Too tutu: Joy Womack and the Bolshoi

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Too random. That is what it seems. Coming from this child, novice dancer in the ballet world. Seeming to fill out the months-ago statements by an ex-Bolshoi ballerina (Anastasia Volochkova) who was insulted (called old and fat) and spurned to tell all (as far as she knew) that the Bolshoi was full of gawking old and wealthy men who felt they could choose a ballet dancer as a mistress in this day and age, Joy Womack has turned womens’ rights sponsor and made statements about being asked to pay a commission on a role by a director of the Bolshoi. Even Russian ballerinas know when its time to leave. It is written in, that she is accusing them of “racketeering,” and states “extortion.”

Well, men will be men, and for that matter, women will be women, both can be predators, and the arts (be it rock n roll, music in general, theater, ballet, art, etc) will draw a party of every sort. The risk is when you become alluring to someone, no matter your gender, and I am not saying she is to me, it is well-advised to make your selections carefully. I am sure there are as many dancers who do this, as there are dancers who succomb to the offers of rarefied gifts and attentions of someone much older, much wealthier and powerful, or who is perceived to have clout with material benefits. I do not think there is ever a reason to prostitute oneself, but that is an opinion of morals and ethics, and my own. She has become someone people have told is important, and that the public wants to know about, so she sought out the press, which is different than the press seeking you out, to tell a story, vent, or defile. That might not do a lot of good. it may be the norm there. It may strengthen her case with the Bolshoi. I am not sure that is fair either.

A lot of prostitution has to do with cheap thrills, youth, materialism, lacking an ironclad set of ethics, or possessing rather loose morals (if it is still okay to use that term in this era.) A publicity hound is also someone who uses the press for their own motives, repeatedly. Sex (human nature), and art, has kept patrons coming back to all of the arts and any other place where there are desirable people forever. I am still not sure anyone need know about it, but I am not surprised the public eats it up. Better to sit in America and pass judgment on Russians, or go to Russia and ask to be a part of it (well you are now!) and then complain about it. It sounds par for the course to me and I do not know what everyone is making such a fuss about. But then, you always have to consider the source when accusations are made even if you don’t know anything about it at all (me and everyone else reading this).

I haven’t commented on it before in my blog, because I really do not know much about it. It is salacious gossip and everyone these days seems to love salacious gossip. I do not feel as if one of our girls has been wronged, however. My sympathies are inclined to run to the institution of ballet, those people her accusations might harm, and it comes across as wantonly selfish behavior on her part, not merited due to her low level, and frankly, who cares? If they had raped her-that would have been news. If she really has a grievance, she has been told to pursue it in court. Maybe countless other ballerinas will follow her footsteps-perhaps the change will be more gradual.

The Russian ballet institution is over three hundred years old (or is it 400?), which has been the basis of training and symbolizing great artists in the practicum of ballet. Frankly, I am not convinced she is ready to share the stage with some of the other better artists of Russia. Maybe they are not convinced either-they are very picky about their artists. Recently there has been much made of somewhat lesser dancers (technically) and the Russians think so too and state it. Perhaps Ms. Womack is just stomping her feet. But perhaps a sponsor does not mean a sexual sponsor. I was propositioned by many people and had I taken their money I would be guilty of prostitution, and many people have helped me and not asked for anything in return. Picasso was assisted by Gertrude Stein, and benefactors (both sexual and non) are known throughout the art world. Perhaps my issue with the press is that I am a publicist and there is no such thing as bad publicity. Joy Womack knows this. It is the choice of her statements which rankle me, because an accusation like that if made, should be made to the court, an attorney, perhaps, as they say, the police-for these are very serious accusations, they claim, and no press is bad press…. Other hearsay is that these accusations are true.

Faced with not being moved to the role of demi-soloist or soloist at the Bolshoi immediately, and being whatever age she is (19, at this writing, and took my correction from another article recently written and blogged), she riled at the suggestion that she pay for a role. This is not unheard of in the arts-bands have been paying to play for a long time. If people do not discuss this, then it continues unfettered, but you can just say,”No.” I have done this. Perhaps she needs to dance a little longer in the corps and obtain the dancing ability to star in roles. Perhaps that is what she is doing by moving to the Kremlin Ballet (if she does, or some other), where they may guarantee/promise her the parts she desires. But women might be treated differently in Russia, and Americans might just be treated differently there, too. There is no SESAC-like or worldwide dancer treaty, aligned with other countries in regard to dealing with artists, and perhaps there should be. But again SESAC does not protect artists in non-member countries, and then the task becomes enforcing it-we see where that has taken us. Before she seeks to become a citizen of another country, perhaps she should consider what she is giving up. She is stating she is opposed to their way of life, graft, blat. I would hate to see anything bad happen to her there. If this is the case, it seems more of a human rights issue and perhaps groups will offer her their support, but I think that based on her level of tenure (0), the industry might not change for her. But she is setting herself up to be reckoned with, more powerful. Who knows?

Music entertainers have signed away whole albums (sometimes several in an ascending royalty scale arrangement), and had their life’s work stolen and face having to start all over again. They still do. We have all heard of the casting couch and the infamous stories of libidinous actors, models and entertainers, including dancers, who have engaged in some pretty wild goings-on. Some true, some false. Some people have even left an industry due to this I have heard, others live it, even like it-it is a mature decision. If Ms. Womack was thusly propositioned, then she had a right to leave, or complain, but I cannot imagine how you go from corps to solo roles overnight, as she would be doing, when so many others have had as much or better training and subsist in the corps or rise more slowly. I have often wondered what separates one dancer from another there, what cost greatness, and how the roles are apportioned? Who gets to be the star when they all seem so great? What cost fame? Who knows. Maybe she is just needling people for roles and annoying them, so they spoke to her thusly. I would not be surprised. It is the theater. It is ballet. It is Russia!

If the charges against the Bolshoi are legitimate, of “racketeering”, then she must begin to know the differences in their culture now (and we are not SO different), so the Bolshoi says,”arrest us.” If you opt to go to a foreign country, and a vastly different culture, then you might bristle at some of their actions and acceptable cultural exchanges and practices. Isadora Duncan wrote about it, Pavlova had a fine Palace (demi), and jewels. Men willing to coddle you and bestow treasures upon you are not going to fade away, because it is illegal. If taking of favors is made illegal, then it will just be one more control Russians have added to the existing many and past. They would have to significantly up dancers salaries, and a whole new moral code (placed upon society) by dissed dancers would reform the world-NOT. Perhaps she understands, from her Time interview, more than she suggests. If faced with having to pay for a role, then someone might leave-and she did. She would not be the first dancer to do so here or there or anywhere. Some remain in the corps forever. She does not seem to want to remain in the corps at all and there are other options. The romantic affair seems to be over and she has gained a position at some other ballet company. I am not surprised about that either.

I think one of the things I have noticed about her is that she either lies or she is in denial about reality sometimes. Her ambition and determination is big. I have seen inconsistencies in her stated age at starting classes in the school at the Bolshoi, where she is from or grew up, what age she was actually accepted into the corps, what her solo roles have consisted of-considering she is not a soloist and these must have been semi-private performances or school performances, and even that she was a “company member” at 15 (!), the lead girl in the school in her level (!) and other things which did not ring true, were completely dishonest, or more fantasy than fact. It is these inconsistencies which cause me not to find all of her story plausible, or complete.

I have also heard some Russian teachers say she had trouble with her training, she was an average dancer, she has potential, she was not utterly special, she was less talented than other Bolshoi Academy trained dancers. Who knows, because we have not seen her dancing. This is also consistent with her age and previous training. If she sets the world on fire, as Plisetskaya or Pavlova did, Makarova, Fonteyn did, she will prove them wrong. What she does appear to be is ambitious! She has also learned to use the media as her sword-every girl should have a sword, but one has to be careful what one says to the media and does with the sword. But, speaking to the press can also be a smart move and not premature, despite the fact that we really know nothing about her dancing ability. She could have said she left for personal reasons, irreconcilable differences, taste, although for one, I think those sentiments might be reserved for a more seasoned professional-perhaps ambition and goals, timeframe and opportunity would be more logical and inoffensive.

I think one teacher’s assessment that she might grow into a formidable dancer is a good one, and perhaps the choice to leave the Bolshoi, unless she was having her arm twisted to sleep with someone, might not have been such a good one, particularly if you choose to stay in Russia. But it is her choice. Presented with some insurmountable difficulties, she drew attention to them as a last resort. The rest of the world might think she is crazy, but I do not think we have heard the last of her by any means. She is simply not content to sit in the corps.

The last 4 centuries of ballet we all know have been filled with drama and turmoil, just like any other art. It was chiefly indulged in by the French, of whom we must imagine lusty intrigue to go along with accurate historical accounts of their philanderings. Like a Britney Spears, or a Miley Cyrus, Ms. Womack is drawn into the world of adulthood, which combined with money, power, corruption and art, partying, and all that goes with “the business,” may not be to her taste after-all. Maybe she is a nice girl who has worked very hard to get there and does not want to get lost in the back row or sleep with some big-wig in order to be cast. There is certainly no guarantee that that action would prove positively reliable, produce fame, or it would be a shortcut for dancers to get roles, achieve success, and many dancers would probably line up for the opportunity-not all have the stiff spine Womack supports. There are rarely such sureties in any commercial venture. What Womack also seeks to tell us (in another article) is that her route to the top will be respectful and not one she would be “ashamed of”-that she would not do this. She is an American citizen, she has a choice, and maybe other dancers will leave the Bolshoi, respecting their individual choice, or perhaps they will stay in the corps and see what happens over time.

I was once told by an elderly woman who had two older sons, that she had gone into the welfare office to apply for food stamps. While giving her information to the the worker, she was asked if she had a boyfriend. She said, “Why do you ask that?” She stated that the worker told her perhaps, if she did, he could pay for some things she was in need of and she wouldn’t have to go to welfare and take the state’s money. She was torn between being offended and scoffing-laughing it off (due to her age). Mainly she was incensed about being denied what was her right to apply for and in the circumstances receive. I do not think Joy Womack is perhaps first in line to receive those roles, or like other dancers, she would be given them, maybe more readily if she were not American and had been trained there all of her life, i.e, was Russian. This is always the choice of the choreographer, the director, even producers. Russia is only recently a democracy of sorts, and their ways, regardless, are not our ways. But sexual harassment, and that is what it is, exists on every level of society, on every continent, where there are men, women, and women and men. People. Like being nice day, it may come to the point where we have a no sexual harassment day. People seem to become less inclined to adhere to basic moral and ethically precepts, sometimes I think the media’s focus on “anything goes” reaffirms this attitude in our youth.

If the experiences have hardened her, then she is growing up, for in the world it is impossible to be a woman (any woman) and not be propositioned, and it is impossible to be of any sex in the the art world and not be propositioned. You are not going to get very far using that complaint as a vehicle for promotion, though. I am not sure she is bragging or complaining, but I am sure she is publicizing. I think we would have had to wait a long time to hear of her being a People’s Artist of Russia, or Ballerina Assoluta, as those are Russian titles, and while she may be a topic of controversy and interest now, fame may not last long at a smaller ballet company. She would be wiser to move out of Russia and try to gain entrance into a reputable company elsewhere. If she is determined to stay in Russia, then it seems we will know little of what befalls her, and to what extent she becomes famous, for the world is not that small.

What also is apparent from when she began there, is that she has come into her own, at least in photographs, and she appears to have improved greatly from her training there. It also seems as though she has had her feet broken to increase her arch. I am reminded by the song of Meatloaf’s:
“And I would do anything for love
I’d run right into hell and back
I would do anything for love,
but, I won’t do that.” Of course, he is talking about lying, etc., but it is also a joke, many ambitious people have done those things and more. If her convictions are strong, she should start with correcting those above facts that have been misstated by her, or erroneously (uncorrected) by the press.

Methinks the lady protesteth too much. She can simply and graciously, refuse. But it is this society that tells us we must have to be told these things, have them iterated, like Ayn Rand, who accused Americans of being too altruistic, we have other people foisting off their notions of right and wrong. Wherever we go, we bring revolution, pestilence and war. As they say, if the fire is too hot-get out. I have often been in the position of having to choose to stay or go, and in certain situations, it is definitely better to go. I think her argument makes the point that she was offered a solo role, but that she would have to have a sponsor at the ballet to pay for that privilege as though she were not meriting the approval of general patrons yet. Perhaps this is an option for some dancers, and perhaps other privilege gives this inalienable right, such as lineage, pedagogy, position. money. It is not unlike what we have here in our own ballet companies, but perhaps we have more choice, more of a personal right to leave, go somewhere else, do something else.

We have seen a lot of Russian dancers come here, and a lot of them come and go now, but once upon a time, you could not go back. Those days are gone, although they are still very careful not to be too unflattering or caustic to one another, and especially what they say publicly, how they offend their countryman-they are patriotic. There are lines you do not (apparently) cross. But many ballet dancers here and in other parts of Europe have had promiscuous lives. As they are celebrities, we are not really surprised by this. It is hearsay for the most part and we would do well to remember that. They are not proved guilty.

Perhaps she is paving the way for her religious counterparts and fans (I dance for Jesus!) to support her in this mission, but they are too faraway to be there in actual support, perhaps she was reacting publicly to a private aside, for lack of anything else to report or say on the subject and perhaps she just spoke the truth.

But until she gets into a company which we can all see, the public will gradually lose interest as her American public will not travel to Russia to see her. Perhaps she has taken some of the steps required to be on her way to becoming a recognized ballet dancer, but as I haven’t seen her dance, I can only give relevant advice about her choices for promotion, theorize for the benefit of my daughter and others like her, whom she would possibly scare off from an opportunity to train in Russia, and their dreams of becoming great professional dancers. I believe it is still a zero tolerance situation, but would there be any arts business without these pre-held beliefs. Maybe the Russian ballet or other ballet flourished because of these reciprocal arrangements. Again, who knows-that is a subject for an historical study and not a mere opinion. But it is food for thought.

I believe this is a publicity attempt and is certainly a counterable circumstance-nothing which the media necessarily needs to be informed about-a private matter, unless it is my own daughter and I was in possession of all the facts-there is little to call fact here and it is unsubstantiated by other dancers, or those who would not risk their opportunities by coming forward. If indeed, Ms. Womack has done this, she deserves a sort of heroine status, so I am not sure where to categorize this post. For now it is chicanery, bourgeois, OPINION. I still believe the training has been been an amazing improvement on her abilities! But I would not break my feet-I would do just about anything but that (intentionally)….sleeping with the Director or a patron shouldn’t be a requirement either, for son or daughters.


3 thoughts on “Too tutu: Joy Womack and the Bolshoi”

  1. Ms. Womack was actually an extremely talented dancer and chosen for a principal role in her class graduation performance. Someone at the Bolshoi obviously liked her, and she delivered on her performance.


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