Tag Archives: vivaldi

Balancing the Balanchine Machine

23 Apr

Last night I attended Pacific Northwest Ballet’s All Balanchine program, featuring Serenade, Square Dance and The Four Temperaments.  I can’t tell you how thrilling it was to finally see Balanchine choreography live.  As much as I love to forage for ballet videos online or rent various media from the library, NOTHING compares to a live performance.  I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to take a stroll down to Seattle’s Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, a beautiful, prismatic venue and see one of the nation’s top companies in action.

I have to say, Seattle audiences offer a distinct brand of casualness that had this people-watcher both smiling to himself and shaking his head in dismay.  There were people in attendance who looked like they had just emerged from the forest, fresh from hiking a five mile trail.  I’m talking blue jeans, backpacks, water bottles and the essential black North Face fleece jacket.  Some say an outsider’s inability to pronounce nearby city names like Issaquah or Puyallup easily denotes a newcomer to Seattlean lands, but as a visual person I find that the lack of the North Face pullover or the presence of a tan complexion are almost as telling without having to engage in conversation about the local geography.  Of course there were also people who glammed up for the evening, which many feel is also a sign of respect for the performers.  As for me, I was somewhere in the middle, neither here nor there because I am still unfamiliar with the culture of the local folk.

Disappointment came not in how people were dressed but in the numbers themselves.  I realize Thursdays are perhaps not the most popular night to do indulge in the arts but come on Seattle!  I bought a ticket maybe half an hour before the show, sat dead center in the second tier and was utterly dismayed when the curtain came up after realizing that the second tier was maybe 10-15% full.  This is bigger than a travesty, it’s a TRAVESTY.  An ultra travesty even!  PNB is a great company with amazing talent…the very fact that there were so many empty seats makes me feel like the people of this city takes the company’s presence for granted.  So take it from an outsider Seattleites…you have it good and you should take care of your ballet company before it’s too late.  From what I’ve read, PNB is reducing the number of performances they will do of each program next season, supposedly due to financial pressures and given the lack of Thursday attendance it’s not surprising they have economic concerns.  It’s already begun; who knows what additional cuts may have to be made until they can find more stability.

At any rate, the show opened with Serenade, a signature Balanchine work that I had only seen pieces of before so I had some idea of what to expect.  Even so, as Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings in C began to play and the curtain went up to reveal a neat assemblage of dancers in perfect diagonals, holding out one arm with the palm facing out I couldn’t help but get chills from the sheer beauty of it all.  It had a majestic simplicity that drew audible gasps from the crowd, despite the fact that none of the dancers had even moved yet.  Serenade is a perfect example of why Balanchine’s choreography is so special; the way he layers phrases of movement with the structure of the music itself, overlapping one group of dancers into another to create these geometric onstage relationships is uncannily pleasing to the eye.  But as the ballet began to unfurl before me it became clear what makes Serenade perhaps a little different from the others.  The ballet takes on a life of its own and becomes this living, breathing spirit that harmonized the organic and ethereal.  It’s like watching this gargantuan flower blossom in front of you, but it too must die and accordingly so does the ballet.  But we don’t stop enjoying the flowers every spring and somehow the same sense of renewal can be found in Serenade.  I shouldn’t read too much into it though because Balanchine insisted that there is no narrative for the ballet.

After the first intermission came Square Dance, which I read just a smidgen about in NYCB dancer Kyle Froman’s book Waiting in the Wings where he briefly discusses what it’s like to dance the piece.  After reading the program notes (a mistake, perhaps) I found myself quite confused.  If someone told you there’s a ballet that mixed 17th century court dance, classical ballet and American Western folk dance to music by Vivaldi and Corelli, what would you make of it?  I was conjuring strange images of poofy dresses and bolo ties but it turns out I was way off the mark.  The title was somewhat misleading but more importantly I think Balanchine sought to capture the spirit of 17th century court dance and square dance, perhaps drawing attention to the fact that no matter what the dance form is, there is something about the relationship between the people in the physical act of dancing that is the same.  That’s probably why so many dance forms have popped up all around the world in the first place; we have an insatiable, universal need to connect with people through music and dance.  The highlight of this piece though was an incredible solo by principal Lucien Postlewaite, for whom it seems the solo was written for.  Set to Arcangelo Corelli’s Sarabanda, the solo is somber and lyrical with luxurious arching backwards, which isn’t the type of movement typically given to men.  Neither is lifting the leg to the side in a high developpé a la seconde and I have to say Postlewaite has some serious a la seconde if you know what I mean…and I don’t mean that it was good because it was extraordinarily high, but the way in which it filled the empty space and arrived into the line is what made it breathtaking.  Man I was jealous!  Anyway, who knew Balanchine could make something sensitive for men?

