Afternoon of a Faun

courtesy of www.rogerebert.com

courtesy of www.rogerebert.com

A new documentary film by Nancy Buirski Afternoon of a Faun:  Tanaquil Le Clerq recently had a week long run in San Francisco and tells the story of a brilliant American ballerina whose performing career was tragically ended after contracting polio. A principal dancer and muse for George Balanchine of the New York City Ballet, I think this review by Stephen Holden from the New York Times describes best Tanaquil’s all too short dancing life:

“As you watch grainy kinescope footage of dancers in a mirrored studio executing a pas de deux in the documentary biography “Afternoon of a Faun:  Tanaquil Le Clerq”,  it is almost as though you are beholding mythological deities who have alighted briefly on the earth. Here today, gone tomorrow, they are like rare birds, seldom glimpsed, who remind us of the evanescence of all things, most of all physical beauty and the casual grace of youth. Therein lies a primal attraction of ballet: its evocation of the ecstatic moment is as fleeting as it is haunting.”

Trailer for Afternoon of a Faun:  Tanaquil Le Clerq

Tanaquil Le Clerq and Diana Adams dancing in Concerto Barocco for NYCB

Ballet in Crisis?

Ballet wallpaper dancer in b_w cropdAlthough we live in an ever-changing world, do we cross the line when something that has been traditionally studied as a fine art — which comes from the soul — becomes a repetitive study of technique only? Increasingly, ballet is being seen as a competition for the best technique, rather than the fine art of “artistry”.  Reprinted for this month’s blog, comes an article from The New Republic titled:  Ballet Is In Crisis Because It’s Turning Into a Sport — a thought provoking article discussing how ballet competitions are playing a role in this. I invite you to read and comment: “The International Olympic Committee recently voted to restore wrestling to the Olympic Games in 2016. One activity that’s never been put before the committee: ballet. Despite its physical similarities to gymnastics, ice-skating and ballroom dance, most ballet dancers would bristle at the suggestion that it’s a sport—and yet, many ballet teachers and directors have embraced Olympic-style competitions in which aspiring dancers compete for gold, silver and bronze medals, scholarships, contracts and even cash. “The curious thing about dance now, and ballet in particular,” Jennifer Homans recently argued in The New Republic, “is that it has taken the form but left the feeling. Artists today seem more attached to form than perhaps ever before—wedded to concept, abstraction, gymnastic moves and external appearance.” This dearth of feeling might have something to do with the growth of competition culture, in which artistry is scored and treated as just another variable. For instance, at the Youth America Grand Prix, the biggest annual student competition, artistry and technique are equally weighted, with each evaluated on a 100-point scale. And some students at many of the world’s top ballet schools, like the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre and London’s Royal Ballet School, are recruited through competitions like the Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP), the New York International Ballet Competition, and the Prix de Lausanne. While ballet companies worldwide have been struggling to attract audiences and donors, competitions have been growing ever bigger and more commercial. The last few decades have seen increasing participation and corporate sponsorship, as well as the founding of new competitions like YAGP in 1999 and the World Ballet Competition (WBC) in 2007. At YAGP, the biggest student competition, over 5,000 participants— some as young as nine—vie for scholarships, cash, and even modeling contracts. YAGP was further popularized by the well-received 2011 documentary First Position, which follows six contestants as they make their way from the regional preliminaries to the finals in New York. Needless to say, some traditionalists object. “I don’t like the idea of that kind of competition,” said Carol Sumner, who danced as a soloist at New York City Ballet under George Balanchine. “To be a great dancer doesn’t mean to have a great technique. What you have to be is interesting. Mr. B [Balanchine] said he chose dancers that are interesting to look at, he chose dancers that he wanted to see everyday—not necessarily the strongest ones.” But being interesting to look at won’t get you far when you’re being scored on the height of your extensions and the number of pirouettes you can turn.

(RELATED: America’s Orchestras Are in Crisis, Too)

