pbl

2014/5 recommendations

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So, I have some tickets for the 2014/5 season already, but curious as to others' opinions on dancers to watch in paballet, and performances they'd recommend. And some questions, too: Why don't they publish the casting in advance, before subscriptions are made, so people can choose who they want to (try to) see? Why don't they make more videos of their dancers available? Why don't their dancers have more social media presence?

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Almost no companies announce casting when subscriptions are available. ABT is a rare exception, and then people buy tickets and are unhappy when the casting turns out to be a pipe dream of many months before. (As a teenager I remember grabbing the Arts Section from the NYT every Sunday as soon as it got into the house when there was a possibility that the ABT casting ad had been published that morning. Even if I knew I wasn't going to be able to see any of it.) The Mariinsky will sometimes announce principal casting on their schedule, like "Uliana Lopatkina in "SWAN LAKE"," but not in any regular fashion or timing. Bolshoi casting is hit or miss in terms of timing.

The term "Ballet Alert! was invented by Arlene Croce as an invented answering machine info service that announced NYCB casting as it came up very close to performances. Balanchine famously thought people should come to ballets instead of casts, but relented and NYCB used to cast a week in advance. Before the internet, that meant going to the theater and perusing the cast lists posted next to each side of the main doors, and keeping yours elbows sharp to get close enough to see it. It was better as a two-person operation: one to stand in line, and the other to get the casting info. I remember when PNB followed a similar policy: I had to go up to the receptionist at the Phelps Center (the ballet studios and offices building next to what was then the Opera House), who had a clipboard with casting. I remember that one woman grabbed the clipboard away from me and wanted to know why I wanted to know. I said I have a subscription on [whatever day it was at the time], and I'm not going to buy single tickets unless I know I can see the different casts. (That was my NYCB standing room approach). She relented, but I don't think she was convinced that I just wasn't trying to see all of Patricia Barker's performances. (She was usually cast in everything, so the odds of seeing her were high anyway.)

In the US where there are AGMA contracts, like PA ballet, there's a clause that says the latest that the dancers can be notified of the casting. Casting is often not completed until that date or close to it. This could, of course, change, if Corella wants to announce and/or cast earlier. The dancers are rehearsing, so they know at least what roles they're up for, but they don't know how they'll be shifted around due to injuries/illness or what days they'll be dancing, and even if they do know, I'd guess they are discouraged from sharing that except to tell their family whether or not to fly out to see them, and sometimes even that isn't settled. At PNB it's 10 days before, and, unless they're swamped, they post the casting to the website for the public two Tuesdays before the Friday opening, and two Mondays or Tuesdays before week two Thursday. Sometimes they'll make an exception and post both weeks (or for Nutcracker, multiple weeks) at once.

If there's a big guest star coming, then a company might announce that they'll be dancing Ballet X, and maybe that they'll dance opening night. (This happens for small, semi-professional companies and schools that bring pros, often returning local heros, in for Nutcracker or one of the classics.)

As far as social media is concerned, sometimes companies encourage it, and sometimes they don't, and the dancers feel various degrees of safe and/or interested in having a social media presence. Only a select few dancers like Diana Vishneva reveal casting dates on their websites/blogs/Facebook Page before a company posts/confirms the casting. With so many changes in leadership at PA Ballet, I think the dancers will try to find out what new management thinks of social media before they continue or join the fray.

I'd suggest going to the performance with as few preconceptions about dancers as possible and to avoid seeing what category they're in (Principal, Soloist, Corps). Many companies in the US delay promotions because they don't have the cash, and you can see people who are lower-ranked on paper do top-level work. You'll see new stars emerging, dancers who are great in a role or type of ballet that aren't promoted because they might not be as versatile, and even if you think you hate a dancer you've seen in A, you might like that dancer in another ballet, or they might change your mind.

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What she said.

My local company is Pacific Northwest Ballet, so I'm familiar with the developments that Helene describes above. Currently they post a tentative 1st weekend cast list on their website a couple weeks before the opening, and the second week list goes up a couple days before opening (the next program opens Friday, and week two casting is up now). All of it is subject to change -- if one person gets injured, a whole domino games worth of people may have to move around in order to fill that one spot. Next to rehearsal scheduling, casting is probably the trickiest thing that they do.

As a critic I work hard to see as many permutations of casting as I can, and I'm often happily surprised by a performance I hadn't anticipated. The last rep here was Balanchine's Jewels -- I saw many people return to parts that they excelled in previously, but I also saw a chunk of the 20+ debuts over a two week run. One of the best performances I saw was in the very last show, by Leah Merchant in Verdy's part in Emeralds -- I think she may have been 4th cast, and I was just bowled over.

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One of the best performances I saw was in the very last show, by Leah Merchant in Verdy's part in Emeralds -- I think she may have been 4th cast, and I was just bowled over.

Yes!

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