Tag Archives: abt

Spring is here! New life, new rules.

20 Mar

How better to celebrate my 100th post than on the vernal equinox?  I didn’t plan it this way, and although I don’t have any specific vernal equinox traditions it is a most meaningful day to me.  I love the spring…it’s my favorite season and it’s a time where there we’re surrounded by reminders of renewal, youth, greenery and freshness.  Although we cannot reverse the aging process, spring does inspire opportunities to reinvent thyself.  Perhaps, even more so than New Year’s, when it’s still dreary and cold and really the only thing that tells us it is indeed a new year is just a bunch of numbers.  I prefer the visual and other sensory stimuli spring provides.  Plus, the vernal equinox means my birthday approaches over yonder horizon!

I think in a previous post I alluded to my posts being sparse this month and although I forget what I said and where I said it, I do know why and in this time of renewal I think it’s a good time to reveal that reason.  I’m packing my life up and leaving Columbus, Ohio and headed westward for the Emerald City…aka, Seattle.  Last weekend I was there looking at apartments and details are all coming together.  I feel really good about this move for many reasons and I feel that Seattle will give me that much needed shot in the arm to renew the search for life, love and happiness.  I don’t hate Columbus…it’s my hometown and I’ve learned to accept and cherish the good, the bad and the ugly.  However, it’s been over twenty years of living here and oddly enough when I realized I was completely fine with spending the rest of my life here, my heart went berserk and told me it can’t do it anymore.  I’ve tried to make things work in Columbus, but have essentially failed (not that that’s a bad thing).  It’s time to do things differently and renew the job search in a new city…job hunting in Columbus only resulted in consistent rejections, and some say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  By the way, tendu anyone?

I have no illusions that Seattle will be perfect, which is the healthiest way to approach anything but there is one thing I am really looking forward to, and that is Pacific Northwest Ballet.  If things go according to plan, I may end up living within walking distance to their studios and performance venue.  PRAISE BILLY ELLIOT!  But why Pacific Northwest you ask?  Well, they are a company that has a strong tradition in Balanchine/Robbins works which brings me one step closer to two things: my beloved Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux and Dances at a Gathering, choreographed by Balanchine and Robbins, respectively.  Believe it or not, I have not seen works by either choreographer live, and while I’ve seen videos of Tchaik and excerpts of Dances from the Jerome Robbins documentary on PBS, nothing compares to live performances.  Much to my chagrin, PNB just did Dances last season…but at least I know it’s in the repertory.  Regrettably, a move to the West Coast takes me geographically further away from potential Ashton works, since ABT is one of the few companies to do them regularly, but one of my best friends has moved to DC and I can crash at her place if ABT or the Royal Ballet tours something I really want to see (although in defense of the West Coast, San Francisco Ballet actually did Symphonic Variations many years ago.  I would love for PNB to learn it though, and have a triple bill of Dances at a Gathering, Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux and Symphonic Variations.  Heaven…on Earth.)

Dreams are dreams though, and I have to face reality.  Reality isn’t all that bad though, because I move just in time to catch the All Balanchine bill with Serenade, Square Dance and The Four Temperaments (Hindemith!  SQUEE!).  I’m beyond stoked for Serenade and The Four Temperaments, and Square Dance I’ve read a little bit about from the book In the Wings, by NYCB dancer Kyle Froman.  It’s mostly eye-catching photography from studios, rehearsals, backstage and such, with anecdotes from Froman about life as a dancer.  He discusses performing Square Dance in the book, and supposedly it’s quite wild.  It’s a really neat book and I like his perspective as a corps dancer.

In addition to PNB though, I really want to get into the Seattle dance scene, because I’d go nuts without some variety and because PNB only does six or seven performances a season.  So I have a request for my readers; if you have any information about other dance companies in the Seattle area and/or upcoming shows I should check out, please tell me!  Also, recommendations for places to take class would be nice too.  Living close to PNB would have its perks but if that doesn’t work out a backup plan for ballet classes would be nice.  And like a check-up with the doctor, I do like to drop in on the occasional modern class to challenge myself in new ways and experience something new.  Oh, and jazz classes!  I did some searching online but couldn’t really find any jazz classes (for adults anyway).  Enlighten me, Seattleites!  I am in dire need of your help!

Anyway, at present I’m a bit busy with moving logistics but there are a lot of exciting things coming up that I will post more about and everyone should save the following dates (I mostly needed to write these down for myself too!).  Next week is a busy one for dance!

March 22ndABT’s Culinary Pas de Deux, hosted by principal dancer Marcelo Gomes and soloist Craig Salstein.  It’s an evening of fine dining and dance and although a $350 ticket is probably not in the cards for many of us, the event will feature a live Twitter feed to dish the dish. 7:00pm EST.   Meanwhile, Marcelo Gomes follows me on Twitter, and that makes me smile. (^-^)

March 24thJerome Robbins’ NY Export: Opus Jazz, the Film airs on PBS.  Check local listings for times.

March 26thDance Anywhere, an event where everyone, whether in private or public stops whatever they’re doing and dances at 3:00pm EST.  More on this in my next post, methinks!

An on the topic of dancing in public and being in Seattle, this is what happened last time I visited the city:

*note that none of those people except me have taken dance classes.  Well, quasi-wife dabbled a little.  Inspirations for the above performance include Donkey Kong for Nintendo and chase scenes from Scooby-Doo.

In a word…Giselle

29 Jan

I finally watched (a) Giselle in its entirety, with my maiden viewing going to the made for film production with Carla Fracci and Erik Bruhn by ABT.  I honestly didn’t think I would like Giselle all that much…I was sure it would be quaint, lovely, but more than likely a little too sappy for my tastes.  You know, the kind of mooniness that provoked Balanchine to coin the term “Gisellitis,” and probably want to shake her and say “get a grip, girl!”  I didn’t “get” Giselle, but I also knew that having only seen the pas de deux performed once as well as a few video clips really wasn’t enough to make a good judgment on the ballet (but judge did I want to!).  Turns out I kind of like it…maybe even really like it and despite the ever dreaded enchanted forest scene, I actually added a Giselle to my Amazon wish list (that one being the Royal Ballet of course, with Alina and Johan.  So magnanimous is that pairing one need not even refer to their surnames).

The film version has some great things going for it…among them, Erik Bruhn as Count Albrecht, who has the most beautiful pair of legs I’ve ever seen (man or woman).  It’s one of those moments where you hesitate to use the word perfect because you try to convince yourself that everyone is flawed, but really his legs are perfect…pencil straight in arabesque and always landing in impeccable fifths in his jumps.  He’s the kind of dancer you watch, then think about your own legs, give yourself a moment to sulk while a trombone goes “wah-waaaaaah” and then remind yourself that dance is not about comparing yourself to others and their genetic gifts, but being the dancer you are with the body you have.  Public service announcement aside, it’s worth the watch for him alone and I believe it’s the only full length performance of his ever recorded so it’s a wonderful piece of history.

He partnered Carla Fracci in the title role, who showed a wonderful range of doe-eyed innocence as a young girl in Act I to a forlorn yet forgiving ghostly apparition in Act II.  I always figured it was the dramatic range (along with technical skill and grace) that drew women to want to perform Giselle so much (here’s looking at you Veronique Doisneau) but I wonder if there’s more to it.  Especially considering the fact that on the surface, Giselle would seem to be a…clingy, antifeminist character.  This day in age, if a man pulls a stunt like Count Albrecht and cheats on his fiancée (Berthilde, with Giselle as the “mistress”), both women are expected to dump him because a cheater is still a cheater and is inevitably bad news to the both of them.  However, my interpretation of Giselle was not antifeminist at all.  The fact that she forgives him strikes me as more empowered, with her death only being symbolic.  We can’t look at a romantic era ballet and realistically compare it to a relationship between actual people and yet I see more truth in Giselle than I do in say, the countless pop songs about breakups you hear on the radio.  Maybe this is hopelessly romantic (or sappy) of me, but I think if you really love someone, a part of you always does and that’s why it’s hard to let go of relationships even when people you trust get in your face and tell you to dump his/her ass.  Giselle is the representation of love itself…she doesn’t technically love Albrecht (she didn’t even know who the hell he was!) but she was in love with the idea of being in love and I think her purity is the language of the heart.  She is the “butterflies in your stomach” feeling and because she is love personified, she is the most powerful character in the story…able to stand up to Myrtha, queen of the Wilis and ensure that Albrecht survives Myrtha’s forcing him to dance to death.  She is the heroine even if she dies…but as I said, her death and transformation into a Wili is symbolic.  Love changes when somebody hurts you and you may be able to forget about it someday but it probably never goes away for good.  Which Bruhn probably understood better than anyone, given his relationship with Nureyev…which by the way, HELLO.  I had no idea that ever happened…how behind the times am I?  Bruhn & Nureyev is huge…like bigger than Alina & Johan huge…hell, bigger than Brad & Angelina huge.  This is galactic huge.

At any rate, I didn’t really feel sorry for Bruhn’s Albrecht…not enough Jewish guilt for me to sympathize.  Naturally, I would feel more for a character like James in La Sylphide because he forsakes a relationship he doesn’t want to be in only to accidentally kill the Sylph he pursues…Albrecht knows full well what he’s doing all along, that he’s fooling Giselle into thinking he’s just a villager named Loys and not Count Albrecht, fiancée of Berthilde.  Rather than finding him passionate or romantic I kind of wanted to whack him on the schnoz with a rolled up newspaper (which by the way, I don’t think is very effective for training dogs.  Humans on the other hand…they can be taught).  But I do understand him…if Giselle is the personification of love, we have to remember that love makes us do stupid things.  More than understand, I can forgive him too.

As far as the film itself, there were some interesting moments of cinematography that added another dimension to the ballet, particularly in the second act with having Albrecht dance in the middle of the Wilis in the round (which I think makes them more menacing and enhances the sense that Albrecht is really trapped), with some beautiful aerial shots that would make Busby Berkeley proud.  Also the way the camera focus was blurred for when the Wilis would materialize from in and out of the trees added to the etherealness.  However, I think the editing needed to be edited…as in, there was too much different camera angles and unimportant shots of random animals in the first act or rippling reflections in the second act (like, yeah I got it the first time…but it was quite unnecessary).  There’s even a scene with a hunting part on horseback and they shot it from the horse’s perspective, so the camera is tossed around while the horse gallops and you get lovely images of another horse’s ass getting all jiggy with it in front of you.  I really could have done without that.  But all in all, a good first Giselle experience and I enjoyed Fracci and Bruhn very much.  If you’re impervious to motion sickness and frenetic editing, you may want to give this one a watch.  Whole thing on YouTube, in nine parts:

Don Qonfused

2 Nov

So I sat down and watched ABT’s Don Quixote with Cynthia Harvey and Baryshnikov.  I actually hadn’t seen a full production of DonQ before, only the countless variations and grand pas de deux on YouTube.  For whatever reason, the roles of Kitri and Basil seem to be epitomized by many, discussed and compared more than any other role I can think of, and apparently if you’re a good Kitri/Basil that means you’ve really achieved something in ballet.  Personally, I’ve long wondered why this ballet seems to be at the top of so many peoples’ favorites lists, and I’ve decided it’s because nobody is evil and nobody dies.  In that sense, it’s perhaps easier to relate to the characters because most people don’t have pure villains and melodramatic deaths in their daily lives.  But something like parentally encouraged betrothals (while different in modern times) still has some relevance.  DonQ is one giant celebration with a lot of fun moments and I suppose for dancers and fans alike it can be a relief to escape from the intensely serious and have some lighthearted fun.  And if you know me, I’m all about lighthearted fun and having a good time.  I would probably label DonQ as Petipa’s attempt at a sitcom.

However, while watching this DonQ, I found myself extremely confused.  For one thing I’ve owned the soundtrack for a couple of years (yes, even without having seen the ballet.  Buying it seemed like a good idea at the time, even if I can’t find the words to rationalize it now).  Things were out of order, and certain flourishes are not in the particular recording I own.  Perhaps it was the placement of the camera mics, but the french horns were raging off the charts, especially in Kitri’s act I variation and the flutes were noodling like crazy during the fouettes for the coda.  It made the soundtrack bizarrely unfamiliar, and somewhat disturbing.  I also got lost with the libretto, because I only read the synopsis from The Ballet Goer’s Guide, which lists four acts.  However, what I so carefully failed to read in the little history blurb was that Baryshnikov cut a lot of content and switched the order of the dream sequence and tavern scene, for a total of three acts.  Apparently it was his way of rationalizing certain aspects of the libretto, but I ended up getting lost anyway.  Like the scene where he fakes his death and somehow manages to trick Kitri’s parents into letting them get married made no sense to me…I just didn’t get that from what was actually being performed on stage.  And I don’t know what Basil pretends to stab himself with in other productions, but the humongous barber’s razor just made me laugh, and was impossible to take “seriously.”

There was a lot going on though…like random bits by Gamache and corps members in the coda that I’ve never seen in other clips and on the topic of those characters, man alive does DonQ boast a big cast.  So big, in fact I didn’t quite figure out who everyone was.  Obviously I recognized Kitri and Basil, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Gamache is impossible to miss (and one of the highlights of this production)…but who’s Espada?  Lorenzo?  Mercedes?  And that Cupid thing…what’s her purpose?  Queen of the Dryads?  Will the REAL Dulcinella please stand up?  Who are all these people and why are they in this ballet?  And why is the ballet even called Don Quixote when he has next to nothing to do with the main plot?  It’s all difficult to rationalize and made me feel like I’m might just start seeing monsters in lieu of windmills any minute now.  Although I’m sure many of these characters don’t appear in the novel, perhaps having read it would at least provide insight into the character of Don Quixote himself (I read that Nureyev himself thought Don Quixote was a fool, until he read the book).  As it stands, I have not read the book and my only conception of Don Quixote is from that cartoon Don Coyote and Sancho Panda.  That and the fact that Don Quixote is the name of a chain of convenience stores equivalent to CVS, but in Japan, with the most obnoxious jingle on Earth.  While you shop, you are subjected to this heinous tune with the lyrics “Don, Don, Don, Don, Ki…Don Ki-hooooo-teeeeeee” the ENTIRE TIME.  I’m still haunted by it, so I’ll spare you the jingle, but here’s the opening for the cartoon, for anyone else who wants a taste of nostalgia:

So back to the ballet…I wasn’t a huge fan of the “after Petipa” choreography, as it was…kind of boring (eek!).  There wasn’t much substance until the man himself, Baryshnikov stepped onto the stage.  I actually found it rather bombastic that he would produce and choreograph a ballet on himself.  Not that it couldn’t or shouldn’t be done…I’m just skeptical that one man can really do it all.  Not even Carlos Acosta starred in his own ballet, Tocororo, which I think is important if you’re going to put your name on something.  It’s one thing to do a solo or a piece, but an entire ballet requires a watchful eye from where the audience is sitting, and so that when there is an audience they do indeed get the entire picture of the ballet as a whole.  Personally I think it’s a lot to ask of an audience to have them sit through a couple of hours of ballet just to see the star.  Of course we pick which castings we want to go to, but we want to enjoy the entire ballet, not sit around and wait for it to highlight one dancer.  There was fantastic dancing being done from supporting cast members like the colossal Patrick Bissell and Susan Jaffe, but it didn’t seem like there was much care to make them look good.

Baryshnikov was fantastic and did amazing pirouettes en dehors in arabesque which are kind of a signature move for Basils (and I think they are among the witchiest pirouettes of ALL TIME.  Those and en dedans a la seconde…I hate those), but I loved Cynthia Harvey and she made the production for me.  She was saucy and coy, elvish and frisky.  She was everything she needed to be at the appropriate moments and a wonderful technician to boot.  I was so captivated by her that she was far more memorable to me than Baryshnikov.  She was positively brilliant in act I, and is well worth the watch.  I just hope anyone else who watches this as their first Don Q isn’t as ill-prepared as I was! (and seriously pay attention to the french horns and low brass in the second variation…WHAAAAT?!?!)

