Tag Archives: George Balanchine

On The Balcony With Edward Villella


 

Edward Villella as Apollo with Suki Schorer, Carol Sumner and Patricia McBride 1964
Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library. “New York City Ballet production of “Apollo” with Edward Villella and Patricia McBride, Carol Sumner and Suki Schorer, choreography by George Balanchine (New York)” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1964. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/cf2b7020-2566-0132-40dc-58d385a7b928
Dances at a gathering rehearsal 1969
Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library. “New York City Ballet rehearsal of “Dances at a Gathering” with Patricia McBride and Edward Villella, choreography by Jerome Robbins (New York)” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1969. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/4ea19e90-1f3d-0132-37a8-58d385a7b928
Edward Villella as Apollo in Agon 1958
UNK, The New York Public Library. “New York City Ballet production of “Agon” with Edward Villella, choreography by George Balanchine (New York)” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1958. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/2c8625c0-4e92-0133-cac5-00505686a51c
Edward Villella 5
Edward Villella in George Balanchine’s Prodigal Son
Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library. "New York City Ballet - Publicity photo Patricia McBride and Edward Villella on the balcony of the unfinished New York State Theater at Lincoln Center, in "Tarantella" costume, choreography by George Balanchine (New York)" The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1964. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/5baf78c0-2565-0132-8aa0-58d385a7b928
Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library. “New York City Ballet – Publicity photo Patricia McBride and Edward Villella on the balcony of the unfinished New York State Theater at Lincoln Center, in “Tarantella” costume, choreography by George Balanchine (New York)” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1964. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/5baf78c0-2565-0132-8aa0-58d385a7b928
Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library. "New York City Ballet production of "Dim Lustre" costumer Beni Montressor with Patricia McBride and Edward Villella in dressing room, choreography by Antony Tudor (New York)" The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1964. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/a0756e90-2618-0132-beed-58d385a7b928
Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library. “New York City Ballet production of “Dim Lustre” costumer Beni Montressor with Patricia McBride and Edward Villella in dressing room, choreography by Antony Tudor (New York)” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1964. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/a0756e90-2618-0132-beed-58d385a7b928
Edward Villella 1
Edward Villella, The Prodigal Son. Photographer unknown.
edward villella and patricia mcbride
Edward Villella and Patricia McBride

 

New York City Ballet "The Nutcracker"   Edward Villella as a Candy Cane (Hoops), choreography by George Balanchine
Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library. “Edward Villella as a Candy Cane (Hoops) in a New York City Ballet production of “The Nutcracker.”” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1958. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/77808970-9e34-0131-8409-58d385a7bbd0
villella with Patricia McBride in Rubies 1967
Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library. “New York City Ballet production of “Jewels” (Rubies) with Patricia McBride and Edward Villella, choreography by George Balanchine (New York)” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1967. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/f24c63e0-1fdc-0132-761a-58d385a7bbd0
villella oberon
Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library. “New York City Ballet production of “A midsummer Night’s Dream” with Edward Villella as Oberon and Patricia McBride as Titania, choreography by George Balanchine (New York)” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1969. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/516da190-1fff-0132-c986-58d385a7bbd0
Trantella Edward Villella
Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library. “New York City Ballet production of “Tarantella” with Edward Villella and Patricia McBride, choreography by George Balanchine (New York)” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1965. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/61e90650-2565-0132-3802-58d385a7b928
Edward Villella coaching Mikhail Baryshnikov
Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library. “New York City Ballet rehearsal for “Jewels” (Rubies) with Mikhail Baryshnikov, Edward Villella & Patricia McBride, choreography by George Balanchine (New York)” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1978. Villella coaching Baryshnikov http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/16280ba0-2584-0132-30c0-58d385a7bbd0
George Balanchine and Edward Villella
UNK, The New York Public Library. “New York City Ballet production of “Swan Lake”; George Balanchine rehearsing Edward Villella, choreography by George Balanchine (New York)” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1964. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/123cf740-3f81-0133-cf5c-00505686d14e
edward villella jerome robbins dance martha swope
Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library. “Edward Villella lunging holding out two very long canes” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1972. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/b12b9b47-94aa-4f66-e040-e00a18066d80
edward villella featured
Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library. “Edward Villella, Boni Enten and Ted Mann” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1976. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e3-fb45-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
Edward Villella Brahams Quartet 1967
Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library. “New York City Ballet – “Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet” with Edward Villella, choreography by George Balanchine (New York)” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1967. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/84330590-2ad9-0132-4e71-58d385a7b928

Enter. Edward Villella, former dancer and artist of The New York City Ballet. Who has not heard of Edward Villella? Well, until a few years ago it seems like not many of the new generation had, that is, until he built, over several years time, against much opposition, a ballet company in Miami-The Miami Miracle-from the ground up. From then on, we have enjoyed regular articles, references and symposiums featuring him although his videos are still a little scarce. Older, and wiser, but clearly fit, with the same, recognizable posture as Balanchine, D’Amboise, and other former male dancers of the era, steps up Mr. Villella, or “Eddy,” as friends call him. Older, yes, but not less handsome or engaging, intelligent, or talkative, than other dancers of the era who, now mature in years, seem to have something to say, are not merely saying something. He does a little jazz shuffle, entering stage right, and hops up onto the podium, clearly happy to be there, and talk about his passion-dance-with the assembled fans; it’s a full house.

