Tag Archives: tan yuan yuan

I’ll go with…Ominously Sumptuous

21 Jan

It’s a slow January.  I don’t know what the deal is but my brain has gone all Eeyore (cue the trombone…wah-waaaaah).  Apologies if this ends up being a little lackluster.  I hate January.

Anyway, I had a chance to watch the DVD of the San Francisco’s production of Lar Lubovitch’s Othello the other day.  Apparently it’s a heavily requested item from the library because it took quite a bit of time to get it.  After a fantashtick review by Hilary with one L of the Joffrey’s production (that lucky ducky got to see it live), I’ve been excited to see it, albeit apprehensive because Shakespeare is not really my cup of tea.  I mean I get that his writing is genius and all, but consider what you’re reading here…I’m obviously no Shakespeare so to read his works is like reading a foreign language.  It’s difficult for me to understand and relate to.  Count me in as one of the (apparently?) few people who fail to see the romance in Romeo and Juliet.

Meanwhile, I have to say I really enjoyed Othello and didn’t find it difficult to follow at all.  As Hilary with one L mentioned, the ballet trims the story down to mostly the essentials (although I found the Act II tarantella to be quite long) and it goes down smoothly like a chocolate shake.  And like she also said, the modern aspects of the choreography really sold it…for me, the partnering was incredible.  Unusual partnering is probably what I love to see the most in modern dances as a whole and allowing for that in ballet just brings a whole new dimension to it.  It wasn’t just the partnering between Othello and Desdemona or Iago either, but there was intricate choreography amongst the corps dancers as well.  But as far as pas de deux are concerned, I absolutely loved Othello and Dedemona’s first pas de deux.  It’s pure poetry…after I finished watching the whole thing I had to watch just that pas de deux a good eight or ten more times.  In the DVD, the title character is danced by Desmond Richardson, with his Desdemona being the willowy and lithe Tan Yuan Yuan.  I believe it was during her variation where Othello gives her the handkerchief that she steps backwards into an arabesque and you can hear the angels singing “Hallelujah!”

I don’t know if it’s because I’m obsessed with variety or if it’s merely an open mind that seeks to find something interesting in all dance, but for whatever reason the juxtaposition of classical and modern in several different aspects of the ballet really maintained my interest throughout.  The set itself incorporated some period style backdrops, but then actual set elements like Othello’s throne or Desdemona’s bed are these stark, crystalline structures which part of me was trying to figure out while the other part thought “weird, but cool!”  The transparency effect gave it a sort of took away my sense of time and space.  I likened the sensation to something one might see in a dream or some kind of crazy vision you might see if you were time travelling through a wormhole.  Or something like in that one scene of the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory where they take that boat into that psychedelic tunnel (a scene that still freaks the crap out of me).  Fortunately, Othello doesn’t have Gene Wilder singing some creepy song or epileptic strobe lights.

There is Iago though and he’s a serious creep.  I don’t think I’ve ever been afraid of a dancer before, but Parrish Maynard’s performance as Iago was so sinister and insane that I didn’t really get a good night’s sleep.  Given the jarring score and ominous melodies, I almost felt like the ballet was grounded more in Iago’s perspective.  Rather than telling Othello’s story, the music seemed to favor Iago’s madness, jealousy, manipulation and eventual betrayal.  It seems like Iago is always lurking on stage and it’s almost as if the music accordingly never lets the audience really settle their nerves.  He’s a fascinating and intense character and I can only imagine that it would take some serious acting chops to pull that psycho-stalker vibe off.  Scarred for life, yes, but I was quite impressed with Maynard’s acting.

Desmond Richardson was also amazing, especially when Iago’s influence on him really starts to poison his mind and he succumbs to believing that Desdemona betrayed him.  Lubovitch gives you that gorgeous pas de deux in the first act but when Othello gets mad the choreography gets really volatile and it’s both unsettling and breathtaking.  Richardson displays great modern and ballet technique, which makes sense because I think I read that he was a graduate of the Ailey school (and Ailey men can dance…amplitudinous jumps and Ailey boys are famous for their “tilts.”  In fact, in order to audition for Ailey, the men have to submit a photo of themselves performing a tilt!).  He was greatly helped though, by the fact that Tan Yuan Yuan displayed an amazing range of emotion from her desperate pleadings of innocence to Othello to her resoluteness in the end when she has resigned herself to death.  They were stunning together and I’m feeling on the verge of desperate to see either of them live someday.

