Tag Archives: alessandra ferri

Divertigo: acute confusional state caused by random dances

18 Sep

Well I’m baffled.  I just finished watching Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, an endeavor I assumed would not end well.  I can’t say that it didn’t but I can say it did.  Not.  I am so confused right now I can barely process my thoughts on this particular ballet.  I shall call this phenomenon of befuddlement divertigo, short for “divertissement vertigo.”

The production I chose to view (and by chose what I really mean is the only one I could find online) is the La Scala production starring Italian superstars Alessandra Ferri as Titania and Roberto Bolle as Oberon.  Hark, see a Balanchine ballet on the internet did I?  Absolutely…for you see, as nutty as China can be (trust me, I’ve been there) they have this wonderful ignorance towards American copyright laws, thus rendering the “you know who” powerless.  I really shouldn’t delight in fueling the flames, but I’m in an odd, semi-impetuous mood—let’s blame the divertigo.  Here are the links (in six parts) for the entire ballet (and let’s hope the links last)…however, just because I’m sharing the links at this point, that doesn’t mean you can stop reading this entry.  Doing so will incur my wrath and I shall become as ornery as Oberon.

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6

Now I have a special affection for Frederick Ashton’s The Dream and obviously I expected numerous differences with Balanchine’s version of Shakespeare’s tale.  I don’t believe I’ve ever seen any of the few story ballets there are by Balanchine and honestly, I had my doubts because the pieces I like most by him are pure dance, with no story attached.  Not to mention it’s quite difficult to go up against Ashton in my mind…his works are generally the trump card as far as I’m concerned but I have to at least attempt to be open-minded.  Attempted I did; changed my mind I did not and The Dream still holds it’s special place on the mantelpiece of my heart.  However, I’d like to take this opportunity to reiterate that when patrons of the arts feel something is “better” or the “best interpretation thereof,” we say so as a matter of opinion while always knowing there’s no such thing as “winners” when it comes to the arts.  My judgment of these ballets isn’t in terms of number one and number two, but rather strawberry and blueberry.

There were moments in A Midsummer Night’s Dream that I absolutely adored.  In a rare moment of sappiness, I actually found the children in the production not so…irritating.  Normally, because I’m crotchety and old at heart, I have an aversion for whippersnappers in ballets.  However, Balanchine actually gave them substantial choreography that truly makes sense, as opposed to having them on stage just for the sake of having a horde of tiny little bodies to garner the “aw, how cute!” reaction from the audience.  Newsflash: it’s not cute and I paid to see professional dancers, which is generally what I want to see…but even my cold dead heart warmed to them a little and didn’t mind them so much.

Meanwhile, I was intrigued by some of the choices Balanchine made, such as the inclusion of additional characters like Hippolyta and Theseus.  I am all for fleshing out the story, however I didn’t feel Hippolyta and Theseus added any dimension to the story and it made me understand why Sir Fred edited them out—in the end their presence contributed nothing compelling.  Balanchine took a number of liberties though because he added a few more significant roles like Titania’s cavalier and a random couple who dances in the massive wedding celebration that is the second act.  Unfortunately, the more I watched of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the more poorly…“edited” I felt it was.  I was definitely making that pensive Tim Gunn face, you know, with his hand on his chin at several points during the ballet.  The first act is BRILLIANT.  I absolutely loved it, and wasn’t bothered by the transparency of the aforementioned additional roles.  I was enjoying the more dramatic approach (as opposed to a more comical by Ashton), as Lysander/Hermia/Demetrius/Helena had much more forceful, almost violent choreography.  At one point during their confused tryst, Helena is thrown into these huge penchées and it’s one of those moments where instead of thinking “wow” I was only thinking “ow.”  Regardless, I liked the more mature tension between those characters.

