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Salute to Center Stage

4 Jul

I like to celebrate the glorious 4th of Jew-lai by watching a certain little movie called…CENTER STAGE!  Some people do barbecues, fireworks, pie…I do the dance movie du jour for us easily pleased ballet freaks and geeks (although I do like pie).  It just so happens that there’s a brief clip where Ethan Stiefel and Julie Kent perform the Fifth Campaign/Coda from Balanchine’s Stars and Stripes.  Even though it’s less than 3 minutes of the movie, making the patriotic connection a loosey goosey one, I consider it festive enough for me.  I’d post a clip of the coda, but the Balanchine Trust is really touchy about his material being on youtube, so too bad.  What I can say about the coda is that it’s typical Balanchine, using a Hershy Kay arrangement of John Phillip Sousa’s Manhattan Beach March, complete with pizzazz and those horribly awkward entrechat huit with flexed feet.  It’s an addicting little diddy too…even though as a former piccolo player, I have post-traumatic Sousa disorder, leaving me prone to the vapors whenever I hear his signature work.

As for Center Stage in its entirety, what a deliciously good and awful-in-a-good-way movie.  One of the best things about Center Stage is that it has mostly real dancers and a lot of quality dancing.  You have a few ABT dancers in Stiefel, Kent and also Sascha Radetsky (aka Charlie from Seattle).  Also Amanda Schull in the lead role of Jodie Sawyer, who danced with San Francisco Ballet.  Not to mention many well accomplished dancers in the background (I’m sure there are aficionados who would recognize many of them, and I don’t know enough about the upper echelon of ballet to know who’s who, although I do recognize the face of one guy who was in NYCB’s video dance revival of Jerome Robbins “Opus Jazz,” which I had researched a little for a project).  It’s a real treat to see them perform as well as in various stages of technique class.  Although not a completely accurate portrayal of the ballet world, it’s fun to indulge in the exaggerated ridiculousness.  It’s like a ballet soap opera…the movie.

How can anyone not like badass Eva Rodriguez, who in the real world would have been kicked out for her thorny attitude and mouthing off to the teachers, only to totally venga the smack.down. when prima bitcherina Maureen gave her the role that Eva somehow managed to do without rehearsals, not to mention changing into her costume and going backstage without anyone noticing (and technically Eva was in the corps for Jonathan’s ballet, so who replaced her?).  Oh the blatant logistical errors (of which there are many, many, more)…but that’s Hollywood for you.  They actually did a fairly decent job with the stunt doubles though, including Eva’s, the lovely Aesha Ash.  Zoe Saldana had some background in dance too, so it was fairly seamless.

And then there’s Charlie from Seattle…everyone loves Charlie from Seattle.  The girls love him, and the boys either want to be him, or like Eric O. Jones, love him too.  Incidentally, the scene where they’re all washing the studio mirrors as punishment for getting drunk the night before, Charlie from Seattle is wearing a shirt I recognize only because I used to own it myself.  Navy blue, long sleeves with 2 stripes down them and a little thingie across the middle near the elbow.  That garment hails from Old Navy, but does not make you dance like Charlie from Seattle.  And didn’t we all love the machismo face off he had with Cooper Nielson during the choreography phase of Cooper’s ballet?  Although, if you’ll notice during the actual pas de trois at the end, instead of matching Cooper’s double tour-double pirouette-double tour-double tour-double tour in passé, Charlie from Seattle only did a double tour-single pirouette-double tour-double tour in passé.  But Cooper acts surprised anyway and we’re not supposed to know the difference.  Remember, I have a freakish eye for detail.

And of course, how can we forget little Bambi herself, Jodie Sawyer. The bottom line is, aren’t we all, a Jodie Sawyer?  That’s probably what makes the movie so enjoyable for dancers, as it’s easy to relate to not being perfect and just trying to find your niche in the world instead of pursuing a dream with unrealistic expectations.  She wasn’t all that bad of an actress either…in fact, I found her quite believable.  Incidentally, she will be appearing in a new ballet-related movie called “Mao’s Last Dancer,” a film adaptation of Li Cunxin’s autobiography.  She plays his first wife, who was a dancer so it should be interesting to see how she looks and dances now (albeit a few years removed from retiring from SFB) compared to 9 years ago.

