Ballet has changed so much in the past few decades and with those changes have come some wonderful new tools for dancers. I only wish some of them had been available during my time!
If you have ever struggled with baggy ribbons, this is a perfect solution! This ribbon has the look and size of any standard pointe shoe ribbon, but is made from a soft stretchy, elastic material. It looks a little different up close, but will match most pointe shoe colors and look the same on stage or in class. No more tendon trauma… not too loose or too tight, but just right.
Pointe shoes are not the most comfortable shoes on the planet, as previously discussed here. Back in my day, we stuffed the tips of our shoes with lamb’s wool or paper towels, depending on what was handy. But now they make puffy little pillows to cushion your feet- a thin layer of gel material inside two pieces of fabric creates a comfortable pouch. Just imagine!
Dancers get thirsty so having water on hand is a must. But keeping those water bottles clean can be a challenge. The answer? Clean Bottle: The Square. Unscrew the bottom (and the top) of this reusable water bottle for no-fuss washing and quick drying. Flat sides mean it won’t roll away if it falls. Stainless steel; holds a whopping 20 ounces. It doesn’t get easier– or more perfect for dancers.
Pretty ballet skirts that actually stay in place once you put them on. This one by Bloch has a cute petal decoration and an elastic waist.
Leotards with style and fun details. This one by Ainsliewear has a flirty dot-lace panel on the back. It’s been declared “hot”by my husband.
For those times when you just can’t make it to St. Petersburg for opening night at the Marinsky Theater or you’re double booked for top-notch Canadian choreography and your budget doesn’t allow for cloning yourself there is an option: dance on film. While some might call it second best it beats missing out entirely, plus you can watch it in the comfort of your own home.
FIlms are always better with snacks. Make sure to break out the popcorn. Drizzle liberally with olive oil, garlic powder and spices. Dig in.
1. Marilyn Hotchkiss’ Ballroom Dancing and Charm School. Disregard the somewhat odd title of this movie because I promise this film will be well worth your while. The story follows a widowed man whose life turns upside down when he embarks on a journey to find a dying man’s long lost love… hint: dance is the catalyst of change.The stellar cast includes John Goodman, Robert Carlysle and Marisa Tomei.
2. Mao’s Last Dancer. Based on the autobiography by Li Cunxin. At the age of 11, Li was plucked from a poor Chinese village by Madame Mao’s cultural delegates and taken to Beijing to study ballet. In 1979, during a cultural exchange to Texas, he fell in love with an American woman. Two years later, he managed to defect and went on to perform as a principal dancer for the Houston Ballet and as a principal artist with the Australian Ballet.
3. Ballerina. French filmmaker Bertrand Norman follows the careers of five Russian ballerinas in their career path from the acclaimed Vaganova Academy to the stage of the famed Kirov Ballet. Using magnificent perormance footage, as well as behind the scenes shots and candid interviews, Bertrand gives audiences am insider glimpse of the extreme discipline and dedication demanded of ballerinas.
4. Bringing Balanchine Back. Under the guidance of Ballet Master-in-Chief Peter Martins, the New York City Ballet travels from its home base in Manhattan to St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theater, to perform at the legendary Mariinsky Theater, where George Balanchine, a founder of the acclaimed NYCB had begun his own career. This documentary captures some spectacular sequences of the New York City Ballet’s performances of choreography by Balanchine, Jerome Robbins and Peter Martins.
5. LaLaLa Human Steps’ “Amelia”. Quicksilver footwork. Chic elegance. Spidery sets and black net costumes cool enough to belong on the cover of Vogue. La La La Human Steps is where ballet and high fashion collide; where traditional movements are redefined into present-day relevance. The choreography is an interplay of speed and extremes, physical challenge blended with lyricism that has brought the Canadian ballet company to international renown. But it is their unique blend of innovative dance vocabulary, contemporary music and cinematic effects that differentiates them from other ballet companies of their caliber.
Happy viewing! I leave you with a quote from Marilyn Hotchkiss’ Ballroom Dancing and Charm School:
Dance is a very powerful drug Mr. Keane. If embraced judiciously, it can exorcise demons, access deep seated emotions and color your life in joyous shades of brilliant magenta that you never knew existed. But, one must shoulder its challenges with intrepid countenance if one is ever to reap its rewards.
The world has recently been blessed with several truly great dance films. Being a visual person I love nothing better than to feel swept away by a captivating film (or photo). Since time does not permit attending every performance I’d like to see, watching dance on screen keeps my options open and gives me the chance to see things I might not otherwise be exposed to. Here are a few of my favorites; if you haven’t seen them yet you should!
1. First Position. Follow a handful of dancers through their trial by fire during the Prix de Lausanne, one of the most prestigious dance competitions in the world. Many dancers who participate in the Prix de Lausanne are later offered apprenticeships or company contracts. Michaela DePrince, one of the dancers featured in First Position, has since gone on to become the youngest member of American Ballet Theater.
2. Pina. German choreographer Pina Bausch was a sensation in her time and this film is a stunning tribute. Every aspect from sets and costumes to soundtrack and choreography echoes the colorful and ethereal world that she created. Directed by Wim Wenders, Pina was nominated for an Oscar and won several European awards for Best Documentary.
3. Le Vent. This one only runs for a few minutes and is well worth the watch. Marina Kanno and Giacomo Bevilaqua from Staatsballett Berlin perform several jumps captured in slow motion at 1000 frames per second. Gorgeous… and the music is, too.
4. Lost in Motion. Guillaume Côté, a principal with the National Ballet of Canada put his own money and lots of fund-raising effort into creating this two-minute video. Côté wanted to portray a dancer in ‘the zone’ – to show what it really feels like to dance. “I wanted to get the tights off and I wanted to get the costumes off, and just show the sheer physicality of classical dance,” he said in an interview with CBC’s Metro Morning. The prolonged jumps were captured with a high-definition, high-speed Phantom camera. Let me know if you don’t agree that it is brilliantly awesome.
5. Pas de Deux. Galen Summer’s documentary shows New York City Ballet dancers Megan Fairchild and Andrew Veyette – from a perspective that is so up close and personal – the viewer feels like one of the dancers. For her part of a behind-the-scenes series for the New York City Ballet, Summer and her team figured out how to attach cameras to vests the dancers wore while performing the wedding pas de deux from Tschaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty.” You can watch Summer’s other NYC Ballet documentaries ‘Pointe Shoes,’ and “Tutu” here.
I’ll be back on Thursday with more great film picks. Happy viewing!