Unfortunately, the whole second act killed the mood.  I don’t know if this is always done, but La Scala did a curtain call after Act I, which I found odd and somewhat interruptive, which kind of exacerbated the discontinuity of the second act.  Act II is a divertissement wedding celebration and nothing else, with a meaty pas de deux being performed by two dancers you basically see nowhere else in the ballet.  I couldn’t wrap my head around this and in fact the whole ending is so signature Balanchine…and actually, too much.  Balanchine is known for these flashy endings like in Theme and Variations or Symphony in C, where there are a ton of dancers on stage doing big movements in unison and that’s what I kept seeing the whole time; it literally felt like the first act was A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the second half was a completely different ballet in a mixed bill.  Hippolyta/Theseus, Hermia/Lysander and Helena/Demetrius change into tutus and more classical attire and are almost unrecognizable.  I suppose it’s their big hoopla wedding and all but as if divertissements didn’t make me grouchy enough this one had to come along and sever the continuity of the story (especially when the random couple does the most important pas de deux.  What?!).  Then randomly, Titania and Oberon with their swarms of insects come back for like the last ten minutes for who knows what reason, and Puck steals the show when he’s air lifted by pretty vines, fireflies hovering in the background.

So I definitely have mixed feelings…it IS a lovely ballet and in some ways exceeded my expectations but then crashed and burned in the second act.  It would have been much nicer (in my humble opinion) if like Ashton, Balanchine went with just one act and omitted the wedding altogether.  Like there was a moment in the first act, where the butterflies are just bourée-ing, gently waving their arms up and down, which actually made their wings quiver a little and I thought it was stunning—so simple and so perfect…but I’m left with the bad aftertaste of a “Symphony in C but NOT” ending that I wasn’t all that enthralled by.

I did however enjoy Roberto Bolle in this role quite a bit.  I felt Ashton’s Oberon is a bit more mischievous, but I felt Balanchine choreographed Oberon to be less bratty and more menacing.  It’s funny because one of the comments on the video is “我也不喜欢Bolle非常木” and dusting off my Chinese I read this as “I don’t like Bolle, he’s very tree” which is a literal translation, but after more intelligent consideration I realized it probably means something like he’s “wooden” or “stiff.”  I didn’t agree with this at all though because I loved him in this role.  A few videos I’ve seen of Bolle had me questioning a few things…perhaps attentiveness in partnering (I remember a couple of videos where he nearly drops his partner) but he was wonderful to Ferri.  She of course is stunning and it drives me batty that she can fall asleep as Titania with her feet so perfectly crossed without even trying…but she is a master at being expressive with those heinously amazing feet and deserves all the praise she gets.

I don’t know…I may have more thoughts on this ballet for another day (like Puck’s choreography…lots of running, lots of cardio) but alas, the divertigo is getting worse.  My world is spinning!

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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:

Sumptuously Ominous…or Ominously Sumptuous?

30 Oct

Dear readers, today I have a special treat for you, a review of Othello, as performed by the Joffrey Ballet and written by my friend Hilary with one L (who you may remember hates enchanted forests and she’s the one I went to see Le Corsaire with).  She is also the author of her own blog, The Cupcake Avenger, which includes a great assortment of recipes and reviews of various gourmet bakeries.  So if you ever get the opportunity to see the Joffrey in Chicago, be sure to check out her blog for advice on where to get sumptuous cupcakes.  We all know ballet fans have refined tastes, so accordingly, your run of the mill grocery store cupcake or even the slightly higher end Starbucks variety simply won’t do.  We have more eclectic and often seasonal tastes, like pumpkin or apple spice in the fall.  So be sure to check out her blog for the benefit of your taste buds.  Seriously, she’s doing the work to find these hole-in-the-wall bakeries so take advantage of it.

So onto her review!  (with a few comments here and there from yours truly) *Also, all pictures are copyright of whomever took them.  This is totally educational.

Sumptuously Ominous…or Ominously Sumptuous?

The playbill for the Joffrey Ballet tells us that they are “America’s Company of Firsts.”  The first dance company to perform at the White House, the first to appear on television, the first to visit Russia, you get the idea.  However, I would also add that they may be the first to field an Othello with a six-pack. I mean, look at him. Seriously, just look. *drool*

Picture1

Steve says: Approved!

Ok. On to matters of substance.

On my trip to Chicago last weekend I was lucky enough to score a ticket to the Joffrey’s presentation of Lar Lubovitch’s Othello, which ran through October 25th at the gorgeous Auditorium Theatre.  In another first for the Joffrey, this presentation was the Midwest premiere for Lubovich’s 1997 work. Having already shown on both coasts in New York and San Francisco, it seems appropriate that this incredible piece finally makes its heartland debut in Chicago, Lubovitch’s hometown.  Another first you might notice is that this is a full-length American ballet (possibly the only American commissioned full-length work?  I’ll leave that research to Steve) [I looked into it and couldn’t find any info.  Most American ballets are one act, with the only full-length ones I can think of being A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Jewels and I don’t believe either was commissioned.  So I’ll go with “yes” and recklessly deny whatever the truth is]  Anyways, though the piece was a full evening with three acts, it did not feel lengthy in any way and, in fact, I could have watched all night.

What I loved about this work was that, though it re-enacts Shakespeare’s tale of love, lies, jealousy, revenge and murder, it does so not by painstakingly acting out each scene from the play, but rather by creating moving portraits that evoke the raw emotions of the characters.  By leaving much of the backstory relegated to the program notes, it was possible to portray just as much plot as was necessary to frame the beautiful range of emotion.  I also loved the seamless blending of classical and modern; the ornate costuming and regal poses that belie Shakespeare, but also the modern rolled shoulders and flexed ankles that allow us to experience the true depth of the characters’ anger and anguish.  From the very opening scene this juxtaposition of the sumptuous life of warlord Othello and the ominous fog of ever-present foreshadowing snake through every movement. [Tingles!]

I also have to give a shout out to the amazing score by Academy Award winner Elliot Goldenthal [Totally a Jew] and its equally amazing performance by the Chicago Sinfonietta.  Add to this that the Auditorium Theatre was designed by famous Chicago architects Adler & Sullivan in 1889 with an aim to produce the best acoustics in the world. Not too shabby.  Sometimes I take for granted that ballets will be accompanied by a live orchestra (here’s looking at you, Don Quixote at the Kennedy Center…), but until you’ve seen a full-length ballet performed to canned music you may not appreciate how much live music contributes to the atmosphere of the production [TOTES truesies]. For example, in the opening act, although Othello, Desdemona and the townsfolk all seem to be happily enjoying wedding festivities, the ominous tone prevails with Goldenthal’s shrieking oboes and flaring horns telling us that something is amiss with Othello’s right hand man, Iago (no, not a parrot perched on the shoulder of an evil emir named Jafaar [RAAAAWK! Cave of Wonders!]).  And again in act two, while we’re promised a sunny tarantella, Goldenthal keeps with the ominous minor keys and gives us more of a Danse Macabre to guide the company, dancing Thriller-like with arms outstretched and wrists limp. [You know I love a good macabre danse.  Dance.  Whatever]

Picture2

Steve says: Tis the season! Speaking of which, I have like four leftover bags of Kit-Kat bars because like ten trick-or-treaters came to my door (my favorites being a pair of boys, one dressed as a hot dog and the other as a banana). What to do with so much chocolate...

As for the actual movement, the more modern aspects definitely prevailed.  While there was the typical partnering, company and pas de deux work that you would typically expect with a full-length work (but no ghosts or enchanted forests!!) [Huzzah!  Clear skies prevail!] , there were very few of the flashy steps usually associated with classical counterparts, for example only a handful of grand jetés, and no stunning series of 16/32/138 fouettés rond de jambe en tournant.  [Although I’m sure the record is probably around 138, I believe the longest choreographed set of fouettes that I can think of is 96 counts, as opposed to 64 (which equates to 32 fouettes).  The 96/48 fouettes is done in Ricardo Cué’s Snow White that was choreographed on Tamara Rojo.  And because she’s a goddess, she tosses in triples and doubles like it’s no big deal]  There were, however, an inordinate number of fish dives…[It’s still one of my lifelong goals to find someone who can throw me into a fish dive]

Anyways, I have no doubt that the success of this piece was in no small part a result of the amazingly trained company.  Down to every last person on stage it was clear that only impeccable training could result in a performance that conveyed the modern aspects of powerful love, hatred, fear, betrayal and anger while still portraying the restrained, classical atmosphere we would expect from a Renaissance court.  If this production ever tours to your area, don’t think twice.  You can bet that any ballet graphically depicting execution and strangulation must be unique and I cannot recommend this powerful piece highly enough. 

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Steve says: Okay, so I haven't actually read Othello, and I don't know what's going on here.

 Thank you Hilary with one L for such an awesome review!  You’ve got me interested, and I’ve added the San Francisco ballet DVD featuring Desmond Richardson and Tan Yuan Yuan to my wishlist.  I also checked out some clips on youtube of the main pas de deux, and there’s one of Alessandra Ferri and Marcelo Gomes that is STUNNING.  No words…just goose bumps!

Things to look forward to

26 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacMillan makes it a little better

10 Oct

Autumn weather is settling in and I decided to avoid the chill, bunker down and have an English themed day.  I’m in the mood because I also baked a fruitcake yesterday, from an English recipe friends of our family gave us, and it is divine.  Americans typically have a bad impression of fruitcake, even though most have never eaten it, and those that do eat these nasty bricks of candied fruit and Billy knows what else.  It has to be done right (with minimal candied fruit, by the way), and there’s just no tradition here.  It takes a fair amount of effort to make, and there’s a lot of waiting involved because certain ingredients have to be cooked and then cooled to room temperature while covered, then the cake is baked for a couple of hours, and then that has to be cooled while wrapped in aluminum foil (which ironically, keeps heat in) until the final step, which is splashing the cake with spiced rum for added flavor.  Care has to be taken to cover the ingredients while cooling in order to preserve the moistness of the cake.  It’s a drawn out process, but it’s worth it, and even though I started yesterday it wasn’t ready until TO-DAY!!!  Isn’t it lovely, and harvest festive in its coloring?

And all for me...

And all for me...I can still smell the spiced rum.

So in continuance with the theme, I decided to make myself try and find something to like about Romeo and Juliet…after all, what could be more English than Shakespeare and Elizabethan times?  As I’ve said before, I am not a fan of this ballet…score is creepy, libretto grates on my nerves.  I saw BalletMet stage this a couple of years ago as my first full length classical ballet, although it was a newer staging by a David Nixon.  I don’t remember too many specifics about the production as a whole, but it followed the typical formula for an R&J and I remember thinking it was pretty good, despite my misgivings about the plot and music.  I did have one gripe though, which was a little trio of jesters danced by children.  The weird thing was that they would appear in what felt to me as inappropriate scenes, and I remember one did some gymnastics which was just out of place.  The worst part was that they were dressed in these phosphorescent neon-checkered eye sores.  That one scarred me for life.

But what is it about this story/ballet that makes people go gaga?  And why does it inspire so many choreographers?  There are stagings by contemporary choreographers like the one I saw, but then you have so many influential figures who have done it too like Lavrovsky, Grigorovich, MacMillan, Ashton, Tudor, Nureyev, Cranko to name a few…on the one hand it’s amazing that one story inspired so many legendaries, but on the other it’s a little overwhelming.  I don’t think any of those choreographers are ever going to get me to be able to “get it” in the way that most people do, but most people also drink coffee and I don’t, so I think it’s just my brain that has a loose wire (or several) that render me Shakespeare deficient (I read the play too, and didn’t like that either).  Regardless, I wanted to make the effort since life isn’t just about liking the things we like but learning to deal with the things we don’t.  So I got a Lavrovsky with Ekaterina Maximova and Vladdy-V performing with the Bolshoi, and a MacMillan with Alessandra Ferri and Angel Corella performing with La Scala.  That’s a lot of Prokofiev for one day, but I was determined to get through it.