Happy 50th! Thank You Remanso

26 Sep

This is the fiftieth post I’ve written since youdancefunny’s sacred inception.  Fifty is a pretty monumental number, so I shall write about a dance that was monumental to me.  I was actually thinking about saving this for entry one hundred, but after realizing that would take a few more months, I chacked the idea.  The thought of having this thought linger in my brain for a few more months was not one I was fond of, because when I get a good idea I tend to become pretty impatient about it.  After all, the only way to get another good idea is to get rid of the one you’re holding.  It’s all thanks to a combination of the impatience of an Aries and a lust for living in the present moment that comes from being born in the Year of the Rat.  My birthright has thus rendered me virtually incapable of dealing with the long term stuff, in either direction, past or future.  Too much information?  Maybe.

So in honor of post cincuenta, today’s entry is dedicated to first dance that ever inspired me, Remanso, choreographed by Nacho Duato, to music by composer Enrique Granados’ Valses Poéticos.  I was first introduced to this dance by ballet teacher Yen Fang, ages ago.  Well, more like less than two years, but remember that I am indeed one who lives in the present so two years is like half of eternity.  I think I’ve mentioned her a couple times before, as the teacher who swears like a sailor and would beat me in class.  She would also tell me to carry out the center barres because that’s what the boys should do…or rather boy, since I was the only boy in the class.  Despite her abusive ways, I’ll always remember her class because it was one of my first ballet classes ever, where I first heard the mazurka to Coppelia, and where I was introduced to Remanso.  I started taking dance classes at my university, so the approach was always a little more academic rather than just dancing all the time, so teachers would often show videos and have us write papers and the like.  The one Yen Fang showed was American Ballet Theatre Now – Variety and Virtuosity, which one can purchase brand new at amazon.com for a monstrous $97.89.  HOLY BILLY ELLIOT.  Back up, $100?  Seriously?!?  This is not a drill people…although if you own an artifact called a “VCR,” you can purchase a VHS for a much kinder six dollars.

Sticker shock aside, I found that Remanso appealed to many of my tastes.  The first being the music.  I have a strange affinity for waltzes and time signatures in threes, for which I have no explanation.  Anyway, sometimes a solo piano piece is really all it takes to satisfy the soul, and Valses Poéticos does just that.  In fact, I was so in love with the music I rekindled this idea that I could teach myself how to play piano.  I go through this phase every now and then, with varying degrees of success, ranging from purchasing music and never playing it, to learning the first page of a piece before getting overwhelmed.  Quite frankly, piano (or any classical instrument for that matter), like ballet is not something you can teach yourself, but I decided to buy the music anyway.  What should have been a simple purchase turned into an ordeal when I ordered the music in July, got a call from the store that it had arrived, and had plans to go but somehow got distracted and it slipped my mind.  After that initial day, again, as someone who lives in the present, of course I also forgot all about it (plus going downtown is a pain and I always get lost), until a couple months later when the store lady called again, not leaving a message the first time and then leaving a message the day after.  I rushed to the store and picked it up, with a different store clerk helping me, but the one who had ordered it and made the phone calls was also there and she was giving me the evil eye the whole time.  “I’m sorry!  I forgot!  It was an honest mistake!” I pleaded with my eyes, but she would not relent, and I left feeling dirty and ashamed.

Anyway, back to the dance, it is a modern ballet, and Duato’s choreography is so whimsical and charming, and the lightness of his style really fits the buoyancy of the music itself.  Designed for a male pas de trois (plus a mysterious hand of a fourth human holding a rose), the costumes are simple, leotards in solid dark tones paired with black shorts, which allows for a real sense of the dynamism of the male body.  The set and lighting too are minimal, with just a white square on a black stage, which would illuminate with different colors matching the dancer’s outfits.  It’s such a simple, perfect idea, and the minimized production elements really force your eyes to watch the dancing only.  There’s nothing harsh; it’s sweet, chocolate covered and easy to digest thanks to wonderful symmetry, motifs, repetitions and echoing.  No one dancer overpowers another, and they are playful without it being exaggerated.  It’s also pleasing because I believe it is comprised of all seven movements of Valses Poéticos, so you get a variety of tempi so it never settles into one mood for too long, each one on the verge ephemerality.  I think in many ways, this dance felt like “me.”  After watching it, THAT was the moment when I realized I wished I was a dancer, and it was at that moment I realized I needed to have dance be a significant part of my life or else I wouldn’t truly be human without it.  So I immersed myself, and the rest they say is history…a history that is fading into the recesses of my memory.  Luckily, Remanso never will.

So here it is, for your enjoyment, Remanso, danced by Parrish Maynard, (green…and I want his arabesque), Keith Roberts (gray) and Vladimir Malakhov (blue)…thank Billy nobody has to pay a ridiculous $100 for the DVD and Variety and Virtuosity in its entirety is available on YouTube.  You can also catch a glimpse of Julie Kent at the end, who is featured in the next dance.  Now, I hadn’t seen Center Stage at the time, and only knew of it because friend Mama J-bear (with whom I had my adventures in China with) said it was worth watching because Sascha Radetsky is hot, but I’ll never forget the girl in my class who asked “Is that the girl from Center Stage?  I didn’t like her…she was a bitch.”

He has a nephew?!?

