Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement – New London Exhibition

Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement - Website Logo

Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement - The Rehearsal

The Rehearsal c 1874

Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement is a new exhibition at The Royal Academy of Arts running to December 11.

In the museum’s words the exhibition ‘focuses on Edgar Degas’s preoccupation with movement as an artist of the dance’. The exhibition sets out to trace the development of the French artist’s ballet imagery throughout his career, from the documentary mode of the early 1870s to the sensuous expressiveness of his final years. (the first decades of the 20th Century).

A video on their website explains further what is hoped for the exhibition. Its presenter and co-curator Ann Dumas describes a perception of Degas as a ‘chocolate box artist’. What is usually implied by that is that the artist, or the art at least, is saccharine and sentimental – though Monet now is a staple of them and their kin the calendar – how many decades before the common conservative palette blinks not an eye at a Kandinsky or a Pollack on a chocolate box?! Conservatism is always behind liberalism – it used to be centuries in its footsteps now with the faster flow of freedom and information merely decades behind.

Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement Women Dancing

Edweard Muybridge Women Dancing 1884-6

The exhibition she explains sets out to challenge that perception and to ask why his fascination with the dance. Their answer that he was obsessed with exploring the human figure in movement – both in context of the contemporary photography and the birth of the moving image in film with fellow Frenchmen the Lumière Brothers and of his own drawings, paintings and sculptures.

And then to the particular question, if an interest in the human body in movement why the ballet dancer and not a sporting figure for example. Their answer that he lived in the heart of Paris and ballet and opera were accessible to him and that ballet movement in particular was of a very sophisticated and complex movement.

It should be noted that he painted race-horses too though over half his paintings were of dancers.

He was called a proto-Impressionist – but rejected this describing himself as a realist.

For myself I have never considered Degas sentimental despite misappropriation by the nostalgia industry and if I should be in London in the coming months I will be making a bee-line to see this RAA exhibition.

Agony & Ecstacy: The BBC’s Year with English National Ballet

Daria Klimentova

Daria Klimentova

Last year was English National Ballet‘s 60th Anniversary and the BBC spent that year with the company.

The result is this three-part series of sixty-minute episodes, currently being re-shown on BBC 4, Agony & Ecstasy: A Year with English National Ballet.

The first episode followed the rehearsals and eventual performance of Swan Lake at the Royal Albert Hall.

As the English National Ballet is blessed with talented choreographers and ballerinas so too they have blessed the BBC with a cast of characters for this series.

There is the choreographer Derek Deane a friendly (ish) autocrat who bullies and only very occasionally flatters the dancers under his direction. Close to the opening performance the Musical Director Gavin Sutherland gets an earful for his in Deane’s view errant tempos – in contrast Sutherland’s view of a lot of hot-air vent by Deane – alas the BBC Cameras did not film this encounter – or if they did diplomatically chose not to show it!

English National Ballet Swan Lake Albert Hall

Royal Albert Hall

Then there is the leading man or boy – shy twenty old Russian Vadim Muntagirov – is he inarticulate because he is shy or because of his English or because he has little to say. It is not clear but on stage he transforms as Prince Siegried, his ballet moves as eloquent a testimony as any words he might have spoke.

Finally there is ENB Lead-ballerina Czech Daria Klimentova filling in for absent Work-Visa-delayed international ballet superstar Russian Polina Semionova, as Princess Odette. Now 38 which in ballet terms is quite old and as another of the troupe euphemistically called her ‘in the autumn of her years’ and of which she self-deprecatingly said regarding her pending first-night performance that she is not that nervous as she is hardly going to be discovered and hailed a ballet-star at this late stage of her career.

Daria Klimentova in Romeo and Juliet

Her performance though confounded her and the doubting director’s, it being compared to Margot Fonteyn as the young Russian compared to Rudolph Nureyev. She was as delightful off-stage as elegant on-stage.

Alongside the prima-ballerinas were the supporting cast which in Swan Lake’s case included sixty swans for sixty years of the English National Ballet and sixty ballerinas required giving additional opportunities for ballet-dancers in what can be fleeting and occasional ones in these very competitive rehearsals.

Notable too was the wear and tear on the ballerina’s bodies – the bone, muscle and tendon injuries, the daily blisters and scuffs.

Successful Swan Lake Candidate Ballerina

The BBC program is not just following the performers and choreographers but those behind the scenes – the managers and administrators and other background support. In the year the UK Coalition Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government announced Arts funding cuts to pay for the bankers who caused the 2008 Global financial crisis to continue living the uber-wealthy life they are accustomed English National Ballet is having to reflect what this could mean for their own future. Being as taxpayer funding is a significant contributor to their touring work.

In this first episode the Managing Director Craig Hassall is only floating the possibility of cuts and beginning to explore options open to them – no performances and staff jobs have yet been lost.

The second and third episodes will centre around performances of Romeo & Juliet and Christmas Nutcracker respectively and new ballerinas and choreographers for we the viewers to get to know.

The trials and joys of running the English National Ballet and the staff involved will though remain and I am looking forward to watching how they face these challenges, alongside the backdrop of abundant beautiful ballet.

English National Ballet’s Fashionable Tutu’s

Fashion and ballet collide. Two of my favourite things combined. I would likely be uncritically predisposed to like whatever the outcome but thankfully I need not surrender my critical faculties – the results are magical.

The task set to high-five, high-fashion the Tutu. Though perhaps a Tutu plain and simple is beautiful and unimprovable? Needing no fashionable embellishment?

Designers such as Julien MacDonald, Giles Deacon, Erden and Moschino set out to do just that all the same – and perhaps like the Kanye West Runaway video, also inspired by Natalie Portman as Black Swan Nina Sayers and her Rodarte-designed Tutus.

And these Haute Couture Tutu’s can be ours being sold at public auction though only if you have about you a pretty penny. Auctioned following their catwalk presentation at The Orangery in London’s Kensington Palace as part of the English National Ballet‘s Summer Party on June 29 featuring too their performance of Strictly Gershwin.

And not just the Tutu refashioned but the pump too by Christian Louboutin and Beatrix Ong – outside the dreams of David Lynch just how plausible to Arabesque in Louboutin, to Cabriole in Ong?

Beatrix Ong sees her ballerina in white heels matching a traditional white tutu – fabulous even if on the fashion catwalk only.

Black and white is the signature Cygnet colour palette – but I was also taken with Kinder Aggugini’s playful floral red and white mini Tutu. Transmuting not transgressing the black and white in silver to grey is Erdem with a much more maximalist creation. Were I literally fortunate enough to be part of this auction this would be the piece I would be silent iPad bidding on.

But I will not be so at least do not have to choose between these fantastical fantasy tutus.

All that is missing now is HD images of these ballerina ensembles and for the catwalk ballet to be recorded in HD video – don’t want to miss a stitch!

Kanye West – Runaway – Black Swan Video

Kanye West‘s song Runaway about having it all and losing it all, about magpies loving peacocks, about putting work before your family, about not facing-up but running away.

And for the video the song is put to dance. And as you can see not a dance of slow-burning sweating night-out clubbers or lithe writhing lap-dancers but ballet-dancers. If no typical classical treatment rather a free-form jam, a bevy of black-swans.

To see the ballet performance in its entirety from their running entrance in two rows as the repeated piano-motif of Tuxedo-wearing Kanye West on an old upright chimes the song and the ballerinas in to the exit in same style you need to watch the 8 minutes 29 seconds version. There is a shorter version – a mere 5 minutes 40 seconds and this longer 8 minutes 29 seconds version is itself an excerpt of the video-film ‘Runaway’ of 34 minutes and 33 seconds. Like 1960’s Bob Dylan album-tracks you have to be committed to them to hear them out.

Prior to the ballerinas’ entrance a banquet had taken place in a huge vaulted abandoned ware-house space.

This huge industrial space the stage for the black swan dance, its cavernous dilapidated brick-wall the backdrop.

Only as the piano entrance fades and the synthesised drums kick into life do the swans dance into life.

A brief cut-away to the banquet table for toasting for the douchebags and ass-holes and scum-bags and jerk-offs.

Later in this self-directed video Kanye West steps-up upon the upright but of course the piano chords continue their plangent pace.

The ballet theme was perhaps already heralded by the single with its cover a George Condo photograph of a ballerina. Another cover of the song also featured a ballerina image by George Condo this time a painting. The video in the same year 2010 as the Darren Aronofsky directed, Natalie Portman starred Black Swan film opus clearly left its mark here.

As the orchestra emerges on the soundtrack the video tracks back to his romantic love-phoenix (played by model Selita Ebanks) watching seated at the banquet table.

Cuts back to the ballet and the orchestra dies from the soundtrack and the dancers become statues. The orchestra re-emerges and they resume their dance.

So the dance continues, they exit with the song.