Monthly Archives: September 2013

5 ballet clips to brighten your day

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Ballet where you least expect it can be a very fun thing and bring scads of life and levity to an otherwise mundane Monday. Take a peek at these and have a ball.

1) You may be familiar with this first one, circling the Internet for a few months now, starring ABT principal Daniil Simkin, but every time I watch it, I’m as entertained as if it were my first. Directed & shot by Alexander Ekman. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nsKXoW3hLkQ

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2) “Modern Daydreams: Deere John,” a wonderfully entertaining new find for me, by filmmaker Mitchell Rose, a former choreographer and performance artist. The music, Saint-Saens’ “The Swan” or ballet’s “Dying Swan” makes it all the more hilarious and perfect.

http://vimeo.com/13939027

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3) And, glory be, Mitchell Rose has a second ballet-based one, “Modern Daydreams: Treadmill Softly”. Both films are in collaboration with BodyVox dance company.

http://vimeo.com/37594223

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Mitchell Rose, by the way, has got a collection of more short films on his website that are great fun and worth a peek: http://www.mitchellrose.com

4) Here’s a charming commercial for Levi’s Stretch Jeans presented by Korea’s creative agency Tribal DDB. http://www.funnycommercialsworld.com/levis-commercial-ballet-5482.html

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5) Then there are the “ballet where you least expect it” photos, by the wondrously creative and talented Jordan Matter. (All the photos used on today’s post are by him, and thank you, Mr. Matter and Jordan Matter Photography, for allowing me to use them!) Please reward him by dropping by his site (http://www.dancersamongus.com), where you can buy his bestselling photography book, Dancers Among Us, or a 2014 calendar, or various favorite prints. Now, I realize this last one isn’t a YouTube clip, really, but the pictures are so delicious and whimsical and brought the same smile to my face that the others did. And there’s a total of five of them. So I hope you’re okay with that, readers.

http://www.dancersamongus.com/photos

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Haunted by St. Saens’ Organ Symphony

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Being haunted by music sounds like something I should be blogging about in late October, but with the sunlight growing autumnal, here in September, and nights growing longer, cooler, I think it will still work. And there’s no better way to describe the hold that Saint-Saens’ Symphony no. 3 has on me right now. Perhaps it’s the spooky intermittent appearance of the organ, as well. The piece is commonly referred to as “the Organ Symphony,” although the organ only appears briefly in the second movement, and in full force in the fourth movement, and then, oh, boy, how it appears, all fortissimo and heart-stopping and full-throttle. Very entertaining to observe in concert halls, when the organ pipes, the bigger the better, are situated behind the back center terrace seating (budget prices for a reason). If you, as the patron observing from a safe distance, know what’s coming, you can watch unsuspecting patrons rocket right out of their center terrace seats when those first chords of the fourth movement sound. Great fun.

But what I want to wax lyrically about today are the first and second movements of Saint-Saens’ Organ Symphony. So incredible. Readers, please, do both of us a favor and listen to at least half of it. And if you really, really don’t have much time, go straight to the second movement. Well, that said, if you’re a person who dozes off during slow movements, no matter how achingly beautiful they are, never mind. Listen to the first movement. It rocks.

Camille Saint-Saens is such a great composer. I’ve written about how deeply affecting I find his music HERE. I’ve always been a fan of his “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N22c3_8gL4Q and then there’s the delicious “Dance Macabre” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YyknBTm_YyM) and his Carnival of the Animals (I’m going to guess you’ve heard “The Swan” even if you don’t know it by name. It’s very popular. My dance readers will recognize it as the music for “The Dying Swan.”).

But today is about his Symphony no. 3.  This is a symphony with so many distinct and wonderful flavors, it just amazes me. And the first movement is so vibrant, unexpected, cinematic. The second movement utterly transports me. I’ll say no more.

If you want to start up at the second movement, it’s at around 10m15.

If you want to start at the beginning, it’s a lot more complicated but I’m sure you’ll figure it out.

