Tag Archives: vladimir vasiliev aka vladdy-v

MacMillan makes it a little better

10 Oct

Autumn weather is settling in and I decided to avoid the chill, bunker down and have an English themed day.  I’m in the mood because I also baked a fruitcake yesterday, from an English recipe friends of our family gave us, and it is divine.  Americans typically have a bad impression of fruitcake, even though most have never eaten it, and those that do eat these nasty bricks of candied fruit and Billy knows what else.  It has to be done right (with minimal candied fruit, by the way), and there’s just no tradition here.  It takes a fair amount of effort to make, and there’s a lot of waiting involved because certain ingredients have to be cooked and then cooled to room temperature while covered, then the cake is baked for a couple of hours, and then that has to be cooled while wrapped in aluminum foil (which ironically, keeps heat in) until the final step, which is splashing the cake with spiced rum for added flavor.  Care has to be taken to cover the ingredients while cooling in order to preserve the moistness of the cake.  It’s a drawn out process, but it’s worth it, and even though I started yesterday it wasn’t ready until TO-DAY!!!  Isn’t it lovely, and harvest festive in its coloring?

And all for me...

And all for me...I can still smell the spiced rum.

So in continuance with the theme, I decided to make myself try and find something to like about Romeo and Juliet…after all, what could be more English than Shakespeare and Elizabethan times?  As I’ve said before, I am not a fan of this ballet…score is creepy, libretto grates on my nerves.  I saw BalletMet stage this a couple of years ago as my first full length classical ballet, although it was a newer staging by a David Nixon.  I don’t remember too many specifics about the production as a whole, but it followed the typical formula for an R&J and I remember thinking it was pretty good, despite my misgivings about the plot and music.  I did have one gripe though, which was a little trio of jesters danced by children.  The weird thing was that they would appear in what felt to me as inappropriate scenes, and I remember one did some gymnastics which was just out of place.  The worst part was that they were dressed in these phosphorescent neon-checkered eye sores.  That one scarred me for life.

But what is it about this story/ballet that makes people go gaga?  And why does it inspire so many choreographers?  There are stagings by contemporary choreographers like the one I saw, but then you have so many influential figures who have done it too like Lavrovsky, Grigorovich, MacMillan, Ashton, Tudor, Nureyev, Cranko to name a few…on the one hand it’s amazing that one story inspired so many legendaries, but on the other it’s a little overwhelming.  I don’t think any of those choreographers are ever going to get me to be able to “get it” in the way that most people do, but most people also drink coffee and I don’t, so I think it’s just my brain that has a loose wire (or several) that render me Shakespeare deficient (I read the play too, and didn’t like that either).  Regardless, I wanted to make the effort since life isn’t just about liking the things we like but learning to deal with the things we don’t.  So I got a Lavrovsky with Ekaterina Maximova and Vladdy-V performing with the Bolshoi, and a MacMillan with Alessandra Ferri and Angel Corella performing with La Scala.  That’s a lot of Prokofiev for one day, but I was determined to get through it.

The Bolshoi production was the manifestation of my worst fears.  I loved Maximova as Juliet and her connection with Vladdy-V as Romeo was wonderful.  They were married at the time, so it would’ve been kind of hard not to have the right romantic chemistry.  Unfortunately, the rest of the production felt like a two hour quagmire that set up to a decent third act that I had kind of lost interest in.  There seemed to be very little dancing and a lot (I mean a LOT) of theatrics…expensive theatrics at that, with lavish sets and opulent costumes.  The excessive theatrics really took away from the production feeling like a ballet, and there was this nagging hierarchical separation between the stars and everyone else.  Only the stars really got to dance, with selected divertissements for others, but then the rest was a lot of people standing around or doing folk dancish stuff.  And you know Bolshoi…they can fit five hundred people on stage, so that’s a lot of people not dancing.  I hate to be critical, but it was rather slow and painful, and Mercutio’s death was taking so long I thought I was going to die first.  Plus, there was you guesed it, a jester scene.

La Scala on the other hand…they may not have had the money and the sizable corps, but MacMillan’s choreography made it tolerable (and a tolerable R&J to me should be considered a superb staging for the normal folk).  I should have known MacMillan could save it for me, and the more I see of his work the less I think of him as a choreographer, and more as a storyteller who speaks the language of dance.  He kept the theatrics to a minimum because the story was told through the movement.  He gave corps members a lot of difficult movement as well, which really brought the production together because every character was speaking dance, not just the principals and soloists like with the Bolshoi (in fact, Tybalt seemed to have very little dancing and although Mercutio’s death was slow, it felt like it made more sense).  It made the character interaction much more believable.  And no clowns!  A divertissement with mandolin players, but no clowns!  Overall, the production felt more reflective of human interaction than staged dance.  Corella was fantastic, and very clean in some of the exceptionally challenging MacMillan choreography, like some seriously sick pirouette combinations, but I was in love with Ferri (who has extraordinary feet).  Sweet little impish dove that she is, and yet inconsolable and capable of showing such disgust for Paris in their final pas de deux.  There were times when she gave me chills, and when she resigned herself to suicide, the cameras were able to zoom in on her face and it appeared there were tears in her eyes.  She was an incredibly invested and believable Juliet, and it’s interesting that there is another video of her dancing Juliet with the Royal Ballet some fifteen years earlier.  That would be an interesting comparison…if I could actually stomach watching R&J again.

There are plenty of clips on YouTube of Ferri/Corella and Maximova/Vasiliev, but I wasn’t moved enough to warrant posting them here.  That’ll be the day!  I know I should open myself to the possibility of watching Fonteyn/Nureyev, but not even my love for Tamara Rojo makes me want to get her and Acosta on DVD, so I’m afraid I might be a lost cause.  I’d have to be seriously coerced, or ambushed.

Cracking pigeons are harder than pirouettes Ohio State meatballs

8 Oct

I’ve been really distracted lately, and have too many things on my mind to do a full entry on a single topic because my brain keeps burning out.  So I thought I’d do an easy “search terms” day, to analyze how people are finding this blog and give my take on the topics random people are mulling.

1. Foot joints never stop cracking

Ah yes…the story of my life.  This however, is one of those things that everybody seems to have different opinions on as to whether it’s harmful or not.  I find that a lot of people who have had ankle injuries in the past tend to have some kind of permanent “click” whenever they rotate their ankles.  Both of mine do, because I had a pretty bad ankle sprain from playing tennis, reaching for a backhand volley…and maybe it was the adrenaline, but I actually kept playing the point and when I reversed direction to hit a volley on the forehand side I immediately sprained the other ankle.  There are certain talents out there in the world that need no explanation.  I don’t know why they crack now, but my guess is that there were ligaments that got stretched from the sprains and now they roll over the bones differently then they used to.  Some theorize that ligament cracking is bad, and you have to make sure to strengthen surrounding muscles to support your joints.  Some also say that forcing your joints to crack will also stretch the ligaments in the bad way, but I crack my toes and the middle of my foot all the time and I don’t have hyper mobile feet…but those are a different noise, so take from that what you will.

2. Does ballet fix pigeon toe

You know, oddly enough this seems to bring a lot of little kids to ballet, as parents are concerned about them being able to walk properly or whatnot.  It seems logical enough…if it’s turned in, turn it out, but I do wonder what the science behind it is.  I do think that the muscles can be trained in a way so that someone who is pigeon toed can learn to walk in parallel, and it becomes habitual to the body.  I once spoke with someone briefly who talked about doing physical therapy to correct the alignment of her legs/feet because her knees weren’t tracking over her toes so I would think it’s just a matter of building certain muscles and teaching them to move in new ways on a consistent basis.  She also said it was painful though.  It’s also important to note that pigeon toe can have different causes.  I was pigeon toed when I was little, but for me it wasn’t the feet, but the angle of the hips and knees that created an illusion of being pigeon toed, because when I stand with my knees in parallel my feet (the right foot more so than the left) are actually turned out.  My right knee tracks way over the inside of my right foot, and whatever the structure of my hips and knees is, it’s very difficult for me to turn out.  For those that have seen Return of the Jedi, there’s that battle scene between the Imperial army and the Ewoks, and the Ewoks roll a bunch of logs down a hill to trip an AT-ST (All Terrain Scout Transport), commonly known as a chicken walker, and it sort of wobbles for a moment before finally falling down.  That’s kind of how I lumber around sometimes…very Bambi-on-ice.

