Tag Archives: nycb

Muse musings

3 Jun

Despite being a mere forty some odd pages from finishing the book I’m reading, I couldn’t find the effort.  So I popped in Dancing for Mr. B: Six Balanchine Ballerinas, a documentary featuring interviews with Maria Tallchief, Mary Ellen Moylan, Melissa Hayden, Allegra Kent, Merrill Ashley and Darci Kistler.  I needed the break from reading because my eyes were going nuts and the DVD is actually due back at the library…today.  Now, I don’t want to get into a discussion comparing Balanchine’s muses because that’s a history far too convoluted for me to want to know.  When it comes down to it, they all have their place in history and that’s dandy enough for me.  Does it matter who gets the title of “greatest Balanchine dancer of all time?”  Will it ever matter?

At any rate, what the DVD did make me ponder was the relationship between dancer(s) and choreographer.  It seems as though the method for new works these days is to simply do what the choreographer asks (which sometimes comes across as a clandestine exercise in stroking his or her ego) or the “modern” thing to do, which is to collaborate.  I want to say with certain uncertainty that choreographing a ballet on a muse isn’t widely practiced anymore.  Or maybe it is and I just never hear about it…or maybe it’s the politics the higher ups are afraid of; it’s not as if Balanchine’s favoritism didn’t spark some strife here and there.  Merrill Ashley is pretty frank in the documentary that Suzanne Farrell’s departure and return to NYCB affected her career and she said so not with jealousy or contempt, just a plain statement of the truth.  Balanchine was in a funk when Farrell left, and certain roles Ashley had went back to Farrell when she returned.  To be fair though, Ashley did say Balanchine didn’t forget the dancers who “took over” in Farrell’s absence and Ashley even had the honor of having Ballo della Regina choreographed on her.  Is it any wonder that Balanchine’s muses get all sentimental and weepy when speaking of him?  Having a dance be inspired by you and subsequently choreographed for you by a genius is like the ultimate gift.  How can you top the gift of a legacy?  When in doubt, get something edible I always say…

While I can understand the desire to avoid politics, I still love the idea of muses.  What seems to separate Balanchine’s muses from those of other choreographers is how instrumental he was in their development.  I’m fascinated by how he picked so many women at such an early age; off the top of my head I can only think of Kenneth MacMillan having done the same for Darcey Bussell (I have yet to read too much about Frederick Ashton’s muses besides the obvious being Margot Fonteyn—I have a stack of books in queue for a self induced Ashton extravaganza.  Why?  I don’t know, but I may find out).  It seems simpler to admire a known entity from afar and if a choreographer is lucky, get the opportunity to create a work on the dancer of his or her choice…but to be the driving force in the cultivation of a dancer is something else.  Balanchine is heralded as one of the greatest choreographers of all time and the most influential teacher in American ballet but it’s that grey matter—the substance between choreographer and teacher that really interests me.  I can’t shake the feeling that the key to his continual success lies somewhere in there (intangible as it is).  There have of course been others who have studied the vocabulary, technique, worked with greats and have had precious quips passed down to them from previous generations but maybe, just maybe, nobody has made the connection between teacher-choreographer in the manner that Balanchine was so gifted in doing.

Overall I thought the documentary was lovely (the archived black and white footage is to DIE for and criminally short…there were a few seconds of a Melissa Hayden and Edward Villella Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux that had me writhing for more) and especially interesting because it has interviews with a very young Darci Kistler, soon to retire in just over three weeks, thus bringing the dynasty of Balanchine muses to a close.  Blah blah, it’s the end of an era…closing one door…open a window…Wheeldon…Martins…new beginnings for the NYCB.  I suppose NYCB is still in a post-Balanchine/Robbins transitional phase and I can’t even begin to imagine the mess it must be to balance the repertoire while trying to develop new facets of the company’s identity.  It’s that kind of pressure that probably influenced Monica Mason’s controversial decision to make Wayne McGregor the resident choreographer for the Royal Ballet.  Oy…who (besides Tamara Rojo and Johan Kobborg apparently) would ever want to be an Artistic Director?  One would almost have to list “Oracle of Delphi” under previous employment on his or her résumé.  Come to think of it, Balanchine must have been a clairvoyant…how else would he have known to pick the women he did and be right, every single time?  It’s not like he went for the same formula each time either (not all of them even trained at the School of American Ballet).

In the end, I find the biggest question I have about muses and ballet is that can a person aspire to be a muse?  Is there even a difference between dreaming of becoming a great dancer and dreaming of being somebody’s muse?  Can the desire to become a muse and to originate a role perhaps negate that it will ever happen?  Maybe serendipity is the cornerstone of supreme artistic inspiration and maybe today’s dancers and choreographers are bogged down by too much desire to achieve or be and thus constrict the potential output.  Or maybe, I’m really hungry and can’t write anything logical on an empty stomach.  Now that I’ve reread this entry, I’m thinking my writing muse did a hit and run.  Too bad.

The Nacho Project: Diagnosis

24 May

One of my ducklings (number five in the row, if I recall correctly) is headed to New York this summer and is in need of your help!  “Nacho,” as I call her, has never been there before and will be doing some kind of an internship this summer but more importantly, will have access to the splendiferous wonder that is NYCB and ABT.  Not only will this be her first time in Manhattan, she has yet to see such prestigious ballet companies (she has seen smaller dance performances before though).  Needless to say this is a crucial moment in her development as a human being and as my ducklings tend to do, she sought advice from me but there are many ballets on the programs I haven’t a clue about.  So I thought I’d pose the question to more knowledgeable folk.  We’re always wanting ballet to reach new audiences and this is our chance to tinker a la Frankenstein with one young woman’s perception of it!  The challenge here is that funds are not entirely limitless (she’s not the type to see five Swan Lakes) and yet between NYCB and ABT there’s an abundance of things to see.  She’s going to be a kid in a candy store, but she has to make the Big Apple her pie.  Selectiveness is key, so here is what I feel you need to know about Nacho:

  • She may be short, but she has a lot of angst.  She likes pretty, romantic ballets but if not that then they have to be pretty…raging
  • She’s one of those “danced since I was three” jazz babies.  Showing off big flashy jumps and fouettés go in the plus column, as do Fred & Ginger
  • This is educated conjecture, but she probably has no appreciation for classical music.  This isn’t to say she hates it, only that she’ll like what sounds pleasing to her ear, without deeper understanding of the finer details.
  • She has questionable taste in men (mostly because she dates people I disapprove of)
  • She’s Italian and her mom makes good sauce
  • She likes the Pittsburgh Steelers, Andy Roddick and Sex and the City (she thinks she’s Carrie Bradshaw if that means anything to you)
  • Her phone number is…

So those are some things about Nacho and after looking at NYCB calendar (link) I’ve convinced her that attending NYCB’s program on June 25th with After the Rain, The Lady with the Little Dog and Who Cares? would be an ideal choice (she will be in New York June 18th to August 18th).  There’s a short preview of After the Rain on YouTube I sent her and she likes the tragicalyricalness and I also sent her a clip of Who Cares? which she loved.  I have no idea about Little Dog, but I figured two out of three is more than sufficient for a happy evening.  Glancing at the other programs, the chances of her liking Prodigal Son are slim to none but I do think she would enjoy Western Symphony.  June 26th has a program with La Source, a new Martins ballet and Western Symphony but I don’t know what Peter Martins choreography is like and I’ve only heard of La Source in passing…so what say you, fellow balletomanes?  Then there’s the added allure of farewell performances including that of Darci Kistler, the last ballerina to be selected by Balanchine himself…do you miss the opportunity to witness something so epically historical?  I’m almost completely unfamiliar with the Kistler farewell program (minus Swan Lake of course) so suggestions para Nacho por favor!

She could watch Kistler in an excerpt from Swan Lake, but it turns out ABT (calendar link) will be doing Swan Lake the previous week as well so I say go all out and see the whole shebang.  But the casting!  Decisions, decisions…I’m thinking she should cat fight with the rest of the audience in attendance for the June 21st show with Roberto Bolle so she can fall madly in love with him (she does like them tall…and he’s Italian too) in addition to seeing the beautiful Veronika Part, but there are so many great casting options like Julie Kent/Marcelo Gomes or Jose Carreño/Gillian Murphy.  Now I don’t know if she’ll make it in time for Sleeping Beauty, but good heavens!  It’s the battle of the guest stars…do you opt for the saccharine innocence of Alina Cojocaru or the flight of the Osipova?  Then ABT does a week of mixed bills and I’m more obsessive about watching ballet than Nacho is but even I’m finding the selection overwhelming.  If it were me, I’d go with the All Ashton program on June 30th to sort of round out the experience and diversify the choreographers, but it’s Nacho and not me, so I would only strongly suggest/force that idea upon her if I had a legion of people who agreed with me (also keeping in mind she’s never seen a MacMillan and the Manon pas de deux is just…to DIE for).  ABT then does a week of Romeo and Juliet in early July before heading off to Los Angeles, and you know I’m a grouch when it comes to Romeo and Juliet so I’m in no position to be suggesting which casting I think would be lovely to see.

So friends, I beseech thee to diagnose Nacho and help her get the most out of her summer in New York!  Here’s a short interview I did with her which might help figure out which ballets/casts she should see:

YDF:  Do you like Roberto Bolle?

Nacho:  Sure.

YDF:  Liar.  Do you wear clothes from the Gap?

Nacho:  Roberto Bolle is fine…don’t really have an opinion of him and no I do not.

YDF:  Not the answer I was looking for.

Nacho:  Sorry friend.

YDF:  Do you even know who he is?

Nacho:  Yes, I YouTube’d him.

YDF:  Just now?

Nacho:  Yes…I’m not a little ballet freak remember? (oh NO she didn’t!)

YDF:  Did you know he’s Italian?

