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

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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.

Dance and the Acting Challenge

One of my recent posts was about the wildly different expectations that different kinds of audience have when attending a ballet evening – that explain why so many leave necessarily disappointed.  Now, I’m addressing a certain kind of audience, MY kind, most of all – the premises being: good acting is important, body-language is important, meaning is necessary – technique must be subordinated to them.

Different from theatre and movies, where natural, life-like acting is used almost 100% of the time, in dance there are many choices.

Believable Acting
“Suspension of disbelief”: Vanessa Redgrave – Heath Ledger – Johny Depp – Adrian Ross Magenty, Emma Thompson, Helene Bonham-Carter

No acting at all is the first of them – and the strangest one for me: that a performance art should give up meaning, that dance should give up body-language, and become just pure form!

Then there is formalistic acting, more than one kind. The traditional one is grounded on century-old mime, and looks very strange to me, but has fierce fans. More modern kinds are used mostly in contemporary dance, usually a choice made by the choreographer himself, and I can see their value, even if it is not the kind I like most.

Traditional mime
Giselle’s mother warns her of her weak heart, and the risk of death.

And finally believable acting, of course, the kind that “suspends your disbelief” – the only kind I consider GOOD acting, and the most difficult one.

So there are choices to be made by the choreographer, or even the artistic director, and then by the dancers themselves. I always hope they choose the kind I prefer – that theatre and movie actors prefer -, but there are so many obstacles to see my wish fulfilled!

The training

In the great Ballet Schools acting is part of the program, but not a central one, it remains far, far, very far behind all-important physical technique – with special care to traditional formalistic mime.  A dancer with natural acting skill is always in danger of having to un-learn intellectually what he already knew instinctively…

The training in Contemporary Dance Schools and in Performance Arts courses in universities is a lot better, but aimed mostly… at Contemporary Dance, of course! And for all I have seen, emphasis is on expressive choreography (a good, very good thing, by the way!). So what about the classical trained dancers?

Needs x requirements

There are so many dramatic ballets, by so many important choreographers: Tudor, Ashton, Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, MacMillan, Neumeier, Liam Scarlett, Grigorovitch, Ratmansky, and on it goes… These ballets deserve good acting! These ballets NEED good acting!

Marcia Acting
Marcia Haydée – Lady of Camelies (Neumeier)

But acting skill, and I mean GOOD acting, is NOT a real requirement when selecting, promoting or hiring a dancer – again, physical technique is far more valued!

When it comes the moment to perform, however, all expect (at least the audience does!) the dancer will know his acting! What do dancers do, then? Try to be the best they can, learning maybe from his fellow-dancers or by themselves… not an easy task, either way – his fellows are at a loss just as he/she is, and learning alone has limited efficacy and is time-consuming.

The traditional Standards

Many dancers complain of the tight acting standards they must obey in the big companies, that go from a prescribed way of acting to an open disapproval of any display of individuality.

Type-casting

This is a tough one, that wastes the rare natural acting talents in roles that do not require acting, and also the contrary, using in dramatic roles dancers that do not have (“my” kind of!) acting skill.  A real shame!

Alina Somova as Juliet
Alina Somova – Romeo and Juliet

The audience…s

There are several kinds of audiences, with different expectations on acting. Choreographers, coachers, dancers, artistic directors, when they make a choice, are also choosing the kind of audience they will be addressing – it is impossible – read that again, I beg you: it is IMPOSSIBLE – to please all of them at the same time! It means that, if we ALL keep attending ALL kinds of performance, THEY must know they will certainly displease many of us… an uncomfortable trap!

Acting Itself

When a dancer is cast in a dramatic role, and willing to make a good job, he/she has challenges to win that are intrinsic to acting.
To make a character believable, it must be coherent throughout the play, and, at the same time, full of nuances – no matter what kind of character.  This requires a deep understanding of the human being, and great empathy, to perform even someone the dancer is not, or does not feel like.

Alina - Giselle 1
Alina Cojocaru – Giselle Mad Scene

He must also grasp what the choreographer, and the artistic director, intended from his character, and incorporate these intentions to his own interpretation.

