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"Born to Be Wild"

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This show will be on PBS in February -- Mpnday, Feb 3 in New York; it will probably be shown on other dates in other cities. Here's the press rellease.




Going Home With Carreño,

Corella, Malakhov & Stiefel

The depth of male dancing at American Ballet Theatre today is unprecedented in the history of American ballet, certainly as exemplified by the contingent gathered by artistic director Kevin McKenzie. Led by Cuba’s Jose Manuel Carreño, Spain’s Angel Corella, the Ukraine’s Vladimir Malakhov, and the U.S.’s Ethan Stiefel, this cadre of international artists challenge themselves and the choreographers who make new dances for them, to explore and stretch their amazing abilities.

A new Dance in America performance-documentary, Born to Be Wild: The Leading Men of American Ballet Theatre travels home with Carreño, Corella, Malakhov and Stiefel, Monday, February 3 at 10 p.m. (ET) on Thirteen/WNET New York’s GREAT PERFORMANCES (check local PBS listings). Produced and directed by five-time Emmy-winner Judy Kinberg, the 60-minute special visits Havana, Madrid, Moscow, and Madison, Wisconsin, respectively, to experience firsthand the worlds that nurtured these artists.

“Having had the privilege of getting to know each of the dancers from past projects with ABT, I realized that although they come from different countries, their stories are uniquely American,” says Kinberg. “The best way of communicating that, it seemed, was to get a sense of their backgrounds by going home with them, investigating how they came to ballet in the first place, and exploring why they came to New York to realize their highest potential as dancers.”

The telecast concludes with a rare, one-time-only occasion: the four dancing together in a specially commissioned work by Mark Morris, arguably the most prominent dancemaker of his generation. The rehearsal process of the seven-minute piece, set to the Fourth Movement of Schumann’s Piano Quintet, Op. 44, provides the spine of the documentary.

In addition to choreographer Morris, the special offers observations on the dancers by ABT’s Kevin McKenzie; Jacques d’Amboise, founder of the National Dance Institute and one of America’s foremost ballet stars of the 1950s-80s; Sofia Golovkina, former director of the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, and the legendary Alicia Alonso, director of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba and star of ABT in the 40s and 50s. Also on hand are family members and (in a surprise silent cameo) Cuban premier, Fidel Castro.

Vanity Fair calls the program “a four-chambered work that culminates in a chamber ballet for four. The entire hour is beautifully choreographed.” Regarding the “Wild” in the title, the magazine notes, “It has nothing to do with highways or hot rods, but rather the lightning these alphas unleash up in the air.”

Among the homeland highlights:

o A visit to the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, where Jose Manuel Carreño’s uncles, younger brother, and cousin danced, and where he was trained. “Some people say it’s like a dynasty,” he remarks. Alicia Alonso talks eloquently about her charge, recalling him as a child coming to watch class. Very grown up now, he and cousin Alihaydée perform a truly astounding Coda from the Diana and Acteon Pas de Deux at the Havana International Dance Festival, but not before burning the floor at a favorite salsa club.

o Angel Corella’s tour of his parents’ ballet shop in Madrid, where Angel Body Wear is a top seller. The only son in a close family of three daughters, Corella explains the impact of his background and how it defines his work. “The Spanish character has a lot to do with how I dance,” he says, “very passionate and very extreme. We live every single moment one hundred percent. And that’s the way I dance.”

o A touching Moscow reunion with Vladimir Malakhov and his mentor, the distinguished former Bolshoi ballerina and teacher Sofia Golovkina, who auditioned him for the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. He reveals how he was sent at age 10 across the Soviet Union to the school, and from then on was able to visit his family only during summers and for two weeks each winter. “I wanted to be a dancer. That is why I gave up everything,” he notes without regret.

o A motorcycle ride with Ethan Stiefel on his Harley, back to his roots in the American Midwest to visit his first teacher Jo Jean Retrum at the Monona Academy of Dance in Madison, Wisconsin. Laughs the star of Columbia Pictures’ Center Stage: “They were pretty excited because once I came into class, I guess I represented about 50 percent of the male dance population in Wisconsin.”

A production of Thirteen/WNET New York, Born to Be Wild: The Leading Men of American Ballet Theatre is produced by Judy Kinberg and Jodee Nimerichter, directed by Kinberg, and edited by Girish Bhargava. Kinberg produced last year’s From Broadway: Fosse; produced and directed the Emmy-winning Bob Fosse: Steam Heat; Who’s Dancin’ Now?; The World of Jim Henson, and co-produced the Academy Award-winning He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin’. She has produced more than 40 programs for the GREAT PERFORMANCES/ Dance in America series.

GREAT PERFORMANCES is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts, public television viewers, and PBS. Major corporate support is provided by Ernst & Young LLP, a global leader in professional services. Special funding for Born to Be Wild: The Leading Men of American Ballet Theatre was provided by the LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust and the Morris S. and Florence H. Bender Foundation.

Visit GREAT PERFORMANCES ONLINE at thirteen.org and pbs.org for additional information about this and other GREAT PERFORMANCES programs.

Jac Venza is executive producer for GREAT PERFORMANCES.


Thirteen/WNET New York is one of the key program providers for public television, bringing such acclaimed series as GREAT PERFORMANCES, Nature, American Masters, Charlie Rose, Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, Stage on Screen, EGG the arts show, and Cyberchase – as well as the work of Bill Moyers – to audiences nationwide. As the flagship public broadcaster in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut metro area, Thirteen reaches millions of viewers each week, airing the best of American public television along with its own local productions such as The Ethnic Heritage Specials, The New York Walking Tours, New York Voices, Reel New York, and its MetroArts/Thirteen cable arts programming. With educational and community outreach projects that extend the impact of its television productions, Thirteen takes television “out of the box.” And as broadcast and digital media converge, Thirteen is blazing trails in the creation of Web sites, enhanced television, CD-ROMs, DVD-ROMs, educational software, and other cutting-edge media products. More information about Thirteen can be found at: www.thirteen.org.

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Ah, Victoria, you are always one jetee ahead of the rest of us!

I just got news of the program from the Morris company (whose splendid home is a few blocks down the street from my apartment) and rushed to post news here. I can add one useful detail: go to www.pbs.org to check the air time on your local station. In the largest markets, it will run Monday, February 3rd at 10:00 PM Eastern & Pacific and 9:00 PM Central time. But each station sets its own schedule.

A pedant at heart, I have trouble with the assertion that the current ABT corps of great male dancers is "unprecedented in the history of American ballet" -- hey, the company's own history includes the likes of Nureyev and Massine and only one of the featured stars is American by birth and training -- but press releases are notorious for hyperbole.

I would also like to point out that director Judy Kinburg won her Emmies for the legendary "Dance in America" and "Choreography by Balanchine" broadcasts; she is uniquely gifted in bringing dance to TV.

I will be watching what promises to be one of the best dance programs on national TV in a decade.

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Ah, yes, Judy Kinberg did produce all those Great Performance and Dance in America shows in the seventies and eighties, but the real genius of how to film dance, Emile Ardolino, is no longer with us, and so, while Judy is no slouch, the great center of the process is gone, from a motion-recording standpoint. Of course, we all know that the actual center of a program about dance is the dance, but that's what Emile recorded, with great accuracy and élan.

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Originally posted by liljules5

I cant wait to see this!! It will be great!! Has anyone, besides those in NY, been able to see what time it is on in their local area?? I went to PBS's website and I don't think they have the listings up for that far out.

If all else fails, you can phone your local PBS station (Look for it in the phone book under its call letters, like "WNET" and "KQED.") or check out its own web site (just type the call letters in a Google or Yahoo search). In addition, a tape is likely to be available after the airing, but that will depend on the various copyright restrictions.

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Always one to call attention to over enthusiastic PR scribblings:

"Mark Morris, arguably the most prominent dancemaker of his generation."

I'd argue that...unless prominent means most visible. And what the heck is a dancemaker? Oh, I know, it makes choreography cool: like filmaker.

Isn't PR writing fascinatingly slippery? By including "arguably" and "prominent" and "dancemaker" in the sentence, the writer has defused possible criticism of the content of the statement. (Although it hasn't stopped me, has it?)

Hey, I'll bet I'm arguably the most prominent something, too!


(Running for the exit before you guys "fill in the blank")

Personally my vote goes to Trey McIntyre

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(sigh) What about Acosta and Bocca?

Okay. Carreño for Cuba (Acosta's out) but Bocca - South America/Argentina?

Fine. I'll just sit quietly and enjoy the show...

And (not really in this subject) but - choreographers - Yes Mark is: "arguably the most prominent dancemaker of his generation." And Trey McIntyre's not in his generation! Mark's getting older... The under 35 club (that Mr. McIntyre is in) is much better represented by: Stanton Welch and Christopher Wheeldon...

Voting? New subject?

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Reminder that airs is tonight in some cities. Check today's Links for several reviews. I've also screened this, and would generaly agree with those reviews. This seems to be aimed at a very general audience and goes heavy on the "dance guys are real macho" line, and tries to demystify ballet and make it less threatening -- we're just real guys doing neat stuff. I think fans of these dancers will be delighted to see them on and off stage. I think ballet fans will be disappointed that this is so general and so mass market -- and grateful that there is even this sliver of dance on television. I'd give it ***** for the general audience and *** for the rest of us.

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I did want to pull out a quote from Anna Kisselgoff's piece in today's Times (link on Links). It's a keeper for our discussions about the difference between modern dance and ballet and why it matters:

On the dance side, things are stagier. Commissioned by the producers, Mark Morris choreographs a seven-minute trifle to Schumann wisely called "Non Troppo." He is funny, but both he and his assistant Tina Fehlandt regard ballet as a foreign language.  

Jacques d'Amboise, the former New York City Ballet star, is dragged in as a visiting sage and rightly notes that Mr. Morris is a modern-dance choreographer, not a ballet choreographer. Is this what a close-up of great ballet dancers needs?

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Another useful reminder: most PBS stations will re-broadcast the show later in the week. In New York, it will be repeated at 2:30 on Sunday afternoon, February 9th.

Again, I'd suggest checking with your local PBS station or its web site.

Of course, this being PBS, the show will surely re-appear several months down the line, but when is hard to predict.

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Well, I saw it.

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.

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A few thoughts on "Born to Be Wild."

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!

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Add another vote of agreement with Anna Kisselgoff's accessment of the show. It came off as very good public relations for the four stars of ABT, and had as much depth. But I liked it. I guess I wouldn't be so hard on it if only we had more opportunities to see ballet on TV. But this (and the non-ballet ballet Othello by SFB in June) is it on PBS.

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.

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I'm more or less with Dale on this one. It's too bad Morris decided to call his work "non troppo" and provide a bunch of one-liners - "not too much". It's flyweight stuff using heavyweight talent right down the "Pas de Quatre" crib at the end. There was a lot of proving these four are just reg'lar fellers, and not a lot of depth. It was pleasant, a good puff piece for ABT and these four dancers, showing everybody amiable and cooperative, and, I suppose, a good thing for people not used to seeing any sort of ballet to have. One thing, though, about the comment that Morris is a modern dance choreographer, but he is grounded in classical technique. He studied at the Joffrey School under the late Perry Brunson, and Brunson's precision in classicality and his physicality are still evidenced in his work.

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Manhattanik, you do make me laugh...especially that "Giselle" tag team scene! I have to agree with everyone's comments. I enjoyed it, I liked seeing the snippets, thought Mark Morris was the wrong choreographer to have used for this kind of film, felt his piece at the end was a really big let down.

The fighting of the male dancer stereotype was done with a rather heavy hand. :D (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.

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I guess I'm in the minority here, but I liked Morris's little dance. Not as a work of art, a full-scale ballet, because it wasn't that, but as "writing." Morris's fluency in putting together steps and movements, the way he uses his dancers, his innate sense of structure, and above all his musicality, are things you just can't see almost anywhere else in ballet these days (in new works). He makes his peers look like imitation choreographers.

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