Tag Archives: swan lake

Thought This Was Really Cool

I was doing some youtube surfing, came across these videos, and thought they were really inspirational. I love seeing ballet danced by actual adult beginners. The way the teacher/choreographer simplified the choreography for their level really shows me that it totally can be done (which is where the whole ‘inspirational’ part comes in, I guess?). I wonder, is this a rehearsal or a class? Even if it was just for a class and it wouldn’t involve any performing, I think it’d be so fun to learn choreography and do whole dances.  Unfortunately, the only classes I know of that teach any choreography for ballet without the required performance are only at a more advanced level…

I’d love to see more pieces being danced by actual beginners who are adults in the future!

No, I’m not in any of these clips. I’m hoping it is not considered inappropriate to post videos of amateurs that are not yourself on your blog (I figured, if it’s on youtube, it’s fair game). If it is, please let me know!


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…

It may not be classical ballet…

but it’s still pretty cool.
I was bored last night, so I was looking up ballet randomness on youtube. Here are some of my finds. (sorry, can’t figure out yet how to embed videos. I am a blog super-newbie after all) (Edited 8/15/14 : I finally learned how to embed videos. Yay! Thanks Blogging 101 articles)

Chinese Swan Lake

The Little Swans turned into Frogs

I love the display of strenght and flexibility. And the music of course. However, as much as this has a certain “wow factor”, I still prefer the originals.