You know you trained Balanchine if…

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Have you ever gone to an audition, and you are sizing up the competition before the class begins? It doesn’t even have to be an audition, it can just be an open class. As you look around, you start to size dancers up by “look”. Instantly, you can spot those dancers. Balanchine trained dancers. Even before barre starts, even before the first piano chord is played and you take your first plié, you can tell… You can spot Balanchine boys pretty easily: the white socks and white ballet shoes on black tights with a white shirt. You can usually spot Balanchine girls by their high buns, or the Balanchine bun (it is like a hybrid bun/ french twist). Once the music starts, then you can really tell who trained Balanchine, here are some of the “giveaways”…  and if you trained Balanchine, you might get a giggle…

So, you know you trained Balanchine if… 

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1. Your hands are remotely “claw” shaped. This could be the modified CPYB hand, or the hands that come from Ballet Austin (kind of a more contemporary relaxed version). You know you came from SAB if you are really all about the “claw” and broken wrist. Yup, just by the hands you can tell.

2. Your tendus are over crossed and you automatically assume the accent is in or down.

3. You don’t use elaborate port de bras during barre combinations.  During port de bras and cambré you roll through your spine instead of a straight back.

4. Your developpés happen in one count, or less, but this idea can be applied to grand pliés, or anything for that matter.

5. When coming out of a relevé you emphasize the pressing of  the heels down.

So, that was just barre… Center (Centre)

You know you trained Balanchine if…

STILLS-04

1. The obvious… Pirouette off of a straight back leg, and for fun you try to turn from a ridiculously large, deep, exaggerated fourth.

2. You are awesome at petite allegro.

3. In assemblé you bring the supporting leg to the working leg, and in jetés your coupe happens instantly- and you might bend a little for show…

4. In your saut de chat.. your back leg is probably higher than your front. During grand allegro you probably travel the furthest…

5. You over cross everything… including port de bras.

6. You know you came from SAB if you have Suki Schorer’s voice in your head saying, “no, AND one.”

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(And as a side comment: Balanchine dancers are my favorite to watch, and I think the Balanchine Aesthetic… since that is what it is now being called instead of technique… is gorgeous. Insert European remarks here…)

 

 

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On the Rise… 5 Ballet Companies to look out for… (US 2014-2015 season)

ballet companies on the rise

Ballet is super fickle, and so is the audience. Audiences nowadays get bored quicker, because we are offering exposure to ballet at an instantaneous rate. We now can watch full length ballets being broadcast in theaters across America, and can easily youtube performances. While ABT has revamped versions of their classics like Corsaire and Sleeping Beauty, NYCB has truly invested in new choreographers, specifically now Justin Peck. It isn’t just these huge names we look out for now, we are always looking for something new and fresh. Ten years ago we had the emergence of Ballet Austin taking it’s place as a major American ballet company, along with Suzanne Farrell Ballet, and Los Angeles Ballet. I think for years the companies below have always been great regional companies, or in their territories of the US, but recently I feel like they have gained a lot of national exposures offering a great new look and contributing to the evolution of ballet.

ballet arizona

Ballet Arizona is headed by Ib Anderson, Ballet Arizona hires 31 dancers according to their new 2014-2015 edition of their site and operates on a budget of $6,690,217. The funding is the most important part of a ballet company, yes the dancers are super important, and the choreography has to be exciting, but without the funding there are no jobs. Two years ago I had the opportunity of seeing their Balanchine bill, and was quite impressed. Everything seemed to work, come natural and they had that attack Balanchine dancers have. This upcoming season they are doing seven programs and their school is doing quite well, especially since they have the David Hallberg scholarship. (http://balletaz.org)

atlanta ballet 2014

Atlanta Ballet. Artistic Director: John McFall employs 22 dancers, which is quite small, but makes sense with the economy. Ballet companies have to survive, and one of the ways of surviving is maintaining a small quality number of dancers, and saving up in bank accounts, so when there comes government cuts, or a slow sponsorship year, dancers still will be able to survive, get a small pay increase etc. Atlanta Ballet additionally offers a choreographer in residence. Atlanta ballet operates on a $9,118,753 yearly budget. (http://www.atlantaballet.com)

milwaukeeballet

Milwaukee Ballet. Michael Pink sits as Artistic Director for this midwest company and employs 22 dancers, but additionally has Milwaukee Ballet II. They also hold a very cool choreography competition and the prize runs $3,000 and a commission to set another work for the following season. Operating on a budget that runs around $6,294,842 their 5 program season (2014-2015) is dominated by the classics offering Don Q, Cinderella, Giselle, the Nutcracker, and the choreographic competition. (http://www.milwaukeeballet.org)

carolina ballet

Carolina Ballet. Offering seven programs this season, they too are closing the season off with Cinderella, like Milwaukee, Carolina Ballet is headed by Robert Weiss. With a budget of $5,676,255 they employ 34 dancers. (https://www.carolinaballet.com)

nevada ballet theatre

Nevada Ballet Theatre. With a budget of only $2,815,005, artistic director James Canfield should be given way more funding. How can you have all those casinos, and all of those shows, and not support the classical arts? Employing 19 dancers on a very tight budget, I hope Nevada Ballet Theatre keeps thriving and makes an appearance on the international stage soon. (http://nevadaballet.com)

New York City Ballet operates on a budget of $66,244,814 while Los Angeles Ballet operates on a budget of $2,210,304

Honorable mention: Colorado Ballet.

*earnings based on the 2011-2012 season 2012 fiscal year.  Non profit or not for profit companies must publish their fiscal year budgets. Information gathered from company websites, requesting fiscal earnings, and the Dance/USA initiative.

The Measure of a Ballet Company…

No one really knows how to measure one ballet company against another, and there really isn’t a science to it. I can tell you that if you are going to measure a ballet company by funding, well be prepared for a crazy awakening. If you are going to measure a company based on principals, then that is just biased. Measuring a ballet company based on performances, repertory and touring… Maybe that is a more legit claim, but even then how can you compare an international ballet company that is supported by the state, versus American companies that have to fundraise a lot of their budg? My list of international ballet schools has created quite the controversy, and my blog itself has turned into a whirlwind of expectations, rivalries, and debates. So, as many of you have written to me and for me to rank the top ballet companies… I am sadly going to have to inform you that I can’t, simply on the basis that every company is different and has an extremely different repertory.

