Archives de Tag: American Ballet Theatre

La Belle au bois dormant d’ABT : l’historique, le traditionnel ou l’authentique ?

Bastille salleThe Sleeping Beauty (Tchaîkovsky, Ratmansky d’après Petipa dans la notation Stepanov, American Ballet Theatre. Opéra Bastille les 4, 6, 7 et 10 septembre, matinée.

Demandant à ce dilettante de James son avis sur la « reconstitution » Ratmansky de la Belle au Bois dormant présenté par ABT, j’ai obtenu cette réponse :

« Je ne suis ni pour ni contre les reconstitutions chorégraphiques, pourvu que mon plaisir de spectateur soit contenté (chez les Balletonautes, les rôles sont strictement assignés, et aucune fée penchée sur mon berceau ne m’a donné l’érudition en partage). L’archéologie technique me laisse aussi assez froid : danser comme on faisait en 1890, sachant que la technique a évolué, m’intéresse aussi peu que d’écouter sur de vieilles cires Lillian Nordica chanter Wagner au Met en 1903. »

Pour être à l’emporte-pièce, cette déclaration sur la reconstitution n’est pourtant pas loin d’être la mienne. Mais comme il paraît que j’ai reçu « le don de l’érudition », je vais m’exprimer beaucoup plus longuement.

Pour les œuvres musicales, mais particulièrement les œuvres chorégraphiques, qui n’ont longtemps survécu que par la transmission orale de leurs interprètes sans même le concours de vieilles cires, une subtile distinction doit être faite entre ce qui est « historique » (ou archéologique) et ce qui est « traditionnel » (ce que, de manière consensuelle, on trouvera dans à peu près toutes les productions d’une œuvre classique) avant même de se poser la question de ce qui est authentique.

Une production? Bakst, 1921.
Rideau d'intermède d'après Léon Bakst

Rideau d’intermède d’après Léon Bakst

L’élément qui semble le plus simple à reconstituer dans un ballet lorsqu’on veut se frotter à l’archéo-chorégraphie est la production. Pour la Belle au Bois dormant, cette option a déjà été tentée moult fois depuis la création du ballet en 1890. La première fois, en 1921, le succès esthétique avait été complet. Il s’agissait de la production « traditionnelle » des Ballets russes de Serge de Diaghilev. C’est à cette version, et non à celle de 1890, que la production Ratmansky fait référence. Le chorégraphe a demandé à son décorateur d’évoquer la splendeur des décors et des costumes de Léon Bakst. C’était mettre la barre un peu haut et c’est dommage. Car sans cette référence écrasante, la production américaine, qui se laisse globalement regarder, aurait évité certains écueils.

Pour faire ressurgir la magie d’une production, il faut nécessairement l’adapter voire la transposer. Reproduire des toiles peintes à l’identique et les inonder de lumière crue ne sert à rien qu’à donner du ballet un aspect vieillot. Pour les costumes, c’est encore pire. Les étoffes d’autrefois, plus épaisses et pesantes, étaient brodées à la main. Elles étaient souvent superbes à voir de près mais pouvaient manquer de relief de loin. Pour leur en donner, Léon Bakst avait par exemple choisi des options chromatiques souvent osées. Les matériaux modernes, requis par les exigences techniques de la danse actuelle, sont beaucoup plus légers. Remplacer deux lais de tissus de couleurs différentes cousus ensemble par de la peinture ou surcharger un léger costume de motifs surimposés n’est jamais d’un bon effet.

Sans tomber dans certains excès « acétate » d’une autre reconstruction de la Belle, celle du Marinsky, cette présente mouture n’évite donc pas toujours le croquignolet ou le ridicule. Il y a par exemple un pauvre hère, cavalier d’une des fées du prologue, qui est affublé d’une grenouillère rose à volants dont il doit cauchemarder la nuit. Les atours des fées, qui cherchent à reproduire les tutus courts en tulipe mouillée des années 20 (qu’on faisait ainsi tombants parce, non lavables, ils duraient plus longtemps que les plateaux) ne sont pas toujours du meilleur effet. Celui de la fée violente, surchargé de motifs criards qui ressemblent de loin à des cocottes en papier, donne l’impression que cette dernière a volé la coquette nuisette de sa maman pour jouer à la princesse. Lorsqu’on en arrive aux costumes évoquant les plus célèbres dessins de Bakst, on est nécessairement déçu. La confrontation de l’aquarelle du loup de l’acte III avec le costume réalisé tue littéralement le rêve.

