Tag Archives: hilary with one L

Sumptuously Ominous…or Ominously Sumptuous?

30 Oct

Dear readers, today I have a special treat for you, a review of Othello, as performed by the Joffrey Ballet and written by my friend Hilary with one L (who you may remember hates enchanted forests and she’s the one I went to see Le Corsaire with).  She is also the author of her own blog, The Cupcake Avenger, which includes a great assortment of recipes and reviews of various gourmet bakeries.  So if you ever get the opportunity to see the Joffrey in Chicago, be sure to check out her blog for advice on where to get sumptuous cupcakes.  We all know ballet fans have refined tastes, so accordingly, your run of the mill grocery store cupcake or even the slightly higher end Starbucks variety simply won’t do.  We have more eclectic and often seasonal tastes, like pumpkin or apple spice in the fall.  So be sure to check out her blog for the benefit of your taste buds.  Seriously, she’s doing the work to find these hole-in-the-wall bakeries so take advantage of it.

So onto her review!  (with a few comments here and there from yours truly) *Also, all pictures are copyright of whomever took them.  This is totally educational.

Sumptuously Ominous…or Ominously Sumptuous?

The playbill for the Joffrey Ballet tells us that they are “America’s Company of Firsts.”  The first dance company to perform at the White House, the first to appear on television, the first to visit Russia, you get the idea.  However, I would also add that they may be the first to field an Othello with a six-pack. I mean, look at him. Seriously, just look. *drool*

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Steve says: Approved!

Ok. On to matters of substance.

On my trip to Chicago last weekend I was lucky enough to score a ticket to the Joffrey’s presentation of Lar Lubovitch’s Othello, which ran through October 25th at the gorgeous Auditorium Theatre.  In another first for the Joffrey, this presentation was the Midwest premiere for Lubovich’s 1997 work. Having already shown on both coasts in New York and San Francisco, it seems appropriate that this incredible piece finally makes its heartland debut in Chicago, Lubovitch’s hometown.  Another first you might notice is that this is a full-length American ballet (possibly the only American commissioned full-length work?  I’ll leave that research to Steve) [I looked into it and couldn’t find any info.  Most American ballets are one act, with the only full-length ones I can think of being A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Jewels and I don’t believe either was commissioned.  So I’ll go with “yes” and recklessly deny whatever the truth is]  Anyways, though the piece was a full evening with three acts, it did not feel lengthy in any way and, in fact, I could have watched all night.

What I loved about this work was that, though it re-enacts Shakespeare’s tale of love, lies, jealousy, revenge and murder, it does so not by painstakingly acting out each scene from the play, but rather by creating moving portraits that evoke the raw emotions of the characters.  By leaving much of the backstory relegated to the program notes, it was possible to portray just as much plot as was necessary to frame the beautiful range of emotion.  I also loved the seamless blending of classical and modern; the ornate costuming and regal poses that belie Shakespeare, but also the modern rolled shoulders and flexed ankles that allow us to experience the true depth of the characters’ anger and anguish.  From the very opening scene this juxtaposition of the sumptuous life of warlord Othello and the ominous fog of ever-present foreshadowing snake through every movement. [Tingles!]

I also have to give a shout out to the amazing score by Academy Award winner Elliot Goldenthal [Totally a Jew] and its equally amazing performance by the Chicago Sinfonietta.  Add to this that the Auditorium Theatre was designed by famous Chicago architects Adler & Sullivan in 1889 with an aim to produce the best acoustics in the world. Not too shabby.  Sometimes I take for granted that ballets will be accompanied by a live orchestra (here’s looking at you, Don Quixote at the Kennedy Center…), but until you’ve seen a full-length ballet performed to canned music you may not appreciate how much live music contributes to the atmosphere of the production [TOTES truesies]. For example, in the opening act, although Othello, Desdemona and the townsfolk all seem to be happily enjoying wedding festivities, the ominous tone prevails with Goldenthal’s shrieking oboes and flaring horns telling us that something is amiss with Othello’s right hand man, Iago (no, not a parrot perched on the shoulder of an evil emir named Jafaar [RAAAAWK! Cave of Wonders!]).  And again in act two, while we’re promised a sunny tarantella, Goldenthal keeps with the ominous minor keys and gives us more of a Danse Macabre to guide the company, dancing Thriller-like with arms outstretched and wrists limp. [You know I love a good macabre danse.  Dance.  Whatever]

