Tag Archives: abt

Face Your Fear

22 Jun

I don’t know how one normally faces the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, but for me there was an astonishing amount of fear involved. By no means did I think ABT would disappoint—and they didn’t—just that even in reward there is still an element of fear. I liken it to graduating or winning a Nobel prize…on the day of the award ceremony all the work has already been done, but that doesn’t mean your stomach isn’t in knots leading up to the moment when you get that diploma or medal in your hands. Looking back on how difficult things have been in my personal life, from giving up on graduate school, forsaking what I spent years on studying as an undergraduate, to moving across the country with the hopes that I could learn more about dance completely on my own, to working myself to the bone so that I could eke out a living…it has all brought me to this day and I’ve decided that I had every right to fear it, out of sheer amazement that it did in fact happen. I can’t help but feel overwhelmed.

The day started out with a class at Steps on Broadway, yet another bulb on the string of lights that comprises the dancer’s rites of passage, and that was a somewhat rough experience. My expectations were that the class would be crowded and I’d fumble but manage to get through it, but I had no idea I’d freeze like a deer in the headlights! Sure, there were ABT principals who took barre standing right behind me, but I don’t think I was star-struck (having PNB dancers drop in on open classes in Seattle may have helped to desensitize me to it—over time). I think it came down to dancing in a new city, with a new teacher, with no friends in the class, which stripped me of a confidence that I wasn’t fully aware of, and despite what I told myself internally, my body responded to my emotions. It wasn’t pretty…dancing like a nervous wreck looks a lot like just that—a wreck, and it was so weird to feel like I was telling my legs to do one thing and not be able to feel them doing it! There are people who can will themselves to get through such things without a problem (we tend to call them professionals), but it certainly was a humbling reminder of the courage dancers summon every time they put themselves on stage for everyone to see. Interestingly enough, sometimes we may never know the extent to which a dancer rises to the occasion because they so often deliver what is demanded of them.

With that in mind, I can relay the wonderful news that ABT’s production of The Dream was perfection! And this comes from an Ashton enthusiast who watched the film of Anthony Dowell many, many, MANY times before today. Of course there are certain things that I would have preferred, but they were just that—a matter of preference. Overall, The Dream wove a spell that simply couldn’t be broken and I think Ashton smiled upon us tonight. I do enjoy that the Royal Ballet uses a children’s chorus for the vocal parts, which adds a certain charm to the fairy divertissement that contains Titania’s big solo—but I can easily live without it too. Also still missing is the kiss between Lysander and Demetrius during the lover’s confusion scene, reduced to just an emphatic hug, but again, something I can live without (I just think the kiss is funnier). The sets are beautiful and evocative, the costumes wonderful…everything was gorgeous. I couldn’t have asked for more, and I felt so transported into this fantasy that it didn’t even seem like I was watching a ballet anymore. There is something of a consensus among the Twitterfolk that Giselle is a ballet that ABT does incredibly well, and I’d like to submit that their staging of The Dream should be right up there too.

Casting was of course superb, and Marcelo Gomes’s Oberon is so brilliant and so devilishly cunning. Not that you need me to tell you, but everything they say about his acting skills is true, and his technique is also faultless. The make-or-break moment is of course the scherzo, and a few steps were altered from what Dowell originally did, though the choreography is so virtuosic it’s almost like a variation anyway. If I had to nitpick—and I really mean absolutely forced to do it—I did miss one little detail where at the end of Oberon’s first entrance, he does a pirouette and finishes it by diving forward into an immediate penché, a precarious move that could easily end in a faceplant. I had a teacher (she knows who she is) give us this death-defying stunt in class once and I remember my hands became well acquainted with the floor that day. Marcelo ended in an arabesque—something he happens to be very good at I might add, for those of you who have seen his Von Rothbart—but when all is said and done, I do prefer clean dancing and though the penché enhances a dramatic hit in the music and perhaps inflates Oberon’s ego, the effect isn’t entirely lost. In fact what I was most impressed with by Marcelo’s scherzo was how he wove in and out of the music, at times bending it to his will, highlighting his power as the king of the forest. During the manège of tour jetés en tournant, that tricky guy inserted an extra turn coming out of one of the jumps and somehow managed to find the time for an extra step in an already brisk dance.

Having watched The Dream every other day of my life you’d think I wouldn’t be surprised by anything, but seeing it live added such wonderful dimensions to my understanding of it. I used to think Oberon was just a selfish brat, but the way in which Marcelo simply spied on the lovers made me sympathetic towards him, because despite his power and regality, Oberon desires the love that Lysander and Hermia have for each other in effect, wanting to be human. One of the keys to great story ballets is characters we can relate to and although Oberon is mythical, we respond quite easily to the idea of quarreling with a lover, but beneath the surface we also respond to the jealousy and longing he feels. After all, despite his cruel prank on Titania, he does have a sense of justice in righting the wrongs between the four lovers. He could’ve easily left them to their own devices once he got what he wanted, but does in fact absolve their issues before his own. Watching it live also seemed to paint more hues into this watercolor of love, making it messy, wounded, repaired, confusing, imperfect, selfish, unreciprocated, manipulative, beautiful, and a slew of other adjectives that we all have used to describe love at one time or another. We see so much of ourselves in The Dream that it’s virtually impossible not to follow the story with incredible ease.

Meanwhile, Julie Kent was stunning as Titania, a picture of elegance with a hint of sass. Though I never doubted her talents, I feel lucky to now know why she is so beloved by the New York audience. Daniil Simkin was also a fun Puck to watch, with a wonderfully airy, playful quality. Simkin is so light on his feet I couldn’t hear a sound when he landed from a jump, and he is entirely believable as a slippery, wily elfin creature. Kenneth Easter was great as Bottom, and I enjoyed all four lovers immensely (Adrienne Schulte as Helena, Kristi Boone as Hermia, Gennadi Saveliev as Demetrius, and Roman Zhurbin as Lysander). Between the above roles and the four fairies Cobweb, Peaseblossom, Moth, and Mustardseed, I have to say that Ashton really did well to create such fine dancing roles, and incorporate them seamlessly into a one-act ballet, while giving so many the chance to shine. I think any accomplished dancer can be proud to dance any role in The Dream, and though the following generalization may come back to bite me in the ass someday, I also kind of think that it’s a ballet that would be difficult to look awful in. And just so we’re clear, I’m not looking to be proven wrong about this! With an obvious bias for the genius of Ashton, it’s how I felt leaving the opera house today.

As for Ratmansky’s Firebird…well, it ended up being essentially what I was afraid of and unfortunately I’m not one who enjoyed it, though a second viewing may (but probably won’t) change that. Still, I have reservations with writing about it in a euphoric state because I don’t want to end on a sour note. Already odd references to tube worms and a Muppets version of Balanchine’s Jewels (which, for the record, is an observation I made, in case Eric Taub steals it!) are invading my mind, so let us (well, at least me) dream of fairies tonight and I’ll talk Firebird tomorrow. Just to give a little snippet though, I did think Isabella Boylston was both impressive and enchanting.

So, good night, with lullaby.

-William Shakespeare

P.S. I did go to the stage door today, though I cheated and went after most of the dancers had left. I think I’m going to do it for real tomorrow!

Help…me?

4 Feb

When American Ballet Theatre announced that they would perform Sir Frederick Ashton’s The Dream as a part of their 2012 MET season, I made up my mind then and there—I would go. Ashton is my hero, The Dream debuted on April 2nd, 1964 and my birthday is April 2nd so while I don’t like to throw around the word ‘destiny’ it is pretty nifty if you’re as geeky as I am. Plus, I’ve never been to New York and have obviously never seen ABT and both are necessary experiences in a dancer’s life. In anticipation, I’ve been crossing my fingers like crazy that Marcelo Gomes would dance Oberon for one of the four performances, but ABT hasn’t posted casting yet (though upon hearing the recent news that Gomes would be partnering Alina Cojocaru in London next week for a performance of The Dream with The Royal Ballet, I’d like to believe that the outlook is good!). My initial solution to this conundrum was to see all four casts—after all, my most eminent teacher and fellow Ashton devotee Karen Eliot (who saw Anthony Dowell perform The Dream in London mind you!) attended the performance with Gillian Murphy and David Hallberg cast as Titania and Oberon and said it was perfection. A Gomes Oberon or not, I really figured I couldn’t go wrong if I saw every cast. And maybe I will…or maybe I need to “Dream” (har har) bigger.

