IN DEFENSE OF THE “LIGHTER”  BALLETS

Scene 1, several years ago: Alastair MacAuley mourns Alessandra Ferri’s career development. He calls her the Lolita of ballet, and wistfully remembers the purity of her dancing in a plotless piece I think in her graduation exam, or in some ballet contest.
If it depended on him, he would throw away her amazing acting skill, and keep just the technical excellence – we would not have the gift of her lovely, unbeatable Juliet, for example. Or her Carmen.

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Alessandra Ferri and Wayne Eagling in Romeo and Juliet by Kenneth MacMillan.

Scene 2,  a few days ago: I give a try to any video of ballet that shows up in my FB timeline.  Watching one of them, I’m thinking oh my, how booooring! I skip to scene after scene, the lavish costums change, but the boredom level does not change.  Curious that someone would bother to stage such a ballet, I consult the credits. It was a Balanchine work. I am not surprised. Yes, sorry, I’m not a big fan of Balanchine.

Scene 3, today: Alastair MacAuley is retiring, and as a last pompous message, calls Don Quixote and Le Corsaire trashy ballets, and tells us soviets (you feel the bleeergh between the lines) are to blame for their popularity.  I quote:

I draw attention to two very unalike trends: one heartening, one dismaying. The first is the increasing penetration of George Balanchine’s choreography into national and international repertory. For those of us who remember how radical he often was in his lifetime (even in this city and far more often elsewhere), and how difficult many of his ballets were when young, this vindication is deeply satisfying; moving, too. Balanchine achieved a high water mark for the art. That dozens of one-act Balanchine ballets, like “Divertimento No. 15” and “Symphony in Three Movements,” are now regularly danced from Phoenix to Miami, from Vienna to Vancouver, is a victory of superlative modernism.

Against that, however, please observe the ghastly and ever-increasing popularity of such formulaic 19th-century ballets as “Le Corsaire” and “Don Quixote.” These war horses — trashily circusy, composed to minor-league music — abound in clichés. When I discovered dance in the 1970s, they were the specialties of Soviet companies alone: They exemplified the tosh that Diaghilev had banished to the past, and which all sophisticated Western companies rightly chose to avoid. Today, however, they’re frequently danced in New York (alas, here too Ballet Theater leads the way), London and many other cities. They demean ballet.”

Scene 4, also today: I come upon an article entitled Where has the joy gone?. Where is the joy of dancing? Why is it that the uncountable different feelings we experience are mostly absent in ballet? When did acting skill become such a low priority in dancing? 


Circusy?

He doesn’t dwell long on the reasons for his opinion. Circusy, he says. Maybe he means the variations in these ballets, specially the male ones, that require big jumps and tours. In what sense are big jumps more show-offing than 32 fouettés or intrincate small allegros? Or perfect, absolutely P-E-R-F-E-C-T lines? They just show-off different skills. Or maybe he is bothered that these ballets give the male roles more relevance? Holy Balanchine said “ballet is a woman”,  so please don’t display gross masculinity on stage, men should keep nicely in the background, hidden by the tutus.  Or is it because you can laugh in these ballets? NOOO, please don’t, ballet is a serious affair, we cannot condone with joy on stage. Of all the unwished for heartfelt reactions ballet can bring, mirth is maybe the worst!

Formulaic?

Oh, as if Swan Lake,  Sleeping Beauty, Giselle were not formulaic… Plots rely on the same elements, variations and corps dynamics have the same structure and steps, body-language and expression is kept to a minimum (in it’s stead loads of mime), lavish scenery and costumes. Balanchine is formulaic TOO in plotless work after plotless work with the same kind of stiff, contained steps, his corps in endless geometric forms – and you learn the much praised “Balachine style” or be prepared to scathing criticism.

Given MacAuley disdains of plots and acting skill, maybe he doesn’t like the plots of DQ and Corsaire? Yes, their plots are kind of trashy, absolutely not grand or affected, often more of the parody kind, and to make things worse, they have a happy ending! EVERYONE knows art must be tragic to be art. Don’t you?

Self-styled judges

There were always self-styled judges of what art is. And loads of art expressions they  consider(ed) unworthy. Tchaikowsky received much criticism because of the unbridled passion in his music. Michelangelo was criticized by the scandalous display of flesh. Byron was untastefully over-romantic. Some wrinkle their noses over operettas.
Really? So let’s face the truth: Giselle is just a typical gothic saved as high art by the white tutus, and the score is bizarre, with bright, lively tunes as background to tragic eerie scenes. And Bayadére, pure kitsch?

But ALL the ballets mentioned above require good classical technique and lines – may they be Balanchine styled, English, French or Russian styled. All styles are equally worthy,  Mr. MacAuley, but you seem unable to appreciate anything outside your bubble.  Modernism? Balanchine is already dated. Anyway, would you evaluate Andy Warhol higher than Rembrandt because of his modernism?  Or Shakespeare lower than Tennessee Williams?
Also, the ballets above, with the exception of Balanchine’s, all require good acting. In other words, Don Quixote and Le Corsaire require MORE skills than most of Balanchine ballets. They also depend more on the performer, who – not bound by strict rules – will add a new layer of creativity, which I find refreshing in any scenic art.

Opinions or universal truths? 

I can have my favorites, of course: but my taste is not an universal truth. No, no, sorry: if I’m conservative, my Weltanshauung will be fulll of “universal truths”, usually dismissive of everything and everyone that does not please me…

I’m glad MacAuley is retiring. I’m glad a whole older generation of deeply conservative ballet lovers and funders is slowly being replaced by younger, less biased ones (or so I hope). The former ones imposed their values on ballet for too long, and turned away a potential younger public that does not share their pomposity, smugness and why not say with all letters: repressed sensuality. Enough of people that don’t want to be stirred by what happens on stage – that want ballet as pure aesthetic pleasure – while in their private lives they are often… well, quite different.

It is NOT a coincidence that MacAuley, when he concedes there may be life after Balanchine, forgets to mention Crystal Pite, for example, with their deeply stirring, critical works on contemporary issues (and groudbreaking use of corps). She indeed is  modern. Ballet has been for too long the last bastian of shared hyprocisy in art.

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The Season’s Canon by Crystal Pite

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As a last note: don’t tell me you need deep knowledge and very refined aesthetic taste to know  a “good” ballet from a “bad” one. Art is art. Anyone with some degree of sensitivity and love for beauty can appreciate Johann Strauss as well as Beethoven, a naif painter as well as Rembrandt, Swan Lake as well as Le Corsaire, a Wilde comedy as well as a Shakespeare play. I refuse to let conservatives full of prejudice define the rules: I’m able to respect and appreciate different forms of art, different styles, different epochs. What is really hard for me to accept as art is Form without Content. 

Juliet and Romeo by Mats Ek

Post-coital pas de deux: Juliet and Romeo / Pic: Gert Weigelt
© Gert Weigelt

Juliet and Romeo – Ballet in 2 Acts

choreography by Mats Ek
on music by Tchaikovsky
performed by Royal Swedish Ballet and Royal Swedish Orchestra
staging design by Magdalena Agberg
recorded in 2014 at the Royal Opera House in London
Juliet: Mariko Kida
Romeo: Anthony Lomuljo
Mercutio: Jérôme Marchand
Nurse: Ana Laguna
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https://www.selectatv.com/website/129-julia-romeu-um-bal-de-mats-ek-piotr-ilych-tchaikovsky-alexander-polianichko-1

I just watched Mats Ek’s Juliet and Romeo. Genius, genius, genius. It took me some time to get what he was doing, but when I got it, I was awed by his accomplishment.

Movements in his choreography are sometimes very easy to recognize, at first you think it’s mime, they look like everyday gestures we use – but with them come others, that look odd, out of place, quirky. The kind of movement changes fast, alternates to completely different ideas, or moods or feelings. In the beginning I was confused. In fact I was so lost I gave up trying to understand, and just watched the dancers. It was real pleasure to look at them, they are excellent, these wonderful Swedish! Weird as some movements were, they performed them such with amazing clarity and easiness, their competence turning even the strangest one into beauty.

Of course I had seen many ballet versions of R&J, several movies and read the bard’s play itself, but at this point I had stopped analyzing and comparing. I had emptied my mind, dropped all pre-existing notions, and was just enjoying the dancers’ work. And then… it started to work: I realized I “knew”, I could clearly understand what the characters were feeling!

Mats Ek wasn’t telling a story. Or better said, he was, but not through facts, not in the objective, external world. He did it through the feelings of the characters. And not through our socially deeply codified body-language, like when you wave your hand meaning “good bye”, but by using a far more instinctive one, that makes you press a hand to your stomach when you receive a brutal emotional blow.

But there is more. His “text” is not prose, it is poetry, and again not a sonnet, but the most radical free verse poetry. You cannot apprehend it by reading one word, and then the next, and the next, carefully chaining one to the other, following step by step the a nexus inscribed in them by the poet. It’s the kind of poetry that you (must) read without searching for sense, you must read bypassing your analytical mind and just let the words – juxtaposed together without apparent sense – sink in. What the poet wants to impart is not reachable using logical reasoning, but taking in the rhythm, the sound, what each word fleetingly evokes – and somehow, as you read, the underlying sense starts to be unveiled, you will be told something without the need to “think” about. What will come out is not a story, or a precise idea, but something wider and less precise, and usually deeper: a notion, a mood, a feeling.

© Dave Morgan

Mats Ek choreographic text is like that. Even recognizable gestures are not the gestures themselves, as are not the few objects on stage: they represent related feelings. His talent for finding new expressive gestures is uncanny, as if he is creating new words for things left unsaid before for lack of a noun, but quite real. Or in a sequence of gestures, we need their ensemble to understand. Attempt to “understand” each movement is pointless, we must just let impressions flow, absorb them without thinking – and suddenly we “know” what he wanted to impart!

A plot told through feelings!

Forget about balconies and beds, flasks of poison and swords, genius dialogs or rituals. What we see is another level of reality, that happens inside people and will LEAD them to objective action – but this action is not shown on stage. Objects and factual social interaction are in another sphere of reality. We are given the psychological and affective dynamic of the characters, how they act and react emotionally, their motivations, their internal life.

And-nothing-else.

Can a story be told that way? Oh, yes, Mats Ek proves it can, and quite clearly!

But why odd movements, why surprising and contradictory messages? Because this is how we feel. Our emotions are not nicely behaved, some feelings are unexpected, some are contradictory, even embarrassing. We often have feelings we can’t even put a name on. We feel many things at the same time, what we feel is not linear, has many facets, doesn’t fit rational logic, we are, all the time, a cauldron where many ingredients boil in an emotional soup. Sounds too complex? It is, if you try to track down and rationally explain each element, but whatever is there, sums up to a defined taste, an internal sense, even if ingredients are not all identifiable, even if it looks bizarre from the outside.

Believe me or not, Mats Ek conveys all this in his choreography. It’s true there were moments where he lost me, but they were few, really very few. It is a radically subjective work, and needs to be apprehended through our subjectivity too, or will seem absurd. But once you see the play for what it is… yes! yes, yes, YES!

There is a problem, however: it is hard to describe. And THIS! This is one of dance’s specific values, a fundamental value, and one that Ek took to new heights: Dance can show what words cannot, dance tells of things our rational discourse, with all its beautiful words and complex concepts, can’t handle, and our social selves must ignore (or our lives would turn into chaotic Babel Towers). In dance the message reaches us directly, doesn’t need reason, doesn’t need most of our conventions and codes, including language. I don’t dare try describing what the characters felt, what I saw in them, but of course, it couldn’t be different – there is a gap between dance and text – these two fundamentally different ways of expression.

Professional critics have a big problem. They must write wisely and with intelligence about art (or what should be art). They prepare themselves for that, I imagine. As soon as the curtain opens, they switch on their analytical minds, searching for things they can describe and state with competence – objectivity turned on at full power.
The “magic” of art, however, is hard to describe in words, and hard to understand if you were not there – maybe the reason why so few reviewers even try (and maybe the reason they are surprised that public reacted in quite a different way).  For a long time now I have been criticizing critics and their excessively analytic predisposition. They frequently see the elements and don’t see the whole. They frequently see some elements and others not. They frequently just look for flaws, so much easier to identify. They frequently see what they expected to see, and are blind to anything else. And when they are at a loss, they use labels applied by others before them, to just get it over!
Now, in a work like THIS, what can we expect of this kind of reviewer? Of course few of them were willing to switch off reason, and subjectively (and passively!) wait for Ek’s sense to come to them.

So you will have them judging what they see at eye’s value. Juliet moves awkwardly because adolescents move awkwardly – good job, Ek!
“It’s in the person of Juliet that we see Ek’s choreography at its most subtle and tender. He doesn’t spare us the awkwardness and grotesqueries of adolescence. She pulls daft faces and throws weird shapes; at times she’s all twitching, puppyish impatience.”

Another one:
“The decision to ignore the sleeping potion twist speeds up the plot but denies Juliet her pivotal moment of choice, and diminishes the horror of the lovers’ deaths.”

IMHO, Juliet’s choice is a crystal clear and powerful moment, in fact one of the best, but the writer didn’t notice…

This one is worse:
“It’s also, in my view, disappointingly dull. While much that I heard beforehand about the winner of the 2015 Olivier Award sounded enticing, the choreography comes across as puzzlingly clunky, as if awkward gestures were haphazardly strung together. I didn’t sense any flow to the dancing, and the storyline is difficult to follow. I waited in vain for a friar and a vial of poison.
I failed to connect emotionally to the dancing, but I do not fault the dancers for my lack of feeling. For that, I blame the choreography alone. The dancers looked lovely and appeared well-trained, it’s what they were doing that bored me. For example, there’s a lot of rolling on the floor, arms held close the body, like so many logs, as well as running in place, legs kicking up to one’s rear. Overall, the movement is unexciting, basic, and sometimes crude (more than once someone raises a middle finger or grabs a crotch). If you’re looking for pretty and/or intricate movement on pointe, you won’t find it here.”

No, you won’t find it here. Definitely not. Not because Mats Ek failed, but because he succeeded.

No wonder Ek became eventually so dismayed he decided to retire and forbade his ballets to be performed, end point!

He should instead (please, Mats Ek!) explain what he’s doing, help people understand, prepare them for his play(s) – after all, it’s a deeply unconventional approach. I perceived what he intended by sheer luck, because I had put aside pre-existing notions, was watching with “innocence”. I’m not bragging, quite the opposite, I’m no art expert, ballet expert or in any other way better prepared to evaluate a performance. It only enhances Mats Ek feat, does it not?

I’m grateful and relieved: he recently changed his mind, and is working again! Yeaahhh!

 

 

 

Four Keys to the Future

I hardly have time to write, nowadays, but what will become of Dance, and more specifically about Ballet, is always in mind. I worry, as you know, about their vitality and future.

I was reading this blog of Greg Sandow on the future of classical music (a passion, but I do not follow and study like Dance), and came upon this, that… could have been written for Dance, just by replacing the word music!

Since the link doesn’t embed in the text, I quote:

“We’re in a new era. To adapt to it, and build a new audience, here are four things you should do:

Understand and respect the culture outside classical music. 

Your new audience will come from the world outside classical music. Where else could it come from? And to reach these new people, you of course have to know them. Who are they? What kind of culture do they already have? You have to respect them, because if you don’t, they won’t respect you.

Work actively to find your audience.

The people you want to reach may not yet care about classical music. So they won’t respond to conventional PR and marketing. They won’t come to you on their own. And so you have to actively go out and find them. You have to talk to them where they live, where they work, and where they go for entertainment and for inspiration. You have to inhabit their world.

Be yourself.

Your urgency, your joy, and your passion will draw people to you. But you can’t be joyful if you don’t love the music that you perform. So never pander. Never struggle to be relevant. Perform music that makes your heart sing. Trust your new audience. Trust it to be smart, to be curious, and to respond with joy when it sees how joyful you are.

Make music vividly.

The people you reach will want to love the music you bring them. But can you meet them halfway? Are you bringing them something they really can love? Your performances should be entirely yours, performances nobody else could give. Your music should breathe. Contrasts should feel like they’re contrasts. Climaxes should feel like climaxes. Are you doing everything you can to bring your music alive?”

I’m grateful for Greg Sandow, prolixe me would never be able to write such a splendid resume!

Link to full text

 

On the Novosibirsk Theatre Affair

I have a long-term acquaintance in Novosibirsk. Many of our point of views are different, sometimes opposite, despite our friendship. Since I’m all for a free debate, I agreed in publishing here this friend’s opinion on what is happening in NOVAT, or Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre. It has a new management, lead by Vladimir Kekhman, a former business man with a passion for art. The new direction renovated the building, made changes in repertoire, brought great artists as guests, encouraged social groups like young people, renters, students and so on to fill the theatre with extra low prices. 

The text does not (NOT!) feature my own ideas, I just translated the best I could.

What happens in the “Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre” offends me! Our beautiful legacy must be cherished and carefully kept. Historical legacy must ALWAYS be kept, this should be a guiding principle in any Culture policy.

I really wish old theaters would go back to to candle lights, and to grass covered floors… to female roles being played by young men in wigs! Comfort for the audience is a small price to pay, when you have design and performances preserved forever as they were in the beginning!

I wish audiences to chat and eat while they watch the show, and freely enter and leave the room. I want them to use again porcellain chamber-pots, instead of modern toilets, to preserve the original mood!

