Ballet – Ghost in the Machine Haunting the Web Since 1999 Fri, 22 Sep 2017 22:14:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A Free-Born Woman of the USA. Fri, 01 Jul 2016 17:57:53 +0000
Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie called her, ‘a joy…for every minute of 20 years! She is gifted and smart, willing to absorb from her peers and be an example at the same time. We have watched her grow organically into her potential – blossoming into a truly unique American ballerina with an astonishing command and range of repertoire.'”

As she celebrates her 20th season with ABT, Gill makes the cover of Irish America, and is named one of their inaugural “Top 50 Power Women”. Brava!

Wounded Giselle. Thu, 12 Jun 2014 17:20:15 +0000
“[T]he fundamental key to embodying Giselle is to radiate purity and sensitivity. In the first act, she glows with an inner joy and with her love for dance and for Albrecht. She is so honest, and her feelings for Albrecht so wholehearted, that she cannot reconcile his betrayal with her soulful belief in the goodness of the world.”

In Pointe Magazine, my sister Gill explains her process for embodying (and mastering) the psychology of Giselle. (Hint: Dancing well helps too.) “[E]ven death pales in the face of her eternal compassion…Her inner joy is now a quiet sadness, but more than ever she exudes love.”

Let’s Put On a Show! Tue, 28 Jan 2014 21:17:39 +0000

Cause your friends don’t dance, and if they don’t dance, well they’re no friends of mine. Mental health break: An intricate supercut of famous dance scenes from the movies. But no Center Stage? C’mon now.

Fearless Freddie. Fri, 09 Aug 2013 15:28:20 +0000
“In his book ‘Looking at the Dance’ (1949), the critic Edwin Denby wrote that Mr. Franklin’s dancing ‘always makes perfect sense; like a true artist, he is completely at the service of the role he takes, and his straight delight in dancing, his forthright presence and openhearted nature give his version of the great classic roles a lyric grace that is fresh and sweet.’ In her book ‘Dance to the Piper’ (1952), Agnes de Mille described him as ‘strong as a mustang, as sudden, as direct and as inexhaustible.'”

He passed in May but I found out this week via my sister’s new Twitter feed: Frederic Franklin, 1914-2013. Up until very recently, you could still Franklin on the ABT stage, as the priest in Romeo and Juliet and similar roles. For Gill as for many other contemporary dancers who got to know him, he was a living link to an earlier generation of ballet. And, if you’ve seen the splendid documentary Ballets Russes, he was a lively and engaging wit as well, with a long life of stories to tell. RIP.

Gill v. Wilis. Thu, 08 Aug 2013 18:37:31 +0000

Also in the trailer bin of late, Qi Huan and my sister fall in love — and flee the undead — in Toa Fraser’s upcoming film adaptation of RZNB’s Giselle. Obviously, I’m in — and I’m very curious to see how the non-ballet footage is worked into the movie.

Twisting Sister GIFstered. Tue, 16 Apr 2013 20:32:41 +0000
As found here while checking to see if the WaPo had reviewed last Saturday’s Le Corsaire at the Kennedy Center — they seem to have caught up with ABT earlier in the week — a fan-made GIF of Gill rocking her fouettes, again and again and again…

International Ballet Machines. Fri, 18 Nov 2011 10:25:16 +0000

Ballet pointe shoes are not typically thought of as technological artifacts, but they certainly are…Dancers on this pointe regimen developed characteristically long, lean leg muscles. Balanchine also encouraged dancers to let the shoes remake their bodies, including developing bunions that gave the foot just the right line.Speaking of shoes and from the Atlantic, a new paper examines pointe shoes within the history of technology. “[I]n 1980 dancers threatened to strike — not over hours or pay, but for better pointe shoes, and better management of them.

Act I: Farewell. Act II: Arrival. Tue, 27 Sep 2011 16:00:18 +0000

We decided to walk around and for a moment we were like, ‘Are we in Toronto?’ We covered most of downtown in an hour. But as the days went on, we realized that there is great food, it’s very eclectic, and the vibe is quite funky.

Picking up the baton from the NYT, who covered their imminent departure back in August, New Zealand’s Dominion Post checks in with Gill and Ethan on their new (zealand) digs. “Murphy’s family visited New Zealand a few years ago and were charmed by it another factor in the couple choosing to come. They had serious talks about it, though ‘and thought’, says Murphy, ‘about how we felt, individually and together, professionally and personally. A big driver is that it’s a naturally beautiful country, and then coming here and seeing the potential of dance.‘”

An Engaging Spectacle. Thu, 26 May 2011 16:08:28 +0000

From Bridesmaids to a bride-to-be, a hearty congratulations and best wishes to my sister Gillian and her longtime boyfriend Ethan on their recent engagement. Ethan popped the question at ABT’s opening gala last week and, as you can see, he caught little sis by surprise. Much love to you both.

Danse Macabre. Fri, 10 Dec 2010 11:20:20 +0000

Well, I was rooting for Darren Aronofosky’s Black Swan. I generally think well of Aronofsky even if The Wrestler notwithstanding, he has a penchant for operatic self-indulgence. (In the Best of the Decade list I put together a year ago, The Fountain, The Wrestler, and Requiem for a Dream clocked in at #77, #35, and #30 respectively.)

And, at least in general terms, the subject matter of Black Swan hits close to home, given that my sis is a professional ballerina who’s well-versed in the Odette/Odile role(s). (Although, as far as I tell, she hasn’t gone off-the-wall, certifiably bugnuts crazy…yet. Gill’s thoughts on Black Swan are here.) All that being said, Aronofsky’s attempted Cronenberg variation on Tchaikovsky here doesn’t really work. The movie is arousing a good bit of passion and controversy at the moment — some critics love it, some hate it, there may even be an age divide — but, for the most part I just found it overwrought and silly.

Black Swan begins auspiciously with the prologue of the ballet from which it’s riffing: Young dancer Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) dreams she’s on stage performing the opening “transformation sequence” of Swan Lake, when Odette first encounters the villainous sorcerer Von Rothbart. (Here and throughout, Portman doesn’t really have the ballet chops to pull off the dancing, but, to my layperson’s eye, the workarounds seemed decently convincing. And she’s actually quite good otherwise.) But outside of the Dreaming, Nina is still just a lower-level dancer (presumably a soloist) in her Lincoln Center-based company, living with her (s)mother (Barbara Hershey) in a too-small New York apartment.

But opportunity knocks for Nina when the company director (Vincent Cassel, seemingly playing himself) tires of his veteran principal (Winona Ryder) and decides to recast Swan Lake from the ground up. (And for some reason, he only seems to be picking one cast.) Nina seems like a perfect fit to dance the willowy, innocent Odette, the White Swan. But can she handle the Black Swan half of the equation: the alluring temptress Odile? In fact, there’s a carefree, sensuous new corps member — with swan wing tattoos, no less (Mila Kunis) — that seems born to play that role. So if Nina wants to live her dream and dance the lead in this new Swan Lake, she has to cut loose from her perfectionist moorings and embrace her dark side. Which, unfortunately for her, brings on the Madness…the Madness, splitting in half

Thus ensues a series of increasingly nightmarish vignettes, in which Nina — already fragile and anorexic on her best days — succumbs to teh crazy: Mirrors start acting funny, a stress rash grows worse and worse, and soon she’s ripping long strips of flesh off her fingers at the cuticle. (I wasn’t kidding when I said this was a Cronenberg variation, although the “all-in-a-day’s-work” body horrors of The Wrestler also come to mind.) Unfortunately, while Black Swan pretends to be a psychological horror movie, most of the scares here are really just of the jump-scare or gross-out variety. And, other then an ecstasy-fueled nightclub scene that recalls the druggy cinematic syntax of Requiem (and that eventually devolves into a ludicrous “sapphic succubus” tryst that seems like something out of Showgirls), Black Swan spends too much of its run dancing dangerously on the precipice of boring.

The thing is: If we know the lead character is going bonkers, and that’s made pretty clear from jump street, these endless nightmare sequences have very little dramatic weight to them. Something bad happened, somebody got killed? Eh, she’s probably just imagining it. What might’ve made Black Swan more interesting is to emphasize not how she’s going mad, but why. But, in that department, Aronofsky mostly just burdens Nina with trite Freudian baggage — an overbearing mother and a sexy crush on “father” (a.k.a. Cassel) — that was hoary and cliched even in Tchiakovsky’s day.

And so it’s hard to sympathize with Nina because neither her character nor her plight is at all convincing. So she has to somehow play both an innocent AND a seductress? ZOMG how will she ever manage? Well, I dunno, how about…acting? Sure, there are cases where Method types will lose themselves too much in a part. (Heath Ledger’s travails with the Joker come to mind.) But, perhaps due to familiarity with ballet folk, playing the white and black swans just doesn’t seem like an insanity-inducing event to me. (Although, now that I think about it, I guess a psychotic break after portraying evil twins might explain the late career path of the Shat.)

