Los Angeles

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Dance Photography | Little Cinderella

Cinderella DTLA - Photo by Heather Toner

Cinderella DTLA - Photo by Heather Toner

Cinderella DTLA - Photo by Heather Toner

Cinderella DTLA - Photo by Heather Toner

Cinderella DTLA - Photo by Heather Toner

Cinderella DTLA - Photo by Heather Toner

Cinderella DTLA - Photo by Heather Toner

Cinderella DTLA - Photo by Heather Toner

Cinderella DTLA - Photo by Heather Toner

Cinderella DTLA - Photo by Heather Toner

Cinderella DTLA - Photo by Heather Toner

Cinderella DTLA - Photo by Heather Toner

Cinderella DTLA - Photo by Heather Toner

Just last month, the legendary Mariinsky Ballet was here in Los Angeles to perform Alexei Ratmansky's Cinderella.  The show was exceptional... I saw it about 4 times.  #Lucky.  And seeing Diana Vishneva perform the title role (this version was choreographed on her) was something special indeed.  

For The Music Center's social campaign to promote the engagement I did another photography series which I titled #CinderellaDTLA, and shot the gorgeous LA ballerina, Matisse Love, in a variety of downtown LA locations including the 4th Street bridge, the Bradbury Building and The Music Center (naturally.)  What I love about these photos is how the light seemed to be in our favor at every stop, and it was truly a pleasure to work with such a talented young artist... She is leaving to study at the Bolshoi Ballet school next year!  

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Monday, October 12, 2015

So Cinderella - My Week with the Mariinsky Ballet

Photo taken by me for +MusicCenterLA
Hey internet.  Long time no blog, huh?  I'm easing back into life after having submerged myself in all things Mariinsky last week.  The legendary Russian ballet company brought Alexei Ratmansky's 2002 version of Cinderella to The Music Center for 5 performances and a slew of other activities throughout the week.  I simply adore show weeks, but they are exhausting and require some pretty intense social media-ing.  I literally signed out of all my personal accounts and just focused on work last week, so that's why things have been quiet on all Firebird fronts.  

In any case, the shows were absolutely stunning.  The Mariinsky Ballet is, not surprisingly, ballet perfection.  Technique, artistry, production - every member of the company is strong and beautiful.  It was truly inspiring to see them work both on and off the stage.  

I was incredibly fortunate to see the production 4 times (though not the whole thing each time) and experience 4 different casts of Cinderella.  It was interesting to see how each ballerina interpreted to role and made it ever so unique to her personality.  While they were all incredible, I must admit seeing prima ballerina, Diana Vishneva (on whom the part was originally choreographed) was a special treat.  She lives up to the hype.  The woman is a true artist.  

Furthermore, I thought Ratmansky's take on the classic fairy tale was fun and refreshing.  Without sacrificing the story's inherent charm, he cleverly played on themes of time, poked fun at aristocracy, replaced a glittering fairy god-mother with a grungy fairy-tramp and infused humanity into the often-times flat characters.  And there were those moments.... Those visual moments that stick with you, even when they are often the simplest of moves, which I find in every Ratmansky ballet.  I think he is the best thing to happen to ballet in a long time.  (What you're hearing now is the sound of me fan-girling!) 

You can get a glimpse of some of the going ons I was capturing behind the scenes on The Music Center's blog, 135 Grand.  

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Saturday, October 3, 2015

Let's Talk Twyla!

Last night, husband and I saw Twyla Tharp's 50th Anniversary show at The Wallis in Beverly Hills. I've always been a fan of Twyla's work - Nine Sinatra Songs is perhaps my favorite - But until last night I had never seen a piece of her work performed live.

Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

Even as I type that, it seems strange, but this is the reality of living in a place like LA.  The thing about Twyla Tharp's work is that I always feel like it's my kind of movement, my kind of humor, and as I watch her choreography my dominant thought is always: "I want to dance this."  Last night, while not overwhelming, or remarkably new, was no different.  

It was my first LIVE Twyla experience and it didn't disappoint.  Her dancers were a perfect assortment of sizes and strengths - from lanky SAB graduates to seasoned modern dance veterans, each cast perfectly within the works and all bringing a high quality of technique and charisma that is just totally Twyla!

Nicholas Coppula flies through the air while performing "Yowzie" during Twyla Tharp's 50th anniversary tour at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills. Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

The first act was a series of ballet-based fugues, aptly titled Preludes and Fugues, that, while well-danced and peppered with plenty of originality and charm, went on a little longer than needed.  The second act was a horse of a completely different color...  Yowzie was set to seven classic jazz songs and farcically depicted a drunken night out.  While again, the work felt a tad one-note, it evoked humor, humanity and honestly reminded me of my own first night in New Orleans (shenanigans that ended in beignets at 3 in the morning!) 

All in all, Twyla's 50th was simply enjoyable.  A great show for every dance-lover to see.  Catch the final show tomorrow at 2pm.
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Thursday, October 1, 2015

World Ballet Day!

October 1st signifies a great many things.  Perhaps to some it signifies the beginning of the holiday season, to others it may just signify that the rent is due.  But to me, October 1st means one thing: #WorldBalletDay. 

World Ballet Day had it's trial run last year and was so successful, it became an even bigger event this year.  It's essentially a 24 hour live stream of a typical day in 5 of the greatest ballet companies around the world.  Viewers can comment on the stream, ask questions, submit their own videos and images to be featured, and get a very inside, intimate look at the many facets of these large ballet companies and how they work.  

The day begins with The Australia Ballet, then moves to The Bolshoi Ballet, followed by The Royal Ballet, then National Ballet of Canada, before finishing here on the west coast with San Francisco Ballet.  Each company live streams their morning company class, various short interviews and featurettes, and rehearsals.   This year, to expand their reach and broadcast, each of these five companies invited other nearby companies to use some of their "air time" to showcase their own dancers and daily practice.  So additional companies like the Royal New Zealand Ballet, National Ballet of China, Nederlands Dans TheaterAmerican Ballet Theatre and Ballet West were brought into the fold.

What I love about World Ballet Day is that it shows how ballet remains a truly globally connected and transcendental art form.  There is a consistency to it across every company, in every country - Every class starts with a plié and ends in a reverence!  And viewers all over the world get to see some of the greatest ballet dancers working today, most of which, they would never get the chance to see dance live otherwise!  

I'm also just incredibly impressed with the quality of the broadcast.  It's an enormous feat and while there are always a few technical bumps here and there, it's gone incredibly smoothly the last two years.  In my opinion, it is a supremely perfect example of how ballet can use modern technology to really expose themselves to new audiences and in a whole new way.  And it's so much fun!  I guess I only wish I had the constitution to stay up through the night to watch it all!      

This year's broadcast just ended, but you can re-watch the full 23 hours of ballet goodness soon (I'll be sure to post it when it's up.)  In the meantime, here's the portions from the Australian Ballet and The Royal Ballet ...

Until next year, may I just say thank you #WorldBalletDay for uniting us all with company class!   

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Monday, September 28, 2015

Dance Movie Monday | Center Stage

Total. Guilty. Pleasure.

Center Stage came out when I was still a budding ballerina, before I moved away from home to join a company.  I remember going to see it at an Edwards Cinema in the valley with a group of my dance friends.  I recall all of us chuckling at the film's cheesiness, complete with all the typical dance stereotypes, and we all agreed Jody Sawyer was crazy to join Cooper's company.  What are the chances THAT will last? 

But jokes, unbelievability, and some horrendous attempts by non-dance actors to fake a port de bra aside, the film has quite a few redeeming qualities that make it a classic dance flick.  One that I feel every dancer should see... Even if it's just for a laugh.  

The film explores a year in the life of six dancers who have all been accepted into the best ballet school in the country - American Ballet Academy in New York.  Basically meant to be SAB (the School of American Ballet.)  The main character, Jody, (Amanda Schull) is the underdog - She has the weakest technique in the school, but of course, she's got a stage presence and an "x-factor" that the teachers of ABA don't see.  But bad boy company member, and older love-interest Cooper Neilson, played and danced by ballet star Ethan Stiefel, takes a liking to Jody's dancing after running into her at an unauthorized jazz class.  He casts her as the lead in his ballet for the end of the year student workshop, after sleeping with her of course, cause it wouldn't be a ballet movie without some male chauvinism and the taking advantage of young impressionable girls.   

Then there is the good male love interest, Charlie, (Sascha Radetsky) who everyone knows is the better choice for Jody; the rebel, Eva, (Zoe Saldana) who is so badass she puts her cigarettes out with her pointe shoe; Erik the flamboyant guy, (Shakiem Evans) who is all one-liners and sass; Maureen the bunhead, (Susan May Pratt) whose got a stage-mom who works at the school, and develops bulimia; and then a Russian guy, Sergei, (Ilia Kulik) cause clearly someone on the creative team decided that in a ballet movie somebody needs to be Russian.  

The film follows the groups' trials, as well as their joys, as they come of age in the brutal world of a ballet academy.  As they vie for a place in the prestigious American Ballet Company, they each discover what path their dance training has led them to and by the end of the film, have each made their career choices.  

Story aside, the truly wonderful element of Center Stage the dancing. There is an excerpt from Romeo & Juliet as well as Stars & Stripes danced by Julie Kent and Ethan Stiefel.  And there are additional pieces choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and Susan Stroman - two of the most important choreographers of the past decade.  Plus the cast is littered with young SAB students who have gone on to great careers... All and all, the film is a lovely snapshot of great dancers, and great choreographers of the time.  That's why it's this week's dance movie! 

The Verdict:  Center Stage is the perfect slumber party dance flick to watch with your dance pals while you darn your pointe shoes.  It's fun, silly, and a total must-see for any dancer.  

Watch it Here

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Dance Photography | Inspirations

As I've found myself taking more and more photos of dancers for work and developing my skills in dance photography, I've tried to take more notice of the kinds of photography work that inspire me. By no means do I ever want to copy any of these styles, but as I work to develop my own unique point of view through photography, these artists inspire me to keep pushing....

Since coming on the scene in 2008, the Ballerina Project photographer Dane Shitagi created a haunting world of ballet photos in which gorgeous dancers are juxtaposed with often harsh or dreary settings.  The black and white series captures both the beauty and grace of the ballerinas, with an underlying melancholy.  

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Dancers Among Us photographer Jordan Matter, manages to capture an exuberance for everyday life through the seemingly spontaneous outbreak of movement and joy from his subjects.  I love the rich and fun quality of all his photographs.  

Photographer Oliver Endahl has taken instagram by storm with his contemporary ballet photos as part of his ongoing Ballet Zaida project, which includes film work, choreography, and even a leotard line.  His photos have a compelling fresh quality with a fashion-photography sensibility.  It's no wonder Free People elected to collaborate with him on their dance wear photo shoot (which coincidently was shot at The Music Center's Disney Concert Hall!)  

This London-based photography team, Amber Hunt and Arnaud Stephenson, take beautiful photos of dancers, performances, rehearsals and backstage shots with the English National Ballet.  Amber is actually a dancer with the company, allowing her to truly capture an inside look.  With brilliant exposures and compelling angles, their photography is a huge inspiration to me in my work.  

To see some of my own dance photography visit my portfolio here.  

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Monday, August 24, 2015

Dance Movie Monday | Anchors Aweigh

Anchors Aweigh (1945) is the first of 3 MGM musicals that paired up Gene Kelly with superstar Frank Sinatra... obviously the pairing proved perfect!

Kelly plays Joe Brady, a sea-wolf and all around ladies man with a heart of gold (naturally.) Meanwhile Clarence Doolittle aka Brooklyn (Sinatra)  plays a naive young sailor with no skills at impressing the ladies.  (FICTION!)  The two are awarded with a special leave in San Diego and both hitch a bus to LA.  Sinatra clings on to Kelly to learn how to snag a "dame" but the two wind up caught in a hollywood adventure filled with love, laughs, and music!

Throw in a young and annoying whippersnapper in the form of the cherub faced Dean Stockwell , who happens to have a beautiful guardian in the form of Aunt Susie, played by soprano Kathryn Grayson, add a love triangle, the Hollywood Bowl, Olvera Street and a tap dance scene with Jerry the cartoon mouse and you've got 143 minutes of musical fun.

The first person we see in Anchors Aweigh is celebrity conductor Jose Iturbi, who goes on to be the elusive goal for Kelly and Sinatra's quest.  In an effort to impress aspiring singer Aunt Susie, the two sailors lie and say they have set her up with an audition for Iturbi... They then spend the rest of their leave trying to make it happen.

