Tag Archives: undine

It blogs again!

21 Apr

Greetings readers!  Many moons have passed since I have last written and I am finally ready to jump back into the thick of blogging.  It took me about a week to drive from Columbus, Ohio to Seattle, Washington, and was without internet for another week or so and thus extending the hiatus.  I tried to access free wifi after I got here, but apparently Seattle Starbucks do not offer free wireless.  I then attempted to use the wireless at the public library, but for some reason couldn’t connect to the internet.  And now that I have internet at home, my wireless is still not working.  I seriously can’t win…but I’m not surprised though because my laptop is becoming increasingly senile and uncooperative so I foresee a replacement in the near future.  At any rate, although it has more to do with my personal experiences rather than dance, I thought I’d share a little bit from my westward journey from Columbus to Seattle.

The first few sections of the trek are hardly worth noting because I only stopped to see family, spending the first night with my cousin in Urbana, Illinois.  We ate my favorite Korean dish (beef stew!), played a board game (Settlers of Catan) and my cousin showed me some amazing pictures from Yellowstone National Park, which was on my list of places to go.  After brunch the next morning, I drove to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, breezing through Iowa (although I did stop in Des Moines, where I had issues finding a gas station of all things).  Next was probably the worst part…driving through South Dakota, which was utterly miserable.  The only time I ever felt drowsy was during this section of the drive and it should be noted that audio books and dried, unsweetened mangoes saved my life.  Were it not for Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter and the constant noshing on leathery strips of tropical fruit, I would have been bored out of my mind.  I also started The Hobbit somewhere along that drive and while I enjoy the story immensely there are many songs in the book which became irritating when sung in character by the various dwarves and elves.

The weather was a little temperamental when I arrived in Rapid City, South Dakota so I settled for just checking into a hotel and crashing for the night.  I devoted the entire next day (which had perfect weather) to Badlands National Park because I’m a nature geek and had high expectations, which were met, exceeded and blasted to the moon.  I am absolutely in love with the Badlands…they are a wonderful combination of stark and pristine and I couldn’t believe the moments of complete tranquility I felt out there.  At some points it was completely silent, such that you might even think your ears popped but it’s really just the environment.  In other areas, a chorus of melodic birds filled the air and it was like nothing I had ever heard before.  I can’t remember ever feeling so at peace…which was aided by the fact that there were hardly any people there.  I literally could have run around naked and nobody would have known, but knowing my luck had I done so, that would have been the one moment a park ranger would have driven by.  I hated surrendering to practicality, but the last thing I needed was to be arrested with my life packed in a car.  I settled for playing in the Badlands instead and snapped a couple of pictures of me…dancing!  Check it out:

Not bad for no barre.

I spent all day in the Badlands because I wanted to see the sunset and almost didn’t get it because at the last minute a storm was rolling in over the horizon.  The weather had been perfect all day and then in the penultimate hour it became chilly and gray.  However, I am more stubborn than the weather and despite ominous conditions I waited it out—and was rewarded!  A sliver of sky cleared and allowed the sun to come through, burning the sky with beautiful amber tones.  It didn’t last very long…but ephemerality is no stranger to patrons of dance.

Nothing like a Badlands sunset!

Next was Mount Rushmore (among other things) in the Black Hills National Forest west of Rapid City.  Apparently it had snowed the day before (the storm I saw while at the Badlands I believe) but I guess nature was on my side because that cleared everything the next day and the sky was pure azure.  Mount Rushmore is a fairly short trip; you go, you see, you leave and pay $10 to park there.  Oddly enough, the parking pass is good for an entire year which is strange because I can’t imagine visiting Mount Rushmore that often so if anyone out there wants to go, let me know and I’ll mail you the parking pass.  You have all of 2010 to comply.  At any rate, always cool to see a national monument in person, and look who else was there:


After spending a little too much time in the Black Hills and heavily debating whether I should have bought one of the beautiful (and expensive) tipi dream catchers from the Crazy Horse Memorial gift shop, it was on to Livingston, Montana, near Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming (by this point I was now on Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods in my audio book queue).  Unfortunately most of Yellowstone was closed because April is the tail end of their winter season but I did get to see the Mammoth Hot Springs and a couple of other things like Undine Falls (the mythology of Undine spreads!).  Like the Badlands, hardly anyone was at Yellowstone but it was colder so I didn’t feel much like playing (the hiking around was a workout by itself!).  I wish I could say more about Yellowstone, but will have to do so another day when I’ve seen more of the park.  The geology geek in me is desperate to return and soak in the whole experience to the fullest.

