Ballet in the age of Technology…

Happy Valentine’s Day. Here are some of the stunning videos of dancers embracing the evolution of ballet. It is no surprise with IG, and other video apps, that ballet is becoming more and more embraced. Dancers are now collaborating with world renowned videographers, or taking to their own projects to bring a more precise, more intimate, more intricate look at movement. Below are some stunning videos that demonstrate the power of multiple art forms coming together.

Sergei Polunin“Take me to Church” by Hozier, Directed by David LaChapelle

Guillaume Côté, Composer: James LaValle, Director: Ben Shirinian

Dores Andre and Frances Chung, Directed by Quinn B

A haunting take on jealousy, this existential contemporary dance film thriller posits a man (Royal Swedish Ballet/Cullberg Ballet alumnus) Giovanni Bucchieri, a woman (New York City Ballet Principal Wendy Whelan), and an elusive lover (Pontus Lidberg) in a series of intense pas de deux in a stark apartment that becomes a fourth character. Danced to a commissioned score by Pulitzer Prize and Grammy winning composer David Lang with solo cello by Maya Beiser.

 Sasha De Sola & Steven Morse. Choreography by – Myles Thatcher.

The Australian Ballet (BTW, they have thee best PR videos, ever… They beat NYCB hands down)

Matthew Bourne has released several shorts which are beyond brilliant…

May the odds be ever in your favor… Prix de Lausanne

Well, it seems like human nature that we watch kids rise to glory, or fail miserably. In fact, over the past week, I have been glued to my computer watching the live streaming of the Prix de Lausanne. If you don’t know what that is, it is the yearly competition in which kids travel to Switzerland for a week and go through grueling classes, and interviews in hopes to be 1/20 finalists selected. All these students are competing for scholarships at one of the partnered/sponsor schools of the prix. Literally, if you win the prix you are kind of on the fast track to principal.

This year has been quite surprising, as the usual country contenders are the US, Japan, China, Korea, and of course if a Russian is competing they usually win… It is rare to ever see a French candidate compete. But this year has a surprising line up for the finalists… Australia has quite a few finalists… which is nice since the last Australian we really saw was Steven McCrae (principal at Royal now). There are quite a bit of US competitors this year, which is a good follow up since Precious Adams from the US won a scholarship and the contemporary prize last year (currently at English National Ballet). There is always a swiss candidate in the finals, as a prize always goes to the best swiss candidate. In the mix there is also Portugal this year… Now the prix has gone through a variety of phases, to announce winners, they used to hand out gold-bronze medals, cash prizes, different levels of competition… it goes on and on.. now the prix hands out six massive scholarships, along with the prizes for audience favorite, contemporary, and best swiss candidate. If you are 17+ you may also win an apprentice spot…

Why is the prix so important? Besides the fact that winners include Darcy Bussell, Marcelo Gomes, Maria Kotchekova, Laetitia Pujol etc… The prix is one of the major competitions that kids compete at in hopes to make a name for themselves as a part of ballet history.

Among the 67 candidates who took part to the Prix de Lausanne’s selections, the jury has selected 20 finalists:

GIRLS

102, Scudamore Bianca, Australia
105, Armstrong Sierra, USA
106, Park SeonMee, South Korea
107, Ray Amber, USA
108, Blenkinsop Rebecca, Australia
301, Kanehara Rina, Japan
302, Park Jisoo, South Korea
306, Spichtig Lou, Switzerland
320, Lee GaYeong, South Korea

BOYS

202, Coppa Bret, USA
203, Acevedo Austen, USA
204, Lee Harrison, Australia
205, Turnbull Navrin, Australia
210, Curley Jarod, USA
401, Pinheiro Miguel, Portugal
402, MacKay Julian, USA
406, Thomas Jack, USA
409, Ito Mitsuru, Japan
416, Hayami Shogo, Japan
419, Garcia Syvert Lorenz, Norway
Prix de Lausanne Website
Prix de Lausanne on Weibo
Prix de Lausanne on YouKu
Prix de Lausanne on Twitter
Prix de Lausanne on You Tube
Prix de Lausanne on Facebook
Prix de Lausanne on Instagram

THE FUTURE OF BALLET: The Cirio Collective

The Cirio Collective if the first of five start ups I am going to endorse/plug/support throughout the year. To donate click here.

While it is important to be educated in ballet, it is more important to understand that ballet/dance is a living and breathing art form constantly evolving. It is hard to be progressive in today’s industry because genres are becoming more and more blended. That is the thing about ballet, the evolution and expansion is happening at a rate no one ever could have predicted. When ballet dancers would wait for new choreography, it was one thing. Now, ballet dancers are have become impatient with artistic staff (it is super costly to have a choreographer come in and set a new work, and super risky for a payoff) they are exploring their own forms of movement.

While dancers all across the world have been starting small groups/labs/experiments, none have matched the quality and finesse needed to turn into something major. The last of which were Complexions and Cedar Lake. The Trey McIntyre Project lasted, but since evolved. Now, why am I so hopeful for a company/project/collective that hasn’t even debuted?

Jeffrey Cirio is a ballet prodigy. Awesome.

He has good taste in photography and editing. InstaAwesome.

His sister is the epitome and ideal new ballerina. Flippin Awesome.

He has access to good dancers during the off season. Bostonian Awesome + Ballet celeb awesome.

