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Helene

Misty Copeland

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I saw the vid once before it was pulled but didn't get to record/download it. The gist was that the foreign guest stars alone can fill seats at the Met but that home-grown principals and soloists cannot..."except Misty."

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Copeland the soloist deserves attention too, sure. But Copeland the soloist minus a triumph-over-victimization book would probably still be a relative unknown.

Hallberg the ABT Principal Dancer without the "first American at the Bolshoi", oops, "first American Principal Dancer at the Bolshoi" story would still be a relative unknown to the general public, just like Leslie Browne without "The Turning Point," Julie Kent without "Dancers," Ethan Stiefel, Sascha Radetsky, and The Blond without "Center Stage," and Sarah Lane without "Black Swan." He would not have been a blip on Stephen Colbert's professional radar.

No one needs a publicist to handle their ballet-community only press. They need a publicist because they have what the mainstream press believes is a compelling story that will produce revenue (direct or indirect), no matter how worthy or news-worthy anyone in the ballet community thinks a dancer is, whether insiders with the authority to make career decisions, or fans who look at it from the outside.

Copeland's story was considered newsworthy by the mainstream media. This has translated into box office, at least according to the ABT executive William Taylor, and certainly according to reports of her performances of "Swan Lake" in Washington and how difficult it was to get tickets.

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I saw the vid once before it was pulled but didn't get to record/download it. The gist was that the foreign guest stars alone can fill seats at the Met but that home-grown principals and soloists cannot..."except Misty."

This was probably the most interesting part as it related to artistic policy. He was also quite frank about the difficulty of competing with the NYCB Nutcracker, and spoke about the move to Southern California. The interview was recorded before the recent performances of Sleeping Beauty, though, so they weren't discussed.

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As for "working" Kevin McKenzie for a promotion, every dancer does it. Whether it's successful or not is another matter. But every dancer must "work" the AD some way. Even Balanchine, who was generally considered a very moral man, was notorious in that his classes reeked of perfume from dancers trying to attract his attention.

With all due respect, Canbelto, this seems like an untrue generalization without any evidence. I'm certainly not aware of anyone other than Copeland. Wearing perfume to class hardly seems like " working the AD".

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Wearing perfume to class hardly seems like " working the AD".

Except maybe if the AD is woman-crazy Balanchine, and they're maybe even wearing what he bought them laugh.png .

Helene, when I say "deserves attention" from the wider public, I mean for the quality of their dancing. As one of the great male dancers of his generation, Hallberg was and remains, everyone who's seen them both seems to think, on a whole 'nother level than Copeland.

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Ballet deserves wider attention from the general public. The mainstream media still decides who gets that attention from the general public, except where social media goes viral -- which Copeland's did not -- and the mainstream media follows. That is not about who is the greatest dancer, any more than the "baby ballerinas" were the greatest dancers in the Ballets Russes.

I think that Copeland's accomplishment was more difficult: besides how rare it was to become a black ballerina soloist at ABT, there was no institutional push for it -- an executive for the institution described the contrary: an artistic policy that side-lined its homegrown ballerinas of every color, height, shape -- like there was at the Bolshoi. By the chronology she accomplished this by her dancing, since her media prominence was not until after her promotion, and in spite of her institution.

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Tai's letter reminds me of Nikkia Parish's assertion that the NYCB /SAB nexus is composed of a closed-off little cabal of self-appointed Balanchine acolytes straining for relevance.

I have no opinion about the letter, but If NYCB and SAB are irrelevant, then ballet might as well be irrelevant, not because they are the whole picture or, for that matter, bastions of ethical perfection (not likely), but because they are such an essential, influential, and creative part of the picture.

If ABT comes to play the leadership role in expanding and diversifying ballet's current talent pool--then more power to ABT of course...And, to return to topic, Copeland is playing her part for sure...

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I think that Copeland's accomplishment was more difficult: besides how rare it was to become a black ballerina soloist at ABT, there was no institutional push for it -- an executive for the institution described the contrary: an artistic policy that side-lined its homegrown ballerinas of every color, height, shape -- like there was at the Bolshoi. By the chronology she accomplished this by her dancing, since her media prominence was not until after her promotion, and in spite of her institution.

I've never heard of ABT sidelining its own dancers for foreign stars in soloist roles, so it would still need to cultivate soloists, and also they'd have to be really dumb not to see the value of promoting a black dancer. In any case, I've never heard anyone say Copeland's dancing is near the level of Hallberg's, so while Copeland couldn't have a better supporter, I think you're mixing apples and oranges. Hallberg rose to the top of his profession, and took advantage of what attention came his way (but hasn't even bothered to write a book so far). Copeland decided she deserved attention, and sought it.

