Sara Mearns Was Gorgeous in Swan Lake, But Overall Production Was Lacking

Last week was Sara Mearns week for me (well, for many New York ballet fans, I suspect). On Tuesday night, she made her debut as the Siren in NYCB’s Prodigal Son. (I’m still awaiting photos and will post as soon as I receive them!) Sean Suozzi danced the lead role. He did very well, but she just always stands out to me whatever she is in – particularly the story ballets. She was the best, most tantalizing, sinister, seductive, all around captivating Siren I’ve ever seen. The way she whipped that cape in between her legs, wrapping it around each one, the way she’d bend her knees slowly into a second-position plie while on point, basically squatting over the son’s head in a suggestive but also sinister manner, the way she’d raise her hand behind her head with the wrist bent and the fingers splayed to indicate her triumph over the son’s will, even just the way she’d walk out onstage on pointe, tiptoeing all around him – everything, every movement was in service of the character and was an integral part of the character’s story. I often feel like I’m seeing steps with other dancers. Just steps. The pas de deux between the son and the siren contains some of Balanchine’s oddest-looking choreography- especially those lifts – ‘here, stand on my knees, wrap your legs around my neck and let me carry you around like that,’ etc. I imagine it would feel very odd and foreign doing some of that, which of course was the point. It’s supposed to look warped and off-kilter. Everyone has mastered those steps, but to me, Mearns makes it the most deliciously warped. I love her.

Then, on Friday night, the company premiered their Swan Lake (Peter Martins version), and she danced the lead. (Photo above by Paul Kolnik, from Playbill Arts.)

In sum, I loved her; I wasn’t in love with the production. I went with several friends, two of whom don’t regularly go to the ballet, and that seemed to be the consensus. Everyone was excited to see Mearns dance again, but not to see that production. She was wonderful for all the same reasons I’ve written about before – she’s like a Veronika Part to me; she does such a full job of developing character, she brings you so fully into her world, you feel all of her pain with her. But of course she’s also an excellent dancer. She has a way of arching her back so, of working her arms and hands so, of extending her leg so high in arabesque, of extending her line so beautifully and making such full shapes – it’s a cliche, but her adagio / White Swan is just breathtaking. It almost makes you want to cry, and one of my friends did!

But she excels in the Black Swan / allegro role as well – not so much because she can do athletic feats like Gillian Murphy or Natalia Osipova (there were “just” a bizillion fouettes during the pas de deux, not a bizillion fouettes divided by multiple pirouettes and wild swan-like port de bras thrown into it all) but because she can do that all perfectly fine while still making it all about the character. When she does a series of lifts with Jared Angle where she spreads her legs into a straddle split in the air above his head, it’s just so wicked! And even at the beginning of the Black Swan, when she makes her entrance and presents her hand to the queen – it’s clear she’s up to no good. But she also doesn’t overdo it. She’s conniving and sinister but with a sweet face.

But the rest of the production: Jared’s an excellent partner, that’s clear. Mearns was way off her center of gravity in much of the White Swan partnering, and he securely held her balance, freeing her up to make those gorgeous shapes, and to act it all out the way she so brilliantly does. But in his own dancing, he just, like practically all dancers these days, goes for the cliche. It all looks so fake. I don’t believe he’s in love with her, or that he’s ever longing for what he doesn’t have, and that he’s devastated when she leaves him in the end. It’s all her sorrow and longing alone. So the performance was so unbalanced. I wish so much I could see her dance this with Marcelo Gomes, who really brings Prince Siegfried’s internal conflicts to life like no one else.

The other major issue I have with this production is the costumes – the costumes and the sets. I always forget about them until I see the ballet again, and, especially when I go with friends. My friends Friday night really found it hard to look beyond those costumes. For some reason, I kept thinking of the Flinstones, my friend, Marie, called them Jackson Pollack on speed or something to that effect (I haven’t read her review yet but will after I finish this post), and the others we went with just couldn’t stop talking about the brash colors. I remember my friend in the fashion industry saying of the Romeo and Juliet costumes (Per Kirkeby designed sets and costumes for both Martins productions) that the colors needed to be muted; these brash, bright, almost neon colors made the characters look like cartoons. Same with the Swan Lake costumes. Cartoonish is NOT what you want to go for in serious ballets like this.

