Thursday, December 25, 2008

Friday, December 12, 2008

Varna International Ballet Competition 1983

I am thrilled to be able to show you an exclusive. Valery Lantratov has not yet seen these clips himself!

They are videos of the 1983 Varna International Ballet Competition. Although the video is not professional, and has a few glitches here and there due to its age, it shows a young Valery Lantratov and a stunning Tatiana Pali. I'm thrilled to be able to share them here and thank you very much to Youtube user Ketinoa who was generous enough to take the time to go into the archives and share these with us.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

What An Obama Administration May Mean for the Arts

On Sunday's Meet the Press, the president-elect spoke about his vision for arts and culture in the White House. (A clip of this segment of the interview can be found on the blog of Americans for the Arts.)

"Part of what we want to do is to open up the White House and remind people this is the people's house," Obama told Tom Brokaw. "Thinking about the diversity of our culture and inviting jazz musicians and classical musicians and poetry readings in the White House so that once again we appreciate this incredible tapestry that's America... Historically, what has always brought us through hard times is that national character, that sense of optimism, that willingness to look forward, that sense that better days are ahead. I think that our art and our culture, our science--you know, that's the essence of what makes America special, and we want to project that as much as possible in the White House."

We have already noted that the Obama children take ballet lessons and that Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emmanuel has his own dance background.

Shortly after Obama named Emanuel as his White House Chief of Staff, the president-elect announced Bill Ivey, former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts from 1998-2001, would head his transition team for arts and culture.

If you want to know a bit about Ivey's perspective on culture, go to a library and check out a copy of his book Arts, Inc.: How Greed and Neglect Have Destroyed Our Cultural Rights.

In the book Ivey argues the public's right to access its cultural heritage is threatened by monopolistic corporations, ever-expanding copyright laws and the erosion of the concept of the "public domain," and "fair use." He makes a strong argument for the concept of the cultural commons-- an artistic heritage that belongs to the entire community.

There is no guarantee, he writes, "that music, drama, literature, and dance created over the past century will be made available, or that, when we look for it, the heritage we seek will exist."

In 1999, while he was still heading the NEA, Dance Magazine ran a biographical feature on Ivey:

"For me, the excitement of working with the Endowment is trying to accomplish two things," he told Dance Magazine. "I'd like to leave this job with the agency stronger than it was when I came in, supported with a broad consensus that the work we do here is important to society." Ivey's second goal is to preserve the country's "living cultural heritage," he said, "so that young people in the year 2000 and beyond have good access to the creativity of artists who have gone before."

For dance, this means documenting the choreography of American legends such as Martha Graham, Alvin Alley, and Fred Astaire. In a refreshingly honest statement, Ivey admitted that he didn't know enough about dance to come up with other names off the top of his head, though he knew that there were many more. He did note, however, that Pilobolus and the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company--both known for their high energy and innovative choreography--are his favorite troupes to watch. "I think they're wild," he said.

The NEA's most contentious experience in the spotlight under Ivey occurred on June 25, 1998, when the Supreme Court decided to uphold the law requiring the organization to consider decency as a criterion in allocating grants. The law originated from the 1989 controversy surrounding Robert Mapplethorpe's homoerotic photographs, and was recently challenged on grounds of freedom of expression by New York's chocolate-smearing performance artist, Karen Finley. While many artists consider this highly subjective criterion a violation of free speech, Ivey supports it wholeheartedly.

This summer Ivey told Danielle Maestretti, in an article that appeared in the Utne Reader, that he is concerned that Americans have become consumers of art rather than creators.

"We feel that sports are invigorated when many people can play at many levels. While we understand that amateur basketball players are not going to be as good as a superstar, there’s no sense that they shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing. But in the arts, around the fourth or fifth grade, we find people who have special talent, we separate them, give them special attention, and create some terrific artists who serve society—but we tend to denigrate the amateur."

He went on to call for a greater value to be placed on the imaginative solutions that artists could bring to an entire range of problems: "If we’re talking about a new sewage disposal system, there should be an artist on that panel; there should be artists on school boards and neighborhood commissions, not to make the project look pretty, but to bring a unique approach. Artists are very good at metaphor, at seeing less-obvious links, at right-brain thinking that might not be linear but that gets you to a good result by making an imaginative leap."

In 2005, an essay Ivey wrote entitled "America Needs a New System for Supporting the Arts" was discussed in Back Stage.

"If I had titled it," Ivey told Back Stage, "I would have called it 'It's Time for America to Reassess Its Approach to Intervening in the Cultural System,' and I use the word 'intervene' rather than 'fund' because I don't know that all questions involving the vitality of America's cultural landscape are all about money."

In particular, he noted that "the 1996 Telecommunications Act laid the groundwork for the consolidation of radio stations" and "the Digital Millennium Copyright Act toughened criminal penalties on unauthorized duplication of recordings, films, and software code, and extended the penalties' reach into the homes of average citizens."

Both measures, Ivey argued, undermine the ability of artists and arts organizations to foster creativity. He also wrote that he was "slightly queasy" about the "disconnect between the priorities of the cultural sector and the reality of the arts system... Had those of us who cared about the health of America's system for supporting the arts, by concentrating narrowly on cultural nonprofit groups and the agencies and nongovernmental organizations that help them, overlooked the policy interventions that were really shifting our cultural landscape?"

Resources for Further Reading

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Preventing Injury in Dance

Did you know that in Connecticut it is illegal to pirouette while crossing the street? To be fair, this is not simply a ballet bias, you're not allowed to walk across the street on your hands either.

When I read articles like the one linked above, I am always left wondering what the story is behind such laws. How, exactly, did the question ever come up? Sometime in Connecticut's past, someone must have been injured while pirouetting in the street.

Which leads us to today's topic, preventing injury in dance. Coventry University is researching the biomechanics of ballet and Irish dance in order to devise ways of preventing injury. The link above will take you to a video about the program which uses some of the same computer technology that has been applied to animation and video games to chart the loads on various muscles during a pirouette or a grand jete. The researchers note that ballet and step dancers are especially prone to injury, and by scientifically charting what is happening to the body they hope to come up with says of preventing such problems.

[Note: the video requires the Quicktime plug-in. I was unable to get it to play in Firefox.]

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Exhaustion of Tickets

The picture to the left is a promotional shot for a young stars of the Bolshoi gala. The description of the production translated from the Greek by Babel Fish is:

The appearances of this young stars, that honour the art of dance with the immaculate technique and the lyricism that allocates, have as resulting from the exhaustion of tickets as soon as they circulate in all their appearances per the world.

You have to love Babel Fish translations. Pictured suspended in air is Vladislav Lantratov, who is quickly moving up the Bolshoi ranks.

Unfortunately, I have not yet found any Internet photos, videos, reviews or references for the senior Lantratov's production of Don Quixote. The Russian National Ballet Foundation, directed by Valery Lantratov, has just completed a highly successful tour of Don Quixote in Cyprus and Lebanon. Plans are underway for a return to the region in the spring.

In between, he will be back in the United States teaching classical ballet technique at studios across the nation. Our calendar has finally been posted, you can look at it via the link on the right. If you would like to take a class with Valery Lantratov, contact one of the schools on the schedule.  Many, but not all, of them open master classes to outside students.  We do not know which studios have this practice, so you will need to contact them directly.

We have only three more dates we are trying to fill. If you have a studio in Florida, and would like to have a class with Valery Lantratov, please contact us at  We are now hard at work on our summer schedule.  Please let us know if you would like a summer intensive with Valery Lantratov-- our schedule is filling quickly.

Incidentally, I came across another celebrity to add to the "did you know he was a dancer?" file. James Lipton, host of Inside the Actor's Studio, revealed in his 200th episode that he was once a serious dance student. His own answer to the "Pivot questionnaire" item: "What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?" He replied that he would like to be a principal dancer, but forever young and without injury.

We agree that this would be a great career choice if such a thing existed!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Let's Hear it for the Science Nerds!

Who says scientists got no rhythm? The winners of the "Dance Your PhD" competition have been announced. It's an annual challenge that gives scientists the opportunity to express their thesis work through dance.

Here is a clip of one of the winners, Sue Lynn Lau, a graduate student at the University of Sydney, Australia, who designed a routine as a representation of her thesis, "The role of Vitamin D in beta-cell function."

The crucial role of sunlight exposure as the most important source of vitamin D in humans led to this light themed dance: