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SFB 2020 Promotions and New Dancers

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Latino and Spanish ballet dancers are usually not American-born and bred, though, although an influx of and concentration of males dancers from South and Central America in companies like ABT and which had high Latino populations, like Miami and Phoenix, surely helped kids see themselves onstage.  (The large black populations in the same cities is treated as invisible.)  Plus the US government's welcome of a strong stream of Cuban dancers who left Cuba -- some with permission and some without -- helped a lot.

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You can't compare the reception that Latino dancers receive in ballet with the experience of black dancers.  In the formative years of ABT and NYCB,  in the 1940s and 1950s,  unlike black Americans,  Latinos were not legally subject to Jim Crow laws.  They could travel about the country without complication.   (Although they certainly dealt with prejudice,  especially in the southwest.). Ricardo Montalban,  Cesar Romero and Fernando Lamas were Hollywood heartthrobs.  Alicia Alonso was a Broadway and ballet star.  Nicholas Magallanes,  Fernando Reyes and Francisco Monción were cast in leading roles opposite white ballerinas.  Of course most of them were white or white passing,  although Monción,  born in the Dominican Republic,   obviously had black ancestry.  If his name had been Frank Jones his prospects would have been significantly more limited.

The point is that,  for many reasons,  ballet companies have always been more welcoming to Latinos than black dancers.  It's interesting that black Brazilian dancers seem to be more employable than black Americans.  Maybe because Americans view them as "exotic".  

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Wasn't there a big influx of Cuban ballet dancers into US and Canadian companies 10 or 20 years ago? It seemed as if Cuba produced a brilliant generation of dancers all at once, a legacy of the government's support of ballet and ballet schools after 1957. The ballet here had a little "parliament" of them for a while. 

San Francisco did do some interesting afternoon school programs in the 70s in the Lower Potrero Hill area which were very successful but then they ran out of federal funds. If reparations are finally made, African American school and after-school programs would seem to be a great place to invest them in. If SF Ballet had opened its doors to something like afternoon programs for kids in the nearby Fillmore District – maybe combination basketball clinics and ballet classes (there was for a while a connection between Taras Domitro and Steph Curry), there might have been an exciting pool of black dancers to chose from now. Silas Farley on why he feels he can leave City Ballet with a good conscience:  

Quote

I can lay it down because [the City Ballet dancers] Chris Grant is coming up after me and Kennard Henson is coming up after me and LaJeromeny Brown is coming up after me and Victor Abreu and Preston Chamblee.

Holland Carter in today's Times, in an excellent piece on the removal of statues, says "We’re at an inflection point in this country, potentially the most significant one in generations. Black Lives Matter brought us here." The art world is reexamining many of its practices. Ballet might do so too. I somehow don't think that the old combinations of programs and players are going to work anymore.  

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2 hours ago, On Pointe said:

You can't compare the reception that Latino dancers receive in ballet with the experience of black dancers

I'm not trying to.  But I do argue that a lot of Spanish and Latino and Brazilian dancers, especially prominent dancers, are/have been originally from other countries and that there doesn't seem to have been a huge push to train and hire American-born Latino ballet dancers.   Some Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilian dancers have been hired by US companies and have done well.  But it's still a small enough pool that it's hard to tell whether they have an advantage over American-born black dancers, not that it's a high bar.  The only country in Africa to produce any number of professional ballet dancers is South Africa mainly under apartheid, when it was the white RAD teachers network sending their white students primarily to the Royal Ballet or maybe Australia.  (Unlike opera, where some black South African singers are feeding into major opera houses.)

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Posted (edited)

This may be self-evident, but knowing first hand how incredibly difficult the mental and physical training required in ballet and the toll it takes and then add to that the natural athletic grace and musicality necessary - add to that the typically very short career of a professional dancer -  it is the rare dancer that can achieve this goal much less continue to remain at the performance standard that is required.   My take-away - if we want to open doors for those who may have seen this profession as unattainable, then access to early training must be available and affordable.   Caveat - as in all athletic endeavors, people who "wish" to be a professional ballet dancer (or baseball-football-basketball player etal) must be prepared to have their dreams dashed.  I don't think it is the "failure" of ballet companies that they cannot fill (right now) the ranks with black dancers, nor do I think that audiences would not love to see them. Many companies have donor-funded existing ballet training programs that reach out to the community and this current dialogue is serving to encourage that effort.   Progress!

Edited by mira

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I don't think anyone is expecting ballet companies to "fill their ranks" with black dancers.  Although that may be an unconscious fear.  Who could have imagined even ten years ago that young black women would completely dominate American tennis?   Tennis requires years of training that is even more expensive than ballet training  (unless your father is Richard Williams,  who taught his daughters Venus and Serena using tennis manuals and videotapes).   There is no guarantee of success and careers can be short in both fields.  (The financial rewards of bigtime tennis compared to ballet is where the comparison diverges!)

The point is that you don't have to go out into urban neighborhoods searching for potential black ballet students.  There are plenty of motivated,  professionally-trained black American dancers  who have already made their way into the major schools.  If a company can hire black dancers from thousands of miles away like Brazil and South Africa,  they can hire home-grown dancers.  You don't have to fill the ranks.  In most companies,  two or three will do.  NYCB has far more than that,  yet when the stage is full,  you hardly notice the race of the dancers,  only the quality of the movement.

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On 6/25/2020 at 3:15 PM, On Pointe said:

Latino and Spanish dancers are well represented in American ballet,  possibly over-represented in some companies.

What are your grounds for considering them "over-represented"?

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31 minutes ago, On Pointe said:

The point is that you don't have to go out into urban neighborhoods searching for potential black ballet students.  There are plenty of motivated,  professionally-trained black American dancers  who have already made their way into the major schools.  If a company can hire black dancers from thousands of miles away like Brazil and South Africa,  they can hire home-grown dancers.

This.

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Brazilians have been cleaning up at international ballet competitions for several decades now. ADs of American ballet companies are not unique in their admiration of Brazilian dancers, We should acknowledge that Brazil has become a training powerhouse. If the presence of Russian dancers in American companies doesn't raise eyebrows, neither should the presence of South Americans.

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41 minutes ago, On Pointe said:

The point is that you don't have to go out into urban neighborhoods searching for potential black ballet students.  There are plenty of motivated,  professionally-trained black American dancers  who have already made their way into the major schools. 

Yes, they've made it into the major schools but what percentage of the "graduating" students (of any "color") actually make it into a paid job at a ballet company?  Just being well-trained is not an automatic entry into a company.  It's a "rare" dancer who is well-trained but also mentally and physically gifted enough to appeal to an Artistic Director for any number of reasons.   It could be the company is not hiring that year (current situation), it could be they are a classical company and require training from a school that trains students in that style (same true for students trained by SAB - the companies that may be hiring do not see enough of a classical base), it could be the dancer is not versatile enough (trained classically, and in the Balanchine and contemporary styles), it could be the dancer is not musical enough or fast enough, it could be that an AD needs men only or needs women only, or needs just dancers of a certain height and it could just be that they did not connect with the AD and set hearts on fire with their potential.  So I think, in order to increase the ranks of ballet companies with that rare dancer who may be "black", ballet companies will strive to enlarge their out reach.

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There's a lot of training in Brazil, including the Bolshoi Ballet satellite school, Escola Bolshoi Brasil.  There is also a subset of dancers from a small number of schools who are invited to pre-professional training in the US, like Carla Korbes and Irlan Silva and then are hired into US companies.  But there are a lot of dancers from Brazil, Latin America, Cuba and Spain who are hired directly into companies.