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Wait a second. Wasn't Copeland in the headlines and on TV years before she even joined ABT, due to her prodigious talent and homelessness story? Who pushed the story then? I believe that it was her ballet teacher, no? Trying to keep Misty from having to return to her family at the motel.

Misty doesn't have to publicize. She was a media darling at age 14. The miracle is that those early promises have come to fruition and that she is a professional ballet dancer, let alone a member of one of the top six companies on earth, let alone a long-time soloist...and a very active one consistently dancing major roles in the classics (which wasn't the case for Nora Kimball or other black ABT female soloists, that I recall).

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One thing that is always said about Hallberg is that he has the perfect body proportions for a ballet dancer. You may recall a Macauely 2014 article which gushed about David's perfect feet and legs, and the way in which his body perfectly embodies the physical qualities of a danseur. Misty seems to be running on the opposite platform. Nobody has ever remarked that she has a perfect ballerina body. In fact, she is making that representation in her Under Armour ad. Yet she wants that factor to be overlooked, or rather embraced. She asks people in the ballet world to embrace her body type as part of her I Will What I Want mantra. It's an interesting thing to take note of.

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I saw Misty in that white tutu as Odette, in DC. Gorgeous slim-yet-feminine bodice (unlike Mearns, who many laud here)...and Misty's gorgeous 'Vaganova S' legs and very arched turned-out feet are To Die For! That's why I still can't get the perfection of Misty's figure in Odette's tutu out of my mind.

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Natalia wrote:

Misty doesn't have to publicize.

But she did.

It's interesting that you think she has a great shape for ballet. I wonder if she'll succeed in changing a lot of people's perceptions - whether she'll broaden or offer an alternative to the ballet ideal.

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I've never heard of ABT sidelining its own dancers for foreign stars in soloist roles, so it would still need to cultivate soloists, and also they'd have to be really dumb not to see the value of promoting a black dancer. In any case, I've never heard anyone say Copeland's dancing is near the level of Hallberg's, so while Copeland couldn't have a better supporter, I think you're mixing apples and oranges. Hallberg rose to the top of his profession, and took advantage of what attention came his way (but hasn't even bothered to write a book so far). Copeland decided she deserved attention, and sought it.

Every time a foreign dancer/guest star takes a role, there's downward pressure on casting. The house ballerinas get cast in roles on which soloists would normally cut their teeth, and the soloists get slotted in demi-soloist roles on which corps members would normally cast their teeth. Or the soloists are cast a lot less, a phenomenon many dancers have described.

There are few reasons for companies to promote to soloist, when there's nothing to stop them from casting corps members in soloist roles, and soloists are more expensive and a big opportunity cost once promoted, the biggest opportunity cost in terms of morale, since in companies, there are far more corps members trying to funnel into a soloist opening than soloists into a Principal opening. Dancers don't get promoted automatically by contract based on the roles they dance, the way apprentices become company members at NYCB automatically after dancing a certain amount as apprentices.

It's interesting that you assume that Copeland's race had a positive influence on her being a soloist, which was before her media campaign. I would think if that were true, that ABT would have tried to leverage at least a tie-in to her story as a "how far she had come and now she's fulfilling her dream" narrative, connecting the dots to media coverage of her as a child. The "rags-to-riches" story has always been compelling to the media and soothing to the public, supporting the national myth. ABT would have controlled the narrative, as patting itself on the back for having promoted a black ballerina to soloist could have easily backfired, because a logical follow-up question would be,"Why did it take them so long?" However, few companies would have expected a dancer to form her own narrative that is at all critical of anyone but herself -- usually career suicide -- or if she did that it would get mainstream media attention -- unprecedented since Gelsey Kirkland published her first book -- or that it would have an upside, especially after DTH dancers were vocal about not getting hired after DTH disbanded, one of the great lost opportunities in American ballet, and that worked for no one. Even if they were dead wrong, ABT reaps the rewards of media coverage of Copeland, and times have changed from an almost exclusively carefully constructed media image to warts-and-all day-by-day coverage of minutia through social media. I think the company has played the tension quite well.

Wait a second. Wasn't Copeland in the headlines and on TV years before she even joined ABT, due to her prodigious talent and homelessness story? Who pushed the story then? I believe that it was her ballet teacher, no? Trying to keep Misty from having to return to her family at the motel.

Misty doesn't have to publicize. She was a media darling at age 14.

That was over a decade before she leveraged media interest in her as a ballet professional, and before individuals broke through the media monopoly on news through social media. How many people who are not interested in ballet even remembered the earlier story, let alone remembered her name and put the two together?

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Misty is an anomaly, body form wise. She is pushing this, and indeed purposely pumped herself up, to be different. All other black ballet dancers I've seen presently, adhere to the art form ideal of long smooth musculature. Over pumped muscles lead to stiffness in the upper body. You can see it in her almost non-existent epaulement which she tries to hide with over punchy, bravura leg battements and jumps. What looks good in a Prince video does not look good on the ballet stage.

Mearns is another example of a body that isn't the norm in ballet. But she has beautiful epaulement and she has not pumped up her muscles either. She is also a better all around dancer with a keen sense of drama. The only drama Copeland generates is her own whinging to the press.

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I've seen Copeland dance live, and I've seen her bring drama or meaning, where drama is not appropriate, in dance terms. I've also seen and read many interviews with her and followed much of the press about her, and "whinging," is not how I'd describe it.

I don't think she is a perfect dancer; I have criticism about the epaulement of about 90% of the dancers I see, including Russian dancers.

I am looking forward to reading about her Juliet debut.

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Since ABT is as forward-thinking in its use of video as it is in website design, there is little footage of any of the dancers unless they perform with other companies.

Compare ABT's reticence on this point to NYCB's recent (or at least new to me) tactic of making video footage of recent performances available to The New York Times for placement adjacent to reviews. (Go here for footage of Ashley Bouder and Taylor Stanley in Square Dance. And here for footage of Theresa Reichlen and Sara Mearns in Concerto Barocco.) I rather get the impression that NYCB is so interested in making sure that you see what all the fuss is about that they've decided to save you the trouble of going to their own website or searching on YouTube.

I haven't checked to see if NYCB has found a way of getting its video content inserted into folks' Facebook news feeds, but if it has, so much the better.

ABT needs to figure out how to make a fuss over its dancers! (Rather than relying on the "Star Strategy" -- their characterization, not mine -- articulated by CFO William Taylor in the now deleted Babson College video. I'm not an AD, but that strategy sounds like an artistic dead end to me.)

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More opinions stated as fact. I, unlike some people in this thread, have also seen Copeland live. Not a YouTube clip or music video. But LIVE. And thought she had a nice body and good port de bras and was graceful. Technically not strong though. Not my favorite dancer but she's hardly any worse than principal dancers like Boylston or Seo. The former who is completely ungraceful and has terrible port de bras with scraggly fingers, and the latter who more often than not is technically deficient and seems to have stamina issues at times. They have their failings, yet don't get criticized as much as Misty.

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Compare ABT's reticence on this point to NYCB's recent (or at least new to me) tactic of making video footage of recent performances available to The New York Times for placement adjacent to reviews. (Go here for footage of Ashley Bouder and Taylor Stanley in Square Dance. And here for footage of Theresa Reichlen and Sara Mearns in Concerto Barocco.) I rather get the impression that NYCB is so interested in making sure that you see what all the fuss is about that they've decided to save you the trouble of going to their own website or searching on YouTube.

I haven't checked to see if NYCB has found a way of getting its video content inserted into folks' Facebook news feeds, but if it has, so much the better.

ABT needs to figure out how to make a fuss over its dancers! (Rather than relying on the "Star Strategy" -- their characterization, not mine -- articulated by CFO William Taylor in the now deleted Babson College video. I'm not an AD, but that strategy sounds like an artistic dead end to me.)

ABT would have their own stars if their marketing wasn't so stuck in the pre-Internet age. I was surprised when they started a YouTube channel, albeit with less than exciting video and hardly updated anymore. Even San Francisco Ballet, with half of the budget of ABT participated in World Ballet Day with other top companies.

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More opinions stated as fact. I, unlike some people in this thread, have also seen Copeland live. Not a YouTube clip or music video. But LIVE. And thought she had a nice body and good port de bras and was graceful. Technically not strong though. Not my favorite dancer but she's hardly any worse than principal dancers like Boylston or Seo. The former who is completely ungraceful and has terrible port de bras with scraggly fingers, and the latter who more often than not is technically deficient and seems to have stamina issues at times. They have their failings, yet don't get criticized as much as Misty.

