Deadly serious Ballet… hhmmph!!

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Ballet is such a serious affair nowadays! Where has all the fun gone? I mean, there were always rules, and hard work, worries about tickets sales and injuries, no doubt about that. But nowadays it seems they have stiffled the mood for comedy and fun.

There are even awful new trends that explore pain and tortured feet and crying kids in ballet training, overthinness and weird overextensions as a way to make ballet news. No, I refuse to post an illustrative picture, it seems to me as disrespectful to show as it is of dance professionals to submit their bodies to this kind of treatment and exposure. Are pain and drama really so indissociable from Ballet?  Aaaarghh!!!

In 20th century, however, several choreographers created delicious Ballets (or, by current rules, something between Ballet and 100% danced Musicals), full of action and laughter… classical technique serving just as groundstone to pure entertainment!

The great success of Wheeldon’s “An American in Paris” gives me hopes –  link here
– but my problem is not about musicals, a genre on its own, but about Concert Dance and humour.
Trocadero is a unique phenomenon. They are really good, but so unique they don’t help to understand the depressive/ing mood of Ballet.

It would not be a bad idea if our classical ballet professionals were forced to stage this kind of work – maybe it would loosen them up a bit? and the tightlipped “ballet-is-a-high-art-few-are cultured-enough-to-appreciate” audience too? that loves La Fille Mal Gardée (it is Ashton!!!!) but thinks Don Quixote is already beneath their high aesthetical demands?

BTW, some attempts I saw lately are… pathetic! and only prove my point: Ballet is getting SO serious that just a few even know how to make jokes! There are some Cinderella versions that should be… please, forgotten!
There is Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free, that I did NOT see – judging by this trailer, however… well, maybe I would like to see more verve, more sharp comedy timing?? but critics were good, so I may be mistaken!

ABT Fancy Free, 2015 Edition

Jiri Kîlian has Symphony in D, that has a dry sense of humour, you do not double yourself in mirth attacks, but it light, funny and… beautiful!

But what I’m really talking about is something like this:

Manuel Legris and Ketevan Papava in a scene of Fledermaus

The whole work (by Roland Petit, whose Coppelia is also great fun) is available in DVD with Alessandra Ferri, Massimo Murru and Luigi Bonino – what a cast!!! it used to be available in YouTube, but I could not find the link again.

And this, ah, this is absolutely charming!

Old Tango by Alexandr Belinsky, with Ekaterina Maximova

Of course, there are other works, The Concert, Birth-Day… but all in all, they are rare as oasi in deserts!

Related to lack of humour, I have a question that still needs an answer:  have you ever wondered, like me, why so many plots of the famous ballets are definitely morbid?????

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Quote of the Day – Alexander Ekman

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“I’ve asked myself why Cacti is so successful, and I think it’s partly that we had a long time making it, so I think it’s very well-crafted. But there’s also that subject — it’s important that we can laugh and discuss and debate about how we have invented this ‘critic’ thing.”

Alexander Ekman, succesfull Swedish choreographer, is restaging Cacti in Sidney, Australia. He is well known for the way he integrates humour into the very serious art od Dance… – interview in 22.02.2016, to Ben Neutze – Daily Review, full text here

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Concert Dance takes itself too seriously, and Ballet is worse, it is really DEADLY serious… It was not always like that, and lack of humour seems to me just a symptom of a crippling (degenerative?) disease – Ekman goes straight to what, in my opinion, is the source:

“I created [Cacti] at a time in my life when I was really struggling. I cared a lot about what critics wrote and who was there. Now, I don’t give a shit, honestly,” he says. 

“I’ve asked myself why Cacti is so successful, and I think it’s partly that we had a long time making it, so I think it’s very well-crafted. But there’s also that subject — it’s important that we can laugh and discuss and debate about how we have invented this ‘critic’ thing.” <—-HERE

At the centre of all of Ekman’s work is a desire to entertain, but he wants to make it clear what he means by “entertainment”.