I suppose I’m a struggling dance writer, scraping by at minimum wage and writing when I can. For the past few months I was excruciatingly busy with work and the frequency of my writing suffered as a result. Fortunately, the days of two jobs are over for now and I’m slowly regaining focus on the things that truly matter. However, luxury is something I can’t afford and a few days in one of the most expensive cities in the world is the best I can do—though I’m lucky and grateful that I can treat myself to that much! Still, June is chock full of great ballets I want to see and it’s painful to have to choose. I’ve even entertained the idea of forsaking The Dream and going in the first weekend of June to see The Bright Stream, a great mixed rep from New York City Ballet, and Onegin because variety is the spice of life and being a patron of the arts requires that you expose yourself to the unfamiliar. In a weird way there’s a parallel built into the semantics—do I follow my “Dream,” or do I do what’s practical and see as much ballet in the same period of time? Too often in life we’re asked to make decisions that follow the heart’s desire versus what’s logical and it’s the worst!

But what if I didn’t choose? What if, I spent the entire month of June in New York? When that thought occurred to me, the wheels immediately started turning. What if I made this a project and raised the funds to allow me to live in New York for a month, see lots of ballet, write like crazy, and live like that critically endangered species we know as the paid, professional dance writer? I’ve seen Kickstarter be so successful for so many artistic ventures I thought—why not me? Maybe, as an independent dance writer, I’m going to have to take matters into my own hands and create the opportunity for myself. I even did a little preliminary math, and if all of my followers on Twitter donated just a few dollars, I’m pretty sure I’d be set! However, this raises a LOT of questions, including the big one of whether my writing is even worth it. Is my perspective on ballet of interest enough to warrant special treatment? On the one hand, it feels selfish and greedy to ask people for money to send me to shows, but on the other, is it unreasonable to believe that if I were to write an entire magazine, for example, that people would pay for it? It’s a new landscape with social media and maybe this is my chance to use it to my advantage and promote myself.

But what exactly, would the funds go towards? Practical necessities like housing and transportation aside, these are some general ideas I have for blog posts:

  • Show reviews – ABT is performing almost every day in June (though I wouldn’t attend every show!) and NYCB has a few programs as well. I believe The Australian Ballet is also touring, but I’d want to see more than major ballet companies.
  • Classes – At the heart of it all, I’m still a student and I want to document the experience of taking classes in New York, with a few different teachers just for variety’s sake but I’d also want to settle down to have some consistency (it’s difficult to see improvement otherwise).
  • New York Public Library – I would DEVOUR the materials there and write some articles about my findings. I’d arm myself with only two books: Gail Grant’s Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet and Mary Clarke/Clement Crisp’s The Ballet Goer’s Guide so the Performing Arts Library will be my home base for research—right after several viewings of Violette Verdy in Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux.
  • Interviews – This would be the time to take advantage of social media and some of the connections I have to talk to people involved in the ballet world. I’d love to interview readers as well!
  • ??? – Who knows. I go (sometimes very foolishly) where the wind takes me. Even the above is more than enough fodder for writing a quality post every day, and probably even more than that if there was enough time!

Basically, this would be my summer intensive of dancing and dance writing. It would be a heck of a lot of work but I’m apprehensive too. I’m scared to put my life in Seattle on hold for a month, not to mention it’s always difficult to get to know new surroundings and New York is a beast! There are also a lot of dance writers already established in New York, so it’s not like I’m doing anything new and I’m afraid to death of “failure,” which in this case would be finding out that there is no future for YouDanceFunny beyond what I already do. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE blogging and will continue to write no matter what, but despite the benefits of this proposed project, I could walk away knowing that writing will always be a labor of love. It’s a far cry from leaving empty handed though and maybe it would be healthy—necessary even—to have that clarity, but it’s a frightening prospect to consider because I want to believe that I can affect change and that what I’m doing can be worth even more to the community.

So, the real question here isn’t whether this idea is crazy (because it is!) but if it’s actually crazy enough to work! I beseech you readers near and far, before asking for your support, to discuss with me your thoughts on this. If there ever was a time to comment or de-lurk, now is the time! Defining moments! Seize them!

“Please sir, I want some more”

27 Jun

It was recently announced in a French article that all of the cinematic broadcasts of the Bolshoi Ballet will eventually be released on DVD, which has triggered the talk of the town on Twitter. A number of iconic ballets have yet to make it onto film, a hindrance for ballet audiences both casual and seasoned because it deprives us of opportunities to familiarize ourselves with what’s going on in the world. Of course live performances are the lifeblood of dance, but the truth is the majority of people don’t have access and if ballet is to find a resurgence amongst today’s general populace and garner respect for its history in the process, there needs to be some kind of compromise even if the result is less than ideal. Seriously, DVD sales of Black Swan will surely outnumber any filmed ballet, and whether you liked Black Swan or not, the thought that a fantastical commentary on ballet exceeding popularity of the art itself is nonsensical (and nauseating!).

Unfortunately, the general consensus was that among the top international companies, the Americans are the worst. The Royal Ballet has been releasing quite a few in recent years, Paris Opera will do one every other year or so, and as I noted in my review of the Dutch National Ballet’s Giselle, they’re doing an amazing job of marketing themselves to new audiences. Unfortunately, the likes of New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre have not stayed current; there are a number of fine films like the Choreography by Balanchine series and ABT has released a few full-length ballets, but for the most part there isn’t much that allows us to connect with the current generation of dancers, which is just as important as relating to choreography. There are some legal factors to consider, like the licensing of Balanchine’s work (which I’ve read was the monkey wrench in the gears preventing a commercial release of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Suzanne Farrell), and in ABT’s case, a contract that has something to do with their performances that are filmed for PBS (meaning, only the PBS performances can be released commercially). Certain fears, like the theft of choreography and unauthorized productions of such, plus the basic financial risk of investing into that market probably weigh heavily into the decision not to film.

Looking at the past decade for ABT reveals only two contemporary releases, Swan Lake and The Dream (although releasing the latter by itself was cheating, because it’s a one act ballet). Swan Lake was filmed at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and The Dream at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in California, so it’s possible that filming in New York is problematic (even if they do tour to D.C. every year, and there used to be broadcasts live from Lincoln Center). Now consider the principal dancers in the main roles: Gillian Murphy and Angel Corella in Swan Lake, and Alessandra Ferri and Ethan Stiefel in The Dream. All four are immensely popular, and I don’t think Murphy would be quite so known nationally and internationally were it not for the DVD, and really, of those four only she is still really active as a principal dancer (Stiefel and Corella have assumed directorship and are dancing “part time,” while Ferri has been retired for a few years now). Of course even if the lead female/male roles tend to be the most dominant, DVDs are still instrumental in popularizing other dancers, and certainly Herman Cornejo’s Puck and Marcelo Gomes’s Von Rothbart have won widespread critical acclaim (from me!).

I always complain that Marcelo Gomes isn’t filmed enough (and I get to because I’m like a YouTube bloodhound with magic skills), and even the pickings on YouTube are fairly slim. Sometimes I feel like being a ballet fan really is like being a junkie because we’re constantly scrambling for even the most meager of scraps to sate our addiction (although to answer a question posed to me by DaveTriesBallet on Twitter, there is no way to “cope” with an addiction to Marcelo Gomes because there’s no such thing…I know they say admittance of a problem is the first step in curing an addiction, but this isn’t denial—you either love ballet and therefore love Marcelo’s dancing, or you don’t, and hate ballet. And maybe life.). Only within the past couple of months was a decent (as in, non-shaky) video of him and Diana Vishneva performing the bedroom pas de deux from Manon posted, and while I shall spare you my dissertation on reasons why Des Grieux is the only ballet “prince” I truly care for, I’m really grateful that Russian television acknowledged the greatness in both him and Vishneva, and some kind soul put it on the internet (whoever you are, THANK YOU!).

