Tag Archives: balletmet

Sharp as a Tharp

16 Nov

I interrupt this program with an unscheduled but entirely expected aside, a review of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s All Tharp program.  I feel the need to treasure these waning moments of sanity, for I am succumbing to the incurable disease of swan-psychosis.  However, far from visions of lakefaring waterfowl, All Tharp presented a trio of mastermind Twyla Tharp’s works: Opus 111, Afternoon Ball and Waterbaby Bagatelles (okay, it’s possible that last one may have had something to do with aquatic creatures, but not necessarily bird imagery).  Obviously the run of shows is already over, but it’s still worth talking about.

I actually had a tough time with yanking this review out of my head though and I’m not entirely sure why.  After the show I felt speechless and not in the life-altering kind of way…just at a loss for words, even though I knew they were there.  This was weird for me, a perpetual chatterbox whose kindergarten teacher (among others) said I talk too much.  Luckily, I took some notes for myself and I’m good but it was a slightly alarming moment.  Like I like to do, I feel it pertinent to give a brief synopsis of my experiences with Twyla Tharp choreography…I did minor in dance after all.  So the breakdown is, I’ve seen Deuce Coupe on film from my first dance history class so I have some fuzzy images but nothing too clear and of course I’ve seen Hair, excerpts of which were also shown in class.  Interestingly, I have seen Sinatra Suite live, as performed by good ole’ BalletMet in Columbus.  Unfortunately, my oddly brilliant photographic memory happens to be very selective and completely unpredictable and I don’t recall Sinatra Suite at all.  It obviously didn’t make a huge impact on me, but to give you an example of my freakish memory (which I find is actually quite ordinary amongst dance patrons) I distinctly remember a piece called Maquillage, which had female dancers in chiffon dresses of sunset hues (orange, pink, lilac, mauve, etc.) dancing to “the diamond commercial song,” which needs to be known as the Allegretto from Karl Jenkins’ Palladio suite.

Where was I…Tharp, right.  Well, there was definite impact this time around (though I can never guarantee for how long that will last) but I really enjoyed the first piece, Opus 111.  My favorite of the night, it was an arcadian display of buoyancy, like a festive summer gathering.  Set to Johannes Brahms’s String Quartet No.2 in G major, Op. 111, it was by far the most musically linked of the three pieces and just a constant barrage of movement.  The style of it was very free—lots of swinging and drifting without a single pause—a visual feast with almost no relief for the senses.  I couldn’t believe how the dance just kept going and going…the pace never let up, a characteristic shared in the other works as well.  I would almost liken Tharp’s choreography to stream of consciousness but not in an improvisational sense.  When it comes to stream of consciousness, although we may not necessarily form coherent paragraphs, we still think in terms of fully formed words and phrases which was the same in Opus 111; codified steps and organized phrases of movement were what materialized on stage.  On Saturday night, the softness of the piece was perfect on the lovely Carla Körbes but the dance also revealed rare moments of contrast, like when Carrie Imler came charging out of the blocks in a series of châinés turns.  I think the word is “attacked,” and it was almost feral in comparison (in the good way).

Meanwhile, Afternoon Ball was a sometimes sad, sometimes awkwardly funny commentary on the plight of the homeless.  There were three main characters: a sassy drunkard, a ferocious prostie (that’s Australian for “prostitute”) and a forlorn junkie.  The dancing was quite aggressive, to this maddening, minimalist violin score that would build ever so slightly and go nowhere.  It’s a somewhat similar concept that is heard in Maurice ravel’s famous Bolero (which I hate, by the way) in that a constant rhythm is the driving force.  There were moments of whimsy between the three hobos, but you have to wonder if chuckling at a homeless drunkard falling over is…appropriate.  However, what was most intriguing in the way they danced with each other is that these were people who were stripped of the choice to form relationships with other people…in many ways, they could only dance with other paupers out of default, because nobody else would give them the time of day.  This was further emphasized by the introduction of an elite couple, dressed in formal clothing and doing a very formal waltzy pas de deux with the lady on pointe.  The rich couple never acknowledged the hobo trio, who sort of danced around them, in particular the junkie, who is later claimed by an angel of death, shivering as the ghostly figure in white embraced him.  Beautifully danced, Afternoon Ball was a delicious helping of food for thought.

Then came Waterbaby Bagatelles.  I was lost in this piece, literally drowning in everything there was to take in.  The stage was starkly lit in blue, and hanging from the ceiling were rows of fluorescent tube lights, much like in an aquarium, except this was a sad aquarium without a hint of environmental enrichment.  In that sense it’s hard to say what the dance was about, other than imagery and feelings invoked by water.  You had some dancers dressed as swimmers (shirtless guys and women in more modest bathing attire with swim caps) but then you also had more animal-like movements, like Carla Körbes and Batkhurel Bold’s eely pas de deux.  There were also bodily illustrations of water itself, with dancers appearing and receding like waves or pirouetting in swirling eddies.  Even more amusing was when they would vibrate their entire bodies, which you might think would seem out of place, but if you think about bubbles rising to the surface, it’s not a smooth trajectory…they sort of flutter as they wiggle their way upward.  I had to let go of trying to decipher excessive meaning in the piece because if I held on, I’m pretty sure my brain would have exploded when the company broke out into a tango.

Overall, quite an interesting evening…and by interesting I mean intense.  I can’t stress enough the seamlessness of Tharp’s choreography, which can actually be quite taxing, but beautiful in its potency.  I leave you with PNB’s video of images and clips from All Tharp in the hopes that my descriptions of her work do the real thing justice.

And now back to the regularly scheduled programming…Swan Lake Month…

Reader Topic: Getting Free Dance Lessons

9 Mar

So I was contacted by a reader who moderates the website http://fr.ee, a website that is solely devoted to getting freebies in life, including how to get free dance lessons.  He suggested that as a topic for my blog and I am happy to oblige…because unsurprisingly, I have opinions on this.  They already have a post that is more focused on ballroom dances like salsa, so I thought I’d tackle styles that I’m either more familiar with or have somehow managed to make its way into my category bar you see to the right.

I must preface by saying that my general views on dance are that it is in essence free.  You can put on some music (or not) and whatever movement you do (or not do) IS dance.  Untrained perhaps, but that doesn’t make it undancelike.  In fact, when I attended Separate Panes at OSU, one of the performers was not quite a trained dancer (a work in progress if you will) and yet he moves sinuously and with purpose.  It was obviously innate to him and Svetlana even mentioned how unfair it was that he danced so beautifully and she is a dance major (and ballet extraordinaire).  Unfortunately not everyone is born with such natural abilities, but dance is also one of those things where you get what you put into it.  If you invest the time and money you will see changes…changes of varying degrees depending on your body and your natural abilities but the point is if you want any change, you need to invest in it.  I promise if you do, dance will find a way to reward you!  At any rate, this is not to say you can’t enjoy a little freebie or two and sometimes that’s all you need to get started.

For free ballet lessons, there are a couple of things you can do.  You can watch videos on YouTube or slightly better, borrow an instructional video from your local library.  Personally, I don’t recommend either because if there’s one dance form that really necessitates being in the studio, it’s ballet.  I realize that some people may not have the confidence and that it can all be overwhelming to show up in a leotard and learn a bunch of new French words.  In that sense, watching a few videos is a good way to relieve some of the anticipation and at least see what some of the basic movements look like.  Even the fact that you can rewind videos can be inhibiting…after all, the art of catching up is a part of learning to dance.  If you’re learning a petite allegro and haven’t mastered all of the little jumps, negotiating with your body to get through it when it’s crunch time isn’t going to happen if you have the luxury of rewinding!

It is possible to get free ballet lessons though…for example, BalletMet, the premiere ballet company in Columbus, Ohio puts in vouchers for one free class in every program that they hand out if you attend a performance.  Getting into the performance for free is a different matter, but the voucher of course is.  If you’re really shady, you can even hang out after a performance and pick up programs people left behind or dig through the trash if you must.  If you’re super-shady, you can even ask if any of your friends are going, ask if you can have their free class and/or have them play raccoon and dig through trash for you.  It’s not glamorous…but it is free.

