Tag Archives: george gershwin

What are you?

26 Feb

Long time, no see blog!  The blame mostly goes to the Olympics, but of course the responsibility always belongs to me.  It was nice to have a couple of weeks of sparse blogging though and due to upcoming circumstances March may prove to be another month of infrequent posts.  Making life changes often leaves little time for other pursuits, but I am committed to a few more entries for sure (I still have two DVD reviews formulating in my head, one of which I still need to watch, a possible book review, another eight-of-a-book review…in other words, an assortment of fragmented ideas that either need time to mature or some actual effort being put in to will that to happen).  However, in the spirit of the Olympics, I thought I’d share what I learned from watching my favorite sport of the games, which is not surprisingly, figure skating.

While figure skating is a sport and cannot truly be considered an art in its Olympic format, aside from commonalities in aesthetics and movement principals there is the fact that it is still a movement of the body that somehow grabs us in a very real way.  It’s a dance of sorts on ice and it presents dancers and dance aficionados with something familiar yet altogether different, which is the aspect of competition.  I think the fact that artistic sports like figure skating and gymnastics are constantly locked in a battle to achieve some sense of harmony (albeit failing miserably at times) reflects on the fact that this is something we have to decide for ourselves.  The older I got, the more I realized I was never a competitor at all.  I played a few sports when I was younger but never cared about winning or beating rivals; I just loved to have fun.  Competition pretty much ruined it all for me and I got burnt out of many things because what I now realize is that I’ve always had the heart and soul of a performer, not a competitor.  There’s nothing wrong with competing; in fact, the world needs it and nobody is really exclusively a competitor or artist.  I think each person has different percentages of both and my percentages happen to be dominant in favor of artist.  I’m an oxymoron though…as I can get a little competitive when it comes to silly things like board games.  It’s not that I take winning seriously but when it comes to a round of Time’s Up or Scattergories, I always find myself making a pronounced effort to emerge victorious.  I can say with pride that I often do.

The psychological aspect of sport is what I was most impressed with by Kim Yuna of South Korea, winner of the gold medal in ladies’ figure skating.  I’m not one to buy into nationalistic pride and it doesn’t matter to me if she breaks world records or is the “queen,” best figure skater of all time.  What I loved (besides the fact that she skated to Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F, which I sacrilegiously like more than Rhapsody in Blue) is how she really lived the moment.  Korea can be a nutty country and her rise to popularity was at a light speed for the record books…but I remember seeing videos of her as far back as 2005 and I even saw her live once while living in Tokyo, when the 2007 World Championships were held there (she skated to the music The Lark Ascending, by the way).  She fell…but she had a definite magnetism that came from being invested into and living in the performance, something I feel from dancers all the time.  But unlike dancers she doesn’t have the luxury of having an understudy or even knowing that a little mistake is easily overlooked.  When you’re competing, mistakes simply can’t be overlooked and you’re subject to a lot of harsh criticism and expectations.  If a dancer flubs a step on stage, nobody may be the wiser but any audience member can pick out a mistake on ice.  She’s lucky to have a great coaching team behind her who steer her away from perfectionism (a disease I always say), which may have even contributed to errors in the past.

She was near perfect when she became a World Champion in 2009, which is a psychological nightmare.  Going into the Olympics as the reigning World Champion has often been stigmatized as a curse, because often a reigning World Champion falters under the pressure of trying to win gold again.  One could easily become overconfident or crumble under the pressure, which is why a reigning champion rarely strikes gold at the Olympics.  Add on top of that a fanatical country with high expectations, the pressure of being the first from her country to achieve this kind of success (Korea never won a figure skating medal or even had a woman in the top ten I think) and you have the perfect storm for the worst situation imaginable.  My artist soul runs away screaming at the very thought; I can’t even begin to imagine what that pressure was like and I am so glad I never even wanted to imagine what it would be like (as I said, I was never a kid that dreamt of winning Wimbledon or Olympic gold medals in the sports I did!).  I’m just in awe that she was able to deal with the pressure and deliver a flawless performance as comfortably as she did, like a dancer in rehearsal and translating to performance without a hint of nerves.  How much does the weight of nation weigh exactly anyway?  I can’t even begin to fathom it.

She has a great team of coaches around her and one of the reasons I think she has probably been so successful is that her coaches were able to identify where she was in the competitor-performer spectrum and let her be it.  I always say, “explore the world, figure out who you are and be THAT.”  It was funny listening to her coach in interviews talking about how other coaches barraged their skaters with corrections right before a performance and all he told Yuna was “you’re ready.”  It’s entirely applicable to the dance teacher-student relationship and looking back at the classes I’ve taken, I remember teachers saying the same thing in so many words, that I was ready, whether it was correcting technique, learning a new technique or simply do what was being asked of me.  Powerful words this…this “you’re ready” business.

I could go on and on about the great things that happened when Kim Yuna took to the ice, but really, like in dance, her actions spoke for themselves.  But in order to relate this to dance just a wee bit (and because I need to file this under a particular category), two-time Olympic champion and figure skating commentator extraordinaire Dick Button once had this to say about Yuna:

I think what’s so incredible is that she’s absolutely a Balanchine-type skater.  Long arms, long legs, truly elegant moves.

And if you know Dick Button’s commentary you know he doesn’t kid around…he’ll point out a turned in foot on a spiral quicker than you can blink.  I don’t know how Balanchine felt about figure skating, but we all know Balanchine liked speed, and that’s something Yuna had plenty of.

I'm almost inspired to don the skating boots and see if I can still do anything. Almost.

NBCOlympics has a full replay sans commentary (Scott Hamilton can be a little grating at times) but I think it only works for viewers within the US.  Link here (watching it still gives me chills!)

They SHOULD make them like they used to

11 Aug

So I thought today I would talk about something besides ballet, but I lied.  Who am I kidding?  I adore ballet and I’ve been wanting to put some of my thoughts into writing on that hoot-and-a-half, Maurice Bejart.  I couldn’t decide on whether I wanted to talk about my favorite of his 2.5 works that I’ve seen on youtube, or whether I wanted to tackle the beast of Stravinsky, and include Bejart’s works in an unintelligent analysis of The Rite of Spring and The Firebird, and how it seems like a number of ballet choreographers feel some burning need to do their own version.  Which means one of two things…the music itself is either highly inspirational (quite possible) or ballet choreographers are neurotic about competing with each other (less likely, but still a possibility), in a “my Firebird can beat up your Firebird” kindergarten kind of way.  Sometimes I even picture the Wilis of Bejart, Michel Fokine and Uwe Scholz (among others I’m sure) slapping each other in the afterlife while engaged in a heated argument over Firebird.  Obviously, were they all alive and in the same room, as artists they would have a mutual respect for each other and discuss their visions in a scholarly fashion, but this is my imagination, not theirs.

Anyway, there are only a few excerpts from Scholz’s version available, which is no fair.  And although there is video (with sheety sound quality unfortunately) of the Bejart Ballet doing Firebird, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater did a production and might release a DVD, so this whole Firebird shebang will have to wait.  To do otherwise would damage my already waning credibility as an amateur dance critic and enthusiast.  The point is, I lied about lying; I’m not going to discus ballet in this entry.

I’d like to take a moment to pay a little homaggito to tap because my previous entries regarding tap were far from profound.  Not surprisingly, this should be interesting, because although when tap was at its peak in the glamorous sparkle of Hollywood during the big band era, one of my FAVORITE periods in music, I know nothing about tap (secretly or not so secretly, I’ve always wanted to learn and even have the gall to think I could be good at it, although to be honest I’d take tap classes just for the big band music).  I don’t even know a single step.  I don’t know how it works, but I know what I know, I like what I like and I find it fascinating.  Rhythms in general are pleasing to the soul, and wouldn’t you know it…I just typed “fascinating.  Rhythms” which means I can bring up my favorite tap dance to Fascinatin’ Rhythm.  But not now (aren’t I full of surprises?) because the performer who made it famous deserves to be mentioned first…the one and only Eleanor Powell.

Ellie was mostly trained in ballet and even danced en pointe for one movie, but this will make you sick…she didn’t even like tap at first and almost quit but stuck with it, and by stuck with it, I mean she took TEN formal lessons.  Then she skyrocketed like a prodigy and the rest is legendary.  Now I kind of missed out on the whole Fred Astaire hysteria because my parents and grandparents didn’t really watch movies and had no tradition to pass down, and even now I’m not particularly obsessed…but I fell in love with Ellie without hesitation.  Fred himself said Ellie was a better dancer than he, which is monumental and unfortunate considering he got more recognition than she did.  But it doesn’t matter…she was born to dance and it’s a wonderful thing that so many of her performances were captured on film.  She had machine gun feet, and thanks to ballet could do huge battements, the splits, and a flurry of turns that would even make a ballet dancer jealous (and trust me, they do).  Makes you wonder how talented she was at ballet, but lucky for us she found her calling.

It wasn’t that she was just a good dancer either…she had a magnetic and vivacious personality to boot.  In fact, I think one needs that to truly be a great dancer, and sadly that’s severely lacking today in so many ways.  Bland personalities make for bland performances, and while the “pretty faces” make money for no reason, the real personalities and talent out there suffer (something tells me if Ellie were alive today she’d be pissed about this too).  There’s a video of her giving a short speech at Fred Astaire’s lifetime achievement award ceremony, and just listening to her in that couple of minutes gave me goosebumps, made my ferociously cold heart melt and make my eyes tear up.  On the one hand, it’s kind of ridiculous that one can get all choked up from a teeny video, but on the other hand you can’t help but feel the power of her presence; almost as if her warmth is reaching out to you.  You just can’t help but like her.  Either that or I’m becoming way too sappy for my own good…I can’t even watch Extreme Makeover Home Edition because I cry every single time, and I even tear up at commercials for The Biggest Loser.  COMMERCIALS.  And this coming from the kid who once said “I would cry if I were a real human.”  Times have changed, folks and folkitos.

Le sigh.  Now as previously mentioned, Fascinatin’ Rhythm was my favorite dance that she did, and it was an epic little bugger, with the way the set had to be moved around (by hand!), multiple piano players, a band, a chorus of dancers.  This was the first dance of hers that I ever saw, and it was one of those moments where you can’t tear your eyes away and you just have to watch with a smile on your face.  And the music was CHOICE.  Hello, Gershwin! ::swoon::

Another similar vid (higher quality):

Now here’s another video where you can see her huge battements and get a better sense of her delicioso leg line, and how in control she was of her body.  And isn’t it fantastic to see a solo female dancer with a male corps, and NO partner?  Although I swear if classic tap weren’t such a suit and tie deal, I’d be completely sold (I HATE dressing up).


And now I shall conclude with some memorable and chuckle-inducing quotes:

“A tap dancer is really a frustrated drummer.”

“I’d rather dance than eat.” <–TRUESIES