Bolshoi’s SWAN LAKE Upcoming in Cinemas Nationwide

The Bolshoi’s version of Swan Lake is about to hit movie houses nationwide as part of Emerging Pictures’ Ballet in Cinema series. This broadcast stars Mariya Aleksandrova and Ruslan Skvortsov. Haven’t ever seen either dancer so I’m excited. Plus, the versions all have their subtle differences, particularly in the various endings, so I find them all interesting to watch. This is a high definition broadcast but it’s recorded (performance was September 2010), not live. So the showtimes and dates vary. In Manhattan, the showing is taking place this Sunday, the 19th, at the Manhattan Big Cinemas. Visit the Emerging Pictures website to find a location near you.

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Pasha Will Be a Pro Dancer on Britain’s STRICTLY COME DANCING

Pasha Kovalev is going to be a pro dancer on this season’s Strictly Come Dancing, the British version of our Dancing With the Stars. Apparently, he’s replacing an American dancer, Jared Murillo (whom I’ve never heard of), because Murillo, at 5’9″ is too short to partner most of this season’s taller ladies. Pasha’s only 5’10″ but that seems to make all the difference. Go Pasha! Hmmm, wish I had access to British television…

(Photo above taken by me, when he and Anya first appeared in Burn the Floor on Broadway).

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David Hallberg in Ratmansky’s The Bright Stream, Rosalie O’Connor photo.

I’m not exactly sure yet what to think of this ballet, which made its premiere at American Ballet Theater last week. There are a couple more performances left this week and I think I may see it one or two more times. Right now I kind of feel like the history of the production (as told by Marina Harss in ABT’s Playbill) is more interesting than what I actually saw.

According to Harss, the production was originally choreographed by Fyodor Lopukhov and premiered in Leningrad in 1935. But Stalin hated it so, he banned it, and eventually even sent the man who helped write the libretto to the Gulag. It was the last ballet Dmitri Shostakovich ever composed. Alexei Ratmansky (artistic director of the Bolshoi from 2004-2009) restaged it during his reign there, and the Russians loved it.

With a history like that, you have to wonder what it was that angered Stalin so. I can’t see it.  I just see it as a rather silly ballet – kind of reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night Dream but not quite there – that takes place on a collective farm during one harvest season. According to the newspaper Pravda, Harss writes, the producers’ crime was “balletic falsehood,” meaning, she says, it wasn’t a realistic portrayal of what people are like who live on a collective farm. In other words, there was too much silliness, and farmers are serious workers, not goofs. But Ratmansky explains that, in reviving the ballet, he was attracted both to the “lovely, danceable” music and the lightly humorous vaudevillian aspect of the tale, as well as to an underlying darkness, an edge, he found in Shostakovich. “There is always something hidden in Shostakovich,” he says.

To me, that’s fascinating, and is the reason I’m going to need to see it again … and the reason I’m going to need to listen to more Shostakovich.

I think, though, the problem to me may have been more that the Russians have a keener sense of how to put on something like this, where basically every role has bravura parts. I plan to go see the Osipova / Vasiliev / Simkin cast this week to see if I feel differently about it. I saw the third cast – Veronika Part as the main character, Zina (and Part was beautiful, and the one perfect thing I felt about this cast – she was the heart and soul of the ballet), Alexandre Hammoudi as her straying husband, and Cory Stearns and Stella Abrera as the main ballet dancers in the theatrical troupe that comes to town and shakes things up. I liked Cory too. He had the cross-dressing role that David Hallberg is pictured in above and he was very good. He’s a good actor, good with both comedy and romance and has a charming, very stand-0ut stage presence.

Anyway, the plot is rather complicated, and when I expressed that to my friend she laughed and said she’d given up on the synopsis and decided just to enjoy the beautiful music and the humorous dancing. She liked it much better than I did, probably because she decided to stop trying to figure things out and just enjoy… The plot: Zina works as a local amusements organizer. Her husband, Pyotr, has a wandering eye. When a traveling theatrical troupe comes to town to stage a ballet, Zina recognizes the main ballerina – they once took classes together. They dance together, and reminisce — it’s really Zina reminiscing about her dancing past (and Part did this just beautifully) – while Pyotr becomes enchanted with the ballerina. There are also a couple of older, long-married dacha dwellers, who are rather goofy and humorous (danced by past ABT greats Victor Barbee and Martine Van Hamel). The male dacha dweller falls for the ballerina, and the female becomes enamored of the male ballet dancer. When it becomes clear how attracted to the ballerina Pyotr has become, Zina begins to cry. The ballerina calms her, promises her she has no intentions of returning his affections, and suggests they all play a trick on the married dacha dwellers and on Pyotr whereby she will dress as the male ballet dancer and the male ballet dancer will dress as her. So, that’s why the whole cross-dressing thing happens. There are many subplots as well, one involving a milk maid and her companion, a handsome tractor driver (who decides to dress as a dog), but this theme of married man falling for someone who is not his wife, then realizing how much he does value her, is the main theme of the ballet.

It was pretty funny to see Cory Stearns try to dance on pointe, but funnier to watch his character get carried away with the spread-legged, very masculine-looking jumps in that white sylph dress. He and the ballerina are, after all, ultimate hams in need of audience applause, so it makes sense that he forgets himself for a time and starts really acting like a man. I really wonder how David Hallberg does that part – and that makes me want to see his cast as well. Stella Abrera was fine as the ballerina, and mildly funny when she becomes a boy, but she’s not as spectacular of a dancer as, for example, Natalia Osipova, and I’d think that role should go to an allegro dancer like her. I imagine Osipova must be absolutely perfect in that role (since she can do mind-blowingly crazy high jetes better than many men).

Alexandre Hammoudi did well as Pyotr, though there didn’t seem to be a whole lot to that role, which makes me curious to see Marcelo Gomes and Ivan Vasiliev in the part.

I feel like, because the story-line is so slight, and because, as I said earlier, practically every role has some bravura parts, that this is a ballet that needs really spectacular dancing, that needs people cast in every part who are the kind of dancers who are constantly saying, “Hey, look at me, I can jete to the ceiling!” or “I can develope over my head!” or whatnot. And ABT dancers just aren’t trained to be that way – at least most of them aren’t.

One other gripe is the costumes, particularly for the men. The blasted pants. The mens’ lines were clumsy and unfinished and I think it was because the pants were too restrictive. It’s unusual that every single man would be unable to do a proper straight-legged jete or lift his leg more than a couple inches off the ground in arabesque – especially Gennadi Savliev, who always comes through on the stunning athletics. It had to be the pants. I understand why Ratmansky wanted to set the period with the costumes, but as with classical ballets, can’t the tops be the period-setters and the bottoms just be regular tights? Ballet is all about form!

Did anyone see the other casts yet?

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The Sheepdogs of GISELLE

Don’t have time to write a review right now, but last week I saw basically three Giselles (two inside the auditorium, and one on the screen in the lobby :) ). I saw Diana Vishneva and Marcelo Gomes (my favorites), Hee Seo and David Hallberg (it was Seo’s debut as Giselle), and on the lobby screen, I saw Alina Cojocaru (guesting from the Royal) and, again, Hallberg. Anyway, I snapped this picture of the Afghan sheepdogs ABT uses in the first act, outside, during intermission, getting ready to leave with their trainer. So cute – and I thought they deserved attention: they do hard work in that ballet under those harsh lights, trying hard to stifle barks, walking, then sitting when told – behaving so well!

