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Sessions are July 1-31, 2015 and August 1-31, 2015. Check out the Pinterest photos of this fabulous International Vaganova Summer Intensive.
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SIR FREDERICK ASHTON was one of the chief creators of the lyrical, reserved style of English ballet classicism. The Lincoln Center Festival’s unparalleled Ashton Celebration, which opens on Tuesday at the Metropolitan Opera House, will suggest his range, his passion for his medium and his abiding humanity.
Over two weeks, four companies will perform 12 works, both familiar and seldom seen, that span 31 years. One troupe is the Royal Ballet, which Ashton helped to create. Another, the K-Ballet Company from Japan, will make its North American debut. The Birmingham Royal Ballet and Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, who complete the quartet, have made it a mission to preserve and perform Ashton’s ballets.
Ashton, who died in 1988 at the age of 83, fell in love with ballet in his early teens when he saw a performance by Anna Pavlova, whose exotic presence impressed him. An even greater inspiration was Marius Petipa, the 19th-century architect of what we know today as classical ballet.
Ashton told stories in his ballets, with humor and an intense empathy for the most unlikely characters. He could distill dance to its luminous, serene essence or fill the stage with complex, grand design. Here is a guide to five ballets to be performed at the festival.
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A photo from the U.S. Archives which demonstrates very clearly Isadora Duncan’s, and other modern dancers, influence on ballet. You can’t say “choreography” without saying “dancers” or “ballet” as they converge, effect each other, and dancers dance, to some extent, what they want to or what the can.
This is a pretty rare photo, but now, we can see that perhaps Anna Pavlova did not really hate Isadora Duncan after-all, but instead was influenced by her, tried to channel or feel what Isadora felt, what modern dance was, or her choreographer was interested in it for this piece. We see it finally because she danced it. She agreed to do it. That makes it important to ballet. What a dancer agrees to do (and does not agree to do) ultimately defines them to their audience, defines their art, and history, especially when you are discussing Anna Pavlova.
But in relation to any dancer, they will be seen to be a certain kind of dancer, expected to perform certain roles, become skilled at those and roles like them. Obviously Pavlova went back to classical roles and swore off modern dance. At least for her life, this was not what she was good at, excelled at. One needs to know oneself and one’s limitations, but that comes with experience. Expansion can mean growing into an acceptance of what your roles could and should be in dance, or it can come to mean limiting yourself to perfection of one type of dancing. Being an expert at one thing certainly raises the level of expertise required for that genre. It increases your ability to dance those roles.
Most importantly, if you are determined to dance certain roles, certain ballets, certain parts, then you need to learn those parts, become expert at them, so that no matter your deficiencies, people will say, “but she/he dances those parts better, even if she/he is not this or that. But if you do not specialize, then perhaps you will never be good enough at one thing to qualify even for that. If Pavlova had not been skilled in ballet, had that not been her passion, we would not have been fortunate to have come to understand her legacy a little better, and while she had the option to become more skilled, at a later age, in other forms of dance, she did not do a 180 and perform modern, or try to find herself in it.
Even with poorer choreography than Diaghilev could provide, she continued to astound audiences with her versatility and drama, as a ballet dancer. She truly was an ambassador of ballet. Something must also be said about modern dance here, the characteristics of it, the difference between it and ballet, are wide. Isadora Duncan could have suddenly said, I want to be a ballet dancer. But she did not. There was unquestionable an attitude and freedom in her approach to dancing, her naturalness, her languor and beauty (she was a very beautiful woman), her form and development in modern dance, which gave her an advantage in performing her roles, her choreography, and she danced to a different drummer, literally, different music.
She was right and Pavlova was right. Two experts, a long time ago, who felt that you had to make up your mind, pick a side, choose, two purists. I do not think choreographers today understand dance very well, for they are not able to separate or merge the two dance styles (usually). They are greedy, and dancers are too, so no one is perfect today in ballet, because they try to do too much. Be the star on every stage. And yet, even with the most sought after choreographers, some dancers just do not enjoy that success. Great ballet dancers fail at exploring new styles, new techniques, and they are simply not the best.
But, by taking on roles that minimize, instead of maximize, their abilities as ballet dancers, instead of having new ballet roles made for them, their performances are not what they could be. At thirty to forty years of age, these dancers should be reaching a point where they are true artists, and yet the barre for true artistry is lowered. There are some artists, such as Natalia Osipova, Darcy Bussell, Tamara Rojas, etc., who have remained dedicated to their art and may possibly reach a point, historically, where their body of work is respected and exceeds more publicized dancers, simply because they knew their limitations and they stayed within the parameters of their expertise longer, trying to reach a point where they were consummate in their art. It is not today that they will be judged, but tomorrow, and in the annals of history, where we are not yet and cannot say whom will leave what.
How will they all be credited? More is needed for women to make a mark, when before them is opportunity to travel, to reach out, to grow, to direct, choreograph, produce. What will their choices be? Will they stray from the path of their strength, give up, or will they take the torch, the flame and finally bring something monumental back to ballet, the genre that gave them their careers, their fame? Or will they dabble in other forms of dance, leaving mediocrity in their wake, when they could have developed classical ballet, and ballet, a big step further in order to safeguard it as Vaganova did.
So when you are in class, or studying ballet, pick a side, and win or lose, cling to that vision. For is you are true to your vision, you are working not only toward what you believe in, and love, but you are setting a precedence for what will be your strongest form of dance in the future. What do you want that to be? Don’t let rejection, or all of the opinions of others set your path. For the path you choose will probably be the one that survives with you, the one you will know best, and will propagate. If there is one you prefer, no matter what others say, follow the choice you will be able to live with and embrace.
This is not what you think. I am sure by now I appear like some half-psycho wandering mother with her children living out of a car, and dragging her little girl to ballet classes a la Rosalind Russell (Gypsy, 1962-the year I was born). But I am not. I do have a little trouble paying all the bills for her ballet class and no one in our household is very supportive of her dancing. She was feeling bad because I bought her a new pair of point shoes-well, she cannot very well dance without them, can she? The ones she had were too soft, so she ran the risk of hurting her achilles tendon, again. Ballet, I repeat is NOT for poor people. You have to be really smart to juggle classes, clothing, photos, point shoes and other shoes, transportation, fees for costumes, etc., and privates. It’s around $1,000 per month and if you have a lot of discretionary income, that is fine. Before ballet, there is usually gymnastics-we skipped that part-or other kinds of dance. We did one half-year of tap and jazz at a small studio by our house with her friends.
The truth is, I danced for two years in modern and ballet, when my teacher said, let’s get point shoes! I was not sure whether to be excited or dismayed (ha, betcha thought I was a ballet dancer!) Well, I was. But the point is, point was not my primary interest in the art form at age sixteen, and to be honest, all of the women in my class were college students or beyond and were looking forward to it. They all went down to the local dance shop and bought point shoes right away. To me, it was like a strange beast you put on your foot and tried to walk around in-nothing could have looked more alien to me than a point shoe. I studied them in the magazines, I went and gawked at the store window (we only had one shop) at the Capezios (one brand-life was simple in Ohio). I had a very straight foot. Physically, I was built very straight up and down. No chest until I was about 16-at all, none. I wasn’t exactly skinny, I was muscular, but slim. My feet always seemed to stare up at me like that comic character, L’il Abner, and I could raise one toe with what seemed to me a large nail. I quickly looked away hoping no one else would see me do that. I think the stigma came from my mother telling me that she was going to have to start buying the shoeboxes for me when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade. By the time I was in the eighth grade I wore a size 8.5. Like Catherine d’Medici, I learned that my feet looked much better, well—pointed. Shoes were flat then, in grade school. There was no little heel to disguise my seemingly big feet, and my compressible foot had spent several years in a cheap converse which didn’t do my arch any good. I got shin-splints in my 2nd year of ballet for which there was no Internet, Ballet Talk or other source of advice and a gym teacher gave me the exercise to roll a tennis ball with my foot. I did. For whatever reason, in my third year of dance the splints went away.
I remember standing between our pool table and the sofa and jumping up in the air in a leap when I was in grade school. What intrigued me was the feeling of weightlessness and what made me stay up in the air which I could do for the longest time. Like a bird and I would go leaping around in the yard to see how long I could stay up there, what made me stay up longer, stretching myself longer and longer to achieve the greatest height and distance. I did well in standing long jumps in school (second place again to Nancy!). Nancy still looks fabulous and thin. But I also ran. I had stamina, I walked miles everyday. I had nice carriage and good posture. But I did not feel proud of my feet. The toe turned up when I pointed and was forever looking at me, just a little bit past my tights in my bare feet and I could imagine it in my ballet slipper, turned up, so that my shoe even had a little place in it where the toe rubbed the top! Point shoes.
Well, I got mine. But I was not looking forward to that class. I just knew. I sewed the ribbons on, elastics, and went to class. There were no dreams in my head of becoming Heather Watts or Cynthia Gregory. I loved the ballet, was moved to dance, and was good at ballet in certain respects. I had very good technique, good turnout, balance. I simply missed the prima ballerina train. I was even flexible and could jump up and touch my toes, perfectly. Cheerleading practice. I loved ice skating and bicycle riding (it was my car). I did not have big hamstrings, or behind. I was rather built like a boy or a flatsy doll. I put them on. They hurt right away. The princess and the pea. It burned! Like the witch in The Wizard of Oz, I threw them off mentally, 1,2,3. I was melting. They were rough inside. I could feel every hard surface and crevice, pinching my probably swollen peds and I stood up. Wobbly!!!What was this? How could I…..walk? It just got worse from there. I vocalized the gnawing, searing pain during exercises. I had no control. Pull up, up, up! I was really angry. I quit trying to find a comfortable hiding place in those shoes and they looked at me evilly from the shelf. My teacher actually had to repeatedly hush me and give me warnings. The first class was murder, and yet when it was over, like having a baby, you think next time won’t be so bad. It was-worse. This time she corrected me repeatedly, but I turned around at the barre several times and actually made it to one foot (yes). I cursed under my breath and grimaced. How can dancers go on? They must be c-r-a-z-y. I stopped again. Once you start on that negative swing you are doomed. Lie, lie, lie (the 3rd time). Made it. Center, pirouette. But, I knew after several classes, watching others steadfast and determinedly go through this agony, that point was just not worth it-for me. I realized they did not feel what I felt. They actually liked it! One or two were very good, some had had point as children or teenagers. I did not care, no jealousy really. Just no-zero-desire.
I lost some interest in ballet after that for awhile, not wanting to see the torture. Disbelief and denial set in. I saw dancers and their feet an extension of their legs and tried NOT to see what was on their feet. Pointed, good enough. Okay. Let’s move on to the modern. I was made for modern. No question. I could rise up practically on my toes, no point shoes, roll neatly through my foot. Connect with the floor. Me very happy….I truly admired ballet dancing and went back to drooling over lithe dancers, in unitards with tremendously long feet in point shoes and happily imagined myself like that without point shoes, perfectly content to live vicariously ever more. That did not stop me from taking ballet, being really good at it, but not dancing on point. They continued their class and many adults pursue ballet just to go on point. I blame my father for his upturned toe, my grandfather’s delicate feet and perhaps a late start. My mother was a whirling dervish en pointe and my grandmother had natural bunions-nothing phases her, 92 and still going.
Well, my daughter is like them. Not me. I never told her this until she was in point for well over one year, because I did not want to jinx her, but there was no synergy or moment of dancer-to-dancer bonding when I saw her first in point shoes. She wanted to try them and I helped her a few times. I know a lot about feet. But, I never said a word as she seemed born to them, to the blisters and pain, balance and pounding that I remembered vividly. It hurt to watch at first and I kept expecting her to come home crying, admitting that she, too, was not cut out for point, didn’t like it and it was to never be. But she did not. I waited. No. I became a little bit jealous. She has no turned up toe, but her feet are my baby’s feet with her pretty little turned up toe. No! It is flat and straight and the first three are about the same length. I blamed my almost longer 2nd toe. She threw away spacers after 3 months, pads after six, and even wool. She tapes her toes, liking the feel of the shoe (yuck!), and uses the littlest, tiniest, bit of wool in the toe to even it out. She looks so pretty, and is so tough. I really have admiration of the highest sort for her and all other dancers, pads, wool, spacers and everything. They are really special. I was not, at point.
The thing that concerns me are the other aspects of the point shoe. Pulling up is sooo very important. Light and articulate is the way I would describe the prettiest pointed dancers. But I see Maria Tallchief doing things on those feet that (ouch!) I can still almost not bear to watch, but I do with strange fascination, now. I know what to look for and I can see inside those point shoes with my x-ray eyes, and know what is real and what is an illusion. Alina Somova has an interesting and pretty point, even though she has corkscrew legs (hyper-extended). I just see her feet, articulating and pawing the ground like a little horse. Lightly and in so many pieces this is what I want to see, but not what I do see. You need feet the audience can’t take their eyes off of. Something the audience cannot stop watching, studying. I do not know what advice to give my daughter, who so wants to dance. Daily, I see her practicing and stretching. She has so many things to work on. There she is crying because her point shoes do not have a long enough vamp for her long toes. We got the wrong ones again.
She needs the long vamp and the low profile, otherwise her sweaty little feet go sliding down, boom and she jams her achilles. This happened with the last pair of Repetto’s we bought; perfect in every way, but very soft shanks. A performance shoe, no doubt. I really need to learn some French. You can’t talk to them otherwise and you cannot read the catalogue. None of the shops know anything about feet or shoes, it seems. They don’t dance on point. It is up to the dancer to be smart. To educate herself about the shoe she needs, to know her foot. Mother’s really cannot go around blaming themselves. But it is so much for little girls to know and to learn. They take their futures and their careers in their hands dancing en pointe. But she suffered a pretty serious pain from the achilles jam. Not a serious tendonitis, but enough to keep her off from dancing for almost two months now. She has danced off and on, but one recital and the next week she’s down. It will heal and if she practices preventative exercises and is very, very careful not to overdo it, she will avoid it becoming chronic (I hope). But just one pair of shoes that were too soft, and a propensity for the injury. Not putting your heels down can be a cause, twisting while on point can be a cause, overdoing it can be a cause. So many other things. Good street shoes. A low heel. Exercises to stretch and strengthen the feet, diet. Fatigue. Too hard a shank for the reason of always fighting to get up on the box. Popping up. Jumps-not landing in a plie properly, pointing too hard, and possible a heel spur. Where to start? It’s like being a med student/hypochondriac. Dancers go through the list of things they might have, every time they have a new feeling or injury. It’s just the dancer and herself. No one else can really give advice, except medical advice and not very many dancers listen to that. Caution and proper technique. Physical therapy, if necessary, to massage out the adhesions (knots) which cause strains and tears-not just in the achilles tendon, but in all tendons!
Achilles tendons heal very slowly due to the low vascularization-no blood vessels-so massage also helps heal-don’t practice this yourself-you need a licensed physical therapist. We are going to try yoga for her. It is supposed to be good for ballet students and healing. Whatever you do, do not put your children up on point too young. I have been reading about more cases of it with young dancers 8-11, due to going up too soon. It is not that you do not have other foot issues, such as bunions, and my daughter has a wide metatarsal. She now needs a spacer she realizes, when she dances a long time, such as in rehearsals. But most of all she needs the support that the shoe offers, flexible wings and a strong box! Her shank is still medium to soft as she is only three years dancing, and her feet have gotten much stronger, but working the foot is good-not too much. Her straight foot is now pleasantly arched a little and she does not use a stretcher. Once upon a time, she did not believe she would ever have an arch and she looked down at her straight little feet and pronounced aloud that her toe turned up (hehehe). But it really does not.
The dance store should have seen that little toe winking out of the side of the shoe and known that all of her toes were not in the box. She really has a tapered foot. But they sayall these things to you, and it is just so much information, not really making relevant sense until over time, piecing itself together, and becoming useful information, but as you learn with it and it slowly falls into place. Like French. Reading is very important, but you really learn one pair of shoes at a time. Hopefully with no injuries. Keep on Dancing!