Tag Archives: suzanne farrell

PNB’s ‘Balanchine: Then and Now’–what you should also know…

18 Apr

So…moving apartments, a staph infection, and twelve days of work with no day off later, I am back from the dead! Not gonna lie—I think I may have been on the verge of an emotional or physical breakdown at some point so I’m really glad that to be in one piece right now. Anyway, let’s travel back in time two weeks and you may recall (if you’ve been following my updates on Twitter/Facebook) that I attended Pacific Northwest Ballet’s ‘Balanchine: Then and Now’ lecture-demonstration on my birthday which was far and away one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. Gary Tucker, the Media Relations Manager over at PNB didn’t plan on having any press coverage for the event and I had actually intended to go anyway, but he’s always been generous with SeattleDances and provided some tickets in exchange for an article (pretty sure he didn’t even know it was my birthday—he’s just awesome with getting us tickets!). I was more than happy to jump on the opportunity, and it was nice to have a chance to write something for SeattleDances that wasn’t necessarily a review. I tried to approach it more from a historical perspective with the hope of educating readers a little because it was, by far, one of the most interesting presentations of its kind and in a perfect world, anyone who read my article would be more compelled to attend these events in the future.

What was it like, you ask? Well dear friend, you should probably read my SeattleDances article before proceeding further! Now, assuming that you have, let me fill in the details. It has to be said that it’s so fascinating to listen to Francia Russell’s stories about Balanchine, because unlike his muses, Russell seems to have achieved colleague status with him. When she danced for New York City Ballet he used her as his guinea pig, often trying choreography on her, how he was relentless in demanding more, and how as one of his dancers you simply couldn’t refuse him. She even went so far to take Robert Joffrey’s class and then booking it to the School of American Ballet for company class with Balanchine. As if that wasn’t dedication enough she even mentioned how he even taught a three hour class on occasion—THREE HOURS. As exhausting as the mere thought of that is, she did say that there’s a certain gratification that comes with having given something your all (or perhaps, even just surviving such an ordeal). Still, the desire for a life outside of ballet was too great and she retired from dancing fairly early, though Balanchine often tried to lure her back by using her favorite roles in Apollo as bait. She did go back—though not to dance—but rather, to catch the eye of a certain fellow dancer named Kent Stowell (long story short, they eventually married).

Balanchine certainly mentored Russell from then on, sitting right in front of her as she began her career as an educator of ballet, “sniffing” while she taught and lecturing her afterwards about everything she did wrong. It wasn’t all overbearing though and for about a year they were in close quarters, and she recalled him being on the phone once with composer Morton Gould, discussing some things regarding a ballet about birds (unfortunately I can’t remember the specific ballet, but it’s likely that this was The Birds of America, set to Gould’s Audubon. It was intended to be a three-act story ballet involving prominent figures in American history and narrating westward expansion. Lincoln Kirstein wrote the scenario and Balanchine toyed with the project for decades, even while hospitalized before his death).  While speaking with Gould, Balanchine started doodling wings on the rehearsal schedule Russell was working on, in an elaborate rococo sort of design, a little sketch she treasures to this day. She was gracious enough to bring it in for the presentation and having seen it with my own eyes, it’s obviously an interesting insight into Balanchine’s mind, his eye for shapes, patterns, and aesthetics that are applicable to his work as a choreographer, but what is most lovely is how you could tell just from how she held that drawing in its matted frame, that it reminded her of the time they spent together. Balanchine was famous for gifting his favorite ballerinas with perfume, but this sketch is so incidental it’s sentimental value is unique.

I could go on—Russell did bring up “Gisellitis” and how Balanchine hated it more than anything, how despite her love for many Balanchine ballets Liebeslieder Walzer is the one she’d take with her to a deserted island, or even Peter Boal, visiting Balanchine in the hospital and asking him about the third movement of Western Symphony, to which Balanchine told him that the music was horrible and that it should never be seen again (Peter Martins did, however revive it)…but I should talk about the dancing that happened that night. I mentioned in my review the Melancholic solo from The Four Temperaments, how Benjamin Griffiths and Matthew Renko danced two different versions simultaneously (and this was after each of them danced it alone too!), and it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in dance. I suppose this is easily achieved with video, but how often—if ever—do you get to see this kind of thing live, with one pianist providing the music? I wish they could have done more of that kind of visual comparison, but alas, they did not. There was another short excerpt from 4T’s, a couple of steps demonstrated from Apollo (a particular pirouette that apparently everyone hates and also a series of jetés that were changed to grand battements, because well, Suzanne Farrell didn’t like grand jetés), and two different versions of a duet in Agon (apparently Lesley Rausch was messing it up in rehearsal, but then Maria Chapman called it when she said she would be the one to make a mistake in performance…ah the curse of self-fulfilling prophecies!), but the real bread and butter (in addition to the Melancholic solos) was the male solo from Square Dance and the variations and coda from Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux.

Griffiths was called upon again to dance the Square Dance solo, but before I elaborate on that, I have to quickly tell you they showed some footage of the original Square Dance that had hay bales and a caller—if ONLY I could remember some of the rhymes the caller came up with! They were absolutely hysterical. Anyway, Griffiths has a wonderful lyricism, a fantastic line (and he’s short so it’s amazing that he “dances tall”), and I enjoyed a lot of the subtleties he showed. To be honest, the guy really should be made a principal because he dances principal roles like this one, Oberon, Franz, Nutcracker prince (although I’m halfway convinced dancers will get together and fight over Nutcracker, like “You do it!” “No, you do it!” or maybe even use it as a wager in a game of poker), so fingers crossed that happens for him soon because he’s such an accomplished bravura dancer that he’s always called upon to do the hard stuff but doesn’t necessarily get the credit (or the paycheck!).

Now, the moment you’ve (okay I’ve) been waiting for—Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux!!! Have I not expressed my love for Tchai Pas in this blog no less than eighty-five million times? I’ve scoured the internet for videos, done as much amateur research as I can, dedicated posts to it and until this occasion, had never seen even a snippet live. Let me tell you, even in studio, without costumes and a full orchestra, it was everything I had hoped for. I’ve said before that Tchai Pas is like running down a hill and not being able to stop yourself, and quite often when I see it I feel the sensation of flight, and each movement reminds me of a different method of flying. The pas de deux floats and hovers like a cloud, the male variation soars and careens like a kite, the female variation flutters with the zip of a hummingbird, and the coda is a Peregrine falcon diving towards Earth at 322 km per hour. It was so gratifying and so exhilarating to watch, with Griffiths doing the male variation (seriously, three major solos—does that not scream principal dancer?), Rausch in the female variation, and Chapman/Renko in the coda. Griffiths was excellent, and Rausch also superb—I described her performance as having “minimal port de bras in the manner of Violette Verdy” and I’d like to elaborate on this. I’m actually planning yet another Tchai Pas post that discusses how it looks on dancers that come from different schools, but one of my pet peeves is actually how the port de bras, in my humble opinion, is rather overdone. My problem with excessive fluidity in the arms for this particular piece is that it draws attention away from the feet, which musically, is where the emphasis is. I’ll talk about this and more in detail another day, but I loved 98% of the way Rausch danced it, with my only criticism being something that Eric Taub elucidated for me, which is that a great many dancers won’t do a complete series of arabesque en voyagé into an assemblé before the diagonal of pirouettes. Given that Verdy herself can be seen coaching it this way in the documentary Violette et Mr. B., clearly this is something authorized by the Balanchine Trust.

I guess I’ll have to save the rest for that forthcoming Tchai Pas post (because this one is already too long) but one of my favorite parts of the coda, the fouetté series? Chapman didn’t do them a la Farrell, but she did do beautiful coupés that stayed en pointe before each plié, and I wanted to be like “Yeah! Get it girl!” but seeing as how I was one of probably three people under the age of thirty, it probably wouldn’t have been appropriate. I didn’t get a chance in the Q&A to harass Russell about the intricacies of Tchai Pas as I wanted to (mostly out of courtesy towards everyone else there who would’ve been bored to death by such a thorough dissection), though I did ask her about the challenges of staging Balanchine ballets on dancers with vastly different training like the Russian and French schools, and she said she was often met with a lot of resistance. The first staging of Theme and Variations for the Kirov wasn’t pretty—dancers up and walked out of rehearsals. Can you imagine if she had tried to stage one of Balanchine’s more abstract works? It wasn’t until she sat the company down one day just to talk, educating them about who Balanchine was and why he wanted things the way he did, that rehearsals ran smoothly. It just goes to show that understanding a little about who an artist is really matters in interpreting their work, and probably not just as a dancer of it, but even for us as audience members as well.

