Monday, February 11, 2008

A little breather

Sorry, I have been gone for a few days.

I was very busy restaging When We Have The Stars and Mambomania. Got a nice chunk done. Both pieces should be set by the end of the week, if not earlier. I shortened one of the pieces from Joplin, it was just too long. It is much better now.

As its Monday, I had the day off from the ballet. I took advantage of that to go down to Chula Vista Middle to work with the kids to fulfill my obligations for the California Arts Council.

Our YouTube clip today is...

Cheek to Cheek. I had mentioned that this was one of my favorite things. Now you can go and watch it. There was another version of this on YouTube without the subtitles, but for some reason they decided that it would be okay to cut off Fred and Ginger at the ankles for most of the dance.

This dance looks so simple, but every time I watch it I catch some cool little thing that Fred throws in. I really feel sorry for the latest generation, whose idols think that flash is a substitute for class. And worldliness equals sophistication.

It makes me think of the Grammy Awards, which were on last night. Today's singers all sing as if they want to impress you. Hearing Alicia Keyes "duet" with Frank Sinatra just brought this to the fore. He was just singing a song. She was working.

Well, I don't want to be "Impressed" with a singer. I want to be "moved" by a song.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Day Two and Memories

Went back and tweaked the end of Joplinesque. So now it looks like I want it to.

Started to mess with Carnival of the Animals Finale. it has a way to go, but it will get there.

We also had a photographer from the Union Tribune come in today to shoot the dancers for an upcoming preview. I love how the dancers are so relaxed about it. We generally have a very relaxed atmosphere in rehearsal. So when we have visitors that doesn't change.

Today's Youtube delight is...

This is a dance from Deep In My Heart, featuring Cyd Charisse and James Mitchell. It is quite a nice dance and was choreographed by Eugene Loring. (Charisse's singing is dubbed, but that is of little importance.)

Loring was responsible for quite a few great dance numbers in the Golden Age of Hollywood musicals. And this one is plenty long. The reason I chose this particular dance isn't because of Loring though... or Charisse... or James Mitchell.

It is because when Loring choreographed this dance, he didn't do it on Charisse and Mitchell. He set it on his assistants at the time, who just happen to be my first dance teachers, Jack Tygett and his wife, Marjorie Baker (Marge.) Once the dance was finished, he showed it to Charisse for her approval. Jack T. and Marge then taught it to James and Cyd.

As much as the dance suits Charisse and Mitchell to a "T", I can see Jack and Marge all over it. Particularly in all of the twisty, turney, hingey lifts. That... and all of the smoldering looks. Although, I am sure that Jack and Marge would have had a bit of fun doing it.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

First Day Back

Started up again with the dancers.

We restaged the finale of Joplinesque. I am happier with it. I have to do one final tweak to the corps girls. Tomorrow, I'll fix the second to the last number and all will be set with that.

We also started (and finished) a prologue for Romeo and Juliet. Had a little problem getting Pali to stand like a piece of Renaissance sculpture. He has such good posture, that getting the curvy S shape in his body is difficult.

As for our continuing "gems' from YouTube segment...

Here is a segment from the Eddie Cantor TV show. As silly as the number is (Its all about a "clean sweep!") there is some great dancing AND stylistically it is wonderful.

Shows like this generally rehearsed for a few days and were then shown live. No retakes. So that poor guy who drops his broom probably never thought it would come back to haunt him.

I LOVE the guy in this blues pas de deux. I didn't even notice that the female dancer was doing all this broom sweeping mime at the beginning. I was just watching the male dancer doing his great forward camel walks.

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Monday, February 04, 2008

So Close...

We had rain over the weekend. Its always such a treat to fall asleep to the pitter patter of raindrops. If I had my wish, it would rain every night for an hour. Just to put me to sleep.

The dancers come back tomorrow. And we have a jam packed week ahead.

While we wait, here are a couple of interesting dance novelties.

The first is a riff on a traditional Apache (pronounced uh-paash) Dance. Generally in an Apache, you have a man violently throwing his partner from one pose to another. It's like a sadistic tango. The difference here is that we have two men and one woman.

This was probably a vaudeville act that was filmed as a short to be played along with feature films. Like Bugs Bunny cartoons and news briefs were. So the routine wasn't created for the film. They probably traveled around the theatrical circuit for years.

One usually doesn't associate this degree of flexibility with performers of the time, but it just shows to go you that nothing is new in this world. We just need to take time to forget it, so it can become new again.

The second piece is also an acrobatic act...

You have to fast forward past a rather elaborate intro (complete with singer and dancing couples), but then you strike gold!

Here we have 3 men tossing a girl around, as effortlessly as if she was a baton. The difference is, where the other number was all angst, this one is as bright and precise as the Austrian tune which accompanies it.

Don't look away or you will miss the next toss. There is one pass which I still don't now how they do it. Ah the joy of YouTube.

I'll leave you with a fun juxtaposition of Josephine Baker dancing to a current popular Latin tune... Juana la Cubana.

Friday, February 01, 2008

The Man- Sammy

Sammy Davis Jr was a born entertainer.
Don't believe me?
Here he is at 7 years of age.

Now, the first part of the clip is Sammy singing, but at the end he gives us a hint of what he was doing dance wise.

Already a seasoned pro.
Sammy's dad was partners with another tap dancer, Will Matsen. As Sammy grew, joined the act which would become the Will Masten Trio. He quickly became the star of the act. In this clip, you will see why.

Just a note, while Sammy's facial expressions may seem over the top, that was very much the style of the boogie woogie singers of the time, like Martha Raye and Betty Hutton. Even the Andrew Sisters have a shade of it in their performances.

Many people have referred to Sammy as the original triple threat. He could sing, dance and act. But that wasn't all, as this clip shows there didn't seem to be anything that Davis couldn't do.

But Davis had started as a dancer. And although he later became equally known as a song stylist, it is his dancing that is being praised here. In this clip from the Tonight Show (with Johnny Carson), he sings and dances to a song made popular by another hoofer, Gene Kelly.

What is of note in this performance (and the Fascinating Rhythm clip), is the variety of rhythms he introduces us to. The invention. He constantly comes up with something that is a bit of a surprise to us. And keeps us interested. And look at the carriage of his upper body, he is so cool.

It should be remembered that tap dancers all once emulated this. When Gregory Hines came along later, he brought with him a more introverted style (a la Miles Davis) complete with hunched shoulders. Savion Glover took this to an even further level, where tappers suddenly became much more interested in sound and less in "dance."

The interesting thing is that for all the interest in sound, there is actually less variety of rhythm.

Sammy had a signature piece, Mr. Bojangles.

Davis mentioned in an interview that people often thought he was referencing the great Bill "Bojangles" Robinson with the song. That was not quite the case. He said that he sang the song for ALL of the black hoofers who had danced in vaudeville and stages back in the day. This clip is from a TV special called Night of A Thousand Stars. It is interesting to note that in a two hour show (with commercials), where they were cramming as many stars into numbers and appearances, that Davis was given 6 minutes to sing his song... on stage... alone.

Softy that I am, I always cry when he talks about the dog in the song. I have never been fond of the way that he "acts" like an old man, when he sings the old man's verse. I know that people were probably reticent to tell him, "Sammy you don't have to act like a senior citizen, you are one." But I am willing to over look that, just to see him switch from pose to pose when he sings the Mr. Bojangles verse.

It also touches me that the song that early in his career was being sung about someone else, became biographical at the end of his career. Was there ever a moment where he caught the irony himself? I'm not sure he did, or he wouldn't have felt a need to change his voice when he "became" Mr. Bojangles.

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