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Staging a Comeback, Part II

10 Jul

My attempt to revitalize my limited ability to dance continued with a class with Pacific Northwest Ballet’s ballet master, Paul Gibson.  I suppose it should be mentioned that a friend and I also went to a hip hop class today at Velocity Dance Center in Capitol Hill, but my hip hop ventures should never be discussed publicly.  I do pride myself on being someone who will try anything once, or even try something, fail and repeatedly try again.  The idea that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results has merit for me…but I’m pretty sure this is last call for that genre.  It hurts in ways I don’t enjoy.  However, I may return to Velocity for a modern class someday.  They have ballet too, but I didn’t see any barres which disturbed me.

Mr. Gibson’s (I feel like it’s weird to write “Mr.” but we’re not on a first name basis…Master Gibson is too Jedi reminiscent…Sir? Duke? Lord?) class yesterday was absolutely wonderful though, and much closer if not exactly what I’m used to.  His bio at PNB’s website says he did do summers at School of American Ballet and danced with San Francisco Ballet before joining PNB.  I’m guessing his training is perhaps more well rounded, as San Francisco Ballet is more comprehensive in terms of the styles/techniques they perform, e.g. they are one of the few American companies to include Ashton and MacMillan works in their repertory (begin countdown to San Francisco Ballet’s revival of Symphonic Variations…207 days to go!).  Oddly enough, Lord Gibson also omitted pas de cheval and grand rond de jambe en l’air, which I didn’t think were necessarily too advanced (I take my grand rond de jambes at 45 degrees to work on placement anyway) but perhaps it’s all just coincidence.  Although on second thought, perhaps men, who tend to have less range of motion compared to women find grand rond de jambe en l’air less fun to do.

What I did find interesting is that despite Sir Gibson’s history with SAB and PNB, one of the corrections he gave was to really lengthen through the wrist in a straight line, which I always thought was more of an English thing.  Especially at SAB where they do the hyper extended fingers and such it surprised me that his aesthetic aimed for a purer line.  I’m okay with it though because it’s my preference too but there were some obviously PNB trained dancers in the class who did what they were used to.  If the wrists and hands weren’t a dead giveaway the arabesques certainly were.  Those dancers had really open hips in their arabesque which Balanchine’s ladies are notorious for and while I understand the appeal of a higher arabesque, I still like one that is as square as possible.  The open hip tends to splay out the torso as well and I think it kind of flattens the arabesque thus making it two dimensional.  When the pelvis is more square, then the arabesque has a three dimensional depth to it.  Neither is wrong, just different, but I will say that I still think a square arabesque is better for a promenade or a pirouette.  I’m also convinced that that open of a hip in arabesque makes it impossible to maintain turn out on the standing leg and at best, step onto a parallel leg in a pique arabesque.

I was really pleased that Baron Gibson gave a lot of little jumps, with a warm up of little jumps and two additional petite allegro combinations after that.  By that point in class I was kinda sorta feeling really good and was all “I got this!” and decided to try a little batterie in the assemblés and jetés.  It’s funny because this used to be my least favorite part of class, then one day I decided not to hate them and they became infinitely better for me (power of positive thinking!).  I’m not an adagio dancer nor am I a formidable grand allegro jumper but sometimes I feel like I’ve found a home in petite allegro.  One of my former teachers would have us repeat an allegro and then an optional third time with a faster tempo, which wasn’t always successful for me but I always wanted to try.  Of course yesterday I was practically wheezing after the second run through so I was in no shape to do such a thing but it brought back fond memories.  I think I see petite allegro now like puzzles and it’s fun for me to put the pieces together (I was one of those kids whose parents never bought actual toys, just brainteasers or books so such things still delight me).

Probably the oddest moment of the day was when Earl Gibson had us do a series of battement fondu (basically, leg kicks for those of you unfamiliar with ballet terminology) across the floor.  This wouldn’t strike you as something strange but then the pianist started playing One from A Chorus Line and all of a sudden it was this ritzy, jazz baby moment.  If that doesn’t make you want to break into song I don’t know will (and some people didn’t refrain from a little singing.  Although nobody sang when the pianist was playing Sixteen Going on Seventeen from The Sound of Music, but I would be thoroughly impressed by anyone who could manage to sing during a  frappé combination).  I love to have fun in class as much as the next whacko but this time had me actually trying to stifle a huge Broadway grin in addition to the urge to find a gold sequined top hat to complete the look.  It was unfair.

Class ended with a fun grand allegro (although I thought attempting cabrioles might’ve been pushing it for the day) and the combination ended with a saut de chat, for which Count Gibson didn’t specify arms and you know me, when it comes to this age old question I always have to ask.  The gentlemen had to have their arms in écarté or effacé but the ladies also had the option of going to third.  He said he would never have the men leap with their arms in third so indeed he doesn’t have a wild side like Karen Eliot.  And they say chivalry is dead…

All in all, I had a most wonderful, eye opening time taking class from PNB’s elite instructors and hope they do something like this again.  Maybe next time I’ll make the subtle suggestion of bringing back Dances at a Gathering ASAP.  I really considered writing it on a t-shirt, but I don’t know what kind of sense of humor these people have.

The dance anywhere® project 3/26…DO IT

25 Mar

I had fully intended to write about the dance anywhere® project much sooner than this, but various things kept coming up and now I’m writing at the somewhat eleventh hour (my apologies Julia!).  No excuses though, so I’m going to get to it.  I’ll begin with dance anywhere’s press release, which sums up the necessary details better than I can (plus, copy + paste is viciously tempting in a time crunch):

SIXTH ANNUAL CONCEPTUAL ART PIECE dance anywhere® SET FOR MARCH 26, 2010

THOUSANDS WORLDWIDE TO DANCE SIMULTANEOUSLY AT NOON (PDT)

UNITING TIME ZONES AND PEOPLE IN DANCE

San Francisco, March 19, 2010 – On March 26, 2010, dancers worldwide will come together simultaneously in dance to celebrate the universal importance and joy of movement.  In its sixth year, this conceptual event will take place on Friday, March 26, 2010 at noon Pacific Daylight Time (PDT), 3pm EDT (New York, etc) 8pm in Paris, Rome, etc.

Artist and dance anywhere® originator Beth Fein says, “This conceptual public art is an open invitation to all: to stop and dance wherever they will be at noon on March 26th in San Francisco, New York, Paris, Rome and other cities.  dance anywhere® is a public art project and free to all participants.

Since 2005, dance anywhere® has had hundreds of performers participate on the streets, bridges, in schools etc. dance anywhere®  integrates art into everyday public spacesand exposes unsuspecting audiences to dance.  The project also transforms perceptions of where and how art can occur, demonstrating that art does not need to be exhibited in a gallery, and dance does not need to be performed on a stage. It brings everyone’s awareness to the space they are in: the street, the office, the library, the grocery store or park. Anyone is encouraged to participate, and the project involves people of all ages, abilities, nationalities, and backgrounds. 

