I continue with Anna Gordeeva’s review of the International Competition of Ballet and Choreography, which just concluded its 13th run in Moscow last week. Even though nobody has left a comment, these posts have been drawing a respectable number of hits, believe it or not! Yes, I know there are secret connoisseurs of classical ballet out there — come on, it’s safe to come out of your closet, you no longer have to pretend that you didn’t cry your eyes out when Giselle died!
Anyhow, we went over the prizes that were awarded, and the fact that Japanese and Central Asian dancers yearn to be accepted into Russian ballet schools and dance in Russian theaters. While the Europeans turn up their noses, well, I suppose they have the right since, in truth, classical ballet was invented in France originally, although later perfected in Russia.
But now we come to a truly gripping story of an all-American girl named Joy Womak. Gordeeva calls this section of her story “A Battle Against Shadows”. The 23-year-old American had more riding on this competition than any other contestant. She was there, not just to win, but to score points. In both the literal and figural sense. Joy danced like a murderous Valkyrie, her soul filled with all-consuming vengeance against those who have scorned, downgraded, and abused her in the past. A truly Russian story!
A Battle of Shadows
From early childhood Joy’s dream was to study in a Russian school and dance in a Russian theater. She had no interest in cheap American “jazzy” tricks. She yearned for the purity and perfection of the Russian classical style. She was born with a perfect body, she worked like a beast, and she achieved her dream. Unfortunately, she was born in the wrong era.
Joy currently dances as a “principal” at the Kremlin Ballet Theater. This is different from the Bolshoi Theater. The State Kremlin Palace and Concert Hall was built in 1961. Quoting the sightseeing blurb I just linked, “From the start it was conceived both as a venue for governmental, diplomatic, and Party gatherings, and as a second stage for the Bolshoi. The vast auditorium can seat up to 6,000 people, making it the largest concert hall in Russia.” A principal dancer is the highest rank within a ballet corps. For example, if you go to see “Swan Lake”, the run of the mill dancing swans are just called the “corps de ballet“, they all dance the same steps and provide the “backup dancers” for the principals. Every dancer, however talented, has to start out in this “chorus line”, but all strive to graduate to solo roles. But how does a girl get herself noticed and awarded a solo role? It is necessary to attract the attention of the Artistic Director, to make him realize that she is the best dancing poodle in the show.
By all rights Joy should be happy in her new placid life at the Kremlin Palace. She gets all the plum roles there. She could have stayed home and relaxed last week, she didn’t need to compete at the Bolshoi. But something drove her there. She needed to make a big statement, she needed to wreak vengeance using the only weapon she possesses: Her crazed Black Swan fouettés! Hell hath no fury like a woman once scorned at a past job!
Joy was born in Beverly Hills, California in 1994, one of 9 siblings (I am guessing her family must be Mormon, but don’t quote me on that!) Her Russian dance career began at the Kirov Academy of Ballet. By the age of 15 her unique talent had been noted, and she was brought to the Bolshoi. Her life’s dream came true!
But, as in any Hollywood drama, the dream must turn into an Act II nightmare before the Act III Consummation and Triumphal Resolution. Joy was born in the wrong era, and picked the wrong era to fulfill her dream: During her prime learning years (2012-2016) a lot of truly unacceptable things were happening at the Bolshoi. It was like a classical dance version of The Godfather with acid attacks and criminal extortions. In an interview with Izvestia, Joy was later to allege that Artistic Director Sergei Filin charged extortion money in return for solo roles. The going rate was $10,000 American dollars for a solo. Joy’s contract with the Bolshoi guaranteed her solo parts; and yet she wasn’t getting any. Filin’s side of the story: Joy did not understand that every ballerina at the Bolshoi, whatever their creds or big prizes they may have won, must graduate through a phase of corps de ballet. The rules are the same for everyone. Joy was just a big old diva who thought she was something special.
In the next installment we will analyze this huge ballet catfight and see how Joy attempted a combination of Vengeance + Redemption at the Moscow joust.
[to be continued]