Tag Archives: mandagge

My stars, I do deClair de Lune

11 Sep

I’ve been looking for different recordings of Debussy’s Clair de Lune, the famous third movement of his Suite Bergamesque for piano.  Recall that I’m a nerd, so I like to find these different recordings, compare pianists, and pick a favorite.  In my quest, I keep coming up with the same damn version from the Twilight soundtrack (and if not that, the one from Ocean’s 11).  This young generation that now finds Clair de Lune so romantic and lovely needs to know two things.  One, Clair de Lune was a smash hit long before the likes of Twilight, which is what we classicists have been trying to imprint on the incorrigible youth, that much of their music is crap and they need to pay some respect to geniuses like Debussy.  Sure it’s fun to “bust a move” to whatever’s current and “hot,” but it’s about time somebody sit these kids down and tell them to actively seek the  development of an intelligent appreciation for music too (instead of waiting for things to show up in their favorite movies!).  Two, those of us who were dedicated fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer are most annoyed that these whippersnappers seem to think Twilight is the be-all-end-all of vampire teen angst, and now it’s cascading into this trend of the “modern vampire” what with True Blood (which I’ve actually heard a lot of good things about) and The Vampire Diaries.  I’m going to say this here and now…let it be known, that in the realm of teen vampire comedy-drama, Buffy did it first, and Buffy did it better.

Anyway, since I’m one of those “music inspires me” people, I of course expanded my search to dance, and oddly enough there isn’t that much material on Clair de Lune.  Does it not inspire?  It seems as though many smaller companies will have a piece to it, but to the best of my knowledge, nobody has hit the nail on the head.  I found an ancient review of a “Clair de Lune” choreographed by Peter Anastos for ABT (danced by Cynthia Gregory and Fernando Bujones) and it was a pretty scathing review:

Yet, finally, ”Clair de Lune” is bland. For one thing, interest in it wanes because of its length. It lasts 22 minutes, and that, considering its wispiness, is probably longer than it should last.

Moreover, ”Clair de Lune” is not so much a ballet about any particular young lovers, however romanticized or idealized, as it is a deliberately contrived example of the conventional pas de deux for young lovers. It fits a familiar category without revitalizing that category, and its real subject is not love or moonlight or spring nights or even the musical structures of Debussy. Rather, ”Clair de Lune” is a ballet about the glamour of ballet dancing itself and the glamour of ballet stars. But when glamour is the be-all-end-all of a work and not something that accompanies or grows out of other, and stronger, qualities, that work is virtually doomed to be insubstantial.

Ouch.  Needless to say, footage is unavailable (ABT doesn’t have much of a presence on YouTube anyway).  Maybe choreographers are intimidated by taking on such a well known piece, but I can’t get over the fact that there isn’t a really significant ballet to it.  It’s soothing and ethereal, the same qualities we look for in ballet dancers (although Balanchine once referred to excessive mooniness in ballet as a disease: “Gisellitis”), but perhaps it is the presence and strength of those exact qualities that make it so difficult to work with.  If Debussy could transcribe moonlight into music, then it’s going to take a pretty special choreographer to do the same.  People are trying though, and there’s no such thing as failure in art…just different degrees in impact.  I liken it to when someone hands you a silver platter, you had better make one hell of a turkey.  There just has yet to be one turkey to rule them all… one turkey to find them.  One turkey to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

I did find a couple of dances, the first being a solo(ish) by Enrique Gasa Valga of…well, I’m not exactly sure, but based on what I could scrape up I think he dances for the Innsbruck Ballet of Austria, but is also director of a company.  Kind of one of those wandering spirit types who seems to be everywhere all at once.  I have no idea who this guy is, just that he choreographed a modern ballet to Clair de Lune (ah the glories of YouTube).  It begins as a male solo, and kind of ends as a male pas de deux.  I say kind of because to me, it strikes me as a representation of having a conversation with your own reflection or even just yourself.  Like after a long day’s work you find that you’re talking to yourself at night, asking the moon for advice because nobody else is listening.  This is something familiar to me because my Chinese zodiac is the mouse, and we’re nocturnal by nature (if I had a choice, I’d go to bed at 4am and get up at noon.  Or 2pm).  I enjoy my nocturnal (well, crepuscular judging by the hours above) lifestyle and I think more people should try it because they would probably be surprised by how bright the moon is.  Anyway, the solo is part of a larger body of work and he has another solo that is a laid back New York easy-Broadway jazz kind of deal, so I can totally picture this business man dancing down the street, tired but slightly tipsy, when he stops and notices the moon, and his reflection in a dark shop window.  Er…if this were the 1950’s.

