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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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Ballet and Identity Blog Index

Ballet and Identity Blog

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

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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