Tag Archives: jerome robbins

PNB’s ‘Love Stories’…not feeling the love

29 Nov

I can’t believe it’s been almost two months since I’ve blogged. It’s embarrassing but this is what working two minimum wage jobs gets you (stay in school, kids!). Still, at the beginning of November I got to review PNB’s ‘Love Stories’ and about once a year I get the royal treatment from them with press tickets, complementary truffles, and wine (or in my case, San Pellegrino Aranciata—the last thing I need to be doing is falling asleep mid-performance!). Chocolates aside, I love having the opportunity to do this because I rarely get to sit at orchestra level, and with having my season tickets up in the second balcony, I get to catch a second performance and see the same ballet from vastly differing locations. This was most apparent in Le Baiser de la Fée, but before I get into the details you’re pretty much going to have to read the aforementioned semi-legitimate review over at SeattleDances because I’m not one to rehash something I’ve already written and it’s my blatant way of directing some more traffic to that site.

Under the assumption that you have now read it (because, why wouldn’t you?), I shall elaborate on some of my thoughts. First and foremost, I hope I made it clear that the programming was unimaginative, even though the dancers were amazing. There were at least two embittered audience members who knew that ‘Love Stories’ replaced the ‘All Robbins’ program that was supposed to feature Dances at a Gathering. Sitting a few rows behind Peter Boal, there may have also been plans for one to trip him as he came down the aisle, and the accomplice to pin him to the floor until our their demands were met, but in the interest of avoiding assault charges, logic prevailed. Regardless, ‘Love Stories’ definitely rubbed some sea salt into the wounds because it simply lacked continuity. A mixed bill of shorter ballets is great because there’s always “something for everyone” and it’s exciting to decide what appeals to you or not, or performing works all by one choreographer is interesting too because it offers many facets of one artist’s perspective of the world. However, “love” is much too broad a topic and even a little misleading—Robbins’s Afternoon of a Faun is not about love, and neither is the pas de deux between Siegfried and Odile. Even Le Baiser de la Fée was pushing it, since it didn’t really have a narrative. Baiser could have easily been interpreted as affection between two youths, children almost, and at that age, is it really love? I mean, the title of the program isn’t ‘Narcissism, Deception, Love Stories, and One Potential.’

I hate to say this because I love and respect PNB so much but this is the first time after moving to Seattle that I’ve been really disappointed with a program. Besides the fact that the dancers were totally hosed by not getting to develop roles completely, eavesdropping on conversations during the matinee revealed my worst fears to be true. Many didn’t “get” Faun and while art is of course subjective, there are times when the artist’s intent is important and Faun isn’t entirely abstract. However, as a part of ‘Love Stories,’ semantics played a role in herding the audience into preconceived notions—there were those who did in fact find Faun beautiful (and it is), but called it “utterly romantic.” My stomach really turned though even before the show began when I overheard someone say that ‘Love Stories’ extracted “just the best parts” of each ballet. I could have screamed in horror—what, really is the best part of Swan Lake? It’s impossible to answer that and it’s the same for Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette. I don’t even like the story and even I know that there are several pivotal moments throughout and my friend and I were both left wanting to see more after opening night. As for Sleeping Beauty…well, I’m not sure there’s a best part of that ballet because it’s so heinously long and chock full of divertissements, but there are definitely parts that are significantly more pleasing to watch than the Puss in Boots variation that beats you over the head with pas de chat. Not to mention, I was pleasantly surprised by the grandeur of PNB’s Sleeping Beauty and honestly, it does look like a beautiful production.

Perhaps worst of all is that inevitably, I bought into the idea of ‘Love Stories’ too because I was really excited to see Carrie Imler dance Odile. Of course, I would much rather seen her perform the whole ballet, but in a nutshell, Carrie Imler is a goddess who is ruminative, powerful, and has impeccable technique. She’s no banana-footed string bean and I like to think of her as a throwback to when ballet dancers were admired for a healthy balance of purity in technique and performance quality. Reading up on ballet history might surprise some by revealing how difficult some of the exercises were during certain eras, and even professional dancers today wouldn’t be able to do certain steps as they were described. If you recall PNB’s Works and Process presentation on Giselle, you may remember Peter Boal mentioning that Imler can do anything and a certain passage in the peasant pas de deux that was incredibly tricky and required superhuman fast feet, was one she made look completely natural. Her body awareness is extraordinary and she’s always on top of her leg and can literally stop on a dime, plus she has one hell of a lofty jump, and effortless bravura steps. When it came time for the ubiquitous fouettés, she wove doubles and triples tightly into the music and looked like she could have done even more had she chosen to. It saddens and upsets me that the inclusion of the Black Swan pas de deux cuts her off at the knees, never revealing to anyone the contrast between her Odette and Odile.

Imler in Peasant Pas de Deux (4:57, note how the original choreography in the first phrase emphasizes the crossing of the foot on the downbeat—I love that!)

Some footage of Imler in rehearsal for ‘Love Stories’ at 0:14 and 1:00 (take special note of how she finishes that manège, pirouetting on one leg and casually changing to the other on pointe like it’s nothing. I’m pretty sure that’s freakishly harder than it looks).

One of my other favorite dancers in the company, Jerome Tisserand shined in the Bluebird Pas de Deux from Sleeping Beauty, which he did for both performances I attended, as well as Faun. Since ‘Love Stories,’ Tisserand has been promoted to soloist, which I’ve been telling people since last year and it’s funny to me that audience members were talking about him as if he were up and coming when he’s really been that good all along. For me, the buzz was something of a bittersweet reminder that the audience was eating up exactly what they were being fed, that casting Tisserand in principal roles meant he was worthy of the promotion when he’s been long overdue based on his talent alone. Of course there are others in the audience who have noticed him as I have (and probably since he first arrived!) but it remains disheartening how passive some of the audience was in accepting what was given, never thinking to question any of it. In this instance, the programming didn’t take any risks, and a great deal of the audience chose not to think for themselves.

A snippet of Tisserand in Bluebird (begins at 1:25, note the ease and airiness of his arms at 1:57 for the brisé volé! In the video he partners Margaret Mullin, who I didn’t get to see in this, though I like her a lot)

Dark times I suppose and it’s something that weighs heavily on a lot of arts organizations in the current economic climate especially. Tamara Rojo was recently a part of a panel discussing the future of dance in the UK, though she spoke of ballet in America briefly and so accurately describes what the probable situation is and I feel it’s relevant to share her wisdom here:

Corporations and private funders don’t want to take risks. They want to take their friends to a very safe show that ends well, is not going to offend anybody, and is a great celebration of their economic success…in America, it has translated, in my opinion to the death of any artistic vision. There is no risk taking in the great ballet companies, there’s nothing new being created, it’s constantly Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Romeo and Juliet—and I love those ballets—I do them all the time myself, but unless we invest in new unknowns, there will be no future Romeo and Juliets, there will be no future Swan Lakes, there will be no future for the arts.

Those pieces of work survive for good reason and the audience goes to see them for very good reasons. However, it is my personal opinion that in an organization that has that [funding] cushion, you ought to take risks but the responsibility lies entirely on the artistic directors. It is not in the funding bodies, it is not for them to tell us how to spend that money and it’s very good that there’s an ‘arm’s length’ policy [for the Royal Ballet] where they don’t tell us how to spend that money so if we want to look at why these companies are not putting on more creative programs, it is actually a personal decision by an artistic director and that is the person that has to answer for the programming being seen.

Meanwhile, can I just point out that when Tamara said that there would be no future great classics, Sleeping Beauty was not mentioned again? Intentional—I’m sure of it!

All Aboard for ‘All Wheeldon’

10 Oct

Ahoy! I can’t believe I’ve neglected my blog for virtually all of September, and I’m not happy about it, but I shan’t dwell because I have a lot of words to cram into this one post on Pacific Northwest Ballet’s run of ‘All Wheeldon,’ a program that consisted solely of Christopher Wheeldon ballets. As those of you more obsessive readers know, I attended a preview with the man himself, where he discussed some of his works while the dancers rehearsed on stage, and wrote a synopsis for SeattleDances. There was much I couldn’t include, and luckily, I can be almost as loquacious as I want here, so here’s a little more to the story.

Life began for Christopher Wheeldon in England, where he described himself as very much a “Billy Elliot.” Stop. Okay, so I have to disagree with Mr. Wheeldon a little bit (Chris, if you’re on a first name basis), because I adore Billy Elliot and there’s more to Billy than simply being a male dancer in the UK; Billy faced a great deal of adversity in not having family who understood his curiosity in ballet. Wheeldon’s mother trained in dance (though she was forbidden to have a career in it because her father thought it inappropriate) and his father comes from a background in theatre (which is actually how his parents met), so a passion for the performing arts is not a foreign idea for his parents. Becoming a professional dancer is a major accomplishment, but it’s how Billy makes his father and brother understand him that is the triumph of the film…but I digress. The point is, Wheeldon’s formative and professional years were perhaps more sanctified. He recalled watching Sir Frederick Ashton as a student, working with two girls on a ballet in honor of the Queen’s birthday, a long, ashy cigarette in hand and after graduating from the Royal Ballet School, Wheeldon would also come face to face with Sir Kenneth MacMillan (I believe he mentioned that he was in the corps when MacMillan choreographed The Prince of the Pagodas). Incidentally, it was Peter who even brought up Ashton and MacMillan; let’s just say it required every ounce of discipline I had to NOT leap out of my chair and praise in jubilation, though the sad fact is the majority of the audience probably didn’t know much (if anything) about them. I get that some of the Ashton or MacMillan repertory is too much to ask for right now, but bits and pieces would be nice!

At any rate, Wheeldon has told the story of the Hoover vacuum countless times, and how he always has to retell it which is why I’m going to skip it; all you really need to know is that a vacuum cleaner got him to New York. Still recovering from an injury that kept him from competing for the Erik Bruhn Prize (where he was slated to perform the pas de deux from…The Dream! When he said it was his favorite and I just about died…can you imagine him as Oberon?), he merely sought to take class at NYCB. Somehow he was confused with some dancers auditioning for the company, and miraculously, Peter Martins offered him a contract. It worked out well for the lucky teenager, as he was quick to credit Balanchine as his greatest source of inspiration (beginning with a graduation performance of Valse Fantaisie) because his ballets taught him was a sense of structure and shape, because they would “never pull your eye the wrong way.” When Wheeldon joined NYCB, however, Jerome Robbins was still working with NYCB, and Wheeldon has some interesting comments regarding him and how he and Peter Boal were perhaps the last generation to put up with the idea of “success through intimidation and fear.” However, Robbins did impart emphasis on understanding who you are in a ballet, and encouraged dancers to be human.

The introduction ended with a sort of hodgepodge of information, like some general information about his production of Alice in Wonderland for the Royal Ballet, how it’s his largest production to date, with a new score, etc. and also some of his future plans, like NYCB performing DGV, which will be a first because NYCB has never imported a ballet made on another company before. Wheeldon will also expand his artistic pursuits a bit with a first time outing as a choreographer for a Broadway production. He’s busy, he’s sensational, and he had fascinating things to say about the ballets PNB performed.

First came the lovely Carousel, which is a romantic, light-hearted fantasy celebrating music by Richard Rogers, and originally intended for a gala program. In this piece, Wheeldon sought to use pure movement to create an atmosphere (with no budget!) so the costumes are simple, minimal set design, and just enough lighting to enhance the mood. The work definitely has that “carnival” feel, and a central pas de deux that plays out like an awkward first date. The pas de deux to me definitely had a little MacMillan in it (I definitely saw steps from Manon), and struck me as a game of cat and mouse between two people who had a romanticized idea of what love is, as if they’ve seen the movies and have preconceived notions but the truth is turning out to be not as interesting as the myth. It definitely has a dark cloud hanging over it, though still playful and lush as it is, and Wheeldon had high praise for the original cast of Damian Woetzel and Alexandra Ansanelli, complementing the bravura of the former and the great imagination of the latter. I saw Carla Körbes and Seth Orza in both rehearsal and performance, and I absolutely adored them in it—flawless casting! High praise too for Margaret Mullin, who I got to see up close during the lecture demonstration (my subscriber tickets are up in the balcony, so for general seating I beeline for the third row), really taking notice of her lovely épaulement and beautiful hands…she has a wonderful refinement that really stood out to me. Carousel was easily my favorite Wheeldon ballet because I’m a sappy romantic and it’s one of those pieces that you just have to smile at while watching, while getting just a dash of Busby Berkely-ish, oh-so-satisfying cinematic geometry.

Meanwhile, Polyphonia was the complete opposite. I found it funny that Wheeldon picked the music—a scattering of piano notes somehow composed into song by György Ligeti—while browsing at Tower Records. I don’t know why the image of Christopher Wheeldon at a retail music store, listening to samples of tracks on headphones is so endearing, but it is. With the score being so difficult to almost listen to (apparently when he played it for his dad, he almost drove off the road), I had a sinking feeling Polyphonia was going to disagree with me and while it wasn’t my favorite, I was surprised that I liked it more than I thought I would. It’s what Wheeldon called “a sketchbook,” the title meaning “multiple voices” and it depicts…not people, but beings? For me it was like staring through a microscope into a Petri dish, and seeing these curious creatures that were both alien and terrestrial…like deep-sea plankton. It’s rather bizarre but then you get these interesting pictures like the duet between two men that was a sort of “question and response,” with one dancer shadowing the other, it’s becomes something recognizable like a younger brother imitating his elder sibling and Polyphonia made many such shifts between the foreign and familiar that I found fascinating. Wheeldon himself said it took choreographing (and finishing!) the work to unlock the score’s mysteries, to find order in disorder, and create something not chaotic but mathematical (help us Dave Wilson!).

The last previewed work was After the Rain, or as I like to call it, “the Yoga Pas de Deux.” This piece was made for Jock Soto’s final season, an odyssey of partnering that often created the illusion of independent movement. There were times when the couple would reach for each other without making eye contact, and the danseuse just had to trust that her partner would lift her into the next step. For fans of Wendy Whelan, Wheeldon mentioned that she was visibly upset when told she would be dancing barefoot (he said “there may have been a tear”) but that After the Rain was a fascinating insight into her gentler side, beyond her fabulous technique. Meditative, tranquil, and often inviting a sense of loss, After the Rain achieved its purpose so perfectly the Seattle audience (who definitely loves their yoga!) responded to it very enthusiastically…even if I didn’t. I did yoga for a couple of years and I didn’t have the attention span for it then and certainly don’t now, so I didn’t find myself really interested. It’s not what I would call a “let down,” but when the theoretically strongest work is your least favorite, you’re sent on a different emotional roller coaster than the rest of the audience and that can be tricky to figure out.

Closing out the actual performance evening was Variations Sériuses, a comedic story ballet about a ballerina with a diva attitude who essentially gets in her own way and ends up being replaced by a younger dancer (et tu…Lily?). The neat thing about this piece is that the set is built to show a view from the wings as this fictitious ballet company rehearses and puts on a production of an unnamed ballet, which clues the audience into what it’s like backstage and of course, hamming it up a little. It has just enough melodrama to appeal to the general audience, though professional dancers and those familiar with the stage life will certainly derive a little extra here and there. The ballet within the ballet is a generic sort, with Romantic tutus and floral headwear, and the most heinously neon pink costumes you might ever see. American Ballet Theater principal David Hallberg once referred to their production of Theme and Variations as the “pink monster,” but this ballet-within-a-ballet should then be called the “pink behemoth.” We are talking about the most offensive to the eyes, highlighter pink imaginable, obviously intentional because we’d be fools if we believed dancers enjoyed every costume they have to wear (and just in case you were wondering…they don’t). Laced with hilarity, I quite enjoyed Variations Sériuses, and really enjoyed Carrie Imler as the Ballerina. It’s a role in which a dancer could easily flail around and indulge in too much melodrama, but she always gives intelligent performances and trust me when I say she has some mean (literally) echappés!

Overall, I’ve enjoyed this crash course in Christopher Wheeldon’s work, having only seen a couple of pieces by Corella Ballet prior to PNB’s program. I did kind of yearn for something bigger, as there is something pleasing about having that big, symphonic ending (as ubiquitous as it may be), but you don’t curate a Chagall exhibit and spray the paintings with glitter because there isn’t enough “razzle-dazzle.” In these instances one must respect the creator’s perspective and when it comes to Wheeldon, I found every piece to be tasteful, coherent, and wonderfully made—a marvelous start to the performance season!

Here are some excerpts of the lecture/demonstration with Wheeldon, courtesy of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s YouTube channel:

The Prince and the Pauper

27 Mar

This is not a post, as the title may suggest, on reasons why Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper should be a ballet (though the idea has merit).  It is how I would describe my recent experiences with seeing Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Contemporary 4.  I guess I earned my balletomane stripes these past couple of weeks, because I’ve finally graduated to that level of crazy where one sees the same ballet more than once, in order to see different casts.  Although contemporary ballets are often not the best medium for really identifying individual performers, Alexei’s Ratmansky’s Concerto DSCH has enough narrative such that different casts for the two performances I saw made a huge difference in temperament.  However, this goes beyond just seeing the same dances more than once—I went opening night as a dance reviewer for SeattleDances (read that review here), and attended the final show (a Sunday matinee) up in the nosebleed seats thanks to my season ticket as a subscriber.