He is smart. Generally awesome. He has really, carefully thought this through… from the aesthetic of his site, to his PR campaigns, to the overall mood of it all.

So, why am I writing all of this out? Here it is…. Ballet has to have good PR. PR encompasses this field of development, fundraising, and the efforts to keep ballet alive. While the Cirio collective will bring in a younger crowd than the typical ballet audience, this crowd is the crowd we have to please. This will be the crowd that supports ballet for the next 40 years, and this new crowd of ballet/dance go-ers is not patient. Between IG, SYTYCD, and blogs like mine, everyone can be a critic, a judge, or even an editor… With that all being said, I also think it can be used for good…

Here is what I am asking… Support the Cirio Collective. Go online, like their page, share their page, share this page, exposure is always a good thing… buuuut you have to donate. I can not stress that enough… YOU MUST DONATE. For all of you moms and dads out there saving for summer programs… How will your kid dance if there is no place for them?

Bonus, they already have their 501c3 which means tax deductible and exempt… I know that this doesn’t help you this tax season… but hey… it will help you next season!

Facebook: Circio Collective

IG/Twitter @ciriocollective

http://ciriocollective.com

So, here we go… Go make this into a reality… Thanks.

It”s a New Year…

Hello readers! Wishing you the best this new year! 

For those of you who are students, best of luck with your summer program auditions. And for those of you who are dancers, merde for the spring season. And, for those of you who simply enjoy ballet and this blog, I hope this year brings everything you have wanted.

Where to begin… where to begin… Let’s see… Today is the one year anniversary of my dad’s passing, so I have had a lot of time to reflect. The kind of reflection that should happen more often, but life sometimes gets in the way. Recently, I was looking at my itinerary for the upcoming fashion calendar and I realized that I don’t want to be in fashion much longer. Don’t get me wrong… The perks are great, the traveling is amazing, and you are surrounded by the most beautiful of things… But, as I was sitting there reading, I realized that I would rather be working in ballet. So, this is the year I am dedicating to transition out of fashion and back into ballet, specifically public relations, marketing, communication and sales… I have put out a few resumés, so we shall see.

So, enough about me… There are some exciting things going on in the dance world right now. The first is that two principal male prodigies have started to steer the course of ballet into a new direction. The first is Daniil Simkin, the Vienna prodigy at American Ballet Theatre with his project: Intensio. This project combines high caliber ballet dancers, with headlining reputations and innovative digital media. (click here to read more) The second of the men is Jeffrey Cirio, a principal dancer with Boston Ballet. The Cirio Collective is spearheaded by this young prodigy, and basically is creating space for dancers to take movement into their own hands. Their first season premier this summer. Dancers really don’t get to explore much on their own as they have the Artistic Director’s vision to carry out… This new collective I hope will eventually grow, and will become an innovative contemporary company based out of Boston. (Click here, and like their page on Facebook).

Principal dancers around the world though seem to be creating their own spaces. They are creating their own galas, realizing that their social media presence, and name alone can sell out a theatre. Roberto Bolle, Diana Vishneva are prime examples… I wouldn’t be surprised if Maria Kotchekova soon heads her own project. Former NYCB soloist Kathryn Morgan has joined Dance Spirit Magazine as a featured writer/editor. Her youtube and wordpress basically exploded last year, and has landed her a spot in publishing. (I am actually surprised this didn’t happen sooner.) Dance Magazine named their 25 to watch… If you didn’t know what this list was… It basically selects dancers and choreographers from around the world, and basically dubs careers to fame… Hee Seo, Leta Biasucci and others have graced the list.

Other fun new things this year? Paris Opera Ballet under Benjamin Millepied basically has given us access to behind the scenes of Paris Opera Ballet like never before… Thank you social media.

On the downside, this year is going to be echoed with retirements… But as we are saddened to see such artists take leave, don’t fret because a new generation of ballet dancers are coming into their own and they soon will be the names everyone is talking about, if people aren’t already talking about it… So here are some predictions for 2015… Hope they come true *fingers crossed*

Misty Copeland gets promoted to Principal at American Ballet Theatre.. Seriously, I think everyone is done waiting.

NYCB’s: Lauren Lovette and Savannah Lowery make exceptional debuts and are brought to rank of principal. (I don’t know who they will knock out of the principal role, but with Wendy retired… money has to be available right?)

Justin Peck makes an even larger contribution to the world of ballet… Seriously… He is probably the one we are all watching the closest right now, especially after he premiers in the documentary about his work…

oh, and David King, takes on the world of ballet in a greater capacity than this blog. Haha.

10 Things Ballet Students Should Have…

Things that everyone should have in their dance bag, or readily available.

  1. A foot roller or stretcher.
  2. A theraband, deflated tire tube, or something else elasticy.thera band ballet mundo bailarinistico
  3. Ibprofen, icy hot, or biofreeze. Whether it is for maintenance or prevention, it is smart to just have these. From overworking in class, to muscles and joints locking up, it is always smart to be prepared.
  4. Needle and thread. There is nothing worse than your elastics snapping.
  5. Something to keep you warm: a onsie is my preference. Leg warmers, full length leg warmers, ankle warmers, shrugs etc…

    Rubia Dancewear by Boston Ballet Principal Dancer Ashley Ellis. (moderately priced for custom pieces)
    Rubia Dancewear by Boston Ballet Principal Dancer Ashley Ellis. (moderately priced for custom pieces) Click the pic above to custom order. 
  6. Extra dance clothes. Don’t want to be sweaty gross.
  7. Extra pairs of shoes, for girls always have a good sewn pair with you, just in case the ones you currently are working in die.