They get criticized for their dancing and their promotion is also met with criticism of McKenzie. Misty gets criticized for a combination of her dancing and something else. So it's pretty clear to me why Misty gets some criticism that the others don't get.

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It's interesting that you assume that Copeland's race had a positive influence on her being a soloist, which was before her media campaign. I would think if that were true, that ABT would have tried to leverage at least a tie-in to her story as a "how far she had come and now she's fulfilling her dream" narrative, connecting the dots to media coverage of her as a child. The "rags-to-riches" story has always been compelling to the media and soothing to the public, supporting the national myth. ABT would have controlled the narrative, as patting itself on the back for having promoted a black ballerina to soloist could have easily backfired, because a logical follow-up question would be,"Why did it take them so long?"

I have no opinion as to whether Copeland’s race helped her get promoted. I’ve never thought about it. I assumed she fully earned it through her dancing. My only point is that race is unlikely to have held her back, that having proved herself worthy of promotion, her race would likely then (and only then) have been considered another good reason (not one sufficient in itself) to promote her (having been a good reason all along to cultivate her talent). I take your point about the leverage campaign. If ABT was as media-savvy, instead of media-incompetent, as a lot of other companies are, they could have made something of her story, but they aren’t, and so maybe race wasn’t considered at all. But the fact that they didn’t promote her story doesn’t of course show that race held her back either.

However, few companies would have expected a dancer to form her own narrative that is at all critical of anyone but herself -- usually career suicide -- or if she did that it would get mainstream media attention -- unprecedented since Gelsey Kirkland published her first book -- or that it would have an upside, especially after DTH dancers were vocal about not getting hired after DTH disbanded, one of the great lost opportunities in American ballet, and that worked for no one. Even if they were dead wrong, ABT reaps the rewards of media coverage of Copeland, and times have changed from an almost exclusively carefully constructed media image to warts-and-all day-by-day coverage of minutia through social media. I think the company has played the tension quite well.

I disagree. Charges of racism might not have worked for DTH dancers, but when was the last time they actually backfired in the mainstream press? They presume – most of us presume – such charges are correct. And as you said, rags-to-riches tales are compelling. Copeland’s story was a pretty sure-fire success – certainly it had little chance of hurting her. But we’ve talked about this before. What is ABT going to do, come out with a we’re-not-racist statement? Give the racism narrative more plausibility by denying her opportunities she was on track for?

ETA: Plisskin wrote:

More opinions stated as fact. I, unlike some people in this thread, have also seen Copeland live. Not a YouTube clip or music video. But LIVE. And thought she had a nice body and good port de bras and was graceful. Technically not strong though. Not my favorite dancer but she's hardly any worse than principal dancers like Boylston or Seo. The former who is completely ungraceful and has terrible port de bras with scraggly fingers, and the latter who more often than not is technically deficient and seems to have stamina issues at times. They have their failings, yet don't get criticized as much as Misty.
If you meant to include me among some people, I’ve been clear that I haven’t seen Copeland dance, at least in a featured role, which is why I take no position on whether she deserves promotion. But while video doesn’t adequately represent dancing, it adequately represents body type. I have also seen Copeland in person at the Kennedy Center. Nice body? That’s an understatement. Ideal ballet body? That’s another matter. But like I said, she may change perceptions of the ideal.
Boylston and Seo get lots of criticism, from what I read. If they're not criticized as often, perhaps it's because they're talked not about as often.

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This thread is about Copeland not her fellow ABT dancers. But I agree, Boyleston is an awful, ungraceful dancer with short arms and ugly broken wrist port de bras. Why she was promoted is beyond my understanding. Seo is very pretty but rather flaccid in her style. Some say lazy or not enough strength. I've seen her dance in Nutcracker, there is just nothing about her that is pushing her own abilities. It is just safe, unexciting dancing.

But if you want an equivalent, then what if Hee Seo suddenly started jumping on the bandwagon stating that she faced racism because she is Asian. She could do it. She is a minority. It isn't only Misty or black dancers that face body standards in ballet.

But we hear nothing about other sports or arts where people complain that they can't reach the standard. People who don't have it, leave that particular field. It is just the way it is...but Copeland insists that we accept her body builder muscle shape just because of her woes.

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Hallberg the ABT Principal Dancer without the "first American at the Bolshoi", oops, "first American Principal Dancer at the Bolshoi" story would still be a relative unknown to the general public, just like Leslie Browne without "The Turning Point," ...