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Steve says: Tis the season! Speaking of which, I have like four leftover bags of Kit-Kat bars because like ten trick-or-treaters came to my door (my favorites being a pair of boys, one dressed as a hot dog and the other as a banana). What to do with so much chocolate...

As for the actual movement, the more modern aspects definitely prevailed.  While there was the typical partnering, company and pas de deux work that you would typically expect with a full-length work (but no ghosts or enchanted forests!!) [Huzzah!  Clear skies prevail!] , there were very few of the flashy steps usually associated with classical counterparts, for example only a handful of grand jetés, and no stunning series of 16/32/138 fouettés rond de jambe en tournant.  [Although I’m sure the record is probably around 138, I believe the longest choreographed set of fouettes that I can think of is 96 counts, as opposed to 64 (which equates to 32 fouettes).  The 96/48 fouettes is done in Ricardo Cué’s Snow White that was choreographed on Tamara Rojo.  And because she’s a goddess, she tosses in triples and doubles like it’s no big deal]  There were, however, an inordinate number of fish dives…[It’s still one of my lifelong goals to find someone who can throw me into a fish dive]

Anyways, I have no doubt that the success of this piece was in no small part a result of the amazingly trained company.  Down to every last person on stage it was clear that only impeccable training could result in a performance that conveyed the modern aspects of powerful love, hatred, fear, betrayal and anger while still portraying the restrained, classical atmosphere we would expect from a Renaissance court.  If this production ever tours to your area, don’t think twice.  You can bet that any ballet graphically depicting execution and strangulation must be unique and I cannot recommend this powerful piece highly enough. 

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Steve says: Okay, so I haven't actually read Othello, and I don't know what's going on here.

 Thank you Hilary with one L for such an awesome review!  You’ve got me interested, and I’ve added the San Francisco ballet DVD featuring Desmond Richardson and Tan Yuan Yuan to my wishlist.  I also checked out some clips on youtube of the main pas de deux, and there’s one of Alessandra Ferri and Marcelo Gomes that is STUNNING.  No words…just goose bumps!

Juicy pliés and tornado pirouettes

24 Sep

I have added some new linkage, the first being The Ballet Bag, a blog by the two “bag ladies” who know all, see all, and are constantly updating their twitter feed with the best tidbits about what’s going on in the world of ballet (with a special affinity for everyone’s favorite Royal Ballet).  Forget being in the loop…they ARE the loop, so be sure to read up on their blog for super-informative posts and follow them on twitter or you’ll be left in the orchestra pit (they never know what’s going on).  The second link I’ve added is for Libby Costello’s blog, and she is an expert in alien language labanotation and dance educator extraordinaire among many other things.  Currently a member of the Faculty of Education at the illustrious Royal Academy of Dance, she writes reviews and reports on the London dance scene and we can be sure to expect some personal contemplations soon (she just started bloggin’).  She too, be on twitter, so follow her feeds like you do.  Say what you will about New York or maybe even Amsterdam, but I’m on board with London being the capital of dance.  So much so that should the wallet stop being such a jackass, I’d seriously consider a move (although citizenship and naturalization laws in the UK are pretty daunting).  And by the way, if the 3.5 other people who read this blog ever have suggestions for links (doesn’t even have to be a blog, about ballet, or even dance related, provided it’s your link to share) please lemme know!

Anyway, on the topic of blogs, WordPress users like yours truly have a dashboard, where there’s a little section that tells me some statistics like how many visits I’m getting, which entries are being read and how people are getting here.  It’s really good for my vanity, but on occasion there will be some interesting topics people are searching that somehow bring them to this blog (including a number of inquiries as to how tall Kristin Chenoweth is.  For the record, she’s 4’11”).  One in particular, was a curious soul wanting to know if the degree of turnout affects the speed of a pirouette.  This interests me, so I shall indulge.  I’m going to say, “no.”  For one thing, jazz pirouettes are done in parallel, but they can still be quite fast.  As far as ballet is concerned, certainly, more turnout equates to a more open retiré, and one might think that allows for more room to “throw the knee.”  But all pirouettes come from a turned out position of the feet, so even though we open the leg to the side, it doesn’t actually slingshot to that position.  Rather it starts in a turned out plié and goes up into retiré maintaining the turnout the whole time.  In my experience, speed comes from starting with a robust (and in the words of former teacher Daniela, “juicy”) plié, arriving in retiré as quickly and efficiently as possible, and is probably most dependent on the speed of the spot.  I actually used to have a problem with overcooking the plié (maybe I still do), and using enough force for like ten pirouettes when my brain was intending to do a double.  So if aforementioned inquisitor should return, I hope this is a suitable answer in your quest.  Personally speaking though, speed in a pirouette should not be thought of as a technique, but rather a tool to express musicality.  It’s the slow pirouettes that are really hard anyway.  It’s one thing to do a triple pirouette to fast music and shoot your leg back into fourth or fifth, and it’s a totally different beast to do a triple and actually have to slow down to stop, and then place your foot into fourth or fifth.  My flute teacher would probably find this hysterical because she always yelled at me for playing too fast, and that slower and cleaner is always better…but she doesn’t have to know that she was right.

Meanwhile, I went to the library today to pick up a book I had reserved, and decided to look for ballets.  A long time ago when I searched the database, all that came up was the Nutcracker, a bunch of DVD’s to teach ballet, the movie Ballet Shoes and Angelina Ballerina stuff.  Needless to say I didn’t think Columbus libraries had a decent selection, but it turns out I was the fool because all of the good stuff was located deeper in the results.  After paging through, I fond a treasure trove of goodies, reserved a ton of things and walked away with Royal Ballet’s La Fille mal gardée (1981, Leslie Collier and Michael Coleman), Paris Opera’s La Sylphide (2004, Aurélie Dupont and Mathieu Ganio) and against my better judgment, La Scala’s Romeo and Juliet (2000, Angel Corella and Alessandra Ferri).  Nothing against La Scala, Corella, or Ferri…in fact they were the reasons I borrowed it.  It’s just that Romes & Jules is not my favorite ballet.  How I decide I like a ballet is largely based on a triangular system, with score, libretto and choreography at the points.  When it comes to Romes & Jules, I hate two of the three…the score and libretto.  Like the Montagues et Capulets theme drives me crazy, and conjures images of seasickness and ancient ships with rows of slaves manning the oars, a ruthless captain with a whip to “motivate” them.   As for the libretto…some people find the story a romantic tragedy, but all I can think about is how annoying I find it when young teenagers think their puppy love is the real deal, and for Romeo and Juliet, was worth dying for.  It reeks of teen hormones and stupidity…get a grip.  It bothers me now when twelve year olds think their “dating” is legit.  Juliet was thirteen, and I suppose she at least she had the excuse of a shorter life expectancy and the culture of Shakespearian times.  Oh well…I am at least looking forward to watching Ferri and some of Corella’s freaky tornado pirouettes.  You know, how his pirouettes are lightning fast but he adjusts his torso the entire time and it creates this illusion that he’s wobbling, but somehow he manages to never fall over.

Speaking of things we don’t like in ballet, I shall close with a laugh worthy moment that happened on twitter when friend Hilary with one L, who likes full length classical ballets and especially the Russian tradition, but is not a fan of enchanted forests (or gardens) and ghosts, told me she’s going to see the Washington Ballet’s production of Don Q in a couple of weeks.  So she asked me what the “enchanted forest forecast” was and I had to break it to her that Act III would be when Don Q has his dream of Dulcinea in an enchanted forest surrounded by nymphs.  Maybe next time.

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.