For jazz classes, my opinion differs a bit.  Pretty much the only way to get a free jazz class is to hope a studio might have a “bring a friend” day or a “first class free” kind of deal and there’s no way to find that out unless you know someone who attends that particular studio (I brought a friend once to a jazz class at OSU…talked to the teacher beforehand and she was cool with it.  Come to think of it, if you are a college student, checking to see if your university offers dance classes is another potential opportunity for free classes.  If you’re already paying full time tuition, why not?).  So talking is your best weapon, but I actually do approve a bit of videos for jazz.  Jazz has some neat tricks and when it comes to learning a trick-type skill, sometimes the “monkey-see-monkey-do” approach works best.  For example, watching videos is how I learned the mechanics of an illusion turn (not that I can do one, but I know how it works thanks to video).  Also, videos online in particular have been a way for innovative moves to be passed around, because unlike ballet, jazz has tons of room for new steps.

When it comes to modern, I believe it’s important to be in the studio (or not) again.  What I mean is it’s important to be somewhere…in a group, in a space, with a someone who can tell you what you’re doing or you can decide what to do, together.  The beauty of modern is that it doesn’t have to be a studio…I love it when dances take place outside.  A great way to get free classes in modern technique though is to keep your ear to the ground for any upcoming festivals, symposiums and workshops.  Modern dancers need income of course, but they are also more eager to spread their ideas, techniques and style than in any other dance form, resulting in some free opportunities.  It can be hard to find your way into the modern community though and my recommendation is to start with a local university with a dance department, since a lot of research happens there and local events often emerge as dance majors and graduate students seek to solidify their voices as they get their degrees.  These are emerging artists that need guinea pigs…volunteers are greatly appreciated.

As for tap classes, I have never taken a tap class but I can offer one unique idea.  I do not joke when I say this, but volunteer at a senior center.  I know someone who did, found out that some of the residents were hoofers and learned from them for what?  For free.  It’s an idea that is full of win-win because the old folks love to have visitors and something to look forward to and you get free tap lessons.  Think about it, this is the generation that grew up watching the likes of Fred and Ginger, Eleanor Powell and that handsome devil Gene Kelly.  For the elderly of today, tap was a BIG DEAL in their day and recreational lessons oh so very common.  This is not to say I think you should find a senior center and interrogate each resident until you find one who can tap…but the opportunity may present itself if you’re already volunteering.  They’re bound to have wonderful stories too about tap dancing in its golden age.

If none of the above works for you…be a man.  Literally.  You’d be surprised what that can get you in the world of dance.

Born to be NOT wild

19 Feb

How are you, world?  Good?  I don’t know about you, but it has been a long winter (for those of us in the northern hemisphere).  Spring is finally showing signs of life with the slightest rise in temperatures and more sun these days.  So right now I’m feeling like people could use a little encouragement, which I often find from one of my idols, Coach Valorie Kondos-Field (aka “Miss Val”) the head coach of UCLA’s women’s gymnastics programs.  I admire her for many reasons, including the fact that she was a professional dancer and yet she finds herself in a somewhat unrelated career field.  It’s a testament that you never know where your skills and knowledge can be valuable and that people don’t have to be defined by one career.  I think she has a wonderful outlook on life and on teaching and I thought I’d share a couple of quotes from a recently published interview where she discusses women’s issues but also touches on her experiences as a dancer and coach. (read the full interview here)

CC!: You were diagnosed with scoliosis when you were 12. That’s a challenging age for girls without that added burden. How did you get through that troubling time?

Kondos Field: I danced classical ballet for 17 years. I didn’t have a dancer’s body, including the curve in my upper spine. However, I loved dancing so much that I never felt I had to be technically perfect to be a good dancer. My scoliosis was just a part of my body.

I’d also been told by ballet instructors that “Your neck’s too short,” “Your feet are too small,” “You don’t have natural turn-out,” and “You’re not flexible.” Okay… but I could dance! Because I didn’t let those disabilities bother me, I believed – and made everyone else believe – I was an amazing dancer.

CC!: What advice would you give other teacher-coaches to inspire and motivate young women to become the best they can be?

Kondos Field: Always recognize her weakness and then tell her the opposite. When I was growing up, I was the artistic one and my brother was the great student. He went on to become a rocket scientist. Literally. When I was 10, my mom told me I was just as smart as my brother, but I just didn’t care about school as much because I’d rather be playing the piano or dancing. I’ll never forget when she told me that. It hit me – I’m smart? Mom says I’m smart? I guess I am smart. From then on, I got good grades and graduated from UCLA with honors. My brother’s still a rocket scientist, and I’m still smart.

So when a student-athlete is struggling academically, I tell her she’s smart but just needs to learn how to study more effectively. When a student-athlete is struggling with her weight, I tell her she’s beautiful and can become anything she wants to be. If a student-athlete doesn’t compete well, I remind her that she has a very strong mind – so strong that she allows it to get in her way negatively. If she would take that same strength and think positively, she’d have different results.

I discuss this a lot with them: Your perception becomes your reality. When my perception shifted to realizing I was smart, I became a better student. When I danced, my perception was that I was an amazingly beautiful ballerina. Consequently, I got cast in many wonderful roles.

Agreed and agreed!  Nothing much else to say, except I hope that inspires some other people out there to keep chipping away at their weaknesses or maybe compliment someone out there (a student, friend, whatever) who is struggling.

But this really has little to do what I had planned for this entry, so I’m about to ambush you with a DVD review.  Surprise!

I’ve been distracted with the Olympics (hence the infrequent blogging, not to mention an overabundance of posts last week…I needed a little break) but yesterday I did squeeze in watching Born to be Wild: The Leading Men of American Ballet Theater.  A PBS special that was originally broadcast in 2002, it features ABT principals Ethan Stiefel, Vladimir Malakhov, Jose Manuel Carreño and Angel Corella.  I put off watching this DVD for a while because honestly, judging by the title I was prepared to be horrified.  Displays of machismo always fail to impress me and often make the subject of such a display look foolish, in my opinion.  Not to mention the fact that Born to be Wild recalls heinous sixth grade band concerts and marching band tunes that I did not care for.  My fears were somewhat actualized when the documentary opened with Ethan Stiefel, with a creature growing on his lower lip (a “soul patch?”), a bandana tied around his head, talking about how the best part of being a ballet dancer was getting to manhandle beautiful women.  I’m pretty sure (and hope to Billy Elliot) that the comment was tongue-in-cheek (he seemed to be getting a good laugh out of it), but I couldn’t help but feel the urge to “facepalm” and think “well that was two steps back for mankind.”

Once you get past that little calamity, it’s actually a really neat (albeit brief, less than an hour) documentary.  All four dancers come from different countries with different training backgrounds so it’s interesting to see all of that in action.  You get to see old competition footage, performance clips and rehearsal video for a piece entitled Non Troppo choreographed by Mark Morris, which is shown in full at the very end.  The documentary was anything but wild, which leads me to believe that the title given to it might very well be the worst title in the history of documentary title bestowing.  I don’t know who thought it would be some kind of effective marketing ploy, but really, such elegant and virtuosic dancing, insightful interviews, footage in the makeup chairs and a whimsical Mark Morris piece to a Schumann piano quintet aren’t going to convince the general populace that ballet is wild.  The only remotely wild element was the fact that Stiefel rides a motorcycle.  And maybe the part when the men were jumping on a trampoline and striking incredible aerial poses for a photo shoot.  I’m all for unconventional definitions of terms like “wild” and there are certainly wild ballets and dancers but this was not the way to do it.  Marketing FAIL.

My favorite profiles were on Corella and Malakhov, because of course I think they had the funniest anecdotes to tell, like how Corella found ballet because he wasn’t good at soccer and at karate some kid had kicked another one in the mouth so there was blood and screaming.  Or how one dance he performed, a Russian dance, included things he couldn’t do now (probably the move where he lands in a center split), not to mention Madrid is such a beautiful city.  Malakhov is far different, with the typical tragic Russian (Ukrainian) story of having to leave his family and also having to deal with politics that kept him out of the Bolshoi Ballet, which he decided on his own he didn’t want to be in anyway.  Through it all, he has a healthy sense of humor, a decidedly human appetite for junk food and of all the men, the loudest wardrobe.  You have to love that he’s daring with color in his dancewear.  While the other men are in black clothes, Malakhov doesn’t shy away from full body red or purple ensembles.  And why shouldn’t he?  He looks great in those colors!

Non Troppo rehearsals are interspersed throughout and Morris himself is quite an entertaining choreographer.  It was just fun to watch his process and see a choreographer who doesn’t take himself too seriously and yet he creates this beautiful work that is incredibly musical.  I love that he always carries the mini-score of the music he’s using (I love mini-scores…cute and useful) and his understanding of the music itself shows in the details of the choreography.  He’ll repeat certain phrases but change them the second time around to reflect differences in the dynamics of the music.  It’s capricious and very satisfying to watch.  It’s organized (again, anything but wild) and while there is no specific narrative there are moments of sensitivity like holding hands or the way they support each other in arabesque and spin their partners ’round in a promenade.  There is of course a “cross leaping” moment, which is signature Mark Morris, where dancers will leap downstage on diagonals crossing in front of each other.  Susan Hadley, a professor with OSU danced for Mark Morris and I remember when she choreographed a piece for BalletMet a few years ago, she too, had a cross leaping moment.  A good idea is a good idea.

While most parts of the documentary are indeed on YouTube, I definitely recommend a viewing of Non Troppo.  It’s seven and a half minutes that are entirely worth your time and you can really see the individual styles of each dancer.  Malakhov in particular (who you can easily identify because he’s the puma in the red shirt that is all limbs) tosses his head back in a way that is so distinctly Russian…you gotta love it.

Danse Homage and the Kristina Isabelle Dance Company, Oct. 16-17

16 Oct

For the first time in months I attended a live dance show (PRAISE BE TO BILLY ELLIOT!), Danse Homage, as presented by the Kristina Isabelle Dance Company (and others).  First I have to say that it felt so good just to be seeing dance on the stage again.  It was a choice between this show and BalletMet’s production of Swan Lake, but I was kind of weirded out when I heard BalletMet had cast two different dancers as Odette and Odile.  Also, when I reserve things from the library I get e-mails that tell me when they’re ready to be picked up, and lo and behold, I got an e-mail yesterday that said a Swan Lake I had reserved was in.  I took it as a sign that I should experience something new and different, because for the most part, Swan Lake is Swan Lake.  Not to mention Columbus is driving me crazy and I spend my days formulating some kind of a plan to get out of here and be anywhere but here, so with that as the theme of life for the time being, I made my choice.  The only mistake of the evening I really made was wearing my skinny jeans, which happen to strangle my fat thighs and restrict my legs from bending too much.

Anyway, the department of dance chair specifically requested that we tweet, call, text, whatever and spread the word about the show, so here’s my leetle contribution.  Kristina Isabelle is a local artist, with a small modern company.  I believe she grew up in the area, is obviously still here (although she earned her BFA from Juilliard) and thus quite invested into the Columbus dance community.  And let me tell you, the Columbus dance community needs her.  Personally, I think it’s kind of dilapidated here (keep in mind I’m getting increasingly bitter, crotchety and anxious to get out by the day), and the survival of dance in Columbus hinges on the Ohio State’s dance department.  Even our major ballet company, BalletMet, is combining with the Cincinnati Ballet to put on Swan Lake.  We just don’t have a lot of resources here, and it kills me.  The arts shouldn’t have to try so hard to survive, which is why this town drives me oh so crazy, because if the arts struggle to survive, I struggle to survive.  Quite simply, without thriving arts, there be no me.  Don’t get me wrong, Columbus has a great art scene…but it’s not enough and I’m wasting away.  Anyway, it’s up to fantastic leadership from a few individuals to ensure that the arts don’t develop a geographic bias.  The work that she’s putting into Columbus is a swim upriver, but she’s doing something great.

