Virtual Ballet Season, Program 3 – A Journey Through 20th-Century Music, History, and Literature

Symphony #9 – Alexei Ratmansky, 2014
Wooden Dimes – Danielle Rowe, World Premiere
Swimmer – Yuri Possokhov, 2015

Program 3 of the SF Ballet’s 2021 season was subtitled, A Journey Through 20th Century Music, History, and Literature. An ambitious title for a program of three abstract story ballets, but hey – they were connected by themes rooted in 20th century culture. It is perhaps a tenuous string to tie these works together with, but at least the pieces did seem to compliment rather than detract from each other.

Symphony #9 – Alexei Ratmansky, 2014

Symphony #9 is one of the pieces from Ratmansky’s Shostakovich Trilogy which we saw in 2019. It is about the communist state, control, surveillance, and love. The dance vocabulary for this piece incorporates traditional folk-dance forms into the balletic vocabulary in a highly effective way and the key characters express their roles through their own very clearly defined vocabularies, rather than simply through expression.

One couple represents the Soviet regime. Interesting steps in their particular movement vocabulary include this recurring judgmental snooping posture and the female dancer has this very literal “beating the drum” movement that she uses as a sort of rallying cry for the corps de ballet. The other main couple represent Shostakovich and his wife. There is an underlying sadness mixed with a bit of paranoia in their movement vocabulary.

Then there is a male soloist in an undefined role. In his entrance, he is figuratively waving the flag (for the regime?) and uses his charisma to gather all of the dancers around him (including the Shostakoviches). I was very intrigued by the way that his motives remained vague throughout.

Though the intensity of the tension between the Shostakovich couple and the Soviet regime builds throughout the piece, there is never really a resolution. I suppose as T.S. Elliot would say, “This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but a whimper.”

Wooden Dimes – Danielle Rowe, World Premiere

Since this was a premiere, it was presented as a dance film, but unlike COLORFORMS, it was filmed on stage rather than in the world. The way that it was filmed made me think of a 1940’s musical number although at a certain point the interesting, swirling camera angles detract from rather than enhance the movement.

This ballet has a 1920’s vaudeville vibe. The story itself is an old trope: it starts with a happy, young couple, she gets seduced by stardom, he gets seduced by jealousy, they break up, then try to come back together, but in the end they both wind up alone and miserable.

Even though the story isn’t original, there are certain elements in the way the choreographer tells the story that I found really insightful and interesting. There are two sets of characters in the ballet – Betty’s Shiny Things (her joy and happiness) and Robert’s Dark Angels (his doubts and insecurities), that are portrayed by dancers. I really like the way that these ineffable ideas are embodied and interact with the characters.

Swimmer – Yuri Possokhov, 2015

Swimmer is loosely based on a short story called The Swimmer by John Cheever that was published in 1964. This ballet was an archival performance capture, but the set and staging, particularly the use of projection, translate well to viewing via monitor.

There is an overarching mid-mod style to the work, including scenes that evoke Mad Men and a Frankie and Annette movie pool party. The ballet is comprised of ten vignettes, most of them centering around the main character, but there are some sort-of random interludes, such a section titled Lolita. The scenes in which the lead character is “swimming” are some of the most effective thanks to the way that the projections are used to convey his transition from being on land to being in/under water as well as the movement vocabulary.

Overall, Program 3 was fine, it just didn’t knock my socks off like Mark Morris’s Sandpaper Ballet did. I am looking forward to Program 4 (Balanchine’s Jewels) which starts streaming tomorrow (April 1).

Virtual Ballet Season, Program 2 – A Celebration of Contemporary

Let’s Begin at the End – Dwight Rhoden, 2018 (Unbound Festival)
COLORFORMS – Myles Thatcher, World Premiere
Sandpaper Ballet – Mark Morris, 1999

Well y’all, it was time for program 2 of the San Francisco Ballet virtual ballet season. I forgot to look up the program before I pushed “play,” so I was surprised that there was more to the program than just the world premiere of Myles Thatcher’s COLORFORMS ballet.

