Category Archives: ballet movies

Break, Return, Comparing Videos, And A Ballet Movie

Here’s a fun fact: I haven’t taken an actual ballet class going on two weeks. Most of this is owing to the fact that my school – and possibly every school in the surrounding area – is on break until next year. But you know me; I’ve never let that stop me, and school breaks are usually a time to work on my own on the things that are too fast-paced during class (like double frappes, coordinating quick legs with slow arms, and all those other things which make no sense at first in normal-time). But for most of this break, I’ve been resting up, taking it easy. By the end of this past session my body was in serious need of some recovery time. My logical-practical side said to rest, my artistic-illogical side wanted to ballet some more. Being a baby about pain – or the possibility of pain – logic won out, for a bit…

Today, though, I took myself back to the barre. Just my home barre, with Kathryn Morgan’s Easy Ballet Barre on youtube, but it felt so good to dance again. I had to follow it up with the Easy Center video. Depending on how I’m feeling tomorrow will decide if I stay with the Easy videos for the next week or so or go straight into the Classic barre and other more intermediate-level barre and center videos. Even though I’ve been keeping up my strength by doing pilates, my overall stamina has already taken a dip. I’d hate to see how fast it all goes away if I did nothing at all. Same for my flexibility – I felt so stiff, even though I have been still doing some form of stretching, like the aforementioned pilates and the very occasional yoga (don’t get me started on my guilt for pretty much abandoning yoga again…).

I just can’t get over how wonderful it felt to just dance though! And since I hadn’t worked on these particular combinations since the last time I was on break almost 5 months ago, I was surprised to see that they remained in muscle memory, but not only that, I’ve improved since then.  My home studio/kitchen’s crappy floor, however, has not improved. I’d love to have a place to regularly practice when the school’s practice room is unavailable or on breaks, but for now I’ll just be glad that I at least have the practice space I do have.

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Something cool that came out of the end of the session was some informal performance opportunities. What I especially like about informal performances is the chance to get a video to show my non-dancer friends and family (who will then be totally impressed by the simple fact that this grown up got through an entire dance routine without falling on her derriere and know nothing of techinique), as well as for me to scrutinize. For what it’s worth, Boyfriend seemed captivated by the video, saying I was “very graceful” (!) so perhaps this means my dancing’s ok? My family will be rather amused when they watch it.

I think that video is one of the most useful tools available to gage my progress as a dancer. The obvious reason would be that it provides an objective “memory” of where my dancing skill was around that time. Take for instance, around two years ago; I thought I was getting much better at ballet because I was past the falling over at every instant phase, but I didn’t know what I was doing wrong. Now, watching the videos from back then it’s so easy for me to see what was wrong (where to begin!), but at the same time so hard to describe. And very hard to teach, since verbally I mostly respond to anatomical corrections, and there’s more to it than that. I think in the end, the learning method that worked for me was to watch the advanced people, and get the nerve to copy them without being told.

I watch the videos ot only to see the numerous mistakes made, but also  the things I did right. And I guess what it comes down to is, which stick out more to me – will I focus on the failures or successes? While that may feel like a rhetorical question, it is one I ask myself often. It may seem like I don’t have very many successes – at this point in my ballet story I barely have a single pirouette (on a good day), and my technique, once we speed it up, is at times quite sloppy – but I’ll consider the fact that I’m still dancing a success. I love dancing so much, and for the first few years of dancing it definitely didn’t love me back. Perhaps it still doesn’t, but by now I don’t care because I have enough love for both of us… or something like that.

Having new videos made me decide to go back and review all my past videos of performances or rehearsals, to compare as much as to reminisce. It’s been such a fun journey! From back when I knew what I wanted to dance but there was no way I could physically pull it off to now when I still know what I want to do, even if I still can’t do it. But there’s also so much that I can do, and my ballet vocabulary has grown so much.

When I first started ballet, my expectations for myself were low. I mean, I couldn’t hold my balance, so there was no need for far off goals when something simple would be a challenging goal in itself. I dreamed of the day when I’d been able to do more steps without falling over, but I also dreamed of the day when I would feel comfortable in class. I didn’t know which of these things would come first, but there was nothing to do but continue to practice. That continues to be my strategy – just practice. I’m not delusional enough to think that I have “talent” (not sure I even believe in the concept of talent, just a premature maturity/ intelligence, and a physical facility) but I know that I do believe in repetition and dedication, and the unexpected results.

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Browsing Netflix , I came across a newish dance movie High Strung, another of those ballet/hip-hop fusion movies, this one with the added twist of an amazing violinist on the run from the law. Since I’m always on the look out for a new dance flick, I settled in to watch and it was very entertaining and action-packed.

I found the main character, Ruby, relateable in her struggles with picking up Contemporary (not-so-relateable in that she’s an amazing dancer who can also whack her head with her leg like it’s nothing). There was the stereotypical mean bunhead character, and the dancer who has so much “talent” but can’t be bothered to go to class and would rather stay out all night (ugh, I hate this concept in movies! I feel like it promotes the idea of someone putting in no effort and still coming out on top). Pretty standard dance movie/ tv series, except for the addition of the violinist who plays for tips by the subway tracks and hangs out with a hip hop crew. The dance and music sequences were great, including several battle scenes, both dance battles and violin playing battles. Writing about it is making me want to go watch it again!

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Flesh And Bone, Anyone Watch It?

 

When a classmate mentioned to me a couple of months ago that there was a new ballet series, I put it on my to-do list for a future day.  That day turned out to be over this past weekend, when I unexpectedly found myself with a copy of it on dvd.

I guess I should clarify that I hadn’t heard or read anything about this show besides that it was from one of the writers of Breaking Bad or something. Boyfriend and I binge-watched all the seasons of Breaking Bad about a year ago on Netflix, so I get it that it was going to be rated R. However, I was unprepared for just how… graphic the show is. Also, I’ve only watched the first three or four episodes so far; I decided I need to take a break and watch something more light-hearted for a few days.

The actual ballet dancing appears to fade into the background, with graphic nudity and explicit – not to mention abusive, exploitative, violent, etc -sex scenes taking main focus. There are way too many extended scenes taking place in a strip club. I mean,we get it, a character (or two?) works there (how they would have any time and energy left after rehearsing with a professional company all day every day is anyone’s guess). Why must we then repeatedly watch random other girls’ extended-take striptease dance when we can’t seem to get beyond a few short clips of ballet class here and there (including this beautiful adagio danced by Sarah Hay in the first episode that is seriously the only scene I’ve felt the urge to watch more than once – if anything, I’ve fast-forwarded quite a bit…). Perhaps I’m old-fashioned – no wait, I know  I’m old-fashioned – but I just don’t understand how this level of gratuitous nudity is relevant to the plot. If the writers needed it to emphasize any character development traits and they couldn’t think of any other way, in my opinion they’re not very good writers. Come on, stop just going for the cheap thrills!

I don’t know… I watched Black Swan and was surprised when a different classmate had said it was graphic, but this seriers is so much more intense. It presents a (hopefully at least partly fictional or at least exagerrated – can’t say “exagerrated” with out an “r rated”, ha ha) picture of the professional ballet dancer world that definitely does not make me wish I’d could’ve been one. It takes people that we may admire (in the general sense, like their dancing), and makes them not just regular people, but incredibly messed up trainwrecks of people. I don’t think there’s one likable character in the whole bunch (except maybe the homeless dude, yes seriously). I’ve met ex-pros before (taken class from or with) and they seem like perfectly normal people. Well, extremely flexible, with good posture, and in better shape than average normal people.

And yes, I am also asking myself if it makes me somewhat hypocritical that I enoyed Breaking Bad but seem to find this show draining. I think it’s because with the other show I knew right from the premise that it was about something somewhat dark (the illicit manufacture and trade of drugs), whereas with this genre (ballet movies) I thought it could be something like Dance Academy, Center Stage, or at it’s most graphic, Black Swan. I was wrong.

