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Misty Copeland


Helene

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I would remind Theresa Ruth Howard--and everyone else--that if she is unhappy with the state of certain Wikipedia articles, she can fix them herself. That's the nature of the beast, right? Of course it's preferable to have references, but I would imagine the history of DTH was well documented on the pages of the NYT, and their site has a search engine. In my experience, performance reviews from the 1980s onward are usually not behind a pay wall.

Recently the Royal Opera House organized an "editathon" to improve some of Wikipedia's articles about ballet.
http://www.roh.org.uk/news/roh-students-editathon-improving-wikipedias-articles-on-dance

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I thought it was interesting that the author of this article noted that the audience members forced themselves to sit through the rest of the program at the Met in order to see Misty's Firebird in 2012 (We "endured" the first half of the program, even though it was stellar.). The rest of that program included Balanchine's Apollo and Wheeldon's Thirteen Diversions. I'm sure Apollo was first on the program, and I'm not sure, but I think Hallberg may have been the Apollo on the night Misty did her Firebird. (Hallberg being one of the leading classical dancers in the world.) Not sure whether Firebird was last or in the middle. Apollo is a masterpiece. The author's comment suggests that the audience had little interest in seeing any ballet except for the one that Misty was cast in. If the author's assessment is correct, this goes against the assumption that Misty will bring in new audiences for ballet. She will bring in new audiences for her performances, but not for ballet performances in general at ABT.

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I don't think there's anything surprising about that for a new audience member. Not close to the entire audience for any ballet started with being in love with ballet or every kind of ballet, and most audiences never return on a regular basis. People are there for all kinds of reasons: Their partner has tickets. They want to impress a date. Their parents wanted them to see "Nutcracker." Their best friend was a kid in "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Their neighbors all bought tickets/wrapping paper/raffle tickets to support their kids' activities, and now it's their turn to return the favor to see the neighbor's daughter in the Hours number in "Coppelia." They saw a newspaper article or an NPR story about one dancer or one work. They saw Baryshnikov on the cover of a magazine and thought he was hot. A given ballet -- ex: "Swimmer" -- got amazing reviews, and they thought they should see it. They have no interest in 4T's because they read a review of the Leclerq documentary and decided that Balanchine was a cad. Or they're mostly music people who like 20th century music and are happy to see the Stravnisky, but roll their eyes at "Donizetti Variations." (True story.) Or they think ballet is tutus and would skip the middle ballet if they had know it was in practice clothes and danced in silence.

It's like everything else: while some people are overwhelmed by an art from -- ballet, opera, theater, whatever speaks to them -- most people come through a crack or a hook, if they've shown any interest aside from fulfilling a social obligation. That hook is what they've paid for and what they wait for. (And it's a long wait through "Swan Lake" to see those fouettes, or through two mixed bill works because Vishneva is in the closer, or through Turandot to hear that song Pavarotti sang at the Torino Olympics.) Most people show up for the cover band to avoid traffic. Arts organizations hope that aside from new wide-eyed acolytes, other new audience members will see something else that will grab them along the way, or at least something to make them want to give it another try.

If most never come back -- and most new audience members don't -- Copeland's black audiences* will differ only in that their presence or absence is more visible than other constituencies, aside from the aural presence or absence of the Russian-speaking community at performances in NYC, for example. And why wouldn't they come back, when they can see her in other ballets? Why is there a higher expectation from Copeland's audiences? She's already sold a bunch of tickets at crazy prices in DC, besides going viral on social media and the mainstream press.

*Copeland's white, Asian, Latino, etc. audiences would be invisible to most, because people don't wear dancer jerseys to the ballet.

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This article has been popping up all over and I'm so glad to see it. (though yes, I wish she'd been able to get someone to copy edit for her) She makes a bucket-full of excellent points, one of the most important being that, although Copeland is not "the first" in the way that some promotion is claiming, she is part of an extremely important process as well as an artist in her own right who is going through her own development.

Very glad to see some additional history and backstory!

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Excellant article except for the many grammatical errors.

Nonetheless, she did have some great things to say that I would wager many are/were thinking, but too afraid to say.

I have to agree with it's the mom on this. I know many dancers of color both young and older who feel they can't speak up about what the message is missing and who the message has left out. They do talk, amongst themselves, but any glimmer of speaking up leaves them being attacked. I admire Misty, I applaud her talent and her committment to her platform, but the PR team's focus on "firsts" and then when they falter, create another "first" which wasn't a "first" at all. I applaud the author from being willing to say what others have been saying and thinking behind the scenes.

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I have to agree with it's the mom on this. I know many dancers of color both young and older who feel they can't speak up about what the message is missing and who the message has left out. They do talk, amongst themselves, but any glimmer of speaking up leaves them being attacked. I admire Misty, I applaud her talent and her committment to her platform, but the PR team's focus on "firsts" and then when they falter, create another "first" which wasn't a "first" at all. I applaud the author from being willing to say what others have been saying and thinking behind the scenes.

I understand the frustration that comes from a rush to make an event even more important than it is by calling it a "first," but as Theresa Ruth Howard points out in her essay, as an art form, we are slackers when it comes to researching and recording our history. I'm hoping that one of the results that might come from this particular moment is a renewed interest in the history of dance in the US.

I'm 58, and got involved in the art form when I started college. At the time, you could read pretty much everything that had been published in English, including full runs of major magazines, over the course of a summer. I know, because I did. There were a few educational films that you could watch if you had the right connections at a school, a really good slide collection (the VRI slides were designed, I think by Selma Jeanne Cohen, to supplement a college-level dance history course, if you could find one to take) and that was it.

The Dance in America series blew us away -- those of us who were lucky enough to be someplace that taped the programs off the air could watch them until the magnetic tape disintegrated (long before most libraries thought hard about television and copyright). We could actually see some of the stuff we'd been told about in classes and rehearsals. But, as you might imagine, it was a very selective history. Not because someone was trying to quash certain artists or styles, but just because there was still so little of it.

Cut to now -- the internet, for all its flaws, is a chance to really dig into our heritage. We should be out there interviewing everyone who is still with us, digitizing old films and putting oral histories up online. And many institutions are doing this (just go look at the Library of Congress website), but we're still at the beginning. I don't want to fault anyone for missing chunks of the past while they're trying to move into the future.

ps -- went back to the article itself to make sure I had the author's name right, and the comments are jammed full of lists of names -- dancers of color from all kinds of places. Such a thrilling roll call!

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I understand the frustration that comes from a rush to make an event even more important than it is by calling it a "first,"

I'm not sure what you mean by "frustration." Frustration is not what people generally experience when they find someone hasn't told the truth. It's just possible that Copeland really believed she was the first African-American woman to make it out of ABT's corps de ballet when she told an LA journalist that she was, but that requires us to believe she never even asked.

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I would remind Theresa Ruth Howard--and everyone else--that if she is unhappy with the state of certain Wikipedia articles, she can fix them herself. That's the nature of the beast, right? Of course it's preferable to have references, but I would imagine the history of DTH was well documented on the pages of the NYT, and their site has a search engine. In my experience, performance reviews from the 1980s onward are usually not behind a pay wall.

Recently the Royal Opera House organized an "editathon" to improve some of Wikipedia's articles about ballet.

http://www.roh.org.uk/news/roh-students-editathon-improving-wikipedias-articles-on-dance

What you are sayign is true however I would like to say that if I did edit the Wikipedia page, it would have ot be from memory, I was not there at the beginning, or the middle..however DTH has a well preserved archive containing names, dates, theaters, casting, reviews...For the sake of accuracy I would think that DTH would WANT to be the one to handle the posting of their history. Why come at ME for simple pointing out how imcomplete that page is? and challenging them to do better?

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I thought it was interesting that the author of this article noted that the audience members forced themselves to sit through the rest of the program at the Met in order to see Misty's Firebird in 2012 (We "endured" the first half of the program, even though it was stellar.). The rest of that program included Balanchine's Apollo and Wheeldon's Thirteen Diversions. I'm sure Apollo was first on the program, and I'm not sure, but I think Hallberg may have been the Apollo on the night Misty did her Firebird. (Hallberg being one of the leading classical dancers in the world.) Not sure whether Firebird was last or in the middle. Apollo is a masterpiece. The author's comment suggests that the audience had little interest in seeing any ballet except for the one that Misty was cast in. If the author's assessment is correct, this goes against the assumption that Misty will bring in new audiences for ballet. She will bring in new audiences for her performances, but not for ballet performances in general at ABT.

When I said we "Endured" the first half I was speakign to the fact that on that particular night a GREAT portion of the audience was there to see Misty. We were like little children anxious to get to dessert and "enduring"dinner, even though dinner was great ( personally I loved the first half) Wendy Perron and I covered that program, SHE (then editor of Dance Mag) asked me to join her, for that program to cover Firebird. It was an event, the main event on that night, we did a See and Say on it http://dancemedia.com/v/7261. It was a great program, I'll point out what you missed inrecalling the night, Kevin Macenzie was ALSO being honored, and that was even a bit over shadowed because of Misty's debut. I was simply pointing out how important that night was for that partcular audience...

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I don't think there's anything surprising about that for a new audience member. Not close to the entire audience for any ballet started with being in love with ballet or every kind of ballet, and most audiences never return on a regular basis. People are there for all kinds of reasons: Their partner has tickets. They want to impress a date. Their parents wanted them to see "Nutcracker." Their best friend was a kid in "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Their neighbors all bought tickets/wrapping paper/raffle tickets to support their kids' activities, and now it's their turn to return the favor to see the neighbor's daughter in the Hours number in "Coppelia." They saw a newspaper article or an NPR story about one dancer or one work. They saw Baryshnikov on the cover of a magazine and thought he was hot. A given ballet -- ex: "Swimmer" -- got amazing reviews, and they thought they should see it. They have no interest in 4T's because they read a review of the Leclerq documentary and decided that Balanchine was a cad. Or they're mostly music people who like 20th century music and are happy to see the Stravnisky, but roll their eyes at "Donizetti Variations." (True story.) Or they think ballet is tutus and would skip the middle ballet if they had know it was in practice clothes and danced in silence.

It's like everything else: while some people are overwhelmed by an art from -- ballet, opera, theater, whatever speaks to them -- most people come through a crack or a hook, if they've shown any interest aside from fulfilling a social obligation. That hook is what they've paid for and what they wait for. (And it's a long wait through "Swan Lake" to see those fouettes, or through two mixed bill works because Vishneva is in the closer, or through Turandot to hear that song Pavarotti sang at the Torino Olympics.) Most people show up for the cover band to avoid traffic. Arts organizations hope that aside from new wide-eyed acolytes, other new audience members will see something else that will grab them along the way, or at least something to make them want to give it another try.

If most never come back -- and most new audience members don't -- Copeland's black audiences* will differ only in that their presence or absence is more visible than other constituencies, aside from the aural presence or absence of the Russian-speaking community at performances in NYC, for example. And why wouldn't they come back, when they can see her in other ballets? Why is there a higher expectation from Copeland's audiences? She's already sold a bunch of tickets at crazy prices in DC, besides going viral on social media and the mainstream press.

*Copeland's white, Asian, Latino, etc. audiences would be invisible to most, because people don't wear dancer jerseys to the ballet.

I think that this is well stated. We hope that once they experience the ballet (opera, theater) they will fall in love, or at least in interest and what to come back regardless as to who is dancing. I think that When Misty is cast you will always see a greater number of people of color than any other evening, and that's ok, but perhaps little by little it will change. I do think that havigng more diversity will help. if you look at companies who are more diverse Alvin Ailey, Philadanco, DTH Ballet Hispanico (and I know I will be slammed because the names I will list are African American companies...but in reality these are primarily the places where you see diverity on ALL levels so...) you see a much more diverse audience. This is because people gernerally like to see themselves represented, they like to feel a part of something...And Ballet being an elitest artform for many African Americans, they might feel as though they don't even belong in the audience...but that is a larger social discussion not for here. I think that the Washington Ballet Swan Lake proved that "If you build it, they will come". And I will tell you for a non-ballet lover Swan Lake is a eyeful! lol

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I'm not sure what you mean by "frustration." Frustration is not what people generally experience when they find someone hasn't told the truth. It's just possible that Copeland really believed she was the first African-American woman to make it out of ABT's corps de ballet when she told an LA journalist that she was, but that requires us to believe she never even asked.

