I was filming a photo shoot for Pointe the other day, featuring ABT dancers Blaine Hoven, Eric Tamm, Alexandre Hammoudi and Daniil Simkin. Lucky me! They're all so cute. But that's not all I took away from that day. While I watched the guys figure out their poses and do them, I was struck by how different their attitudes (not the leg kind) were from those of the ladies we shoot. The women are usually much more intense, trying very hard to show off their best assets, be it extension, line, or even contemporary edginess. They tend to gravitate toward the poses like arabesques, developpes a la seconde, or attitudes, which are great for showing how high you can get your legs, how flexible your back is, how perfect your arms are. When the ladies pose, you can almost see them thinking hard about hitting everything exactly right, making everything perfect.
The four guys, on the other hand, approached the shoot very differently. I expected to see a lot of impressive jumps or high legs (especially from ABT men, who are so virtuosic), but those didn't really make an appearance. What I did see a lot of were quite casual, standing shapes and simple balances, often facing straight into the camera. For example, at one point Daniil took a plain en face b-plus position, placed is hands behind his back, and simply smiled into the camera. There was nothing special about this pose, but to me it communicated a confidence that was quite interesting. He didn't really feel the need to blow us away with tricks, he knew that he could look great just standing there. The other men pretty much followed suit, and we ended up with a lot of really beautiful photos to choose from.
Now, I know that there's a big difference between the kinds of steps that men and women do, and I know that different things are demanded of them. But when it comes to photo shoots, I hardly ever see a ballerina who is so comfortable with herself that she can just stand there and smile into the camera head-on, without even rising onto pointe. I think the reason for this is that the ladies have to fight a lot harder to get ahead in ballet, and have to keep fighting even when they get to companies like NYCB or ABT. There's always so much competition with all the other ballerinas who may threaten your position, and you can never be 100% sure that you will even have a job next season. It's no wonder, then, that they feel like they have to show off. For men, though, the situation is not quite so perilous. I think this is because there are far fewer guys to compete against, especially if you're as talented as the ones at our photo shoot, and therefore, you can afford to be more relaxed. Great male dancers are always in demand, and can feel safer in their jobs, and more assured of advancing through the ranks, than the women can.
If you think about it, this is kind of a sad truth, especially since I believe that the things ballerinas have to do are much harder. Even in the corps, during the big classical and romantic ballets, the ladies have to stand motionless in the background or on the side of the stage for ages, while their feet cramp and swell painfully. Meanwhile, their male counterparts are relaxing in the wings. But I don't see this changing anytime soon, unless we radically revamp the classics. And we wouldn't want to do that, would we?