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NYCB's casting crisis


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 10 July 2002 - 04:11 PM

[Ari has already posted this in today's Links, but I thought it might draw a coment or two.]

A pulls-no-punches piece in The NY Observer by Robert Gottlieb -- a long time observer of the company -- on the New York City Ballet's current roster.

City Ballet's Casting Crisis A Key to the Company's Values

The biggest story at City Ballet this season wasn't the Diamond Project'that was the saddest story; the biggest story was casting. An entire generation of dancers is fading or phasing out: Margaret Tracey into retirement (there's a rumor that she may teach; teach what?); Miranda Weese still out with a serious injury; Kyra Nichols only slowly coming back after an extended maternity leave; Yvonne Borree gone for the first weeks (but then why is she there in the first place?); Darci Kistler less and less like her former wonderful self. And halfway through the season, HelÚne Alexopoulos followed Tracey into retirement?but with what a difference! Tracey long ago not only undermined her talent but betrayed it, while Alexopoulos is a textbook example of a dancer who understood her talent, never overextended herself, and made a singular contribution in the dramatic roles that were right for her. On her final night, she danced both an icy Siren in Prodigal Son, radiating antiseptic viciousness, and a ravishing "Gold and Silver" waltz in Vienna Waltzes . Alexopoulos, with the company 24 years, is one of its last dancers to have worked under Balanchine, who died in 1983. Seeing them vanish one by one is like watching Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians.



#2 sneds

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Posted 10 July 2002 - 08:12 PM

Ok...I'll step into the arena :o)

Well, I tend to think that Gottlieb, like some critics is somewhat stuck in the past and far too negative. We can't stop time-Balachine has been dead for nearly two decades, and his hand-picked dancers are retiring. Face it-things are going to change (as they always have) and we can't just constantly compare today to the past.
Dancers have changed-careers, especially for those who never make it out of the corps are shorter and not nearly so focused on just ballet. Dancers are getting married, having kids, taking college classs, dancing with other companies etc. It's a different world, and the newer dancers are a different generation.
I've disagreed with many of Martins' choices in dancers, casting and programs, but he's really in a no-win situation. No-one will ever live up to Balanchine.
Also, I tend to think this season's problem was the choice of ballets, not the dancers.

The women-
Borree has her issues, but she's a good dancer. Over the years she's been excellent in ballet such as "La Sonnambula". I really liked her Helena (or Hermia?) in Midsummer's.

I very much disagree with Gottlieb about Ringer. Has she been dancing with NYCB for 13 years?-she's only just 30, I think. While T&V is not an idealrole for her, she did a elegant job. I would have liked to see Somogyi in the role, but for all we know, with all the injuries, Martins may not have been able to work the schedule out to have her do T&V enough times to make it worth the rehearsal time. Better to wait rather than risk exhasuting her to the point of an injury or illness.
(I think in many cases it's not completely fair for us to negatively comment on casting when we are unaware of a lot of the issues-minor & major injuried, partner incompatibilties, attitude issues, dedication or lack there of etc.)
Ringer was born to do "Who Cares"-with both Neal and Hubbe, she was spectacular.
Her first Midsummer's PdD was a tad tentative (I doubt she got very much rehearsal), but it was beautiful. I think it will be spectacular by the end of the run next Spring Season.

The men..
I agree that NYCB has some issues in its upper male ranks, but am less worried now that I was a year ago.
Woetzel has actually been on stage nearly twenty years-he joined the Los Angeles Ballet when he was 16. He's been with NYCB for 17 years. Obviously, Woetzel has lost some power with age, but he's still pretty darn good. Yes, he was not at his best in Midsummer's, but anyone who is familiar with Woetzel knows that he doesn't give 100% in every performance or every role. He looked a little off on Wednesday, but his Saturday matinee performance of Oberon was excellent.
Boal and Soto are not young chickens, but still are great assets on the stage and over at SAB. Soto may not be ideally built, but he and Whelan were so breathtaking in the Midsummer's PdD that I didn't even think about his physique.
I think Millepied and Marcovici have great promise, and Fayette has carved his own niche as a solid, elegant partner. After all, Balachine's male choreography, in general, is much more about supporting the women thant individual dancing. Angle and Hofmans (of the exquisite feet!) are also ones to watch.
ABT obviously has an excess of fabulous male talent. Yet, NYCB does not need a roster full of explosive technicians. The NYCB rep demands partnering skills, solid technique and somtimes bravura skill. I'd love to see Corella in the NYCB rep, but I don't think some of the other ABT men would be so comfortable at NYCB. And I don't think Martins lost Stiefel-Stiefel's always been a wanderer and still is off dancing around the globe at every chance.

I prefer to look at the positive-and there's plenty to look foward to in coming seasons. Antonio Carmena has grown physically and technically this season, and Martins is giving Dan Ulbricht every opportunity to show off his talent(he's debuting in Tarantella next week). Ansanelli is great, and there are many appealing young women in the corps.

If I were to constant think of the negatives, it wouldn't be worth the effort to go to the ballet. Each performance to me is a chance to see the positives-more some nights than others. So, Mr. Gottlieb, lighten up and look for the good in life. NYCB will never be the NYCB of 10 or 20 years ago, and that's good in many ways. My generation is different from yours, and thus so is the ballets.
And things aren't so hunky-dory over at ABT.
Cheers!
Looking foward to NYCB this winter!
Kate

#3 Alexandra

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Posted 10 July 2002 - 09:31 PM

Thanks for stepping into the fray, sneds!

I didn't think Gottlieb was wanting things to be exactly like they were once upon a time; just insisting on the same quality. He was quite willing and able to recognize that when he saw it (the comments on Kowroski in Midsummer, for example).

I also think it's more than just a generational difference. I know people in their late 20s and early 30s who are just as exacting about dancers, and the way ballets are "supposed" to look as Gottlieb and other like-minded souls. I think it's more how long one has been watching, when one started, who one's seen, etc. (including on video and films). I know in my first few years -- well, decade! -- of ballet watching, I was constantly being told by someone with a good eye who'd been watching longer than I had, when I said I liked this or that dancer, or made a comment about a ballet, "Well, you never saw X in the role." It was frustrating, but I learned from it, and there are very few times that I'd now disagree.

Gottlieb has been watching NYCB since at least the early '50s, and perhaps since the Ballet Society days, and knows it very well, having once served on its board. I don't mean to suggest that one has to agree with every assessment he makes, but I don't think he can be dismissed, either.

I think sneds' point that if one constantly looks at the negatives, there's no point in going to the ballet is an interesting one, and one I'm very sympathetic too. I think one's attitude to that question may depend on whether one goes primarily to see the dancers, or the ballets. If you're addicted to ballets, you have to go, unless the standard sinks to such a level that it becomes totally unbearable, but you want to see the ballets well lit, and cleaned and dusted and loved. If you go primarily to see dancers, you'll probably always be happy and see the positive, because there is something admirable and enjoyable to watch about nearly everyone who dances at that level.

#4 Michael

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Posted 10 July 2002 - 10:55 PM

Gottlieb's article and observations are extraordinarily accurate. He bats about 90% in my view and that's a damn high average.

There is some history of bad blood personally between him and Martins. Gottlieb's departure from the NYCB Board was triggered by a defensive Peter Martins reaction to Arlene Croce's criticisms in the New Yorker of the Martins' regime (and of Heather Watts and Margaret Tracey in particular, if I remember correctly) when Gottlieb was an editor there or was editing Croce's books at his publishing house -- as Mr. Gottlieb himself recounted in his Vanity Fair piece on the company two or three years ago. "It's not the Croce article, Bob, but the fact that you agree with it," (my paraphrase, if I've got it straight). But even putting that into the scales, I still find him the most acute, the frankest, and the least bound by New York Artistic Politics/Sycophancy of the New York critics on the subject of this particularl company. Given the history, though, I do imagine I detect a particular Glee (an implicit "I told you so") on his part in delivering the verdict. And his language, his way of putting things, can be a little harsh and even unkind, as truth of all things can be most brutal.

#5 Calliope

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Posted 11 July 2002 - 04:41 AM

I agreed with him for the most part. The article goes a bit hand in hand with Joan Acella's piece from the New Yorker and the WSJ article as well.
I think there's a crash and burn mentality at City Ballet. Dancers are taken up through the ranks far too early and occasionally they get lucky with a Somogyi or a Weese, but the rest look underdeveloped.
As for the individual dancers, IMO, Borree isn't principal material. I've never seen someone with stage fright like her, you can visibly see her shaking from the back of the orchestra. And while that in itself doesn't make her a bad dancer, it sets a tone for the audience, who are just pulling for her to get through it.
Taylor, he hit the nail on the head, who is she. She's the steps and not much more, but she's also so young.
Same with Stafford.
I had to laugh at the Mr. & Mrs. Spratt comment regarding Soto and Whelan, but again agreed with him about Whelan's versatility and just how indespensable she's become. There was a time when I though she couldn't do Aurora and she changed my mind, that growth is tangible and you appreciate it.
Most of the dancers just seem cold to me and the ones with any fire (Rutherford, Edge, Walker, Jessy Hendrickson, Natanya) are fighting for roles and left on the back burner.
For me, I see the Diamond Project as one of the reasons. I think they're pushing new choreography styles on dancers that once they leave the school (SAB) seem to lose focus on any particular type of style. The fact that so many feel the need to go and take outside class or back at SAB is a fact often overlooked or dismissed.
I admit to not being a fan of Martins. I think he does things to appease as opposed to structuring. The exodus of male dancers is evident of that (and I won't even touch the nepotism subject).
For the first time in years, I found myself heading over to the other house to watch ABT this season far more. And it was fun!

