yesterday i had the pleasure of seeing one of my favorite ballets again. the vienna state opera ballet company performed giselle.
the highlight of the evening was supposed to be the visit of margaret illmann. while there was much bourgeouis applause for her performance, the title role in giselle is not one for a mature ballerina. i’ve had the misfortune of seeing ludmilla semenyaka and ekaterina maksimivoa dance it at the end of theirs career as well and i felt like i was seeing double again.
while these great dancers can literally walk through the role, they simply no longer have the vulnerability and hopefulness in each step that a younger dance can have (not all do). their attempts to mimic girlishness (for in the story giselle could not be more than eighteen years old) in their movements, inevitably turns into a kind of parody.
one feels more like one is watching a drag queen perform as it is someone mimicing what he or she (as the case may be) is not. i mean you look at this mature woman – and every line of her tight and drawn and chiseled form shouts of maturity – and think, surely lady you can’t still be running from men still. you really couldn’t lose your mind at this point in your life after a slow dance and a few hours tête-à-tête.
boris nebyla did his best to be that prince over whom ordinary women lose their minds, princesses lose their cool and spurned lovers’ ghosts return to protect from graveyard avenging angels.
sadly mr. nebyla has neither the charisma or physique to carry it off.
frankly by the middle of the first act, i didn’t care what happened to one or of the other of them, the sole point of pleasure being the inevitably wonderful performance of the orchestra. i’ve never heard the score of giselle brought better to life than by conrad artmüller and his musicians, including – for those counting women musicians in vienna – two distaff cellists and one percussionist.
the country couple were eminently forgettable in their solo. karinna sarkissova left no impression at all. some particularly inanely performed flourishes of the arm only served to draw unpleasant attention to kirill kourlaev.
as one of my companions notes, in the first act one felt lost in some provincial theatre in bratislava.
but the problem was with the dancing and performance rather than the sombre decor.
ingolf brunn’s sweeping panoramas of mountains remind one of the carinithian vales, only without the verdure. tasteful if not inspiring, the costuming by clarisse praun-maylunna was equally in shades of grey. a coherent if dark aesthetic, far different from the splashy or homespun look in many russian and north american productions.
the only high points were in the more dramatic roles – that of hilarion the hunter and berthe, giselle’s mother. christoph wenzel seemed to suffer genuine indignation and loss at the perfidy of giselle (new guy shows up in town and country girl is on his arm at the drop of a hat). gerit schwank was radiant as the mother, as besotted with her lovely daughter as austrian mothers seem wont to be.
happily the second act awoke us from our slumber. last night was the premiere performance of patricia tichy in the role of mirta and of veronica ikriannikova and dagmar kronberger. all acquitted themselves well, but ms. tichy was a revelation.
mirta is the queen of the damned, those spurned maidens who have died of chagrin or worse. it is a baroque conceit, but a terrifying one for a reflective man. likely it is a somewhat ecstatic fantasy for less progressive women who still care for the role of men in their lives.
last night, the men shivered in their comfortable velvet chairs and the women thrilled as ms tichy lived and breathed the silent wrath and cool contempt of mirta. in every curved movement of her arms, one felt her disdain and remorselessness.
first the unfortunate hilarion must perish (what for? he genuinely loved the girl). no pity. ms tichy had not a second glance for him, waving on his execution by her perfectly synchronized host of maiden ghosts with a single thrust of her arm.
for the grieving albrecht, mirta has no more pity, sending the willis for him again and again, heeding not the phantom giselle’s entreaties. only the dawn drove ms tichy from her purpose, most reluctantly leaving albrecht alive.
ms tichy’s coldness seemed to swell from the center of her being. she was entirely focused on her ghostly horde and the cold fire raging within her. the theatre was transfixed by her presence.
there were many curtain calls. the presence of the legendary margaret illmann, no doubt summonned a particularly passionate ballet crowd. ms tichy can be very proud that the warmth of the applause for her debut performance as a soloist equalled that of the reception for the prima.
but after seeing her commanding performance as mirta, i am not certain that pride is a characteristic that ms tichy ought develop in herself any further.
in any case, if her work as mirta is any indication, we may hope to see a great deal more of ms tichy at the wien staatsoper in other leading roles.
Bambi San Francisco writes on CBS’s marketwatch
For instance, I haven’t joined the Spoke service, yet I became one of the 13 million searchable people in Spoke’s public network.
My profile on Spoke included a resume, notes about me, and a list of people who may know how to contact me….
I’m just not sure how comfortable I am about the way search engines are taking control of our information and becoming the lens through which we see other people, and through which other people see us.
The consequence of it all: There is no privacy left. We’re more accessible. We’re more targeted (Do we really need improved targeting for spam?). The channels to get to us are better defined.
it’s not a good time to be a dissenter
out to lunch with my cousin shane last week. talk of film and life and love. casually mention, robert altman and neve campbell’s the company. future of dance film much depends on the success of such projects. immensely difficult to realise.
a miracle. greatest admiration for neve campbell following her vision to its final end. all of her training. the incredible passion involved, not to mention millions missed which could have been made shooting other projects while training and shooting this six month marathon.
on my last day in toronto and after a delicious korean dinner at joons at 606 bloor street west, greg barker-greene and fionnuala jamieson and i went to see the film. i was very concerned it might take a long time to see it anywhere in europe besides paris.
to my shock and horror it didn’t work. i was speech struck for the rest of the evening. let’s take it element by element:
the dance segments
mediocre. nothing appalling but nothing compelling. no one has captured dance successfully on camera.apart from an obscure mosfilm version of grigorovich’s ivan the terrible where he was allocated one of the large studios at mosfilm for several months and the entire resources of the soviet union. think dancers swinging from fifty metre bells.
robert altman did a professional enough job. the difficulty he ran into was the inevitable medium shot. it simply doesn’t work in dance film. one must either be in a wide shot (feet, ankles, arms and hands) or in some kind of a close up (whether medium, normal or extreme). dance cannot be compellingly captured on film in real time. the manipulation of time and movement is essential for that is what the trained eye naturally does. the ballon of the prince endures far longer in the mind’s eye than reality. in film, the live reaction is suppressed – thus the leap must be made longer through technical means to make the moment true.
of course idle critical speculation from the bleachers is the bane of artistic progress. i am in the process of putting these theories into practice. when lapinthrope is finally completed, my thesis will either be borne out or disproven.
in fairness to robert altman & co., an external duet in a thunderstorm did work well. as the whole stage weaved and creaked in the wind as the audience opened umbrellas, the dancers concentration on their art in the face of the raging elements was impressive. a well-thought out dance moment.
here is where i take genuine issue with both neve campbell and robert altman. i mean what the hell were they thinking of?
the principal story is the inane relationship of ms. campbell’s ry with one sous-chef josh (coyly and rather poorly played by james franco). apparently when one becomes a cook or a dancer in neve campbell’s world (she wrote the story) one loses the faculty of speech.
these two banal lovebirds are the most inarticulate characters i have ever seen on stage, television or in film. literally they exchange not more than thirty words in this two hour marathon of silent love.
josh makes breakfast after their first night together. the morning after conversation.
fionnuala pointed out that the filmmakers intentions were trying to show that these two communicated with their bodies and their senses and were not bound into the quotidien world of words like the rest of us. perhaps.
it is my great happiness that many of my friends and companions have been dancers and/or choreographers. neve campbell’s hypothesis is simple slander.
while not noted for their erudition, dancers are more inclined to try to articulate their feelings than most as generally they are deeply in touch with said feelings. it is not so much a question of virtue but rather simple necessaity: they need their emotions for their work on stage and so they talk about them a lot.
not only is the hypothesis false (or at least often so), but it also makes for a far less interesting film. if either josh or ry could articulate their dilemmas in life or their feelings for one another, we might be a lot more interested in their story, which for better or (probably) worse, is the driving narrative thrust of the company.
apart from the shallow characterization of the principal leads, the filmmakers run into another huge problem. they simply pick up and drop characters with very little continuity in their stories.
older dancers appear and disappear. young sycophants appear and disappear. only malcolm mcdowell’s company director alberto antonelli maintains any continuity in the mishmash of scenes.
canadian choreographer robert desrosiers does a marvellous extended cameo as himself.
this lack of continuity resulted in a disconcerting lack of focus. i am inclined to abscribe the haphazard quality as a bold if failed experiment in improvisational filmmaking.
greg liked much of what we saw as a documentary filmmaker he is interested in the mixture of fact and fiction. he enjoyed the dance segments and the appearance of ordinary cast members throughout the film.
fionnuala loathed every aspect of the company. but she is quite a bit of a festival film snob. she cannot see intention or boldness of plan as merits. she does not see the beauty in failure. i find her reaction simplistic as for her a film either works or it doesn’t.
i don’t believe one can be so categoric about art. art can succeed and fail on many levels. many successful projects are in fact void of meaning or soul, while externally successful. i think of the quagmire of quentin tarantino type films. simply stylistic exercises which do naught to make the world a better place – perhaps only succeed in making it a worse one.
but sadly i too remain disillusioned with this film. i had hoped for so much and to see so little delivered. very discouraging for dance film.
footnote to above review
even more shocking is the critical reaction – most film critics liked it very much. more importantly for dance filmmakers, the company is posting good numbers on the 55 theatres it is in.
perhaps there is hope for attempting again to make the next great theatrical dance film since the red shoes.