For more information about participating in dance anywhere® on March 26, 2010 please go to:  

http://www.danceanywhere.org      Email: Beth Fein at bethfein@danceanywhere.org

For more information about the event or photo requests, contact Jennifer Roy at  roykey@mac.com

or 415-706-7644

Bay Area locations for 2010 include:

 SFMOMA,

 Asian Arts Museum

 Berkeley Art Museum

Rockridge BART

Dancers from across the United States from Hawaii, California, Colorada, Mississippi, to Chicago, NY and Pennsylvania (partial list) and around the world including: Argentina, Chile, Sweden, Switzerland, Estonia, Italy, France, Spain, Turkey, England, Ireland, Austalia, New Zealand, and Guinea have all been a part of dance anywhere®.

DETAILS:

WHAT: dance anywhere®, a participatory global public artwork—anyone who wants to dance can participate, or as audience, shoot photos or video.

WHEN: Friday, March 26, 2010, at noon in San Francisco

WHERE: Various locations throughout the Bay Area and world

ADMISSION: Free

INFORMATION: danceanywhere .com

Now, let’s discuss shall we?

First of all, I have to say that I’m a huge fan of this kind of ambush tactic dancing.  I think people don’t dance enough as it is, and I’ve said before that methods of communication gravitate towards verbal and written modes and we lose touch with the ability to communicate with our bodies even though movement is the first thing we learn as infants (or even in the womb!).  There’s a fascinating paradox when it comes to movement; it is a VAST and infinite language and yet it is the most universal and most accessible.  So why is it engaged so little?  I’m in agreement that some people have a preconceived notion that art has to take place in a venue…that paintings belong on walls and dances belong on stage.  Well, I have two words for those people…Opus Jazz.

It’s kind of a funny coincidence that Opus Jazz, featuring dancers of New York City Ballet (including Craig Hall who I recognize from his cameos in Center Stage.  I had no idea who he was at the time, but he has a very handsome, very striking face!) aired on PBS last night, because while watching it I immediately thought of dance anywhere®.  Opus Jazz was a made for film version of the Jerome Robbins piece, shot on location around New York.  Although I’ve never seen the original, the dances took on a new life in new settings, like an abandoned railyard at sunrise or an open concrete courtyard.  That new life being the distinct breath of the city itself, enabled the dancers to really embody that essence and be a part of the setting in an incredibly intimate way.  My point?  Location, location, location.   Site-specific works are something I was introduced to as an attendee of multiple dances at Ohio State University and through those experiences I began to understand and appreciate even more the connection between setting and choreography.  As much as I love ballet, because it’s a genre so grounded in fantasy, a lot of scenary is relegated to painted backdrops.  Sometimes it’s all a part of the grand design a la Symphonic Variations, but sometimes the voice of the setting itself is so weak it really is “just a background.”  But dance anywhere tells us to take the opportunity to find a new voice in new surroundings, outside of the stage and studio; which is likely to change the way you dance.

It certainly presents a lot of challenges (I’m still befuddled as to how the NYCB dancers reeled off all kinds of pirouettes in sneakers on concrete or dirt) but those challenges are sure to teach our bodies to experience a familiar movement in a new way.  But participation in this project (which I highly encourage because I think it’s amazing to feel like you’re a part of something bigger, even if nobody is there to witness your moment) is not limited to people who understand a certain array of dance vocabulary.  No no…so venture forth and move in any way that feels good (or not) to you and join the collective!

As for me, I was all gung ho about participating and I WILL find a way, but I am a bit limited, thanks to a shoulder injury.  I’m basically a garden statue at this point, but I’m hoping it will loosen up by Friday.  When I tried to think of a location that inspired me, I immediately thought of Ohio State’s Browning Ampitheatre, an outdoor theater built in the style of a Greek ampitheater, with gorgeous, semi-circular stone seating.  I know I just said that dance should be danced away from the stage so an outdoor ampitheater is hardly an original idea, but I adore it all the same and I tend not to fight my impulses (you know anything ancient Greek-esque will inspire me!).  I like what I like and that’s just the reality of it all.  I’m actually more drawn to the seats themselves rather than the stage, so maybe I’ll get some friends to join me and play around there.  Or maybe the very idea of having a plan defeats the whole purpose.  Whatever your cup of tea, be it indoors, outdoors, on a stage-like setting or not, whether your dance is serious or just for fun, find a way to be a part of dance anywhere and document it.  Nobody expects you to create an Opus Jazz though…so enjoy the process, whatever the investment that is for you.

The Browning Ampitheater (photo copyright of its respective owner)

Meanwhile, did anyone else enjoy Opus Jazz as much as I did?  I’m still replaying it mentally like when Alphaville’s Forever Young gets stuck in my head.

Reader Topic: Getting Free Dance Lessons

9 Mar

So I was contacted by a reader who moderates the website http://fr.ee, a website that is solely devoted to getting freebies in life, including how to get free dance lessons.  He suggested that as a topic for my blog and I am happy to oblige…because unsurprisingly, I have opinions on this.  They already have a post that is more focused on ballroom dances like salsa, so I thought I’d tackle styles that I’m either more familiar with or have somehow managed to make its way into my category bar you see to the right.

I must preface by saying that my general views on dance are that it is in essence free.  You can put on some music (or not) and whatever movement you do (or not do) IS dance.  Untrained perhaps, but that doesn’t make it undancelike.  In fact, when I attended Separate Panes at OSU, one of the performers was not quite a trained dancer (a work in progress if you will) and yet he moves sinuously and with purpose.  It was obviously innate to him and Svetlana even mentioned how unfair it was that he danced so beautifully and she is a dance major (and ballet extraordinaire).  Unfortunately not everyone is born with such natural abilities, but dance is also one of those things where you get what you put into it.  If you invest the time and money you will see changes…changes of varying degrees depending on your body and your natural abilities but the point is if you want any change, you need to invest in it.  I promise if you do, dance will find a way to reward you!  At any rate, this is not to say you can’t enjoy a little freebie or two and sometimes that’s all you need to get started.

For free ballet lessons, there are a couple of things you can do.  You can watch videos on YouTube or slightly better, borrow an instructional video from your local library.  Personally, I don’t recommend either because if there’s one dance form that really necessitates being in the studio, it’s ballet.  I realize that some people may not have the confidence and that it can all be overwhelming to show up in a leotard and learn a bunch of new French words.  In that sense, watching a few videos is a good way to relieve some of the anticipation and at least see what some of the basic movements look like.  Even the fact that you can rewind videos can be inhibiting…after all, the art of catching up is a part of learning to dance.  If you’re learning a petite allegro and haven’t mastered all of the little jumps, negotiating with your body to get through it when it’s crunch time isn’t going to happen if you have the luxury of rewinding!

