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Casting From Hell

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There should be a secret handshake for hairspliters :) I'm with Drew.

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.

I think this is the way critics use the term. If you read "Buzz was miscast as Siegfried" that's what they mean. A great dancer miscast in a role can still give an interesting performance. A good dancer well-coached miscast in a role can give an interesting performance. A less gifted dancer perfectly cast in a role can place high on the "from hell" list.

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Hairsplitter here, too.

Alexandra, in the video I saw, I had no problems with Zelensky, either dancing or partnering, but it seemed to me that Bussell was changing so many of the musical accents that the phrasings were distorted. I do not mean to imply that there is one and only one way to dance this piece correctly. There are many valid ways to dance it, and some that are just wrong.

Perhaps this performance was not a matter of miscasting, per se, Drew. Tchai pas works well on such a broad range of different types. Perhaps it is, as you suggest, more a case of inadequate/poor coaching.

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Alexandra, are you thinking of the Zelensky performances you reviewed when he came to Washington D.C. with the Kirov in the early 90s? Because he has improved tremendously since then, especially in terms of phrasing and partnering. I had seen him do the pas de deux several times while he was at NYCB and that TV performance from the UK and really enjoyed his performance.

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Dale, yes. It was early days for Mr. Z (a dancer whom I admire; I saw him as a last minute replacement in "Giselle" -- we were told it was his debut -- and loved his Albrecht). At this performance, though, he was telegraphing -- "Why is there partnering in the middle of MY SOLO?????" which, in connection to what Drew wrote above, is more a matter of coaching than being miscast.

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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..

This is very true. However, in Bussell's defence I would hasten to say that the Agon pas de deux takes the utmost complicity and trust between the ballerina and her partner, (as does of course all pas de deux), but especially in that fiendishly, dangerous and complex case.

Given the constraints of time and rehearsal I'm not surprised that Bussell decided to rely as much on her strength to get through the pas de deux without mishap, as she would have on her partner, even though I agree it marred the ambivalence and sexual tension.

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yes yes yes yes yes

thank you :)

I'm afraid you're right. Most people attend only a few performances in a season and are either not interested in, nor can't be expected to, either care about or see the kind of technical and stylistic nuances that coaches and directors once considered part of daily work. So sloppiness is, in effect, rewarded. First it's an emergency -- nobody notices. Then it becomes habit -- privately some artistic directors will say there are too many casts, but they do it anyway, for various reasons (pleasing people, dancers, audience). And then the people who write the checks have noticed that if it takes four weeks to produce something that most people dont' care about, and four days to produce something that's considered acceptable, then four days it is.

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Viviana Durante as Odette or Giselle

Hmm. I remember Durante's Giselle with ABT from a few years ago fondly. Very fondly indeed. Of course, what I remember most about that performance was Carreno's managing to bow to the audience while lying flat on his back after his big Act II solo, but that's another story....

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Well, there are 5 pages on this already, and the sleeping-beauty-fairies mini-thread is a ways back, but I must disagree with BalletNut about Julia Adam as the first fairy out in Sleeping Beauty-- I thought she was fantastic at the time, and I can STILL see her dancing it -- in Tomasson's version, the main features of the role are a rather long pique arabesque balance that changes arms a couple of times -- like hte one in Serenade, except maybe one MORE change......

Adam was an extremely versatile dancer -- she could be all legs in a dance-hall ballet and all porcelain in another. And she had/has fantastic arms -- I remember Remy Charlip pointing out that in the Arabian dance in Nutrcacker, her arms were "like smoke." (And I must say that that music is ALL about aroma; the Disney-Fantasia Arabian is smoke rising off a cup of coffee, and it's probably hte best Arabian ever).

Her head positions throughout these intricate, and beautifully phrased arm changes, were exquisitely modulated. SHe took the stage with extraordinary power, and at the same time she was extraordinarily delicate -- which pretty much defines the quality you need to make the audience believe they've seen a fairy. It set us up to be VERY excited by what came next. Elizabeth Loscavio was the canary, just thrilling, and then Muriel Maffre was a Lilac Fairy of tremendous sweep.

