Tag Archives: carlos acosta

Too…complex…brain…meltdown…

6 Sep

The Guardian published on article yesterday asking ‘Where are the black ballet dancers?’ and the subheading makes the claim that a lack thereof is “dance’s biggest blind spot.” There’s a lot going on here and I hesitate to weigh in on the subject because racism is so complex…but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about that article or the one published the day after in the New York Times, where Alastair Macaulay points out—or rather, reiterates—that classical ballets still employ racial, ethnic, and national stereotypes, making further claims that ballet companies do in fact exercise “race-blind casting.” Between the two articles, there is so much food for thought my brain is working in a clockwork frenzy to try and grasp what this all means about the current state of ballet. It’s difficult for me because I’m simple-minded—speaking as an audience member; race = not an issue. Of course this doesn’t mean I’m apt to recognize all the signs of racism in ballet—even in my precious favorite, ‘The Dream,’ I recently mentioned on Twitter that it bothers me that English ballet companies insist on having Titania wear a blonde wig. I didn’t like the way it looked, and loved that ABT has their ladies wear their hair down in Botticellian glory. This was all in response to a ballet company that had posted photos of their dancers in ‘The Dream’ and both Titanias were Japanese. I was slow to connect the dots because I didn’t give much thought as to why the wigs looked particularly unnatural and even missed the conformity Macaulay mentioned in his article altogether when I saw Ratmansky’s ‘Firebird.’ Poignant reminders that I too, need to constantly adapt my level of awareness, and that political correctness is not a state you simply achieve once in your lifetime.

At any rate, the article at the Guardian bothered me for a few reasons. First of all, we have to be able to separate some statistics from the racism. The minority ratios of Afro-Russian people in Russia and African-American people in the US are vastly different, and does account for part of the reason why the Bolshoi has no black dancers. Not to mention the fact that the Bolshoi barely has any dancers from outside of Russia, which could be in part due to racism, body fascism, a simple preference for dancers that graduate from the Bolshoi Academy, or all of the above. I guess what I’m trying to get at is that a black dancer growing up in Russia faces a different set of circumstances than one growing up in the US or the UK, and we can’t distill things into a simple solution for black dancers worldwide—it’s incredibly complex in relation to geography. It’s not just a matter of recruitment/promotion of black dancers, fair casting, elimination of pink tights, and outreach—ballet itself has to procure the conditions in which anyone can excel. Easier said than done…but I think Macaulay is definitely right about one thing—some of the beloved classics are definitely furthering the image of ballet as a primarily white art.

As it is, there’s a dearth of new narrative ballets these days. Ratmansky’s ‘Firebird’ was the latest for ABT, something of a vehicle for Misty Copeland, who was the cover model for the advertisements. By all accounts, Copeland is an amazing dancer—unfortunately, injury meant that I didn’t get a chance to see her with my own eyes, but I don’t doubt the countless that have opined as such. Still, it’s kind of unfortunate that in a leading role, she’s wore a full body red unitard, and was type-cast a bit in something more “dynamic.” As she continues to inspire, it seems like there’s a lot riding on her successes, as if to brew the perfect storm for a ballet boom amongst black communities, but it’s not that simple. Copeland has already gained notoriety for many reasons, for having started in ballet so late and for being a muse of pop music star, Prince, but even she has said that she’s not really the first black soloist ABT has had—so I keep wondering, why has ballet systematically undermined the achievements of black dancers, such that we still have to pin our hopes on Copeland to make a difference? I honestly don’t know…it may be as Aesha Ash said, that donors are having their say, which sadly, wouldn’t surprise me. The people who claim to love ballet the most may be the most harmful towards it…which is ironic, because I’d like to think many ballet audiences wouldn’t bat an eye, and certainly members of the general public would be the same way. I’ve coerced friends into watching ‘Center Stage’—a guilty pleasure—and when they see Eva Rodriguez or Eric “O” Jones, nobody asks questions, or thinks it weird to see black dancers in a ballet setting.

There remains a tough question to ask though…Copeland, for example, could have all the success in the world, but what if nothing changes? There are still socioeconomic factors that hold black people back, not to mention the brutality of going through the corps de ballet that so strictly demands uniformity. I’m interested to know what enrollment demographics are like at the Houston Ballet Academy, where Lauren Anderson, a black woman, was in fact a principal dancer (touted as the first in the US). I first read about her in ‘Meet the Dancers’ (a book by Amy Nathan, geared towards kids and young adults…but whatever, it was a fun read!) and I instantly adored her, setting about to find out more. What I found was an awesome interview, where she was talkative, honest, witty, and had such an incredibly healthy perspective not just on being a role model, but being a dancer in general. It’s great, and she’s wonderful in so many ways that it’s an absolute must see:

As is her Don Quixote pas de deux with none other than Carlos Acosta (her perfectly centered a la seconde turns that melted into penche starting at 2:39 gave me chills!):

Coincidentally, it’s interesting that in her interview, she mentioned ‘Alice in Wonderland’ as the only “white” role, which just so happens to be the most recent full length ballet created for the Royal Ballet, by Christopher Wheeldon. It made me wonder…Macaulay posed the question “are choreographers telling the stories for our time?” and is it possible that both Wheeldon and Ratmansky, despite their talents, aren’t equipped to respond to the needs of society, that they, like their institution are out of touch with reality and are either unwilling or complacent in taking risks? (I really hope that doesn’t sound like an attack on both of them because both have created work that I admire greatly) Let’s be honest…a young black girl having seen Copeland in ‘Firebird’ could easily think “I want to be just like Misty” but would she feel the same way about dancing the role of the Firebird? Visibility is crucial but so is desire; it’s not a matter of simply providing roles for black dancers—there needs to be roles black people will want to dance.

