Spoiler alert: This week is all about the dance, folks. If you know next to nothing about modern and classical dance, well, welcome to the club. Quiet Bubble’s posts will feature longwinded, amateurish, and inadvertently funny comments on pirouettes, synchronized limbs, and my baby steps into an appreciation of dance. I hope they will enlighten, or at least amuse.
I was first exposed to good dance criticism last year, while reading A Terry Teachout Reader. Within this excellent book of cultural criticism, Teachout has included essays on dance. It’s an art form he loves dearly, thinks is capable of a tremendous range of expression, and he wonders why so few others love it as he does. His dance love is infectious. Despite a lifelong aversion to dance, I was drawn into these essays on choreographers I had never heard of, dances I had never seen, and critics I had never read.
On the day I’d finished the Reader, I rented Pedro Almodóvar’s Talk to Her on DVD. I watched the movie that night, and was left slack-jawed and astonished by its beauty. Unbeknownst to me before seeing it, the movie is framed by a modern ballet full of tension and resonating silence. Two of its protagonists are dancers—one onstage in a ballet troupe, the other in the ring as a bullfighter. The camera moves gracefully like a dancer taking steps; the editing moves fluidly back and forth between timeframes and narratives. It’s a filmic ballet.
I also rented that weekend, on a friend’s recommendation, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s sumptuous The Red Shoes. The movie is a colorful, exuberant, deeply unrealistic portrait of a working ballet company, and is one of the best fairy tales I’ve seen onscreen. Four months later, I was dazzled by Robert Altman’s The Company—again, a DVD rental.
A month after that, I read Teachout’s All in the Dances, his brief biography of master choreographer George Balanchine, and resolved to see New York City Ballet as soon as I could afford to do so. So, in late-February 2005, I took a whirlwind trip to Manhattan. Among many other activities, I attended my first ballet since elementary school, at the New York State Theater.
This Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday will feature, respectively, my reviews of the three movies that helped to trigger my interest in dance: Talk to Her, The Red Shoes, and The Company. They’re all masterpieces, but each is radically different from the others. On Friday, I’ll post my reflections on the NYCB experience. Stay tuned.