Am I just super uptight and showing my age? (Ha!)

Anyone else watch it? What are your thoughts?

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Big Ballet, Have You Watched This?

… and if you have, what’d you think?

While searching youtube for ballet a couple days ago (literally typed “ballet” into the search bar), hoping to find something besides my usual favorites, I came across Big Ballet. Curious, I clicked on it and was instantly hooked, ending up watching all three episodes that night.  Now watching it all the episodes through for a second time…

I tried embedding the videos, but for whatever reason it’s not working right now. As I’m much too tired to try to figure it out right now, it’ll have to wait for a later date. But all three episodes are found on youtube.

This is the first I’d heard of there being a reality show about a group of larger amateur dancers who are trained to put on a recital, a short version of Swan Lake. After a  quick online search, I found that apparently not everyone believes this show is a good idea believing that it exploits overweight women.  The women (and there was also men too, though they were not really big in my opinion, though bigger than a typical male dancer, I suppose) in the show looked absolutely thrilled  to be there, so I don’t know about that.

In general, I love this show.  Some of these dancers are really good, and I find it really inspirational to see people with different shapes from the dancer “norm” body (seriously, in the comments for one of the videos someone said something like “But some are not even ‘big’.” and someone replied “Yeah, but in ballet that’s considered too big” or something like that) dancing so beautifully and being trained to perform. They seemed so happy while dancing, too, and several (at least) expressed how it was a dream come true. I hope this doesn’t get taken the wrong way, but watching some of the more allegro sequences I thought ‘if these ladies can jump and turn so well then I have no excuse blaming my poor technique on the weight of my chest.’ I’m amazed at how strong they are!

Another thing I really like is all the shots of people wearing regular clothes doing ballet moves out in public. It’s nice to be reminded that there’s a lot of us ballet amateurs out there, and to see people doing ballet outside of class.  Feels good to know I’m definitely not the only one.

However, I think it would have been nice if the show could have been focused on all amateus who don’t fit the body norm, not just large people (but then I realize they wouldn’t have been able to use the title “Big Ballet”).  While casting, even before the first audition phase I believe, people were turned down for not being big enough, which just seems wrong. The ballet body ideal is so specific that there are many – would be accurate to say most  of the adult population – of us who don’t fit it, despite not being of a BMI higher than 25 or 30 or what ever the cutoff was ( they said sizes 12-22, but I have no idea how that matches up to American clothes sizes). My point is that if there was ever something like this near me – the performing amateur ballet thing, not the reality tv part – I would love to audition, and it’s seriously messed up if I wouldn’t be big enough, though I’m obviously not small enough for ballet either…

At times some of the other people on the show made some pretty insensitive comments (I’m thinking of the ex-Artistic Director specifically), regarding ballet dancers and body type. So discouraging!  Also, I noticed that Wayne Sleep  kept pointing out how they are so talented, but it’s been their size that holds them back. That made it a little bit less releatable for me because besides not having the “right” body type for ballet I also don’t have much talent… but like, those of us without much talent can feel a need to dance too, you know?

(I hope I’m not just horribly missing the point here…)

Criticisms aside, an enjoyable eway to spend a few ballet-related hours!

Ballet Movies: Billy Elliot and Mao’s Last Dancer

This was ballet movie weekend!

A few weeks ago, I received some good suggestions for ballet movies that I hadn’t seen that would be fun to check out.  I’d been keeping an eye out for them, on netflix, whenever I go by my local used book and movie store, hoping to stumble across them. Then week before last, while watching Black Swan (yes, I know… but I like it, even though it’s not considered a good (I guess they mean accurate) ballet movie. Whatever…) a trailer came on for Mao’s Last Dancer. After another focused search in person I gave up and gave in and had Boyfriend order it online.  As a bonus, he got me Billy Elliot  as well. I’d never seen either of these (or even heard of them before last month).

First up, I watched Billy Elliot.  As I watched the movie, I had a lot of questions: Why are the female students wearing tutus during barre (I thought tutus were only for performances)? Why do they go straight from plies to center? In fact, do they alternate back and forth between barre and center (never had a class in which we did that)? How can they breathe with all off the teacher’s second hand cigarrette smoke in their face? (The answer to all these questions may be “Because it’s a movie. Duh, you can’t expect it to be realistic.”  But then why all the dislike towards Black Swan and how unrealistic it is? Or it it because using a real ballet dancer to do many of the dancing scenes and not giving credit is such a shady move?)

But despite the questions, I found the movie very enjoyable. Felt like I could really identify with the scene of Billy practicing his pirouettes over and over and over (and over and over some more) – in fact, that was me earlier today!  Loved it when he would start dancing, kind of awkward at first, and then he would get really into it, showing some feeling.  Really loved it when he described dancing as “electricity”.  I thought the dynamic with his friend Micheal was adorable, as well as with Mrs. Wilkinson’s daughter (forgot her name).  I liked the accents, the little humorous comedy moments.

And the ending – I totally teared up! It was so great that Billy’s family and friend came to watch him dance, I loved it, it felt like I could see his father’s pride and acceptance of his son.

So, I head the Swan Lake music, and saw Billy getting ready and thought ‘Oh, he must be playing Rothbart, weird, a Rothbart wearing white.’  But no, he’s actually playing the Swan. So, I looked it up, and apparently it is Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, which features a cast of male swans.  I’d never heard of it, so then of course I had to watch it (youtube, how I love you sometimes… even when you make me sit through stupid unskippable ads that I refuse to watch).  It is amazing – I’d love to catch it live one day!

So after a night of Billy Elliot and Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake how do you top that off? Mao’s Last Dancer.  

Previously to actually watching the movies I hadn’t realized that on the surface the plots have their similarities.  They both feature the rise of a talented male dancer from an unconventional back ground; Billy, an English working class miner’s son, and Li Cunxin, the sixth son of an peasant family in rural communist China. Both boys leave their families to receive dance training and acheive stardom.  However, I think that’s where the similarities end.

(Oh, and of course, Swan Lake is featured in Mao’s Last Dance as well. Seems it’s the most iconic ballet or something.  Makes me feel like a total poser for saying Swan Lake is my favorite of the Tchaikovski ballets.)

Billy Elliot was somewhat lighthearted, despite the tense family scenes involving Billy’s father original disapproval for his son’s new extracurricular activity, or the discussions of his young friend’s philandering alcoholic father. Mao’s Last Dancer was more intense, on the other hand.  It’s like, I understand that there was a lot at stake for Billy to pass his auditions (as in, his dad was willing to cross the picket lines to raise the money), but when Cunxin woke up from his nightmare in which his parent’s were assassinated for his refusal to return to China I was like “Oh no! He gave up everything!” (then I realized he was dreaming… I’m a little slow at movies sometimes…).  The movie had a more serious tone, I guess is what I’m trying to say. There were some ominious undertones (like when the ballet teacher who advocated a more Western style is taken off, presumably to a not-so-nice place), but also had the occasional humorous moment.

And the dancing! After all, that’s why I even found myself watching it, the dancing. Chi Cao played Li Cunxin and he was awesome.  He seems so light, so free.  The sequences when he was being trained since a young age were so fun to watch, and I really like his determination.  It wasn’t one of those being “naturally talented” situations, rather than obsessive amounts of practice (or at least that’s what I got from it, as he was told several times that he was weak). The dancer that played his pas de deux partner was amazing as well. I loved the scene when they first danced together, before he comes to the U.S., my jaw seriously dropped.

As for the character himself, I don’t know, I thought he came across as a bit of a jerk.  So he marries the poor aspiring dancer girl (Liz), gets to not be forced to return to China,  then expects her to do all kinds of chores around the house and serve him? Then, when she won’t he basically leaves her for his pas de deux partner? What the hell?! Where’s your committment, boy? I thought you said you  loved her!

(Seriously though, I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt; maybe after all the went through he was scarred for life? Maybe he just really didn’t want to go back? Maybe he wasn’t raised to not play around with a girl’s emotions? Maybe there were a lot of theater politics? But seriously, from the trailer I’d gathered that he marries someone and stays in the country, so I’d assumed it was going to be the same girl. Maybe I’m old-fashioned LOL.)

Anyway, I recommend both of these movies. Two pointed feet up!

More Netflix Surfing…

My ballet-related Netflix surfing continues…

First up was the sequel to Street Dance (3D), Street Dance 2 (what’s next, the threequel being called Street Dance 1 LOL).  As it was not ballet related whatsover, I quickly grew bored and didn’t finish watching it…

I then searched for the word “Dance”. And up pops Dance Academy.

I see this show is from 2010. As a person who doesn’t watch tv, not counting Netflix, I’m used to being behind the times. Whatever.

Besides, when I get into a show I like to watch all the seasons through. I’m not big on end-of-season cliffhangers.

So I decided to watch it. This will keep me occupied, as well as my home practice sessions, on the ballet-related front until my next class.

Opening scene: young girl doing barre out in the great outdoors (a pasture for livestock, we find out). Ok, you got my attention. But then, the quote “… in another life I could fly, and that’s why, in this life, I dance.” Whoa! Blew My Mind. I felt like “Girl, get out of my head!”

We’ll see how I feel about this show by the time I’m done watching it (I just finished the first episode). So far I like the scenes that involve dancing and class, but the other scenes are, I don’t know… boring? Predictable? Unrealistic? (How is even possible for something to be both predictable and unrealistic anyway?)

The outdoor dancing scene from the first episode is amazing, the main character, Tara, looked so happy while dancing.  I loved watching it – and rewinding and rewatching – but at the same time the logistics was bothering me. Is it possible to dance en pointe on grass?

Sometimes it’s hard for me to suspend disbelief and enjoy movies. That’s why I usually just end up watching documentaries and ballet…

Oh, and it’s apparently on youtube as well.

But I like subtitles (they keep me from getting bored when there’s no pretty dancing to look at), so Netflix it is.

New Year’s Eve Netflix Surfing…

picture courtesy of the internet

picture courtesy of the internet

Spent a fun, quiet New Year’s Eve at home watching movies in my sweats – ring in the New Year in style! As Wednesdays are my ballet evening class days, it means one more week with no class – boo!

Anyway, I ended up watching ballet clips on youtube and watching ballet related movies on Netflix.  First, up Ballerina, which is my favorite ballet documentary on Netflix.  Then, I don’t remember if it was suggested to me, or maybe I was just browsing through titles, I came across a movie called Street Dance (3D).  Wouldn’t have caught my attention, except in the description it mentioned something about a ballet academy. Ok, sure, why not? What do I have to lose…

The premise is that a street dance crew has an upcoming competition and nowhere to practice. Through some (very unrealistic) turn of events, they end up being given permission to practice in the studio of a ballet academy. The catch? They must include some of the ballet dancers – whom the teacher is hoping to inspire – in their street dance style dance.

Predictably, both sides initially clash then eventually come together and put on the best performance of their lives. Pretty terrible dialogue, and unrealistic – but then, what do I know, I’ve never been in either a conservative dance academy, nor a street dance team – situations (maybe food fights are common occurences…), but I did enjoy listening to the main character’s accent. Hey, it may not be such a bad movie, but to be fair the target audience is probably about half my age…

I did end up at times making generous use of the fast-forward button, but the dancing sequences themselves are not bad. Basically, a fusion of ballet and street dance. It was neat seeing what ballet dancers could do with their strength if they danced a different style.  A very creative use of the Waltz of the Sugar Plum Fairy is involved.

Check it out; what do you have to lose…

And I guess anything that gets more people interested in ballet is a good thing, right?