Uffff – too many issues!

I’m having trouble feeding my blog, because I have so many issues dancing (!) around on my head… I’m writing about all of them at the same time, and nothing is ever ready to post! I’m so confused I posted  THIS before it was ready, sorry!

mess of letters

Issue #1: the recent episode of  Bolshoi x Stanislasvski conflict involving Ivan Vasiliev brought back memories of several similar conflicts, involving both him and other dance professionals, that often guest around the world. It made me reflect on the current ability of ballet companies to effectively cope with the changes in their reality: the increasing numbers of independent great stars; the cost/benefit of their productions; customer satisfaction; visible aging of their audience in live performances; globalization of information; the new ways (mostly digital and far from ideal, but THERE, their importance increasing as we speak) to access ballet/dance productions; the inadequate competitive attitude in a risk situation. I wonder if their funding agencies impose restrictions to effective management? It seems (lack of information!) they have, most of them, professional managers, so why are they so slow to adapt? Does that sound too businesslike? Well, it should!!! Dance companies, as every enterprise and institution nowadays, CANNOT ignore good business practices! Ignore them, nowadays, is to be doomed!

Issue #2: important dance professionals in UK complained about UK dancer’s training – they say contemporary dance schools do not prepare them well enough. On it’s wake, I became aware of information on UK’s Dance audience’s, agencies and training (I did not know where to find that, before). There is a LOT to think and ponder about here, and I follow the debate, and write to clear my ideas, and re-think, and get new information, and re-write… It has been highly interesting, but I’m still processing all these new data!

Issue #3: the general Prodigal Son Parable feeling about Ivan Vasiliev’s “return” to Bolshoi, and its consequences – there are very nice, really exciting consequences, and also, I foresee, some that may not be that nice. As always, Ivan Vasiliev has my interest as himself, but also as an emblematic dancer who raises issues that go far beyond him. There is a difficult, tense, even painful trade-off between an artist’s right and need of independency, and the means to realize his artistry – in Performance Arts even more than other kinds of Art. When I see dancers and choreographers potential unfulfilled, I long for them to find a “home” to fully realize them, but… which of the dance agencies available nowadays is willing to let them realize their potential to it’s full extent? Not a new question, and I don’t have an answer! I keep a keen eye on all agencies I can… there seems to be a great polarization: those “homes” that can afford to stage properly the greater ones, are the less bound to favour their individuality, and vice-versa! Either way, the artist looses, and WE loose!… that’s why I cannot but worry and wonder about solutions! This issue, obvioulsy, is related, but not the same, as Issue#1.

Issue #4: what is Dance about, nowadays? A recent interview of my amazing Natalia Osipova brought me once again to this issue. She is SO accomplished, I cannot imagine a more beautiful 2nd Act Giselle as hers, OR a more fiery Kitri, and the improbable possibility of a dancer to excel the way she excels in BOTH prooves her greatness! She is, however, haunted by doubts about herself, and seeks harder and harder for perfection, but to such an extent! it broke my heart…! Problem is, to be perfect does not mean, necessarily, to create magic, and she, sensitive as she is, KNOWS that, and fears that. Is perfection important to create an objet d’art? If at all, in what ways, and what KIND of perfection? When I reflect about this, I always feel Terpsichore – “the joy in dancing” – looking, very interested, over my shoulder…

Issue #5: I have a post to finish about overuse of strange – and ugly – movements and costumes in contemporary dance (that I love). I’m reticent about them, and try to explain why  – just a humble, but as so often here, radical personal opinion. It involves body-language, the symbolic universe of a culture, and relates the way we see and interpret movements with words, smells and music – for now. I wouldn’t dare to question their artistic value or the creator’s need of them, but I can give a feed-back on how I receive/perceive them!

… and new issues keep arising!

It strikes me as little odd that in “other lives I lived”, in business, science, human science – and for all I can see but lived not, in other kinds of Art and every other organized human activity, issues like that are deeply important and openly and fiercely discussed… but I find so little open discussion and open opinions in Dance! I want to stand up and cry BRAVO everytime I see someone dismiss platitudes and state unconformity in a loud voice! … in good time, all these voices will grace this pages! But they are few, too few…

Quote of the day – Annabelle Lopez Ochoa

“As a choreographer you always have a choice. Do you want to impress the audience with speedy movement, intricate footwork and tricks – or do you risk simplicity, and try to touch people with the facts of life and death that all of us experience?

The audience always knows if you’re going for flashiness at the expense of meaning.”  

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa - choreographer
Annabelle Lopez Ochoa – choreographer

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Oh, yes, we know! Sad thing is, even knowing, part of ballet’s public prefer empty flashiness, or pays attention only to the flashy aspects of a performance. I have seen dancers truly ripping themselves to impart the dramatic content, and being applauded in the middle of it, because of a well-done jump or something like that!  It outrightly shocks me!

But another part of the audience, where I include myself, cannot see worth in a piece that does not touch you, be it of the utmost simplicity, or include the flashiest features.  By the way, simplicity may be very hard to dance properly!

Ivan Vasiliev in Mayerling… not this time, yet!

Ivan Vasiliev decided not to perform Mayerling. Frustrating, for both audience and himself, who had told, more than once, Prince Rudolph was a role he wanted to dance. Appalled sighs from everywhere! What happened?

From Stanislavski’s Theatre letter on Facebook:

“However, on 6 April, in the midst of the rehearsal process, just five days before the performance, Ivan Vasiliev refused to perform, thus violating his commitments to both theatre and his audience. We are deeply sorry about how some of our colleagues refer to their responsibilities and the public, and we apologize to our viewers for the disappointed expectations.”

From the letter Ivan Vasiliev publicized, explaining his decision.

“I applied to the repetiteur from the Kenneth MacMillan Foundation asking to find a compromise solution and to draw up a different rehearsal schedule that would be convenient for both The Stanislavski and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Academic Music Theatre and the Bolshoi Theatre and to make it possible for me to perform in the ballet “Mayerling” as well as in the ballet “Ivan the Terrible”, but my inquiry was denied.”

I may not have all the facts, but seen from far away, on the available information, this is what I see:

Two ballet companies want the same dancer at the same time. The dancer, at his own health’s risk, is willing. Instead of cooperating and trying to reach a compromise at management-level, the two companies behave like spoiled children quarreling over his time. It comes down to the dancer – who, don’t forget, wanted to dance for both – to try to sort things out, and eventually make the decision of which of them he must dump…

The Victory of Intransigency!  Can you find ANY OTHER benefit from the outcome? For Stanislavski? For Ivan? For the Kenneth MacMillan Foundation? For the audience? For Ballet? A perfect loose-loose situation!

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!

John Neumeier – Creating on Emotion

Spring and Fall - ENB
Photo: Spring and Fall – ENB ………….. Link to video: Spring and Fall – Hamburg Ballet

It’s about time I start writing about choreographers. Last night was again a sleepless one, and I spent hours watching different stagings and performances of La Dame aux Camélias, choreographed by Neumeier.

Conclusion? all performances are beautiful, no exception. La Dame has such a lovely and expressive choreography, on such lovely music – it may even be performed (and sometimes is) by dancers that have not that great technical or acting skills – it doesn’t matter, its beauty is impossible to spoil.

There, I believe, resides Neumeier’s greatness: what he creates has a life of its own, his choreographies are in themselves objets d´art. They can be shown in a better light, when performed by great dancers (and then they become a regular WOOOW affair!), but their magic does not depend on dancers as some other works do – it’s the other way round,  his works HELP dancers make a great perfomance.

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Photo: La Dame aux Camélias – Marcia Haydée, Ivan Liska and Neumeier ………….. Link to video: Marcia Haydée, François Klaus, Ivan Liska in a most extraordinary scene

Neumeier is, by his own definition, a choreographer of human feelings:

“I’m a choreographer who works from emotion, from relationship, from situations, human situations, I try to make these situations as subtle, as different, as many-sided as possible. I never thought of Dance as anything else – ever – but the expression of a person’s emotion. For me Dance is not sport, it is not an acrobatic exercise, it is a physical expression of complete humanity. Dance is not really an Art form, unless it can express all that being human is.

*****  Ok, Neumeier, give me your feet so I can kiss them!

La Dame is certainly one of my favourite works – as everyone elses, I bet, but he created so many exquisite jewels: Spring and Fall (another favourite), The Little Mermaid, Death in Venice, Nijinsky (high on my wishlist), Liliom,…

Photo: Nijinsky…………. Link: the Bubenicec brothers Jiri and Otto as Nijinsky, and Anna Polikarpova as Nijinsky’s wife – a must see!

Most are at once lyrical and like sandpaper on soft skin – a tenderly done punch in your stomach. The Little Mermaid he created: of course! he is so right in the way he depicts her – in my mind (and heart) she is not, any more, like the lovely drawing in my Andersen book, but looks and behaves like Yuan Yuan Tan – and stands for anyone who feels alien and fragil in a strange hard world. He makes you ache inside…  and keep wishing for more.

