For those reading this article via RSS or email, you might not be able to view Steve Jobs's 2005 Stanford Commencement Address. If that is the case, please read view this blog article at my blog where the YouTube is displayed.
On Thursday, 24 March 2011, I attended Alberta Ballet's production of Serenade and Vigil of Angels. I thoroughly enjoyed both ballets, the first that I have ever attended.
At 6:45 pm, Jean Grand-Maître, artistic director, along with two elegant and attractive women Elyse Borne and Flavia Vallone began a half hour introduction to the two ballets. By just observing how Borne and Vallone carried themselves, I knew they were dancers and would have valuable insights to share.
Borne, who is responsible for staging Serenade for the George Balanchine Trust, provided her background and discussed her time working with George Balanchine. Through her discussions, I got a sense of the history of Serenade and her excitement and joy of working with Balanchine. She spoke of how Serenade evolved from Balachine's lessons and from some of the student's mistakes.
For those of you, like me, who know absolutely nothing about ballet, George Balanchine (1904-1983) is regarded as the foremost contemporary choreographer of ballet. Please see my earlier Wikipedia link for more information.
Vallone is from La Scala in Milan where she is a first soloist. Grand-Maître discussed that of the many dancers he has had pleasure of working with, only a select few were true muses, and Flavia Vallone is one. He instinctively knew when he first saw her that she would dance the lead role in Vigil of Angels when it opened in La Scala in 1995.
This ballet is more somber, more thoughtful as it concerns itself with how we learn to accept the inevitably of death. Grand-Maître mentioned that he created this ballet during the mid 1990s when many of his friends and colleagues were dying from AIDS. Vallone recounted her experiences with the ballet.
As I watched the two dancers reflect back on their careers, I enjoyed watching their reactions to each other. Through their sympathetic gestures, it was obvious that each understood the other's experiences. They share a common bond, an understanding and appreciation, that transcends what is able to be communicated to and understood by those of us who are non-dancers.
Through the discussions of Grand-Maître, Borne and Vallone, my most important learning was just to enjoy the beauty of the ballet. Grand-Maître encouraged the audience to superimpose our own life experiences onto the ballets because there was no definitive or correct interpretations. He further commented that these ballets are meant to soothe the soul, especially in these turbulent and troubling times. And Grand-Maître made one last remark where he quoted Balanchine's comment, "See the music, hear the dance."
I loved Serenade. There is so much to appreciate with the dance patterns and technical pointe work. The cool blues dresses together with the dancers' light movement created stunning imagery. I was amazed at watching how effortless the dancers moved through their dance. Of course, the easier it looks likely implies that it is extraordinarily difficult to achieve.
For those wanting or looking for a technical review of how the dancers performed Serenade, I am unable to provide such commentary. I can only comment that I enjoyed the whole visual imagery. While I enjoyed absorbing the beautiful movements, I am sure that I missed many of the finer points—pun intended. In fact, I would love to see this ballet several more times, for I am sure I would appreciate each new viewing more than the last.
Vigil of Angels was a more cerebral or thoughtful ballet. Having heard Grand-Maître's earlier description of his ballet and why it was created, I was able to understand the ballet. And as he mentioned, we could use our own life stories and imagination to shape our interpretation.
The interesting and beautiful backdrops and staging complemented the dancers graceful and effortless movements. I am still amazed by their dancing.
For those wanting another review, I recommend Bob Clark's Calgary Herald article Passage of time only enriches two great works.
Switching topics, you might be curious as to why I have an interest in ballet. Joe McNally piqued my initial interest when he showed his pictures of dancers in his blog Joe McNally Photography and his books The Moment It Clicks: Photography secrets from one of the world's top shooters and The Hot Shoe Diaries: Big Light from Small Flashes. While I cannot put into words what I enjoyed about his ballet photographs, I know that I enjoy them. And that began my interest in learning more about ballet.
Below are some links from his blog where he showed some of his ballet photographs:
- On Sugar Plums;
- Air Canada, Part 2;
- Air Canada;
- It's Raining Here....;
- GPP, Again....;
- Peachpit Q&A..Up and Running....;
- Short Hops....;
- BYE BC....HELLO CAL!;
- That Day, Again;
- Welcome Adorama!;
- Sometimes You Get the Shaft; and
- Location Lighting... in the Philippines!.
In addition to Joe McNally's photographs, I have begun reading Jennifer Homans's Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet. If you have any interest at all in ballet, I recommend New York Times Book Review: 10 Best Books Apollo's Angels. I had expected a historical book on ballet to be rather dry with factual details. Instead, Homans wrote a wonderfully crafted book that drips with rich detail about the fascinating history of ballet. Rather than try to provide an adequate book review here, I urge to read some of the more eloquent and informed reviews by other readers on Amazon.
A friend who is a female adult ballet student shares her knowledge, enthusiasm, and passion with me. Whenever I have a question, she provides her thoughts and usually directs me to other resources as well, including two online forums: Ballet Talk for Dancers and Ballet Talk.The former forum is directed to those who participate in ballet as dancers or students while the latter is directed to those of us with an interest in ballet.
To enjoy ballet, you don't need to be schooled or proficient in the technical aspects of ballet, just as you don't need to read music to listen to your favorite songs. If you have knowledge of ballet, however, I expect you are able to gain a deeper appreciation of the art form. As mentioned, I would love to see Serenade several times because with each viewing, I am sure that I would learn and appreciate the ballet more. As with anything new, I need to seek several sources to deepen my understanding and appreciation.
Throughout all my learning, perhaps what impresses me most are the dancers themselves. They dance for the pure enjoyment and love of dancing. They don't dance for fame or fortune, because most will never know either. And, although ballet is not a sport, dancers are supreme athletes. Their training is difficult, challenging, and, at times, painful. So when I watched the dancers perform, I appreciated them for their dedication and passion of pursuing a their art form. I admire those who can put aside the usual monetary rewards to pursue a career they love.
Now, you are probably wondering why I have Steve Jobs's 2005 Stanford Commencement Address at the top of this blog article. There are two reasons: first, as much as I wish I had, I do not have any photographs of dancers to share with you; and second, there are parallels with Jobs's address and ballet.
By discussing his rise from humble beginnings to his present role of chief executive officer of Apple Inc. Jobs mentioned three key themes: first, Connecting the Dots; second, Love and Loss; and third, Death. His life has been and continues to be an unimaginable journey. Ballets often reflect unimaginable and complicated journeys. In Connecting the Dots Jobs talked about following your heart and doing what you believe. Ballet dancers embody that very attribute. Love and Loss is something that we can all identify with in our lives. And, it is often a main theme in ballets. Similarly, Death is another common and shared experience. As discussed, a main theme in Vigil of Angels is death.
I want to elaborate further where Jobs, in his Connecting the Dots discussion, talked about his interest in and passion for calligraphy. He spoke how, at the time, there was no apparent purpose for his interest. Yet, as we saw, his interest in and passion for calligraphy provided Apple and the rest of personal computing universe with beautiful typography, something we take for granted. Similarly, while some might think that watching ballet has no purpose, I argue that it does. First, ballet allows us to reflect on our lives. Through their movements, dancers are able to portray events and emotions that help us question and understand our own lives on our own terms. Second, watching ballet dancers perform is good for the soul. There is something magical about their movements. And third, it is good to help, support, and appreciate those have chosen to pursue their creative passions. Jobs's comments about calligraphy resonated with me because my reasons for interest in ballet are similar to his interests in calligraphy—they are both beautiful and graceful.
Now you know why I am interested in learning more about ballet. Because it is a beautiful art form, I wish I had been more curious about and open to ballet when I was younger.
By the time my article is posted on my blog, it will be too late to encourage those of you in Calgary to see the ballets. However, those of you in Edmonton, I encourage you. And as new person to ballet, I believe these two ballets are wonderful starting places because you are able to use your own life experiences to create your own impressions. So, if you have the opportunity to attend, I urge you to see the ballets.
Stay hungry, Stay foolish.
For my benefit, below are the artists who performed on Thursday evening.
|Waltz Girl||Victoria Lane Green|
|Waltz Boy||Patrick Doe|
|Russian Girl||Nicole Caron|
|Dark Angel||Galien Johnston|
|Elegie Boy||Kelley McKinlay|
|Four Russian Girls||Noëllie Conjeaud|
|Corps de Ballet||Skye Balfour-Ducharme|
|Sarah de Vries|
The asterisks represent those artists who are students of the School of Alberta Ballet.
|The Poet||Kelly McKinlay|
|The Cellist||Hayna Gutierrez|
|Lead Angel||Mark Wax|