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With a Chance of Rain

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A brief defense of Misty Copeland and the Liam Scarlett piece: My understanding is that Copeland and James Whiteside performed the choreography as Scarlett envisioned it. There was a vociferously negative reaction to the choreography and, for subsequent performances, Scarlett changed it.

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A brief defense of Misty Copeland and the Liam Scarlett piece: My understanding is that Copeland and James Whiteside performed the choreography as Scarlett envisioned it. There was a vociferously negative reaction to the choreography and, for subsequent performances, Scarlett changed it.

That is not what happened. I saw the piece 4 times, first by Copeland and Whiteside at the beginning of the run, then by Lane and Forster, then by each cast at the end of the run. It is possible that Copeland/Whiteside toned it down a bit after the first performance but, if so it was a very small adjustment. The did the boob jiggle and twerking at both performances. Lane & Forster did a much more tasteful interpretation at both of their performances. I have no doubt that C&W did the choreography as Scarlett envisioned it, but it was created on them, so they had input and were obviously comfortable with it.

By the way, I am a big fan of Misty's, I just think she made a bad choice here.

On the other hand, I am not a fan of Kochetkova and I hope that McKenzie does not hire her as a regular company member. I think she is excellent in contemporary rep but that is not what ABT's does. In the classical rep I find her her way too sharp and angular. She may be Russian but she doesn't dance with Russian style (I feel the same way about Semionova, but to a lesser extent). I am hoping (praying) that Cornejo finds an instant rapport with Obraztsova and that we get to see her here much more often. Her Juliet is heavenly and her Kitri both a technical marvel and a total charmer. What I would give to see her Giselle & Aurora here on a regular basis!

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Thank you for clarifying, nysusan. At the end of the day, though, it was Scarlett's piece -- not Misty's (or Whiteside's). It was Scarlett's responsibility to maintain control over the piece after the debut by harmonizing the performances across casts. (Probably a moot point as I doubt the piece is going to stay in repertory very long.)

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By the way, I am a big fan of Misty's, I just think she made a bad choice here.

OMG!!! Two dancers defied the critics and did the steps the way the choreographer wanted them done! They just don't make artistic integrity like they used to.

If Copeland made a bad choice, so did Whiteside -- not to mention Gomes, who set up the punchline.

In the end the responsibility is entirely Scarlett's. And he doesn't know how to tell a joke: the skit came too early in the work to have the context that might have made it intelligible.

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By the way, I am a big fan of Misty's, I just think she made a bad choice here.

OMG!!! Two dancers defied the critics and did the steps the way the choreographer wanted them done! They just don't make artistic integrity like they used to.

If Copeland made a bad choice, so did Whiteside -- not to mention Gomes, who set up the punchline.

Integrity is being true to one’s own values even when a boss’s values conflict, isn’t it? If Lane and Forster were allowed to dance it differently, Copeland and Whiteside could have as well.Scarlett's about their age too, or even younger, which would make it easier to assert themselves.

It’s not surprising that a pop dance move creeps into a ballet, and obviously there is a long history of the high using the low, but one thing I love about going to the ballet is that I don’t see that sort of crude sexual display. That’s a refreshing break from a lot of pop culture. Balanchine can be erotic, or playfully sexy, without being base. That 's refreshing too.

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Integrity is being true to one’s own values even when a boss’s values conflict, isn’t it? If Lane and Forster were allowed to dance it differently, Copeland and Whiteside could have as well.Scarlett's about their age too, or even younger, which would make it easier to assert themselves.

Alternatively, Lane and Forster might have elected not to dance in the work at all rather than change it. Do we know that Scarlett authorized the changes?

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Since Lane/Forster did the work more than once Scarlett must have known what they were doing. Being unwilling to dance in a piece is not much of a threat at ABT. I'm sure there were understudies who would have loved to get on stage.

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I saw a photo on Twitter of a smiling Scarlett hugging Lane and Forster after their performance so clearly he was pleased.

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We are all assuming (I think) that Misty and Whiteside were Scarlett's first choice in casting. Not necessarily so. I remember in La Danse, Brigitte Lefevre laying down very exacting rules to a young choreographer about who he could or could not use in his piece. And though he liked to watch and see how dancers respond to his movement and then choose, Brigitte said no.

Scarlett is young and does not have the clout of someone like Ratmansky. We know KM is pushing Misty and I think it's possible Scarlett was told he had to use her. I've seen a few pieces by Scarlett for NYCB (and read of others for the RB). I've heard him accused of being dark but never vulgar. And having just been to London recently, with its restrained good manners, I somehow doubt breast jiggling and twerking were what Scarlett wanted. Somehow, I think he was probably not pleased with how Misty danced it, could not stop her, but made very sure the other cast did it right.