Overall, the story is a bit all over the place, but the film is brimming with such wonderful songs and dance numbers, it actually doesn't matter.  It's just plan fun to watch.  The dance scenes with Kelly are particularly strong... By far some of his best, inventive dance numbers, with his duet with Jerry the mouse standing out as an amazing feat in animation for the time.

There's a famous story about the making of this film and task Kelly had of teaching Sinatra to tap dance.  The pair do one number together and if you watch closely you can see how hard Sinatra is concentrating and following Kelly.  Apparently, they had to do 73 takes of the dance before Frank got it right! 

The Verdict:  Anchors Aweigh is a great musical comedy that's fun for all ages.  Great dancing, good music, a really sweet love story, and a fun portrayal of Hollywood in the 1940's.  
Watch it Here! 

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Dance Photography | Moves After Dark Photo Shoot

In promotion of their recent dance program, Moves After Dark, I shot these lovely promo photos for The Music Center.  I am very proud of how they turned out.  The photos feature co-director Tina Berkett and dancer Guzman Rosado, from the LA-based contemporary company BODYTRAFFIC, and  it was such a pleasure working with them on this shoot! 

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Monday, August 17, 2015

Dance Movie Monday | The Red Shoes

For today's Dance Movie post, I'm going big with The Red Shoes.... Arguably the best representation of the ballet world ever committed to fictional film!  Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's 1948 masterpiece beautifully captures the obsessive nature of classical ballet and shrouds protagonist Victoria Page's (Moira Shearer) struggle to choose between her true love and her love of ballet, in gorgeous cinematography, dreamy sets and costumes, brilliant dancing and an outstanding cast.

I recently re-watched the film, and was once again impressed at how it remains compelling and relevant, despite being set during a very different period of ballet than now.  What remains, besides a tour de force in beautiful film making,  is the sense of commitment and sacrifice ballerinas have to make over and over again... The bittersweet struggle of wanting to be at once supernatural and normal; wanting to be a ballerina AND a regular person.  That ambivalence, prevalent in Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tale of the same name, is what I think really drew me into this film. The obsession Victoria feels which ultimately leads to pain and loss is something that I feel I can relate to (and probably most ballerinas feel the same way.)  She states her affliction to Artistic Director Boris Lermontov (AntonWalbrook) early on in the film answering his question "Why do you want to dance?" with "Why do you want to live?"

The answer to both is "I must."  And so begins our journey into obsession.  

Boris Lermontov is the classic picture of the the ballet artistic director - in moments he seems incredibly generous and then suddenly cold.  He's at once genius and pig-headed.   His tyrannical manner was partially based on Sergei Diaghilev, and as prima ballerina Irina Boronskaja says in the film, "He has no heart!." He is, in a way, the red shoes in human form - Always demanding that the dance go on for Victoria.  And she can't resist.  

Besides the powerful emotion coursing through the film, it also portrays a historical era of ballet - when company and choreographer and composer and designer and painter and dancers all worked together to create a full scale production with every story ballet.  It's the closest one can get to seeing Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in a behind-the-scenes melodrama.  It even co-stars the great dancer and choreographer Léonide Massine - A star of Diaghiliv's Ballet Russes as well as the later Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.  That in itself is thrilling.  Throw in the gorgeous sets, costumes and cinematography of the film, and well, shucks.... How can you not fall in love?

Furthermore, the love story between Vicky and young composer Julian Craster (Marius Goring) provides the other sweet side of the ballet coin.  The two are thrust together by Lermontov in the creation of his new ballet, and throughout the stressful rehearsals the two headstrong young artists drive each other crazy, burt it's not long before they find a passion for each other that they can't ignore.  They fall in love, and everything seems perfect for a moment, until Lermontov finds out....

If nothing else you should see this film for the performance of Moira Shearer as 'Vicky.'  She is nothing short of brilliant.  And her ballet technique is really quite remarkable given the time and taking into account the caliber of other film ballerinas during that period.  Shearer puts them all to shame.  The actual Red Shoes ballet scene is incredibly moving and stunning to behold.  

The Verdict:  The Red Shoes is the full package.  It's not just a great dance movie, it's a great film.  Full stop.  It's compelling, thrilling, entertaining, and has brilliant music, dancing and acting.  It's a classic, one that every dancer should see and every non-dancer should see too.  Even Martin Scorsese counts it as one of his personal favorites and has an impressive collection of Red Shoes artwork and memorabilia.   So yeah.  This ballet film is the real deal! 

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