Tag Archives: Ballet

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!

Thursday Class: The Right Kind Of Motivation

While I can’t speak for anyone else, I can tell you that watching a ballet video for me is the equivalent of having a double shot of espresso for the average adult – I get all hyped up and I want to dance (or at least attempt to dance)!  In between some of my classes I study in the library, not in a desk but in this open-area lobby they have with chairs, as that’s the only part of the library in which eating is allowed (and for me studying without food is like running without air). There is also a tv., which was driving me nuts during the first few week of school, but sometime in the last month whoever is in charge of changing the channel put in on the public access arts channel. Which means ballet (as well as opera, other styles of dance, or simply a live orchestra. Of course, the sound is off, so that defeats the purpose of that last one…)!

So I was settled comfortably in my chair, my books spread out before me, and I glance up – and see that it says Tchaikovski. My attention fully focused now, I read that it’s the Black Swan pas de deux with Maya Plitsetskaya and Valery Kovlun from 1973!  Ok, looks like my homework was going to wait…

Here it is for anyone that wants to enjoy it. With sound

(Maya Plisetskaya is an amazing dancer, 48 years old at the time the video was filmed.  I really like her version of Odile, though it is a different choreography from what I have gotten used to seeing.)

As they only showed the pas de deux, it turned out I had plenty of time for homework. And then off to ballet class!

At barre we once again did a mixture of facing the barre and one hand on the barre stuff, with the occasional barre-less stuff.  Our plies were facing the barre and when we turned sides to do the left almost everyone forgot how it went at some point (I noticed because when I did my cambre back and looked past my arm I saw a bunch of people hurriedly put their arm up and cambre).  It was funny, reminded me of my first semester when I had absolutely no idea what was going on during barre.

For tendus, we did tendus en croix then let go of the barre and temps lie to the right side, then other foot.  I definitely could not do temps lie during my first semester, and it took many months of me doing temps lie in all direction repeatedly in the living room to get somewhat stable. We did lots of degages once again, as well as piques.  The second time through we let go of the barre for the degages, which is something that I’d gotten used to by now.

Then we did echappe changements (the releve kind, not jumps) from fifth.  We did something like three sets and then hold the balance, like last class. Then Teacher told us to step back from the barre and do it with no hands. A moment of panic, cut short by the start of the music.  At least she said we didn’t have to hold the balance, just do 8 echappe changements in a row. Arms either hands on shoulders, hands on waist or a la seconde “if you can make them look pretty”.  As I wasn’t concerned about my arms but tipping over I went for the a la seconde arms. It went better than I expected, maybe my second position wasn’t as wide as it could be, or my fifth a little more closed, but I didn’t tip over or fall off balance. My arms were fine.

In center we did the 3 grand battements and passe balance (passe releve the second time) combination from last semester. I’ve been practicing it at home all along, so it’s gotten much better.  Teacher told me as much, before telling me to work on keeping my foot pointed on the way back down. That is something I’ve noticed needs work, as I think I exhaust all my concentration on the way up to have any left for the way down. For the  longest time I came down by falling off the (attempt at) balance, so it’s not as though I have much practice in lowering myself down gracefully.

It was a turning day for me! We did our chaines diagonally instead of across the studion, which normally feels  way harder for me.  And lately my turns have not been going particularly well even across.  My turns felt stable, I was actually spotting, and remembering to not drop my elbows. We were going across the floor in groups of three.  Which means that we’re relying on the other two people not swerving into our path or crashing into us.  Ever since I actually did collide with someone a few weeks or a month or so ago I’ve really gotten over my fear of crashing, seeing that it’s not as bad as I had imagined it (nobody fell! we didn’t go flying!). Still, when one of my classmates’ rapidly spining forms came too close for comfort I did let out a squeal. How balletic, I know, LOL.

Before doing a combination, Teacher told us to practice our balances, telling us during our balances to make sure we pointed our feet every time they come off the ground.  In one of those rare moments, she was actually looking in my direction when I did my slow-tempo-very-foot-pointed balance and said “Good!”.  From there I did the tombe, pas de bourree, finishing up in releve sous-sus with arms in high fifth. It was pretty good, actually (ugh, I worry I’m sounding all cocky here – I swear I’m not trying to!) as I finally got the hang of the coordination for the tombe pas de bourree, making sure my supporting leg was bent while my working leg was perfectly straight (and foot pointed), then going through the sous-sus position twice during the pas de bourree, as Teacher said to do. I think the reason doing these pas de bourree is so confusing for my body is because during my first semester I learned (and then practiced at home up until last semester) how to do the other kind of pas de bourree in which you put the back foot in coupe before releve and putting it down. So the kind where you step to the side to switch feet – though simpler, in theory – kind of throws me off. In IC we used both kinds and I always felt like I had no idea what I was doing.

For our balance combination, we did port de bras, two balances, then put our leg behind in B+ position with the opposite arm up high, then fondued on our front leg which cambre forward, then close to fifth and other side. It was a nice, slow combination, a change of pace from all the sautes, echappes and changements.

It was a good ballet day!

Ballet Math and My Pretty Picture Frame

Had a (ballet-related) conversation with Boyfriend this morning…

“Ok, so you know how there’s so much importance on how long  you’ve been doing ballet for? But it’s so arbitrary – I mean, what if you’ve been doing it for ten years but you only take class one a week (rare, I know, but bear with me…) versus someone who has been doing it for two years but goes five times a week? Assuming the classes are the same length wouldn’t they have both been taking class for the same amount of time? Has the other person really been doing it for longer? Or have they both been doing it for the same amount of time?” In case you couldn’t tell,  I am pretty intimidated by people who’ve been doing ballet forever.

“It would appear so…” he answered, almost absentmindedly, and I wasn’t expecting more of a reply.  So then he surprised me with: “But what if it’s not just about the time spent in class?”

“Huh?”

“Think about it.  You go to class and you come home and think about what you guys did and you practice it over in your mind. If you’ve only been doing it for a year then you’ve only been doing that for one year -”

“- and they’ve been doing that for that many years, most likely,” I finished, satisfied with our logic. Leave it to ballet, to make everything, even simple math, harder.  “Not only that, when you’re younger time just seems to last longer, like experiencially, you know? Like when you’re 5, a year will be a fifth of your life, and when you’re 10 it’s a tenth and so on. So I’ve been doing it for a much smaller fraction of my life as well.  Good thing it’s not a race ’cause there’s just no way I’ll ever catch up, it’s mathematically impossible!”

“Yes, Kit.”  LOL, something I love to hear…

Believe it or not, it feels good to have that sort of resolved. Will do absolutely nothing to fix my feelings of being intimidated, but it feels good to understand why.  It helps me keep it in perspective, I am doing just fine for my small fraction. It is not that there’s something wrong with me.

Ignore all my creepy cat knick-knacks in the background...

Ignore all my creepy cat knick-knacks in the background…

In other news, Boyfriend and I went by my favorite thrift store (the one I found a leotard at last October) and I found this cute ballerina picture frame.  I showed it to Boyfriend and he was like “You gotta get it and we’ll take pictures of you doing ballet and put them there.”

Awwww. He’s being really supportive about the my latest ballet-related struggles.

So we got it. Have yet to take the pictures, but I did so a series of pique turns in celebration at the store. So fun, definitely still enjoying ballet and dancing, just need to learn to not be so hard on myself during class.

A more close up picture of the frame

A more close up picture of the frame

And of the ballerina.

And of the ballerina.

Two-Class Thursday: Still Sore

End of the second week of class.

My thighs were still sore from Tuesday’s classes (and I’m sure my Pilates classes may have had something to do with that as well), so I was hoping we would go easy on those slow 4-count grand plies during B(eginner) C(lass) – no such luck.  We also did lots and lots of releves and eleves (going up with a plie and without plieing beforehand, respectively) so our calves could be as sore as our thighs.

Barre combinations included tendus and degages without holding on to the barre. I remembere last semester I was so stressed out about these. Six months makes quite a difference apparently…

We went across the floor with our waltz step, and then added a turn to it.  Definitely felt less scary than last semester, or all the other past semesters for that matter. First Teacher didn’t really teach how to do this, just said “Ok, you’re going to be doing a waltz step, yes?” and since most of the class was like “Ok!” she didn’t go into it further. Strict Teacher was actually pretty horrible about my lack of an ability to pick up the step quickly, kind of treating me like I was an idiot because I couldn’t get it right away.  But by now I’ve been practicing it – or at least had it in my body – for almost a year, so it’s starting to feel more effortless. Now I’m actually having fun with it, letting the arm movement carry my upper body side to side, as Teacher said it should.  Feels so lovely, so dance-y…

Thankfully, in I(ntermediate) C(lass) we didn’t do much grand plieing. Just the standard 2 demi plies, 1 grand plie, cambre forward and back (side when in second position) plie combination.  Our port de bras for the plies was confusing me, though now that I’ve (slowly) gone over it at home I see that it’s nothing new to me (we were starting with a low arm, going out and in during the first demi plie, then up to middle fifth and out during the second demi plie). But in the spur of the moment I just blanked out a little bit.  I think it was the perceived pressure; somehow I ended up in the barre that was up front and in center and I felt really on the spot. While in BC I’m happy with a spot up front – mirror space! – in IC I feel like I should hide a bit.  At least until I don’t completely destroy the combinations…