The discussion, led by Jennifer Homans of The Center For Ballet and the Arts at NYU, and author of “Apollo’s Angels”, didn’t need much prodding; Mr. Villella was as ready as ever to discuss his viewpoints and perspective,  relate stories, critique management, recent choreography, and his directorship, as well as probe the deeper meanings behind the ballet arts, at least from his position as a premier dancer for The New York City Ballet, when it was at its peak circa 1954-69. Ms. Homans and the Ballet Center have provided these evenings of intimate discussion and reception free of charge as part of their mission to make ballet more recognizable, accessible, and to also discover what is or has been there already and to preserve this information and knowledge, add to it, share it, and possibly look into the future of what may possibly be, by bringing a discussion about of the past, and its examples.  It was in all a very interesting and inspiring evening particularly with the guest last night. A short q&a and a reception followed.

Edward Villella talked about his history with Balanchine and shared three short video segments which gave dancing interludes to the dialogue (much as I should do with these photos), reminding the participants that Balanchine was intricate, musical, and an artistic director who employed artists and gave them the opportunity to expand when they seemed ripe and ready, encouraging them to make their own statements, and to imbue each role with their own take and style, and often leaving them, as Mr. Villella put it, to discover what was already there, learn about it, listen to it, bring it out, highlight it, but not to actually create it, only to interpret it in their own way.

Edward expanded on how Balanchine communicated the intricacy and layers of the ballets, described how you felt it, and you were inspired by his stories, descriptions and development of the roles, and how ballet really is of the moment. He also explicated what seems to be missing nowadays is the passion that Balanchine brought to the ballet with his fellow dancers, and how inspirational he was to them,  what that impact was like, and how it is not observable today in many cases. Ms. Homans commented on how many of those movements may be being lost-nuances-information-a concern of everyone important in the dance world today. These things were also “of the moment,” need to be recorded, and you feel that this is something that she wants to bring about, a larger vocabulary of dance-for dancers-in a world where colleges are teaching the perfect 15-word email. Know more, think more, be more studious!

This point of search, discovery, fortitude, and especially commitment was repeatedly interwoven in Villella’s short speeches by recalling past history and examples. And this, he explained, was his art, his passion, his whole life, even despite a break of nearly four years as a young man due to pressure by society, and by his father, not to pursue the career of a male ballet dancer (another fully-attempted profession which left him thinking only of dancing).  He abandoned a future desired by others for him in order to fulfill his passion for dance; maybe, in part, because of George Balanchine. Mr. B., he made clear, was inspiration personified and he provided this inspiration to his dancers to perform their best and to continue dancing.

Edward Villella is part of the iconoclasm of American Ballet and that legacy of artists, muses, composers, visionaries, etc., the “geniuses” Balanchine’s period, carefully assembled and cultivated by Balanchine, Kirstein, Stravinsky, et al., into a New York City ‘local ballet company’ which would serve New Yorkers and the world more dutifully and consistently, it might be argued, than many public or government office-holders have, for now almost a century. Art is part of the fabric of New York, and not least among those provided services is ballet. But how Mr. Villella seems at odds with the current ballet mindset and panorama clearly and quickly becomes apparent as he is eager to live up to his own self-given mission to give not only his best, but also his opinions, viewpoints and perspectives fueled by a life lived in the arts, and to also voice his considerable concerns for the future, by example, comparing and contrasting those myriad differences from then and today. The audience sees plainly his position as a scholar and spokesperson, aptly done. He then proceeds to narrate, punctuate, clear up, and skillfully guide us through a brief engaging and informative personal history. It is obviously planned, laid out in advance of this evening, how his own point of departure was different from anyone else’s, but he never boasts this directly. Ms, Homans accentuates by giving her own opinions, too, and asking direct questions in a nice self-effacing way, without apologizing for them. The discussion seems frank enough. He expresses just how thankful he was to have the opportunities to dance the parts he did, and how amazed he was that Mr. Balanchine gave him the parts he did to work with, to create, and how this is his responsibility, and that of others, to pass on, what he thinks is, a very serious undertaking.

He said he was not sure of the present mindset of younger dancers being given this role and he seems desirous to reach them, and teach them, and he stressed this need and its importance. A few recognizable young dancers from NYCB sit in the audience, aloof, somewhat overwhelmed and intimidated, I would imagine by their responses. We are definitely not sure these people are aware how much is vested in them, or can handle that pressure or position, or even care-especially after viewing his videos, in one of which Mr. Villella is at the point of physical collapse due to his dancing exertions; he pushed himself to the limits of physical endurance. It was really quite moving. Perhaps, it is only the difference of years of maturity and reflection to cast this formidable shadow, but one cannot picture these students with the silver spoon mentality even reaching that juncture. What students have today is the inability to appreciate some other dancer’s humble beginnings, immense talent, and fire, but they do not fail to appreciate their own embraceable luck and good fortune. They do not understand what exactly this all means to the people who have been before them-what they will have to pass on, live up to. Maybe they will learn, if they try. You get the feeling that, if possible, Mr. Villella is not going to let them slip away without considering his proposition and challenge. His emphasis is that you bring technical ability and you learn the rest: acting, art, music and performance. The picture and responsibility get bigger, not smaller, not easier. It’s already there, but you must discover “it” for yourself.

