Los Angeles

Monday, April 13, 2015

Dance Movie Monday - The Unfinished Dance

Since one of my undeniable pleasures on days off is watching movies, I think it may be best to ease into the work week with a dance movie recap.  And so, today I share with you Firebird's 1st "Dance Movie Monday!"

To start things off, I want to share a dance movie that I very recently discovered called The Unfinished Dance.  Released in 1947 (two years after Meet Me In St. Louis) and starring Margaret O'Brien, Cyd Charisse, Karin Booth and Danny Thomas, this MGM film takes a backstage look into the backstabbing world of ballet... I cannot believe that I never heard of this movie till now!  This is like Black Swan before Black Swan, and far more disturbing, creepy, honest and entertaining (because for heaven's sake it's Margaret O'Brien!)   

In this film, O'Brien plays a slightly maniacal little girl named Meg who is completely obsessed with ballet.  "If I don't dance I'll die," she exclaims dramatically (in that O'Brien voice) early on in the film.  She also has a strangely intense infatuation with the principal dancer of her school's company, Ariane Bouchet, played by Cyd Charisse.  So when a guest prima ballerina, Mademoiselle Darina (Karin Booth) shows up to open the new season in the lead of Swan Lake (or course) Meg takes some pretty extreme action. (Without giving anything away, let me say this: She makes Natalie Portman look like an amateur when it comes to ballet crazy!) 

The Verdict:  I feel like this is one of those ridiculous dance films that every dancer should see simply because it's such a melodramatic representation of a ballet school when you're young (including girl-fights in the dressing room.)  But consider yourself warned - It's definitely a dramatization.  

The dancing is also pretty atrocious, (from everyone)  but I suppose somewhat charming in its way... It's also interesting in the way it shows how so many young girls were given pointe shoes at far too young an age when they are  lacking the proper strength and training.  There is one scene in particular where a tiny girl tries to make her way through a variation on pointe with pirouettes and more... While the adult cast watches with smiles that seem to say "oh how cute,"  in my opinion it was simply cringe-worthy to watch!  The kid was seconds away from breaking her ankle! 

What is good in this movie is Margaret O'Brien's acting.  As always, she is so convincing and in this particular role she is actually flat out disturbing.  I'm actually rather surprised that MGM allowed her to play such a dark character, but she does so beautifully - blending the perfect amount of intensity with charisma.  By the end, I found myself rooting for her.  What we get in The Unfinished Dance is an intense melodrama into a very fantastical perception of ballet, complete with plenty of Russian side characters, beautiful costumes, and conniving little girls (as well as grown up girls) who commit no sin, but to love ballet too much!  

Watch it here!

Have a Dance Movie you want to suggest?  Be sure to contact me with your suggestions!

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Friday, April 10, 2015

April 10 - Dance Hit List

This week's hit list is pretty epic.  It's sort of amazing, but also not that surprising as I recently found out through work that April is sort of the pinnacle of touring season for a lot of dance companies.  

There is actually a lot of home-grown dance happening over the next week in LA, as well as performances from some pretty hard hitting international companies.  Here's my must-see rundown...

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater - As I mentioned in my previous post, the stunning Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater kicks off a 6 show run at The Music Center on Wednesday, April 15th.  This legendary contemporary dance company is second to none and the rep their performing is simply sublime!  Tickets start at $35.  

LA Dance Festival - Celebrating contemporary dance in Los Angeles, this annual fest brings together a myriad of LA based companies  for a full weekend of performances, classes and workshops.  The festival kicked off last night with performances from Diavolo, Ate 9 dANCE cOMPANY, Royal Flux Dance Company and BrockusRED.  Click here to read the full line up of performances today, Saturday and Sunday which include sets from JazzAntiqua Dance, LA Contemporary Dance Company, SoleVita Dance Company, Invertigo Dance Theater, Lula Washington Dance Theater and many more!  Performances held at the Diavolo Space and tickets at the door are just $30. Check out the full program list.

Delfos Danza Contemporanea: Cuando los Disfraces se Cuelgan -  One of Latin's America's leading companies, illuminates Mexico by way of the imagery, themes, colors, physicality and intensity of its performances. The artists are committed to seeing their vision transcend the local and connect with the universal from a humanist, ethical, political and social standpoint. This is the last dance engagement of CAP UCLA's season.  Don't miss this thrilling, 1 day performance.  Tickets start at just $19.  

Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal -  I've never seen this company, but they sounds intriguing... Following sold-out performances at The Wallis last season, Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal (BJM) returns to LA with a new program, featuring “Zero in On” by Cayetano Soto, “Kosmos” by Andonis Fionadakis and “Rouge” by Rodrigo Pederneiras. An internationally renowned repertory company led by Artistic Director Louis Robitaille, BJM have continued to grow with their signature energy and spirit of exploration since their formation in 1972. Displaying its radiant and expressive style, BJM explores the creative side of contemporary trends while firmly committing to classical aesthetics in a unique style that often has an uplifting effect on the soul.  Opens on Thursday the 16th and runs through the weekend.  Tickets start at $39.  

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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

All About Ailey

If you live (and drive) in LA, you may have spotted one of the dozens of street pole banners or bus tail posters promoting Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, who are hitting The Music Center's Dorothy Chandler Pavilion next week.  And whether you have already bought your tickets or are still hemming and haaaing, let me take a moment to break down a bit on Ailey for you.

