Current and Former Ballerinas

Last night I watched A Ballerina’s Tale on KQED’s Independent Lens, the documentary about Misty Copeland, whose training included a summer intensive at San Francisco Ballet’s School.

There was a lot to like about the coverage.  Copeland comes across as extravagantly earnest, photogenic, articulate and able to absorb information like a sponge.  Her travail with a stress fracture and the information which this section of the documentary supplied  was entirely salutary.  It’s easy to see the how and why Misty has accrued such a following and the support of Kevin MacKenzie, the artistic director of American Ballet Theatre.

I’ve also read Life in Motion, Copeland’s memoir about growing up in a sizable African American family and Misty’s mother’s attempts to keep it together, plus the teachers who supported her along the way.  It’s just staggering to absorb the challenges she faced and her ability to forge ahead in her desire and ability to become a finished dancer.

Regarding the documentary itself, I was maddened by how quickly the credits were flashed and faced on the screen.  I was sitting perhaps three feet away from the screen and slightly at an angle and got possibly one word in ten before  the text faded from view. At the end there was a series of images recording the African-American dancers who have “made it,” most of whom I recognized by the pose and costume, but deifnitely not the length their images flashed on the screen.  I think those commenting and Misty Copeland deserve more.

Finally, there is some spectacular footage of Copeland dancing in what I am willing to wage is from the ballet La Bayadere where  she is wearing the costume for Gamzatti, the pampered daughter of the Rajah, and scheduled to wed to Solor, the lover of  La Bayadere herself.  So, why can’t this role be identified?  Was the director too afraid of ballet eroterica?

From the living to the just deceased, Violette Verdy.   How lucky I was to have had the chance to exchange perhaps a paragraph with her when she was a guest artist with Pacific Ballet under the direction of the late Alan Howard and financed by the generosity and acumen of Kimiko Sugano.   She came with Edward Villella, and later came as a guest artist for San Francisco Ballet at the Palace of Fine Arts where she danced in Balanchine’s  Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux.  Verdy possessed a particular focus, unforced, undeniable., a possessor of the term the French call “agreeable”, and do give the word the French accent when you speak the word in connection with her, for it summons the sense of taste, elegance, knowledge, diligence wrapped up with personal charm.  The sheer thought of her lingers with me as a smile and a definite encounter.  Au revoir, Violette.  I am sure you are already enchanting the saints and angels wherever they exist.









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