Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘ballet’

636631935695391365-janel-meindersee-photo-social-candy-2

Photo: Social Candy
Milwaukee Ballet dancer and teacher, Janel Meindersee, tries out a wheelchair herself as she teaches her students. Parents watch with pride.

Heartbreaking as it is to see anyone make fun of a person with a disability, which does happen in these harsh times, it’s important to remember the advice that the mother of Mister Rogers gave him long ago: “Look for the helpers. There are always helpers.”

In Milwaukee, some unusual helpers are found in a dance company.

Amy Schwabe writes at Milwaukee’s Journal Sentinel, “Nine-year-old Namine Eiche may be in a wheelchair, but that doesn’t stop her from being a ballet dancer. That’s thanks to Tour de Force, a partnership between Milwaukee Ballet and Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin that’s been providing ballet classes to children with disabilities since 2014.

“Just last year, the opportunity was opened up to children in wheelchairs through the ‘Glissade’ class, very appropriately named since ‘glissade’ is the French word for ‘glide.’

“Janel Meindersee, a Milwaukee Ballet dancer who teaches Glissade, explained how the children are able to dance.

” ‘We teach a lot of the same things as a normal ballet class — how to spot your head when you move, the quality of arm movements, how to count music and how to stay in line when dancing together,’ Meindersee said. …

“Meindersee said that seeing kids in wheelchairs in other Tour de Force classes was the impetus for Glissade.

” ‘There was a girl in a wheelchair coming to one of our other Tour de Force classes,’ Meindersee said. ‘She was able to get out of her wheelchair sometimes, but she was most comfortable in her chair. We thought there had to be other kids who can’t even get out of their chairs at all. …

“After having taught two sessions of Glissade, Meindersee is ‘blown away’ by the skill, talent and strength of her students — especially when she gets in a wheelchair herself to try out the dance moves. She laughs with her students, pointing out that she’s not as skilled in wheelchair maneuvers as her students are.”

More at the Journal Sentinel, here. Just imagine the joy and self-confidence of these young dancers take home with them after a class. Perhaps some will join one of the professional wheelchair ballets someday. Or start their own company.

Read Full Post »

2016-635897543773346986-334

Photo: Magda Saleh collection
Egypt’s first prima ballerina, Magda Saleh, as she is today and in ballets of
the 1960s and 1970s.

I like to include stories about Egyptian culture whenever I see them because of my special connection to two naturalized citizens who were born in Egypt. Here is an intriguing New York Times article by Brian Seibert about an Egyptian who excelled at ballet and even performed with the Bolshoi in Moscow.

“Once upon a time, the Egyptian ballerina Magda Saleh danced the dream role of Giselle in Moscow as a guest star with the mighty Bolshoi Ballet. …

“Recently, in the elegant Upper East Side apartment that she shares with her husband, the American Egyptologist Jack Josephson, Ms. Saleh, 73, recounted how her life had been ‘punctuated’ by shifts in Egyptian political history. …

“In the era just before she was born, Egypt was no longer a protectorate of Britain, but British influence was still high. Her father, who would become a prominent academic, studied agriculture in Scotland and brought home a Scottish bride, Ms. Saleh’s mother. Their children spoke English and Arabic at home, French at school. …

“Her first ballet teachers were British, and she traveled to Britain to study ballet. By then, though, Egypt had undergone a revolution and soon it was at war with Britain. Young Ms. Saleh was called home, where she discovered that her British instructors had left.

“But the Egyptian government was now friendly with the Soviet Union, and new teachers arrived. In 1959, the Egyptian Ministry of Culture created an Academy of Arts, with a Higher Institute of Ballet, and imported teachers from the Bolshoi to run it.

” ‘This was unprecedented in Egyptian history,’ Ms. Saleh said. ‘We have this very ambiguous attitude toward dance and especially women dancers …

“ ‘None of this would have been possible,’ she continued, ‘but for a confluence of time and circumstance and one man, the first minister of culture’ — Tharwat Okasha, an army officer with vision and tenacity. …

“Ballet education came filtered through translation, with old Russians who had fled to Egypt during the Russian Revolution converting the instructions of the newly arrived Soviet dancers into broken Arabic.

“Yet the school developed rapidly, and in 1963, Ms. Saleh and four other female students were offered scholarships to study at the Bolshoi in Moscow. She was 19 — or ’19 going on 11,’ she said, ‘because we were so sheltered.’ Now they were on their own in the bitter cold of the grim Soviet capital, sitting on radiators before class to thaw. …

“The experience was tough. ‘But character forming,’ Ms. Saleh said. ‘The Russians taught us with love. Not love for us. Love for dance. They instilled this in us.’

