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How tall must a male dancer be?

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#1 Farrell Fan

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Posted 06 January 2002 - 04:43 PM

It's been interesting seeing the comments on Dan Ulbricht's recent performances in Mozartiana and Four Seasons at NYCB. I haven't seen him with the company yet, but I did attend the SAB Workshop where he danced up a storm. He is certainly a wonderful prospect and I look forward to his career.

But the other night another NYCB fan was telling me she was "tired of seeing short dancers" in the gigue of Mozartiana. After all, she said, the part was made on Victor Castelli. And even though Castelli didn't get to dance it till after Ib Andersen, he made an indelible impression. "I want to see someone tall in the part again," she said. Her remarks brought to mind Arlene Croce's scathing diatribe some years ago against Gen Horiuchi, whose extemely short stature Croce seemed to blame on Peter Martins. (In the years since, I've blamed Martins for almost everything myself.)It is true that when Horiuchi lifted a ballerina part of the effect was comic, but I've always thought the ferocity of Croce's attack was unwarranted. He was a great Faun in The Four Seasons, led the men in Stars and Stripes spectacularly, and was an interesting Oberon (the immediate cause of Croce's ire, as I recall.)

It's certainly true that physical attributes play a major part in determining whether someone will have a career in ballet. So how tall must a man be to dance?

#2 Mel Johnson

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Posted 06 January 2002 - 05:09 PM

How tall? You must be able to see him over the footlights, if any. But the farther a male dancer strays from average height, 5' 9" being average for an American, the better he has to be as a technician. In the 60s, when Balanchine went on his neo-mannerist kick, he loaded up NYCB with stretch versions of the classical ballerina, and had to find somebody to partner them. There were some awfully ungainly, huge men in the company as a result, and the company standard suffered from it. I can recall one poor fellow who came on stage, and the audience all went, "aaaaaahhhhh". Then he started to move, and the audience all went, "EEeeewwwww!"

#3 sneds


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Posted 06 January 2002 - 07:53 PM

Actually, Chris D'Amboise was the original dancer in the gigue and Ib Anderson was the original male principal. I remember seeing the pictures of D'Amboise in the book about the making of "Mozartiana", but I think that someone did get injured, so perhaps the role was done on Castelli, but D'AMboise danced the premeire. As I remember, D'Amboise was of average height (?).

I don't have a problem with a short dancer in the gigue-there's nothing else on stage to compare the dancer against. The dancer's body type probably matters more-a short, but lean dancer might not look much different from a taller, lean dancer. However, a shorter, stockier dancer like Ulbricht may not appeal to everyone's asthetic.

In my opinion, as long as the dancer's height does not interfere with his partnering or look out of place in comparision to the woman/other dancers, it doesn't matter. Technique and talent are more important-I'd rather see an excellent Ulbricht than a less wonderful "Mr 5ft10".


P.S. It's interesting to note that David Liu, one of Horiuchi's classmates at SAB who quit ballet after SAB because of his lack-of-height, has been moderately successful as a competitive skater competing in threee Olympics for Chinese Tapei.

#4 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 07 January 2002 - 12:04 AM

The part was choreographed on Castelli, but he was injured very close to the performance and d'Amboise danced the premiere.

I don't have an issue with a short dancer doing the gigue, but I do have an issue with an inelegant dancer doing the part. I think it's been turned into a "rustic" part and that's not what I think the intent was. Balanchine used two elegant, reedy dancers (Castelli and Andersen) in the male leads and there was more balance than there is in present casts. Right now, the person I'd like to see get the role back (again) is Alexander Ritter. I think that might restore some balance.

#5 Miss



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Posted 07 January 2002 - 07:00 AM

Ok, so how tall is to tall?

My not quite 14 year old son is already 5 foot 10. He did seem to mature (physically) early in many way. He lives for ballet, but how tall is too tall to expect to dance professionally?

Thanks, Miss

#6 Mel Johnson

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Posted 07 January 2002 - 07:27 AM

There really isn't an upper limit on men's height for dancing, when that alone is used as a criterion. When a man can't handle all that body, and remain in classical technique, then that's a problem. Our own Michael Bjerknes was a great example of a long, long (would have to stand in a hole to play Abraham Lincoln) dancer, who was in complete command of his art, and never made you think, "Gee, that guy is tall!" while he was dancing. You just enjoyed the dancing.

#7 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 07 January 2002 - 08:55 AM

To give more specific examples, the tallest male ballet dancers I've heard of are 6'5", and within the corps de ballet, I usually have not seen men taller than 6'3". As Mel mentions, the farther you stray from the norm (although frankly, for men in ballet, I would not put it at 5'9", but at 5'11" to 6'0" - the comfortable height to partner a woman 5'5" or 5'6") the better your technique must be since you will have a more difficult time fitting into the corps de ballet.

#8 Jane Simpson

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Posted 07 January 2002 - 11:13 AM

Wayne Sleep was 5' 2", which must surely be the lowest limit - and then only for someone altogether exceptional.

However the appearance of the extremely tiny Alina Cojocaru must be raising the career hopes of a lot of our shorter men!

#9 dirac


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Posted 07 January 2002 - 01:42 PM

In Croce's defense, her main complaint was not only Horiuchi's height per se as his height combined with his shape -- she was bothered by what she saw as a lack of a good line, which deprived his movements of impact. I don't know that she was actually "scathing" (although I do recall a reference to Mighty Mouse), but she was, well, forthright.

#10 BW


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Posted 22 September 2003 - 03:06 PM

There has been of late, a number of posts about the companies that hire "tall" women ballet dancers... as well as the almost ad nauseum newspaper coverage of Ms. Anastasia V formerly of Bolshoi fame - in some small part supposedly due to her height. :rolleyes:

I just figured since this forum is a bit slow that I'd revive this thread for some of the newcomers, or even the not so newcomers to comment upon, if they're so moved.

I love to watch a tall male dancer on stage - is he not usually cast as "the danseur noble"? Is it type casting to suggest this...just as it might be type casting for a shorter male dancer to be cast as solely a spritely, puckish fellow or a jester?

Just as certain companies tend towards certain female heights due to their corps is there this same correlation within the male corps of various ballet companies - or is it less so because they rarely have to perform en masse as, for example, the "shades" or the "swans", etc.?

#11 Victoria Leigh

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Posted 22 September 2003 - 03:28 PM

I think the height of the male dancers is much less uniform, BW, even in a classical company. In the large companies that can do the classics there are enough male dancers to be able to allow more variation in the height, since, as you said, they rarely work in a large group. Naturally they need enough tall ones to partner the female dancers though!

#12 atm711


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Posted 22 September 2003 - 03:48 PM

I don't have an issue with a short dancer doing the gigue, but I do have an issue with an inelegant dancer doing the part.  I think it's been turned into a "rustic" part and that's not what I think the intent was.

Leigh, in the version I saw with the Ballet Russe in the mid 40's, the Gigue was danced by StanleyZompakos. He wore a colorful costume (red with touches of yellow) and he was more muscular than Castelli or Andersen. I can remember being taken aback the first time I saw the current version.

#13 Hans


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Posted 22 September 2003 - 04:51 PM

I will second what Mel wrote about "the further one strays from the average height, the better a technician he must be" (paraphrase). I'm the same height as Baryshnikov, but I haven't received any phone calls from ABT yet :shrug: :thumbsup: :wink:

Seriously though, unless one is a star or otherwise necessary to the company in some way, one pretty much needs to be able to partner a range of heights, and tall men can do that more easily than short men. Of course, there are the odd times when one is paired with a taller woman, but the result isn't usually pleasant for anyone :dry:

#14 Paul Parish

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Posted 22 September 2003 - 08:51 PM

re Horiuchi -- there was another issue -- he was not very musical. I saw NYCB twice during their run in Berkeley in hte late 80's; in 3rd movement of Symphony in C, one night there was Peter Boal, the other cast was Gen Horiuchi -- I may have dreamt this, it was so long ago --but I remember feeling that Horiuchi was bounding all over the stage in a fascinating way but it wasn't ballet, and it wasn't THE ballet...... Boal had BEEN the ballet.... (can't remember who the ladies were).

I'm sure there are roles suited to Horiuchi, and I'd bet Balanchine could have made some for him we'd have all loved.... Is he still dancing?

#15 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 22 September 2003 - 09:27 PM

I think he's co-artistic director of St. Louis Ballet.

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