The beauty (or not) of contemporary dance!

Evolution of Mankind
Evolution of Mankind 

 Edited one day after first publishing: it’s an awful long post, again. If you’re not patient enough, just go to the to examples in the end – they speak for themselves.
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I have a problem with overuse of weird and ugly movements in contemporary dance.

I know it sounds unsophisticated and simple-minded, but am I just a traditional ballet lover with an idealized view of dancing? I believe not, I have a few arguments, and they may be not that naive (although I love this little figure, I stitched it together myself!).

To begin with – and this is important: my problem is NOT with ridiculous, weird, strange or ugly movements used to impart the wealth of negative emotions and ideas that are part of life – just when they are used for other reasons and in other contexts. Some of them:

# 1: “I want to shock, I want to push you out of your comfort zone!”

Reality is not a nice place to live, but classical ballet refused the notion and presented us with an idealized view of human being.  In this context, the use of ugly and weird movements in contemporary is a way to give a good push on ballet’s complacent audience, as a shocking device to make them again aware of the real facts of life. I subscribe to that! BUT…

… nowadays they became overused. It’s like these American B-films, where the characters use FUCK as their every fifth word. It should show how the character is bad, or messed up, but fails, nowadays, to have the desired effect. You see, I’m a clumsy person, and this puts me in frequent situations when swearing is needed…  and heartily done!!!  It would not be THAT satisfying, though, if I used swearing in every sentence. Overuse kills the effect of trespassing, of rebellion, of a striking-back reaction. It becomes just bad manners, and does not make us jump in our seats anymore, or even uncomfortable.

If ugly movements are used to shock us, or to remind us of the ugly side of reality, well… it’s not working anymore, they are, nowadays, just… boringly ugly!

# 2:  “Contemporary dance is not falsely prude, or falsely nice”.

And there comes bottoms facing audience, or held up high facing the sky, or the common lift where the female dancer is held high, back against her partner’s chest, horizontally not-fully extended, half-open legs, crotch facing the public.  I used to look for the sex act key of that movement, since a woman in that position, in all our minds, with legs tensed that way, is a powerful and beautiful image of sexual desire, very rarely seen in other contexts, if any – I would welcome that, by the way, sex is still taboo in ballet, even in contemporary, and many choreographers and dancers are still uncomfortable in acknowledging even that sex exists – as Theatre, for example, has been doing for a long time. But… no, it is mostly just a slightly out-of-tune movement that, more often than not, has nothing to do with sexual drive.  So what does it mean, this position that, taken out of its context, is not exactly graceful? The same applies, for example,  when dancers crawl on all their fours…  in my body-language lexicon, this is about very little children (the child inside us?), or about a very desperate, in sheer terror human being, that turns animal-like for lack of options. So I look for hints either way, but more often than not… they are not there! Made by an adult, and without the archaic corresponding meaning, this kind of movement is not graceful or makes sense anywhere in the world… So?!??

# 3: It is original!

In a world with too many people, ideas and images, originality is an important way to stand out. For the sake of originality, people go to any lengths, pushing boundaries of aesthetics to ultimate extremes. If it comes from a deep understanding of hidden possibilities we common people are not aware yet, I love it. But sometimes weird, ugly dancing does not seem to have any meaning, or belong to an intended aesthetic statement, they come and go in the dancing, and you can’t make any sense out them.

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We, social beings as we are, live inside a symbolic universe, which allows us to communicate. We share words, concepts, tastes, ideas. Even if I see blue were you see green, even if Thai food feels so hot for me I have a hard time identifying the other ingredients  through my tears, even if my fragmented notion of time is different from my Arab neighbour’s flowing one… even so, we have more in common than we have differences.  Every social group shares a symbolic universe, deeply grounded on its language, and part of these diverse universes is common to all mankind. It is not different with body language. Different cultures have different conventions about the meaning of movements, and some of this meaning is common to all humankind.

The common aspects are rooted mostly in archaic fears and needs. So if you are standing up and stretch yourself completely,  as far as you can, your eyes not on someone else, but focused far away, or unfocused – what does it mean? Here? In China? In Iceland? You see what I mean? INSIDE a specific culture, it is even easier, because all body-language – partly deeply rooted, partly convention – is understandable, is a language like the spoken one.

Our ears, our eyes, our nose, our tongue, all our senses, are trained since early childhood, so we can share images and colours, flavours and smells, sounds… and concepts related to them, and ever more abstract ideas construed using these as ground-stones.

Now, coming back to Art. Art is part of our symbolic universe, both the specific one, and the general one.  I may have trouble understanding a Japanese Opera, or Indian music, when I’m seeing it for the first time and without preparing myself. But I can learn! I can learn its aesthetic criteria, the difficulties of performance, the concepts that are imbedded there, the culture where they came from, and then… THEN I will be exposed to the full power of that kind of Art. What I mean is: Art exists INSIDE a symbolic universe, and can only reach me if I share this universe.

There are artists that have an instinctive knowledge of our symbolic universe, but so a deep and great one, they are able to show us things we are not aware, that are in the boundaries of, or hidden from our “Weltanschauung”. And still, they share our symbolic universe, or they would be just psychopaths, living in a world of their own…  It is my belief that this kind of Art, even if you can’t understand it rationally, will get at you anyway. Provided it is Art, provided it comes from a knowledge that includes mine and exceeds it in some way, and brings me a new truth I will recognize once seen, and then not be able to dismiss again. Problem is, this is not the kind of artist we are discussing here. This kind of artist is Beethoven, is Isadora Duncan, is Van Gogh, they are rare, so, SO rare!  Most artists are not so far away from our everyday reality, and share our symbolic universe as it is. There is nothing less valuable about them, because Art must not throw our symbolic universe upside down, everytime, to be Art –in fact it rarely does, for it is, most of all, a way for us… just to live! Nietzsche said: “We have art in order not to die of the truth!”. We need Art in order to cope with what being human is, just IS!

Many artists strive, nowadays, to be boundary breakers, but if they resource to artificial means to become that, it is of no avail – this kind of issue should not even worry them – in fact, articialism gets in the way of creation! The points I enumerated above about the use of strange movements ARE artificial ways some choreographers are using, and do not convince me. At all.

To be original guarantees… originality, not that the work will be Art! To unveil hypocrisy and false moral values is always good, but does not guarantee the work will be Art (but a valuable socio-political statement, maybe?), and so on.

Our culture shares an immensurable knowledge on body-language and concepts of body beauty and body-movements beauty… and their corresponding ugliness.  This wealth of meaning is just beginning to be explored by Dance. I wonder why so many choreographers are dismissive about our shared language, and try to create something that is not really new, just weird – to create something that is just…  not understandable!

How many writers you know that use as much words they create from scratch as existing ones? How many perfumists do you know that create perfumes that smell like rotten eggs, or a car’s exhaustion?  What happens when you hear music  that uses not the kind of “hamony” your culture shares? even if it is Art, will it reach you?

I will a give an example, and a counter-example.

My example of weird, not understandable dancing is Ohad Naharin’s Passo. Passo is part of a larger work, and was presented, out of context, in Solo For Two, with Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev, where I saw it the first time. Despite being performed by outstanding and expressive dancers, it was a shot off the mark, if I, in the audience, was the intended target. Even seeing the whole work, I doubt I would get what was to be imparted through the choreography.  It was lost on me, I did not understand the body-language, and could not see, also, a possible internal coherence or consistency of Form, some aesthetic proposition I could recognize.  Was it necessary to know about Gaga-technique? Well… Naharin could not expect that from me, could he? I must say:  simple-minded me did not get it at all… I wonder if someone else did!
(The strange thing is, there are several choreographies of Naharin that I like  – and, I believe,  understand…  so what is the matter with THIS one?

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Small excerpt of Passo by Ohad Naharin, performed by Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev

The counter-example is Mats Ek’s (he is Swedish) work, based on a play of Garcia Lorca (he is Spanish), using music from Bach (he is German), Villa-Lobos (he is Brazilian), Albeniz and Tarraga (they are Spanish): Bernardas Hus, or La Casa de Bernarda Alba. An extraordinary work, “readable” by anyone, despite the multicultural aspects… at least by any occidental one (due to Catholic religion references). But then,  Mats Ek is an extraordinary choreographer, I’m fascinated by his work!  Even if you do not know the original play (I did not), you get it, both emotion and plot, through the cleverest use of body-language in – and this is what I like the most – IN the dancing,  THROUGH the dancing!

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Small excerpt of Bernardas Hus by Mats Ek – link to complete work below

Link to complete work: << https://youtu.be/l2Sxi7USgzw>>.

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, 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!

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.”

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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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People who have a light of their own

Do you know someone like that? They are rare. They too find stones on their way, like all of us. This is dedicated to one in particular, who had to deal with some big boulders for some time now.

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When you have a light of your own, you are blessed in many ways.

It makes you unique, and rare. It makes you excel, and be creative, regardless of your activity. It gives you drive to keep going forward, when any other would give up. It brings you a deep-seated freedom no one can reach or limit.

It makes impossible not to notice you, or to forget about you. It shines on people around you – the world as a whole becomes a little bit brighter. Looking at you, people see more truth. You are a beacon.

Your are contagious, you rekindle damped lights around you, and make new ones spring to life.  You bring solace, regardless of your good deeds.  You bring hope, regardless of your achievements.

Your light cannot be turned off, not even by you; it can be damped, but no one was borne, yet, able to extinguish it.

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Your light makes you tough and brave, as you fend off those who fear and envy it –there are fair amounts of them, of those with secret places that must remain in the dark.

It makes you strong, as you hold off  those seeking to control its shine – there are fair amounts of them, who try to stiffle it down or use it for their own good.

It makes you kind, as you realize how blessed you are, compared to the sombre crowds you walk among.

It makes you generous, as you realize that sharing makes it shine all the brighter.

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God bless you – you with a light of your own – life flows stronger around you.

May you never doubt you have it – may you always use it, full power, both for your sake…  and ours.

About graceful dancers – Part 2: The Guys

So this post makes sense,  reading Part 1 would help! If you haven’t or won’t,  grace here has a specific meaning:  a fluid, free, almost instinctive quality to the dancer´s  movements – that seem to spring out of her/him as natural as breathing  – in opposition to a careful, thoroughly rehearsed, construed way of dancing.

There is a great number of male dancers I like. Only recently I became aware, however, that there is a very small group that I like more…  I watch other dancers and think, what if so-and-so was dancing this?

What is so special about them? One of the main points is, they are so graceful… and then I had to stop and think what I meant by that. It was more or less:  they are at ease, their dancing looks natural and full of life, is decidedly beautiful whatever they are dancing, is manly. These are not as much requisites, as expressions of their gracefulness – a special beauty that resides, precisely, in an organic, harmonic whole way of moving.

Not one of them has a very distinctive classical aesthetic in their movements – on the contrary, all of them dance their own way more than in the foppish traditional ballet style. Gratefully  this has changed, and for good: that men should look like men on stage, and really DANCE, well beyond the occasional jumping/turning (and, of course, lifting!), around the all-important female dancers in stage’s center – feminine aesthetic all over!.

The Men Liberation Movement in Dance! kkkkk… Anyway, their equal rights are our luck, because boy, are male dancers gorgeous to look at, now that they can show all they are!

Back to my graceful dancers. Who are they, so you can agree with me or not? It will not be an all-encompassing list, just some examples. But they are rare indeed,  even more than graceful female dancers…

Two come to my mind, immediately:  Mikhail Barishnikov and Ivan Vasiliev.  When they move, their movements have this  “RIGHT!” quality, not in ballet rules sense, but in that their movements FIT them, they own the way they move, they move the way they are.  You can see/sense the harmony.

Barishnikov made something new out of anything he danced, it would have his mark, with such individuality that it always became unique…  and then a new standard.

Ivan Vasiliev, specially in his first years, seems to just release those jumps out of him, instead of commanding himself to jump – as, by the way, his turnings or any of his movements. He lost some of this instinctive, natural quality since then – a kind of loss of innocence, I believe – but still has more than any other active dancer I know.

Then Manuel Legris: there is nothing I saw him dance that I did not love! And he is a master when it comes to classical: all that Must be there, is, but all that is too foppish, is out. He makes a really handsome prince – who doesn’t make me feel uncomfortable… and then his dancing is terrific, isn’t it?

Julio Bocca – the most powerful presence on stage I ever saw. Not enacted power, it was really there, he owned the stage. And he did not think – he just went for it, and his every move was beautiful to see. Ivan Vasiliev has a lot in common with Julio Bocca in that, and both are a sure relief of excessive feminility!

By the way, Bocca’s most frequent partner, Eleonora Cassano, was a small miracle of grace, too.  In the link, Robbins’ Other Dances again (completely different from Barishnikov, I love this!)

and this amazing one:

Angel Corella’s movements almost glow out of sheer vitality! His dancing seems to spring out of this luminous internal source as it’s most natural, unavoidable consequence.  His casual style is misleading – while he is there, you can’t take your eyes off him, and anything he dances leaves a long lasting impression.

It is a great experience to see a dancer in tune with himself, trusting his grace, making Dance alive. They cannot be valued high enough. Thank you, graceful guys and girls!

About graceful dancers – Part 1: the Girls

The last sentence I wrote in the Quote of Alina Cojocaru, a few days ago, kept ringing on my own head:  “And she is so graceful!”. Some months ago I also wrote about this quality of Ivan Vasiliev’s dancing that can only be called manly gracefulness, as I don’t know any other word that fits. Why did I see the need to state it? Are not all dancers graceful?  Yes, they are… but I meant it in a very specific, not self-evident,  sense of my own.  What I had in mind was:  they move with natural, seemingly effortless, maybe even unconscious, perfect grace.

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Alina Cojocaru in Giselle Act 1
with Manuel Legris

Some dancers seem to have studied for a long time how to make their movements the most beautiful … and some seem to just BE beautiful moving.  I don’t know exactly WHAT the difference is, but I get it after the first minutes of watching anyone dance. How I perceive it still eludes me. It’s not in the beauty itself, as I’m talking about a group where all are outstanding,  but about the kind of beauty, and how it is achieved. Some have this more fluid, free, almost instinctive quality to their movements – graceful movements  seem to spring out of them  as natural as breathing, and are lovely exactly because of that. Other dancers move so carefully, I sense – somehow – there are endless hours of rehearsal behind every port-de-bras.

I realize it does not make sense, since ALL dancers have this love/hate relationship with the studio’s mirror, the severe critic with whom they spend most of their time, and most respect! But still… it’s as if some dancers don’t worry, or forget the mirror when they are on stage, and just… dance!  They LET themselves dance, while others deliberatedly, self-consciously, MAKE their bodies dance.

—– A metaphore: it’s like the difference between an artificial, perfectly formed flower, and a real flower, where life’s miracle expresses itself in texture, fragrance, shades of colour, singularity. It’s a matter of taste: some prefer the silken man-made perfection, I prefer vitality and natural beauty. —

To me as audience, it makes a great difference. The careful dancers don’t seem at ease, and don’t let ME be at ease. I see – somehow – their great effort to create beauty, and then I cannot forget myself into their dancing, it makes magic more difficult to happpen: they push me into a role of my own, I am the Mirror now…

Some people are just born that way, I mean common people, not just professional dancers: they are graceful  sitting, laughing, talking on the phone, running, whatever. I suppose all dancers have this inborn grace – or they wouldn’t be dancers, would they?  Why , then, the painstakingly worry about the ideal form? Maybe they don’t trust their own grace? or their training/coaching damped it down, so they could achieve a certain aesthetic? I mistrust Vaganova, the Royal Ballet, ABT, for example, too much dancers there are… so careful!

So I have this unanswered question: are only my graceful ones born dancers, or what I see is the consequence of hiding natural beauty under an artificial, carefully construed one?  I don’t know.

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Alina Cojocaru in Giselle – click to link
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Alina Cojocaru in Sleeping Beauty – click to link
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Uliana Lopatkina in Carmen – click to link

Examples!

Alina Cojocaru is Grace itself wearing point-shoes. I could watch her endlessly. There are two more links on her, chosen at random.  Compare with other famous dancers and you will see what I mean (I hope).

Alonso’s Carmen is a ballet I had a hard time liking, it’s so odd – but Uliana Lopatkina made me love it, she seems to be enjoying the dancing, and her Carmen to be having fun with her seduction games – a wellcomed change to other Carmens, that stretched way too far the seductress choreography. Her Nikiya is also lovely, as is Lucia Lacarra’s. Compare!

Marcia Haydée in anything she choosed to dance was enchanting… Not an all-encompassing list, but anyway the graceful ones are rare nowadays!

Natalia Osipova is a special case: she is THE most self-conscious one,  but adds such a lot of  (also very careful) acting to it, that it compensates, to a great extent – and most of the times – for her visible effort to create perfect moving Beauty, It’s a successful effort – but it must take enormous amounts of work, and of energy while performing, to get it all done at once. I wonder… if she would just let herself go at some point, and recklessly forget anything but the joy of dancing…

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Natalia Osipova in Firebird

Quote of the day – Alina Cojocaru

In an interview when she was still principal of Royal Ballet, in August 2012:

jr_fille_cojocaru_close_012_500“I try to go on stage and be honest with myself. I can only rely on my feelings. My main aim is to share what I feel with my audience. When I go on stage I forgive myself if my show’s not perfect, but I don’t forgive myself if I did not become who I should be on stage. (…)
What I love about working in Hamburg is the creative environment. Even working on ballets that have been created so many years ago, you can bring something to it, and feel like you’re still part of it, bringing ideas to the ballet. That’s nowhere to be found in London of course. You have the people in charge of the ballet trying to protect the choreography… protecting it to keep it looking like it used to be. I do respect the choreographers [but] it’s a constant battle there to bring something to every ballet I perform, to bring something new into the old.”

…but then Neumeier created Liliom for her in Hamburg, she won the Benois Prize on it, and moved on to Tamara Rojo’s now revolutionary ENB. Our luck! When she is on stage, her deeds speak for themselves  – she IS what she says! Admirable dancer… AND person!

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A battle to bring something new, of her own, to a ballet?  Indeed!

What are they so afraid of, there in Royal Ballet? Protecting choreography is more important than “ME”, in the audience? Odd way of thinking – choreographies are already very well recorded, that should be enough!

How nice there is ENB now, where I’m taken into account… I don’t have any doubts where I will chose to be in my ballet evenings – there where Tamara Rojo and Alina Cojocaru will be giving us new choreographers, new ballets, new, individual, ways of performing the worn out old roles!