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Archive for the ‘Dance’ Category

The first dance performance of the season–for which I virtuously purchased season tickets, thus demonstrating my support for the arts–was a dazzling performance of The Red Shoes, a full length show based on the old movie. The Washington Post reviewer was disappointed to find it not quite up to the movie—never having seen the movie, I allowed myself to be enchanted.

The show was created and choreographed by that naughty wunderkind, Sir Matthew Bourne–famous for his gay version of Swan Lake. Which, I will own, I did not entirely love. But then neither do I entirely love the traditional version. Quite the reverse, in fact–deadly old chestnut which you would have to pay me to watch. But the Bourne version is not winning my vote either…

However, The Red Shoes is another thing altogether, charming and witty. The music is a mélange of music by Bernard Hermann, who composed scores for films: Citizen Kane, Fahrenheit 451, and many others. You’ll be thinking, whoa, what a dog’s breakfast, but in fact it works very well. The show was absolutely stunning, with gorgeous dance, astonishing sets, deliriously silly and wonderful costumes. Bourne’s dancers are very athletic, and the women are much more, how to put it, voluptuous, than traditional ballet dancers. The dancer playing Victoria Page (= ensorcelled by the red shoes) actually had breasts—unheard of for most ballerinas. Possibly Bourne allows his dancers to eat the occasional cupcake, something which traditional ballerinas can only dream of.

Flamboyant scenes, one after another—dancers rehearsing, cigarettes hanging from those beautiful mouths—dancers partying at the beach, wearing the most amazingly garish swim suits while bouncing matching beach balls–

—and, oh my, the brilliant ballet-within-the-ballet, which at one point became nothing but elegant black silhouettes against a white backdrop. This was a SHOW, comrades. I came out of the theater still smiling.

Next week: La Bayadère. Sigh.

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“Far out in the wide sea, where the water is blue as the loveliest corn-flower, and clear as the purest crystal, where it is so deep that very, very many church towers must be heaped one upon another in order to reach from the lowest depths to the surface above, dwell the Mer-people. “

I have just returned from watching the Hamburg Ballet’s luminous and beautiful Little Mermaid, directed and choreographed by John Neumeier to music by Lera Auerbach. This is Hans Christian Anderson’s story, which, unlike the Disney version, is dark and sad and ends in death.
You’re probably saying, thanks but dark and sad is not a big draw for me–certainly my usual POV.
However, this ballet is so very beautiful–such astonishingly liquid movement in the water scenes, and such raucous, joyous dancing from the people on land and on ship. The ship which we see first as the Poet (Hans Anderson, or some aspect of him) stands at the rail gazing out to sea–and then, magically from underneath the sea: a tiny perfect ocean liner passing far overhead, windows all lit up, smoke billowing from the smokestacks–charming, completely charming! Under the sea, there are wavery lines of light that rise and fall—perhaps pipes on wires, I thought–very effective, very evocative. The light is shimmering blue and green, and the mermaids are not on wires, but are sinuously floated and whirled by other dancers who are all in black, like puppeteers. The delightful concept of the costume designer was to give the mermaids very long silken pants that wave and flutter like tails–an elegant and spare effect, far from the vulgar amusement park scaly tails that usually blight this story.

LittleMermaid

The little mermaid saves the Handsome Prince from drowning, and falls in love with him–and sacrifices everything to trade her tail and her happy life under the sea to be with him. The dreadful Sea Witch who enables this is danced by a spectacularly acrobatic man, in startling face paint, in a glittering long skirt. VERY effective.
With every step she takes on her new feet, it is as if she is walking on knives (an image which has OFTEN come to mind on those occasions when I foolishly thought I could spend the evening in my new too-tight 5 inch heels). The dancer makes her anguish very clear–it is painful to watch her, her lithe grace gone, she is awkward and stilted in her movements now. And of course the Handsome Prince–and my oh my, the young man who danced this part was a veritable Apollo–treats her as an adorable child and goes off and marries somebody else. The wedding party had some simply WONDERFUL dancing–the grand thing about modern ballet is that the men are not just lifting the women about and then doing their 5-minute look-at-me-jumping-around-the-stage. The men and the women are equally part of the dance, and…they are fabulous. Peerless athletes who are also stunning, moving dancers.

