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Misty Copeland - Divided Views


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If you are willing to subscribe to THE AUSTRALIAN you can find a review here. (I only read the one paragraph that was free access.)

From Nexis:

The Australian

September 4, 2014 Thursday

Australian Edition

Swan's maiden flight brings joy to the heart

BYLINE: Deborah Jones

LENGTH: 463 words

DANCE Swan Lake.

American Ballet Theatre, Lyric Theatre, Brisbane, September 3

IT'S always a big deal when a dancer makes her debut as Odette-Odile in Swan Lake. It's a bigger deal when that dancer is Misty Copeland, the first African-American in American Ballet Theatre's 75-year history to be cast as Odette. It shouldn't be so, but it is. Copeland, 31, has waited a long time for this. She has earned it, and yesterday claimed it.

No matter what the role, deep within every dancer's body are aspects of the story she is telling. They are an inextricable part of it. Copeland is tiny, but strong and womanly. She is not frail. Her Odette, then, instantly reminds one that swans are birds of considerable power as well as grace. Although she has been made a captive, she is not a victim. We are reminded, too, that Odette is not just a swan. She is the Swan Queen. Copeland's opening scene (apart from the brief prologue showing how Von Rothbart tricked Odette and enslaved her) was therefore individual, although a little too largely played on this first outing. But in her magisterial arms and shoulders, so evocative of a magnificent creature's wingspan, there is much promise. Already one could see Copeland had a clear and personal idea of Odette's character.

The pas de deux that followed was ravishing. The first slow section was expressed as if one long tender sigh and the rapport between Copeland and her Prince Siegfried - Alexandre Hammoudi also making a role debut - was electrifying. Hammoudi undoubtedly would have wanted to dance more cleanly than he did yesterday but his partnering and his connection with Copeland were tremendously satisfying.

Given Copeland's gifts, Odile would seem to hold no terrors for Copeland. Indeed not. Her dominion was amply demonstrated in a technical sense, but it was the little details that were so enjoyable: the avian stretches of the neck, the seductive expression, the sparkling eyes and, to top it off, the brief but super-sexy stroking of Siegfried's chest that clinched the deal between them.

A short time later Copeland reappeared as Odette, as in Kevin McKenzie's production the action shifts immediately from Act III's ballroom to the lakeside Act IV. At this season's opening night last week I found the denouement far too rushed, but Copeland and Hammoudi seemed to stretch time and were profoundly moving. The audience stood and cheered lustily, and rightly.

This was unfortunately Copeland's only Odette in Brisbane but it was enough to make the heart burst with joy.Tonight is the final performance of Swan Lake in ABT's Brisbane season, starring Paloma Herrera. Four performances of the triple bill Three Masterpieces begin tomorrow. Copeland is scheduled to appear in Twyla Tharp's Bach Partita tomorrow and Saturday night.

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Bravo Misty Copeland!

I would like to second this! I am glad to see that Misty's dancing has been well received in Australia, and I think she is an excellent ambassador for ballet (and one doesn't have to be a leading principal dancer to spread the word about ballet).

I think that many regular posters on BA are critical of Misty not because of her dancing, but because she has the courage to admit that institutional racism in ballet companies is still an issue. If she didn't speak openly about race, she would be regarded as a leading soloist with an affinity for contemporary work (not as the overrated soloist who is taking Stella's parts!). I also think that Misty is genuinely trying to create a space for black women in classical ballet, and not just sell her books. As Tapfan has pointed out, one SL in 7 years is hardly PR/favoritism, etc.

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I think that many regular posters on BA are critical of Misty not because of her dancing, but because she has the courage to admit that institutional racism in ballet companies is still an issue.

I really don't see evidence of that (i.e. your claim, not hers), and in fact most people critical of Misty's dancing on here have mentioned that they do indeed think that institutional racism in ballet is a problem and would like to see more non-white dancers rise through the ranks.

It's one thing to say that those who disagree with you are wrong, but to make unsubstantiated claims that they're not even being honest about what they think or why doesn't really get us anywhere.

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I think that many regular posters on BA are critical of Misty not because of her dancing, but because she has the courage to admit that institutional racism in ballet companies is still an issue.