In the Financial Times, dance critic Apollinaire Scherr makes a key and telling point: In emphasizing the psychological rigors of the Black Swan role, Aronofsky sorta missed the point of the ballet. “Sure, there is a good maiden and a sly vixen in Swan Lake, but, like the ballet’s dopey prince, Aronofsky gets them mixed up. The virtuous woman has a self to lose; the schemer merely fakes it. Odile the Black Swan is easy to understand…what you see is what you get…Odette – part swan, whole queen, once simply a woman – is complex: wild but also majestic, animal yet gentle.”

In other words, the White Swan is the character with actual depth, while the Black Swan is basically all sizzle and flash, the prince falling for a pretty face. In that, the movie Black Swan is much like its namesake. I suppose it works decently well as a cheesy midnight movie for goth girls and the like. But in terms of anything approaching tragic or psychological depth, Black Swan misses the mark wildly. Its pleasures and pains barely scratch the surface.

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Swan Swan H. Thu, 22 Jul 2010 16:20:06 +0000

‘The character was very interesting to play, always challenging and surprising. The fact that I had spent so much time with the idea — Darren and I started discussing doing the film in 2000 — allowed it to marinate a little before we shot.‘”

Amidala by way of Tarsem? No, that’s Natalie Portman as (presumably) Odile in one of the handful of new images from Darren Aronofsky’s ballet psychothriller Black Swan, with Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey, and Vincent Cassel , set to premiere at the Venice Film Festival later this year. I’m intrigued, if nothing else than to see how well Aronofsky takes notes

Little Sis Doin’ Work. Wed, 16 Jun 2010 10:35:04 +0000

Gillian Murphy was an enchanting heroine on Monday, crystalline in her delicate approach to her first solo, steely in her balances in the Rose Adagio, ethereal (if a little tragic) in the Vision scene, radiant in the final act…Ms. Murphy perfectly embodied the teenage shyness and graceful poise of the young princess.” For those of you in Gotham, ABT’s Spring Season is now in full swing at the Met, and the NYT is giving sis her props. Catch her if you can.

A Revolutionary Dancer? Tue, 01 Jun 2010 12:07:56 +0000 She knew that her husband was gun-running, she knew that he was accompanied by rebels and at one point she used her yacht to decoy government boats and aircraft away from the direction which her husband was taking.” The Dancer Upstairs? Newly-released documents suggest ballerina legend Margot Fonteyn was more active in a failed Panamanian coup than anyone knew at the time. Said Foreign Office Minister John Profumo (later of the Profumo scandal): “I had to pinch myself several times during her visit to be sure I wasn’t dreaming the comic opera story which she unfolded.”

Just Buy Clara a Pony Already. Fri, 20 Nov 2009 13:18:40 +0000 “Come the twilight of the year, the deathless ‘Nutcracker’ begins its march across American stages, bearing tidings of comfort and joy. Oh, goody. Yet to those of us who despair of its pervading tweeness and wish ballet had something better to do at this time of year than endlessly reminisce like a sweet, whiskery auntie, it bears some bad news, too. ‘The Nutcracker’s’ stranglehold is all but squeezing ballet dry.”

In the WP, Sarah Kaufman rails against the tyranny of the Nutcracker. With all due respect to my ballerina sis, if I never see Clara and her wooden soldier again at this point, it’ll be soon enough. Swan Lake is always grand…The Nutcracker, not so much.

Grace Under Pressure. | Beyond Bravura. Mon, 02 Nov 2009 17:40:49 +0000
“Nevertheless there has been an awakening, a deepening in her artistry that has caught up with her astonishing technique. As more emotionally charged roles come her way, Murphy has surprised many and drawn rave reviews for her acting in ABT’s most somber and sinister ballets. As Hagar, the repressed middle sister in Tudor’s dour drama Pillar of Fire, Murphy is riveting. Her body and facial expressions are taut until her pent up passion erupts with the Stranger Next Door. Murphy’s ax-wielding Lizzie Borden (the Accused) in de Mille’s Fall River Legend skulks and rages, negotiating the emotional curves down to the essence. Her intensity shocked everyone–even herself.

Big doings on the family front: Not only did Gill recently receive a Princess Grace Statue Award for lifetime achievement in dance (that’s the ceremony above — and she did her own speechwriting also), but she is featured (again) as the cover story of this month’s Dance Magazine. (The cover is at right, but the official magazine site seems to scrimp on the quality jpgs — for the time being, check a newsstand near you.) “No one appreciates Murphy’s questioning mind more than [Kevin] McKenzie, who also coaches her. ‘Gillian is a very coordinated and intelligent person,’ he says. ‘If something doesn’t feel natural to her, she has the ability to approach problems from both angles–physical and cerebral.‘”

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Aronofsky Back on Pointe. Sat, 20 Jun 2009 23:19:39 +0000 With the involvement of Natalie Portman making the studios happy, it now appears Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan is back in play as the director’s next project. “Swan centers on a veteran ballerina (Portman) who finds herself locked in a competitive situation with a rival dancer, with the stakes and twists increasing as the dancers approach a big performance. But it’s unclear whether the rival is a supernatural apparition or if the protagonist is simply having delusions.” (As I noted here, Aronofsky’s been researching with all the right ballerinas for this one, imho.)

Thirty on Her Toes. Tue, 14 Apr 2009 10:57:34 +0000 A very happy birthday to my sister Gill, who turned 30 over the weekend (and who recently garnered some raves in London during ABT’s European swing.) While I won’t be there to enjoy it this year, ABT’s spring season at the Met is right around the corner.

From Russia with Love. Tue, 18 Mar 2008 20:08:52 +0000 Speaking of bravura performances recently, my sister Gill (on loan from ABT) premiered as Odette/Odile in the Kirov Ballet’s production of Swan Lake over the weekend in St. Petersburg, at the famed Mariinsky Theater. And, through the magic of Youtube, her Black Swan pas de deux is now online:

For the non-ballet folk, that spin move is known as a fouette, and they’re hard!

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Careful with that Axe, Gill. Tue, 06 Nov 2007 13:20:23 +0000 The Accused is a role that demands the ability to transmute technique into the expression of the passionate intensity, psychological pain and pure hatred that drive the character to her gruesome deeds. And in 2007 it also demands a strength of interpretation that can transcend the stylized Americana that makes this work feel museum-piece valuable and dated at the same time. Ms. Murphy managed just that in an impressive role debut on Friday night.

My sister Gillian draws a rave in the NYT for her Fall River Legend on Friday, as excerpted below: “Her auburn hair drawn tightly away from her face into a gleaming skullcap, her pale face tight and impassive above her high-necked dress, she embodied (to borrow the title of a famous piece of feminist literature) the madwoman in the attic — the Victorian antiheroine who incarnates the rage and anxiety forbidden by a sexually repressive, socially coercive society. There is plenty of dancing for the Accused in ‘Fall River Legend,’ but it is testament to Ms. Murphy’s acting that the movements became a seamless part of a succession of memorable emotional moments: her little shudder as the details of the violent acts are read out at the beginning; her suppressed amusement and momentary triumph at her father and stepmother’s fear when she first picks up the ax to chop wood; her disbelieving, scarcely allowable pleasure when the young pastor (Sascha Radetsky, also strong in a role debut) offers her love and compassion. By the time Ms. Murphy, alone onstage at the end, threw back her body and opened her arms in a final, anguished embrace of death and her fate, she had made her character simultaneously tragic and real.

I was at City Center for both the Friday and Saturday evening shows over the weekend, and while Balanchine’s “Ballo Della Regina” honestly didn’t make much of an impression on me, I found “Fall River Legend” quite spooky and memorable. Suffice to say, all sharp objects and implements will be well-hidden next time Gill comes over.

She’s Lost Control. Fri, 12 Oct 2007 16:08:36 +0000

The confusion in her eyes says it all: Gill suits up as Lizzie Borden in this promo pic for Fall River Legend, part of ABT’s upcoming fall run at City Center, Oct. 23-Nov 4. Borden “was a New England spinster who was the central figure in the axe murders of her father and stepmother on August 4, 1892 in Fall River, Massachusetts.” (As you can see, the “Axe Effect” had a different meaning back then.) “The slayings, trial, and the following trial by media became a cause celebre, and the fame of the incident has endured in American pop culture and criminology.” (Indeed, Borden even has her own blog over at the Lizzie Borden Virtual Museum.) Tickets for ABT’s fall season are on sale now.

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