The role he creates cannot exist alone, it must interact believably with the other roles in the play – may the other dancers be good actors, too, or not!

The dancer is not acting in front of a camera that can show the slightest tremor of the lid – he must reach down to the last rows – and THIS requires great skill!

He/she must be able to create on-the-run empathy, to feel how we-seated-there-in-the-dark are reacting, and make us follow, feel with he wants.

And last but not least, he/she cannot be self-conscious! On stage, an actor cannot be Mr. X making a careful performance of Macbeth… he must be Macbeth himself – as a dancer cannot be Mr. Z performing Armand, he must BE Armand. When acting is good, you forget about X and Z, and see only the role. Not an easy feat… careful, self-conscious performers as most dancers are!

While dancing!

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Alessandra Ferri and Hernan Cornejo – Cheri

All this challenges, of course, must be faced while making a great display of balletic technique, caring for the partner, finding his cues and place on stage, following the music…
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Is it not incredible that the acting of some dancers, despite all that, is able to blow me off my feet? More than that, is it not incredible that some of them blow me off my feet, not at the expense, but while displaying great dancing?

Awesome creatures!

Some of them are as good in dramatic as in comic roles, like amazing Alessandra Ferri, or great Manuel Legris… Some of them are as good seen from afar as in a close-up, in fact good enough for an Oscar (now I’m thinking of Alina Cojocaru)…

Manuel Legris - Die Fledermaus
Ketevan Papava and Manuel Legris – Die Fledermaus – Click on image to link to video, it is delicious!

They are ALMOST inexistent in the triangle USA/Russia/England (I’m sorry to say that, but it’s true!), most dancers who are also good actors come from France, Germany, Spain, Latin America… a handful of them nowadays, no more – with so much obstacles, if the dancer hasn’t natural skill, and a persistent drive to use it, he is doomed.

 In the newest generation they are even rarer, especially in classical ballet. It is not surprising – nowadays Form and perfect physical technique are valued much higher – overrated, I would say – and not only in Dance, it is a wide-spread characteristic of modern society! Content? meaning? well, so long it does not overshadow technique, it may receive some attention…

The greatest exception between the younger ones in Triangle of Bermudas of acting is Ivan Vasiliev, the only one of his generation to cope with the whole array of acting challenges from the start, with flying colours. He is able to bring life and meaning to any role, tragical or comical, from Czar Ivan, The Terrible to Colas in La Fille Mal Gardée – besides having a wealth of other qualities.

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He must make deliberate choices about each of his perfomances, because the outcome is always unique and specific, deeply coherent in both the dramatic and technical dimensions of the role.

Ivan Vasiliev, of course, is not unanimity in the audience, as no other dancer is – one could not expect THAT with so different kinds of public. Maybe he is aware that the choices he makes will please many of us, but not all – those like me, luckily, seem to be priority number one in his book!

02ivan-vasiliev
Le Jeune Homme et La Mort

 

I wish more of the classical trained younger dancers were like him…

After all, concert dance is a Performance Art! Or is it possible to disagree even on that?

This blog’s nice Quest: “Psst, you!, come, you will love Dance!”

Dance was the first great passion in my life, but even when I was part of our Dance community, little information about what was going on “there, where it matters” reached us – if at all, with great delay. We were just too far away, and Communication Age had not yet begun. I was lucky, I had teachers that were ex-dancers that had gone abroad and eventually came back with solid knowledge and great technical skill, but this happened so seldom, less than once in a decade! All I knew by then was pure classical (the most contained, severe English style!) and Martha Graham.  When I gave up dancing, I kept the greatest possible distance between me and all that concerned Ballet, by my own choice – a kind of Dance “coma”…

I awakened to a “new” world, a world I had not been aware existed.

I was searching YouTube for classical Music works  that had never graced the shelves of my city’s stores, when I linked to a piece that was just score to a ballet. BALLET! I realized, for the first time, that I could now see ballets, performances, dancers I had only heard about before – and was suddenly overcome by an urgent longing for Dance. I started with Martha Graham, and went on on suggested links, Paul Taylor, Pina Bausch, Twyla Tharp…  Awesome! I remember clearly my amazement,  as I realized all that had happened during the time I had been “away”.

