They SHOULD make them like they used to

11 Aug

So I thought today I would talk about something besides ballet, but I lied.  Who am I kidding?  I adore ballet and I’ve been wanting to put some of my thoughts into writing on that hoot-and-a-half, Maurice Bejart.  I couldn’t decide on whether I wanted to talk about my favorite of his 2.5 works that I’ve seen on youtube, or whether I wanted to tackle the beast of Stravinsky, and include Bejart’s works in an unintelligent analysis of The Rite of Spring and The Firebird, and how it seems like a number of ballet choreographers feel some burning need to do their own version.  Which means one of two things…the music itself is either highly inspirational (quite possible) or ballet choreographers are neurotic about competing with each other (less likely, but still a possibility), in a “my Firebird can beat up your Firebird” kindergarten kind of way.  Sometimes I even picture the Wilis of Bejart, Michel Fokine and Uwe Scholz (among others I’m sure) slapping each other in the afterlife while engaged in a heated argument over Firebird.  Obviously, were they all alive and in the same room, as artists they would have a mutual respect for each other and discuss their visions in a scholarly fashion, but this is my imagination, not theirs.

Anyway, there are only a few excerpts from Scholz’s version available, which is no fair.  And although there is video (with sheety sound quality unfortunately) of the Bejart Ballet doing Firebird, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater did a production and might release a DVD, so this whole Firebird shebang will have to wait.  To do otherwise would damage my already waning credibility as an amateur dance critic and enthusiast.  The point is, I lied about lying; I’m not going to discus ballet in this entry.

I’d like to take a moment to pay a little homaggito to tap because my previous entries regarding tap were far from profound.  Not surprisingly, this should be interesting, because although when tap was at its peak in the glamorous sparkle of Hollywood during the big band era, one of my FAVORITE periods in music, I know nothing about tap (secretly or not so secretly, I’ve always wanted to learn and even have the gall to think I could be good at it, although to be honest I’d take tap classes just for the big band music).  I don’t even know a single step.  I don’t know how it works, but I know what I know, I like what I like and I find it fascinating.  Rhythms in general are pleasing to the soul, and wouldn’t you know it…I just typed “fascinating.  Rhythms” which means I can bring up my favorite tap dance to Fascinatin’ Rhythm.  But not now (aren’t I full of surprises?) because the performer who made it famous deserves to be mentioned first…the one and only Eleanor Powell.

Ellie was mostly trained in ballet and even danced en pointe for one movie, but this will make you sick…she didn’t even like tap at first and almost quit but stuck with it, and by stuck with it, I mean she took TEN formal lessons.  Then she skyrocketed like a prodigy and the rest is legendary.  Now I kind of missed out on the whole Fred Astaire hysteria because my parents and grandparents didn’t really watch movies and had no tradition to pass down, and even now I’m not particularly obsessed…but I fell in love with Ellie without hesitation.  Fred himself said Ellie was a better dancer than he, which is monumental and unfortunate considering he got more recognition than she did.  But it doesn’t matter…she was born to dance and it’s a wonderful thing that so many of her performances were captured on film.  She had machine gun feet, and thanks to ballet could do huge battements, the splits, and a flurry of turns that would even make a ballet dancer jealous (and trust me, they do).  Makes you wonder how talented she was at ballet, but lucky for us she found her calling.

It wasn’t that she was just a good dancer either…she had a magnetic and vivacious personality to boot.  In fact, I think one needs that to truly be a great dancer, and sadly that’s severely lacking today in so many ways.  Bland personalities make for bland performances, and while the “pretty faces” make money for no reason, the real personalities and talent out there suffer (something tells me if Ellie were alive today she’d be pissed about this too).  There’s a video of her giving a short speech at Fred Astaire’s lifetime achievement award ceremony, and just listening to her in that couple of minutes gave me goosebumps, made my ferociously cold heart melt and make my eyes tear up.  On the one hand, it’s kind of ridiculous that one can get all choked up from a teeny video, but on the other hand you can’t help but feel the power of her presence; almost as if her warmth is reaching out to you.  You just can’t help but like her.  Either that or I’m becoming way too sappy for my own good…I can’t even watch Extreme Makeover Home Edition because I cry every single time, and I even tear up at commercials for The Biggest Loser.  COMMERCIALS.  And this coming from the kid who once said “I would cry if I were a real human.”  Times have changed, folks and folkitos.

Le sigh.  Now as previously mentioned, Fascinatin’ Rhythm was my favorite dance that she did, and it was an epic little bugger, with the way the set had to be moved around (by hand!), multiple piano players, a band, a chorus of dancers.  This was the first dance of hers that I ever saw, and it was one of those moments where you can’t tear your eyes away and you just have to watch with a smile on your face.  And the music was CHOICE.  Hello, Gershwin! ::swoon::

Another similar vid (higher quality):

Now here’s another video where you can see her huge battements and get a better sense of her delicioso leg line, and how in control she was of her body.  And isn’t it fantastic to see a solo female dancer with a male corps, and NO partner?  Although I swear if classic tap weren’t such a suit and tie deal, I’d be completely sold (I HATE dressing up).

 

And now I shall conclude with some memorable and chuckle-inducing quotes:

“A tap dancer is really a frustrated drummer.”

“I’d rather dance than eat.” <–TRUESIES

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