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On Pointe

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  1. Wilhelmina Frankfurt and Kelly Cass Boal left NYCB many years ago. I don't understand why their opinions are given such weight now. They have had years to go public with their claims without any fear of retribution from Martins, and presumably they have moved on with their lives. Would the Boals welcome criticism of PNB's board and company practices from outsiders? So far the only current company dancers to come forward by name have been supportive of Martins, although it's hard to tell where Ashley Bouder stands. She appears to be critical of him, without really saying anything, but she has had a very good career under his direction.
  2. The recent article in the NY Times is rather shoddy journalism, in my opinion. For example, even as a non-insider, I know that Anne Bass' resignation from the board was not quite as simple as reported, and sneering comments from ex-students and dancers who dudn't have significant careers are not proof of anything except that they didn't like the boss. The settlements are a different matter, but Sean Lavery is the instigator in one, and details are sketchy. I don't see anything particularly unusual or wrong for students to be told that they shouldn't talk to media about Martins' personal affairs. The company I work for does not allow employees to speak to the press on company matters either, and all such requests are handled by public relations professionals. One thing is for sure - as the old saying goes, revenge is a dish best served cold.
  3. Speaking of a woman in charge, maybe Heather Watts should be in contention. She has vastly more experience as a teacher and coach than the other possible candidates, and she was a Balanchine favorite. He thought so highly of her pointe technique that he used her (and I believe Colleen Neary) to teach Martins its intricacies. Of course that suggestion would make steam come out of the ears of many diehard fans!
  4. I don't believe that Heather Watts has ever said anything negative about Peter Martins, even though, as the de facto ex-wife, she has been given opportunities to do so. As to the state of the Kistler-Martins marriage, there's no reason that should be a part of the discussion.
  5. It is probably to the good of all involved that Peter Martins has resigned. He has served the NYCB for a long time, he's getting older, and his family could probably benefit from his undivided attention. The accusations against him would hang over him like a cloud and impede his work with the company. That said, there are elements to this story that smack of score-settling and sour grapes, exemplified by the NY Times article. The writer says dancers "might" have starved themselves or had sex with PM to gain his favor, but there is no proof of it. It's easy for dancers who left under less than ideal circumstances to accuse him of wrongdoing, but the icing on the cake is the quote from Vanessa Carlton, who was only a student at SAB and never in NYCB or any other ballet company. Was Demi Lovato not available? The decades-old accusation from Kelly Cass seemed to get the ball rolling. There is no reason to doubt her version of events, but the fact that she's married to one of the lead contenders to be Martins' successor looks a bit shady, even if it isn't. (As does that "Sisters in Solidarity" statement from Ashley Bouder, apparently promulgated by "nportman", the wife of another contender.) Finding a successor is going to be very hard, especially for the dancers who now have to re-calibrate their careers to adjust to a new artistic director. These are interesting times indeed.
  6. Some years ago, the Joffrey Ballet cast Christian Holder as the Blackamoor in Petrouchka, and I've seen productions of Nutcracker where the few Asian dancers on stage were cast in the Chinese Dance. So the few visible minority dancers who managed to get hired in ballet companies found themselves participating in perpetuating stereotypes about themselves. What to do - turn down a solo opportunity, and perhaps gain a reputation for being difficult or "angry"? Or perform a role that you and your community find offensive? I was turned off and shocked by Mark Morris Dance Company casting a black man on pointe in drag as the Maid in Nutcracker. It struck me as either incredibly tone deaf or a deliberate provocation. I can't imagine a black parent wanting their child to see that production.
  7. If we are going to jettison works of art because they express a viewpoint not aligned with our current sensibility, how do we start and where do we stop? As a black American, I could certainly do without any more showings of Birth of a Nation, and I like to believe that most white Americans would agree. But what about Gone With the Wind, Showboat, Imitation of Life, The Member of the Wedding? All of these films have artistic virtues, and all of them depict African Americans in demeaning stereotypes. Even a more current film, the much-lauded The Help, is problematic. Do we throw them out and pretend that the attitudes depicted never existed? I see that CBS is showing old episodes of I Love Lucy for Christmas. Lucy was often afraid that her antics would cause Desi to "wallop" her. On The Honeymooners, Ralph was always threatening Alice with physical violence - Bang, zoom, to the moon!" What about the symbolism in Swan Lake? - the innocent White Swan, the Prince seduced by the evil Black Swan, just one of the endless expressions in art of white=good, black=bad. Perhaps we should stop playing Baby It's Cold Outside, maybe the rapiest song ever written. I think you can appreciate Raymonda, Le Corsaire, La Bayadere, without buying into the racist attitudes on view, just as you can watch The Cage without being caught up in sexual politics. Speaking of sexual politics, a former City Ballet dancer of my acquaintance, who was with the company during the Golden Era of Balanchine's creativity, always described the great one as "a dirty old man".