It is possible to get free ballet lessons though…for example, BalletMet, the premiere ballet company in Columbus, Ohio puts in vouchers for one free class in every program that they hand out if you attend a performance.  Getting into the performance for free is a different matter, but the voucher of course is.  If you’re really shady, you can even hang out after a performance and pick up programs people left behind or dig through the trash if you must.  If you’re super-shady, you can even ask if any of your friends are going, ask if you can have their free class and/or have them play raccoon and dig through trash for you.  It’s not glamorous…but it is free.

For jazz classes, my opinion differs a bit.  Pretty much the only way to get a free jazz class is to hope a studio might have a “bring a friend” day or a “first class free” kind of deal and there’s no way to find that out unless you know someone who attends that particular studio (I brought a friend once to a jazz class at OSU…talked to the teacher beforehand and she was cool with it.  Come to think of it, if you are a college student, checking to see if your university offers dance classes is another potential opportunity for free classes.  If you’re already paying full time tuition, why not?).  So talking is your best weapon, but I actually do approve a bit of videos for jazz.  Jazz has some neat tricks and when it comes to learning a trick-type skill, sometimes the “monkey-see-monkey-do” approach works best.  For example, watching videos is how I learned the mechanics of an illusion turn (not that I can do one, but I know how it works thanks to video).  Also, videos online in particular have been a way for innovative moves to be passed around, because unlike ballet, jazz has tons of room for new steps.

When it comes to modern, I believe it’s important to be in the studio (or not) again.  What I mean is it’s important to be somewhere…in a group, in a space, with a someone who can tell you what you’re doing or you can decide what to do, together.  The beauty of modern is that it doesn’t have to be a studio…I love it when dances take place outside.  A great way to get free classes in modern technique though is to keep your ear to the ground for any upcoming festivals, symposiums and workshops.  Modern dancers need income of course, but they are also more eager to spread their ideas, techniques and style than in any other dance form, resulting in some free opportunities.  It can be hard to find your way into the modern community though and my recommendation is to start with a local university with a dance department, since a lot of research happens there and local events often emerge as dance majors and graduate students seek to solidify their voices as they get their degrees.  These are emerging artists that need guinea pigs…volunteers are greatly appreciated.

As for tap classes, I have never taken a tap class but I can offer one unique idea.  I do not joke when I say this, but volunteer at a senior center.  I know someone who did, found out that some of the residents were hoofers and learned from them for what?  For free.  It’s an idea that is full of win-win because the old folks love to have visitors and something to look forward to and you get free tap lessons.  Think about it, this is the generation that grew up watching the likes of Fred and Ginger, Eleanor Powell and that handsome devil Gene Kelly.  For the elderly of today, tap was a BIG DEAL in their day and recreational lessons oh so very common.  This is not to say I think you should find a senior center and interrogate each resident until you find one who can tap…but the opportunity may present itself if you’re already volunteering.  They’re bound to have wonderful stories too about tap dancing in its golden age.

If none of the above works for you…be a man.  Literally.  You’d be surprised what that can get you in the world of dance.

Rodrigo y Gabriela por favor

28 Nov

Yeek!  So the holidays and visiting friends has made my posts scattered this month.  I would love to return to a sense of normalcy, but December isn’t exactly the most stable month of the year either.  I’ll try though…not that it matters to anyone else, but I get annoyed when I’m spastic because that’s my natural tendency and I struggle with consistency in…well, life, so it’s something I try to work on for myself.  I’ve got a new bunch of new DVD’s on reserve at the library (I also caved and bought the Royal Ballet’s new production of Manon on DVD so that should be arriving any day now…Rojo save us!), but I’m actually in the mood for a music post today.

I’d like to highlight a duo, Rodrigo y Gabriela.  If you follow me on twitter, they are the only group I ever tweet for musicmondays, mostly because I’m pretty sure the majority of people wouldn’t be amused by a tweet like “Leonard Bernstein, Jeremiah Symphony! #musicmonday” or “Emil von Sauer, Piano Concerto no.1 KICKS ASS #musicmonday” and anything remotely recent I listen to people already know about.  But Rodrigo y Gabriela are somewhat obscure, but have a sound most people would enjoy, and as a result they’re gaining popularity in mainstream American media with appearances on late night talk shows and the like (like all good things, Europe appreciated them first).  I however, have been a fan for five or six years now, since the release of Re-Foc, the rerelease of their first album Foc.  I know what you’re thinking…and yes I have impeccable taste, but that’s beside the point.  The duo is lead by Rodrigo Sánchez on lead guitar and Gabriela Quintero on the rhythm guitar (with the occasional guest on another instrument).  They have sort of a flamenco-ish style with latin rhythms and are AMAZING.  I can’t tell you how obsessively I listen to their albums, and they do a fantastic job of having their own, original style, performing compositions they wrote themselves as well as covers.

It was funny looking for dances to their music because there wasn’t very much, but what did turn up was eclectic to say the least.  Who could have envisioned this music would be used for Irish stepdance, breakdance and…jazz/lyrical/modern?  (I hate to say “contemporary” because that was kind of coined by SYTYCD, so I’ll call it “jalyrimo.”)  It’s an odd assortment of styles, but I love to see that because I think it speaks volumes as to the universal appeal of Rodrigo y Gabriela’s music.  Weird, maybe…but it’s incredulously wonderful that so many people have been inspired by them in their own way, and translated that inspiration into their own language of dance.  It’s also great because it breaks this image that Irish dance has to be to Irish music, or that break dance has to be to hip hop, etc.  I don’t think jalyrimo should be one of the select dance forms that’s allowed to experiment with different musical genres.

Without further ado, we have a piece titled Chorine, choreographed by Nicholas Yenson for a BA exam at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance (sounds prestigious to me!).  The piece is danced to Diem, which coincidentally is my favorite track from Re-Foc.  There’s a break in the middle of the song where it just gets in your face and the rhythm is so heavy it’s like you can feel your heart matching the beat.  It is literally impossible to walk while listening to this song on your ipod and not have this insatiable urge to move, and especially at that big feature moment (which is where Yenson performs his solo).  If you don’t have that urge…well, there’s probably something wrong with you.  I can’t really comment on the dance itself, because I don’t really know anything about Irish dance (I have seen Riverdance live though…that was a thrill!), but nonetheless I really enjoyed the performance, so bravo!