Closing out the night was The Four Temperaments, which I was really excited for because I love Paul Hindemith music.  While not consistently a fan of Balanchine’s so called “black and white ballets” (for those unfamiliar with the term, Balanchine choreographed several ballets where instead of costumes or tutus, he had the dancers where their practice leotards and tights, in the standard black leotards/light pink tights for the women and the men in white shirts/black tights/white shoes and socks.  It was kind of a scandal at the time), I thought Hindemith’s score would make things interesting for me.  Unfortunately it ended up being my least favorite of the night because sometimes the black and white ballets seem a little insubstantial to me and there just isn’t enough chutzpah.  It’s like going to the grocery store and finding Peanut Lovers Chex Mix when you really wanted Bold Party Blend.  Or not.  The black and white ballets often feature bizarre movements like turning in, flexed feet and hunching over which I did find fascinating at first and all throughout I sensed an integrity towards Hindemith’s score but admittedly I wanted some fireworks.  And not necessarily bravura steps but just some more dynamics.  Much of the piece places focus on just a pair of dancers doing smaller movements and it’s kind of like watching some of the bioluminescent weirdoes in the deepest parts of the ocean you’d see in nature documentaries.  Or not.

At any rate, I had a fantastic evening and felt like it was a wonderful welcome to what the city of Seattle has to offer.  I am looking so forward to attending more PNB performances in the future I’m almost back in the Eastern time zone.  And given the lifts the dancers performed at the end of Square Dance, I’ve discerned that my beloved Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux is most defos a reality.  One day, one day.

Meanwhile, PNB has a few more performances of All Balanchine this weekend.  Ticket info can be found at their website: http://www.pnb.org/

Too many questions…just Shine On!

14 Oct

This is going to be a weird post.  I was recently reminded of one of my favorite movies, B.A.P.S., starring Halle Berry and Natalie Desselle.  I have to preface by saying this is one of those movies that you wouldn’t think would be that good, but it’s actually really charming.  The plot has little to do with dance, although the impetus for getting the two homegirls from Georgia, Nisi (Berry) and Mickey (Desselle) to LA is that they blow their life savings on a pipe dream that Nisi will become a famous music video dance girl for some rapper.  She is of course, way out of her league but there is a scene where she is standing in line for the cattle call audition, and she has a little throwdown with a jazz dancer.  It is, quite possibly the funniest thing I think Halle Berry has ever done, and you know I love it when someone dances funny!:

Sure, she needed a reality check (and she got it), but you have to appreciate a person who puts in their all, regardless of what the end product is.  Honesty and dishonesty is kind of the central theme of the movie, and how good people are good people, no matter where they come from.  Also, that dreams are worth pursuing and sometimes it takes an unconventional and unexpected way to get there (their original dream is to open a combination hair salon/restaurant).  Although B.A.P.S. got some scathing critical reviews (many of which I found overly pretentious anyway.  Seriously, some people need to learn to SMILE more often), it seems to resonate well with actual people who aspire to achieve something great.  There are a number of laugh-out-loud scenes, and I won’t go through them because those definitely have nothing to do with dance, but I will say that one involves the orange vinyl suit Nisi is wearing in that audition, and a disastrous encounter with a bidet, due to an unenlightened state of its actual purpose.  The reason I bring this up is because the song that was playing during that debacle I immediately recognized as the Allegro Assai from Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Recorders in D Minor, a song that was on the very first CD I ever bought.  Small world!  Oh, and the song at the end of the movie is dare I say, kick ass…although the movie version is a cover and not available in the soundtrack (or apparently anywhere on Earth), the original song is Shine On by Cindy Mizelle and Tony Moran, with the radio edit being the closest to the movie track.  A must for any jazz class playlist, or if like me, you need an upbeat song to wake you up from the dead every morning.

Download Link for Shine On

Even though the dance aspect of this movie is thin, it got me thinking about dance, the pursuit of dreams and taking risks.  How can dancers balance a sense of honesty about their expectations, neither overestimating their abilities nor depreciating them?  Or how do dancers decide whether it’s worth pursuing their dreams, or how should the people around them either support that pursuit or maybe tell them it’s okay to consider other options?  And how can dancers retain a sense of identity and who they are, when they constantly have choreographers, artistic directors and the like telling them what to do and how to do things?  How can dancers stay sane in a world that is so wonderful and yet one of the cruelest “businesses” out there?  Does the sun make noise?  I have a million questions swirling around in my mind when I think about this, because it’s such a sensitive topic.  I don’t think there’s a right answer because it’s so different for each individual.  I mean, I want to run through the hills telling everyone they should try to pursue their dance dreams, but I’d have to do so knowing that many are inevitably going to be hurt by the process…and is that necessarily a good thing?  The ethics of the situation are killing my fairy tales and sunshine brain.