Nacho:  I kinda got that

YDF:  You’re Italian.

Nacho:  Indeed I am.  What was the answer you were looking for?

YDF:  The answer should have been yes, so I could tell you that he was a model for a Gap ad, and then you’d have something in common…but you ruined it.

Nacho: Sorry Charlie 🙂

YDF:  How do you like your male dancers?

Nacho:  Good?

YDF:  Fascinating.  Now describe your ideal ballerina.

Nacho:  Traditional yet not stiff?  I don’t know.  These are hard!

YDF:  Okay so final question (and this SHOULD be easy) what do you love about dance?

Nacho:  The expression through movement…the story that can be told without any word use.  The different interpretations of pieces, the emotion, the passion…I don’t know.

YDF:  Okay I lied, the REAL final question is, what are some characteristics of dances you like or dislike?

Nacho:  You know I don’t like too modern/abstract pieces… but I do like originality… generic pieces make me wanna scream.

And there you have it.  I’ll be sure to update on her progress as the summer progresses!

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 dance anywhere® project 3/26…DO IT

25 Mar

I had fully intended to write about the dance anywhere® project much sooner than this, but various things kept coming up and now I’m writing at the somewhat eleventh hour (my apologies Julia!).  No excuses though, so I’m going to get to it.  I’ll begin with dance anywhere’s press release, which sums up the necessary details better than I can (plus, copy + paste is viciously tempting in a time crunch):

SIXTH ANNUAL CONCEPTUAL ART PIECE dance anywhere® SET FOR MARCH 26, 2010

THOUSANDS WORLDWIDE TO DANCE SIMULTANEOUSLY AT NOON (PDT)

UNITING TIME ZONES AND PEOPLE IN DANCE

San Francisco, March 19, 2010 – On March 26, 2010, dancers worldwide will come together simultaneously in dance to celebrate the universal importance and joy of movement.  In its sixth year, this conceptual event will take place on Friday, March 26, 2010 at noon Pacific Daylight Time (PDT), 3pm EDT (New York, etc) 8pm in Paris, Rome, etc.

Artist and dance anywhere® originator Beth Fein says, “This conceptual public art is an open invitation to all: to stop and dance wherever they will be at noon on March 26th in San Francisco, New York, Paris, Rome and other cities.  dance anywhere® is a public art project and free to all participants.

Since 2005, dance anywhere® has had hundreds of performers participate on the streets, bridges, in schools etc. dance anywhere®  integrates art into everyday public spacesand exposes unsuspecting audiences to dance.  The project also transforms perceptions of where and how art can occur, demonstrating that art does not need to be exhibited in a gallery, and dance does not need to be performed on a stage. It brings everyone’s awareness to the space they are in: the street, the office, the library, the grocery store or park. Anyone is encouraged to participate, and the project involves people of all ages, abilities, nationalities, and backgrounds. 

For more information about participating in dance anywhere® on March 26, 2010 please go to:  

http://www.danceanywhere.org      Email: Beth Fein at bethfein@danceanywhere.org

For more information about the event or photo requests, contact Jennifer Roy at  roykey@mac.com

or 415-706-7644

Bay Area locations for 2010 include:

 SFMOMA,

 Asian Arts Museum

 Berkeley Art Museum

Rockridge BART

Dancers from across the United States from Hawaii, California, Colorada, Mississippi, to Chicago, NY and Pennsylvania (partial list) and around the world including: Argentina, Chile, Sweden, Switzerland, Estonia, Italy, France, Spain, Turkey, England, Ireland, Austalia, New Zealand, and Guinea have all been a part of dance anywhere®.

DETAILS:

WHAT: dance anywhere®, a participatory global public artwork—anyone who wants to dance can participate, or as audience, shoot photos or video.

WHEN: Friday, March 26, 2010, at noon in San Francisco

WHERE: Various locations throughout the Bay Area and world

ADMISSION: Free

INFORMATION: danceanywhere .com

Now, let’s discuss shall we?

First of all, I have to say that I’m a huge fan of this kind of ambush tactic dancing.  I think people don’t dance enough as it is, and I’ve said before that methods of communication gravitate towards verbal and written modes and we lose touch with the ability to communicate with our bodies even though movement is the first thing we learn as infants (or even in the womb!).  There’s a fascinating paradox when it comes to movement; it is a VAST and infinite language and yet it is the most universal and most accessible.  So why is it engaged so little?  I’m in agreement that some people have a preconceived notion that art has to take place in a venue…that paintings belong on walls and dances belong on stage.  Well, I have two words for those people…Opus Jazz.

It’s kind of a funny coincidence that Opus Jazz, featuring dancers of New York City Ballet (including Craig Hall who I recognize from his cameos in Center Stage.  I had no idea who he was at the time, but he has a very handsome, very striking face!) aired on PBS last night, because while watching it I immediately thought of dance anywhere®.  Opus Jazz was a made for film version of the Jerome Robbins piece, shot on location around New York.  Although I’ve never seen the original, the dances took on a new life in new settings, like an abandoned railyard at sunrise or an open concrete courtyard.  That new life being the distinct breath of the city itself, enabled the dancers to really embody that essence and be a part of the setting in an incredibly intimate way.  My point?  Location, location, location.   Site-specific works are something I was introduced to as an attendee of multiple dances at Ohio State University and through those experiences I began to understand and appreciate even more the connection between setting and choreography.  As much as I love ballet, because it’s a genre so grounded in fantasy, a lot of scenary is relegated to painted backdrops.  Sometimes it’s all a part of the grand design a la Symphonic Variations, but sometimes the voice of the setting itself is so weak it really is “just a background.”  But dance anywhere tells us to take the opportunity to find a new voice in new surroundings, outside of the stage and studio; which is likely to change the way you dance.

It certainly presents a lot of challenges (I’m still befuddled as to how the NYCB dancers reeled off all kinds of pirouettes in sneakers on concrete or dirt) but those challenges are sure to teach our bodies to experience a familiar movement in a new way.  But participation in this project (which I highly encourage because I think it’s amazing to feel like you’re a part of something bigger, even if nobody is there to witness your moment) is not limited to people who understand a certain array of dance vocabulary.  No no…so venture forth and move in any way that feels good (or not) to you and join the collective!

As for me, I was all gung ho about participating and I WILL find a way, but I am a bit limited, thanks to a shoulder injury.  I’m basically a garden statue at this point, but I’m hoping it will loosen up by Friday.  When I tried to think of a location that inspired me, I immediately thought of Ohio State’s Browning Ampitheatre, an outdoor theater built in the style of a Greek ampitheater, with gorgeous, semi-circular stone seating.  I know I just said that dance should be danced away from the stage so an outdoor ampitheater is hardly an original idea, but I adore it all the same and I tend not to fight my impulses (you know anything ancient Greek-esque will inspire me!).  I like what I like and that’s just the reality of it all.  I’m actually more drawn to the seats themselves rather than the stage, so maybe I’ll get some friends to join me and play around there.  Or maybe the very idea of having a plan defeats the whole purpose.  Whatever your cup of tea, be it indoors, outdoors, on a stage-like setting or not, whether your dance is serious or just for fun, find a way to be a part of dance anywhere and document it.  Nobody expects you to create an Opus Jazz though…so enjoy the process, whatever the investment that is for you.

The Browning Ampitheater (photo copyright of its respective owner)

Meanwhile, did anyone else enjoy Opus Jazz as much as I did?  I’m still replaying it mentally like when Alphaville’s Forever Young gets stuck in my head.

He has a nephew?!?

22 Sep

Finished reading Acosta’s autobiography and it did not disappoint.  Some rough spats and heartbreaking transitions, but there were funny moments after he made his way upward, like meeting Princess Di despite not knowing a word of English, knowing nothing of Christmas and Santa Clause…obviously, nobody should expect that he would know such things, but I found his approach in encountering new cultures and how those new experiences made him nervous, quite endearing and refreshing.  So many…well, jerks, travel abroad and expect a red carpet treatment (a most unfortunate impression of Americans that I’m ashamed of…we’re not all like that!) and here you have a guy, completely terrified of making a fool of himself, and yet he tries so hard.  It’s just sweet and very humble of him.  Having read his book makes me interested in Cuba though, and I can’t tell you how much I want to try this “roasted pork, fried plantains, rice and beans” deal they have going on.  Apparently it’s something they eat all the time, but man alive was I starvacious (Not to mention I found it hysterical that while recovering from surgery in Houston, he drowned his sorrows in food, demanding to celebrate a friend’s pregnancy with fried chicken wings and pork crackling).  A quick search turns up no Cuban restaurants in Columbus, so this may end in a disastrous attempt at home cooking.

There once were rumors circulating in the mill of Hollywood being interested in making a movie about him, and the obvious questions were whether he would play himself (which he wants to do, since not many could do the dancing) and whether or not that would be a good choice because its virtually unheard of to play oneself in a narrative film.  But this is Carlos Acosta…the same man who went to ABT and had the gall to ask to join as a principal (they rejected the idea…ten points to the Royal Ballet for doing the opposite!).  I don’t think he’s afraid of being the first to do anything.  Who knows where those rumors are headed, but I hope to see it come to fruition.  I do wonder if they’re holding back because of potential political backlash, since many Americans still have an outdated, demonized view of Cuba.  Especially considering the fact that Cuba’s public health care system saved the lives of his mother and sister, things can go two ways…people can see it and realize how important a public health care option is or it could be used as a way to enforce narrow minded views of associating public health care with “Communism.”  I would hate to see a great story fuel a political debate, and Carlos Acosta is no fan of politics, but a movie would definitely scratch that mosquito bite.

