80's Mix

Nostalgia is a foreign concept to me.  I don't seek out music specifically to remind me of a time in the past.  What I like are songs that seem to raise themselves out of their time period.  The very fact that they transcend being time placeholders is attractive.

I've been meaning to write about Ernest Cline's Ready Player One for awhile.  Mainly regarding the Alchemical framework it is built upon.  The book in general is a good sci-fi adventure built on a speculative virtual reality world called OASIS.  The fictional creator of this world was a bit of a recluse and obsessed with his teens during the 80s.  Cline included 80's trivia so arcane that I didn't even know it existed.  But then again, I wasn't really into video games back then.  Yes, I did have an Atari but only after it became affordable.  And then most of my player cartridges were purchased from the bargain bin because they were extremely expensive.

Many of the songs Cline listed were a big blank to me.  I wasn't an Oingo Boingo fan.  I hated Rush.  The others I do recognize weren't big on my playlist.  And I avoided all the TV shows and movies Cline fanned in the novel.  However that isn't to say I was a pop culture illiterate.  I just fanned different things.  Still I'm surprised Cline didn't mention "Moonlighting" in the novel (so big in the 80's)  nor the old touchstones that were still popular with 80's teens.  I mean it seems every 80's teen party wasn't complete unless there was a drunken singalong to The Who's "Pinball Wizard".

I created my own playlist at 8track of oldies that reminded me of the decade that started video games.  The majority of the songs are from 79 to 84 but there are a few from later in the decade.  The latter half of the decade I began to tune out because I didn't enjoy the music that much.  Obviously I liked the early transitional period more.


Serenade, Agon & Symphony in C - New York City Ballet

I purchased a ticket to NYCB's All Balanchine program for the Art Series (this year celebrating artist Dustin Yellen).  Every seat in the house cost just 29 dollars and, obviously, it sells out fast.

All the Corps were fantastic in Serenade.  They were extremely comfortable in the choreography and the speed of it which makes it all look deceptively easy and almost ridiculously simple.  Ashley Bouder was not in the cast tonight as one of the main dancers.  Her place was taken by Erica Pereira who did well but did not have the explosive, dynamic energy that Bouder does.  Her dancing style seemed more delicate, a skittering like quality that I'm not sure is the best for the part.   The dark angel trio section with Sterling Hyltin, Ask La Cour and Teresa Reichlen was haunting and more than a bit frightening.  It seemed so strange in the middle of all the happy Corps constantly floating around the stage.  Balanchine added black humor bits with La Cour partnering the leads along with the whole  Corps as they danced past him.  I'm still not sure what to make of the last transfiguration scene because it is so obviously a late edition to the piece and it does not fit into the ballet as a whole.

The next piece danced was Agon which seemed a little oddball considering it was sandwiched in between two of the most romantic ballets in NYCB's repertory.  But it had an explosive energy all focusing through Megan LeCrone.  She was a big, precise, very no nonsense dancer.  The other big stand outs were Maria Kowroski and Amar Ramasar.  They performed the famous Pas de Deux created on Diana Adams and Arthur Mitchell.  In some performances the Pas comes across as very cold, calculating and careful.  But both Kowroski and Ramasar have a very natural quality to their dancing and this couple's performance was extremely passionate.  The dance transformed from something cold to very raw.  As they performed intricate moves, their hands shook with tension almost like live wires of contact.  At one point a piece of hair fell out of Kowroski's severe bun and it flew around wildly during the dance adding a quality of abandon.  Their performance elicited cheers of appreciation from the audience both after the dance and at curtain call.

After a very enlivening Agon, Symphony in C was a bit of a let down.  Ashley Bouder took the first movement of this piece.  But I didn't find anything memorable about the performance.  Maybe this role just isn't the best for her.  The Second movement is virtually haunted by the shade of Allegra Kent which makes it hard for subsequent dancers to make an impact.  Kent had a quality of surrender to her dancing that male partners responded to in a very primal manner.  Sara Mearns held up very well under the pressure.  She isn't the clinging vine that Kent was but she is such an unembarrassed romantic in her dancing.  At times she skirts extremely close to corny sappiness, but stops before the jump.  I also loved that she didn't finish her movements in this Pas.  Each pose did not stop in time but kept moving as she stretched further.  Mearns always has extremely lovely upper body epaulement.  I think she developed this because she is not the typical shape for a ballerina.  But she is so fun to watch.  The corps was a little ragged in Symphony in C.  There were some spacing issues between the dancers with some bunched into corners and others too far apart.  It makes me wonder if it hasn't been rehearsed as much as the other pieces.

I have to admit I'm a biased spectator, but I enjoyed NYCB much more than I did the Mariinsky performance a few weeks back.  I think our dancers more than match them and I don't understand why everyone thinks Russian dancers are so superior.  I read from another dance fan that that the AD of Mariinsky thinks our dancers are barrel shaped.  Well, I say, bring on the barrel over the preying mantis.  Its so nice to see dancers who look strong, not weak and don't give me the impression that they would whip out forks and knives to cannibalize their fellow dancers because they are so hungry.

NYCB is in prime condition now with loads of talent at all levels.  I look forward to seeing them again.


The Motherlode...sort of

After my last post I was bummed that I couldn't find more clips of Anna L.  So I ran her name through google translate for the Cyrillic spelling.


La Bayadere

As the White Cat in Sleeping Beauty

One of the Flower Seller girls in Don Q

As one of the fairies in Sleeping Beauty.

As an alternate fairy. The dancing is a little ragged but Anna manages to outshine all.  Even the comments note how fun she is to watch.  Shockingly some crab about her, but out of all of the dancers, she is on point with the music at all times.

Eventually it starts to get repetitious because she hasn't been given opportunities in other roles.  Sad. Clearly the evidence shows that we should be hearing more about her.

More Ballet Typecasting Thoughts

In the same vein as the last post but with no Misty, I wanted to address typecasting in ballet.  Is there typecasting?

Of course there is!  Is it a problem?  Yes!

From what I understand is that one of the artistic reasons Baryshnikov made his run for the border back in the 70's was because he was typecast as a character dancer.  He wasn't tall enough for the prince repertoire even though he was acknowledged to be extremely talented.  He came West, found himself the best partner for his height (Gelsey Kirkland) and danced as many prince roles as he was able.

Is this still the case in Russia and elsewhere?

I believe it is.  The sad facts are that there are many, many wonderful and ambitious dancers out in the world with too, too few places for them.  The art is, as of recent years, not a big box office draw and money is tight.  Even companies that take in many dancers can not give ALL dancers every opportunity.  In some cases, many dancers don't develop artistically and spend most of their careers in the Corps with occasional solo work.

Typecasting in any performing art develops from the best of intentions, trying to find a place for numerous artists in roles where they can shine.  But eventually, all too quickly, it becomes a crutch for casting decisions.  Actor/Dancer/Singer A looks like a comic role type instead of lead so in he/she goes without regard to other factors.  It is what happened to Baryshnikov.

I think the same problem exists for Anna Lavrinenko.  I was extremely impressed by her stage presence in such a small role in Mariinsky's Cinderella.  She made the most of it, and most reviewers who were present during the same performance did make mention of her bubbly presence.  Then I thought well, why not try to harness that stage presence into the lead?  Lavrinenko would be fantastic as Cinderella!  Her breezy presence would be perfectly believable as a naive ingenue who captures the attention of a bored prince.  Unfortunately, I don't believe we will ever get to see the Mariinsky take a chance on that outlier kind of casting.  They have tracked Lavrinenko into character solo work and that is where she will stay.  No matter how many good notices she receives for her work.  They won't expand on her repertoire because it requires more work for them, more shifting around of dancers and their schedules.  And because they so love that emaciated, wisp "woe is me" look right now.   That look is good for more conventional, romantic ballets.  But Cinderella needs someone like Lavrinenko. However since the role is a lead, in goes those doe eyed scarecrows.

There aren't many clips of Lavrinenko on Youtube.  But you can catch a glimpse of her charming presence in one or two she happens to appear in.

ETA:  I won't link to it but there is a fan youtube protest against the fact that Anna Lavrinenko is not given the opportunities she deserves.  Apparently there are many Russian and non-Russian fans of this ballerina hoping for more roles for her which she is not receiving due to being typecast as character.

If this is indeed so, I think this wonderful ballerina should think about moving to the West to a company that will be ecstatic to have her as their lead.  However, Ms Lavrinenko is married and moving to another country, another company (her husband is in the Mariinsky orchestra) would be very hard.


Willing and Wanting

I've been both interested and rather sometimes apathetic about ballet over the years.  When I was younger and took ballet class for exercise (I never thought I could be a dancer, I was much too short and stocky), I loved going to see live ballet performances.  Then it tapered off due to real life activities and the fact that it has gotten incredibly expensive to go to the theater these days.

So I'm getting back into the ballet scene a bit.  Because tickets are so expensive, I want to maximize the possibility of seeing good performances.

And one name continually pops up for good or for worse...Misty Copeland.

Copeland causes much controversy in ballet circles, in fact it seems she actively pursues such discussion.  Whoever her marketing team is, they should be congratulated because without them, Ms Copeland would just be another no name dancer.

Unfortunately Misty Copeland is a very average dancer at this stage.  I personally don't see any stage charisma in her except for what she generates in bad publicity.

Take this video of of her in a Balanchine excerpt.

Technically she can do the steps.  But hell people, any dancer worth his or her salt can do steps.  Where is the musical phrasing?  Where is the attention to upper body detail.  I don't get the impression of a dancer who is interested in artistic exploration and studies the use of the body to create form in movement.  The impression I do get is that Copeland thinks she is Rocky Balboa with each step being a punch to victory.  She juts out her jaw and at times her smile turns into a obstinate snarl.  There she is folks battling against RACISM (Forget the fact that the story she crafted for herself slights more accomplished black ballerinas who came before her), she is running up those steps of the PA museum of Art!  All this number needs is for her to jump in place and pump her arms.  Hoorah for Misty.

In regards to the body issue she continually harps on herself.  The fact is, big breasts obscure the body line.  That is why ballet fashion has continually moved toward thinner and more streamlined body shapes.  This is a fact of the art form.  I don't see it changing.  However that isn't to say it is holding back dancers.  I've seen plenty of dancers in NYCB, even the Mariinsky Ballet, with females who are more voluptuous than average.  Whereas Mariinsky holds more or less to an ideal, American ballet does encompass more body types.  But let us consider another dancer.

Sara Mearns of the NYCB for example.  I don't consider her body in the realm of the preferred ballet physique.  She is a bit stocky, short waisted, broad in the shoulders and has a short neck.  But it is clear she is an artist before an athlete and has found a way to shape her movement to fit the ideal. Notice Mearns exacting attention to upper body epaulement  and inclusion of her partner as a her partner not an obstacle in this video of Balanchine's The Nutcracker Pas de Deux.

Now compare with Copeland in the Ratmansky version

It is clear to me that, unlike Mearns, Copeland is just thinking in static images.  She hits the correct poses, but the upper body technique to get there is messy.  Once the music picks up tempo and the dancing gets more virtuoso, Copeland goes back to being Rocky.  And it shows in the partnering. She isn't relating to her partner, she is throwing herself into the steps without considerate preparation to him.   At one point it looks as though he is throwing around a sack of laundry.

If anyone is remotely honest with himself or herself, these two videos show clearly why one dancer is a Principal Ballerina and the other is not.  It has nothing to do with racism.  It has nothing to do with body type.  It has EVERYTHING to do with technique and artistry.

Ironically, Copeland has room to level up to Mearn's place in ballet.  But that would take work, both in coaching for epaulement and attention to detail in acting.  This work would get in the way of her grandstanding publicity tour though and this is why, at 30, she hasn't developed as much as she can. Clearly willing and wanting is getting in the way of DOING.

These are fellow dancers that Copeland insults in her race to the top no matter how.


Tired of Toein' The Line - Rocky Burnette

You don't know how long I've been looking for this song.  I loved it as a kid but I forgot the title.  Did a lyric search and it finally popped.

 Summer of 80.  Wow, great days, you had to be there.  This song was on the radio all the time. It reminds me of bomb pops, cheap bazooka gum, juice in wax bottles and trying to hang out with the older kids in the summer rec room.  We all went crazy when they added this to the jukebox.


Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux - NYCB - Baryshnikov and McBride

Well I'm certainly on a ballet kick this year.

I was very young back in the 70's, but all those years ago, even I knew that Misha was a very big deal.  So it was a surprise and a bit of a scandal when he left ABT, plus a successful partnership with Gelsey Kirkland, to dance at NYCB.

It wasn't the best of fits.  The magic of Baryshnikov's dancing in classical ballets was how effortless he made it all look.  That breezy relaxing look didn't translate into Balanchine's oeuvre.  This was due to two reasons: the main one being Baryshnikov's early training at Vaganova.  That elegant Russian technique was too ingrained into Baryshnikov to be utterly banished for Balanchine's style.  The next reason was that Balanchine wanted to show the effort that dancers took to dance in his ballets.  He liked the fact that they were breaking speed and endurance records for him.  Baryshnikov's early training and the egoistic impulse behind Balanchine's work were at very big odds.  Still Baryshnikov managed to overcome setbacks to do very well in many of Balanchine's works.

Another often unspoken reason why Baryshnikov didn't progress further into Balanchine's repertoire was due his height.  Balanchine was into tall, big and athletic ballerinas.  His favorites at the time, Karin von Aroldingen, the legendary Suzanne Farrell and rising star Merrill Ashley were too tall for Baryshnikov.  And that makes me wonder about some of the reasons why Balanchine invited Baryshnikov into the company.

True Misha was a legend and big box office.  But NYCB didn't need the box office at the time.  It had its own stable of hallowed, Balanchine trained dancers.

But it gets me thinking...was one of Balanchine's ulterior motives, in stealing Baryshnikov away from ABT, was to inspire prodigal ballet daughter Gelsey Kirkland to return?  If Kirkland had bit the bullet and returned to NYCB with Baryshnikov, they would have blazed a trail of glory through Balanchine's ballets.  It was never meant to be though.  The NYCB stage wasn't big enough for three very willful ballet geniuses.  Kirkland thought of Balanchine as a kind of neglectful and traitorous father figure.  Baryshnikov was in the process of running away from a very passionate, tumultuous relationship with Kirkland.  At the time, I think Balanchine knew his strength was declining which made choreographing new ballets for Baryshnikov difficult.  It seems a big what if of dreams when you think about it all.

Anyway, Patricia McBride became Baryshnikov's partner at NYCB.  Although they weren't very well matched, they did give this very lovely performance together.