    PBT on Pinterest.
    PBT on Pinterest.
  8. A good book.
  9. Hair and beauty supplies, this includes a towel. I always brought face wash because I had acne problems.
  10. A notebook for corrections. I still have all of mine and are fun to look at.

Ballet… What’s the skinny? 5 Misconceptions about women in ballet.

Photo by RJ LUNA. LINES.
Photo by RJ LUNA. LINES.

(So, after going a month without publishing a blog post, and watching how the month of November would shape up in terms of readers, a lot of people asked me to talk about body types… In specific the female body type.)

Here we go, another fun five facts about ballet: 5 misconceptions about the women in ballet.

With iconic movies like Center Stage and Black Swan, it seems that when it comes to ballet dancers, the world associates it eating disorders. Sure, as flattering as that may be, associating ballet with skinny… Well, lets just look at the reality of ballet…

1. Anorexia and Bulimia… the eating disorders. Myth. Whoever just eats a salad all day and has to dance a three act ballet must have magical muscles or some sh!t because, a salad would barely get me through rehearsal, yet alone a performance. Most professional ballet dancers are far from anorexic, they can’t be. With the amount of energy burned while dancing, if they didn’t eat… they would end up dead in the middle of a ballet performance. Now, if we are talking about students… that is a different story. It is hard for any child, male or female to be in ballet. And somewhere around age 11, everything start to build up. From ages 11-14 you are told that this is your moment to make it into a professional school. With the pressure and anxiety of parents, and teachers pushing girls into the workforce so young, bulimia becomes a way to control something… I mean their careers aren’t in their hands. In addition, their bodies are changing and when they were constantly told that is just baby fat, and it doesn’t go away… and then chests develop… well, young impressionable girls take it to the extreme… and boys for that matter. Eventually, as puberty ends, and adult bodies begin to take shape, more dancers get a control of their body and understand what foods work and don’t work for them. What makes them feel bloated and what makes them feel good and energetic. Also the reality is, dancers have to be in top condition, which means they have to have extreme muscle toning. Asking your leg to go up super high and hold it in a la second is hard, but doing that while hungry and while your muscles are deprived from the proper nutrients… good luck…

2. Ballet dancers are tall. kind of a myth. Most female ballet dancers are between 5’3″ and 5’5″, and if you dance for NYCB or older PNB… then you might be 5″7-5’9″… the majority of ballet dancers both male and female are on the shorter side. It is why tall men are celebrated, because that means tall women can be employed. What makes ballet dancers look so tall is he ability to isometrically move, and moving on the diagonal. It is like that optical illusion with a diagonal line and a horizontal line the exact same length, but asking which one is longer. It is why balanchine over crossed for the sake of aesthetic, and why efface is so flattering in arabesque. Probably why students aren’t allowed to have pictures on the diagonal.

3. Ballet girls are stuck up prudes… maybe a myth. I don’t know about you, but this idea that all ballet dancers are these wholesome ethereal creatures… I don’t know what summer programs you went to, or what year round schools you went to… buuuuut give a ballet girl the chance to get turnt… she’ll take it. Which is why I endorse not sending your kid to a professional school till sixteen, kids definitely need more supervision these days. (I work at the school district… I know.) As far as the stuck up part goes, I don’t know if it is because ballet is privileged extra curricular, I mean the costs are obscene… So, it could be that upper middle class attitude? Then again what teenager doesn’t get turnt up these days?

4. Ballerinas are black swan crazy. This might just be a little true. Everyone in ballet has to be a little OCD… I mean they are killing themselves doing the same thing over and over and over… trying to be perfect, knowing that it is impossible. That is just self punishment. Will they go kill themselves in the middle of a performance via Natalie Portman status… probably not. Will they go all Maureen on us and disappear minutes before the curtain goes up… doubtful, especially if you are the lead.

5. Ballerinas are fragile, delicate princesses. Not true. Women in ballet are just as ferocious as the men in ballet. In fact, they are probably more ferocious. Women in ballet attack performances, fearlessly and push through injury, women in ballet are fierce. If you look at their muscle tone, they are crazy ripped, and probably could fall of their bike, and still dance swan lake.

the nuttiness of nutcracker…

I have posted many posts about Nutcracker, but I am going to do a couple more before the season is over haha:

http://aballeteducation.com/2014/07/08/too-many-claras-and-every-little-girls-dream/

http://aballeteducation.com/2014/08/24/the-beast-that-is-the-nutcracker/

http://aballeteducation.com/2014/09/16/awful-realities-of-the-nutcracker/

While the Nutcracker is a holiday tradition, for dancers it might just be the ballet that pushes them over the edge.  For dancers in smaller companies, Nutcracker season means longer rehearsals, and being over used.  On any given night, a female corps dancer might go through 3 costumes changes.  Unfortunately, there really isn’t any room to complain, because Nutcracker pays the bills. For stage managers and lighting designers, Nutcracker basically runs itself. And for those in PR and Marketing, Nutcracker sells tickets on its own… unless you are pnb whose ticket sales are down, hence why they are ditching the Stowell/Sendak version and going Balanchine.