The title for this program was A Celebration of the Contemporary. The three works presented were Let’s Begin at the End, a 2018 piece by Dwight Rhoden that had been performed as part of the Unbound New Works Festival, COLORFORMS, a world premiere by Myles Thatcher, and Sandpaper Ballet, a 1999 piece by Mark Morris.

I guess that I could have watched the trailer …

Let’s Begin at the End in 2018 is very clearly a work of this time. There is a certain … I don’t know what to call it – preciousness maybe – that is in fashion in current choreography and this piece is no exception. I won’t get into my feelings about that here. Suffice it to say that a contemporary work can be abstract or it can be narrative, but once you’ve established a narrative, it would be a kindness to your audience to strive for a modicum of coherence.

The work seemed to be about the conflict of male relationships v. male/female relationships. One character kept coming through to disrupt the harmony of the male/female pairings. I interpreted this character as perhaps “bro code” but according to the choreographer, he maybe represented Cupid. I suppose we are all entitled to have different opinions about what love or partnership is.


The second work was Myles Thatcher’s world premiere, COLORFORMS. Because this work was recorded specifically for the 2021 season, it was presented as a dance film versus a live performance capture, meaning that rather than filming one complete run through presented on a proscenium stage, the dance was recorded in various locations with various camera angles and cut together to create one work. The venues included the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, a dance studio, the stage at the Opera House, and a grove of redwoods in Golden Gate Park.

Based on the preview videos, I was expecting a linear progression – the dance would start in the museum then a transition to the performance venue. What they gave me was much more interesting – scenes in the museum would seamlessly transition to the dance studio, then back, as if the dancer was stepping into or embodying a piece of art, then returning to their pedestrian existence. The final transition from the stage into the woods was accomplished by the dancers stepping through a frame-like set piece.  I liked the surreal quality created by these transitions, it really created a theatrical feeling and accomplished something that you wouldn’t have been able to if the work had been presented traditionally.


The final work was Sandpaper Ballet. I am a big Mark Morris fan and maybe even more so now. In my mind, Mark Morris is the dance-world analogue to Isaac Mizrahi, and I mean that in a good way. They are both sort of irreverent, but don’t underestimate their skill in their craft or the seriousness of their intention. Later when I read the program notes I learned that Isaac Mizrahi had designed the costumes for this ballet! Am I psychic? Perhaps.

As for Sandpaper Ballet, this work is serious dancing presented in a lighthearted manner. One element of the choreography that stood out for me was the lusciousness of the por de bras. This piece was light and jazzy and technical and complicated and so wonderful.

Your day will be better if you watch this one minute clip of Sandpaper Ballet, trust me.

This program was an excellent counterpoint to Midsummer Night’s Dream and the three works represented a great diversity within the contemporary, abstract dance sphere. Overall, I would say that the virtual ballet season is off to a strong start. Myles Thatcher’s work was very insightfully presented and the Mark Morris piece was exquisite and timeless. Even Rhoden’s work was more interesting than previous work that I’ve seen by him.

Have you had a chance to check out the virtual ballet season? Program 3 will be launching soon, hopefully I can remember to watch it before the last minute this time and give you a chance to check it out.

Ballet Season 2021, Ballet On-Demand

It’s that time again, ballet season. Only this year is a ballet season like no other. This year ballet season has gone virtual. Rather than trekking up to the bay area, this year I am enjoying ballet on-demand at home.

Last spring we went ahead and renewed our tickets for this year; optimism being the best antidote to quarantine doomscrolling. Unfortunately, as we all know, the pandemic continues. To their credit, San Francisco Ballet decided fairly early last fall that they would not have a live season this year and pivoted to produce their first digital ballet season.

There is no denying that I am disappointed to miss my weekend visits, spending time with my mom and sister, getting dressed up, going out to dinner, and especially dissecting the performance on the car ride home. It turns out there is something to be said for ballet on-demand from the comfort of my living room. Especially since I finally got to see Midsummer Night’s Dream!

San Francisco Ballet was able to film one performance of Midsummer last March after the shutdown. One moment in particular almost seemed creepy: in the second act divertissement there was one very flashy pas de deux danced by Francis Chung and Ulrik Birkkjaer. It had all the leaps and turns and lifts that would normally receive a bunch of applause. At the end, when went to take their bows there was silence. Up until that point I had just been enjoying the dancing, suddenly I was thinking about what a different place the world was in March of 2020, how none of those dancers would have ever guessed how they would be spending the ensuing months.

Ok, enough about that, let’s talk about the ballet.

I won’t go into a whole recap of the libretto; you can find that on the SF Ballet website here. Basically, the whole play takes place in the first act and then the second act is a big divertissement. I love how the action moves quickly and the emphasis on telling the story through the dancing rather than injecting a bunch of pantomime (very Balanchine).

One of my favorite elements of the performance are the bugs who were danced by children from the San Francisco Ballet School. Children in story ballets are often just there to sell tickets but the role of bugs really added a lot to this production. The choreography was suitable yet challenging and their expressions were great. I can’t imagine having to flutter my hands for what seemed like endless minutes, those kids were real troupers.

The star of the show is of course Puck who was danced by soloist Cavan Conley.  This guy kind-of stole the show as far as I’m concerned. The role is both very athletic and comedic and he was dynamic and expressive in his portrayal.

Another excellent soloist was Sasha Mukhamedov who danced the role of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. She is a very powerful dancer, perfectly cast for the role.

Watching the ballet on-demand in my living room, I was able to notice a lot of things that I would have missed if we had been at the opera house. Even so, I’m still hopeful that I will get to see this production live at some point in the future.

The second performance of the San Francisco Ballet digital season, COLORFORMS by Myles Thatcher, has launched. I am looking forward to checking it out and reporting back soon.

White Tutu Moments

After my YouTube ballet class the other day, I got sucked in to watching a video of one of my favorite white tutu moments – the “Dance of the Cygnets” from Swan Lake. It is just so wonderful.

The choreography by Lev Ivanov, circa 1895, features four ballerinas performing a relatively academic, yet precise series of steps. Oh yes, and each is holding the hand of the girl next to her and the girl next to that girl. Dancing in tight quarters like that means that they really need to be together on the movement. If one girl goes up when another is going down, it could be a disaster.

Every time I see this piece, I get the biggest smile.  I don’t know why it makes me so happy, there is something about the combination of all those pas de chats and the tuba that sparks so much joy in my heart. Marie Kondo could never get me to declutter this dance.

I love the repetition and the way that they use their heads – talk about rubbing your head and patting your tummy!  And then they have to do it all linked up together like that.  There is not a lot of room to maneuver there.

Thinking about this made me ask myself what my other favorite white tutu ballet moments are.  If I’m not willing to say this is my ultimate favorite, what are the others?

Of course, “The Kingdom of the Shades” from La Bayadere is a great white tutu moment. No one even bothers to produce La Bayadere anymore, everyone just wants to see that one scene. Those arabesques just keep going and soon the stage is full of white tutus.

And then a different sort of white tutu moment came to mind, the pantomime in Act II of Giselle.  I just love romantic ballet pantomime. It is so corny. It makes me smile every time.  Myrtha, The Queen of the Wilies is so fierce. I guess she is supposed to be the villain, but she is a boss.  I just love when she tells Albrecht,

“You.” (points authoritatively)
“Will Dance.” (hands make a rolling motion over the head)
“To the Death.” (arms crossed at the wrists in front of the body, hands in fists)

It’s no cygnets but it does make me smile so big.

I can’t find a clip of just that part of Act II, so here is a clip of Myrtha’s variation instead.

I hope you enjoyed a little white tutu ballet interlude on your Wednesday.

Are You Moving Enough?

Well folks, we’ve been participating in the national hermitage movement for a while now (has it been 4 weeks already?). I feel like so far it’s been one of those, this is only temporary kinds of things.  But now that hermitage has been extended until mid-May, we may need to start thinking about how to adopt a more sustainable routine. No matter what, I find that everything is better if I’m moving my body. How about you, are you moving enough?

