"Born to Be Wild"
Posted 03 February 2003 - 06:20 PM
Posted 03 February 2003 - 06:47 PM
Posted 03 February 2003 - 09:06 PM
I think Anna Kisselgoff pretty much hit the nail on the head. Aside from some gorgeous clips and a few interesting comments, most of the show was a rehash of that perennial "Male dancers are really manly men." I expected to see Ethan Stiefel pull his motorcyle off the road and chop a few cords of wood or bulldoze some wetlands or plow the South Forty or something. Geez.
When McKenzie went on about how once upon a time ABT had five leading ballerinas, I yelled back at the TV "Well, you sure put a stop to that!"
(I really did love the clip of Carreno in Cuba dancing the coda from Diana and Acteon with an unidentified ballerina who was just a fool for fouettes. I think in Cuban ballet there's no top over which it's possible to be too far.)
And then there's shot after shot of Mark Morris rehearsing the guys in a real nothing of a piece for the four of them, which is supposed to be the culmination of the show. You couldn't tell from Non Troppo that these are four of the best dancers in the world. It was so cute and precious, and if I saw that attitude pirouette thing one more time I was going to hurl, uh, the TV out the window. For God's sake, Mark, who wants to see these guys pushing each other around in pretty arabesques or holding hands? Let them uncork a few of their favorite show-stoppers, puhleeze. Hell, I'd rather seem them do Variations for Four, and that's really saying something.
At least if Twyla Tharp were doing it she might've come up with something appropriately kitschy, like having all four guys do the solo from Don Q either simultaneously, or as a tag team. Or both.
Speaking of tag teams, I have decided that this is the answer to McKenzie's perennial "What do I give the guys to do?" problem. Rather than have Stanton Welch make another "Guys are pretty enough without women, but we need a token one anyway" dance like Clear, I think he should implement tag-team versions of the classics, like Spectre de la Rose. Now THAT would've been special. Corella, Carreno, Malakhov and Stiefel in a tag-team Spectre.
Or how about a tag-team Giselle?
We could have Malakhov's Albrecht about to expire before Myrtha and the Wilis, using his last gasp of energy to crawl (perhaps with Giselle's assitance) toward the cross -- where he tags Corella's Albrecht, who bounces in, fresh as a daisy, to take Malakhov's place. Suddenly Myrtha and the Wilis realize that they've go to do the dancing-to-death thing ALL OVER AGAIN from the beginning, with even flashier solos and brise volees by this Albrecht. By the time we get to Steifel, the Wilis have run out of steam and ectoplasm, and as the bell rings to signal the end of the match, they melt away in defeat, leaving the Four Albrechts free to search for new horizons to cross, or new milkmaids to ravish.
Oh, now I'm envisioning a La Sylphide with James played by Rowdy Roddy Piper. I need to take (several) sedatives and get some sleep.
See what this show made me do? It's all PBS's fault.
Posted 03 February 2003 - 09:16 PM
As Alexandra noted, the piece was clearly conceived for a broad popular audience. The perfomance highlights -- other than the commissioned Morris piece, of which more later -- come entirely from 19th-century "applause machines." All four men (as many of us have seen) have the style and technique to bring down the house at will, so there's no news here.
The film also spends a lot of time trying to undermine the myth that all male dancers are gay. Ethan Stiefel tells us how great it is "to work every day with women in excellent shape"; we also see him riding his Harley and get to meet his father, the ex-cop. ABT's Artistic Director, Kevin MacKenzie, has always exuded masculinity (even in tights), and the five o'clock shadow he sports in the filmed interview only enhances the image. Jacques d'Amboise offers several trenchant comments, though I suspect he was invited as much for his NUU YAHWK accent and famous children (Christopher runs the Pennsylvania Ballet, Charlotte stars in every Broadway musical's second cast, and three other kids have real jobs) as for his dance knowledge. Near the end of the film, we also get to see Jose Manuel Carreno's wife and daughters.
Enough already! Mark Morris is openly gay, Angel Corella is ambiguous, and another ABT dancer, Marcelo Gomes, recently came out on the cover of The Advocate, a highly respected gay newsweekly. In short, both gay men and straight men have had and can have wildly succcessful careers in dance; it's a field in which sexual orientation is really, truly irrelevant.
That said, I felt the mix of brief biography, performance snippets and rehearsals for the new piece made for good television. Individual sections were certainly brief, but also concise. We got a good sense of the different backgrounds and sensibilities of the four men, a taste of the dancing that has made their reputations, and previews of the climactic work, including some telling insights into how a new dance is created.
Nevertheless, I found the Morris piece disappointing, at least as it appeared on television. Rather than staging the dance in a studio with wide-ranging cameras and extensive consultation with the director (as was the case with this film's rehearsal footage and the classic Choreography by Balanchine shows, still available from Nonesuch video) the Morris dance was staged in a theatre before a live audience, with obvious limitations on where and when the cameras could roam, and how many "takes" the director could request. The technical staff was first rate (led by Judy Kinberg, a veteran of Dance in America), but budgetary constraints seem to have kept her and her colleagues from doing their best.
