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Posted (edited)

Discussing non-white dancers, there is also a lack of Asian dancers in NYCB.  I fell into a conversation with Wendy Whelan during the intermission of a recent performance.  I was interested in Balanchine ballets that have been out of the repertoire:  "Tzigane", "Gounod Symphony" and also "Bugaku".  Wendy replied that "Bugaku" is problematic right now with the yellowface and cultural appropriation issues.  I mentioned that "Bugaku" might fly if cast with Asian dancers and Wendy replied that they don't have that many in the company right now.  So there's that.

ABT actually has more Asian dancers and could cast Stella Abrera and Hee Seo in "Bugaku" (Hee is not ideal but she is Asian) and Joo Won Ahn as the partner - maybe Kimin Kim could guest.  Plus there are two other Asian men and two girls in the corps de ballet and Zhong Jing Fang, a soloist.  The piece requires a soloist couple and four corps couples - so five women and five men.  Allegra Kent and Edward Villella are still around to coach it.

Edited by FauxPas
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Posted (edited)

A weekend that began with irritation at the failure of the MTA to get me to Lincoln Center in time for Saturday afternoon's performance of Dances at a Gathering ended with reflections of gratitude that mass transit makes it possible to attend wonderful live art events like the NYCB Sunday matinee in the first place.

Again Maria Kowroski came to the rescue following the intermission Saturday with her sublime dancing in Everywhere We Go. This time, however, it thankfully came within the context of stronger overall work from everyone else, culminating in the superb execution of the moving choreography to the ballet's solemn penultimate musical movement.

Saturday evening's Serenade lacked a starry cast. Nevertheless, with a dancer of Sterling Hyltin's caliber as the Waltz Girl, and the solid backing of various excellent female members of the corps, it was not hard to find plenty to savor in this remarkable work. A grand performance of the splendid Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2, led by the regal Sara Mearns and Russell Janzen, ended an exceptional program on a rousing note. However, although in themselves Marc Happel's new costumes for the women are lovely, I concur with the criticism expressed earlier regarding their unsuitability for this ballet.

In between came Summerspace, which was last presented by the company almost twenty years ago. All six dancers in the cast—Abi Stafford, Emilie Gerrity, Lydia Wellington, Sara Adams, Andrew Veyette and Adrian Danchig-Waring—looked fabulous in Robert Rauschenberg's colorful unitards. Being new to Merce Cunningham's choreography, my only point of reference to Saturday evening's performance is what I witnessed at The Joyce Theater back in April. At that intimate theater, it was easier to immerse one's self in Morton Feldman's music and the world of Summerspace. Moreover, despite criticism about being unidiomatic, the dancers of Ballet West appeared more practiced in the style. (Although, in fairness, the larger stage of DHK makes the proper execution of the steps—including some punishing jumps—exceedingly difficult.) Still, the two NYCB male principals as well as Adams acquitted themselves well. And, both Gerrity and Wellington were riveting! The biggest disappointment was Stafford's inability to match in a key role the elan and impact of her counterparts at the Joyce. An exciting yet grueling sequence of jumps, for example, here amounted to little and was over before I realized it had begun. Notwithstanding any of this, I would not hesitate in principle to attend all three remaining NYCB performances in order to gain greater familiarity with Summerspace.

Sunday afternoon was my first viewing of the program which includes this fall season's two new ballets: Edwaard Liang's Lineage, and Lauren Lovette's The Shaded Line.

The opener was brilliant. Separately and together, Sterling Hyltin and Taylor Stanley captured copious beauty in Opus 19/The Dreamer—countering the inclination to dismiss it as minor Robbins.

As others observed, Lineage is at the least an attractive work, and it was difficult to tell from Sunday's performance that this was mostly a second cast. Once again, Emilie Gerrity in her debut was engrossing.
 
There is no better preparation for viewing a new ballet than being forewarned by fellow BA members about its awfulness. Yet nothing I saw Sunday of The Shaded Line would dispose me to skip any program that included it, or not try to figure out what it is about on further viewings. The ambition exhibited by Lovette is notable, as are the resources—including 26 dancers, no less—placed at her disposal. This ballet affords a great opportunity for Georgina Pazcoguin to display her particular talents. In a supplementary role, Unity Phelan is typically bewitching.

