Generation Um… Keanu Reeves & The Spectrum of Disconnection

June 12, 2022

Generation Um...

A revealing look into the world of Keanu Reeves & The Spectrum of Disconnection

KR-Gen Um-car

Keanu Reeves in Generation Um... (2012)

This piece addresses a peaking condition of human despondency in today’s world, substantiated by exorbitant mental and emotional suffering, and multi-faceted attempts to relieve it via substance abuse, crime, violence, suicide, mass school shootings, and the list goes on. We face a crisis of consciousness that an outdated system of education, parenting and social programming cannot fix.

This examination delves into the presumed root of our widespread suffering, attempting to illuminate the core of our dis-ease: disconnection from self.

The schism within the human psyche that prevents us from knowing the essence of who we really are, has been a pervasive affliction spanning multitudes of generations, appearing in various forms and growing with amplified force… an affliction emerging in endless episodes of detrimental history reloaded.

Lost Identity: this enduring universal theme is presented quite literally in the film through its leading man and the nature of his surroundings. Perhaps this is the actual state of ‘Neo’, or ‘The One’, as we have also known him… just the unfiltered, down-to-earth, gritty version of the circumstance of his being.

"John"

Through his character “John”, this film shows a central aspect of KR’s (Keanu Reeves) inner world where he is ultimately LOST & ALONE.

Near the beginning, we see John walking along the filthy streets of New York, polluted with all sorts of stuff – noise, fumes, trash, trash-talking people…it is just another day in the predicament of his existence. He comes upon a bakery and stands outside looking at it for a moment, then steps away and pulls out two dollar bills from his pocket, that’s all he’s got. 

A few scenes later, we see John sitting alone outside the bakery on some dirty street and eating the cupcake he has bought himself. There is profound innocence and sadness in his eyes and his demeanor as he eats what turns out to be something between a meal and a marker of his birthday.

If you really tune in, it hits you that you are watching a picture of a very sad SOUL… rundown, sunken, emptied, neglected… homeless in the deepest sense.

This is the soul of a NOMAD – ‘gone’ on the most fundamental level – no purpose – no connection – no Identity. He has never learned to tap into his own qualities, never been taught any kind of craft, never taught anything in fact… never seen for who he is. He is disconnected from himself at the core.

He is a universal figure who lives in every one of us.

You just get to a point where your disappointment in yourself becomes so much bigger than your parents’ disappointment in you,” John says whilst sitting at a cafe with an ‘associate’ from his job, whose only interests are ranking on John and the waitress’s booty.
[00:29:30]

"John" sitting with work associate "Charles" (Daniel Sunjata)

And what does John do exactly? He is the driver for two young women who make their way as call-girls at twisted bachelor parties and other dodgy events; the arrangements are made by a female pimp who works as a travel agent on the up and up.

Earlier this day, John’s mom sends him some sorry-ass annual b-day card with a check where in the memo area it says “medication”, followed by a smiley face configured out of punctuation marks.

You can see there’s definitely no connection, no understanding whatsoever between mother and child – never has been.

“It’s like that guy, with the fish…"

Somewhere between deep pain and acceptance of this inevitability, John’s pensive moment is interrupted by his cousin, who’s crashing at John’s rat hole of an apartment and comes in annoyingly to say “he’s on it” about finding work to help pay for rent, and with that sharing his take on networking:
[00:15:30]

“It’s like that guy, with the fish… you know that guy, like he’s hungry, but he doesn’t know how to fish and then the other guy was there, the older guy helping him out … teaching him how to fish,” John finishes the parable.

It’s clear that the fish fable is the central tenet of this film, threaded throughout the story, screaming to us from the screen in the most outwardly disengaging scenes which are oh so loud just beneath the surface.

Let’s spell out what it is we’re subliminally hearing:

I’m starving and I don’t know how to feed myself…
I’m starving for information, knowledge, direction.
I’m starving for connection.
I’m starving for meaning & purpose.

“Happy Birthday"

In a poignant moment, John is sitting in his run-down car, filming himself with a camera he stole earlier this day from a group of midwest fanatics hula-hooping to country folk music on a basketball court in a semi-slum neighborhood of the city. The camera he stole is his birthday present to himself.

Um, I ah, like that guy, with the fish,” John sighs, looking into his camera with a devastation even he is not fully aware of.
[00:46:24]

“Happy Birthday.  Happy Birthday.  Happy Birthday.” he says to himself, looking into the camera with a despondent existential sadness in his eyes.
[1:22:48]

John’s world

We see an unnerving level of descension, purposelessness, deteriorated values, morals and standards in all the characters of this film – they are just surviving in a godforsaken dimension of LOST SOULS… all revolving around John.

This is John’s world… always has been.

John’s cousin is basically another off-course, beaten down kid, who strays away from his so-called ‘home’ to escape the undermining judgement of his parents, who don’t seem to have the first clue about their son’s situation… of course not, he is the extension of their own unresolved search for Identity.

Doing dope and entirely in denial about the reality of his situation, John’s cousin is repeatedly promising to contribute (his share of the rent) and make something of himself – the latter, John makes clear, is not his ax to grind: “Ricky, it’s cool man, I’m not your parents.”
[00:16:13]

John’s ‘girlfriends’, Violet and Mia, are more so members of his survival unit than anything else.

We are first introduced to the girls’ world as they recupe from what is presumably the night before. We see their unkempt apartment, one of them is sleeping it off while the other goes out for some fresh flowers in an attempt at a ‘pick-me-up’. Arriving at the corner store, she responds to the male grocer’s compliments about her looks in a voice saturated with depletion: “today Prashad, I’m just tired.”

The girls eventually reveal the disturbing truth about their journeys to John and his camera. Protectively, even defensively, they open up the fragile underbelly of their tough exterior, divulging the cruel, vulgar and debasing recollections that have painted their life experiences. 

"... didn’t feel like I was human”

Drinking copious amounts of wine mixed with other medicinal substances, the girls get ready for their “event” that night as John films them.  

Mia nonchalantly shares a story from her abusive childhood, where her father kicked her fully pregnant mother to the point of inducing an emergency hospitalization which ended with the baby born dead, and where Mia’s mother in turn took the abuse out on her, in incidents such as the one Mia describes during her shower [00:56:06]:

“When I was growing up, really, I didn’t even feel like… I didn’t feel like I was human.”

“What prompted that?” Violet cajoles Mia to keep talking.

“You know, I was looking out the window and she told me not to look out the window – and she was ironing and… she came over to me and she said, ‘I told you not to look out the window.’ And then I remember this big iron just pushing it towards me.” Mia turns to Violet and makes a sound of scorching metal seering into her skin  “And I don’t remember the pain,” she continues, “I just remember this big, loud scream.”

“A bloodcurdling scream?” Violet tries to validate the trauma of an experience that Mia clearly wants to block out.

“Yeah,” says Mia.

At another point, Mia hints at an incestuous relationsip with her father in the way she alludes to their closeness, but refuses to confirm or deny anything outright:

I’m not discussing that,” she says flat out, when John prompts her to do so. Then she adds in a more excusing tone, “It’s just that I don’t know who’s going to be seeing this stuff.” [1:09:46]

"he loved me, so I left him"

Now it’s Violet’s turn.

The girls are practically ready for their gig, sitting down at the kitchen table, wine glasses in hand and John still taping: 

Violet graphically describes an abhorrent first experience with sex, revealing that not only was it a big deal for her, but also in this particular instance evidences her pattern of emotional escapsim:

“Apparently he really loved me, and he asked me to marry him. So of course I left him immediately for some other guy.” [1:11:07]

It would be a realistic guess that Violet’s coping mechanism is to run from any type of intimacy that bears the risk of her being hurt or rejected – a feeling we can presume she knows all too well. Put another way, the running is a form of protection from anyone getting close enough to see the ugliness, unworthiness and unlovability she actually feels within.

Inside of Violet, lives this pernicious picture of self constructed from the wounds of her past. And this is why her choice of friendship with Mia who in all likelihood is even more damaged, makes total sense.

Between the dismissive giggles and jokes deflecting the sting of dehumanizing first-time sexual encounters, Violet voices aggression towards their circumstances of exploitation and victimization:

“… I think it’s a lot different for guys…  that guy is not feeling your pain.”
[1:12:26]

“God is dead”

At one point, Violet is stunned into facing a moment of truth about her self-degrading life, incited by John’s innocent question regarding her disclosure of the “200 guys” she’s slept with: “Do you know all their names?” [1:16:10]

After a crushing silence, she leaves the room breaking down into tears.

“God is dead and no one cares,” Mia says after Violet walks out.

Connection above all else

The breakdown leads to a cathartic moment of relief for Violet “… to just be myself for a change,” as she puts it standing in the hallway of the apartment with John.

John asks another authentically simple and yet excruciatingly difficult question:  “Who are you usually?
[1:18:50]

Again, Violet is at a loss for words, she just stares at him with disarming honesty.

What follows is an immensely tender moment as the two awkwardly approach each other with naked vulnerability, coming together into a genuinely affectionate embrace… because the desire to connect supersedes all else.

The Sun King taps into the Supreme Power of Ballet.

March 27, 2022

The Sun King taps into the Supreme Power of Ballet

Discover the Underlying Origin & Purpose of an Unrivaled Artform.

The Sun King in David Bintley’s ballet production “The King Dances”

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

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.

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 Great Self is always speaking to us!

The Ballet Master.

The Ballet Master.

A look into the Tour de Force Life of Pyotr Andreyevich Gusev.

Pyotr Gusev as “Asak” and Olga Mungalova as “Solveig” as the original performers in the ballet “Ice Maiden” choreographed by Fyodor Lopukhov to music by Edvard Grieg (c. 1927)

It seems an overwhelming task to write about the unique individual whom I have studied for almost a month, a personage who is revered as a supreme authority in the high art of classical dance.

So maybe I should start out by writing about how his students and colleagues felt about him.

Pyotr Gusev as “Boris”and Tatiana Vecheslova as “Olga” in Dmitri Shostakovich’s The Bolt (1931) with choreography by Fyodor Lopukhov

Contact with him would leave a mark in the soul, in the brain.

— Celebrated Mariinsky Theatre Principal Nonna Yastrebova

Ninel Aleksandrovna Petrova (born 1924)

Our generation was very lucky, because in the very beginning of our creative journey we met such a person.  It is to him we owe our accomplishment… we worked with spirit, if only to earn his approval.

— Distinguished Mariinsky Theatre Principal Ninel Petrova

Askold Anatolievich Makarov (1925–2000)

His critique was always targeted, precise. No extensive lectures.  He had the ability to draw out of a person that, which was inherent within…

Nona Borisovna Yastrebova (1923-2012)

… This entire group (of famous dancers):  Ninel Petrova, Askold Makarov, Inna Zubkovskaya, Olga Moiseeva, Alla Osipenko – Pyotr Andreyevich made us all…

— Nonna Yastrebova

Yes, my research project into this exceptionally accomplished dancer, teacher, choreographer, artistic director and writer has taken me awhile… not only because of my translation process from Russian to English… but just to wrap my head around the sheer number of accolades garnered by this individual… to metabolize that this person has literally molded the greats of the greats, among his students the famous choreographer Leonid Yakobson and outstanding dancer Aleksey Yermolayev… and that his school buddy and close friend was none other than George Balanchine.

George Balanchine born Georgiy Melitonovich Balanchivadze (1904 –1983)
Ninel Petrova

But unless you really seep into the depth of this person’s being, unless you really look into “the man behind the mask”, so to speak, he’s just a great, faraway star, someone you can never reach.

In fact, you find out it’s quite the contrary when you begin to explore the life of Pyotr Andreyevich.

Ballet great Ninel Petrova recounts a tender experience with her beloved mentor:

“Not long before the departure (of Gusev) we were at his apartment on Rossi Street. There were blini (Russian style crepes), a wonderful meal, and it was very simple and easy for us.  He possessed an incredible talent – he was able to be as an equal.”

So let’s take a closer look at the portrait of Pyotr Andreyevich Gusev, a surprisingly approachable man who lived an extraordinary life and left us an extraordinary legacy.

Pyotr Andreyevich Gusev really does have a remarkable fate in terms of his education and life trajectory from early on — it’s as if he was made for his great role.

It is a rare bird who gets to study from the get-go at a private school with a famous ballerina of the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre, who then brings him into the St. Petersburg ballet school, where he clearly emerges as not only a talented dancer, but a gifted teacher, conducting practice classes with the younger students during his senior years at the school.

Gusev’s famous teacher, Mariinsky Theatre ballerina Olga Preobrajenska (1871–1962)

SIDEBAR

As an older student at the St. Petersburg ballet school, Gusev coached his junior peers including future choreographers Leonid Yakobson and Rostislav Zakharov as well as the future outstanding dancer Aleksey Yermolayev, who even upon becoming the premiere of the Bolshoi Theatre, continued to study with Gusev.

Galina Ulanova

He goes on to become the principal dancer with two of the world’s top-ranking theatres, dancing with partners Galina Ulanova and Maya Plisetskaya, legends in their own right, and later becomes a teacher, choreographer and artistic director of the biggest world-known ballet institutions in his country.  If that isn’t enough, he travels to China to organize a ballet company in Peking and choreographic schools in Shanghai and Canton, pioneering the integration of classical ballet with Chinese classical dance.

Maya Plisetskaya

Here I must interject, because it is impossible to go on talking about Gusev without the inclusion of the historical figure Fyodor Vasilievich Lopukhov.

Spanning the majority of his career, Pyotr Gusev sustains a rare collaborative partnership with the famous Soviet-era choreographer Lopukhov, initially dancing break-out roles in his concept-themed experimental productions, and eventually joining forces with his visionary friend to head up the Mikhailovsky (Maly Theatre) where the two continue to up their game by staging societally risqué productions, taking their creative alliance to the next level.

Fyodor Vasilievich Lopukhov
Pyotr Gusev as head ballet master at Novosibirsk Theater (circa late 1960's)

Down the road, Gusev is invited to stage productions as chief ballet-master at the premiere ballet companies of Stanislavski and Novosibirsk Theatres as well as the aforementioned Mikhailovsky. He also becomes head of the unique Leonid Yakobson Ballet Theater.

Next in his repertoire, Gusev is appointed head of the ballet-master department at the Leningrad Conservatory eventually becoming a professor there.

Along the way he pens a number of poignant scholarly articles dedicated to questions about ballet and preserving the legacy of classical dance.

Believe it or not, this is the short version of the man’s resume.

But in all his achievements, three things
really stand out revealing the secret behind his ultimate value and contribution, making this article worthy of writing… and reading 🙂

An astonishing level of organization.

“He had everything remarkably organized.  Everyone always came prepared to the rehearsals – he was a great authority for us…”

— Ninel Petrova

Perhaps Gusev’s organizational talent had its first visible debut in 1923 via the Young Ballet project which he created with his school friend Georgi Balanchivadze, better known as Balanchine, and several other academy peers who would become future notables. The Young Ballet project was a series of evenings mostly showcasing performances staged by Balanchine, and attracted enthusiasts and young dancers including the acrobatically inclined Olga Mungalova, who would become Pyotr’s irreplaceable partner for many years to come.

Olga Mungalova with Pyotr Gusev in George Balanchine’s choreographic samples at Petrograd Training Ballet Theatre Academy (Petrograd, 1923)

To organize such a project is no ordinary endeavor. It takes a sharp, focused mind with an unobstructed vision of what you want and the ability to harness it.

It equally demands the kind of broad-mindedness that is driven to create beauty on a grander than personal scale.  Because it is about bringing talents together and seeing them shine as a group.

But that’s not all.  This skill-set must be accompanied by the ability to draw out the best in people, which means to see the best in people.

And this brings us to the next discernible trait of Pyotr Gusev.

A gift to see and draw out talent.

To see the best in people means to see the often less noticeable traits and latent potentials tucked beneath our outermost layers.  And in this respect, Gusev went above and beyond.

“He was able to see talents, with an exceptional ability to grow them,”  as prominent writer D. Truskinovskaya puts it.

Former head of Novosibirsk Ballet and Philharmonic, Alexander Savin recalls:

“Gusev had a god-given talent, to see the potentials of a ballet master in a dancer.”

