24.5.15

Giselle - Abrera and Shklyarov

Stella Abrera was gorgeous tonight.  Every step was graceful and her characterization of Giselle was perfect.  I can't believe it took so long for her to be cast.  But I'm glad she had this night to shine.

The night began with McKenzie thanking ABT alumni and all that they have contributed to the company. It was short and sweet plus gathered big applause.

Thomas Forster was impressive looking Hilarion.  He is a very tall and powerful looking dancer.  His mime seemed a little too laid back.  I didn't receive the message that he was crazy, out of his mind for Giselle.  However his dancing in act two sets him up as a dancer to watch. He would make a fine partner for many of the taller ballerinas.  If he acts/dances the character more in the future, that characterization can improve.

Shyklyarov is a beautiful dancer with very clean technique and beautiful balletic line.  At first he seemed a bit too princely, a little callow in his acting.  It made me nervous for the upcoming partnership but I worried prematurely because he was very well matched with Abrera.  They had good rapport.  His Albrecht immediately opened up near her and it was obvious that he was in love with Giselle.  I also noticed that Abrera and Shklyarov have almost the same body line that complemented them well together.  They moved as if they had been dancing years together not just two weeks.

The corps looked good in the peasant section.  No one out of line or struggling.  Courtney Lavine was a standout.  Although I'm disappointed that she is relegated to the back of the corps due to her height. I was disappointed that the Peasant Pas de Deux was not danced by Sarah Lane.  Instead we had Misty Copeland.  I cringed a bit when I saw her name in the program.  But she did well.  There were none of those scene stealing foibles of hers on display (spotting to front) nor were her nervous tics evident (grimacing or biting her lip).  Her movements were relaxed and not stiff.  This was the first time I noticed that she displayed real charisma since it she wasn't forcing her manner nor extorting the audience for attention.   However her hyperextension is very bad.  Her legs look crooked and the length of her costume hemline accentuated her misshapen legs more.  This problem can be corrected to a great degree.  I wish someone would do an intervention for her.    The only real problem I had with her dancing was that her toe shoes made a horrible racket.  No one else, including the corps, had noisy shoes so Copeland's tap dancing sounds really stood out.  Craig Salstein, her partner, was the stronger dancer in the pair.  The audience was very appreciative of his large jumps.

Stella Abrera's mad scene was effective.  She didn't turn the scene into melodrama.  And since she made it clear from the start that Giselle was a sickly girl, her sudden death didn't seem corny.  Shklyarov did go a little over the top in his reaction to her death.  It seemed without Abrera by his side to temper him, he fell back on over emoting.

Act 2 really set this production tonight as the highlight of the season.  The Corps looked great.  All of the women were in unison, not a clicking toe shoe or noisy jump.  Their hops in arabesque drew cheers from the audience.

I was amazed at the height and dancing skills of Veronica Part.  She was a very intimidating Myrta.  In fact I was in awe of her through the rest of the act.  Christine Shevchenko really stood out as one of the lead Wilis.

The main pas de deux of act two really highlighted how wonderful Abrera and Shklyarov were as partners.  They seemed of one mind stylistically and in temperament.  They both let loose with their jumping skills.  Shklyarov seemed to almost float in the air and stay airborne forever.  Abrera skimmed the floor as if never touching it.  The audience went wild with cheers between each solo, so there were many pauses before the show resumed.

Stella Abrera really showed NY, her colleagues and the alumni that she is Prima Ballerina material.  I hope she gets more opportunities to dance Giselle in the future.  I hope she gets more chances to dance with Shklyarov because they look good together as a couple and they create believable romantic tension.  I would love to see them together in Romeo and Juliet.  Hopefully one day it will happen!


21.5.15

Coursera


About a month ago, while reading one of my video game sites there was an article regarding a literature class online that included gameplay with Lord of the Rings Online.  I remembered this class was the subject of an article on Massively about a year ago.  I put it on my to do list then forgot about it.  The class was called "Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative".  Massively (now MassivelyOp.net) had another recent, small article on the game stating that it would be offered at Coursera once again.