Swan Lake used to be the measure of a ballet company, but with everyone re staging their own versions it is hard to compare, and Swan Lake allows insane tricks and music alterations to accommodate turns.

So how do I measure a ballet company the playing field has to be fair, so if we are ranking large ballet companies here is how I compare them: The Balanchine Trust. Yup. Balanchine wins again. Specifically, I use Jewels. If you aren’t familiar with the ballet, you will be. Jewels is popping up in company repertories all over, and here is why:

Paris Opera Ballet in Diamonds
Paris Opera Ballet in Diamonds
  • Jewels is a full-length ballet in 3 Acts demonstrating company stamina. The difference between a full-length ballet and a smaller 1 act ballet is the ability to fill an evening with one mood, one presentation, and once chance to be evaluated as whole. (Jewels runs 81 minutes without intermissions.) Unlike presenting numerous works in an evening, the mood changes from piece to piece, and the reviewer and audience will have separate opinions of each. Jewels allows for both. (Yes, Swan Lake is 4 acts, but no one really pays attention to Act 1, the only thing good in the first act is pas de trois and even that is hard to get through.)
  • There are no tricks. One of the nice things about the Balanchine Trust is that the choreography is preserved. While dancers take artistic freedom, the steps and music does not change. The music is never altered, and the choreography doesn’t allow tricks. For those who are daring to speed up the turns in Rubies, good luck. The music is already fast enough. (We all know that the black swan coda is the test of tricks, and we all know white swan pas de deux is how high can you get your leg these days.)
  • In order to dance the full-length Jewels, you will need 66 dancers. For most companies, that is basically the entire company, give or take. Not only is this going to show the grandiose size of a company, but the Balanchine ballets let the corps really dance. Like REALLY dance.  Now, there are numerous leads, pas de deuxs, demi-soloists, and so on in Jewels. Never have I seen a dancer double up in an act. (Swan Lake tests 1 dancer, Odette/Odile, Jewels tests an entire company.) In addition not only does each variation, pas and act portray something completely different, they all cohesively collect to make the full evening pristine, exciting and glamorous. (The ballet itself was inspired by the jewels at Van Cleef and Arpels.)
NYCB in Rubies
NYCB in Rubies
  • When a company presents Jewels, they don’t just present one ballet, but they present three very different styles of ballet. In one evening you will get your sylphide, giselle, romantic ballet fix in Emeralds (music by Gabriel Faure). You will get your sassy but avant garde, seductive yet charming ballet fix in Rubies (music by Igor Stravinsky). You will get your platter tutu- Swan Lake, and corps intensive La Bayadere fix in Diamonds (music by Tchaikovsky).
bolshoi ballet in emeralds
Bolshoi Ballet in Emeralds
  • You get to see the company. In Emeralds you will see a corps of 10 that rigorously dances, two pas de deuxs, and a pas de trois. In Rubies you will see a fun pas de deux, and a leggy sassy soloist and corps of 8 women and 4 men who deliver a scintillating performance woven between the leads. Finally in Diamonds you will see one of most breath taking pas de deuxs, 4 demi-soloist couples, and an additional 12 couples. If that doesn’t test a company, I don’t know what does.

With that all being said, when we used to compare swan lakes, we now are starting to compare Jewels. With Bolshoi constantly broadcasting their take on Jewels with a more modern backdrop, to Boston Ballet‘s 2014 staging with necklace-like back drops, to Paris Opera’s costume designs by the fabulous Christian Lacroix… it seems that companies are now using Jewels as the ballet to compare companies. It is hard to compare swan lakes, but easy to compare Odettes… It is easy to compare Jewels since it doesn’t change, but hard to judge the leads. Because there is no story, each lead develops their own artistic take to create the mood of the night. Jewels has become so prominent among international companies like Royal Ballet who in 2008 won two Laurence Olivier awards.

 

The Ballet Feuds…

ballet wars

There will always be ballet feuds… Going back to the Original Ballets Russes and The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Here are some of the current match ups….

ironically none of these principals are british...
ironically none of these principals are british…

Royal Ballet vs. English National Ballet The Tea and Crumpets War

Ummm I love Kathryn Morgan period. I loved her as Juliet, but hated the Peter Martins version... how that happens I have no clue... Hee Seo is one of my favorite dancers, I wish she could join city ballet and I could see her in serenade, emeralds and tchai pas.
Ummm I love Kathryn Morgan period. I loved her as Juliet, but hated the Peter Martins version… how that happens I have no clue… Hee Seo is one of my favorite dancers, I wish she could join city ballet and I could see her in serenade, emeralds and tchai pas.

New York City Ballet vs. American Ballet Theatre (old rivalry but a goodie)

The Australian Ballet vs. Queensland Ballet… the fight down under

Houston Ballet vs. Ballet Austin vs. Texas Ballet TheatreThe Texas Threesome 

Miami City Ballet vs. Orlando Ballet, younger ballet companies hashing it out. 

Stuttgart vs. Hamburg, the German showdown 

Bolshoi vs Mariinsky (old rivalry but a goodie)

National Ballet of Canada vs Royal Winnipeg… Canadian Syrup Fight

In bold I have decided who I like more… haha (insert your comments below)

There are many more but these are some that I enjoy watching as they promote people, change up their repertory, and start the social media wars. What is great is that we have all these options, that each company brings something new, and has created numerous jobs for their areas. 

Type Casting … pt 1

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George Balanchine, Suzanne Farrell, Patricia McBride, Violet Verdy, & Mimi Paul “Jewels”

So, when it comes to ballets I think there are always pre conceived notions as type casting, at the Artistic Director’s discretion (may or may not be a bad thing). For example if you look at a ballet there are always different spots for different types of ballerinas. 

In Balanchine’s Serenade we have three spots… Waltz Girl, Russian Girl, and Dark Angel

In Sleeping Beauty we have three spots… Aurora, Lilac Fairy, and Bluebird

In Don Q we have three spots… Kitri/Dulcinea, Cupid, and Queen of the Dryads

In Bayadere we really only have two… Gamzatti and Nikiya

Balanchine’s Jewels it is mapped out as three very different castings of girls… 

Nutcracker has…. well depends on the version, I will go off Balanchine’s since it is my favorite: Sugar Plum, Dew Drop, and Arabian

the list goes on… So here is how I see the types of Primas being developed.