If that is truly the case and she did not know, then all the more reason for the history to be known, Paloma would never be like "Makarova who?" right that would be crazy! When I interviewed her 3 years ago I did mention Sims, and Kimball adn she nodded in acknowledgement so I believe that she (perhaps not her people) knew. She did a project with DTH and rehearsed in the building so the she visited the house of the Black Ballerinas so she is aware , but I think the narrative is being driven by many not just one. I think there are many peolple in the equation that make a great deal of money off of the idea of "being the first" and only... it's much sexier to say that she is the first african american to dance the lead in swan lake than to say she's the 4th or 5th -- and the 3rd to do it with a partner of color...not so sexy. I think that if journalists come with factual information, then if in fact she did not know she can in that moment get the "ah hah" Oprah moment and everyone would be the better for it.

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Opera America just tweeted a link to Who Was the 1st Black Prima Ballerina at the Met? article on Janet Collins by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Julie Wolf.

BTW, earlier this month, Karyn Parsons sent an update to Kickstarter contributors to her animated film-in-the-works, "The Janet Collins Story," that Chris Rock was in the studio to do the narration, and that they are in the final weeks of production.

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Why come at ME for simple pointing out how imcomplete that page is? and challenging them to do better?

I certainly didn't mean it as a criticism of you. I'm sorry if it came across that way. In order to maintain some appearance of objectivity, Wikipedia probably wouldn't want ballet companies maintaining the articles about them anyway. The contributions and edits should come from a neutral source. I'm not a super-active Wikipedia contributor myself, but I have written a half dozen ballet-related articles when I saw they didn't exist in English--all rather dry, just-the-facts sorts of affairs--and I've made edits here and there to reflect changes in leadership, promotions, retirements and that sort of thing. My point is simply that inasmuch as Wikipedia is so prevalent and, for better or worse, usually the first result to pop up in an internet search, it is within our power to improve it when we see that it is lacking. You are very knowledgeable, and it's clearly a subject dear to you, so you would be an obvious editor and contributor. I mean, if I can do it...

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Imagine the money they could raise by selling the signed ones.

The ABT Kennedy Center Cinderella matinees had many little girls dressed in party dresses as well as Disney Princess outfits. WB and ABT certainly could sell mini Aurora, Odette/Odile, Cinderella tutu gowns.

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I'm not sure what you mean by "frustration." Frustration is not what people generally experience when they find someone hasn't told the truth. It's just possible that Copeland really believed she was the first African-American woman to make it out of ABT's corps de ballet when she told an LA journalist that she was, but that requires us to believe she never even asked.

Perhaps I'm abnormal -- I'm mostly frustrated when the record gets muddied up.

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When I said we "Endured" the first half I was speakign to the fact that on that particular night a GREAT portion of the audience was there to see Misty. We were like little children anxious to get to dessert and "enduring"dinner, even though dinner was great ( personally I loved the first half) Wendy Perron and I covered that program, SHE (then editor of Dance Mag) asked me to join her, for that program to cover Firebird. It was an event, the main event on that night, we did a See and Say on it http://dancemedia.com/v/7261. It was a great program, I'll point out what you missed inrecalling the night, Kevin Macenzie was ALSO being honored, and that was even a bit over shadowed because of Misty's debut. I was simply pointing out how important that night was for that partcular audience...

Glad to see you here, particularly since I imagine you're spending time responding to this topic all over the place -- I've been following along with several conversations and I'm sure I'm only seeing a fraction of what exists.

I appreciate your work to bring a chunk of historical material together in this essay. I think part of the trouble lies in the way that dance history has been discussed over the years -- the emphasis has often been on stand-out individual performers/choreographers/organizations, which makes it easier to lose track of larger pictures or to recognize the work of people who are not in a spotlight.

I hesitate to put more work on your desk, but one of the things that I really like about the comments on your essay is the list of performers of color -- at some point, you might want to transcribe it, so that it doesn't get lost if the comment thread goes awry.

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