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Casting From Hell

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Someone mentioned this as a possible topic, and, me being an evil, evil BalletAlertnik, I thought I'd open this can of worms.

Is there a dancer or dancers that you've seen that were completely miscast? Or a piece of casting that you haven't seen and are richer for not having had the experience?

PS: As per Alexandra's suggestion, I amended my proposal a bit, so as not to invite catty remarks or flame wars.:)

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I'll start with some real life examples.

One I never saw, but is in the history books: Fonteyn as The Miller's Wife iin "Le Tricorne"

Two I never saw but heard a lot about:

Nureyev as Oberon in Ashton's "The Dream"

Farrell in "Stars and Stripes" (Liberty Bell)

One I saw and wish I hadn't: Baryshnikov as Siegfried

What dancers, great or small, have you seen in the wrong role?

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Dang. I SAW Nureyev dance Oberon; I wish I could remember more about it. I seem to recall a near-miss with Wayne Sleep's Puck during some spins-across-the-stage in the scherzo, but it could just be the afterglow of some long-destroyed brain cell.

A recent real-world example of Casting from Hell had to be ABT's decision to cast Paloma Herrera as -- the Siren in Prodigal Son? What were they thinking? (Note to Kevin McKenzie: Please, please, please revive your revival of Prodigal Son and cast Monique Meunier as the Siren. I promise I'll never say a bad thing about your Swan Lake again. Or even your Nutcracker.)

Many of my memories of inappropriate casting had to do with seeing Nureyev dance roles for which he was either never appropriate, or just too darn old and damaged; a particularly painful Spectre de la Rose with London Festival Ballet is burnt on my retinas, as is his rendition of the dancing-master from Konservatoriat.

Anyway, Alexandra, I'm sure I'll have the seat right next to yours when the Ballet de l'Enfer presents the Flower Festival pas de deux, danced by Suzanne Farrell AND Rudolf Nureyev. Truly a performance to die for.

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  • Lucia Lacarra in Raymonda [or just about anything, really, but why ruin a good thread?;)]
  • Octavio Roca will hang me for saying it, I'm sure, but I found Lorena Feijoo completely miscast as Giselle.
  • Damian Woetzal as Siegfried. No expression at all.
  • Yuan Yuan Tan as Aurora, which I didn't see; Lucia Lacarra in the same, which, unfortunately, I did.
  • I've heard it's happened, but I can't for the life of me imagine Yvonne Borree as the Siren.
  • Same for Heather Watts as Frau Stahlbaum, except for the fact that it's on video.
  • Or Makarova as Aurora, although I know that's happened too.
  • Pierre-Francois Vilanoba as Romeo.
  • Julia Adam as one of the fairies in Beauty. First of all, a seasoned principal in a piddly soloist role; second, not the type of ballerina whose talents are suited to tutu ballets.
  • Nadezhda Gracheva as Odette-Odile. Unless she always looks like that...:eek:
  • Elizabeth Miner as the French Ballerina in Gala Performance. It isn't that she's not suited for it. On the contrary, she's too suited for it. I wanted a flyswatter. Then again, maybe that was the whole point...
  • Anita Paciotti as Carabosse.

Keep it coming, folks. You know you want to...:D

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Alexandra, The Dream is absolutely one of my favourite ballets and I'm fascinated by the idea of Nureyev in it! What was it you heard about it? :D

What did surprise me was reading on Darcey Bussell's website that she had rehearsed Carmen, the Mats Ek one. Because of lack of rehearsal time it didn't come to pass and after watching the performances a few months later I couldn't possible imagine her in it! Though if she had been cast sheer curiosity would have driven me to see her. :)

I wasn't comfortable with Jonathan Cope in Giselle or Swan Lake. He's been dancing these roles for nearly 20 years, but from my perspective Cope seemed so out of place - all that passion in Mayerling seemed to have dissipated in Swan Lake. Well anyway it's just a personal opinion as many would say otherwise.

