Tag Archives: Dance Criticism

Isadora Duncan and Ballet Competitions: Is There A Parallel? (Part 1/4)


Isadora Duncan 1
Isadora Duncan 1 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Isadora Duncan 1 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Awww….everyone knows diaries are just full of crap anyway.”

Bridget Jones

I came across these three articles about First Position and YAGP. Before I go into my soliloquy, it is probably better to go and read the articles first. Then you can come back and laugh at mine. I am tempted to put a poll at the bottom to see who everyone agrees with, No.1, No.2, or No. 3….or the long shot-Me. I have messed around with this entry so many times without reaching that point, well, you know, where it feels right….that I have contemplated removing it, and stop bothering people who actually might read it with the edits. But, as I am sure most of you understand, it is just one of those things that I have to get right. I apologize in advance for you receiving these re-edits if you follow my post. I have divided it into 4 posts (as I could have no way of seeing how much or in how many ways it would effect me).

http://articles.latimes.com/2012/may/04/entertainment/la-et-first-position-20120504

http://articles.latimes.com/2012/apr/13/entertainment/la-et-cm-first-position-20120413

http://www.examiner.com/article/la-times-review-of-first-position-misleading

Isadora Duncan was first revealed to me in a movie of the late 1960’s featuring Vanessa Redgrave, entitled The Loves of Isadora Duncan. I would like to ask Ms. Redgrave her thoughts on the extraordinary character she portrayed in that film, whose dancing she copied as close as possible to her original choreography, but alas, this is not the day for that. As Ms. Duncan, Ms. Redgrave was very bohemian, arty, destroyed, elegant, in short, her usual genius self. I am not sure whether or not Ms. Redgrave embraced Isadora’s life or not, as I never knew Isadora Duncan and the context of the whole life of a great contributor to not only dance and art, but also the women’s movement, etc., simply cannot be encapsulated into a film of less than two hours in length. I constantly have to remember and remind people other than myself that movies cannot teach us much about details and facts. Reading and research may not prove final as well. Most of the time no answer is finite and this blog was certainly not meant to be interpreted as fact, but rather as my thoughts on various things, some of which include research, which is neither in support of the truth, or evidence of my knowing it, and some of which is completely fabricated and opinion. Having begun Isadora’s autobiography recently, my opinion is that there is truth in it and there is a lot of trauma, which is just as evident in her writing style, as her related experiences and outpourings. On the one hand, this makes me sad, and on the other, I refuse to give up the idea that Isadora was great, misinterpreted in her life and now in her demise. This has more to do with the time and opinion of other people, and ignorance, that her own style or way of life. She is at the least a sort of Fanny Hill and at the best, a great dancer and promoter, a real go-getter. But that life, from birth could not take away its shade from her throughout it, and its impact is discernible through her story-telling and manner. Before anyone says, “well, this confirms one writer’s opinion of her,” let me say that it does not! There is much to learn from a read of her book-I would say it is probably the best one I have read, for me, as in many ways, my own life parallel hers, not in the dancing sense, but in the pioneer spirit, without constraint, which both caused her journeys and her altered her history. A man would  never write this essay, nor probably understand the deeper side of it, for her writing is not all that practical, but it is clear that a woman with a vision and a dream set out to accomplish something different, if not wonderful, and she accomplished as much as she could. This should never be demeaned.

But I was reminded of that film when I read the above articles and I realized I hadn’t heard much about Isadora Duncan for many years. The writers of the 3rd article, Ian Ono and Jana Monji (LA Examiner, May 31, 2012) wrote a sort of rebuttal to the article by Lewis Segal (LA Times, April 13, 2012) on the film, First Position.  Ono and Monji also reference another review of the film by Kenneth Turan (LA Times, May 4, 2012). Now, it sounds as if the writers who extrapolated on Isadora Duncan had facts, or did they? I think that Lewis Segal’s one statement about Isadora Duncan was not enough to attack a writer for re-stating a widely known fact about gymnastics and ballet. Are the writers suggesting that there are no muscular skeletal injuries in ballet or that it is worth it for your child to be injured (seriously) to become a good (notice I did not say great) ballet dancer? There is no way of knowing whether dancers we see in YAGP, Prix de Lausanne, Varna, etc, or any other competition, will be placed as highly sought after and regaled presenters of the work of great choreographers, and you never hear any talk about that-all of this work is done just to win the competitions with very little thought to the quality of dancing. Were they just posting a commentary, or were they news-jacking to support their contempt of the writer (Segal), who doesn’t seem to think much of competitions, and they post links to two other articles he has written that they disagree with as though a group of people who despise him are being supported for that form. I disapprove of any writer being censored or pressured into stating views that he/she does not agree with.

Ono and Monji’s grammar was worse than mine, but that is not what bothers me about their article. Lewis Segal briefly stated what was his position on First Position. Was that promotion of the film First Position, or was it his position? No publicity is bad publicity, or at least the saying goes in the business. The statement which seems to have enraged them relates specifically to Segal’s comments about the dangers placed upon the young muscular skeletal system, with respect to the rigors of dancing. But we all know this to be true and many of us know or have heard of the life-lasting and debilitating injuries and conditions sustained by dancers. This does not stop adults from pursuing dancing, or teenagers either, but overuse in this vein of training is well-documented and certain idiosyncratic injuries are relevant to dancers, nay, even stem from dancers, as in the grand plie, which places great strain on the patella at the lowest point in all dancers. Whether the dancer is perfectly turned-out (and most are not) has much to do with recurrences of types of injuries and overuse. Simply put, the plie is as common to dance as baking to brownies-there is no way to dance without it. So all dancers are at risk, not just competition dancers. Anyone, really. I was surprised to hear of the number of injuries sustained by dancers as young as 8-10 in my daughters ballet classes, many of them already having been dancing for a while. When I was growing up, and even now, young dancers go to movement, lyrical, tap, and many begin jazz, before ballet. Due to these competitions, I see parents enrolling their children into several years of gymnastics, putting them on point at 8-9 and dancing them on point several times per week, and day, as well as rehearsals, and in privates for these competitions. That is too much strenuous use of the same muscles over time for most children to escape without any permanent effects. It does guarantee, with some certainty, that just about the time your child is off to study at some school, or enters a company, a result of the fruits of their labor, your child is going to have tendonitis or a worse condition, probably at least by the age of 15-16. Treated or not 80% of dancers are reported to have injuries and the outstanding 20% may be those who have not reported them! When other dancers catch up and really begin to dance, mature, and apply themselves, your child might not be able to dance at all. But they will possibly have won at competitions and some may even have summer scholarships or be invited to study at top schools, only to be sent home because they are worn out, their passion to dance sometimes extinguished by the pain of injury, and even the sudden realization that alongside other dancers in those classes, they are not as good at some things. This is not always the case, but I have seen it far too many times not to think it is important-mothers of competition children do not usually want to hear this, but it is true. I am sure, as many do okay, as well, and very carefully, or possibly by genetics escape some of this, or even all of this, to go on and lead wonderful dance careers. The other injuries are numerous, and you can ask dance doctors about a list of what they see and are bound to see more of due to these competitions. There are more ways than one to skin a cat, figuratively speaking. That is not what this is about. In relation to this, in her book, Isadora’s actual comment is cheap, not what these writer’s claim, and vague. She says, of ballet, and point shoes, “Why?” Judging from her tendency to talk, I am sure more was probably said, but who said it? We have no other proof (extant) that Isadora actually did say what they claim. I only have hearsay. But her philosophy was about something entirely different than ballet and as she chose not to discuss it in her book, I am assuming her stance was to leave it out, uncommented upon, and to dwell on that for long, would have kept the conversation away from where she wanted it to go-she was too skilled for that. Isadora talked about what she envisioned, no point in discussing the competition-no publicity is bad publicity (for the other side as well).