Likewise, if you want to start at the end, go for it. (Hey… backwards!)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P2wNAWBPFiI

And now. As you might know from some of my past music blogs, I always like to mix my classical music musings in with my fiction, and this is no exception. If you have no interest in reading the excerpt, easy enough done, and you can just walk away right now, and I won’t be offended in the least. Although there will be a quiz at the end, so if you want to get a good grade for your blog-reading this semester, well, maybe you should read it. (What do you mean you didn’t know you were being graded? Didn’t you read the contract?)

Okay, wait a second. I never want to force my writing on my readers. And I’m feeling magnanimous today. So, here are the answer to the quiz.

  1.   Most decidedly yes!
  2.   D
  3.  Terez
  4.  Three chickens
  5.  1886
  6.   Kye
  7.   Aged cheddar
  8.   Paris
  9.   Duh.
  10.  Only if she’s wearing socks with those little skid-proof dots on the heel and foot pad.

And if you want to go ahead and read my fiction excerpt, here you go. It’s from an earlier novel that might or might not make it all the way to the publishing finish line. Kye is my narrator. This is a flashback scene, ten years earlier when she was 13, a very intense, spiritual, musical girl who had a breakdown of sorts. Back from a residential treatment facility she’s trying to put her life back together. Which once again includes music.

If I were you, I’d listen to the music first, then read. For the ultimate sensory experience, I’d suggest reading while listening to the second movement. For an even more ultimate sensory experience, I’d suggest drinking a glass of wine, too. A concurrent back rub might be too much, however. Same thing goes for a television playing in the background.

***

Life recommenced, slowly but surely. She told her parents she wanted her music back. All of it. Her father kept apologizing, saying they’d just been trying to do the right thing by taking it away. She understood then, just how afraid of her and her instability they’d all been. And, in truth, the instant she came back to her music—starting with Saint-Saens’ Symphony no. 3, the “Organ Symphony”—it was like a hit of narcotics. Except not the kind they’d used to sedate her, “improve” her. The music sent the natural endorphins stirring, exploding within her, bathing her, soothing her. It was like in The Wizard of Oz, the black and white world Dorothy didn’t question until the moment she opened her Kansas door in the Land of Oz, and color met her eyes. So much color. Tears of relief, of joy, flooded her eyes, and she sat there and wept and smiled through the entire first movement. As for the second movement, slow and tender and almost unbearably sweet, it tore through her. Purged her. Cleansed her. Made her think there was, after all, something beautiful in the world worth living for.

How did the movement work its magic? What was it that was so piercingly sweet? Was it in a minor key? Perhaps the way there were two voices, the violins up high and the horns lower. The organ chords giving you the sense of church, of security within divine worship. But there was something else. Almost a searching motif, the first violins on a quest, the lower strings a haunting counterpoint beneath them. The poignancy of it all was everything. It was simply everything, every tender hope she would never dare put into words for fear of having it all dashed. It was everything she’d lost, gathered together, cradled in the arms of a benevolent, celestial force, handing it all back to her, if only for as long as the music played.

The end of the movement was a six-note descent motif. First the woodwinds. The violins repeated. Winds and brass. Strings. How to explain the deliciousness of the minor key, something a non-classical music person might say “that’s so depressing-sounding” about? Maybe this was what her father had heard, and thought it too funereal, with the organ in the background. But it was perfect. It was all so beautiful and grand and noble and full of flavor, she could only sit there and cry through it and, paradoxically, feel more uplifted, transported, welcomed back, than she had in a long, long time.

**

Oh. I mentioned something about a quiz, didn’t I? Don’t worry, it’s going to be an easy one. I have no fortitude for tough. Not after listening to that second movement four times in a row. (Confession: more like six or seven.)

Classical Girl’s Quiz on Saint Saens and my character Kye and whatever else I come up with:

  1.  Does Classical Girl like Saint Saens’ music?
  2.  Which letter in the alphabet comes first, “D” or “Z”?
  3.  What is the first name of the author of the above excerpt?
  4.  What’s one chicken plus two more?
  5.  What year did Saint-Saens compose his 1886 classic, Symphony no. 3?
  6.  What is Kye’s name in my fiction excerpt?
  7.  What kind of cheese does Classical Girl like on her aged cheddar grilled cheese sandwich?
  8.  What’s Classical Girl favorite Parisian city in France that also happens to be the capital?
  9.  Was the French composer Camille Saint Saens born in France?
  10.  Does Classical Girl run around in slippery stockinged feet down her hardwood floor hallway?