One thing that has been cramping my style here is that it has been raining.  That makes it very easy for me to blow off any notion that I may have about going outside for a walk.  But regardless of whether I’m out there getting my steps, I still feel like I need a bit more movement in my days and I’ve come to terms with the fact that I need to workout at home.

There are so many options for home workouts these days. I bet we all still have a few workout DVDs laying around (I even found my old favorite, Callanetics on VHS in the garage a while ago – too bad we don’t have a VHS player anymore). I’ve seen a lot of paid content on offer – zoom yoga classes and stuff, but there is also so much free stuff out there, it seems crazy not to take advantage of some of it.

I started just doing yoga on my own a few weeks ago. It’s been good. I have a little routine that I put together for myself. I get to spend more time on poses that focus on my problem areas, I get to move at my own pace, and I get to include poses that aren’t that fashionable these days (like plow and fish). The little series that I have been practicing takes me between 30-40 minutes and afterwards I feel great – taller and aligned and ready for my day.

Not my current yoga situation

But the other morning I just WAS NOT IN THE MOOD. I knew that I need to move but I wasn’t feeling the yoga vibe. So, I dug out my Pilates notebook from college and had my own little mat Pilates session. About 15 minutes later, I was a new woman.

Then I was feeling motivated, so I did something that I have been contemplating for quite a while: I took a ballet class! I searched on YouTube and there were a bunch of options. Sure, my barre was my dining table, but it was a real ballet class with an accompanist, and I wore ballet slippers, so it totally counts.

Ever since San Francisco Ballet had to cancel their season, I’ve been seeing their clips of the dancers taking company class at home. If they can do it, I probably can too.

I was so delighted to find this ballet barre class from the Dutch National Ballet that was classic and straightforward enough that I could attempt to replicate the combinations.

My goodness, it sure was fun!  Ernst (the instructor) would demonstrate and then do the first side with you.  For the second side, you were all alone with Rex (the accompanist).  My brain thought that I totally got it, but my body was not so sure (especially my feet).

Somehow, I survived.  And somewhere deep, down, that little ballerina who lives inside of me woke up a little bit. She is excited at the prospect of inhabiting this body of mine again (I am too). Fortunately, there are no mirrors in my dining room to make either of us aware of how far away we are from the body that she used to inhabit.  It’ll be ok, we will just continue to show up for class with Ernst and Rex every other day or so and maybe eventually we will get my feet to start working again.

So that is my story about finding ways to move more at home.  How about you?  What are you doing?  Are you trying something new?  Something old?

A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Spring

Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Spring

Last weekend, I headed up to San Francisco for the third ballet weekend of the season with mom and sister.  We were all looking forward to seeing San Francisco Ballet perform Midsummer Night’s Dream, a George Balanchine choregraphed fairytale ballet that none of us had seen before.

I’ll admit that I was feeling a bit ambivalent about being around such a large crowd of people given the current public health crisis, but there are certain things worth risking exposure to infectious disease and Balanchine ballets are one of them.

Unfortunately, the mayor of San Francisco doesn’t seem to share my commitment to the art of dance. As I waited at the airport for my flight to board, I scrolled “the gram” and saw notice that the ballet had been closed, there would be no performances until March 30 (later posts indicated a date of March 20 – we’ll see). At least it wasn’t just the ballet, but all city-owned performance venues.

On the one hand, it was a little bit of a relief. But mostly it was disappointing.  Especially after my sister forwarded the review of the opening night performance that ran in the San Francisco Chronicle.

What the review made clear is that SF Ballet excels at these light-hearted, fairytale ballets, bringing to my mind the excellent performance of Cinderella earlier this season or of Don Quixote last season.

As I had already done preliminary research in preparation for my own review, I thought that I would go ahead and tell you about the ballet and we can all hope that they will re-stage this production for the 2021 season.