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(Photo of Cory Stearns and Irina Dvorovenko in John Neumeier’s Lady of the Camellias, taken from ABT website – click on photo for link).

I so love this ballet. It’s my favorite ABT is putting on this season (since there’s no Manon or Romeo and Juliet). I went to see Lady of the Camellias Saturday night – out of curiosity, went to see the new cast – Cory Stearns and Irina Dvorovenko – and just came away from the Met feeling like I had the fullest, richest, most rewarding night at the ballet this season. I just feel like something about the minimal, but completely realistic sets, the authentic and beautiful period costumes (both costumes and sets are by Jurgen Rose), the depth of emotion conveyed by the story, the heartbreaking story itself, the book it’s based on, the gorgeous partnering, all just really drew me in and made me feel like I was inside of the narrative.

First, I love how there are no curtains – you just walk in to the auditorium and there’s the open stage;  you walk in on the set. And then the first dancer comes out on stage before the chandeliers have risen to dim the auditorium’s lights … so it’s not like a performance at all; it’s like you’re eavesdropping on the characters and their story.

And I love how at points the dancers use the front side of the stage.  You feel like they’re right above you. And you can watch both side stories – taking place there – and the center story, taking place center stage – at once.

I should say, this is the story of a younger man, in love with an older woman – a famous Parisian courtesan (the text is based on the 1849 novel by Alexandre Dumas, fils) who is dying of consumption. It’s a tragedy, as, through the meddlings of others who don’t want them to be together for various reasons – they are torn apart.

Cory Stearns was perfect as the younger man, Armand Duval. He danced very well – executed all of those seemingly impossible but beautiful lifts :) , and he really brought his character to life. He is a natural actor. Either that or he has acting training, because he’s one of the best in the company at that, in my opinion. I love Diana Vishneva in the main role – Marguerite Gautier (and my friend and I passed Diana, holding flowers and still made up, as we were walking from the Italian restaurant where we had dinner to the Met), but I thought Dvorovenko did very well too, danced beautifully, had strong chemistry with Stearns, and overall fit her role as well.

I also loved the supporting cast. Gennadi Saveliev doesn’t often impress me, but wow, he did Saturday night in the role of the party attendant who’s having big fun with that horse whip, holding it next to his pelvis and making suggestive movements, and all that. He was a lot of fun, and he danced the bravura parts spectacularly. Luciana Paris shone as his partner, the sultry, hip swaying, Mlle. Duvernoy, and Melanie Hamrick was also radiant as Olympia, Armand’s would-be mistress, had he not been so in love with Marguerite. Vitali Krauchenka and Grand DeLong were totally believable as, respectively, Armand’s father, and the regal, all-powerful angry Duke who wants Marguerite for himself. And finally, Stella Abrera danced beautifully as Marguerite’s reflection of herself (or Manon Lescaut in the ballet-within-the-ballet, however you want to see it). Blaine Hoven was a good partner for her, as Des Grieux. His ballet technique is near perfect – even someone without a huge amount of ballet training can tell that – and I think he is acting and emoting much better than before, though I still think he has a ways to go before he might be considered principal material.

The pianists (music is Chopin) – Koji Attwood, Nimrod Pfeffer, and Emily Wong – were brilliant. They deserved their substantial applause at the end, during curtain calls.

Everything just came together to make a really memorable ballet. And these weren’t even the “star” dancers – these were the “up and comings”! The choreographer, John Neumeier, originally created the ballet for the Stuttgart Ballet. He currently runs the Hamburg Ballet (both companies being in Germany, of course, though I think Neumeier is American). So many of my European friends think ballet is so much more alive in Europe than in America, and they enjoy going there so much more than here. I can see why. More Neumeier and MacMillan, Kevin McKenzie!

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I know it’s short notice, but tonight (Friday, June 3rd), I’ll be reading at Art for Change’s Poetry Unleashed, a spoken word event focused on literature about the displaced or economically disadvantaged, accompanying the gallery’s current Voices of the Economy exhibit. Although it’s mainly poets who will be reading, I’ll be reading a short excerpt from Swallow. The gallery’s in East Harlem – Lexington at 103rd. Visit the AFC website for more info about the ongoing exhibit and tonight’s event.

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Benjamin Millepied, Christopher Wheeldon, and Alexei Ratmansky Premieres at ABT

Above: Isabella Boylston and Marcelo Gomes in Christopher Wheeldon’s Thirteen Diversions, which premiered at American Ballet Theater two weeks ago. (Photo by Rosalie O’Connor.)

Once again, I’m behind on posts. May was a crazy month, filled with family emergencies, last minute travel, and trying to juggle paying legal work with book industry stuff and blogging. Hopefully June will be a bit quieter, though not likely at the rate it’s going thus far…

Anyway, on May 24th, ABT held a night of premieres, showing three new works by today’s “in” choreographers. Wheeldon’s Thirteen Diversions, set to Benjamin Britten’s Diversions for Piano and Orchestra, was overall my favorite. It seemed to have the most going on in terms of emotions, the most developed sections, the most varied movement, and interesting lighting design (by Brad Fields) to boot, though I know others were bothered by that. Background was lit with different colors each section and began with part of the back darkened, with light slowly encroaching. It created an atmosphere of mystery. I also felt like Wheeldon’s dance allowed the dancers to shine the most. Gillian Murphy and David Hallberg were a duo whose dancing had a sweet, light feel to it, like a relationship in bloom, while Marcelo Gomes and Isabella Boylston kind of went back and forth, with more depth and nuance to their relationship. She’d go from peaceful to needy to wanting to escape him back to needing him. They danced it well.

Above: Michele Wiles and Thomas Forster in Ratmansky’s Dumbarton, which I liked as well. (Photo by Rosalie O’Connor.) Dumbarton, set to Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks, was mostly light and lyrical, with dancers clothed in light-colored contemporary costumes (by Richard Hudson). At times, though, the dance took on a more mournful tone, as the music would grow slower and Misty Copeland would collapse, then be carried off by a group of men. But then she’d reappear again in the next, lighter scene, as if nothing had happened. Then, it would happen again. I wasn’t sure if we were going back and forth in time or if there was a continuity of life kind of motif at play.

Millepied’s Troika was a relatively short dance, for three men, set to Bach.  Above are Sascha Radetsky, Alexandre Hammoudi, and Daniil Simkin (being thrown) in photo by Mikhail Logvinov. I started out really liking it but it kind of lost steam. I thought each man would have a different personality or embody a different mood: Simkin more playful, Radetsky more masculine, Hammoudi more soft and lyrical. To an extent it was danced that way, but then mid-way through they each seemed to be doing the same things. They started to blend into one another. Maybe that was the point. At the end, there was a series of lifts where Radetsky and Hammoudi kind of threw Simkin. He’d playfully try to escape them, but they’d catch him, scoop him up, and toss him. Someone remarked that this reminded them of Tharp. It also reminded me of Millepied’s earlier work for ABT, where Simkin was tossed in the air by a group of men in the midst of trying to escape a group of women. So Millepied repeats his themes over a few times.

Also on the program was a revival of Tudor’s Shadowplay with Craig Salstein and Xiomara Reyes in the leads. Created in 1967 and set to Le Livre de la Jungle by Charles Koechlin, it had a very dated feel and many have noted this is not one of Tudor’s better works. To me, it had a kind of Rite of Spring meets Prodigal Son feel to it. Salstein plays a poetic, monk type of figure who wants to be alone to meditate. But he is constantly bothered by this group of beings who appear to be half human, half primate who swing around gymnastically on a set of tree branches. Eventually they bring to him a woman, who’s very Siren-like, and whose sinister charms the protagonist is ultimately able to ignore. That’s what I saw in it anyway.

I felt a bit underwhelmed by the evening overall. It’s always exciting to see new dances though. And it could just be me and my penchant for full-length story ballets :)

One other thing: some of the gossip blogs stated that ABT had stricken Sarah Lane from the performance because of Natalie Portman’s presence. I didn’t know Lane was supposed to be dancing that night so have no idea if that’s at all true. Can’t imagine it is. Boylston still danced, and, as I said, I thought she danced very well.

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Photos from ABT’s Opening Night Gala

Here are some photos from American Ballet Theater’s opening night gala on May 16th, which I wrote about here. Above, Marcelo Gomes and Diana Vishneva in Manon excerpt, my favorite of the night. All photos by Gene Schiavone.

Jose Carreno (in yellow) and cast of Majisimo (including Lorena Feijoo, Lorna Feijoo, Joan Boada, Nelson Madrigal, Reynaris Reyes, Xiomara Reyes, and Paloma Herrera).

Above, Julie Kent in Lady of the Camellias excerpt. Below, with Cory Stearns in LofC.

Paloma Herrera, Alexandre Hammoudi, and cast in Swan Lake, from Act II pas de deux.

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Exit 12 Dance Company to Perform HOMECOMING This Saturday Aboard the Intrepid

This Saturday, May 28th, in honor of Memorial Day and Fleet Week, Roman Baca’s dance company, Exit 12, will perform his work, Homecoming, aboard the Intrepid. Homecoming depicts an officer’s return home after fighting in the Iraq war. Baca, a former U.S. Marine, based the choreography on his own experiences.

I know Baca through the internet but have never seen his work performed before – his company is based in Connecticut and I haven’t been able to make it up there. So this is pretty exciting. Also, famous freelance ballerina (and my friend :) ) Taylor Gordon, will be dancing. The performance, which begins at 11:30 a.m., costs nothing, but you must buy a ticket to the Intrepid museum to be admitted. Click on the link below for the full press release, containing all the deets.

Continue reading

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Former NYCB Dancer Sophie Flack Signs Her Debut Novel, BUNHEADS, at BEA

My apologies for my lack of blog posts this week. I spent Monday through Thursday at Book Expo America, the largest book industry trade fair in North America, held every year in NY at the Javits Center. (Nevertheless, I did manage to go to ABT’s night of premieres on Tuesday, which I’ll blog about soon.)

Anyway, I was so excited to see in the BEA program that former New York City Ballet dancer (and Winger contributor), Sophie Flack, was to sign from her debut young adult novel, Bunheads, about a teenage dancer  who’s in the corps de ballet of the “Manhattan Ballet,” and who, after meeting a handsome musician named Jacob, must decide whether she wants to continue in the competitive world of ballet or strike out on her own in “the real world.” The novel will be available in October, but I picked up an advance review copy and so am reading it now. It goes without saying that NYCB fans are going to LOVE it! But I think it has a far larger audience as well.

The Bunheads signing line was rather long, and I think Michael and I were the only ones who really knew anything about the author. I heard some young women behind me say they liked ballet and really wanted to read more about it. I heard someone else in line say they loved the cover; it reminded them of Black Swan (that’s the cover on the poster in the above photo). Some were saying they took ballet as a child and were still enamored of it and were really excited to see a book out about it. Basically, for all the pessimists out there, ballet most definitely is not dead.

It was so cool finally meeting Sophie! I felt so sweaty and gross walking all over the Javits Center for hours on end, so was hesitant to have my picture taken with her. That’s why I’m kind of hiding behind her!

Also, for my ballroom readers, I noticed this book:

It’s a memoir written by an amateur competitive ballroom dancer named Patrice Tanaka (who, from the photos inside the book, looks very familiar to me and who’s danced with my former teacher, Emmanuel Pierre-Antoine, whom I’ve blogged a bit about). According to the book cover, Becoming Ginger Rogers is about how ballroom helped Tanaka to become a better partner and business person (she runs an award-winning PR agency). I picked up an advance review copy of that as well, and will write about both books soon. Click on the book cover image above to find out more about the book and Tanaka.

Finally, just because I know some balletomanes who like him :D , here are a couple of photos of Colson Whitehead, who has a novel involving zombies (but it’s not a “zombie book,” he’s said on Twitter) out later this year. He didn’t read from that at BEA but from a humorous essay about the constantly changing “in” genres in publishing and what an author can (not really) do about it.

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Photos of Alina Cojocaru & Jose Carreno, and Polina Semionova in ABT’s DON QUIXOTE

Here are some photos of Alina Cojocaru and Polina Semionova guest starring in American Ballet Theater’s Don Quixote last week. Top photo is of Cojocaru and Jose Manuel Carreno, below is of Cojocaru, and bottom is of Semionova. All photos by Gene Schiavone, courtesy of ABT.

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Alina Cojocaru and Polina Semionova Guest Star in ABT’s DON QUIXOTE

Over the weekend, two European star ballerinas – Alina Cojocaru from the Royal Ballet in London, and Polina Semionova from the Berlin State Opera Ballet – guest starred in American Ballet Theater’s Don Quixote as Kitri.  Cojocaru danced with Jose Carreno, and Semionova with David Hallberg. I saw both performances. (Photos above: Cojocaru in DQ in top photo, and Semionova with Vladimir Malakhov in bottom photo. I’m hoping to get some photos of the actual performances over the weekend, and will post them when I do.)

Overall, I thought both are beautiful dancers, have an innate sweetness that shines through, are absolute balance queens who can hold balances on one leg on pointe for many many seconds unassisted, and can dance the role nearly perfectly. But I thought that both of them lacked fire; they both played it too safe. Maybe it’s just that Natalia Osipova has ruined me and I just can’t see anyone else in this role now.

One thing I loved about the Cojocaru / Carreno performance were that the two seemed to have a real rapport, a genuine affection for each other. Did they ever dance together at the Royal, does anyone know? Or was Jose there too early for her? Cojocaru never threw herself into his arms with the wild abandon that Osipova did last year, and I missed that. But I don’t think Jose did :) Seriously, he didn’t seem to appreciate Osipova’s theatrics that much. Cojocaru seemed to tone it down and they worked very well together. Also, as I complained about on Twitter ad nauseam, during those insane one-handed overhead lifts, Jose did not go on releve and hold one leg up in arabesque the way Ivan Vasiliev did with Osipova in the Bolshoi’s live-streamed performance. It’s okay; I still love Jose :) But seriously, Vasiliev and Osipova have ruined me! Cojocaru has absolutely gorgeous developpes. She can lift her leg up so high – really stunning. And I mentioned the balances earlier. She held those for so long; crowd went wild. And sweetest thing: Jose kept demanding she return for an encore bow after each of her solos. Made me really love Jose.

Cojocaru was a little shaky during the first act, and she had a little stumble. But it wasn’t memorable. Far more memorable was her strong performance in the third act, her best. That’s when she did the crazy balances.

In the third act fan variation, Cojocaru did a completely different series of steps than I’d ever seen before, which makes me think there are a bazillion ways to do that variation. Or at least three – the American, the Russian, and the British. The Ballet Bag ladies sent me a You Tube link via twitter, of Cojocaru dancing with Johan Kobborg. Around the 7 minute point is where she does this different variation.

