Tag Archives: stephen colbert

GraHam it up

7 Nov

Boy did I have a busy week!  I attended two very different dance shows and wrote reviews for SeattleDances, which I encourage you to read…because if I didn’t then that would mean I had no faith in my own writing (and I’m pretty sure I’m well on my way to having it).  The first of those reviews was of the Martha Graham Dance Company, of which I have a few “funny me” thoughts I would like to share (link for the entire review at SeattleDances).

Prior to the show, my experiences with Martha Graham were very basic, merely scratching the surface by means of a couple of dance history and technique classes.  I watched Lamentation and Night Journey on film and once had a teacher who taught some morsels of Graham technique in an intermediate modern class, like contractions, triplets…that sort of thing.  So I had some ideas going in as to what to expect, but at the same time my perspective on dance has broadened so much over the past couple of years I knew my reaction to Graham now and especially live, would differ greatly.  This is something I love about being a patron of the arts and balletomane (or in this case, modernomane?)…we’re constantly reevaluating ourselves and get a real sense of how we’ve changed and the progress we’ve made in expanding our horizons.  Fortune cookie wisdom aside, it’s just plain neat.

Back when I was fresh to dance I think my reaction to Graham was unsure and a bit confused and fascinated at the same time.  While watching her company in action the other day, I felt more in tune with how powerful her choreography is.  It was interesting to see the influences upon her and those she passed on, not only upon the choreographers who created the Lamentation Variations, but I even found myself thinking about seeing her in other choreographers’ work (like Balanchine!).  However, speaking of Lamentation Variations, one of said variations was choreographed by dance artist, Richard Move.  When I read his name in the program, I knew exactly where I had seen his name before and almost refused to believe that he and the name in my memory are in fact the same person, but when artistic director Janet Eilber mentioned that Graham had a fantastic sense of humor, I realized it was possible that the idea of not taking oneself too seriously is also a part of her legacy (more on this later).  As a matter of fact, Richard Move is apparently quite the well-known Martha Graham impersonator, to the extent that lawyers of the company even sent him cease and desist letters…but this is not how I had heard of him.  It just so happens that his choreography has been posted in this blog before, as he did the choreography for one of my favorite movies, Strangers with Candy, starring Amy Sedaris, Stephen Colbert and Paul Dinello.  Take a gander:

(I’m not going to bother explaining the premises of the film…you really just have to see it.  Would “yes, she’s a forty-something ex-junkie, wearing a googly eye on her forehead, a fat suit, and they made a battery powered by poop for a state science fair in a racist, quasi-Indonesian presentation” make sense to you?  I didn’t think so)

It’s true…the same guy that did one of the Lamentation Variations, as part of a tribute to mother of modern dance Martha Graham, a piece that was performed on the anniversary of 9/11, also choreographed the above.  Talk about the odd jobs!

However, as I said, Graham actually did have a wonderful sense of humor and wasn’t afraid to mock her own work.  Needless to say, her piece Maple Leaf Rag was my favorite of the evening is now one of my favorite dances of all time.  She revealed a side of herself in that piece that no one would expect, but like Move (or rather the other way around), people are full of surprises and despite our natural tendencies or signature characteristics, everybody experiences a full spectrum of emotion; Graham doing something lighthearted and comical shouldn’t come as a surprise.  What I loved most about this piece was that I could really see myself in it—not that I could do all the movements, mind you—but I actually listen to Scott Joplin rags on my iPod all the time, and love to just be a dancing fool when they come on.  I already described some of the funnier moments in my review, like the crawling along the bar or the woman who does the same phrase across the stage over and over…it’s hard to describe what exactly she was doing not because the movement was complicated but because words truly can’t capture the full effect.  Luckily, there is some footage of Maple Leaf Rag on YouTube, as a part of an interview with Blakeley White-McGuire, who also danced the lead when I saw it.  You can see the specific dancer I’m talking about at 0:40 and 3:50, drifting across the stage like some obtuse jellyfish.