#6 Alexandra

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Posted 11 July 2002 - 11:35 AM

Not to discourage others who agree with Mr. Gottlieb, but since Kate was so brave as to disagree -- and I'm sure there are others who are quite happy with the current generation of NYCB dancers -- please feel free to weigh in :)

#7 cargill

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Posted 11 July 2002 - 01:55 PM

I don't agree with everyone of Mr. Gottlieb's judgements, but I think it is obvious that there is something unusual going on in casting, and by extention, I expect, in coaching. Contanstly shoving young corps girls on in important roles and then putting them back in the corps, not developing soloists, leaving people in roles (Somogyi is by far the best person in Hypolita, but she is a principal for heaven's sake and has been dancing it for years), working a dancer until injury takes them out for a long period (as has happened to a number of dancers over the years). I know people, even some in the company, have said that the company does too many ballets, and I think that is part of the problem. If a ballet is danced 4 times a season, and two people dance the leads, that isn't much time to develop an interpretation or any depth.

I don't think pointing this out means someone should just stay home and not watch the ballet--for many people NYCB and Balanchine were so much more than just a pleasant hobby, and something that meant so much cannot just be shrugged off.

#8 KayDenmark

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Posted 12 July 2002 - 05:00 AM

It can be hard to let go of fixed concepts of what a ballet **should** be like - even though time, technique, and dancers have moved on.

But it can also be hard to let go of dancers we once loved. One of the strongest points in Gottlieb's piece, I believe, is his frank appraisal of the company's ageing icons.

Darci Kistler, unfortunately, lost much of her magic long ago. Kyra is lovely, but as Gottlieb points out, she relies more on her aura than her technique at this point. Jock Soto is such a wonderful dancer, and a wonderful person, that it is hard to see him like this. And besides "Circus Polka", what in the world is Robert LaFosse still doing in the company? (And how do I arrange for an equivalent paycheck for an equivalent amount of work?)

Very few dancers have the character strength to go out on top. Others will probably beg to differ, but my memories of Merrill Ashley involve her barely being able to keep up with the corps while dancing "Ballo della Regina" during her last season.

One of the first things Peter Martins had to do when taking over the company was fire one of Balanchine's ageing icons, Allegra Kent. I hope we do not have to wait for Martins' successor to clear out some of **his** the tenured toe shoes and give the younger dancers the onstage time they need to make roles their own.

#9 Calliope

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Posted 12 July 2002 - 05:37 AM

I think the most glaring problem,is as cargill points out, the coaching or lack of it.
By no means am I looking for the same type of dancers of the past, in fact I usually just shrug when the comparisons are made b/c I didn't see those dancers, but the fact that there really is no coaching being done, just steps being taught is quite evident. Sometimes I wonder if the "growth" I see from one performance to the next is just lucky (i.e. the dancer had a bad night Friday and was just better on Monday) And the rep is really too big. Few dancers have signature roles anymore.

#10 AmandaNYC

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Posted 13 July 2002 - 03:42 PM

I agree about the lack of coaching-- although, I too, didn't see the originals. Raw talent can only get you so far. There are few, like Whelan, who can work to develop themselves beyond the early roles types in which they are pigeon-holed. ... unless they have some guidance. The roles themselves can only do so much *teaching*. Seeing Janie Taylor in Who Cares? was a revelation for me, as I finally saw her enjoy herself and do more than rush through the steps. Doing more Balanchine ballets will only get her so far, if she isn't coached.

As someone who has been watching the company for 10+ years-- a corps generation's worth-- I am amazed at how LITTLE development I have seen in most dancers, other than in their technique. When I have seen changes, it seems more like they have gone from girls to women. That makes a difference, but not enough.

But, I take great exception to Gottlieb's comments about Ringer (oh, and sneds, she was in the same cohort as Meunier and Stiefel, the 1989 SAB year, although she was injured workshop time). I was at those same Who Cares? performances, and, as I have noted elsewhere, her perfs were among the highlights of the year for me. It's times like these that remind me that you can agree with a person on a whole lot, but you don't always *see* the same performance. I think when Ringer first returned to the company, as I think Leigh wrote or just said to me, RInger was in danger of being to cutesy, relying to much on her smile and sweetness. But, in the last year, I haven't seen that.

I do worry about the development of the newer girls. Korbes, as he wrote, is a real find, and she should have been cast as Titania this year, as she had last year. Bouder was not used so much this year. As amazing as I know she'll be in Tarantella, I worry that, Firebird aside, she'll be pigeon-holed in the jumping roles. Somogyi, thankfully, has not been, though it's about time she did T&V and Square Dance.

I can say a lot more, but it won't go anywhere. The thing i wonder about... is there anything any of us can do about it? Doesn't even seem like being on the Board makes a difference. Dropping ticket sales can be blamed on the economy. Critics can be dismissed as being stuck in the past or hell bent on hating Martins. Their audience research doesn't focus on such things.

So, what about us? Are we *doomed* to accepting things as they are. Savoring the great performances when they come and watching great potential often squandered?

-amanda

#11 Michael

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Posted 13 July 2002 - 05:10 PM

Amanda, I think you are spot on correct about Ringer in Who Cares -- it was a Great Performance -- and Taylor was wonderful in Who Cares also (as was Somogyi). And I think you're further correct that Gottlieb was most off the mark when it comes to his assessment of Jenny Ringer on the whole -- That's where his bias led him to exagerate.

And I also agree with you (and the article) that Carla Korbes should have been cast in Midsummer. In the final Dream I saw, Korbes had the part of Helena and Nichols was Titania -- and it was Korbes, with her big, sweeping, musical, impulsive, even hungry movement, who was the Ballerina on stage all night long. It was just so obvious.

And I think that the expression of opinions, even consensus, that emeges on this Board and in the hallways of the theater about critical issues does matter in the long run. It almost becomes metaphysical but not only that. I think that people read it (including some in the company) and notice. Look at what happened at ABT, for an example -- after the deluge of criticism re Pied Piper, etc., we got Dream and Fille this year.

#12 Nanatchka

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Posted 14 July 2002 - 05:56 AM

[QUOTE]Originally posted by Michael
[B]....Arlene Croce's criticisms in the New Yorker of the Martins' regime (and of Heather Watts and Margaret Tracey in particular, if I remember correctly) when Gottlieb was an editor there or was editing Croce's books at his publishing house

Bob Gottlieb was actually editor-in-chief of the New Yorker.

#13 Michael

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Posted 14 July 2002 - 08:21 AM

And after leaving the New Yorker, wasn't he then CEO or Editor in Chief of one of the major publshing houses (Knopf perhaps)?

Further question, did his leaving the New Yorker coincide with Conde Nast's purchase of the magazine?

#14 Nanatchka

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Posted 14 July 2002 - 09:46 AM

Mr. Gottlieb did not leave The New Yorker upon its purchase by Conde Nast. He arrived there from another outfit also owned at the time by the Newhouse family--Knopf, a division of Random House (the uber-publisher, not "little Random House," a subsidiary of big Random House, as is Knopf), at the behest of Sy Newhouse, head of Conde Nast. As for my admiring Mr. Gottlieb, it's true. I do. As far as I'm concerned, he could have edited Joe Heller's "Catch-22" and gone straight to heaven....

#15 Nanatchka

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Posted 14 July 2002 - 01:57 PM

[QUOTE]Originally posted by sneds
[B]Ok...I'll step into the arena :))
Well, I tend to think that Gottlieb, like some critics is somewhat stuck in the past and far too negative. We can't stop time-Balachine has been dead for nearly two decades, and his hand-picked dancers are retiring. Face it-things are going to change (as they always have) and we can't just constantly compare today to the past. ...
So, Mr. Gottlieb, lighten up and look for the good in life. NYCB will never be the NYCB of 10 or 20 years ago, and that's good in many ways. My generation is different from yours, and thus so is the ballets. {END QUOTE}


Every young generation feels its differentness in the same way, and one can only be delighted you are having such a good time at the ballet. Nonetheless, context is always helpful, and there is no better contextualizer --in particular vis a vis NYCB--writing today than Bob Gottlieb, is there? Now excuse me, dear, but why may we not compare today with the past? Particularly Robert Gottlieb, who was there? (As far as I am concerned, he is in a kind of continual aesthetic present. ) And why must we "lighten up?" Is it not the nature of criticism to be critical? We all start out as tabula rasa, and indeed seeing freshly each night is a fine accomplishment, hard as it becomes. Yet old correspondences assert themselves. How else can it be?


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