Giselle - Lee Soo Bin and Lee Sang Min

I've never seen a polished dancer, ready for professional Principal status at such a young age until now.  Lee Soo Bin is only 18 years old and already she has a definitive Giselle for this decade.  She is definitely a superstar in the making.  The video below is her performance at the Vaganova Gala.   The audience was in hysterics and if a dancer can make discerning Russian ballet fans hysterical...she is truly something special.


Twin Peaks Pilot & Episode 2

I have to admit, Twin Peaks at the time it blasted onto the airwaves completely bypassed me.  I don't even think I watched the first two episodes.  It was something my Mom was into and being a teen at the time....watching things your parents are into is not cool.

Anyway eventually I decided to look into it because of the hype.  And I liked it or at least I thought I had to like it.  Because really it was not something you saw every day on TV.  David Lynch was one of the first Hollywood power hitters to create a prestige TV project.  The early 90's was still a time of separation between the film and television industries.  Lynch jumped the gap and started a revolution in television show content (involved story lines, better actors, great cinematography) that we reap in rewards today.

So after reading Jay Dyer's recent analysis of the show, I decided to watch S1 again. Believe me, it was like watching it for the first time because I've never watched reruns nor did I buy it on home video.  This was the first time I've watched it since it originally aired about 25 years ago.

I was amazed at how well it aged.  Besides a few remnants of late 80's/early 90's clothing and hairstyles, Lynch mostly had his cast dress in retro clothing.  All the main female teen characters wore sweaters, kilts, saddle shoes and bobby sox.  The guys looked like a mix between 50's greasers and 90's grunge.  Yet, it was not a nostalgia show.  It was aggressively contemporary and a commentary on contemporary American society obsession with materialism.

Also the general look of the show was both within the paradigm of other TV shows of the time and yet different.  Lynch is known for strange editing and cinematography.  Re-watching it, I kept expecting to see those film touches that we saw in Wild At Heart, Blue Velvet and Lost Highway.  But those stylistic touches are mostly not present.  It seems Lynch decided to play within the look of ho-hum television.  Almost to the point of parody.  I'm not joking when I say Twin Peaks could pass as an episode of Matlock.  Indeed, many times it strikes me as Matlock in the weird zone.  The camera is mostly locked down like daytime serial television.  The coloration of the regular scenes is flat, bright and non-threatening.  This allowed Lynch to go really wild and slick when the characters are in the "Lodge" or the Outer Darkness.

So now, I'm not going to go into a blow by blow of the story.  I'm just going to write my impressions of what I saw in the series the second time around.

Twin Peaks is Haunted!

The ghost of Laura Palmer really is a hidden hand in Twin Peaks.  She is the one who leads Special Agent Cooper to her home town.  We see subtle evidence of this with ghostly winds shaking trees, flickering lights and mysterious written messages.

Lynch also prominently displays Northwestern Native American art.  The Horne hotel "The Great Northern" is covered with paintings of Athabaskan gods.  We also see evidence of Native art in other locations, in people's homes, businesses etc.  Now, I don't believe these signs are supposed to be angry, vengeful or even evil.  In fact I see them as a sign of protection.  Twin Peaks is the home of these gods and they watch over the town even if the residents are blind to their presence.  Maybe they are even helping Laura.

What are the Native gods fighting?

Secret Societies and Dark Gods

Bob, the evil one, is present from the pilot on.  Although his true significance is masked.  But even so, his presence is not happenstance.  He was evoked.  But by whom and how is a mystery.  Or is it?

Big Ed Hurley's gas station is an odd place.  He has an odd sign.  His gas station sign is that of the Eye of Providence.  Now why would a gas station owner need the all seeing eye on his establishment?

The Grand Master and The Indian Giver

Now the first time we see Big Ed doing anything really questionable is not his extra marital affair but when he picks up his nephew James from the police station.

The Sheriff is named Harry S. Truman.  A former US president seems a strange person to reference in a popular TV show.  But somehow I don't think his wartime record is what Lynch is referencing.  I think Lynch was making note that Truman was a Freemason Grand Master.  I'll have to watch if Sheriff Truman makes any hand signals to Big Ed.

But Deputy "Hawk" definitely makes a sign that he is down with Big Ed.  When the Deputy releases James to Ed, Ed makes a sign.  Ed and Hawk stand in a mirror formation or the point of a triangle.  Ed runs his right pointer finger down his right ear.  In answer, Hawk runs his left pointer finger down his left eye.  I can't find any information on these signs as of yet.  But if anyone in Twin Peaks has the ire of the Gods, it has to be Hawk.

Whatever these "Masons" are up to, they invited a bad, bad thing into their town.

Twin Peaks is a Purgatory of Abuse

Practically every family in Twin Peaks is full of abuse and abusers.  The men in Twin Peaks are especially debauched.  Adultery is rather minor compared to physical abuse and ultimately rape.

I'm not spoiling anything by saying what happened to Laura wasn't a big surprise.  That it was a family abuser who destroyed her.  But at the time of the show's release, I'm surprised how baffled all of us were about the identity of the killer. Lynch tips his hand in a big way to indicate that WHO isn't important but the whole group of male adults in town bear the blame.  Even the adult women who turn their eyes away from their suffering children bear blame.

Both Laura and Donna date abusive boys.  Donna is even threatened several times in public by her popular jock boyfriend, Mike.  Bobby, one of Laura's beaus, is smacked around by his father.  His mother just sits and meekly watches it.  Is it any wonder that Bobby continues the cycle?  High
School drop out and diner waitress Shelly is also one of Bobby's conquests.  She finds his behavior mild compared to her husband Leo.  Leo who beats her regularly with a sock of soap if she doesn't wash his clothing properly.

But the abuse isn't always male against female or child.  The abuse is also female against male, female against female.  Big Ed is married to Nadine.  She keeps him tied to her due to a hunting "accident".  Which allows her to run his life.  Catherine Martell hates her sister-in-law and plots to force her to sell the family timber mill.

As we can see, Laura's murder is just the symptom of a greater societal problem in Twin Peaks town. Lynch and crowd were really interested in character studies not a murder mystery.

It's a Sherlock Holmes Tribute!

Sheriff Truman jokes about being Watson to Agent Cooper's Holmes.  That was when it struck me that Twin Peaks is a Lynch tribute to the great detective.  Agent Cooper is Sherlock Holmes.  He is brilliant, awkward, manic, reclusive, sarcastic and obsessively driven to solve mysteries.  While he lacks a dangerous drug addiction, he makes up for it by swilling coffee by the buckets, stuffing himself with sugary treats and dabbling in forbidden occult knowledge.

Ultimately this successful series stumbled badly due to it's overarching ambitions and backstage backstabbing.  Lynch wanted to keep Laura's murderer a mystery until the series end.  But he was forced by ABC to give an answer.  By doing so, the show lost it's anchor and exploring the characters inside Twin Peaks lost its allure.  Lynch and partner Frost decided that they would create a new focus by exploring the prickly relationship of Audrey Horne and Agent Cooper.  This would capitalize on the chemistry between the two leads and make the show's fanbase extremely happy.  It just so happens that Kyle MacLachlan (Cooper) was dating Lara Flynn Boyle (Donna) at the time.  According to many stories Boyle was extremely jealous of Sherilyn Fenn.  It seems that Boyle thought her character Donna was going to be the lead Teen.  When she was hired she was the only teen character with the main story line.  Sheryl Lee (Laura) was only used for her image and a few flashback scenes.  The character Audrey Horne was a late addition.  It was fickle fate that turned the charismatic Sherilyn Fenn into the iconic face of Twin Peaks.  Apparently Boyle couldn't stand being side lined and convinced MacLachlan to bow out of the Audrey/Cooper endgame.  He did.  Lynch was disappointed in the early solving of Laura's murder plus the death of a main plot development, left the show mid season to direct Wild at Heart.  Subsequently the show crashed and burned with WTF story lines that were hastily picked out of thin air to cover up the lack of Audrey/Cooper romance.  Truly the only other show that I've seen fail so disastrously due to backstage jealousy was HBO's True Blood.

Now that we are getting season 3, 25 years later, maybe Audrey will have her day with Cooper.  We shall see.


Monotones, Her Notes & Prodigal Son - ABT

I did catch the matinee performance of ABT last Saturday and it was definitely a mixed bag.