The show featured a fair variety of pieces, of course all under the branch of modern movement, although one was on stilts which was rather unusual.  The first piece was more “dancey” in the sense that it was superhuman and unearthly.  The colors of the costumes were reminiscent of celestial bodies in the universe, and the movement was sensuous with lots of undulations and intimate lifts, but without being skanky.  Then there was a solo…kind of prototypical modern: square spotlights, really aggressive, thrown movements, and technologified mixed sounds for the soundtrack.  Basically the kind of stuff that weirds me out with its intensity, but that’s my nature.  The namesake of the company performed the solo, and she is perhaps one of the fittest women in the world, but when people get in my face, I tend to withdraw.  But that’s me.  Third piece was a male solo on stilts, which scare the crap out of me because I always envision a grape or an olive rolling in front of someone on stilts and then they take a nasty fall.  I don’t know why I can’t get that image out of my head, but stilts freak me out.  Innovative, and I was taking it very literally and getting this injured and angry heron vibe, as if it were caged and definitely mad about it, but had I read the program, I would have known that it was based on Saint Sebastian.  I’m an idiot.  Moving on, the fourth piece featured young dancers from Columbus Dance Theater (but choreographed by Isabelle, again showing her involvement), and watching them made me feel like I was forty years old.  So young.  I think it was a great opportunity for those kids to experience modern dance so early in their dance careers.  Unfortunately I believe Saturday’s show will feature a different piece instead of this one, with everything else remaining the same.  So if anyone in Columbus is interested in seeing the show, Saturday will not have this.

Now the third piece, to Tchaikovsky!  Be still my beating heart!  It was interesting, because there’s moments in the piece where the dancers were scratching themselves furiously, and scratching is one of those things where if you watch it enough, your brain kind of creates an imaginary itch and all of a sudden you find yourself needing to alleviate yourself.  The costumes were pedestrian clothes, the movement more organic and human in nature, which is interesting when juxtaposed to the structure and lyricism of a Tchaikovsky string quartet.  An different take on the emotion of frustration and after the show I was told that parts of it were…“improvised.”  Heed my warning…one should take care to avoid mentioning “the I word” around me, because it strikes fear in the deepest part of my soul.  There are many things I fear in life, and “the I word” is most defos one of them.  I’m like a deer in the headlights, and I freeze in complete terror.  But this is also a large part of the reason why I respect people who are comfortable with it.  Anyway, the night ended with a piece that was…I hate to say, on the long side, but there was an unusual interactive feature where someone in the audience got to choose several pieces of music and the order in which they would be performed.  That’s kind of cool.  However, personally, I prefer continuity in a dance, and the last piece was very disjointed (a perfectly fine artistic choice) and I lose focus.  You’d think the attention span of a squirrel would help in this instance, but it actually makes it worse.  There were a lot of different styles, personalities, solos, group dances…it was a lot like channel surfing, but when I channel surf, I don’t get anything out of it, because all I concern myself with is wherever I stop.

So if you’re in Columbus, please check out their second show on Saturday, October 17th, 8pm at Sullivant Theater.  Be sure to check out the Kristina Isabelle Dance Company’s website as well, if you’d like to know more about their company, her background, etc.  It’s really important that we support local artists, because as I always say, pyramids are built from the bottom up.  No matter which dance artists you think are the best in the world, there is a myriad of bricks on the bottom, many of them unseen, doing hard work to hold them up there, and they need recognition too!

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.

Classes at Balletmet…FINALLY

11 Jul

So I’ve been taking a lot of ballet classes this week…Mon/Wed/Fri. morning with Karen Eliot (if that’s her real name…I keep forgetting to ask) at OSU and I also took a couple of classes at BalletMet with foreign teacher men people, at least one of which is Russian (YES! Or should I say…DA!).  BalletMet is Columbus’ premier ballet company, and you would think after 20ish years of life in C-bus I would have taken some classes before, but sadly this is not the case.  My parents never even took me to see the NUTCRACKER.  I had to get my Nutcracker fix from the Care Bears VHS version (which has its misgivings…but oh that Grumpy Bear…what a hoot).  We’re talking the ONE ballet everyone in their mother of pearl knows (well that and Swan Lake) and my parents deprived me.  Which some may say is a good thing I suppose…since it’s known to some as “ugh, THAT ballet.”