Mammoth Hot Springs...we'll tango again.

From Yellowstone I drove to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, a surprisingly delightful city where I stopped for lunch at a bakery/café called Pastry and More.  I didn’t buy many baked goods so I suppose I had more of the More rather than the Pastry, but it was immensely delicious (here’s a link to a review I wrote on Yelp).  From Coeur d’Alene it was pretty much a straight drive to Seattle and after a week of sight seeing, hotels, audio books and Lady Gaga, I had arrived!  Since then it’s been a mess of shopping for groceries, furniture, walking around and getting lost then finding things again.  There will be much to discuss in the days to come, including the illustrious Pacific Northwest Ballet’s All Balanchine Program, which I will see this weekend.  Going from never having seen a Balanchine work live to an evening that includes some of his signature pieces is an exhilarating welcome to the city to say the icing on the cake?  I can walk there!

I love this city.

“Diana was no slut” – Mythology and Ballet

5 Aug

Today an odd series of coincidences happened…first, I went to OSU’s new Thompson Library, which is massive and sparkly with lots of windows and new computers and such, to borrow a book that contained an essay I was looking for (Toeing the Line: In Search of the Gay Male Image in Contemporary Classical Ballet).  I figured I might as well look for other materials, and checked the library catalog and also found Peter Stoneley’s A Queer History of the Ballet.  When I located that book, nearby was this wonderful photography book published by the Royal Opera House, on Sir Frederick Ashton (who is pictured on the back doing a jig as the hedgehog “Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle” from his The Tales of Beatrix Potter ballet.  I have a feeling Sir Ashton and I are going to get along nicely).  When leaving the library, several books in tow I happened upon five (yes FIVE) four leaf clovers and a five leaf clover, all in this little patch that was less than a square foot.  It made me recall that I had a fortune cookie just two days ago that said “an unexpected event will bring you riches.”  Maybe the cookie meant the Ashton book, or maybe it meant the clovers…but I hope my luck continues. (and finds me a JOB or a position with Americorps!)

Part of me thinks the fortune cookie should have said "He who has all the luck in the world will never find job."  Maybe there is something to what that Siamese cat in Disney's Aristocats said..."Shanghai, Hong Kong, Egg fu yung, fortune cookie always wrong."

Part of me thinks the fortune cookie should have said "He who has all the luck in the world will never find job." Maybe there is something to what that Siamese cat in Disney's Aristocats said..."Shanghai, Hong Kong, Egg fu yung, fortune cookie always wrong."

Oh, and if you’re wondering “why the queer ballet reading?” That’s independent research for a SEKRET project that’s going to take light years to finish, but know that I fully intend to make it known to the world.

Back to Ashton, I had been meaning to get more into his work because I’m mostly intrigued by his ballet Ondine.  I became enamored with the myth of Undine thanks to a positively divine flute sonata by the German composer Carl Reinecke (although some might argue The Little Mermaid was my first exposure to an Undine-influenced story, but with a Disney-fied ending since Prince Eric doesn’t die).  The second movement of the sonata is this tornado of sixteenth notes in a key with 2 sharps, and a swarm of additional sharps, double sharps and naturals.  It also has a nice little key change to FIVE sharps and is a complete nightmare to read.  I do fancy fast music, but ironically it’s the slow melody in this Intermezzo that captivates me the most; in fact, it’s probably my favorite melody ever written for the flute.  I actually wish Reinecke’s Undine was turned into a short ballet of some kind…Hans Werner Henze’s score for Ondine is a’ight, but Reinecke’s sonata will always be my first love.  Plus, his sonata is romantic era so it’s a little more conducive to storytelling (although Reinecke didn’t have a Margot Fonteyn).  Oh, and if you’re wondering why I’m switching between Undine/Ondine, Ondine is the anglicized version of Undine…so blame the Germans and Brits if you must, not me.  Anyway, I have a request for the world…someone out there, for the love of Billy Elliot, PLEASE choreograph a ballet to Reinecke’s Undine!  Just listen to virtuoso Emanuel Pahud play it (the aforementioned favorite melody begins at the 1:50 mark…le sigh.  The other 3 movements are also available from the same user.  It listens to the first movement too):