Some A+ music choices too…like Lucien’s variation from Paquita (which incidentally, a friend of mine once told me is the worst ballet ever…haha) and the mazurka from Coppelia in the technique classes, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto no.2 for Jonathan’s ballet, and a medley of awesomeness including MJ’s The Way You Make Me Feel (aww, MJ) and Jamiro Quai’s “Just Dance.”  And saving the best for last, The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ cover of “Higher Ground” from the jazzzzzzzz classssss!  Definitely my favorite scene, for a number of reasons…like that crazy flexible guy who has this ridiculous look on his face when they’re doing battements on the floor, or Cooper Nielson’s slow mo temps ciseux (cause that’s how it happens in real life, yeah?), and it’s just a fun dance to a great song (I even taught most of it to myself just from watching the video).

I have to say though, that the absolute best part of the dance is Ethan Stiefel’s “angry face” that he makes all throughout.  It makes me think of that Mr. Potato Head scene from Toy Story where he says “Prepare to meet Mr. ANGRY EYES!”

Ethan Stiefel's Angry Eyes

Ethan Stiefel’s Angry Eyes

Watch the video:

“Look, just forget about the steps…just dance the shit out of iiiiiit.”

Best. Line. Ever.

Is Center Stage intelligent?  No.  But it’s probably the best dance movie for pure entertainment (any mention of the Step Up sand I’ll scream).  And whatever you do, do NOT, watch the sequel.  It’s a vastly inferior.  I’m still kind of mad at myself for watching it, and that was a few months ago.  And I didn’t pay to watch it either.

Stick with the original, have a seat and watch…and quote half the movie because I know you can.

PS. I’ve figured out the widgets thingie on WordPress, so hopefully my blog is a little more reader-friendly.  Happy 4th everyone!

I Want You Back

29 Jun

So Michael Jackson has been all over the news, and have been trying to figure out how I want to express what it is I want to say.  But by this point it’s not news to anyone so I don’t have to say too much, especially in a blog that’s supposed to be about funny things.  So I’ll keep the serious stuff brief…I mourn, like many fans, the loss of a brilliant (and tortured) performing artist and true talent.  There was always an endless swarm of gossip and controversy surrounding him, and I do feel that he became a very mentally ill individual as a result.  Some of the things he went through both frightened and saddened me, and I wish he could have gotten the help he needed to lead a healthier life.  Regardless of the shell of a human he seemed to be in the end, he was an undeniably force to be reckoned with in the world of entertainment.

The best way to remember an artist is to celebrate their work, and MJ was a tremendously influential figure in dance.  I’m no MJ fanatical historian, but I do remember hearing he had no formal dance training (or possibly very little?) which amazes me.  I believe it was the choreographer for Thriller who said MJ was just a natural born dancer (not to mention the master of pencil turns!  SRSLY.)  And Thriller is one of the dances that inspired my love for jazz.  I learned it in my first jazz class at OSU, my second jazz class, my third…and it’s almost tradition for at least one of the classes to include Thriller or another MJ song into their Informance piece.  Everything about the song, the dance and music video (which still gives me the heebie-jeebies…there are still certain parts I can’t watch without having nightmares for 2 weeks…like that part when the camera zooms in on his face and he’s all rigor mortis zombified) is just epic.  Thriller is the stuff of legends now…with mass zombie and ghoul gatherings every Halloween, with major cities always seeming to try and outdo one another for the most massive mass Thriller record.  I’m guessing this year is going to be a worldwide mad house.

Even then, nobody can dance Thriller the way he did.  Or all the moonwalking variations, 45894594723 pencil turns, and freezing for like 5 minutes in a toe rise.  However, before all that blossomed, I have to say my favorite MJ will always be the pint-sized Bar Mitzvah version from when he was still singing with his brothers as the Jackson 5.  I listen to “I Want You Back” and “The Love You Save” like twenty times a day, and each time it still puts me in a good mood, with ann. extra bounce in my step.  It’s one of my “jams” when driving, and I’ve gotten plenty of weird looks from people who think I’m nuts as I try to dance while at the wheel.  Sons of sea gherkins and filthy bilge rats…AS IF, they wouldn’t be doing the same thing if they were listening to the same songs!

And just look at what a little bumbie-pie he was!

And I’m including this just because I LOVE the dance they break out at about 2 minutes in to the video…YEAH ISOLATIONS!!

So thank you MJ…for some kickass tunes and some wild dancing.  I choose to remember you as an incredibly gifted individual, and will be sorely missed in this age of mediocrity.  Thankfully, your music and your art are eternal and will always hold your place in history as a beacon amongst stars.  (Yeah, I’m sappy at the moment…but “The Jacksons: An American Dream” was just on TV)

Jazzilicious

11 Jun
 

Today’s theme is JAZZ. Why? Because I miss it muchly.

You see, jazz is probably the dance form that best suits my personality. Upbeat, bright, fast, humorous and a wee bit unpredictable. I’m also much more into old school jazz…not so much the dance team “here’s my leg by my FACE” or competition lyrical jazz. I’m talking old Hollywood/Broadway, Charlie Chaplin, Duke Ellington (HELLO, Caravan is like my favorite song ever!) with a dash of Stevie Wonder. I still listen to this kind of stuff on my ipod, and often feel like a card carrying member of a dying species of dinosaurs. Believe me when I say I’m an old soul, and have actually used the term “whippersnapper” in modern times.

I reminisce on my jazzier days because I went to the OSU spring quarter informance. Jazz was one of the first classes I ever took, and it was such a blast. We touched on a lot of different jazz forms, and I got to learn Thriller (classic!), and dances from black and white movies to Austin Powers. ‘Twas a time when I felt all was right with the world, and what an epic quarter that was. Not only was that the jumpstart of my dance obsession, I also sprained my ankle playing tennis a few weeks before the informance (which I ended up able to perform in, but having my ankle wrapped like an eggroll), but during the informance itself the cd cut out and our music stopped. Being the troopers we were, we kept going, with some of us singing “Jailhouse Rock” onstage. They eventually stopped us for a re-do, but to quote the Jersey Boys, “oh what a night!”

During this most recent informance, one of the jazz classes performed to “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours” and of course people were singing along, because it’s such a classic that goes far and beyond a lot of the krappish music that’s popular these days (I’m mostly displeased with the current entertainment industry, as things have fallen into dark, technology dependent times that I like to call the “age of mediocrity,” where anyone with money and no talent can be famous, but that is a story for another day), and it was painful to be in the audience! It actually hurt to not be dancing, especially because I haven’t been in a jazz class for months. A sign that I’ve found what I need to be doing in life? Perhaps. After all, I’m not physically gifted enough for ballet, serious enough for modern, and much too frail for hip hop. But when it comes to jazz, I thrive. I don’t care if it’s as simple as a kick-ball-change or a because I relish every moment like mint chocolate chip ice cream.  Graeter’s, to be specific.  *ETA: I totally misspelled “Graeter’s” which is a blasphemous crime in my religion.  Craig, the part time worker who once let my whacko friends and I in at 9:59 even though they were closing at 10 would be so heinously upset.  Forgive me Craig!

I think my favorite jazz-cd-stopping moment ever, though was during a class when rehearsing a dance to the Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” duckling Ifs (pronounced “eefs”) was singing along and right when she said in a lovely baritone voice “and mama” (about 3:40 into the song), the teacher stopped the cd. I of course, burst out laughing and everyone thought *I* was the lunatic, but in the name of Billy Elliot, let the truth be known. Ifs is a CRAZY. And not I, said the cat who took Jazz 1 five times.

In short, and in theory, me + jazz = hermit crab + shell.

Oh, and for those of you visual peeps, some video stills from the informance:

West African, starring ducklings Ifs, Nacho, Ranchito, Guacamole + more friends

West African, starring ducklings Ifs, Nacho, Ranchito, Guacamole + more friends

Daniela's Modern class, starring Ranchito, Guacamole + more dance elective mafia members

Daniela's Modern class, starring Ranchito, Guacamole + more dance elective mafia members

In other news, dance classes have been over for about a week now, and I am withering away.  Fortunately, the Columbus Summer Dance Festival starts next week, and I’m taking ballet to get a short fix, since I have to go out of town for Balletfest ’09.  Even if I can’t participate in the whole festival, 4 days of something is better then this lackadaisical lifestyle I currently lead.  And I mostly just wanted to use the word “lackadaisical” in a sentence.  Say it out loud, it’s quite funny actually.  But for those dance fans, friends and lovers in the C-bus area, be sure to make your way to the festival and drop in for a class or five.  More information be found approximately heresies:

http://www.dance.ohio-state.edu/5_resources/summer_festival_09.html

And for the record, what the billy is up with the festival having no jazz?!  NOT acceptable.