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Simone Messmer

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Thanks for the news, Theo. I've been wondering about her (and that her tenure with the SFB was so brief).

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Last season, she turned up (as Balanchine's Sugar Plum Fairy) in Ballet Chicago's "Nut." BC is a very good school, maybe near the level of the groups already mentioned here, and their Nutcracker is musical enough to be worth this Chicagoan's attention, but oh, my, what a surprise that was!

Pity she and SFB - or ABT, for that matter - weren't a good fit, or whatever. Based on what little I saw of her here, I'd think she'd be an asset anywhere.

This dancer's on the move in more ways than usual.

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Simone Messmer is announced as joining Miami City Ballet as a principal dancer! See http:www.miamicityballet.org/press/mcb-welcomes-simone messmer.

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Simone Messmer is announced as joining Miami City Ballet as a principal dancer! See http:www.miamicityballet.org/press/mcb-welcomes-simone messmer.

That's great! Glad she has found a stable dance home.

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Simone Messmer is announced as joining Miami City Ballet as a principal dancer! See http:www.miamicityballet.org/press/mcb-welcomes-simone messmer.

Am very happy for her.

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That's great! Glad she has found a stable dance home.

Am very happy for her.

I also hope this works out: She turned up unexpectedly in Balanchine's Sugar Plum pas de deux with Ballet Chicago one year recently, on her way from New York to San Francisco, evidently. My eyes popped. BC is one of the country's best schools, but they don't put dancers like her on stage very often, mostly relying on their own very considerable ranks. Abilities like hers ought to be seen and developed more steadily.

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Am very happy for her.

So very happy for her as well, always loved her at ABT and thought it was a great loss for us New Yorkers.

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Theo started this topic by writing -- "From time to time I search for dancers that pop off the grid." 

I was looking for something to fire my imagination and I settled here. What is it about this very creative artist ?

Basically it was a performance of Gamzatti (La Bayadere) from when she was still at ABT that came to mind. To state it simply -- she was fascinating ! She created a being, totally her own, that was an artistic masterpiece -- colorful, exciting, technically fine, psychologically enthralling.... and she immersed herself completely.

I've seen her in little else, but what I have seen is total commitment and brilliant invention. In addition, I've read comments, by those more focussed on this than myself, highly praising her technical ability.

Lourdes Lopez, director of the Miami City Ballet, finally gave her a position as Principal that I think that she really deserves. I'm hoping that she'll also give her as much  leeway as possible to do what she does best -- to be an expressive burst of creativity and beauty of her own invention.  

  

Edited by Buddy

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I have seen Messmer in some major roles by now. Giselle, Odette, Titania, La Fee from "Baiser..", Sugarplum, etc. Although she has a very attractive presence that makes it a plus for her when she's onstage,  I have always been underwhelmed by her dancing.

Edited by cubanmiamiboy

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For anyone interested in Messmer, I would direct your attention to the Fall 2018 issue of Ballet Review. It contains a very long interview with her which, unfortunately, isn't available online.

Messmer certainly lets it fly over the course of the interview. Kevin McKenzie detractors might be disappointed because she has some positive things to say about him ("I was used to Kevin, who had always been very honest with me, . . . ") (Ballet Review, p. 84)

The person Messmer really criticizes is Helgi Tomasson. She talks about how she wasn't given certain roles and, when she confronted Tomasson about it, he couldn't explain his reasons. She also has plenty to say about the company culture:

"His [Tomasson's] son was also really involved. Dating girls in the company and stuff like that. And that's also a game I don't play. A choreographer came and a lot of dancers took him out to dinner and that ended up being the casting. That happens more and more these days. I do not do that." (Ballet Review, p. 84)

Definitely an interesting read!

 

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I admire directness and candor -- assuming the person is being reasonably fair/honest -- but  it's not always the path to professional success for women in general nor for women in the ballet world in particular. (Nor for men either, though in my experience they get more leeway.) And that does sound like a very interesting interview indeed.