So what were the differences?  Well, getting to go as a reviewer was pretty rad.  I received two complementary tickets at orchestra level (my first time seeing the company from there I might add), quite close to where Ratmansky himself was seated for the PNB premiere of his work.  I also got to hang out in the pressroom where there were free drinks and chocolates (I had three sips of wine which was enough to burn my face off) and had a chance to talk to some of the administrative people of PNB who were floating around and socializing.  I found out that this here blog is something of a known entity amongst them and in fact, the media relations guy Gary recognized me when I picked up my tickets and told me that some of my entries get forwarded throughout.  This is simultaneously insanely awesome and alarming; I can’t tell you how grateful I am that people out there are reading because it’s one of the most rewarding things about being a writer but this means there’s a possibility I could say something that will get me into trouble.  So, I would like to take a moment to remind everyone that we live in a country where people are innocent until proven guilty…

Obviously, there was no special treatment for the Sunday matinee, which in many ways is more indicative of the real dance writer…you know, the majority of us who don’t make a living off of our creative output.  I often laugh at the stereotype of the “starving artist,” the struggling dancer in New York, waiting tables to pay an exorbitant amount for rent, surviving on ketchup packets and tap water as they channel the difficulty of their lives through the medium of dance, because that means the people who write about them should have an even sadder existence.  Perhaps it’s true to a certain extent…dance writing is a labor of love, but just as the “struggling dancer” takes a “by any means necessary” approach, we also do as we do because quite frankly, we have things to say.  I don’t mind not having the glamour of orchestra level seating and such (though I’ll take what I can get!) because sitting in the balcony has its perks too.  As a most casual mortal, I can wear jeans up there and nobody’s going to say anything (and believe me, I wasn’t the only one…this is Seattle after all).  Also, some ballets look even more amazing with a near bird’s eye view.  Paul Gibson’s Piano Dance was one that I appreciated more from higher up.  Pacific and Concerto DSCH were just as lovely (though I liked being closer for DSCH) and no seat in the house was going to help me enjoy Place a Chill.

Yes, it’s true…I’m obviously opinionated just like anyone else and I didn’t like Marco Goecke’s Place a Chill.  I gave it a fair review in SeattleDances because I respect its value as art; Goecke certainly has a concept and a clear vision, executed incredibly well by the performers…it just wasn’t my thing.  This is probably the biggest challenge for dance writers, is setting aside one’s ego and figuring out a way to be critical without making it personal.  It requires a lot of sorting, and a lot of what I didn’t like about the piece was indeed personal, with the only nugget of reasonable criticism being the fact that I did feel like the piece was too long.  On the one hand, Camille Saint-Saëns’s Cello Concerto No.1 in A minor is a beautiful piece of music not to be mangled with edits, but with the movement being so stylized and rather stationary, there’s only so much one can take of quick twitchiness before getting bored.  I of course had the same problems watching the piece both times, but recognizing what I like to see in my favorite ballets has helped me figure out what criticism is personal and what isn’t.

For example, a pattern amongst my favorite ballets is that they’re all very pure…simple, musical, and pristine, tending to side with lightheartedness and the plain old “pretty.”  The reason being, my approach to beauty is quite escapist.  Sure, a landscape of a beach is like a generic postcard photo, but I love them because I can imagine escaping into them.  Even a ballet like La Sylphide which ends tragically, still takes place in a fantastical world of delight and magic so it’s an escape from the reality we know.  One does not really escape into Place a Chill—it can draw you in, but it’s not a world I want to live in and that’s why I can’t say I really enjoyed it.  However, lambasting the work solely based on my personal issues would have been unfair—valid as an opinion sure, but as a legitimate art critique?  Boo-boo.  Especially considering the strong audience response to Place a Chill at both performances I attended, I was clearly in the minority.  Many people were completely fascinated by it…I was too busy being resistant.

Meanwhile, as for Concerto DSCH, I enjoyed both casts.  I think opening night may have had more energy, and with Carla Körbes and Carrie Imler (two of my favorites in the company) in the principal roles, it’s hard not to feel like that was my dream cast.  In the matinee, Lucien Postlewaite and Jerome Tisserand were more memorable in the trio for me, capturing a more youthful boyishness that went well with the character of Ratmansky’s choreography.  A second viewing of DSCH delivered as I thought it would…what did I say in my review? “Sure to reveal a myriad of individual company members’ personalities in different casts.”  Now, I’m not prophetic, but sometimes my intuition rocks (although in retrospect, the above quote is a statement of the obvious, no?).

Pacific Northwest Ballet in Ratmansky's effervescent Concerto DSCH. So...you can kind of see Carla in the center there, and a lot of people had a vehement hatred of the sage green. What say you? (Photo ©Angela Sterling)

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s 2011-2012 Season Tidbits

2 Feb

Here’s some exciting news…I received my subscription renewal package to Pacific Northwest Ballet in the mail today, where a few tidbits about next season have been revealed.  This season I chose to do a mini-subscription which entailed selecting four of the six programs they are doing because I knew there would be something I didn’t want to see (this year’s omissions being Kent Stowell’s Cinderella and Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, though I may cave on the latter, even if it betrays my beloved Ashton ballet, The Dream).  The mini-subscription has the advantage of purchasing additional tickets at a discounted price and I like having that flexibility, though the one problem with it is that they prioritize full season subscriptions and sell the mini ones later.  Perhaps this is there way of encouraging me to buy a full subscription, but I’m stubborn and it’s not going to work.

So what’s in store for Seattle area residents and the travelling fan?  Four juicy mixed bills, including an All Balanchine/Stravinsky program.  ‘Twas a special relationship between Balanchine and Stravinsky, one of the last significant collaborations between choreographer and composer in the world of ballet.  A great number of works were born out of their creativity, including Divertimento from Le Baiser de la Fée and Apollo, which are confirmed to be a part of the program.  Any number of works could flesh out the evening, as PNB has several Balanchine/Stravinsky ballets in their repertory and could easily learn another one (in fact, Divertimento will be a premiere for the company).  I saw excerpts of Apollo when PNB did their ‘Balanchine’s Petipa’ lecture demonstration (which is where I fell in love with the dancing of Carla Körbes), and am eager to revisit the piece as well as see anything new for the first time so I’m all in for this one (even if some of Stravinsky’s music occasionally gives me insomnia).

Another mixed bill will be an All Robbins program, which doesn’t have any details listed in the newsletter, but Karena confirmed after attending a post-performance talk of the program that included Robbins’s Glass Pieces, that Dances at a Gathering would be on the menu.  I couldn’t be happier…Dances at a Gathering has been my holy grail for the longest time and I might just buy tickets for a good five to seven performances just to permanently burn it into my retinas.  With Dances being a good meaty hour or so, it will be interesting to see what else will be included.  Perhaps it will be a night of Chopin, with In The Night and The Concert, or maybe it will be a diversified selection of Jerome Robbins works and showcase variety with the lighthearted Fancy Free or popular West Side Story Suite.  All of the above are in the rep, though there are other iconic ballets like Afternoon of a Faun that are not, so surprises could be in store.  Regardless, I’m not going to get greedy…just give me Dances and I will gladly pay the money to see it over and over again.

Rounding out the mixed bills are an All Wheeldon program (obviously, featuring ballets by Christopher Wheeldon) and a Director’s Choice, which will showcase contemporary works.  I have no idea what to expect from either of these, as PNB has many pieces they’ve done before to choose from and possible new pieces being learned, though I’ve never seen any Wheeldon ballets so that program is a must for me.  No details were revealed about the Director’s Choice program, so I will probably end up skipping it by default, and purchasing a ticket later.

As is tradition there must be full-length ballets in the lineup and unfortunately I was a little disappointed with the selections for the upcoming season, but that has nothing to do with the ballets themselves, it really is just me being cranky about it.  They will bring back Balanchine’s Coppélia, which they just did last year and it’s simply not among my favorites to warrant a strong enough desire to see it again.  It’s a good production—I just don’t want to go again so soon and I think part of the reason why it’s a little disappointing is because there are other full-lengths they haven’t done in a while, like Swan Lake or Jewels (the latter being most preferable!).  The other story ballet will be Alexei Ratmansky’s Don Quixote, a new ballet for PNB and while I haven’t seen Ratmansky’s version, it’s not a ballet I’m a huge fan of.  I find it a little ridiculous and on the cheesy side, with a score that isn’t anything special.  However, I feel the need to give it a chance, and to date I’ve never seen Ratmansky’s choreography live either so I’m going to give it a go.  It really could be worse…like they could be doing Paquita, but even if I’m not exactly fond of Don Quixote, I do feel it important to check off Petipa based classics on my “Live Performance List,” which sadly, only contains Bolshoi’s production of Le Corsaire so far (clearly, I need to get out more…or REALLY get out and move to London).

Despite certain aversions and personal yearnings, I commend Peter for putting together what looks to be an exciting, well-balanced season.  There’s a great deal of variety that honors the classical traditions, highlights the neoclassical masterminds and brings fresh blood in with new works.  However, my plight of lacking Ashton, MacMillan and Bournonville continues, and I was never foolish enough to think that this would change in the upcoming year, but next weekend I will be running off to San Francisco to see San Francisco Ballet perform Ashton’s Symphonic Variations in a mixed bill with Symphony in C and RAku (which is obviously, what I will be doing instead of seeing Cinderella).  I guess I lied earlier when I said I couldn’t be happier about Dances at a Gathering…because I am over the moon about Symphonic Variations!  Be looking forward to that review, which will also include a Giselle with the lovely Maria Kochetkova.  If you were hoping to hear my thoughts on PNB’s Cinderella…too bad.

2010 Year in Review: Contest Winners!

15 Jan

Ladykitties and gentlecats, I have selected winners for the You Dance Funny 2010 Year in Review contest!  Among the array of entries that I oh so subtlety twisted your arms to get, these were the three that stuck out to me.  Two of them long, and one of them short, I value all of your feedback equally and have much food for thought in terms of future writing!  Please know that just because the contest is over that you have no opportunities to tell me what you’re thinking…comments are always appreciated and e-mails the same (even if I don’t get to them right away!).  Dialogue and discussion are incredibly rewarding for all parties involved, which is why I hope you’ll also take a moment to read how fellow readers have been responding to my posts…I hope you find them as enlightening as I have!

Winner: Mark

Photo Chosen:

Ballet Preljocaj in 'Near Life Experience' (Photo ©John Ross)

 

(In response to the post, ‘Muse Musings’)

This is kind of my favorite post! Not because it is so funny, actually, but because it’s a little more on the cerebral side. As somebody who grew up with dance as an integral part of my life I guess I just take “that grey matter—the substance between choreographer and teacher” for granted! But I enjoyed very much hearing how you were able to identify that…try to pin it down…very interesting!

Note from me: Short, sweet and to the point, I really appreciated this feedback because first of all, I kind of pulled that post out of nowhere, so I wasn’t sure there was even anything of substance in it, so I’m glad someone had a strong reaction to it, and second that the analytical aspects really resonated with you…I feel very encouraged to think deeply for future posts.  Thanks Mark and congratulations!

Winner: Catherine

Photo Chosen:

It seems Catherine and I (and many more) share some favorite dancers in common! (Photo ©John Ross)

Today I’ll be mostly talking about my favourite You Dance Funny post of 2010, and the winner is… 10th May, “Jerome Robbins’s In the Night“.  The main reason I love this post is that it introduces a ballet I’ve never seen before, entirely watchable within the post on Youtube, alongside a lively and observant commentary.  Strike one: I learned something! Strike two: I loved the ballet and got way more out of watching here than from Youtube alone (and heaven knows it is hard enough to link to short dance clips without them mysteriously disappearing, let alone a whole ballet).   Words like “inhaling and exhaling”, “floatacious”, “a hot mess” and “energy through the fingertips” prod one into watching more closely.  I enjoy reading your opinions even if I don’t always share them – the second pas de deux that you found “stoic, calculated and….a little abrasive” struck me as beautifully harmonious and moving in its portrayal of repressed affection (blame this on my period drama – loving TV habits) whereas when you wrote “I constantly wanted to yank her bodice up” for part 3 I thought, yes! So do I!!

In general this post also showcases two other things I like about your blog: firstly it mentions your latest DVD find from the library – this I love as for me ballet is strictly pleasure, and I have huge admiration for people who like to study it in a more scholarly fashion.  Even the most casual research really adds value to the enterprise and makes it easy for us to explore right along with you. Secondly, the lovely chatty intro “blurb” giving us entertaining insight into your life and mindset that day (“circling the shopping center like a vulture keen on carrion”) means that we get to know you and can see where your opinions are coming from, not to mention breeze through a pretty long post as easily as catching up with a friend.  This is a real gift of yours – writing in a totally informal way that is fun to read but with true balletomane attention to detail.

In summary: videos – good, opinions – good, chatter – good, research – good.  Oh, and knowing that you are also a student of ballet with a self-deprecating sense of humour is a bonus:)

Bravo and here’s to an even greater 2011!

Note from me: I’ve actually been thinking of revisiting a discussion on In The Night, as new videos have popped up (I think by a Russian company) and rumor has it Pacific Northwest Ballet will be doing it next season.  I’m glad you enjoyed this post because it specifically introduced a new ballet to you (as it did me!) and I’m also happy to hear that you disagree with some of my ideas too…that creates potential for interesting discussions!  Also, that my made up words don’t entirely horrify people.  Many thanks Catherine, and enjoy your prize!

Winner: Karena

Photo Chosen:

I've seen this one before...is there anything more pleasing than four dancers in fourth position? (Photo ©John Ross)

 

I have a problem with favorites. For instance, when someone asks me what my favorite color is, I never know what to say. Are we talking color to look at, or color to wear? Am I wearing it as a splash of accent color, or as my main clothing item? And what’s the weather like, anyway? And favorite food? What meal is it? What have I been doing that day? Am I above or below my RDA of chocolate? So rather than picking a favorite post, I will just say that at the moment, in my current situation, given today’s weather and the fact that apparently I am a Leo instead of a Virgo (blasphemy! I am routinely harassed for how Virgo I am…), the post I feel like commenting on is February’s post on the Merce Cunningham show.

So first off, the feedback that you probably can’t make be widely applicable (I’ll try to be constructive in a moment). What got me going on this post were the two paragraphs about Karen and Dave’s pre-show talk. They made me all warm-fuzzy nostalgic about Karen and Dave (I miss them!) and how wonderful they are. I especially like the bit about Karen exemplifying dance as the fiber of one’s being. Yup, that’s her. Sadly for many of the readers of your blog, they don’t know Karen and Dave, so they might not realize how awesome that pre-show talk must have been. But it made me happy. Feel free to continue to write about them.

But another reason that I fastened upon this post is a quality that you have in many of your posts. You do this tricky thing where you bring a fresh perspective, the eyes of someone new to dance (or at least to a particular dance), yet also speak in a knowledgeable and well-researched voice. (Now if this were a school essay, I would rework that last sentence to make clear that what you are saying is well-researched, not the sound of your voice. Because I’m reading your writing. So I don’t hear your voice. But the sound of your voice may be well-researched too, I don’t want to try to say that it’s not.) I think a lot of people who haven’t seen dance spend a lot of time worrying that they will come up with the “wrong” answer when watching it, and then let themselves be intimidated out of watching dance. (Meanwhile, a lot of dance insiders tend to bring the baggage of their preconceptions to a show, and preconceive themselves out of watching the dance that’s going on in front of them.) I like that with the Cunningham show, as with others that you have written about, you can come to it saying “I haven’t seen it before, don’t know if I’ll like it or get it” and then are able to just pay attention to your reactions and run with them rather than run from them. Meanwhile, you do enough research about what you are watching that you can then proceed to put your reactions into a wider context, giving them background and support. I can see a post like this being a useful guide to someone trying to figure out how to watch and think about dance, while it is just as (even more?) fascinating for the knowledgeable dancer/reader for its astute and detailed observations about the performance. You do get a few demerit points for putting into words what I’ve been trying to say when describing Cunningham to people: “Life itself is a string of unrelated events that have no meaning and yet they do when we decide to attach that meaning. Cunningham merely provided the series of events while I attached the meaning. It was very empowering, which is the magic of being an audience member of a Cunningham dance.” But if you let me steal those sentences, I’ll try to be a little less bitter.

Note from me: I’m really proud of this post so I’m glad it stood out.  The stories Karen and Dave shared were just so beautiful and I’ll never forget how the epic the whole experience felt.  Also, that some of my posts on modern dance are enjoyable amongst the sea of ballet themed ones.  Here’s something I haven’t shared about this post though…shortly after the inaugural performance of the Legacy Tour, I received an e-mail from Carol Teitelbaum, the faculty chair at the Cunningham studios in New York, who told me that the post was passed on to all of them from someone at the Cunningham organization!  Of the thanks she gave, I was most touched by this:

It is gratifying that Merce’s mission is being so satisfyingly realized by his company that you could have the experience you did, and write about it so clearly.

Talk about feedback!  It was one of the first times I felt like I had really made a difference with my writing, and am so grateful that you saw something special in that post too.  Thanks Karena, and congratulations on your winning entry!

