Los Angeles

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Ballet Beginnings

Even the best dancers had to start somewhere...I love this video which gives a peek into New York City Ballet dancers' humble beginnings...

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Too Much Tulle to Pass Up!

I have worn plenty of tutus in my day.  I even own a few, but yet I still couldn't resist splurging on this gorgeous full tulle skirt from Anthropologie.  It fits like a tutu, but is fully lined and actually, not quite as tulle-y as a real one, making it perfectly acceptable to wear to parties and fancy events out.   

It's a bit tricky finding a top to pair with it however.  I tried a bunch of different options, but resorted to a basic spaghetti strap top because that just felt right to me (closest thing to a leo.)  In any case, it's a fancy piece that is probably the single most impractical clothing purchase I've made in my life. But what can I say?  Sometimes a girl just needs a tutu.  

I'm pretty sure they no longer carry this skirt online, but here are a few other tulle skirts Anthropologie has to offer.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Ruche at the Ballet

I absolutely love the clothing site Ruche.  Everything they have is so perfectly demure and lovely with a hint of vintage style.  Plus the prices aren't too shabby either.  Suffice to say, I'm a fan and I was particularly excited by their new holiday lookbook, which is ballet themed...

Now of course, I am thrilled that ballet seems to be cool and impressive enough (at the moment) for brands to want to try to incorporate it into their marketing.  But I still can't help but hate when I see images of ballet done really, really badly, like say by a model, who clearly never took a real ballet class in her life.
Just to start off, what the hell are these ribbons about? 
And could someone not run over and fix her arms?  Just pull her hands apart!

Is this supposed to be a posse or something?
Just no.

This may pass for a turned-in modern dance type pose, but no way in hell is that a ballet arabesque!

I know that, once again, I am being a ballet snob and I'm sorry.  I truly love the styling, the composition and much of the photography in this collection, but shots like these just make my skin crawl.  And while the background ballerinas are pretty decent (clearly serious students) even some of their positions could have used a helpful fixing in several of the shots.  But it's not them I take issue with...  In fact, their professionalism and technique actually makes the model's lack of ballet skills all the more apparent. 

I mean, my gosh look at that front foot! 

The thing is, ballet is hard.  Photographing ballet is really hard too.  And I can't help but get annoyed when it appears that people don't understand that.  They think it's ok and that nobody will be bothered.  Well I'm bothered.  Young dancers have to work really hard to get their pointe shoes and many dancers aren't even able to stick it out to that pointe (pun intended.)  I remember it being a really big deal when I finally got to put on a real professional-style tutu, but like my pointe shoes, it was something I earned with sweat and sacrifice and blisters.  

Anyway, I don't mean to be a negative nancy.  But as a former dancer I wish to implore all these brands to stick to clothes and leave the dancing to the professionals....Not non-dancing models. 

There, I said it.   But the clothes are all really nice!  All images from here.   

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Stacey Tookey's New LA Based Dance Company

So a little over a week ago, I got the opportunity to cover the red carpet and premier performance of Stacey Tookey's new contemporary company Still Motion for DIY Dancer.  The whole evening was a lot of fun and a completely new experience for me...I've never "covered" a red carpet and really had no idea what I was doing.  But it turned out to be really interesting.  I got a chance to talk to a few of the dancers and Tookey herself before enjoying the hour and a half performance they had prepared.  

Stacey Tookey is a well-regarded contemporary choreographer from Canada who has become a household name thanks to her consistent work on So You Think You Can Dance.  Check out my full review over on DIY Dancer and let me know what you think! 

photo by
Michael J Moore

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Australian En Pointe

The Australian Ballet has been putting out a slew of fantastic videos lately!  Here is one of my recent favorites, focusing on pointe shoes and all the distinct preferences dancers have when it comes to their shoes.  Enjoy!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Santa Ana Winds & The National Ballet of Canada!

I know they reap havoc on the town, tree branches and fire safety, but I really love the Santa Ana Winds.  It makes it feel more like fall when the air is whipping all around you and leaves are flying everywhere!  Last night they were particularly strong and as I came home after a late rehearsal it really did feel spooky outside - It felt like Halloween!  

This week has been what feels like a lot of catch up and a little bit of drama.  Maybe I should blame that on the winds too.  But now that it's Thursday I feel like I can see the light of the weekend and I'm already feeling more relaxed.  

So here's a quick run down of what's been blowing around here....

Sonia Rodriguez in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Photo by Bruce Zinger
My review of The National Ballet of Canada's production of Alice in Wonderland posted on DIY Dancer. Go check it out for the complete inside scoop!

I've been taking a lot (for me) of ballet classes to try to prepare for a fundraising gig I'm participating in...Where I yet again will be performing my spotlight variation in this costume.

They're already putting up Christmas decorations in my town, which I think is just swell!  Too early?  Not if you ask me!  Bring on the Christmasing! 

What have you been up to lately? 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

This Weekend

You know when you have like a million things to do over the weekend and yet somehow you get less than half of them done?  Yeah, that's kind of what happened to me this weekend.  It's like, where the heck does the time even go?

Despite my lack of productivity, I did get to go to some really cool events, namely The National Ballet of Canada's performance of Christopher Wheeldon's new full length ballet of Alice in Wonderland.  It was amazing.  Unlike any ballet I've ever seen.  I'll be linking to my full review on DIY Dancer soon, but until then have a gander at one scene from the show.  This is from the Royal Ballet's performance, which you can purchase on DVD over on Amazon!  I may buy it just because I want to see it again....There is so much going on I feel like I need to see it at least twice just to get the full scope of the production.    Enjoy this little snippet!  

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

National Ballet of Canada's Alice in Wonderland

I simply cannot wait for this Friday, as I am attending the US premiere of Christopher Wheeldon's Alice in Wonderland ballet with the National Ballet of Canada.  A couple weeks ago, I had the privilege of interviewing one of the soloists at the National Ballet of Canada, Chelsy Meiss, and we talked about her own impression of the production.  

After speaking with her and viewing a few of the video clips online, I feel truly excited to see this brand new story ballet.  I've always been a fan of Wheeldon's choreography and composer Joby Talbot's work as well.   It seems like it's sure to be an enjoyable and impressive performance.

You can read the full interview here on DIY Dancer, and be on the lookout for my follow up review next week too!  Until then, check out this video clip about the production when it premiered on the Royal Ballet.  Enjoy! 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Ballet Class Conundrums

Today's post is a bit of a rant...

I know that I need to get myself into a ballet class and soon.  I haven't been in so long and the fact that I'm often feeling sore just from days spent sitting at my computer is more than a little worrying!  But (and I will be totally honest here) I kind of hate taking ballet class.  Of course once I'm in it, I'm fine and afterwards I do always feel good and happy.  But it's giving myself the motivation to go that seems to be the tricky part...That and all the stuff that inevitably happens before plies.

photo from The Red Shoes

I hate going to my nearby studio and having to go through the process of purchasing a class card and getting talked into buying more classes that I realistically will not attend.   Furthermore, everytime I go they ask me if I'm a professional dancer and I have to say "yes, well no, sort of, well I used to be," and they continue to give me the 3rd degree until I have confessed every iota of my career and my love/hate relationship with ballet.  

Then, there's the dressing room.  The dressing room always seems to be the place where dancers go to brag and I hate even overhearing the stories of past triumphs and blatant name-dropping that always permeates this space.  So I change quickly just to get myself into the studio, but the atmosphere out there isn't much better.  While stretching and warming up before class, I always feel like everyone is sizing one another up.  The young ones - 17, 18, hungry and competitive - do their best to show off just how flexible they are, and as much as I want to go up to them and say, "listen, you don't have to prove anything, I'm sure you're fabulous," I know that wouldn't make a difference.  I was probably just as bad when I was their age. It's part of the culture.  

Then the whole pre-class drama wouldn't be complete without some old crazy ballerina lady telling me that I am standing at HER spot at the barre and she has stood there for 20 years and would I please move elseware!  Then, usually, it's time to start.

Once the music begins and we get into the safety of routine, I'm fine.  But it's all the lead up that I can't stand.  Now I know this all must seem a bit silly, and I also know, that even though so many of these things make me uncomfortable, I still need to go take class.  I'll be so happy afterwards, it will all be worth it.  But it's the getting there that makes it hard.  

Starting tomorrow I'm going to look into taking some more classes around town, maybe at a few different studios, so if any local Los Angelenos have any suggestions of new places let me know... Otherwise I may just have to brave the usual shenanigans of my regular studio.  Yikes!  