5 Nutty Things that happen in productions of the Nutcracker:

  1. Have you ever noticed in the Balanchine Version, that music from the Sleeping Beauty is used between party and battle scene? Or the opening score of Snow is wasted on a moving bed? If you didn’t know how that happens… usually there is someone underneath crawling and spinning it around… Awkward I know. Casting sheet:

Bed:  Your name.

  1. The corps is like a well oiled machine… The corps has so many parts to dance during Nutcracker… and the fun part? They usually don’t dance the same spot twice. These girls go from party scene, to snow without being warmed up, and then dance in flowers. Usually the casting board has the act, scene, and roles, but for the corps it might go by numbers and one night you might be dancing girl one, and the next night you might be dancing girl eight. I guess it gives you some variety…
  2. Sugar Plum pas de deux might just be one of the longest pas de deuxs out there. The variation is ridiculously long, etc.
  3. Have you ever noticed that Clara and the Nutcracker in the Royal Ballet’s version must have to chug a redbull before their performance. They dance in like every variation and flowers…
  4. Finally, sometimes I watch productions of nutcracker and I am like wtf is this… random ugly costumes… non cohesive storylines… over rehearsed tired dancers… or my favorite… bringing in guest artists for the leads from major companies, because no one in your company can fill the role… or you would rather have a “name” for the sake of selling tickets.

The Boston Ballerinas

Boston Ballet sometimes gets overlooked when it comes to referencing iconic Bostonian things… What this historic New England town boasts in historic landmarks, American history, the ICA, Harvard Yard, their baseball team, and the home of the current season of Top Chef. What people forget about is their ballet company. While, New Yorkers and Bostonians have a long time rivalry, and with Boston Ballet recently making their appearance at Lincoln Center… Boston Ballet proves once again to be a standing rival against the New York Ballerinas. Not to mention ABT’s studly James Whiteside was a former principal with Boston Ballet. Now what people tend to forget is that currently, Boston Ballet boasts a roster of principals to die for. Of these principals, 9 of them I have seen dance live, and they are all mind blowing. While their men are fantastic, dynamic and to say the least were all prodigies… Their women might just be the most dynamic primas in the US.

Don’t get me wrong, there are stunning women in every company. And if this was the oscars and we were nominating for the best prima in the US, many women would dazzle us in the category. But, after a lot of thought and many hours on youtube, the women of Boston Ballet have won me over. Specifically, Kathleen Breen Combes, Lia Cirio, Ashley Ellis, Whitney Jensen and Misa Kuranaga and here is why.

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Ironically dancing the tall girl role in Rubies, she is only 5’4″ #legsfordays

Kathleen Breen Combes, she is has to be the epitome of a ballerina. Everything about her says BALLET. With legs for days, and pale skin, glowing eyes, makes her mesmorizing. She was already hailed as one of the great American Ballerinas, and I couldn’t give her enough praise. From soft romantic roles, to full length classics, to her technical rigor in Balanchine ballets. She possesses something charming that I think would inspire most young girls. As her ballet career has been followed closely from her 2003 win of The Lefkowitz Award for Special Achievement, which she won after being eliminated from the competition, to her time at Washington Ballet, to her contract with Boston Ballet and skyrocketing through the ranks, to her injury, she is everything. Standing at 5’4″ but looking 5’10” on stage, she is everything you think of a classical ballet dancer. 

Lia Cirio in Jose Martinez’s Resonance.
Lia Cirio in Jose Martinez’s Resonance.

Then there is Lia Cirio, who I think is the epitome of what a modern day ballerina is. With her fierce intensity, and ferocious attack, she gives me life. Her attention to detail, her performance quality and her well… those hyper extended legs make everything. With an arabesque for days, and her athletic physique it makes for a combination of modernity and classic ballet. While her acting skills are praised highly, her technical ability is flawless which makes for the perfect combination on stage. Her jump is for days, but matched with passion. Another ballerina with a high profiled career, Lia Cirio is definitely one who will not be forgotten. As she continually grows as an artist, pushing herself, it makes me excited for BB’s Swan Lake Reviews.

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Ken Browar & Deborah Ory for NYC Dance Project.

Ashley Ellis. Mmmm, my first memory of her was in Southern California, and I was training at South Bay Ballet. She had come to take class while still at American Ballet Theatre. Having watched videos of her, her reputation preceded her having won the Spotlight Awards. (Side note, Lia Cirio’s reputation was echoed everywhere at CPYB, but never saw her there but once, and not in class.) So, in class her beautiful legs extended into the air and I died a little. So, after stalking her while at American Ballet Theatre, I often wondered why she was never promoted… Then, she moved to Angel Corella’s company and was a soloist, but I feel like that wasn’t a fit for her. Then she came back to the states and flourished at Boston Ballet. I think everything about her dancing changed, and this new and different maturity came out in her dancing, and I fell in love all over again. She has this simple sincerity to her dancing that is ever so enchanting.

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Whitney Jensen… So young, so talented… We know her from well, everywhere. From her win of the hope award at the YAGP at 11, to her win at Varna… she was definitely one to watch and well… it paid off. From a very young age she showed control and constraint, as some young dancers get into the moment and whack everything… But she has always been in control. Known for her technical ability to turn… and turn, she is beyond exotic in the face but has come into her own. As she has grown at Boston Ballet her unique charisma has grown to be intoxicating, always leaving you wanting more.

w-misa-kuranaga

So, a while ago… a friend of mine was going to Harvard and said he had just saw the sleeping beauty and one of the faeries stole the spotlight. I assumed it was going to be Lilac, but when he said canary… I asked how could a 30 second variation steal prologue? He said her name is Something Kamamasdfadf something. Now, everyone knows her name. Finding the perfect partner in Jeffrey Cirio, Misa Kuranaga has grown to flourish in everything. From her graduation performance at School of American Ballet, to growing with Boston Ballet, she has become everything. With her luscious turn out, gracious technical ability, ridiculously precise musicality, and her understanding of character roles, she becomes a different dancer in every role all while giving us arabesque.

