Best Picture or Not, La La Land Won Sascha Radetsky's Heart
I like to think of myself as a maverick, bucking trends, trotting down my own path. I'd rather camp in a snowy forest than bronze on a sunny beach. I prefer B.B. King to Beyoncé. I have yet to see Hamilton.
Still from La La Land. PC Dale Robinette.
But over the weekend, I did see the film that waltzed home with an armful of Oscars (if not, in the end, Best Picture): Damien Chazelle's La La Land. And, a bit reluctantly, I found myself aswoon in the jade pools of Mia's (Emma Stone) eyes, stirred by Sebastien's (Ryan Gosling) heartfelt idealism, rooting for the two dreamers to triumph in their respective art forms and, especially, in their romance.
I let go of my cynicism and gave in to the film. And I loved it.
Sure, Mandy Moore's choreography could have delivered more sophistication and polish, but not without bona-fide dancers—and lesser, or at least less-accomplished actors—in the leads.
Still from the opening scene of La La Land. PC Dale Robinette.
The score—whimsical classical, swelling ballads, jazz ranging from big band to bebop, and A Flock of Seagulls flyby—was subtly, earnestly affecting. A measure of restraint seemed to bind the music and dancing and buoy their collective potency; as Seb's forebear Thelonious Monk famously observed, What you don't play can be more important than what you do.
Although Mia's final song veered precariously into the sentimental, after exiting the theater, I didn't feel like anything had been shoved down my throat, the way I do when I watch a superhero movie, or a current White House press briefing. On the contrary, there was a hint of jaunt in my gait, and I felt light as air. I may or may not have performed a dorky little soft shoe for my wife when she emerged from the Regal Union Square Stadium 14 ladies' room.
Some people have expressed reservations about La La Land's embrace of nostalgia. But I'd venture that our intellectual wingspan is broad enough to honor historical periods' redeeming features, however trivial—in this instance, the mainstream popularity of dance and jazz—while still recognizing their grave failures.
Questions have also been raised about the responsibility of artists in turbulent times such as our own, about the ethics of creating apolitical, escapist works when the here and now call for urgent action. But La La Land guilelessly celebrates the arts, and thus the film is a political statement, if a faintly self-indulgent one. Regardless, is offering a two-hour egress from reality such a dereliction of duty? Maybe we'll return refreshed, inspired, our jaws set and shoulders leveled to tackle the issues of today.
I'm convinced that the La La Land quibblers are part curmudgeon. Give them a dozen roses, they'll grasp the petals and sniff the thorns. I'm several parts curmudgeon myself, so I can spot the species.
But I did watch and thoroughly enjoy several of this year's Best Picture Oscar nominees: Manchester by the Sea (poetic, in its way, and duly sad), Moonlight (beautiful, relevant and deserving of its win), and Hell or High Water (saw it twice because it's plain badass). Comparing them is like comparing a Braeburn apple to a Florida orange to a Texas prickly pear; they're all diverse and worthwhile flicks.
Still from La La Land
None, however, have lingered with me like La La Land. None of them compelled me to dust off a Coltrane or Bud Powell masterpiece and gather my girl up in my arms for a swing around the living room. None made me loath to let go of her afterwards.
La La Land is all shimmering stars, silhouetted palms, sunsets burning grandly over sweeping Los Angeles skylines. The eyes, and all the senses, are fed a feast: the film's photography, writing, sets and costumes, music, singing, and yes, dancing, are the ingredients of a sublime meal.
The passions get their fill, too; above all, La La Land is a love story, although the film doesn't require the backdrop of a sinking ocean liner or whizzing bullets to make you feel the stakes. It just needs a little song, a little dance, a little surrender from the so-called mavericks among us.
For the past 3 years, choreographer Stephen Petronio has been reviving groundbreaking works of postmodern dance through his BLOODLINES project. This season, although his company will be performing a work by Merce Cunningham, his own choreography moves in a more luxurious direction. We stepped into the studio with Petronio and his dancers where they were busy creating a new work, Hardness 10, named for the categorization of diamonds.