Copeland hasn't admitted anything. She's made an accusation, and an accusation that was guaranteed to gain her widespread sympathy and support. Naming names would have taken a lot of courage. Letting her dancing do the talking would eventually have garnered her the widespread acclaim she deserves as a groundbreaking dancer.Or she could have written her book without crying "racism." Instead she tarred a whole ballet company (Who are the supposed racists who supposedly didn't want to see her rise? She is taken at her word that she encountered them, but fans are left to speculate who she's talking about, while the purported racists - everyone there is now under suspicion - can't even defend themselves).

I don't want to be too hard on Copeland. She's young, and she lives in a culture that has encouraged her to do this. But in the end, I'm not sure it's honorable.

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I think that many regular posters on BA are critical of Misty not because of her dancing, but because she has the courage to admit that institutional racism in ballet companies is still an issue.

Letting her dancing do the talking would eventually have garnered her the widespread acclaim she deserves as a groundbreaking dancer.Or she could have written her book without crying "racism." Instead she tarred a whole ballet company (Who are the supposed racists who supposedly didn't want to see her rise? She is taken at her word that she encountered them, but fans are left to speculate who she's talking about, while the purported racists - everyone there is now under suspicion - can't even defend themselves).

I'm sure most minorities have found that simply letting their good work do the talking has eventually led to them getting the widespread acclaim they deserve.

That is why racism no longer exists / is totally eradicated in today's society!

Racism does exist in the ballet world. It has been a topic on this board certainly (the lack of certain minorities in ballet companies, especially at the upper levels) and for a dancer of color to discuss that in a book about her life does not seem to me to be "crying racism" but stating something that has been institutionalized fact. Racism can be subtle and not even "maliciously intended." The preconception that a black female dancer can't "look like a swan" or stands out too much in a group of willies. That doesn't mean it isn't racism.

Honorable? Is that the expectation of dancers and company directors? I think that is a can of worms one might not want to open but I don't see anything dishonorable about it.

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I don't want to be too hard on Copeland. She's young, and she lives in a culture that has encouraged her to do this. But in the end, I'm not sure it's honorable.

Copeland isn't so young anymore (30, I believe). She and her PR team knew exactly what they were doing in playing the race card, and it appears to have worked. Alicia Graf always let her dancing do the talking, and she was always rewarded with ecstatic press reviews.

Misty should give her PR folks a big bonus for all they have accomplished on her behalf.

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I don't want to be too hard on Copeland. She's young, and she lives in a culture that has encouraged her to do this. But in the end, I'm not sure it's honorable.

Copeland isn't so young anymore (30, I believe). She and her PR team knew exactly what they were doing in playing the race card, and it appears to have worked.

I would argue that the term "playing the race card" is incredibly belittling of the minority experience in America.

The fact is that if you are not white, and especially if you are not white in a field as white as ballet is in the united states, race is going to deeply impact your experience. And people are, consciously or not (if you really want to believe that no one is racist), going to see you differently because you are different than almost everyone else and you stick out in every corps, you look different from everyone else.

To call attention to that and say that your career has been impacted by it, HURT by it, is not "playing the race card."

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Webster's dictionary defines "race card" as follows:


: the issue of a person's race as it relates to a particular contest (such as a political campaign or a court trial) —often used in the phrase play the race card


It is well documented in her book and her interviews that Misty has raised the issue of her race as it relates to her employment as a ballerina. Based on the definition of the term, I don't see how stating that she has played the race card is inaccurate.

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I don't want to be too hard on Copeland. She's young, and she lives in a culture that has encouraged her to do this. But in the end, I'm not sure it's honorable.

Copeland isn't so young anymore (30, I believe). She and her PR team knew exactly what they were doing in playing the race card, and it appears to have worked. Alicia Graf always let her dancing do the talking, and she was always rewarded with ecstatic press reviews.

Misty should give her PR folks a big bonus for all they have accomplished on her behalf.

Actually, Alicia was quoted in that 2007 New York Times article about the lack of black female classical dancers that SOME folks found offensive and off-the-mark. She personally didn't complain, but her situation was used to highlight the fact that that talented, black, female, classical dancers weren't being given the chances they deserved.