Also, the RACISM. This is another thing I hate to admit I often forget about until I see the ballet again with a friend, and the friend is horrified at the fact that a black man is playing the evil character. Must von Rothbart always be danced by Albert Evans or Henry Seth? Are we not living in the year 2011? I mean, this is a huge reason why young people are so turned off from the ballet. And none of the very educated critics ever seem to be calling Martins on this. What’s up with that? Seriously? I think once you go to the ballet a lot you begin to forget about these things, you become immune to them. Which is horrible. But really, asking your audience to associate black men with evil is a horrible insult to that – probably very educated – audience.

Another problem here: Faycal Karoui (the conductor) was seriously on speed. He was flying through the first half. The poor dancers couldn’t even express the story. They really had to rush falling in love. If I’d never have seen this ballet before (and there were probably some such people there due to the Natalie Portman film), I don’t know if I would have gotten much out of the White Swan pas de deux. And that’s kind of an important part of this ballet…

All other dancers did well – I particularly liked Ana Sophia Scheller and Anthony Huxley (filling in for Sean Suozzi as Benno) in the first act Pas de Trois, and, in the second act, Abi Stafford and Joaquin DeLuz in the Divertissement Pas de Quatre, and Antonio Carmena in the Neapolitan Dance – but everyone did very well (those were just the ones who stood out to me). Oh and I loved Daniel Ulbricht throughout as the Jester. With his immense skill at jumps and turns – and combo jumping turns – and his comical sensibilities, he is perfect for such a role, as he is for Puck in Midsummer Night’s Dream – my favorite roles for him.

But I have to say, I was floored when none of the other dancers came out and took bows at the end of the production. Why? Whose idea was that? Only Mearns and Angle and Evans took bows. I realize the dancers are all very hard-working and probably needed to get home to get sleep for the next day’s matinee. But this severely cut Mearns’s bow and curtain calls short. It reduced the celebratory aspect of a production well done. Worse, it also really makes it look like none of the other dancers cared about Mearns, and about the production. It made it look like the company is not really a company of dancers who all work together and support each other. I’ve honestly never seen such a thing before. I’ve seen it where dancers who only dance during the first act will take their bows and curtain calls after the first act and not at the end of the whole, but the dancers who danced in the last act always come out for their bows at the end. Anyway, it really stood out to me. What did other people think?

Here is my friend Marie’s write-up.

38 Comments

  1. I’m really glad you brought up the racist aspect. It’s something one sees in ballet over and over again. It’s almost as though it’s a “struggle” to figure out what to do with highly talented dancers of color. They are good, so they must dance, but since we can’t “see” them in dramatic leads, they get the character parts.

    I understand why older dancers–who aren’t Sylvie Guillem–get character roles. But it seems silly at this point to do the same thing with dancers of color.

    • Hi Marie – Did you mean it’s hard to see them as dramatic leads because in this case, Albert is retired? Because Carlos Acosta has danced I think all the main leads at the Royal Ballet. He was a guest star with ABT for a time but something happened – who knows what exactly – and he left for the Royal. I don’t know what kinds of roles he got at ABT (I wasn’t into ballet at that time), but he became a huge star in Europe and from time to time it really angers me that I’ve never been able to see him dance likely because of American racism. Why does this country continue to be so screwed up in that regard?

  2. I don’t see any racism in the casting of Rothbart. It just happens that this season Albert and Henry are both doing the role but it has also been done in this production by James Fayette, Jock Soto and Ask LaCour. Albert is a beloved former principal and current ballet master and I’m sure he likes being back onstage just as much as his fans like seeing him. Henry is one of the Company’s best actors and a wonderfully tall presence onstage. I really doubt that Peter Martins was thinking in terms of race when he cast them.