Nonetheless, this is a well-paced and engaging video essay in the art of male classical dance. It's a wonderfully entertaining hour that celebrates the art we all love. Show it to your friends (male and female) and try to convert them!
Posted 03 February 2003 - 09:29 PM
Posted 03 February 2003 - 10:06 PM
I liked going back to each dancer's hometown, but I found the bits with Morris a little bit precious. It was nice to drag D'Amboise into the show, but it could have been made clear that he was once one of the top male dancers. And while it was appropriate to mention Baryshnikov as an inspiration for male dancers, I thought it remiss not to bring up Edward Villella, who also greatly extended the profile and technical skills of the men in ballet.
There also were a few omissions from the bios that should have been corrected, even considering the limited time (and why only 60 minutes? Couldn't Dance in America have squeezed another 30 minutes from Antique Road Show), such as how Stiefel makes it seem like he went straight to SAB from Wisconsin. Didn't the family first move to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where he studied at the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet (the school that gave ballet the LeBlanc sisters, the Staffords, Zahorian, Lavery, and Bouder etc...).
As for the performance clips, the snips of home movies were great. I saw Stiefel in that SAB workshop in which he also danced the 3rd movement of Symphony in C. Everybody knew then that he was going to be a star. And the shots from festival in Cuba were great fun and, oh my god, a ballerina was shown. Isn't partnering a huge part of being a male ballet dancer. Yet none of the men's partners from ABT or elsewhere were interviewed. Did they boycott the production, hoping for a "Girls Gone Wild" video of their own (you watchters of late night cheesy TV know what I mean)?
Of course, the general audience might not have seen the clips from the previously aired Le Corsaire, but I have. And I'm sure Judy Kinberg found it cheaper to get clips from shows she produced herself rather than get a camera over to the Met or City Center to film the men in parts that might have shown them in a greater variety of styles within the classical reperatoire such as Prodigal Son, Onegin or even Stiefel's solo from Black Tuesday. This show has been in the works for about two years, so they certainly could have done some more in-performance filming.
Of course, I'm seeing this as a glass-half-emtpy situation. The men came off very well, it showed them in a strong light. And if this show can get a few more people to accept men in ballet, if they liked what they saw and go to the ballet or write to PBS that they want to see more ballet programing, then it was a great show.
Also, Morris Neighbor, Christopher D'Amboise no longer runs Penn Ballet, Roy Kaiser does.
Posted 04 February 2003 - 04:25 AM
Posted 04 February 2003 - 05:44 AM
The fighting of the male dancer stereotype was done with a rather heavy hand. (I kept thinking that Ethan Steifel really was nuts for riding around on his Harley without a helmet, but guess that was part of the "manly" emphasis.) And yes, it was rather odd that there was only that one, brief, glimpse of any partnering - with a female, that is. However, for all these negatives, I still enjoyed it and think it was pretty successful, generally speaking. As Dale wrote:
The men came off very well, it showed them in a strong light. And if this show can get a few more people to accept men in ballet, if they liked what they saw and go to the ballet or write to PBS that they want to see more ballet programing, then it was a great show.
Time to drop a note of thanks and encouragement off to PBS and Great Performances.
Posted 04 February 2003 - 05:51 AM
Posted 04 February 2003 - 06:46 AM
Posted 04 February 2003 - 06:53 AM
I didn't think Stiefel came across very well on tape-he's definately interviewed better than that before. And, IMHO, it's not manly to ride without a helmet, it's just plain stupid.
Very striking to note the difference in the segment on Corella-no ballet school, no ballet teacher. He mentions his Cuban teacher, but other than that we just see the front door of Victor Ullate's school/company building. And how he talks about ballet being nothing in Spain, and having danced for the President of the US & the Queen of England, but not the King & Queen of Spain. I also noted how American Corella sounds-probably because he spends more time in the US than the other two foreign-born men, and came to the US at a much younger age.
I found the segment on Malakhov the most interesting, with the train ride and his description of growing up at the Bolshoi school.
BTW, does anyone know when & where the performance of the Morris Ballet took place, and who the audience was (was it advertised to the public).
Was I imagining things or were there a few other dancers present, marking the steps in the background, perhaps a "second" cast?
Posted 04 February 2003 - 07:30 AM
Posted 04 February 2003 - 08:02 AM
I, too, enjoyed seeing a bit of their nondance lives...especially the childhood part but also wished there'd been more on their training. I will say that they do all seem to be very likeable fellows - no airs of superiority, which was a plus!
Posted 04 February 2003 - 08:24 AM
And the program kind of didn't delve into the harder parts of being a dancer, although Malakhov's section did a little bit. His trip back to Moscow was very interesting, especially how he was considered a foreigner from Ukraine at the Bolshoi. Yet, many of the Russians I interview in sports consider Ukraine, Belarus and even Georgia and Uzbekistan part of "Russia." But they also told me about how if you're not from Moscow or St. Petersburg, you got descriminated against. So Malakhov's segment showed a peak at something that is very interesting to me. And I loved him telling Grigorivich, "Too late." Other dancers during that time - Ananiashvilli is one - has spoken of slights she received because she was Georgian.
And seeing those Cuban boys with their tattered shoes was heartbreaking.
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