Tag Archives: vladimir malakhov

Born to be NOT wild

19 Feb

How are you, world?  Good?  I don’t know about you, but it has been a long winter (for those of us in the northern hemisphere).  Spring is finally showing signs of life with the slightest rise in temperatures and more sun these days.  So right now I’m feeling like people could use a little encouragement, which I often find from one of my idols, Coach Valorie Kondos-Field (aka “Miss Val”) the head coach of UCLA’s women’s gymnastics programs.  I admire her for many reasons, including the fact that she was a professional dancer and yet she finds herself in a somewhat unrelated career field.  It’s a testament that you never know where your skills and knowledge can be valuable and that people don’t have to be defined by one career.  I think she has a wonderful outlook on life and on teaching and I thought I’d share a couple of quotes from a recently published interview where she discusses women’s issues but also touches on her experiences as a dancer and coach. (read the full interview here)

CC!: You were diagnosed with scoliosis when you were 12. That’s a challenging age for girls without that added burden. How did you get through that troubling time?

Kondos Field: I danced classical ballet for 17 years. I didn’t have a dancer’s body, including the curve in my upper spine. However, I loved dancing so much that I never felt I had to be technically perfect to be a good dancer. My scoliosis was just a part of my body.

I’d also been told by ballet instructors that “Your neck’s too short,” “Your feet are too small,” “You don’t have natural turn-out,” and “You’re not flexible.” Okay… but I could dance! Because I didn’t let those disabilities bother me, I believed – and made everyone else believe – I was an amazing dancer.

CC!: What advice would you give other teacher-coaches to inspire and motivate young women to become the best they can be?

Kondos Field: Always recognize her weakness and then tell her the opposite. When I was growing up, I was the artistic one and my brother was the great student. He went on to become a rocket scientist. Literally. When I was 10, my mom told me I was just as smart as my brother, but I just didn’t care about school as much because I’d rather be playing the piano or dancing. I’ll never forget when she told me that. It hit me – I’m smart? Mom says I’m smart? I guess I am smart. From then on, I got good grades and graduated from UCLA with honors. My brother’s still a rocket scientist, and I’m still smart.

So when a student-athlete is struggling academically, I tell her she’s smart but just needs to learn how to study more effectively. When a student-athlete is struggling with her weight, I tell her she’s beautiful and can become anything she wants to be. If a student-athlete doesn’t compete well, I remind her that she has a very strong mind – so strong that she allows it to get in her way negatively. If she would take that same strength and think positively, she’d have different results.

I discuss this a lot with them: Your perception becomes your reality. When my perception shifted to realizing I was smart, I became a better student. When I danced, my perception was that I was an amazingly beautiful ballerina. Consequently, I got cast in many wonderful roles.

Agreed and agreed!  Nothing much else to say, except I hope that inspires some other people out there to keep chipping away at their weaknesses or maybe compliment someone out there (a student, friend, whatever) who is struggling.

But this really has little to do what I had planned for this entry, so I’m about to ambush you with a DVD review.  Surprise!

I’ve been distracted with the Olympics (hence the infrequent blogging, not to mention an overabundance of posts last week…I needed a little break) but yesterday I did squeeze in watching Born to be Wild: The Leading Men of American Ballet Theater.  A PBS special that was originally broadcast in 2002, it features ABT principals Ethan Stiefel, Vladimir Malakhov, Jose Manuel Carreño and Angel Corella.  I put off watching this DVD for a while because honestly, judging by the title I was prepared to be horrified.  Displays of machismo always fail to impress me and often make the subject of such a display look foolish, in my opinion.  Not to mention the fact that Born to be Wild recalls heinous sixth grade band concerts and marching band tunes that I did not care for.  My fears were somewhat actualized when the documentary opened with Ethan Stiefel, with a creature growing on his lower lip (a “soul patch?”), a bandana tied around his head, talking about how the best part of being a ballet dancer was getting to manhandle beautiful women.  I’m pretty sure (and hope to Billy Elliot) that the comment was tongue-in-cheek (he seemed to be getting a good laugh out of it), but I couldn’t help but feel the urge to “facepalm” and think “well that was two steps back for mankind.”

