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Misty Copeland


Helene

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Patricia McBride worked for a genius, which even the most pro McKenzie people have never claimed for him. McBride danced for NYCB, where Balanchine insisted for the longest time that dancers be listed alphabetically and unranked and where casting was announced very close to performance time and extremely reluctantly, because the choreography was supposed to be the star. Patricia McBride joined NYCB in 1959 and by 1961 was a Principal Dancer. She was never in the position of worrying whether she was going to be promoted, and as Villella's go-to partner, didn't have to worry about being cast or lacking for new ballets by Balanchine or Robbins.

If the AD is responsible for promotions, and the AD hasn't promoted someone, unless the AD has given a specific reason -- no money for promotions, no spots at concours -- it's stating a simple truth to say that the AD is responsible for not promoting a dancer.

ABT is another culture and has been for half a century, which is why they take out expensive ads in the NYT to advertise casting to sell tickets. If Copeland has the ambition to be the first black Principal at ABT, that's what it is: an ambition, and an ambition out of necessity. I think it is more plausible that Copeland would rather have had role models in the position before her, for it to be commonplace for ballerinas to be black, and to have her ambition simply be "Principal Dancer at ABT."

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As far as Copeland's voiceover stating that she wants to be ABT's first black principal dancer, it has no more or less to do with the athletic clothing as any other aspirational sports marketing and has everything to do with the brand, just like many of Nike's "Just Do It!" ads. It is tying her to the brand and the brand to an aspiring champion who has articulated her goal. Were she Brooklee Han, the voiceover would say, "I want to be the first Australian Olympic Ladies Champion."

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Lauren Anderson made principal at Houston Ballet, Tapfan. (After all your opining you still haven’t bothered to inform yourself?) People much more knowledgeable than I think others should have been elevated to soloist or principal. Plenty of others, no doubt, if they'd had chances early on.

If you have knowledge of wealthy donors who expect ballet to look like the Mariinsky in 1965, or reasons to think they do, I’m all ears. Otherwise, I'm sorry, but that's just reverse prejudice. But whenever I've ask you for knowledge or viewing experience, I've come up short.

I know that Lauren Anderson and Tai Jimenez both danced as principals in major U.S. companies. But they're both retired. And Tai probably wouldn't have had her one year as principal at Boston Ballet if DTOH hadn't gone on hiatus.

I took ballet classes with Tai Jimenez in the mid -late 1980's when she was a teenager and I was an adult in my 20's. Our teacher, Madame Gabriela Taub Darvash certainly recognized Tai's talent and pushed her very,very hard. Unfortunately, Darvash was cruelest with talented dancers and Tai was sensitive. So just before she graduated high school, Tai left Darvash. The next time I bumped into Tai (a few years later) she was dancing with DTOH.

My point is that in my limited experience, talented dancers are recognized and pushed no matter what their race or ethnicity is. How a company then deals with them I have no experience with. But race does not seem to hold back dancers, at least when they are students.

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Here is Misty's performance with Mathew Prescott at Vail 2011.

Thank you for posting that. I watched it trying to be objective. I did not see a very talented dancer in the video. She look weighty and earthbound instead of light and delicate (which looks like what the choreographer was going for). Her arabesques are only 90 degrees at best (the new norm seems to be 110) and she has a pretty stiff back to where she can't look comfortable reclining in her partner's arm. Also I am bothered by her breasts and this ugly costume just accentuates them. Really I look at this video and wonder why this girl is even a soloist. But maybe that's just me.

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I agree that the costume in the video is not attractive and makes her seem top heavy (which I haven't found in the theater), but I thought her dancing was pretty lovely--fluid and with the combination of low key sensuality and lightness the choreography/music seems to call for (as best one can tell watching a video).

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I thought the piece she danced from Balanchine's Tchaikovsky Pas de deux at the Kennedy Center Honors was lovely. And I swear that it looks like Patty McBride says "perfect" while she applauds the performance.

If she doesn't seem to think Copeland is so out of her depth when dancing the great man's work, then perhaps Copeland's supposed limitations are more subjective than her detractors are willing to admit.

I understand that people can hate Copeland for reason's that have nothing to do with race. But people can like her as well for reasons that transcend race. Some folks, who are actually knowledgeable about ballet, seem to think she's talented.

Go figure.

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I saw Copeland's Kennedy Center performance. I thought it looked sluggish, especially compared to the many times I have seen it at ABT and NYCB by the likes of Tiler Peck, Ashely Bouder and other artists. I'll chalk it up to nerves at a televised performance. Just check out a youtube clip of McBride doing the same steps in a filmed version with Baryshnikov and you will see the difference in speed and elevation.

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My point is that in my limited experience, talented dancers are recognized and pushed no matter what their race or ethnicity is. How a company then deals with them I have no experience with. But race does not seem to hold back dancers, at least when they are students.

Which is why Michaela Prince was told by her teachers that audiences "just weren't ready for a black Marie" when she wasn't cast for the part in her school Nutcracker?

No one denies that our culture has made progress when it comes to equality. But we are still far from a world where ethnicity isn't a factor in our perceptions. And we are very far away from a world where it isn't a part of unconscious decisions. Affirmative action programs, whether they are official or ad hoc, are a tool to help the majority learn those lessons, as well as a mechanism to give minorities a chance to compete despite engrained discrimination (however unconscious it might be).

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I thought Copeland looked light and quick in Tchai Pas, and compared quite favorably to many famous ballerinas that have danced the role. That includes Darcy Bussell, Maria Nunez, Alina Somova, Svetlana Zakhorova and Alina Cojocaro. She even looked good when compared to McBride, who was admittedly past her prime in the video I saw.

The annoyance Copeland generates seems to be so over-the top to some of us.

If there's one thing I've discovered about ballet fans it's that people have their pets and prejudices the same as in any other art form.

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Tapfan, everyone that you mentioned but McBride is not a Balanchine-trained dancer. People who have seen many Balanchine-trained dancers perform it over a half century are comparing her speed and approach mainly to those dancers. It's rare for any dancer anywhere to compare favorably to Balanchine-trained dancers or dancers in companies run by former NYCB dancers in this rep, unless the viewer prefers other virtues. (See discussions of the Mariinsky and POB "Jewels" DVD's and performances.) Using Bussell, for example, as a benchmark of Balanchine virtue, isn't setting the bar very high.

I haven't seen the Kennedy Center program, but I have 35+ years of watching this ballet live plus video (McBride, Hayden, Verdy, the short clips of Farrell in "The Turning Point,") and that will inform my opinion of her dancing when I finally do.

Add that into the mix of criticism.

I liked her very much in the clip from Vail. I liked her robustness and her ability to go from high to low and not look lost when the movement was earthbound, which I think was very deliberate especially in the parallel movement with Prescott.

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Tschai-pas is one of those works that gets performed all over, by a wide variety of people (rather like the Black Swan pas de deux) I think it's fascinating to watch different people bring out different aspects of the work -- Balanchine made a little black dress with that duet.

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I agree that the costume in the video is not attractive and makes her seem top heavy (which I haven't found in the theater), but I thought her dancing was pretty lovely--fluid and with the combination of low key sensuality and lightness the choreography/music seems to call for (as best one can tell watching a video).

This. Judging by video can be a dicey business.

Amour writes:

Also I am bothered by her breasts and this ugly costume just accentuates them.

The modern eye is not accustomed to seeing female ballet dancers with meaningful boobs. If we saw more of them, so to speak, our expectations (and the costumes) might change a bit.

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I saw Copeland's Kennedy Center performance. I thought it looked sluggish, especially compared to the many times I have seen it at ABT and NYCB by the likes of Tiler Peck, Ashely Bouder and other artists. I'll chalk it up to nerves at a televised performance. Just check out a youtube clip of McBride doing the same steps in a filmed version with Baryshnikov and you will see the difference in speed and elevation.

I have to say I agree with you, abatt. I thought Copeland was sluggish and sloppy. I couldn't understand why Ashley wasn't doing Tchai pas unless this was when she was injured. I also didn't like Lovette either. I thought Tiler and Tyler Angle gave the only good performances.

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I was expecting to see something different when I played the video. I still don't like that kind of type bodice on dancers in general, because it makes them look out-of-proportion, but I didn't think she looked top-heavy at all. I've seen more photos of her in civilian clothes in which she looked bustier, probably because they were fitted at the waist and it was a proportional, rather than absolute, size effect.

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Really I look at this video and wonder why this girl is even a soloist. But maybe that's just me.

If Misty wasn't talented, her dance career would have ended at the Boys and Girls Club in California (and Damian Woetzel wouldn't have invited her to his festival). The professional dance world is extremely competitive - especially for women - and everyone is there for a reason. I also don't think that dancers need to have sky high extensions to be interesting.

I particularly enjoy this ballroom-contemporary ballet fusion from one of the YAGP galas. I think she is particularly strong in contemporary work.

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I saw Copeland's Kennedy Center performance. I thought it looked sluggish, especially compared to the many times I have seen it at ABT and NYCB by the likes of Tiler Peck, Ashely Bouder and other artists. I'll chalk it up to nerves at a televised performance. Just check out a youtube clip of McBride doing the same steps in a filmed version with Baryshnikov and you will see the difference in speed and elevation.

I agree abatt. It's not only lightness and speed, it's also musicality and an imagination that plays with music, and phrases steps in a dynamic way. Copeland did the steps, but compared to the women I've seen recently, she looked like a good student.

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This is an interesting excerpt from Misty on learning Tchai Pas:

Is this the first time you’re dancing Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux?

I’ve never done it. When I first starting learning it, I was working with Kevin McKenzie and Clinton Luckett just to get the basics and to learn the steps, but I actually was coached by Merrill Ashley. Recently, we worked together because of this Annenberg Fellowship that I’ve been given. It’s so amazing. I was going to work with her on Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux and on Theme and Variations—just to do them—before I was cast. It’s been sort of a wake-up call because I feel like a lot of the Balanchine ballets are hard for me. That’s one reason why I wanted to work with Merrill; I know that is a weakness of mine—moving fast and never having trained in Balanchine. It was exciting to work with her and it was very different from what I thought Balanchine was. You think you want to distort things, but it is very classical; it’s all about being up on your legs. I have so far to go, but I’m aware. [Laughs] She’s just someone I admire and who has taught me so much in the short time that we worked together.

The entire article is here. I enjoyed her performance at the KennCen Honors, and I thought it was perfectly fine on an evening when Patty McBride was the center of attention.

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Misty saying Balanchine is a weakness is the understatement of the year. I would love to hear what Merrill thought of her. Unless you are Olga Smirnova (and Misty is far from Olga) a couple of hours or even days hardly prepares you to dance Balanchine.

I have seen Tchai Pas danced by many, both live and on YT. When it is danced by non-Balanchine dancers it is usually too slow (Obraztsova, Zakharova). Still it is danced with technical command and artistry. I saw none of that in Misty's performance. I thought she was terrible and it was a disservice to McBride to have it danced by her. If this is the kind if ballerina ABT will be making principal, I guess I won't be seeing many of their performances.

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I thought that Misty expressed herself in a clear, insightful, and honest way throughout the interview - the entire piece is an interesting window into the development, thought process, and work ethic of an artist. Also, it was published in 2009, so she has been working on Tchai Pas for several years. I found that she danced with clarity and authority on the broadcast - and several other informed BA posters + McBride enjoyed it as well. It is interesting how people can have such divergent views of the same performance.

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