When Dance Theater of Harlem shut down, Alicia took class with ABT and submitted some of her reviews to both ABT and City Ballet in hopes that she could secure a job with a New York ballet company. ABT told her she was too tall and City Ballet said "Thanks, but no thanks."

That's when Alicia switched to modern and started dancing with Alvin Ailey. She didn't whine about nobody wanting her in NYC, but Virginia Johnson complained on her behalf. Johnson was irritated that City Ballet didn't hire her because according to Virginia, Graff was the very definition of a Balanchine ballerina - tall, leggy, with impressive technique and great plasticity.

Virginia said that she just didn't understand how City Ballet could pass on such a great ballerina and that Alicia was being wasted at Alvin Ailey.

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When Dance Theater of Harlem shut down, Alicia took class with ABT and submitted some of her reviews to both ABT and City Ballet in hopes that she could secure a job with a New York ballet company. ABT told her she was too tall and City Ballet said "Thanks, but no thanks."

Sources?

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When Dance Theater of Harlem shut down, Alicia took class with ABT and submitted some of her reviews to both ABT and City Ballet in hopes that she could secure a job with a New York ballet company. ABT told her she was too tall and City Ballet said "Thanks, but no thanks."

Sources?

"Ms. Graf, in her quest for a job, took an open class at Ballet Theater (she said she was told that at 5 feet 10 inches she was too tall) and sent a package of photographs and reviews to City Ballet. “I got a response saying that there weren’t any open positions,” she said of City Ballet. Then she auditioned for Ailey. “It wasn’t all that devastating,” she said. “I wanted to work with one of the top companies, and Ailey worked out. That was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.”"

Here's the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/06/arts/dance/06kour.html?pagewanted=all%3E&_r=0

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I think that many regular posters on BA are critical of Misty not because of her dancing, but because she has the courage to admit that institutional racism in ballet companies is still an issue.

I really don't see evidence of that (i.e. your claim, not hers), and in fact most people critical of Misty's dancing on here have mentioned that they do indeed think that institutional racism in ballet is a problem and would like to see more non-white dancers rise through the ranks.

It's one thing to say that those who disagree with you are wrong, but to make unsubstantiated claims that they're not even being honest about what they think or why doesn't really get us anywhere.

There are certainly a number of BA posters who admit that institutional racism in ballet is an issue. I think that's commendable. That being said, I think that there are also a number of vocal posters who think that Misty is too big for her britches, does not deserve to have the ear of the general public, and think that talking about institutional racism openly is a distraction. Misty's outspokenness is not an issue for me, as I don't think that a dancer needs to be a principal in order to advocate for the art form.

If Misty had a lower public profile, I feel like the criticism of her dancing would be more muted. I have read plenty of criticism of Chase Finlay on these boards, for example, but no one has called him the "Justin Bieber of ballet," (someone earlier in the thread compared Misty to Kim Kardashian) or implied that he's a hack and a "disaster" (someone said that Misty's SL had the potential to be a "disaster"). People have even questioned her motives for telling her - very inspirational - personal story. For some reason, Misty seems to generate a disproportionate amount of outrage on these boards, and I feel as though not all of it is directly related to her dancing.

I think that many regular posters on BA are critical of Misty not because of her dancing, but because she has the courage to admit that institutional racism in ballet companies is still an issue.

Copeland hasn't admitted anything. She's made an accusation, and an accusation that was guaranteed to gain her widespread sympathy and support. Naming names would have taken a lot of courage. Letting her dancing do the talking would eventually have garnered her the widespread acclaim she deserves as a groundbreaking dancer.Or she could have written her book without crying "racism." Instead she tarred a whole ballet company (Who are the supposed racists who supposedly didn't want to see her rise? She is taken at her word that she encountered them, but fans are left to speculate who she's talking about, while the purported racists - everyone there is now under suspicion - can't even defend themselves).

I don't want to be too hard on Copeland. She's young, and she lives in a culture that has encouraged her to do this. But in the end, I'm not sure it's honorable.

If racism has been a part of her lived experience, then she has a right to discuss it. Even if it offends some ballet fans. Even principal dancers are not immune from it.

