First Anniversary of Balletfocus.com

Today is the first anniversary of my blog balletfocus.com. I’ve had a great time over the past year writing about the New York City ballet scene combined with photography commentary.

The blog is an outgrowth of my love of dance, developed during my days at a non-professional ballet company in Kansas over 30 years ago. Although I did not pursue dance as a vocation, my participation sparked a passion for dance.

My interests in ballet and photography merged in 2005; during curtain calls for Julio Bocca’s final ABT performance, I regretted not having a camera to capture this historic moment as Julio bid farewell to his adoring fans. I have not made that mistake again, as I have since captured ABT dancers during their curtain calls, great names such as Nina Ananiashvili, Angel Corella, Irina Dvorovenko, Paloma Herrera, and Ethan Stiefel.

My photography website notmydayjobphotography.com, which concentrates on ballet curtain calls, houses of worship, landscapes (particularly in New York and Maine), and photos of historical interest, debuted in September 2012. While updating my website with new commentary on the ABT 2013 season, I thought, why not start a blog? Balletfocus.com is the result.

I’ve found that combining a blog with a hectic work and family schedule is sometimes a challenge. That is what the wee hours and weekends are for, when I spend most of my time writing. I hope you have enjoyed my commentary and photos and will keep tuning in. I will continue focusing on ABT and New York City Ballet, branching out to other companies that perform in New York. I also have several special topics posts planned.

Here are my favorite posts over the past year:

Jacques d’Amboise at Bank Street College

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Jacques d’Amboise at Bank Street College, September 9, 2013. Click for more photos.

My favorite post was my first on New York City Ballet great Jacques d’Amboise’s presentation at The Bank Street Graduate School of Education. The fast moving hour plus presentation featured dances by students in d’Amboise-founded National Dance Institute (NDI) programs; also, a wide ranging discussion by d’Amboise of his storied career at New York City Ballet, thoughts on the power of dance and the arts in fostering child development, and techniques that NDI uses to teach dance to children. d’Amboise founded NDI in 1976, which works with New York City school children through weekly classes, short-term residencies, and public performances. NDI currently partners with 31 New York schools and serves 5,000 children each week from K-6 grades, according to the NDI website.

Sascha Radetsky on Writing

In May I interviewed ABT Soloist Sascha Radetsky on his writing. In addition to entertaining crowds worldwide, Sascha is passionate about writing and his work appears in several publications that I link. I particularly enjoyed his take on dance critics and will take his commentary to heart as I review performances:

Sometimes I read them (ballet reviews) and sometimes I don’t. They’re hard to avoid; friends or acquaintances seem to inevitably comment on reviews, in support of the good mentions or out of indignation at the bad. I’ve gone seasons without reading any, and seasons during which I read everything, if only out of curiosity at the critics’ tastes and writing styles. I danced for a year in Amsterdam and was blissfully ignorant to Dutch-language criticism, for better or worse (a liberating but surreal feeling, as if I were performing in an alternate dimension). I prefer reviews that are (of course) interesting and well-written, in which witty flourishes don’t collapse into snark, that resist grand proclamations, that reflect a judicious consistency of taste and expansive knowledge and appreciation of ballet. I respect the critics who are forces for the positive, who endeavor to advance the art form and its artists rather than just their personal voices. Critics need not be cheerleaders nor shy from writing negative reviews, but I think their impact should ultimately be constructive.

In February, Sascha contacted me regarding using a photo I took of his curtain call for Stanton Welch’s Clear for his Twitter header. I hatched the idea of interviewing him on his writing after learning of his participation in a seminar on writing and dance at Steps Studio (I wanted to attend but had tickets to a New York City Ballet performance). I contacted Sascha on the idea and sent him a few questions. He was interested and sent back fascinating and thoughtful answers. By conincidence, I sat next to his wife Stella at an ABT performance that week. She said that Sascha enjoyed working on the project. I would think that dancers get tired of answering the same dance questions over and over and find discussing their outside interests appealing.

Why Do Ballet Dancers Turn Clockwise?

