High on Bach: The Breakdancing Black Swans of Chicago

I haven’t been to the ballet since my parents brought me to The Nutcracker during the holidays when I was like six. I believe we left during intermission because I intentionally fell asleep in hopes of visions of sugar plums dancing in my head. Didn’t happen. Later in life, I’d find myself attending University of the Arts where I majored in Musical Theater, which is essentially majoring in social suicide. (This was long before Glee.) Anyway, it was all fun and gaymes (hehe) until ballet class, a required course that haunted me more than being forced to dissect a moldy cat in high school anatomy class. I did not sign up for this mess! I packed on the freshman fifteen (maybe thirty…) and I was suddenly being shrieked at to sashay my fat ass across the dance floor in tights whilst the pianist twinkled out classical music! I could deal with the (always bloody) ballet slippers and tights, but the real nightmarish deal breaker was the “dance belt” aka a MAN THONG. Your mom brought you school shopping to Target for binders and Martha Stewart shower curtains, mine brought me man thong shopping. Meanwhile, I just wanted to major in pop star!! Pelvic thrusting, shimmying, etc. THAT’S MY JAM. In other words, I’m now a proud musical theater college dropout.

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So, yeah, I was certain anything remotely “classical” had forever damaged me. This weekend, that all changed. I found myself at Chicago’s historic and gorgeous Civic Opera House to attend the opening of Red Bull Flying Bach. You read that right. The press release explained that four-time breakdance world champions aptly known as The Flying Steps would “combine contemporary hip-hop power moves with live classical music.” WHAT! I live for break-dancing. It’s so spectacular and impressive and frightening, especially when the kids on the L train decide to go HAM on the subway poles. In the past, I related attending a ballet with taking too much Xanax, but Flying Bach gave me wings — aka it was presented by Red Bull, which meant I sipped vodka (blueberry!) red bulls whilst watching the show, most of the time with my jaw perma-dropped as a result of the killer choreography. The show gave me (so much) life, as the kids these days say. Guests wore suits and cocktail dresses whilst cheering like it was a hip-hop concert, ooh-ing and ahh-ing like it was a wild magic show. I watched as seven very good-looking male break dancers popped and locked and frenetically twirled on their heads to Bach and electro beats. I’m not kidding. It’s really difficult to explain the amazingness of it all. Lots of goosebumps happened. It gave me West Side Story (there’s a love story!) meets Stomp vibes. And in a sea of dudes, there was Swedish dancer Anna Holmström, who mixed it up by adding in ballet perfection (those leaps!) before (spoiler alert) joining the boys to break-dance her booty off for the explosive finale. In other words, y’all really need to head over to the OMFG adrenaline-exploding life-giving experience that is Red Bull Flying Bach. The final shows are this weekend in Chicago — get the golden tickets right here, right now.

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Post-show, I hit up the backstage where I fanned out/attempted flirting with The Flying Steps. I also chatted with the leading lady, the spectacular sizzling superstar aka Anna Holmström. Check out our cute chit-chat below. And, forreal, open another credit card, grab a few Red Bull and get thee to Chicago!!! Feel more than free to thank me later.

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Opening night!! How did you think it went?

Good! We got a lot of good responses from the audience. Even when I was not on stage, I was listening and checking out how they were reacting. We had standing ovations! That’s usually a good sign.

Any pre-show rituals?

I think everyone has his or her own ways of warming up, but I usually do a ballet bar, some stretching, and some hip-hop moves to get into the ending routines from the show.

Was breakdancing easy for you?

No, it’s not easy! I’m getting bruises everywhere. But with these guys, it’s easy to exchange movements. Also, the contemporary flow has some similarities to breaking on the floor. I’ve always been fascinating by breakdancing since I was a kid. For me, this project is perfect. I’ve been learning a lot.

Do you get along with the guys?

Yeah, we do! It’s like having seven brothers. Depending on situations, they’re bigger brothers or smaller brothers. We’re having a lot of fun.

You’re the only female in the show. Did you feel the pressure to stand out?

I think it’s important to know that I’m me. I’m not copying and trying to be a guy, it’s important to show my own originality in myself. I’m actually feeling like Beyoncé or Madonna when I go on stage, especially at the end of the show when I breakdance. To give a lot of power! They know who they are when they’re on stage. I’m just having a lot of fun.

So, is the Black Swan terrifyingly competitive vibes of a ballerina’s life true?

There’s not so many jobs — that’s the truth. And of course you’re competing amongst your friends to get the same job. But I’ve never felt bad if I wouldn’t get a job if I knew that I did all I could. And if I know that my friend is better than me and she got the job, I would be happy for her. Of course, if I feel that I did a better job, I would be angry. But sometimes they’re looking for someone with blonde hair or dark hair and blue eyes… so I think that instead of using the competition in a negative way, you can use it to get better and just think of always improving. It’s really nice in breakdancing, because when I’m watching them practice, they’re a little bit competitive but not in a negative way. They’re just trying to make themselves better.

What’s your dream job?

I actually want to create my own company and be the artistic director and choreographer. I’m starting to think about finding the dancers I want to work with. And incorporate subjects of today — how we look at things differently in society.

What was the most challenging number for you in the show?

I think all of them are really hard!

Images courtesy of Red Bull

Angela Harriell Opens Up About ‘The Love Show: Sex Magic’ Fest

I’m giving this post another five minutes, then it’s off to the beach for one last roast. Miami beach is sunny and stupid and completely perfect. Reminds me of so many of my exes. I’m heading home to BBurg tonight, hopefully in time for the People Get Ready, Rich Aucoin, Landlady, Raccoon Fighter show at Glasslands Gallery (289 Kent Avenue). Alas, I may be stuck in the sun until too late. Nightclub science has brought me to Miami Beach. An ABSOLUT Miami-sponsored event focuses on the hows, whats, whys, and whos of the Miami Beach club scene, sometimes even dabbling in the whens. I’m going to talk about this tomorrow or Friday when I have more time. Controlling different parts of an evening is an experienced operators approach to night club programming. If they’re coming to you late, you are real hot, but you wont have enough time to make money. Controlling the middle of the night is a good start as that is where the most loot lies. Early is often the easiest to establish as events, and sometimes dinners can be used to consistently bring in an early crowd. Hotel Chantelle has been slammed on Thursdays with Miss Guy, Lily of the Valley, me, and Carol Shark DJing. Now, the promo department is adding Angela Harriell’s "The Love Show: Sex Magic" to the early slot. By all accounts this sexy cabaret, ballet, magic fest will bring all the boys to the bar – and hot gals as well. I asked Angela to tell us all about it.

Tell me about the show’s history and what the public can expect to see.
The Love Show started up about eight years ago as a modern dance show with a little edge. Our very first performance was on an amateur burlesque night at LUXX in Williamsburg (now The Trash Bar). We did a number to Peggy Lee’s "Do Right." We still do that number occasionally, from time to time. Since then, the show has evolved to be everything from kid-friendly to naughty-naughty. We do all styles of dance that feature an eclectic range of music; we do dirty-downtown- theater-dance and swank-glam-champagne stuff. When you see The Love Show, you can expect to see beautiful girls and guys doing excellent dances in fab costumes. What I think you don’t expect is just how funny and theatrical it is. I love a good slow motion fight scene as much as the next gal. I think we surprise people with how developed and detailed the humor and wit is, and we do it all with sexy style. At Hotel Chantelle, you can also expect to be amazed and amused by our charismatic and talented magician/host: The Great Dubini.
 
How did a nice girl like you end up doing this?
When I moved to New York, I knew I wanted to dance. I was brought up with rigorous ballet training (my mother was a ballerina and now a ballet teacher), and I took a real shine to choreography in college. I started auditioning when I got here and was getting discouraged with my inability to get onstage with say, Paul Taylor. And one night (about 8 or 9 years ago), I saw Julie Atlas Muz perform at Galapagos in Williamsburg. It blew my mind. A self-made performer, making the rules for herself, getting to dance and create her own movement and image and, more than anything, move and captivate people while doing her own thing. I decided to start a dance troupe, and that was the beginning.
 
Where are you going with this? Are you a future TV star? Broadway? Vegas? … What’s the plan?
I am trying to bring The Love Show to the point of being a self-sustaining company, with full performances each season (right now, we have one full-length seasonal show ("Nutcracker: Rated R"), while also continuing to branch out with our private party/corporate work. There are so many goals! I’d really like to travel with the company more, and it would be amazing one day to have our own home base to rehearse in, give class, and do small shows.  We occasionally work with The House of Yes, and I’m very inspired by their home.  They really give back to the artist community.  In the end, the goal is always the same: to do what you love while getting paid.
 
What’s a day in the life like? And what goes into preparing for a show like this?
A day in the life involves sitting for hours at the computer, trying to book shows, reach out, do follow-ups, create set lists, email about rehearsals, book rehearsal space, etc. Outside of the necessary busy work is the rehearsal part: creating new numbers or reviewing existing numbers. This part is a lot of fun. The majority of my dancers have been performing in the show for anywhere from two to seven years. We are so close, and very much like a family. It’s one of the best things about having your own company; you get to choose the people you work with.
 
What attracted you to Hotel Chanelle?
When we prepare for the show, we try to make it a different show every time, and really fit it to the theme or venue. I put a set list together, email the troops, get everyone’s schedules, book rehearsal space, rehearse the show, pack the costumes, go to the venue, put on a show! I have a partner who handles putting our press out for me (David F. Slone, Esq., who hosts some of our shows and is also a creative partner), and he takes care of that end for me. What attracted me to Hotel Chantelle was the slick rock vibe and the challenge of putting a show on in a space that is not necessarily a performance space. We are really going to set the show to make it feel like a very intimate and involved experience for the crowd. We love to love and are thrilled to be loving on people all up-close and personal. The space is very cool and we’re excited to put a little passion in people’s pants!

Pablo Neruda’s Poem ‘The Me Bird’ Illustrated As Animated Short

How truly beautiful: animators have illustrated the Pablo Neruda poem The Me Bird in this short film, combing graphics and ballet.

Brazilian firm 18bis created the short work, which combined the animation of stenciling and a ballerina dancing on a green screen to depict this poem:

The Me Bird

I am the Pablo Bird,

bird of a single feather,

a flier in the clear shadow and obscure clarity,

my wings are unseen,

my ears resound

when I walk among the trees

or beneath the tombstones

like an unlucky umbrella

or a naked sword,

stretched like a bow

or round like a grape,

I fly on and on not knowing,

wounded in the dark night,

who is waiting for me,

who does not want my song,

who desires my death,

who will not know I’m arriving

and will not come to subdue me,

to bleed me, to twist me,

or to kiss my clothes,

torn by the shrieking wind. 

That’s why I come and go,

fly and don’t fly but sing:

I am the furious bird

of the calm storm.  

The finished work is quite lovely and so is the "making of" film, which follows:

Email me at Jessica.Wakeman@Gmail.com. Follow me on Twitter.

Getting Nutty With the Nutcracker

Ever since I was a wee girl in Denver, my grandmother always took me to see some version of the Nutcracker, whether it was a classic ballet or a modern take done in black and white. Either way, I loved it, and even as a full-fledged adult I seek out productions. This year, I found three adaptations of George Balanchine’s ballet that give it a fun twist.

Created by Liz Muller and Collin Simon, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King highlights the adventures of little Clara and her wooden nutcracker, which is based on the original 1816 story by E. T. A. Hoffmann. The only thing you will recognize is the premise and the star characters. Otherwise, it’s steampunk musical and dark comedy involving singing mice, broken dolls, and some spunky minions that leap, jest, and run all over the stage. Playing at The Beckett Theater on December 11 through the 15. Buy tickets here.

You can probably guess what the Nutcracker Rated R is all about—yup, sex, drugs, family secrets, and dolls. This is their seventh season running with Angela Harriell directing and choreographing the modern dancers. Watch as little teenage Clara goes on a binge of strip clubs, cocaine, and meets all sorts of unsavory characters. This is not my grandma’s Nutcracker. Playing at (Le) Poisson Rouge on December 20, 21, 27, and 28. Buy tickets here.