Jose is such a great Basilio. He’s a natural flirt, a natural macho Latin guy, and a natural actor who can be a macho and a flirt and still be totally endearing. And it really kind of made me melt when he kept insisting she take more bows.

I really enjoyed Sarah Lane and Isabella Boylston as “the flower girls.” They often weren’t in sync because Boylston danced with more expressiveness, arching her back, taking her time and drawing out the turns, playing with the musicality. Lane was more sharp and precise, hitting poses right on the beat. But I could have cared less that they weren’t perfectly in sync. I loved that each had her own personality, as people do in real life.

I missed Sascha Radetsky as Espada the matador. I’ve never seen him in that role and I think he’d make a good one. He was replaced by Gennadi Saveliev. He was replaced on opening night too, which worries me that he’s injured.

I thought Polina Semionova was really beautiful, and, where Cojocaru had a few wobbles, Semionova had none. She was very very near perfect. Like Cojocaru, the third act was the one that most brought her to life. She kind of veered all over stage on her third act series of fouettes but she threw several multiple pirouettes in, and her balances were even more stunning than Cojocaru’s, as, during her final balance, she took her leg out of arabesque and straightened it out in front of her, without ever holding Hallberg’s hand to steady herself. Audience went absolutely crazy with applause. They really loved her, and called her and David out for several curtain calls.

In the third act, she did “the American” fan variation. She’s Russian and dances in Berlin, so I really think each ballerina just chooses whichever version looks better on her body and feels most comfortable to her. I thought the little hopping “horse steps” on pointe were really sweet on her.

She and David seemed to like each other as well. The partnering was a little off at points, though, and he almost dropped her in a fish dive. She played it very safe with the second act swan dives into his arms as well, and he didn’t try any Vasilievs on the one-handed lift.

David is a beautiful dancer on his own though, and, as a critic said to me during intermission, it’s sometimes hard to focus on anyone else when he’s onstage. His movements were absolutely perfect, both the more balletic and those kind of side to side matador-looking movements. His jetes are beautiful – he’s just the most beautiful male dancer and you can completely lose yourself in the story of the ballet just watching him.

Acting-wise, I think David is wonderful in the romantic scenes. He’s definitely a romantic. But the rest of the time I think he should just be himself, make Basilio his own, and not try to be so cocky and macho. In him, I find it comes across as anger, an an intimation of violence even, like he’s really going to go off and whack someone. He’s not a natural cocky flirty Latin shit like Jose and Marcelo Gomes :) And so it loses its charm with him. My thoughts anyway.

It probably won’t come to a surprise to anyone who’s read my blog for some time that Veronika Part (here as Mercedes, the “street dancer”) stood out to me. In the first two acts, I found her even more captivating than Semionova. One thing I love about her is her attempt to make the styling as authentic as possible. Part really looked like a Spanish dancer to me. And in the second act’s dream scene, I found her jetes across the stage really breathtaking – just as much as Semionova’s.

Sarah Lane danced the part of Amour in the white scene. I always want to call that character Cupid. Anyway, before the performance began, I overheard one teenage girl behind me say to another, “Sarah Lane! She was the one in Black Swan!”

All in all, really lovely performances, but I do think Cojocaru makes a better Sleeping Beauty and Giselle than Kitri. She’ll be dancing Giselle this Saturday night. She’ll also be dancing Don Quixote again with Jose tomorrow night (Monday, the 23rd). I’m excited to see Semionova in Swan Lake later in the season.

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Here are some photos of the most recent cast of Balanchine’s Vienna Waltzes that debuted at New York City Ballet last week. Top photo is of the radiant Sara Mearns, who had the main role in the final part of the ballet – “Der Rosenkavalier” – as the girl sweetly lost in her dreams during a moment alone in the ballroom. Bottom photo is of fairy-tale princely Tyler Angle dancing with Teresa Reichlen, from the first part of the ballet, the two young lovers waltz-frolicking in the woods. Both photos are by Paul Kolnik.

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Robotic Roberto Bolle: DANCING ATOMS

Have you guys seen this? Dancing Atoms was created through a collaboration between Bolle and MIT researchers. Bolle’s movement was traced and then digitally replicated with a 3D laser scanner.

“Motion-capture technologies make it possible, for the first time, to analyse human movements in full 3D at very high resolutions.” says researcher and professor of human interaction, Pat Healey.  “This unprecedented level of detail can help us understand what affects people’s perceptions of grace and beauty.”

Read more here here.

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For Ballroom and DWTS Fans: Cast Your Vote in the Swarovski / Dance USA 2011 Championship

For all you ballroom and DWTS fans who read this blog, Swarovski Elements (you know, the crystal designers whose stones everyone uses for their dresses) recently teamed with Dance USA to host a little costume competition. At the April 2011 Dance USA Championship, held in Baltimore, several top couples in various divisions – including my personal Latin fave, Valentin Chmerkovskiy and Daria Chesnokova (in video above) – was dressed in a costume designed by one of four leading costume designers (working with Swarovski gems of course). They want your input on which costume (and / or couple) you like best. You can watch videos of all the couples and vote online at Swarovski’s Facebook page.

Here’s a ballroom couple – Daniel Shapiro and Katya Kolvalyova.

The videos made me homesick for a ballroom competition. Blackpool time is just about here and unfortunately I can’t go again this year; I’ll be at Book Expo America instead. But I do hope to go to the Manhattan DanceSport Championships at the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott at the beginning of July.

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American Ballet Theater Spring 2011 Opening Night Gala

Last night was ABT’s Spring 2011 opening night gala. Dreary, rainy night … but what else is new for New York these days?

Once inside, I really enjoyed the show though. (I’m hoping to receive photos soon, which I’ll post). The program began with a short preview of Ratmansky’s The Bright Stream, which I’m excited to see next week. Seems to have a lot of humor, some bravura dancing, a cute storyline.

(Photo: The Bolshoi’s production of Bright Stream; Natalia Osipova is jete-ing).

Then, there were introductions by Rachel Moore, executive director of ABT, wearing a beautiful green dress, and Kevin McKenzie (AD), followed by Caroline Kennedy, who introduced the students of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School of American Ballet as they danced a world premiere, Karelia March, by Raymond Lukens. The program says the students are Level 7, which must be the highest level, because some of those dancers looked like ABT principals. I’m not kidding, I swear. They really amazed me. That school is doing incredible things!

Next was Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, danced by David Hallberg and Gillian Murphy. Everytime I see David dance I think he must be the most perfect male dancer in the world. Gillian was stunning too.

Then came the Grand Pas de Deux from Ratmansky’s new Nutcracker, danced by Marcelo Gomes and Veronika Part. (No, they’re not performing that ballet during the Met season, but there seemed to be a few excerpts in the program from ballets they’re not performing). I missed seeing this couple – overall still my favorite – when the company premiered Ratmansky’s version in December. They were so sweet. Veronika danced with such wonderment in her eyes, such joy. And Marcelo was her perfect, adoring cavalier, all eyes on her. I don’t have kids, but I’d think they’re the perfect wedding couple to wow very young audiences.

Then came Majisimo, a classical ballet piece with Spanish flourishes created by Georges Garcia for the Ballet Nacional de Cuba in 1965 and set to Jules Massenet’s Le Cid. This piece was mainly meant to highlight Jose Manuel Carreno, who of course retires from ABT later this season. But it was really a dance for eight couples, and he danced only the male part of one of them – there were very few solos. He danced with Paloma Herrera. Xiomara Reyes was paired with Reyneris Reyes, guesting from Miami City Ballet. The other couples were comprised of Cuban dancers guesting from other companies as well: Lorena Feijoo and Joan Boada from San Francisco Ballet, and Lorna Feijoo and Nelson Madrigal from Boston Ballet. The dancers were spectacular, but I didn’t think that much of the choreography, which reminded me of a more bland version of an ensemble scene from Don Quixote. Jose had a series of turning jumps, and a really beautiful multiple pirouette that wowed the audience – drawing those turns out are what he’s most known for. And Xiomara really took my breath away with this crazy fast series of traveling turns in a diagonal down the stage. I’ve never seen her dance like that!

(Photo: Jose Carreno dancing with Polina Semionova in Diana e Acteon)

After intermission came two pas de deux from Swan Lake. A Twitter follower asked me why they needed to perform two scenes from the same ballet. I think that ABT, same as everyone else, is just trying to benefit from the Black Swan craze. They should have had Sarah Lane dance one of the pdd though! :D Anyway, first pas de deux – White Swan- was Paloma Herrera and Alexandre Hammoudi, which was good. But the second – the Black Swan – I found surprisingly magnificent! It was danced by Michele Wiles and Cory Stearns. There have been so many guest stars from Europe lately gracing ABT’s stage, I’d forgotten how perfect an Odile Michele Wiles is. And Cory really impressed me as well. Whatever he may lack in dance ability (I can’t imagine he’ll ever be a David Hallberg or Marcelo Gomes), he more than makes up for in acting and stage presence. He’s really good at bringing you into the world of the ballet and creating a character you can sympathize with.

Sandwiched in between the two SLs was Jessica Lang’s Splendid Isolation III, danced by Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Beloserkovsky. I joked on Twitter that Max earned the hot guy of the night award for that, but seriously – he did! Irina was really beautiful as well. And her party dress, which she came out in for the final stage bow, was, as usual, gorgeous. She has such impeccable fashion taste, imo.

Following that was the highlight of the night, for me – Diana Vishneva and Marcelo Gomes in the Act I pdd from Manon. Such a perfectly choreographed pas de deux – beautifully romantic and full of love / lust but with so many breathtaking but capriciously executed, dangerous-looking lifts you sense something out of control. As beautiful as it is, this story isn’t going to have a happy ending. I am liking Diana Vishneva more and more. I’ve always thought she was a great dancer but she always seemed to play too much to the audience for the story ballets. She didn’t take me into the world of the character as much as I want an actor to. But the last two seasons she’s been doing just that: really developing the character and dancing to her partner – Marcelo here and in Lady of the Camellias last season, which is the first time she really blew me away – instead of the audience. This – the Manon pdd – was the audience favorite last night as well. The two got a storm of whoots and bravos at their curtain call, and practically had a standing ovation the audience was so loud in their applause. “So beautiful,” exclaimed the woman beside me. “Okay, we can go home now,” she joked.

(Couldn’t find a photo of Diana and Marcelo, but here is Diana dancing Manon with Manuel Legris. With all photos I post now, I’m linking to the original site via a click on the photo.)

Here are Marcelo and Diana in Lady of the Camellias:

Then, Alina Cojocaru, one of the European guest artists this season, danced the Rose Adagio from Sleeping Beauty. I’m not a huge fan of this ballet in general, but she was lovely. Patrick Ogle replaced Sascha Radetsky as one of the cavaliers.

Second to last was the Act II pdd from Lady of the Camellias danced by Julie Kent and Cory Stearns. Again, Cory did a very good acting job – and physically he fits the character perfectly, as Julie does hers, but I think some of those lifts are so difficult-looking… I just worry about the dancers. Isn’t that how Roberto Bolle got hurt last season – performing this role?

And the evening ended with another ensemble excerpt from Ratmansky’s Bright Stream. People who stood out most to me were Daniil Simkin and, again, Xiomara Reyes. I really am excited to see this ballet.

Tonight Don Quixote begins and runs through the beginning of next week. I’m excited to see Alina Cojocaru dance with Jose Carreno on Friday night, and Russian ballerina Polina Semionova guesting in the Saturday matinee with David Hallberg.

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NYCB Spring Gala with SEVEN DEADLY SINS Premiere

Here are some photos, all by Paul Kolnik, of Lynne Taylor-Corbett’s play-ballet, The Seven Deadly Sins, which premiered last night at New York City Ballet’s Spring gala performance. Above is Patti LuPone, who guest-starred with the company (performing the singing role of course!) and Wendy Whelan, who danced the lead. The top photo is from the “Prologue” of the play-ballet (or ballet chante as the program calls it).

This is from the second part: “Pride”: Patti LuPone and cabaret dancer ensemble.

Also from “Pride.” Wendy Whelan is in the middle.

And this is from sixth part, “Lust,” probably my favorite over all. Craig Hall and Wendy Whelan are the dancers in the photo. Craig Hall and Sara Mearns (who danced the role of “Latina Diva” in the “Anger” section, and who I don’t have a picture of unfortunately), most stood out to me, as well as Vincent Paradiso as the Count in the “Greed” section. I think those dancers most stood out – at least Mearns and Paradiso – because they seem to have some kind of acting training. Maybe they don’t, maybe they’re just natural actor-types, but the more actor-ly you are, I think the easier this kind of role would be. Wendy Whelan said in an interview with Roslyn Sulcas in the New York Times that she was used to expressing herself with her body and her lines, that she was used to Balanchine’s dictum “don’t act, don’t think, just dance,” and that she found this kind of role challenging. As much of a NYCB star as she is, and as stunning as she is in Wheeldon and Balanchine’s more modern, angular-lined ballets, I just wonder if she was mis-cast for something like this.

Which isn’t to say that she didn’t dance very well last night. She danced a really beautiful pas de deux with Craig Hall, which is what made “Lust” my favorite section. And LuPone sang in a gorgeously powerful voice. The dancing was all superb. But something just didn’t work to me.

Balanchine choreographed the original Seven Deadly Sins, set to libretto and score by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, in 1933. The Balanchine version was revived in 1958. According to the Times article linked to above, both the original version and revivals received very good reviews. Since the Balanchine version appears to be largely lost now, and Peter Martins wanted to revive the ballet, he commissioned new choreography from Taylor-Corbett.

Maybe it was that the new choreography didn’t really express the story, which follows Anna, a woman whose various life experiences each represent one of the sins. It wasn’t really a full story, but one composed of scenes, each of which dramatized a sin (and LuPone and Whelan portray different aspects of Anna). But, I didn’t feel the scenes always worked well at doing that. For example, in my favorite section, “Lust,” I thought the Hall/Whelan bedroom scene was really beautiful, very romantic, but nothing said lust, as in sinful lust, to me. I almost felt like Whelan’s Anna had a loveless relationship with her husband, danced by Allen Peiffer, and she was really in love with Hall, and her leaving her husband and running into Hall’s arms was an urgently needed escape.

In my other favorite section, “Anger,” Sara Mearns is a kind of sexy, but rather humorously so, Copacabana dancer. She gets angry at Whelan’s Anna for something – I’m not quite sure what – maybe Anna stole her lover or took over Mearns’ role as head diva, drawing too much attention to herself…  Anyway, Mearns twists her face into a look of utter anger, then points at Whelan, who runs off crying and is then stripped down to her underwear by a group of men. But I thought it was done rather cartoonishly. So it was more funny and cute to me than a dramatic representation of the tragic consequences of anger.

In the “Greed” section, a count and a senator vie for something and end up in a duel, both of them getting killed. But it didn’t have any tragedy or pathos to me. Instead, it felt a bit like Balanchine’s Slaughter on Tenth, which made me want to giggle – probably the fact that it was Paradiso playing the role of the Count.

I don’t know. I guess I was expecting something with more tragedy and pathos and weight, and I felt like I saw a version of Slaughter on Tenth but without a through story-line. Maybe that was the intent. I’m going to see it again over the weekend, and maybe my opinion will change.

Did anyone else see it yet? I’m interested to hear what others think. Has anyone seen the Balanchine version?

After intermission,

– here’s my photo of the promenade – Balanchine’s Vienna Waltzes was performed beautifully.

Photo by Paul Kolnik.

All of the dancers were very good, but I particularly liked Megan Fairchild and Joaquin DeLuz in the fast-footed, playful scene in the forest, “Fruhlingsstimmen,” and Maria Kowroski and Charles Askegard in the last, beautifully ballroom-y section, “Der Rosenkavalier.”

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Google’s Martha Graham Dancer Doodle

In case you’re not online today, or don’t use Google as a search engine, someone has generously recorded and posted a YouTube clip of Google’s excellent Martha Graham doodle, in honor of what would be her 117th birthday. I don’t remember seeing such an intricately designed doodle for anyone or anything else. Do you guys? How awesome for the dance world!

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Missing the Sonoran Desert

Here are some pictures I took of my trip to Phoenix (and surrounding areas).

My cousin recently bought a house in an area north of Phoenix that’s not very developed. At least not right now. Phoenix is one of the most rapidly expanding cities in the US. I stayed mainly with her and I loved it. Made me want to build a ranch house out in the middle of the desert, perhaps in a town like Cave Creek. So immensely peaceful, quiet, warm. I’m finding NY to be so distracting lately. I don’t know how I wrote my first novel here but I’m finding it increasingly hard to concentrate. I can’t imagine ever leaving NYC completely, but I really need something different, at least for a couple months out of the year.

Above is Camelback Mountain, near Scottsdale, my favorite suburb of Phoenix. The mountain is so named because it kind of resembles a camel.

I haven’t been back to Phoenix (where I grew up) in ten years. And I haven’t lived there in almost 20. I had a bit of culture shock. I wasn’t used to the wide open spaces. This is the weekend, in the middle of the afternoon. Not so many cars.

And inside Scottsdale Fashion Square mall. This is on a Thursday afternoon. Practically had the place to ourselves.

Such a shock to see free seats! Never, never in New York. This was taken at Metrocenter, another mall, in central Phoenix, where I took ice skating lessons as a child. I’m really not a mall person; I just like to see my old familiar places when I go back.

Back at Scottsdale Fashion Square, a flyer I found at the movie theater there – the Harkins Camelview – one of the only arthouse cinemas in the Phoenix area. So psyched to see that they’re housing the Emerging Pictures Ballet in Cinema and Opera in Cinema series! Apparently, they’ve already shown the Bolshoi’s Coppelia.

In Scottsdale, I wanted to visit the Borgata as well, but we didn’t have time. Instead we found this newish little mall of boutique shops and restaurants across from Scottsdale Fashion Square. The pack of shops was called The Scottsdale Waterfront and bordered some kind of body of water – a canal I imagine.

Restaurants looked packed but stores here, as everywhere, seemed pretty empty. I guess it’s the same pretty much everywhere with the economy and people shopping online and all. Will there be any storefront stores in the future?

Of course one of my favorite things about Arizona is the Mexican food. It’s everywhere, regardless of whether a restaurant specializes in Mexican food or not. This is just at a run of the mill breakfast place – The Village Inn I think it was called – where I had potato pancakes and eggs with avocado, green chile hollandaise sauce, and spicy pork carnitas.

My cousin found some margarita-flavored wine from a local winery, Kokopelli. A little too sweet for me, but interesting.

On my way back, I was browsing in a magazine shop in the airport and found that Phoenix Magazine‘s May issue is devoted to the city’s best Mexican food. I’ve made my dad promise to take me to all of them when I return. Which must be in far fewer than ten years.

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NYCB Opens its Spring 2011 Season with “Balanchine: Black & White”

Photo from 2004 of Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto in Balanchine’s Agon, by Paul Kolnik.

Last night New York City Ballet opened its Spring season with three Balanchine “leotard” or “black and white” ballets (so-called because of the costumes). I have very little time to write because I’m off for a short trip to Phoenix later today. But I’ll just say, all the dancers looked very refreshed, in tiptop shape, and everyone danced very well and with lots of expression.

First on – and the highlight of the evening to me – was Square Dance, which I haven’t seen a huge number of times but which is really growing on me. The leads were Megan Fairchild and Anthony Huxley, who is really growing on me as well. He reminds me a bit of Alex Wong, except he’s more lyrical and it’s a little less about the stunning feats with him, though he is a very good dancer and I’m sure can do the stunning feats! His difficult-looking often flexed-footed solo was mesmerizing. He was even mesmerizing when he just stood off-center and watched Fairchild do her solo, the way he’d look at her, at times longingly, at times in awe. Megan danced with a lot of joy as well – all dancers were very emotionally compelling in this. And I’m not the only one who thought so – the audience really went crazy with applause after this dance.

Next on was Agon. The main couples were Wendy Whelan and Sebastien Marcovici, Teresa Reichlen and Andrew Veyette, Ashley Laracey and Amar Ramasar, and Amanda Hankes and Craig Hall. Andrew Veyette (above, photo by Paul Kolnik) really stood out to me in this. I think he is well-suited to all the angular lines so pronounced in these leotard ballets. Wendy Whelan and Sebastien Marcovici had a couple very minor flubs. During intermission, the little group of balletomanes I hang out with were reminiscing about how stunning she was when she used to dance this part with Jock Soto (which is why I posted the top picture). I really wish I could have seen that. It looks stunning from the picture.

The evening ended with Stravinsky Violin Concerto; leads were Maria Kowroski and Amar Ramasar, and Sterling Hyltin and Ask LaCour.  I always like this ballet and I always look for my favorite part – where, in the third section, Aria II, the man stands over the woman and turns her around and around, like a barrel. I think I’ve seen Robert Fairchild do it only once, but it was the first time I ever saw the ballet and now, to me, he owns that role and no one can do it like him. I thought of that when my intermission friends were reminiscing about their favorite dancers from the past and how differently they looked doing these black and white ballets – how much more precision there used to be – and it’s funny because Robert Fairchild is obviously not the first dancer to dance my favorite part but he’ll always define it to me. The first dancer, or the first set of dancers, that you see in a role or a dance will definitely leave an indelible impression. But someday I still very much would like to see the original Balanchine dancers in these ballets.

Anyway, this was opening night, but there was no red carpet since NYCB has their gala next week, on Wednesday – when the Patti LuPone collaboration will premiere!

Okay, I’m off to the land of lizards and gila monsters and sun and 99-degree temperatures! Assuming I’m able to finish packing…

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LEAP by Jodi Lundgren

I recently finished this sweet, very honestly written young adult novel by Canadian author Jodi Lundgren.

Leap is a coming of age story about a teenage girl, Natalie, living in British Columbia with her mother and younger sister. Natalie deals with many of the problems teenagers do – a boyfriend who pressures her into sex, a difficult friendship with a destructive classmate, and just fitting in and figuring out who she is. In addition, her father has recently divorced her mother and moved across the country to Toronto. She hardly ever sees him and feels abandoned by him. Her mother, who often seems more interested in books than her daughters, has begun a romantic relationship with another woman. Natalie takes after school dance classes with her friends and her teacher, Ms. Kelly, doesn’t much like her and seems to enjoy really picking on her. The classes consist of several types of dance, including ballet, but the group is working mainly on a jazz routine for an end of the year performance. Natalie feels uncomfortable with the choreography, which the way it’s described, sounds very Fosse-esque, very sexed-up.