This post attempts to answer the simple question, why do ballet dancers turn clockwise (CW)? All women and most men turn clockwise on stage on pirouettes and tours. I thought that turning clockwise for right-handed dancers is natural until I saw figure skaters turn predominately counter clockwise (CCW). I then viewed a lot of YouTube video on gymnastics, aerial skiing, diving, and track and field and found that most athletes turn CCW.

I could not find any women that turn CCW in major turn sequences in my sample of 50 dancers. Partnering relationships may explain this as men support women on turns during a pas de deux. Having all women turn CW requires less adjustment for the men. There may also be a perception that audience members appreciate the consistency of a CW orientation during the pas de deux.Reasons why dancers turn CW while athletes favor CCW? Leg dominance may play a role in explaining dancers’ CW tendencies although this does not appear to be a compelling reason. A more important factor explaining CW turning may simply be convention; most dancers turn CW, so the tendency is to go with the crowd.

As a left-handed dancer, I thought I was going against the flow by preferring the same CW direction that right-handers favor. After thinking about the issue, it is odd that presumably overwhelmingly right-handed ballet dancers generally turn CW. Left-handers like me generally have a CW orientation. For example, I draw circles CW unlike right-handers, run on an oval track CW, and as a gymnast many years ago, preferred CW.

My conclusion: I really don’t understand why dancers turn CW.

ABT Met 2014 Wrap-Up

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Hee Seo and Roberto Bolle, Swan Lake, June 28. 2014. Click for more photos.

My ABT 2014 Met season review pointed out the challenges facing the company and compared the current roster with the company in 2005. WOW!!! 2005 had a powerhouse lineup, particularly the men. How lucky we were to see these great dancers every performance. If ballet had a Hall of Fame, a number of dancers from this list would be shoo-ins on the first ballot: Julio Bocca, José Manuel Carreño, Angel Corella, Alessandra Ferri, Ethan Stiefel. In addition, younger stars such as Herman Cornejo, Paloma Herrera, Marcelo Gomes, Gillian Murphy, Xiomira Reyes were featured in many performances. Nina Anashivili and Irina Dvovenenko were out on maternity leave and did not perform in the 2005 ABT Met season as they had in previous and future seasons. ABT had only two guest artists in 2005. ABT didn’t use a lot of guest artists that year because, with this lineup, who needs guest artists. Moreover, there was a nice mix of stars approaching the end of their careers (Julio, Alessandra, Amanda McKerow), peak of their careers (Ethan, Angel, Paloma, Gillian, Marcelo), and shining lights at the beginning of their careers (Herman Cornejo, Hallberg). Unfortunately, none of the soloists or corps members broke out into the principal ranks in later years.

Currently, there is much uncertainty on leading dancers going forward, enough to keep Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie up at night. Roberto Bolle is great, but at 39 years of age, he is in the twilight of his illustrious career. Daniil Simkin excels at bravura dancing, but the jury is still out on his ability to carry a full-length ballet full of dramatic action and partnering. Cory Stearns is a solid Principal Dancer, but can he go a step beyond to stardom? How long will Herman and Marcelo last (both are around 34 years of age)? I don’t see any great dancers waiting in the wings like Herman Cornejo and David Hallberg in the late 1990s and early 2000s. For the women, Veronika Part and Polina Semionova are the mainstays of the company (although Veronika should be cast more in lead roles and in prime time slots) as Hee Seo and Isabella Boylston are new principals finding their way. Again, no obvious future female principal dancers on the horizon.

Sunrise on Cadillac Mountain

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Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park, Maine, August 26, 2013, 5:37 a.m. Click for more photos.

This post recounts an experience with my daughter and mother on Cadillac Mountain at Acadia National Park in Maine on vacation that August. I drove up the winding Cadillac Mountain road for about 20 minutes, reaching the summit at about 5:30 a.m. We joined dozens of people at the summit as catching the first sunrise in the U.S. is popular among Acadia National Park visitors (actually, the first sunrise in the U.S. can be seen from Cadillac Mountain only in the fall and winter when the sun rises south of due east). We were very lucky that morning as the sunrise was stunning, with an explosion of blue and orange colors lasting about 25 minutes. The above photo provides a sweeping view of the sunrise, with Bar Harbor as the backdrop-a very special and memorable moment that was the highlight of our trip. It was a pleasure catching this rare, fleeting, and beautiful event.