I am going to assume Ono and Monji are parents of a dancer(s)-parents and exhibit some guilt in their argument, seemingly writing in the defense of their own dogma and while probably forcing their children to do these things and thereby fulfilling their own latent desires to dance which were apparently thwarted, i.e., “just think of what I could do now,” and “I wish I had not been so lazy.” I too danced and have no bad feelings about the path that I chose, involving ballet and modern dance at the same intervals. I also had injuries. Modern dancers have them as well as ballet dancers. Any repetitive motion causes problems somewhere for anyone in any labor. I can say a lot of positive things about both kinds of dancing, and learned together, one definitely being the antithesis of the other, one never seems to be overworked, strained or stiff, nevertheless, though the injuries may be fewer, over a long period of time and if any strain occurs, injuries and repetitive use problems can occur. To them, dance should not be the revelation you were looking for (unless for your child), but something your child has selected that they enjoy doing, whether they become this passionate about it or not on their own, you can be sure it will do them no harm, done correctly, and will do them a lot of good, discipline-wise, also expanding their cultural understanding, etc….If you cannot justify the expense, unless they win at something, then perhaps there are less expensive and risky hobbies to pursue. Ballet is not a sport, no one necessarily thinks your child is beautiful yet, and only years of hard work, passion and intelligence, including the proper use and care of the dancer’s tools, are going to produce grown-up dancers who last. The politics of ballet being what it is everywhere, there is no guarantee that even the very best dancers have a shot at performing, rising to the level of soloist, let alone ballerina. I agree with Mr Segal that all dancers have not reached a level where they can call themselves a ballerina, and many of them think they have mastered it at a young age, even Isadora. If you are working your little one too hard, there will be warnings, you hope, but it is up to a parent to learn about dance injuries, proper training, and take preventative advice, before an injury to your young dancer occurs. Most of us are at fault in that area by being ignorant and not being able to recognize signs of overuse and fatigue and this can be detrimental to your child. Still, no one is to blame for this necessarily, and without the perspective of ones such as Mr Segal, some people might never begin to think about the relation of dance injury to overuse and competitive training, as one would see for an athlete, in a field where more than sportsman’s skill is required. It is hard enough to dance correctly without having the pressures of competition placed on children by their parents, organizations or schools. I am sure the founders were not trying to cause injuries and undue competition, but as long as the bar for entry is so low, there will be injuries by students who compete when perhaps their training is more important, such as my daughter. It is better to be safe than sorry-cold war days of Russian training to compete at the Olympics are now over and ballet has always been an art, and too much attention is paid to these competitions by students (and parents) within certain studios at the expense of good technique, paying their dues, and fair play/pay. It is not enough for parents and bad teachers to say, “my child is the best, she is able to compete.” How would they really know, unless a panel were comprised of great educators, who determined that their child was at their peak and trained well enough to compete? This is factually proved by attending one of these competitions or performances and seeing the mistakes the dancers make. One has to assume these mistakes are made repeatedly (if rehearsed) and contributing to future injury. Right? I would guess they are parents by the sound of it, wouldn’t you?

Particularly bothersome to me about this prevailing attitude of competition dancers suddenly appearing in ballet, is that they bring with them this sense of having read a few lines about great artists in Wiki or somewhere, and thinking they are experts, just repeating hearsay. Isadora Duncan is the backbone of American modern dance (in this country, at least), probably Loie Fuller everywhere else,  and revered everywhere for her contributions. I would expect Europeans to criticize her, for to support her as the first modern dancer would contradict their own contributions, and it is no secret that Isadora found an audience for her performances in Europe, while the states were not ready for her advances. But to exclude her is like saying Martin Luther King was not important to the black movement and the detente of racial tensions here in the US. perhaps these above writers have other perspectives or influences. I do not discount that. Perhaps, like me, film watchers learn a little about Isadora in that movie, but there is much more to the meaning of this life. At age 9-10, my age when I first saw the film on late night tv, I was somewhat irritated by the laissez-faire attitude she appeared to have taken towards life. I did not understand her past. I was not convinced, at that age, that she was very responsible, intelligent, or normal. I was wrong and right. I was young and had not the wisdom to look back and understand my own past, let alone hers. She points out in her writing that the reason dancers fail at expressing emotions when they are young is because they have no understanding yet. In fact she did not believe in censoring reading of children because she felt they would not understand it anyway, so it would not hurt them to read about sex, for example, because they would not understand it. She is partially right, in my opinion. She also believes that a person ought to start doing what they want to do with the rest of their life very young, as this prepares them the more for it. Life is short. She demonstrates that accurately by herself. Movies on late night tv were generally B grade or lower such as Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde, or Kirk Douglas in The Juggler, and I probably assumed, “here comes another boring tear-jerker.” Our tv was black and white. Some of these movies are now considered great films; I think that is the case with this film. The life of Isadora Duncan was lived in Technicolor and not in articles and books and films, but it was very controversial at the time, and apparently still is. The problems with First Position is that a lot of young children see it and think,”if I cannot do that, then I cannot be a great dancer.” That is not the case or it depends. They are amazing children, but not all of them win the competition and became or will become great dancers-that does not mean they are not good enough or that they should stop dancing. It also means there are a million more stories than those stories, all unique, all relevant, not just those. Children seem to take things quite literally-this is definitely true, and should be counseled and supervised in their dancing as much in their watching of these competitions. Especially since the children in them have done so much and are doing so much WRONG. Children will tend to reason that these dancers are good, all good, and the seemingly good ones-perfect, the best. Quite the opposite, if it inspires them to watch and to dance then that is good, but there are far better dancers out there, young and old! I would encourage my child to watch all dancers and not to consider these the best, or the end-all in their lives. All it means, is that this is important to these particular dancers, to compete and to have public or medal reassurance by their peers and these adjudicators that they are dancers, and are in line to be considered for more important lives, success, and that they feel this recognition is more important than studying ballet day-to-day, resting their bodies, having time with their families, and other normal activities and pursuits, and they will probably be back the next year, to try and improve their chances. Most use this as an opportunity to gain entrance into a better school or one leading into a company. Roads (all) are filled with well-intentioned advice, and this is not the only path dancers follow. Other students might take a different approach-staying in class, learning better technique, taking the occasional private and learning variations, enjoying ballet, reading, pilates, yoga, modern dance, watching ballets, traveling, doing auditions for summer programs, and trying to get accepted into a good school where they might have access to a better dance education, without the expense and added stress of trying to win a ballet competition. It is the idea that there is a fast track (and all these dancers are on it) to becoming a great star that bothers me most about the film, not that it points out the hard work by these dancers to compete. I honestly do not think the ones I know work harder than my daughter has, and usually they only work that hard right before YAGP. I do not think one of them is yet a star, but I believe they are all still dancing. The young girl from Israel had a real gift for acting it seemed, but there is no way of knowing whether she will be a great dancer, she already appears to be a very creative and potentially talented child. She is dancing still, but not competing that I know of. They are all children and the way their lives play out and are molded has everything to do with their happiness and success, early or late, and we as parents, have something to do with that.