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Reading List: Jacques D'Amboise

Over the weekend I picked up former NYCB dancer and ballet legend Jacques D'Amboise's memoir I was a Dancer.  I've only just begun the book but already I'm hooked!  Jacques D'Amboise is one of my biggest inspirations!  Not only was he an incredible artist, who worked with George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins and so many others, D'Amboise also is an inspiring teacher.  His program with the National Dance Institute has inspired hundreds of kids to move to the music and embrace the artform of dance! 

I just love his energy and his positivity.  He may be one of the most inspiring people ever to come out of the dance world!  And I just love that he wasn't limited to just ballet.  D'Amboise danced in such classic musical theater films as West Side Story and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, making him even cooler in my book!  I can't wait to dig into this memoir and learn even more about this fascinating man! 
If you are a fan of Jacques D'Amboise and want to learn more about the man and all his good works, check out the National Dance Institute.  He is also featured in the new film documentary "I Can Dance" which is in desperate need of funding.  You can make a donation to help bring this film to audiences and learn more about the film here.  

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

From One Bunhead to Another

As an avid Gilmore Girls fan, and well, former bunhead, I felt compelled, even excited to watch ABC Family's new comedy, Bunheads, created by Amy Sherman-Palladino.  Now that I've watched the full season of aired episodes, I feel like I need to write just a little something about it.  

On the whole, Bunheads was a disappointment to me.  But I'm starting to notice that just about every dance-based TV show is always going to disappoint me.  Because I hope for too much.  I want it to be a view into my world of ballet - what I remember training being like - and it just doesn't happen...Though again (and I know I've said it a dozen times) I think the Australian show Dance Academy comes the closest to that, even though it's set on the other side of the planet.

Specifically, I liked Bunheads for it's witty dialogue and crazy characters, though it did feel like the whole show was essentially a remix of Gilmore Girls.  It has many of the same actors, the same background music, the same small town wacky charm - It's so similar that I actually felt a bit cheated by it.  Sure I love Gilmore Girls, but I wanted something more, something different.  I wanted it to be more about ballet, and the true amount of dedication it requires, but as soon as I accepted that Bunheads really wasn't about ballet, I started to enjoy it more.  I suppose I finally accepted it for what it is, which is not a show about dance.  It's a show about people who happen to be involved with dance.  And that is actually fine by me.  

I like Sutton Foster and her performance as Michelle, the former ballerina gone vegas show girl.  But again, she is essentially a reincarnation of Lorelei Gilmore.  All awkward and funny, smart and beautiful.  And of course, Kelly Bishop is brilliant as Fanny Flowers.  

But I find that the show finally got interesting and found it's heart in the final episode, "Nutcracker in Paradise."  Finally, we see some sort of real dilemma develop and the pain, the ambivalence and the passion that goes into teaching an art form is explored.  The "O Captain My Captain" reference was great and I actually felt a twinge of recognition.  Any time I've had to leave students that I've taught, and sometimes without being allowed to say goodbye (though I've never maced any of my students I swear) I've felt that moment....I've had a few occasions when leaving my students was really, really difficult and this episode resonated for me.

So in the end I'm actually looking forward to seeing what happens next for the Bunheads.  I hope that future episodes can be a bit more dance focused, but even if they aren't, I guess I will always have a soft spot for that Gilmore Girl charm.  

All images found here

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Ballet Sketches

I love finding interesting representations of ballet in art.  These sketches are all so beautiful, I simply had to share!  I've always wished I was better at drawing.  Anytime I used to doodle or sketch in school,  I'd attempt to draw pointe shoes, tutus....Anything ballet themed!  Ah well.  Maybe if I'd practiced sketching as much as I'd practiced dance I'd have something of my own to post!  ;) 



Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ballet Gone Bad at The Gap

These ads.  Gap what were you thinking?  It's things like this that make me yearn for the days when ballet wasn't popular.  The boy was giving me a hard time the other day when I was criticizing a Gap window in Beverly Hills, "no one cares if that position is good or bad."  He said.

And it really got my goat, because it's more than that.  The model, San Francisco Ballet principle Yuan Yuan Tan, is in the weirdest and un-pretty position imaginable.  There must have been something better to choose from.  Why is she holding her leg like that?  I am sure she hit all kinds of beautiful poses that could have been used.  Why this one?  Not only is it not all that pretty, it really puts emphasis on the jeans.  Without reading the tagline on the windows, one would think this shot is supposed to emphasize the flexibility of the jeans, right?  Nope.  It's supposed to be about the shirt "raising the barre."  Again, weird.  

Naturally, I had to investigate the campaign to see if there were indeed other images and sure enough their were.  The Gap put together a little "how-to" on 4 different ballet moves/positions, one being the splits which again is so damn cheesy.  There were definitely other shots that look more compelling and more beautiful than Yuan Yuan Tan holding her leg up like it's a sack of potatoes, but again, all of them seemed to make the ad about the jeans being super stretchy and I don't think that was the intent...  

The Gap has always been great about implementing dancers in their ad campaigns; do you remember the swing dancing and the series of dance themed commercials they did in the 90's?  Those were great, and so fun to watch, but they also usually had some sort of purpose - showing the khakis were comfortable enough to swing dance in for example.  And yes, I know that in this current campaign they are highlighting all kinds of artists, singers, musicians and dancers for the purpose of, I guess, just bringing some artistic diversity to the brand, and I think that's swell, honest.  But I still can't help but cringe a bit at the sight of this window shot.  I'm a total ballet snob.  Yes, I know.  

Here's a lovely highlight video of Yuan Yuan Tan, just to give you an idea how superb this long-time principle really is...And further proof that she can hold her leg in alla seconde without the use of her arm....

Friday, July 6, 2012

Desolation Dances and the GoPro Camera

The boy and I have this thing we do....This project.  We call it Desolation Dance and it began out of my desire to play around with improvised choreography in natural spaces, but it is quickly becoming more that that.  It's becoming a way for us to capture our memories and travels through dance, music and film.  And we are having more and more fun experimenting with how to capture dance on film in a purely guerrilla style.  They goal is to not have any other person in our shots (that's the desolation part.)  We aim to make it look like I am the last person on earth, roaming from place to place and just dancing!  

We usually have a song in mind and a few bits of choreography ready, but beyond that, the whole thing is done on the fly and it really is fun!  We filmed a bunch of stuff in Kauai so we can put together another one, but for this shoot we mainly used our new GoPro camera.  

You've probably seen the commercials for it as they seem to get quite a lot of air time, but GoPro is a tiny camera with a subtle fish-eye lens that shoots HD.  It can go underwater and comes with a plethora of ways to strap it to one's body, bike, surfboard, etc.   It's really really cool.  And it was extremely reasonably priced too!  I think it takes our Desolation Dance project to a whole other level, plus it was lots of fun to play with in the pool! ;) The main challenge is that you can't see what you've shot till you upload the footage on your computer...But in a way that makes it even more fun!  Here's a snippet of footage from the Spouting Horn on Kauai to give you an idea of how it looks:

We are just beginning to put together our latest film, but here's a look back at our previous 3...Enjoy!

Desolation Dance number one from Heather Toner on Vimeo.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Strength & Beauty - A Ballet Documentary

Ballet seems to be having its "15 minutes," as we like to say in show biz.  That is to say, it's pretty hot right now, and I personally think that's great.  I also think it's interesting and a bit strange that people are drawn to it now.  Like, why now people?  How did Ballet become this year's Vampires?  But whatever the reason, I think it's terrific that ballet has been embraced by the masses through film and television.  

From Bunheads, to Breaking Pointe, First Position to Pina - There's plenty of ballet to be found on TV and at the movies these days.  If you want to low down on all the dancing on film, be sure to visit DIY Dancer.  Their new summer series "Dance on TV" is a great way to stay up to date on all the arabesques on the airwaves! 

But there is one ballet film I want to be sure to tell you about today and that's Strength & Beauty.  This lovely documentary, directed by Chelsea Wayant, follows a year in the life of three ballerinas with the North Carolina Dance Theater, each one at a different point in their career.  And what strikes me most about this film is it's honesty.  Rather than focusing on the drama, the stereotypes and all the theatrics associated with ballerinas, this film peels away all those trite portrayals and shows the real women behind the barre.  It gives them a voice and explores who they really are, in and away from the studio.  

I think it's sure to be a refreshing and enlightening view of the ballet world...Something that I think actual ballet dancers have been wanting for a long time!  Take a look at the trailer below and let me know what you think...If you think this film looks as good as I do, be a part of the process and donate to it's post production via Kickstarter!  Go here and make a pledge!  You'll be helping to bring this film to an audience and you'll be a part in giving ballerina's a voice! 

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Dancing in Hawaii

I am beyond excited for an upcoming trip the boy and I are taking with my family this summer to Hawaii.  It's sure to be a lot of fun in the sun, surf and sand, plus we'll get to spend some quality time with the family and relax a bit after what has felt like a whirlwind of a year!  

But I'm also hoping to do a bit of dancing while I'm there...Desolation Dancing that is!  And these latest photos from The Ballerina Project (all taken in the photographer's homeland of Hawaii) have me even more inspired to dance on the Hawaiian shores!   

Ballet in a beautiful landscape like that?  Sign me up!  

 Find out more about the Ballerina Project here.  All photos by Dane Shitagi

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Royal Ballet and Darcey Bussell

The first copy of point magazine I ever bought had Darcey Bussell on the cover.  She was, at the time, the Royal Ballet's newest principle dancer and an international sensation.  She quickly became my favorite dancer and my mom even took me to see her perform Swan Lake when the Royal Ballet came to Los Angeles (something that doesn't happen often.)  I was smitten with her.  Her lines, those FEET and her artistry have always been an inspiration to me.  

I even got the chance to meet her a few years ago at a book signing at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.  I was over visiting the boy and while he was at work I went to see Darcey.  I don't think I have ever been so star struck in my life (and living in Beverly Hills, I see a lot of stars so that's saying something!)  And of course she was so sweet and so beautiful in person, just as I knew she'd be.  

Darcey Bussell was an idol to me as a dancer and I was thrilled to read last week that she is going to be the new president of the Royal Academy of Dance.  I just think she is the perfect person to take over the role after Dame Antoinette Sibley, another beautiful dancer I adore!  I know it seems like a sort of strange thing to get excited about, but I am!  I am excited for a new generation of young dancers who will be inspired by Darcey  as I was so many years ago!   

Here's a little clip of Darcey performing one of my favorite pieces (the variation and the coda are my favorite parts.)  Here she is dancing Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux.  Enjoy! 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Bridal Ballet

Ballet seems to be so popular right now.  On TV, in films and in fashion - Ballerinas seem to be taking center stage in a plethora of new mediums and I personally think that's terrific.  I mean, why not go with it?  If ballet is cool at the moment, then let it be cool.  I'm all for it.  Well, I'm cool with it for the most part.  

I'm cool with ballet being sort of an inspiration trend in fashion, but I'm not so cool with seeing models who maybe danced once, back in the day, but clearly aren't ballet dancers, prancing around in pointe shoes.  As if it's like slipping on a pair of wedges or something.  I can't help but be annoyed when I see advertisements of people "pretending" to be ballerinas and standing in pointe shoes that they can't even get fully up on.  As if it's so easy.  And did no one mention to the art director just how crappy that looks?  I find it insulting in a weird way.  

I'm also annoyed by ads with people just doing sort of half-ass attempts at ballet por de bras.  I feel like I can always tell if the model actually studied ballet or not, just by the curve of her arm and the placement of her fingers.  And there is a good reason for that.  Ballet is not just about pretty tutus and satin shoes.  Ballet dancers have worked their whole lives to craft the lines you see on the stage.  So I guess, I'm just sensitive to any display that cheapens that sacrifice.  This is about the time the boy would tell me I am taking this too seriously, so I'll stop now.  

But I will share some displays and adverts that have used the ballet-inspired trend mostly in a good way....I have a few complaints, but I'll let you make up your own mind on these!  They are all tied into to bridal wear, which I think is fitting.  Wedding gowns and tutus actually do have a lot of similarities.  (In fact, as much as I loved my wedding dress, I wasn't really all that blown away by the gowns I tried...I've worn quite a lot of stunning tutus in my day and it did seem remarkably similar, and therefore, not that out of the ordinary...I know, I'm very lucky!)

Monique Lhuillier corset dress worn by real Boston Ballet dancer Keenan Kampa {source}

All three images above are from the Monique Lhuillier West Hollywood window display {source}
Have yourself a Corps de Ballet Bridal Party! {source}

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