For a more traditional take on The Nutcracker ballet, The American Ballet Theatre’s version at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) is a safe, and wonderful bet. Choreographer Alexei Ratmansky puts the Tchaikovsky in his dancers feet as they prance around the stage to a live orchestra, bringing magic to the tale that, while the different takes are fun, the original is amazing. Playing at BAM now through December 16. Buy tickets here.

Tiny Dancers In The Sand In Promo For Sufjan’s Ballet

Sufjan Stevens really likes composing with big themes in mind—there were the “states” albums Greetings From Michigan: The Great Lakes State and Illinois; there was that intense and rather diverse series of Christmas albums. And for his upcoming ballet, Year of the Rabbit, which premieres at Lincoln Center on October 5, he extends his explorations of the Chinese zodiac.

The new ballet is one of several iterations of the Chinese zodiac theme for Stevens, beginning with his 2001 album, Enjoy Your Rabbit, which became arrangements for Run Rabbit Run, a recreation of album by Brooklyn’s Osso, in 2009. For Year of the Rabbit, Stevens and choreographer Justin Peck have expanded their 2010 work for the New York Choreographic Institute, Tales of A Chinese Zodiac, into a full ballet featuring orchestral arrangements recreated from Run Rabbit Run.

In the promotional clip for the ballet below, dancers Janie Taylor and Craig Hill dance upon the sand to a familiar Sufjan track, “Palm Sunday Tornado Hits Crystal Lake.” The video will be screened tonight (and was last night) as part of a special Q&A with Stevens and Justin Peck at the Guggenheim Museum as part of their lauded “Works and Process” series. You’ll be able to watch that conversation on the Guggenheim website, if you’re interested in learning more. Watch below.

Meet Ayman Safiah, Palestine’s Only Male Ballet Dancer

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the suitability of men in tights are not subjects that Ayman Safiah wants to discuss. The 21-year-old Palestinian ballet dancer, now living in London, just wants to dance.

In a lovely profile by the BBC, Safiah describes how he became a student of Israel’s first-ever Arab dance studio, which just happened to be located in his hometown of Kafr Yassif in Galilee. His parents and grandparents kept an open mind about him being the only boy on ballet class, although he’s struggled for others to accept him. He told The National earlier this month, "If I went to a store and say I wanted ballet shoes, I would be looked at strangely because I was a boy; it was not acceptable."

For the past three years, Safiah has danced at the Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance in London. He was helped by the first female Palestinian ballet dancer, Rabeah Murkus, who saw his talent and helped him secure funding to study.

Others have not been so open-minded: Arabs have told him that a man dancing topless onstage is forbidden and against Islam. He is also facing possible discrimination by Jewish dance schools back home in Israel that may discriminate against him because he is Palestinian.

Not surprisingly, however, one of his favorite films — and most frequent comparisons — is Billy Elliot.

Good Morning, Here’s a Super Slo-Mo Video of Two Ballet Dancers Set to Radiohead

Hi there! I’m Matt, I’m six, and I’m a beauty queen. Coincidentally, I’m also going to be hanging out here for the next two days keeping you company–and hopefully keeping you entertained, as well. Speaking of which…

Do you like ballet? What about Radiohead? Oh, and videos shot in super slow-motion, are you a fan of those? If so, then you’ll love this mesmerizing clip of Berlin State Ballet dancers Marina Kanno and Giacomo Bevilaqua showing off their skills at 1,000 frames per second, all set to Radiohead’s "Everything in Its Right Place."

Happy Saturday! [via The Daily What]