Interestingly enough, some have suggested that his nephew play a younger version of him and I had no idea his nephew was even a dancer.  He’s not just a dancer, but a near doppelganger of the Flying Cuban himself.  It’s uncanny that not only do they look alike, but Yonah is certainly on the path to ballet stardom.  Coincidentally, he starred in Tocororo, a ballet by Carlos Acosta somewhat based on his life, which inspires ideas to have him play a young Carlos in a movie.  It would definitely work, although for the nitpicky, Carlos turns to the right and Yonah is a lefty.  File that one under “movie inconsistencies.”  Although there isn’t much of Yonah on YouTube yet, he is worth the watch.  Here he is practicing Don Q, and an excerpt from his Acteon variation (ironically, two that Carlos is also known for).

Not my picture (credit to Margaret Willis of dancing-times.co.uk) but 'oly smokes the resemblance!

Not my picture (credit to Margaret Willis of dancing-times.co.uk) but 'oly smokes the resemblance!

On the topic of ballet movies though, the world down under and Toronto are all abuzz as the first few reviews of Mao’s Last Dancer trickle in.  I don’t think it’s debuted in Oz and Kiwiland yet, but a few of my Aussie acquaintances are talking about going to the premiere soon, and it makes me green with envy.  Although I knew this movie would be coming soon, I didn’t know there was no US release date set, and if it turns into one of those “select theaters” deals, someone’s going to have a cranky ballet fan on their hands.  This does however give me some time to read the book, although I’m obviously not the only one with that idea since all copies are checked out from my local libraries.  Perhaps they didn’t want it competing with Fame, which I’ll probably go see but inevitably have issues with (the trailers are swarming the tele and Kherington Payne does not appear to be a promising actress).  I’m sure the boys and girls in the editing room and behind the cameras will do an amazing job with improved technology, but it’s as Acosta says in his book…for the privileged, art is somewhat of a hobby, and they don’t understand despair and desperation.  I expect little substance and grit from the actors…but I am going to try my best to reserve judgment until I see it.

I should note that in the original Fame, Antonia Franceschi, who played the prima “Hilary” (and yes that is for sure with one “L” not two) was born in my hometown (woot!).  After watching the original Fame just a few months ago, I wondered what she did afterwards, and she must have had a wonderful career since she danced with NYCB for twelve years.  Apparently she now works in London, doing various dance things and there is one lone video of her work on YouTube.  It’s moderny and reminds me of ink…a neat video dance.

PS.  Since I can’t get a copy of Mao’s Last Dancer yet, next on the reading queue is John Gruen’s People Who Dance, which chronicles the (short) stories of twenty-two famous dancers.

PSS. I missed my Monday deadline and now my calendar is all wonky.  Upsetting.

Thinking about following New York City Ballet to Tokyo? More almost helpful travel tips

9 Sep

As I sit here anxiously waiting for the season premiere of Glee (and dreading, thus avoiding the premiere of SYTYCD), it looks like ballet companies are continuing with Asian fever, as NYCB will be heading to Tokyo in October to present a bunch of stuff.  I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing NYCB live, and although this needs to change someday it’s fair enough to say that a plane ticket to Tokyo is a LOT more than a ticket to New York.  Anyway, they’re presenting three different programs:

Program A:

  • Serenade – haven’t seen it, bitter about that
  • Agon – seen it on video
  • Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux – saw like a minute of it in The Turning Point
  • West Side Story Suite – seen the movie dance, but not this version

Program B:

  • Concerto DSCH – never seen it
  • Barber Violin Concerto – never seen it
  • Tarantella – saw it on YouTube before the Balanchine Trust got to it
  • Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto no.2 – never seen it

Program C:

  • Walpurgisnacht Ballet – never seen it (apparently, this one is replacing Grazioso)
  • After the Rain – never seen it
  • Dances at a Gathering – never seen it
  • Symphony in Three Movements – never seen it

So if I were me (and I am) and had to choose one night to go, it would probably be Program B.  I don’t really know why, since Program C contains all works I’ve never seen, but the music for Program B seems to be the best suited for my tastes (Barber, Tchaikovsky, Gottschalk and Shostakovich makes for a good night!).  Not that any of this matters since I won’t be going anyway…so on to something more useful.

As I did when I heard ABT and SFBallet were going to China (read that entry here), I shall now write some slightly more useful than useless travel tips for going to Tokyo.  I actually spent a year living in Tokyo and I ADORE the city.  Whereas China is a country of fast paced hustle and bustle, Tokyo is laid back.  My kind of place…most of the time.  There are of course things that drive me crazy, in particular many may notice the snail pace at which Japanese people walk.  They take these itty-bitty steps and kind of mosey along, never in a hurry to get anywhere.  Which is fine and dandy since I consider myself to be on the slow side, but people in Tokyo are fifty times even slower than I am.  You see, the people of Japan love all things cute and for some bizarre reason, walking pigeon-toed is part of that aesthetic (why Fosse isn’t more popular over there, I’ll never understand), hooking an umbrella on one elbow and a huge unwieldy purse on the other.  As we all know, walking pigeon-toed is highly impractical and will drag a gait down to a laborious shuffle.  And when you have legions of these pigeon-toed walkers, a five minute walk to the closest train station becomes a trek where you are forced to hobble with the herd.