Next was a piece choreographed by Boris Storojkov, now ballet master of Municipal Theatre of Rio de Janeiro (impressive resume, great traditional Russian background, yadda yadda yadda).  His Clair de Lune is more prototypical…male-female pas de deux and periwinkle unitards on a black stage.  While Valga’s used the original piano version, Storojkov opted for an orchestration.  Aside from a little “oopsy-do” where the ballerina put her hand down coming out of a lift, it was…nice.  I found it a little uncrystalized at times and there were moments where it seemed like choreography was just filling the space instead of doing something, but that’s probably one of the most difficult things about Clair de Lune; sustaining a silken line of tension in a song that epitomizes serenity.  It’s nice…like hot cocoa on a wintery day, but I don’t think it’s “the one.”  I do however, love the moment where they’re sort of playing with each other, where the male dancer does the arabesque turn into a renversé while she promenades in arabesque and goes into an attitude turn.  The echoing of the lines but in differing motions made it so seamless and then they synchronize and meet in an attitude in plié.  But I was a little disappointed when that was followed by two tour jetés which broke the spell.  However, the last minute, when it was not so skilly is when the dance became sublime.

I suppose we’ll have to wait for that earth-shattering Clair de Lune…but here’s something fun, Storojkov teaching class (Men’s?  With a few ambitious women?  I think it’s cool when the women jump with the men).  Cool to see a professional level class…love the “mandagge” and the petit allegros looked like fun!  But the grande allegros were SCARY.  I think the chances of me ever jumping like a man is under the “highly unlikely to impossible” column.

The Royal Ballet kicks Royal Boo-tay

26 Jun

The conclusion of Balletfest 2009 has come down to my attendance of the Royal Ballet production of Manon, at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC.  The principal characters Manon and Des Grieux were danced by Tamara Rojo and Carlos Acosta (respectively).  I purposely chose this night to see Carlos instead of Alina Cojocaru on Friday night, as ever since I became a fan of ballet and saw videos of him performing it became one of my life goals to see him live.  Definitely one of the best of his generation (maybe the best) and those familiar with his story know it’s one for the ages, so I feel incredibly fortunate to have witnessed a performance by him.  One life goal down, approximately 87 left to go…(most of which, I haven’t even decided what they are yet, but I figure 87 is a good number).

Starting with the lead character Manon, Tamara Rojo has the most amazing feet (actually, dancers with the Royal Ballet do a much better job of using their feet than the Bolshoi ballerinas overall).  I was very impressed, and occasionally freaked out by how mobile her feet were.  There were a couple times when she’d sit on her shins and her feet were so lengthened her toes were like 3 inches off the floor.  I noticed that she didn’t have the huge extensions and massive turnout that the Russians often do, but she was so much more square in her hips and she used the turnout she had so effectively I found her very pleasing to watch.  Looking back, it’s almost as if the Bolshoi dancers would force their feet open, but then moments en pointe where they weren’t 180 turned out became more obvious and made them seem turned in as a result.  Let that be a lesson to those crazies who care not for their knees…smoke and mirrors turnout doesn’t do you any good on relevé/en pointe!  Tamara is a pint sized ballerina, but awfully playful and exquisite regardless.  Sign me up as a fan!