At any rate, great DVD…highly recommended and definitely gritty.  Apparently it aired on PBS many years ago and was even nominated for an Emmy.  This is the kind of exposure American ballet companies (and dance in general) could really use more of today.  Anyway, I almost hate to post this clip because this is the penultimate scene and kind of spoils it in a way…but assuming you’re slightly more well read than I am (which is highly likely) you probably already knew that Desdemona dies at Othello’s hands.

You really should buy or rent the DVD for that first pas de deux though…I would.

Sumptuously Ominous…or Ominously Sumptuous?

30 Oct

Dear readers, today I have a special treat for you, a review of Othello, as performed by the Joffrey Ballet and written by my friend Hilary with one L (who you may remember hates enchanted forests and she’s the one I went to see Le Corsaire with).  She is also the author of her own blog, The Cupcake Avenger, which includes a great assortment of recipes and reviews of various gourmet bakeries.  So if you ever get the opportunity to see the Joffrey in Chicago, be sure to check out her blog for advice on where to get sumptuous cupcakes.  We all know ballet fans have refined tastes, so accordingly, your run of the mill grocery store cupcake or even the slightly higher end Starbucks variety simply won’t do.  We have more eclectic and often seasonal tastes, like pumpkin or apple spice in the fall.  So be sure to check out her blog for the benefit of your taste buds.  Seriously, she’s doing the work to find these hole-in-the-wall bakeries so take advantage of it.

So onto her review!  (with a few comments here and there from yours truly) *Also, all pictures are copyright of whomever took them.  This is totally educational.

Sumptuously Ominous…or Ominously Sumptuous?

The playbill for the Joffrey Ballet tells us that they are “America’s Company of Firsts.”  The first dance company to perform at the White House, the first to appear on television, the first to visit Russia, you get the idea.  However, I would also add that they may be the first to field an Othello with a six-pack. I mean, look at him. Seriously, just look. *drool*

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Steve says: Approved!

Ok. On to matters of substance.

On my trip to Chicago last weekend I was lucky enough to score a ticket to the Joffrey’s presentation of Lar Lubovitch’s Othello, which ran through October 25th at the gorgeous Auditorium Theatre.  In another first for the Joffrey, this presentation was the Midwest premiere for Lubovich’s 1997 work. Having already shown on both coasts in New York and San Francisco, it seems appropriate that this incredible piece finally makes its heartland debut in Chicago, Lubovitch’s hometown.  Another first you might notice is that this is a full-length American ballet (possibly the only American commissioned full-length work?  I’ll leave that research to Steve) [I looked into it and couldn’t find any info.  Most American ballets are one act, with the only full-length ones I can think of being A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Jewels and I don’t believe either was commissioned.  So I’ll go with “yes” and recklessly deny whatever the truth is]  Anyways, though the piece was a full evening with three acts, it did not feel lengthy in any way and, in fact, I could have watched all night.

What I loved about this work was that, though it re-enacts Shakespeare’s tale of love, lies, jealousy, revenge and murder, it does so not by painstakingly acting out each scene from the play, but rather by creating moving portraits that evoke the raw emotions of the characters.  By leaving much of the backstory relegated to the program notes, it was possible to portray just as much plot as was necessary to frame the beautiful range of emotion.  I also loved the seamless blending of classical and modern; the ornate costuming and regal poses that belie Shakespeare, but also the modern rolled shoulders and flexed ankles that allow us to experience the true depth of the characters’ anger and anguish.  From the very opening scene this juxtaposition of the sumptuous life of warlord Othello and the ominous fog of ever-present foreshadowing snake through every movement. [Tingles!]

I also have to give a shout out to the amazing score by Academy Award winner Elliot Goldenthal [Totally a Jew] and its equally amazing performance by the Chicago Sinfonietta.  Add to this that the Auditorium Theatre was designed by famous Chicago architects Adler & Sullivan in 1889 with an aim to produce the best acoustics in the world. Not too shabby.  Sometimes I take for granted that ballets will be accompanied by a live orchestra (here’s looking at you, Don Quixote at the Kennedy Center…), but until you’ve seen a full-length ballet performed to canned music you may not appreciate how much live music contributes to the atmosphere of the production [TOTES truesies]. For example, in the opening act, although Othello, Desdemona and the townsfolk all seem to be happily enjoying wedding festivities, the ominous tone prevails with Goldenthal’s shrieking oboes and flaring horns telling us that something is amiss with Othello’s right hand man, Iago (no, not a parrot perched on the shoulder of an evil emir named Jafaar [RAAAAWK! Cave of Wonders!]).  And again in act two, while we’re promised a sunny tarantella, Goldenthal keeps with the ominous minor keys and gives us more of a Danse Macabre to guide the company, dancing Thriller-like with arms outstretched and wrists limp. [You know I love a good macabre danse.  Dance.  Whatever]

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Steve says: Tis the season! Speaking of which, I have like four leftover bags of Kit-Kat bars because like ten trick-or-treaters came to my door (my favorites being a pair of boys, one dressed as a hot dog and the other as a banana). What to do with so much chocolate...

As for the actual movement, the more modern aspects definitely prevailed.  While there was the typical partnering, company and pas de deux work that you would typically expect with a full-length work (but no ghosts or enchanted forests!!) [Huzzah!  Clear skies prevail!] , there were very few of the flashy steps usually associated with classical counterparts, for example only a handful of grand jetés, and no stunning series of 16/32/138 fouettés rond de jambe en tournant.  [Although I’m sure the record is probably around 138, I believe the longest choreographed set of fouettes that I can think of is 96 counts, as opposed to 64 (which equates to 32 fouettes).  The 96/48 fouettes is done in Ricardo Cué’s Snow White that was choreographed on Tamara Rojo.  And because she’s a goddess, she tosses in triples and doubles like it’s no big deal]  There were, however, an inordinate number of fish dives…[It’s still one of my lifelong goals to find someone who can throw me into a fish dive]

Anyways, I have no doubt that the success of this piece was in no small part a result of the amazingly trained company.  Down to every last person on stage it was clear that only impeccable training could result in a performance that conveyed the modern aspects of powerful love, hatred, fear, betrayal and anger while still portraying the restrained, classical atmosphere we would expect from a Renaissance court.  If this production ever tours to your area, don’t think twice.  You can bet that any ballet graphically depicting execution and strangulation must be unique and I cannot recommend this powerful piece highly enough. 

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Steve says: Okay, so I haven't actually read Othello, and I don't know what's going on here.

 Thank you Hilary with one L for such an awesome review!  You’ve got me interested, and I’ve added the San Francisco ballet DVD featuring Desmond Richardson and Tan Yuan Yuan to my wishlist.  I also checked out some clips on youtube of the main pas de deux, and there’s one of Alessandra Ferri and Marcelo Gomes that is STUNNING.  No words…just goose bumps!

Rattle me bones

4 Oct

First post of October, one of my favorite months of the year!  I’m also writing this on about two hours of fragmented sleep, which is probably not a good idea and guarantees zero well thought out…content…but you only live once.  I love October because it puts me in the mood for many things…the changing leaves (I’ve always loved the smell of dead, wet leaves), anything involving pumpkins, and All Hallow’s Eve.  It doesn’t really make sense that Halloween would be one of my favorite holidays, considering I don’t go trick-or-treating, attend costume parties, or go to haunted houses, but there’s something about the cheery atmosphere, the symbolic characters, the massive amounts of discounted chocolate (the solution to all problems), and yes, pumpkins.  I do think some aspects of Halloween are pretty lame, and the lengths to which some people will go for costumes is wasteful, but I can’t help but admire the festive spirit.  Plus, one of my favorite memories of one of my best friends occurred on a beggar’s night, when a little child jumped out of a bush and startled her, and without thinking she said “God damn you!”  Good.  Times.