Savin goes on to say that this is in fact, how world famous ballet figures Oleg Vinogradov and Nikita Dolgushin got their start:

“… he [Gusev] initiated Oleg Vinogradov into producing “Swan Lake” and practically convinced Nikita Dolgushin to start staging his first big works: “Cinderella” and “Romeo and Juliet”.

Oleg Vinogradov
Nikita Dolgushin

From the composite of sources describing his life and career – the two being literally fused – it becomes apparent that Pyotr Gusev’s creative drive was fueled through his work with young dance professionals.

“He always helped young people…” an article quotes ballerina Ninel Petrova’s recollection of Gusev.

“Gusev’s style of work was in his work with the dancers… He encouraged artists to try out for different roles, secured a ballet coach… [and] send them out onto the stage,” contributes Alexander Savin.

“Pyotr Andreyevich Gusev had a principle, from which he even suffered – he promoted the young…” remembers his student and colleague, ballerina Nonna Yastrebova.

Yastrebova further reveals:

His life was not at all easy… Pyotr Andreyevich had very big problems.  He was in fact removed… he left Petersburg. And because of what? Because, he put us, the youth, into productions.  We suffered for him very much. But it was impossible to shove us back.

A part of an earlier quote by ballet principal Ninel Petrova bears repeating in appreciation of his gift:

Our generation was very lucky, because, in the very beginning of our creative journey we met such a person.  It is to him we owe our accomplishment. Pyotr Andreyevich – an incredible leader, dance coach, teacher…

Nonna Yastrebova as the Autumn Fairy in Cinderella (Kirov Ballet, 1940′s)

If Pyotr Gusev was the sculptor of human talent, then these young dancers were the perfect medium for the molding and shaping of its expression.

“King of Partnering”.

Pyotr Gusev with Olga Mungalova in George Balanchine’s choreographic samples at Petrograd Training Ballet Theatre Academy (Petrograd, 1923).

Gusev had a remarkable quality that garnered him the famous title “king of partnering.”

“This artist… contributed a huge amount to the development of partner dance,” writes D. Truskinovskaya, “…and even today not many artists can repeat his almost acrobatic stunts.”

Nonna Yastrebova contributes excitedly:

The way Pyotr Andreyevich lifted you, no one could lift a partner.  No one!

What Lepeshinskaya (renowned Bolshoi ballerina) did in the famous “Moszkowski Waltz”?  She ran to him for the ‘fish dive lift’, holding her arms in back of her and… jumped!  And he caught her. He could catch from any position…

Freeze frame from the famous Moszkowski Waltz performed by Pyotr Gusev and Olga Lepeshinskaya for Bolshoi Ballet (circa 1940)
Pavel Andreyevich Gerdt was the Premier Danseur Noble of the Imperial Ballet, the Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre, and the Mariinsky Theatre with a 56-year tenure (debuting in 1860, and retiring in 1916)

Yastrebova goes on to gives an almost humorous, historical context to the significance of Pyotr Gusev’s partnering know-how:

Earlier, such a thing didn’t exist. Pavel Andreyevich Gerdt (the best dance partner of the imperial theatre era – “News” source) walked next to, some held by the hand, and if he circled around – this was already very good. But to push one up (high), double ‘fish’ lift down – this only Gusev could do.

Frankly, the real value lies not in his “stunts”, but what enabled Pyotr Gusev to impeccably perform the never-before seen feats. We can certainly get a clue as to what it is from exalted Mariinsky Theatre prima Tatyana M. Vecheslova’s quote:

Gusev was glorified as an outstanding partner, “king of partnering”… the  real virtuosity was that Gusev never clung to his partner. Performing the most difficult combinations, he barely touched her.  This created a feeling of lightness, ease. His technique, developed to the level of excellence, giving the dance an [exceptional] mood.

 

Pyotr Gusev and Olga Mungalova in Alexander Serov’s Opera “Judith” Dance of the Egyptian acrobats with choreography by Fyodor Lopukhov (1925)

What does this clue to Gusev’s rare aptitude imply?

Apart from the caliber of preparation required from a professional on this level – a given – this picture clearly denotes Gusev’s ability to genuinely CONNECT with his partner, to feel and gauge the mood, energy and character with whom he was dancing.

In fact, you can see the element of CONNECTION running through all the facets of Pyotr Andreyevich:

Pyotr Andreyevich Gusev with influential ballet educator Alisa Vasilevna Nikiforov at Novosibirsk Theatre (circa late 1960's)

… through the impressive synergy in the wiring of his brain allowing for genius in organization

… through his uncanny insight into the ability of others

… through his flair to bring talents together into a collaborative unit

… through his power to sear knowledge into the mind and heart of those he worked with

… through his piecing together of prior works with meticulous attention and methodical re-staging technique

… through his versatility in staging numerous and multifaceted ballets ranging from classic revivals to avant-garde abstractions

… through his capacity to bring the elite world of ballet to a greater audience, giving us insider access to privileged information through his earnest, concise and encompassing writing on the subject.

All these things – the ability to envision, construct, order, relay, transform – are based on CONNECTION…  a connection of qualities that Pyotr Gusev possessed within himself.

Ultimately, Pyotr Gusev was able to inspire the formation of personality in others.  He had the gift to grow Identity. Really, he was just passing onto others what he himself already had.

And in all likelihood the framework of classical ballet is what fostered this phenomenon.

“Seven Beauties” to music of Gara Garayev, staged by Pyotr Gusev at the Azerbaijan State Academic Opera and Ballet Theater in Baku, Azerbaijan in 1952, and in Leningrad’s Kirov Theatre in 1953
Gusev teaching in Peking (circa 1960)

Ballet is a uniquely powerful instrument proven to develop the integrity of the mind-body unit as one, promoting the functions of focus, orderliness and adaptability, bolstering mental acuity, confidence and very importantly the ability to connect with others.

Connection with others comes through connection with yourself… which in turns comes through connection with your own innate qualities.

This is what it means to have Identity… to “Know Thyself” as the famous aphorism goes.

And this is what ballet can help to bring out in us… the innate capacities already living within.

To know thyself is to have everything and Pyotr Gusev’s life is an exemplary portrait of this.  Through this point of view, he’s not just a dusty old figure in the annals of ballet history, but he comes to life as the ignitor of the great potential in all of us.

The creative offspring of Pyotr Andreyevich Gusev.

Perhaps one of Gusev’s most devoted students, Aleksey Yermolayev went on to pass the torch of his knowledge to the next generation of greats including the supreme Bolshoi principal and ballet master Mikhail Lavrovsky and famed Bolshoi dancer Vladimir Vasiliev, named “God of the dance” by Fyodor Lopukhov.

But don’t take my word for it!  Here’s an excerpt describing the rehearsal image from its contributor, The Reborn Art Foundation in Moscow:

In the 1960s, stars of world ballet and the best dancers of the Bolshoi, such as Mikhail Lavrovsky, Yuri Vladimirov, Maris Liepa, Boris Akimov, Alexander Godunov, and Vyacheslav Gordeev, all worked with Yermolaev. 

Vladimir Vasiliev was Yermolaev’s first student and his successor as a dancer.

Alexei Yermolaev rehearsing with his student Vladimir Vasiliev; photo by Leonid Zhdanov (1971)
Vladimir Vasiliev
Mikhail Lavrovsky
Mikhail Lavrovsky and Natalia Bessmertnova in “The Legend of Love” at the Bolshoi Theatre
Lali Kandelaki rehearsing “Romeo and Juliet” with Mikhail Lavrovsky at State Ballet of Georgia (2011)

Pyotr Gusev’s mentee Leonid Yacobson was instrumental in influencing and helping to shape the creative force of Boris Eifman, a pioneer of ballet exploration in his own right.

Boris Eifman, photo by Sasha Onyshchenko
Tableau of the “Gates of Hell” from Boris Eifman ballet “Rodin”; photo by Gene Schiavone

A good note to end on….  is that all this circles back to ‘lil ole me’ through my dear ballet friend Anna Korotysheva, a student of Inna Zubkovskaya, one of the members of Pyotr Gusev’s famous group of proteges.

til next time... be inspired to explore, expand and share your find!

La Belle Époque in Santa Monica

La Belle Epoque

in Santa Monica

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Vaganova and the Sacred Code of Dance

Vaganova and the Sacred Code of Dance

Irina Alexandrovna Kolpakova in her first performances

Perhaps she does not exist in the very same embodiment as the great master who single-handedly established the system of classical dance used the world over today, but Vaganova certainly does live on in the embodiment of her students, and in turn their students.

Agrippina Yakovlevna Vaganova in her early career

The body that Vaganova did leave behind, is the integral educational framework constructed from extracting and coherently integrating essential attributes of Italian, French and Russian ballet. The home of this system is the elite international academy which carries the name of its creator, Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia.

If Vaganova did choose to live on in specific vessels, one of these would be Irina Kolpakova, who graduated in the last class ever taught by Vaganova.

famous photo of Agrippina Vaganova teaching her last graduation class with Irina Kolpakova on far right (April 1951)
Irina Kolpakova with her dad

In her experience with the great teacher, Irina Alexandrovna apparently acquired the coveted code of classical dance with mathematical precision. Perhaps this is not a great surprise, considering Irina’s father was a mathematician of the highest caliber.

What is remarkable, is how this being-level knowledge that seeped into Irina through her connection with her beloved teacher, has reflected throughout her life and career, molding her potentials into accomplishments that have forged a force of an identity, making her who she is. 

Irina Kolpakova as Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty (Kirov Ballet, 1950's)

The famous disciple of Vaganova who is described as personifying the best features of the Leningrad (St. Petersburg) Classical School of Ballet was invited by one of her former dance partners, Mikhail Baryshnikov, to teach at American Ballet Theatre (ABT) in the 1980’s.  Irina joined the company as Ballet Mistress in 1990, where she tirelessly – by her own account – continues to teach today.

Kolpakova on stage with Baryshnikov
Irina Kolpakova as Rudolf Nureyev’s first Giselle (1959), image from collection of Maude Gosling

Kolpakova encapsulates the essence of the precious legacy she possesses and in turn passes onto others in Victor Okuntsov’s 1986 Russian docufilm “Agrippina Vaganova”. 

Here is the translation:

Her (Vaganova’s) methodology is timeless.

It is so universal.  It’s so universal because it’s very high in its purity of the classical form, classical dance. That is first.

Second, in its extraordinary harmony, harmony of all the parts of the body. This is what Agrippina Yakovlevna paid the greatest attention to: that a ballet dancer did not go out (on stage) with merely strong, beautiful, developed legs, or only amazing, supple, flexible arms while the legs are doing unthinkable things.  Or, for example, with a marvelous back, strong as steel, stable, capable of, ‘aplomb’ as it’s called (aplomb refers to unwavering stability maintained during a vertical pose or movement).

But for the dance to be truly something akin to the Russian soul, the Russian character… this heightened inspiration, this soulfulness, this harmony of all the parts of the body… alive, moving eyes… head… flexible, soft hands and very strong, hard legs and strong, or ‘hard’ toe, as we say.

All of this, is to serve one goal: expressiveness, expressiveness of the dance.  As Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin (famous Russian poet) said:  the flight of the soul through dance’.

– Irina Kolpakova

Kolpakova teaching at Vaganova Academy
Kolpakova teaching at Vaganova Academy

In the timeline of her life and career, Irina has managed to capture an entire spectrum of association with ballet greats from the time of Marius Petipa to the phenoms of today including David Hallberg, Natalia Osipova and Misty Copeland to name a few. 

The well-known prima Diana Vishneva recaps it as follows:

She’s a student of Vaganova, this pretty much says everything.  One of Vaganova’s favorite, last students.  She has worked with ballet dancers who worked with Marius Petipa… this great legacy, this great connection between the tradition, history of the school… she’s a representative of the most real Vaganova school.

Diana Vishneva talks about Irina Kolpakova in Russian Documentary: Irina Kolpakova: “Ballerina, Spring”

Vladimir Vasiliev, The Bolshoi Ballet dance star and choreographer named “God of the dance” and regarded as a classical dancer on the same level as Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov, danced with Kolpakova in the 1984 ballet movie “The House Near The Road”.