Well, the Little Mermaid dies of grief, and she and the Poet leave the earth and mount to the stars–a fine ending, very moving, the stage alive with sparkling stars as they perform their sad formal arm movements, one after the other.
In the book, she becomes one of the Daughters of the Air, who acquire human souls after 300 years of doing good deeds, so the ballet mermaid seems to have come out the winner, actually.
Here is a clip.

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Last night I aimlessly trundled about Netflix and Amazon, looking for something to watch–just half an hour’s worth needed to bridge the gap between cleaning the cat boxes and cleaning my teeth (and initiating shut down procedures). Well, nothing drew me; the various shows plodding along their predictable tracks: the Queen valiantly making do, Louis the 14th nation building, even the comely Saxon youth and the wild Vikings had lost their fine first brilliant rapture.

So, in a moment of devil-may-care fecklessness, I chose to watch La Bayadère, as produced by the Bolshoi ballet in the 1980’s.

Now, this is EXACTLY the kind of ballet I loathe the most, replete with antique mime and stultifying tradition. Plus, the costumes…well.

However, there would be, I knew, some excellent dancing, and it would do for a brief calming pre-bed interlude.

So, the curtain goes up in the magnificent Bolshoi Theater in Moscow!

We are in the courtyard of a—well, let us call it an Oriental Temple–HUGE JUNGLE trees loom overhead. The Sacred Fire (a sheet of orange plastic within a modest brick enclosure) provides a pleasant orange glow. But what the—?–a HORDE of wild men (well, 10 of them) writhe and twist about in frantic primitive motions! They all have ragged black hair and ragged brown loincloths (worn however over decorous gray underpants): they are Fakirs!

OOh! SO Oriental! TRES exotique!

The High Brahmin comes out of the temple, followed by priests and other temple officials, all wearing colorful priestly garments accessorized with tall cylindrical hats. The more humble priests wear short puffy cylinder hats (unfortunately reminiscent of marshmallows). The Temple Dancers (NB: bayadère means temple dancer) follow, all wearing harem pants and spangled bra tops.

Comes then the Fire Ceremony!

It turns out that the High Brahmin—despite his Vows of Chastity– is in love with Nikiya, the HEAD temple dancer. She spurns his advances, because she is in love with the mighty warrior Solor! She will be meeting him after the Fire Celebration.

Solor’s retinue prance in, with dainty weapons held high—they have been hunting! For kittens and butterflies, to judge by their gear.

A moment of silence–then, the STAR appears!

Sensation! Applause!

Solor is a very handsome young man wearing white pants, a headband with a feather in it, hair in some kind of French twist at his neck. There is a breathless pause (=NOW I will DANCE for you, my humble worshipers) and then he performs his famous and fabulous dance.

And actually—it is really, really fabulous. Astonishing to watch.

I found a clip of the young Baryshnikov doing Solor’s dance—such joy, such strength–the technique, the astonishing leaps—it simply brings tears to my eyes.

This Solor may not be Baryshnikov, but is none the less spectacular.

Well, there it is. Fabulous dancing, but embarrassingly kitchy production—including, you will be grieved to hear, a troupe of young dancers IN BLACKFACE. Doing ghastly pickaninny routines—too too shaming. Really, I couldn’t watch.

And then there is the iconic scene, the one that everybody remembers from this show, the Kingdom of the Shades. Nikiya has been poisoned by a snake that was hidden in a basket of flowers given to her by the Sultan’s daughter, who is also in love with Solor but who—oh, never mind. Nikiya’s DEAD, see, and Solor is devastated. So, he has a vision of the ghostly spirits of the temple dancers: they appear one by one on the dark stage, progressing down an inclined ramp, each posing in arabesque, then bending back with arms held high, then gliding forward to repeat—a long line of pale dancers in mysterious blue light, in an elegant criss-crossing path.

Oh, just watch it! (feel free to stop once they’re all off the ramp). It is truly lovely.

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Cinderella

The Kennedy Center is a graceless rectangular building squatting on the Potomac, isolated on its plaza by a labyrinth of encircling highways. I am so old that I remember its construction, back in 1971–how it rose from the swamp, unlovely, a blight on the river–and once open, LORD, how I scoffed at those red velvet curtains, patterned with that ghastly repeating buttocks design–and that horrid bust of John Kennedy, seemingly made of gilded bubblegum.

But strangely enough, as the years passed and I enjoyed one wonderful show after another at the place, what had seemed so ludicrously ungainly acquired the patina of—well, what can I call it but love. It has given me so much joy over the years, and now when I look at the Kennedy Center, instead of seeing a garish mishmash of tasteless wealth, I see a place filled with happy memories and joyous creation.
Yesterday I once again entered those high doors, and walked down the tall windowed hall fronting the Potomac–saved from acres of hideous red velvet curtains by Jackie Kennedy, who refused to allow the designers to cover those gorgeous views–and saw Christopher Wheeldon’s brilliant new imagining of Cinderella, danced by the San Francisco ballet to Prokofiev’s music. What a show! Completely delightful–filled with astonishing invention, gorgeous colors and charming silliness. The show got grand reviews here, if not in New York, where the high doyennes of ballet fretted about the choreography and how it wasn’t quite the thing. Let me assure you, it totally WAS the thing. And everyone, no matter who, was blown away by the fabulous scene where the dancers create the coach to take Cinderella to the ball–glowing wheels spinning in their hands, horse masks on their heads, and Cinderella held above them in the glowing light, her billowing cape forming a canopy around her as the enchanted carriage gallops right towards us! Magical, just magical–truly, it brought tears to my eyes.

I was entranced from beginning to end. Bravo! Thank you, Kennedy Center!

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Raindrops

Yesterday was grocery day, plodding through the aisles in search of coffee, cat food….when suddenly the ever present soundtrack of music–carefully chosen to offend NO ONE (not always successful even in that small ambition) rang out with a song of my youth: “Raindrops keep falling on my HEAD, But that doesn’t mean my eyes will soon be turning RED, Crying’s not for ME…” Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid! There I was, unable to stop myself from singing along–and as I wheeled my cart onwards, I passed first one and then another shopper also quietly, secretly, singing along. I had a sudden idiotic vision, seeing all the customers forming a line, dancing behind their carts, singing gaily down the aisles (grabbing a bag of rice off the shelf without losing a beat)–“BECAUSE I’M FREE, NOTHING’S BOTHERING ME!”

Then the song ended,and everyone glumly continued on with the shopping.

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I first heard of Prince back when I was a wild wild 30-something-mother-of-4. I loved his music–not as you might say very intellectual, but irresistible. So that when I heard he had made a MOVIE I got a baby sitter and dragged the hubby to see the show. Purple Rain! WHOA! Such baroquely overwrought prancing and dancing—and my dear, the costumes! Ruffles at the neck and cuffs, high heeled boots, and adorable tight pants—not to mention voluminous mascara! Lordie! I was quite ravished.
And was so grieved to hear of his death last week.
In honor to the man and the time, I rented the movie I had watched with such joy so many years ago—and found it retains its joy, its complete ferocious self centered jubilation.

It has a sort of spurious story—his parents are fighting, his gorgeous girl with the massive 1980’s hair is dating a rival—but mostly, it’s just him singing in the club, and everyone loving it. Watching it now, 30 years later, I note that while randy sexiness is the theme, there is no vice portrayed in this move. No drugs, no drinking, no smoking. Comparable club scenes today would include as a matter of course ample portions of sleaze and sin—cocaine, drunken vomiting, sex in the bathrooms. Prince talked dirty but lived clean.
His costumes set the tone, Teddy boy dandy mated with transvestite sex queen. Those boots! I have looked online in vain for an image of the gathered lace boots he wore on one of his motorcycle jaunts. And then the lavender satin ones, accessorized with lace gloves. Or wait, I think the lace gloves went with the lace half-mask that he wore with the tight white satin pants and no shirt. Nice, very.

Here is a brief clip from the movie. Hard to find, Prince was VERRA controlling and didn’t allow this sort of thing.

Random Notes:

  • All the men in the movie except Prince’s dad are wearing heavy eye makeup. Rather becoming, actually.
  • Morris Day, Prince’s fellow performer, is a stitch. Silly, funny, and wonderful stylized dancing. ALSO snappy dressing!
  • Quote: Morris, trying to seduce girl friend tells her– with a significant leer—“I got a BRASS WATERBED, baby.”

Sigh. Such silly stuff. It made me smile.
Prince was a great entertainer. I don’t care that he was slightly crazy—that was part of the show. And the show was a grand show. Over now.

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I have always loved Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana–and no, I don’t care that Hitler was one of Orff’s biggest fans–so there I was at the Kennedy Center, eagerly anticipating the latest iteration of this old favorite, a collaboration between our local ballet company and the Cathedral Choral Society.

Mr. Webre, the Artistic Director AND Choreographer of the Washington Ballet, started things off with a little talk, explaining his creative process—which would be another thing I don’t care about. Finally he made his bow and the audience indulgently applauded—that’s our lad! Creative process! YAY!

Onward to the show!

The curtain parted to reveal a stunning vision—from floor to ceiling the stage was walled with gray cowled monks, row upon row of them, standing in ominous formation on towering metal scaffolding.

Impressive! The audience gasped, applauded. Then came the first notes of Carmina Burana, that wonderful huge wave of sound that should knock our socks off, O FORTUNA, VELUT LUNA –but, alas, it DIDN’T knock our socks off. Though melodic and pure, the chorus was somewhat muffled by all those cowls and metal struts. Picturesque, but limiting. Not to mention that the metal shelving kept giving out horrid squeals and creakings, often at particularly inopportune moments. Singers can be pretty ponderous.

So, the music was good but lacked punch.

And how I missed surtitles! These are standard at any opera, and I deeply resented the lack of them at this performance. One likes to know what the singers are singing about. I suppose the Artistic Director felt that it would be prudent to keep the lyrics hidden, thus more readily reconciling the audience to his vision–which did not entirely mesh with the actual MEANING of the words. You see, he had decided to spice up all that dreary medieval business with references to….Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. OF COURSE, you are probably saying to yourself, why didn’t I think of the amazing relevance of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando to Carmina Burana! Because you’re not a creative genius like Septime Webre, that’s why! What it basically meant is that the costumer could go CRAZY (that is, even more CRAZY than usual, all costumers are of course crazy) with bringing in Elizabethan elements, 1930’s ball gowns and other exciting non-medieval garments. Like this dainty little pair of BLOOMERS (très distingué, and so very Elizabethan!):

Perfect for the elegant man who needs something a little whimsical for a summer evening!

However nutcase the vision, the dancers were breathtaking, such virtuosity, such acrobatic leaps, such tender lifts and holds.

Though I could wish the artistic vision had run to a little more—illumination. Here were these fabulous dancers twirling and jumping, and so often we could only see dim shapes on the stage. Very atmospheric of course, but hard on the eyeballs.

And don’t get me started on the ludicrous metal cage that held the lady dancer suspended above the monks for the beginning number. As if she were strapped to a…WHEEL! Imagery! Wheel of life! She is lowered down to take part in the fun, and then strapped back in and sent back up at the end, but this time with her young man in there with her.

Then they had to get her down double quick for the curtain calls, of course.

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