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The Sun King taps into the Supreme Power of Ballet

March 27, 2022

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The Sun King taps into the Supreme Power of Ballet

Discover the Underlying Origin & Purpose of an Unrivaled Artform.

Forever heralded as The Sun King, Louis XIV of France brings Ballet to the world in the 17th century.

Louis XIV Ballet-1800-pix
stage production still from BBC Documentary: "The King Who Invented Ballet"

In 1653 he exhibits its supreme power with his eternally iconic performance in Ballet de la Nuit or ballet of the night. The production runs from sundown to sunset, lasting twelve hours straight. It is a picture of his country rising from darkness into light.

Discover the underlying origin & purpose of Ballet.

The Underlying Origin & Purpose of Ballet

Originating in 15th century Italy, belletti as they were called then, moved to the courts of France where they transformed into impressive court performances known as ballets de coeurs or court ballets.

“… danced by royalty, nobility and foreign dignitaries who aimed to entrance their peers in the audience” [D.Bintley] they served as political and cultural promo methods.

Besides being early broadcasting tools ”presenting events of the day with a twist” [Canova Green] and PR devices, promoting “the glory of France, the grandeur of the monarch” [Canova Green] ballet served a much deeper purpose: it denoted the profound strive towards understanding and expression of universal ORDER, through its mediums of leadership on earth, ie. royal figures and those in positions of power.

Prof. Canova Green says it another way: “… by performing dance you could bring down celestial influence… it was all about trying to recreate harmony on earth.”

The court ballets employed a form of conscious, or intelligent movement and posturing as a language used to define and convey the real dynamic and hierarchical order among the elite and ruling classes. This language defined the level of nobility, social rank, status of power and the expressions of respect, allegiance, recognition and obedience to it.

Bottom line: Ballet is the code of conscious, or intentional movement, with a visual, physical vocabulary representing the principles of presence, focus, order, purity, power, grace and integrity. 

Ballet is our active awareness through practice, of a higher state of being.

What is ballet?

Ballet is:

  • the essence of nobility, meaning to live a higher, more elevated way of life
  • a powerful tool with universal appeal – ballet ‘speaks’ to everyone because it is the language of:

— Beauty (pure and refined, requiring true strength and discipline to attain the skills of this high art)

— Power (a tamed and refined power over the lower animal nature of man)

— Order (it takes organization and coordination of many parts working together as one to express ballet poses and posture)

— Grace (moving in a stalwart, confident manner with intention and awareness of every movement)

— Integrity (this implies an ‘integration’ or ‘connection’ of multiple qualities within a person, resulting in actions that create harmony, prosperity and build-up people)

This defines why Ballet has the power to unite nations, cultures & politics like nothing else.

  • ballet is at the heart of civilized culture & social hierarchy because it reflects intelligence, pedigree and refined taste

Where did ballet originate?

The Ballet we know today originated in the royal courts of France, in the mid 1600’s. 

Although the early roots of Ballet began in the regal palaces of Italy, Ballet was developed and refined into a visible artform being introduced to the world by the French King, Louis XIV.

Influenced by elaborate entertainment that took place in royal celebrations and aristocratic weddings of France and Italy, Ballet de cour or “court ballet” was the earlier name given to ballets danced at royal courts by nobility during the time of Louis’ reign.

Historically, dance has been an important part of the social hierarchy, and one of the most important skills for a gentleman (i.e. a noble, educated man) to master. As a king, Louis was expected to dance as soon as he could walk.

Who started ballet?

The Sun King Louis XIV in the 17th Century

Born in 1638, the longest-reigning monarch in French history, Louis XIV, who is known as the “Sun King” and the “King who invented Ballet”, gave birth to the ballet we know today.

Louis used ballet as the ultimate PR (public relations) tool to glorify his monarchy and place ballet at the heart of civilized culture. As a teen, his iconic appearance in “Ballet of the Night” (1653), where he danced the Sun King, conveyed strength and victory, bringing confidence and power to France on a national and international scale. He was like a political leader and rock star in one.

Most impressive, is the final ballet legacy that Louis XIV left to the world. Specifically, in 1661 he established the first formal national academy of dance called Académie Royale de Danse. The institution was comprised of 13 of the most experienced dance masters from ballet productions at his court. It is here that court dance began to be analyzed and codified into a teachable system of artistry and craftsmanship.

This opened the door to a closely related opera and ballet company that sprang up in 1669, and although the Académie Royale de Danse did not survive after the overthrow of the monarchy in 1789, the latter institution did. Today it is known as the Opéra National de Paris (aka,The Paris Opera Ballet) and it is the oldest national ballet company in the world.

How did King Louis IX get into ballet?

Louis XIV was brought up and groomed to embrace the art of ballet by the Italian-born Cardinal Mazarin as part of his high-level education.

Louis XIV loved beauty and power, and as an extension and outgrowth of his love for the art of ballet, he expressed and cultivated his passion for fashion and architecture, which includes building the elaborate Palace of Versailles (1661 to 1715).

As France’s longest serving monarch, the “Sun King” reigned over a period of unprecedented prosperity in which France became the dominant power in Europe and a leader in the arts and sciences.

How can ballet affect your mind?

