?

Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

If I keep this up, I'll need a new tag

Something along the lines of "awesome chicks in tutus." I was actually going to post about this the same day as the post about the "Dragostea Din Tei" dancer, but I wanted to say more about it. Didn't intend for that to take over a month, but ah well.

What am I yammering about? Mamela Nyamza's jaw-dropping and heartbreaking "Dying Swan" on Superstars of Dance:



[ETA: For comparison, check out this archival film of Anna Pavlova, for whom the piece was originally choreographed, and present-day star Uliana Lopatkina. Also, I forgot to clarify that this standalone number, to a piece by Saint-Saëns, is a separate entity from the Tchaikovsky story ballet Swan Lake, with which it gets confused about 98% of the time.]

I'm relieved to see at least some of the YouTube commenters getting it; last time I looked at the page, it was pretty much all knee-jerk dismissive. I almost didn't watch the show, knowing that the apples-to-pomegranates-to-dragonflies competition aspect would be artificial and annoying. But I couldn't resist the lure of a smorgasbord of dance, and for the most part managed to ignore the PASTEDE ON YAY lameness of the "judging."

Except in this case. Because I was in tears from a piece that absolutely, utterly worked, emotionally and technically. She took an artistic risk in fusing ballet extension and flow -- to the point of direct quotes from the conventional choreography -- with her usual movement vocabulary based in traditional dance, percussive and full of tension between tiny constrained movements and explosive ones. Her piece the week before had been controversial to some degree -- which didn't surprise me, given the in-your-face emotional content -- but nothing like the raking over the coals she got for this.

Every ounce of it unjustified. Because yes, it's painful. Yes, it has moments that are not conventionally pretty. But there is not a single second in that piece where every muscle in this woman's exceptional body is not under her absolute control. Not the slightest twitch that doesn't add up to exactly the emotional picture she's set out to paint. Rock-solid discipline, as far from unstructured flailing as it could possibly be. And not one judge acknowledged that. I could excuse it in laymen, in eyes that know what they've seen and liked before but not the how and why of what the body does to create it. But these people should KNOW better. And worse, the rest of the time it seemed like they did.

Which left me smelling a network rat. Between that and the more-frequent-than-usual cuts to audience reaction shots, it really read to me like the producers didn't get her, and did everything they could to underscore the "weirdness" of the piece. Like they didn't know what to do without an American Idol-style embarrassment -- with all the dancers too good to give them one, they had to manufacture one.

Ordinarily, that would be a "yeah, whatever, what did I expect from anything with Simon Cowell's fingerprints on it?" Except that the dancer sacrificed for, essentially, being too challenging or not accessible? Also just happened to be the black South African woman turning cultural appropriation on its head. All well and good for the Groovaloos to learn kung fu moves from the Shaolin, complete with a feel-good soundbite from the monks' spokesman about how nice it is to see them incorporating it. But when it's the classical European form being interpreted into another idiom, when it is the secondary source to cherry-pick and borrow from? Suddenly it's all "just trying to be shocking!"

Puh. Leeze.

It also didn't occur to me until just now that, in this context, it seems even more sketchy that the eventual solo winner was the technically exquisite but (IMHO) not particularly inspired Russian ballerina. Who, unlike ANYONE else on the show, performed the same piece twice.

And here I expected the most annoying thing about the show to be Michael Flatley, but he turned out to be a surprisingly serviceable and generally inoffensive host. He would have gotten off clean in my book, if not for the obligatory clip from his current show, Celtic Tiger. *incredulous headshake* Keep in mind that I love Lord of the Dance in all its cheesy glory when I say unto thee, HOLY MOTHER OF GOD THE TACKY. 0.o

Justice would be Mamela Nyamza coming out of this thing a huge star. Maybe not in a mainstream sense, because okay, yeah, challenging. But damn, is that an artist to watch.

Comments

( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
seldearslj
Mar. 15th, 2009 11:18 am (UTC)
Wow. That was amazing.

I mean, it's not what we expect from that piece of music, it's nothing like the 'traditional' view of the Swan Lake music or someone in a ballet tutu, but as a piece of choreographed work, intended to show a dying swan...it was brilliant.

Then again, I have seen the all-male Swan Lake as well as the original all-female Swan Lake, which aimed to emphasise the strength and power of the swans and not just their grace and elegance.

Interesting that, in a couple of weeks of discussion about 'cultural appropriation' it's perfectly acceptable for white people to appropriate POC culture for their own ends, but the instinctive response when a black dancer appropriates a 'white culture' artform is to to reject it.
wiliqueen
Mar. 15th, 2009 01:22 pm (UTC)
as well as the original all-female Swan Lake, which aimed to emphasise the strength and power of the swans and not just their grace and elegance.