Along comes a young co-teacher, Petra Moss, whom Ms. Kelly has hired to choreograph a ballet for the final show. Love the name! Kept picturing Petra Murgatroyd from Burn the Floor. Much to Natalie’s surprise (and Ms. Kelly’s) Petra immediately takes a liking to Natalie. Petra’s choreography is actually more modern than ballet and there’s a humorous little tiff between Ms. Kelly and Petra about whether toe shoes will be used, but suffice it to say, modern feels much more comfortable to Natalie’s body. Petra encourages Natalie to feel the movement, to make it organic and natural, so as to really express herself through it. She invites her to improvise. From Ms. Lundgren’s descriptions of Petra’s classes, they even sound a bit Gaga-esque.

Basically, through dance Natalie learns to deal with all of the confusing things happening in her life. One of my favorite parts of the novel is when Natalie’s parents attempt to support her by attending her first professional performance. She’s thrilled. But then it becomes clear that they don’t really understand her commitment, or her art. An older gay male dancer who befriends her tells her it’s okay; family and friends won’t always understand you. So, you can create a new family of those who do.

It’s a sweet story that teenage girls in general, and anyone who’s ever danced, will appreciate.

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Ground Zero, May 2, 2011

I couldn’t resist spending an hour down at Ground Zero today. It was crowded, mainly with people taking pictures, many of whom appeared to be tourists, and reporters  – loads and loads and loads of them. Above photo is taken at the entrance to the cemetery in the back of St. Paul’s Chapel, where a man was singing John Lennon’s Imagine, and another man was holding an American flag above him.

Inside the chapel grounds.

Across the street, outside the construction zone where the memorial’s being built.

You can’t see but the man in blue was holding a photo album of his pictures of the World Trade Center taken both years before 9/11 and that day. He saw some young people wearing anti-bin Laden shirts and seemed intent on showing them just what was lost.

Someone photoshopped this picture of the Statue of Liberty holding bin Laden’s head instead of her torch and pasted it onto this street sign.

A big line of press tents and camera vans from all major TV networks.

Construction underway, with new glass on one of the buildings. The memorial is set to open this year on 9/11.

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American Ballet Theater’s “On To Act II” at the Guggenheim

Did you guys watch the live-stream last night or tonight? If you missed it, you can watch the video now archived on the Guggenheim’s ustream channel.

It feels weird to review a program that everyone can easily watch online, but I’ll just say my favorite moments last night were: the ABT II dancers in excerpts from Jessica Lang’s Vivace Motifs, which I thought looked like a lovely ballet; Hee Seo in the prayer scene from Coppelia; Susan Jaffe coaching Sarah Lane in another scene from that same ballet; and Jose Manuel Carreno’s interview by Wes Chapman.

I wasn’t really in love with the dance Carreno performed with Melanie Hamrick – Ronald Savkovic’s Transparante. I thought there was a bit too much falling down and standing up again, and, though some of the partnering and lifts were beautiful they were pretty basic and didn’t reveal much about the relationship of the characters and the dramatic action. But I loved hearing him talk – love how he still has that thick accent! Love that he said “oh shit” in reference to all the Don Quixotes he’s cast in during week one of ABT’s Met season! He doesn’t seem to have a plan for the future, but said he’d still do some freelance dancing for the next few years, and said he’s interested in exploring more contemporary work, other forms of dance. I think that’s why he wanted to dance Transparante instead of something from ABT’s season.

I liked Martine van Hamel’s discussion and performance of some of the character roles she continues to do – the wicked stepmother, always either drunk or hung-over, in Kudelka’s comical version of Cinderella, and the wicked fairy Carabosse in Petipa’s Sleeping Beauty. But they left out the Dacha Dweller from Ratmansky’s Bright Stream, which was on the program! None of us have seen that ballet yet and I was eagerly awaiting that excerpt … and then she said she wouldn’t do it because she couldn’t get something in it quite right yet. Well, I guess we’ll see it soon enough.

I really did like the excerpt from Jessica Lang’s Vivace Motifs. The ABT II dancers are always very good, especially Irlan Silva. Every time I see him dance I get annoyed that ABT hasn’t yet brought him into the main company. I don’t understand what they’re waiting for. He stands out so much to me. He seems better than most of ABT’s soloists and even some principals. And he’s not even in the corps yet. I really really really don’t get it.

Anyway, I’ll conclude this post with an excerpt of Carreno and Susan Jaffe dancing the Black Swan pdd from an earlier documentary about ABT:

And footage of Silva from the documentary, Only When I Dance:

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Jose Carreno and ABT Live-Streamed from the Guggenheim this Sunday and Monday

The Guggenheim’s Works and Process event this coming Sunday and Monday nights (May 1st and 2nd) is entitled “ABT: On to Act II” and focuses on what awaits a principal ballet dancer upon retirement from an illustrious career. The focus of course is on Jose Manuel Carreno, who will retire in June during the company’s Met season, and who’s long been one of my personal favorites in ABT and in the world. I remember when Julio Bocca gave his farewell performance I thought how upset I’d be when it was Jose Carreno doing the same. That day in late June is not going to be a happy one for me…

The W&P panel will consist of Carreno, Susan Jaffee, Frederic Franklin, and several ABT administrators, and there will be excerpts from the company’s upcoming Met season performed. (It hasn’t yet been announced who the dancers will be.) There will also be a slide show of the photography of Rosalie O’Connor, who successfully transitioned from ABT dancer to company photographer (and who took the above picture of Carreno in Don Quixote).

As with all of the Guggenheim’s W&P events of late, this one will be live-streamed on the Guggenheim’s ustream channel. So even though the event is sold out, we all get free admission :D Just tune in at 7:30 p.m. ET either night, and again, you can also participate in the live-chat which takes place on that channel alongside the live video.

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Avi Scher & Dancers, Photos

Ack, you guys I’m working 13-hour days right now and have virtually no time for anything but working, eating, and sleeping, but I wanted to get some photos up of the recent performance by Avi Scher & Dancers that I saw at the Alvin Ailey Theater on Sunday afternoon. All photos are by fabulous dancer-turned photographer, Matthew Murphy.

I don’t have much time to write, but as always, I really enjoyed Avi’s choreography, combined with the excellent dancers he gets to perform his work. As always, it’s incredible – really truly incredible – to be able to see such renowned dancers on a small stage in a small, intimate theater.

Above are Carla Korbes and Seth Orza, principal dancers formerly with NYCB, now with Pacific Northwest Ballet, in Scher’s Mirrors, a somewhat Jerome Robbins-like piece (it reminded me a bit of Dances at a Gathering anyway), that had its premiere this weekend. Korbes and Orza beautifully danced the romantic pair at the heart of the piece. Also in that piece, ABT’s always entertaining Craig Salstein danced a comical duet with ABT’s Nicole Graniero. I love Craig. I do. As huge a crush as I used to have on Seth when he was with NYCB, I have to say Craig stole the show :)

Ooooh, I really loved this couple. It’s Joseph Gatti and Misa Kuranaga from Boston Ballet and they danced the second piece, Utopia. I loved both – and initially couldn’t figure out where I’d seen Gatti before but now I’m thinking it was a Wheeldon Morphoses piece. (Sorry, I don’t have time to look it up!) Kuranaga really took my breath away in this. She was really striking. She had such beautiful lines and danced with such passion. In the end, she threw herself at him ecstatically and he caught her. Sweet.

