Los Angeles

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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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Dance Photography | Katie @ Urban Light

Ballerina Katie and Urban Light Photo by Heather Toner @Firebirdzine

Ballerina Katie and Urban Light Photo by Heather Toner @Firebirdzine

Ballerina Katie and Urban Light Photo by Heather Toner @Firebirdzine

Ballerina Katie and Urban Light Photo by Heather Toner @Firebirdzine

As I am sure anyone reading this blog can tell, I really enjoy photographing dancers in interesting, iconic spaces of Los Angeles.  These are a few "extra" shots from a recent campaign photo shoot I did for The Music Center's social media accounts at LACMA's beloved installation Urban Light.

Ballerina Katie and Urban Light Photo by Heather Toner @Firebirdzine

Ballerina Katie and Urban Light Photo by Heather Toner @Firebirdzine

The dancer is the beautiful and talented Katie Brady, and you can see all of the photos from this campaign on The Music Center's Instagram channel @musiccenterla.  

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Etsy Love: Barreto Dancewear

When you're a dancer, you spend most of your time in leotards and tights. You're probably in dance clothes more often then regular clothes and so, it makes sense to want to elevate your leo wardrobe just as you would your closet staples.... You are living your life in this stuff after all!

Some background:
While training at my ballet school, we all had to wear uniform leotards which designated what level we were in.  As you moved up in levels, you changed leotard colors, and it was a nice added incentive.  But even still, our uniform leotards were far from stylish - basic as basic could be, and with very thin fabrics and cuts.  By the time I moved up in levels, my uniform leos were practically falling apart from wear, tear and daily classes.  
I basically thought that fashion wasn't much of an option when it came to ballet class.  But after becoming a professional ballet dancer, I discovered there are lots of amazing brands out there creating gorgeous and unique leotards that make getting dressed for class actually a stylish affair!  Some of my most loved leos are ones that a friend of mine made when she began her own line of dancewear called LolaStretch.  The brand has since closed, but there are tons of other indie leo makers out there these days creating gorgeous designs that are functional AND fashion forward.  
Case in 'pointe' - Barreto Dancewear.  
I stumbled across this Etsy shop one night when just browsing around, and instantly fell in love with the fun colors, playful use of prints and mesh accents used.  Created by current Ballet Idaho dancer Elizabeth Barreto, Barreto Dancewear offers unusual styles and customizable colors, and cuts.  

What's especially cool about dancewear designed by a dancer is that it tends to have all the functionality features every dancer craves, making these stylish leotards not only beautiful, but comfortable and built to last. What's more, Barreto has made a conscious effort to keep the cost of her lovely leos low, ensuring that dancers can actually afford them on their often tiny salaries. How cool is that? 
I haven't ordered anything from Barreto dancewear yet, but here are a few leos that I'm currently crushing on... It's enough to get me back into ballet class! 

Check out Barreto Dancewear on Etsy and be sure to follow them on their Facebook and Instagram accounts! 

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Monday, August 10, 2015

Why 'Dirty Dancing' is the Perfect Summer Dance Movie

Well it's a new week and a lot of youngins' round these parts have to start back to school which is kind of unbelievable since it still totally feels like summer outside.  But whether you're hitting the books this week or not, I wanted to focus today's Dance Movie post on the perfect summer-time dance flick ever in the history of the world: Dirty Dancing.

Yes.  I went there.  

Dirty Dancing may be one of the corniest, superficial and unbelievable dance movies ever made, but it also maintains an undeniably attractive sweetness that, somehow captures the very essence of summer into 90 minutes of sexy moves and Patrick Swayze.  

It's every girls summer dream - to find love and romance whilst on a family vacation.  But it's not just love for Johnny Castle that Baby discovers, she also uncovers a love for dance.  It gives here a whole new way to express herself, one that she never knew existed.  Dance gives her confidence.  Dance gives her perspective.  

Dirty Dancing is great because it's like a training montage, coming of age story, romance, drama, period piece and class-warfare story all rolled into one.  The dance training montage set to the song Hungry Eyes is pretty unforgettable, and the scenes where they dance on the fallen log and practice the lift in the water? Classic!   (BTW: the best place to practice lifts is definitely NOT in the water. Sure you can playfully fall in and end up laughing while cradled in Patrick Swayze's arms, but the weight and resistance of the water makes the actual lift a gazillion times harder!) 

The older I get (therefore the more times I've seen Dirty Dancing) the more I'm compelled by the way the dancers are portrayed as the "bad boys," the "trouble makers," and the kids from the wrong sides of the tracks.  I used to think this was comically stupid, but in a way, it makes sense.  The dancers at Kellerman's are the only characters who haven't sold out.  They aren't following the conformity machine of the 50's.  They aren't looking to get rich.  They dance because they love it - They just have to dance!  And they are willing to be poor to do it.... Sounds like more than a few dancers I know!

The soundtrack, which is meant to be true to the film's time-period of 1963, features some great tunes of the time, but also, without any explanation or historical truth, also features new 80's songs, such as the closing number set to "Time of Your Life."  Even though this musical incongruity makes no sense, all the songs are so catchy and fun, it doesn't seem to matter.  

Wonderfully quotable 1 liners like "Nobody puts Baby in the Corner," and "This is my dance space, this is your dance space," are additional obvious reasons Dirty Dancing is brilliant.  

And naturally, the choreography and all around fun style of the dancing plays a huge part in making this film one of the best summer dance films ever!  If you've never seen it or you've seen it a dozen times, keep the summer feeling going this week with Dirty Dancing!  

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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

BalletNow from the Wings

A few side-stage photos and rehearsal shots from The Music Center's recent show BalletNow...

All images taken by me, Heather Toner, for The Music Center's social media.  

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