Tag Archives: julie kent

ABT’s Mixed Bill (but really, we all know I was there for ‘A Month in the Country’)

22 May

It’s been nearly four years since I first saw the Royal Ballet, a life-altering experience that I cherish as my most precious treasure. Material possessions can’t compare to what I took away from that night because it was the catalyst that set into motion a chain of events that has brought me to where I am today. Thinking about everything that happened in between—the struggles, the good times, and the pursuit of an art that I love—overwhelms me with emotion. So on this mushy, sentimental occasion, I’d like to take a moment to thank everyone that has been a part of my journey, whether you started reading eight seconds ago or you’ve been there since the beginning. It would’ve been infinitely worse to have done this alone.

Anyway, the reason why I thought about the Royal Ballet’s tour to the Kennedy Center in 2009 was because they actually brought Sir Frederick Ashton’s A Month in the Country in a mixed repertory with Wayne McGregor’s Chroma and Christopher Wheeldon’s DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse. I’ve occasionally wondered what I would’ve thought about McGregor had I seen Chroma then, with eyes so different to what they are now, but really it’s missing Month that for so long remained my biggest regret. I was still so new to ballet—I ‘d only been dancing for about two years and I’d never even seen a large company perform. As ridiculous as it sounds, I didn’t know that people bought tickets to both a mixed repertory AND a full-length ballet, let alone for different casts (evidently I went from ignorant to downright crazy, as I now find myself with four tickets to see ABT’s mixed bill and I’m sure you can guess how many performances there are), so I thought I’d bought my one ticket to see Manon and that was it. Little did I know that I missed out and much has changed because yesterday I stood on the precipice of realizing yet another Ashtonian dream, and things came full circle by seeing with my own eyes “the ballet that got away.” However, the bread and butter of ABT’s mixed bill would have to wait, as it was bookended by a pair of musical studies in choreography.

Opening the program was Mark Morris’s verbosely titled Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes, a sort of modern “ballet blanc” if you will. It’s not that Drink necessarily paid homage to the Romantic era of ballet that saw to the popularity of a corps dressed entirely in white tutus, but with a lone piano on stage playing contemporary piano selections by Virgil Thomson and an ensemble of dancers dressed in billowing white clothing far more pedestrian than tutus, it’s relatively easy to make that connection to a quintessential theme in ballet history. Even audiences unfamiliar with dance would know that when dancers are dressed completely in white, the message is purity, and when it comes to Morris, it’s pure music. Morris’s choreography is known for its musicality, following the score and even the sequence of notes that make up the scale itself. Dancers often run across the stage as if one were reading a musical staff—nowhere else have I ever seen so many entrances and exits to represent each new phrase of music, which is appropriate for Morris. He has a gift for visualizing melodies and mobilizing groups of dancers in organized patterns but that’s sort of the extent of his work. In Drink he presented a lot of ballet steps in an academic manner and although he inserted the odd difference in wittier moments, the whole piece came across as if observing a quirky ballet class, aided by the live accompaniment. Drink never progressed past the blank canvas state because it said nothing of human relationships, the ballet idiom, current events, or really, anything besides the musical structure. I conjectured a theory that the more one knew about music and ballet steps, the less interesting Drink becomes. It’s by no means unpleasant—I found Isabella Boylston quite tenacious and amiable in it, and it’s always a treat to watch Marcelo Gomes in anything. He was one of the few who really committed to the movement and danced with his upper body—at one point the male dancers were lined up with Gomes in front, repeating a simple jump with torsos opened towards the audience and with each “plink” of a high piano note, he would toss his head back ever so slightly, which none of the other men did. These are the finishing touches we talk about in discussions of the use of épaulement—to really use the upper body and it’s gratifying to see some dancers who go above and beyond with it.

Knowing that Ashton and Balanchine were to come, I actually found it strange that the Morris even made it onto the program. Ashton and Balanchine were certainly no slouches in the department of musicality and Ashton colored his work with narrative and Balanchine pretty much wrote the book on visualizing musical structure in dance. I felt that because Symphony in C is something of a ballet blanc as well, it would bury Drink because of similarities in concept and its sheer size (twelve dancers in the Morris, fifty something in the Balanchine). The Morris work was obviously more contemporary so I could appreciate the efforts to create a program with variety, but I don’t think Drink is interesting enough on its own to warrant a place on this bill. I couldn’t help but feel that its inclusion was the wrong choice, and it’s hard to accept that ABT would forsake the likes of Antony Tudor for this. I’m sure there are logistical reasons and what have you for choosing the Morris over Tudor, but they should’ve done something like Pillar of Fire or Lilac Garden—I mean, raise your hand if you’ve even seen either of those in the past five years! A triple bill rounded out by Tudor would have said so much more, with musicality as the umbrella theme and then the individual flavors of psychology, narrative, and design each choreographer uniquely wove into his work. Talk about “supply and demand”—where is the response to Tudor lovers, or people like me who want to know more about him but can’t find opportunities to see his work?

I won’t complain too much though because A Month in the Country finally became accessible to me and I’m incredibly grateful for that much. Based on Ivan Turgenev’s play of the same name, Ashton invoked every one of his narrative gifts to tell a captivating story of forbidden and unrequited love in uncanny relationships to music by Frederic Chopin. Though there’s a great deal of entanglement by many members of the household in this Russian estate during the Imperial era, the central relationship is that of Natalia Petrovna (Julie Kent) and Beliaev (Roberto Bolle), her son’s tutor. Kent especially was wonderful—I left with that feeling where I could someday say to someone that “I saw Julie Kent dance Natalia,” and it would mean something very special. I had no idea she could be so icy, visceral, flirtatious, melodramatic, and even humorous all in one ballet. However—and it’s Yoda time—troubled I was, by the lack of dramatic flair as a whole. Strangely enough, I found Daniil Simkin, who was clearly typecast as Natalia’s son Kolia because of his boyish looks, to be the weak link, and the poster child of the dearth of character study in ballet. Simkin could do all the tricks and turn like a tornado, but his appearances betrayed him because he didn’t have an air of youth. It was bizarre to arrive at that conclusion but it simply isn’t enough to look the part and take a role at its surface value. It’s not for a lack of trying, but rather a result of most ballet schools and companies not imposing a curriculum in theatre studies. In the program, a blurb had Kent mention she read the source material for Onegin, and under the assumption that the dancers did the same for Month, that’s a great start—but it’s still beneficial to learn the finer points of comedic timing (which didn’t register in last night’s performance), Stanislavski, and other such semiotics of acting. For all the outrage over actors who can’t really dance (I’m sure you all have a particular film in mind), there’s a parallel equivalent to be observed for dancers who aren’t training enough as actors, and it needs to be addressed in order to really bring the drama of something like A Month in the Country to life.

