(Previously released BALLET JAMBAROO! from last year)
- FOLKINE’S PETROUCHKA:
“Petrouchka” opening seconds: I hate sound stages. They always look cheap and wicked fake but I did like the cinematography and the art direction here. In spite of being thoroughly creeped-out (Happy Halloween!!) from the minute I fired it up on the youtube, I soldiered through this bad boy. I thought the music went very well with the choreography. With syncopation, the music changes to match the dramatic action and the characters reactions/movements. I have to admit that it was cool when the wizard showed up and the stage went dark and he rocked a flute solo. However, the second the clown and the other two figures came to life I was out. The way the clown moved was horrifying—like a dancing version of the scarecrow from “The Wizard of Oz.” Very impressive display of physical discipline and ability but I had a better reaction to the first time I saw the scene in “Elephant Man” when he takes the sack off his head. Then when the clown gets thrown into some icy purgatory, it was nowhere near as tragic as David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes” pierrot music video. I’ve got no empathy for this clown. That wizard did the responsible thing by banishing him and his crooked smile to this frozen hell-scape. I’ve had anxiety-induced hallucinations that were less disturbing than his guy and his floppy arms.
What the—who’s the guy in black face playing with the coconut?! Juh?? As glad as I am to get away from that clown, how did we get to this guy and his turban and sword and coconut and his blackface? This is very Russian. Somehow, they’ve combined a minstrel show with a sexual nightmare and a sad clown and no happy ending in sight. It’s also winter and there’s a flute-wielding wizard playing fast and loose with the very lives that he himself magically instilled in this figures. And then the bear shows up and is forced to dance. Devil-gimp dance solo…? So far winning competition for best potential Halloween costume of this viewing session.
Needless to say, VERY different from Classical Ballet: clear folk influence and different dance styles for different characters. Syncopated music helps move action in all sorts of directions—it virtually replaces dialogue. As Fokine said, by the music and moves, we have a clear sense of setting (time and place). Dance and mime clearly express all dramatic action. Mime is used by the entire body as the ballet technique dictates and adds to the ballet rather than subtracts (in the case of “Petrouchka,” I’m gonna have to disagree). The corps de ballet is very present here and is more than just human pieces of set. And the final fifth point Fokine makes: he’s got a perfect marriage of all arts being used here to their maximum effect and building each other up rather than getting in each others way. This is a unified composition from the music to the dance and with that the elements are well integrated to form the dramatic narrative.
SoOoo we get to end with the wizard dragging the broken clown corpse through the snow back to his dungeon. Just when you wonder how upsetting and unresolved this ending is going to be, the boundaries of your darkest fears are stretched beyond their capacity. Thanks a bunch, flute wizard! Never trick-or-treating at this guy’s house again unless he’s passing out Klonopin. Be safe tonight, kids!
- ANNA PAVLOVA:
“Dying Swan.” I love the music and I love the old movie antique aesthetic. I like her white dress. It’s simple yet elegant and functional. The movement of her arms is what’s really impressive here and on top of that she’s doing this all en pointe. She’s like a top spinning around until it finally falls, which I think this a good visual metaphor for a literal, “dying swan.”
Makarova’s interpretation of dying swan: Very similar dress and camera work/set. I HATED he cinematography. DON’T MOVE THE CAMERA WHEN THERE’S DANCE SOLO. I worked at Emerson College for 2 years as a TV producer. I sucked. I sucked so bad, my professor—who was a professional producer who worked at NESN (New England Sports Network, which is owned by the Red Sox)—asked me if I was kidding when I told him I was a Studio TV Production Major and said I should seriously reconsider my career while there was still time. I don’t disagree with this seemingly too brutal honesty but as crappy of a producer as I was, I know what not to do with a camera on a sound stage. Don’t move it. Keep it stationary on one subject ESPECIALLY when it’s dance. This isn’t about YOU, Mr. Director! What a GLORY BOY! This is the work of a show off and it’s a distraction and completely takes away from the performance.
But besides that blast from my recent past, to me, Natalie gives me more straight-up swan here, whereas Pavlova gave me more dying—if that makes sense. I think that Pavlova’s swan impression was less swan-like than Makarova’s but she did a better job giving me the sense that she was dying. That spinning-top quality of Pavlova represented death perfectly and it was very clear she was dead at the end. Marakova’ swan could have just been exhausted. I didn’t get as much of a sense of death—her swan was so good that it seemed lively throughout. There wasn’t a display of struggle that I got from Pavlova. I really liked this. I really like seeing the gigantic difference between the two dancers interpretations. I really like the music too. Everything about this is awesome to me, and if I watched Pavlova without having to watch with a critical eye, I’d probably cry if I were in the right setting. This is beautiful and both dancers are fantastic. If I had to show ballet to someone who’d never seen it and needed to explain the importance of the dance as an art and what it can do, I would show them these two videos. I’d play “Dying Swan” at my funeral. The music reminds me of a cello version of “Clair de Lune” by Debussy.
- AFTERNOON OF THE FAUN: NIJINSKY
This musical intro sounds like Phantom of the Opera. I like where this is heading for the start. I love the old movie style just like in Pavlova’s “Dying Swan.” This is a lasting affectation from my “film skool” background. I’ll watch anything pre-1927. Just like D.W. Griffith said, the talkies ruined film! Al Jolson’s a GLORY BOY! DISTRACTION! That being said, again I just can’t say it enough: I love the combination of ballet with old cinema and I think it’s a perfect multi-media marriage between the two arts. I had to watch this twice. I’m not sure what exactly happened but that didn’t stop me from liking it—I’m very sure this will be a common refrain of mine when I’m old and super senile.
I love the costumes. Simple. Imply character rather than being garish. The setting is simple too. It implies woods. I do love the cinematography. This is an appropriate use of cuts and camera movements and close-ups. The woman here seems to be dressed in Hellenistic attire. Nijinsky’s movement I think is very good at showing me a faun. There are some sexual undertones but I don’t think it’s anything to shake a purity ring at. I wouldn’t say this is an innocent or chaste encounter—the lady and the faun both know what they came here to do. But I think it’s tasteful for 1912 and today.
THE NUREYEV INTERPRETATION:
Similar costumes, larger set, rocks more than forest. I like how the dancer (and Nijinsky did this too) uses his hands and feet to move like a faun. Pretty unmistakable goat-influence in this portrayal of the mythical beast. I don’t like the big set. It looks like a Led Zeppelin album cover. The 1912 smaller forest setting reminded me of Akira Kurosawa’s “RASHOMAN.” This version is overtly sexual but it doesn’t seem coercive or grotesque. If there is any controversy about the sexual poses and implications, I would say that it would reminds me of the controversy that David Bowie stirred up in his Ziggy Stardust, pan-sexual, androgynous, alien persona. The biggest uproar Bowie caused was when he pantomimed oral sex on Mick Ronson’s guitar on-stage once while Ronson was shredding a guitar solo. The fantasized sexual posturing at the end with the veil doesn’t seem as over the top to me as it could be. The trust is a pretty obvious give away as to what the faun’s got on his mind but again, I’d show my kids this and I’d be willing to bet they’d be lost WAY before anything remotely naughty happened. As a kid, I’d probably be like, “dad, why the hell are we watching this?” I don’t think it’s all that bad but I’m also a horrible judge of what’s appropriate for a general viewing audience and what isn’t. This is part of why I never made it as a big-shot TV producer.
- LEONIDE MASSINE: PARADE:
Massine and Picasso: successful collaboration?
First multi-media ballet. Really, these sets aren’t my favorite aspects of Picasso’s work (I’m more of a “Blue Period” kinda guy!). The costumes are interesting but in my opinion, these over-complicated costumes take away from the dance. I do love the make-up but I don’t feel like make-up ever really takes away from physical performance. I think the apparent interest in exoticism comes across as a poor-man’s, Westernized, knock-off of Kabuki theatre. If I was bankrolling this thing and I was shown this I’d say: look, either do a ballet or do a Kabuki but don’t try to do both. Also, for all those costumes and sets, for the money you had to pay haughty ol’ Picasso, you probably could’ve gotten the same stuff from Braque for WAY cheaper. I’m not impressed. This is a good example of when multi-media gets in the way of itself because rather being a cohesive, team effort it’s a showcase for two separate things that just don’t mesh well. As impressive as both arts are, why are they being forced together here? This looks like Picasso was jealous of Alexander Calder and tried to one-up him. I can only imagine the snooty review Marcel Duchamps would write about this ballet and it’s horrifying to admit to myself that I’d agree with him and his Dadaist nonsense.
- LOIE FULLER: LASTING IMPRESSIONS ON THE DEVELOPMENTS OF DANCE
What I thought in class was that Modern Dance is like the Fauvism of the dance arts. “…among the wild beasts!” It’s not Impressionic even though it’s all about natural expression and rejection of form and style and discipline. I think of it a lot like Matisse’s Fauvist work. You wouldn’t compare him to Monet, or even Dali or Miro; and you wouldn’t really compare him to Kandinsky. As much as I think of Fauvism here, it makes perfect sense that Modern Dance was closely tied with Art Nouveau. I love Art Nouveau. I’m a huge Gustav Klimpt fan and I love all those posters from that Belle Époque Era. I think the comparison to Modernism makes a lot of sense. Attention to style rather than function. This fits in perfectly with art from the pre-World War I era. And this is the perfect contrast and complete opposite of the Bauhaus art movement that followed WWI that was all about function and minimalism.
It’s clear how Fuller inspired many dancers and choreographers who followed her and how she helped keep the dance arts up with other art forms of the time by ripping it away from its formalist background and history. I think you could make a very compelling argument that what she did for dance helped keep it from growing dormant going into the 20th Century.