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And having just been to London recently, with its restrained good manners, I somehow doubt breast jiggling and twerking were what Scarlett wanted. Somehow, I think he was probably not pleased with how Misty danced it, could not stop her, but made very sure the other cast did it right.

That's an odd assumption to make. Many choreographers make changes after the debuts because they realized some effects didn't work out as planned. It's not unusual at all to see changes in the second and third performances. We don't know who Scarlett's first picks were, and whether he was happy with the performance from Copeland and Whiteside.

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By the way, I am a big fan of Misty's, I just think she made a bad choice here.

OMG!!! Two dancers defied the critics and did the steps the way the choreographer wanted them done! They just don't make artistic integrity like they used to.

If Copeland made a bad choice, so did Whiteside -- not to mention Gomes, who set up the punchline.

Integrity is being true to one’s own values even when a boss’s values conflict, isn’t it? If Lane and Forster were allowed to dance it differently, Copeland and Whiteside could have as well.Scarlett's about their age too, or even younger, which would make it easier to assert themselves.

Alternatively, Lane and Forster might have elected not to dance in the work at all rather than change it. Do we know that Scarlett authorized the changes?

Since Lane/Forster did the work more than once Scarlett must have known what they were doing. Being unwilling to dance in a piece is not much of a threat at ABT. I'm sure there were understudies who would have loved to get on stage.

I think I didn't express myself clearly. I'm not for a moment suggesting that Lane or Forster threatened to walk off the stage if the steps weren't changed to their liking. I was responding to kfw's implication that it was appropriate for them to change the steps to "be true to their values," and that this was a form of artistic integrity. I offered an alternative to changing the steps: opting not to perform the work at all.

In any event, I think it's neither fair nor particularly useful to make judgements about a dancer's character or to attempt to divine their moral compass based on the steps they have been given to do.

By the way, I find the idea that Copeland somehow strong-armed Scarlett into a vulgarity he would have otherwise eschewed far-fetched. Funérailles, his recent duet for NYCB, was a cheerfully vulgar as the cover of a Harlequin bodice-ripper, and the grappling duets in Acheron are hardly models of elegant restraint. Yes, the boob shaking and pelvis pumping in "With a Chance of Rain" looked repulsive; I'm pretty sure it was meant to. I harbor no suspicions that Scarlett wants to add twerking to ballet's vocabulary.

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In any event, I think it's neither fair nor particularly useful to make judgements about a dancer's character or to attempt to divine their moral compass based on the steps they have been given to do.

This is what I have basically been trying to say.

Anyhow, twerking is a form of movement, even if most people in this community think it is in bad taste. I am not personally offended by it, but I'm also under 30. dry.png Scarlett is just following in the tradition of the many other contemporary choreographers (Petit, Van Manen, Preljocaj, etc) who have pushed boundaries and buttons.

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Funérailles, his recent duet for NYCB, was a cheerfully vulgar as the cover of a Harlequin bodice-ripper, and the grappling duets in Acheron are hardly models of elegant restraint. Yes, the boob shaking and pelvis pumping in "With a Chance of Rain" looked repulsive; I'm pretty sure it was meant to. I harbor no suspicions that Scarlett wants to add twerking to ballet's vocabulary.

I guess I disagree. I found Funerailles to be a little over the top emotionally but it was hardly vulgar. It was an intense dance drama in the same vein as Manon or Mayerling, IMO. Looking over the comments from NYCB's fall season I see that Drew also found that it " looked like an outake from some unknown Macmillan ballet". That sound about right to me.

Neither did I find anything sexually suggestive or vulgar about Acheron. Creating a new dance, depending on the choreographer, can be a collaborative idea. If it was Scarlett's idea to twerk, he certainly didn't feel strong enough about it to make Sarah twerk. And both casts continued to perform the piece differently, since I saw the last show where Misty danced the piece (and twerked). Certainly, the ultimate responsibity for the work lies with Scarlett but working with 2 such different casts hopefully made him a smarter choreographer.

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Choreographers make different versions for different dancers, especially when a dancer isn't convincing, looks awkward, is having technical difficulty, etc.

Lefevre didn't forbid the young choreographer, who may have been Gat, from using any of the dancers: she said if he was going to use etoiles, he'd better make choreography befitting their rank and talent. While he was clearly cowed, I doubt Scarlett, who is one of ballet's most sought after choreographers, would have been, although imagining McKenzie giving that speech is a stretch of the imagination. More likely, casting was based on practicalities.

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I guess I disagree. I found Funerailles to be a little over the top emotionally but it was hardly vulgar. It was an intense dance drama in the same vein as Manon or Mayerling, IMO. Looking over the comments from NYCB's fall season I see that Drew also found that it " looked like an outake from some unknown Macmillan ballet". That sound about right to me.

And you don't find MacMillan vulgar at times? For instance I think Manon has some of the most vulgar choreography I've ever witnessed. Just because it's done in fancy wigs and period dress doesn't mean it's not vulgar.

