Did you see how ON I was tonight! ABT’s ‘Lady of the Camellias’ -quality vs quantity

I was sorely tempted to rant again about personal issues, but I will refrain.

I will say, I have been questioning my decision to move to New York not only because finding an apartment is a terrible process, the subways are inconsistent in everything except smelling badly, and everything costs three times as much as it would anywhere else, but because I am sometimes not really sure it lives up to the hype. First of all, I do not care about designer clothes. Banana Republic is a splurge for me and I don’t feel bad about that. I may be in a city that never sleeps, but I most certainly need to and you could say that I am less than enthusiastic about bars staying open until five in the morning. Maybe this makes me cheap and boring, I don’t know. I figure it’s all worth it if I’m surrounded by the kind of artists that I am aspiring to be, people that will push and inspire me, people that will also, like me, be in this possibly overrated city because it is the best place to meet like minded artists and the best place to jump start a career.

In that sense, New York has not failed me. I am really looking forward to tomorrow evening, where I will attend the School of American Ballet Workshop. It’s pretty much the closest I will ever get to the Juilliard School (cocktails are in one of the J School’s halls) since my incredibly terrible audition at age seventeen. It is crazy to me to think that a few months ago, I was in St. Louis thinking how nice it might to maybe be a writer and here I am writing reviews for the most famous Ballet institution (and the first) in the United States. I will also mention that in the last contemporary jazz class that I took, I felt like the biggest ballerina in the room and it will definitely be good for me to be in classes with teachers and other dancers who inspire such a different movement quality in me. There were no set counts in the combination we learned and the teacher looooved it when I allowed myself to be off my center to the point that I fell over, rolled out of it, got up and kept going (maybe he was admiring my spirit, because I’m pretty sure if someone had taped it I would have been the next you tube phenomenon).

I hate to say it, but I will- I was still, even with taking barely more classes than I have fingers in the past six/seven months- one of the better ones in the class. Recently, I attended an art gallery event and was incredibly unimpressed with ‘original’ paintings that were going for a cool 500 dollars that looked like something I could have, and had painted (and didn’t like and then painted over). I do think of myself as a good dancer (even if I am currently an out-of-shape dancer) but I do not think of myself as a good painter, just one who likes to attempt. I suppose that is what I am questioning with New York- with everything from food, to clothes, to artists- isn’t this city supposed to be where the best of the best go? And if so, is it worth it? Sometimes it seems like the artists here aren’t better, there are just more of them.

I can’t currently afford to go to the ‘best’ restaurants so Mario Batali will have to wait to recieve my judgement. I know that when it comes to clothes, purses, shoes- I could care less- in fact, the less it costs the better. Honestly, the two shoes that I own that I get the most compliments on come from Payless and Kohls- proof that good things come out of less-than-the-best places. I think about some artists I know in Saint Louis, or Indiana, or Kentucky whose work is so far superior to the stuff in the Gallery. I start thinking about myself, as a dancer, a writer, and how I have been so lucky to find a little success here and I realize that maybe it’s not because I’m anything that special, it’s just that there are more opportunities here. In that sense, being here…makes sense. I can build my portfolio and if I don’t get in with the best of the best (my dream writing jobs: Dance magazine, NY Magazine, The Observer, etc.) then I’ll have some more impressive experience to help me get a similar job in a more affordable city.

I was lucky enough to go to American Ballet Theater’s performance of ‘Lady of the Camellias’ (that might be spelled wrong) this past Saturday (I even went for free since the networking in the city is amazing, and I am now friends with dancers in the best companies in the world- I am still starstruck over famous people, meaning I am still a little bit of a tourist). Principal dancer Cory Stearns

He's soooo good! Yeah, just ask him.

doesn’t even have a 90 degree arabesque (when he lifts his leg to the back, it doesn’t parallel the floor which is basically unacceptable in the dance world as the arabesque is the most classic pose)

when Margot Fonteyn was on stage you couldn't take your eyes off her! It can't be taught... (See how my leg isn't parallel to the floor? bad!)

and the corps girls were NOT together, each was trying way to hard to get their leg the highest. These are pretty much my only qualms, well and that the ballet was three hours long and I didn’t care for the music or the story. The costumes, sets, and let’s face it, the dancers were amazing. Corps dancer Blaine Hogan (thanks for the free tickets!) was the stand out male- his extension, turns, landings were flawless and his partnering was superb. I really liked the pairing of him with soloist Stella Abrera

You're not sweaty, you're sweet. (this is my favorite capezio add ever)

(who is married to Sacha Radetsky of ‘Center Stage’ fame, for those of you who that means anything to…”Whatever you feel, just dance it”- thanks Charlie, can I dance and vomit at the same time?) Side note- the whole premise of Center Stage is the School of American Ballet, which I am covering. Oddly enough, half of the stars of the film are members of the company American Ballet Theater, which is sort of the rival of New York City Ballet (the company which SAB feeds into).  Watching these dancers, I kept thinking, if they went anywhere else, even the corps de ballet dancers would be STARS in another company.

Maybe not though. I can think of dancers from Louisville Ballet that I would pit against ABT’s best, particularly dancer Natalia Ashikhmina, who is arguably the best dancer I have seen live.I may be swayed because I was able to see her day in day out in the studio, and she is consistently amazing everyday, and also just about the nicest person as well, but I think her talent stands on its own. Maybe some people just want a different life, a quieter life, a potentially easier (at least on the rent) life.  I sometimes find myself thinking how I should move and find a job with a sort of bad company where, no I may not always be proud of the productions, but at least living would be more comfortable and I would be able to dance potentially better roles than I would with a credible company, and dance everyday.  It comes down to that quality versus quantity question again.

