Monday, May 26, 2008

This Week in Dance History: May 25-31

May 25, 1878- Dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson was born. Robinson became the vaudeville dancer called the "King of Tapology." He danced in films and on Broadway and earned a reputation as the greatest tap dancer of all time.

May 26, 1914-Premiere of The Ballet Russes Le Rossignol (The Nightingale) with choreography by Boris Romanov.

May 27, 1878- Isadora Duncan, the dancer who shocked audiences with her revealing costumes and unique style, was born. With her flowing costumes, bare feet and free flowing hair, she is considered by many to be the "mother of modern dance."

May 28 1924- Composer Mikhail Nosyrev was born in Leningrad, USSR. In 1943 he was arrested and sentenced to death by firing squad for the "treason against the Motherland.” But the charges were reduced to a 10 year sentence which he served in full. The ballet "The Song of Triumphant Love" written by the composer to the short story by Ivan Turgenev ran at the Voronezh State Opera and Ballet Theatre for about twenty seasons.

May 29 1912- Vaslav Nijinsky's first work as a choreographer, L'Après-midi d'un Faune, debuted. The tale of a boy-faun contained vivid adult imagery. The reaction to the program was decidedly mixed. Supporters rose and shouted "Bravo!" and "Encore!" while others booed and jeered. Fights Broke out in the audience. A year later on this date, The ballet Le Sacre Du Printemps, music by Igor Stravinsky, Choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky made its debut at the Theatre des Champs Elysees in Paris

May 30, 1912- Le Figaro printed a front page review of Nijinsky's L'Apres-midi d'un Faune. The review, by Gaston Calmette, blasted the ballet for its "shamelessness." calling it a tale of an "incontinent" faun. Rumors spread that the police would shut down the next performance. The next day the sculptor Auguste Rodin wrote an editorial in praise of the ballet, and Calmette countered with his own review. The controversy sparked an explosion in ticket sales.

May 31, 1931-Juan Carlos Copes was born. The Argentinian was planning to pursue a career in electronic engineering when he decided to enter a dance contest. He beat out 300 other entrants to win the top prize and went on to become one of his country’s greatest proponents of the tango.

And on this date in 1975
- “Do it!” Van McCoy's "The Hustle" tops the Billboard charts.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Best Dance Videos on You Tube

What are your favorite You Tube ballet and dance videos? I recently came across this one from the Anaheim Ballet that is worth sharing:

It fits in very well with Valery Lantratov's response to a question in our second recorded interview last year. (Listen to the response to question 4).

I did a little poking around to see what videos other dance (and You Tube) fans were recommending. Coverpop has a collage of the most popular dance videos on You Tube, but most of them aren't very "dance" related. Associated content chose its top 7.

But we're wondering what you think. Do you have any ballet or dance videos to recommend? Share them in the comments section.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Britney Ballet

It's not often that my ballet and my "Laura Lee author of humorous books on negative emotions" lives intersect enough to write a single entry on both topics, but sure enough they did when I came across a review of a Britney Spears-themed ballet performed recently in England.

Yes, you heard that right. Someone thought the tragic life of a diva was a tale of operatic proportions worthy of the dance stage. Of course, that somebody is the same person who brought the world "Jerry Springer: The Opera."

As I make final preparations for our national educational tour, you can entertain yourself with this and other Schadenfreude related tales at my other blog, which promotes the theme of my recently released book Schadenfreude, Baby.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

This Week in Dance History May 18-24

May 18, 1795- Beethoven's Menuet a la Vigano written for the popular Italian dancer Salvatore Vigano was presented at the Schikander Theatre in Vienna. It was danced by Signora Venturini and Signor Chechi.

Also on this date, in 1919- Prima ballerina Dame Margot Fonteyn was born in Surrey, England. The British Ballet Magazine summed up her career this way: "Where to begin? Fonteyn's name dominated British ballet for more than 40 years. One of the truly great dancers of our time, she was the most famous ballerina of the second half of the century, Ashton's muse, the perfect exemplar of the English style - and all of that even before the wonderful Indian summer of her partnership with Nureyev. For anyone who saw her, she is still the one against whom all others are measured."

May 19 1909- The ballet, Prince Igor (The Polovtsian Dances) with choreography by Michel Fokine made its debut. Fokine incorporated the vigorous style and athletic steps of Russian folk dances. These works revealed his talent for organizing large crowds of dancers on stage and transforming their previously ornamental function into a powerful dramatic force.

May 20 1970- Leading dance teacher Aleksandr I. Pushkin passed away at age 62. His obituary in Dance Magazine listed some of his most famous students and "Mikhail Barishnikov, unknown in the West, but regarded as the finest male stylist ever developed in the Leningrad Ballet."

May 21, 1959-The Jule Styne, Stephen Sondheim musical, Gypsy, based on the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee made its debut at the Broadway Theater in New York. Directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, it ran for 702 performances and earned Tony Award nominations for Best Musical and for its stars Jack Klugman and Ethel Merman.

May 22, 1956- Gene Kelly’s all-dance film, “Invitation to the Dance” made its U.S. debut. It was Kelly’s dream to produce a film in which the stories are told entirely through dance. Unfortunately, “Invitation to the Dance” was not a financial or critical success.

And in 1979- Kurt Jooss passed away. The German-born British choreographer and teacher was known for expressionist works using modern and classical techniques.

May 23 2002- Irène Lidova, a dance critic and producer who played a major role in founding creative ballet companies in postwar France, died in Paris at age 95. As her New York Times obituary recounts, Roland Petit, one of the world's major choreographers, was an unknown when Ms. Lidova presented his first ballets with another young dancer-choreographer, Janine Charrat in 1943 and 1944. "Lidova and others founded Les Ballets des Champs-Elysées in 1945 and made Mr. Petit's ballets the talk of Paris."

May 24, 1998- The greatest number of tap dancers ever gathered for a single routine, came together to commemorate the birth of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson at the Stuttgart City Square, Germany. Choreographed by Ray Lynch, 6,952 dancers tapped away for 2 minutes 15 seconds to the specially composed tune "Klicke-di-Klack."

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Bloggers and Ballerina Bytes

In my never ending quest to bring new ballet related resources to you, I stumbled across a dance related blog with a sense of humor: Dance Like the Bloggers are Watching.

The picture to the left is from a technology story about a "ballet dancing" robot.

"We’ve learned from io9 that Merlin Robotics (”creators of robots for people”) has invented a ballet-dancing robot. We’re skeptical. It has no arms, for one thing, which makes port de bras tricky. And that’s to say nothing of its pas de chat capabilities," the site's author writes. (Although she uses the royal "we" I think it is one person)

I couldn't improve on that observation, so I just thought I'd pass it along.

While we're talking about dance blogging... At the moment Valery Lantratov and I are preparing to launch our three month educational tour. I am making all the last minute arrangments, booking hotels, printing out maps and contacting schools to make sure they remember we're coming. In the meantime, my latest book Schadenfreude, Baby! has just been released, and I'm working on promoting it, including launching yet another blog. That's not even mentioning the packing and the "friendship maitenence" on Myspace and Facebook.

So I'm hoping you can help me out a bit. If you're in a class with Valery Lantratov this summer, maybe you could write a little something about it and either post it in the comments section or e-mail it to Or if you come across any dance stories you think other dancers would find interesting, please let us know.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

This Week in Dance History: May 11-17

May 11, 1894: Martha Graham was born. "Martha Graham's impact on dance was staggering and often compared to that of Picasso's on painting, Stravinsky's on music, and Frank Lloyd Wright's on architecture," wrote the authors of PBS' American Masters. The Graham technique, which is now used by dance companies throughout the world, became the first enduring alternative to the idiom of classical ballet.

May 12 1969: Dancers Suzanne Farrell and Paul Mejia announced that they would be resigning from George Ballanchine's New York City Ballet, claiming that since their marriage three months before, Mejia's roles had been drastically cut.

May 12, 1912: The Ballet Russes premiered Le Dieu Bleu in Paris choreographed by Michel Fokine and startrring Vaclav Nijinsky,
Tamara Karsavina and a cast of dozens. Jean Cocteau wrote the libretto and Reynaldo Hahn the score. They were the first Europeans to collaborate on a Ballet Russe production. Joan Acocella, writing in the Dance Research Journal, called the production a tired reworking of the Ballet Russes orientalist formulas."

May 14, 1840: Fanny Elssler performed in New York at the prestigious Park Theater. This performance, say dance historians, "marked the acceptance by upper-class audiences of ballet."

And on this date in 1954- Jerome Robbins interpretation of Nijinsky's L'Apres-midi d'un Faune, was presented by the New York City Ballet.

May 15 1920: The one act ballet Pulcinella presented by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes preimiered at the Theatere National de L'Opera in Paris. Dancer Léonide Massine created both the libretto and choreography, and Pablo Picasso designed the original costumes and sets. An account of Picasso's work on this production can be found in an article original printed in the July 2003 BBC Music Magazine.

May 16 1968: A sold-out performance by the Paul Taylor Dance Company was shut down by a student-worker protest. Students from the Sorbonne occupied the Odeon theater as a "symbol of bourgeois and Gaullist culture." They invited the company to dance for them for free, but the company turned down the offer.

May 17, 1909: The Diaghilev Company gave its first performance in Paris. Nijinsky's slave costume in Le Pavillon d'Armide included a collar that was originally intended to rest on the edge of his coat. The dancer raised the necklace to form a band around his neck. This led to a new style in Paris in which the fashionable called necklaces a l'Armide.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

This Week in Dance History May 4-10

May 4, 1870‑ Alexandre Benois was born.The St. Petersburg stage designer and art historian created designs for "Le Pavillon d'Armide, "which became the first ballet Sergei Diaghilev staged in Paris in 1909. His most famous production was the 1911 "Petrushka" for which he also co‑wrote the libretto with Igor Stravinsky.

And on this date in 1907, Lincoln Kristein was born. He was co-founder and administrative head of New York City Ballet and its affiliated academy, the School of American and founder of the Dance Archives of the Museum of Modern Art in New York which, many years later, were to form the basis of the Dance Collection of the New York Public Library.

And on this date in 1971- Alvin Ailey’s “Cry” premiered at New York, City Center. Ailey choreographed Cry as a birthday present for his mother to be danced by Judith Jamison. In her autobiography Dancing Spirit, Jamison wrote: "Exactly where the woman is going through the ballet's three sections was never explained to me by Alvin. In my interpretation, she represented those women before her who came from the hardships of slavery, through the pain of losing loved ones, through overcoming extraordinary depressions and tribulations. Coming out of a world of pain and trouble, she has found her way-and triumphed.”

May 5, 1726- Marie Camargo made her debut at the Paris Opera in Les Caracteres de la Danse. She became such a celebrity that barbers named hairstyles after her, milliners made Camargo hats and a shoemaker created a Camargo shoe.

Also on this date in 1880-Michael Fokine, known as the father of modern ballet, was born. wrote of the choreographer: "In a full-scale assault on choreographers’ century-long obsession with the leg and foot (it had been 89 years since Marie Taglioni first went up "en pointe"), Fokine urged ballet to reconsider the arm. His 'Dying Swan,' set to the evocative music of Camille Saint Saëns, gave ballet not only arms but also wings. The arm's fluid movement suggests bonelessness, evoking a swan’s wings and undulating waves of sorrow. 'The Dying Swan' has become a signature piece for most dramatic ballerinas."

May 6, 1973- Dancer Johan Kobborg of the London Royal Ballet was born.

May 7, 1840- The son of a mining inspector, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky was born in Votkinsk, in Russia. Tchaikovsky was the first Russian composer to become famous in Europe, and he is still one of the most popular composers in history. He wrote 11 operas, four concertos, six symphonies, a great number of songs and short piano pieces, three ballets, three string quartets, suites and symphonic poems, and numerous other works including The Nutcracker Suite.

Also on this date in 2002- Tap dancer Buster Brown passed away at age 89. Brown was one of the last survivors of The Copasetics, formed in 1949 to preserve the legacy of Bill Bojangles Robnson. His funeral was attended by tap legends Gregory Hines, Savion Glover and Jimmy Slyde.

May 8- In Cornwall, England the annual Furry Dance is performed on the streets of Helston to celebrate the return of spring.

May 9 1948- Ballet Ballads opened at New York’s Maxine Elliott’s Theater. The musical of song and dance directed by Mary Hunter with music by Jerome Moss and lyricist John Latouche was based on American folklore. It featured three shows Susannah and the Elders choreographed by Katherine Lintz, Willie the Weeper choreographed by Paul Godkin and The Eccentricities of Davy Crockett choreographed by Hannah Holm. Although it won high critical acclaim, it ran for only sixty-two performances.

May 10, 1844- The polka was danced professionally for the first time in America by L. DeGarmo Brooks and Mary Ann Gannon at the National Theater in New York.

And on this date in 1866- Leon Bakst was born. A painter and stage designer, he was a close friend of Sergei Diaghilev and designed several of his most celebrated ballets. His costumes and sets for Diaghilev's Scheherezade caused a sensation whenever the ballet was performed and prompted new fashions in both interior design and clothing.

And on this date in 1899- Fred Astaire was born.