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A chick flick classic based on Hans Christian Andersen's dark tale of the sort of punishment girls can expect when they choose dancing over duty. Competing for the Most Red award in the film are Scotswoman Shearer's magnificent head of hair and, of course, the shoes.
In this scene, rich girl Vicky, recently selected to join the company on its European tour, has just been given her chance in the form of the lead role in a new ballet, which is coincidentally to be scored by her MCP boyfriend-to-be, the evil, grimmacing Julian Craster. However, not everyone shares the moody artistic director's vision.
Boris Lermontov (based on the great Ballet Russes impressario, Serge Diaghelev, and played to perfection by charmster Anton Walbrook): She'll be all right.
Serge Ratov (the cute old fudd who designs the ballet's sets): I hope so.
L: Still unconverted, Sergei?
S: Well...of course, she's a charming girl, but...
L: Well, I know nothing about her charms and I care less, but I tell you, they won't wait till the end, they'll applaud in the middle.
Narrator: As 1933 drew to a close, Colonel de Basil and co. set sail for America and into the arms of an ambitious and wiley impressario named Sol Hurok. Hurok was the most powerful theatrical promoter in the States. He was also a Ukrainian emigre who held a special place in his heart for Russian ballet. And so although nearly 20 years had passed since Diaghilev's Ballet Russe had toured the States - although an entire generation of Americans could not tell a tutu from a pirouette - Hurok placed an enormous bet on the new Ballet Russe: he bankrolled their first American tour.
Frederic Franklin(still dancing character roles at 90+): Now, we were at Drury Lane in London, and they're at Covent Garden. The fans are going back and forth, looking at all the new dancers. Well, Hurok came and saw us, and he saw them. And this - this is the season Hurok decided...there was Massine and Danilova. They were the only two names. Markova, me, Slavenska - no one had ever heard of them in America. And he made a gamble. And we had a contract. Massine and Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Hurok represented both in the U.S.
This is the movie that would make an opera fan of even the most committed beer-snarfling yob. Spanish sets and costumes rival a perfect cast in this most satisfying performance that would have cheered its dejected composer considerably. Unbelievably, a discouraged Bizet died believing his timeless score celebrating the infamous wiles of a Gypsy feminist was a mediocre flop and best forgotten.
In this scene, a starry-eyed Carmen, who has been dancing most of the night on tables in the town watering hole with a rose between her teeth, mysteriously declines the advice of her Gypsy co-horts to call it a night and get some shut-eye before the caravan heads out in the morning for some serious mountain thievery. Party girl Carm is wide awake and ready for anything. "She's in love," sighs one of her pals.
Gypsy: In love? That's no reason.
Gypsy girl: I'm in love but I do my duty.
Carm's pal: I've never seen you like this. Who are you waiting for?
Carmen: A soldier who helped me.
Pal: The one who went to jail?
Gypsy: He'll be scared. I bet he won't come.
Carmen: Don't bet. You'd lose.
By far and away, the best of many movie versions, in our view. Still, while we know the fat man would have burst the buttons on Don Jose's tight jacket in this production, we cannot help but prefer Pavarotti's or Jussi Bjoerling's rendition of the soft lamenting Flower Song, the aria signalling the beginning of the end of this doomed love affair. Not that it goes much better for the bull in the opening sequence.
Other noteworthy adaptations of Bizet's famous score:
Carmen The Ballet
Featuring Russian dance sensation, Spaghetti-arms Plisetskaya, for whom the role was created, as the taunting, frankly vulgar but nevertheless irresistible love interest in this modern update of Roland Petit's interpretation.
Sadly, Canada failed to record even one performance of Kain as Carmen and, for this lapse of sanity, we wish them and their wilderness culture all the luck they deserve.
Featuring an excerpt of Carmen danced by choreographer Petit and his wife, Zizi Jeanmaire, who partnered Mikhail Baryshnikov again in the title role about 100 years later with
alarmingly youthful vigor.