I followed the article link and discovered the world of MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) for the first time.  These courses are offered by different universities on various subjects.  They are free but are not for credit.  Although Coursera, Edx, Udacity & Futurelearn will give certificates for a fee. I've read articles written about these courses, the good, the bad and the questionable.  One cheery article centered on a university honors student who used these courses to supplement his college courses and receive extra credit.  Other articles wrote about the lack of accountability on the part of the students, the problems of plagiarism and the questionable ethics of peer grading.  It was all very intriguing to me.

I signed up for the literature class, then got excited about different subjects.  The end result is that I enrolled in two additional courses.  Which I'm not sure was the right choice.  These classes are very close to college level courses and require almost the same amount of work.  All of it requiring self-motivation.  So if you aren't a self starter, you may not complete the courses and there is no oversight from these internet classes that tracks your work (most especially if you are not paying for any completion certificate).  Ultimately, you will only learn according to the amount of work you put into these classes.  You must seriously assess the amount of time you can dedicate to study before signing up for more than one.  Which I did not, and now I'm scrambling a bit to complete the reading homework and course assignments.

But I have to say that my experience so far has been enjoyable.  The online courses requires students to watch what amounts to an hour or hour and a half lecture split into a serious of small videos each week..  Depending on the depth of the course, you may have to take notes during these small lectures.  At the end of the week is a quiz testing you on information learned in the video lecture.  Depending on the class requirements, you may also be required to write one essay which will be peer graded.  In addition to your essay, you will have to peer grade other students in the class.  The classes will require at least 4 and up to 8 weeks of work or more.

I can attest that the work load is close to a real university course.  One class I enrolled into, "Greek and Roman Mythology" offered by Penn University, is a 10 week course filled with many books to read.  I just finished Homer's Odyssey and will be starting an essay for it.  The Peer grading experience I haven't had yet but it should prove interesting.

From what I've seen so far, I would definitely sign up for more classes just for the fun and learning opportunities.

If you have the time, check out Coursera and sign up for one class.  The MOOC is an interesting experiment and it must be experienced by any internet fan.

20.5.15

Bach Interpreted: Emery LeCrone



I decided to drop by the Joyce Theater site to look for upcoming performances.  Joyce has a lot of interesting modern ballet offerings.  This past winter I was thinking about purchasing a ticket to see the Alonzo King Lines ballet at their theater.  But time slipped away from me and I was unable to see that company.

This summer Joyce will be holding a Ballet Festival.  One project will feature NYCB dancer Ashley Bouder.  As I scrolled through future dates, a teaser photo for Emery LeCrone jumped out at me.  It was of a dance couple dressed in simple white set against a white background.  I read up on LeCrone and discovered that she is one of the few female choreographers working in ballet right now.

I found the source of the photo at the Guggenheim Works & Process site on Youtube.  LeCrone's ballet is lovely, more like chamber ballet.  I was struck how not fetishized the female performers were in the piece.  I also liked the romantic quality she gave to the male solo choreography.

This video, linked above, intrigued me enough to buy a ticket.  I'll be watching a new LeCrone ballet this August at the Joyce.

http://www.joyce.org/performance/ballet-festival-emery-lecrone/

19.5.15

Banned! Oh My!


I was hilariously banned from a website discussing ballet recently.

Why?

I suppose because I enjoy debate and was debating ballet, dancers etc.  I don't attack people, I attack ideas and I support my own arguments.  After all what is the point of discussion if you are not allowed to debate?

Most of these arguments centered around dancer Misty Copeland.

In the recent above video from 60 minutes it shows Copeland falling off pointe in the Florine variation for Sleeping Beauty.  Many commentators stated it was just a fluke.  But it couldn't have been one, Copeland admitted to the interviewer (off screen) that it was a problem.  Common enough that she was worried about it.  As you can see at mark 10:30, Copeland is having more trouble than just the hops on pointe.  However the actual move shows that she seems to lack the strength as her foot sickles underneath her and she barely makes the finishing move into attitude.