Now imagine her doing that a few more times for good measure and you can begin to understand the humor.  Unfortunately, there is no commercial recording of Maple Leaf Rag available which is a shame because the piece needs to be seen in its entirety needs to be believed (as do the abs of some of the dancers…EGADS!  Let it be known that the Martha Graham Dance Company has some of the most ripped dancers I’ve ever seen in my entire life!).

Well, that just about wraps it up for some insights on Graham, YouDanceFunny style…so I shall give a little prelude as to what’s to come in the near to immediate future.  I’m going to unwisely devote most entries this month to Swan Lake.  First of all (in case you didn’t know), I’ve never actually watched Swan Lake in full (any production), though I have seen my fair share of Black Swan pas de deux, like you do.  Second, I need to know why women in particular are nuttercrackers for this ballet, so that’s my angle in all of this research…extracting the “feminine mystique” by diving head first into the lake of swans.  So I’ve basically hoarded all of the Swan Lake DVDs the library had to offer, might be able to see a few more online and I am ready to bunker down and get to business.  There may be an unrelated post here and there (Pacific Northwest Ballet is doing their run of their Twyla Tharp program and my ticket is for this weekend so a review is to be expected!) but November shall be indeed Swan Lake month.  I’m actually thinking this is a horrible idea, but it’s too late—promises have been made and discipline must be exercised.  Come December, I better have earned my balletomane stripes for taking this project on.

Amy Sedaris can tap…can you?

31 Jul

“Wonky…that’s French.”

-Karen Eliot

I know ballet is all for increasing range of motion, but as someone who started as an adult and is trying to simultaneously increase RoM as well as build strength, it can be really annoying.  I’ve been working on stretching my hip flexors more, after I found a really good tip in an article for equestrian riders.  As dance people know, sitting tightens your hip flexors, and riders do a lot of sitting, so they need to stretch in order to avoid the laundry list of back problems, hip, knee and foot problems that can happen as a result (reason #56932 to treat your hip flexors well…not just for a pretty arabesque!).  We all know that lunges help, but what the article stressed was really engaging your abdominals while stretching (oops), slightly turning in the leg behind you (double oops), squatting further down on the leg in front to increase the stretch and not by arching the back (triple oops) and raising the same arm of the leg behind you in order to increase the stretch through the side of your back (oops²).  After a few weeks of doing this at barre while the teacher demonstrates, after long periods of sitting and whenever I’m warm, I think it’s made a visible difference.

The thing is though, anytime you increase flexibility your body has more to work with and has to reorganize itself.  The process of finding that all over again is a beastly one.  Today the disease manifested itself in wonky pirouettes, which for the first couple of months in the summer had been going really well…I wasn’t too forceful with singles and doubles were getting cleaner.  But NOW…even trying to demi-plié in fourth for the preparation isn’t working.  It doesn’t feel right anymore…and forget about grande plié in fourth (but really, does that EVER feel right?).  This whole ordeal has been making me feel really nervous about pirouetting at barre especially, and today I managed it on the right side (weird) but my typically better left side was an epic fail.  Plus I smacked my fingers on the barre a couple of times, and of course it was at one of the metal center barres which are even more unforgiving than the wooden ones.  The second time I bludgeoned my pinky, I somehow managed to jerk it backwards and smack my elbow on the barre too.  That takes a special talent.

Speaking of special talents, I would like to take the time to highlight one of the goddesses in my pantheon, the specially talented comedienne/actress/entertainer/author, Amy Sedaris.  For whatever, reason, I have a fondness for short, funny women.  A good number of my closest friends are short women, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that I fancy the likes of an Amy Sedaris or a Kristin Chenoweth (who has a maltese named Madeline Kahn Chenoweth and I too once had a maltese not to mention Clue is only one of my all time favorite movies EVER…oh divine Ms. Chenoweth).  Anyway, Amy’s book, I Like You, is practically my bible; I adore her ridiculously senseless sense of humor, baking without perfection and makeshift crafts.  Now, she recently had a role in that movie Dance Flick, which despite my obsession with Amy, I probably won’t go see because I don’t do those parody movies, but she was on Letterman around the time it came out a few months ago, putting hardly any effort into promoting the movie, but what she did reveal was a very special talent for tap dancing. (jump about 4 minutes in if you just want to see the dancing…but feel dirty and ashamed if you do)

It’s like she’s channeling Eleanor Powell.  If you enjoyed Amy’s dancing, then you’ll like watching her perform a traditional Indonesian dance in this clip from the Strangers with Candy movie.

Strangers with Candy also starred Stephen Colbert, who is also a gifted dancer.  Check out his ballotté into a series of double rond de jambe en l’air with a promenade.  That’s some complicated work right there.

And on a completely related note, I’m watching The Soup on E! as I write this and Joel McHale just mocked that banshee Mary Murphy for her shrieking, and called Kayla and Brandon’s disco methamphetamine-inspired.  Oh I love that guy.  And he’s from Mercer Island!

MASSIVE review of “The Turning Point” (1977…before my time)

15 Jul

Another movie review…this time, “The Turning Point” starring Shirley Maclaine, Anne Bancroft, Leslie Brown and Mikhail Baryshnikov.  By the way, I hope these movie reviews aren’t annoying…but please understand two things; number first, I didn’t engage the world of dance until a couple of years ago so all of these movies are still new to me, and second, I currently have waaaaay too much time on my hands and a fantashtik local library with a good (free!) selection.  In addition to “The Company,” I watched “The Red Shoes” a few months ago, and have “White Nights” on reserve.  “The Red Shoes” I don’t think I’ll be doing a review of (for now)…I’ve already forgotten many of the finer details, and I actually found it difficult to follow and really intense.  In other words, I’m pretty sure I’m too dumb to get that movie…but it was an interesting one nonetheless.  The drama and history of the whole Diaghilev and Ballet Russes era is one that I just barely scratched the surface of, and to those well versed in the history, it probably holds more significance (meanwhile, simpletons like me were hoping for a “Wizard of Oz” ballet…I’m an idiot).  However, I am starting to do a little research and such here and there and I really like “The Firebird” (one of my favorite Stravinsky works of all time), although there are parts that remind me of trippy Russian cartoons.  If you’re an Ohio State student and have ever been to Hagerty Hall (which is the foreign language building), the café on the first floor has several television screens that broadcast channels from all over the world, and sometimes there would be these DE-ranged Russian cartoons with lots of swirling colors and monsters that would continually morph into other monsters.  Your guess is as good as mine.

ANYWAY, so back to “The Turning Point,” I was really annoyed by the very first scene in the movie, which features the corps in the Kingdom of the Shades scene from La Bayadère.  It’s the famous moment where the shades are descending the platform contraption in a linear fashion, and pause to hold an arabesque.  I believe it was ABT that did the dance scenes for the movie, and the arabesques from those ladies were a hot mess.  The whole point of the corps, and especially that scene is to have all the arabesques completely identical, creating an illusion of eternity…like if you’re standing in a mirror while holding a mirror you get that infinite tunnel effect.  But some of those ladies were either too indulgent or just went to the arabesque they knew out of habit, and what you get is the same effect that the portrait of Stephen Colbert at the Smithsonian American History Museum produces:

Note sloppy corps...

Note sloppy corps...

