Saturday, September 27, 2008

This Date in Dance History September 28-October 3

September 28, 1934- The Fountain of Bakhchisaray debuted at the Kirov. It was the first ballet to be created by the notable choreographer Rostislav Zakharov. Based on a Pushkin poem, it tells the story a brutal Tatar chief, the Khan Girei, redeemed by tragic love for a young Polish princess, Maria. Dance critic Clive Barnes described the ballet as a “melodramatic, blood-and-thunder tearjerker.”

And on this date in 2000- Ballet for Life, which celebrated the lives of Bejart Ballet dancer Jorge Donn and rock star Freddie Mercury, both of whom died of AIDS at the age of 45, opened at Sadler's Wells Theater. “It was a moving but joyful appreciation for the two men, and it showed the company in so many different moods and styles,” wrote Dance Magazine reviewer Margaret Willis.

September 29, 1964- President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a bill creating a National Foundation for the Arts and Humanities.

And on this date in 2001- An animal psychologist from Exeter University in England held a “horse ballet” at her farm. She taught what she called classical ballet steps to her horses. The equine dancers performed in a ring to music which ranged from classical to country and western and the Beatles

September 30, 1961- The Kirov Ballet finished a successful run at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. Dance Magazine reviewer Doris Hering wrote of the company: “The Kirov ... has used restraint as the key to its style, both in dance and in mime. But with the exception of Shostakovitch Seventh Symphony, it has not created a comparable simplicity in its staging and decorative aspects. If it is fair to judge from the repertoire of three full-length classics and two variety programs that the company brought to New York, it, too, gives dance an operatic context. The Kirov Ballet might almost be called anachronism.”

And on this date in 1974-Cynthia Gregory, principal dancer for American Ballet Theater, announced she would perform in Cuba. She was the first important U.S. artist to visit the island nation since 1961, when diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba were severed.

October 1, 1936- Edward Villella, the New York City Ballet dancer and founder of the Miami City Ballet, was born. In recognition of his achievements, President Clinton presented to Mr. Villella the 1997 National Medal of Arts. Also in 1997, Mr. Villella was named a Kennedy Center Honoree, and was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame.

October 2, 1929-Tanaquil LeClercq, one of the original members of Ballet Society, the forerunner of the New York City Ballet, was born. During her brief career, he danced 40 roles, most of them created for her by George Balanchine, to whom she was married from 1952-1969. Her dancing career was ended prematurely when she was stricken with polio and paralyzed from the waist down in 1956. (A video of Tanaquil LeClercq is available on Youtube, but embedding is disabled.)

October 3, 1886- Birthdate of Russian-born costume designer Barbara Karinska, responsible for the costumes worn in every major ballet presented by the New York City Ballet from 1948 to 1977. The New York City Ballet has a tribute to the costumer on their web page.

And on this date in 1941- Chubby Checker was born. He would go on to record the only song to go to No 1 on the U.S. singles chart twice—once in 1960 and again in 1962. That song was “The Twist.” “The Twist, wrote Eldridge Cleaver the author and civil rights leader, "was a guided missile, launched from the ghetto into the very heart of suburbia.The Twist succeeded, as politics, religion and law could never do, in writing in the heart and the soul what the Supreme Court could only write on the books.”

And on this date in 1956- The Bolshoi Ballet appeared at Covent Garden for the first time.

And on this date in 1974- Gelsey Kirkland and Mikhail Baryshnikov danced the Don Quixote pas de deux with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet at the Manitoba Centennial Concert Hall inaugurating their dance partnership.

October 4, 1951- The Gene Kelly musical An American in Paris had its premiere in New York City. The film featured a 17-minute ballet sequence choreographed by Kelly to music by George Gershwin.

And in 1973- Hans Van Manens’ ballet Adagio Hammerklavier premiered in Amsterdam. It was described as a piece on the "disharmony in relationships caused by unfulfilled desires."

Saturday, September 20, 2008

This Week in Dance History: September 20-27

September 20, 1967-The ballet Astarte created and choreographed by Robert Joffrey was first presented by the City Center Joffrey Ballet at the City Center, New York with Trinette Singleton and Maximiliano Zomosa. Described as “choreo-cinema,” Astarte featured acid-rock music, film segments and disco-style lighting.

And on this date in 1996- Paul Draper, the dancer credited with creating ballet-tap (a mixture of ballet and tap dancing) passed away. In a 1948 review, John Martin, dance critic of The New York Times, likened his feet to fingers on a keyboard. ''His touch is sensitive, full of dynamic shading,'' Mr. Martin wrote. ''His phrasing is beautifully free and rhythmic, and against the background of his carefully chosen music he invents the most delicate and rapturous counter phrases.''

September 21, 1998- Russian deputy prosecutor general Aleksandr Zviyaguintsev announced that Rudolf Nureyev was posthumously rehabilitated. The dancer had been sentenced in absentia to seven years in prison when he defected to France in 1961.

September 22, 1964-Fiddler on the Roof, a musical by Joseph Stein, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, based on the stories of Sholem Aleichem with choreography by Jerome Robbins opened at the Imperial Theater in New York City. Wallace Muro, a dancer who performed in the production said, “There was a rule about the bottle dance. Periodically one of the dancers had to drop his bottle… Jerry Robbins wanted it to be exciting. He felt that the audience needed to understand that those bottles weren’t glued on—they were really balanced.”

And on this date in 1996- Ludmilla Chiriaeff, the Canadian ballerina and founder of Les Ballets Chiriaeff and the Academy of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens and L'Ecole Supérieure des Grands Ballets Canadiens, passed away at age 72. In October of 1993 she had received the Governor General's Award for performing arts in recognition for her exceptional contribution to culture in Canada.

September 23, 1996- Alberto O. Herrera, father and lawyer of ballerina Paloma Herrera of the American Ballet Theater, filed suit against designers Paloma Picasso and Carolina Herrera for the right to register his daughter's name as a trademark. Paloma Picasso launched her perfume bearing her name in 1984. Carolina Herrera introduced a perfume called "Herrera" in 1988. Both opposed the trademark.

And on this date in 1987-Bob Fosse passed away at age 60. Fosse’s choreographic style was heavily influenced by his early burlesque experiences. He toured with his own dance act, The Riff Brothers, when he was only 13. His stage productions as a choreographer include The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, Sweet Charity, Pippin and Chicago. His film musicals include Sweet Charity and Cabaret for which he won an Oscar. His last musical film All That Jazz is believed to be autobiographical.

September 24, 1932- Svetlana Beriosova the Lithuanian-born classical ballerina known for her 20 year career with England's Royal Ballet was born. Ballet Magazine said of the ballerina: "Tall, serene and beautiful, she danced the classics with a slightly remote, mysterious air, through which on rare occasions broke a wonderful sense of humour - she was for instance the great Swanilda of her generation; and towards the end of her career she created a series of roles which wonderfully used her maturity."

September 25, 1905
-Harriet Hector, known as "America's Most Cleverest Ballerina," was born. She was famous for her backbends and stunts like tapping up and down an escalator en pointe.

September 26, 1917-Vaslav Nijinsky danced with Diaghilev and Ballet Russes for the last time in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

September 27 2003
- Donald O’Connor the actor and song and dance man best known for the “Make ‘Em Laugh” number in the film Singin’ in the Rain passed away at age 78. He also appeared in such '50s musicals as "Call Me Madam," "Anything Goes" and "There's No Business Like Show Business." He also starred in the Francis the Talking Mule series.

Rubber Legs

These dance numbers from Al "Rubber Legs" Norman have been shared all over the Internet. I discovered Al Norman on the blog of Henrik Eriksson of Sweden, who writes about swing and jazz dance music. So far, using the usual superficial search methods of the Internet Movie database, Google, Find Articles and, I have come up with little biographical information on Norman beyond the fact that he came to movies by way of Vaudeville and Broadway.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Question of Arts Education

“Artists speak to us in a language that carries meaning that cannot be conveyed through words. Will our children be able to understand what they have to say? Even more, will they know their messages exist?” -Elliot W. Eisner, U.S. professor of education and art

Less than 10 percent of state arts budgets went on arts education in the past 20 years. This, say Rand researchers, has led to a declining interest in arts.

In the preface of its report Cultivating Demand for the Arts, which is available for free download, the authors note:

"Recent reports and commentaries point to a growing gap between the quantity of artworks produced by American artists and arts organizations and the desire and ability of many Americans to experience those artworks. This report offers a framework for thinking about supply and demand in the arts and suggests that too little attention has been paid to cultivating demand. It identifies the roles of different factors, particularly arts learning, in stimulating interest in the arts and enriching individuals’ experiences of artworks. It also describes the institutional infrastructure that provides arts learning for Americans of all ages."

Back in 1988, Frank Hodsoll, chariman of the National Endowment for the Arts, observed:

“While 15 per cent of the elementary school day is devoted to the arts, it is likely taught by general classroom teachers who lack relevant training in the arts. Although 17 per cent of the junior high/middle school day is occupied by the arts, it is likely focused on creation and performance, with no attempt to impart historical or aesthetic context. It is almost entirely confined to visual art and music, with very little dance or drama and no attention to the design or media arts…we will be counting on the voices of the American people to join us in one loud chorus for arts education.”

Although this quote is 20 years old, it seems as though the situation has hardly changed and the loud chorus for arts education was more of a hum.

One of the arguments that is often put forward for arts funding is that studying the arts improves performance in other academic areas. For example, music increases math proficiency. Why do we resort to this argument instead of arguing that arts education increases art proficiency?

