Reviews

Book Review: Ballerina – by Edward Stewart

ballerina bookby Emily Kate Long

Reading Ballerina by Edward Stewart is like snacking on too many Girl Scout Cookies. There’s something sentimental about them, and it’s so hard to just have one. Chapter after juicy (and sometimes eye-roll-inducing) chapter, I couldn’t put this novel down.

Ballerina was originally published in 1979. The latest edition comes in e-book format from Open Road Publications. At 500 pages, it’s a quick read with plenty of theatrics. A few of the forty-nine chapters seem like separate episodes in the often scattered plot, and as a whole the book has the slightly dated feel of a yellowing Polaroid photo. If you’re looking for a good soap-opera-type travel read, though, this definitely fits the bill.

The plot follows dancers Stephanie Lang and Christine Avery from their audition for the country’s top ballet school at age sixteen into their early twenties as they navigate promising careers, romance, and friendship. Steph’s overbearing mother Anna and the manipulative artistic director Marius Volmar are in turns detestable and pitiable as secondary characters, twisting and prodding Steph and Chris for personal gain.

The world Stewart creates is one of catty backstabbing and sleeping around—think Dancers, The Turning Point, or Center Stage. Despite the book’s shortcomings, the intrigue of the insider-outsider dance world makes Ballerina a readable jaunt for dancers and non-dancers alike. I rate it three stars out of five for exciting drama but lack of depth, and PG-13 for some strong language and few graphic scenes—it’s not a novel for the Girl Scout-age set.

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Hubbard Street Dances Kylián

Hubbard Street Dancers Ana Lopez, left, and Garrett Patrick Anderson in Petite Mort by Jiří Kylián. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Hubbard Street Dancers Ana Lopez, left, and Garrett Patrick Anderson
in Petite Mort
by Jiří Kylián. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

by Catherine L. Tully

Thursday evening Hubbard Street Dance Chicago offered up an evening focused completely on choreographer Jiří Kylián at Chicago’s Harris Theater. Two works the company has performed before (27’52” and Petite Mort) and two are company premieres (Sarabande and Falling Angels).

The program is arranged beautifully—working its way back from 2002 to 1989, letting the audience see the choreographer’s development—but in reverse. First on the bill is 27’52″ with its stark set, authoritative music and unusual poses. The title of the work refers to its length, but the force supplied by both the movement and the music draws the viewer in, making it feel much shorter.

The flooring is used in different ways here—sometimes as a cover or wrap for a particular dancer, other times as the impetus for the movement itself. Once it even pulls a dancer along the stage, resulting in a forceful type of floating motion—which is oddly compelling.

Kylián uses the spoken word throughout the work, which in and of itself isn’t particularly unusual, but the fact that the recorded voices are those of the original cast gives it a deeper layer, tying past to present dancers each time it is performed.

Petite Mort is the next Kylián work, and it is an audience favorite. The beginning presents a striking image, with six men on stage maneuvering six foils and six women standing in the shadows behind them looking on. Gender roles are on display front and center here, with the men brandishing weaponry and the women darting in and out from behind voluminous black dresses that slide across the stage on wheels. Although most sequences are danced expertly by the company, the eroticism does at times translate more as a series of poses and steps to be executed rather than raw, visceral movement.

Hubbard Street Dancer Johnny McMillan in Sarabande by Jiří Kylián, with Jason Hortin, left, and Jonathan Fredrickson . Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Hubbard Street Dancer Johnny McMillan
in Sarabande by
Jiří Kylián, with
Jason Hortin, left, and Jonathan Fredrickson
Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Sarabande begins with a literal bang as six men lay stretched out on the floor, slapping their arms down in unison, as if demanding attention. The women’s gowns are back on display again, but this time they are heavily decorated, hovering over the men–empty–almost haunting. The men roll through a series of postures and poses, ranging from primal, manly screams in unison—to little boys peering at something interesting on the ground.

They dance at times with shirts up around their heads, reminiscent of a miniature Martha Graham costume from Lamentation, and other times with pants down around their ankles. A series of short robust solos is the highlight here, very well executed and supremely powerful.

Falling Angels is the final work of the evening and it features live accompaniment by the steady hands of Third Coast Percussion. While the men of Sarabande seem to alternate between singularity of focus and camaraderie, Falling Angels is a multitasking, tribal marvel. This piece was perhaps the best suited to Hubbard Street, as the women of this company are fierce dancers who hold nothing back.

The choreography is at once aboriginal and contemporary, alternating between African dance movements and a scattershot series of expressions of modern femininity. The women moved in strength—rotating very quickly between shy, sexy, hurried, self-conscious and powerful poses and movements.

Hubbard Street performs at the Harris Theater through March 16th.

 

 

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CD Review: “Les Petits” Ballet Class Music for Very Young Children

by Emily Kate Long

What does it take to conduct a successful pre-ballet or creative movement class?

Teaching little ones is a joy, but it can be a challenge to keep their attention. Les Petitsnp5002-3, a collaborative effort between pianist Nolwenn Collet and ballet teacher Nicola Farças, offers music for everything from the usual skips and foot exercises to storybook and role-playing games to dances for different kinds of weather. Forty-five tracks range in length from 1-2 minute across-the-floor selections to eight-bar pieces evoking different emotions and moods from shy to proud.

Les Petits contains music for warming up, creative dances incorporating basic technique, music for allegro and locomotor movement, exercises for music appreciation, music for mime and expression, rhythm games, and a cool-down and reverénce. The CD sleeve includes exercises and choreography suggestions by Farças for most of Collet’s music. Many of these ideas could be used with other ballet CDs, but are charming and perfectly matched to the moods and tempos here.

Les Petits would make a valuable addition to any pre-ballet teacher’s music library. Both new and experienced teachers will find something fresh and helpful on this CD to keep the classroom exciting.

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DVD Review: The Magic of the Mat: Teaching Little Ballerinas on the Alphamat Volume 1

Screen Shot 2014-02-27 at 6.28.58 PMby Emily Kate Long

This hour-long instructional DVD is a teaching tool from Magical Kingdom of Dance for use in preschool and pre-ballet classes. Developed by Mary Alpha Johnson over the course of 67 years of teaching, and continued by her daughter Tonie Johnson Bense, the curriculum in this DVD is designed to inspire young dancers with the use of characters, poems, and songs. There are games for learning right from left, using directions in personal and general space, and for basic ballet and locomotor steps. All the French ballet terms used are paired with a character to make memorization fun and meaningful: Saute the Bunny, Port de Bras the Octopus, and Bouree the Bumblebee are just a few friends featured on the DVD.

In The Magic of the Mat, Johnson Bense leads a group of sweet three- to six-year-olds through their paces on an illustrated 52” square mat. While the DVD and mat are designed to be used together, the exercises Bense teaches her young dancers could be easily adapted to any pre-ballet class setting. They would make an especially good starting point for someone new to teaching little ones. From putting on diamonds out of a jewelry box to buzzing around an imaginary front yard with bourees, The Magic of the Mat contains great strategies for a fun, imaginative, disciplined, and joyful pre-ballet classroom. The DVD and many other teaching tools, along with more information about the curriculum, can be found online at MagicalKingdomOfDance.com

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DVD Review: TuTu Much!

220px-TUTUMuchPosterby Emily Kate Long

TuTu Much! Follows nine female ballet students through the audition process for Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet School. These girls are pushed to their physical and emotional limits over the course of the four-week summer school, which serves as an audition for the RWBS year-round professional division. They compete with friends, classmates, and roommates, but most intensely with themselves. They’ve taken to heart the message that dance is hard work and not for the faint of spirit, the indifferent, or the undisciplined. They’re regular kids with big, serious ambitions, and they handle themselves with poise where there are careers are concerned. To balance the solemnity of the studio, there’s plenty of levity in endearing shots of the girls video chatting with family, mock-fighting with water sprayers, and raiding the school vending machines.

This film is an honest look into one school’s selection process, and the nine young subjects, their teachers, and their families are all very candid about the ups and downs of professional ballet training. The film hit selected movie theaters across Canada in 2010, giving the general public a peek into this foreign, mostly inaccessible world. Producers Vonnie Von Helmolt and Merit Jensen Carr and Director Elise Swerhone deserve kudos for presenting to the public a much more realistic look at professional dance training—what it actually takes to “make it”—than any American TV program ever has.

TuTu Much! made me root for all parties involved. I wanted these young women to succeed. I felt for their parents facing tough financial and family decisions. I sympathized with the teachers’ demands that every student bring her full effort into the work. Though most appealing to a dance audience, the film is important in a broader sense because it presents a set of highly driven young people, something that seems to be increasingly rare. It’s mostly straight talk about the sometimes harsh realities of the dance world, with just enough sweetness and charm to be satisfying.

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