San Francisco’s Nutcracker

San Francisco’s Nutcracker

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Here’s a rundown on our short, but memorable trip to the way-steep hilly city with the famous golden bridge.

As we are in the R&D phase of The First Guild School of Ballet & Arts, our focus is on exploring ballet schools and programs that exist in the US. With this in mind, we drove up direct from LA, just in time to make it to San Francisco Ballet School (at the Chris Hellman Center for Dance) before their closing for the holiday break.

It was indeed a frantic day with everyone either getting it together for the Nutcracker performances starting that night, or busy wrapping things up at the end of the school session.

In the midst of it all, the receptionist was happy to share her take on the school’s modern approach to ballet, in attitude, structure and training style — emphasizing a clear departure from the virtues of more traditional classical dance education.

A few snapshots, a take-in of the environment, a brief but telling conversation with the receptionist — and we were off to find our Airbnb pad!

The next day, before the main event we discovered a great French restaurant located right across the entrance to SF’s famous Chinatown district adorned with a lavish store complex called Michael’s featuring rich stone sculptures, statues and high end art pieces.

The French bistro really hit the spot! Café de la Presse was a happening place with just the right amount of Parisian culture – including my drink called “April in Paris”.

A wall of photos featuring great chefs including Julia Child and Jacques Pépin adds extra flavor to the authentic charm of the establishment founded by a French chef who learned of his zest for culinary art from cooking with his grandmother.

Bottom line: they know how to make food and they know how to do business!

The performance itself was a bit of a letdown due to a foundation lacking in technical strength and seriousness of principles taught in more traditional ballet schools.

There were of course exceptions… the male clown doll, clearly a talented dancer in energy, artistry and unusual bending ability; the ‘middle-man’ of the Russian trio at the Sugar Plum Fairy Palace with over-the-top acrobatics; and the princess ballerina into whom Clara transforms for the finale, evidencing a more serious classical training background – showing in both technique and stage presence… still, this level is soloist, not principal material for a top-tier world ballet company.

But with that said, ballet is ballet, it is an artform like no other, and just being in a climate where there is such a focus and striving towards what is basically an elevated state of being, is enough to commend a genuine appreciation for all involved.

... here's to exploring the extraordinary world of the arts!

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The London Trip Day 4: meeting the daughter of Vaganova’s famous student

The London Trip

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meeting the daughter of Vaganova's famous student

here I am (studio booties still on) with Olga Semenova (middle) and Lana (right) at Masters of Ballet Academy

Do you remember my blog on Ludmila Komissarova, the central figure in the famous Vaganova graduating class photo of 1951?

Ludmila Nikolajevna Komissarova was one of the last students to train under the scrupulously watchful eye of legendary Russian ballet master Agrippina Vaganova.

Komissarova was in turn the teacher of my dear ballet friend Anna Korotysheva who actually inspired me to write the piece.

Well, this is the day Lana and I visited the London based school of Komissarova’s daughter, Olga.

famous photo of Agrippina Vaganova's final graduating class with Ludmila Komissarova in forefront with Vaganova (April 1951)

Herself a graduate of the revered ballet establishment on Rossi Street, Olga Semenova has continued to carry on her mother’s tradition starting from her teaching days at the Vaganova Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Moving to the UK some decades ago, Olga eventually set up her own shop, founding the Russian Imperial Ballet School where she continued to teach the unparalleled system of classical dance. Today, her establishment is known as Masters of Ballet Academy (MOBA)

This was the day that we visited Olga at her MOBA school, where she arranged for us to observe an advanced class with one of her male instructors, and afterwards join her in her own rehearsal with a select group of students she was preparing for a trip to St. Petersburg where they would perform Olga’s choreography at the Hermitage Museum

As it happens, the group was shortly leaving for the trip and the atmosphere was frantic – though it somehow felt that there’s always something brewing at Olga’s place with her temperamental character at the helm.

Still, we managed to get her out for a snapshot before saying adieu.

On the walk back to our neck of the London woods, we passed by several landmarks you’ll see below.

Located at Langham Place, All Souls Church (the building with round porch enclosed by columns) is an Anglican church designed in the early 19th century regency style by one of England’s most notable architects John Nash, and often serves as the broadcast site of BBC
Olga with Nikolai Tsiskaridze, Principal of Vaganova Ballet Academy (photo from Russian Imperial Ballet School site)
Next to All Souls Church, this building with the clock on its facade is Broadcasting House, BBC's headquarters, an Art Deco style building constructed in the 1930s to the design of architect George Val Myer
All Souls Church entrance
Olga with Zhanna Ayupova (far right) Artistic Director of Vaganova Ballet Academy and Irina Gensler (2nd from left), the Vaganova professor known as “Queen of Character Dance” (photo from Russian Imperial Ballet School site)
walking through the subway station, saw this marquee advertising international ballet superstar Sergei Polunin
Olga with her talented firecracker of a student Maya - Maya stole our attention during the classes we observed (photo from Russian Imperial Ballet School site)
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The London Trip Day 3: London’s West Side & our first ballet at Royal

The London Trip

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London’s West Side & our first ballet at Royal

This is the day we were going to see our first ballet, Romeo and Juliet at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden!

But before that, it was time to get to know the city, so we booked an excursion with the ever popular Strawberry Tours exploring London’s West End and Westminster district.

With our ‘mostly on-hiatus’ actor as our guide (we found this to be the case with many of the Strawberry Tours chaperons) – who by the way was able to remarkably channel his expressive talents towards our group – we made our way past world famous statues, monuments and landmarks in this government centered division of the regal European city.

After a quick change of attire back at our place, we headed for our ballet venue, and with a bit of  time on our hands, ventured into the indoor Covent Garden Market with an array of specialty shops and booths.

This is where I spotted the sketch of an artist who for me, taps into an ethereal quality of feminine beauty with a surprising element of innocence. I was able to take a photo of this piece (see it below!) but then was shooed away by a neighboring pit bull shopkeeper (or perhaps an assistant) from taking another that really caught my eye – a black and white sketch of a female form in a bodice exuding the likeness of a ‘nymph meets femme fatale’.

I’ve since visited the artist’s website and found a piece that somewhat approximates what I believe I saw on that day of May 11th. I’ve included it in the gallery below 🙂 

By the way – turns out this sketch girl has a PhD in Astrophysics, topped off with what is called a Zeldovich Medal for excellence and achievements in the field.  “For me art and science are a natural pair,” she says. This immediately also clicks for me because it’s what essentially defines classical ballet. 

And then it was time for the performance! –which did not disappoint! It even impressed with the display of talent exhibited by the Royal principal who happened to be dancing that night. The American-born, Russian-trained export from Boston, Sarah Lamb, won me over in the final act where she not only technically delivered, but was truly able to pull out the emotional energy making the scene of Romeo dancing with the lifeless body of Juliet genuinely work. 

Also worthy of mention is the beyond-the-norm athleticism and artistry of the company’s 1st Soloist Marcelino Sambé (recently promoted to principal) who was in the role of Mercutio that night.

So there it is, Day 3 of our London Trip in a nutshell!

Duke of York Column commemorates Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany who is perhaps most known for his lack of military prowess and character defects summed up in England’s famous nursery rhyme "The Grand Old Duke of York"
Bronze relief of Queen Elizabeth meeting people of London during World War II (located on The Mall road along our route from Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace)
Walkers Of Whitehall alley entrance
sculpted by John W. Mills, “Monument to the Women of World War II” is a British national war memorial that was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II in July 2005 on Whitehall road in London
statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square sculpted by Philip Jackson; Parliament Square in Westminster is famous not only for its collection of government buildings and statues, but also as the place for many demonstrations and protests
Arch into Royal Opera House shopping Arcade (below it, buggies in Covent Garden offering old-world rides)
at Royal Opera House gift shop: Margot Fonteyn as Aurora in Act II of “The Sleeping Beauty” (1951); Roger Wood Photo Collection
memorial statue of Queen Elizabeth (between two bronze reliefs paying tribute to her monarchical rule (located on The Mall road)
Walkers Of Whitehall: the last stop on our London West tour, we peeked into this ye olde pub with a history dating back to 1694 (when it started out as a bank) en route back to our flat to prep for the ballet
Walkers Of Whitehall
Cabinet Office building responsible for supporting the Prime Minister and Cabinet of the United Kingdom (located off Whitehall)
Westminster Abbey: this Gothic abbey church is the final resting place of historical figures including Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, and more recently the ashes of Stephen Hawking
Portcullis House in Parliament Square area opened in 2001 to provide offices for 213 members of parliament and their staff
My discovery by artist by Diana Shaul
Lilac tree which I believe I captured just steps away from the medieval St James's Palace on Marlborough Road, the giveaway is the ancient brickwork pattern that matches the St. James castle
The other bronze relief panel commemorating Queen Elizabeth’s work
“Monument to the Women of World War II” displays 17 individual sets of clothing and uniforms as well as a nursing cape, a police overall and welding mask around the sides, symbolising the hundreds of different jobs women undertook in World War II
“Monument to the Women of World War II” … view from the side
crowds gathering for the Horse Guards Parade from Whitehall with the Queen’s Household Cavalry guarding the entrance arches
Broad Sanctuary Houses, next to Westminster Abbey
this Abraham Lincoln statue, known as "The Man" or "Standing Lincoln", is located on the west side of Parliament Square outside the Supreme Court; it is a replica of the original in Chicago
my take on ‘nymph meets femme fatale:’ an ink and graphite pencil drawing by Diana Shaul

Romeo & Juliet Curtain Calls

Marcelino Sambé, as “Mercutio” in Romeo and Juliet (left)
Sarah Lamb as “Juliet” and Royal Ballet’s principal, Russian dancer Vadim Muntagirov as “Romeo” emerge for curtain call
Sarah Lamb and Vadim Muntagirov acknowledge each other
inside the Royal Opera House: view of stage from orchestra section
Sarah Lamb and Vadim Muntagirov greet the audience
Sarah Lamb and Vadim Muntagirov return for another curtain call
Marcelino Sambé and fellow artists bow to a cheering audience
Sarah Lamb and Vadim Muntagirov turn to head backstage
Sarah Lamb and Vadim Muntagirov final farewell to audience as they turn to go backstage
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The London Trip Day 1: The Juice Bar Adventure

The London Trip

The Juice Bar Adventure... and NOPI

Our first full day out we decided to explore the city by visiting a well-rated pressed juice bar – a staple part of our daily nutrition – and get there via subway, or the “tube” as Londoners call it.

The place we found had really good ratings and was located right around the famous Notting Hill neighborhood.  What could go wrong?

As bona fide LA drivers, who rarely use any other mode of transportation, apart from the exceptional Uber, it turns out learning the London subway system is a serious task.

With a whole lot of bumping around and general confusion in the underground transport system, we worked our way through a maze of subway lines and tried to figure out the directional alphabet. Somehow, we got off at the right station and proceeded to our destination on foot.

We were getting close, we thought, as we passed a dingy biker’s hangout… but after a few more blocks we realized the building numbers were getting away from us… so we went into reverse.  Heading back to where we came from, we watched the numbers count back closer to our juice bar address. Lo and behold, there we were – right in front of the biker dive we hurried past a few minutes before … I’m sure you’ve guessed by now that it looked nothing like its online counterpart. yes, the age of virtual reality is upon us.

Well, since we were exploring, we decided to go in and have an ‘experience’.

The staff was  nice enough, inviting us to sit down at one of the 3 available spots in the joint, after removing a biker’s helmet from our table.  And the juices came out within 5 seconds of our order, which was certainly not enough time to press’ them through a machine. All forgivable… except for our front row seat to a local street gang character who entered the bar raging and looking to relieve his state through some violent altercation.  We just sat there, blindsided tourists.

All’s well that ends well, and that’s all that needs to be said here.

Actually, towards the end of our sit down, we met a tourist-friendly biker who enthusiastically directed us towards the famous Notting Hill neighborhood where the movie was made…living on a 24/7 production site in Tinseltown we weren’t as excited as he was, but we trotted in that direction enjoying the quaint streets and European culture.

In the second part of the day, we explored the area around our Leicester Square flat and found the Middle-Eastern inspired NOPI, award-winning eatery of the famous Jerusalem-born chef-restaurateur Yotam Ottolenghi, whose book “Plenty” we discovered several years back.

Lana went in and made us a reservation for the following evening.

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Hotel Café Royal, a historic establishment whose clientele has included Oscar Wilde, Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw, Virginia Woolf and David Bowie ... and yes! cars pass through here all the time!
club advertisements on historic buildings around Piccadilly Circus
close-up of our NOPI dish, courgette and manouri fritters with cardamom yoghurt; photo by John Carey
UKAI contemporary Japanese Restaurant on Portobello Road in Notting Hill neighborhood of London
award-winning eatery of chef-restaurateur Yotam Ottolenghi
my Coconut, Passionfruit & Turmeric non-alcoholic drink (made with coconut milk, turmeric root, passionfruit, lime, spiced syrup)
Yotam Ottolenghi's book
walking along Glasshouse Street in Soho, London
... the next night at NOPI
at NOPI... our veggie selections with my Saffron Chase Cocktail (Chase gin, Pierre Gerbais Champagne, elderflower liqueur, saffron)
close-up of our NOPI dish, roasted aubergine with feta yoghurt, pomegranate jam, green chilli, walnut; photo by John Carey
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The London Trip Day 2: St. James Park & Buckingham Palace

The London Trip

St. James Park, Buckingham Palace and the Punishment Parade

With plenty of time before dinner at NOPI and plenty of sightseeing choices, we headed towards St. James Royal Park, a walk’s distance from where we were staying.

As we happily meandered through the old narrow streets of London towards our destination, we came upon a medieval fortress right out of the history books. In fact, it captured our attention enough for us to latch onto the tour group in front of it. Turns out it is called St. James’s Palace.

The next major stop on the tour was Buckingham Palace.  As we stood in front of the majestic sight, the tour guide told us what we later learned is every tour guide’s favorite story – the 1982 Michael Fagan incident – where a down on his luck inebriated Brit broke into the Palace, no less the bedroom of the Queen … a huge security breach with major staff restructuring repercussions.

Soon enough it was time to head back towards Leicester Square and change for NOPI.  On the route back, passing by yet another historic manor we saw batches of people heading towards an opening in the place.  We couldn’t help but to veer off to see what all the fuss was about.

Turns out it was time for the “The Four ‘O’ Clock Parade” ceremony (there’s no shortage of parades in London). We made it just in time to squeeze into a spot with a partially unobstructed view. Showtime! 

Also called the “Dismounting Ceremony” and “Punishment Parade”, this ritual takes place at 4 pm, or 16:00 hours, in the courtyard in front of the “Horse Guards” building facing Whitehall road in the City of Westminster.

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BAFTA iconic London home at 195 Piccadilly in the heart of London's West End and Soho neighborhood
...on the way to St. James Park
… on the way to St. James Park, this medieval era building on Marlborough Road is St James's Palace, the most senior royal palace in the United Kingdom. Located in the City of Westminster, although no longer the principal residence of the monarch, it is the ceremonial meeting place of the Accession Council and the London residence of several minor members of the royal family.
... turning onto Marlborough Road headed for St. James Palace
section of the medieval St. James Place manor
Burlington House is located in Mayfair, London, the city’s affluent West End originally a private mansion owned by the Earl of Burlington it was purchased and expanded by the British government in the mid-19th century Today it houses art exhibitions from the Royal Academy, which is housed in the north end of the main building - with the other 4 sides occupied by the 5 learned societies together called “Courtyard Societies”
Buckingham Palace is the London residence and administrative headquarters of the monarch of the United Kingdom
Buckingham Palace landscapes
St. James Park Lake
St. James Park info
people head towards "Horse Guards” courtyard entryway for “The Four 'O' Clock Parade”
one of several entrances into St. James Park
heading towards Buckingham Palace
St. James Park Lake
St. James Park Lake
St. James Park Lake
heading towards "Horse Guards” building
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The London Trip – Arrival Day: our tiny flat

The London Trip

our tiny flat

Literally sandwiched between two sides of an “Award Winning Gay Bar” called KU, we finally found our shoebox apartment in the bustling, smoke-filled Chinatown part of Covent Garden, London.

I say finally as it took us quite a while to find our hidden dwelling – even the bartender from downstairs didn’t know that #28 Lisle Street was the doorway next to theirs.

After climbing 4 floors up the quaint, narrow stairwell – which incidentally felt more like 6, if you count the windy turns and extra stair sets along the way – with our travel trunks in tow, we entered and collapsed.

But we were finally here – and that’s all that mattered!

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just around the corner, towards Piccadilly Circus
from rooftop window of our London flat
dining table accents
Piccadilly Circus, a few minute walk from our flat
KU Bar, just outside our doorstep
Kitchen
Buddha next to rooftop window
kitchen plant... the one and only
Piccadilly Circus shops
mini dining table
living table with deco accents
… from our rooftop window
Bathroom
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Midsummer Mayerling in LA

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Midsummer Mayerling in LA

There are few things that can get a long-time local to make the drive into hectic downtown LA.  What got me to do it? Seeing the Royal Ballet perform their signature repertoire piece at The Music Center.

Yes, this past weekend I made the trip to Dorothy Chandler Pavilion which typically hosts the dance events at the landmark performing arts complex.

Since it was my first time visiting, I gave myself some x-tra, x-tra time to get there, and arriving with plenty to spare, I took a walk down the streets of angel city capturing the shots below.

Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s raw, unapologetic portrayal of the agonizing cage of human existence – no matter how rich and mighty you are – through the true life drama of Austro-Hungarian Crown Prince Rudolf and his teenage mistress Baroness Mary Vetsera, which ended in the couple’s successfully executed suicide plan in 1889, Mayerling did not disappoint!

But it was dance historian Elizabeth Kaye’s talk prior to the performance that took it to another level, as her talks so often do.

I have come to greatly appreciate the rare aptitude of Ms. Kaye to transport us to another space and time no matter where we are in the moment, and in so doing elevate the entire artistic experience.

enjoy the snaps & check in soon!

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photo above: Elizabeth Kaye prepares to talk

Colburn Performing Arts Complex
concert on Grand Ave
view of LA's famous Angel's Flight railway
downtown LA view from 350 Grand Ave
fountain in courtyard near Colburn School
banner with LA Phil music director Gustavo Dudamel
view of courtyard with reflecting pool from Colburn School
The Music Center
"Nureyev" statue in reflection pool of Dorothy Chandler lobby
Mayerling cast & LA Phil conductor take bows after performance
Mayerling marquee at Disney Concert Hall
LA architecture
close-up of LA's famous Angel's Flight railway
long oval reflecting pool behind MOCA
The Broad contemporary art museum
The Walt Disney Concert Hall on 111 Grand Ave
The Music Center entrance... up the stairs
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion Lobby
dance talk space at Dorothy Chandler
wall art installation at upper level of Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
curtain call for Sarah Lamb in role of Mary Vetsera
MOCA: Museum of Contemporary Art
landscapes around Bunker Hill area of downtown LA
view next to Angel's Flight
MOCA Museum courtyard view
Colburn School courtyard entrance
Colburn School CAFE
The Founders wall at Dorothy Chandler
"Ballet Shoes" statue on opposite side of Nureyev statue in lobby of Dorothy Chandler
during intermission.... dance lecture hall at Dorothy Chandler
curtain call for Matthew Ball in role of Prince Rudolf

La Belle Époque in Santa Monica

La Belle Epoque

in Santa Monica

Walking down our famous 3rd Street Promenade is something I seldom do these days as it has become something of an international metropolis and a bit inundating for locals who just want to go out for a laid back stroll…

But there are times when we, Santa Monica dwellers want to meet someone at the neighborhood cafe – Le Pain is a favorite – or run an errand (usually fashion related) or go down to the big, shiny Apple Store that keeps growing and reinventing itself, or see a movie at the four or so theatres just blocks from each other at our beck and call – practically around the clock… and just around the block!

Le Pain Quotidien in Santa Monica; photo from The Desert Echo
Le Pain staple menu items include yogurt parfait, breakfast oats and chia seed pudding (original photo from Le Pain)

And this was one of those particular outings… what made it extra worthwhile for an aesthetically inclined person as myself, was spotting this framed art piece promoting a southern California floral company.

While it certainly displays “les temps modernes” – and no less with an attitude, it has a flair that harkens back to the era of La Belle Époque, or “Beautiful Era” in French, and this intriguingly timeless mixture caught my eye!

 

Bell Epoque Vogue
Majestic Designs Florist Promo Art, photo by Elena Alexandra

Aside from your petit leçon en français
Enjoy the art and visit our beautiful seaside city!

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New York and the Nureyev Tapes: X-tra! X-tra!

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New York and the Nureyev Tapes:

X-tra! X-tra!

Here’s a run through of what we saw in New York this May!

Giselle

On May 18th we made our debut visit to Lincoln Center’s Met Opera House where we saw American Ballet Theatre’s performance of Giselle featuring the highly broadcast David Hallberg and Natalia Osipova.

American Ballet Theatre's Giselle, Season 2018

The historic ballet which triumphed from its very premiere on June 28, 1841 in France with the legendary Italian ballerina Carlotta Grisi in the lead continues to strike a remarkable chord with audiences today. The classical choreography of Giselle is based on the staging of the great French-Russian choreographer Marius Petipa. 

Carlotta Grisi in the first act of Giselle (1842)
Nijinsky as Albrecht, 1910
Anna Pavlova as Giselle (before 1931)
Natalia Osipova and David Hallberg in ABT’s Giselle, photo by Gene Schiavone

The ballet tells the story of a peasant girl named Giselle who dies of a broken heart upon finding out that the one she loves has cheated her with his engagement to another.

Giselle is called from her grave to join a haunting group of supernatural women called the Wilis, young virgins who have all died of a broken heart, seeking to destroy those who have betrayed them by ruthlessly dancing the men to death. The Wilis target Giselle’s Albrecht, but Giselle finds it in her heart to forgive him and saves him from the dreadful fate.

Jerome Robbins Tribute: Fancy Free

On May 20th we trotted down to Lincoln Center once again, where we saw New York City Ballet perform a trio suite of Fancy Free, Dybbuk and West Side Story, celebrating the legendary partnership between Jerome Robbins and Leonard Bernstein.

The first collaboration between Robbins and Bernstein, Fancy Free premiered in 1944 showcasing the exploits of three off-duty sailors in 1940’s wartime New York City, an echo to the scenes from Robbins own life.  This ballet was the forerunner to Robbins’ and Bernstein’s Broadway hit On the Town.

Bernstein (left) and Robbins (seated) with Sol Hurok on the set of Fancy Free, photo courtesy New York Public Library
Jerome Robbins, John Kriza, Michael Kidd, Janet Reed, and Muriel Bentley in Fancy Free (ABT, 1944)
Sebastian Villarini-Velez, Harrison Coll and Roman Mejia in NYCB's Fancy Free (May 2018), photo by Paul Kolnik

Jerome Robbins Tribute: Dybbuk

NYCB performs Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins’ Dybbuk (May 2018), photo by Paul Kolnik

Adding a new and haunting dimension to the term “monkey on your back”, Dybbuk is an abstraction on the play The Dybbuk or Between Two Worlds written by S. Ansky between 1913 and 1916.  Robbin’s production focuses on the occult aspect of Russian-Jewish folklore whereby a lost and tormented spirit exists between worlds by inhabiting the susceptible mind of a living person through which it speaks and acts. Originally written in Russian, the play was later translated to Yiddish by Ansky himself.

S. Ansky whose actual name was Solomon Zanvel Rappoport was born in Vitebsk, Russia (now in Belarus) in 1863 and died in Warsaw, Poland on November 8, 1920.  Ansky was a Russian-Jewish writer and folklorist best known for his play The Dybbuk.

Dybbuk, by art nouveau illustrator and printmaker Ephraim Moshe Lilien
Russian writer S. Ansky

Jerome Robbins Tribute: West Side Story

New York City Ballet performs West Side Story suite, photo by Paul Kolnik (May 2018)

A modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in gang-ridden 1950’s New York, this work took the partnership between Jerome Robbins and Leonard Bernstein to new heights.  The mammoth Broadway hit West Side Story premiered in 1957, followed by the 1961 movie version which garnered 10 Academy Awards.

Bernstein (left) and Robbins take a bow after a production (photo by Martha Swope, American photographer of theatre and dance)
Jerome Robbins (right) directs Jay Norman, George Chakiris and Eddie Verso in West Side Story, 1961

Hope these production silhouettes spark you to bring more ballet into your life!

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