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

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Too bad she wasn't able to see Yoko Morishito in her glory days guesting around the world with lots of press coverage after she won at Varna

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I hadn't revisited this topic for a few days, and I see that it has morphed into a topic about the benefits of new choreography. While I agree with the idea that new choreography is important to the company, sometimes it turns into pandering to new audiences (see Ocean's Kingdom, Bal de Couture) with works that are trash just to have a celebrity name attached to the pursuit (Valentino, Paul McCartney, Stella McCartney). Also, I think the Diamond Project put too much focus on churning out massive numbers of new works without keeping an eye on quality ("Call Me Ben").

Can we spin the new choreography discussion over to a different thread? I think there are still some elements to discuss about diversity on stage here.

Admin note: I've split off the discussion about choreography to this thread:

New York City Ballet and New Work

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I was the one who steered the conversation to the topic concerning the number of possible open positions at NYCB.

I wondered about the number of potential hires because I figured that the larger the number of open slots, the better chance a person of color might join the ranks.

Another reason I wondered about the lack of East Asian dancers in City Ballet, was because I was under the impression that ballet was becoming very popular in parts of Asia.

That lead me to assume, evidently incorrectly, that this would mean an increase in the number of foreign Asian students in top American ballet schools like SAB.

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I was the one who steered the conversation to the topic concerning the number of possible open positions at NYCB.

I wondered about the number of potential hires because I figured that the larger the number of open slots, the better chance a person of color might join the ranks.

Another reason I wondered about the lack of East Asian dancers in City Ballet, was because I was under the impression that ballet was becoming very popular in parts of Asia.

That lead me to assume, evidently incorrectly, that this would mean an increase in the number of foreign Asian students in top American ballet schools like SAB.

Not to fret -- of course these are interrelated topics, but a conversation format like BA seems to work best with singular topics. And these are both so discussable, I'd hate to miss a connection in either one.

So back to diversity. I don't know enough about the recruiting policies at SAB to speak with authority, although I do know that, like the rest of the field, they do not work in isolation -- they have 'graduates' and colleagues everywhere who help to funnel students their way. But in general, those students have to already be in a pipleline, so unless their families are enrolling them in dance training to begin with, they need to be recruited in some other fashion.

Pacific Northwest Ballet's Dance Chance program has been discussed on this board several times, so I didn't want to brag on it again, but one of its main goals is to open up the possibility of a career in dance to kids who otherwise would not have had that thought cross their mind. While it's not exclusively about kids of color, they are a part of the target population. Like all dance training, the attrition numbers are big, but there have been some real success stories come out of the project, including Eric Hipolito (who was mentioned above)

I think it's pretty clear that there are many more highly skilled dancers coming out of professional training programs every year than those home organizations can hire. So on one level, artistic directors are making decisions among these potential new hires, and may bring unconscious biases of many kinds to those decisions. But their preeminent obligation is to find the best dancers they can to fill the spaces they have at that time, keeping their repertory and artistic vision in mind.

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This looks strange when compared to practically every other major ballet company outside the old Soviet block.

At least those countries in eastern Europe have the excuse of having been culturally cut off from the West. What's NYC Ballet's excuse?

Where are the Asian Swans?

This is what I mean when i say that NYC Ballet looks like a 1950's new England boarding school.

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I think it's pretty clear that there are many more highly skilled dancers coming out of professional training programs every year than those home organizations can hire. So on one level, artistic directors are making decisions among these potential new hires, and may bring unconscious biases of many kinds to those decisions. But their preeminent obligation is to find the best dancers they can to fill the spaces they have at that time, keeping their repertory and artistic vision in mind.

I think that the preeminent obligation of the schools, and, since there are few elite schools for teenage training outside company-affiliated schools, a great obligation of the companies is to find the greatest range of talent to train, so that the group of elite-trained dancers includes the best of the best. Some people look at Dance Chance like affirmative action in a pejorative sense -- "Isn't it nice that benevolent PNB has this program so that a kid like Eric Hipolito can be part of this great art?" -- when it's the opposite: by expanding the number of kids at the school to kids for whom ballet is not generally on their radar, it gives the company a greater talent pool from which to choose.

Think of how much more progress would have been made over the history of the US if women and minorities had not been blocked from employment and educational opportunities, because they weren't -- and in many cases still aren't -- considered worthy of consideration? Think of how much better ballet and the arts would be if the talent pool, great as it is, wasn't almost entirely self-selected from a relatively small range of candidates? Of course, it is easier and cheaper to be a shark in the Caribbean -- open your mouth and dinner swims in, even if the other shark gets better quality fish -- but that doesn't mean you've maximized your talent base. The Imperial and Soviet systems managed to eliminate some economic obstacles when it chose kids at young ages and gave them full rides, but, racially, not even close, although there was an effort at the Vaganova School at least to recruit from the ethnically diverse "stans" that Valeri Panov described in his memoir and with whom Panov shared dorms, much to his dismay.

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This looks strange when compared to practically every other major ballet company outside the old Soviet block.

At least those countries in eastern Europe have the excuse of having been culturally cut off from the West. What's NYC Ballet's excuse?

Where are the Asian Swans?

This is what I mean when i say that NYC Ballet looks like a 1950's new England boarding school.

Do you have data on the percentage of non-caucasian dancers in other ballet companies? I'd be interested to see it if you did.

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All you have to do is look at the dancer rosters. You'd be hard-pressed to find any from the internationally known major companies to the regional companies in America's heartland that don't have two or more male and female East Asians dancers.

But not NYCB. That just strikes me as odd.

Reminds me about Chris Rock's comment about the lack of Mexican American talent in the corporate offices of Hollywood when you consider the Latino population of Los Angeles. You almost have to go out of your way not to hire someone.

The lack of women from the East Asian diaspora at City Ballet seems as unlikely as not seeing Asian women in the nation's top colleges. It's just not very likely.

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Kaori Nakamura chose SAB when she won Prix de Lausanne in 1986, and Peter Boal, who was in the company by then, had wonderful things to say about her, especially her technique. While she's short, it's not like NYCB had never chosen a short dancer, and certainly in the mid-'80's there were plenty. She never danced at NYCB, which was great for Winnipeg and Seattle, but not so great for NYCB.

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The lack of women from the East Asian diaspora at City Ballet seems as unlikely as not seeing Asian women in the nation's top colleges. It's just not very likely.

Anecdotally, I can tell you that my local company has a fairly high percentage of East Asian dancers; they make up about a quarter of the roster. However, only one of them is a member of the diaspora. The remainder are natives of Asia, primarily Japan. Looking superficially at the rosters of other North American companies, I don't think their situation is that different.

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All you have to do is look at the dancer rosters. You'd be hard-pressed to find any from the internationally known major companies to the regional companies in America's heartland that don't have two or more male and female East Asians dancers.

I thought you might have some hard data to hand since you seem interested in the topic of dance company diversity in general. I'm open to your case, but it would be helpful if you provided the data to support it rather than suggesting that I look at a couple of dozen company rosters myself.

What do you think an appropriate percentage of dancers of East Asian origin might be? Should we expect a dance company's diversity to roughly match that of the US in general? Of the company's geographic region in particular?

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I think you also have to take into account that there may not be parental support for ballet as a career choice. "Ballet is fine as a hobby, but you need earn a living, consider job security, etc. Become a doctor, lawyer, engineer, whatever and then support the arts. You're going to college." These parents would see themselves as negligent if they didn't push their offspring towards a secure future.

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I thought you might have some hard data to hand since you seem interested in the topic of dance company diversity in general. I'm open to your case, but it would be helpful if you provided the data to support it rather than suggesting that I look at a couple of dozen company rosters myself.

What do you think an appropriate percentage of dancers of East Asian origin might be? Should we expect a dance company's diversity to roughly match that of the US in general? Of the company's geographic region in particular?

I'm not suggesting quotas for anyone. Although outreach IS nice.

Its just seems strange that City ballet doesn't have any female dancers of East Asian heritage when practically everyone else does. It still seems strange even when you take into account the fact that City ballet likes Ballanchine ballerinas and the fact that Asians and Asian Americans stress the study of hard sciences for a career.

Even with all that, women with Asian heritage still become classical dancers. 'Cept at NYCB. Even if city ballet doesn't care one bit about diversity, you'd think someone would make their roster.

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I'm not suggesting quotas for anyone. Although outreach IS nice.