Last came the bedazzling Symphony in C, the ballet equivalent of a marching band, which unfolds in a grandiose tapestry of a myriad of simple ballet steps. Divided into four movements that highlight four ballerinas, Balanchine choreographed it to Georges Bizet’s music of the same name, which Bizet wrote when he was only seventeen. It’s marvelous in its simplistic way, gratuitous at times but still pretty, and a fine display of some of Balanchine’s most expert use of motifs. The men really rose to the occasion because they danced with impressive unity—in the first movement, James Whiteside showed that he could dance Balanchine with aplomb, but he toned down the charisma when it came to dance in trios with Blaine Hoven and Sean Stewart, and the three of them together were impeccable. Veronika Part delivered a dignified luxury in the second movement, where I enjoyed her mysterious demeanor which eluded overindulgence, but most delightful were Xiomara Reyes and Herman Cornejo in the third movement, whose long tenured and experienced partnership allowed for more freedom and a breath of fresh air, with Cornejo’s famous jump riding on top of that breeze. Reyes too was quite daring—there are several moments where she has to pirouette on pointe and dive forward into an arabesque penché, a maneuver I like to refer to as “the death drop” as you see your death while your face hurtles towards the floor, but she was steady and reliably partnered by Cornejo.

It’s in that pesky third movement though where timing always seems to break down, as it did when Boston Ballet performed Symphony in C not too long ago. The corps has a lot of jumping in it, from big jumps to smaller ones with batterie, and jumping is one of those things with a timing that everybody feels and learns differently so it’s incredibly difficult to synchronize, especially when the formation is a straight line, which exposes every minute difference that isn’t a carbon copy of the dancer in front. Still, even in the fourth movement, the men seemed to really have it together when they burst into one particular sissonne, the four leading men having the added challenge of having to do so immediately out of a pirouette while also matching the adjoining men just entering onto the stage. It’s hard for me to discern what I like to see in Symphony in C, because its strict and formulaic adherence to the music doesn’t necessarily allow for a lot of individual interpretation, but it’s actually quite lovely when the steps are just there without too much flourish (even though it could be faster!).

One performance down, three to go and I’m still a kid in a candy store. I’m not even sure it’s possible to get sick of this feeling.

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Face Your Fear

22 Jun

I don’t know how one normally faces the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, but for me there was an astonishing amount of fear involved. By no means did I think ABT would disappoint—and they didn’t—just that even in reward there is still an element of fear. I liken it to graduating or winning a Nobel prize…on the day of the award ceremony all the work has already been done, but that doesn’t mean your stomach isn’t in knots leading up to the moment when you get that diploma or medal in your hands. Looking back on how difficult things have been in my personal life, from giving up on graduate school, forsaking what I spent years on studying as an undergraduate, to moving across the country with the hopes that I could learn more about dance completely on my own, to working myself to the bone so that I could eke out a living…it has all brought me to this day and I’ve decided that I had every right to fear it, out of sheer amazement that it did in fact happen. I can’t help but feel overwhelmed.

The day started out with a class at Steps on Broadway, yet another bulb on the string of lights that comprises the dancer’s rites of passage, and that was a somewhat rough experience. My expectations were that the class would be crowded and I’d fumble but manage to get through it, but I had no idea I’d freeze like a deer in the headlights! Sure, there were ABT principals who took barre standing right behind me, but I don’t think I was star-struck (having PNB dancers drop in on open classes in Seattle may have helped to desensitize me to it—over time). I think it came down to dancing in a new city, with a new teacher, with no friends in the class, which stripped me of a confidence that I wasn’t fully aware of, and despite what I told myself internally, my body responded to my emotions. It wasn’t pretty…dancing like a nervous wreck looks a lot like just that—a wreck, and it was so weird to feel like I was telling my legs to do one thing and not be able to feel them doing it! There are people who can will themselves to get through such things without a problem (we tend to call them professionals), but it certainly was a humbling reminder of the courage dancers summon every time they put themselves on stage for everyone to see. Interestingly enough, sometimes we may never know the extent to which a dancer rises to the occasion because they so often deliver what is demanded of them.

With that in mind, I can relay the wonderful news that ABT’s production of The Dream was perfection! And this comes from an Ashton enthusiast who watched the film of Anthony Dowell many, many, MANY times before today. Of course there are certain things that I would have preferred, but they were just that—a matter of preference. Overall, The Dream wove a spell that simply couldn’t be broken and I think Ashton smiled upon us tonight. I do enjoy that the Royal Ballet uses a children’s chorus for the vocal parts, which adds a certain charm to the fairy divertissement that contains Titania’s big solo—but I can easily live without it too. Also still missing is the kiss between Lysander and Demetrius during the lover’s confusion scene, reduced to just an emphatic hug, but again, something I can live without (I just think the kiss is funnier). The sets are beautiful and evocative, the costumes wonderful…everything was gorgeous. I couldn’t have asked for more, and I felt so transported into this fantasy that it didn’t even seem like I was watching a ballet anymore. There is something of a consensus among the Twitterfolk that Giselle is a ballet that ABT does incredibly well, and I’d like to submit that their staging of The Dream should be right up there too.