    • Hi Philip – Oh okay, I see that la Cour is dancing von Rothbart at least once this season. Still, I remember mainly Seth and Evans dancing the role last year, and Jock Soto is a man of color as well. I think as long as people of color are being overwhelmingly cast in the “evil character” role, it’s hard to argue racial reasoning is not at all at play.

  3. This is obviously a sensitive topic and one that won’t be resolved in just one blog post. Even Dance Magazine finally addressed the issue last year–there was no simple takeaway, but at least they were willing to talk about “it.”

    When I say, “see,” I mean that there is an assumption that audiences won’t accept a person of color in a dramatic role–this bias exists in theater and film and pretty much every other entertainment medium. Obviously Carlos Acosta has had not problem with acceptance in the UK. SFB has Yuan Yuan Tan and there are other Asian ballerinas on the rise. Given the fact that the Asians seem to dominate the Prix de Lausane this days, it’s probably just a matter of time before we see more and more Asian faces in the corps. ABT is giving our beloved Hee Seo a Giselle this spring. Then again, I read an interview with Misty Copeland who said she tends to get cast in “modern” roles. Why? It’s hard to say. And there was that ballerina who is African American who left NYCB. I never saw her dance, so can’t comment on her ability, but it was a shame to lose her all the same.

    One of the most exciting young men at NYCB for me at least is Taylor Stanley–I don’t know his background, but he looks “brown,” as they say. He’s a wonderful performer and shows great promise.

    What’s hard for the new ballet goer–like our friends who came with us–though, is when a character like Von Rothbart is “evil” and black, and then there is no one else. That feels strange to a hip, youthful, open-minded New Yorker. It would be balanced better if there were a Misty Copeland also dancing in the pas de trois/quatre, etc. Then the color issue looks less pointed. I imagine Albert and NYCB have long ago worked out any tensions in their relationship–if there ever were any–and the frequent NYCB visitor doesn’t find the casting strange. But to a newcomer?

    Ballet has a long history as being an exclusionary art form–there was some quote from Balanchine about a ballerina’s skin looking like a freshly peeled apple. But I imagine it will change over time.

  4. One more thing I wanted to add–I do think that NYCB does a great job in other forms of diversity. Their dancers all look very different. There is no “one look” in terms of body type. As a result, their programs are dynamic and there is someone for everyone to love. That’s a brave, but ultimately rewarding position to take.

  5. Speaking of racism, why the hell didn’t Alex Wong ever get into the main company of ABT to begin with???????????
    It does seem odd that every company I ever danced in, there seemed to be one black dancer, and one black dancer only.
    Thank god you didn’t reveiw the Royal Danish Ballet, Peter Matin’s alma mater. On their website, they have a picture of a ballet still in their rep, in which the dancers are actually in blackface! O.M.G. wow. I wonder if that picture is still up?
    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Maybe if we had more American directors leading major American artistic institutions, we would have more diversity in the performing arts where it concerns representing the citizens of our own country.

  6. Regarding my previous comment. “Citizens of our own country”. Who, by the way, pay for the tickets that pay for the performance.
    And, speaking of “Swan Lake” and diversity, I always thought after Matthew Bourne’s production, (which made all kinds of money in it’s initial run), there would be a flurry of productions tackling gay themes by major companies, or at least one of them would do Bourne’s production one year. So far, zip. zero. nada. finite. Oh, well. The more things change…………

  7. With ABT, Acosta did Fille Mal Gardee , Swan Lake, Corsaire (Ali and Conrado), Spectre de la Rose, and Apollo and maybe more that I do not remember off the top of my head (Symphonic Variations?). Hardly typecasting, with the possible exception of Ali which was more about spectacle and to which he was particularly well suited at the time. I saw his Romeo but I cannot be certain if it was with ABT or the Royal.

  8. Thanks you guys for making this into an excellent discussion :)

    Philip, I also wanted to add that I know Albert Evans is a beloved dancer and I definitely want to see him return to the stage in these character roles as often as possible, as does everyone else. I meant more what Marie said, that it’s that there’s only one black dancer onstage and he’s playing the evil character. If there were other black dancers dancing other roles it wouldn’t look so ridiculous. As someone commented on my Facebook link to this post, why can’t Craig Hall dance the prince role? I don’t know – why can’t he?

    To be fair, City Ballet does have a few black dancers, which I guess is more than some other companies. From that onstage SAB performance a few weeks ago in honor of Balanchine’s birthday, it looked like one black male dancer – I think Cyrus was his name – is about to make it into the company. Martins kind of chose him as the leader for demonstrations and he seemed very good (and tall, etc., like he’d be a good fit for princely roles).

    Marie, yes, I know which dancer you’re talking about who was in NYCB – I can’t think of her name, but I saw her dance with Alonzo King’s Lines Ballet and she was very good; she really stood out in that company. Gia Kourlas wrote an article a few years ago – a very good one – about black ballerinas and she was on the cover of the NYTimes Arts section. I posted it on my blog – I think. I’ll go look for it as soon as I’m done with this comment.

    Anyway, the explanation / excuse given by artistic directors for not wanting to use more black ballerinas is that somehow they see black women as naturally more “grounded” or “earthy” than whites (and women of other races, presumably), so they say black women just don’t have that “ethereal” “airborne” look that is so necessary in classical ballet. I personally don’t understand this. I have no idea why anyone thinks black women somehow have a more grounded, earthy look that white women. But that is probably why Misty Copeland says she gets cast in more modern roles – because modern ballet is often more grounded and doesn’t really have that same otherwordly look as classical. I’ve said before and will say again that I’d so love to see what Misty could do with Swan Lake. I really really really want to see her do that ballet. Who knows if Kevin will ever cast her.

    And, to be fair, we dance-goers often think someone would be so perfect for a part and get so angry at the A.D. for refusing to cast that person in a certain role. Sometimes the AD’s reasoning is specious, but sometimes it may be that that person really can’t handle the choreography – something you might not know if you didn’t see the person in rehearsals all the time. I remember everyone wanted to see Herman Cornejo get larger, lead roles and many blamed McKenzie for being “heightist” – ie: not casting him because he’s relatively short. But then, when you see him in a lead role, you realize he sometimes has problems with partnering. As great a soloist as he is, he really does struggle with some of the lifts, which are essential to dancing the romantic lead. So maybe Kevin wasn’t being “heightist” after all.

    As for people of a certain race not “looking” a certain part, I understand that reasoning more with casting of plays and movies. But with ballet and opera I think there is a more of a suspension of disbelief required to enter into that world. If you’re going to believe girls can turn into swans or sylphs or wilis or what have you, and that people communicate through this very difficult and unnatural-looking movement language rather than through words, then it seems you wouldn’t have a problem believing a person of African descent could be the 17th Century German prince or count or whatnot. Carlos Acosta talks a bit about that in his book, No Way Home. Race-based casting does make a lot more sense with movies though, because most of the time the director is going for realism. There are a lot more roles out there for people of various ethnicities too, than there are in classical ballet. And classical ballet really is the backbone of ballet. So if you’re a black man or woman, if you’re not going to be able to get the major roles, why even go into ballet?

    Jeff, did you see John Neumier’s Death in Venice when it was at BAM a few years ago? I loved it so much, and I talked about it endlessly for hours with friends (maybe it was even here on this blog… I’ll have to look). We talked on and on about who would play what part if ABT did it, and then someone said, are you guys nuts, ABT isn’t going to put on a gay ballet?! Unfortunately it seems to be true, right? Any ballet with gay themes seems to be limited to Bourne and Mark Morris. Of course those are really the only two who generally think far outside of the box anyway when it comes to classical dance.

    I remember your comment from another post about the opera Brokeback Mountain. I’d heard it was off because of the directorial issue at City Opera, so I’m glad it’s back on. I think we had a discussion about that too when it was first announced – about how cool it would be if there were a corresponding ballet – something tells me that conversation might have been on Matt Murphy’s blog, but I’m not sure. Gosh, how long have I been doing this?! But does that kind of thing ever have a chance in hell of happening in ballet? Why is the opera so much more modern than ballet? I mean, I wonder if ballet audiences are just so much more conservative or if it’s the artistic directors?…

    I don’t know what happened to Alex Wong at ABT?! What happened to Danny Tidwell? And I still don’t know what happened with Carlos Acosta. What goes on behind those doors at ABT? Only Kevin McKenzie knows…

    Anyway, I have more to say but must be off to a reading across town. Thanks so much for such great comments, you guys! I’ll also look for those earlier blog posts I was talking about.

  9. Looks like Alex Wong was seriously injured and is rehabbing, but doing some choreography. Danny Tidwell seems to have joined Bad Boys of Dance. And what about Rasta Whateverhisname is who founded Bad Boys of Dance? It appears to be difficult to keep some of these firecracker men in a company–and keep them happy. That’s a bummer for the audience. But, it takes more than talent to succeed. Which, again, is a bummer.

  10. Aesha Ash – that’s the former NYCB dancer’s name. And, look, according to Eva Yaa Asantewaa, she’s just started her own blog about her experiences as a black ballerina: http://infinitebody.blogspot.com/2011/01/blogging-black-ballerinas-journey.html

  11. Being an afro-american in the professional arena and knowing a lot of these dancers personally its hard to not go into real detail about what is going on behind the scenes. I have so many stories that I could go into about my personal training at one of the best dance schools out there and how difficult it was, but ill keep it simple.

    *Aesha Ash is the black female dancer who was in NYCB who later joined Lines.

    *Misty being amazingly talented quickly becoming a public figure. She will be the 1st afro-american Ballerina in ABT which is well deserved.

    *Danny Tidwell is now dancing in the Norweigian National Ballet in Oslo.

    Something that has to be pointed out is that no matter how talented you are within the classical world as a dancer of color you have to work twice as hard to prove it. The sad truth of the matter is that if you are in any situation as an minority you get looked at differently which often times gets to a person. Think about how hard it must be to go to work day in and day out knowing that you are better than that most of your peers but you get regulated to the back or put in modern roles? Eventually that will get to a person. Danny left ABT because he got tired of dancing the classics but he was on the fast track to becoming soloist.

    In all honesty nothing will change within these institutions until younger directors come in to take over. The current directors are from an old generation and are doing what they see best and are trying to change but not until you get new blood will there be any changes. I don’t think anyone of them are racist at all and SFB has a 2 black soloist and one black female corpse. Within the school there are lots of kids of color jetteing around so lets keep faith in the new generation.

    • Thank you for commenting, Blake. Yes, I agree Misty is bound for stardom!

      Thank you for the update on Danny. I hadn’t heard about him joining Norweigian National Ballet – last I heard was Bad Boys – so thanks for letting us know! He seems to be doing a lot with his career. Maybe it’s for the better that he went out on his own, even though I’d love to have him around here so I can see him dance more often.

      I haven’t had the chance to see SFB very much but I’ve heard they are very diverse.

      Yeah, I agree that things will change once younger directors are in control. Now that I think of it, I think I remember Christopher Wheeldon casting Aesha Ash in a Morphoses program one year. Of course he doesn’t head a huge company right now, but he very likely will someday. I seriously can’t imagine a younger artistic director ever casting only one person of color in a production and then casting him as the bad guy.

  12. No problem!

    The next 5 to years have a lot in store for the world of dance. Already big things are happening so lets keep it positive!

  13. I’m so glad you commented, Blake! Please, please keep coming back! This issue is important to me because it is tied to so many other things that concern the future of ballet–that is, a new attitude that we hope will arise with a new generation of directors. This is not to say that those of us who love and care about ballet don’t respect the older generation–how else, for example, can the nuances of so many great roles be passed on? But I was given a wake up call this week when I took two younger, open-minded, non-ballet going friends to see SL, and heard their complaints–it put the “old vs new” issue into sharp relief. And these are the kinds of people NYCB-and the world of ballet in general-should be courting to build up an audience.