Meanwhile, I will conclude this post with an update to my SeattleDances review, the tragic news that next season’s ‘All Tchaikovsky’ program has been officially axed since I wrote of it. Like last year’s robbery of Dances at a Gathering as a part of the never realized ‘All Robbins’ program, this year sees an untimely demise for Allegro Brillante and yes, Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux. Oh cruel world, oh PNB! You take as easily as you give, stabbing me in the heart and twisting the knife. Still, I have so much to be thankful for and I feel blessed to have had the birthday that I did. The bitterness won’t last forever…after all, it has to come back into the rep at some point. I’ll be here.

Challenging Changes and Audacious Authenticity

23 Jul

I’ve been reading up on reviews and such for the Bolshoi’s production of Coppélia that is currently showing at the Royal Opera House, which is a new reconstruction from a Stepanov notation score of Petipa’s original.  The Bag Ladies wrote a post that included a link to a fascinating article from The Arts Desk, featuring the man “restoring” Petipa ballets, Sergei Vikharev.  It’s all supremely interesting, but unfortunately wasted on me because most of the Petipa ballets I’ve only seen one or no production of (I can hardly believe this debauchery), let alone be familiar with the details and choreography to know the differences in “after Petipa” versions and any reconstruction (none of which are on film yet anyway).  I hope in depth discussions about Coppélias are taking place in London as we speak, meanwhile I’m going to keep splashing about in the kiddie pool.

What I do take away from the article though is a question of what exactly does authenticity mean to the world of ballet?  Rather than lead you to believe I have some coherent answer stewing in me brains, I’m just going to say up front there really doesn’t seem to be one.  Some ballets do well with change while others simply can’t be touched.  There’s no clear formula to decide what’s allowed and what isn’t and it seems no great choreographer’s work, whether classical or contemporary is completely invulnerable to change.  There’s no gauge to say whether any of the changes are good or bad, but we discuss these changes anyway and that friends, is what makes art history so special in comparison to plain history.  Regular historians have to argue with each other over the truth while art historians can just argue for fun…or really, to present a certain interpretation of an idea.  It’s all quite intangible and makes for better conversation because we have the luxury of learning to accept differing ideas on the same topic.  Meanwhile, history seeks to uncover one, unbiased truth and I find that incredibly boring (needless to say, history was never my best subject).

I was surprised to read in the article that there was a lack of support for Vikharev’s work (and even more so that money was part of the reasoning behind it) because I don’t think Vikahrev is trying to monopolize Petipa ballets; to me it seems to be more of a responsibility to expand ballet’s history.  I think part of the problem is the word authenticity itself—to claim one version as “original” or “authentic” is to imply that anything else is not and while everything else is indeed “after Petipa,” many new stagings of these ballets have built their own, admirably strong traditions (like Balanchine did with his after Petipa choreography).  As cliché as it sounds, we really do have to look at the past to be able to see the future.  These new reconstructions can help us see how ballet has changed and thus give us that ballet can indeed continue to evolve as a classical art form.  The only way to know where you can go is to know where the heck you came from.

Nobody knew the importance of change better than Balanchine.  In my own obsession with (or as I like to call it, “amateur studies”) of the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, I’ve seen many of these changes and not just in historic versus contemporary performances, but within older performances that included changes made by Balanchine himself.  He created the pas de deux on Violette Verdy and she herself had this to say in a documentary:

If he didn’t like what you did with it right away, and he’d say ‘I think I need to change it’ [And you say] Oh Mr. B. I love this, I’ll make it look good, I promise, I’m going to work. [Balanchine would say] ‘No dear, I have another one [step]’ because he knew, maybe there was something better there to be done.

I’ve seen footage of Verdy, the originator of the piece which debuted in 1960 as well as the television debut with Melissa Hayden and Jacques d’Amboise in 1962 and already there were changes in the choreography.  DISCLAIMER: Okay so if you’re a casual reader who may not be too familiar with ballet terminology, you may want to choose your own adventure and skip right to the animations because it’s about to get really confusing or if you know the terms and want to skip the details anyway (a valid lifestyle choice) please feel free to do so.  For example, in the coda fouettés were never in the original choreography.  Verdy would perform a series of consecutive attitude turns (en dehors) followed by a quick series of tour sautés en arabesque.  When Hayden performed, Balanchine had her do fouettés but start out with slower ones and gain speed.  Fast forward a bit and Patricia McBride performed what has become sort of the standard and what I used to call the “fouetté steppy-step.”  I looked this up in the dictionary and it’s a mouthful—“fouetté rond de jamb en tournant en dehors, emboîté en tournant sur les pointes.”  I have a little side complaint with this because nobody does this with the speed and accuracy of Suzanne Farrell (understandably so) but what many ballerinas end up doing is cheating the second half of the emboîté en tournant.  They do the fouetté, step onto the right foot en pointe but they cheat with the left leg and plop straight into plié to do the next fouetté.  It’s kind of sloppy to me…but anyway here’s a couple of animations for the visual people:

