In Ballet, Feet are Everything…

feet are everything

In ballet, feet are everything. You either have good feet (banana feet), or bad feet… biscuits. Yeah, there are average feet, but the reality is, a ballet dancer with a good foot seems to get noticed more. The better the arch, the higher the relevé. The better the wing, the prettier the line. When you are younger your teachers tell you, that you have to have a strong arch and beautiful feet to do pointe…. What they don’t tell you is the price that you will have to pay in the long run. I recently came across a photo of a ballet dancer’s feet, and I thought the image was so beautiful. The damage that pointe does to a dancer’s feet is permanent, causing more problems in old age. It is insane that women spend anywhere between 6-10 hours in toe shoes.

With all of the Misty Copeland hype about dancers are athletes, I decided that I would approach dance as something completely different… The price for beauty.

So, if all of you ballerinas out there could, take a photo of your feet and post it on twitter or IG and hashtag #aballeteducation or #thepriceforbeauty that would be fantastic. 

a ballet education feet

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You know you are a ballet dancer if…

you know you are a ballet dancer if a ballet education

This isn’t your list of childhood dance problems, like missing prom, or missing football games to be at the studio. The fact that you stand turned out, or when picking up something from the ground you open into penche… Yes, that list I am sure is important, but the reality is, that list seems quite petty once you are a professional. Another funny list of random things we probably spend way too much time thinking about.

You know you are a ballet dancer if…

1. You have a tattoo in the most obscure place on your body. For some it may be right behind the ear, or on your ankle placed just so that your pointe ribbons hide it. Ooh, or the occasional male tattoo on your side, but low enough be hidden by a dance belt or tights. Or, you just are craving ink but for the sake of casting… you are waiting.

2. With the amount of money spent on pointe shoes, your closet could be full of Christian Louboutins… Or Monolos, or for those who are into the classic turn of shoe fashion: Jimmy Choos. Or, you equate the money you spend on regular items to the cost of pointe shoes. 

3. You don’t get a dating life. The majority of dates have to be squeezed in between rehearsals, performances, traveling and pilates. As a result, even though we say we are never going to date a dancer, you end up marrying your best friend in the company.

4. On your off time, or in between seasons you are traveling for other dancers’ weddings. And you think about putting on heels, and think that pointe shoes are more comfortable, or “why aren’t high heel arches higher to support my foot?”

5. When at the grocery store you aren’t counting calories, you are actually putting everything in your basket because everything sounds good after a long day dancing. 

6. The majority of your instagram photos are inside the studio, at the theatre, or traveling to a performance. 

7. When going on vacation you pick a place that has absolutely no ballet around, or if it does you go take a class, or see a performance.

8. Flipping through Pointe Magazine is like a Year Book, and you say, “Oh I went to school with her, or we did Boston Ballet’s Summer Program of 01′ together.”

9. Your friends are your family, and your real family stays in contact with you via facebook or skype. 

10. When people ask you if you could go back in time either say the Diaghilev Era or the Balanchine Era to work with the most brilliant artists of their time. 

And finally, you REALLY know you are a ballet dancer if.. 

It is no longer about turn out, extension and turns, but it is about contributing to history and passing down an visually oral tradition of art. Yeah, that was kind of deep. But, the reality is that you have made it, and yes you are working on the above, and hoping to be promoted, but you are now part of an art form that is passed down orally from teacher to dancer, and visually embraced by society. Regardless of how society views ballet as a whole, or what pop culture portrays ballet as, the real inner workings of ballet are yours to keep. Each step, each performance, each moment is something that can never be recreated or relived, just passed on to the next year of dancers.

There has to be something beautiful in the lack of longevity of a dance career, or else we wouldn’t do it. There is something more captivating in the studios and on the stage than the rest of the world, or else we would leave these spaces. And ballet has to be something greater than art because it is a life you live everyday. 

 

The Death of Classical Ballet… kind of

Het Nationale Ballet's the Sleeping Beauty
Het Nationale Ballet’s the Sleeping Beauty

Pliés, tendus, degagés… there is a specific order in which we do barre. It is predictable, it is the same, and probably won’t change for another ten years. The progression of ballet has always been slow, but over the past thirty years we have really made a ridiculous amount of progress refining the technique. The past thirty years gapped the Baryshnikov era and Ballerina era. As we have finessed the biomechanics of the classical technique, we have come to the realization of how limited the classical framework is. This has caused dancers to get bored, and has caused dancers to focus on more turns, and more complex jumps. This isn’t something new… 

Ballet was dying, then came Balanchine and new era was ushered in… Ballet was boring, then came Baryshnikov and the age of male extravagance came… Then ballet was drawn out and not as exciting, we got tired of men doing the same double tours, and tricks. Then came the super ballerinas… With super high extensions, jumps that were just as good as the men and with more flexibility… And now ballet once again has started to decline, as the age of movement exploration has come… New ballets are being introduced, everyone seems to be a choreographer these days, but companies are trying to save classical ballets by remounting them. ABT has now staged 3 different Cinderellas in a ten year time span. Het Nationale Ballet redid their Sleeping Beauty, and Royal Ballet redid all of their classics plus added the full length Alice in Wonderland.

As ballet companies are trying to survive, their audiences are getting bored and leaving empty seats. Artistic Directors have failed to see the bigger picture (read more about my anger at artistic directors here), and the boards of directors are static, demanding, and stuck in tradition. Ballet as an institution seems to be falling apart. Ironically, dancers are becoming savvy, and multifaceted: becoming choreographers, starting their own projects, and using social media to change the fate of their careers. (Example: Misty Copeland and her campaigns for Blackberry, Prince, Under Armor, and Diet Dr. Pepper. She isn’t the only one.) 

Solution: Progress. As ballet is in a flux, and we are in a heightened state of choreographers… companies should take more risks in hiring unknown names. City Ballet’s Justin Peck was the perfect example. I admire Peter Martins for his faith in his company and the potential of his dancers. PNB has slowly started making the progression by allowing their company members to choreograph on students. Regardless, progress has to be made in the repertory category. Even if the works don’t survive, and are only for one season, at least it is something new. Yes choreographer’s fees are expensive, but so is the restaging of the classics. SPEND YOUR MONEY BETTER!

Dancers used to have the state of mind of staying at one company their whole life, slowly working their way to principal. But, because artistic directors have messed that progression up, dancers now look at companies for their repertory. Who do they want to dance with, what choreographers can they work with, how can they expand their vocabulary. They didn’t do a million tendus to stand in the back as a corps member, or to be in boots prancing around in mazurkas… Dancers train ridiculously hard, doing the most impossible of things for what?? To be placed in the back as a courtier in the Sleeping Beauty? To maybe dance waltz in Nutcracker? What was the point of it all then?

There is only room for one Juliet… when your company has 30 or more extremely talented, artistic women… #justsayin

New works give a chance for the entire company to dance. Trust me, in every company there are many corps dancers who are under utilized. I think this is why dancers are not having long careers with companies, they are bored. They didn’t see the point of it all. Why practice doing pirouettes if you are never going to turn on stage? It is sad to say, but if artistic directors don’t start making better choices for their companies, I am afraid that Ballet Companies are going to be on their way out, and Dance Projects, Guest Galas (like Vail), and such will be taking over. Dancers will at least have the chance to do it all, and with different people, and at least they are excited…

You know you trained Russian if…

Vaganova School A Ballet Education

 

I always use to say, “When I grow up, I want to be a Russian girl.” Or, “In my next life, I hope I am a Vaganova girl.” There is a reason why, and we all know it. Ballerinas from Russia seem to have it all. The French codified ballet, but the Russians have mastered it. Dancing Russian ballet or the Vaganova style might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but we all are mind blown we watch their graduation videos on youtube. So, in this edition of signs that distinguish your training, we are dedicating to those crazy little girls at the Vaganova School, and those who are trying to replicate that training.

Ahh yes, you know trained Russian if…

1. Your port de bras is always curved, and at barre it always looks like you are dancing Swan Lake. 

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2. Your extension is everything.

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3. Your turn out is beyond 180…

4. In class your teacher made some reference back to the Soviet Era, these stories usually involved snow, a cane, or some other teacher smoking in class.

5. You have an unbelievably high passé, like literally heel to your crotch.

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That was a fun five… but here are some others that are just kind of funny.

You know you trained Russian if your fouettés are a little spazzy because you only open a la seconde.

You know you trained Russian because you were over stretched as a child.

You know you trained Russian if your developpé side goes behind your ear.

You know you trained Russian if your combre back is lower than the barre.

You know you trained Russian if in variations class you always add an extra arch forward in B+

You know you are pretending to be Russian when you are in the studio pretending to be wacked out (flexible), with little bird arms. 

The Great Debate: Gaynor Mindens…

gaynor mindens yucky

 

The Great Debate: Gaynor Mindens…

If I had it my way, everyone would dance in Freeds. Period. Because we are a free enterprise country, there are hundreds of different pointe shoes now available. Each brand has their own series of pointe shoes, and each pointe shoe has a “different personality” to accommodate a dancer’s needs. One of those needs is money… Pointe shoes don’t come cheap, and as a result, the Gaynor Minden was born… 

Some call it the cheater shoe, some call it flat out ugly, and some are for it because their feet are so good. Professionals around the world of adapted to Gaynors and the company didn’t waste anytime by capitalizing on that. Premiering with Gillian Murphy of ABT, and the release of the Ballet Companion, snagging dancer.com and using well known principal dancers as their ads… Gaynor Minden INC knew what they were doing. As a business, they are successful. The bigger question, is how do we look at Gaynors? Should students be allowed to wear Gaynors? Should more pointe shoe companies offer indestructible shoes regardless of compromising the look of the shoe?

(Please Comment Below)

an interview with Eliza Gaynor Minden. (click here)

a funny commentary via the youtube:

Nike Arc Angel, a dummy design by a graphic artist, but interesting concept…

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Want extension? Tilt your hips!

Controversy. 

Everyone wants gorgeous extensions, and we all youtube and watch the most beautiful extensions happen around the world. We idolize Sylvie Guillem, and Svetlana Zakharova. Now the problem? In ballet class some teachers say keep your hip down, keep your hips square, keep blah blah blah blah blah… It goes on and on and on… In an ideal world, the hip should be down, the reality? No one really keeps their hips down in developpe side. It is like this secret no one really talks about.

The one and only Sylvie... TOOOOTAL hip up
The one and only Sylvie… TOOOOTAL hip up
Students at the JKO school in NYC.
Students at the JKO school in NYC.

IrinaDvorovenkoJunkDuet1

Svetlana... total hip up... Vaganova School and principal at Bolshoi.
Svetlana… total hip up… Vaganova School and principal at Bolshoi.

So, embrace it. This doesn’t mean get all wonky in your posture, in fact it means you have to be more focused on your torso and upper body so you don’t look all caddy-wompus. So, after careful examination and talk with numerous ballet teachers, we have decided that the correction: Keep your hip down and square is correct. The correction should also include, tilt your hips directly side, in second, and that is what makes the leg go higher, as if your pelvis is in center straddle. So, this means no gripping from behind, or some crazy lifted twerkin booty out, just simply take your hips and tilt them side.

As you all will be going crazy, and probably writing me hate mail… Examine the body’s anatomy, and ask yourself, why do you say hip down? Is it because someone told you to, or some old russian teacher from god knows when said so? Reality check.  That isn’t teaching, that is passing on information and it is like playing telephone, that game we played as kids. The reality is that extensions are required to be a dancer, so you have to look at each students’ body and see if they have the natural facility to developpe without compromising the hips. Very rarely have I seen bodies with the facility to do so.

With that being said, time to get legs up.

Ballet Competitions

With movies like First Position, and with youtube broadcasts, ballet competitions seem to be popping up all over the place. More kids want to compete, and the stress level is on… (Read this post about that.) Ballet competitions are great exposure, they are great for scholarships, and they are great performance opportunities… but that is not the ONLY route to become a ballet dancer. The majority of dancers who make it into companies don’t compete, and those who do compete, on the international competition circuit are probably on the fast track to become principal dancers, most of them being prodigies. (Diana Vishneva, Maria Kochetkova, Marcelo Gomes, Julie Kent, actually half of the ABT roster has won a competition, like Royal Ballet vs NYCB dancers, none of them really did the competition circuit.) 

There are numerous ballet competitions: YAGP, Prix de Lausanne, IBC USA, VARNA, Helsinki IBC, Moscow Ballet Competition Capetown IBC, the list goes on and on. Regardless, these competitions are way to see kids in and out of the classroom. Most auditions only allow directors to see you in class, your work ethic, your facility, the competitions allow directors to see what you can do with that, and how artistic you are.

How do you know if a ballet competition is right for you? you really don’t know. If you don’t like the pressure of competition, then it is probably not right for you. If you thrive off of competition and perfecting a variation, then it might be a great environment for you. If you want to go for the experience then it might be great, but just know that it is costly.

Ballet competitions are expensive. Here is the problem, when training for a competition, a lot of young dancers cut back on technique classes so their parents can afford the privates, the choreographers, the studio rentals, the travel expenses, the costumes, etc. Unfortunately, that isn’t really how it should be done. If you are thinking about competing, you should wait a year and get as strong as you can, and allow your parents to save money. Maybe you can do extra chores around the house.

What to expect at a ballet competition. If you have ever done the audition circuit for summer programs, companies etc, take that environment and multiply it by 10. A ballet competition is that much more stressful, because you have to prove yourself in less than a minute. In edition, you are facing elimination rounds. Like that Prix de Laussane, just because you fly to Switzerland, that doesn’t mean you are going to perform. You have to make it through all of the classes. You are also not just competing within a region, most every ballet competition is international, which means you are competing against the entire world, and usually with top students from very prestigious schools who are wanting jobs, apprenticeships, and the chance to transfer to a different international school. 

Misconceptions: You don’t have to do a million pirouettes to go and win. You don’t have to have an extension to your ear, few dancers do. All you have to do is be clean, strong. Know your body’s turnout and limitations and how to work with them. You have to know how to be solid, strong and confident. Most importantly you have to know how to use what you have. In the video above, she does not have AMAZING Alessandra Ferri feet, her turn out is okay, the most she does is a double pirouette, and her arabesque line is clean, refined and placed. Nothing is forced, there is no doubt behind her technique, no hesitation in her attack, and her musicality is on. Her artistry is pretty, and in Shades it is more about the technique than the artistry, as there is no story to develop behind the pas de trois, but she is young… Artistry comes, it is a process. How is a 15 year old supposed to know how to portray emotions she has never even experienced? Again, this goes back to being clean, strong, confident, and fearless.

Suggestions… The amount of pressure a dancer in training is already immense, so I always think, why add more stress by doing a competition. Now, if your dream is to go to JKO school, or Royal Ballet, and you are technically ready, and a clean dancer, then it might be a great chance to get a scholarship. Just remember winning isn’t everything. I did a whole post in it and linked it above. The reality is, ballet competitions allow for ONE winner and ONE winner only. Yes, people will be given scholarships, but I always encourage students to go the normal company route: train at your school, go to a summer program, train at your school to get better, go to a summer program on scholarship, get asked to stay year round, work your butt off, get asked to stay on as a trainee, land an apprenticeship, and get promoted into the company (or audition elsewhere). You don’t always have to jump the gun and hope to compete and land a job. You don’t have to compete and spend thousands of dollars for a scholarship, when you can get one just by doing the summer course audition (max $35 dollars and gas), and proving yourself during that time to get asked to stay year round. 

The Reach…

impossible

 

There is this thing in ballet that inspires us all, there is a quality that everyone is inspired by, and there is a moment in everyone’s career that defines us as an artist, not a dancer. It is the reach. When we are younger the reach is towards technique, reaching towards perfection, the impossible. We idolize primas, and youtube videos, and we strive for that idea of perfection. Somewhere down the line, either at a professional school or early years in a company we see a quality that is possessed by mature dancers and the reach towards artistry stands outs, the idea of being promoted, and the reach seems a lot shorter. Finally, when performing and you realize you have to reach inside yourself as a human being and bring it to the surface.  

It is always about this reach… In school, I remember being in a very large fourth position, and my ballet coach telling me to reach in the position, making it longer, more exciting, more elegant. 

Then in a company, I remember rehearsing in the corps, and I would watch principals, and mimic their quality. 

Finally, once I had my first lead role, I remember my coach telling me I had to reach inside. It wasn’t just about being musical, or having superb musicality, it was about making ballet human: relatable. 

So, how does one inspire the next generation to reach?

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…)

 

 

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.

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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.