Thank you for taking the quiz. You get an A.

And I hope Saint-Saens’ Organ Symphony haunts you. In the nicest of ways, mind you.

san-francisco_davies_ruffatti_lg This is the San Francisco Symphony’s organ, inside Davies Hall, by the way. Note the oh, so close proximity of the center terrace seats to the organ pipes. Can’t recommend highly enough a San Francisco Symphony performance of Saint-Saens’ Organ Symphony.

10,000 Views for my Birthday

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Today, September 17th, is my birthday. I am no longer that milestone, easy-to-remember “fifty years old,”  I am now “over fifty.” Which, in truth, doesn’t bother me. I am healthy; my body and I get along well. I can still dance, jog, kick-box and pretzel around in yoga. I remember as a kid, how “old “people (read: anyone over 39) would soberly intone, “be glad you have your health” and “treasure your health.” Back then, their reverence for it baffled me. Being healthy meant you never got out of school on a sick day. Never. Because I was very, very healthy.

I can well appreciate their words now. I am fit and in good health and it sends a shiver of gratitude over me when I ponder what my quality of life might be if I didn’t have this. In particular, on my 51st birthday, I consider my ballet practice. While some parts of ballet suit me extremely well right now, all that work on alignment, keeping the belly pulled up and tucked in, striving for balance within elegant movement, there are other parts that challenge my joints in a way that the average 50 year old might be looking to avoid. The knees. The hips. The fact that, in spite of the jumping and leaping we ballet dancers do, we are only wearing thin ballet slippers and not cushioned cross-training sneakers. But for me, it’s “so far, so good.” Lucky, lucky me.

So. My continued good health is as much of a birthday gift as I could hope for. Well, that and a little champagne around cocktail hour. Well, okay, and one of those Baskin Robbins ice cream cakes (mint chocolate chip ice cream atop chocolate cake) that my son and I like so much and eagerly anticipate each September 17th.

I suppose I do have one more wish. I’d love 10,000 views for my birthday. My blog, now that I’ve been working at it for 7 ½ months, is coming along nicely, with 70 blog essays posted, and it’s a delight to watch traffic come in from around the world, wanting to read my articles about Paris’s Palais Garnier (a HUGELY popular post) http://www.theclassicalgirl.com/502/  and prima ballerinas Alina Cojocaru http://www.theclassicalgirl.com/artist-spotlight-alina-cojocaru/  and Ulyana Lopatkina. http://www.theclassicalgirl.com/ulyana-lopatkina-and-her-swans/  Lots of people wanting to read more about violin virtuoso Augustin Hadelich, http://www.theclassicalgirl.com/augustin-hadelich-a-fiery-artistry/ and to my delight, there have been quite a few views of “John Cage’s As Slow As Possible”. http://www.theclassicalgirl.com/john-cages-as-slow-as-possible/  (This latter one, I sense, is because there is about to be a note change, occurring within a month, which, when a piece of music is being played as slow as possible — in this case 639 years — a note change is a big deal and won’t occur again until September 2020.) And my Mother’s Day essay. http://www.theclassicalgirl.com/duplicate-of-mothers-day-essay/ Who would have thought so many people around the world would be coming to read the Mother’s Day essay, through every season?

My blog is at 9,840 views (over 30,000 views if you count spam but I only do that on bad days when I need an ego boost). On the average day, of late, I’ve gotten 75 views. On a good day it’s over 100. On my best day, it was close to 200. So. Feel like giving me a birthday gift this week? If you’re here, reading this, do me a favor and click on a few of the above links if you haven’t before read the article. Or heck, if you have, read again! Or send a link of this blog to someone who might be interested in the above subject matter.

I’m so close, it’s thrilling. And even if you don’t do a thing, dear reader, you’ve already made my day by showing up to read this. You’ve made my year by showing up at my blog to check out my writing. In the early days of blogging, there were few visitors and views, because, well, that’s what happens when you start up a blog. It was a lonely, lonely time. Today, I feel utterly rich.

I’ve got my health and I’ve got my blog with its interested readers. I’ve got supportive family and friends encouraging and enriching my endeavors. What a wonderful thing to celebrate on my birthday.

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The Story Needs Music

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So, I fired my characters the other day, the whole lot of them. They stood there, dumb with confusion, as I raged at them.

“You’re dull, you’re cardboard cut-outs, you’re not revealing anything to me, no matter how many hours I sit at the computer or in front of my notes. I’m here, floundering, and there you stand off in the distance, offering no hints or advice. So I give up. I quit. I quit this whole stupid business. Get out of here. Out of my head, out of my life.”

They don’t move.

“What are you waiting for?” I ask, my voice rising. “Get out!”

“Dad?” Kylie, my thirteen-year-old narrator asks, looking up at Patrick, who steps forward.

“Here’s the thing,” he says in that father-knows-best tone of his. “There’s no music in the story. That’s why it’s not working.”

“What, like the cadence of the words, the paragraphs, the way the story flows? It doesn’t sing yet, is that what you’re telling me?”

“Well, that, and more,” he says, and Susan, his wife and my second narrator, nods. “Literally, there’s not enough music mentioned in it. Like there was in the last novel.”

“But that was a novel set in the performing arts world. This one isn’t.”

“Well, why don’t you just toss some in?” Patrick suggests. “A little Beethoven, maybe Dvorák. Did you know he was passionate about trains? It was a hobby of his.”

“Look.” I wave my hands as if that might make their spectral presences back off. “Trains and composers and classical music—that’s way off the mark. Catholicism, faith and spirituality, duty to family, everyone sort of stuck in their beliefs and perceptions—that’s my story.”

Kylie whispers something to her mother. My ears prick up. “Excuse me?” I call out.

She shrinks. Susan answers me instead. “She said it sounded dull.”

You’re dull,” I shriek. “That’s why I’m firing you. All of you.”

“Um, with all due respect?” Susan sounds both nervous and resolute. “I’m not dull. You just made me that way. Because you never bothered to figure out what made me tick. What I yearn for and dream of.”

I let out my breath in an explosive exhale. “Fine. Tell me.”

“Okay.” Susan reaches up to pat her long, unruly blonde hair—I really need to write in a haircut—and then nods. “You made me a literary specialist. It’s just that I don’t want to be a literary specialist. I want to work with kids, grades K to 3, fine, but not as that.”

“As what, then?”

“As a ballet teacher.”

“You?” I don’t even bother to hide my scorn.

She lifts her chin a notch before replying. “Why not? I took ballet classes all the way through high school. I performed.”

“Really? I didn’t know that.”

“I know.” Her tone is reproachful.

Patrick rejoins the debate. “Ballet would connect well with a music motif. And look, you’ve already got that scene with Kylie going into an ecstatic trance listening to the Bach Toccata and Fugue.”

“And I bring up the Schumann story to Freeda,” Kylie says eagerly.

“The Schumann, of course,” Patrick says, looking at Kylie and Susan but not me, which annoys me. “That part about throwing himself into the Rhine.”

“Perfect.” Susan beams. “She could expand on that, on the way it ties in with Freeda, the way she…”

“Stop right there,” I exclaim, looking around nervously. “That’s giving away crucial plot. Do you mind?

They manage to look both perplexed and smug. “Well, didn’t you say it was all over?” Susan asks. “That we were fired?”

They’ve got me and they know it.

It’s not hard, what they’re proposing. In fact, it would be easy as anything. I’d much rather be writing about music than about church ladies squabbling over Catholic doctrine in regards to Kylie’s mystical experiences. Music and mysticism—that works.

And Kylie was right. There’s the Schumann that’s already mentioned.

Something sleeping in me awakens and my thoughts begin whirring. I could have Susan and Kylie go to the symphony one Sunday. In fact it would be perfect. Susan, aching over the troubles I’ve thrown on her shoulders, aching over Mahler’s Symphony no. 1, the way I did last September, the Mahler exposing all my secret hurts and pains and longings.

It would work perfectly.

I look up and they’re trying to hide the smiles growing on their faces. I do my best to scowl at them. “Well, don’t just stand there. We’ve got work to do. Come over here and help me lift this thing off the ground.”

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Artist’s Spotlight: Yuan Yuan Tan

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Story has it, San Francisco Ballet principal dancer Yuan Yuan Tan’s career once hinged on one precipitous toss of a coin (ironically and coincidentally a Chinese yuan). She was ten, born and raised in Shanghai by traditional-minded Chinese parents. Her father was against the idea of her training to become a ballet dancer (too Western, too immodest), even as her mother supported it. Heads or tails—doctor or ballet dancer?

Dance, as you can guess, won the toss. Yuan Yuan (pronounced in two syllables, like “ren-ren,” only with a distinctive Y sound just before) commenced her training at the Shanghai Dance School at age eleven. There, she worked hard, she learned, she conquered. She began to compete internationally and in 1992 she took first place in the junior female division at the fifth International Ballet Competition in Paris. It was here that San Francisco Ballet artistic director Helgi Tomasson first saw Tan perform. She made a considerable impression and in 1995, her training complete, she was invited to join the company as a soloist.

She was promoted to principal two years later, at the tender age of twenty. She’s been there since, and for a generation of San Francisco Ballet audience members, she has been an icon. I consider there to be a handful of dancers that define all that is exceptional, extraordinary and world-class about the San Francisco Ballet. I’d hate to pick a favorite here, but if I had to, taking into mind Yuan Yuan Tan’s years and years of extraordinary performing, it would be her.

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_9Cvre_0Lm4

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As big of a name that Yuan Yuan Tan is among the West Coast’s ballet cognoscenti, she is a far bigger name in her homeland of China, as one of only a very few Chinese ballet dancers to reach the rank of principal dancer at a major international ballet company. She is beloved by many, has been featured in the Chinese versions of Vogue, Esquire, and Tatler, named one of “Asia’s Heroes” by the Asian edition of Time in 2004, gracing the issue’s cover, and serves as inspiration to countless aspiring, young, Chinese ballet dancers.

She is one of the most fascinating ballerinas in the world to watch. As she dances, particularly within the confines of a contemporary ballet, she is as fleet as a cat, a long-legged bird. She seems to be all limbs sometimes, and she does so much with those limbs, it puts you into a sort of hypnotic trance to watch how she eats up the space while still remaining so serene and grounded at her core. There is something demure and self-effacing about her as well. It strikes me as a sort of “Chinese” modesty, a tendency to demur, to downplay one’s tremendous talents. Another extraordinary global superstar of the San Francisco Ballet would be principal dancer Maria Kochetkova, who seems to be the opposite. Flamboyant, passion incarnate, short and fiery, she commands attention, makes you unable to watch anyone but her, there on the stage.

But we’ll save any further elaboration of Kochetkova for an “artist spotlight” of her own. I will say this about the two of them, however. They are both unforgettable and irreplaceable dancers. I cringe to think of what will happen the day the San Francisco Ballet loses either of them. And Yuan Yuan has been dancing with them for eighteen years now (and is now, as well, a guest principal artist with the Hong Kong Ballet, since May 2008).

Simply put, Yuan Yuan Tan is a treasure, an icon. May the San Francisco Ballet and its patrons be graced by her lovely presence for many seasons to come.

Here’s some stunning footage of an outdoor performance with fellow SFB principal Damian Smith, one of her longtime partners (and one of my favorite SFB male dancers). The piece is Christopher Wheeldon’s “After The Rain” with  hauntingly beautiful music composed by Arvo Pärt: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VibqEWACdRo

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Another “must watch” is a searing excerpt from Lar Lubovitch’s Othello, dancing with Desmond Richardson: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-Rj8-vpgeM

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And if you’re someone who just can’t get enough video footage of the dancers, like myself, here’s an SFB in-studio footage of both Yuan Yuan Tan and Maria Kochetkova, as well, which gives you the chance to compare these two SFB superstars side by side. Ballet master Jane Bourne, there with the SFB to stage Onegin, discusses the ballet.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3AXgWdxu_k

And here’s Yuan Yuan talking about the ballet, RAkU, with some gorgeous onstage footage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ojXQ0IKepQM

© 2013 Terez Rose