Midsummer Nights Dream by George Balanchine

Since I wasn’t familiar with the ballet, I dug out my copy of Balanchine’s Complete Stories of the Great Ballets and looked it up (you know that he would never leave one of his own works out).

Created in 1962, Midsummer Night’s Dream was George Balanchine’s first original full-length ballet.

Balanchine had performed in productions of the play as a child in Russia and previously been asked to do some dances for various productions of the play, so he was familiar with the music that Mendelssohn had written for it. He credits the music more than the story for inspiring him to create this work. But because there wasn’t a complete ballet’s worth of music, Balanchine created a franken-score, using other Mendelssohn pieces.

The overture to Midsummer Night’s Dream by Felix Mendelssohn

The ballet is organized into two-acts, and six-scenes. The first act contains all of the plot of the ballet – the fairy shenanigans, mortals getting caught up in fairy shenanigans, adventures and misadventures. The second act, in the fashion of the romantic ballets contains the wedding scene, the divertissement, and a happily-ever-after ending.

The supernatural elements of any fairytale ballet allow for all sorts of wonderful creatures and characters. Combining such a narrative with Balanchine’s athletic and expressive choreography is a recipe for a delightfully whimsical dance ballet.

Midsummer Night’s Dream hadn’t been performed by SF Ballet in 35 years. I hope that it wasn’t a one-night stand.

Three Visions of Ballet

On February 15, mom and I attended Program 3 of the San Francisco Ballet 2020 Season.  The title of the program was Dance Innovations. It was an evening of three contemporary works (three visions of ballet), The Infinite Ocean by Edward Liang (premiered 2018), The Big Hunger by Trey McIntyre (a world premiere), and Etudes by Harald Lander (circa 1948).

We had just seen Etudes last year and I wasn’t particularly interested in seeing it again. The one thing that I will say about it is that it was a lovely palate cleanser after the two more avant garde pieces and I feel like the dancing was a bit sharper than it had been last year. Both my mom and the woman who sits next to her were delighted by the clean, classical technique and the brightness of the movement. It was very smart to program such a traditional work at the end of the evening.

Since I’ve already discussed that piece, I am going to focus on the other two, which I found tremendously interesting.


Composer: Oliver Davis
Choreographer: Edward Liang
World Premiere: April 26, 2018 – San Francisco Ballet

I had thought that we might have seen this piece last year, but when I went back to check, mom was right, it was not on the program that we saw (don’t you hate it when that happens?).

An interesting synchronicity here is that I have been listening to the City Ballet podcast on my walks and the episode that I had just been listening to that week was Edward Liang talking to Wendy Whelan about his career as a dancer and now as a choreographer. He was talking about a different commission, but it was interesting to hear about his process. I could see how he would have applied the same sort of approach to this piece.

I really enjoyed the music for this work. The composer, Oliver Davis, is Liang’s frequent collaborator.  Liang describes Davis’s style as modern, minimalist baroque. I felt like it enveloped the stage, the dancers, and the movement. There were at least a couple of places in the score that seemed to me like they would make a great car commercial (I mean that as a compliment).

This piece had to do with death and dying, with individuals coming to terms with their own imminent mortality. The interesting things about the movement had to do with how the ensemble would come together, move as a unit, but without any sense of connection – it was as if everyone was one the same journey, but alone.  Even the partnering had that lack of connection.

Liang’s movement vocabulary didn’t fall into the trap of contemporary choreographers trying to make “interesting” or “modern” movements.  He retained a classical vocabulary, but expanded traditional steps with a sense of lightness, softness, freedom. Sort of like the idea of the dancers learning to let go.


Composer: Sergei Prokofiev
Choreographer: Trey McIntyre
World Premiere: February 13, 2020 – San Francisco Ballet

Speaking of synchronicity, there seems to be some synchronicity in my small ballet world these days about Prokofiev. There was Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella last month, this piece, but also a discussion of some of his other pieces on that City Ballet podcast. Before now, the things that came to my mind when I thought of Prokofiev were The Love for Three Oranges and Romeo and Juliet.  I’m interested to discover what it is that the universe wants me to learn from Prokofiev.

The program notes for this piece were really interesting. McIntyre was inspired by a Korean film, to consider the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert’s concept of two hungers. On the one hand is big hunger – man’s search for existential purpose. On the other hand is little hunger – physical needs like food and shelter.  I would equate little hunger to the bottom tiers of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – physiological and safety needs, and big hunger to the top tiers – esteem and self-actualization. For McIntyre, conflict arises when little hunger pursuits are given big hunger value.

The dancers were comprised of three couples and an all-male ensemble. The first couple opened the piece.  They were dressed in pink, short, coverall-style jumpsuits. Were they in charge?  Or were they instigating something?  The backdrop featured a very distinct door with illuminated green EXIT sign above it. Then the ensemble makes a bold entrance wearing bright pink pageboy wigs, white collared shirts and short shorts and the first pair make a run for the EXIT.

In the next scene, the space opened up, became more abstract, and the EXIT was graffiti covering the entire back wall. It was like a warning to get out now. The second couple both wore the same wigs and costumes as the ensemble. Were they becoming assimilated into the rat race?

Next scene, the EXIT is gone, now there is no way out. The third pair (both men) enter wearing grey/blue versions of the pageboy wig and long, grey overcoats. At that point the costumes changed to the grey/blue wigs and grey shirts/shorts for all the dancers including both previous couples. We’ve lost the vibrancy from earlier. The dancers have gotten so wrapped up in their little hunger that they missed their shot to satisfy their big hunger.

I loved the athleticism of the movement in this work and the sense of something just being a bit off. I loved the way that things kept degenerating. Even the change from the bright wigs to the grey/blue wigs was like another step in toward the eventual collapse. I really hope that they program this piece again next year, I would really like to see it again.

2020 Ballet Season Opener, Cinderella

It’s that time of the year again!  What time is that?  It’s Ballet Season of course!

Even though the 2020 season opened much like last year with a fairytale ballet, it was certainly not a romantic-era ballet or even an update of a romantic ballet.  This production of Cinderella was created by Christopher Wheeldon in 2012 as a joint commission of the Dutch National Ballet and San Francisco Ballet. Its War Memorial premiere was in 2013.

The libretto was written by Craig Lucas, the playwright who you may be familiar with from Prelude to a Kiss (there was a 1992 film adaptation with Alec Baldwin and Meg Ryan). He brings that same soupçon of strangeness to this work. There is no fairy godmother or mice.  All of the magic in this version of the story comes from a tree that grows out of Cinderella’s mother’s grave.  Of course, you can’t leave Cinderella sidekick-less but instead of mice and birds, she has four fates who provide the magical catalyst (and help her with the chores). This Cinderella also has a respectable amount of gumption for a story where the happy ending entails getting married (spoilers!).

Wheeldon choose to work with Prokofiev’s 1940 score. For me, the music didn’t do much, it is certainly isn’t on par with his Romeo and Juliet.  But I didn’t find choreography particularly impactful either. I don’t know if one fell flat and impacted my impression of the other or if both were just meh. 

As far as the choreography goes, there was a lot of dancing. Really athletic dancing. Maybe too much, as in too many steps. The principals were on stage for long stretches and the corps de ballet really moved. There wasn’t a lot of standing around or running off and on stage. I don’t tend to miss the conventions of romantic ballet, but I do feel that this work would benefit from some of the pauses, stillness, and space that are traditional in the romantic ballets in order to give the brilliant and athletic dancing space to shine.

The night my mom, sister, and I were there, Cinderella was danced by one of our new favorite dancers, Sasha de Sola. She brought a great combination of sassiness and compassion to the role. Luke Ingham was the Prince.  But the stepsister Clementine, who was danced by Ellen Rose Hummel, was the character who really stole the show.  Clementine is the sweet stepsister, who wears glasses and takes the brunt of her mother’s and sister’s meanness when Cinderella isn’t readily available. She is funny and kind-hearted, and she gets the guy too, winning the heart of the Prince’s sidekick.

The novel libretto allows for creative applications of production elements.  The scene where Cinderella is transformed to go to the ball is wonderfully weird and full of inventive staging and effects. For me, this scene is the highlight of the show.

There is so much to like about this production, but like I said before, there was just something about it that felt overwrought.  The last time it was presented was 2017 and I remember enjoying the innovative elements, but I don’t know that it made my heart leap that time either.

World Ballet Day 2019

Guys!  It’s World Ballet Day again!

I’m glad that I didn’t mark my calendar after last year’s World Ballet Day because World Ballet Day 2019 is certainly not on the same date.  But there are a bunch of new ballet videos on the internet today for our viewing pleasure, some from companies that we got to know last year and some that are newly discovered.

*Disclaimer: I don’t have hours to spend watching videos of ballet classes and rehearsals either. But by linking a bunch of them here we can all find them whenever we do have time to squeeze in a few minutes of ballet viewing in our day.

The Royal Ballet is back again with four hours of content. I love watching their class so much.  I also really love all of the studio fashion statements.

The Royal Ballet

The Australian Ballet has also posted four hours’ worth.

The Australian Ballet

A new discovery for me this year is Teatro alla Scala.  I skipped ahead to a terrible turns exercise – double attitude, double arabesque, double a la seconde, double pirouette en de dan – the stuff of my dance nightmares.  Fortunately, it looked like many of the professional dancers were having a hard time with it too.

Teatro alla Scala

The Wiener Staatsballett has given us a rehearsal of a Balanchine ballet that they are adding to the repertory.

Weiner Staatsballett

I hope you’ll take a few moments to watch a little ballet today and remember these links are here if you need a fix in the future.  Afterall, ballet season is just around the corner.

Stories of the Great Ballets

I just finished perusing this book titled, Balanchine’s Complete Stories of the Great Ballets .  I won’t claim to have read it since I *may* have skipped the first 734 pages. Those pages contained an exhaustive catalogue of “great ballets” according to George Balanchine (from skimming the table of contents, it appears that some of those listed are greater than others). 

It is certainly a “great” reference tool and I will plan on keeping it handy for the next time that I’m going to see a pre-1977 ballet (this was the fifth edition).  I just can’t imagine that anyone would need/want to read that whole list.

The remaining 150 pages seemed interesting so I dug in. 

First was a chapter titled “How to Enjoy Ballet” where Mr. Balanchine explains his thoughts on how someone who is new to ballet should approach seeing a ballet performance for the first time.  What was interesting to me is how much importance he ascribed to familiarizing oneself with the music before one attends a performance.  He didn’t feel that it was necessary to have any technical knowledge of dance, just an appreciation for the skill of the dancers.

The other key piece of Mr. Balanchine’s advice for the novice balletgoer really made me smile. It was basically, “if you go to the ballet and you think you don’t like it, just keep going and eventually you will like it!”  I suppose that you could call that the “eat your vegetables” approach to ballet appreciation.  

The next chapter was “A Brief History of the Ballet,” followed by “Chronology of Significant Events in the History of Ballet.”  This was a detailed timeline beginning with Lorenzo de Medici (ballet was imported to France by Catherine de Medici as a part of courtly spectacles). I felt that I had a good grip on the timeline, dissemination, and evolution of ballet, but this had some interesting details in it that raised some questions – I have a few things to look into and will report back!

Next is a brief autobiography by Mr. Balanchine, “How I Became a Dancer and Choreographer.” 

Then, “Ballet for Your Children,” “Careers in Ballet,” and a glossary which contains some very good illustrations of positions and steps.  It was surprising to me how adamant Mr. Balanchine was that children shouldn’t begin studying ballet until they are eight years old.  It just goes to show how long I’ve been away from that world that his talk about dancers’ development was a bit shocking in its frankness.  It certainly isn’t the way that those things are talked about these days.

I love classic books, and this is certainly a great addition to my dance book collection.  If you have questions about a “great ballet,” please let me know and I can tell you what Mr. Balanchine has to say about it!