  8. It's worth noting the old statistics saw, "correlation is not always causation". Whether a certain dancer is cast in a role may not have anything to do with having sex with the artistic director. (Although many, assumed that Heather Watts was cast so much because of her long-term relationship with Martins. It's been a while so I don't recall, but I don't think Watts lost all of her roles after they broke up.) One could make the case that Martins should be removed because his liaisons created a hostile work environment - they sure do for Darci Kistler! - but apparently the board allowed it to go on for years, so Wilhelmina Frankfurt is correct when she says that "throwing him under the bus" doesn't absolve the board members of responsibility. Is anyone claiming that Martins threatened them with loss of roles, or promised them better ones, if they did or did not have sex with him? If so it's a slam dunk.
  9. I know I'm late posting, but according to NYTimes several dancers have said that Martins created a culture where he had affairs with dancers and those dancers then got better roles. The problem with this assertion is the fact that there is no shortage of roles at NYCB that have multiple casts. For instance, during Nutcracker, there might be eight or more Dewdrops and Sugar Plum Fairies, from all levels in the company, corps to principals. Add in injuries and unforeseen circumstances which give understudies many opportunities, and it's hard to make the case that dancers lose out on roles because they aren't sleeping with Peter Martins. Maybe he only has affairs with the more talented dancers to begin with. At any rate, all of the dancers he allegedly had consensual affairs with were well aware that they were fooling around with a married man. (Please don't hate me for playing devil's advocate! Any defender worth his salt would point out that there is more than a whiff of sour grapes in some of these anonymous claims.)
  10. Arlene Croce's treatment of Heather Watts struck me as downright abusive. It was way over the top - I used to wonder how Watts managed to go out on stage sometimes. I also remember that Watts was interviewed after Martins' arrest for attacking Kistler, and she maintained that he had never physically abused her. But I realize she may have been trying to save face.
  11. To me the Nutcracker story is the least credible. There were probably at least forty or fifty people who witnessed this incident, and unless others come forward to corroborate the story, I'll take the "death grip" with a grain of salt. I don't believe that City Ballet parents are so stage struck they would overlook physical abuse from a ballet master. When the Bolshoi Ballet began sending teachers to the US, they were strenuously warned about touching American children because they could find themselves in a world of trouble if their actions were misconstrued as sexual or abusive. I also don't know what to make of Wilhelmina Frankfurt's article. She seems to be the only woman to go on the record about alleged non-consensual sexual assault by Martins, but instead of describing what took place, she goes off on a tangent about supposed greed and corruption in the administration of the school and the company. Her rhetorical question - "Is Martins being thrown under the bus?" struck me as odd coming from his supposed victim. If he assaulted her, one would think she'd be quite pleased to see him suffer the consequences of his behavior. I see nothing wrong with Kathryn Morgan's statement. She was answering questions from her many subscribers, and with Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer in the national conversation for actions that can only be described as rape, I think the rape question was properly addressed. Perhaps Martins should step down "for the good of the company". His daughter's struggles give him the perfect out. She could probably benefit from some parental attention. I really feel sorry for Darci Kistler. If even Kathryn Morgan knew about Martins' affairs, surely she does too, and she has to see these women every day.
  12. I am distressed by my post being so misunderstood. I must try harder to make my point. By no means am I suggesting that Martins gets a pass because of his looks. But it's unlikely that every one of his romantic adventures was coercive. Is anyone willing to make a list of those dancers they have determined advanced their careers because they had sex with Martins? How would they prove it? Ballet masters have been known to favor dancers for idiosyncratic reasons that have nothing to do with sex. I think the board of NYCB, like the Met, is being disingenuous. If people can write anonymous letters accusing Martins now, they could have written them twenty and thirty years ago. (Maybe they did, in which case the board is culpable for not taking action.) I remember the days when some fans claimed that because of her relationship with Martins, Heather Watts actually ran the company and got to decide the casting. Martins is not a sympathetic figure, but there seems to be a foregone conclusion that he is guilty. At any rate, John Clifford has got some nerve piling on. In her book, Gelsey Kirkland tells how he laughed as he groped her breasts and disparaged her body in front of the whole company. Maybe he should be removed from his position.
  13. I confess I haven't been following this story very closely, but surely there must accusers more recent than Kelly Cass Boal to trigger a huge investigation and a leave of absence for Martins? It is definitely unfair to state that dancers received better roles because they had sex with PM. Maybe they were better dancers to begin with. And Martins was a very handsome man - it's not like we're talking Harvey Weinstein here. Lots of people wanted to have sex with him! At any rate, while I don't doubt it was cathartic for Kelly Cass Boal to speak her truth, it does make it unlikely that Peter Boal will become the new AD at NYCB, even though he would otherwise be a likely candidate.
  14. Actors and dancers tend to tell interviewers what they think they want to hear. Thandie Newton has commented bitterly about the racism she suffered as the only black girl in her small Cornish hometown. If anything, racist attitudes in parts of the UK far from cosmopolitan London are harsher than in the US. If she couldn't manage a passable American accent, Thandie Newton would have no career at all. If anything, black American female actors should be protesting the casting of biracial Brits like her as iconic African Americans. She's played Sally Hemmings and Condoleezza Rice, Carmen Ejogo has played Coretta Scott King twice. Sophie Okenedo in A Raisin in the Sun, Cush Jumbo on The Good Wife, Gugu Mbatha-Raw - the list goes on and on. Why should they get those opportunities ahead of Americans? Meanwhile some Brits have protested the idea that Idris Elba could be cast as the fictional James Bond. Elba himself addressed Parliament about the lack of diversity in UK television casting, and noted that without American lead roles, he would never have become a name actor. It's likely that the main reason Misty Copeland is the target of ballet fan abuse is because she doesn't try to pretty up the truth - there is still tremendous racism in a American society, and the ballet and acting worlds are no different. Nobody wants to hear that. Everything is beautiful at the ballet. They really need to believe that.
  15. I watched Ballet 422 on Netflix, which was frustrating because the connection was acting up and the film stopped and buffered about every two minutes. I tried again the next day and almost made it all the way through with no interruption. I loved it. I didn't feel the need to see the whole ballet as the film includes a lot of it during rehearsal, and it was really about Justin Peck's process. The film does a great job of portraying ballet dancers as hardworking, serious, and not crazy, unlike the usual media image. Whether incidentally or by design, NYCB comes across as a more ethnically diverse institution than it usually appears. Besides the prominence of Amar Ramasar and Albert Evans, this was the first time I've gotten a glimpse of their sole Asian and black female dancers. I was struck by the moment when a very young guy, who looked like a schoolkid, lifted Sterling Hyltin and effortlessly tossed her half way across the stage, repeatedly. It was an impressive illustration of the physical strength that male ballet dancers take for granted, but non fans might find surprising. JP is very attractive on film. If he ever tires of dance, he could do very well as a model - imagine him as the face of Ralph Lauren menswear, especially when he wears his glasses!
  16. Misty Copeland made an appearance on the talk show The View this morning. Besides accepting the audience's applause for her promotion to principal at ABT, she also acknowledged Stella Abrera's promotion, and credited her first teachers, the Boys and Girls Club, and the black dancers that came before her. She was warm, gracious, and humble, a wonderful ambassador for the ballet world to the general public.
