Jump to content
This Site Uses Cookies. If You Want to Disable Cookies, Please See Your Browser Documentation. ×

Who Would Be on Your All-American Ballerinas List?

Recommended Posts

There's an openness and directness that is attributed to the American male dancer; Balanchine said that Americans "walk like men." I don't think it's so cut-and-dried when talking about women, let alone ballerinas.

It may be less obvious today, though I'm not certain that's true, but in the 1930s and 40s, American men and women were often described as being obvious to spot on a UK/European street by their manner and their walk. It was definitely true of American women as well.

I happened to watch part of a 2nd rate film noir movie last night, and I remember how characteristic the lead actor's saunter was - and the big shouldered suit with wide pant legs, and the fedora - all a classic look of the era, but no one walks like that anymore or cuts the same profile. By the 1950s, the archetypal looks for both men and women had changed considerably - women were being 'perfected' into homemaker angels, while the men seem to have affected a specifically athletic, working-class bearing, and a more menacing demeanor (think boxers and Brando). And these days, 'the baggy pants walk' chosen by so many young men is so affected as to be comedic - the point being NOT to "walk like men", or look like them.

Link to comment

Well since you bring up La Callas - if Mr Macauley had made an argument about singers using the same criteria, would La Callas be considered a "part time singer"? Technically speaking, she wasn't the end-all be-all, but her choices in sound and acting made her eminently interesting

Not sure I'd say that, Jayne. Callas’ musicianship was second to none. She was also an exceptional actor, but she only began relying on acting effects later in her career when her voice was failing her (although Callas really never had a “later career”; the great Callas of history and legend was almost gone by her mid-thirties, exceptionally early. There's been a lot of discussion about this, but her technique remained sound; it was her voice that failed her - “faults of departure not of arrival,” as it was said. (She did set an unhappy precedent in that before Callas it wasn’t generally accepted that voices could be expected to collapse like a house of cards; after Callas this was treated almost as normal.)

I don’t think her example applies to “part-time” as Macaulay uses the term here, because what I take him to mean is that the dancers to which he refers only become ballerinas in the larger sense within significant limits. Those limitations may be, but are not necessarily, technical ones. I have read observers who saw Kistler in the last years who noted that even when her body was failing her utterly, she could still at fleeting moments perform with an authority and create effects that some of her replacements, even if they could do the steps as Kistler could not, were unable to produce.

Link to comment

There's an openness and directness that is attributed to the American male dancer; Balanchine said that Americans "walk like men." I don't think it's so cut-and-dried when talking about women, let alone ballerinas.

Farrell, for example, or Janie Taylor today, to cite just a couple of NYCB women, are often spoken of as having a certain mystery and remove that I think of as akin to many old-school European "ballerinas." But are there old-fashioned "ballerina" equivalents to, say, Patricia McBride and Tiler Peck?

Link to comment

I would also like to add the names of...

Virginia Johnson - former principal ballerina with the Dance Theater of Harlem. Possibly the first black ballerina in history to be taken seriously as a classical dancer the world over.

Lauren Anderson - outside of DTOH became the first black ballerina to achieve principal status at a major US ballet company - The Houston Ballet.

And of course we shouldn't forget Augusta Maywood {1825-1876} America's very first Prima Ballerina to achieve international fame and was one of the great stars of Romantic ballet along side Taglioni, Elssler, Grahn, Grisi and Cerrito.

others I would include:

Cynthia Harvey - never had the chance to see her perform live but on tape - for me - she's the definitive Kiti in Don Q. Natalia Osipova could take lessons from her and benefit greatly.

Kyra Nichols - she was the first dancer I saw live that made me think: "now that's a prima ballerina!"

Amanda McKerrow - I loved her in everything she danced. And I believe she was the first American to receive a gold medal at the International Ballet Competition in Moscow.

Link to comment
[sylve is] still a French citizen, I believe. And a wonderful dancer. Sylve, like Verdy, is one of those interesting "cross-bred" cases (bad term, but I can't think of anything else at this late hour). They both had significant time receiving French training, but also lots of time at NYCB (and SFB for Sylve).

I'm wondering if analyzing the changes in the dance style and technique of these dancers wouldn't provide better clues as to what makes a dancer "American", rather than of the French or Russian schools.

I don't know Sylve's work (just one video of Swan Lake before she came to America), but Verdy, after several decades working with Balanchine at NYCB, definitely qualifies as an "American" ballerina. Of course she always retained her "French" personality and excelled especially in ballets by French composers. Her specialty was speed, delicacy, subtlety, wit.. But a glance at the index of Nancy Reynolds' Repertory in Review demonstrates how wide her range of NYCB performance was.

-- Symphony in C (1st movement) -- Orpheus (Eurydice) -- Firebird -- Swan Lake Act II -- Scotch Symphony -- Lew Christensen's Con Amore -- Western Symphony (Allegro movement) -- Glinka Pas de Trois -- Agon (second pas de trois) -- Gounod Symphony -- Episodes (premiere) (the Balanchine section) -- Sonnambula (Sleepwalker) -- Panamerica (premiere, Brasil section) -- Theme and Variations -- Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux (premiere) -- Electronics (premiere, Balanchine -- set to a contemporary electronic score) -- Raymonda Variations (premiere) -- Balanchine's Midsummer Night's Dream (premiere -- Divertissement) -- Irish Fantasy (Jacques d'Amboise) -- Brahams-Schoenberg Quartet (premiere, Allegro) -- La Guirlande de Campra (Taras, premiere) -- Jewels (Emeralds) -- Glinkiana (premiere, polka movement) -- Haydn Concerto (Taras) -- La Source (premiere) -- Dances at a Gathering (Robbins, premiere) -- In the Night (premiere, Robbins) -- Sarabande and Danse (premiere, John Clifford) -- Printemps (premiere, Lorca Massine) -- Pulcinella (the girl, premiere) --Choral Variatiosn on Bach's Vom Himmel Hoch (premiere) -- Four Bagatelles (premiere, Robbins) -- Sonatine (Ravel, premiere)

All of this was in the U.S. dancing as a principal in a U.S. company. There's no Bugaku or Slaughter on 10th Avenue on this list. No Coppelia, for some reason. But just about everything else is there. Right now I'm remembering the vivid impression she made on me in Pulcinella (with Villella).

Especially in the early days, she -- like the other principals -- had to dance many things outside her fach.. She was the opposite of a "part-time ballerina," in the sense that she danced and danced, often creating a role or substituting for someone who was injured. She was brilliant in almost every ballet she touched.

I just finished reading Mary Cargill's excellent recap of the NYCB Spring 2013 Season in Dance View ...

Just wanted to say how much I got from this piece as well. As someone who does not live in NYC and missed the season, it was the next best thing to being there.

IIf we can come up with what defines a ballerina, must a dancer show those qualities through a significant part of their careers to become a ballerina? Outside of prodigies, is it valid to call younger dancers with relatively limited reps and experience in principal roles, ballerinas? Is being a ballerina a series of qualities, regardless of how limited the experience? (If so, there's a corps dancer I see at PNB that I'd call a ballerina, but people would laugh at that if they saw her resume.) Must a ballerina be at least great, if not equally good, in all parts of her rep, aside from the occasional experiment and/or mis-casting? I think these are underlying issues that Macaulay was getting at in his "part-time" ballerina comment.

In terms of rep, there's a difference between companies with a dominant choreographer -- Balanchine, Ashton, MacMillan, Grigorovich, and Bournonville in periods -- or those who primarily "After Petipa" rep of various shades -- where there are exemplars of that rep through the generations, and the norm in North America, where even if there is a house choreographer, typically the Artistic Director, and a neoclassical aesthetic, there is a wide range of rep. I don't know if anyone would argue that Fonteyn wasn't a ballerina, certainly in her rep, but would she be considered a ballerina if she had to dance Forsythe today, Balanchine tomorrow, Tudor the day after next, Kent Stowell's "The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet" next month, Tomasson after that, "Giselle" the month after that, followed by "Rodeo," not to mention the Morris, Taylor, Tharp, etc. etc. that makes up the typical rep of an American/Canadian ballet company?

Great questions. As this thread has progressed (it's in its 6th page now) more and more and more names are being added. It seems that "ballerina" is very much in the eye and heart of the beholder. I suppose each of us has his or her own definition of the term. My own is fairly strict. It involves such qualities as

-- technical genius in a variety of repertoire

-- charisma: the ability to hold the eye, to to fascinate, to excite

-- the ability to convey emotion through movement

-- a high degree of consistency, at least in the same roles or type of role (for example, I disagree with including Heather Watts on this list, largely on the grounds of INconsistency)

-- whatever it is that makes major choreographers want to create work on you

-- the quality of unforgetability, in the sense that after you have stopped dancing, you leave us with vivid visual and emotional memories. The kind that make one grateful that you were there when "X" danced. The kind you talk about every time the topic of great dancers comes up in conversation.

Link to comment

A humorous side-note to the discussion of what makes an 'American Ballerina' and for that matter, American ballet ...

One day Balanchine came into the office and announced that he would not be able to hold a rehearsal the next day between 4 and 6 p.m. There was an apartment workers' strike at his building on West 67th Street, and his shift running the elevator fell between those hours.

''To this day I run into people who lived in the building at the time who remember their shock when the gate cranked open and there was George Balanchine saying, 'Floor, please?'''


Link to comment

I notice that story is is from 2001. Which explains another curious reference:

(Will Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani now put on a tutu and toe shoes as one of the mischievous cowgirl ballerinas in Balanchine's ''Western Symphony''?)

Does anyone know if Giuliani did indeed dance in Western Symphony?

If so, maybe he belongs on our All-American Ballerina list. And if not, it still produces an image that is hard to push out of myhead. I see him as the girl with the big hat.

Link to comment

When I think of ballerinas, I think of dancers who fill a stage for three acts. It is a four-dimensional presence. It lasts for meters as well as hours. There are the brilliant ones who floor me with their technique. And the emotional ones who fill time. And then there are those few ballerinas who you can't wait for or imagine what is coming next. Who you breath with and move with and feel with.

Link to comment
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...