And this is a miscast partnership rather than miscast roles but the only performance I found really regrettable to watch because of the cast was Tamara Rojo and Johan Kobborg in Don Q - raves for their Giselle, fantastic individual performances but together they seemed to come from different planets! :)

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Re Nureyev in Dream, I remember reading about it in Dance and Dancers (a magazine I adored and trusted like the Bible). I believe it was John Percival (it may have been Peter Williams, but I think it was Percival) who began the review with something like, "It's often more interesting to see a great dancer go against the grain than a lesser dancer" [can't remember the phrase; in something well-suited? something with that meaning.) And I remember thinking, "That bad, eh?" Later, when I met some of the English critics, I asked about it, and got shudders, or "Oh, ghastly," or something like that. No details. But I can guess.

Dowell was such a specific dancer -- the long legs, the legato flow to his movements, the other worldly quality, the sense of authority without forcing his personality -- and the role of Oberon exemplified them, used every one of them, that anybody else in the role will be "going against the grain." Nureyev, shorter legs, emphatic style of dancing, Sense of AUTHORITY! (nothing subtle about it) was almost the opposite of what was called for. Perhaps when he was younger, more slender and more fey he could have done it (like Spectre; as Manhattnik noted above, when he danced it in New York, he was so muscled that it seemed grotesque).

I'm sure today it wouldn't cause a moment's hesitancy. Everybody dances everything. But 20 or 30 years ago, roles in ballets, especially new ballets, were closely held, very identified with their creator.

And speaking of roles closely identified with their creators, Sylvie Guillem as Marguerite in Marguerite and Armand. I don't care if she was a big hit. She had nothing of the vulnerability, or latent goodness, that Fonteyn had, her body and arabesque are the wrong shape for the role, and her technique has different gifts.

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Thanks Alexandra! Your post was so useful in helping me identify the qualities the role of Oberon should possess. It makes me regretful that I can only ever see Dowell on video. I'll have to be content with Kobborg - I couldn't help but visualize his Oberon from your description. :D My big wish is that "The Dream" returns to the RB next season.

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I never saw Nureyev as Oberon but responses from those that did were extremely mixed. The one role he danced that I deplored was as De Grieux in Manon, he was totally wrong. I would have cast him as Lescaut.

I was pretty much coerced into watching Guillem as Marguerite by a close friend who accused me of being a hidebound reactionary when I reacted with horror at the thought of reviving Marguerite & Armand. The actual performance was even worse than my imaginings and if Guillem was wrong for her role, Nicholas Le Riche was even less suited to his. Ashton never intended those roles to be danced by anyone else and said so in print somewhere but to my annoyance I have so far been unable to find the actual quote.

It seems Sylvie Guillem now regards Marguerite as a major part of her repertoire and will dance it at the Nureyev gala in Paris later this month with (according to rumour) Dowell in the role of Armand's father. If she was so desperate for one of Margot's roles she should have asked Petit to revive Paradise Lost for her. That would suit her down to the ground.

Apart from technique, temperament and personality there is another factor that comes into play when considering casting and that is looks. Please casting directors, don't put the best looking man in the company into the role of Paris in R & J and even worse, don't even think about a good-looking Hilarion. Those of you who ever saw the RB's Julian Hosking as Paris or the Bolshoi's Gediminas Taranda as Hilarion will understand perfectly the point I'm trying to make.

Just one more thing: thanks for the mention of Dance & Dancers Alexandra. All those that remember it feel its loss acutely. It was the most reliable ballet criticism I've ever read.

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Originally posted by Jane Simpson

I can promise you the RB has given us much, much worse Oberons than Nureyev.

Oh, Jane, I'm sure you are right. But back then, this was not thinkable!

Mel, I was interested in your comment about LaFosse in "Slaughter." I believe you! -- I always listen to people who saw a First Cast. But when "Slaughter" was revived, I thought that was good casting. Perhaps that's because LaFosse is a "hoofer" type -- but Mitchell brought something more than just "type" to the role?

Manhattnik, I think Sibley and Dowell would have been fascinating in Balanchine's "Midsummer" :)

Mashinka, I agree with you on LeRiche -- and Cope, too. On top of having the wrong personalities -- not romantic enough, not desperate enough, none of the sense of cramming a whole lifetime into 30 minutes -- they danced his variations at less than half speed.

A toast to Dance and Dancers :)

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Ballet Nut's list was so long it's taken me awhile to suggest it -- you've been repressing these feelings for a long, long time, haven't you, Nut :)

I did see Makarova's Aurora, and I agree she was miscast -- she said so herself. She said she was a Florine (she's right). It was beautifully pure dancing, of course, but....somehow not in the right key.

