Monthly Archives: May 2013

To the Parents of April Jones

Dear parents of April Jones,

I read the news today that Mark Bridger was found guilty of abducting and murdering your five-year-old daughter, April. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-22687971 I read on and on, riveted and horrified that this atrocity could have happened. I saw the picture of your daughter, bent my head, and wept.


Every parent throughout the world, upon hearing your story, seeing your daughter’s photo, is surely grieving for you, with you. Words sound so trite next to the enormity of your loss, particularly since I am not a parent who has been forced to endure what you two must confront, day after day. But I am a parent. And my heart is breaking for you and your loss today.

There is little I can do, nothing more I can offer. But my hope is, that at some point, you are able to scan across the Internet and see the support and encouragement and admiration and humble condolences of people around the world, hundreds of thousands of us, unable to connect with you any other way, but feeling so very connected to your tragedy.

I suppose that’s a new take on the “world-wide web.” If it were something visual, it would be a blanket, knitted by everyone’s words and thoughts, sent your way, with our deepest respects and condolences.

You, your daughter and your whole family, as well as the families of all abducted children, will forever remain in my heart, my thoughts.

**

To the family of Lizabeth Wilson, abducted at age 13, July 7, 1974, in Prairie Village, KS. We have never forgotten. We will never forget her, nor you, nor that date. Ever.

To the family of 15-year-old Morgan Hill teen Sierra LaMar, still missing, since her abduction on March 14, 2012. Our hearts are with you. Always.

Ulyana Lopatkina and Her Swans

images-151

I discovered prima ballerina Ulyana Lopatkina two years ago through Ballerina, a 2006 documentary that is a must-see for any ballet student or enthusiast. It follows the careers of five extraordinary Mariinsky* ballerinas and the teaching institution that produced them, the prestigious Vaganova Academy, which auditions 3000 children annually for sixty places. The audition process is strict, exacting. One by one, bare chested ten year olds (boys and girls alike) in their underwear execute a few steps along a red carpet, before a seated panel of Vaganova administrators and teachers. The prospective dancer is pushed, prodded, yanked, contorted. There’s a stark reality to it: bodies for sale, for the pursuit of what, in Russia, is deemed the highest of the arts. Ballet at this level is so much about having the right body type: slender, long legs and arms, long neck, short waist, tremendous flexibility and turnout. You either have it or you don’t. Every young girl prays to be chosen. The Vaganova Academy is the most prestigious school for ballet in the most prestigious country for ballet (Russian prima ballerinas are afforded the kind of worship and adulation we in the U.S. offer to Hollywood stars).

Ulyana Lopatkina had it. And how.

Of the five dancers whose stories are chronicled in Ballerina, Ulyana Lopatkina’s stands out in my mind. In 1999, amid rising stardom, she sustained an injury that wouldn’t heal, which finally necessitated surgery. It took her off the stage for two years. During that slow recuperation time, she pondered a thorny choice all female ballet dancers face: to risk a successful career to have a child, or not? Ballet is a jealous, controlling mistress. There’s not much room in a Mariinsky prima ballerina’s life for such a luxurious indulgence as a personal life. Marriage? A baby? But Lopatkina took both those risks, putting her time away from the stage to efficient use. In the documentary, we meet up with her just as she is commencing her return to the stage. It’s fascinating to watch. Thrilling. I am rooting for her, as likely many were. She is one of Russia’s most highly regarded ballet dancers.

images-152

What is also so interesting to me about Lopatkina is how, even though she has the typical Mariinsky/Vaganova body, those long, long arms and legs, the regal slimness, the elegant carriage and port de bras, she stands out physically as different. There’s her height: 5’9” (not to mention her size 10 feet). There is her cropped, copper-colored hair style whereas most ballet dancers sport long, flowing tresses. There is a squareness to her jaw, an angularity, that hints at stubbornness, a steely determination to be her own person, to be true to the kind of dance that makes her unique. (She is peerless in the dramatic roles.) Big, wide grey eyes, solemn, observant. In the documentary, she is grave, unsmiling, regal. An artist serious about her craft, devoting her all to it. When she dances, she emotes with her entire body, not just her face and hands, yet with subtle finesse. I watch her in Swan Lake excerpts and it is as if I’m discovering the art of ballet, its power, for the first time.

Because Lopatkina now has a family, she’s reluctant to set off on long, extended tours with the company. Nor is she interested in guest-performing around the world, prestigious as that might be. She has her own prestige in Russia, heaps of it, and within the Mariinsky as well. She is a national treasure, and they know it and treat her accordingly.

