Tag Archives: entrechat six

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “New/Old” Giselle

5 Jun

I feel very distraught over blogging about Pacific Northwest Ballet’s world premiere staging of Giselle, because it’s such a beloved ballet and this isn’t just a run-of-the-mill production unique to a particular company—a lot of scholarly work went into it to the point of warranting a presentation at the Guggenheim. Furthermore, it’s the star attraction for the Dance Critics Association Conference this year, which is focusing on the topic of reconstruction, which means there are a lot of people who will be here next weekend discussing things it in intelligent ways. In the face of tremendous pressure, I can only arm myself with the fortitude gained from half a dozen Snickers ice cream bars.

As far as the academic approach is concerned, I think PNB did an excellent job of providing educational materials for the audience. The program is chock full of information, including the libretto, program notes, a historical timeline of Giselle, a three page article with photos of the original Titus, Justapant, and Stepanov manuscripts, and a breakdown of the score and sources of choreography (which is a mish-mash of the above three with interpolations by Peter Boal). It was almost too much information, even for me, who has interest in such fine details. However, one of the cooler things was the ‘Mime Guide,’ which had illustrations of many of the gestures used throughout. Here is but a small close up (sorry for the awful picture, I don’t own a scanner so this will have to do):

The one for wings I don't think I've seen before.

For the mime lovers out there, this Giselle has the most miming I’ve ever seen in my entire life. There was even some miming before the show, as Peter Boal did a funny bit where he used miming to encourage the audience to donate money. As for mime in the performance itself, for better or worse it really slows the pace of the ballet (granted, I’m not always the most patient person). While I respect mime’s historical significance in ballet, it kind of drives me crazy…but I will say that the mime in this production makes a lot of sense musically. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good thing artistically, which is where the production runs into some problems—the artistic and the logical just seemed to be at odds several times throughout. Clearly, the notations used are indicative of a Giselle that was more focused on telling what would have been viewed as a coherent story at that time, and the edited versions we see today have moved far more into the realm of fantasy. However, depending on what you want to get out of the ballet, you could also see this as a more integrated story with a more sensible plot. It’s kind of like how movies and television, even sci-fi or fantasy still reflect our society in recognizable ways. The modern Giselle to us is a romanticized anachronism but if ballet fulfilled the role of entertainment in the nineteenth century than perhaps it needed to have more instances of sequential action.

Aside from the copious amounts of pantomime, I found Act I to be familiar enough, probably the one major difference being the timing in the mad scene. Normally, there’s that chaotic flurry of notes where Giselle will burst through between Bathilde and Albrecht in melodramatic fashion, but that’s not what happened here. Instead, the mad scene is more of a gradual deterioration of Giselle’s sanity, and internalized for a time before she starts reliving her romance with Albrecht. Major differences did show up, however, in additional scenes in Act II. Some productions of Giselle still do the scene with the hunters in the woods before they are scared off by the Wilis but probably not to this extent, and there is a second scene where a handful of incorrigible youths engaging in tomfoolery are warned by an old man of the Wilis, who they barely manage to escape from when the latter appear. Also, Wilfride accompanies Albrecht when he arrives at Giselle’s grave and finally at the very end, Bathilde and few of the noblemen arrive, in a brief reconciliation where the fading ghost of Giselle indicates to Albrecht that he should return to Bathilde.  The closing tableau is of Albrecht lying on the ground and facing Giselle’s grave, but with one arm extended behind him to Bathilde, who rests her head on it.

In terms of fleshing out the plot my brain was telling me the Act II additions made sense, but in the end I found them problematic because they kind of marred the sanctity of the ballet blanc. They also simultaneously undermined and enhanced the threat of the Wilis, because there was some really neat choreography in the scene where the youths and old man encounter them, but the overall effect is almost a little goofy because those characters are indeed a bit comical. Given, some stagings can take the ballet blanc too far and make it much too moony, but what I like about keeping Act II as “pure” as possible is that it has such a poetic effect. I also find such an Act II much more fascinating because it can be seen as a metaphor for dealing with grief; Hilarion succumbs to it and Albrecht must live with his remorse. However, the most interesting way to look at it would be to see the Wilis as a manifestation of that grief, which raises the question of whether they’re even real or not. Perhaps Hilarion and Albrecht were so beside themselves with sorrow, they danced (or nearly danced) to their deaths, and the Wilis were mere figments of their imaginations. I find that to be a neat juxtaposition of literal insanity in Act I with Giselle’s mad scene, to a prolonged, psychological hallucination that would be Act II. This is of course impossible to do with this version of Giselle because the additional interactions make the Wilis very real.

The "ballet blanc" or "white ballet," with Maria Chapman as Myrtha. (the Wilis' veils were flown away on wires!) Photo ©Angela Sterling

Artistic controversies aside, I’ve been worried all along that as a company that trains in the method a la Balanchine that Romantic era ballet would expose some weaknesses and it did. Overall, I think the company was just way too ahead of the beat, arriving early in certain positions and not finding ways to “fill the music” with their arms (more evident in Act I than Act II). Also, of course the open hip arabesque made a few appearances, like in the beginning when Giselle and Albrecht first dance together (in what one of my teachers called “the most notorious 6/8 in all of ballet”), I was at first interested by how low they kept their legs in the ballottés because it drew attention to the action of the feet, but on the fourth one where the dancers do an arabesque in demi-plié—zoom!—there it was. What was kind of odd was that Kaori Nakamura showed that line in the penchés in her first solo where I think she looked just a little tentative, but she was much more square in Act II and I thought she looked sensational. She was one of the dancers that really stood out to me as having the patience in musicality. (Update: I found out that Kaori’s shoe broke right before her solo! Considering the circumstances, she handled it like a pro!)

Lucien Postlewaite and Kaori Nakamura in Giselle. Photo ©Angela Sterling

Lucien Postlewaite was superb as Albrecht, although due to my issues with Act II toning down (if not eliminating) the tragedy, I don’t know that the production did his sincerity justice. For some reason, he does remind me a bit of Alina Cojocaru…he has a bit of that doe-eyed youthful look, but with a significant splash of devilry—like if Alina had a mischievous brother. Lucien showed marvelous batterie in Act II, and I really liked Albrecht’s choreography here…it was kind of weird to see the cabriole series (which normally come after Giselle’s iconic soubresauts) in the variation in lieu of the diagonal with double tours, but it wasn’t a bad change and overall there were a lot of jumps that aren’t seen so often in male dancing anymore. Lucien did do the entrechat sixes, and I didn’t want to count them but I knew you people would want to know and the answer is sixteen. They were followed by tour jeté city and a manège for good measure, in a truly exhausting danse macabre. I have to say that Albrecht spends a lot of time on the ground for this one, falling to the floor a grand total of something like four times (looks like my black cat powers are getting stronger…I swear, every time I see him!).

Lucien’s Albrecht variation:

In other news, a gold star for Jerome Tisserand, who was flawless in the Peasant Pas de Deux. He has the upper body carriage that is well suited for Romantic ballet, and though he is a corps member he did perform as Franz in Coppélia last year and I was really hoping he would get to do Albrecht, but unfortunately not this time around. I hope he rises through the ranks and gets promoted so he can have that opportunity in the future. I also enjoyed Chalnessa Eames as Berthe because she really invests a lot into her acting, as did Jeff Stanton in the role of Hilarion (they’re both leaving at the end of the season and will definitely be missed!).

Well, that just about wraps it up, though I have some links of interest if you’re hungry for more, including an archived video of the Works and Process presentation at the Guggenheim, as well as Pacific Northwest Ballet’s YouTube channel, which has several great videos of rehearsal footage and dancer interviews about Giselle.

She’s Just a Small Town Girl

27 May

A staging of Giselle is like a family recipe for apple pie—sweet, simple, and familiar.  However, there are of course unique touches that make each production distinct, and probably the most recent one to have been filmed for a DVD release is the Dutch National Ballet’s staging, with additional choreography by Rachel Beaujean and Ricardo Bustamente.  This was filmed in February of 2009, with Anna Tsygankova in the title role and Jozef Varga as Albrecht.  Admittedly, I knew very little about the ‘Het Nationale Ballet,’ though I’m sure 99% of people who have ever procrastinated by watching ballet videos on YouTube have of course seen that short video clip of Sofiane Sylve (now with San Francisco Ballet) performing some of the most spectacular pirouettes ever, in William Forsythe’s Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude and the coda from The Nutcracker.  I don’t have to post it…but here you go (at least, for those readers who actually have lives and honestly haven’t seen this before):

I really wish both of these performances were on DVD…you can see Marcelo Gomes was her partner in Nutcracker for a split second at the very end, and he simply isn’t filmed enough and I love, no, LOVE what I’ve seen of Vertiginous (it’s to the Finale of Schubert’s Symphony no.9 in C! Hi, amazing!).

At any rate, it’s possible that the company simply hasn’t had a lot of exposure to international audiences, as DVDs are fairly new for them, having only released a handful thus far: Sleeping Beauty (2004), Giselle (2009), and most recently a recording of Alexei Ratmansky’s Don Quichot (2011) in addition to Hans van Manen Festival and Hans van Manen: Nederlands Dans Theater, HET Nationale Ballet, which obviously feature works by Hans van Manen, a famous Dutch choreographer who really ought to have more recognition outside of Europe.  Both NDT and the Het have been in the news as of late though, due to funding cuts proposed by the Dutch government, as much as 26% for the Het, which is a huge blow, and even worse is cutting 50% for Nederlands Dans Theatre, Jiří Kylián’s contemporary dance company.  It’s devastating for both companies for different reasons…an insult to downgrade NDT to a “regional company” when his choreography is seen worldwide (Pacific Northwest Ballet included!), and for Dutch National Ballet, a diminishment of status as one of the top international ballet companies.  The Dutch National Ballet has eighty dancers, which is just under a top tier company like American Ballet Theater boasting just over ninety, and the effort to release these films has them just on the edge to gain more notoriety. Hup hup, Holland! Get it together and support the legacy of your arts…they are far greater than you may know! (Petitions for the NDT and Het can be found here and here, respectively, and I encourage you to show your support!).

I have to say that I was incredibly impressed with the Dutch National Ballet’s production of Giselle, and that they deserve every ounce of support available, not only to help them preserve what they have, but also to push them further into the international spotlight.  I would even say that while different, the quality of it is on par with the Royal Ballet. They’re certainly not lacking in talent and I definitely got a sense of their company’s identity throughout their Giselle…they prize exceptionally clean technique, squareness in the pelvis and torso, a lot of emphasis on épaulement, and some of the most marvelously articulate feet I’ve ever seen.  It’s clear in their choice of technique that they train a lot of “rolling” through the feet. A dancer can either spring up onto pointe, or roll through every little joint and muscle to get there, and perhaps harder (and often neglected) is rolling down, which requires incredible resistance in order to not plunk down onto your heels.  Though both techniques are acceptable, rolling does make pointe work much softer.  The Russians that train Vaganova technique favor springing, so they don’t often exhibit as much control in that minute but important transition.  What I found interesting was that distinguishing demi-pointe and full pointe was further exhibited when any of the dancers did what’s called a ‘tombé piqué en dehors’ (or more colloquially, a ‘step-over turn’ or ‘lame duck’). A popular technique is to fall in the tombé into a demi-plié, but the Dutch keep their heels up and step onto demi-pointe. Not all of the dancers were entirely comfortable with this, but the effect is very smooth, and the award for best feet definitely goes to Michele Jimenez and her delightful solo in the Peasant Pas de Quatre…she’s ridiculously good.

The Dutch certainly prefer a more sophisticated Giselle with a rustic feel.  While other productions are quaint, borderline hammy, or even a little too moony, this Giselle is toned down, mature, and very elegant.  Tsygankova found a great balance of portraying a character that is shy and naïve, but with a little more woman to her rather than young girl.  Her mad scene was extremely convincing, and there were a lot of moments before that where gestures cautiously alluded to her heart condition (this one is not a suicide Giselle, or one that dies solely of a broken heart).  I loved her in Act II, where she favored good placement instead of hiked up her hips for higher extensions.  For example, in the short adagio before the iconic pas de deux, Giselle performs a simple arabesque penché with her arms gently crossed in front of her, and Tsygankova really stays over her supporting leg, taking care not to hyper-extend her knee and “sit back” in her penché.  By keeping her pelvis square and her back even, her leg does not go to 180°, but the line between her back and leg was just perfect.

Not Act II, but a lovely variation from Anna Tsygankova:

Vargas is a fantastic Albrecht, electing to portray a version that requires some sympathy, rather than the lusty cad often seen in other stagings. In an interview that’s part of the additional features, Varga discusses why he doesn’t think of Albrecht as a bad person—he’s someone that is caught between love and obligations due to social status.  Albrecht is also a victim of his own naïveté, a sort of “the grass is greener on the other side of the fence” situation where he sees these jovial villagers but doesn’t fully understand what the life of a peasant entails.  Logically speaking, I like this because in other productions one has to wonder if the impetus for Albrecht’s remorse is simply a sense of responsibility over a girl’s death, due to his promiscuity.  Varga’s Albrecht was truly in love with Giselle, and feels regret that he never had a chance to explain the truth himself. With strong acting skills and technical brilliance, Varga just looks so natural and calm. I really like his arabesque line, and also during his Albrecht variation, there’s a double attitude turn en dehors, quite possibly one of the most heinous steps in all of ballet…there’s no other way to describe it than difficult, because the whole time your leg just wants to fly away from you.