The Bolshoi production was the manifestation of my worst fears.  I loved Maximova as Juliet and her connection with Vladdy-V as Romeo was wonderful.  They were married at the time, so it would’ve been kind of hard not to have the right romantic chemistry.  Unfortunately, the rest of the production felt like a two hour quagmire that set up to a decent third act that I had kind of lost interest in.  There seemed to be very little dancing and a lot (I mean a LOT) of theatrics…expensive theatrics at that, with lavish sets and opulent costumes.  The excessive theatrics really took away from the production feeling like a ballet, and there was this nagging hierarchical separation between the stars and everyone else.  Only the stars really got to dance, with selected divertissements for others, but then the rest was a lot of people standing around or doing folk dancish stuff.  And you know Bolshoi…they can fit five hundred people on stage, so that’s a lot of people not dancing.  I hate to be critical, but it was rather slow and painful, and Mercutio’s death was taking so long I thought I was going to die first.  Plus, there was you guesed it, a jester scene.

La Scala on the other hand…they may not have had the money and the sizable corps, but MacMillan’s choreography made it tolerable (and a tolerable R&J to me should be considered a superb staging for the normal folk).  I should have known MacMillan could save it for me, and the more I see of his work the less I think of him as a choreographer, and more as a storyteller who speaks the language of dance.  He kept the theatrics to a minimum because the story was told through the movement.  He gave corps members a lot of difficult movement as well, which really brought the production together because every character was speaking dance, not just the principals and soloists like with the Bolshoi (in fact, Tybalt seemed to have very little dancing and although Mercutio’s death was slow, it felt like it made more sense).  It made the character interaction much more believable.  And no clowns!  A divertissement with mandolin players, but no clowns!  Overall, the production felt more reflective of human interaction than staged dance.  Corella was fantastic, and very clean in some of the exceptionally challenging MacMillan choreography, like some seriously sick pirouette combinations, but I was in love with Ferri (who has extraordinary feet).  Sweet little impish dove that she is, and yet inconsolable and capable of showing such disgust for Paris in their final pas de deux.  There were times when she gave me chills, and when she resigned herself to suicide, the cameras were able to zoom in on her face and it appeared there were tears in her eyes.  She was an incredibly invested and believable Juliet, and it’s interesting that there is another video of her dancing Juliet with the Royal Ballet some fifteen years earlier.  That would be an interesting comparison…if I could actually stomach watching R&J again.

There are plenty of clips on YouTube of Ferri/Corella and Maximova/Vasiliev, but I wasn’t moved enough to warrant posting them here.  That’ll be the day!  I know I should open myself to the possibility of watching Fonteyn/Nureyev, but not even my love for Tamara Rojo makes me want to get her and Acosta on DVD, so I’m afraid I might be a lost cause.  I’d have to be seriously coerced, or ambushed.

Juicy pliés and tornado pirouettes

24 Sep

I have added some new linkage, the first being The Ballet Bag, a blog by the two “bag ladies” who know all, see all, and are constantly updating their twitter feed with the best tidbits about what’s going on in the world of ballet (with a special affinity for everyone’s favorite Royal Ballet).  Forget being in the loop…they ARE the loop, so be sure to read up on their blog for super-informative posts and follow them on twitter or you’ll be left in the orchestra pit (they never know what’s going on).  The second link I’ve added is for Libby Costello’s blog, and she is an expert in alien language labanotation and dance educator extraordinaire among many other things.  Currently a member of the Faculty of Education at the illustrious Royal Academy of Dance, she writes reviews and reports on the London dance scene and we can be sure to expect some personal contemplations soon (she just started bloggin’).  She too, be on twitter, so follow her feeds like you do.  Say what you will about New York or maybe even Amsterdam, but I’m on board with London being the capital of dance.  So much so that should the wallet stop being such a jackass, I’d seriously consider a move (although citizenship and naturalization laws in the UK are pretty daunting).  And by the way, if the 3.5 other people who read this blog ever have suggestions for links (doesn’t even have to be a blog, about ballet, or even dance related, provided it’s your link to share) please lemme know!

