Tag Archives: symphonic variations

Live from Lincoln Center…

27 Jun

…it’s me.

I thought it might be fun to write a post from the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts, so here I am next to the Metropolitan Opera House (where ABT’s Wednesday matinee of Swan Lake just so happens to be going on), writing this here blog. I had a little bit of time to check out the Jerome Robbins Dance Division, and one of my missions for this trip was to watch some archival footage. Nowhere else would I be able to see a full recording of Violette Verdy in Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux and see it I did! The entire collections here are much too vast, and any dance researcher could spend a lifetime here trying to see it all. As annoyed as I am that I can’t take materials home, it is pretty amazing that these materials are available to the public. Going to the library isn’t just for students/teachers/researchers people–one can easily come here to just watch some amazing ballets for fun!

First, I selected two Tchai Pas with Verdy, partnered in one by Edward Villella and the other by Helgi Tomasson. It’s almost unfair that anyone has to go without seeing a performance of Verdy, who radiates more joy than any dancer I’ve ever seen. Even in blurry old films you can see her charisma, the purity of her technique, and her incredible musicality. There were so many moments of subtle playfulness, as if she were teasing the music with her hands and feet. Now Verdy didn’t have super high legs in various extensions, but it hardly mattered because when the leg is just above the waist in a la seconde for example, you actually get to see the whole torso and face! Imagine that! And when it comes to Verdy, trust me when I say you want to see her upper body in entirety! Of course you want to see her feet and legs as well (not many dancers will do a flying leap into each of their piqué turns), but really it’s the whole picture that made her performances so special, and makes the idea of bemoaning the lack of artistry today a legitimate thing.

Both Villella and Tomasson were quite good, energetic, and wonderful partners. I believe it was the Villella video though where I saw some steps in his variation and coda that I had never seen before. There was an entrechat six de volé en tournant (which, if you don’t know ballet steps very well is as beastly as it sounds), and when he did a series of grand jetés in a circle, rather than insert one turn in between, there were two, which seemed to add excitement and speed. I’m fascinated by the idea that Balanchine had so many ideas for seldomly seen steps and also how his tastes evolved over time to incorporate them more into his vocabulary or never used them again. Having the opportunity to see these performances on film though, was everything and more than what I wanted, and I’m still basking in the glow of Verdy’s charm and wit, sparkling through decades to move and inspire me today.

Seeing as how I had to prioritize with what precious time I have, my other selection was Sir Frederick Ashton’s Symphonic Variations, in a Granada film featuring Antoinette Sibley, Anthony Dowell, Ann Jenner, Gary Sherwood, Jennifer Penney, and Michael Coleman. I had seen an all-too-brief clip of it from a documentary fragment posted on YouTube, and am so fortunate to have found it at the library because the performance is simply breathtaking. What was immediately noticable to me was the slower tempo at the beginning, with softer lines and patience. Contemporary performances seem to accent the music a bit sharper, but what I loved about this one was that the softness allowed for a gradual build towards more succinct lines by the end. You almost don’t notice how it almost carves itself out of its own form, and polishes to an even more lustrous shine before your eyes. If only this were commercially available, it would be such a definitive performance of this work (though, I’m still bitter enough to remind you that NO staging of Symphonic Variations is commercially available, so to label this one of the finest isn’t really valid I suppose).

For anyone who gets a chance to see this film, what was also made so clear was the often discussed partnership between Sibley and Dowell. When the two dancers themselves have discussed it in documentaries they often mention how the proportions between them were perfect–how she, in reaching for his arm would always meet it at just the right distance, etc. Perfection being the key word, you see it many times throughout the film. There’s a pose where Dowell perches Sibley in an arabesque, and when she tilts her head backwards it rests perfectly on his shoulder, and when she frames his face with her arm the picture is flawless. Even the length of their limbs are just in perfect harmony throughout, and against Sophie Fedorovitch’s winding backdrop of wavy patterned lines the effect is stunning. Though Symphonic is indeed abstract and often praised for its luminous sanctity, I saw more story in it today than I had in previous viewings of film as well as live with San Francisco Ballet.