However, on the topic of public transportation, the trains are A+ in Tokyo.  It does take some time to get used to though, because the train map is considerably complex, and one must also take into consideration that the train lines lay on top of the subway lines, which have their own separate map.  Navigating the maps can prove to be difficult, although in my opinion navigating the stations themselves is worse.  Tokyo station is this massive who-knows-how-many-floors subterranean fortress, but luckily you probably won’t go there.  Now Shinjuku on the other hand, is a nightmare.  When I first arrived in Japan I had to go to Shinjuku many times for foreigner registration and stuff, or even just hanging out because there’s a lot to do there, and I would get lost every single time and sob hysterically to confused policemen as I tried to ask for directions.  Shinjuku and I have a better relationship now, but it is one that has had its fair share of trials and tribulations.  Needless to say, when you become comfortable with the trains in Tokyo, you’ll feel like you’ve accomplished something in life. 

Night view of Tokyo from Sunshine City Observation Deck.  I'm really proud of this picture, so mock it and I'll pull your hair.

Night view of Tokyo from Sunshine City Observation Deck. I'm really proud of this picture, so mock it and I'll pull your hair.

 (P.S. All pictures in this entry were taken by yours truly!)

As for some of the major tourist attractions in Tokyo, don’t bother with Tokyo Disney.  If you’ve ever been to a Disney theme park before, they’re all practically the same.  The only differences are that Tokyo Disney has a different arrangement of rides compared to the other parks.  There is a park exclusive to Tokyo, which is Disney Sea, and at first I thought people were saying Disney C, which made no sense, but eventually I figured out the land and sea connection.  My stupidity aside, Disney Sea has some unique features but nothing to write home about.  The nice thing about the Tokyo Disney parks is that they’re VERY clean and well maintained, as is all of Japan.  In fact, walking around in public, it is extremely rare to see a trash can (there are recycling bins for plastic bottles though).  Any trash you create, you must carry with you until the opportunity to dispose of it presents itself, so keep this in mind as traverse the streets of Japan.  My last thought on the Tokyo Disney parks however, is to let it be known that if you go as a couple, even if you’re just platonic friends, Japanese people will assume you’re on a date, because Disney is apparently a place to date.  Me and my quasi-wife Erina had no idea, and after our excursion all of our friends kept telling us they didn’t know we were dating.  Neither did we.

Welcome to Aggrabah...city of mystery...

Welcome to Aggrabah...city of mystery...

Anyway, there’s also Tokyo Tower, which has some great views, but there’s really nothing else to do in the area.  Despite the fact that it is indeed taller than the Eiffel Tower, it doesn’t stand out amongst the skyscrapers.  The Imperial Palace is somewhat close, but that’s off limits to the public, so you can only admire it from afar (And should you choose that adventure there is nothing else to do in that parking lot).  So neither are really on top of the list of my recommendations, but if you want a “traditional Japan” fix and don’t have the funds to take a bullet train to Kyoto, Asakusa right in Tokyo is the place to go.  ‘Tis a temple with a lot of traditional shops, snacks, and things to see and do.  Blow smoke in your face, tie a prayer thingie to a tree, that kind of stuff.

Asakusa...this is the postcard shot EVERYONE takes.  The lone white person is my friend.

Asakusa...this is the postcard shot EVERYONE takes. The lone white person is my friend.

This is all you can see of the palace.  Now you don't have to bother with going.

This is all you can see of the palace. Now you don't have to bother with going.

FOOD.  Food is the best thing about Tokyo, and there are many goods to be had.  Here are some of my favorites:

Okonomiyaki – a pancake-ish thing that has cabbage, meat, and all kinds of different things in it.  The rough translation of okonomiyaki means “cooked to your liking” so whatever toppings you want in it you get.  Then you shmear it with the tastiest Japanese-ified Worcester sauce and Japanese mayonnaise, sprinkle it with dried bonito flakes and dust it with seaweed (nori).  Sounds crazy, but we LOVE it, and most of the time you’ll cook it at the table with friends.  It’s a good “gab over dinner” type of food, and my favorite restaurant for this in Tokyo is called Sakuratei, hidden in the heart of the fashionable Harajuku district.

Okonomiyaki – a pancake-ish thing that has cabbage, meat, and all kinds of different things in it. The rough translation of okonomiyaki means “cooked to your liking” so whatever toppings you want in it you get. Then you shmear it with the tastiest Japanese-ified Worcester sauce and Japanese mayonnaise, sprinkle it with dried bonito flakes and dust it with seaweed (nori). Sounds crazy, but we LOVE it, and most of the time you’ll cook it at the table with friends. It’s a good “gab over dinner” type of food, and my favorite restaurant for this in Tokyo is called Sakuratei, hidden in the heart of the fashionable Harajuku district.