I feel like I’m just going in circles now and the more I try to think about it, the more lost I get…but on this topic of responding to the needs of society (and going back to why the Guardian article also bothered me), my final thoughts are that I’d like to put forth the suggestion that things are equally, perhaps more difficult for homosexual dancers. This was an idea first brought to my attention while watching a special by comedian Wanda Sykes, where part of her act is a hilarious enactment of what it would be like to “come out black.” While stereotypes can be used in intelligent ways to rouse a laugh, Sykes has since appeared in interviews to elaborate more seriously on her own statement, mentioning how there are groups who pay millions of dollars to ensure bans on gay marriage, and though she was quick to recognize grim times in the civil rights history of African Americans, right now, it’s harder to be gay. In terms of ballet, a black Odette/Odile has in fact happened, thanks to Anderson, but what are the chances of a purely classical Swan Lake production featuring Siegfried falling in love with a Swan Prince? Or a Princess falling in love with Odette/Odile? Purists would never let it happen because apparently the steps can’t tell the story if the Swan Prince can’t dance en pointe or if a Princess Siegfried equivalent couldn’t perform some kind of acrobatic lift with her partner, and to change Petipa’s choreography would be heresy, and so the oppression of gay dancers will persist.

Despite the prolific amount of same-sex partnering in contemporary ballet, the fact remains that nobody seems to trust that the classical steps can tell any story. People always talk about taking risks in the arts, which for dance has a tendency to be perceived as the invention of new movement styles, when maybe the risk that needs to be taken is having faith in classical ballet to be a versatile medium. The closest pas de deux we have is one from Roland Petit’s ‘Proust,’ but one could still go back to classical themes—I was reading Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’ when it occurred to me that the myth of Apollo and Hyacinthus had marvelous potential as a classical ballet. The story goes that Apollo falls in love with a Spartan prince, Hyacinthus, who in another version is also the object of affection of Zephyrus, God of the West Wind. Long story short, when Apollo teaches Hyacinthus to throw a discus, a jealous Zephyrus deflects it to strike Hyacinthus in the head, killing him. The crestfallen Apollo, refusing to let Hades claim his love, transforms him into a flower (ironically, it’s believed to be a larkspur or iris). The destructive power of an Olympian god, the fragility of a mortal, and despite divinity, an immortal’s desire to love like a human…it’s a fairly rich story (okay, maybe as a one act), and is there anything we crave more in classical ballet than love triangles, death, and transformation? I think not. Still, I doubt anyone would be interested in funding or creating it.

And yet, there are always signs of hope for change—today, on New York City Ballet’s Facebook page, a wedding announcement was made for soloist Craig Hall, a gay black dancer, and his husband Frank Wildermann. Though not directly related to either article, reading that news after reading the Guardian and the New York Times was a breath of fresh air. Congratulations to the newlyweds!

Oh. My. Rojo.

24 Feb

And now, the long awaited highlight of the week (for me anyway), a review of the brand new DVD of La Bayadère, with Tamara Rojo as Nikiya, Carlos Acosta as Solor, Marianela Nuñez as Gamzatti and artists of the Royal Ballet.  I’m going to just get this out of the way and say that this performance is virtually flawless.  I would even go as far as saying that the love triangle of Rojo, Acosta and Nuñez is a pièce de résistance that may never be matched in chemistry and other qualities.  Rojo’s Nikiya approaches divinity as a human in Act I and exceeds it when she returns as a shade in Act II; Acosta’s Solor is the most sincere expression of valor and regret brought to life in bravura technique and nowhere else will you find a more sultry, seductive and positively forbidding Gamzatti in Nuñez.  The stars certainly aligned for this one and met all of my expectations…I still can’t get over how amazing the principal casting was for this.

Just look at the acting of Nuñez and Rojo!

 

The production itself is quite good, choreographed by Natalia Makarova to an orchestration by John Lanchberry, which is probably my only major complaint about it.  I don’t know the score well enough to point out specifics but I know that there are a number of truncated sections…including stuff I’ve listened to on a CD that is supposedly orchestrated by Lanchberry as well!  The only other Bayadère I’ve watched is the DVD of the Paris Opera Ballet, staged by Nureyev and while the memories of that are foggy the score seemed entirely different this time around.  At the very least, the score did seem appropriate to the scenes with the main variations and pas de deux being familiar enough but I definitely missed some melodies (which is saying a lot for a Minkus score, which have the tendency to be largely forgettable).  Makarova’s choreography is wonderful, and I love that she elaborated on the role of Gamzatti, having her reappear in Act III and attempt to wed Solor.  Many productions of Bayadère (including the one I just mentioned by Nureyev) stop after the Kingdom of the Shades, where Solor is mourning over a vision of Nikiya and it’s abrupt because we never see what becomes of the characters themselves.

Makarova wanted to restore elements of Petipa’s original, and have Solor and Gamzatti in a wedding scene at a temple, where Gamzatti sort of rushes the ceremony as she is consumed by guilt over Nikiya’s murder and Solor eventually refuses to marry Gamzatti out of remorse because he is haunted by the image of Nikiya.  This culminates in infuriating the gods, who destroy the temple (which is so fantastically over-the-top and Russian of Makarova to do) and we see Solor and Nikiya reunited in the afterlife.  The importance of this Act III is that it really fleshes out the characters and gives consequence to their actions, thus allowing the audience to see more clearly a reflection of human behavior they may be more familiar with, or rather, choose to believe in.  As Tamara will tell you in an interview in the special features, Classical era ballet is not about telling a story but is instead a commentary on human emotion and morals.  Makarova’s choreography in Act III is just sublime; there is a beautiful pas de trois where Solor has to dance with Gamzatti who is quite real and also the ghostly apparition of Nikiya and I’d imagine that this is exceptionally challenging for the male dancer because not only does he have to partner two different women, which is a physically and mentally exhausting merry-go-round.