This is Ana Sophia Scheller, NYCB soloist, in Dreamscapes, the fourth piece of the night, which was also having its premiere. She had a fast-moving part up front and she did very well with it. She’s standing out to me more and more lately.

Scheller with Tyler Angle (NYCB principal, and one of my faves of that company). I thought the dancing in this last piece was spectacular. So many really top notch dancers… Sofiane Sylve, formerly of NYCB and now a principal with San Francisco Ballet, was stunning in a late section where she danced an insanely fast-footed allegro duet with with NYCB’s Savannah Lowery. Lowery always amazes me when I see her dance with Avi’s group on a small stage like this. She’s got such an athletic build and Scher always makes her look so good. He gives her choreography and costumes that really suit her. (NYCB’s Janie Taylor did the costumes).

Sofiane Sylve. It was nice to see her in NY again. And Orza :)

Scher is a very likable young choreographer who studied at the School of American Ballet. He has lots of NYCB connections and you can see influences of Balanchine, Robbins, and Christopher Wheeldon in his work (the third piece was called Classroom Fantasy, was danced by students of the Manhattan Youth Ballet, and reminded me a bit of Wheeldon’s early Scenes de Ballet albeit more comical). I think Scher is definitely a choreographer to keep an eye on for the future.

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Kurt Froman on Training Natalie Portman to Dance

But his funniest, most interesting words are about Mila Kunis:

“Mila, and I mean this in the best way, she is such a loud-mouthed kind of broad. You know exactly where you stand with her, if she’s not happy with something. All she wanted to do is smoke cigarettes and drink coffee, where it was like, “Come on Mila, we’ve got to work!” And Natalie was like completely the opposite, in a way. She never complained once…

“Mila was the further behind in terms of training. She’s not — she doesn’t have a really good sense of her body, she’s not really a dancer or whatever.”

It’s funny, but I know exactly what he means about not having a good sense of your body… something I never knew about myself until I started trying to to dance.

Anyway, this is from an interview in Front Row Magazine, by Peter Simek, with Kurt Froman (former NYCB dancer- turned – Movin’ Out lead dancer and choreographer for Billy Elliot on Broadway.) Apparently, the interview with Froman was originally published around the time the movie came out, but these excerpts didn’t make the final cut. Simek decided to publish them now in light of the current who danced what controversy. Btw, you all probably already know this, but Sarah Lane gave an interview to 20/20 about said issue. Froman gave the interview a long time ago, without knowledge that this would become a controversy, so it has the air of truth. Scroll down to the bottom to read exactly what he said about Portman.

But I also find it really interesting what he said about training Kunis. At least at the beginning, their intention was to make her like a real Odile – marked by virtuosity. Froman choreographed while Millepied was busy with a prior commitment and that’s what he was trying to go for with Kunis – to make her as believable as a virtuoso as possible. But then when Millepied returned, he changed everything, making Kunis’s character more about her sex appeal, and her sexual comfort level with herself (as opposed to Odette / Portman’s lack thereof). So then they added things like Kunis’s dancing with her hair down, being so comfortable with herself that she didn’t care about messing up, etc., and they took out the virtuosity. This, he said, was okay because it went along far better with what Aronofsky wanted than what Froman had been trying to train her to do. I just find that interesting, because that was one of the parts of the film where I had the hardest time suspending disbelief – that the company director would seriously consider replacing the lead with a seemingly ditzy girl who thought it was funny when she couldn’t do a series of turns without nearly falling over. Of course everyone keeps pointing out that the movie wasn’t about dance but about sexuality, madness, etc. And they’re right. It’s just interesting to me that initially the film seemed to be a little more about the actual ballet than it ended up. Makes me wonder if things were changed after everyone realized how impossible it was to make a couple of very good actresses believable as high-level ballerinas.

Sorry this is all I’ve been blogging about lately! It’s definitely not all I care about. But I’ve returned to practicing law and so am now trying to juggle three things: my job, my book, and this blog. I apologize if it’s slow going from time to time. I definitely plan to cover as much NYCB and ABT as I can this summer!

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Jose Carreno in “Swan Lake” on Dancing With the Stars

Did you guys see it last night? I don’t know who choreographed but it’s obviously a version created for fans of Black Swan the movie, showing both black and white swans vying for Prince Siegfried’s attention, and shortened for the allotted time. Lorena Feijoo from San Francisco Ballet and her sister, Lorna, from Boston Ballet, danced the white and black swan. Interesting that they didn’t have Jose in tights. I hate it when male ballet dancers don’t wear tights. You can’t see the movement at all; it just doesn’t look like ballet. Still, I think our Jose looked better than Jose Martinez in pants.

Also, regarding yet more Black Swan controversy: E! is now positing that because Sarah Lane and Isabella Boylston are both in ABT, Lane’s statements to Dance Magazine about the amount of dancing she did for the film were motivated by sympathy for Boylston. This is becoming just a little absurdist.

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Black Swan White Swan

Art work by Jane Fire. It’s actually called Swan Song of the Mute Swan and is a digital photo (though up close, it looks like a watercolor to me). I was going through paperwork (for tax preparation) and I found this postcard I’d taken earlier from a gallery – way before the Black Swan movie – back when I was trying to get ideas for a logo for my Dark Swan Press. It really caught my eye.

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Rhea’s Favorite Hiding Place

Where she can sun as well.

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Maira Kalman at the Jewish Museum

Last week my friend, Alyssa, who’s an independent art curator, invited me to an art / law celebration at the Jewish Museum. The Jewish Museum really knows how to put on a party! They had the most splendid array of hors d’oeuvres, two big carving and sushi stations, and a full bar (not just wine and champagne). I hadn’t been to the Jewish Museum since I saw a Marc Chagall exhibit there I don’t know how many years ago. So, in between nibbling on mini Tuscan pizzettes and sipping Glenmorangie, I wandered into the main exhibit, which is currently featuring the work of Maira Kalman.

Kalman’s mainly a painter and illustrator but is also an essayist and performance artist; kind of an artist at large. She illustrates a lot for the New Yorker. The top picture is from an illustration from that mag.

I really love this one, though. It’s called Grand Central Station. I love it because it evokes the kind of sentiment I was going for in the closing line of Swallow (which I’m not giving away :) )

Then I came across a couple of illustrations of dancers, which of course excited me.

I don’t know who the dancer in the first illustration is, but the bottom is of Pina Bausch. The little explanatory caption below the illustration said that Kalman had a deep admiration for Bausch, got along well with her, and, before Bausch’s death, had wanted to collaborate with her on a dance.

As I walked through the exhibit, I happened upon a couple of sets of videos. In one Kalman, who seems to be quite a character, was collaborating on a performance piece with Nico Muhly and an opera star (whose name I forgot). Muhly was his usual slightly whacked self. Fun! Kalman’s also been involved in a lot of social projects, such as helping to design and create art work for a new library in Harlem. And, much of her work features her dog (below).

Hehe, I was so excited when I saw this. I actually have this picture, clipped from a old New Yorker copy, hanging above one of my bookcases at home. That’ll teach me to look at the name of the illustrator more often!

Anyway, it’s a very good exhibit, and I recommend it. It’s at the Jewish Museum through the end of July.

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