Poverty Mentality In Dancers

Poverty Mentality in Dancers
and what can be done to help defeat it.

When I began studying ballet, I was worried what my father would think about my decision to train to be a professional dancer. I thought that I’d receive the usual rejection due to homophobia or the idea that artists are air-headed hipsters. Instead he said, “No. I’m not worried about that. I’m worried how your going to live.” Indeed, it was a legitimate worry.

Dance students have the intelligence to realize that the career they are training for is not for the faint of heart. Many know that the possibility of getting hired is slim, even if they have talent and experience. But, there are many students who fall into ideology,” I don’t want dancers who want to dance. I want dancers who have to dance.” (George Balanchine). For them, entering the professional world of dance is like stepping off a precipice in a void. A dancer must be prepared for some bumpy roads. For many this results in poverty, that often winds up becoming more of a bad habit than necessary. But, the poverty is not only economic, it involves a multiplicity of implications for a dancer’s life.

Economic Poverty.

Performing artists are among the most underpaid of educated professionals in the world. And, dancers remain at the bottom of the ladder even in that group.

2012 Bureau of Labor Statistics (1) report:
The median pay for dancers is $14.16 and choreographers was $15.87 an hour, the dancer must have trained during high school and provide consistent on-the-job training until they retire (company class etc.) The number of jobs filled and available is 25,800. That’s all dance jobs: Ballet, Modern and Contemporary Dance, Musical Theater, Social Dance, Industrial, Television and Film. (not competitive dance, which is not considered to be a dance profession in the industry because for most, it does not provide a consistent income.) The rate of increase is 13% or 3400, which is above the 11% average. But, with literally millions of dancers looking for work, this is small consolation. 30% work as dancers, 57% work as educators and choreographers, but this is a fuzzy number because of several factors, the early retirement age of dancers, the crossover of educator-dancers and more.

These are daunting statistics for a profession that takes decades of study to prepare towards a career. Dancers earn much less than what most other performing artists do. And, dancers as athletes, though the short career span is the same as athlete-competitors, the earnings are so small, it’s not worth comparing to professional athletes. Financial ruin in dancers is usually a job or a paycheck away.

But dancers push on anyway. Why would anyone choose a life where fame and fortune is rare, and a pittance of an income is likely? The answer is “What I did for love”(2) Dancer dances because they love to dance. If they danced simply because they wanted to dance, they would likely lose interest. Dancers perform because the proscenium is their home. In the guise of movement, regardless of whether it is abstraction, narrative or symbolic, the dancer gives her or his body in motion to an audience as visual music, story, poetry, and fine art.

Then when they’re done at the end of the day or wee hours to the next morning, and they’re spent, ready to collapse, a three figure paycheck is rewarded for their efforts. They’re reminded about what their worth is to a society that has bigger fish to fry. It makes perfect sense that the self-image of the artist as valuable and viable to a community, may decline into deficit.

Many dancers may receive support from parents. Indeed, it costs a small fortune to train a dancer from beginner to completion by age 18 in ballet, More, for modern/contemporary dancers where the industry expectation is to hire dancers with university degrees. (Note that this standard was exclusive to the modern dance population for many years. Now, all dancers now have online access to higher education; a development of only the last 15+ years since the advent of the “Internet 2.0.” But, for most others, the age of 18 is considered optimal for dancers to obtain an apprenticeship or better.) For some dancers there are patrons, or benefactors, others there are grants scholarships and fellowships. But these are few and far between. Then, just getting hired is difficult, even for the best of dancers. Fortunately, the art form has added opportunities to dance in smaller more contemporary companies, as well as hundreds of international ballet competitions to perform and gain offers. These are not ideal situations for dancers to grow. But, with the growth in opportunities, has followed the population growth of employable dancers, leaving limited opportunities for dancers to perform for a living. And, often many such opportunities may cost a small fortune to get. And, it is not only women who suffer challenges. for men, gaining support in the arts is even tougher, in a society, where the job title of “dancer” for a male, is suspect. The obvious financial stress of dancers, is also magnified by a host of other factors, and redefines poverty as a habitual mindset.

The Poverty of Social Castigation: The Hierarchy of Position and Rejection within the Dance Community.

I know of only one dancer who claimed to get hired or accepted in every audition he took. Such are the egos of dancers to trump up such claims. Most dancers suffer rejection. But, the worst suffering of all is the idea that poverty is supposed to be the life of a dancer!

The toughest job interview on the planet exists exclusively with performing artists. It is the only employment situation in the free world where the employer is allowed to reject upon the basis of gender, look, age, weight, race, how they move, even their personality. The amount of time and money required for performing artists to market themselves, compared even to MBAs and other white collar workers is exponentially higher: they have to have a resume/C.V., just as the rest of the world does. But, they also must have heavy presences on multiple websites, agents, videos, DVDs, photos, and for some of the more elite dancers, agents and publicists. Rejection in hiring and casting, as well as by peers, (remember that this is a young person’s performing art), and staff is common even among so called “stars,” but more often, rejection happens because of the mindset of the individual.