The best I can do is relay the original clip I saw, so enjoy this for now, and remember to make a trip to the NYPL at least once in your lifetime!

Photography by John Ross

27 Jun

You can’t call yourself a true blue ballet zealot until you require that it infiltrate the décor of your home.  After all, fans of dance tend to have an eye for shape, color, movement and harmony (or discord if that’s your preference).  Such qualities can also be seen in interior design and I figured…ABSOLUTELY.  So in order to sate the beasty mcbeast, I turned to photographer John Ross, who has several galleries for your perusal (link at ballet.co).  I was excited to see that prints were available for purchase so I contacted Mr. Ross and after much deliberation selected a couple of photos that appealed to my senses.

Take a gander!

I don't normally display phoos on easels by the way...it's going to go on the wall!

At this point I figured I’ve made my preferences somewhat predictable so I hope that it comes as no surprise that one of the photos I picked was from Symphonic Variations.  There are so many wonderful, picturesque moments from the ballet and Mr. Ross even has picture sets from two different performances.  It was hard to decide but ultimately I went with something that was visually dramatic but technically simple.  It has the three women and one male dancer linking hands, with the women en pointe in fourth position, heads tilted just a romantic itsy-bit.  The photo is a lovely close-up so many of the costume details, hair accessories and the minor fact that the picture was taken a split second before the dancer on the far left actually had any weight on her front foot are easily seen (especially when you buy a 12” x 16” enlargement!).  As striking as the photograph is by itself, it’s like a ballerina without a partner in a pas de deux…it needs framing.  Furthermore, I am of the school of thought that matting is a must.  When the question is “to matte or not to matte?” go with the latter.  Not only does such fine photography deserve it, but matting is a perfect opportunity to enhance visual interest.  I purchased pre-cut, double layered matting that was white on top with a black layer underneath and paired with the wide black frame, it echoes the design of the man’s costume.

Now a picture may be worth a thousand words, but a room needs a thousand and six.  I paired the photo with a curtain from Anthropologie, the store where the trendy woman’s mantra apparently becomes “resistance is futile.”  I have never purchased anything from said store…nevertheless I was most astonishingly inspired by that curtain.  In reality it’s a shower curtain but I’m taking it upon myself to use it as a portiere for a storage closet that is without a door.  Unfortunately it’s not sold in US stores anymore but they can be nabbed on ebay for significantly discounted prices.  It’s called “Knotted Vines,” but it should really be called the “Symphonic Variations” curtain because the design has the same sort of sweeping movement and greenish-gold coloring of the backdrop.  That’s probably why I was attracted to it in the first place and although green, yellow and gray are not colors I normally gravitate towards (I have a weird thing where artificial greens never look right to me…I prefer natural greens in plants, like those that can be seen outside my abnormally shaped window in the background), the it just works for me.  One photo is never enough though…

A cooler color pallette...

Here we see a couple of things…a super-cute poster sent to me by the Bag Ladies of The Ballet Bag for playing ballet mad-libs and the other photo I purchased of Tamara Rojo and Federico Bonelli (BoBo) in Jerome Robbins’s Dances at a Gathering.  Of course I had to have some Rojo adorning my walls; I’ve recently begun Secret Muses: The Life of Frederick Ashton and the first few pages discuss how inspired Ashton was as a little boy when he saw legendary ballerina Anna Pavlova on stage and it immediately reminded me of the way I felt when I saw Rojo dance Manon (the anniversary of which was yesterday!).  Her dancing (and the Royal Ballet) completely changes the way I saw dance and I guess that makes her my muse in a way.  Coincidentally (well, not really) I stayed in the same sort of era with this second photo and again went for something technically simple but visually dramatic, with Rojo in arabesque and BoBo in a forward extension (développé croisé devant?  I’m awful with the direction words and such).  It’s hard to see in the above photograph, but the background is a dark blue and her costume is lavender, which I like with the periwinkle blues of The Ballet Bag poster and as Stacy London of What Not to Wear would say, the “pop of color” with the contrasting orange.  I really loved the simplicity of line and the connection between Rojo and BoBo’s faces—it’s a very subtle electricity and really breathes life into the photo.  The frame and matting are the same (I purchased them at Aaron Brothers in downtown Seattle) as the store was having a sale of “buy one get one for a penny.”  Perfect!

