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On Pointe

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Everything posted by On Pointe

  1. You can't compare the reception that Latino dancers receive in ballet with the experience of black dancers. In the formative years of ABT and NYCB, in the 1940s and 1950s, unlike black Americans, Latinos were not legally subject to Jim Crow laws. They could travel about the country without complication. (Although they certainly dealt with prejudice, especially in the southwest.). Ricardo Montalban, Cesar Romero and Fernando Lamas were Hollywood heartthrobs. Alicia Alonso was a Broadway and ballet star. Nicholas Magallanes, Fernando Reyes and Francisco Monción were cast in leading roles opposite white ballerinas. Of course most of them were white or white passing, although Monción, born in the Dominican Republic, obviously had black ancestry. If his name had been Frank Jones his prospects would have been significantly more limited. The point is that, for many reasons, ballet companies have always been more welcoming to Latinos than black dancers. It's interesting that black Brazilian dancers seem to be more employable than black Americans. Maybe because Americans view them as "exotic".
  2. Latino and Spanish dancers are well represented in American ballet, possibly over-represented in some companies. When Ballet Theatre (precursor to ABT) was founded, it was even planned to have a Latin American wing. Lincoln Kirstein had intended for Ballet Society, later NYCB, to have equal numbers of black and white dancers, but that idea fell by the wayside.
  3. That's pretty telling - what did their social media look like on June 18th?
  4. Maybe I'm a pessimist, or a realist, but I think the pool of potential audience members who are clamoring for more black ballet dancers is quite small. That doesn't mean black dancers should have their opportunities curtailed. I just don't think most people see it as a problem to be solved, unlike a number of us who comment here. Truth is, more often than not, black dancers hired are the skin color a friend of mine dubbed "blendo beige". White audiences scarcely notice them anyway. Kudos to NYCB for having not only the largest number of black dancers in its history (all American as far as I can tell), but for hiring people who actually look black on stage, and the world didn't end. Some companies may be over-thinking the issue. And some artistic directors and board members may just not want black dancers in their companies.
  5. I first became aware of the MacKay brothers when I caught a late night story on CNN about their attempt to return home to see their gravely ill father. Julian is a beautiful dancer (I believe his brother is more interested in photography now), but given his youth and lack of experience with a contemporary repertoire, it might have been a better idea to bring him in at the soloist level. He seems totally invested in the Russian approach to ballet and enamored with their culture. Having spent his formative years abroad, living and working at "home" is going to take a major attitude adjustment. In my opinion, that photo does him and SFB no favors. The "heroin chic" look is so 20th century, and if I hadn't seen Julian MacKay in interviews, I would have zero interest in seeing the person depicted dance.
  6. Why is it so hard? You tell me. The link for the people roster didn't work for me, so I have no idea how many visible minorities work in administration at PNB. But looking at the company photo on their website, finding the black and/or brown dancers is like playing Where's Waldo. While you don't have to have a ballet background to do many administrative jobs in a ballet company, you do have to have a fairly high ballet profile to become the artistic director of a ballet company. Ballet companies tend to prefer that company teachers have a significant relationship with the company they're teaching, like former soloists and principals, and that's completely legit. But if the company doesn't hire black dancers in the first place, those individuals are going to be in short supply. By all means ballet companies should make an effort to diversify their administrative staffs. But ballet is a visual art. If year after year, there are no visibly black dancers on stage, the logical conclusion is that black dancers are not welcome.
  7. Yeah, but you need to hire more Black dancers. First things, easier things, first. Why is it so hard to concentrate on one task? At this moment in history, a panel on black, brown and LGBTQ+ representation is a classic example of mission creep. (The idea that gay voices are not heard and gay dancers are underrepresented is ludicrous.) I feel for Amanda Morgan. As the sole black dancer in that rather large company, she has now become the PNB avatar of black America, whether she wants to be or not. It would be nice if she could just concentrate on dancing.