Exceptional soloists in the Peasant Pas de Quatre…I already mentioned Jimenez, and the others were Maia Makhateli, Mathieu Gremillet, and Arthur Shesterikov (Gremillet did a double tour in his variation where he landed in a perfect fifth and didn’t budge…my jaw dropped—no shifting feet or bouncing out of it!).  The corps de ballet was also superb throughout, an utter joy to watch but one of the things that really made this production was Igone de Jongh’s Myrtha—absolutely steely presence and this was one area where clarity in her épaulement really accentuated the character.  The Dutch épaulement (or perhaps Beaujean and Bustamente’s choreography) really finds interesting facings, and it’s another aspect of training that is sometimes neglected, and in some cases considered a lost art.  In fact, a lot of what the Dutch do in terms of épaulement, working through the feet, square hips, and even the body types of the dancers seemed more of a throwback to Romantic era ballet.  The only beanpole was Jan Zerer as Hilarion, who I really enjoyed watching in Act I, but something was off in Act II…I could see the desperation and fear, but there just wasn’t enough oomph for me. Though it’s unfair for me to say this, my current theory is that his height worked against him a bit because when you have that much more to work with, you have to be all the more expressive.

Peasant Pas de Quatre

Overall, the Dutch National Ballet does a very well balanced Giselle, emotional without being melodramatic and sophisticated is really the best way I can describe it. The only thing I honestly didn’t like was Bathilde’s costume, a monstrous blue and ivory striped dress (you may have caught a glimpse of it in the Peasant Pas) that I was incredibly resistant to.  Sometimes I like to see the thirty-two entrechat six for Albrecht in Act II (though I swear it’s usually more like twenty-four, if that) although Varga does two diagonals of brisés travelling forward followed by ten entrechat six, which I felt made sense because the diagonal of brisés heads straight towards Myrtha, kind of like a “Myrtha™ tractor beam” that’s pulling him in, which emphasizes her control over him and the “forcing him to dance to his death” thing.  There is an additional variation for Albrecht in Act I though, which is an interesting touch and kind of plays on his desire to have the same freedom as the peasants in the village, or perhaps that he thinks he can so easily live amongst them, when the truth is forgetting obligations doesn’t mean that they go away.

So friends, I highly recommend it, and if you get a chance to watch it (or you already have, live too!) I would love to hear your thoughts and see if you had the same positive reaction to it as I did…occasionally, I need confirmation that I’m not crazy. Meanwhile, check out some Act II highlights while you’re at it:

San Francisco Sojourn: Part 1

13 Feb

Billy Elliot, did I have a busy week! Most of it was just in the last couple of days during a whirlwind trip to San Francisco to see San Francisco Ballet, but before I get to that, a little housekeeping…Nichelle over at DanceAdvantage has started a group called Terpsichorus, which will do book club-style open discussions for anyone who wants to participate.  Terpsichorus will pick various dance media, from books to the latest in dance films, like those made available for rent by TenduTV.  In fact, the first discussion will be focused on Wayne McGregor’s Entity, already available for rent (just $3.99) or permanent download on iTunes and Amazon Video on Demand (UK participants can purchase a DVD from SadlersWells.com).  The discussion on Entity will open on February 24th, 2011 and all you have to do is watch it beforehand and collect some thoughts you’d like to share.  It is also most desirable that you encourage your friends to participate as well, no matter their dance background!  Terpsichorus is a great opportunity for people who may not know much about dance to ask questions and share their thoughts without fear of being shot down…you have my guarantee, which is important because I am on the moderating team!  Surprise!  Nichelle, friend Robin and myself comprise team Terpsichorus and trust me when I say we value all opinions equally.  So please head over to DanceAdvantage for more details, and I hope to see you on the 24th!

Okay, so back to my trip, I took a brief vacation (if you can call it that, considering how tired I am now) to San Francisco mainly to see Frederick Ashton’s Symphonic Variations.  It is applicable to say that my obsession with the piece is well documented, and with San Francisco Ballet being one of the few companies outside of the Royal Ballet to perform it (and quite possibly the only American company to have done it for a good decade), I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity.  Symphonic Variations was part of a mixed bill that the company performed on the 11th, and the mixed bill was staggered with performances of Giselle, which I saw on the 10th.  San Francisco Ballet is one of the few companies in the US that overlaps their programs, which is great for out-of-towners because we can catch multiple, different performances in just a couple of days.  Smaller ballet companies will do two week runs of just the same show and it seems the bigger (and richer) the companies are, the more overlapping you will see.

The San Francisco War Memorial Opera House. Photo ©Steve (you can tell because it's blurry!)

Before seeing Giselle on Thursday, I did of course, do some sight seeing which I must preface with saying that I despise super-touristy activities.  I like to do things on my own, with plenty of time to wander and muck about.  I also hate touristy souvenir shops and I probably hate tourists too (even though I was one…it’s completely irrational, so don’t expect me to explain it).  Outside of the ballet, the highlight for me was going to the California Academy of the Sciences, where I got my geek on.  I adore geeky science stuff, and the Academy of the Sciences has an indoor rainforest biodome, a planetarium, an extensive aquarium (my second priority in life after ballet…I could spend, okay I did spend hours in the aquarium alone. Three words…’leafy sea dragons’), and many other exhibits (including an albino alligator).  Admission was a whopping $30, but I recommend a visit!  Although, while inside the rainforest biome, I urge you to exercise caution and know that there are poison dart frogs roaming freely in the habitat…which I did not know until after I got close to a couple in order to snap some photos.  Not the best idea I’ve had, but I also have a history of unwittingly getting close to wild animals when I should not (like the prairie dogs in the Badlands, or the hawks at the beach in Yokohama, one of which snatched a sandwich right out of my hand).

Outside the planetarium. You can see part of the mangrove shallow water exhibit on the lower left and the bluer water on the right is one of the coral reefs. Photo ©Steve

Meanwhile, the worst part of the day award goes to Fisherman’s Wharf, a tourist attraction to the extreme, with heinous shops that had more shotglasses, keychains, magnets and t-shirts than I ever want to see in my entire life.  Interestingly enough, Fisherman’s Wharf is something of an equivalent to Seattle’s own Pike Place Market (the latter of which is much more focused on local artists, farmers, etc., and thus, in my humble opinion much more charming, as I actually enjoy Pike Place), but here’s something very telling—San Francisco residential areas are PACKED…all the buildings are connected together and walking the streets makes you feel like you’re in a giant labyrinth, while the shops at Fisherman’s Wharf are fairly spaced out.  Meanwhile, in Seattle, residential areas are the ones with breathing room and Pike Place is crammed into a very small section of the city, which says it all about Seattle’s perhaps “thorny” attitude towards visitors (which is further emphasized by the fact that San Francisco actually has bus maps at all the bus stops, while Seattle has no bus maps available, except for the brochures you can pick up AFTER boarding the bus).  Let’s just say tourism is a much bigger industry in San Francisco and leave it at that (and I’m okay with it!).

Anywho, San Francisco is fun and games for sure, but I was on a mission to see ballet, and I had the pleasure of seeing Giselle with Maria Kochetkova in the title role and Gennadi Nedvigin as Albrecht.  My first time seeing Giselle live as well as my first time to see San Francisco Ballet would be an all-Russian affair as far as the principal roles were concerned, and they certainly have a wonderful chemistry.  The petite Kochetkova is as refined as a porcelain doll and I mean this in the best way possible, is unlike any Russian trained dancer I’ve ever seen.  Sometimes I have some issues with Russian training, like too much legato, forced turnout, or hyperextension on these string bean, Amazonian frames but Maria’s technique is far more prudent.  For example, in her Act I variation, she kept many of her extensions lower, drawing attention to the shaping of her feet and presentation of her arms and upper body.  It was night and day (well, literally) in Act II, where she proved she has the litheness to promote ethereal wonder.  Maria’s Act II is simply sensational—it highlights the softness of her arms and innocence in her demeanor.  I was a big fan of the squareness in her arabesque, the use of her flexible torso and the sincerity with which she approached the role.  I’m so thrilled to have had her be the first Giselle I ever saw live, and will never forget it.

Gennadi Nedvigin (apparently returning from injury) was a boyish but crooked Albrecht, with an elastic plié that allowed for smooth jumps.  His partnering was wonderfully attentive, his solos brilliant, and his Act II variations near death experiences (in a good way of course).  Many seasoned Giselle fans will be happy to know that in the second act, he did the twenty-something entrechats, and they were HUGE.  An entrechat six is a beast by itself, the twenty-something in succession a Herculean task, but to do them with the buoyancy with which he did (to an achingly slow tempo) makes your calves burn just watching.  I also thought he was very playful with the miming sections throughout, drawing audible chuckles in the unabashed way he plucked the petal from Giselle’s fortune-telling flower and I know I sighed a little bit when he collapsed on Giselle’s grave and mourned her.

Helgi Tomasson’s Giselle is quite playful throughout, like Hilarion (danced by Pascal Morat) showing such a sardonic disgust when he was mocking Albrecht was a definite highlight.  In fact, the whole production had a lighthearted feel, and it seemed by embracing some of the more absurd elements in ballet, the production succeeded in really captivating the audience.  For instance, in the opening of Act II, when Hilarion is loping through the forest, some of his companions flee when they get creeped out by the Wilis.  This can be done a number of ways, and Tomasson chose to actually have one of the Wilis fly overhead, suspended by wires or what have you.  It’s not something that is intended to be funny, and yet its inclusion is funny indeed and even though the second act is supposed to be more tragic, it somehow makes the audience laugh while not damaging the integrity of the ballet as a whole.  I’m sure there are some that may feel a flying Wili is just too ridiculous, but I didn’t think it detracted from the performance at all (I’ll admit it—part of me wanted to be that flying Wili of doom).

San Francisco’s corps de ballet also deserves a LOT of credit—they were exceptional.  Frances Chung cast a spell in her dynamic solo as Myrtha, and the corps ran with it.  They had precision in their timing and wonderful detail in their lines and their interweaving arabesque pattern received well-deserved applause.  San Francisco is a lucky company to have such a fine corps, especially because they have the added challenge of trying to unify dancers with so many different backgrounds and training methods, which tends to be the case for many American companies.

However, everything about their production of Giselle was tastefully done, and I could find no faults worth mentioning.  It was well worth the trip!

…or was it?  To be continued!

P.S. To see clips of Maria dancing Helgi Tomasson’s Giselle, visit San Francisco Ballet’s website! Their interactive media gallery as a whole is amazing.

‘Tis the season

25 Dec

Wonderful news leaping ladies and merry gentlemen, by virtue of your most gracious support I’ve made it to the final voting round of the Dance Advantage Top Dance Blogs of 2010 contest, in both my category and in the running for overall top blog!  There is no better gift to me this Christmas than the blessings I have received from you the readers, and hope that the love continues in your reading of this blog and perhaps a vote or two in a couple of days…but before that, what is the meaning of Christmas?  Gifts.  I have no religious affiliations therefore the holiday means spending time with loved ones and exchanging gifts for me, and I feel no shame in that.  Believe me when I say I don’t buy into commercialism, but I enjoy bestowing tokens of gratitude on those I care about and letting them know how valuable they are to me.  The phrase “it’s the thought that counts” is no joke.  Meanwhile, thinking funny thoughts, here’s my gift to you, brought to you by my odd, but distinct brand of humor:

Merry Marcelo Christmas! -Steve

With “gifts” in mind, I decided to treat myself to a gift I had bought for myself a few weeks ago, which is the Royal Ballet production of Giselle, starring Alina Cojocaru in the title role and Johan Kobborg as Albrecht.  Having expanded my ballet DVD collection to a substantial three, Giselle was put in queue because of Swan Lake month and I felt today would be a good day for the initial viewing because I feel “the gift” is sort of a theme in the ballet.  The only other Giselle I’ve seen is the American Ballet Theater made-for-film version with Carla Fracci and Erik Bruhn (read my review), much of which I’ve forgotten because I have the memory of a platypus but having never seen a version on stage, in front of an audience, I was excited to watch this new one as if seeing the ballet for the first time.  It’s a good time to re-familiarize myself with Giselle because Pacific Northwest Ballet will be doing a studio presentation on their production in the first week of January, discussing the Stepanov notation score they used to construct their staging.  I’m not going to lie…I’m worried for PNB because historically, they have not had Romantic era ballets in their repertory and its style is so specific (and anti-Balanchine—let us not forget who coined the term “Gisellitis!”), but they seem to be taking a thoughtful, academic approach.  They have their notation guy, a coach and it’s also nice to see that the company is willing to take a huge risk with Seattle audiences by doing something different.  Besides, Carla Körbes (who I predicted early on would be a Giselle to watch) and the fabulous Carrie Imler will be dancing in the studio preview, which I should also note for the New Yorkers, will be presented at the Guggenheim on January 10th, so mark your calendars!

Anyway, back to the Royal Ballet, their production is staged by Sir Peter Wright, with additional choreography by him, supplementing the typical “Petipa after Jean Coralli/Jules Perrot” meat and potatoes.  After enjoying Wright’s production of Swan Lake, I unsurprisingly enjoyed his Giselle too, in which he seemed to make it relatable to a modern audience.  For example, rather than have Giselle die of a broken heart, she actually stabs herself with Albrecht’s sword.  With society being less imaginative than that of two hundred years ago, it’s a decision that makes sense because the last thing a choreographer wants is for some little anachronism to be that one thing the audience refuses to accept, thus putting a damper on the whole experience.  I found the sets delightfully realistic, albeit rather dark…I know it’s supposed to have a luminous, “enchanted forest” feel, but it could have done with just a little more lighting.   However, I loved that the Myrtha and Wilis entered with chiffon veils to simple bourée steps…the effect is mesmerizingly ghostly.

The reason why I feel this ballet is about gifts should be fairly obvious; in Act I Giselle gives the gift of her heart to Albrecht and in Act II her gift is forgiveness by saving his life.  What is less apparent is the gift of remorse—come again?  In this sense, it is perhaps relevant to bring up that in German, “gift” means poison and Giselle arguably poisons Albrecht with remorse, thus destroying him as we see him throughout the ballet (a rather sleazy, borderline salacious cad) and thus liberating him of his insincerity.  Whether Albrecht lives the rest of his days a wiser man is unknown to us, but I can see Wright’s Giselle as sort of empowering for women—while the suicide is unfortunately melodramatic, it’s a step above death by a broken heart because it puts Giselle in control of her own fate, and then it’s Albrecht’s fate in Act II that she calls the shots on.  Also, we see a formidable villain in Myrtha, though in a way, I actually came to understand her more through Marianela Nuñez’s interpretation of the character.  Throughout her opening solo, I couldn’t help but feel that Nuñez’s Myrtha wasn’t merely a man-hater, but also a woman scorned welcoming Giselle to her sisterhood of Wilis and as a result, not entirely evil.  Nuñez brought a wonderful depth to the character, beyond the icy carapace most dancers of the role will opt for.

Alina Cojocaru’s dancing of Giselle is a gift in itself, and what I love about both her and Johan Kobborg is that neither is perhaps the typical (or expected) ballet body.  Coco is quite tiny, far from the amazons seen in the Russian ranks or Balanchine America and Koko doesn’t have the long limbs seen in the male counterparts (and particularly the French—I swear the dancers with the Paris Opera Ballet must be giants).  However, both Coco and Koko have beautifully trained physiques, wonderful proportions and superior technique, conducive to what is exactly needed for Romantic ballet; she with the lithe torso and he with the barrage of batterie, thanks to his training with the Royal Danish Ballet, which can be considered the last bastion of true Romantic ballet, given their Bournonville tradition.  Don’t get me wrong, many companies can dance Bournonville and Giselle in stunning fashion; when it comes to the Danish, it’s ingrained into their method while other dancers must learn or be coached in the style later in their careers.  At any rate, I even think Alina’s face makes for the perfect Giselle because her facial features seem to lend themselves to a near permanent look of timid worry…

Alina is 3rd from the right...smile, girlfriend! (and yes, Johan is giving Marcelo bunny ears) Photo ©Ilya Kuznetsov

That face, combined with her infinite lightness made for a wonderful partnership, which highlighted Koko’s jumps and acting ability in waves of pure chemistry.  When Myrtha beckons Albrecht to do a series of entrechat six, I literally gasped at Koko’s ballon (translation: height) and superb technique.  Spectacular beats of the legs require more than just fluttering feet, but a rebound—meaning, once the legs beat, the more they can separate in the air before beating again, the loftier the effect.  I felt the whole production was spot on, with the only exception being Martin Harvey’s Hilarion, who was a little over the top for my tastes.  At moments he had some bug-eyed looks (and I’ve had this problem before in watching Ethan Stiefel) which might be less distracting in a live performance, but for me, is a one-way ticket to looking like a lunatic.  I guess it’s my pet peeve in watching ballet, but the crazy eyes never work for me and really just make dancers look insane.  Hilarion is temperamental and maybe even a little chivalrous, but not demented.

Overall, this is a fantastic Giselle, a must for the ballet library and in case you didn’t get what you wanted for Christmas, you won’t regret buying this DVD for yourself.  In the meantime, I leave you with Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg in the iconic Act II pas de deux, to entertain your thoughts until your purchase arrives:

Resistance is futile

28 Nov

You know I love the Royal Ballet, so of course I have to include at least one of their productions for Swan Lake Month, in this case the one featuring Natalia Makarova as Odette/Odile and Anthony Dowell as Siegfried.  Right off the top I think it’s important to note that a Makarova performance as Odette is quintessential; it’s her thing and she does not disappoint in this DVD.  It’s one of those performances where you don’t know why or how, but you can feel how much she loves that role.  Of course, Anthony Dowell is no slouch and they had a wonderful, memorable partnership—I would even go as far to say that this was the most memorable Odette/Siegfried I’ve seen thus far.  I would also say that this production is probably my favorite of the classically oriented versions of Swan Lake I’ve seen as well.

The structure is pretty standard fare for a Swan Lake, beginning with Siegfried’s birthday (though this one is outdoors…an unusual, but refreshing choice) with plenty of hearty, festive dancing.  When Anthony Dowell enters, he flashes a devilish grin to his subjects and it’s one of those utterly charming, handsome heartbreaker smiles and all you can think is “oh, Anthony…” and heave a heavy sigh.  We all know Siegfried screws up, but as soon as Dowell smiled the way he did, I just knew this going to be a Soviet-era happy ending.  Sometimes I worry I think I see that smile in real life and think I might be going insane, but that’s another story…anyway, the choreography is nice (definitely some Ashton in there) and I’d like to point out that in the coda for the pas de trois, one of the women ends a diagonal series of jumps with FOUR, yes FOUR entrechat six in a row, which is something quite common in choreography for men, so not only does that deserve a high-five but it also means the ladies out there can’t rest on their laurels when it comes to those nasty little entrechat six!  Meanwhile, that wasn’t the only challenging of the status quo in male/female specific choreography as later on in Act III, in a male pas de deux one of the men does a saut de chat with his arms in third, which in some schools of thought could be considered a vile emasculation of the male danseur.  Well, maybe vile emasculation is exaggerating a bit, but it sounds funny…anyway, Act I ends with Siegfried’s solo, and I kid you not when I say Dowell’s performance in it was quite possibly the most perfect bit of dancing I’ve ever seen in my entire life.

