Tag Archives: manon

The Doctor is In

18 Jul

At long last, the quasi-wife has watched Manon!  After insisting for so long that she would like the ballet, she has seen it and the conclusion is matrimonial.  I should be like a ballet doctor or something…study as many ballets as I can and diagnose people who haven’t seen much with the proper remedy.  Enjoy a good story, period pieces, expensive things and consider yourself to be an indecent Francophile?  Take a Manon and call me in the morning.  It’s all a part of a much larger and grander scheme to MacMillanify the residents of Seattle, one at a time (although I’m sure there are many Seattleites who have long enjoyed MacMillan ballets of their own accord).  It’s unfortunate that Seattle doesn’t get exposed to the British choreographers via live performance and I don’t know that Pacific Northwest Ballet would (or should for that matter) change its philosophy on modeling itself after New York City Ballet (although they’ve announced that they will perform Giselle in the upcoming season.  Very out of character but also incredibly exciting).  I’m not even sure PNB even has the resources to pull off a MacMillan full length (damn you privatized funding for the arts!) but regardless of PNB’s artistic direction I will assist in being a catalyst anyway; the demand must be created and like a pyramid, it has to start from the bottom up.  Now that my track record includes an earth-shattering two people, construction of MacMillan monument has begun.

Speaking of catalysts let it be known (or reiterated, depending on what you know) that Manon was the ballet that changed my life.  You know how everyone has that one performer/performance that inspired them and for me it was Tamara Rojo in this role, just over a year ago.  Rojo herself said it in the special features of the DVD that she was similarly inspired, that she had no idea that a story could be told through ballet like it is in Manon and that it was one of the main reasons why she wanted to join the Royal Ballet.  I felt exactly the same way (not the joining the Royal Ballet part, the storytelling thing) and as a result became disillusioned with Russian dancing.  Don’t get me wrong…they have their greats, their moments and some of the most expensive productions in the world but Manon helped me to affirm aspects in ballet that I have come to love.  As I see it in the arts, it’s not a matter of love or hate (although we inevitably have these reactions) but a conscious decision to prefer something over something else.  It’s the kind of preference that has me longing for London, as the Royal Ballet announced they will perform Manon in the spring.  There is little chance for me to go because I’m not a jet-setter who can zip off to London on a whim but OY do I hunger!

At any rate, quasi-wife took to Manon like a bee to honey, appreciative of the ballet as a whole and a fan of the chemistry between Rojo and Carlos Acosta.  It’s something she tends to look for in a ballet (noting earlier this year that the performance of PNB’s Coppelia she saw was lacking in chemistry between the principals) and I’m guessing it’s probably because she has issues with men or whatever.  The point is, while she was skeptical about the romance between Manon and Des Grieux, she found the connection between them genuine.  I had to retrain her way of thinking and forced her to watch the DVD extras which includes a bit where Dame Monica Mason explains that while love doesn’t blossom as quickly as it does in a five minute pas de deux, from a theatrical standpoint the audience accepts it.  It was odd that quasi-wife didn’t quite buy into that, nor did she really buy into the fact that Manon would allow herself to be manipulated by Lescaut for jewels and lavish clothes…but we went shopping earlier that day and between the two of us, one of us bought a one hundred dollar, Donna Karan New York olive green trench coat and one of us did not.  I’ll let you take a wild guess as to who did what now.

Meanwhile, remember in my Chaconne post that partnered pivot I discussed?  Let us revisit the bedroom pas de deux for just a moment…

Wheee!

Like many, quasi-wife found it rather disturbing.  It’s funny to me that Tamara’s feet are so visible throughout the ballet but they don’t come across as freakish until that particular move.  It’s all “she’s so gorgeous!” and then “HELLO.”  She also thought that the rolling movement Manon does in the pas de trois with Lescaut and Monsieur G.M. where she leans forward in an arabesque but then her other foot snakes forward to lead her over Monsieur G.M.’s back disturbing too…I said we could find a third person and try it but she didn’t seem to keen on the idea.  I guess quasi-wife still needs to be seasoned a little to get past odd, perhaps inhuman looking movements to see the beauty and genius of MacMillan’s choreography, but all in due time.  I know for me, the more I watch Manon (and I never tire of it) the more I fall in love with it and understand it on a deeper level.  I was stumped though when she asked me what type of ballet Manon would be and I settled on answering with neoclassical, even though I kept picturing Balanchine’s abstract works.

Despite my obsession with Manon (it is by far my favorite full length ballet), I don’t know that I’ll ever consider myself a true balletomane until I see another run of it and do that balletomane thing where you see multiple casts.  I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t do it when I had the chance…so little did I know at the time.  If I could go back in time, I would have been all over the opportunity to see Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg dance it together.  This will have to do for now:

Eureka! Jinx…

21 May

Thanks to the Seattle Public Library, I’ve been watching Choreography by Balanchine (vol.1), which features full recordings of several Balanchine ballets.  Of course I was more interested in the “leaning-towards-classical-neoclassical” dances on the DVD, including Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux (pas de DUH—it’s my favorite!), Chaconne and Ballo della Regina. I was thinking about writing a comparison/contrast(ison) between Chaconne and Ballo della Regina, because they have a lot in common.  They both use opera music, premiered around the same time and I think the style is pretty consistent between the two, BUT I didn’t really enjoy Ballo as much as I thought I would.  It’s crazy fast with ridiculously…no, HEINOUSLY hard footwork but there was something missing.  The dynamics of the piece didn’t sit well with me for some reason and I was stuck feeling like the ballet was going nowhere.  Maybe I need more time to absorb it…or maybe, it’s just not that good.  Besides, Chaconne is more relevant right now anyway since NYCB will perform it over the next few weeks and not a Ballo in sight.

At any rate, I adore Chaconne.  First of all, it’s set to music from Cristoph Willibald Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, based on the popular Greek myth of Orpheus, who went into the Underworld to retrieve his wife (Euridice) and the deal was that she would follow him but he was forbidden to turn around to see her.  When he did (because heterosexual men often have questionable judgment) he lost her forever.  I’m going to geek out for just a moment here and inform you that the ubiquitous “Can-Can” music I’m sure you’ve heard in movies or cartoons is from Jacques Offenbach’s opera, Orpheus in the Underworld, which is actually a comedy that takes some jabs at Gluck’s version.  I often find that the concept of “six degrees of separation” is often halved when it comes to the arts…so even if you knew nothing of either opera, Orpheus or Chaconne, you’re still connected to the piece in some way, which is by far much more fascinating than discerning how close you are to Kevin Bacon.

As a flute player, I know Orfeo ed Euridice extremely well. Trust me when I say ALL flute players know it because we’re synonymous with a section of it better known as Dance of the Blessed Spirits (which is specifically what Balanchine uses in the ballet).  We’ve all played the solo at one point or another and it’s the type of piece that for lack of a better phrase, “makes you feel pretty” and I assume similar emotions are invoked choreographers and dancers alike.  When Pina Bausch staged her own Orfeo ed Euridice, even she created this ghostly, romantic ballet to the music which is far from what she’s known for and I find it interesting that her danced opera debuted in 1975 while Chaconne debuted in 1976.  Bausch and Balanchine employed vastly differing interpretations of the ethereal, with Bausch’s using more gestures and organic movement while Balanchine opted for subtlety, having the dancers drifting in and out of each other, creating an effect like clouds rolling in the sky.  The costumes are somewhat similar in style and color which I find fascinating because it’s improbable that the choreographers/costume designers were aware of the other’s work, especially when the dances premiered within a year of each other.  I have to say though, that I found Bausch’s choreography to be much more embracing, as if the dance was loving me and not the other way around.  See for yourself:

Balanchine’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits

Bausch’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits

Chaconne begins with a pas de deux followed by the ensemble dance from above, which I found unusual because the women have their hair down, wear plain costumes and the style of the dance is soft and lyrical.  When the dancers reenter the stage, they all have their hair tied up in typical buns and have quick-changed into costumes that have a hint of opulence.  I find it odd that Balanchine would go from casual intimacy to a regal, courtly dance but the contrast certainly provides space for the dance to explore the in betweens (perhaps what I felt was lacking in Ballo della Regina).  However, one thing that stood out to me in the pas de deux was a move, a partnered move where the man and woman link arms and the woman has one foot on point, leaning away from it in a sort of faux-arabesque.  The reason why it stood out was because I had seen it before—it’s one of the iconic moves in Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon, from the bedroom pas de deux.  Now Manon premiered in 1974 (two years before Chaconne) and while Balanchine and MacMillan couldn’t be any more different on the ballet spectrum, they arrived at creating the same movement, at almost the same time.  It gives new meaning to the words “great minds think alike,” although there’s a chance that any pair of five-year-olds on a playground could “invent” this movement as well.  It does bring into question though, if there is ever a limit to choreography; at some point dance will (if it hasn’t already) plateau in terms of movement vocabulary and while new dances can always be created the search for new steps becomes futile.  I think that’s what sometimes bothers me about newer dances; it seems like everyone is pushing for new and innovative, but there’s not as much effort to incorporate historic styles.  That’s a topic for another decade though…

Note: The more freakish your feet are, the easier this move is. Carlos Acosta/Tamara Rojo on the left, Peter Martins/Suzanne Farrell on the right.

When Chaconne transitions into its more formal setting, the choreography immediately becomes quicker and crisper.  In the film version, the principal roles are danced by Suzanne Farrell and Peter Martins, both of whom deserve more exposure than YouTube allows.  What I love about Farrell’s dancing, whether it’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux or Chaconne is the way she uses her feet—she’s like a sewing machine, pinpointing her placement on the floor in dainty little stitches.  Martins on the other hand, with his Bournonville training from the Royal Danish Ballet, has exceptional beats in a myriad of little jumps (and you know Balanchine liked to put in some brisé volé!).  They are of course quintessential Balanchine and it’s difficult to imagine say, Russian ballerinas being able to keep up with the pace since their training encourages lingering to indulge movements.  The wonderful thing about Farrell and Martins is that they were trained to “go up” and “come down,” so they can come down from relevé or find fifth efficiently and without making the subsequent movement look forced.

So here’s an excerpt from the faster section of Chaconne…unfortunately I can’t post the whole thing because I’ll get in trouble, but hopefully these excerpts will give a decent idea of what the ballet is like.  I wish I was in New York to see it…but I have to say writing about it has been rather therapeutic.  I almost feel like a part of the action and I can pretend like that’s enough for a little while.

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)