Tag Archives: viengsay valdes

The Beast Fouette

7 Aug

I’m writing this entry as I watch TV, because one of my absolute favorite movies of all time, Clue is on.  Of course I own the DVD and could pop it in and watch it sans commercials, but it’s exciting to me that someone decided to broadcast it.  Just goes to show that a true classic never dies…and how can anyone forget one of the most memorable moments in the history of tap dance:

Anyway, do other dancers out there have a certain move that they’ve always wanted to learn?  I always say that there’s the big two that ballet dancers aspire to, which is thirty-two-fouettes and a six o’clock penchée (maybe two and a half…temps ciseaux is a popular one too).  Incidentally, I am not one of those people.  As much as I would love to have those things and I still aspire for bigger and better, but I don’t obsess over numbers like thirty-two, six o’clock, triple, etc. because it’s more important to me how a movement feels and how it’s executed.  This is one of the reasons why competitive swimming was such a bore for me as a young lad…shaving off milliseconds gave me no fulfillment in life (which is a pretty depressing conclusion for a ten year old.  Dark times).  Not to mention swimming is sooooo repetitive…can you imagine just doing tendus for eternity just so you could say you had the best tendu of all time?  Thankfully, ballet has much to offer and satisfies the appetites of those of us who can’t stand monotony.

People who get too caught up in quantities and big tricks can’t truly enjoy being in the present, and to me, the best way to improve technique is to really live in the present.  But I’m about to sell out because I have found my MOVE.  I have never, in my entire life wanted to be able to do something as badly as I want to do this:

The extraordinary, the unthinkable, fouette en relevé/pointe.  I’m crazy about it.  It’s beautiful to me how lifted and supported Viengsay is through her back and torso, and how free her leg is and lifted from underneath to rond de jambe and fouette around.  It has this unbound and soaring quality to it that has me all starry eyed and wistful.  The effect is subtle since the only thing that really changes is the omission of the plié but the result is like cheesecake.  Smooth, yet firm and holds its shape.

I have played around with this fouette, and not surprisingly it’s not going well.  For one thing, my body is a hot mess.  I am a lefty, and normally I do turns a la seconde to the left, because my right leg is the stronger supporting leg and can get a solid plié.  However, my right leg is also the more articulate, so it’s better at the fouette motion.  The drawback is, it has a weaker supporting leg to work with, and if I tried to do them to the left my left leg can’t seem to repeat the rond de jambe multiple times without folding into parallel.  So I do turns in second to the left, fouettes to the right.  One could call it ambidextrous, but it’s more like survival of the fittest.  So I work fouettes to the right but it’s not as comfortable so I can only get maybe between eight to twelve or so on a good day, which tells you that I shouldn’t be trying them on relevé, but there’s no harm in playing around.  But playing has resulted only in failure.  I can almost get it from a regular preparation and not from a series of fouettes since the opportunity for a bigger push presents itself, but still the result is the leg flails about as it wants to and takes you down with the ship.  As Jessica said, it’s a beast…and you’d be a fool not to believe it, but in regards to the beast fouette, I have only this to say:

Meanwhile, here’s a video of everyone’s favorite Carlos Acosta and Viengsay Valdes doing the entire Le Corsaire pas de deux, because you (I) can never get enough of his dancing and she also does the beast fouette again here (Jessica too said Carlos made her gasp, and she doesn’t gasp for Corsaire anymore).  Unfortunately the orchestra is kind of sort of heinously not good, but the dancing is of course sublime.  Viengsay also does some nifty double (and a triple) soutenous at the very end.  She’s just a cool ballerina.

So I shall conclude today’s entry with a Karen-ism to help you with your piques:

You inherently know how long your leg is…I just have to remind you to go to it.”

“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: