Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Dancers performing in "La Esmeralda"
Cesare Pugni(May 31, 1802 - January 26, 1870)was an Italian ballet composer and musical genius who have contributed heavily to the emergence of classical symphonies and other operatic ballet music. Pugni was also a renowned pianist and violinist. Hence, Pugni's most notable works were the ballet music he composed such as the "Elerz e Zulmida" and the "Ondine, ou La Naïade."
Throughout the history of classical ballet and opera compositions, Pugni was considered as the most prolific composer of all time, having crafted more than 100 original compositions that seemingly laid out the foundations of the genre of classical dance.
In his early career he composed operas, symphonies, and various other forms of orchestral music. Cesare Pugni is most noted for the ballets he composed while serving as Composer of the Ballet Music to Her Majesty's Theatre in London (1843–1850), and as Ballet Composer of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres and to the Court of His Imperial Majesty in St. Petersburg, Russian Empire (1850–1870). Pugni was among the first composers of ballet music to employ the technique of leitmotif, which he utilized for his score for the ballet Elerz e Zulmida in 1826.
At a very young age, Pugni already displayed a genuine interest in arts and music. The German opera composer Peter Winter was impressed with the young Pugni thus, he taught and mentored Pugni. Winter became Pugni's first musical teacher.
Pugni, with the help of Winter, was admitted to the prestigious Milan Conservatory where the 13-year-old Pugni showed tremendous skill and creativity in music and composition. In the Milan Conservatory, Pugni studied various musical subjects including counterpoint, musical theory and composition. He also learned to play the piano and violin in an excellent manner.
However, in 1822, Pugni left Milan Conservatory to work for the La Scala theater. Pugni become part of the official orchestra of the theater where he handled the violin.
The following year in 1823, Pugni created his first full-length ballet composition, the Balletmaster accompanied by the novel Kenilworth written by Sir Walter Scott that centered on the secret love affair of Robert Dudley, the 1st Earl of Leicester and Amy Robsart. Pugni's early works utilize revolutionary techniques of leitmotif which is characterized by a recurring theme playing within the scope of a single idea or protagonist.
Through his endeavors in the La Scala theater, Pugni's popularity grew tenfold and so as his talent and skill in musical composition. However, Pugni's success was countered with a lot of troubles. He was investigated and found guilty of misappropriation of the La Scala's funds due to his addiction in gambling and liquor.
His musical career reached its peak as he was acquainted with notable musical figures in Paris and England. Due to his uncanny ability in composing ballet and operatic music, Pugin became a member of Her Majesty's Theater.
Pugni's stint with Her Majesty's Theater was very productive as he composed numerous ballet music including the immortal works "Ondine, ou La Naïade" and the "La Esmeralda."
Pugni further explored and crafted beautiful musical scores during his travels in Russia and other European countries. Hence, his later life was again highlighted by gambling and drinking sprees. Nevertheless, Pugni's legacy has already been cemented in the upper echelons of classical and operatic music.
By the end of his life, he had composed close to 100 known original scores for the ballet and adapted and/or supplemented many other works by other composers. He composed a myriad of incidental dances such as divertissements and variations, many of which were added to countless other works. A great deal of Cesare Pugni's complete scores and incidental dances, etc. were published in piano reduction, and sold very well, while other dances were sold as "traditional" by publishers such as T. Boosey or Jullien after the copyright expired with no credit given to the composer.
Of Cesare Pugni's original scores for the ballet, he is perhaps best-known today for Ondine, ou La Naïade, (also known as La Naïade et le pêcheur) (1843); La Esmeralda (1844); Éoline, ou La Dryade (1845), Catarina, ou La Fille du Bandit (1846); The Pharaoh's Daughter (1862); The Little Humpbacked Horse (1864); and Le Roi Candaule (1868). Of his incidental dances, etc., he is most noted for the Pas de Six from La Vivandière (also known as Markitenka) (1844); the Pas de Quatre (1845); La Carnival de Venise pas de deux (also known as Satanella pas de deux) (1859); the Diane and Actéon Pas de Deux (1868); and his additional music for the ballet Le Corsaire (1863 and 1868).
Sadly, Pugni died on January 26, 1870 in utter poverty.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Irene and Vernon Castle were a husband-and-wife team of ballroom dancers in the early 1900's, especially just before WWI, her from the US, him from the UK. Credited with invigorating the popularity of modern dancing, they were inventors of a number of dances, including the Castle Walk that bears their name. They also helped to popularize dances such as the Foxtrot, the Hesitation Waltz, the Maxie and the early ballroom form of the Tango.
This video has some rare footage of them, along with Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire portraying them in 1939. An interesting look at how ballroom dancing has evolved.
To learn more about Irene and Vernon, here is an excellent article Irene and Vernon Castle: Ragtime Dancers
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
“Someone is going to take advantage of your kindness.” Different variations of that theme exist in cultures all around the world, implying that people who are kind are going to be used by others who are not so nice. So much of society seems focused on helping the self rather than others, so this belief of kindness being weakness – not physical, but mental and emotional – may not be surprising. Specifically, kindness is viewed as weakness because kind people are seen as easy to manipulate, poor handlers of valuables, and simply naïve in matters of life.
The adjective kind is defined as “having or showing a tender and considerate and helpful nature …tolerant and forgiving under provocation.” These seem like positive traits for a human being to have, yet mentors often try to stamp out kindness in their students, saying that ruthlessness is much more likely to get a person to where he/she wants to be as an adult. Kindness, after all, is just a person’s inability to say no, right?
First, kindness is repeatedly mistaken as a personality quirk that makes someone easy to manipulate. Assumptions are made that kind folk can be maneuvered by fast talk and sad stories into giving up time, money, or energy for someone else. For example, a con artist might lie to a nice person about needing a loan to fix a car or help a child, hoping that the person’s “tender and considerate and helpful nature” will result in being gifted money with no interest or rush to pay it back – if it is paid back at all.
However, one can still be kind even if he/she does not pay out. Drawing up a contract that details how and when the money will be repaid, giving less than what was asked, or even offering to help work out a deal with the local bank are all offers of kindness to help out the one in need without being taken advantage of by the con artist. Helpfulness and kind actions do not mean that someone is easy to manipulate.
Next, kind people are assumed to be unfamiliar with the monetary value of objects and the importance of holding onto their possessions. “Why did you give that away? It could have been worth something!” is a sentiment heard all too frequently by those who donate to shelters or causes. Someone who decides to give away old electronics rather than sell them, for instance, can be thought of as a fool who does not understand the value of what was donated.
Kindness does not mean that the giver has no idea or does not care about making money. It does mean, though, that the giver finds the intrinsic reward of providing help to another to mean more than the extrinsic reward of selling items. One is not necessarily better or worse. Each person must make his/her own choice about whether to give or sell, and that has nothing to do with weakness, only a person’s private moral standards.
Finally, kindness is often believed to be a sign of someone’s naivety. Others assume that kind people do not understand how “the real world” works. As such, they are used, abused, and end up losing everything because they simply do not look out for their well-being. Kindness is thought to mean that the nice person does not realize how cutthroat and hard one is expected to act in order to get one’s desires, and so he/she gets nothing and accomplishes little.
Again, this is not true. Kind people can indeed push and fight for what they want to do, what they need to do, but they may not. They may prefer instead to achieve their goals through politeness, compassion and compromise. This sort of approach is commonly viewed as weakness – someone unwilling to fight for resources – but instead, it is just a different way of accomplishing goals.
Rather than putting self-interest first, kind people focus more on helping others. While assumptions about how easy kind folk are to manipulate, how little they value money, and how naïve they are frequently are thought to be weaknesses, I'd say that it takes far more strength to hold your tongue instead of lashing out, to spend time with a lonely person instead of spending time shopping for yourself. I do know that whenever I am kind, I feel better about myself. And, to me, it's a great and strong feeling.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
At Right - Long, romantic style tutu which Marie Taglioni would have worn in La Sylphide or Giselle.
The credit - or blame - for inventing pointe work goes to Marie Taglioni. She wasn't the first, but she was the pioneer who transformed toe dancing from mere trick to genuine artistry.
Marie Taglioni was born on April 23, 1804, in Stockholm, Sweden. Her father was famed Italian choreographer Filippo Taglioni and her mother was dancer Sophie Karsten. Taglioni made her debut in La Réception d'une jeune nymphe à la cour de Terpsichore in June 1822 at the Hof Theater in Vienna. She made her Paris debut in 1827 and was the star of the Paris Opera for the next ten years. She also danced at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London. Among her many fans was a young Princess Victoria.
La Sylphide and Fame
Filippo trained Marie as a student and reportedly put her through six hours of practice a day. In 1832, Filippo created the ballet La Sylphide for his daughter. La Sylphide tells the story of James, a young Scotsman, who is lured away from his love by a forest fairy. It was the first ballet that showcased dancing en pointe as graceful, not as an acrobatic stunt. The first toe shoes had no reinforcements so standing on pointe was incredibly difficult. Taglioni’s style was characterized by floating leaps and balance poses such as the arabesque. Taglioni’s role as the forest fairy catapulted her to fame. She became one of the most celebrated dancers of the Romantic Era.