The Little Mermaid - Yuan Yuan Tan and
The Little Mermaid – Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets

His works are often explicitely sensual, and no way to go around that – prude ballet-lovers are advised to stay away, sexuality is definitely there, under bright spotlight…  I recently saw a performance where Margherite and Armand just suggest the (choreographed!!) kisses in their PDDs, as if they were dancing a virginal Nutcracker instead of a courtisane‘s passionate story… I almost can see the frown on Neumeier’s brow!

Male dancers have lots of wonderful opportunities, sometimes more than women, but ultimately which gender gets more to do – and spotlight – depends on the subject and the plot –  it is just one more example of his honesty when choreographing.

Some things I love about him: the clever way he uses classical ground-stones to create something that is all his own; his themes and the way he handles them; the way he uses choreography to express feelings and ideas (never a dreadful outdated mime, relieved sigh!) . Then there are the great scores he – thankfully! – chooses, most are as nice to hear as to see danced. And he prefers dancers who know how to act (no wonder Alina Cojocaru is one of his favourites!). There are a lot of them in Hamburg: Silvia Azzoni, Helene Bouchet (love her!), Carsten Jung, Lloyd Riggins, Otto Bubenicek, Alexandr Trush, … It may even be that in Hamburg acting skill is a requirement to become a soloist or principal (hhhmmm, nice!)…

Alexander Riabko and Kusha Alexi   -  Joseph's Legend
Alexander Riabko and Alessi – Joseph’s Legend

But there are things I don’t like: in his stagings (he is keen on them, sometimes they are his own design), costumes are often unnecessarily ugly and unbecoming, and I highlight unnecessarily – AND not always easy to dance with. Costumes should never, NEVER be a problem to a dancer. I know you are thinking about the Mermaid, but even in La Dame those full skirts of Margherite, pretty as they are, are inadequate to the kind of complicated lift often used in the choreography. All that fabric is always in the way, or end up in a ball around her throat, or completely blind poor Armand… And then that napkin that is Joseph’s costume… or did they wash the thing and it shrinked to half its size?  In Ivan Vasiliev it would look like a tie!

Also, when he goes really contemporary, the choreography is somewhat less pleasing to the (my) eye than in his a little more traditional ones.

UPS! These last paragraphs sounded like an unsophisticated, or worse, uncultured critic, didn’t they?

In my original text, at this point I started a sidetrack to justify my apparently close-minded opinions. But the thing became too long (once again),  and I turned the whole sidetrack into an independent post (soon) . It was a comment on contemporary choreography, anyway, not on Neumeier himself – and if you don’t know me, don’t get the wrong impression: I love contemporary!

Never mind these “dislikes”, however, they are triffles that don’t make a dent in my admiration – he is placed VERY high on my Hall of Fame.

On my wishlist are also the updatings he made of several classics – but these I didn’t see, so I have no opinion on them, yet (was that a relieved sigh from you?!?).

A writer describes Scottish Ballet’s A Streetcar Named Desire

After the bleak post on Royal Ballet, an uplifting one!

Some time ago I was giving some (just common-sense) thought to the differences between Theatre and Dance, so I was deeply interested when I found today this comment made by Aidan Ryan, a blogger who describes himself as “writer, traveller, duellist and scapegrace”. Aidan went to a performance of A Streetcar Named Desire (I already mentioned Scottish Ballet’s version when I quoted Tennessee Williams). The last ballet he had seen, as far as he could remember, was a Nutcracker some 15 years before – so we can firmly place him as non-expert, “wider” audience.

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Aidan is a writer, and as you would expect, he missed the words!, since Tennessee William’s writing is not just any writing, it is the work of a master – and he was sure everyone else was missing them too.

BUT…

… the title of his post is “A Triumph on Calculated Loss.” Quoting:

 “Even audiences just as accustomed to dance as to drama found themselves aching for a human voice through most this production, but this feeling was only a footnote to our encompassing awe at director Nancy Meckler’s and choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s gamble, really a calculated loss, to sacrifice the author’s words to more freely interpret his spirit.“

“If the Scottish Ballet proved anything this past week, it was that the form lends itself brilliantly to this sort of drama.  Blanche (played by principal dancer Eve Musto) here becomes a multiplicity: she is not one dancer onstage but a whole company – ghosts, half-ghosts, a score of black-dressed dancers with roses for mouths – and we watch as she calls on other bodies, parts of herself, to manifest the internal reality she battles, always under the 28 bare bulbs that hang above the stage. “

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“Sometimes watching drama adapted into dance is like watching a couple fight through the window looking into their apartment.  The show is mute, we feel our distance more acutely and inescapably than in traditional drama – but we cannot look away.

Other times – many times, during Streetcar – the choreography is so natural, so expressive hate and frailty and wild unstill spectrums of sexuality that we think it must have been improvised, the dancers possessed in some enthusiasmos and ecstasis, channeling the old gods’ emotions which human feeling is based upon.”

“The brute Stanley and the battered Blanche shed the layers of complexity that made Tennessee Williams’ one of the twentieth century’s greatest playwrights – though having done so, I suppose, they danced more freely, emoted more purely and therefore on a grander scale.”

“Meckler and Ochoa turned away from the nuance of naturalist theatre and reached instead for the power of archetypal feeling, operatic emotion.  And they succeeded.  This was never more evident than in the ballet’s climax, which took the implied rape in Williams’ script and made it brilliantly, brutally explicit, in choreography that left eyelids inoperable and mouths agape.  (“Nothing like a little bit of rape on a Saturday afternoon,” the Scottish woman beside me said to her friend after the final curtain had fallen.  It was a comment still half-nervous, possible only after the calming interlude of clapping.  We were all still in awe.) Peter Salem’s score was so powerful here that it seemed to become a physical part of the set, with a sound like pulsing pain or a beating cut vein amplified in the cavern of the head.”

[[ Link to complete post ]] and

[[ Link to trailer ]]

I was lucky to find Ryan’s description.  It is a spontaneous, real example of this blog’s most important point:  Dance can reach, can enrapt, can create magic for anyone, no need to be an “initiate” – provided it has Form and Content, provided it is able to suspend disbelief, provided it reaches decisively into what makes us human.

Dance is not better, worse or even complementary to Theatre – it is different! Like Music, it can bring you another kind of experience, grounded on more deep-seated, atavic roots. If things are made the right way, the kind of experience you cannot forget. If “things” are not just technique and form.

…two hours of passionate dance still playing in afterimages behind our eyes…

BRAVO, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Nancy Meckler, Scottish Ballet!

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… and one more live performance on my wish list (sigh)!

Royal Ballet’s Swan Lake and Mixed Feelings

Natalia Osipova/Matthew Golding/Gary Avis in Royal Ballet's Swan Lake, 4th Act
Natalia Osipova/Matthew Golding/Gary Avis in Royal Ballet’s Swan Lake, 4th Act

I had mixed feelings reading Jim Pritchard’s review of Royal Ballet’s Swan Lake on 17.03.2015, Natalia Osipova, Matthew Golding and Gary Avis in the leading roles.

[[  LINK TO COMPLETE REVIEW ]]

I could insert quotes, but his review is worth reading. He is, of course, just one voice in the Tower of Babel of opinions – you may trust it or not – as you may agree with me or not, but most reviewers remembered they do not like this production’s scenario and/or costumes and/or the “butchered score” and/or mime. More than one mentioned ENB’s production, and Ivan Vasiliev’s Siegfried in comparison…

It could be a good feeling, to know that other ballet-lovers see what I see – only I wish we were wrong, because such waste of talent, in such costly productions, makes me sad. And angry.

All aspects Pritchard mentions are in tune with posts in this blog: the garish, cluttered scenarios (see Swan Lake turned into Theatre); the fact that Siegfried has no opportunity to dance (see Graceful Dancers Part 2); Natalia Osipova, despite outstanding technique and careful acting, being unable to create “magic” (see Graceful Dancers Part 1, and About Kings, Battles and Muses...); about Matthew Golding’s bad acting, resulting in a pale performance compared with Ivan Vasiliev’s Siegfried (see Ivan Vasiliev Acted Socks Off); the damping down of individuality by excessive coaching, in a misguided effort to keep Dame Fonteyn’s style alive forever (see I will write a lot about Ivan Vasiliev); the fact that men who are not dancers run away from ballet performances  – what kind of “art” is this, that pleases mostly women and old people, having no interest for others? (see Dance, know thy Audience).

He does not mention, however, the dreadful, excessive mime, but I will! Last act is available on the web, you can judge for yourself.

[[ LINK TO ROYAL BALLET’S SWAN LAKE, Last Act).

4th Act has such an overload of mime it turns real acting into an impossibility! Osipova dutifully uses all prescribed (exaggerated) facial expressions and movements, but they are a poor substitute for the real thing.  I wish she would rebel… She stated, during rehearsals, that she was “still looking for his (Matthew Golding’s) soul”, indeed! How would she find it, if she did not allow her own soul to be there?

Ill-guided, misused, under-used, all these fabulous artistic and financial resources. How much longer will audience be forced to look for (empty) movements -“athletic delivering”, “beautiful lines” and “whipping 32 fouettés” – as the best you can get out of a performance?

I may be right, but there is no self-satisfaction in the notion – I would much prefer they had proved me wrong.

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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