Monotones 1 was still a bit uneven.  This time the cast consisted of Daniil Simkin, Sarah Lane and Misty Copeland.  To my relief, Copeland wasn't that distracting.  Although I still wish she would hammer her shoes better because she is still stomping around the stage.  She definitely gave a better performance than Boylston last year.   The upper body work was better all around, but there was a lot of wobble from both Copeland and Lane.  Which surprised me.  There seemed to be some hesitation. Simkin was very good  but it seemed almost too easy for him.  However it is important to note that this is Simkin's second year performing this piece.  He had an extra year to hone his performance unlike Lane or Copeland who both debuted in this ballet.

Having a year to think about choreography and transitions did a world of good for Veronika Part, Corey Stearns and Thomas Forster in Monotones II.  Part is now perfect in this role, in fact a definitive version for future comparison.  She has managed to hit all the notes in the steps with fluidity that was absent last year.  I noticed in the opening manipulated spins, she just did a flicker of the opening pose not a full out unfolding of her limbs.  This achieved the proper form and didn't slow her down or stymy her partners.  Last year I frequently saw Forster and Stearns confused as to what to do with Part's long limbs.  It was as if they were wrestling with a Daddy Long-Legs spider.  This also enhanced the moments when she did stretch out and accentuated the echoing poses by Forster and Stearns.  The males were more classical in their dancing this year than last and there was no pushing to make the choreography more than what it is.  Forster in particular looked wonderful.  I also noticed how good he looked paired with Part.  He partnered her effortlessly.  He is tall enough that he makes Part look petite and delicate.  I kept wishing that they would be paired together in Swan Lake.  What a performance that would be!

Her Notes was just ok.  I didn't think it was terrible nor was it very good.  Stella Abrera was clearly the star of the ballet and she danced beautifully as always.  There were enough people on the stage that I was able to ignore Isabella Boylston's broken wrists and witch claws.  Well, heck, it was Halloween season after all.   Sarah Lane did the most with her own small part.  She was originally paired with Luciana Paris who was replaced by Corps dancer Jamie Kopit.  However Lane and Kopit didn't make a good fit partner wise.  Kopit was taller and more robust looking dancer over Lane.  So when they danced together it looked a bit Mutt and Jeff.  I was very impressed with another corps dancer Katherine Williams who looked beautiful onstage and dancer extremely well.

The choreography on the whole was a modern mess.  It was not Classical, not Neo-Classical or even Modern dance.  It was just a hodgepodge of everything.  I really wish contemporary choreographers would pick a style and stick to it.  If you want to choreograph free form, why use ballet dancers when modern dancers would perform better?  If you are going to use ballet dancers use their dance step syllabus which they spent the greater part of their lives learning.  The costumes were just drab, drab with washed out pastel colors.  And of course, no tights.  I wish I could understand this war against tights for women.  The tights serve a purpose.  They help extend the look of dancer limbs.  I really just hate seeing bare legs now.  It isn't attractive on stage.

Prodigal Son was almost good.  But I definitely preferred the PNB version earlier this year.  The PNB dancers were more into the acting part of the ballet and also emphasized the percussive dance elements.  The male corps were more unison, more alien and more frightening even demonic.  The ABT dancers just looked like young boys in Halloween costumes.  I just didn't buy them as a group of mafioso type thugs.  Jeffrey Cirio has good technique and looked beautiful.  But this role requires more rawness, more anger and self entitlement.  Cirio just comes across as the boy next door, goody two shoes who one day walks down one more block away from home.  But he definitely has room to grow as an actor.

Unfortunately Hee Seo was horrifically miscast.  She wasn't tall enough for the role nor did she have the presence for it.  The Siren requires a female dancer who can be intimidating, imperious and even frightening.   She has to look as if she could pull the Prodigal apart limb from limb on her own even without her back up thugs.  Seo just looked young and kittenish.  Like a girl playing dress up in her mother's clothing.  What was even worse is that Cirio towered over her even when she was on pointe.  This ruined many of the iconic dance moments.  I don't know who in ABT is convinced that Seo is a Balanchine dancer but they are sadly deluded.  Balanchine choreography just doesn't serve her well.  She isn't fit for it.  I wish they would move her on to things that showcase her better not push up her shortcoming.

All in all, it looks as if ABT is on a good road to promoting its own dancers.  It can only get better.  But a rough spots on the road are to be expected.  But I think they have it all going now and need to be patient to wait for their dancers to grow and develop.