Competitions may be especially detrimental for young dancers, who haven’t had a chance to develop a sense of artistry. “Kids sitting in the audience, they get wowed when they see a kid do four or five pirouettes or see their leg go over their head,” said Susan Jaffe, Dean of Dance at University of North Carolina School of the Arts and former Ballet Mistress at American Ballet Theatre. “This is pure physical talent and that, of course, is not where the art of ballet lives.” The rise in student ballet competitions might have something to do with the growing competitiveness of all children’s activities, from chess tournaments to spelling bees. Little League baseball—whose “world series” is now broadcast on ESPN—was founded in 1939; North America’s first international ballet competition was organized 25 years later. In The Atlantic last month, Harvard sociologist Hilary Levey Friedman relates the rise of competitive children’s sports to the frenzy surrounding college admissions as students scramble to fill out the “awards” section on their college applications. TV shows like Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance, which have both been running since 2005, might also have played a role in normalizing dance contests. Homans and other critics and dancers lament that ballet is no longer the crowd-pleasing, exciting spectacle it was a century ago. “It is worth recalling that when Sleeping Beauty premiered in Russia in 1890, it was like watching Technicolor for the first time: controversial, visually overwhelming, a new way of seeing,” she writes. This is hard to imagine today; contemporary audiences consist disproportionately of dancers and ex-dancers. “Dancers in competitions are just pleasing each other, pleasing their peers, pleasing the judges,” said Sumner. “It’s kind of incestuous.” This is not to say that ballet is not inherently competitive. Dancers at every level compete constantly—for spots in summer programs and schools, for attention from teachers and directors, for roles and promotions. But there’s a difference between competitive rivalry and formalized competition. Homans writes that ballet today suffers from “too much athleticism” and a “fear of feeling.” What could be more likely to exacerbate the emphasis on technique than training dancers to please a panel of trained judges rather than a general audience?”

Twenty Years of Ballet

reprinted from pointetilyoudrop.com

reprinted from pointetilyoudrop.com

This month’s blog — reprinted from pointetilyoudrop.com — is written by amateur dancer, Johanna from Helsinki, Finland:

“In January 1991, I took my first ballet class ever. It was love at first tendu. This month I’m celebrating my 20-year ballet anniversary. That is right, my math is not wrong. Not if I discount the three years when I did not dance at all. I wish I could undo the not-dancing, but at least I figured it out eventually. Ballet is where my heart is. I returned to class in 2006, and haven’t looked back since. Except for today, when I went rummaging in my old calendars/diaries. This is what I wrote down in January 1994: “After class Jill (my teacher) asked me when I was going to get myself pointe shoes. I told her that I was too old to go on pointe.” At the time, I was 24 years young. Can you believe it? It’s a good thing that dance keeps you young, or in my case, progressively younger.

It’s a cliche, but the years do fly by. Life rarely goes as planned (another cliche, sorry). This is why I’ve always appreciated the time-honored tradition of ballet. Over the years, the steps and positions have become familiar, the French understandable, the movement ingrained in both body and mind. Yet, there’s always change. For me, this is probably the best part of learning and dancing ballet. As long as I keep an open mind and never settle for less than my full potential, I keep moving on. That first class was my point of departure, and I’ve been dancing without a destination ever since. I like to think that I’m always halfway there. Because as an adult dancer, class itself is the beginning and end. For professional dancers, it’s all about the performance, dancing on stage in front of a real audience. For us, it’s mostly an imaginary audience behind the class mirror. We love to do the hard work, but it’s not payed work. Unless you count joy as the ultimate reward. I’m pretty sure that most of us adult dancers do just that. We dance because dance brings us joy.

Another reason why I never lost my love for dance: awesome teachers. I will skip the math on this one, but I do remember them all. Your first ballet teacher you never forget. If you are lucky, she’s the one who will instill a love and respect for the art. Jill Miller gave me a solid foundation to build on, and an understanding of how placement works. It was not the Vaganova-school that is so common here in Finland, but it was very safe on untrained adult joints and limbs. I loved her classes, the way she phrased the exercises to music, and the challenges she threw at us. “Move! Dance!” We were told to use the whole space, and not to hold back. “Don’t dance like you have a stick up your butt!” Or, somewhat more eloquent: “Be organic in your movement.” She was one of a kind. Strict, but caring. I’m happy that I got back to ballet and Jill’s classes before her untimely death in 2007.

You do not necessarily have to like your teacher, as long as you learn and enjoy the dancing. However, sometimes it can happen that the class just does not feel right, which has happened to me on occasion. It can be a simple matter of chemistry, or the lack thereof. I still took the classes, learned the steps and worked on my technique. But in the long run, the physical work alone is not enough. Like I wrote earlier, we are in it for the joy. If you enter class with a positive attitude, energy and focus, you should leave class feeling like a million bucks. Sweaty, energized and happy. Of course we all have bad days, certain insecurities and flaws… Nobody can be a perfect student all the time.

I also take classes where there’s almost no interaction between a student and teacher. You know, some teachers give a short warm-up barre and a dancey center, but hardly any personal feedback. That’s okay, especially when you get plenty of corrections elsewhere. In those classes, I often think less about technique and focus on the dancing alone. Over the past 20 years, I’ve learned that both ways work for me, as long as one outweighs the other. In any case, variety in school and style is a wonderful thing. You get fresh perspectives, familiar corrections are rephrased (= eureka!), and you get to work on new exercises and enchaînements.

