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"All-American" Dancers


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Okay, let's try something that I hope won't cause any misunderstandings! B)

I've read some posts on the board where someone will call a particular dancer "all-American." The last one, I think, was on a NYCB thread where someone referred to Jenifer Ringer as an "all-American girl." (Forgive me if that wasn't the exact quote - it was something to that effect!) I'm interested in two things - what is an "all-American dancer" What sort of qualities does he/she possess? Who do you think of when you hear that phrase? I guess that's actually three things.

Well, anyway, it might be an interesting pre-election topic...

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The American dancer?

To me, I think about the American "guy" who dances. Open, athletic, generally sunny in disposition and direct.

Jacques d'Amboise and Edward Villella. Damien Woetzel. Ethan Steifel.

Peter Boal is an American prince to me, but I don't think of him as "all-American", even though he he certainly is by birth and upbringing.

Can someone do better than me on the "all american ballerina"?

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The smiling face that goes on a Wheaties box!!! To me, "all-American" connotes the 1950s image of an American teen: wholesome, happy, straight Bs, good at three sports, minimum, prom queen/football team captain. The kind of girl/boy you want to bring home to Mom. The kind that will grow up to be either a good provider, or the mother of your children. I guess now it means the 2004 version of the above qualities. Whatever they are!! But still the face on the Wheaties box. I don't see these qualities, generally, as being ideal for classical ballet.....

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To extend on what Alexandra said, I think the tension between the American disposition and the disposition of 19th century Romantic heroes and heroines is what drove choreographers like Balanchine to look for a way to adapt to the American characteristic. One way was to go for the most abstracted and impersonal form of classicism as in The Four Temperaments. This turned the American directness into a feature. The other was to make ballets like Stars and Stripes or Western, which took classical ballet and populated it with American icons. Something is found in the process, but there are things that are also lost.

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That's interesting -- Denby wrote about the directness as part of the style. It's the kind of thing that drove (drives?) a certain segment of the audience crazy, because it's direct, yes, but often doesn't reach across to the audience (causing the complaint that Balanchine's ballets are cold and unemotional). That's an American trait too, though -- coexisting happily side by side with our tendency to spill our guts -- whoops. Reveal intimate personal details -- on first acquaintance, or a TV talk show, impulsive generosity, and idealism. When we're not being money-grubbing and crassly commercial, of course.

There must be a ballerina that can be said to embody all of those qualities.......

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It's that open, sunny look Alexandra mentioned. During the era of NYCB I'm most familiar with, Patricia MacBride was the All-American girl, or alternatively, "the girl next door." :) But during that time I never heard anybody refer to Suzanne Farrell, a former tomboy from Cincinnati, as either one of those. :)

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Part of the myth is that men are "simple" and women are "complex" - I think that may be why it's easier to bring up a list of All American principal men than women. I think there may be a smaller range of qualities you need to encompass for people to look at a man and think "All-American"

I see facets of it in women at NYCB. Ashley Bouder has the tough girl, tomboy aspect of the American girl - the one who could hit a baseball farther than any of the boys. Can anyone else see her as the Cowgirl in Rodeo? Jenny Ringer has the sweetest girl at the prom aspect of it. Wendy Whelan has the physical hyperbole and also the pitiless uncompromising honesty. I'm not sure I can think of anyone who combines this all into one.

Mention some other companies, folks! HEY PAUL! What about the ballerinas at SFB?

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Farrell Fan applies a good "synonym" if you will to the "All-American" dancer: the "girl/boy next door." I know someone said this in the "Most Handsome Dancers" topic, but I completely agree that James Fayette has such a quality to him. Similarly, I agree regarding Jenifer Ringer.

I almost exclusively see NYCB, so most of my examples will be dancers within that company: Darci Kistler in her early years, Ashley Bouder (robust, determined, open), Megan Fairchild (exuberant, always grinning), Adam Hendrickson (daring, hints of mischief). In ABT- I agree with Leigh in regards to Ethan Stiefel.

I think there also is a distinct difference between an "All-American" or "Boy/Girl Next Door" quality and what is often referred to as an American ballet aesthetic so closely connotated with Balanchine: speed, athleticism, legginess, etc. I'm not saying that the two aren't compatible, as the dancers mentioned above certainly exemplify this. However, there are many dancers who exhibit an American aesthetic without having an "All-American" appeal- Maria Kowroski, Suzanne Farrell, Jennie Somogyi, and Rachel Rutherford come to mind. I hope that makes sense! :)

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It's funny, but you know who comes to my mind as a quintessential all american dancer on the female front is.....Tina La Blanc who is currently with SFB and previously with Joffrey! :) She has charm and spunk yet can turn around and take on those elegant roles with beauty and intelligence. She is open and athletic, a dancer who can do anything~ she is uncomplicated and fresh. In addition, I would also have to mention Darcy Kistler fitting this bill. :rolleyes:

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John Kriza, who was "Mr. Ballet Theatre" for years had a repertory that was very All American Boy from that period (1940s to 1950s). There was a problem filling his roles in Billy the Kid, Fancy Free and the like -- lots of interesting performances, but none that were quite in the same key, I'm told. (Kriza was before my time.) Then Robert LaFosse started doing these roles, and although he wasn't a copy of Kriza by any means, I remember several of my older friends saying, "YES!!!!!! He's got something like the same "All American" quality."

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I never saw her dance, but I imagine Diana Adams would fit the bill. Was she, as I have inferred, an uncomplicated persona? Definitely Patty McBride for her exuberance; Darci, especially when she's in a guileless phase; Merrill Ashley, who was as straightforward a dancer as I've seen; Lindy Roy who had more "street smarts" than any other woman dancer I can think of.

Villella would be Lindy's male equivalent. (Wow! I'm imagining them as a pair! Wouldn't they have been Something! :) ). Damian Woetzel may not be quite the boy next door, but he lives on everyone's street, doesn't he? :)

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I think that the separation of temperament and aesthetic is a really good one to delineate, ballerina 1023. Kowroski definitely fits the bill in terms of the Balanchine/American aesthetic, and might even temperament-wise, especially in comedic roles.

People have brought up some women I hadn't thought of originally, like Merrill Ashley, who, during her career, seemed lto me ike a quintessentially American dancer both in terms of physique and temper. Some others I have since come up with are Susan Jaffe for her wide-eyed beauty and ability to convey a sort of purity of essence and Evelyn Cisneros for the sort of fearlessness and athleticism that carbro was talking about with Lindy Roy. Another person I thought of was Jodie Gates formerly for the Joffrey Ballet, and later with Pennsylvania. There was something incredibly robust about her dancing and her stage presence.

And definitely Darci in her early career.

Here's something I've been struggling with a bit, and it might sound a little dopey, but can one seem like the boy/girl next door, and/or all-American even if they're not? For example, doesn't Angel Corella embody many of the qualities we see as all-American in dancers like Woetzel and Fayette? Or do they register differently?

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Mention some other companies, folks!

For some reason, my mind keeps gravitating towards modern dance, especially Paul Taylor's company. Cathy McCann, for instance, with that beautiful, open face of hers and her dancing similarly open and lovely and completely devoid of artifice or affectation, always stuck me as quintessentially American. Gosh, I miss her...

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John Kriza, who was "Mr. Ballet Theatre" for years had a repertory that was very All American Boy from that period (1940s to 1950s).  There was a problem filling his roles in Billy the Kid, Fancy Free and the like -- lots of interesting performances, but none that were quite in the same key, I'm told.  (Kriza was before my time.)  Then Robert LaFosse started doing these roles, and although he wasn't a copy of Kriza by any means, I remember several of my older friends saying, "YES!!!!!!  He's got something like the same "All American" quality."

All true about Kriza---but in a ballet like "Fancy Free" he was the son of middle-America, Lang the California devil-may-care, and Robbins the Savvy New Yorker. There was another performer at the time who could also be considered 'All-American'---the British born Frederic Franklin, who was a first rate cowboy in 'Rodeo"---in fact, I can envision him in any of Kriza'a so-called American roles. It was their exhuberance and charming personalities that set them apart, not their birthplace.

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Michele Wiles.

Mention some other companies, folks!

Gary Cryst. Francesca Corkle.

It's easier to recognize the dancer's all-Americanness when s/he dances in works that are themselves all-American. Hence, I figure, the preponderance of NYCB people.

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Simon Ball, Ian Casady, and Nicholas Leschke. I wouldn't describe Ball as having cute boyish charms, but he has an almost Hollywood movie star-like quality about him. Casady is more of the boy-next-door type, his dancing style exuberant and carefree. Leschke is the rugged Westerner who played football and baseball in high school. Also, the shy and sweet Sara Webb comes to my mind as the all-American girl.

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I never saw her dance, but I imagine Diana Adams would fit the bill.  Was she, as I have inferred, an uncomplicated persona?

An uncomplicated persona?---I would say 'hardly'. The one word that springs to mind when describing her on stage would be 'serious'. Early in her career (read that as Before Tudor) she was one of the best Lilac Fairies I have seen and did a very dramatic Myrtha and a fairly good Helen of Troy. The descriptions I have read here of what constitutes an All-American dancer don't apply to her. She was not at all like Tanaquil LeClercq. LeClercq's wonderful 'quirkiness' set her apart from other dancers. Adams was in the classical mode. I would say she was a pretty complicated person---just think of her Tudor/Laing period.

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To me, the American dancer and the Balanchine dancer are one and the same. Speed, clarity of movement, sharp attrack, extreme muscial and athleticism are all the basic qualities find in both dancers. That has to do in large part, I believe, with the fact that Balanchine created or at the very lease cultivated the art of ballet in American. His influence is huge and still felt across this country. Many of the dancers he train to perform in his manner are know artistic directors to most of the major ballet companies in American today. It could be argued that those artistic directors are now most likely training their dancing in the manner that they was taught by Balanchine. And even if the artistic director of a company was not train by Balanchine, most of American companies had a large repertory of Balanchine ballets, which in order to perform them, dancers must have or at the very least be able to achieve many of those qualities that I mention to perform them. I could be wrong, but that is what I feel.

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In 1971 in an article called "Balanchine's Girls: The Making of a Style" (published in Afterimages), Arlene Croce wrote of Karin von Aroldingen

Who Cares? naturalizes her -- she looks like a cheerful, beer-drinking American college girl -- and makes her look like a star, too.

Four years later in an essay called "Farrell and Farrellism" (published in Writing in the Dark), she excoriated von Aroldingen's recent performances in the same ballet,

One of the reason [Who Cares?] is no longer fresh is that von Aroldingen has trashed the beautiful part Balanchine gave her -- the part that for the first time made her look like an American ballerina and that might well have gone to Farrell if she'd stayed.
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What about Arthur Mitchell?

I certainly agree with many of the choices made ,but I wondered if he fits the bill...

He is American and a former "Balanchine" dancer.I don't know what kind of a dancer he was in terms of technique, but he certainly had carisma and a following , and he went on to found Dance theatre of Harlem to give other black dancers a chance. ... I call that American....

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Mitchell had good reliable technique and was seen to advantage in "Divertimento #15", and "Agon", as well as "Four Temperaments" and "Symphony in C". His demi-character side (and terrific tapping) was brilliantly exploited in "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue".

He retired at or near the very top of his popularity, and he fits the "All-American" sobriquet neatly.

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Here's a few All Americans from other than NYCB -

Royal Danish has Amy Watson, although she is becoming more and more Danish as the years go by.

SFB has Brett Bauer, a young, exhuberant corps member who really does look like the boy next door! Sarah Van Patten is all american, but doesn't seem to dance that way.

Sarah Lamb at Boston Ballet has many of those qualities but doesn't seem comfortable dancing that way. She's off to The Royal and a more purely classical technique it seems.

It seems I've picked out young, pretty dancers as examples of All-americans. Hmmmm.

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