Tag Archives: cash cow

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, First Half

17 Nov

So today I watched a DVD of the 1981 Royal Ballet production (as if one could settle for another!) of La Fille mal gardée and because I’m totally into this giving ballets my own personal epithet, and I’m going to say La Fille mal gardée is the chocolate chip cookie ballet, which is easier for me to say because I’m not even sure how to pronounce it.  Despite the fact that I can do a pretty convincing French accent (I was a parrot in a past life, I’m sure of it), I have no idea as to how one actually speaks French.  But that’s not really my problem.  At any rate, I dub it the chocolate chip cookie ballet because of its accessibility and overall delightfulness.  If you had a friend who didn’t know a thing about ballet, and I mean absolutely nothing, it would be the perfect ballet to take them to go see.  It’s even more accessible than The Nutcracker cash cow in my opinion.  Sir Ashton’s choreography really put storytelling in its simplest form, and there’s nothing to understand or interpret for yourself because everything is understandable.  Its impossible to watch without a smile on your face and it just makes you feel good.  Like a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie right out of the oven…you know, when the chocolate is melty and the cookie is warm and pliant in your hands…yeah that’s right.  And the world breathed a collective “mmm.”

This was actually the first full length Ashton work I’ve watched, and only the second complete ballet (Symphonic Variations being the first).  I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the versatility in his choreography because I never would have guessed that Symphonic Variations and La Fille mal gardée were by the same person.  Symphonic Variations is more elegant and halcyon, while La Fille is utterly charming.  In fact, I’m pretty sure charming is the only word that can describe it.  Libretto?  Charming.  Score?  Charming.  Choreography?  Ridiculously charming.  It’s interesting that the libretto isn’t particularly complicated (girl loves boy, mother opposes, tries to set girl up with Mr. Moneybags’ son, but after some tomfoolery true love wins in the end), but Ashton has a way of sustaining your attention.  Not event he squirreliest of attention spans will be able to wander away from this ballet, because there is never a dull moment.

There were so many unexpected moments in the choreography that I loved, like when Lise (girl) is upset when Simone (mother) locks her in the house to keep her away from Colas (boy).  Lise sits on the couch pouting, alternating her feet in tendu.  Who would have thought of that?  Well Ashton did, and it just works.  Everything about his choreography in the ballet just works, and is always interesting.  Even the corps gets some top-notch steps, although I nearly gagged when they did a flighty petite allegro in the first act that included a few temps de cuisse, or as I like to call them…well, truthfully I don’t have a clever nickname for them but I should because they’re hellish and always mess me up.  It’s not my fault the step was invented although when I find out who created it, I’m going to kick him in the shins.  Personal issues aside, I enjoyed some of the more unusual choreography as well, like when Colas appears in the upper part of a door, picks Lise up and she hangs there until he sets her down and then goes on to assist her in a promenade in attitude, holding her hand from above.  And of course Alain (boy Lise doesn’t want to marry) with his wacky, distinct movement style will have anyone and everyone chuckling.  Lise may not want to marry him, but he’s such a lovable character.

I have to say that one of the things that really impressed me about the ballet was how Ashton staged the theatrical elements.  Not many ballets have dancers dress in full animal costumes like the chickens in this one (although later on there’s a real live pony brought on stage…interesting choice to mix live animals and costumed dancers), or a man cross dress as an old biddy (Simone is danced by a man), but it really adds a fun dimension to the production as a whole.  However, probably the most interesting aspect of this ballet was Ashton’s use of props.  There’s the ribbon pas de deux between Lise and Colas where they’re dancing with a long pink ribbon, spinning in and out of it, looping it around each other and before you know it, they’re engulfed in an oversized game of cat’s cradle.  And I mean that literally…at one point, they make a design with the ribbon that is shown to the audience and is sure to garner applause.  The ribbon motif is repeated later in a dance by the corps that frames the main duo, and at one point Lise is perched in an attitude on pointe, holding onto several ribbons that radiate outward like a maypole, and at each end is a corps member orbiting her, which causes her to slowly turn.  And then there’s an actual maypole dance where the corps dance in and out of each other to weaving the ribbons.  I was under the impression that people just ran around the pole and the ribbons would spiral downward and had no idea that it was so intricate, so that was neat to see.  And there were clever things like Lise’s series of echappés and sous-sous while she churned butter or Alain dancing with his beloved red umbrella.  A lot of great work with props that I don’t think has ever been so evident in other ballets.  Like scythes and bushels of wheat…Colas actually sneaks into the house hidden in some of those bushels of wheat, and when he sprung out I was so startled I swore out loud.  Good thing I didn’t see this one live or I could have burned some children’s ears.

Overall, this production was wonderful, and I loved Lesley Collier as Lise.  She was darling, and had a really crisp arabesque line.  She wasn’t trying to hike her leg up in an overly indulgent, contorted arabesque, but would take the simplest path and get there.  Her arabesques were always so square and spot on, and I loved the efficiency of her movement (trademark Royal Ballet for you).  Just a short clip on YouTube, however, I noticed that someone uploaded the more recent filming of La Fille with Carlos Acosta and Marianela Nuñez (Royal Ballet again, obviously), so I think I’m going to watch that for Wednesday night’s blog and do a comparison.  Mostly for me, so I can figure out which one I’ll add to the Amazon wishlist, but as always, you’re free to read.  I won’t stop you.

Things to look forward to

26 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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