So Daniil Simkin was promoted to principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre today. I know many of you out there simply love him (and you may not want to continue reading this post), but for me, he borders on unwatchable in anything other than a gala solo, and even then I wouldn't pay just to see it.
I'm not surprised, but still extremely disheartened that the powers that be felt it fitting to promote to principal a dancer who is arguably the weakest partner in the entire company. I hold my breath every time he goes into a lift or assisted turn, as I'm sure do his battle-weary partners. (Poor Sarah Lane). Of all the things to be weak at, it's incomprehensible to me that Simkin does not take the initiative to improve his skills and learn directly from two of the world's strongest partners, Marcelo Gomes and Roberto Bolle (and I've heard this to be the case from sources who would know). He's clearly self-motivated enough to be the leading ballet dancer tweeter and media master, so why not this?
He frustrates me more for his bravado and lack of respect for his ballerinas than for his dancing itself, though to quote a knowledgeable balletomane friend of mine, this promotion is "really rather disgusting. Especially after City Center, where he killed Stars & Stripes, and not in a good way." Changing choreography to add more gasp-inducing jumps is one thing, but doing it when the lifts are shaky and the assisted turns painful to watch is just unforgivable. In one performance of The Leaves are Fading, I even saw Mr. Simkin fail to lift Stella Abrera the mere 6 - 9 inches off the ground in an easy lift. Her feet didn't seem to leave the floor. Get the basics right and THEN add your flare. For example, I don't personally love watching Ivan Vasiliev either, but that is because of his arms mostly, and I have a good deal of respect for him as he seems to be a devoted and attentive partner and willing to learn. And did anyone complain that Ethan Stiefel's jumps as Ali in Le Corsaire were ever too low or unexciting? Based on his farewell performance I can't imagine that would be the case. However, Stiefel had control and exceptional partnering in his bag of tricks as well. Make the jumps mean something. Ballet isn't the trampoline competition at the Olympics.
Ironically, this promotion was announced minutes after ABT called me to request my annual donation. Luckily, I had put them off for now, and unless something drastically wonderful happens with the empty casting spots for Met season, they won't be getting any money out of me this donation season. And by wonderful I mean meaty principal casting for Stella Abrera, Yuriko Kajiya, Misty Copeland, Jared Matthews and Joey Gorak.
What I love about ballet is the artistry, the emotion and the human achievement. Herman Cornejo's entrechats in Symphony #9 at City Center were artistic, gasp inducing, and still didn't break the spell of the wall between the stage and the audience. Until Mr. Simkin learns that kind of control and commitment, I will continue to be reluctant to ever pay to watch him dance. And if ABT remains on this course, I worry that they will just rename it "Ardani's Bouncing Tiggers" and forgo subtlety, coaching and artistry all together.
My only hope at the moment is the scheduled Hammoudi/Seo Swan Lake this summer. And the rest of Ratmansky's Shostakovitch tribute.