 

Coincidentally, yesterday I happened upon a small cache of pas de deux videos that have him in it (I already forget what I was actually looking for…there goes that blog post), from performances over ten years old, but like I said, as long as he’s still active even old videos are of interest beyond nostalgia’s sake because it allows fans to see how he’s grown as an artist and solidify his popularity amongst them. Although, I have to say that personally, I would be mortified if ten-year-old videos of me were on the internet, and would be horribly embarrassed (but I guess it’s okay if it happens to other people). I’m an ephemeral creature and can’t stand taking a retrospective view on things I’ve done—hell, I even hate to proofread my articles before posting them, but do so only because it’s a part of the writing life. My aversion for the past also manifested in a phase in high school where I hated to be photographed so even my best friends only have many fine shots of a random hand or arm blocking my face, but inevitably, this is why I respect performing artists as much as I do—they’re more courageous to put themselves out there than many people know.

Anyway, what I managed to find were three videos of him dancing the hat trick of gala grand pas de deux, the trio of Swan Lake, Don Quixote, and The Nutcracker. While two-thirds are among my least favorite ballets, I’m starvacious enough to watch anything with him in it. In the pas de deux, Marcelo is paired with Anna Liceica, a former dancer with both NYCB and ABT, achieving the rank of soloist. Admittedly, I had never heard of her before, but this is beauty of video, is it not? It seems she may be retired now, but I did enjoy her dancing—delicate but not overly fragile, with a gentle patience that isn’t schmaltzy. I liked watching her in everything, although (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) I especially liked her as the Sugar Plum Fairy—I have no idea why, I just do.  She is lucky to have been partnered by Marcelo, who really makes partnering itself more interesting to watch with a lot of épaulement, truly making it an art rather than a duty (or necessity). Although his variations are omitted, it was interesting to see his bravura technique at a younger age, because there was a rawness to it that is polished away now, and yet I still found it really enjoyable. There were times where I thought he was bordering on reckless, and yet it didn’t occur to me to care, in fact, I liked it! It was uninhibited, pure dancing…my favorite kind!

And so, I invite you to partake and enjoy these clips of Anna Liceica and Marcelo Gomes. If DVD is the next best thing after a live performance, and YouTube after DVDs…I’ll still take it! I’m posting all of the clips available, because yes, my ducklings, they’re that good…her stunning balances, his entrance in the DonQ coda, his face…it’s all worth it:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Corella Ballet in Seattle: Sunshine on a Rainy Day

23 May

I need to move to New York.  Watching Corella Ballet made me come to a sad realization that I may never know the extent of what I can accomplish as a dance writer living in a city that is not New York (or London…but expatriation is a headache for another day, even if I’ve convinced myself that I have a European sense of humor…whatever that means).  If I aspire to be a classicist than I need a more continual source from which to spark discussion, and while I adore Pacific Northwest Ballet, the truth is there isn’t enough ballet in Seattle for me and six repertory programs a year has me emotionally starved.  For example, consider the fact that the number of full length, story ballets I’ve seen is still in the single digits…that means there are far too many I haven’t seen and it’s rather embarrassing that I have to remind myself (and you) that I’ve never seen the likes of Sleeping Beauty, Don Quixote, and yes, even Swan Lake live.  DVDs are great tools and I’ve certainly watched my fair share but they’re never a replacement for live performance, and I find a live performance easier to sell to other people.  On the occasions that I’ve had a plus one complementary press ticket, my friends have found the live performance very enriching, and these are people who have not once been interested in borrowing from my…er, less than extensive library of DVDs.

I’m quite fond of Seattle and I have a far from romantic idea of New York because an astronomical cost of living in a concrete jungle doesn’t exactly sound like paradise to me, but it’s where the opportunities are…even if those opportunities are incredibly rare and fiercely competitive for sure.  Quite frankly, I am tired of sitting on the sidelines while incredible performances that are also chances for me to learn and find an even greater purpose for my writing, simply go on without me.  I’m no Alastair Macaulay, but maybe what I do is something great and worthwhile too, and the fact that I don’t stand a chance anywhere else is starting to drive me crazy.  I am one of the worst long-term planners in the world (hello, impulsive Aries) and thus have no idea how I’m going to get to New York, what I would do once I got there, or how I can make this work but I just know it’s the right decision, and that’s all I have to work with for the time being.  To be honest it’s frightening to think about as well because we want to believe that determination and desire is a recipe for success, when of all people, those who know a thing or two about ballet know that reality is more challenging than that.

At any rate, back to Corella Ballet…I had a fantastic time!  Unfortunately there wasn’t a live orchestra (though I don’t think the venue was able to house one), but it’s also nice for an audience to be able to sit closer to the stage and maybe have a more profound connection with the ballets that way—a lot changes when you see pointe work up close!  I attended the pre-performance lecture with Matthew Bledsoe, general manager of Corella Ballet (who oddly enough pronounced ‘Corella’ with an ‘l’ sound but later pronounced Victor ‘Ullate’ with a ‘y’) and he gave some delightful anecdotes about Ángel and the company’s history.  For instance, when he went to his first (and I think only) competition in Paris, they actually had a costume made by the same people who made costumes for bullfighters, and they use gold thread and other embellishments which are quite heavy (not that it seemed to hinder his jumping at all). Natalia Makarova was the president of the jury at the competition, and in addition to awarding him the grand prize, she also arranged for him to audition for Kevin McKenzie.  McKenzie gave him a first soloist contract, and Ángel was made principal at just nineteen, the youngest ever in addition to Paloma Herrera.

Fast forward through many dazzling performances in New York and guest appearances worldwide, and Ángel set up a foundation to create a classical company for Spain and establish a school with residence for students.  When it came time to audition dancers for the company, dancers were not asked for names or nationalities because Ángel was looking for ability, but in the end sixty percent were Spaniards.  Spanish pride is a big deal (and Bledsoe made a joke because he’s married to a Spaniard and I know it was funny but I can’t remember it), and the story goes that Spaniards don’t leave Spain to dance for other companies, they leave because they have no opportunities to do the classical repertory in their own country.  So it was a pretty big deal when Corella Ballet did La Bayadère, calling upon Natalia Makarova who was initially reluctant to let them stage her version because they had a time frame of about, oh three months, but she knew if anyone was capable of pulling it together it was Ángel.  I mentioned in my SeatteDances review the talent of the company (read here) and I really can’t express enough how impressed I was by each dancer.  Thirty-five doesn’t make for a particularly big company and puts some limitations on the repertory they can do, and normally a company of thirty-five is going to have clear disparity in ability, but there was very little (if any) of that apparent with Corella Ballet.

The ballets selected for their quadruple bill were very good, having two “big” ballets sandwiching two small-scale ones, well paced with two intermissions and building chronologically from the most classical to the most modern.  I loved Bruch Violin Concerto, which truly is like a bouquet of mountain wildflowers…simple, colorful, lush, and easily appreciated by all—even the clueless people who are the worst romantics ever know that pretty flowers are pleasing to the eye.  I must admit, however that I made an egregious error in my review (which I will only reveal here) in that I said there were “subtle neoclassical influences” and I don’t know what I was thinking because the neoclassical elements are not subtle at all.  Oops.  Anyway, my first experience with this ballet was watching it on tape (I believe from one of my first ballet class a few years ago), as a part of ABT’s Variety and Virtuosity.  I remember it being musical and beautiful, though part of me thinks it might not be the most powerful work, and because I am so starved for classical ballet, I was just voraciously soaking it in.  However, Variety and Virtuosity features only the third movement, so it was gratifying to finally see the work in its entirety.  Corella Ballet has posted a video with lot of nice excerpts, though I noticed the ballerina in pink did slightly different choreography, because the manége starting at 6:22 is missing the Italian pas de chat (or depending on where you are in the world, saut de chat, grand pas de chat russe, or Violette jump) that Momoko Hirata did so well, with razor precision and great amplitude.

Compare to the filmed performance by ABT, where you can see Ashley Tuttle include the Italian pas de chat at 2:30.  Understandably, they are a fiendish nightmare to do at that speed!

As for the two middle pieces, Christopher Wheeldon’s For 4 was pleasant, virtuosic, but not necessarily sensational. I relished the opportunity to see a ballet to music by Schubert, and Wheeldon has some nice choreography in it, shading each of the four dancers with emphasis on a different style of movement, but there were also many, many, turns a la seconde (seriously, a lot).  Anybody who has seen it with either Corella Ballet or Kings of the Dance know that this is no exaggeration!  The ballet is all about a clean, academic approach, and with the muted colors it kind of reminded me of hieroglyphics—very upright posture (for the most part) and a lot of squareness, which I guess you could say is something of a masculine aesthetic.  It’s important to note that not all art is going to reduce us to tears or induce some kind of an emotional episode, so having a merely amiable reaction isn’t a bad thing.  Of course, then you have Soleá, which I won’t rehash the finer details of, and will only say that Ángel has to be the fastest dancer alive, and just fearless.  Which is of course, why I think he excels at the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux and it hurt my feelings that they didn’t do it but Soleá had some similar bravura steps.  It was fun to see Ángel dance with his sister Carmen as well, who is taller than him (apparently he says she got the beauty genes) and despite being such seasoned performers, during curtain call they were just brother and sister, as Carmen messed up his hair in a way only a big sister can get away with.

Then there was Wheeldon’s DGV…oh, DGV.  I’m just going to say it—the music drove me nuts.  I understood its purpose, sounding mechanical like a train, but the reviewer Gram Milano, who in reviewing the Royal Ballet (who happened to be performing it at around the same time!) called the score “brain-deadening” and he was right. However, it is in line with the intent of the piece and despite liking For 4 better, I thought DGV was the stronger of the two Wheeldon ballets on the program.  Yes friends, it is possible to hold something in higher esteem than something else that you actually enjoy more.  It’s murky territory but when it comes to DGV, I understand its popularity even if I’m not dying to see it again (but you know I would).  What was kind of interesting about that night though was that every time I think I have the Seattle audience pegged, they surprise me. Based on the health of the modern dance community and audience reaction that I’ve seen with mixed bills at PNB, I would have bet money that DGV would be the most popular, but it was in fact Soleá that got the most applause and the standing ovation for DGV was a little forced, perhaps a gesture of appreciation for the evening as a whole rather than DGV.

And this is why I should never gamble (said the man who wants to move to New York…).

A Heart to Heart

13 May

I’m ashamed to admit it’s been quite a while since my last entry, and that for the past couple of months the writing has been sparse.  I don’t like sob stories—but even I have to admit defeat and say that I had my reasons.  I do like to put my personality into my writing, but not my drama (unless it’s funny) and to say that things have been an emotional roller coaster is merely scratching the surface (unless that roller coaster went to the moon) because I constantly found myself scrambling to accomplish something, and yet I could never discern what the goals were, or worse, what the purpose was.  There were times when I succumbed to what I believe would be deemed depression, which I thought that at this point in my life I was mostly invulnerable to.  Every day I still found things to smile about, but covering up isn’t coping and I had become very good at fooling myself.  Though I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a comedian, I think I understand that stereotype of comedians being the saddest people.  Of course, a stereotype is just that, a blanket generalization that never describes everyone who identifies with a particular label, but for a time, I was having a sad phase and gained some perspective.

What happened?  Well, months ago I was unemployed and had been for a while, and the floodgates opened at some point in my mind, because I became increasingly stressed with concerns about my future.  Then all of a sudden I was offered a job working at a grocery store, starting as a “service clerk” at the bottom of the food chain (which by the way, bagging groceries is beneath no one) and receiving minimum wage.  It wasn’t long after that I was offered a second job at a quick service restaurant, with promises of better pay and number of hours.  I was incredibly relieved, not to mention amazed that for once, I had options!  I decided to go with the latter and began planning my life around that choice, but things got off to a rocky start, because the number of hours was not what I was initially told, and after a month I was laid off.  Well, technically I’m still “employed,” just “on call” now…unfortunately, rent and bills are not “on call” and I was thrown into the pit of despair again.  Let me tell you, it is hard to have a sense of security dangled in front of you, to have a taste, and then have it snatched away in such a short period of time.  It is also hard to return to the idea of sending out resumes and filling out job applications, because rejection by the majority of them can make one feel rather inadequate and worse, incapable.

On top of that, I didn’t get the Dance Critics Association scholarship I applied for, to attend this year’s conference (which is coincidentally being held in Seattle), discussing ballet reconstruction in tandem with PNB’s new production of Giselle.  More recently, I also came down with a really nasty sinus infection and was rendered incapable of doing just about anything (though like a zombie, I dragged myself to an open job interview at Chipotle…I felt really pretty).  I’ve also been dealing with dyshidrotic eczema on my right hand, which is often stress induced for me.  It’s been a vicious cycle with no end in sight, with people sending me their best wishes and encouragement, which I am so grateful for.  However, it was virtually impossible to find any inspiration to write because I had so many things weighing heavily on my heart (and my sinuses…good grief, it felt like a watermelon was growing in my forehead. Thankfully, I’m much less congested now!).

Despite utter misery, today I think I’ve found clarity, and feel a familiar glimmer inside, a little beacon of hope that’s telling me I’m coming home to myself.  A month ago I applied for a job at ABT, a complete long shot to be a Press Associate and while I’m consumed with oscillating between optimism and pessimism, I am getting something out of the process.  Reading the criteria, I realized that it is my dream job…something I haven’t said or felt since elementary school when I wanted to be a baker/marine biologist (yes, both at the same time—I have yet to achieve such ambitiousness since).  The skills and duties of the position were just one after another striking a chord with me and even my mother, who is probably the biggest skeptic I know (given, she also knows how many times I changed majors in college) said “this sounds perfect for you.”  She’s right—ballet is all I think about and it doesn’t matter that I discovered it at twenty-four instead of four…it’s where my soul belongs and I need to be a professional in the field.  Karena even mentioned to her husband that I’m a bigger classical ballet nerd than she is, and this is coming from a former professional ballet dancer, who has done everything from dancing Serenade, performed Dark Elegies as a part of receiving her Masters degree, and was so distraught by Lacotte’s La Sylphide she simply turned it off.  To me, it is a complement of the highest praise.

Writing about dance, selling it to new audiences, connecting with people via social media…it’s exactly what I need to be doing and finding out that it’s possible to have a career doing this is exactly what I needed to know.  I’m convinced there is no greater gift than to know that there is something in the world for you to do, something that you can be passionate about and say those rare but beautiful words: “I love my job.”  I don’t know how I’m going to get there just yet, but I’m sinking my pit-bull teeth into this dream of mine.  For the time being, I am simply going to do what I do best, which is continue to write about dance, discuss it with all of you, and keep it relevant to the world because even in my not so spectacular hour, the arts uplift my spirits.  I always say that I hate moping, and I’m done with it myself…sure, my finances are a catastrophe but I also have things to look forward to, like writing a SeattleDances review of Corella Ballet next week.  I’ve been so dreadfully gloomy for so long I almost forgot that was coming up and it’s almost here!  I’ve also got some DVD reviews in queue and who knows what else…I go where the wind takes me, and I’m just glad to feel creativity in my veins again.

I’m getting there…I’ve missed you, readers!

Alexei Ratmansky: A Quiet Guardian

18 Mar

First off, a quick apology for the lack of writing!  I don’t want to get into it too much because I have far more interesting things to tell you, so I’ll save it for another time.  I’m sure you would all much rather hear about some of the discussion topics from the most recent event in Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Lecture Series, a conversation with world renowned choreographer and American Ballet Theater artist-in-residence, Alexei Ratmansky.  The lecture was optionally paired with a dress rehearsal viewing of his Concerto DSCH, which I actually chose to skip because I had dinner plans and also because I’ll be writing a review for Seattle Dances on opening night and when writing I prefer (if possible) to view a complete work for the first time.  Obviously, if it’s a piece I’ve seen before I’m not so concerned, but there’s an exhilaration with getting to see a finished product that simply doesn’t exist in a dress rehearsal, and I wouldn’t be surprised if dancers themselves felt the same way…the occasion counts for a lot.

Ratmansky is actually quite unassuming—when the conversation between he and Peter Boal began, I noticed how soft-spoken he is.  I thought I had a voice that doesn’t carry (and often find myself in situations where I think people want me to enunciate when really they just want me to speak louder) but even with a mic it wasn’t always easy to make out what he was saying, and I was sitting in the second row.  Coincidentally, he was dressed in black with a blue pinstriped shirt, a color scheme that happened to blend in extremely well with the similarly colored royal blue curtain behind him and the shadows between the rippled velvet.  Obviously, that’s not something he planned and it’s not like he can change colors like a chameleon but it did add an air of mystery and elusiveness.  I think that’s cool though, because if you have that kind of aura, people actually take you seriously.  He is however, witty too, just in an understated kind of way.

In case you’re unfamiliar with Ratmansky’s history as a dancer, he trained at the Bolshoi Ballet School, but what was not accepted into the company, a “drama” as he called it that would eventually send him through the ranks of the Ukrainian National Ballet, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and the Royal Danish Ballet.  At some point in Kiev he began choreographing, finding inspiration in music and visualizing movement to it.  A few factors contributed to his journey towards becoming a premiere choreographer; a great love for ballet history, reading in general, and unused scores with a special affinity for composer Dmitri Shostakovich.  Though famed Georgian ballerina Nina Ananiashvili was the first to ask him to do a ballet for her, it was The Bright Stream that catapulted him into the spotlight and sealed the deal in attaining directorship of the Bolshoi Ballet.  The Bright Stream has a Shostakovich score, the ballet itself having been lost, banned actually in 1936 because the myth goes that Stalin didn’t like it.  A recording of the score was made somewhat recently (I think he mentioned the 90’s) and it wasn’t long after that Ratmansky heard it, was obviously touched by a muse and set about researching/choreographing the ballet.  He actually mentioned later on that at that point there were a few people still alive who may have danced it or knew bits of it, but he made a conscious decision not to seek them out because choreographing an entire ballet around a few remnants just didn’t make sense.  You know that scientifically impossible explanation in Jurassic Park they give when they say they found prehistoric dinosaur DNA in the abdomen of a mosquito in fossil amber and filled the “gaps” with frog DNA in order to recreate dinosaurs?  First of all, this is heinously wrong because reptiles and amphibians are far from the same thing and any salvageable DNA is going to be so deteriorated by fossilization and I don’t know, the millions of years that have passed since the Cretaceous period that genetically engineering a dinosaur (via that method anyway) is impossible.  In that sense, what could Ratmansky realistically do with a handful of phrases, which may not even be remembered with complete accuracy?  I wonder if that’s how the Bolshoi felt about it because while they obviously let him proceed with staging the ballet, he did say that they were skeptical it would be received well by the audience.

However, The Bright Stream was indeed a success as well as Bolt, and of Ratmansky’s tenure as director of the Bolshoi he had to say that it was like going to war (with a virtual horde of around two hundred and twenty dancers, a third of which he said he basically never saw), but when things went well they were absolutely satisfying.  While at the Bolshoi he had the precarious responsibility of guarding a strong ballet tradition while also somehow shaping it, with these new ballets and also with the recognition of certain dancers.  Ratmansky was the one who noticed jumping phenom Natalia Osipova at a graduation performance, and interestingly pointed out some of the controversy surrounding her (her strengths and weaknesses of which she is fully aware of), also noting that she has more popularity in the West.  Apparently, many purists feel that she isn’t classical enough, and doesn’t have a balletic body in the Russian sense.  I don’t think she looks so drastically different from her compatriots, but perhaps it’s part of the reason why her partnership with Ivan Vasiliev stands out—not just because they can jump better than anyone else but he is also known for having an atypical body type so they’re a pair of dancers who surely understand each other.

As with any choreographer, it is pertinent to point out some of Ratmansky’s influences, one of the early ones being watching legendary prima ballerina Maya Plisetskaya, still dancing in her sixties while he was a student at the Bolshoi academy.  He admired the way she used her back, arms, and her fluent lines but most of all her musicality, saying that she made distinctions between dancing to rhythms and then the sounds coming from the orchestra.  As an amusing anecdote, he told a story of partnering her as the faun to her nymph in Afternoon of a Faun, which apparently wasn’t so nerve-wracking an experience as one would expect.  In terms of choreographers, he of course mentioned being introduced to Balanchine in the 80’s by VHS tapes (remember those?), which was kind of an obligatory comment anyway, since Ratmansky was in the house of PNB.  He mentioned three choreographers he is currently infatuated with (perhaps indicating that this is something of a phase); the first of which I didn’t quite catch but I think was Igor Moiseyev, then Rudolf Nureyev and Pierre Lacotte.  He does categorize himself as a classical choreographer, as in ballet with pointe work, and having no interest in barefoot dance, though he did say that there are more interesting things being done with modern ballet these days.

Now, although the question and answer session was at the end, I want to throw this down right now because it pertains to Lacotte.  Ratmansky was a principal dancer with the Royal Danish Ballet after all, meaning he danced August Bournonville’s La Sylphide, so the question came to mind of whether he had a preference for the Bournonville or the Lacotte, a question I managed to ask (after getting over my own stage fright related to public speaking) on Bag Lady Emilia’s behalf…I immediately thought of her because it is one of her favorite topics after all!  Well, Ratmansky actually likes both; he loves Lacotte’s phrasing and attention to details, as well as the use of antiquated steps that no one else uses anymore.  He does of course recognize the authenticity of the Bournonville Sylphide, and said earlier that the Bournonville style is the most ancient and unique with a special method applied to acting, but really sees the two Sylphides as entirely different ballets and doesn’t have a strong preference for one or the other.  In fact, he seemed a little surprised when I told him afterwards that this is a hotly debated topic amongst us balletomanes.  I guess we’re all a little more opinionated or a little more crazy than he knows…but isn’t crazy just a precursor to enthusiastic anyway?  Or should that be the other way around…

Regardless, the other Ratmansky ballets that were deliberated on were his new Nutcracker and Concerto DSCH, since the latter is the piece PNB is performing.  The Nutcracker story was an interesting one, because it was a rather tumultuous journey.  He had wanted to do a new Nutcracker long ago, but the Kirov asked him to work on a version for them and because of difficulties with the designer of the production, after two years he found himself no longer a part of that project.  In 2001 he was asked by Thordal Christensen (artistic director of the Royal Danish Ballet at the time) to salvage their production after their choreographer quit.  It was of course completely different from what he was doing at the Kirov, but it was an opportunity to prove himself.  Ultimately, it left him unsatisfactory and it wasn’t until Kevin McKenzie asked him to do the production that debuted with ABT this past winter that Ratmansky’s Nutcracker was fully realized.  Oddly enough he didn’t talk too much about Concerto DSCH, just a little bit about its debut with New York City Ballet, and also setting it on the dancers of PNB (which was apparently done in three days, thanks to a spectacular ballet mistress).  ‘DSCH’ stands for Shostakovich’s initials in German, and the music (Concerto No.2 in F Major, Op.102) was a birthday present for his son, written in a time of great hope in the Soviet Union’s history.  After seeing the work myself tonight, I hope to elaborate some thoughts on it, but until then…too bad.

As far as looking towards the future, Ratmansky has several debuts, with Russian Seasons (a three act story ballet) as well as Lost Illusions for the Bolshoi, which he didn’t mention but I did as a part of my second question for him (I had to appear researched after all, even if I myself have never really sat down and watched his choreography!).  I asked him what was beyond that, and though it has been formally announced elsewhere, just to recap he will be doing a new Romeo and Juliet to debut in Toronto, a new Firebird with ABT, but what was most interesting was that his dream is to do more ballets to Shostakovich symphonies, reiterating his passion for that composer’s music.  It seems Ratmansky is the latest in a line of ballet choreographers who derive something special from a particular composer not in collaboration, but well after the composer’s death.  There was Balanchine and Tchaikovsky, Robbins and Chopin, and now it seems Ratmansky and Shostakovich, which I think is absolutely fantastic.  He said that when it’s his choice, music serves as the inspiration for new works and Shostakovich is one of the all-time greats.  When it’s not by choice, it’s somewhat dictated by the needs of companies (ABT in particular) but he’s lucky to be a busy man, even if he admits to biting off more than he can chew.

I wanted to go all “Anderson Cooper” on him and do that thing where AC wrinkles his brow and tilts his head ever so slightly on an angle while asking a series of hard-hitting questions, but I didn’t want to monopolize his time and settled for a humbled handshake and a show of appreciation on my part.  Perhaps more will be revealed about the “quiet guardian” of classical ballet, in the book he plans to write…eventually.

‘Only When I Dance’ – yet another DVD review

23 Feb

From one end of the Earth to another, my next DVD of choice was Only When I Dance, a documentary featuring two young dancers from Brazil, Irlan Santos da Silva and Isabela Coracy, pursuing the dream of becoming professional ballet dancers.  The film, directed by Beadie Finzi markets itself as an inspiring coming-of-age story where the two dancers overcome adverse conditions like growing up in the violent favelas of Rio de Janeiro and for Isabela in particular, racial challenges as a black ballerina.  The blurb on the back of the DVD even goes as far to say that this is a feel-good documentary…but I must’ve missed something because while the future is quite rosy for Irlan, it remains uncertain for Isabela, who I felt got slightly less attention in the film.  Given, Irlan is that rare gem of a dancer you know will go on to great things and has far more illustrious achievements during the filming period but I don’t feel that makes Isabela’s career path in dance less important or less interesting.  Quite frankly, it seems a little counterproductive to make this type of documentary but then tip the scales in favor of the star dancer and then to call it “feel-good” undermines the difficulties Isabela faced.  I feel for her—but I’m not sure I liked the way she was used in the film.  Her presence in the documentary was warranted because she had an equally interesting story to Irlan’s and not because she was a black girl who happened to dance at the same studio as him, a character to flesh out Irlan’s story.

Maybe I’m in a mood or something because that sounded awfully scathing coming from me, but I can’t help but feel an injustice when I watched Isabela’s dream to dance in a major ballet company crumble and then read on the back cover that this is supposed to be a “feel-good” documentary!  A great stink is made about her weight throughout, and it’s clearly something that distresses her greatly.  Talking about dieting brought her to tears and after a visible weight loss by the Youth America Grand Prix, her teacher again told her that Isabela’s weight was an issue for the judging panel (Isabela was not selected to move on to the finals of the YAGP).  A visit to the doctor even revealed a skin condition that developed out of emotional stress.  She is perhaps unrefined, which is hardly uncommon for someone her age but I saw a lovely girl and a beautiful dancer.  Her family took out loans to be able to afford her trip to New York and it was just heartbreaking to see what is in my opinion a ridiculous “issue” become the deciding factor in Isabela’s career.  Where was the discussion on her technique?  Her teacher Mariza admires her artistry, and while I felt like she lacked some spark in the YAGP, the poor thing was probably starved and exhausted!  It was hard to watch, and knowing that her family could still be in debt over it is difficult to know.

Irlan is the golden boy, which you find out in mere seconds just by his genetic gifts and watching him move.  Somewhat reserved, but with a coy charm, he has quite the presence for such a young man.  Like Isabela, they both come from impoverished conditions but with loving homes and seeing Irlan’s father smile when he talks about how watching his son dance changed the way he thought of ballet warms the heart.  Irlan achieves the pinnacle of success for a dancer of his age by winning an apprenticeship at the highly prestigious Prix de Lausanne and we have our uplifting moment.  What I noticed throughout though was his austerity—he exhibits a lot of maturity for his age, having the desire to leave his neighborhood and bring his parents with him for a better life, which is quite the onus for a teenager!  He performed his contemporary variation, from John Neumeier’s Nijinsky with such conviction that you’d think he was old enough to have seen the Nijinsky himself.  It’s a happy ending this time as Irlan takes a scholarship at American Ballet Theater, which was only two or three years ago so I expect as he develops his voice as an artist and strengthens his technique even more, we will be hearing more about him soon enough!

Despite Irlan’s success, I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of sadness as a response to the film as a whole.  Rather than uplifted, the film procured strong reminders of how much ballet asks of these kids and others around the world.  They have to make life altering career choices at that turbulent age we call “adolescence,” and I say this as someone who went to college, got a degree, and a few years out is only beginning to get a sense of my place in life—that’s crazy!  I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be, and how in spite of the desire to dance, the reality is that for some aspirers, it never happens.  Dealing with not getting your dream job is a much different beast at seventeen or eighteen years old as opposed to anything over the age of twenty-two!  While it’s clear Irlan is just one of those people that has always had the maturity to realize his dreams, I find myself endlessly impressed with his attitude.  It’s not just the career choice itself, but moving away from his parents, his hometown, and practically everything he knew for a life in a foreign country is the epitome of courage.  Again…ballet asks so much of kids.

I forget who it was, but some journalist last year complained about American companies “importing” foreign dancers in favor of developing home-grown talent and you know what?  Chauvinism is outdated.  Ballet audiences give little thought to a dancer’s country of origin because we just want to see great dancing and it’s even been said that sometimes adversity produces greater artists because they have a sense of desperation others who may begin ballet as an extracurricular activity don’t.  When I think about how a kid like Irlan chooses to show our country his talents, I feel honored and far from wishing he was an American!  Whether foreign dancers are getting contracts or guesting with American companies, I feel like offering the opportunities is the least that can be done in this rapidly globalizing world which seems to exceed its own levels of globalization every second (and there are many damn good American dancers anyway!).  While there isn’t a great amount of dancing in this DVD, I recommend it not for the “uplifting” story but to offer some perspective on what dance really means to some people.

Seven Swans a Swimming

30 Nov

And here we are, at the end of an incredibly arduous journey that shall go down in history as Swan Lake Month, ending with ABT’s production starring Gillian Murphy and Angel Corella.  I don’t know why this one ended up being last, and I wouldn’t say it was my favorite one, though it is certainly popular.  Still, after viewing six Swan Lake productions from European companies I definitely felt that a great many characteristics made this Swan Lake distinctly American (and not because it’s American Ballet Theater, with an American ballerina in the lead role).

Have you seen that Eddie Izzard special where he talks about how nobody knows the lyrics to the Twelve Days of Christmas? Ten pygmies...farming...

The choreography was done by artistic director of ABT, Kevin McKenzie and as usual with the “after Petipa and Ivanov” tag.  Unfortunately, I had some issues with what seemed to be an incessant need to pummel the audience with perspicuous dance, meaning the art of subtlety was completely lost throughout the entire ballet.  He resorted to having the corps de ballet do the undulating swan arms at every available moment, as if to remind us that they were in fact swans (something we might never have guessed when attending Swan Lake) and the expressivity of the characters seemed to be on par with that philosophy.  I found Corella to be almost luminously bright with that megawatt smile of his (I don’t know that I’ve ever seen someone so happy to receive a crossbow) and I didn’t feel that Murphy was the subtlest of dancers either.  Perhaps it’s the sort of “reach for the balcony” mentality that McKenzie prefers to see in dancers that encourages a Corella con brio or a Murphy a la mode and I suppose this means I prefer more tempered portrayals.  Even the miming McKenzie includes I felt was far too obvious and even excessive, like when Odette initially met Siegfried and told him of her plight with Von Rothbart, the gestures were straightforward and literal, rather than blending with any kind of dance language.  The nature of ballet reveals problems when the story isn’t told through the steps.

One addition I found interesting was the prologue (clearly filmed ahead of time so I’d be curious if ABT includes a similar prologue in live performances), where we see Von Rothbart transform into a man and lure Odette into a hollow tree and transform her into a swan.  While it is yet another statement of the obvious, I enjoyed it because no other production gives any thought to Odette’s origins and for this particular one, we are made to understand that she was a woman before she was a swan, which can change how we view her understanding and desire for love, and in this case her willingness to die for it (which is perhaps more human than animal).  The other bonus with this prologue is that because we see Von Rothbart seduce Odette as a man, he becomes a sexualized character…and with Marcelo Gomes as Von Rothbart in his human form, he becomes a sexy sexualized character indeed.  It was actually weird, after the onslaught of odd but villainous Von Rothbarts I’ve been watching to find one attractive and I kept wondering to myself if that was inappropriate.  However, great art makes us ask ourselves questions and considering how his solo during the ball seduces many of the attendees and that he even flirts with the Queen a bit, we are most definitely allowed to ogle.  It’s quite the virtuosic solo and my favorite moment is when he stands on relevé in fifth, slowly lifting one leg halfway to arabesque, then extending it fully which has a sort of mysterious quality that then bewitches the audience too.  Observe, Sexy Von Rothbart:

Given the scope of Gomes’s acting abilities, I almost feel like there needs to be a Swan Lake where he can perform both Von Rothbart and Siegfried…after all, duality is one of the central themes of every Swan Lake, so why not explore more types, in new imaginations?  Why should Odette/Odile or in ABT’s production, the weird, algae-ridden, fake abs demon-satyr Von Rothbart (a horrific costume) and Sexy Von Rothbart be the only dual roles?  I suppose there could be some logistical issues with trying to stage a Swan Lake where the same dancer has to be both Siegfried and Von Rothbart because they both appear at the same time in the ball and there’s the question of how a Siegfried/Von Rothbart role could be rationalized…but it’s ballet; ideas first, logic later.

Von Rothbart stole the show for me, despite Murphy’s athletic prowess.  Sure, she threw in triple pirouettes into her fouetté series (and in fact, of all seven Swan Lake DVDs I watched, she was the only dancer to do anything more than single fouettés, which is another detail I felt made this performance so American) but given how sinisterly seductive Sexy Von Rothbart was, the perfect prelude to an even more sinisterly seductive Odile may have hindered her because that Odile just never came to fruition.  Still, I would hate for anyone to get the sense that Gillian Murphy is just fouttés because she does have other wonderful qualities and I think she’s very expressive with her feet and has beautiful arms, among other things.  Her partnership with Corella is a bit of an odd one because she is quite tall and he looked as though he were hiding behind her in some of the partnering.  I wasn’t so devastated at the end of the ballet so I can’t say that I felt the chemistry between them, though it’s possible I was distracted by the dramatic leaps of death at the end (which looked fun too), which were of course followed by the image of Siegfried and Odette in the afterlife…and in case you didn’t get that Swan Lake is about duality; black and white, night and day…McKenzie has that image of the happy couple in the middle of a giant rising sun.

So what about all that feminine mystique business I had postulated about initially, wondering why women in particular love this ballet so much?  After much thoughtful deliberation…I have no idea.  All the various productions of Swan Lake are so different, trying to figure this all out would be like trying to survey every person on Earth and figuring out why they liked their favorite flavors (I’m a mint chocolate chip myself).  I would be buried in work for eternity and watching seven Swan Lakes was enough for me as it is.  Or maybe I found this whole experience so exhausting it doesn’t matter to me which Swan Lake anyone likes anymore, as long as they like one (or more) of them.  If you’re interested in discussing that further, you may as well head on over to The Ballet Bag, and enter their contest to win exclusive Black Swan movie posters while you’re at it!  Only a few days remain to enter, so check it out here!

I Dreamed a Dream

2 Jul

So I just bought my subscription to Pacific Northwest Ballet’s 2010-2011 season, opting for a mini-subscription which means I get to choose four of the six shows I want to see.  Jigga-what?  Surprised I’m not going to see them all?  I’m not.  For one thing, Cinderella is running the exact same time San Francisco Ballet will be doing Symphonic Variations and quite frankly, I have priorities.  The other show I chose to omit was A Midsummer Night’s Dream mostly for two reasons…the first being that I’m a little wary of Shakespeare and the second being it’s hard for me to accept Balanchine’s version knowing Ashton’s The Dream is out there too.  I can always purchase additional tickets later so I may end up seeing it anyway but I’m a bit skeptical.  I thought of watching the recording of Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which is actually the PNB production but ironically the Seattle Public Library doesn’t have it.  Of ALL the libraries in the world, Seattle Public Library doesn’t have PNB’s Dream.  Of course the Balanchine version isn’t available on YouTube and after the virtual bitchslap the Balanchine Trust sent me for posting excerpts of Balanchine choreography, I’m not really all that enthusiastic to seek it out.  Thus, I find myself deterred and unmotivated to see it live.  Mission accomplished Balanchine Trust…mission accomplished.  Besides, from what I gather, the Balanchine production has children in it, which is an automatic check in the minus column.

Anyway, I’m all about the Ashton love.  In fact, I might just make July Ashton month.  I have all kinds of reading material, from a tiny pocket-sized book entitled Façade to a couple of epic tomes on Ashton ballets.  Façade was a quick read…a mini-book of about a hundred pages so really it’s hardly more than a pamphlet but it covers many of Sir Fred’s earliest works and traces his lineage, from studying under Marie Rambert, influences from Ninette de Valois, Sergei Diaghilev, Bronislava Nijinska and even a little Balanchine.  I also noticed in one of the original cast lists that Antony Tudor danced for Ashton…which I find fascinating for reasons that I’m sure will make more sense in the years to come.  Façade doesn’t discuss The Dream because it was published in the fifties but it was interesting to get a glimpse at Sir Fred’s history.  He was quite young when he began as a choreographer in his twenties and of his earliest ballets only Façade and Capriol Suite survive (which is tragic for obvious reasons but even more so when I read that some of the lost works include a wealth of Greco-Roman themed ballets like Mars and Venus, Leda and the Swan and Pomona).  It was fascinating to read snippets of reviews from that period though which echo exactly how I feel today, like the genius of his patterns or his sense of comedy (except those reviewers used words like truquage).  I always feel “comfortable” with Ashton choreography and maybe it’s because I can relate to him in some ways (a late starter in ballet with a slight build) and the more I learn about him the more the addiction consumes me.

So back to The Dream, Shakespeare-aversion aside, I decided to watch it and who better to learn from than Anthony Dowell, who originated the role?  Here’s a fun fact for you…the ballet debuted April 2nd, 1964 and twenty years later I would be born!  Another twenty years later in 2004 ABT would record their own version for DVD.  So what happens in 2024?  Your guess is as good as mine…but because it is a shorter ballet I decided to make an afternoon of it, watch the Dowell and Merle Park performance, then the master class with Dowell/Antoinette Sibley and Ashton himself, then watch the ABT version with Ethan Stiefel/Alessandra Ferri.  I won’t nitpick every difference and I think ABT did a fine production but it has to be said that the Royal Ballet performance is definitely my preferred of the two for many reasons.  Under the assumption that the general populace is familiar with the story and characters of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I’m going to skip the synopsis and get right to the point (if you don’t know at least the basics of Dream, you seriously need to read more.  Sheesh!).  First, I love that Ashton did a Victorian interpretation of Shakespeare’s play and ABT kind of watered down the costumes and hair (Hermia and Helena being the most noticeable) to a more modern aesthetic.  Second, the lover’s quarrel between Hermia, Helena, Lysander and Demetrius is one of the funniest choreographed scenes in the history of ballet including a moment where Lysander and Demetrius are fighting over Helena, who slips away from the both of them and they accidentally kiss.  ABT changed it to a mere hug, which is so very American of them and dulls the humor quite a bit.  I hate to say that I find it a little shady in a homophobic kind of way…but maybe it’s for the benefit of an uptight American audience and my sense of humor is perhaps more in line with the British.  My aesthetic certainly is, as the Royal Ballet prefers a straighter line through the wrist and the ABT corps likes to flourish with the hands a lot, which came across as a little too floppy for me.  To quote Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the phrase “Hands!  Hands in new places!” comes to mind.

As for the lead dancers, there was kind of a split—few ballerinas can tell a story like Alessandra Ferri, and who better to be the “Ferri Queen” (ha…ha…oh) Titania?  Ferri is magnificent and her partner Stiefel as Oberon is in all likelihood the cleanest dancer on Earth.  Unfortunately, Stiefel’s acting was a little off for me…he does a lot of wide eyed, crazy expressions that make his Oberon look a little loony.  You can’t take away from his technical brilliance and classical line but the characterization wasn’t my favorite.  To me, Oberon is immature, arrogant and a little abusive, but not crazy.  Enter Anthony Dowell, who has a sort of brazen, chafed look that really makes you believe he is displeased with Titania’s defiance.  Merle Park is sweet and impish, like a sassy little butterfly but what I preferred in Ferri was an ability to combine that delight with a sense of regality.  Titania doesn’t defy Oberon simply because they’re married, but because she is quite used to being royalty in her own right.  Meanwhile, the Pucks of both productions were enjoyable though, with Herman Cornejo literally flying about the forest and the Royal Ballet dancer (who I can’t identify unfortunately) being much more of a ham.

Ashton’s choreography is of course perfect and wonderfully unbiased.  He has the same love for transitional steps as he does the big flashy bravura ones with more attention towards overall effect rather than making a singular impression.  Choreographing Oberon on Dowell as he did, he took full advantage of his line and plié, giving Oberon many arabesques when the typical choreographer will give a male role maybe a step into an arabesque to start a variation or maybe a turn in that position.  Meanwhile, Ashton makes the arabesque a motif for Oberon, putting in arabesques in demi-plié, tipping over in a penchée (a move usually reserved for women), tour sauté (a series of little hops that turn in place) as well as working in and out of the position.  Para example, Ashton has Oberon do this heinously beastly series of different pirouettes, all of which have to end in a little penchée which is insanely hard given the quiet, sustained notes from the music…the effect can easily be ruined.  I had a teacher who once gave us similar exercises in class and contrary to what your brain may tell you, you have to be pretty aggressive when diving forward because hesitation won’t get you to where you need to be.  It really is as simple as getting from Point A to Point B, but ballet is kind of ridiculous.

For music aficionados, The Dream has an AMAZING score my Felix Mendelssohn (as if there were another!).  Mendelssohn has been kind of underrated in the ballet world, with this probably being the most prominent work with his name attached to it.  Ashton uses a John Lanchberry orchestration of the overture and incidental music Mendelssohn wrote that was inspired by the play.  It fits the mood so perfectly and kindled images of fireflies in dusky forests for me, which I sorely miss for you see, there are no fireflies west of the Rocky Mountains…I don’t get how Seattle people know when summer has arrived without fireflies!  Although given the weather as of late I’d say summer is still not here yet…it can’t be…but I digress.  I think the Mendelssohn score is one of the finest I’ve heard in ballet…although I’m holding out for something spectacular to his violin concerto.  Anyone up for the challenge?

I’m actually pleasantly surprised that I’ve fallen in love with The Dream (oh Ashton, you cad, you!) and that I can say I love a Shakespearean ballet.  It’s definitely up there in my top ten.  So do partake and pick your poison below (Royal Ballet or ABT as well as the master class with Sir Fred):

The Royal Ballet’s The Dream in six parts:

American Ballet Theater’s The Dream in six parts:

Titania and Oberon’s pas de deux master class in five parts:

The Nacho Project: Diagnosis

24 May

One of my ducklings (number five in the row, if I recall correctly) is headed to New York this summer and is in need of your help!  “Nacho,” as I call her, has never been there before and will be doing some kind of an internship this summer but more importantly, will have access to the splendiferous wonder that is NYCB and ABT.  Not only will this be her first time in Manhattan, she has yet to see such prestigious ballet companies (she has seen smaller dance performances before though).  Needless to say this is a crucial moment in her development as a human being and as my ducklings tend to do, she sought advice from me but there are many ballets on the programs I haven’t a clue about.  So I thought I’d pose the question to more knowledgeable folk.  We’re always wanting ballet to reach new audiences and this is our chance to tinker a la Frankenstein with one young woman’s perception of it!  The challenge here is that funds are not entirely limitless (she’s not the type to see five Swan Lakes) and yet between NYCB and ABT there’s an abundance of things to see.  She’s going to be a kid in a candy store, but she has to make the Big Apple her pie.  Selectiveness is key, so here is what I feel you need to know about Nacho:

  • She may be short, but she has a lot of angst.  She likes pretty, romantic ballets but if not that then they have to be pretty…raging
  • She’s one of those “danced since I was three” jazz babies.  Showing off big flashy jumps and fouettés go in the plus column, as do Fred & Ginger
  • This is educated conjecture, but she probably has no appreciation for classical music.  This isn’t to say she hates it, only that she’ll like what sounds pleasing to her ear, without deeper understanding of the finer details.
  • She has questionable taste in men (mostly because she dates people I disapprove of)
  • She’s Italian and her mom makes good sauce
  • She likes the Pittsburgh Steelers, Andy Roddick and Sex and the City (she thinks she’s Carrie Bradshaw if that means anything to you)
  • Her phone number is…

So those are some things about Nacho and after looking at NYCB calendar (link) I’ve convinced her that attending NYCB’s program on June 25th with After the Rain, The Lady with the Little Dog and Who Cares? would be an ideal choice (she will be in New York June 18th to August 18th).  There’s a short preview of After the Rain on YouTube I sent her and she likes the tragicalyricalness and I also sent her a clip of Who Cares? which she loved.  I have no idea about Little Dog, but I figured two out of three is more than sufficient for a happy evening.  Glancing at the other programs, the chances of her liking Prodigal Son are slim to none but I do think she would enjoy Western Symphony.  June 26th has a program with La Source, a new Martins ballet and Western Symphony but I don’t know what Peter Martins choreography is like and I’ve only heard of La Source in passing…so what say you, fellow balletomanes?  Then there’s the added allure of farewell performances including that of Darci Kistler, the last ballerina to be selected by Balanchine himself…do you miss the opportunity to witness something so epically historical?  I’m almost completely unfamiliar with the Kistler farewell program (minus Swan Lake of course) so suggestions para Nacho por favor!

She could watch Kistler in an excerpt from Swan Lake, but it turns out ABT (calendar link) will be doing Swan Lake the previous week as well so I say go all out and see the whole shebang.  But the casting!  Decisions, decisions…I’m thinking she should cat fight with the rest of the audience in attendance for the June 21st show with Roberto Bolle so she can fall madly in love with him (she does like them tall…and he’s Italian too) in addition to seeing the beautiful Veronika Part, but there are so many great casting options like Julie Kent/Marcelo Gomes or Jose Carreño/Gillian Murphy.  Now I don’t know if she’ll make it in time for Sleeping Beauty, but good heavens!  It’s the battle of the guest stars…do you opt for the saccharine innocence of Alina Cojocaru or the flight of the Osipova?  Then ABT does a week of mixed bills and I’m more obsessive about watching ballet than Nacho is but even I’m finding the selection overwhelming.  If it were me, I’d go with the All Ashton program on June 30th to sort of round out the experience and diversify the choreographers, but it’s Nacho and not me, so I would only strongly suggest/force that idea upon her if I had a legion of people who agreed with me (also keeping in mind she’s never seen a MacMillan and the Manon pas de deux is just…to DIE for).  ABT then does a week of Romeo and Juliet in early July before heading off to Los Angeles, and you know I’m a grouch when it comes to Romeo and Juliet so I’m in no position to be suggesting which casting I think would be lovely to see.

So friends, I beseech thee to diagnose Nacho and help her get the most out of her summer in New York!  Here’s a short interview I did with her which might help figure out which ballets/casts she should see:

YDF:  Do you like Roberto Bolle?

Nacho:  Sure.

YDF:  Liar.  Do you wear clothes from the Gap?

Nacho:  Roberto Bolle is fine…don’t really have an opinion of him and no I do not.

YDF:  Not the answer I was looking for.

Nacho:  Sorry friend.

YDF:  Do you even know who he is?

Nacho:  Yes, I YouTube’d him.

YDF:  Just now?

Nacho:  Yes…I’m not a little ballet freak remember? (oh NO she didn’t!)

YDF:  Did you know he’s Italian?

Nacho:  I kinda got that

YDF:  You’re Italian.

Nacho:  Indeed I am.  What was the answer you were looking for?

YDF:  The answer should have been yes, so I could tell you that he was a model for a Gap ad, and then you’d have something in common…but you ruined it.

Nacho: Sorry Charlie 🙂

YDF:  How do you like your male dancers?

Nacho:  Good?

YDF:  Fascinating.  Now describe your ideal ballerina.

Nacho:  Traditional yet not stiff?  I don’t know.  These are hard!

YDF:  Okay so final question (and this SHOULD be easy) what do you love about dance?

Nacho:  The expression through movement…the story that can be told without any word use.  The different interpretations of pieces, the emotion, the passion…I don’t know.

YDF:  Okay I lied, the REAL final question is, what are some characteristics of dances you like or dislike?

Nacho:  You know I don’t like too modern/abstract pieces… but I do like originality… generic pieces make me wanna scream.

And there you have it.  I’ll be sure to update on her progress as the summer progresses!