Tag Archives: ellen degeneres

Bournonville’s Sylph = Baltic amber

13 Nov

So I’ve been missing in action this week, and this may or may not be my only entry (but it’s a good one!).  After all, when your two best friends are in town, you gotta do what you gotta do (which for us, means eating a lot of tasty treats and taking pictures of ourselves in this wooden cutout of prairie dogs at the Columbus zoo…among other perfectly normal things).  And what I gotta do is play!  Ellen DeGeneres was on Oprah recently, and one thing she said that I absolutely loved and whole heartedly agree with was that “everybody stops playing when they get older.”  It’s so applicable to dance as well…I think that one should be able to go into a studio, at any age, laugh, have a good time and make the studio your happy place.  I know I do, and it’s pretty easy if you’ve had teachers like a Karen Eliot (if that’s her real name), who always manages to make me laugh.  I also think nurturing the inner child is what delights ballet audiences and brings us back again and again.  Some stick in the mud pragmatic adult would convince themselves to spend the money on other things or that ballet is for dreamers, while we dance audiences can barely wait until the next show and never cease to be amused by the ethereal.  So brava dance fans…you’re doing wonderful things for your inner child.

Anywhodle, I just finished watching The Royal Danish Ballet’s production of La Sylphide, choreographed by August Bournonville.  All I can say is, I immediately added this one to my amazon.com wish list.  It’s a gem…Baltic amber if you will recall (because amber perfectly preserves a plant or creature inside of it, blah blah blah while other ballets are fossils that only offer traces of what once existed, blah blah blah, I’m a paleontology geek, and that’s the metaphor that works for me.  I nurture my inner child via dance and dinosaur bones).  I will say that I might like the score for the original La Sylphide better, but Herman Løvenskiold’s quite wonderful as well.  Maybe you get what you paid for, and it’s not that I disliked Løvenskiold’s score, just musically I’m pretty sure I liked the other one better.  Bournonville’s Sylphide wins everything else though, and the score may have even worked against Lacotte.  For one thing, Bournonville’s Sylphide is just over an hour while Lacotte had roughly an additional half an hour.  Now having watched Bournonville’s, and how he decided to interpret the libretto, I almost feel like Lacotte didn’t know what to do with the extra thirty minutes.  I’ll chalk it up to poor time management skills because he crammed Gurn and Effie’s “engagement” into the first act as an afterthought, while Bournonville placed a significant exchange with Madge in the second act, which to me gave Effie and Gurn’s relationship (as well as the character of Gurn himself) much more significance.  Even the procession is brought downstage, right in front of James, rather than being distant in the background, which for lack of a better term was totally rubbing it in his face.  It makes his devastation over having lost both the Sylph and Effie more believable.

Lacotte’s costuming was an eye sore too.  The bright red and sky blue plaids were bizarre, and The Royal Danish Ballet’s plaids were predominantly the typical reds, greens and yellows, with the shades being earthier and not so crayon-ish.  Reminds me of my days as the assistant stage manager for my high school’s production of Brigadoon, sifting through our massive costumes closet with the costumes crew, looking for plaids and kilts…it was a lot of dust and a lot of sneezing.  But I digress (although on the topic of costuming, I also liked Effie’s pigtails, because I am a proponent of pigtails for no logical reason, but then later on when it was revealed to be this odd bun plus pigtails hybrid contraption I was unnerved).  It’s weird to look back at the Lacotte Sylphide now, because I thought it was perfectly lovely at the time, but now there’s just so much that doesn’t make sense…like the whole pas de trois with James, Effie and the Sylph.  Bournonville’s Sylph has more nerve and sort of flits in and out when the characters besides James have their backs turned, but Lacotte’s inclusion of the Sylph in that pas de trois makes things confusing, as if to say James was hallucinating because he had the most epic case of cold feet ever, which doesn’t fall in line with the libretto at all.