According to Ekman, “entertainment” can be considered a form of meditation — if a piece of art can hold your attention and focus your mind on a single idea or stream of thought, it’s essentially meditative.

“I get annoyed that so few pieces do that,” he says.
“The dance world needs to change and I’m surprised very often that it still keeps going, because it doesn’t reach out to people.” <—- AND HERE

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Nowadays, Concert Dance is focused on pleasing peers and critics,  not in reaching a wider audience. As a Performance Art, Dance needs public’s reaction to live. It is dying of audience insufficiency!

Of course, it is not easy to laugh about things when you are a terminal patient…

BTW: Do you know the rate of population growth? no, of course not, but you have at least some notion… And a notion of the rate of growth of Concert Dance audience?

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.

ON YOUNG PRODIGIES… AND GROWING UP!

Young prodigies… unexpected skills

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - first composition at the age of 5, died when 35 years old.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – first composition at the age of 5, died when 35 years old.

There are nowadays so many kids with incredible skills, considering their age! In my FB Timeline, a pretty quiet one, I see several a year. They all, surely, have an unexpected skill… but will they all become great artists?

Every time I see one of them, usually with hundreds of thousands views, I feel pity: brought under  spotlights by their proud parents, they are now under the scrutiny of the world.

They will become very aware of themselves, freedom and innocence about their work fading away before they are ready to deal with flattering and the limitations of every human being. The contrast they offer us in the beginning is always amazing, we cannot help by cheering them… there is unanimity, because their youth makes us forgive them for not being “perfect” (whatever our particular definition of perfection) –  oh, they have time, one day they will be all we wish!

Barbara Follet
Barbara Newhall Follet – published her first acclaimed novel at the age of 12. At 25, deeply depressed, she walked away from home and was never seen again.

The bubble.

With great expectations coming from far and near, the child’s own expectations will grow.

They are at an impressionable age, and their identity develops tied to their skill and the decurring success …  and may be badly shaken when they grow up, when their age is no more out of sync with skill level – the high winds of success turning into a sedated breeze… or vanishing for good.

Young prodigies are very often overexposed – now with Internet, an extreme exposure – and live in a bubble of success doomed to burst when entering adulthood, or, better said, THIS component of their success is doomed.

I wonder if they, their parents and their eventual agents realize it is a bubble…  I have seen, far more often, a naïve belief that the child’s success is a small sample of all the acclaim that will surely keep  increasing as age increases too.

Artists and success…

Now forget early talents. Any great artist may have success, but will seldom be unanimity – one feature that distinguishes a mere artisan from the artist, is that the latter is unique, individuality is always fierce – dividing people’s opinion.

Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent Van Gogh

Some will love, some will find impossible to like.  Praise may increase during his lifetime, as his work matures – but if he is of the rule-breaking kind, critics will come along praise, and they may be as sharp as praise is warm.

Great success may come or not, and may or not depend on actual talent – more often than not, nowadays, it depends on luck, on shifting fashion, on the degree of exposure.  Great success never was, is, or will be an adequate measure of real artistry.

Now add the two…
… and we have bad news!!

Oh, not necessarily, but in most cases! Well known artists, especially in Performance Arts, and especially when young, come to rely on their audience’s response…

Joshua Bell, despite his US$ 3.000.000,00 Stradivarius, didn't live up to MY expectations.. for all they worth
Joshua Bell, despite his 3 million dollars Stradivarius, didn’t live up to MY expectations… for all its worth – not when I compare his interpretative power with my beloved Heifetz!

Only, there is a massive withdrawal of praise when a gifted kid grows up – just because the out-of-sync component is gone – now he/she is an artist as any other artist, that will not be forgiven anything more because of age – now he is expected to come up to “my” expectations (whatever they are). If he does not, “I” will be VERY disappointed, I may turn from an admirer into a critic – if I had never been interested and idealizing, it would be different!