Come to think of it, I’m not even sure what my role is in the world of dance.  I always find that it’s much easier for me to encourage other people than it is to encourage myself.  I have a knack for analyzing situations, computing the possibilities, and playing the optimist for others…it comes naturally for me.  I have been told this on many an occasion, that I’m an awesome “supporter,” but what does that mean?  Does it mean I should be doing the thing I am deficient at and challenge myself to take risks or does it mean I should do what I’m good at and be a loving patron of the arts?  Hypothetically speaking, if I were to win the lottery, I’d be faced with the choice of taking the risk or being the philanthropist, and I’m not sure what I would do.  What about my dreams of dancing?  What exactly are my dreams of dancing?  I don’t even know, and it bothers me that the one person I can’t seem to help is myself.  But you know what they say…those who see everything are typically blind to themselves.

Anyway, that was probably fifty more questions than necessary but it’s the thought process that haunts me every now and then, more so lately as I struggle to find a job and in addition to the struggle of figuring out what I should be doing in life!  (and where!  This town is driving me nuts!) I’m beginning to think…well, I’m pretty sure at this point I know since I have a tendency to be one of those “black and white with my heart set on it” kind of people, that there is probably one job in the entire world that’s right for me, which would make things easy…if I knew what it was.  But as Nisi would say “good things come in threes” so when things are good, they might just be triple good and maybe it’s a matter of looking for the signs in the tea leaves.  To others out there who are in a similar boat, or dare I say the same one, chances are you think too much.  So in an effort to encourage, I’m about to get all saccharine and motivational on you…just listen to Cindy Mizelle and “Shine on!”

B.A.P.S. in 10 parts on YouTube:


5 Jun

As “13 Feats” is ongoing, a little insider info:  According to Magelas, the costumes for the piece she’s in are wedgie city, or as I like to say “won’t you take me to…doododo…wedgie toooooowwwwn!”  (front and back if you know what I’m sayin) Turns out dance costumes aren’t always the most practical for comfortable movement. 

Now that the quarter is over, I almost forgot to mention that *I* performed(ish).  I took a class, learning a ballet piece entitled “Vivaldiana,” choreographed by Jon Rodriguez of Dayton Ballet.  Several graduate students (among them, the celebrated Jelena Danyushka Baraksanova) learned the piece via labanotation score (aka migraine inducing dance hieroglyphics…seriously, it’s like looking at a bunch of crop circles and Nazca drawings to the untrained eye), and as part of their academic development, taught it to us unsuspecting victims.  I say victims, solely because of this heinous faux pas de bouree step with Fosse inspired arms that tangles your feet and ends in tears.  I nearly wiped out on it many times, and the panic was always written all over my face when I knew it was coming up.

Set to Antonio Vivaldi’s Double Violin Concerto in A minor, but with a different third movement, I was initially unimpressed by the epically snail paced tempo.  As an orchestra snob, I like things brisk and lively, even if they aren’t supposed to be.  I found recordings of the same concerto that were at least a minute faster in each of the three movements, and from a listener’s perspective prefer them.  However, due to the sadistic, twitchy pas de bourees, I have reevaluated and accepted the purpose of the slower tempi.  Mr. Rodriguez, you win…for now.

This was probably what I would call my first experience in really learning a dance.  I’ve performed in OSU informances (informal performances), in various pieces choreographed by the graduate students teaching the classes I took, but it’s not like I had to be good.  This time, I had to be a little more intense with my approach, which was a new and appreciated change of pace.  It makes me want to do more with dance (even if I am a spazzy, smiley, entertainer at heart.  Did I mention I get terrible stage fright?).

Classes culminated in an open rehearsal where we ran what we knew of the piece (the first movement we were unable to complete) and what a thrill that was.  A couple of friends, including Totos came to watch, and she totally gave me the best compliment ever when she asked me when did I “become so fierce?”  Cloud 9!  Once upon a time we took classes together, and then the little princess went away to do an internship at Disney World, and her current schedule is way too messed up to have any time to dance.  During the spring of many moons ago,  I was BAD (Totos however, is gorgeous).  It was my first advanced ballet class, and I was a train wreck.  I remember actually kicking Totos in the face when we were doing a penchee at barre, and lifting my eyebrow in utter confusion when it came to petite allegros.  So for her to recognize how far I’ve come was like getting a free Der Dutchman chocolate chip cookie (only those who have partasted would know such pleasure).

So muchos thanks to you, Totos, my love for your support and awesomeness.

And I conclude today’s entry with my new favorite sound effect for life, “sha-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh.”  It is universal in meaning, and applies to all forms of dance. 

Shimmying in jazz?  Sha-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh. 

Shaking your booty in hip hop? Sha-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh.

The beginning of the first movement of Vivaldiana? SHA-DUH-sha-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh.  

And what exactly is a gargoulliade in ballet?  Why it’s simply a pas de chat where midair your legs go “sha-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh.” 

A 3-toed sloth wiggling his fingers at you?  Sha-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh.

Take it, don’t leave it, enjoy and spread like peanut butter.