Sunday, October 30, 2011

A most beautiful Ballet Adagio (slow section)

I missed the big movie theater live simulcast of the Grand Re-Opening of the Bolshoi in Moscow because they had the nerve to schedule it in the middle of a work day (!).
Happily a video has sprung up on YouTube of an excerpt of a marvelous Adagio section from Swan Lake with Svetlana Zakharova as the 'White Swan'.
This is extremely 'luxurious' and beautiful dancing. I could not keep my eyes off of it.
To me it contains supreme expression of 2 things that I've managed to learn about dancing in the few years that I've been seriously involved in it so far.

I'm a rhythm junky. Since childhood I've been very fascinated by syncopation and emphasis on certain beats in a measure and what can be done with them. The backbeat (emphasis on 2 and 4) the foundation of much popular music and James Brown's invention of emphasis on 'the ONE' are still as fresh today as ever. So, what is now called 'Urban Dance' has always fascinated me. I learned that feeling 'in the streets' (not a dance studio) as a child.
So my first forays into dance as a middle-aged adult were, of course, HipHop where I could express the rhythm (it would always be the same scene coming into a class for the first time, the youngsters would have an attitude 'what's this old guy doing in OUR class'. Of course, once the music starts and the back-beat and the ONE beg to be set free, it usually is clear why I'm in the class.. it's to express the rhythm, and they usually respect that (the roots of that physical expression were planted in me as a kid, and I've never lost it).

There's more to dance than rhythm though and my first 'real' dance teacher Molly Kozma demonstrated to me very effectively a different kind of musicality, done during slow Adagio sections and that was a concept and feeling of 'filling up the entire space of the music'. 'Stretching it out' so to speak. It is a very beautiful feeling..
The above video of Svetlana Zhakarova shows her filling space and time in a way that I've never quite seen before. There are almost no stationary 'poses', there is just a continuous, sensuous 'unrolling' of feeling. It's inspiring.

Another lesson that has stuck with me is the idea of contrasts of expectation, that at certain times 'Less is more', that at the right time small movement can convey a whole lot more meaning than a big dramatic one. HipHop-Jazz teacher Christian Crawford effectively conveyed that concept into me. Right in the middle of some frenetic movements you could halt suddenly and take an entire beat to move only 1 finger and the small movement of that one finger carries a lot of weight because of the way that it has been staged !
In the video, I feel this at 7min 53 seconds during the movement after the pirouette (spin), the leg in the air moves from being bent towards the standing leg, outward. This movement is done very softly, almost like an afterthought. I've seen a number of others to this same part in the Ballet more forcefully, but to me, the way that it is done in this performance is striking and makes a big impression because of it's restraint... In this case it's playing with my expectations in another way. I've been conditioned to expect a more dramatic looking movement, the leg forcefully flung out and held, so when it is not, I take notice.. (the that it is done is also in tune with the overall feeling of 'continuity' of the section)

Marvelous stuff...

Monday, October 10, 2011

Steve Jobs the Driven One

It seems like a timely thing to post up my one personal encounter with Steve Jobs. Since his recent passing a lot of public press has been focused on his passion for the products that he shepherded, and deservedly so.

By chance, I had been witness to an aspect of the drive that is required to achieve these things.

The scene was the annual JavaOne Java Developer's Conference in the year 2000. These were heady times for the computer industry. The 'dot-com crash' had not yet played out, 9-11 was more than a year away. One of the big things at JavaOne that year was Steve Jobs sharing a Key Note announcing Apple's commitment to the Java Platform.

Jobs was his familiar smooth self on stage, laying out the integration strategy and the benefits of the integration.

I took a break from the ongoing key notes to use the men's room downstairs. This is at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco so the space is BIG. I'm alone down there and the unabsorbed sound pinging off of the porcelain walls and floors only underscores how caverness the space is. Within a minute someone else comes into the space. His breathing is halting, spastic and between gasps he's quietly muttering things to himself. The sounds are amplified by their echoes around the room. All indications are of a person that's a nervous wreck. It was Steve Jobs. A very different person from the smooth one that we all had just seen on stage, all of the difficulty had been suppressed for the show and now that the show is over it could be released. I leave first and he glances over at me, in this private place I have seen a side of him that maybe relatively few people have. I just look him calmly in the eye, a kind of acknowledgement of the situation, give a little nod and leave him in peace.

So, my big takeaway from the incident was that it was an example of what driven people will do in order to accomplish their ends. No one seeing the key note would have guessed that the person on the stage was also perturbed person that I encountered off stage. No matter how hard it is for you, no matter much you're suffering, you do what is required when it's required so that things stay on the course that you want them to be on.

I kind of see a parallel with another anecdote, the time that President George HW Bush (the real war hero one) was so sick at a state dinner in Japan, that he leaned over and vomited into a Japanese officials lap (I can't remember what post he held). This speaks to President Bush's will to go through with the important dinner even if he was feeling very sick.

Not everyone will push themselves like this in order to achieve their goals.