I have learned from every teacher I’ve ever had. Some focus more on pirouettes, others have awesome petit allegro or a very lyrical adagio. There’s been Vaganova, French School, Cecchetti, RAD, Balanchine and Bournonville, and a mix of schools, styles and teachers’ personal experiences. Some have been wonderful, some a little scary, others easy-going and very nice. Most have been motivating, even inspiring. All have been professional, skilled and knowledgeable. Many have been very important to me. Still are.

When I’m in class, I need to feel both challenged but also safe to make mistakes. I like to be pushed, but preferably in a positive and encouraging manner. I like to get feedback, lots of corrections and guidance. Some praise is nice too. I was already lucky when I started classes with Jill. I can’t think of a better teacher for that time in my life. I’m even more fortunate now. Since I started taking class with my current teacher, Marie-Pierre Greve, so much has changed. Ballet feels like a new experience, yet again. I love Madame’s elegant and beautiful dancing, her generous and attentive style of teaching, her keen eye for the tiniest of detail (which can make a huge difference), the emphasis on quality and artistry, the positive and encouraging class atmosphere, the real work we do and the fun we have in class. It’s pure and undiluted ballet joy!

Where ballet is concerned, I consider myself a very lucky person. Between that first class and the latest one, there has been a lot of dancing: thousands and thousands of classes. So many wonderful and memorable experiences. Sure, there have also been injuries and struggles and breaks. But for the most part, it’s been all good. Amazing, in fact. I would not trade this experience for anything.”

Your Most Important New Year’s Resolution: Self-Care

Degas wallppr large 892903-bigthumbnailHappy New Year ! This month’s entry is written by guest blogger, Shery Scott, serious amateur dancer (and AiB board member). Welcome Shery:

At this time of year, many of us are looking back over 2013 to assess our lifestyles and planning to make the necessary improvements that we know we need, most notably, increasing physical exercise.  Typically, however, most people will have lost their motivation to make good on their new year’s resolutions by about January 12th.

There is a better way!  Build it into your weekly schedule.  Yes, I know you’ve heard it before; but it’s so true, it bears repeating:  positive changes will last longer if you have accountability.  For myself and my fellow classmates, this means attending a ballet class at least once a week.  And don’t think your age works as an excuse:  I’m over 50 and my ballet instructor is over 60.  If we can still do it, anyone can.  And the good news is that dance, and ballet, in particular, provide much more than just physical exercise.  It provides a whole host of other benefits, too.

Physical Benefits
Dancing develops and requires balance, strength, stamina, and flexibility.  That by itself is reason enough to dig your workout clothes out of the closet.  But there’s much more to be gained (better health)…and lost (fat).  Increasing your weekly exercise can also reduce your stress, blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides.  And it can increase your lung capacity and heart and lung efficiency.

Mental Benefits
First and foremost, dancing will boost your endorphins and improve your mental clarity and memory.  My instructor is fond of saying, “I don’t need to do crossword puzzles; I do ballet.”  Why?  Because dancing forces you to use your brain in ways you might not otherwise.  First, you need to be able to remember the combinations so you can do them.  Don’t worry; nobody expects you to do anything well the first time you try.  You’ll get better with practice.  Second, you’ll be performing the same moves on the left side of your body as you do on the right side of your body.  That means dancing helps you develop mental lateral facility.  That’s important for those of us who are profoundly right-handed or left-handed to help create better development and balance on our weaker side.

Social Benefits
Unless you’re springing for private lessons, a dance class is a great way to meet new people and enlarge your social circle.  In my own ballet class, I have met some wonderful women who provide me much-needed comic relief when I’m struggling to learn a new move, or if I’m having a difficult time in my personal life.  I can’t imagine life without them.

Emotional Benefits
Once you get moving and get into the swing of things, you will feel better.  I dread getting up to go to class in the evenings, especially when it’s so dark in the winter months.  But I have never ever regretted going to class, not once.  I always feel so much better about myself and my life after I’ve worked hard in class.  And you will, too.

Spiritual Benefits
For those of us of Judeo-Christian orientation, the book of 2 Samuel 6:14 tells us that King David “danced before the Lord with all his might.”  That’s an excellent example for us to follow.  Even if you’re not of religious inclination, dancing can be a way to express your cultural identity and your spirituality.

So with all this going for you, why wouldn’t you take a chance and contact your local dance studio to sign up for a class?  Most of them have introductory specials this time of year, so go ahead and take advantage.  Just don’t be surprised if you leave the studio physically worn out and emotionally exhilarated.  Of course it’s hard; it’s ballet.  If it were easy, it would be called football.

Marina Eglevsky – A Legacy of Dance, Part 3

This month, we continue with Part 3 of my interview with Marina Eglevsky. We take up where we left off last month, with her move to the Bay Area.

Marina teaching at Shawl Anderson, Berkeley CA

Marina teaching at Shawl Anderson, Berkeley CA

Q:  How many years now have you been in the Bay Area?

A:  I came here in 1994.

Q:  I’m sure my readers at Adults in Ballet would like to know this – I know you’ve talked about this that you felt like your father Andre Eglevsky had really spearheaded the whole idea of lay people, of adults studying ballet – can you talk a little bit about that – he had his school attached to his ballet company, how did he come to invite people into his home to study ballet with him? I’m curious about how all of that happened?

A:  Well he didn’t invite anybody – he was so famous that people would come to him – and his school wasn’t that big, one tiny studio that my mother usually taught kids in, and one bigger studio but not very big and he taught his classes in there and there were so many people, it was so crowded – we had children in intermediate and advanced classes. And at the beginning, so many people would come into his advanced class and of any age and he allowed that, but at some point they decided to separate it, so they put the adults in their own class and kept the advanced for the advanced students.

Q:  So the adults that came into the advanced class before you separated them, did they have to have a certain amount of technique to get into that class?

A:  No, his premise was that – he welcomed most everybody and he felt that if you were a beginner, you stand in the back and you learn. And it’s the very best way to learn, is that you don’t stay in the front, you stay in the back and you watch and you pick up. He thought that was the best way of picking up – and I think they did that in Europe.  I’m not exactly sure that he was the very first one in history that had adult classes – maybe not in the U.S., but in Europe, because I know like (Olga) Preobrajenska and Cecchetti, I think they had classes with adults in them and he studied with those teachers. And that’s the way I am, I would see adults come in there that wouldn’t know anything. Especially the guys – not women – the guys – he’d see a guy in the street and say why don’t you come into ballet class?

Q:  Really…  just because of the way they looked or the way they moved?

A:  For instance, he invited a school teacher from down the street into class, and he really improved, he started performing – a lot of them would start performing, my father would have them in productions – we were doing productions all the time. I still feel that way – I teach at Shawl – I welcome adults. I have people at all levels and ages – I am just totally open to that, because of my father.

Q:  What I see as a potential problem with adult classes, is the lack of proper correction in class. That’s a big concern I have for ballet training – is having schools that have reputable training – that teachers will take time with each adult, for proper placement.

A:  Well in my father’s class you got corrected, he looked at you as learning how to dance and if you could fit in a production, he’d put you in a production. Like this man, who he brought in – he would play the father or the mother in productions – you’re in class your treated as if your wanting to be a dancer. And then he – there were so many adults, the classes were so big – he broke it up, so there were separate adult classes and then he broke those classes into beginning and intermediate dance, so there were 2 levels.

Q:  So, what keeps you going now? What keeps you teaching, what keeps you doing the bodywork – is it the natural passion you found as a child?

A:  The bodywork is more of a passion – of teaching too I think really a selfish thing – a passion to understand myself better. You know I have to in order to teach – I really have to understand myself and who I am and my – I rekindle my relationship  to the essence of – because I’m not a dancer anymore – to the essence of ballet and of movement what ballet is about, what makes something work in a person – and that fascinates me.

Q:  Interesting… so, a movement that might work for a particular person, particular technique, with a particular personality, might not work for another person?

A:  Well, it’s on many different levels – a level of what would work for this class today – what would make it worthwhile for this class in general – what would work for people in class. Then, there’s what would work for training pre-professionals. I like to gear my focus how to produce that individual so they would become professional material.

Q:  For your private ballet coaching and group classes – do you teach weekly?

A:  At Shawl Anderson in Berkeley, on Tuesdays and Thursdays I teach an intermediate/advanced adult class. And I also offer private ballet coaching for adults and pre-professionals by appointment.

Q:  The bodywork that you do – how would people find out about your bodywork and what are the different methods you use in your sessions with clients?

A:  It’s generally word of mouth from my clients – I haven’t sold myself that much.

I do medical massage – and that incorporates acupressure, deep tissue and energetic work, so I do a lot of energy work. And I do alignment work and I look at a person’s alignment and work them through processes and hands on work. I also do rosen method bodywork and also I’ve trained extensively on the gyrotonic machine and I work extensively on that for alignment, but I’m not certified on that. I have a machine in my office and I use some of the movements.

And this concludes my interview with Marina Eglevsky – truly a glimpse into a fascinating life and she carries on the legacy of dance instilled in her by some of greatest legends of the ballet world.

Marina Eglevsky – A Legacy of Dance, Part 2

Marina at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet
Photo courtesy of  Marina Eglevsky
Photo credit: Peter Garrick

This month, we continue with Part 2 of my interview with Marina Eglevsky. We take up the thread of this portion of the interview by continuing with her years at the Hamburg Ballet, after having left Harkness Ballet:

Q:  From leaving Harkness and joining Hamburg Ballet, how long did you stay there?

A:  We stayed there for a couple of years, but we didn’t like living in Germany too much, so we went back to Winnipeg (we had an open contract there — as we were only on a leave from the company). A lot of things happened there – I had a major accident, someone dropped me in a lift, and I didn’t think I could recover – political issues as well – I felt like I was an artist and was in a protective bubble against political issues and the company was disbanded and for the second time we were in a company that was disbanded — and when that bubble was burst and with my injury — I didn’t want to dance anymore. My husband wanted to direct and so he found a director position at North Carolina Dance Theatre, so I went with him and that’s where I started to teach, that’s when my teaching career started.

Q:  After you recovered from the injury – did you go back to dancing or guesting?

A:  I did, I was asked to join the National Ballet of Canada and also to ABT (American Ballet Theatre) or John Neumeier (Hamburg) and so I had a choice — to leave my husband, get in shape and go out to those companies and I just felt like — I just didn’t get it back, after what had happened at Winnipeg, so I went back to my husband in North Carolina. Then Agnes DeMille asked me to dance in Brigadoon on Broadway – I did that – but, my steam for being in a major company again just kind of ran out, so I went back to North Carolina and started teaching and started a bakery business and then I decided I wanted to go into medicine.

Q:  Was that the transition into bodywork? Is that how it all started?

A:  Yes.

Q:  So, was it at this point, that you intermittently guested with other ballet companies or were you pretty much teaching at that point?

Marina staging at the Bolshoi
Photo courtesy of Marina Eglevsky
Photo credit: Damir Yusupov

A:  I was teaching and staging — because my father had died in 1977, and before he died, he coached me in these Balanchine ballets to be able to stage them.  After he died in 1977, I staged them — these ballets that he had in the Eglevsky Ballet repertoire, that Balanchine had given him. I continued to do a lot of teaching and staging in North Carolina – continued with my bakery business for awhile, and when I decided to go into medicine, I decided to stop all ballet, but it never happened, I kept being asked to stage.

Q:  So when you had a desire to go into medicine, what form did that take in the beginning? Did you want to go to medical school and start there, or did you want to go into bodywork – how did that all start?

A:  I wanted to go to medical school and I wanted to be a doctor, I spent some time with friends in Wyoming to get away – I was staying there for the summer and I enrolled into school in Laramie at the University there – they were trying to get adults back into school, so it was so cheap and they had a fast track program. To be a doctor — like in 7 years — and you’re done. At the time, I thought it was ideal, and I tried it. I started it and got honorary grades, and then went to Miami City Ballet, to stage a couple of ballets, and got back for 2nd semester of med school and I was so behind, and I didn’t do so well. And, my grandmother got sick and my mother needed help with her school – so, I had to get back to New York, so that was the end of that. But, I didn’t want to stop so I consulted with a psychic who said:   “the best thing for you is alternative medicine, and there is a wonderful school in New Mexico”, so I ended up doing that and I fell in love with that, because it was more me.

Ever since I was little and I was dancing, I was basically studying alternative medicine to take care of myself — it was a fascination of mine – not really medicine per say, but the preventative approach.

Q:  How to help dancers recover and prevent injuries?

A:  Yes — which dancers need to know more about – you do everything you can do to get in a company with the body you have, you don’t want to lose that, and you’re always exhausted, so taking care of yourself doesn’t often enter a dancer’s mind.  {Interviewer:  I know for myself, everything goes out of my brain, strive to try my best in class and dance, without thinking of my body or injury.}

Q:  From the school in New Mexico, how did that transpire into bodywork, you’d said you’re also a massage therapist as well?

A:  My interest was more in medical massage, not just flat out massage, I had no interest in that, but to focus on specific problems, that was more like medical school, studying problems, that was my passion. In our first class, the very beginning of school, we had Rosen Method bodywork, I mean once I left a ballet company, I was lost – I didn’t find the same way of identifying myself in anything I did, I couldn’t find that and I really suffered from that.

I remember the first class, I’m sitting at the table with my hands on somebody, had no idea what it was — you just sit there next there next to a person, you put your hands on that person and they guide you thru a very intuitive process, watching yourself, watching this other person. The first day, I suddenly had this feeling that I’d found myself, that I’d found myself as a dancer – it was so amazing, I couldn’t believe it – it was like this self-centering which then goes out and meets another person. That’s what you do on stage, you’re so self-centered, then you’re meeting, going in, and it turns around and goes out and connects with the audience – and the audience, I never got confused whether there’s 100 or 1000 or 3,000 people – it always felt like one body, one person that I was speaking to – that’s what it felt like in this work – it was so profound for me, I never lost that, that wonder with that.

Q:  It sounds like a real passion of yours, a true passion of yours, I mean, hand in hand with dance?

A:  Yes, that’s the big thing now is to be in touch with one’s self and able to function in the outer world and at the same time – you’re in touch with both worlds at the same time.

Q:  So, you studied Rosen Method bodywork in New Mexico and I’m assuming there were more methods that you studied there?

A:  Yes, after New Mexico, I continued to study at the school that was formed to study Rosen, so I studied there and I actually wanted to train with Marian Rosen, who was in Berkeley. My whole upbringing had taught me to study with the greats – and the greats was with Marian, so I came to Berkeley in 1994 to study with her.

Q:  Is that what brought you to the San Francisco Bay Area?

A:  Partly, I did one more try at med school, and there was only one in New Mexico, Marian was here and so were other medical programs, so I looked into them – I was accepted into Cal, and I looked into a couple of other programs – but, I never got away from ballet, and Rosen Method, and preventative medicine – it just really hits me.

Q:  So, through out all this you were still being called to set Balanchine ballets on ballet companies?

A:  Yes.

Q:  And, also perhaps to do some guesting in ballets or at this point, were you no longer doing that?

A:  No, I stopped – I did my last performance in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I actually choreographed something on myself.

Q:  Was it with the Santa Fe Ballet?

A:  It was then — it was what is now the Aspen Ballet — the Aspen Ballet School took over the school in New Mexico where I was teaching when I was there.

End of Part 2 – stay tuned for next month’s 3rd and final installment.

Marina Eglevsky – A Legacy of Dance, Part 1

Marina Eglevsky on the cover of Dance Magazine, January 1969.

Marina Eglevsky, born into ballet royalty, started dancing very early – almost as soon as she could walk. Her parents, Andre Eglevsky, premier danseur with George Balanchine’s American Ballet (which later became the New York City Ballet) and her mother, Leda Anchutina, also a soloist with NYCB, brought to her a legacy of dance that is a fascinating account. I had the great pleasure of interviewing her about her life – from her growing up years, being taught by George Balanchine, and on to when she took the spotlight in her own right as a dancer, first with the New York City Ballet, then onto Harkness Ballet and the Hamburg Ballet with John Neumeier, among others. Her father Andre is also credited with – if not the first – then surely the first in this country, of inviting amateur adults into his ballet classes at The Eglevsky Ballet school. What follows is Part 1 of my interview with Marina.

Q:  Marina, you are the daughter of Andre Eglevsky, widely regarded as the greatest male classical dancer of his generation, and you began studying ballet with George Balanchine and now stage his ballets for other companies. When did you start dancing? Where did your passion for dance come from?:

A:  I just started dancing, my parents were not really involved in whether I did or didn’t – but, once I was in it, then they became involved in how I was working in ballet.

By the age of 2 or 3 I was sitting around in rehearsals backstage. At that point, my father went on a major tour in Europe, and when he was rehearsing or busy – I would disappear and start just dancing somewhere – my mother said she would lose me all the time and to find me, would look for the crowd of people because I would be in the middle of the crowd dancing – I drew the crowd with my dancing.

My father had a performance to do on major network and was running around the studio and somehow I got into a Howdy Doody set and they whisked me away and put me in someone’s office. I remember sitting in this office and there was a pair of pointe shoes, they were really little – I just kept looking at them, and then the lady in the office gave them to me and I put those on and took Balanchine’s class in those shoes until they disintegrated and shredded.

I was allowed to take Balanchine’s class at a really young age and take company class, even though I hung underneath the barre, he would correct me. I was able to reach the barre and so he would teach me turnout, etc.  Everyday I came in with my father, and I would be in company class. By 5 or 6 they started to put me in Nutcracker and then I was more or less taking regular classes at the school and being involved in performing Nutcracker.  After various roles, eventually I grew too big for the party scene and auditioned for Clara and really wanted it, but I was too small for the costumes. I performed in Pulcinella up until 12 or 13 and by then I was a teenager and really questioned whether I wanted to continue in dance since I’d already put in a lot of time and I wanted to get more involved with regular school.

At that time, my father started his own company and school, (while still dancing for NYCB) – The Eglevsky Ballet – and out of his school he would do his own guesting appearances. At one of those guest appearances he had two heart attacks and that was end of his career so when he recovered, he went more into his own school, and Mr. Balanchine said “Please, I will help you with your school and your company and please come and work with my school” (SAB, School of American Ballet). I was around 12 at the time – it was a big change. I thought maybe I should stay around and go to school and be a doctor. I asked my parents what they thought – they said:  we don’t care. So that made me angry and I thought I’d  show them – so I decided to continue dancing. I went over to American Ballet Theatre (ABT) and focused in on a teacher there.

Eventually, Mr. Balanchine did take me into NYCB at 14 – and it was like a 2ndhome there – it was just part of the course. Yet, I was afraid to be only one kind of dancer, a Balanchine dancer – and, I was also under the shadow of my father – part of me wanted to get away from that and be on my own. Rebekah Harkness of the Harkness Ballet – had the kind of choreography I felt an affinity for and it was the kind of repertory I wanted to do – so, one day I went up to the director and asked to be in Harkness – and they ended up saying yes.

Q:  What was your experience like with Harkness – how long did you stay?

Marina with The Harkness Ballet.
Courtesy of Marina Eglevsky.

One of the 1st choreographers in Harkness was John Neumeier, and he’d expressed a great interest in me. At that time I was 15 or 16, and I didn’t understand the implications of a choreographer liking me, otherwise if I’d understood I would’ve stayed with Balanchine. While I was at Harkness, I married a dancer there which my parents were also against – after Harkness folded in the 70’s, we worked a little bit with Eglevsky Ballet and tried to heal and mend things with my parents.

After that, we were taken into Maurice Bejart’s company – we stayed with them until contracts started, and while we were waiting for them to begin, it didn’t feel right to me, but my husband was thrilled. Once I was married, my husband and I had a goal to stay together – which made it difficult to get a job. We went to Stuttgart, got a yes, but it didn’t come through, so then we went to ABT, I got a yes but not my husband, so I didn’t go. One day I was hanging around in ABT in the studios, and a man from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet was there, and asked if we wanted to be in the company, and they had this amazing repertory – like Harkness – so we said sure. So we went there – it was wonderful, one of the first choreographer’s that came to work with us was John Neumeier, and we worked with the Winnipeg company for awhile. John said he was starting a new company in Hamburg, Germany and “would you come to Hamburg?” We both said yes to joining Hamburg Ballet – John’s still there – (he was from Stuttgart, but branched off to the Hamburg Ballet.)

End of Part 1 – stay tuned for next month’s installment.

Maria Tallchief – American Ballerina

Maria Tallchief and Erik Bruhn, 1961
courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

Maria Tallchief, considered to be America’s first prima ballerina and the first native American prima ballerina, sadly passed away earlier this year at the age of 88. Well known for her role in George Balanchine’s “Firebird”, she became one of New York City Ballet’s early prima ballerinas, and Firebird became a great success for NYCB.

Rather than writing something about her life, in this youtube clip, I found it interesting in that she speaks about rehearsing and performing and taking on the title role of “The Firebird” for George Balanchine:

“He was very careful about how you use your hands, what they call port de bras, how they move – the hands, the elbow, the shoulder….  the soul of the dancer. He was a poet and he taught us how to react and to become this poetry.”  And, speaking of opening night: “The curtain came down and suddenly the City Center sounded like a stadium after a football game after someone’s made a touchdown, it was unbelievable, screaming, yells of Bravo, this and that….”

And, a moving tribute to her life:

Famous Dancers and Asteroid Terpsichore

Anna Pavlova, courtesy of www.daykeeperjournal.com

Being an astrology buff, some time ago I found an intriguing article about the asteroid Terpsichore – which I’d never heard of – having prominent placement in the charts of more than several famous dancers. The article, from www.daykeeperjournal.com, is titled “Celestial Musings – Asteroid Terpsichore in the Natal Charts of Famous Dancers”. The author Alex Miller, writes about the charts of the legendary Nijinsky and Pavlova to Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and into more modern times – mentions Michael Jackson.

Alex describes that Terpsichore “in the birth chart, …can show where we give delight a physical expression, as well as indicating a love of dance and movement if strongly aspected. Graceful, fluid motion can be a hallmark of individuals with Terpsichore prominent, whether channeled into formal dance education or not.”

Here are more highlights from the article:

Terpsichore was one of the Nine Muses, bringers of inspiration in classical Greek mythology. According to Hesiod, the Muses are the offspring of Zeus and Mnemosyne, his Titaness aunt, whose name literally means “memory.” Mnemosyne was one of Zeus’ earliest conquests, predating his marriage to Hera, while he was still sowing his wild oats (though, in truth, Zeus was a lifelong sower!).

After overthrowing her 11 brothers and sisters and setting himself up as head deity of the Olympians, Zeus sought a way to preserve the memory of his accomplishments, keeping them ever green. So he sought out Mnemosyne, whom he wooed in the guise of a shepherd; the couple slept together on nine consecutive nights, and nine months later, the Muses were born, one each on nine consecutive days (divine conception and gestation varying somewhat from that of mortals).

In classic times the Greeks sorted out various areas of special influence among the originally undifferentiated nine sisters. Terpsichore (whose name means “delight in dance”) became the muse of dance and dramatic choral works. She is usually depicted as seated, with a lyre for accompaniment.

Given Muse Terpsichore’s rulership of dance, it’s not surprising to find that her asteroid namesake has an affinity with the astrological charts of famous dancers, from Isadora Duncan to Michael Jackson. Terpsichore in this capacity is often astrologically linked to the Sun, expressing the life force and creative core of the native, how they self-identify; to Venus, ancient ruler of dancers as well as the arts in general and all things of aesthetic sensibility or beauty; to Saturn, the career path and the ability to master skills; or to Neptune, modern ruler of dance, music and theatrical presentation.

Isadora Duncan, Scorpio Terpsichore trine Saturn: Isadora Duncan was considered by many to be the creator of modern dance. Although an American citizen, Duncan received little acclaim in her native country, but was famed throughout fin de siècle Europe, bursting on the Paris scene in 1900 to universal adulation. Duncan rejected the stiff formality of traditional ballet, deriding it as “ugly and against nature,” and developed an improvisational style that created a revolution in dance.

Born 27 May 1877, Isadora Duncan’s natal Terpsichore at 27 Scorpio is astrologically trine natal Saturn at 19 Pisces, identifying dance as pivotal in her career, as well as revealing her role as an educator.

Anna Pavlova, Terpsichore in Libra, trine Sun: Anna Pavlova and Vaslav Nijinsky were two early 20th century dancers who helped to establish Russian ballet as the finest in the world. Pavlova was widely regarded as the best classical ballerina of her day, a protégé of dance mogul Sergei Diaghilev of the Ballet Russe, and star performer of the Imperial Russian Ballet. She later created her own dance company and was the first ballerina to tour the globe. Her most famous performance was the creation of the lead role in “The Dying Swan” in 1905, a ballet based on the music  of Camille Saint-Saens.

Vaslav Nijinsky, Terpsichore in Aries conjunct Venus: Nijinsky was another protege of Diaghilev’s. He is often cited as the greatest male dancer of the 20th century. He frequently performed en pointe, that is, on tip-toe, a rare skill in male dancers, and was noted for his apparently gravity-defying leaps and the intensity of his performances, which may have had something to do with an erratic temperament that was later diagnosed as schizophrenia.

Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, Terpsichore in opposing signs:  Born 10 May 1899, Fred Astaire’s natal Terpsichore at 27 Gemini conjoins Neptune at 23 Gemini, opposing Saturn at 22 Sagittarius. Ginger Rogers’ (born 16 July 1911) natal Terpsichore at 5 Sagittarius is sesquiquadrate to a Sun/Neptune conjunction at 23 and 21 Cancer, and squared Venus at 8 Virgo. Although not opposed by astrological degree, Astaire and Rogers’ Terpsichores in opposing signs made them the perfect dance partners, complementing each other’s strengths and compensating for their weaknesses.

Gene Kelly, Terpsichore in Pisces opposed Sun and Venus:  Gene Kelly shares the spotlight with Fred Astaire as one of America’s most prominent male dancers on film. Star of such popular hits as “Anchors Aweigh” (1945), “An American in Paris” (1951) and “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952), Kelly was noted for his athletic, energetic dance style and aggressive good looks.”

The article continues with dancers such as Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Ann Miller, Twyla Tharpe and more. For you astrology buffs or anyone interested in dance and dance history, I encourage you to read the full article – a most interesting read.

100 Years of Le Sacre du printemps

New York Times Review
courtesy of Wikipedia

May 29, 1913 marked the premiere performance of Le Sacre du printemps, (the Rite of Spring), at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris. This first performance is legendary for the sensation it caused and near riot. Originally composed as a “ballet and orchestral concert work by the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky. It was written for the 1913 Paris season of Sergei Diaghilev‘s Ballets Russes company; the original choreography was by Vaslav Nijinsky, with stage designs and costumes by Nicholas Roerich”. Now, 100 years later, the work continues to endure with many interpretations both orchestrally and in dance by many companies across the globe. And, “although designed as a work for the stage, with specific passages accompanying characters and action, the music achieved equal if not greater recognition as a concert piece, and is widely considered to be one of the most influential musical works of the 20th century” (quotes courtesy of Wikipedia).

From the original to contemporary, the three videos below start with a wonderful BBC documentary about the premiere performance. Interestingly, it brings out that the near riot in the audience was not spontaneous but that Diaghilev actually prepared the Parisians for 5 weeks before the premiere to hate this work and the resulting riot was exactly what Diaghilev had wanted.

Ballets Russe – Le Sacre du printemps, BBC documentary (pt 3 of 3)

 

Maurice Béjart, Béjart Ballet Lausanne, Le Sacre du printemps, 1970

 

Adonis Foniadakis, Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève, Le Sacre du printemps, 2013