Eventually I clicked on Lar Lubovitch’s “Othello” staged by San Francisco Ballet, Desmond Richardson and Yuan Yuan Tan as principals. I was mesmerized! So beautiful this blend of classical and contemporary, so different from all I had known, the richer choreography, the amazing male roles – these men were REALLY dancing!  And choreography and dancers were all so deeply expressive! I watched it three times in a row before I could go on.

I went on to Othello’s PDD danced by Marcelo Gomes and Alessandra Ferri. WOW…! Until that moment, all I knew about him was that he is a Brazilian ballet dancer who succeded abroad.  I searched more.
AlessandraFerriOthello

Wow!… WOW!…

Two more days with my eyes glued to the screen, and I knew ALL about him and Alessandra I could get on the web: clips, interviews, pictures, reviews. Marcelo Gomes led me next to the Kings of the Dance.

I clicked on Labyrinth of Solitude.

Ivan Vasiliev in Labyrinth of Solirude - chr. Patrick De Bana - Photographer: Nikolay Krusser
Ivan Vasiliev in Labyrinth of Solirude – chr. Patrick De Bana – Photographer: Nikolay Krusser

I had never seen anything so beautiful and heartbreaking before. It was so overwhelming I  stopped  all I was doing , and went for a walk to think about what I had seen. My life had suffered a division: there is a before and an after Labyrinth.

THIS much meaning, feeling, power could be conveyed through Dance!! I knew, back from my days, that for those who dance, it can be a deep sensorial and emotional  experience, but I had been also sadly aware that this experience was not extended to our audience! A Ballet evening was just a sophisticated event that  people with cultured tastes felt obliged to attend, but the moment the curtains closed, they started talking about where to have dinner,   the stock market…  – had that evening existed or not, nothing was changed.

But THIS! this was something else. Labyrinth had blowed me off my feet! Not as a dancer, but as audience. And not in a theatre, seated in the dark, magic flowing from a lighted stage, but at home, my pets fooling around me, phone ringing, – on a 14″ notebook with awful sound quality…

It became my favourite work, and a sort of standard. I like everything about Labyrinth. The theme; the music (Vitali, strange composer, who created this one sweeping, emotional score 150 years ahead of his time…); the way it is danced by Vasiliev, believable and intense;  the absence of settings and costume;  De Bana’s expressive choreography, and how he blended all of it into something that was more than the sum of parts.

After gathering  my wits back, I searched further (my ethernal gratitude to YouTube’s inventor!), and started to identify  which choreographers and dancers had been – and are now – responsible for this new (for me) richness.  I knew several by name or a rare photo, but had never SEEN the real dancing, believe it or not!  My personal  “hall of fame”  became a mix of active and retired professionals, even some  long passed away – problem is, they jumped into my life all at once, it took me some time to correctly locate them in space and time – they were all very “here and now”  in my mind  – they still are, and I like it that way.

I fell deeply in love with Dance again, more than before. I saw, at last, Dance becoming an Art like her sisters. THIS was what Dance should be, anyone could appreciate, could  love it now, men and women, young and old, expert or not. Anyone should be given the opportunity to experience its power, everyone should be exposed to its magic: I had a Quest!

My other projects (I always have too many, anyway) became less important, as my knowledge and awareness grew steadily. I’m fortunate that I can now, as never before in a too busy life, open my door and let Dance and Music come in and make themselves really comfortable in me. (only problem is, I suffer from fits of goose-bumps at an alarming rate nowadays).

The Quest means no hard work at all:  I use it as an excuse to write about beauty and art gifted people create for us – giving Dance some thought while I write – not as an expert, but as the grateful receiving end, and then throw it in the wind/web, hoping it makes a difference, even the tiniest one, in bringing Dance closer to a wider audience. The other task is to win people around me over… making  them some pleasure,  too,  when I succeed.  Is that nice or what?

Quote of the Day – Tai Jimenez

What makes one’s dancing compelling is one’s love for it. What draws the eye is the ability to watch someone having a profound internal experience translated into the external physical world. As a dancer, you are a kind of translator for divine energy, the non-verbal prayer.” … “When dancing felt best to me, it was when all parts of myself, some I could name, and some I could not, danced together, without hierarchy.

TaiJimenez

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Terpsichore! she is talking about Terpsichore…

Tai Jimenez was Principal Dancer of The Dance Theatre of Harlem and with the Boston Ballet, and is a teacher now.

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This blog is, more than anything else, about the reception of Dance, about what we in the audience – I should better use “I”,  since my opinions are far from being an unanimity – want, wish, expect from Dance, and think/feel when see it. But often things get mixed up, because I want to understand what makes a performance compelling – and end up reading with great interest what dancers and choreographers have to say about their motivations and experiences.

Although it is meant for dancers, this prayer she wrote feels so right!, I had to quote it too:

“Dear Universe,
Help me to love myself as I am.
Let my dancing be an expression of that love.
Help me to recognize the Light in others
without diminishing my own Light
by falling into jealousy.
Help me to move through doubt, fear and self-hatred into the dance of Love.
Help me to love every part of my body without exception.
Help me to practice recovering quickly from my mistakes,
and to honor my limitations with patience
so that I may uncover the gift in the disguise of that limitation.
Help me to see through the obstacle of the Ideal Image
and to trust that my best is good enough.
Help me to nourish myself mind, body and soul
so that I may be a vessel for Grace,and help me
to let go so that I may be One with ecstasy.
Thank you for this day of dancing.”

Amen!
Anyone who has these wishes granted will certainly be a great pleasure to see dancing!

Quote of the Day – Sylvie Guillem

Sylvie-Guillem“For all of you, who are sending me all those incredible notes thanking me… It’s the opposite I have to thank all of you who followed me and bought tickets , filling up theatre showing to all the” professionals of the profession” you , as me, were thinking there was a different way to approach classical ballet , there was a different way to tell stories ..those fantastic classics as Swan Lake , the scariest one to dance, is not a stupid duck with a tutu a point, but a woman who suffers , accepts to die for the man she loves, who care about the triple pirouettes and the quadruple fouettes if the public is not touched by what you are saying .”

Posted on her Facebook Page on this date. The whole text and the following comments are worth seeing!

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On Ferri and Vasiliev, or Magic and the Comfort Zone

Magic and the Comfort Zone

A short time ago Alessandra Ferri posted this on her Facebook Page. OF COURSE she would like the little drawing – this is what she is, someone who is always taking risks, and delving further and deeper into her artistry. She is wonderful, all I ask for in a dancer! If there is an example that all dancers should follow, it’s hers.

It was sad when she retired some years4_194451 ago, and I hoped she would at least coach a whole new generation of dancers to become as amazing as she was. But she had really retired…  And then, two years ago she did something that was Alessandra Ferri all over: she dared to come back, after 7 years away, when she was 50 years old.

She, nonplussed, got involved in wonderful, daring, beautiful projects – I’m grateful she constantly steps out of her own limits in search for more – and keeps creating magic for us. Now she’s working with Wayne MacGregor on a project about Virginia Woolf’s works!

Art cannot exist except in constant change, constant experimentation, constantly going beyond what IS… because that is how Life is! Art withers away, becomes empty and dry if it does not encompass evolving Life, and more than just that, goes beyond it. So I have a great respect, and a special fondness, for artists that are restless, that constantly experiment, seeking new kinds of challenge, new ways to serve their Art.

See this photo.

Ivan The Terrible
Ivan Vasiliev – Rehearsal of Ivan, The Terrible

Are you WOWing? I’m too! That Ivan Vasiliev even DARES such a jump! I only hope he did not fall flat on his nose after this incredible moment, because I like his handsome nose!  Luckily, if there is someone capable of landing nicely after that, it’s him!

Now see this short video (a few days later – and whole nose!).

Underwood

Ivan Vasiliev is dancing (with Denis Savin)… a choreography of his own. I don’t know about you, but I am WOWing again! About the choreography’s value? Too few seconds, no way to know if it is good, yet.  NO, this is not what I’m cheering here.

