Many of the principals we have come to love and adore, or have forgotten about have announced their retirements this year. This morning, Carla Korbes announced her retirement from PNB. Her stunning career has been plagued with injuries, but her collaborations with Peter Boal have definitely paid off, and have have been celebrated.
Other principals to retire are NYCB’s beloved Wendy Whelan, and ABT’s Paloma Herrera both set to retire in October. Julie Kent is going to be retiring in the Spring Season. There are plenty of others who should retire, haha, but that is neither here nor there. The point is that these three women have made huge contributions to the world of ballet, and as they leave, they are making room for a stunning new set of leading ladies to take center stage.
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.
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….
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.
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.