Archive for the Dance Category

REIMAGINING ROMEO & JULIET

Posted in Dance on November 18, 2011 by Miranda Wilding

This article is written by KAREN KAIN at THE HUFFINGTON POST

Dancers, like all performing artists, like nothing better than to be challenged. And there’s no challenge greater or more exciting for them than to have a new ballet – especially a full length story work – set on them by an extraordinary choreographer.

It’s not just that it gets the creative adrenaline flowing, but it reaffirms for them the reason they became ballet artists in the first place — to bring to life emotions, ideas and characters and convey moods and themes through the medium of dance that will move an audience.

That challenge has been taking place over the past several weeks at the WALTER CARSEM CENTRE here in Toronto by the dancers of THE NATIONAL BALLET OF CANADA. In 2007, I asked ALEXEI RATMANSKY, Artist In Residence at AMERICAN BALLET THEATRE, if he would be interested in creating a new version of ROMEO & JULIET for our company.

I had long been a huge admirer of ALEXEI’S work and thought his sensibility and vision would be a perfect fit with our dancers and aesthetic goals. We had been dancing a version of ROMEO & JULIET since 1964 and while it had always been a mainstay of our repertoire and one of our most popular ballets, it was a work that cried out for rejuvenation, for a fresh interpretation. When ALEXEI said he’d love to work with us, I was thrilled, as were our dancers when it was announced.

When ALEXEI arrived to work with the dancers, he proved an ideal creative leader. No two choreographers are exactly alike in their temperaments or working methods and that uniqueness is also part of what makes the creation of a new work so exciting. ALEXEI turned out to have a natural rapport with our dancers and an extraordinary ability to make clear to the dancers not just the steps and movement, but his conception of the inner workings of the drama, what he wanted the ballet to be about.

It was gratifying to see how enthusiastically the dancers responded to ALEXEI’S vision, not just in choreographic terms (and there is a lot more dancing in this version than the old one) but in growing into and inhabiting the wealth of characters the ballet possesses, locating and bringing out their inner lives and emotions.

Needless to say, a new production involves more than the dancing. New sets and costumes had to be designed and created, which sent even more ripples of energy out through the company. Even a fresh marketing and public relations campaign had to be devised. Everyone became caught up in the enthusiasm of the project and you could feel the power of the project practically surge through our building. When the ballet opens at the FOUR SEASONS CENTRE FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS this week, it’s going to be an amazing moment. There’s nothing like the force and challenge of a new ballet to galvanize everyone involved in bringing it to life.

ROMEO & JULIET opened at THE FOUR SEASONS CENTRE FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS in Toronto on NOVEMBER 16, 2011 and runs until NOVEMBER 27, 2011.

For more information, please visit www.nationalballet.ca

FRENCH CHOREOGRAPHER ROLAND PETIT DIES AT 87

Posted in Dance on July 12, 2011 by Miranda Wilding



FROM THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Acclaimed choreographer ROLAND PETIT, whose creations dazzled stages from Paris to Hollywood and inspired dancers, writers and designers has died.

He was 87.

THE PARIS NATIONAL OPERA said Monsieur Petit’s wife ZIZI JEANMAIRE informed them that the choreographer died on Sunday in Geneva. No cause of death was given.

Ms. Jeanmaire, ballerina turned music hall performer who collaborated with her husband and their daughter VALENTINE, saluted Monsieur Petit as “not only a great innovator…but also an incomparable creator who marked and will mark all generations.”

ROLAND PETIT took his first dance steps aged nine at THE PARIS OPERA’S SCHOOL OF DANCE “and never truly left the house,” they said in a statement.

While opening several ballet companies in Paris after its liberation from occupying Nazis and the Marseille ballet house, Monsieur Petit maintained ties with PARIS OPERA, offering 11 creations, including NOTRE DAME DE PARIS.

His reputation grew well beyond France in the 1950s during a four year stint in Hollywood, collaborating with ORSON WELLES in THE LADY IN THE ICE (1953) and choreographing classics like DADDY LONG LEGS with FRED ASTAIRE and LESLIE CARON (1954) or ANYTHING GOES with BING CROSBY and ZIZI JEANMAIRE (1955).

Famed American dancer ALVIN AILEY said in 1970 that he owed everything to ROLAND PETIT.

French Culture Minister FREDERIC MITTERAND, paying tribute, said that some of his works brought together designers like YVES SAINT LAURENT for costumes, PICASSO for decor and writer/poet JACQUES PREVERT.

Notable pieces included CARMEN or LE JEUNE HOMME ET LA MORT (THE YOUNGMAN & DEATH). The latter was the stunning opening sequence – danced by MIKHAIL BARYSHNIKOV – from the 1985 film WHITE NIGHTS.

ROLAND PETIT choreographed for RUDOLF NUREYEV and MARGOT FONTEYN among other great dancers during an eclectic career that saw him spend six months at the head of THE PARIS OPERA in 1970 then moving to the CASINO DE PARIS for music hall creations until 1976. He then settled in Marseille and lent his name to the company in 1981, now known as NATIONAL BALLET OF MARSEILLE ROLAND PETIT.

In 1998, after 26 years there, he made a break, travelling the world to create new ballets or mount old works with the likes of THE SAN FRANCISCO BALLET, THE BOLSHOI in Moscow and LA SCALA in Milan.

DARREN ARONOFSKY TALKS BLACK SWAN

Posted in Dance, Film on January 9, 2011 by Miranda Wilding





This article is written by BRAD BALFOUR at THE HUFFINGTON POST

I saw BLACK SWAN for the third time last week. It’s still selling out early evening shows a month after its release. I’m not done with it yet. Every time the screen fades to white at the end I want to stand on my chair and applaud. It is such a brilliant exhilarating thrill ride.

DARREN ARONOFSKY is a genius…and I never say that lightly.

There are many wonderful performances (MILA, VINCENT, BARBARA) in this film. But NATALIE is just astonishing.

She has done a lot of fine work previously. But I knew intuitively that if she ever found the right role she could take it to the wall. I am tremendously proud of her. Decades from now, both she and DARREN will be remembered for BLACK SWAN.

And people that don’t have the depth or intellectual ability to appreciate great art? Well, they should just sit at home and eat pizza and watch cartoons.

Or something…

While there are many great films targeted for awards this season, the buzz film that stirs the most volatile emotional reaction has been BLACK SWANDARREN ARONOFSKY’S psychological suspense thriller.

The filmmaker is remarkably skilled at ratcheting up the psych out qualities of story ever since he made REQUIEM FOR A DREAM – his spellbinding film of horrific middle class drug addiction based on the late Hubert Selby’s book of the same name.

In BLACK SWAN, the finely tuned and sculpted NATALIE PORTMAN plays Nina, a ballerina so tightly wound and dance obsessed – with a helicopter hovering stage mother Erica (BARBARA HERSHEY) – that the pressure to be the best is literally driving her crazy.

It doesn’t help that her artistic director Thomas Leroy – played brilliantly by VINCENT CASSEL – is pressuring her both psychologically and sexually. The former prima ballerina is being forced into retirement and Nina is up for her crowning role – that of the lead in SWAN LAKE. Thomas Leroy feels she makes a great WHITE SWAN – timid and virginal – but has trouble transforming into her dark alter ego, the sexy and passionate BLACK SWAN.

Determined to get the part and keep her understudy Lily (MILA KUNIS) from taking it away because of her erotic ease, she begins a slow descent into madness as she fights to keep her star on the door.

Recently DARREN ARONOFSKY made a stop at The Apple Store where he discussed BLACK SWAN and his earlier films. Drawing on excerpts from that conversation, here’s a look into the mind of the man who made one of the most visually provocative films of the year, a multiple GOLDEN GLOBE contender and likely OSCAR candidate – especially for NATALIE’S phenomenal performance.

THE ORIGINS OF BLACK SWAN

I made it because people think of ballet and think of sugar plum fairies and The Nutcracker. But actually if you look at SWAN LAKE, ROMEO & JULIET and SLEEPING BEAUTY – three of the other [big] ones – they’re actually pretty dark and gothic and based on these sorts of ancient fairy tales.

The more we looked at SWAN LAKE and actually peeled away the beauty [that became apparent]. I remember talking to JULIE KENT, the principal dancer at ABT and said, “Let me get this straight. She’s under this spell and during the day she’s a swan and at night she’s…What?” because I thought she was a girl.

She said, “She’s half girl, half swan,” and I realized. “Oh, it’s a werewolf movie.”

Except it’s a werewolf/swan film and I was going to be able to take NATALIE PORTMAN – this beautiful delicate creature – and turn her into something. So in turning a ballet into a movie you can suddenly start to do stuff like that.

And very much the movie is the ballet.

My composer CLINT MANSELL took TCHAIKOVSKY and sort of put it through the twisted filter of his brain and his electronic equipment. Then we rerecorded it with a real live orchestra in London and turned it into something that is the score of SWAN LAKE. But it’s something very very different. Like that music that you just heard, a lot of those ideas are from TCHAIKOVSKY, but through the brilliance of CLINT MANSELL.

That music’s been in the public domain now for a hundred years and it’s been underneath every Volkswagen and BUGS BUNNY cartoon…and so I think people associate a lot of those themes with a lot of different things. So the idea was to take the music and make it darker and meaner, and ultimately, ballet music’s written for ballet, so it’s very hysterical and it goes up and down and up and down.

Movies definitely have a more consistent moody atmosphere that you have to maintain over a longer amount of time…and so part of the challenge is how to take some of the themes and ideas and turn it into a longer piece. The whole film is actually inspired by TCHAIKOVSKY.

There’s a whole club sequence where they go dancing, a pretty freaky sequence, and what we did is we went to the best of electronic musicians in the world from THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS to a bunch of other guys and gals and gave them different pieces of SWAN LAKE and said, “OK, now turn this into a contemporary dance electronic track.”

So that’s how we got that music.

I think audiences are interested in worlds that don’t get exposed that much, because there’s a whole world there. When we were doing THE WRESTLER everyone was like, “Why are you making a film about wrestling? No one cares about wrestling.” But once we went behind the curtain everyone was like “Oh, those big muscular guys actually have feelings.” So the ballet world was a similar challenge.

HIS SISTER’S INPUT

My sister was a dancer growing up and she was very talented…and so it was sort of in the background for my whole youth but I never knew anything about it. Then when I graduated from film school I made a list of possible worlds to explore – and one of them was wrestling and one of them was ballet. And then we just started working on it and it just came more and more alive the more we looked into it.

But I don’t think I even had a conversation with her during the research part of it because she left it when she was in high school and definitely turned her back on it. I did show her the film when it was getting close to being finished to get some feedback from a dancer.

She was very supportive but she’s so far from being a dancer at this point. She’s a producer now for CBS News so she’s in the media, so she was looking at it more as a filmmaker than as a dancer. So she wasn’t that instrumental. But growing up with that in the background and not knowing anything about it, I guess I always wanted to know what it was all about.

When you look at ballet it’s like when you first hear reggae music: everything sounds exactly the same. But the more you listen to it the more you realize there’s a lot of depth and a lot of complexity to it…and the same with ballet. The more you look at it the more interesting it becomes.

TORTURING NATALIE PORTMAN

I tortured her character. Her character was tortured in the film. But NATALIE is very very together, very disciplined, very hard working…and she probably tortured herself a lot. She started training about a year before the movie started. I mean that’s a tall order to ask someone to become a ballet dancer, a prima ballerina.

When I asked MICKEY ROURKE to become a wrestler probably most of us in three or four months could do a decent job. Learning how to be a great ballet dancer is 20 years minimum, so it was a tall order. But NATALIE trained for a year five hours a day and then eight hours a day when we got closer – and did a pretty damn convincing job. I think ballet dancers of course will see through the illusion – and people in the ballet world – but they’ll be so impressed with how hard she’s trying that they’ll give her a break. But for most people that don’t stare at ballet all the time, it’s a pretty convincing illusion.

She trained from four to 13. So that helped a little bit with her turnout and her hyperextension and stuff, so she could do a lot. Ballet dancers start training when they’re four or five and their bodies literally change. If you ever see a ballet dancer walking you can tell a mile away they’ve got a huge turnout on their legs. Their bones shift in their bodies. So it’s a pretty hard thing to mimic.

She was pretty solid throughout. There was maybe one day when I changed the choreography on her, which was a really kind of fucked up thing to do, but the choreography wasn’t working for the shot so we had to kind of change it. We made it simpler but I think it was also psychologically hard when you’ve practiced something for a long time to bring another thing in. And by then we were deep in it, she was pretty exhausted. So that was tough. But she was solid the whole film, she was a total trooper and it was unbelievably difficult.

She had an MRI during the shooting because she hit her head during one scene and she actually got a twisted rib, which sounds not that bad but it was stuck under another rib. She actually gets physical therapy in the film and that’s a real physical therapist. That’s not an actress. That was her therapist actually digging into her and it’s pretty gruesome and intense. So I think it was very very tough on her. But she’s a tough girl.

GETTING IT MADE

It was really hard to make. When we made THE WRESTLER, everyone was like, “What the fuck are you doing? Mickey Rourke wrestling? You’re out of your mind,” and one company in the world gave us the money to do the film.

And then after it did pretty well and people liked it I thought, “OK, I’ve got a movie star, Natalie Portman, an international movie star, Vincent Cassel, I’ve got Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey and Winona Ryder. It’s a sexy psychological horror film set in the ballet world and that’s kind of cool.”

And everyone said no and it was a real nightmare once again to get the money. It was probably harder to make than THE WRESTLER to find the money to do it.

You get no respect. You only get respect if you do something that’s commercial – that people want to see. That’s the only time you get respect. Otherwise, you’re the only person in the room trying to make the movie and it’s just a challenge.

TECHNICAL ISSUES

There were many. First of all, we were putting on an actual professional looking ballet. So that was a technical challenge to actually make a stage come alive like a ballet and then figuring out how to photograph it.

And ballet, just like wrestling…

Wrestling you probably have always seen with a wide shot and two shots on the side like the WWE does it, but I wanted to bring the camera in the ring like many boxing movies have. We did the same thing with the ballet.

We took the camera out of the wings and got it on stage to capture the energy of it. It’s great. After a lot of these screenings we get some doofus saying, “I never thought I’d love ballet, man. That was great.” And that’s great because we wanted to capture the energy, the effort, the pain and the tears of how hard it is. That was exciting and fun to do.

REFLECTIONS & MIRRORS

We always knew the mirror was going to be a big part of the character in the film and a big visual look in the film for several reasons. Any ballet studio is filled with mirrors and dancers are always looking at their reflections to see their line and to see where they are standing in three dimensional space…and also because the film has this whole theme of being replaced and the doppelganger and reflections.

But it was a big challenge because the mirror effect is like the oldest, cheesiest horror effect in the world. You’re standing in front of the medicine cabinet, you reach inside to get some tooth paste, you shut it and then “Ahh,” and everyone’s scared.

We didn’t really want to do that. We wanted to try and do something different. So we really pushed it and we worked a lot with digital effects and put the camera in places that aren’t possible for a camera to be – and also worked with a lot of one way mirrors and did a lot of tricks. We knew we were doing a lot of cheap scares because I think people enjoy them and that will be part of the reason people will come to see the movie is just to jump, but we just wanted to try and surprise people as best we could.

INFLUENCES

[There’s] a lot of early Roman Polanski – REPULSION and THE TENANT were big influences. Even the Dardennes brothers, who really inspired THE WRESTLER, who are these Belgian filmmakers who did a film called THE SON & THE CHILD. Great filmmakers. Their immediacy helped. And of course, a lot of documentaries: FREDERICK WISEMAN did a couple of documentaries on ballet that definitely gave us a reality check.

THE RED SHOES

I had heard of THE RED SHOES but I didn’t see it until THE HOLLYWOOD FOREIGN PRESS and MARTIN SCORSESE restoration started to happen and then I was like, “I’d better watch this movie.” But we were really down the road and there are a lot of similarities between the two films, but I think that’s because they’re both set in the ballet world and not much has changed.

LOOKING AT THE FIRST CUT

That actually is a suicidal moment.

I’ve talked to many filmmakers and probably the worst day of filmmaking is when you see the assemblage because you think you’ve done such better work and it’s crap. It’s crap for a lot of reasons because you just haven’t started to shape it and you realize how far you have to go. Because you normally see the assemblage like a couple of weeks after you finish shooting because the editing team has been assembling it. And I have a great editor – it has nothing to do with my editor – but it’s still really depressing until you really get in there and get to know the footage and own it.

There’s so much finishing work. There’s so much sound work that has to happen and music work. When it’s bare and naked and 40 minutes too long it’s really, really, really upsetting. So all you filmmakers out there keep on going through the assemblage and just try to ignore it. But I always get drunk the night of the assemblage otherwise I’m miserable for two, three days.

The hardest is when I did REQUIEM FOR A DREAM because that was cut such a different way and it was the first time I’d worked with that editor – who’s a brilliant editor – but he had no idea. He was just confused why there were no master shots and so he was trying to make up for that.

He thought I was out of my mind and it just didn’t work.

I was like “No, no, no. You don’t have to start the scene with a master shot. You can start on a close up. That’s the idea.”

So that was a disastrous day.

THE FOUNTAIN

Well, you’ve got to pay attention. I don’t know.

That was a very interesting one because the people who really get it really get it; the people who hate it really hate it. More than any film that’s the film that people get the deepest connections. And the same thing with HUGH JACKMAN.

He’s like: “Those fountain things are creepy, man. They follow me around and stuff.”

It’s got this kind of underground following that seems to be growing as time goes by so it’s cool. We were trying to make a film that was a mystery and that would hopefully be something people would look back on over the years, so hopefully that will happen. Tone is a really hard thing about what’s the mainstream feeling for it.

None of my films have had to figure that out. They’ve all been for specific audiences and they’ve been able to survive that way. The fork and the staple gun in THE WRESTLER meant a lot of people in THE ACADEMY turned it off at that point or walked out of the theatre and there are consequences. But the film needed that because he has to have a heart attack.

There’s a similar line in BLACK SWAN: How far can you go? My take is there are no limitations. Just go for it every time…and that is often a bit too extreme for some people.

In the case of THE FOUNTAIN it was like let’s make this an enigma that is figure outable and is actually not that complicated but is kind of fun to work on. But it definitely means certain people who are spoon fed stuff a lot and expect that when they go to the cinema aren’t going to go for it.

It’s a consequence.

All these films are a little bit of a Luddite. THE FOUNTAIN was like please come to terms with your death. It’s OK to die. And yet people are fighting so fucking hard to stay young and stay alive and ignoring the impact that that’s going to have on us and the planet and all that stuff.

Maybe growing old is part of life, which in other cultures is really respected and honoured and is a whole part of our philosophy we kind of shut off. It feels like all these body modifications are all about ignoring anything that’s really connected. Yet I’ll be the first one to stick my iPod in my shoulder as soon as we can. As long as it’s over eight gigs.

REQUIEM FOR A DREAM

We did a Blu ray version of REQUIEM and I didn’t really get that involved. I was busy working on this. But my team remixed it and remastered it and stuff…and they went back to the negative and made sure it looked right.

At the end they asked me to take a look at it which I did and I couldn’t recognize the man or the young boy that had made that. I was like: “That is not me. I don’t know the person that made that film. I cannot make that film today.”

It’s really important to let it go. It’s nice when people compliment [me for] those things because it represents something of who I was back then, but I don’t know if any of that exists. It’s just sort of gone and you let it go and you just try to keep making new work.

It’s like an exhale. But lots of them happened a long time ago. It represents what I was thinking about at the time but they’re very distant. When a film happens, it’s like having a kid and the kid’s finally gone out of the house. You have a relationship but it’s sort of gone.

AFRAID OF FAILURE

Of course I’m afraid of it. Every single film I’ve done so far everyone’s said no to. So there’s a little fuck you attitude. Just like I’m going to fucking do it. There’s a little punk attitude to it.

It’s kind of like if I were at a black jack table every single time I’ve let it ride, I double down. Like PI to REQUIEM was a double down. REQUIEM to THE FOUNTAIN was a double down. Some people would say they took all my chips.

Doing MICKEY ROURKE with THE WRESTLER and then going to a ballet movie was the same thing.

But if you fail you might as well fail miserably.

BLACK SWAN: THE PERILS OF PERFECTION

Posted in Dance, Film on December 21, 2010 by Miranda Wilding





This article is written by JORDAN ZAKARIN, ASSOCIATE ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR for THE HUFFINGTON POST

NATALIE PORTMAN’S and MILA KUNIS’ strong acting brought GOLDEN GLOBE nominations and OSCAR buzz to their new film BLACK SWAN, but more importantly, the pair’s grinding, slavish devotion to training for their roles as top ballerinas is bringing to light the pressure and constant paranoia that real life dancers so often face in pursuit of the art.

Ignore the chatter about their love scene and you’ll hear NATALIE and MILA discussing the gruelling work they put into both learning the required dance moves and getting into typical dancing shape. And on screen? You witness the dark passage in pursuit of perfection that Ms. Portman’s character travels down.

NATALIE said she trained for five to eight hours a day, every day, for an entire year. MILA got one day off – her birthday – during three nonstop months of training and filming. Each actor lost twenty pounds and the results were obvious: NATALIE at times appears skeletal in her leotard, while MILA has never looked thinner.

Think that’s extreme? Try being a real dancer.

Beginning in early childhood, ballet and contemporary dancers devote their lives to the art. But when they’re not performing, dance is less an art than extreme sport, with oftentimes unrealistic expectations, driving dancers to their physical and mental limits…and beyond. The result, far too often, is a loss of an inner self that few outsiders can see.

NATALIE is seen purging what little food she eats – salad she nibbles, her own birthday cake that she rejects – and it’s not an uncommon occurrence amongst dancers. In 2006, the International Journal of Eating Disorders found that 83% of ballet dancers have some sort of eating disorder. But even more prevalent is the mental impact on dancers.

At a young age, TAYLOR GORDON has seen it all. A freelance dancer, TAYLOR is a 22 year old pirouetting blaze of energy, accomplishment and aspiration. For the past two years, she featured in THE RADIO CITY CHRISTMAS SPECTACULAR, logging 17 shows a week as a member of the constantly moving ensemble. All that in addition to working with other dance companies, taking several classes a day, running a prominent blog…oh, and earning both her undergrad and graduate degrees. Suffice to say, she’s known a lot of dancers in her life.

“I think overwork and depression have been issues I’ve noticed even more than eating disorders, including in myself. It’s like, I just can’t take enough classes, I just want to be so good and you get to a point that you’re taking 3 or 4 classes a day and you’re getting worse because you’re so tired.”

And, for them, getting worse is not an option.

“You’re never perfect. That’s the thing about Natalie Portman. She’s constantly searching for this perfection and there’s never perfection. And we’re constantly striving for that and that just keeps the work piling up.”

And just like NATALIE PORTMAN’S character NINA, she’s seen the work consume people.

“It’s really hard to have that perspective when it’s so much about you, it’s so much about your physicality and its a huge part of yourself,” TAYLOR admitted, not excluding herself from the discussion.

“Your whole self image is ballet. It’s a very narrow minded profession…Your whole world is about ballet and if you have a bad class or don’t get that part, your whole world comes crashing down.”

EVAN NAMEROW, a former dancer turned well known blogger (she writes DancingPerfectlyFree.com) and marketing director of GALLIM DANCE, echoed that problem of confused self image.

“I think Black Swan showed how the internal dance conversation that Natalie’s character had with herself literally bled into the rest of her life. There was no separation between personal and professional and her quest for artistic perfection crushed any other interests in her life. To a certain extent, professional dancers spend so much time on stage or in rehearsal – and so much time with other dancers – that the distinction between personal and professional is blurred.”

But while dancers often have type A personalities, the sheer lack of productions to dance in and companies to dance for make their fears very real. And overly strict coaches and directors don’t help.

In BLACK SWAN, VINCENT CASSEL plays a domineering director that squeezes the best – and the life – out of NATALIE. They’re ruthless, too, often treating dancers as expendable pawns.

“Nothing’s ever stable in ballet. Even if you have a job in a top company, it’s not guaranteed for next year,” TAYLOR lamented.

“Someone is coming up that is better than you and you’re over, you’re done…and because of that you’re fighting and fighting, no matter how good, how skinny you are, you’re constantly in a fight with yourself.”

While BLACK SWAN occurs on the professional stage, EVAN NAMEROW thinks the paranoia comes from a far deeper place.

“At any age, pressure in the dance world can come from teachers, directors, other dancers or parents, but ultimately I think the pressure is from oneself. The desire to be flawless might be rooted in a comment from a teacher or a casual remark from another dancer, but that can linger for so long that a dancer converts it to self criticism and then self pressure.”

Of course, it doesn’t just happen because of in studio stressors. It’s a lifestyle that dancers commit to and the outside world can have just as great an impact.

“Dancers make countless sacrifices from a very young age, whether it is moving away from home to study at a prestigious school and therefore giving up a real childhood,” EVAN told me, adding that other smaller yet still devastating sacrifices included “abandoning other interests in order to focus solely on dance, or putting friendships or relationships on the back burner during a busy performance season.”

TAYLOR GORDON confirmed this. She said she “knew [she] was going to be a professional at six years old.”

However, it’s that lifetime dedication and commitment that answers the question I’ve implicitly begged: Why pursue ballet, if it’s such a punishing, taxing and sometimes, in unhealthy environments, damaging pastime?

Like all art, it comes down to self expression – a way of communicating one’s self in such a restrictive world.

“For me, dancing was an incredibly unique form of self expression. Without speaking, the body becomes a focal point and its movement is entirely open to interpretation,” EVAN said.

“In a way it’s more subtle than singing or acting. Although it can be a collaborative effort or something shown to an audience, I often feel like dancing is an ongoing conversation with myself – both mind and body.”

So, how do we balance the sacrifices we see in BLACK SWAN and the very real and vital outlet for self expression that dance provides? Can we find a way to manage the universal giving of one’s self that all artists go through, without fostering crisis in those who so often give everything to the art?

To TAYLOR GORDON, it’s all about awareness, an understanding between the dance world and the greater audience.

“I think that from an outside perspective, people really think of ballet as pink tutus and sparkles and sugar plums and it really is not…I think it’s good for people to understand that we’re fighting so hard for what we love, because it makes it more relatable instead of being an elite art form that no one knows much about…and that’s how the art form dies. People don’t appreciate it or don’t relate to it.”

Let’s hope BLACK SWAN can start that conversation, for dancers and all the new ballet fans it creates.

ASHLEY BOUDER (OF THE NEW YORK CITY BALLET) DIGS BLACK SWAN

Posted in Dance, Film on December 3, 2010 by Miranda Wilding





This article is written by ASHLEY BOUDER at THE HUFFINGTON POST

BLACK SWAN, the hot new topic in the dance world, has finally had its premiere in New York.

Surrounded by controversy and filled with numerous ballet dancer clichés, there seems to be a lively ongoing debate. I’ve talked to those who were offended by it and those who loved it. I fall into the latter category.

I thought it was absolutely awesome.

We all know those stereotypes of the ballet world: the stage mom, the anorexic or bulimic, the other ballerina out to get your roles, the obsessive perfectionist etc. They are all represented in this movie to an extreme level. But all these things don’t bother me. That is not what the movie is about.

This is a psychological thriller about a delusional girl. This is no one’s ballet movie. Yes, the main character is a ballerina. But this is about her mind more than anything else. It is hard to tell what the reality is and what she is seeing. It truly sets your head spinning.

On the other hand, this movie and particularly the press that goes with it, such as the actor interviews, have given the ballet world much hype lately. And for the most part this is fantastic. I particularly like what NATALIE PORTMAN has been saying – especially concerning her injuries. I thought, If you only knew the list of pains I have every morning and the list of injuries I’ve had in my career!”

I’ve had surgery on one ankle, numerous injections in the other, pulled calves, tears in both hips and a slipped disc in my back just for starters.

The physicality of this profession is incredible, but it is above all else a form of art. And BLACK SWAN touches on that so well. Don’t get me wrong. We ballerinas, each and every one of us, are perfectionists. But to be too much that way can be a handicap and, in its own extreme sense of purpose, BLACK SWAN nails it.

There is a freedom that comes with letting go and being on stage. As in life, you can’t be serious all the time. In ballet you train, practice and obsess if only to be able to live on stage. I tell people that there have been some performances where I have never felt so alive in my life. The freedom that comes with that – the freedom to transcend and become what you want – is indescribable.

But only if you can let go.

In an interview, NATALIE, whose character in BLACK SWAN is bulimic, touches on another hotbed issue. Particularly in light of the most recent NEW YORK CITY BALLET NUTCRACKER review from ALISTAIR MACAULAY of THE NEW YORK TIMES. Yes, I’m talking about the infamous weight comments.

It is no secret that many dancers have body image issues. Is it not enough that we hear weight comments from colleagues, coaches, teachers and directors? Do we have to read them in the newspaper? Especially one that is so popular throughout the world. Whether or not a performing ballet dancer is thin enough for one’s taste, those comments do not have to be printed for the world to see.

It is just plain mean. Thank you Ms. Portman for sticking up for ballet dancers.

So I guess I’m encouraging you to go see BLACK SWAN. At its worst the movie is a bunch of horribly overdone clichés. But at its best, where I see it, the movie is a version of real issues taken to an extreme level to prove a point.

I won’t ruin it for you by telling. But I hope you walk away from the movie…keeping the point in mind.

I did.

BLACK SWAN: NATALIE PORTMAN’S INTRICATE COUTURE COSTUMES

Posted in Dance, Film, Glamour on October 28, 2010 by Miranda Wilding

NATALIE PORTMAN may have glided with ease across the stage for her role as a prima ballerina in the upcoming ballet thriller BLACK SWAN, but it turns out that it was the team behind her tutus that were put to the real challenge.

While becoming the first fashion designers to receive a National Art Award from Americans For The Arts recently, RODARTE’S Laura and Kate Mulleavy explained to nymag.com the challenges of creating the intricate costumes for the film.

“A tutu is 13 layers of tulle sticking straight out and then it’s over the body, so you can imagine. It’s crazy!” said Laura, who had only seen a ballet costume up close once before the film.

The sister act was introduced to the film’s director DARREN ARONOFSKY by NATALIE – a long time RODARTE lover – and after that, were brought on board to create looks for the film’s SWAN LAKE performance.

“Building a tutu is one of the lost arts. Everyone will know it’s like getting your hand on the prize, like a coveted piece of couture that no one ever gets to see,” Laura explained.

“You can’t go rent a tutu. You have to own it.”

“They’re never actually perfect. But from afar, when you’re in the audience, it looks like one of the most beautiful things in the world.”

MATTHEW BOURNE’S SWAN LAKE: A FRESH TAKE ON A BELOVED CLASSIC

Posted in Dance, Theatre on October 18, 2010 by Miranda Wilding


FROM THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

In the imagery of classical dance, the swan is innocence personified. It is ethereal. It floats, it flutters, it wobbles and it dies — ever so delicately.

The swan does not have rippling biceps or chest hair. It does not have 10 pack abs. It does not thunder. It does not hiss.

Unless, of course, we’re in Matthew Bourne’s world. And what a mesmerizing place that is.

More than a decade after Mr. Bourne’s eye popping troupe of male swans first hit New York in his reimagined SWAN LAKE, winning three TONY AWARDS, the production returned Sunday for a nearly four week run at CITY CENTER.

And it should not be missed.

Call it theatre, dance or something perched happily in between, the return of MATTHEW BOURNE’S SWAN LAKE is a chance for those who didn’t catch it in 1998 to see what kind of life a fertile mind can breathe into a century old classic, exposing it to audiences who might never dream of entering an opera house.

It’s also a chance to dispel some myths about the show that may still exist even as it has become a classic in its own right, with runs in London’s West End and on Broadway, touring productions world wide and even a reference in the final scene of the movie BILLY ELLIOT, when Billy grows up to perform as — you guessed it — a Bourne swan.

This is not, for example, an all male production of SWAN LAKE, with men in tutus taking over female roles.

Women play women…and men play men.

It’s also not really about being gay.

Yes, the young prince falls in love with a male swan. But the themes here are much broader: It’s essentially about a search for connection and a yearning to belong somewhere…and that universal experience of wanting what we can not have.

All that yearning belongs to the Prince, played here with a thoroughly winning vulnerability by the boyish Dominic North (alternating in the role with Simon Williams).

It’s not hard to sympathize with this young man, who is confined to a life of royal drudgery — ship christenings, statue unveilings and the like — with a mother who is incapable of affection, unless it’s of a sexual nature.

As the curtain rises and the lush Tchaikovsky score begins (the music is taped in this production) the prince is sleeping uneasily, a stuffed toy swan in his arms. His mother enters his room to check on him: She refuses his outstretched arms.

Briefly, the subject of his dreams — or are they nightmares? — appears above his bed: a swan, majestic and menacing.

But these creatures will not fully appear until later in the show, when the prince, having been tossed out of a divey disco (you wouldn’t think it would be easy to stage a disco scene to Tchaikovsky, complete with an Elvis impersonator, but Matthew Bourne does it) and now in utter despair, heads to a park at the edge of a lake. He writes a suicide note and prepares to jump.

And then there they are…

Matthew Bourne’s barechested creatures, in their satyr like costumes by Lez Brotherston, emerge from the water with soaring leaps, muscular yet graceful, dangerous and alluring at the same time. Mr. Bourne has found ways for his birds to flap their arms and jerk their heads and necks in a manner that seems much more swanlike than their idealized ballet versions.

As their leader, Richard Winsor (alternating with Jonathan Ollivier) is not only a stellar dancer but charismatic, with a penetrating stare under those black lined eyes and the black strip coming down his forehead. Later, at the Royal Ball, he resembles an androgynous rock star in black leather pants and wielding a riding crop as The Stranger. It is the human incarnation of his swan, the manipulative Odile to his first act Odette. It’s easy to see why he makes both men and women swoon.

Like so many of the other performers, Richard Winsor is an actor as well as a dancer. There is no actual dialogue in this SWAN LAKE but there is certainly acting – and not merely the canned dance acting facial expressions one sees in so many story ballets.

Particularly fine on the comic side is Madelaine Brennan as the kooky, bubble headed lass who tries to lure the prince. And Nina Goldman is a chillingly effective Queen.

The costumes are first rate, too. Check out the Queen’s stunning red ball gown covered by a black cape. It’s worthy of a red carpet appearance.

Of course, things never turn out happily in SWAN LAKE for either prince or swan — not in the original and not certainly not here. Though Matthew Bourne has made many changes in the plot and has tweaked the production, he says, to this day, the end is still sadly the same: Only in death can a prince and the swan he loves finally be together.

MATTHEW BOURNE’S SWAN LAKE, a New Adventures production, runs through NOVEMBER 7.

THE RED SHOES: A LUXURIOUS MODERN MIRACLE

Posted in Dance, Film on August 1, 2010 by Miranda Wilding

FROM ARTFORUM

I actually attended a screening of THE RED SHOES earlier this summer. It was one of the most memorable cinematic experiences of my life.

It overwhelms you with its incredible timeless beauty.

A woman’s gloved hand turns the pages of a program, along with her male companion.

The camera assumes their point of view.

With this brilliant segue, directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger signal that we, the film audience, are these stylish patrons.

Placed squarely in the theatre, we begin our transition from watching THE RED SHOES (1948) the movie to watching The Red Shoes the ballet.

This gesture and its promise of a static, total vantage proves deceiving, as the astonishing fifteen minute dance that follows immediately transports us to a place far beyond the proscenium arch.

Propelled by the dreamlike cinematography of JACK CARDIFF and production designs of painter HEIN HECKROTH, the ballet becomes a protopsychedelic projection of the desires and conflicts of its prima ballerina VICTORIA PAGE (MOIRA SHEARER).

She must choose between the love of a man, composer Julian Craster (Marius Goring) and the love of her art, embodied by ballet impresario Boris Lermontov (ANTON WALLBROOK) – partnering with both in her mind’s eye and in that of the camera.

And still the red shoes dance on, threatening to send VICKY leaping to her death (both on and off the stage).

The affectation of Powell and Pressburger’s metadrama has long been a point of contention, as if ballet is somehow cheapened by the impossible staging and miraculous tricks of the eye and cinema likewise is insulted by the cultural pretensions of ballet.

But it is this hallucinatory magic made possible by the marriage of the two arts, in conjunction with the film’s portrayal of the grinding banalities of work (for the dancers are right back in rehearsal the next morning) that makes THE RED SHOES true to the experience of creation.

What is art if not part magic, part incessant striving?

A newly restored version of THE RED SHOES is now available on DVD and BluRay from THE CRITERION COLLECTION.

TAYLOR GORDON CHASES DOWN HER DREAM

Posted in Dance on July 19, 2010 by Miranda Wilding

This article is written by CLAUDIA LA ROCCO at THE NEW YORK TIMES

TAYLOR GORDON thought she might have a heart attack as she sprinted from RADIO CITY to THE AILEY CITIGROUP THEATER.

“I was literally shoving tourists out of the way,” said the diminutive Ms. Gordon, who looks like a high school student.

Welcome to the life of a New York freelance dancer.

On that November afternoon she was racing from the Christmas Spectacular to Ninth Avenue, where she was assisting the Ailey Extension teacher Kat Wildish’s student performances. In a city made for multitaskers, Ms. Gordon fits in all too well.

Just 21, she has been living her dream of dancing in New York for five years, with the first two also spent training 30 hours a week at Ballet Academy East on the Upper East Side, getting a bachelor’s degree in communication arts and a master’s in publishing and working in internships at magazines like THE NEW YORKER and Pointe.

She landed the RADIO CITY job (too short at 5’3″ to be a Rockette, she danced in the ensemble) during her final semester of graduate school in 2008. The grueling schedule included quadruple show days.

“Now, thinking back, I don’t know how I did this,” said Ms. Gordon, who finished her studies at Marymount Manhattan College in January 2008 and her graduate program at Pace University the next December. She laughed, shaking her head.

“At the time it was like, ‘Why wouldn’t I do this?’ ”

There may come a time when Ms. Gordon regards her career as a freelance ballet dancer with the same incredulity. The demands of professional dancing are punishing for even those who belong to full time companies, where dancers have salaried positions and access to classes, physical therapy and coaching.

A season spent shadowing Ms. Gordon revealed a city teeming with freelancers who scrap for every opportunity, endure dispiriting cattle call auditions and struggle through injuries, often without health insurance. They must find and pay for technique classes themselves (as well as expenses like pointe shoes). And, of course, they have to cover the rent.

“Those of us lucky enough to be in a company for a long period of time cannot fully appreciate the rigors of that lifestyle,” said Judith Fugate, a former principal with NEW YORK CITY BALLET who, with Medhi Bahiri, directs the troupe BALLET NY, which they formed in part to give opportunities to freelancers.

“But this is the place to be if you’re a dancer in this country and it’s why so many people gravitate here, especially for ballet.”

(Ms. Gordon auditioned for the company last month but didn’t make it; Ms. Fugate was seeking older dancers, though she said Ms. Gordon “has all the attributes of a good ballerina.”)

Ms. Gordon knows these rigours well.

She pays $1,200 a month for a glorified walk in closet near Lincoln Center; the kitchenless room is something of a ballet shrine, packed with dance books, photographs of performances and clusters of used toe shoes. (Ms. Gordon has never thrown a pair out.) She made roughly $25,000 from dance last year, mostly from RADIO CITY, a union job that also provides health insurance (she is in physical therapy for bursitis in one ankle), a godsend for freelance dancers.

The grind of auditions and stress of an uncertain future overwhelm her at times. But there are also great highs for Ms. Gordon, who grew up in Milford, Massachusetts, dancing at her family’s studio from the time she was 2 and later at the Boston Ballet school.

Her mother Tracey Wright recalls taking her to see the company’s Nutcracker when she was 4. Her daughter calmly announced, “I’m going to do that.”

And she has. Here are snapshots from Ms. Gordon’s past season:

OCTOBER 27 Ms. Gordon was engulfed in a roly poly bear costume. Only her head, with its big eyes and sweep of dark hair, was visible. Her feet, clad in pointe shoes, seemed incongruously delicate.

It was Week 3 of the intense RADIO CITY rehearsal period. The cast was practicing the Nutcracker scene and Ms. Gordon, one of the Ballerina Bears, had to execute fouettés while compensating for the unwieldy suit and, once she donned the bear head, poor visibility.

“Nobody said it was easy,” Matt Clemons the assistant director said, holding forth on the Zen Bear attitude.

“Believe it or not, if you smile in your bear head, it makes it better. The Rockettes are the stars. But you are the heart and soul of the show.”

Exiting the studio, the dancers dropped their focused miens, complaining of aching shoulders and of legs that “feel like cardboard.”

Ms. Gordon’s bursitis had flared up, but she was clearly delighted to return to RADIO CITY, with several months of salary ahead.

“I haven’t had that relief in a while,” she said. (Auditions for 2010 were in May; she hasn’t yet learned her fate.)

DECEMBER 5 Ms. Gordon’s parents, maternal grandfather and step grandmother clustered inside a packed Starbucks near Rockefeller Center. Her family had travelled from Massachusetts to see her dance at Radio City; her mother brought her dance students last year.

“They were like, ‘Wow, she’s a star,’ ” Ms. Wright said. “We were crying; just the magnitude of it all.”

On that big stage Ms. Gordon does indeed seem the star, skating through tightly choreographed group numbers with aplomb. The gig, she said, “is a dream come true I didn’t even know I had,” validation that she could actually make it as a professional dancer.

“In our small town people don’t venture out,” Ms. Gordon said. When she left at 15 to study at The Rock School in Philadelphia, “it shook the whole town.”

Her mother sighed over the play dates and Halloweens that Ms. Gordon passed up, but her daughter only shrugged.

“That’s when you make the choice: Are you willing to give up everything you have for this? There was no question for me.”

JANUARY 6 There’s no stoicism like that of an auditioning dancer. Ms. Gordon’s tryout for the METROPOLITAN OPERA BALLET consisted of lots of waiting, performing for 72 seconds and a better luck next time speech.

“I did my best,” she said, filing out of the cinderblock room.

“On to the next one.”

JANUARY 30 Ms. Gordon was one of several women rehearsing with Exit 12 Dance at the Battery Dance studio in TriBeCa, part of an informal audition process.

“I just want to see how strong you are on pointe,” the artistic director Roman Baca said.

“Really no pressure.”

Right.

Ms. Gordon’s poker face stayed firmly in place as she learned phrases from La Bayadère and Homecoming, a work based on Mr. Baca’s military service in Fallujah, Iraq.

“She’s definitely one of the more professional dancers we’ve seen in a while,” he commented during a break.

Ms. Gordon would eventually land the job (over 70 dancers responded to his on line posting; 30 auditioned) and is to perform with the troupe next Friday through Sunday.

FEBRUARY 11 The choreographer Rebecca Kelly’s SoHo loft was a hub of activity before an improvised fashion show to benefit her ballet company. Ms. Gordon sat on a couch, surrounded by racks of costumes, applying heavy eye makeup with another dancer Allie Schwartz.

“I don’t want to stay out there too long,” Ms. Gordon remarked, laughing and gesturing to the catwalk, “because I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Strutting sexily did not come naturally to the quiet, introspective Ms. Gordon. But she was game, plunging into angled arabesques and tangling with a partner.

With the RADIO CITY job behind her, Ms. Gordon was working part time at a real estate agency and was back in the unpredictable swing of classes, auditions and smaller shows.

“That’s my whole life: just run and you’ll make it.”

Ms. Schwartz said, “That’s what I think every day I’m crazy hectic: I’m Taylor.”

MARCH 16 Dancers lined the hallways of Pearl Studios in the fashion district, clutching head shots as they waited to audition for a Cats national tour. Ms. Gordon, who arrived 75 minutes early, was #278.

“Too many people. I have to remind myself that I got Radio City through one of these big cattle calls.”

In the end she did not stick it out for her number to be called. She had rehearsals and leaving the city wasn’t appealing.

MARCH 21 Ms. Wildish’s students were performing again and Ms. Gordon, who has a work/study arrangement that allows her to take Ms. Wildish’s classes free, fielded questions from nervous amateur dancers.

“I made the program. I made the schedule. I made the tech list. I made the costumes,” she stated, laughing.

“Actually dancing is the least of my worries.”

She called Ms. Wildish something of a second mother, cherishing the continuity of daily classes with one teacher.

“She’s not outgoing and it’s been quite a challenge trying to pull all of that out,” Ms. Wildish said.

“On stage she really lights up.”

JUNE 12 A classroom at Stuyvesant High School has been transformed into a theatre: costume racks, ballet barres, an orchestra and, in an impossibly narrow space, dancers learning steps for a last minute rehearsal of Tchaikovsky & Friends, a New American Youth Ballet recital.

Ms. Gordon wouldn’t usually take such a job, but the lure of live music, even at a performance for young students, was irresistible.

“Last night I was almost in tears when they started. To be this close to this music is incredible.”

The next day’s performance was chaos, with tiny children taking centre stage as their parents recorded every misstep. Ms. Gordon was a quiet, dignified backup dancer, an island of calm connected to glorious music.

JULY 5 On this sultry night Ms. Gordon stood on one of ballet’s biggest stages: the METROPOLITAN OPERA HOUSE. She was performing in AMERICAN BALLET THEATER’S ROMEO & JULIET — as a supernumerary, not a dancer, playing a member of a bridal party.

“Amazing,” she stated later in an email message.

“I watched all of Act 1 and 3 from the wings and…Ahhh!”

You could think of Ms. Gordon as always a bridesmaid, never the bride in ballet. But she is philosophical.

“Everybody dreams of being in ABT or of being in a company of that calibre,” she explained one late fall afternoon in her apartment.

“But the reality is I don’t have the ballet feet and the ballet legs…and my whole life I’ve struggled with that. I had a lot of friends who quit because of that very reason. If they’re not going to be the best of the best, then they will have no part of it. Being on stage, it’s so much a part of me that I can’t imagine, ever — even if it’s little nothing bits.”

“I have to perform.”

BALLET: THE LONGEVITY OF CHOREOGRAPHY

Posted in Dance on July 7, 2010 by Miranda Wilding

This article is authored by ALISTAIR MACAULAY at THE NEW YORK TIMES

Ballets are written on air.

Few live longer than a year or two. Yet it’s standard practice in the ballet world to refer to new choreography as lifeblood.

Peter Martins, ballet master in chief of NEW YORK CITY BALLET, used the term in his opening night speech when introducing the company’s just ended ARCHITECTURE OF DANCE season, the series of programs featuring seven commissioned premieres.

Since few ballets have much longevity, is lifeblood to be found in the brief intensity of helping to create something that won’t be around next year? Or does lifeblood course only through those rare ballets that hang around into adulthood and enrich the repertory of other companies?

