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Royal Ballet "perilously under-starred"?


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In reviewing the Bolshoi Ballet season Louise Levene says towards the end:
"Osipova, who joins the perilously under-starred Royal Ballet..."

The piece is here:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/dance/10256938/Bolshoi-2013-Starry-heat-bankable-tutus-and-sublime-dancing.html

Although only mentioned in passing I think it an accurate statement - particularly on the men's side.

Are others worried too? or is all hunky-dory?


For reference here is what I believe to be the current list of RB Principals...
Men: Federico Bonelli, Nehemiah Kish, Steven McRae, Rupert Pennefather, Thiago Soares, Edward Watson
Women: Lauren Cuthbertson, Sarah Lamb, Roberta Marquez, Laura Morera, Marianela Nunez, Zenaida Yanowsky

To which some guests are added...
Principal Guest Artists: Carlos Acosta, Natalia Osipova
Guest Artist: Matthew Golding?

For info the current list on the ROH website reads:
"Principals: Carlos Acosta*, Leanne Benjamin, Federico Bonelli, Alina Cojocaru, Lauren Cuthbertson, Mara Galeazzi, Matthew Golding**, Nehemiah Kish, Johan Kobborg, Sarah Lamb, Roberta Marquez, Steven McRae, Laura Morera, Marianela Nuñez, Natalia Osipova**, Rupert Pennefather, Sergei Polunin**, Tamara Rojo**, Thiago Soares, Edward Watson and Zenaida Yanowsky."
It's clearly last seasons list and In compliling my list above I took out all the known leavers. I left Golding in, but not clear if he is a Guest or not in 2013/14

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Under *staffed* in terms of numbers of Principals I would agree with, particularly given that as a whole, RB has around 30% more dancers than ENB but roughly the same number of Principals.

 

I'd much rather they cracked on and promoted to Principal from within though. And in terms of under-starred, not from my point of view. I go to see RB dancers, in particular Nuñez, Soares, Cuthbertson, Bonelli and Choe. In all honesty I'd rather see them than a guest star.

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Allows the creation of new stars...

 

Well I'd go along with that if I thought the soloists men were there to be made up to principal level in a world class company. I don't see it - I see them, for the most part, at their correct level. There are some younger ones one has high hopes of, but even if accelerated through they are a few years off the very top. The women's side I'm more comfortable about - at soloist levels there are a healthy number with the potential to go up.

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If any are ready to be created yet ... there's some serious potential there, certainly, but most aren't in a position to be taking on principal roles effectively yet, I think. Kevin O'Hare has gone on record as saying that he thought the company had too many principals anyway, but I wonder whether he still thinks the same in view of June's departures.  It only needs one strategically-cast dancer to be injured and the whole casting situation can become very shaky very quickly.  I for one am certainly concerned about the situation particularly on the male side, where I think they desperately need more in the way of, well, I won't say danseurs nobles, since they are in such short supply these days, but certainly Princes.

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I'll agree on the under-starred part (outside of the guests, there are two dancers I would call stars), but not perilously.

There are plenty of dancers among principals who are great even if not stars.

 

And it's not like the general public really cares anyway, or to put it another way, how many stars can there be in one company before it ends up making them all non-stars?

Edited by A frog
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Well it would have been nice if the Telegraph had published a photo not only of Miss Smirnova, but of the right production and the correct ballet company. They have put in a photo of Roberta Marquez and the Royal Ballet's production. Sloppy....especially since The Telegraph had privileged access to the Bolshoi the whole duration of their London season.

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Well it would have been nice if the Telegraph had published a photo not only of Miss Smirnova, but of the right production and the correct ballet company. They have put in a photo of Roberta Marquez and the Royal Ballet's production. Sloppy....especially since The Telegraph had privileged access to the Bolshoi the whole duration of their London season.

 

Making up for the ROH putting a picture of the Bolshoi on their Bayadere page last season?

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Thanks for this, Bruce.  I agree it is in flux.  'Under-starred?'  I don't know.  I think the real problem - (especially for those who are most primarily content to stand and wave the provincial flag and those numbers here as elsewhere are pretty well fixed in terms of our posted flutterings) - is but - and as ever - a matter of any regime's particular point in time.  T’was ever thus.  Question is can they answer the long term needs effectively.   The problems are created not born.    