  8. If there is a "race game", could somebody please tell me how to stop playing! You seem to be of the mindset, not uncommon, that believes that we wouldn't have so much racial angst in this country if black people would just stop talking about it. In point of fact, we tend to talk about it very little, and only when events come to the greater public consciousness, like the recent murders of George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks. In the past two days, I've heard stories on television from black actors Jay Pharaoh, Terry Crews and Don Cheadle about being stopped by the police multiple times, barking orders with guns drawn, because they supposedly "fit the description" of a perpetrator. There's even video of the police throwing Jay Pharaoh to the ground and putting a foot on his neck. (They let him go after Googling him and confirming that he had been a cast member on Saturday Night Live for five years.). None of the three had ever spoken publicly about these incidents until now. Silence does not protect you. I have no doubt that most of the negativity flung at Misty Copeland has less to do with her supposed technical shortcomings and more to do with her pointing out that there is bigotry in the ballet world. She doesn't pretend that it doesn't exist, and to some that means that she's amplifying it, she's making things up, because they've been able to remain blissfully unaware of it. (Of course some of her detractors are just racists, like the Russians who attacked her online.) What if your only choice is to endure profound humiliation or die? If Pharaoh, Crews or Cheadle had talked back to any of the cops who stopped them without justification, they could have ended up dead. What if you have to endure spirit-killing micro-aggressions and "jokes" about your skin color or lose your job? I've had to play that game and I assure you, it's no fun. Of course it's not all bad. Watching cable news, I was struck by how many big US cities have youngish black women as mayors. And it's very heartening to see that all kinds of people are participating in demonstrations and dialogues about race. Confederate statues are coming down and Aunt Jemima is being sent to retirement after one hundred and thirty years on the job. But the thing about dealing with racism is it's so tiring. And it's boring. I really wish we didn't have to talk about it, but we do.
  9. Dance Theatre of Harlem presents a ballet by Darrell Grand Moultrie on YouTube, from 2014:
  10. And some of them will have that dream deferred, at SFB and at PNB, which is even less diverse. Amazingly, Ballet West, in uber white Salt Lake City, manages to find, hire and promote black Americans. No, I never think about it at all, except the times I've been called the n word by someone shouting in heavily accented English. Then I wonder who let them in and why. No, the one you posted. But that's a nice diversity video from SFB. I wonder where those various black folks in it come from. Except for one, none of the others appear on the company website. Margot Fonteyn was studying ballet in Shanghai in the 1930s. There has been a Russian enclave there for many years. (I saw a fascinating story a few years ago about an "American" woman whose family has lived in that part of China for two hundred years. She and her recent ancestors, all white, were born there, but never considered Chinese.) I used the term "minority" because Yuan Yuan Tan is part of the majority population in her home city and country.
  11. "Relatively little outside hiring" is not the same as "no outside hiring". Hiring black dancers would not change any dynamic, unless, as you imply, you believe that those positions somehow belong to white dancers. "American-ness" is a feeling. Lots of people who aren't American strongly identify with American culture. For example, the recent film Wild Rose, about a Nashville-obsessed country singer living in Glasgow, Scotland. But being American is a fact. Black Americans whose roots in this country pre-date the Revolution as mine do, feel no need to prove it. It's not hard for black Americans to figure out who is black. We're very good at it. As for "passing", it's a venerable tradition. My grandmother was an organizer for the garment workers' union, a position black women were not allowed to hold in the 1930s. So she was white at work and black at home. All of her black neighbors could easily see that she was a lightskinned black woman, but white people at work couldn't. Look at the video SFB posted. I know that Dwight Rhoden and Virginia Jackson are black, but I'm willing to bet that, glancing at a screenshot, the average white person would have to search a while to find them. When disadvantaged white kids stumble into ballet, they still stumble into a field overwhelmingly populated with people like them, where they are not constantly "othered" by even little things, like the color of their tights and shoes. Yuan Yuan Tan comes from Shanghai, an enormous, cosmopolitan city that has had a sizable Western population and culture for more than a hundred years, not a small insular village in the countryside. When she began her training, it was in a Chinese ballet school, with Chinese students and teachers, not a minority experience at all. If SFB's community outreach program has been in existence for forty years and has not produced any notable dancers or increased their minority audience, they need to revamp their approach. But the real reason I commented on this thread was the hypocrisy of SFB preaching what they don't practice - when it comes to black Americans, diversity and inclusion. They need never have posted anything except ballet videos.
  12. You bring up concerns that I'm sure many others may have (although, to be honest, you seem a bit combative), so I will do my best to present my point of view, which many others also may share. Every season in just about every company, some dancers retire from dancing or otherwise move on. There is no need to "remove" white dancers to hire black ones. It's not a zero sum game. I'm not sure why you put black in quotation marks. One drop rule notwithstanding, it's not that hard to figure out who is actually black, and it's even easier to determine who is a black American. And of course it matters - black Americans do not identify with black people from other countries any more than white Americans identify with white people from other countries. In fact, in film and television, there is a burgeoning resentment at seeing high profile plum roles in American productions going to foreign black artists. If the majority of an American company's black dancers come from other countries, the perception is, accurate or not, that black Americans are being deliberately excluded. Nikisha Fogo is unlikely to attract the black American audience, unless SFB introduces her to the public as their new black PRINCIPAL dancer. (Sounds shallow, but that's how PR works. And yes, she's black enough.) I don't know if it's anyone's business to be discussing racial matters, but truth is we do, whether we have permission or not. I sure notice that while almost all ballet companies have some kind of "urban outreach" program, it's rare for professional company dancers to come from those programs. I'd be interested to know if more black parents took their children to NYCB's Nutcracker after seeing the NY Times article about their their first black Marie, and there has been plenty of discussion here and elsewhere about "the Misty Effect" at ABT. If SFB really wants to build a black audience, they should get the black dancers they do have at community events and elevate their brand. They should be doing YouTube videos, about ballet or anything else. I follow ballet closely and I had no idea there were any black dancers at SFB. Because of the events of the last couple of weeks, I find myself exasperated, tired and angry about the state of our country, so forgive me if I come across a bit curt. But come on - it's not rocket science. If ballet companies can hire multiple dancers from China, Sweden and Brazil, they can hire black dancers from the US. Unless they really don't want to.
  13. Out of curiosity , I took a look at SFB's roster of dancers. The company is very diverse, except for black dancers. They have three, a soloist and two corps dancers, and only one is American. (All of them are sufficiently light-skinned to be racially ambiguous on stage.) If they were really concerned about "systemic racism", SFB would make an effort to hire black American dancers, instead of virtue-signaling by hauling out a two year old panel discussion.
  14. It was odd for ABT to include Cynthia Erivo singing America the Beautiful, as she has no known connection to ballet, and she's not American. She is a Nigerian-Brit who has co-signed negative statements about black Americans. Including her was bound to antagonize some viewers, notably the fans who came to ABT because of Misty Copeland. I've followed ABT for many years, but just seeing Erivo's name was enough for me to not watch.
  15. We are indeed in bad shape, and it will take a Herculean effort to get us out of it. First off, we need to make sure that in future, we don't have to import ALL of our vital medical equipment and protective gear from another country, especially a country that is in a tug-of-war with us for economic dominance. Meanwhile, we can make masks. Most of the masks made by workshops and home sewers are used to cover medical grade N95 masks to prolong their usefulness. More and more cities are requiring people to wear masks in public, so many people are making them for themselves and their families. I've been watching mask making demos on YouTube the way some people watch cat videos. I still have my elegant Swedish sewing machine, and plenty of unwanted clothes to cut up, so I've been making masks for myself and people I work with. (I've been designated an "essential employee", which sounds like a compliment, but really means that I risk my health traveling on trains and buses and dealing with the public. But of course that's nothing compared to what medical personnel go through.) The rest of the time I'm holed up in my apartment. Making masks helps give me back a feeling of control over these terrible circumstances, and I'm sure I'm not alone.
  16. There was nothing particularly effeminate about Siegfried and Roy, although their audience probably assumed that they were a couple. Liberace was a very good pianist, but the world is full of very good pianists. His capes and blinged out piano were part of his shtick, a way to set himself apart. People loved his fabulousness. If he had tried to play a straight hero, madly in love with his leading lady, it would not have been taken seriously at all. I was on the road years ago, performing in Pennsylvania, when there was almost nothing on TV late after the show but religious programs. That's when I discovered Tammy Faye Bakker, before she and Jim got really big. (And before he was exposed as a crook.) I was fascinated. I knew she would be a big star, from the moment she let the mascara run down her face as she wept for Jesus. It was camp at its purest. She became an icon in the gay community because of her acceptance and compassion for AIDS patients, which was not common among televangelists, or anyone else at the time.
  17. Yes, they're all beautifully graceful, but it's definitely masculine grace. Tsiskaridze is in a class by himself, especially when he teaches, with that magnificent hair of his held back with a headband. Or when he models. No negative judgment on my part. He's a great, great dancer, but markedly effeminate. Evidently the Russians have a taste for it, or don't seem to notice it at all.
  18. Tsiskaridze himself seems quite comfortable with his gender expression. He even has fun with it, as in this video where he dances on pointe in a tutu: It just seems at odds with the usual Russian image of ballet masculinity.
  19. There is no evidence that Catazaro was a "porn-watcher", but even porn watchers have a right to privacy. Watching porn may be frowned upon by some, but it's legal. Liking to look at pictures of naked women may not be gender specific, but many studies have indicated that men are far more aroused by visual images than women. Of course confirmation bias could be affecting their conclusions - plenty of women seem to like pictures of naked men.
  20. We'll have to agree to disagree I guess. Even if you believe Ramasar should be censured, there's no evidence that Catazaro shared photos of company members, so why was he fired - because certain female colleagues didn't approve? Straight men overwhelmingly like to look at photos of naked women. It appears to be hard wired. One could argue that Catazaro was punished for his gender expression!
  21. Chase Finlay's relationship with Alexandra Waterbury did not impact his co-workers. When they found out about it, some members of the company were angry and outraged, but they still went to class, rehearsed and performed. According to an article linked on the Trocks website, their management is hyper-sensitive about how they present offstage because in other countries, they have been physically attacked for looking gay. Perhaps that's why they were heavy-handed in their treatment of Johnsey. This is not much of a concern in other companies. (I do wonder what Russian ballet fans make of Nikolay Tsiskaridze, who comes over very gender-nonconforming to me.)
  22. Revenge porn is indeed illegal. But there was no revenge porn in the Waterbury case.
  23. Reading between the lines of the original interview, I get the impression that the real crux of the issue is a power struggle between Johnsey and the artistic management. His troubles escalated when he began communicating directly with members of the board of directors. He also suggests that he wanted to take on the director's job himself. People in power do not give it up without struggle, even when the stakes are relatively low. Whether Johnsey was funny enough or masculine enough doesn't appear to be the real issue. it's fascinating to me that some of the same people who defend Johnsey's appearance and behavior offstage are adamant that NYCB has the right to police what its dancers do in their private life.
  24. You are incorrect. How he presented himself offstage shouldn't matter to anyone but himself. But Johnsey's desire to be seriously considered a ballerina clashed with the Trocks mission to be the world's foremost comic drag ballet company. More than likely there were internal politics that we don't know about at play in the matter as well, but dancers leave companies when they disagree with the artistic direction, and companies drop dancers when they no longer conform to their particular aesthetic all the time. Johnsey had a long run with the Trocks and he has landed a good position for himself. Maybe he will dance female roles with his new company. I honestly don't think there's much of an audience for men on pointe in tutus, but maybe he will prove me wrong.
  25. The reality is that dancers, from corps members to principals, leave or are pushed out of ballet companies all the time, for all kinds of reasons. Johnsey was with the Trocks for a long time, fourteen years. Maybe it was just time to move on.
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