To continue with last month’s entry, here is Part 2 of the acclaimed “Nijinsky” Ballet created by John Neumeier and performed by the Hamburg Ballet. Below (from SF Classical Voice and authored by Janice Berman), is the second part of an overview of the ballet:
The second act, initially becalmed, gains emotional fervor as it continues. The dancers’ energy and unity, vitality and control cannot be overstated. To the manic mix is added the menace, the intrinsic insanity, of wartime, represented, in the second act, by phalanxes of soldiers, slow-stepping along the backdrop, or forcefully leaping, coats over underwear, in a scene that simultaneously suggests an asylum, the horrors of battle, and Rite of Spring, wherein Nijinsky’s ballet (its choreography has been lost) caused a riot the night of its Paris premiere a century ago. There isn’t, incidentally, a lick of Stravinsky in Nijinsky. The music, beautifully conducted Wednesday by Simon Hewett, includes ballet excerpts from Chopin, Schumann, and Rimsky-Korsakov, as well as acres of scorched-earth Shostakovich, totally in keeping with the percussive anguish of the storyline, as Nijinsky loses more and more of himself. The eloquence of Riabko’s body is a wonder; he is pliant yet forceful to the last moment, when he shrouds himself in red and black cloth — a puzzling conclusion that, I learned later, represented Nijinsky’s final ballet, Wedding with God.
Nijinsky is a tour de force. We’ve taken in Nijinsky’s agonies, but we’ve also experienced a feast of the senses. Both are what Nijinsky was about.
Nijinsky’s own gifts as a dancer were stunningly represented in the work of Alexandr Trusch and Kiran West as Harlequin, Trusch again in Spectre de la Rose, Thiago Bordin, eerily replicating of Nijinsky’s smile in the famous photo as the Golden Slave in Scheherazade. Most crucially, Lloyd Riggins richly fulfilled the character role of the tragic Petrouchka, with Silvia Azzoni, cast in multiple roles, a particular standout as his partner.
Nijinsky has left us but one of his ballets, Afternoon of a Faun. His dancing exists only in photographs (well worth looking at) and commentary, and his dancing career spanned a mere 16 years. He spent more than half his life in mental hospitals and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. By any measure, this was a disastrous loss to the art form. And yet in the ballet Neumeier gives us an entire personality, a figure of passion and grace to add even more humanity to all that panic and despair.
Neumeier designed Nijinsky, using sketches by Leon Bakst and Alexandre Benois, both of the Ballets Russes. With Jeux, Afternoon of a Faun, Carnaval, Petrouchka, Scheherazade, Les Sylphides, and Spectre de la Rose, Neumeier skillfully intermingles those designs, the choreography, especially that by Fokine; historic, iconic photos, and contemporary performances. Cleverly, Neumeier gives us some choreography and imagery from the era, makes some up, and lets our hearts and minds fill in some more.
In all, Nijinsky is a tour de force. We’ve taken in Nijinsky’s agonies, but we’ve also experienced a feast of the senses. Both are what Nijinsky was about.
Coming in February, John Neumeier and the Hamburg Ballet will perform “Nijinsky” at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco. Below (from SF Classical Voice and authored by Janice Berman), is Part 1 of an overview of the ballet:
Nijinsky, John Neumeier’s full-length spectacular inspired by the seminal dancer, choreographer, and tragic figure of the 20th century, has arrived in San Francisco 13 years after its premiere. No point mourning that lost time. Just hasten over to the War Memorial Opera House and take it all in. The San Francisco Ballet is hosting the Hamburg Ballet, where the Milwaukee-born Neumeier, who began poring over Vaslav Nijinsky’s biography “before puberty,” as he puts it, is marking his 40th anniversary as Hamburg’s artistic director. He’s created many other ballets, including last year’s SFB hit The Little Mermaid, but Nijinsky’s explosive, searing essence lets us know that it’s the one closest to Neumeier’s heart.
Nijinsky begins and ends with the end of Nijinsky’s career — his final performance on Jan. 19, 1919 in a hotel ballroom in St. Moritz. As the elegant crowd looks on, Nijinsky (Alexandre Riabko) looks back. Other dancers portray characters for which he became famous, in a kind of swirling fantasy; his family, dancers all, dances in as well. His mother, Eleonora Bereda and his father, Thomas Nijinsky, a pair of dancers; his wife, Romola (Hélène Bouchet), in red; his sister the choreographer Bronislava Nijinska (Patricia Tichy), his mentally disturbed dancer brother Stanislaw (Aleix Martínez). And, importantly, there is Serge Diaghilev (Carsten Jung), the impresario, Nijinsky’s mentor and lover, who fired Nijinsky after he married Romola, ending his career.
A sense of shape-shifting suffuses the ballet. Nobody remains what he or she seems for very long, except, of course, Nijinsky. In the first act, in fact, even the ballroom seems to melt and slide, as the dance grows more crazed and Nijinsky’s perceptions more skewed. Neumeier has a gift for body expressiveness in individual characters but also in big groups. In the first act, a circling, leaping skein of women, gowned in shades of brilliant orange, helps connect more intimate sequences.
Stay tuned for Part II of the article, coming next month.
Several weeks ago, I had a very pleasant surprise in a communication from Susan Attfield, founder of Dance Hub – she’d communicated to me after finding this blog and sent me information on her adult ballet school in Pretoria, South Africa. I was most impressed with her dedication to ballet and the quality of her school – and that it’s for amateur adult ballet dancers, age 18 and over. And, in her own words. she “has 7 dancers taking adult ballet to an even higher level by doing actual live performances.” Recently, she’d written an article for publication about her school and gave me permission to post it on this blog. Here are portions of her article “Dance Hub, the only all amateur adult ballet studio in Pretoria, South Africa”.
“Dance Hub is the brainchild of Susan Attfield and was founded in January 2011. Currently Dance Hub has more than 40 dedicated adult amateur ballet dancers and several guest dancers per month. Dance Hub has 7 dancers taking adult ballet to an even higher level by doing actual live performances.
Dance Hub is the only all adult classical ballet studio in Pretoria, South Africa committed to adults older than 18 who love to do ballet on a non-competitive amateur level. We do ballet as older recreational dancers and for the pure enjoyment and love of movement and of course all the little things that is associated with ballet.
I started with ballet lessons for the very first time at age 40. It was my personal gift to myself when I turned 40. I ended loving and enjoying ballet so much that I wanted to share more opportunities with other adults. I started Dance Hub in Jan 2011 with one teacher and now employ three teachers. We offer 8 very structured classes per week and focus a lot on technique. I am not a teacher and would never like to teach – I love dancing too much and would like to stay a student. I am very proud of the level of teaching offered at Dance Hub and see how much more effort teachers put into some classes to make it adult appropriate. There is a fine line offering a great adult ballet class and causing injuries – they all know when to push and when to expect a little less. I am blessed with excellent teachers who are always willing to go the extra mile for adult ballet.
The biggest hurdle that a beginner adult recreational dancer has to overcome is their own personal anxiety about starting. Once adults start with ballet, they have made a huge leap of faith and the rest of their journey to personal growth can start. Ballet is very complicated. It is hard on older bodies; it’s super difficult and even taxing on the brain. Beginners learn to conquer their fear in ballet class and I often see how they blossom into confident people after only a few months. The changes in their bodies and attitudes are tremendous after a year! I have the utmost respect for our students who persevere and in the end conquer ballet steps and own personal obstacles. The bottom line is to continue when you think you can’t. Too many adults stop after a couple of weeks and not because of injuries, because of self-doubt. It is terrible disappointing when someone stops with ballet at my studio. I want to almost force them to continue, but I can’t and have to respect their choices since they are adults with their own views on life.
Ballet gives you elegant lines, good posture, fantastic legs, toned muscles and a great confidence! No other… has personally given me so much pleasure and had such a strong positive influence in my life, business and personal growth.”
Susan also sent me a video of one of Dance Hub’s latest performances: Dance of the Blessed Spirits, and I share it with you below:
Thank you Susan for your spirit and dedication — you’re an inspiration to us all.
It’s often said that training in ballet prepares the dancer for every other form of dance. The recent victories of both Eliana Girard and Chehon Wespi-Tschopp (both ballet dancers) on “So You Think You Can Dance”, the popular FOX-TV dance competition, illustrates this point perfectly (no pun intended!). Because ballet has such rigorous training and technique – which sets the rules and standards for a method of study – it prepares the body to move with specific placement and alignment incorporating artistry, physicality, musicality, interpretation, presentation and more in a way that no other form of dance training provides. Once you’ve trained in this way, you can pretty much rely on it to move anyway you wish.
With this in mind, below is “A tribute to the joy of dance… it’s a wonderful thing”:
Recently I came across Brainy Quote, a website devoted to famous people and their “brainy” quotes. Looking up famous dancers, here are some of my favorites…
There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening, that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique.
Great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion.
Even though I am a professional, and I know what the steps are, I don’t quite know how I’m going to do them, because I haven’t lived that moment yet. I always feel very insecure and I get very excited.
I got started dancing because I knew it was one way to meet girls.
I danced with passion to spite the music.
We were all novices. We really were. We didn’t know a goddamn thing about doing a show.
To dance is to be out of yourself. Larger, more beautiful, more powerful. This is power, it is glory on earth and it is yours for the taking.
Agnes de Mille
The truest expression of a people is in its dances and its music. Bodies never lie.
Agnes de Mille
The universe lies before you on the floor, in the air, in the mysterious bodies of your dancers, in your mind. From this voyage no one returns poor or weary.
Agnes de Mille
God gives talent. Work transforms talent into genius.
The ballet is a purely female thing; it is a woman, a garden of beautiful flowers, and man is the gardener.
One is born to be a great dancer.
Great artists are people who find the way to be themselves in their art. Any sort of pretension induces mediocrity in art and life alike.
My dance classes were open to anybody, my only stipulation was that they had to come to the class every day.
I really reject that kind of comparison that says, Oh, he is the best. This is the second best. There is no such thing.
The creative process is not controlled by a switch you can simply turn on or off; it’s with you all the time.
The dancer’s body is simply the luminous manifestation of the soul.
A pas de deux is a dialogue of love. How can there be conversation if one partner is dumb?
My feet are dogs.
Dance every performance as if it were your last.
Margot Fonteyn, considered by some the greatest classical ballerina of the 20th Century, and certainly immortalized by her partnership with Rudolf Nureyev, has often been the subject of the controversy: artistry vs. technique.
With this in mind, I found a fascinating article written on this subject by Marisa Wright, someone who worked at the Royal Academy of Dancing while Margot Fonteyn was still dancing in the 60’s and very early 70’s. Here are excerpts of her article, (which can be found in it’s entirety by clicking here.)
Was Margot Fonteyn the greatest ballerina of the 20th century? I think so. It’s a great pity current generations have no way to judge her greatness.
I say that because even though it’s well worth seeing the recordings of Fonteyn dancing, they don’t do her justice. For one thing, most recordings were made during the Nureyev years, when she was already past normal retirement age for a ballerina. For another, her great gift was her incredible charisma, which the camera doesn’t fully capture.
There’s no denying that today’s ballerinas have better technique and a much greater repertoire of tricks than Margot Fonteyn. But ask any audience after her performance, and chances are very few of them could analyze her technique. They simply knew they had seen a phenomenon.
Margot Fonteyn had such a presence you could sense her, even before you could see her. That charisma flooded over the footlights to her audience. Watching Fonteyn dance, you were simply mesmerised.
My first experience of that charisma wasn’t at a ballet performance. It was in the hall at the Royal Academy of Dancing, at a prize-giving. While the General Manager was speaking, I felt a sudden change in the air. Without prompting, everyone in the audience turned to look at the back of the room (she had arrived late).
There, quietly, Fonteyn was entering the hall. The GM motioned for her to come forward and take her place in the reserved seats. I watched her walk down the aisle. I have never seen such penetrating black eyes. It was amazing how such a tiny, unassuming person could fill the room so effortlessly!
I did see Fonteyn dance, in June 1971 at a Gala Performance arranged by Richard Buckle. Here is what I had to say about her performance:
“Fonteyn was out of this world. She wore a Romantic tutu in shimmering purple. I scarcely noticed her footwork. All I could see were those beautiful, beautiful arms, rippling and flowing, curving and extending – sheer poetry! She could have bourree’d the whole time and still captivated me with those arms.”
….”Fonteyn and Nureyev provided the grand finale [from Sleeping Beauty]. And what a finale! Her face looks so young, as they say Pavlova’s always did. Even though it was only the pas de deux, she gave a complete and convincing picture of the young, newly-in-love Princess Aurora. It was an experience.”