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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Casting fair and unfair

BA2's Mom

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This has become a very interesting thread. Yes Vagansmom, I think that perception of casting inequities and actual casting inequities can happen at any studio--prepro or not.


What has become an eye opener is that I have been informed that a parent of a former dancer at my daughters' studio who has relocated out of the area has posted on this thread that her former studio accepted money for roles!!!! Doesn't mean it was "my" studio as this student has danced at other studios as well. It never occured to me that that had occured. Of course I phoned two friend whose children dance with mine and asked what they thought of the idea that roles were given for money and they thought I was nuts. I personally cannot imagine that occuring. There is an audition process that for the most recent Nutcracker included all four ballet teachers, a jazz teacher, a pilates instructor, and a former student who is now teaching creative movement and jazz. There was a panel of 7 and the "big" roles all determined by committee--same as last year. While our studio is small and in a smaller community, and certainly has the small town politics (including the politics of daughters of dance teachers and roles) and usual disappointments about casting and some occasional discontent, I never for once thought there has ever been roles awarded for money. And yes there are the parents who do more than others when it comes to help with costuming, ticket sales, working backstage and behind the scenes. And there are always questions about which came first, the child's role and the volunteering to help out or the volunteering and the child's role. But cash or checks for roles? I cannot even imagine.


Money, murder....Oh My. :)

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Watermill... I think you hit a tricky subject.


In general, I would agree --- school performances are for school dancers who are paying tuition. However, one must always be aware that the purpose of a school is to train its students --- NOT to put them in any particular show or recital. Performance is only useful to the extent that it furthers each dancer's education.


There is such a thing as being ready for a part. If only one student was ready for a solo part --- meaning it was not deemed educationally sound to put other students in the solo parts --- then what is the school to do? Having fewer solos is one option, but not if the choreography is already set. Anyway, more advanced dancers can often bring spice and interest to what would otherwise be another boring year-end demonstration.


So what's wrong with bringing in some apprentices --- to whom the school also has an educational responsibility --- as long as they don't displace students who should be in those roles at that point? Remember that this also gives the apprentices a chance to work on solos they generally would NOT get to for a few years at least in a professional setting.

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Guest Watermill

While your points are well taken, citibob, I would think that a School Performance should perhaps be tailored for and therefore feature students of the school. No objection to including apprentices (for the very reasons you mentioned), but excluding deserving, hardworking (and paying) top level students seems unreasonable to me. Perhaps they'll add to the program. Hope that's the case.


BTW: My dd doesn't attend this school, so I'm not sour-grape-ing.

(Call it "wine-ing"?) I know of the situation from parents whose students do.

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Watermill, I'm not quite sure what you're saying.


If a school says "we're doing ballet Y and there are 4 soloist parts and we'll give them to our four most advanced dancers", then I have to question that. It's putting the cart before the horse in that it's acting like a professional company trying to produce a particular ballet. Schools aren't there to produce ballets, they're there to train dancers.


What a school SHOULD do is say "we have two dancers who are ready for and will benefit from solo parts. So we will choose/choreograph a ballet with two solo parts in it." That is the way it works at our affiliated school. The focus is the students, NOT the ballets --- so you need to get choreography that is best for the students.


From your post, it's not clear which of the two situations is going on. Maybe the school decided they wanted to use a ballet with 4 soloist parts, knowing they had only 1 student who was ready for it. In that case, I think they did the right thing in filling in with apprentices.


BTW: I've been involved in exactly this kind of situation. I have performed more than a few times for our Young Dancer's Program. All the choreography is new and there's no NEED to put me in it. However, without me (in the past few years) there would be no men in the upper level. So I get put into it in a lead part that was created for me. I was not paid for these rehearsals performances --- the coaching I received was all the compensation I received, and I was absolutely not coerced into doing it. And yes, it is JUST as much work as professional ballet --- and harder in some ways because you get SO MUCH LESS rehearsal time.


For the few girls ready for partnering, this gives them the chance at it --- generally one girl. It also lends more interest to the overall dance. Obviously I'm not taking away anyone's part. I hope you can see what I'm getting at: if I were a woman it wouldn't be so obvious but it could still be the case that I'm not taking away anyone else's opportunity.

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Guest Watermill

It appears that OBT has chosen a ballet for the apprentices, not the school students. That's what I'm objecting to.

Your "Schools aren't there to produce ballets, they're there to train dancers." says it nicely.

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One thing I always loved so much about my daughter's ballet school was that the parts - solos and corps - suited the dancers' abilities so well. I found that to be such a strength at that school. Everything was appropriate and fitting for the student dancing the role. Dances were rechoreographed year after year as needed, depending on the strengths of the current student population.

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Citibob, I understand your point that if there is no student capable to dance a certain solo, then giving the role to an apprentice isn't taking anything away from anyone. However, why choose that particular ballet. Unless the year end piece is chosen early on with the expectation of certain students progressing into the roles.

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Is this a school performance of the Nutcracker (affiliated with the pro company) or the end-of-year Performance Workshop for the school only? Another question I have is whether or not the apprentices are still considered students in the school?


We have a couple of company apprentices here who are still in highschool. They are also students in the highest level at the school. They appear in all the productions of the professional company. In addition to taking company classes in the morning, they also take the Level 7 classes each evening. Because they are both company apprentices and the most advanced dancers in the school, featured roles in the school's workshop performance are considered appropriate.


In our case, where Nuts is concerned, company apprentices are not cast in the solos reserved for students. (There is actually only one pointe solo available for advanced students in our Nutcracker. It is danced by a student who is not yet an apprentice. There are additional student solos, but they are done in technique shoes, not on pointe, including Clara.) The apprentices are cast in corp roles such as flowers and snow, along with company members. In a few cases, they are given soloist roles that are usually danced by full company members.