And anyway, I'm also not sure what Scarlett being British has to do with him choreographing a piece for Misty/Whiteside that might have involved some more, uh, modern ballet vocabulary.

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Whiteside and Copeland chose to dance the steps, but character and integrity and moral compass are determined many choices, and who can’t be legitimately criticized for making some wrong ones? Is one bad choice determinative? How much do a few seconds of vulgarity really tell us? There is some jumping to conclusions going on here, and not be me. smile.png Also, do we have to dislike everyone we criticize? I don’t dislike Copeland, which is why I’ve said a number of positive things about her. And while I question her story, I’ve also said she may well believe it.

On the other hand, I don’t think something can be excused just because it pushes boundaries and buttons. As for Archeron, I saw it twice and didn’t like it, but don’t remember any part of it being suggestive.

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Funérailles, his recent duet for NYCB, was a cheerfully vulgar as the cover of a Harlequin bodice-ripper, and the grappling duets in Acheron are hardly models of elegant restraint. Yes, the boob shaking and pelvis pumping in "With a Chance of Rain" looked repulsive; I'm pretty sure it was meant to. I harbor no suspicions that Scarlett wants to add twerking to ballet's vocabulary.

I guess I disagree. I found Funerailles to be a little over the top emotionally but it was hardly vulgar. It was an intense dance drama in the same vein as Manon or Mayerling, IMO. Looking over the comments from NYCB's fall season I see that Drew also found that it " looked like an outake from some unknown Macmillan ballet". That sound about right to me.

Neither did I find anything sexually suggestive or vulgar about Acheron. Creating a new dance, depending on the choreographer, can be a collaborative idea. If it was Scarlett's idea to twerk, he certainly didn't feel strong enough about it to make Sarah twerk. And both casts continued to perform the piece differently, since I saw the last show where Misty danced the piece (and twerked). Certainly, the ultimate responsibity for the work lies with Scarlett but working with 2 such different casts hopefully made him a smarter choreographer.

Just to be clear: I got no beef with vulgarity or sexual suggestiveness in ballet. If the pas de deux in Agon isn't sexually suggestive, then I guess I don't know what the term means. [ETA: I found Acheron to sexually suggestive in the ways that both Balanchine and MacMillan can be; as far as I'm concerned, it's a feature, not a bug.] If I've got any complaint about Scarlett's pas de deux, it's that he robs his ballerinas of one of their primary means of expression: their feet. My only objection to the boob-jiggling and (alleged) twerking in "With a Chance of Rain" is that Scarlett didn't have complete control over their effect as theatrical gestures. They were obviously there to tell us something about a relationship, but were presented to us before we had sufficient context to make sense of them.

Re MacMillan: Vulgarity is in the eye of the beholder. Jennifer Homans can only utter the words "ballet" and "MacMillan" in the same sentence through clenched teeth. Her palpable disgust with his sexual frankness would be amusing if she weren't also impugning his character with every bomb she hurls at his style.* The chapter in Apollo's Angels covering British ballet in the 20th century is essentially a morality play in which the shining, classical, Apollonian father Ashton is assassinated by his dark, nihilistic, Dionysiac son, MacMillan. I can't take Homans seriously as a critic (or a historian) precisely because she plays with morally loaded dice, but others do admire her work.

*It's OT, but here a sample from Apollo's Angels: "MacMillan knew only one way forward: down into the depths of his own damaged personality and dark obsessions." (p. 443) If anything, she's even crueler to MacMillan's muse, Lynn Seymour: "Her autobiography shows a woman plagued by crippling depressions and wild mood swings, and indeed the ongoing drama of her own inner life was a primary source and subject of her art. ... Where Fonteyn demonstrated the discipline and the resilience of classical form, Seymour showed its disintegration into frank expressions of sexual desire and despair." Homan's vocabulary in this chapter is so loaded it's almost unreadable.

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As for Archeron, I saw it twice and didn’t like it, but don’t remember any part of it being suggestive.

That's because of Mark Stanley's lighting, or, rather, darking. wink1.gif It all got lost in the shadows. I liked it, but would like it even better if we could actually see it.

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That's because of Mark Stanley's lighting, or, rather, darking. wink1.gif

Ha! love it. Lot of that darking about in ballets these days.

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I guess I disagree. I found Funerailles to be a little over the top emotionally but it was hardly vulgar. It was an intense dance drama in the same vein as Manon or Mayerling, IMO. Looking over the comments from NYCB's fall season I see that Drew also found that it " looked like an outake from some unknown Macmillan ballet". That sound about right to me.

And you don't find MacMillan vulgar at times? For instance I think Manon has some of the most vulgar choreography I've ever witnessed. Just because it's done in fancy wigs and period dress doesn't mean it's not vulgar.