Vasiliev said of Kolpakova:

“She is made of steel.  In her is a combination of a delicate nature and a very strong person, a very strong-willed person.”

Irina Kolpakova and Vladimir Vasiliev in the 1984 ballet film: "The House Near the Road"

Diana Vishneva recounts what ballet star Natalia Makarova once conveyed to her about Irina Kolpakova:

“Natalia Romanovna Makarova thought back to when she was younger…”

Diana Vishneva talks about Kolpakova in Russian documentary “Irina Kolpakova: Ballerina, Spring”

I remember when we were in the studio with Alla Osipenko, watching Irina Alexandrovna Kolpakova and saying, ‘it’s impossible to achieve such clean movements, it’s just too despicably good!’

– Natalia Makarova

Irina Kolpakova with Natalia Makarova

In the 2013 Russian documentary “Life in Time: Irina Kolpakova”, Irina sits in her NY apartment in front of her laptop looking over footage of her work with ABT dancers, commenting:  “this is Firebird… with David Hallberg, Natasha (Natalia) Osipova, Marcelo Gomez…”

David Hallberg about Kolpakova: “Beautiful … gorgeous ballerina.... I owe her everything.”

Irina Kolpakova with David Hallberg at ABT

It’s no secret that Irina is a precious commodity at ABT, dearly appreciated by the dancers as well as Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie:

ABT Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie talks about Kolpakova in Russian documentary “Irina Kolpakova: Ballerina, Spring”

She’s a shining example of the purity of Vaganova… beyond the technical aspect…  she has a feeling for the music and the depth of knowledge…  the history of each ballet and how the variations went and how they worked all through time.  She has nurtured 3 generations of dancers at ABT… I really feel they would have not had as good a career as they had, had it not been for her. 

For decades, Irina has brought and continues to bring the same fervor to her work as did her beloved Agrippina Vaganova, recalling her own experience with the formidable teacher:

Everyone dreamed of getting into Vaganova’s class. We worshipped her every word. We tried to understand her every word – which was often very difficult – and to actualize it was even more difficult…

Irina Kolpakova in docufilm: "Agrippina Vaganova. The Great & the Terrible" (2010)
Vaganova’s teaching class in 1951 at the Leningrad Choreographic School (now Vaganova Ballet Academy) with Kolpakova in front

… Our first day in her class, I remember we just practiced the preparatory ‘port de bras’ (positioning of the arms) for one half hour…  like this with the head, eyes, with the arm, open, close and return to the initial position.  And again, and again, and again.  

And we tried to understand what she wanted from us — we had already been doing this before her class every year. And yet this was something a little different.

… She illustrated, she explained, and most importantly she could … make you do what she wanted…

Agrippina Yakovlevna was some kind of phenomenon, and I was unbelievably fortunate…

… to this day, nothing has changed for me, to this day, in terms of Vaganova, in terms of our school.  It’s possible, there are periods of highs and lows, there are periods when instructors are more or less talented, but a school is a school, and such a school as ours does not exist.  From the time of my schooling in 1951, I believe in it as much now as I believed in it then.

– Irina Kolpakova

Irina Kolpakova in docufilm: "Agrippina Vaganova. The Great & the Terrible" (2010)

It is said, that Kolpakova loves the alphabet of movement, how a dance is constructed out of combination sequences… endlessly repeating movements to bring each dance step to perfection… losing track of time as before, when she herself danced.

Passed on through her great predecessor, the code of classical dance is a rare language that speaks through Kolpakova, whose timeless, relentless devotion to this highest art is perhaps an index that she carries something more than the usual packet of energy allotted to a mundane human life, an indication that she may very well be a channel through which pours the great force of knowledge brought into this world through the vehicle of Agrippina Yakovlevna Vaganova.

Kolpakova teaching at Yakobson ballet studio in St. Petersburg

“Thank god that I have the strength and desire to work.  If there’s a desire, there’s strength… there’s some kind of energy there. Don’t know… but I want to work,” says Kolpakova with a priceless, almost forbidden smile coming over her face… as if she knows she is defying time itself.

Consultant: Anna Korotysheva