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Nijinsky, Balanchine Choreography, Bunheads, Mao's Last Dancer, Nu

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I continued my studies and deepened my enjoyment of ballet last week by watching several videos and reading a couple of books, including, among others, "Mao's Last Dancer", Dance in America's "Choreography by Balanchine (Parts 3 and 4)", "Nijinsky", and Bunheads. I also watched the first half of the "Nutcracker" by the Marinsky Ballet on Ovation last night.

"Nijinsky": I was very impressed by the dancing of George de la Pena, and I was disappointed that Ms. Browne did not do any dancing. I loved her in "Turning Point." The sound of this video was very poor, and the accents made hearing the dialogue very difficult. The story was told in a fairly frank way, but was too choppy and overly dramatic, like a television movie.

"Mao's Last Dancer": Chi Cao danced wonderfully! I would love to see him perform live. If I were teaching a class, I would assign an essay requiring students to compare and contrast this movie with "Dancing Across Borders."

"Choreography by Balanchine": This video is a treasure. It made me love Misha even more, if possible.

The dances included "Chaconne", "Prodigal Son", "Ballo della Regina", "Elegy", "Steadfast Tin Soldier", and "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux." The liner notes indicate that the music for Tchai pdd came from an unused portion of "Swan Lake", but I recognize entire sections of music and dance from the Act III, black swan pdd; maybe the notes contained an overstatement? "Prodigal Son" was really heartbreaking and difficult to watch. "Chaconne" was icy, beautiful, and completely lacking emotion, which I felt was a bold statement about a very passionate opera and story. "Ballo" was beautiful, but "Elegy" felt like a throwaway. "Tin Soldier" was charming. Merrill Ashley made a strong impression, as did all of the beautiful women who danced for Mr. B. Seeing this video provided valuable instruction regarding line, phrasing, communication between dancers, and pattern-making. It also highlighted the differences from today's standards, particularly regarding extensions.

Bunheads: This fast read was fun, in a gossipy, young adult way. However, I could not understand, for the most part, the scandal that surrounds this book. Isn't most of this stuff common knowledge? Maybe when I was younger, I would have been shocked that a rich man could have thought that he could buy a dancer for the price of a Zac Posen gown and some balloons. The stuff about having to be thin and diet was not shocking, either. Rather, I was surprised that the dancer was not obsessed with food and dieting, and never said she was hungry. She was just exhausted from all of her labors. Practically the only surprising part was how much additional exercise occurred other than company class, rehearsal, and performance, including yoga, pilates, and gym work. I think a lot of dancers would be disillusioned to learn that other professions and lifestyles require sacrifice and preclude explorations of life outside of the insulated world to which they are devoted; when I went to school across the street from State Theatre, where this book takes place, I never saw outside my school building either, even though I lived in Manhattan. When I lived across the street and worked in Manhattan, I never left my office building except to go to sleep; when I traveled to other cities for work, I never left the office or hotel. I did not spend time with family or friends, and missed many life events. When I closed the book, I only hoped the protagonist would not regret her decision by having to face other pressures and sacrifices, and would enjoy a more moderate, balanced life, which she seemed to believe would be guaranteed, but that is not necessarily the case.

Marinsky's "Nutcracker": Where was the dancing? I watched the first act, which involved a lot of costumes and attempts at humor, but I wanted to see the famed ballet dancers displaying their skills. I was disappointed. The Royal Ballet will perform a classic version on Ovation tonight, which I hope to watch. I am jealous of all who can take off from work to see NYCB today at the movies!

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