Archives d’Auteur: Mini Naila

Ballet de l’Opéra à New York. Orphée et Eurydice de P. Bausch : Circles

Ballet de l’Opéra en tournée à New York. Lincoln Center Festival, Friday July 20th. Eurydice : Marie-Agnès Gillot; Orphée : Stéphane Bullion; Amour : Muriel Zusperreguy.

It is not possible for me to be unbiased when it comes to Pina Bausch’s Orpheus and Eurydice. I first saw it when I was one of those third year girls. “You know, American college kids. They come over here to take their third year and lap up a little culture… They’re officious and dull. They’re always making profound observations they’ve overheard.” Yeah, guilty on all counts, BUT I did manage to “lap up a little culture” as Jerry Mulligan so dryly notes in An American in Paris. I fell in love with Paris, and more specifically but certainly not exclusively, its ballet. Orpheus and Eurydice was the first time I saw the Paris Opera Ballet, my first opera, and the first time I saw a performance at the Opera Garnier; obviously Orpheus and Eurydice holds a very special place in my heart. Honestly, though, I don’t remember a lot about the ballet itself; at this point I had stopped dancing completely for three years (it would be another two before I was forced back into class kicking and screaming… another reason to love Paris) and hadn’t begun my ballet history education. I hadn’t heard of Pina Bausch; more seriously, I can’t swear to even knowing who George Balanchine was. Yeah, that level of ballet history education. Here’s what I do remember thinking: “This is awesome.” Also, I was so distracted by the beauty of the building that I almost fell down the main staircase on the way out. Well, I’m still that clumsy, but I’d like to think I know a bit more about ballet now than I did four years (seriously?! Four years?!) ago.

So, the verdict from years later? I loved it, really. However, I don’t think this is something that I would get excited about seeing every year. Emotionally, it’s heavy and sometimes hard to get through; you do not come out of that theater uplifted, at all. Yes, the dancing was gorgeous (for the most part, more on that in a moment) but, at least personally, I was way too caught up in in the overall feeling of the piece to notice a lot of choreography. Most strikingly, in Bausch’s mind, is there a difference between mourning and peace? Because that choreography seemed eerily similar. For Bausch, it seemed like peace is more the absence of external stimuli than an emotional state originating from a person. Everyone in the Elysian Fields was a zombie. I could more readily accept that idea in Mourning; that level of grief (for a dead spouse, just for example) can numb you completely and take you out of this world, but peace? The Elysian Fields are where the ‘good’ souls go. Growing up with the idea of Heaven and Hell (paradise vs. eternal torture) it was strange to see a ‘Heaven’ filled with yes, peaceful, but also empty souls, especially after seeing how awful Hades was. Eurydice was no exception to this; she recognized Orpheus and took his hand, but it wasn’t until halfway between the underworld and the mortal world that she started caring. Oh, but when she cared… That was some truly gorgeous dancing.

What I really did love was the idea of circles. We begin with Mourning, moving through violence and peace (both stages in the mourning process) and end with? Death, more mourning. You could almost take the whole ballet as a meditation on the grieving process and even on the life’s cyclical nature. We begin with grief of the deepest nature; in the opera Orpheus literally uses his wife’s name as a cry of pain. We see the Violence (second movement) and anger of losing someone, and in this case, Orpheus’s determination to get them back. Peace, at least for Eurydice, when tragedy is accepted; Orpheus knows no peace until he, too, dies. Is this Bausch’s view of life? True peace only in accepting death? Finally, death, a final one for Eurydice and Orpheus’s first. One part of this movement that I really loved was that it was Orpheus’s singer (since he is a musician, I took this to be his soul) that embraced Eurydice when he’s ready to die while Bullion hunched with his back to the audience. At that point, his body didn’t matter; it was his soul that was still bound to life. Once the soul gave in, the body/dancer was allowed to die. When he did die, the choreography from Mourning was repeated, but by one of the dancers playing Cerebus, suggesting that even the guardian of death was grief stricken. Yes, I loved this ballet, but maybe give me another four years?

Gillot as Eurydice was perfect casting; with her long limbs she reminded me of a spider, but in a good way, the best way really. Her lines simply do not end, and the expression she gave to Bausch’s movement made me believe the ballet had been choreographed just for her. In short, glorious. I wish Eurydice danced more.

Bullion, well… I’ll just say I was unsurprised. What is it about him that fails to inspire? I don’t quite understand it. He did everything tolerably well (wobbly pirouettes but whatever, I can overlook that), but he just felt so blah. This ballet is about the most beautiful musician ever to live who loves his wife so much that he literally goes through Hell to find her and bring her back, only to lose her again. Plus, he does it all wearing beige underwear. There is no part of that description that should make anyone go ‘eh’ and yet, he did! That’s actually kind of perversely impressive.

To make the evening a bit more challenging, The State Theater is not an opera house anymore, which means there were no sub or supertitles. Thank goodness I had a cheat sheet for the plot, because I think I would have been very lost (Everyone in Hades yelling NEIN! was pretty obvious, but my German stops there.) However, as much as I would have loved to know the exact words, not having a translation made me really focus on what was trying to come through in the choreography and how the music was sung. The singer for Orpheus repeating ‘Eurydice’ over and over in the beginning was touching and Eurydice’s singer was as close to an absolute meltdown as you can get while remaining beautiful, and Gluck’s music really is beautiful. I almost like not having the words flashing in front of me as it would have been much harder to simply watch and absorb everything. All in all, a wonderful finale to the summer ballet season here in New York. See you all for NYCB on September 19.

Incredibly appropriately, I’m seeing the Greek trilogy: Apollo, Orpheus and Agon before jetting off for Paris to see the Paris Opera Ballet do… Balanchine. How perfect a circle is that?

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Ballet de l’Opéra à New York. Giselle : This Mortal Coil

« Giselle », Ballet de l’Opéra de Paris en tournée à New York. Soirée du 18 juillet (Gilbert, Hoffalt, Hecquet). Soirée du 19 juillet (Osta, Leriche, Daniel).

Giselle has never been my cup of tea. I know, I’m sorry, please don’t yell at me.  I mean, I understood why so many people are obsessed with it: it’s the epitome of romantic ballet, one of the greatest classics ever, the most challenging role for a ballerina, etc. etc. Fine, whatever. For me, it was boring. The whole ballet felt like the story had to be there as an excuse for dancing, and the second act especially seemed like it had no plot. Consequently, I was bored.   Last night I saw the Paris Opera Ballet’s production for the first time, and that part of my ballet life is over. The Paris Opera’s tour has been the biggest ballet gift I’ve received since moving back to New York; ABT has absolutely exquisite moments every season but something usually seems a bit off. NYCB is fantastic at what it does: Balanchine, Robbins, Wheeldon, etc. but telling stories has never been their thing; even The Nutcracker (as much as I adore it) is really a series of self-contained segments that don’t really connect to an overarching narrative.  Paris Opera Ballet gave me the best of both worlds. They have the technique, that’s never even a question, but they also know how to be in the story, how to make the steps serve the narrative; they know how to make a ballet come alive, even if everyone in it is dead. I’ve said that New York audiences love to applaud when a dancer does something technically brilliant, and that’s true, but every time they did during Giselle it felt superfluous. Like, of course they can hop on their pointes, their pirouettes are perfect and they can balance forever. Who cares? That’s missing the point entirely. I’m not going to write about technique, it’s unnecessary. Instead, let’s focus on how the dancers used it.

First, a word on the corps de ballet. I’m pretty hard on various companies’ corps; for me, soloists and stars simply cannot shine as brightly if the corps is a mess. It’s very distracting if there’s an arm out of place or varied timing and, frankly mistakes like that make the entire company look bad. The Paris Opera Ballet is the reason I feel like it’s not only appropriate, but necessary to insist on proper corps work. Look! This is what you could be! This is what you’re aiming for! They were together and musical, proving that those values do not have to exist in a vacuum! Instead of individual members competing for audience attention by dancing separately, they worked together and as a result the group was breathtaking as a whole. The best part about this is that because I wasn’t distracted by various legs and arms, I could focus on how very musical and, well, haunting they were (sorry, but that’s the right word). Their synchronicity gave the illusion of a forest full of Willis; because every movement of every dancer was in perfect harmony, the stage could only show a tiny fraction of the ghosts. I could almost swear that those lines went on for miles.  I’m not going to get over how truly beautiful this was anytime soon.

My two Giselles were Dorothée Gilbert and Clairemarie Osta (in her final performance). Both dancers were lovely and both are largely responsible for why I now actually enjoy this ballet. They did have slightly different approaches to the character which I’d like to address through their respective ‘mad scenes’ and second acts.

Gilbert, I felt, was the dancer that really showed Giselle losing her mind. She wavered back and forth on her pointe shoes, and instead of letting her hair fall down gracefully, she pulled half of it out of the bun, making her appear deranged. This, for her, was not supposed to be pretty. As she remembered time spent with “Loys,” Gilbert had a smile on her face and eyes that were completely glazed over while her body, almost without her realizing it, reenacted the daisy and the promise.  She ran maniacally through the crowd of villagers, but she wasn’t saying “help me, help me.” Rather, she didn’t seem to realize she was running.  As a Wili, Gilbert made the decision to keep her face completely blank; she kept her eyes glazed over. Mentally, she was dead, she didn’t consciously recognize Albrecht, and yet she knew him. Everything the girl Giselle wanted to say to Albrecht was expressed through the Wili’s movements. She couldn’t really see him or talk to him, but some small glimmer of recognition buried deep down made her protect him.

Osta, by contrast, gave her Giselle more lucidity. In act one she knew exactly what was going on but she didn’t want to believe it. When she remembered Loys’s promise and their morning together, it looked like she was going through everything to reassure herself that it actually happened. “No, I’m not crazy, he said this, he promised me… how is this happening? This can’t be real.” Osta reached out for help as she ran and when she finally got to Albrecht, it was the final realization that he would never be the man she thought (aka Loys) that killed her.  Her act two was the opposite of Gilbert’s but just as gorgeous. Her Giselle knew Albrecht; she actively wanted to protect him, but she was incorporeal and could not physically do as much as she wanted to. Physically, she was more ghostly, though her soul and mind were completely intact. She seemed to fight, to try to push beyond what she had become and break back into the mortal world in order to save Albrecht. Her interpretation made me doubt at times that Albrecht could see her; he sensed her as a protective spirit, but I’m not sure that he actually saw her as a ghost. When he woke up in front of her grave, he almost believed the entire thing had been a dream. It certainly was for me.

Shockingly, I didn’t cry either night. Normally, I’m a huge crybaby at ballets, but I was far too busy thanking God/Louis XIV/Terpsichore/ whatever deity you pray to for allowing this ballet to exist. I think that sums it up.

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Ballet de l’Opéra à New York. « Programme français » : Warming Up

Wednesday night saw the opening of the Paris Opera’s stint in New York on their US tour. They haven’t been in New York for sixteen years, and I don’t think the audience knew quite what to expect. The program was called « French Masters of the 20th Century » and included Suite en Blanc (Lifar) L’Arlésienne (Petit) and Boléro (Béjart). Initially, this was the night I was least excited about. I’ve wanted to see Suite en Blanc for a long time (and how nice to finally see some Lifar in New York, in Balanchine’s theater no less!) but I didn’t really know that much about L’Arlésienne, and I’ve never liked the music for Boléro, so I must admit to having been less than psyched about seeing Bejart’s version. In a happy turn of events, I cannot imagine a better opening night; it was a triumph (with some very minor complaints).

Suite en Blanc was incredible. From the opening pose to the last one, time didn’t seem to exist; I just sat there and loved it. Now to details! « La Sieste », for me, seemed to be more about the choreography than the dancers. Aurelia Bellet, Marie-Solene Boulet, and Laura Hecquet were nice, but none of them made me go ‘wow!’ Seen as a whole though, it did feel very dreamy. « Thème Varié » united Cozette, Paquette and Bullion, and it went about as well as expected given that particular line up. But let’s move on. Nolwenn Daniel gave a light and bubbly quality to her « Sérénade » (which turns out to be possibly my favorite part choreography-wise). She didn’t turn the fouettés into a trick, they were just another step for her and she made them blend in. The audience didn’t know quite what to do here; we’re so used to clapping at the least provocation that by the time everyone realized that ‘Hey! Fouettés!’ she had moved on.  The « Pas de Cinq » I loved as well. Alice Revanand is definitely a dancer I want to get to know more. She reminded me a bit of a fairy, as if the steps were so natural for her that she could just sort of play and be flirty and enjoy herself. Gillot replaced Letestu in « La Cigarette ». Of course her technique is flawless, but I didn’t love her in the role. It just didn’t work with the rest of the ballet. I think I feel the same about her as I do about Sara Mearns at NYCB.  I really would have loved to see Letestu do this. Thank goodness for YouTube! Does anyone know why Letestu was replaced? Is she injured? Ganio did the Mazurka which I thoroughly enjoyed; everything was big without being too heavy, which is no small feat considering the music! Dupont and Pech did the Adage which was lovely. My problem with Dupont is lack of expression (which is weird since she “loves to act”) but here it works; she can just be pretty, that’s fine. No acting required. What was really fun to see though, is that she and Pech clicked. There were moments on stage where they looked at each other and grinned a bit; I think they were having fun, which is wonderful because I really found it wonderful too! OK, last was La Flute with Gilbert, which couldn’t have been better. When little girls say they want to be a ballerina princess when they grow up, this is what they mean. By the finale I was ecstatic; this is why I love ballet.

L’Arlesienne I loved a bit less. Ciaravola was a great Vivette; very pretty and did a convincing job of comforting poor, desperate, Belingard’s Frédéri…but he sometimes forgot to act. Don’t get me wrong, technically there are no complaints or anything but his expressions kind of went in and out. I will say that his suicide scene was masterful. People around me gasped, which is always a good sign!

Finally, Bolero. I cannot be an impartial judge here; I really -really- dislike the music so there was a snowflake’s chance in Hell that this one would become one of my favorites. I will say that I loved Nicolas Le Riche who was, in a word, intense. His movements were so powerful that it almost seemed like he was trying to hold himself back during the rocking movements and suddenly he would escape and burst out of control. This might be because of the red table and the spotlight, but he made me think of a solar storm. In any case the audience loved it.

I think I understand what the Paris Opera was trying to do with this program: Show the US that they can do everything: classical, contemporary, you name it, they’re masters both in choreography and performing. That’s going to be hammered in with Giselle and Orpheus and Eurydice, but this was their introduction and it was big. I think once the audience kind of got a feel for the company they loved it. Applause for Suite en Blanc was OK, more than polite but less than enthusiastic; for L’Arlesienne it was warm; and after Bolero there was a standing ovation. As far as introductions go, this was perfect. I think New York is more than excited to see what else they’ve brought. Oh, this is exactly the way I wanted to end my ballet season! More please!

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Romeo & Juliet : What is a Youth?

Romeo and Juliet, June 18 and 20, American Ballet Theatre

Natalia Osipova, David Hallberg/Alina Cojocaru, Johan Kobborg

OK, I know I’m late (again). Apologies all round.

Anyway, I saw two Romeo and Juliets last week; they were both amazing… and totally different.

First, I have to share a revelation I had while watching the ballet. You know the ballroom scene, the one where our heroes see each other for the first time? It’s supposed to be from their perspective. Hear me out, and if this is oh-so-obvious to you, please humor me because I just got it. I love the music that the “adults” dance to. It’s big and heavy (and my absolute favorite for doing grand battements at the barre) but the dancing is Just. So. Boring. It’s a series of poses that really doesn’t merit the term ‘dancing,’ so why would Kenneth MacMillan, one of the most idolized ballet choreographers to date, make his dancers do this? Because that is exactly the way Romeo and Juliet see the party. The adults are dressed in heavy formal clothes that weigh down their bodies and don’t allow them to move, the women are all beautiful but identical, while the men do little more than hold their partner’s hand. It’s the way every kid sees adult parties: they’re torture! The internal monologue of every kid at every adult gathering is this: “All you guys do is talk to people I don’t know about things I don’t care about, yet somehow everyone knows who I am and wants to pinch my cheek! I’m bored!” Can anyone blame Romeo and Juliet for rejecting that path in favor of one they make themselves? They may be young, but they know enough to run in the opposite direction of what they see at that party. Fortunately, or unfortunately, they run into each other. Those quiet moments in the music are when Romeo and Juliet meet for the first time. The adults are still because they don’t matter, they’re just background noise. Watching how the characters react to each other in what is for them a complete vacuum, gives you a very real sense of who they are. OK, now let’s get to the dancers!

Last year, the only time I saw Natalia Osipova was in Coppelia, and she was charming. Her technique really is amazing; the hype is true. In fact, I don’t know that I’ve seen anyone match her jumps, but her acting was just, well, cute. I honestly could not picture her as a romantic heroine, but I get it now. She doesn’t try to age herself, she just makes the character young. For Juliet, this works beautifully (though I wouldn’t want to see Nikya or Odette on her quite yet). Her version of Juliet is a sarcastic young teen. She still kind of plays with dolls and adores her nurse, but she understands what her parents are trying to do with this annoying Paris character that keeps showing up. This is a girl that runs, climbs trees, and generally amuses herself by being an adorable pest. She’s a pretty savvy kid and is loath to give up that life. When she meets Romeo at the ball, she honestly doesn’t know what to do; you can actually see her go “wait… what?” Romeo is the first boy she’s ever met that doesn’t have cooties. In Sasha Waltz’s version of Romeo and Juliet excitement and youth are expressed through movements that everyone makes naturally (well, more or less) but here acting becomes much more important. Any technician can do the steps properly, but it takes an artist to portray a character through them. Every step is joyful, every movement expands, as if she couldn’t possibly contain everything she’s feeling. She celebrates. I have goose bumps just writing about it. That scene was gorgeous.

Now, at least half the credit goes to David Hallberg. (Are you sick of me writing about him yet?) I’ve been staring at my computer screen for a good five minutes trying to think of a way to explain why his dancing merits this much adoration, and I can’t. You just have to see him; he is simply beyond my writing ability. He has flawless technique, but he doesn’t depend on it to get through a show; he uses it as a tool. He doesn’t do the steps and then try to slap a character on top; he is whatever character he dances. There, that’s as close as I’m going to get. It felt as if he and Osipova were made to dance with each other. When the curtain closed on act one the audience would not stop applauding; they forced (a somewhat bewildered) Hallberg and Osipova to bow during intermission. It really was that good.

Cojocaru was much more nuanced. Her Juliet matures and grows throughout the ballet. At the start she’s painfully shy and not a little confused about everything happening around her. The first time we see her, Juliet is still a child and likes it that way, or rather, she sees no reason why life would ever change. She doesn’t know who Paris is or why he’s there until her nurse points it out. She’s excited but very nervous to go to her first grown up party. The first time she meets Romeo, Cojocaru’s Juliet is quietly happy, but it’s more like she just relaxes. Somehow she’s completely enamored and comfortable at the same time. Her world is changing: everyone around her is pushing her to grow up (Paris, parties), but when she meets Romeo she allows herself to be still, which allows her to grow into herself, instead of the person her family wants and expects her to be. He’s the eye of the storm; everything else in her world is becoming strange, and yes, he is the main source of everything horrible that happens to her, but when the two of them are together, all is calm. Their balcony pas de deux wasn’t explosively joyful, it was as if they’d known each other their entire lives.

Kobborg is a lovely actor, and watching him and Cojocaru together was altogether a treat. Technically speaking he was more than adequate if not absolutely exquisite, but the man is over 40, and is still able to put on a lovely performance. Their performance together was touching.

I do, briefly, want to mention the Tybalts that I saw that week: Sasha Radetsky and Gennadi Saveliev. Like Osipova and Cojocaru, these two had radically different interpretations. Let’s begin by stating the obvious: Radestsky is criminally under-used at ABT. We, the audience, never know why the Capulets and Montagues are fighting, but Radetsky’s Tybalt seems to be the only one who takes it seriously. Romeo and his friends just like messing around and playing pranks. (Give a teenage boy a sword and see what he does with it. Probably exactly that.) Even when Mercutio and Tybalt are fighting to the death, it feels like a game, right up until Tybalt runs him through without any sense of remorse. During the ball, he has to be restrained from killing Romeo and co. on sight, and his last act as he lays on the ground dying is to grab his sword and launch himself at Romeo in a last-ditch attempt at revenge. The story’s problems are summed up in Tybalt’s character. He represents both past conflict (blood thirsty from the beginning) and the reason Romeo and Juliet have zero chance of reconciling their families (I imagine it’s difficult to accept a son-in-law that murdered your nephew). Why is this man not a principal dancer? He was incredible and had a grand total of what? 10 minutes of dancing? Saveliev, by contrast could not have seemed more bumbling. I’m willing to forgive messing up the sword-toss (you know, the part when Tybalt uses his sword to throw another sword?) as that could happen to anyone. There are some difficult physics at work here and it’s just not going to work every time. Fine. I get it. I also understand that it’s a legitimate interpretation  to have Tybalt accidentally stab Mercutio, but if that’s the dancer’s choice, then that dancer absolutely needs to be able to act. Saveliev seemed to say « whoops! My bad! » instead of « oh my God, I just killed him. » Not acceptable. 

For all my complaints, I did love both nights. The two couples were (generally) stupendous in their respective interpretations. I didn’t talk about their death scenes because this article was getting a bit long, but they were incredible! It’s also fun to go from NYCB’s generally minimalist/modern approach to something as lavish as MacMillan for a bit, and the corps continues to make me cautiously impressed. I know I mention the audience A LOT, so I’m sorry for this, but I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that there was a lady sitting a few rows behind me on Monday (Hallberg/Osipova) that literally beat the man in front of her with a sweater while screaming what I can only assume was some amazingly creative Russian profanity. What was his crime? He dared to stand up and applaud… during curtain call. She couldn’t see, so obviously the most reasonable choice she could possibly make was to beat him with her sweater. Although, that reaction is about as reasonable as six deaths caused by one romance. Clearly, she was just as touched as I was.

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Balanchine in Paris & NYC : Can I offer you a glass of ballet?

NYCB, June 1 : Concerto Barocco, Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux, Fancy Free, Symphony in C

I was lucky enough to be in Paris a little over a week ago and had the opportunity to view some footage of the Paris Opera Ballet performing Symphony in C. Initially, I didn’t want to watch it. OK, actually the first time Cléopold tried to show it to me I think I ran away yelling about how I wanted to be surprised in New York (as I had done for Serenade). He suggested that, just maybe, studying and watching videos beforehand wouldn’t make the first performance less magical, but rather the opposite: knowing a little about what you’re seeing actually makes the performance way more fun and easier to understand. Go figure, he was right. As. Always.

What a treat! Watching the Paris Opera version made me excited to see it in New York, but what I noticed most, and actually one of the aspects that I continue to love about the Paris Opera in general, is how totally in control the dancers are. Every movement is deliberate and had a calmness or coolness about it. They never looked rushed or harried even though the piece is not what I would call serene, the music is quite fast, and the steps are very technically demanding.

This makes an excellent contrast to New York City Ballet, which I love for their energy and fire. Yes, every movement still has an intense level of precision and concentration (see: Whelan, Wendy), but the attitude behind the exact same steps is totally different. I wouldn’t call NYCB rushed, and they weren’t behind the music either, but every step felt fast and had sharpness. The dancers at NYCB have an attack that the Paris Opera does not use very often (exceptions: Forsythe, McGregor, etc). Please, please understand that I’m not saying that one is better than the other in any sense, just that they’re very different, and it’s fun to notice!

NYCB always dances with a high level of attack and energy because Balanchine wanted it that way. He even loved when people fell as it signified that they were really giving everything they had on the stage. On the other side of the pond, Paris Opera feels softer and has a lightness that I rarely see in New York. It’s like a velvety cabernet vs. a glass of champagne. Both are fantastic, but totally different.

Honestly, I could say the same thing about the companies’ respective homes. I live in New York, where everything is fast. In fact, everything happens NOW, and you’re probably late for something. “What are you waiting for, dear? Dance now! Do it now! You could get hit by a bus later!” Want to guess who said that? (It was Balanchine.) If there’s a piece that exemplifies the NYC speed, it would be Glass Pieces by Jerome Robbins (which they’re doing next spring. Oh yes, I’m excited already!). Paris, by contrast feels slower as a city. Yes, there were times when I was stressed and rushed there, but I’m trying to talk about the city’s atmosphere. How many people do you see power walking through a market? How many people run around with Starbucks cups because they need their caffeine fix right now? Some yes, but I would lay you money that they’re American students studying abroad. You feel the cities’ energy in the street, and you absolutely see it in their dancing. What a pleasure to be able to know and love both!

Next time: NYCB’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

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Roméo et Juliette by Sasha Waltz: We Are All Fools In Love

Romeo et Juliette, Sasha Waltz

May 20, 2012: Aurelie Dupont, Herve Moreau, Nicolas Paul

Last time I wrote, I thought about spinning around and around in circles until dizziness and giggles set in. Well, it is absolutely true that spinning makes you silly, but what happens when an outside force gives you the same feeling? What do you normally do then? If you think waaaaaay back to your very early years, you might remember being wiggly and squirmy when happy (or maybe this was just me, in which case I may be oversharing). I don’t think this ever completely goes away. To this day when something makes us incredibly happy we do little twists or jumps or kicks. Finishing a great book, or during a movie at the big moment, don’t you do a happy dance, even if it’s just a little head bobble? Sasha Waltz understands this, and for that reason, I loved Romeo and Juliette.

Romeo and Juliette are supposed to be, essentially, kids, so while most traditional representations rely on the dancers’ acting ability to portray youth and first love through classical steps, here it didn’t matter too terribly much. The steps were childish happy ones for childish happy characters. Waltz turned giddiness into choreography, and I don’t think you could help but recognize that and see yourself in the characters’ joy. You make those movements yourself when you’re that happy, and so you know exactly how ecstatic the characters are. For that reason, the last pas de deux between the two of them, when the choreography is repeated, but weakly on Romeo’s part and even more exuberantly on Juliette’s, was truly heartbreaking. Instead of having Juliette wake up to a dead Romeo, Waltz gives them a good five minutes of joy upon seeing each other again. They dance like they did the night they fell in love below Juliette’s balcony. She’s so happy their plan worked and has no idea that anything is amiss until Romeo, who has been trying to fight off the effects of the poison to spend just a few more moments with Juliette, grows too weak to lift her and only then does she realize something is wrong. When he dies in her arms, there’s absolutely no hesitation from her when she decides that she can’t live without him. It’s not terribly dramatic, she doesn’t take forever to do it, there’s no big ‘oh happy dagger’ moment because everything has already been said and understood.

Deliberation would be too adult of an action for these two; they’re just children in love who don’t see the point in anything else. He dies, she stabs herself, we (the adults in the audience who do understand the immaturity of their actions) cry. We cry for the characters’ sadness, for children needlessly dead, and, maybe, we cry because we want to feel that level of joy again, even if the price is the same level of sorrow. Through simply wiggling, Sasha Waltz made us relate to and even feel what the characters felt, but we remained ourselves. We cannot escape our own minds and lives completely, but the characters do. They abandon everything and leave us here. I think part of our collective tears was a longing to be kids in love again.

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The Ballet Season Might Be Better Than Christmas

New York City Ballet May 2 and 4

Yes, I know I’m late. Sorry about that.

Serenade

Right off the bat, I have to tell you that these performances were my first Serenades, first Firebirds, first Kammermusik no. 2, and first DGV: danse a grande vitesse. If you’ve seen these pieces a million times, my opinion may sound like a three year old who has just figured out that spinning in a circle really fast makes you giggly: very excited and mildly insane. I would apologize for that, but, again, I’m excited and insane, so apologies are not currently on the top of my list. On that note… on we go!

It might seem weird to say that I saw professional dancers become ballerinas, but it happened and I’m still reeling. That moment in the very beginning of Serenade was breathtaking, and all they did was turn out their feet and put their arms in first position. How many times have you done that in class? How many times have you done it beautifully? How many times have you tried to do it beautifully? Serenade isn’t Balanchine’s most complicated ballet by any stretch of the imagination; it’s simple, but it’s also lovely, joyful and sad at the same time. It embodies everthing I’ve grown to love about Balanchine: he tells a story with no plot and somehow, even though the audience may disagree as to the « meaning » of the ballet, (does she die? is she just heartbroken?), the only part that matters is your personal reaction to what you’ve just seen. Balanchine didn’t make Serenade to shock or transgress; he used the natural movements of the few dancers he had in 1939 to create a ballet that makes the audience feel. Simple.

From NYCBallet’s Facebook Account

In the weeks leading up to the performance, I shut myself off from Serenade. I made my friends fast forward through videos, refused to listen to the music, and avoided interviews about it. I wanted the experience to be as genuine as possible. The music makes me slightly misty when I listen to it on the subway, so you can imagine my reaction upon seeing it for the first time after weeks of self-inforced quarantine (yes, I cried). Since these two nights were the first times I had ever seen it, I can’t really talk about the choreography, but I can talk about the dancers:
Janie Taylor danced the lead both nights. (Sara Mearns was apparently injured on Friday, drat!) I am convinced that Taylor is made mostly of liquid mercury. She doesn’t seem to put any force or huge amounts of effort into her dancing, yet she’s graceful and sinuous. It’s like she slithers, it’s both beautiful and incredibly disconcerting and is especially suited to Serenade. I also loved her in Afternoon of a Faun; she does well in these plotless stories !

Ashley Bouder is someone I’ve always considered a powerful dancer and at her best when she gets to be a very fast one. She’s Taylor’s opposite. Bouder tends to explode into the scene and give 100% of her energy every moment she’s on stage, so I felt that, though I certainly could find no technical faults, Serenade was not her best fit. This particular ballet needs dancers that are just slightly more subtle in their expression. I do love her, though, and she did get to dance in something much more suitable. I saved it for last.

Kammermusik No. 2

So, I’m supposed to write about Kammermusik no. 2 now, but the problem is, I didn’t really care for it, so I paid less attention than I should have, which means I have very little to say. I know Kn2 is supposed to be important because it’s one of the examples of Balanchine giving the men in his company a real chance to shine as a group, but I feel like one could say the exact same thing about Agon. The critics that I read said that Kn2 is « fun. » Well,  yeah, of course it is. It’s a fast Balanchine ballet. In my humble opinion, it’s just not the best one. I could see Agon instead and get wonderful male corps work, penches on heels, and all the fun of Kn2 with a better pas de deux. In conclusion, I won’t be terribly dissapointed if this one goes out of the rep for another 8 years. Moving on.

Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux

This was without question the best TPdD I’ve ever seen. Holy mother of everything, Joaquin de Luz was fantastic. As always, he was a total ham (big smile and winks) and looked like he was having a great time. I just expect to be blown away by him every time at this point, so while he made me very happy, it was actually Tiler Peck that really blew everything out of the water. I’ve seen her dance before, but I never really paid that much attention to her as there was always another dancer that I was interested in on the stage with her (usually Mearns or Fairchild), but when she had the stage to herself, she seemed to decide that it was going to be her moment, and she was more than a match for De Luz. By the last death-defying jump into the fish, everyone, including my not-easily-impressed ballet teacher, was yelling and applauding like mad. Oh, that was fun! More please!

Firebird

Honestly, I’m disappointed. Kowroski is fine as the Firebird. She has the perfect body for the role, and she can move her hands and feet like a bird would/should, but… something’s kind of missing. I had the same problem with her last year in Diamonds. Technically fine, but just kind of boring. The second night I saw her, she fell during the first pas de deux, but that could happen to anyone. The part that bothers me is that, unlike say, Ashley Bouder, she didn’t get up, shake it off and keep going. She was more cautious for the rest of the ballet, and that disappointed me. Ask La Cour was her partner both nights, and, quite frankly, I’ve never liked him. Facial expressions are a foreign concept to him, but he must be a very in-demand partner, because he’s in almost everything. You’d think then, that he would have learned to point his feet by now. No dice. The monsters, which according to both Jacques d’Amboise’s and Jock Soto’s autobiographies are supposed to be absolutely terrifying, look more like muppets. Would you be terrified if Kermit jumped on your lap? Neither was I. Then they kind of just stand in the corner and punch the air. One of them lost their wig the second night. I felt bad for that dancer, but it was rather hilarious. I’m so sad that I don’t like Firebird, because its history is wonderful. Maria Tallchief loved dancing it, and it’s a legend in the Balanchine cannon… I just don’t get why. Maybe I need to study it more.

DGV: Danse A Grande Vitesse

I. Loved. This. Ballet. Between Alice in Wonderland at the Royal and this, Wheeldon might be my new favorite choreographer currently alive. (I’m still completely in love with Neumeier and Kylian, though. No Worries.) It’s hard to explain, but in a word, it was just powerful. Very much like the train it was made after (the TGV for all the non-frenchies out there). This is what Peter Martins tried to do in Fearful Symmetries, but I must say that DGV squashed FS like the high-speed train it is. Just… wow.

I am so so happy that I saw Ashley Bouder dance alongside Wendy Whelan in this. As I mentioned, Ashley is just a firecracker, and it looked this ballet had been made specifically for her. She was a perfect ball of concentrated energy. Watching Whelan, though, was like watching a laser; she’s totally focused on what she’s doing, which lets her execute all the fast, powerful steps precisely, but also makes her able to take that concentration into a pas de deux where she seemed to radiate control and poise. The woman is a national treasure. Given maturity, I think Bouder could get to this level in a few years, and that transition is going to be an absolute joy to witness.

Sorry everyone, I couldn’t find any footage of the actual ballet and neither could Cléopold or James, so it truly must not exist. I humbly submit some of the music for your listening pleasure.

All in all ? Not too shabby a start to the ballet season! Symphony in C is next up for me at NYCB with brand new costumes. I’m already excited!

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David Hallberg is Going to Make Me Homeless

The challenge: Go to the ballet approximately once per week while simultaneously never missing a ballet class (no Tuesdays or Thursdays) and working around travel plans. As a quick explanation for those of you in Paris who haven’t bought ballet tickets in New York, the process is slightly different. Here, instead of tickets coming out a few weeks before each production, every ticket for the entire season goes on sale at the same time. This results in poverty for about a month and internal battles about exactly how much ballet I can see.

What follows is a transcription of me fighting with myself over which tickets to buy. For reading purposes, the irrational side of my brain will be abbreviated to IB, and the (slightly) more reasonable side will be RB. I hope you’re entertained by my burgeoning schizophrenia.

The scene: Sitting at my work computer, currently with a single brain. The calendar for the NYCB season opens and my brain is immediately torn in half. The ballet battle begins.

Irrational Brain: Serenade and Firebird on the same night?! Buy every single ticket! NOW!

Rational Brain: Um, yes, that would be lovely, but don’t you want to see, you know, other things too? Also, I know you tend to get carried away here, but please remember you have to pay rent and buy food at some point.

IB: (sigh) Fine… two of them? Please? One includes Kammermusik No. 2 and the other has DGV: Danse a Grande Vitesse, neither of which you’ve seen so it’s totally justifiable, right?

RB: Done and done.

IB: Wait a second… by other things you don’t mean that I should go to the new Martins and Millepied night out of sheer obligation to the idea of “newness” do you?

RB: It would be a learning experience, and you need to push yourself more! Come on, what have those two choreographers ever done to make you actively avoid them?

IB: Ocean’s Kingdom and Black Swan respectively. Absolutely not. Veto declared. You can’t make me!

RB: Fine, be that way. What about Symphony in C? You’ve always wanted to see that, and June 1 has Concerto Barocco, Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux plus Fancy Free.

IB: Deal… What about A Midsummer Night’s Dream?

RB: Yes, but only one. You still have ABT and Paris Opera Ballet to buy.

IB: (sulks for a bit while looking up the ABT schedule and then…) Mother of everything sacred, David Hallberg is doing Apollo!

RB and IB simultaneously: Forget food, buy that ticket immediately!

RB: Hmm that night Osipova is doing Ratmansky’s new Firebird… that could be interesting. It would make a nice contrast to Balanchine’s. Let’s see… what else?

IB: Bayadere? That one’s beautiful!

RB: Correction, Nureyev’s is beautiful in Paris. You literally fell asleep last time you saw it at ABT. Also do you really want to see ABT’s corps de ballet as the Shades?

IB: Fine, but you don’t get to bring up the corps every time.

RB: If they could stand in a straight line I wouldn’t have to. Onegin?

IB: YES! With Julie Kent? Oh… she’s partnering Bolle.

RB: Hmm you know, that could be good. A man with this photo as his Twitter profile could probably pull off “pompous jerk” really well. Also, Kent makes everything magical, and you’ve never seen it.

IB: Done. Let’s see…obviously Steifel’s retirement in Corsaire. That’s just a given. What about Romeo and Juliet? Oh! Hallberg’s dancing… Why can’t he partner someone other than Osipova? Just for a change.

RB: Not everyone will partner Julie Kent. Get over it. Also, you thought Osipova was charming in Coppelia and actively wondered if she could pull off a young, dramatic role like Juliet; she could be fantastic! And you get to see Hallberg again, so stop complaining.

IB: Angel Corella is retiring! He’s dancing Swan Lake with Herrera… is that worth it?

RB: Yes, yes, it is. I wonder what ABT is going to do about its lack of male dancers? Oh, look! They’re giving Simkin a Swan Lake, and Hammoudi has one too! Too bad they’re on Wednesdays at 2:00. That could have been interesting.

IB: Ugh, can’t I just skip work those days? I want to see!

RB: No. Moving on. Paris Opera, what to see?

IB: Um, all of them, obviously. Is that seriously even a question?

RB: Yeah, that’s not really up for debate, is it? I think we’re done here!

IB: I think so! Alright, so it looks like we have:

May 2nd: NYCB Serenade, Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux, Kammermusik No. 2, Firebird

May 4th: NYCB Serenade, DGV: Danse a Grande Vitesse, Firebird

June 1: NYCB Concerto Barocco, Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux, Fancy Free, Symphony in C

June 6: NYCB A Midsummer Night’s Dream

June 8: ABT Onegin (Kent, Bolle)

June 11: ABT Apollo, Firebird, Thirteen Diversions (Hallberg, Osipova, Company)

June 18: ABT Romeo and Juliet (Hallberg, Osipova)

June 28: ABT Swan Lake (Corella, Hererra)

July 7: ABT Le Corsaire (Steifel, Murphy)

July 11: POB French Masters (Company)

July 18: POB Giselle (Gilbert, Hoffalt)

July 20: POB Orpheus and Eurydice (Gillot, Bullion)

Are we good? Does that cover it? Should I buy more? I feel like I should probably buy more.