Excerpt of Act III:

One after another the principal variations will stun you…Rojo is vulnerable and pure in the sacred flame solo, tragic and sorrowful in her solo at Solor’s betrothal where her arabesques just go into infinity and she has the most luxurious arches of her back paired with exotic port de bras.  Nuñez is equally brilliant with her betrothal variation, and sensuously hot in Act III, dressed in a slinky red number for her wedding solo (the contrast in her character in these two solos is amazing).  Acosta has one tiny hiccup in his betrothal variation (an iconic one in the male repertory) where he was off balance in a pirouette, but the funny thing is he still manages to get something like four around and if you’ve ever tried pirouetting when your alignment is completely off, you know that’s a superhuman save.  Furthermore, Acosta and Rojo deliver the consummate Act II that will have you wishing you had some of what he was smoking, with Rojo as a hallucination adding just the subtlest aura of distance between Nikiya and Solor.

Betrothal Pas de Deux:

Ah, Act II…the Kingdom of the Shades and one of the most important scenes in all of classical ballet, like a marching band coming out for the halftime show.  I was a bit surprised because while the corps de ballet did an acceptable job, it made me realize how much the Paris Opera Ballet has this scene down, and they have the added challenge of thirty-two shades compared to the Royal Ballet’s twenty-four!  I do have to point out though that POB has more uniformity in body types while the Royal employs a more diverse selection of dancers so automatically it’s going to have more variance, but POB just seemed to have better timing.  It’s possible that a slight difference in choreography may have something to do with it as well because the standard choreography alternates a regular arabesque with a little port de bras and the POB has the dancers doing much more voluminous arm movements by releasing the head and upper back forward in the port de bras, whereas the Royal does not.  So in effect, the Royal corps has less movement in the same amount of music, which means they have to sustain things longer and that inevitably leads to more individualized interpretations.  The bigger movement also helps the corps with receiving visual cues from each other, thus making synchronization a little easier.

Entrance of the Shades:

Overall, the dancing is fantastic and the soloists were on fire for the betrothal, and Yuhui Choe in particular really stood out to me in her shade variation in Act II…she seemed to have just a little more spark and her variation in particular is a wicked one.  After seeing clips of her in Swan Lake from a fairly recent guest performance in Korea, I hope she is made a principal sooner than later!  Although speaking of the Shade variations, I noticed something a little strange in that the three soloists who did them were different from some of the trio work elsewhere in the same scene, though both included Choe.  Odd.  At any rate, the DVD also has amazing features including an audio clip of Makarova discussing her staging, a chat with Leanne Cope and Francesca Filipi about the iconic corps scene, the interview with Tamara Rojo I mentioned earlier (one of my favorite parts of course!) and really cool studio rehearsal footage of Rojo and Acosta receiving coaching from Alexander Agadzhanov (Acosta does some huge barrel turns in this footage but changes the jumps for the performance itself…a pity because I love barrel turns.  Well, not doing them).  There are so many overwhelmingly good things to say that the only flaw for sure is that in the program notes that appear during the overtures, the snake that kills Nikiya (which by the way, Tamara said sometimes she has a hard time doing that scene without laughing at the rubber snake) is described as “poisonous” when in fact an animal that injects a toxin is “venomous.”  An animal is poisonous if a toxin is absorbed.  Fun fact!

Now that you know, here’s Choe’s Shade Variation, to leave a lovely aftertaste:

‘Dancing Across Borders’…a DVD review

20 Feb

It’s odd that Seattle has decided to invite the winter spirits, which was particularly cruel on a day like today, with cerulean skies and a radiant sun—accompanied with biting winds and sub-forty-five degree temperatures.  Yes, I am a wimp when it comes to the cold and anything below forty-five is all the same to me…I call it my “immobilization threshold.”  It’s possible that something like negative forty would have an even more profound effect such as cryogenic hibernation and in fact, I was recently told that if you step outside in those temperatures, your nose hairs will freeze (ask someone from Northern Canada…I’m sure they can confirm this).   The point is, all I wanted to do was wrap myself in blankets like a giant burrito and wait for spring to arrive.

I did manage to do the first part of that, but had to something productive, which I decided would be to attack my tower of library materials (some of which are probably overdue), including the documentary Dancing Across Borders.  The film was directed and produced by socialite Anne Bass, who saw Sokvannara “Sy” (pronounced like “sea”) Sar as a young boy in Cambodia, performing in traditional Khmer dances.  He obviously had no knowledge of or exposure to ballet, but she could see quality in his movement, a knack for performance and the makings for a physique quite suitable for ballet.  She eventually brought him to New York and the School of American Ballet, where he received a great deal of private coaching from Olga Kostritzky and with one of the most freakish learning curves known to man, refined his raw talent into an accomplished ballet dancer.

Initially, I thought this would be a story similar to Cuban dancer Carlos Acosta, who grew up impoverished and learning the dances of his people (salsa and even break-dancing) before finding his way to ballet but there are significant differences.  Sy began his formal training at a much later age but what separates Sy from Acosta is that Cambodia has no tradition in ballet.  Acosta’s father, who was instrumental in ensuring his son’s pursuit of a ballet career held a great deal of admiration for the art, which had become a national treasure thanks to Alicia Alonso.  However, Sy’s parents understandably have a different perspective; they recognize their son’s talents and the opportunities it gives him but very little if anything beyond that.  His father even wishes Sy worked for the government, or became an engineer or doctor.  I don’t think he meant that in a “crush the artist’s dreams and get a ‘real’ job” sort of way, because I find it impossible to fault them for not understanding the impact and prestige of a ballet career.  This is perhaps the greatest difference of them all—as Acosta wraps up what has been one of the most prolific ballet careers of the past couple of decades as a principal guest artist with the Royal Ballet (donning the banana yellow tights in La Fille mal Gardée for what he must always hope is the last time), Sy still seems to be finding his identify as a dancer.