3. En dehors are harder than en dedans.

Well, to each his own…but for me (and I would think for most dancers) it’s the other way around.  I really struggle with pirouettes en dedans, I think because I still pick up my hip and it just pulls me off my standing leg.  Somehow, en dehors makes more sense to my body, and I can do some doubles and an occasional triple on both sides, but for en dedans I briefly had doubles only on one side but have since found myself in an “en dedans funk” and can barely manage singles.  I can only assume this must be true for many dancers because it seems like when dancers are doing 5, 6, 7+ pirouettes it’s always en dehors.  Although Vladdy-V seemed possibly more comfortable with en dedans, and everybody has things they’re better at so whoever you are, consider yourself lucky!

4. Pirouette into a stop

Now THIS I can tell you about, because I’ve done it once, in my entire life, and you can bet I remember what that felt like.  This all has to do with the strength of the standing leg (which is why when I did it, it was to the left, as my right leg is stronger) and its ability to maintain turnout while the rest of your body is supported on top.  I’ll never forget that day…ok, maybe I don’t remember the exact date but it was in the autumn of 2008, taking ballet in Jessica Zeller’s class, and we were doing enchaînements, and she asked us to do a pirouette and then place in tendu devant, robbing us of the luxury of quickly ending in a fourth position lunge, or shooting down into fifth.  This might have triggered something for me, like bringing my weight forward just a hair to really get on top of my foot, whereas a fourth position lunge makes us think “behind me” and might encourage too much force.  Whatever the reason, I remember being very careful with the plié because I do tend to use too much force, and thought for “shooting for a single, but spot for a double” and that made me do a perfect (if I do say so myself) double pirouette, where I stayed on relevé and SLOWLY lowered to tendu devant.  Jess even praised me and said “that was the most controlled pirouette I’ve ever seen you do” and when Jessica Zeller says that to you, you remember what you did.  Since then, I’ve gotten better, and have some more control, but have been unable to completely restore that moment of blazing glory.  But pirouettes have a very “square-rectangle” relationship in that yes, many people can do a good pirouette that ends in fourth/fifth and look fine, but anyone who really knows how to finish a pirouette is going to be able to finish on relevé or place in a clean fourth/fifth every single time.  So be a square…not a rectangle.  And work on your singles…they are IMO, the hardest pirouette to master (although some argue it’s a turning balance or whatever, blah blah blah.  Discush for another day!)

5. Getting into the Ohio State dance program

This is too funny.  I honestly wouldn’t know (I could make some almost-educated guesses) but I do know a lot of people who could answer this.  For undergrads I think they’re less picky and just look for a strong ability to move, particularly in modern.  For grads they also seem to take on a few ballerinas and “token dancers,” like a tapper, b-boy or the occasional traditional folk dancer (in undergrad too), and that person usually is researching their specialty and getting free reign to design a curriculum for teaching a class, while grads who are specializing in ballet and modern seem to be…”monitored” more closely.  Not that the others slack off by any means…sometimes it SEEMS as though they work a little more independently, especially if they don’t necessarily have a faculty member who specializes in their area of dance.  That’s just my impression…but how to get in?  Uh…be really good.  Good attitudes are also valued…never had a dance teacher I didn’t like, which can’t be a coincidence.  The only gripe I ever had was that jazz didn’t really seem to be on their list of priorities.

6. Best Meatballs in New York

If you find out, let me know.  Whether they’re Swedish, with spaghetti or Chinese “Lion head” (獅子頭), I loves me meatballs.

Say Hello to Horatio

2 Sep

So, Center Stage 2 was an abomination, and I noticed that the girl who starred in it (Rachele Brooke Smith) is also starring in the fifth installment of the Bring it On movies, which was just released on dvd yesterday.  I know, I know…she’s probably a nice girl and she’s an actress just trying to make a living, and I have nothing against her personally but this news kind of makes me die a little on the inside.  The Center Stage sequel was bad enough, so this is like going from F to Q, except she’ll probably be more well known for this movie than CS2 even.  Oy.

Anyway, I was browsing Emily Kate Long’s website, a ballet dancer with Ballet Quad Cities.  She has some lovely studio shots, a black and white one that I liked in particular but I noticed a wall hanging with some Japanese calligraphy.  Dusting off the recesses of my brain, I translated it as “from the heavens, the way of karate.”  Mraow?  So I asked her about it on twitter, and she replied that the studio doubles as a karate dojo and even has a punching bag.  People do that?  Obviously, I had no idea people maximized studio space that way, and surely the karate kids pull out mats and such.  I consider myself fortunate that I haven’t had to encounter such circumstances, because I have a tendency to look at the mirror or the floor (bad habit, I know…I slapped myself on the wrist just now), and would probably run into it.  It brings back memories though, because eons ago I was unfortunately once a participant of the martial arts.  People are surprised when I tell them I had a second degree black belt because I am the most harmless human being alive.  Honestly, I don’t even know how I got that far, but it is what it is and I hated being forced to do it.  It’s like I always say…my only regrets in life are things my parents made me do.  They even said I fought like I was dancing (HELLO, CLUE NUMERO UNO!) but they had this thing of making me learn “practical skills.”  I had to learn how to defend myself because apparently everyone in the world is out to get me and I had to take swimming lessons so I wouldn’t drown if my plane crashed into the ocean or I was washed overboard a boat.  The results: I have forgotten everything I learned in taekwondo and usually the people who beat me are friends (or ballet teachers) anyway, and I’m incapable of enjoying the pool or swimming at the beach.  I guess my parents made a lot of mistakes, but I’m still alive.

In other news, I’ve joined dancebloggers, which is a really great resource for finding out about what’s going on in the dance world.  At first, I was kind of nervous about joining because there are actually legitimate dancers, choreographers and the like with actually useful, current information.  Meanwhile, I’m still posting about things forty years behind the times as I struggle to discover and play catch-up.  But I bit the bullet and joined anyway, and decided dance humor would be my niche, so hopefully nobody will take me too seriously!  Anyway, if you don’t know about dancebloggers, they have a really great system set up where you can subscribe to their mailing list and they send a newsletter with previews of the latest entries from bloggers who have joined.  I think the newsletters are daily, and I’ve already gotten a little “participant happy” by commenting on some people’s blogs.  You don’t have to have a blog yourself to join the mailing list, but if you do have a dance related blog, be sure to join!  Get yourself some readers, build a fan base, do the hokey-pokey.

Speaking of current events, I had an amazon gift card and decided to jump on the foam roller bandwagon, which was delivered to my door by the UPS man just minutes ago.  It’s blue and I’ve named it Horatio.  Local stores didn’t carry the size I wanted, as they only had 3ft which was too big and unwieldy and 18in which was too small.  I wanted 2ft, which is a good size and I can use for my back too because I have a short torso.  Dancers are always looking for new ways to release, stretch, strengthen, etc. and I thought I’d give it a whirl.  Especially for me, who is really tight and as much as I stretch my right quads feel tighter and tighter when I lift my leg in second.  As a quick test I just slithered onto it and worked my IT band for a few seconds and it was unpleasant in the good way so I’m really hopeful that this will soothe the fascia and let it know that it’s time to let go.  With Horatio as my personal masseuse, perhaps there is more these old bones can accomplish.

Horatio, sleeping on the couch after a long trip on the UPS truck.

Horatio, sleeping on the couch after a long trip on the UPS truck.

Before the commercial interruption, I was browsing the tube as I do, and one of my favorite things is looking at the “recommended for you” videos because a lot of gems will pop up that I never thought to look for.  The most recent one I favorited was Vladdy-V coaching former Paris Opera Ballet dancer Eric Vu An, in Le Corsaire.  Vladdy-V must be in his late forties-ish, maybe early fifties in the video, but he was still as sharp and vivacious as ever.  I don’t speak French, so I have no idea what he was saying, but on certain accents he would shout “EEE!” to specify where Eric needed to be.  Next time I’m in a ballet class, I’m totally going to try that on a piqué or a whatever that needs to be hit with some oomph.  I’ve tried something similar before, but it was more like an “EEEEeeeeeeeeee~” that trails off as I lose my balance or fall over.  This might work, and like I said, I’ll try anything to improve.  Check him out in his coaching glory, with Eric Vu An and Richard Wilk (Giselle).

Kickin’ it OLD SKOOL with the Bolshoi Kitris

29 Jul

I’ve mentioned before how you get a lot of ballet crazies who go on youtube and criticize any dancer’s technique that they sink their teeth into, but I’d like to discuss a different species, the crotchety “git offa mah lawn!” people who lament for the golden era in ballet when there was more substance in artistry and less of the “more” (i.e. more turnout, more pirouettes, more flexibility, etc.).  Oh BILLY ELLIOT, do I want to be one of those people.  As it stands, I don’t know enough about ballet history to bunker down with these sages and converse in such a way that makes me seem legitimately intelligent, but despite my typical aversion to history in general I am interested.  You see, history is one of those classes that is almost always taught through reading and lectures, and quite frankly that sucks.  When it comes to history, unless it’s dance history or ancient like Greek or Egyptian, chances are I’m going to be bored. 

I’m going to mount the soapbox here and say that this is something that annoys me about our education system too in that it fails to recognize the importance of different approaches to learning, especially via performing arts.  For example, I suck at anatomy, but have learned various things about it through dance.  I learned foreign languages by using theatre skills of memorization and mimicry.  Teach me about the Cold War in the context of how it affected the Bolshoi and Kirov and I’ll pay attention.  And yet the system seems to be satisfied with a “if you lecture them, they will learn” method, and I’m shouting this loud and clear: it doesn’t work for everyone.  Even without being used as an accessory in education, something like dance needs to have its foothold in academia.  If American society can turn sports and sport strategy, technique, etc. into a friggin’ science, then dance too needs to be seen as more than “an extracurricular activity” or a second major.  Money doesn’t inspire creativity or make life worth living…the arts do.  And in the economic hellhole that is America, inspiration is needed now more than ever.  /rant.

So back to the quest to become a crotchety sage, I’ve learned that one must know at least a few names, especially the greats that made the Bolshoi a household name.  It’s almost uncanny, but a few years ago, before I even set foot in a studio, the first ballet youtube video I ever favorited was a Bolshoi great.  I had no idea at the time who she was, only that I know what I liked and I liked what I saw.  It was a video of Ekaterina Maximova (who passed away earlier this year…something is SRSLY in the air!) as Kitri, and I’m actually quite proud of having selected her to be my first youtube favorite, because it makes me feel as though there is hope for me to indeed be knighted a crotchety sage.  Anyway, there was something darling and electric about her that just made me want to watch her 85 million times in a row, and we’re talking a sheety little black and white film from the 60’s on a small youtube screen, not even the luxury of a live performance or HD.  She was the fastest Kitri I’ve ever seen, for a variation that is normally about a minute long she did it in half the time, which is utterly insane and would never be done today.  But you watch her, and you think to yourself with a Russian accent in your head, “DAAAA! ZIS eez DANSE…from SOUL!” To me, Katya is the ultimate Kitri.  Typically it’s treacherous territory in the arts to proclaim one’s favorite, especially with the youtube piranhas, but hell, I adore her.

One of the other primas with the Bolshoi at the time, Maya Plisetskaya is another one who did the lightning round Kitri variation.  Now Maya is the perfect example of “less of the more” that I wrote about earlier.  She didn’t have the developpé a la seconde above her head, the coveted 6 o’clock penchée, or double/triple fouettes etc.  But her technique being far from inferior, what I love most about her dancing is how unfettered she was by the pursuit of perfection.  Her technique supported her art, instead of becoming the focus of it.  When you start focusing too much on “how high” or “how many” dance becomes so mechanical.  We have these legions of leggy amazonerinas and some days it really seems like ballet has become a factory instead of an institution.  A friend of mine once told me that she had a music teacher tell her that when you take the human element out of music, it ceases to be music.  I think the same can be said for some of these balletbots…what we need are more souls.  That is not to say we should feel guilty for admiring some of these gorgeous dancers, but remember that the approachability of a Maya Plisetskaya probably has a great deal to do with what made her a true artiste.

Anyway, in the videos I am posting below of Maya and Katya, Maya is partnered by the wonderfully delicious Maris Liepa, and Katya by her beast husband Vladimir Vasiliev.  And that’s no insult…I LOVE Vladdy-V.  Gigantor jumps and a Godzilla-presence to match.  Whereas I actually prefer Maris as Basilio because of his charm, the video of Maximova actually has Vladdy-V doing the slave Ali from Le Corsaire as well as a variation from Laurencia.  I can’t even comprehend the insanity that is the double arabesque turn-double attitude-QUINTUPLE pirouette en dedans that he did.  Being the curious monkey I am, I tried that with single pirouettes and basically couldn’t do it.  Long way to go if I aspire to be like him, but I am a lefty…that’s one step down, right?


Vladdy-V variations and Lightning Kitri (Katya):


DonQ full grand pas de deux w/Maris Liepa and Goddess Plisetskaya:


DonQ full grand pas de deux w/Vladdy-V and a hair slower than lightning Katya (in technicolor!):


More of Liepa/Plisetskaya, from Act I with Maya’s CRAZY DIVINE castanet variation:


So videos for your enjoyment and a little poll with no right answers because that’s the beauty of art.  Don’t you love loving ballet?  I do.