Posted 18 November 1998 - 10:57 PM
First a caveat—I love opera. Actually, I love ballet, but would not care to live without opera. But my love of ballet predates my obsession with the lyric stage and a still smoldering affection for chamber music and the big classic/romantic orchestral works came before either of them.
I learned how an adult goes to the theater by attending ballet in Chicago over 25 years ago and still go whenever possible. This was during the dance boom, a phrase that will seem odd to many of the younger readers of this board, but there was a time when the Ford Foundation decided to bring ballet to America and money was available for touring, long seasons, commissions, apprenticeships, all just astounding luxuries especially in the dance-deprived areas between the coasts.
The Auditorium Theater was the venue of choice in Chicago. It is a wonderful space—-huge, but with great acoustics and excellent sight lines, although the gallery, the very topmost of the balconies, is a LONG way from the stage. That is where my wife and I first felt the intense, delightful, almost heartstopping shock that comes when first encountering great music and great movement together.
It was not always easy to get tickets, at least the ones we could afford then, since they sold out quickly. Buying a subscription to the Auditorium dance season at that time seemed so impracticable as to be insane, both from a financial and scheduling viewpoint. How could one afford to pay for tickets six months in advance, we thought, and who could plan their lives so that they knew they would be free to go the ballet on a certain Friday night months hence. So I stood in line on the day that tickets went on sale for the ABT, the Joffrey, the Moiseiv dancers, whomever, and bought as many gallery or upper balcony pairs as we could afford (or sometimes a few more than we could afford).
We had started going to the ballet because of the music. Like a lot of people who are young and in love we were mad for the big nineteenth century hyper-romantic piano and violin concertos, and Tchaikovsky, of course, was the most Romantic of all. But we loved much of the music that has become accompaniment (and inspiration) for some notable choreography—-Chopin, Bruch, Brahms, Prokofiev, all the usual suspects. It seemed so perfect, and still does—great music melded to beautiful movement, both performed exquisitely.
The real essence of ballet remains curiously opaque to me. The technical vocabulary, the terms of reference, the history of choreography and performance practice, all that basic stuff, remains terra incognita. Most people on this board have a more profound and better grounded understanding of this art form than I—which is one of the chief reasons I read Ballet Talk, to rendezvous with you who are unsparing in sharing your knowledge. For me every time the conductor raises his baton, every time the curtain goes up on Giselle’s village or Prince Siegfried’s palace garden it is all new again and I am back in the gallery at the Auditorium in Chicago, waiting to be transported.
I wonder if others would share the experiences in the theater that made them realize just how important ballet was to them.
Posted 18 November 1998 - 11:19 PM
I came to ballet purely by accident. A college friend and I had decided to subscribe to the theater series (I was interested in theater and music and film then). The Kennedy Center had a wonderful theater season that year, and we loved it so much we decided to branch out. Nureyev and Friends were coming; I'd heard the name. We went. (Six of us, actually. One hated it so much he said he'd never go again, one could care, three became mildly interested and, later, when I became a critic, I could usually drag one of them along. And I was struck dumb by it. I remember everything about that performance -- even the things that confused me, which was most of it.
I was lucky to start at the beginning of the Baryshnikov-wave of the dance boom, and so saw a lot of the centuries great dancers, albeit, like Fonteyn and Nureyev, many at the end of their careers. I could build my Pantheon of great dancers based on that first season (7 weeks of ABT, 3 of NYCB, two of the Royal, one of the Royal Danes, plus assorted modern dance companies like Graham, Taylor, Murray Louis, and at least a half-dozen very interesting smaller groups, most of which have disappeared from the face of the earth). I think I've only seen about a half-dozen dancers in the 20-odd years since then that I'd build an additional wing to house.
For at least the first three years, I can remember being unconsionably excited before attending dance performances (after the first season, when I realized that seeing each ballet once, even each cast once, wasn't enough and I became addicted, I bought standing room tickets and saw great art for two bucks every night, half the nights of the year). I read incessantly, and most of the time what I saw on stage didn't live up to what I read. But on those occasions when what I saw surpassed it, watching dancing produced stronger emotions, a heightened sense of alertness and aliveness, more than any other art form I'd experienced.
This is a question I hope will be answered by a lot of people -- especially some of the people who have registered, but have yet to post. Please remember there are no "wrong" answers, and you don't have to write as much as we have! I would love to find out how people found their way into ballet.
Posted 19 November 1998 - 10:55 AM
We just moved back from Australia after seven years.I have seen all I could from The Australian Ballet to Meryl Tankards Dance Theatre and the Bolshoi and NYCB even came a year ago for the Melbourne Festival. That was a thrill since I probably have read more about this company, Balanchine, and its roots than any other.
Mary Lynn Slayden
Posted 19 November 1998 - 12:22 PM
At the urging of friends I had taken a humanities class in my senior year of high school. The teachers of the course brought in a local ballet school teacher to prep us on the history of dance, and though I had very few mental images to help me follow the lecture, I was intrigued. A few nights later, in that same gallery Ed remembers (angle of sight line to stage approximately 80 degrees!) we saw the Joffrey Ballet perform "Trinity," Arpino's piece on Daedalus and Icarus, and "The Green Table." I remember classmates mocking certain movements, but I was intrigued again; much of what I saw didn't move me or even make a lot of sense to me, but the theater of it was captivating. As soon as I could the next day, I went to the school library to read the newspaper reviews -- the same impulse that now makes me an avid reader of Ballet Alert!
Over the the next 7 years, sometimes with friends or dates, sometimes alone, I saw ABT and the Royal Danish Ballet at the Civic Opera House, and went back often to the Auditorium Theatre for the Joffrey, Alvin Ailey, and Twyla Tharp. When NYCB came in ...'78 or '79, I was between jobs and basically broke, but I bought $6 gallery seats for 2 consecutive nights and the following matinee, took the train in from the Western suburbs, and with little food and little sleep, saw (not from gallery seats!) all sorts of things I dearly wish I could see again with my now more knowledgeable eyes.
I've long wanted to thank that Glen Ellyn ballet instructor. I hope you're reading!
Posted 19 November 1998 - 12:24 PM
[This message has been edited by Giannina Mooney (edited 11-19-98).]
Posted 20 November 1998 - 03:59 PM
What I miss most about the closed Royal Opera House is cheap standing room - it's not the same if you have to sit down (sniff!)
Posted 21 November 1998 - 01:38 AM
I also had a passion for reading and at 12 years old I read Claude Bessy's autobiography written for children: "Danseuse étoile" (she is today the director of the School of the Paris Opera Ballet). That book certainly showed me I did not have what it took to make it, and deep down, I think I already knew I did not even want to try; all that talk of injury, and dancing even when it hurts, that was not for me. I always wanted to be a nurse, to take pain away from people, I certainly was not ready to live with it myself...
I kept on with 3 classes a week knowing very well I was doing it only because I enjoyed it. And that was the beauty of it. I was reading a lot (history, biographies and ballet magazines in french and english) and getting acquainted with all the classics with The National Ballet of Canada and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. And it all came together: seeing Taglioni in my mind while watching my first Sylphide and having a thought for Legnani in the third act of Swan Lake and knowing how difficult all those steps really were, and finally getting to understand that the great ones are the ones who use the technique only as an instrument to touch your heart and your soul.
Posted 21 November 1998 - 07:38 AM
I know nothing of the technicalities of ballet, at my age I have neither the time nor the opportunity to learn that which takes dancers a lifetime of effort. However, as a "Friend/Associate " of most of the English companies, I do enjoy attending daily class,rehearsals and coaching sessions almost as much as performances. All I do know is that I am transported into another world the moment the curtain rises, no matter how many times I have watched that ballet, arousing emotions that I never knew existed. In fact last year watching Altynia Asylmuratova dance Princess Aurora with the Kirov I was so overwhelmed with emotion at the shear beauty of the dancing and the interpretation that tears filled my eyes and I was unable to speak for over an hour after the performance finished. That for me is the importance of ballet in my life. I await with breathless anticipation a visit to Paris to watch the Paris Opera Ballet perform my favourite ballet, La Bayadere.
Posted 21 November 1998 - 02:52 PM
I grew up with athletics as my "raison d'etre". Ballet was not spoken in my house at the time. As a Freshman in college my room-mate was a champion swimmer. He also loved ballet and was a dancer himself. My first image of him was as I dragged my trunk across the threshold of our dorm room - he was executing what I can only presume was some kind of classical jete over a low table in the room, the wildly beautiful music from swan lake resounding off the walls. This new image of athleticism was re-inforced many times during that year and later.
In graduate school (by then I loved classical music) I dated a young woman who was a concert pianist. She also loved ballet. I endured several Nutcrackers for the ancillary benefits of accompanying her. I started to actually watch the performances at some point, prior to that being content to listen.
A few years into my post graduate life I married a woman for whom the driving force of life has always been music, dance, and mysticism (Irish ancestry, obviously). These are powerful forces to resist for long. Though we live in Vermont we have had a number of regular opportunities to go to ballet performances, and my wife wants to attend them all. After several summers of NYC Ballet at Saratoga and a few appearances of touring ballet groups I began to actually propose that we go to ballets, and now actually search out performances, even in distant cities. My appreciation of ballet is something akin to Ed's at this point. Each performance is starting me from scratch, the curtain is going up anew. I know very very little of the formalism and history around ballet, and generally have little knowlege of standards by which to compare any particular performance with any other (except that I KNOW when I like the ballet I have just seen). Until recently I have gone to ballets primarily for that thrill of seeing human beings so perfectly control their movement and presentation under the guidance of great music that they appear to float effortlessly in another dimension in space.
In the last three years I have perhaps entered a new phase of this growing addiction. Since my niece began dancing professionally I have focused more on individual dancers techniques and now do have favorite male and female dancers, my niece of course being one of them.
Posted 22 November 1998 - 09:02 PM
Growing up, the only culture I was exposed to in my home was what we saw on the television. But at a very early age, movie musicals caught my attention. The first I recall, when I was about 5, was a local broadcast of "Yankee Doodle Dandy." I loved this movie, especially the singing and dancing parts. I would watch all the musicals shown on TV and dreamt of someday going to a B'Way musical. Although born and raised in NYC, I never saw a B'way show until I was earning my own living. But then I did my best to make up for lost time.
I loved theatrical dance, but never cared about ballet, which seemed too dainty and fussy for my tastes. Several factors led to a change of heart at age 25. First, my tastes in music started to gravitate toward classical, so I was better able to appreciate the rythms and phrasing of it. Second, although I'd usually favored the high-stepping, energetic dances in musicals, I started to find some of the quieter and more lyrical dances moving me more. Two specific movie examples: Cyd Charisse's lovely "striptease" in "Silk Stockings", and the brides' dance in "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers." While not as much "fun" as the more raucous dances, they were more deeply moving and satisfying on another level. I recognized that these dances were very balletic, and was thus open to give ballet a try.
In June 77, PBS broadcast ABT's "Giselle" live from Lincoln Center. I watched it, and found it quite enjoyable. The following year, the live broadcast was NYCB's "Copellia," which I enjoyed even more. (Today, my feelings about these ballets are reversed, but at that time "Copellia" was more amenable to my B'way inspired tastes.) Shortly thereafter, I went to the Met to catch my first two live ballets, ABT's "Swan Lake" and "Giselle."