Well folks, that rounds it up…I hope you’ll keep this contest in mind as 2011 has begun.  There’s a good chance this will happen again.  As in, I’m totally doing this again in 2012!  So make it easy for yourself and keep your favorites in mind this year, okay?  Wink wink.

Pacific Northwest Ballet: ‘Director’s Choice’ Review

3 Oct

Welcome to October, and the beginning of what I shall deem “Reader Appreciation Month.”  As far as I’ve planned (which truthfully isn’t that far in advance) I’m dedicating every entry I write this month to faithful and friendly readers.  I’ve been inspired by a few suggestions of what readers have said they would like to see and have actually begun the process of doing the necessary thinking and research—it’s pretty exciting for me.  However, to kick off the festivities I shall be doing a review of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s October 2nd performance of their season opener, “Director’s Choice,” which includes works by Jiří Kylián, Nacho Duato and Jerome Robbins.  I dedicate this entry to Karena, who tolerated me in class, taught me things I needed to know, continues to encourage my potentially unhealthy obsession with ballet and simply told me that she wanted to hear my thoughts on the show.

First of all, I have to say it’s been months since Coppélia and I’ve been dying without live performances.  Dying.  So I was really looking forward to this.  It was also a night of firsts for me, as I’ve never seen Kylián, Duato or Robbins ballets live before.  I have seen the film version of Petite Mort (performed by the Nederlands Dance Theatre), and actually this is one of the first dances I ever saw, way back in the heyday of my introductory ballet classes, so I have a particular affection for it.  While I wasn’t as familiar with dance vocabulary at the time (as in, I knew virtually nothing) I remember falling in love with the piece and more specifically the mood of it.  The whole dance is washed in beautiful golden tones and has the most cleverly devised choreography.  Now having seen it live, I see with a new perspective how Kylián can take movements that should look (and feel) awkward like bent elbows, turned in legs, flexed feet etc. but give them a musical place and flow that makes them just as graceful as any romantic ballet step.  What’s more, it’s the way in which he manipulates those movements with classical lines that creates a visual feast for the eyes.  What I found most fascinating was his use of symmetry—symmetry down the middle of a single body or mirrored lines that were formed between two dancers.  The symmetry was not just vertical either, but horizontal, on varying angles and crisscrossing that created a kaleidoscopic effect—even if you turned your head just a little bit the shapes would take on a new life.

I was a little nervous for PNB because they started the dance a little jittery tonight.  Towards the beginning of the dance the male dancers pull a gigantic piece of billowing fabric from the back of the stage to the front and when they run to the back of the stage again, it’s as if the smoke clears to reveal a group of female dancers lying on the floor.  Unfortunately, a couple of the dancers were a little late and I could see them hurriedly laying down which may seem like I’m nitpicking a detail, but you have to understand that Petite Mort is Kylián’s spell—which can easily be broken.  In that sense, his choreography is so fragile because timing is paramount.  However, such is the nature of live performance and the whole fabric thing is repeated a second time in the dance and they pulled it off flawlessly.  I enjoyed the rest of the piece immensely and it is so gratifying to have seen it on living, breathing people.  That being said, I think the film version is still excellent, and can’t stress how much you should watch it, like right now:

After Petite Mort came Kylián’s Sechs Tänzes, which is speaking my language…a ballet comedy if you will, and I have to say that I was impressed.  Dancing a lot of Balanchine can make one…I hate to say wooden, but perhaps a little frigid just because of the nature of the Balanchine repertory.  However, PNB assembled a great lineup of comical dancers that delivered a wonderfully lighthearted performance, matching note for note with Mozart’s Six German Dances.  The piece is absolutely ridiculous—in the good way.  From the powdered wigs to the bubbles at the end, the audience was clearly into the humor and of course you know I was.  In many ways I identified with this piece quite a bit on a personal level and feel that it somehow legitimizes my whimsical nature and the way in which I live my life.  So many thanks PNB for your performance of Sechs Tänzes on this fine evening was a real treat.

Now I was on a high after that and Nacho Duato’s Jardí Tancat was a real buzz kill.  I have to be honest in that I didn’t feel that the piece really matched the occasion, if that makes sense.  It’s something I could see being much more interesting to me in a small studio theater, up close in a performance where I expect modern dance but it really sticks out in a ballet company’s repertory.  Apparently it’s a “fan favorite” amongst PNB patrons, which I have a hard time believing…although tonight’s cast was stacked with principals so maybe I’m missing something after all.  As earthy as the residents of this city are though, I’m unable to convince that Jardí Tancat is something people would want to see over and over again. Don’t get me wrong…it was really well danced and the movement quality was there but problems for me ranged from limited use of the stage and just bland choreography.  I don’t know what the logic is behind it, but what I do know is that this proves Seattle is in desperate, and I mean DESPERATE need of Tudor and MacMillan ballets.  It’s not that Tudor or MacMillan ever choreographed anything of the same nature, but I think the level of sophistication they achieved in their works is what Jardí Tancat seeks and for me, fails to achieve.  Duato does have works that I absolutely adore, and he can waltz into the Mikhailovsky and be all “none of you have ever danced” but quite frankly, all I can say is when I win the lottery, I’m donating a huge chunk to PNB’s “Tudor/MacMillan Fund.”  Actually, make that “ATM” for “Ashton/Tudor/MacMillan Fund.”

Meanwhile, the night closed with Jerome Robbins’s Glass Pieces, which thankfully proved to be the highlight of the evening.  It’s a piece that sort of describes an urban hustle to minimalist music by Philip Glass, with dancers dressed in color against a stark, white graph paper backdrop.  It’s divided into three sections, each of which focused on a particular grouping, though there were many bodies on stage.  For example the first, Rubric, points out three different couples who I wish I could name but because I sit far up in the balcony I can’t see too much in terms of facial characteristics so I’ll by the colored unitards they were wearing, which I shall describe as Gold, Sunburn and Spring.  Springman had the biggest jumps but it was Sunburnman who I thought displayed this effortless, effortless, positively effortless technique.  The way he did his grand battements was too easy—it’s like when my friend Magelachachka (and yes, I do call her that to her face) would say at barre: “lifting your leg up takes…so much work.”  I know it’s cliché, but Sunburnman was born to dance because work doesn’t describe him at all.  As three couples they had wonderful interactions aided by Robbins’s extraordinary choreography.  What I love about Robbins’s ballets is that he selects the most appropriate movements and is very reserved when it comes to the big, flashy, bravura steps.  There’s a real sense of contrast and a love for transitional steps that you don’t always see (though this is more apparent in the last section).

The second section focused on a single couple, dressed in scarlet and gray (Go Bucks!), featuring the divine Miss Carla Körbes, who I could recognize.  I’m telling you, this woman moves like a goddess of the clouds.  I lost count of how many times I got chills during her pas de deux with fellow principal Batkhurel Bold, because she has a lyricism that can’t be taught.  Credit must also be given to Bold as well because despite one’s own talents, beautiful dancing in a lift can’t be achieved if you can’t trust the one holding you up.  It’s interesting because the pas de deux is not romantic at all, but they still have chemistry in their partnership.  What’s also interesting is that because it’s not romantic, there has to be a certain intangibility to it while maintaining a lyrical quality.  I think it’s actually quite a complex “role” in that it’s not a role at all but requires a similar sensitivity in the technique.  Miss Körbes is a revelation and as PNB looks to really expand their repertory this season by doing a shockingly small amount of Balanchine and doing a romantic ballet with Giselle, I’m predicting that she will be the superstar Giselle come June 2011.  Although to be fair, I’m pretty sure a lot of people are thinking the same thing…

At any rate, the third section featured the corps de ballet, in a truly kaleidoscopic interpretation of the organized chaos that is a developed infrastructure.  While not explicitly dancing as vehicles or machines, I think systematized, linear movements that gave the feel of advanced technology and economic prosperity achieved the effect.  The end had the dancers turning in all kinds of directions, weaving in and out of each other like clockwork and despite its frenetic appearance it was never haphazard…always meticulously placed to contribute to the bigger picture like the pieces in a mosaic.  I thought it was flawless (minus a mini-spill a dancer in orange tights took…which I only noticed because I have freakish hawk eye vision for uncharacteristic movement.  He actually recovered remarkably well) and despite never being a Philip Glass fan (not a hater, but not a fan) I really came to appreciate his score.  Normally I like a melody, with a beginning, middle and end but his music was symbiotic with the dancing…they were meant for each other.

I had a great time…and did I mention how awesome it is to be seeing live dance again?  I would recommend that you go, but chances are if you’re in Seattle and you read this blog, you go to all of PNB’s shows anyway and if you wait for my reviews you’re giving me more credit than one should give.  There is but one more show in like…eleven hours.  Have fun with that.