I would say something about principals -- ballerinas, really -- in the fairies parts. Back in the goodolddays, the Royal (and I"m sure the Russian companies) cast the fairies with ballerinas (and the divertissements, too). It's a later practice to downgrade them to second soloist, or promising corps dancer, or gosh, susie doesn't have anything to do Tuesday, roles.

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I don't hate LaFosse's recreation of the Mitchell part in "Slaughter", it's just that the best is the enemy of the good. LaFosse was OK, nothing really wrong, and a good deal right, but Mitchell brought a kind of grandeur to the beginning of the 'Totentanz' that was supposed to end the ballet in the show, and quickly, upon learning that there was a hitman in the house, poised to shoot him at the big orchestral crash, degenerated into a sort of "stream of nervousness". It was as if Mitchell were saying, "Whome?ohyoudon'twannashootmeHonest!Pleasedon'tshootmeIwouldn't lookgoodmountedasatrophy!Suzi,wotthehelldoIdonow?" Except he didn't just mime it, he talked it with his entire body! LaFosse did all the shtick, he just didn't resound off the back wall of the auditorium the way that Mitchell had! And just so everybody knows I wasn't totally besotted with the First Cast, in that same season, I saw even Suzanne Farrell overtaken and surpassed by the short-careered, but memorable red-haired Linda Merrill(Rosenthal) in the lead in that ballet!

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Mel, I think your description of LaFosse/Mitchell goes to what happens all the time in dance, unfortunately. The edges get buffed off, the individuality goes, and, to put it in the blandest possible terms, something quite special becomes something quite ordinary, in the same way haut couture becomes off-the-rack, first at a good department store, and eventually at Wal-Mart.

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Originally posted by Alexandra

I would say something about principals -- ballerinas, really -- in the fairies parts.  Back in the goodolddays, the Royal (and I"m sure the Russian companies) cast the fairies with ballerinas (and the divertissements, too).  It's a later practice to downgrade them to second soloist, or promising corps dancer, or gosh, susie doesn't have anything to do Tuesday, roles.

I've been thinking about this Royal practice, too, and I remember a diehard RB fan once criticizing ABT's Beauty because it cast soloists in the roles. (He wanted to see Gelsey Kirkland as a fairy! Didn't say who would be dancing Aurora.:)) But, two things:

1) Isn't this just an RB tradition? The Kirov casts mostly soloists as the fairies. Of course I don't know how it used to be in their Old Days. What were the ranks of Petipa's original fairies?

2) Are principals really better than soloists in these variations, or does our sense of superiority come from the fact that they bear the rank of Principal? It may be that in the Good Old Days, it was only the principals who had the necessary technique. That's not true today. (And yes, I know that in addition to Technique, there's Style.)

This is off the topic of this thread, I know, but it's an interesting subject.

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It is an interesting question. I can't put my hands on the original cast list for Beauty -- I thought it was in Beaumont's "Complete Book" but if it is, I can't find it. He does have the cast list for the Diaghilev revival, however, and it goes like this:

Fairy of the Pine Woods -- Felia Dubrovska

Cherry Blossom Fairy -- Lydia Sokolova

Fairy of the Humming Birds -- Nijinska (interesting, as this is the most Aurora-like of the solos)

Fairy of the Song-Birds -- Lubov Egorova

Carnation Fairy -- Vera Nemchinova

Those are ballerinas. The Four Princes in the Rose Adagio, too, were always (and still are, in the Kirov and Bolshoi, at least in their show casts) premier danseurs. Today's audiences look at that and think, "What? They don't have anything to do but walk!" but in its day, the audience wouldn't have seen it that way. Walking, presenting the ballerina, etc. were arts in themselves, and, when done with the right elan and proper bearing were part of the mosaic.

No. I think the downgrading is a later trend, part of the "it's just steps" attitude. Anybody can do the steps, anybody gets to do them. I think it probably is true (although I have an open mind on this!) that all CORPS dancers were not at the level 100 years ago that CORPS dancers are today, but I don't buy it for ballerinas.

Another facet of this is that Petipa created roles like that because he had so many ballerinas -- he had to do something with them (which relates to our "should ballet companies still have ranks?" argument). I found Keith Money's biography of Pavloa a real eye-opener in thinking about the Petipa repertory. He details the way Petipa cast Pavlova -- why she got this role when -- and there's a real sense of repertory. I think today we think of the Maryinsky as putting on discrete shows: "Swan Lake," and when they got tired of that, "Sleeping Beauty," but of corse, they were all jumbled up in rep, and reading that book, it was like reading about a 20th century ballerina being brought up through the ranks by Balanchine or Ashton.

A final note on fairies that may be helpful. I was struck this year by seeing "Divertimento No. 15" danced by the Suzanne Farrell Ballet how similar those variations are to the fairies' variations. Not in steps, but in temperament, in employ. The employ is even in the same order as the fairy variations! And when Divert was new, it was danced by ballerinas. Since then, soloists have taken some of the roles at different times. They can dance the steps, but the steps don't have the same effect.

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I had the impression that, historically, the Lilac Fairy at least was a ballerina role?

I don't think it's a question of technique or style so much as authority. This is not a dance example, but in the movie Gangs of New York Liam Neeson is cast in a very small but crucial role. In terms of screen time it's nearly a bit part, but it needs an actor with command presence. Same thing here. The Fairies are very special, and you need dancers who can convey this, and the dancers who can do that are usually principals.

Feijoo as Giselle was one of those What Were They Thinking kind of things. I thought it was from hunger. You've got a role that requires a ballerina and the ballet is going on every night for a week plus matinees, so you put a leading dancer in there even if she's wrong for it.

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I'll vote on anything. Third! The Third Fairy. I always wanted to see her do that variation.

dirac, I think all of them were ballerina roles. The Lilac Fairy was Petipa's daughter, and there are dozens of catty remarks in articles by Western critics -- and even scholars -- that say she couldn't dance, she was a character dancer! imagine! she wore heeled shoes! He just put her iin the role because she was his daughter.

And then you see the new/old Sleeping Beauty. She's not a character dancer. She's a danseuse noble. And he cast her, I'm sure, because she knew how to walk and had, as dirac noted above, authority.

I think there's also something more to those roles than technique or style or authority, and that's maturity -- artistic maturity. A ballerina (in the true sense of the term) knows how to fill a variation, and this has to do with musicality and nuance and phrasing and all of those intangibles that young dancers don't have the time to develop any more -- and don't seem to be encouraged to develop. NOT dancing like this is what has made classical dancing look so boring. And you'll read lines in contemporary reviews of how "the choreography is too simple for today's dancers." No it's not. It's quite complex. They make it seem simple. They're turning tone poems into scales. One complaint I've heard and read over and over from company directors and older teachers is that when young dancers get into companies, they can't put two steps together. They can do each step individually, but ask them for three in a phrase and you get Step. Step. Step. And by now, the first generation of the Step People are coaching, passing along everything they know.

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I'm finding it hard to come up with a list for this because usually when I don't like the casting, it's because I don't like the dancer or rather think they are being used improperly in the company. Yet, sometimes even dancers who are miscast in a part are at least interesting in a role because they are interesting dancers. And I hate to blame the dancer who is doing their best in the wring role.

However, Herrera was miscast as the Siren in Prodigal Son, although I thought she tried her hardest. The part was made for a tall dancer with long legs, and a certain emotional quality that is not Herrera's. She is more of a subrette. And count me in for a Prodigal return to ABT's rep. to see Meunier reclaim the role.

Jenifer Ringer is a dancer I adore, but she probably wasn't the right person for Theme and Variations. But I'd much rather watch her in the role than other more technically appropriate dancers. She's a ballerina, and even though the role didn't suit her, she gave a ballerina performance.

I think there is two types of miscasting - the "our principals dance everything" type of casting and a fundamental non-understanding of a ballet or role. The later is more worrying.

Regarding Borree as Siren. It never happened. At least not at the State Theatre. I saw it mentioned in a thread this Fall, but I believe the person was wrong. Despite what some people say about the casting at NYCB, the recent Sirens have been Alexapolous, Kowroski, and Meunier. In the 90's there was Kistler, Ashley and Calegari. Maybe a few others, but not Borree. I don't think the Ballet Masters would do that to Borree or the role.

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