Sushi, although more specifically kaitenzushi.  “Kaiten” means rotating, and “sushi” changes to “zushi” when in a compound word.  Don’t bother with fancy shmancy sushi places, because kaiten is the way to go.  It’s cheap, it’s fresh, and it’s absolutely more fun to do.  You get charged by the plate, and the color of the plate will indicate the price.  You can also order more of something you liked, although a word of caution…you see, my voice is kind of week and doesn’t carry well so I’m used to people not being able to hear me, and so one time I kept ordering hamachi (yellowtail) thinking the chefs couldn’t hear me, but the next thing I know and twenty plates of hamachi are coming down the belt.  Oops.

Sushi, although more specifically kaitenzushi. “Kaiten” means rotating, and “sushi” changes to “zushi” when in a compound word. Don’t bother with fancy shmancy sushi places, because kaiten is the way to go. It’s cheap, it’s fresh, and it’s absolutely more fun to do. You get charged by the plate, and the color of the plate will indicate the price. You can also order more of something you liked, although a word of caution…you see, my voice is kind of weak and doesn’t carry well so I’m used to people not being able to hear me, and so one time I kept ordering hamachi (yellowtail) thinking the chefs couldn’t hear me, but the next thing I know and twenty plates of hamachi are coming down the belt. Oops.

Yakitori, which means “cooked bird” and it’s mostly chicken, but not always.  There’s asparagus, meatballs, even cheese wrapped in bacon, and it is UTTERLY delicious and probably my favorite thing to eat in Japan.  Observe friend Nanna here, enjoying a yakitori of some kind…in response to this picture she said “You know I’m a lady, I like my meat.”

Yakitori, which means “cooked bird” and it’s mostly chicken, but not always. There’s asparagus, meatballs, even cheese wrapped in bacon, and it is UTTERLY delicious and probably my favorite thing to eat in Japan. Observe friend Nanna here, enjoying a yakitori of some kind…in response to this picture she said “You know I’m a lady, I like my meat.”

Shabu-shabu!  Fun to say and delicious to eat.  The Japanese equivalent of Chinese hotpot, except I never got sick eating shabu-shabu.  The broth is different, and you get all kinds of different vegetables like daikon radish and enoki mushrooms, and thinly sliced beef.  You also get an assortment of tasty dipping sauces to enhance your dining experience.

Shabu-shabu! Fun to say and delicious to eat. The Japanese equivalent of Chinese hotpot, except I never got sick eating shabu-shabu. The broth is different, and you get all kinds of different vegetables like daikon radish and enoki mushrooms, and thinly sliced beef. You also get an assortment of tasty dipping sauces to enhance your dining experience.

Indian food.  One of my favorite things about Tokyo is the abundance of Indian restaurants.  This is where Indian Friday began its glorious tradition.  I recommend going for lunch because that’s when they usually offer all you can eat naan.

Indian food. One of my favorite things about Tokyo is the abundance of Indian restaurants. This is where Indian Friday began its glorious tradition. I recommend going for lunch because that’s when they usually offer all you can eat naan.

 Not pictured is yakiniku, or “grilled meat” which is actually Korean if I do say so myself.  It’s mostly beef, marinated in a SEKRET sauce, and you grill it yourself at your table.  Shin-okubo is the Koreatown of Tokyo, and although you may get approached by missionaries, it is the place to go for good old fashioned yakiniku.  Oftentimes lunch specials will be all you can eat as well!

To go with food, you must also drink.  Vending machines are everywhere, and as I said before recycling bins for plastic bottles are the only form of waste receptacle you will find in public.  Japan is not really a place for 100% juice, and what you’ll often find are 2% juice + flavored sugar water drinks, so I would stick with tea if you’re looking for refreshment.  As for nighttime activities there are many izakayas (kind of like a sit-down bar…literally, you sit on the floor) which is great for a group of friends looking for drinks and eats.  Also plenty of bars everywhere, as the Japanese do like their alcohol, as evidenced by the abundance of alcohol in every convenience store.  If you’re looking to extend your nighttime activities into the wee hours and do some dancing, Shibuya station will be the starting point of your journey, as all the good clubs and bars are around there (don’t bother with Roppongi…it’s snobby and expensive).  No need to worry about the walk of shame either…Japan is an INCREDIBLY safe country (no guns) and even women can walk around by themselves at night and not have to worry.  In fact, many intoxicateers will simply sleep outside of train stations to wait for the first morning train, and are never bothered (My friends and I would actually find a 24 hour McDonalds and get a cheeseburger or five).

Friends at an izakaya.

Friends at an izakaya.

A night under the stars in Tokyo.  Don't worry, they were there before our dinner and after.  I told you Tokyo is perfectly safe!

A night under the stars in Tokyo. Don't worry, they were there before our dinner and after. I told you Tokyo is perfectly safe!