Though not much of the laborious schedule and rigors of ballet under Balanchine were discussed, Tanny LaClerq’s death, the females of the NYCB, other male dancers, or the recent changes at the company, but the emphasis on his opinion was as clear as a bell. Afterall that is what we usually hope to see and hear, and we don’t usually, so we come to expect the worst from the best. But have you ever-could you ever-doubt Edward Villella? Doubt that he would deliver? He never fails. It was an honor and a privilege. Video segments are what we know of his previous accomplishments, unless we lived in that era-his unique physical accomplishments, his dynamic was different, his remarkable stamina, verve and bravado, are evident in some of those videos, our common history of ballet to us older folk, but to younger audiences this might seem extreme, a little too hard, too much, and too fatiguing. But what is there to dance if the spirit is not in it? Why are you here, his whole body seemed to say. It was the narrow margin of art versus the talented, but absent, unmusical, shallow and competitive performer of today-the poser- which Villella obviously chastises, and puts up for discussion and exhibition by saying, “this is what we don’t do” by showing dancers, “this is what you do.” There is nothing in between, or so it would seem, for Edward Villella. This could be similarly expressed by many great dancers of the past, is repeated in many interviews of former great dancers, but was handled differently here by a living legend.

Instead of limiting his listeners by these evidentiary great videos, he also gave them verbal assurances and confidence to see exactly how this might be accomplished firsthand, a directive, a mission. It was not surprising to see it attempted again, but it was handled differently, expertly. No artist’s message, expressed in their own inimitable way could fail to make it clear, and none of them (really) ever shirk the duty of the confidence, from their responsibility and openness to lay it on the line, despite some people’s aversion to hearing it, we understand their missive. But, Mr. Villella’s wisdom was much more gentle and urging. His points were clearer and accentuated with proof by example, and that, so many of the other artists of today cannot demonstrate. There is a world of difference in the actions. Mr. Villella’s actions just speak louder than anyone else’s I’ve heard. His examples are better. He truly practices what he preaches and he doesn’t preach much.

Much has been heard about Mr. Villella’s troubles, fatigue, exhaustion, injuries, and his unrivaled performances, which in my opinion, were all the more brilliant because it seems that if he was going to be a dancer, defy his father’s wishes, he had to be the greatest male dancer of his era, and possibly he was. He adds, that a lot of that was PR, played up, by the media, to show he was a rare performer to see, to promote the ballet, make it news, as a world-class performance of dancing. He claimed that his reputed speed, stamina, strength and agility, such as you might expect to see at a sporting event, were fabricated, but then you see the videos and remember. But he doesnt come across as insincere. But what of art? Perhaps he, like many other dancers always feel lacking, they don’t know the stories today, maybe they don’t seem believable. But looking at him in those roles, I would believe. I would! His attotude seemed to be that art could be exciting, death-defying, and a real punch in the face as well as all the rest. He brought it to life for generations of ballet-goers. Art for the he-man, the boxer, the street kid, the thug, the athlete-and Mr. Villella, was at one time or the other, all of those things. A regular guy, a New Yorker. He points out that he is married, has a wife-that ballet is not for sissies, but for real men, too, and family men, with family values. He makes ballet accessible for everyone. Maybe in his life his real ability, and he needed it to make a point to himself, in order to find acceptance from his own father, to keep an audience glued to their seats, and became one of the best at, was his ability to reach people-to communicate-he is expert at reaching people. He is obviously a skilled teacher and supporter of education and youth, and dance.

Maybe Balanchine played on Villella’s own personal conflicts, in selecting roles for him, those involving a father, because he knew this was in Edward’s vocabulary, his nomenclature, to state and to express it. It is clear from his perspective at least, that Balanchine’s suggestions to his artists invoked the best performances from them, and Villella said, “he knew you, he was a genius.” He gave praise, he thanked, he was lovable, and no wonder his dancer’s tried very hard to please him, or so Edward seemed to be saying, and is evident in all their admiration for him, the wide acceptance and repeating of his works, and the way his legacy is carried on by his proteges. Nowhere else is this more apparent than The New York City Ballet, or was, even though it is purported that more Balanchine works are performed in Europe than in the US. Balanchine had the gift of being able to use psychology, music, spectacle, different genres of dance, and hype, to create magic and everyone at his factory were in reality living their dreams. Part of that super-reality mixed with theatricality involved bringing to life ballets which demonstrated deeper and deeper levels of emotion brought about by human experiences to increase human understanding.  Is that is what is being done today at the NYCB?

It is also very clear that the audience and their response was elemental to this process, the final countdown. But they were conditioned to expect greatness by Balanchine-not the reverse. Mr. Villella’s jumps were always just a tad higher, and his movements slightly more intense and large, and his acting at its best onstage, a performer of the highest caliber. Balanchine clearly knew how to elicit these performances from his artists, how to discipline them, and how to train them. Do they alone see this now, appreciate this, because without a force like him, they cannot recreate his masterpieces. Yet, they continue to share their unique perspective of this man, perhaps the organization’s most valuable asset is its dancers, and it should be the dance. It is also of major importance to younger dancers, and the future of ballet, to see exactly what is passed on in ballet, with many other things as well, and only they can teach. So why aren’t they all there? You definitely got the feeling that he feared for this future. But, Edward Villella remains one of the very few tangible ‘elite’ even if you catchphrase it as an “era”, those dancers dreamed of even greater things. It was hard work, day and night, for you the public and for Mr. B, whom they all sought to please. The New York City Ballet is still one of the foremost companies in the world attached to the major education division of ballet in this country, and therefore is the U.S.’s greatest ballet company. Perhaps the artists and director of that company needed to hear this talk even more than the audience did.

Edward Villella said that he would never describe himself this way, a “jumper,” he says, as though in all the roles he danced in this was the perceived reason he was selected, how he was featured, why, and his main “selling point.” He did not, was not made to, see himself this way. All the dancers were encouraged to think as a group, then. But it was plain to us, to the audience, why this charismatic and exciting performer was featured so often-maybe not enough if public videos serve right. His acting was exciting, his masculinity and energy palpable, his stamina was fatiguing just to watch, and he had bravado in spades. At that time, by dancers in this country, he was truly unmatched, and unique. Ironically, he remains alone today in that regard to a large extent. If memory serves there were many unheralded fine dancers of that institution, and where are they today? They are needed to reinforce the ideals of American ballet. The public, everyday people. because of Edward Villella, began to view ballet differently. They began to attend ballet performances in overwhelming and unprecedented numbers. He sold tickets! His impression was felt across the country, through tv, and by description, by millions of people in their homes, and ballets became popular-attendance was up!

He made an impact around the world, too, but in America, where he was needed most, he did the most good for our ballet. His presence must have been felt too, in Russia, and London, and the rest of the world, where later dancers followed his path exactly, seemly inadvertently, benefiting from the swathe he tore. It became a competition-he was not the man to follow. He was not only a major star of ballet in the 1950’s and 1960’s, he paved the way for others, such as Rudolf Nureyev, and Mikhail Baryshnikov, to appear in the the forefront of future ballet productions, in roles he had made famous, and increasingly made more famous in those ballets over a long career, and which he alone performed, often, when others were out due to injury, staples of The New York City Ballet and the world. As Edward Villella says, although these roles were worked on him, their difficulties are evident in the lack of ability of most performers to do them today, with perhaps the exception of a few similar stars, such as Mikhail Baryshnikov, Daniel Ulbricht, and some of the dancers Edward Villella has trained himself, such as at The Miami City Ballet, possibly. Not all of them shine in exactly the same or numerous ways in them, that Edward Villella did, or they would be household names.

Consequently, the search for dancers to recreate his original roles, brought us dancers of the same ilk, and then Russian, gradually, since the late 60’s-70’s, and not so many after the 1980’s were able to perform them as imaginatively or as well as he did at all. Now it is a feat just to teach and stage some of them once per year or decade. Edward Villella did them every night. He was a blueprint for what made ballet acceptable to major audiences in the public sense, what was to be expected, and allowed, and he set the barre higher, though he probably did not realize it at the time. No wonder so many of them fall short of it today! Now he does a tour, making up for lost time, by putting forth his presence and knowledge today and sharing that with others, letting people know that he is more than willing, anxious even, to convey those secrets to young hopefuls, companies, and audiences. Edward Villella was really one of the first American male dancers, along with Jacques D’Amboise, and others, who set the stage for an American prototype of the male ballet dancer, with the help of a Russian choreographer and composer, Balanchine and Stravinsky. The videos and discussion also included : an excerpt of A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream with Villella as Oberon, Jewels (Rubies tcherzo-furioso, specifically), and discussions of The Prodigal Son, Agon/Apollo, and a few of his other roles (Sleeping Beauty, Scotch Symphony, Nutcracker) were alluded to, including some I have never heard of, such as Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto, which had a deeper meaning for Villella (he says) too. But to Villella, all of these roles, and Balanchine’s choreography, are conveyed with the caveat that the choreographer’s role is not to create a stamped role for a performer, but is the role of a teacher- to give the performer the chance to ‘discover’ it himself. By inspiring the dancer, suggesting, and individualizing his approach to a role, and so that the line where the choreography, music and dancer or artist begin, as well as the live impact or performance, is nearly invisible or becomes one unique blend or “a moment in time.” “Dated” Villella says, possibly, but rife with meaning and ‘great things’. Mr. V does not think, and this is my interpretation, that performers today work hard enough, take ballet seriously enough, or convey enough emotion or passion in their dancing. I think this is perhaps the most important thing he said last night.

Several times, he spoke of his concern today, for Balanchine ballets, the loss of their details, and the ignoring of the many layers of his productions, the dancer’s lack of investigation and art, even ability to dance(!). He also spoke of his desire to work on coaching and teaching these things, passing down those details to new dancers and entire companies, successfully, as he has tried to do with Miami City Ballet. He wants to encourage ALL dancers to dig deeper into the legacy and history of the art of ballet, art and cultural history, to discover new meanings relevant to them, and to today, seek to convey more to the audience, not less, and to especially add something besides a smile, behind which, apparently, lies “nothing.” He repeated these warnings and concerns often, also criticizing the current mode of the backers of the art, critics, and board members, in taking the egotistical ‘front seat’ ahead of the art of ballet. He said in some ways for this reason alone “art suffers”, and a little of his particular problems with Miami Ballet in general, but also other institutions.