Next is another dance form I really can’t (and shouldn’t comment on) which is break dance, set to Diablo Rojo from Rodrigo y Gabriela’s self-titled album.  Double-coincidentally, Diablo Rojo happens to be my favorite track from the second album, with Juan Loco in a close second.  I like the driving, fast and furious music, although it should be known that they do great slower, sort of loungey music as well that’s great to relax to.  You definitely get your money’s worth with a purchase of any of their albums.  Breakdance to Diablo Rojo was actually a really big (and pleasant) surprise for me because it was really unexpected.  The piece (no title as far as I can tell) was performed by the break dance club of Leeds University, for an annual dance show they put on towards the end of the year.  From what I can gather, there are other student clubs including a Modern Dance Society that offer dance classes and then put on an annual show.  I don’t know whether Leeds has a dance department or not (it appears they do), but I’m very impressed that student run organizations put together an annual show and surely have lighting/tech rehearsals, costuming and the like.  Anyway, breakdance isn’t exactly my favorite genre (it’s not that I hate it, it’s just not my thing) but this piece actually gets my “pick of the day” seal of approval, for choosing unconventional music for breaking.  It was fun to watch!

Last is jalyrimo, one of them being a complete piece and the other being just some rough phrases, both set to Orion (a Metallica cover), also from the self-titled album.  Orion doesn’t have as much pace as Diem or Diablo Rojo, and is a little more steady and loose which aptly fits the jalyrimo style.  I’m not surprised two choreographers decided to pick the same song, and I’m sure they wouldn’t be either.  The staged performance, Subito, poco a poco, choreographed by Cara Scrementi appears to be at one of the Loyola Universities, so Rodrigo y Gabriela’s music is making its way into the American dance scene.  In Subito, the choreographer intended to include movements that looked like they were being controlled by external forces, which really came through about a 1:20 in, where there these hunched over leg kicks that flick out of nowhere.  Complete opposite from the whooshy, lifted grand battement of ballet.  I think the piece could have been a little more daring if the intent was to “take control of forced movement,” like there’s a part in the middle where the dancers are doing turning leaps into rolls on the ground in a circle, and it seemed a little too geometric to me.  I think the fact that the exact same phrase was repeated in the opposite direction is what made it so mathematical, and I found myself craving a little spontanaeity.  Nevertheless, excellent work.

Rodrigo y Gabriela’s latest album, 11:11 was just released this autumn so it would be unreasonable to expect a dance to any of the tracks already, but I hope we see more in the future.  The concept behind the album is really cool, as each track is specifically dedicated to a musical artist that inspired them.  My favorites include Hanuman (dedicated to Carlos Santana), Buster Voodoo (dedicated to Jimi Hendrix), Triveni (dedicated to Le Trio Joubran), Savitri (dedicated to John McLaughlin),  Hora Zero (dedicated to Astor Piazzolla) and Atman (dedicated to Dimebag Derrell).  I’ve got a lot of favorites on this album, and in my humble opinion it’s their best work yet, with amazing potential for great dances.  A lot of their songs in this album have some bite to them, so choreographers who want something with an edge to it, get on this!  The whole thing is so damn good, that I must insit on  HIGHLY recommending it.  If there were a term that was above “highly recommended” but just short of “mandatory” while still being suggestive with urgency, that’s the word I would use.

Things to look forward to

26 Oct

Muchos apologies for being out of commission for a few days.  I was kind of sick and was on the road to recovery when I completely lost my voice.  In its current state, it can be best described as “showing signs of life” so it is coming back, but it made it difficult to write because I often talk myself through my writing and when no sound comes out, it’s just distracting.  It wasn’t that I couldn’t write; it just bothered me too much that I couldn’t read aloud.  It was nice to have a short break from blogging anyway.

I had a fantastic weekend, and saw a show on Friday, Columbus Dances X, which featured up and coming artists in Columbus, including a new jazz company, Xclaim.  I am so thrilled that a jazz company is trying to make a name for itself in Columbus, and a friend of mine was actually in the piece so that was awesome and you know me, I love to support.  Neat soundtrack featuring a vocal percussionist and some great movement phrases too, although at times I felt like the phrases looped a lot and it was getting a little repetitive.  Overall I liked the mood of the piece though, and I’m always happy to see a staged work of the jazz genre.  It bothers me that jazz is relegated to the background in musicals (not that I hate musicals!) or is seen in dance competitions (I definitely hate those).  Cities like New York and Chicago have some good jazz companies, but it’s weird to me that it’s taught as much as it is and is invisible in performance venues.  Perhaps jazz isn’t seen as “high art” because it has a tendency to be (or is blatantly) transparent and borderline cheesy, but I say even the simple messages like “I am here to entertain you” have a valid place onstage.

Anyway, I don’t have anything specific to write about for this entry, but I do have a lot of exciting things lined up for myself.  First, I was scouring the web and happened upon a Korean video site that had *gasp* the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux!  Bwahahaha, Round 2 of youdancefunny vs. The Balanchine Trust goes to me!  Although there weren’t many complete videos, there were lots of variations from many big name ballerinas, the most delightful of which I found to be Alina Cojocaru.  She has such a charming, youthful energy, and is of course exceptionally clean.  It’s a good ballet for her, although I’d be interested to see how she fared in the coda.  There was a complete video of Alessandra Ferri, who is not really suited for the role, and clearly struggled with the pace of the fouette-steppy steps and tempo in the coda.  Of the codas I did see, I find it interesting that a lot of ballerinas struggle with it, and quite frankly Suzanne Farrell is unmatched in that department.  Also with the fish dive of doom, there were a lot of…well, anticlimactic ones.  None of them were as daring as Farrell/Martins or Reyes/Corella.  In fact, I was severely disappointed with the vast majority.  I suppose it’s probably a lot harder than it looks though.  Even Patricia McBride, partnered with Baryshnikov didn’t really do much with it, although their solo variations were fantastic.  I also managed to find Marcelo Gomes with someone…but unfortunately it was just the pas de deux with no variations or coda.  He’s a wonderful partner though, and I hope there’s more of that video somewhere out there.  That, and Natalia Osipova…she’s on my wish list for Tchaik.  I can imagine her FLYING into a fish dive of doom.  The only question is, is there a danseur out there man enough to catch her?  She’s light as a feather but with a SERIOUS trajectory.

In other web-scouring, I also happened to find what I think might be a resurrected ketinoa.  Lots of Mariinsky videos, including Balanchine works, which I smartly saved to my computer just in case.  I will FINALLY be able to see Concerto Barocco, Serenade, La Valse and Symphony in C, and decide if I like them enough to purchase a DVD.  I also got Bringing Balanchine Back from the library, so I have a Balanchine intensive week ahead.  It’s going to be good.

I’ve also secured a copy of the Bournonville La Sylphide, so that’s in queue as well.  I also have a few ballets I’ve downloaded, including Royal Ballet’s La Bayadere, Firebird and Sylvia (which I’ve had for quite some time and keep forgetting to get around to!).  Others in the library DVD stack are ABT’s Don Q with Cynthia Harvey, Giselle with Lynn Seymour and Nureyev, and I still haven’t gotten around to La Fille mal gardée.  I don’t know if people are familiar with the reviewer “Ivy Lin” on amazon.com, who writes very in depth and insightful reviews of ballet DVD’s, but she said that the Seymour/Nureyev Giselle should not be anyone’s first full length Giselle.  Uh oh.  But it’ll have to do.  So much to see, so much to think about!  It’s going to be an exciting week.  Don’t you love educating yourself about dance?