My mother was out partying and now I cannot fault her for this brave attempt at 34 to enjoy what was left of her youth. She made the choice to rear a child on her own, out of love, in the sixties, when most women today cannot even imagine the hellishness of that undertaking in those days. With my mother’s perceived notions about the way society viewed her, I see now that she felt guilty, or at least confused, and that came down to me. Even today. But, as a child, I sometimes felt the need to defend myself or my mother and I did-that didn’t mean I didn’t think about it, or that I knew I was right, but I was. I just was alive and there should be no apology necessary for that. Isadora doubted herself and thought (plenty) during her life, but while she defended her positions in her book, I know, from experience, that she blamed herself. I would. When anyone, including the press, mentions your actions, they are expressing an opinion and sitting in judgment. Personally, I do not feel this is right, but it is the power of the press and you know what they say about opinions. I sometimes have to go out and have some alone time, or spend time with friends. It wasn’t even until I was that old that she went out at all, trying to make associations, make friends, have a good time, and I am sure she felt strongly about the beginning of dance too young, because she danced and her mother danced, meaning she too, had opinions. I am sure she felt  that had to prepare to defend her position and to rationalize it and that made her actions questionable and not the doing of them. She did them. If Isadora felt that too much stretching and overwork of the self to obtain gymnastic ability could have long term effects on the body, I guess she had reason to think so, but I do not believe she ever questioned her actions or her philosophies-she believed them. But she does admitting to periods of self-doubt in later years. She rationalized those, she claimed, by remembering the words of inspiration she received at the head of some great poet, composer, or another, who encouraged her to go on with her ideals and her form of, well, dancing. My mother’s own best friend, involved in gymnastics at an early age, had to have her insides put back in place before she could have babies. But my mother wanted me to dance. Perhaps Isadora had this knowledge from personal experiences also. It was not uncommon.We are all a product of our experiences and wishes. Sometimes the wishes take priority over the practicality of our path. Either way, one cannot say one’s  approach or path is better, for all are currently in use, and all will result in something, good and bad.

There were not any good dancing schools where I lived, all those little recital studios which she disdained and refused to let me join. So my friends and I danced to pop and rock music on the radio-free style we called it, but not to be confused with break-dancing, etc., but we got up to some pretty good moves, and we danced on weekends at the skating rink for small prizes because we knew we could win. We had to switch partners every week to not run the risk of being disqualified for winning each time and sometimes we would take a break, letting other people have a chance. But, probably due in some small part I was always scheming and planning how to be successful at whatever venture we chose, and in everything I tried with some small success, I also correlated that enterprise with the next step, or what to do to make it better or more popular. I was ambitious, not always for myself, because I realized I had not had the training to do many of the things in dance or whatever I tried, but I never lost that feeling of heightened excitement at the prospect of asking myself, whether this could be famous or not. In my later life, after I plugged away at college and had a child, this came back to me in my quests in the music business and so was a very important part of my adult character. Isadora and other women, such as Harriett Tubman, encouraged my imagination, spurned my creative genius, and imbued me with common strength, that I believed, and such fortitude, that anything was possible and if you really wanted something you could make it happen. Where there is a will there is a way. But I have learned to choose my battles very carefully. Sometimes I do nothing at all, but when the notion strikes me, and it does not so often these days I will admit, but watch out!

I pretended well into my teens. But, like soap and water, to my mother, being the best disinfectant, moving was the best way to gain strength for any kind of dancing and I believe by Isadora’s constant motion, she was a dancer extraordinaire. Sally rand was also a dancer, and I am not sure, if in some cases Isadora’s dancing was viewed this way by men in particular and that is why she had so much trouble with it, why she used her sexuality, when she discovered it and was mistaken for using it before. She makes much of this in her memoirs, and of being a virgin, which I think to trite to believe she actually believed and I am sure modesty was her basis, for I am sure, she would have been hard put to not understand the relation to it made by others. She deigns innocence too oft, for it to be truly believed, but who cares? What I also noticed about Isadora, besides her manipulation of people was her encumbrance of her own family, her strength and fortitude stemmed from it and it is easy to be waylaid without that protection, even today. She had a very protective mother and her family was nearly always with her. She was the dominant member of the family and eventually they all left, finding her way too overbearing and not much help to them. Her mother alone stayed on, followed her, believed in her and supported her. She also supported them for a long time, contributed and shared, we do not know truly to what extent, for it is mentioned that at one point she felt bad about leaving her mother alone in Paris while she went to Germany and Budapest. She eventually felt bad enough to send for her, or was able to, and I think that much of Isadora’s life was lived around finding a way to survive and this was all she knew how to do. Much like many dancers today. I am sure when Isadora finally lost her, it was difficult for that mother was your compatriot, fan, and true love. All other loves seem less important at the realization of that one true loss unless you are in complete denial. Hopefully, other love sustains you, but in the end, most of us have to deal with that loss.

My mother became very ill due to an immunodeficiency disease, which at that time was just called “crazy” by her doctors, and we now recognize this as resulting in severe allergies. I, too experience some environmental reactions sometimes, and anxiety, but I just do not know what it is. Then it goes away. My son was born with many allergies, and by the time he was 4-5 he was a regular patient in the allergy clinic at New York Hospital. My mother encouraged me in all things creative, particularly art, writing, acting, dance, politics, language and anything else which I was led to do. I passed this on to some effect with my children as have their fathers, also artists. She did not want me to study just one thing-putting all of my eggs into one basket, so to speak. There were no video games and as I said before, we did not even have a color tv. In a way, life was much simpler then and your own imagination was not led to some other activity which dampened it, for if you were creative, then you found ways to amuse yourself and you learned about yourself. I am not sure children today know about themselves or are just repeating what their parents bade them say or they have learned from watching tv. In most cases today, it is not their love of books, the search for knowledge or their industry. It is difficult in today’s society to pass on effectively these things as other people do not, tv does not, and society does not. But we had temptations, too, of a different kind, but none-the-less, vices and burdens. Instead of getting up to take ballet in the morning, I would teach myself to dance and read books about ballet, or comics, whatever I wanted. I would eat candy-sometimes lots of it, and ham (I loved ham). I would look outside and see the dew on the grass and go slide my feet through it. As the sun came up, the grass dried. I would look at the flowers in our yard, visiting each area to check on the changes from the previous day. Children today do have these same revelations and experiences, but they choose to get much information for themselves off the Internet and much of that is decent, but not all of it is correct, just as sources of information were always questioned, today’s information must still bear the same tests and children should be taught that, not just to surmise.

I would catch bugs in bottles, including bees, rake with a stick, pretend I was a pilgrim, climb on the dog house roof and eat an apple. On a Saturday morning, this was my time, and my mother would always say, “look at this, or look at that,” never letting me miss the wonders of nature and our world. I do not think you can have a better childhood and I firmly believe that a child should have that, not only know the studio. One child in particular, effects everyone who has seen the movie. But there are many more children like that. There are hundreds, probably, of other types than that, and so few of these dancers are questioned, or their parents questioned deeply it is hard to have any true or lasting impression-it is a vehicle for a story, that’s it. These children, might make great technicians, but what do they learn of beauty, reality and life? Some seemed to try very hard to proximate a normal life, and most would be happy with a dancing position anywhere, but one parent was particularly daunting and her daughter, Miko Fogarty is an example of a child who had no more talent than most other children, but whose teacher and parent contributed to her own desire to win this competition, and any others, in her quest for dancing with the Royal Ballet. I do not really think she knew that from the start, and I think it is teachers and parents who goad children to do these things. But I do not think they had to twist her arm, although I am sure nothing else is discussed at their dinner table and her mother clearly wants success for her daughter. Given a teacher who is willing to commit himself, the only thing that is needed is the child herself and I am sure she has learned from her experiences. What she will do in the future only time will tell, but she may well be a lesson to all of us that it can be done with lots of money and perseverance and average talent.

Climbing trees was good exercise, walking, running, bike riding, swimming, shoveling snow, cleaning house, ice skating, basketball, running down the railroad tracks at lightning speed, skipping ties, hopping down the creek bed from stone to stone, balancing on curbs and walls. Yes, I was prepared to dance in a different way, but just as good and a lot of fun. By the time I was in 9th grade, I wanted to be a cheerleader, but here were all these other cheerleaders with gymnastic skills and practice, though I am now sure I would not have liked it anyway. But, I decided I was going to audition.  I was going to get their attention, somehow. There was a jump some of them could do where you jumped up and touched your toes, and only a few of them could do it. But I sat on the ground and thought, and sat in the window seat and thought and I went back outside in the yard and tried it. Not there. But I analyzed that jump, and kept jumping higher every day that summer and extending myself, pushing myself to do it. One day, there it was-perfect. I did it. In many ways I kept trying other things like that, until I realized that there was a place I should be if I wanted to do those things and it was dance class, not gymnastics. As a sophomore in high school, I could take classes at the local community college in the summer if I got permission. The school let me and I registered, paying for my class tuition with money I earned from my own job. I went 2 days to modern and two days to ballet. By the end of the summer I was able to begin the adult ballet class at the local dance company school, the Dayton Ballet. I continued evenings at the community college and there until the following summer when I took the intensive. I was hooked on dance! After a couple of years, my dance teacher (from the Royal Ballet) told me that, at first, she thought I was too old, but when she saw how hard I worked, and how facile I was, she believed I could do anything I put my mind to. So did I-that was another thing my mother had taught me. These competitions do not teach all children that-they only teach some children that, as well as schools which also feel that some dancers are good for the competition and others are not. I think it makes more politics where enough already exists, adding a new dimension to studios and competition among families there to see who is to succeed, and more money for the owners! The list of dancers who are famous and who started late is as long as the list of winners at YAGP-look it up. No one asks for credentials at a dance studio, just as no one asks for birth certificates at YAGP. You can say you started at any time, and most professional dancers are asked that question first, and have learned to sidestep the question of their wisdom and abilities by replying that they have been dancing all their lives. Issue dropped. Expert. Easy. Few really state the truth, give a list or references, like MY Cousin Vinnie. The fewer years you have rained, many assumptions are made, as to your expertise, but dance is an unusual ability, not all gymnasts and recital dancers are really good dancers. You can teach someone ballet, but you cannot teach them to be a prima ballerina or a great dancer, that comes from within the dancer, the self. Gene Kelly was a great dancer, I do not think anyone living would argue that, if they know who he was. But he began dancing very late in classes and began the formal instruction of it when his parents bought a school in Pennsylvania. He taught there, and he went to California in his early twenties. Some people have been dancing all their lives, just not in class. Others have been in class and not learned much. You have to be pretty intuitive to be a ballet dancer and swear off all injuries. Really smart. And you do not have to be too bright to see in these competitions that most of it is not dancing, but the dogmatic approach to learning some steps in succession, and practicing them, until you get it right, or sort of. I see little real dancing, and hardly any good dancing at all. They are too young to expect that much. Isadora would have been a good judge of artistry, for she had no known technique until much later when she apparently felt that all of her movement and center of gravity, flowed from her core, the area right at the base of the spine and coming from the center. Most modern dancers, pilates practitioners, and yoga enthusiasts would at least, partially, agree. Ballet dancers speak of alignment, but if the body were drawn as an inverted triangle resting on the ilium, I think we could make the hypothesis that ballet dancers, too, work from the core, if they are completely aligned. So, Isadora was a dancer after all and had some valid points when questioned, although, I think her success rested on the originality of her ideas and so she tried to express her version, originally. In those days there was not as much information about dance, not as many forms of it, and certainly a briefer history. She seems to have researched the background enough to support her own judgments and positions. Not as much was made of dance kinesiology then, and everyone was taught calisthentics, but i am sure that dancers of her mind and ilk went a long way to support the study of it for which we may also be thankful of today for their part in its discussion then. Even Vaganova, not a successful dancer herself, strove to clarify the reasons behind one dancer being successful and another not, the study of movement, not competitions-the body and training. Today, due to her diligence, we can be thankful for a (mostly) safe and pragmatic method of teaching ballet, which is accepted by the best schools and quickly becoming the preferred method for teaching ballet, although not all teachers of it, truly understand it.

I am not sure my mother ever knew any real happiness outside of the joy motherhood gave her, but that was considerable, thank God for me, because now she is gone, but she would not really have approved of these parents of YAGP dancers. But she did like to write. Now she is gone, enough said. Isadora made that choice, to rear her children outside the parameters of acceptable society, around the turn of the 20th century, but this was also in keeping with her personality, development and history, which she rationalized by living her life as she wanted to and stating that as a philosophy. I said I didn’t think she had much choice or control over it. That is just what happened. Once you have made your bed, you have to lie in it or get up and do something about it. I expect that is what she did. She had to pay the bills, didn’t she? All those people had to survive. We have all seen enough television, made for tv movies on Lifetime, and experienced enough of the discrimination women face to know that much more could be said about this history. Suffice to say, Isadora had those babies and no one else was going to take care of them and she probably found them useful in her publicity-good or bad. If she did not take care of them all of the time, and they were drowned in a boating accident, while she was not caring for them (and that is the case), she was in some way, responsible and had to live with that guilt, but things do happen, like car accidents when our children are away from us, and while we are with them, too. No parent wishes for anything to happen to their children, even those we perceive as the worst ones. Who are we to judge?

But, this kind of guilt, which Isadora had no control of after the fact, or any remorse for the way her life was lived, or the decisions she made, had much to do with or was like any guilt I might feel for enrolling my daughter in ballet and then realizing later how much would be expected of her and in what ways I would let her be manipulated, or manipulate her into thinking it was worth it, whatever the consequences. I am sure the reason Isadora never knew ballet was that she was not placed into ballet classes at a very young age, because they were proud and poor, and she probably defended her form of dancing as equal to and as important (more important) to the world, as ballet. If she had studied ballet, ballet could have had no better spokesperson. Isadora probably believed a lot of untruths, too, we all do, but, Isadora was, in a way, the epitome of the “new woman.” She must have been a strong woman, strong enough for all of us to appreciate, for both of her children, and surely labeled a whore by the public, who were fascinated with her life-with illegitimate children, refusing to give them up, or marry a man or stay married to one, because she felt there was something wrong with marriage as it is practiced in the US, even then. She was used to the life and went on alone, having no qualms, and the press continued to exploit her doings. This was the source of her cause celeb and no doubt paid the bills, so she must have had to continue in some ways, giving the public what it wanted-that is the price of fame, at anything. Certainly she felt justified and was fashionable and popular, so her behavior could not have been worse than any Kardashian, Tallulah Bankhead, or other celebrities that we hear of or have heard of. Wherever there is a death of a child, there is enough for the press to have a field day. Dancers are just people and people err. It has happened numerous times in history, and when the death of a child is of a celebrity it is all to easy to seek to blame that on the fault of the parent’s lifestyle, when in fact the variables are not altogether known to us.

Because of Isadora’s contributions, fortitude and relentless efforts, in the world of dance, sometimes without a plan at all, we were given the opportunity to witness some other, lesser known, dancers come forward, at the right time, and begin to offer their perspectives and opinions of dance and modern dance. She had created a market for this, more of a welcome mat. Modern dance became more popular, spread from Europe to the US and bolstered ballet ticket sales as well-no such thing as bad publicity. What she did was open up a whole new universe for us today through her insistence that other types of dance deserved focus and had merit. Her own dance was no less ritualistic than that of ballet, maybe even more so, except she wore less clothing and did not follow the same regimen as ballet dancers. Modern dancers do have a regimen, technique and training. What is wrong with that?

Her book, My Life, is being republished May 25, 2013, with previously unreleased information (and pictures). Other sources of this book, if you want to read it before B&N republishes it, and someone no doubt makes a film, are Amazon and some libraries. Grab it for $3-4. It ought to be very revealing to you and inspire you to new dancing or revelations and discoveries about dancers. The advance reviews are as good as would be expected of this important book no one has really had reason to discuss for many years. I have pre-ordered my copy on Nook (aka B&N) exclusively for the pictures. It is about $10.

Why Do You Want To Dance?


by Ava Brown
copyright © 2012 by Ava Brown

Boris LermontovThe Red Shoes: My dear Livy, even the best magician in the world cannot produce a rabbit out of a hat if there is not already a rabbit in the hat.

I love to look at old film of Pavlova. Perhaps it is the shadow effect in the film, the way she appears to flit around the space allotted to her in the film-she seems to push to the edges of the celluloid and back again, up and down-the cameraman has to be fast to catch her! She jumps, she runs, she darts, she flutters, she falls and oops, she’s back up again and dancing away, but she can never get out of your sight. She is on film. I imagine that dancers were more mobile then, freer, less confined to the stage. The screen can barely contain her. Her energy. I feel I can watch her again and again because she has so much to say! Like a butterfly, I have the urge to release her from her celluloid cage. Surely, there will always be something new. Her black hair gleamed in the films; her dresses had a silvery, iridescent quality and sparkled. Her dark eyes looked at you occasionally, so intensely.

Remember The Red Shoes-Moira Shearer and her red dresses, red hair, yes, but she moved! Not static, not posing for her picture in the camera. Movement! The film era had changed since Pavlovas time. The use of color, music and acting in the film was much heralded. To me, the thing that is different from all other films of then, is the main character’s  long dancing sequences. Her desire to dance is tied to the storyline, we know. Since that time, I am not sure any film has come even close to depicting as much dance, as many places, so furiously. The message is: Life is short if you dance, or for that matter make any art-it is never long enough to create enough masterpieces for everyone. Life is also viewed in the context of being an artist if you are one. No art without life, no life without art. In the film, when Lermontov meets Moira Shearer (Vicky), the dialogue goes like this:

“Lermontov: When we first met … you asked me a question to which I gave a stupid answer, you asked me whether I wanted to live and I said “Yes“. Actually, Miss Page, I want more, much more. I want to create, to make something big out of something little – to make a great dancer out of you. But first, I must ask you the same question, what do you want from life? To live?

Vicky: To dance.

It is the fact that Vicky was possessed by the red shoes which made her dance, in Hans Christian Anderson‘s story, upon which the movie was based. Most children read this story, or did. The Red Shoes has recently been restored and premiered in its revised glory at Cannes and can be found on Youtube. Certainly, directors such as Martin Scorcese have been influenced by The Red Shoes due to the use of vivid red color as a focal point in the film.  It is also a fact that the dramatization of the story, while containing the story, is far more interesting than the original story. The death of Vicky is shocking when it happens because you are so caught up in the new story and the dancing in that story that even as a fact in the book, you cannot accept it, and feel she must keep on dancing forever. It is my contention that The Black Swan is in fact the same story, without the red shoes. It is this obsession and Van Gogh-like insanity (by the way supposedly caused by absinthe, and not dancing), that would cause her to do anything  to be the object of this choreographer’s interest initially, her naivete, her hopes and dreams, and the fact that she just cannot stop dancing!

Though patrons did not believe cinema would keep the ending in The Red Shoes, they did, and Vicky dies, tragically. The many pithy one-liners delivered by actors in the film, the depiction of the tribulations experienced by dancers, the pain, compulsion and experience of living your life in the theater are all eloquently relayed in this little film. At the time, this was not really what patrons wanted to see, so the film had little fanfare and initially no money for major distribution. I read that it was in one theater only, and released on a larger scale much later. Nearly, 100 years later, it is being referred to as one of the most important pictures ever made. I agree, it is an artwork, but what else has there been to compare it to artistically? Not much. It is not that we need more films about dance, it is that we need more films with dancers in them. Everyone knows one-talk to them.

In The Red Shoes – your eyes are drawn to the living color moving across the screen, forcing you to watch her dance-it’s like blood flowing-life being lived as it was meant to be, in movement. It is that movement to which our eyes are drawn and the color accentuates that which we are already, as predators,  bound to follow – very Hitchcockian. Like Vicky, we can’t get away! Moira Shearer danced and moved, more liberated than the dancers of older films. In The Red Shoes, at least, the cameraman did not have to chase after her, as he did Pavlova, probably due to the dolly, which had by then been invented and the moving background. Of course there was also editing and Pavlova did not have that option, either. I feel if she did have those tools, she would have used them! The red shoes know no boundaries and they dance her into the streets, they dance her over the mountains- they dance her everywhere, not just in a ballet studio, on a stage, or in front of a mirror. We feel we are there, seeing something impossible, no one in the audience could keep up with her if it were not for the film and the cinematographer. We need the film to go on seeing her. In order to make sure everyone sees the ballet, apparently, we need to view it on the screen or on a stage-and choreographers do construct their pieces with the view to them being danced on the stage and frequently videotaped, even if only for reference. This limits dance, causes it to be created, modified in practice, for performance on the stage and within a box. But still so few pieces are actually filmed and film does not really seem to cross the dancer’s mind-it would interfere with dancing! Dances and choreography were not originally done on stages, but were done in court and socially. It seems to have become more formal as we become less so. Choreographers used to add natural backgrounds, costumes and scenery to their pieces in an effort to create the feeling of landscape settings. Many of Pavlovas films were done outside! Not one contemporary film uses nature as a background when filming dance. Why not film Don Quixote in the streets of Seville, or Sleeping Beauty in the mountains of Hungary or, well, you know what I mean.

In yesterday, theater was an informal thing, performed in front of the masses, for religious purposes and the churches were great promoters. They knew if you wanted to reach people, you had to bring the theater or the message to the people. In the streets, squares, open air, dancing is life, and should be danced everywhere. Although the church was not above device-I like to think of them as the founder of the special effect, think Shroud of Turin, bleeding fountains, bleeding statues. Criticized for their “pop” mentality and devoid of any classical references, music videos have catapulted the careers of many dancers into the six-figure range, but we can not seem to make ballet a nourishing feast for the masses or the senses on film. Perhaps choreographers should use film more often. If  ballets were not so “flat,” and dancers were more three-dimensional, perhaps ballet would enjoy a wider appeal. Dancers are looking for films on the Internet, and on Youtube, and there are relatively no(?) contemporary films featuring ballet or modern dancers in real-life scenarios or in dramatic pieces.

When you read many novels, such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, a character will be described as a dancer, such as Esmeralda. We imagine her skillful dancing abilities, and then we see a film of Salma Hayek dancing, and Walt Disney’s animated version, and it is just not what we imagined possible-a real letdown. Those performances would inspire no one to dance, let alone steal hearts or cause heads to be severed! I have heard people state that seeing The Red Shoes (1) made them want to dance, but I have not heard one person cite The Huntchback of Notre Dame (any version). The director wants her to beguile us with her beauty not her dancing, it is not believable. These women must be the personal obsession of the director alone. Many dancers claim that it was a certain performance of ballet that created in them the desire to be a dancer. However, Gina Lollobrigida, despite not being a professional dancer, is able to give a credible performance as one, the public (at least) feels, that she is a siren. I do not feel she danced, but she moved well and from appearances the filmmakers were persuaded that Quasimodo was not enraptured by her dancing, but rather her sexuality. One can’t help feeling that more dance films would have been made if there were more women making films.

Salome, upon which these later gypsy/exotic heroines are loosely based, is totally within our own imaginations to create, and I have as yet seen nothing that compares with what I conjured-and based on how my mother described her Dance of the Seven Veils to me. It took me a bit of time to separate those words, from a young age I believed it was The Dance Oftheseven Vales , then The Dance of the Seven Vales, and then years later and more mature, I finally realized that the removing of these veils one at a time, to reveal the body, was a seduction. A child in my day be confused about what could be so great about  dancing around in or removing the veils. So What? It takes a lifetime, perhaps to understand the statement that less is more -perhaps this was the first written description of a striptease and due to film, its meaning is universal at once. But in all the portrayals I can find in film, only Rita Hayworth’s is considered memorable and take it from me, it is not. It is a let down, frankly, and no one cares to pick up the gauntlet of challenge and recreate this tempestuous display in a faithful manner. On the stage or in film there is no memorable production I can find. Rita Hayworth had many qualities and dancing is one of them, at times. But, she is not able to depict Salome credibly.