En fait, c’est dans les moments où Richard Hudson, le décorateur et costumier, se libère de l’influence de Bakst que le résultat est le plus probant. Les fleurs de lilas qui descendent des cintres au moment de la mise en sommeil du royaume sont une jolie idée (Diaghilev avait voulu un effet de toiles montantes qui avait d’ailleurs complètement raté le soir de la première, lui causant une mémorable crise de nerfs). À l’acte 3, les costumes des garçons casqués de la mazurka, avec leurs tonnelets baroques, ont le charme de l’inattendu.

Une chorégraphie? Petipa-Stepanov, 1890.

D’un point de vue chorégraphique, le principal intérêt de cette version est censé résider dans son retour à l’original de Petipa conservé dans la notation Stepanov. La première réserve qu’on émettra est la suivante : pourquoi avoir évoqué la production Bakst si c’était pour restaurer la chorégraphie originale de 1890 ? Si selon Carlotta Brianza, la créatrice d’Aurore en 1890 qui fut la Carabosse de la version des Ballets russes, le premier acte (prologue et anniversaire d’Aurore) était conforme à ce qu’elle avait dansé, on sait que cette mouture 1921 avait été truffée de chorégraphies additionnelles par Nijinska (notamment, une autre variation pour Aurore dans l’acte de la vision). La réponse est sans doute que les ajouts Nijinska n’étaient pas mémorables et ont été perdus.

Et c’est là qu’on rejoint le thème énoncé plus haut de l’historique opposé au traditionnel afin d’atteindre une forme d’authenticité. Ce qui a fait de la Belle un grand ballet et pas seulement la sensation de l’hiver 1890, est-ce la version originale ou est-ce le texte traditionnel, produit d’une lente distillation ? Était-il par exemple vraiment nécessaire de ressortir des cartons la variation de Carlotta Brianza pour l’acte de la vision sur un numéro extrait du pas des Pierres précieuses ? Cette interpolation musicale avait déjà été épinglée comme amusicale par le chef Ricardo Drigo qui dirigeait l’œuvre à la création. Le plaintif solo du hautbois et la chorégraphie tout en suspension que l’on donne traditionnellement aujourd’hui conviennent bien mieux à la scène du rêve et à son héroïne. Effacer toutes les variations masculines avant le troisième acte pour le prince aide-t-il a créer un personnage ? Assurément pas. La variation de la chasse, éludée ici car non « historique », aide pourtant à cela.

L’exactitude philologique n’a d’intérêt que si elle apporte quelque chose au présent. Dans le cas de la musique ancienne et baroque, elle a permis, à partir des années 70, de faire écouter autrement des pages que les orchestrations plus riches et les instruments modernes du XIXe siècle avaient fini par figer. Mais en danse, il n’y a pas d’instruments anciens à faire sonner. Le recours au pied pointé en demi-pointe en fin de variation peut-il apporter quelque chose aux danseurs d’aujourd’hui ? Sans doute pas. On peut en effet supposer qu’il était le résultat d’un haut du corps placé plus en arrière car les danseurs d’alors étaient moins montés sur leur jambe de terre. Aujourd’hui, ces finals ne font que déséquilibrer les danseurs et choquent l’œil du public. De même, débouler en parallèle avec un genou moins tendu ou sur les demi-pointes donne sans aucun doute de la vitesse, mais voilà un demi siècle que Balanchine s’est chargé de faire évoluer la technique pour éviter désormais aux danseurs de recourir à ces procédés disgracieux.

