Tag Archives: bad ass

Jerome Robbins’s In the Night

10 May

As I familiarize myself with new surroundings I find myself overwhelmed with frustration in the unfamiliar and desperately seeking comfort in the uncomplicated.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Seattle…life on the West Coast suits me well and I’m enjoying public transportation, interesting shops and even bewildering the residents of Queen Anne with my élan for grocery shopping.  However, I’m reminded of how difficult it can be to adjust to a new environment, like when I first arrived and forgot that I live on a hill now.  It was only after I had purchased a bag of potatoes and a bag of clementines (both of which were buy one get one free, making that four bags total plus the flour and sugar I had purchased as well) that I remembered such an influential detail.  Or how about on Tchaikovsky’s birthday when I drove around blasting the music from the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux about eighty-five million times in a row to celebrate my favorite musical score of his.  I started the day out as a badass thinking “Tchaik it out, bitches!” but the day progressed into agitation when on my way to IKEA, I somehow rendered myself incapable of finding the exit from the highway and ended up circling the shopping center like a vulture keen on carrion.  Except in my case, there is an element of frenzy that is better described as a hummingbird trying to sip from a flower in a hurricane.  Easy, boy.

The point is (or was, at some point in time) that regardless of how much I love Seattle, I’m still lacking in the familiarity and comfort that only comes with time…like chocolate milk and knowing-how-to-get-to-stores comfort.  It just so happened that a few days prior, I had borrowed some items from the glorious (and gnome obsessed) Seattle Public Library and among the borrowed media was the A-MAZING documentary Jerome Robbins: Something To Dance About.  Of course I had seen it when it aired on PBS, but when I found it in the library catalog, like any normal person I thought “absolutely!”  My favorite part of the documentary is of course the bits on Dances at a Gathering (that and the quote “There were only two things Lenny Bernstein feared—God and Jerome Robbins” which I misquoted in a blog entry long ago as Stephen Sondheim when it was in fact Arthur Laurent.  My apologies!).  Robbins had a deep love for Chopin’s music and that love was so pure that the choreography would of course match the integrity of the melodies.  So when Chopin waltzes and etudes induce a sense of comfort to the soul, so too will Robbins’s vision for them (and he was quite the tortured soul, so you know this Chopin stuff works).  Personally, I like to see choreographers have an enduring relationship with one composer’s music…like Balanchine/Stravinsky (or Tchaikovsky even) or Robbins/Chopin.

Rekindling my interest in Dances at a Gathering (I’m ready when you are, PNB), I wondered if my favorite Chopin Nocturne (Op.9, No.2 in E-flat major) was included in the selections for the score.  It isn’t.  However, it is included in another and perhaps slightly lesser known Robbins ballet to Chopin, In The Night.  I’m kind of ashamed to not have known of the existence of this ballet beforehand…but maybe someone else out there won’t know either and if by chance they have the tendency to know more ballets than I do, we can all mock them together.  Like Dances at a Gathering, In the Night has no narrative, but the latter is laden with a more defined theme beyond human emotions and relationships, narrowing the scope to look at the female psyche and relationships with men.  It’s much shorter than Dances at a Gathering, featuring four nocturnes, ending with the loveliest of them all, Op.9, No.2 in E-flat major.

There’s not much I can say about In the Night, because I think it’s relatively self-explanatory.  The cast features three couples with their own pas de deux to a nocturne, highlighting the women (as pas de deux most often do).  The video clips I’m going to post features dancers with the Paris Opera Ballet, with Clairemarie Osta/Benjamin Pech, Agnès Letestu/Stéphane Bullion, and Delphine Moussin/Nicolas le Riche.

The first pas de deux has dancers in dreamy periwinkle costumes, featuring movement that almost looks like it’s flowing in slow motion—it’s snail paced, even for an adagio.  It’s romantic without being overly intimate (they don’t even fully embrace until well into two-thirds of the dance) but it has its moments of tenderness, moments apart and even a moment of “fiery passion.”  It’s this subtle roller coaster ride that makes the pas de deux so real, even to someone who may have never seen a Jerome Robbins ballet or even any ballet for that matter.  It’s no stretch of the imagination to see it as an actual relationship because it comes as naturally as breathing does.  In fact the very end of this first pas de deux features a lift where the male dancer takes a little spin while the woman pulls in and then extends her leg and the effect is literally like inhaling and exhaling.  This is easily my favorite pas de deux of the three for its sheer reflexive nature.  Not to mention there’s this wonderful segment towards the end where both the man and woman bourée backwards (for the term unsavvy, that’s when a dancer rises onto relevé or pointe, taking microscopic steps and in this case, scuttle backwards.  The effect is…floatacious).  Not only is it captivating as they shrink away, but because this is a step men generally don’t do, this serves as proof that men should still learn and practice it.  Your calves will thank you later!