But although I'd tasted the waters, my primary focus was still B'way musicals. I would attend the ballet once every few years, but it didn't become the obsession it is now until November, 1994. At that time I was browsing through Suncoast, a video retailer, looking for a movie with lots of explosions. The video of NYCB's "Nutcracker" had just been released and was playing on the store's monitors. I wasn't paying much attention to it, but was enjoying listening to the Tchaikovsky. But I happened to glance up just as Darci Kistler was beginning her Sugar Plum Fairy solo (in that production, it occurs early in Act II). BAM! I was enthralled; I must have stood there with my jaw hanging open. I watched the ballet for quite a while, then bought the video, rushed home and watched it several times. Then I started buying every ballet video I could find; then I started looking for books on the subject. I was living in Arlington, VA at the time and started going to every ballet program at Kennedy Center. I couldn't get enough, and still can't.
At first, it was a lonely obsession. Nobody I knew was slightly interested in the subject, and I always went alone. I'd come out of a performance all exited but with nobody to talk to. When Time magazine did an article on some up-and-coming ballerinas, I tore out the full-page photo of Darcey Bussell and pinned it up in my office. Besides the fact that I liked to look at it, I had hoped that some closet ballet fan would see it and know they'd found a like mind. No such luck. Even the women I knew were more interested in the Redskins.
Then I went online and discovered the USENET newsgroup alt.arts.ballet. At last! Here were people I could talk to! Not only did I get to correspond with other balletomanes, I eventually got to meet quite a few of them. I no longer had to go to the ballet by myself. One of them even convinced me to start taking class.
The question remains; why, at age 42, did I suddenly get so totally involved? It's not as if that were my first exposure. I don't know, but I'm glad for it.
I told you it'd be long...
Posted 01 December 1998 - 12:30 PM
did I suddenly get so totally involved?"
Well, I also asked that question to myself
(replacing "42" with "17"), and wondered
how I could have lived so many years paying
no attention to dance... That's probably
a common point between discovering dance
and falling in love. :-)
I discovered dance thanks to some books
before seeing any ballet on stage. When I was
nine, a friend of my mother had given me
a book called "Beaute de la Danse", by
Gilberte Cournand. But then I paid little
attention to it- there were so many things
in it that I didn't understand... However,
I realized later that some of its chapters
might have influenced me (especially a text
by Marie-Louise Didion about her childhood
at the Paris Opera Ballet School, and
another one about Vaslaw Nijinsky's last performances before he became crazy),
and indeed it was a pretty good book.
When I was about 16, around 1991, there were
some cultural programs on the French channel
FR3 some saturday afternoons. By chance, I once watched one which was about Nijinsky,
including a documentary about his life, and
a filmed performance of "Afternoon of a faun"
with Charles Jude and Marie-Claude Pietragalla. Then I started paying more attention to dance, looking for the names
of some choreographers and dancers in
dictionaries, reading the reviews about
the POB performances in Paris...
It became really important for me in the spring of 1992: there was a bookshop not very
far from my school, and I went there to browse dance books as often as I could. There
especially was a book about Michael Denard,
with great photographs, which must have made
me miss quite a lot of evening buses!
I finally managed to see a live performance
in september 1992: it was the opening gala
of the Biennale de Lyon, with several classical pas de deux ("Don Quixote", "Diana
and Acteon"...) and also modern works (such
as Limon's "Chaconne"). My parents were mildly interested: my mum would have liked to
attend dance classes in her youth, but her
parents couldn't afford it; later in the early 70s my dad and her used to attend some
ballet performances (POB or Bejart) in Paris,
but they had forgotten it since then. They
agreed to attend some performances with me,
but weren't much interested in talking about
dance... Like steve, I was really delighted
to discover alt.arts.ballet in 1994- so there
were people as crazy as myself! :-)
Posted 01 December 1998 - 05:30 PM
Like Estelle, I saw pictures of dancers in books when I was a child. We had an anthology of articles from the old Vanity Fair magazine (from the 20s) that I practically memorized, and I remember a wonderful picture of Nijinsky as the Golden Slave that mesmerized me, but there was no dance to go to, and I thought it silly. (Lovely, the judgements we place on things about which we know nothing.) I loved music and theater and film and reading, but avoided art and dance. Don't know why.
I did see some modern dance in college, and found it interesting -- certainly didn't dislike it -- and took a semester of modern dance from a crazed Grahamite who made us do sit ups with the knees touching and the legs extended out to the sides at perfect 90 degree angles, all the while saying, "Play children. Into each life, a little PAIN must fall."
None of these experiences had anything to do with the first lightning bolt performance ("Marguerite and Armand" with a Nureyev and Friends program in 1975), yet all prepared me for them, in an odd way. And, like Steve and Estelle, the worst part about it was not being able to talk to anyone.
I began reading and seeing everything I could. I lived two blocks from the Kenbedy Center (accident) ad so it was easy to do standing room and I saw companies like ABT, NYCB (both of which did 3 to 7 weeks a year here then) the Royal, Royal Danes, some of the more modest European troupes, eventually Paris Opera, which I adore, and the Kirov and Bolshoi, and all of the important American regional companies. I also began to take "open university" type courses in dance history and began a Master's degree in dance at George Washington University. While there, I took a course in criticism from Alan Kriegsman, then critic for the Washington Post, who, at the end of the course, asked me to write for the Post. This was ridiculous, because I'd only been watching dance for three years, but you don't say no to such an opportunity. I've written for the Post since 1979. I began a small tabloid publication called Washington DanceView soon after (the hubris of youth); this grew to a nationally-distributed and focused quarterly called DanceView. Writing for the Post, and living in a city which, in the 1980s, had a very extensive dance series, gave me the opportunity to see many performances. All through this period I had a "day job" as a manager and eventually vice president of one of the city's major reporting firms (reporting congressional hearings, trials, etc.) but in 1985, I left business because it was a 24-hours-a-day on call job that interfered too much with the writing.
I had dropped out of GW when I began to write for the Post, but in 1989 I went back to grad school, this time to Georgetown in their Liberal Studies program. By this time, I had become fascinated by the Royal Danish Ballet and the ballets of Bournonville. In preparation for a long-planned trip to Copenhagen, I began learning Danish so I could read all the Danish language material on that company. Georgetown let me put together a collection of courses related to European intellectual history and the early 19th century (the Danish Golden Age). I've made about 20 trips to Denmark since then, and was given access to watch rehearsals and classes and just generally hang around backstage and ask questions, which trebled what I thought I had known about ballet. In 1993, I began writing a biography of one of their greatest dancers and chief balletmasters, Henning Kronstam (which is still in progress) and in 1995 I started Ballet Alert!, a newsletter, as a supplement to DanceView. While DanceView covers all types of dance, Ballet Alert! is devoted just to ballet. This web site was started in August of 1997.
Sorry this is so long, but people keep asking questions. More true confessions, please.
[This message has been edited by alexandra (edited April 01, 1999).]
Posted 02 December 1998 - 09:56 PM
This has been moved for Margot; it was posted as we were making the move.
Oh Estelle, "Beauté de la Danse" is on the shelf of one of my ballet bookcases. Mine is a 1977 edition with a red cloth cover and a litograph of Marie Taglioni in La Gitana. I think what impressed me most about that book was the double page of illustrations showing on the left the romantic ballerinas: Taglioni, Grisi and Elssler and on the right side the Cambodian dancers. They were so different in so many ways and yet... they looked alike by other aspects. That fascinated me then and still does...
Posted 07 December 1998 - 02:51 PM
Posted 08 December 1998 - 07:35 AM
I also liked the picture of the young Lifar in "Icare" (it looked so odd to me), and one of Pontois and Denard
in some classical ballet (I don't remember which one).
Gilberte Cournand doesn't have a dance bookstore any longer, but she still is a reviewer for "Les Saisons
de la danse".
By the way, Alexandra, is there a place of the board devoted to dance books?
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