Don't know if this ha been mentioned befoe but Steifel got some press when he first started at City Ballet as a motocycle driving dancer, joining Villella for being a regular athletc guy, Maria Tallchief for being a Native American, Allegra Kent the wife of Bert Stern, etc. The formula was ballet times [stabilizing factor] = story. (Defection of course is a home run.)

Social media is the new instument that bypasses the criteria of the press. If as one poet said "life is propositions about life" you become propositions about yourself in tweets. In Instagrams you photograph youself with people you truly emulate, but the photo can act as a sort of slight career lift or alternate route to authentication. With Copeland it seems the complicating factor seems to be eclipsing her artistry so you can no longer see her as just a dancer.

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I haven't checked to see if NYCB has found a way of getting its video content inserted into folks' Facebook news feeds, but if it has, so much the better. )

They have!

... It isn't only Misty or black dancers that face body standards in ballet.

But we hear nothing about other sports or arts where people complain that they can't reach the standard. People who don't have it, leave that particular field. It is just the way it is...but Copeland insists that we accept her body builder muscle shape just because of her woes.

I have heard her talk about this issue not in terms of her woes, but in terms of diversifying ballet's aesthetics. But I also don't find her body wildly outside balletic norms. The super built up calf muscles are not the prettiest to my eyes, at least when I look at still photos, but for the rest I agree with Natalia that she is in most ways more obviously a ballet body than Mearns (whom I adore!!). I will say that I think many dancers today have overly sinewy and/or overly muscular arms for my taste when it comes to classical port de bras...I am trying to adapt my eye since it is a reality of today's bodies, but I certainly have not found Copeland the most trying in that regard...

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What is ABT going to do, come out with a we’re-not-racist statement? Give the racism narrative more plausibility by denying her opportunities she was on track for?

What they've done is to mete out roles until this season, where she gets three new roles to the other soloists' one, so that the critics weigh in first, and her virtues or lack thereof or the combination of both are made public, by other people. An Australian "Swan Lake" was a great safe bet, because it took place on relatively neutral territory. Dancing "Swan Lake" in DC was a risk she took, and allows ABT to take a steady approach to her career, as she gets more legs on the role, like every guest artist has.

Critical reception I've read about Copeland has been positive, but not uniformly so. It creates a portfolio of professional international criticism over time, and whether she is promoted eventually or not, the company has resisted going-on six years of mainstream media attention focus on Copeland's race, and has treated her/neglected her until this year like their other soloists, after years of accusations of racism. This year they've treated her like they've treated other soloists in the past, some of whom made Principal after being assigned to more major roles. They've weathered six years of being accused of racism, and the idea that they'd suddenly be pressured now isn't credible to me. That she might be cast prominently and, possibly be promoted to Principal, based on box office is much more credible, based on the William Taylor video. ABT can worry about what people think all the way to the bank.

The reason this isn't a sure bet is that she is stand-alone box-office -- it's tied to her efforts and her story, as well as her dancing -- and the risk is that she will not continue to be if she reaches her goal. She is not one of a series of interchangeable Russian stars/"stars" or dancers fans think are excellent because their last name ends in "ova," a tradition that has been rampant since the Ballets Russes days. Perhaps having a name ending in "ini" was the equivalent in the Imperial Ballet days.

If she is promoted to Principal, that does not erase her experiences of racism up to that point or thereafter any more than being elected POTUS erased any experiences of racism that Barack Obama faces nor continues to face from those who don't think the reasons for or the people behind his election are legitimate.

The other tension is that many fans of various soloists over the years are highly involved in the drama of who is promoted and the score-keeping over which roles "their" dancer gets. That kind of passion translates into ticket-buying and emotional involvement with a company that is more than an "Oh, it's Monday and nothing else is playing: let's go to ABT."

I haven't seen that much of Seo, Abrera, Boylston, or Lane that often -- my travel schedule and Copeland's have intersected more regularly -- and I wish I had been able to see Boylston in a major role, but all had their virtues in what I've seen, even if they are not my cup of tea, and blanket put-downs and descriptions of their alleged incompetence isn't anything I take seriously as critical response.

With Copeland it seems the complicating factor seems to be eclipsing her artistry so you can no longer see her as just a dancer.

I don't think Baryshnikov was seen just as a dancer, and for the people who were there to see the cool motorcycle guy Stiefel and found Albrecht there would have had some disconnect that took them out of the dance experience.

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