Inner Petipa…are you sleeping?

15 Sep

In an attempt to get in touch with my inner Petipa, I sat my seat down and watched the Royal Ballet production of Sleeping Beauty, starring Alina Cojocaru and Federico Bonelli in the lead roles.  Truth be told, it really seemed more like “the story of the omnipotent Lilac Fairy,” a role in which Marianela Núñez shined…but more on that later (and props to Laura Morera as the…”spicy fairy.” I forget what the official name was).

As I said, the whole purpose of this exercise was to get in touch with my inner Petipa.  I’ve definitely been going through a “Peti-blah” funk towards the great classics because quite frankly, once you go MacMillan/Ashton you can never go back.  Well, I shouldn’t say “never,” but the more I come to appreciate that dynamic duo of British choreographers, the harder it becomes to enjoy the Petipa classics that are plagued with divertissements (translation, a dance for people on stage that probably have nothing to do with the story), leading to a tendency to stretch out stories that don’t have that much substance in the first place.  Sleeping Beauty was LONG.  I was genuinely shocked to discover that it’s only a mere eighteen minutes longer than my beloved Manon, because it does drag a bit and coming out of something feeling like you spent ten hours of your life in a mere two is generally not a good sign.

The problem is, Petipa is to be respected—NOT optional.  His great classics have been a driving force in securing ballet’s continual success and its place in history.  At first I thought maybe I was watching the wrong ballets.  The only one I’ve seen live is Le Corsaire, which I used to like a lot more than I do now and then there’s Don Quixote (meh) and La Bayadère that I’ve seen on film (the latter being one I still appreciate quite a bit actually).  I still have yet to watch a Swan Lake, which generally seems to be the most popular one, especially amongst women.  Why women anyway?  Rarely have I heard men say it’s their favorite or for male dancers, that it’s their favorite to perform but women are crazy about it!  However, this is a topic of research for another day so back to regularly scheduled programming…I had some hopes for Sleeping Beauty because I do adore the Disney movie oh so very much.  A hackneyed reference, I know…but the force is strong with my inner child.

I had trouble with the plot of Sleeping Beauty…I know it’s a fairy tale but there were a number of things that either didn’t make sense or were just disappointing—the biggest of these disappointments being the demise of the villainess, Carabosse.  She is a fantastic character but her demise is weak and is mostly at the hands of the Lilac Fairy, whose spell, once actualized in the awakening of Aurora by virtue of Florimund’s kiss is what destroys Carabosse.  I mean really, if the Lilac Fairy’s magic had this potential all along, why the wild goose chase and the one hundred year delay?  I had the same problem with Disney too…Maleficent is one of the most badass villains of all time and the movie went from the legendary line of: “now shall you deal with me, oh prince…and all the powers of Hell!” to having the fairies enchant the sword with a convenient “accuracy spell” so that when Prince Phillip threw it, it was guaranteed to hit its target.  It’s a disservice to these amazing villains to have them perish so easily, especially when it’s not even the main characters who overcome them…there was no sense of triumph for me.

At least in the Disney movie Phillip and Aurora meet before the whole sleep spell so their coupling at the end seems more serendipitous but in the ballet, Florimund kisses Aurora and they meet for the first time (after of course, the Lilac Fairy has him dance with her…ghost?  Where?  In an enchanted forest.).  First of all, shouldn’t Aurora be disturbed that she and her kingdom basically “Brigadooned” it and appeared as anachronisms in a completely new world?  And second, waking up to a stranger kissing you should be kind of creepy…like, “where’s your pepper spray” creepy.  Call it romantic if you must, but the nonsensical aspects of this ballet have me thinking Romeo and Juliet actually makes sense.

Regardless, the ballet IS pretty and Tchaikovsky’s score for it is one of the finest ever.  I think how I’ve come to differentiate the purely classical choreography by Petipa and the sort of neoclassical work of Ashton or MacMillan is that Petipa would be like what I would call “a great writer” while I would categorize Ashton/MacMillan as “great storytellers” (in addition to being great “writers” as well!).  To me, writing and storytelling have always been different arts, sometimes overlapping but still distinct.  I don’t even consider my own writing to necessarily be “good writing” but more often “good storytelling.”  When I came to this epiphany in regards to ballet, all of a sudden Sleeping Beauty became much more digestible.

The whole ballet is rather…“sugar and rainbows” so to speak and speaking of rainbows, I was oddly fascinated by the procession of fairies and their cavaliers in Act I.  I was somehow reminded of Jerome Robbins’s Dances at a Gathering which has nothing to do with Sleeping Beauty; it was just funny to me how the pastel color palettes were almost the same, the number of dancers was almost the same (twelve for Beauty, ten for Gathering), but obviously featured classical choreography with heavily embroidered and ornate tutus for one while the other has contemporary choreography with unadorned chiffon dresses.  The similarity in colors created in my mind a relationship between the two pieces that transcended time.  With both being so exemplary of their respective periods, I couldn’t help but feel the expansiveness of ballet’s timeline and be amazed at how much it has evolved.

In addition to the glitter and sparkle, it has to be said that Alina Cojocaru is in a category of her own.  Her impeccable balances and youthful nature make for a sweetheart Aurora that is sure to make your teeth hurt.  Federico Bonelli (or as I like to refer to him, BoBo…which I guess makes Alina: CoCo) is equally youthful and has a wonderfully boyish look that screams innocence.  What I love so much about his dancing is that he has such beautiful placement and dances very “squarely”—nothing is contorted to get a higher leg or turn out that is forced to unhealthy degrees.  It makes his dancing efficient and clean and it is in fact when dancers are struggling to get their legs higher or forcing their turnout that ballet actually looks hard.  BoBo also has a superb lightness; you would never be able to hear him land a jump and he rolls through his feet and uses his plié so well his steps seamlessly transition from one to another.  He is a perfect partner for CoCo, who is equally light and technically strong.  She has an ability to indulge her lines when she wants to, like in some of the attitude positions she’ll open her hip a bit but when it comes to those tough balances in attitude, she knows how to square her hips off as well.  (This is actually something I sort of learned for myself recently…given, I never dance on pointe but I’ve found a sense of balance that I never had before and now when I microwave leftovers for thirty seconds, I use that time to see if I can hold an attitude on relevé.   And yes, I can!  Even longer some days…I figure if the average human being can’t do that, it warrants a pat on the back)

Observe CoCo and BoBo in their “Happy Ending Pas de Deux”

In the end, I think I enjoyed Sleeping Beauty, and certainly CoCo and BoBo’s dancing of it.  Regardless of some plot issues I think I can enjoy Petipa after all…although considering the Royal Ballet’s production has revisions and choreography by Frederick Ashton, Anthony Dowell and Christopher Wheeldon, it’s kind of a hot mess of different choreographers.  Then again, every Petipa ballet today is.

Meanwhile, this might be the most fantastic Rose Adagio ever (at the 3:19 mark):

Jerome Robbins’s In the Night

10 May

As I familiarize myself with new surroundings I find myself overwhelmed with frustration in the unfamiliar and desperately seeking comfort in the uncomplicated.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Seattle…life on the West Coast suits me well and I’m enjoying public transportation, interesting shops and even bewildering the residents of Queen Anne with my élan for grocery shopping.  However, I’m reminded of how difficult it can be to adjust to a new environment, like when I first arrived and forgot that I live on a hill now.  It was only after I had purchased a bag of potatoes and a bag of clementines (both of which were buy one get one free, making that four bags total plus the flour and sugar I had purchased as well) that I remembered such an influential detail.  Or how about on Tchaikovsky’s birthday when I drove around blasting the music from the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux about eighty-five million times in a row to celebrate my favorite musical score of his.  I started the day out as a badass thinking “Tchaik it out, bitches!” but the day progressed into agitation when on my way to IKEA, I somehow rendered myself incapable of finding the exit from the highway and ended up circling the shopping center like a vulture keen on carrion.  Except in my case, there is an element of frenzy that is better described as a hummingbird trying to sip from a flower in a hurricane.  Easy, boy.

