The Return of Nijinsky – Part 1

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.

Leap for Dance — our Kickoff Fundraiser for Adults in Ballet

Rumbo al Sur

I’m so excited about our first Kickoff Fundraiser for Adults in Ballet – Philanthropy for Dance, coming up in May on Wednesday, May 16th. We’re hosting it at one of the hottest new restaurants around in Oakland, Rumbo Al Sur – Pan American cuisine meets California! It’s partly a benefit to raise money for a local Performing Arts High School – the Skyline High School Dance program (as a portion of the proceeds will go toward a $1500. donation to Skyline) and partly to raise funds for ongoing administrative costs, including the 501(c)(3) designation for Adults in Ballet.

I’ll be speaking about how Adults in Ballet got started – what was the impetus behind it and our vision for the future. We’ll also showcase our team of consultants we’ve amassed, from SEO and Marketing expert Diana Morgan of Whole Heart Marketing, Publicity expert extraordinaire Jill Lublin (co-author of “Guerrilla Publicity”), to Marina Eglevsky (Ballet and Dance consultant to the Director). Also we have Stu Sweetow of Audio Visual Consultants in Oakland, who’ll be working with us on developing fundraising videos and DVD’s, Pat Sullivan of Visionary Resources, speech writer and business consultant, to Wyolah Garden, enrolled agent and special consultant for non-profits, to Bill Bachrach, attorney for Adults in Ballet.

Representatives of Skyline High School Performing Arts Dance Dept. are scheduled to speak about the Skyline High Dance program, their needs and plans for the future.

We’ll also talk about our list of intended future recipients, such as the Adult Beginner Ballet documentary (for broadcast on PBS nationwide), produced by Michelle Ortega of North Beach Digital in San Francisco, Paris Wages of Quixotic Dance Technologies, Bonnie Sita of East Bay Dance Center, Kathy Mata Ballet from San Francisco, Beth Jucovy, founder of Dance Visions NY, Mindi Wade and Behold Dance Collective in Oakley…. And the list goes on.

The dinner and presentation is being held from 6:30 to 8pm… click here for the signup page for tickets, there are still a few seats left.

It’s going to be an exciting night for all and a long-held dream come true for me, Kathy Nelson, Founder and Director.

What makes Ballet look effortless?

Ballet, to me, is the telling of a story, the emotions of it through line of the body, the movements, the gestures set to music. The controlled and contained movements give it that effortless, ethereal quality that captivates. Ballet dancers study for years to master and attain the physical abilities necessary to achieve this look and feel.

Thinking back of who some of the great Ballet stars were at the time I was growing up:  names come to mind like Rudolf Nureyev, Margot Fonteyn, Natalia Makarova, Mikhail Baryshnikov to name just a few. What was it about their dancing that lead them to fame – what were the qualities of the way they moved that gave them that effortless grace, that spontaneity of movement that also captured the emotion of the dance  – what were the physics of it in play that made it seem so effortless?

In her new book, “Apollo’s Angels:  A History of Ballet”, author Jennifer Homans describes ballet this way:  “At the origins of ballet lay two ideas:  the formal mathematical precision of the human body and the universality of human gesture”.

Perhaps one way this formal, mathematical precision of the body can be described – is that it’s the push pull movement between one end of a limb (or one end of the entire body) pushing or pulling in the opposite direction of the other end – so that the extension of this other end lengthens it into the illusion of infinity – the lengthening of that line into what’s called “extension”. And, all the while, the body is trained so that it’s strong enough to be held in place while the limbs accomplish these movements or are held still.

I asked one of my teachers, Sally Miramon, of The Alonzo King Lines Dance Center in San Francisco, to comment on this. Here’s what Sally had to say about this:

“There are many reasons for ballet dances to appear effortless and graceful. As a teacher, or choreographer, the dancer must have at least the following 5 elements:

1) Musicality – The ability to fit a dance to the music being played, by relating the dance to the music’s rhythm, melody, and mood.

2) Technical control/ training to execute movement with the proper timing and required spatial range

3) Core strength to hold the body in place from which the limbs move or are held

4) A sense of personal body lines that look best for your body type

5) Coordination within ones body and working with others.

All of the 5 comes from daily training and the ability to change and try something new. The body is constantly changing as a result of the type of training and rehearsals undertaken. Knowledge of how ones body reacts to fatigue, illness and etc., is important as it will determine what one needs to do to execute dance steps under different situations. This can only come with training and practice.”

This, I think, is a good, all-round explanation of why Ballet looks seemingly effortless. And, for those of us who’ve taken Ballet for any length of time all know — it takes time, focus, determination and dedication to achieve that look.