Bohemian Rhapsody: The Best of Pop Ballet Video Yet?

On the heels of the successful dance video “Take Me To Church” performed by the “bad boy of ballet” Sergei Polunin, another ballet video featuring pop music has just been released. This time, the music is Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and the dancers are English National Ballet’s Lead Principal Erina Takahashi and First Soloist James Forbat. The Huff Post raves about it, but I am a bit reserved about the “incredibleness” of the dancing. Here is why:

This pop rock song has a unique style created by Freddie Mercury and, honestly, he alone commanded such a stage presence and emotional impact that no one else can replace. So it is a tall order for anyone to even attempt to reinterpret his song with an impact that would equal his own.

According to the author of the Huff Post article, the ENB dancers did an incredible job in a similar vein as Polunin’s video. Well, perhaps the only similarity is in using a pop song, but that’s it. Emotionally, the two dancers don’t give the impression that they dance in total abandonment, which is what the nature of this powerful song calls for. They are holding back, again and again. Some parts of the choreography is “OK” kind of nice, but it was not stunning overall, and most parts aren’t even interesting.

The “mock opera” part of the song, like a scherzo, requires faster and perhaps some “comical” or “teasing” movements that are distinctly different from the rest of the piece. But I didn’t see any attempts in doing that. In fact, the movements just don’t seem to match the music, let alone the lyrics. And instead of bringing the dance to a sort of energetic climax in the third–rock–part of the song, the dance just sort of fell flat. Overall, it is as if the dance was randomly schlepped over the music. It doesn’t do the song any justice. Personally, I would like to have seen more raw power and a rebellious streak, which would’ve made the ballet a lot more interesting.

What do you think? Let me know.

Now let’s enjoy Queen’s performance instead 😉 :

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.

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.

My Dad is Baryshnikov

Well, not really. That’s just the title of a Russian movie about a boy who is studying ballet in the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow.

“Moy papa Baryshnikov” (2011), directed and written by Dmitry Povolotsky, is perhaps not too widely circulated outside of Russia and outside of the ballet circle. But for those of us balletomanes, this film is quite a gem. I enjoyed it not only for the ballet-oriented subject matter but also the clever treatment of the topic of a teenager’s coming of age and of the modern Soviet history of Perestroika.

The boy, Borya Fishkin, is played by Dmitry Vyskubenko (currently 16 years old), who in real life does study at the Bolshoi and is doing quite well—unlike in the film, where he plays an utterly clumsy and undisciplined ballet student who is always at the brink of being kicked out of the school.

In the beginning of the movie, Borya can hardly execute any proper positions and steps at all, and was constantly scolded by the teacher. The other classmates look down on him, except for one red-haired girl who seems to care about him. But his eyes are on the most beautiful and talented girl in the class.

While Borya is deeply in love with ballet, he is also very enthusiastic about all things from the West. Having some shady friends on his side, he regularly engages in black-market trading activities—selling Soviet souvenirs to American tourists at the Red Square in exchange for the American dollar, a banana or a pair of Levi’s jeans.

One day, his mother gives him an “illegal” tape containing footage of Mikhail Baryshnikov dancing on stage in America. Borya is spellbound. “He is God!” he proclaims. By coincidence, his friend sees that tape and comments very lightheartedly that Borya looks like Baryshnikov. This gives him the idea that Baryshnikov could be his father. His defection to the West must have been the reason why Borya ends up without a father! Bingo!

This “realization” changes Borya’s entire outlook. He starts to practice turning and bowing by watching the video tape over and over again. At school, his pirouette skills impresses the teacher and the classmates. He has suddenly become the center of gossips. Is he really the son of Baryshnikov?

The intrigue deepens while many opportunities open up to Borya, including the beautiful girl’s attention for him and a chance for him to take the lead role in an important school performance.

However, the story takes another turn from then on. I probably should not spoil the ending.

The actor who plays Borya is very convincing. Not only does he play a likable character, the feigned clumsiness in dancing must have been quite a feat for a serious dance student. All the skills must be unlearned and ugliness shown instead.

I also enjoyed seeing the portrayal of the Soviet society at the cusp of the breakdown of Socialism. I compare that to China under the Mao era, of which my parents have told many stories. It seems that there were still many more “luxuries” in the Soviet Union than in China, despite the prevalent lack of material comfort. What was common between the two societies was the rarity of meat and the need to line up for a long time in front of a shop for simple grocery items.

As for the coming-of-age theme, I really like the moment of epiphany when Borya “realizes” his status as the son of an international superstar, someone who is utterly different—which is what he strives for in a society where sameness is encouraged and individuality suppressed.

Because of the change in his belief system, his self-esteem suddenly goes through the roof and his performance shoots up miraculously! Of course, it is an exaggeration, a literary device in a fictional work. Still, isn’t true that when we climb out of the boundaries of the box we put ourselves in and believe in something larger, higher and more fabulous, “miracles” can indeed happen? And this doesn’t just apply to dancing. It applies to every area of our lives. It’s about living our fullest potential.

If it helps, find a role model, an archetype or a hero with whom you identify.

Feel the power of your own potential.

Allow the miracle in your life to unfold.

A recent video of Dmitry Vyskubenko practicing a variation in Don Quixote.

Related links:

The movie with Chinese subtitle available here.

What is the Mikhail Baryshnikov doing these days? Check out this video:
Citizen of Humanity

Nuts about Nutcracker

Come December, ballet dancers and spectators alike are all nuts about the Nutcracker. There are so many versions of the ballet. Which one(s) have you seen and do you prefer?

I have only seen the ballet once in a live performance by the New York City Ballet. At that time I hadn’t become a balletomane or a ballet student yet, so my memory is faint and I can’t really say much more than just being mesmerized for a moment by the snow flakes floating down on the stage!

It wasn’t until much later did I realize that what I saw was the version created by Balanchine in 1954, which popularized the ballet and established it as an annual Christmas tradition—a tradition that has since been used by ballet companies all over the world as—eh um—a “cash cow.” The very first performance of The Nutcracker was staged at the Mariinsky Theater in 1892 (see modern staging by Mariinsky above), but it wasn’t an instant success. It only became popular after American ballet companies staged it, the very first being the San Francisco Opera Ballet, in 1944. Balanchine changed a few characters and made it a highly popular ballet ever since.

Recently I have finished reading the biography of Rudolph Nureyev by Julie Kavanagh, in which Nureyev’s work on the Nutcrackers is detailed. I’m glad to have come across an article on Culture Kiosque that reviews different versions of the Nutcracker, with the verdict that Nureyev’s version is the best. It would not be hard to see that Nureyev has made the Prince an exceptionally interesting character to watch. His dancing rivals that of the female lead role. In fact, it was his idea to turn around Marius Petipa’s original choreography so that the male dancer would no longer play the “porter” role. I think he had succeeded big time!

Below you can see the footage of Nureyev himself dancing the pas de deux with Royal Ballet dancer Merle Park in the 1968 production, which he staged with the Royal Swedish Ballet:

And here you can see a modern version of Nureyev’s choreography performed by the Paris Opera Ballet:

Ballet and Jeans

Still remember those days when you found yourself struggling to get your jeans up your hips? Well, those days are over! Check out the Levi’s jeans commercial featuring a pair of Korean dancers above. I never imagined that one could dance ballet in jeans, let alone that beautifully. Of course, the epitome of stretchy jeans can be found in the well-known UNIQLO commercial featuring the revered ballerina Polina Semionova:

And I’m pretty sure you balletomanes out there would remember the jeans commercial that Tan Yuan Yuan did for GAP.

Tan Yuan Yuan GAP Commercial

So far I have only tried the UNIQLO  jeans and I have to say they are truly stretchy, comfy and flattering, just as Polina attested in this video. But whether I can do the same leg-lifting feat that she did is a whole other matter!

Special-effect Ballet


Lost in Motion II: An amazing ballet video incorporating computerized special effects. Usually I’m not a big fan of special effects in anything, but I’m sold on this one coz it’s so seamlessly executed and fits the “story line” very well, not to mention the stunning red dress! 

Below is a behind-the-scene account of how this video was made. Enjoy!