“Back in Cairo, diplomas in hand, they wanted to dance. So the ballet institute mounted ‘The Fountain of Bakhchisarai,’ a 1934 Soviet ballet about a Polish princess abducted by a Tatar Khan. The Egyptian public loved it. The president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, awarded the dancers the Order of Merit.

“Even more meaningful to Ms. Saleh was the praise of a poor old man after a performance in the southern backwater of Aswan. ‘People had insisted that Egyptians wouldn’t accept Egyptian ballet,’ she recalled misty-eyed. ‘But we were right!’ ”

Read more and see some lovely pictures at the New York Times, here — and also here, at Ahramonline.

Read Full Post »

Photo: MediaPunch/REX/Shutterstock/
Prima ballerina Misty Copeland (right) and Raven Wilkinson at the Urban World Film Festival in New York City in 2015. Wilkinson has mentored many dancers since retiring from dancing at age 50.

Former ballerina Raven Wilkinson has shared her experiences — and her strength — with dancers of color since ending her own dancing career at age 50. She’s a great example of someone turning even bad experiences into something that sustains others.

Olivia B. Waxman writes at Time magazine, “In the years since she became the first black ballerina to be a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre, Misty Copeland has become a well-known symbol of breaking down barriers in her art. The strides she has made build on the work of one particular dancer — a mentor of Copeland’s, Raven Wilkinson, who broke new ground in similar ways during the 1950s. …

“Wilkinson’s passion for ballet began at an early age and would take her around the nation with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. As the first African American ballerina to dance with a major touring troupe, she performed the coveted solo waltz in Les Sylphides.

“But her story — which is told in the new picture book Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, written by Leda Schubert and illustrated by Theodore Taylor III … didn’t always feel like a fairy tale.

“Wilkinson, now 82, risked death and arrest by touring with the company in the South during a period when it was illegal for black and white dancers to share a stage. …

“As a native New Yorker, Wilkinson grew up only seeing the Ku Klux Klan in newsreels at the movie theater. It was through dance that she had her first real-life encounter with the group, in 1957 in Montgomery, Ala, while her company passed through the city on tour. …

“ ‘The KKK were everywhere. There was a convention,” Wilkinson recently recalled to TIME. “The [hotel] manager said, “You can’t dance tonight. Go to your room, stay in your room, lock the door, and don’t come out and don’t let anybody in.” ‘ There, she saw a cross burning outside her window. She says she wouldn’t have been able to get through … tense moments without her fellow dancers in the company. …

“After a brief stint in a convent to reflect on the path she had chosen, she moved to Europe, where it was easier for her to dance professionally. She danced with the Dutch National Ballet in Holland before returning to the States in 1974, where she danced with the New York City Opera until her retirement at age 50. …

“When TIME asked Copeland what has changed since Wilkinson was dancing professionally, she said ‘a lot is still so much the same. … We won’t be told to leave the company because our safety is at risk, but I had a similar experience being told to pancake my skin a lighter color to fit in with the rest of the company. … [Knowing Raven] made me feel really empowered not to let the negativity of racism even to this day affect me and my career. I can be strong and persevere and allow my talent to shine beyond the color of my skin.’ ”

It makes you think about the strength of character and the courage that barrier-breakers embody. The “poor, terrified girl” story melts away into the “young woman of steel” story.

More here.

Read Full Post »


Photo: New Zealand Herald
Royal New Zealand Ballet dance educator Pagan Dorgan said a dance initiative with women prisoners aims to build confidence and cooperation.

I like reading about programs designed to help individuals in prison grow in positive ways. I also like the idea of arts groups that, in addition to giving their art to the world, develop other ways to benefit society.

Consider this Royal New Zealand Ballet pilot for women prisoners. Meghan Lawrence at the New Zealand Herald has the story.

“Pirouettes and pliés are being used to break boundaries in a new initiative run by the Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB) Company.

“Best known for its dynamic dancers and eclectic repertoire of dance moves, RNZB has chosen to put accessibility and inclusion at the forefront of its latest project run in partnership with the Department of Corrections.

“Three of RNZB’s artistic staff have decided to put aside the national and international stages for [six weeks starting in November 2017] and spend their time teaching prisoners at Arohata Women’s Prison in Wellington. …

“Community manager Pascale Parenteau … said the initiative fits perfectly with the company’s primary goal of making dance accessible to all New Zealanders.

” ‘It was actually very timely because for some time the education team for RNZB have been working on developing an Accessibility Commitment Policy,’ she said.