The only thing missing is a third photo of Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux to complete my neoclassical triad, but I couldn’t find a picture of the Royal Ballet performing it in the galleries so I’ll have to put that dream on hold (there are a few of the Mariinsky, but Russian dancers’ performances of it have often left me unsatisfied so it just wouldn’t feel right).  At any rate, I am beyond thrilled and satisfied with my purchases from Mr. Ross so if anyone’s interested in his photography, do send him an e-mail!  My experiences were A+ and he offers multiple sizes of prints for excellent prices.  He is based in the UK, but has a son in California so US buyers can pay by check in US dollars and avoid the hassle of dealing with foreign currency or additional bank fees.  It couldn’t be easier to add beautiful ballet photography to your home and support another artist along the way.  Do it!

The Craft of Choreography

6 Jan

Soooo…my first post of 2010.  It’s later then I anticipated it to be, but I’ve been reading Joan Lawson’s A Ballet-Maker’s Handbook and wanted to finish it to post a review of sorts.  Of course, the holidays have also been distracting and I finally got to see Avatar (in 3-D) this past Sunday.  It doesn’t have much to do with dance, but what an amazingly creative and epically awesome movie!  Definitely the best I’ve seen in a long time, when I was actually engrossed in the story and convinced by the characters.  Oddly enough, I didn’t know going in that Zoë Saldaña lent her voice and technically her body as well to the character of Neytiri, but I remember there was a scene towards the beginning where Neytiri flies into action to shoot an arrow at a wild animal in a graceful stag leap and couldn’t help but think of how elegant and dancelike the movement of Neytiri and her people was (not to mention how hard it would be to manipulate a bow and arrow while doing a stag leap).  It was most likely Saldaña herself who leapt in that manner, because the characters were animated on top of motion that animators captured with sensors.  She mentioned that she had to learn archery, horseback riding and martial arts…but we know her dance background probably contributed a great deal to Neytiri’s body language as well.  Honestly, I beam with a little bit of pride knowing that us dance fans knew her way back when from her big break (and loved her first!), because she will always be our “Eva Rodriguez…after no one” from Center Stage (please, as if you weren’t thinking that exact same quote?).  The girl who considered getting breast implants and working at Hooters instead of accepting an invitation to train with the American Ballet Company.

Anyway, back to topic at hand, A Ballet-Maker’s Handbook.  In an earlier post I mentioned that I picked it up at a discount book store (huzzah for Half Price Books!) and hoped it would be a good read…and indeed it was!  Normally I think the “How to…” type of books end up pretty useless unless it’s a more concrete, step-by-step instruction guide (I’m talking origami or beaded bracelets here).  How can one really write a book on how to choreograph a ballet?  Lawson doesn’t really lay out any specific plans for choreography though, only offers suggestions as to where to begin based on a plethora of historical references, whether it’s the origin of certain gestures or what famous choreographers have already done.  She dissects various ballets and labels a few devices employed in the dances and basically organizes things so an aspiring choreographer can get a sense of the history behind choreography itself.  She may have even overloaded with the book with specific examples from ballets, because if you’re like me and haven’t actually seen a great deal of the ballets she talks about, it may not do you so much good.  I could of course understand what she was talking about, but to understand her intentions in writing is one thing, but to have actually witnessed them and attach a visual picture to it is another.  It’s like a dictionary vs. encyclopedia.

