Ballet Tech, an impressive program that recruits from throughout NYC, with 88% minority enrollment. I couldn't find any data on how many ended up at NYCB or other professional companies, but it does seem to have a very aggressive recruiting program. As that dancer reminded us, the recruits have to overcome some pretty powerful stereotypes in their home communities about ballet: http://www.ballettech.org/

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But City Ballet still looks like a 1950's coed New England prep school.

Principal Amar Ramasar looks nothing like any New England prep school students I'm aware of. He is of Pakistani origin, I believe

Mr. Ramasar is just one guy.

As to ethereal not being the stereotype for Balanchine ballerinas, didn't he make dances showing all aspects of womanhood? The ballerina in Serenade is NOT like the ballerina in Rubies.

As to Asians not being interested in dance because they are supposedly encouraged to only want to be doctors or computer engineers, well, Frances Chung says her parents were just like the stereotype we have of all Asian parents who push for academic excellence and higher education in a top-flight school. But she was so determined to become a professional dancer that they decided not to stand in her way. She was so focused that it was actually a compromise just to get her to finish high school. But she's currently attending college.

And Yuan Yuan Tan butted heads with her father who wanted her to study medicine. But she says her mother was always supportive because she saw her passion.

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I thought the core rep of both PNB and SFB was Balanchine.

And SAB may not recruit students, but then, what school does? My point isn't that more people of Asian descent should be in City Ballet so they look enlightened. I'm surprised they aren't there because City Ballet is supposed to be so good.

My point was that some schools, such as Kirov, DO actively recruit (foreign) students.

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And why didn't NYCB hire Angela Genorosa (Filipino, 2011 Mae Wien award recipient)? Instead, she's thriving at PNB.

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And why didn't NYCB hire Angela Genorosa (Filipino, 2011 Mae Wien award recipient)? Instead, she's thriving at PNB.

Bingo.

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And why didn't NYCB hire Angela Genorosa (Filipino, 2011 Mae Wien award recipient)? Instead, she's thriving at PNB.

Bingo.

I don't know the specifics of this case but there are lots of reasons a company hires or doesn't hire someone. Companies have specific needs. Do they need short dancers, tall dancers, a lot of dancers or just a few few. Every year a number of wonderful SAB graduates go off to other companies.

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SAB, like many other schools, has a big split between the school and professional tracks. Very few of the school track students (up to 13 at SAB, older at other companies) make it to the Professional Division, let alone NYCB. The PD students are from all over the world, the cream of the crop of students who fit what the school is looking for and can live in NYC. The lower ranks of the PNB school look like the Seattle community. The PD, not even close, but closer than SAB.

NYCB has rarely had Asian women starting from Balanchine's time. For a while in the '80's there seemed to be one Asian male dancer t a time, maybe two when Gen Horiuchi danced. Just as black dancers can be stereotyped physically, Asian dancers can be stereotyped as too short for Balanchine. That doesn't speak to individual dancers, of course, but it is hugely discouraging.

I know that's anecdotal and feeds into a stereotype, but I do think it's telling not even SFB has an Asian-American dancer. (PNB has 1, and he trained at SAB.)

Just Saturday night at PNB's "Giselle," the Albrecht, Batkurel Bold, at PNB since the late '90's, was Mongolian-born (although if I recall correctly, in a Q&A someone mentioned either that he had become naturalized or was about to take his test), the Hilarion was William Lin-Yee, the Chinese-American man you reference and whose early training was at SFBS before SAB, and who will make his debut as Albrecht this Thursday, and the Wilifred was Eric Hipolito Jr., a Filipino-American. (His younger brother, Enrico, is a huge talent, too.) There are also women of Asian descent at PNB and in the school's professional division, like Angelica Generosa. Until he became injured and had to retire from dancing full-time, former Principal Dancer Le Yin danced all of the prince roles.

I thought the core rep of both PNB and SFB was Balanchine.

It's not and never has been for PNB at least. PNB in particular has been renowned for its productions of Balanchine rep because Francis Russell is such a renowned stager who had permission and active encouragement (from Balanchine) to stage earlier versions, the one she danced and knew. However, Russell and Stowell presented a wide range of rep, from full-lengths mostly by Stowell -- although they introduced the Balanchine "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and the ABT "Don Q" -- to a wide range of mixed rep. (Janet Reed and Melissa Hayden directed PNB and its predecessor organization for less than a decade before Russell and Stowell.) I don't remember a single "All Balanchine" mixed rep aside from "Jewels" since 1994 when I moved to Seattle -- it was NYC that got one (one performance) last tour; I'm not sure about 1987 at BAM -- and three Balanchine ballets in a single season of six non-"Nutcracker" programs is a relatively rare occasion to celebrate. I fear that the Balanchine "Nutcracker" coming to PNB in 2015-16 will tick off the Balanchine box in upcoming seasons, aside from "Midsummer" which sells tickets, especially given the large cast of kids.

I'm not sure how much Balanchine dominated the rep during the Christensen era, but the Christensens started in vaudeville and came out of the companies where Balanchine rep may have been the star, but where there was a wide variety of rep, including narrative short ballets and the Americana that Kirstein encouraged. Balanchine wasn't the driving force during the Smuin years, and SFB performs more Tomasson than Balanchine, where three Balanchine ballets out of eight programs a year is an occasion. I think the only Balanchine full-length performed by the company is the "Coppelia" co-production with PNB.

And SAB may not recruit students, but then, what school does?

They all do, even SAB, not by advertising, but by the same alumni-like network and reputations that drives students to Harvard or Yale, even though Harvard and Yale don't need to sell themselves. Teacher networks push and pull students towards various programs, give them a heads up on students both trying to get in and who aren't going to be offered a place in their own company. Over half of PNB studied with Peter Boal; even though he hasn't taught at SAB for years, he's still in the loop. Francia Russell is friends with Suki Schorer, and Russell said in Q&A's that Schorer had recommended SAB students to her.

If you look at the Facebook account of any dancer, you'll see hundreds of friends that went to the same schools and summer programs, who danced for the same companies, who know each other from their best friends and roommates who did, and who look up to the professional dancers who come back to their schools and want to follow in their footsteps or come to the US and Canada and have a built in support network. They can give each other specifics about the faculty and what type of dancers their companies are looking for, making the process self-selecting, and they can give career advice to aspiring students. Many of the women in PNB said they went to the PNB school because PNB was a tall company that hired tall dancers from the school. There are many companies who wouldn't have looked twice at Lindsi Dec, let alone Ariana Lallone or Laura Tisserand. Dancers say they looked at specific companies because they want to dance the rep their school trained them in or want to expand their range. They also look to companies to find dancers who look like them.

Frances Chung expanded her rep at SFB; Goh Ballet is strictly classical training. Any Kirov Academy students have to do the same, although they can be typecast in the classical rep in more diverse companies There were also Asian-American women in the recent past at SFB, like Megan Low, whom Mark Morris cast in the lead of Sylvia. Also, many foreign-born dancers are now American citizens, and are, by definition, Americans. That they were foreign-born is generally relevant when they come from a famous school (Moscow, Vaganova, Alonso's school), a famous teacher (Ullate), or have classical Russian schooling,like many Eastern European dancers. There aren't many Asian schools that have been a pipeline in the same way. AD's also take advantage of trends: defections from Cuba (intermittent) and when the former Soviet Union dissolved. For a while in the '90's, for example, PNB had a handful of awesome dancers from the former Soviet Union, and I suspect it wasn't a coincidence that there are two stellar men from Albania in Phoenix. Dancers talk to each other.

And why didn't NYCB hire Angela Genorosa (Filipino, 2011 Mae Wien award recipient)? Instead, she's thriving at PNB.

Totally our gain smile.pngsmile.pngsmile.png NYCB didn't take a number of spectacular PNB dancers and dancers who've thrived at many other companies throughout the years.

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Edwaard Liang Taiwanese. Georgina Pazcoquin filipino. Puanani and Likolani Brown Hawaiian. Misa Kuranaga Japanese was offered an apprenticeship to NYCB. Sokvannara (Sy) Sar Cambodian

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It took a major donor, Anne Bass, for SAB to accept Sar, who had only danced the classical Cambodian dance that Bass saw him in and didn't really know what ballet was. He was personally trained to bring him up to speed, and he joined PNB, presumably from his connection to Boal from SAB. (Boal was interviewed in the documentary Bass made about Sar.)

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Edwaard Liang Taiwanese. Georgina Pazcoquin filipino. Puanani and Likolani Brown Hawaiian. Misa Kuranaga Japanese was offered an apprenticeship to NYCB. Sokvannara (Sy) Sar Cambodian

Geez. Today's roster doesn't reflect that.

Once upon a time, NYC Ballet even had three black women; Andrea Long, Debra Austin and Aesha Ashe. But in the very long history of the company, that's hardly something to stand up and cheer about.

There are undoubtedly other factors in play other than racism as to why there are so few people of color in general and people of Asian descent in particular in the company's ranks. But despite all those supposedly benign reasons, Asians and Asian Americans seem to break through in larger numbers and with some consistency at other world-class companies. Why not City Ballet and SAB?

Having read the remarks of some classical dancers of color, I'm inclined to believe that there is some unconscious racial bias among the folks in charge.

As has been stated repeatedly on this forum, AD's don't have to justify their hires or promotions to anyone. Do I think Peter Martins and company are racist?. Nope. Or at least no more than the average decent human being. But I do think their concepts of how beautiful dancers are supposed to look is very, very, limited.

By the way, I suspect they'd turn up their noses at a wonderful white powerhouse like PNB's Carrie Imler because she isn't stick thin.

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There are undoubtedly other factors in play other than racism as to why there are so few people of color in general and people of Asian descent in particular in the company's ranks. But despite all those supposedly benign reasons, Asians and Asian Americans seem to break through in larger numbers and with some consistency at other world-class companies. Why not City Ballet and SAB?

Having read the remarks of some classical dancers of color, I'm inclined to believe that there is some unconscious racial bias among the folks in charge.

Two reasons have been noted on this thread for why NYCB has relatively few dancers of Asian ancestry: SAB's policy of letting dancers apply instead of recruiting them, and the fact that schools which emphasize Balanchine training are hard to find outside of New York. No evidence of racial bias has been presented.

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By the way, I suspect they'd turn up their noses at a wonderful white powerhouse like PNB's Carrie Imler because she in't stick thin.

Sara Mearns is far from stick thin but she is one of NYCB's most lauded ballerinas.

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