It is true  “Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre” is not that old, but you must agree that the former toilets were hardly more comfortable than chamber-pots, and should not be replaced by incongruous, hardly fitting novelties.

If you care about preservation, magic may not flow from stage so easily, and great performers may not be as appreciated as they are in other theaters and countries… but this is a trifle, compared with the magnificent feat of preserving architecture  in all its original glory!  People would be proud of a whole evening sacrifice of their comfort for the sake of High Art!

Artists come and go… great performances may be lost or not appreciated, or even impossible to enjoy because of discomfort, aching backs, bad acoustics, seats without stage perspective – none of this matters, compared to preserving  “Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre” in its original amazing beauty and architectural uniqueness and glory.

The company members whose time and effort are dedicated to us must understand that their living Art is far less important than the Engineering Art made ethernal in cement, and not be despondent because I refuse to see them in more comfortable surroundings!

And the prices!!! I was proud that we never had to pay as much as in other cities to see the “Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre” artists – and refuse to be treated with less respect now!

Maybe artists of other houses in other cities are better, and deserve what is paid to see them. I doubt it – our company is VERY good!  But our company did not get suddenly better than it was – so why should I pay more to see a level of artistry that was available for a lesser price?

I heard that our artists are sad and disappointed, because we don’t want to see them in the new circumstances. As they are citizens of Novosibirsk too, they should be happy to perform to an empty house – empty of proud theatre goers that do not give in to senseless changes!

And guests artists, they may be great, even the greatest, but they must be aware that, if they accept to perform in the current bad taste decoration of “Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre”, they cannot expect US to accept their Art as a good enough compensation.

More! they surely are not surprised with our lack of interest  in their Art, when they know we don’t accept Vladimir Kekhman, the criminal that hired them!!! Lax, rotten capitalist West may not see his personal bankrupcy as a crime, but we know better, nobody fools us about capitalism logic and and international law!!

May this be a lesson to tyrannical authorities! If changes were wanted in “Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre”, all citizens had to be called in to give their opinions – and in a democratic way, colours, materials, interior design, lightning, furniture – all decisions about comfort, upholstery, acoustics, toilets, etc, and also about repertoire, casting, costumes, settings and choreography, had to be made with agreement of all citizens, and in a way that EVERY single one of them could agree!

Instead of wasting money in “modernizing”  the Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre  infrastructure, we should be staging OUR own performances, even if it means having just a handful of them.

The simple notion of renting the staging of another theatre is demeaning, and just the possibility that the sweat of “Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre”‘s troupe may have contact with sweat lingering in Mikhailovsky’s rented costumes is simply disgusting!!

Don’t tell ME that renting a staging is less expensive, I am not naive! Provided the production is completely OURS, a rare premiere is far better than having a whole selection of performances –  since the quantiy is OBVIOUSLY meant to enrich Mikhailovsky and Kekhman at our expenses, I can find no other logical reason! What is the point of so many productions, anyway? I don’t need more than one selfie in the lobby every season, I wouldn’t want to bore my followers in Instagram!

Finally: do you really expect me to remember one more ill-sounding bunch of letters every time I want to mention our beloved “Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre“? I refuse to use NOVAT instead – what a lack of respect for its grand, good sounding name.
Let other theatres use abbreviations… it’s their problem, they will have to face the inevitable, sad consequences of this kind of misguided modernization.

As with the unbelievable new site – provided there should be one at all! The traditional site of  “State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre” was replaced by a new one following standards used by several other theatres in Russia – its former originality traded for what amounts to just more information and ease of use in a so called “modern” look.

Images speak for themselves: the disgusting outcome of restoration in “NOVAT”

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Quote of The Day – Paul Lightfoot

Tatyana Kuznetsova, respected Russian dance critic, asks: Why in such a small country like Holland, are there so many talented choreographers from different generations?

Lightfoot: Because in the Netherlands there was no ballet tradition. Clear field. The Dutch set up the first company  55 years ago – just decided it was time to get hold of their own ballet. getimageAnd yet – they are very tolerant, open to any culture, it is a historical feature. When the Dutch colonialists plied the oceans in their ships, they did not destroy them in new countries, they absorbed everything, studying around. Unlike English, which was perceived as hostile to any foreign culture. Therefore, in the Netherlands, with such a mentality, it was very easy to create an international ballet company.
And of course, there is good financial support from the state. Maybe not the same as in Russia, but still two-thirds of the money our NDT receives from the country and the city of The Hague. The Dutch sometimes ask: “Why do you call the company “Dutch”, if you have only three or four Dutch members?” And I say: “Look, it is international, but it also is Dutch, in that you know how to respect and use the culture of other nations.” For me, a foreigner, this is a great place to live.

