Monthly Archives: February 2016

The Classical Girl Turns Three!

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Back in February 2013, I made a decision. If I was going to give this blogging thing a try, I needed to stick with it. I knew the facts: most blogs fail within six months, simply because it’s damned hard work to keep coming up with new, interesting, insightful things to say. It reminds me of that beer-in-a-shotglass game my friends and I played in college. (When you attended university in Kansas in the ’80’s, where drinking age for 3.2 beer was 18, beer played a big part in your world. I’m just sayin’.) One shot every sixty seconds. At first, it’s the easiest thing. You’re looking at your watch, saying, “c’mon, what’s taking so long? How about 30 second shots?” Then several minutes go by and it gets harder. And then it gets even harder, and gradually 600 second shots sounds like a much better idea.

Yeah. Like that. And so, here’s the poor blogger of several months, wracking their brains for something to say, sifting through a mind gone blank, and there you have it, that’s why most blogs don’t last longer than six months. The bloggers have fled the scene, off to start taking sixty-second beer shots. But I made a personal goal, one year minimum, and I paid for three years of the domain of www.theclassicalgirl.com. Lo and behold, it got easier after the one year mark. And so, here I am, now, with three years under my belt. Whew!

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Here are some factoids. In these past three years, I’ve created 160 posts, and have received 465 comments, with another fifty sent to me via email. Thank you! I reached a total of 400,000 page views this past year (with spam, another 250K – thank you spammers). I hit my one-day high of 900 views this past year, and in the same month got 17,000 page views. May is traditionally a good month and so is October (likely due to my coverage of World Ballet Day). My post, “What do ballet dancers eat?” continues to dominate the ranks, with 85,000 views. People love to know what dancers eat. They also like to know about pointe shoes. My “10 odd facts about pointe shoes” post now equals the number of daily views to my home page and my “what do ballet dancers eat?” (Roughly 70-100 each.) That’s fun. No, not giant numbers. I am, and will remain, a pretty low-key blogger. Fine with me. I still find it nothing short of miraculous that this dreamy, I’d-rather-be-reading introvert is succeeding as a blogger at all.

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Particularly heartening to me are the number of views some of my classical music posts are now getting. Those are a labor of love. There are so many talented, intelligent musicologists out there blogging, and then little old me, whose qualifications are that I simply love classical music and musing about it. Some posts get maybe two dozen views (sniff, sniff!) but other sleepers gain slow momentum. High on the list of views now are “Hansel & Gretel, Abendsegen and 14 angels” and “Clair de Lune and Ocean’s Eleven” and Debussy’s “Beau Soir.” And Yuja Wang – wow, does my post about her “very short dresses and very big talent” get read a lot. This interest in my classical music writing makes me so very happy. It reaffirms the adage of “do what you love and the money will follow.” Well, okay, I’m not making money here. Making money is overrated. I’m making art (or at least artful attempts). That’s what matters to me. That continues to be my goal here at The Classical Girl. I mean, note the absence of those icky, blaring advertisements? Yeah. Too right. I’m a purist, not a capitalist.

Where was I? Oh, summarizing. Ballet-inclined readers like to know about taking a ballet class in Paris. They like learning about Ulyana Lopatkina, prima ballerina with the Mariinsky, and Israeli choreographer Ohad Narharin’s dazzling “Minus 16.” They also enjoy reading why ballet dancers hate the movie, Black Swan.

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One thing has sprung up in the past two years that I hadn’t anticipated early on: I’ve become a dance reviewer. Ny newest goal is to try and review at least eight ballet productions per year. Exciting for me is the fact that, as The Classical Girl, I’m credentialed to attend productions as a member of the press (read: free pair of tickets and really primo seats in exchange for a review). Woo hoo! You can find a season-by-season summary and links to my dance reviews HERE. And you might notice I’m blogging more about dance performances. Hope that’s okay!

Lastly, to help celebrate my third anniversary, I’m offering my ballet novel, Off Balance, Book 1 of the Ballet Theatre Chronicles for 99 cents this week. (News flash: Book 2 of the Ballet Theatre Chronicles, Outside the Limelight, will be out in October! Look for details and showing off of the gorgeously designed cover late this spring.) My “anniversary special,” a Kindle Countdown deal, starts HERE midday on Feb 29 and will continue through March 7.

Thank you, dear reader, for helping me celebrate three years of The Classical Girl. I couldn’t have done it without you! Now, cake and champagne for everyone. Here’s to the next three years!

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Silicon Valley Ballet’s Director’s Choice


Silicon Valley Ballet (formerly Ballet San Jose) did something really fun this winter: they flew to Spain and took their “Director’s Choice” program on tour. Twelve performances in eight cities, to sold out crowds and great acclaim, fulfilling a three-year goal of artistic director José Manuel Carreño to get these dancers onstage more. Last Monday’s return gave them just enough time to recover from jet lag and prep for this past weekend’s performance at San Jose’s Center for the Performing Arts. On Saturday night, they sizzled. They should go tour Spain more often. (**Editor’s note on 3/1/16: less cheerful news has arisen, that you can read at the bottom of this review. I suggest you simply enjoy the review of this excellent production and not scroll down early.)