  17. It seems that Misty Copeland has become the avatar for all that is right, or wrong, for black artists in America. Perhaps her promotion or lack thereof will engender discussion about other odd racial disparities, like the abundance of black male dancers in ballet companies, the dearth of black male singers in opera, and the near total absence of black players, male or female, in symphony orchestras. (We'll have a black female President before a black woman becomes concert master of the Chicago Symphony, so that was one choice in the WSJ's little quiz that was easy to eliminate.) If Misty is passed over, I doubt that there will be any groundswell of anti-racist sentiment against ABT. ABT's racial makeup is the rule in the ballet world, not the exception. After several years with no black women, NYCB now has one, so ABT, with two, is actually ahead of them. San Francisco Ballet has two, one of whom is Brazilian. Second tier companies are better, but black women who actually dance leading roles are exceedingly rare (although Houston Ballet and Nashville Ballet had black Swan Queens before ABT.) When the Bolshoi Ballet toured the US in the 1960s, they had more black female dancers than any ballet company in the US, and one, Marjorie Scott, was an important soloist and coach. There were probably fewer than one thousand black people in the entire Soviet Union at that time. Yet when Balanchine wanted a black ballerina to dance with Arthur Mitchell in The Figure in the Carpet, he had to borrow Mary Hinkson from Martha Graham. (Does anyone remember that it was Lincoln Kirstein's original intent to form a company with equal numbers of white and black dancers?) Theresa Ruth Howard's article is strangely passive-aggressive - she states multiple times that she isn't blaming Misty for the lack of recognition of other black women in ballet, yet she does just that repeatedly, by castigating Misty's PR team. If other black ballerinas are forgotten, or lack Wikipedia entries, how is that Misty's fault? Anyone can add information to Wiki. Then there's the taboo subject of visibility. Misty doesn't have a "black body". She has a Misty body, unlike anyone else's, white or black. Most successful black women in ballet are light skinned like she is. Raven Wilkinson passed for white until she was outed in the south. Nora Kimball is half Japanese and scarcely looks black at all. Misty could have used her step father's last name and been accepted as "Hispanic", but her very insistence upon her black identity seems to annoy some ballet fans. She ruffles feathers by telling the truth. She also fills seats. Like it or not, she's a star.
  18. I attended the Sunday matinée of the Royal Ballet ' s Don Quixote, and not only did Osipova dance, with the dashing Matthew Golding as Basilio, she was absolutely brilliant, with no sign of holding back because of injury. I hadn't seen the Royal in more than forty years, so I was very amped to see what they are like these days. They may still be Royal, but they are no longer an English company - their dancers are from all over the globe - and while the ensemble dancing is strong, there is no longer a distinctive English style. Carlos Acosta's production gives the stars so much to do, the grand pas de deux at the end was almost anti-climactic. And after so much exhilarating dancing, solo and together, Osipova and Golding took on a slightly mannered style that seemed not in keeping with the rest of the performance. But they did it in spectacular fashion, despite the conductor, who also arranged the score, giving them little musical support. The accompaniment for the male solo was particularly wan. They were both amazing in the coda, with Osipova tossing off beautifully centered double fouettés like they were nothing. The applause was thunderous. There were a number of substitutions among the solo roles, so I'm not sure of who was who in all cases, but Fumi Kaneko was excellent as the Queen of the Dryads, despite a slight bobble. Tiny Francesca Hayward was delightful as Amour, with the best runs on pointe I think I've ever seen. Carlos Acosta's production looked a bit over-populated at times, and some of the comic bits fell flat, but he gives you plenty of dancing for your money. It's sad that the Royal was only in Chicago for the weekend. Years ago, they came often, and played to sold out houses for two weeks or more. I understand that the costs are enormous, and the logistics are nightmarish, but surely the Royal is overdue for a major North American tour.
  19. The First Amendment only pertains to restraint of free speech by the government, not by private entities like a ballet company. More than likely, NYCB has provisions in their contracts requiring a certain standard of behavior from its employees. Dissing the boss is never a good idea in any corporate setting. Devin Alberda is lucky he wasn't let go. If Balanchine only allowed two pirouettes in class, does anyone know why?
  20. Misty Copeland has one hell of a management team. The theater world is not as insular as the ballet world, but it was a real coup for an outsider to get that gig. To give Misty her due, she did a beautiful job on the Tonys, as poised as any of the famous actors who are the usual presenters. So doubtless this means more hatred headed her way from certain elements of the ballet fan community.