Linda Celeste Sims and JamarRoberts of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in AszureBarton's "LIFT.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is one of the premiere dance companies in America and though it was founded back in 1958, it still packs a powerful punch in contemporary technique and amazing repertoire!  If you've seen them, you know what I'm talking about when I say technique - the whole company is so strong and so fierce.  But I think what a lot of Ailey fans may not realize is how this company continues to keep its edge by continually adding the best work from current choreographers to its rep, while maintaining the classics that so many of us just can't get enough of (read: Revelations.) 

In their upcoming LA performances (of which their are 6, split into 3 different programs) Ailey will dance an amazing assortment of work from the likes of Ohad Naharin, Matthew Rushing (an LA native) Aszure Barton, Christopher Wheeldon, Ulysses Dove, David Parsons, Hans Van Manen, Hofesh Shechter and Alvin Ailey.  Frankly, each program is amazing, and I am toying with the idea of attempting to see all three!  

This Ailey is certainly not the company from twenty years ago (when yours truly first saw them) so even for those of you who have seen them a time or two, I wouldn't miss this latest tour.  The company carries with it the perfect blend of their established crowd-pleasers with thrilling new work, all of which is on my own must-see list!  

Performances start next Wednesday and run through Sunday.  And I even have a special promo code to share with you!  (Heck yeah - I hook you up!) 

Use Promo Code 26564 to save 20%* on tickets!
*Code good Wednesday thru Friday in Main Orchestra, Main Founders, Front Orchestra Ring and Orchestra Ring only. Expires on April 10. No refunds or exchanges. Artists and programs subject to change. Click here for tickets!  

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Monday, April 6, 2015

Oh Hawaii...

It's Monday and I am feeling the start of the week struggle.  Getting back to the grind is proving challenging this morning. And these photos from The Ballerina Project (all taken in the photographer's homeland of Hawaii) have me missing the Hawaiian shores and wishing for some R&R!  Ballet looks even better in paradise, don't you agree?

Ah well.  One can dream right?

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

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Friday, April 3, 2015

A New Kind of Cinderella

This spring seems to the be the season of power princesses. Well, one in particular - Cinderella.  I haven't seen the Disney film, but I did attend the opening night performance of the new production of Rogers & Hammerstein's Cinderella happening at Center Theater Group right now at the Ahmanson Theatre.  I went with pretty straight-forward expectations, knowing only that it would be filled with magic and all the original songs from the TV musical (which are some of my all time favorite musical theater compositions ever!)  But what transpired on the stage not only exceeded my expectations, but left me feeling simply delighted!  Also Cinderella herself, played by Paige Faure, is nothing short of sublime - she totally carries this epic character with grace and humility.


This new production adds scenes, songs, and, most notably, motivation for the young would-be princess to not only fall in love, but also make a difference in her community.  She's more activist than victim (even though the evil step-mother, played winningly by Fran Drescher, is one of the most unreasonably harshest step-mothers ever.)  Cinderella goes to the ball not just to meet the prince, but in the hopes that she can make a plight for the poor.  And I have to say, I never thought of Cinderella as a 2-dimensional, archaic character, until I saw this new version, which makes the old Ella look somewhat like a selfish cry-baby.  

What's more, this version percolates on a theme of kindness - A quality that perhaps is often overlooked in our social media saturated and comment condemned society - Making it even more relevant for today's audience.  It's kindness to a poor beggar woman that earns Cinderella a Fairy God-Mother (in a somewhat New Testament turn, the beggar woman transforms into the Fairy God-Mother.)  And it's kindness that first draws attention from the prince.

Perhaps the most exciting and squeal-inducing moments however, are the incredibly seamless and amazingly creative costume changes, which happen on stage and before your very eyes.  I've never seen the like, and likewise, I've never heard such applause for a costume change.  But this production and costume designer William Ivey certainly deserved it.  Cinderella goes from rags to ball gown and back again not once, but twice.  And the whole transformation takes place center stage in full bright lights... Quite an accomplishment!  

I first saw the Leslie Ann Warren version when I was probably about 7 years old.  I remember distinctly that my Aunt Christy was babysitting me at the time and they were showing it on the Disney Channel. Aunt Christy assured me that this was a show she knew I would enjoy and she was right on target.  I mean honestly, who doesn't enjoy a good romantic musical chock-full of some of Richard Rodgers best waltzes?

Speaking of waltzes, I guess I should talk choreography; this time concocted by broadway choreographic newbie Josh Rhodes.  I enjoyed how this new version seemed to be more "dance-y" than previous attempts.  While there were moments of innovation, there were also moments that lacked polish and I suppose those damn beautiful dresses are always going to make lifts and partnering hard.  But perhaps that's spoken like a sheer ballet snob!  Overall, it fit the tone and mood of the piece, was easy to digest, fun, and it kept the show moving which was a nice change. 

As much as I adore the old version (and believe me I do!) this new rendition brings the score and the story to a whole new generation of potential theater-goers, which is a feat in itself. The production runs through April 26th here in LA, so there's still plenty of time to enjoy this newly refitted jewel in the musical theater crown!  Click here for more info and tickets!   

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