I liked the portrayal of Madge a lot more in Bournonville’s Sylphide…she wasn’t so crone-ish.  Sorella Englund was fantastic, and she made this hilarious face at James when she’s telling him to hide the “scarf of doom” from the Sylph that actually made me snort from laughing (that and the moment when Gurn falls on his bum when the chair is pulled out from beneath him…totally didn’t see that one coming.  Oh, early 19th century humor.)  Lis Jeppesen was a gorgeous Sylph, and she has this wonderfully open chest, or as friend Svetlana would say, a “beautiful bony sternum” (man, I need to figure out how to get one of those!).  One thing I really noticed, and I’m not entirely sure if it was part of the choreography itself or the Bournonville style was how creamy the port de bras of all the Sylphs were.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen such soft arm movements, and it really added to the spritely, floating quality of the Sylphs, and sharply contrasted the rigidity of Jeppesen’s arms at the end during her death scene.  It wasn’t some romanticized, lyrical death like a swan a la Fokine, but a butterfly’s final twitches before it dies.  I felt Jeppesen’s interpretation of the Sylph to be much more indicative of an otherworldly fairy, while Lacotte’s choreography had Dupont looking more like a shy, tentative child.  Nikolaj Hübbe was…flawless (and quite handsome) as James, and there was this wonderful moment in the second act, where he’s walking amongst the Sylphs, and he had this fascination like a child in the summertime, walking amongst fireflies.  Of course his dancing was superb, with such clean batterie and quick, articulate legs and feet.  I almost think Bournonville saw legs as being equal to arms; the same speed and control with which we can maneuver are arms should be possible with the legs.

I actually got a chance (thanks to Karena) to have a go at Bournonville petite allegros, and I have to say they were among the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in ballet.  If there’s ever an argument for muscle memory, Bournonville allegros would be it, because there is no way you can think your way through them; your body has to KNOW them.  Otherwise, you get lost and you’re screwed.  There were so many quick changes of facings, like a mini tour jeté in the opposite direction that you wouldn’t naturally think of, lots of little transition steps that required precision, and of course little tippity-dips and shooby-doos with beats and whatnot.  The sensation of doing Bournonville allegros can be likened to being thrown into a cotton candy machine…it’s sweet, light and fluffy, but you’re just kind of along for the ride.  You’re not in control of your own body (your mind is definitely not in control), but in some ways that almost feels more like…dancing.  Because your body is just doing it, and once it knows how, you’re free to dance with your face and add the icing.

So this DVD is a must, and although the full version isn’t on YouTube there are some really interesting videos like one of Ellen Price dancing the opening variation in 1903!  It really is incredible that the choreography is exactly the same, and delightful as ever.

Another video of note that I found particularly moving was Erik Bruhn and Carla Fracci.  Bruhn, I think I read somewhere is said to be one of the greatest James of all time, although there is no full length recording of him in the ballet, just the grand pas de deux.  They left me speechless.  Must. See. More. Erik Bruhn.

And lastly, just for fun, current Royal Ballet principal Johan Kobborg, as Madge.  Why?  Because he’s awesome, and cross-dressing in ballet is fantastic. 

Mash-up: A dance version of Glee?

21 Oct

On Monday I started doing pilates again, and it was rough.  I had been doing them every day for a long time, progressed to more advanced exercises, and then after a vacation just couldn’t get back into it.  So there I was, almost eleven months later, starting all over from scratch with the beginner exercises.  It was sad…I’m so weak, so out of shape, and I was annoyed with myself.  But it’s one of those things where you just have to start again and stick with it, because if you obsess over where you used to be, you’re not going to want to try.  At least it was better than the very first time I did pilates, when I REALLY couldn’t do anything.  Things will come back faster, and interestingly enough I think parts of my core that were dormant have been reawakened.  I tried pirouettes just for funsies, and managed okay triples on both sides.  Given, I was wearing socks on a shiny hardwood floor, but I’ll take it!  There was one 3.5 that even stayed on relevé, so I think this is my body’s way of telling me to work out before it deteriorates completely.  Little gifts like triple pirouettes are only a taste of what’s to come, it promises.