Paul Lightfoot, choreographer, since 2011  Artistic Director of the Ballet company of NDT – Netherlands Dans Theatre. Interview in March 2016, when Paul Lightfoot and Sol de León were staging one of their works in Bolshoi.

Link to interview

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The outcome is a logical, direct consequence of the Culture policies in Netherlands, as much as its society  attitude regarding Art.
The countries where Concert Dance was traditionally stronger face nowadays a chronic shortage of really great choreographic work: England, Italy, France, Russia.  On the other hand, innovation is a constant in Netherlands, Scotland, Monaco, Germany…

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Ms. Tatyana Kuznetsova says herself: Unfortunately or fortunately, our country is unlikely to repeat the fate of France: “Contemporary dance in Russia will not become popular. In France, two things coincided: first, the revolution of flowers in the ’60s, when the whole of society updated, requiring a different aesthetic and ethical life, and second, the active support of the state. To modern dance to became widespread in Russia, we need the demands of upper and lower classes to be completely different.”

Link to interview

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Considering that Concert Dance is nowhere as loved as in Russia… sad! 

The outcome THERE is, they have a shortage of choreographers not only in contemporary, but in classical and neoclassical too. Choreographers and Artistic Directores who try anything new, from choreography to scenery, face so strong an opposition that they usually give up after no more than 2 or 3 years.

You must be really hard-skinned to introduce change, as the tale of Vladimir Kekhman shows. He was able to turn Mikhailovsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg into a thriving company, but innovation process  was far less dynamic than he wanted.  When he tried to do the same for Novosibirsk (Siberia), however, opposition was nothing less than furious. 

In consequence, Russian companies, more often than not  “import” works and choreographers when they decide to stage more up-to-date works – knowing they will meet supercilious disgust of a good part of the Dance community, and the complaints of dancers unused to move outside the classical standards.

Again… how sad that such a huge infrastructure, so much skilled professionals and a loving public are used just to perpetuate the past.

 

 

Emploi and double-standards

How can you explain that dancers that don’t fit certain visual standards are considered unsuited for Ballets where Form is privileged,  while dancers without any acting skill are considered suitable for ballets where Content is more important?

Has Ballet definitely given up on being a performance Art?

Is any flawed performance accepted, as long as physical standards are obeyed?

Absurdity… you see performances that, if not for the costume, could be of any ballet! Solor undistinguishable from Ali, Desire identical to Franz, Colas plus a guitar becoming Basilio… Aurora with feathers in Swan Lake, clad in red in Don Quixote…

Even this, however, is not so bad as having Giselle identical to Juliet and Margherite… or Franz as unpleasant as Prinz Rudolph!

Oh, come on, spare me!!!

emoticon-raising-eyebrow

 

 

 

Who should be allowed to dance?

Take a peek into this:

Isn’t the luscious, graceful Odetta a pleasure to watch in this video? I loved the dancer, I kept skipping to her scenes, and wish I had been there to see this performance.  Unfortunately, I don’t know who she is.
In the whole video you can’t see her doing any fouettés or great jumps, so there are probably none.

Of course, you will say, this is not (bold-lettered) ballet!

Sem título
Fine example of reverently bold-lettered ballet

This is were I snort and count to ten, because I don’t even know where to begin answering you –  there are so many interconnected issues here… I try to write about them one at a time, but never achieve less then 1.500 words!!
It’s about what concert DANCE really is – Ballet being just one kind of it, one corner of the whole picture. It’s about what-is-ballet rules and their uncountable (negative) consequences  –  to us as audience, and to Ballet dancers.

Of course, I know there are several kinds of “us” in the public of Ballet, but I don’t see any reason why the rule-loving kind should be taken more seriously that mine.

MY kind knows that Dance (Ballet INCLUDED) is, in its very groundstones, about gracefulness and creating magic – more than anything else. We also know, through boring experiences, that rules don’t  guarantee either one. Both groundstones are very singular, each dancer has its own way, depending on who he is: physical build, psyche, soul. These two qualities, gracefulness, and being able to create magic, is what turns performers into dancers, and movement into Art.
120 fouettés in 24 seconds, 2 meter high jumps, technical precision, a certain weight, a certain height, colour, age, looks, not one of them, and not all of them bundled together with a golden bow on top,  guarantee we will see… Dance!

