American Ballet Theatre has announced a raft of promotions, all of them welcome. As the press release says:
“Stella Abrera and Misty Copeland have been promoted to the rank of Principal Dancer with American Ballet Theatre and Skylar Brandt, Thomas Forster, Arron Scott and Cassandra Trenary have been promoted to Soloist effective August 1, 2015. In addition, Maria Kochetkova, a principal dancer with San Francisco Ballet and Alban Lendorf, a principal dancer with Royal Danish Ballet will join the Company as Principal Dancers and Jeffrey Cirio, a principal dancer with Boston Ballet, will join ABT as a Soloist, it was announced today by Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie.
Meanwhile, The Guardian asked me to comment on Misty Copeland’s promotion and its meaning for ballet in the US. You can find the piece here.
Misty Copeland had her long-awaited New York début in Swan Lake on June 24, with ABT. How did she do? Here’s my review, for DanceTabs.
And here’s my review of the Royal Ballet—visiting New York for the first time in 11 years— in a double-bill at the Koch. The two works were Ashton’s The Dream and Kenneth MacMillan’s Song of the Earth.
On Saturday night, Misty Copeland had her New York début as the Cowgirl in Agnes de Mille’s “Rodeo.” She was fantastic: funny, relaxed, charming, touching. A natural comedienne. It was a side of her dancing I’d never seen, a brilliant bit of casting against type. (Copeland is usually cast in either more contemporary work, or classical variations, or parts that highlight her natural glamour.) But last Saturday she threw herself into De Mille’s dopey character heart and soul, and brought the audience along for the ride.
Over the weekend, I saw a second cast in Liam Scarlett’s new “With a Chance of Rain,” plus Alexei Ratmansky’s beautiful “Seven Sonatas,” JIri Kylian’s “Sinfonietta,” and more. You can read my review here.
After posting my interview with the great American ballerina Virginia Johnson (now artistic director of Dance Theatre of Harlem) on DanceTAbs, I heard from the young dancer Michaela DePrince. Ms. DePrince, who danced with DTH for a year, has since moved on to Dutch National Ballet’s junior company, based in Amsterdam. As many of you know, Ms. DePrince was born in Sierra Leone, under very difficult circumstances in the civil war there. She lost her parents at a very young age, and saw some horrific events while living at an orphanage, including the killing of her pregnant teacher. Adopted by a New Jersey family, she has thrived. She discovered her love of ballet early, and went on to study at the Rock School in Philadelphia, and then the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis school (affiliated with ABT) in New York. A few days ago, we chatted over email about her life, her training, and her career so far. The issue of racial inequality in ballet inevitably came up. It is her feeling (echoed by many others) that artistic directors are wary of taking non-white dancers for fear of upsetting the homogeneous “look” of the corps de ballet. It’s interesting, though, that in some countries, such as Cuba, this does not seem to be an issue. One of the great pleasures of seeing the Ballet Nacional de Cuba a couple of years ago at BAM, was seeing how mixed the ensemble really is, and what vitality this produces onstage. The company reflects the country; this, automatically, makes ballet seem of our time. You can read my interview with Michaela de Prince here.
This summer, I spoke with Virginia Johnson, the longtime star of Dance Theatre of Harlem, who is now the troupe’s Artistic Director. You can see the interview, on DanceTabs, here.
Under Johnson’s tutelage, the company has returned from the brink for a successful first season. This fall, her dancers will perform at Fall for Dance in New York. In our interview, we talked about her life in dance, the rise, fall, and rise of Dance Theatre of Harlem, and the very real challenge of diversity in ballet. Here’s an excerpt: “I look at these dancers and I see that they’re not being corrected. There are some very basic things going on that reveal that they’re being ignored. And we see changes in them so quickly because they are finally getting corrections. The schools need to not only embrace the fact that ballet doesn’t have a color but actually work with the material in the room.”
The question of diversity in ballet is finally coming to people’s attention. Benjamin Millepied mentioned it in an interview related to his upcoming directorship of the Paris Opera Ballet, in comments that pissed off the French media. (He said, “I can’t run a ballet company now, today, and not have it be a company where people in the house can relate to, and recognize themselves in some ways.” Shocking.) ABT has just announced a new initiative whose mission is to reach out to minority communities through Boys and Girls Clubs across the us. (ABT’s Misty Copeland will be the ambassador for the program, which is called Project Plié.) Meanwhile, DTH will be there.
Dance Theatre of Harlem is back, after a hiatus of almost ten years. You can read my review of one of their programs, for DanceTabs, here.
And here’s a short excerpt:
“What is the place of a predominantly black American ballet company today, in our supposedly “post-racial” America? We have a black president and a black ambassador to the United Nations, and yet, if one looks at most of our ballet companies, there is nary a black dancer to be seen….The problem is more frustrating than simple racism.”