  21. "If one wants to discuss racism, let's discuss the community that doesn't really want one of its members to succeed in a white world." I've been lurking on this thread for some time, but this assertion really threw me back on my heels. Are you really suggesting that black people are racists who don't want to see other black people succeed in "a white world"? (And just who determined that the world is white anyway?) If not, just what "community" are you referring to? There seems to be a lot of misinformation about Misty Copeland here. Her mother is not "poor white"; she's a middle class woman who raised six successful children, and while she is light-skinned like Misty, she is black, not white. I remember the custody issue well, as it received a lot of press at the time. Misty ' s mother had grave reservations about her daughter living with the Bradleys. Misty had to share a bedroom with their young son, which was not ideal for an unrelated teenage girl. She also served as an unpaid baby sitter at times. There is additional footage from 60 Minutes with Misty ' s siblings that didn't air, where they talk about how they felt that their family was being pulled apart by the fight over her. All kinds of people rendered opinions about how to 'save' Misty from going back to her own mother, including Gerald Arpino of all people. Besides a personal dislike for Cindy Bradley, whom she felt looked down on her, Misty's mother was disturbed by the Bradleys attempt to bind Misty to a "management contract" that would entitle them to 20% of her earnings. As a minor, Misty lacked the capacity to enter into a contract on her own, and her push for legal emancipation was a red flag to the Copelands. Her mother hired Gloria Allred as her attorney and the matter was resolved with Misty returning home. She was enrolled into a ballet school that offered her more advanced training than she had been getting with the Bradleys. Misty's mother wasn't hostile to Misty's aspirations at all. All this happened before Misty was sixteen. It's little wonder that she gets press coverage - that's a heck of a story. The typical American ballet soloist grew up in the suburbs, started ballet lessons at three, transferred to SAB or JKO at twelve or thirteen, became an apprentice or got into the second company at seventeen, got a contract a year later, blah, blah, blah. Pretty boring compared to Misty's journey, or Michaela DePrince's, or Amar Ramasar's. The racial angle is just the icing on the cake.
  22. It probably shouldn't play any role. It's the board's and executive director's responsibilities to find donors and raise money while the artistic director is the guardian of artistic output. A much stronger board may be what NYCB needs, not an artistic director who functions like a king and oversees all things. A stronger board would be able to say 'no' to new, expensive productions that do not fit within the realm of the institution's mission. (I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that Martin's production of Romeo and Juliet will be one example as I expect it will be another stripped down, revved-up, Cliff's Notes version of a classic. There is nothing wrong with Cliff's Notes. They are just not the same as literature.) The NY Times today announced that Mark Morris is choreographing Prokofiev's Romeo, so it could be that it's just in a lot of people's minds that now is the time to re-visit this score. According to the Times, it will "include six new dance numbers, 15 minutes of new music and a radically different ending to the ballet, which was conceived in 1935 and changed to meet the demands of Soviet cultural officials". Do you suppose they have Friar Lawrence's wacky plan succeed, and Romeo and Juliet skip happily out of the tomb and into the sunset? Another plus for Cliff's Notes - they don't change the end of the story!
  23. Isn't it more likely that it is the NYCB Board, and not Peter Martins, that wants a new R and J? No doubt their marketing surveys indicate that this would bring in considerable revenue from the full length ballet fans. Because everyone is familiar with the story and/or the score, Romeo looks like the most logical candidate for a box office winner. The relationship between a board and an artisitic director is crucial to the vitality of any arts enterprise. But the artistic director should always be a first among equals. The problem is that decisions that seem to make perfect sense to lay people, could have disastrous consequences in the long term for a company. And it's very distasteful - to me, anyway - when some society figure stamps her little foot, and decides that she knows more than professionals who have dedicated their lives to the art. (Or he. No sex bias intended!)
  24. "I definitely need to lie down with a cold compress." LOL. See what happens when you open this can of worms! In the early years of Martins' leadership, some disgruntled fans were certain that Heather Watts was running the company. As for her qualifications - other than her personal relationships - for a number of years she ran a pickup company with NYCB dancers and others that toured in this country and abroad. So no doubt she does have experience and skills in the area of administration, casting, etc.
  25. Whenever a dancer manages to snag an interview in the mainstream press, even if the dancer is a teenager right out of school, the interviewer always asks "What are you going to do when you can't dance anymore", or words to that effect. I've always felt that it was disrespectful to the performer. It takes so much hard work, and dedication, to succeed in the field. Dancers should be allowed to revel in their current success. Dance careers may be short compared to some others, but most dancers stay active as long or longer than others in artistic fields. I've yet to see an interview where a young singer or actor is asked what they are going to do when they get older. And no one asks CEOs of non-dance corporations what they are going to do with their time - and their millions - when they aren't selling widgets anymore. I say all that to say this - the job of Artistic Director of the New York City Ballet is not open. Peter Martins has not, to my knowledge, given any indication that he is considering stepping down. If you disagree with his decisions, and everything he has done as head of the company, that should all be fair game for discussion. But in my opinion, it's rude and disrespectful to talk about what's going to happen when he's gone when he's still going to work everyday.
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