Tag Archives: karen eliot

PNB: Pre-Premiere

2 Nov

Pacific Northwest Ballet offers a number of great bonus goodies, one of them being a lecture presentation/dress rehearsal the day before opening night of every program run. Sometimes the lecture will be an interview with a choreographer, and notable guests in the past have included Alexei Ratmansky and Christopher Wheeldon (I should know—I was there, and ideally, you should know, because you may have read about it!). For the upcoming ‘All Premiere’ program, the esteemed guest was Professor Stephanie Jordan of the University of Roehampton, who is currently writing a book on Mark Morris and music. Karen Eliot, my teacher from Ohio State is a friend and admirer of Dr. Jordan’s work, and encouraged me to seek her out—so I did, which totally paid off because Dr. Jordan snuck me into orchestra level seating, which was technically for staff only.  Actually, she didn’t “sneak” me in because she asked “John” for permission so for the record, I was totally allowed to be there.

Before I go on, I’d like to mention that regular tickets for the rehearsal are seated in McCaw Hall’s dress circle for a STEAL at $30 (I paid less as a subscriber)—I honestly don’t know how PNB could make ballet more accessible to the public at a price like that, and it’s such an affordable option for people who wouldn’t typically purchase dress circle tickets. It really boggles my mind that some people can have such an elitist image of ballet, when PNB for example, has the aforementioned opportunity, and then for actual performances, they have a 2 for $25 deal for anyone age 25 or younger (which I’ve been told can even get orchestra level seating sometimes), plus affordable subscription packages. I pay roughly $25 a ticket and sit far away but McCaw Hall isn’t a gargantuan opera house—I find the view from my seat to be quite adequate. A nosebleed seat at McCaw Hall is not equivalent to say, a nosebleed seat at The Paramount where I saw Kristin Chenoweth on tour, for double the price! Which was totally worth it…but that also brings up another sore spot in that you hear the unspeakable prices people are willing to pay for concerts by their favorite pop stars, sporting events, musicals (Wicked is at the Paramount right now and my brain exploded when I thought to look at ticket prices), and then when they say ballet is “expensive,” it just makes me want to run down the aisles of an antique shop with a broomstick. Ballet IS an expensive art, but generally not for the audience, so myth dispelled…let’s get over it.

So back to Dr. Jordan’s lecture, as a precursor to the rehearsal, she divulged fascinating ideas on “musicality”—which I encapsulate with quotations because she said: “musicality is problematic, despite being a virtue.” She referred to the vagueness of the word “musicality” because there really are no set parameters to define it, and yet we can recognize it, oftentimes in our own way. When someone approached her afterwards to say that he never thought to look at dance in the manner she explained throughout the course of her lecture, she responded with something to the effect of saying that whatever his ideas of musicality were before she presented her findings were important too, and that now he simply has her ideas in addition to his own. What a marvelous thing to say! It’s a true reflection of her work because her current interests are in Morris’s choreography, who she said was sometimes criticized for “Mickey Mouse-ifying” music with visualizations that are too blatant (e.g., dancers stand on tip toes for high notes, crouch down for low notes, flutter their hands during trills), but she has no bias for one movement or another—they all have equal value, as do our abilities to observe it.

With that in mind, it was on to the dress rehearsal for PNB’s ‘All Premiere,’ which as the name indicates, is a program with four works making their world premieres. This is virtually unheard of in ballet circles, as directors like to present a good mix of repertory—familiar favorites, classics, contemporary, throw in a premiere…your basic smorgasbord. However, if you can imagine a buffet with all brand new dishes, then you’re really throwing the gauntlet down and issuing a challenge to the audience, and in this case there’s really nothing to guarantee any one audience grouping. You could do a program with Serenade and Dances at a Gathering and excite the Balanchine groupies, the Robbins groupies, ME—but those people already trust those works and know exactly what to expect. I suppose fans of Morris may have a general sense of his style but his rehearsals have been completely obscured from public view until today so even then there’s no promise of liking the newest piece. Not to mention for two of the four choreographers, Andrew Bartee and Margaret Mullin, this will be the first time they’ve created on the company, having previously choreographed on the professional division students. So for them, it’s a different beast and the entire program is ridiculously risky.

So, I guess the time has come for a spoiler warning…if you plan on seeing ‘All Premiere,’ you may as well go in with no expectations…after all, you’ve waited this long. However, for those of you who don’t have the great fortune of being able to go, I shall offer a few words:

Andrew Bartee’s arms that work is totally alien, and has the dancers in beige costumes constantly moving—very rarely is a body on stage still, and he provides contrast by stretching the movement tempos. The philosophy behind the piece is quite contemporary, and is definitely grounded in movement perhaps before music, which is generally the modern approach to dance (as opposed to being motivated by the music in ballet). His style ranges from little things to huge sweepers with his unique brand of fluidity. There’s also an integral set element of a wall of elastic bands, which looks a lot like the silhouette of a roller coaster, and offers an interesting deconstruction of line when paired with the movement. As a side note, it was kind of funny to see Bartee in one of the later pieces, do an ear-whacking grand battement—like a graduate of the Sylvie Guillem Academy of Bonelessness, you can imagine where he sources his material.

Next came Margaret Mullin’s Lost in Light, a ballet where the contrast was found in light and shadow, further emphasized by the black and gold costumes by her close friend, Alexis Mondragon. Lost in Light excites me because Mullin comes from a different sort of lineage than most dancers with PNB—having trained extensively with Amanda McKerrow, a repetiteur of Antony Tudor ballets, Mullin has developed a different voice, despite her daily work in one of many houses of Balanchine. Thus, there is an understated elegance to her choreography, and Lost in Light shimmers with emotion without being ostentatious. It’s a lovely ballet with beautiful lines and downplayed virtuosity. Corps dancer Chelsea Adomaitis especially stood out to me here—she just seemed to “get it” the most and there’s something very sincere and unpretentious about the way she dances that makes her glow.

Then came the long awaited first look at Mark Morris’s Kammermusik No.3 to Paul Hindemith’s music of the same name. Rehearsals were completely closed (they papered the studio windows to prevent spying), so this was in fact, the first look by any members of the general public. We get our first splash of color with dancers in black pants and magenta, ombre dyed tunics. Kammermusik employs a great deal of visualization as Dr. Jordan had discussed earlier, though in a great deal of codified ballet steps with contemporary moves that really pick up on Hindemith’s quirkiness. There are humorous moments, like trios of dancers entering the stage to briefly perform a leap before exiting immediately afterward, a striking and perhaps comedic visual, but entirely appropriate to the score. The structure is tightly knit, and it was interesting to hear Morris snapping his fingers in the audience, cluing us into what he hears specifically in the music. Not surprisingly, the outstanding-as-always Carrie Imler was on the money every time.

Closing out the program is Kiyon Gaines’s Sum Stravinsky, to Stravinsky’s ‘Dumbarton Oaks Concerto.’ A neoclassical ballet awash in ocean colored tutus, the ballet is as effervescent as Gaines himself is. The ballet is performed in three movements, an “Oreo-cookie” (or A-B-A) method of sandwiching a pas de deux with two ensemble pieces. It’s quick—lots of changes of direction and intricate phrasing, though the pas de deux is a wonderful adagio. Principal dancer Maria Chapman has those super arched feet that every dancer wants (except for the dancers that have them and dread hops on pointe), and it’s amazing how much she communicates in just walking at the very beginning of the pas de deux. Lesley Rausch was a veritable queen in the third movement, but again, Chelsea Adomaitis was a princess—somebody should give that girl a blue ribbon superstar award because she’s just wonderful.

The whole company looks eager and inspired, and I think ‘All Premiere’ takes the audience on an interesting journey of regression from contemporary to…less contemporary? It’s interesting because the first two pieces feature original scores, and then you have Hindemith and Stravinsky, and the choreography follows a similar suit—well, I’d say Mullin’s ballet is more classical than Morris’s, but the overall direction went from nebulous to structure in both music and choreography. The classicist in me of course wishes they would’ve taken it a step further with tiaras and Tchaikovsky, but these are all living, breathing artists and their work is all about embodying what’s relevant. For that alone, I can’t stress how utterly amazing ‘All Premiere’ is going to be these next two weeks. You can do whatever you want, but I’d go if I were you.

Want to know more about Andrew Bartee, Margaret Mullin, and Kiyon Gaines? Check. This. Out.


4 Feb

When American Ballet Theatre announced that they would perform Sir Frederick Ashton’s The Dream as a part of their 2012 MET season, I made up my mind then and there—I would go. Ashton is my hero, The Dream debuted on April 2nd, 1964 and my birthday is April 2nd so while I don’t like to throw around the word ‘destiny’ it is pretty nifty if you’re as geeky as I am. Plus, I’ve never been to New York and have obviously never seen ABT and both are necessary experiences in a dancer’s life. In anticipation, I’ve been crossing my fingers like crazy that Marcelo Gomes would dance Oberon for one of the four performances, but ABT hasn’t posted casting yet (though upon hearing the recent news that Gomes would be partnering Alina Cojocaru in London next week for a performance of The Dream with The Royal Ballet, I’d like to believe that the outlook is good!). My initial solution to this conundrum was to see all four casts—after all, my most eminent teacher and fellow Ashton devotee Karen Eliot (who saw Anthony Dowell perform The Dream in London mind you!) attended the performance with Gillian Murphy and David Hallberg cast as Titania and Oberon and said it was perfection. A Gomes Oberon or not, I really figured I couldn’t go wrong if I saw every cast. And maybe I will…or maybe I need to “Dream” (har har) bigger.

I suppose I’m a struggling dance writer, scraping by at minimum wage and writing when I can. For the past few months I was excruciatingly busy with work and the frequency of my writing suffered as a result. Fortunately, the days of two jobs are over for now and I’m slowly regaining focus on the things that truly matter. However, luxury is something I can’t afford and a few days in one of the most expensive cities in the world is the best I can do—though I’m lucky and grateful that I can treat myself to that much! Still, June is chock full of great ballets I want to see and it’s painful to have to choose. I’ve even entertained the idea of forsaking The Dream and going in the first weekend of June to see The Bright Stream, a great mixed rep from New York City Ballet, and Onegin because variety is the spice of life and being a patron of the arts requires that you expose yourself to the unfamiliar. In a weird way there’s a parallel built into the semantics—do I follow my “Dream,” or do I do what’s practical and see as much ballet in the same period of time? Too often in life we’re asked to make decisions that follow the heart’s desire versus what’s logical and it’s the worst!

But what if I didn’t choose? What if, I spent the entire month of June in New York? When that thought occurred to me, the wheels immediately started turning. What if I made this a project and raised the funds to allow me to live in New York for a month, see lots of ballet, write like crazy, and live like that critically endangered species we know as the paid, professional dance writer? I’ve seen Kickstarter be so successful for so many artistic ventures I thought—why not me? Maybe, as an independent dance writer, I’m going to have to take matters into my own hands and create the opportunity for myself. I even did a little preliminary math, and if all of my followers on Twitter donated just a few dollars, I’m pretty sure I’d be set! However, this raises a LOT of questions, including the big one of whether my writing is even worth it. Is my perspective on ballet of interest enough to warrant special treatment? On the one hand, it feels selfish and greedy to ask people for money to send me to shows, but on the other, is it unreasonable to believe that if I were to write an entire magazine, for example, that people would pay for it? It’s a new landscape with social media and maybe this is my chance to use it to my advantage and promote myself.

But what exactly, would the funds go towards? Practical necessities like housing and transportation aside, these are some general ideas I have for blog posts:

  • Show reviews – ABT is performing almost every day in June (though I wouldn’t attend every show!) and NYCB has a few programs as well. I believe The Australian Ballet is also touring, but I’d want to see more than major ballet companies.
  • Classes – At the heart of it all, I’m still a student and I want to document the experience of taking classes in New York, with a few different teachers just for variety’s sake but I’d also want to settle down to have some consistency (it’s difficult to see improvement otherwise).
  • New York Public Library – I would DEVOUR the materials there and write some articles about my findings. I’d arm myself with only two books: Gail Grant’s Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet and Mary Clarke/Clement Crisp’s The Ballet Goer’s Guide so the Performing Arts Library will be my home base for research—right after several viewings of Violette Verdy in Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux.
  • Interviews – This would be the time to take advantage of social media and some of the connections I have to talk to people involved in the ballet world. I’d love to interview readers as well!
  • ??? – Who knows. I go (sometimes very foolishly) where the wind takes me. Even the above is more than enough fodder for writing a quality post every day, and probably even more than that if there was enough time!