No dance organization in the world does more than NEW YORK CITY BALLET to promote new choreography (it will repeat some of the premieres during its annual Saratoga Springs season that begins this week) and a number of its premieres have been taken up elsewhere.

Christopher Wheeldon’s Polyphonia (2001) is the preeminent example: by 2007, Mr. Wheeldon had staged eight different productions of it around the world. Other NEW YORK CITY BALLET premieres of the last two decades have also been performed elsewhere.

In general, however, this aim for proliferation and the long term is not how ballet works.

Since many choreographers try to stretch their dancers, other artistic directors may well take a look at the latest NEW YORK CITY BALLET premiere and think, “That would be wrong for our dancers,” or “We couldn’t afford that.”

Though the 1957 BALANCHINE/STRAVINSKY AGON is danced everywhere these days, no other company tried it until it was 10 years old. So the emerging choreographer has to hope simply that he or she has made a ballet that, like Agon, will stay in the NEW YORK CITY BALLET repertory long enough for the rest of the world to catch up.

If artistic directors flew in to see ARCHITECTURE OF DANCE, “We couldn’t afford that” must have been high among their reactions to six of the premieres. (The exception was Wayne McGregor’s Outlier.)

The choreographers Melissa Barak, Mauro Bigonzetti, Peter Martins, Benjamin Millepied and Christopher Wheeldon all collaborated with the architect Santiago Calatrava and thereby used various elaborate scenic elements.

Alexei Ratmansky didn’t, but his Namouna, A Grand Divertissement involved a change of costume and in most cases complex headgear or wigs.

It was strange amidst this season to visit BALLET ACROSS AMERICA, the biennial series of programs at The Kennedy Center in Washington, where most companies were using a production style far closer to the standard NEW YORK CITY BALLET model: little or no scenery, minimal costumes, seldom a hint of narrative or character playing.

In Washington some reactionary voices cried out for some costumes and décor. In New York other reactionaries were crying out for less. One balletomane who follows both dance and Santiago Calatrava’s architecture remarked before the curtain rose: “Forty years of watching City Ballet and this is the first time I’ve ever come to see a set.”

What does this tell us about trends in ballet?

Questions about possibly new Diaghilevian connections of design, music and dance pile up. And is the narrative ballet making a comeback?

Ms. Barak’s Call Me Ben, Mr. Millepied’s Why Am I Not Where You Are and Mr. Wheeldon’s Estancia all had stories. Call Me Ben and Estancia had characters. Namouna heavily implied both story and characters without telling us what on earth was going on.

This preponderance of narrative values follows a winter season in which NEW YORK CITY BALLET concentrated on the full length story form. Several other new one act productions in recent years have been narratives. We may assume these are all part of a deliberate policy.

And perhaps it is a good one. The pure dance choreography of GEORGE BALANCHINE can be regarded as the supreme achievement of ballet to date without offering a sure model for other choreographers. Anyway, his plotless creations abound in many of the values that underlie narrative: emotion, suspense, conflict, drama.

Too many non Balanchine, non narrative ballets have either been entirely devoid of meaning or drama or have proposed meanings that the choreography is too misbegotten to express.

One problem, however, is that this season’s new plots were less than engrossing. Why Am I Not Where You Are is a Hoffmannesque story of an outsider who has to put on magic garments to be visible. In Estancia, city boy and country girl find love while breaking horses on the Argentine pampas. And who can remember what happens in Call Me Ben? Something to do with money and Las Vegas. All of them safe, harmless, old fashioned.

In this context Mr. McGregor’s non narrative Outlier could pass as radical. This was the most à la mode creation of ARCHITECTURE OF DANCE, with elements of anticonventional theatricality (ballerinas without makeup, usually a contradiction in terms), changes of lighting and décor and a challenging Thomas Adès score. If you hadn’t seen Mr. McGregor’s choreography before and you were a director shopping for a frisson of the new for your company back home, this is probably the only NEW YORK CITY BALLET premiere you’d consider from this season.

Mr. McGregor’s reputation preceded him at NEW YORK CITY BALLET. He is now resident choreographer at THE ROYAL BALLET. Frederic Wiseman’s recent documentary La Danse shows him making a piece for THE PARIS OPERA BALLET.

If choreography is fashion, then you need look no further.

But if choreography is to matter, it must be — even when light and entertaining — a serious expression of human energies. I don’t like the idea of Mr. McGregor’s choreography in anybody’s lifeblood because it’s so expressively empty, so preoccupied with flashy surface effects. Its dancers pushed it to the limit…and yet it makes them look small.

Mr. Bigonzetti’s Luce Nascosta is likewise laden with surface effects. Ms. Barak’s talking/acting Call Me Ben was embarrassingly overambitious, the kind of thing that should surely have moved an artistic director to say, “You aren’t experienced enough to handle this yet.”

Mr. Millepied’s Why Am I Not Where You Are almost entirely evaporates in the mind. If only he could make the central breakthrough to expressive seriousness, his wealth of previous stage worthy accomplishments might make him a formidable artist.

I said much the same (polished, hollow) about Mr. Martins’ choreography in the late 80s and early 90s. Last week, seeing Mr. Martins’ new Mirage a second time, I admired what he made of Chase Finlay (returning from injury to a role made for him) and Anthony Huxley – and enjoyed the way one solo phrase for Jennie Somogyi, coming down the centre line with left and right feet doing opposite tasks, seems a near quotation from Frederick Ashton’s Birthday Offering, currently in AMERICAN BALLET THEATRE repertory.

But these and other details don’t deepen it: they just cast its general emptiness into relief.

That leaves Mr. Wheeldon’s Estancia and Mr. Ratmansky’s Namouna.

Since I’ve now heard many people find grievous fault in Estancia and declare their love for Namouna, I want to redress the balance a little. Both are agreeably old style. Estancia has an appealing expansiveness of spirit, especially in its finale. Namouna is seriously spoiled by its structure (though titled A Grand Divertissement, it’s actually a suite of divertissements with hints of plot) and the problematic length of some individual dances, which overstay their welcome.

Still, Estancia feels as if Mr. Wheeldon were trying to be unoriginal on purpose, whereas Namouna feels as if it were a world that was intensely real to Mr. Ratmansky. Namouna has further problems in parts of its choreography for Daniel Ulbricht (he’s sensational in the musicality of his fast beaten jumps but seems to shrink in his big turns) and in most of its dances for Wendy Whelan, which emphasize the disconnect between her upper and lower body in ways I can’t enjoy.

But there are passages of Namouna (at least three of the dances for the corps de ballet; the long, exhausting but exuberant solo for Sara Mearns; several stylishly purposeful incidents in Robert Fairchild’s role and others) that achieve on a level that no choreographer in ballet has come close to in years.

Exact details of movement combine space, music, light and dancers in irresistible combinations. For me, even after three viewings, these highlights don’t add up to a whole. Others have loved it at first sight.

At any rate, if you want to consider choreography as lifeblood – start here.