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Spring 2020 New York Season


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I think what Brandt is experiencing at ABT is what a lot of dancers experience during their careers. It's a subjective art and ADs are super subjective -- sometimes a dancer is going to be in favor and sometimes, or for some dancers, most times,  they're not going to be the favorite, ever. I think Brandt shows a lot of character and grit by going after a role she wants and one that she thinks she can do well.  More power to her! I hope her performance goes so well that she gets more Giselle performances in the future. She's taking an active role in her professional and artistic growth and not passively sitting back waiting for the powers that be to grant her opportunities.  So many dancers end their careers deeply frustrated and resentful because they feel they didn't achieve their potential or weren't recognized for what they have to offer. No matter what, at least Brandt will know she stood up for herself. 

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I think Brandt is talented and all that but one thing about Giselle is that the role needs strong jumpers, and from what I've seen Brandt doesn't have much of a jump at all.

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2 hours ago, canbelto said:

I think Brandt is talented and all that but one thing about Giselle is that the role needs strong jumpers, and from what I've seen Brandt doesn't have much of a jump at all.

I think her jumps look good in the coaching videos on Instagram. Not every Giselle is an Osipova, and I'd definitely rather watch Brandt than Osipova.

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Brandt may have seriously considered seeking the role of Giselle following her performance in 2018 during the "Big Ballet" show on Russian TV and the enthusiastic feedback she received from the panel of Russian judges.  With her boss back home offering less encouragement than the Russians, I can understand why she might want to push herself to achieve this not-insurmountable goal.  I hope we get to see her Giselle in New York; I love her incredible dedication to her art.

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She danced an excerpt from Giselle (the 2nd act pas de deux) with Herman Cornejo at the recent Studio 5 (from City Center) program honoring Cornejo's 20 years with ABT, and even in that setting (no stage, no sets, bright lighting) I thought she was magical.  I really hope I get to see her do it.

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I also think that Brandt is now directly competing against Trenary and Hurlin for important role debuts.  Brandt knows that this is a zero sum game.  The next ABT promotions are likely to be focused on the men (Bell, Forster).

Edited by abatt
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The elephant in the room is money. Not everyone can afford the expensive coaching sessions Brandt gets on a regular basis. It's great that Brandt can and it appears to be paying off for her but many dancers don't have the means for the kind of coaching and advertising she can invest in herself. 

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5 minutes ago, canbelto said:

Not everyone can afford the expensive coaching sessions Brandt gets on a regular basis. It's great that Brandt can and it appears to be paying off for her but many dancers don't have the means for the kind of coaching and advertising she can invest in herself. 

That's obviously true, but what of it? Ballet is no different from any other part of life. Money brings advantages and opens up opportunities. In an ideal world maybe it wouldn't, but it does.

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I think she saw what has happened to Abrera and Lane — toiling away their “good” years as soloists and then being promoted to principal basically because the audience demanded it, not because McKenzie was a huge supporter. And now Abrera is retiring and Lane’s performances are getting few and far between (through no fault of her abilities). If Brandt is smart, she WILL go elsewhere before it’s too late. 

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1 hour ago, ECat said:

For a long time now I have felt that both Sarah Lane and Skylar Brandt would do quite well at Houston Ballet.

I think San Francisco would also be a good home with their rep -- full-length classics, Ratmansky. I don't know enough about Boston or Miami...

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San Francisco Ballet would be a great company for Brandt and/or Lane -- SFB does all of the classics, plus lots of new works, plus Balanchine, plus they dance a lot. Great company, great city!

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On 2/7/2020 at 10:01 AM, Sal said:

I think what Brandt is experiencing at ABT is what a lot of dancers experience during their careers. It's a subjective art and ADs are super subjective -- sometimes a dancer is going to be in favor and sometimes, or for some dancers, most times,  they're not going to be the favorite, ever. I think Brandt shows a lot of character and grit by going after a role she wants and one that she thinks she can do well.  More power to her! I hope her performance goes so well that she gets more Giselle performances in the future. She's taking an active role in her professional and artistic growth and not passively sitting back waiting for the powers that be to grant her opportunities.  So many dancers end their careers deeply frustrated and resentful because they feel they didn't achieve their potential or weren't recognized for what they have to offer. No matter what, at least Brandt will know she stood up for herself. 

