Sunday, October 31, 2010

Gaynor Mindens

I am trying out Gaynor Mindens for the first time to see if I like them. They have a higher vamp than Suffolk Solos, so they sickle with my foot nicely, but I'm not sure if I like the feel of them yet.

What I am sure of is that they are a pain in the BUTT to sew ribbons on. I now have needle stab marks on my right hand fourth finger.

Ring by Tiffany & Co. War wounds by Gaynor Minden.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Icarus by Ballet Jörgen

A quick note: I just saw Ballet Jörgen perform a contemporary ballet work called 'Icarus', choreographed by Malgorzata Nowacka. If you EVER have the chance to see them perform this, do not turn it down. The ballet is based on the well-known myth, but is a depiction of how Icarus might have responded to the forces of nature around him throughout his life. Nowacka's choreography is powerful and deeply visceral. The ballet is a show of masculine dominance asserting itself as the personification of nature (all the men represent nature while all the women represent Icarus). The female dancers, however, are also aggressive, constantly attempting to challenge the 'natural forces' around them. They physically push the men, but can never move far away from them, and often indicate the challenge of the sun's brightness by holding up a flexed hand between their faces and the stage spotlights. 

Tonight was the first time I've seen Ballet Jörgen perform in about four years, and it was a great pleasure to see their dancers again. There were a lot of new faces, one of them being Danielle Rosengren, who is a gorgeous dancer, and very beautiful in general. I look forward to seeing her dance again in the future!


Opening confession: I have never done any partnering work before. I've danced with boys, but never any pas de deux per se. That is, until very recently. I've choreographed a short ballet piece which tells the story of two lovers separated by war. A friend of mine and I are performing it for the first time in about two weeks. Needless to say, I am extremely nervous about this, but I've been having lots of fun partnering with Ryan. He's been teaching me all sorts of scary lifts.

Any readers who are experienced dancers will probably roll their eyes and say, "Duh!" to this post. I am only just learning how challenging and rewarding partnering work is, and many of you might already know all about it.

Obviously, there is so much trust required. I have to trust that Ryan can hold and lift me, just as he trusts that I am pulling up and not relying on him too much. However, I have never in my life felt so honest with someone outside my nuclear family. Ryan knows all my physical faults. He knows when I'm not balancing properly, and he feels when my frustrating left hip is tight. Despite feeling self-conscious about the revealing of all my flaws, I have no choice but to depend on him physically, otherwise our movements together don't work. This leaves me feeling very vulnerable, but that vulnerability is what makes our dancing beautiful, and helps to evoke the story of love I am trying to portray.

There are moments in our piece when me relying on Ryan more makes a certain suspension easier for him to hold. Pushing myself increasingly off-balance and trusting that he can balance me is a big 'leap of faith', as it were, but each time we pull off a balance well, our partnership is further solidified. The more we use each other, the better our ballet dancing is as a team.

I realise that I am not making any ground-breaking revelations here. Good teamwork is all about relying on each other to overcome individual shortcomings and perform well collectively. I've never been part of a team, though, that required such honesty and vulnerability on the part of the individual. Strangely, that vulnerability and dependence on someone else ultimately creates a very satisfying experience, and the satisfaction is selfless.

Partnering has enriched my dancing because it motivates me to work harder and pay more attention to my core muscles. It has also given me insight into how serious friendships and relationships really work. I have always been too afraid to depend on anyone outside my family. Now I share my most personal love, ballet, with a great friend who, despite knowing all my flaws, catches me literally and metaphorically as I fall.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ballet and The Whole Self

Today I'd like to talk about how complete ballet is; a wholly satisfying and fulfilling endeavour if there ever was one. Ballet in particular requires so much of the dancer that, more than any other form of dance, it is a constant, intensive exercise in self-examination.

I posted a video a while ago of Aria Alekzander of the Houston Ballet. "What do I feel like when I dance?" she asks. "I feel alive. I feel like the most of me gets to be exposed to the rest of the world. I feel like everything I feel and am on the inside I get to share with people in the most honest way." This is actually an amazing way of expressing why so many dancers have a deep love affair with ballet.

Ballet requires literally all of you; everything you have and more. Ballet dancers use their entire bodies to express themselves, to tell their own, or another person's, story. The movement inherent in ballet pushes the body to many physical extremes. Ballet is a magnificent display of extreme flexibility, strength and agility. And physicality is not all that is required. A dancer must be musically educated: they must understand music's technicality, sometimes studying entire scores. Dancers need to understand dynamics and tempo. Every single movement they make must be a response to the timing and variations in the sound of the music they are dancing to. Dancing is so necessarily intertwined with music: it must seem like the dancer is somehow creating the music as an illustration of the story they are portraying.

A skill that aligns with musicality is that of acting and performance. Dancers are actors- they play roles. As stage actors know, however, engaging an audience can prove challenging. Good acting does not a good performer make. Dancers must engage the audience with their face and eyes. While thinking about the technicality of the movement, their dancing must seem to create a magnetic aura around them. Every single movement must be infused with energy and with meaning. A dancer acts with their entire body.

Don't for a second think that once a dancer learns their steps, they can focus on acting and immerse themselves in their character. Ballet technique is an ongoing struggle that requires a lot of brain power. Take, for instance, the simplest action in ballet: the plié. Here's a piece of advice. Don't ever ask a dancer what they are thinking about when they perform a plié. Simplest action in ballet? Yes. Simple? No. Proper turnout requires immense upper leg strength. Correct posture literally takes years to learn (I still don't have it and I've been dancing for upwards of thirteen years), as does proper carriage of the arms. Ankles must be supported so that the feet don't roll forwards. Exhausted already? You haven't even started the plié. Studies have been done on the ridiculous amount of activity that takes place in the brain while a human being stands on one leg. Now imagine the brain activity of a dancer standing en pointe on one leg, with their other leg lifted as high as possible behind themselves. No wonder so many dancers become intellectuals.

There is clearly a lot to think about. For an exercise in brain power, try working against yourself. We've all done the tummy rubbing, head patting thing to prove we can isolate different parts of our body. This isolation is something dancers are particularly good at. While their legs might be working harder than they've ever worked yet in their lives, no tension is shown in the upper body. Arm movements are not jerky and forceful, they are smooth, delicate and flowing. No matter how hard a dancer's bottom half may be working, the fluidity and ease of the upper body makes it look as though they are relaxed and floating on water. That's part of what makes ballet so beautiful. 

The fact that this post is so long and hasn't ended yet illustrates my point. The next skill I will point out is spatial awareness. A dancer must be completely aware of the numerous intricacies of their own body. They must know what a beautiful, long line feels like, since they cannot always be checking themselves in the mirror. However, on stage and in class, a dancer must also be constantly aware of their surroundings. Using the space that is available to its full potential helps to engage an audience's interest, and adds animation and depth to the dancing. When performing a ballet, the dancers' spacing on stage has been planned with the utmost detail. Making a movement as large and grandiose as possible doesn't matter when you are dancing in a corps de ballet and must stay in one exact position. 

Staying in that exact position may not matter so much when a dancer beside you is about to kick you in the face. Whatever must be sacrificed to make a ballet look beautiful must be sacrificed, even if it is proper technique, or missing a step to move slightly out of the way. If a corps dancer in front of you has musical timing that is slightly off, you follow him or her exactly. A line of dancers all slightly off from one another looks terrible. The same goes for a dancer in front of you whose spacing may be slightly off. If you're supposed to stand exactly behind her, you stand exactly behind her, no matter the cost. 

Let's recap: physicality that relentlessly pursues perfection, an awareness of your body's aesthetics, emotions, response to the music, spatial awareness, focus, memory of entire company repertoires, and attention-capturing energy. In my opinion, there is no other pursuit in life, except perhaps figure skating, that requires every facet and facility that you posess. And that is why ballet is so endlessly satisfying. Every time I dance, I spend myself, my whole self, every part of my self on this one goal. All my experiences, all my emotions-- past and present-- go into making my dancing expressive and beautiful. 

My respect, gratitude and admiration goes out to every dancer who gives themselves over, completely, to ballet every single day.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

First Annual Clive Barnes Awards

Clive Barnes was a prominent theatre and dance critic from the New York Post who sadly passed away in 2008 at the age of 81. His not-for-profit organisation, the Clive Barnes Foundation, has announced the first annual Clive Barnes Awards which honour young, emerging artists. One award will be given to an actor and one to a dancer.

The awards ceremony is free and open to the public. It takes place on the 9th of November at Lincoln Centre. Doors will open at 2:15pm. If you're in the New York City area, I strongly recommend attending. Otherwise, read about the five lovely and fabulous young dancers who are finalists for the dance award:

Aaron Carr of Keigwin and Company

Ghrai DeVore of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Chase Finlay of New York City Ballet

Hee Seo of American Ballet Theater

Leann Underwood of American Ballet Theater

Felicitations et bonne chance à tous!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Ballerina: A Documentary by Bertrand Normand

I recently bought this extremely well-made and fascinating documentary that follows five Kirov ballerinas over the course of about two years. Featured in the film are Alina Somova, Yevgenia Obraztsova, Svetlana Zakharova, Diana Vishneva and Ulyana Lopatkina. 