In terms of music, Halloween is ALL about Camille Saint-Saëns Danse Macabre for me, one of my absolute favorite pieces of all time.  Although in a past life I was definitely an orchestra patron who walked out of a Stravinsky concert outraged, I was most defos fascinated by Saint-Saëns.  Most balletomanes would know his name from The Dying Swan set to Le Cygne from Le Carnaval des Animaux.  Although, let it be known that Le Cygne is not my favorite movement, but rather Aquarium and Fossiles are instead.  It’s all a part of my geeky nature…just as I had aspirations to see Carlos Acosta, the Bolshoi Ballet, etc. so do I have aspirations to see certain sea creatures, with whale sharks being the current flavor (it was sea otters before, which was accomplished at the Seattle Aquarium where I bought a magnet).  Whale sharks are going to be tricky though because they’re raised in captivity in far fewer places, most of them in Asia, and I’m banking on my best bet being the Georgia Aquarium, which is also one of the few aquariums to house a manta ray.  Ideally, I would love to dive with whale sharks off the coast of Thailand or Australia, but that’s a much more complicated matter.  Anyway, Saint-Saëns, Aquariums, awesome, Fossiles, wonderful, and the latter quotes Danse Macabre in a major key, bringing us back to the original topic.

People who hang with me are forced to pose with dinosaur bones.  And yes, I've made her do this on more than one occasion.

People who hang with me are forced to pose with dinosaur bones. And yes, I've made her do this on more than one occasion.

I was fortunate to play Danse Macabre as a part of an orchestra, although my favorite arrangement is a chamber version for violin and piano, from the album Devil’s Dance, by Gil Shaham and Jonathon Feldman.  Another great track on there is Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Caprice Fantastique, but the whole album is really good and highly recommended, with endless potential for great dances.  As far as Danse Macabre is concerned, I love the time signature (it’s a waltzy three), and the texture is a bizarre juxtaposition of lyrical and bony…a lot like me, which I guess makes it easy to feel at home with it.  It has an element of playfulness to it that you wouldn’t expect from a dance involving death, and interested in seeing how people would interpret this, I of course carried out my usual excavations through YouTube, this time coming up with three unique interpretations.  The first is a fairly run of the mill “the Wilis have come out to play” group dance called La Melodie, and I have to say that I wasn’t particularly moved.  It was a little too technical and got “stuck” in several places, and although not every dance needs a story, I do think that it should evoke some kind of feeling and it was rather flat.  Are the Wilis happy to be playing?  Or are they somber as they journey into the underworld?  In all fairness, the choreographer mentions that it was their first classical work, but I do wish there was some more risk taking.

Next we have a solo from now San Francisco Ballet principal Tan Yuan Yuan, performing a modern solo entitled “Startling Dream,” and accordingly stiffness in her port de bras and the pencil straight lines of her legs were used as a way to convey the awkwardness of the music itself.  It’s an interesting solo, marred by a heinous competition number fluttering from her leotard.  It doesn’t say who conceived the choreography, but I like the real sense of desperation and terror that we often feel in nightmares.  Interestingly enough, I’m not bothered by the lack of a setting, and I think the all black stage enhances the piece, kind of like a body floating in nothingness, which my nightmares sometimes look like.  And sometimes in those nightmares I’m wearing a high cut leotard too.

Last, is a brilliantly disturbing interpretation by a famous Norwegian choreographer, Kjersti Alveberg.  I looked for a website on her, and her bio alone screams “creative mind” (something about her being a gypsy living in the universe of her unconscious where it matters more “who we are than who we want to be.”  She’s deep…and this coming from someone who takes fortune cookies seriously).  Her Danse Macabre is by far the most imaginative and the most grotesque (maybe even too much…I mean speaking of nightmares, her dance might give me them for a week), and her imagery is so creative…reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil but without the concern for acrobatics and impressing audiences, just pure art.  I think it really touches on an innate morbid curiosity humans have, where you can’t look away no matter how unsettling it can be.  It’s an utterly fascinating video dance, although I was a little disappointed with the very end, because the end of Danse Macabre is a cheeky plucking of two notes, which is one of the moments in the music that I find just a little saucy, and pardon the imagery but it’s like a “giving of the finger” if you know what I mean.  It’s a great moment that was purposely edited out, but I have to question that decision.  Tan Yuan Yuan’s solo only used an excerpt and didn’t have this, and La Melodie had it, but didn’t give it enough pizzazz.

So, I’m exhausted, and I’m sorry this entry isn’t particularly funny…when I’m tired most of my humor manifests in slapstick, and I’m glad none of you saw how I tripped coming up the stairs or shampooed my hair twice because I wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing.  And WOW I had a lot of typos…