Reading her book has made me hungry to see a few of the ballets she mentions, mostly because she speaks very highly of Frederick Ashton (and MacMillan as well…surprisingly, not too much on Balanchine, but Lawson did teach at the Royal Ballet school, so she had her biases I’m sure).  I’ve decided that I’m dying to see Birthday Offering and A Month in the Country (actually, I think A Month in the Country was in that triple bill that came to DC…I’m so stupid!).  A Month in the Country is one of the ballet she talks about the most, the others being The Rake’s Progress, Romeo and Juliet, La Fille mal gardée, Requiem, Mayerling and Sleeping Beauty (OY there was a lot of Sleeping Beauty!).  I don’t know if these ballets were simply the ones that illustrated her examples the best, but I’d like to think she had a special penchant for them.  I think writers tend to discuss the most the ballets they favor (obviously you can infer from that that a reference to her thoughts on Symphonic Variations will appear later on in this post…you expected otherwise from the likes of me?).  While it would have helped to have seen all of these ballets, the book is still very readable, so if choreography is something you’re interested in, don’t be daunted by your personal viewing résumé, no matter what is on it.  She discusses her examples with clarity…it’s just that having a visual memory of some kind always helps to round out the picture.

She begins the book by discussing sources of inspiration, and there was one sentence in particular that caught my eye:

It has not always been appreciated that many successful ballets have been suggested by people on the fringe of the ballet world.

My first thought was “MEEEEEE!” but the essence of her comment is what I find incredible: that ballet is for the people who love it and that it’s the audience that is sometimes overlooked and perhaps alienated.  In terms of sources of inspiration themselves, she thoroughly discusses music, literature, myth, the Bible, drama, poetry, fiction, biography, opera, painting, pastimes and games.  It’s not an exhaustive list because I think inspiration can come from just about anywhere, but she provides examples of ballets under each category to support her inclusion of the ones she selected.  She next devotes a chapter on music, differentiating specially commissioned music, arranged music, chosen music and ballets that are inspired by a piece of music.  It is here she brings up Symphonic Variations (as a musically inspired ballet) and I shall quote a few sentences that I found particularly moving:

Sir Neville Cardus, another great music critic writing about the history of music likened the image of great composers such as Bach, Mozart and Beethoven as, ‘looking at a range of mountains, those names are on the summits then one comes along to a plateau – and there standing out and rising from it is the cathedral of César Franck.’ [In Symphonic Variations,] [l]ike Franck’s music, Ashton’s dance flows onwards in simple lines and phrases, each one is of equal value to the whole, neither pianist, nor orchestra, nor dancers indulge in virtuoso passages which would destroy the solemn serenity of the design.

Interestingly enough, she also includes an interesting “review” of Symphonic Variations that I think speaks for itself:

It is perhaps worth recording the remark of an eight-year-old boy on first seeing Ashton’s Symphonic Variations (1947): “That was lovely, I know all about the music now.  The dancers told me.”

What?  And where is this eight-year-old today?  I laughed when I read this for its simple charm and because it almost seemed like she was testing to see if people were actually reading her book.  She does this just a couple of other times, including an odd little remark about one of her nephews trying to lecture a Frenchmen as to why the British could appreciate the humor of John Cranko’s Pineapple Poll.  It’s a nice way to personalize her book and I think it serves as a little reminder that she believed ballet is for everyone, not just a certain “educated audience” or what have you.  Totally off topic, but I actually played Pineapple Poll with my high school wind ensemble and the opening has this monstrous run of sixteenth notes that seems to go on forever and your fingers have to fly and you can’t breathe and it’s really hard.  But they didn’t call me “craaaazy fingahz” for nothing and that very run of notes was what we played for our seating auditions and I secured principal chair.  Ha-ha!