He is a Balanchine expert, and despite his many other performances, roles, and directorships, he remains a student of Balanchine, so why would they hire him if they didn’t want the Balanchine/Villella influence? This also emphasizes the need for organizations and individuals to do their research before pursuing a line of art they do not understand and he feels we all, they all, need to know more. We do, and we need to communicate about it more, not just in pictures, but in words, and in art-our impressions, our versions, even if we’re wrong, it opens discussions about it, if only to correct, or argue-it is something. SOmething is always better than nothing. Always. Dry critiques, tweets, and posts do not do art justice. All in all, this was a very enjoyable, provocative evening well-spent, and as you can see, INSPIRING. Spent in the company of one of my life-long favorite dancers, Mr. Edward Villella. Thank you very much Center For The Ballet and the Arts and readers of Mysylph.

To find out more about their objectives, programs and even possible excerpts from this evening, visit https://balletcenter.nyu.edu/

To find out more about Edward Villella, read his book Villella, Edward, with Larry Kaplan. Prodigal Son. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992. Levin, Jordan. (another is in the works concerning the “two” Golden Ages of Ballet-one being ‘George Balanchine’s’ age, the other the previously known of Russia)

 

Videoed segments of interviews and background

#1-3 The Man Who Dances

 Ballet’s Greatest Hits Featurette: Edward Villella

Lolita Khosla. A&E Revue: Edward Villella

 

Other published articles and references:

Dancing for Mr. B, and Everything After by Roslyn Sulcas (NYT)

“Bitter Departure for Miami’s Ballet Patriarch” by Daniel J. Wakin (Nov. 13, 2011 NYT)

Dance Heritage Collection: Edward Villella by Lisa Traiger

 

To see an introspective grouping of performance and rehearsal photographs which often deliver the ‘moment’ in many productions, please visit The Billy Rose Theatre Division Collection at The New York Public Library. Search term: ‘Edward Villella.’   The New York Public Library Digital Collections

KEEP ON DANCING!

 

 

 

 

 

Patricia McBride-Still Living the Dancer’s Dream (Protege of George Balanchine)


Patricia McBride lived a dancer’s dream: Her mentor was George Balanchine

2   Patricia McBride and George Balanchine

Patricia McBride rehearsing with choreographer George Balanchine.

This was normal for McBride, then the New York City Ballet’s principal dancer (now the associate artistic director at the Charlotte Ballet), but working with Balanchine would have been a dream come true for aspiring ballerinas around the world.

He is known as an artistic genius in the ballet world. A gifted choreographer responsible for changing the face of dance and famous for the New York City Ballet’s ” Coppélia” and “The Nutcracker.” And this man personally invited McBride to join his company when she was just 16 years old.

Balanchine and McBride would work alone in a studio, not speaking much. Balanchine would cue the music and dance in front of McBride. A pianist himself, musicality was of the utmost importance to Balanchine. He wanted the dances to flow naturally, so he let the music do the speaking. McBride followed along behind him, learning the steps. Forty-five minutes later, McBride would have a new solo in her repertoire.

“He worked so quickly and he didn’t have to experiment with you. He knew exactly what you could do,” McBride said in a phone interview. “Once something was made to you, you had to remember it forever. You were the guardian of the choreography.”

Balanchine trained McBride for a 30-year career with the New York City Ballet. She danced over 100 ballets in that time, including 30 choreographed just for her. When she performed her final ballet in 1989, McBride was showered with 13,000 roses and a standing ovation.

But McBride did not leave dance behind. She went on to teach at Indiana University and then took over the Charlotte Ballet in North Carolina with her husband and dance partner, Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux in 1998. She’s now 72 and still teaches eight ballet classes at a time, on top of running rehearsals for performances like The Nutcracker.

This lifelong dedication to dance has been noticed by the outside world, too.

Earlier this month, McBride walked down a red carpet in Washington, D.C., to be honored for her commitment to the performing arts. She mingled with Tom Hanks and Sting, had dinner with John Kerry and met the Obamas. She was given a rainbow-colored Kennedy Center Honors ribbon and listened to actress Christine Baranski praise her accomplishments.

It was a celebratory weekend all about honoring the ballerina (among other honorees), but McBride was quick to thank others in our interview. Especially Balanchine, her mentor.

Theirs was an intimate setting to work in, but Balanchine was more than a teacher to McBride. She looked up to him as a role model and desperately wanted to please him. McBride‘s own father left her family when she was just 3 years old, so Balanchine stepped in to fill that role.

“I grew up without a father so he was everything to me — the man I most admired and just the most wonderful role model anyone could have,” McBride said.

And their relationship was not lost on the outside world.

“A true muse for George Balanchine, he created many ballets especially for her,” said Larry Attaway, executive director of ballet at Butler University. “She was one of the most remarkable ballerinas of the 20th century.”

