Monday, November 05, 2007

The Ballet Season has started

When I started blogging, I never thought anyone would ever read anything I ever wrote. Writing was a natural outlet for self expression, a way to record my thoughts and experiences. I wrote for myself; I still do. At the time, I wasn't reading anyone else's blogs. In fact, I didn't know others were blogging at all. I was, however, reading a public forum called Ballet Talk for Dancers. I posted impressions of the international ballet competition in Jackson on this forum as well as on my blog. Lots of people read.

Later in the summer, we were in Varna, Bulgaria at another international ballet competition, the oldest one. Very little information flows out of Varna. The competition officials know that all the major ballet publications have reporters there. Eventually, results will trickle into print; but, I was blogging in an Internet cafe. Within three days, I had thousands of hits from all over the world. Lots of people were reading...waiting...wanting me to write. It was all very exciting. Mathias won the junior gold medal. My blog had a ballet following. No one knew or cared about me, embroidery, or the artistic journey I meant for my blog.

This older blog was hosted by Blogstream. It is located here. There are very few pictures. Blogstream really isn't set up as a place for images. It didn't seem right for a visual artist. By this time, however, I had been introduced to other blogs. I started blogging on "blogspot" about a month after Varna. Little by little, the ballet world fell it should...this is not my world but my son's. He was moving to England, starting his professional career. I wanted a place for me, my art, and my life. Still, ballet is part of my world and I've written many, many posts about the performances I see and about how ballet is still a factor in my life and family.

Of course, I had a site meter on both blogs but I never looked beyond the weekly summary (if I bothered to look at all!) until about three months ago. Now, I am shocked to know how many dozens of ballet people actually are still lurking, dropping by from time to time after googling something "ballet" related or coming via Ballet Talk for Dancers. Local dancer's names have been "googled" for the past week or so...seemingly "looking" for my "reviews". So, here it is.

Over the past three weekends, I've seen this season's opening productions for both Columbia Classical Ballet (Snow White) and Columbia City Ballet (Dracula); "Innovative Works" by North Carolina Dance Theater in Charlotte; and a mixed repertory show presented for the fall semester by the Dance Department at the University of South Carolina. That's three professional companies and one college program.

I actually wrote a bit about Dracula on my family's blog. Alex and I really enjoy going to Dracula. It is the show that really inspired Mathias to dance. This is not a fact he is thrilled about...but it's true. There's very little "classical" dancing in the production but plenty of sex appeal, Gothic touches, smoke and lighting effects, and very little material in the costuming. Tom Semanski's (1959-2007) original score sounds like an 80s disco, and this year's production was dedicated to his memory. It is campy and fun.

Over the years, we've watched the choreographer, Artistic Director William Starrett go from the male lead, Jonathan Harker to Count Dracula and then onto retirement. We miss Mariclare Miranda as Lucy; no one could ever dance the role as well. Alex's classmate Amanda Summey was seven or eight when she first appeared as a village child. She was a tambourine gypsy this year.

Yet, this was the first time we'd seen Katherine Irwin in a professional role, one of the barely clad "undead" vampires. We've watched Katherine since she was about eight years old. Her road has been a difficult one, full of snags and troubles. There's all sorts of problems in being a child grows up....others catch up...efforts count more and more...natural talents count less and less. Yet, she looked good, promising. Another dancer we've followed is Willie Moore, who also looked good. There really isn't much more to say about Dracula. It's fun. It lives up to being fun.

So, that's one of the two professional companies in our town. The other, Columbia Classical Ballet presented Snow White on Friday, October 19. There was an "out reach" school show in the day followed by a single evening show. That's it. One night only. Their season ends with Robin Hood, another single evening production. In fact, the entire season has only five nights of ballet and three student shows. Yet, the company has grown to sixteen professionals and five apprentices. Sure, there are probably a few out-of-town shows or "gigs" for local charity/arts events...but it's not much of a season.

These dancers come from all over the world. It appears obvious that one of the best reasons to dance for Artistic Director Radenko Pavlovich is the help with obtaining legal passage into the United States. Over the years, we've seen several very talented dancers....for a season, maybe two. Then, they move on. I wouldn't be surprised if Priscilla Yokoi is gone next year. Dancing the lead, she was lovely, turns like a top. The dwarfs were all fun too. Like Dracula, these are not really "classical" parts...comedy with footsteps, something to enjoy.

Had Oliver Beres been able to handle the role of the prince, I could say that the show lived up to its own expectations. However, he couldn't all. According to the program, he's in his third season with the company. Unfortunately, he didn't look like he had three years of any training whatsoever. He's from Hungary, a place that is currently training some very fine dancers. (Three Hungarians entered the international competition in Helsinki in 2005...likely the toughest one in which Mathias ever danced...and all three received medals or an award.)

I couldn't help but to inspect the program more closely. Most of the dancers have won awards in competitions I've never heard of and never seen reviewed in the three major publications to which we subscribe. Then I noticed another guy from Hungary, Balazs Krajczar. The program said he won a third prize in the 2004 Vienna Competition. That was odd. That year, Mathias won gold; Ian Lindemann silver; Kenya Nakamura won bronze...all Anatoli Kuckeruk's students at the Kirov Academy of Ballet (called Universal Ballet Academy that year). I had to look it up. (He won a third prize in some category other than "junior" or "senior". This is great. The program just suggests that it was one of the main medals.)

In IBC International Ballet Competitions there are generally two categories: Juniors (approximately 15 to 17 or 18) and Seniors (approximately 17 or 18 to 26). There is no difference between professionals and amateurs. Most competitions no do have categories for Groups or Schools or Younger Dancers. Vienna does. Generally, an award in one of these "other" categories is not listed as a major medal/ do so is misleading.

This isn't the first time Columbia Classical Ballet's program included misleading information. Two years ago, a dancer's biography included a silver medal at Youth American Grand Prix, an international event. Yes, the program said it was an "international event"...but the dancer actually earned the medal in a local, Greenville regional competition that led to the international venue...not in the finals. Very misleading...and it makes me wonder about all the rest of the information printed in the program. It is too easy to use the Internet to check all the facts and figures...but not while one is sitting in the audience thinking that the caliber of dancing ought to fit the wording.

Of course, turning two pages in the program reveals an advertisement for Pavlovich Dance School featuring Lyn Tally and Brooklyn Mack. The bold caption reads: Two medalists/One School. Yet, the Prix de Lausanne doesn't award "medals". They actually award "prizes" in the form of scholarships; they are not numbered or come in metallic colors. Brooklyn might have rehearsed at the school for the last month before Jackson and Radenko "coached" him....but let's face it...Brooklyn had been away from the school for YEARS before the win in Jackson. What's wrong with the TRUTH. Brooklyn STARTED with Radenko. Isn't that fact good enough? Why does the ad need to read as if the school "produced" him? Pathetic.

Frankly, the truth is impressive enough as it is. In fact, I think the TRUTH is great! It doesn't need to "read" like something "more". All this got me thinking about QUALITY. Quality is the truly impressive factor. Snow White didn't have quality casting. The unfortunate dancer should never have been put into the prince's role.

I remember all too well going with Radenko Pavlovich and his entourage of faithful supporters to Dianne's, a local restaurant, after William Starrett's return to the stage following double hip replacement. I believed in Radenko then and everything he said about bringing QUALITY to the Koger Center stage. He criticized Columbia City Ballet for presenting poor artistic efforts and suggesting that these productions equaled good ballet elsewhere. He criticized the teaching at their school. He wanted to expose their lies with QUALITY.

Years later, Columbia has two professional companies and more lies than ever before. Both seek funding from the same sources. Both pay their dancers poorly. I've said it before; I'll say it again...and again...and again. Columbia could have a very good professional ballet company....if there was but one with fewer dancers being paid a bit better. It's never going to happen. There are too many egos in the way. It is a shame.

As for me, I've been thinking a lot about the word QUALITY...trying to apply the lessons presented here to my own art work, my personal approach, and in how to aim for and work toward higher goals...with wider audiences...QUALITY, a worthwhile effort. All art isn't of good quality. One must know what to show and what to simply learn from. I need to remind myself of that often and look at my own work with a high standard and fresh, discerning eyes. I want to avoid pretending that something I made is good just because I made it...I want to show lies.

So, North Carolina Dance Theater. Here's quality. It's a small company with seventeen professional dancers and six paid "apprentices"...and lots of opportunities to see each show. Steve and I really like the annual November "Innovative Works" . It is always fresh, new, contemporary, and well done in the intimate setting of the Booth Theater. Nacho Duato's Na Floresta opened the evening. Everything about it was wonderful.

After a brief intermission we saw Mark Diamond's Endless Now set to Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto #2, 1st Movement and Uri Sands' The Neighbors set to Tom Waits' "music". I'm not generally a fan of Mark Diamond's choreography and this piece didn't change my mind; but, the music made the unpolished sections quite tolerable.

I HATE TOM WAITS but was totally blown away by the piece. In fact, the music was perfect for this world premier in five movements about the "dark nature of family dysfunction." It was riveting and I was so glad to see Mathias' classmate Seia Rassenti in the work. She did very, very well.

After another short intermission we watched company dancer Sasha Janes in his own choreography with Rebecca Carmazzi (my personal favorite NCDT dancer). The work, Lascia la Spina, Cogli la Rosa, was set to the vocals of Cecilia Bartoli. It was simple and beautiful. Next was Dwight Rhoden's Choke, a piece Steve had seen premier in 2006 at the Youth American Grand Prix gala, when Mathias won gold. I didn't care for it much but the themes centered around the contrasting strengths of two dance competitors. I've seen the "real" competition too many times; I've never liked the anxiety of competition.

In truth, I've rarely enjoyed Dwight Rhoden's choreography, but that changed completely with the closing work, Ave Maria. It brought tears to my eyes. I'd love to see it time and time again.

So, the final show we've recently seen is the one presented by the Dance Department of the University of South Carolina on Thursday and Friday, November 2 and 3. We went on Friday night and enjoyed a later party hosted by board member/friends Pamela and Ken Janik. To our surprise, my cousin Jamie Schumacher, a USC freshman, was in the audience, part of the Dance Appreciation class. It was lovely to catch up with her, and our conversation served as a reminder that this show is about education.

The program started with Valse-Fantaisie, a Balanchine work with New York City Ballet soloist Amar Ramasar partnering Bonnie Boiter-Jolley. Four other girls danced in the piece but it was the main couple who commanded the stage. It was fabulous to see our local students exposed to the quality of NYCB. It was better to witness Bonnie, a sophomore, looking like she, too, could grace the big city stage.

Next, Peter Kyle, a guest artist, performed Murray Louis' Frail Demons, which I found rather long and a bit boring. Still, it was an excellent way to show another style of quality dancing. After the intermission, Amar danced the Pas de Trois from Agon with Bonnie Boiter-jolley and Lindsey Shatzer. It was excellent.

Alan Hineline's Twist featured the same two girls along with Carolyn Bolton and Olivia Anderson dancing with Ben Hankinson, McCree O'Kelley, and Norbert Nirewicz. It was fast, energetic and another piece in which the lines of students and professional were blurs to great satisfaction.

The final piece was Act II of Swan Lake. Talin Kenar and Norbert Nirewicz were the two professionals dancing the leads. They were every bit the part. The students danced the "Little Swans", "Big Swans", and the ladies of the corps...all swans. Here, the difference between professionals and students was easy to see but the overall result was quite nice. The program, of course, certainly met its was an excellent mixed repertory meant to expose student dancers and student audience members to quality.


Anonymous said...

want the TRUTH? You are certified crazy and wouldn't know the truth if it bit you in your ass, which would be hard because your head is stuck too far up it. The world does not revolve around "Mathias" or Matthew as everyone in Columbia knows him. After all let's not be decietful and try to put on a few airs. Columbia City Ballet is more dance theater than a dance company, and since the dancers paycheck continue to bounce, they shouldn't offend you too much longer. Columbia Classical Ballet continues to bring world class dancers regaardless ofhowlong they stay. A lot of City Ballet Dancers are former Classical Ballet Dancers that were fired (Jose) or thought the grass was greener (Willie)---look for him to come to his senses soon. As for Brooklyn, he can and will continue to dance circles around your precious Matthew. Every time Brooklyn has time off from his schedule with Orlando Ballet,he is in the studio with Radenko, in fact everytime he has returned to Columbia for any amount of time, he is in the studio with Radenko. True quality does show.

Susan said...

Dear "Anonymous"
You've made my day. I'll be laughing for at least twenty-four hours. I briefly thought about removing your comment. I can do this at any time....but why? Your ignorance is hilarious. I proudly stand by every word of truth I wrote. You, on the other hand, didn't even bother to leave your name...which I understand entirely...I wouldn't put into public such poorly phrased, rude, and inaccurate sentences with my name either!
Thanks for the amusement!
Susan Lenz Dingman

Jonelle Seitz said...

Hi—I happened upon this post, and your blog, randomly in a search for something else, but I had to comment on this. I once danced—very briefly—with Columbia Classical Ballet. I haven't been back to Columbia since in 1999, but if things in the 2007 ballet scene were anything like they were then, I can testify to the trainwreck.
I do remember Pavlovich actually encouraging one of the dancers to fib in her program bio: "Just say you went to SAB."
I can't help wondering if "anonymous" is Radenko himself—one I would venture to suppose was, at least when I knew him, "certified crazy."

Anonymous said...

Having danced for both William (when Miss Ann was still in charge of the Columbia City Ballet in th elate '80s) and Radenko (when he taught at Calvert-Brodie and when he broke out into Pavlovich Classical Ballet in 1990), I can say that Radenko cared more about his dancers than William.

Both have their strengths and both can seem overly commercially focused (one must be in the Arts, right?), but the teaching quality that came from Radenko, was some of the best in the world.

I enjoy performances by both companies, but Radenko is the teacher of choice when it comes to the pure art of dance, technique and self-confidence...hands down.

Susan said...

To the last anonymous commenter. First, do you realize that you are replying to a blog post written during the fall of 2007? Second, this post wasn't about the educational programming associated with the companies being reviewed. Third, as someone who paid both ballet instructors lots of money, I have distinct impressions about the quality of ballet training and the personal interest/care issuing from these two teachers toward their students. Yet, I am not about to state anything about these impressions because they were based on experiences in the 1990s. That's a long time ago. Yet, it is a lot more recent than you are claiming your experiences in the classroom and rehearsal halls were. Times change. People change. Are you quite sure your opinions are even relevant today ... especially on a blog post from five years ago?
PS If your opinions are so significant, you ought to sign your comment with your full name. Otherwise, I'll consider it as amusing "spam".

Another HK Expat said...

I stumbled upon this blogpost nearly a decade after the above comments has been posted due to looking up a dancer at Columbia Classical Ballet. While I do like Brooklyn Mack (we have never met but we have mutual friends) I couldn't help but notice that Mathias is now a principal with a major world-class company now. The comments of the first anonymous responder now seem rather...well, I guess you could say the irony is interesting. Kudos for being a mother who firmly supports her son so well!