The point is (or was, at some point in time) that regardless of how much I love Seattle, I’m still lacking in the familiarity and comfort that only comes with time…like chocolate milk and knowing-how-to-get-to-stores comfort.  It just so happened that a few days prior, I had borrowed some items from the glorious (and gnome obsessed) Seattle Public Library and among the borrowed media was the A-MAZING documentary Jerome Robbins: Something To Dance About.  Of course I had seen it when it aired on PBS, but when I found it in the library catalog, like any normal person I thought “absolutely!”  My favorite part of the documentary is of course the bits on Dances at a Gathering (that and the quote “There were only two things Lenny Bernstein feared—God and Jerome Robbins” which I misquoted in a blog entry long ago as Stephen Sondheim when it was in fact Arthur Laurent.  My apologies!).  Robbins had a deep love for Chopin’s music and that love was so pure that the choreography would of course match the integrity of the melodies.  So when Chopin waltzes and etudes induce a sense of comfort to the soul, so too will Robbins’s vision for them (and he was quite the tortured soul, so you know this Chopin stuff works).  Personally, I like to see choreographers have an enduring relationship with one composer’s music…like Balanchine/Stravinsky (or Tchaikovsky even) or Robbins/Chopin.

Rekindling my interest in Dances at a Gathering (I’m ready when you are, PNB), I wondered if my favorite Chopin Nocturne (Op.9, No.2 in E-flat major) was included in the selections for the score.  It isn’t.  However, it is included in another and perhaps slightly lesser known Robbins ballet to Chopin, In The Night.  I’m kind of ashamed to not have known of the existence of this ballet beforehand…but maybe someone else out there won’t know either and if by chance they have the tendency to know more ballets than I do, we can all mock them together.  Like Dances at a Gathering, In the Night has no narrative, but the latter is laden with a more defined theme beyond human emotions and relationships, narrowing the scope to look at the female psyche and relationships with men.  It’s much shorter than Dances at a Gathering, featuring four nocturnes, ending with the loveliest of them all, Op.9, No.2 in E-flat major.

There’s not much I can say about In the Night, because I think it’s relatively self-explanatory.  The cast features three couples with their own pas de deux to a nocturne, highlighting the women (as pas de deux most often do).  The video clips I’m going to post features dancers with the Paris Opera Ballet, with Clairemarie Osta/Benjamin Pech, Agnès Letestu/Stéphane Bullion, and Delphine Moussin/Nicolas le Riche.

The first pas de deux has dancers in dreamy periwinkle costumes, featuring movement that almost looks like it’s flowing in slow motion—it’s snail paced, even for an adagio.  It’s romantic without being overly intimate (they don’t even fully embrace until well into two-thirds of the dance) but it has its moments of tenderness, moments apart and even a moment of “fiery passion.”  It’s this subtle roller coaster ride that makes the pas de deux so real, even to someone who may have never seen a Jerome Robbins ballet or even any ballet for that matter.  It’s no stretch of the imagination to see it as an actual relationship because it comes as naturally as breathing does.  In fact the very end of this first pas de deux features a lift where the male dancer takes a little spin while the woman pulls in and then extends her leg and the effect is literally like inhaling and exhaling.  This is easily my favorite pas de deux of the three for its sheer reflexive nature.  Not to mention there’s this wonderful segment towards the end where both the man and woman bourée backwards (for the term unsavvy, that’s when a dancer rises onto relevé or pointe, taking microscopic steps and in this case, scuttle backwards.  The effect is…floatacious).  Not only is it captivating as they shrink away, but because this is a step men generally don’t do, this serves as proof that men should still learn and practice it.  Your calves will thank you later!

I.  Nocturne in C-Sharp Minor, Op.27, No.1 (Osta/Pech)

In contrast to the freedom and romanticism of the first pas de deux, the second is stoic, calculated and in my opinion a little abrasive (relationships like that always make me uncomfortable).  It’s so stark that I can’t imagine how people can be happy like that and juxtaposed against the free-spiritedness of the first pas de deux it seems downright cruel…but it’s a relationship nonetheless and one that seems to endure.  I suppose some people want what they would consider regality and class but the restrictiveness makes me die a little on the inside.  There is one moment, where coming down from a lift you see the woman’s foot quiver in anticipation and THAT friends, is the extent of any emotional outburst, subdued as it is.  She is very much in love, but she is a woman that has to hide her desire in this rather cold courtship.

II. Nocturne in F-Minor, Op.55, No.1 (Letestu/Bullion)

The third pas de deux is the epitome of the “love-hate” relationship.  It’s argumentative, volatile and certifiably nuts.  She’s mad at him, she loves him, she leaves him, she takes him back…it’s a hot mess (an elegantly choreographed hot mess) and I constantly wanted to yank her bodice up.  You can see in the way he pulls her around on the stage that this is far from a healthy relationship and yet I think we can all say we know a girl like this.  Or you’ve seen enough episodes of Sex and the City to equate her to Carrie Bradshaw (you remember the obviously Sylphide inspired dress Sarah Jessica Parker wore to the 2004 Tonys…that bodice needed to be yanked up too).  At any rate I have to say that I was very drawn to Delphine Moussin in this performance, because of the way she used her hands.  Ballet teachers are always saying “energy through the fingertips” and with precision, Moussin shows us why.

III. Nocturne in E-Flat Major, Op.55, No.2 (Moussin/le Riche)

The finale has all three couples and emphasizes that while women have individual wants and needs in their relationships, these emotions all come from the same place.  There is a moment when the three couples gather in the center of the stage, breaking off into new pairs as if in a social setting but interestingly enough the only male/female pair is periwinkle woman with angry man from movement III, and their inability to connect prompts a quick return to their original loves.  The style of the choreography seemed to coincide with that of the first pas de deux, which leads me to believe Robbins saw that relationship as the one with the most potential for longevity, which is further supported by the fact that as they exit the stage, periwinkle couple exit stage right while the other two stage left, which sets them apart.  This may be excessive postulating on my part, but if we weren’t allowed to derive meaning from it, it wouldn’t be dance.

IV. Nocturne in E-Flat Major, Op. 9, No. 2 (entire cast)

So enjoy this beautiful, nerve calming dance and more importantly, enjoy that feeling of unbridled introspection…not every dance offers that luxury.

The dance anywhere® project 3/26…DO IT

25 Mar

I had fully intended to write about the dance anywhere® project much sooner than this, but various things kept coming up and now I’m writing at the somewhat eleventh hour (my apologies Julia!).  No excuses though, so I’m going to get to it.  I’ll begin with dance anywhere’s press release, which sums up the necessary details better than I can (plus, copy + paste is viciously tempting in a time crunch):

SIXTH ANNUAL CONCEPTUAL ART PIECE dance anywhere® SET FOR MARCH 26, 2010

THOUSANDS WORLDWIDE TO DANCE SIMULTANEOUSLY AT NOON (PDT)

UNITING TIME ZONES AND PEOPLE IN DANCE

San Francisco, March 19, 2010 – On March 26, 2010, dancers worldwide will come together simultaneously in dance to celebrate the universal importance and joy of movement.  In its sixth year, this conceptual event will take place on Friday, March 26, 2010 at noon Pacific Daylight Time (PDT), 3pm EDT (New York, etc) 8pm in Paris, Rome, etc.

Artist and dance anywhere® originator Beth Fein says, “This conceptual public art is an open invitation to all: to stop and dance wherever they will be at noon on March 26th in San Francisco, New York, Paris, Rome and other cities.  dance anywhere® is a public art project and free to all participants.

Since 2005, dance anywhere® has had hundreds of performers participate on the streets, bridges, in schools etc. dance anywhere®  integrates art into everyday public spacesand exposes unsuspecting audiences to dance.  The project also transforms perceptions of where and how art can occur, demonstrating that art does not need to be exhibited in a gallery, and dance does not need to be performed on a stage. It brings everyone’s awareness to the space they are in: the street, the office, the library, the grocery store or park. Anyone is encouraged to participate, and the project involves people of all ages, abilities, nationalities, and backgrounds. 

For more information about participating in dance anywhere® on March 26, 2010 please go to:  

http://www.danceanywhere.org      Email: Beth Fein at bethfein@danceanywhere.org

For more information about the event or photo requests, contact Jennifer Roy at  roykey@mac.com

or 415-706-7644

Bay Area locations for 2010 include:

 SFMOMA,

 Asian Arts Museum

 Berkeley Art Museum

Rockridge BART

Dancers from across the United States from Hawaii, California, Colorada, Mississippi, to Chicago, NY and Pennsylvania (partial list) and around the world including: Argentina, Chile, Sweden, Switzerland, Estonia, Italy, France, Spain, Turkey, England, Ireland, Austalia, New Zealand, and Guinea have all been a part of dance anywhere®.

DETAILS:

WHAT: dance anywhere®, a participatory global public artwork—anyone who wants to dance can participate, or as audience, shoot photos or video.

WHEN: Friday, March 26, 2010, at noon in San Francisco

WHERE: Various locations throughout the Bay Area and world

ADMISSION: Free

INFORMATION: danceanywhere .com

Now, let’s discuss shall we?