    So glad Danny is dancing somewhere. ABT takes a long time to promote some of its dancers. Given that NYCB seems to promote some too quickly, this doesn’t seem like such a terrible thing, and we’ve seen dancers suddenly become principals and then fail to flower. But I can also understand the impatience.

    Thanks again for giving more perspective.

  14. The reason I personally haven’t written on it is I just don’t feel like I have the room.

    Over the years, NYCB has had a handful of African-American female dancers. In my viewing, I can think of Ash, Andrea Long and Cynthia Lochard. The situation has always been better for men – there’s usually a few in the company at any time – at some points more than a few.

    The glaring omission at NYCB to date has been Asian American women. When Lara Tong got into the company last year she was the first I had recalled seeing in the company. Ever. Misa Kuranaga came close, but that was at the last moment (the rumor I have not fact-checked was that after Peter saw her at workshop, he wanted to offer her a contract, but she had accepted already at Boston.)

    We rarely do discrimination cases in the law firm I work at, but the few times we did, the eye-opening thing I learned was that you didn’t necessarily have to prove animus to show discrimination. You could show it through the numbers. Here, I’d say the same thing. Animus or no animus, stereotypes or not – look at the numbers. One female Asian American dancer in 25+ years in a company of 50+ women is a compelling statistic.

    • Thanks for commenting, Leigh! Yeah, I can imagine with word limits it’s hard for professional critics to say everything they want to in a review. I always forget about that. That is a pretty compelling statistic on Asian women at NYCB. Fortunately Asians have done better in ABT, SFB, and the Royal at least. And I agree with Marie’s earlier comment – I see a lot of young Asian dancers in the making – in the big competitions – so there should be more at all major ballet companies in the future.

  15. Thank you for the kind words. Glad that to take part in this discussion. Honestly i was reluctant to say anything at all. I read the comment sections all the time and always want to say something but never do. The only reason why i jumped in this time around is that I’m fed up with the ballet world. As a director/choreographer actively creating new works i find that going to the ballet is the last place to seek inspiration. Truth of the matter is that aside from the beautiful aesthetic of the classical technique my generation (non-dancers) does appreciate ballet because its lost its human connection. Thats why dancers such as Sarah Mearns and Yuan Yuan Tan are fan favorites. They are performing past the technical level and breathing life into otherwise technical steps. The audience wants to be able to connect with what they are watching. re- staging after re-staging ballets that are over a couple decades old or commissioning choreographers whom honestly aren t talented don’t cut it. I can name dance makers who are still in school with more of an understanding of composition and honesty then Millipied (the stories i have on him) will ever have. Plus are there really only 4 dance makers in the world that classical companies constantly rotate? For dance to really move forward directors need to stop looking to “dance” as inspiration and start looking at the world around them for influences. Once that is done the whole race discussion would be obsolete because everyones differences will be embraced which ultimately will tie us all together (and box office sales).

    • I’ve often thought too that the art form really needs to grow. We need more ballets and dances in general that are set in and connect to today’s world. I mean, imagine if the only plays being performed on and off Broadway were Shakespeare and Moliere and Beckett, etc. They all wrote great plays that will always speak to the human condition, and their plays are always worth seeing and re-seeing, but if that’s ALL there was, going to the theater would be like going to a museum. It would be all about the past, and not a living art form. And I can’t agree with you more that there is way too much emphasis on technique these days at the expense of developing one artistry, of learning how to really PERFORM. Mearns and a few other ballerinas I’ve seen have somehow been able to transcend technique and focus on the character they’re creating and how to involve the audience in that character’s world. I’ve got to see Yuan Yuan Tan someday! The couple times SFB has come to NY I’ve always missed her performances somehow.

  16. Leigh, I was surprised to hear the info on Asian ballerinas in ballet companies. I just assumed that the inroads they had made in classical music transfered over to other performing art forms.
    I, myself, grew up with Asian ballerinas. Elena Commendador, who danced for Eliot Feld ballet. Yoko Morishita and her husband both studied with Stanley Williams at S.A.B., I later observed her beautiful Giselle onstage as a member of the corps.
    At A.B.T. they had Yoko Ichino and Janet Shibata. Yoko was really cool. I just remember the ballet world as being more of a “mixed salad” back then. What changed?
    Blake, I think you are spot on. Remember, Diaghelev, Mr. B’s mentor, encouraged his dancers and especially his choreographers to study All of the arts. Music, painting, design, literature. Everything in the world has the potential to inspire and educate in the creation of new, diverse work.

    • Yeah, the statistic on Asians shocked me a bit too. I feel like I see a lot of Asian women in the big ballet companies – I remember seeing Asians in key roles in the Bolshoi’s and the Royal Ballet’s Giselle recently. And ABT and SFB have principal (or near principal!) Asian ballerinas. ABT has more in the corps too. And modern dance as well – Martha Graham, and Alvin Ailey had many many Asian women in the original company. But when I think about NYCB – Leigh’s stats actually ring true. I’ve heard others express surprise at how “white” NYCB is, when the company travels. I wonder if it has something to do with the way people are chosen for SAB? I have seen some young people currently in SAB though who are Asian, and at there’s at least one black guy. Hopefully that means the NYCB of the future will look a bit more diverse.

  17. So interesting.

    I was at the opera tonight–Nixon in China–and thinking to myself: where is the Peter Sellars of ballet? Opera seems to really have made advances when it comes to color blind casting. We had an Asian Don Carlo this season. Albericht in Rheingold was black. In Nixon, the casting was all over the place–black Chinese, a white Chinese, etc. etc. But we all knew it was theater. And somehow, because the opera wasn’t held hostage by some kind of notion about the “court” and “courtliness,” it didn’t matter. I know that there is still a great way to go for opera, but in the past 25 years, it seems to have made great strides in terms of color. And audiences accept this development because they want good voices and performers.

    I really love your comments, Blake. When I was taking class regularly, my jazz teacher would always talk about how dance needs to have a “story.” This is the complete opposite of what Balanchine always said–he said the steps were enough and I don’t think this is true.

    Sometimes I go to see a jazz company, I feel really uplifted and love the energy. I love the vitality of the dancers, and that fact that while they can all dance together, they are also so obviously individual. But there are also times when the choreography always feels the same–like each piece is basically making the same statement or is showcasing the same emotion. There aren’t any levels. And it frustrates me, because I feel like there are people out there who understand enough about story, movement and music to create something that is fresh and works on all these levels. And I don’t mean a super abstract overly intellectual kind of dance–dance can be pure theater, and about something human, and still be complex and still be good.

    On this front–it’s amazing to think that the MacMillan Romeo and Juliet premiered relatively recently (1965?). And so many people still think it’s vulgar–but I love it. I think it’s a wonderful combination of music, movement and story and doesn’t just rely on people getting into fourth position, turning, and then landing and looking for applause. I think that balcony scene is classic–an incredibly passionate and physical display of what it means to be in love. Why can’t more dance be like this?

    To that end–I also wonder where we can go for music. Who is writing the kind of music that could really service this kind of dance? I know that Balanchine is considered so unimpeachable, but after a while, doesn’t it seem odd to anyone that he kept using century old music (or in some cases, centuries old music) for his pieces? Why wasn’t he looking for something contemporary, something that actually spoke to the energy of the times? There was, for example, such great jazz all through the 50s and 60s. There is some incredible music now that rides the boundary between “classical,” and “jazz,” that is emotional, danceable and accessible. I know that lots of people like Ades–and I hear his name everywhere now. I haven’t seen the Ratmansky/Ades piece. I’d be curious to. But even with Ratmansky, who I really like, I wonder if he is creating pieces that say something about our world today.

    Dance is a great art form–one of the great art forms. I want it to reach and to say as much as the novel. Or film. I wish that City Ballet were that ambitious. But maybe this kind of thinking needs to start somewhere smaller. I don’t know!

    Anyway–sorry to ramble. Leigh–it’s awesome that you posted here. Lovely to see you last Friday. My husband brought your review home for me to read. And Blake–I’m so glad you spoke up. I think that nothing really changes if we stay silent. And it moves me to know that someone feels passionately about all this.

  18. “For dance to really move forward directors need to stop looking to “dance” as inspiration and start looking at the world around them for influences.”

    This is so true–and the attitude of a real thinker and artist. To be honest, I am often bored with many of the “new” novels out there because they, too, seem written for “writers” and inspired by “writers,” instead of the world. Art is supposed to be from the world and for the world. *steps off soap box*.

  19. Thanks, Tonya, about the mention of John Neumier’s Death in Venice. I remember hearing about it a few years ago. I think I passed on it after I read some reviews. Funny, but not one that I read mentioned that was any gay storyline through it!!!! Lol! I would have made haste to the theatre if only I knew!
    I know this conversation is focused on the race part of diversity, but I thought I would mention something. In the entire decade I danced professionally, and knew other working pro’s in the biz, I met ONE lesbian ballet dancer. It was by accident at a gay club, and she was in the closet. No lesbian jazz or broadway dancers, by the way.

    So, what’s up with that? Gay men have traditionally been given a “safe haven” of sorts in the ballet world, and also theatre, and music, to a certain degree. But women. I never met any out lesbian actresses, singers (whoops, there was ONE opera singer in florida I knew) or musicians. That’s just plain weird.

    Anybody have any thoughts?

  20. So funny–I was talking about this last night with a friend. In opera, we have Patricia Racette who is out and proud–her partner I think is also an opera singer. I’m fairly sure there are other examples

  21. Last night Craig Hall performed the main role of After the Rain with Wendy Whelan, probably one of the most emotional ballets in the NYCB repertoire.
    So there you go, an african american in a lead (and emotional) principal role !
    By the way, is a MASTERPIECE, everyone should see it (it will be danced again this Saturday matinee, casting include the “swan” Sara Means).

  22. Cool that everyone found some truth in my comments. Here is a list of interesting artist and people that are they’re own thing and uniquely talented. Check it out and if you have not heard of any of them its worth googling. Two of them were with me in school.

    *Ed Templeton
    *Flying Lotus
    *Crystal Pite
    *Damien Hirst
    *Brian Gibbs
    *Celia Rowlson-Hall

  23. The question remains, though. What are we to do about the lack of diverse representation in major institutions?

    Sometimes, you gotta play hardball. If, after decades of being patient, careers spent overseas where there is more acceptance, and creating an entire company of dancers of color to prove your point of equal ability, they still won’t budge……….

    Get a lawyer involved. Or two. And a government regulatory agency. Ballet may have started in societies of royal manners and court intrigue, but we are here in the democratic states of America. And enough is enough. Open the damn door, or the people will open it for you. ‘Nuff said.

  24. Hi Tonya, very thought-provoking post. I agree with you about the ugly racial undertones ballet often has. I’m way more offended though when old, awful racial stereotypes are actually written in classic ballets, and then never addressed or toned down in subsequent productions. Like for instance can Raymonda’s anti-Muslim racism be toned down, after all these years? How about Le Corsaire? No reason why revivals of these ballets need to have so many offensive stereotypes of Middle Eastern men. Why is blackface still used in so many Russian productions?

    As for Sara Mearns I find her a more interesting dancer than Veronika Part, because of the way she moves so quickly. She doesn’t stop for posing. She revels, as you said, in off-center poses. My review of the performance can be found here:
    http://poisonivywalloftext.blogspot.com/2011/02/sara-mearns-swan-queen.html#more

    Love your blog!

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