22 Sep

Finished reading Acosta’s autobiography and it did not disappoint.  Some rough spats and heartbreaking transitions, but there were funny moments after he made his way upward, like meeting Princess Di despite not knowing a word of English, knowing nothing of Christmas and Santa Clause…obviously, nobody should expect that he would know such things, but I found his approach in encountering new cultures and how those new experiences made him nervous, quite endearing and refreshing.  So many…well, jerks, travel abroad and expect a red carpet treatment (a most unfortunate impression of Americans that I’m ashamed of…we’re not all like that!) and here you have a guy, completely terrified of making a fool of himself, and yet he tries so hard.  It’s just sweet and very humble of him.  Having read his book makes me interested in Cuba though, and I can’t tell you how much I want to try this “roasted pork, fried plantains, rice and beans” deal they have going on.  Apparently it’s something they eat all the time, but man alive was I starvacious (Not to mention I found it hysterical that while recovering from surgery in Houston, he drowned his sorrows in food, demanding to celebrate a friend’s pregnancy with fried chicken wings and pork crackling).  A quick search turns up no Cuban restaurants in Columbus, so this may end in a disastrous attempt at home cooking.

There once were rumors circulating in the mill of Hollywood being interested in making a movie about him, and the obvious questions were whether he would play himself (which he wants to do, since not many could do the dancing) and whether or not that would be a good choice because its virtually unheard of to play oneself in a narrative film.  But this is Carlos Acosta…the same man who went to ABT and had the gall to ask to join as a principal (they rejected the idea…ten points to the Royal Ballet for doing the opposite!).  I don’t think he’s afraid of being the first to do anything.  Who knows where those rumors are headed, but I hope to see it come to fruition.  I do wonder if they’re holding back because of potential political backlash, since many Americans still have an outdated, demonized view of Cuba.  Especially considering the fact that Cuba’s public health care system saved the lives of his mother and sister, things can go two ways…people can see it and realize how important a public health care option is or it could be used as a way to enforce narrow minded views of associating public health care with “Communism.”  I would hate to see a great story fuel a political debate, and Carlos Acosta is no fan of politics, but a movie would definitely scratch that mosquito bite.

Interestingly enough, some have suggested that his nephew play a younger version of him and I had no idea his nephew was even a dancer.  He’s not just a dancer, but a near doppelganger of the Flying Cuban himself.  It’s uncanny that not only do they look alike, but Yonah is certainly on the path to ballet stardom.  Coincidentally, he starred in Tocororo, a ballet by Carlos Acosta somewhat based on his life, which inspires ideas to have him play a young Carlos in a movie.  It would definitely work, although for the nitpicky, Carlos turns to the right and Yonah is a lefty.  File that one under “movie inconsistencies.”  Although there isn’t much of Yonah on YouTube yet, he is worth the watch.  Here he is practicing Don Q, and an excerpt from his Acteon variation (ironically, two that Carlos is also known for).

Not my picture (credit to Margaret Willis of dancing-times.co.uk) but 'oly smokes the resemblance!

Not my picture (credit to Margaret Willis of dancing-times.co.uk) but 'oly smokes the resemblance!

On the topic of ballet movies though, the world down under and Toronto are all abuzz as the first few reviews of Mao’s Last Dancer trickle in.  I don’t think it’s debuted in Oz and Kiwiland yet, but a few of my Aussie acquaintances are talking about going to the premiere soon, and it makes me green with envy.  Although I knew this movie would be coming soon, I didn’t know there was no US release date set, and if it turns into one of those “select theaters” deals, someone’s going to have a cranky ballet fan on their hands.  This does however give me some time to read the book, although I’m obviously not the only one with that idea since all copies are checked out from my local libraries.  Perhaps they didn’t want it competing with Fame, which I’ll probably go see but inevitably have issues with (the trailers are swarming the tele and Kherington Payne does not appear to be a promising actress).  I’m sure the boys and girls in the editing room and behind the cameras will do an amazing job with improved technology, but it’s as Acosta says in his book…for the privileged, art is somewhat of a hobby, and they don’t understand despair and desperation.  I expect little substance and grit from the actors…but I am going to try my best to reserve judgment until I see it.

I should note that in the original Fame, Antonia Franceschi, who played the prima “Hilary” (and yes that is for sure with one “L” not two) was born in my hometown (woot!).  After watching the original Fame just a few months ago, I wondered what she did afterwards, and she must have had a wonderful career since she danced with NYCB for twelve years.  Apparently she now works in London, doing various dance things and there is one lone video of her work on YouTube.  It’s moderny and reminds me of ink…a neat video dance.

PS.  Since I can’t get a copy of Mao’s Last Dancer yet, next on the reading queue is John Gruen’s People Who Dance, which chronicles the (short) stories of twenty-two famous dancers.

PSS. I missed my Monday deadline and now my calendar is all wonky.  Upsetting.

My stars, I do deClair de Lune

11 Sep

I’ve been looking for different recordings of Debussy’s Clair de Lune, the famous third movement of his Suite Bergamesque for piano.  Recall that I’m a nerd, so I like to find these different recordings, compare pianists, and pick a favorite.  In my quest, I keep coming up with the same damn version from the Twilight soundtrack (and if not that, the one from Ocean’s 11).  This young generation that now finds Clair de Lune so romantic and lovely needs to know two things.  One, Clair de Lune was a smash hit long before the likes of Twilight, which is what we classicists have been trying to imprint on the incorrigible youth, that much of their music is crap and they need to pay some respect to geniuses like Debussy.  Sure it’s fun to “bust a move” to whatever’s current and “hot,” but it’s about time somebody sit these kids down and tell them to actively seek the  development of an intelligent appreciation for music too (instead of waiting for things to show up in their favorite movies!).  Two, those of us who were dedicated fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer are most annoyed that these whippersnappers seem to think Twilight is the be-all-end-all of vampire teen angst, and now it’s cascading into this trend of the “modern vampire” what with True Blood (which I’ve actually heard a lot of good things about) and The Vampire Diaries.  I’m going to say this here and now…let it be known, that in the realm of teen vampire comedy-drama, Buffy did it first, and Buffy did it better.

Anyway, since I’m one of those “music inspires me” people, I of course expanded my search to dance, and oddly enough there isn’t that much material on Clair de Lune.  Does it not inspire?  It seems as though many smaller companies will have a piece to it, but to the best of my knowledge, nobody has hit the nail on the head.  I found an ancient review of a “Clair de Lune” choreographed by Peter Anastos for ABT (danced by Cynthia Gregory and Fernando Bujones) and it was a pretty scathing review:

Yet, finally, ”Clair de Lune” is bland. For one thing, interest in it wanes because of its length. It lasts 22 minutes, and that, considering its wispiness, is probably longer than it should last.

Moreover, ”Clair de Lune” is not so much a ballet about any particular young lovers, however romanticized or idealized, as it is a deliberately contrived example of the conventional pas de deux for young lovers. It fits a familiar category without revitalizing that category, and its real subject is not love or moonlight or spring nights or even the musical structures of Debussy. Rather, ”Clair de Lune” is a ballet about the glamour of ballet dancing itself and the glamour of ballet stars. But when glamour is the be-all-end-all of a work and not something that accompanies or grows out of other, and stronger, qualities, that work is virtually doomed to be insubstantial.

Ouch.  Needless to say, footage is unavailable (ABT doesn’t have much of a presence on YouTube anyway).  Maybe choreographers are intimidated by taking on such a well known piece, but I can’t get over the fact that there isn’t a really significant ballet to it.  It’s soothing and ethereal, the same qualities we look for in ballet dancers (although Balanchine once referred to excessive mooniness in ballet as a disease: “Gisellitis”), but perhaps it is the presence and strength of those exact qualities that make it so difficult to work with.  If Debussy could transcribe moonlight into music, then it’s going to take a pretty special choreographer to do the same.  People are trying though, and there’s no such thing as failure in art…just different degrees in impact.  I liken it to when someone hands you a silver platter, you had better make one hell of a turkey.  There just has yet to be one turkey to rule them all… one turkey to find them.  One turkey to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

I did find a couple of dances, the first being a solo(ish) by Enrique Gasa Valga of…well, I’m not exactly sure, but based on what I could scrape up I think he dances for the Innsbruck Ballet of Austria, but is also director of a company.  Kind of one of those wandering spirit types who seems to be everywhere all at once.  I have no idea who this guy is, just that he choreographed a modern ballet to Clair de Lune (ah the glories of YouTube).  It begins as a male solo, and kind of ends as a male pas de deux.  I say kind of because to me, it strikes me as a representation of having a conversation with your own reflection or even just yourself.  Like after a long day’s work you find that you’re talking to yourself at night, asking the moon for advice because nobody else is listening.  This is something familiar to me because my Chinese zodiac is the mouse, and we’re nocturnal by nature (if I had a choice, I’d go to bed at 4am and get up at noon.  Or 2pm).  I enjoy my nocturnal (well, crepuscular judging by the hours above) lifestyle and I think more people should try it because they would probably be surprised by how bright the moon is.  Anyway, the solo is part of a larger body of work and he has another solo that is a laid back New York easy-Broadway jazz kind of deal, so I can totally picture this business man dancing down the street, tired but slightly tipsy, when he stops and notices the moon, and his reflection in a dark shop window.  Er…if this were the 1950’s.

Next was a piece choreographed by Boris Storojkov, now ballet master of Municipal Theatre of Rio de Janeiro (impressive resume, great traditional Russian background, yadda yadda yadda).  His Clair de Lune is more prototypical…male-female pas de deux and periwinkle unitards on a black stage.  While Valga’s used the original piano version, Storojkov opted for an orchestration.  Aside from a little “oopsy-do” where the ballerina put her hand down coming out of a lift, it was…nice.  I found it a little uncrystalized at times and there were moments where it seemed like choreography was just filling the space instead of doing something, but that’s probably one of the most difficult things about Clair de Lune; sustaining a silken line of tension in a song that epitomizes serenity.  It’s nice…like hot cocoa on a wintery day, but I don’t think it’s “the one.”  I do however, love the moment where they’re sort of playing with each other, where the male dancer does the arabesque turn into a renversé while she promenades in arabesque and goes into an attitude turn.  The echoing of the lines but in differing motions made it so seamless and then they synchronize and meet in an attitude in plié.  But I was a little disappointed when that was followed by two tour jetés which broke the spell.  However, the last minute, when it was not so skilly is when the dance became sublime.

I suppose we’ll have to wait for that earth-shattering Clair de Lune…but here’s something fun, Storojkov teaching class (Men’s?  With a few ambitious women?  I think it’s cool when the women jump with the men).  Cool to see a professional level class…love the “mandagge” and the petit allegros looked like fun!  But the grande allegros were SCARY.  I think the chances of me ever jumping like a man is under the “highly unlikely to impossible” column.

Thinking about following ABT and San Francisco Ballet to China? Some almost helpful travelling tips

24 Aug

This fall, all the ballet companies are headed for China, and by all the ballet companies what I really mean is San Francisco Ballet and ABT.  Even though Americans could easily see them here stateside, I figured there might be some people in addition to dancers and crew members who are considering travelling abroad and combining a vacation with an opportunity to see them (People do that right?  People with money?).  As a Chinese major who studied in China for a summer, I thought I might offer some travel tipsy dos and don’ts for spare time whims (by the way, all pictures in this entry are either mine or were taken by my fellow students).  Although, keep in mind, my experience in China was pre-Olympics, so I’d imagine things would be different these days.

I found China to be rather overwhelming.  It always seems like people are in a rush and in my opinion, they have a very hurried lifestyle.  Things always feel like hustle and bustle madness.  As a fairly laid back person, I found it all to be a little scary…don’t get me wrong, I never felt like I was in danger, but at the same time always frantic.  Even the language itself sounds frenetic, but assuming you are not a speaker of Chinese, that’s not really going to matter (actually, I studied Chinese for two years and it never stopped sounding frenzied and are you impressed with my use of three adjectives that all mean something similar but start with “F?”  Three cheers for me.).  But don’t let this deter you…China has a lot to offer, and certainly people who are used to big cities probably wouldn’t be surprised (even if I think Beijing is the craziest city I’ve ever been to.  SFBallet is also going to Shanghai and Suzhou, and though I only went to Shanghai for just a weekend, it seemed neat.).

Chances are, you’ll be staying at a very nice hotel with English speaking tour guides to help you get around, so seeing the sights should be easy-peasy, especially in Beijing (where both ABT and SFBallet are going).  Tiananmen Square is a must, but there isn’t actually a lot to do there, people often fly kites but it’s kind of like a desert without the joy of sand between your toes.  However, the Forbidden Palace is right across the street and has a lot of nooks, crannies, and a Starbucks to see.  The Royal Garden in the palace was probably my favorite part, since there are some really old trees, and I like that kind of geeky nature stuff.  One thing you might notice while traversing the grounds is that oftentimes, little kids will have a split in their pants where their bums are.  This is in fact, intentional by many Chinese people.  It’s so the kids can poo without having to bother with taking their pants off, and probably save money by not having to buy diapers.  My friend Mama J-bear actually had an obsession with taking pictures of kids with those pants:

Split pants...for your pooing convenience.

Split pants...for your pooing convenience.

It’s not like they just poo in public mind you, but on the topic of bathrooms, I would highly recommend carrying a little packet of toilet paper (they sell them in convenience stores) and a little bottle of hand sanitizer because public bathrooms won’t have toilet paper or soap.  I was one of the most popular kids in our group because I actually thought to bring some hand sanitizer (Bath and Body Works Cucumber Melon, if you must know).

Definitely hit up the Great Wall, which was one of my favorite things.  I mean everyone knows about it, you see it in photos all the time, but really you do have to see it in person.  But don’t get cute and think you’re going to climb to the highest watchtower…like our side view mirrors tell us, “Objects may be larger than they appear” and certainly the Great Wall is one of them.  We kept hiking with a certain watchtower in mind and eventually abandoned our quest because we were dying halfway through, also conveniently remembering that we had to walk the same distance back to the starting point.  Although, we were there in June when it was hot, and obviously it’ll be cooler in the autumn when SFBallet and ABT are there.  We were lucky enough to have really nice weather though…it’s true, air quality isn’t great in a lot of areas of China, and even mountainous areas can be hazy and foggy.  We had a gorgeous blue sky, and our tour guide even said that that was the first time she had ever seen the sky so blue.  Make what you will of that.

From atop the Great Wall.  It was then they realized they had a long way to go...

From atop the Great Wall. It was then they realized they had a long way to go...

Now I debated whether I should actually post this next picture of me doing a leap on the Great Wall, as it’s one of the few pieces of pictorial evidence that I ever learned to dance and it’s absolutely hideous.  But, self-deprecating or no, my humiliation is your entertainment.  Just keep in mind, this was after about two months of ballet classes, we were just fooling around, and I was also trying not to fall off the bricks and die.

Don't laugh...EVERYONE's grand jeté looked like this at SOME point.

Don't laugh...EVERYONE's grand jeté looked like this at SOME point.

Now be sure to be adventurous and try all kinds of different foods!  Isn’t this the true joy of travelling?  And don’t worry that you might get sick in China, because everyone does.  Seriously…in our pre-departure packet they recommended we bring Pepto-Bismol or something else for an upset stomach, but I was fine for like six weeks and only got sick once.  Not a big deal.  You don’t have to go all “Man vs. Food,” but limitations are for the lame.  So here’s a miscellaneous assortment of photos and thoughts:

A lot of meals at fancy restaurants will be served on a lazy susan, not unlike what you might find at Chinese restaurants around the world.  The dishes themselves are somewhat similar, but some foods are strictly Western, like sesame chicken or General Tso’s, so don’t expect those.  (ignore the french fries)

A lot of meals at fancy restaurants will be served on a lazy susan, not unlike what you might find at Chinese restaurants around the world. The dishes themselves are somewhat similar, but some foods are strictly Western, like sesame chicken or General Tso’s, so don’t expect those. (ignore the french fries)

Seafood is served fresh.  Sometimes it tries to run away.  Don’t be shocked if a whole fish, including head and tail shows up at your table.  They don’t do breaded, fried fillets.

Seafood is served fresh. Sometimes it tries to run away. Don’t be shocked if a whole fish, including head and tail shows up at your table. They don’t do breaded, fried fillets.

Yes, sometimes there are…unusual items, like the fried cicadas and grubs here.  They're perfectly safe.

Yes, sometimes there are…unusual items, like the fried cicadas and grubs here. They're perfectly safe.