violette suzanne

Observe: Violette Verdy on top, performing attitude turns en dehors followed by tour sautés en arabesque and Suzanne Farrell on the bottom, performing fouetté rond de jamb en tournant en dehors, emboîté en tournant sur les pointes, both at the same moment in the music.

It is somewhat normal to change bravura steps in a grand pas de deux but there are also many stylistic changes throughout that Tchai Pas has gone through over time.  Hayden didn’t do the partnered penchée in the pas de deux and d’Amboise’s variation actually had an extra forty-eight counts!  Arms differ on the fish dive, whereas Farrell would dive face first, many ballerinas extend their arms forward.  The final exit offstage includes an overhead lift where the man lifts the woman underneath her back and she extends one leg forward and one leg behind her in attitude but it is often changed now so that she tips completely backwards and extends her front leg to the ceiling.  Personally, I like the forward version because it gives the effect of this huge, flying leap and the tipped back version tends to look a little awkward to me, like a caveman hoisting his latest kill but like I said, no right answers when it comes to these changes.  I’m just scratching the surface here, but you get the idea.  What I’d like to know is why hasn’t Verdy’s original interpretation been revived?  Yeah, I went there.

Three different fish dives: Hayden & d'Amboise left, McBride & Baryshnikov center, and Farrell & Martins on the right. Note the differences in arm and leg positions as well as the positions of the men. d'Amboise is lunging forward with his weight on his front leg, Baryshnikov on his back leg while presenting his front foot in tendu and Martins in an upright pseudo-first position. Each couple presents a completely different line and aesthetic, and all of these dancers worked directly with Balanchine.

Anywhodle, there are more controversial, substantial changes like the whole Bournonville versus Lacotte La Sylphide.  The Bournonville is the real deal, “authentic” if you must, while the Lacotte is what it is and seemingly less liked.  In the case of Bournonville’s La Sylphide, I think the choreography was so stylized it’s hard to imagine the same story being told a different way.  However, old or new even masterpieces can see a little change, as Lady Deborah MacMillan mentioned in an interview that when the English National Ballet (I think) did Manon, there was new choreography she had never seen before and she was in full support of it.  So it seems we’re forever blessed and cursed with conflicts between originals and obscurities, authentic versus standard but in the end it’s always giving us something to talk about and that’s the most miraculous thing about the classical arts.  I think it impossible to find something that is so rewarding, the more you invest into studying it…because maybe every Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux being performed today is a LIE.

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.

Things to look forward to

26 Oct

Muchos apologies for being out of commission for a few days.  I was kind of sick and was on the road to recovery when I completely lost my voice.  In its current state, it can be best described as “showing signs of life” so it is coming back, but it made it difficult to write because I often talk myself through my writing and when no sound comes out, it’s just distracting.  It wasn’t that I couldn’t write; it just bothered me too much that I couldn’t read aloud.  It was nice to have a short break from blogging anyway.

I had a fantastic weekend, and saw a show on Friday, Columbus Dances X, which featured up and coming artists in Columbus, including a new jazz company, Xclaim.  I am so thrilled that a jazz company is trying to make a name for itself in Columbus, and a friend of mine was actually in the piece so that was awesome and you know me, I love to support.  Neat soundtrack featuring a vocal percussionist and some great movement phrases too, although at times I felt like the phrases looped a lot and it was getting a little repetitive.  Overall I liked the mood of the piece though, and I’m always happy to see a staged work of the jazz genre.  It bothers me that jazz is relegated to the background in musicals (not that I hate musicals!) or is seen in dance competitions (I definitely hate those).  Cities like New York and Chicago have some good jazz companies, but it’s weird to me that it’s taught as much as it is and is invisible in performance venues.  Perhaps jazz isn’t seen as “high art” because it has a tendency to be (or is blatantly) transparent and borderline cheesy, but I say even the simple messages like “I am here to entertain you” have a valid place onstage.

Anyway, I don’t have anything specific to write about for this entry, but I do have a lot of exciting things lined up for myself.  First, I was scouring the web and happened upon a Korean video site that had *gasp* the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux!  Bwahahaha, Round 2 of youdancefunny vs. The Balanchine Trust goes to me!  Although there weren’t many complete videos, there were lots of variations from many big name ballerinas, the most delightful of which I found to be Alina Cojocaru.  She has such a charming, youthful energy, and is of course exceptionally clean.  It’s a good ballet for her, although I’d be interested to see how she fared in the coda.  There was a complete video of Alessandra Ferri, who is not really suited for the role, and clearly struggled with the pace of the fouette-steppy steps and tempo in the coda.  Of the codas I did see, I find it interesting that a lot of ballerinas struggle with it, and quite frankly Suzanne Farrell is unmatched in that department.  Also with the fish dive of doom, there were a lot of…well, anticlimactic ones.  None of them were as daring as Farrell/Martins or Reyes/Corella.  In fact, I was severely disappointed with the vast majority.  I suppose it’s probably a lot harder than it looks though.  Even Patricia McBride, partnered with Baryshnikov didn’t really do much with it, although their solo variations were fantastic.  I also managed to find Marcelo Gomes with someone…but unfortunately it was just the pas de deux with no variations or coda.  He’s a wonderful partner though, and I hope there’s more of that video somewhere out there.  That, and Natalia Osipova…she’s on my wish list for Tchaik.  I can imagine her FLYING into a fish dive of doom.  The only question is, is there a danseur out there man enough to catch her?  She’s light as a feather but with a SERIOUS trajectory.

In other web-scouring, I also happened to find what I think might be a resurrected ketinoa.  Lots of Mariinsky videos, including Balanchine works, which I smartly saved to my computer just in case.  I will FINALLY be able to see Concerto Barocco, Serenade, La Valse and Symphony in C, and decide if I like them enough to purchase a DVD.  I also got Bringing Balanchine Back from the library, so I have a Balanchine intensive week ahead.  It’s going to be good.

I’ve also secured a copy of the Bournonville La Sylphide, so that’s in queue as well.  I also have a few ballets I’ve downloaded, including Royal Ballet’s La Bayadere, Firebird and Sylvia (which I’ve had for quite some time and keep forgetting to get around to!).  Others in the library DVD stack are ABT’s Don Q with Cynthia Harvey, Giselle with Lynn Seymour and Nureyev, and I still haven’t gotten around to La Fille mal gardée.  I don’t know if people are familiar with the reviewer “Ivy Lin” on amazon.com, who writes very in depth and insightful reviews of ballet DVD’s, but she said that the Seymour/Nureyev Giselle should not be anyone’s first full length Giselle.  Uh oh.  But it’ll have to do.  So much to see, so much to think about!  It’s going to be an exciting week.  Don’t you love educating yourself about dance?

In other news, got an e-mail about the presale of Nutcracker tickets.  Cash cow season has officially begun.

This country mouse has something to say…

19 Oct

So I’m not really a country mouse, and despite the fact that it’s a gorgeous, sunny and crisp but not too chilly October day, it’s freezing inside my house, which makes the typing process a miserable one.  But with some Turkish music playing on iTunes, here I go.  This afternoon I came across an interesting article in the New York Times (via clouddancefest on twitter), about a new series that the writer of the article described as “reality ballet.”  The word “reality” has developed an extremely negative connotation for me given the surplus of low-grade, poorly produced, inferior television programs that makes me want to run for the hills.  Thankfully, reality ballet was not entirely an accurate description.  To me it sounded more like copious amount of raw footage, and I don’t see a need to attach the word “reality” to it all.  Not to mention, “reality” has become a deluded concept to audiences today (because I sincerely hope we know better!), and I don’t see anything misleading about rehearsal footage.

The “copious-amounts of-raw-footage” became 15 Days of Dance: The Making of ‘Ghost Light.’  I’m really loving the inspiration for the piece, described here in an excerpt from the article:

“Ghost Light” is named after the stark, romantic image of a bare bulb left burning on a deserted stage. Set to Aaron Copland’s “Music for the Theater,” the dance, which was presented as a gift from the city of Buffalo to the people of New Orleans, has a vintage quality, with dancers costumed as flappers and hobos.

“I was thinking of New Orleans and how it has such a deep sense of its own history and jazz,” Mr. Reeder said. “It’s one of the reasons I went with an old Americana feel of vaudeville, burlesque and the whole ghost-light vibe.”

Attention grabbed!  I like flappers and hobos, and an antiquarian aesthetic.  I also love me some Copland, although I’m unfamiliar with this particular composition.  The piece is choreographed by Brian Reeder, who apparently has to pull his pants up a lot because he doesn’t wear a belt and isn’t very nice at times.  I don’t know if I like that, and he criticizes some of his dancers by telling them “you guys would make a horrible true Bournonville pas de trois.”  That’s kind of mean…but he says that he has to go into a zone, and I suppose an intensely creative mind can’t always control the output.  After all, nobody can spew sunshine all day.  I might be able to…but I have the mind of a child.

Anyway, the project was spearheaded by Elliot Caplan of Cage/Cunningham and Beach Birds for Camera fame, who wanted to document the entire process of creating a ballet.  Although it kind of bugged me that he said “ballet is the basis for everything in dance,” which I find to be unfortunately Eurocentric, I do appreciate his desire to document the choreographic process (even if I think documentation of dance isn’t THAT decrepit).  The fact alone that the entire she-bang is eighteen hours of footage is enough to make one salivate and squee in delight.  But that also means it’s not the kind of thing that would be shown on television, and although portions of the film will start showing this Thursday at the New York Library of the Performing Arts, hosted by Caplan himself followed by a discussion with a panel of some of the artists involved.  The entire thing will also be available for private viewing at the library.  Fantastic.  But what does that mean for the rest of us?  This is a huge problem I have with the dance world…it’s this idea that New York is apparently in an artistic bubble, and there doesn’t seem to be any consideration for those outside of it.  I’m not suggesting that I, personally be given access to such a collection but I can’t help but feel forgotten whenever I hear about the exciting things that are being done and are available to the residents of New York.  It reminds me of the “top trickling down” economic model that I once studied in an anthropology class (ANTHRO 597.01, conflict in developing nations), and the conclusion was that it was elitist and NEVER worked.  I find it ironic that Caplan made a comparison between going to the movies and seeing dance, when movies are always available to the people while dance simply isn’t.  If you grew up in Columbus, Ohio, there is so much you would never see in regards to dance because things aren’t readily available or performed often.  I’m not saying we should sit on our asses and wait for the advertisers to flood us with images and commercials, but we have to be met half way.  Otherwise, how can we find things we don’t know exist?

Perhaps my complaints are preliminary and it will be available for distribution (more than likely not for home viewing because the price would be astronomical) at the very least at major universities.  I actually discovered that Ohio State has a pretty interesting collection of things, like footage of famous dancers like Arthur Mitchel coaching Agon, Maria Tallchief coaching Allegro Brillante, Melissa Hayden coaching Stars and Stripes, Suzanne Farrell coaching Momentum pro Gesualdo and Movements for piano and orchestra.  Although that stuff is locked away in a sekret part of the library that I’m sure takes fingerprints and retina scans to access, but at least it’s there.  I just hope this new series will be available in some capacity.  Dance has this massive challenge of constantly trying to reach new audiences, but they can’t sit on their haunches and expect that people will automatically find them.  Rave Motion Pictures has made a start, and does live broadcasts of ballets around the world, but one or two a year isn’t really going to get the job done to create more public interest.  This year we have a Mariinsky Swan Lake coming up at the end of the month (although the website can’t seem to decide if the November 1st show is 1:00am or 1:00pm), and I remember a year or two ago we had a Royal Ballet Swan Lake too.  But for some of us, it’s like inoculating a fatal disease.  We really need more to survive and NOT Swan Lake! 

Anywhodle, be sure to read the entire article if you’re interested and a sucker for punishment, or you live in New York.

Brian Reader Puts it Together and Elliot Caplan Films It

DANGER! DANGER! Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux!

30 Sep

Initially, when I watched The Turning Point, Lucette Aldous’ cameo as the Black Swan  was my favorite little performance snippet, but I’ve since had a change of heart, to Suzanne Farrell in Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux.  I think I didn’t know enough about the Tchaik to really appreciate it, but in the past I have really liked Balanchine’s more classically styled works, like Theme and Variations (still trying to find a way to see this on video again…harrumph!) and Diamonds being my favorite of the Jewels (coincidentally, also me birthstone).  The weird Stravinsky stuff is ok…just not my favorite, because I prefer the classical vocabulary.  I do like Apollo, and Balanchine’s ability to create different styles in his Stravinskian ballets compared to the vastly different Tchaikovskian ones speaks greatly of his much heralded musicality.  However, I still find a lot of Stravinsky music to be too atonal and downright creepy.  Like horror movie soundtrack, and as much as I used to enjoy horror movies, or rather, taking my friends to horror movies so I could laugh at them being scared, it turns out I’m a scaredy cat too.

Anyway, I was really fascinated by the story of the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, as the mysteriously lost music from Act III of Swan Lake, and written for Anna Sobeshchanskaya, who didn’t like the original music (apparently because someone else used it…Billy forbid!).  She had Petipa choreograph a new pas de deux to music by Minkus, but Tchaikovsky himself was all “oh no he didn’t!” and refused to let someone else’s music tarnish his masterpiece score.  So he wrote new music to correspond with the choreography Petipa had already done for Sobeshchanskaya, and everyone was muy happy.  It was later dropped and because ballet is ballet the score was “lost.”  Thirty years later it’s found in the Bolshoi Theatre’s music library, and Vladimir Bourmeister used it in his staging of Swan Lake for the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Theatre Ballet in 1953.  It was then brought to the attention of Balanchine, made its debut in 1960 and has since taken on its own identity as a Balanchine ballet.  Balanchine redid or did his own version of a lot of classical ballets, but I think the ones before him still stand as the dominantly known versions, while the Tchaik is rarely associated with Swan Lake now and it’s Balanchine’s choreography that takes the cake.  Although Bourmiester’s production is still done, like La Scala here with Svetlana Zakharova and Roberto Bolle here:

Although I’m a little confused here because the music for the pas de deux and male variation are the same between Swan Lake and Tchaik, but the female variation and coda are different. AwKWaRd!  It’s a nice pas de deux for Swan Lake though, but there are a few reasons why I prefer Balanchine’s plotless Tchaik.  One being how the codas aren’t so formulaic.  You can’t go wrong with “man jump jump pose, bravura step, a manège of some kind, enter woman 32-fouettes, man turns a la seconde, woman manège, end with finger turn/grandiose lift.”  It’s a proven formula that has worked time and time again, but there are always other ways to express movement and musicality, and Balanchine doesn’t stick to a particular structure…the woman might run in and do a little something, then the man, maybe a partner assisted something, maybe a something else in a “your turn, my turn” kind of deal, so it allows for more variety and to some people, it adheres better to musical phrases rather than chopping things up into chunks.  He also throws in some spice by taking things and doing them in new ways like fouettes which are in Tchaik, but instead of 32 straight there’s a series of a fouette into two little piques with a half turn (or as I like to call them, “fouette steppy-steps”), and then ending with a few regular fouettes.  What I like about it is how the fouette steppy-steps are peanut butter and jelly with the pizzicato of the violins.  It just makes more sense.

However, the BEST part of the choreography is the “death drop fish dive of doom.”  Instead of the run-of-the-mill fish dive where the ballerina is dropped from a lift and the man bends forward with her, sinking on the back leg into a plié, the Tchaik version has the woman leap into the air where the man catches her at the apex of the jump, and then drops her forward while mostly staying upright, and she ends with her face just inches from the floor.  So the action in a regular fish dive is more of a “drop and then lower,” while the fish dive of doom is a “launch and then swing,” kind of like those swinging pirate ship rides at amusement parks.  Pas de deux can be generally categorized into three types:  an expression of love, someone is either dying or already dead, or a celebration.  Tchaik would be a celebration, and I love how the fish dive of doom adds an element of danger.  If I ever meet a six and a half foot sasquatch, I’m definitely going to ask if we can try this out, because it looks like fun so it must be a good idea.  I can’t post a video, because of legal reasons having to do with the movie, but here is an animation.

fishdiveshort

Anyway, because it is Balanchine, of course videos are almost impossible to come by thanks to the Balanchine Trust.  I know, I complain about them all the time, but I do get what they’re trying to do.  They want to make sure Balanchine ballets are reproduced with authenticity, and I don’t dispute that.  But honestly, who in the world is going to try and stage a Balanchine ballet from a YouTube video?  I don’t think any artistic director would really stage a ballet that they couldn’t coach, so of course they’d bring someone in, and it’s kind of a slap in the face to them to make it seem like they wouldn’t have the wits to do just that.  Not to mention anyone could rent a Balanchine Nutcracker, copy choreography out of it and there’s no way the Trust has spies that attend every Nutcracker in the world during Christmas (or do they?).  Plus the advertising…if you think about it, I never would have even known about Tchaik had I not taken the time to go to the library, rent a movie that was made before I was born, with no prior knowledge of the fact that it even contained Tchaik.  That’s a considerable amount of effort just to see a MINUTE of ONE ballet.  If I want to see the entire thing, these are the opportunities available to me:

  1. Fly somewhere to see it live.
  2. Fly to New York and go the Library of the Performing Arts
  3. Purchase a DVD of Pas de Deux or Dancing for Mr. B for $26.99
  4. Track down an out of print VHS of Peter Martins: A Dancer

I would really love to see Suzanne Farrell and Peter Martins dance the whole thing since The Turning Point only shows a minute of the coda, but it’s only availabe in Peter Martins: A Dancer and nothing spells accessibility like “out of print VHS.”  Were it not for The Turning Point, chances are I’d never do any of the above, unless I happened to be in town when a company was performing Tchaik, and only the alignment of the stars can tell us when that would happen!

The key word though, is “almost” because I scoured YouTube and succeeded!  I won’t post links because I don’t want to get anyone into trouble, but I was able to download a clip and edit it so that only an excerpt of the ballet is shown, and the Trust seems to be okay with small excerpts.  I saw mostly variations and the coda from a few different performances, and it’s interesting that the Trust is so concerned with authenticity when each interpretation was vastly different.  For example, Darcey Bussell is immaculate, typical clean lines and articulate feet that you can expect of a dancer of Royal Ballet caliber, but it wasn’t quite what I was hoping for.  The tempo was rather slow, and although the clarity in her fouette steppy-steps was amazing, it was just too dreamy for my tastes.  And the fish dive of doom was much different, with Zoltan Solymosi catching her like a feather, without much of a swing to it.  So there just wasn’t enough speed and danger.  Also, they chose to do the more common position with one leg in retiré, and the man in a wide plié while Farrell/Martins were in a straight position, with legs together as you saw above.  Ballet is meant to evolve from performer to performer, and with such changes I’m left a little confused as to why the Trust would claim ensuring authenticity as a defense for having videos removed.  I mean, if you want to get really picky, contemporary performances of Tchaik have some notable differences, like the woman’s entrance before the fouette steppy-steps, where women now do an Italian pas de chat, with an added tour jeté before bourée into the prep, while Farrell did a regular pas de chat, degagé into sous-sus fifth, bourée into prep, no tour jeté.  There’s no right or wrong answer, but it’s pretty clear nobody’s trying to do it like one of Balanchine’s muses!

Anyway, the clip I selected isn’t the best quality (and I’m hoping it doesn’t get my YouTube account suspended…eek!), but the dancing is wonderful with Xiomara Reyes and Angel Corella.  The Cubans are always so jubilant and effervescent which makes Reyes a great pick for this (although even she lags behind just a hair on the steppy-steps!  Farrell does it best from what I’ve seen), and I thought this was a perfect role for Corella.  I’ve seen clips and he was “wow” in Corsaire, “HOLY SMOKES!” in Don Q, but I loved him in this the most.  He has a really infectious smile, and is just really buoyant and plain old happy throughout (and I like his little hoppy tours…whatever they’re called).  The reason why I selected this is because their fish dive of doom is by far the most exciting one out there.  I like the purity of line with Farrell/Martins straight body positions, but Reyes has some MAJOR air time and Corella dips her so close to the floor it’s cramazing.  Enjoy!

By the way, last night when I was downloading this video and editing it, it disappeared and was “unavailable” for a few minutes and I was totally creeped out and was almost convinced that the Balanchine Trust was after me.  It was totally Jennifer Garner in Alias.

Also, I should mention that it seems Miami City Ballet is doing it this season, so here’s an excerpt from them, and the Ballet du Capitole de Toulouse has some more substantial excerpts from the pas deux and variations for a better picture of what the entire pas de deux looks like.  It’ll have to do!