Casting was of course superb, and Marcelo Gomes’s Oberon is so brilliant and so devilishly cunning. Not that you need me to tell you, but everything they say about his acting skills is true, and his technique is also faultless. The make-or-break moment is of course the scherzo, and a few steps were altered from what Dowell originally did, though the choreography is so virtuosic it’s almost like a variation anyway. If I had to nitpick—and I really mean absolutely forced to do it—I did miss one little detail where at the end of Oberon’s first entrance, he does a pirouette and finishes it by diving forward into an immediate penché, a precarious move that could easily end in a faceplant. I had a teacher (she knows who she is) give us this death-defying stunt in class once and I remember my hands became well acquainted with the floor that day. Marcelo ended in an arabesque—something he happens to be very good at I might add, for those of you who have seen his Von Rothbart—but when all is said and done, I do prefer clean dancing and though the penché enhances a dramatic hit in the music and perhaps inflates Oberon’s ego, the effect isn’t entirely lost. In fact what I was most impressed with by Marcelo’s scherzo was how he wove in and out of the music, at times bending it to his will, highlighting his power as the king of the forest. During the manège of tour jetés en tournant, that tricky guy inserted an extra turn coming out of one of the jumps and somehow managed to find the time for an extra step in an already brisk dance.

Having watched The Dream every other day of my life you’d think I wouldn’t be surprised by anything, but seeing it live added such wonderful dimensions to my understanding of it. I used to think Oberon was just a selfish brat, but the way in which Marcelo simply spied on the lovers made me sympathetic towards him, because despite his power and regality, Oberon desires the love that Lysander and Hermia have for each other in effect, wanting to be human. One of the keys to great story ballets is characters we can relate to and although Oberon is mythical, we respond quite easily to the idea of quarreling with a lover, but beneath the surface we also respond to the jealousy and longing he feels. After all, despite his cruel prank on Titania, he does have a sense of justice in righting the wrongs between the four lovers. He could’ve easily left them to their own devices once he got what he wanted, but does in fact absolve their issues before his own. Watching it live also seemed to paint more hues into this watercolor of love, making it messy, wounded, repaired, confusing, imperfect, selfish, unreciprocated, manipulative, beautiful, and a slew of other adjectives that we all have used to describe love at one time or another. We see so much of ourselves in The Dream that it’s virtually impossible not to follow the story with incredible ease.

Meanwhile, Julie Kent was stunning as Titania, a picture of elegance with a hint of sass. Though I never doubted her talents, I feel lucky to now know why she is so beloved by the New York audience. Daniil Simkin was also a fun Puck to watch, with a wonderfully airy, playful quality. Simkin is so light on his feet I couldn’t hear a sound when he landed from a jump, and he is entirely believable as a slippery, wily elfin creature. Kenneth Easter was great as Bottom, and I enjoyed all four lovers immensely (Adrienne Schulte as Helena, Kristi Boone as Hermia, Gennadi Saveliev as Demetrius, and Roman Zhurbin as Lysander). Between the above roles and the four fairies Cobweb, Peaseblossom, Moth, and Mustardseed, I have to say that Ashton really did well to create such fine dancing roles, and incorporate them seamlessly into a one-act ballet, while giving so many the chance to shine. I think any accomplished dancer can be proud to dance any role in The Dream, and though the following generalization may come back to bite me in the ass someday, I also kind of think that it’s a ballet that would be difficult to look awful in. And just so we’re clear, I’m not looking to be proven wrong about this! With an obvious bias for the genius of Ashton, it’s how I felt leaving the opera house today.

As for Ratmansky’s Firebird…well, it ended up being essentially what I was afraid of and unfortunately I’m not one who enjoyed it, though a second viewing may (but probably won’t) change that. Still, I have reservations with writing about it in a euphoric state because I don’t want to end on a sour note. Already odd references to tube worms and a Muppets version of Balanchine’s Jewels (which, for the record, is an observation I made, in case Eric Taub steals it!) are invading my mind, so let us (well, at least me) dream of fairies tonight and I’ll talk Firebird tomorrow. Just to give a little snippet though, I did think Isabella Boylston was both impressive and enchanting.

So, good night, with lullaby.

-William Shakespeare

P.S. I did go to the stage door today, though I cheated and went after most of the dancers had left. I think I’m going to do it for real tomorrow!

Prologue

21 Jun

Well folks, you know what this post means—I’ve safely arrived in New York City! Little known fact, but I was actually born in Kingston, a small town about two hours north of Manhattan, and this is the first time I’ve set foot in New York since my parents moved us when I was a baby. It’s strange because I really have no connection to the city and yet it doesn’t feel off to me—I’d go as far to say that there’s something that feels so wonderfully right about being back in the Eastern Standard Time zone. Maybe it’s the humidity or the positioning of the blazing sun (producing an appropriately muggy, scorching summer day as I knew in Ohio. My lizard body is feeling right at home.), but when my plane touched down at JFK, it’s as if a piece of my heart fell out of my chest and buried itself into the ground. Whether it remains there forever or is nurtured into something far more majestic remains to be seen!

Though I didn’t see any dance shows today, I had a more than eventful enough first experience in traversing this most magnificent city. It’s a rite of passage every dancer or balletomane must go through to have a first day in New York, and mine was filled with some less than glamorous moments. To begin with, dragging luggage around the city wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had (especially in the ninety-something degree weather and in the jeans I wore on the plane from Seattle), and I quickly learned that not every station has escalators or elevators—that is, after I even figured out how to navigate the subway system in the first place! My friendhost Catherine got me into the city no problem with incredibly detailed directions, but I was on my own for a little while until she could escape from work. Enter friend Jennifer who showed me around, helped me find a luggage storage service via this wondrous device called an Eye-Phone (which I assume is called as such because you look into it instead of talk into it?), and we did a little shopping, a little eating, and a little Broadway lottery ticket collecting…attempting (we didn’t do so great here). I really am so lucky and so grateful to have friends/readers like Cat and Jen to help me out because without them I would’ve been eaten alive and never seen again. Even little things like crowds and people in proximity took me some time to get used to—at Starbucks I turned my head away from my computer to sneeze into my arm and ended up sneezing right onto a guy who was standing there. Not classy, not cute.