I was fascinated by Messmer's dancing at ABT. I remember a fierce Queen of the Wilis that really evoked the vampiric dimensions of the role--and an elegant Terpsichore in Sylvia that was second (and, to my eyes, only just barely second) to Veronika Part's in its dignified musicality and elegance. I imagine her dancing may not be to everyone's taste--well, I know it isn't by reading this website--but very much wish her continued success at Miami City Ballet. I felt her loss greatly at ABT and always appreciated Lopez giving her opportunities.

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I saw Simone Messmer with ABT and SFB on few occasions and loved her. When she left SFB I thought it was a big loss for the company so I started seeking her performances with MCB whenever I could. But every time I saw her perform with MCB I was less than impressed as she did not leave much of a memorable imprint on me like other dancers did (for example,  Jeanette Delgado and Nathalia Arja). So maybe there was something Helgi saw in her to be a problem for the company rather than an asset. It was also my understanding that she didn’t get along with other dancers at SFB; she for sure is strong character and an independent mind but not necessarily a team player. Wish her best of luck nonetheless. 

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Unfortunately, I don't have the hard copy of Ballet Review that would enable me to read the interview @miliosr mentions.

Are there sources  @Dreamer  for the claim Messmer didn't get along with others at SFB? In any case, you may be right in your inferences, but I have heard "not a team player" directed at a lot of women in the workplace in a way that has now made me suspicious of the phrase because I've found the expectations placed on women when it comes to the "team" are not always fair and not always in parity with what's expected of men. Sometimes the epithet seems well-earned but often not. Of course, it may be a very different matter in the ballet world (:wink:) or at SFB.

Certainly Lopez has been giving Messmer opportunities for several seasons now, so she seems to have seen an artist she wanted to work with and develop.

Edited by Drew

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You are absolutely right, Drew, in your assessment of gender inequality when it comes to such characteristics as a “team player”. But I really meant it in a completely gender neutral way when I chose those words. I believe there was a discussion on this forum around the time Messmer left SFB and links were provided about a dustup between her and  Maria Kochetkova that played out in the open either on Twitter or Instagram. I can’t remember it now what the conflict was about and whether I felt inclined taking anyone’s side. But it did struck me as odd that  Messmer decided to post her arguments in a public domain. I don’t think that an open conflict between company’s artists reflects well on that company and I would thinks that the Artistic Director is likely to take a note of it. 

During the recent Balanchine Festival at the NY City Center I got to see how dancers from various companies interacted with their fellow dancers, colleagues or former teachers. I don’t want to assume that their enthusiasm and excitement was always sincere and genuine but I noticed that Simone seemed to keep her distance. I must say, though, that offstage she is a strikingly beautiful woman with feline aloofness. So who knows, maybe it is  the way she comports herself.

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I think it fair to say neither Twitter nor Instagram turn out to be unmixed goods for the dancers they help to publicize...

Of course, as a big admirer of Messmer, I wish her a continued great career--ballet needs unique talents. Whatever the complex ups and downs of her professional life, I do believe she is that...

(Another way to say this is that I have seen a lot of talented dancers over the years that I only remember in a vague sort of way if at all; but I still remember those ABT Messmer performances that I admired and remember them even rather vividly. They have stayed with me...)

Edited by Drew

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I enjoyed watching Simone Messmer dance with San Francisco Ballet. She was an unusual type – like Carol Lombard was among 1930s actresses – and gave a light but unusual color or tone to a ballet. She was especially good in the first section of the Shostakovich Trilogy, in the part that had been set on her at ABT, and I can't imagine anyone else doing it. 

The dust-up with Kochetkova I believe was about labor issues at the ballet which is something that happen in New York among actors about work condition negotiations, so it didn't seem out of the ordinary. The culture of the ballet here seems to be an insular one, much more so than in New York where you have alternative companies – there is no ABT / NYCB rivalry and cross fertilization and supra-company overview. So I can understand about the intimate dinner where casting was determined. And I've always thought it highly unusual that all San Francisco Ballet's photography – the whole visual archive of the company's work – was the solely the work of the son of the artistic director, Erik Tomasson. Even the San Francisco Chronicle's images in reviews are credited to him. Can't think of any other situation like that – City Ballet had Martha Swope but there were many others including Cartier-Bresson and New York Times photographers, etc, leaving a much more varied visual history behind.

Edited by Quiggin

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1 hour ago, Quiggin said:

And I've always thought it highly unusual that all San Francisco Ballet's photography – the whole visual archive of the company's work – was the solely the work of the son of the artistic director, Erik Tomasson. Even the San Francisco Chronicle's images in reviews are credited to Tomasson. Can't think of any other situation like that – City Ballet had Martha Swope but there were many others including Cartier-Bresson and New York Times photographers, etc, leaving a much more varied visual history behind.

 

I think it's increasingly rare for a newspaper to be able to commission all or most of its performance photos, so it's sort of a luxury that the NYT still does that (and like you say, a very valuable addition to the visual history of dance). I wade through a lot of performing arts coverage for my job, and I'd say about 75% or more of the time, a photo is credited to the photographer hired by the presenting company, not the newspaper. It looks like the San Francisco Chronicle does commission some of its own performing arts photos, but for whatever reason doesn’t bother to do so for the ballet.

In terms of other examples -- and this isn't exactly analogous, since it's an opera company -- virtually every production photo from the Santa Fe Opera is by Ken Howard. He's one of the most gifted performance photographers in the country, and Santa Fe hires him for every production they do. Newspapers like the NYT don't bother to fly in their own photographer or hire someone locally in Santa Fe. So, at least in recent history, the company's performances have been documented mostly by one photographer. 

But is it nepotistic that all of SFB's photos are taken by the AD's son? Quite possibly. From what I'm seeing online, it looks like he does very good work, so the company may also be happy to have him. 

15 hours ago, Dreamer said:

During the recent Balanchine Festival at the NY City Center I got to see how dancers from various companies interacted with their fellow dancers, colleagues or former teachers. I don’t want to assume that their enthusiasm and excitement was always sincere and genuine but I noticed that Simone seemed to keep her distance. I must say, though, that offstage she is a strikingly beautiful woman with feline aloofness. So who knows, maybe it is  the way she comports herself.

2

Messmer basically says as much in the Ballet Review Q&A. She mentions that the Miami City Ballet dancers socialize outside of work but that she prefers to keep a clear division between her professional and personal life. She talks a lot about how she values a high level of professionalism; there's an anecdote about how someone carelessly left their cell phone on top of some lighting equipment, and how that irked her. 

Edited by fondoffouettes

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1 hour ago, fondoffouettes said:

But is it nepotistic that all of SFB's photos are taken by the AD's son? Quite possibly. From what I'm seeing online, it looks like he does very good work, so the company may also be happy to have him. 

Tomasson does do good work, but it's the official work – or "word" – of the company. As far as the press, it would be a little like Alaistair Macaulay using the company's news releases to write his reviews. The Chronicle surely has access to stringers who work for very little. Not doing so it might have to do with SFB company policy and control. Also many professional photographers on other assignments pass through San Francisco all the time whose points of view on the company would complement Tomasson's. We need more strong voices in the world, not weaker and fewer.

Again think of all the great oblique and spontaneous views of companies making work that we have had from Henri Cartier-Bresson (Boshoi & City Ballet), Martine Franck (Paris Opera and Marseilles), Walker Evans (Ballet Theatre 1940), Inge Morath (Bolshoi); Eve Arnold, Gueorgui Pinkhassov, Christopher Anderson, etc etc.