Spring Dance Scheduling Decisions

I'm now deep in thought on how to wrangle my work schedule around Devon Teuscher's Swan Lake debut.  Just one random day in the middle of the week is crazy.  Maybe I'll turn it into a mini-vacation and take extra days around it.  But I'm going to miss out on Shevchenko's Don Quixote debut because it is also in the middle of the week.  Dang.

Luckily, Sarah Lane's ABT Giselle debut is scheduled for a Saturday Matinee.

Ditto for Stella Abrera's Onegin performance.

It's so disappointing that I will only be able to afford one performance of Giselle.  So I'll be missing out on Abrera's return and Murphy's Debut.

But I am planning to catch a Murphy led performance of Whipped Cream.  It certainly looks to be an interesting ballet judging by the promotional art work for the ballet.  I'm wondering how dancers will be able to move in those cake like costumes.

The libretto behind Whipped Cream or Schlagobers is strangely nightmarish.  It seems to be along the same story idea as The Nutcracker but instead of a Christmas dream, there is a stomach poisoning hallucination.  I suppose it depends on how the material is handled because it could be an adult fairy tale or a child's treat.


ABT 2017 Spring Announcement

Ironically after my last post, the ABT Spring schedule was finally announced.

What do you know?  All the little Board pets run away with the most plumb assignments.  Gee, what a surprise.  NOT!

At least there are a few good appointments with Sarah Lane and Gillian Murphy cast in Giselle.  Also Stella Abrera will finally be able to give an encore to her incandescent performance of Giselle with Gomes as her partner.

There is also Devon Teuscher as Odette in Swan Lake.  But no opportunity for Stella Abrera or Sarah Lane for Odette.

These are the only performers I'm interested in seeing perform.  The rest...let them flounder as nepotism misfires.

Have Board will Travel

I'm not a babe in the woods regarding entertainment careers, believe me.  It's a world of nepotism out there or incredible against-all-odds luck.  The lucky horses?  Maybe 1 to 2 percent of entertainment performers.  The rest knew someone who knew someone or was the son/daughter of someone.  But usually favoritism is not shown to be so blatant.

Usually except for American Ballet Theater.  ABT sees no reason to hide what looks to be blatant favoritism.

1 - Out of 17 Principals, 10 of them are sponsored by current sitting members of the ABT Board.

2 - Out of 10 Soloists, 3 are sponsored by current sitting members of the ABT Board.  Incidentally, 1 of these 3 dancers receives more opportunity and notice than the rest of the soloists.

3 - Out of 57 Corps de Ballets members, 6 of them are sponsored by either the Board or the ABT Junior Council.

Please contrast this to New York City Ballet.  None of the NYCB Principal dancer biographies list sponsors.  What they do list are any awards or scholarships that the dancer has received.  Could there be some Board sponsors?  Perhaps, but the company has taken away the incentive of listing their names so that Richie Richs can't pat themselves on the back by piggybacking on dancer achievements.

Also note that NYCB promotions are easy to track and the reasons why are clear as well.  Take for example Indiana Woodward.  The year I returned to see NYCB performances, Woodward made a splash in Bournonville Divertisements.  She made such an impression that the company followed up on this success by casting her as the Slyph in this year's production of La Slyphide.  This is marketing and promotion of a dancer that is unbiased, clear and deserved.  This is exactly how a ballet company builds momentum and excitement for in-house talent.   Unlike ABT where new hires and promotions make me go WTF! year after year.  I have yet to see ABT follow up on any good performances of members in their ranks.  The good notice that Gorak and Lane received for their partnership...deliberately strangled.  The notice Courtney Lavine garners?  Sent straight to the back of the Corps.  Any number of the same Corps members are lauded year after year yet they sit in the Corps.  Instead ABT pushes the same faces, the ones audiences dread and vociferously AVOID watching.  Most of whom are sponsored by the ABT board.  Things that make me go HMMMMMM.

Is it any wonder that NYCB has more support, more attendance and more good will?  It is also the biggest company in the United States!  While ABT flounders around trying to find a niche. Well it certainly isn't in California.

There is absolutely NO reason why ABT can't be as big as NYCB.  No Reason.  Except for the fact that their board has lost sight of their real purpose to guide the company financially.  Their jobs are NOT to promote their favorite hobby horse dancer.  THIS is why ABT is declining.  And if they don't clean house soon, will meet up with the same fate as New York City Opera before it.