Once you get past that little calamity, it’s actually a really neat (albeit brief, less than an hour) documentary.  All four dancers come from different countries with different training backgrounds so it’s interesting to see all of that in action.  You get to see old competition footage, performance clips and rehearsal video for a piece entitled Non Troppo choreographed by Mark Morris, which is shown in full at the very end.  The documentary was anything but wild, which leads me to believe that the title given to it might very well be the worst title in the history of documentary title bestowing.  I don’t know who thought it would be some kind of effective marketing ploy, but really, such elegant and virtuosic dancing, insightful interviews, footage in the makeup chairs and a whimsical Mark Morris piece to a Schumann piano quintet aren’t going to convince the general populace that ballet is wild.  The only remotely wild element was the fact that Stiefel rides a motorcycle.  And maybe the part when the men were jumping on a trampoline and striking incredible aerial poses for a photo shoot.  I’m all for unconventional definitions of terms like “wild” and there are certainly wild ballets and dancers but this was not the way to do it.  Marketing FAIL.

My favorite profiles were on Corella and Malakhov, because of course I think they had the funniest anecdotes to tell, like how Corella found ballet because he wasn’t good at soccer and at karate some kid had kicked another one in the mouth so there was blood and screaming.  Or how one dance he performed, a Russian dance, included things he couldn’t do now (probably the move where he lands in a center split), not to mention Madrid is such a beautiful city.  Malakhov is far different, with the typical tragic Russian (Ukrainian) story of having to leave his family and also having to deal with politics that kept him out of the Bolshoi Ballet, which he decided on his own he didn’t want to be in anyway.  Through it all, he has a healthy sense of humor, a decidedly human appetite for junk food and of all the men, the loudest wardrobe.  You have to love that he’s daring with color in his dancewear.  While the other men are in black clothes, Malakhov doesn’t shy away from full body red or purple ensembles.  And why shouldn’t he?  He looks great in those colors!

Non Troppo rehearsals are interspersed throughout and Morris himself is quite an entertaining choreographer.  It was just fun to watch his process and see a choreographer who doesn’t take himself too seriously and yet he creates this beautiful work that is incredibly musical.  I love that he always carries the mini-score of the music he’s using (I love mini-scores…cute and useful) and his understanding of the music itself shows in the details of the choreography.  He’ll repeat certain phrases but change them the second time around to reflect differences in the dynamics of the music.  It’s capricious and very satisfying to watch.  It’s organized (again, anything but wild) and while there is no specific narrative there are moments of sensitivity like holding hands or the way they support each other in arabesque and spin their partners ’round in a promenade.  There is of course a “cross leaping” moment, which is signature Mark Morris, where dancers will leap downstage on diagonals crossing in front of each other.  Susan Hadley, a professor with OSU danced for Mark Morris and I remember when she choreographed a piece for BalletMet a few years ago, she too, had a cross leaping moment.  A good idea is a good idea.

While most parts of the documentary are indeed on YouTube, I definitely recommend a viewing of Non Troppo.  It’s seven and a half minutes that are entirely worth your time and you can really see the individual styles of each dancer.  Malakhov in particular (who you can easily identify because he’s the puma in the red shirt that is all limbs) tosses his head back in a way that is so distinctly Russian…you gotta love it.

It’s okay to laugh in ballet

4 Feb

I find it hard to believe that anything could be more important in life than laughter.  So today’s post is all about ballet and comedy…ballemedy if you will.  Especially in a world is so grounded in tradition and formalities I think humor is often overlooked in ballet and it’s important to remind ourselves to think of humor as a completing element; nobody is truly human without it (is that not the essence of this blog…or of my life for that matter?).  Dancers themselves don’t always take things so seriously but when we see this scrupulously polished finished product on the stage, we forget that fact as the performers whisk us away into a world of fantasy and splendor.  So I present to you some evidence that ballemedy is alive and well, kicking us in the gut so we double over in laughter:

