Member as of January, 2017
Member as of January, 2017
Part II continues the exploration of the question posed in the film, The Red Shoes. After reading this section on The Turning Point,, think back to both films and reflect about the correlations, as well as the differences.
* * *
The situation in The Red Shoes is an individual struggle within one’s soul; however, in the film, The Turning Point, individual struggle is divided between two main characters who embody art and domesticity, respectively. The Turning Point was a gem of a film as it not only showcased bravura dance performance, but incorporated a story line that posed the artistic question. The fact that this question encompassed two different generations really brought the point home. Again, the question is the spirituality of art or the earthly functionality of marriage. Can’t one have both worlds, and still find happiness? “Apparently not” is the answer.
The fact that the passion of these two characters erupts into one of the most famous cat fights on film, clearly demonstrates that the artistic question is brought to the surface with wild emotion. It is artistic passion that has transcended the emotional and the romantic, culminating in spectacle. Giorgio Agamben asserts that there is a separation from the text, the marginal notes that surround an event or book. Here we see the polite bantering of the two women, Emma and Deedee, in The Turning Point, yet the notes outside the text of the situation are the misplaced artistic passion colliding with domesticity. The “margin notes” of jealousy hover around and in the sub-text of their dialogue, which then erupt into the emotional and physical spectacle – the catfight over ballet.
It is in this climax that the prima, Emma (Anne Bancroft) and the suburban Deedee (Shirley MacLaine) discover the truth about themselves, and one another.
Emma admits that Deedee was just as good as she, and that ambition overcame friendship when the new role in the ballet was to be cast so many years before, determining an end to Deedee’s career. Deedee, however, is affirmed, and all of the doubt that ached within her soul, forever disappears as she realizes that her artistic potential was cause for jealous, artistic theft.
“The Turning Point” – IMDB Trailer and Photos
Emma states that “If I was a man, I could have all the feet… I mean, children I wanted to… and still danced” It is an unfair situation, faced by both women. While content, they have not reached their full potential, or met that Platonic form of passion, that merges the spiritual and the physical realms. They are a hypothetical train whistle away from “The Red Shoes” spiritual death. In Emma’s case, art has won, leaving her with no husband. Deedee embraces domesticity; however, Deedee, along with her retired dancer husband, can live through their daughter, Emilia’s ascent into the ballet world, as compromise. It is a compromise that works for Deedee, and one that truly suits headstrong, and very prima, Emma; yet art and domesticity still have not found solace as a oneness within either of the two women’s’ souls. Anne Bancroft
Victoria Page is still the ghost, the shadow lurking behind them.
The conflict arises, however, not only because Emma’s ballet company visits a town where the company eventually comes, the conflict arises over MacLaine’s teenage daughter, Emelia, who is just arriving at life’s adventure, herself, at the brink of ballet success. Knowing what has to be sacrificed, McClain’s Deedee is reluctant to let her daughter have a dancing career; yet it is Bancroft’s Emma, with connections to the company that pulls Emelia into the world of dance, knowing full well that artistic passion has been working overtime in the child.
Here we have conflict between the older and younger generations, and artistic passion again, is the villain. It draws Emelia into its grip, much like the evil cobbler in The Red Shoes ballet. Emelia innocently has a relationship with the company’s Russian star, Yuri. The strains of romantic music from Romeo and Juliet deceptively brings together the concept of ballet and love; yet the deception shows its true face when Emelia is dismissed as just another company member trophy by the star, played by Mikhail Baryshnikov. Emelia is crushed, but eventually recovers, going on to dancing glory.
Emelia somewhat changes the story of Victoria Page in The Red Shoes, as she survives; yet, she has also had her first lesson from the taskmaster, art, that domesticity and art cannot blend into a synthesis of perfection, only mediocrity if pursued together. After all, domestic fights can destroy performance and the will to dance, when brokenhearted. Emelia’s “terrible decision” has been made for her. She has died romantically, but has been reborn spiritually again, because of the pull of artistic passion, that heals and draws that aspiration to beauty which is all-encompassing.
Emelia dances at the end of the film, joyous that she has chosen art for herself.
There is a third film; however, that further embodies and continues the narrative of “The Red Shoes.” Part III looks at a ballet film from 2000.
To be continued…
The Turning Point. [motion picture]. United States. Twentieth Century Fox. 1977
Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons
Mikhail Baryshnikov – 1984
Rachel Haramati [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Keitei (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
September 27, 2016
by Nancy Lorenz
“…All poetical imitators are ruinous to the understanding of the hearers,
unless as an antidote they possess the knowledge
of the true nature of the originals.
The Republic. Book X
My article on ballet this time is a little more academic. It was first published in The Coastline Journal in June, 2013, a journal which showcased the arts and humanities. Unfortunately, the journal has since gone defunct; therefore I can reprint my own article, The Philosophy of the Red Shoes here without permission. For anyone interested in ballet and philosophy, I think you will find this a good read.
This article is about ballet on the medium of film, and is written in three parts. Part One concerns The Red Shoes (1948), while Parts Two and Three are about the films, The Turning Point (1977), and Center Stage (2000) respectively. All three parts look to the question posed in the first film, The Red Shoes:
Can perfection be achieved in art and marriage or, must one be sacrificed for the sake of the other?
Even though family, hearth and home are utmost in our lives, I decided to explore the theme of the film with its “artistic question” through a philosophical lens.
The Red Shoes
For those who have artistic ability, I postulate that they must do their art. If they combine the artistic with the functional, the art is not given total devotion, and the end result will always be a terrible decision. While in theory this may sound artistically dedicated, dedication is not always enough to bolster the longing of the artistic soul. The practical inevitably conflicts with the desire to participate in art, and pulls those who long, from those who have the means or opportunity to create. Whether it be the realities of job, family life, or merely the inability to succeed against the interminable odds of the mass numbers of artists in the field, the artistic elements always reemerge within one’s soul, somewhere, sometime, refusing to be contained. Artistic passion is a drive that exists within the spirit of the artistic community, and emerges, if not in primary success, into secondary and tertiary representations of artistic expression. Artistic passion is the culprit here, and, this passion is the spiritual struggle within a soul to create art, and live at the same time within the material world.
There are three films that showcase and capture this drive of artistic passion – The Red Shoes (1948), The Turning Point (1977), and Center Stage (2000). The first film, The Red Shoes, bravely presented the concept of artistic passion versus the issue of domesticity, and dared to challenge the institution of marriage. In fact, one of the major points of the film, The Red Shoes is that artistic passion is like an evil spell, referencing the meta life of the main character, Victoria Page.
In this retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale, The Red Shoes, written in 1845, the young girl almost dances herself to death, because of the enchantment of the slippers, which take her away from her religious activities. In the movie, the young girl, throws herself on a train, making the “terrible decision,” rather than be split between the artistic, and domestic realities of everyday existence. In “The Red Shoes Ballet” within the film, a meta-narrative, it is very telling that the young girl dies, running back to the priest and the church. This “evil spell” then, is equated with artistic passion, the passion that drives artism, and the passion that Plato describes in his work on beauty and the world of forms, a tapping into the realm of passion and beauty that poets often romantically attempt to put into language, but cannot always quite capture.
Artistic passion is much different though from romantic passion. Whereas romantic passion can be fleeting, artistic passion is a way of life. Whether one is a musician, painter, singer, actor, writer, or a dancer, it is a grasping for beauty, that pure line of form, the harmonic synthesis of art, music, movement, artistic vision and ethereal flow. It is an all-consuming devotion that does not allow division within it. It is a taskmaster that pulls one spiritually into a realm closer to the divine, not to become divine, but to hover within or near its presence. It is a communion within the pure essence of the Greek idea of “beauty,” that will not release its grip on the psyche of the artistic soul. It is a part of one’s being, and cannot be denied.
The decision one makes to live in everyday society, however, dilutes the art, even if it is still pursued. Lermontov, the owner of the ballet company in The Red Shoes, tells Victoria this when he states, “You cannot have it both ways. A dancer who relies upon the doubtful comforts of human love can never be a great dancer. Never…” He predicts that Victoria’s performance will suffer when divided between domesticity and art, because he has seen it before. Nothing but total devotion to the art will claim its true aspiration to this beauty.
It is an artistic argument which defines the situation that Victoria Page encounters in the film, The Red Shoes, one that tries to detract her from the spiritual, and binds her to the earthly plane. This conflict occurs oddly enough, on a physical two dimensional piece of celluloid, yet gives us three dimensional conceptual images in story, on that flat piece of earthly film.
According to Andre Bazin, with the invention of the camera, “the artist was now in a position to create the illusion of three-dimensional space within which things appeared to exist as our eyes in reality see them” (167). Frame after frame of the film presents us with movement – the physical dance of The Red Shoes. The celluloid strip, however, also presents us with the spirituality of the art that exceeds the bounds of the physical realm of the film. Bazin writes that the “photographic image is the object itself, the object freed from the conditions of time and space that govern it” (169). He also writes that “photography does not create eternity, as art does, it embalms time, rescuing it simply from its proper corruption” (169).
The performance of Moira Shearer, then, like other film performances is “embalmed in time” and the spirituality of the art exists conceptually on celluloid. The art, however, exists in my view for eternity in the minds of the spectators as well. Therefore, the frames of the ballet film draw us in through physical means (the celluloid), they ask us to suspend belief, and then simultaneously ask us to debate the difference between Victoria Page’s earthly and transcendent pursuit – an ideology. The film works the audience almost as hard as the dancers!
The Red Shoes is an example then of art imitating life, imitating art that is trying to exist concurrently with life. The representation is an artificial one, (film), reproducing the life of a ballet troupe, (life, once removed), and the representation of ballet, on stage, on film, (art reproducing art), and the conflict of that art – ballet and domesticity in collision – displayed on film. “Real things – wood, paint, fabric, sweat and muscular effort…” in the movie, according to Adrienne McLean, in her article, “The Red Shoes Revisited,” helps to create a realism, but the patina is then polished as the film “then creates on top of the represented art form, ballet – an art work that has very little to do with it [ballet] (4). Therefore, we have to see just how far apart the art exists from the originals of the philosophers, and how closely art in the film exists as embraced by the spectators.
As spectators we see the dancer in the ballet, Victoria Page, encountering difficulty as she adjusts to domestic life. When she falls in love with the composer of the ballet, The Red Shoes, she runs off to marry him, and takes a long vacation. The pull of art, however, pulls at Victoria and also at her composer husband as they both get up in the middle of the night to connect with their respective arts, ballet and music. Domestic tranquility is diluted in this scene. Victoria, in nightclothes, opens up her chest of drawers to gaze lovingly at her collection of pointe shoes, which include the red satin slippers. The gaze is telling as it demonstrates that ballet is in her blood, and the call to pirouette and pose in arabesque is equal to the pull of domesticity. Victoria caresses the shoes, and longing fills her soul, not for her husband, but for dance. Plato writes in Ion, that “poems are not of man or human workmanship, but are divine and from the gods, and that the poets are nothing but interpreters of the gods each one possessed by the divinity to whom he is in bondage (5). The taskmaster,”art,” is enchanting Victoria then once again, and she falls a willing, yet unwilling victim to its lure.
In similar fashion, her husband sneaks out of bed to compose at the piano. He is also pulled by his own artistic taskmaster. Here we have a marriage, divided by art, and one that will not be able to survive. The decision is a terrible one – art or marriage? Can they both give it up forever? It is a heartbreaking scenario that one cannot enjoy both fully, but as the owner of the ballet warned, mediocrity would set in, if both were enjoyed. The artistic question is posed regrettably as we witness the nocturnal search for artistic fulfillment, or fulfillment, in general, within a domestic setting. The fact that fulfillment would be found in art, equal to or greater than marriage, negates the unfortunately lesser fulfillment found in domesticity. The trouble with Victoria Page is that she finds equal fulfillment in both, yet both cannot be implemented well because career restrictions make little allowance for a home life, and, the home life is detrimental to the perfection of the art. Therefore, the artistic question is posed regarding whether the artist could pursue art along with domesticity, and the tragic result is that the answer was negative, with death as the result.
It is a moment of tragic knowledge when Victoria Page realizes this truth. As she rushes to the stage, dressed for her ballet performance in The Red Shoes, Victoria hears the train whistle, and stops dead in her tracks. The pause showcases her garish makeup that is meant for an audience, seeing her from afar. Here, however, we see the artificiality of the stage makeup in a film close up. The heart stopping moment of the train whistle, the whistle that takes her husband away, demonstrates the artificiality of the art, and we, as the viewer believe that she has changed her mind about staying with the ballet as we see her turn and run toward the sound of the train. We, as viewer believe that she has made a decision between art and domesticity, and that love will win out. The viewer is tricked though, as Victoria does not decipher the whistle as a reconciliation with her husband, but rather as an idea that will end the manic dispute.
She runs to the outside balcony of the theater, and throws herself on the train. She has made the “terrible decision,” since her tormented soul could not survive the pull of art and home. Victoria Page, however, is not the only character in the ballet world that has endured this dilemma. There are other casualties in this endless argument – the division of the spirituality of art versus the earthly plane of domesticity.
With the age of feminism we have to ask if this division is still valid, therefore we look to two newer films of the 1970’s and 2000s, respectively again, to ask the question – art or marriage? Does one have to sacrifice the spiritual for the functional in the search for perfection? Therefore, we also look to the characters in the films, The Turning Point, and, the updated version, Center Stage, to enter this dilemma of ballet versus domesticity, and we will see whether all of the characters were forced to make the “terrible decision” in one way or another…
… to be continued – The Turning Point…
Bazin, Andre. (2004). “What is Cinema? The Ontology of the Photographic Image.” in Film Theory and Criticism. ed. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen, New York: Oxford University Press.
Lorenz, Nancy. (2013). The Coastline Journal. “The Philosophy of the Red Shoes.” [abridged] http://coastlinejournal.org/2013/06/14/the-philosophy-of-the-red-shoes/#more-2378 (now defunct without archives)
McLean, Adrienne L. (1988). Dance Chronicle. “The Red Shoes Revisited.” Vol. 11, No. 1. Taylor & Francis, Ltd. 1988. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1567717.
Plato. (2004). The Republic, ed. George Stade. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. New York: Barnes & Noble.
Plato. (1998) The Critical Tradition. “Ion.” ed. David H. Richter. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s Press.
The Red Shoes. (1948). [motion picture]. England. The Archers. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0040725/quotes,,accessed on February 18, 2009.
Special credit to Powell, Michael. Pressburger, Emeric. writers, directors, producers. aka The Archers.
The Red Shoes. Original flyer from the film by Ballerinailina (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Fair use of photos in criticism of the film
August 5, 2016
Everyone knows the irritation of getting a paper cut on his or her finger. After the initial “ouch,” you bandage it, and suffer silently (or not so silently), as you try to perform simple everyday functions. Suddenly, those simple tasks are not so simple. It’s hard temporarily to write with a pen, turn a key in your car door, or even pick up a hot Starbucks cup without making a complete idiot of yourself.
Unfortunately, dance injuries are usually larger than a paper cut. You can develop shin splints, ingrown toenails, a strain, or a broken bone in your left foot. Then, the ordinary everyday becomes dysfunction, and it multiplies exponentially. Suddenly you’re nursing an injury that may take time to heal. Lots of time. You’re out of the pointe class or company performance, and you’re feeling some serious “blahs.”
A dance injury – at what cost? No. I’m not talking about money, and I’m not offering advice. I’ll leave that to the medical professionals. What I am talking about is the mental anguish of not being able to dance while sustaining the injury. You’re used to the daily exercise, the rush of happy endorphins, the social aspect of being in class. You thrive on it. It’s frustrating to say the least, waiting around at home on the couch anywhere from a week to a few months. And, it’s not only dance injuries. You can get the flu, pull a muscle from coughing, or merely trip over a book on the floor of your apartment, and hurt yourself. What do you do then? How do you wait? Why did this have to happen in the first place?
The first rule of healing is to listen to your doctor or physical therapist. They will tell you when you are ready to move those muscles, and, in what way. In the meantime, there are things that you can do to pass the time productively.
While you’re out of commission, use this time to visualize combinations.
Petite allegro and adagio are mental exercises anyway. If you don’t remember what your connecting moves are, in order, you’ll miss your combination and stop dead in center floor. Take this time now to go over some past combinations from class in your head, especially some of the more difficult ones that used to trip you up. Memorize them, so that when you do return, you will have a head start. In addition, try to mentally correct commonplace errors, and imagine yourself back at the barre in great shape. Positive thinking can go a long way.
The Internet explosion of dance
Thank goodness for all of those ballet videos on Facebook and You Tube. Keep watching while you are resting up. Study them. How does the ballerina retain control? Why are her fouettes crisp and clean? Watch all your favorite ballet clips, and revel in the beauty of it. After all, you’ll be back doing it yourself as soon as you’ve healed.
Write in a Journal
Pour the words of your soul into a book.
One of the greatest therapies in the world is writing. And, its free. Write your thoughts, frustrations, joys and woes about ballet into a journal, either online, or in an old-fashioned notebook. Get it all out. Complain first, and then write about how much you love ballet. When you’re finished, write a positive sentence that states your determination to reach your goal – returning to class.
While you may not heal faster, you won’t stagnate either, and you’ll keep your pointed foot in the ballet game. The important thing is not to stress out. You will heal. Patience is your best friend, along with the calendar. Every day that passes brings you closer to being back on your toes, and putting on those magical red shoes.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons Publlic Domain
July 3, 2016
In the 2000’s we’ve become very introspective people, and some may say even narcisstic, as we gaze into our cell phones and tablets, and listen to our iPods. We carry our electronics with slavish attachment, hiding our heads in the devices much like an ostrich hides its head in the sand. The ballerina to the right may be listening to her music pre-performance, but sometimes we depend on our devices too much, and can lose ourselves along the way.