In other news, got an e-mail about the presale of Nutcracker tickets.  Cash cow season has officially begun.

Mash-up: A dance version of Glee?

21 Oct

On Monday I started doing pilates again, and it was rough.  I had been doing them every day for a long time, progressed to more advanced exercises, and then after a vacation just couldn’t get back into it.  So there I was, almost eleven months later, starting all over from scratch with the beginner exercises.  It was sad…I’m so weak, so out of shape, and I was annoyed with myself.  But it’s one of those things where you just have to start again and stick with it, because if you obsess over where you used to be, you’re not going to want to try.  At least it was better than the very first time I did pilates, when I REALLY couldn’t do anything.  Things will come back faster, and interestingly enough I think parts of my core that were dormant have been reawakened.  I tried pirouettes just for funsies, and managed okay triples on both sides.  Given, I was wearing socks on a shiny hardwood floor, but I’ll take it!  There was one 3.5 that even stayed on relevé, so I think this is my body’s way of telling me to work out before it deteriorates completely.  Little gifts like triple pirouettes are only a taste of what’s to come, it promises.

Anyway, today is Wednesday, which for me, is ALL about Glee.  It’s no secret that I am completely obsessed with this show, and to a potentially unhealthy degree.  I guess in some ways it’s what I wish my high school experience was like.  Although I was (and never will be) no singer, I was involved in the geekier stuff like band and theatre that attracted bullying and teasing like a cows to an alien tractor beam.  I don’t know if this show will have any lasting effect on that, but it is my greatest hope that someday, something will change the minds of young people who think it’s acceptable to make fun of others based on what they’re passionate about.  I didn’t choose my talents and it was difficult for me to understand why people were so intent on being merciless towards me.  My senior year I was one of the best flute players in the school, and I was constantly mocked for that and many other reasons (being a minority, effeminate, skinny and unathletic…I was the TRIPLE bullseye).  I know what it’s like to be a Rachel or a Kurt (Kurchel?)…to have talents and a personality that few seemed to appreciate and although I never had a slushie thrown in my face I had plenty of cruelties tossed my way.  I’d be lying if I said it didn’t affect me…on the one hand, putting up with all that crap made me headstrong (maaaaaybe stubborn), but I still have plenty of insecurities.  But this can also be attributed to my zodiacs…the Aries in me always says “GO FOR IT!” but those who are born in the Year of the Rat with wood as their element are incredibly insecure people.  It’s a strange dynamic that I have to go through just to make decisions.

It wasn’t until I started dancing (and this was towards the end of university mind you!) that the repair process even began.  It was through dance that I finally started to appreciate the person I am, regardless of whether other people did or not.  This is why I love dance more than life itself and Glee almost as much as I love dance.  However, as much as I love both, I can’t see them mixing very well.  I don’t think a dance version of Glee would work out, for a couple of reasons.  First, being on the dance team doesn’t qualify as geeky.  Second, and the most important, is that people who sing can come from many different backgrounds, which is the same in dance, but with singing, the uniting force is language, and the spoken (er…sung?) word.  We’re trained as soon as we can make any kind of sound from our mouths to speak a language.  However, the common element between all the different dance forms is movement, which despite being the realm of exploration for modern, is much more obscure because most of us aren’t taught to “speak movement” so intensively.  This is why I feel an appreciation for dance is so necessary for a healthy, balanced life.  Just as one should know how to read, so should they know how to observe communication through dance.  It’s no wonder people often show up to their first dance class, a completely insecure wreck, because they’re so out of touch with their bodies.  Dance/movement training should be incorporated a lot more into schools methinks…I went to public school and we never had anything like that.  But dance education is a completely different beast, for another day.

Listen to what the cast of Glee had to say about their first dance experiences:

This begs the question though of why is dance so invisible in mainstream media?  Why is it reduced to the occasional, poorly done stereotype?  It was interesting to me that ballet and New York are kind of synonymous, and yet Veronika Part’s appearance on Letterman just a few months ago was the FIRST time they’ve ever had a ballet dancer.  WHAT?!?  Really??  We get a few movies here and there, most of them being terrible…why is it so difficult to have a compelling plot involving dance in a movie?  Or why aren’t there any television shows where characters are dancers?  And if there are, why are they always portrayed a certain way?  You know what I mean, there are exaggerated stereotypes, as if being a dancer prevents you from being a socially adjusted human being…like this one episode of Will and Grace where Will was dating a dancer, who said something like “I did a rond de jambe when I meant to grand jeté it was so embarrassing.”  First of all, there is no possible way to make that mistake, and there’s no way a dancer would say that to someone who had no idea what those terms meant.  Boo on you writers, for crossing your fingers and hoping the technical jargon would suffice.  Or how about when that character shows up at Will’s apartment decked in full Nutcracker makeup, jumping up and down at the door, and later on balancés down the sidewalk to catch snowflakes on his tongue.  Professional dancers don’t do that (unless they intend to)!  I do that!  And only because I’m trying to be funny, not because I’m crazy.

It’s about time dance got some decent exposure on television, for what it truly is.  Not as background for music videos, “reality” shows or B-movies.  I wish there was a talk show that invited dancers, choreographers, artistic directors etc. to be interviewed and  allowed audiences to get to know them as people as well as find out more about their upcoming projects.  Kind of like Actor’s Studio, or even better, something laid back like Ellen DeGeneres’ show…and the host should be me because I could use a job.  I’m interested in everything dance, so why not?  Except butoh…sorry, won’t do that again.

And just for fun, Kurt…because we love Kurt.

Too many questions…just Shine On!

14 Oct

This is going to be a weird post.  I was recently reminded of one of my favorite movies, B.A.P.S., starring Halle Berry and Natalie Desselle.  I have to preface by saying this is one of those movies that you wouldn’t think would be that good, but it’s actually really charming.  The plot has little to do with dance, although the impetus for getting the two homegirls from Georgia, Nisi (Berry) and Mickey (Desselle) to LA is that they blow their life savings on a pipe dream that Nisi will become a famous music video dance girl for some rapper.  She is of course, way out of her league but there is a scene where she is standing in line for the cattle call audition, and she has a little throwdown with a jazz dancer.  It is, quite possibly the funniest thing I think Halle Berry has ever done, and you know I love it when someone dances funny!:

Sure, she needed a reality check (and she got it), but you have to appreciate a person who puts in their all, regardless of what the end product is.  Honesty and dishonesty is kind of the central theme of the movie, and how good people are good people, no matter where they come from.  Also, that dreams are worth pursuing and sometimes it takes an unconventional and unexpected way to get there (their original dream is to open a combination hair salon/restaurant).  Although B.A.P.S. got some scathing critical reviews (many of which I found overly pretentious anyway.  Seriously, some people need to learn to SMILE more often), it seems to resonate well with actual people who aspire to achieve something great.  There are a number of laugh-out-loud scenes, and I won’t go through them because those definitely have nothing to do with dance, but I will say that one involves the orange vinyl suit Nisi is wearing in that audition, and a disastrous encounter with a bidet, due to an unenlightened state of its actual purpose.  The reason I bring this up is because the song that was playing during that debacle I immediately recognized as the Allegro Assai from Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Recorders in D Minor, a song that was on the very first CD I ever bought.  Small world!  Oh, and the song at the end of the movie is dare I say, kick ass…although the movie version is a cover and not available in the soundtrack (or apparently anywhere on Earth), the original song is Shine On by Cindy Mizelle and Tony Moran, with the radio edit being the closest to the movie track.  A must for any jazz class playlist, or if like me, you need an upbeat song to wake you up from the dead every morning.

Download Link for Shine On

Even though the dance aspect of this movie is thin, it got me thinking about dance, the pursuit of dreams and taking risks.  How can dancers balance a sense of honesty about their expectations, neither overestimating their abilities nor depreciating them?  Or how do dancers decide whether it’s worth pursuing their dreams, or how should the people around them either support that pursuit or maybe tell them it’s okay to consider other options?  And how can dancers retain a sense of identity and who they are, when they constantly have choreographers, artistic directors and the like telling them what to do and how to do things?  How can dancers stay sane in a world that is so wonderful and yet one of the cruelest “businesses” out there?  Does the sun make noise?  I have a million questions swirling around in my mind when I think about this, because it’s such a sensitive topic.  I don’t think there’s a right answer because it’s so different for each individual.  I mean, I want to run through the hills telling everyone they should try to pursue their dance dreams, but I’d have to do so knowing that many are inevitably going to be hurt by the process…and is that necessarily a good thing?  The ethics of the situation are killing my fairy tales and sunshine brain.

Come to think of it, I’m not even sure what my role is in the world of dance.  I always find that it’s much easier for me to encourage other people than it is to encourage myself.  I have a knack for analyzing situations, computing the possibilities, and playing the optimist for others…it comes naturally for me.  I have been told this on many an occasion, that I’m an awesome “supporter,” but what does that mean?  Does it mean I should be doing the thing I am deficient at and challenge myself to take risks or does it mean I should do what I’m good at and be a loving patron of the arts?  Hypothetically speaking, if I were to win the lottery, I’d be faced with the choice of taking the risk or being the philanthropist, and I’m not sure what I would do.  What about my dreams of dancing?  What exactly are my dreams of dancing?  I don’t even know, and it bothers me that the one person I can’t seem to help is myself.  But you know what they say…those who see everything are typically blind to themselves.

Anyway, that was probably fifty more questions than necessary but it’s the thought process that haunts me every now and then, more so lately as I struggle to find a job and in addition to the struggle of figuring out what I should be doing in life!  (and where!  This town is driving me nuts!) I’m beginning to think…well, I’m pretty sure at this point I know since I have a tendency to be one of those “black and white with my heart set on it” kind of people, that there is probably one job in the entire world that’s right for me, which would make things easy…if I knew what it was.  But as Nisi would say “good things come in threes” so when things are good, they might just be triple good and maybe it’s a matter of looking for the signs in the tea leaves.  To others out there who are in a similar boat, or dare I say the same one, chances are you think too much.  So in an effort to encourage, I’m about to get all saccharine and motivational on you…just listen to Cindy Mizelle and “Shine on!”

B.A.P.S. in 10 parts on YouTube:

My most brilliant idea ever: Hugh Jackman and Kristin Chenoweth should host a variety show together

26 Aug

I think I should take a moment to formally explain my thoughts on what I have alluded to a couple of times of this being the “age of mediocrity.”  I’ve tried to explain this before to friends, and I lost them in the process so I don’t know if this is going to work, but here goes.  The “age of mediocrity” is largely defined by several factors:

The idea of “who you know” as opposed to “what you can do” and the influence of money

This debate is fortunately less discussed in dance since there are always opportunities to prove one’s prowess in auditions, but it can still make or break a career in terms of promoting dancers to principals or helping a company gain exposure.  In other sectors of entertainment the “who you know” manifests in talentless hacks who record albums, a leap onto the silver screen, or otherwise step outside of their box simply because they have the money.  Some who take the risk are actually gifted and know their place in the world…most are not.

Cheap aesthetics over quality

Somehow sex appeal is now being defined by how attractive one’s visual image is, with a complete disregard for personality or talent.  At one time, it was the other way around…the talented ascended the ranks while a pretty face guaranteed nothing.  In dance, this translates to the constant “higher extensions, prettier feet, more turns” yammering that rages on, while dancers with artistic substance are left behind.  Some say those expressive dancers are just bitter…and I say, they have every right to be!

Overdependence on technology

There are a lot of interesting innovations in technology and art, but there is a certain boundary that’s broken when the technology controls the art.  Technology needs to be used more responsibly, not as a parachute to save a falling heap of crap.

The push for versatility

Versatility is awesome.  People can always learn new things and take risks.  But not everyone is indeed truly versatile, and people need to know their place.  Versatility should be the icing on the cake not the crux of one’s career.  Not every musician plays every instrument in an orchestra.

Reality television

There are the shows where stupid people are paid to do stupid things, and other reality shows are what they are because they can be cheaply produced.  In the end, we’re getting what they pay for.  As if it would be some terrible thing to seek real talent and pay them to do what they do best.

As you can see, this is an issue that I have a lot of rage over, because like many, I’m sick of low-quality, uninspired entertainment.  This is what keeps me running back to live music and dance, because professional musicians and dancers know how it works.  They know how much work it takes to get to where they are and they understand that once they find their niche, they can venture out and explore, but with realistic expectations.  Personally, I don’t even care if someone is not the best ever, doesn’t have the best lines or technical abilities…just show me something thoughtful, with substance and I shall proceed to enjoy (or ponder…whatever it is you want your audience to do).

There are of course some really talented stars out there, but their accolades are often drowned in really dumb news about celebrities who suck.  For as much as Hugh Jackman is praised, I still don’t think he gets enough credit for what he’s able to do.  He’s the rare talent who IS versatile and yet quite humble (gotta love that Aussie nature…and accent) and respects his place in the world of performing arts.  In an interview on the Ellen DeGeneres show earlier this year, he made it a point to stop the interview to talk about how moved he was when he went to see the Bolshoi Ballet:

He has also mentioned in articles before too that he wanted to be a dancer when he was younger, saying:

In another world, another life, probably growing up in another country, I might have been more of a dancer. In fact I was going down that road when I was about 12.  I was encouraged to do that, and I remember my brother saying, ‘Ah, you poof,’ so I gave it up. I dropped it like a hot rock. I didn’t have the guts of Billy Elliot at the time!