Moira Shearer was not boring, and she was really dancing, unlike some stars contracted to portray dancers. We are tricked into watching body doubles and misled into believing that the scene is comprised of real dancing and real ballet dancers. I would prefer to know this before I went to the theater as it is an important consideration for my laying out my $10-15 to see a film. I really feel cheated and duped. I expect device and special effects in Star Wars, but surely not dancing. Similar to the the control employed in virtual animation, such as in Tin Tin, is the manipulation of the senses by the director of Swan Lake. The more convinced film makers are of our the complete betrayal, the more the Screen Actor’s Guild wants to reward them for it. If actors were convinced, entirely, of Ms. Portman’s efforts to imitate a dancer, then they must not have had very much knowledge about dancing or ballet! Without artists in films, actors, dancers, writers, costumes and lighting, any connection with reality is cut, and so is the connection to art. Life is reduced to cartoons.

“What art offers is space – a certain breathing room for the spirit.”  John Updike

Every time a major production that could use real dancers does not, it harms the dance community, by separating us from what dance is today and pushing it further back in our consciousness to an indefinite place called history. Dance is alive today! If dancer’s cease to pass this art form down, then the complete record of it will be lost, only to be studied from films and archives, as it practically is already-argh!

Those who dance, who take it seriously, do feel a bit of qualm in stating we are “dancers.” Are we? Does the artist not question himself in the presence of the masters as their works, and sometimes they, look down upon us, from the walls of museums or galleries, on high, and on the stage, and if we have thought of ourselves as artists, do we not reconsider (even a little) as we put the question to ourselves? Are we? Are we dancers, artists, musicians? Do we call ourselves that at first, or do we call ourselves that finally, because there is no other word which describes us? It is at last that we must say so and not at first if we are true artists, no matter what our particular calling. A film maker is not necessarily an artist, anymore than anyone else, nor is an actor, but film is a powerful tool for or against an ideal. Dancers may be the last artists standing! The human spirit is alive in children, who move. For them, at least, dancing comes naturally, just watch them!

Dance films are interactive-they should make you feel like dancing! If a “mere” actor can trigger this reflex, then it could be said one goal has been achieved in the film.  Think of Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Shirley McLaine. Whether comedic, romantic, or lusty, dancing can be beautiful and exemplifies the human form, and our natural emotions, no matter the perception. I do not think The Black Swan accomplishes this. After waiting for so long to see dance in film again, or a film about dancers, that is all we got? Hollywood studios taught dance to their stars but then there was a switch from the major studios and actors were no longer taught to dance unless, like fencing or boxing, a role required it. Actors have sometimes received kudos for attempting to assume the role of a fighter, country singer, or other notable, bringing a popular icon back to life, successfully. Salma Hayek’s portrayal of the artist Frida Kahlo, was less than stunning, but there are scores of dramatizations in English and in other languages which are triumphant. I worked at the opening of Frida’s first major retrospective of her work which was scheduled to coincide with the release of the biography by Caroline Herrera, and having immersed myself in both her art and her life history, I felt very connected to her. The film was extremely self-indulgent none of the feeling from her work or her life were conveyed.  I had similar feelings of disappointment in The Black Swan. Right away, I sensed-this is not a dancer, this is artifice. The film had tons of meaning and innuendo, but i felt as the selection of a non-dancer was part of the trickery. As that it was successful, and there was passion, but it was not the passion of dancing. Ballet was the film’s score-it was set to the music of ballet, but was not.

There is “hoofing”- or getting the job done, compared with classical or modern dance, and hardly an artist was required for that, but “Broadway” dancers who were dancing “extras,” made their living, like Vegas dancers in these chorus lines. A few dancers would rise to stardom from the chorus lines, but even these are few and far between, and more importantly, they became famous, or were noticed for other reasons than their dancing. These dancers are pawns of the director’s vision for a film, always secondary to the story-line, almost never the stars. Sadly, dancers have come to the point where this is acceptable to them as a way of life and they do not fight for more more recognition, rights or artistic control. If dancer’s are not dance “experts” then who is?

In a real dancer’s life almost everything is secondary to the dancing! And it is shocking to me, that a film, such as The Black Swan, whose main purpose is to portray this would use non-dancers at all. Perhaps dancers are okay with taking the crumbs proferred by the writers and director and producers of this film, but I believe artists should have more to say about it than they have. When Little Saigon was on Broadway, the producers were required to use Asians in the parts. Why should film makers not be required to use dancers in the parts? Well, dancers are not a protected minority but I think this might be a good time to fight for that status. I will not buy the video! I think parents, ill-informed about the realities of the entertainment industry, make a grave error by forcing their children to study dance, based upon a fantasy they have derived from looking at the media. Due to the way that dancers overall, are treated in the media, and due to the fact that no opportunities exist for them beyond the classroom and small stage, parents should not mislead their children into believing that false hopes exist and the pursuit of ballet should only continue seriously if the dancer herself, is aware of the remote chance of any success. There should be an International Dancers Forum to address these matters and I would like to be involved! Why torture them, learn the discipline that is dance, pay for coaching and do competitions, and then turn them loose on the world – to do what – hoof for pennies? At least a sports player has the opportunity to make some money!

If parents and teachers and children find dance important to be the best at-why do film makers not consider their audience and their standards? Their expectations? Part of the excuse for not using live dancers in roles would be that dancers are not taught (anymore) to show emotion, to dance with feeling, pieces are usually all about line, music and the choreographer, and very often, abstract. It is no wonder so many dancers cannot really act, they have too many other requirements to get to the top of their field to add another one-even an important one! They must have the feet or they are discouraged. They must have the body or they are discouraged, They must have the flexibility and control of an Olympic gymnast or they are discouraged. They must balance. They must listen to the music. They must dance on point. If they fail in any one of a number of other areas they are also discouraged. They are seldom encouraged unless they have all of the above and money. If it were not for misfits and oddballs, this country would have virtually no entertainment! I for one, am glad that Audrey Hepburn was too poor to continue ballet and opted for films, otherwise we might have never seen her again!

Balanchine was not a great dancer. He was a great publicist and choreographer and he gave the people what they wanted. That is why he rose to such prominence and fame. He taught dancers to dance what the public wanted to see, and he made jokes about it, teaching elephants to dance! He did not find the public very picky, but he did realize that the public wanted to be entertained. Later, he became more entranced with bodies, the art, or the “refinement” of the spectacle, but this related to his work as a choreographer and in no way disavowed those previous works any more than Picasso’s last painting was his best one. Those who witnessed this passion for dance were drawn in and convinced, that ballet was formidable. But, such is the public fervor-on and off. To date, no other dance benefactor, choreographer or artist has brought ballet to us in so many ways and from so many different perspectives.  Many potential stars, who might have astounded us, probably did not get a chance to, so little attention is paid to the art. Perhaps it would have been better to turn over the reins to someone who was more of a publicist or a manager than another dancer. Perhaps dancers do not know how to promote their art because they are too busy learning it. The market is still there, but it is different and even more sophisticated than it was, and more particular. It is ready to be tapped. If shows like “So You Think You Can Dance” can succeed, then it must be time for ballet!

Why not make movies using real dancers, write stories for dancing films, and not just use dance as a device for another story within a story within a story or as the profession of a character? The Black Swan said, “we all love ballet- if the dancer is a psycho, there are lesbian love scenes, gratuitous sex, murder, gore and violence.” It did not say, “we should all appreciate ballet,” but instead, the dancers depicted in the film are characterized as sweaty and pathetic victims who are tied to ballet until they get a chance to shine. I liked the film, too, it really shook me up-it took something sacred and stately and gave it all the drama of 90210. I believe there is a place for everything in art, but in dance films there should be real dancers used. That’s all, no matter the supporting story, I think there are dancers who can act it and it should be a rule for them to find them.

Some of this responsibility also rests with the dancers. The ability of a dancer to convey the temperament and feeling of a piece should be required and taught, otherwise we will always see vapid actresses mimicking serious dancers and vice versa. There is no law that says a dancer cannot be both and they should be! Why not create new roles, push forward to collaborating in great films using real dancers? Why spend any time at all in this life, publicly practicing? Why redo the same old tired pieces and not freshen the pot, bringing new works with new dancers, creating new films and memorable dancing moments.

Compare and contrast Maya Plisetskaya and Sylvie Guillem in the short film of the piece Bolero by Maurice Bejart.  Sylvie Guillem unwittingly (or not) allows the comparison to be made of herself with Plisetskaya.  With her choice of opportunities, Sylvie Guillem is surely always looking to dance that master role in which she finds herself perfectly formed to dance. Any other new piece would have fostered her own creativity and would not rehash, almost exactly, what was already done by Plisetskaya, and I think better. Self-indulgence should not ever, and theory should not always, be taken to the stage-it sets us, whether we like it or not. It shows a lack of creativity. Film and video give us the opportunity to see what we are producing before we let others see it, so art can be better for films existence as a visual correction tool. why copy, even from the filming angles and the set design, what has already been done before?

These are two completely different dancers, in different times, and with the technology available, naked of tricks,  I do not feel as though, oh well, Sylvie Guillem has picked up where  Plisetskaya left off, so forget Plisetskaya! No more are these classic modern pieces or ancient ballets set for the present? If one film maker, or one dancer, could imbue into those old relics, the relevance of those performances today, then I would be impressed, but making dance no better off by their production, harms the cause. Instead, Sylvie should use her power in dance to make something entirely new (preferably film as it can popularize the art form) and spread that all over the media channels. Why not use that power to promote ballet, cement its importance and relevance in this new century, right away. Perhaps other dancers to come should think about this, and their fellow dancers, when they become famous-do originals! Dance and theater and music, unlike art begs you to recreate a piece, to live in it, yourself and to bring it to an audience desirous of seeing it performed again, but theater is different, even an art of its own, lends itself and can connect to other forms of media, including film, although their are adaptations that are failures, there are more numerous examples. Some people have said, they find it unbelievable that a character suddenly begins to dance. Why not dance if that is how you express emotions. Too many people are ignorant about dance, unaware of the artform, and equate it with popular musicals and farce. Yes, it is in those, too, but not exclusively.

A dancer has to have respect for the choreographer-they are taught to-one has to adhere to the work, be true to it. But they are not. We would all be less impressed with annual Nutcracker performances, if we had to watch children and amateur dancers perform the original parts of the ballet as they were designed for dancers of consummate skill. They are revised, shortened and changed at the discretion of the teacher, so that the students can dance them and so that uneducated audiences can sit through them. The purpose of art is not always to please, but to touch the viewer and to cause in that person some emotion. Like sitcoms and blockbusters, pop music and romantic comedies, when we attend shallow performances,we are not moved deeply, we are being entertained shallowly usually using the most basic forms of humor and predictable situations. But we are wrong if we think this is art, maybe bravado and canned laughs, the same devices in film after film, pushing the same emotion buttons, but not art. This is understandable, but to superimpose Natalie Portman over any professional (and beautiful) dancer is just artistic suicide by the director and every person of intelligence out there, with an appreciation of ballet, had to ask themselves at first, is this going to be a comedy? Well, it is considered to be acting,  at least in Natalie Portman’s case, bar far too much was made of her tortured performance. Shot in the style it was, her acting was cut off (fortunately) and scenes changed so quickly that you were again in the director’s control, but you couldn’t have helped but notice the limit of her emotions in the film, which, if the editing had not been so adept more people would have observed. We again have to ask ourselves, when she did not actually dance the parts, if her awards were truly earned? I definitely believe the editor deserved an Oscar and it was an important film because nothing else has come out in so many years. But those who were anticipating it, for the dancing, or to be entertained, were disappointed. Does the film industry even understand ballet? And this brings the whole question around again to, is integrity of ART totally forgotten, lost? Compared to The Red Shoes, whose producers had not just knowledge of ballet, apparently, but also a storyline, it was just a better film.

If I were Natalie Portman, I would give the mantel ornament to the dancer who spent her life learning to dance, faceless and unnamed in the film. Paid for her work in the film, like an extra, this dancer fell prey to the oldest tin pan alley trick in the book. Dancers also need to be a little more savvy about entertainment law. That dancer never should have signed that contract without being aware of what it meant. But it is a big issue nonetheless. If you were to imitate a piece of art, you would be called a forger, but dance, like theater, has at least two variables in every work-the dancer, the choreographer and the public; the artist, unless working under a benefactor, has only two, himself and the public. When you add in a film, it gets much more complicated. In other words, she could be expected not to fully understand the impact of her performance, how the film would be edited or the public opinion. Is mimicry in film or acting any better than forging an artist if the artist’s medium is dance?

In Bolero, I see the subtle differences in the movement of their feet and hands at first (watch the videos), Sylvie Guillem, being more staccato on the movement, and her hands being held more rigidly, angularly if you will, as if she were trying to do something right, like cheerleading. When you are free to dance, you don’t worry so much about so much, you just dance. It’s not only that I think Maya is more sinuous, but she seems to me to just have less fear of doing something wrong-she feels it, originally-no fear. Sylvie points her feet sharply, with every step, as she has been taught to do, but Maya does not seem to be thinking about it at all, although we know her foot points. She is more concerned about the subtle expression created, and intended by the slight releve, and not a pique (what is the viewer supposed to notice? That is the question Bejart might have asked the dancer). It is also what is going on in Maya’s torso that we are watching and I think this is what Bejart intended-a the seduction-of the senses. Dance should force you to watch. Maya becomes more beautiful as the piece progresses. In The Black Swan, precisley where we would be watching the dancing, the scenes are cut and there is just a great flapping of wings! It is very funny actually. Maya is happy, smiling, inviting. Look at her. It is her piece. Natalie Portman as the The Black Swan, a fraud. Who could dislike Sissy Spacek for playing Loretta Lynn-what did we really know about her? Well, we could ask Dolly Parton. But somehow, I have no doubt of Sissy Spacek’s ability to portray Loretta Lynn and she did a good job-the film was really carried by the story and the acting abilities of the stars alone. A dancer or an actress need to look for those pieces that they can make their own. Why not something new? A new ballet? Only new ballets? I can understand a film maker wanting to capture Maya’s performance-it was original, but I do not see the same necessity for capturing a second version of the same thing. Remakes, rarely as good as the original and made because the artists have no repertoire of their own. The idea that one must make something do something prevails.  After viewing The Black Swan, it does not seem as though there was a rabbit in the hat at all. But it does remind us subject can be the basis for a horror story and that there is turmoil offstage.

Pavlova, being gone, can have no objection to all these ballerinas portraying her work and trying to emulate her, but she would probably note the lack of understanding and passion, maybe even enthusiasm for dance performance, and probably be very disappointed in the failure of ballet to move to the big screen with the same intensity it was then beginning to do, and I feel dancers might disappoint her too, she clearly used every part of her body and mind for the seduction of her audience, nothing was left to chance. Had she lived, I have a feeling we would have had scores of real films of ballet, as it is she alone seems to have left the most history of dances on film! I think she would have left the theater laughing. She would also have demanded to be in the film! She could have. Imagining what the film could have been, with a real dancer, a real artist, causes me to go back to those old films of Pavlova and try to figure her out, see what made her tick. Film makers wanted to capture dance on film at that time, why not now? pavlova was not intimidated by film, but seemed to relish it, as a way to communicate her message to more people. Was she more provocative, passionate, determined than dancers today? Was she more talented, if you mean by the use of every device within her reach to herald herself and dance? I believe so, and if ballet performers encompassed more of those characteristics today, perhaps film makers would feel that they must capture this spirit on film.

Maybe it is indoctrination which compels dancers to dance the old ballets and now the old modern dances? But we should learn from this and work to give the public what they want-in a ballet and then perhaps film makers will be inspired to make films about dance once again. Maybe we have forgotten that dance to Pavlova, to Shearer, to Plisetskaya, and to Guillem – was not just art but life. With greatness not only comes the opportunity to perform ones art, whatever it is, but also the opportunity to inspire others to dance, to choreograph and to write. So I guess, even in that sense a dance film about anything is a film about dance which may inspire writing, choreography and maybe even dancing!

Dancers from the American Ballet Theater dancing La Bayadere went on television to say: “We do not know what this ballet means, we just show up and dance it-it is too confusing to explain.” How can I ever watch those dancers  again? I am no idiot. I have read 101 Stories of the Great Ballets! Is it all right to just be a dancer and not an artist? Does dancing imply only a body capable of gymnastics, but not artistry? Fire those dancers and they were principals! An artist attempting a master’s style used to write “in the manner of” Cezanne or Da Vinci, so that a “study” would not be mistaken for the real thing. Is it really different for dancers or actors? Should we re-think dance ethics before entrusting those choreographers works or ideals to mirlitons to influence whole generations of other dancers? Does any dance performance require believability to be great? Or authenticity? Originality? Do all ballets or dances have meaning and is it important that the meaning  be adhered to? These are questions which are not dealt with in most dance schools. Dancers have the obligation to educate others about dance. Otherwise and eventually, these decisions will be left to the aspiring 14-17 year-old want-to-be-dancers who feel that they have the right body type or ability to copy other great artists movements-that is all. “Mommy, I want to grow up to be a replica.” We have to pass on, not just the ballets, but the art of dance.

An appreciation for great art may be a higher ideal than to be an artist. I worry about what masterpieces the next generation will leave out in their so-called estimable appreciation of great art.  I hope history does not stop here for too long because there isn’t much worth keeping. Anyone who has been to the bookstore looking for dance books, even magazines, can attest to the one book they have on the dance shelf, Apollo’s Angels. In the biography section, there are at least 1000 books. If anyone wants to submit a dance manuscript to me, I will act as their agent and try to get it published. It is as much in our tolerance we promote this apathy, not bothering to learn much about it and yet shelling out for classes, privates, toe shoes, the works. For what? If there is nothing in the hat?

A point is made to preserve the works of ballet as though in anticipation of its demise. Of the moment, briefly publicized, dance performances or works do need to have an archive, like films, or museums like art. Why are there no museums of dance artifacts? It is things like this that really get across the lack of protection for the art. If dance is not protected, it will become extinct, like the emu. But, instead of putting so much focus on what dance was, energy would be better spent in creating new works, promoting new dancers, promoting dance! Maybe, part of the problem is, the dancers themselves. I must be perfect, thin and sylph-like (what is a sylph?), have hyperextended feet, be beautiful, be like other dancers, be a gymnast and an acrobat,” rather than being creative, having a voice as well as a body, anything to communicate and not just a vehicle for choreographers or directors to use. In the words of Jane Austen in “Pride and Prejudice,” If a woman must possess so many traits to be considered accomplished, I am no longer surprised at your knowing so few, I am surprised at your knowing any!” If a dancer must be all of the things the schools intimate they have to be, then how can they be artists, too? Where is the opportunity for education, and why are only some children exposed to the prestigious education dancers receive at some schools. What about the feeling, the stories, the self? With so many insipid posers standing about, I have more desire to see the male dancers, who have the best time of it, except for the lifting-there are so few of them, they can do whatever they want and bad or good, they are cheered. They can be funny and entertaining, a little short or fat and still be successful. They appear more relaxed, you almost never hear about their anorexia. I am surprised that the double standard which exists for women in ballet is not challenged as being grossly discriminating and unconstitutional, because it is no better than Nazism. If so many things come to the mind of every artist or composer or writer, before we put a word on the page, a rendering, a song, then, as we all know-nothing gets made! Therefore, I am not surprised that few new ballets come into being, I am surprised that ANY do!

I believe we spend too much time in dance copying the great masters instead of getting on with the art of dancing. If art comes from life, and drama and greatness from torment, then all of these young dancers should have plenty of it-and they don’t. It becomes posing and not dancing. I think real torment is not being able to tour with your Russian company abroad because you are Jewish and other natural disasters which life affords you. In other words, there is no point putting obstacles in your own path, or in the path of children who just want to dance, because there will be lots of real trouble along the way. And they can truly have nothing worthwhile to say at such a young age, so why torment them and force them to do The Nutcracker every year which draws away from their work in classes? It is to the detriment of the art that these traditions are reinforced, as if to say, just keep doing it and you will be great, when in reality, it is what puts money in the pockets of the studio for sure! More money should be spent on training, acting and music if studios really want to turn out dancers who can earn their keep in adulthood. Dancers need to think, be educated and be smart!

So how do films reinforce this? They don’t, but they are just as devoid of creative talent as ballet studios and companies are. Our country used to sponsor the arts and encourage thinking and creativity. It was not Russia or even France that put modern dance on the map, it was Americans who understood it, supported it and made it our own, and yet, we have no link in the chain between Merce Cunningham and today. When the greats die off, there are no new and rising stars or choreographers to take their places. There is less about dance now with all the  technology available to communicate it. There is a lot of buzzing and talk, but no fruit. There are some great choreographers around today, and there would be more if more children were encouraged to dance. It might be relatively easy to begin a dance company, invent new forms of dance and works, make films, but we have to educate them first. If filmmakers used the technology available to them and collaborated with dancers, some amazing achievements could be made.

I enjoyed the Black Swan for what it was, a film. It was no more about real dancers than its lead was played by one. With all of it came Natalie Portman, with her usual self and that colored the film for me.  Instead of feeling that the film was about dance or dancing, it managed to reduce dance if possible to even more of a cliche than it already is becoming. All actors-no dancers, like all Caucasions playing Asians on Broadway. Zero believability. Not believable in any way and not anymore related to dance than McDonalds is to “health food.”  I took my daughter, not realizing that the movie was r-rated, and her response to it (of course I covered her eyes-for most of the movie), was that she did not like it at all. Did I mention I was not going to buy the dvd? Why? Because the movie was cliche. It had all of the predictable twists, turns and scenarios that a viewers poll would dictate it to if those polled were blase about the film, and were stoked for Rocky III or Twilight. At least Rocky III viewers did see some real fight scenes! It was simply: let’s put all of these devices in the story in case the public finds it boring. I think it could have stood on its own, and with real dancers, would have been a much better (and believable) film.

I was surprised, when I thought about it, about how little we have progressed in not being able to do anything more with real dancers, in fact less, than was done by even Pavlova in those films, The Red Shoes, or in The Hunchback and in other films of those days, with all the creative minds and technology available. 100 years have passed since Pavlova made her little black and white films, dancing wildly in the light viewer-and NOTHING has come close to capturing her essence, or almost any other dancer (Hines and Barishnikov did cross-over in White Knights and that was an excellent film), but there has been no succession of good films involving ballet or dance. If the Black Swan had used a real dancer in the role and not just been the vehicle for the glorification of a certain actress, I would have liked the film better, and obviously a lot of people disagree with me. It captured emotions, but not those felt by dancers, really. I do not believe dancers to be maniacal at all-in the words of Elle in Legally Blond, “exercise makes endorphins and endorphine make people happy.” Not entirely, but nearly true.

Non-dancers and the public will say, what is the point, why does it matter? It does. I fear what is being lost is any integrity in art put to film. Pretty soon, writers won’t even bother to verify their sources! Dancers should work on acting skills, mime and learn more about dance. Perhaps if dance topics are popular, more books on dance will appear on the bookshelves of stores and libraries. Perhaps more focus on arts education is necessary, because if more people were taking ballet classes, and more emphasis was placed on dance as a career, and more parents could afford ballet, more students would emerge, becoming choreographers and writers, as well as more dancers and more dance teachers, and more schools and more dancing. When the final curtain is drawn it will be dancers who make these changes, demands, and innovations and lovers of dance. But there must be a rabbit in the hat.

Keep on dancing!