Sorry to say (at this point you are squinting at my pointed finger), if Ballet does not have these two qualities, it is not Dance! Call it Fancy Gymnastics, or something like that, but NOT Dance. (Fist on the table!)

I’m making fun, but the truth is, this couldn’t be more serious. It seems, looking the Dance millieu from the outside, that the hard work needed ends up making people forget the forest and see only the next tree.
The consequences of forgetting about what Dance really is, are far reaching and sad.  It means female dancers having bodies as spindly as an insect’s leg. It means male dancers with busted spines. It means dancers with busted joints, bones and tendons. It means the average age of retirement is 35. It means 30% of retirements are due to injuries. It means dancers believing they are done at 40. It means dancers believing they are not dancers if they don’t overextend. It means dancers seeing themselves more as performers of dangerous or exotic feats (those pics of contortionism are so popular now… aargh!) than artists.

It also means a certain kind of public, as well as many companies, agents, choreographers and ballet schools believing these absurdities are normal, unavoidable and correct.  It seems a kind of mass delusion! Beware!!!

REALLY! I’m deeply disappointed every time I see a bland, perfect display of technical precision performed by correctly looking and emploi-ed dancers, so keen in achieving outstanding feats they forget why, after all, they are on stage…  They may win an ISO 9000 Ballet Quality Control Certificate… but if they don’t give me what I came for, what’s  the point?

A little scared by my frown, you say that good technique, the right looks, age, etc, are not opposed to artistry… on the contrary, they enhance it…

Wonderful Tamara Rojo as Manon
Wonderful Tamara Rojo as Manon

Yes! you are right! Sometimes those gifted with my necessary qualities come with a plus…  and I’m very grateful when it happens!

Only…  overvalued rules end up establishing a trend: the exclusion of non-complying dancers, gifted or not,  from school on, no matter what… and the poor remaining creatures are beaten out of their individuality as much as possible! And the rules keep coming, ever more strict and more demanding! If dancers are born with what it takes, they must be REALLY, fiercely driven by their talent, not to forget what they knew instinctively. Because, you see, gracefulness, and acting skills, seem nowadays invisible (I wonder if some times even negative?) to decision makers – the Guardians of Rules in the Sacred Temples – the big companies.

Still on your remark: I don’t need a complete package! give me gracefulness and magic, and I will be happy – it is what really counts. Anything else is unexpected profit – it enhances their worth, but is by far not so valuable as the capital…

If dancers are graceful, and create magic, they may be old or young, white, black, yellow or green, have too big boobs or feet, or a belly, be bald, tall or small… I will love them.

Odetta is an example. Dancers over 40 that refuse to stop, like Alessandra Ferri – who created Cheri with, by the way, not-built-by-the-rule Hernan Cornejo, is another.  I would not want to miss this:

or this

But, you say, these are exceptional dancers… 

Yes, they are, in that they did not accept labels!

Quote of Day – Lisa Howell, Dance Physiotherapist

Now we’re seeing labral tears (tear in hip joint) and issues in their back in 11 and 12-year-olds, which is very disconcerting because while they’re doing these moves to make themselves better dancers, they are often actually ruling themselves out of a professional career because they are getting injuries so young.

Lisa Howell, Dance Physioterapist, among others, of Australian Ballet
Lisa Howell, Dance Physioterapist, among others, of Australian Ballet

Lisa Howell is Dance Physiotherapist in Australia, where dance is becoming more popular than any sport except swimming.

Here the whole text

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Worse thing is,  I don´t even like that gymnastics-look trend in Dance. I see at all these popular pictures, and great dancers like Natalia Osipova and Sarah Lamb being bent and twisted until almost being turned inside out, and see no beauty and no magic. Choreographers like Wayne MacGregor and Alastair Marriott seem keen on that kind of “dancing”, that feels to me, specially when it comes in plotless works – where it doesn’t have even the excuse of imparting a meaning – just like a kind of perversion of Dance should be.

Weird pics like that make me sad.
ba-Ako Kondo of The Australian Ballet by Dan Swinson

Alina Blakova and Oleg Gabishev in Rodin by Boris Eifman
Alina Blakova and Oleg Gabishev in Rodin by Boris Eifman

196fc597b6ec4124b4f0ef6fc2296560

You see these strange things done more often by female dancers. Why? Are they more flexible as a rule? I hope, because I would not like to think this is a new way to fetichize woman's bodies.

You see these strange things done more often by female dancers. Why? Are they more flexible as a rule? I hope so, because I would not like to think this is a new way to fetichize woman’s bodies.

Quote of the Day – Ismene Brown

“No dancer should be unconfident enough to need to read their reviews. What would they do? Try to adjust their performance? As Tamara Rojo once pointed out to me, which critic should she try to please?

Tamara Rojo
Tamara Rojo

(…)
The memorable interpreters and creators are those who burn us with the heat of the flame that propels them, they’re not asking us to help bring their hesitant little glow to life with our paper cuttings. They know when they felt they’d done well, got it right – and very likely there were no critics there at the time.”

Read the complete original

 

As to the point as Ms.Brown article, is the first comment made by a reader:
“I agree with the sentiment of the comment and it does not in the least bother me if I do not agree with what critics have written but … too many critics can make personal and unnecessary comments about the people they are reviewing and that is reprehensible doing a disservice to the artists, audience and readers.” JanMcN

I agree again!!

Ms. Brown writes: “As they [reviewers] write, they have no feelings about the performer at all, only a selfish interest in whether the interpreter delivered them, as spectators, what they sought, what they wanted to feel as a result of experiencing this work of art.”
We are often “graced”, however, with the reviewer’s opinion on the performer behind the role, on his character and private motivations… the work of art just a misty background! A missed opportunity to inform, educate and share appreciation of Art.

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I agree!! See  The Tower of Babel – Opinions on a Performance.

Is the wisdom of turn-out being questioned?

It happens I greatly admire a dancer that some (great experts, I suppose) “accuse” of having poor turn-out. I did not care, because it does not impair the beauty of his dancing at all. But then, I read some western reviewers that saw a causal connection between “faulty” turn-out and height of jumps. When I was a dancer myself, a long time ago, I did not hear a single word about this, and it triggered my curiosity now.

I have not found  (yet?) objective information on this connection. Those reviewers used it to explain why Russian dancers jump higher: they would also have “poor” turn-out more often than western dancers, and there would reside their ability to reach greater heights.  The connection may be just one of those myths that grow, who knows how, in every community, but… may Russian dancers jump higher or not,  may their turn-out be perfect or not…  I must say:  it makes sense!

But I also found out some disturbing objective, REAL facts about turn-out: it is responsible for shortening the active career of many dancers, because it wears out all articulations, ligaments and tendons from hips down to toes! Of course! It is logical, isn’t it? It’s an unnatural position, constantly exerting strain on them!

My teachers used to say turn-out was needed for balance. I recently asked some gymnastics physical trainers (not ballet teachers this time) how exactly it helped me stay still on point. They laughed… and I felt cheated! It’s just how, or where, you place the weight of your hip bones and head above your feet, one said, and to a lesser degree, on the strength of your calf and back bones to keep them there. You may be in the craziest position, the other one said, just find your center of gravity and place it in a vertical line above your foot and you are in balance. Hm.

Please, don’t think I would wish to wipe turn-out  out of ballet! There is no way an arabesque will look beautiful with a heel protruding skyward! And an attitude would cease to be an attitude, to become just… a foot pointing up behind your back. An entrechat would be impossible (just think! what a mess!)… and it certainly helps you place your hips correctly and not look like a duck in pliés (it helps, but is not indispensable).

But on the other hand… running through the stage with your feet turned-out is NOT beautiful, it looks,  BE TRUTHFUL NOW!… ridiculous!!! We dancers and ballet lovers, including myself, just became used to this strange aesthetic, and do not question it anymore.  When I allowed myself to see its oddness, I remembered that Juliet running down the stairs with turned-out knees and feet always made me cringe, and vaguely wish something was different… BE TRUTHFUL AGAIN: it looks NOT graceful!

If it depended on me. I would ask female dancers to walk and run keeping 12h in their mind, instead of 14:45h, and male dancers to walk/run using their feet in the most comfortable way…

I analyzed a lot of steps and positions, and came to the conclusion that several of them would be more graceful if legs and feet were in a more natural position… and that turn-out is not needed for several others – the taking-off and landing in big jumps being just one of the examples.  How things came to be the way they are? How did ballet become so unnatural? Why?
Would it not be wiser to use full turn-out only where it is really needed, and keep dancers dancing for a longer time?

Oh, my goodness, this sounds as anarchism in my own ears, but maybe it IS being questioned nowadays, and I just don’t know – after all, my technical knowledge is not extensive or up to date. I hope so: why not question standards that are unhealthy  and/or ungraceful?

I doubt, anyway, Petipa was half as keen on full, perfect turn-out as ballet experts are nowadays…