For whatever reason, I’m in a “myth-based ballet” phase these days.  Hence, my interest in Ashton’s Sylvia too, which I didn’t even know was based on a myth until flipping through the book quickly just today.  I’ve also been watching a lot of Diana and Acteon on YT, and I dig the coda.  It’s a catchy little number (well, I guess they all are…but I’m ranking it no.2 in my favorite codas list) and I finally located an mp3 of it to listen to while vacuuming (you’d be surprised how much more fun average chores are when you listen to ballet codas on your ipod as you do them.  I’m serious).  Although it’s conducted by Richard Bonynge, who I’m thinking hasn’t conducted this ballet live because he takes the Diana variation at light speed, and I can’t even imagine some poor ballerina trying to dance at his tempo, and he has a history of this because his Le Corsaire recording is monstrously fast too.  Terrence Kern did a recording of Le Corsaire too, and his was worse if you can believe it.

Anyway, Diana and Acteon is kind of like the leftover sesame chicken of the ballet world.  It’s well known, but doesn’t stand alone because it’s 12 minutes of leftovers from Petipa’s Le Roi Candaule, and Vaganova-ized (microwaved) for consumption today.  I continue this metaphor by pointing out that sesame chicken isn’t even authentic Chinese food (and before I get angry e-mails from Jews up in arms, nobody orders sesame chicken more than I do, this isn’t an insult), and likewise Diana and Acteon the ballet doesn’t follow the myth at all.  First of all, according to wikipedia, in Le Roi Candaule Petipa originally had it as Diana and Endymion, which doesn’t make a lot of sense because Endymion is associated with Selene, although sometimes Selene and Diana were mixed up so I suppose it’s a reasonable mistake.  However, when Vaganova herself changed the character to Acteon, any argument for authenticity flies out the window because the myth between Diana and Acteon doesn’t have a happy ending.  It goes that Acteon, a strapping young hunter sees her bathing in the nude.  Now Diana was no slut…she was mad as a hornet and forbade him to speak of that indecency, and if he did he would turn into stag.  Long story short, he calls out to his hunting party, turns into a stag, and is killed and eaten by his own hunting dogs.  Somehow, I think a flirtatious exchange with Acteon was the last thing on iron-chaste Diana’s mind.

But we all know the point of ballet isn’t to stick to the story…although there is that one little reference to the stag when at the very end the male dancer does a stag leap offstage while Diana is doing an arabesque onstage (shooting an arrow at him?).  Besides, Diana is the one who is supposed to be nekkid and yet it’s always the male dancer in this variation that’s showing a lot more skin (we’re talkin dance belt + loincloth.  A large loincloth if they’re lucky).  I’m perfectly fine with adaptations of stories and artistic liberties for the purposes of ballet movement (I have to be for the SEKRET project).  Plus Diana and Acteon is fun to watch because it includes a lot of witchy goodies that requires hefty technique.  My favorite Acteon (and this should come as no surprise) is Carlos Acosta.  He just has that “hunter machismo” which can especially be seen in Alicia Alonso’s version (after Petipa) because it includes this gargantuan lift where he sets down the ballerina just using one arm.  She also gave the ballerina even more fouettes to do, doing them on a diagonal with a flourish of the arms in a double pirouette, changing the spot later on mid-fouette to be en face and the whole shebang ends with a partner assisted pirouette where the guy then just lets go and she’s supposed to keep going.  Crazy and amazing (henceforth “cramazing?”) is the only way to describe it.

Now the following video features Carlos and Viengsay Valdes, and it’s neither of their best performances.  This performance is known though because Viengsay was sick and the poor thing is practically dying by the end.  But the show must go on, and I also include it for this inhuman leap Carlos does, which I’m not sure exactly what it is…it could be called a cabriole of some kind or a grand jeté battu…whatever it is, it’s a mystical leap that will take your breath away, and you’ll know it when you see it (not to mention he also does a revoltade, or as I like to call it, “the deathwish”):

And just to show that Viengsay is a more than capable and wonderful dancer; check out her Diana coda here:

This was a better performance for Carlos too: