‘Mananayaw’ explores why men dance

I only just recently heard about Mananayaw (Tagalog for dancer), a Filipino documentary that focuses on four male ballet dancers associated with Ballet Philippines. I hope to get to see it someday! (And I’m especially interested as my ethnic heritage is Filipino, and I’m fascinated to see ballet in the homeland.)

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Four danseurs, one passion: Zooming in on the narratives of four male dancers, who were produced by Ballet Philippines, one of the country’s top professional ballet companies, Mananayaw teases out the dance careers of four generations of Filipino male ballet dancers: Nonoy Froilan, JM Cordero, Biag Gaongen, and Victor Maguad.

Read more and watch a clip at GMA News.

Pirouettes and popcorn: Royal Ballet’s ‘La Fille’ at the movies

Last weekend, I had a joyous time watching my first full-length Royal Ballet performance and my first La Fille Mal Gardée at that, all from a convenient nearby movie theater. As a ballet geek-in-training I’ve been trying to watch as much ballet as I can. It’s about time I start expanding my scope beyond the local companies, and if a movie theater can provide a spark of the opera house experience (for now), I’ll take it. And the day I went happened to be the day of the Olympics closing ceremony in London, so I was already in an English mood!

Continue reading “Pirouettes and popcorn: Royal Ballet’s ‘La Fille’ at the movies”

Ballet boys on ‘Jeopardy!’

Last night on a Kids Week episode of Jeopardy! one of the categories was “Boys in Ballet.” Neat! The kids left it to the very end, though it turned out to be a pretty easy category. By the way I was surprised there wasn’t a clue about Billy Elliot. Here are the clues and responses; test your knowledge!

Clues

  • $400 This stretchy one-piece garment for both sexes was named for a guy, a French acrobat
  • $800 In the ballet Checkmate, the red one of these gets to die an agonizing death at the hands of the black queen
  • $1200 Boys’ classes often emphasize jumps, maybe even the difficult tour en l’air, which means this in the air
  • $1600 (Daily Double) A boy named Fritz breaks this title gift given to his sister Clara by Drosselmeyer
  • $2000 After a performance, ballerinas curtsy; men perform a small one of these equivalent gestures
“What is…?”

Correct responses

  • Leotard
  • King
  • Turn (The contestant answered twirl, which was accepted.)
  • The Nutcracker (The contestant–the same one who answered twirl/turn above–risked $1000, but couldn’t come up with an answer.)
  • Bow

How’d you do?

‘Masha’: A portrait of Maria Kochetkova

San Francisco Ballet principal dancer Maria Kochetkova is certainly a ballet star, and the Vogue Theatre was packed last week with local balletomanes (as well as several dancers) for a preview of Masha, a documentary that follows Maria’s participation with the Bolshoi Reflections project in Orange County and Moscow.

The film gives us a glimpse of life behind the scenes, as it wanders with Maria through costume fittings, rehearsals, performances, and more personal moments like that classic ballerina ritual, preparing (i.e., violently breaking in) pointe shoes. (Without a narrator, this fly-on-the-wall style brings to my mind Frederick Wiseman’s 1995 film Ballet, a profile of American Ballet Theatre.) I enjoyed it thoroughly: there are both grand and intimate moments, even slightly comical ones, and they all make you realize how much work goes into ballet despite how effortless it seems from afar. More importantly you get a glimpse of Maria as a dancer at her craft: very detailed and direct as she figures out if a costume will fit right, perfects a particular step or move with the choreographer (in one of the scenes, Jorma Elo), and so forth. Here’s a clip:

After the screening, Maria took the stage to answer audience questions, which ranged from her childhood and training to her onstage state of mind (“freaking out!”; she tries to work extra hard in the studio so she doesn’t have to overthink during performance) to if she had kids whether she would encourage them to take ballet (yes, why not?) to dream roles she hasn’t yet played (she’s starting to run out, but upcoming SFB production Cinderella appeals). I love Q&As. This was the first time I had attended one with Maria, and it was lovely to get a sense of her quick, sparkling personality away from the Opera House stage.

Directed by Bronwen Parker-Rhodes, Masha now continues in editing and is likely to have a further or final-cut screening later this year. I’m looking forward to it!

» See also: A couple of videos featuring Maria Kochetkova, San Francisco Ballet Artist Spotlight; and one of the pieces featured in Masha, Jorma Elo’s One Overture.

La vie d’une ├ętoile

I went to the San Francisco Dance Film Festival for the first time last week and had a great time. Apparently it’s a relatively new festival, just having started in 2010, and it takes place mainly at the Ninth Street Independent Film Center. Friday evening’s program consisted of seven short films and a feature called Claude Bessy: Lignes d’une vie.

Selected shorts

All of the shorts were well done, and if I had to choose a favorite perhaps it would be In a Moment. About a man who loses his memory following a car accident, the film plays with themes of time, memory, and relationships.

Another interesting short was Beautiful Illusion, which drew me of course since it has ballet, but its spark is in the tension between the beauty and pain of ballet. A woman dances through an art gallery, and a few times she pauses while an X-ray image is projected onto her body; the words are not mere labels of bones but of a dancer’s potential injuries. The entire four-minute film is available online:

Again, they were all interesting in their own ways, but I’ll give another honorable mention, to There, Again, a project that began as a staged dance performance on a set with four dancers, each in one of four small, linked rooms. Everything from the lighting and staging to the music and choreography itself is mesmerizing.

Lignes d’une vie

The second part of the evening was devoted to a documentary on legendary Paris Opera Ballet dancer and educator Claude Bessy. Actually I didn’t know anything about her beforehand, so the film was both entertaining and informative for me. What a career, from Paris to New York to Hollywood and back. I loved all the archival rehearsal and performance footage. (It draws from many sources, including a couple of documentaries on the POB school, parts of which I’d seen online before.) Watching Lignes d’une vie makes me want to jet off to see the Paris Opera Ballet and the Palais Garnier this very minute!

Following the screening, director Fabrice Herrault was on hand for an insightful Q&A along with San Francisco Ballet principal dancers Pascal Molat and Sofiane Sylve. Pascal (below, far left) especially talked about his experience at the school and Madame Bessy as a “tough love” kind of figure.

I enjoyed the evening so much I wish I’d also gone to the other festival programs, especially to see Never Stand Still and Joffrey. In any case I hope to make it to many more festivals in the future!

[Addendum (March 22): The festival awards have been announced, and if you missed out on the shorts, some of them will be screened at the San Francisco Public Library on Saturday, April 21 (2 p.m.), and Wednesday, April 25 (5:45 p.m.), as part of Bay Area Dance Week.]

Waltzing into 2012

OK, I meant to post some new stuff in the last couple of weeks (and do indeed have a few ideas in draft form), but you know how it goes, especially over the holidays. I will say that 2011 has been a great year in ballet for me. I started taking classes and attended more performances (and was able to include a bit of travel), and got to know a bunch of you awesome ballet bloggers and tweeters.

One of my little New Year’s traditions is to record the Vienna Philharmonic New Year’s Day concert. I love Strauss as much as the next Wiener, but when I get around to watching it I fast-forward to the lovely ballet segments (usually filmed in some gorgeous Viennese palace) and to Julie Andrews’s intros from various locations around the city.

There will be three ballet pieces this year, choreographed by Davide Bombana and featuring members of the Vienna State Ballet. The pieces aren’t indicated separately in the program, but I do see that excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty are listed, so I’m guessing that’s one of them.

[Addendum: The three pieces, here linked to YouTube videos are: “Enjoy Life,” “Burning Love,” and “Blue Danube.”]

Check your local listings; here in the Bay Area it airs on KQED on Sunday, January 1, at 10:30 p.m. and again the next day at 4:30 a.m.

See you in 2012 with more ballet shenanigans. Happy new year and happy dancing!

Lady Gaga with a ballet twist

I caught Ellen yesterday ’cause I knew Lady Gaga was going to be a guest, but little did I know her performance of “Marry the Night” would be so ballet-themed! Broken mirrors, crooked barres, torn tights: it’s ballet Lady Gaga-style. There isn’t a ton of bona fide classical ballet steps in this routine, but there are hints of some sprinkled in here and there.

Check it out. And if you’re looking for the danseurs — including my favorite, the quirky SYTYCD contestant turned smoldering backup dancer Mark Kanemura — they come on around 1:40 during Gaga’s shoe change. (And some pointe shoes they are!)

By the way did anyone catch her Thanksgiving TV special? It was pretty good; I have to say I enjoyed it more than I had expected.

‘The Ballet Companion’

So not only did I start taking ballet lessons earlier this year, but I am also reading a lot about ballet too. Yes, this has become my new geekdom. I recently finished Eliza Gaynor Minden‘s book, The Ballet Companion: A Dancer’s Guide to the Technique, Traditions, and Joys of Ballet (2005). As the title suggests, this is an all-around introduction, geared to the beginning dancer. It covers a whole range of topics from schools to positions and basic steps to health and nutrition and so forth. There’s also a chapter on ballet literacy with a helpful bibliography and list of other resources. These in any book are great jumping-off points for further reading and watching.

Throughout the book are sprinkled vignettes on dance history, which I’m especially interested in; my only quibble is that they’re so interspersed that much of my reading of the book involved skipping pages and coming back to read the history blurbs. I might’ve preferred they be given their own chapter. (Then again right now I’m reading a book solely about ballet history, so I’m getting my fill.)

While The Ballet Companion isn’t meant to replace a comprehensive ballet dictionary or manual since its chapter on class covers just several basic steps, I commend it for its clear and large color photos (and with one of the models being Benjamin Millepied, I can’t complain) and its breadth of information. I had borrowed this book from the public library, and after I return it I may end up buying a copy for my own ballet reference shelf.