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A name to watch out for

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I was at one of the Royal Ballet School's annual performances last night, and the programme listed those students who have already got contracts for next year - including Nutnaree Pipithsuksunt, who has a soloist contract with SFB, straight from school.

From the look of her last night, she's a very classy dancer in the making - please watch out for her and let us know how she gets on!

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Fascinatin news, Jane--Will definitely be on the look-out.

What a wonderful name, sounds Cambodian. DO you know?

I gather that there will be a significant number of new dancers coming into SFB -- but there are lots of visa problems, and it's not clear when they'll all be resolved....

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I'm glad to see more and more Thai among the ballet world at large. They face a particular cultural difficulty that's touched upon in The King and I about ballet. The idea that they have about "cleanliness" of certain parts of the body is different from ours. The head is the very cleanest, and so on down the body until you reach the filthiest - the feet. One of the worse insults you can offer a Thai is to show the sole of your foot to him/her. Almost as bad is pointing your foot at another. And perhaps worse than feet are SHOES! So if Thai ballet dancers are breaking through this prejudice, they've shown great strength and determination.

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That is very interesting, Mel.

I believe it's important to try to understand other cultures, or at least become familiar with that which you didn't grow up with.

While I cannot relate to the concept, I can understand how difficult it must be to be a dancer in Thailand. Imagine if American kids had to face that kind of obstacle...

Clara :)

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Thank you Mel indeed for raising the point about how we should be aware and respectful of cultural differences.

But as a Thai I’ve always been somewhat puzzled by this whole head and feet thing! Of course, I cannot speak for every Thais (maybe I am just in the minority!) but I’ve never found the pointing of feet/shoes, especially in a ballet context, at all offensive. In fact, I’ve always found it interesting that it is this head/feet issue that gets brought up most often in conversations I have with foreigners, particularly when I can find many more rude things a person can do!

Anyway, from my own point of view (I could be wrong of course) I think the main obstacle faced by young dancers in Thailand is not so much this prejudice as the fact that most middle class parents (I would still consider ballet to be a middle class activity) have traditionally favoured solid academic subjects over trainings that lead to careers in the arts and sports. This is perhaps understandable since it is rather difficult to envision your child having a good career prospect when there isn’t, for example, an internationally renowned ballet company in your country.

I was actually back in Thailand about three years ago when a magazine ran an article on Nutnaree (she'd just won the gold medal at the Adeline Genee Competition at the age of 15!) and I think Nutnaree’s mother did mention that she had to think carefully about her daughter’s commitment to ballet as many people had warned that there was virtually no ballet in Thailand and if one was to make it abroad one had to be really outstanding (which Nutnaree has proved to be!)

But I think things are changing now. The tennis player Paradorn Srichapan, for example, is setting example of how dedication and hard work can lead one to have a relatively successful career as a professional athlete and the last time I was in Thailand many more children have now taken up tennis and other sports seriously. Also things like rhythmic gymnastics are becoming very popular among girls. And of course now we have budding young ballerinas so I hope that there will be more to follow the footsteps of Nutnaree (and Sarawanee at ABT).

Anyhow, I am very pleased for Nutnaree! I also saw her Lindbury performance and there was something very special about her that made me unable to take my eyes off her when she was onstage! I think there is also another Thai girl in the 2nd year and I was impressed with her, too. In fact I enjoyed the whole evening and am now feeling somewhat guilty to only have mentioned the two Thai girls since there were many wonderful performances that night! But as Jane said, please keep us posted about her progress!

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I think that you are correct about Thai breaking through the traditional academic excellence tracks to excel in other things, too! Further, I did not notice too much of the head/feet fixation in Bangkok or in a world-class vacationland like Chieng Mai, but I certainly did find it "up country", as I was in Udon Thani and Nakhon Phanom. Maybe it's a city/country thing. We were told that it had to do with Buddhism, but nothing of the little I know for sure about Buddhism would lead to that sort of Neo-Platonist/Gnostic prioritizing of body parts! Perhaps it's a persistence of a folkway or cultural artifact. Shortly after I left there, Bob Hope played Udon Thani and recycled one of his old jokes about "tiny Asians". "In the hotel, I left my shoes out in the hallway, and when I got up in the morning, there was a family of Thais living in them." He tried to explain, but it didn't do any good. The troupe was firmly and directly told to leave the country.

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Is this normal for companies to hire students immediately into a soloist position? I am not undermining Nutnaree Pipithsuksunt's abilities, however, I just find it a bit odd for such a large, reknowned company (or for Helgi Tomasson) to just hire a student into a soloist position. I am sure there were some angry company members that are waiting their turn to be promoted. Any thoughts??

Also, I heard Nutnaree did a beautiful job on the London tour!! Best of luck to this new dancer!

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I just find it a bit odd for such a large, reknowned company (or for Helgi Tomasson) to just hire a student into a soloist position. I am sure there were some angry company members that are waiting their turn to be promoted.

Well, I can't speak for all of the dancers, so I'm not about to say with any certainty that nobody is angry about not getting promoted, but it isn't like Tomasson hired Pipithsuksunt INSTEAD of promoting dancers; in addition to hiring her directly out of school, he also promoted Rachel Viselli and Elizabeth Miner to soloist, and Lord knows that with 3 female soloists--S. LeBlanc, Young, Winfield-- retiring or otherwise leaving the company, there were plenty of open slots to be filled.

It is true, though, that there haven't been many soloists or principals hired directly out of school. However, if I remember correctly, I think Yuan Yuan Tan might have been, since her bio doesn't list her as having danced previously with any other companies before joining SFB as a soloist.

In any case, I do look forward to seeing Nutnaree Pipithsuksunt this season.

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Yes, as I recall in earlier days it seemed to be more common for dancers to be hired immediately into principal or soloist positions (i could be wrong here). For example, Jose Carreno, Vladimir Malakhov, Yuan Yuan Tan (i think), and many others. It just seems like this was more common in the older generations and nowadays you do not see that as much in larger US companies. Also, it seems like a lot of dancers that won these competitions have the "upper hand" when it comes to the pick of major companies. For Example, Carreno, Malakhov, and Tan all hold medals and prizes at major ballet competitions.

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I heard Yuan Yuan Tan speak before a production of Sylvia last Spring. Yes, she won a ballet award (can't remember which one) after which Helgi approached her and hired her directly as a soloist. Elizabeth Minor was promoted to soloist after Mark Morris chose her as one of his 4 Sylvia's and the consensus was that she was best of the 4. (I only saw Megan Low in the role and she was great, but I know of a woman who saw 3 of the 4 and did feel that Elizabeth Minor did the best job.)


Edited by sfshaza
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I saw Nutnaree this summer when the SF Ballet was in London and she looked great: tremendous facility (legs and feet, as they say). I can't wait to see what she does this year.

Another SF ballet soloist was hired quite young - Sarah Van Patten. She was picked by John Neumier (sp?) to dance the lead in his Romeo & Juliet at the Royal Danish when she was 16. Helgi was in Copenhagen setting his Sleeping Beauty on the company and saw her perform. He hired her a year later.

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