Act II is again a “no touchie” zone, with the only major difference I could see being a moment where Siegfried’s hunting party actually appears on stage and they’re about to shoot at the flock of swans and Siegfried comes in to stop them.  This of course comes after Siegfried and Odette’s flawless, first pas de deux.  When Makarova enters, she does the most beautiful arm movements, the most luxurious backwards arches of her back and she even makes a simple lunge sing.  Together, I love the way Makarova and Dowell shade the characters because it isn’t entirely love at first sight; Dowell’s Siegfried is bewildered for most of the pas de deux, recognizing the fact that oh, he just saw a swan turn into a woman and doesn’t really give into love until later.  Similarly, Makarova holds back a little as a frightened and timid Odette, running from Siegfried until the end of the first pas de deux where she lets her curiosity take over.  This is of course, when Von Rothbart enters in his strigine glory…well, at least it should have gone something like that but I wasn’t a huge fan of the Von Rothbart owl costume.  In fact, it’s probably my only major criticism because I felt the design made him look more like a pterodactylic peacock (for the record, the word used to describe a peacock-like animal is “pavonine”).  It’s also unfortunate that Von Rothbart isn’t much of a dancing role (his massive wings being so unwieldy and all) but the focus of Act II, Odette and Siegfried’s romantic first meeting is tender, which is aided by the fact that Makarova works to a snail pace tempo.  I actually think rubato is often abused today, with many dancers using slower tempos but without purpose.  I’m not a fan of slowing the tempo just for the sake of slowing the tempo—it has to be done if the dancer feels it will allow them to add something to the character, and not just be seen as additional time to show off an extension.  I had no problems with Makarova’s tempo, because she works it brilliantly.

What also makes Makarova’s slower adagio more successful is the contrast it provides when she appears as Odile in Act III.  She actually uses faster tempi like in the Black Swan variation, which makes quite a difference.  Makarova’s Odile is very business-like; she enters, she seduces, she laughs maniacally when Siegfried realizes what’s going on and she leaves.  It’s the complete opposite of say, Patrice Bart’s Swan Lake, where Odile is able to seduce Siegfried in a much different manner.  I forgot to write this in my review, but in that staging Odile lures Siegfried by coming close enough for him to get a glance, but then one of Von Rotbart’s other maidens will get in his way.  This happens I think four times and by the fourth time Siegfried is blinded with frustration and the thought that Odile could be an imposter doesn’t even cross his mind.  The Royal Ballet, on the other hand takes the direct approach and no qualms are made as to Odile’s true identity.  Makarova is marvelous as Odile, spicing things up a little bit with a little more élan and a little determination to get through those fouettés.  Every Odile I’ve seen thus far has done thirty-two single fouettés, which doesn’t bother me at all.  In fact, thirty-two singles may very well be harder than throwing in some doubles because if you do a double pirouette you get to pull in and just worry about holding yourself up, but doing two singles in the same span of time means having to work through the foot, plié, rond de jambe and spring back up to relevé again.  That’s a lot of work. (Side note: the national dances are pretty typical but the Italian dance is awesome and gets tremendous, well deserved applause)

Finally, it’s time for Act IV; reconciliation, suicide pact, and happily ever after (life).  What I loved about this act was that again, we’re made to wait for it.  Odette doesn’t forgive Siegfried immediately and the act of forgiveness and the apology, are danced out.  Sometimes these redemptive moments in ballet can be reduced to a hurried set of mimed gestures immediately followed by the pretty pas de deux, rather than sustaining the emotions throughout.  With Makarova/Dowell, you get to see the whole process unfold.  Well, I suppose you would REALLY see it if I posted the clip:

All in all, I’m sold on this Swan Lake.  Makarova is the epitome of the cygnine (I’m totally about these animal adjectives today!) and if anybody asks why I would add this to my collection I’d say “Anthony Dowell made me do it.”  Nobody could resist that Act I smile.

So long, summer session

14 Aug

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s summer session of classes has drawn to a close and I am beat.  It was immense amounts of fun and I really look forward to taking classes there on a regular basis, but not as much as I have been for you see, I made the mistake of purchasing a twenty-class card without fully recognizing that it would expire in a mere five weeks, thus I had to go to class four times a week to ensure that I got my money’s worth.  Going from not having danced in a year to four (and even five classes a week because I dropped in for a couple of classes at Cornish College of the Arts) was really stupid and I suffered appropriately.

I joke when I say I’m old, but the truth is I’m no spring chicken…those were swarming the sacrosanct chambers of the PNB school, participating in the academy’s prestigious summer intensive program.  Bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and full of hope, I couldn’t help but admire their enthusiasm…the kind where you still think you’re invincible and actually need people to tell you how important it is to warm up.  Fact: When you realize you NEED to warm up and when you no longer crave fruit-flavored candy (i.e. Nerds, Airheads, Laffy Taffy, SweetTarts, Skittles, Jolly Ranchers and the like)…YOU ARE OLD.  This is not to say we olden folk don’t enjoy candy…in fact, when you become old, chocolate officially becomes a food group.  However, you notice disturbing things like how when you buy saltwater taffy, none of the flavors are fruity (I went to a shop down by Seattle’s waterfront and the flavors I got were cinnamon roll, pumpkin pie, caramel corn and chocolate chip cookie.  The aversion is scary, isn’t it?).  At any rate, spring chickens…they’re adorable.  Although their enthusiasm was slightly less appreciated when the adult class was over and I was in the process of peeling myself off the floor and they were stampeding in ready to go.  Throw this mid-twenty-something, decrepit tree branch a bone, kitty cats!

