Review: The Royal Ballet in Frankenstein (5/17/16)

The Royal Ballet has done it again, putting on a smashing (and brand new) production of Liam Scarlett’s Frankenstein.

I basically have nothing bad to say about it. The dancing was good from everyone, from the corps de ballet up to the principals. Particular commendation to Steven McRae (The Creature) for a truly phenomenal solo in Act II. The children in the production were quite charming and obviously well trained; Guillem Cabrera Espinach (William) was very cute and did well keeping up with the adults he was dancing with. Continue reading

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Review: Royal Ballet’s Giselle, 4/6/16

The Royal Ballet’s Giselle is a beautiful production, top to bottom. The set design is great, the costumes are lovely and wonderfully detailed, the props are similarly well constructed and detailed – despite the fact that no one in the audience can see the crests on the sword and the hunting horn, they’re there. Of course, with the benefit of cinematic closeups, the audience in theaters could see those details, and appreciate them. 🙂 Continue reading

We Are Not All Black Swans: Ballet in Popular Culture and the Media, Part 1: Introduction to the Issues

I just have so many feelings about this that I can barely be coherent, so I apologize in advance.

Ballet is one of my great passions – I’ve loved it for as long as I can remember. I loved it first for its beauty and its grace, its boundless energy and athleticism, its lyricism and its romanticism. And when I started to dance myself, I loved it for its discipline and demands, its perfection and its imperfection.

I love it for the indescribable combination of joy and fear that leaps up in me when I step out on stage. I love it for the incredible range of emotions that dancing or watching dance evokes in me.

I even love it for the blisters and blood and late nights and early mornings…most of the time.

And that is why I am so, so torn about the depiction of ballet in popular culture.

On the one hand, I am glad that there is interest, and exposure. Ballet has a -somewhat unfair- reputation of being “boring”, or “elitist” or “only for old people”. Perhaps not as much as opera, but the feeling is still there. In this day and age, where accessibility is emphasized above all else, where you can tweet a celebrity and the people on TV are “just like you”, the dancer is something of an anomaly.  The intense, long-term training, the separation of audience and stage, the price of the tickets (although this is changing) and at the most basic level the use of objects (pointe shoes) and movements (eg, turning out) that are completely foreign to the ‘normal’ experience, all conspire to put distance between the general public and the world of ballet.

So I’m glad that there is awareness of, and renewed interest in, ballet as an art form as a result of recent aspects of popular culture and media. And yet, at the same time, I wonder if these portrayals are doing more harm than good. There is a line between “any press is good press” and negative portrayals hurting the art form. I don’t think we’ve crossed it yet – hopefully – but we’re certainly headed in that direction.

It’s not that I’m advocating a universally positive view of ballet. It’s true that its nature lends itself to certain challenges. For example: ballet is an aesthetic art form in which the body of the dancer is the instrument – this necessitates a certain physique. You have to be athletic enough and strong enough to actually dance – and that’s hard work, people, it’s not just twirling around with your hands above your head – and you have to look pretty doing it. Of course, when taken to the extreme you have dancers – natural perfectionists – obsessing over their weight and appearance, possibly leading to eating disorders or depression or a myriad of other issues. And there are certain companies or directors who, intentionally or unintentionally, contribute to that sort of thing. Dance puts a lot of pressure on the dancer, and it’s hard.

So I’m not saying ballet is perfect.

But there seem to be an awful lot of people who associate ballet  or ballerina with anorexia, bulimia, eating disorders, conceited, snobby, elitist, girly, (and with it the eternal girly=less valuable/worse), gay, restrictive, socially stunted…

Why does the art form that makes my heart sing evoke such responses?

Everything’s Beautiful at the Ballet

So I took a half day today to take a little girl I babysit to the ballet.

She was so cute – extremely excited, all dressed up, perfectly behaved the whole time. She’s about to turn five and not very big so we had to get a cushion for her to sit on. It was totally adorable.

I was actually really happy to be seeing Swan Lake. I got some last minute tickets in the fall from the Barnard dance department but I was way on the side and only had a partial view of the stage. This time we had amazing tickets – center orchestra, not too far back.

I’m not as familiar with ABT as I am with NYCB, as proved by a quick perusal of the program. I recognized only a handful of names. Hee Seo was dancing Odette/Odile, but I had never seen her before so I was interested to see how she did. Siegfried was being danced by Marcelo Gomes who is always perfect.

Hee Seo turned out to be gorgeous. She has beautiful legs and feet and extremely expressive arms (which is super necessary for Odette especially). Odette/Odile is a hard role – one because it’s a marathon and two because they’re basically polar opposites – but Hee did a wonderful job.

If I had to criticize, I’d say she’s not really a turner. Her fouettes, the big showstopper moment in act III, were not great. There was a lot of movement and she never pulled in for multiples, not even at the end. Not that I should really be talking, my fouettes are atrocious, but there you are. She also seemed to be struggling a bit with the step overs in her act II variation.

(By the way, if you want to see a stellar coda check out Gillian Murphy. Her turns start at 0:30 if you’re in a hurry although it’s worth watching the whole thing because Angel Corella is also phenomenal. I don’t love Gillian’s arms but you can’t argue with the bravura!)

Despite my nitpicks with her turns, Hee was absolutely stunning in all of the pas. She’s definitely a lyrical dancer. And when she was with Marcello – as;dlfjwa;lf. No, seriously, that is how inarticulate they make me. It was beautiful. Marcello is a gorgeous partner. And his turns! In his act III variation he did a pirouette, finished in passe, then gave us a cheeky grin and pulled in for more! God.

I was pleasantly surprised by a few of the soloists. In particular, one of the pas de trois girls and the four little swans. Four little swans was totally fierce – although I have to admit that no matter how good it is I cringe a little bit inside while I’m watching because four swans is a bitch  to do. Not because it’s that hard but it’s disproportionately difficult to do anything when you’re holding hands with three other girls. Anyway, I’ll have to keep an eye out for them in the future. The corps, on the other hand, was rather messy. I know it’s early in the run but some things were really obviously not together.

The production overall is very nice, with lavish sets and costumes. I much prefer it to the City Ballet version, which looks like it was designed and painted by a child. I understand they were going for a more modern look, which I don’t object to in principle, but the execution failed spectacularly. Ah, well.

Swan Lake also has one of the most gorgeous scores ever composed for ballet (in my opinion at least). It’s Tchaikovsky at his finest. And I’m always surprised, every time I go, how much of the music I know! I could probably hum 70% of the score from memory. Considering how beautiful and complex and tragic it is, it’s very catchy.

Some people complain about the mitigation of the downer ending, but I don’t mind it. Speaking of which, Marcello got some serious air time jumping into the lake.

So that was my day; it’s interesting timing because I just started reading Mercedes Lackey’s Black Swan (recommended by Tami). I’m curious to see what she does with the story and how she adapts it to novel form. I’m only a chapter in but I was pleased to see a nod to the four swans/cygnets in the first chapter, even as I cried a little inside, thinking about those echappe heads.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Ballet has its own language. If anyone is reading and wants a translation/elaboration/explanation just ask! Also some french words are probably spelled wrong (although I do try to get them right) and missing accents as I am not in the mood to figure out how to put them in on Blogger and no I do not want to copy-paste from Word right now.