The young talented adult sees himself  no more in the top of the mountain – even if it was not easy to keep balance there, he had felt it as his own already.  He slides down to some place he is not used to, where he is definitely not comfortable – the change in one or two years is so great, it may take away his drive, and balance, and self-esteem, make him doubt himself.

Shirley Temple - last movie at the age of
Shirley Temple – last movie at the age of 21

He may try to come up to all the multiple expectations and idealizations, and loose himself and his creativity while seeking to regain former levels of acclaim – not realizing it may never be reached again, and should not even be further sought.  He may receive unexpected attacks, scorn, and dismissal, and be utterly unprepared to deal with them. He may feel as the victim of an unfair world. He may enter in denial. He may simply give up.

The change is too great for some, they never recover, and their Art is lost in drugs, unbalanced behavior, in aggressive attitudes that turn away fellow professionals and public, in neurotic disorders. I have seen too many young prodigies that were unable to unfold as adult talents – such a loss for all of us!

On the other hand…

The first years of adulthood may be hard, and suffering inevitable, but some, fortunately,

Jasha Heifetz -
Jasha Heifetz – “God’s Fiddler”

survive to be greater than ever – those that don’t feel sorry for themselves, that learn to respect their inner voice more than any external opinion,  that learn to deal both with bad critics and unreasonable idealizations – if they are graced with any level of empathy, comprehension of what happened to us and to themselves will just enrich their work.

Anyway, it is now that their real artistic life can begin, because paradoxically, now they will have more freedom and will be able to reach new depths…  now, having got ridden  of the youth label and all that came in its wake. Now they are just, and at last, what they are… and this is MORE, not less!

All in all…

Sometimes it is inevitable, some talents are so great they stand out at a tender age already, no matter what. But all in all, I wish parents were wiser, and more aware of the consequences of bringing their talented children under the spotlights – or, if it can’t be helped, that they would be wise enough to prepare them for the bubble bursting process.

Saint-Saëns

 In Ballet!

Everything in Ballet must happen so fast! Dancers have nowadays a terribly short active life, in average, less than 20 years of actual dancing! So all are in a hurry.  Dance competitions bring us a few precocious talents every year. A few of THESE  rise meteorically, and are just 19, 20 years old when they arrive “at the top”:  a principal in a big company – by that time, they are already world famous! And then what? They have suffered/will suffer incredible, ever increasing demands from their public, and are even more prone to early injuries than the average dancer.  AND also grow up, no matter what.

Sergei Polunin
Sergei Polunin – soloist at Royal Ballet at the age of 19, principal at the age of 20. 

Right now, we have several young prodigies at some stage of their transition period: choreographer Justin Peck, dancers like Misty Copeland, Ivan Vasiliev, Sergei Polunin are well known examples,. I hope they all grace us with long active, fruitful lives – in the History of Ballet, you find pretty few like them before.

Ivan Vasiliev
Ivan Vasiliev- Bolshoi soloist at 17, principal at 21.

To be a ballet professional was never as hard as it is nowadays, and even so, I have big hopes in some of them – in some… more than in others! Future will show if I got them right!

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.

Quote of the day – Judith Mackrell

“No one, clearly, is advocating that performances of Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake should be cast with 50-year-olds. But McGregor has demonstrated how much of a waste it can be for mature artists simply to be put out to pasture as non-dancing kings, queens, eccentrics and crones. They can be capable of a far wider choreographic and expressive range; and, if they’re given the right material, can bring much-needed texture, contrast, wit and realism to the ballet stage.” (highlight is mine)

Judith Mackrell, in ” Keep Dancing: the ballet stars leaping through the age barrier“, The Guardian, 05.07.2015

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If you think about, it becomes so obvious.  It’s how things are in other Performance Arts. Dance as Art would profit, GREATLY! but what a change it would require in current ballet organizations!