It is no coincidence that the “King who invented Ballet” had an exceptional mind which enabled him to have unprecedented and unbeatable success as a leader and world influencer.

Ballet integrates the mind and body, beyond separation, as one functional unit of expression.

Ballet integrates the left and right hemispheres of our brain, through poses and movements that require developing coordination, endurance, flexibility, strength, agility and conscious control of our expression.  

This creates and activates pathways in the brain unavailable to those who do not practice ballet. Therefore, those who practice ballet are at an advantage mentally and physically to be creative, constructive, excel in various activities and successfully pursue their interests.

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on a last note...

Just after finishing this piece, I walk out to the parking lot of the cafe where I did my writing - when lo and behold, I see this magnificent SUN medallion hanging off the mirror of the car parked next to mine - our Greater Self is always speaking to us!

Where US & Russia UNITE: The Remarkable Legacy of Royal Ballet Star Sarah Lamb

March 1, 2022

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Where US & Russia UNITE:

The Remarkable Legacy of Royal Ballet Star Sarah Lamb

Sarah Lamb in photo by Francesco Guidicini

I’ve lately been enjoying a series of interviews with ballet dancers I discovered resulting from the COVID phenomenon, hosted on the platform Ballet Icons Gala by Olga Balakleets, a concert pianist turned international gala event organizer.

Olga appears to be a sort of ambassador for the high arts – particularly ballet, the beauty of which she admires enough to dedicate herself to bringing the world together through its channels of talent… Olga is able to create and surround herself with an exalted reality in which she chooses to exist, and it seems many benefit from this endeavor.

I found Olga’s interview with Sarah Lamb particularly interesting, largely because of Sarah’s exceptional ballet legacy.

Today, a celebrated premier dancer with The Royal Ballet in London, Sarah talks about her serious training which started in Boston, Massachusetts at age 12, with heavy-weight classical dance educator Tatiana Nikolaevna Legat.

Tatiana Legat is the widow of the great Russian dancer Yuri Soloviev (1940–1977).

A member of the famous Legat family, Tatiana recalls that dance and theater goes way back to her great-great-grandparents – a Frenchwoman who danced at the Grand Opera in Paris and a dancer of Swedish descent – the two met through their career.

Her great-grandfather, Gustav Legat, graduated from a theatre school in St. Petersburg, Russia. 

Notably, Tatiana is the granddaughter of Russian ballet icon Nikolai Gustavovich Legat (in Russian: Никола́й Густа́вович Лега́т).

Nikolai and his younger brother Sergei were prominent dancers, talented character artists, choreographers and ballet masters at the Russian Imperial Ballet, which eventually incarnated into the Mariinsky Ballet, as it is known today. 

Nikolai Gustavovich Legat
young Sarah Lamb with her mentor Tatiana Legat (Sarah Lamb archives)

Sarah talks about her teacher:

It took me time to realize how iconic her family is in the history of dance and Russian ballet and the theatre in Russia. It’s really like being of royalty.

Sometimes it was very rough, she was a very strict teacher, but she gave me so much… she gave us all so much of her passion, her dedication and instilled in us the love of detail and the real discerning eye to think about our technique as being the vehicle through which you can excel and even surpass technique into artistry.

When Olga asks Sarah about the difference in preparation and performance of classical vs contemporary roles, she again refers back to her teacher (Legat), who though usually thought of as a strict classical disciplinarian and not the obvious choice for a contemporary dance coach, brought out the optimal level of ability and expressiveness in her pupil for a contemporary solo in Sarah’s first competition.

Sarah talks about the quintessential nature of a dancer being inextricably connected to “…flexibility… malleability and… chameleon-like quality to take on a new skin… the ability… to… lose yourself in the character” of a story-based ballet or become the “essence [of] what are you projecting” in a more abstract piece, where ”you are the vehicle for this concept.”

The final portion of the interview focuses on the unique project to which Sarah’s family has dedicated itself starting with her grandmother, who established the first [US] camp for children with special needs in 1953.

“It has been every single summer since 1953,” Sarah smiles, until the camp was canceled for the first time ever in 2020 due to COVID related risks. 

Sarah lights up about the entire experience, as she fondly recalls incorporating the ballet segment into the annual play, where she would dance with the campers. “One year we even did an entire Rose Adagio…” 

From Sarah’s display, it is obvious that she sees ballet as a powerful tool with the capacity to build-up our Identity, integrating our mind and body into a powerful unit of creative expression — with multi-faceted benefits — and that this instrument can be applied to a broad spectrum of the human population.

Sarah talks about being a dancer as an “integral part” of who she is: “Anytime I’m not able to dance, I feel like some part of my Identity is missing…” She follows this, tapping into the significance of Identity, emphasizing the importance of ”…making yourself into a fully interesting… fully informed and fully vital human, so you’re not just simply a dancer.”

Sarah’s success story and the values she projects undeniably reflect back to her teacher and the roots of Russian ballet education, which produces world-class dancers, who reach this height of achievement precisely because they are well-rounded, highly-cultivated individuals with a solid knowledge of the fine and performing arts, languages, math, history and literature.

As many attest, a truly extraordinary ballet dancer like Maya Plisetskaya or Rudolf Nureyev, or for that matter, Yuri Soloviev, is a mind that dances, expressing itself through its physical instrument.

Tatiana Legat coaches Mikhailovsky Ballet Principal Dancer, Ekaterina Borchenko; photo by Nikolay Krusser

My non-profit partner and I recently attended several YAGP (Youth America Grand Prix) competitions in the Los Angeles area. While we saw many young dancers with much promise, ardently devoting themselves to this most demanding craft (along with the efforts of teachers, coaches & parents), we observed that what is missing in the scattered studios where ballet education in America predominantly resides is the deeper understanding, the consciousness, of what classical dance truly is.

And this awareness is the foundation of a strong, intelligent dancer, which is really a highly developed human being.

In Russia, there is a centralized system of education for classical dance, which is recognized and supported by the government as not only a serious profession, but a most noble one.

Our mission is to introduce this coveted knowledge and its core values into our system of education, providing young people with a practical method to develop our innate qualities that constitute a well-balanced, strong-minded, purpose-driven individual with a sense of Identity, the ultimate asset that can be applied to any career path.

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The Nutcracker’s Prince & Princess Warrior

The Nutcracker’s Prince & Princess Warrior

December 20, 2021

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There are many substories and messages in the famous fable of the Nutcracker.

The doll given to young Clara on Christmas Eve by her mysterious uncle transforms into a Prince who fights the dark forces of the mouse kingdom showing true warriorship with skills of strength and courage, protecting what matters most, in this case the young Clara.

Clara in her own right possesses the character of a Princess Warrior, displaying fearlessness in the face of great danger and grace under fire, saving her beloved Nutcracker Prince from a fatal finale by the Mouse King.

Mamuka Kikalishvili as the Nutcracker Prince
Clara holding her Nutcracker doll

This year we attended the Long Beach Ballet’s celebrated version of this holiday spectacle.

Apparently it takes an entire year for production members to pull together this amazing annual event for a growing audience of children, parents, families, ballet & arts lovers and those celebrating the season.

In fact, this adaptation of the show, in addition to utilizing professional ballet cast members engages kids, teens and even toddlers to participate in a uniquely exuberant and undoubtedly life-enhancing experience of expression, connection, community and pure joy of immersion into the world of ballet and the arts.

It is so exciting to see southern California audiences packing a large theatre with great enthusiasm as they are introduced to the culture of ballet through a spellbinding story growing more and more familiar.

What is not yet familiar to us is the understanding of the capacity of ballet to shape us into creative channels of expression living a life of value, purpose and joy.

Ballet is a most complex and challenging artform which demands olympian-level athleticism and the most refined artistic sense. In this unique realm, you are the canvas of your art, you literally channel it through your mind and body, bringing the two aspects of yourself together into one harmonious unit.

This caliber of mental and physical discipline takes a superhuman level of strength, behind which stands will, and in turn, behind which stands purpose. And this is where we are hurting: purpose.

In order to have this we must be educated in seeing ballet for what it really is, beyond the tights and tutus, and effeminate stereotypes.

The ultimate purpose of ballet is to elevate ourselves and inspire an elevated state of being in others.

Without being presented with the real picture and value of what ballet really holds for us, we see it in a limited capacity, evidenced in the scarcity of male dancers and a lacking presence of power – which is actually an inherent part of true classical ballet.

In a new, more comprehensive light, the end goal of ballet training is not necessarily to become a professional dancer, it is to become a more elevated being with the capacity to express your unique talent and share it with the world in a most gratifying way.

Pictured in this article is Mamuka Kikalishvili, who is both a ballet dancer and martial artist combining the two facets of his composition in an exemplary manner. He is both prince and warrior, embracing each aspect of himself and taking his art and his state of being to the next level. Mamuka’s inspiring mentor is ballet dancer, choreographer & multi-discipline black-belt martial artist George Birkadze.

Wishing you a delightful holiday season!!

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Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker

Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Story

December 15, 2020

I find that this post is worthy of sharing not only on the pages of Facebook, where it was published earlier today, but also on this site.
I believe that the subject matter herein speaks to us all.

There is nothing more beautiful than ballet, with all the artforms that it involves… and at times like this, I think, nothing more beautiful than having Elizabeth Kaye talk about it.

The Music Center’s presentation of “The Unexpected History of The Nutcracker” did not disappoint!

Yesterday, the Center’s esteemed speaker Elizabeth Kaye delivered an uplifting and well-researched talk that confirms her status as a celebrated ballet historian.

Elizabeth Kaye with Susan Baumgarten, President of "Center Dance Arts" at The Music Center
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

It was an interesting and impressive choice to tell the Nutcracker story through a focus on its composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, revealing elements of his character, life and work process that went into creating his timeless masterpieces.

Given the fine and unprotected nature of this artistic genius who soars above others also classified as such, it may be no coincidence that the name Tchaikovsky is a derivative of the Russian word “tchaika”, which means “seagull”.  A bird is often a metaphor for a higher, finer vibrational state. Not only do birds fly above the ground we humans walk on, but it is also a known fact that birds sing within the highest frequency octaves of the human range.

As is often the case, the most beautiful things created in our visible world are “out of this world”. Extraordinary works are usually conceived through individuals who literally live in another realm, and see through an uncommon measure of perception. We can probably concur that it is no easy feat to bring such rarified forms of information through, from one dimension into another.

Waltz of the Snowflakes in the original 1892 production:

Yet for all our differences, we are all made of the human cloth, and Tchaikovsky’s story is a testament to the universality of the struggles we each face in our personal journeys.

And so, to present the history of the Nutcracker through such a tribute to its musical author — with appreciation of the angst and tribulations endured throughout the creative process that yielded this world treasure may be considered a most valued message.

A message most timely and eternally relevant, it also serves to encourage the importance of moving through our challenges, knowing that we are each here with a unique purpose and contribution.

share your thoughts!!

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image sources: (1) snapshot of zoom presentation (2) https://tch16.medici.tv/en/piotr-ilitch-tchaikovsky/ (3) https://petipasociety.com/the-nutcracker/

Ballet Shapes a Style Icon: The secret ingredient in the making of Diana Vreeland

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Ballet Shapes a Style Icon

The secret ingredient in the making of Diana Vreeland

I know what prompted me to write this. What I don’t yet know is where it will take me. … I wrote back in January of this year.

CONSTRUCTING IDENTITY

When I think about why I got started on writing this piece in the first place, I immediately know it’s because I was drawn to the story of this unusually creative luminary in the tapestry of our culture.

Yes, Diana Vreeland is an undeniably unique figure in our history who has gifted us with the visual and tangible jewels of her imagination, inspiring countless souls around her and infusing life into our societal institutions.

But what is most interesting is how it all got started. What captures my attention is the soil of Diana’s upbringing… and how this spirited girl in danger of being broken by her own mother and a world she did not belong to, got the strength and spark to become the force that we know of today as Diana Vreeland.

This was the very question on George Plimpton’s mind during his ’80s interviews with the iconic fashion editor: “How does one become Diana Vreeland?”

Diana Vreeland early years in the Victorian era

“I certainly didn’t learn anything in [traditional] school. My education was the world…” she confesses gleefully.

Vreeland proceeds to tell her biographer that her ‘gypsy’ family settled in New York when she was about 10, at which time her parents enrolled her in an all-girls private school called Brearley, where she lasted only “3 weeks”, she slips — “3 months, months!” she corrects her wishful thinking:

Really, they kept me there out of kindness to my parents, who obviously didn’t know what to do with me, cause I didn’t know any English… wasn’t allowed to speak French, and I had no one to talk to, and started to stutter, and the whole thing became really very serious… stuttering is quite a serious thing. 

And then one day I went to a Russian school, and then I was happy, and that’s the only school I was ever happy in because all I did was dance. And it was a great education.

In fact, it is cited that Vreeland’s education was with one of the great ballet masters of Imperial Russia, dancer and choreographer Michel Fokine. The young socialite born as Diana Dalziel even performed in Russian prima Anna Pavlova’s “French peasant dance” called “Gavotte” at Carnegie Hall.

“I was dancing, that’s all I cared about,” she tells Diane Sawyer in an interview (circa 1980s) when the reporter asks her what she was like in her teens.

As it did in her formative years, again ballet enters Diana’s life playing a critical role in the development of her Identity — her self-image, confidence, the construction of her relationship with the world. Ballet allows her to get in touch with who she really is… and apparently helps to repair significant social anxieties that lead to a great scare surfacing through her speech. 

Short version: Diana uses ballet to build the basis of her Identity. 

Russian choreographer Mikhail Fokine

ROOTED IN BALLET

Diana was born in the beginning of the 20th century in Paris, into the very center of an era we can only cinematize these days, known as “The Belle Epoque”, which she joyfully recalled to her biographer George Plimpton:

The first thing to do is arrange to be born in Paris, after that everything follows quite naturally.

I was brought up in a world of great beauties, a world where lookers had something to give the world.  Paris was the center of everything. I saw the whole beginning of our century there. It was the Belle Epoque.

She was right of course, if for no other reason than the early 1900’s in the City of Lights were the perfect time and place to catch the emerging phenomenon known as The Ballets Russes.

But Diana got even closer to the action, as the company’s founder Sergei Diaghilev was a family friend:

I was always mad about the Ballets Russes. Mad about it!  Diaghilev and his dancers… I remember him (Diaghilev) and Nijinsky coming over all the time.   –– DV

on the stage of the Grand Opera in Paris from left to right: dancer Nicolai Kremnev, artist Alexandre Benois, dancers Sergei Grigoriev and Tamara Karsavina, Sergei Diaghilev, dancers Vaslav Nijinsky and Serge Lifar (c. early 1900s)

“Did you realize at the time that you were lucky?” talk show host Dick Cavett asks her in a 1978 interview?  “Oh, yes. We adored them… A great deal of my upbringing was in all those evenings when I saw a lot of fun.”

You could say that this was Diana’s first and most critical exposure to the world of great arts with ballet at its core, and this would influence the rest of her life – and reflect in her perception of it.

Not less importantly, it would prove a mighty force in counteracting the injured self image Diana grew up with based upon the traumatically difficult relationship she endured with her mother.

“I was always her ugly little monster… she used to say it’s too bad you have such a beautiful sister and you’re so extremely ugly…” Diana divulged to Plimpton in their conversations for her memoir. 

DIANA’S BEAUTY

Diana Vreeland wearing her signature turban adorned with brooches gifted to her by friend, Coco Chanel

Diana’s beauty was anything but skin-deep.

Diana had an intrinsic sense of aesthetic that shown in her ability to play with style which, no matter how eccentric or bizarre, always retained an attractive coherence, and flair of elegance.

It was her effortless poise juxtaposing her whimsically unconventional character, it was her irrepressible effervescence and quirky sense of humour paired with toughness and unstoppable focus in her approach to work and life.

She was a compilation of contradictions perfectly coheased together – something to the effect of Gary Cooper’s line to Audrey Hepburn in the film Love in the Afternoon, when Audrey’s character says: “I’m too thin! And my ears stick out, and my teeth are crooked and my neck’s much too long,” and Cooper’s persona replies:

“Maybe so, but I love the way it all hangs together.”

Above all, there was a lightness of heart that prevailed over all of life’s other morose voices so convincing in their realness.

Perhaps this was a source of her unfailing lovability. 

All in all, within her lived the spirit of a dancer… in some aspects akin to Audrey Hepburn, who also happened to study ballet in her early years and always credited her discipline, work ethic and other attributes (that we’ve all delighted in) to this artform — and that’s to say nothing of her profound love for it.

Audrey Hepburn featured in center of spread on pages 154 and 155 of Harper’s Bazaar September 1959 issue, with Audrey wearing a puffed, white crystal beaded tunic by Dior, and diamanté collar necklace, a signature of Dior’s Edwardian jewelry.

It was Diana’s real beauty that attracted her loving husband whom she adored and who made up for how she felt with her mom:

I never felt comfortable about my looks until I met Reed Vreeland.  He was the most beautiful man I’d ever seen, very quiet, very elegant… Reed made me feel beautiful no matter what my mother made me think.

Diana with her husband Reed Vreeland

SPIRIT OF ENTERPRISE

Coco Chanel in early 1900's

At the end of the 1920s Diana and her husband moved to London, where she learned many things including the language, and where she was now closer to her precious, native Paris which incited her passion for fashion and gave her Coco Chanel.

I learned everything in England. I learned English, but of course the best thing about London is Paris… The clothes! That’s where I really learned about fashion.  No one had a better sense of luxury than Coco Chanel… She would always fit me in her private atelier, we were very close, you know. –DV

Diana understood beauty and with her enterprising mind, nothing could keep her from her first business venture, a lingerie boutique in London attracting distinguished clientele such as Wallis Simpson, soon to be known as Duchess of Windsor.

Back in New York, Diana’s style and moves on the dance floor of The St. Regis famously got her noticed by Harper’s Bazaar editor-in-chief and Board Chair, Carmel Snow. Diana’s  confession of never having worked a day in her life did not detract from Snow’s confident decision to hire based upon the impression the young socialite made at the 5-star Manhattan hotel — that was her resume.

And Mrs. Snow was right on because Diana was off and running in her new role that fit like a glove:

Editor-in-Chief Carmel Snow and Fashion Editor Diana Vreeland reviewing magazine layouts at Harper's Bazaar office in 1952

It hadn’t crossed my mind to work… But I loved it, loved it! I was so mad about working in those days… –DV

IMAGINATION & RHYTHM

I think your imagination is your reality… Only what you imagine is real.  — DV

Diana’s early years with the Ballets Russes and her education in classical dance no doubt infused her world with imagination, which she in turn infused into everything she did.

Everything! …including her very own molding process. After all, it was Diana’s foundation in dance that enabled the upper-crust misfit to find her place in an offbeat community decisively matching her eccentricity factor.

This in turn, prompted her to forge her own way in discovering inspirational influences and allowed her to open ever-new doorways to a sense of inventiveness, which fueled her inner visionary:

At the time I was 17… young snobs didn’t quite get my number.  I was much better with …the odd ducks around town who liked to dance as much as I did… I didn’t care what anyone else said, I was never out of Harlem in those days.

The music was so great and Josephine Baker was simply the only girl you saw in the chorus line. All you could feel was something good coming from her. She had that… that thing … that pizazz.
–DV

Josephine Baker in 1920s
Josephine Baker is one of Diana Vreeland’s eternal inspirations, which Diana finally got to showcase in her 1975-76 Costume Institute exhibition “American Women of Style”

Diana’s upbringing also ignited her understanding and sense of movement – not just in the physical arena – but applied to every act of creation.

American art writer and editor Ingrid Sischy reflects on Diana’s unique trait in the 2012 documentary about the multi-faceted icon:

It appears as though she didn’t edit herself, but of course she knew what had the sound of rhythm, she knew what had the sound of madness and surprise…

Her understanding of rhythm is huge …you see it with the sentences in magazines, where a magazine has to have a pause… a crash… a blast of color… a big headline.