I.  Nocturne in C-Sharp Minor, Op.27, No.1 (Osta/Pech)

In contrast to the freedom and romanticism of the first pas de deux, the second is stoic, calculated and in my opinion a little abrasive (relationships like that always make me uncomfortable).  It’s so stark that I can’t imagine how people can be happy like that and juxtaposed against the free-spiritedness of the first pas de deux it seems downright cruel…but it’s a relationship nonetheless and one that seems to endure.  I suppose some people want what they would consider regality and class but the restrictiveness makes me die a little on the inside.  There is one moment, where coming down from a lift you see the woman’s foot quiver in anticipation and THAT friends, is the extent of any emotional outburst, subdued as it is.  She is very much in love, but she is a woman that has to hide her desire in this rather cold courtship.

II. Nocturne in F-Minor, Op.55, No.1 (Letestu/Bullion)

The third pas de deux is the epitome of the “love-hate” relationship.  It’s argumentative, volatile and certifiably nuts.  She’s mad at him, she loves him, she leaves him, she takes him back…it’s a hot mess (an elegantly choreographed hot mess) and I constantly wanted to yank her bodice up.  You can see in the way he pulls her around on the stage that this is far from a healthy relationship and yet I think we can all say we know a girl like this.  Or you’ve seen enough episodes of Sex and the City to equate her to Carrie Bradshaw (you remember the obviously Sylphide inspired dress Sarah Jessica Parker wore to the 2004 Tonys…that bodice needed to be yanked up too).  At any rate I have to say that I was very drawn to Delphine Moussin in this performance, because of the way she used her hands.  Ballet teachers are always saying “energy through the fingertips” and with precision, Moussin shows us why.

III. Nocturne in E-Flat Major, Op.55, No.2 (Moussin/le Riche)

The finale has all three couples and emphasizes that while women have individual wants and needs in their relationships, these emotions all come from the same place.  There is a moment when the three couples gather in the center of the stage, breaking off into new pairs as if in a social setting but interestingly enough the only male/female pair is periwinkle woman with angry man from movement III, and their inability to connect prompts a quick return to their original loves.  The style of the choreography seemed to coincide with that of the first pas de deux, which leads me to believe Robbins saw that relationship as the one with the most potential for longevity, which is further supported by the fact that as they exit the stage, periwinkle couple exit stage right while the other two stage left, which sets them apart.  This may be excessive postulating on my part, but if we weren’t allowed to derive meaning from it, it wouldn’t be dance.

IV. Nocturne in E-Flat Major, Op. 9, No. 2 (entire cast)

So enjoy this beautiful, nerve calming dance and more importantly, enjoy that feeling of unbridled introspection…not every dance offers that luxury.

Perspective on Winter Perspective

12 Feb

To kick off the pre-weekend, I attended Winter Perspective, the MFA concert for four graduate students of Ohio State University’s Department of Dance.  The concert featured Romantic era ballet solos made famous by the legendary Fanny Elssler, restaged from hieroglyphics (labanotation…you say tomato, I say tomato) as well as contemporary works also staged from notation score.  After intermission (during which I foolishly abstained from using the restroom…it was almost as bad as the time I had a twelve hour flight from Tokyo to Washington D.C. and had the “coveted” window seat, except the ogre man next to me in the aisle seat was approximately fifty feet tall and slept like a baby during the whole flight.  His wall of legs meant that I would have to crawl over him or wake him, neither of which I had the courage to do, so I held it and almost died.), the second act featured brand new works by OSU faculty and graduate students.  Plenty of variety, plenty of good times.

When one thinks of Romantic ballet, the concept is pretty much dominated by Giselle and La Sylphide, or even the dynamic duo of Cesare Pugni (the composer) and Jules Perrot’s (the choreographer) Ondine, ou La naïade (the Frederick Ashton/Hanz Werner Henze Ondine for the Royal Ballet came much later, while Perrot/Pugni’s has been lost.  Pierre Lacotte “reconstructed” Perrot’s Ondine for the Mariinsky, but if it’s anything like his “reconstruction” of Paul Taglioni’s La Sylphide, it’s too grounded in modern technique and most likely an unfortunately inaccurate interpretation of what the ballet could have looked like.  At least we get to hear Pugni’s score for Ondine though).  The title roles for La Sylphide, Giselle and Ondine are all fairies and ghosts, roles that would define the careers of the great Romantic ballerinas such as Carlotta Grisi (the first Giselle), Marie Taglioni (the first Sylphide), Fanny Cerrito and Lucille Grahn (the first Bournonville Sylphide).  Together with Elssler they were the fab five, but Elssler was missing from that picture of her own accord; she had a different style that contrasted greatly with the ethereal qualities of the others.  Elssler even declined to participate in a Perrot/Pugni ballet that Perrot choreographed on the superstars of the time, which would come to be known as simply Pas de Quatre.  Facts aside, Elssler was pretty bad ass for sticking to her guns.