The ability to dance consistently without problems in classical ballet choreography is a sign of a dancer who can be a principal lead.  Is Copeland that dancer?  Obviously she would be an historical choice.  But it isn't as if she is the ONLY choice.  ABT has a beautiful young, strong dancer Courtney Lavine rising in the ranks.

I linked to the dancers who are soloists at other companies not only doing this choreography but considerably HARDER versions of it.


Contemporary of Copeland, Yuhui Choe at the Royal Ballet performing the same variation.

Watch mark :22, Choe begins her hops in front attitude through passe and into full arabesque.  All while hopping on pointe.  She does this many times with no problems.

At a lower level, this recording of the Washington Ballet studio company shows Ayano Kimura performing the same variation,  Again she has full range of motion while hopping on pointe.  Go to the link and start at mark :33

http://www.media4artists.com/video/index.php?video=6

There are even more examples all over youtube of dancers of all levels performing the variation along with the required hops on pointe with NO PROBLEMS.

So how is it that Copeland can't do them, so much so that it interferes with her confidence?  Is she honestly at the same level as her contemporary Yahui Choe?  How can ABT market her as the next second coming of the ballerina?

This gets us into the next bugaboo.  Misty Copeland's publicist, manager and marketer also works for ABT as an outsourced publicist for all their galas since 2012.

See the proof here.

Misty Copeland's webpage
http://www.mistycopeland.com/home.html

Look under contacts to see the name Gilda Squire Media Relations.  On Gilda Squire's about us page, she states that she is publicist for ABT galas

http://www.gildasquire.com/about_us

I question the ethics of this.  Is Squire's main aim for these Galas to promote ABT and ALL its dancers?  Or is she just getting Misty Copeland publicity at the expense of the company and her colleagues?

Then there is the can of worms regarding the stories Copeland crafted for herself.  The unsubstantiated racism charges she makes against unknown dancers, unknown schools, unknown companies and unknown critics.  I do believe black dancers have a tougher time in ballet.  But does that mean Copeland should automatically win principal status because of being a hardship case?  She seems to have no problem with this outcome.  But would her fellow dancers have no problem with that?  That there would be the impression that they had their positions because of charity due to their skin color not because of their artistry?  We are moving into dangerous ground here.

She also states that she is so muscular because she was forced to take hormone therapy to induce menarche.  This she has been public about and yet it can't be discussed on fan sites.  Because why?  Copeland makes a case that the ballet public should accept her muscular body that it doesn't interfere with her balletic line.  But it does.  But as usual with Copeland there are extenuating circumstances, she needed to take hormones due to health reasons and it made her grow.  Most cases of delayed puberty in female dancers and athletes is due to low body fat.  What if Copeland had just taken a break from ballet and changed her diet?  Would she have been better able to control her muscle growth?

This is her account at Fox:

http://www.foxnews.com/health/2014/03/14/stretching-beauty-ballerina-misty-copeland-on-her-body-struggles/

"But about eight months after I started with the company, I fractured a bone in my back during a rehearsal. My doctor told me I needed to start menstruating because the hormones would help strengthen my bones, and he put me on the Pill." Misty Copeland

Wait a minute...she broke a bone in her back?  And the only form of therapy was birth control?  Was there any attempt to discover if she had a hormonal balance problem?  They didn't try to get her to work with a nutritionist to change her diet to include foods that would add a bit of fat to her form? There are plenty of nutritionists that work with dancers.  Copeland was already suffering bone density problems but she was proscribed a therapy that would influence sudden growth to her form? So why this jump to what seems like a quick fix? While we are discussing this, why wasn't anything done about the horrific hyper-extension Copeland developed in her legs?  This is something that will stop her from dancing, I'm sure it was one of the reasons behind her recent broken tibia bones.

There are loads of these anecdotes that can be analyzed in regard to Copeland's dance story that she must be a professional dancer.  I think since she is public about them, there can be public discussion regarding them.  After all she wants the public to pay to watch her dance, she wants the ballet world to accept her warts and all.

Not that any of this will change what I believe is her impending promotion to principal status.  I don't think her dancing is principal status level.  I don't think she has the body that is well suited to ballet.  I'm willing to back up these arguments.  And I don't mind debating people who think Copeland is a great dancer.  If that means being banned at different sites no matter what the subject, I don't mind.  It is just saddening that instead of opening up debate, the internet has instead turned into echo chambers where people just hear their own affirmations.

So if anyone reading this wants a debate on this subject or anything else I write.  Comment.  I guarantee you, you will never be deleted or banned for opposing ideas or conducting a heated debate.

ETA: I was just finished checking my email and the moderator for the forum sent me an insane note stating "You're Done TO ME!!!!" How professional of this site to allow its moderators to send harassment emails.

Jonathan Harker's Journal - The Castle - May 19th



I am surely in the toils. Last night the Count asked me in the suavest tones to write three letters, one saying that my work here was nearly done, and that I should start for home within a few days, another that I was starting on the next morning from the time of the letter, and the third that I had left the castle and arrived at Bistritz. I would fain have rebelled, but felt that in the present state of things it would be madness to quarrel openly with the Count whilst I am so absolutely in his power; and to refuse would be to excite his suspicion and to arouse his anger. He knows that I know too much, and that I must not live, lest I be dangerous to him; my only chance is to prolong my opportunities. Something may occur which will give me a chance to escape. I saw in his eyes something of that gathering wrath which was manifest when he hurled that fair woman from him. He explained to me that posts were few and uncertain, and that my writing now would ensure ease of mind to my friends; and he assured me with so much impressiveness that he would countermand the later letters, which would be held over at Bistritz until due time in case chance would admit of my prolonging my stay, that to oppose him would have been to create new suspicion. I therefore pretended to fall in with his views, and asked him what dates I should put on the letters. He calculated a minute, and then said:—

“The first should be June 12, the second June 19, and the third June 29.”

I know now the span of my life. God help me!

It seems that both characters have an idea of what the other is thinking but neither acts on it.  Dracula knows that Harker can't escape.  Not only is the castle an isolated fortress on a steep gorge, it is also haunted by three, extremely hungry vampire wives.  His urging of Harker to write letters predated for the future seems like a taunt.  But it is wise that Harker can see the psychotic rage building in Dracula and refrains from asking him why he had to write the letters.  Stoker highlights this fact by bringing in references to spousal abuse.  Harker not only remembers the horrible women but the fact that Dracula was violent towards one of them.

This leads to a strange equation between Harker and the Weird Sisters.  In some way, Harker is in their situation.  He is abused and locked up just like them.  He has been emasculated and part of a harem situation.

And I wonder, is Dracula's ultimate plan to kill Harker?  Or is he being primed to be a kind of playmate to amuse the weird sisters?

18.5.15

Jonathan Harker's Journal - The Castle - May 18th



I have been down to look at that room again in daylight, for I must know the truth. When I got to the doorway at the top of the stairs I found it closed. It had been so forcibly driven against the jamb that part of the woodwork was splintered. I could see that the bolt of the lock had not been shot, but the door is fastened from the inside. I fear it was no dream, and must act on this surmise.

17.5.15

NYCB - Bournonville Divertissements, La Slyphide



NYCB is continuing to expand its repertoire from NeoClassical works into Classical favorites.  This time they have mounted a production of La Slyphide.  At first I was leery about buying tickets for this production.  NYCB has a certain upper body style that isn't Classical.  There were questions regarding the company's ability to dance in the style of Bournonville's soft romanticism.  Reports around the web said they could and they did, their new production established that NYCB is breaking ground and becoming a full, all around company that can perform Balanchine and Classical works.  So all the good reviews inspired me to buy a last minute ticket to yesterday's matinee performance.

Bournonville Divertissements opened the program with its dancers in bravura style.  This production was mounted by SAB teacher Stanley Williams at the behest of Balanchine.  Balanchine was an admirer of Bournonville's quick footwork choreography and he wanted his company to take advantage of it.

The true standout dancer of the Ballabile segment was Taylor Stanley.  He performed the quick footwork easily.  The audience truly appreciated his fantastic petit allegro paired with elegant upper body form.  He rather outshone the rest of the dancers but I wasn't going to complain about that fact.   I would complain about the strange costume that he was required to wear.  It was a one piece, sailor suit shorts set that would look more presentable on a toddler.    Another area that made Stanley noticeable were that the other men in the ballet were all the same type.  They were very tall, a little lanky, with impressive extensions.  While it looked good, there were some problems which were evident in the Pas De Six segment.

The Pas De Deux was danced by Ashley Isaacs and Antonio Carmena (subbing for Zachary Catanzaro).  While they were good, I can't say either impressed me.  I found myself longing to watch Stanley in this part of the ballet.

The Pas De Six standout was Indiana Woodward.  She performed the footwork with ease along with exquisite upper body form and bright musicality.  The other female dancers seemed to struggle with the musicality, the phrasing of the steps didn't seem to match the music.  The male dancers looked great but their lanky limbs couldn't fit the power of the steps.  They seemed too relaxed, too interested in extending limbs to a beautiful picture.  Then rushing to catch up after the slight pauses.

The corps was in good form and backed up the leads very nicely.

After the intermission, La Slyphide began.

Ashley Bouder was an elegant Slyph.    She didn't exactly have the sprightliness that Sterling Hyltin has in the role.  But she danced in a very sweet natured style that was lovely to watch.  The star of the  two leads was Andrew Vedette.  He acted the mime sections very well.  In fact the whole company did well in this aspect.  I was able to read the mime easily and the intentions of the characters.

The best surprise of the opening act was Megan LeCrone as Effie.  The last time I saw her dance, she was one of the Valkyrie-like leads of Agon.  But in this play she was very soft and girly.  A totally different dancer than the one I expected.  She also handled the mime acting wonderfully and portrayed an excited young bride.

The Corps and Students from SAB performed the folk dances of the opening scene with a lot of verve.  I had no complaints, all of them were very individual with good characterization.

Madge was played by Marika Anderson.  I found myself liking and disliking the take on this character.  Basically Madge was played as a funny, old lady who seemed harmless.  James over reaction to her was a little confusing.  Why would he object to an old women warming her bones by a fire?  This leads to the ultimate intention of the ballet.  If Madge is just a silly little hearth witch than James deserves his fate.  But if she is truly an evil presence than James is a very tragic, Romantic hero caught in circumstances beyond his powers.  Since this is a Romantic ballet, I lean toward the latter interpretation and this is where the NYCB version had a bit of failure.  The end of their production makes it seem as though James is at fault for being an idiot chasing his dreams not a man caught between the perfection of a Slyph and the evil plots of a malevolent witch.

The second act in the Sylph world carries on with the interpretation that James is being delusional.  The play departs from the realism of the 1st act and portrays the woods of the slyph in a very surrealist style.  The backdrop is filled with purples, blues and greens in a neon, day glo effect.

The corps was truly beautiful.  They danced with a softness I have never seen in NYCB dancers.  Their arms were fully classical with a roundness that I didn't think they were capable of being ingrained as they are with Balanchine style.  Clearly they were all coached and drilled very well in the Bournonville style.  The two standouts were Olivia Boisson and Ashley Hod.

This was ultimately a great production despite a few quirks of interpretation.  I would heartily recommend it to all ballet fans.  And I'm excited to see if NYCB takes on any other classical works.  Giselle, perhaps?  This production proves they can do it.  They can do it all.