Tag Archives: katherine healy

Like your mullet, your views are outdated

17 Jan

Okay, so here’s the deal.  I normally try to keep things in check and rarely find a reason to get snarky and mean in my criticisms of people because I find it unnecessary.  However, as it is with every normal human being there are occasions in which I find myself incapable of exercising restraint.  This, folks, is one of those moments.  Although I shan’t degenerate to reckless mudslinging (because I always aim of course), this may not end up being a particularly…how shall I say, “constructive” post.  But I have my reasons and if you’re a fan of ballet and men dancing I think you may find them agreeable.

So my topic for today is the relationship between figure skating and ballet.  ‘Tis the season for figure skating with the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver just a few weeks away and for Canada and the United States, national competitions are being held to determine who will represent their respective countries at the Olympics.  It is at the US nationals where two-time Olympic silver medalist Elvis Stojko, while working as a correspondent had this to say about figure skating in an article published today:

This ain’t ballet.

First of all, DUH.  Second of all, “ain’t” is not standard English.  And lastly, if you knew the context of his comment, you would join me in a universal declaration of “oh no he di’nt!” (while I realize that my credibility is on the line by using improper English myself, annunciating “oh no he didn’t!” just doesn’t have the same effect.  Whatever, I’m not being published in the news!)

To summarize, what he really meant by that is men’s skating has become too “feminine,” or even worse, “too gay.”  Now, I have to attack and sink my teeth in for two reasons…one, he just insulted ballet with his ignorance (clearly he doesn’t know a thing about danseurs and is unfit to comment on them!) and two, ballet has had a tremendous influence on the aesthetics of figure skating, which should not be ignored.  I don’t even know where to start with this, but here goes.

Last year, Stojko spearheaded some kind of campaign to “butch up” figure skating, when Skate Canada (the governing organization over Canadian figure skating) had asked him to help in promoting the athleticism of the sport.  I guess he misinterpreted what they were asking for because he inserted his own opinions on masculinity into it and Skate Canada issued a statement that basically said they knew their demographics (obviously, gay people) and that the sport’s popularity is grounded in the combination of artistry and athleticism and that they didn’t want to alienate their fan base or see any reduction in artistry, just promote the athletic aspects to hopefully encourage sports-minded people to give it a try.  They also threw him under the bus and said he was not their spokesperson and didn’t represent the views of the leadership at Skate Canada.  Now THAT, was funny.

Some of the criticisms he had were entirely legitimate (like some really over the top, poorly made garrish costume decisions…which is a subject for another day) but he has a terrible  understanding of what artistry and musical interpretation are.  I’ve watched skating for many years and remember him skating at the Olympics, World Championships and such and I never liked his skating.  He did these gimmicky, martial arts “inspired” programs (or sometimes barbarian MAN programs) with heinous, unfulfilling choreography.  What he was known for was superb jumping (hey, even I’ll give credit where credit is due), widely respected for a consistent quadruple jump.  The problem is, a quadruple jump alone does not a skater make.  I think balletomanes (at least the smart ones) understand this better than anyone.  Do we gasp in awe when Ivan Vasiliev does a triple saut de basque?  Of course we do…but we know that there is more to him as a dancer then one move.  We always complain about those who obsess over quantity over quality (higher jumps/extensions or more pirouettes) because it encourages a world of robot technicians and void of artists.  Emphasis on difficulty has already ruined figure skating enough as it is and yet Stojko feels the quad is not worth enough.  The skaters he mentions as his favorites include Evgeni Plushenko, Brian Joubert and Tomas Verner, all of whom regularly land quads and if you’ve seen them skate, haven’t a shred of artistic ability.  They are among his picks for the medals for the upcoming Olympics and if you love dance, you’re going to wonder why.  (By the way, Joubert is from the same school of idiotic thought, as he threw a hissy fit when he lost the 2008 World title to Canadian Jeffrey Buttle, who is beloved for his artistry but did not perform a quadruple jump.  Nobody I know even likes Plushenko, Joubert, Verner, and Stojko.)