First we have the romantic ballerinas, usually average in height, but they all possess this crazy lyricism and musicality. They are always so subtle, and quite pleasant to watch. I also feel like they have really beautiful feet, well proportioned lines, and kind of that “old school” ballet feel. These women are constantly being cast in Giselle, Dark Angel in Serenade, Onegin, and of course Juliet.  

ABT's Hee Seo and David Hallberg in Onegin.
ABT’s Hee Seo and David Hallberg in Onegin.

Then we have the ferocious primas. These women are spicy, they are super playful and kind of on the shorter side, no? I mean Russian Girl in Serenade I feel is always cast as a short girl with a lot of fire… Ashley Bouder. Technically precise and offer a lot of pazazz when on stage these women are addicting, and passionate. These girls are the Kitris, the Esmeraldas, Paquitas and the pas de deux from Rubies….  

Powerhouse and standing at 5', Maria Kochetkova in Helgi Tomasson's Trio. (San Francisco Ballet)
Powerhouse and standing at 5′, Maria Kochetkova in Helgi Tomasson’s Trio. (San Francisco Ballet)

And finally we have our swans, the women who are elegant, and overall have mastered being a ballerina… can’t figure out how to phrase it… These women seem to be cast as Odette/Odile, Waltz girl in Serenade, Grand Pas Classique or Balanchine’s Sylvia. I guess you could say that these women are what most people think of when it comes to ballet: Olga Smirnova, what a beast.  These girls have a flare for drama and do well in roles like Nikiya or Manon. 

Olga Smirnova in Bayadere
Olga Smirnova in Bayadere

I don’t think one is better than another, it just points out that a company’s ranks must be filled with diverse principals as the repertory demands it. If we all danced the same, it would be quite boring. And, what is great about full ballets versus pieces, is I think it shows off a dancer’s versatility as an entire story builds, thus the character changes. Do I think it takes 4 acts to do this? No, in fact to be honest a lot of full length ballets are very tiring to get through. Do I think that it can be done in 5 minutes? Sure, but it is less time to fall in love with a character. Can a dancer be all three, yup. Do I think directors make choices and type cast, therefore their legacy is left in a stereotype? Sure do. There are hundreds of ballerinas past and present who have already been type cast, as one of the following, I doubt we will ever see them transition into other roles. Will we see Ashley Bouder do Waltz Girl in Serenade? Or Uliana Lopatkina in Don Q?

Peter Boal of PNB, challenging Carla Korbes in different roles after she left City Ballet was genius.  I remember when VOGUE did a spread on Ashley Bouder and Carla Korbes, and how differently contrasted they were upon graduation of SAB and entering NYCB.  For example, do I think Peter Martins would have cast her in Agon, maybe not so much. Do I think she would have ever danced Don Q, nope. Regardless, her change was good and with Peter Boal casting she has made her mark as a leading lady of ballet. 

Ashley Bouder and Carla Korbes in VOGUE
Ashley Bouder and Carla Korbes in VOGUE

The Race for Balanchine’s Spot in History… replacing Mr. B

replacing balanchine

The 20th Century had George Balanchine, among other great choreographers (You may start reaming me now for using Balanchine as my choreographer of the 20th Century…) But since Balanchine, Massine, and the Diaghilev/ Ballets Russes eras… Who has filled their shoes? Who will be the next choreographer to go down in history and have a repertory that will survive generations. In retrospect, as NYCB has no dancer currently dancing who ever danced for Balanchine, officially closing an era, and hoping that the repertory lives on… I move on to my point… Who, in 50 years will we be able to see their ballets/works that were created for this generation of dancers. John Cranko has Onegin, which will probably live forever. Sir Kenneth Macmillan has his set of ballets, all stemming from restaged versions… which still prove to be box office hits, as Queensland Ballet banked 1.1 Million in box office sales this week off of his dreamy version of Romeo and Juliet. (Literally, this week) Antony Tudor has his ballets… but more specifically La Dame aux camélias The Jerome Robins ballets will live forever, I hope. Jiří Kylián has a works, but his legacy of Petite Mort seems to be the survivor. The Forsythe ballets, in the Middle, Somewhat Elevated is a ballet that a million dancers dream about performing… A more recent choreographer John Neumeier has a plethora of works, but I think his stand out is the Little Mermaid. (honorable mention to Robert Joffrey, and Peter Martins’ ballets will live on through NYCB, though I really haven’t found one I am lovin… especially after that Romeo+Juliet disaster…) There are probably a few more that fit into that category of choreographers… But, what I am more excited about is the slew of choreographers right now who are building a very extensive repertory around the world. 🙂

There are the front runners…

Former director of the Bolshoi (good starting point if you ask me), Alexei Ratmansky.

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Benjamin Millepied, mentored by Jerome Robbins, former principal at NYCB, and now director of dance for Paris Opera Ballet… not bad…. (Natalie Portman’s baby daddy…okay, husband)

Then there is the ever popular Christopher Wheeldon, who won a gold medal at the Prix de Lausanne, was a soloist for NYCB. His ever popular works are growing and growing, his full length ballets are always so beautiful and so thoughtful.

The Movement Explorers

lines ballet repertory

Power duo Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson have made a cozy little spot for themselves in the contemporary world, but I also think have very strong ballets. Alonzo King would fit into this category too… but I don’t really see any other companies performing his repertory, granted most of them can only be performed with asian warriors, african tribal drummers, and beautifully mastered props/sets. (By the way, most of my favorite works are contemporary works.)

And two very unexpected, very young talents….

Justin Peck has created gorgeous ballets for NYCB, and he is definitely on the rise for becoming a stand out choreographer, and he is still a soloist at NYCB, so young and just named resident choreographer… The only other person who has held that title at NYCB is Christopher Wheeldon.

On the west coast, Myles Thatcher at San Francisco Ballet, a corps member seems to be making a splash in the ballet world as well with his choreography for SFB’s student showcases. Again another very young, very talented man. Liam Scott for ABT is about to do another world premier for their new season.