While many today would simply chalk up any misfortune surrounding a production to coincidence, actors and other theatre people often consider it to be bad luck to mention Macbeth by name while inside a theatre, and usually refer to it superstitiously as The Scottish Play, "MacBee," or sometimes, "The Scottish King".
This is said to be because Shakespeare used the *spells of real witches in his text, so witches got angry and are said to have cursed the play. Thus, to say the name of the play inside a theatre is believed to doom the production to failure, and perhaps cause physical injury or worse to cast members. A large mythology has built up surrounding this superstition, with countless stories of accidents, misfortunes and even deaths, all mysteriously taking place during runs of Macbeth (or by actors who had uttered the name).
An alternative explanation for the superstition is that struggling theatres or companies would often put on this popular 'blockbuster' in an effort to save their flagging fortunes. However, it is a tall order for any single production to reverse a long-running trend of poor business. Therefore, the last play performed before a theatre shut down was often Macbeth, and thus the growth of the idea that it was an 'unlucky' play.
A word about witchcraft:
The Spiral Dance A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess
When you have finished casting a spell, visualize yourself tying a knot in a cord wrapped around the symbol or image on which you have focused. Tell yourself you are setting the form of the spell, as a clay pot is set when it is fired. Say,
By all the power
Of three times three,
This spell bound around
To cause no harm,
Nor return on me.
As I do will,
So mote it be!
(From Magical Symbols, Excercise 43: Binding a Spell, p. 114)
Editor's Note: How powerful is this stuff? Spouting feminist theology and defending Starhawk's position as a pagan witch at a California university not long ago got recovering Catholic Matthew Fox officially silenced by the Vatican.
Another reminder if anyone needs one of how much Russia has to teach the west and the rest about dance. It's hard to imagine that this innovative, utterly original work is actually more than 25 years old. Despite the production's excellence, the video is tough to find. Neither Amazon nor imDB had a listing when we checked Nov. 2/07. No luck until Oct. 12/09!
Multimedia version of Shakespeare's Macbeth. Includes 1,500 annotations, 24,000-word commentary, audio reading by Dame Judi Dench and Sir Ian McKellen of the complete play, QuickTime video clips, essays on the history and language of the play, concordance, searching and note-taking functions, and karaoke section which allows the user to play the role of Lord or Lady Macbeth in two dramatic scenes.
A child asked me today to explain a picture it had found in a magazine, which showed some mailed warriors walking toward a castle carrying branches of trees in front of them. It was an advertisement for Scotch whisky, and the picture was Malcolm's forces advancing upon Macbeth's castle - Birnam Wood moving toward Dunsinane, in fact. I explained this to the child, and gave a rough and expurgated version of the Shakespeare play, in which I happened to mention that the Witches had told Macbeth that this very thing was likely to happen. "If a witch had told me that, I'd have cut down the forest right away," said the child. I agreed that this would been a wise precaution, but that if Macbeth had done so there would have been no tragedy, and the whole course of Scots history would have been altered. She looked up at me searchingly and said: "That's silly." Sometimes I think that the reins of government should be put in the hands of children. They have remarkably direct minds, and when a witch tells them something, they pay attention. (From The Table Talk of Samuel Marchbanks, p. 278)
"Do you want to hear this stuff or not?" Yes, he'd nodded, his hand caressing one small, finely wrought breast. She put her hand over his and launched into her argument. Her proposition was that at the heart of each of the great tragedies were unanswerable questions about love, and, to make sense of the plays, we must each attempt to explicate these inexplicables in our own way. Why did Hamlet, loving his dead father, interminably delay his revenge while, loved by Ophelia, he destroyed her instead? Why did Lear, loving Cordelia best of his daughters, fail to hear the love in her opening-scene honesty and so fall prey to her sister's unlovingness; and why was Macbeth, a man's man who loved his king and country, so easily led by the erotic but loveless Lady M. toward an evil throne of blood? Professor Solanka in New York, still absently holding the cordless telephone in his hand, recalled with awe naked Eleanor's erect nipple beath his moving fingers; also her extraordinary answer to the problem of Othello, which for her was not the "motiveless malignity" of Iago but rather the Moor's lack of emotional intelligence, "Othello's incredible stupidity about love, the moronic scale of the jealousy which leads him to murder his allegedly beloved wife on the flimsiest of evidence." This was Eleanor's solution: "Othello doesn't love Desdemona The idea just popped into my head one day. A real lightbulb moment for me. He says he does, but it can't be true. Because if he loves her, the murder makes no sense. For me, Desdemona is Othello's trophy wife, his most valuable and status-giving possession, the physical proof of his risen standing in a white man's world. You see? He loves that about her, but not her. Othello himself, obviously, is not a black man but a 'Moor': an Arab, a Muslim, his name probably a Latinization of the Arabic Attalllah or Ataullah. So he's not a creature of the Christian world of sin and redemption but rather of the Islamic moral universe, whose polarities are honor and shame. Desdemona's death is an 'honor killing.' She didn't have to be guilty. The accusation was enough. The attack on her virtue was incompatible with Othello's honor. That's why he didn't listen to her, or give her the benefit of the doubt, or forgive her, or do anything a man who loved a woman might have done. Othello loves only himnself, himself as lover and leader, what Racine, a more inflated writer, would have called his flamme, his gloire. She's not even a person to him. He has reified her. She's his Oscar-Barbie statuette. His doll. At least that's what I argued, and they gave me the doctorate, perhaps just as a prize for brazenness, for my sheer gall." She took a big gulp of the Tignanello, then arched her back and put both arms around his neck and pulled him down to her. Tragedy vanished from their thoughts. (From Part One, pgs. 9-10)
What of the gamble?
74. Shakespeare's Othello, III III, 260-263
Journal article by Roscoe L. Fertick; The Explicator, Vol. 31, 1973
74. SHAKESPEAR'S OTHELLO, III, iii, 260-263
By the time the statement in Othello, III, iii, 260-263, is made, Othello is already entangled in Iago's web of deceit. The seed of doubt has been cast, and Othello will never seriously try to prove Desdemona's innocence.
He calls her haggard, a word that can be interpreted as "wild," although in falconry it properly refers to an adult, female peregrine falcon, as defined in the Oxford English Dictionary: "HAGGARD--A wild (female) hawk caught in her adult plumage. (With some, in 17-18th c.--peregrine falcon.)"
"Jesses" (line 261 ) are the leather straps that are put on a falcon's legs to bind her to her master. The analogy between jesses and heartstrings is clear and touching. But the vital part of the statement is found in lines 262-263:
"I'd whistle her off and let her down the wind, / To prey at fortune."
When a falcon is released or "whistled off," she is generally released into the wind, and not down the wind. The reason rests in the flight habits of the peregrine falcon. First of all, it is easier for a falcon to get airborne when she is released into the wind because she is stepping off an unstable perch, (the trainer's hand), and the incoming wind affords her additional lift on her take-off. Secondly, and more importantly,the chances for recovery of the falcon are much better when she is flown into the wind. This is true because, when the falcon is cast off, she will generally fly directly away from the falconer for some distance. Then she will climb from 200 to 1000 feet in the air and "wait on," or circle in the air as she watches for some prey below. As she is waiting on, the prevailing wind will cause her to drift back towards the trainer, if she had originally been released into the wind. As she drifts over head the falconer can then "call her to the hand."
However, if she is released down the wind, the breeze will quickly carry her away from the falconer, thus making her recovery very difficult, if not impossible.
To the audience of Shakespeare's time, when falconry was still widely practiced, this statement by Othello would have been easily understood and would have shown his utter despair of regaining Desdemona's love. Thus he would cast her off, with little hope of getting her back, "down the wind to prey at fortune," or let her make it on her own as best she could. (From Questia).
With Laurence Fishburne as the Moor
... Not bad, not bad...It certainly looks magnificent.
Probably the best acting of the lot but what's up with those Kipper Snacks? Why do they clothe such riches in rags? Do they really think it's possible to get Venice out of a BBC cleaning staff lunch room? I mean, I ask you.
The music is strong, reminiscent of Prokofiev, the moves are bold and the dancing is of a quality one might expect from the City That Knows How. The ship's return in Act II and Iago's pas de deux with Othello in Act III must be among the best in ballet anywhere, anytime - wow! Highly recommended for ESL students trying to get a better grasp who's who in the play and the emotional timbre at various stages of the plot.
Carmina Burana is named after a Bavarian Monastery, where a collection of poems, songs, and short plays were found near Munich in 1803. From these manuscripts, Orff selected 25 songs from the original 200 for his absorbing cantata, which premiered in 1937 in Frankfurt, Germany. Orff arranged these songs into three groups, creating an unforgettable musical experience. Complete with pagan and blasphemous lyrics written by minstrels, defrocked monks and vagrant students known more for their rioting, gambling and overindulgence than for their scholarship, Carmina Burana exists as one of the most varied collections of medieval poetry. (From the program notes on our invitation to some pre-performance hooplah opening night of Ballet BC's November, 2005 staging of the ballet, sublimely choreographed in house a year ago by Artistic Director John Alleyne. The live chamber orchestra will feature Vancouver pianists Linda Lee Thomas and Terence Dawson, renowned percussionists Sal Ferreras, Vern Griffiths, Robin Reid, Johnathan Bernard, the Vancouver Chamber Choir and Ontario's Elora Festival Singers under the baton of American Ballet Theatre Conductor David LaMarche. Such glitz, such glitter. Will we go? You bet).
Star Crossed Lovers
Featuring opera legends Placido Domingo, who improves
with age, and Renee Fleming, alas, who doesn't
The New Yorker
The Critics Turf Wars
By John Lahr
"West Side Story” (at the Palace, under the sure-handed direction of Arthur Laurents, who wrote the musical’s original book) is so exciting it makes you ache with pleasure. All the defining forces of the American fifties—velocity, mobility, confidence—are condensed into this superb retelling of the Romeo and Juliet legend, which plays out against the background of Latino-versus-Anglo gang violence. Like the tail fins on fifties American cars or the parabolic shapes of Populuxe furniture, “West Side Story” incarnates the dream of momentum in the golden age of the twentieth century. Everything about the show is streamlined: the fluid jolt of Jerome Robbins’s choreography; the exhilarating syncopation of Leonard Bernstein’s symphonic score; the bravura concision of Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics; the swiftness of Laurents’s storytelling—the book is one of the shortest in the history of the musical. The début of the show, in 1957—a production I saw—also marked the moment when the musical asserted its right to treat just about any subject (murder, rape, bigotry) as grist for popular entertainment. “West Side Story” is somehow both airborne and transcendent. ...
It is Laurents’s great good fortune to have found for his tale of star-crossed love the radiant Josefina Scaglione, a twenty-one-year-old Argentinian, who is at once fine-voiced and sweet-faced. She is plausibly a teen-ager and absolutely a star. Unlike many North American ingénues, who are technically expert but internally vacant, Scaglione is a whole person. Passionate, playful, and demure, she sings out of a centered, secure notion of womanhood. When Tony (the excellent Matt Cavenaugh) spots Maria at the local high-school dance—one of Joey McKneely’s many sensational reproduced choreographic moments—he is instantly under her spell, and we are, too. Scaglione’s innocence and sweetness are underlined by the shrewd casting of the rollicking Karen Olivo as Maria’s older confidante, Anita, who is also the flamboyant, knowing girlfriend of Maria’s brother, Bernardo (George Akram), whom Tony accidentally stabs during a gang dustup. With such a sweeping canvas, the musical’s characterizations are necessarily two-dimensional; the actors must bring a vivid sense of personality to their roles. Here, for the most part, they succeed. (-- p. 60)
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