Happy birthday Marius!

Without him there would be no Swan Lake, no La Bayadère and no Nutcracker ballets. Indeed, without him there would be no romantic era of ballet at all.

Marius Petipa was a ballet dancer, a teacher, a choreographer and a great creative genius.

The world of ballet owes so much to him and, as a balletomane, I owe a lot to him, too.

So today, on his birthday, I would like to dedicate an excerpt from a beautiful poem called “On Imagination” to him.

What an imagination he must have had and what a testament he is to the wonderful things we can each create if we let our imaginations run wild (he created over 50 ballets in his lifetime!).

 

Marius_Petipa_Feb._14_1898

 

Source

 

On Imagination by Phillis Wheatley

Such is thy pow’r, nor are thine orders vain,

O thou the leader of the mental train:

In full perfection all thy works are wrought,

And thine the sceptre o’er the realms of thought.

Before thy throne the subject-passions bow,

Of subject-passions sov’reign ruler thou;

At thy command joy rushes on the heart,

And through the glowing veins the spirits dart.

Happy birthday Marius!

Marius_Petipa1

Source

 

Happy birthday Emily!

Emily Dickinson's hands

Every time I see the famous daguerreotype of her, sitting and delicately holding what looks like flowers, I remember her beautiful poem “I cannot dance upon my Toes”.

Emily Dickinson, one of my favourite poets, was born on the 10th of December 1830. So today, on the eve of her birthday, I’d like to share the poem with you. If you’re longing to dance on pointe but haven’t done so yet, I’m sure you’ll relate to her words.

Emily Dickinson

Source

I cannot dance upon my Toes by Emily Dickinson

I cannot dance upon my Toes —

No Man instructed me —

But oftentimes, among my mind,

A Glee possesseth me,

That had I Ballet knowledge —

Would put itself abroad

In Pirouette to blanch a Troupe —

Or lay a Prima, mad,

And though I had no Gown of Gauze —

No Ringlet, to my Hair,

Nor hopped to Audiences — like Birds,

One Claw upon the Air,

Nor tossed my shape in Eider Balls,

Nor rolled on wheels of snow

Till I was out of sight, in sound,

The House encore me so —

Nor any know I know the Art

I mention — easy — Here —

Nor any Placard boast me —

It’s full as Opera —

Emily Dickinson

Source

 

Happy birthday Emily!

Happy (belated) birthday Alicia!

Alicia Markova

When Alicia Markova took the stage, audiences could not keep their eyes off her. She was ethereal, vulnerable and danced like a breath of fresh air.

Born Lilian Alicia Marks on 1st December, 1910, Markova began dancing at the advice of her doctor who hoped it would help strengthen her weak bones. It did much more than that and the little girl’s talent was soon recognised by her teachers – she was quick to pick up difficult combinations and had a natural ability that could not be ignored. She became known locally as “Little Alicia, the child Pavlova”.

Alicia Markova

Source

At the tender age of 14, she was hired for the Ballets Russe of Monte Carlo by Sergei Diaghilev who saw her dancing in class. She was to become one of his biggest stars and a daughter figure for him (she even called him Sergeipop!). After Diaghalev’s death, a distraught, 18-year-old Markova struggled to come to terms with the loss but found that numerous choreographers were eager to work with her. She returned to England and became the founding principal ballerina of “The Ballet Club” – the first professional ballet company in the UK founded by Dame Marie Rambert (later Rambert Dance Company). She was then invited by Ninette de Valois to join the Vic-Wells Ballet (later Royal Ballet) and later went on to form her own touring company with her lifelong friend and ballet partner Anton Dolin. Even after her retirement at age 52, she remained deeply committed to ballet – as a teacher, choreographer and director of various international balletic institutions.

Alicia Markova

Source

Dame Markova was a true pioneer in many ways – she was the founding dancer of two of the greatest ballet/dance companies in the world, the youngest-ever soloist in the Ballet Russe at the time (the first real “baby ballerina”, I guess) and the UK’s first Sugar Plum Fairy. She was also the first English ballerina to dance Petipa’s version of Giselle – a role most attributed to her.

Happy birthday Alicia and thank you for paving the way for the dancers that followed you!