I say that because Bass herself even said that she wouldn’t want Sy to continue dancing if he didn’t want to, but after a few years with Pacific Northwest Ballet, he left to be a freelance artist.  It’s not a decision that surprises me because throughout the documentary he always struck me as someone who was a bit at odds with how much of his relationship with dance was talent and how much of it was passion.  After all, he makes it pretty clear that he’s not a huge fan of partnering so maybe his destiny isn’t really to be a classical ballet dancer.  Even though this is not my experience with dance, I felt like I could relate a bit because this was my approach to school.  I was a good (if anything, clever) student and when I was in control of my curriculum, I truly excelled.  I got better grades in college than I did in high school because I got so many opportunities to study things that interested me and yet I still managed good grades in subjects I hated, like math and chemistry so it baffled people (well, my parents really) when I refused to pursue a career in those fields.  It’s not enough to just be good at something because if the heart is unwilling, the result feels empty even if it looks brilliant.  Despite Sy’s unique qualities as a dancer, you can’t help but feel like dancing for a classical ballet company was like caging a magnificent, rare bird.

Still, it’s easy to see why so many like Peter Boal found Sy exciting—he has an effervescence that cannot be explained and can only be captured visually in photographs or film.  There’s a lot of great footage of him in class as well as performance selections and variations from competition footage with lots of favorites like Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux, La Sylphide, in addition to rehearsal footage with Benjamin Millepied and the actual performance of Millepied’s piece at the Vail International Dance Festival with live accompaniment from Philip Glass himself.  In Millepied’s contemporary work is where I thought Sy was most breathtaking.  There was a joy of movement in that work which is part of what leads me to believe Sy is suited more towards that style so I hope now as a freelance artist he is finding those opportunities because even if he’s pretty damn good at classical ballet, sometimes the things we’re born to do aren’t the things we look like we’re born to do.

I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of Dancing Across Borders because I think it tells the honest story of a dancer.  Oftentimes I think the problem with fictitious dance stories is the ridiculous, almost melodramatic, romanticized images you’ll often see when in fact many dancers lead extraordinary lives that don’t need to be enhanced, just told.  Seattleites will also get a kick out of seeing the Pacific Northwest Ballet studios, McCaw Hall and a few glimpses of familiar faces (I spotted Carla Körbes, and it’s interesting to note that both she and Sy were foreign dancers heavily recruited by Peter…very cool of him).  Actually, Varna had some fun cameos too, like an equally young Belarusian lynx Ivan Vasiliev (I was going to say panther, but there are no panthers in Belarus) doing some of his signature moon-jumping leaps.  At any rate, the only disappointment I had regarding the film was that it all went down just before I moved here…it would have been great to watch Sy dance live, though perhaps opportunities remain in the future to do so, and maybe for the better in a piece where he is truly in his element.  Check out the trailer for fun, or because I’m telling you to:

What goes around comes around

27 Aug

So I’ve been in a bit of a shlump and was having an uninspired couple of weeks.  The best remedy for this is really to go back to the basics and go with what you know.  What do I know?  Manon.  I mean, I don’t know EVERYTHING about the ballet, but I know that it is by far my favorite full length ballet (keep that in mind kitties, there will be a pop quiz someday…) and I’m familiar with it to a point where I don’t need program notes or anything of the sort.  Instead of the usual goddess Rojo however, this time I got the chance to watch the Royal Ballet production with Jennifer Penney and Sir Anthony Dowell, the latter of which originated the role of Des Grieux.  I’ve actually had this on loan for a while but was saving it for a rainy day (in Seattle?  The very idea…although it did actually rain today and it has been a fairly sunny summer).  In fact, most of the cast in this production (filmed in 1982) were the dancers who originated their respective roles…hot!

I have to say one of the most fascinating things about this recording is that even though it was filmed a good twenty-five years before the Rojo/Acosta version, the performance isn’t dated at all.  Despite changes in approaches to technique and desired body types in ballet, imagining both productions as different casts two nights in a row is completely realistic.  I felt differences in technique and physiques were evident in between the 1984 and 2008 La fille mal gardée recordings, but not so for the Manon performances.  This speaks volumes about Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s choreography—it’s timeless, it’s most definitely a classic and it defies technique.  Obviously it takes a great deal of technique to be able to perform it but when all is said and done the physical act of having bodies dance the choreography reveals so much about characters and story that there’s this rich depth that I’m not sure any other choreographer has ever achieved in story ballets.

Accordingly, the Penney/Dowell interpretation of Manon was vastly different from Rojo/Acosta.  I felt that Penney portrayed a Manon who was very much aware of her ability to manipulate men, as opposed to Rojo who grew to be aware of it but concerned herself more with the internal struggle of wealth versus love.  I never felt that Penney’s Manon was in love with Des Grieux…I found their relationship to be very hunter and prey, like a cat and bird (to see an actualization of this eternal conflict, see Simon’s Cat: Snow Business).  Dowell’s Des Grieux is catlike in so many ways—for his use of plié and he has this charm about him that completely belies his predatory nature.  Acosta’s Des Grieux, like Rojo’s Manon is more about an internal struggle, with his being between the path of virtue and temptation.  This is where things get really nifty, because conflict in the Penney/Dowell performance manifested in their actual relationship as a power struggle between the two characters and not as internal turmoil.  What? I suggest watching these first:

Notice how it’s almost violent in the way Dowell pulled Penney toward him, ten seconds into the first pas de deux, like a cat clawing at a bird?  And how in his luxurious solo he’s like a predator—mesmerizing his prey by trying to lure her and toy with her.  To continue with the house cat metaphor, you see Dowell’s coy, innocent face, his beautifully soft movements and you know his character wants to be a righteous man but without hesitating he gives in to his desire for Manon which is exactly like how the cat that rubs up against your legs and purrs with affection is the same cat that will shred your couch even if s/he knows it’s wrong.  Manon is obviously the bird…a free spirit that is captured (but not loved) by Des Grieux.  However, in the second act there is a shift of momentum and it’s Manon who takes on the role of the hunter and becomes the cat.  It’s in the second act where we see her seductive solo that mirrors the purpose of Des Grieux’s solo in Act I.  She’s bewitching her prey, whether it’s the various men at Madame’s party or Monsieur G.M.  The reason why I felt Penney’s Manon never truly loved Des Grieux is because in her performance of that solo, she blatantly ignores him, symbolizing her ability to captivate whoever she wants.  The jewelry she receives from Monsieur G.M. then become not a symbol of wealth but of her powers of ensnarement.

In Act III, Des Grieux reassumes the role of the hunter, but this time manipulates his prey as if willing it to live again so he can hunt it anew.  By this time, Manon is disgusted by jewelry, as it recalls memories of when she was the hunter and how she suffered from the consequences of those times.  I know I’ve been saying that I never believed Penney/Dowell’s portrayals of the characters to be that of two people in love but that’s the heart-rending aspect of the performance—you want to believe it’s this romantic tryst but you know better and you can see how their relationship is quite dysfunctional.  However, when they get to the concluding swamp pas de deux…it’s like taking an anvil to the soul.  Manon realizes that her only salvation in breaking the cycle of manipulation and lust that she’s trapped in is the very hunter that destroys her while Des Grieux no longer wants to be predator or prey and wants to try to love this girl.  It occurred to me that there are some similarities with La Sylphide here; trying to own a fairy is what will inevitably kill her and Des Grieux’s pursuit of Manon is almost exactly the same, just told in a more corporeal, sans-supernatural-bells-and-whistles (aka, enchanted forests) story.  As we all know, she dies and let me tell you I have never cried for a ballet before and I was in tears this time around.  It’s such an emotional roller coaster to watch Manon and Des Grieux go through the motions of loving each other only to realize they truly do when it’s too late.

This DVD is a MUST buy.  It is such a treat it was to see Dame Monica Mason dance as Lescaut’s mistress.  She was rather brassy and I loved her bewilderment during the drunken pas de deux with Lescaut.  Just amazing work…and what can you say about Anthony Dowell?  When I watched his performance as Oberon in The Dream, I thought to myself “if I could be reborn as a professional dancer, that’s the role I’d want to do” but having watched him in Manon makes me want to BE reborn as Anthony Dowell.  Better start stocking up on good karma.

The Doctor is In

18 Jul

At long last, the quasi-wife has watched Manon!  After insisting for so long that she would like the ballet, she has seen it and the conclusion is matrimonial.  I should be like a ballet doctor or something…study as many ballets as I can and diagnose people who haven’t seen much with the proper remedy.  Enjoy a good story, period pieces, expensive things and consider yourself to be an indecent Francophile?  Take a Manon and call me in the morning.  It’s all a part of a much larger and grander scheme to MacMillanify the residents of Seattle, one at a time (although I’m sure there are many Seattleites who have long enjoyed MacMillan ballets of their own accord).  It’s unfortunate that Seattle doesn’t get exposed to the British choreographers via live performance and I don’t know that Pacific Northwest Ballet would (or should for that matter) change its philosophy on modeling itself after New York City Ballet (although they’ve announced that they will perform Giselle in the upcoming season.  Very out of character but also incredibly exciting).  I’m not even sure PNB even has the resources to pull off a MacMillan full length (damn you privatized funding for the arts!) but regardless of PNB’s artistic direction I will assist in being a catalyst anyway; the demand must be created and like a pyramid, it has to start from the bottom up.  Now that my track record includes an earth-shattering two people, construction of MacMillan monument has begun.

Speaking of catalysts let it be known (or reiterated, depending on what you know) that Manon was the ballet that changed my life.  You know how everyone has that one performer/performance that inspired them and for me it was Tamara Rojo in this role, just over a year ago.  Rojo herself said it in the special features of the DVD that she was similarly inspired, that she had no idea that a story could be told through ballet like it is in Manon and that it was one of the main reasons why she wanted to join the Royal Ballet.  I felt exactly the same way (not the joining the Royal Ballet part, the storytelling thing) and as a result became disillusioned with Russian dancing.  Don’t get me wrong…they have their greats, their moments and some of the most expensive productions in the world but Manon helped me to affirm aspects in ballet that I have come to love.  As I see it in the arts, it’s not a matter of love or hate (although we inevitably have these reactions) but a conscious decision to prefer something over something else.  It’s the kind of preference that has me longing for London, as the Royal Ballet announced they will perform Manon in the spring.  There is little chance for me to go because I’m not a jet-setter who can zip off to London on a whim but OY do I hunger!

At any rate, quasi-wife took to Manon like a bee to honey, appreciative of the ballet as a whole and a fan of the chemistry between Rojo and Carlos Acosta.  It’s something she tends to look for in a ballet (noting earlier this year that the performance of PNB’s Coppelia she saw was lacking in chemistry between the principals) and I’m guessing it’s probably because she has issues with men or whatever.  The point is, while she was skeptical about the romance between Manon and Des Grieux, she found the connection between them genuine.  I had to retrain her way of thinking and forced her to watch the DVD extras which includes a bit where Dame Monica Mason explains that while love doesn’t blossom as quickly as it does in a five minute pas de deux, from a theatrical standpoint the audience accepts it.  It was odd that quasi-wife didn’t quite buy into that, nor did she really buy into the fact that Manon would allow herself to be manipulated by Lescaut for jewels and lavish clothes…but we went shopping earlier that day and between the two of us, one of us bought a one hundred dollar, Donna Karan New York olive green trench coat and one of us did not.  I’ll let you take a wild guess as to who did what now.

Meanwhile, remember in my Chaconne post that partnered pivot I discussed?  Let us revisit the bedroom pas de deux for just a moment…

Wheee!

Like many, quasi-wife found it rather disturbing.  It’s funny to me that Tamara’s feet are so visible throughout the ballet but they don’t come across as freakish until that particular move.  It’s all “she’s so gorgeous!” and then “HELLO.”  She also thought that the rolling movement Manon does in the pas de trois with Lescaut and Monsieur G.M. where she leans forward in an arabesque but then her other foot snakes forward to lead her over Monsieur G.M.’s back disturbing too…I said we could find a third person and try it but she didn’t seem to keen on the idea.  I guess quasi-wife still needs to be seasoned a little to get past odd, perhaps inhuman looking movements to see the beauty and genius of MacMillan’s choreography, but all in due time.  I know for me, the more I watch Manon (and I never tire of it) the more I fall in love with it and understand it on a deeper level.  I was stumped though when she asked me what type of ballet Manon would be and I settled on answering with neoclassical, even though I kept picturing Balanchine’s abstract works.

Despite my obsession with Manon (it is by far my favorite full length ballet), I don’t know that I’ll ever consider myself a true balletomane until I see another run of it and do that balletomane thing where you see multiple casts.  I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t do it when I had the chance…so little did I know at the time.  If I could go back in time, I would have been all over the opportunity to see Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg dance it together.  This will have to do for now:

Everybody sweats in Cuba

9 Jan

Earlier this year the Royal Ballet made a historic maiden visit to Cuba, and subsequently a documentary was made to…document the whole sha-bang.  This documentary was filmed and produced by the Ballet Boyz, former leading Royal Ballet dancers (and now award winning filmmakers) Billy Trevitt and Michael Nunn.  This recent venture in Cuba was broadcast on More4, a UK channel that…well, as an American I’m not really sure what they’re all about, but they do some programming on the arts.  I don’t know how accessible this channel is to the average household in the UK, but it’s certainly not accessible in the US and so I was overjoyed when the twittervines had announced its magnificent appearance on YouTube.  And not just excerpts, oh no…the WHOLE thing.  Someone took the time to capture, compress, upload and process an hour long documentary for the benefit of people they don’t even know.  Feel loved, because people care!

And if you’re American, feel ashamed.

Okay, maybe ashamed is a strong word, but don’t other Americans out there feel a twinge of humiliation when they see (or I guess don’t see?) how other nations treat the arts?  It’s so rare for PBS to broadcast anything dance related, and when they do it’s usually something historical (like the American Masters series on Jerome Robbins…I believe there was one on Balanchine at some point, but the Robbins one was broadcast more recently…well, over a year ago), while the UK is actually broadcasting current documentaries, not to mention a few live broadcasts from Covent Garden on BBC (the BBC?).  Even cinemas show ballets, as I’ve read that the recently filmed performance of Mayerling starring Ed Watson that is to be released on DVD soon is actually being shown in theatres.  Some theatres here “try,” but when all you get is a Swan Lake and a Nutcracker it’s like being stranded on a deserted island and trying to build a raft to escape out of toothpicks.  Even in Cuba, the audiences loves their ballet, dancers make the news, and even your average barber will go to the town square to watch a live broadcast of the Royal Ballet projected onto tarps, not even getting to see the performance itself live! Sometimes I wonder, especially during the misery that is winter, if it would be worth giving up this capitalist environment for hot weather, public healthcare and good mangoes.  I know things aren’t perfect in Cuba…but perfectionism is a disease anyway (I don’t search for perfect…just fit).

Despite the constant reminders that ABT and NYCB are virtually inaccessible to the American public outside of the apparent fortress of Manhattan (ABT had a similarly historic visit to Beijing and there were a couple of measly articles, but nothing in national newspapers that I know of.  I mean really…does either company care about increasing their reputations at home before going abroad?  Can they really call themselves national icons if it’s probably safe to say I could survey people on the streets and the vast majority won’t be able to name a single principal dancer with either company, and maybe not even KNOW of either company?)  and that our system of funding for the arts is…not entirely crappy but could definitely use improvement (as goddess Rojo herself would tell you, singing the praises of the British system), I thoroughly enjoyed the documentary.  I thought it was so well done to appeal to both balletomanes and new viewers alike, neither condescending nor trite, with significant excerpts from the dances they performed (except Manon).  It looks like it was the same program to come to Washington DC that included Manon, Chroma (the one that got away) and A Month in the Country (the one that I’m now thinking REALLY got away).

This documentary really had everything though…rehearsal footage, performance footage, excursions into the heart of Havana, lots of sweating…a thorough yet simple look at the tour, with plenty of drama and a tasteful sense of humor.  Oy the drama!  Some dancers got swine flu, a last minute injury saw Jonathan Cope coming out of retirement to perform A Month in the Country, despite the fact that he hadn’t been in a class for two years (and yet he could still do a quadruple pirouette en dedans, and stop in attitude.  Seriously?).  Lots of drama for Tamara Rojo too, although none of it was her fault by any means.  I have to say she was totally bad-ass for many reasons, because she performed double duty in the gala by doing the Don Quixote and Le Corsaire grand pas de deux, and not only did she do them but DonQ was with only one half hour rehearsal with a man she had never danced with before and Corsaire was the pressure cooker because Carlos Acosta, homecoming king, was her partner for that so it had to be spectacular.  Not to mention she would surely do the lead in one of the performances of Manon, so I’m guessing she was rather frazzled and stressed.  She’s pretty poised and maintains her calm, but my favorite moment is when the generator dies (and thus, their stage lights) and she drops an f-bomb.  The best people in the world are the ones that are always giving you reasons to like them more.  I love that she contributed to the program’s advisory for coarse language.

Great fun to see Carlos Acosta in his element as well…he was so excited in their post-performance trip to the downtown square to greet the fans who watched the projections.  Plus, watching him interact with his fellow dancers is doing wonders for my Cuban accent.  It’s interesting to see them get the rockstar treatment though…some might abhor that and call it improper, but I say…why not?  There isn’t one way to dance…there shouldn’t be one way to be a fan.  Certain etiquette is to be observed, but when the curtain is down and it’s time to celebrate the performance I say have at it.  I think dancers should be able to do both hugs and bouquets or shaking hands and playing the crowd.  Really, the sky is the limit…but don’t do anything that might result in a restraining order.

Be sure to watch The Royal Ballet in Cuba, in all glorious eight parts, beginning with this one:

How ’bout Hershel?

25 Nov

The Washington Post recently ran an article Breaking Pointe, which kind of trashes The Nutcracker cash cow and you know I’ll like any article that shoots it down.  I have to say though, for those who cherish The Nutcracker as a holiday tradition, please continue to do so.  I just have some Scroogian issues that make me a little cranky, and sure I’ll complain about it but I would never try to convince someone that they should stop going to go see it, because it’s any and every audience member’s right to like what they will (although secretly I’m convinced many people don’t like The Nutcracker as much as they think they do, or would like other ballets much more instead!).  Regardless, I wouldn’t want someone trashing my bizarre and unconventional holiday traditions (it’s a long story, we’ll talk about it never) and even I will admit some of Tchaikovsky’s score for the ballet puts a little bounce in my step, like the ubiquitous Russian Dance.  And speaking as a flute player, the Dance of the Reed Pipes IS fun to play.  Sure, many professional flautists roll their eyes and groan at the tune, but hell, I’m a person that is not afraid to admit that I enjoy Pachelbel’s Cannon.  I’m fearless (sort of).

At any rate, I was on board for much of the article, and agree that it’s somewhat regrettable that The Nutcracker is necessary to please the masses and make money.  However, at the same time, I don’t think pleasing the masses is all that awful of a thing to do.  For many, it’s nice to know that a familiar ballet rolls around every year and because that’s generally something that would make me sick of it, I’m glad it’s a ballet that isn’t all that great that occupies that spot.  Although it would be nice as the author pointed out, to have some more diversity in holiday activities.  Although I’m sure she’s thinking more contemporary, daring works, I’m a little more basic…like why not have a Hannukah ballet?  Personally, I would love it if someone with an Ashton-esque ability to work with costumes would do a ballet to Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins.  For reasons unknown to man, this has been one of my favorite books dating back to second grade, even though I’m far from Jewish.  Or even a different Christmas themed ballet would be a welcome change…but Nutcracker has such a vice grip on the holiday season there’s no way any company can take that kind of risk.

Is anyone up to the challenge of turning this story into a ballet?

Taking risks was one of the author’s points in the article, noting the economy is backing companies up into their safety zones.  I can’t remember if it was last year or this year, but ABT was planning one of the most unimaginative season lineups I’ve ever seen.  It was all war horses.  But this was where the article got weird for me and segued into things that I really didn’t think The Nutcracker was responsible for.  Like American dancers being held back from principal roles in favor of foreign born dancers.  That was an unexpected turn that made me run into a wall, but after thinking about it I found the undertone of the article to be a little unnecessarily defensive and whiny.  What the author calls “outsourcing” (poor word choice, in my opinion), the Royal Ballet would call “principal guest artist.”  I fail to see the problem in hiring the right person for the job.  In fact, if anything, I would say the US is OVER-networked, where far too many people are getting hired based on connections and who you know rather than ability (which is one of the things I love about dance…everyone can audition.  It’s much more democratic.).  The author then talks about grooming American dancers…but that’s the point of the corps-soloist-principal progression?  A principal is to be tweaked, not groomed.  It was oddly contradictory for the author to encourage diversity in ballet companies, but then promote the idea of favoring American dancers.  I certainly don’t define diversity as Americans and _____-Americans.  I don’t think the “field lacks commitment to its own dancers.”  I think America in general lacks commitment to its dancers.  After all, ballet is treasured in Cuba and Russia.  As someone who has been to Asian countries many times, I have seen first hand how classical arts are highly valued in those societies (which has its merits and demerits unfortunately).

For me, I agree with what Carlos Acosta had to say about “the issue.”  For many dancers in other countries, there’s a sense of desperation that comes with the job, because they don’t have a plan B, whereas an American dancer can go to school later or even make an okay living just working any full-time job.  For Americans, dance almost always starts out as a hobby that might turn into a job, but for a Cuban child entering a ballet school, the circumstances are much different.  I don’t think American dancers are held back at all; in fact, there are many fine technical American dancers.  But perhaps it is that lack of desperation, the “art is a hobby” philosophy that is so unfortunately ingrained into American culture that has left many of these dancers kind of dry of passion and artistry.  It’s like when I get complimented on my dancing, it’s not because I have great lines or an ability to execute virtuoso maneuvers, because I have neither of those things; I’m complimented for my expressiveness (and it feels SO damn good!).  For those who know me more intimately, they also know I’m one of the nuttiest and most “desperate to dance” people they have ever met, so I would absolutely say that desperation is a big part of what makes me enjoy the opportunity to dance, which translates into the completion of a movement itself.

The author also discusses segregation in ballet, and although I am a huge proponent of role models and visibility, I think claiming ballet to be the most segregated of the arts is…a “misdiagnosis.”  Surely there are racist directors and audience members, but I don’t think the institution of ballet itself is racist (well, maybe the enforcing of pink tights could be considered racist).  After all, Acosta was the Royal Ballet’s first black Romeo and Miyako Yoshida was probably their first Japanese Ondine.  It’s not always rosy, since former NYCB dancer Aesha Ash did mention in some article that she felt certain castings she got were in favor of a particular “powerful” image, but I still think the opportunities are there in many companies.  There is often an argument that money is what prevents many black people from experiencing ballet and certainly ballet does cost money, but it costs money for everyone and doesn’t discriminate.  Now poverty on the other hand IS a result of racism and perpetuates wrongful stereotypes that prevent mobility.  But poverty is a separate issue from racism in ballet.  Call out racist directors but be weary before labeling ballet, which is merely a dance, as being segregated when there really isn’t any intention of segregating anyone.  It may very well be for reasons I don’t comprehend, but I have a tendency to believe it’s people that are always at the root of a problem, so there’s no need to generalize.