So, that sums up these dynamic women who I can’t give enough praise to. Merde as they take on Swan Lake!!

The Life Cycle of a Ballet Dancer…

The life of a ballet dancer is frail and delicate, just like a butterfly. A butterfly’s lifespan is usually about a year, and within that year they have come and gone. It is sad, but true. The longevity of a ballet dancer is very short, and like the butterfly it happens in four phases.

1. The Egg. It is where it all begins. Somewhere in the world, you saw someone dance and something manifested inside of you to become a dancer. Or, you were forced into ballet classes and the music became a part of your life. Regardless, you were probably a turned in little girl, prancing up and down pretending to be a butterfly at some point in your dancing. They are the best videos to watch, I mean even Wendy Whelan was a bumble bee. Whatever you were, something started this transformation and after a little while you enter the next phase…

2. The Caterpillar. As a serious ballet student now, you are slowly inching your way through, class after class, year after year. We spend our time traveling across the US from one school to the next, one summer program after another. Hoping and praying that you will find the right school, attached to a company, for you to settle into. As a caterpillar, or student you feel hopeless. That the world of ballet is so big and vast, and that the hopes of you becoming this stunning butterfly seems far, far away. The hours you spend in front of the mirror being hypercritical on yourself, and taking a mental beat down makes the journey seem impossible. You see others around you getting eaten alive, and forgotten. Others are quitting and just giving up on the journey. Then there are others who get injured and they are taken out of the process, but you still keep persevering. And once you are exhausted, once you are about to collapse, a change inside you happens.

3. The Chrysalis, the cocoon. You find yourself at a professional school, and there you will spend the next few years training harder than ever, knowing that once you make it to the other side, there is a whole future out there. You realize that there are 20 other kids with the same dream, at the same school, but you know that if you work hard enough, if you push further, that you will have that much more of a chance. Once you are in a pre professional, professional division, trainee, second company or apprentice, it only seems like moments before you are going to be a butterfly… While you are hidden away, while you are so inside yourself, something mentally now happens. The stress of becoming an adult sets in, and you realize, your journey is really just beginning. You now have to break through the cocoon you cherished and worked so hard to protect. You have to break through company auditions, a year end performance, where it seems that your entire life is going to depend on. While not everyone is cut out to break through, somehow you manage to and become:

4. A Butterfly. Yup, it finally happens. You join a company, and you and your kaleidoscope (a group of butterflies) are set to take on the world. But, as butterfly’s lifespan is short, so are the career spans of ballet dancers. You have worked so hard, and now you have to work even harder. Not just for yourself, but you have to work harder because now everyone is counting on your work ethic. Your colleagues, your family are dropping out left and right due to injury, or they aren’t hired back. And you now are worried the same might happen to you. It is beyond stressful. All you want to do is focus on your dancing but the real world is constantly throwing jabs. As you are killing yourself in the corps, you hope that soon your artistic director will take notice of you and give you the chance to become a soloist. Take on the roles you have been dreaming of since a child. Yup, that sounds about right, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, the road to become a dancer seems hopeless and impossible. And once you do make it, it seems almost impossible to get promoted. With the physical strain your body has endured you think, god I hope I get promoted before my knee blows, or some other random injury creeps in. With a career so short, why are dancers so underpaid? Dancers justify their low pay by saying, “well, I get to do what I love.” Keep telling yourself that. As companies are trying to transition dancers into college, and university, or careers after… The reality is, dancers are faced with either staying in the corps, or making their way into college. Dancers get certified in pilates, or will start teaching to supplement their income. Unless you are at a huge company, the reality is dancers are horribly underpaid. Unlike Europe, dance is not supported by the state. Ballet companies are supported through small grants, and individual donations which is why it is important for ballet to get the exposure it deserves.

While you can’t buy a dancer for $100,000 and keep it hanging on your wall, you can invest in the future of ballet, so that a company can become a family heirloom. Recently, Lily Cole (one of my favorite models) posted a video on IG of her backstage watching Carlos Acosta and Natalia Opsiova take their curtain call for Manon. This made me realize that ballet just might be the center of the arts, but the most underfunded. Ballet is the combination of the geniuses behind music, choreography, lighting and set design, costume design, and the finesse of the human body. So, again, why is it so under supported? Is it because tickets are expensive? That artistic director’s might be getting more than you think? Who knows? So, if you are reading this, and wondering why your child might not have a career, it is because there is no funding. So, if you want to make sure your child will have a place to dance, make sure you are supporting your local company. This could be volunteering, donating money, or as simple as buying a ticket to a performance.

Some of the ugly truths about ballet… and then some.

While some of you readers who stumble upon my blog call me sexist, misogynistic, homophobic, racist and other words … Let us set the record straight about ballet, and the art that we so love and adore…

sexism
1: prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially :  discrimination against women
2behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex
Discrimination based on sex… while, I don’t know about you but ballet is very sexist… The roles in ballet that are very set; the mannerisms are very set, and the story lines are all heterosexual. While one commenter did point out that if someone had any misconceptions or preconceived notions about ballet they should go see one (which I agree with)… the reality is to see a ballet in middle america is kind of difficult, quite expensive, and what would they be seeing on stage. Oh that’s right, all story ballets are sexist. Men are doing bravura jumps and turns, while women are being delicate and soft.
misogynist
noun
a person who hates, dislikes, mistrusts, ormistreats women.
If ballet is woman, according to Balanchine, well I don’t even know where this sentence is going because I can’t begin to fathom how that one applies to me. But, as a fashion editor, and as a gay man, not sure how that works out. In the world of ballet, I wouldn’t call it misogyny, but the reality is that all of the women in the classical works are helpless, or die, or need saving of some sort. Maybe Raymonda is more along the lines of of heroic role in ballet for women.
Homophobic 
:  irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals
As a gay man, I must hate everyone like me, and myself. I don’t know of a ballet that endorses homosexuality besides the Matthew Bourne ballets, but those are standards. (To clarify, the blog post about male ballet dancers was titled: 5 Misconceptions. So, while all of you gay men were offended… the reality is NOT ALL MALE BALLET DANCERS ARE GAY.) Not to mention the entire Tony winning musical, and movie Billy Elliot is basically all about homophobia in ballet… So to say and I quote from a comment that I didn’t publish, “To say that men (male) ballet dancers have a reputation of being gay is absurd.” Well… I don’t know what utopian society you live in, but the majority of people don’t.
Racist
:  a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
Ballet, is probably one of the most discriminatory of all the art forms. Hence why Misty Copeland is getting so much publicity. The reality is there is a lack of ethnic dancers, and type casting happens. Not to mention the roles in Nutcracker which I explained in another blog. Or why Russians still use blackface… It doesn’t get any more racist than that… Not to mention that racism that happens within the art form itself, like casting… You can count on your hands the number of Black Principal dancers in Major Ballet Companies. If there wasn’t racism within ballet, we wouldn’t need Ballet Black, Dallas Black Dance Theatre, or Dance Theatre of Harlem. So, before you go pointing the finger saying I am racist, take a step back, and look at you, look at the company you dance in and count the ratio of whites/passable white to ethnic.
There is one thing I won’t tolerate being called and that is racist. Every year when Nutcracker came I was cast in Chinese… When I was at CPYB I was called Oriental, and that isn’t one of my most fond memories. And being in huge ballet school like CPYB where there were 4 asian students, and one black student was not fun either. Especially because I grew up in a very low income, very ethnically diverse, amazing community neighborhood. Not to mention I am adopted from Korea, by white parents and I have brothers and sisters from India, Bangledesh, Korea, Africa, and so on… I do not like being called a racist when the university I went to had a racist demonstration and every mirror had a sign that said you can’t wash the race off your skin, which the protest was started by dancers… So, before going around writing on someone’s blog that they are racist… get your facts straight.
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So, while everyone is judging my blog, I would like everyone to take a moment and think what you are doing to change ballet…. What are you doing besides dancing to contribute to the greater good and image of ballet. While Misty Copeland is taking one for the team, while Hee Seo continually has to prove herself among the principals at ABT, while I drive around and dictate to Siri about misconceptions about male ballet dancers… What are you doing?
If you aren’t doing anything to change the way the world views ballet, or how casting and promotions happen, you aren’t helping. While you are in the theatre, or in the studio working, when is the last time you decided to volunteer at a boys and girls club and teach free ballet classes to equalize racial equality in ballet? When is the last time, you as a male ballet dancer, went to go teach a free class so kids can see a male ballet dancer? I follow a lot of people on IG, and stalk people when I can’t sleep, so while you are on breaks and vacationing through Europe and Australia…. I am teaching free summer camps at title one schools in Southern California. And when I have free time, I am teaching at numerous title one schools, and giving workshops on how to go about in the world of dance and using education as a vessel to a part of the art form.
Now that I have defended myself, I am going to shed some light on some more taboo things about ballet…
Frail and weak… As I said that it is a common misconception about ballet that men are viewed as frail and weak like girls… I was slammed for that… But, ironically in Giselle Act II, the whole purpose is to look ghostly, ethereal and frail… In addition, second act Swan Lake calls for vulnerability, not to mention she is incapable of saving herself… Sleeping Beauty act II calls for the dream scene when she is basically begging the prince to come find her and save her. Cinderella is basically a servant needing a man to save her from poverty… So… the ballets in which we are portraying aren’t saying a lot either. Isn’t that the problem with most fairytales today and modern day feminists. I wonder what Mayim Bialik would say about the story lines of ballet? LOL.
Now, if we are going to talk about other taboo things… We can talk about weight, and body type and the severe ideal that artistic director’s promote. Which I have talked about numerous times through out this blog… Artistic Directors… they hold the power to change ballet, but they don’t. They aren’t changing the body type of ballet, and in fact they are just making it worse. They aren’t changing the racial demographics because they are lazy and don’t want to give out scholarships to a smaller children and nurture their students. They would rather scholarship prix winners to make their school look better and hope that they will eventually feed into the company. Currently, of the standing major ballet companies’ artistic directors I can really only applaud Peter Boal, and Tamara Rojo for changing the image of a company. I can not sing enough praises to those two. I raved about the two of them in other posts.
Not to mention that the majority of ADs are men… So, before you go around throwing the finger at me… shouldn’t you be looking at the source? Everyone blames or calls the modern day body type in ballet the “balanchine” body type… but everyone else endorsed it. If ADs were truly concerned about the image of ballet, then wouldn’t they change it?
With all this being said, I truly do hope that before you comment on my blog, or on facebook or other social media… I hope you are coming from the right place and making an education accusation. You can’t win over everyone, on another note- I would like to thank the 70,000+ viewers of my Manly Ballet… 5 misconceptions about male ballet dancers. And I would like to thank hitting over 1 million readers in 4 months. I appreciate it all.

Arabesque.

 

The Position That Makes Ballet, well ballet…

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Sara Michelle Murawski’s, a soloist at Slovak National Ballet, super famous arabesque picture that probably one of the first pictures that made dancers addicted to instagram.

Contemporary Dancers have the tilt, jazz dancers have the layout, but ballet dancers have arabesque.

For those of you who are auditioning for the first time, the reason why everyone asks for an arabesque picture is for the following reasons: arabesque is one of the hardest positions to make in ballet, and it shows your turn out, flexibility, hyperextension and feet in on photo without hating yourself. If ballet auditions asked for, say…ecarte derrière… no one would audition… ever.

Now, there is a great debate of what arabesque technique is correct, or where it actually comes from, but should we really get into all of that mess? Maybe, just little bit. Just generalizing some things about companies that have a very specific type of arabesque.

Royal Ballet, the Ashton Arabesque is this super classical, dreamy position that requires the following: a hypermobile back, beautifully arched feet, and rarely is placed above 90 degrees. In addition, I think the artists of the Royal Ballet are the only ones that don’t let the supporting leg turn in. Their turn out is bangin. The arms are always super relaxed, and rarely go above their faces. Ultimate restraint. (Royal Ballet’s arabesque line isn’t the RAD line. I don’t believe in the RAD method, so I am not going to talk about it.)

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Plus, who doesn’t love some Sarah Lamb on any given day? Ironically, she is an American, with Russian training, dancing a Jerome Robbin’s piece set on NYCB, but staged on Royal Ballet.

The Russians have their own arabesque line as well. They are known for their incredible height and stretch. Besides the majority of women coming out of Vaganova school are beasts, their primas have create this unique fragile but stretched arm position. Standing leg is turned in.

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For the sake of irony, the super stunning Uliana Lopatkina, a Russian Dancing a Balanchine piece set on Bolshoi.

Then we have the super “classical” arabesque which is the mish mosh of cecchetti, vaganova and french… which is now lumped into the category of classical:

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Perfect turn out, not so hyper mobile, lifted up and forward, relaxed elbow, and spatula hands… just kidding, just a soft middle finger down…

Then we have the Balanchine Arabesque, which isn’t really a change in the principals of arabesque, but more of the arm and hand positions.

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Ashley Bouder and Jonathan Stafford in Tchai Pas. Ironically, everyone calls their hands the claw… or that they are really wristy, but Russians are more…  aka the super stunning and talented force Evgenia Obraztsova

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And then finally, there is the Paris Opera Arabesque… which is basically like the impossible arabesque. Which is only possible if you are well… given everything and trained at Paris Opera.

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Another Irony, Paris Opera is the home of ballet, and here we have the Sylvie Guillem in a contemporary work. I have never really understood the Paris Opera arabesque besides it looking beyond perfect. David Hallberg who trained at POB has one of those arabesque that are beyond pulled up. A lot of the etoiles of paris opera have these super raised hips.

Another note… we gag on arabesque pictures on IG and tumblr, but the reality is… do we ever see these massive arabesques on stage… unless you are russian… Or Dark Angel in Serenade? I think the “style” of arabesque also comes from the role you are doing, the tempo of music, etc.

Now, here are some things that are really difficult for young dancers when it comes to arabesque…

Higher isn’t always better.

Being Square is in reference that both pelvic bones are on the same level of space.

Tilting your hip is really just for side extension.

Things regardless of what “style” of arabesque you are doing…

Your spinal chord can’t be compromised…

You either have a hyper mobile back and hips or you don’t.

Regardless of the arm placement, the torso doesn’t twist…

My favorite motto when teaching: when in doubt, turn out.

Finding what arabesque works on your body is really important as well. If you look at the women of NYCB, none of them have the same arabesque line. You have to find what looks best on your body… for anything in ballet, but especially for arabesque. As you develop into an artist you find your stride in arabesque, and what looks best on your body type. Arm placement, stretch, reach, quality… Those are the things that really distinguish an arabesque. No two professional arabesques are the same. When training, it might be a different story, but because no body is alike, the technique looks different on everyone.

 

Raymonda… wtf

Seriously, wtf. In the world of ballet, there are tons of ballets that have been forgotten: the Pharaoh’s Daughter, Harlequinade, Les Saisons, and Le Daible Amoureux/Satanella (most noted for the Carnival de Venice Pas de deux). Regarldess, ballets become irrelevant, and forgotten about, maybe snippets and excerpts survive. Then there is Raymonda… Raymonda is the gigantic beast of a ballet. Longer than the full length Sleeping Beauty, the full length Raymonda consists of 3 acts and 4 scenes, and apotheosis. No wonder why it died, who could sit through all of that? Not to mention, that it kills the ballerina… She has four/five variations, depending on the production. No only does she have an absurd task of carrying an entire ballet, but her plethora of variations are some of the most difficult variations ever.

In Act 1, she has two variations. The first is the pizzicato variation which is light, charming but still rather difficult with all of the hops on pointe. Then in the same act she is challenged with the vision variation involving a long piece of fabric.

Then in Act 2 she has the pas d’action variation she has to conquer the “big” variation. This is the adagio variation that many girls use for competition because of the control a ballerina has to have. Seriously… if you don’t know what I am talking about go watch it via youtube. She then has another variation in the later scene of the act that has a bunch of dazzling turns, and a punch of entrechatquatres on pointe… Yeah, if that wasn’t enough…

Then in Act 3 she has her clapping variation, which kind of requires the ballerina to have good feet. The variation mainly consists of bourres and some feisty passes, but I mean after all of that dancing what else can you do on pointe…  Yeah it is kind of insane.

The variations are difficult enough, but there is quite a bit of dancing for the other leads as well. Raymonda is like this huge hodge podge of everything in classical ballet. Most people really only the pas de dix, or the Balanchine version that uses the same music for a corps and one couple. And thank god, there is are so many character dances. I have never seen it full length but own two different DVD versions, and every time I try to sit down and watch it all the way through… I fall asleep.

So, what is so special about Raymonda, and why do young girls still do the variations on the international competition stage? Well, I am glad you asked… Well, you didn’t… But I think what makes these variations special is that they are a part of a bigger picture.  As Swan Lake challenges the ballerina to be dynamic in two ways, Raymonda challenges the ballerina in five ways. Additionally, each variation is quite challenging, not because there are 5, but because each variation is exceptionally long compared to most variations. In the 3rd act variation, Raymonda now has a sense of maturity, authority and because the majority of the variation is bourres the ballerina has to be enchanting. In the big variation of act 2, the ballerina has to posses a weightless quality that is effortless and charming. Not to mention we all want to see leg up!

Also, in the supporting role of Henriette, 3 masterful variations are presented as well. In act one a long difficult and delicate variation is presented. In act 2, a sultry and provocative variation is delivered. And finally, in the third a playful spritely variation is executed.

The Ballet that Inspired Innovation… Serenade

There is a ballet, a ballet that replaced the dramatic downfalls of the heroines of Petipa. A ballet that stole Swan Lake’s lighting, and the romantic tutus from Giselle, set to the most perfect score,and  created by the genius of Balanchine, he named it: SERENADE. The house lights fade into blackness, and the grandiose score of strings play. If the music wasn’t inspiring enough, the curtain fades away and reveals the iconic classic Balanchine women. As each generation has added to their own take like any good ballet leaves room for speed, extension, turns, musicality, one thing has not changed. Innovation.

I recognize that Serenade has now been replaced by Jewels and Symphony in C. Those ballets showcase the entire company, including the men. Serenade showcases the women, dazzling women. Seventeen women that are not restricted by corsets, that aren’t dictated by story lines and dramatic downfalls. As Serenade is enriched with stories of success, and myths behind the movements and is standard of the romantic Balanchine Ballets, no one ever discusses the power of innovation behind it that has inspired millions of dancers. As the famous quote goes: Ballet is woman; Serenade truly exudes the power and identity of women working together to achieve something.

Serenade is basically the feminist of ballet. As men don’t play a major role, and there is no need for saving, Serenade embraces the power of women who can move to music. As Serenade has uplifted women since the NYCB revival, it is ironic that there aren’t that many Artistic Directors who are women… #justsaying

Anytime Serenade is on a playbill near me, I have to go see it. Every time I discover something new. Recently, I saw Los Angeles Ballet do it, and even though there wasn’t a live symphony, the power in the first note took me back through a million memories, and a dozen performances, and a handful of personal performances. Watching the women of Los Angeles Ballet was captivating, and truthfully… It made me fall back in love with ballet. Shortly after that performance, I started this blog.

Finally, I believe it is ballets job, well the job of any art form to reflect society, humanity, and rise above life itself… claiming an immortality that will last forever… Serenade has done that over the past 10 years. Serenade has truly has made a place next to Giselle, the Nutcracker, and the Sleeping Beauty.

The Great Debate: Gaynor Mindens…

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The Great Debate: Gaynor Mindens…

If I had it my way, everyone would dance in Freeds. Period. Because we are a free enterprise country, there are hundreds of different pointe shoes now available. Each brand has their own series of pointe shoes, and each pointe shoe has a “different personality” to accommodate a dancer’s needs. One of those needs is money… Pointe shoes don’t come cheap, and as a result, the Gaynor Minden was born… 

Some call it the cheater shoe, some call it flat out ugly, and some are for it because their feet are so good. Professionals around the world of adapted to Gaynors and the company didn’t waste anytime by capitalizing on that. Premiering with Gillian Murphy of ABT, and the release of the Ballet Companion, snagging dancer.com and using well known principal dancers as their ads… Gaynor Minden INC knew what they were doing. As a business, they are successful. The bigger question, is how do we look at Gaynors? Should students be allowed to wear Gaynors? Should more pointe shoe companies offer indestructible shoes regardless of compromising the look of the shoe?

(Please Comment Below)

an interview with Eliza Gaynor Minden. (click here)

a funny commentary via the youtube:

Nike Arc Angel, a dummy design by a graphic artist, but interesting concept…

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