Mature dancers take the high road, and are undeterred as to whether or not the director likes them: Dancers simply want to dance;. But, no dancer worth their meddle will make themselves indentured to the subjective desires of a director, or even less, the desires of peers attempting to push them aside. These dancers will leave a ballet company, or theater contract with grace. Bob Dylan’s, “She Belongs to me” (3) reflects this: “She’s got everything she needs, she’s an artist; she don’t look back.” Once the right environment in which to dance is found, a dancer may flourish. But, this model is not as usual.

Dance is a young person’s art. Far too many dancers are under-educated, due to the deferment of higher education and world view, for the cloister of a dance studio and theater. Thus, juvenile behavior continues even among more mature dancers, directors and choreographers. Rejection often comes in the form of backstabbing and competition for roles by their peers, for favor with artistic directors, choreographers and artistic staff. Dancers may proverbially, throw themselves on the floor if they have to, to get roles. Many use manipulation, coercion and the undermining of others, to get ahead, believing the falsehood of the law of the jungle, and that subterfuge will help them succeed. This is not only painful to victims, but does real harm to the reputations, conscience and trust of people around those who know no other way to operate in the world than to do harm to others as a means of success. This is common among dancers who spent their childhoods in sweaty studios training and competing with their classmates: often the impulse to undo one’s neighbor is honed by lack of exposure to any other way of life.

The “bun-head’ monks life of a dancer, certainly isn’t a sane lifestyle, and many dancers will take advantage of the short time they have to have fun outside the studio. They often push the “party-too-much” buttons, to the detriment of the next day’s rehearsal or performance. Others may get smart and go online to get University degrees. Education is a buffer against those who use deception as a method to get ahead, and wind up with nothing once their careers end. In the end for everyone, pain is going to happen, but suffering from it is a choice.

The Poverty of Physical Injury
After years of dancing, many performers suffer with injuries. There is no standard in the US for dance teachers. But, teaching dance and ballet requires pedagogical training and minimal professional experience in the field. But, fewer than five percent of instructors of ballet and other forms took time to get training in advance and few than that danced for a living. The result is that teachers ignorant of their craft and the culture of dance as well how to instruct and engage their charges, may cause injury to students or professionals. Or students may have been trained very well by very good teachers. But, in reality, injuries usually occur when a dancer is tired, mistakes happen and things simply don’t go well. During the course of a career many injuries heal. But over time, any malady can become chronic and lead to deterioration of the dancer’s instrument, her body. Inevitably retirement follows. But, unlike most people and like most athletes, retirement inevitably occurs at far too young an age. However, unlike most athletes, dancers are artists first; the athleticism only exists to support their life as artists. Thus, their retirement presents a double blow: the loss of ability to move and display their craft, and the loss of a usable instrument in which to perform their art form.

Of course, injuries occur in dancers with mediocre training, but not as often as one might think: injuries and the general wear-and-tear of dancer/athlete’s bodies usually occur simply because: a dancer dances. Injuries cost time and money. A dancer doesn’t dance to heal from an injury and often, not workman’s compensation, industrial commissions, nor insurance can back them up…and then, of course, the clock is ticking: age is the primary factor in career termination. Dancers can’t wait to dance because its is an art form that happens in the present tense. It is a sober truth that dancers’ careers are limited by the confines of individual youth. As Artist-Athletes, each dancer has their time to learn, rise, abide and and then cease as dancers. For an artist of maturity, the end happens far too soon.

The Poverty of Societal Strata: The Hierarchy of Position and Rejection in Society.
We live in a society that has an agreed to believe that if a person does not do something that earns enough to provide food and shelter for his/her family, they must be lazy bohemians. Western culture, particularly, American culture, places artists in a class of people that are believed to be living off of the backs of those who do real work. This mindset infers that “real work” creates the only tangible value to survival, shelter and sustenance. The sad truth is that all civilizations thrive upon three specific needs, (A) Food (B) Shelter (C) Community. But, most people believe that the (C) Community is based upon the needs of “A and B”. The truth is that it is really founded upon the varieties of communication and interaction people have with each other. And, it is such communication itself that is held as the full domain of the arts!

Sane communities are not tranches of individuals vying for place and power. Civilizations with such divisions have failed miserably. They failed, because they replaced art with entertainment, replaced caring for each other with conquest and war, replaced sharing ideas with covert stratagems to gain power and treasure, and equated achievement with the acquisition of material, rather than understanding of their neighbors and the cultivation of ideas. With such affaires de l’Etat, it is no wonder dancers have bought into such a socially accepted poverty conciousness that places intellectuals and artists in low castes. So, in response, in order to create meaning, artists, particularly dancers, will often put themselves in a place of suffering.