- ISADORA DUNCAN
I think the influence I see that she has on Fokine and Nijinsky’s work is the way in which they use natural forms and styles in their ballets. I think one obvious example to sight is Nijinsky’s “Afternoon of the Faun.” I thought that stills from that ballet could have easily come right off of an ancient Greek vase. I definitely saw Hellenistic influence in “Faun.” But more than just the Hellenistic and pastoral aesthetic that I would attribute to Isadora Duncan, I would also attribute the movements in “Faun” to Duncan as well. I think the way in which Fokine and Nijinsky add that natural movement to their ballet choreography is definitely influenced by Duncan’s ideas. Also I think that Fokine’s willingness especially to move in this direction in “Petrouchka” where he’s got peasants moving like peasants and policemen moving like policemen is a reflection of what Duncan did in her dance innovations. The clown in “Petrouchka” is a good example of this too because there are a lot of moves that the clown makes that are clearly not “ballet movements.” Fokine uses non-ballet technique to bring life to his characters and motivate his dramatic narrative and still manages to choreograph a show that is 100% ballet. When thinking about Duncan’s influence on ballet (Nijinsky and Fokine), I think the perfect compare and contrast examples would be the part of Odette in “Swan Lake” and the clown in “Petrouchka.” Petipa and Ivanov used formal ballet technique to create the character of the swan whereas Fokine used that rag-doll-like effect to represent his clown. The same can be said of Nijinsky’s Faun’s movements.
INFLUENCE ON FERRI’S DANCE (in her interpretation of the music)
Oh my god when she steps on her foot—that was the definition of GNARLY.
The cinematography here was a gigantic improvement over some of the previous videos (and I liked the abandoned warehouse set). I liked this a lot. I think the minimalism really made it possible for her to showcase her movement in a way that Duncan would describe as, “a celebration of the human body.” Also the music choice and arrangement of the music was important: Bach didn’t intend for this suite to be danced to when he wrote it. Ferri’s dancing was a reaction to music, which gave it that quality of freedom and naturalness.
This interpretation and reaction to music I think is the focus of her overall artistic expression; which is to say showcasing the body itself. This dance is much more free than “Swan Lake.” This was a perfect and beautiful choreographic blend of natural and free movements along with her artistry as a ballerina and pointe technique. I was very concerned going into this that somehow Sting would make this whole thing unwatchable because in recent years the man has become increasingly insufferable in his efforts to demonstrate how multi-talented he is and how far-reaching his artistic interests range. I give credit to Sting for not being his usual, distracting, GLORY BOY self. Ferri is pretty amazing.
- RUTH ST. DENIS and TED SHAWN’S CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF DANCE:
I really liked the interview with St. Denis and I thought she seemed like a really interesting historical figure and artist. Not only that but she also seemed like the brains and passion behind this operation. I’m not saying I think Ted Shawn is some kind of stooge or scrub but the man-dance video did not show me a lot of grit. I think Ruth St. Denis is the real artist and philosopher here. What she talks about in her interview is philosophically ages ahead of her time. Modern Ethics (from the last 50 years up today) is all based on the same ideas that St. Denis presents about the singularity of the human experience. James Rachels’ and Martha Nussbaum (two very important modern philosophers and ethicists) have based all of their ideas on the fact that all humans are the same and that the “oneness” of humanity cannot be denied and that any and all denial of this fact is where we as humans go astray.
I think it’s obvious that St. Denis was clearly addresses the dawn of the Modern Era when she talks about the increasingly automated world and how we mustn’t let ourselves get too far away from our true selves because we cannot deny our nature and in spite of all our technological advancements, we are natural beings.
I don’t know a lot about the history of dance or the essence of the art itself but what St. Denis said made me feel like I could understand dance and that because I am human I already have this inherent understanding of dance. This is a revolutionary theory on dance. It appears to me that St. Denis (and Shawn) made it their goal to make dance an accessible art form to all people and secondly, to validate all forms of dance as part of the collective of the art form. It seems like they went beyond Duncan’s ideas about form and made a point to show the world that anybody could dance and that dance in all forms was art.
St. Denis saw dance as a universal language. To her it was a way by which we as humans could all communicate with one another. I think this was a very important philosophy especially in the Age of Industry. We are humans, not machines. For its time this proactive message is revolutionary and today I think it has proved itself to be timeless. Through dance, we acknowledge the universality of true human nature and thus by this active acknowledgement through artistic expression we do not wait for the world to be better but instead help in making it better.
To me, the exotic themes of their work are a demonstration of how every culture around the world has dance and that all dance is art. I also think that being Americans and bringing this idea about accessibility to America was extremely important in our own cultural development. They were founding members of the American dance movement and gave us a school of thought and artistic expression that had a truly American identity.
I’ve come away feeling very positively about the future and thinking about what’s going on here with dance. I think Ruth St. Denis’ ideas are very inspirational and it’s life affirming to hear an artist speak about their art and their philosophy without an air of pretention. Her message goes beyond dance and art itself and it reminds us why we do what we do in the first place. This is a message of hope. Just when you think you’ve lost yourself walking on the edge of sanity completely, you can always dance your way back. It is an affirmation of a truth about life that we forget far too often: in spite how it all may seem, all can never really be lost.