We are, perhaps, used to making economic arguments for educaton. Go to school, get an education, and you'll make more money over the course of your life. We're hard pressed to argue that years of focus on ballet or poetry will increase someone's earning potential.

And why is a philosopher, poet, musician or dancer likely to have a lower income? Here we get back to the Rand study, which argues that we don't fund arts because we didn't learn their value in school.

Assuming that most of our readers fall into the supply side of these economics (dancers, dance teachers, artists) do you agree with Rand's assessment? How would you suggest increasing demand for arts in general and classical arts in particular? Are we doomed to be locked into a cultural value system where a lack of arts education breeds a disinterest in arts, which leads to less value and support for arts education? The comments are open. Ideas and opinions welcome.

Resource of the Day

In my random blog surfing, I came across a web page with the redundant title "Russian Video from Russia." It has a lot of ballet postings on a ballet theme.

Friday, September 12, 2008

This Week in Dance History September 13-19

September 13, 1913-Charles “Cholly’ Atkins the U.S. dancer, choreographer and vaudeville performer was born. Atkins was credited with giving the Motown recording artists their distinctive choreography. They didn't know his name," wrote Detroit Free Press dance critic David Lyman of Atkin, "But Friday night, when the Funk Brothers got to that point in 'Stop! (In the Name of Love)'-- the point where the Supremes plant their feet and defiantly thrust their arms forward - nearly every person in the Detroit Opera House joined in with the choreography."

And on this date in 1960- The American Ballet theater, the first American ballet company to perform in the USSR, began its tour before a packed house at Moscow’s Stanislavsky Theater.

September 14, 1996- Actress and dancer Juliet Prowse passed away at age 59. Prowse's dreams of becoming a ballerina were thwarted by her height. By the time she was 14, and attending the Royal Academy of Dance, she was almost six feet tall. Instead she became a dancer in European nightclubs. While dancing in Paris, she was spotted by Hollywood choreographer Hermes Pan and signed to a role in the movie “Can-Can.” Soviet Premier Khrushchev was invited to watch rehearsals for the movie. The next day, he denounced the dance as immoral. Prowse's photo accompanied the news stories in newspapers worldwide and she became an instant celebrity. (In the clip below, she is in the red dress.)

September 15, 1834- Fanny Elssler made her debut in Paris in La Tempete, a ballet based on William Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

And on this date in 1876-Nikolai Sergeyev, dancer and company manager of the Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg, was born.

And on this date in 1952- American dancer Charles Atkins made his last Broadway appearance as a dancer in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes at the Zigfeld Theater.

September, 16 1996- Dancer and actor Gene Nelson passed away at age 76. He was inspired to become a dancer after seeing the Fred Astaire film “Flying Down to Rio.” He is best remembered for the role of cowboy Will Parker in the film “Oklahoma!”

September 17, 1904-The first major British choreographer, Frederick Ashton was born. Ashton, wrote New York Times reviewer Jack Anderson, "did much to develop a distinctively British balletic style characterized by elegance, lyricism and graciousness. A versatile choreographer, he created ballets that drew on or evoked literary sources, that told stories and that were simple responses to a musical score. To each of his dances, Sir Frederick brought a distinctively musical and humane perspective and an attention to detail that also helped to define the national style."

September 18, 1905- The Tony Award winning dancer and choreographer Agnes De Mille was born, the niece of the famous film maker Cecil B. De Mille. In 1939, she was invited to join the American Ballet Theatre's opening season. Here, she created her first ballet, Black Ritual, in 1940. This ballet became the first ever to use black dancers. But it was her 1942 Americana ballet Rodeo that truly put her on the dance map. She choreographed the musicals "Oklahoma,” in 1943, and "Brigadoon," in 1947.

September 19, 1927- Isadora Duncan passed away in an tragic accident in Nice, France. The dancer, considered the mother of modern dance, was fond of long, flowing scarves. She was wearing one in her friend’s Bugatti when the cloth wrapped around the axle. She was yanked from the car and dragged. “I never saw Isadora Duncan dance," wrote British novelist Rayner Heppenstall, "That, I believe may well be my best qualification for writing about her. For it seems that nobody who did see her was able to tell about it sanely…Evidently, if I had seen Isadora Duncan dance, there would have been no chance of critical sanity. With such a woman, you must either be outraged, or laugh or fall cataclysmically in love; and find yourself in Jericho anyway. I fancy I should have fallen in love.”

Saturday, September 6, 2008

This Dance in Dance History: September 6-12

September 6, 1954-Mr. Strauss Goes to Boston, an operetta about Johann Strauss headlining the great Boston Jubilee of 1872, had its premiere at the New Century Theater in New York with music by music by Robert Stolz & Johann Strauss and choreography by George Balanchine. Time Magazine’s verdict: “Far from conveying any of the devilish Strauss charm it babbles about, the book doesn't even billow with good lush operetta sentiment; it is just crushingly dull.” It closed eight days later.

September 7, 1954-Western Symphony had its premiere at the New York City Center. Performed by the New York City Ballet and choreographed by George Balanchine to music by Hershey Kay, it was first presented without décor and danced in practice clothes. Costumes and sets were added the following year.

September 8, 1935- Prokofiev’s score to Romeo and Juliet was completed soon after the composer’s return to Russia from Paris. It was first performed at a concert in Moscow in October of the same year.

And on this date in 2007-Alex Romero, a dancer and choreographer who directed Elvis Presley’s dancing for the movie “Jailhouse Rock” and also worked with Presley on three other films, passed away at age 94. “A gracefully athletic dancer,” in the words of the Los Angeles Times, Romero got his start in movies in the early 1940s. He was a featured dancer in “On the Town,” a 1949 film that starred Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. He also performed in the 1951 film “An American in Paris,” which also starred Kelly. In addition to Jailhouse Rock, Romero choreographed the Elvis movies Double Trouble, Clambake and Speedway.

September 9, 1958-Waltz-Scherzo choreographed by George Balanchine to music by Tchaikovsky had its premere at the New York City Center performed by the New York City Ballet.

September 10, 1896- Adele Astaire was born. Adele Astaire had a successful vaudelville act with her younger brother Fred Astaire.

And on this date in 1970-The film They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Starring Jane Fonda, was released. The film focused on a group of dancers at a grueling dance marathon and was based on a 1935 novel of the same nameby Horace McCoy who worked as a bouncer at several marathons in California.

September 11, 1850- Swedish soprano Jenny Lind was born. She was so popular that many dances were created in her honor: The "Jenny Lind Polka" and "Jenny Lind's Set of Waltz Quadrilles" are two such dances published in an 1858 dance manual. "The Jenny Lind Polka" is believed to be the music New York dancing master Alan Dodsworth played in 1844 when he introduced the polka to America.

And on this date in 1964-The ballet Cinderella to music by Sergei Prokofiev was presented in the United States for the first time by the Kirov Ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York with Irina Kolpakaova and Yuri Soloviev.

September 12, 1905- Dancer, director and choreographer Agnes Demille was born. In 1939, she was invited to join the American Ballet Theatre's opening season. Here, she created her first ballet, Black Ritual, in 1940. This ballet became the first ever to use black dancers. In 1942, the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, a company that came to the United States because of World War II, invited de Mille to choreograph a ballet for their repertory. She created Rodeo, a highly energetic work with a uniquely American spirit that captured its opening night audience so much that it received 22 curtain calls. One critic called it "refreshing and as American as Mark Twain." De Mille went on to choreograph some of the biggest Broadway hits in the 1940s and 1950s, such as One Touch of Venus in 1943, Carousel in 1945, Brigadoon in 1947, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in 1949, and Paint Your Wagon in 1951.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Dot Reid's Dance Stunt

Back when we were in Monroe, Michigan to teach a class at the River Raisin Center, I mentioned the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Detroit to Windsor, Canada.

I had come across a history of the bridge that noted that a "toe dancer" had made her way across the span in its early history. With a little research, I've managed to find some more information on this moment from dance history.

In 1929, Dot Reid, the 16 year-old pictured on th left established a long-distance toe-dancing record, according to the Olean Evening News. Reid billed herself as the "niece of Wallace Reid, late matinee idol." and performed her achievement to the tune of a jazz band which rode along beside her on a truck as she tippy-toed the two mile span and then continued on her toes to the Windsor City Hall to pass a letter from Congressman Robert H. Clancy to the Windsor mayor.

It took her 36 minutes and 40 seconds and she won $250 for the stunt. (How much would they have to pay you to toe-dance for two miles?)

Tip Toe Through the Tulips - Eydie Gormé

Monday, September 1, 2008

Poems of the Dance

For a lover of books and history, Google Books, which is working with univeristy libraries to digitize old works, is a treasure. I have forever taken great joy in walking through dusty shelves and pulling down old volumes to become aquainted with minds from another era. Now you can do the same without the dust. (Eyestrain is the trade off)

I hope that ever-lengthening copyright terms, or ever-shortening attention spans, do not rob future generations of the great joy of rediscovering works created in our day.

I discovered a 1921 volume called Poems of the Dance, edited by Edward R. Dickson. In it was a lovely poem by Mary Carolyn Davies. I believe the book to be in the public domain and so I am sharing it in its entirety here. Enjoy.


God's in me when I dance.
God, making
Spring Out of his thoughts
And building worlds
By wishing.
God Laughing at his own
Queer fancies,
Standing awed,
And sobbing;
Creating —
God's in me When I dance.