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Casting From Hell

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Thank you, Dale, for clearing that up. Glad to hear that things at NYCB aren't as beserk as I had feared, and I say that not out of cruelty to Borree or anyone else, but because I live in California and, as you may have guessed, depend on this board for my information. :)

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There are two kinds of miscasting: prospective and retrospective. Some years ago Judith Fugate was cast in "Chaconne." "Chaconne??" Fugate?? Trust me, she and it were both gorgeous. Also "Push??" Dvorovenko?? She was the only member of her cast who "got" it.

Seen with my own eyes at NYCB: Suzanne Farrell in "La Source" and "Who Cares?" (Fascinatin' Rhythm, Man I Love). Lauren Hauser as the "Big Girl" in "Rubies." Barocco cast: Elise Flagg and Nichol Hlinka, surrounded by women twice their height. I'm not sure it would have worked even with a short corps. Most of the dancers in the various stagings of Bournonville bits (as has been alluded to). Alexopoulos in Green in "Dances."

Yes, there've been plenty at ABT, too. The worst that comes to mind right now was Kirkland in "Great Galloping Gottschalk."

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Some people have "it." Others don't. (A new thought.)

My first sight of the then-student Jenifer Ringer in Serenade told me this was someone really special, but it took 10 years for her to become officially a ballerina. And during the whole time she was "in the corps," the eye was always drawn to her. And there are ballerinas who have been ballerinas for 20 years and do very competent, very pretty work, but you watch them only because that's where the spotlight is. The aura and the title are not one and the same; neither necessarily confers the other.

Sorry if I've veered off-topic. It seemed germaine to a subtext here.

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I thought most of the NYCB women were miscast in Bournonville, except (I'm sure purists would disagree) Heather Watts. It was the one time I didn't like seeing Farrell in something :) and I liked her in Stars&Stripes, La Source and in Who Cares? (although not in Patricia McBride's part, that wasn't fair). I guess I always felt Magaret Tracy was all wrong for Chaconne.

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. . . and then there are instances where one miscasting is exacerbated by other cast members. I'm recalling Sonnambula, with a very young Kistler as the Sleepwalker and Saland as the Coquette. It was hard to be convinced that the poet would be so much more fascinated by the virginal innocence of this all-American, frank and open girl-next-door than by the dark, mysterious allure of the seductress.

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Agree heartily about Von Aroldingen, but casting Ashley was done, I think, precisely because she wasn't suited to the roles. Balanchine put her in a number of roles like this (Swan Lake was another) in order to develop qualities that she lacked or needed to improve on: adagio, port de bras, etc.

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Yes, Ari. Another role that comes to my mind is second movement Bizet. She was just gorgeous in that role.

Of course, in her prime, Merrill Ashley was better on a bad day and in an ill-suited role than many dancers were on a good day! Just my humble 2 cents. I miss her greatly.

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I also saw Ashley do the McBride role in Who Cares? Again, not the right role for her, but she was far from terrible.

Back to Ringer. I adore her, but I also do not think her suited to Bizet 1st mov't. She might not be tall enough to be cast in it, but I think she is a 2nd mov't dancer.

None of these are castings from "hell" exactly. My true most recent true experience of that was Borree in Square Dance.


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Marie-Agnes Gillot as Kitri.

Tamara Rojo as the Black Swan.

Heather Ogden as the Black Swan (or anything else)

blast from the past:

anyone but Arthur Mitchell as Puck.

Karin von Aroldingen in many roles.

Peter Martins in his first months at NYCB took some getting used to, no matter what he danced. I couldn't get past the size of his head and the stiff way in which he held it. He grew on me, of course. :)

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Darcey Bussell as Aurora

Svetlana Zakharova as Giselle (yes, I know it's happened)

Viviana Durante as Odette or Giselle

Sylvie Guillem as Aurora

Kirkland as the Lilac Fairy

Farrell as Aurora

Baryshnikov in anything by Graham

Borree as Odette

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Bussell as Aurora, Hans? I haven't seen Bussell in a gazillion years -- since she was the hot, new thing -- but I'd really like to see her Aurora.

Editing to add: Since her Agon pdd in the earlier Balanchine Celebration.

Edited by carbro
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I saw Bussell as Aurora in D.C. -- dancing Dowell's production the week of its premier. When she made her entrance, coming down the stairs and then turned to the audience with a radiant smile, I thought the whole theater filled with light. As for her dancing, it was just lovely -- assured with a kind of soft burnish. I especially noticed how she modulated and direrected her 'contemporary' qualities to fit the Petipa/Tchaikovsky vision. One could still enjoy the super flexible back and high extensions, but they weren't pulled out on every occasion or used exageratedly or counter to the music. In terms of characterization, the different acts were just lightly distinguished, but for my taste it was quite enough. Her sweetness, her classicism, and in the final act, her womanliness all shone through. I thought she was wonderful.

However, I am compelled to admit in deference to Hans that all the American dance critics I read -- about three different reviews -- had a lukewarm (at best) response to the very same performance that I just loved. As you can see, their reviews didn't really influence my opinion though. (I was told that British critics at the same performance liked it, but I never read those reviews for myself.) If I ever had the opportunity to see Bussell in the role again, I would absolutely not miss it...

Edited to add: Dale, I think we posted at the same time; anyway, as per above, I entirely agree!

By the by, in Ashton's Cinderella which is clearly a commentary/reflection on Petipa's Sleeping Beauty, she is also just wonderful -- touching and breathtaking all at once.

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Drew, I think we saw the same performance, because she was injured at the time and withdrew from other performances. You elaborated my sentiments. I also have to add, I saw Svetlana Zakharova as Giselle and enjoyed that too, although I can see how her use of the ultra-high extentions is disturbing to some.

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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.

Or die from? You know, vis a vis this thread, I have a really bad feeling the best is yet to come, ta da, ta di....At least the ballets we are talking about are so good you can tell when they are miscast. Think about that, versus works so bad they can't be miscast. But for miscasting you can see on film, Nureyev in Graham with Fonteyn was amazing. Poor Dame Margo looked so unhappy, in a calm sort of way.

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There are days when I think that casting has generally been so, well, mis, during the past 10 or 15 years that, like political scandals, it's difficult to come up with something so outrageous that it hasn't been done (the death of satire, etc. etc.) The problem is that it's difficult to judge miscasting when directors do what we all accused our teachers of doing when I was in high school -- throw the papers down the stairs, and whichever ones landed at the bottom got the As. Put all the dancers out there -- keeps 'em happy -- and one of them is BOUND to be really good. (Always remembering that there will be a dancer ideally suited to the role that some people will hate, and others ideally unsuited to the role that people will think -- and some write -- "His lack of musicality was an apt metaphor for the awkwardness of adolescence. Although it is unusual to have a Prince several head shorter than the cygnets, this, too, added pathos to his portrayal. The button nose, cauliflower ears and endearingly bowed legs made us realize that Siegfried, too, is enchanted, under a spell until true loves frees him. Finally, line is not necesary for a performer who can find the hidden comedy in what more conventional interpreters have chosen to see as a tragic part. In short, perhaps the greatest Siegfried in the history of time."

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In short, perhaps the greatest Siegfried in the history of time.

Head exploding. . .

To dredge up an earlier post, it's interesting to note the mention of Bussell and Agon. That was one piece of casting that should have been good (in truth, most people liked it from what I recall) but I admit thinking her approach to the role was wrong.

She did the pas de deux without relying on her partner at all, and that's just not how Agon should be done. Without being placed in those positions, the ballet loses a lot of meaning.

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Leigh, according to word-of-mouth at the time, some of the guests who participated in that gala were new to the roles and didn't have adequate rehearsal (let alone performance experience) to really know the roles. I have no idea whether this was the case with Bussell and Agon.

On the other hand, I saw a clip on tv of her dancing the Tchaikovsky pas with Zelensky. In that role, Bussell was cast from hell.

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I wonder how much help Zeklensky was? I saw his Tchai pas and it was stop/start, as though his battery suddenly went dead, then got recharged for his solos.

I'd like to put in a kind word for Bussell -- first in Agon, I think people realized that the guests were trying out roles and didn't expect NYCB interpretations. Bussell got a lot of buzz for that "Agon" -- she got a lot right about it, and people liked her guts. I'd also say that I think she could be a great Aurora -- like Drew, I liked her sweetness. Her rosiness. I thought that production was unhelpful, shall we say. Since it was anti-everything that she was. I didn't think it was a great performance, but I thought the jury was definitely out (and learned afterwards that she was injured) on her as an Aurora, and I can think of many more hellish Auroras -- but she's an English Aurora, not a Russian one.

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At the risk of splitting hairs -- well, actually I like to split hairs -- I would make a distinction between someone approaching a role the wrong way, misunderstanding (or having been misdirected in) the choreography, or even giving a less than ideal performance and someone genuinely "miscast" especially being so miscast as to justify the moniker "casting from hell." Reading over parts of this thread, I don't think that distinction is always being made.

For me, genuine miscasting means someone whose gifts, whose "emploi," whose body/temperament/musicality are so out of line with the choreography that however well they dance and however well-prepared they are, their performance cannot look the way it's supposed to look or have the appropriate impact. It's the sort of bad performance where you don't find yourself criticizing the dancer -- but the director who put him or her in that position. For me, Herrera as the Siren in Prodigal Son is an example of that kind of miscasting.

As already mentioned in regard to Balanchine, one makes some allowance, too, for a director who is trying to push or develop a dancer -- or, for that matter, experimenting deliberately on the ballet itself by casting 'against' type. Balanchine often did that, especially the former, and with a dancer as good as Merrill Ashley, the results were never actually poor or embarassing (in my opinion). I thought she was miscast in Emeralds -- but I wasn't cringing, and there were even elements of the performance I enjoyed. Kyra Nichols in Chaconne was the quite rare case of an excellent dancer, dancing extremely skillfully, who seemed to me so out of touch with the 'tone' of the ballerina role that I actually preferred the ballet in the hands of the much lesser dancer Margaret Tracy (though I wasn't crazy about her in the part either).

Sometimes dancers can overcome miscasting, especially with good coaching or repeated performances, but it rarely leads to an ideal performance. Still, in speaking of "casting from hell," one is really thinking of cases where they cannot, i.e. where the casting in itself is a fundamental problem.

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