Even before I can see the whole piece, I applaud that he is trying new ways that early in his artistic life. Others did try their hands on choreography, a lot later most of them, and given their experience by then, maybe could be a lot surer about their work. Ivan challenges himself so much, I bet he is never sure of what will happen.  Even so, he goes for it, and goes with all he has.  Sometimes things work out nicely, sometimes not that much – and often he creates magic so powerful as to melt us in our seats. THAT is all I ask!

When he first appeared on stage, I believe a lot of ballet-lovers thought THERE was someone that could be the ultimate Perfect Dancer, and were disappointed that he never became this idealized being (even grudging him for that – badly – a problem that is theirs, not his).

Against all safety (not only physical!), against ballet’s status quo approval, sometimes against audience wishes, against a lot of opinions on his private life, his technique, his looks, his behaviour, Ivan goes his way, not unerringly, but HIS way –  a road he is opening as he goes on. Not arrogance, but bravery is needed to do that. He is brave, and is doing EXACTLY what every artist MUST, and should do. The effort needed – inevitably – is making him grow all the time, if we see it or not, if we like what he is growing into or not.

I never looked for a perfect dancer, I always looked for magic-creating dancers, and for Dance’s vitality and evolution. That means that I’m not only NOT disappointed over some failed idealization of Ivan Vasiliev, on the contrary, I like the notion that he has human flaws and artistic flaws the same as EVERY SINGLE artist, dancer or not, that came before him and will come after him – ALL have, more or less, their specific weaknesses and strengths – and still, is an outstanding artist. As a fact, THIS is, in my eyes, what make artists so special:  that even being imperfect human beings, like we all are, they are able to raise above mediocrity and become great, and create something special! The beauty of that notion – that Humanity, imperfect as Nature always is, is able to create Art!

I wish we could let artists, whatever Art we may be speaking of, be free to be what they are and do, and just be grateful when they create something almost too good to be true… then they could continuously try without fear of making mistakes or being “not perfect” (in all the ways different minds deem necessary)! Myself, I can certainly patiently wait, through several performances, until I hit the one that blows me off my seat! THIS one is worth all the trials, and eventual errors, that came before! There is no safety in Art, no way to secure a miracle each single time.

Alessandra in Pavane
Alessandra Ferri in Pavane by Hidemi Seto

If artists are allowed to try and make mistakes, they eventually find THEIR way to do things, and become ALMOST a certainty of a small miracle each single time. This will not happen, however, if we demand certain behaviour, or a certain kind of skill of them, or a certain kind of performance.  Artists must be free, and technique… ah, technique…  must be just the necessary and sufficient not to limit them in what they want to achieve!

Rehearsal of Notre Dame
Ivan Vasiliev rehearsing for Petit’s Notre Dame

It is not for us to say what they should achieve, or how… we are at the receiving end, a passive end, we totally depend on them, and our efforts to guarantee a certain result always have the exact opposite effect… The most we can do is tell them how we feel when they perform – with no expectations – because if their drive to go forward is too strong, they will not be interested, not even in us.  And that’s the way it should be!

We, reviewers, audience, fans, are often mighty preposterous (and silly) in what we demand of artists – as if we had the ultimate knowledge on how they should be and create. My, we know nothing about ourselves and make a mess out of our own lives, how can we be so arrogant about these special, gifted people that give us so much?

Grateful! We must be just GRATEFUL!

Ivan, the Amazing As Ivan, The Terrible

The Bolshoi announced that Ivan Vasiliev will perform Ivan, The Terrible on 14th and 15th April. His partner will be delicate Maria Vinogradova – all made of beautiful lines, and a good actress herself. Both evenings were sold out before you could blink…

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Maria Vinogradova and Ivan Vasiliev rehearsing Spartacus

Prince Rudolph, that he will be performing on 11th April, and The Terrible are roles where Ivan Vasiliev can use ALL his skills… and at full power.  There are not so many roles of that kind, so that both will be in his repertoire now is great news!

Quote of the day – Sylvie Guillem

“Those choreographers, MacMillan and Ashton , they knew how to translate sylvie_guillem_in_sissicomplicated life into choreography. Manon is not stupid, Marguerite is not stupid, A Month in the Country is not stupid — they are rich, you can go as deep as you want. The stage is like a magnifier of thoughts and emotion and vibration, that’s what the stage is incredible for, because it makes you live other lives, it makes you experience other emotions, it makes you feel more beautiful, or more alone, or more angry, it makes you feel much more, more, more.”

Loosing Mademoiselle Non

Sylvie Guillem announced in November that she is retiring, this time for good – she will dedicate herself to animal protection initiatives. I love animals, but I love Dance more, and it makes me very sad. I had hoped she would coach, or choreograph, or teach, or manage a company. That All She Is will be lost for Dance is very hard to accept. I hope someone lures her back, somehow…  Alessandra Ferri came back, to my great joy, didn’t she!! So maybe…? e3eb186fc2d05e792a9cca816a3f0825

I have so much stuff on her, I could write a book, but Ismene Brown wrote in a way that couldn’t fit better any better what I feel about Mademoiselle Non, and in better English, so I will make some lenghty quotes. If you already read it, and what Sarah Crompton wrote, too, you know what I mean. (Links in the end). Ms. Brown quotes are in bold letters, my comments in normal format, and Sylvie’s in italic.

If you follow dance or music closely, make them part of your life, you look on certain performers as your daemon. These are the artists who become part of your inner landscape. They act as a tuning fork for your emotions and imagination. And you mark their progress with particular hope that you won’t be disappointed.

(I know what she is talking about, I have my own daemons, both in ballet and music, and I, too, hope…)

downloadWhen the 25-year-old Sylvie Guillem arrived in London in 1989 from Paris Opera Ballet, with a flaming reputation as Rudolf Nureyev’s prodigal daughter, one’s first reaction was wariness. She seemed so flashy in her incredible bodily gifts. In Swan Lake, this Swan Queen showed no modesty in her headlong dives — the legs shot up in perfect verticals, they described high circles with the triumphant grace that only ultimate hard work of an ultimate natural ability can bring. We kept talking about those legs.  But you don’t adopt a dancer as your daemon because of her legs. For at least 20 years Guillem has been regularly described as the greatest ballerina of this era, as the art’s game-changer.

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 Ha-ha!’ She has a very infectious laugh, like a peal of bells. ‘Well, I suppose it’s better than being the worst ballerina of the time. But a lot of people will say to you that they can’t stand the way I dance, they hate me. Bon. You can’t please everybody.

I wondered how conscious Guillem has been of the audience to whom she has been an exhibit all these years. She said she can’t see much from the stage. ‘When you can see them, people are sometimes a bit embarrassed about being seen. When people started sending me personal messages I could see it wasn’t just a good time that they were having for an hour or two at the show, it was having an effect on their lives. People would say, “Please never stop, you’ve changed my life, I wait for your show, to travel and see you is important for me.” It’s scary in a way too but it becomes a responsibility, a duty not to deceive them.’  …  Mademoiselle Non insists that her more sceptical mission was always to search for purer and more direct emotional contact with the audience, on behalf of the characters created by the choreographers, not just to obey rules. In fact, the way she talks about some of the characters she’s inhabited — Manon in Kenneth MacMillan’s ballet, Natalia Petrovna and Marguerite in Frederick Ashton’s ballets — it’s as if she herself has wrested these fictional women away from the choreographers to become her daemons, just as I have made Guillem one of mine.

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I wish that a mission not to deceive the public was more common. I’m grateful that Guillem takes her public’s emotions so seriously, and happy that she says she’s hugely critical of performers who don’t see their responsibility to this ‘special place’, the stage. It may be one reason why some people feel cautious about her performances. For many in the institutions, ballet is a decorative affair above all, a fulfilling of an aesthetic ritual — that was the Paris Opera way that Guillem wanted to leave.

And not Paris Opera only, as we all know. Quoting now Clement Crisp:  “I think that Mademoiselle Guillem constantly needs to impose herself physically upon the role, so that everyone knows that it is she Sylvie Guillem performing the role and not anyone else. It’s a matter of those extraordinary extensions, the legs zipping past the ear – which are quite unnecessary and sometimes wrong for the choreography.”

