Sunday, June 29, 2008

Plasmodesmata and Tire Pressure

We were in Georgia when our back tire blew out. Although the Georgia heat is not the most conducive to easy tire changes at the side of an Interstate, it could surely have been worse.

As it happens, the Alice De Pass Studio is right behind a tire place, so we rolled in on the sapce saver spare and we were able to have a couple of new tires put on while we danced.

After the tires were replaced, a familiar rattle disappeared. So the blow out indirectly made the rest of our trip much more comfortable. (Of course, we could have had comfort without the blow out with a little forethought and advanced work. )

My favorite bit of trivia about Watkinsville, Georgia is that it is where researchers discovered plasmodesmata. I don't know what that is, but it sounds cool.

More significant for our purposes is that Watkinsville is home to the Alice DePass Studio of Dance. It is a ballet focused studio where they "believe that movement is fundamental to life, and that dance provides an opportunity to develop rhythm, strength, coordination, flexibility, and fluidity of motion while building character and self-esteem."

A big thanks to all the parents and teachers who helped us by going and collecting the keys during the grand battements and to everyone who helped make this day a success.

Georgia On My Mind - Ray Charles

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Electric City

Anderson, South Carolina, off I-85 in the North West corner of the state in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is known-- if its Wikipedia entry is correct-- as "The Electric City."

But we did not visit to pay homage to the birthplace of the electric cotton gin, rather to give a 6PM class at the Anderson School of Dance. At Anderson their slogan is "Keep on Dancing No Matter What!"

Unfortunately, due to our missing camera, we can't show you any pictures of the studio. But thank you to Brenda Oehmig for inviting us.

Electric Company (ver 1) 1971 - Electric Company Cast

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Valery and the Giant Peach

It is a challenge to keep up with a travel journal on the road. Classes and driving leave us little down time and so most of these travel entries are written weeks after the classes happened.

Sometimes I jot ideas in a little notebook I keep in my bag, but when I go back to look at them they are woefully lacking in context. For example, before the classes at Dance Theater on Main in Fountain Inn, South Carolina I wrote "Gaffney giant peach."

Thanks to the magic of the Internet I was able to find a picture of the giant peach that first caught my eye and then promptly left my mind. Only problem with this story is that I don't remember where Gaffney was.

It is, my research tells me, on Interstate I-85 and locals call it "the peachoid water tower." When you spend a lot of time on the road, these little roadside distractions are a welcome relief.

Fountain Inn, as its name suggests, was once a stagecoach stop with only one notable landmark, an inn with a fountain. "It is a small town filled with historic landmarks, interesting anecdotes and historical figures," notes the official Fountain Inn web page.

The town's most famous resident was a dancer, Clayton "Peg Leg" Bates. "Bates, who lost his leg in a cotton gin accident at the age of 12, overcame his tragedy to become a famous dancer," the site's author writes.

"Famous" is, of course, a relative term. In case you've never heard of Peg Leg, you should know that he appeared more than 20 times on the Ed Sullivan show. His signature step was the Imitation American Jet Plane, in which he would jump five feet in the air and land on his peg leg, with his good leg sticking out straight behind him.

We didn't perform any stunts like that at Dance Theater on Main, a spacious studio where the word "Dance" is projected onto the walls by the sun shining through leading on the window. We simply had two enjoyable classes with some great kids. Thank you to Christie Leonard for inviting us.

(With all my internet problems, it took me about an hour to get this short entry posted! Pshew!)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Gymnastics in North Carolina

Because of the Olympus Camera void, I have no pictures to show from Dance Works in Youngville, North Carolina-- our only stop in one of our favorite states on this tour. What is more, I never really got very good pictures when we were at this studio last winter. But this one is kind of cool, what with the magic invisible legs and all.

Thank you to Courtney and Shelly Leone for inviting us back.

Dance Works is one of two primarily gymnastic studios we would visit on this tour. The second will be in Florida. Gymnastic students are usually quick studies with a good kinetic sense, but a slightly different style of movement.

If you're interested in the ballet vs. gymnastics question and whether ballet is a sport or gymnastics and art, there is a whole forum to discuss it on Ballet Talk for dancers. This leads me to my second discussion question-- why do Internet forums always devolve into mean spirited name calling?

Olympic fanfare - John Willians

Monday, June 23, 2008

Vaulted Ceilings in Virginia

June 23 was "vaulted ceiling day." We had two classes in Virginia, both in repurposed buildings with wooden beams above. The first was at Center Stage School for Dance in the town of Pulaski in Southwest Virginia in the New River Valley.

Before we arrived at this school, the Roanoke Times ran a story previewing our visit.

The articile quoted director Melanie Ondich saying "He must be somewhat of a dynamic personality, because a number of people have written on his blog that even though he doesn't speak fluent English, his teaching is very good."

The article went on to say, "Guest teachers -- often from the Radford University Department of Dance -- have taught at the school of about 65 students before but never anyone as famous in the dance world as Lantratov, Ondich said."

We appreciate all the great comments, and hope that our class lived up to the advance billing.

We had a very warm reception at this studio, which appears to have once been some kind of town hall or meeting room, which gave the whole place a warm, rustic feel.

That tone was repeated at our second studio of the day, The Wilson School of Dance in Charlottesville. You may remember our reports from this school in the amazingly hot summer of 2007 and last winter when Valery introduced the students to the basics of partnering. Junaita Wilson invited us back again, and was as hospitable as ever, offering us fruit and donuts and pastries.

The school is in a former church building, and although it was warm, it did not reach the dizzying 104 degrees of 2007.

A special thank you to Juanita Wilson for helping us with some personal business. After we checked out of our budget hotel (one of those ones with a number in the name) my camera remained on the checkout counter.

I called and asked to have it sent to our next city but the clerk said, "We don't do that."

I offered to provide money for postage and she said, "We don't do that," and in one of those mildly bored "this is our policy" tones added: "If you want us to send it, you will have to figure out the postage, and mail us a box with the postage because we can't go and get one."

Fortunately there are a lot of hotels in Charlottesville.

My special thanks go to Juanita Wilson for fetching the camera and mailing it to us herself.

Unfortunately that means that these are the last pictures of classes you will see for a while, because it would be another week before we were in one place long enough to receive the package.

In honor of the lost camera:
End Title - Michael Giacchino

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Virginia's Tallest Town

Bluefield, Virginia is apparently known as "Virginia's Tallest Town." (This is Valery Lantratov looking tall.)

After seven days of classes in West Virginia we drove all the way to Virginia for our next classes at the Starz School of Dance. This sounds like a much more impressive travel feat than it is. Our hotel was in Bluefield, West Virginia, and the studio was only a few miles away.

The school's mission, in fact, says that the staff "takes pride in offering the two Virginias the very best in dance & performing arts education."

We experienced hail a surprising number of times in our June travels. We were pelted in Michigan, Ohio and West Virginia. Although it was a particularly hot day, another hail storm fell during our first (younger class) with a staccato tap on the metal roof. So far this has been the last hail storm we've encountered. Maybe it was because the city is so tall. Thank you to Lisa Colombo for inviting us to this studio.

This is, incidentally, only one of two studios named "Starz" that we will visit on this tour. The second is a return to the Starz School in Wauseon, Ohio (near Toledo), which will be our final class.

Monday, June 16, 2008

With Our Friends in Charleston

From June 16-20 we once again had the pleasure of visiting our friends at the River City Youth Ballet in Charleston, WV. Not only were we teaching three classes a day, but Valery Lantratov prepared special choreography for the dancers in the advanced level. His creation was called "The Lesson." Its theme is a ballet class with students playing and trying to impress one another with their moves until the teacher comes in and gets them to focus on pure classical technique. It was a lot of fun to watch him work on the piece.

He also had the opportunity to unveil his newest class for little dancers. With a new music CD and a mix of gymnastics and ballet, the children seemed to enjoy jumping, stretching and pointing their toes.

In our off hours, we had the chance to watch some interesting educational ballet videos by David Howard and a partnering lesson with the ABT as well as the Kenneth MacMillan version of Romeo and Juliet, and to compare Russian vs. English method.

Here's a bit of Charleston trivia for you: The book "Very Charleston" by Diana Hollingsworth Gessler, tells the story of Reverend Daniel Jenkins who found four young orphans huddled behind a wood pile in 1892 and decided to start an orphanage for African-American kids. To fund his venture, he gathered up used instruments and created a little ragtime and jazz band that played on street corners for coins. They did a "crazy geechie dance," that Gessler reports was in "local tour guide lore" the origin of The Charleston. Of course, when an author says "local legend has it," it generally means there is no historical evidence to back it up, but it's such a good story that she wants it to be true anyway.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Our Prince Immanuel's Land

West Virginia has to be the state with the craziest outline-- a bit like a slightly melted tea pot or a diving submarine with a periscope on top.

But The Mountain State is surely one of the most beautiful in the union.

The West Virginia state song says:

Oh, the West Virginia hills!
How majestic and how grand,
With their summits bathed in glory,
Like our Prince Immanuel's Land!
Is it any wonder then,
That my heart with rapture thrills,
As I stand once more with loved ones
On those West Virginia hills?

John Denver gets the last laugh though, because you see far more references to West Virginia as "almost heaven" than "our Prince Immanuel's Land."

Unfortunately, we did not get any pictures at the Premiere Studio of Dance-- or more accurately at the Bridgeport High School where the classes were actually held-- because my camera's card was full. (This was before we lost the camera entirely in Kentucky, more on this later.)

The Premiere Studio of Dance had just finished its recital, which it had held in the High School's auditorium, and it still had use of the stage. The stage setting gave the class more of a festive "event" feel. As did the presence of the local television cameras.

Thank you to Emory Oldaker for inviting us to your studio. We're grateful to have new friends in West Virginia.

Take Me Home, Country Roads - Honeybrowne

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Newark, Ohio June 14, 2008

This is a picture of Valery Lantratov demonstrating "scary fingers" at the first stop on our tour, The Ballet Academy in Newark, Ohio.

If you've had a class with Valery, you know that he puts a lot of focus on epaulement and the carriage of arms and fingers and "scary fingers" are something you do not want to have.

Newark (not to be confused with Newark, New Jersey) is located in Licking County in Central Ohio. Its residents thought Licking County a preferable name to the older "Mud Pike" and "Conine." It was named for nothing more salacious than a lapping waterway.

It is in a mostly rural area where Alaina Schraufnagel was recently crowned the 2008 Licking County goat queen. According to the Newark Advocate: "Schraufnagel was selected after writing an essay, being interviewed and taking a test over the general knowledge of dairy, meat and breeding goats. She will represent all the goat shows at the Hartford Fair and pass out awards. Her responsibilities include attendance at the goat-milking contest and the goat sale."

The Advocate also ran a story on Valery Lantratov's visit. His responsibilities included teaching ballet technique and correcting "scary fingers" wherever he saw them.

In small towns you often find well-attended and managed studios like the Ballet Academy. The study of ballet is by no means limited to large urban areas. That's why we love having the chance to come to cities and towns of all sizes and configurations.

Our stay in Newark was a great way to kick off the tour, and we hope to come back in the future.

On The Road Again - Willie Nelson

Friday, June 13, 2008

Greek and Hindu Gods and Friday the 13th

In the Hindu cosmology, Ganesh is the god of auspicious beginnings. People often collect statues of the little, elephant-headed god as good luck totems, removers of obstacles. Ganesh was the child of Shiva and Parvati. One day Ganesh’s mother ordered him to stand guard at a door and keep anyone from entering. When Shiva came home, Ganesh followed instructions and refused to let him in. Shiva was angry and cut the child’s head off. When he realized what he had done, he repaired the child by replacing his head with that of a baby elephant.

When I first heard that story, it struck me as ironic that this was the god of auspicious beginnings. Being decapitated and converted into an elephant boy didn’t seem like an especially promising start. But then perhaps the god of auspicious beginnings began life this way to remind us that often what appears to be an inauspicious beginning is an auspicious beginning in disguise. We certainly hope so.

If you are superstitious, you may think our ill luck has to do with our decision to launch our tour on Friday the 13th of June. In any case, we had some special challenges getting started from our base in the Detroit, Michigan suburbs. Valery Lantratov arrived fresh from choreographing and directing a new work for a festival for Aphrodite in Cyprus. (The picture is a flyer for the event) If you read Greek there are some articles on the event on the Internet.

This major job took all his time between his last visit to the United States and his current visit. So he planned to work on choreography for the students at the River City Youth Ballet and preparation for his classes of various levels in the week leading up to our departure. The only wrinkle in this plan was a storm that hit the midwest two days before his arrival. High winds knocked down power lines and our Michigan home was suddenly dark and quiet.

(According to the Michigan Public Service Commission: "Storms in Michigan's Lower Peninsula from June 6 to June 15, caused an estimated 720,000 customers of Detroit Edison and Consumers Energy to lose electric power to their homes and businesses for varying lengths of time."

Of course, flexibility is important in ballet, both on stage, and behind the scenes.

Cooking on the barbeque and visiting by candle light was fun for a couple of days, but as the power outage stretched out to three days, four days, and eventually a full week the novelty wore off.

Thank you to the Birmingham Unitarian Church in West Bloomfield, Michigan-- which had power-- for giving us space to play music, prepare choreography and load files from a desktop to a laptop computer. (Yes, we lugged the desktop to the church)

We rolled with it with a positive attitude and a sense of adventure, and managed to pack everything we needed by the glow of flashlights. As we drove towards Newark, Ohio for our first class, we got the call that the power had finally been restored back at home. We look forward to seeing the glow of televisions and that little light in the refrigerator when we get back to Michigan in August...

Dont Worry, Be Happy (O.S.T.) - Bobby McFerrin

Sunday, June 8, 2008

This Week in Dance History: June 8-14

(Most of these events were previously published in the entry published last year at this time. Can you spot the differences?)

June 8, 1912-The ballet Daphnis and Chloe made its debut performed by the Ballets Russes with choreography by Mikhail Fokine and music by Ravel but this first ballet version of the mythological tale was a flop. In 1951, Frederick Ashton revised Daphnis for the Sadler's Wells Ballet with Margot Fonteyn.

June 9, 1923- Broadway producer Lore Noto was born. Noto was most notably the producer of the musical "The Fantasticks" which ran off-Broadway from 1960 - 2002 (17,162 performances) at the Sullivan Street Playhouse. Noto played Hucklebee (boy's father) in the show for 17 years (6,348 performances).

June 10, 1932- George Balanchine's Serenade was performed at the estate of Felix Warburg near White Plains, New York. It was the first ballet that Balanchine choreographed in the United States.

And on this date in 1948- The Broadway musical “Look Ma I’m Dancin’” closed after 188 performances. The production choreographed and conceived by Jerome Robbins and George Abbott was a comic story of a Russian ballet company.

And on this date in 1958-The Royal Opera House held a Hundredth Birthday Gala. The Queen was in the audience to see Frederick Ashton’s gala piece “Birthday Offering.”

June 11, 1996- Ulysses Dove, principal dancer with the Alvin Ailey company passed away. Dove was noted for his commanding presence, bright clarity of movement, and truthful dramatic intensity.

June 12, 1906- At Ellen Terry's Jubilee Matinée, Drury Lane, London, England, 22 members of the Terry family (including Sir John Gielgud's mother, Kate) appeared in the masked dance from Much Ado About Nothing. The Guiness Book of World's Records records this as most members of a single family to appear together on stage.

And on this date in 1908-Marina Timofeyevna Semyonova, ballerina and renowned dance instructor, was born. Semyonova's great contribution to the development of Russian classical ballet was in the scope and epic nature of her style in movement and the quiet grandeur and strength of the classical repertory.

June 13, 1940- Erick Hawkins made his debut as a solo dancer at Bennington College Theater. He went on to be a soloist and the first male dancer in Martha Graham's company. He remained with Graham until 1950 and greatly influenced her work.

And on this date in 2001-Six years after the death of Rent author Jonathan Larson, an autobiographical musical tick, tick…Boom! is rescued from his trunk and opens Off-Broadway.

June 14, 1879-Sylvia, a three act ballet, premiered at the Palais Garnier choreographed by Louis Merante to music by Louis Delibes. It did not cause a sensation, but a 1952 revival by Sir Frederick Ashton popularized the ballet.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Audio Oddities on a Ballet Theme

Valery Lantratov has just returned from Cyprus, where he choreographed a special program for a national festival. We're preparing to embark on our most ambitious teaching tour to date and this blog is getting ready to move from its dance history and news to ballet travelogue stage.
We will be teaching roughly 100 classes this summer (the schedule is still getting tweaked even as we pack our suitcases as one class drops out and another is added.) We made the odd decision to go south for the summer. Stay tuned to see how we fare in the heat of Alabama in July.

Schools: If we sent you a contract, regardless of whether you have gotten it back to us, we are assuming you're planning on having the class. If you haven't gotten it back because you're still trying to keep your options open, please let us know so we can plan accordingly. It's hard for us to fill gaps once we're mobile.

That business done, in the calm before the storm...

I've recently discovered a new hobby, reading vintage recording audioblogs. Audioblogs are written by music-o-philes who share their auditory discovery with streaming or downloadable music files. They're self-appointed DJs and music journalists rolled into one. My favorites are those written by enthusiastic flea market vinyl buyers who snap up obscure and long out of print albums and 78s to share bits of pop culture that would never make it to CD.

This is not an advocacy of music pirating. Although there are blogs out there by people who trade current music to get out of paying for tracks, my interest is entirely in blogs dedicated to historical musical curiosities that have otherwise been abandoned as no longer profitable for big record labels to reproduce. Digitizing and sharing rescues these oddities from disappearance and is similar to getting a used record in a shop in terms of royalty issues. (Used records pay a merchant, but do not produce royalties for original artists or record labels)

So as we prepare for our journey, I will share with you a couple ballet related discoveries in my Internet wanderings.

WFMU's Beware of the Blog is one of the best. Last November they featured an odd spoken word album "Picking Up Girls Made Easy," which is full of Eric Weber's suggestions on how to charm women in the library, walking a dog or-- most interesting for us-- at the ballet. (Click on the link to listen to the track) "The girls in the audience are crazy about the dancers," our Don Juan explains, "So you have to seem interested too."

They also featured a 1972 10" single the Red Detachment of Women, a ballet performed by the Peking Opera Troupe recorded by the China record company.

As you can probably surmise by the cover, it is featured as part of "Cold War" themed article.

You can hear snippets of the vintage children's 78 Tina Ballerina at the Kiddie Record King's site. I don't know about you, but all the lovingly recorded 1940s children's stories make me want to rush out and buy a 78 player.

UbuWeb's 365 Days Project, in which people submitted their oddest thrift store record finds, turned up The Darrell Sisters Studio Arts Dance Center offering a 1980s aerobic workout over 1960s style moog music.

And finally from Stax o'Wax comes the soundtrack to the film A Night to Remember, which features an instrumental track called "ballet."

That should be enough to get you started on your vintage vinyl adventure. Try not to let it suck up too much of your time. If you discover any ballet-themed tracks in your surfing, please let us all know about it by posting in the comments section. We'd really love to see and hear your finds.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

This Week in Dance HIstory: June 1-7

June 1, 1995: Former ballerina Prudence Hyman passed away at the age of 81. She appeared in a 1931 film version of the ballet Les Sylphides. Later, after World War II, she retired from ballet and switched to performing in stage musicals and films including the horror film The Gorgon.

And on this date in 2005: The television competition “Dancing with the Stars” premiered on ABC. It was based on British series "Strictly Come Dancing," where celebrities partner up with professional dancers and compete against each other in weekly elimination rounds to determine a winner.

June 2 1909: Michel Fokine demonstrated that ballet could be beautifully abstract when his Les Sylphides was presented by Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in Paris.

June 3 1906: Josephine Baker, the dancer and singer that Ernest Hemingway once called "the most sensational woman anyone ever saw,” was born. The biography on The Official Josephine Baker Web Site sums up her influence: "Famous for barely-there dresses and no-holds-barred dance routines, her exotic beauty generated nicknames 'Black Venus,' 'Black Pearl' and 'Creole Goddess.' Admirers bestowed a plethora of gifts, including diamonds and cars, and she received approximately 1,500 marriage proposals. She maintained energetic performances and a celebrity status for 50 years until her death in 1975. Unfortunately, racism prevented her talents from being wholly accepted in the United States until 1973."

June 4, 1910: Choreographed by Michel Fokine to the symphonic poem by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, with design by Leon Bakst, Scheherazade received its world premiere by the Ballet Russe de Serge Diaghilev at the Theatre National de l'Opera, Paris. With its narrative based on the first tale of the Thousand and One Nights, this exotic ballet exemplified Fokine's revolutionary integration of theme with dance, music and design.

And on This Date in 1912: Pilar López Júlvez, dancer, choreographer and teacher was born. A dancer during of the golden age of flamenco ballet in the 1930s and 1940s, she excelled as a choreographer and teacher of young dancers. “The hallmark of Pilar López's teaching and style was sobriety and restraint,” wrote Michael Eaude in The Guardian when Lopez passed away at age 95, “in many ways the antithesis of her contemporary Carmen Amaya, the undisputed genius of 20th-century flamenco dance. Amaya was wild, flailing movement and colour, much more the image of Gypsy passion than the highly technical López, who was not a Gypsy at all.”

June 5, 1919: La Boutique Fantasque made its London debut at the Alhambra Theatre featuring Lydia Lopokova. "I have never heard a theater resound to greater applause," wrote C.W. Beaumont in Fanfare.

June 6, 1898: Dame Ninette de Valois founder of the Royal Ballet was born. A one time dancer with the Ballet Russes, she retired at age 28 to promote ballet throughout Europe. She was almost singlehandedly responsible for British ballet. Ballet Mazine wrote of the dance pioneer: " is perhaps her imagination that is the most astonishing. It's almost impossible to us, who grumble if a fortnight goes by without some ballet to watch, to think how unlikely it was in the 1920s that ballet could become rooted in England, let alone a national ballet - one with no Russian names and with its own heritage of native ballets. De Valois had the foresight to know that it could be done, and the courage and stubbornness to fight to achieve it." You can read an interview with Valois on Dance Insider.

And on this date in 1968: Following a performance of Romeo and Juliet by Maurice Bejart's Ballet du Xxieme Siecle of Brussles at the Coliseum in Lisbon, Mr. Bejart asked for a moment of silence in memory of Robert Kennedy, "victim of violence and fascism." After the moment was observed, Bejart launched into a speech that began "Down with all dictatorships." The next day the Portuguese police expelled him from the country.

June 7, 1928: Charles Strouse was born. Strouse was a composer, lyricist and arranger on Broadway musicals such as Dance A Little Closer, Bye Bye Birdie and .