Here's Magnum's ballet catalogue, full of images to treasure:

https://pro.magnumphotos.com/CS.aspx?VP3=SearchResult&VBID=2K1HZO4A25KZN9&SMLS=1&RW=2258&RH=1134

Edited by Quiggin

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6 hours ago, fondoffouettes said:

But is it nepotistic that all of SFB's photos are taken by the AD's son? Quite possibly. From what I'm seeing online, it looks like he does very good work, so the company may also be happy to have him. 

Yes, it is nepotism. I imagine there's no shortage of competent photographers who would like the gig and if Junior's work is good, I expect other arts groups would be happy to have him as well. As Quiggin says, he shouldn't have a monopoly on shooting the company, and strictly speaking it's inappropriate for him to be working for the company at all. If E. Tomasson had an established reputation independent of working for Dad it would be a somewhat different matter, but as it is the situation is pretty blatant.

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On 12/1/2018 at 10:11 PM, Dreamer said:

I believe there was a discussion on this forum around the time Messmer left SFB and links were provided about a dustup between her and  Maria Kochetkova that played out in the open either on Twitter or Instagram.

I have no memory of this - must have been on Twitter if it happened at all. It would be really out-of-character for Kochetkova to make any remarks of this sort online. Her postings tend to be a public relations dream - virtually no personal comments or opinions offered. Just photos with bare minimum descriptors. It may have been all on Messmer's side of things. But if anyone can discover the date that this occurred on...

On 12/1/2018 at 6:21 PM, Dreamer said:

I saw Simone Messmer with ABT and SFB on few occasions and loved her. When she left SFB I thought it was a big loss for the company so I started seeking her performances with MCB whenever I could. But every time I saw her perform with MCB I was less than impressed as she did not leave much of a memorable imprint on me like other dancers did (for example,  Jeanette Delgado and Nathalia Arja). So maybe there was something Helgi saw in her to be a problem for the company rather than an asset. It was also my understanding that she didn’t get along with other dancers at SFB; she for sure is strong character and an independent mind but not necessarily a team player. Wish her best of luck nonetheless. 

My impression of her dancing while at SFB was that I needed to see a lot more of it to formulate a strong opinion. Like Cubanmiamiboy, I didn't think her actual dancing was spectacular in any particular way - it was her demeanor that was interesting. More roles for Messmer would of course meant fewer roles for dancers like Sasha De Sola, Dores Andre, Julia Rowe and Lauren Strongin, and probably fewer opportunities for young dancers like Jahna Frantziskonis, WanTing Zhao and Wona Park to prove themselves. It's always a lot harder when you have to make choices between individuals, and I can guess that Tomasson didn't want to take away opportunities from his favorites to give roles to Messmer who hadn't proven herself to him. He likely expected her to deal with the process, but she didn't want to wait - she wanted to be anointed a star dancer of the company. But, West Coast ballet companies don't have "stars" in quite the same way as an ABT does, for example. She may never have been happy with the culture, who knows?

My own observation is that SFB does a pretty good job of spreading the work around - especially now that the 'old favorites' are at the end of their careers, we see more and more of Corps dancers in soloist roles. But injuries keep throwing a wrench into the best laid plans each season...

On the subject of Erik Tomasson and his photography: he is indeed an excellent photographer, but should other photographers be allowed to work on SFB marketing materials? I'm not sure that there is any real precedent for how this should be handled. It's worth pointing out that many of the dancers model on the side for other photographers, though often the photographers seem to be friends or relatives of the dancers, so it's a close community.  😉

Erik Tomasson:

DMSrpE2V4AAzsKi.jpg

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On 12/2/2018 at 4:06 PM, fondoffouettes said:

Messmer basically says as much in the Ballet Review Q&A. She mentions that the Miami City Ballet dancers socialize outside of work but that she prefers to keep a clear division between her professional and personal life. 

Oh yes...ever since I moved here I started seeing the dancers around...club scene and even at the beach. They look like a tight group of happy youngsters. Never seen Messmer with them...

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