“As part of that policy the company have run three other projects; the first sign-language interpreted guided tour of the St James Theatre, a sensory-friendly performance for children and adults with autism and special needs, and NZ’s first audio-described ballet performance for visually impaired children and adults. …

“[Parenteau] said the project aims to enhance prisoners’ confidence, communications skills and ability to work with others. …

” ‘When I was setting the programme up I was told that a lot of the women come from broken or disheartening homes and backgrounds, which means they would have never experienced participating in a high-profile training environment, so this is a bit of a boost for them.

” ‘I think they have been very courageous to put their hand up and have a go, but I think the freedom of expression that it allows them is going to be very beneficial.’

“Dance educator Pagan Dorgan was excited to take on the challenge, having previously run a similar initiative with male prisoners in the UK. …

“Dorgan said the project is run in two phases; six weeks of workshops leading up to the Christmas production, and then further sessions [in 2018] to learn specific RNZB repertoire.

“[The first session] was a little bit of everyone getting to know each other and we also did an aerobics or gym type warm-up’ she said. ‘We then went through some basic dance movements that were a mixture of jazz, contemporary and Latin.’ … There was no resistance at all and there was a nice, positive atmosphere.’

“Participants in the project said the experience gave them hope and inspiration, provided a chance to grow as individuals, and made them appreciate life outside of prison walls. …

“Parenteau said the project was set up as a one-off but she is hoping to get further funding to expand the classes.”

More at the New Zealand Herald, here. And Radio New Zealand has audio, here.

Photo: Radio New Zealand
A dance class in a prison.

Read Full Post »

Vermont’s Farm Ballet

dsc07595_orig

Photo: Jonas Powell
The Farm Ballet performing at Philo Ridge Farm in Charlotte, Vermont. The atmosphere is casual and allows small children to have fun, too.

Around the country, arts organizations are continually thinking up new ways to expand their audiences whether it’s New York City’s public schools adding Broadway shows to the curriculum with $10 tickets (here) or free admission for teens to the Art Institute of Chicago (here).

In today’s post, a ballet company makes professional dance performances available to people who prefer to be outdoors and dress casually.

Elizabeth M. Seyler writes at Seven Days, “Going to the ballet often conjures images of elegant theaters, dapperly dressed adults and thin young people dancing across a pristine stage. But what if ballet were more than that? What if parents in jeans and sandals brought their rambunctious children to a farm picnic to watch ballet lovers of all ages dance across a verdant, or muddy, field? Would it still be ballet?

“In Vermont, it sure would. Since 2015, the Farm to Ballet Project, founded and directed by Vermont-raised ballet professional Chatch Pregger, has given 24 full-length classical ballet performances for adults and children at 17 Vermont farms.

“Featuring six string musicians and 25 adult dancers, each performance conveys the work and life of a female farmer during the growing season and the natural forces she encounters. …

” ‘At our performances, I see all the adults with their picnic blankets and their dinners — eating, drinking, enjoying themselves,’ says company soloist Maria Mercieca. ‘And I see all the kids dancing along, running around. They’re watching, they’re enjoying it, they’re taking it in, but they’re not being made to be still. I love that about it. It’s a family- and kid-friendly event, and I mean little, little kids.’

” ‘It’s really a great event for our members and our community,’ says Tre McCarney, director of community programs at Shelburne Farms. She’s coordinated four Farm to Ballet events there, and each has drawn more than 600 spectators. …

“From two performances this year, McCarney expects to receive approximately $8,000 to support Vermont Food Education Every Day, a partnership of Shelburne Farms and the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont. More specifically, funds help sustain Jr Iron Chef VT, a statewide culinary competition for teams of middle and high school students charged with creating healthy, locally sourced dishes to improve school meals. …

” ‘The company is very tight; we’re very close,’ says Mercieca, 41, a member of Farm to Ballet since 2016. “‘It’s not competitive; it’s really supportive and a good place to be. …

” ‘We aren’t 40-pound creatures who can wrap their legs around their heads,’ adds company soloist Avi Waring. “We’re human beings,.’ …

“For most of Farm to Ballet’s choreography, Pregger reinterpreted ballet classics such as ‘Swan Lake’ and ‘Giselle’ to allow dancers to perform on grass without turns or pointe shoes. But each year he also created original choreography for one of the concerti in Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. ‘Bees & Friends’ combines those original works into a 45-minute performance set to the Vivaldi piece.” More here and here.

Read Full Post »


Photo: Snowiology
Princess Norodom Buppha Devi, half-sister of Cambodia’s King, has worked hard to reenergize the Royal Ballet of Cambodia, seen here at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre.

Cambodia went through dark years under Pol Pot, when like thousands of citizens, the arts were exterminated. Now a member of the royal family is putting her heart and soul into reviving the ballet. (“Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy, i.e. the King reigns but does not rule,” Wikipedia explains.)

In the process, Princess Norodom Buppha Devi is reliving memories of her own time in the Royal Ballet.

For Post Magazine, Kate Whitehead interviewed both the princess and the dancer pictured above.

“Chap Chamroeuntola is alone on stage. Dressed in a long pleated skirt and tight-fitting tunic, the 29-year-old stands on her left leg, eyes downcast. Her right foot is flexed, the sole facing the ceiling, and her wrists and ankles are strung with gold bangles. Despite the challenging pose and a towering gilt headdress, she is completely still. As the music rises to a crescendo she remains motion­less. Then her eyes, heavily ringed in kohl, dart up and she looks directly at the 74-year-old woman wrapped in a pink shawl sitting in the third row.

“Princess Norodom Buppha Devi, half-sister of Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihamoni, does not take her eyes off the dancer. No one in the packed Studio Theatre does. Slowly, Chap Chamroeuntola lowers her leg and turns, her arms held high, her fingers flexed against the joints. She moves as if in a trance and when six dancers join her on stage they, too, move as though under a spell. [Thus the] Royal Ballet of Cambodia made its Hong Kong debut. …

“Chap Chamroeuntola disliked the early years of her training and the hour each morning spent bending her fingers back into the hyperextended position that is typical of classical Cambodian ballet. …

“It takes nine years to learn the movements and the dances, she says. During that time she studied the history of classical ballet and fell in love with the art.

“ ‘The more I learned about the history, the more I got into it,’ she says. ‘I want to keep doing this to help my country, I will do everything I can to protect the classical dance.’

“If the dancers’ costumes and poses seem familiar to those who have not seen a performance by the Royal Ballet of Cambodia, the stone carvings at Angkor Wat might be the reason why. Its bas-reliefs show apsaras – celestial dancers – in all their gilded finery, dancing for the gods. And it’s at the ancient temple complex that the Royal Ballet of Cambodia originated – dance, drama and music performed as ritual offerings for the gods. …

“This explains why Chap Chamroeuntola and the other dancers appear to move in a trance-like state; they are praying. …

“ ‘I started dancing when I was five,’ says the princess, speaking through an interpreter. ‘My grandmother, Queen Kossamak, trained me. She was a very good choreographer. When I was six I joined the ballet.’ …

” ‘Everything was destroyed by the Khmer Rouge, it was the hardest time for us,’ says the princess, who serves as choreo­grapher, teacher and mentor for the dancers of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia. …

“ ‘When there was peace, I went looking for the dancers,’ says the princess. ‘Many of them had gone [into exile] in Thailand and came back. I found some and we made a troupe and I set up a school.’ ” More at the Post Magazine, here.

Read Full Post »

wireap_121e79980afb4486a166fcffa88e51b3_12x5_1600

Photo: Rajanish Kakade/AP
Amiruddin Shah, the son of a welder from a Mumbai slum, won a spot at the American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School in New York.

Even though I know the culture shock can’t be easy for poor but talented kids given opportunities that lift them from slums, I do enjoy these hopeful stories.

Manish Mehta writes for the Associated Press, “The son of a welder from [Mumbai’s] slums had a dream few Indians dared to dream — to dance with the New York City Ballet.

“In a few months, that dream may be a little bit closer as 15-year-old Amiruddin Shah begins four years of training at the prestigious American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. …

“Shah began studying ballet less than three years ago when Israeli-American instructor Yehuda Maor was invited by the Danceworx Academy to teach in India — a country with no special ballet academies.

“Maor happened to catch Shah doing cartwheels and backflips as part of the Danceworx jazz and contemporary dance program for underprivileged students.

“ ‘I had no idea about ballet,’ Shah recalled. He had been dancing freestyle whenever he got the chance — sometimes he was invited to weddings to perform, sometimes he just goofed around with friends. …

“Within 2 ½ years, Shah had nailed his pointe, pirouette and arabesque, ‘which is unheard of,’ Maor said. …

“Maor bought Shah ballet shoes and dance clothes and helped him and another young dancer, 21-year-old Manish Chauhan, win scholarships in June to New York’s Joffrey Ballet School. But they could not secure U.S. visas in time. …

“Now, Shah is trying to raise funds for four years of travel and tuition with the American Ballet Theatre in New York. They have enough for his first year, beginning in August, but have set up a website to accept donations for three more years in the U.S. …

“ ‘I am so excited, but slightly scared, too,’ said Shah, who speaks basic English but used Hindi in an interview with The Associated Press. ‘How would I interact with people? New York is very crowded.’

“One day, he hopes to be a principal dancer in the New York Ballet. And eventually, he said, ‘I want to teach other children who cannot afford to pay for dance.’ ” More here.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: