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Category Archives: Movement Techniques
Zena Rommett–Floor–Barre Technique–For Teachers
Reviewed by Carlos Stafford, The Model Critic
City Center, NYC, recently hosted a teacher’s training program for the Zena Rommett Floor–Barre Technique. Teachers, and those wanting to be certified, came from many places on the globe to review their methods and to learn anew. The morning I attended, master teacher Charlotte Furst from Sweden gave a very clear and calm class to attentive students.
Zena Rommett Floor–Barre Technique has been with us for almost fifty years. A former ballerina, Ms. Rommett first taught her methods at the Joffrey School of American Ballet; the technique essentially gives ballet dancers barre training on the floor, thereby eliminating the intrusion of gravity and balance in developing neurological pathways in the body.
Ballet, and dance in general, requires certain physical necessities– alignment, turnout, and lengthening, for example. Tendu’s, coupe’s, passe’s, and degage’s with pointed or flexed feet can be slowly practiced on the floor to give the dancer the desired placement.
I sat and watched class with Camille Rommett, Zena’s gracious daughter who heads up the Foundation. Camille schooled me on some of the finer points as the class progressed, and told me that Zena always gave dancers what they needed, not what she knew. They never use the term “stretch” as I inadvertently spoke, but preferred the term, lengthening, as in the spine, back of the legs, and arms.
The devotee’s since the 1960′s have continued to be enthusiastic, and the technique has been a favorite of many past and present stars: Judith Jamison, Lars Lubovitch, Tommy Tune, and Patrick Swayze, to name a few luminaries. At present, Camille said this method is being taught worldwide, and on numerous colleges campuses and national dance studios. Next month they’ll offer another teacher’s training in Florence, Italy.
Basically, while working slowly on the floor, nothing is set to chance. At the barre, things may move quickly and the student may get used to working improperly, and develop bad habits; on the floor there is a lack of tension, and without music, the dancer, along with an aware teacher, can focus of his or her needs. Incidentally, this technique has been used as a rehabilitation method for those who have injuries too. It’s easy to see how effective this method would be for someone who has had a knee or ankle injury, for example, and wants to activate and strengthen those areas.
Camille also said that Zena emphasized transitions as well. Having been a ballerina, she well understood the necessity of linking movements together with proper alignment. Ms. Furst underscored this by coaxing the students to relax during their movements, not to struggle, and to become more fluid, with a strong center and relaxed face.
For those who don’t have studios nearby that offer these classes, many DVD’s are available for the young dancer, the professional, elders, and injured. I’m a convert, and consider this technique very valuable for dancers and non-dancers alike. Why would anybody not want the effects of a longer, stronger, and balanced body?
This year as a gift for Martha, I asked for something special. Since the mid 1910s, when she began her studies at the newly created Denishawn School of Dancing and Related Arts, Martha Graham has been influencing dance on an iconic scale and far greater on a personal level with dancers and non-dancers around the world.
Such has been the case with our very own, Model Critic Carlos Stafford, who I begged to finally talk about how he came to know and love and thrive in a modern art form to triumph over a life changing set back as a traditional athlete with a sports career glistening in the future.
~ getting personal with Martha Graham, Carlos Stafford, The Model Critic
At 9 AM Monday, I walked tentatively into the church on Cal Berkeley’s campus. It was now a bare converted dance space with a large beautiful oak floor and high windows, light streaming in. First thing I see is RT, a former baseball pitcher on Cal’s great team, in a black leotard and tights. Wow! Really! What is he doing here? He looks over. I was shocked. Class was in session and I watched.
As I looked around, I was bombarded with the dancers moving across the floor in athletic unison–moves that were totally foreign to me. It looked difficult and strange but lyrical and challenging. There were beautiful girls, finely toned bodies, and strong men. The teacher was demanding and energetic, getting the best from the dancers, like coaches I had all through my previous 15 years of organized baseball and football. I was drawn in. If RT is doing it, it must be OK. But is this me?
Backing up a couple years earlier, I was sitting pretty, everything going like magic, my college team winning, late in the game. I was the starting fullback, felt strong, and was having a good game–the position was mine on a deep roster of players. Forty seconds left, then pow, and awkward hit from the side. Surprise, blown knee; that, along with bad trainers, poor advice, no safety net, see ya! That ended it all. Alone.
I needed something physical, hard and non-contact. Lieing around stoned in our communal house years later, Marjorie, one of my more aware friends from NYC, suggested dance. It was a leap of faith. It was the Martha Graham Technique–everyone knew but me. The program was run by Marni and David Wood, dancers from the actual company back East, which of course was the Mecca of dance I kept hearing. Their mission seemed to be to bring this technique, in all authenticity and dedication, to the great unwashed West.
The Woods were adamant and disciplined as they imparted their ethic to the program. They reminded me of Coach Kovacs, a former Marine, barking out commands, no hand holding. “If you don’t think dance is about bringing your complete energy to class, then leave right now,” Marni would yell. Silence. We all got the message. Dance was serious business.
Martha Graham once said, as I remember, that dancers were like race horses, dance them or they’ll sit around eating all day. That said a lot, and squared up with me–it was the kicking of reluctant nerves, and as the stories revealed, Martha did a lot of kicking. So did her proteges.
I was drawn in, had no choice really. Dance chose me. Although a little old to be starting dance, I never cared. You started too late, you’ll have a hard time getting into a company, I’d hear. I didn’t care, it was all white noise, irrelevant. In those days, in my bailiwick, you weren’t searching for a career, but for something else. Dance was part of a quest, self authenticity.
As a football player you are trained in a certain way, and it carried over. At first pass, if didn’t get a dance combination I would smack the wall. No, not that kind of expression, this is a different emotion, slightly more subtle, please! Had to refocus, or be embarrassed by that one, strange dignified girl who was perfect every time; the one who studied The Royal Syllabus since age nine, and had weirdly perfect feet, scary placement, and fluid. Or Allison, who was perfect, and didn’t even realize it; however, the teachers knew better and had a keen eye on her.
The Graham Technique loomed larger and larger. I learned about the impact she had on dance, how she was regarded as one of the most influential artist of the twentieth century, up there with Picasso, Stravinsky, Balanchine, and Frank Lloyd Wright I became familiar with bits and pieces of her masterpieces, and began to realize her prolific choreographic output (Acrobats of Gods, Clytemnestra, Seraphic Dialogue, Errand into the Maze, Appalachian Spring, to name a few), stories of her struggles, past dancers, and those she inspired. When we entered the studio after a time, we entered reverently and with respect. The dancers knew that precision and attention to detail were paramount, and that the contractions and releases were to be performed correctly, hands, torso, diaphragm, shoulders, head all expressing the movement. Eventually, the style and intent naturally worked its way into our psyches and bodies, and it became more and more relevant. Our bodies changed, our attitudes changed, we were getting connected to a new way of standing, feeling, moving and breathing. That was class!
Never did get into a company. They were right. Never aspired to it, it mattered little. But studying Graham pushed me into all kinds of dance, ballet leading the way. Later on, Jazz too. Yes, crazy and backward, but really perfect–it was really all about the movement, and a whole world opened up. At the end, in Cal’s student production, my friends from our commune showed up, Carl, Ron, Marjorie, Denise and Cheryl, and I received a boisterous Bravo. That was like scoring a touchdown. Thanks Martha, like many others, I have some special memories.
Cunningham Studio, New York, New York
Reviewed by Carlos Stafford, The Model Critic
Anna Sokolow (1910-2000), iconic modern dance choreographer, whose career vigorously spanned the entire 20th Century; an artist in whose life and times collaborated with many of the great dancers and choreographers of her era; an artist with deep roots in Israel, Mexico, and the New York dance scene, was honored with a performance of a few of her representative pieces, Nov 14th, at the Cunningham Studio.
Before “Odes,” the most important offering of the evening, a short film presented Sokolow working with dancers at Ohio State University, and these asides are loosely recalled:
Words lie, movement never lies.
Steps are important, but what really matters is the mood and the drama created.
I don’t want to be popular. I don’t want to please everybody. I want to tell the truth.
Sokolow, above all, wanted her dancers to be committed, to be connected to belief, to seek the most beautiful way of expression. She also stressed clarity of movement, and definite, strong gestures.
“Odes”–Accompanied by flutist Roberta Michel, and music by Edgard Varese, twenty-three dancers created an intense, highly dramatic mood of terror and dehumanization. With mechanical blips and bleeps in the soundscape, conveying the interior horrors of a concentration camp, the dancer’s frenzied movements of fear and impending doom created a frightening mood. The dancer’s total commitment to living the choreography with honesty, belief, and energy made this piece entirely engrossing.
But if you were to deconstruct the choreography from “Odes” and “Two Preludes” which topped the evening’s presentation, the dominant theme would be pain and suffering, nothing light, nothing edifying; misery, we would find, is the human condition, the overriding motif of these dances. That Sokolow defined this theme well cannot be denied here; in this sense she accomplished her ends. In “Two Preludes,” an intimate solo, danced beautifully by long-limbed Melissa Birnbaum, we have a dance created twenty years after “Odes,” but with the same mood, although not as deadly intense: remorse, loss, internal suffering, contractions to the floor, implosions of energy, fetal postures, head cupping, unsteady footing–everything pointing to imprisonment on being. The same applied to the personal work of artistic director Jim May, in his solo “Passage” and “At the Still Point of the Turning World” by Ernestine Stodelle–a very literal dance to a poem by T. S. Eliot; both encompassing the very same themes–No Exit.
As you view these dances, you are reminded that as culture evolves, language changes. The same applies to dance vocabulary–the symbols and images become dated and loose their frisson. For example, if you see a performance of a Broadway show like “A Chorus Line” today, it reads as refreshingly quaint, and a bit dusty; no modern viewer would believe, for all its merits, that it had won a Pulitzer Prize in its day. It simply doesn’t speak to today. The same applies with these museum pieces by Anna Sokolow; once relevant, but difficult to watch now.
But most relevant to this performance, is the notion of depressing doom and gloom. It begins to look like artistic self-indulgence or posing–to have one idea pounding out the nastiness of life, and nothing else. Of course few view the world quite like this, or else we’d all jump into the East River. Finally, we can look at this performance either as a bad choice of programming the pieces of this legendary choreographer, or perhaps as a real glimpse into Sokolow’s concerns as a choreographer. In either case, it was difficult to watch, not solely because the dance movement did not transcend time, but because the ideas expressed were not balanced.
There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it.
It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable it is, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.
No artist is pleased…there is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.
Starting way back when at the Academy of Arts in Champagne IL under the direction of Petrus Bosman then on to Ballet Met fine tuned by Russian legend Violetta Boft (Bovt), and dancing with and for well knowns like James Kudelka, David Parsons, Alonzo King amongst others, appearing in the Dance Magazine two page spread, on to HBO as a celebrated writer and comedian and now directing and choreographing ballets – Dark Matter and music videos – Live My Life (Rukus Juice) and Celebrate (Mode), with long time partner, financial backer and executive producer Departed actress Tracey Paleo and now teaching Ballet 101 along with the Align Ballet Method, Michael Cornell is changing the idea of commerical media. Be sure to listen in.
No matter how bitter things become for me, personally economically, I would never allow myself to be destroyed from within. I would sustain all kinds of disappointment without ceasing to believe, to hope, to love. I would never yield to the temptation of pessimism, the ease of despair or withdrawal.
It was as if I took an inner vow
NEVER TO ALLOW GRADUALLY THE TRAFFIC TO SMOTHER WITH NOISE AND FOG the flowing of the spirit.
Pronounced [a-lawn-ZHAY]. Extended, outstretched. As, for example, in arabesque allongèe.
Pronounced [a-lay-GROH]; Italian: [al-LAY-groh]. Brisk, lively. A term applied to all bright and brisk movements. All steps of elevation such as the entrechant, cabriole, assemblè, jetè and so on, come under this classification. The majority of dances, both solo and groups, are built on allègro. The most important qualities to aim at in allègro are lightness, smoothness and ballon (bounce).
Pronounced [ahn lehr]. In the air. Indicates: (1) that a movement is to be made in the air; for example, rond de jaime en l’air (see video below); (2) that the working leg, after being opened to the second or fourth position à terre, is to be raised to a horizontal position with the toe on the level of the hip.
American Ballet Theater
Lady of the Camellias
Reviewed by Carlos Stafford, The Model Critic
American Ballet Theater is currently celebrating its 70th year anniversary with the company’s premiere of John Neumeier’s ambitious “Lady of the Camellias,” first performed in Stuttgart, Germany in 1978, danced by Marcia Haydee and Richard Cragun.
This is the familiar tale of the opera, “La Traviata”; the classic movie with Greta Garbo; and a romantic chamber dance piece, “Marguerite and Armand,” by Frederick Ashton for Dame Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev. All based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas, fils, tell of the passionate love story between Marguerite Gautier, a famous Parisian courtesan, and Armand Duval, her wealthy pursuer. In this offering, Neumeier faithfully follows the original narrative by Dumas, and presents the story of love, jealousy, sacrifice, and death.
The dance begins as flashback: Marguerite’s worldly possessions are being sold at auction. The mood is dark, morose, and silent. People are milling about as someone breaks the silence by plinking on a grand piano, testing it for sound. Marguerite has died. Armand rushes in late, as all the lots have been sold, and manages to snatch a dress from someone’s hand. Nanina, Marguerite’s maid, hands Armand Marguerite’s diary. Armand’s father is present, and Armand quietly begins to recount his tragic story.
All comes to life as we see an audience of Parisian society taking their seats to view a ballet–we are watching a ballet within a ballet. The piece is “Manon Lescaut,” danced by Gillian Murphy and David Hallberg; the story of a courtesan who flirts unashamedly, and her lover Des Grieux, and their eventual, harried and tragic end. As a plot device, the dance serves as a signal, or ironic foreshadowing, for the ensuing events.
Afterwards, Marguerite invites admirers to her room, Armand among them. She is annoyed at one of her rude guests, has a coughing attack, for she is ill, and retires to her room. Armand follows, and at her daybed they tenderly caress; he falls at her feet, and declares his love. Both Julie Kent and Roberto Bolle are well cast in their respective roles–Bolle, as Armand, a classic figure, tall, dark, courtly with noble lines, and Kent, as Marguerite, airy, limpid, and ethereal. When they dance, he gives of himself totally in burning love and adoration. In beautiful, spiraling lifts, effortless carries, and melts to the floor, the dancers become one. The music by Chopin, Sonata in B minor, is lyrical, meditative, and filled with longing as it builds to their dance of love, measure to measure. When Armand finally departs, Marguerite pins a rose to his lapel.
But all is not well. Marguerite is pressured on all sides by suitors, and ill, absconds to the countryside, to an estate owned by an admiring Duke. Armand follows, confronts the Duke, and Marguerite finally, publicly declares her love for Armand. Here, Neumeier has created a beautiful dance piece for the ensemble. Aptly, and charmingly outfitted in period costumes, the dancers joyfully celebrate in wonderful, circular waltzes while the stage is bathed in warm afternoon light.
The pivotal point of the story develops when Monsieur Duval arrives at the country estate to have a private talk with Marguerite. He demands that she quit her scandalous affair with his son. In a poignant moment she resists, but then eventually promises to comply. She then rushes back to Paris; Armand follows, but finds her in the arms of the Duke. Infuriated, he seduces Marguerite’s friend, Olympia, in a bodice ripping scene of frustration and anger. Marguerite, stunned enters and begs Armand to stop. They reconcile, and again pledge their love.
With the stage empty, except for golden circles of light, they dance a pas de duex of ecstasy and joy. Armand lifts her in adoration, carries her high above, offers her as a prayer. Manon again appears as Marguerite’s alter-ego, as a warning once more, and together they dance as a trio– all is open-hearted, with wild abandonment. But finally, in the end, she leaves him remembering her promise to his father.
John Neumeier, no doubt invested his artistic soul choreographing this piece, and rigorously followed the story line. But for the dances of passion he created, all becomes too much of a good thing. The heightened emotions, the repetitive mood and tone of Chopin’s music, becomes overwhelming. One must turn away and take a breath even though, no doubt, for lovers, time does stands still. That he investigates all aspects of new found love in a rich variety cannot be disputed. Finally though, in the end, it all becomes a bit cloying and overwrought.
Later, at a ball, the women dressed in sumptuous gowns cut in a variety of styles in purples, dusty blues, sea greens, and pinks, and the men in dignified, black mourning suits dance. The costumes by Jurgen Rose are a delight. Armand then approaches Marguerite and humiliates her by throwing money at her feet for past services. Marguerite collapses, is taken to her room weak and ill. She manages to write her last entry into her diary, hands it to Nanina, and dies.
At the dramatic final scene, Marguerite, as a diaphanous vision from her daybed beckons Armand to her side in a final gesture of love. Standing before her, frozen, looking forward, he clutches her diary.
AMERICAN BALLET THEATER
By Carlos Stafford, the Model Reviewer
Gillian Murphy and Ethan Stiefel headed up the sterling cast for ABT’s 2010 Spring/Summer productionof Don Q, and the adventures of the knight of the woeful countenance. What an unforgettable night it was. As Kitri and Basillio, the two sparkled throughout the evening’s performance I saw. Murphy, a great talent, with incredible available technique, projected her character’s necessary strength, sharp footwork, and precision Sometimes a cool persona, Murphy used the blazing choreography to her advantage, and smoldered.
Ethan Stiefel, as Basillio, has always been astonishing. He has a rare facility of sharp power and speed, and combines it all with a confident ease. Add to that stage presence, humor, and incredible bravura dancing, and he becomes a pleasure to watch; he owns the stage.
This venerable version of Don Q has deep roots in the history of ballet, and comes to us from the Imperial Russian Ballet, first performed in 1869, to the choreography of Marius Petipa. It is no doubt the same ballet, but one can imagine the changes that may have taken place throughout its’ evolution in Italy, France, Denmark, England and America. Nonetheless, the ballet has the unmistakable
stamp of other master works by Petipa and his era–Swan Lake, La Bayadere, and Giselle; lush music created especially for the ballet; dream sequences with large corps of female dancers appearing in gauzy white; lovers finally united in this life or in death. This was Grand Ballet! Here, the beautiful, energetic score by Ludwig Minkus is also original and was created for this story ballet. It finally entered the repertory of American Ballet Theater in 1978.
As for the story of Don Quixote de La Mancha, we can say that it only loosely resembles the original novel by Cervantes, but is properly placed for the purposes of dance. The Don and his squire, Sancho Panza, make appearances as we see Kitri transformed into the Don’s vision of beauty, purity and true love that Dulcinea represents; windmilled monsters, emblematic of invading Muslims into Christian Spain, are attacked with his lance; and of course Don Quixote’s dream. But mainly the ballet is filled with the crackling dance of matadors, toreadors, lovers, and gypsies.
As Espada, the matador, David Hallberg is superb. His princely carriage, articulate dancing, and incredible cat-like jumps were perfect. Also appearing briefly, but remarkably, was Daniel Simkin. A new arrival, and son of former dancers from the Kirov, this young man is someone to watch. In the brief solo he performs as a gypsy he also leaves the audience with his own indelible vision of a brilliant dancer in the making with his of uncanny leaps and crystalline pirouettes.
The lighting by Natasha Katz, especially in the gypsy camp and in the Dream Maiden scenes were very evocative. I especially liked the costumes that blazed with rich earth tones of apricot, ochre, dusty greens and pinks on the women’s skirts, to the bright, clarifying blues worn by the proud toreadors, and the bold “suit of lights” in white for Espada, the matador. Their costumes along with their dances con brio created an exciting affect. However, at times, because of the speed of the music, and the demands of the choreography, the toreadors were uneven. Stella Abrera, as Mercedes, had some beautiful moments, especially her solo when she executed five difficult, and not often seen, Italian fouettes on pointe. The audience loved it.
But all was overshadowed by the Grand Pas de Deux at the final wedding scene of Kitri and Basillio. All the energy of the evening exploded into fireworks as Murphy and Stiefel held nothing back and got the reward of a remarkable, flawless performance. Their timing, musicality, and technical prowess was magic. In their pas de deux they were brilliant, in their solos both had an intensity and sense of abandonment in their jumps and footwork, while Murphy did the most balanced, and fastest pique turns I’ve ever seen. The final feeling in the house was electrifying. I then remember what the great Martha Graham once said. Even though she was from another dance discipline it was well worth remembering. She said dancers were “acrobats of the gods.” It was certainly evident here.