There is also the rise of the choreographers coming from PNB.

I am sure I left off a million other names both current and past, and future…. but these are who I am excited for. It is exciting and scary at the same time to think that the direction of ballet is changing so fast, and so rapidly. What category of a ballet once was the Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake, joined by Rodeo, Serenade and Afternoon of the Faun, has now been joined by in the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, Petit Mort, and Bolero. See I added De Mille and Roland Petit, Nureyev and others… Now the question is, whose repertory will be so vast and diverse, as well as survive generations?

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Mauro Bigonzetti’s Reflections Project for Bolshoi

The Rise of the Asians…

Jeong Hansol

The Rise of Asians… well specifically South Korea… As the 2014 USA IBC medalists were announced, it seemed that Korea, again… made a strong appearance. Taking the senior men’s gold, silver, women’s bronze, and senior couple award, you may wonder where are they all coming from? Last year at VARNA, South Korea swept the top prizes as well… And you are like… what are they feeding them in Korea, besides rice?

So, ballet is relatively new in South Korea, and it seems they are always at major international ballet competitions with multiple entries. Here is why, particularly for men… In South Korea, like other countries, but I am not aware of other countries standards… Every male has to serve two years in the army upon completion of their lower education, somewhere between 17-20. So, if you are a ballet dancer, those are some prime years… The only way for a Korean male to not serve is to win a gold or silver medal at an international ballet competition, which means they have to be super talented, super dedicated, and super diligent. I am not sure if other countries like Israel, I know they require EVERYONE to serve, has exceptions… If anyone knows… that would be cool.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all about Korean Pride, and that whole sha-bang, but the reality is they are literally competing for their careers, their lives, etc. A boy dedicating his whole life to ballet will be forced to stop, wear boots and stomp around for two years if he doesn’t win a competition. (I am not saying let them win every competition, but I am saying it is nice to see that these men will have futures in ballet.)

somewhere around 6:30 she talks about it, but the whole video is interesting.

Collegiate Program Rankings…. (US LIST)

So, a lot of you have asked about ranking colleges, and my opinions on collegiate programs. In addition, you have all left some pretty nasty comments and e-mails regarding my collection of ballet schools. With that being said, this list is in no particular order, and are just some of my observations about dance programs and colleges. 

My first question to everyone out there, why are you going to college for dance? Did you not get into a company? Do you want to go into teaching? Are you looking to build an education? Do you want to explore other genres of dance? What is the real motivation for you to go a college? Unfortunately, I believe that most colleges are not cut out with the sufficient ability to help dancers gain a ballet career. Most ballet dancers have already landed contracts by 17-19, and have dedicated their entire life to that career. Some dancers who started late, or need to tweak some things consider and do go on to college but come audition season, they are auditioning and if they do get a company contract, they probably will be leaving their school…. I am not saying it is impossible for a college to equip you with a career in ballet, but it is more difficult. Equipping you with the tools for modern, post-modern, contemporary and performance art… different story. But we are going to focus on ballet. 

Indiana Unviersity, offers an entire ballet program which is unique for collegiate programs. Headed by Michael Vernon, their ballet program offers a unique approach to ballet with a strong emphasis in music. I know they have performed ballets from the Balanchine Trust, and they offer the pre-collegiate program for young dancers who want a higher caliber of training. Most of their alumni list have landed jobs at smaller companies, but regardless… they landed a job and that is the most important thing. (http://music.indiana.edu/departments/academic/ballet)

Butler University, does not offer a major in ballet but offers a major in dance. Their program seems well rounded and offers the following degrees BFA Performance, BA Pedagogy, BS Dance- Arts Administration. They also have a Ballet Russe collection on backdrops and are currently restoring sets, props and some costumes. (http://www.butler.edu/dance)

Southern Methodist University, offers a dance performance degree as well, and offers a well rounded repertory including Balanchine, Limon, and Graham. Southern Methodist University offers a really nice approach to dance, and puts an emphases on ballet. (https://www.smu.edu/Meadows/AreasOfStudy/Dance)

The Barnard School, associated with Columbia, who doesn’t want to go to an IVY, and be in NYC… just the inspiration alone. Just the exposure. Regardless, their faculty list is amazing, and the fact that they partner with numerous companies to help dancers transition is great too. I do believe that this is just a great school in general. According to USNEWS (which publishes all collegiate rankings, Barnard College ranked #32 for National Liberal Arts, which is the only college is a dance program that I like that ranked in the top 50. Ironically Dickinson College, located in Carlisle PA and houses summer students to CPYB is in the top 50 as well, so you could go to college and train at CPYB.)(http://dance.barnard.edu

University of North Carolina School of the Arts, headed by former American ballerina and beautiful dancer Susan Jaffe, UNCSA is affiliated with NCSA for those of you who are familiar with the NCSA year long program and summer course. Specializing in BFA programs for dance NCSA offers the concentrations of either ballet or contemporary. Their curriculum is strongly mapped out here (http://www.uncsa.edu/vcprovost/bulletin/2014/UG/2014UGdance.pdf)

Again, these are just programs I like but there are tons of great programs out there at SUNY Purchase, Fordham (which is affiliated with the Ailey School, SUPER GREAT MODERN CONTEMP program!!), for you UDA dancers there is University of Minnesota, Twin Cities and University of Louisiana. There are the Utah Schools that are constantly being mentioned, the California Schools, and so on. Regardless, you have to find the right program for you, and do they cater to your intentions of going to college?

So you think you are a dancer?

Dancer

to move your body in a way that goes with the rhythm and style of music that is being played… Webster dictionary.

Unfortunately, that now groups the following into the same professional category: gogo boys, strippers, ballet dancers, and any schmo who prances around tells people he is a danseur. This unfortunately makes for the awkward conversation when out and about, or possibly dating and you are asked the question, “What do you do for a living?”

If you respond with dancer you might get the awkward face as a response, or a creepy face which is usually followed up with, “So you are flexible?”

Alas, we are all resulted with the term ballet dancer. Some might say your ranking, being a principal ballet dancer is kind of the equivalent of the title Dr. 

Problems gets run into because the word dancer has such a vast volume that encompasses profession. So, what makes a dancer a dancer? Is it being fierce? Because right off the back, that term is used waaaaaaay to loosely, and usually refers to tricksters. Is it based on having a job? Being a stripper is a job. Artistic Merit? That is subjective, like this blog. Technical Achievement? By what standard since Sophia Luccia can do a billion pirouettes turned in and in tap shoes. Frankly, she can do almost anything barefoot as well. How would you define the profession of a dancer besides holding a contract? What makes once dancer better than another cross genre, profession, and style?

Tu-two or three-three… size does matter?

It is about the quality of movement… It is about what you can bring to the company and how you fit in as an artist…

That is just some of the bull shit that you might hear an artistic director spew while he makes a speech before giving an audition class. Reality check, it is about the body, as ballet is art with your body. I wish more directors would just own up to it and say, “This is exactly what I am looking for… (insert requirements).”

Now, if you think this post is going to be about being fat or thin, your quite wrong. In fact this is just a comparison of male body types in ballet and how they have changed through out the decades… kind of.

nijinsky_faun

Nijinsky. 5’5″

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Jacques d’Amboise, 5’9″

baryshnikov

Baryshnikov, 5’6″

Peter Martins 6’2″

Roberto Bolle 6’1″

What did all of these men have in common? Besides that they are all leading men? Charisma and solid technique. I could have listed any such length of men, but unfortunately time is against me today. I have a date this evening. Now, with this being said, you have to have a leading man for a leading lady. It is a common misconception about the height requirement in ballet because companies varies. ABT is known for the extremely short corps, the average being around 5’4″, while NYCB corps varies because of the repertory being so vast. The same for the women of Paris Opera, and the Bolshoi. (It’s funny because I work in fashion now and the body type requirement is a lot stricter than ballet…) I think the most important thing when it comes to body types this is what is looked at… male or female:

Body Proportion… and no I am not talking about the ridiculous proportions of Bolshoi, or the craziness that is talked about the Balanchine body type… I am just saying, tight waist, long legs, pretty neckline. More important than height and proportion though are hyper extended legs, feet that beautifully arched, hyper mobile backs, turned out hips, and charisma.

I recently saw a video of a male dancer from National Ballet of Cuba, and not only does he have beautiful legs, and is ridiculously flexible, or the fact that he can do amazing tricks…. He was so charismatic… His version of the Don Q variation was so playful, so youthful, and slightly cocky… A very good Basilio…

With that being said, I do think that male body type in ballet has drastically changed. What was once the classic strong V, with thick thighs look has now thinned out and has made way for the thinner men now. Roberto Bolle’s body is like… yummy times ten, but Daniil Simkin, Taras Dimitro, now older Ethan Stiefal, and looking back at Jose Martinez and Mannuel Legris from POB. You might all murder me, and send me more hateful messages, but at this pointe (haha pun intended) I could careless.

Clearly I have offended some people… #sorrynotsorry

Like I said, this blog isn’t for everyone, it is a point of view and perspective… Fact… most ballet companies are made up of people who have come from their school. Fact… Houston is a great company for Texas… Fact: Orlando is a great school for Orlando, and Fact: Smaller schools are great for their associated companies… Fact: My comparison was based on how many dancers are successfully placed, in terms of volumes. Feeding your company with a school is great, but the reality is a company can’t hire every graduate… So where else do they go…. Yes, I totally think Houston is an amazing company, and no I am not misinformed but compared to Boston Ballet and San Francisco, IN MY OPINION, there is a huge difference in training and results… 

If you are upset, or find my list horrible and awful… Make your own blog. No one forced you to read mine. Thanks.

Also, for those of you who decided to send e-mails cursing… Super Mature…. I am sure there are hundreds of lists out there that vary, go curse someone else out. If you are associated with a company and school….  that is even worse.

Thanks for reading 🙂

And the prize goes to…. Not you.

And the winner of this year’s (enter competition) goes to… (a name that is not yours)

Singapore Genee International Ballet Competition

The Competition in ballet is stiff.

From a young age we develop a natural since of competition, call it… survival of the fittest. We naturally compare things, and ask why. The development is natural…. Now, apply it to ballet or any sport, and that “instinct” becomes crazy, psychotic, self-defeating, and neurotic trait…

So, you might be thinking this post is about ballet competitions, but it really isn’t. It is about rejection. Unfortunately, there are thousands of dancers each year competing for very few jobs. First off, if you didn’t get the job, didn’t make it through a round of auditions and got cut, or if you lost… If the first thing you think is, “She didn’t deserve it.” Or, “Why did she get it? She isn’t even that good.” You probably have no business being a ballet dancer, and you are probably an awful person. 

So, where does this all begin… Oh yeah, the classroom. Remember when you were the best at your small school, and your teacher would say, “Little (insert your name) please demonstrate the combination.” Back then everyone would watch you, and you would still hang out. Little did you know they hated you, and probably called you teacher’s pet behind your back. Then, you end up a professional or pre professional school and you are the new kid, and probably one of the worst ones there. At this phase you are constantly comparing yourself to others. “Is my leg as high as hers? Am I turned out as much as she is.” And then you see that someone has ridiculous feet and you are like FML… Yup… Then you are constantly looking at yourself and others. You make lifelong friends at these prestigious schools, and then sometime during Junior/Senior year… You realize… We are all competing for the same jobs, and those lifelong friends are now in the same room auditioning as you. All of those comparisons you had in class became a reality and you are fighting… 

Sometime later in life, you realize that it wasn’t about the competition with others, and you should have spent more time competing with yourself. Perfecting your craft, your body, and exploring your artistry. I look at the little prodigy Daniil Simkin who was trained privately his whole life, and it did him good. I wonder if more dancers were trained privately if they would be more successful? (insert comments below)

Now, you didn’t get the job, or you didn’t win the gold medal… now what? It is time re-evaluate what just happened. At a ballet competition, they are truly looking for the most potential a student has to offer. Potential being categorized as technique, facility, musicality. As an adult, and someone seeking a ballet job… No one really cares about how much potential you have… They care about where you are at in your artistic career and what you have to offer. This is all based on strength, consistency, artistry, and a solid technique. Now, if you have all those things, and you didn’t get the job… You need to look at what the director was looking for.

Unfortunately, a repertory season is planned prior, and so the director already knows how many dancers he needs and can afford for his company. (Give or take second company members, apprentices and top level trainees.) Most people forget during an audition that there are very few limited spaces, and if a director has one spot open, he/she probably knows exactly who they are looking for. 

So, what can you do? Keep training until next season, throw in the towel and go to college, or you can restructure yourself as a dancer. I think the third is always the best option. It isn’t that I doubt your training, but if you consistently keep doing the same thing over and over, you aren’t going to grow as an artist, or change as a person, or refine much of anything. Restructuring yourself as a dancer means approaching your technique differently, changing your thought process at barre and center, figuring out new ways to hear music, and changing the quality of your dancing. These types of things makes a dancer better, versatile and adaptable. Teachers always ask for very specific things, and sometimes we don’t follow them, not on purpose, just because we have been doing it a different way our whole lives, and we miss that special nuance that might make or break your audition.

Also, I believe that if you want to dance, there is a place for you. Your dream might have been New York City Ballet, but maybe you didn’t have the right body type that Peter Martins was looking for that year. Then, maybe PNB, Miami and San Fran only were looking for boys. But most people don’t think of looking at regional companies, even if it is just for a season… like Cincinnati, Sacramento, and Nevada Ballet Theatre. Which, you just might be perfect for. You really never know. After a year at a smaller company, and restructure your dancing… you might just end up at San Fran or Houston. Or, you might end up loving the smaller company, and dance lead roles in two years, which at a bigger company you might never get to dance. Regardless, rejection is going to happen, but it is how you deal with it that makes you a stronger dancer. Whether you are a student and didn’t get into a school or summer program, if you are trying to get a job in a company, you competed and lost, or you are in a company and didn’t get cast for a role, the point is… it happens… Embrace it.

The Classics… not classical ballet

There really isn’t a guide to classical ballets, in fact, that term can be thrown so loosely around… This is not a ballet history lesson, if I need to do that… I will but… by a crap definition classical ballet is the traditional formal style of ballet technique. If that was the case… then the only type of classical ballet that should exist is Paris Opera. So, let us shoot the idea of “classical ballet” out. So here is the breakdown of how I classify the ballets:

Is it a part of various major company repertory and has it been established in ballet history. A ballet is only a ballet if it can be passed down from one generation to the next and be restaged. It is hard to say if a piece can be restaged or not, because the audience has to appreciate it, understand it, and go see it time and time again. This is how I classify the classics. Then in edition to the classics, they are either a story ballet, or just a ballet (this isn’t just Balanchine works, Pas De Quatre, and Grand Pas Classique… Not attached to any ballet in particular but, still classics). Sooo, in terms of  “classical” ballets… Here is the major list:

swan lake

Tchaikovsky’s Major Three: Nutracker, Swan Lake and the Sleeping Beauty. 

The Show Stopper Ballets: Diana & Acteon, Don Quixote, La Esmeralda, The Flames of Paris, Le Corsaire, Grand Pas Classique, Tchaikovsky Pas De Deux, Rubies, Stars and Stripes

The Overlooked Ballets: La Fille Mal Gardee, The Talisman, Raymonda, The Fairy Doll, Harlequinade, the Pharaoh’s Daughter, Sylvia

The Romantic Ballets: Romeo and Juliet, La Sylphide, Les Sylphide, Giselle, Manon, A Month in the Country, Emeralds , Pas De Quatre, Eugene Onegin

romeo and juliet ferri and bolle

The Corps Intensive Ballets: Paquita, La Bayadere, Etudes, Symphony in C, Serenade, Diamonds

The Big Ten (international schools)

If this was college football, well it isn’t. Haha. This is bigger than college football, this is ballet. Like football there are ten schools that everyone wants to get into. The only thing bigger than the school you get into, is the company you might dance for as an end result. In comparison, these are the Ivies of the ballet world, and you do have to have top marks to get in. Who are we kidding, you have to have everything to get in… Like the Ivy League list… there are three schools that will always compete for number one in the world. International, and probably the most historical, they are the prestigious Paris Opera Ballet School, the Vaganova School, and the Royal Ballet School. It is hard to say which one of these schools is actually the best, because they are completely different styles, and create very different dancers. 1. Paris Opera Ballet School or to be accurate, Ecole de l’Opera National de Paris, is actually the oldest. The school itself is impossible to get into, and because they are state subsidized like most companies, they can be extremely picky on who they take. Not only is the training ridiculous, but it is based on a points system, and only top marks move on. Now, the bigger question… Why don’t we see a lot of French dancers in the US? The answer is simple, they were made to dance for Paris Opera, and if they don’t get in, they usually don’t want to dance for another company…. Or if they do, it is usually a cutting edge ballet company with a contemporary flare. Paris Opera Dancers can be spotted a mile away for their impeccable control of turn out, their specific style of arms (very relaxed), and their calm attack to ballet.

paris opera ballet boys

2. The Vaganova School… The fact that a style is named after them, or pedagogy, it should say something. Like Paris Opera everything is based on the rigorous challenge of first getting in. At the entrance exams not only is the child looked at, but radiographs of their bones, and their parents’ bodies are taken into consideration. This is to guess height, hip width, etc. The school itself is notarious via youtube for broadcasting their graduating class exams, in which students perform the most ridiculous barre and center combinations you will ever see. Regardless, go Russia. This can be seen because it seems that in Russia, everyone has beyond 180 turn out, ridiculous extensions, the soft arabesque arm and most importantly they have the most glorious necklines.

vaganova school boys arabesque

3. The Royal Ballet School, conveniently and beautifully located at Covent Garden. (Well truth be told all of the schools mentioned above are housed at the most glamorous places in the city.) Royal Ballet also has their particular style and thought process behind ballet, don’t confuse this with RAD (Royal Academy of Dance). The Royal Ballet school is known to recruit students from the YAGP, VARNA, IBC, the Prix de Lusanne and so forth. Usually, if a dancer enters the school from a big competition win, they end up in the company. One of the prizes at the Prix de Lusanne happens to be a company spot at Royal Ballet. Royal ballet is known for softer and subtle arms, romantic like arabesque placement, and meatier legs compared to the the two prior. royal ballet school graduating class

Now… are has an American School taken place number 4? Nope, I think not.

4. The Rest of the Russian Schools, take place number 4. This includes Bolshoi State Academy and St. Petersberg academy. Russia has definitely turned out powerhouses and they are proud of it. We should be thankful to them, and be more grateful that they don’t all come over to the US and audition for jobs, because then everyone would be unemployed. Hahah.

5. CPYB, if you don’t know what that stands for it is because they aren’t attached to a company. It stands for the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. Headed and founded by Marcia Del Weary, CPYB seems to have the most active principals from a school in the US. The training is impeccable, and anyone can go. If you have a young son or daughter, send them there for a summer. They don’t audition. They accept everyone and turn everyone into a powerhouse dancer. Look at a lot of current American Ballerina’s bios… They are probably from CPYB…

6. School of American Ballet, or the notorious SAB. Founded by Balanchine, and the school of New York City Ballet, this might be argued as one of the hardest schools to get into. And they are known for one thing, the Balanchine Aesthetic. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the school, like Vaganova, Royal and Paris Opera, there is a very specific style. How can you spot an Balanchine or SAB dancer? Their hands (the claw), their crazy turn out, the way they take their bow (they break to 3/4 pointe and turn in), and their aggressive attack on musicality. Most of the dancers from School of American Ballet will find a job in another Balanchine like company.

7. NBS, Canada’s National Ballet School, the feeder school to National Ballet of Canada. Housed at the newly remodeled Celia Franca Center, NBS is known for creating extremely artistic and articulate dancers. What is really nice about this school is their Post-Secondary education program. This program is for dancers who have already graduated from school but need that one or two years of refinement, strengthening, and preparation for company life. In the US we call it second companies, but in reality a second company is a free corps. This is an actual program for dancers to utilize.

8. The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, also known as JKO. It is a newer school compared to the rest. In fact it was founded in 2004. It is the school to American Ballet Theatre and headed by Franco De Vita. This school is ridiculously known for their bravura dancers. Like most American schools now, the emphasis on turns and jumps are stressed here. The JKO school partnered with ABT’s Misty Copeland have started Project Plie, a program to help young minorities get the training they need to succeed in the dance world.

9. San Francisco Ballet School, so it was a toss up between the following schools because each are incredible: San Francisco Ballet School, Pacific Northwest Ballet School, and Boston Ballet School. Each one is extremely unique and satisfying for any young dancer. It is also convenient that they are spread across the US. You might be thinking, well if you are going to group those schools you should also at Houston Ballet Academy, Miami City Ballet School, and maybe even Orlando Ballet School…. Wrong. You probably are thinking they are on the same level because their companies are on that same middle field. You are quite wrong. Their schools are incredibly different, and San Francisco, Boston and PNB are known for creating extraordinary dancers. Their dancers all are usually very classically based, with a touch of Balanchine in moderation. These schools push their kids extremely hard, and if they don’t join the company the actively seek work for them at other companies. ????????

10. Again, I have to lump these schools into a group because I like to call them the flashy schools. The Rock School for Dance Education and the Joffrey Ballet School. Both of these schools are very public and active in seeking students through the media. In addition, they strive for competitive edges in the ballet world. The Rock School probably has the most competitors at the YAGP, and usually they finish well. Joffrey actively seeks multi-faceted, and genre-versatile dancers into their school. So, there it is…. my Top Ten (ish) ballet schools in the world. I was going to include Denmark’s because of the Bournonville style, but realistically, the school doesn’t produce as many dancers as the others. I judge a school by the dancers they produce, the technique that they teach, and how many of their students go on to get jobs. That is the important thing here…

Too many Claras… and every little girl’s dream

The Dream of Becoming a Prima Ballerina…

It is sad to say that this is my first substantial post, a reality check for those who are starting to enter the world of dance. Unfortunately, or fortunately the world of dance has become over-saturated with dancers. This means there are too many dancers and not enough jobs. It seems that when a young girl goes to see the Nutcracker, they instantly want to be Clara or the Sugar Plum Fairy, and so the first seed of ballet is planted into their hearts. This is a great desire and passion, and I think it is very important to expose all children, male or female, to music, dance and art. So then, parents enroll their students at a dance studio, and by age thirteen when the child realizes they really want to be a dancer, it is most likely too late.


5665
Some version in Indiana

Too Many Claras…. Now, it is funny as Clara in the Nutcracker is the main character, or the heroine, but in most versions she doesn’t dance at all. Reality is, Sugar Plum Fairy is the one you want to be. Problem? There are just too many Claras… Unfortunately in the world of ballet, the Sugar Plum Fairy Pas De Deux is reserved for principals and if you are in a regional company, it is usually danced by one or maybe two casts. There are usually 4-6 girls cast as Clara, as a way to sell tickets… What parent doesn’t want to say, “My daughter is Clara in the Nutcracker.” Sooo, let us do the math…. If the role of Clara goes to a girl age 9-13 who shows outstanding promise and great acting abilities, and there are six of them, when those girls become 22-28 who will get cast as Sugar Plum? The reality is harsh… But, when you do become a Sugar Plum, it is totally worth it.


What does this mean? Most parents don’t take the time to research ballet, ballet studios or how the ballet world really works. FACT: A dance studio is not the same as a dance school and is not the same as a performing arts school and is not the same as a ballet school.

A Dance Studio is a recreational place to dance, which means you are there for exercise, exposure to music and the idea of technique.

A Dance School is a recreational place to dance with higher performance expectancy. A dance school usually can also be called a competition studio, or a performance studio. This is where technique matters, but not to the extent of creating a career. This is more for commercial dance route, the Hollywood route, and the scholarships to a UDA college route.

A Performing Arts School is a place for children to develop the fine/performing arts to a greater extent. Most kids in these schools aren’t just out to be ballet dancers, but instead they are also on their way to become a triple threat. BROADWAY BOUND. Performing arts schools usually offer more than just ballet, but modern, contemporary, voice lessons, acting lessons, and so forth.

A Ballet School is a place for children to studio pure ballet. Regardless of the pedagogy, it is completely ballet based, and the emphasis is only on ballet technique with supplemented curriculum of modern, contemporary and occasionally jazz.

So, the best way to insure your child’s future in dance is to make sure you are at the right school for your child. There is nothing wrong with any of these schools, or approaches to dance, but they will basically be the deciding factor of how your child will be received in dance.


So, your daughter was Clara?

Insuring your child has the best chance he or she may need in BALLET. You want to be a good parent, but you don’t know what to do? You think oh, is it even possible? Is my child good enough? Ballet dancers don’t make that much (which is a lie, it just depends where you get a job, like any career).  This is not an endorsement to any school in particular, please just go with the scenario. There are few jobs for ballerinas these days, and it seems one of the only ways to get noticed is to go to a legit ballet competition…. True and False… The reality is that those who go to these huge international competitions and do well are on the fast track to become principal dancers AKA sugarplum fairies. BUT, that doesn’t mean that your child isn’t going to make it. There are hundreds of companies that hold tons of ranks, and so your child just might be a snowflake, or a divertissement. Now, it is more important to decide how your child is going to get there… that is when the school your child is at should be evaluated.

The 2014-2015 season… well the ballet season…

And so it begins… the 2014-2015 season of ballet is coming up, literally just a few months away which means two things: pre-ticket sales, and promotions. Okay, so if you don’t know the ballet calendar it goes something like the following, it kind of mirrors the academic school year:

2014 September – November (Fall/Winter Season)

2014 December – (Nutcracker Season)

2015 January – Mid March (Audition Season, for those who are going to summer programs or looking to join a company.)

2015 January – May (Spring Season)

2015 June – August (Summer Programs for those who are still students, and off season for those in a company, or touring season)

A large company will go through 8-20 different programs a season, a regional company may go through 4 programs. A program is basically a run of a ballet, like a mini show. For example: Nutcracker is a program which might run from November-December and have various casts.


Now, to the actual post… the 2014-2015 season has been announced across the board and well there are some pretty awesome things planned across the world in terms of ballet. American Ballet Theatre, also known as ABT is celebrating their 75 anniversary. For those NYCB (New York City Ballet) fans, a huge season is planned with tons of new premiers, as well as the retiring of the legendary Wendy Whelan. Oregon Ballet Theatre hits their 25th anniversary. Paris Opera Ballet is staging a massive repertory, like always. This time under Natalie Portman’s baby daddy Benjamin Millepied as director of dance…. If you haven’t purchased your season tickets, now is the time to do it, as they are discounted greatly.


Now it is time for the rant…. This was all started because Royal Ballet, that is housed at Covent Garden in London, released their promotions list, and to my surprise on the new hires… Natalia Osipova. Don’t get me wrong, I love her. She is a beast. She is crazy talented and beautiful. I just saw her and Ivan at OCPAC. Super beautiful… BUUUUUT really Royal Ballet? There are so many talented individuals in your company who have been waiting to be promoted… my personal favorite Yuhui Choe, and I am just not saying this because she is Korean. And yes, I was totally rooting for Hee Seo at ABT. Regardless, Royal Ballet, that holds their nose in the air to most ballet pedagogies, who prides themselves on being a part of tradition just sold out… The hiring of ballet superstars isn’t to increase the artists creativity, the reality is, it is to increase revenue sales (which I get, I am a business man). I am not blaming anyone in particular, aka the board, the politics within the company, I am actually blaming the artistic director… It is sad that an artistic director doesn’t have faith in their company members to be brilliant enough to fill seats. Shame on you. Kevin McKenzie at ABT, I have been over you since I was like 12. Now Royal Ballet’s fresh from 2012, Kevin O’Hare… that is just so depressing. Boo on you. I am totally bashing Royal Ballet right now because their lack of faith in their company members. This in turn goes into my praise to artistic director’s at Boston Ballet, Houston Ballet, San Francisco Ballet and I hope they make bigger Ballet Arizona. It is sad to think that in order to become a principal dancer you will have to change companies. Whether this is to step down a little and go to a smaller company, or to “trade” companies like a baseball player. How can you cultivate talent, and grow as an artist if you are never given the chance to prove yourself. And when you do get that chance, if you are torn apart by a critic, your chance will be shot to hell? (aka Sascha Redetsky, Jared Mathews, Stella Abrera, Kristi Boone, okay so maybe all of the older soloists at ABT..)

A Ballet Education… It’s just not tutus and tiaras… Seriously

So, I told myself no more blogs. You have enough already, and they are already difficult to manage.(Yellow Like Asian) Then, I reminded myself I don’t have a free blog, and I don’t have a wordpress. This was enough to convince me to go for it. This blog is to educate aspiring dancers, audience go-ers, parents and other dancers on what is, and what is happening in the ballet world… AKA it is me ranting and raving about ballet. 

As any first blog post, I should introduce myself. My name is David (personal site), and I LOVE BALLET. No, I am not some crazed fan, or gay man with some over the top extravagant lifestyle. In fact, I do have some legitimacy here. I grew up dancing ballet, and not just at a some dolly dinkle studio in podunk America. I actually went through the entire ballet process, and become a professional ballet dancer. In addition, I have taught ballet, and other genres of dance on many different levels across the United States. Finally, my entire curriculum for teaching is based off Cassa Pancho’s All Things Black and Beautiful and the Balanchine Aesthetic. Finally, I am embarking on starting my own ballet company, Redlands Dance Theatre, click here for more info.

I’m not sure where this blog is going to go, but I can tell you what it isn’t going to be:

1. It isn’t going to be me bitching and complaining companies I dislike in general. (Trust and believe there are a lot I dislike)

2. It is definitely not going to be advice to get into a company. (A Guide… maybe)

3. It probably won’t be a blog slamming eating disorders, cocaine and drinking. (Not that I condone those things.)

4. It is not going to be me sitting on a high horse and just saying things for the sake of saying things… That is why we have artistic directors, haha that was a joke. I will give explanations and so forth. 

5. I will not be associated with youtub-ing, posting on IG, or even tweeting… I already have too many to manage.

Now, I can tell you what I want the blog to be:

INFORMATIVE, an education.

INSPIRATIONAL, a future.

INSIGHTFUL, a perspective.

INTRIGUING, a personality.

(If you can’t tell, I totally do PR and Marketing.)