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  1. All the ABT guys mentioned are great. Glad to see Bocca included. The one guy that didn't see mentioned that's a favorite of mine is Carlos Acosta.
  2. Rev. Sharpton engaging in hyperbole? I'm shocked! The name I haven't seen mentioned regarding pioneers in racial barrier breakthroughs is Nat King Cole. He gained crossover acceptance even in the years before the civil rights movement. He was "first" in many things. Others that come to mind are Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and Harry Belafonte. While I admire the work of Michael Jackson and appreciate the tremendous creativity he brought, I would agree that there are many others that would be in the Jackie Robinson category before him as breaking racial barriers in entertainment.
  3. First, I fully admit I am not near as experienced as other reviewers here, but I was also at the Saturday matinee to see Osipova and Vasiliev. We had seats center front orchestra, about 8 rows back. Before any other comments, I must say I absolutely loved the performance! I thought the production was beautiful. More than any other, if there was one ballet I would take someone to who believed they didn’t like ballet performances, this was it. I took Kaufman’s remarks in the Post regarding the length as positive and would echo them. At three hours, while it’s acknowledgeably longer than the average performance, I found it thoroughly entertaining the entire time and regretted to hear anything was left out. I agree with a previous comment that the acting was humorous without becoming slapstick, with particular note of Osipova, who was beautiful and charming as Medora. The supporting cast was excellent throughout. The men, as would be expected of the Bolshoi, all danced convincingly as pirates, something I might not say of all companies. The character dancing was all superb. The corps was an unexpected surprise, performing beautifully even while adjusting to the cramped stage. Having given my most enthusiastic praise, I will have to say that I was a bit puzzled that the dancing by both leads did feel a bit off at times. Vasiliev’s lifts were all sure and steady and while his solo and jumps were excellent by virtually any standard, perhaps my expectations were a bit higher for such a rising Bolshoi soloist. He did miss a turn and I saw the same bobbled landing. I agree that it didn’t appear to be injurious but he was clearly chagrined. Osipova also appeared have some problems with her fouettes and I believe she actually did fall at one point, but quickly recovered (I don’t recall the act, but it was far left downstage). But the more unusual thing I noticed was that both of them seemed to become disconnected with the music a few times. This was all the more noticeable to me because most of the time they were so beautifully spot on. I considered that it might have been that it was a long ballet with the leads on stage a lot, that Osipova was coming off three performances of two other ballets in New York in recent days, and perhaps they may not have performed this ballet together before or recently (?). In spite of my observations, I was certainly not disappointed. But my puzzlement about what might have been going on is now all the more so since they didn’t dance on Sunday as scheduled. Out of this performance, would I vouch that Osipova and Vasiliev deserve to be the rising stars they are acclaimed to be? The answer is - Without a doubt. Their miscues in the performance, while noticeable, were overshadowed by much beautiful dancing and bursts of clear brilliance. I hope to have the opportunity to see them both often in the future.
  4. Having danced just enough pas de deux to really appreciate the challenge, I have to say that I enjoyed the “Balanchine Couples” immensely. While I was considering writing a review, Maculay’s review of the 14th actually stole 95% of my own thoughts, and much better written! All in all, I was impressed with the dancers since the production featured, if my count is correct, 15 dancers in the spotlight, from a company certainly not normally thought of for its depth. I also felt it was a much more personal production than what we are familiar seeing, not only because of the nature of being solely pas de deux, but also the connection Ms. Farrell lent to them and conveyed in her personal remarks. Thanks also to all here for the feedback on seating at the renovated Eisenhower. With regard to my experience, I was dead center Row L. Like Emilienne, I was somewhat concerned when I got them but they turned out great, particularly so for the more intimate “Couples.” The rake there made for a surprisingly good sightline. While even that close, eye level was several feet above stage level. Having said that, for a production with more dancers on stage, I think I would still prefer seats with a higher perspective.
  5. I'm pretty obsessive about finishing books I start, but after a number of attempts, I admit I've never made it though Joyce's Ulysses. And I really wanted to like it since I bought my copy at the Trinity College bookstore in Dublin. I just couldn't get into the rambling thing. Maybe it also had something to do with never being excited about The Odyssey, even after a couple of readings. But I have enjoyed Fagles translation of The Iliad very much. The major classic I've never read is War and Peace. While I certainly didn't hate Anna Karenina, I found it got tiresome in places and have to admit that like Aurora, by the end of it I was sort of ready to shove her under the train myself. I decided that was enough Tolstoy for a while. Maybe someday I'll go back. In a slightly different category, I think the hardest classic I've read that I still loved was The Brothers Karamazov by Dostovsky.
  6. According to statistics from Dance USA, Baltimore is the largest metropolitan area in the nation without a dance company with a million dollar plus budget. Washington is third in the nation with the number of million dollar companies with 4. Baltimore supports an opera and a symphony and is the home of several art museums and schools, including the prestigious Maryland Institute of Art and the Maryland Conservatory of Music. Probably about the only thing it lacks is a major ballet company. I don't know if Baltimore is what Washington Ballet has in mind but it certainly seems that it would be a logical market for a ballet company to expand into.