As for shopping…lots to buy!  Harajuku is the fashion district, a labyrinth of clothing shops and crepe stands.  Crepes are actually the only food you will ever see Japanese people eat in public, while walking.  In Japanese culture, eating while walking in public is simply not done…you should always sit down.  But with crepes, it’s perfectly acceptable and you can choose a more savory crepe with a hot dog or tuna salad inside of it, or a sweet one with ice cream or custard topped with syrup, fruit, or nuts (mine was always strawberries with vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup.  I know…boring.).  I always enjoy a good trip to Harajuku and you’ll see some “interesting” characters dressed in strange garb…I don’t even know how to describe them, and unfortunately I have no pictures, but people watching is a cherished pastime while travelling these streets.

If you’re looking for more high end shopping, try Ginza.  Japan is known for its pearl industry, more specifically the Mikimoto brand.  Lucky for you, I once watched an entire 20/20 special (or something like that) on Mikimoto pearls and their grading system.   Their finest pearls are graded as a triple “AAA,” and are white with a slight rose finish to the iridescent luster.  Pearls of course come in various colors, and Mikimoto has a fine selection of white, champagne, pink and probably black as well, but if you’re in the market for black pearls the best hail from Tahiti (don’t ask me why I know that).  Fascinated by the Mikimoto brand, my friend Liz and I would peruse the display cases and of course I took a few photos (with their permission of course!  Although the store clerks happily obliged, I could sense the confusion in their replies).  We even asked if Liz could try on one of the necklaces and I snapped a photo of that too.  But check these puppies out:

Over $10,000 on the left and a cold 5 on the right

Over $10,000 on the left and a cold 5 on the right

And of course there are all the “cute” things in Japanland, home of Hello Kitty.  My friend Liz here stands in a little shop, next to a display of hand towels, each from a different city in Japan.  Japan is very into things that are exclusive to various regions, like certain fruits or cuisine.  The best part about going to Tokyo is that you don’t have to go to all of the other cities to try “Hokkaido special melons,” “Nagoya special misokatsu,” “Nakatsugawa sweet marron,” “Okinawa pineapple,” etc. because pretty much all of it is available in Tokyo.  So try some green tea chocolate from Kyoto or an Osaka style okonomiyaki and buy yourself some souvenirs that are supposedly exclusive to these regions.  Who’s to be the wiser?  (Besides me)

Hellooooooooooo kitty!  (and beware of stray cats in Japan...they yowl and have gang wars and fight crows.  I wish I were kidding)

Hellooooooooooo kitty! (and beware of stray cats in Japan...they yowl and have gang wars and fight crows. I wish I were kidding)

Unfortunately, NYCB will be in Tokyo in October, and Japan’s iconic cherry blossom festival is in early spring.  But October is a great time to see the leaves changing colors, which you can see at Japanese gardens or take a train ride an hour or two out into the mountains for actual wilderness.  In my first Japanese culture class, my professor told me that in Japanese gardens the keepers will often rake up the leaves, select a few choice ones and “scatter them with intent” so that the garden still maintains some sense of naturalness.  Although judging by the effort, it just seems tedious to me.  Anyway, because chances are you won’t be in Japan this coming spring, I don’t mind sharing a couple of my cherry blossom (sakura) photos with you.

Shinjuku Park, Tokyo

Shinjuku Park, Tokyo

Ueno Park, Tokyo

Ueno Park, Tokyo

And last but not least, I shall tell you about my FAVORITE thing to do in Japan, which is purikura (short for “print club,” with a Japanese accent).  They’re like photo booths and you can find them at arcades and “UFO Catcher” places (the Japanese equivalent of claw machines where you can catch stuffed animals and plush toys), but are infinitely superior in every single way.  It’s an actual experience…there’s better lighting, different backgrounds, sometimes a “blue screen” like a movie, and other camera effects.  After the pictures are taken, you go around to the side of the machine where your pictures will pop up on a screen and you can use a touch screen to select the pictures you want, write things in, add borders and various stamps, make them glittery etc.  Then the machine prints out a sheet of your artwork with an adhesive backing for you, and the Japanese are always sure to have a table nearby with a pair of scissors so you can cut the pictures apart and share your sticker pictures with friends.  I was (still am) OBSESSED with doing this.  It’s super fun and cheap entertainment (400 yen per shoot).  Although, guys should be aware that groups of men are not allowed in the photo booths by themselves.  Apparently Japan was having problems with perverts taking pictures from underneath girls’ skirts while they were in photo booths, and you know how it goes when it takes only one person to ruin it for everyone else.  So now, men can only enter photo booths if they are with a girl (girls can of course enter by themselves).  Sexist and unfair, but it is what it is.  Besides, if you look like a foreigner, you can pretend that you can’t read, go in and get away with it anyway.  Regardless, we’re talking some high tech stuff here…you can even have the machine e-mail the pictures to a Japanese mobile phone, which I did and now share with you:

Work it work it!     Good times...

In short (or not), I love Tokyo, miss it very much and could go on and on but won’t (I didn’t even begin to talk about the bakeries!).  Instead, I shall leave you with a picture that I took at the Nagoya Aquarium for your amusement.  Plus Glee is starting and I need to wrap this up!

I want one.

I want one.