Anyway, Lawson also discussed various tools of the trade like leitmotifs, danced mime and mimed dance (yes, they’re different), character dance and danced character (yes, those are different too) and how ballets fall under the three categories of story, thematic and abstract.  But what is perhaps most interesting is the categories of styles she divided ballet into: classical, demi-caractère, romantic, character/national and modern.  It never occurred to me that division of style was separate from division of era, like romantic, classical, neoclassical and modern.  What’s really interesting about this division though is that no ballet is particularly exclusive to one style, because ballets often incorporate a lot of different styles of choreography.  Like La Sylphide has romantic elements as well as demi-caractère (which basically means “half-character,” and in the example of La Sylphide, it refers to the Scottish inspired dances that uses ballet steps and vocabulary).  She even calls Mayerling modern in the sense that it breaks the convention of ballet portraying fantasy, because the characters are developed and portrayed in a way that hinges on reality and comes from a modern interpretation of the actual Mayerling incident.  It’s kind of hard to define what exactly she thinks modern is (is it ever easy to define modern?) but I found it interesting that she had this to say:

Dance is a language of silence.  Everything has to be expressed by movement alone, coloured by expression.  It is impossible exactly to define what is modern dance because the body is the same that has danced for hundreds of years.  Choreographers cannot in any way change the ways in which their dancers move.  The audience recognise physical movement for itself alone whereas those who theorise and attempt to define what they mean by such terms as post or neo-modern, contemporary, avant-garde, etc. base their works on intellectual concepts which need to be discussed in words.  Thus the audience fail to understand everything that is offered.  Dance is firstly a physical activity and if it is obscured by complicated costumes, props, machinery, lighting and stage effects it ceases to be relevant to anything by the cleverness of the producer.

Take from that what you will.  One of the themes in her book seems to be that she was pretty old school in her approach to dance (like researching a composer, the era in which his/her music was written, the background of the story you want tot ell, etc), which may be more relevant than ever today.  I don’t know if she would be appalled by the modern works we see now, but I think if she were alive she might be displeased by how we’re inundated by them.  I guess more than anything her message seems to be that of course we have freedom of expression, but like freedom of speech, freedom of choreography must also be exercised with a sense of responsibility, like the “shouting fire in a crowded theatre” argument.  I think that message is on to something though, because I think it’s widely accepted that there is something missing in the dances we see today…at least for those of us romanticists and classicists.  Regardless, I found her book to be a fascinating read, that really says choreography is more than a matter of having been a dancer and then putting steps together.  It’s a… “craft,” if you will.

Cover photo is by Leslie E. Spatt, featuring David Yow and Miyako Yoshida in La Fille mal gardée with the Birmingham Royal Ballet

Time for 2010

31 Dec

Seeing as how it’s time to ring in the New Year, it’s time for some kind of reflection.  Which, for perhaps the first time in my life is going to be relatively easy, because I’ve documented a great deal of the dance related significant events in this blog.  Normally, I can never remember anything, which is part of the reason why I wanted to start a blog in the first place.  It’s part of the double-edged sword when you’re the kind of person who has a lot of thoughts about a particular subject…you tend to forget a great deal of those ideas.  But no longer shall I cast them into the abyss!  So here are my thoughts on a few of things that made 2009 special for me.

1. Blogging

This was the year I started blogging.  It all began when at the beginning of the summer, I went to see the Bolshoi perform Le Corsaire and The Royal Ballet perform Manon in Washington DC.  Two major ballet companies within one week…it was a sweet deal.  Personally, although DC doesn’t have as frequent of performances as New York City, I think DC gets the better end of the arabesque because they get a much more interesting variety of companies.  Since NYC is almost monopolized by American Ballet Theater and New York City Ballet, they don’t always get a lot of touring companies.  Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that…since between the two companies there’s a solid coverage of classics, contemporary works and of course nowhere else can you sate your hunger for the Balanchine repertoire to your heart’s content.  However, both ABT and NYCB make a pilgrimage to DC (I’m pretty sure they go at least once every year), and DC is virtually the only city that ever gets the Mariinsky, Bolshoi and Royal Ballet.  So while shows aren’t as frequent, I think the quality and variety say it all…blasphemous, perhaps, but I would pick DC as the best place for ballet in the US (thankfully, from DC, New York is just a hop skip and a step away anyway).

