To make, remake or not to make. What is the question?

1 Dec

I recently discovered a most egregious bit of news, that there are plans to do a remake (or as Hollywood is pretending to term it, “relaunch”) of a Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie.  The original BtVS movie was not very good (although I was enormously entertained by a twelve second appearance by a very young Ben Affleck as a basketball player with the number 10, and so my friends and I identify him as “Bar Mitzvah Ben number 10” because that’s what you always exclaim when you see a picture of someone when they’re young), however the story was made famous by the television series, which was much more compelling and had an excellent cast with memorable, beloved characters.  This is why it is so horrifyingly ghastly and upsetting that this planned remake will have nothing to do with the Buffy mythology created by writer and producer Joss Whedon, who basically made the franchise what it is.  You don’t mess with a classic (i.e. Fame…that went well) and you don’t mess with one of the most loyal fanbases in television history.  Fans are NOT happy about this, and alienating us is probably going to have an ugly ending.

However, this got me thinking: Aren’t ballet performances more or less remakes?  Can’t the same positive aspects of different productions of a particular ballet be said about television/movies?  For example, if we flock to see different castings and delight in seeing what each performer brings to a certain role, or enjoy comparing notes on different productions of the same ballet, shouldn’t we (well, I) be able to do the same for Buffy?  I mentally wrassled with this question for approximately seven seconds before deciding on a vehement and resounding “NO” from all the voices in my head.  After all, a BtVS remake would be like staging Mayerling without Sir MacMillan…if he were still alive.  It’s kind of insulting actually.  But I do have legitimate reasons in favor of my argument that I shall divulge.  First, dance is for the most part something that is grounded in the live performance, while movies are written to be preserved on film, and therein lies a huge difference because each must be approached differently.  Obviously a similar thought processes goes into casting, but for movies the purpose is to cast the ideal actor for a role, while in ballet it’s usually more of a “work with the dancers you’ve got” deal.  And as audience members of a live performance, we also have a relationship with the performers.  We are to be silent and applause when appropriate, in order to give dancers unspoken feedback as they perform, which changes our ability to get something from it.  We can watch a movie several times over and it generally elicits the same response, while the same ballet can move or inspire us in different ways because we are a part of it when it’s alive and in front of us.

Ideally, a film should last forever, because it is most often the “original vision” of the people involved.  And yet, there are some wildly successful, innovative interpretations of familiar stories ranging from Westside Story to The Dark Knight.  But why were these different?  Why do some remakes cross the line and offend us while others are brilliant?  Creativity.  While many remakes are motivated by money, because Hollywood sucks and has no concept of originality, the OCCASIONAL remake is fueled by a true artistic vision for a familiar character or story.  However, these successes are rare, and we are inundated by the overflow of failing remakes and sequels spewing from the money-motivated hacks of Hollywood.  In the case of Buffy, they are clearly trying to cash in on the vampire trend with Twilight, True Blood, and such.  For one thing, we’re only a few years removed from Buffy the television series which ended in 2003 with its spinoff Angel ending in 2004.  It’s like going to Disneyworld the day after a funeral…TOO SOON.  At least most ballets are reconstructions of originals from many years ago, so because nobody is completely authentic there is at the very least great attention and respect to the process of staging a ballet that are entirely missing in film.

In the end, some films and television series should never be touched or reinterpreted anyway because simply put, that is how good they are.  I’ll never forget a brilliant statement by a friend of mine who was heinously offended by the Star Wars special edition releases with bonus footage…he said something to the effect of “you don’t go in and paint a city skyline behind the Mona Lisa just because things are different now.”  Many times a piece has to be left the way it is because it also preserves part of the culture of the time which is often overlooked because some idiots can’t get past outdated fashions and hairstyles.  The fact that films and TV shows are a reflection of the times is part of what people should treasure about them.  This problem could be easily addressed if art appreciation was actually a required part of school curriculums.  Alas, one can dream.

It’s funny because there are a lot of criticisms in ballet about the lack of originality, of following the status quo and not taking enough risks.  There was a recent article (link here) about The Royal Danish ballet staging a new version of Bournonville’s Napoli in a postwar setting that the author deemed an “interesting experience.”  Taking risks and breaking the mold is going to be controversial no matter what, which I think choreographers seem to understand, while Hollywood producers ASSUME a remake is automatically going to be successful (and I strongly dislike assumers).  I’m not even entirely opposed to a Buffy remake if there was a genius of Joss Whedon’s caliber behind it, but Hollywood has proven time and time again that they don’t know how to find that talent anymore.  I have no faith; for good reason.

At any rate, on the subject of remakes and new interpretations I was in the mood for a little Le Corsaire, after a new video of Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev performing the grand pas de deux at a recent gala surfaced on the net (via twitter for me).  It has a great angle from backstage which most of us don’t get to see, and the quality is great as well, making it seem like Osipova is going to leap into your face.  Talk about “remakes,” this pas de deux is NOT the version the Bolshoi normally performs, as the costuming indicates it is between Medora and the slave Ali instead of Medora and Conrad.  Vasiliev performs different jumps, and Osipova changes things up too.  Regrettably, she took out the pirouettes a la seconde (pirouettes with the leg held straight out to the side) which was something I loved about her when I saw a video of her doing the coda before, but in the female variation instead of a series of pirouettes along a diagonal at the 6:00 mark, she adds coupe jetés (the huge leaps) and runs into the curtain.  It’s give and take and changes CAN be great when thought goes into it.

Or here are some excerpts from the superhuman Andrei Batalov.  He has unusual technique, like how he starts by stepping into an arabesque that is way too open in the hip so that he can get his foot above his head or how later on at 0:55 seconds in he does a quintuple pirouette before throwing his leg into a huge grand rond de jambe, lifting the right side of his pelvis in a way that pretty much every teacher I’ve ever had has said not to do.  But even though these not examples of my preferred technique to see, I’m actually finding it really beautiful in his own sort of “f the establishment” kind of way.  At least he executes the maneuvers with exceptional control…plus he has amazing feet (although he does kind of turn on the outside of his foot in the arabesque turn at 0:13 which is not good mostly for his safety, but his épaulement/movement of the head at the very end of the turn was really lovely and made me not notice the first time.)  And have you ever seen such hyper extended splits on a man’s leaps?  Normally I’m not phased by massive extensions and such…but when there’s substance to the dancer otherwise I can enjoy it too.  I’m a fan.

P.S. I’ve received some feedback from not so dance inclined friends who don’t always understand all the terms I use, so I’m trying to describe movements a little more, point out exactly where they happen in a video or add a short definition to make things reader friendly.  I don’t want to alienate any readers, so I hope those that do know the terms will bear with me for all future blog posts.  It shouldn’t get in your way too much, but let me know if it does.  I might listen.

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