Tag Archives: michael coleman

Live from Lincoln Center…

27 Jun

…it’s me.

I thought it might be fun to write a post from the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts, so here I am next to the Metropolitan Opera House (where ABT’s Wednesday matinee of Swan Lake just so happens to be going on), writing this here blog. I had a little bit of time to check out the Jerome Robbins Dance Division, and one of my missions for this trip was to watch some archival footage. Nowhere else would I be able to see a full recording of Violette Verdy in Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux and see it I did! The entire collections here are much too vast, and any dance researcher could spend a lifetime here trying to see it all. As annoyed as I am that I can’t take materials home, it is pretty amazing that these materials are available to the public. Going to the library isn’t just for students/teachers/researchers people–one can easily come here to just watch some amazing ballets for fun!

First, I selected two Tchai Pas with Verdy, partnered in one by Edward Villella and the other by Helgi Tomasson. It’s almost unfair that anyone has to go without seeing a performance of Verdy, who radiates more joy than any dancer I’ve ever seen. Even in blurry old films you can see her charisma, the purity of her technique, and her incredible musicality. There were so many moments of subtle playfulness, as if she were teasing the music with her hands and feet. Now Verdy didn’t have super high legs in various extensions, but it hardly mattered because when the leg is just above the waist in a la seconde for example, you actually get to see the whole torso and face! Imagine that! And when it comes to Verdy, trust me when I say you want to see her upper body in entirety! Of course you want to see her feet and legs as well (not many dancers will do a flying leap into each of their piqué turns), but really it’s the whole picture that made her performances so special, and makes the idea of bemoaning the lack of artistry today a legitimate thing.

Both Villella and Tomasson were quite good, energetic, and wonderful partners. I believe it was the Villella video though where I saw some steps in his variation and coda that I had never seen before. There was an entrechat six de volé en tournant (which, if you don’t know ballet steps very well is as beastly as it sounds), and when he did a series of grand jetés in a circle, rather than insert one turn in between, there were two, which seemed to add excitement and speed. I’m fascinated by the idea that Balanchine had so many ideas for seldomly seen steps and also how his tastes evolved over time to incorporate them more into his vocabulary or never used them again. Having the opportunity to see these performances on film though, was everything and more than what I wanted, and I’m still basking in the glow of Verdy’s charm and wit, sparkling through decades to move and inspire me today.

Seeing as how I had to prioritize with what precious time I have, my other selection was Sir Frederick Ashton’s Symphonic Variations, in a Granada film featuring Antoinette Sibley, Anthony Dowell, Ann Jenner, Gary Sherwood, Jennifer Penney, and Michael Coleman. I had seen an all-too-brief clip of it from a documentary fragment posted on YouTube, and am so fortunate to have found it at the library because the performance is simply breathtaking. What was immediately noticable to me was the slower tempo at the beginning, with softer lines and patience. Contemporary performances seem to accent the music a bit sharper, but what I loved about this one was that the softness allowed for a gradual build towards more succinct lines by the end. You almost don’t notice how it almost carves itself out of its own form, and polishes to an even more lustrous shine before your eyes. If only this were commercially available, it would be such a definitive performance of this work (though, I’m still bitter enough to remind you that NO staging of Symphonic Variations is commercially available, so to label this one of the finest isn’t really valid I suppose).

For anyone who gets a chance to see this film, what was also made so clear was the often discussed partnership between Sibley and Dowell. When the two dancers themselves have discussed it in documentaries they often mention how the proportions between them were perfect–how she, in reaching for his arm would always meet it at just the right distance, etc. Perfection being the key word, you see it many times throughout the film. There’s a pose where Dowell perches Sibley in an arabesque, and when she tilts her head backwards it rests perfectly on his shoulder, and when she frames his face with her arm the picture is flawless. Even the length of their limbs are just in perfect harmony throughout, and against Sophie Fedorovitch’s winding backdrop of wavy patterned lines the effect is stunning. Though Symphonic is indeed abstract and often praised for its luminous sanctity, I saw more story in it today than I had in previous viewings of film as well as live with San Francisco Ballet.

The best I can do is relay the original clip I saw, so enjoy this for now, and remember to make a trip to the NYPL at least once in your lifetime!

Chocolate Chip Cookie Ballet, First Half

17 Nov

So today I watched a DVD of the 1981 Royal Ballet production (as if one could settle for another!) of La Fille mal gardée and because I’m totally into this giving ballets my own personal epithet, and I’m going to say La Fille mal gardée is the chocolate chip cookie ballet, which is easier for me to say because I’m not even sure how to pronounce it.  Despite the fact that I can do a pretty convincing French accent (I was a parrot in a past life, I’m sure of it), I have no idea as to how one actually speaks French.  But that’s not really my problem.  At any rate, I dub it the chocolate chip cookie ballet because of its accessibility and overall delightfulness.  If you had a friend who didn’t know a thing about ballet, and I mean absolutely nothing, it would be the perfect ballet to take them to go see.  It’s even more accessible than The Nutcracker cash cow in my opinion.  Sir Ashton’s choreography really put storytelling in its simplest form, and there’s nothing to understand or interpret for yourself because everything is understandable.  Its impossible to watch without a smile on your face and it just makes you feel good.  Like a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie right out of the oven…you know, when the chocolate is melty and the cookie is warm and pliant in your hands…yeah that’s right.  And the world breathed a collective “mmm.”

This was actually the first full length Ashton work I’ve watched, and only the second complete ballet (Symphonic Variations being the first).  I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the versatility in his choreography because I never would have guessed that Symphonic Variations and La Fille mal gardée were by the same person.  Symphonic Variations is more elegant and halcyon, while La Fille is utterly charming.  In fact, I’m pretty sure charming is the only word that can describe it.  Libretto?  Charming.  Score?  Charming.  Choreography?  Ridiculously charming.  It’s interesting that the libretto isn’t particularly complicated (girl loves boy, mother opposes, tries to set girl up with Mr. Moneybags’ son, but after some tomfoolery true love wins in the end), but Ashton has a way of sustaining your attention.  Not event he squirreliest of attention spans will be able to wander away from this ballet, because there is never a dull moment.

There were so many unexpected moments in the choreography that I loved, like when Lise (girl) is upset when Simone (mother) locks her in the house to keep her away from Colas (boy).  Lise sits on the couch pouting, alternating her feet in tendu.  Who would have thought of that?  Well Ashton did, and it just works.  Everything about his choreography in the ballet just works, and is always interesting.  Even the corps gets some top-notch steps, although I nearly gagged when they did a flighty petite allegro in the first act that included a few temps de cuisse, or as I like to call them…well, truthfully I don’t have a clever nickname for them but I should because they’re hellish and always mess me up.  It’s not my fault the step was invented although when I find out who created it, I’m going to kick him in the shins.  Personal issues aside, I enjoyed some of the more unusual choreography as well, like when Colas appears in the upper part of a door, picks Lise up and she hangs there until he sets her down and then goes on to assist her in a promenade in attitude, holding her hand from above.  And of course Alain (boy Lise doesn’t want to marry) with his wacky, distinct movement style will have anyone and everyone chuckling.  Lise may not want to marry him, but he’s such a lovable character.

I have to say that one of the things that really impressed me about the ballet was how Ashton staged the theatrical elements.  Not many ballets have dancers dress in full animal costumes like the chickens in this one (although later on there’s a real live pony brought on stage…interesting choice to mix live animals and costumed dancers), or a man cross dress as an old biddy (Simone is danced by a man), but it really adds a fun dimension to the production as a whole.  However, probably the most interesting aspect of this ballet was Ashton’s use of props.  There’s the ribbon pas de deux between Lise and Colas where they’re dancing with a long pink ribbon, spinning in and out of it, looping it around each other and before you know it, they’re engulfed in an oversized game of cat’s cradle.  And I mean that literally…at one point, they make a design with the ribbon that is shown to the audience and is sure to garner applause.  The ribbon motif is repeated later in a dance by the corps that frames the main duo, and at one point Lise is perched in an attitude on pointe, holding onto several ribbons that radiate outward like a maypole, and at each end is a corps member orbiting her, which causes her to slowly turn.  And then there’s an actual maypole dance where the corps dance in and out of each other to weaving the ribbons.  I was under the impression that people just ran around the pole and the ribbons would spiral downward and had no idea that it was so intricate, so that was neat to see.  And there were clever things like Lise’s series of echappés and sous-sous while she churned butter or Alain dancing with his beloved red umbrella.  A lot of great work with props that I don’t think has ever been so evident in other ballets.  Like scythes and bushels of wheat…Colas actually sneaks into the house hidden in some of those bushels of wheat, and when he sprung out I was so startled I swore out loud.  Good thing I didn’t see this one live or I could have burned some children’s ears.

Overall, this production was wonderful, and I loved Lesley Collier as Lise.  She was darling, and had a really crisp arabesque line.  She wasn’t trying to hike her leg up in an overly indulgent, contorted arabesque, but would take the simplest path and get there.  Her arabesques were always so square and spot on, and I loved the efficiency of her movement (trademark Royal Ballet for you).  Just a short clip on YouTube, however, I noticed that someone uploaded the more recent filming of La Fille with Carlos Acosta and Marianela Nuñez (Royal Ballet again, obviously), so I think I’m going to watch that for Wednesday night’s blog and do a comparison.  Mostly for me, so I can figure out which one I’ll add to the Amazon wishlist, but as always, you’re free to read.  I won’t stop you.