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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.
A few weeks ago, American Ballet Theatre announced the A.B.T. Women's Movement, a new program that will support three women choreographers per season, one of whom will make work on the main company.
"The ABT Women's Movement takes inspiration from the groundbreaking female choreographers who have left a lasting impact on ABT's legacy, including Agnes de Mille and Twyla Tharp," said artistic director Kevin McKenzie in a press release.
Hypothetically, this is a great idea. We're all for more ballet commissions for women. But the way ABT has promoted the initiative is problematic.
Some dancers move to New York City with their sights set on a dream job: that one choreographer or company they have to dance for. But when Maggie Cloud graduated from Florida State University in 2010, she envisioned herself on a less straightforward path.
"I always had in mind that I would be dancing for different people," she says. "I knew I had some kind of range that I wanted to tap into."
On the occasion of its 70th anniversary, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba tours the U.S. this spring with the resolute Cuban prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso a the helm. Named a National Hero of Labor in Cuba, Alonso, 97, has weathered strained international relations and devastating fiscal challenges to have BNC emerge as a world-class dance company. Her dancers are some of ballet's best. On offer this time are Alonso's Giselle and Don Quixote. The profoundly Cuban company performs in Chicago May 18–20, Tampa May 23, Washington, D.C., May 29–June 3 and Saratoga, New York June 6–8.
We all know that the general population's knowledge of ballet is sometimes...a bit skewed. (See: people touching their fingertips to the top of their head, and Kendall Jenner hopping around at the barre.)
Would your average Joe know how to do ballet's most basic step: a plié? Or, more to the point, even know what it is?
SELF decided to find out.
New York City Ballet is celebrating the Jerome Robbins Centennial with twenty (20!) ballets. The great American choreographer died in 1998, so very few of today's dancers have actually worked with him. There are plenty of stories about how demanding (at times brutally so) he could be in rehearsal. But Peter Boal has written about Robbins in a more balanced, loving way. In this post he writes about how Robbins' crystal clear imagery helped him approach a role with clarity and purpose.
Who says you need fancy equipment to make a festival-worthy dance film? Right now, two New York City–based dance film festivals are calling for aspiring filmmakers to show their stuff—and you don't need anything more cumbersome than a smartphone to get in on the action.
Here's everything you need to know about how to submit:
When Lisset Santander bourréed onstage as Myrtha in BalletMet's Giselle this past February, her consummate portrayal of the Queen of the Wilis was marked by steely grace and litheness. The former Cuban National Ballet dancer had defected to the U.S. at 21, and after two years with the Ohio company, she's now closer to the dance career she says she always wanted: one of limitless possibilities.
For 17 years, James Samson has been the model Paul Taylor dancer. There is something fundamentally decent about his stage persona. He's a tall dancer—six feet—but never imposes himself. He's muscular, but gentle. And when he moves, it is his humanity that shines through, even more than his technique.
But all dancing careers come to an end, and James Samson's is no exception; now 43, he'll be retiring in August, after a final performance at the Teatro Romano in Verona, where he'll be dancing in Cloven Kingdom, Piazzolla Caldera and Promethean Fire.
The wait for Alexei Ratmansky's restaging of Petipa's Harlequinade is almost over! But if you can't wait until American Ballet Theatre officially debuts the ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House on June 6, we've got you covered. ABT brought the Harlequinade characters to life (and to the Alder Mansion in Yonkers, NY) in a short film by Ezra Hurwitz, and it's a guaranteed to make you laugh.
When an anonymous letter accused former New York City Ballet leader Peter Martins of sexual harassment last year, it felt like what had long been an open secret—the prevalence of harassment in the dance world—was finally coming to the surface. But the momentum of the #MeToo movement, at least in dance, has since died down.
Martins has retired, though an investigation did not corroborate any of the claims against him. He and former American Ballet Theatre star Marcelo Gomes, who suddenly resigned in December, were the only cases to make national headlines in the U.S. We've barely scratched the surface of the dance world's harassment problem.