I've seen a lot of dancers from Russia over the years who aren't any more special than American trained dancers  (of different nationalities) I've seen be hired into American companies, and it certainly has raised my eyebrows over time.  There are also a lot of companies that don't hire competition dancers as a rule, aside from Prix de Lausanne which is a scholarship to train.  They might hire dancers with competition results, but based on their professional experience and rep.

Edited to add:  but I also raise my eyebrows around a lot of hires.  

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56 minutes ago, volcanohunter said:

What are your grounds for considering them "over-represented"?

Purely by the numbers.  In some companies,  dancers from China are over-represented.

 

30 minutes ago, volcanohunter said:

We should acknowledge that Brazil has become a training powerhouse. If the presence of Russian dancers in American companies doesn't raise eyebrows, neither should the presence of South Americans.

Nobody's eyebrows are raised by the presence of South Americans.  The subject is the lack of black Americans.

 

24 minutes ago, mira said:

Yes, they've made it into the major schools but what percentage of the "graduating" students (of any "color") actually make it into a paid job at a ballet company?  Just being well-trained is not an automatic entry into a company.  It's a "rare" dancer who is well-trained but also mentally and physically gifted enough to appeal to an Artistic Director for any number of reasons.   It could be the company is not hiring that year (current situation), it could be they are a classical company and require training from a school that trains students in that style (same true for students trained by SAB - the companies that may be hiring do not see enough of a classical base), it could be the dancer is not versatile enough (trained classically, and in the Balanchine and contemporary styles), it could be the dancer is not musical enough or fast enough, it could be that an AD needs men only or needs women only, or needs just dancers of a certain height and it could just be that they did not connect with the AD and set hearts on fire with their potential.  So I think, in order to increase the ranks of ballet companies with that rare dancer who may be "black", ballet companies will strive to enlarge their out reach.

All of this is very true.  Except for the last sentence.  Black dancers are not rare and companies do not have to reach very far to find them.  It's difficult to convey tone over the internet,  but I sense a hostility to even the idea of hiring black Americans.  As I've said before,  it's not a zero-sum game.   

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12 minutes ago, On Pointe said:

Purely by the numbers.

Could you specify where Hispanic dancers are over-represented? Hispanics currently comprise 18.5% of the U.S. population. I can't think of many American companies where the percentage of Hispanic dancers equals that. In the case of Miami, the local population is 70% Hispanic, and I'm pretty sure that Miami City Ballet is not.

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A fair point, since active dancers represent a particular generation, not the population as a whole.

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40 minutes ago, volcanohunter said:

Could you specify where Hispanic dancers are over-represented? Hispanics currently comprise 18.5% of the U.S. population. I can't think of many American companies where the percentage of Hispanic dancers equals that. In the case of Miami, the local population is 70% Hispanic, and I'm pretty sure that Miami City Ballet is not.

Possibly you're over-thinking this.  I don't think anyone expects the makeup of ballet companies to precisely reflect the demographics of their home cities or even the nation as a whole.  There are a lot of highly-accomplished Asian dancers in American companies and by American demographics they are definitely over-represented.  Whether it is Hispanic dancers or Asian dancers,  taking note of their numbers is an observation,  not a criticism.  But if you include Brazilians as "Hispanic" (some people don't)   they are over-represented at Joffrey Ballet Chicago.  If you add in the Asian and two Black dancers,  it is actually a majority minority company.  And that's fine.

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Well, I understand Hispanic to refer to origins in Spanish-speaking countries, so that excludes Brazil. But I understand people from Latin America to be Latinos regardless of whether they speak Spanish, Portuguese or French.

Many dancers from Spain work abroad because opportunities for ballet dancers at home are limited. Many dancers from Japan work abroad because while the standard of living there is very high, it's nearly impossible to make a living as a dancer; nearly all of them have to subsidize their dancing career by working another job. I'm not surprised that dancers from Brazil seek work in countries where the standard of living is higher. I also can't blame dancers for leaving politically repressive countries. I don't know whether it's the case, but I'm open to the possibility that training in these countries is better than it is in the United States, giving the potential immigrants an edge in auditions. And while I unequivocally favor hiring dancers out of feeder schools to maintain company style (assuming the company has one), I would hate for any sort of nativism to take root in American ballet companies.

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Dancers "get in where they fit in",  and there are Americans dancing in ballet companies all over the world.  It's logical for dancers to go where they want to dance the repertoire and can get paid well.  It's a bit of a leap to go from wanting to see black American dancers to have a chance to "nativism".  But it's especially ironic given that black Brazilians come to the US because they have almost no chance of dancing in a ballet company at home.

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2 hours ago, On Pointe said:

All of this is very true.  Except for the last sentence.  Black dancers are not rare and companies do not have to reach very far to find them.  It's difficult to convey tone over the internet,  but I sense a hostility to even the idea of hiring black Americans.  As I've said before,  it's not a zero-sum game.   

not sure what you are saying about sensing hostility to even the idea of hiring black Americans.  Is your thought that Artistic Directors may have a resistance to hiring black American dancers?

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3 minutes ago, mira said:

Is your thought that Artistic Directors may have a resistance to hiring black American dancers?

Yes.

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Posted (edited)

Also - wanted to clear up my comment "...that rare dancer who may be "black"..."     By "rare" I meant that a dancer coming out of a professional level training program and auditioning for a job and actually "winning the lottery" - being offered a contract to a professional ballet company .  That goal is achieved by the sum total of their unique and rare artistic being and, hopefully, not by the color of their skin.  

Edited by mira

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On 6/25/2020 at 4:15 PM, On Pointe said:

Latino and Spanish dancers are well represented in American ballet,  possibly over-represented in some companies.  When Ballet Theatre (precursor to ABT) was founded,  it was even planned to have a Latin American wing.  Lincoln Kirstein had intended for Ballet Society,  later NYCB,  to have equal numbers of black and white dancers,  but that idea fell by the wayside.

The descriptor Latinx is tricky to define even by members of  the community itself.  But doesn't it generally refer to an ethnicity or culture  more than a race?  After all, many Latin dancers look and self-identify as white.

I'm happy to see so many black students - especially females - in the upper levels of SAB.  But I'll believe real change has come when substantial numbers actually get hired by the company and aren't just used in photos for the school's brochure.  

 

Such a pity that American National Ballet theater went down in flames. It would have been nice to see a company built specifically with diversity in mind.  

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8 hours ago, Tapfan said:

The descriptor Latinx is tricky to define even by members of  the community itself.  But doesn't it generally refer to an ethnicity or culture  more than a race?  After all, many Latin dancers look and self-identify as white.

Latinos can be any race and many of them in ballet are white or white passing.  But they face discrimination as an ethnicity or presumed culture.  That's why Ramon Estevez and his son Carlos,  who are of partial European Spanish descent and not Latino at all,   became Martin and Charlie Sheen.   However overall,  they face fewer barriers than black performers.  It rarely happens now,  but lightskinned black Americans in theatre have been known to take on a fake Latino identity to increase their casting opportunities.  Conversely,   black Latinos like Zoe Saldana are rarely if ever cast in Latino roles.    On stage and screen,  colorism is more powerful than racism.

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Which, of course, also applies to the ballet stage:  in the Acosta doc, Acosta's teacher told him he needed to leave Cuba, because of the example of another Afro Cuban male dancer whose did not have the career he should have because his skin was too dark.  And this was coming from a company who offered both of them rare and highly coveted spots in their school and invested in their training.  It's not like they hit puberty and their skin color changed.  And that's in a company whose dancers have a wide range of skin color -- proving that, no, the swans and willis and shades and dancers in the Jardin scene in Corsaire don't have to look like they are clones to be effective -- as long as it doesn't cross whatever that line they've draw is.

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From their FB page - a video in tribute to the artists leaving the company at the end of this season:  

 

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