Tag Archives: obnoxious children

Divertigo: acute confusional state caused by random dances

18 Sep

Well I’m baffled.  I just finished watching Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, an endeavor I assumed would not end well.  I can’t say that it didn’t but I can say it did.  Not.  I am so confused right now I can barely process my thoughts on this particular ballet.  I shall call this phenomenon of befuddlement divertigo, short for “divertissement vertigo.”

The production I chose to view (and by chose what I really mean is the only one I could find online) is the La Scala production starring Italian superstars Alessandra Ferri as Titania and Roberto Bolle as Oberon.  Hark, see a Balanchine ballet on the internet did I?  Absolutely…for you see, as nutty as China can be (trust me, I’ve been there) they have this wonderful ignorance towards American copyright laws, thus rendering the “you know who” powerless.  I really shouldn’t delight in fueling the flames, but I’m in an odd, semi-impetuous mood—let’s blame the divertigo.  Here are the links (in six parts) for the entire ballet (and let’s hope the links last)…however, just because I’m sharing the links at this point, that doesn’t mean you can stop reading this entry.  Doing so will incur my wrath and I shall become as ornery as Oberon.

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6

Now I have a special affection for Frederick Ashton’s The Dream and obviously I expected numerous differences with Balanchine’s version of Shakespeare’s tale.  I don’t believe I’ve ever seen any of the few story ballets there are by Balanchine and honestly, I had my doubts because the pieces I like most by him are pure dance, with no story attached.  Not to mention it’s quite difficult to go up against Ashton in my mind…his works are generally the trump card as far as I’m concerned but I have to at least attempt to be open-minded.  Attempted I did; changed my mind I did not and The Dream still holds it’s special place on the mantelpiece of my heart.  However, I’d like to take this opportunity to reiterate that when patrons of the arts feel something is “better” or the “best interpretation thereof,” we say so as a matter of opinion while always knowing there’s no such thing as “winners” when it comes to the arts.  My judgment of these ballets isn’t in terms of number one and number two, but rather strawberry and blueberry.

There were moments in A Midsummer Night’s Dream that I absolutely adored.  In a rare moment of sappiness, I actually found the children in the production not so…irritating.  Normally, because I’m crotchety and old at heart, I have an aversion for whippersnappers in ballets.  However, Balanchine actually gave them substantial choreography that truly makes sense, as opposed to having them on stage just for the sake of having a horde of tiny little bodies to garner the “aw, how cute!” reaction from the audience.  Newsflash: it’s not cute and I paid to see professional dancers, which is generally what I want to see…but even my cold dead heart warmed to them a little and didn’t mind them so much.

Meanwhile, I was intrigued by some of the choices Balanchine made, such as the inclusion of additional characters like Hippolyta and Theseus.  I am all for fleshing out the story, however I didn’t feel Hippolyta and Theseus added any dimension to the story and it made me understand why Sir Fred edited them out—in the end their presence contributed nothing compelling.  Balanchine took a number of liberties though because he added a few more significant roles like Titania’s cavalier and a random couple who dances in the massive wedding celebration that is the second act.  Unfortunately, the more I watched of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the more poorly…“edited” I felt it was.  I was definitely making that pensive Tim Gunn face, you know, with his hand on his chin at several points during the ballet.  The first act is BRILLIANT.  I absolutely loved it, and wasn’t bothered by the transparency of the aforementioned additional roles.  I was enjoying the more dramatic approach (as opposed to a more comical by Ashton), as Lysander/Hermia/Demetrius/Helena had much more forceful, almost violent choreography.  At one point during their confused tryst, Helena is thrown into these huge penchées and it’s one of those moments where instead of thinking “wow” I was only thinking “ow.”  Regardless, I liked the more mature tension between those characters.

Unfortunately, the whole second act killed the mood.  I don’t know if this is always done, but La Scala did a curtain call after Act I, which I found odd and somewhat interruptive, which kind of exacerbated the discontinuity of the second act.  Act II is a divertissement wedding celebration and nothing else, with a meaty pas de deux being performed by two dancers you basically see nowhere else in the ballet.  I couldn’t wrap my head around this and in fact the whole ending is so signature Balanchine…and actually, too much.  Balanchine is known for these flashy endings like in Theme and Variations or Symphony in C, where there are a ton of dancers on stage doing big movements in unison and that’s what I kept seeing the whole time; it literally felt like the first act was A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the second half was a completely different ballet in a mixed bill.  Hippolyta/Theseus, Hermia/Lysander and Helena/Demetrius change into tutus and more classical attire and are almost unrecognizable.  I suppose it’s their big hoopla wedding and all but as if divertissements didn’t make me grouchy enough this one had to come along and sever the continuity of the story (especially when the random couple does the most important pas de deux.  What?!).  Then randomly, Titania and Oberon with their swarms of insects come back for like the last ten minutes for who knows what reason, and Puck steals the show when he’s air lifted by pretty vines, fireflies hovering in the background.

So I definitely have mixed feelings…it IS a lovely ballet and in some ways exceeded my expectations but then crashed and burned in the second act.  It would have been much nicer (in my humble opinion) if like Ashton, Balanchine went with just one act and omitted the wedding altogether.  Like there was a moment in the first act, where the butterflies are just bourée-ing, gently waving their arms up and down, which actually made their wings quiver a little and I thought it was stunning—so simple and so perfect…but I’m left with the bad aftertaste of a “Symphony in C but NOT” ending that I wasn’t all that enthralled by.

I did however enjoy Roberto Bolle in this role quite a bit.  I felt Ashton’s Oberon is a bit more mischievous, but I felt Balanchine choreographed Oberon to be less bratty and more menacing.  It’s funny because one of the comments on the video is “我也不喜欢Bolle非常木” and dusting off my Chinese I read this as “I don’t like Bolle, he’s very tree” which is a literal translation, but after more intelligent consideration I realized it probably means something like he’s “wooden” or “stiff.”  I didn’t agree with this at all though because I loved him in this role.  A few videos I’ve seen of Bolle had me questioning a few things…perhaps attentiveness in partnering (I remember a couple of videos where he nearly drops his partner) but he was wonderful to Ferri.  She of course is stunning and it drives me batty that she can fall asleep as Titania with her feet so perfectly crossed without even trying…but she is a master at being expressive with those heinously amazing feet and deserves all the praise she gets.

I don’t know…I may have more thoughts on this ballet for another day (like Puck’s choreography…lots of running, lots of cardio) but alas, the divertigo is getting worse.  My world is spinning!

the cute sylphide…NOT

6 Oct

So I was trying to tidy up my side bar a bit, trying a few different widgets or whatever and a friend of mine told me about Google Friend Connect, which I thought might be interesting to play around with.  So I tried to mess around with it, only to find out that it doesn’t work if your blog is hosted on WordPress, so until they come up with a specific widget for it, it’s a no go.  Good thing I figured that out AFTER an hour of going cross-eyed trying to make it work, and smacking my head on the coffee table out of frustration.  I basically accomplished…nothing.  But the experience did make me wonder if there was anything I could do to make my blog more reader friendly.  For example, if I should add an RSS feed button thingie to the side bar (even though I believe they’re at the bottom of the blog) to make my blog for accessible.  I’ve steered clear of doing that, because I don’t really know how exactly RSS feeds work.  Anyway, suggestions are always welcome, not only on technical crap, but topics you’d like to see, dances to be reviewed, anything and everything is fair game.  I like change and could use some inspiration!

So I was looking for something on my computer, but I forget what…and happened upon something I consider to be the most horrifyingly humiliating thing I’ve ever written.  Now I can’t remember if I first saw The Nutcracker in high school or college, but regardless of whether I did or not, nobody should EVER count The Nutcracker as the first classical ballet work they ever saw.  One should always casually shrug it off, and either omit it in conversation, or if it’s the only ballet you’ve ever seen, phrase it in a way that makes it seem unimportant to you, like “well, I saw The Nutcracker when I was little…but, you know.”  This is how you can instantly gain respect from dancers and seasoned ballet fans, and come across as someone with a deeper interest in ballet than one who attends the famous “cash cow.”  I don’t have a problem with people going to see The Nutcracker, but to me, it’s a Christmas ritual, and kind of not a ballet.  Plus, there are too many children.

What was I talking about?  Oh yes, my heinous, dark secret.  Although Romeo & Juliet was the first full length classical work I ever saw (performed by BalletMet in the spring of 2008), my very first experience watching live, classical ballet was at Ohio State, when I saw Jessica Zeller perform an excerpt from Les Sylphides and part of the pas de deux from Giselle, partnered by Rodney Veal.  Ohio State’s Sullivant Hall is a small theater, and I sat pretty close to the stage, so it was also the first time I really got to see someone dancing en pointe in detail.  Now I was taking many classes at the time, and all I know is that A teacher for A jazz(?) class (Dance 201.03) had us write performance response papers, and because the performance was an amalgamation of different works, she said we could select a specific piece and I chose the ones that moved me the most, which obviously, were the ballets.  So I wrote the required, double spaced one page response and THAT, my dear friends, was the FIRST thing I ever wrote about ballet as an audience member (other teachers, including Yen Fang who showed me Remanso, only had us write journals).  So I unearthed this ghastly artifact, and could barely bring myself to read it.  I think Jessica herself once said that there’s a picture of her doing a pique into arabesque on a completely parallel leg and how it’s so horrifying, and that’s what I liken this paper to.  I’m probably building this paper up to be worse than it actually is, but it’s like looking at baby pictures.  You know the feeling.

