Restless Creature: A Review of the Documentary and Q&A with Wendy Whelan

"Restless Creature," a documentary about Wendy Whelan, former NYCB Principal Dancer - Balletomanehk.com

This past Saturday, I went to see a documentary about former New York City Ballet Principal Dancer Wendy Whelan, the acclaimed ballerina known for being the greatest American ballet dancer of our time. I remember seeing her perform in “Dances … Continue reading

Q&A with ABT Principal Dancer Alban Lendorf

Alban_Lendorf, Principal Dancer of ABT - Balletomanehk.com

Two days ago I had a fun evening with fellow ballet lover Jia to see the wonderful American Ballet Theater Principal Dancer Alban Lendorf in a Q&A session. It was quite enlightening as he explained to the audience how the Bournonville … Continue reading

My Connection to Margot Fonteyn

My headline may have you fooled into thinking that I have any sort of personal relationship with Margot Fonteyn. Well, in that case I have succeeded 😉

To say that I have a connection with her is actually not that far-fetched, even though such a connection is not personal.

What ties me to this prima ballerina absoluta, who still is very much alive in many balletomanes’ hearts, are two vintage items that I have collected.

The first can be considered my favorite piece of ballet memorabilia in my meager collection: An autographed copy of “The Magic of Dance,” written by Fonteyn herself.

The Magic of Dance by Margot Fonteyn - © www.balletomanehk.com

I acquired this book a few years ago from someone who apparently did not know who Fonteyn is, and was thus selling the book on eBay at an extremely reasonable price. I was pleasantly surprised to find the ballerina’s autograph in the book as well as a pamphlet for a luncheon held in London to mark the publication of this book. Whenever I look at her autograph and touch the title page, a special kind of awe springs from deep inside me. Unfortunately, the pamphlet has been lost during a recent move. Luckily I have scanned the cover. I remember the inside spread shows the rest of the guest list as well as a seating plan.

The Magic of Dance Luncheon Pamphlet - © www.balletomanehk.com
In the book, there are a few lovely pictures of the dancer herself, including one taken inside the Drottningholm Theatre in Stockholm (which I had the great opportunity to visit one time), one in Shanghai and one in Athens. She wrote about dance history and all forms of dances in the book, not just ballet. Not surprisingly, one can find quite a lot of photos of her dance partner Rudolph Nureyev. This book has a special place on my bookshelf and in my heart.

The other item I want to share with you is a vintage ballet postcard showing Margot Fonteyn as Aurora in Sleeping Beauty, Act I. On the back of the postcard, a beautifully handwritten message says: “June 16, 1953 Covent Garden, ‘Sylvia’ Sadlers Wells Ballet. Margot Fonteyn – Sylvia, Michael Somes – Aminta. Beautiful setting and decor. Superlative dancing by both of the “stars” – also, by John Hart (Orion) and Alexander Grant (Eros). The group dancing was also near perfection.”

There is something magical in reading someone’s handwritten note that summarizes a ballet performance in such earnestness, albeit in great brevity. The magic lies in the nostalgia of a bygone era. Today, most people would not take the time to do this sort of thing. A selfie inside the theater, a short status update on Facebook or a review on a blog are the most common ways to record our experience at the dance theater. But a handwritten note on a postcard? This just feels so much more tactile, more real. Not a bad idea to revive this practice, eh?

Margot Fonteyn in Sleeping Beauty, 1953 - www.balletomanehk.com

Today, it is not difficult to find tons of digital images of ballet stars past and present. But owning a postcard like this helps to shorten the distance between me and the dancer. This postcard is framed and sitting on my desk, and Margot Fonteyn continues to inspire me with her beauty, grace, elegance and strength.

What are your favorite ballet memorabilia? I would love to hear from you.

Related article:

Margot Fonteyn Autobiography

Congrats, Misty!

Photo by New York Dance Project

 

Congratulations to Misty Copeland, for having been promoted to Principal Dancer at the American Ballet Theatre a few days after she debuted her role as Odette/Odile in Swan Lake at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House. She is the very first African-American ballerina who has ever been promoted to the rank of Principal Dancer in ABT’s 75 years of history. A true historical landmark.

