Archive for June, 2011


Michael Jackson lives on, and not just in the hearts of his fans: a pseudo-Level 1-1 of Super Mario Bros. plays host to the pop icon as well. Several YouTube channels have devoted themselves to spoofs of this nature, portraying the King of Pop battling the King of Koopas and dancing to the hit song “Thriller” with Pikachu.

In addition to the Super Mario Bros.-style musings is footage of the video game “Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker” (which was an actual game) and speculations on what would happen if a Pokemon trainer encountered a Michael Jackson in the wild. While some of it’s a bit low-brow, it tends to be in the “good fun” genre of parodies. The number of hours it must have taken to animate some of these is nothing to sneeze at either.

A number of YouTube channels have devoted themselves to building up Michael Jackson’s virtual fandom; the link here will take you to the first video in a string of about 35 but plenty others exist.

After about six weeks of aerial silks classes in Las Vegas, I had the pleasure of taking a class from Aerial Arts of Utah in Salt Lake City this past week. (And for anyone that’s confused, yes, this is still the Las Vegas Dance Insider … but it will have a Utah satellite until August. Check out this post for details.)

First, I was entirely thrilled to be airborne again. Hanging out in empty space was addictive from the start, so the month or so of silk-less-ness was almost more than I could handle. The second thing that struck me was more about wordage than physicality — and the bunhead in me was rejoicing.

The aerial school in Salt Lake had an established system of terminology for every movement we did. After a watch-and-learn class structure in Vegas, I was both caught off-guard but appreciated the structure. Don’t get me wrong–I’m not opposed to the mimicry method of teaching. After all, this is how much of the dance world operates. But being able to attach a name to a movement that is confusing at first somehow made it more manageable in the beginning.

This hasn’t been the only role of vocabulary in the history of dance, and ballet is perhaps the best example of a standardized lexicon. Despite the myriad flavors swirled throughout the discipline, a collective commitment to maintaining a core set of terms has preserved them. As a result, well-versed dancers can walk into a ballet class almost anywhere in the world and have at least a tentative grasp of what’s going on.

Interestingly, this rigorous vocabulary isn’t always transmitted through formal schooling. Instead, toddlers in tights are deliberately exposed to a slew of these (mostly) French verbs on a weekly basis, ostensibly with the idea that the words will absorb by osmosis. Oftentimes (and with varying levels of success, of course), they do. Teenagers that have been in dance classes since they were small can converse in foreign infinitives without really thinking about it, even without having studied the “Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet.

This is an excellent book, by the way; I recommend it for anyone with an inclination toward the linguistic side of dance. It also proves the valid point that the language of the arts has come beneath the gaze of learned professionals and has benefited from it. While this intensity probably isn’t necessary for good dance schooling, it provides a depth to the field that has made for great staying power.

Because, after all, words are the fundamental method of transmitting culture. Evidence of artistic and creative expression is visible far before the appearance of writing and while we have the benefit of codified vocabularies now, this wasn’t the case for thousands of years. Language was the key piece instead. So next time you’re in a ballet class listening to French, Russian or Italian chatter, say a quiet thank you for the language that has helped preserve and propel the dance world toward the complex art it is now.

Long hair has been associated with such values as femininity and virtue for literary centuries. For dancers, though, hairstyles often carry more weight than just a headful of hairpins: appearances tend to be intricately tied to many dancers’ self-identity, so one dancer’s ‘do can be another dancer’s don’t. Couple this with the need to fit into a corps de ballet, to make a strong impression at an audition or to obtain approval from a company director, hair becomes about much more than Dippity-Do.

Gia Kourlas with the New York Times examined the implications of hair-style choices made by principal ballerinas in high-flying ballet companies. Ballet emphasizes both conformity and exceptional appearances, so ballet’s first ladies face challenges that are much more personal than just bad hair days. Find more details about the “bob or bun” debate at the link here.

Are you a bob-head or a bunhead? Let me know in the comments below.

The infamous show about Peter Parker and his spidey alter-ego has set records with its $70 million budget and months of preview performances. Now, “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” is open for the public’s viewing pleasure and critics’ reviews are predictably knotted. If you want to avoid being snared by the wily web of opinions, check out an article from ArtsBeat, the New York Times’ arts blog, here. In addition to a recap of the opening night shenanigans, there’s an aggregation of critics reviews available here.

Keep an eye out for goblins in green. Happy reading!

Seven months have passed since the movie “Black Swan” first rocked the dance world with a hotly disputed and much talked-about portrayal of the tradition of classical ballet. Amazingly, people are still talking about it.

I found this story from the Wall Street Journal and appreciated the recap of events that have transpired since the controversial film’s release. Questions of body doubles and ballet training for Natalie Portman have largely come out and the hindsight is interesting, to say the least. A preview of five fabulous ballet companies that will be taking a certain American city by storm this season is included in the story.

For more commentary on “Black Swan,” take a look at the links below.

“Natalie Portman Embraces Monster and Victim”: an awards-season rehashing of Portman’s role in the film. Find the story from the New York Times here.

Check out an interview from New York Magazine with the “Black Swan” choreographer on instructing Portman on her bird-ish port de bras.

See the film from the director’s perspective in this interview with director Darren Aronofsky from MTV.com.

Enjoy!

The Obama administration plan to improve the United States’ relationship with Russia, but not just through bureaucratic means. The U.S. State Department will provide support for Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s performances in the International Chekhov Festival in Moscow, where the company will perform three well-known Cunningham works on June 14 – 16.

The trip is part of what is being called the legacy tour, undertaken to commemorate the death of Merce Cunningham, an internationally acclaimed modern dance pioneer, in 2009. “Biped,” “Xover” and “RainForest” will be performed and the State Department will assist an online project that will catalogue the process of creating “RainForest.” A series of educational programs, including a film series and a workshop from the company, will accompany the performances.

Interested in reading more? Check out the full story on Artsbeat here.

Hey folks! Think of this post as a reader’s digest of the dance world. I’ve aggregated a few stories that were fun or interesting, so peruse at your leisure and see what others in Danceland are up to.

Warm fuzzies from American Ballet Theater: a slew of proposals at ABT might be giving those fairytale romances some credence. Find the story on Artsbeat here.

Cirque is heading to the Big Apple: An analytical look at Cirque du Soleil’s past and future is available from Jason Zinoman. Find the story here, with continuations coming next week.

A fantastic story about where burlesque came from and where it’s going was recently published by the good folks at the Las Vegas Weekly. Follow the link here and be sure to check out the photos.

Remember site-specific choreography from the 1980s? It’s back! A story published in the Wall Street Journal detailed a piece performed by Shen Wei Dance Arts performers at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Find the story, accompanied by photos and video, here.

Hanging from the ceiling isn’t just for Cirque artists … another Wall Street Journal story covers LAVA, a dance and acrobatic troupe in Brooklyn. Check out the full text here.

Pardon the third WSJ story, but this one is bringing it full circle with a clip about the “battling burlesque shows” in Las Vegas. Get the scoop here, and thanks for stopping by!

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