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drb

Care and Feeding of ABT's Dancers

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Yet another quotation, from Frederick Ashton. I don't know if it directly relates but it's a good sentiment:

"If you want to keep a company happy, you can't always look after the talented dancers, the ones with gifts—you have to look after people who've been loyal, who've been useful, who happen to be good partners, good mimes—they all have to be considered, they must also be treated decently, and if you do that I think you can hold a company. It's when you start abusing them and only looking after the talented ones that a company falls to pieces."

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Yet another quotation, from Frederick Ashton. I don't know if it directly relates but it's a good sentiment:

"If you want to keep a company happy, you can't always look after the talented dancers, the ones with gifts—you have to look after people who've been loyal, who've been useful, who happen to be good partners, good mimes—they all have to be considered, they must also be treated decently, and if you do that I think you can hold a company. It's when you start abusing them and only looking after the talented ones that a company falls to pieces."

It's a good quote and I think it applies to all ballet companies, but then again you could apply it to any sort of business or sports team.

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I think the ABT's ability to expand its repertoire stems from the fact that, rightly or wrongly, the NYCB has always been viewed as the "innovative" company with new works, modern works, and more neoclassical dancers. Thus the ABT has obviously fed the public's craving for traditional classical ballets. Many balletomanes perhaps think, "Why see Balanchine at the ABT when I can see it at the NYCB?" It's like a niche neither company can get out of completely, despite efforts from Peter Martins to stage the Petipa works and McKenzie's occasional attempts to bring in new ballets and choreographers.

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...The devil's in the details: my problems are more with his casting and promotions than with his big picture strategy.

So true! Let's compare what goes on in terms of who gets to play what level of role, ABT vs. (slightly larger) NYCB.

Principals: ABT 18, NYCB 23

Soloists: ABT 10, NYCB 20

It would seem there is more hope for promotion at NYCB.

Because of ABT's preference for evening-length ballets, there tend to be more Principal and Soloist roles available on a given night at NYCB. So I picked from this season's pile at random (honest!) two ABT (it turned out to be a Corsaire and a Swan) programs and one NYCB program and counted who played what Principal and Soloist roles. (27 at ABT, 24 at NYCB).

33% of roles considered Principal* at ABT were danced by soloists.

50% of roles considered Principal at NYCB were danced by soloists or corps members.

50% of roles considered Soloist** at ABT were danced by members of the corps.

75% of roles considered Soloist at NYCB were danced by members of the corps.

If you don't get to dance up a level, how do you get promoted?

Now how much of this is due to Balanchine's (NYCB's) policy of casting based on who would interest Balanchine (the AD) in a role, regardless of rank, and how much is due to what ABT might well consider the greater risk in casting a role that runs through a full evening (although most soloist roles don't) is something to consider. Still, it would seem there is less chance to get upward-mobile roles at ABT. I'd bet that more mixed Met bills would help some, but at Met prices there'd better be more than just one that you really want to see...

*As defined by Biggest Type in the program.

**For ABT I did not count as soloist a role which had literally no solo dancing, a queen, for instance. And, had the Cygnets, who have hard, but very short and indistinguishable (hopefully) parts, been counted the percentage would have moved up to 55%.

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That's interesting, drb, and thanks for the analysis. But in terms how few promotions there are, and how few dancers get the opportunity to really blossom, I think the problem lies elsewhere. I've been musing over the fact, as someone pointed out earlier in this thread, that there is virtually nowhere for dancers to go up at ABT. There is a plethora of talented dancers eager to burst out of the corps (and an eager BT audience that can't wait to see them do so), but with a turnover of perhaps one principal dancer per year, there are so few opportunities to advance that it's inevitable talented people will languish. And here on BT, people have been discussing the fact that their favorite principals don't get to dance often enough, either! I don't know what the answer is -- in order to give more dancers an opportunity to dance and grow, I think the we would need a more extended season, or more ballet companies... all ultimately depending, I guess, on more audiences. What a shame more people don't appreciate ballet!

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There is a plethora of talented dancers eager to burst out of the corps (and an eager BT audience that can't wait to see them do so), but with a turnover of perhaps one principal dancer per year, there are so few opportunities to advance that it's inevitable talented people will languish. And here on BT, people have been discussing the fact that their favorite principals don't get to dance often enough, either!

Perhaps ABT could create a touring company. There would be additional opportunities for dancers to dance, and more people outside of NYC could see them perform.

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An interesting idea, Cliff. Why did the Royal Ballet fold its touring company into the main company in 1970? Was that an artistic or a financial decision?

One new principal dancer a year... indeed, it's not even that many most of the time. Which is why the promotion to principal dancer is so crucial, and discussion of it or even griping about it isn't surprising on the board. If someone doesn't live up to their potential, we're still stuck with them for the next 10 to 20 years, and wondering what might have been with someone else. It's a huge responsibility, for the AD and for the dancer.

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Given it's brand name, a pared-down ABT touring company would probably find a real demand in mid-sized cities (similar to the way the Kirov has regular gigs in a number of larger European and US cities). There are plenty of more-or-less 2000-seat houses that would be perfrect for something like that.

The touring Russians (Perm, Moscow) fill seats on the basis of brand names like "Swan Lake." I would think that "American Ballet Theater" would have quite good name recognition on its own.

I'm not talking about a minimal company made up of beginners and apprentices. Instead, how about one or two rising stars, a mixed rep similar to the City Center season (to keep down costs), possibly including something classical and bravura to satisfy the tastes of that crowd. It would provide additional (and marvellous) stage experience and exposure for the under-utilized dancers, and it would certainly spread the ABT name at a time when they are hoping to go "national" anyway. Think of all the new demand for ABT videos should they choose to take the POB route in that department.

Why not? :)

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Seems it coud play all those "Stars of..." and "& Friends" venues. We'd be delighted to see them in Hartford, having no company of our own any more (and would have been delighted even when we had a company!).

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It's such a good idea, that I have to wonder why they haven't done it! What's the downside? Would it be a financial drain? How sure could they be of selling tickets in medium-sized cities? Do ballet companies generally make money on tours? ABT rarely sells out the Metropolitan Opera house -- what about when they're in Chicago, LA, or Washington?

Also, I was thinking about the turnover at the principal level, the fact that we're "stuck" with them for 10 or 20 years once they're promoted. Is that indeed generally the rule? Are principals never let go, and if not, why not? Should they be? I would appreciate hearing people's thoughts on this, to help clarify my own thinking.

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Well, despite the fact that I was the one to invoke the "stuck" terminology, I also feel strongly that dancers should not be viewed as disposable commodities. Even if they are not my favorites, they have spent a whole life of sacrifice to work their way up to principal level. They serve as living tradition for the younger dancers (there is a lot of discussion about the firing/exodus of a generation of Kirov dancers in the 90s and the legacy of that today). It would be bad for morale if everyone were looking over their shoulders. What if decisions were made politically, rather than artistically? (I'm not so naive as to believe ABT has no company politics, but still.)

If performance quality slips, obviously the administration has to deal with it somehow. But I think that often comes through casting decisions—you appear less and less, until you're out, you fix it, or you quit in disgust.

At tonight's R&J performance I overheard a complaint that Freddie Franklin got an ovation simply for walking onstage. It was said to be an insider thing the audience wouldn't understand, and that isn't justified by his performance. I say, for the living legend treading the boards after age ninety, applause is warranted. Plus, his importance is conveyed to those not in the know by the gesture. I've always gotten a lot out of his appearances even though my parents weren't alive when he began his dancing career.

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In a post-performance Q&A, in response to a question about upcoming promotions, Peter Boal spoke about how while, if there's the money, there is room in the soloist ranks -- there were only five last year at PNB -- there is little room in the Principal ranks, because Principals don't leave/retire very often. Patricia Barker has announced her retirement after next season, although that's based on her personal choice, as her dancing has even gotten better over the last two years. But as far as I can tell, there are no equivalent arguments for and against retirement that I read about Kistler and Nichols in the NYCB threads or that I've read about ABT dancers in the past, or Principals being miscast in roles that are beyond their current abilities, which are pretty awesome.

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In a post-performance Q&A, in response to a question about upcoming promotions, Peter Boal spoke about how while, if there's the money, there is room in the soloist ranks -- there were only five last year at PNB

ABT had 10 soloists this season and is now down to 9...do we think it likely someone will soon be promoted? I know that there are strict rules here (rightly so!) regarding the posting of only confirmed information, but I am just asking opinions, so hopefully this is an ok question to ask (with the understanding that all responses are purely the opinions of the writers, and not meant to be taken as more than such).

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ABT had 10 soloists this season and is now down to 9...do we think it likely someone will soon be promoted?

What a delightful question to speculate on! Well, delightful and depressing, too.

In my best-case dream scenario, Veronika Part will be promoted to principal very very soon, leaving not one, but two soloist openings. I would vote for Misty Copeland and Sarah Lane. But, and here's the sad part, where does that leave Melanie Hamrick, Renata Pavam, Zhong-jing Fang, Kristi Boone, and [fill in your favorite here]? They will wait for 3 years until there's another opening at the soloist level, and by then there will be more competition, and perhaps some new young sensation coming in to take their hoped-for, and well-deserved, soloist slot. What a shame there's not more room for everyone.

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In my best-case dream scenario, Veronika Part will be promoted to principal very very soon, leaving not one, but two soloist openings.

Mine as well! I hope it happens. I quite enjoyed her as Lady Capulet tonight, but I want to see her get more opportunities to dance!

I don't think I've spent so much time watching Lady Capulet since I saw Margot Fonteyn do it in the 80s :)

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A year ago there were 13 soloists at ABT. So maybe there isn't some set in stone ceiling. There certainly isn't a set number for NYCB, they added nine in March!

Interesting that in this supposedly danseur-oriented company none of the suggested promotions (which I endorse!) are men. Obviously recent competitions have had some remarkable male performances. Remember that kid Bocca that Baryshnikov found? Major prize-winners aren't coming in as corpsmen.

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A year ago there were 13 soloists at ABT. So maybe there isn't some set in stone ceiling. There certainly isn't a set number for NYCB, they added nine in March!

Interesting that in this supposedly danseur-oriented company none of the suggested promotions (which I endorse!) are men. Obviously recent competitions have had some remarkable male performances. Remember that kid Bocca that Baryshnikov found? Major prize-winners aren't coming in as corpsmen.

Hallberg came up through the ranks--quite quickly and recently in fact, so some caveat to your last statement is in order :)

I don't know, there seems to be some considerable talent in the lower ranks and some of them have been dancing quite a bit. In fact, given the amount that hallberg is already being used as a principal, maybe another male promotion is in order.

On the other hand, of the 4 male soloists, I feel like I only see two (Radetsky and Saveliev) often. Both were quite good tonight. Maybe it is down to my luck of the draw, but does Carlos Lopez dance often? I think I've seen him once, and Pastor only a bit more....

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There certainly isn't a set number for NYCB, they added nine in March!

...

Remember that kid Bocca that Baryshnikov found? Major prize-winners aren't coming in as corpsmen.

And then Bocca found Cornejo... I guess it's too early to expect Herman to replace himself, but we will be very fortunate if one day he can bring us someone to carry on the tradition! But re male dancers and prize-winners, didn't I read in the New York Times that Studio Company member Brooklyn Mack won a prize at the Jackson competition?

Re NYCB, they added NINE soloists in March? Wow! How did they have that many openings? They can't do that every year... can they? I guess I should check in, once in awhile, at happenings across the plaza.

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To be precise, the nine were all promotions from the corps. Three years ago, Balanchine's centennial, nine was the total number of soloists, and now it is 20. I just don't think either company has fixed limits for each rank. More a matter of talent and budget.

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Perhaps it is because Lopez and Pastor are on the shorter side (I think?), and thus in direct competition for roles with Cornejo. Carlos Lopez did a vivid Benno to David Hallberg's Siegfried the other week. I thought they established a very realistic male friendship—since Hallberg was more introspective, Lopez served as his sociable face, or mediator, whose opinion was also valued. It wasn't just that meaningless backslapping you often see. What I recall as Pastor's signature role is Birbanto, where he is deliciously slimy.

Interesting thought about another male promotion. Despite the talent level of so many, I feel the only dancer who is mature enough for it at the moment is Radetsky. He certainly staked a claim with Petrouchka, which I felt was the best interpretation at ABT, bar none. But of course they may bring in outside talent, as which has the potential to be exciting, even though I am rooting for the home team.

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I started looking through my old programs. One thing I notice is that the 2004–2006 programs use some of the same designs, so no easy sorting. The principal roster has changed quite a bit since Susan Jaffe's farewell performance in 2002. A generational shift indeed. When you break it down, there seems to be a clear policy of promoting from within.

2002 v. 2006

Gone: Bocca, Graffin, Hill, Jaffe, McKerrow, Tuttle

Appearing less or intermittently: Acosta, Ananiashvili, Malakhov, Ferri

New: Cornejo*, Gomes*, Hallberg**, Murphy*, Reyes*, Vishneva, Wiles*

At the soloist level:

Gone: E. Brown, S. Brown, Chen, de Luz, Molina

Haven't moved: Abrera, Liceica

New: C. Corella**, E. Cornejo**, Lopez**, Part, Pastor, Radetsky**, Riccetto**, Saveliev**

*soloist in 2002

**corps de ballet in 2002

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I started looking through my old programs. One thing I notice is that the 2004–2006 programs use some of the same designs, so no easy sorting. The principal roster has changed quite a bit since Susan Jaffe's farewell performance in 2002. A generational shift indeed. When you break it down, there seems to be a clear policy of promoting from within.

2002 v. 2006

Gone: Bocca, Graffin, Hill, Jaffe, McKerrow, Tuttle

Appearing less or intermittently: Acosta, Ananiashvili, Malakhov, Ferri

New: Cornejo*, Gomes*, Hallberg**, Murphy*, Reyes*, Vishneva, Wiles*

At the soloist level:

Gone: E. Brown, S. Brown, Chen, de Luz, Molina

Haven't moved: Abrera, Liceica

New: C. Corella**, E. Cornejo**, Lopez**, Part, Pastor, Radetsky**, Riccetto**, Saveliev**

*soloist in 2002

**corps de ballet in 2002

How interesting! thanks for doing that.

Regarding the principles who are "appearing less or intermittently", I don't think Acosta ever performed much more with the company than he does these days--He's always seemed very much the 'guest artist' despite being listed as a member of the company proper.

Also, maybe add Stiefel to the list? I know it is due to injury, but he's been out all season (right? if not, than almost all season) and it seems like this a chronic issue with him...

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