Anyway, so I wanted to give BalletMet classes a try just because they’re a Columbus thing and their classes are pretty good, even if the schedule is really bizarre.  During the summer they only have classes for adults for 4 weeks in July.  Early summer is understandably reserved for summer intensives for the little ballet bambinas aspiring to be professionals, but the sporadic schedule is still unpleasant.  Criticism aside, I had class with Dmitri on Tuesday, and at first I found him difficult to understand, but he demonstrated well enough so that I didn’t have to (a skill I developed while studying abroad…when you live in a foreign country, you learn to survive without understanding everything.  Or sometimes, anything).  Pretty standard class, nothing too crazy…although I guess some of the students looked a bit out of sorts and he asked if this was their first class since classes had ended in the spring to which they replied “yes.”  A HA!  A negative consequence of BalletMet’s helter skelter wonky schedule.  Although the fact that he even asked at all makes me wonder what was he doing during the month off?   Obviously he wasn’t teaching, but then what?  Who?  Where…oh well.

Now Thursday night’s class was taught by George, this diminutive and elderly man who was even harder to understand and didn’t really demonstrate.  His foot would kind of shuffle around a little and then before I knew it he’d be asking the pianist to play and somehow everything flew right by me.  The weird thing though, is there were dancers in the class who DID understand and apparently derived some kind of structured exercise from said foot shuffles, so clearly it’s not him, it’s me.  I suppose only time can give me the skills to decode this secret language…time and practice.  When I was able to get a grasp on what he was saying he definitely knew what he was talking about, and told me to keep my chest open and lengthen my neck more (even though I have a short neck…poo).  And come to think of it, he complimented my saut de basque.  Although I do think he was a lot more optimistic about my abilities than I am…I’m not flexible at all (hamstrings of steel) and in this rond de jambe en l’air-ish thrown leg thingie he wanted me to kick over his hand, which he held just under my shoulder and that wasn’t going to happen.  And he also had me hold my leg out to the side as high as possible, proceeded to poke me in several places to get me to stand up straighter and wanted me to keep it there after I let go and that wasn’t going to happen either.  But at least one of us sees the potential, and he gave me an encouraging pat on the shoulder at the end of class.

Then this morning it was back to Karen, who told us today not to shoot our arms towards the sky because we don’t “seek the heavens for help” and we need to shape our arms and maintain the shape as we move.  It was a rather odd day though…a lot of giggles in the background, but apparently some of the grad students were joking around about building a community for retired dancers called “Shady Pines,” even though I’m sure they’re all in their 20’s and MAAAAYBE early 30’s.  But it’s like I said before, dancers see their careers in terms of dog years.  But I can’t really speak for people who have had major injuries since I never have (and to think I used to feel left out for never having broken a bone).  Although I did sustain a minor injury today, and not in the studio mind you…because dancers never get injured in the studio.  But I’m pretty sure I sprained my finger when I whacked it against the turn signal handle switch while I was driving today.  Still hurts, the stupid little extremity.

One lovely thing that did happen this week was that the accompanist played a song I requested, for adagge on Wednesday AND Friday.  If you want a lovely song, try Chopin’s Nocturne no.2 in E-flat major, Op.9, no.2.  It’s one of my all time favorites, and because it’s a 12/8 it can even be played faster too for waltzy enchaînements.  But all good things must come to an end, and one un-lovely thing was the barrage of sissones this week.  What is it about sissones that make me get stuck?  Grande allegro this morning was failli-assemblé-3 x changement, SISSONE en avant step through assemblé-3 x changement, sissone ouverte coupe assemblé- 3 x changement, then your run of the mill tombé-pas de bourée-glissade-saut de chat (with arms in THIRD!  AHAHAHAHA! Or as they say in Brazil, AHUAHUAHUAHUA!).  But seriously, everytime, right before the sissone it was like landing in a puddle of molasses.  I hesitate, I freak, and then I’m 2 counts behind.  Damn me and my slow reaction time!

Grumpy Bear don't play when it comes to the sissone

Grumpy Bear don't play when it comes to the sissone

Meanwhile, in other news, I am officially on twitter now.  Don’t know if it’s a good idea, and my feeble brain is having problems keeping up with technology these days, but what the heck.  I’ll try almost anything once.