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

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

Dreaming Stories

I never used to dream, much.

I can think of maybe two recurring nightmares that I had as a child that I can recall with any amount of clarity; On occasion I have a stress-dream, usually involving having to go onstage to dance and not having any hairpins. (It’s an odd quirk of mine that I never dream of forgetting choreography, just of having no bobby pins).

For the most part, however, my nights are dark and dreamless.

But not always. Continue reading

Review: The Black Swan

I waited too long to review this one! Now I’m not sure I have a good enough memory of the details to write a good review. But I’ll give it a shot.

There’s definitely stuff to like. The Black Swan is essentially a fairytale retelling – it’s based on a ballet but there is a lot of similarity between the way a ballet plot works and the way a fairytale plot works (and for that matter, a lot of ballets are themselves based on fairytales….). The book does a decent job of filling in the back story and rounding out the characters of one of my favorite ballets ever.

The problems arise when you consider who the main characters of the book are versus who the main characters of the ballet are. Lackey stays extremely close to the plot of the ballet – most of her additions come in terms of characterization, or actions that occur before the ballet takes place. But Odile, the main character of the book, is barely involved in that plot at all. So the protagonist of the book is at best tangentially involved in its plot.

I liked that Siegfried started out as not a nice guy, but I’m not sure I bought his transformation completely. Plus, it took up a lot of the book and was over even before he met Odette, so…it just slows the pace.

Clothilde was sort of interesting. I liked her machinations with Uwe (actually, Uwe was very interesting. There was a lot of potential for good story there, and then…it didn’t go anywhere).

Hardly any time was spent on Rothbart – he was just as important an antagonist – if not more- but we spend a lot of time getting to know Clothilde and not him, and he comes across as a bit flat.

I also liked that Odette wasn’t innocent, but her backstory didn’t really have any consequences, as Siegfried forgives her pretty much immediately after learning about it. What, then, was the point?

Actually, all of the conflicts that could have arisen in their relationship are waved away. Siegfried is a jerk? He reforms before he meets Odette. Siegfried has other suitors? He never likes any of them as much as Odette. Odette has a dark secret in her past? Siegfried forgives her as soon as he hears it. Boring!

Odile had the most interesting treatment by far. I liked how she came to sympathize gradually with the swans (the back of the book lies, by the way). But she definitely spent too much time defending Rothbart/making excuses for him, past the point where I thought that was realistic.

I was really more interested in her and her magical growth and personal growth than I was in the whole Siegfried/Odette plot. I wish that Lackey had strayed a little more from her inspiration and somehow made Odette’s trial really some sort of test for Odile. If it had been Odile vs. Rothbart from the beginning I think that would have worked better. Or if not, then having Odile be the main character really doesn’t work.

And while there were moments that moved along quickly, there were too many others that dragged. I like a good dress description as much as the next girl, and I’m maybe even a little more tolerant in that regard than some readers. But there were so many long descriptions of medieval castle life…did we really need to know the sleeping arrangements of every single member of the castle’s household? Or a step-by-step description of the peasant dances for the hunting party?

There was a lot of potential, here. I just don’t think the book was as successful as it could have been.

3 stars. A decent book, but not one I think I’ll reread.

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?