So ten points for the Billy Elliot reference and another fifty for acknowledging the courage of the male dancer.  It really shouldn’t be a surprise that he would be so thoughtful, because he is an earth monkey (Chinese zodiac, not in the Invader Zim sense), and people born in the year of the monkey are known for their intelligence and thoughtfulness.  Coincidentally, I was born in the year of the rat, and I shouldn’t even be surprised that I admire Hugh Jackman because rats, monkeys and dragons are in the same “triangle of affinity,” which means we have a tendency to like each other.  Anyway, even though his brother’s words deprived us of a more technically trained Hugh Jackman (I love that he can hold his own in Broadway jazz, but the image of a Hugh Jackman with ballet bravura is delish), his brother was also a big part of the reason why Jackman went back to the studio, which I found out in a different article:

Six years later, his father took the boys to see the musical “42nd Street.” At intermission, his brother apologized for being such a jerk years before. “He said, ‘Hugh, you should be up there doing that stuff,’ ” Jackman recalls. “It made me tear up at the time — it was a beautiful thing to say — and I actually went straightaway and did dance classes from then.”

Isn’t that the most amazing thing you’ve ever heard?  A commenter on my blog mentioned how sorely missed the variety show is, and I think Jackman is probably the only actor out there who has the ability and magnetic pull of a Dean Martin or Carol Burnett to really be successful at it.  The Austin Chronicle published an interview with Carol Burnett in January about what a variety show would need for success, and she said it would need a host that audiences can latch onto, and great writers with no egos (which goes for the actors too!).  Jackman definitely fits the bill, but I say take it a step further and add a second host.  Another earth monkey…Kristin Chenoweth!  Can you IMAGINE the possibilities if these two were the host of their own variety show?  It kills me that these two are among the most talented people in show business, and I don’t think they’ve ever collaborated on anything (and for the record, neither are among the top 10 paid actors/actresses in Hollywood…it’s sick).  Kristin’s comedic abilities are vastly underrated and both are surely used to improv and live performances thanks to their experience in theater (and not just TV and movies like some actors), and the fact alone that Jackman is 6’2” and Chenoweth is 4’11” has the makings for comedy gold.  I’m seriously five seconds away from starting a petition or something.

 

My two favorite earth monkeys...we know they're friends, could it be just a matter of time before they have a variety show?

My two favorite earth monkeys...we know they're friends, could it be just a matter of time before they have a variety show?

Anyway, just for the hell of it, I love Hugh in this video from the Tonys where he pulls NYCB patron Sarah Jessica Parker up on stage (in a totally Giselle/Sylphide dress I might add) to have a good time (oddly enough, she claims she’s not a dancer…but didn’t she attend SAB for a while?)

“I’m always very nervous about the word dancer next to my name because anyone who’s really trained in dance will go, ‘This guy’s fudging so badly.'”

-Hugh Jackman

Support dance mentoring and down with the tyranny of the Balanchine Trust!

21 Aug

So I was actually writing this entry yesterday, but decided to go out for a walk, despite an impending thunderstorm.  The park in question (Highbanks, for you C-busers) was right on the edge of the storm so it was kind of deceiving because there was a lot of sun, and I kid you not when I say after getting out of the car, I walked on the trail for about ten seconds when there was a flash of lightning and a deafening crash of thunder.  It actually scared flocks of birds out of trees, so needless to say I high-tailed it out of there.  Anyway, I have in store for you, a smorgasbord entry of mish-mash-melee and unrelated pieces of information, but as always relating to dance.  I also write this amidst recovering from a slight sinus headache of some kind that has been perpetuating for a couple of days.  If you’ve had one, you’d know because port de bras forward makes your head throb and all your muscles are tight as if your body’s been shrink-wrapped.  Oddly enough, that kind of helped my turns, but I would prefer to do without the feeling like I ran into a wall (which happens enough of its own accord).

So young grasshopper, maybe you noticed a couple of new links on the sidebar?  I have a couple of public service announcements, because I like to pretend that an influential public figure might be reading this blog.  So cause number first, is a project shpearheaded by a PhD student at Ohio State, Ashley Thorndike (who I’ve had the pleasure of taking of class from) called the Now & Next Dance Mentoring Project.  Its goals focus on providing service learning opportunities for college age dancers to teach in diverse settings, developing physical competence among adolescent girls, and of course supporting established and emerging dance artists by having them teach in workshops.  She’s looking to promote this at institutions all over the US and Canada, so please check out the website (click here) and join their mailing list/facebook page to stay in the loop or forward information to potentially interested parties.  One thing I love about the dance community is that it IS a community, and dancers, choreographers and students alike are always supporting each other.  They also take donations to help fund the organization, and personally I think this is a great project because oftentimes I think people take for granted what it means to have a mentor.  Not every coach or teacher is in fact a great mentor, and I think this project will help target the development of mentoring skills.  Plus, I’ve always liked Ashley because she has this really entertaining “super model laugh,” where she does the closed eyes, mouth wide open giggle. It’s awesome.  Don’t be fooled, she has moxie though; I remember during one class we were slated to watch a re-staging of Anna Sokolow’s Steps of Silence (jarring music, contorted bodies, oppression, concentration camps…HEAVY stuff) and one of the dancers was sick/injured, and since Ashley had danced that part once before, she ended up filling in.  Now Sokolow was no fluffy choreographer…she meant business, and in that piece the dancers strip down to their underwear like in the concentration camps, and something tells me Ashley wasn’t planning on leaping in front of her entire lecture class in her underwear.  She’s a pro though, and a true artist because it didn’t phase her at all. If it were me, I would have passed out…so if you’re interested in collaborating with Ashley on this project, rest assured you’ve got a confident and good natured professional on your hands.  Best of luck Ashley!