Finally, how apt that such a glorious performance by NYCB of Symphony in C—with an ineffably beautiful Sara Mearns appropriately leading its divine second movement—should follow for me the patchy one last November at City Center! One could scarcely ask for a better cast: Ashley Bouder and Joseph Gordon; Mearns and Russell Janzen; Indiana Woodward and Sebastian Villarini-Velez; Brittany Pollack and Andrew Scordato. All were on fire! If cast and performed as well, few ballets provide a more brilliant showcase for the art form than Symphony in C. Most significantly, its second movement—sublimely interpreted as on Sunday—is one of the sections in ballet most likely to compel sober rumination about the vast splendor and ultimate mysteries of the universe. 

Edited by Royal Blue

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2 hours ago, Peg said:

Both wear toupees while performing. 

I wouldn't mind if they danced in all their balding glory, frankly, but it should be their choice. If they're more comfortable dancing with toupees, they should by all means do so. I just hope they don't feel pressure from the company, or their peers, or the world at large to wear them. They may view their toupees much as some ballerinas (or opera singers) view pinned on hairpieces or wigs: part of the costume—and that's fine too.

Personally, I'd like to see a more relaxed approach to on-stage hairstyles in general, and wouldn't mind a few beards in the bargain. 

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1 hour ago, FauxPas said:

Discussing non-white dancers, there is also a lack of Asian dancers in NYCB.  I fell into a conversation with Wendy Whelan during the intermission of a recent performance.  I was interested in Balanchine ballets that have been out of the repertoire:  "Tzigane", "Gounod Symphony" and also "Bugaku".  Wendy replied that "Bugaku" is problematic right now with the yellowface and cultural appropriation issues.  I mentioned that "Bugaku" might fly if cast with Asian dancers and Wendy replied that they don't have that many in the company right now.  So there's that.

ABT actually has more Asian dancers and could cast Stella Abrera and Hee Seo in "Bugaku" (Hee is not ideal but she is Asian) and Joo Won Ahn as the partner - maybe Kimin Kim could guest.  Plus there are two other Asian men and two girls in the corps de ballet and Zhong Jing Fang, a soloist.  The piece requires a soloist couple and four corps couples - so five women and five men.  Allegra Kent and Edward Villella are still around to coach it.

I wonder how Asian dancers feel about this... I'm genuinely curious if they enjoy, or loathe being cast specifically because of their race.  The one Asian dancer at the largest company in my local area is ALWAYS cast in Chinese in Nutcracker.  She will never even be considered for anything else, because, well...would it insult her if they cast a white dancer?  I have no idea.  

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1 minute ago, Balletwannabe said:

I wonder how Asian dancers feel about this... I'm genuinely curious if they enjoy, or loathe being cast specifically because of their race.  The one Asian dancer at the largest company in my local area is ALWAYS cast in Chinese in Nutcracker.  She will never even be considered for anything else, because, well...would it insult her if they cast a white dancer?  I have no idea.  

Definitely a big difference between casting an Asian dancer in an Asian role and casting Asian dancers only in Asian roles...

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Just now, BLalo said:

Definitely a big difference between casting an Asian dancer in an Asian role and casting Asian dancers only in Asian roles...

I'm sorry I was probably misunderstood- she's cast in all of their other ballets.  However in Nutcracker, she's only cast in Chinese (in the 2nd Act).  I'm sure she could do something else.  I'm not behind the scenes though... that's why I'm wondering if she likes the role or not.  

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Posted (edited)
On 10/6/2019 at 11:30 PM, Petra said:

 

And finally - the first thing my middle daughter said during intermission, after the first two ballets, was "why are all the dancers white?" After 3 days of running around Manhattan, and seeing people of every possible skin colour, the lack of diversity was striking. Union Jack was more balanced but right now the make-up of this company does not reflect the city it represents so well.

I've been watching NYCB since 1979 and, though your middle daughter's observation is telling, NYCB now has more women of color dancing in its corps de ballet than at any other point during its storied history (three were in Union Jack). This is not because of any quota system, but because the people who audition young dancers for the school have started looking in more places for talent and have questioned their own prejudices about what skin color the talent might have. It's mentioned in the SAB newsletter from time to time and they talk about it at events. No white children (or other races) are denied the chance to audition for the school, at least not based on the color of their skin or on financial considerations. Once admitted, the students are treated the same and advance solely based on their ability and artistry. That's the official policy. Dancers are chosen for NYCB based on their dancing and the needs of the company at the time (i.e. tall men/women one year, short men/women the next, though the subjective matter of talent probably plays the largest part in decisions).

On to dancing! I was interested to see Summerspace this weekend. I was at the dress rehearsal, and had often seen the Cunningham company, though not in this particular dance. The NYCB cast should be proud of the work they did. The group of former modern dancers with me all particularly admired the dancing of Abi Stafford, Adrian D-W and Lydia Wellington. Cunningham plays to Stafford's strengths, her sense of weight, the clarity of her technique, her rhythmic daring. She seemed quite bold, the others too, but I felt I'd never liked Stafford's dancing more. Watching Adrian do those crazy Cunningham jumps, hops really, with one foot tucking up under him while the other stayed in arabesque...watching him jump, change direction and stick the landing with one leg extended in front...  well, whatever injury he had, that's over and he's BACK. Kudos to Andy Veyette, Emilie Gerrity and Sara Adams as well. I hope they get a chance to grown in their roles.

Other highlights of the weekend were Sterling Hyltin leading a fantastic cast in DAAG,  the return of Everywhere We Go (with Maria K, Taylor S, Teresa R, Indiana, and Russell J all in fine form), watching Mira Nadon in the corps of Serenade, and (with a special disclaimer for the costumes) seeing Piano Concerto #2. What a wealth of riches!

Edited by BalanchineFan

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2 hours ago, FauxPas said:

ABT actually has more Asian dancers and could cast Stella Abrera and Hee Seo in "Bugaku" (Hee is not ideal but she is Asian) and Joo Won Ahn as the partner - maybe Kimin Kim could guest.  Plus there are two other Asian men and two girls in the corps de ballet and Zhong Jing Fang, a soloist.  The piece requires a soloist couple and four corps couples - so five women and five men.  Allegra Kent and Edward Villella are still around to coach it.

There are actually 4 ABT corps women who are Chinese.

 

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54 minutes ago, Kathleen O'Connell said:

I wouldn't mind if they danced in all their balding glory, frankly, but it should be their choice. If they're more comfortable dancing with toupees, they should by all means do so. I just hope they don't feel pressure from the company, or their peers, or the world at large to wear them. They may view their toupees much as some ballerinas (or opera singers) view pinned on hairpieces or wigs: part of the costume—and that's fine too.

Personally, I'd like to see a more relaxed approach to on-stage hairstyles in general, and wouldn't mind a few beards in the bargain. 

Bald can be very sexy!  But with some makeup on the head to reduce the shine!

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56 minutes ago, Kathleen O'Connell said:

I wouldn't mind if they danced in all their balding glory, frankly, but it should be their choice. If they're more comfortable dancing with toupees, they should by all means do so. I just hope they don't feel pressure from the company, or their peers, or the world at large to wear them. They may view their toupees much as some ballerinas (or opera singers) view pinned on hairpieces or wigs: part of the costume—and that's fine too.

Personally, I'd like to see a more relaxed approach to on-stage hairstyles in general, and wouldn't mind a few beards in the bargain. 

So they wear toupees.  Singers wear them too.  Canbelto mentioned maybe Nureyev wore pne in late career, which I think he did. Ordinary people wear them. To me it's a non issue and should absolutely be left to the individual.

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2 hours ago, FauxPas said:

Discussing non-white dancers, there is also a lack of Asian dancers in NYCB.  I fell into a conversation with Wendy Whelan during the intermission of a recent performance.  I was interested in Balanchine ballets that have been out of the repertoire:  "Tzigane", "Gounod Symphony" and also "Bugaku".  Wendy replied that "Bugaku" is problematic right now with the yellowface and cultural appropriation issues.  I mentioned that "Bugaku" might fly if cast with Asian dancers and Wendy replied that they don't have that many in the company right now.  So there's that.

ABT actually has more Asian dancers and could cast Stella Abrera and Hee Seo in "Bugaku" (Hee is not ideal but she is Asian) and Joo Won Ahn as the partner - maybe Kimin Kim could guest.  Plus there are two other Asian men and two girls in the corps de ballet and Zhong Jing Fang, a soloist.  The piece requires a soloist couple and four corps couples - so five women and five men.  Allegra Kent and Edward Villella are still around to coach it.

I've been wondering if the second paragraph is a serious statement.  How would casting Asian dancers in  Bugaku remove the thorny aspects of this ballet?  Shouldn't dancers be cast on merit and not race?  It's not as though we're talking about. for example, Porgy and Bess, which is mandated by the Gershwin estate to be cast with all black singers, chorus etc.

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2 minutes ago, Marta said:

I've been wondering if the second paragraph is a serious statement.  How would casting Asian dancers in  Bugaku remove the thorny aspects of this ballet?  Shouldn't dancers be cast on merit and not race?  It's not as though we're talking about. for example, Porgy and Bess, which is mandated by the Gershwin estate to be cast with all black singers, chorus etc.

Casting Asian dancers gets rid of the yellowface problem.   No white dancers putting on black wigs and trying to look Asian.  Also the ABT dancers I suggested are mostly principals who certainly have merit and the corps dancers merit dancing corps roles.  

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27 minutes ago, FauxPas said:

Casting Asian dancers gets rid of the yellowface problem.   No white dancers putting on black wigs and trying to look Asian.  Also the ABT dancers I suggested are mostly principals who certainly have merit and the corps dancers merit dancing corps roles.  

Certainly they have merit but what I also meant was being "right" for the roles rather than being cast solely on the basis of race. 

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Reverse discrimination at NYCB that victimizes white ballet dancers?  Well, the powers that be surely do a bad job of it seeing as how their roster hasn't exactly been flooded with non-white dancers these past 20 years.  Nor at any other time for that matter. 

And that includes dancers of Asian descent who are prevalent in nearly every other company in North America,  Europe and the Antipodes, but NOT NYCB. 

Lack of racial diversity at NYCB is an issue that the organization had handled poorly in the past  and one that they were working hard to remedy according to AD Stafford in an article in Dance magazine.   

Geez,  Making a monumentally wealthy and connected institution like City Ballet out to be victims of pc bullying  is enough to make Theresa Howard's head explode.  And anyone who doesn't know who Theresa Howard  is, should learn. 

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1 hour ago, Marta said:

Certainly they have merit but what I also meant was being "right" for the roles rather than being cast solely on the basis of race. 

I feel it’s a pretty complex issue, but if a role has been designated a specific race (Madame Butterfly, Othello...) then that role should be given to a person of that race, rather than a white person masquerading as a person of that race. 

If you don’t have the dancers for a piece of repertoire, don’t programme that rep. 

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Posted (edited)

I saw Dances at a Gathering for the first time (finally) tonight. Russell Janzen and Lauren Lovette were so impressive, individually and together. Jovani Furlan looks already so much at home. Indiana Woodward is an evocation of mid-20th century ballerina charm. Joe Gordon is such a mature artist already; I'm excited to watch him for many more years. Gonzalo Garcia impressed me more than he has in the past, with more depth, but still...something lacking. Brittany Pollack danced well enough; Emilie Gerrity did not, for the most part. I wished Sebastian Villarini-Velez had a larger role. I waited and waited for Sara Mearns to come out, eagerly anticipating what I'd read about her two solos, and she was so good in both.

What a wonderful company piece, and how wonderful to see it danced by this company.

ETA: Oh, and Susan Walters' 👠👍👍.

Edited by nanushka

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5 hours ago, FauxPas said:

Discussing non-white dancers, there is also a lack of Asian dancers in NYCB.  I fell into a conversation with Wendy Whelan during the intermission of a recent performance.  I was interested in Balanchine ballets that have been out of the repertoire:  "Tzigane", "Gounod Symphony" and also "Bugaku".  Wendy replied that "Bugaku" is problematic right now with the yellowface and cultural appropriation issues.  
[...]

The piece requires a soloist couple and four corps couples - so five women and five men.  Allegra Kent and Edward Villella are still around to coach it.

I’d love to see Bugaku. I must have seen a film of it on tv in the 1970’s or 80’s and it’s definitely worth doing with the right cast. ... however they decide to deal with the cultural issues... maybe just omitting the white/yellow makeup and wigs. Though I agree with Ms Whelan, it’s problematic. Another issue is the intersection of sex and race. 

I saw Allegra Kent’s lovely talk at NYPL last night and Villella was there too.  So much of Balanchine’s work was inspired by such unique talents, dancers he trained to develop and nurture their individuality. No one is remotely like Allegra Kent. There is an argument to be made for retiring ballets once the original cast is gone.

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1 minute ago, BalanchineFan said:

There is an argument to be made for retiring ballets once the original cast is gone.

It could be made, but I don’t imagine it would convince me in the least.

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2 minutes ago, nanushka said:

It could be made, but I don’t imagine it would convince me in the least.

Lol! I’m so glad you said that. I can always see both sides. 

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1 minute ago, BalanchineFan said:

Lol! I’m so glad you said that. I can always see both sides. 

😀  Me too, usually. But on this one I find myself unusually firm!

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7 hours ago, DaniGirl said:

I also saw an interview years ago about another dancer whose parents had taken out debt on their credit cards to support the girl coming to SAB. 

This is not at all surprising.  Based on decades of reading dancer narratives, there seem to be four ways that dancers get training, from early training before they even qualify for  elite training:

1. At least one of their parents is a dance teacher, often in their own studio, and the dancers grow up in the studio.  If they take to it, they get at least their early dance education there.

2. Their parents write checks.  It can be from disposable income, or the parents can be taking out second and third mortgages and/or doing second or third jobs or maxxing out their credit cards to write those checks.  They may be supporting two households so that their children can have elite training.

3.  They and/or their parents barter: clean the studio, like one PNB soloist did, as the family, raised by a single mom, was living at the poverty level; make costumes; do maintenance,; re-finish the floors; serve as the receptionist; help teach younger children, or if they are skaters, not dancers, ride the zamboni.

4. They find a sponsor or teacher who sees something in them and is willing to subsidize them.   One found Copeland, but what is unusual about her story is that she learned to dance at one of the comparatively few recreational ballet programs.  Many kids have the option to join the recreational swim team or play on a Little League team, or play intramural basketball, or join the school band or chorus or, depending on age, the math or chess team or high school football or volleyball team, public activities where talent and persistence can be spotted or even scouted.  Almost all kids who learn ballet at recreational levels do so at a school, where there is tuition.

There are some parents who will do whatever it takes to help their kid fulfill his or her dream; for many that's a huge sacrifice.  There are others who assess things differently, and come to a different conclusion when decisions are based on taste and aesthetics, and those decisions are staring them in the face every time they look at a company roster on the internet.

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8 hours ago, Helene said:

There are others who assess things differently, and come to a different conclusion when decisions are based on taste and aesthetics, and those decisions are staring them in the face every time they look at a company roster on the internet.

I’m afraid I missed your meaning here. Pretty sure I could follow your other points. What is it those parents see in the company rosters on the internet?

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9 hours ago, BalanchineFan said:

There is an argument to be made for retiring ballets once the original cast is gone.

Agreed. Sometimes it’s just not the same ballet without the right dancer chosen by the choreographer. 

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Posted (edited)
10 hours ago, BalanchineFan said:

I’d love to see Bugaku. I must have seen a film of it on tv in the 1970’s or 80’s and it’s definitely worth doing with the right cast. ... however they decide to deal with the cultural issues... maybe just omitting the white/yellow makeup and wigs. Though I agree with Ms Whelan, it’s problematic. Another issue is the intersection of sex and race. 

Honestly, I think Bugaku is a ballet we can do without. Simply presenting it with an Asian cast won't address all of its flash points: Asians aren't interchangeable, just as, in some contexts—whether benign or charged—Western Europeans of different ethnic or national origins aren't interchangeable. Furthermore, Bugaku does more than riff on the style of another culture's dance traditions: it appears to be saying something about the way that culture structures the intersection of hierarchy, gender, and lust. Stripping off the wigs and the kimonos might not be enough to take away the taint of, for lack of a better term, the Western gaze. 

Not every work by a genius is a work of genius. I think we have enough Balanchine to let Bugaku go.

ETA: Just to be clear, I'm not criticizing anyone's interest in seeing Bugaku: ballet devotees are rightly curious to see and evaluate as many works by a creator of Balanchine's stature as they can. In this instance I think there are other matters that need to be taken into consideration.

For the record, I've both lived in Japan and, as an employee of a large multi-national company, done business in a number of Asian countries. That's the filter through which I see Bugaku.

Edited by Kathleen O'Connell

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24 minutes ago, Kathleen O'Connell said:

Not every work by a genius is a work of genius. I think we have enough Balanchine to let Bugaku go.

Hear hear! 

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