Its just seems strange that City ballet doesn't have any female dancers of East Asian heritage when practically everyone else does. It still seems strange even when you take into account the fact that City ballet likes Ballanchine ballerinas and the fact that Asians and Asian Americans stress the study of hard sciences for a career.

Even with all that, women with Asian heritage still become classical dancers. 'Cept at NYCB. Even if city ballet doesn't care one bit about diversity, you'd think someone would make their roster.

Lara Tong

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while not from Asia, Likolani Brown is native Hawaiian.

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I happily stand corrected. I was wrong. Good for City Ballet! I really mean that!

I truly thought there was something wrong with them.

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while not from Asia, Likolani Brown is native Hawaiian.

Also while not from Asia, Georgina Pazcoguin definitely has some Asian blood. I am friendly with Anthony Huxley's mom and she (and her mother, who I met) seem to be Indonesian or Philippino. There are also a few more corps women who look at least partially Asian. Finally, one of the 3 little Maries in Nutcracker this year (and her Fritz) are Asian. I dont remember the girl's name (Fritz was performed, I believe,by a boy named Sawyer Reo) but I don't think it sounded especially East Asian. You can't judge based solely on names.

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Classical training is the standard in "Asian" countries - China, Japan, South Korea, etc. It is unusual when a dancer with classical training chooses Balanchine(SAB) training - most gravitate to ballet schools in the west that are close to what they already are familiar with - schools such as Royal Ballet School, JKO, San Francisco Ballet School.

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San Francisco Ballet School is not a classical training academy: like most North American elite and company-affiliated schools, the training is an eclectic mix designed to feed dancers into North American companies, which, with a few exceptions, perform a wide range of rep, full-lengths plus short neoclassical ballets. Gloria Govrin was associate director of the school for nearly a decade, and she was a Balanchine dancer. Kirov Academy and Goh Ballet are classical academies in the US. I'm not sure where Houston is now, and Harid might also have more of a classical emphasis. There are smaller schools where classical technique is emphasized or even taught exclusively, but even these students mostly end up being "finished" at a company-affiliated school if they don't get hired in Europe and gain experience there.

Pennsylvania Ballet's only Asian-born dancer trained at SAB. At PNB Kaori Nakamura, who retired last year, was trained in Japan, but chose SAB from her Prix de Lausanne prize. Sokvannara Sar's only ballet training was at SAB after being given a crash course in ballet. There have been other Asian-born dancers at PNB -- Le Yin went through the state-sponsored training in China and Batkhurel Bold was trained in Perm -- but the majority of dancers of Asian descent in the company are US-born and -trained.

Most North American companies are just as focused on neoclassical as classical ballet, and often dance classical ballet in neoclassical style. It hasn't stopped some from hiring Asian-born and -trained dancers into their more eclectic companies: Royal Ballet has five out of over 100 dancers, San Francisco Ballet has eight out of 76 dancers, National Ballet of Canada has ten of 75 dancers, and Ballet Arizona has three out of 31 dancers. In the North American companies, I don't see the dancers being pigeonholed into the classics and not cast in neoclassical works.

Companies tend to reflect their audiences; the very smart ones also reflect their community.

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Companies tend to reflect their audiences; the very smart ones also reflect their community.

Oooh, I want to borrow that.

ps isn't the Goh Ballet Academy in Canada?

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Goh Ballet is, indeed, in Canada. I grouped US and Canada in North America in terms of training. There are no major Canadian classical ballet companies, ie, where the core choreography is classical, and everything else is performed through a classical lens.

The most wonderful part of the Goh Ballet Nutcracker is seeing the Goh-trained students. It's possible, though, that Chan Hon Goh has diversified the training lately, based on her experience at National Ballet of Canada.

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I was not identifying SF Ballet School, JKO and Royal Ballet School as classical ballet schools but as schools that dancers from Asia who are classically trained would choose for "finishing" or exposure to a US company over SAB and Balanchine training. That is reflected in the enrollment in the advanced programs of these schools which varies every year. During the several years that I have been aware of enrollment at SAB, I am know of 4 dancers who are Asian.

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Boston Ballet probably tops the number of Asian hires, both Asian-American and Asian-born dancers. There are six Asian-American dancers and seven Asian-born dancers. What's equally impressive is that seven of the total are second soloist or above in rank.

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