Still, I’m just loving it. I’m loving the challenge of being overwhelmed, of having so many options that it raises philosophical questions about how if New York truly has everything (and it does) than what do its residents actually need? But I digress. What my arrival to New York has taught me—or rather forced upon me—is a giant slice of humble pie. I’m not going to lie; seeing such incredible diversity and knowing what talent already exists here, I found myself having some doubts as to whether anything I do could ever stand out or contribute anything meaningful in the grand scheme of things. However, the vibrancy of New York has also filled me with hope and a belief that if one has the skill, the talent, and the luck to make great success happen, why not in New York? I’m only marginally closer to understanding what significance my obsession with ballet holds, but more and more I’m beginning to understand why New York has to be a part of developing that knowledge. Especially, the chance to connect with readers here—I’ve had some encounters in Seattle but it’s a community that largely enjoys contemporary dance, and there simply isn’t a strong (or at least strong enough for me) culture of ballet to immerse myself into. It’s interesting because while the Dance Critics Association conference also takes place in New York this weekend, I find myself relieved that I didn’t want to participate. Maybe I’m not professional enough to ever be a “legitimate” critic in the way a publication would want, but I enjoy taking pride in the decisions I make and one of them was to connect with my audience. While the DCA tackles larger issues in dance in panels with experts and serious discussions, I really would rather hang out with you…or you…or you. Even if it ends up being a handful of readers that I meet over the course of this trip, engaging my audience makes me feel like a better writer because of it. Having met a couple already, I already feel the rewards of knowing some of my readers as people.

Though my schedule will be chaotic in the upcoming days, I do plan on taking a class at Steps on Broadway tomorrow morning, meeting yet another reader for an afternoon hangout, and then finally seeing The Dream and Firebird in the evening. It may seem odd that I’d choose to take class and even blog over my vacation (both things that look a lot like work), but in addition to simply sharing a hopefully interesting set of stories, it was important for me to remind myself that humans have to live for art. It doesn’t matter if I sling pizzas for minimum wage (which I do, if you didn’t know)—I don’t feel alive without ballet in my life. This is why I dedicated some of my meager life’s savings to this trip because nothing is more human than to be moved by a work of art, and once a person finds the art that does, whether it be one genre or a myriad, it isn’t just worth pursuing, it’s necessary to. If we don’t live for the things we’re passionate about, than what are we living for? I said this on Twitter but think it pertinent to change the pronoun because I think it should be a shared mantra amongst dancers, and especially those that have to struggle in New York with inconsistent work, second (or third!) jobs, and worse: “We work to survive but we dance to live.” In a city where it seems like it’s already all been said and done, I offer that quote as a little gift to spark something positive in the world. It’s not something I expect people who don’t take the idea of being an artist as a career seriously to understand. Hell, it even took me what, twenty-eight years to really come to terms? I can only hope that it inspires any change in thinking, even if only a smidgen.

Meanwhile, Jennifer is trying to convince me to go to the stage door tomorrow to see Marcelo(!) and Julie…but the mere thought is already giving me ulcers and anxiety. If I weren’t so exhausted from a red-eye flight and getting lost in New York, I’d probably have insomnia too. But I don’t, and am ready to say “good night,” for the real adventures begin tomorrow. Thank you again, for reading as always—I know I haven’t been writing frequently but New York is already providing a lot of fuel for thought.

Here goes nothing! Or as those of us born under the sign of Aries like to say, “here goes everything!” (that and “ready, fire, aim!”)

P.S. I still can’t believe this is all happening!

Bridging the Lake; a Black Swan discussion with an outsider

7 Jan

Rather than write my thoughts on Black Swan, I thought I’d do something a little different and get the perspective of someone completely outside of the dance community.  There are many wonderful reviews written by dancers and balletomanes (which I am just now catching up on, having avoided spoilers until I saw the movie), but what about the “common man?”  Well, the common man is my friend Derek, a movie buff who has graciously submitted to an interview, directed by yours truly in order to guide the conversation into a context that makes a connection between the dance world as we know it and the one he saw in film, perhaps illuminating for both sides how we can find common ground and bring new audiences to ballet.

Derek is older than me (just thought I’d throw that out there) and is the type of friend who never calls, unless I call him at least five times.  He hails from a quaint little village known as Fort Wayne, Indiana where you can park your horse at the local grocery stores, though he lives in the more metropolitan Indianapolis now (which is essentially a clone of my hometown, Columbus).  Despite my desperate pleas to get him to go see the ballet, he hasn’t—missing the likes of Julie Kent, Marcelo Gomes, Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev at the Indianapolis City Ballet Gala in September of this year.  I KNOW.  I KNOW!!!  He had these superstars right on his doorstep and I implored that he go so I could live vicariously through him, with Kent/Gomes performing the pas de deux from Lady of the Camellias and Othello, and the Bolshoi wunderkinds doing the Don Quixote and Flames of Paris grand pas de deux (their best!), but he didn’t go.  Derek has no idea how embittered and hostile I still am over this most egregious failure and rest assured next time I see him violence will ensue.  Meanwhile, he saw his first Nutcracker this holiday season…if that’s not a knife to the gut I don’t know what is.

Putting aside his nefarious betrayal, he was in fact very excited for Black Swan.  As I said, he’s a fan of films; he makes Oscar predictions and watches all of the award shows, delighting in the prestige and glamour (while I perish at the mere thought of bowties and tuxedos).  He is of course a huge admirer of Darren Aronofsky and despite impeding my mission to get more people interested in our sacred art, Derek is a cheerful chap and occasionally his moral compass proves to be sound (though his spending habits beg to differ).

So first, what is your overall impression of Black Swan and what aspects of the film were most enjoyable/interesting to you?

Derek: My general impression of the movie was that it was pretty freaking cool.  I like Aronofsky as a film-maker, and I have seen all of his movies minus Pi, so when I noticed on IMDB that he was making a movie with Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, and Winona Ryder (all are certain favorites of mine) I knew I would see this movie the first chance I got.  I was afraid it wouldn’t live up to my expectations because I was so excited to see it, but it didn’t fail me.  While watching, I was glued to the screen. When I left, my mind was racing.  I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

My favorite things about the movie were definitely the performances.  Natalie Portman has long been a favorite of mine, and I’ve always known she is an amazing actress (not proven true by ANY of the Star Wars movies, but I held on to faith, and she finally did a 180 with the film, Closer).  Portman, in my honest opinion, has delivered one of the best performances I have ever seen.

Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey, Vincent Cassel, and Winona Ryder also did excellent jobs. They were all extremely effective in their supporting roles, and deserve recognition somehow.

I thought it was interesting that the movie was about ballet, and about a ballerina who wanted to be the best, but the story didn’t really end there. It was a character study about transformation, and perception.

Besides the obvious hallucinations, did anything strike you as unrealistic?  You mentioned the effectiveness of Portman’s acting and the supporting cast, but what did you make of some of the stereotypes they portrayed, such as Nina’s eating disorder, her perfectionism, her stage mother, or the bitchy fellow dancers?

Derek: I think what made this an interesting portrayal of an anorexic ballerina is that they never touched on the subject verbally… we saw images of Nina throwing up in a bathroom. It was never mentioned again.

Her mom was odd. She was a typical “stage mom”, living vicariously through Nina. What made her more corrupt is the fact that she knew Nina was sick, and even through we as an audience can only guess that Nina is schizophrenic, her mother knew it all along.

The perfectionism that Nina is striving for is unrealistic. Nothing is perfect, and anything that is perceived as perfect will falter in the end (Ryder’s character in a way was a representation of this). Nina ended up killing herself in her highest moment, and will be remembered forever for this one “perfect performance”, or what she thought was perfect. It’s like Romeo and Juliet’s perfect love; they died at the height of it, and had they survived it they would have lived to see it somehow die, and/or not be perfect.

How familiar are you with the actual story (what’s called the libretto) of Swan Lake?  The original plot is more or less revealed at certain points in the film but I kept wondering if it was enough for people who have never seen Swan Lake before and I’m curious as to whether the parallels between the plot of the ballet Swan Lake and the movie were apparent for you or not.  For example, in the ballet, the Swan Queen (Odette) is fragile and timid, while her imposter the Black Swan (Odile—and not Odette’s twin sister as stated in the movie!) is seductive, which is re-imagined into a modern, New York setting via Nina and Lily.

Derek: I’m not familiar with Swan Lake at all…however, I did a little reading before the movie. I read that Nina personified the White Swan perfectly, and that Lily personified the Black Swan even better, but that Nina had to become both to get the part. That’s all I knew…but I did see the parallels for sure. I think that it was very important for the filmmaker to show these similarities between Nina (Odette) and Lily (Odile).

To see this movie though I don’t think you need to see the ballet, although I think it may prove to have more of an impact. I’ve already said how much I loved this movie, but my roommate Anna did ballet for 10 years, had seen Swan Lake before and knows the music well.  She connected with that part of the movie better than I did.

That’s interesting considering I did a whole Swan Lake MONTH series on my blog, that you obviously did NOT read, “friend.”  However, I agree—Aronofsky maintained the integrity of Swan Lake; in the ballet, the story is told through music and movement but in his film the story is told through dialogue, acting and special effects, coincidentally taking place in the ballet world…at any rate, was there anything you would have liked to have seen in the film but didn’t?  Dare I ask, anything you would have changed?

Derek: Regarding both of your questions, my answer is no.  I liked it the way it was, and I can’t think of anything else I would have added to make it better.

Thank you…for that elaborate response.  Although his role had few lines, did you notice Benjamin Millepied at all (aka, David, Nina’s partner)?  What did you think of him? (I guarantee ballet fans were watching him with as much interest as they were watching Portman)

Derek: Yes, I did notice Benjamin Millepied. I knew going into the movie that he is a pretty accomplished dancer and choreographer, and that he did some, if not all, of the choreography for this film. He had great film presence, and with Portman had great chemistry (and it all makes sense now, being engaged and expecting a little bundle of “joy!”).

But, not being a particular dance fan, and not really knowing correct techniques, or knowing what to look for in a great dancer, I will say that Portman held her own. I was extremely impressed with her skill, but you could definitely see a difference in between Millepied and Portman. I could tell that he was an extremely experienced and good dancer. It was very good casting.

I kind of felt like Millepied needed to comb his hair…but that’s irrelevant.  Has this film changed your perception of ballet?  Are you more/less inspired to see a ballet on your own?  And don’t even think about telling me what you think I want to hear because I’ll know you’re lying.

Derek: I don’t think this movie has really changed my perception of ballet. In a way, I have always appreciated it, maybe not as much as you [Steve], but I think more so than the general population.

I think I would see a ballet, but I would prefer to go with someone who kind of knew ballet (maybe you!), or perhaps Anna, who like I said, is a big ballet fan. I wouldn’t know left from right or what was good or not, but I think I could enjoy a good ballet for the music and the artistry.

Well, the truth is, you don’t have to know what’s good or not…the important thing is having the freedom to decide what you like or dislike and to have conviction in your opinions, while accepting those of others.  If you choose to learn more about it, I think you’ll find the rewards more gratifying though.

Hey, remember when I gave you a dance belt for your birthday? How’s that going for you?

Derek: I’ve worn it.  Yes.  I can’t say why.  Or for whom.  But it’s gotten use.  It fits well.

Well thank you for your time, and just so you know, after missing the Indianapolis City Ballet Gala, you have a chance to redeem yourself.  On January 19th, Opus Arte Cinemas will be doing a live broadcast of the Royal Ballet performing Giselle in limited theaters (including the Carmike 20 in your hometown, Fort Wayne) with Marianela Nuñez and Rupert Pennefather performing the principal roles of Giselle and Albrecht.  This is not a request and it is not an interview question…it is a demand that you not fail me again.  And look—I’ve even written a post about the Royal Ballet’s Giselle, so you can imagine me there with you…and if you don’t go, you can imagine my hands wringing your neck.

This concludes the interview with my friend Derek, a so-called “outsider” of ballet.  As Black Swan continues to delight audiences as well as stir up controversy for some professionals in the industry, the only safe thing to say is that dance movies (or in the case of Black Swan, a movie that happens to have dance in it) have a tendency to be divisive.   I think there’s a triangular relationship, between professional dancing, a well-developed storyline and good actors that has yet to be balanced to the satisfaction of many.  It seems two out of three just isn’t enough!

The Nacho Project: Diagnosis

24 May

One of my ducklings (number five in the row, if I recall correctly) is headed to New York this summer and is in need of your help!  “Nacho,” as I call her, has never been there before and will be doing some kind of an internship this summer but more importantly, will have access to the splendiferous wonder that is NYCB and ABT.  Not only will this be her first time in Manhattan, she has yet to see such prestigious ballet companies (she has seen smaller dance performances before though).  Needless to say this is a crucial moment in her development as a human being and as my ducklings tend to do, she sought advice from me but there are many ballets on the programs I haven’t a clue about.  So I thought I’d pose the question to more knowledgeable folk.  We’re always wanting ballet to reach new audiences and this is our chance to tinker a la Frankenstein with one young woman’s perception of it!  The challenge here is that funds are not entirely limitless (she’s not the type to see five Swan Lakes) and yet between NYCB and ABT there’s an abundance of things to see.  She’s going to be a kid in a candy store, but she has to make the Big Apple her pie.  Selectiveness is key, so here is what I feel you need to know about Nacho:

  • She may be short, but she has a lot of angst.  She likes pretty, romantic ballets but if not that then they have to be pretty…raging
  • She’s one of those “danced since I was three” jazz babies.  Showing off big flashy jumps and fouettés go in the plus column, as do Fred & Ginger
  • This is educated conjecture, but she probably has no appreciation for classical music.  This isn’t to say she hates it, only that she’ll like what sounds pleasing to her ear, without deeper understanding of the finer details.
  • She has questionable taste in men (mostly because she dates people I disapprove of)
  • She’s Italian and her mom makes good sauce
  • She likes the Pittsburgh Steelers, Andy Roddick and Sex and the City (she thinks she’s Carrie Bradshaw if that means anything to you)
  • Her phone number is…

So those are some things about Nacho and after looking at NYCB calendar (link) I’ve convinced her that attending NYCB’s program on June 25th with After the Rain, The Lady with the Little Dog and Who Cares? would be an ideal choice (she will be in New York June 18th to August 18th).  There’s a short preview of After the Rain on YouTube I sent her and she likes the tragicalyricalness and I also sent her a clip of Who Cares? which she loved.  I have no idea about Little Dog, but I figured two out of three is more than sufficient for a happy evening.  Glancing at the other programs, the chances of her liking Prodigal Son are slim to none but I do think she would enjoy Western Symphony.  June 26th has a program with La Source, a new Martins ballet and Western Symphony but I don’t know what Peter Martins choreography is like and I’ve only heard of La Source in passing…so what say you, fellow balletomanes?  Then there’s the added allure of farewell performances including that of Darci Kistler, the last ballerina to be selected by Balanchine himself…do you miss the opportunity to witness something so epically historical?  I’m almost completely unfamiliar with the Kistler farewell program (minus Swan Lake of course) so suggestions para Nacho por favor!

She could watch Kistler in an excerpt from Swan Lake, but it turns out ABT (calendar link) will be doing Swan Lake the previous week as well so I say go all out and see the whole shebang.  But the casting!  Decisions, decisions…I’m thinking she should cat fight with the rest of the audience in attendance for the June 21st show with Roberto Bolle so she can fall madly in love with him (she does like them tall…and he’s Italian too) in addition to seeing the beautiful Veronika Part, but there are so many great casting options like Julie Kent/Marcelo Gomes or Jose Carreño/Gillian Murphy.  Now I don’t know if she’ll make it in time for Sleeping Beauty, but good heavens!  It’s the battle of the guest stars…do you opt for the saccharine innocence of Alina Cojocaru or the flight of the Osipova?  Then ABT does a week of mixed bills and I’m more obsessive about watching ballet than Nacho is but even I’m finding the selection overwhelming.  If it were me, I’d go with the All Ashton program on June 30th to sort of round out the experience and diversify the choreographers, but it’s Nacho and not me, so I would only strongly suggest/force that idea upon her if I had a legion of people who agreed with me (also keeping in mind she’s never seen a MacMillan and the Manon pas de deux is just…to DIE for).  ABT then does a week of Romeo and Juliet in early July before heading off to Los Angeles, and you know I’m a grouch when it comes to Romeo and Juliet so I’m in no position to be suggesting which casting I think would be lovely to see.

So friends, I beseech thee to diagnose Nacho and help her get the most out of her summer in New York!  Here’s a short interview I did with her which might help figure out which ballets/casts she should see:

YDF:  Do you like Roberto Bolle?

Nacho:  Sure.

YDF:  Liar.  Do you wear clothes from the Gap?

Nacho:  Roberto Bolle is fine…don’t really have an opinion of him and no I do not.

YDF:  Not the answer I was looking for.

Nacho:  Sorry friend.

YDF:  Do you even know who he is?

Nacho:  Yes, I YouTube’d him.

YDF:  Just now?

Nacho:  Yes…I’m not a little ballet freak remember? (oh NO she didn’t!)

YDF:  Did you know he’s Italian?

Nacho:  I kinda got that

YDF:  You’re Italian.

Nacho:  Indeed I am.  What was the answer you were looking for?

YDF:  The answer should have been yes, so I could tell you that he was a model for a Gap ad, and then you’d have something in common…but you ruined it.

Nacho: Sorry Charlie 🙂

YDF:  How do you like your male dancers?

Nacho:  Good?

YDF:  Fascinating.  Now describe your ideal ballerina.

Nacho:  Traditional yet not stiff?  I don’t know.  These are hard!

YDF:  Okay so final question (and this SHOULD be easy) what do you love about dance?

Nacho:  The expression through movement…the story that can be told without any word use.  The different interpretations of pieces, the emotion, the passion…I don’t know.

YDF:  Okay I lied, the REAL final question is, what are some characteristics of dances you like or dislike?

Nacho:  You know I don’t like too modern/abstract pieces… but I do like originality… generic pieces make me wanna scream.

And there you have it.  I’ll be sure to update on her progress as the summer progresses!

Happy 50th! Thank You Remanso

26 Sep

This is the fiftieth post I’ve written since youdancefunny’s sacred inception.  Fifty is a pretty monumental number, so I shall write about a dance that was monumental to me.  I was actually thinking about saving this for entry one hundred, but after realizing that would take a few more months, I chacked the idea.  The thought of having this thought linger in my brain for a few more months was not one I was fond of, because when I get a good idea I tend to become pretty impatient about it.  After all, the only way to get another good idea is to get rid of the one you’re holding.  It’s all thanks to a combination of the impatience of an Aries and a lust for living in the present moment that comes from being born in the Year of the Rat.  My birthright has thus rendered me virtually incapable of dealing with the long term stuff, in either direction, past or future.  Too much information?  Maybe.

So in honor of post cincuenta, today’s entry is dedicated to first dance that ever inspired me, Remanso, choreographed by Nacho Duato, to music by composer Enrique Granados’ Valses Poéticos.  I was first introduced to this dance by ballet teacher Yen Fang, ages ago.  Well, more like less than two years, but remember that I am indeed one who lives in the present so two years is like half of eternity.  I think I’ve mentioned her a couple times before, as the teacher who swears like a sailor and would beat me in class.  She would also tell me to carry out the center barres because that’s what the boys should do…or rather boy, since I was the only boy in the class.  Despite her abusive ways, I’ll always remember her class because it was one of my first ballet classes ever, where I first heard the mazurka to Coppelia, and where I was introduced to Remanso.  I started taking dance classes at my university, so the approach was always a little more academic rather than just dancing all the time, so teachers would often show videos and have us write papers and the like.  The one Yen Fang showed was American Ballet Theatre Now – Variety and Virtuosity, which one can purchase brand new at amazon.com for a monstrous $97.89.  HOLY BILLY ELLIOT.  Back up, $100?  Seriously?!?  This is not a drill people…although if you own an artifact called a “VCR,” you can purchase a VHS for a much kinder six dollars.

Sticker shock aside, I found that Remanso appealed to many of my tastes.  The first being the music.  I have a strange affinity for waltzes and time signatures in threes, for which I have no explanation.  Anyway, sometimes a solo piano piece is really all it takes to satisfy the soul, and Valses Poéticos does just that.  In fact, I was so in love with the music I rekindled this idea that I could teach myself how to play piano.  I go through this phase every now and then, with varying degrees of success, ranging from purchasing music and never playing it, to learning the first page of a piece before getting overwhelmed.  Quite frankly, piano (or any classical instrument for that matter), like ballet is not something you can teach yourself, but I decided to buy the music anyway.  What should have been a simple purchase turned into an ordeal when I ordered the music in July, got a call from the store that it had arrived, and had plans to go but somehow got distracted and it slipped my mind.  After that initial day, again, as someone who lives in the present, of course I also forgot all about it (plus going downtown is a pain and I always get lost), until a couple months later when the store lady called again, not leaving a message the first time and then leaving a message the day after.  I rushed to the store and picked it up, with a different store clerk helping me, but the one who had ordered it and made the phone calls was also there and she was giving me the evil eye the whole time.  “I’m sorry!  I forgot!  It was an honest mistake!” I pleaded with my eyes, but she would not relent, and I left feeling dirty and ashamed.

Anyway, back to the dance, it is a modern ballet, and Duato’s choreography is so whimsical and charming, and the lightness of his style really fits the buoyancy of the music itself.  Designed for a male pas de trois (plus a mysterious hand of a fourth human holding a rose), the costumes are simple, leotards in solid dark tones paired with black shorts, which allows for a real sense of the dynamism of the male body.  The set and lighting too are minimal, with just a white square on a black stage, which would illuminate with different colors matching the dancer’s outfits.  It’s such a simple, perfect idea, and the minimized production elements really force your eyes to watch the dancing only.  There’s nothing harsh; it’s sweet, chocolate covered and easy to digest thanks to wonderful symmetry, motifs, repetitions and echoing.  No one dancer overpowers another, and they are playful without it being exaggerated.  It’s also pleasing because I believe it is comprised of all seven movements of Valses Poéticos, so you get a variety of tempi so it never settles into one mood for too long, each one on the verge ephemerality.  I think in many ways, this dance felt like “me.”  After watching it, THAT was the moment when I realized I wished I was a dancer, and it was at that moment I realized I needed to have dance be a significant part of my life or else I wouldn’t truly be human without it.  So I immersed myself, and the rest they say is history…a history that is fading into the recesses of my memory.  Luckily, Remanso never will.

So here it is, for your enjoyment, Remanso, danced by Parrish Maynard, (green…and I want his arabesque), Keith Roberts (gray) and Vladimir Malakhov (blue)…thank Billy nobody has to pay a ridiculous $100 for the DVD and Variety and Virtuosity in its entirety is available on YouTube.  You can also catch a glimpse of Julie Kent at the end, who is featured in the next dance.  Now, I hadn’t seen Center Stage at the time, and only knew of it because friend Mama J-bear (with whom I had my adventures in China with) said it was worth watching because Sascha Radetsky is hot, but I’ll never forget the girl in my class who asked “Is that the girl from Center Stage?  I didn’t like her…she was a bitch.”

Salute to Center Stage

4 Jul

I like to celebrate the glorious 4th of Jew-lai by watching a certain little movie called…CENTER STAGE!  Some people do barbecues, fireworks, pie…I do the dance movie du jour for us easily pleased ballet freaks and geeks (although I do like pie).  It just so happens that there’s a brief clip where Ethan Stiefel and Julie Kent perform the Fifth Campaign/Coda from Balanchine’s Stars and Stripes.  Even though it’s less than 3 minutes of the movie, making the patriotic connection a loosey goosey one, I consider it festive enough for me.  I’d post a clip of the coda, but the Balanchine Trust is really touchy about his material being on youtube, so too bad.  What I can say about the coda is that it’s typical Balanchine, using a Hershy Kay arrangement of John Phillip Sousa’s Manhattan Beach March, complete with pizzazz and those horribly awkward entrechat huit with flexed feet.  It’s an addicting little diddy too…even though as a former piccolo player, I have post-traumatic Sousa disorder, leaving me prone to the vapors whenever I hear his signature work.

As for Center Stage in its entirety, what a deliciously good and awful-in-a-good-way movie.  One of the best things about Center Stage is that it has mostly real dancers and a lot of quality dancing.  You have a few ABT dancers in Stiefel, Kent and also Sascha Radetsky (aka Charlie from Seattle).  Also Amanda Schull in the lead role of Jodie Sawyer, who danced with San Francisco Ballet.  Not to mention many well accomplished dancers in the background (I’m sure there are aficionados who would recognize many of them, and I don’t know enough about the upper echelon of ballet to know who’s who, although I do recognize the face of one guy who was in NYCB’s video dance revival of Jerome Robbins “Opus Jazz,” which I had researched a little for a project).  It’s a real treat to see them perform as well as in various stages of technique class.  Although not a completely accurate portrayal of the ballet world, it’s fun to indulge in the exaggerated ridiculousness.  It’s like a ballet soap opera…the movie.

How can anyone not like badass Eva Rodriguez, who in the real world would have been kicked out for her thorny attitude and mouthing off to the teachers, only to totally venga the smack.down. when prima bitcherina Maureen gave her the role that Eva somehow managed to do without rehearsals, not to mention changing into her costume and going backstage without anyone noticing (and technically Eva was in the corps for Jonathan’s ballet, so who replaced her?).  Oh the blatant logistical errors (of which there are many, many, more)…but that’s Hollywood for you.  They actually did a fairly decent job with the stunt doubles though, including Eva’s, the lovely Aesha Ash.  Zoe Saldana had some background in dance too, so it was fairly seamless.

And then there’s Charlie from Seattle…everyone loves Charlie from Seattle.  The girls love him, and the boys either want to be him, or like Eric O. Jones, love him too.  Incidentally, the scene where they’re all washing the studio mirrors as punishment for getting drunk the night before, Charlie from Seattle is wearing a shirt I recognize only because I used to own it myself.  Navy blue, long sleeves with 2 stripes down them and a little thingie across the middle near the elbow.  That garment hails from Old Navy, but does not make you dance like Charlie from Seattle.  And didn’t we all love the machismo face off he had with Cooper Nielson during the choreography phase of Cooper’s ballet?  Although, if you’ll notice during the actual pas de trois at the end, instead of matching Cooper’s double tour-double pirouette-double tour-double tour-double tour in passé, Charlie from Seattle only did a double tour-single pirouette-double tour-double tour in passé.  But Cooper acts surprised anyway and we’re not supposed to know the difference.  Remember, I have a freakish eye for detail.

And of course, how can we forget little Bambi herself, Jodie Sawyer. The bottom line is, aren’t we all, a Jodie Sawyer?  That’s probably what makes the movie so enjoyable for dancers, as it’s easy to relate to not being perfect and just trying to find your niche in the world instead of pursuing a dream with unrealistic expectations.  She wasn’t all that bad of an actress either…in fact, I found her quite believable.  Incidentally, she will be appearing in a new ballet-related movie called “Mao’s Last Dancer,” a film adaptation of Li Cunxin’s autobiography.  She plays his first wife, who was a dancer so it should be interesting to see how she looks and dances now (albeit a few years removed from retiring from SFB) compared to 9 years ago.

Some A+ music choices too…like Lucien’s variation from Paquita (which incidentally, a friend of mine once told me is the worst ballet ever…haha) and the mazurka from Coppelia in the technique classes, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto no.2 for Jonathan’s ballet, and a medley of awesomeness including MJ’s The Way You Make Me Feel (aww, MJ) and Jamiro Quai’s “Just Dance.”  And saving the best for last, The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ cover of “Higher Ground” from the jazzzzzzzz classssss!  Definitely my favorite scene, for a number of reasons…like that crazy flexible guy who has this ridiculous look on his face when they’re doing battements on the floor, or Cooper Nielson’s slow mo temps ciseux (cause that’s how it happens in real life, yeah?), and it’s just a fun dance to a great song (I even taught most of it to myself just from watching the video).

I have to say though, that the absolute best part of the dance is Ethan Stiefel’s “angry face” that he makes all throughout.  It makes me think of that Mr. Potato Head scene from Toy Story where he says “Prepare to meet Mr. ANGRY EYES!”

Ethan Stiefel's Angry Eyes

Ethan Stiefel’s Angry Eyes

Watch the video:

“Look, just forget about the steps…just dance the shit out of iiiiiit.”

Best. Line. Ever.

Is Center Stage intelligent?  No.  But it’s probably the best dance movie for pure entertainment (any mention of the Step Up sand I’ll scream).  And whatever you do, do NOT, watch the sequel.  It’s a vastly inferior.  I’m still kind of mad at myself for watching it, and that was a few months ago.  And I didn’t pay to watch it either.

Stick with the original, have a seat and watch…and quote half the movie because I know you can.

PS. I’ve figured out the widgets thingie on WordPress, so hopefully my blog is a little more reader-friendly.  Happy 4th everyone!