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Casting I can't recall without a shudder includes

Suzanne Farrell in Flower Festival pas de deux (partnered I seem to think by Sean Lavery)

Adam Luders in William Tell pas de deux - those shorts! those legs!

Merrill Ashley as Aurora or, come to that, Monica Mason as Aurora

Nureyev as the Red Knight in Checkmate

Patrick Dupond as Prince Desire in Sleeping Beauty

....I could go on and on. But consider this one, which just might have happened;

Farell and Jorge Donn as the central couple in Symphonic Variations.

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Alymer, could you please elaborate a little more on which was wrong about Merrill Ashley as Aurora? I remember reading in an old Dancemag that she was so excited about having to dance Aurora (with RB) that I sort of regret she was not right on the role....


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Suzanne Farrell in Flower Festival pas de deux (partnered I seem to think by Sean Lavery)

This probably happened, but I more vividly recall her with Peter Martins. Did Stanley Williams (or Balanchine) actually expect those two personalities to evoke the innocent, shy, sunny, affectionate tone of that piece?

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Speaking with my aged geezer voice, when Diaghilev revived Beauty as The Sleeping Princess, the cast list for the fairies was full of ballerinas.

In my personal view of the afterlife, I get to see all the dances (or performances of dances) that I've missed, due to the capricious nature of time and geography, and this production is close to the top of the list.

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Actually, whatever Farrell did in Flower Festival probably couldn't be called Bournonville, but I thought it rather charming. She and Martins made a great deal out of the "peek-a-boo" eyes bit, I recall, turning it into a game of "I saw you last!"

Well, maybe you had to have been there....

Lavery probably did do FF -- there was awhile before he started having injuries when he was often cast as a surrogate Martins, although aside from being tall and blond the two had little in common.

Hmm. Didn't Merrill Ashley do Flower Festival? With Lavery?

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I actually agree with you all on Farrell in Flower Festival, but one Danish Bournonville expert I talked to singled her out as the only American dancer in the 1976 divertissements that was interesting because "you have to admit she gave a PERFORMANCE in that role." :thumbsup: The Danes can forgive many sins, not giving a performance isn't one of them.

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Silvy asked about Merrill Ashley's Aurora with the Royal Ballet.

At this distance it's hard to give a detailed answer but I guess you would have to say she danced it like she would a Balanchine ballet; big bold and beautiful.

Set that beside the Royal Ballet's dancers at a time when they still retained some vestiges of the old company style and she just looked as if she had zoomed in from another planet. They didn't speak the same language.

Curiously, Gelsey Kirkland blended into that production almost too perfectly. She reminded you of what the company had lost or thrown away.

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Oh, Alymer, I saw that! It was with the Sadler-Wells branch, though, wasn't it?

The clash of styles was quite something. During the Prologue, I so loved the beautiful port de bras and epaulement of the English dancers. Only when Ashley came tearing across the stage in Act I did I realize how little space they used, though.

It was a true war of styles. :wacko: :dizzy:

Understatement overheard during interval: "She's not at all like Gelsey Kirkland, is she?" :rolleyes:

Edited by carbro
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I just discovered this great thread that's already over 3 years old. Those of us who joined BT later than that now have the chance to find out what experienced ballet goers REALLY thought about Farrell in Bournonville, Nureyev in Ashton, and many many other bits of controversial casting.

It's also interesting to see how one person's "casting from hell" is defended by someone else. My own personal favorite from this list: Karen von Aroldingen being sent to the trenches in Emeralds. This led me to think about Alicia Alonso, who was miscast in several ballets, especially Giselle, but who triumped through sheer willpower, and the ability to impose herself and her powerful (even when waning) technique on any role. Who could imagine a Giselle who willed herself through the steps, dominated her own madness, and was actually a stronger personality than Myrthe?

Any other examples spring to mind? (If you're hesistant to mention any "casting from hell," Mel -- early in the thread -- offers the option of posting on "casting from heck." :clapping: )

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