Two character solos were performed, the first being a Polish folk dance entitled La Cracovienne, from Joseph Mazilier’s La Gypsy, complete with boot spurs and snakelike braids down to knee level and La Cachucha, from Jean Coralli’s Le Diable boiteaux.  Both had intricate footwork and a lot of articulation through the ankle and top of the foot in particular.  It looked…hard…I mean, I’m sure it was hard too but to be able to soften through the ankle and move in and out of a fully lengthened foot is not as simple as one would think.  I liked La Cachucha in particular though because it had stronger rhythms that were emphasized by stomping on the heels and castanets.  These dances sort of touched on what made Elssler different, which was an earthier robustness as opposed to light and fluttery.  I think appreciating Elssler’s contribution to Romantic ballet is important in order to understand what else was going on at the time and what wasn’t necessarily mainstream (incidentally, La Cachucha is on YouTube for anyone interested…but I would recommend going to see the remaining shows of Winter Perspective this weekend if you’re in Columbus!).  Regardless, Elssler was wildly famous and toured all throughout Europe, making buckets of cash (almost sounds like she was freelance).  Told you she was bad ass.

Fanny Elssler as Florinda in La Cachucha

So what else…a modern solo dealing with death and another ballet solo, also dealing with death.  The ballet solo was from Antony Tudor’s Dark Elegies, which dealt with a community in mourning (I *think* they were portraying Mennonites…but I always get that kind of stuff wrong) with the soloist surrounded by members of the community who are there passively, merely to provide solace.  I’m not too familiar with Tudor works, but from what I’m reading quickly online and in the program notes he’s sort of championed for exploring “psychological realism.”  I’m not sure I can put into words how I felt about the piece (except that I was definitely feeling I needed to see more), but I liked the coldness of it.  It’s rather stark, and for some it’s a reminder that with mourning comes a sense of isolation, in that nobody else could truly understand your relationship with the deceased.  They’re there, with you, but still distant.  Or perhaps they are the ones who are there and you are the one who is distant.

Next was intermission and then three premieres.  The first, Artemis and Aphrodite in the Garden of Give and Take, choreographed by Melanie Bales on Karena and Jolene, both of whom were fittingly, classics majors as undergrads.  I like to dabble in mythology so I really enjoyed this piece, with Artemis as the bully and Aphrodite as the sweetheart.  It was even reflected in their body language, like during certain unison phrases Aphrodite dances with more an open chest and subtle épaulement while Artemis is much stiffer in the shoulders (and why wouldn’t she be?  Girl is the goddess of CHASTITY…that’s no fun).  It was very much in the character of the goddesses, with Aphrodite being rather naïve, dancing with her golden apple (how soon she forgets that she STARTED THE TROJAN WAR because of that thing).  At any rate, this piece helped inspire a most magnanimous “MFA Project Gift,” where I bought for my friends, three items.  And here’s the secret to gift giving…first, you must begin with three items because good things come in threes.  Here’s my formula:

  1. One item must be universally appreciated. (in this case, flowers…because dancers get flowers.  Something about the ephemerality of cut flowers and a performance, methinks)
  2. One item must be edible. (in this case, I attached a Cheryl & Co. cookie to the gift, because bows are stupid)
  3. Then, and only then have you earned the right to make the last item something you wish to impart to them. (this time it was the novel Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips, SO perfectly appropriate for the situation at hand.  Except Karena already read it…which I knew going in there was a chance she had because she reads everything…but OWN it, she did not)

Oh and handmade cards of low quality are not necessary but highly recommended.  I made a one of a kind card where a pair of giant ballerina legs in pointe shoes were standing on the Sydney Harbor, like the Colossus of Rhodes and the other side was a picture of a dancer holding a giant point shoe, a reference to Sisyphus.  All it takes is some old magazines and a pair of scissors.  Sometimes…I think I’m brilliant.

Back to the concert, the conclusive piece was a somewhat long, but intriguing modern dance, with a series of vignettes that at first I didn’t quite understand.  The music choices and styles of movement for each section seemed disjointed to me, but then I heard from one of the dancers that it was the story of the choreographer’s life, divided into decades, with each person representing an influential figure in the choreographer’s life.  NOW, it all makes sense.  One of the decades was a beautiful pas de deux that was so poetic…I was very moved.

I have much more to say on that dance as well as other pieces that appeared in the concert (one SWEET modern piece with these portable lights that really played with dimensional movement through shadows and due to its unpredictable nature is probably different every night), but really if you’re in Columbus, you should brave the arctic tundra and go to one of the remaining two shows (2/13 at 8pm and 2/14 at 2pm for a matinee, in Sullivant Theater).  I hope I’ve previewed enough to make you hungry to see them…or hungry for a Cheryl & Co. cookie.  Mine today was a buttercream frosted chocolate and peanut butter.