There are several reasons why ABT is faltering in the classics, and it's hard to rank them in importance.
The company has a grossly insufficient number of ballet masters/mistresses/répétiteurs who are experientially qualified to coach the classical principal ballerina roles and elicit world class performances from the artists. The enormous day-in & day-out responsibility for developing the ABT women in the classical ballerina roles rests on the shoulders of the legendary, still very vibrant 79-year-old Irina Kolpakova. ABT has no other permanently employed retired principal ballerinas of international stature who are able to pass on principal-level classical artistry on a daily basis to its ballerinas.
Right now, ABT has four (4) ballet masters with a disturbing range of qualifications. The Royal Ballet has at least 10 masters/repetiteurs. The Paris Opera Ballet has at least 14. The Bolshoi has more than 20. The Mariinsky has nearly 30.
So how does ABT respond to the problem of its woefully under-powered artistic staff? Instead of investing in a few permanent world class classical coaches, it throws the money away on imported unclassical dancethletes who have no artistic connection or artistic relevance to the company while its own brilliant and gleaming dancers sit stalled in the cold garage. The only value that these imported dancers have is that they come pre-made and pre-media-ed.
The message that ABT's artistic director now sends to the entire world is that he believes the company is so lacking in talent that most any dancer in the world with a media following can waltz into the the top rank at ABT without even having to ask for it. The company will slap an ABT principal logo on any unauthentic, un-vetted, cheap piece of junk jewelry that comes along so long as it is pre-media-ed. There is no need for world class classical balletic skill - you can start at the top at ABT so long as you have a media following.
It is puzzling why artistic director Kevin McKenzie cannot or will not surround himself with capable retired principal world class classicists who can pass on their artistry to the company's dancers. He seems to think that he is the primary one who should pass on the artistry to the ballerinas -- which may explain why so many in his care can be so dull, dry, and colorless. He, like the typical inadequate CEO, is reluctant to hire classical coaches more qualified than he is and empower them with the authority to do their jobs.
The dancers who overtly seek outside artistic classical tutoring or outside classical opportunities are slapped aside, denied new roles for which they have shown they are fully prepared, and are made to stand down and watch less accomplished and less talented underlings walk up and dance away with their roles. If it is depressing and demoralizing for the audience to watch, imagine how it must be for the company's dancers.
Currently Isabella Boylston and Hee Seo are being shown supreme entitlement to every conceivable role while they deliver less than principal level quality dancing and in some cases less than soloist level work. Cheeky and confident yes, but they are frequently sloppy and woefully underprepared no matter what they are dancing.
Meanwhile, Maria Riccetto has been softly ushered back to her home country when in fact she was one of the most gifted classicists at ABT. All she needed was a committed coach -- something that ABT couldn't seem to manage.
Sarah Lane who has already wooed an international audience with her Swan Lake opposite Angel Corella is surviving on bread crumbs. The perfect combination of a Herman Cornejo Siegfried with a Sarah Lane Odette is being denied to us for no reason other than the surly obstinance of a truly mediocre director who demands to be right about all things even when he isn't. It's nice that we will finally get to see Cornejo as Siegfried even if it is ten years after we should have, but it is a tragedy that Sarah must lose her opportunity to a guest artist whose deformed feet and failing technique are not ameliorated by a pretty face and constantly upturned eyebrows. To repeat: sweet is not enough.
One of McKenzie's most felonious mismanagements of talent to date has been the sidelining of Stella Abrera when in fact she is at the very peak of her dancing abilities despite being shunned by McKenzie since the death of her coach Georgina Parkinson. Like Sarah Lane, Stella independently acquired international experience in principal roles denied her by McKenzie and now he is retaliating by ending her career.
When Parkinson died, the dancers under her care, including Abrera, seemed to be tossed aside by McKenzie as though they had died, too. Rather than hire an experienced classical coach for those dancers, McKenzie hired Susan Jaffe who focused on other dancers and has since dumped her job at ABT to move to academia. McKenzie has given so many of Abrera's roles and opportunities to Seo that she'll probably come home from work one day to find Seo standing in the middle of her livingroom with a big smile: Oh, Kevin sent me. I guess he sees me in this role, too. Sorry.
It is an absolute disgrace how McKenzie has failed Abrera, Lane, Riccetto, Matthews, Radetsky, and others while he tries to overhaul ABT into an Ardani-driven circus for which he contributes a few painted ponies and a trickster who has to alter Balanchine's choreography because it's too hard for him. Oh, let's not get started again on that ....