Everyone should see a Ballet once in their lifetime…even if you end up not liking it. To see Ballet in HD on the big screen gives you an appreciation of a dancers’ incredible athleticism whether you can follow the story line or not. Often it doesn’t matter. It originated during the Italian Renaissance around the 15th century but was further as a concert dance form in France and Russia to be primarily performed with classical music. The world originates in the Latin Ballo, Ballare, meaning to dance. Many have never had any exposure to this glorious art form, but now, thanks to some very smart and forward thinking promoters who have glommed on to the Metropolitan’ Opera’s Live in HD smash-up that is in its third season of live broadcasts, we – the great unwashed – are being treated to the best of the best – wonderful productions from the Royal Ballet in London, and now the Bolshoi Ballet showing of Ramonda August 26 at our local cinema, The River in Rancho Mirage. So sad that Cinnemark can’t be bothered to promote what they are offering. But word of mouth is a powerful thing, isn’t it? So pass this one on to all your friends and I’ll keep you posted as more become available.
As more and more world-wide venues upgrade to the requisite equipment to film these incredible productions, we the audience get to enjoy resources such as Emerging Cinemas and others who are treating us not only to Ballet but also to Shakespeare at the Globe in London (last year we saw three outstanding offerings); The Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Canada which brought us Christopher Plummer in The Tempest (reviewed in my June 16th post; Opera from Teatro Alla Scala, Bologna and of course the grandest of old ladies, The Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Last year the LA Phil gave us two fantastic live concerts from Disney Hall with Gustavo Dudamel, that 30-year-old wunderkind who is by far the world’s greatest conductor. To watch him conduct up close and personal through the lens of the camera, you know exactly why the LA Phil has become the world’s premiere orchestra.
Television is doing its best to keep up with the competition of culture at the big cinema, and kudos should go out to reality shows that are delighted to sift through the worst of the worst America has to offer in order to unearth the pure, unadulterated talent that is out there, lurking in obscurity while praying for Big Bucks Hollywood to come knocking. Of course, “the worst” are what boost the ratings…like a passing a train wreck…we just can’t pull our eyes away from the wretchedly sad characters who are like junkies clawing their way towards that fifteen seconds of fame, no matter how personally embarrassing. I’m always amazed at the audience’s ability to revere talent and in the same breath wallow in the most pathetically awful examples of what humanity can produce when run amuck.
Here’s a quick run down of some of my favorites. The Voice got its legs last season even though much of the format is cheesy-over-the-top. Fortunately the talent does shine through if you can ignore the ridiculous posturing of the judges (the Sing Off was an exception to that criticism) whose egos just can’t resist competing with the naive contestants who so desperately crave stardom, all the while whining about how they’ve “worked soooooo hard” to get there.
Hey! “Hard work” is the only thing that will ever get you anything, anywhere! Suck it up. By some twist of fate you landed in the big leagues, put on your big girl panties and deal with it. Stop the sniveling. There is a huuuge difference between ‘a star wannabe’ and having the true, undeniable passion that drives you to do what you do. You sing or dance, because you simply can not, not sing or dance. That is what pushes through the most painful rejection and crushing disappointment that is the gauntlet of ‘making it’ in the entertainment business today. Make no mistake: it is The Most Ruthless of Businesses.
The X Factor format plays this waaaaay over the top and can border on emotional cruelty when they take advantage of contestants who are not emotionally stable enough to endure the incredible demands of the competition. You think life is tough? You think training for a marathon would be tough? Try going through thirteen weeks of non-stop, 24-hour, rehearsals; weekly performances of not one but two or three pieces that must be polished to perfection; learning new material; no sleep; mentors pushing and pulling according to what they think makes a star, yada yada yada. ‘They – the mentors, the suits, the fans, the judges - pick at your clothes, crab about your hair, complain about your choices until you begin to wonder..is this about the contestant or is this about conflict = ratings? Only the most centered, healthy individual can endure such pressures…not some fragile individual just out of drug rehab or into their third month of sobriety. Anybody worried about what happens to those tender souls when they get tossed on the reject pile in front of twenty million viewers and some idiot MC grabs them and says “tell me how you’re feeling?” However, the X Factor, in spite of itself and nasty old Simon Cowel (who isn’t anything of the sort) last season did produce the most amazing winner, Melanie Amaro. This little singing angel didn’t go in for the drama – she just stood there and sang her heart out and it was NO CONTEST! The cream does rise to the top!
The Sing Off was an a-capella format featuring real singers with incredible musicality who simply let their true vocal chops do the work. What a breath of fresh air. Made up of mostly young college singing groups, the audience was treated to a refreshing “revisit” to those salad days when gorgeous four, five, and six-part harmonies were popular. No dependence on mechanics and technical tricks which camouflages the lack of true vocal talent in the majority of today’s “stars.” But of course! Sadly but predictably, NBC in it’s usual lack of class/talent/intelligence canceled the show because it was up against said X Factor. Guess there wasn’t enough blood on the floor. However, there is a social media campaign to reinstate it. Let’s see if the power of Social Media can win one for quality vs quantity.
One of the most wonderful reality competitions is So You Think You Can Dance, in its ninth season. This year’s group of contestants shows us the incredible athleticism necessary in these world-of-dance genres - from hip-hop to ballroom and ballet. Their routines are as demanding as anything our olympic athletes showed us last month. It’s lovely, too, to see the choreographers getting a bit of fame-rub-off, as they are publicly applauded for their amazing choreography each week. These judges do take their roles seriously and it shows. The format is geared to bring out the best. Their sharp but fair critiques don’t sugar coat their tough love message that the execution of the routine didn’t make the grade. This past week, they had the option of saving one beautiful dancer, Cheon, who even though he is clearly the most talented and best trained dancer in the group, had not garnered the requisite votes to stay in the competition. I suspect that he’s just not grinning and pandering to the audience, as he is a very serious dancer (trained at the Royal Ballet in London.) Head judge and executive producer (not only this show but also American Idol,) Nigel Lithgoe, put it very simply: For some, dancing is an option, but for dancers like Cheon, it is the only option. How right you are Nigel.
In all, talent is everywhere, quality programing is there, and culture is alive and well, albeit sandwiched between the annoyingly crass need to sell stuff and pander to the worst in all of us. But thanks to technology, we just tape the show and then watch it later and wiz through those commercials. So - I’m willing to sift through the train wrecks to applaud the hard work and raw talent that finally has a chance to be seen and heard. For so many years TV fed us such a bland, empty-calorie-diet of mindless pabulum, all this reality fever is a welcome change. Nothing like high drama awash with tears and trauma.
A housekeeping note. I was inspecting the way this blog appears when it arrives in your e-mail box. Horrors! I am reminded once again that technology is NEVER what it’s cracked up to be. Depending on your operating system, the size of your monitor, the search engine you use; my carefully crafted blog can come crashing, banging, sliding into your computer system like a drunken sailor! Not to mention the typos that sneak through even after ten rewrites. (Yes, writing does not come flying out of anyone’s brain, to land perfectly on the page, even if you are Hemingway - it takes many many rewrites.) So please accept my apologies for anything less than a perfect post. It’s what I strive for, but as I look back I see that I often fail. So sorry. My bad. My heartfelt thanks for reading. I’m like those dancers and singers…I can not, not write. I appreciate the many readers who pop in to see what I’m thinking about, and I especially appreciate it when you pass it along to your friends. I am humbled and honored.