These dancers are all unbelievably beautiful and talented. Their bodies are perfect: very long limbs, perfect feet, gracefully held necks, and they are all super, super skinny. 

I have always admired Svetlana Zackharova, who is now prima ballerina at the Bolshoi, because of her beautiful figure. 

At the time of filming, Alina Somova, pictured above in Swan Lake, was just graduating from the Vaganova Ballet Academy. She is now a principal with the Mariinsky Ballet (at age 25) and a new favourite of mine. She is extremely pretty and her legs are insanely hyperextended!

If you ever wanted to learn about self-discipline, watch this film. The physical rigour that these tiny dancers put themselves through is mind-boggling.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Dancewear: the art of undressing, putting on a leotard and tights, then putting all your clothes back on.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Here is a review of two collaborations performed on the weekend by Cecilia Bengolea and Francois Chaignaud as part of New York City's Danspace Project.

I'm also posting some beautiful pictures of Dame Margot Fonteyn, courtesy of the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia. At the height of her career, Fonteyn was "the toast of both England and Parisienne couturiers".

 Margot Fonteyn with Rudolf Nureyev

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Side Note

If you guys haven't heard of Taylor Gordon, she is a fabulous freelance dancer and writer in New York City. Read the article about her in The New York Times here and check out her blog here.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The YouTube Phenomenon and Virtuosity

"Margot Fonteyn didn't have great feet."
"When Margot Fonteyn was on stage, you couldn't tear your eyes away from her. That can't be taught."

All you young balletomanes out there will recognise the above quote from the film 'Center Stage', which I have admittedly watched far too many times for my own good. Along with the video of Fonteyn performing the Rose Adagio from Sleeping Beauty which I've posted below, it serves well as a precursor to the point I will make in this post, which is that YouTube has helped to create an obsession with technical perfection, while de-emphasising the importance of artistry in ballet.

There are many technically brilliant dancers in the world right now. It doesn't take long to find YouTube videos of unbelievable extensions and 10-in-a-row perfect pirouettes. My personal favourite is a video of Royal Ballet star Alina Cojocaru holding the attitude balance from Aurora's Rose Adagio for eons. It's absolutely mind-blowing. Fonteyn's same balances pale in comparison to Cojocaru's.

At this point, if you haven't watched the video below, please do so. Fonteyn doesn't have insanely flexible feet; they're rather average, in fact. Her arabesque doesn't even hit a clean 90 degree angle to her supporting leg. Her penché is nowhere near 180 degrees, and these days, 180 seems to be the bare minimum for a penché. Notice, then, her brilliant smile that genuinely captures the youthful innocence and joy of a 16 year old Aurora. Watch the energy that her arms possess with every single movement. See the vigour and certainty with which she ends each of her pirouettes. On top of all this, her wrists are never too fluffy and her head movements are never cheesily over-exaggerated. Fonteyn is truly a breathtaking performer. 

The performance is what ballet is all about. Yes, we practise our technique relentlessly each day in class, but as dancers, we are ultimately actors and storytellers. Even when performing works like Balanchine's plotless ballets, we are expressing emotion, and we show our audience what ballet dancing really means to us. That's what makes a performance captivating, and special. 

Back to the subject of YouTube: I'm sure younger readers know what "trollin'" is. 'Trolls' are the losers who have nothing better to do than publish disparaging comments about other users' YouTube videos. Well, in case you don't already know, dancers are the most heartless, soulless trolls ever!! Here are a couple of comments from videos I have recently watched:

"there is an ideal body type for dance. Thin, lean, delicate limbs, flat chested. It makes it easier for the male to lift and carry you. No one wants to lift an elephant."
"make sure you're getting over your box when you echappe. "
"bad!!! shit so bad!!!!!"

That last one was awesome, right? Anyway, for some reason dancers the world over love to post videos of themselves practising, but they really adore criticising each other. This massive, hardcore, anonymous, collective critique session has resulted in only the most virtuosic videos being deemed acceptable. If Margot Fonteyn was a young girl who had uploaded this video of herself from, say, a recital at her dance school, she probably would have been relentlessly cyber-bullied by dancer trolls until she decided to quit ballet altogether. This would be a travesty in my books.  

If virtuosity is all that is appreciated about ballet, then why would anyone attend a performance when they can watch a perfect pirouette or developpé in a 30-second clip online? I will not go as far as hypothesising that YouTube is at the root of falling ballet ticket sales, but perhaps the ballet world's obsession with virtuosity is why ballet is no longer appealing to outsiders. Perfection is not something anyone in an audience can relate to. Constantly worrying about technical perfection detracts from the humanity of a performance. And though we may be dancers, we are also human.