And anyway, I'm also not sure what Scarlett being British has to do with him choreographing a piece for Misty/Whiteside that might have involved some more, uh, modern ballet vocabulary.

Agreed--I mean simulating a forced blow job/rape on stage is way less offensive than twerking icon8.gif

Unless we have any evidence to the contrary can we let the dancers off the hook for bad choreographic choices?

I know someone else will again say "yes yes but other dancers didn't do it!" but unless we were in the rehearsal studios constantly we don't know why that discrepancy was allowed and the idea that the decision to do the but shake/boob grab originated with the dancers (or dancer--blame has seemed to fall on one again) seems the least likely option.

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Unless we have any evidence to the contrary can we let the dancers off the hook for bad choreographic choices?

I know someone else will again say "yes yes but other dancers didn't do it!" but unless we were in the rehearsal studios constantly we don't know why that discrepancy was allowed and the idea that the decision to do the but shake/boob grab originated with the dancers (or dancer--blame has seemed to fall on one again) seems the least likely option.

The choreographer obviously bears the chief responsibility for the steps, and it's true we don't know what went down in the studio. But we do know, as the different versions of the passage demonstrate, that we all have free choice.

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Unless we have any evidence to the contrary can we let the dancers off the hook for bad choreographic choices?

I know someone else will again say "yes yes but other dancers didn't do it!" but unless we were in the rehearsal studios constantly we don't know why that discrepancy was allowed and the idea that the decision to do the but shake/boob grab originated with the dancers (or dancer--blame has seemed to fall on one again) seems the least likely option.

The choreographer obviously bears the chief responsibility for the steps, and it's true we don't know what went down in the studio. But we do know, as the different versions of the passage demonstrate, that we all have free choice.

This is the speculation part.

It could be that while we may not have liked how it looked on the first cast, this is what the choreographer envisioned.

On the second cast, try as they might, their different movement styles/physicality made it look just not right--they couldn't get it, so he said "ok let's rethink this, you are going to do X instead"

It wasn't their choice, it was their inability to do it as he requested it.

Is that what happened? I have no idea. But it is just as likely as them going "I'm not doing that on stage! I refuse to shake my ass"

Ballet dancers generally do what they are told. It is what their entire training is about: Following the direction of the teacher/choreographer.

I have no idea what happened. Honestly I don't care. I just don't think that the different versions of this passage demonstrate "free choice." We know choreographers alter choreography somewhat for dancers based on what suits them. If you now want to make an issue about why this "vulgarity" suits Copeland, we can do that as well I'm sure...

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Misty is quite voluptuous compared to most dancers. Maybe it was omitted for Sarah because she doesn't have an adequate amount to do it. Dancers doing slightly different choreography happens all of the time in classical ballet. Like how steps are simplified for Skorik in Swan Lake because she can't do it or Osipova adds difficult steps in Corsaire because she can. Usually no one blames dancers for the choreographic choices that end up on stage. And I find that hypocritical that all of a sudden, for Misty, the "vulgar" choreography that has some clutching their pearls is her fault.

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Unless we have any evidence to the contrary can we let the dancers off the hook for bad choreographic choices?

I know someone else will again say "yes yes but other dancers didn't do it!" but unless we were in the rehearsal studios constantly we don't know why that discrepancy was allowed and the idea that the decision to do the but shake/boob grab originated with the dancers (or dancer--blame has seemed to fall on one again) seems the least likely option.

The choreographer obviously bears the chief responsibility for the steps, and it's true we don't know what went down in the studio. But we do know, as the different versions of the passage demonstrate, that we all have free choice.

This is the speculation part.

It could be that while we may not have liked how it looked on the first cast, this is what the choreographer envisioned.

On the second cast, try as they might, their different movement styles/physicality made it look just not right--they couldn't get it, so he said "ok let's rethink this, you are going to do X instead"

It wasn't their choice, it was their inability to do it as he requested it.

Is that what happened? I have no idea. But it is just as likely as them going "I'm not doing that on stage! I refuse to shake my ass"

Ballet dancers generally do what they are told. It is what their entire training is about: Following the direction of the teacher/choreographer.

I have no idea what happened. Honestly I don't care. I just don't thing that the different versions of this passage demonstrate "free choice." We know choreographers alter choreography somewhat for dancers based on what suits them. If you now want to make an issue about why this "vulgarity" suits Copeland, we can do that as well I'm sure...

Thank you. You said this much better than I.

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Hopefully we will not see the Scarlett ballet again as part of ABT's rep. I blame the choreographer, not the dancers. I also blame McKenzie and Rachel Moore. You would think that a woman in such a high position in the company as Moore might have pointed out how offensive this was. I guess she couldn't care less, as long as she keeps getting her big old paycheck. If this is what passes for ballet nowadays, the art form is in big trouble.

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