Oooh, I would have loved to see that!

but the instinctive response when a black dancer appropriates a 'white culture' artform is to to reject it.

Yup. That wasn't as specifically in my head at the time, though it was certainly an ingredient of my outrage at the judges' comments. But the recent RaceFail merry-go-round certainly brought it to the top of the 768 Posts I've Been Meaning To Make.
(Deleted comment)
wiliqueen
Mar. 15th, 2009 01:30 pm (UTC)
she has also transgressed against a taboo about how we classically portray suffering, especially the suffering of a woman. It's ugly and agonizing. There's nothing appealing about it.

Yes! Six weeks formulating this rant, and I still left that out! It was getting late when I was trying to write it, but still. Especially after the heated discussion of A Certain "Beautiful Symbol" on BSG (keeping it vague to avoid having to mark this post for tangential spoilers -- it was only a few weeks ago), and how fandom keeps coming back and back to that subject re: Supernatural especially, to the point where those of us who've never watched the show are acutely aware of it.

I've been doing some Googling, and it seems she's at least getting appropriate respect in the serious dance world. It's pretty insular, so I'm still glad she got the wider exposure in this context, even in so problematic a way. I was conversely a bit disappointed in the fawning over Australian Dance Theatre's ensemble pieces -- it was obvious they chose their most accessible crowd-pleasers for the competition. And there's nothing wrong with that in and of itself, but Nyamza was much more representative to me of what's going on in contemporary dance.

ETA: Oh, and DO NOT GET ME STARTED about the South African judge. Obviously he's from a ballroom background, and that's fine, but his PRIMARY concern in judging every single duet, regardless of their idiom, was the "appropriate" male/female dynamic. I wanted to use his head for batting practice.

Edited at 2009-03-15 01:51 pm (UTC)
studiesinlight
Mar. 15th, 2009 03:37 pm (UTC)
>"Especially after the heated discussion of A Certain "Beautiful Symbol" on BSG (keeping it vague to avoid having to mark this post for tangential spoilers -- it was only a few weeks ago), and how fandom keeps coming back and back to that subject re: Supernatural especially, to the point where those of us who've never watched the show are acutely aware of it."

I don't much watch either New BSG or Supernatural, and I'd be curious to learn more about what you're discussing here, if perhaps you felt like posting about it separately sometime.

Thank you for sharing this performance and your analysis of it.

I discovered a fantasy trilogy this winter with an African-American Catholic heroine and I keep wanting to review it, but I'm afraid of walking anywhere near that ongoing stuff...

Edited for embarrassing misspelling!

Edited at 2009-03-15 03:38 pm (UTC)
wiliqueen
Mar. 15th, 2009 03:47 pm (UTC)
if perhaps you felt like posting about it separately sometime.

I might. If I were aware of a centralized discussion I could point you to in the meantime, I would, but I've seen bits and snatched of it around. There's a SPN vid (by Luminosity, IIRC, but I can't remember the title of it) that was linked in a mainstream article about vidding several months back, which grapples with the problem of presenting women's suffering/death as beautiful. I definitely need to find that again before formulating any kind of post.

I keep wanting to review it

Oh, I hope you do! And it's certain to be something many people involved in the dicussion would want to be aware of if they aren't already. Even if it and/or your review turn out to be problematic in some ways, it's sure to have value.
grammarwoman
Mar. 16th, 2009 02:05 am (UTC)
There's a SPN vid (by Luminosity, IIRC, but I can't remember the title of it) that was linked in a mainstream article about vidding several months back, which grapples with the problem of presenting women's suffering/death as beautiful.

You mean Women's Work?
wiliqueen
Mar. 16th, 2009 02:10 am (UTC)
Yes! Thank you!
amilyn
Mar. 15th, 2009 02:59 pm (UTC)
I thought her piece was amazing, and have no context for the other performances (have not seen them). Again, without context, I thought the judges' comments were complimentary, but, as I said in my comment to tielan, perhaps that was me projecting my being impressed.

At any rate, I loved it and wish I could see it unedited, straight through.
wiliqueen
Mar. 15th, 2009 03:03 pm (UTC)
The clips of the judges at the beginning were for the previous week. What they said after... It's possible they read as more negative to me because I was so surprised they weren't more positive. But I was definitely disappointed.

Also, it was the numbers they gave her that mattered -- the math was glaringly obviously calculated to keep her out of the final round.

Edited at 2009-03-15 03:04 pm (UTC)
amilyn
Mar. 15th, 2009 03:28 pm (UTC)
I listened to the comments about "I'm used to the original" from the one lady who gave a "7" then "You're very brave to do this" and "Russian choreographers are spinning in their graves" ...and I read the first one as closed-minded and the other two as, "That was cool." Course, I think it's GOOD to have Shakespeare and choreographers and such spinning in their graves in a, "That was not my plan" or "Why didn't *I* think of that???" becuase it means the art has gone on and become even MORE than originally thought.

Again...I'm probably filtering a lot.
skywardprodigal
Mar. 15th, 2009 03:39 pm (UTC)
Hi!

What a great post. And, thanks for your rant. I'm, I think Mamela was punished for taking ballet and making it her own. I wonder if she'd chosen a different costume if she would've gotten more slack.

She's a magnificent artist and I think she was calling dance on the sexist bs that woman who suffer must suffer prettily. Death ain't pretty but Nyamza is a brilliant dancer.



wiliqueen
Mar. 15th, 2009 03:57 pm (UTC)
Thanks for coming by! I've seen your comments around and about, and always appreciate seeing what you have to say.

I think you're definitely onto something with the costume thought. I loved that it cued you to expect ballet and then turned it inside-out, and I'm always surprised by how negatively most people react to that sort of thing. Maybe at some level they feel like they were tricked?

If she had chosen a costume more coded for contemporary dance, she might well have been more likely to be judged on those terms, even using the familiar-to-the-point-of-cliché classical piece. But it wouldn't have been as powerful.
skywardprodigal
Mar. 15th, 2009 06:18 pm (UTC)
Thanks for coming by!

:D

I'm always surprised by how negatively most people react to that sort of thing. Maybe at some level they feel like they were tricked?

Probably. blackperson on lj didn't always go by 'blackperson' in cyberspace, but one too many times a guy who was into who he thought she was based on her humor and intellect FLIPPED HIS LID and started flaming her with racist trash when she made it abundantly clear that she was black.

She's not the only person who's dealt with that. I think that it's very common especially with men and women who could pass and would be very careful about explaining that they weren't white to people white people that were sexually interested in them. So, yeah, I think people do react badly when they think they're dealing with one thing, and then they find out that the perceived 'purity' isn't so.

I think she danced truth to power and most of the judges couldn't handle that.

ETA: Have you heard of This?

Edited at 2009-03-15 06:33 pm (UTC)
wiliqueen
Mar. 16th, 2009 12:03 am (UTC)
I have now. Thank you!
genevieve1352
Mar. 15th, 2009 06:29 pm (UTC)
I know absolutely nothing about dance--it's not a language I speak, so to say, so I tend to have a hard time comprehending and enjoying dance pieces. I watched this, then watched the Pavlova and Lopatkina versions, then watched this again. This is the only version that I could clearly understand to be a dying swan. (Also, Lopatinka is scary-looking. She's so long and thin, it's like watching a Tim Burton creation with osteoporosis.) And yes, the sheer muscle control was astounding. Around 2:25, right after that insane leg extension, there's a kid in the audience with his mouth hanging open in astonishment. That was my reaction, too.
diannelamerc
Mar. 15th, 2009 10:23 pm (UTC)
I have a little more currency with dance as a language and I'm still with you. Brutal honesty: Pavlova looks like a little kid making flappy bird arms. Lopatkina looks much better, but still can't seem to make up her mind whether she's dying or not. Nyamza is a dying swan--not a pretty birdie, but an animal struggling and suffering and dying.

Maybe it's seeing hers first that makes the other two look so ridiculously Disney-esque, and I suspect there's a change in tastes and expectations over time that explains why Pavlova's looks so much like a caricature. But I've seen some ballet casually before and never felt I "got" it because I usually had to be told what was going on, I certainly never seemed to get it from the dancing--pretty dancing, elegant body control, but there never seems to be any clear story behind it.

This, I got.

ETA: I'm right there with you and that kid int he audience--jaw-drop *wow*.

Edited at 2009-03-15 10:23 pm (UTC)
wiliqueen
Mar. 16th, 2009 12:11 am (UTC)
The Pavlova film must be from quite late in her career -- she was at her zenith at the turn of the century -- but I'm not sure how much difference that would make.
wiliqueen
Mar. 15th, 2009 11:40 pm (UTC)
*nodnodnod* I was annoyed by how much they cut to the reaction shots, but I will conceded they were interesting. A lot of confusion, yes, but certainly nobody's bored. And the enthusiastic whoops in the applause didn't just come from the South African cheering section.

Oh, and, having grown up on ballet and thought I was inured to the body issues? Even I think ballerinas these days are scary.

Edited at 2009-03-16 12:01 am (UTC)
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )

Profile

sugarplum
wiliqueen
Valerie - Postmodern Pollyanna
WiliQueen's Woods

Latest Month

November 2016
S M T W T F S
  12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
27282930   

Tags

Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by chasethestars