Tag Archives: mythology

What are YOU doing here?

29 Dec

Well I hope everyone enjoyed their holidays!  Still got New Years coming up (one of my personal favorites) but now we’ve entered that lull of wondering what we should do with ourselves until then.  Me, I didn’t really get anything on my wishlist although there’s still hope for the tote bag…assuming I actually buy it for myself.  Which, I may very well end up doing because I’m making a lot of trips to the library these days and need something to carry books and such in.  They have some plastic bags, but I try not to use them in order to be eco-friendly (you bet I watched Captain Planet when I was a kid), and I’m always afraid I’m going to drop something in the parking lot.  Now that it’s actually starting to snow a bit, the likelihood of such an event increases in probability by much more than I would care to share.  For whatever reason, my ability to dance in the studio does not translate to the mundane movements of life.

‘Tis the season though, for going into bakeries and eating little yum-yums and not give a damn about whether they’re good for you or not and burrowing into blankets to read a good book.  I like wedding cake (the cookies, not actual wedding cake…and I still don’t understand why/how they are called both Italian wedding cookies and Mexican wedding cookies.  That has to be the coincidence of the eon for them to emerge simultaneously in vastly different parts of the world.), gingerbread men and white-fudge dipped Oreos.  Pattycake Bakery, a Vegan bakery here in Columbus (and for the record I am not vegan, but I like to try new things) also makes good sugar cookies, which I bought a few dreidel shaped ones for friends.  I’m pretty sure that during the month of December, these items have zero calories.  However, snacking often goes hand in hand with reading for me (it seems like the most opportune time), hence my trips to the library as well as Half Price Books, a somewhat national chain that sells cheap books.  Some say it’s a pain that they have no computer inventory, but I love wandering through the store looking for some old but not ancient book, with dated photos and even the favored fonts of the time.  Naturally, I gravitate towards the dance/performing arts section and unsurprisingly my latest purchase includes Joan Lawson’s A Ballet-Maker’s Handbook (published in 1991.  Old, but not ancient).  While I normally try to avoid the “How to…” type of book, I was wildly entertained by this find…here’s to hoping it turns out to be a gem.

But it’s funny how dance permeates other spheres in life and this happened when I made my way over to the ancient history/mythology section like you do.  I was browsing the books on mythology which ranged from textbooks students had dumped for cash (not that I blame them) as well as one book that included a personal message from a “Jenefyr” telling a boy whose name I’ve forgotten, that she wanted him to have this special book forever.  During my perusing rituals, I can immediately identify two things…can it be?  Why yes, the female variation from Walpurgisnacht, followed by Mozart’s aria from The Magic Flute, Der Hölle Rache.  Both little diddies are easily recognizable to a certain populace (we know who we are) and I have to say that I took a brazen moment to bask in my geekiness, a new level that can only be achieved when reading up on Greek mythology in an discount book store with no computerized inventory system, while ballet and opera music you can name plays in the background.  If this is a typical day for you, then you are far geekier than I.  Hats off to you…I can only attempt to approach such nobility.

Anyway, I was flipping through Mark P.O. Morford/Robert J. Lenardon’s eighth edition of Classical Mythology, looking through the indices (I’m currently reading up on the myth of Niobe…note to self: don’t trash talk Leto) and what do I see…Fokine, Michel.  Of course I jumped the gun and thought “what the hell is Fokine doing in a Greek mythology book?” but of course he had his reasons (as thin as the mention itself was), as Morford/Lenardon devote the final chapter to the survival of mythology through music, dance and film.  It’s a very brief survey of different works that is much too brief and yet still pretty substantial.  Most of the thorough examples are in American dance and unfortunately they glaze over classics-inspired dances overseas, with the glaring omission being Ashton’s Sylvia.  I guess one could put in an argument Symphonic Variations as well, although I can forgive that because how could anyone possibly expect them to have even SEEN it and it’s also possible to argue that some of the imagery in Symphonic Variations is inspired moreso by Greek art as opposed to the mythology itself.  I guess we’ll never know…BUT, it turns out Lenardon is actually professor emeritus of classics at Ohio State!  Small world!  I’ve found his OSU e-mail and I’m quite tempted to write him a letter telling him about Sylvia (OSU’s library has copies of the DVD as well…score!), as his short bio states that “the afterlife of classical subjects and themes in literature, music, film, and dance have also become favorite areas of teaching and research.”  Chances are he may have even written the majority of the final chapters if that’s the case.  I only hesitate because I haven’t watched Sylvia myself, read Aminta the play by Torquato Tasso and I’d feel like stupid if someone has already informed him about the ballet (or if the omission was intentional!).  Not to mention the fact as an amateur enthusiast for the classics, he would probably start saying a lot of things I wouldn’t understand.  The DVD and play I can take care of this week…but whether I should write to him or not?  Undecided.

At any rate, while not specifically a dance related book, I’m always amused how dance osmoses into other things in life…well, the important things anyway.  Sadly, osmosifies is not a word, but Classical Mythology is a thorough reference source and of course I’d recommend it just for the dance portion alone, but I find it interesting nonetheless.  As far as the section on dance is concerned, the authors focus mostly on Greek classical themes in American modern dance, speaking very favorably of Isadora Duncan, Ted Shawn and Ruth St. Denis, and Martha Graham.  Graham’s Night Journey (which I have seen thanks to Dance 161) gets its own special page and everything.  Of course he includes Balanchine’s Apollo, Orpheus and Agon (which I never knew was intended to be a triad of Greek works for NYCB) as well as Nijinsky’s L’Après-midi d’un faune (Afternoon of a Faun) and Vaganova’s Diana and Acteon.  Of the other works listed the one I want to see the most is Graeme Murphy’s Daphnis and Chloe, based on the novel by Longus and choreographed for the Sydney Dance Company.  Maurice Ravel’s score of the same name is stunning, gorgeous, immensely pleasing to the ear and calls for alto flute!  Hardly anything has a part for alto flute!

At any rate, it is a textbook though, so not really something you take with you to read on a beach, but it always seems like a good idea to have a comprehensive and concise source on Greek myths.  I’m just now realizing the scope of what it means to be reading a textbook for entertainment…but whatever.  Here are excerpts from specific performances that the book takes great care to mention, which are Martha Graham and Bertram Ross in Night Journey and Rudolf Nureyev and Svetlana Berisova in his revival of Diana and Acteon.

“Diana was no slut” – Mythology and Ballet

5 Aug

Today an odd series of coincidences happened…first, I went to OSU’s new Thompson Library, which is massive and sparkly with lots of windows and new computers and such, to borrow a book that contained an essay I was looking for (Toeing the Line: In Search of the Gay Male Image in Contemporary Classical Ballet).  I figured I might as well look for other materials, and checked the library catalog and also found Peter Stoneley’s A Queer History of the Ballet.  When I located that book, nearby was this wonderful photography book published by the Royal Opera House, on Sir Frederick Ashton (who is pictured on the back doing a jig as the hedgehog “Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle” from his The Tales of Beatrix Potter ballet.  I have a feeling Sir Ashton and I are going to get along nicely).  When leaving the library, several books in tow I happened upon five (yes FIVE) four leaf clovers and a five leaf clover, all in this little patch that was less than a square foot.  It made me recall that I had a fortune cookie just two days ago that said “an unexpected event will bring you riches.”  Maybe the cookie meant the Ashton book, or maybe it meant the clovers…but I hope my luck continues. (and finds me a JOB or a position with Americorps!)

Part of me thinks the fortune cookie should have said "He who has all the luck in the world will never find job."  Maybe there is something to what that Siamese cat in Disney's Aristocats said..."Shanghai, Hong Kong, Egg fu yung, fortune cookie always wrong."

Part of me thinks the fortune cookie should have said "He who has all the luck in the world will never find job." Maybe there is something to what that Siamese cat in Disney's Aristocats said..."Shanghai, Hong Kong, Egg fu yung, fortune cookie always wrong."

Oh, and if you’re wondering “why the queer ballet reading?” That’s independent research for a SEKRET project that’s going to take light years to finish, but know that I fully intend to make it known to the world.

Back to Ashton, I had been meaning to get more into his work because I’m mostly intrigued by his ballet Ondine.  I became enamored with the myth of Undine thanks to a positively divine flute sonata by the German composer Carl Reinecke (although some might argue The Little Mermaid was my first exposure to an Undine-influenced story, but with a Disney-fied ending since Prince Eric doesn’t die).  The second movement of the sonata is this tornado of sixteenth notes in a key with 2 sharps, and a swarm of additional sharps, double sharps and naturals.  It also has a nice little key change to FIVE sharps and is a complete nightmare to read.  I do fancy fast music, but ironically it’s the slow melody in this Intermezzo that captivates me the most; in fact, it’s probably my favorite melody ever written for the flute.  I actually wish Reinecke’s Undine was turned into a short ballet of some kind…Hans Werner Henze’s score for Ondine is a’ight, but Reinecke’s sonata will always be my first love.  Plus, his sonata is romantic era so it’s a little more conducive to storytelling (although Reinecke didn’t have a Margot Fonteyn).  Oh, and if you’re wondering why I’m switching between Undine/Ondine, Ondine is the anglicized version of Undine…so blame the Germans and Brits if you must, not me.  Anyway, I have a request for the world…someone out there, for the love of Billy Elliot, PLEASE choreograph a ballet to Reinecke’s Undine!  Just listen to virtuoso Emanuel Pahud play it (the aforementioned favorite melody begins at the 1:50 mark…le sigh.  The other 3 movements are also available from the same user.  It listens to the first movement too):