Poor Mr. Clement Crisp in London, Mr. Macauley in New York, and others like them that gravitate around the ballet companies. If they could have their way, Ballet would have an existence of its own in a platonic, idealized world, performed by uncorporeal beings made just of  CORRECT!!!, immutable lines. Why do I say “poor”? because they are condemned to have their wish denied every single time!

It really bothers them to see “perfection” spoiled by individuality, by performers’ different personalities, abilities, strenghts and weaknessess. Exactly what I like most – that Dance exists only through real human beings – each of them highlighting a piece in a different way, turning ballet into something living, newly born in every performance –  is what they detest.  No wonder several dancers I admire receive this kind of critic…

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It  may seem it was her physical ability that bothered Mr. Crisp, but this was was not all that set her apart. Since the beginning she believed in her right to be part of the creative process, in having a say in her performance. She may have used her skill as a leverage, to give weight to her positions, but it’s the absolute respect to herself, and the way she brings all she is to her performance – both physical and emotional –  that makes her so important as a dancer. When out of stage she may be shy, and trying to explain herself may be difficult,  but she certainly knows what she wants, and feels, and does Not want! Mademoiselle Non is not a puppet in her coachers hands, nor in the choreographers hands, or in anyone else’s hands. Self-centered, vain, they called her. I say: she is honest!

I think this attitude is so important Not because I’m a fierce defender of individualism – in fact, I believe individualism is overrated – but because the performer’s contribution to Dance vitality is seriously underrated. Her whole career is a loud statement, and a living proof of how mistaken such an underrating was.

Some choreographers, Pina Bausch, William Forsythe, are more aware, and humbly say that their works make no sense without the dancers that made them (their works) what they are – pieces they created and grounded on the dancer’s individuality. It takes my breath away, it is such a wonderful concept! Creator and creature, both one and separated beings, one is idea and a wish for life, and the other IS life – already beyond idea, and as life, already flowing on its own!

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There is a scene of a rehearsal, Labyrinth of Solitude, choreographer Patrick de Bana lightly touches Ivan Vasiliev (it reminds me of a famous ceiling painting) in a gesture that means “Now you go!”, and THERE comes so much more than Patrick da Bana could ever coach or teach or explain… It’s all he may have wished for (he says so), but it does not depend on him anymore, but solely on Ivan Vasiliev’s performance, if he “has it” or not, if he is able to bring something of his own to life, or not. I get goose-bumps every time I watch!

I suppose THIS is what choreographers like so much about Sylvie Guillem – in fact, they swoon over her – that she is able to make their work come to life, in a way they could only wish was possible, that depends on her being what she is.

Paradoxically, I’m not terribly impressed by her acting skills. I was thinking some time ago how this could be explained, since her intensity is always stunning, and there is  no doubt she feels her roles deeply.(see this days Quote).  I wondered if she, as a French artist, shares the mystique of  feminine mystery and unpredictability that french actresses like so much? I mean, the iconic french female role interpretation is an inescrutable, neutral, almost unchanging expression – until out the blue comes something outrageous like stabbing a lover to death, or setting the house on fire… Who knows? SHE says:

I think my style of acting is different because I try to take away all this superfluous gesture that doesn’t mean anything to me. When I don’t feel something on stage, I prefer not do it than something that is not comfortable. … That’s why for a long time people would say, ‘She’s too cold. She doesn’t show any feeling.’ They said that because they didn’t see what they use to see.

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Her intensity, her beautiful, impossible lines, and… ‘I do, I suppose, tend to infringe rules and traditions’,  are anyway more than enough: I am humbly grateful to her and all she has accomplished.sylvie_guillem_images.goog1_

I don’t expect other dancers to have the same legs or the same powerful personality – I don’t want them even to worry about that, it is not important! All I ask is that they are honest to themselves, and show me in what way THEY are unique – because this  is the lesson to be learned from Sylvie Guillem!

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Ismene Brown: http://www.spectator.co.uk/arts/arts-feature/9366992/sylvie-guillem-interview-a-lot-of-people-hated-me-bon-you-cant-please-everybody/

Sarah Crompton: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/dance/11207877/Sylvie-Guillem-the-greatest-female-dancer-I-have-ever-seen.html

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