A Celebration of Older Dancers

Obscure Temptations, one of Jiri Kylián’s creations for NDTIII  

World-renown Czechoslovak-born dance choreographer Jiri Kylián will be celebrating his artistic creation for dancers over 40 during the Kylián Festival at the brand-new Korzo Theatre under the theme “All Ages Dance.” The festival runs from May 22 to 31, 2014.

The company, Nederlands Dans Theater III, was founded by Kylián in the early 1990s to incorporate dancers over 40—who are typically considered past their “prime.” Going against the grain, Kylián believes that we should all be able to dance “from the womb to the tomb”:

Through my long-time experience as a dancer, choreographer and artistic director, and through my encounters with East Asian cultures and the Australian aboriginal people, I have learned that we possess the ability to dance throughout our entire life and that it should be treasured and respected – Yes, we are able to dance “From the womb to the tomb”….!

What a refreshing and heart-warming message for older dancers like me, even though I am just an amateur.

Despite this encouraging development in the professional dance community, it still irks me that there are no over-40 professional dance company that showcases classical ballet—in a way that does not highlight the virtuosity of technique and great extension but emphasizes the grace and musicality of movements that are suitable for the dancer’s age and physical ability. Sure, there are individual ballet dancers who continue to dance professionally after 40. But is there a professional classical ballet company with dancers over 40 exclusively? Please enlighten me if there is!

Perhaps it is a laughable idea. The demand of classical ballet requires so much of dancers that one of the main reasons dancers retire after 40+ is that their bodies can no longer take it anymore. But what if choreographers adapt their works to suit older dancers? It’s not a matter of watering down movements, but showcasing what the dancers can express by whatever physical facility they have?

Choreographers may consider emulating what Sir Frederick Ashton had done for Margot Fonteyn toward the end of her career. He created the ballet Salut d’Amour for her to perform on her 60th birthday. It would be unfair to judge her dancing with the same kind of technique and extension expected of a 20-year-old. Yet, look at her! How expressive! What grace! What beauty!

Related articles:

Jiri Kylián on All Ages Dance

Jiri Kylian Starts a Company for Dancers Young at Heart

Here is the Kylián Festival program

Advertisements

Giselle… Love’s Eternal Tragedy

Giselle

Two nights ago I attended a performance of Giselle at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. It was part of the 42nd Hong Kong Arts Festival. The touring company was Milan’s La Scala Theatre Ballet and the leading roles were danced by Svetlana Zakharova and David Hallberg, two of the world’s top dancers today.

Act I was delightful in the beginning and absolutely captivating at the end thanks to the marvelous performance of Zakharova and Hallberg, but the peasant dances made me yawn and wish I had a remote control to fast forward to where the two stars would appear again!

While Zakharova’s slim, tall and bony physique and generally cool facial expressions may not lend herself to be that perfect sweet peasant girl, I was quite satisfied about her role-play. She did manage to convince me of being an innocent, happy-go-lucky girl who experienced love for the first time. Her super archy feet are very expressive. Her pale and frail body was actually ideal for highlighting the part of the story line where she fell ill from her heart condition after exhausting herself from dancing.

It was the mad scene that made me cry. Tears welled up so much that my vision was blurred. When Giselle lost her mind, it brought forth a universal theme of love’s betrayal, something that so many of us have experienced or witnessed. Zakharova’s acting in this scene was superb. I like how her feet—not just her face—so sensitively expressed her melancholy. She did not go into full-scale hysteria when interpreting this scene, like in some other versions I have seen. Her descend into death was a gradual loss of senses and increase of agony. This was what made her emotions so real, and what provoked that heart-wrenching cry from me.

Hallberg was beautiful and charming as he always is–his physical appearance just perfect for the role of the nobility Albrecht. His performance was impeccable.

The role of Giselle’s mother was rather weak, compared with the ABT (recorded) version I have seen, in which she played more of a controlling matriarch, chastising Giselle and trying all she could—with physical rigor—to separate the young couple who had just fallen in love.

The soloists and corps de ballet from La Scala gave a very disappointing performance. Their jumps were heavy and extension quite poor. Luckily in the first act they were peasants, so despite the poor techniques, it did not feel so jarring. It was in the second act that these flaws really showed. As willies, or ghosts of the forest, their pointe shoes were noisy, their landings were heavy, the port de bras not so graceful, and their formation dances sometimes felt like zombie dances. As a friend of mine said, the company had chosen its supplemental corps on this tour, probably because it did not take Hong Kong seriously. While Nicoletta Manni, who played Myrtha, Queen of the Willis, generally danced beautifully and did not make too many faults in her performance, a good number of her jumps just felt like big thumps on the floor. Her face was not stern enough as the evil queen of the ghosts, and I feel that a taller dancer would be more suitable for this role.

Svetlana Zakharova as Giselle

By contrast, the two stars’ performance in Act 2 was the highlight of the night. I “ate up” every movement, every phrase, every gesture and facial expression, at times hard, as my vision was blurred again by my tears. Zakharova was perfect for the role as a ghost thanks to her physique and her melancholic facial expressions. Hallberg’s expression of remorse and his powerful yet graceful jumps were a delight to watch. I feel a lot of stage chemistry between them in this act. The archetypal ideal of love that transcends all human faults, including betrayal and jealousy, was so vividly portrayed. It was all very emotionally touching, and utterly devastating that the two lovers could not consummate their love due to the circumstances in “real life.” This is the eternal tragedy of love, a recurring theme in countless artistic and literary works. It makes me question: Are we condemned in this human condition forever and ever?

Perhaps that “living-happily-ever-after” ending of fairy tales are just what it is–fairy tales. That eternal longing for unattainable love is perhaps what makes love as a concept so romantic and tragic at the same time.

A Night with ABT

David Koch Theater

Every time I visit New York, my dance experience is enriched. I am totally amazed at the quality of the ballet audience there. Most recently (November 2013) I went to see an ABT performance right after I landed. I was seated next to a long-time balletomane. We quickly strike off a pleasant and animated conversation. Well, she took sympathy for me for having to switch seats with my friends because the petite lady in front of me brought a thick cushion to sit on, thus blocking my view entirely even though I paid a high price for the second row seat.

Our conversation swiftly turned to something more pleasant though, from compliments for the guest artist who just performed, Guillaume Côté, to how we both prefer the ABT to New York City Ballet, to how amused she was about my craziness of watching a performance right after landing from Hong Kong. I told her that I had read in Rudolph Nureyev’s biography of how he used to plunge into watching ballet performances after having flown long distances in order to absorb and learn new works. “I am inspired!” I told her.

She even spotted Allegra Kent, a former Balanchine dancer known for her ethereal quality, standing in the aisle chatting with friends. See the picture above where I have made a pink circle? That’s Kent! She is very petite, has frizzy red hair and was wearing a pair of spectacles. I would not have spotted her if my neighbor had not pointed at her direction. Apparently, current and ex-dancers make regular appearances at the David Koch Theater and Metropolitan Opera House. Such a regular occurrence is, to me, an eye opener as well as an eye candy.