This is something Diana knew perfectly well: ”I think any form of rhythm is absolutely essential…”

CONNECTION

Another outgrowth of Diana’s ballet background which nourished her natural faculties, was her uncanny ability to connect. Diana could connect with people, things, places, ideas… enough to emanate, to even “become” them:

20th century fashion photographer Lillian Bassman attests to this unique trait, sharing a personal anecdote from her experiences with the unforgettable Mrs. Vreeland who once indoctrinated her on capturing the authenticity of the Japanese Kimono for a photo session:

Lillian Bassman demonstrates her connection to the grace of female form in this silhouette photo of Missouri-born 50s and 60s model Evelyn Tripp in Barbados (1954), swimming leotard by Claire McCardell

… I used to love to get an assignment from her because she would get in front of the mirror and become the model that she wanted you to photograph. I remember I had a group of kimonos to do, she got in front of the mirror and showed me … she just took on the whole aura, you really felt that she was a geisha girl in front of that mirror.
— Lillian Bassman

MODEL OF STYLE

Diana’s embodiment of style was an essential part of her Identity as she explains to her biographer:

Style is everything George. It helps you get up in the morning, it helps you get down the stairs. It’s a way of life. Without it you’re nobody. And I’m not talking about a lot of clothes.

And what Diana learned in her schooling, she demanded and passed on to those she worked with. In her own words:

They [models] have to do a great deal for themselves.  Their skin, their posture, their walk… their education.

Breakthrough model China Machado was in awe of the woman who gave her a deeper understanding of beauty:

She said, even if you were in closed shoes … your toenails have to be perfect. It was like every single detail, she knew …maybe you’d walk in a different way, I don’t know, but it was there, a special woman… a sense like that…

One can make fashion, or one is. Diana was fashion. It’s different.

China Machado in Harper’s Bazaar, February 1959, with photos by Richard Avedon; on right: China is wearing a dinner dress and jacket by Ben Zuckerman, New York, Nov. 6, 1958

Diana’s son recounts how the 1960 presidential candidate’s wife Jackie Kennedy turned to his mom for inaugural wardrobe advice, subsequently granting Diana’s magazine first photo opps of herself and newly elected husband as a token of appreciation to her fashion confidante.

Her son shares what Jackie wrote:

Dear Diana,
Everyone is wondering why we chose Harper’s Bazaar, and they invent a million reasons, and no one says the real one, which is you.

John and Jackie Kennedy in Harper's Bazaar, February 1961

SEEING BEAUTY IN OTHERS

Diana was her own greatest creation.

With her foundation in classical ballet as a springboard for discovering her Identity, Diana was able to connect with who she really was in life — another words, she was able to access her innate qualities and express her truth.

Diana was able to mold herself into something beautiful and this phenomenon became a most precious gift she could then extend to others.

It came through in different ways, one of which was Diana’s ability to transform our so called faults into assets as Joel Schumacher points out:

She would push their faults… if they have a space between their teeth, make it the most beautiful thing about them… She celebrated Barbara Streisand’s nose and made it into a renaissance statue…

Mrs. V’s ability to see the essence of a person is something fashion empress Diane von Fürstenberg reveres:

She saw something, and that’s what was extraordinary about her. She saw things in people before they saw it themselves.

60s fashion model Penelope Tree says it in her own way:

She would fix her gaze on somebody and then they’d start to blossom.

Perhaps American writer and film critic Bob Colacello recounts it best:

She would say: “Bob, you’re not supposed to give people what they want, you’re supposed to give them what they don’t know they want yet!”

This image is from a layout in the March 1966 issue of Vogue, featuring a posh Barbara Streisand modeling the couture collection of the season, from the Paris photoshoot that Diana Vreeland arranged for her with Richard Avedon; Barbara is wearing silk chiffon evening pajamas by Marc Bohan for Dior in a photo by Richard Avedon.

Diana was all about showcasing individuality with a spotlight on distinctively unique personas, and that’s what came through in her magazines. 

She shares this focus with George Plimpton:

You see, George… Ravishing personalities are the most riveting thing in the world. Conversation, peoples’ interest, the atmosphere that they create around them – these are the only thing worth putting in any issue.

Vogue always did stand for peoples’ lives. I mean, a new dress doesn’t get you anywhere, it’s the life you’re living in the dress.       –DV

“In those days, it was a real story, that’s how you referred to a layout. You didn’t refer to it as just a series of photographs, it was a story…” Vreeland’s one-time muse Angelica Houston points out.

The strong face comes not only from the bone construction, but from the inner thinking.      — DV

TURNING POINT

The passing of her cherished husband certainly took a toll, but as is usually the case with life-quakes, it also marked the ending of one period and the beginning of another.

By all accounts, her period of grief was deep, complex and not passive. In line with the deeply held beliefs constructing her character, she could not merely fold into what the material world dealt her.

And even her revolt at being separated from her beloved was expressed through style,  when she wore white attire to the post funeral reception at her home.  

She then totally immersed herself in her work,” recounts her son.

Diana didn’t know it yet, but something new was knocking at her door, and this reflected at the magazine where things were no longer the same and the empress of Vogue was asked to step down from her throne.

It didn’t take long for her next calling to arrive.

I was only 70, what was I supposed to do, retire? And then one day I got a call from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  –DV

A NEW CHAPTER

A friend came up with the idea to create a special consultant position for Diana at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the funds to make this happen were quickly raised by friends who gave money to the museum’s Costume Institute.

The dormant, conservation-focused branch was about to go through a major revival!

“George!” Diana exclaims to her biographer: “I was so excited. Back in business! I could show everything I’ve loved all my life!”