We miss much around us, as we cross the street reading email. We look down, rather than up, as we scrutinize our selfie’s. We’ve gotten lost in smartphones that do everything for us, except cement relationships and experiences in real time.
I’m just as guilty as the rest of us, but while it is fabulous to have these devices, it is also a troubling trend. As we journey electronically inward, I fear we will lose sight of our place in the world. We need to get our heads out of that electronic sand, and come up for air once in a while to appreciate that place, and those things that are “larger than life.”
Things that are larger than life tell humanity that we are subject to greater powers and experiences. This knowledge is important to keep us outside of ourselves and “in the world.” Sure, technology keeps us connected, but sometimes we have to stop, and gaze at a sunset, for goodness sake. This is a moment of life, and, we are missing these things as we walk along with a headset and a downloaded tune.
What are “larger than life” experiences? There are many out there; however, I chose to focus on three that I believe encompass the most awe: theater, architecture and nature.
Theater, whether it is Broadway, a ballet, an opera, or a film, brings us out of ourselves for a few hours. Here, we feel empathy for characters, ponder tragedies we may never meet, rejoice with happy endings – and we experience it all on a stage by proxy as the audience. We have put ourselves, like venerable author, Harper Lee once wrote, “in somebody’s else’s shoes” and we “walk around in them.”
Katherine Hepburn and Ralph Richardson in Eugene O’Neill’s, “Long Day’s Journey into Night”
Theater is living vicariously through other’s drama, foibles, comedy, or merely the human condition, one in which we may share understanding in a larger than life experience. Character, Mary, in Eugene O’Neill’s play, “A Long Day’s Journey into Night,” experiences torment with addiction and the breakdown of a family. We watch the drama enfold onstage, or in the film, and are emotionally pulled into the story. We are grateful, however, as we watch, that we share a much smaller version of family discord in the real world. Theater brings us out of ourselves, and into somebody else’s life. Theater can make us laugh, or cry, but also makes us think, as the narrative addresses issues greater than ourselves.
If you have ever gone into one of the great cathedrals of the world, you already know what I mean. To enter through a set of decorative, metal doors that dwarf a group of tourists gives us more than a sense of awe. To gaze at the incredibly high ceilings, large stained glass windows – works of art in themselves – and ponder the gothic structures inside and out, inspires, but also gives you a feeling that you are not as important as you thought. Something greater is going on here, and the flying buttresses and the stained-glass tell its biblical story to demonstrate it all.
There is something greater than you out there. Whether it is religion, or that architectural behemoth that dazzles in a different manner, there is a grandeur that reminds us that we are not the center of the universe. A large church is a visual representation of not only a building, but of a greater religious idea. Our cell phones seem insignificant when we gaze at such grandeur and reverence built sometime in the middle ages.
That aforementioned sunset returns. We only seem to stop to gaze at one when we are on vacation. Within the living of our daily lives, we just don’t have the time. Dinner has to be made, the kids have homework, we have to watch our taped television show. Life goes by, and we miss that larger than life sunset that inspired so many great painters. And, the show is there every day. And it’s free. The Kobe bridge at sunset in Japan
When we see a field of flowers of one color, just as Wordsworth did, we ponder how much more to life there is than our iPads. Yes, we can capture that field of Wordsworth’s yellow daffodils in a photo taken from the device, and always remember. Do we live the experience though while it’s happening, or, are we too concerned with the focus, and angle of the photo?
Head in the Sand vs. Larger then Life
There are other “larger than life” experiences, as well. Volunteering is one. Working at a soup kitchen, or reading to critically ill patients in a hospital can be a life-changing experience, that brings us out of our smaller lives, and expands them. Experiencing art in many forms can make us feel the larger scope of civilization’s achievements. Standing in front of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre can show how close we are to a painter, Leonardo DaVInci, who once stood merely a few feet away, creating his masterpiece.
Whether it be the ocean, a baby’s face, the antics of a kitten, the majesty of a mountain, or the experience of art, theater or film, we emerge from our introspection, and extend ourselves to those experiences that helps us grow. It’s a growth mindset that makes us reach out, and claim that moment. It brings us back to a place of childhood wonder. We all remember that childhood wonder is a place that was always “larger than life.”
Keeping connected is not all about the devices; it is connectivity with humanity. Go out and find it.
Lee, H. (1960. 2002) To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Harper Collins Perennial.
Ballerina – Listening to iPod By Fanny Schertzer (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Long Day’s Journey into Night By Trailer distributed by Embassy Pictures [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Notre Dame Cathedral By Krzysztof Mizera, changed by Chagler and MathKnight (Based on File:Rozeta Paryż notre
Sunset Kobe, japan By 663highland (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photos are from WIkimedia Commons and are in the public domain
June 14, 2016
Is it romance, as in “Romeo and Juliet,” comedy, as in “La FIlle Mal Gardee,” or tragedy, as in “Swan Lake?”
Sometimes, story blurs the genres. “Romeo and Juliet” and “Swan Lake” have both romance and tragedy, while “La FIlle Mal Gardee has romance and comedy as well as chickens! Whether the tale is romantic tragedy or romantic comedy, myth, or literature, itself, the plot drives the story ballets. These ballets also have root sources.
Let’s begin with the fairy tales. With fairy tales, we go back to the oral tradition of passing down stories through the generations. The Brothers Grimm took those traditions, and wrote them down, editing out the more gruesome aspects to create stories with a moral and social base. Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella are evergreen ballets, but others are new or rarely done. The Golden Cockerel, a folktale, was originally a poem by Alexander Pushkin (1834), which he based on two Tales of the Alhambra by Washington Irving (1832), and later the story was made into an opera by RInsky-Korsokov (1909), and then into a ballet (1913).
Hans Christian Anderson‘s famous story, The Red Shoes, is an iconic fairy tale ballet that has become a root source in itself, generating two other ballet films (The Turning Point and Center Stage). Tales, such as these have come down to us in books, from Grimm, and then movies by Disney, and The Archers. (1) What started as ballet on stage is now ballet, on another medium – film. These tales have leaped from a book to stage, and then to film in a transformative story line, adapted for dance. Ballets are shaped by the vision of the choreographer and original author, but on film, they are adapted (and authored, in editing) once again for cinematic effect.
There are ballets, also based on myth. Two by Stravinsky, Apollo and Orpheus, come directly to us from Greek mythology. Additional ballets from Greek drama include, Elektra, based on Sophocles/Euripedes with music by RIchard Strauss, as well as Antigone, by Sophocles again, and composed by Mark Pekarski. American Ballet Theater this season is performing another Greek-inspired ballet – Sylvia.
Other adaptations for the modern stage are also based on the original. An example of this would be the play, Mourning Becomes Electra by Eugene O’Neill, in which modern day characters take on the roles of those of the ancient Greek’s trilogy of the Oresteia by Aeschylus. The metanarrative follows performances in many forms from thousands of years past to the present day.
We all love a good Shakespearean story, and Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, A Winter’s Tale, and The Moor’s Pavane do not disappoint in ballet works. Many of Shakespeare’s stories themselves have a root source or two; therefore, his arsenal of plays have morphed from ancient Greek and Middle Ages tales to the present day with their modern dress, anachronistic, political, or avant garde productions.
Taking a novel from book to screen or stage presents a challenge for all stories. The Lady of the Camellias, Carmen, Manon have been popular not only in ballet, but in many mediums. The Eifman Ballet in St. Petersburg premiered Tolstoy’s classic Russian novel, Anna Karenina in 2005 as well. (Note that in the movie, The Turning Point, that Anne Bancroft, as aging ballerina, Emma, danced “Anna Karenina” as a fictional ballet in the movie. Therefore, we have novel to fictionalized ballet to real ballet, and then of course the many film versions.)
On film, story is told visually with dialogue. On stage in drama, dialogue is more vital. Ballet, however, uses dance to continue the story line both visually and athletically, as well from its root source. In ballet, the pantomime involved (an acting technique, taken from The Commedia Dell’ Arte, an early form of theater) enhances the literary story in ways that film or stage cannot. (2) Form and technique in body movement move the story along.
Which medium would tell the story best in its truest form though?
The Narrative and Metanarrative
Mixing mediums and blurring the genres carry a story from its root source to the present day with various incarnations along the way. Some incarnations are recognizable; while others need a closer inspection to spot the story root. To recognize the story, Hamlet in the animated film, The Lion King, needs someone familiar with Shakespearean themes. While there is no ballet in either, song and dance by SImba and friends move the cartoon story along with only a portion of the original indecision or angst.
Versions of stories that are diminutives of, or surround the original root story:
Therefore, we adapt from the History of the Danes (fact) to the masterwork of Shakespeare to different modern mediums, leading us to a ballet. The metanarrative line is complete, at least for now.
“Whereas narrative represents the story as it is manipulated by the discourse, metanarrative speaks about the narrative and exists as a function of the discourse” (Univ. of Michigan). What function does a derivative tale play in the over-arching story of the original?
(Post-modernist criticism tells us that the metanarrative is a grand theory to explain all, including sub theories or narratives. Jean-Francois Lyotard was the leading philosophical proponent.)
Literature, however, demands a wider definition. According to the University of Michigan, “In most cases, these formally subordinated narratives recount events belonging to a specific previous or later story time (flashbacks or follow-ups) .” I would add that the mixing of mediums (ballet, stage, film or opera) offers a halo that surrounds the story skeleton by which the story can change or adapt to the requirements of other mediums, audiences, and generations.
But let’s return to the more famous ballets that we all know and love today. With that metanarrative line of story from its root to its culmination in ballet, we see the process of art. Sleeping Beauty, once a tale of oral tradition, was transformed into writing by those Brothers Grimm who created a cottage industry of thousands of books for new generations. The medium evolved, and Sleeping Beauty, that fairy tale of yore, again transformed into the lavish American Ballet Theater production onstage at the Met, choreographed by Ratmansky.
On the other hand, Balanchine’s staging of ballets tend toward ballet minimalism. Costume might be simply leotards, and sets may be sparser. Perhaps Balanchine, so noted for his many non-story ballets, in fact, creates the purest form of story with its very sparseness. Without elaborate costume, the story or function of ballet shines through. Dancers and audience then complete the missing story mentally, when function presides over narrative. The skeleton of story and function survive together, and flourish.
How will classic stories stay in the canon of creative works, yet change for future mediums and generations? Can the elements of story, not only survive the transition of time, costumes, custom, and mores, but even transcend them?
Whether it is meta-fiction, meta-play, or meta-ballet, I guess that we will just have to wait a few hundred more years to find out.
(1) Helpmann danced in the ballet films, The Red Shoes (1948), which he also choreographed, and Tales of Hofmann (1950).
(2) Commedia Dell’Arte. (Sept. 16, 2015) See my blog article, Commedia Dell’Arte, An Unusual Form of Dance.
Britannica. (2016). Sir Robert Helpmann. Online Britannica. hhht://www.britannica.com/biography/Robert-Murray-Helpmann#red131766
WIkipedia. The Golden Cockerel. (2016). Online encyclopedia.
American Ballet Theater. The Golden Cockerel (2016) web site.
University of Michigan. (nd) Telling Wonders. “Narrative and Metanarrative” Chapter 1 (p. 21)
You got the talent.
You got the training.
You got the job!
Stars appear in your eyes as you imagine that solo in the spotlight. You can’t wait! But then fear sets in. It’s not stage fright. It’s because… you’re leaving home. The dual realization of success and encroaching homesickness makes your head reel.
You got the job. Now what?
Whether a teen leaves home for a ballet apprenticeship, or for a shot at stardom on Broadway, he or she takes that first big leap toward adulthood.
When kids leave home in their late teens, they head off to an unknown territory – college, job, or art. Whether traveling by train, car or bus, they arrive at their destination as newbies, alone in a world of full of strangers. After a while though, they begin to assimilate into the strange environment, forming a bond with others through shared experiences and situation. They create a rag tag version of something called, “family” far from home.
When I went to New York many years ago to become a “starving artist,” I was lucky to live in a women’s residence for young girls new to the city. There was a housemother, a curfew, meals were provided, and it was in a lovely location at Gramercy Park. The dorm-like residence was a cushion between living at home, and living in an apartment, offering safety and protection. While there, I met many girls, and we bonded together to support and alleviate one another’s fears and homesickness. These residences closed the gap between the child and adult experience.
While there used to be many residences for both genders in New York like this, today, there are only two or three. Now, unless a ballet company has a dorm, or one gets a job in a regional theater which provides housing, a young ballerina or actor must live on his or her own in an apartment. This may also impinge on the parent-child comfort zone. Nevertheless, teens do transition across that vast divide of family and career, search for a place to live, and find a set of like-minded friends for that “home away from home” family-like connection.
Performers in many arts, however, go through this transition.
Actors go through this many times over. As a show comes their way, they learn lines, choreography and songs. They rehearse, perform together for the length of the run. The cast party is looked forward to, but also dreaded. People will scatter, friendships will continue, others will dissolve. The closing of a show signals the demise of that special bond of laughter and tears that permeated the theater throughout the run, and propelled the drama behind the scenes. Actors try not to think about the end of the production until that notice goes up. After all, it seems as though the show will run forever. Until then the actors revel in performance and enjoy one another’s company, confidences, complaints, and camaraderie. The cast party, however, signals the end of the closely knit bond – the performing family (and, with it sometimes comes the search for a new place to live).
In ballet, young girls go off to Intensives. Homesickness can make an aspiring ballerina’s two or three week stay away uncertain. It’s their first foray into the adult world – one without mom and dad.
Later an older teen may be accepted into a professional ballet company. This is more of a conundrum. Girls in their late teens begin their careers at a tender age. Ballet is not a hobby anymore. It’s a job. They are required to perform for a paycheck, and anything less than perfection can cost them the position. Living away from home on their own as an adult can be overwhelming. There are no rules now, nor curfews. No one monitors what they eat, or whether they even eat at all.
Young girls who are inexperienced are also more vulnerable, and may suffer from being out of the nest too soon. The conflict is real. Art is the goal, but responsibilities of being an adult can quickly collide. A company of dancers can bond throughout the season though. They become an ersatz family of sorts, until contracts expire, and new dancers enter the ranks of the elite, when a new family is formed for the next season.
In my book, American Ballerina, (sequel to The Strength of Ballerinas) I look at this first journey away from home and hearth. Character, Kendra Sutton has to juggle a job as an apprentice in a large ballet company, live with roommates, budget, solve medical issues and balance guidelines for romance, by herself. With some help though from other ballerinas, she navigates the treacherous waters of being independent. She learns to rely on her own judgments, and accepts a bit of advice from real family back home through laptop and tablet.
Family is important. It can never be replaced, yet bonded families of friends and co-workers develop over time, helping to bridge that important gap between babyhood and adulthood. This bonding, however, is not only a rite of passage. It can go on for an entire career in both theater and ballet, as shows change and evolve. It’s the nature of the art.
What does it mean to be family? It means a group of people who can support you, listen to your problems, rejoice with your victories, and cry with your sorrows. They can be family by proxy – those roommates and coworkers who become temporary brothers and sisters, aunts and moms who teach, offer a shoulder to cry upon, encourage and fight with you, and still end up liking you, just as a primary family does.
These professional families help to fill that psychological gap and get performers through the newness and loneliness of adult life.
Whether it is theater, ballet, music, college or a job, we all step out into the world at some point in our lives, and bravely take that first step into the unknown. Whether it’s at home, or in artistic endeavors in a city three thousand miles away, families will always be there for us.
Monterrey Ballet Corps: By Gabriel Saldana from Monterrey, Mexico (IMG_6622.JPG) [CC BY-SA 2.0(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Ballet Class: By Avrora99 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
I did my Master’s thesis a number of years ago on how choreography demonstrated virtue in three musical films of Americana: Oklahoma, Carousel and The Music Man. Two of the shows were based on a book, while the other was an original story. These films though, contained dance, two contained full ballets, and all were created for the Broadway stage.
Dance belongs not only to the ballet, but to Broadway as well. In fact, ballet is the root of many forms of dance. While some may dispute that tap has similarities to ballet, just a look at Gene Kelly with his balletic leaps in a tap number or Fred Astaire, with his graceful moves and pantomime in certain numbers on film. For now, however, let’s just look at shows with dance on Broadway, also known as “The Great White Way.”
The premiere of An American in Paris on Broadway this past year was not the first musical with ballet, although it may have been the first show in a long time. Ballets, such as Okkahoma!, and Carousel were created in the late 1940’s, and included fully packaged ballets within the musical.
Oklahoma!, which was based on the book, Green Grow the Lilacs, had its “Dream Ballet” in which Laurie danced out her joys and fears. The bliss of marriage transformed into a nightmarish scenario of saloon hall girls, representing evil. Within the ballet, set against an unrealistic set of tornado and wind, Laurie reluctantly succumbed to defeat in the arms of a wayward farmhand, until awakened from the nightmare.
Agnes de Mille choreographed this wonderful ballet, with some touches of her own work, Rodeo, (which she previously choreographed for the ballet world). The “dream ballet” is a highlight of the musical. Ms. De Mille created dance numbers for other songs and musical interludes as well, including one number showcasing the femininity of women yearning for a husband. The song, “Many a New Day,” incorporated ballet in a long dance sequence in period feminine undergarments. (Sometimes, television edits the dance in the film version due to time, but if you watch it on Netflix or DVD, you will see the long sequence of ballet here.) The “Many a New Day” song turns into a long dance of trained ballerinas, who capture the essence of femininity of young girls in various stages of maturity.
The femininity of this second ballet sequence in the show contrasted with the frontier of Oklahoma territory offering not only Americana, but told story and virtue through dance. Oklahoma! was the first musical that actually used dance to advance the story line.
Similarly, Carousel, which was also based on a book, called Liliom, had its own ballet as well, called, “Louise’s Ballet.” Julie Jordan’s daughter, Louise, dances in the carnival scene that surrounds a carousel made up of garish people. In this ballet, Louise’s joy also turns to a more sinister image of innocence lost. Agnes de Mille choreographed this show on Broadway too; however, the film version went to choreographer, Rod Alexander. According to the IMDB, Agnes de Mille received credit for Louise’s Ballet, in the film as well, which was recreated from the original stage show; however Alexander choreographed the other numbers because of a dispute.
Finally, we have The Music Man with its stiff attitudes and stilted dancing. The inflexibility of the townspeople is shown in their stiff-legged movement and while there is no ballet per se, there is energetic period dance that reflects values. The Music Man was choreographed ny Oona White, and again, dance paralled and advanced the story line. It is the tale of an inflexible town with inflexible moral standards, which become corrupted by the townspeople’s overzealous adherence to them. This dogged devotion to supposed proper behavior invited defamation and gossip to thrive against the more enlightened, but innocent, icon of the town – Marion, the Librarian.
As the residents of River City move about the town they walk fast, talk sparingly, and sprint back and forth with little emotion that is, until Professor Harold Hill drops into the town, and transforms the librarian, along with its citizens. Song, talk-singing, rhythm, and onomatopoeia, such as in the “Rock Island” train number at the beginning of the show, is important to the musical; however, as attitudes relax a bit, dancing is seen in the “Shipoopi” number reflecting the change in values from a corrupted righteousness to a more accepting religious view. Dance was the transformative power.
There’s been a lot of other dance created for Broadway, which is most known for its great tap and jazz, but much of it has been ballet as well. Most musicals need trained dancers, regardless of whether they will be on pointe or not. Even if the show is generally a tap or theater dance show, there may be a ballet number inserted somewhere in there. You really have to be a “jack of all trades” to work in the dance world in theater, especially if you do summer stock, regional or dinner theater where versatility in dance can help one to get hired! At Broadway auditions, you may be asked to do a jazz combo, a center floor ballet combination, and/or be asked to do wings in tap as well. Code switching from barre to double time step to “jazz hands” is de rigeur!
But, don’t believe me. Look at the recent success of, “On the Town,” that starred ballerina, Megan Fairchild, with a run in the last few weeks from fellow ABT ballerina, Misty Copeland. Robert Fairchild also helmed, “An American in Paris,” with ballerina co-star, Leann Cope on Broadway this year as well. They came from ballet companies, but were versatile enough to fit the medium of Broadway.
The shows above are just a few of the many with musical numbers of ballet or dance that challenge performers. Additional shows, such as Kathleen Marshall’s, “Anything Goes,” Gower Champion’s, “42nd Street,” or Bob Fosse’s shows, “Chicago” and “Cabaret,” perform, jazz, tap and plain ole’ theater dance. Jerome Robbins choreographed the iconic dance in “West Side Story” as well, one in which the men have the best dancing!. In all of these shows, however, whether jazz or tap, most of the dancers were ballet trained!
Agnes de Mille was the queen of iconic ballet on Broadway. She paved the way for more dance shows with story lines that grew organically from the lyrics and movement. So, whether it’s de Mille, or the individual dance styles of Jerome Robbins, Tommy Tune, Bob Fosse, or the modern Christopher Wheeldon, dance will always be a part of Broadway and film – an extension of the medium of ballet.
As for Chicago, and 42nd Street, – well, I also have a lot more to say about these “hoofer” and jazz shows as well, but I think I’ll leave that for another article!
Lorenz, N. Thesis: The Multiplicity of Feminine Virtue in Traditional Musicals of Americana: Oklahoma, Carousel and The Music Man.
Photo credits: Wikimedia Commons
Dancing in class in leotards and ballet skirts give dancers great freedom of movement. You’ve rehearsed the steps, are ready to go, but then…. there’s the costume fitting.
Suddenly, the dance that was learned so meticulously in class for the performance seems like a totally different set of steps. What happened?
It’s the costume!
We all want to wear the tutu, the romantic skirt, character regalia, but it takes some getting used to. Whether you are a dancer, singer, or actor, the costume can enhance your performance, or detract from it.
For example, when I was in repertory at The Light Opera of Manhattan in New York City, I had to wear period costumes as I sang or danced. Costumes as diverse as Victorian dresses (operetta), Japanese kimono’s (The Mikado); Marie Antoinette 1700’s era dresses with large side panniers (operetta) were “de riguer.” In other shows, period costumes, such as Shakespearean garb, southern belle hoop skirts, as well as traditional ballet tutus, both short and romantic, all presented their own set of problems.
Let’s start with ballet.
No matter how beautiful that white Swan Lake, or green Emerald tulle is, it still scratches. As you dance, your arm or leg can brush against it, causing irritation. In the case of a longer skirt, the longer it is, the easier it is to trip, no matter how well hemmed. The motion caused by dancing makes the fabric swing, swish, and twirl, making pockets of air resistance. This air resistance actually makes it harder to move quickly. That pique turn which usually is so crisp and light, now seems slower and duller. We must get used to that costume and regain our alacrity.
This is most noticeable in character parts where heavier materials may be used for dancers such as parents, animals and villains with dresses of heavy brocade, extensions, such as wings, or large, swinging capes. Outside of ballet, costumes for theater and opera generally tend toward the heavier fabrics, due to historical accuracy in period pieces.
If you’ve ever wondered why those historical people in other centuries were so formal, you might look to their clothes. Clothing was much more restrictive with floor-length dresses, bustles, pull corsets, hoop skirts, layers of petticoats and high collars. It really was more difficult to move, sit down, get up, walk across the street without tripping on a hem, as fabric swished, pulled, and restricted everyday movement.
Back in the Gone with the Wind ante bellum days, it was quite a feat for a girl with a hoop skirt to sit down gracefully without the hoop flying up to hit her in the face, while exposing all of her petticoats! Gentlemen helped ladies, as they rose, walked, and promenaded, not just because of chivalry, but for reasons of practical deportment.
As a dancer or actor, you must learn how to move in these period piece costumes, along with the manners and gestures of the period, including bow and curtsy.
Today, we are so used to casual wear, such as jeans, tee shirts, short, easy fitting dresses, that we don’t give more than a second of thought to proper posture, either sitting or standing. However, when we step onto that stage, we also step into the footsteps of the past, as well as that of fantasy. How do we move? More importantly, How do we dance?
But back to ballet and theater…
Some of the costumes I mentioned above did present a challenge. Moving in a Japanese kimono, or dress from another culture, presented its own set of priorities. How did you move? Was it the costume, which restricted, or was it a cultural custom that drove the movement? A Victorian dress is lovely with a full skirt, but the fabric swings and sometimes gets caught on your legs as you move. You must lift the hem to climb a set of stairs on stage, or to dance carefully in a scene, such as adults do in Act One of The Nutcracker.
One of the most difficult costumes I ever had was the Marie Antoinette era large dress with side panniers (bustles) that made the dress so wide that it was hard to enter or exit from the wings. One had to step sideways through the inner curtains of the wings to get onstage, or else accidently take some of the sets, lights, prop table items, and possibly curtains with you! It was a challenge, but a solution was found.
The point is that whatever your costume – short tutu or romantic, it changes the dynamics. What you wear affects how you move. Sometimes, as in beauty, art must suffer. While you may have to endure the scratch of the tulle, you will also look beautiful!
Photo: Ballet – Romantic Tutus
GerardM from nl [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], from Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Victorian Dress
By Πελοποννησιακό Λαογραφικό Ίδρυμα (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
November 25, 2015
When I was younger there was a summer replacement show on television called International Showtime. It showcased performers from all over Europe. It was the first time that I heard the European style of applause – a rhythmic controlled audience clap that held a steady beat in direct contrast to the American burst of uninhibited ovation. It was my first taste of European performance and reception.
I bring this up, as I just saw the Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema presentation of Jewels. First broadcast live on January 19, 2014, this repeat showing offered the work to all who wanted a second viewing, or to those whom had not seen it before. I was one of the last group. Even though it was created in 1967, I’d never seen it all those years I lived in New York, and in the ensuing years after I left; therefore, it was a real treat to see this gem of a ballet!
Consisting of three acts, each representing a different jewel– Emeralds, Rubies and Diamonds – the ballet incorporated the styles of three major schools of dance: French, American and Russian. Host Katya Novikova said that these types of ballet were Balanchine’s own experience with the three cities he loved: Paris, New York and St. Petersburg. The ballets were indeed different.
Emeralds, according to the Pathe/Bolshoi program, with its green romantic tutus represented the “nineteenth century dances of the French Romantic.” It was lyrical and emotional, and was danced to the score of Gabriel Faure’s, Pelleas and Melisande and Shylock.
The last segment, Diamonds, contained a gorgeous pas de deux, along with the corps for a delightful classic white ballet with “the grandeur of Imperial Russia.” Peter Tchaikovsky’s Symphony #3 in D Major was the music for this exquisite work.
The cast of the Bolshoi, as always, was excellent. Dancing three different styles and genres of ballet in one night was certainly a marathon; nevertheless, the effort was invisible, and the ethereal lightness of skilled dancers glimmered, leading us to another world for but a few hours.
The original production of Jewels had its premiere on April 13, 1967, and presented a stellar cast. According to NYCB’s website: https://www.nycballet.com/ballets/j/jewels.aspx some of the more famous names included:
Emeralds: Violette Verdy
Rubies: Patricia McBride, Edward Villella
Diamonds: Suzanne Farrell, Jacques d’Amboise
What a great evening that must have been!
I’d still love to see the NYCB Balanchine version; however, I was enchanted with the offering of The Bolshoi. With every bravura move in this Bolshoi in Cinema production, the audience showed their appreciation of the performance by implementing that classic rhythmic European applause. And, a bravura performance it was. Now, that I have seen Jewels, it will be a part of my viewing repertoire because of the acumen of the choreography, dancers, concept, music and wonders of this sparkling Balanchine gem of a ballet.
Where is the original cast of Jewels now?
Suzanne Farrell – in the original production, now has her own ballet company, and you can visit her website,or Facebook page at Suzanne Farrell Ballet. http://www.kennedy-center.org/programs/ballet/farrell/
Patricia McBride also has her own ballet company – The Charlotte Ballet – in North Carolina. She won a Kennedy Center Honor in 2104. http://charlotteballet.org
According to the Washington Post, the Kennedy Center Award recipients for dance include: George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Edward Villella, Arthur Mitchell, Jacques d’Amboise and Mikhail Baryshnikov.
Jacques D’Amboise, an original Jewels dancer, played the carnival barker in the film version of Carousel. He also founded the National Dance Institute to educate children in schools about dance. See link: http://www.nationaldance.org/
Edward Viella continued after his dance career by creating the Miami City Ballet. His web site is linked here as well. http://www.villelladance.org/edward-villella/
Violette Verdy – A ballerina who worked in France and the U.S, and currently teaches in Indiana. See her entry on Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Violette_Verdy
Other Trivia and Info
1) A fourth ballet, Sapphires was discussed by Balanchine, but never created.
2) Merrill Ashley was a repetiteur for the Bolshoi for this production, danced Jewels, herself, and was an NYCB dancer of note.
3) NY Times original review of the January 2014 film of Bolshoi’s Jewels
New York City Ballet website: https://www.nycballet.com/ballets/j/jewels.aspx
New York Times Review: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/21/arts/dance/bolshois-balanchine-from-stage-to-screen.html?_r=0
Photo – Emeralds
By Mauro Cateb (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo – Rubies
By Mauro Cateb (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo – Diamonds
By Mario Sarto (Self-photographed) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons
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