Angela Harriell Opens Up About ‘The Love Show: Sex Magic’ Fest

I’m giving this post another five minutes, then it’s off to the beach for one last roast. Miami beach is sunny and stupid and completely perfect. Reminds me of so many of my exes. I’m heading home to BBurg tonight, hopefully in time for the People Get Ready, Rich Aucoin, Landlady, Raccoon Fighter show at Glasslands Gallery (289 Kent Avenue). Alas, I may be stuck in the sun until too late. Nightclub science has brought me to Miami Beach. An ABSOLUT Miami-sponsored event focuses on the hows, whats, whys, and whos of the Miami Beach club scene, sometimes even dabbling in the whens. I’m going to talk about this tomorrow or Friday when I have more time. Controlling different parts of an evening is an experienced operators approach to night club programming. If they’re coming to you late, you are real hot, but you wont have enough time to make money. Controlling the middle of the night is a good start as that is where the most loot lies. Early is often the easiest to establish as events, and sometimes dinners can be used to consistently bring in an early crowd. Hotel Chantelle has been slammed on Thursdays with Miss Guy, Lily of the Valley, me, and Carol Shark DJing. Now, the promo department is adding Angela Harriell’s "The Love Show: Sex Magic" to the early slot. By all accounts this sexy cabaret, ballet, magic fest will bring all the boys to the bar – and hot gals as well. I asked Angela to tell us all about it.

Tell me about the show’s history and what the public can expect to see.
The Love Show started up about eight years ago as a modern dance show with a little edge. Our very first performance was on an amateur burlesque night at LUXX in Williamsburg (now The Trash Bar). We did a number to Peggy Lee’s "Do Right." We still do that number occasionally, from time to time. Since then, the show has evolved to be everything from kid-friendly to naughty-naughty. We do all styles of dance that feature an eclectic range of music; we do dirty-downtown- theater-dance and swank-glam-champagne stuff. When you see The Love Show, you can expect to see beautiful girls and guys doing excellent dances in fab costumes. What I think you don’t expect is just how funny and theatrical it is. I love a good slow motion fight scene as much as the next gal. I think we surprise people with how developed and detailed the humor and wit is, and we do it all with sexy style. At Hotel Chantelle, you can also expect to be amazed and amused by our charismatic and talented magician/host: The Great Dubini.
 
How did a nice girl like you end up doing this?
When I moved to New York, I knew I wanted to dance. I was brought up with rigorous ballet training (my mother was a ballerina and now a ballet teacher), and I took a real shine to choreography in college. I started auditioning when I got here and was getting discouraged with my inability to get onstage with say, Paul Taylor. And one night (about 8 or 9 years ago), I saw Julie Atlas Muz perform at Galapagos in Williamsburg. It blew my mind. A self-made performer, making the rules for herself, getting to dance and create her own movement and image and, more than anything, move and captivate people while doing her own thing. I decided to start a dance troupe, and that was the beginning.
 
Where are you going with this? Are you a future TV star? Broadway? Vegas? … What’s the plan?
I am trying to bring The Love Show to the point of being a self-sustaining company, with full performances each season (right now, we have one full-length seasonal show ("Nutcracker: Rated R"), while also continuing to branch out with our private party/corporate work. There are so many goals! I’d really like to travel with the company more, and it would be amazing one day to have our own home base to rehearse in, give class, and do small shows.  We occasionally work with The House of Yes, and I’m very inspired by their home.  They really give back to the artist community.  In the end, the goal is always the same: to do what you love while getting paid.
 
What’s a day in the life like? And what goes into preparing for a show like this?
A day in the life involves sitting for hours at the computer, trying to book shows, reach out, do follow-ups, create set lists, email about rehearsals, book rehearsal space, etc. Outside of the necessary busy work is the rehearsal part: creating new numbers or reviewing existing numbers. This part is a lot of fun. The majority of my dancers have been performing in the show for anywhere from two to seven years. We are so close, and very much like a family. It’s one of the best things about having your own company; you get to choose the people you work with.
 
What attracted you to Hotel Chanelle?
When we prepare for the show, we try to make it a different show every time, and really fit it to the theme or venue. I put a set list together, email the troops, get everyone’s schedules, book rehearsal space, rehearse the show, pack the costumes, go to the venue, put on a show! I have a partner who handles putting our press out for me (David F. Slone, Esq., who hosts some of our shows and is also a creative partner), and he takes care of that end for me. What attracted me to Hotel Chantelle was the slick rock vibe and the challenge of putting a show on in a space that is not necessarily a performance space. We are really going to set the show to make it feel like a very intimate and involved experience for the crowd. We love to love and are thrilled to be loving on people all up-close and personal. The space is very cool and we’re excited to put a little passion in people’s pants!