Archive for the ‘Dance’ Category

When I was a little girl, my family lived in Greece–such a paradise it was. My wonderful parents, my siblings, our dog–a life filled with brilliant happiness. Over 60 years ago now, but still I remember family picnics on beaches by the turquoise sea, biking in the leafy city, games, and dinners, and good times.
And the sound of old Greek music is the sound of happiness to me.
YES, yes, I know it often reminds one of the bleating of a discontented goat, and it does go on a bit.
BUT, to me the sound is wild and joyful, and of a piece with all human music: how BAD she treated me, how SAD I am, but let’s dance, let’s drink!

Those singers​ are all gone now, but their grandchildren, their great grandchildren, still sing these songs, still dance these dances.
Or at least, I like to think they do. ​


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Today I had tickets to the Mark Morris Dance company, at the Kennedy Center.
I am not a fan of Mark Morris, but I recognize that he has created some truly beautiful moves. I didn’t love his version of Nutcracker (“The Hard Nut”) but it always gets great reviews–other people love it.
This show, called Layla and Majnun, is based on an Azerbaijani opera that has roots in ancient Persian poetry– a sad tale of love lost.

This modern dance adaptation included the Silk Road musicians and famed Azerbaijani singers Alim Qasimov and his daughter Farghana Qasimova, performing on stage.
We heard the whole song cycle before the dancers came out. The music is impressive, dramatic and tragic, long held notes, quavers, odd chords.
Nice, but a little, well, LONG.
The translation was not inspiring:

“My soul is on fire because we are apart
I want to join my beloved…

Then more musicians and more singers came in, and the dancers.
The men wore long blue coats over loose white trousers, and the women wore singularly unattractive orange dresses. It happens that orange and blue is one of those combinations that I particularly dislike, but I earnestly strove to overcome this shaming prejudice.
The dancing is pleasingly symmetrical, with patterns emerging and repeated, handed back and forth between the men and women.

What was odd was how seldom a man and woman actually danced together–no duets here. Constantly, they would surge towards each other and then–pass by.
Morris explains:

“In Romeo and Juliet, the lovers have one night of fabulous teenage sex, and then they die, and that’s perfect. But this is beyond that. And that’s because God eludes them. In the end they drop their bodies and become pure spirit. It’s about infinity.”

Infinity is all very well, but I miss the duets. And, Romeo and Juliet (Macmillan’s choreography, to Prokofiev’s score) has the most beautiful duets in the world.

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The Alvin Ailey dance troupe has just finished its triumphant Washington tour, and I have just returned from watching the show. The theater was packed to the rafters, and many many black families had come to honor the dancers– a very different audience from that with which one normally shares the theater, much more enthusiastic. Cheering and clapping with great good humor at every piece–at every pause even. Not every piece deserved such accolades, but there, let us not be mulish about it.
The first piece (=”Stack-up”) was all bopping and jiving, really splendid stuff, all those dancers out on stage in brilliant colors, displaying such amazing athletic grace, such verve. The second piece (=”Victoria’) not QUITE so fine, the music was squalling away, and there were 3 large white– trees? Constructs? Sort of like the feet of the Eiffel tower. Underneath these edifices, the dancers writhed and moved in astonishing ways but not in ways that one loved so much. I somehow found myself napping a teensy bit. Then, they did a charming piece called Ella, which was simply 2 men moving to one of Ella Fitzgerald’s ridiculous scat singing pieces, silly stuff but very lovable. The audience ate it up. Lastly, they did their standard piece, Revelations, dances to a bunch of spirituals, which seemed to be what most of the audience had come for. Good enough stuff, deep pliés in long skirts sort of thing. But the LAST one was something else–Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham! Worth the price of admission right there. The ladies came on, all dressed in bright yellow dresses with matching hats and fans, holding stools in their hands. And they quivered the fans, and set down the stools and sat on them–and, wow, such moves! And then in came the men, all dressed up with pants and shirts and vests, and my, how they danced!

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Tuesday night was ABT night at the Kennedy Center! This time I made it without any undue excursions to Virginia, in a calm and tranquil manner– SO different from a previous event which one has simply REMOVED from memory.
SO embarrassing.
Having parked for a thrifty $16 across the street (MY it was COLD–a short walk but very horrid) I entered the hallowed halls and strolled to my seat.

First on the program was Serenade After Plato’s Symposium, music by Leonard Bernstein, choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky–supposedly an “abstract exploration” of Plato’s themes. All men, except for one electrifying moment when a woman suddenly appears, dances with one of the men, and then disappears. Women=transitory. Thanks for that revelation, Plato! There was some astonishingly beautiful dancing, though if you’d told me they were celebrating the third snowfall of 2018 in Prague or the invention of moveable type I would probably have bought it.

After Plato came a little Chopin, choreographed by Jerome Robbins: a huge grand piano on stage and two lovely dancers doing charming dances to 4 mazurkas and 1 waltz.

Very nice, if not particularly inspiring.

Then came the Challenging Piece–danced to music by Philip Glass, who is not one of my favorites, but let us not be cantankerous for heaven’s sake. The dancers worked hard, and they are very nimble–those beautiful bodies, in perfect alignment, so strong, so dedicated. Misty Copeland starred, a lovely young woman whose excellent moves have made her a principal at the ballet. Apparently this was a role previously reserved for white and Asian women. Her life has not been easy–but dance, dance, she wanted to dance and there she was on stage, those fabulous legs sending her flying like a bird in the air.

Then came the last piece, to music by Benjamin Britten, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon–both favorites of mine. Which was why I was there on a Tuesday night, dooming my Wednesday at work to frightful yawnings and fatigue. The music was so fresh, so engaging, and the dance so fascinating–I was mesmerized. Here is a bit of it–a little fuzzy, but you can see the patterns, the charm: the reason for spending all that money, for leaving the house to travel the wintry world, for facing all those unfriendly people.
Ballet is just so beautiful.

Then back across the freezing street to the garage and home.

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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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Father’s Day

I recently watched a documentary about a brilliant young Ukrainian dancer who found himself on the world stage, major ballet companies all agog to have him. This movie has the usual tedious interviews–his contemporaries ponderously saying this and that–while the audience is thinking, SHUT UP and show me the lad dancing. The reason for the documentary is that this young man went slightly loony, couldn’t take the life. Drugs! Tattoos! He is quite beautiful, and in his anguish and rage, had his exquisite body covered with tattoos (which all of course have to be covered up for any traditional ballet role).

But the big news was, he quit the Royal Ballet! NO ONE quits the Royal Ballet. The story was a sad one, the gifted child, the poor family that tried so hard to give him the training he needed–and which then split apart, leaving him, a child lost and alone in an alien land. Young Sergei Polunin was suddenly motherless AND fatherless and almost fell into the abyss. Which reminds me of another tattooed lost child, remember Leonard Smalls? Who came to a very bad end indeed, hoist by his own petard.

But, this story ends happily, with his parents, reconciled if not back together, sitting together with granny, to proudly watch their splendid son dance like an angel in some spectacular show.

Coincidentally, I was rereading some Terry Pratchett stories–and was so moved by good old Sam Vimes, and his determination to be a good father to Young Sam. He is going to read to his son every night at 6, and no excuses!

“Would a minute have mattered? No, probably not, although his young son appeared to have a very accurate internal clock. Possibly even 2 minutes would be okay. Three minutes, even. You could go to five minutes, perhaps. But that was just it. If you could go for five minutes, then you’d go to ten, then half an hour, a couple of hours…and not see your son all evening. So that was that. Six o’clock, prompt. Every day. Read to young Sam. No excuses. He’d promised himself that. No excuses. No excuses at all. Once you had a good excuse, you opened the door to bad excuses.”

And he keeps his word, despite demons and dragons and trolls and dwarves and the machinations of very bad people. He is such a good man, and such a good dad.
Which reminds me, happy father’s day to all you dads out there! AND to the moms!
And to all the people who help protect the young from the abyss.

Here is Polunin doing trad ballet
Here he is doing more moderny stuff

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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.


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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