Tag Archives: buffy the vampire slayer

To make, remake or not to make. What is the question?

1 Dec

I recently discovered a most egregious bit of news, that there are plans to do a remake (or as Hollywood is pretending to term it, “relaunch”) of a Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie.  The original BtVS movie was not very good (although I was enormously entertained by a twelve second appearance by a very young Ben Affleck as a basketball player with the number 10, and so my friends and I identify him as “Bar Mitzvah Ben number 10” because that’s what you always exclaim when you see a picture of someone when they’re young), however the story was made famous by the television series, which was much more compelling and had an excellent cast with memorable, beloved characters.  This is why it is so horrifyingly ghastly and upsetting that this planned remake will have nothing to do with the Buffy mythology created by writer and producer Joss Whedon, who basically made the franchise what it is.  You don’t mess with a classic (i.e. Fame…that went well) and you don’t mess with one of the most loyal fanbases in television history.  Fans are NOT happy about this, and alienating us is probably going to have an ugly ending.

However, this got me thinking: Aren’t ballet performances more or less remakes?  Can’t the same positive aspects of different productions of a particular ballet be said about television/movies?  For example, if we flock to see different castings and delight in seeing what each performer brings to a certain role, or enjoy comparing notes on different productions of the same ballet, shouldn’t we (well, I) be able to do the same for Buffy?  I mentally wrassled with this question for approximately seven seconds before deciding on a vehement and resounding “NO” from all the voices in my head.  After all, a BtVS remake would be like staging Mayerling without Sir MacMillan…if he were still alive.  It’s kind of insulting actually.  But I do have legitimate reasons in favor of my argument that I shall divulge.  First, dance is for the most part something that is grounded in the live performance, while movies are written to be preserved on film, and therein lies a huge difference because each must be approached differently.  Obviously a similar thought processes goes into casting, but for movies the purpose is to cast the ideal actor for a role, while in ballet it’s usually more of a “work with the dancers you’ve got” deal.  And as audience members of a live performance, we also have a relationship with the performers.  We are to be silent and applause when appropriate, in order to give dancers unspoken feedback as they perform, which changes our ability to get something from it.  We can watch a movie several times over and it generally elicits the same response, while the same ballet can move or inspire us in different ways because we are a part of it when it’s alive and in front of us.

Ideally, a film should last forever, because it is most often the “original vision” of the people involved.  And yet, there are some wildly successful, innovative interpretations of familiar stories ranging from Westside Story to The Dark Knight.  But why were these different?  Why do some remakes cross the line and offend us while others are brilliant?  Creativity.  While many remakes are motivated by money, because Hollywood sucks and has no concept of originality, the OCCASIONAL remake is fueled by a true artistic vision for a familiar character or story.  However, these successes are rare, and we are inundated by the overflow of failing remakes and sequels spewing from the money-motivated hacks of Hollywood.  In the case of Buffy, they are clearly trying to cash in on the vampire trend with Twilight, True Blood, and such.  For one thing, we’re only a few years removed from Buffy the television series which ended in 2003 with its spinoff Angel ending in 2004.  It’s like going to Disneyworld the day after a funeral…TOO SOON.  At least most ballets are reconstructions of originals from many years ago, so because nobody is completely authentic there is at the very least great attention and respect to the process of staging a ballet that are entirely missing in film.

In the end, some films and television series should never be touched or reinterpreted anyway because simply put, that is how good they are.  I’ll never forget a brilliant statement by a friend of mine who was heinously offended by the Star Wars special edition releases with bonus footage…he said something to the effect of “you don’t go in and paint a city skyline behind the Mona Lisa just because things are different now.”  Many times a piece has to be left the way it is because it also preserves part of the culture of the time which is often overlooked because some idiots can’t get past outdated fashions and hairstyles.  The fact that films and TV shows are a reflection of the times is part of what people should treasure about them.  This problem could be easily addressed if art appreciation was actually a required part of school curriculums.  Alas, one can dream.

It’s funny because there are a lot of criticisms in ballet about the lack of originality, of following the status quo and not taking enough risks.  There was a recent article (link here) about The Royal Danish ballet staging a new version of Bournonville’s Napoli in a postwar setting that the author deemed an “interesting experience.”  Taking risks and breaking the mold is going to be controversial no matter what, which I think choreographers seem to understand, while Hollywood producers ASSUME a remake is automatically going to be successful (and I strongly dislike assumers).  I’m not even entirely opposed to a Buffy remake if there was a genius of Joss Whedon’s caliber behind it, but Hollywood has proven time and time again that they don’t know how to find that talent anymore.  I have no faith; for good reason.

At any rate, on the subject of remakes and new interpretations I was in the mood for a little Le Corsaire, after a new video of Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev performing the grand pas de deux at a recent gala surfaced on the net (via twitter for me).  It has a great angle from backstage which most of us don’t get to see, and the quality is great as well, making it seem like Osipova is going to leap into your face.  Talk about “remakes,” this pas de deux is NOT the version the Bolshoi normally performs, as the costuming indicates it is between Medora and the slave Ali instead of Medora and Conrad.  Vasiliev performs different jumps, and Osipova changes things up too.  Regrettably, she took out the pirouettes a la seconde (pirouettes with the leg held straight out to the side) which was something I loved about her when I saw a video of her doing the coda before, but in the female variation instead of a series of pirouettes along a diagonal at the 6:00 mark, she adds coupe jetés (the huge leaps) and runs into the curtain.  It’s give and take and changes CAN be great when thought goes into it.

Or here are some excerpts from the superhuman Andrei Batalov.  He has unusual technique, like how he starts by stepping into an arabesque that is way too open in the hip so that he can get his foot above his head or how later on at 0:55 seconds in he does a quintuple pirouette before throwing his leg into a huge grand rond de jambe, lifting the right side of his pelvis in a way that pretty much every teacher I’ve ever had has said not to do.  But even though these not examples of my preferred technique to see, I’m actually finding it really beautiful in his own sort of “f the establishment” kind of way.  At least he executes the maneuvers with exceptional control…plus he has amazing feet (although he does kind of turn on the outside of his foot in the arabesque turn at 0:13 which is not good mostly for his safety, but his épaulement/movement of the head at the very end of the turn was really lovely and made me not notice the first time.)  And have you ever seen such hyper extended splits on a man’s leaps?  Normally I’m not phased by massive extensions and such…but when there’s substance to the dancer otherwise I can enjoy it too.  I’m a fan.

P.S. I’ve received some feedback from not so dance inclined friends who don’t always understand all the terms I use, so I’m trying to describe movements a little more, point out exactly where they happen in a video or add a short definition to make things reader friendly.  I don’t want to alienate any readers, so I hope those that do know the terms will bear with me for all future blog posts.  It shouldn’t get in your way too much, but let me know if it does.  I might listen.

My stars, I do deClair de Lune

11 Sep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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