Tag Archives: Cuba

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:

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.

More on Manon

19 Jul

It’s been almost a month since I saw the Royal Ballet do Manon in DC, but I’m still kind of basking in the afterglow.  This is encouraged by the fact that the RB just wrapped up a historic stint in Cuba, as that was their maiden voyage to Cuba and they are the first major ballet company to perform there since the Bolshoi, which was 30ish years ago.  Oh and there is that guy…Carlos whatshisface who’s only making his debut in his home country where ballet is somewhat respected.  And what I really mean by that is according to theballetbag on twitter, the Cubans are crazier than the Japanese fans.  And trust me when I say the Japanese put the fan in fanatic.  They love their girly-girl princess stuff like ballet and figure skating, and I actually went to the figure skating world championships when they were in Tokyo in 2007 (I was living in Tokyo at the time) and can confirm that the fans were certifiably nuts.  But mainstream popularity is good (NHK, one of their major networks regularly shows ballet competitions and documentaries…can you imagine if NBC did the same?) so long as the stars are safe.  In fact, Marcelo Gomes of ABT fame has a Japanese stalker who travels to see him perform, but he seems to appreciate that he was able to touch her with his dancing.  Meanwhile, I read about Marcelo in “The Advocate” and if I know Japan like I do, stalker lady has a blissful relationship with that river in Egypt if you know what I’m sayin.

Anyway, RB did Manon in Havana, of course starring Tamara Rojo and Carlos Acosta (by the way, what is it with the weird nicknames fans give him?  The ‘Flying Cuban’, the ‘Beast of Ballet’ and my personal favorite the ‘Cuban Sex Missile’), and I reflect fondly upon my experiences as an audience member.  I didn’t realize at the time how much I loved the score, and now that I do, I can’t get over how exquisite it is.  I was kind of biased when I saw it because I was confusing Jules Massenet with Jules Mouquet; both composers with the latter having written a piece I once played entitled “La Flute de Pan,” which quite frankly is kind of sheety.  This is why I so often second guess myself though, because half the time I have no idea what I’m talking about.  Jules Massenet on the other hand, does happen to be the composer of one of my favorite pieces of music, Meditation from his opera Thais.  This is a part of my “relaxing music” playlist that soothes the inner beast.  It’s also known in the ballet world for a pas de deux choreographed to it by Roland Petit, as well as track 16 on the CD “Ballet Technique.”  Have I digressed?  Anyway, Massenet is massively fabulous and I am now dying to get my hands on a CD of the score.

In other news, does anyone even know how “Manon” is actually pronounced?  Is it MA-non or ma-NON?  Every time I talk about it with people it seems like they say the opposite of what I say, and I end up feeing stupid, but even Tamara and Carlos don’t seem to agree, as seen in this studio footage and interview released by Royal Opera House:

I really loved hearing what Tamara had to say about Manon…I find her insightful in such a way that tells me this kind of ballet is right for her, as opposed to the flashy classics.  A lot of youtube commenters complain about her being a little stone-faced as a Kitri, and maybe Don Q isn’t the best role for her, but every dancer has their niche (although if you watch her do Don Q, there’s one video where she does triple fouettes while manipulating a fan.  MAD skills people…MAD skills).  The following was broadcasted on NHK (told you the Japanese love their ballet!) and she tells us more with an oh so subtle dig at the Soviets. (the brief statement in Japanese in the middle I can translate for you…the narrator just says “Act I: The Bedroom Pas de Deux.  Des Grieux and Manon express their deep, burning love for each other)

So I’ve been on this youtube kick to find as much footage from Manon as I can, and I already posted the bedroom pas de deux in my initial review (in “The Royal Ballet kicks royal Boo-tay“), and have now found a video of Carlos performing one of the “mandagges” I was talking about in addition to the pas de deux they’re rehearsing from the footage I posted above.  I think that one might be my favorite, and certainly the music is choice as that’s probably my favorite melody in the ballet.  Meanwhile, if you read my review, you may also recall that Tamara has the most freakishly flexible feet, and if you would like to see for yourself, pause the following video at 3:52 and take a moment…and consider what it is you’re really looking at.  Take another moment if you must…it’s a lot to process.  But she sure knows how to use them.

And now…a video of the SWAMP pas de deux.  The climactic, tragedrama ending, which still gives me goose bumps, unlike the person who left a comment on this youtube video.  (By the way, why is it that people who comment on ballet videos are some of the most toxic, vicious and overly critical people out there?  To call Tamara boring is just nasty.  Not even my dad, who knows zilch about ballet was bored, and tell the woman 2 seats down from me who was sobbing hysterically that Tamara was boring.  Mm hmm!)

There’s also a part 2 to the above clip, but it’s just the curtain call.

So, my little chicken pot pies, Manon was truly an epiphanous revelatory “eureka!” moment for me, because it completely changed the way I look at ballet.  I’m actually kind of mad at myself for having initially been more excited to see the Bolshoi do Le Corsaire, but aren’t the best moments in life the unexpected ones?  I mean hello, I still can’t stop thinking about the whole experience, and am dying for it to be released on DVD soon.  So to close, I give you a trailerish clip, where you can see more of the RB’s fabulous corps, lots of comedic moments (including a lot of slapping), and a bit from the “drunken variation.”  Not to mention the third act when Manon is sold into prostitution…reminds me of the little girl in the audience who after reading the program asked her parents “what’s a prostitute?” (or “prostie” for short, for anyone who happens to be a trendy Australian)  And there goes the prize for the most awkward question ever…bet they wished they were at the Nutcracker instead.  Oh the scandalosity! 

I’ll attitude your pirouette and raise you a venga!

15 Jun

Today marks the inaugural day of the Columbus Summer Dance Festival, TWO THOUSAND AND NINE.  And in the name of Billy Elliot, it is a RELIEF to be dancing again.  One week off and already my battus are not battu-ing.  Although it may just have been the fact that the petite allegro included a series of assemblé battu and brisé, which quite frankly is just unfair. It’s like asking someone to make 2 bacon cheeseburgers for every 8 regular cheeseburgers.  Meanwhile, thankfully it appears as though my leg muscle that I tweaked has healed, as it actually functions now instead of dying every time I try to lift it in second.  But what a glorious day for dance…beautiful weather that I can easily admire from my perch at the barre by the window.

The ballet teacher for the festival is Marden Ramos, who studied in Cuba and has this long and exhausting résumé, as all accomplished dancers do and should.  Anyway, the inside scoop on ballet in Cuba is that they’re very Russian about it, meaning a barrage of turns and jumps.  Although in Cuba, since it’s apparently 85 million degrees there they don’t need as much at the barre to warm-up.  He’s a pretty intense (not in a bad way…it’s not like he slapped our wrists with a ruler like a cranky Russian might do) and passionate teacher, and quite different from other teachers I’ve had before.  Don’t get me wrong, all the teachers I’ve previously had of course love their art too, but they express it differently and in class are still mindful of technique, maintaining proper placement, and carry themselves with an elegant demeanor (with the exception of Yen Fang, who despite her lovely leg line and posture, swears like a sailor.  An angry sailor).  It’s a nice change of pace though, to just keep moving and forget about the finer details.

I will say though, that like Russia, Cuba must be big on forcing turnout, since he totally came up to me while in a tendu using my left leg (my stupid leg), and wrenched it around until it was turned out more.  I remain uninjured, but it was an eyebrow-raising moment, for I am delicate and frail like a tree branch in the dead of winter.  Gangly too.  But maybe I should force the issue a microscopic bit, since I so often have the tendency in life to back down instead of taking something to the limit, so perhaps it’s time to dig deep and will those hips to shake off the years of a sedentary lifestyle and open sesame.

So you know how I once said every dancer should have their “go-to move,” something they do better than most, and with relative ease?  His is the pirouette en attitude en dedans.  It appeared in several combinations, and even when they didn’t he would demonstrate it (I’m not entirely sure what the connection was).  Clearly, it’s his favorite move.  And he was all “Venga! Venga!” (Spanish for something I’m sure), so his excitement for that particular move was rather amusing.  Actually he inserted quite a bit of Spanish throughout class, even though most of the students don’t speak it, but as someone well versed in the ways of pretending to know what’s going on when there are language barriers, I didn’t mind.  Without that skill, I’d seriously be lost in the middle of nowhere China (aka Guiyang) surviving on spicy chicken heads and fried bugs, or still crying in some train station in Tokyo with only the homeless to console me.

The point is, I want to be good at attitude turns, and I have till Thursday to extract whatever he’s doing to make them work, and ideally make them work for me too.  Venga, venga!

A few days may not be so much time to achieve such a feat, and yet taking a mere week off left me a jellowy mess.  Seriously, my brain probably exploded somewhere around degagé, and by the end I was spazzing during the petite allegro and tripping over my feet during the grande allegro.  Yup.  The floor was slippery?  (On a serious note, what is SERIOUSLY up with Sullivant Hall’s floors during the summer?!  They become frictionless death traps!).  If you can imagine throwing a fossilized Gumby figurine down a flight of stairs, I’m pretty sure that’s what I looked like today.  But as is the mantra of this blog, some days you just have to dust yourself off, let out a hearty laugh it and remind yourself “I dance funny.”

BOLSHOI ON FRIDAY! VENGA VENGA!