But corps aside, I really loved this movie.  No other ballet movie shows so many variations from the big ticket classics, while this one has the aforementioned scene from La Bayadère, the slave Ali variation from Le Corsaire, pas de deux from Sleeping Beauty, pas de deux from Romes & Jules, selected scenes from Swan Lake and Giselle (now I know why Jess had us do 685047880546 entrechat quatre on a diagonal, which seemed like torture at the time), and everyone’s favorite grand pas de deux and coda from Don Quixote.  Baryshnikov, or “Misha” as one should call him in order to appear as though they can mingle with ballet’s most knowledgeable elite, is something else.  A gracious partner, superb technique and an uncanny ability to really connect movements in a phrase rather than a series of steps.  I do think Misha likes to throw his head back just a wee bit too much (some call it expression), and I find his pirouettes to look kind of crazed and almost too tight…he doesn’t exactly make them look easy, even if he is reeling around ten of them.  He’s a little pumpkin dynamo and deserves the praise he gets, but I have a tendency to be less enamored with people who are full of themselves.  For him to be playing the skeezy, womanizing Yuri in Turning Point, and many years later to also play a stuck up, arrogant character again on Sex and the City (a show that I feel has set women back 25 years), just makes me feel like his acting had to be drawing on real experiences if you know what I’m sayin.  But I shan’t criticize further…because in the end he is an epic dancer.  I just choose to worship in the church of Acosta (who I believe is substantially taller, making his ability to move with impeccable technique even more impressive to me).

Meanwhile, I have to say that Anne Bancroft played a very convincing withering ballerina.  For someone with no dance background, she certainly picked up on how to carry herself.  11 Oscar nominations for the movie was a little much, but I dig Anne’s portrayal of Emma.  There’s a scene where she even throws a drink on DeeDee (Shirley Maclaine), which was totally improvised so you know Shirley was surprised, and what a genius moment that was.  DeeDee is an obnoxious, whiny character who is always blaming others for her problems, and Maclaine did a great job of making me dislike that character.  But back to Emma, apparently Audrey Hepburn was even offered the role, which she turned down and was quoted as saying that that was the one she regretted not doing.  Sucks to be her…or not.  Anyway, Emma was probably my favorite character, and replace her 3 Yorkshire terriers with malteses, subtract the illustrious ballet career, fabulous New York apartment, and I’m thinking that’s where I may be when I’m in my forties.  I should be so lucky, no?  But muchitos kuditos to her and Shirley…a two “Venga!s” up for the both of them!

Anyway, a definite must watch for all ballet fans, and a particularly good one for non-ballet people too, since it’s a crash course in the classics.  Leslie Browne is an adorable little baby bunny, unseasoned at the time and did well for herself as an actress too.  And how can anyone not like her as a drunken corps member in Giselle? *cough* Gelsey Kirkland *cough*  Or her ridiculous Russian/Soviet persona she assumed in the bar to get drunk in the first place?  Clearly, she and Nikolai Alexander Vladimirovicherov could have an interesting conversation or two over vodka and caviar.  Like some of my favorites from the movie:

Favorite performance:

Lucette Aldous (Australian Ballet principal dancer) as Odile in the Black Swan pas de deux.  Totally sinister and saucy.

Favorite quote:

Michael: Little Arnold’s ambivalence is showing…

Arnold: Don’t get bitchy, Michael.

Michael: I’m not referring to your sex life.

PS. Michael is loosely based on Jerome Robbins.  Stephen Sondheim once said that the 2 things Leonard Bernstein feared were God and Jerome Robbins. ::snicker::

Other favorite quote:

Emilia: What happened between you and Michael?

Emma: Oh…um, priorities.

Emilia: Oh.  He liked boys better than girls.

So brilliant, so fabulous.  And to conclude this marathon entry, I leave you with the funniest pictures I could find that had anything to do with this movie…(actually, the only pictures I could find)

Director Herbert Ross joins in on the fun.

Director Herbert Ross joins in on the fun.

Courtesy of www.sleeveface.com.   Be sure to check out their site for more hilarious sleevefacing.

Courtesy of http://www.sleeveface.com. Be sure to check out their site for more hilarious sleevefacing.

And a quick note to my readers…I see that I’ve had a reader in Brazil!  Youdancefunny has officially reached its third continent, and I feel crazy honored.  So thank you ALL for reading, and I hope my blogging efforts are entertaining for you.  Feel free to complain or slap me if they aren’t.