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Guest Watermill

Good questions, balletbooster: This is the year end School Perf. There has already been controversy over Nut casting which I won't go into.

The apprentices sometimes take top level class, so they might be considered part of the school. As I said before, it's not the inclusion of apprentices I object to...it's the exclusion of the paying students.

To be fair to OBT: this is all a brand new situation. Christopher Stowell has never run a company, let alone had to manage apprentices or integrate a school's dancers into a professional production. Also, the school dancers and their families bring a lot of expectations based on what happened under the Canfield regime. There's bound to be some friction. Right now I fear it's generating more heat than light.

If all parties involved show some moderate communication skills, I trust this will all be smoothed out by this time next year.

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Thanks for clarifying, Watermill. I think you are right about it being one of those things that will work itself out as the apprentice program evolves with the new AD.


I'm wondering if you are saying that the advanced students, who are not apprentices, are not cast at all in the performance or if you are saying that they were not cast in soloist roles, but rather in corp parts? If they were not cast at all, that would seem to be a very big problem. :angry: If they were cast, but in less desireable roles, I think there is some room for discussion of the merits of the casting decisions, but I'm not sure it could be characterized as unfair (particularly if the dancers who got the solos are still taking classes at the school and are still high school students). Obviously, those students who are also apprentices should be the strongest and most advanced students in the school and so it could be argued that they are most deserving of the prime roles in the school production, regardless of their affiliation with the company.


Of course, I'm venturing this opinion from my armchair half way across the country, having seen none of the parties involved dance, knowing nothing of the school and company politics, etc. etc. :shrug: This would be akin to armchair quarterbacking or perhaps armchair directing! It's much easier than the real thing! :D

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Wow. More trauma in Oregon? I hope not!

The apprentices are in an unpaid training program in it's first year at OBT. They are primarily young ladies, and one male, just out of school, but not yet ready to enter the company as full members nor join larger companies as members of the corps de ballet. Apprentices do have agreements, have limited access to shoes when performing, and are required to take school classes with the School of OBT's highest level (4), when not based at the theater with the company.


Elyse Borne (in Portland to stage GB's Nut on OBT's Company) is staging "Concerto Barocco" for the School of OBT's end of year performance (six months away). Since she is staging the work so quickly, between Nut rehearsals, it's not surprising that initial casting and staging would be focused on the students and apprentices that will pick up the choreography the fastest, giving Damara Bennett, the school director, and the other teachers - six months to teach the other students and casts, as well as work and clean the ballet. The final casts are by no means standing in front row of the studio right now.



Edited by Harper
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The whole casting issue makes me sooooo tired. There are parents at all the ballet schools that my daughter has attended that act like this year's (whatever year it may be) Nutcracker, or Spring Show, or whatever, is THE ONE AND ONLY CHANCE for their very extremely talented child to have that lucky break. And all of these parents and their children are very willing to at least verbally (in whispers) berate the AD and the teachers, and all of the other completely untalented students, etc. for all of their lack of insight (or eyesight)... and it goes on, ... and on,.... :angry: Thankfully, my daughter's view of casting is much more long term than just this season. She knows that many of the students she dances with will find other paths to follow, even while she really hopes to go into a professional company someday. If this happens, she realizes that she will probably dance a very long time and in many productions, in many roles, while the others may only have one or two more seasons, because they just have too much ego tied up in today's casting. We actually experienced a family leaving the school this year because their daughter did not get the parts she wanted for Nutcracker. If my daughter's attitude was ever like that, I would really have to question her desire to keep dancing at all. She has several times been cast as a "cover" in professional productions, and shows up, ready to dance each and every time, with no complaining. She has sometimes been cast in the lead, and sometimes been cast as a boy, and sometimes been in the prettiest costume on the planet, but her attitude is, "oh goody, I get to DANCE today." And in my opinion, her attitude better stay that way, or she'll hear about it from me. Casting decisions are completely under the control of the AD, period.

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Guest Watermill

Your weariness aside, pj, after reading the previous posts, one cannot help feeling there certainly is equal blame to be ladled out between insensitive AD's and whiney students. Sounds like your daughter has developed a desireable thick skin to protect her in these often emotionally explosive matters. I certainly agree with you that the long term view is the one to have. But as to

Casting decisions are completely under the control of the AD, period.

I might agree in theory...but in practice there is much abuse of this artistic authority.


Harper: Thank god, a local voice heard from! (besides the heavily slanted PR rep from OBT).

OK: I hope I have this straight: the Balanchine Trust regisseur had to work fast so the obvious choice was to set it on the apprentices and one top level student...but maybe casting will change later on? Hmmm...what are the chances of that, really?Yet once again: I think this is a wonderful opportunity for the apprentices and am really looking forward to seeing it...but what about the other students? Perhaps we'll just have to wait and see. But unless they add another piece for Level 4, my point still stands: Only one student (besides apprentices) will be given a solo in the Final School Performance. Compared to eight student solos last year... Sorry: that ain't right.


The final casts are by no means standing in front row of the studio right now.


Betcha a nickel they are!

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(sigh) I've spent too many years watching rehearsals and performances (and being in them myself) to consider any casting final. Until the curtain rises on each performance - we never know who's going to be onstage. It's just too early to predict or vent about casting, as long as my kid loves to dance, I don't care where or when, just what time do I need to drop them off (and I hope I can afford it.)


I'll take that nickel, and raise a few bucks.

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