Tag Archives: chocolate chip cookies

The Human Aquarium

10 Dec

I’ve had this lingering Ashton after taste for a while, even though I haven’t watched an Ashton work in weeks.  For whatever reason, it’s fresh in my mind and despite the fact that I’m anxious to watch the DVD of his The Tales of Beatrix Potter that I just got from the library, I was getting the feeling that watching another Ashton work would drive me insane.  Nothing wrong with his ballets (obviously), but I need variety to survive.  For me it’s not the spice of life; it’s the chocolate chips to my cookie.  Life is worthless without variety.

Being in the funk that I was, I decided to take my first step into the world of Wayne McGregor, resident choreographer for the Royal Ballet.  Back when I went to see Manon at the beginning of the summer, his work Chroma was featured as a part of a triple bill that the Royal Ballet was also touring.  Between the two I chose Manon because of Carlos Acosta, but the playbill for the Royal Ballet featured a photo from Chroma and the image is kind of burned into the recesses of me brain.  Since then, I’ve categorized Chroma as “the one that got away,” because I had the opportunity to see it, but neither the knowledge nor the money.  Accordingly (and because my life hates me), it still eludes me because McGregor ballets haven’t been released on DVD as far as I know, but Infra, another one of his works is available in full on YouTube.  Okay, so maybe life doesn’t hate me after all.

After watching a brief interview with McGregor in a video by the Royal Opera House (who maintain an excellent presence on YouTube, Twitter and now iTunes), I had a sinking feeling I was in trouble.  His piece is about “inferences” and “human relationships” and I hate to say it, but I get a little annoyed when choreographers say that their dances are about “human relationships,” because that is the vaguest answer in the entire world.  I don’t have a problem with viewing a dance as a work of art and deciding for myself what I get out of the piece, but when I hear “human relationships” I can’t help but lose a sense of…something.  I can’t put my finger on it, but somehow dances inspired by human relationships fall into a certain abyss in my mind.  It’s not that I didn’t see or that I don’t understand human relationships in Infra, I just don’t see them the way McGregor does.  As usual, I blame the Aries in me…we don’t like to beat around the bush and inferences are often seen as a waste of time when one can head butt the source.  Crude, but true.

What I found interesting about Infra was that it has a lot of itsy-bitsy movements and explored the body in different ways, and although the dancers rely on their grounding in ballet technique, the overall piece lacked shapes.  To me, a leg extension or arabesque has a certain shape and a resulting aura, which was completely deconstructed and thus absent in Infra.  I’m fascinated by McGregor’s ability to create ballet without shapes, when those very shapes are what I typically see, almost as if his choreography is the absence of whatever it is that defines the art to my eyes.  Fascinating and a little disconcerting, because it almost felt overloaded with little detailed movements.  It’s kind of like staring at a tapestry and trying to count each individually woven stitch, thus losing sight of the bigger picture.  However, in Infra there really is no bigger picture, and only a few subtle changes of mood to inform us that there is a sense of passing time in the piece.  But maybe the point is we should take the time to stare at the stitches in a tapestry from time to time, just to see what’s there.  There’s a moment in Infra where a bunch of people are walking across the stage and one dancer (I don’t know who…I’m still unfamiliar with who’s who in the Royal Ballet.  I only recognized Edward Watson, who is pretty hard to miss!), breaks down and is grief-stricken.  Nobody knows why she’s crying, and the people on stage certainly don’t give a damn, but that’s one of those details that is lost when we don’t take the time to look.

Another interesting moment was one section in the middle where there are a few rectangular spotlights on the stage, neatly arranged in a row with each rectangle containing a duo of a male and female dancer, doing their own phrases of movement which occasionally coincided with another couple’s.  It reminded me of looking at an office building at night, and seeing people at work in the windows, and judging by the fact that during the credits an office building with workers in windows, I think that’s what’s being inferred (Aha!  I got an inference!  Victory!).  The whole piece has a pedestrian quality to it, obviously because of the backdrop with the LED figures walking on a street.  The piece’s structure reminded me of Cunningham’s Biped, although the color (literally and figuratively) of each piece was different.  Biped was more multi-dimensional while Infra, although not really a narrative was linear…ish.  Obviously the effect was different as well, as I was getting this “human aquarium” vibe from Infra.  Like, you’re watching and you can see people/fish communicating with each other, doing things, or being on their own and you can only “infer” what they might be saying.  Sometimes when I go to an aquarium I like to make up a conversation between the fish, like “hey, those fins make you look fat” but that wasn’t appropriate for this piece.

At any rate, I’m a little ambivalent with Infra.  I could see beauty in it, but it wasn’t a beauty that moved me or produces some intense reaction to it.  After I sort of gave in to just letting myself experience it, without looking for anything in particular it had a sort of soothing quality that aquariums have.  And sometimes I like to brainlessly stare at aquariums with no purpose.

Without further ado, Infra (in three parts), for your viewing pleasure (or not…it’s nobody’s fault if you don’t like 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.