With Diana’s arrival, the clothes were ready to leave the shelves and come to life in front of an audience anxiously awaiting their display at the fashion diva’s famous annual exhibitions running 6 months long.

Diana Vreeland at the Costume Institute

“It was greater than a magazine, it was a magazine that was alive and 3-dimensional!” Vreeland’s grandson remembers.

From the get go, opening night was an international extravaganza for celebrities and elite socialites with guests lining up around the block.

But the success of this venture was owed not only to the former editor’s eye for beauty – it was, once again, all about connection and Identity.

Diana’s ability to connect and see the essence of others, enabled her to harmonize people creating a collective synergy, which translated into an uncommonly enjoyable atmosphere for all.

“This was really the party of the year, but all due to Diana because she knew how to mix the people,” astutely noted Carolina Hererra in DV’s 2012 documentary.

Opening night of the Costume Institute's annual fashion exhibit, also known as the Met Gala (circa 1970s)

True to herself, Mrs. V deeply cared about reaching a universal audience through the language of fashion, a medium encompassing the entire bundle of culture, history, art and style.

“She wanted everybody to understand her shows. She used to say: ‘If an 8 year old girl from Harlem doesn’t understand what she’s looking at, I’m wasting my time…’ that girl was important to her…“ stressed Simon Doonan, Creative Ambassador at Barneys in NYC.

Diana knew this in her bones because, along with all her other personas, she was that girl — and not just from her days in Harlem!

Diana Vreeland, c.1914

“She didn’t have a college education; she learnt history, art, literature, she learnt civilization through fashion and she wanted to share it,” conveys private librarian Kurt Thometz.

In fact, Diana’s ability to find sympatico with all human consciousness was about much more than her unconventional education.

TRANSCENDING DUALITY THROUGH DANCE

Her profile is a study in the entanglement of uncompromising opposites. 

An oddball born into a life of privilege where she was condemned by her own mother, she was a socialite with a pass to the top tiers of an elite world where she found herself an awkward breed that never quite fit in.

Sophistication and simplicity pulsed through her in equal measure.

She exuded the graceful and grotesque, all at once.

She found herself at the bottom of the barrel amidst the crème de la crème.

In all evidence, the only thing that brought it all together for the Dalziel girl, surpassing all the hopeless contradictions, was the world of ballet.

Vaslav Nijinsky is considered the greatest male dancer of the early 20th century; of Polish origin, Nijinsky was born in Kiev, Ukraine and grew up in Imperial Russia

Everything else came after.

Because all that followed was constituted on a system of order, coherence and integrity, a structure which built up a broken girl looking for her place in the world.

And this most precious knowledge lived in the innermost recesses of the fashion icon, piercing the very soul of her listeners, when they would hear her stories and be privy to traits that belonged to a superhuman race.

“We’d go back into her office and she would tell me the story of when she saw Nijinsky dance the “Specter of the Rose” and I even get a chill now talking about it. The description of the stage, and the window blowing open and Nijinsky flying through the room,” says Tonne Goodman, who began her career as special assistant to Diana Vreeland at The Costume Institute.

He didn’t leap up, he leaped across the stage, to the far end. We knew it was amazing. –DV about Nijinsky

Epilogue

So… where has this piece taken me?

I believe, a step closer to understanding Identity… its limitless creative expression, its enormous power to integrate people, ideas and qualities, and its timeless contributions. Just as the legacy of Diana Vreeland, it stays with us for eternity.

But there must be a framework for Identity to emerge.

An instruction manual of sacred knowledge on how to build up consciousness, passed down through the ages, from one generation to the next, from master to apprentice, classical ballet has the content and substance to provide the very framework that begets Identity

Identity in turn gives rise to a more enlightened, elevated species of man that generates more than consumes, nourishes rather than depletes, and transcends a state of fear to one of radiant beauty.

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Meeting Ms Olga

Meeting Ms Olga

Our destined meeting with the prima of Perm

who's sharing her gift with American youth

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Olga & Christine pose with older student

This meeting had been a long time coming, more than just the several weeks between the call to Olga and our arrival at her studio several weeks ago. 

It was some two years ago when we first found out that a Vaganova trained dance professional was teaching in LA. Shortly thereafter we drove over and stepped into a vacant studio with no one at the reception desk… so we thought we’d return another time… and we did, two years later. 

We finally made it to Olga’s studio on December 13th in 2019 … it turns out just in time for her annual Nutcracker recital featuring her ballet students from Arabesque.

Following our acquaintance, Olga ushered us in to watch her class and group rehearsal for the Nutcracker taking place that weekend. It felt great to connect with someone who understood the world of ballet.. even moreso, the world of Vaganova.

Afterwards, Olga invited us to her production taking place that weekend in a venue next to the Hollywood dive called Paper or Plastik. It turns out the two joints are connected under the same owner who happens to love the performing arts.

On December 15th, we arrived with enough time to check out the hip cafe… along with a bunch of others attending the event. As we looked for a table to enjoy a hot latte on what was an unusually cold, windy LA day, and pondered on a drink to choose from their unique specialty offerings, my eye fell upon the perfect cup of frothy white, plant-based milk… a novel choice!

As it turns out, the table we found was right next to that enticing drink.

It was not until several minutes later when Olga came out of the performance hall to get us audience members (mostly parents and families of the ballet students) to take our seats for the show, casually introducing us to her star student, that we realized we had been sitting next to ABT principal Christine Shevchenko.

Olga & Christine in rehearsal; photo by Michael Cornell

After the show we went over to congratulate Olga and spoke to Christine who turned out to be as unpretentious as her drink.

We chatted a bit and Christine graciously offered her contact info telling us she’d be happy to provide us with backstage tickets for an interview during our visit to NYC in May. “Just tell me which performance you’ll be attending,” she smiled.

I conveyed my appreciation to Christine about her refreshing simplicity and ease with which she conducted herself… an admirable trait given that, for anyone who knows anything about ballet, beneath the lovely exterior of a classical dancer lies an interior of steel.

It takes a warrior in mind and heart to reach and stay on top of your game in this arena.

It is a life of dedication to a higher beauty that requires the ultimate discipline, willpower, unrelenting devotion to the craft and abstinence from most desires in which our human animal nature partakes.

Passing on a Priceless Legacy.

Aside from these gifts of the evening, the greatest joy was to see Olga’s work.

It was really something to watch young girls of different ages, different backgrounds being molded into a beautiful version of themselves. 

It was also palpable to see the inordinate amount of effort the girls expended into fulfilling what they were taught on stage – focusing on their steps and repertoire, while keeping in mind all the instructions their teacher instilled about correct technique, musicality and presentation.

And the courage to go out on that stage! — which was quite scary for many – was altogether an extraordinary feat.

You could see that this experience would change the rest of their lives – they were no longer who they were when they started out, they were already something greater.

To see this transformation before our eyes, was to see the result of teaching a precise framework built on principles of presence, focus, order, strength, balance, coordination and such through the ballet system of Agrippina Vaganova

… a system with the power to transport our mind and body to a place of greater awareness, integrity… a higher caliber life.

... may this year bring the magic of ballet into your life!

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image sources

https://www.olgakova.com/the-miss-olga-blog/2019/3/3/0j8cmxmnhfy1tquw4i90jj0ohuyjro
https://www.latimes.com/food/la-fo-coffee-scene-20110714-htmlstory.html
https://www.fromthegrapevine.com/israeli-kitchen/paper-or-plastik-cafe-los-angeles-dance-studio-michelson
https://medium.com/@erin_5063/behind-the-counter-with-anya-michelson-and-family-of-paper-or-plastik-cafe-b639f5b982bf
https://mimodastudio.com/

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 card that stole the show

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The Card that Stole the Show

I was looking for a memorable card to gift my aunt for her birthday this year, when I came upon an unexpected surprise.

Unsuspectingly, I approached “the great wall” of cards – you know what I’m talking about! — I barely embarked on my mission when I spotted the tip of something buried within the collage that just caught my eye.

I reached for it and pulled it out… or perhaps it pulled me in.

It had a visceral effect on me at first. The image exuded a whimsical beauty interlaced with richness of detail, and an unusual time portal effect.  It took my intellect several seconds to catch up and figure out that this was exactly what I was looking for. I loved it!  And, I loved it for my aunt!

More than a card… this was a piece of art which quickly revealed to me that it was taking center stage – it in effect became the real gift.

My aunt, whom I affectionately call “N”, is a connoisseur of vintage, antique and rare art collector items, and I am inextricably connected to the world of performing arts through ballet. So this was a perfect union – the place where our worlds meet.

Part 2: The Artist

I did a tad of research on the artist, BELLA PILAR, who grew up in New York and studied fashion design at Boston’s Massachusetts College of Art and Design.

What got me right off the bat in Bella’s story is that precious milestone that all of us yearn for yet only few of us ever find: stepping into our Identity.

Bella says when she was just 9 years old, her mom began taking her to art classes, which appealed to her at once: “I immediately caught interest and quickly discovered how happy it made me.  I knew then that creating art would be a part of my life forever.”


Identity is what we see when we are connected with our qualities, our innate talents, and it’s what makes us and those around us happy.

For those of you who follow my work, you know that this topic is paramount in my writings because this is what we are all looking for, and it is what makes a blog or an article relatable to each one of us.  It is what makes Bella’s story meaningful for me.

Bella focused on her work at Papyrus (South Coast Plaza, June 2017)

For years, Bella worked as a makeup artist before her craft was discovered by an art director through an illustration she presented on her business card.

Today, Bella lives in Los Angeles and works out of her home studio.

Something else Bella said captured my attention because it shows how she sees the world:  “I love to paint other people’s visions. I feel like it’s a way of sharing my world with other people.”

It’s all about her ability to CONNECT – a most important aspect of success in any endeavor.

You can read up on Bella in a 2017 WAG magazine article and her profile on Papyrus Behind The Card.

til next time!

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SOURCES
http://www.wagmag.com/bella-pilars-most-fashionable-art/
http://www.prgreetings.com/papyrus/btc-detail/bella-pilar#.XY7LLJNKiqA
photo of Bella’s card by Elena Alexandra
photo of Bella from Papyrus Air on Twitter

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

London Trip Day 4 with Olga Semenova

The London Trip

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meeting the daughter of Vaganova's famous student

London Trip Day 4 with Olga Semenova
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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visit back for more on "The London Trip"