Next cause was made aware to me via theballetbag on twitter, which is that popular youtube user “ketinoa” had their account removed, which included around 1300 videos of the Kirov/Mariinsky performing, some of which I had seen myself.  They were an invaluable (why is it that valuable and invaluable mean the same thing?) resource, for teachers and balletomanes, especially because a lot of us may never get to see the Mariinsky live.  I mentioned in my Salute to Center Stage that the Balanchine Trust is notoriously stingy about having Balanchine works on the tube, and it should come as no surprise that they were the ones responsible for this crime against humanity.  Like, seriously Balanchine Trust…it gets with the program!  Youtube is a great social media outlet that’s basically a free advertising gold mine!  You don’t have to pay, people get to watch, become more interested in Balanchine, and will pay to see his works, because believe it or not, fans of the dance do prefer live performances.  It’s bad enough that a lot of Balanchine’s works aren’t available in full on purchasable media, and if they are it’s an obscure, old VHS tape that hardly anyone has available.  And the fact that one measly percent of the 1300 videos were Balanchine ballets just makes you monstrous biatcherinas.  For more information on how this all went down, and where you can direct your angry e-mails to, check out this video (which hilariously infuses wit with a really sheety situation by calling upon Giselles and Juliets):

I would also like to announce that one of my ducklings, Ifes has a blog to which I’ve added a link, and she’s really into traditional African dance, hip hop, and even a little modern.  I wish I knew a little more about her involvement in those arenas (she did let me try on a lapa once!), but I know she teaches African, choreographed for 3-D, one of the hip-hop (and in my opinion one of the legit) teams at OSU, and…actually I have no idea what she does with modern.  We actually took ballet (which she hates) and jazz together (hey mama!  Papa was a rollin’ stoooone!), saw many modern shows at OSU and we literally traversed through a blizzard to see Ailey II.  She has some beautiful pictures in her blog, and hopefully she’ll write more about her dance experiences for us to enjoy.  Maybe I can convince her to get involved with the Now & Next Dance Mentoring Project!  Oh Billy…sometimes I’m like actually awesome.

Last but not least, if you pay attention to my twitter as much as I do, I posted a link to a review of the script for Black Swan, starring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis (read here).  It sounds really dark, and it’s going to be directed by Darren Aronofsky (director of Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, The Wrestler, among others) so you can expect some serious seriousness.  Normally I don’t do so well with really intense movies, but I have to say this is one I want to see.  With Mao’s Last Dancer coming out this fall, it’s an exciting time for ballet movies…perhaps a legitimate ballet movie will win an Oscar!  I don’t count Benjamin Button because that was a long ass movie that was NOT worth the price of admission for two and a half dinky ballet scenes, which in essence had nothing to do with the story, other than the fact that aging out is an issue in ballet (as if it wasn’t in other career fields?  Puh-lease.)

Have a nice day.

Imposterous! How dancers can learn to be gymnastics-savvy, Part II

19 Aug

Are there more contemporary styles of dance in gymnastics?  Absolutely.  In the late 80’s/early 90’s, a very special, truly one-of-a-kind gymnast came along, by the name of Stella Umeh.  She is by far one of the best dancers to ever take to the gymnastics floor, and she brought with her an aesthetic that was vastly underappreciated at the time (isn’t that kind of true with all modern dance?  Like, if it doesn’t anger the establishment then you haven’t done enough).  She also hails from Canada, which was never a gymnastics powerhouse and was more than likely a victim of politics and racism.  One of the highlights of her career was winning the 1994 Commonwealth Games All-Around title, after which she retired from the elite scene and accepted a scholarship to compete at UCLA (more on that later!).  Pretty damn good for a girl who got started in gymnastics because her mom got lost and ended up stopping at a gymnastics club to ask for directions.

Not only did Stella use percussive music (which was virtually unheard of), her floor routines were choreographed by her sister who would turn on the music, have Stella improvise and they would clean things up from there.  This resulted in the most exhausting floor routines known to man, because the movement would basically never stop and continue from phrase to phrase (As it should be…today we just get a lot of crappy posing).

As I mentioned before, Stella went on to compete at UCLA in 1994, which was also around the time when gymnastics dance started to get really crappy.  Some of the best dancing then appeared in the “underground” so to speak, which was NCAA gymnastics.    Stella continued to have her sister choreograph for her, but she was recruited by one of my idols, the one and only Miss Val (short for Valorie Kondos-Field) to compete for UCLA.  Miss Val was actually a professional dancer herself before having anything to do with gymnastics.  From her bio at the UCLA gymnastics website (Read her full bio here):

Kondos Field’s professional journey has been a unique one. A former professional ballet dancer with the Sacramento Ballet, Capital City Ballet and Washington, D.C. Ballet, she initially got her start in gymnastics at Agilites in Carmichael, Calif. by playing the piano for floor exercise music. From there, she became a dance coach, and under the guidance of current University of Minnesota co-head coach Jim Stephenson, learned the fundamentals of the sport. In 1983, she was hired to be UCLA’s assistant coach and choreographer.

She is now the head coach, and THIS is the recipe for success people.  While Umeh had artistic reign over herself, Miss Val was busy creating routines dances for the other members of the UCLA team.  Even though her background is in ballet, she does EVERYTHING including jazz and modern, and even recently recruited a gymnast a few years ago (Ariana Berlin) who is a hip hop dancer, and included some popping and breaking in her routines.  And it’s REAL hip hop…because it should be noted that there’s a lot of Billy-awful “hip hop” routines in NCAA gymnastics.  Come to think of it, there’s a lot of lackluster dancing in general, because not every college can be in a situation like UCLA, and have access to a really great choreographer, but there’s much more of the good stuff in NCAA rather than international elite (which basically consists of unstylized poses with flexed wrists and hyper extended fingers).  Pop quiz (assuming you read my previous entry) but what is one of the factors that this can be attributed to?  If you answered “NCAA still uses the 10.0 scoring system”, you would be correct.  If you had no idea, it means you’re not a cheater because I don’t think I mentioned anything about the NCAA scoring system.  Oops.

Anyway, lots of Miss Val’s work is legendary, consistently amongst fans’ “favorite floor routines” lists, so I shall give you a sampling of her works.

Something a little jazzier, performed by Jamie Dantzscher to music from the Tomb Rider soundtrack:

Something a little more modern (coincidentally, Kate Richardson is another Canadian.  Her Leah Homma, and Yvonne Tousek are among my favorite UCLA gymnasts, all Canadian.  Miss Val has a knack for picking out Canada’s best)

Miss Val was once asked what her favorite routine was, and I believe she responded with a routine she did for Heidi Moneymaker (now a stuntwoman) set to Taiko drums.  One of the best things about Miss Val too is that she picks a diverse array of music.  The Taiko routine is the second routine in the video below (although Heidi’s other routines were also fantastic).

Now if Miss Val is the queen of choreography, there is another coach, Kristen Smyth (head coach at Stanford) who deserves an honorable mention.  Smyth was a gymnast and danced professionally for a few years in the Bay area, and while her body of work as head coach at Stanford hasn’t been the strongest, one of the most legendary floor routines of all time was choreographed by her for Liz Reid while an assistant coach at Arizona State.  This routine is held in even higher regard to much of what Miss Val has done.  A definite must see:

So there you have it…a crash course in the history of gymnastics dance.  Although far from in depth, at least you have an ace up your sleeve to make you seem like a gymn-snob, and that’s always fun to do once in a while.  Or at the very least, now you have something to help you procrastinate if you feel like trolling around youtube for great dance combined with the cheap thrills we get from awesome tumbling, while avoiding the sheety stuff.  Lots of UCLA and Stella Umeh to see, and so little time!