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Posts Tagged ‘dance’

A Whale in Her Own Ocean

May 12, 2015 | by

Suzanne Farrell at the New York Public Library.

Farrell and Balanchine in Don Quixote, 1964.

Suzanne Farrell—the ballerina who was George Balanchine’s last and arguably greatest muse—appears tonight at the New York Public Library’s Live! series, cosponsored by NYU’s Center for Ballet and the Arts. If you’d like to go, don’t—the event was a harder ticket than Hamilton, which the Wall Street Journal called “the buzziest show of the spring.”

If you’re wondering what all the fuss is about, well, everything you need to know about Farrell, now sixty-nine, you can learn from the essays of Arlene Croce, whose own great muse was Balanchine and his New York City Ballet, and whose unassailable writings on dance appeared in the pages of The New Yorker for twenty-five years. Croce says about Farrell in Diamonds, the third act of Balanchine’s Jewels: Read More »

The Death of The Dying Swan

May 1, 2015 | by

Ballet at the movies.

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A still from The Dying Swan, 1917.

In the 1980s, Hellman’s launched an extensive campaign to rebrand its mayonnaise products as health conscious. Between shots of garishly pink salmon and luxuriant folds of Romaine lettuce were ballet dancers: “Without a choreographer,” the voice-over says, “there is no ballet … Without Hellman’s, there’s no salad.” (Maybe the copywriters were drawing from Yeats—“How can we know the dancer from the dance?”) Dancers are superimposed onto vegetables—one in orange twirls into a carrot—and a note in small type at the bottom says that Hellman’s “can help slimming or weight control.”

The ad only makes sense in light of the “tradition of morbidity,” as the former New Yorker critic Arlene Croce once called it: a certain subtext associated with the ballerina in popular culture. Movies, in particular, have over the course of a century misrepresented, if not outright disfigured, her. She’s a delicate, overwrought creature who shuns all material desires (including dessert, sex, and probably mayonnaise, too) for her craft. If you’re trying to sell a fat-laden emulsion of oil and eggs typically eaten on a red-checkered tablecloth with the WASP-ish anemia of the upper class, you’ll find no better spokesperson than the ballerina. Read More »

Coup de Théâtre

April 20, 2015 | by

An American in Paris leaps from screen to stage.

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Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope. Photo: Angela Sterling. Courtesy of An American in Paris

About halfway through Vincente Minnelli’s 1951 film An American in Paris, we glimpse a sign: À LOUER—APPARTEMENTS STUDIOS DE GRAND LUXE—RENSEIGNEMENTS AU FOND DE LA COUR. We see it in a courtyard through which Milo Roberts, the beautifully appointed parvenue, leads Jerry Mulligan, the scrappy, penurious painter; they ascend a staircase into an artist’s atelier that anyone would dream of. In addition to the essentials—a double-height wall completely of glass, new brushes and paints in every imaginable color, a sturdy easel—the room boasts a marble mantelpiece, fresh flowers, and an enormous sofa upholstered in red toile de jouy. That’s part of the allure of Minnelli’s film: it wrings every drop of naive charm out of the Paris of myth and cliché. Despite its legendary status, though, the movie’s charms are often enforced with a lead pipe—or perhaps a pipette of the kind geese are fattened with to produce foie gras. I couldn’t help but read too much, then, into that sign advertising rooms for rent. The movie itself can feel like a rented room; there’s plenty of space for someone else to move in, to make it deeper, better, more accomplished. That’s what the new musical on Broadway attempts, and—though not without its longueurs and contrivances—on many levels it has the film beat by a mile. Read More »

Drunk in Love

March 26, 2015 | by

Sixty-four years later, The Tales of Hoffmann continues to delight and perplex.

a Michael Powell Emeric Pressburger The Tales of Hoffmann Criterion DVD PDVD_005

A still from The Tales of Hoffmann.

Lovers of the recherché have flocked to see Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1951 Tales of Hoffmann at Film Forum, where it’s still showing for one more day. In a newly restored print, the film’s fantastical mise-en-scène and extravagant polychrome glory assault viewers head on for a hundred and thirty-three minutes. At each screening, Martin Scorsese introduces Hoffmann in a videotaped homily, during which he confesses to an “obsession” with the film, having first fallen for it, strangely enough, when it aired in black-and-white on Million Dollar Movie. Most critics rave or rant, or both, about this odd work. The amiable William Germano, the author of a smart, slim volume about the film for the British Film Institute, spoke at the screening I attended, and his was one of the more measured, sanguine appreciations: “Whatever Hoffmann was, there had never been a cinematic creation quite like this one.” Read More »

How to Write a Dance

February 4, 2015 | by

Remy Charlip and the problems of dance notation.

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“Flowering Trees,” a page from Remy Charlip’s Air Mail Dances.

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?
—W. B. Yeats

How do you tell a person in another place or time what a dance looks like, and how it should be performed? You could use words, describing, second by second, the movements made by every dancer on stage—but inaccuracies would creep in. Take an instruction as simple as “lower your arm”: How would the precise angle, attitude, and displacement of the arm be explained? As an algebraic vector? And what about the hand, the fingers, the knuckles, the rest of the dancer’s body—what are they doing? Such a method would come to resemble programming code, in which reams of language and symbols come to stand for something that’s supposed to look simple and elegant. The problem is that a dance is read by a human, not a machine.

What about images, then? You could reduce the dance to two dimensions, represented frame by frame, using diagrams and drawings. Yet even for a short sequence, you’d need so many! It would come to resemble a flip-book or an animated GIF, preempting the most efficient and simple method we’ve ever had to record dance: moving images, or film.

Before we had image-capturing technology, the need to preserve dance, as a record, gave way to attempts to write dance down. Dance notation, the symbolic representation of human movement, has developed into systems for making graphics recognizable as living movement. Traditional dance notation marks a path through space and a relationship to music. As Edward Tufte writes in Envisioning Information (1990), “Systems of dance notation translate human movements into signs transcribed onto flatland, permanently preserving the visual instant.” It’s a question of “how to reduce the magnificent four-dimensional reality of time and three-space into little marks on paper flatlands.” Dance never looks the same twice, unless it’s on film. Read More »


The Physics of Movement: An Interview with Santo Richard Loquasto

February 24, 2014 | by


A still from BAM’s On Set with Santo Loquasto: The Master Builder, 2013.

Santo Richard Loquasto has a big, easy smile, and an infectious enthusiasm for his work. Since his first production—Sticks and Bones, in 1972—he’s worked on some sixty-one Broadway productions, either as a scenic or costume designer, and often as both. His cunning sets and fanciful costumes have garnered him fifteen Tony Award nominations (he’s won three times), and he’s also won numerous Drama Desk Set Awards for Outstanding Set Design and Outstanding Costume Design. Loquasto is also known for his work in film—most notably with Woody Allen, with whom he’s worked for decades, most recently on Blue Jasmine. One afternoon last summer we met at the Margot Patisserie on the Upper West Side, where Loquasto talked about how he got his start, the demands of designing for dancers, and the downsides of his job.

What got you into costume design?

Well, it just always interested me as a kid. I grew up in Pennsylvania. Mine is the classic story of a teenager in the Poconos, painting summer-stock scenery because that’s what you do there. What I was really interested in was scenery and visuals. I was always creating the mise-en-scène in my backyard. The costumes were always part of it. I was interested in the scenery because in many ways it’s … well, I can’t say it’s more manageable, but it is, of course, because you don’t have to deal with people quite in the same way. People think of me as a costume designer, but in New York, the first things I did were scenery. I did a Sam Shepard one-act play off Broadway in 1970, and then worked for Joe Papp for many years. By that time, I was in grad school at Yale, concentrating on both scenery and costumes. I was designing costumes at Williamstown. When you don’t sew, you’re somewhat intimidated by that aspect of it. You’re lucky if you get to work with amazing people who make the costumes for you and with you.

I just raced from this little shop, Euroco Costumes, where I have the costumes designed for most of my dance projects. It’s two people, Janet Bloor and Werner Kulovitz. She’s brilliant at the stretch issues, and he is an amazing costume-maker of the grand school. Beautiful period cutting. I’ve only known him for about thirty years. You rely on the shorthand that develops between you and also what they bring to it, which is not only their expertise but also their passion. It’s very interesting—normally people who make costumes, who deal with the horrible deadlines and the issues of comfort and the egos of the performers, get sick of it. But I see them get excited by new projects and it’s exhilarating for all of us.

Can you talk to me about designing for Alexei Ratmansky’s The Tempest?

The Tempest you can approach in any number of ways, like most Shakespeare. I did a lot of Shakespeare in the Park in the seventies, both scenery and costumes, and for ten years, I worked in Stratford, Ontario, at the Shakespeare festival. I didn’t do The Tempest there, but I’ve dealt with the play. It was interesting to work with Ratmansky. For him, working on The Tempest is not like, say, Romeo and Juliet, which is so much more of a ballet vocabulary, both because of the great score, which so guides you, and because of his ballet background. Also, everyone knows the story so well. Whereas with our production of The Tempest, there is this much looser Sibelius score.

I follow the play, and I think you have to start there. As an interpreter, you have to follow the progression as Shakespeare laid it out, with your own understanding of where the words aren’t applicable to movement. You understand when Ferdinand and Miranda fall in love. You know what to do. There’s anger and rage and comedy. There was a debate at one point about losing the clowns, Trinculo and Stephano. I quietly fought to keep them. I said, their relationship to Caliban makes for a wonderful scene, and those things are in the structure to give us a breather, so it’s not just this man railing against everything.Read More »