McBride still remembers leaping for joy when Balanchine invited her to join the New York City Ballet Company all those years ago — and did not hesitate to give up a normal teenage life for one of endless rehearsals, travel and intense dedication.

Balanchine took McBride under his wing and trained her to dance his ballets, many of which are still performed around the world today. She traveled to Tokyo, Italy, Germany, London, Paris, South America and Russia to dance, including five performances for U.S. presidents. Leading roles in her repertoire include the Sugarplum Fairy in “The Nutcracker” and Colombine in ”Harlequinade.”

“I cherish the ballets made for myself by Mr. Balanchine,” McBride said in a phone interview. “He never lost his temper. He was quiet, humble, the genius of the 20th century. He changed the face of what dance is today.”

Balanchine was her teacher, her mentor and inspiration during her long-lived dancing career. He pushed her and drove her to perform at the highest possible level, but he was also kind and patient — a notable trait in the perfectionism-driven world of ballet.

“In the beginning, he taught you how to hold your fingers, use your head, hold your shoulders, how you glissade, bourre — the exact way he wanted you to do the steps,” McBride said. “It was relearning the whole Balanchine technique.”

He was not a man of many words, but when he did offer praise, it stayed with McBride for years to come.

“After performances he would say, ‘Good, good.’ He never really gave a harsh word. I don’t ever remember him saying, ‘That was awful,’ ever. He didn’t praise that much, but when he did, it was wonderful. He would say, ‘I loved how you used your eyes, you were mysterious.’ It would make you feel like a million dollars.”

Balanchine passed away in 1983, but McBride carries on his legacy by teaching her students his ballets with patience and kindness. She gives her students at the Charlotte Ballet Academy praise and talks highly of her “beautiful dancers.” She believes in nurturing her students and making them feel secure in themselves.

“Mr. Balanchine wanted me to be myself. He didn’t want me to look like anyone else,” McBride said. “I love teaching our company dancers the Balanchine ballets. I try to give them what was passed down to me and what I learned from him. They dance it so beautifully. It also keeps me close to Mr. Balanchine. He’s with me every single day.”

Celebrate ‘The Nutcracker’ Tradition in Indianapolis!


Posted: Thursday, December 4, 2014 11:23 am

By VICTORIA DAVIS/Reposted by Mysylph

Now that stomachs are full, Black Friday shopping has ended and thousands of pounds of turkey have been sold, it’s the time of year to truly appreciate our loved ones through rich traditions. Maybe your family cherishes the moment the star is placed on the peak of the family Christmas tree, or enjoys visiting holiday shows such as “The Nutcracker.”

The Indiana Ballet Conservatory (IBC) will be putting on six shows of “The Nutcracker” at two different venues, the Murat Theatre at Old National Centre and at the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s “The Toby.”

Miko Fogarty, who plays Princess Masha (Clara) and Sugar Plum said she began rehearsing for this season’s Nutcracker about a month ago.

“Each ballet is different in terms of the storyline and characters,” said Fogarty. “Dancers feed off the energy in the audience. When you ‘feel’ the audience reacting to your performance, you can’t help but rise to the occasion. That type of collaboration is exhilarating.”

Since Fogarty has been playing these two roles for the past five years, she finds many similarities in her characters and herself as a ballerina.

“Masha is a young girl who opens her heart to an ugly nutcracker doll. Her kindness and love help to transform the doll – and herself – into the prince and princess,” said Fogarty. “They go on a spectacular journey and awake the next morning to wonder if it was magic or a dream. Really, the life of a dancer is similar.”

She continues, “For those of us who are pursuing ballet as a career, we recognize this gift is not something to keep to ourselves, but to share with an audience. When we give our all on the stage and embody the character, the audience gets taken on a journey of their own. It is our goal to ensure that each person leaves the theater feeling something special and is transformed in some way.”

While there are a variety of “The Nutcracker” productions happening around the city, Alyona Yakovleva-Randall, founding artistic director, master teacher, and coach at IBC mentioned that this production’s version is closest to the original staging from nearly 100 years ago where it debuted in Russia.

“Even the names of our characters are true to the original storyline, Masha (Marie) instead of Clara. Even the backdrops, which were commissioned to be painted, match the original sets,” noted Yakovleva-Randall.

IBC’s Camel studios are bustling with over 170 dancers ranging from 3 years old to adults, countless production staff and volunteers during this time of year. Practice for “The Nutcracker” and other productions can begin early in the morning until 9 p.m. daily. In addition to Fogarty, acclaimed principal dancer with the Boston Ballet, Lasha Khozashvili is also one of the main characters in the show. Yakovleva-Randall said it’s a pleasure working with all of the dancers.

“It’s always satisfying to see our older dancers work together as a team to encourage and support each other,” she commented. “One simply cannot put on a production of this magnitude without harmony between the dancers. What always brings the biggest smile to my heart is when the older students reach out to the younger ones and help them learn their parts. Seeing the pre-professional students passing down what they’ve learned to the next generation of young dancers is truly satisfying. My entire life’s work is passing down the legacy of ballet down to the next generation.”

Indiana Ballet Conservatory’s ‘The Nutcracker’

The Murat Theatre at Old National Centre

Dec. 6 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.

(Limited seats available for Nutcracker Tea, noon – 1:30 p.m., and VIP, 5 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.)

Indianapolis Museum of Art’s “The Toby”

Dec. 12 at 7 p.m.

Dec. 13 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Dec. 14 at 2 p.m.

Tickets are available at IndianaBalletConservatory.org.

Facts about ‘The Nutcracker’

Began as the published work “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” in 1816

First production performed Dec. 1892 in St. Petersburg, Russia

Peter Ilyitch Tschaikovsky composed the music for the ballet “The Nutcracker”

The first U.S. performance was in 1944 by the San Francisco Ballet

The New York City Ballet first performed George Balanchine’s “Nutcracker”® in 1954, which then became a popular holiday tradition

via Celebrate ‘The Nutcracker’ Tradition – Indianapolis Recorder Newspaper: Around Town.

NYCB – George Balanchine-some great footage here!


NYCB – George Balanchine.

Corrosively Criptical


I want to do so many things and I have so many ideas, still at my age, if anything, I have more-they are undone. I want to do big, great things. It is like when you watch a movie and some part of it takes you away somewhere else, and you watch that movie to go to that place, as a form of escapism-I don’t always watch movies over and over-but a few I do-then one day, you have watched it so much, and you know exactly at what part you reach that nirvana, and it is over too soon, too fleeting, and you suddenly realize that it is not real. It is not your life, you are not the one getting away, and you need to do something like that, but you need to do it. Not watch it.

I switch from books to media, to music, to puzzles, to writing, to doing, but I always have to do so much to keep my mind sharp, that I do not really just put everything down and do things. For one reason, when you get out of school, you have to work-you do not get to read as many books, write as much, or make art as much, because you have to work. The period in which you are expected to do something, or show you can do something so that you will be picked to do more somethings is very short in school, and if you view life as having to be decided upon before you  mature, then not only is their more chance for you to change your mind about what you really wanted to do, or find out what that is, but also it decreases the number of people educated enough to do anything important. In other words, more education is better.

It takes years of practice to do anything really, really well. Short of perverse genius, some people who are picked to do things based on childish endeavors continue to produce nothing of consequence, whereas, someone who might not have had time to develop into greatness doesn’t get the chance.  Other times it is the person who is pinched (Nureyev, Makarova) that has the drive and ambition to make it and be better than anyone else. I do not think there should be an imaginary window or so much pressure to be picked to be someone’s muse at an early age. A dancer develops into an artist or they don’t, but it takes TIME. I think the lack of truly great artists has a lot to do with the pressure on young students to get somewhere, and be something, before they have had time to develop into anything, leaving them feeling flattened if they don’t do something quick. Yes, this happens to so many people, and I think it retards or stops people from studying dance for longer. “If I haven’t become this by such and such a day,” is nonsense. Surely, people do, but becoming great with all the opportunity in the world, all the gifts and all the right teaching, doesn’t happen often, and if it does at all, it is through years of continuing to develop, actually. I do not think greatness can be measured in ones so young or that it should be expected of them. And one thing all great dancers do have in common is that they don’t quit!

I told my friend today, again, “the sky’s the limit!” It should be and you choose your words very carefully with children to encourage all of them to do their best, and no child should be out of the running. Some of us are very conscious of that, as educators, and parents ARE educators, but somehow, some educators (teachers) even parents, are not. An elitist program can be a problem, but there are dancers who now currently have more talent, but one day, many other dancers will “catch up.” I am for more opportunities for all dancers to do that, one way or the other. I think if more money was spent by parents, and other people with money, on improving children’s chances of learning to dance, get them off the street, out of their cafe lifestyles and into a path of discipline and increased self-esteem, respect for the arts, there would be more and better dancers, opportunities for those who are professionals looking for work, and more tickets bought by ballet aficionados to ballet performances because they would not be adverse to going. An example is my son, age 27, who will sit through a ballet performance because he took class for a few months and respects the hard work. Everyone in ballet takes something away from it, whether they are a new parent helping for the first time at a backstage show, or an usher who gets to watch all the performances, or a cinematographer who is rapt by the precision, sweat and myriad imagery to capture and relate. Everyone is pleasantly surprised by ballet and dance. Surprised to find they like it.

Despite efforts of people to make art with ballet, preserve the integrity and meaning of its movements, teaching, choreography, costumes, in different periods of history, ballet breaks down. Like a car on the road it needs a tow, a repair, maybe a rehaul, to bring it back onto the road and getting the attention or use it deserves. There are constant discussions about ballet and a legion of fans across the world and yet how many actual dance performances can you say you viewed this year in person. anything done for or in the field of ballet, requires notation, the libretto, the photos, the video, the distribution, everything, because it is an art of the moment. Dance. But in order to expose yourself to art, you can walk out on any Thursday night in most beach towns and get a glimpse of it, you can hear music, taste food, wear fashion, and reading material abounds, but dance you have to sit through and watch and go see. You have to go to the theater to do this and like a live performance of music-nothing compares. It is okay to watch it on tv, Vimeo, YouTube, in theaters on enormous screens, but it is eminently better and more exciting to sit in a seat (any seat) at the theater and watch ballet being performed live. It, after having been to the theater, will enable you to get up out of your seat and start to dance, and suddenly, watching dancers perform live, you realize it is real, and necessary and important.

One of the most important aspects of education, being an educator, is putting aside the customary snobbery that might accompany considering oneself an expert on something, vastly experienced,  knowledgeable or wise and give one’s students the benefit of the doubt, equal opportunity, and chances, repeatedly to prove themselves, opportunity to improve, and practice. The bad get better, but they can also learn other things. I have learned from being able to do things, or not being able to do things is always a state of mind, frequently. The handicapped can learn from dance, the geek, the tomboy, the football player, the debutante, the delinquent. And in a supportive environment these children can be taught to dance correctly, to work hard, to see aspects of art like line, symmetry, and composition, that they would otherwise not be able to comprehend at all, through an activity that most of them can never consider boring. They also learn discipline, social graces, about music, costume, stage design, choreography, scenery, acting, and it can lead many of them to pursue careers in the arts which are supportive of the expressive movements, whether it be acting, film, tv, dance, music, etc. There is art in everyone and a need to express themselves. It is always the best part of me, and the most intimate, which I bring to a choreographed work, and to be able to compel and persuade, and enliven, invigorate, and reach people through a performing arts medium is most gratifying and rewarding. It affirms in us that we are individuals and this is a lifelong self-esteem booster. it can be what gets a fat man off the couch at age thirty when he has let himself dissipate, or a woman, in remembering what he felt like working hard and creating in dance. It can be continued throughout life, and dancers age, but they can keep right on dancing, just like pregnant women.

But in the beginning of any growth of a movement must be organization and structure, and big, BIG thinking, to get an idea off the ground. it can be deflated if enough energy is not instilled into it, or if enough belief is not created, and that makes promoting it and perpetuating it a big job, too. Lots of people have worked hard in that field and created good shows, but they have lost their momentum, believing it need to build, grow, but without resources, it can’t. It is human energy which makes all things grow, and life needs to be imbued into the substance of a thing to get the ball rolling and the energy expended to propel it in any given direction. Without the interest, dedication and true spirit of invention involved there is no momentum, no human energy. So in order to speed things up, get the ball rolling, you have to excite people. There is no point in flogging a dead horse or dealing with people who do not share your vision exactly. They will hold you back, prevent that energy from multiplying and creating the momentum necessary to catapult the vision or dream into the atmosphere and into tangible presence-reality. Without the big bang, or a ton, of life and energy, our people, environment and planet would not have been created, and it is exactly that which can be taught in the studio of a ballet class, things can happen and do, but it is not all about a defined end result, sometimes the energy happened in the process, develops, and momentum of each individual is nurtured by their teacher. A lot of little pops eventually produces a big pop and competition is essential-not negative, debasing, and judgmental competition, but life, energy and momentum, better and better and better! So it is important to stop thinking sometimes and just dance, try, and imagine what the possibilities can be for all children in dance and by each of those children themselves to be allowed to dream, because you never know where the momentum is going to come from. Diaghilev said he could not dance a bit, but he was inspired to take dance to a level the world had never before experienced it, and it was not just the dancers of the New York City Ballet that made those first shows and created that company, it was the patrons and subscribers who came to see ballet inserted between acts of vaudevillian fare, who simply learned to appreciate ballet by exposure to it, and in the same way, when you put a group of children in a room to teach them dance, kinetics occur and develop, which grows upon them and movement ensues, through which they learn to appreciate art in all its forms, and expression and communication. Simple physics really. Mass x velocity. No conservation! Does anyone want to stand in the way of the force of that collision? Keep on dancing!

 

Dancer Jacques d’Amboise on Balanchine’s Life and Death


Dancer Jacques d’Amboise Describes ‘How The Arts Can Change Lives’ | Here & Now.

“What do we do? What do you mean, “What do we do?” “We do what we always do. We eat and drink and keep going.”


~Jaques D’Amboise

100 Treasures – Suzanne Farrell


100 Treasures – Suzanne Farrell.

 

▶ George Balanchine – STARS AND STRIPES – New York City Ballet – YouTube


▶ George Balanchine – STARS AND STRIPES – New York City Ballet – YouTube.

▶ GELSEY KIRKLAND, Theme & Variations, Balanchine – YouTube


▶ GELSEY KIRKLAND, Theme & Variations, Balanchine – YouTube.

Maria Tallchief dead – chicagotribune.com


Maria Tallchief dead – chicagotribune.com.

Life is the root


“Life is the root; art the flower.”

-Isadora Duncan

 

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.

Tamara Toumanova – Entrechats in ‘Swan Lake’ (c.1932)


One of the three “babies ballerinas of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Tamara Toumonova appeared in Invitation to Dance with Gene Kelly and Days of Glory with Gregory Peck!

http://youtu.be/AdFVT01jcao

 

Ballet-Dance Magazine – Suki Schorer on Balanchine Technique by Suki Schorer, Russell Lee, and Carol Rosegg – Book Review by Cecly Placenti


Ballet-Dance Magazine – Suki Schorer on Balanchine Technique by Suki Schorer, Russell Lee, and Carol Rosegg – Book Review by Cecly Placenti.