Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ballet: Aria Alekzander 2010

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Bad Idea

Today I pulled out an old pair of Grishko pointe shoes that I had stowed away a while ago because at the time I didn't feel strong enough to relevé properly in them.

Thinking I wanted to try them again, I wore them for class today. At first I liked them a lot. These Grishkos have a stiff shank so they supported my flexible feet well. The turning point came when we had to do multiple relevés in arabesque during a barre exercise. That's when I started feeling as though my feet were about to break in half. The shank is so stiff lower down near the toe that getting en pointe requires a lot of force (can anyone tell me how on earth one can soften the shank of Grishkos near the box? It seems almost impossible). The catch was that despite the shank being so stiff lower down, it was totally broken at the arch. So once I had used all that force to get up en pointe, the broken shank was forcing the weight of my foot way forward. My feet are super flexible, so this was not a welcome feeling.

All the tendons at the front of my feet were being pulled and strained as if I was dancing in totally dead, soft pointe shoes. I got really frightened and took them off straight away. To illustrate my story, I have included two pictures: one to give you an idea of my flexible feet, and another of one of the said Grishko culprits. Needless to say, I will NOT be wearing these shoes ever again. 

This is me pulling OUT of the shoe as much as I can so I wouldn't hurt myself. It looks like jelly but the incredibly stiff box deceived me!!

The shoe actually looks pretty but I shudder to think what would happen if I didn't pull up properly for a second and sunk into it. 

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Patella Alta

Dancers and non-dancers alike know that ballet is extremely stressful on the body. Perfect turn-out is extremely unnatural and more often than not, we cheat our turn-out, causing long-term damage on knees, hips and the lower back. Ask any dancer to tell you about an injury they are coping with, and they will smile coyly and ask, "Which one?"

In my case, I was born with a condition called patella alta, which consists of high-riding knee caps. Compare the x-rays of a patient with patella alta and a normal knee:

 Above: patella alta
Normal knee

Anyway, when the knee caps sit too high, they aren't positioned correctly in the trochlear groove, which keeps them in place. Thus, people with patella alta usually dislocate their knees frequently. My knees dislocate laterally- to the outside of the leg- and they dislocate a lot. My caps don't sit as high as those in the top x-ray image, so as a result, they stick out a lot and look really knobbly.

My patella alta actually gives me pretty hyperextension (not a crazy amount or anything), so as a young dancer, I always thought I had the ideal legs for ballet. Then, when I started training every day as a teenager, the dislocations started. Ideal legs?? Think again, girl. 

Doctors and physiotherapists told me the same thing: I needed to strengthen my vastis medialis muscles (the muscles on the medial (inside) side of the knee). So I did, for several years, but nothing changed. One day, I dislocated my knee in my sleep and woke up to a knee cap out of place and swelling that looked like a balloon was stuck inside my leg. It wasn't until then that I was referred to an internationally renowned knee surgeon and sports injury specialist in Toronto, Dr. John Cameron, also known as 'the knee cap guy.' The first thing he said when he saw my x-rays was, "Those are some high knee caps. I don't even need to examine you." 

I am having surgery on both of my legs in about a year, 4 months apart. Patella alta is corrected by reattaching the patellar tendon (the tendon connecting the patella and shin bone) lower on the tibia (shin bone) with metal pins. Only one of Dr. Cameron's patients has ever dislocated a knee after this surgery, and that was because she had a very shallow trochlear groove, so her patella was still unstable. I am feeling very positive, but that will probably change as the first surgery date comes around!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Mariinsky Swan Lake Pictures!

Just because I'm having difficulty containing my excitement!!

This picture annoys me because her foot is turned out 90 degrees, but only from the knee. Though I totally cheat all the time while I'm dancing, if I lunged like this my knee cap would dislocate (I will post about my creepy knee caps some other time).

Mariinsky Ballet

Ok, so the closest I've ever come to a Russian ballet company is being given a box of chocolates a family friend bought at intermission while seeing the Bolshoi perform in Moscow. I think I was about 12 or 13 at the time, and I treasured the chocolates for a year or two before I realized they were going to expire and I had to eat them then or not at all. I think I still have the empty package stowed away with my old exam waist bands (remember those?). Needless to say, I valued these silly Bolshoi chocolates like I would a famous dancer's old pair of pointe shoes.

Anyway, for the first time since 1989, the Mariinsky Ballet (formerly known as the Kirov) are coming to Toronto in March 2011. Yes, I have already purchased my opening night ticket. They are performing Swan Lake, which is so exciting because it is a ballet particularly famed for the virtuosity required to dance it. It is also exciting because it is a ballet whose interpretations are particularly varied (see my review of James Kudelka's version below). I have yet to research the version of Swan Lake that the Mariinsky performs, but I imagine it's after the Lev Ivanov/Marius Petipa choreography.

For any readers in the Toronto vicinity, you can purchase tickets here. In April, my apartment will be filled with expired intermission food (just kidding... maybe....).