Dancers and many artists tend to believe that they must suffer for their art, when the truth is that the two main tasks of art is to show society their own pain and suffering, and to reveal that communication and love is the remedy. But, just witnessing this suffering and acknowledging such love is often too uncomfortable to observe for many audiences. Thus, society dismisses art as a lark, luxury, spectacle and low brow entertainment, when it hypocritically values competition, sport and subterfuge, as a replacement for the insights art provides. This is so prevalent that it has become a super-meme for the mindlessness of modern society, desiring an escape from reality. The result is that dance and art becomes relegated to competitions, spectacles and entertainments. These distractions lull and numb like a narcotic easing the pain of adversity and conflict.

Meanwhile, artists continue to display their trade when and wherever they can. There will always be audiences brave enough to know that art is about revealing the hidden realities of the world. Herein lies one of the main functions of a trained and experienced directors, choreographers, and dancers: to present and reflect the world as it is in reality back upon itself. This reflection is sent through the mirror of art, which is, in our case, the art of dance.

Conquering the bases for hierarchical cultural belief is, likely, a major portion of mankind’s next step in human cognitive evolution. The arts job is to push this cognitive evolution forward. Artists must challenge the world everyday. But, this requires challenging cultural rejection as serious workers with needed, real and tangible service and as functioning human beings in society. For dancers who lead balanced lives, it is dance and dancing that is important, not how the world quantifies them! But, those dancers who subconsciously buy into erroneous beliefs, are often those who’s low self-images become a prophesies fulfilled: they follow cultural rejection by making themselves insignificant living poverty inspired by their own mentality.

A Poverty of Self Image:
The worst part of injury self-afflicted upon the artist is in self-reflection. For dance, this is literal and palpable. How many people stare at themselves in $50,000 worth of mirrors everyday and, along with a group of experts, scrutinize their image repeatedly? Dancers are almost the only people to do this. In the desire to become successful, like the rest of the culture, dancers often view themselves and each other in the false quantitative, non-analytical concept of “better or worse.” This contradicts the art form’s qualitative nature. Like the rest of society, dancers often believe that “good and bad” has honed their career into professionals. Oddly, it is part of an aesthetic that begs not to be quantifiably judged, rather viewed as to whether it succeeds or not in communicating a feeling, message or narrative.

So then, does it follow that, for example, if a dancer may not have good turns or jumps, that they then are bad dancers and by association, bad people? No, of course not. But, the sub-conscious ideal of the perfect dancer remains embedded and engramed in many dancers’ minds: if they are not perfect dancers, they are not perfect people and thus are not good dancers … or good people!

But, does dance provide pain and suffering itself? I say no. People who are part of the culture of dance harm themselves and each other, ignoring the truth that it is this exact pain and ardor they should be presenting to the public as performance, but never as personal. This is a sub-mimetic inflicting abject poverty mentality of actors, dancers, singers, musicians that is so apparent that books have been written about it.

Three Steps towards a Prosperous Mindset for Dancers
So, how can dancers, as part of the world’s populous, stop doing harm through nonsensical beliefs such as superstitions about better or worse, and hierarchy? How can they actually realize a positive outcome in their lives careers, while being a mirror for society as a whole?

There are a few ideals and concepts that can help a dancer overcome an abject mind. They are drawn from the specifics of dance training itself, particularly ballet. The history of ballet comes from the French and Italian courts where decorum, social protocols and rituals of honoring one another were tantamount to surviving in a culture that itself was mired in hierarchies. But, now the arts can glean from these, reinventing them into functional services to waken and open the artists mind to what is important in dance, giving them tangible reasoning for why they dance and perform.

If a dancer is going to heal such a declined state of life, they must change their minds. The first point must be that “good and bad” in art are subjective. The second point is that good is a state of peace that is absent of bad. Stop the belief in a state of being where some subjective level of hierarchy is all that remains of life. The catch is, of course, that this is difficult when the studio mirror is believed to be the tool that tells all. Rather, it is in the consistent practice of the art form that mirrors the world; not an image in piece of glass! End the belief that a specified perfection dominates that results in poverty of “bad”. This only causes suffering. Instead, take that suffering as a mirror to the world while performing. Don’t let it fester inside them and depress. Otherwise, you create an insidious wheel. Here is what can be done to alleviate such a poverty of mind.

A) First and foremost: as a dancer you must understand that you must BE IN SERVICE TO THE ART FORM! As an art form, dance is a concept that creates, molds, actualizes and is performed as real, This concept takes form and action, in a repetitive manner. For example, for a dancer’s first day as a student, to their last day as professional, they will be performing plie’s: “bended knees.” If treated as a practice that is -mindful-, a contemplation, a ritual, possibly as as if it is a prayer or meditation, the mundane process of taking yet-another-class, performing another show, becomes a cultural treasure. In this, you should serve the art form and promote it as a profession that requires as much present attention and as much meaning as any other.

Ergo, it is up to individuals and artistic institutions to mutually replace concepts like “good and bad” with the concept of working towards creating “art.” There are few people and companies doing this today. Alonzo King, Juri Kylian, Bill Forsyth and others, have played with it. The idea that dance can be a contemplative art form needs to be incorporated institutionally, but it starts with individuals like you trying it for yourself. Because, art is a form of communication of feeling and as well as a commentary using the creators as a mirror for the world, you can turn that mirror by remembering that the concept of art itself is what can change minds.

Artists do not control this truth; they are simply the instrument which reveals to society its “face,” but done so in the abstract. So, follow your instincts and intuition to work with each other to bring your work to fruition. If you are to make a living creating art, you must keep your eyes on the prize: but the prize is not payday. It a response from an audience substantiating what they’ve witnessed as transformative to their minds transcendent to their hearts.

B) Second. Raise your eyes and be confident. Be in control of your lives. Don’t stand for getting less pay. Regardless, if you are a union performer or not, do not allow yourself to be under paid. You are not lesser in the value of what your work is to society, and definitely not in its cultural value: demand to be paid and taken care of by clients if you are a freelancers, or employers if you work for a company. Most of all, don’t accept second best. As artists, we have to provide a clean visage by which the world can see itself through us. Ergo, NEVER allow ANYONE to degrade you for what you do! If nothing else is gained from this essay, remember only this: Without you, the performer, there is no art. Without art, there is no civilization!

C) Third, use the reasoning that supports the balletic act of “Reverence.” The instruction of bowing, applause and acknowledgment is given at the beginning and end of each class and performance in schools and companies where mindful protocols are kept. The reasoning behind “Reverence” is rarely explained. So, the following may be a the good brief capitulation of reasoning, that you can use as a format to dispel the specter of poverty of mind, to which you mind subject yourself. Therefore, before, (during) and after class, you should give reverence and applause to

1) Yourself for having the courage to practice this art form. Dance isn’t simply an art you do for fun or work or whatever. It is a discipline you practice to enhance your life and the world around you.

2) The musician(s) who accompany you, (even through recordings), for providing the collaboration which makes this a musical art form.

3) The teacher for passing on the information in such a way that it continue to enhance your life, and thus, the world.

4) The audience for allowing you the opportunity to transform them and thus the world through your practice.

5) Your fellow dancers, both present and not for supporting the art form, yourself and each other in the practice….and most importantly,

6) The Art of Dance, to which you are in service, that gives you the ability to enhance the world and yourself through the technique and art supported by the technique to practice.

Do this, and the amount of stress you experience may exponentially diminish, or become insignificant. Then, the concepts of “better and worse,” will disappear like all those who haven’t figured out that dancing is about dance, not ego. Reverence is a display that ultimately levels everyone into mutual respect: Respect is expected of all people, all stakeholders with whom we share this world, and in dance, Reverence is the alpha stroke by which it is communicated and displayed.

We have to remember that, the arts, as complex forms of communication, are rituals by which society codifies itself, and maintains its sanity. If not, the insanity of hierarchy, competition, and fear will continue. So, if you are a dancer, if you are a teacher, don’t just dismiss the class, and turn your backs upon each other. Formalize a bow to these 6 points. Shake each others’ hands and know that what you do is precious – it is priceless. And, ultimately, it is as important a career choice as a farmer, a doctor, a lawyer or politician.

© Philip S. Rosemond March 16th, 2012, revised and updated, August 3rd, 2014

(1) Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Dancers and Choreographers,
http://www.bls.gov/ooh/entertainment-and-sports/dancers-and-choreographers.htm
(2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Bennett From Michael Bennet’s “A Chorus Line.”
(3) http://www.bobdylan.com/us/songs/she-belongs-me

The Rise of Vaganova Training Methodologies in the West.

The Rise of Vaganova Training Methodologies in the West.

Never did such an event as Perestroika warm the western soul. From watching the Berlin Wall fall, to the day after Christmas, 1991; we in the US and many around the globe joined in the celebrations. The joy was not only that a major foe had peacefully vanquished itself, but that they had done it in the name of democracy.

However, for those with an historical vision of the implications of this event for the arts, it raised many questions. Will the arts in the ex-Soviet Union survive? How will performers fare in such a transitional environment with the inevitable rise of capitalism? And, now, with the Iron Curtain in tatters, how many of these artists will migrate to the west?

The answers became apparent very quickly. The arts in the new Russia not only survived, but thrive. No more state control means more artistic freedom, despite the struggle against a new governments solecisms into tyranny. And, in a country with well over a thousand years of artistic history, neither the people nor their government would allow it to die. Artists had struggled with poverty while under Soviet rule, so they were well prepared to handle the down-times capitalism can bring. But, with freedom comes opportunity; the rest of the world awaited the arrival of a Russian artistic diaspora. And to the west came artists, among them, dancers.

For many years balleticos in the US, Great Britain and elsewhere believed the Soviet ballet system to be flawed, mainly due to being so isolated that it could not grow as had the arts within the modernism of the west. But, what of Soviet defectors from prior eras, such as Nureyev, Baryshnikov, and Markarova? Never had we seen such passion and technique displayed as early as 1962 when Rudolf Nureyev placed himself among us. Could it be that, instead of stagnating in the Soviet Union, ballet and the arts had flourished and grown well beyond our expectations?

What we thought would be like mold growing in a contained environment, rather, blossomed into a terrarium of exotic flowers. 15 years after the Bolsheviks took power, a rising pedagog, Agrippina Vaganova fought to have the recent post-revolution high level of ballet preserved. As Jennifer Homan’s states in her book “Apollo’s Angels”, “Vaganova managed to carry Russian ballet into the 1930s by carving a humanist school out of the wooden categories of socialist realism. It was an admirable achievement…” (pg. 356). Would it were true that the US embraced such great living artistic treasures who offered their services at our door steps. But instead, fear of losing what we had trumped such a welcome.

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Aspiring young American dancers of the 1960s and 70s had much to look forward to in their careers. If they had a moderately good technique, musicality they could get jobs as performers both in the US, Europe and elsewhere. If they could not get work with the rising ranks of union companies, (American Guild of Musical Artists, AGMA) and 50 or so non-union companies in the US, the could go to Canada , Europe Japan or South America. The 66 German Staatsoper Ballets that clamored to take Americans into their companies at auditions. It wasn’t easy – it has never been easy to be a dancer. But, it was much more facile for a dancer to attain work than it is today, regardless of the fact that there are exponentially more ballet companies functioning in the world today than there were 40 years ago.

At the time, the US training was a mish-mash of the 6 or 7 major ballet techniques of the world, including classic Cecchetti method with a foundation of English training, mixed with Danish Bournonville, French, Russian Imperial, the new Balanchine stylistic schools and other ideas simply devised by instructors themselves. There was no specific or unique curriculum and ideology of training.

The language of ballet has always been verbally transmitted from teacher to student, but there was little cohesive training for specifics of what grammar and usage applies to what position or step. There was always a general disagreement about what was correct and incorrect, versus a dialogue about why. The upside was that American and European dancers were versatile in “picking up” steps and kinetic ideas quickly and could switch easily from one genre and style of dance to another. But this was also a downside: We were (and still are) generalists, all too often “jacks of all trades, and masters of none.”

Along came the Russians, oddly eager to learn new styles and methodologies. What they found among American dancers and directors instead, was a lack of commitment to the forms of dance and ballet as art, rather a desire to use art form as a platform of self-promotion, that has continued to degrade into competition and spectacle.

Not long after the Russian and ex-Soviet block dancers began to place their diaspora in the west, several technological advances changed everything for dancers. With the advent of digital global broadcasts and the freedom of information the internet began to provide, came the availability of the world to dancers world wide. The freedom to learn became available to people everywhere. But, first, for dancers, the freedom to allow the world to see them began to be much easier than having to travel to go to multiple auditions, until they get hired. And, second, for Vaganova teachers, the world became a place to ply their once-rare trade in the west.

In no less than 10 years had these teacher begun training dancers to maturity in the Vaganova system, did their dancers become a real threat to the dancer training under the antique systems of the west. At the same time, dancers from all schools began to place videos of their performances, curriculum vitae and photos online. It became infinitely easier to apply to companies for hire without traveling to one or another. No longer was the American and British ballet training dominant. More and more the names of dancers had Cyrillic, Asian and Latin accents. And, their training? Vaganova, almost every one.

Companies world wide began re-framing their training programs; if they were to maintain a progressive foothold in the constantly increasing amount of world class ballet, companies like the National Ballet of Canada and Royal Ballet adapted the Vaganova curriculum or gutted their staid systems entirely to the Vaganova method. Colorado Ballet, the first fully engaged Vaganova system, became over night one of the better regional companies in the US. Other companies such as Columbia Classical Ballet and International Ballet Theater were established by Russian ex-pats.

The Kirov Academy in Washington DC instructs the method to students from all over the world. Many more smaller schools, such as the Kintz-Mejia Ballet school in Virginia, Massachusetts Academy of Ballet, Bossov Ballet Theatre and the Marat Daukayev School of Ballet in Los Angeles teach the rigorous curriculum with little alteration. Twenty years ago, there were barely a handful of schools that taught the curriculum, save for a few schools that had been teaching the Cuban Vaganova method for years.

Another phenomenon began to reveal the superiority of the Russian system: professional ballet competitions. Once there was only a completion in Varna, Bulgaria and Moscow Russia. But, now there is the USA USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson Mississippi, other in New York, Korea, Tokyo , the Prix du Lausanne in Switzerland (for juniors), Helsinki and another in Istanbul, Turkey. Repeatedly, dancers from all over the world have placed or won these competitions. And, the highest percentage of these elite dancers are Vaganova trained.

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We now live not only in a global economy, but also a global culture. A protester films police violence and uploads it right from the camera to a public file within minutes, allowing it to go “viral”, turning world opinion against a corrupt government within an hour. We can share dance with films taken surreptitiously in the back of an auditorium, in the same way. If classical and contemporary ballet is going continue to progress, we must take advantage of this. Though held onto tightly by its these antique teachings’ inheritors, from their demise, will rise relative new methods and training ideologies, such as Vaganova because they serve to further the artistic and technical basis of the craft. But this begs the question; what next? What techniques will rise as the standard in ballet as Vaganova is now as Cecchetti did in the nineteenth century?

Lately, the United States has seen the rise of contemporary ballet companies. There are new ones forming all the time. Dancers who either are not interested in classicism or have been unable to get work with “Big Box Ballet” turn to these smaller mavericks for work. Will we begin to see more contemporary techniques added to the pot of training modalities? Will we see a separation of styles, such as western classicism, eastern classicism and contemporary ballet? If we look back at the progression of ballet from Louis the Fourteenth to present, many different streams of performance could take hold.

But, one point is doubtless; ballet will progress beyond where we could imagine, regardless of what happens. Unlike in the past, we have several ways to record dance for the future, including notation systems, video recording and movement capture. But, if we could fast forward two hundreds years would we still recognize Giselle, Firebird or Serenade, when standards have had such time to change and grow? Thus, it is probably best to allow the natural progression of training methods to dominate, such as Vaganova Method, and then to let them go when other methods prove more effective.

Philip S. Rosemond © 2008 – 2012

The National Ballet of Cuba 6-4-11

The National Ballet of Cuba
Kennedy Center Opera House
Saturday, June 4th, 2011

By Philip S. Rosemond

There is something reliable about watching familiar ballet productions. It’s easier to compare dancers and other productions with them. But, this can make life a bit too comfortable. Every now and then, something fresh and culturally removed needs to shake things up a bit.

National Ballet of Cuba director and founder, Alicia Alonzo, with the choreographic assistance of Marta García and María Elena Llorente, has given us a gem. This 1988 re-staging of the Petipa/Minkus’ ballet “Don Quixote” isn’t simply Spanish: it is Latin. It leaves little cultural context to compare to standard versions, but much to contrast.

Though, the scenic and costume designs directly reflect Spain, this production betrays a Latino sensibility that seems more authentic for Cuban dancers. Sure, the story takes place in a town on the plains of La Mancha, but it could just as easily be Havana. The hysterical Javier Sánchez as Sancho Panza could have entered stage whilst smoking a cigar, without much surprise!

Though, it would have been wonderful to witness the mastery of Viengsay Valdés, extremely pleasing was the sharp Sadaise Arencibia as Kitri. Though, I was hoping for cleaner fifth position plie’s preparing her tours en dehors, her turns and balances were amazing. Her acting and musicality stated the abbreviated story with clarity. Arencibia’s partner, Alejandro Virelles is one of those classicists who seem to come from the tradition of retired Cuban Ballet principal Jorge Esquivel; a strong dancer who reserves his light for the ballerina. In his variations, there was a sense of withholding, not doing too much to distract, even though “Basilo” must be a bit of a showoff, attempting to retain Kirtri’s affections. Particularly notable was José Losada as the lead Toreador, Espada, who’s shocking grande allegro and multiple turns looked improbable with such a lean body.

If the Cubans were simply to mount the same Gorsrsky/Fadechev production that much of the world knows and loves, they may risk wearing a Russian garment that doesn’t fit. Thus, this “Don Q” works for them, and they should be quite proud of it.

© Philip S. Rosemond 2011

About

Who is Philip?….

I was born in Miami Florida and raised in Washington DC and Miami. I began dance after encountering several beautiful gals who were ballet students at the local Washington School of Ballet, an academic dance training institution in DC.

Here’s that story: In 1970, I was a young hormone-driven long haired kid who played music (flute) and frequented the downtown DC art museums and performances of anything not hip (classical music, jazz, gallery openings.) I hung out at a youth club to ground me from this rather unusual trait. There I met two pretty sisters, Pammy and Michelle who were off from school at Washington (DC) School of Ballet. They said if I was as interested in ballet as I was them, I should take a look at it. I followed them, like a puppy with its tongue hanging out, from the club on the Washington Cathedral grounds to the school a few blocks away. I nervously walked in. The sisters giggled and quickly opened the door just to the right of the main entrance.

Darting directly for me was a foot. A foot clothed in black. It was pointed like a spear. It was going to impale my forehead. I gasped and stepped back. The foot landed and the youth attached to that foot, broke his forward motion with his hands on my shoulders. He said, “Sorry; I didn’t expect the door to open.” He then waddled to the corner to continued what I heard my soon-to-be mentor Julio de Bittencourt call out as “grande allegro” to the other side. That foot belonged to Kevin MacKenzie, now the director of ABT. He and his 25 or so colleagues were studying in what I soon learned was men’s class. De Bittencourt chided me in his Ricardo Monteban like accent, “Boy; come in if you’d like to watch or shut the door.” I went in. As class let out, I noticed that all the other classes let out as well: around 200 gals my age wearing dance clothes, mixed with the sparse 20 or-so guys. That’s all it took: I was in… permanently.

Fast forward. I graduated from WSB at the age of 19 (I had a bit of catching up to do) in 1974. I was an original company member of Washington Ballet in its first 3 years. I was not one of the resident choreographer, Choo San Goh’s favorites, so I left to dance for NYC Opera, freelanced with NYCB (when Mr. B was ill and men were leaving the company), Cleveland Ballet, Milwaukee Ballet, Ballet Met of Columbus and a few other companies that did not work out. I was a soloist/principle with Cincinnati Ballet, where at the University of Cincinnati, I received my BFA and work towards a MFA (they closed the Masters program while I was there).

It was at the University of Cincinnati where I was able to connect with two main mentors: Jimmy Truitte, one of Lester Horton’s main dancers, who taught me, not only most of the Horton Syllabus, but most importantly how to teach…anything I had an expertise in! Though, I learned modern dance from Jimmie, he was the main influence on all of my dance, theoretical and academic teaching. Another mentor was P. W. Manchester, who taught me dance history and spurred my life long interest in balletic linguistics (of which you will read -a lot- about in this blog!) But, more importantly; she taught me to write. P. W. had been a critic and editor of two major dance oriented magazines, three books and countless articles on dance and classical ballet from the late 1930s, through the 1970s. She, like Jimmie, died in the 1990s, as did all but one of the dance mentors at the dance division at CCM, University of Cincinnati. The last, another mentor, Oleg Sabline, who had been ballet master of the now long defunct, Marquis de Cuevas company, died in May of 2010.

I finished my career at Colorado Ballet where I was a principle character actor (and sometimes dancer), and a company I founded/directed and danced with an associate and left, Western Chamber Ballet (now defunct). I danced and freelanced as a choreographer, and here and there; I danced mostly contemporary work, but was fairly lame from injuries into my 40s…. However, I am guilty of stealing onto stage performing as a character actor/dancer as Madge the Witch in La Syphide, Coppelius, Rothbart, Capulet, Carabosse, Mother Ginger, Sancho Panza, and far too often, Drosselmeyer in Nutcracker. I await the role of “Scrooge” with baited breath! (Type casting of course!)

I began teaching at age 24 in 1978, and later with pedagogical and university training, I continue to teaching and mentor students from around 10 years of age, through professional, as well as one of my favorite populations, adult students. This summer will mark my 34th year as a dance educator. I have taught as faculty and a guest with schools small and large across the US, including Washington Ballet, Milwaukee Ballet, as an adjunct and instructor at the College Conservatory in Cincinnati, Assistant Prof of Dance at CO State University, and guested at Naropa University. I have directed two small schools in the Pacific Northwest, and was ballet master at Manassas Ballet Theater in VA. Currently I am a permanent guest instructor at a semi professional company in Northern VA, and I’m on faculty at Ballet Academy of Warrenton VA, and teach locally and nationally under my own LLC (Limited Liability Corporation).

I teach currently instruct using the Vaganova Curriculum. Earlier I also worked work with techniques from the Balanchine school, French and Bournonville schools, all of which I have studied with pedagogues and mentors. I am also am certified to teach Lester Horton Technique, release technique and my own structured class based upon my own choreographic style.

As a teacher of classical ballet, I am a purist, but believe that purity is also created in new ideas that are based upon the foundation and expansion of what has come before. (I do not suffer low standards, posers and fools easily.) However, this said, the stat d’affair of ballet in the US is such that anyone can “take a ballet class” and in some cases, walk into a school at any point during the training curricula for the year. The result is that teachers repetedly have to step back, cover old ground, getting little training done. Indeed, ballet classes in the US are more like seminars than a class where the dancers do 35 combinations in an hour and a half as it should be. (More on this in later blogs.)

I am also a freelance choreographer for professional dancers and organizations, with over 50 works created in the last 30 years. Not objectively, I think my work has influences from Horton, Kylian, Tudor and and others’ work of which I have danced and watched over the years.

I have 22 years experience as a director, choreographer, balletmaster, consultant, seminar and workshop facilitator; 17 years experience in dance and artistic management. I have 12 years experience as a seminar and workshop facilitator in objectives training as well as mindfulness and focusing workshops for artists, dancers and general population.

I am currently the Washington, D.C. correspondent for Dance Europe Magazine, based in London, for which I write reviews and interviews. I have journaled written and, lately blogged in dance since the mid 1980s. This WordPress blog is new. Most of the writing is within the last ten years, re-edited for WordPress. I am also trained and have worked in fine arts consulting, and curatorship, which is somewhat of a day-job for me. (My biggest client, at this time, is the estate of three time Pulitzer Prize winning graphic journalist, Jeff MacNelly.) Since 2000, I have worked as such as a sole proprietor and independent contractor of, Rosemond Consulting Services, LLC.

I am married, with no children, except a mental health service and therapy dog, Sadie. However, I do consider many of the thousands of students I have taught over the last 34 years to be surrogate children. Though, I was not their parent, nor they my progeny, I aspire that they continue the traditions of the hundreds of years of predecessors that I, and all those like me, have. May all dancers everywhere be in service to this magnificent art form, which completes us as human beings.

Philip S. Rosemond (c) 2012

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This weblog features three categories the dance writing of Philip Rosemond: dance criticism, dance commentary and technical and artistic analysis.

  • Dance criticism includes opinion, both negative and positive, critical, indifferrent and complimentqry regarding dance choreography, productions, performances and activities of ballet and dance companies and dancers.
  • Dance commentary includes discussions of social, cultural, political and economic conditions affecting and effecting dance; as well as how dance effects those conditions and the world has a whole. Discussed are historical, current and projected issues about and surrounding dance as a theatrical and social form of art and communication.
  • Dance technical and artistic analysis discusses specifically methods, ideologies, semiotics, history strengths and weaknesses of various methods and styles of classical ballet, modern dance, musical theater as well as other theatrical and some social dance forms. These analyses will include technical, semantic, colloquial and lay linguistics in order to provide proofs and evidentiary to support both argument and dialogue within the topics of ballet and dance has a whole?

Please note that I am notoriously very opinionated! But this does not mean I will not listen to what others have to say. Thus, I encourage healthy debate and rebuttal, agreement or discussion, as well as more elaborations upon the topic of discussion. I do not encourage personal attack, using debate as a weapon, or as a method of slander used on or off this site. Technical and legal tools will be used swiftly to squash perpetration of such coersive of manipulative and unhealthy speech, particularly if the result does harm to the victim.

On a lighter note, this site should be a lot of fun as well as an educational tool for all of us. Thank you for coming in and please come back to read and/or post often!

(c) Philip Rosemond 2012

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Classifying Ivan Vasiliev

Bolshoi Ballet.
Kennedy Center Opera House,
Washington, D.C.,
Sunday, February 21st 2010 at 1:30 p.m.

Classifying Ivan Vasiliev.

Trying to find a type-casting slot to fit Ivan Vasiliev in, is a lot like trying to fit an a 747 into a two car garage. His dancing is simply to “Grande” to simply proclaim, “Demi-Character.” The same problem occurred when Mikhail Baryshnikov graced the west in 1974. He was a consummate classical leading man, a true danseur nobel, but he was also a feisty, elite technician, arguably, 5’7” tall, if that. Meanwhile, the tradition of the tall principal classicist was fully evident such dancers as Eric Bruhn, Kevin McKenzie or a Vladimir Vasiliev. But, comparing them to the young upstart, Ivan Vasiliev, (who is of no familial relation to Vladimir), would be foolish. But, the one event Vladimir Vasiliev has in common with Ivan, is their passion in the role of “Spartacus.”

Vladimir Vasiliev created the role in this production of the ballet in 1968, and Ivan was cast for the recent revival. The role is demi-character by nature. But, make no mistake; Ivan Vasiliev has equal the prowess of his predecessor of the same name, but an entirely different approach. Yes, Vladimir Vasiliev had prodigious jumps, commanding turns and a passion that would make anyone think twice to get near him when wielding the rebellious slave’s sword. This should also be said of his successor Ivan Valsiliev.

Ivan the younger’s allegro jumps are unbelievably huge. The Bolshoi has altered the types of grande allegro to suit his abilities in this role: double saut de Basque instead of jete’ entrelace’, double jete’ entrenant instead of double revolatade: similar in difficulty, but resulting in a very different characterization. His ballon is more like a cannon ball being fired, versus a javelin being thrown. When Vladimir Vasiliev performed the role, the jumps were just as huge, but his length and almost regal demeanor, made us think that being a leader among slaves, was tantamount to Caesar himself. Though, they are equal in passion, instead of feeling angst and pain of his brethren being held prisoner, as is with Vladimir V.’s Spartacus, what is felt with Ivan’s interpretation is pure anger, and abject hatred of his captors. The elder Vasiliev leaves one crying at his plight, hoping that his perpetrators will have compassion and release him. When they don’t, we know that his will die fighting. But, with Ivan V. in the role, a smile may come across the the face of the most vengeful of us in the audience. One could swear that once he has his chance, Ivan Vasiliev’s Spartacus is going to hack Crassus and his armies to bits, and take the willing swooning Roman women with him!

Instead of the powerful, long legged, towering command of Vladimir Vasiliev, Ivan is a shorter, compact, lean but equally masculine, like Baryshnikov, and, wonderful for Spartacus. He is yet-unfinished, young, rough around the edges, and occasionally inverts, sycling his thick arched feet incorrectly. But, the massive amount of space this dancer can cover in one jump is so astonishing, one ignores a shoulder that might be slightly lifted while performing a double saut de basque. For Vasiliev, such a step is more of an “adagio en l’air” than it is grande allegro! And for Spartacus, such roughness actually adds to the character of this legendary slave.

But, he also excels as a classicist. His Solor in La Bayadere, his Albrecht in Giselle, betray little of the never-ending emotionalism of Spartacus. Yet, his attack, though classical, is still death defying. So, to identify this young dancer as simply “demi-character” would betray him. We may possibly have to come up with a new category. What that is, only time and the artistic growth of Ivan Vasiliev will tell.

© 2010 Philip S. Rosemond