Speaking of destroying the combinations… where do I even begin?! The fast rond de jambes with the slow port de bras are still not looking good.  If anything, doing attempting to do the arms confuses my body so much that then even my rond de jambes get sloppy. We did a tendu combination at barre that involved angling our body differently – epaulement, I guess? – and it was so confusing. The only thing I remember out of all that is that in ecarte you look up at your hand. And then, during the beated frappes I totally slammed my foot into the floor – ouch. Beated frappes just don’t make sense to my body yet. At all. But by now at least I figured out that the reason I was confusing myself was that I’m used to frappe-ing out however many number of times and then tendu back in, but in this class we frappe front, a la seconde, and back without ever tenduing – and then we do the beated ones.  Also figured out that another reason I mess up is that I’m used to doing stuff en croix, but in IC we usually just go avant, a la seconde, and arriere, and then do something completely different for the fourth thing.  This is taking my body some time to get used to, and I still remain a somewhat slow learner…

For center we did the same tendu combination, except now Teacher told us to do a different port de bras. It was close enough to what we’ve been doing that it went ok for me.  I’ll be honest though, I feel like I am a bit out of my league. Like, here Teacher is telling us to be concerned with the way our hips are facing our “audience” and I’m still like ‘Yay! I didn’t tip over during those tendus and I can’t believe I can chasse and yay my pirouette almost went all the way aroung!’  I feel like there is this huge gap between what you learn in BC and IC, like how do you learn the stuff that comes after BC leaves off?  I mean, it seems like in IC it is assumed that the students know certain things but we weren’t taught this in BC!  I’m having lots of fun doing, I mean attempting to do the more complex combinations in IC, but I feel so overwhelmed!

We did the same 4 balancé, tombe, pas de bourre, en dedans pirouette combination, which unfortunately I hadn’t had time to practice at home at all, but with different port de bras (the first two with arms at middle height, the second two with our arms up high).  We did it in two separate groups so it was like ‘Great! Spotlight on my terrible dancing!’  The strange thing is though, I was having fun, just super-aware of my bad dancing. I couldn’t help smiling while attempting the combination (and falling out of my pirouettes, or completely botching the arms, or being a count behind, or any other mishaps.) – I know I’m not good at this, but I’m better than I was before and that means a lot to me. I refuse to punish myself over my far-from-perfect dancing. No, just no; as I have no intentions on ever doing this for a living I just don’t see the point in coming down so hard on myself.  Dance is supposed to be fun, in my opinion…

In pique turns across the floor, I got a correction: apparently, I don’t come down off releve in between pique turns.  I hadn’t even realized that I was doing that. Great, another bad habit that I have to break…

Our petit allegro combination was 4 sautes, 4 changements, 2 echappes, pas de bourre, echappe, pas de bourree, repeat.  I kept getting confused on the pas de bourre from the echappe, and the tempo was super fast (duh, that’s why it’s called allegro, but I guess I’m more of an adagio kind of girl).  Our across the floor jumps (grand allegro? or is it still petit?) combination was saute arabeque, saute with foof in coupe x2, saute arabesque x4 while switching the arms from one side to the other.  Yeah, I’m not even going to pretend that I knew what I was doing with the arms there…

There was this dancer though – possibly one of the regular students in the class but I’ve never seen him before – who was just absolutely amazing. When he jumped it was like he flew, seemingly catching some hang time, his body making perfect lines in the air, and he was doing beats with some of his jumps. It was so enjoyable to watch him, so hopefully he’ll be taking class with us again.

On Friday I finally got some time to go over the combinations from class on my own and at my own pace at home.  Something that helps me as I practice the move is to say the name of the move to myself as I do it, to remember the sequence of moves better. I’m getting it – slowly – and it’s enough to keep me from getting completely discouraged. Don’t get me wrong, I am feeling slightly discouraged, at times feeling like I have no business in IC.  I think what I’d had in mind was that it would be like BC, but just slightly harder.  I feel like in BC we were learning how to do the moves whereas in IC we’re supposed to know how to do the moves and we just get corrections on all the moves we should already know.  Sometimes I feel almost like I’m back at square one, feeling lost with terminology I don’t understand (yet) and unfamiliar body motions.  It’ll make sense, I’m sure, but for now I just feel exhausted.

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!

My Very Long And Unfocused Swan Lake Review

My little program thing

My little program thing

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to watch the Bolshoi Ballet’s Swan Lake “live” (broadcast in theaters), which I’ve been looking forward to for quite a while.  It was an interesting experience, to say the least: some great dancing, some accidents, some unfortunate costume decisions.  I had a great time though, and have not shut up about it since!

The day prior to the show, I did a little detective work, and found out from the Bolshoi Ballet’s website that Svetlana Zakharova was going to be dancing Odette/Odile.  Now, I know not everyone is in agreement, but I think Zakharova is amazing! I love those ridiculously high extensions, her flexibility, her feet. On youtube I’ve seen her dance Swan Lake with Roberto Bolle (who is distractingly good-looking – he looks like a stereotypical  cartoon handsome prince!) and it was great, so it made me look forward to the performance even more.

We arrived at the theater, got our tickets, and went to go have a seat at about 10 minutes prior to the posted start time.  The performance hadn’t started, but they were showing backstage footage of the dancers rehearsing as a lady (I think Katya Novikova) gave the audience a bit of background about the ballet. At this point Boyfriend remarked “I don’t like the Jester’s outfit,” which I thought was a rather odd thing to hear from a guy with literally no fashion sense. Of course, I got to feel stupid later when I realized why he had brought it up (stay tuned!).  I really enjoyed seeing the dancers rehearse a little bit, practicing their jumps and multiple pirouettes. On the other hand, Boyfriend didn’t want to look, saying that watching the rehearsing would “Ruin the magic.”  LOL, silly boy! Then they cut to the orchestra pit and the music started.  The surround sound of the theater is a definite improvement over my tiny iPad speaker, though I can’t even imagine how awesome it must sound truly live. I was so excited I had to reming myself to breathe a couple times.

When watching Swan Lake, one of the part I enjoy is the Jester/Fool, who in this case was danced by Igor Tsvirko.  He hit the stage and suddenly, I understood what Boyfriend had meant earlier.  In my opinion, whoever is in change of costumes made a bad call on his outfit. Specifically, the red and black tights (red on his right leg, black on his left), which made it all near impossible to see his legs up in the air.  While watching male dancers I especially enjoy watching them do those center-split-jumps – well, all jumps, really – and during this performance it just wasn’t happening. The backdrop scenery was too close of a color match to his dark tights. (And this really sucked, because the only way I even got Boyfriend to watch ballet is the promise of lots of jumps and leaps.  At least originally, I think he’s starting to like it For Reals.) It was still obvious that he’s a good dancer though, it just would have been more visible if he’d been wearing white tights. Luckily when he did some turns that were really cool (wish I knew the names of them) with his leg out to the side his red-tighted leg was his working leg and was visible.

Overall, it was a good first scene. The party scene soloists were all very good dancers, with the Fool not stealing the show as I think has happened in other versions of Swan Lake I’ve seen.  At some point I realized that I have the music to this ballet somewhat memorized, as one dance ended I was anticipating the next.  I love how the little solo dances get progressively harder, or at least more jumpy, which to me means harder.

This ballet was in 2 acts, so immediately after the party scene the Prince (danced by Denis Rodkin) takes off on his own (in other words, this was still act 1). Rothbart (danced by Artemy Belyakov), or The Evil Genius as he was known in this production (seriously) appeared and he was so dramatic.  It was great, I loved the part when he was, like, controlling the Prince, leading him to find the swans.  I really loved the way the two dancers were almost doing the same movements, it really conveyed the whole “controlling him” thing.  This is one of my favorite scenes for sure.

So, the Prince finds the lake, and there a few swans that do a little dance. Then comes the scene where the corps de ballet swans come out, single file, go across the stage, and line up in rows on either side of the stage.  They were almost in formation,  when suddenly one of the dancers slipped and fell! I was shocked! I’vd never seen a performance during which someone fell. I’m sure it happens (obviously, as it did) but since I hadn’t seen it I just hadn’t imagined that it could.  My first thought after ‘WTF!’ was ‘Oh good, it happened when they were almost in place,’ but for the rest of the performance every time the corps was ballet-running I was so stressed  out that if someone slipped the rest of the dancers were going to trample her or trip over her.  Seriously, it’s like if someone had to fall, if it happened when everyone was almost in place it was the safest time possible. It sucks that it happened at all though, maybe the stage was slippery? It was still act 1, so it hadn’t been cleaned during intermission (assuming that they even clean the stage during intermission, maybe I’m wrong here…).

The dance of the 4 Little Swans, another favorite of Boyfriend and I, was performed well.  I love seeing them do their echappes especially, it’s my favorite part of the pas de quatre, but the pas de chats are nice too. The dancers were roughly the same height and were in unison. The dance of the 3 swans, however, seemed off. The dancer to the farthest right (my left, while looking on) seemed as though she was behind the other 2 in timing, and her movements seemed a bit more exaggerated than the other two, her plies a bit deeper, her arms just slightly slower.  Who knows, maybe it’s on purpose, part of the choreography.  But honestly, I was a bit worried that someone was going to fall (again)…

Intermission was long, Artemy Belyakov (Evil Genius/Rothbart) was interviewed and I thought that besides his dramatic stage presence he looked pretty hot in his stage makeup.  Yeah, I’m so not reviewing this on technical things that matter, LOL.

Act 2, the party.  Recognized some of the soloists from the first act’s party.  They danced well, the prince danced well, the jester danced well, and then Odile and Evil Genius appear – with an entourage! They brought 6 black swans with them, which was different.  I may have seen a version with multiple black swans before, but it’s not the “norm”.  The black swans made their appearance again near the end of act 2 when the Prince rushes back to the lake after realizing he picked the wrong swan-girl.

Let’s see, Svetlana Zakharova was awesome.  Loved the White Swan pas de deux (like when the Prince twirls her on one foot, I love how her working foot is doing little tiny beats or something the whole time), as well as the little solo near the end of the scene (the kind of jumpy one).  While I thought she was great as Odette, I enjoyed her Odile even more.  She seemed older as Odile, stronger, definitely more use of her ultra-high extensions, and sort of faster, “flashier” movements. Love seeing her pointed feet up in the sky above her head when her legs are extended.  And then, when it was time for the fouettes, I thought it was cool how she did actual fouettes instead of mixing them up with triple pirouettes and stuff as I’ve seen done in other versions. She did 29, if I was counting correctly.  Actually, before the full-blown fouettes in a row part she did a short fouette-pirouette combo that looked super cool but I was afraid that that was going to be it. It wasn’t.

The Prince was great as well, especially in act 2. Well, no, I liked him during the scene by the lake with Rothbart, and the PDD, but in act 2 he really outdid himself.  Those flying leaps around the stage! I love how right before it’s revealed that he picked the wrong swan-girl he just seems so happy! Good acting.

I was also glad that this wasn’t a happy ending version in which Rothbard is defeated and everyone lives happily ever after. Odette gets swallowed up by the 6 black swan dancers in the back of the stage area behind a dark screen as the prince falls to the floor and sobs. Loved it, so much drama!

During the introduction, I think I heard something about this version taking place in the Prince’s head, and how Rothbart/Evil Genius is the “dark side” of the Prince.  Ok, I guess…

It was a good performance, though, as I mentioned earlier, I was worried about someone else falling.  Now I just keep wondering, how often does this happen? Came home, did an internet search and was unable to turn up much on the subject. The closest thing I found was advice on what to do if you fall during a competition (Get Up and Keep Going Unless It Hurts), but nothing about pros. Can’t wait to ask Teacher about this next time I see her…

This Is Why I Do It, After All…

So, I’m home alone, sitting ummm, sprawled across my couch, procrastinating on starting my homework or beginning to fix dinner or doing something productive, listening to one of my classical music mixes from youtube on my ipod (hooked up to little speakers, not headphones), and suddenly, I just felt like dancing.

So I did. Nothing fancy, just some nice port de bras, some tendus, temps lie, rond de jambe, developpe, arabesque, releve balances with pretty arms, etc. type of stuff.  Just bits and pieces of different basic-beginner-level center combinations, really.  But I was feeling the music, so I’m going to go with it was dancing.

Ever since I started ballet I’ve been obsessed with dancing (duh), but I mean to my own creations. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve know existing ballet choreographies are beautiful and all that (and I mean no disrespect whatsoever to all the amazing choreographers out there), but sometimes I’ll hear a song and I just want to dance to it. But, like, ballet-dance, as I am a horrible non-ballet dancer.  And some of these songs are not even traditional ballet music, necessarily, but I’ll just get the little video playing in my head and I’m like ‘I want to make that dance exist! (And then probably put it on youtube, as I know my chances of performing and it being my own choreography are probably slim-to-none (and I’ll definitely take performing someone else’s choreography.))’

So, yeah, dancing.

It felt incredible, unbelievable almost.  Two years ago, even one year ago, I couldn’t do that.  Sure, by last year I knew enough to attempt it, but now I can almost believe that it’s dancing instead of just going through the motions. Like, it’s starting to look like I know what I’m doing, like I didn’t just forget my arm and leave it hanging out the side or something or forget to point my feet.  And I’m beginning to take not tipping over while on two feet flat for granted (even weight shifts), though this time last year it was still hit or miss. By now, even my one foot flat balances are pretty reliable – even including all those little adjustments the feet make to find the balance (it’s like my feet are now alive!) Sometimes when I see the lines of the muscle definition on my legs I think ‘Yeah, they’re definitely becoming dancer’s legs…’

Anyway, the point of all this is I was excited about it and wanted to share…

(Oh, and for the record, I probably would not have attempted this if my body hadn’t already been at least a little warmed up. One time I was trying to show a friend my passe releve and I hadn’t done ballet all day that day and when I went up it just felt Not Good (thankfully it felt better by the next day). I learned my lesson about always warming up before doing anything more complicated than some plies.)

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.

Reminiscences: My First Ballet Final

This past semester term of ballet class ended rather unclimatically, as we didn’t have a final dance performance exam.  It made me realize that I like having a performance. In fact, you could almost say that I was looking forward to having a performance, and though this was a great ballet semester overall I miss that aspect of the past semesters I’ve taken.

I didn’t always feel that way, of course…

When I signed up to take ballet, almost two years ago, I had no idea what the class would entail.  Yeah, I figured we’d be stretching and there’d probably be classical music on, but besides that, nothing. And without further research on the matter I walked into my first class without that characteristic anxiety that appears whenever I’m about to do something horribly unfamiliar.  It was just a class at community college, just like the other classes I take and have taken; no big deal.

We were handed the course syllabus. The first thing that jumped out at me was LEOTARD. What was this about a leotard ? Couldn’t we move just as comfortably and ballet just as well in yoga pants and a top, or for those of us who started out uncomfortably self-conscious, sweats and a baggy T-shirt? Surely there could be some leeway…? (Later I would find out the answer is a solid “NO”.  Every one of my teachers at community college ballet has expressed the need to have the class be visibly identifiable as a ballet class, so (pink, preferably, or black) tights and a (solid-colored, and in Strict Teacher’s case, black) leotard it is.)

Anyway, the point of that tangent is that the initial shock of the how-do-I-hide-my-body situation overpowered my brain functions so much at that moment that I didn’t catch the other fine print.  The part about how the final exam for the class was a live solo performance. In front of the whole class. And it was mandatory (as in, even if you had a perfect grade in the class, if you miss the final it’s an automatic failing grade).

I could have dropped out as soon as I found out (at home later that day while going over the syllabus), but I didn’t want to make a habit of signing up for things and not following through. So I decided to stick with it, found my local dance store, bought the leotard and tights, and decided to not think about the final exam. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there…

And as you know if you’ve read though this blog, or at least my The Learning Curve page, I had a horribly awkward time attempting to ballet that first semester. I sucked, but I stuck with it because I started love it, to be obsessed with it.

Our midterm exam came and went.  We did a barre routine in front of First Teacher, about 10 of us at a time. By this point I was about 9 or 10 weeks into the class, so it was ok. Not good, but not exceptionally bad either in a I-just-made-a-complete-fool-of-myself way. We also did center. We had an tendu combination that by now would be a piece of cake (but back then I couldn’t even remember what came next), a combination involving developpe devant (during which I continually tipped over the whole time), and several across the floor combinations that I think I just made up as we went along. Not good.

And then the final exam was mentioned, ending my quiet denial.  It now became the thing that loomed in the (increasingly shorter) distance.  We were given the criteria: it was to be a piece at least a minute long, choreographed by us; we were to include certain  components (adagio, any form of tendus, a traveling step (like waltz, balancé), and either turns or jumps (but I’m sure it didn’t hurt to do both)); other than that it was open.

First Teacher said “Some of you are jazz dancers; others of you are tap dancers or modern. “Best Dancer” is a ballet dancer. So do what ever style of dance you’re most familiar with, I just want to see some of the elements of ballet in there.” Which was great for my classmates with non-ballet dance experience; as for me, since I had no  dance experience whatsoever, what was I to do? Well, why not start at what had me in that predicament in the first place – ballet.

I set out to choreograph what was possibly the clumsiest minute and fifteen second attempt at ballet  ever publicly performed.  Since I would have over a month to perfect it if I started right away, I immediately began thinking of possible combinations.  Thinking up combinations was not the hard part; the hard part was thinking up combinations that I could realistically perform in about 5-weeks time without falling on my face, behind, or any other body part.

For my music I picked the  Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven – beautiful, hauntingly melodic, and most importantly, slow.  As I  sat back and closed my eyes and listened, dancing images filled my mind and as such my choreography came to exist.  Boyfriend recorded one of my “rehearsals” and I watch it from time to time – watched it before writing this, actually – and although I had clearly not grasped the concept of pointed feet and rounded elbows yet, it’s a decent effort. I guess what I’m saying is that I’m proud of myself for pulling it off; never before has I taken something that I saw in my mind and made it real.