I think going to this show tomorrow I will sorely tempted to be a harsher judge on these budding dancers, since they attend the ‘best’ school and have the ‘best’ teachers and opportunities even if perhaps what they pay for, more than the training, is the name and the exclusivity. It’s like me with these pricey restaurants and clothes, just because I can’t afford them doesn’t mean that I can’t find delight in-wow, I was just interrupted by some man who came up to me speaking Russian. Why does everyone think I’m Russian?

It’s funny thinking about the quality versus quantity question, as a dancer- for so many reasons- I found some free classes in the city for yoga and hoola hoop dance, but maybe I should go for the ballet classes and jazz classes that I really want that cost more; and in my own training, I am focusing more on the quality of my strength and movement than I am the quantifiable weight of my body. There may be millions of artists here, but no, not all of them are very good. Maybe it’s harder to make it where there are fewer opportunities, you have to have more ‘quality’ when there is less ‘quantity’.

If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere- maybe isn’t true.

Honestly, just because this is labeled the ‘best school’ in the U.S., I’m not expecting to see all of the best young dancers. I think some of the best are out in the midwest, in Oregon, in Forida, in fact, I’m pretty sure one of them is at my old school in Missouri- Makensie Howe is a name to look out for (I think she actually IS  attending SAB this summer).  (Check out this link for info on her from a feature in Pointe Magazine)


This is just further proof that not all the best comes FROM  New York, they just come here to be fast-tracked for success. In that sense, weeding the wheat from the chaff is harder in the hub-bub, but imagining that I’m part of the wheat percentage making my dance and writing dreams comes true is completely worth it, no designer label necessary.

7 thoughts on “Did you see how ON I was tonight! ABT’s ‘Lady of the Camellias’ -quality vs quantity

  1. “Sometimes it seems like the artists here aren’t better, there are just more of them.”

    Everything about that statement is true except for ‘sometimes it seems like.’ People are not better in NY, there are just more people, so you have more chances to find a decent one (and also more chances to find a shitty one).

  2. I love this article. I think you could definitely develop it into a longer piece about the difference in the art world- or more specifically the dance world between NY and regional/smaller city dance companies.

    Sometimes I feel like I’m missing out on what’s going on in the dance world because I’m not in NYC. I feel like the art that I’m helping to create here in Indianapolis is fulfilling and legitimate. I’m still challenged when I go to company class and other classes around the city. I’m still pushing myself and looking for inspiration however around here my inspiration has to come from video tapes and youtube or looking at pictures in Dance Magazine. Whenever I see a tour come through I am more often than not disappointed either with the quality of the dancing or the quality of the choreography. I mean, how can I be a better dancer than those on stage who are in a company from NYC? I am biased- but I also don’t think I’m the best dancer- I know I am better than some that I have seen on stage.

    I’m disappointed in most people I meet that think you haven’t made it until you dance in NY for a big company. Even teachers that I have had would agree sometimes my artistic director too. Maybe in the 70’s during the ballet boom but I don’t think that’s true anymore. More cities around the US can support a company or a few companies in their city so they should have great art too- and they do NOW.

    So I now expect my fellow company members to inspire me and I watch a lot of youtube. I hope you get a lot out of the big city and keep sanity and security oh and an apartment too.

  3. There is no shortage of people here- I think it’s hilarious that before I moved here I was terrified that I wasn’t stylish enough and just this morning I saw someone wearing a bright orange wig and someone else wearing a newspaper hat on the subway. It really puts my express jeans into perspective.
    Thanks for the insight Tim- and I agree- there is such a snobbery regarding dance and New York- and I hear so many people say ‘everyone should live in new york for at least a year’- oh yeah? why? It is proven that it is financially harder, can be socially stressful, louder, dirtier, and more inconvenient. That being said, I’m glad I’m here because of the diversity in the studios- there are more classes in dif. styles and different kinds of dancers all over the place which I think will help me expand my choreography and movement quality horizons- but I think I could get equally good training in one specific aspect in one easier-to-live-in space. If you want to see new things and be exposed to a huge variety, I think this is the place- but it doesn’t mean the best.
    For instance- there is a performance art exhibit at MoMA called ‘the artist is present’ where the ‘artist’ sits in a chair and says nothing for long long hours. Hmm, interesting I guess. New Yorkers seem to just eat that sh*t up whereas I can’t see the rednecks in Missouri shelling out the bucks to see some lady sit quietly in a chair. I can see that at any old people’s home without having to put on a fancy dress and say pretentious things like ‘doesn’t it speak to you of the lack of personal contact in this age of technology?’ when I really would want to say, ‘”how the hell is someone getting paid for this?”
    New York is just the place where it’s easiest to break the boundaries of what ‘work’ is, what ‘art’ is- whether that’s a good thing or not..depends on the piece. Trust me though, I still turn to you tube to get a nedelands dance theater fix.

  4. “I sometimes find myself thinking how I should move and find a job with a sort of bad company where, no I may not always be proud of the productions, but at least living would be more comfortable and I would be able to dance potentially better roles than I would with a credible company, and dance everyday. It comes down to that quality versus quantity question again.”

    I told my school director coming out of PBTS that I wanted nothing to do with dancing in that kind of a company. I don’t want to be the best of the worst. Some people think that means that I don’t have passion. I look at it this way: I have so much respect for the art form that I will not bastardize it by being in some second rate, low budget company. I don’t think super highly of myself, but without sounding too awful, I’m better than that. And so are you. I’d take quality over quantity any day of the week and do it all over again the next.

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