At Right - Pointe Shoes via 1860
Although exciting to watch pointe virtuosity was limited. A dancer was not "over feet" as are today's dancers - her flimsy shoes did not permit it.The first pointe shoes used by ballerinas of the early nineteenth century were little more than soft ballet slippers which were heavily darned at the tip. Dancers posed for barely a second on pointe. Today's pointe technique, which consists of relevés, pirouettes, hops and sustained poses, was not possible until the advent of the modern pointe shoe. Modern pointe shoes are made of several layers of burlap and canvas, each formed and then dipped in glue. It is this hardened glue which give the shoe its stiffness. The final layer is satin.
The shoe is then held together by three soles, called shanks. The outside and middle shanks are made of leather, the inside of cardboard. The shanks, with the edges of the satin and canvas in between, are glued and then nailed together.
At Right - Pierina Legnani
Sturdier shoes allowed pointe dancing to reach the next level. The dancer who led the way was Pierina Legnani(1863-1923). Trained by Carlo Blasis at a Scala, Legnani made a sensational debut in Cinderella in 1893, performing an unheard of 32 fouettes on pointe. Soon intricate multiple turns, hops, and sustained balances on pointe were in every ballerina's vocabulary. Swan Lake had been a flop in 1877. With Petipa's choreography and Legnani in the lead, it was a smash in 1895.
In 1832, Taglioni married Comte Gilbert de Voisins in London. The couple had a son and daughter, but separated three years later. In 1837, Taglioni signed a three-year contract with the Imperial Ballet (known as the Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet today) in St. Petersburg. Her last performance was in Russia was in 1842, after which a pair of her toe shoes were sold for 200 ruples. Legend has it, these shoes were cooked and eaten by a group of ballet fans.
Taglioni retired from dancing in 1847, but returned to dancing within a few years. According to rumors, she was forced to return to work because of bankruptcy. In 1854, she performed the Pas de Quatre with three of the Romantic Era ballerinas: Carlotta Grisi, Lucille Grahn, and Fanny Cerrito. From 1859-1870, she was the Inspectrice de la Danse at the Paris Opera and instituted a system of examinations. Taglioni choreographed her only ballet, Le Papillon, in 1860. The ballet was created for Taglioni’s student, Emma Livry, who is best known for dying in 1863 when her costume caught fire from a gas lamp that was used for stage lighting. Marie Taglioni died on April 22, 1884 in Marseilles, where she had been living with her son.
The work that Marie Taglioni began allowed dancers to make their characters more vivid. Odile turns those 32 fouettes because she is a wicked temptress hypnotizing Siegfried. Aurora sustains those balances in The Sleeping Beauty because she is a poised, regal princess. To this day, pointework adds to a dancer's drama as well as technique.
Royal Ballet video of How Marie Taglioni would have trained and her role in the creation of La Sylphide
Video of How Pointe Shoes Are Made
New York City Ballet "Pointe Shoes" from Galen Summer on Vimeo.
Monday, September 6, 2010
The statue of the young dancer, facing the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, created by Enzo Plazzotta, represents Ninette de Valois.
Perhaps more than any other nation, England owes its ballet greatness to two women: Marie Rambert and Ninette de Valois.
Rambert(1888-1982) - born Cyvia Rambam in Poland, originally trained in Eurythmy and joined Diaghilev's Ballet Russes to assist Nijinsky with The Rite of Spring. In the early 1920's, she founded the Rambert Ballet School as well as a ballet company where both Frederick Ashton and Anthony Tudor got their start. Called the Balled Club, then Ballet Rambert, it is now known as Rambert Dance and is a major contemporary troupe.
A student of Émile Jaques-Dalcroze, the originator of eurhythmics , Rambert was invited in 1913 to teach this technique of rhythmic education to members of Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes; through her teaching she influenced Vaslav Nijinsky’s controversial choreography for L’Après-midi d’un faune and Le Sacre du printemps While with Diaghilev’s company, Rambert studied with the eminent ballet teacher Enrico Cecchetti and later joined Diaghilev’s corps de ballet. She continued her ballet training in London, staging her first ballet in 1917 and becoming a British citizen in 1918, following her marriage that year to the playwright Ashley Dukes.
De Valois(1898-2001), born in Ireland as Edris Stannus, also danced for Diaghilev and formed a company and school; her troupe evolved from the Vic-Welles Opera Ballet into the Sadler's Wells Ballet, and finally into the Royal Ballet(Actually 2 - there is a 2nd Royal in Birmingham). De Valois, a choreographer, commissioned revivals of the 19th century classics.
Dubbed ‘the godmother of English ballet’, Dame Ninette De Valois danced with some of the world’s greats before going on to found, at the request of WB Yeats no less, the Abbey School of Ballet in Dublin, as well as the Royal Ballet, the Birmingham Royal Ballet, and the Royal Ballet School in Britain.
She believed that a good repertory should be a balance of traditional classical and Romantic works, enduring modern works, current works of topical interest, and nationalistic works using England's folk traditions. Frederick Ashton was her perfect ally. They forged a company style that blended rigorous schooling and corps work, gentle lyricism and strong narrative movements. In 1935, Ashton began creating ballets for the company, most notably for a talented young dancer named Margaret(Peggy) Hookham, soon to be called Margot Fonteyn.
After WWII the company moved to the newly reopened Royal Opera House at Covent Garden in 1946 with a landmark production of The Sleeping Beauty. This same production, with Fonteyn as a luminous Aurora, took New York by storm in 1949. Meanwhile, Ashton produced ballets that celebrated English style, inclusing Symphonic Variations and Scenes de Ballet. Cinderella(1948), Ashton's first full-length original work, showcased Moira Shearer, of The Red Shoes fame and Ashton himself played a hilarious Ugly Stepsister. This was followed by Sylvia (1952), and Ondine(1958), with choreography created especially to display Margot Fonteyn's unique talents and music by Hans Werner Henze.
Ashton took over the company from de Valois in 1963 and remained as the director for 7 years. The Royal Ballet has had only a few directors since, including Kenneth MacMillan and Anthony Dowell. MacMillan's dark and psychological ballets, especially Romeo and Juliet, strongly influenced the company and is considered by most to be the best version made.
Today, the Royal Ballet has been directed by one of its former ballerinas, Monica Mason, who retired in July 2012. It is befitting that another woman carry on the legacy started by Marie Rambert and Ninette de Valois.
Monument Which is Being Created in Honor of Ninette de Valois
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Every day is an opportunity for success. Our thoughts and feelings contribute to the reality we create. In order to live successfully, we must have a positive attitude and realize the impact of our behavior and choices.
Here are 12 simple ways to create a successful day that I try to follow every day.
1. Upon waking, make a conscious choice to be happy. It is amazing to see what a difference a simple change in attitude can make. If you don't start the day out right, you risk catching negative vibes which can be as contagious as a virus. By acknowledging a desire to live a day of success, you set the tone for creating a wonderful day.
2. When looking in the mirror, smile. Be the first happy face you see. Our day begins with routines that force us to take an early look at ourselves. As you brush your teeth or fix your hair, decide to be a happy person wishing a wonderfully prosperous day for you.
3. Make sure your morning routine includes some form of exercise, allowing you to release any stress you may be feeling about some event planned for your day. The exercise you choose can be physical, mental or emotional. The goal is to figure out where you are holding stress and to let go.
4. Say good morning to everyone you meet. This will help remind you that you've made a choice to have a successful day. In addition, it might brighten the morning for someone else. By helping another person see the beauty in the day, we can improve the overall mood around us.
5. Use positive statements about yourself and your day. When someone asks how your day is going, tell them "It's a golden day!" There is power in language and hearing positive words will reinforce your choice to be successful.
6. Don't allow anything or anyone to ruin your day. Believing the positive words you're using to express yourself creates a barrier for unhappiness. You can reward yourself for the commitment you've made to yourself. Things will occur which are out of your control, but they will only have the impact you allow.
7. Plan to do at least two nice things for yourself each day. It doesn't have to be elaborate or require financial resources. Make a list of things you like to experience during the day and make a formal plan to take care of yourself. Occasionally we have a hard time doing things for ourselves. This can be as simple as
setting aside some time for your favorite activity, having dessert, calling a friend who makes your smile, lighting a candle, listening to your favorite song or taking a long bubble bath at the end of the day. When you make time to take care for yourself, the action alone will affect you on many levels.
8. Place a mirror by your telephone. This will remind you, no matter what the conversation, to smile. Your attitude is reflected in your voice and seeing your reflection is the best way to ensure you remain positive. It will be harder to allow a caller to disrupt your mood and ruin your day if you can see the facial changes the conversation creates.
9. Take care of your basic needs. Start your day with a good breakfast and respect the needs of your body, mind and soul. Regardless of the pressures of the day, you'll carry less stress by taking better care of yourself. You need to ensure you get adequate rest, healthy meals, mental stimulation and emotional support. Your spirituality, though sometimes overlooked, is an important need that should never be neglected.
10. Make plans to spend time with family and friends. Choose an activity that you enjoy and share the experience with those who have an emotional connection with you.
11. Keep a good balance between your work and home life. Remember that work is important for several reasons but we should keep a good perspective on our priorities.
12. Review the day and acknowledge your successes. This simple act will reinforce the choice you made to be successful. As you make this practice part of your evening ritual, you will find it soon becomes part of you.