'Tis the season to have some fun in the kitchen. If you want to get more creative than simply baking another pumpkin pie, try these Nutcracker-themed treats—created by and for dancers. These recipes from former Boston Ballet and Joffrey Ballet dancers were first published in Dance Magazine's December 1990 issue. Today, they're still guaranteed to turn any holiday party or dressing room into a true Land of the Sweets.
It's no secret that affording college is a challenge for many students. And for dancers, there are added complications, like the relative lack of merit scholarships that take artistic talent into consideration and the improbability of a stable salary to pay off loans post-graduation. But no matter your budget, a smart approach to the application process can help you focus less on money and more on your training.
According to Drexel University performing arts department head Miriam Giguere, figuring out the kind of financial assistance a school offers is just as important as navigating what kind of dance program you want. Here's how to incorporate finances into your decision-making process:
When dancers get injured, they often think they should eat less. The thought process goes something like, Since I'm not able to move as much as I usually do, I'm not burning enough calories to justify the portions I'm used to.
But the truth is, scaling back your meals could actually be detrimental to your healing process.
We always figured that stretching made us more flexible by loosening up our muscles and joints. Some of us, ahem, might have even tried to fall asleep in our middle splits to get our stubbornly stiff inner thighs to let go.
But it turns out that might not actually be how stretching works.
A new review published in the Scandinavian Journal of Science & Medicine in Sports suggests that increased flexibility actually comes from your brain growing more used to the tension.
"Women are often presented as soft, fragile little creatures in ballet," says Léonore Baulac. "We're not." The Paris Opéra Ballet's newest female étoile is discussing her unease at some of the 19th-century narratives she portrays. "It was real acting," she says with a laugh of La Sylphide. "James kills her by taking away her wings, yet she tells him not to worry and goes to die elsewhere onstage!"
Sitting in the canteen of the Palais Garnier, Baulac embodies some of ballet's contradictions in the 21st century. With her fair curls and dainty features, she could easily pass for a little girl's fantasy princess. As Juliet, she exuded a girlish ardor that felt entirely natural; her reservations notwithstanding, her Sylphide was committed and carefully Romantic in style.
Yet the 27-year-old is no ingénue. At Garnier that day, her sweater reads "I can't believe I still have to protest this s**t," a feminist slogan; last winter, Baulac proudly wore it over a Kitri tutu on Instagram. And her repertoire is as thoroughly modern as she is offstage. A versatile performer even by Parisian standards, she is equally at home in Nutcracker as she is in the works of Pina Bausch and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker.
With her fearless demeanor onstage, it's easy to see how Washington Ballet apprentice Sarah Steele attracted the keen eye of former American Ballet Theatre stars Julie Kent and Ethan Stiefel. Promoted mid-season from the studio company by artistic director Kent, Steele was cast by Stiefel as the lead in Frontier, his world premiere for The Washington Ballet, this past spring. For the space-themed piece, Steele donned a black-and-white "space suit" onstage, exhibiting dual qualities of strength and grace. Most evocative about Steele's dancing might be her innate intelligence—she was accepted to Harvard on early admission, and plans to resume her studies there in the future. But first, she'll dance.
Lots of college groups do stepping—a form of body percussion based on slapping, tapping and stomping—but Step Afrika! is the first professional dance company to do it. They are currently at New York City's New Victory Theater, presenting The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence, a show based on the painting series by Harlem Renaissance artist Jacob Lawrence about The Great Migration of the 1900s, when millions of African Americans fled the Jim Crow South and traveled by train to the North for a better life. The Great Migration transformed the demographics of the country, and Jacob Lawrence's paintings became famous for their bold color and evocative power.
As we approach Thanksgiving, there's much to be grateful for. Perhaps one of the most important things on your list is dance. Whether you're a full-time company member, an aspiring professional, an audience member, or you simply delight in dancing in your daydreams, this art form is a creative escape.
That's not to say that being a dancer is easy: Pursuing such a competitive career can be heartbreaking, especially when you're faced with rejection.
La Folía, a short dance film by director Adam Grannick that was recently released online, echoes these sentiments in under 12 minutes.
It took two years of intense nutrition counseling and psychotherapy to pull me out of being anorexic. My problem now is that I've gained too much weight from eating normally. Is there no middle ground? I can't fit into my clothes, but I don't want to go back to being sick.
—Former Anorexic, Weston, CT