There is, at least YouTube, and thank goodness for that. Here she is, as Odette in Swan Lake. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZLxIM2OpCdc)

http://

And here she is as Odile, the sly, evil Black Swan incarnation, now a well-known character in the mainstream, courtesy of the psychotic Nina in the blockbuster film Black Swan. (And we’ll save commenting further on that one for another blog.) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-34JTOE5SEQ

http://

I’ll offer you one more ultra-impressive swan performance to watch, the legendary “Dying Swan.” Some people think “Dying Swan” is from the ballet Swan Lake. It’s not, nor is the music composed by Tchaikovsky. The music is taken from Camille Saint-Saens Carnival of the Animals, the gorgeous cello solo, “The Swan.” Choreographed in 1905 by Mikhail Fokine, it featured ballet legend Anna Pavlova, who went on to perform it 4000 times more. To get a taste of it, here’s a link to a performance of it by ballet legend Maya Plisetskaya (who is fifty years old in the clip, but you wouldn’t believe it, watching her move): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wpk7Kx4dt-U

And here is Ulyana Lopatkina’s Dying Swan http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-T2UeKKac-s

http://

* The Mariinsky was, for a time, known as the Kirov (from 1935 to 1991). It is the name of the theater where the dancers perform, not necessarily the dance company itself. Confused? Further elaboration can be found in my Ballet Q&A section.

PS: fellow dance blogger Rori Roars offers a great, extended review of the documentary Ballerina. Here’s the link; it’s worth a check-out: http://roriroars.wordpress.com/2013/04/27/ballerina/. And, unfathomably, you can watch the whole documentary on YouTube now. Here’s that link, as well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AXSqObTHvEs

© 2013 Terez Rose

Tips for a successful and happy lifelong marriage

Today is my anniversary; my husband and I have been married twenty-one years. I am still dazed with my good fortune over it all. He is still the love of my life, the only person I want to wake up alongside, and it is my greatest wish that we continue to wake up alongside each other for many, many years to come. (Well, continued health and prosperity sort of compete with that “greatest” wish, but you got the idea, right?)

I see young people around me, pondering that decision for themselves, on the cusp of something great, or something disastrous. Falling in love is such a euphoria-hazed condition, all-consuming and wildly unreasonable, rendering its victim immune to logic, common sense, others’ concerns. What can you do but watch, withhold your opinion (they don’t want to hear it anyway) and hope some nugget of wisdom or insight slips in there, amid the hormonal explosion going on? And maybe, if we’re lucky, they’ll Google “tips for a successful and happy lifelong marriage” and voila, advice for them to take, or not.

It’s their ride, in the end. But I wish them, and you, all the best, and hope that you’ve found what I have. Truly, a strong marriage is one of life’s greatest blessings.

k3045684

Classical Girl’s Tips for a successful and happy lifelong marriage

  • Choose wisely. Choose for life.
  • Don’t rush your decision. Who you are in your early-to-mid twenties, could prove to be quite different from the person you are in your late twenties, early thirties. (I was twenty-nine and he was thirty-four when we got married. Great age. Great timing.)
  • Value yourself. Further, make sure your partner values you as much as you deserve to be valued (hint: you deserve to be valued a LOT. Seriously a lot).
  • Chose someone you’re compatible with. This is HUGE. In the finance department. In the raising-a-family-down-the-road department. In long term goals and dreams. In the sack. (I don’t mean to embarrass anyone here, or anything, but if you’re single and young and reading this and you’re thinking it doesn’t matter if the two of you are incompatible here, oh, dear. And if there is a worried whisper in the back of your mind that you’re trying to avoid listening to, oh dear. Please. Listen. The whispers are there to help us find our way in life.)
  • Communicate. And not just the easy day-to-day stuff. Communicate the tricky stuff. The uncomfortable stuff. The confrontation stuff. If you can communicate it today, it won’t become a skeleton, a dark argument-in-the-making, tomorrow.
  • Love each other. Respect each other. Don’t stop doing these things. Ever. Year ten, year twenty, day 100, day 10,000, they are the same. If those two things die, or have died, I am so sorry. Seriously. Because they are big.
  • I’ve heard it said that the key to a great marriage is when both of you secretly believe that you’re the lucky one in the equation. I don’t know if this is a “key,” but it’s a wonderful thought, and true (because I KNOW I’m the lucky one, even as he tells me he is) and I wish this state on every couple.

Happy Anniversary to my dear Classical Husband, and wishing all of my readers the same happiness in their own relationships. Because I know you deserve it. I may not know everything about you, dear readers. But of this, I’m certain.

grounds-8

The Liebster Award: Warning… Candor Ahead

Fellow dance blogger Rachael from Back to First Position has honored me by nominating me for a Liebster Blog award. She describes it as “a blogger-to-blogger pay it forward kinda thing to recognize other bloggers whom we feel are great at what they do and deserve some recognition.”

Here are the rules for accepting the award:

  • 1. Thank the person who nominated you and include a link back to their blog.
  • 2. Answer the 11 questions given to you.
  • 3. List 11 random facts about yourself.
  • 4. Create 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate.
  • 5. Choose 11 bloggers with 200 or less followers to nominate and include links to their blogs.
  • 6. Go to each blogger’s page and let them know you have nominated them.

Thank you, thank you, Back to First Position! (http://backtofirstposition.wordpress.com) And here are replies to your questions:

1)    Why did you start writing your blog? I’m a writer and I must write daily or I’ll go mad. Several months ago I finished an eighteen-month project, a novel about two sisters, set in the ballet world. After it went out to my agent, I felt so darned lonely without that ballet world to go back to, delve into, every day. Working on a new novel with a new setting/subject wasn’t taking away the ache. And so, voila, this past February I started up The Classical Girl. A blog allows me to once again have a reason for researching and following the ballet world. I also love writing about classical music, having posted essays at Violinist.com for seven years now. I figured it was high time to start doing the same thing on my own site, and it pairs nicely with the ballet.

2)   What is the most fun thing for you about your blog? I get to pour myself into writing about what I care about, not worrying about “the market” and/or whether I can sell the essay (most of my entries are essays; I’m a born essayist and just seem to spew out ideas that are 850 to 1100 words). I love capturing this thought, this emotion that has been haunting me, getting it into word form, and sending it out there into the world for anyone to read. Sometimes my subjects are obscure—like why Max Bruch, a 19th century composer, has such a powerful impact on me in his symphonies, and yet remains relatively obscure next to the giants like Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, all fellow countrymen. I loved that essay sooooo much. I spent days and days on it. Sadly, it hasn’t garnered the attention the other posts have (oh, poor Max Bruch – even blogs about you get overlooked! But hey, not if I can help it: http://www.theclassicalgirl.com/?p=222), but I don’t regret the work I did for a single minute. I reached deep into my heart, found words for complex emotions, and crafted them into an essay. It’s my own little art form, my giving to the world. The world may not leap for it. But that’s art for you. There’s commercial art, and the kind you do in an attempt to douse that fire burning in your soul. Or stoke it. Can’t remember which is the good one and which is the lethal one.

3)   How much time do you spend on your blog weekly? As a writer, I devote, on average, thirty hours a week to my writing. Blogging, however, has mucked up the familiar routine. Sometimes the time is spent writing, but much more often, it’s Internet surfing, visiting other blogs, commenting here and there, looking for places to plant seeds for more growth. And oh, don’t even get me started on the technical aspect of running a site. I have a WordPress.org site, which is self-hosted, which means that if there’s a problem, it’s all mine, to be figured out myself. So. Some weeks, it feels like those thirty hours go straight to the blog, and we’ll add an extra ten hours in the evening, problem-solving and trouble-shooting the techie issues. I’m hoping this is a learning curve thing, and that in another six months, that time-commitment will have subsided. And at least one day a week I completely ignore the blog and do my “real” writing, which is either fine-tuning a nearly finished manuscript or working on a new novel-in-progress. Those are very pleasant days. Like a different world entirely.

4)    What is your happiest memory? Too complicated to answer in a short space. Likely involved food and friends and a glass of wine. Or several. Next question.

5)     Can you drive a stick shift? Yes. But I learned at age 35 and it was difficult as hell. My husband kept trying to teach me and finally I shrieked at him that I was done, no more. But a year later, we moved to London. All the cars there had manual transmission, including the car my husband received as part of the expatriate package. It was either learn, or not drive for two years. And my husband often traveled (without the car) and there it was, in our driveway, prime for adventure, if only I could learn. So. Yes, I learned. In city traffic, driving on the left-hand side of the road. With the driver’s seat on the right side, like all British cars, which meant learning about the clutch with my left hand, after having failed to learn with the clutch to my right. Not sure whether that part of the equation made it harder or easier. But I called a driving school, set up an appointment, and I did it. (I had no choice, really; I’d paid for six lessons in advance.)

6)    Can you pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time? Yes.

7)   What has surprised you the most about having a blog? How much more difficult it is than writing novels, particularly when you’re an introvert like myself. I love silent retreats and can live without phones and TV and all electronics. And all social media. I thought that was a good thing, a lofty, noble thing. It’s not. It’s humbling to realize how much I need to push myself to get out more into the blogosphere and start interacting more with the rest of the world. But really, there are so many life lessons out there for me, to help me grow, be a better person. Including being less technophobic, less of a social media neophyte.

8)   What was the last movie you saw? Hmm. In the theater or on Netflix? Trying to remember movies is a funny thing. You think you can recite all your favorites off the top of your head, but when it comes to the moment, you’re standing there scratching your head, searching a mind gone blank. Will have to get back to you on this one. I’ll tell you what it wasn’t, however. Wasn’t violent, too mainstream (okay, I saw Skyfall), it was quite possibly artsy and indie and/or foreign. Intelligent and/or funny. That kinda thing.

9)   What is your favorite ballet? Confession time. Even though I am The Classical Girl and a former ballet dancer, I have never seen a full-length ballet in its entirety. Well, there’s the Nutcracker, but that was me performing in it, year after year, and I got heartily sick of so much of the music, the story, that I would never call that a favorite. Doubt you’ll ever catch me at a performance of it. There are scenes from ballets that I love. How about that? Sleeping Beauty, Aurora’s “Rose Adagio.” La Bayadere, The “Kingdom of the Shades” scene. Omigod. I weep every time I watch it (on YouTube). The Don Quixote grand pas de deux. Gorgeous; the music gives me chills.  The closing scene of Gisele (actually maybe I did watch that whole ballet, on DVD). 

10) Who is your favorite ballet dancer? Changes monthly. This month it’s Ulyana Lopatkina. The week before it was Alina Cojocaru. Before that it has been Sarah Van Patten, Vanessa Zahorian, Yuan Yuan Tan. I love all the dancers of the San Francisco Ballet.

11) Can you do the splits? Yes, with my left leg forward. Not with the right leg in front, however. Hurts like a son of a gun to try. But in my yoga class, it’s one of the things the teacher will have us work on from time to time. Fortunately in yoga, it’s never a competition. You just go till your body shrieks at you. And then you breathe. I tend to forget that last part.

Okay, time for Part III of the award…

Eleven Random Facts About Me

1) In my life I’ve been a college student, dancer, waitress, secretary, Peace Corps Volunteer, English teacher, ballet teacher, sales representative, sales manager, expatriate wife, travel writer, mommy, essayist, foodie, violin student, aspiring novelist and now a blogger.

2) I’ve lived in provincial Africa (Gabon), Kansas (grew up there), London, the San Francisco Bay Area and the Santa Cruz Mountains. Hope to stay here in the latter destination forever.

3) I am one of eight kids, nine if you count my brother John Francis, who died when he was just a few days old. In my adult years it has become more important to mention his name. Keep his memory alive, remind me that I have three brothers and not just two.

4) I can put my left foot behind my head.

5) I’ve written five novels. No, you can’t find them because they were rejected by editors. Still holding out hope for #5, however, which is currently on submission to aforementioned editors.

7) Music plays in my head every waking moment of the day. Mostly classical. Toss in some Celtic, some African. If it’s Sunday and my son and I have been to church, it’s church-y stuff. Which makes for annoying ear worms. Until I run to turn on the CD player for more classical to drown it out.

8) I got fired from four of my first six jobs as a teen/young adult. It was always a miscommunication, a misunderstanding. Theirs. Of course. Teens are never at fault.

9) I love good food and good wine. I live to eat. Wish I could embrace the “eat to live” philosophy, but it ain’t gonna happen. Ever.

10) My five sisters are my best friends. My other best friend is considered by all to be an honorary sister.

11) I can’t not write. Writing makes me so happy. Paradoxically, a really good writing day makes me edgy as hell to be around.  Poor you. Lucky me. I think.

Okay. That satisfied Parts I, II, and III. Yikes. Two more parts. Um…

To be continued…

Thank you so much, Rachel! (And did you readers visit her site? You’re supposed to do that, you know. Go ahead. We’re watching. http://backtofirstposition.wordpress.com)

Augustin Hadelich: A Fiery Artistry

Call me sentimental, but when I hear a story about a talented performer in the arts world who suffers adversity and triumphs against tremendous odds, well, it steals my heart. It gets me rallying around that person. That I should be won over by the performer’s talent, musicality, peerless technique, before learning his backstory, well, that makes it all the more sweeter. One performance by German violinist Augustin Hadelich (via live Internet streaming of the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis) and I was smitten.

Flashback to 1999. At age fifteen, child prodigy violinist Augustin Hadelich was badly burned in an accident at the family farm in Tuscany. He was hospitalized with extensive burns to his upper body, face and right hand, putting his career, not to mention his life, at risk. The next two years included months in the hospital, twenty surgeries, slow rehabilitation, pushing past pain, doubt, skepticism that he’d ever play the violin again, much less perform professionally. But he persevered, made his way back, and in 2006 he won first place in the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis. Which, if you’re a ballet person reading this, is like the Prix de Lausanne, the Youth America Grand Prix. It’s big. It’s an international career launcher.

This season Augustin Hadelich made his debut with the San Francisco Symphony, with the Beethoven Violin Concerto, a replacement for originally scheduled Julia Fischer, an already acclaimed violinist with an ever-growing reputation. It was a thrill to go to the concert and watch the sublime be replaced by the equally sublime.

A word about the Beethoven Violin Concerto, using another ballet analogy. It’s one of the pinnacles of the concerto repertoire, not something for the unseasoned performer, much in the way Swan Lake necessitates a prima ballerina. Both roles demand the top level of artistry, technique, artistic sensibility and musicality. Some well-known violinists won’t even include the Beethoven Violin Concerto in their concertizing repertoire—it’s that challenging, that easy to get wrong.

The second movement, the Larghetto, orchestral-speaking, is majestic, stirring, but the violin solo parts are deceptively sweet-sounding, almost meditative. It’s so much more about interpretation than flash. Here, as in much of the concerto, the violin part is exposed, like a solitaire diamond. No hiding a flaw. From my first tier corner seat (read: economically distant) I could almost feel Hadelich’s concentration, his intention. He is a thoughtful musician whose intelligence and reverence for the piece shine through. The audience was utterly engrossed, almost leaning in so as to catch every nuance. One of my favorite moments is when a talented musician pauses, allows a split second of silence during their solo cadenza, and here you are in this 2000 seat concert hall, all of you, listening. That night you could hear a pin drop as the last of the violin’s silvery tones, the sympathetic vibrations from Hadelich’s 1723 Stradivarius, rose into the air and dissipated.

The third movement is more jaunty and triumphant, and Hadelich switched moods, producing a blazingly fast, sharply articulated cadenza that seemed infectious, propelling the orchestra behind him to redouble their energy as well. The momentum built so high that the instant Hadelich and the San Francisco Symphony played the last note, the audience was on their feet, roaring with approval.

What a glorious coup for Hadelich and Beethoven alike. And yet Beethoven likely went to his grave thinking he’d gotten it wrong. Composed in 1806, a violin concerto ahead of its time, the premiere was not a success, and the concerto was dropped from performance repertoire for nearly forty years, revived only after his death, by twelve-year old prodigy Joseph Joachim with Felix Mendelssohn conducting. That Beethoven never received the acclaim he deserved for this masterpiece is heartbreaking. It’s as heartbreaking as what might have been, had Augustin Hadelich believed the people who told him his chances of playing the violin again, performing again, were slim.

You know, there’s something rather Zen and philosophical about that all. Into the fire. Amid the ashes of what you’d been, in Hadelich’s case, a child prodigy, and the truth is, a lot of child prodigies don’t make it over that hurdle into adulthood. But this, a two year period, regenerating, rebuilding, quite literally, letting go of what you’d been, what you’d once achieved. Breaking your psyche down to its core—what can you not live without? What one thing will you fight with your life for? The answer for Augustin Hadelich was this: to play the violin. He didn’t want a life compromised by its absence. He therefore struggled, fought, persevered in his goal to get back to what he’d been. Twenty surgeries later, having surely suffered setbacks, limitations, relearning, re-doing, he returned to the stage, brilliant and triumphant, fiery in his artistry.

Well done, Augustin Hadelich. May this be first of many performances with the San Francisco Symphony for you.

***

Here’s Hadelich playing Schumann, the Sonata for Piano and Violin no. 1, in a gorgeous, equally impressive black-and-white filming. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8z21gukj_u0