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 Post subject: What makes a ballet star? - Rockwell article
PostPosted: Sun Feb 06, 2005 7:18 am 
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John Rockwell makes some pretty bold statements in his article for the Sunday Arts section of the NY Times.

Quote:
Today, It's Dance 10, Looks 3

JOHN ROCKWELL
The NY Times
February 6, 2005

I've been thinking about stars lately, seeing a large swath of New York City Ballet repertory, noting young dancers being promoted up through the ranks, perusing the photo display of City Ballet history at the New York State Theater, reading Robert Gottlieb's and Terry Teachout's short biographies of Balanchine, even watching a rare screening of "The Red Shoes" at the "Dance on Camera" series last month at Lincoln Center.
What makes, or made, a star? Not in the heavens, but in the grand old Hollywood-style, diva-ballerina sense? Is it "All in the Dances," as Mr. Teachout entitles his Balanchine book, implying that if someone dances well, that's enough?
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 Post subject: Re: What makes a ballet star? - Rockwell article
PostPosted: Sun Feb 06, 2005 8:05 am 
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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:

Quote:
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.

Quote:
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.

Quote:
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?!

Kate

<small>[ 06 February 2005, 05:18 PM: Message edited by: ksneds ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: What makes a ballet star? - Rockwell article
PostPosted: Mon Feb 07, 2005 9:34 am 
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I am really disturbed by this article. I don't claim to be a ballet expert, just someone who really enjoys it. This writer seems to be claiming that to be a great dancer a woman, if not a man, must also be a great beauty.
Dancing IS a visual art form. I imagine if a woman (or man) had an actually disfigured face she/he probably would not find a place in a dance company even if she/he danced superbly. But great beauty as a requirement for stardom?
Where does that leave Margot Fonteyn? While I think she undervalues herself when she described herself as having "a face like a pudding" she was not by any conventional standard a great beauty. Neither is Alicia Alonso. Of the women named in this article, I've seen photos and/or video of Kent, Kirkland and Farrell. All are attractive women, but I really would not categorize any as drop-dead gorgeous head-turning knock-outs.
What makes/made all these women beautiful was their dancing. When they danced they were beautiful.
He also wrote:
Quote:
Dance has always been about more than getting it right. It's about passion and projection and glamour and romance, all firmly grounded in a mastery of technique.
Exactly! Watching Fonteyn in the balcony pdd in Romeo and Juliet I see all the emotions of first love. Because of her "passion and projection" and her technique. When I go see SF Ballet at Stern Grove I don't look for the prettiest ballerinas. I look for a dancer who, for whatever reason, moves me, whether it's Muriel Maffre's drama or Yuan Yuan Tan's classicism, to give just two examples. I loved seeing Julie Kent in Le Corsaire, not because Kent is a great beauty (she is really painfully thin) but because she expressed such joyfulness and radiance, plus great technique, throughout the ballet that she was beautiful to watch.
You know, a couple of months ago I was thinking about posting a similar type of question but things went crazy in my life and I never got around to it. It actually began with, believe it or not, a basketball discussion about what and who is a "franchise player", not just an all star. We disagreed about definitions but all agreed that Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett fit the definition. And I started wondering, what is a prima ballerina/premier danseur and not "just" a principal dancer?
I'm still not sure of the answer. I turned to this thread in hopes of getting that answer. So I will ask, what differentiates a true prima from other principals, all of whom are terrific dancers? And who among active dancers today merits the term?
If the question is off topic I'll move it.


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 Post subject: Re: What makes a ballet star? - Rockwell article
PostPosted: Mon Feb 07, 2005 10:22 am 
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Your question is right on topic, and I think that's what Rockwell was trying to get at before he seemingly got lost in his own arguement.

It's a challenge to define a real prima ballerina...it's almost something that you notice in the midst of a performance that you can't quite express in words. A part of it is that ability to lift you in to the performance so that you don't notice anything else.

I'm not sure I've seen a ballerina who really transcended all others, but there have been flashes of 'prima ballerina' in some ballerinas....Silja Schaandorf, Gitte Lindstrom, Helene Alexepoulos, Kyra Nichols, Alessandra Ferri, and perhaps closest to being a prima ballerina, ironically in a company that doesn't breed stars, I think is Wendy Whelan.

Kate


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 Post subject: Re: What makes a ballet star? - Rockwell article
PostPosted: Mon Feb 07, 2005 10:24 am 
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Rockwell's article rambles, and doesn't really make any kind of coherent argument. I'm not sure even he knows what he's talking about.

edit: my nominees for present-day primas would include (in no particular order) Sofiane Sylve, Diana Vishneva, and Sylvie Guillem.

--Andre

<small>[ 07 February 2005, 11:30 AM: Message edited by: Andre Yew ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: What makes a ballet star? - Rockwell article
PostPosted: Tue Feb 08, 2005 6:20 am 
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Quote:
Rockwell's article rambles, and doesn't really make any kind of coherent argument.
...But he has people talking, which is not a bad thing for a critic to do.

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 Post subject: Re: What makes a ballet star? - Rockwell article
PostPosted: Tue Feb 08, 2005 7:10 am 
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Sylvie Guillem fits Rockwell's thesis rather well. But how about Alicia Markova - not conventionally beautiful and a quiet, uncharismatic figure, from what I read. It was her exceptional dance qualities that made her a ballet star and thus, as a general rule, Rockwell's case doesn't stand up.

<small>[ 09 February 2005, 04:24 PM: Message edited by: Stuart Sweeney ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: What makes a ballet star? - Rockwell article
PostPosted: Tue Feb 08, 2005 4:44 pm 
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Dance 10, looks 3? :p


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 Post subject: Re: What makes a ballet star? - Rockwell article
PostPosted: Wed Feb 09, 2005 12:52 pm 
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Merely a direct quote from one of the many big numbers in "A Chorus Line."


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 Post subject: Re: What makes a ballet star? - Rockwell article
PostPosted: Wed Feb 09, 2005 3:02 pm 
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Isn't the next part to that song, "That ain't it kid, that ain't it!" Maybe that should be the title to the rebuttal to Mr. Rockwell's article.


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 Post subject: Re: What makes a ballet star? - Rockwell article
PostPosted: Wed Feb 09, 2005 3:31 pm 
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Today I read a notice elswhere on criticaldance about Galina Ulanova's apartment being made a museum. Ulanova -- now, there was a star! And yet, when members of the Royal Ballet were invited to watch a rehearsal of "Romeo and Juliet" when the Bolshoi first came to London, one of members of the company said (in an interview) that, upon seeing Ulanova stepping out onto the stage before the rehearsal started, wearing her backstage robe, she took her to be a cleaning woman. So much for looks and glamour being needed to be a star.

For me, physical beauty doesn't make a great dancer more of star, it just makes him or her a star who's also very good-looking. That's what I think about Suzanne Farrell and Nureyev, to name a couple.

By the way, lest you think the English dancer was being catty, she went on to say that when Ulanova started to dance, she became a believable young girl, and she realized she was watching greatness (or words to that effect).

<small>[ 09 February 2005, 06:13 PM: Message edited by: djb ]</small>


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 Post subject: Re: What makes a ballet star? - Rockwell article
PostPosted: Wed Feb 09, 2005 3:43 pm 
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Actually, ME, it's the introduction to the song that celebrates the handiwork of "the wizard at Park and 73rd."


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 Post subject: Re: What makes a ballet star? - Rockwell article
PostPosted: Thu Feb 10, 2005 2:50 am 
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Very interesting thread...
Here, in Paris, there is a new "étoile" who has been nominated on stage last week : Wilfried Romoli.
He is 42 (first time that a POB dancer becomes "étoile" so late). He is very charismatic and is specially good in modern dance. His classical technique is actually not so strong.

Of course, parisian audiences are discussing a lot about this nomination and about what makes an "étoile", what makes it a part from a "premier danseur " (first soloist)...


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 Post subject: Re: What makes a ballet star? - Rockwell article
PostPosted: Thu Feb 10, 2005 5:50 am 
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Quote:
Actually, ME, it's the introduction to the song that celebrates the handiwork of "the wizard at Park and 73rd."
Gee, Francis, what did he give her that made him such a wizard?

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 Post subject: Re: What makes a ballet star? - Rockwell article
PostPosted: Thu Feb 10, 2005 9:41 am 
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Hi, Tom! Glad to have you checking in from the celestial lighting booth! Surely you must remember -- it's the "T&A" song....


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