The “Director’s Choice” program features an appealing mix of classical, contemporary and the eclectic. Commencing Saturday night’s program was classicism: Carreño’s Cuban-infused restaging of Marius Petipa’s Le Corsaire pas de deux. Veteran principal Alexsandra Meijer partnered with newcomer corps de ballet dancer Yuto Ideno. I always enjoy seeing younger, newer dancers being given a chance at such heady fare. In the midst of a knockout performance with stunning leaps, tours and strong partnering skills, Ideno took a tumble, which is one of the painful realities of live performance. But it’s how you rebound from a fall that the audience is going to judge the performance by, and Ideno rebounded (in this case, literally) admirably. He’s a great dancer with a solid stage presence. Meijer danced beautifully, with her strong classical lines, pirouettes and arabesques, seeming tireless on the coda’s fouetté series. During curtain call, she gave her partner a single rose from her bouquet and curtseyed deeply, to one knee, this ultimate sign of respect, from the company’s most accomplished artist, to the newest kid on the block. This grace and generosity of spirit is yet another reason fans love her and this company. It’s more about the larger group effort than the individual.

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Acclaimed Finnish choreographer Jorma Elo’s 2006 Glow-Stop shifted the program into the neoclassical. Here, dancers fly through Elo’s signature movements in quartets, trios, pairs: lightning quick passages, interacting, retracting, arms pinwheeling, stopping at abrupt right angles, head swivels. Mozart’s airy Symphony No. 28 gave way to Philip Glass’ gorgeous, evocative “Tirol Concerto for Piano” in the second section. Glass’ composition, in particular, lends depth, drawing out a sweet poignancy to the otherwise unemotional work. An occasional lapse of synchronicity sometimes made the ensemble pieces seem uneven. Which could be blamed on the choreography: Elo likes having multiple dancers performing the same four-count passage, staggered, seconds apart. With the ballet’s super-quick movements, sometimes I couldn’t tell if unison was off or it was intended to look that way. Trios and duets seemed to fare better. Alex Kramer seemed to be having a particularly good night, buoyant with energy, shooting off rock-solid pirouettes. A pas de trois with Ommi Pipit-Suksun and Jing Zhang looked great. So much of the dancing looked great, it seems unfair to single out individuals. The women, in particular, seem to all be getting better and better with each season. Then again, it could be argued that they look that way from the support of their male partners. Great job, Junna Ige, Annali Rose, Alexsandra Meijer, Lana Vanderbush, Rudy Candia, Ryan DeAlexandro, Francisco Preciado, Akira Takahashi, Kendall Teague. Six of you flew out onstage, paired up, in partnered leaps, so fleet and impressive, the women in near-splits midway. It was a delight to watch, and so well done.

Lahna Vanderbush and Ihosvany Rodriguez. Photo: Alejandro Gomez

Lahna Vanderbush and Ihosvany Rodriguez. Photo: Alejandro Gomez

Columbian-Belgian choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa set her 2014 ballet, Prism, to the jazzy, improvisational piano music of Keith Jarrett’s legendary “Concert in Köln.” Lopez Ochoa is European trained and Netherlands-based, which finds its way, no surprise, into the choreography, which, like Elo’s work, is both classical-infused and abstract. The choreography here mirrors Jarrett’s music, which is a thoughtful, inspired improvisational masterpiece that seems to have its own emotional ebb and flow. The dancers’ moves alternately speed up and linger, stretching luxuriantly into arabesques, slides, duet interactions. Lighting design (Clifton Taylor/David K H Elliot) and an ever-shifting backdrop projection of hues and colors contributed much to the final effect. Costumes, designed by Lopez Ochoa, alternated black with vivid splashes of primary colors–the women’s dresses and the men’s tees. In the middle of the ballet, a change: black leotard to the waist, nude top with black branch-like design that made you think of winter and bare tree limbs. And later, a return to color, lots of it, particularly effective in the women’s simple yet elegant tunic-like costumes. Noteworthy in this ballet was Lahna Vanderbush in a pas de deux with Ihosvany Rodriguez; the former seems to have taken a quantum leap in her maturation as a dancer. Amy Marie Briones’ vivid smile and dancing brought great energy, and Ommi Pipit-Suksun’s gorgeous extensions were mesmerizing to behold. Again, here, the entire cast of ten dancers shone. This was a beautiful ballet, and one I look forward to seeing again.

Silicon Valley Ballet. Photo: Alejandro Gomez

Silicon Valley Ballet. Photo: Alejandro Gomez

As for Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16, I’d been looking forward to a revival since seeing it in 2014, and it did not disappoint. Contemporary, eclectic, thought-provoking, it’s set to music from disparate sources: cha-cha, traditional Hebrew Passover song, Vivaldi’s “Stabat Mater,” the lone tick-tick of a metronome, and a techno-rendition of “Over The Rainbow,” to name a few. I raved about the company’s 2014 performance here at The Classical Girl; I won’t duplicate my words except to add how much I enjoyed Francisco Preciado’s clever intermission improvisational solo on Saturday night, which subtly morphed into the actual performance. His deadpan delivery, hip gyrations, mimics of the night’s earlier ballet movements, all set to cha-cha music, was highly entertaining. This ballet is so satisfying to watch, a real crowd pleaser. Kudos, as well, to Kendall Teague and Lahna Vanderbush for their tender, affecting pas de deux in the ballet’s middle section, taking their 2014 performance up a notch. And in the final, raucous, “interactive” section, kudos to the retiree in red sweater and khakis. I loved watching your enthusiasm and great dance skills. (Reader, if you still don’t know what I’m talking about, you really want to go read the other blog about right now.)

This is Carreño’s third year as artistic director, on a three-year contract. The risks are real: this is still a struggling company, always one step away from falling too short of funding to continue. One can only hope he’ll choose to stay on and continue to take this company in the successful direction he’s doing thus far. It’s thrilling to watch.

**Editor’s note, added on Tues March 8th: Sadly, the announcement none of us wanted to see was made official today. Sob! http://www.mercurynews.com/entertainment/ci_29610629/silicon-valley-ballet-shuts-down

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Paris Opera Ballet names new director … again

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In January 2013, the news made headlines: the Paris Opera Ballet, that iconic institution, 355 years old, housed in one of the world’s most glamorous ballet venues (Palais Garnier – you can read my blog and see pics HERE), had chosen a director of dance to succeed Brigitte Lefèvre after her twenty-year tenure. The winner: Benjamin Millepied. He of the Black Swan fame, having choreographed it, performed in it. Former New York City Ballet principal. Married actress Natalie Portman. 35 years old. That guy.

And now, fifteen months later, bye bye. In tendering his resignation yesterday, Millepied cited the desire to return to Los Angeles with his wife (and really, did anyone see Natalie Portman content with being “the wife” in Paris while her husband held the more important role/job in the household?) and focus on his own choreography and his own small company he created four years ago. But, really, was this ever supposed to be a great fit, a happy ending? The whole thing has had me scratching my head since it was announced. (Scroll to the bottom of my 2013 Palais Garnier blog.)

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The Paris Opera Ballet, as with your average European institution that has been around for over three hundred years, is very tradition-bound. Through centuries, they’ve held onto rules that work, and it stands to reason they’ll want to keep holding on to them. Which, regrettably, is not in synch with the philosophy of the 21st century. One of the toughest nuts to crack for Millepied was surely the Paris Opera Ballet’s rigid hierarchy, starting with the fact that almost all of its dancers are coming from the company’s training school. Almost all are French. In terms of promotions, they have a grading system that is strictly adhered to. Basically, you have to audition before a jury to move up to the next level, or even maintain your ranking. This might be one of the reasons San Francisco Ballet’s lovely transplant, principal Mathilde Froustey, chose to stay with the SFB over returning to the POB. As a “sugét” (soloist), she wasn’t succeeding at rising to the top, “étoile” level, no matter how beautiful and accomplished her dancing had become. Some dancers simply test better than others. There it is. The POB’s loss, San Francisco’s gain.

This surely wasn’t an easy culture for a young, dynamic, new choreographer-director to infiltrate. But Millepied tried. Although I don’t imagine he endeared himself to the institution when he was quoted in a documentary as saying that he was not yet satisfied with the quality of its dancing in the classics. ‘I’m waiting to see real excellence,’ he said. ‘It’s not the best classical troupe, but it might be the best contemporary company in the world.’

Yikes. Not the best at classical? Okay, there’s the Mariinsky, the English National Ballet, The Bolshoi, The Royal Ballet. I’m sorry, Paris Opera Ballet has gotta go in that top five, at the least. Please.

Mind you, it’s not like the guy was doing anything ghastly, and he certainly did some shaking up in a good way. He helped create a stronger social media presence for the company. His charismatic persona and glittery patina (I mean, look at who is wife is) drew not just interest but money to the institution. A breath of fresh air? You betcha. But maybe it was open windows during a cold Parisian winter in a drafty palace that proved not so beneficial to the shivering dancers who are used to doing things the POB way. And were longtime POB patrons looking for a change? Hmm. Dunno.

Anyway. If you’re looking for Big Ballet News this week, there you have it. Everyone in the dance world is talking about it today. Here are some media links if you’d like to read more.

Los Angeles Times 

The Guardian 

New York Times 

Stephane Lissner, Aurélie Dupont. Benjamin Millepied

Stephane Lissner, Aurélie Dupont. Benjamin Millepied

Succeeding him will be former étoile (principal rank) Aurélie Dupont, someone well versed in the world of the Paris Opera Ballet, which seems to make a hell of a lot more sense to my feeble mind. Dupont, 43, who retired from the stage last year, will become the new director when Millepied leaves on July 15. I’ve a good feeling about this appointment. For starters, she’s been a part of the Paris Opera Ballet and its school for 32 years. She’s likely been watching what has worked with Millepied’s new approach and what has clashed. She knows the institution inside and out. Wishing her the best in this surprising (at least to me) new venture.