Basically, this would be my summer intensive of dancing and dance writing. It would be a heck of a lot of work but I’m apprehensive too. I’m scared to put my life in Seattle on hold for a month, not to mention it’s always difficult to get to know new surroundings and New York is a beast! There are also a lot of dance writers already established in New York, so it’s not like I’m doing anything new and I’m afraid to death of “failure,” which in this case would be finding out that there is no future for YouDanceFunny beyond what I already do. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE blogging and will continue to write no matter what, but despite the benefits of this proposed project, I could walk away knowing that writing will always be a labor of love. It’s a far cry from leaving empty handed though and maybe it would be healthy—necessary even—to have that clarity, but it’s a frightening prospect to consider because I want to believe that I can affect change and that what I’m doing can be worth even more to the community.

So, the real question here isn’t whether this idea is crazy (because it is!) but if it’s actually crazy enough to work! I beseech you readers near and far, before asking for your support, to discuss with me your thoughts on this. If there ever was a time to comment or de-lurk, now is the time! Defining moments! Seize them!

Moira Shearer

21 Sep

It would almost seem a statement of the obvious to discuss the role of women in dance.  Plenty of time is spent fawning over the performances of near mythical figures like Balanchine’s muses or prima ballerinas like Margot Fonteyn…but there are more stories than just the most illustrious ones.  There are those that are far less romantic and for various reasons less known.  I think we owe it to dance history to recognize those figures more often and for that, I turned to a book written by my former teacher and professor of dance at the Ohio State University, Karen Eliot (not a nom de plume): Dancing Lives: Five Female Dancers from the Ballet d’Action to Merce Cunningham.

The book is not a complete autobiography of these five dancers, but rather an illustration of segments of dance history as embodied by them through their working lives.  It’s a diverse selection of unsung heroines that includes eighteenth century ballerina Giovanna Baccelli, Adèle Dumilâtre (the original Myrtha), Tamara Karsavina of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes fame, star of The Red Shoes Moira Shearer and Cunningham dancer Catherine Kerr.  I’ve been reading this book for months (because I’m actually a slow reader and easily distracted when it comes to more academic writing) so unfortunately the chapters on Baccelli and Dumilâtre are not so fresh in my mind, but know that each dancer Karen chose has a contribution to dance that is grossly overlooked.  Imagine being Dumilâtre for instance, and having to make a name for yourself in the time of Marie Taglioni?  Dumilâtre was in fact one of the first to replace Taglioni in La Sylphide, but by that time the legend was written.

I was however, most interested in the chapter on Moira Shearer, because a brainiac ballerina (Tamara Rojo…who else?) called her “the greatest English ballerina that ever was” and went as far as saying that “she was the star that should have been.”  It takes quite a bit of gall to say that Shearer should have been the star in the era of Fonteyn…although perhaps the name Tamara inspires such nerve because Karsavina was quite the brazen, brainiac ballerina herself (although for more on that, you’ll have to read Karen’s book…bwahaha!).  At any rate, Shearer is almost solely known for her role as Vicky Page in the landmark film The Red Shoes, which I watched at a time when its contents were far beyond my understanding.  Regardless, it’s interesting to uncover how she felt about the film and how it affected her career as a dancer.  I don’t know that I would say she blames the movie for her premature retirement, but it certainly did have some negative repercussions that had me thinking about some of the contemporary ballet related films being released these days.  I remember reading in an article that Darren Aronofsky said people in the ballet world were reluctant to get involved with Black Swan, which I found surprising at first but perhaps the desire to avoid the fate that befell Moira Shearer makes more sense.

Dame Ninette de Valois’s role in this cannot be ignored.  It is said that when Shearer was reluctant to take on the role of Victoria Page, de Valois “encouraged” her to accept it so that the producers of the film would stop annoying her with their persistence.  De Valois was also instrumental in creating the Fonteyn vehicle, and apparently cast Shearer in the Bluebird pas de deux on the opening night of Sleeping Beauty when the Sadler’s Wells Ballet toured to New York, a role that Shearer normally did not dance and frazzled her with anxiety; she was prone to nerves and had basically unraveled by the third act, just waiting in her dressing room.  This was at a time when Shearer was world famous for The Red Shoes, but de Valois was insistent on her promoting of Fonteyn, so Shearer’s name was used to entice American audiences but Fonteyn was ultimately the one de Valois wanted to be seen.  Apparently there are varying accounts of the tensions between Shearer and de Valois, particularly in coaching Shearer received from Tamara Karsavina and George Balanchine.  Shearer sought out Karsavina to be coached for Giselle, a move that infuriated de Valois since only Fonteyn was to receive such treatment (and eventually did when de Valois brought Karsavina in to coach Fonteyn and her partner privately).  De Valois actually had to withdraw when it came to Balanchine though; when he came to set Ballet Imperial, he requested to work with Shearer privately, an experience Shearer cherished greatly.  It’s unfortunate that some critics at the time were perhaps overzealous in their praise of Fonteyn and consequently downright cruel to Shearer (in some instances they even criticized her porcelain appearance and red hair and that she didn’t have the “look” to dance certain parts…can you believe that?).  Critics claimed the choreography wasn’t good enough for Fonteyn (who actually had trouble adapting to Balanchine’s style), and Shearer only excelled because of her speed and strong feet.  It’s rather childish, much like some of the YouTube comments on ballet videos these days…

It’s really unfortunate that there doesn’t seem to be any footage of Shearer dancing ballets on stage commercially available, and we can only imagine what she would have been like by virtue of her film performances.  The thought of footage of the original cast of Symphonic Variations that included Shearer (thus making her a goddess in my book!) makes me slobber like a St. Bernard.  Although, I don’t know if such footage actually exists or not, but a boy can dream, no?  At any rate, my favorite video of her dancing that I’ve seen was not her performances from The Red Shoes, which she believed was filmed at a time when she didn’t consider herself fully refined as a dancer.  Although I haven’t seen the entire film, I have long coveted the clip of her dancing from the movie The Story of Three Loves, in which she dances a solo to Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.  Famous for her light and airy movements, the intricate footwork and unusual arm movements suit her incredibly well.  I love the almost frenzied section that’s followed by a luxurious adagio to the popular melody.  The contrast is like catching a butterfly in your hands—at first it’s frantic as it flutters about but eventually there’s a moment where it settles down and ever so languidly opens and closes its wings, as if breathing through them.  In addition to the unconventional port de bras, I was very drawn to the musicality of the piece and after a little research I now know why…it was choreographed by none other than Sir Frederick Ashton!  I always gravitate toward his work (clearly at a subconscious level)…so you too must enjoy the glory of Moira Shearer, in this excerpt from The Story of Three Loves.

(I should note that this is not to be confused with Rhapsody, another Ashton ballet that actually uses the exact same music but has completely different choreography)

Staging a Comeback, Part II

10 Jul

My attempt to revitalize my limited ability to dance continued with a class with Pacific Northwest Ballet’s ballet master, Paul Gibson.  I suppose it should be mentioned that a friend and I also went to a hip hop class today at Velocity Dance Center in Capitol Hill, but my hip hop ventures should never be discussed publicly.  I do pride myself on being someone who will try anything once, or even try something, fail and repeatedly try again.  The idea that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results has merit for me…but I’m pretty sure this is last call for that genre.  It hurts in ways I don’t enjoy.  However, I may return to Velocity for a modern class someday.  They have ballet too, but I didn’t see any barres which disturbed me.

Mr. Gibson’s (I feel like it’s weird to write “Mr.” but we’re not on a first name basis…Master Gibson is too Jedi reminiscent…Sir? Duke? Lord?) class yesterday was absolutely wonderful though, and much closer if not exactly what I’m used to.  His bio at PNB’s website says he did do summers at School of American Ballet and danced with San Francisco Ballet before joining PNB.  I’m guessing his training is perhaps more well rounded, as San Francisco Ballet is more comprehensive in terms of the styles/techniques they perform, e.g. they are one of the few American companies to include Ashton and MacMillan works in their repertory (begin countdown to San Francisco Ballet’s revival of Symphonic Variations…207 days to go!).  Oddly enough, Lord Gibson also omitted pas de cheval and grand rond de jambe en l’air, which I didn’t think were necessarily too advanced (I take my grand rond de jambes at 45 degrees to work on placement anyway) but perhaps it’s all just coincidence.  Although on second thought, perhaps men, who tend to have less range of motion compared to women find grand rond de jambe en l’air less fun to do.

What I did find interesting is that despite Sir Gibson’s history with SAB and PNB, one of the corrections he gave was to really lengthen through the wrist in a straight line, which I always thought was more of an English thing.  Especially at SAB where they do the hyper extended fingers and such it surprised me that his aesthetic aimed for a purer line.  I’m okay with it though because it’s my preference too but there were some obviously PNB trained dancers in the class who did what they were used to.  If the wrists and hands weren’t a dead giveaway the arabesques certainly were.  Those dancers had really open hips in their arabesque which Balanchine’s ladies are notorious for and while I understand the appeal of a higher arabesque, I still like one that is as square as possible.  The open hip tends to splay out the torso as well and I think it kind of flattens the arabesque thus making it two dimensional.  When the pelvis is more square, then the arabesque has a three dimensional depth to it.  Neither is wrong, just different, but I will say that I still think a square arabesque is better for a promenade or a pirouette.  I’m also convinced that that open of a hip in arabesque makes it impossible to maintain turn out on the standing leg and at best, step onto a parallel leg in a pique arabesque.

I was really pleased that Baron Gibson gave a lot of little jumps, with a warm up of little jumps and two additional petite allegro combinations after that.  By that point in class I was kinda sorta feeling really good and was all “I got this!” and decided to try a little batterie in the assemblés and jetés.  It’s funny because this used to be my least favorite part of class, then one day I decided not to hate them and they became infinitely better for me (power of positive thinking!).  I’m not an adagio dancer nor am I a formidable grand allegro jumper but sometimes I feel like I’ve found a home in petite allegro.  One of my former teachers would have us repeat an allegro and then an optional third time with a faster tempo, which wasn’t always successful for me but I always wanted to try.  Of course yesterday I was practically wheezing after the second run through so I was in no shape to do such a thing but it brought back fond memories.  I think I see petite allegro now like puzzles and it’s fun for me to put the pieces together (I was one of those kids whose parents never bought actual toys, just brainteasers or books so such things still delight me).

Probably the oddest moment of the day was when Earl Gibson had us do a series of battement fondu (basically, leg kicks for those of you unfamiliar with ballet terminology) across the floor.  This wouldn’t strike you as something strange but then the pianist started playing One from A Chorus Line and all of a sudden it was this ritzy, jazz baby moment.  If that doesn’t make you want to break into song I don’t know will (and some people didn’t refrain from a little singing.  Although nobody sang when the pianist was playing Sixteen Going on Seventeen from The Sound of Music, but I would be thoroughly impressed by anyone who could manage to sing during a  frappé combination).  I love to have fun in class as much as the next whacko but this time had me actually trying to stifle a huge Broadway grin in addition to the urge to find a gold sequined top hat to complete the look.  It was unfair.

Class ended with a fun grand allegro (although I thought attempting cabrioles might’ve been pushing it for the day) and the combination ended with a saut de chat, for which Count Gibson didn’t specify arms and you know me, when it comes to this age old question I always have to ask.  The gentlemen had to have their arms in écarté or effacé but the ladies also had the option of going to third.  He said he would never have the men leap with their arms in third so indeed he doesn’t have a wild side like Karen Eliot.  And they say chivalry is dead…

All in all, I had a most wonderful, eye opening time taking class from PNB’s elite instructors and hope they do something like this again.  Maybe next time I’ll make the subtle suggestion of bringing back Dances at a Gathering ASAP.  I really considered writing it on a t-shirt, but I don’t know what kind of sense of humor these people have.

Staging a comeback

7 Jul

It’s been a long time coming but I finally stepped back into a ballet class…and slithered out on jelly legs.  ‘Twas a unique opportunity because the quiet and understated Peter Boal, former NYCB principal dancer and current artistic director of the company taught the class and I figured what an honor!  Unfortunately, I hadn’t donned the ballet gear in almost a year so it really was a horrible idea since I would obviously be rusty and weak.  Although, truth be told, if you’ve ever spent a year away from the studio there is no good time to go back…only bad times and times that are worse.  I’m sure some dancers would be self conscious about making a fool out of themselves in front of such an accomplished dancer/director but I’m kind of a fan of a good horrible idea and it’s not like I have anything to hide.  Please.

It was an interesting experience for me for a number of reasons.  For starters, the majority of ballet classes I’ve taken have had female teachers.  I’m not complaining at all…women are awesome and in fact, the most demanding teacher I ever had (who slowed down the tempi for the men and made adjustments to combinations to accommodate men’s ballet vocabulary) is indeed a woman.  However, balance is always good and the number of times I’ve had a male ballet teacher is in the single digits.  Second, this would be my first encounter with Balanchine technique (or style…people out there like to argue about this but I don’t).  From what I’ve read online, Mr. Boal trained exclusively at School of American Ballet and taught there as a faculty member for many years and while I don’t know exactly what my former teachers’ backgrounds were, most were all-encompassing and not too heavily grounded in one technique (except for one who was heavy on the Cechetti).

Obviously, I wasn’t the only one cashing in on the opportunity because the class was packed.  Later on, during the petite allegro, Mr. Boal even commented that it looked like a scene from Braveheart, with these hordes of people clashing in the center.  At any rate, things started out familiar enough, warming up with pliés, tendus and your basic barre exercises.  One thing I did notice though was that he incorporated a lot of exercises with just the toes, like mini tendus and mini rond de jambes.  Teachers I’ve had in the past have of course included some of that, going from a fully pointed foot to demi-pointe but these exercises that isolated that part of the foot felt a lot more like work.  My current hypothesis is that this is what allows NYCB dancers to achieve the fleet-footed speed they’re known for.  I don’t think it contributes necessarily to say, the height of a jump but I think that last push off the floor with the toes is what allows the dancers to get into the air or into a particular position sooner and stay on the beat.  To give an idea, if I recall correctly, Karen Eliot would give some toe work at barre in long, lingering rond de jambes to really find the whole range of the foot, while Mr. Boal asked for four in half the time.  So if y = 2 and X is 5, how many rond de jambes does Karen ask for at barre?

In many ways I underestimated myself because I survived barre okay (some ace music selections from the pianist too, like O mio babbino caro).  Of course I made a few mistakes and was slightly perturbed at some omitted steps (e.g., no pas de chevals, grand rond de jambes or petite battement).  There were some other slight differences as well, like a developpé a la seconde, Mr. Boal said to take the leg as far to the side as possible because keeping it slightly forward, while allowing for more rotation throws the torso off and generally causes one to lean backwards.  I had always been taught (or forcefully encouraged rather because I didn’t always manage to do it) to lift my torso up and forward, bringing my arms forward as well to center the weight over the standing leg.  Neither technique is right or wrong although I prefer keeping the leg forward not just because it’s what I’m used to but also because I don’t have that much turnout so trying to take my leg that far to the side really pulls me off balance.  At any rate, many of the barre sequences seemed abbreviated and I do prefer a few more balances before heading to center, but I survived. 

Then came the beginning of the end.  Center work didn’t go so well.  My body was holding up and it was my brain that seemed to get fatigued first.  It wasn’t used to sequencing things and quick memorization anymore so even though I was alert on such a fine, sunny Seattle morning, I couldn’t piece things together in the center.  My arms were doing whatever the hell they wanted and there’s a chance I was really clenching with my jaw or something because after class even my face seemed a little sore.  Most of the combinations weren’t that taxing but for whatever reason I was fading (although, trying to do a double pirouette from fifth is pretty damn hard and kind of unfair.  Mr. Boal’s advice was to avoid sitting in the plié and sinking into it at the last possible second and spring up as if taking off for a double tour…but double tours are pretty damn hard too).  Adagio was thankfully short; a true sign that a man is teaching but at the same time I almost felt like I needed more since there wasn’t much adagio work at barre either.

I found Mr. Boal to be wonderful with addressing the entire class with corrections as well as dishing out individual ones (all my issues were with the shoulders—folding inward on pirouettes and also having them up by my ears in fifth).  At some point during petite allegro I’m pretty sure I saw the pearly gates ahead of me because I was near finished, even though the class wasn’t over.  So grande allegro was a blur and then class was over.  Half human, half jello, I somehow managed the uphill walk home with plenty of food for thought.  I still like an arabesque with a square pelvis a la Karen (mostly because I’m convinced it’s how you don’t fall over or wobble in a promenade) and I’m still a fan of lingering a bit in certain movements, but I’m intrigued by the timing of a more Balanchine style and I suppose if I want to develop Suzanne Farrelian foot speed, I’m going to have to work on it.

But for now, what I really need is to lie down and wake up fully restored in two days.  I have a feeling it’s going to hurt to laugh tomorrow.

Merce Cunningham: the Legacy Tour

13 Feb

Tonight was the inaugural performance of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s Legacy Tour, which will travel the world (Rome is next, according to the salesman from whom I bought a couple of postcards) performing works from Merce Cunningham’s repertory of modern dances.  I was so honored to be in the audience tonight; to see MCDC perform live for the very first time, to be a tiny part of this historic tour and most of all, honored to have seen Cunningham choreography.  It was a very special occasion (even though I didn’t have time to eat dinner and was starving throughout the show…which I didn’t really notice until after it was over), highlighted by a preperformance talk with Ohio State University’s very own, Karen Eliot (a former dancer with the company) and David Covey (former lighting director) as well as a question and answer session with a couple of the dancers, David Vaughan, the company’s archivist and…a guy with a mustache (regrettably, I didn’t catch his name or role with the company).  There were even showings of Tacita Dean’s Craneway Event earlier in the day (which unfortunately I missed…I had no idea they were even happening) so it was quite the exhaustive Cunningham crash course.  And I was loving every moment (and not missing watching the 2010 Olympic opening ceremonies!).

During the preperformance talk, Karen gave a speech about her experiences as a dancer for the company and it was evident that there was a lot of love and passion for what she learned during that time.  She told us that there was no right way to be an audience member for a Cunningham dance; she would find moments where she would laugh at the way a certain gesture was done but on the other end of the spectrum every Cunningham dance she sees brings her to tears.  She may not have been dancing on stage that night, but she was radiant; it’s so rare to see someone who is so deeply integrated into something they love.  Plenty of people can tell you “dance is the very fiber of my being,” but when it comes to Karen you really believe it to an extent that never occurred to you before and that alone is a precious gift.

David Covey followed with a few anecdotes of his time with Cunningham, from a whirlwind acceptance of the job to the one and only time Cunningham ever imparted his opinion on the lighting design of a piece.  David stressed that Cunningham always placed complete trust in his collaborators and never asked for anything, which is why his one request for David was so unusual.  He asked David to come to the studio at a particular hour, when the sun reflected off the Hudson River and right into the studio, illuminating primary colors on the walls.  Cunningham needed him to see that and while Cunningham normally sat onstage while directing his company in rehearsals, for this particular piece he actually went into the audience to watch, turned to David and gave him three claps of approval.  I wish I could retell the story as he originally did…it was really beautiful.

So then it was time for the show.  Now I have to preface by saying that I was a little apprehensive as to how I would react to Cunningham works.  I’ve always known that for me, dance is symbiotic with music.  In fact, as a wannabe dancer I rely on music.  In class I always do what the music tells me to do (which sometimes disagrees with the teacher).  When it comes to timing or imagining a character or wearing a certain facial expression it’s as though the voice of the music speaks to me and I just know what to do.  However, although Cunningham of course used music he had a much different approach.  His dancers rehearse in silence and then music is applied for the actual performance.  The thought terrifies me…but now having seen how the elements can come together, Cunningham has silently put a fork in the road ahead of me.  Should I stay true to who I am or seek out what I understand the least?  In the end, there is no right answer but there is always the choice to make.

The two pieces for the program tonight were Crises and Split SidesCrises was originally performed in 1960 and reconstructed within the past decade to enter the repertory again.  Dancers were dressed in solid colored unitards in red, orange and yellow, in sharp contrast to the plain black stage.  I found myself lost in the music, a sort of rambling of piano works with intermittent recognizable rhythms…and it turns out I was okay with it.  I wasn’t lost in it as I would be say, a Chopin Nocturne, but the cascading piano notes sort of relieved any sense of time and the piece was really a lot like daydreaming.  Karen had seen the piece before and told us it reminded her of human relationships, with elastic bands binding dancers to each other and representing the invisible ties two people have between them.  Her ideas were supported by the way pairs of dancers would manipulate each other and what I found the most intriguing was how unbiased the choreography was.  Some relationships were erotic, others playful, but there were no signs of judgment to tell us which actions were favorable or not.  This idea was emphasized by how Cunningham used ballet vocabulary and lines; the lines and steps were there but there was no intention of telling the audience that such lines were beautiful or a high leg extension was virtuosic…merely present.  I was fascinated by how he was able to strip ballet of its prettiness without making it or even the anti-balletic movements adverse.  The choreography had a pure neutrality that simply said it existed.  I felt the whole experience was beautiful, but definitely not in the same sense as going to see a classical ballet (although one woman did a series of stepping onto relevé in a parallel first position and would hold it; it was incredible in ways I have never imagined).

Split Sides was a piece that utilized one of Cunningham’s most famous tactics, randomization.  A few preselected audience members rolled dice to determine various aspects of the dance tonight.  This is absolutely crazy (in an extraordinary way) to me, because I can’t imagine not knowing exactly what would be performed and then finding out right after intermission.  But the dancers said in the Q&A that they were used to rehearsing both A-B and B-A, so it wasn’t a problem at all (one even said it was exhilarating.  I would stress out until my hair turned white).  So there were two different dances, two different pieces of music, two different sets of costumes (one set in black and white sort of violent paint splatters, the other being sunset tones with black accents), two different backdrops (one a washed out cityscape in cool blues and purples, the other an abstract forest with a suspended full moon) and then two sets of lighting cues.  It would be difficult (if not impossible) to really review or describe this piece because chances are it will be different for anyone else who sees it…but for the way it worked tonight, I surprisingly found myself moved by the very end when one dancer left the stage moving in a peculiar way, to music that didn’t really fit the moment…I likened it to when someone dies young.  It was the same feeling of unfulfillment…not just wanting to see more for the sake of seeing more but the tragic understanding that a finite end has come, without reason.  It was truly remarkable to see the way in which the five elements crystallized before us and to me it spoke again of Cunningham’s extrinisicality towards biases and preconceived ideas.  The fact that all parts of the production were equal, with none of them having anything to do with each other until the dance itself is performed (i.e. dancers rehearsing silence, lighting directors being left to their own devises, etc.) made me feel as though I were watching choreographed life itself.  The elements were separate, but equal, incidental and yet on occasion harmonious.  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.

I almost feel like it was quite an accomplishment to have experienced, learned and enjoyed so much in one night…I’m still kind of processing things.  But the obvious should be clear; if the Legacy Tour comes to a city near you, I highly recommend that that you attend!  That’s it…just go.

The Merce Cunningham Dance Company in Split Sides. Photo credit: Tony Dougherty

To download a complete schedule of the Legacy Tour, be sure to check out the Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s website.

Bournonville’s Sylph = Baltic amber

13 Nov

So I’ve been missing in action this week, and this may or may not be my only entry (but it’s a good one!).  After all, when your two best friends are in town, you gotta do what you gotta do (which for us, means eating a lot of tasty treats and taking pictures of ourselves in this wooden cutout of prairie dogs at the Columbus zoo…among other perfectly normal things).  And what I gotta do is play!  Ellen DeGeneres was on Oprah recently, and one thing she said that I absolutely loved and whole heartedly agree with was that “everybody stops playing when they get older.”  It’s so applicable to dance as well…I think that one should be able to go into a studio, at any age, laugh, have a good time and make the studio your happy place.  I know I do, and it’s pretty easy if you’ve had teachers like a Karen Eliot (if that’s her real name), who always manages to make me laugh.  I also think nurturing the inner child is what delights ballet audiences and brings us back again and again.  Some stick in the mud pragmatic adult would convince themselves to spend the money on other things or that ballet is for dreamers, while we dance audiences can barely wait until the next show and never cease to be amused by the ethereal.  So brava dance fans…you’re doing wonderful things for your inner child.

Anywhodle, I just finished watching The Royal Danish Ballet’s production of La Sylphide, choreographed by August Bournonville.  All I can say is, I immediately added this one to my amazon.com wish list.  It’s a gem…Baltic amber if you will recall (because amber perfectly preserves a plant or creature inside of it, blah blah blah while other ballets are fossils that only offer traces of what once existed, blah blah blah, I’m a paleontology geek, and that’s the metaphor that works for me.  I nurture my inner child via dance and dinosaur bones).  I will say that I might like the score for the original La Sylphide better, but Herman Løvenskiold’s quite wonderful as well.  Maybe you get what you paid for, and it’s not that I disliked Løvenskiold’s score, just musically I’m pretty sure I liked the other one better.  Bournonville’s Sylphide wins everything else though, and the score may have even worked against Lacotte.  For one thing, Bournonville’s Sylphide is just over an hour while Lacotte had roughly an additional half an hour.  Now having watched Bournonville’s, and how he decided to interpret the libretto, I almost feel like Lacotte didn’t know what to do with the extra thirty minutes.  I’ll chalk it up to poor time management skills because he crammed Gurn and Effie’s “engagement” into the first act as an afterthought, while Bournonville placed a significant exchange with Madge in the second act, which to me gave Effie and Gurn’s relationship (as well as the character of Gurn himself) much more significance.  Even the procession is brought downstage, right in front of James, rather than being distant in the background, which for lack of a better term was totally rubbing it in his face.  It makes his devastation over having lost both the Sylph and Effie more believable.

Lacotte’s costuming was an eye sore too.  The bright red and sky blue plaids were bizarre, and The Royal Danish Ballet’s plaids were predominantly the typical reds, greens and yellows, with the shades being earthier and not so crayon-ish.  Reminds me of my days as the assistant stage manager for my high school’s production of Brigadoon, sifting through our massive costumes closet with the costumes crew, looking for plaids and kilts…it was a lot of dust and a lot of sneezing.  But I digress (although on the topic of costuming, I also liked Effie’s pigtails, because I am a proponent of pigtails for no logical reason, but then later on when it was revealed to be this odd bun plus pigtails hybrid contraption I was unnerved).  It’s weird to look back at the Lacotte Sylphide now, because I thought it was perfectly lovely at the time, but now there’s just so much that doesn’t make sense…like the whole pas de trois with James, Effie and the Sylph.  Bournonville’s Sylph has more nerve and sort of flits in and out when the characters besides James have their backs turned, but Lacotte’s inclusion of the Sylph in that pas de trois makes things confusing, as if to say James was hallucinating because he had the most epic case of cold feet ever, which doesn’t fall in line with the libretto at all.

I liked the portrayal of Madge a lot more in Bournonville’s Sylphide…she wasn’t so crone-ish.  Sorella Englund was fantastic, and she made this hilarious face at James when she’s telling him to hide the “scarf of doom” from the Sylph that actually made me snort from laughing (that and the moment when Gurn falls on his bum when the chair is pulled out from beneath him…totally didn’t see that one coming.  Oh, early 19th century humor.)  Lis Jeppesen was a gorgeous Sylph, and she has this wonderfully open chest, or as friend Svetlana would say, a “beautiful bony sternum” (man, I need to figure out how to get one of those!).  One thing I really noticed, and I’m not entirely sure if it was part of the choreography itself or the Bournonville style was how creamy the port de bras of all the Sylphs were.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen such soft arm movements, and it really added to the spritely, floating quality of the Sylphs, and sharply contrasted the rigidity of Jeppesen’s arms at the end during her death scene.  It wasn’t some romanticized, lyrical death like a swan a la Fokine, but a butterfly’s final twitches before it dies.  I felt Jeppesen’s interpretation of the Sylph to be much more indicative of an otherworldly fairy, while Lacotte’s choreography had Dupont looking more like a shy, tentative child.  Nikolaj Hübbe was…flawless (and quite handsome) as James, and there was this wonderful moment in the second act, where he’s walking amongst the Sylphs, and he had this fascination like a child in the summertime, walking amongst fireflies.  Of course his dancing was superb, with such clean batterie and quick, articulate legs and feet.  I almost think Bournonville saw legs as being equal to arms; the same speed and control with which we can maneuver are arms should be possible with the legs.

I actually got a chance (thanks to Karena) to have a go at Bournonville petite allegros, and I have to say they were among the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in ballet.  If there’s ever an argument for muscle memory, Bournonville allegros would be it, because there is no way you can think your way through them; your body has to KNOW them.  Otherwise, you get lost and you’re screwed.  There were so many quick changes of facings, like a mini tour jeté in the opposite direction that you wouldn’t naturally think of, lots of little transition steps that required precision, and of course little tippity-dips and shooby-doos with beats and whatnot.  The sensation of doing Bournonville allegros can be likened to being thrown into a cotton candy machine…it’s sweet, light and fluffy, but you’re just kind of along for the ride.  You’re not in control of your own body (your mind is definitely not in control), but in some ways that almost feels more like…dancing.  Because your body is just doing it, and once it knows how, you’re free to dance with your face and add the icing.

So this DVD is a must, and although the full version isn’t on YouTube there are some really interesting videos like one of Ellen Price dancing the opening variation in 1903!  It really is incredible that the choreography is exactly the same, and delightful as ever.

Another video of note that I found particularly moving was Erik Bruhn and Carla Fracci.  Bruhn, I think I read somewhere is said to be one of the greatest James of all time, although there is no full length recording of him in the ballet, just the grand pas de deux.  They left me speechless.  Must. See. More. Erik Bruhn.

And lastly, just for fun, current Royal Ballet principal Johan Kobborg, as Madge.  Why?  Because he’s awesome, and cross-dressing in ballet is fantastic. 

Amy Sedaris can tap…can you?

31 Jul

“Wonky…that’s French.”

-Karen Eliot

I know ballet is all for increasing range of motion, but as someone who started as an adult and is trying to simultaneously increase RoM as well as build strength, it can be really annoying.  I’ve been working on stretching my hip flexors more, after I found a really good tip in an article for equestrian riders.  As dance people know, sitting tightens your hip flexors, and riders do a lot of sitting, so they need to stretch in order to avoid the laundry list of back problems, hip, knee and foot problems that can happen as a result (reason #56932 to treat your hip flexors well…not just for a pretty arabesque!).  We all know that lunges help, but what the article stressed was really engaging your abdominals while stretching (oops), slightly turning in the leg behind you (double oops), squatting further down on the leg in front to increase the stretch and not by arching the back (triple oops) and raising the same arm of the leg behind you in order to increase the stretch through the side of your back (oops²).  After a few weeks of doing this at barre while the teacher demonstrates, after long periods of sitting and whenever I’m warm, I think it’s made a visible difference.

The thing is though, anytime you increase flexibility your body has more to work with and has to reorganize itself.  The process of finding that all over again is a beastly one.  Today the disease manifested itself in wonky pirouettes, which for the first couple of months in the summer had been going really well…I wasn’t too forceful with singles and doubles were getting cleaner.  But NOW…even trying to demi-plié in fourth for the preparation isn’t working.  It doesn’t feel right anymore…and forget about grande plié in fourth (but really, does that EVER feel right?).  This whole ordeal has been making me feel really nervous about pirouetting at barre especially, and today I managed it on the right side (weird) but my typically better left side was an epic fail.  Plus I smacked my fingers on the barre a couple of times, and of course it was at one of the metal center barres which are even more unforgiving than the wooden ones.  The second time I bludgeoned my pinky, I somehow managed to jerk it backwards and smack my elbow on the barre too.  That takes a special talent.

Speaking of special talents, I would like to take the time to highlight one of the goddesses in my pantheon, the specially talented comedienne/actress/entertainer/author, Amy Sedaris.  For whatever, reason, I have a fondness for short, funny women.  A good number of my closest friends are short women, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that I fancy the likes of an Amy Sedaris or a Kristin Chenoweth (who has a maltese named Madeline Kahn Chenoweth and I too once had a maltese not to mention Clue is only one of my all time favorite movies EVER…oh divine Ms. Chenoweth).  Anyway, Amy’s book, I Like You, is practically my bible; I adore her ridiculously senseless sense of humor, baking without perfection and makeshift crafts.  Now, she recently had a role in that movie Dance Flick, which despite my obsession with Amy, I probably won’t go see because I don’t do those parody movies, but she was on Letterman around the time it came out a few months ago, putting hardly any effort into promoting the movie, but what she did reveal was a very special talent for tap dancing. (jump about 4 minutes in if you just want to see the dancing…but feel dirty and ashamed if you do)

It’s like she’s channeling Eleanor Powell.  If you enjoyed Amy’s dancing, then you’ll like watching her perform a traditional Indonesian dance in this clip from the Strangers with Candy movie.

Strangers with Candy also starred Stephen Colbert, who is also a gifted dancer.  Check out his ballotté into a series of double rond de jambe en l’air with a promenade.  That’s some complicated work right there.

And on a completely related note, I’m watching The Soup on E! as I write this and Joel McHale just mocked that banshee Mary Murphy for her shrieking, and called Kayla and Brandon’s disco methamphetamine-inspired.  Oh I love that guy.  And he’s from Mercer Island!

Remembering Merce Cunningham

27 Jul

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Merce Cunningham

The Soviets win at ballet…cartoons

16 Jul

So I needed to fix my KHM’s.  They’re still the best shoes I’ve found, but when I originally tied the elastics and cut them off as I normally do, I didn’t realize until after a few classes that I tied them too tight and it made the shoes dig into my Achilles tendons.  Determined to rectify the situation, I bought some elastic cord to replace them, cutting out the old ones.  It should have been a simple surgical procedure to thread them through, however the elastic was too thick for the needle I had, and despite the fact that I figured that might happen and preemptively bought some larger needles just in case, the larger needles ended up being too big.  Not to mention the fact I’m trying to do this before class yesterday morning, and forgot to bring scissors with me so I had to buy a pair of mini-scissors too.  Of course I ran out of time and went with my leather shoes anyway (the ones as you may recall, I bled all over, again trying to fix them before class) and so the repairing of the shoes would have to wait until I got home.  When I did get home, I somehow forgot that I was still without a usable needle, and resorted to taping the elastic cord to a smaller needle and threading my makeshift needle contraption through the shoe.  Finally, a method for success!  So now you know how to fix your shoes in case your elastic cords snap or you do something stupid like me.

Oh, and I need to stop trying to fix or sew my shoes right before class!!! *facepalm*

In other news, Karen’s class is going great.  She’s helping me fix my port de bras, because I have a bad habit of breaking the line at my elbows and wrists, and not moving from underneath my arms.  It’s a matter of really connecting through the back and keeping an open chest I think…which may or may not be the case but when it comes to correcting yourself in ballet, if it’s working and the teacher tells you it’s looking better, keep it up.  This is good for me, because I have gangly limbs (small torso…think spidery) and if they’re not placed well it’s really noticeable.  Besides, my legs are all kinds of messed up, so SOMETHING has to look good and it may as well be me arms.  We’ve also been working a little on Italian fouettes, which I think is one of the most difficult, beastliest moves to do well.  Trying to find good placement while getting a good brush of the foot through the plié and into the fouette is a recipe for disaster because there are about a million things that can go wrong.  But it’s a true test that separates the whites and the yolks, folks.  In other words, it’s messy and it’s hard.

I also have a Karen quote for you too…in center people were kind of herding together and she told us to spread out because she was “noticing some intimacy here…and not the good kind.”

Anyway, I mentioned in my last entry “trippy Russian cartoons,” and I tried to find an example of what I was talking about on youtube, but failed.  But I did come across an interesting little cartoon from way back, when Russia was the Soviet Union.  A little Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale known as “The Steadfast Tin Soldier,” which if you will recall features a ballerina as the one legged soldier’s love interest.  Curiously enough, I remembered that Disney did a version as well for Fantasia 2000 and what do we have here?  Why an opportunity to compare classical Russian technique with contemporary American style!

Predictably, the Russians win this round, for a number of reasons.  Although both versions take some various “artistic liberties” with the story, the American version is drastically altered for one, ginormously heinous reason.  The completely incorrect ending!  The soldier and ballerina are supposed to perish in the fire, with the soldier melting into the shape of a heart, to show that even through suffering and difficulty love is eternal.  Diverging from the original story, the American version ends with the villain being cast into the flames instead, and the happy couple living on.  The Russians on the other hand, do it in style by having the ballerina do the most dramatic leap of death into the flames (nobody does tragedrama like the Russians, duh!), to be with her melting soldier.  Now the Russians did ignore the fact that the ballerina is supposed to be standing on one leg, which is why the one legged soldier falls in love with her in the first place, but the ending more than makes up for that little logistical snafu.

As for the dancing itself, the Russian ballerina of course takes the prize…she is this lengthy, ethereal thing with flawless technique and plentiful amplitude in her jumps, while the American ballerina has loose foot form at times and a terrible habit of turning in her foot in her arabesque.  Curiously enough, they do both perform a grand fouette into arabesque en pointe, however the Russian ballerina ups the virtuosity by starting from a relevé developpé a la seconde, fouette to arabesque, penchée, dropping the torso forward and lifting back up to arabesque and placing her foot in a lunge, all en pointe, sans partner.  My, my, my, aren’t we ambitious!

But you can judge for yourself, which version you like better…


*I do give the Americans props for using Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto no.2 in F major though!  And note to self: during sword fight, pique into corner…