I quite agree. There are many things in a dance career (or any career), that an individual has no control over. Brandt took action. She spoke more frankly to Kevin M, paid for coaching, put in hours of hard work on her own time, and put the results out there. Good for her. 

On another note, I seem to remember that Sarah Lane got coaching from Irina and Max, before her ABT Giselle debut. The article mentioned that Boylston is now seeking their coaching. It seems that quite a number of ABT dancers are getting coached on their own time & dime.

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2 hours ago, California said:

I think San Francisco would also be a good home with their rep -- full-length classics, Ratmansky. I don't know enough about Boston or Miami...

Agreed on San Francisco!  Boston would be a viable option as well.  Miami City is very Balanchine heavy.

35 minutes ago, Sal said:

San Francisco Ballet would be a great company for Brandt and/or Lane -- SFB does all of the classics, plus lots of new works, plus Balanchine, plus they dance a lot. Great company, great city!

Agreed all around!  Great company, great rep, great city!  They both would do well there.

 

Houston Ballet seemed like an especially good option for them since they are heavy on the classics and MacMillan and they seem to like petit dancers.

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3 minutes ago, nanushka said:

I think it's quite likely that Brandt will have a career as a principal if she stays at ABT.

I do, too, but how long will she have to wait -- too long?

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Who knows. I do have the feeling that at least one female soloist is getting promoted at the end of the spring season. With Stella retiring, it certainly opens up a contract spot. I think management/McKenzie tend to favor Trenary over Brandt. She got Aurora early on (although that could have been Ratmansky's choice), then was always scheduled to dance Princess Praline and Colombine, meaning she wasn't a sub for Copeland's withdrawals, which is how Brandt ended up getting those shows during the first run of each ballet. Also, she's getting Juliet, a very coveted role. I know Brandt got that last minute Medora, but given how technical the role is, it's no surprise they went with a reliable technician with such short time to prepare.

And yes, I know Brandt is doing Giselle, but we now know what she had to go through to get it. Lucky for Brandt, she's able to afford all those hours of private coaching. Most dancers likely can't afford private coaching to learn an entire ballet. Then again, most dancers don't come from Brandt's family. But as someone else said, money giving you an edge applies in every aspect of life and every profession. All is fair in love and war, they say.

So, who's likely to get promoted? Going into the season I would have guessed Trenary. I still have that feeling today, but I suppose it will depend on how the season goes. Maybe both will get it? I always felt only Teuscher was getting the principal nod and not Shchevchenko. But then she blew everyone away that season (and then the Veronika Part situation happened all of a sudden, which leads me to believe they weren't planning on promoting all three), so anything can happen. Like I said, who knows...

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In other areas of the performing arts,  it's the norm for dancers,  singers,  and actors to seek out and pay for teachers and coaches in order to enhance their abilities,  and most of them don't have the enormous advantages afforded members of a big ballet company like ABT.  (Free daily class,  free shoes,  physical therapy,  not to mention the steady income.).  It's not unusual for Broadway performers to spend up to a quarter of their take home pay on dance classes,  scene study,  and voice lessons and coaching,  which are very expensive.  More ballet dancers should follow Skylar Brandt's example.  Ballet has become more competitive.  You have to make a real effort to move ahead.

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One  difference between being a freelancer and a member of a company, ballet or otherwise, is that it can hurt your career if you take outside lessons or coaching.  Balanchine, with the exception that proves the rule, wanted his dancers to be trained by no one outside himself and the people he chose for the Company and SAB.  Ballet still runs on the dictator model, where seeming to jump the queue by getting outside/additional help can backfire.

A freelancer isn't expected to be dedicated to one thing, even if in a long-term run.  A ballet company member is expected to be a dedicated disciple, and the assumption in a top ballet company is that you stay there for life until your body gives out or until your yearly contract isn't renewed (or two years, if your contract makes the company give you a year's notice).

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I don't think you can equate Kevin Mackenzie and other present-day company directors to the likes of Balanchine,  Martha Graham or Merce Cunningham.  (Is anyone considered a Mackenzie disciple?).  Those towering figures built their companies from scratch,  with the repertory made up nearly exclusively of their creations.  Getting outside coaching would rightly be seen as undermining the director's artistic vision.  But  ABT has always been an eclectic company,  with diverse influences.  Much of their rep consists of ballets that are performed by companies around the world.  Skylar Brandt's Giselle will not be unique to ABT.  To paraphrase LeBron James and Dwyane Wade,  she is free to take her hard-won talents elsewhere.   Giving that interview to the New York Times was a very smart move on Brandt's part.  Now there is fan interest in seeing her perform the role.  The ball is  in Mackenzie's court.