So here it is…my first response to classical ballet:

It’s all in the Face

            Viewing live ballet is actually a fairly new experience for me, so I was excited to see Jessica Zeller perform excerpts from Giselle (after Petipa, Coralli and Perrot) and Les Sylphides (after Michael Fokine) as two of the works of mélange, at Sullivant Hall Theatre on February 9th, 2008.  When Les Sylphides began I was immediately drawn to her face, in which she wore an intensely concentrated yet delicate expression.  I was fortunate enough to be sitting very close to the stage, which gave me a new appreciation for dancers who dance on pointe.  I really saw her feet and ankles working, and it just baffles my mind that the body can even be supported on such minimal contact with the floor.  Her dancing itself epitomized elegance, and her height gave the dance a “cute” feel to it, which to me is even more appropriate for how I would imagine a forest sprite, as opposed to a much taller dancer.

            Giselle, in which she was partnered with Rodney Veal, had more of a melancholy atmosphere.  The lighting was dimmed, with a spotlight that represented the moon, so of course in addition to the woefulness, there was also a sense of romance.  Thankfully, the story of Giselle was printed in the program so I did not have too many unanswered questions as to what was going on, and to me, this is one of the biggest reliefs of ballet, the fact that ballet tells a story that is easy to grasp.  As for the dancing, I again found myself gravitating to their faces, taking note of how alive their expressions were.  Technique, lifts, and beautiful extensions were of course lovely, but in many ways my eyes would always follow a line from the face, through the body and outward.  It inspires me to remember how critical maintenance of the visage is to entire character of a performance.

Now, she is indeed short…and she’d be the first to tell you that (she would often say in class that all of our legs were longer than hers so we had no excuse for not travelling through space) but the fact that I called her a “cute sylphide” makes me want to DIE.  Like I couldn’t come up with something vastly more intelligent?!?  <insert *facepalm* here> You don’t recover from that…that’s approaching levels of saying “The Nutcracker is my favorite ballet.”   Now that your impressions of my intelligence have been severely damaged, I shall leave you with a quote from Théophile Gautier, balletomane and writer of the libretto for Giselle, in a desperate attempt to erase the debauchery you have just read:

Nothing is really beautiful unless it is useless; everything useful is ugly, for it expresses a need, and the needs of man are ignoble and disgusting, like his poor and weak nature. The most useful place in the house is the lavatory.

Day 2 of Marden’s Venga! boot camp

17 Jun

So today was supposedly a Beginning/Intermediate class, however it was pretty much exactly the same as yesterday’s Intermediate/Advanced class and he probably isn’t aware that the students might be different or he doesn’t care.  One of the other dancers in the class yesterday mentioned that when she took class with him fall quarter there were no “levels” per se, just “his” class.  Since I was there for the first day it didn’t matter one way or another, so SPLENDID!  Unfair advantage perhaps, but now that my brain is catching up to my body I was able to do the glissade-assemblé-glissade-assemblé-glissade-brisé-brisé-assemblé combination.  This in retrospect (and in writing) isn’t so bad.  I was just rusty, or it’s a sign that I’m getting old.

See, now I always make fun of myself for being “old” at the ripe age of 25 and then when Marden forgets something or makes a mistake he too uses the “I’m old” excuse.  Come to think of it, so does my mother, but as an Asian mother (or as I sometimes refer to them, squirrel burglars, based on their ability to hide your possessions from you) she picks and chooses when to use that as an excuse, and yet she denies any responsibility when I tell her she forgot something, such as the location of one of my belongings she has hidden.  At any rate, Marden even went as far as preempting one of the students and the accompanist who know him well, forbidding them to mention this apparently ghastly number.  Although when he demonstrates a massive tour jeté or a triple pirouette in attitude, I have some serious doubts about his concept of “old.”

I suppose this may have something to do with his lengthy career in dance, because it seems as though dancers are mostly led to believe that their careers will only last for so long.  Obviously it’s true to a certain extent, and I’m guessing the measurement is roughly equivalent to dog years.  After years of training once one turns professional at around 18-20, they have what, 15 or so human years (which is average for a lot of dogs) to dance and then their careers are done?  Although I can’t quite picture myself being a professional, as someone who started in his twenties, that makes me what, dead already?  Just put me doooooown (I jest of course, because for whatever reason, I still find dance worthwhile to do and learn, and if I’m willing to work hard at it, why not?).  Besides dance needs all kinds of students, especially adult students for 3 reasons:

1. More students = more money (and dance needs every penny!)

2. Some children, tweens and teens are brats.

3. The mongrels from #2’s parents are brats.

You’d be surprised how many dance teachers would rather teach adults instead of kids.  Or maybe you wouldn’t.

Today’s Venga!:

So yesterday’s grande allegro consisted of a series of 3 saut de chat, a pique arabesque, followed by two tour jeté, a soutenou and ending with a, surprise, attitude pirouette.  Today’s was mostly the same, but he changed the attitude pirouette to a regular pirouette en dedans.  Surprise!  Except, that turn was followed by a step into a pique attitude turn en dehors…HA!  We venga after all!