I have enjoyed the process of learning School of American Ballet…technique (don’t argue with me, please…I’m not THAT knowledgeable so it’d be like shooting an ocean sunfish in a barrel).  I know I’ve discussed some new ideas that I encountered like the class I took with Peter Boal, but other faculty members are also of course heavy on the SAB training.  They certainly like their jetés at barre (even though they’ll always be degagés to me) and it was difficult getting used to new ways of doing petit allegro.  Oftentimes the teachers would include a stop, like a sous-sus to relevé or just a plain hold after a certain step and that drove me insane.  One of my early coping strategies for petit allegro was to just keep bouncing no matter what (ESPECIALLY Bournonville!) so every time there was a pause of some kind, I kept going even though I knew there was no step to be done.  Isn’t that the story of ballet class though?  How often does the mind know better and yet the body does not obey…

Meanwhile, there is one teacher in particular (who shall remain nameless for no reason) whose class I enjoyed immensely.  It seemed less SAB-y (whatever that means) than others and I really liked the structure of the class.  But have you ever had a teacher who sings while demonstrating every combination?  Oddly enough, it actually helped with remembering the sequence of steps and knowing where to place the accents but it was always the same song.  Slow rond de jambes at barre?  Same song.  Grand allegro?  A variation on the same song.  So now I’ll be walking down the street to the library and surprise, guess what little diddy is stuck in my head—or worse, it’s the kind of thing that like my flute teacher always said of the “augmented scale,” will keep you lying awake at night.  And that it does (this problem is exacerbated by the fact that my iPod is broken).  Who would have thought a ballet teacher could give you insomnia…it almost makes me wish there was a court of some kind just for funsies that would try farcical lawsuits to see what the outcome could have been in a real court.  I’d play.

PNB teachers really know how to dish it though…never have I had so many teachers inflict punishment by virtue of my mortal enemy, the temps de cuisse (which for non-dancer types, is basically a sideways jump from two feet with this little “hiccup” where one foot goes from back to front and then jump.  Sound easy?  SHUT IT.).  Sure, I had a teacher at OSU give it every now and then but at PNB it’s almost every other class and it’s brutal.  I don’t know what it is about this step, but I can never seem to take off of two feet equally so it looks and feels awkward, or during the “hiccup” I’m thinking so much about shaping the foot the jump is already over.  I got some good advice from a tweeter to really stay in plié before going after it and finally, today I actually managed a run through where I had it down…but that was eclipsed by two failures.  I shouldn’t complain though because progress is progress.

Oy, I have to tell you though the class this morning was rough.  Maybe it was because it was the last class of the summer but it was freakin’ hard.  A really intense barre, oodles of center work, multiple allegros (with the aforementioned step of Satan, the temps de cuisse) and guess what the teacher ended class with…(and say this in your most ominous, master-of-the-universe voice possible) the ENTRECHAT SIX (courtesy of ABT’s online dictionary).  Maybe this is pathetic, but I can actually remember exactly three instances of encountering this beastly little jump in class: One, the teacher said we could do it and nobody did because we thought she was joking; Two, the teacher asked for it and WAS joking; Three, the teacher had us try ONE at the end of a jump sequence.  Today, we were asked for eight in a row (fortunately, with a life saving sous-sus in between…though a trampoline would have been better) and I almost died.  Maybe I even died and came back to life, but I’m pretty sure I was not all that successful—there may have been some cheating with a royale or entrechat quatre thrown in.  As much as I suffered, in retrospect I’m glad the teacher had us do it.  I recognize the danger of complacency and I’m not always one to test my limits on my own.

One of my limits is the SAB way of pirouetting though.  When doing a pirouette en dehors, they like a straight back leg in fourth position and to pull the arms into a compact position.  I was always taught to plié on both legs and bring the arms to first.  Neither way is wrong, but what I like about the way I was taught is that when you spring up from two legs, you’re moving the whole torso in one piece, whereas I’ve found with the straight back leg, there’s a tiny little contraction that has to happen in order to bring the pelvis completely underneath you.  That little shift has a tendency to wreak havoc on me and there’s always the chance that I can adjust and eventually adapt but what I’ve also noticed in people who use that preparation is that they often have a harder time finishing a pirouette on relevé or finishing in a clean fifth position…I think it’s the snappiness of the preparation that makes it difficult.  For me, there have been days where I have had some really satisfying single pirouettes, leading to clean doubles and I don’t want to fix what isn’t broken.  I guess this is the big dirty secret as an adult student of ballet and probably the worst thing I could divulge but you don’t always have to do everything a teacher asks you to do.  Sometimes, you’re allowed to do what works for your body (and more importantly, your mind).

Looking back I think this post may come off as a roasting of PNB but that’s not my intention.  Even if it is I would do so with great love because I LOVE taking classes at PNB.  It’s kind of like getting to peek in on the company class every now and then…sure it’s a little creepy, but I watch in awe with complete admiration.

Remembering Merce Cunningham

27 Jul

The dance world is having a rough summer after Pina Bausch, MJ, and now Merce Cunningham.  Although, I do feel like his death is a little easier to absorb because he had such an incredible life filled with many years of dance, whereas Pina and MJ went so suddenly.  Karen Eliot, who I’ve mentioned danced for his company many years ago said it was a gift, in that he finished his last work, called the dancers to thank them, and then went peacefully in his sleep.  She said it was very much something he would do, to decide that now was the time to go and to do so.  She had known that he was not in good health for a little while now, but the poor thing is still heartbroken.  Bravely, she foraged on in class this morning, trying to be her usual self and even had us try entrechat six, which made my brain go “sha-duh-duh-duh-what?”  Anyway, there were some tears after class, and she told us a little about how much he meant to her, especially as her teacher and what he imparted onto her, so my sympathies are with her and others who were friends, family and lovers of Merce.

I studied a little bit of his work and ideas through a dance and theatre history class, and truthfully they weren’t easy for me to fully comprehend because I’m one of those crotchety grumpy bears that likes dance and music to be woven together in a harmonious relationship.  My brain is wired to take delight in classical lines, classical music, classical dance, and classical methods of presenting such.  If you like Daoism as much as I do, then you know going against one’s nature is a no-no, and Cunningham is practically on the opposite end of the spectrum.  He didn’t see music as a necessity and didn’t mind randomizing choreography and having a piece look completely different for each performance.  Reminds me of his partner John Cage as well, who felt the same about music and went as far as writing a “piece” where someone would sit at a piano for a few minutes and the music was whatever noise there was.  Some audience members were annoyed, but I think that’s just evidence that some people take life waaay too seriously.  Anyway, back on topic, to me the pursuit of chance is radical and on the verge of madness, but Cunningham was so halcyon in his approach (I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to use that word!) that it’s impossible to associate it with insanity.  It’s all very perplexing, but somehow he made it work, and even I was able to appreciate his choreography.

One of his works that I really liked was Biped (which for whatever reason I always want to mistakenly call Bipedal).  It employed innovations in the use of technology with dance, another aspect of Cunningham’s work that makes my brain work overtime, resulting in lasers and abstract 3-D holographic figures walking and running, while human dancers moved with them.  The effect was really neat, and it’s just one of those pieces that is interesting to look at.  In the same way sitting in a park and staring at some trees or riding a train and looking out the window is something interesting to look at.  We don’t necessarily stare at things because we derive a great amount of pleasure from doing so, but visually there’s always something compelling that makes it so we can’t avert our gazes.  For me, this is the essence of many of Cunningham’s works…whatever “it” is that keeps us staring at things, that “it” is something valid and worth exploring.  And more importantly, that “it” is different for every person.  I loved the way Biped didn’t make me feel stupid, and that I could indeed appreciate modern dance.

Another one of his pieces that I vividly remember is Beach Birds for Camera, which I found to be incredibly charming.  The goal of the piece wasn’t to be a bird or even move like a bird, but somehow it recreated for me that same fascination one gets when observing animals at the zoo.  To me, the piece seemed to capture the essence of how birds relate to and communicate with each other and what their language would look like if it were made into movement.  It’s really quirky, almost silly in a sense, as seagulls themselves are rather vacuous creatures (Finding Nemo anyone?  Which reminds me of a funny story in ballet class when every time we did echappé sauté, someone in the class would say “esssscah-pey!” a la Dory, and the teacher seemed really confused.  I think she was one of three people on Earth at the time that hadn’t seen Finding Nemo).  I found myself horribly amused, and wishing I was a bird too.  There is a short excerpt here (I saw the original black and white group version):

So, dearest Merce…thank you for introducing new ideas about dance and art; that not everything has to have a story, and that dance is indeed its own independent art form.  Even though I could never dance that way (improv freaks me out enough as it is), I feel like you are the kind of person I could have had interesting conversations with, proof that even people with vastly differing natures don’t have to get up in arms when they don’t agree on something.  Although, I did read a beautiful quote by you, and it would seem that we do share something in common:

“You have to love dancing to stick to it. It gives you nothing back, no manuscripts to store away, no paintings to show on walls and maybe hang in museums, no poems to be printed and sold, nothing but that single fleeting moment when you feel alive.”

-Merce Cunningham

I Lost Me a Ballet Shoe

24 Jun

Today I concluded my journey with Washington Ballet.  I actually intended to go yesterday as well, but as you may know, there was a terrible and fatal accident on the red line of the Washington Metro, and Washington Ballet is located on the red line (Albeit, in the opposite direction of the accident).  I was completely unaware of the accident, which unbeknownst to me, had occurred about half an hour earlier to my arrival in Metro Center.  Announcers only told us that the trains were experiencing “mechanical difficulties” (um, understatement of the century!) and as the crowds of people waiting started to increase logarithmically, so did my desire to just go home.

I did go to class today, after a tour of the botanical gardens and a little window shopping in Georgetown.  However, even before all of that, I apparently decided to NOT close the bottle of water in my bag, and my dance clothes got wet.  Fantastic.  Despite today’s high temperatures, there was too much humidity in the air for my clothes to try out, plus they were all bunched up in a bag, and I wasn’t about to tie them to a flag pole and let them flap in the breeze.  I couldn’t find a flag pole within reach anyway.  Furthermore, as if that wasn’t enough, apparently I only brought one ballet shoe to class.  Double fantastic.  Finally, at the time I thought I must’ve left the shoe where I’m staying, but upon further investigation it is nowhere to be found, so Billy Elliot only knows where in DC it is now.  TRIPLE fantastic.

Regardless, I was already there (and more importantly had already paid) and just went on through class with one shoe and a sock.  I wore the sock for barre, but then it started coming off and I just gave up and went halfsies barefoot for the rest of class.  Fortunately, my foot actually turned on the floor ok and jumping was fine.  It did feel weird to have even just a few millimeters of leather sole on one foot and not the other though, so I think my alignment was all “YEEK!” but my alignment is always “YEEK!” so really, it’s all in a day’s work.  I don’t think anybody cared that I was wearing only one shoe so it probably wasn’t actually embarrassing but it sure felt that way.

Anywhozle, the weirdest thing also happened when someone I’ve taken class with at OSU was in the class as well!  Actually, I knew her sister was going to be here for the summer and would drop in for classes so I thought I might see her, but I didn’t know the younger one was here too, so that was so much funny.  The older sister showed up after class to go home together (and she actually look class with Marden before too and we laughed about doing attitude pirouettes to passé and doing a body wave out of it to “move your body!”) so we chatted for a moment.  Turns out we’re all going to go see the Royal Ballet perform Manon later this week as well (Although they go on Sunday, and I on Thursday).

Back to the topic at hand, I briefly mentioned taking classes at Washington Ballet but never really discussed class itself.  Structurally, ballet classes are almost always the same but it’s always fun to see different habits different teachers have.  I first had Linda Baranovics, who is a very nice lady and according to her bio started dancing in college as well (like me!) and to see that she’s accomplished much and is teaching now is rather inspirational.  We did get stuck in class on this pique combination she was trying to work out at barre, and every time she tried to demonstrate it was different.  After a good 5 minutes, she finally decided on pique-pique-pique-brush-brush-brush-brush-close, pique-pique-pique-brush-brush-brush-brush-close, pique-pique-pique-brush-pique-brush-pique-close, pique-pique-pique-brush-brush-brush-pique-close, and a major kuditos do you if that makes sense to you!  At some point thunder rumbled outside too and she said that the heavens were angry with her combination (or something to that effect).  Perfect timing, madre nature!  There was a funny moment in class where she was giving us a petite allegro and should have given us a royale but had already said “entrechat” and rather than correct herself, paused and finished with “six.” (to which I can only say, BAH!) She also gave us a really fun grande allegro…try it! (sissonne fermeé en avant, en avant, en arriere, en arriere, tombé-pas de bourée-glissade-assemblé, tombé (left) coupe-sauté arabesque, run run tour jeté, tombé-pas de bourée-glissade-saut de chat)

As for the other classes, they were taught by Stephen Baranovics, who was a little aloof but a charming old fellow.  Whereas Linda’s class felt mostly familiar, his had some slight, but manageable differences.  Mostly, in petite allegro.  The first time I had him he did like 4 different petite allegros and kept saying he was in a very “Giselle” mood.  The second time, class was 15 minutes shorter so we only got to 2, but again he told us (er, the ladies rather) to think “Giselle.”  It was kind of funny at first, but I decided if I can get in moods for chocolate, people could totally have cravings for a certain style of dance too.  He didn’t get to grande allegro which was kind of a shame, but I need to petite like you wouldn’t believe.  I literally can’t do entrechat quatre or jeté battu to the left anymore, my body is so messed up.

Anyway, I had a really great time at Washington Ballet, and would totally recommend their classes to anyone, even you.

Royal Ballet in TWO DAYS!! VENGA!!