Anyway, on the topic of blogs, WordPress users like yours truly have a dashboard, where there’s a little section that tells me some statistics like how many visits I’m getting, which entries are being read and how people are getting here.  It’s really good for my vanity, but on occasion there will be some interesting topics people are searching that somehow bring them to this blog (including a number of inquiries as to how tall Kristin Chenoweth is.  For the record, she’s 4’11”).  One in particular, was a curious soul wanting to know if the degree of turnout affects the speed of a pirouette.  This interests me, so I shall indulge.  I’m going to say, “no.”  For one thing, jazz pirouettes are done in parallel, but they can still be quite fast.  As far as ballet is concerned, certainly, more turnout equates to a more open retiré, and one might think that allows for more room to “throw the knee.”  But all pirouettes come from a turned out position of the feet, so even though we open the leg to the side, it doesn’t actually slingshot to that position.  Rather it starts in a turned out plié and goes up into retiré maintaining the turnout the whole time.  In my experience, speed comes from starting with a robust (and in the words of former teacher Daniela, “juicy”) plié, arriving in retiré as quickly and efficiently as possible, and is probably most dependent on the speed of the spot.  I actually used to have a problem with overcooking the plié (maybe I still do), and using enough force for like ten pirouettes when my brain was intending to do a double.  So if aforementioned inquisitor should return, I hope this is a suitable answer in your quest.  Personally speaking though, speed in a pirouette should not be thought of as a technique, but rather a tool to express musicality.  It’s the slow pirouettes that are really hard anyway.  It’s one thing to do a triple pirouette to fast music and shoot your leg back into fourth or fifth, and it’s a totally different beast to do a triple and actually have to slow down to stop, and then place your foot into fourth or fifth.  My flute teacher would probably find this hysterical because she always yelled at me for playing too fast, and that slower and cleaner is always better…but she doesn’t have to know that she was right.

Meanwhile, I went to the library today to pick up a book I had reserved, and decided to look for ballets.  A long time ago when I searched the database, all that came up was the Nutcracker, a bunch of DVD’s to teach ballet, the movie Ballet Shoes and Angelina Ballerina stuff.  Needless to say I didn’t think Columbus libraries had a decent selection, but it turns out I was the fool because all of the good stuff was located deeper in the results.  After paging through, I fond a treasure trove of goodies, reserved a ton of things and walked away with Royal Ballet’s La Fille mal gardée (1981, Leslie Collier and Michael Coleman), Paris Opera’s La Sylphide (2004, Aurélie Dupont and Mathieu Ganio) and against my better judgment, La Scala’s Romeo and Juliet (2000, Angel Corella and Alessandra Ferri).  Nothing against La Scala, Corella, or Ferri…in fact they were the reasons I borrowed it.  It’s just that Romes & Jules is not my favorite ballet.  How I decide I like a ballet is largely based on a triangular system, with score, libretto and choreography at the points.  When it comes to Romes & Jules, I hate two of the three…the score and libretto.  Like the Montagues et Capulets theme drives me crazy, and conjures images of seasickness and ancient ships with rows of slaves manning the oars, a ruthless captain with a whip to “motivate” them.   As for the libretto…some people find the story a romantic tragedy, but all I can think about is how annoying I find it when young teenagers think their puppy love is the real deal, and for Romeo and Juliet, was worth dying for.  It reeks of teen hormones and stupidity…get a grip.  It bothers me now when twelve year olds think their “dating” is legit.  Juliet was thirteen, and I suppose she at least she had the excuse of a shorter life expectancy and the culture of Shakespearian times.  Oh well…I am at least looking forward to watching Ferri and some of Corella’s freaky tornado pirouettes.  You know, how his pirouettes are lightning fast but he adjusts his torso the entire time and it creates this illusion that he’s wobbling, but somehow he manages to never fall over.

Speaking of things we don’t like in ballet, I shall close with a laugh worthy moment that happened on twitter when friend Hilary with one L, who likes full length classical ballets and especially the Russian tradition, but is not a fan of enchanted forests (or gardens) and ghosts, told me she’s going to see the Washington Ballet’s production of Don Q in a couple of weeks.  So she asked me what the “enchanted forest forecast” was and I had to break it to her that Act III would be when Don Q has his dream of Dulcinea in an enchanted forest surrounded by nymphs.  Maybe next time.