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I think you can equate present-day directors, or recent directors, to the likes of Balanchine:  I don't see Tomasson or Nissenen or Russell/Stowell or Boal or Stevenson or Mackenzie or Martins or Lopez or Rojo or Lefevre or Kain or Vaziev, just to mention larger companies, having any less institutional power, and only Tomasson and Stowell were choreographers, and not even the founding or key choreographers of their companies.  They are the ones calling the shots and maintaining power over the dancers in whatever way they see fit.  And whether they are Balanchine or Lucia Chase and following the example of their predecessors consciously or unconsciously, it's their way, the highway, or traveling on the shoulder.

The ball has always been in Mackenzie's court, since they begged him to take the job on the brink of insolvency.

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4 minutes ago, Helene said:

I think you can equate present-day directors, or recent directors, to the likes of Balanchine:  I don't see Tomasson or Nissenen or Russell/Stowell or Boal or Stevenson or Mackenzie or Martins or Lopez or Rojo or Lefevre or Kain or Vaziev, just to mention larger companies, having any less institutional power, and only Tomasson and Stowell were choreographers, and not even the founding or key choreographers of their companies.  They are the ones calling the shots and maintaining power over the dancers in whatever way they see fit.

They may have as much institutional power, but is there evidence that they, like Balanchine, don't as a general rule want their dancers working with outside coaches to supplement their in-company training, or that dancers who choose to do so have tended to face repercussions?

Have dancers commented on this (e.g. in memoirs, interviews, etc.)?

(I truly have no idea, which is why I ask.)

Edited by nanushka
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If your attendance in Company Class every day is functionally mandatory if you want to get ahead, and they own most of the rest of your time during the season, and you have your own body maintenance that isn't paid for by the Company (but may be partially paid for by insurance) -- gym, yoga, Pilates, Feldenkrais, PT [the Company PT can only do so much with 40+ dancers], weight work, etc. -- and you're called in for last-minute rehearsals and substitutions, that leaves about as much time at the end of the week to do the laundry.  ABT dancers used to, at least, take David Howard's or other open classes in the early evening as warm-ups, but that wasn't for coaching.  Usually only the Soloists who are in purgatory in larger Companies, especially, ie, ones who are no longer doing day-to-day corps work, but those without Principal schedules, had any time to do anything.

If you go to enough Q&A's and listen to enough podcasts, you'll hear a lot of deflection when the topic comes up.  Or, like when most civilians ask questions that seem off the mark, you can observe genuine surprise, especially from younger dancers, that anyone would consider something "outside", it's so ingrained.  And what makes that so surprising to me is how dancers outside of the very top tier of companies with their own elite training academies are expected to dance in a wide variety of styles and, at least in North America, are encouraged to get as much experience taking summer intensives from a wide variety of programs and schools.  I can only conclude that this is more to get a sense of where the dancer fits in, because when I listen to dancers speak, that feels like Rumschpringe, and once they are hired into a Company, it's blinders on.

And it's not that I don't get that people observe norms in work life and do what they need in order to get ahead in a specific place, but there's a certain awareness that I don't hear expressed, ie, a lot of koolaid drinking, which I've certainly experienced working in tech companies, or performing as spokespeople.

My friends who work in theater, Broadway or small theaters, have heavy rehearsal periods, but during the run might be called into rehearse if a new person joined the cast, but, for the most part, had plenty of spare time every day to pursue their own physical and professional well-being, including other gigs, and the option to choose their own dance training if they are dancing.  The people I know in opera aren't part of ensemble companies where management dictates roles like in any rep company, but are freelancers, and they don't perform or travel daily if they are in a run.  The use the time in between performances and gigs to learn new roles and recital pieces, practice for recitals, get coaching, take classes in acting and dance, visit their teachers, and to review what's up next.  It's a very different life.

[Edited to add] One of the reasons I really love Michael Breeden and Rebecca King Ferraro's Conversation on Dance podcasts is that they speak to a lot of ballet professionals who didn't take the straight, blinders-on path in their field, even if some started out that way, and have done pretty phenomenal things in dance.

 

 

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