Anyway, today is Wednesday, which for me, is ALL about Glee.  It’s no secret that I am completely obsessed with this show, and to a potentially unhealthy degree.  I guess in some ways it’s what I wish my high school experience was like.  Although I was (and never will be) no singer, I was involved in the geekier stuff like band and theatre that attracted bullying and teasing like a cows to an alien tractor beam.  I don’t know if this show will have any lasting effect on that, but it is my greatest hope that someday, something will change the minds of young people who think it’s acceptable to make fun of others based on what they’re passionate about.  I didn’t choose my talents and it was difficult for me to understand why people were so intent on being merciless towards me.  My senior year I was one of the best flute players in the school, and I was constantly mocked for that and many other reasons (being a minority, effeminate, skinny and unathletic…I was the TRIPLE bullseye).  I know what it’s like to be a Rachel or a Kurt (Kurchel?)…to have talents and a personality that few seemed to appreciate and although I never had a slushie thrown in my face I had plenty of cruelties tossed my way.  I’d be lying if I said it didn’t affect me…on the one hand, putting up with all that crap made me headstrong (maaaaaybe stubborn), but I still have plenty of insecurities.  But this can also be attributed to my zodiacs…the Aries in me always says “GO FOR IT!” but those who are born in the Year of the Rat with wood as their element are incredibly insecure people.  It’s a strange dynamic that I have to go through just to make decisions.

It wasn’t until I started dancing (and this was towards the end of university mind you!) that the repair process even began.  It was through dance that I finally started to appreciate the person I am, regardless of whether other people did or not.  This is why I love dance more than life itself and Glee almost as much as I love dance.  However, as much as I love both, I can’t see them mixing very well.  I don’t think a dance version of Glee would work out, for a couple of reasons.  First, being on the dance team doesn’t qualify as geeky.  Second, and the most important, is that people who sing can come from many different backgrounds, which is the same in dance, but with singing, the uniting force is language, and the spoken (er…sung?) word.  We’re trained as soon as we can make any kind of sound from our mouths to speak a language.  However, the common element between all the different dance forms is movement, which despite being the realm of exploration for modern, is much more obscure because most of us aren’t taught to “speak movement” so intensively.  This is why I feel an appreciation for dance is so necessary for a healthy, balanced life.  Just as one should know how to read, so should they know how to observe communication through dance.  It’s no wonder people often show up to their first dance class, a completely insecure wreck, because they’re so out of touch with their bodies.  Dance/movement training should be incorporated a lot more into schools methinks…I went to public school and we never had anything like that.  But dance education is a completely different beast, for another day.

Listen to what the cast of Glee had to say about their first dance experiences:

This begs the question though of why is dance so invisible in mainstream media?  Why is it reduced to the occasional, poorly done stereotype?  It was interesting to me that ballet and New York are kind of synonymous, and yet Veronika Part’s appearance on Letterman just a few months ago was the FIRST time they’ve ever had a ballet dancer.  WHAT?!?  Really??  We get a few movies here and there, most of them being terrible…why is it so difficult to have a compelling plot involving dance in a movie?  Or why aren’t there any television shows where characters are dancers?  And if there are, why are they always portrayed a certain way?  You know what I mean, there are exaggerated stereotypes, as if being a dancer prevents you from being a socially adjusted human being…like this one episode of Will and Grace where Will was dating a dancer, who said something like “I did a rond de jambe when I meant to grand jeté it was so embarrassing.”  First of all, there is no possible way to make that mistake, and there’s no way a dancer would say that to someone who had no idea what those terms meant.  Boo on you writers, for crossing your fingers and hoping the technical jargon would suffice.  Or how about when that character shows up at Will’s apartment decked in full Nutcracker makeup, jumping up and down at the door, and later on balancés down the sidewalk to catch snowflakes on his tongue.  Professional dancers don’t do that (unless they intend to)!  I do that!  And only because I’m trying to be funny, not because I’m crazy.

It’s about time dance got some decent exposure on television, for what it truly is.  Not as background for music videos, “reality” shows or B-movies.  I wish there was a talk show that invited dancers, choreographers, artistic directors etc. to be interviewed and  allowed audiences to get to know them as people as well as find out more about their upcoming projects.  Kind of like Actor’s Studio, or even better, something laid back like Ellen DeGeneres’ show…and the host should be me because I could use a job.  I’m interested in everything dance, so why not?  Except butoh…sorry, won’t do that again.

And just for fun, Kurt…because we love Kurt.