This is one for the home library. There’s nothing quite like seeing this particular Nutcracker performance–after all–it’s Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland, along with ABT members, dancing one of the most famous ballets of all time. The Blu-ray quality and remastering make it a much better viewing than it would be otherwise, given the fact that this was way back in the late 70′s.
Sets are a bit dated and the film quality isn’t perfect, but this is a real treasure anyway. The choreography is lovely and the dancing sublime. I had seen this version when it first came on TV and remember thinking how absolutely delicate Kirkland was as the Sugar Plum, and Barishnikov is always impressive.
I hadn’t seen this version since then, and it was really interesting to see how much choreography has changed over the years. The execution here is clean and sure, and while the lifts and solos may not be as technically complex as most modern-day versions, it’s still a joy to watch.
Today I’d like to introduce our newest contributor–Risa Gary Kaplowitz. She’ll be doing a monthly column for 4dancers, and today we begin with a bit of her “back story” so you can get to know her a bit…
by Risa Gary Kaplowitz
It’s a wonderful thing to realize how lucky you are. I don’t mean the gratuitous “grateful” we all read on Facebook posts when a “friend” gloats about one thing or another and then says, “So blessed!” Nope. I mean how great it feels to acknowledge the really big decision or moment of good fortune without which your life would be completely different.
I had such a realization a few months ago when I attended the 90th birthday celebration for Tensia Fonseca, Artistic Director of Maryland Youth Ballet. It was she who started the now nationally recognized school and youth company almost 50 years ago in the barre-lined basement of her cozy suburban home.
I came to what at that time was called, Maryland School of the Ballet when I was three years old. My mom had taken me to my first ballet class at the local recreation center where Mrs. Fonseca’s business partner at the time, Roy Gean, was teaching pre-ballet. After class, he told my mom that I showed promise and asked if she would bring me to their newly built one room studio on St. Elmo Ave. in Bethesda.
The rest of my life can be traced back to the moment my mom said, “Yes.”
In Part II of our series, we are following up on the interview with Risa Kaplowitz and talking today with Susan Jaffe, who was recently named Ballet Mistress for American Ballet Theatre…
I also have to point out this wonderful interview Susan did with Charlie Rose in 2002. Don’t miss it.
1. What is your teaching philosophy and who has it been influenced by?
This is a question one can write entire book on, but below is snap shot of my philosophy. Also, I have had many great teachers in my life including books, artists from other professions, and life’s circumstances (good and bad), but here is a list of people from my professional ballet life that have mostly influenced my teaching: Mikhail Baryshnikov, Irina Kolpakova, Elena Tchernichova, Christina Bernal, Nancy Bielski and Julio Horvath-who created Gyrotonics.
I am very much focused, when teaching a ballet class, on correct placement, correct use of turn out, breadth, coordination of the arms and head and legs, using the oppositional forces within a step, i.e. every force has an equal and opposite force going in the opposite direction within the body. For example, to releve´ the dancer must push down into the floor through the legs to rise up to pointe. Secondly, it is important that the dancer takes all of these skills and transforms them into a movement quality with the understanding of the use of dynamic, musicality, amplitude, and of course, the heart, which is the source that allows a dancer freedom and genuine expression.
At the beginning a dancer needs to understand how to stand up correctly. This includes not only the proper placement of the torso, arms, feet, head and legs, the correct use of turn out, and the correct coordination, but also where to direct ones energy and focus while executing a step. This is a very sophisticated understanding of the body and requires much will and focus to acquire. Then as the dancer progresses, those same ideas apply when s/he is moving through space, which requires added strength, skill and application of those same principals.
I try to teach all of this within the appropriate stages and levels of maturity of a young dancer’s training. Each level can be taken to higher levels of understanding and sophistication that equals their abilities. I also try to be as honest, but as positive and reassuring as I can. It is important for a dancer to know what they need to work on, but it is equally important how a dancer approaches their work and how they feel about themselves while they work. If they are implementing their corrections with the joy and curiosity of learning, then they will improve much faster than if they go into habits of self-flagellation. My quest is to empower the dancer with their-own confidence, curiosity, self- exploration and passion to learn and improve.
2. What is your best advice for a dancer who wants to become a professional?
To become educated about your art whether it is in or out of class. It is important to know dance history, see the greats (past and present) in the profession in videos or movies, go to museums, listen to great music, and read literature. It is also important to get to know yourself on a deep level and understand what is beautiful and horrible about humanity. Never stop trying to learn as much as you can about you, and it. Then you will have the possibility to become a professional that can transform pure movement into genuine inspiration. You should not aim to be a technical machine; a true dancer is guided by their heart and soul to speak a language that is deep, informed, and inspired. That is where the real art of ballet lies. Aim for that.
3. How has your dance career informed and impacted your teaching?
Everything that I have done in my life has impacted my teaching. It takes many, many years to understand this art form and what makes it come alive. But, while I was dancing I reinvented my approach to technique several times throughout my career. That has informed me a great deal about how long it takes to change a habit or to implement a new idea. It takes tremendous patience and perseverance and I am able to support a dancer through a change because I lived it myself.
4. What was it like to leave the stage and start teaching in the classroom?
When I left the stage, I was ready to go, so teaching was a nice way to give back to the art form that I have loved all my life. That is the way dance continues on, and it seemed like the most natural thing to do for me.
5. What will you miss about teaching at Princeton Dance & Theater Studio and what are you looking forward to in your new role as ballet mistress at ABT?
The thing I will miss most from my school is my students and the lovely families that came together as a result of opening the school.
What I am looking forward to in working at ABT is being able to share what I have learned on a more sophisticated level (now we are getting into roles and dramaturgy. Yeah!) to the dancers that are going out there and performing those roles. I already started working with them last spring and it has been a real joy. I look forward to more of it.
BIO: Declared by the New York Times as “America’s Quintessential American Ballerina” Susan Jaffe danced as a principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre for 20 years. Prominent in the international dance scene as well, her European engagements included performances with The Royal Ballet, The Kirov Ballet, The Stuttgart Ballet, The Munich State Opera Ballet, La Scala Ballet in Milan, The Vienna State Opera Ballet, The Royal Danish Ballet, The Royal Swedish Ballet, and The English National Ballet.
Ms. Jaffe’s versatility as a dancer allowed her to tackle a large range of choreographic works. This not only included her acclaimed interpretations of the classics like Swan Lake but also the dramatic works of John Cranko, Anthony Tudor, Agnes DeMille and Kenneth MacMillian. She also worked with and danced the works of many prominent choreographers such as Jiri Kylian, Twyla Tharp, George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Lar Lubovitch, Nacho Duato and Roland, Petit, David Parsons, Mark Morris, Merce Cunningham, Ronald Hynd, Frederick Ashton, Ulysses Dove and Lynn Taylor Corbett.
In 2003, one year after her retirement from the stage, Ms. Jaffe co-founded the Princeton Dance & Theatre Studio in Princeton, New Jersey where she enjoys passing on the wealth of her knowledge to her dance students. Along with teaching for American Ballet Theatre and giving corporate lectures for Duke Corporate Education, Ms. Jaffe has expanded into choreography. Her choreographic achievements to date include “The Nutcracker” “Pop Sonata” “Velez Pas de Deux” “Sleeping Beauty Act lll” “Raymonda Divertessments” “Novem Pas de Deux” “Ballet Studies”, “Tarantella”, “Royenne”, “UnCaged” and the “Cancan.” She also wrote a children’s book, “Becoming a Ballerina” for children ages 7-13.
Ms. Jaffe has recently been named Ballet Mistress at American Ballet Theatre; a position she will fulfill in October of 2010.0
This post is part of a larger project–
David Hunter from Ballet for Men and Henrik Lamark from Tights and Tiaras are joining me in a venture called Pas de Trois. On that site we will be posting a question each week, which we will then each answer on our blogs–a few days apart. We’d like to encourage members of the dance community (as well as those just interested in dance) to join us in these discussions by leaving a comment with their ideas either on the blog or on Pas de Trois.
This week, for our first question we decided to share our favorite dancer…
When I think of the word “ballerina” there is one image that immediately comes to mind: Suzanne Farrell. Growing up when I did, she was the most inspiring figure in classical ballet to me. Never had I seen someone so fragile looking that was so strong and beautiful.
It can be difficult to say who your favorite dancer is. There are many people who influenced me, or impacted me in one way or another. Gelsey Kirkland was a little whirlwind with boundless energy and a sprightly presence. Mikhail Baryshnikov blew me away with his sheer power and Fred Astaire had a simple grace that is unmatched, even today. Yet you do tend to gravitate toward someone in particular, and for me, it was Suzanne.
I can recall feeling mesmerized when I watched her dance. She seemed as though she were in a trance–that the music just took her and posessed her, making her move at its will. All arms and legs, she was tall, willowy and to me–the perfect vision of a ballerina.
Interested in learning more about Suzanne Farrell? Read this wonderful interview on Academy of Achievement.1
When I think of Antony Tudor, his ballet, The Leaves are Fading immediately springs to mind. Tudor had an enormous impact on the ballet world when I was growing up, and is still well-known throughout the dance world for his choreography. I always felt that Tudor’s work was informed by our collective human psyche. It impacts you.
One of the most famous quotes about Tudor’s work comes from none other than Mikhail Baryshnikov who said, “We do Tudor’s ballets because we must. Tudor’s work is our conscience.”
For more information on Tudor, and a list of all the ballets he choreographed, visit The Antony Tudor Ballet Trust.
Those interested in reading about him in more detail may want to pick up the book, Undimmed Lustre: The Life of Antony Tudor for a closer look at his life–and his art.0