First of all, I have to say that I’m a huge fan of this kind of ambush tactic dancing.  I think people don’t dance enough as it is, and I’ve said before that methods of communication gravitate towards verbal and written modes and we lose touch with the ability to communicate with our bodies even though movement is the first thing we learn as infants (or even in the womb!).  There’s a fascinating paradox when it comes to movement; it is a VAST and infinite language and yet it is the most universal and most accessible.  So why is it engaged so little?  I’m in agreement that some people have a preconceived notion that art has to take place in a venue…that paintings belong on walls and dances belong on stage.  Well, I have two words for those people…Opus Jazz.

It’s kind of a funny coincidence that Opus Jazz, featuring dancers of New York City Ballet (including Craig Hall who I recognize from his cameos in Center Stage.  I had no idea who he was at the time, but he has a very handsome, very striking face!) aired on PBS last night, because while watching it I immediately thought of dance anywhere®.  Opus Jazz was a made for film version of the Jerome Robbins piece, shot on location around New York.  Although I’ve never seen the original, the dances took on a new life in new settings, like an abandoned railyard at sunrise or an open concrete courtyard.  That new life being the distinct breath of the city itself, enabled the dancers to really embody that essence and be a part of the setting in an incredibly intimate way.  My point?  Location, location, location.   Site-specific works are something I was introduced to as an attendee of multiple dances at Ohio State University and through those experiences I began to understand and appreciate even more the connection between setting and choreography.  As much as I love ballet, because it’s a genre so grounded in fantasy, a lot of scenary is relegated to painted backdrops.  Sometimes it’s all a part of the grand design a la Symphonic Variations, but sometimes the voice of the setting itself is so weak it really is “just a background.”  But dance anywhere tells us to take the opportunity to find a new voice in new surroundings, outside of the stage and studio; which is likely to change the way you dance.

It certainly presents a lot of challenges (I’m still befuddled as to how the NYCB dancers reeled off all kinds of pirouettes in sneakers on concrete or dirt) but those challenges are sure to teach our bodies to experience a familiar movement in a new way.  But participation in this project (which I highly encourage because I think it’s amazing to feel like you’re a part of something bigger, even if nobody is there to witness your moment) is not limited to people who understand a certain array of dance vocabulary.  No no…so venture forth and move in any way that feels good (or not) to you and join the collective!

As for me, I was all gung ho about participating and I WILL find a way, but I am a bit limited, thanks to a shoulder injury.  I’m basically a garden statue at this point, but I’m hoping it will loosen up by Friday.  When I tried to think of a location that inspired me, I immediately thought of Ohio State’s Browning Ampitheatre, an outdoor theater built in the style of a Greek ampitheater, with gorgeous, semi-circular stone seating.  I know I just said that dance should be danced away from the stage so an outdoor ampitheater is hardly an original idea, but I adore it all the same and I tend not to fight my impulses (you know anything ancient Greek-esque will inspire me!).  I like what I like and that’s just the reality of it all.  I’m actually more drawn to the seats themselves rather than the stage, so maybe I’ll get some friends to join me and play around there.  Or maybe the very idea of having a plan defeats the whole purpose.  Whatever your cup of tea, be it indoors, outdoors, on a stage-like setting or not, whether your dance is serious or just for fun, find a way to be a part of dance anywhere and document it.  Nobody expects you to create an Opus Jazz though…so enjoy the process, whatever the investment that is for you.

The Browning Ampitheater (photo copyright of its respective owner)

Meanwhile, did anyone else enjoy Opus Jazz as much as I did?  I’m still replaying it mentally like when Alphaville’s Forever Young gets stuck in my head.

Spring is here! New life, new rules.

20 Mar

How better to celebrate my 100th post than on the vernal equinox?  I didn’t plan it this way, and although I don’t have any specific vernal equinox traditions it is a most meaningful day to me.  I love the spring…it’s my favorite season and it’s a time where there we’re surrounded by reminders of renewal, youth, greenery and freshness.  Although we cannot reverse the aging process, spring does inspire opportunities to reinvent thyself.  Perhaps, even more so than New Year’s, when it’s still dreary and cold and really the only thing that tells us it is indeed a new year is just a bunch of numbers.  I prefer the visual and other sensory stimuli spring provides.  Plus, the vernal equinox means my birthday approaches over yonder horizon!

I think in a previous post I alluded to my posts being sparse this month and although I forget what I said and where I said it, I do know why and in this time of renewal I think it’s a good time to reveal that reason.  I’m packing my life up and leaving Columbus, Ohio and headed westward for the Emerald City…aka, Seattle.  Last weekend I was there looking at apartments and details are all coming together.  I feel really good about this move for many reasons and I feel that Seattle will give me that much needed shot in the arm to renew the search for life, love and happiness.  I don’t hate Columbus…it’s my hometown and I’ve learned to accept and cherish the good, the bad and the ugly.  However, it’s been over twenty years of living here and oddly enough when I realized I was completely fine with spending the rest of my life here, my heart went berserk and told me it can’t do it anymore.  I’ve tried to make things work in Columbus, but have essentially failed (not that that’s a bad thing).  It’s time to do things differently and renew the job search in a new city…job hunting in Columbus only resulted in consistent rejections, and some say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  By the way, tendu anyone?

I have no illusions that Seattle will be perfect, which is the healthiest way to approach anything but there is one thing I am really looking forward to, and that is Pacific Northwest Ballet.  If things go according to plan, I may end up living within walking distance to their studios and performance venue.  PRAISE BILLY ELLIOT!  But why Pacific Northwest you ask?  Well, they are a company that has a strong tradition in Balanchine/Robbins works which brings me one step closer to two things: my beloved Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux and Dances at a Gathering, choreographed by Balanchine and Robbins, respectively.  Believe it or not, I have not seen works by either choreographer live, and while I’ve seen videos of Tchaik and excerpts of Dances from the Jerome Robbins documentary on PBS, nothing compares to live performances.  Much to my chagrin, PNB just did Dances last season…but at least I know it’s in the repertory.  Regrettably, a move to the West Coast takes me geographically further away from potential Ashton works, since ABT is one of the few companies to do them regularly, but one of my best friends has moved to DC and I can crash at her place if ABT or the Royal Ballet tours something I really want to see (although in defense of the West Coast, San Francisco Ballet actually did Symphonic Variations many years ago.  I would love for PNB to learn it though, and have a triple bill of Dances at a Gathering, Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux and Symphonic Variations.  Heaven…on Earth.)

Dreams are dreams though, and I have to face reality.  Reality isn’t all that bad though, because I move just in time to catch the All Balanchine bill with Serenade, Square Dance and The Four Temperaments (Hindemith!  SQUEE!).  I’m beyond stoked for Serenade and The Four Temperaments, and Square Dance I’ve read a little bit about from the book In the Wings, by NYCB dancer Kyle Froman.  It’s mostly eye-catching photography from studios, rehearsals, backstage and such, with anecdotes from Froman about life as a dancer.  He discusses performing Square Dance in the book, and supposedly it’s quite wild.  It’s a really neat book and I like his perspective as a corps dancer.

In addition to PNB though, I really want to get into the Seattle dance scene, because I’d go nuts without some variety and because PNB only does six or seven performances a season.  So I have a request for my readers; if you have any information about other dance companies in the Seattle area and/or upcoming shows I should check out, please tell me!  Also, recommendations for places to take class would be nice too.  Living close to PNB would have its perks but if that doesn’t work out a backup plan for ballet classes would be nice.  And like a check-up with the doctor, I do like to drop in on the occasional modern class to challenge myself in new ways and experience something new.  Oh, and jazz classes!  I did some searching online but couldn’t really find any jazz classes (for adults anyway).  Enlighten me, Seattleites!  I am in dire need of your help!

Anyway, at present I’m a bit busy with moving logistics but there are a lot of exciting things coming up that I will post more about and everyone should save the following dates (I mostly needed to write these down for myself too!).  Next week is a busy one for dance!

March 22ndABT’s Culinary Pas de Deux, hosted by principal dancer Marcelo Gomes and soloist Craig Salstein.  It’s an evening of fine dining and dance and although a $350 ticket is probably not in the cards for many of us, the event will feature a live Twitter feed to dish the dish. 7:00pm EST.   Meanwhile, Marcelo Gomes follows me on Twitter, and that makes me smile. (^-^)

March 24thJerome Robbins’ NY Export: Opus Jazz, the Film airs on PBS.  Check local listings for times.

March 26thDance Anywhere, an event where everyone, whether in private or public stops whatever they’re doing and dances at 3:00pm EST.  More on this in my next post, methinks!

An on the topic of dancing in public and being in Seattle, this is what happened last time I visited the city:

*note that none of those people except me have taken dance classes.  Well, quasi-wife dabbled a little.  Inspirations for the above performance include Donkey Kong for Nintendo and chase scenes from Scooby-Doo.