As the final exam date approached, I practiced my routine obsessively, hoping to have it firmly entrenched in my muscle memory.  To put my trust in my conscious memory alone was too risky, the possibility of it blanking out in panic too high.  Before the last date to drop I lied to myself that I could still drop the class, knowing deep down that I wouldn’t.  After the drop date has passed I could not continue the lie anymore; it was real, it was going to happen.

The day came.  I awoke earlier that usual – though nervousness had prevented me from sleeping well anyway – hoping to have time to warm up beforehand.  It has slipped my mind that since my last name is towards the latter half of the alphabet my turn would probably not come up until much later, possibly rendering all past warming up useless.  Getting into my leotard and tights, I tried to ignore the butterflies in the stomach, the loud pounding of my heart. The drive to school was much too quick.  In the parking lot, I forced myself to have breakfast all the while fearing that I would throw up.  I attempted to calm myself with deep breaths, and waited until it was time to go in.

The first sight that greeted me as I entered the dance studio was Best Dancer wearing an elaborate – and gorgeous – white pancake tutu and tiara.  Holy crap! First Teacher had said that we were welcome to wear a costume but that just took it to another level.  A terrifying though crossed my mind ‘I hope I don’t have to go up immediately after her!’. My next though reminded me that her last name was nowhere near mine, and with a sigh of relief I headed towards a far corner and began stretching.

A few minutes later First Teacher appeared.  She announced that we had about 10 minutes left to warm up, then we would begin. “What order are we going in?” someone called out.  “Any order you like,” she replied.

With every performance the fluttering in my stomach increased.  Some students performed modern pieces, going from being down on the floor to up in the air with an ease that amazed me.  Others, jazz or hip hop, with some occasional ballet moves thrown in.  But what intimidated me the most was the confort with which these students – these dancers – moved their bodies.  I did not yet know how to be comfortable in my body, and I still saw myself as an outsider. I was not a dancer, I was an impostor.

Best Dancer performed her piece, a reworked version of a variation from one of the Tchaikovski ballets (I’m not trying to get too specific here…). It was perfectly executed gorgeousness,  the kind of dancing that can only come with over a decade and a half of training.  Upon finishing, she immediately began to apologize for her (invisible to us) mistakes.  First Teacher nodded approvingly, telling us “Dancers that have been training for a long time always apologize for their mistakes.”

More students performed.  I took a moment between performances to get some fresh air outside, a few more deep breaths, and decided it was now or never.  After the next person finished, I handed my ipod to            the girl working the stereo system. My head felt like it was filled with air or cotton or something, my heart pounding loudly in my ears, but at the same time it felt so far away.

I walked out into the center of the studio, as the others had done before me.  I introduced myself, introduced my piece.  Then the music started, and the movements that I had practiced so many times came back to me, from the first opening port de bras through my shakily balanced developpes, tendus, temps lie, my far-from-perfect chaînes and pas de bourree and so on.  It went as well as it could’ve, given my experience at the time. I didn’t fall over, or trip over my feet.  I forgot there was an audience and it felt so good! After finishing I fought the urge to immediately run back to my seat and waited.

“Were you nervous?” asked First Teacher.

“Yeah, umm, this is my first time ever taking this class, any dance class, and dancing in front of an audience.”

“You look so somber. Such a somber piece of music. Very good.” That’s me, the somber one.

As I returned to my seat, a couple of girls that had seemed friendly towards me throughout the semester, fellow beginners like me, smiled and said “Good job!”.  I smiled, feeling both shy and pleased at the same time.

The pressure of performing off, I was able to sit back and enjoy the remaining performances.  I almost wished I had gone sooner so I could have been able to enjoy more of them, rather about worrying about my own upcoming time in the spotlight.

The crazy thing is that as soon as it was over I wished that something like this would come up again.  My final exam for my other ballet semesters have been different, from the dance we all did for Strict Teacher’s class, to my nonexistent dance final for my latest semester.  I would really love the opportunity to have a self-choreographed final at some point again though…

Oh yeah, and I got an “A”!

The Nutcracker

This past Sunday, we watched The Nutcracker live. It was so much fun, and a much needed break from these last very stressful couple weeks.

Snow Queen and Snow King and the Sugar Plum Fairy and her cavalier were played by professional dancers (dual roles; there were exactly 2 professional dancers in this performance), every other role was danced by students from the school in charge of the production. That being said, I was very impressed by the quality of the dancing, especially by the  solos. Actually, with the exception of the children’s roles – and even then, it may have been intentional, part of the choreography – I didn’t see any obvious mistakes. So, either it was flawless, or these students have been trained well enough to continue going even after making a mistake (or I have a terrible eye for good ballet). Either way, I was impressed.

It was my first time seeing The Nutcracker – or any ballet –  live, and the last time I saw it was on Netflix about a year ago. So my memory was somewhat fuzzy about the exact order of things and stuff like that.  I did remember that it has good music, but then, don’t all of Tchaikovski’s ballets?

Act ! was kind of slow, the only notable exception was the Toy Soldier that comes to life. Well, I guess the toy ballerina (apparently called the Columbine Doll) that comes to life dance was good too. Regarding when Drosselmeyel pops back in in the Rat King fighting scene, during intermission Boyfriend asked “Did he just break back in, or had he not gone back home?” I answered “She dreamed the whole thing” which is an interesting theory (though I’m not saying correct).

The dance of the Snow Queen was pretty good. I love the music! I really wish this dance was not at the end of Act 1 because by then I was honestly getting restless. I don’t know… Act 1 party scenes are not really my thing; I see them as what we must sit thru to get to the good parts. I hope thats not ballet blasphemy there…

Anyway, Act 2 is when it really got exciting  (sorry, to all of you that prefer Act 1), when all the little solos happen. This I did remember from watching The Nutcracker before, so I was looking forward to it. It seemed like intermission took forever (and still, there were people that did not take advantage of this perfect opportunity to use the restroom, preferring instead to wait until during a solo – hell, why not make it really interesting and go during the Russian Dance – to stand up and block the view of those lucky enough to be seated behind them (me)).  Those were the moments when I wondered: if we went to a professional company’s ballet performance would the audience be just a bit more respectful?

The Russian dancer (there was only one) was amazing, as was the Arabian dancer, though obviously for different reasons.  I’m a big fan of watching male dancers display their incredible jumping power, and this dancer did not disappoint. Lots of jumps, lots of turns, lots of turns while jumping! He had 180°+ split jumps (lots of them in a row), different kinds of turns (that my beginning-dancing self has not even been introduced to), lots of different jumps (that I’m not even going to attempt to describe other than awesome), and when he first entered the stage he did several hand-less cartwheels. How cool is that?!

The costuming was rather creative as he wasn’t wearing what I thought is the “traditional” Russian Dancer outfit – the red and black – but these baggy knee-length brownish green trousers and no shirt.  He looked good, and I wasn’t complaining, but I do wonder if I was more familiar with The Nutcracker -if I actually had had expectations – if it would have felt like a letdown. But then maybe the traditional costume only looks good when there’s several Russian dancers…

As for the Arabian dancer, I didn’t pay enough attention to detail to notice the subtle differences in the costume. I was too distracted by her slow, high extensions and controlled poses. At some point I overheard a child a in the row behind me say “She’s such a good dancer!”. She was, but of course it’s also that I’m  partial to slow graceful dancing from female dancers and Arabian is one of my favorite parts of the ballet.

The Chinese dance (2 dancers, one guy and one girl, in Chinese outifits, I guess) was very fast paced and full of (extremely high and foot-pointed) jumps. Seriously, it was the kind of dance that I would be horribly unsuited for, but I love to watch someone that can pull it off do it – and they pulled it off pretty well. However, it was at times cringeworthy, looking like every Chinese stereotype from a past historical period. Boyfriend and I were discussing it on the way home and he said he had felt the same way (at first I’d thought it may just have been me, since I may at times be oversensitive).

The Waltz of the Flowers was awesome. I loved how there were so many turns in it, and of course, the music. Loved all the ecchapes and pique turns (or whatever turns that looked a lot like pique turns they were doing).  I was having so much sensory overload at the show – I didn’t know whether to look at their feet or the whole picture or focus on any particular dancer. Solos are always easier to focus on and not feel overwhelmed.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy watching the corps dance, it’s just that I find myself having difficulty focusing on the big picture.

Boyfriend told me when he bought the tickets the guy who sold them to him was gushing about the two principal dancers, and in particular the Sugar Plum Fairy dance; apparently the dancers were both individually awesome dancers but also happened to pair up perfectly as well.. So it was a bit hyped up. And the pas de deux was great – lots of cool lifts, beautiful music – but I guess I didn’t see how the Sugar Plum Fairy dance was considered better than some of the other solo the dances . The Cavalier, on the other hand, was great. He was another multiple 180°+ split jumps in a row kind of guy.  And his turns were so graceful!  During his solo parts the crowd by the end was practically applauding continuously.

It was a fun show, and from the looks of the shows professional companies put on, a scaled back show. But we had fun and that;s what matters, right? I think I pestered Boyfriend with questions about the show for the rest of the night…