 

Take NYCB as an example, a company where always the choreographer was - and basically remains – king.  Well, the most noted king in that particular chess set.  (A return to this for the Royal Ballet O’Hare indicated he wished at his informative LBC chat.)  In such a case when you weaken the rooks the board all too easily fails if not entirely falls.  

 

NYCB went through a problematic period in the late 90's.  It's top rapidly got, as we know can happen, weeded through all too natural wastage.  The bottom's corners resolutely hadn't been filled with sufficient strength (or tended to sufficiently?) to feed at a level to which those old enough to remember recalled.  Let this go on long enough and the art form will - at that point of havoc - pay a price.  The international rank shuffle begins (yet again) its sway.  Over promote and the problem only increases.  Peter Martins finally had to bring in people from outside on the principal level (like Sofiane Sylve and Gonzalo Garcia) who had both proven themselves on an international scale and appropriately as home team guests.  Focusing on strengthening the ranks helped.  Suddenly the old celebrated regime were in many instances leading lights now as teachers at the school.  The result:  Just look at the wealth at the principal level today.   STill it took a considerable period of time to right.

 

Don't all companies - both those deemed internationally important and those more provincially rooted – and either choice is absolutely fine in terms of serving the ultimate needs of its audience - go through this as do football teams, both majors and minors?  I think they do.  I think Kevn O'Hare recognises this dilemma and has, in his own lights, begun to address it effectively.. Blessedly this year he has taken on more at the bottom level than has been the case for a long time.  Given current depleted principal ranks - especially with men (and I say that hugely admiring James Hay - but I fear even there physical practicalities must come to realistic bat as much as it does for a certain Ivan Vasiliev - albeit in a different situational configuration) reality can only - in the long term - be dealt with bottom up.  God knows the ballet's world has always been a cruel one.).  

 

One thing you don't want to do is over-promote ESPECIALLY AT THE PRINCIPAL LEVEL.  I agree with Mr. O’Hare:  ‘It needs to be deserved.’  Time and the world will help point in this direction.  This is where the exchange with ABT can be a practical gift for both leaders; ones often in an all too isolated situation.  Affording them and their soloists a greater perspective on an international level - without commitment - can be but all for the good in my book.  Kevin McKenzie has entered into another such deal with the RDB.  Bravo I say.  

 

In another effective sidelight, just yesterday Karen Kain announced at the NBoC that for the next season they would have Svetlana Lukina (Bolshoi before 'the troubles') and Evan Mckie (Canadian at Stuttgart) as guest principals and Matthew Golding (ah, yes, Canada's answer to Brad Pitt much enamored by a certain Ms. Rojo) and Jiri Jelinek (a former NBoC principal now a leader with the Western Australian Ballet) guesting as needs be - and here is a company that looks as we saw fairly recently to have fairly strong ranks at the more junior ranks.  Nonetheless she obviously feels they need to grow.  Good on her, I say.  More power to her very talented arm as much as to Mr. O’Hare’s.  

Edited by Meunier
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I think it is not possible to equate 'Principal' and 'Star'.  Many excellent principals are not stars - you have to have an extra, almost indefinable 'something' to be a star.

 

Agreed ... and that is ultimately defined on a world stage.  They shine down as t'were.  Remember Sutherland talking about 'simply being the vessel and holding firm the beam'. 

Edited by Meunier
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I think it is not possible to equate 'Principal' and 'Star'.  Many excellent principals are not stars - you have to have an extra, almost indefinable 'something' to be a star.

 

I think the use of the word 'star' can cloud the issue.

 

My 2p is that RB don't have enough good male principals at the moment - not just numbers but also capability of some who currently have the badge. No one person is going to like all the appointed principles I know, but I go down the list and the abilities (can they act?, are they technically good enough? Have they the height/bearing to be a pukka danseur noble? Do they seem prone to injury? Are they nearing the end of their career? Are they reliable in a role? Can they partner well, etc etc) and I get to the end and don't feel so good as I have in earlier years. It's not all doom and gloom, but the list is not really good enough for a world class company I'd say. The dancers who have left weren't at the bottom of the pile, they were from the top - the overall package of quality goes down. Hiring Osipova is great, but I actually expected to see hiring on the boys side.

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Although I understand from interviews that both Benjamin and Galeazzi told O'Hare at or around the beginning of last season that they would be leaving, so the need for a female principal may have seemed more pressing at the time.

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Always difficult to define the word 'star' in the context of a ballet company,  Carlos Acosta is undoubtedly a star, so perhaps we should be asking who else in the RB could pack them in at the Coli for a week - with the Bolshoi dancing at the ROH at the same time.

 

Cojocaru might have done it and probably Osipova could, but anone else?  I don't think so.

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I think there is a  difference between Principal and Star (or Etoile, thank goodness the RB doesn't have this, think of the arguments), they have recently lost world-class Stars such as Cojocaru, Kobborg, Rojo and Polunin, and gained one, Osipova, so yes I think they are under-starred, especially on the male side.

 

The Bolshoi seems to have a wonderful number of soloists that look destined to become Principals, compared to the RB.

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Going a little off topic, can I say how much I disliked the original article and in particular the rudeness towards Nikolai Tsiskaridze.  In general I don't think this Bolshoi season was as successful as previous ones.  It was clever to end on a high, but apart from Jewels, there was little excitement in the frankly dull productions of the classics.

 

And no, a star certainly was not born with Olga Smirnova's London debut and I find it disquieting that the UK critic's were either blind to her obvious technical defects or chose to ignore them.

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I think the use of the word 'star' can cloud the issue.

 

My 2p is that RB don't have enough good male principals at the moment - not just numbers but also capability of some who currently have the badge. No one person is going to like all the appointed principles I know, but I go down the list and the abilities (can they act?, are they technically good enough? Have they the height/bearing to be a pukka danseur noble? Do they seem prone to injury? Are they nearing the end of their career? Are they reliable in a role? Can they partner well, etc etc) and I get to the end and don't feel so good as I have in earlier years. It's not all doom and gloom, but the list is not really good enough for a world class company I'd say. The dancers who have left weren't at the bottom of the pile, they were from the top - the overall package of quality goes down. Hiring Osipova is great, but I actually expected to see hiring on the boys side.

 

I agree with you Bruce athough I feel even more gloomy than you and think that barring a few obvious exceptions the line up on the female side doesn't look so wonderful either. Disappointingly, also there isn't a single compelling partnership - I mean where the man and the woman are equals. All of this highlighted by the wonderful Bolshoi dancers :( 

 

 

 

Going a little off topic, can I say how much I disliked the original article and in particular the rudeness towards Nikolai Tsiskaridze.  In general I don't think this Bolshoi season was as successful as previous ones.  It was clever to end on a high, but apart from Jewels, there was little excitement in the frankly dull productions of the classics.

 

And no, a star certainly was not born with Olga Smirnova's London debut and I find it disquieting that the UK critic's were either blind to her obvious technical defects or chose to ignore them.

 

Swan Lake was dull yes but not Bayadere or Sleeping Beauty. Anyway, the excitement was in having the opportunity to see wonderful dancers throughout the company. 

 

Really, all of them blind ? Well me too then because I loved Olga Smirnova's performances - particularly in Diamonds. 

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We each have our own likes / opinions, but for me the RB has, in (alphabetical order) Bonelli, Kish, Pennefather, three excellent danseur noble.

 

Agree with this. I thought danseur noble/ prince dancers was what the RB had a lot of, as opposed to the virtuoso, dazzling dancers needed for something like Don Q.

 

Don't agree about the lack of 'stars'.

Edited by chrischris
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To repeat a point I made on another thread, maternity leave is a fact of life for modern dancers and most of the RB principal ladies are of an age where this could be relevant.   Moreover, Zenaida Yanowsky is already relinquishing some roles.   Add possible injuries to that and I can easily see the RB having to draw on soloists or guests.

(Edited for typo)

Edited by Grand Tier Left
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Swan Lake was dull yes but not Bayadere or Sleeping Beauty. Anyway, the excitement was in having the opportunity to see wonderful dancers throughout the company. 

 

 

I quite enjoyed Bayadere, but Sleeping Beauty was indeed pretty dull - no, not dull in costumes scenery - just boring. No story told at all it seemed to me - and as its pretty thin anyway, it ended up as Beauty the diverts. The hatchet job on a lot of the music didn't help either. I tried (and failed) to cancel my order for the blu-ray (anyone want my copy?). Enjoyed Jewels (apart from the Monday Rubies, which was a flat as Holland), and loved Flames

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Going a little off topic, can I say how much I disliked the original article and in particular the rudeness towards Nikolai Tsiskaridze. 

 

 

 

Well I'm not sure Tsiskaridze deserves any more deference than any other dancer, and he was described as a megastar, amongst other less flattering epithets.  And I don't think his coveting of Filin's job is exactly a state secret.  Other Bolshoi dancers who have been praised by the critics have been described on this website as "expressionless contortionists".  Now THAT's rude!

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I've another gossipy question, somewhat on the subject of "stars" v principals, arising from a throwaway line from the same article: is that true, that Zakharova was supposed to have danced Diamonds but pulled out at the last minute because of Volchkov's injury, thus leaving the role to Smirnova? What? How? She just took off back to Moscow because Volchkov was injured?? That makes no sense to me. Is it true, or are there "wheels behind wheels" ? How can that be allowed? And anyway wasn't Smirnova groomed by Filin et al for her star-making turn in Diamonds? 

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This is a bit too speculative SMBallet and is going way off topic. 

 

Everyone, can we please try and get back to the subject of "Royal Ballet perilously under-starred"?

 

 

Do we need individual stars or is the Company the star?  If I am visiting somewhere new I look to see if there are any companies based/appearing there, not to see which star is dancing there.  Does this only matter to serious ballet fans?  Are individual stars a way of hooking in newbies? 

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Do we need individual stars or is the Company the star?  If I am visiting somewhere new I look to see if there are any companies based/appearing there, not to see which star is dancing there.  Does this only matter to serious ballet fans?  Are individual stars a way of hooking in newbies?

Agree about getting back on topic and all fine things to discuss. And Levene did use the 'starred' word for sure. But I think the bigger issue is not stars as such but if the number and capabilities of principals is good enough for a leading international classical ballet company?

 

I've not spoken to Levene, but when its comes up with others the concern has not been expressed as lack of stars but lack of overall dancer 'punch' from the roster presented - most particularly on the mens side. There are just 6 full-time principal men and running them through the sieve of capabilities I mentioned earlier is salutary - imho etc.

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Agree about getting back on topic and all fine things to discuss. And Levene did use the 'starred' word for sure. But I think the bigger issue is not stars as such but if the number and capabilities of principals is good enough for a leading international classical ballet company?

 

I've not spoken to Levene, but when its comes up with others the concern has not been expressed as lack of stars but lack of overall dancer 'punch' from the roster presented - most particularly on the mens side. There are just 6 full-time principal men and running them through the sieve of capabilities I mentioned earlier is salutary - imho etc.

 

Maybe it's because I haven't seen many other companies, but I find the RB male principal's all pretty impressive in their own way.

 

Watson- always surprises me he is a ballet dancer and not a contemporary dancer, but extraordinary in modern work, a great partner, expressive actor and excellent interpreter of Macmillan ballets. Avoids the ballets he isn't good in so obviously versatility is an issue.

Soares- great technique, very charismatic, good in both classic and modern work, great partner, great actor, not injured much and great partnership with Nunez.

Mcrae- Awesome dancer, versatile, though perhaps not suited to classic danseur noble roles, virtuoso performer, lots of energy, great stage presence, unusual physicality for a dancer makes his interpretations really interesting (for me)

Bonelli- Great danseur noble, technically very strong, great partner, best (IMO) in classic roles but also excels in Mcgregor ballets

Pennefather- Classic danseur noble, tall, great partner, strong technique, really suits the romantic leads, quite a reserved stage presence, not really seen much in modern works but fantastic in Macmillan ballets.

Kish- Haven't seen him much but again, great classical danseur noble, sensitive partner, tall, not very injury prone.

 

And then there's Acosta.

 

To me, they are all great dancers who I would happily see. Maybe I would feel differently if I had seen more companies, or seen previous generations, but I don;t feel they lack punch, and having been a bit underwhelmed by the Bolshoi guest stars the other night, i think I appreciate their understated RB style even more.

Edited by chrischris
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I think the RB strongly favours the tall, danseur noble type of male principal with good partnering over charisma and technique,rightly or wrongly I don't know, but it would be good to balance it up a bit, apart from Carlos Acosta who will be a strong enough partner for Natalia Osipova?

 

Steven McRae is an exception, he can do everything, I think he is an excellent danseur noble when required.

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