Happy International Dance Day: A Celebration that Everyone CAN Dance (Part 2)

In yesterday’s post, I featured a few disabled dancers who have shown the resilience of the human spirit. Today, I want to feature a few more courageous souls who inspire me beyond imagination.

Adrianne Haslet-Davis, a 33-year-old ballroom dancer, lost part of her left leg during the tragic bombing of the Boston Marathon in 2013. But after having visited her in the hospital, MIT professor Hugh Herr decided to build her a high-tech prosthetic leg, known as a bionic limb, to allow her to dance again. Around the first anniversary of the bombing, Haslet-Davis went on stage again and performed a dance with Christian Lightner at the 2014 TED Conference in Vancouver. Read more about the story here, or watch the entire TED Talk by Prof. Herr, which climaxed at the end with the highly emotionally charged performance by Haslet-Davis and her partner, here. Below is a short clip with some snapshots of the dancer’s performance:

These days, Noah Galloway has become America’s household name and superhero for his amazing performances of chacha, samba and more on the TV series “Dancing with the Stars.” This Alabama Army veteran lost part of his two left limbs during a 2005 bomb blast in Iraq. He did not only survive but thrived after getting a bionic prosthetic leg. In the past 10 years he trained himself in all kinds of athletic activities—running marathons, climbing mountains, conquering obstacle courses and even parachuting from airplanes. Now he has even picked up latin dance with the help of his partner Sharna Burgess. Watch one of his performances below and stay on to hear the judges’ touching comments too!

 

In China, there is a dancing couple who do not have the help of high-tech prosthetic limbs but they dance beautifully nonetheless. They were the first disabled dancers I ever saw performing in a professional manner. Their stories are both tragic and inspirational. Ma Li was trained as a professional dancer and joined an art troupe when she turned 18, but later on she lost her whole arm in a car accident. Having danced almost her whole life, she couldn’t imagine how she could carry on living. But with the help of her mother as well as a program for disabled people that encouraged her to get back into dance, she rebuilt her life and started training and performing on stage. As for her partner, Zhai Xiaowei, he lost his left leg at the age of four while playing and then falling from on a heavy truck. He trained as a paraplegic cyclist but one fateful day he met Ma Li in the rehabilitation center. She introduced him to the world of dance and invited him to learn dancing from her. Eventually he gave up cycling and took up dance with her. The rest is, as they say, history. Since then, they have been dancing on stage and in TV shows, wowing the audience in China (Today, they are married with a child). Here is a video showing their award-winning dance, “Holding Hands”:

Simona Atzori is an Italian visual artist and dancer born without arms. Thanks to the strong support of her mother and her own determination, she started painting at the age of 4 and dancing at the age of 6—against all odds. Later on, she even pursued a university education in visual arts in Canada, combining her passion for both painting and dance. She has been exhibiting her paintings around the world and performing dance on stage. I am so impressed by the expressiveness of her legs and feet, as well as the strength of her core! In the following video,  you can watch her perform at the Paralympic Games in Turin:

I would like to wrap this post up with the same closing remark I made yesterday in case you have not read that post.

These dancers are so inspiring because they are not born with the “right” body or have the “right” conditions. They are great despite lacking those.

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Happy International Dance Day: A Celebration that Everyone CAN Dance (Part 1)

Today is the International Dance Day, which was inaugurated in 1982 by the International Dance Theatre (ITI)’s Dance Committee to be celebrated every year on the April 29, the anniversary of Jean-Georges Noverre (1727-1810), the creator of modern ballet. Each year a message from an outstanding choreographer or dancer is circulated throughout the world. The intention of the “International Dance Day Message” is to celebrate Dance, to revel in the universality of this art form, to cross all political, cultural and ethnic barriers and bring people together with a common language: dance. This year, the message comes from Spanish choreographer and dancer Israel Galván. You can read the message by going to the following website:
http://www.international-dance-day.org/en

I really like this all-embracing idea of celebrating dance regardless of the dance form and who the dancers are. This year, I would like take this opportunity to present a few extremely inspiring dancers and the messages they share with the world.

Luca “Lazylegz” Patuelli, who creates powerful dances with his crutches, says: “No matter what age, race, sex or ability one may have, everyone can dance. Dance is within all of us. Some choose to share it with others and some choose to keep it to themselves. Life is a dance whether we know it or not. We are constantly dancing with every movement we make, with every breath we take, and with every beat our hearts make, a rhythm is being created. It’s the slightest movements that make the greatest difference in a performance, just like in life it’s the little things that matter. Dance is the connection between you and the universe while we are dancing we are developing ourselves based on the energy, the emotions, and the challenges we experience. It is up to us to determine how we want to communicate our dance to the world. Dance is the ultimate form of self-expression and it is the escape that always reminds us that everything is going to be ok. Dance challenges us to surpass our limitations by discovering strength within. So, live your life to the fullest and dance beautifully!”

Alissa Sizemore, an eight-year-old American girl, lost her calf in an horrible traffic accident last year. A car drove over her and she lost her entire right calf. Despite the tragedy, Sizemore, who started learning dance at the age of four, picked herself up courageously and started taking ballet lessons again after she got her prosthetic. “I don’t want to give up!” she said. “I just want to dance!” Within a year, she is on the stage performing, and her mother is sharing what this brilliant little star can do with the whole world through videos she posts on YouTube. So inspiring! She made me tear up!

Another story that inspires tears is that of the Latkovski sisters. The younger sister, Gracie, has cerebral palsy and cystic fibrosis and is wheelchair bound, but she does not let that stop her from dancing. She started to take dance lessons since she was three and loves it. Her elder sister Gracie has choreographed a special dance, “Reflections,” to perform with Quincy on the WHAS Crusade for Children telethon. The choreography is ingenious, considering how young even the elder sister is. Absolutely touching video. Get yourself a tissue before watching!

Lastly, I would like to share with you a video showing a group of deaf dancers. Although they can’t hear the music, they can feel the rhythm in their breastbones. One of the dancers, Tashina, has been dancing since she was 3 years old. She has some words of encouragement for anyone who aspires to be a dancer: “It feels like a different world, one that I can shape myself and let go of everything I am going through and just leave them on the dance floor. I just feel so free. Don’t give up. You are going to experience a lot of frustration, and trials and tribulations. You just have to take one day at a time, and it’s going to add to your life experience. Just don’t give up. Once you set those goals you will be able to accomplish them. As long as you keep chasing them.”


These dancers are so inspiring because they are not born with the “right” body or have the “right” conditions. They are great despite lacking those.

Click  here to read Part 2.

Baby Ballet Steps… Again

Collage_Self-Practice Today marks the 1st anniversary of my major abdominal surgery. I am back to Square One in ballet. Scar tissues are hindering my movements in the hips and back. It is sometimes disheartening to be unable to lift the legs as high as I used to in the past or to hold a certain position. All I can do is to take baby steps… do baby ballet on my own. It has not been easy. My job responsibilities have increased over the past year, and since my workplace and home are far away from all the ballet studios, I didn’t go to class after work. It was too tiresome, and I didn’t want to stretch my health. So I took it easy. I also started to develop my small online business, which has kept me super busy. The only day I can go to class is Saturday. The class is a one-hour class, too short by the conventional standard. But coming back to the routine, that was just right for me. I do miss the days when I used to take at least three classes a week, as well as those crazy days leading up to the dance competition in 2013, when I practiced every evening after work and then some. But I also remember the adrenaline hikes and how exhausted I would feel. Perhaps it wrecked my health in a way that I do not totally fathom. In any case, I’m taking baby steps to go back into ballet. On sunny days I like to spend my lunch time running barefoot on the grass. And when it’s cloudy or rainy, I would find an empty room in the building where I work, and practice the barre. Most of the time, I feel like this: Chubby Ballerina

Alexei Ratmansky in Hong Kong

Alexei Ratmansky in Hong Kong

This March marked a sumptuous Russian ballet feast in our city as not only were we graced with the presence of the Bolshoi Ballet at the Hong Kong Arts Festival (which I hope to write a blog about soon), but we were also lucky enough to have the world-renowned choreographer Alexei Ratmansky, who is one of the most accomplished and probably the most prolific of all ballet choreographers of our time.

Ratmansky was rehearsing with dancers of The Hong Kong Ballet for two weeks in March on the one-act ballet he choreographed, “Le Carnival des Animaux,” with music by French Romantic composer Camille Saint-Saëns.

I was so excited when The Hong Kong Ballet announced a Meet-the-Artist session with Ratmansky. I have watched a few of his ballets both live, and on the big and small screens. I have always admired his talent in creating movements that flow so well with the most intricate music, sometimes even saving a piece of “boring” music (sorry, just my subjective opinion) through the mesmerizing quality of his dance steps.

The host of the evening was Joseph Morrissey, Director of Artistic Planning & Touring of The Hong Kong Ballet. I was impressed by his confidence and the depth of knowledge he has, coming up with well-researched questions for Ratmansky. We got a chance to see a rare video of the choreographer as a young principal dancer in Ukranian National Ballet. He danced as James in La Sylphide, and as he watched this old footage, he was smiling with a slight shake of his head, commenting on how the tempo was all “wrong.” It was how the Soviet school interpreted Bournonville, and being behind the Iron Curtain, the dancers didn’t know any better.

But he soon learned Bournonville in its authenticity when he joined the Royal Danish Ballet after he spent some years at Royal Winnipeg Ballet in Canada—the first stop in his migration to the West.

Ratmansky has a very down-to-earth and humble style—never for one second did he project an arrogant air, which one may expect from someone of his fame. For me, it was tremendously satisfying to see and listen to this choreographic genius talk about his eventful and rich life journey, and the progression of his prolific career.

I was especially intrigued by his story about how he lost the chance to choreograph the “Nutcracker” for the Mariinsky Theater Ballet, only to have found a chance to do so at the Royal Danish Ballet where he was a principal dancer (see related article below). It was also very interesting to hear that he had lived in Copenhagen for five years (just across the border when I lived for five years) before finally deciding to give up the “good life” and work for the Bolshoi. It was not an easy decision for him, as he and his wife had settled well in this Nordic country, their son being born there and even mastered Danish. But Ratmansky took the leap across the pond again, started working earnestly on choreographing new works and eventually became the Artistic Director of the Bolshoi for five years. Under his leadership, the company introduced a great number of new ballets and became a dynamic player in the world of ballet once again.

Later on, in 2009, Ratmansky joined the American Ballet Theater as an artist in residence. He told the audience how leaving the Bolshoi and joining the ABT gave him the biggest creative liberty in his career. Without having to spend half of his time working with the administrative aspects of a huge ballet company, where intrigues and complaints were inevitable, he was now free to focus on creating new works. Since then, he has been having a hell of a good time while working almost non-stop, with companies from all over the United States and around the world approaching him to commission new works.

Even on his breaks, he works hard on reconstructing Petipa and Ivanov’s classical ballets from the archive of Stepanov dance notation scores at Harvard University. The recently staged “Sleeping Beauty” of the ABT was a result of his painstaking work, done together with his wife Tatiana, who was a former ballerina at the same three ballet companies where Alexei danced. The couple would be studying the Stepanov scores, deciphering the lost language of this specific branch of dance notation, figuring out the inconsistencies and omissions… it is truly a labor of love in progress.

Ratmansky revealed that many of the steps prescribed by Petipa were a far cry from what we are seeing today. For example, he meant for the arabesque to be at a modest elevation, not higher than 90 degrees, which is the opposite of today’s penchant for extremely high elevation. He explained that when Petipa designed the steps, all of them were meant to create a certain artistic unity, which, unfortunately, has been destroyed in today’s renditions of his works through the extreme athleticism and the extra show-off steps that went way beyond what the original musical scores would allow. This is the reason why he has started to reconstruct the Petipa classics like the recent one he did for the ABT. He has a desire to continue this endeavor, which means a great many surprises and feasts for us balletomanes in the years  to come.

On a personal note, Ratmansky told us that he has not had so much time to spend with his son over the years, but whenever they had a chance to spend a holiday together, the time was enjoyably and intensely spent. His 17-year-old son was with him and his wife in Hong Kong and loved what this exotic city had to offer.

Ratmansky was joined by Madeleine Onne, the Artistic Director of The Hong Kong Ballet, after the Q&A session. They reminisced on how they met in Stockholm a long time ago and how life has brought them back together again on the current collaboration. Unfortunately, the session did not allow time for the audience members to ask questions. If I had a chance, I would ask him: How do you choose music for your ballets? In a way, he addressed the issue earlier on by expressing his love for music with depth and a certain darkness, best exemplified by the music of his favorite composer, Dmitri Shostakovich.

On social media, dancers of The Hong Kong Ballet have expressed how wonderful it was to work with Ratmansky.

In the second half of the evening, we were fortunate to see Ratmansky coach a group of dancers in an on-stage rehearsal of Le Carnival des Animaux. It was an eye-opener. Here is an excerpt of the rehearsal. Enjoy!

Related article:

Alexei Ratmansky and the New Nutcracker

Related videos:

Behind the Scenes: Alexei Ratmansky

Richard Hudson on ABT’s The Sleeping Beauty