So as much as I would like to blame everything in life on The Nutcracker, the truth is, it isn’t the root of problems facing ballet today.  Those are much more complex and require great minds to change.  Not mine…I mean, what do I know about getting into a ballet company?  All I can say is, those who know their place, find it.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Ballet, Second Half

20 Nov

It’s always interesting to see a ballet with different casts (now I know why the Bag Ladies go to 34895764290482 shows of Mayerling!), because of all the little things one can pick up on that they didn’t catch the previous times.  Although I thought charming was the only word to describe La Fille mal gardée, I’m adding “cheeky” to the adjective list.  From the opening overture even, there is a moment where the flute player gets to “flutter tongue,” which is a technique not often used, where the musician has to breathe out to play a note while simultaneously rolling an “r” and yes, it is even harder then it sounds.  First of all, some people aren’t capable of rolling r’s (sucks to be you), you have to maintain a certain amount of tension in your embouchure (which means the shape of your lips) in order to do it, AND you have to be able to do it without laughing, which was always my problem.  Although, if you want to get really crazy there is this song called Lookout for solo flute, and there’s measures where the musician has to SING while playing at the same time (and other funny stuff like clicking the keys without actually playing notes).  I tell you, when my teacher played a little bit of that, she sounded like an alien and I burst into laughter.  It then became something I would periodically ask her to play, just so I could get a laugh out of it.  Meanwhile, she was working on it as part of some flute master class or workshop.  It was serious business, but I’m kind of fond of being inappropriate.

Anyway, this more recent La Fille I watched, starring Marianela Nuñez and Carlos Acosta is hands down the one I will be adding to my wish list.  Obviously I’d love to have both the 1981 and 2005 productions, but who has the money?  Not I (especially with lots of goodies coming out soon!).  One of the wonderful things about the Royal Ballet is their sense of tradition and authenticity, so between the two productions there are hardly any differences, which is pretty impressive considering the near 25 year gap between them.  I noticed a thing here and there because I have a photographic memory (although I think I read somewhere a few years ago that some researchers were claiming that there was no such thing as a photographic memory.  Pffft!), observing things like how they added rain to the thunderstorm scene and changed the lighting, Simone flinging off her shoes with gusto before the clog dance, the part where Nuñez slides down the staircase on her bum when she’s depressed and also there’s a part in the 1981 version where the corps motions at Awain that he was headed for the wrong door which wasn’t in the 2005.  Little things that don’t really matter in the big scheme of things and can be attributed to each dancer’s individual interpretations of characters and updated stage technology, but it keeps ballet fresh and exciting.  For me, anyway.

I have to say that I found Nuñez and Lesley Collier to be fairly comparable.  Each had their strengths as Lise and I enjoyed both of their performances for different reasons.  I think Collier was a little sweeter with just a touch more lightness; Nuñez had loftier jumps and a winning smile.  What puts the 2005 version on my wish list though is Acosta.  Obviously, I like his dancing a lot.  But he’s REALLY good in this ballet and technically superior to Michael Coleman and Acosta’s Colas I think had a real youthfulness to it that was more enjoyable to watch for me.  After reading his book, I get the feeling that Acosta is kind of a child at heart (and a bit of a mama’s boy, but in an endearing sort of way) and also rather goofy even if he doesn’t intend to be…there was some article recently that said after he retires he wants to get pet rabbits.  Again with the rabbits?  That’s some serious attachment to his childhood right there…but then again, it’s something I can relate to as well.  After all, I have an affinity for koalas which can  only be explained by the first toy my parents ever bought for me, a Pot Belly koala, which I aptly named, Koala (and still have to this day, even though they were recalled…way to go mom and dad).  I was devastated when I read an article maybe a week or two ago that said koalas could be extinct in thirty or so years.

At any rate, not only did I like Acosta’s youthful exuberance, he also got some opportunities to show off some very precise batterie, which normally he doesn’t get to do much of.  Sure he gets to do entrechats, but not so much with the other jeté battus and brisés, because the roles he’s in usually has him doing the pirouettes, double tours, huge leaps etc.  Which of course, he does throughout La Fille as well, but his beats are so  exceptional, I think his bottle dance was the best I’ve ever seen…between two that is, but I’m still speaking the truth.  He just shines and seemed really invested in the role of Colas, even if he mentioned in his book that the he was horrified by the banana yellow tights, which were, in my humble opinion, more of a mustard or ochre.  La Fille is one of those ballets though that makes me wonder if it is as much fun to do as it is to watch.  The dancers seem to be having a good time, but when you rehearse it into the ground and it becomes work, can it still be fun to perform?  I would hope so, but through my trolling of the internet I once came upon a ballet forum where dancers discussed in a thread the ballet music they were sick of, and a couple even mentioned Grand Tarantelle (the music for Balanchine’s Tarantella) which was blasphemous to me, because I love that song.  How can anyone get sick of a good tarantella?  I listen to it like ten times a day and it never gets old.

For me, Le Fille mal gardée will probably never get old either.  Royal Ballet is doing it later this season and if all goes according to plan and I win the lottery, I’m totally going to go.  I’m thinking Alina Cojocaru?

Anywhodle, Nuñez/Acosta’s La Fille mal gardée is on YouTube, in its entirety and in FANTASTIC quality, so it’s definitely worth the watch.  Of course, I would recommend adding it to your personal collection so you can watch it sans interruptions and buffering time!

Part 1 (click the channel to watch the rest) 

And just for kicks, Part 8 because it’s the grand pas de deux.  If you’re going to watch anything, watch this:

Don Qonfused

2 Nov

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

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

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

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

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

He has a nephew?!?

22 Sep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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