Thursday, August 26, 2010

Dance, Dance, Dance Little Lady

Though I am no longer working - my choice by the way - I am still having a bit of trouble finding time to get the posts on Pesaro and the trip to Umbria completed but they will come - no honestly they will. In the meantime I'm struggling through the monthly task of translating items for Ballet2000. One can only hope that working with the flowery and complicated proses of dance criticism will teach me to temper my own writing when it comes to reviews.

In the meantime, as a break from making a 95 word Italian sentence with three subordinate clauses but not a principal clause in sight into readable English, I thought I'd post some dance related caricatures from the wonderful world of Einar Nerman.

In the classical dance world of the first half of the 20th century there was no hope of success unless you had a Russian or French name. Thus Alicia Marks from Finsbury Park became Alicia Markova and Patrick Healey-Kay from Slinfold, Sussex became Anton Dolin. No matter what their names theirs was an incredible partnership that galvanized the dance world between the Wars and guided it as teachers, choreographers and company founders and directors after they retired from the stage.

There is a bit of a Rossini connection in this one. La Boutique Fantastique* (sic) was a ballet created by Léonide Massine for Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in 1919 and is set to a suite of music adapted by Ottorino Respighi from piano pieces by Rossini. It is the familiar story of toys in a shop that come to life after hours. The Can-Can Doll was one of Lydia Lopokova's signature roles.
Much as been written about Serge Diaghilev (in fact a new book was just reviewed in the New York Times), a man who's only talent was the ability to recognize and nurture the talent of others. It difficult to imagine what the world of dance, music and the visual arts would have become if he had not encouraged so many dancers, artists, choreographers, writers and composers to exercise their creativity. Here he's shown with dancer Anna Pavlova, designer Leon Bakst and composer Igor Stravinsky.

This drawing always makes me smile - Nerman captures both the fluidity and the foolishness of the great Isadora Duncan. Just as he captures her with his lines so that remarkable writer Janet Flanner captured her in words in her profile for The New Yorker written in 1927 just after Isadora's death.
In the summer of 1926, like a ghost from the grave, Isadora Duncan began dancing again in Nice. Two decades before, her art, animated by her extraordinary public personality, came as close to founding an aesthetic renaissance as American morality would allow, and the provinces especially had a narrow escape. But in postwar European years her body, whose Attic splendor once brought Greece to Kansas and Kalamazoo, was approaching its half-century mark. Her spirit was still green as a bay tree, but her flesh was worn, perhaps by the weight of laurels. She was the last of the trilogy of great female personalities our century cherished. Two of them, Duse and Bernhardt, had already gone to their elaborate national tombs. Only Isadora Duncan, the youngest, the American, remained wandering the foreign earth.

The Introduction to Isadora from Paris Was Yesterday
Janet Flanner
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

The Austerlitz kids from Nebraska did pretty damned good for themselves. Fred and his older sister Adele formed a partnership at the age most children were starting grade school. It led them to New York, London and the entertainment capitals of the world and along the way they changed their last name to Astaire. Shows, skits and songs were written for them and after their split up in 1932 they both went on to successful careers: Adele as the wife of first a British Lord and then a CIA director. As for Fred I'll once again quote from the New Yorker:
From “The Gay Divorcee” (1934), two visions of the sublime. First: Fred Astaire getting ready to go out. He’s in a dressing gown, which he removes, slinging it behind his back to his butler. Singing all the while, he chooses one tie, rejects it, chooses another, moves to a mantelpiece at the side of the room, and halts. And then, in a single long take, he dances around a couch and right into his jacket, which is held by the butler, inserts a boutonnière, leaps over the couch, dances around it again, does three heel-clicking leaps, mounts a chair at the door, receives his bowler and umbrella—flipped by the butler—and goes out. Second: Astaire singing “Night and Day,” Cole Porter’s greatest song, and then leading Ginger Rogers, who has been resisting him, into a long dance of seduction, with heart-stopping episodes of aggression, temporary acquiescence, fierce pleading, and, finally, submission, all of it dramatized with dance, as dance.
David Denby
Film Forum - The New Yorker
August 30, 2010
To read more by David Denby click here.

The Music Hall of the 1920s-30s had a fascination with the pan-sexual. Perhaps it reached its zenith with Barbette - a Texas trapeze artist who performed in drag - but was certainly seen in many acts of the time. The Rocky Twins were two young and beautiful Norwegian dancers whose European careers took off when they appeared in Paris just after their 18th birthday. They were adored by the French audiences and were popular throughout Europe. They were so alike that it was often said that you could never tell which one you were talking to or which one you had slept with.

*The ballet is actually titled La Boutique fantasque and was mislabeled in the compilation of Nerman's drawings published by HARRAP.

More of Nerman's delightful caricatures are posted here and here.

26 agosto - Sant'Alessandro di Bergamo
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French Bean & Coffee Bean said...

I do like looking at the style of drawing from the 1920s. There is just something so airy about it.

And La Boutique Fantastique isn't quite a (sic) to me. ;-)

-French Bean

Doralong said...

What a delightful gift! Thank you!

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Your mention of the Rocky Twins reminds me of that bit of business in Cabaret (1998 revival version) where the Emcee is able to tell 2 identical twin men apart simply by grabbing their crotches! Might that have been an homage to the Rocky Twins whose European popularity was at its height during the same time period in which Cabaret is set? Hmmmm.

yvette said...

Anything about Ginger and Fred is wonderful. I am a great fan. Thank you so much.