So much rambling and nothing to do with blogging…anyway, so I wanted to document the whole experience and did so.  I also joined twitter, even though at the time I really didn’t “get it,” and I figured a couple of my friends would read the blog and that would be that.  Little did I know, that would lead to the catalyst that changed everything.  Somehow, the Bag Ladies over at TheBalletBag found my post on Manon, twittered it and before I knew it, people were actually visiting, reading and more importantly enjoying the things I wrote.  I don’t know how they found my blog, although I really shouldn’t have been surprised considering they’re the oracles of the ballet world…know all, see all (and that’s not an exaggeration).  Regardless, I got a lot of fulfillment from the idea that people enjoyed my writing.  Back in high school, several teachers told me I wasn’t a very good writer and so I kind of assumed they were right.  Fast forward to college and I had professors tell me I had a gift to write.  At first I didn’t believe them, but slowly I got used to the idea and that was the moment it dawned on me why so many people say high school sucks…the majority of the things people tell you there is a load of crap.  So many thanks to the Bag Ladies for helping get my blog out there and to all my friends and readers…you have been a significant highlight for 2009!

2. Sir Frederick Ashton

This was the year I discovered Sir Frederick Ashton (for myself obviously…one doesn’t “discover” a deceased man who is already famous).   I used to think Balanchine was probably my favorite choreographer, but there’s a number of his works that I don’t dislike but don’t appeal to my nature.  Meanwhile, I have yet to meet an Ashton work I didn’t find equally (if not more) musical than Balanchine and Ashton had an amazing ability to incorporate comedy into his ballets.  I have liked all of Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s ballets thus far, with the exception of Romeo and Juliet (and I realize Ashton has done one as well) but I think MacMillan’s ballets have a certain sophistication that…eludes me?  But this doesn’t prevent me (nor should it prevent anyone else) from enjoying his work.  At any rate, I think Ashton was incredibly versatile, and what I love about some of his ballets is that they are very child friendly and yet they can also appeal to the inner child in every adult.  I love his simplicity, clever use of props…just everything about his vision of ballet.  Of course, Symphonic Variations has ascended into the upper echelon of my favorite ballets because it embodies everything I love to see in a dance (my post on Symphonic Variations was definitely one of my favorites of the year).  Heck, 2009 was worth it just for Symphonic Variations alone!  Steven McRae of the Royal Ballet said that dancing it was like a “religious experience”…well Mr. McRae, I can tell you that viewing it was just as spiritual for me (and I didn’t even see it live!).  Man I love Australians.

3. Quadruple pirouette

Hell, that speaks for itself.  Even if it ends up being a once in a lifetime experience, it was worth it.

4. Tamara Rojo

I love you.  That is all.

So what does 2010 hold in store?  Nobody knows for sure…I’m never good with long term planning and I try to allow for spontaneity as much as possible because the older I get the more I feel like planning turns people into these zombie denizens (aka “adults”) that have no sense of adventure in life.  Total buzz kill

However, I do have some exciting (well I think they’re exciting) plans for my blog next year.  I am thinking of doing interviews with dancers…professionals?  Probably not.  But I know a lot of people who dance or are involved with dance in some way and I truly believe everyone has an interesting story to tell even if they aren’t in the upper echelon of whatever it is they do.  I’d like to think that I’m just the right person for eliciting those stories and polishing it for other people to read (and if I can spin it into something funny, then everybody wins).  If I’m not that person…well, I may as well practice so that I can be.

I also will also be begging people for more guest posts.  My quasi-wife Erina, who is currently teaching in some city in France, wants to vacation in Paris when her contract is up at the end of the spring before coming home to the US (and possibly going back under a new contract…but that’s another story.  I wish I knew details, but apparently it’s difficult to get the internet in France).  It just so happens that her end date coincides perfectly with Paris Opera Ballet’s La Bayadere.  I’ve demanded that she go, that it’s an “almost once in a lifetime experience” and to write a review or response of some kind.  I’m really excited for her because she’s seen Pacific Northwest Ballet growing up, but POB is a different beast.  It should be interesting because she’s not really a dancer, or the balletomane who knows the technical jargon.  She has the opportunity to see the production through virtually unjaded eyes, which I find a fascinating prospect.  So hopefully we’ll have that to look forward to…I keep badgering her every chance I get.  I’m *this* close to buying a ticket for her to make sure she goes.

Of course I promise posts a plenty from meself and beyond that I feel so encouraged by the response to this blog, I decided to really pursue a long (but ideally short) term goal, which is to write and publish a novel.  Since I was little, I’ve always known that I wanted to write a book, got discouraged in high school but now I feel that I’m at a point in my life when I can really achieve this.  Personally I don’t think there’s enough dance related fiction out there and the novels that are out there are kind of…melodramatic or dull.  As with this blog I endeavor to write lighthearted entertainment.  Humor is the name of the game and if I can contribute to the dispelling of the image of snobbery in ballet and make it more approachable to the average person, I’d be thrilled.  So 2010…let’s make it happen.  I’m ready for you.  Almost (still lots of research to do!).

YouDanceFunny is unfunny today…and MAD!

19 Dec

I recently injured my neck and shoulder apparatus, because ballet has trained me to spot even though there are times I should not.  Like first thing in the morning in a cold house, listening to my iPod to get my brain going in the morning, instead of fully turning my body around to face the refrigerator, I whipped my shoulder around first, head to follow.  This was a huge mistake (and not the first time I’ve done it…which really annoys me because I hate making the same mistake twice).  Sure I’ve had the odd night where I sleep in an awkward position and can’t turn my head the next day, in addition to slight injuries from doing something similar before, but this is the worst I’ve ever pulled it.  My right arm is debilitated, hence my brief hiatus from blogging.  I could still use Twitter because I didn’t mind pecking at individual keys with my left hand, but I wasn’t about to write a thousand word entry that way.  I haven’t the willpower or the patience.

However, it is feeling much better after a few days of rest, and just in time for devastating news.  Another YouTube account, CastleNowhere, has bitten the dust.  This, was a LOW BLOW.  My disgruntled rantings about the Balanchine Trust are mere honeybees compared to the raging swarm of killer bees (which are technically honeybees as well, but for simplicity’s sake) that is the wrath I have for whoever is responsible for this monkey business.  The removal of CastleNowhere meant the removal of the only video (literally…like literally) of Frederick Ashton’s Symphonic Variations, which is a ballet I have grown quite attached to, since being introduced to it a couple months ago.  I would go as far as saying it’s one of my absolute favorites, which means it’s PERSONAL.  I am also upset by the fact that it never occurred to me to save it to my hard drive as I have other ballet videos that get deleted.  Nobody really knows why it’s not available on film anywhere despite the fact that it’s one of the gems of Sir Ashton’s menagerie, but that’s where we’re at and now nobody will ever get to see it until somebody does something about it.  I am millimeters away from starting a petition or writing a letter to the BBC or Royal Ballet to develop some kind of concrete plan to get the ballet on film for us.  It’s a work that deserves to be seen and I am NOT happy that we’ve been robbed.

Coincidentally, just a couple of days ago I was reading about the television show Weeds because I don’t get Showtime (the channel it’s on) and was curious about it.  I was not surprised to read that some of their episodes were leaked online, even prior to their actual airdates, but I was most defos stunned by the fact that the producer Jenji Kohan, didn’t care!  In response to illegal downloads of episodes, here’s what she had to say:

“Revenue aside, I don’t expect to get rich on ‘Weeds.’ I’m excited it’s out there. Showtime is great, but it’s a limited audience…if I had my druthers, the whole thing would be available right now.”


What we have here folks is a person who approaches what they do as an art and NOT a living.  This to me, is what art is all about, to create without limitations or influences by money.  This got my locomotive gears a-turnin’ and I am now finding new ways to rationalize my animosity towards the removal of ballet videos on YouTube.  I now think the very fact that we’ve become so bogged down in copyright laws is what prevents us from achieving the creativity of eras gone by.  Various people and organizations are caging the animal by trying to regulate the spread of ideas and art, which is preventing anything from becoming a movement.  If you think about it, aren’t the greatest works of art, whether it be ballet, music, painting, etc. identified within a particular movement?  We can toss words out there like classicism, neoclassicism, romanticism, impressionism, modernism, etc. and it gives us a sense of a particular period of time.  And in those times, copyright laws were thin or nonexistent.  The result?  A collective brainstorm where people are not competing against each other, but freely sharing their ideas, often with a fatherly/motherly figure at the helm.  People could go to exhibitions or see a ballet and be influenced by it and create their own work without fear of being slapped with a lawsuit.  As if Taglioni would sue Bournonville for making his own La Sylphide!

Sure, we have popular genres today, like fantasy is a pretty big one right now…but there’s a difference between a genre and a movement.  A genre is a style of a particular art and a movement is…well, kind of like a style but is able to transcend different art forms and is usually specific to a time period, with a certain sense of its own longevity and a unity behind a set of ideas.  For example, despite their current popularity, vampires are not a movement, but a subgenre of the fantasy genre.  Unfortunately these days nothing can turn into a movement because there are so many copyright laws that not only prevent the distribution of the arts, but also the replication of them.  Is the line between “influence” and “knock-off” REALLY that thin?  REALLY?  I don’t think so.  For example, I’ve often said a choreographer with any self-respect is probably not going to reproduce a Balanchine ballet from video…and certainly nobody’s going to create a Jewels complete with movements entitled Emeralds, Rubies and Diamonds and call it their own.  If they do, then yes, absolutely the Trust should go after those people.  But if people are innocent until proven guilty, shouldn’t choreographers be afforded the same rights?  Shouldn’t they be allowed to view a Balanchine ballet, be influenced by images in it and apply those influences to their own work?  I suppose many do, but probably not without scrutiny.  The message the Trust themselves send out is that if it isn’t authentic Balanchine, it’s blasphemy.  And by doing so, they chain up free thought and creative thinking.  Ballet fans too are guilty of it…one need only to look at YouTube comments of ballet performances using music Balanchine did and there is sure to be comments like “this isn’t Balanchine!” or “this is not the way it should be!”  Or even worse, that the Paris Opera Ballet’s Jewels is poor because it isn’t NYCB!

So any potential artistic movement today is basically cut off in its infancy, and cannot grow and bounce off of other people.  It’s not like Monet was the ONLY impressionist painter and surely any ballet fan has seen paintings of Edgar Degas…who is controversially accepted as impressionist…not the best example but the point is a movement implies that yes, there will be works that look similar and people will cry copycat or inauthenticity, but there is also the potential to create something incredible, because nobody should have a monopoly over anything.  The concerns with copyright infringement are so stringent that people are exhausting themselves to come up with original ideas, but many can’t, which is probably why we have so many remakes and sequels…because it’s easier to just buy the rights of something then come up with something new.  Not to mention the investment risk.  The nuttier ballet gets about copyright, the less it will be seen by the public as an art.  I get the eerie feeling that many at the top already consider it a business, which is both wrong and scary.  I think Ashton, Balanchine, et al. would be ashamed…they must have had the same stance Jenji Kohan does, that they created their ballets to be seen, which is what makes their ballets so pure and true manifestations of genius.  I know for me, if I were to really get into ballet choreography someday in the future, I would definitely cite Symphonic Variations as one of (if not the most) significant influence on my ideas of great choreography.  And if I could get something to look like Symphonic Variations, I would be so proud.  But now, without being able to see it again?  We may never know.