The first is a piece entitled Le Grand Pas de Deux, with choreography by Christian Spuck (the resident choreographer of the Stuttgart Ballet).  The music is Gioachino Rossini’s overture from his opera La gazza ladra (or The Thieving Magpie).  A fine piece with plenty of furious strings and a flittering piccolo melody that sounds like fun (although I’d rather shoot myself then play piccolo again.  While the piccolo itself is very cute, playing it can feel like trying to squeeze your face through a keyhole).  The overture certainly inspires a comedic air and is often used as such in popular culture, like that video on youtube of cats doing funny things…it should come as no surprise that the overture makes a fine incidence of ballemedy as well.  So Le Grand Pas de Deux debuted in 2000 (to who knows what kind of reviews…and who cares anyway?  It’s a great piece) and has all kinds of giggle-worthy moments.  I love that there’s a cow in a tutu onstage, wonderful little touches of odd looking choreography amongst a dazzling array of classical steps.  It’s one of those pieces that you can’t imagine would ever be boring for the performers.  Especially for such professionals I would think it would even be therapeutic to be able to take to the stage and get a laugh every now and then, amongst the plethora of applause, flowers and even tears.  There are a few performances of this on YouTube, of them I most enjoyed  Julia Krämer and Robert Tewsley of the Stuttgart Ballet:  

Next we have a gala…performance (not quite a piece) with lots of cross-dressing, role reversals and a large hammer.  This came from the World Ballet Festival in Tokyo, where principals from top companies all over the world gathered to dance like they never have before.  You have Vladimir Malakhov as Giselle, partnered by Diana Vishneva as Count Albrecht and Malakhov is surprisingly proficient at pointe, a rare talent for a danseur.  Their lifts were absolutely breathtaking and set a new standard for dancers aspiring to perform the principal roles.  Aren’t you glad my last post was about Giselle so you know what I’m talking about?  Moving on, the gala performance included many famous variations like the Bluebird variation from Sleeping Beauty (with a tragic end) but they saved the fireworks for last; Natalia Osipova doing the male variation from The Flames of Paris.  With a giant hammer (of which I couldn’t discern the purpose of such an implement, but if I know Japan, I know they love their giant hammers.  Purpose?  Not necessary.).  The crowd goes nuts when she leaps onto the stage, ascending to heights that earn her own strata in Earth’s atmosphere that is aptly named the Osipovasphere.  I’m amazed that she basically does the male variation in its entirety (with a few interpolations…although I highly doubt she’s incapable of a pas de ciseaux, aka “switch leap”).  Great to see her get to jump in regular ballet shoes instead of pointe shoes as well…that has to be liberating.  Enough talk, now video:

For the last shred of ballemedy I would like to draw your attention to a former ballet dancer, Megan Mullally.  Prior to her days (much prior, actually) as the martini soaked, piccolo-voiced Karen Walker on the NBC sitcom Will and Grace, Mullally was in fact a soloist with the Oklahoma City Ballet when she was in high school, dancing with them for five years and attending summer intensives at the School of American Ballet.  During interviews in promotion of the remake that must not be named (Fame), Mullally recalled her experiences at SAB (housed in the Juilliard building), talking about how strict and disciplined it was and how old Russian ladies would say mean things while wearing sunglasses (“Make plié!” Perhaps?).  It was the acting in ballet that she was most drawn to and actually inspired her to leave ballet and pursue acting as a career instead.  But you know what they say…you can take the dance out of a dancer but you can’t take the dancer out of…mmmkay.  You know what they say.  At any rate, in more recent years she became a fan of SYTYCD and even had the nerve to skip a meeting for her own talk show that was set to premiere, just to attend the finale.  For which, not only did she not have a ticket, she was also busted for snapping photos inside, which they so kindly announced over the intercom: “Ladies and gentlemen, Megan Mullally is in the house and she’s taking pictures illegally.”  She obviously continues to enjoy dance, even if it isn’t the main priority in her life and it’s funny where your past experiences can take you.  We all know the benefits of having experience in dance because it develops internal rhythm and musicality, but whoever thought such talents could be called upon in a situation like this:

Oh Megan.  How I heart you.  My friend Liz said that she hopes Megan was paid a lot for that (a shorter, edited version ahs been hitting the television waves as a commercial), to which I merely replied, “Hell, I’d do that for free!” (and videotaping?  Not necessary).  Clearly, Liz has also forgotten what it’s like to go grocery shopping with me in the first place.