Los Angeles

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Royal New Zealand Ballet's Giselle

By Heather Toner

Royal New Zealand Ballet's Giselle

This week has been particularly exciting for me at work, because the Royal New Zealand Ballet are in town, prepping to perform their new production of Giselle, co-choreographed by artistic director (and ballet star) Ethan Stiefel.  The production opens tomorrow in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and runs just through the weekend.  The beautiful Gillian Murphy is dancing the title role in two performances and the whole company brings new life to the historic ballet - adding layers of complexity to the characters while maintaining the classically tragic romance of the story.  

Giselle was one of the first full-length ballets I learned about as a young dancer, and I simply fell in love with the drama of it all.  It's one of the oldest ballet's still being performed today, making it a must-see for any dancer in training, and amazingly, it still holds up both in the vitality of the story and the technical difficulty of the dancing.  

Go see it this weekend and I promise, you'll be glad you did!

Giselle | Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at The Music Center | Jan. 31 - Feb. 2 | Tickets

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Word or Two with Christopher Plummer

By Heather Toner

Anyone who has ever felt the delicious satisfaction of getting engrossed in a good book, or the thrill of discovering the boundless abilities of a well-composed poem, or anyone who has studied literature, or acting, or language... Anyone of you will enjoy the new one man play from Christopher Plummer playing at the Ahmanson right now.  
A Word or Two with Christopher Plummer
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I went to see it last week after work with my go-to-theater-goer friend Caitlyn not really knowing what to expect, but feeling like, whatever the subject matter, I should seize the opportunity to see such a legendary actor on stage.  What I found was a thoroughly enjoyable 90 minute show, beautifully performed, that awakened my own love of words.... Back in college, I had so much time for words, and I poured myself into them - Finding a sort of salvation in reading and writing.  And lately, it's funny how little time I give myself to indulge in that pleasure.  This show gave me pause.  

Christopher Plummer's own love of language takes us through a brief history of his life, as he shares the books, and stories, poems and plays that served as the framework for his stages of manhood.  He manages to bring his story full circle, from first reading "Alice in Wonderland" as a boy, through playing "Hamlet" onstage, to understanding the older perspective of Robert Frost's "Birches," to sharing his own fear of the fate that awaits us all.  
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But beyond Plummer's own personal accounts with literature, the heart of the production is how it shines a light on the collective understanding great words and great literature provides.  We all have our experiences with it.  That's what makes art so powerful - We all relate to it in our own ways, throughout our own life stories.... This is one expression of art that I'd recommend to anyone who was ever once "a swinger of birches."  

 A Word or Two | The Ahmanson Theatre at The Music Center | Jan. 19 - Feb. 9 | Tickets



Monday, January 27, 2014

Just a Spoonful of Sugar

By Heather Toner

In true disney nerd fashion, I went to see Mary Poppins at the El Capitan theater a couple Fridays ago with a few girlfriends.  That in itself isn't that nerdy, but did I mention it was a sing-along screening?  Yep.  How ya like me now?


We sat up in the balcony of the gorgeous Hollywood theater and belted out the words to Step in Time, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, and Let's Go Fly a Kite.  We even did our best to croon along with Julie Andrews on Feed the Birds.   It was fun.  Good Disney fun.  

Afterwards, we did our best to creatively pose in front of the backdrops set up in the lobby.  All in all, a fun friday out!  


And just for the record; I think Mary Poppins is one of the best films ever made.  I love it.  Even though I've seen it dozens of times, it never fails to impress me or make me smile.  It's just goodness all rolled up in celluloid.  And that never gets old!


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Black Violin At The Music Center

By Heather Toner


I have moments when I can't help but completely geek out and become a total fangirl, when I know I need to just keep my cool.  Such occasion happened just this past weekend when the hip hop / classical group Black Violin played The Music Center.  I saw them perform their set twice and each time I found myself completely swept away by their showmanship and incredible skill.  The pair of classically trained violinists had the LA audience eating out of the palm of their hands...And also waving their hands like they just don't care.  

I was thrilled and honored to have the opportunity to capture the events for social media and it was an added bonus when I got to meet the band (and they even complimented my social media skills!)  If you ever get the chance to see Black Violin in concert, go see them - It's an experience you won't want to miss! 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Something from the Weekend... Giselle the Movie

By Heather Toner

I am so proud about this special event I helped cook up for The Music Center with the American Cinemateque and Dance Camera West last night - It's was the Los Angeles premiere of a new film version of the ballet Giselle, starring Gillian Murphy and Qi Huan.  The film explores the new production from the Royal New Zealand Ballet, who will be performing it live at The Music Center later this month.

Director Toa Fraser interweaves the on stage story with rehearsals and romance behind the curtain in this multilayered interpretation of this romantic classic.  The film was stunningly beautiful and we had a great turn out at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica.   

I love getting the opportunity to blend dance and film - two of my greatest passions - with my work.  It's an incredibly satisfying feeling.  




If you missed the screening last night, never fear.  There's still nothing quite like seeing ballet performed live, and you can still get tickets to the performances on the Music Center's website!




Monday, January 6, 2014

Strength & Beauty - A Review



About a year and a half ago, on my old blog, I shared a trailer to a documentary on the lives of three ballet dancers that caught my eye.  Strength and Beauty, the now complete documentary from filmmaker Chelsea Wayant, examines the daily lives of three professional dancers with North Carolina Dance Theater, each at very different stages of their dance careers.

The film opens with a voice over from all three women about the origin of pointe shoes and the roles classical ballerinas have traditionally played - they are "untouchable, etherial beings" who seem to "float" on stage on their toes.  The film proceeds to humanize these etherial beings by giving an inside look at a year in their lives.  


Melissa Anduiza is a new member of the company - fresh out of college.  This is her first experience in a professional ballet company, and her viewpoint is one of enthusiasm as she ventures into the world of classical repertoire.  She actually seems to be fairly virtuosic when it comes to contemporary work and she is almost comically frank about her love of food.  She's also a budding choreographer, as seen here with her piece Stained Glass.  Her story is one of new beginnings and possibilities.


Then there is Alessandra Ball, who is just on the cusp of becoming the senior principal dancer in the company - confident, tried and tested, she seems to be at the prime of her dancing career.  Her story focuses on the pressures of being a senior dancer in the company and her quickly changing personal life off stage (she gets engaged over the course of the filming.)


However the heart of the film is the story of Traci Gilchrest, a fourteen year veteran of the company who is wrapping up her career as a ballerina after twenty years of dancing professionally.  I found myself relating with her the most - Knowing the struggle of having to move on from dancing myself. But she also resonated on the screen as something of a rarity in the ballet world - She is clearly an exceptional artist, and an inspiration to the other dancers in the company.  Her long career is truly remarkable, and she shares her perspective very openly in the film.  She is smart, engaging and a delight to watch on screen. I found the story of her journey from principal dancer to choreographer's assistant, to rehearsal director fascinating.


Throughout the film, there are so many moments of frank honesty about being a professional dancer, that are, for lack of a better word, refreshing.  In particular the discussions on weight loss and gain with each dancer are compelling and relatable.  It didn't over dramatize, or try to hide the issue, but just put it out there as an inconvenient truth that ballet dancers have always and will always encounter - And each of the three dancers encountered it in different ways.  Additionally, the film poignantly allows us to venture into the personal lives of each one of the dancers in a captivatingly voyeuristic manner which allowed us to see both the normalcy of their individual home lives, as well as the strangely unique requirements their profession demands, including second part-time jobs, home-sickness, relationships, artistry and sacrifice.  

I'll be completely honest, it's hard for me to watch films like this because they make me think a lot about my own career in the ballet world; and that's not always pleasant memory.  As a former dancer, I know how hard it is to let go of the dream, and of the career that you have been building since age 3.  But that bittersweetness in itself is indicative of just what an accomplishment Strength and Beauty is in the ballet film landscape.  It's a remarkable film about the true life of a ballet dancer in a regional company in America, and one that anyone who has ever seen a ballet should see. Beyond the execution and story-telling (which is fantastic) the film perfectly portrays the feeling and complexities behind the ballerinas we see on stage.  It shows all their strength and beauty, but also their humanity.      



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