It’s ridiculous that Stojko would fail to recognize the importance of ballet’s influence on skating, not just from an artistic standpoint but also technical.  Jumps alone are more or less variations on tours en l’air and they always land in first arabesque.  The arabesque appears again as camel spins or the basic spiral position.  Or how about turnout?  A spread eagle is a gliding move with the legs turned out in second position and the Ina Bauer is a parallel gliding move with the legs in a turned out fourth position, the front leg in demi-plié.  Posture of the upper body, carriage of the arms (port de bras), movement of the head (épaulement), it’s all there.  Perhaps if Stojko understood this, his extension would have been better and he wouldn’t have looked so stumpy on the ice.  Stojko even had the nerve to say that Swiss skater Stéphane Lambiel is “on the cusp” for him because sometimes he is “too soft,” when Lambiel is easily one of, if not the best skater in the men’s field.  Lambiel has good flexibility, amazing spins and sees his sport as an art.  Check out this performance from the 2007 World Championships:

Note: I post this because I was there.  I’ve only attended a figure skating competition live once, and if you squint and look for an Asian in a black jacket with a blue/purple/gray/black striped scarf in the audience, that’s me!  By the way, this competition took place in Tokyo…

Another skater that TRUE skating fans are hopeful for in Vancouver is Daisuke Takahashi, who is a fine skater that blends the artistry and athleticism.  In this 2005 performance, he performed  a layback spin (cambré derrière with the leg in attitude), which men never do because it’s considered “feminine” but he does it well.  He does a beautiful interpretation of Rachmaninoff’s Concerto no.2, is lyrical, expressive, even does a “woman’s move” and yet I would hardly call his skating effeminate.  Takahashi skates with a lot of speed and power, which Stojko mentions as being “masculine,” which quite frankly is a stupid comment because speed and power is not synonymous with masculinity.  The women too, should skate with speed and power!

It really is ironic because both Lambiel and Takahashi can land quadruple jumps.  So take my advice and not Elvis’s and root for Lambiel and Takahashi as they will both compete in Vancouver and I don’t think either skate effeminately.  To me, masculinity is a quality that is much more ambiguous.  It’s like this saying in Taoism: “those who say they know the Tao, don’t.”  Likewise, those that describe themselves as masculine don’t come across that way.  Usually they come across as overcompensating morons because someone who is truly masculine doesn’t have to actually verbalize it to anyone…intelligent people will automatically see them that way.  It’s these people with arcane views on “masculinity” that make fun of boys in the ballet studio and could do with an education.  I know what I’m talking about…besides, he who has mullet has questionable taste, no?

To close, I shall end with a performance for the ages, from the 1976 Olympics.  This is the gold medal winning performance by John Curry, BELOVED by all skating fans (and if he’s not, they should be ashamed.  I’m not even joking.), famous for being a dancer on ice, and considered by many to be the greatest skater of all time.  In fact, when he was little, he wanted to be a dancer but his father disapproved of such activities for boys.  In a word, Curry was sublime…perfect skating skills and execution, amazing posture and beautiful lines.  He was even able to spin proficiently in both directions, which is virtually unheard of.  When he turned professional after the Olympics, he founded a skating company that performed very much like a dance company (and featured Katherine Healy, who I’ve discussed before), working with famous dance choreographers and doing dance inspired works (Afternoon of a Faun, Scheherazade, among others).  Curry was the ultimate skater, during a time when the sport had not advanced to the level of jumping that is performed today.  Surprise, nobody cares!  Coincidentally, nobody cared about Curry’s sexual orientation and nobody I know finds him effeminate either.  So suck it Stojko!  One need only listen to the music the legendary John Curry used and wonder…is this really not ballet?  Or in case a translation is needed: “really ain’t ballet?”

Learning to be expensive with Katherine Healy

14 Sep

It’s no secret that I have a penchant for gems and precious stones.  Oddly enough I don’t care much for jewelry, but I do have an endless fascination for the gems themselves.  I think it has something to do with the idea of taking something that occurs naturally on Earth, and refining it with manmade techniques to show off an inner brilliance.  It’s a lot like ballet actually…taking a raw talent and refining that person into a finished dancer.  And like dancers with the most pirouettes or biggest jumps, it’s not necessarily the size and cut of a gem that draws me in, but color, history and other qualities that give the gem character.  For me, the ultimate shiny is the Hope Diamond.  I’ve mentioned getting to see it at the Smithsonian earlier this summer and I’ll admit, as a nerd I found it really inspiring, and have been doing some reading on its history.  And to reaffirm my nerdiness, I also found out that the Hope Diamond will be getting a new setting (voting for the new Harry Winston design just recently finished, although the winner has not been announced and yes, I voted.) slated to go on display in May 2010, and beginning this fall and until that debut, the diamond will be on display as a stand alone gem for the first time ever.  It’s exciting for fellow gem-geeks so be sure to check out it out this year.

The Hope Diamond...the holy grail for magpies

The Hope Diamond...the holy grail for magpies

WHAT in Billy Elliot’s name does this have to do with ballet?  Let. Me. Tell. You.  The diamond was donated to the museum by heiress Evalyn Walsh McLean, who purchased it from the Cartier brothers.  Cartier should be a familiar name to people with money, and Louis Cartier was the smart cookie of the three and was very influenced by Diaghilev’s Orientalist designs for the Ballet Russes.  The author of the book I read proposes that the designer the Cartier brothers hired to fabricate the Hope’s current setting was a famous jeweler named Charles Jacqueau who also conceived many of the Cartiers’ Orientalist jewelry settings.  Jacqueau drew inspiration from the Ballet Russes’ previous season and designed the Hope’s setting to be worn as a head ornament in a European Orientalist version of an Indian sarpanch.  The Hope will eventually return to its original Cartier setting next year, and isn’t knowing that Les Ballet Russes played a part in its immortalized design nifty?

Doesn’t it seem like the influence of the Ballet Russes extends to just about everywhere?  A dancer I admire in particular is Katherine Healy (now Katherine Healy Burrows), and people would think she had quite a charmed life.  Born to a wealthy family, her early training came in the form of coaching by Vera Nemtchinova of the original Ballet Russes, and also trained at SAB.  She was the subject of a book A Very Young Skater and starred in a movie Six Weeks, with Mary Tyler Moore and Dudley Moore as a young dancer dying of leukemia.  She made her rounds through competitions, winning the silver medal at the 1982 USA International Ballet Competition, which was actually televised due to her popularity (took a spill during the Don Q pas de deux…oops!) and in 1984 became the youngest winner at Varna.  The accolades don’t stop there…she got a senior principal contract at the age of fifteen with the then London Festival Ballet, even being selected at age sixteen by Sir Frederick Ashton himself to do the title role in his production of Romeo & Juliet.  She returned a couple of years later (apparently there was a lot of resentment from other dancers with the company…eek!) and enrolled at Princeton University, graduated and went back to dancing, as a principal for Les Ballet de Monte Carlo and the Vienna State Opera Ballet.  After seven years, she retired from dancing and went back to figure skating in professional shows (she had given up figure skating much earlier to focus on becoming a ballerina).  Ayayay…that’s a lot, and still a disservice to everything she has accomplished.

Unfortunately, things weren’t always so rosy.  For everything ballet gave her, it seemed to take as well, and at one time she even referred to ballet as a gift…as in, the German word for poison.  But I found her a joy to watch, especially when she was younger and unfettered by the hardships she had been through later in her career.  The talent was always obvious, and she was a naturally gifted turner (and a lefty like me!), often throwing five/six/seven pirouettes in a series of fouettés.  Sometimes she would do pirouettes a la seconde in attitude as Medora or Diana, and she also did the beast fouetté for Don Q in Varna.  There’s a video of her doing the Corsaire coda, where she completely smoked her partner who only managed triples, while she did a couple of sevens.  Her codas are fun to watch because you never know how many pirouettes she’ll throw.  She had some huge jumps too, like approaching the Osipovasphere in a series saut de chats in the Diana and Acteon coda or double saut de basque en manege for Corsaire.  There’s a ton of footage on YouTube, most of which has embedding disabled (here), but a simple search for Katherine Healy will turn up a wealth of amateur videos of her doing classical repertoire, Ashton’s Romes & Jules (with a video of the curtain call with Sir Ashton himself!), videos of her private lessons with Vera Nemtchinova, and footage of her just practicing by herself, doing all kinds of jumps and pirouettes (doubles a la seconde on pointe, four or five attitude turns en dehors, which I think is one of the witchiest pirouettes out there).

Here she is at the 1982 competition, where she fell and cheerily laughed it off:

And the aforementioned Corsaire coda where she shows the man who’s boss:

However, I have to say what I find most interesting and recommend as a must view for all is a lengthy interview about her extensive training.  She also gives some really interesting advice on pirouettes and fouettés, elaborating on specifics of Balanchine technique, like the preparation, and drawing the arms in close instead of leaving them in first.  I find her insight in thinking about doing a fondu instead of a plié particularly enlightening, as well as having the working leg developpé-enveloppé instead of rond de jambe.  So make sure to check this channel out if you’re having trouble with those movements!