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The National Ballet of Canada's Swan Lake, 2010

The following is a review I wrote a while ago:

            In March, I saw the National Ballet of Canada’s production of the ballet ‘Swan Lake.’ The production was sinister and had very dark elements: the distinctly black and gothic décor of the palace interior during Act III, and the blatant objectification of Odette by both Rothbart and Siegfried during Act IV. Tchaikovsky’s romantic score to the ballet, however, is exquisite, most notably for its use of specific instruments to create vivid imagery of royal scenes, the desolate lake, and the beautiful swan Odette. 
            The ballet is based on a German folk tale originally set in medieval times. Siegfried, a young prince, is anxious about his mother’s demand that he marry. While hunting in the woods, he becomes separated from his friend and discovers the evil Rothbart. Rothbart presents Siegfried with Odette, who is under Rothbart’s spell and in the form of a swan. Siegfried falls in love with her. Later, the queen has planned a ball to present her son with several foreign princesses, with the intent that he will choose one to marry. Rothbart arrives at the ball with his daughter Odile disguised as Odette. Siegfried dances with Odile and announces that he will marry her, unknowingly betraying Odette. Triumphant, Rothbart floods the palace and only Siegfried survives. He returns to Swan Lake to find Odette; though she forgives him, she will now remain in swan form forever. In this version, Rothbart kills Siegfried, and Odette is left to mourn the tragic loss of her lover. 
            The production was performed at the National Ballet’s home venue, the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto. This particular performance featured Xiao Nan Yu as Odette/Odile, Jiří Jelinek as Prince Siegfried, and Patrick Lavoie as Rothbart. Yu gave a formidably strong performance in her role as Odette. However, during Act III, as Odile, she fell short of expectation. She could not complete Odile’s famed 32 fouetté turns, falling off pointe after her 24th turn. Patrick Lavoie, by contrast, gave a hauntingly powerful performance; to be sure, this was a ballet of male oppressors. 
            ‘Swan Lake’ has been a staple of the National Ballet’s repertoire since its founding. The first full-length production of the ballet was in 1955 at the Palace Theatre in Hamilton, after the choreography of Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. In 1967, the company presented the world premiere of Erik Bruhn’s version, which recasted Rothbart as a Black Queen, and highlighted Prince Siegfried’s complicated relationship with women. The most current version in the company’s repertoire was choreographed by James Kudelka. Kudelka’s ballet premiered in 1999. The choreography is controversial and highly misogynistic; the production is hated by purists, but continues today to draw in intrigued crowds. 
            Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was commissioned in 1875 to compose the score for ‘Swan Lake’ based on a libretto by Vladimir Petrovich Begichev, the then Intendant of the Imperial Theatre in Moscow. The job was one particularly fitting for Tchaikovsky: while a young man, he was a well-educated lawyer working for the Russian Ministry of Justice, who maintained, in secret, a broody, fantastical dream of composing music.[1] Prince Siegfried’s dangerous decision to follow his heart and leave behind the wealth and security of his royal court parallels Tchaikovsky’s nervous entry into the world of music, having left behind a respectable, well-paying job. 
            The romantic score, complete with soaring violins at the ballet’s most heart-wrenching moments, reflects Tchaikovsky’s fascination with “the works of such unorthodox masters of orchestral colour, as Glinka, Berlioz, and Wagner.”[2] Tchaikovsky was inspired by Wagner’s Leitmotivs: “the association of a particular melodic theme or phrase with a certain character or incident.”[3] Odette is associated with the famous oboe solo, which implies inevitable despair even during her happiest of moments. 
            This oboe theme is delicate and melodious, but the oboe’s bitter edge hints also at the hidden strength and aggression of a swan. The orchestra joins in with full force, however, playing a major variation on this theme, with gently escalating pitch, as Odette becomes more trusting of Siegfried. Piano and ­­­­­­­tremolo strings played whenever the corps de ballet, representing the flock of swans, slowly bourréed on stage, evoking a vivid image of gently rippling water. The dry ice accompanied with the dancers’ air-like entrance made the dancers look as though they were really floating on water. 
Xiao Nan Yu’s interpretation of Odette was extremely impressive. In Act II, there was one drawn-out moment where she captured the swan’s trusting innocence perfectly; she penchéed gradually lower towards Siegfried, as if falling more and more in love with him, becoming vulnerable to anything he did in the rest of the ballet. She used rubato in her movements, floating gracefully across the stage while occasionally darting about with exquisite footwork, revealing the hidden violence and dexterity of the swan. 
By Act III, however, Yu was extremely fatigued, and lacked the necessary sparkly eroticism that accompanies Odile’s character. That, together with her failure to complete the required 32 fouetté turns, made her performance disappointing. The audience came to Swan Lake expecting to be amazed by the incredible versatility needed to perform the dual roles of Odette and Odile, and Yu failed to meet that expectation. 
The most striking aspect of this performance was undoubtedly the blatant objectification of women. There was only one woman in the first court scene — the program listed her as “A Wench”— who was ultimately gang-raped by Siegfried’s courtiers at the end of the scene. In the fourth Act, the audience didn’t see Odette fight for Siegfried as she does in other versions. Rather, Siegfried and Rothbart looked like angry children fighting over a toy; Siegfried even grabbed Odette at one point, and forced her beautiful arms down to her side while he held her in defiance. The dark choreography challenged the audience’s perspective of ‘Swan Lake,’ however, and proved that ballet can be poignant and progressive. I was overall extremely impressed with the National Ballet’s staging as well as the beautiful performance by the company orchestra.

[1] Cyril Beaumont, The Ballet called Swan Lake (London: Wyman & Sons, Ltd., 1952).
[2] Beaumont, 28
[3] Beaumont, 34

Is Ballet Dying?

I started this blog because I live and breathe ballet. For me, it is the most beautiful art form in existence. I have many friends who are dancers who would fervently agree with me. Why, then, is the demographic of ballet adorers so small? And why is there such a disconnect between those who love ballet, and those who are indifferent to it?

Ballet audiences today generally consist of older patrons with season tickets, dancers and dance critics, and the occasional dude trying to impress his date. Some of my non-dancer friends fondly recall donning their pink tights and tutus as 6 year olds, but their connection with the art ends there. Ballet is so esoteric for young people who aren't die-hard fans that seeing a ballet for fun is unheard of. Why can't the average person you bump into on the street have any appreciation for something many people live for?

Perhaps I'll answer these questions from my point of view in a later post, but any readers can sound their opinions off via comments.