ABT has not been "tarred" - it will always be a prestigious company. If anything, Misty has brought a lot of positive attention to ABT (I believe that Prince donated $250,000 to the company after working with her), and ABT seems to be very supportive of her efforts. Also, Misty is not suing anyone - there is no need for anyone to "defend themselves."

Also, re the 'race card': that term is offensive because it assumes that black people enjoy recounting stories of racism and discrimination to elicit sympathy, when those stories are often very painful to share, and rarely elicit sympathy. This thread is a good example of that!

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I really don't have a stake in this argument. Or rather, I see both sides (which shouldn't even necessarily be viewed as "sides"). On the one hand, I've never much liked Misty Copeland's dancing. On the other hand, I find it hard to believe that racism -- institutional and personal, explicit and implicit -- hasn't had an impact on the lives and careers of many dancers of color, including Misty's. (It's possible to believe both that Misty has been held back by reactions to her race and that she's not right for the role of O/O at ABT.)

But that said, I'd simply point out that we're being asked to

(a) take the word of someone who's been denied a job on the reasons given for that denial, and

(b) join in the assumption that those reasons were in fact lies.

(And, furthermore, ( c ) assume that Graf herself was lying in the last part of her quoted statement.)

p.s. I'm not saying that I'm completely unwilling to do a, b and c -- just that we need to be aware of where our arguments are standing on shaky ground.

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I really don't have a stake in this argument. Or rather, I see both sides (which shouldn't even necessarily be viewed as "sides"). On the one hand, I've never much liked Misty Copeland's dancing. On the other hand, I find it hard to believe that racism -- institutional and personal, explicit and implicit -- hasn't had an impact on the lives and careers of many dancers of color, including Misty's. (It's possible to believe both that Misty has been held back by reactions to her race and that she's not right for the role of O/O at ABT.)

But that said, I'd simply point out that we're being asked to

(a) take the word of someone who's been denied a job on the reasons given for that denial, and

(b) join in the assumption that those reasons were in fact lies.

(And, furthermore, © assume that Graf herself was lying in the last part of her quoted statement.)

Not commenting on anything else here, but I don't think you have to assume C.

Rather consider the possibility that she was being very gracious, is indeed happy working where she is working, and does not want to alienate or insult anyone there. That doesn't mean that ideally she might not have preferred a position at ABT or NYCB if one had been offered (ok so its perhaps potentially a bit of a fib, but an understandable and justified one--the kind anyone would say to please an employer)

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Not commenting on anything else here, but I don't think you have to assume C.

Rather consider the possibility that she was being very gracious, is indeed happy working where she is working, and does not want to alienate or insult anyone there. That doesn't mean that ideally she might not have preferred a position at ABT or NYCB if one had been offered (ok so its perhaps potentially a bit of a fib, but an understandable and justified one--the kind anyone would say to please an employer)

Absolutely, I think that's quite likely. One of the reasons why I added the postscript.

The other reason is that I'm completely aware that one of the challenges of making a case about institutional racism is that there isn't often clear proof. I don't want to come across as the sort who says, basically, "Yes, in the abstract it's there, but I won't believe it in any particular case unless I see hard evidence." Still, I think it's important to keep in mind the limitations of our own knowledge and arguments.

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Not commenting on anything else here, but I don't think you have to assume C.

Rather consider the possibility that she was being very gracious, is indeed happy working where she is working, and does not want to alienate or insult anyone there. That doesn't mean that ideally she might not have preferred a position at ABT or NYCB if one had been offered (ok so its perhaps potentially a bit of a fib, but an understandable and justified one--the kind anyone would say to please an employer)

I basically agree with aurora. AGM would probably prefer to be with a ballet company, but I'm sure she was happy to find a position with a prestigious modern company like Ailey.

I think that Virginia Johnson is also correct, though. I would have liked to see ABT or NYCB take a flier on AGM, and I would also to see more ADs become personally invested in mentoring black dancers. Lauren Anderson would have not become a Houston Ballet principal if she had not been personally cultivated by Ben Stevenson (Houston Ballet's founding director).

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Misty insinuates that she has been discriminated against, but never gives specifics regarding time, place, person, role, and so on. Insinuation without factual detail is debilitating to the reputation of a major organization. Of course she hasn't brought suit. She gets a lot further with mere insinuation. Maybe the specifics will be revealed in some future book. ABT is now embracing Misty because it will put an end to critics who allege that she is denied roles based on race. They are also embracing her in the hope of attracting "new audiences."

Most of the soloists at ABT are overlooked for principal roles, except those who prove to be extraordinarily talented and skilled. ABT is, and always has been, a place where guest artists occupy a significant portion of the roster for the plum roles and performances. Like it or not, that's how it is at ABT. So is it racism at ABT that is the factor that has held Misty back, or is it just the way things are at ABT for almost all soloists. Does anyone who attends ABT performances regularly think that Misty is more talented, has better technique and stronger abilities than the other female soloists?

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Aurora wrote:

To call attention to that and say that your career has been impacted by it, HURT by it, is not "playing the race card."
I agree in theory, and I don’t remember Copeland actually claiming her career had actually been hurt. But f she has, where is the evidence? Racism exists, so it’s quite possible Copeland faced it at ABT. But we also know that arts organizations tend to be progressive, which is to say that they’re filled with people who, if they have a conscious or unconscious bias in regards to race, have one in favor of black dancers – for obvious good reasons, they want black dancers to succeed. It stands to reason that while Copeland may have met the first reaction (again, where are the names and where is the evidence?), she also met the second.
If she wants to talk about busting stereotypes and wants to argue for opening the art form to body types likes hers, fine. If she wants to serve as a role model (and is a good one), great. Wonderful. But when she conflates the odious with the morally neutral – when she conflates racism with the traditional preference for a body type that most white women don’t share either, well, abatt makes a good point. No one would accuse Copeland of being dumb.
Pique Arabesque wrote:
If racism has been a part of her lived experience, then she has a right to discuss it.
Certainly. She also has the right to name the people she thinks were racist, rather than putting a whole organization under suspicion. Even if someone at ABT wronged her, she can still treat the rest of the people there right.
In regards to Alicia Graf, what artistic director in his or her right mind wouldn't, for reasons of prestige and ticket sales, rush to hire or promote a talented black dancer if the company had a place for her? I understand Johnson’s anger as an outsider looking in at these companies. But to think that ADs would let racism dictate their decision making flies in the face of common sense, in my opinion.
ETA: abatt, who was posting at the same time, puts it very well. Copeland is engaging in insinuation.
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"Ms. Graf, in her quest for a job, took an open class at Ballet Theater (she said she was told that at 5 feet 10 inches she was too tall) and sent a package of photographs and reviews to City Ballet. “I got a response saying that there weren’t any open positions,” she said of City Ballet. Then she auditioned for Ailey. “It wasn’t all that devastating,” she said. “I wanted to work with one of the top companies, and Ailey worked out. That was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.”"

Here's the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/06/arts/dance/06kour.html?pagewanted=all%3E&_r=0

Since ABT can rarely find enough tall male partners to go around and Part, at 5'8'', is tricky for most to partner, I'm not surprised that they passed on Graf. Given the partnering-heavy rep. at ABT, what else could they do? Assign her only Myrtha and Lilac Fairy? It doesn't seem like a case of aesthetics or racism in this instance. Also, is anyone really shocked that NYCB passed on a dancer that didn't come up through SAB or work in a top-tier company? She had also recently been injured/arthritic and taken off time to get her B.A. at Columbia. She was then considering going into finance. I'd frankly be shocked if she had gotten a job at either ABT or NYCB, if only because it would have been a highly unusual career trajectory (even more so than starting training at age 13, as in Copeland's case).

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Peter Martins does not take chances on hiring new dancers who have a history of illness or injury. (He already has enough problems with long term injury and illness of dancers who have been long term member of the company, ie, Jennie Somogyi). As an example, there was recently an interview with Kathryn Morgan in the NY Times in which she states that she asked Martins if he would hire her back and he asserted that there was no money in the budget to offer her a contract. (For those who are not familiar, Morgan was a soloist at NYCB and has been battling problems relating to a chronic illness, underactive thyroid, for the past few years.) I would agree with the post above that Graf's history of illness made it very unlikely that Martins would make her an offer.

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