Obviously, I was already a fan of Carlos, and he too has amazing feet. They are just incredibly strong, and allow him to do pirouettes with such ease, and aplenty he did.  I noticed that Manon has a lot of slower almost adagge work for Des Grieux…a “mandagge” if you will, and they were crazy hard!  There were all kinds of pirouettes that would open to arabesque or developpé a la seconde and they just had to stop.  I’m not even sure most professional male ballet dancers could even do these mandagges without a little hopping around.  But Carlos is just so clean with his technique that it was like buttah.  I’ve seen clips of him doing the usual Basilio from Don Q, the Le Corsaire pas de deux, etc. but I think he shines in these narrative ballets where his generosity in his technique, maturity and expression really come through, instead of “cheap” tricks like a la seconde turns that will make any audience happy (although he is no slouch there…HUGE jumps and wheeled off 6 pirouetter for tonight’s performance, finishing in a perfect sous-sous before closing to fifth).  I’m seriously in love with his dancing and Billy Elliot I wish I had his quads.

Together, they had really good chemistry (and I should hope so, considering some of the death-defying lifts they did…EGADS!) and lucky for you here’s a little taste of what I got to see tonight:

Just lovely.

I forgot to mention that I brought my dad to this performance, and let me tell you I was worried about it.  He’s the kind of guy who always falls asleep during movies, and I was prepared to be embarrassed, but he actually stayed awake!  Unfortunately, the fact that he was CHEWING GUM during Act I somehow went unnoticed by my radar, and someone in the row in front of us turned around during intermission and asked him to stop.  Utter humiliation.  Lucky for me, there are always other weird audience members to make one incident less noticeable.  Like the people in the row in front of me who were cheering like it was a baseball game (one lady of which was showing way too much cleavage and the other who said “Kenneth McMillan choreographed his ass off!”), or the people who despite the fact that their seats were closest to an aisle went the long way to get to their seats, making us all stand up in the process.  There was also a couple who brought seat cushions…SEAT CUSHIONS…to a ballet!  Which of course annoyed the people behind them, and so they were told to stop using them.  Also the guy directly in front of me who I’m pretty sure was planning on stalking Carlos after the show (even I’m not that crazy), and the people in front of him who were leaning on the edge of the balcony, making it difficult for him to see, and he kept doing this side to side shifty game to see what was going on.  There was also some family that brought a little girl, approximately 5-6 years in age, which given Manon’s…debaucheristic (is that a word?) and risqué content, comes as a bit of a surprise.  And at the end, during the swamp pas de deux, some woman two seats over was crying hysterically, which is understandable because it’s quite a tragic scene for suresies, but she kept crying through the applause, the reverence, and even after the show was over.  Is it just me, or are audiences REALLY distracting sometimes?  There are days though, that I despise having a detail oriented mind.

So back to the dancing…I can’t think of more to comment on right now (plus my brain is exhausted), and Manon is a difficult ballet to really qualify.  Other then the aforementioned swamp pas de deux, it doesn’t have variations and such that you see in competitions with moves that you expect.  But that’s also the beauty of it…there were so many intricacies it’s a constant visual feast.  Even my dad, who knows nothing about ballet (as we were walking towards the shuttle after the show, he stretched his hand like a pointed foot and said to me “they walk like this!”) appreciated the seamlessness of it all, hence the glorious occasion in which he did not fall asleep (And on an unrelated note, he also said that ballet is definitely something you have to see live to appreciate…I’m actually proud of him for coming to that conclusion!).

As for everything else?  Set design?  Loved.  Costumes?  Loved.  Music?  Gorgeous.  And by the way, I love that it’s called the “swamp pas de deux”…it just sounds funny (and during that scene the fog machines were producing so much fog was rolling into the orchestra and some of the orchestra members were swatting at it so they could see their music.  Teehee)

Oh, and beautiful venue that Kennedy Center Opera House…for inspiration I’ll leave you with an image of its Austrian crystal ceiling (which according to the postcard I bought is comprised of over 130 crystal elements and 2000 light bulbs, and was made by Lobmeyr as a gift from Austria) and pictures of some of Suzanne Farrell’s costumes that are on display just outside the theater (costumes from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “La Sonnambula” and the tutu from the Diamonds pas de deux of “Jewels” fame)

Austrian Crystal Chandelier in the Opera House

Austrian Crystal Chandelier in the Opera House

Costumes from A Midsummer Night's Dream and La Sonnambula

Costumes from A Midsummer Night's Dream and La Sonnambula

Tutu from Diamonds Pas de Deux

Tutu from Diamonds Pas de Deux

Hope that inspired you for the day! (or life)