  7. Perhaps you'd recognize the complete title - "Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises"!!
  8. It seems to me that creativity is about a circle, or more hopefully, an upward spiral. Art (culture) is created and exist to inspire. Artist, such as dancers, in order to go beyond the mere technical and actually become creative, require inspiration. Therefore, since cultural artifacts (masterpiece art, literature, music, etc.) purpose is the inspiration they provide, it might be natural for those for whom inspiration is so vitally important to look to those cultural artifacts as a source of inspiration. And for some, they certainly do. Looking at a masterpiece of art, reading a great book, hearing a beautiful piece of music can provide the inspiration that they can then translate into something special in dance. However, the important point that others here are making, is that culture is not the only source of inspiration and for some, may in fact provide little. The true sources of inspiration for anyone may be very personal and is often a very deep process. Inspiration may be found in the beauty of nature, in the humanity of family and friends, in the mystery of the spiritual, or in a thousand other of those personal and individual ways. So is a cultural education necessary? Perhaps not essential, but it still seems that to be exposed to as many possible sources of inspiration would certainly be highly desirable, particularly sources that have existed and survived based on their inspirational qualities. Perhaps the technical analogy of this wide exposure is the choreographer who learns a wide variety of styles and steps, providing the background that will allow them to choose and develop those which will become them, those that they will use to create the inspiration the rest of us look to ballet and dance for. I’m not familiar enough with the education of the younger generation of dancers to judge whether they are deficient in cultural background. The more important question to me is: Are they finding their own sources of inspiration? In my opinion, it appears many of them are. Creativity, while it may be argued that it is not on a level as at other times, is still certainly present. Waves of overall creativity in society seem to ebb and flow, influenced by many factors beyond just the artists themselves. Whether the artists and dancers of today are finding their inspiration in Maupassant, Dumas and Balzac is not near so important, as long as they are able to find it. And perhaps the true source even lies within their selves.
  9. You might check out the information in her entry on wikipedia. If it's anywhere near accurate, it sounds like she was much more dancer than skater, and is still involved in teaching advanced ballet.
  10. Paul, thanks for bringing up Ray Bolger. I agree that he ranks right in there with Astaire and Kelly. For better or worse, I think he played to the fact that his face and demeanor was better suited for comedy rather than leading man roles. To a large degree, this served to limited his exposure and the true recognition of him as the highly skilled dancer he was. I read an interesting reference to Bolger in Jazz Dance: The Story of American Vernacular Dance by Marshall and Jean Sterns. In it, they quote Herbie Harper, who was an assistant to Balanchine for “On Your Toes.” Along with Buddy Bradley, Harper was one of the great black dancers who were coaches and even choreographers on Broadway at the time, obviously uncredited. For Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, Harper says he had to teach Bolger rhythm dancing. Harper is quoted as saying “Bolger knew his ballet but not his jazz toe and heel work. He had to come down out of the air for this new blend.” I’m not sure if Bolger really knew ballet, but his style, know as legomania or eccentric dancing, definitely had a lightness about it. Another well-know practitioner was Buddy Ebsen. I also believe he had little if any formal training, but like many dancers of that era, spent many hours watching others, getting pointers, “borrowing” steps, and practicing over and over to develop his personal style. My suspicion is that one quality Bolger’s dancing had about it, besides the lightness, that caught Balanchine’s interest was the amazing ability to be, or appear to be, very off balance but still actually be in control. I think Balanchine would later look to incorporate that quality in his ballet dancers. Interestingly, I think this quality of dance, to appear off balance, has mostly survived in the area of the oft-maligned hip hop, where many dancers incorporate isolations, displacements, and extreme pull ups.
  11. Personally, I'm pulling for both Miley Cyrus and Oprah to take up ballet .
  12. Bart, Thanks for bringing up the continuum of art. I actually had written a similar paragraph but fortunately cut it from my post because you expressed it much better. The one thing I might add is that the range of our ability to understand and appreciate art forms all along the continuum is limited only by our own individual vision. There are no true dividing lines, only those we chose to create and allow. I believe that if we expect others to have a broader vision, we must be prepared to demonstrate that possibility ourselves. SanderO, I like the point you make about the difficulty sometimes in distinguishing exactly what is high culture and what is pop culture and the issue of the quality of the art. Just because something is presented as art and gains a great deal of attention (popular or unpopular), does that necessarily make it culture, pop or otherwise? Can pop art done well be "better" than high art done poorly? I just finished reading the biography of Louis Moreau Gottschalk and it ends with a discussion of the debate, both during his lifetime and ever since, regarding whether he represented high culture (classically trained in Paris, respected by other classical composers of the time) or popular culture (he primarily performed popular romantic music that appealed to audiences of the Victorian mid-1800’s). On one hand, his music introduced syncopated rhythms that would later inspire ragtime and on the other, it provided us Pasquinade and Tarantella. Paul, I agree with you that there is a very real economic component to popular culture, but I’m not sure that it is based on any conspiracy of advertisers to trick us out of our money. Achieving economic security and continuing revenue is important for all art, pop or classical, the same as it is for us as individuals. While there are certainly people looking for a quick buck, its been proven many times over that in the long run, the most successful way to secure and maintain revenue is by genuinely understanding and consistently meeting the expectations of the people willing to pay, be that ballet audiences, art patrons, or consumers of popular culture. I do believe ballet has the potential, and I stress potential, of finding broader acceptance and a resulting improved image in contemporary culture. Again, my hopes are based on the success of increasing local, accessible ballet experiences and productions allowing broader exposure. While not a great analogy, I would wish for ballet to achieve something similar to what has happened in the US with soccer. During the last World Cup, I was surprised at how many people, through their children and participation as children, have become very knowledgeable and appreciate the sport. Along with that, certainly in my lifetime, the image and attitude toward soccer has changed from some strange game foreigners play with their feet to one of the most played sports in the US. This popularity has all developed at the local level because, interestingly enough, most of the population has yet to ever attend a major professional soccer event! The real future of ballet in our culture probably lies much less with what happens at the NYCB or ABT, but much more likely to what happens at your local studios and companies.
  13. My first question is how much pop culture actually influences attitudes or is it more of a reflection of existing attitudes. Because I tend to believe the later, I’m not sure that the portrayal of ballet in pop culture is changing very much because I’m not sure that the attitude about ballet overall is changing very much. To me, the challenge of the image of ballet lies deep in its roots, from its beginning as a court dance, as an activity associated with elitism. Regardless of what the reality might often be, children whose families can afford ballet classes are often seen as privileged and people who can afford to often attend major performances have plenty of disposal income. In a society that prides itself on populism, this has created a degree of tension and has made ballet an easy target for elitism satire. Unfortunately, there are proponents on both sides that continue to perpetuate the view of ballet being for the elite. Pop culture likes to present ballet as still belonging to the wealthy and to the “highbrows.” Alternatively, proponents of ballet not uncommonly view pop culture as representing the “unwashed masses,” whose interests are somehow beneath them. I would go so far as saying that some even use their interest in ballet as “proof” of their “more refined” status over the less enlightened, further fueling the image of elitism. I think it is interesting that where class differences have be institutionally eliminated (at least in theory), such as the Soviet Union and Cuba, the acceptance and appreciation of ballet has grown. The people in these countries apparently ceased to view ballet as a province of the elite and began to claim it for the “masses” themselves. Equally interesting, it is the so-called pop culture that often declined under these conditions. (I am only offering this as an observation and am in no way advocating the means these countries used to achieve this turn of events.) Pessimistically, I don’t think pop culture will change much until the attitudes they reflect change. Overall, in spite of the Simpson’s example, in my opinion, I’m not sure things have gotten worse but neither do I think they have necessarily gotten any better. Again, I believe it is probably a reflection of little change of the overall popular attitude toward ballet. Optimistically, my biggest hope for a change in attitudes toward ballet is the growth in local companies, both in number and quality. Certainly an economic downturn will hurt them, but if we can continue to support them, I believe this will be one of the best ways to show the accessibility of ballet to everyone, not just the ones who can afford to see a few major performances a year. When that starts happening, we can start shedding the image of elitism and make ballet into more of a populist movement. When that happens, that is when we will start seeing the real changes in pop culture.
  14. The reality is that whoever pays the bills becomes the boss, be that a capitalist, a king, a socialist government, or the public. Whomever pays the bills will always have the ability to exercise control, either benevolent or not, of the art (and often the artists). Sponsorship of the high arts has rarely been broad-based and each method of funding has always come with a different set of problems. We should remember that support of the high arts, until just a couple of hundred years ago, was largely provided by either royalty or the church. With their demise as controllers of wealth, different dynamics have had to emerge. The US has always struggled with the democratization of the arts. The downsides that have come with popularization have been noted here and other places. Our problem in the US is that we inherently don’t trust either the wealthy or the government with the control that comes with their support, nor have we found an effective method of supporting high arts more broadly. We’ve ended up with an unreliable patch work of some wealthy donors, limited government grants, and capricious public support, a method that is tenuous and often unreliable. And actually, in some respects, classical ballet may not suffer as much as other arts since there seems to be less concern if a limited number of wealthy donors control it or not. I am actually optimistic of building a broader base of support but it will take superior management, something I believe may be developing. As long as adequate funding was secure, management wasn’t needed. We are starting to understand that there is, just as bart emphasized, an emerging expertise in running not-for-profits as a business, where some day funding may be used for endowments rather than expenses, which could allow even more independence and artistic freedom than ever before.
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