Besides her unique style of gracefulness and technical prowess, I really like her strength and her athleticism—qualities that the stereotypical ballerina does not and should not possess. Some critics have pointed at her muscular limps and disqualified her as a pure classical ballerina based on that! Others have argued that her artistry is not at a level where a principal dancer should be. Not having seen her perform live, I am not in the position to judge the quality of her presence and artistry. But summarizing the dance reviews I have seen so far and the videos of her dancing, I have no doubt she has great potential to hone this vital aspect and grow into her principal role. To me, a dancer’s evolution is even more interesting to watch than a “finished product” that is perfect and has no room to improve.

What truly excites me and thousands and thousands of audience members worldwide, is that she has opened a new window to who the modern ballerina CAN be. The possibilities are limitless. By far, the strength of Misty’s mind is her greatest asset, and she has become a true inspiration for so many people, especially aspiring dancers of color. Yes, her promotion is a complicated story and has generated innumerable controversies on whether she deserves the principal role just because she is a great black dancer, and whether or not ABT should be more inclusive in its dancer profile.

To me, it is too difficult to separate the underlying politics from the artist. But why should we? It is a healthy debate. Misty’s vocal and proactive stance on the need to make ballet more inclusive has created wonders. She is bringing in a whole new group of audience who would otherwise not have become interested in ballet at all. And needless to say, she has inspired countless little brown girls to explore and advance in the art form. Just that itself is no small feat.

Bravo, bravo, Misty!

Related articles:

Book Review: ‘Life in Motion’ by Misty Copeland

Misty Copeland Is Promoted to Principal Dancer at American Ballet Theater (The New York Times)

Misty Copeland’s success shows ballet leaping in the right direction (The Guardian)

Geeking Out With Misty Copeland’s First Ballet Teacher On The Bigness Of Today (Huffington Post)

Misty Copeland, New York Dance Project

Oprah Winfrey’s Supersoul Original Short on Misty Copeland

Book Review: ‘Life in Motion’ by Misty Copeland

A-Life-in-Motion

The first and only black soloist to ever grace the stage in the American Ballet Theater’s history has come out with her mid-career autobiography, “Life in Motion: an Unlikely Ballerina.” I pre-ordered it just in time to arrive before my surgery last month and gobbled it up quickly as I lied in my hospital bed, recuperating. It turned out to be a wonderful choice–a fantastically written account of the stormy childhood that Copeland experienced, moving from one stepfather to another, from motel to motel, having hardly enough to eat, and finally stumbling into a ballet class at the age of 13 without really knowing what ballet was all about.

As fate had it, Copeland found herself plunged into the magical world of classical ballet. To her surprise, she was told that she had the natural physique and talent for this “foreign” art form. Within three weeks of training she was en pointe–and doing it well; and within a few short years she started dancing professionally for ABT, her dream company. The road from there on was not all smooth and glittery. Quite the contrary. Reading her struggles was heart-wrenching, to say the least. At the same time it gave me a great sense of encouragement. My struggles could hardly match hers, although it would be unfair to have any kind of comparison as I am not in the professional ballet world–only an amateur adult student. Still, having just had a major surgery, not knowing when my body would be back in shape again to step into the ballet studio, her perseverance through one hardship after another gave me tremendous inspiration.

In the book she has written in great length what it takes to be a true ballerina. Here is one of my favorite passages:

“It takes so many things to be a great ballerina: talent, strength, the ability to pick up choreography and then turn on an inner light when you perform. Having the right combination is the difference between being an artist who can capture the nuances of light in a watercolor and one who paints by number. I don’t think that most people realize that.”

Most of us ballet students and dancers have a rough idea of what it takes to become a professional dancer. However, I think few of us have any real idea of how much harder it is to be black in this predominantly white world of classical ballet. I thought I knew–until I read this book. Nothing prepared me for the kind of hardship Copeland had gone through.

I will leave you the reader to find out the details from her book. But let me just finish off this review with another passage that I like:

“I rarely get angry when I think about my childhood, wishing for what we could have been if we’d had more of a nurturing home environment. It made us all strong fighters, primed to push through the toughest of struggles. But I do get frustrated with people who experienced relatively ideal lives and yet don’t appreciate what they’ve had. Performing with ABT, I have sometimes overheard my dance mates complaining about going to the same vacation spot with their families, going on and on about how they’d rather be sunbathing than rehearsing, or how bad we have it at ABT versus City Ballet, or some other inconsequential thing. I would think about all that I had been through, what I had to navigate and overcome to stand on the stage at the Metropolitan Opera. What are these people fussing about?

Even though I do not relate to her particular experience as a professional dancer, I do relate to her feeling of appreciation of having become a stronger person through pushing through a lot of tough struggles. It is here where I find the greatest resonance.

Related articles:

Video:

Conversations with Adult Ballet Students #5: Angel Chau

This is the fifth in the series of Conversations with Adult Ballet Students. Leave me a message if you would like to be profiled in a future edition.

這是《與成人芭蕾舞學生的對話》系列的第五章。如果你有興趣與我的讀者分享你的心聲和經歷,請給我留言。

Meet Angel Chau, who works with equity sales in a brokerage house in Hong Kong and finds her dream in the ballet studio, which she dubs her “wonderland.”

這次爲大家介绍的成人芭蕾舞學生是周文英,她在香港一家証卷行從市股票銷售的工作,工餘時常在她稱爲“樂園”的芭蕾舞室裏尋夢。

Angel-Chau_Photo

Q: Did you ever take ballet lessons as a kid? When was that?

A: I took my first ballet class when I was around 4 or 5. I was so young that I don’t remember the details. All I can remember is that the music my teacher used for our dance came from the movie “An American Tail”—the title song of which is “Somewhere Out There.” When I was in junior high school, I joined a dance troupe called Crystal Western Folk Dance. Before we rehearsed our dances, we were given some basic ballet training. It was informal though. At that time, Winghong Wa became my first ballet teacher. He was in the first graduating class of the first ballet school in China. When I started my lessons with him, he was already over 50. In him, I see someone who is truly passionate about ballet, and this passion is not limited by age.

你小時曾經學過芭蕾舞嗎是幾歲的時候

答:四、五歲時學過。年紀太小甚麼也不記得,只記得當年課堂上老師排舞音樂是老鼠也移民的主題曲–Somewhere out there。後來是初中時加入旭穎西方舞團,排舞前會上一些芭蕾舞基訓,不過也不是正式的芭蕾舞課。當年的芭蕾舞啟蒙老師-華永康老師是中國第一間芭蕾舞蹈學校的第一批學生,他教我跳舞時也年過半百了。從他身上我看到一個真正熱愛芭蕾的人,絕對不受年紀性別限制。

Q: When did you start taking ballet class as an adult?

A: After university and having worked for two years, I suddenly realized that life was dry and boring—going to work day in and day out with the sole purpose of making money. So I decided to give myself the gift of dance as the birthday present for that year.

你成年後何時開始學芭蕾

答:大學畢業,出來工作兩年後,突然有一天想,每天這樣上班下班,每天錢錢錢錢,人生很枯燥。下定決心,學跳舞作為自己當年的生日禮物。

Q: What motivated you to study ballet?

A: I have always loved to dance since I was a little child. But I always have felt that ballet is the foundation of all dance styles. That’s why I chose the ballet studio to be my escape from the world of money—it’s my “wonderland.”

:學芭蕾的動機是甚麽?

答:因為從少到大也喜歡跳舞,而我一直覺得芭蕾舞是各種舞蹈的基礎,所以當年就選定了芭蕾舞室作為我暫時逃避金錢世界的wonderland.

Q: What do you find to be the biggest challenge or difficulty?

A: Time.  When it comes to good ballet technique and stamina, there is no shortcut. The muscle tone, each tiny movement of the hands and the feet, the grace—all of these must be built through continuous training, hour after hour, day after day.

Adults are often constrained by their work schedule. Sometimes they have to socialize for work purposes during afterhours or travel on business, so they can’t make it to class. Besides work, some of us need to spend time with our significant others or our family. Some classmates may have been going very strong in class until they get pregnant and need to spend a tremendous amount of time to take care of their children. They can’t afford the time to take class anymore.

:對你來講,成人芭蕾舞學生最大的挑戰是甚麽? 

答:時間。芭蕾舞的訓練是沒有捷徑的,你的體能是你一天連續上幾小時慢慢練出來的,你的技巧是一周上多少堂課,一個一個肌肉練出來的,你的舉手頭足,氣質,是日積月累浸出來的。

成年人工作繁忙,下班可能要應酬來不了上課,又或出差了上不了課,除了工作,還有其他角色,你的另一半你的家人需要你給他時間。有些同學,可能一直跳得很好,後來懷孕了,孩子出生後需要給孩子大量的時間,更沒時間上課。

Q: What does ballet bring to your life?

A: I have learned the importance of perseverance. I’m a typical Hong Konger, which means I want efficiency and cost effectiveness in everything. But when it comes to ballet, there are no short courses. To be able to dance well, you’ve got to put in a long period of training time. If you persevere, you will find yourself having improved after a few years.

Another thing I got from ballet is friendship. I have made friends who are younger than me, who share the same interest as me. We have gone through exams and stage performances together. All these years, my classmates are not only friends but my teachers as well.

:芭蕾爲你的人生帶來了些甚麽?

答:堅持—我是很典型的香港人,事事講求效率,快靚正,但芭蕾舞是沒有這樣的雞精課程的。要跳得好是要花上一段長時間的訓練,只有堅持,日復一日的練,幾年後你才會發現自己有進步。

友情—一堆比我年青的女生,一堆有共同興趣的朋友,一堆一起考試的戰友,一堆一起在舞台上發光發亮的追夢者,一堆這些年來教過我的良師益友。

Q: What is the greatest achievement in your ballet life so far?

A: Although I have performed countless times, I know that I still don’t dance very well, so I can’t really say I have any achievements. But, I’d get very emotional every time I have finished a performance after having worked hard with my teacher and classmates.

Last year, I took two coworkers who were absolute beginners to take class with me. Gradually, they started to fall under the spell of ballet’s magic. Having successfully promoted ballet is an achievement that I am very happy about.

:直至目前爲止,你的芭蕾生涯中最大的成就是甚麽?

答:雖然跳過無數大大小小的表演,不過自知自己跳得不是很好,實在無法認為是成就。

不過,當老師同學一起努力幾過月,最後完成表演後,每一次也很感動。

還有,去年,無意中帶了兩個從未學習芭蕾舞的同事去上課,然後她們慢慢迷上芭蕾,成功把芭蕾推廣也是叫我很開心的成就。

Q: What have you gained that was out of your expectation?

A: Ha ha ha, well, I don’t have to spend money on pedicure. In the summer, I would still wear sandals. If someone criticize on the look of my toe nails, I’d explain that this is what lies behind the beauty of ballet.

:有没有甚麽意想不到的收

答:哈哈哈!夏天不用花錢去做水晶腳甲。夏天,我仍會穿涼鞋的,如果有人批評我的腳甲不美,我會說這是芭蕾舞者美麗背後的辛酸。

Q: What have you lost?

A: What I have gained is far greater than what I have lost.

:有没有失去或犧牲了甚麽?

答:獲得的遠遠比失去的多。

Q: Is it all worth it?

A: Sure is!

:一切都值得嗎?

答:值得!!!!!

Q: What is your goal in ballet?

A: To stay healthy and dance until I die.

:談談你的芭蕾夢想或目標好嗎?

答:身體健康,能够跳一世芭蕾舞。

Q: You also have continued to perform folk dance as an adult. Having studied both folk dance and ballet, what similarities do you find between the two dance forms?

A: There are quite a lot of similarities. Take Italian folk dance as an example. A lot of its allegro steps are based on ballet.

:我知道你從小以來都一直有表演民族舞。可否講下民族舞和芭蕾舞之間有甚麽相似之處?

答:兩者是有不少相同之處的,例如意大利的民族舞,它的快板舞步有很多都是基於芭蕾舞的快板舞步的。

Q: How has folk dance enriched your life?

A: I have traveled with my dance troupe to Inner Mongolia for an international folk dance festival, where I met many different dance groups from different countries. Later on when dance festivals are hosted in those different countries, our troupe will be invited to attend too. Two years ago, I also participated in a folk dance festival in Slovakia and made many friends.

民族舞爲你帶來了甚麽驚喜嗎?

答:我曾經跟我的舞團一起到内蒙参加國際民族舞節,與世界各地的民族舞團互相交流,日後,那些國家也會邀請我們到他們那裏表演呢。兩年前,我也到過斯洛伐克共和國参加他們的民族舞節,並且交了不少朋友。