My views on the subject...
I think it was pretty gutsy for Mr. Rockwell to write this article, given that he's very new as a ballet critic. Whether he saw a lot of ballet prior to becoming the NY Times' new head dance critic, I don't know, but to me, the article seems to highlight his lack of experience in the ballet world.
You can read as many books as you like, watch a ton of movies, see a lot of photos, but only time gives you a real perspective on ballet. That's not to say that a newcomer to ballet can't make some very valuable comments and observations about a performance, but to really understand some of the deeper issues, you need to see the art develop over time...and the only way to do that is to see performances year after year.
Rockwell poses the question:
Would he[Balanchine] have been happy, in that regard, with the current company? There are some very attractive women...in today's City Ballet...but some of the company's biggest female stars now are spectacular dancers without being spectacular beauties...lament that the current roster is not "a company of beautiful girl dancers?"
I don't profess to be the expert on beauty, but to my (female) eye, the NYCB ballerinas seem to be a very attractive bunch. And as later comments in his article would suggest, trying to equate ballet, a live event, with movies, filmed performances. it's a mistake that too many Americans these days seem to be making...they expect a ballet performance to be like a movie, and the behavior seen reflects it...talking during performances, kids wailing etc.
And in any case, I don't go the ballet looking for a stage full of stunning beauties - I want to see them dance, engage the audience, develop a character (when appropriate), not win a beauty award. Besides...beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Surely the beauty of so many ....Balanchine dancers (Vera Zorina, Tanaquil LeClerc, Diana Adams, Patricia McBride, Allegra Kent, Gelsey Kirkland and Ms. Farrell, to name just a few) gave them an image that reached beyond their excellence as dancers and attracted the attention of the broader public as well.
Not all, were I think, recognized as exceptional beauties or reflected the ideal of their time. What they were, is exceptional dancers, who regardless of their bodies or face, could move audiences and bring choreography to life. And perhaps, that...or the lack of it, is the issue that Rockwell is trying to address. And a valid issue it is.
There are indeed some powerful personalities at NYCB, but perhaps not so many as in Balanchine's day.
Perhaps its habit - one that it shares with other companies today, like American Ballet Theater - of shuffling dancers in and out of roles, giving everyone a chance, winds up giving very few a chance to establish themselves as stars.
This seems to be a misguided comparison, for it's apples and oranges. NYCB is a company that does primarly repertory programs, with each ballet only out for a handful of performances each season, while ABT does primarly full length ballets. with numerous performances of each. Two very different beasts.
I would definately agree that ABT sometimes goes overboard in the number of casts - I seem to remember up to seven different casts in full-length ballets, which does bother me. How can you develop a character when you only get one or two shots at it.
But, I believe you rarely see more than three casts of any one NYCB ballet in a season, unless there are injuries or illness.
Casts do vary from season to season, because of departures, arrivals, injuries, illness...you can't just throw any ballerina in with any danseur, and dancers are only capable of doing so many ballets in a season, so casting for one ballet may affect another.
And having too few casts can be problemetic. When injury or illness strike, too often with little time before a performance, having too few casts can result in reshuffling of casts that is disruptive for all involved, not least the dancers.. Better to be able to put on Cast C, who have rehearsed together than a mix of Cast A & Cast B who have never rehearsed together.
Generally, I don't think Rockwell is off in left field, but it seems to be that his arguement gets lost in some seemingly shallow comments about appearance. It's inner apperance that he is trying to talk about - you don't have to be a bombshell to have power and passion onstage, but you've got to have something special in your heart & mind, and be able to express that onstage.
Anyone else care to comment? Do you agree with Rockwell....have different qualms?!
<small>[ 06 February 2005, 05:18 PM: Message edited by: ksneds ]</small>