RB: Did…did you just trick me into spending the rent and food money again? How do you do this EVERY season?!

IB: It’s a God-given talent. Or crippling financial addiction. Take your pick.

Weeks later…

Cleopold, being the wonderful person/editor that he is, suggested that it would benefit this little article to add links to the three ballet calendars I referenced (which I did). However, in adding said calendars, it was necessary to actually look at them, which led to the following….

RB: OK, just looking for the link, just going to highlight the link and put it in the article. Don’t even think about looking-

IB: There is a Cojocaru/Kobborg Romeo and Juliet on a non-ballet class day that you didn’t even consider last time! What is wrong with you?! That’s mandatory viewing, especially after Cleopold and Fenella loved it so much! How could you not want to see Cojocaru die smiling?

RB: No. You already spent all your ballet money! Don’t you click that link, don’t you dare-

IB: But look, Hallberg is doing Swan Lake! You know you have to see that!

RB: Yeah, with Semionova! Do you even remember how bored you were last year? You saw her running off stage after she killed herself!

IB: Don’t care! Hallberg. As. Siegfried.

RB: No no no no no no

IB: (buys tickets)

RB: …You do realize that now you’re not allowed to buy wine for the next two weeks.

IB: Worth it.

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On Ballet and Pop Culture Part III: The Eleventh Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Bore The Audience

The ballet season after BS premiered, NYCB and ABT both pricked up their ears and decided it would be an opportune time to perform Swan Lake. They were right, and actually there were sold out performances. Obviously, this is a short-term solution. Natalie Portman is NYCB’s honorary spring gala chair this season and so far the reaction I’ve heard can be summed up as “eh.” This brings us to the big question: can ballet companies take this upswing in interest and translate it into new ballet converts before everyone stops caring? If so, how?

On March 22 The Royal Ballet did something absolutely brilliant: they live streamed their entire day of rehearsals. They also included interviews with dancers, musicians, the artistic director and costume/scenery archivists as well as archived rehearsal videos. The interviewers even asked questions from people watching from Facebook and Twitter. THAT is how you advertise. I didn’t care too terribly much about the Royal Ballet until that day. Sure I knew who Cojocaru and Kobborg were (again, guest stars), and Marianela Nunez, of course, but beyond that… not a thing. Now I consider myself a fan. I watched all day, and it was fascinating. Yes, I had to do work at this thing I call my “job” where I get “paid” so I can, you know, live, but the RB was in my ear all day long, even if I was forced to use the computer screen to do other things. I saw rehearsals for Alice in Wonderland, Polyphonia, a new Liam Scarlett ballet, Sweet Violets, as well as Pagoda and Romeo and Juliet. (Now I really want to play with swords.) After seeing the Alice rehearsal I immediately bought the DVD on Amazon and am so excited to watch it. As an aside, it’s been like two weeks. Where the heck is my DVD, Amazon?! The day concluded with an exclusive look at a rehearsal of Wayne McGregor’s new collaboration with musician Mark Ronson, Carbon Life, followed by a Q&A session. The lesson that should be taken away from all this? The program made me sincerely care about this company. And there it is: the key to my generation’s collective heart is, apparently, access. In a world of Facebook and Twitter, the idea that ballet is a world unto itself simply can’t fly anymore. On one hand, this makes me a bit sad. I love the mystical aspect of ballet, the idea that dancers are just so far removed from this world that they could never be touched by something as mundane as YouTube is beautiful, romantic and sad (Sylphide anyone?). But I have to say, Ashley Bouder posting her backstage Instagram pics on Facebook and laughing about her falls on Twitter makes me care more about her; it makes me want to buy tickets to see her, and more tellingly I have. Programs like this make ballet accessible to the unwashed, unlearned (aka uninitiated) masses. They make it far less scary, and they make what seemed to be a boring leisure activity reserved only for rich snobs, absolutely enthralling. THIS WORKS. I want to see almost everything they rehearsed, I want to follow them avidly, and I really hope they tour here so I can see them in person. I would even consider taking a side trip to London if I could get tickets.

That said, let’s talk about attempts to appeal to a new and younger audience that do not work. All of them can be summed up in a single word: pandering. Let’s begin with a general example. You’re a painter and you really want people to look at, appreciate and buy your paintings because hey, it’s art but you still need money to survive. Do you A) explain to people why you paint the way you do, what it means to you, and a bit about your technique or B) start to paint pictures of bunnies because, really, who doesn’t love bunnies? The answer is A, right? So why, why in God’s name would any company try to sell a ballet based on anything other than the quality of the ballet itself? I’m going to start with McGregor’s new piece, since I just finished watching that rehearsal. Now, since I haven’t seen it, I can’t say if it’s good or bad, it may even be great! However, most of the marketing surrounding Carbon Life has been about the costumes and music, so I feel pretty justified in saying that I do not care, at all, that the costumes were designed by Gareth Pugh. Sorry. I also don’t care that Mark Ronson did the music. Since they’ re trying so very hard to be young and cool by using a punk designer and popular music, the audience might initially be large and maybe even made up exclusively of 20 year olds; I don’t know what’s going to happen. What I do know is if the piece is bad overall, no ungodly fashion budget will save it. None. Because here’s the flip side to this social media thing: if something is bad, everyone will know in a matter of seconds. Personally, I don’t want to see this ballet. The choreography looked like everything McGregor has already done (and everything that Forsythe did before that).

Another great example of really obvious pandering is NYCB’s recent flop Ocean’s Kingdom. Music was by Sir Paul McCartney (they got a freakin’ Beatle!) with costumes by Stella McCartney. Choreography was by Peter Martins, of course, but somehow no one cared about that part. To very quickly sum up: the music was obvious, the costumes were cracked out, and the choreography was utterly forgettable. I wrote a review if you’re interested which you can see here, but really, all you have to do is watch this and you’ll have an idea (fair warning, I will use literally any excuse to show that clip because it makes me laugh so hard I cry… I am apparently 5 years old. However, it really does work here if you check out Daniel Ulbricht’s outfit ).

To be clear, I’m not against costumes, and I don’t think that every ballet should be danced in a black leotard and pink tights. If I thought for a second that I could get away with it, I would wear a tutu to go grocery shopping, or more accurately, just never take it off. I spent weeks looking for Sylvia’s dress for a special event (still looking, if you find it please message me. I will love you forever). When costumes (and music and setting) actually enhance the ballet and not distract from it, those extra details can make a production go from good to absolutely magical. Take the Paris Opera Ballet’s recent production of La Source: Jean Guillaume Bart’s choreography was riveting on its own, but when you add Christian Lacroix’s costumes and the set design… just wow. Every aspect of the ballet, choreography, music, costumes and scenery merged beautifully to create the finished product. You don’t even have to stick with tutus! Look at John Neumeier’s version of Sylvia: You can dress your nymphs in leather vests and helmets and put your goddess in a tuxedo; it gets the point across without being flashy and the dancers can move. Costumes are important and ideally help tell the story and set the mood, but they should never be the point. We have fashion shows for that.

So finally, here’s what I think needs to happen if we want to keep this ballet wave going: education. If we can show why ballet merits attention, I honestly think people will go and appreciate it, but once there’s an audience there has to be great ballet to watch. Essentially: explain why ballet is awesome and then prove it.

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On Ballet and Pop Culture Part II: Occupy the Ballet, We Are the 2.5% (No, really, please buy a ticket)

The spike we explored in the last post comes at a very convenient time for ballet companies. The US is still in a recession which means fewer people are willing to shell out the cash to spend an evening watching ballet and even less willing to donate hard earned money that could be going towards things like rent and food. Less money coming in means that ballet companies, which are overwhelmingly dependent upon donations from their audiences to function, are desperately trying to increase their fan base. To make matters even more difficult, they need to increase their fan base among the young. According to The National Endowment for the Arts’ Arts 2008 Audience Participation Report, “Performing arts attendees are increasingly older than the average U.S. adult.  Since 1982 [when the study began], young adult (18–24-year-old) attendance rates have declined significantly for jazz, classical music, ballet, and non-musical plays “(NEA 5).  To be specific, in 2008 only 2.5% of young adults attended the ballet (down 36% from 1982, when 3.5% of adults in that category attended. EEK!)

This report is from 2008; BS premiered in 2010 and was nominated for 5 Oscars and started the pop culture spike we’ve just talked about. Compare this to The Turning Point, which came out in 1977 and earned 11 Oscars nominations. The age of the average ballet patron in 1977? 33  (NEA 17). To be fair, that number is well within the median age of the American population at the time, so it’s not as if The Turning Point actually caused a huge upswing in ballet attendance; the patrons were already there. The movie was a reaction to ballet’s existing popularity, but what made people pay attention in the first place? Russians.

In 1961 Rudolph Nureyev defected from the Soviet Union and made the world start paying attention. His partnership with Margot Fonteyn is legendary, but I’m not going to go into Nureyev’s dance career (you know it, and if you don’t, here), this is just a very quick sum up of his presence in pop culture. When he wasn’t busy dancing, he was known to socialize with Gore Vidal, Freddie Mercury, Mick Jagger, Liza Minnelli and Andy Warhol among others. In 1971, Nureyev appeared on episode 213 of The Muppet Show. Up to this point, the show had struggled to attract celebrity guests but after the success of Swine Lake among other sketches the show’s popularity skyrocketed. He also starred in the 1972 documentary I Am a Dancer.  It’s fair to think of Nureyev as ballet’s reigning bad boy of the era. So at this point (early 70s), the public at large is pretty interested in ballet, making the atmosphere ripe for another ballet phenomenon. With impeccable timing, Mikhail Baryshnikov defected from the USSR on June 29, 1974 while on tour in Canada.  After a brief stint with The Royal Winnipeg Ballet, he moved to ABT and was a principal dancer there until 1978 when he hopped across the plaza to NYCB. Box office sales soared, and his performances were consistently sold out.  Public fascination with Baryshnikov is well documented. On May 19, 1975 he was on the cover of Time Magazine, which dubbed him “Ballet’s new idol.” He parlayed this success into movies with The Turning Point (1977), White Nights (1985), and Dancers (1987) among others. Audiences that had never cared about ballet before suddenly wanted to see the star, and all they had to do was spend $30 on a ballet ticket.

Hoping against hope that imported guest stars would continue to sell tickets when their own seem to flop, companies like American Ballet Theatre currently rely on a rotating panel of who’s who in the ballet world: Ivan Vasiliev and Natalia Osipova (Bolshoi, now both with the Mikhailovsky), Johan Kobborg and Alina Cojocaru (Royal), and Polina Semionova (Berlin) were all guest stars at ABT last year, and all of them are returning this season. While this does attract patrons and I certainly love the idea of sharing dancers and international collaboration (Kings of the Dance, YES!), the system does absolutely nothing to get new audience members into the theater, and it damages the company in the long run by not supporting and promoting its own company members. Unless companies like ABT want to become totally dependent on foreign imports, they need to start nurturing the talent at home.

So if all you need to create a ballet mania are ballet stars and movies, why didn’t we have a surge in the early 2000’s when Center Stage and Save The Last Dance came out? Well for one, Baryshnikov and Nureyev were already celebrities in the ballet world thanks to their very public defections from the USSR. The movies, articles and TV appearances added to their fame, which in turn added to ballet’s general popularity, but simply making a movie about ballet isn’t necessarily going jump start a specific dancer’s career. Look at Amanda Schull: poor Jody Sawyer is doing McDonald’s commercials now! Sasha Radetsky is still stuck as a soloist at ABT (a crime against ballet) and Ethan Steifel is mostly known because he just accepted the artistic director position at the Royal New Zealand Ballet, and those who don’t know that fact still think of him as Cooper Nielson. What those movies did cause is an upswing in dance movies like Save the Last Dance 2, Step Up, (and its three sequels) and, of course, a parody of all the ballet meets hip-hop movies, Dance Flick. The genre even got a mention on Family Guy (sorry for the terrible video quality on that one, but YouTube was not cooperating). So how could Black Swan avoid that trap and cause all this brouhaha? Well, Black Swan was critically acclaimed, had excellent actors, and a much hyped lesbian scene that convinced even guys who hated the very idea of a ballet movie to give it a chance. Center Stage, if we’re being honest, was a pretty cheesy movie (with some admittedly great one-liners).

Here’s why I think I’m right about all this: David Hallberg. If you watched that interview with Stephen Colbert that I posted earlier (and you really really should), then you know that Hallberg is the probably the biggest ballet star since Baryshnikov. He’s the first EVER westerner to be invited to join the Bolshoi, and having seen his performance as Rothbart in ABT’s Swan Lake, I can assure you that he is simply magnificent to behold. My jaw dropped. Literally. That combination of talent and work does exist in the US; all we need to do is support it. So really, please, go buy a ticket for the ballet this season and drag your friends along for the ride. You won’t be sorry!

Next time: Great, so now what do we do?

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