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