Happy Birthday Choura and Maya!

Today is a pretty special day. I wasn’t late for work this morning (like in this post), I’m finally having a good hair day (yay, no rain today!) AND it also happens to be the birthday of not one but TWO of the most inspiring and important figures in ballet history. See, very special indeed!

Alexandra Danilova, Prima Ballerina (1903-1997)

Alexandra Danilova, Prima Ballerina, Ballet Russe

Source

The great and irreplaceable Alexandra Danilova, known to her friends as Choura, was born today 110 years ago in Saint Petersburg.

Known for her extraordinary versatility, wit and charm, she is most famous for being one of the star performers in Diaghilev’s renowned Ballet Russe. She danced almost all the major pieces in the ballet repertoire of the time including Swan Lake, Coppelia and even Leonide Massine’s balletic comedies ”Le Beau Danube” and ”Gaite Parisienne.” Her rise to prominence was quick and people would buy tickets specifically to watch her expressive and elegant movements on stage. From 1964 to 1989 she was also a much beloved and respected ballet teacher at the American School of Ballet and is credited with bringing the traditions of Russian ballet technique to America.

Alexandra Danilova, Prima Ballerina, Ballet Russe

Source

Unfortunately, parts of Danilova’s life read like a tragedy – she was orphaned at a young age, later fell in love with her former schoolmate George Balanchine (falling in love with a womaniser like Balanchine is a tragedy in itself) who left her for another, was never good at keeping her finances in check and married unhappily twice. Oftentimes when things looked like they were heading up, something would happen to pull the ground from under her feet. But Danilova never gave her craft up, even in the toughest, loneliest times. In her Autobiography “Choura”, published in 1986, she wrote ”I sacrificed marriage, children and country to be a ballerina, and there was never any misunderstanding on my part: I knew the price.”

Maya Plisetskaya, Prima Ballerina Absoluta (b. 1925)

When Danilova was 22, a little baby was born into a prominent Belarusian-Jewish family in Moscow. Little did her parent’s know that she would someday be heralded as one of the greatest ballerinas of the 20th Century.

From the start Maya Plisetskaya was a trailblazer in her own right – she excelled at ballet school and spent only a short time in the corps de ballet before becoming a soloist. To me, Plisetskaya is the quintessential ballerina – she had (and still does at 88!) long, slender limbs, incredible flexibility, strength without strain and, to top it all off,  a charming, fiery personality and hardworking nature. She excelled in adagio as well as allegro (how many people can claim that!) and mesmerised audiences whenever she performed. She is without a doubt, one of my favourite dancers.

Maya Plisetskaya, Prima Ballerina Asoluta

Source

Sadly, Plisetskaya’s life, like Danilova’s, was not void of misfortune. Being a wealthy Jew at a time in Russia where “anti-Zionist” and “anti-bourgeois” campaigns were commonplace and bloody she and her family suffered prejudice and persecution. Her father was murdered during a Stalinist purge and she was banned from travelling and dancing abroad during the first part of her career. Like Danilova, Plisetskaya never gave up ballet despite all that she faced. She continued to perform (with grace and agility) right up until she turned 70!

Maya Plisetskaya, Prima Ballerina Absoluta

Source

There are so many things I love about these two extraordinary women and so many lessons I think I can learn from the amazing lives they led. To me, both stand testament to the fact that when you find your calling, you just have to stick with it and keep going no matter what and for as long as you can.

Happy birthday Choura! Happy birthday Maya! In the hope that some of your ballet-genius rubs off on me today during class, I dedicate this post to you!

Happy birthday, Mr. Coleridge!

On this very day some 241 years ago, a true romantic was born in a quaint rural town in Devon, England. Poet, philosopher, literary critic and key figure in the English “romantic movement”, Samuel Taylor Coleridge was not as famous as his contemporaries in his lifetime but later went on to influence great thinkers both inside and beyond England’s borders.

Happy birthday, Mr. Coleridge – as a fellow “romantic”, I dedicate this post to you!

All thoughts, all passions, all delights,

Whatever stirs this mortal frame,

All are but ministers of Love,

And feed his sacred flame.

 Except from “Love”, a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772 – 1864)
 EXT_happy birthday coleridge_2013Source