Secouer le diktat du lever de jambe ou du grand jeté à 180°, restaurer certains pas moins usités (Aurore exécute notamment des petits pas entre l’assemblé et le failli dans la scène du rêve et jette en développant la jambe de devant) pourrait sembler une approche plus fructueuse. Mais dans ce cas ABT est-elle la compagnie idéale pour cette version ? Les danseurs du corps de ballets ont été entrainés en vue de l’efficacité immédiate. Les pas de liaison ne semblent pas être leur fort. Or, toute la chorégraphie en est truffée. Du coup, tout le monde a parfois l’air un peu contraint. La présentation du pied ne semble pas non plus être au centre de l’enseignement de cette école américaine. Cela donne parfois de pénibles visions lorsque le corps de ballets féminin se pose en demi-attitude de profil. Certains appendices semblent ne pas appartenir à la jambe dont ils sont pourtant le prolongement.

Lorsque le texte « historique » est manquant –notamment pour les pas féminin du corps de ballet dans l’acte de la vision- et que Ratmansky se réfère –paresseusement- à la « tradition » sans créer de pont avec le reste du texte archéologique, le corps de ballet peut alors s’en donner à cœur joie pour s’exprimer enfin … Et c’est pour le meilleur.

Apothéose.

Apothéose.

Du côté des solistes, les fortunes sont diverses.

Selon James, qui a vu la distribution de la première, le bilan est plutôt négatif :

« La Belle au bois dormant me fait habituellement l’effet d’un shoot à l’hélium. Avec la version Ratmansky-retour-à-Petipa donnée par l’ABT, je reste fermement à terre. Aucune impulsion ne me lève de mon fauteuil. La soirée dégage une impression d’empesé et de contraint qui contredit mes attentes de spectateur. Est-ce la faute à la production ou à l’exécution ? Je n’en sais trop rien, n’ayant vu qu’une distribution et – coquin de sort – n’étant sans doute pas tombé sur la plus palpitante.

Cette Belle abonde en temps d’arrêt, que les danseurs ont l’air de prendre pour des temps morts. L’immobilité pourrait être une respiration, une préparation, un petit répit tendu vers la suite. Pour l’essentiel, les solistes et demi-solistes que j’ai vus au soir du 3 septembre n’y voyaient que du vide.

Gillian Murphy, technique raide autant que solide, semble se forcer à des poses « clic clac » sans adhérer au style précieux requis par le chorégraphe. Ça devrait être délicat et ça paraît forcé.

Au deuxième acte, le rôle du prince se limite à une prestation de piquet inexpressif. Cory Stearns fait très bien l’affaire. Ce danseur, que j’avais une fois repéré en summum de l’insipide dans Thème et Variations (tournée de l’ABT à Londres en février 2011), danse sa variation de l’acte du mariage tout petit et pas précis. On a envie de fermer les yeux. Et le pas de deux se révèle si précautionneux qu’on perd toute surprise et tout plaisir aux pirouettes finies poisson. »

Pour ma part, ayant vu trois distributions, j’ai été plus chanceux. Le 6, Stella Abrera, pourtant affublée d’un tutu un peu criard à l’acte 1, parvient à se plier avec grâce aux afféteries régressives de la chorégraphie. Sa ligne toujours étirée, son mouvement plein et constant séduisent. Si elle n’a pas d’équilibres ébouriffants elle dégage une impression de sûreté qui rend plausible la princesse. À l’acte 2, plus charmeuse que rêveuse, elle forme un très beau couple avec l’élégant Alexandre Hammoudi. Il nous a été difficile de juger de la technique de ce beau et long danseur dans la mesure où nous découvrions sur lui l’unique variation dévolue au prince dans cette version ; et autant dire qu’elle n’est pas payante : pas de bourrés battus et sissonnes croisées, petites gargouillades en remontant, une demi diagonale de jetés avec accent sur le coupé et un final de brisés de volée qui fait cruellement double emploi avec ceux de l’oiseau bleu. Dans la coda, les jetés ciseaux d’ouverture sont remplacés par des pas de mazurka qu’on avait déjà vus exécutés par le prince de Cendrillon (un intermède souvent coupé dans les versions traditionnelles).

Le 7, C’est Isabella Boylston qui se présentait dans le carcan de la notation Stepanov du ballet de Petipa. Autant dire la délicatesse ne fait pas partie de son répertoire. Sa princesse saute de joie à la perspective du mariage, prend d’autorité la main des princes, brusque certaines pauses pour marquer les tutti d’orchestre (sa conception de la musicalité ?). Ses épaules restent fermées et ses ports de bras sont disgracieux. Elle n’est pas spécialement évanescente non plus dans la scène du rêve. Tout son travail est projeté avec trop d’énergie. Ce défaut sera aussi sensible lorsqu’elle interprétera Florine le 10 en matinée. Son partenaire, Joseph Gorak a plus de charme. Son prince est véritablement charmant (quand Hammoudi était charmeur) et la variation du troisième acte lui convient mieux en raison de son port plus compact.

Le 10, Sarah Lane, qui nous avait déjà séduits le 6 en Florine (il semble qu’aucun des oiseaux bleus n’a vraiment retenu notre attention) nous conquiert en Aurore. Abrera enchantait par la coordination du mouvement et par la ligne, Sarah Lane obtient le même effet grâce à la prestesse de son bas de jambe et à sa capacité à rendre son buste léger par-dessus la corolle du tutu. Durant l’acte de la vision, son fouetté de l’arabesque à la quatrième devant émeut par son caractère suspendu. On retrouve en elle toutes les qualités qu’on a demandées aux danseurs de toute époque, qu’ils déboulent les jambes en dedans ou en dehors, qu’ils les lèvent à l’oreille ou pas : celle de donner une direction et des oppositions à leur danse. En face de cette bien jolie Aurore, Herman Cornejo, assez en retrait dans l’acte de la vision, scintille littéralement dans le pas de deux de l’acte 3 où il cisèle sa variation. Mais pas seulement. De toutes les régressions historiques imposées à la chorégraphie traditionnelle, on apprécie alors pleinement, dans l’adage, le remplacement de l’arabesque penchée (voir forcée) de la princesse près du prince à genoux par un enlacement moins acrobatique mais plein d’un touchant abandon. Sarah Lane et Herman Cornejo sont, si je ne me trompe, le seul couple à avoir également sacrifié la série des poissons pour une série de pirouettes terminées en un curieux penché de la ballerine, placée quelque part entre la quatrième et la seconde.

Durant cette matinée, Devon Teusher, que nous avions déjà apprécié en fée coulante et en diamant, introduisait elle aussi une variante à la chorégraphie de la fée Lilas. La version, un peu répétitive et convenue à base de passés jetés en diagonale exécutés par Veronika Part laissait place à des relevés en arabesque ou en promenade attitude plus exaltants.

Cette possibilité de choisir « sa » version d’un rôle en fonction de sa sensibilité ou de ses capacités est peut-être la leçon la plus fructueuse que donne la version imparfaite mais honnête de Ratmansky : les anciens étaient coutumiers de ces entorses à la lettre. C’était, avec raison, pour conserver au texte tout son esprit.

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Classé dans France Soirs, Voices of America

Esprit de corps

It gladdens my heart that friends in New  York– one still quite new to ballet, the other a veteran of watching modern dance –  have discovered Giselle for the first time with the Paris Opera Ballet.  By definition, that meant that they would discover the work of the corps.

1) “Giselle” was breathtaking[…] the corps de ballet honestly shined the most. Some of their dancing left people around me gasping. Hopping on one flat foot and then going straight up to pointe without losing balance, brava!”

2) “my friend Kathy and I are floating after tonight’s performance of « Giselle » The NYTimes review [MacAuley, you don’t need a link] does not do it justice.  We particularly loved the second act – the corps was absolutely incredible! I had never seen « Giselle » live but Kathy has seen it multiple times and thought this corps was extraordinary and by far the best she has seen in any ballet.  We were not alone as the ovations were incredible – six curtain calls I think.”

The Paris Opera Ballet’s corps knows just how to float, and make the audience float with them. Sometimes one individual will attract your eye –Ciaravola and Gilbert, not too long ago, could hypnotize my binoculars – but never break the spell.

Even so, I had been leery of the POB’s choice to bring Giselle to the States.  That well-known Benois set that wobbles at every knock, those over-fluffy long tutus for the second act…and, good lord, New York gets to see Giselle almost as much as the Nutcracker!  Bo-or-ing.

I should have remembered that I owe my own love of ballet to the corps in, guess what?

My adorable godfather had treated me to my first ballet: Nutcracker, what else?  I hated it so much – only the“Snowflakes” made the evening tolerable — I cried when my parents stuck me two years later into a school that included ballet in the curriculum…While  I worked and worked at all of this painful and unnatural crap I kept thinking “blech, if I’m to end up in Nutcracker, what’s the point in all this?”

Then my glamorous friend Andrea  ( two year’s older! Quite a coup for a skinny and mournful mite) dragged me to see my second ballet ever: Giselle with ABT  (that company which later got lost along the way).

Whenever I find myself ending up with aching and dully-bruised knees – that means often, I’m clumsy — I think of that first Giselle.  I can still remember being both in pain and in heaven the end of that night.  Perched up on seats in the very last row, house right, at City Center – Andrea on the aisle, me one off.  My ears having begun to explode in response to the startlingly fresh yet structured music hammered up to us by the orchestra during the overture, I began to lean so far forward in this last seat up there that I kept repeatedly falling over onto my knees while the sound of the seat I should have sat on continually annoyed those around me by clapping shut.  I clonked down over and over again, despite Andrea hissing at me that I was making a fool of myself during each solo, duet, the mad scene. By Act II, giving up on the seat altogether, I basically remained in my position of prayer once the corps began to cross the stage.  Andrea started leaning forward…

I still get to tease her about her much too subtle fall-off-the-seat technique : when I tell her that once again in Paris I found myself slipping dangerously forward from my top-of-the-house seat during the second act of Giselle.

Therefore, I’ve been deeply concerned by the average two to four-year turnover in the ABT corps for years now.  It shows on stage.  It used to be a company of soloists who weren’t bothered by being part of the group for they knew they had a chance to one day get promoted.  That’s been lost:  you get stars plus background noise, not a family. I love the way Ailey and POB hold on to their dancers.  L’esprit de corps only works if each individual feels valuable. Neumeier does this in Hamburg, London’s Royal Ballet under Monica Mason found that feeling again, and Manuel Legris has started to give his corps in Vienna that same élan.

While, of course, the stars appeal to me, those who all sublimate their egos and urge to take over space in order to create a unified and living work of art for the audience to share with them remain my heros.  The corps? My definition of performance artists.

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Classé dans Humeurs d'abonnés, Retours de la Grande boutique

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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Classé dans Voices of America

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 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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On Ballet and Pop Culture Part I: Hello and How to Get Punched at the State Theater

Hello Everyone,

I haven’t posted my own critiques here yet, but you may recognize me from my grammatically atrocious comments left on those by Cléopold, James, and Fenella. I’m working on the grammar part, but in the meantime let me very briefly introduce myself. I’m 24 years old and currently living in New York working in an industry completely unrelated to the arts. To keep myself sane, I take lots of ballet classes and go to every performance I can. If I’m not at Alvin Ailey, I’m probably at Lincoln Center.

Since I haven’t had any performances to see since the winter ballet season, Cléopold suggested I write a little something on the state of ballet and pop music. Well, I tried, but somehow the idea blew up in my face and what I was left with was the monster that follows. For everything I write, please feel free to agree, disagree, add your own opinion, or call me an idiot in the comments. My schedule for the spring season is posted, so if you’re in NYC come hang out with me at the ballet!

Happy Reading,

Mini Naila

Ballet is something of a cult. For dancers, it’s an art form that requires more than just hard work in the classroom and onstage, it demands devotion bordering on obsession. Teachers can command as much respect from their students as religious leaders, and stars have their own crews of besotted fans that will viciously defend their favorite if challenged. Walk into The State Theater (and no, I will not call it by its other name) on a performance night and mention that you think Sarah Mearns is awful. I dare you. Heck, ballet was founded in France by Louis XIV: a man who wanted his subjects to see him as Apollo (the sun GOD… cultish much?). Chances are, if you’re reading this you probably see yourself in one or more of these categories. For all this, though, it’s easy to forget that the ballet world is a pretty small one. As of the writing of this article Ashley Bouder, principal dancer with New York City Ballet, has 4,807 followers on Twitter (more on that later), David Hallberg (the ‘it’ dancer of the moment) has only 2,999, Pointe Magazine has slightly less than 12,000, while Kim Kardashian has 13,958,170. I say this not out of a sense of disgust (although, yes, that is pretty gross) but to illustrate that ballet probably wouldn’t be considered “mainstream” culture by your average Joe.

Lately, though, there has been an increase in attention from sources that would definitely qualify as mainstream, which I would argue began with the premiere of Black Swan. Before you jump down my throat, I am very aware that Center Stage came out in 2000, but it only grossed $16,401,324 in the US and received exactly 0 Oscar nominations, making it more a ballet cult favorite and guilty pleasure. Since the really noticeable spike has happened only in the past few years, I’m starting with Black Swan. Feel free to yell at me in the comments about why I’m wrong should you so desire.

Remember when Black Swan came out? I don’t know about you, but after about a week everyone I talked to was a ballet expert. “Oh, you take ballet? Have you seen Black Swan? Natalie Portman is such an amazing dancer!” Worse than ballet experts, they were advocates for the poor mistreated ballerinas… all of whom suddenly had an eating disorder and/or mental stability issues. (Incidentally, when Sarah Lane, soloist with American Ballet Theatre, had the audacity to mention that no, you can’t become a ballerina in a year and that she had done all the actual dancing, everyone was outraged.) I’m sure you, as someone who reads a ballet blog, were slightly annoyed to explain that Black Swan, or BS for short (hah!), isn’t quite a documentary about company life. However, there was an amazing result from all of this: people were talking about ballet! Friends who normally could not care less were suddenly asking questions about Swan Lake! Why did the director use certain pieces of music when he did? What was the deal with all the competition? Do dancers really sleep with company directors for parts? It actually made people curious! So, what always follows after a major success? Satire of course! First came Saturday Night Live’s version starring Jim Carey which, I must admit, is pretty funny. There are a ton of parodies out there, but I think the absolute best has to be Sassy Gay Friend’s take on the movie. After making fun of the movie got old, advertisers caught on (as they always do). The two most recent examples of this are Levis and Adidas but there was also AT&T, Chloé, and Methodist Hospital in Houston, all of which premiered after 2010. My personal favorite cannot be a result of the Black Swan push as it came out in 2006, but I’m including it anyway because it’s hilarious: Isenbeck beer (take a minute of your day to watch that, you won’t be sorry). Recently, the ballet craze has jumped to prime time: ABC Family is currently putting together a new show starring Broadway’s Sutton Foster, Bunheads, about life working in a small town dance studio. In book news, Sophie Flack, a former NYCB dancer, just published a young adult novel, also called Bunheads about being a ballet dancer in the super-competitive Manhattan Ballet Company (hmm, wonder which real life company that could be about?). Go back to movies and you’ll find the new short film Prima which is premiering this year at the Tribeca Film Festival and last year’s documentary First Position. If you really want to see the ballet takeover, look no further than Oprah herself who interviewed NYCB principal, Jennifer Ringer. Saving the very best and most popular among the young adult demographic for last, who can forget Stephen Colbert’s interview with David Hallberg? (And who knew Colbert could do a tour en l’air?! Seriously, do yourself a favor and watch both of those. ) Have I made my point yet? I could go on. If you have a favorite that I’ve missed please post it in the comments because I would really love to see it!

To be continued: What’s happening now, and why in God’s name, why?

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