For whatever reason, I’m in a “myth-based ballet” phase these days.  Hence, my interest in Ashton’s Sylvia too, which I didn’t even know was based on a myth until flipping through the book quickly just today.  I’ve also been watching a lot of Diana and Acteon on YT, and I dig the coda.  It’s a catchy little number (well, I guess they all are…but I’m ranking it no.2 in my favorite codas list) and I finally located an mp3 of it to listen to while vacuuming (you’d be surprised how much more fun average chores are when you listen to ballet codas on your ipod as you do them.  I’m serious).  Although it’s conducted by Richard Bonynge, who I’m thinking hasn’t conducted this ballet live because he takes the Diana variation at light speed, and I can’t even imagine some poor ballerina trying to dance at his tempo, and he has a history of this because his Le Corsaire recording is monstrously fast too.  Terrence Kern did a recording of Le Corsaire too, and his was worse if you can believe it.

Anyway, Diana and Acteon is kind of like the leftover sesame chicken of the ballet world.  It’s well known, but doesn’t stand alone because it’s 12 minutes of leftovers from Petipa’s Le Roi Candaule, and Vaganova-ized (microwaved) for consumption today.  I continue this metaphor by pointing out that sesame chicken isn’t even authentic Chinese food (and before I get angry e-mails from Jews up in arms, nobody orders sesame chicken more than I do, this isn’t an insult), and likewise Diana and Acteon the ballet doesn’t follow the myth at all.  First of all, according to wikipedia, in Le Roi Candaule Petipa originally had it as Diana and Endymion, which doesn’t make a lot of sense because Endymion is associated with Selene, although sometimes Selene and Diana were mixed up so I suppose it’s a reasonable mistake.  However, when Vaganova herself changed the character to Acteon, any argument for authenticity flies out the window because the myth between Diana and Acteon doesn’t have a happy ending.  It goes that Acteon, a strapping young hunter sees her bathing in the nude.  Now Diana was no slut…she was mad as a hornet and forbade him to speak of that indecency, and if he did he would turn into stag.  Long story short, he calls out to his hunting party, turns into a stag, and is killed and eaten by his own hunting dogs.  Somehow, I think a flirtatious exchange with Acteon was the last thing on iron-chaste Diana’s mind.

But we all know the point of ballet isn’t to stick to the story…although there is that one little reference to the stag when at the very end the male dancer does a stag leap offstage while Diana is doing an arabesque onstage (shooting an arrow at him?).  Besides, Diana is the one who is supposed to be nekkid and yet it’s always the male dancer in this variation that’s showing a lot more skin (we’re talkin dance belt + loincloth.  A large loincloth if they’re lucky).  I’m perfectly fine with adaptations of stories and artistic liberties for the purposes of ballet movement (I have to be for the SEKRET project).  Plus Diana and Acteon is fun to watch because it includes a lot of witchy goodies that requires hefty technique.  My favorite Acteon (and this should come as no surprise) is Carlos Acosta.  He just has that “hunter machismo” which can especially be seen in Alicia Alonso’s version (after Petipa) because it includes this gargantuan lift where he sets down the ballerina just using one arm.  She also gave the ballerina even more fouettes to do, doing them on a diagonal with a flourish of the arms in a double pirouette, changing the spot later on mid-fouette to be en face and the whole shebang ends with a partner assisted pirouette where the guy then just lets go and she’s supposed to keep going.  Crazy and amazing (henceforth “cramazing?”) is the only way to describe it.

Now the following video features Carlos and Viengsay Valdes, and it’s neither of their best performances.  This performance is known though because Viengsay was sick and the poor thing is practically dying by the end.  But the show must go on, and I also include it for this inhuman leap Carlos does, which I’m not sure exactly what it is…it could be called a cabriole of some kind or a grand jeté battu…whatever it is, it’s a mystical leap that will take your breath away, and you’ll know it when you see it (not to mention he also does a revoltade, or as I like to call it, “the deathwish”):

And just to show that Viengsay is a more than capable and wonderful dancer; check out her Diana coda here:

This was a better performance for Carlos too: