Tag Archives: cruel and unusual punishment

Story of my life…

27 Jan

I recently had a viewing of the new Manon DVD with Karena.  No worries, this post will not be a review as I’ve already reviewed a live performance with the same cast…as much as I’d love to rave about Tamara Rojo again and again, I think to do so would be approaching…overkill.  I will say though that she gives incredibly insightful remarks in a pretty in depth interview, which is totally worth it.  Anyway, aside from the fact that the costume budget is approximately eighty-five million dollars, I mentioned to Karena that MacMillan gave the corps some really great choreography, but then of course there’s the party scene at the inn and during Manon’s variation the corps has to freeze.  For whatever reason I noticed one corps member with her arm up, holding a goblet and it occurred to me it would really suck to be her and have your arm go numb.  That’s when Karena told me about Jerome Bel’s piece, Veronique Doisneau.

I’m sure many are familiar with it and I’m just behind the times, but in brief, he basically plucked one of the members of the corps de ballet in the twilight of her career (obviously, Veronique Doisneau) and created a piece, a sort of theatrical monologue with dance interspersed throughout.  The piece describes her life in many facets, including the good, the bad and the ugly.  She describes a highlight being dancing the second shade variation from La Bayadère, which coincidentally I stumbled upon the sheet music for flute one day (flautists only!) and musically I enjoy it probably the most of the three variations, but in terms of choreography the diagonal at the end of the relevé elancé in first arabesque seems like cruel and unusual punishment.  However, she speaks of it lovingly, as if it were a dear friend and the whole monologue was sort of painted with melancholy.  When it was filmed, she was a mere eight days away from retirement so the melancholy is to be expected, but I also got a sense of relief from the way she spoke, a sort of calm that said she had made peace with her decision to retire (although whether she wanted to retire or was told to is anyone’s guess).

On the opposite end of the spectrum she shows us a low moment, which happens to be one of the most iconic scenes in classical ballet, the pas de deux between Siegfried and Odette from Swan Lake.  The corps has some…well, unfortunate choreography with a lot of standing around and while we appreciate the spectacle, it’s rough to see an individual corps member perform her piece of the puzzle.  Doisneau said it made her want to scream and you can see why…it was painful to watch.  Even when she finished and the audience applauds, she maintains her pose to remind us that if it were the actual ballet, we would be applauding the principals in their roles and rarely with an afterthought for the corps.  I don’t think she was bitter about her role in the ballet and didn’t seem to be asking for sympathy…she was merely telling and showing her side of the story, asking us to listen.

The whole piece is incredibly intimate and colored with more difficult moments than happy ones, like when she had surgery to remove a vertebrae from her back (which I didn’t even know was possible so the fact that she ever danced again is like ‘holy smokes!’) and never fulfilling her dream of dancing the title role in Giselle.  But like I said before, it never seemed like she was asking for sympathy…merely putting on display her personal challenges with the understanding that everyone has crap that they go through.  Of course I was a little saddened, but I couldn’t help but feel thankful that she was willing to perform the story of her life so beautifully and courageously…it felt (and was) real.  No gimmicks, no angles, just her life.

It makes one (well, me) wonder what goes into telling the story of your life through spoken word and dance…after all, Doisneau said that Nureyev taught her “it is through the mastery of the language of dance that emotion is created.” (which I whole heartedly agree with…I honestly don’t know how I lived before dancing myself…I’m not even sure I was alive.)  A couple of years ago, the dance critic, author and choreographer Deborah Jowitt gave a speech at OSU that I was fortunate enough to attend and she did a similar piece where she kind of told some of her history through word and movement.  I don’t remember details of the piece (although I do believe she wore jazz sneakers) but I do remember it had a much different tone to it…a bit cheerier, but she is of course a different person at a different point in her life so obviously her piece was its own unique entity.  It does make one (well, me again) wonder though, how would I go about creating a piece like that or what if like Douisneau, someone wanted to create such a piece on me?  Well, terror would probably describe my initial reaction because I could never imagine myself performing such a deeply personal work as a solo in front of an audience but when I do try to picture it in my head it ends up looking more like a stand up routine by a comedien.  C’est la vie?

I think that’s why I admire Douisneau’s courage so much but I think there are so many ways to relate to her I can’t imagine someone not being able to.  Although I can’t quite articulate it, there’s something to be said for learning to care about someone who is not in the upper echelon of whatever it is they do (although corps member of Paris Opera Ballet is pretty fantastic!).  It’s odd that in our society we look for ways to “humanize” the stars by pointing out the “average” things they do and yet we forget to humanize all different kinds of people as well.  I don’t know if I’m making sense and as I reread these last few sentences I don’t think I did…but what I do know is that the filling makes the pie…not the crust.

It is in your best interest to watch this piece (in four parts), I assure you:

Off topic, but kind of on the topic of Paris Opera Ballet…I have to jump a little in excitement (but not too much because I’m nursing an injured hip) because I have a number of things to look forward to in the beginning of February.  La Danse airs at the Wexner Center on February 6th, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (which I forgot to buy a ticket for…eek!) is on the 12th and the performances of Karena’s MFA project runs that same weekend, which includes romantic ballet works like a Fanny Elssler solo (La…Chupacabra?) and an Antony Tudor piece (Dark Elegies).  So…looking forward and not backward on this miserable month of January.  Now…to find a way to get rid of the snow…