Don’t try durian.  It’s not worth it.  It smells like a rotting corpse and has the texture of a preserved kidney.

Don’t try durian. It’s not worth it. It smells like a rotting corpse and has the texture of a preserved kidney.

McDonalds is a big deal.  Some parents/grandparents will take kids there as a reward, and can only afford to buy food for their kids, and won’t eat anything themselves.  Meanwhile, Pizza Hut is a fancy, sit down restaurant and Häagen-Dazs ice cream is like an arm and a leg for just one scoop.  I had to go to McD’s because I was massively craving a cheeseburger, but stick with enjoying local foods if you can, because imported things are much more expensive.

McDonalds is a big deal. Some parents/grandparents will take kids there as a reward, and can only afford to buy food for their kids, and won’t eat anything themselves. Meanwhile, Pizza Hut is a fancy, sit down restaurant and Häagen-Dazs ice cream is like an arm and a leg for just one scoop. I had to go to McD’s because I was massively craving a cheeseburger, but stick with enjoying local foods if you can, because imported things are much more expensive.

I don’t have a picture, but hot-pot is very popular, where you cook meat on skewers in a broth at your table.  Although this was the dish that I got sick after eating (first and probably only time I’ll ever eat intestines) so unfortunately I’ve got that “traumatized once so I’ll never do it again” thing going on, but it is good.  Other people who I ate with didn’t get sick, so really it was just my body that wasn’t happy with it.

Also, know that “not spicy” to a Chinese person, especially one that hails from Szechuan, Guizhou or even Yunnan province has a different meaning to the rest of us.  I visited Guiyang, capitol of Guizhou province and my friend and I ordered a dish we were told was “not spicy…for sure!” and when it came to us it was molten lava red, scorched our tongues and melted our faces off.  We couldn’t eat it at all, and after digging through it a bit also found the head and feet of the chicken.  Don’t be alarmed, this probably wouldn’t happen at a fancy restaurant…but I’ll never forget that spicy chicken head.

P.S. Peking duck is the bomb.

Now, for shopping.  Here are some recommended souvenirs:

Cloisonné.  Mama J-Bear asked the workers if they liked their jobs, and they said no.

Cloisonné. Mama J-Bear asked the workers if they liked their jobs, and they said no.

Chairman Mao hat.  Get one and wear it to the premiere of Mao's Last Dancer!

Chairman Mao hat. Get one and wear it to the premiere of Mao's Last Dancer!

Jade sculptures.  I’m not sure how you’d get one of these larger pieces onto the plane though.

Jade sculptures. I’m not sure how you’d get one of these larger pieces onto the plane though.

Now there’s a few different ways to shop in China.  You can go to places like the Beijing Longdi Superior Jade Gallery (which is where I took the picture above), which I would actually recommend because you get to see the jade making process and you have the opportunity to purchase the finest jade pieces China has to offer.  However, this is where it will also be the most expensive.  They also have malls and retail stores where pieces will also be expensive, indoor markets (which have the best deals), and outdoor markets which will have a lot of the fake stuff.  You can definitely do no wrong by purchasing somewhere like Longdi, where you’ll actually get a numbered certificate that describes the piece in detail and guarantees its quality, but if you’re on a budget, the indoor markets are the place to go.

A typical Chinese outdoor street market.

A typical Chinese outdoor street market.

For one thing, you can barter there (but not at fancy retail stores).  In fact, this is where I purchased probably the most popular souvenir from China, jade bangles.  I kind of became obsessed with jade bangles, as I’ve always had this inexplicable penchant for precious stones.  I don’t own any jewelry, but gems and stones really fascinate me (I went to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and stalked the Hope Diamond for an hour, and took countless photos in the Hall of Gems and Minerals). 

A brief trip to the Smithsonian: Emeralds, Rubies and Diamonds.  Boy that sounds familiar...

A brief trip to the Smithsonian: Emeralds, Rubies and Diamonds. Boy that sounds familiar...

Braving the markets can yield high quality purchases and the best deals, as long as you know what you’re doing.  So here’s a short guide to purchasing jade.

  1. If it seems shady, it probably is.  Don’t buy a bangle from just anyone.  Go to a shop that specializes in jade.
  2. Authentic jade resonates with a beautiful “ting” type of noise when struck with a hard object.  Glass thuds with a “tock.”  Don’t buy glass.
  3. Always hold up a bangle to the light, and look for cracks and repairs.  Note that cracks are different from natural sort of fractures in the stone, but repairs are obvious because they inject a translucent polymer to fill broken areas in.
  4. Translucency = good.  Translucency = higher price.
  5. Uniformity (less impurities and specks) = good.  Also = higher price
  6. Unusual coloring = can be good.  Can mean higher prices, depending on how favorable the coloring is.  Bands of lavender, white and also very dark green can yield attractive results which are prized higher than solid colored bangles even.
  7. Barter.  If you thought you got a deal, you probably didn’t…but at least you tried.

Here you can see the two I purchased for FAR below retail.

Note the one on the left is a medium green, with a band of lavender, while the one on the right is a more uniform milky, mint green, with some flecks of a spring green here and there.

Note the one on the left is a medium green, with a band of lavender, while the one on the right is a more uniform milky, mint green, with some flecks of a spring green here and there.

So venture forth into the street markets…you never know what treasures it will yield!

Quality shoes.

Quality shoes.

At the very least, be sure to refer to SFBallet principal as Tan Yuan Yuan (not Yuan Yuan Tan).  That’ll make you seem like you’re in the know!