Cirque du Swan Lake
March 11, 2008 10:13 PM   Subscribe

posted by orange swan at 10:32 PM on March 11, 2008

That's a lot of acrobats.
posted by Lord_Pall at 10:37 PM on March 11, 2008

A++. Exactly as advertised. Ausgezeichnet!
posted by miss lynnster at 10:44 PM on March 11, 2008

I suppose it was only a matter of time for Chinese acrobatics and Western ballet to converge. Amazing.
posted by mammary16 at 10:45 PM on March 11, 2008

That man throws around that woman like I throw around my toddler, like she weighs nothing at all. Beautiful and stunning.
posted by davejay at 10:49 PM on March 11, 2008

I trust that swan as far as I can throw it.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:52 PM on March 11, 2008

Damn, girl! You up in the air and shit!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:09 PM on March 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

What was the second guy all about? Safety inspector?
posted by Iosephus at 11:27 PM on March 11, 2008

posted by darkstar at 11:29 PM on March 11, 2008

Awesome, but by the end I was waiting for a motorcycle to jump the stage, trailing fireworks and spewing fire from its exhaust pipes. I should get better at managing my expectations, I guess.
posted by phooky at 11:46 PM on March 11, 2008

Very nice. On point and on his head? Take that, Cirque du Soleil.

(and though lacking in fireworks, still so much more impressive than the Swan Lake performed by the pole dancer....)
posted by squasha at 12:13 AM on March 12, 2008

Hahah, overall I found Wetten Das to be a totally vapid show - exacerbated no doubt by the fact that my first exposure to the show was an interview between the host and 50 Cent shown to us by our German teacher in Saturday Language School - but this was great! Thanks for the link.
posted by Phire at 12:17 AM on March 12, 2008

Hmm. I always sort of thought of Wetten Das as where American acts went to die in Europe. I didn't expect that I'd see anything this cool there.
posted by pjern at 12:55 AM on March 12, 2008

I would actually go see the fucking ballet if it was like THAT! This might well be the first time I have appreciated dance before. The dynamic of the two leads is phenomenal. The part where she has her toes just lodged in his goddamn bicep is the most impressive thing I have ever seen another human do.
posted by lattiboy at 1:25 AM on March 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Iosephus: A spotter. I suspect that the head balance moment is so challenging that they won't do it without a safety person there in case something goes wrong.

I think it gives you an idea about the degree of difficulty of an activity when there Chinese acrobats feel it needs a spotter...

That said, the balancing on the shoulders moments pretty much blew my mind so much that the head balancing was not as big a deal somehow.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:29 AM on March 12, 2008

ok, how how how did she spin around on one toe on his head like that? I don't see where she got the momentum from. Did he have a spinning hat on or something?
posted by kjs4 at 3:59 AM on March 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I saw a lady doing point on a chap's head at the Cirque Surreal, a low budget Cirque Du Soleil.
posted by asok at 4:14 AM on March 12, 2008

He has a flat topped hat that she puts her point on.
posted by asok at 4:14 AM on March 12, 2008

3:35 into the video. omfg. o'rly?

... and then doctor who showed up at the end! awesome!
posted by eatdonuts at 7:03 AM on March 12, 2008

(professional ballet dancer here)

Our pas de deux teacher showed us this at school a few years ago, with 'missile gap' overtones of, "Work harder, the Chinese are pulling ahead of us technically!" We just laughed at him.

From a technical point of view, it's astounding. The strength and control on display...that said, she's wearing very 'hard' pointe shoes, meaning that the body and shank or sole of the shoe are basically non-flexible. For the shank, this is usually done in production; for the body, the dancer usually shellacs the shoe herself. This increases stability on pointe, but comes at a price: notice that you never see her on 'demi-pointe' (i.e. standing 'on tiptoe' as most people would, with the toes flexed). It would be impossible to dance any classical choreography wearing these shoes—or at least to dance it well. Not to take away any of their achievement, just thought you folk might find it interesting.

davejay: How old's your toddler? Our guess at the dancer's weight was about 80-90 lbs.

kjs4: The momentum comes from a very small 'wind-up' of her upper body against the direction she wants to turn. She then turns her upper body and 'couples' it to her lower body, which picks up a bit of the momentum. This is called a promenade. Notice how the turn happens in little chunks; that's because if she made them bigger, you'd see the wind-up.

Minipost on other versions of Swan Lake:
Zenra Ballet 2: (NSFW, SA) Rule 34. I have seen sections of this video, and it is inspiring.

Japanese surf-pop version of the theme: By Takeshi Terauchi and the Bunnys, it's a whammy-rama.
posted by sixswitch at 7:28 AM on March 12, 2008 [4 favorites]

Swan Lake on a stripper pole.
posted by eamondaly at 7:38 AM on March 12, 2008

sixswitch: You're not suggesting, are you, that in the right shoes the average, or even above average, professional ballet dancer could do this, are you? Not snark, genuine curiosity.
posted by The Bellman at 7:55 AM on March 12, 2008

Wow. How does the lead make her calves seem to bend beyond her knees? Amazing.
posted by misha at 7:59 AM on March 12, 2008

Holy shit. That was amazing. I was literally quivering in awe.
posted by notsnot at 8:00 AM on March 12, 2008

I found that pas de deux verticale (to make up a phrase) simply astonishing. And not just the really impressive pointe-on-shoulders bit. Even at the beginning, when her legs were "flapping" like a swan's wings, I knew this was something special. I've seen enough ballet to know that this production is taking a completely different approach. Instead of assuring that everything is done as perfectly as possible, they seem to be maximizing difficulty. And thus the frogs are not perfectly in sync when they do their number, but goddamnit they're doing it upside down. The same goes with the shoes that SixSwitch noticed (though I didn't notice until they pointed it out). It limits some of the dynamic range, but it increases the upper end of what's possible.

I like both styles of artistic performance, but I get a kick out seeing people at the extremes like this as it's much rarer in ballet. It reminds me of the difference between the artistic athletic performance competition you get in the Olympics (figure skating, gymnastics, etc.) and what you'll get at the X-Games (not the races or high-jump stuff, but the judged events). I'd like to see this kind of attitude applied to other performance art forms (not as a replacement, but as an alternative). Can you imagine what a gymnast could pull off on a floor event if it was acceptable to be a little wobbly and if failing* to pull off one of the tricks wasn't essentially immediate failure?

*Note that I don't actually crave danger, just the bigger upper ceiling that comes with allowing risk of failure. Nets, spotters, and safety cords are fine by me.
posted by ErWenn at 8:05 AM on March 12, 2008

Wow. Just amazing. Quite a change from the Red Detachment of Women. Thanks BiaB.

And I didn't realize Steven Pinker was so hard up for work.
posted by adamrice at 8:28 AM on March 12, 2008

The Bellman: A lot of the material (the hand-press lifts, the dive-and-catches) would be within the reach of the right pair of dancers, with a reasonable rehearsal period. The spectacular parts (the shoulder stand, the head promenade) would require specialized acrobatic training, some serious conditioning work for the man, and the willingness to work outside the bounds of good taste. (NOT ACROBATICIST)

If you take out the acrobatic elements—for instance, if she were doing the promenade, unsupported, on an unstable surface rather than on a dude's head—then yes, a very talented dancer (I can think of one or two in my company, but probably not more) could do it. In terms of flexibility and strength, professional ballet dancers and acrobats are at similar levels, they've just put their character points into different areas of those stats (acrobats require more upper-body strength and a different type of shoulder and back flexibility, for instance)

misha: hyperextension. It's usual for ballet dancers to have at least slightly hyperextended knees, because it makes the line of the leg appear straighter, and this (aesthetically) is seen as a good thing. Some have very hyperextended knees, which she does.

ErWenn: Agree strongly. You might get a kick out of Elizabeth Streb's work (video here.

It's weird seeing this, because I started taking acro and tumbling this year, so I have a bit of a different perspective on it now than when I first saw it. More...dare I say 'balanced'?
posted by sixswitch at 8:29 AM on March 12, 2008

Now that hat explains a lot. I thought the spotter is there to listen if the male dancer's skull starts to make cracking sounds. The difference those shoes make are probably similar as the difference between being stomped on foot by normal shoes or with stiletto heels. There aren't many muscles on scalp you could train to help spreading the force piercing your skull.
posted by Free word order! at 8:29 AM on March 12, 2008

Man, those kinds of people don't have balance, what they have are laser gyroscopes implanted in the abdomen, accurately tracking their relative attitude in a universal coordinate system.
Also that dude looked hella improper staring up between her legs like that.
Makes me think of a comment by Grumblebee about how, when he wrote a story, he would never use a word or sentence that would make the reader think about the words themselves and be distracted from the actual story.
I just couldn't think of anything but how weird it was to have a situtation where some huge dude would so blatantly stare at a (by the looks) pre-pubescent girl.
In summary, ballet weirds me up and I'm a prude.
posted by Catfry at 8:59 AM on March 12, 2008

Ok, pre-pubescent is an exaggeration.
posted by Catfry at 9:01 AM on March 12, 2008

I really liked the white swan's extended balances on the arabesques, especially while her partner was walking around the stage. It would be fascinating to see them try this with, say, the Black Swan pas de deux (or the coda--anyone up for thirty-two fouettés on someone's head?).
posted by thomas j wise at 9:26 AM on March 12, 2008

sixswitch: More...dare I say 'balanced'?

And you go and do that right after I favorite'd your previous comment? A guy has to read ahead now-a-days!

More seriously, your comments were fascinating and interesting. I think you are selling the performance a little short, but in a polite and well reasoned way :) The convergence, or at least cross-over, of dance and circus is pretty interesting. For example, I found les 7 doights to seem to wander well into dance territory frequently (they are fantastic live).

It tends to bring back one of the interesting aspects of art when it involves an extreme level of technical prowess. When I went to see a Mueck exhibition, I was in awe. I still have not yet figured out if it was good or just amazing. I think I have come to the interim conclusion that it doesn't matter; I was enriched either way.
posted by Bovine Love at 11:16 AM on March 12, 2008

*laughs* Striking when you least expect it...

Thanks, Bovine Love. I've lurked for a long time, and it seems odd that there have been more dance/ballet FPPs in the week since I joined than in the entire time before. It's a bit like going on Jeopardy! and finding out that the categories have been pulled verbatim from your CV.

John D. McDonald said in his introduction to Stephen King's Night Shift that, as an author reading the books of others, he inevitably experienced either "grinding envy or wearying contempt." I guess this made me feel both: envy for the astonishing capabilities of the performers, and contempt for the way those talents were used. It's like Oppenheimer's horror at seeing innovation used in the service of evil—or if not evil, at least banality.

Can't check out your link right now, but thanks, I will be as soon as I can.
posted by sixswitch at 11:45 AM on March 12, 2008

I'll warn ya, it is still circus. But, you see a performance, you walk away with a feeling you just were at dance, not a circus. Quite a bit more strongly then Cirque Du Soleil; I think the 7 lean more into the artistic side (but I still thoroughly enjoy going to Cirque).
posted by Bovine Love at 12:36 PM on March 12, 2008

you'd think as a german I'd be most embarrassed about things like david hasselhoff or that failed artist but "Wetten Dass" takes home the prize every single day. thomas gottschalk is my kryptonite.
posted by krautland at 1:12 PM on March 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

or the coda--anyone up for thirty-two fouettés on someone's head?

If you want to get really daring throw in a raked stage as well.

The pas de frogs part at the beginning irked my OCD a bit. Because of the interlaced hand holding & close quarters, that was a variation (at least my, and eventually when I was a) teachers used to pound home the corps work ethic - you are not a special snowflake* and if you aren't in perfect unison, then we'll stop and start over again until you learn to work as a group. Only the Trocs can get away with non-unified corps; otherwise it just looks raggedy (IMO).

*in corps work; insert your own joke about Snow Fairies here.

posted by romakimmy at 1:32 PM on March 12, 2008

I watched the two Streb trailers on the videos link, and for some reason, they didn't do anything for me. Something in the way the dancers moved gave me the impression that they were very bored. I know that landing flat with your arms straight at your sides, legs straight out, with no bending anywhere is hard to do even on a good mat, but the style of presentation there really made it seem underwhelming.

I was writing about the beauty of precision versus the awe of difficulty, but there's also something to be said about the art of presentation. A little bit of narrative or acting or even old-fashioned showmanship goes a long way. Perhaps there's something in the full presentation that doesn't make it to the edited clips (maybe the music syncs better or the pacing is varied to build to some sort of climax).

I chuckled slightly when one of the dancers flat-faced onto the wall and fell over, but I immediately felt guilty for some reason. It was clearly the move that was intended, but laughter just seemed totally inappropriate for the performance.

Thanks for the links anyway, Six.
posted by ErWenn at 2:13 PM on March 12, 2008

That was completely incredible. I love how her legs did the wing beats. And I loved the frogs. And I was really convinced that there was a harness and wires involved when she was dancing on top of the guy's shoulders and head, until reading this discussion. As great as this video is, I think I'm even more impressed and happy and satisfied that there are people here to discuss this intelligently, rather than just a string of (well-justified, to be sure) "Awesome!" comments. Yay for this video, and yay for MeFi.
posted by vytae at 2:22 PM on March 12, 2008

That was very interesting, but also.... hideous. I need to scrub it out of my brain immediately! *rummages youtube for some Fonteyn/Nurejev*
posted by zarah at 3:13 PM on March 12, 2008

Yeah, that was like I've never seen it before. Then again, I've never seen it before, in any form.
posted by Doohickie at 3:58 PM on March 12, 2008

Actually, changing music to almost anything else makes this a lot better. As a Bad Religion ballet this is pretty cool.
posted by Free word order! at 4:50 PM on March 12, 2008

I was fairly non-plussed until 3:35... that's about the point where my jaw hit the floor.


And that slow-motion pirouette on the guy's head at the end... OK, where are the wires? SHE'S NOT HUMAN IF THERE ARE NO WIRES.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:27 PM on March 12, 2008

I often wonder where I would test if I lived in China. I hope it would be here. Or ping pong.
posted by spec80 at 3:29 PM on March 13, 2008

you'd think as a german I'd be most embarrassed about things like david hasselhoff or that failed artist but "Wetten Dass" takes home the prize every single day. thomas gottschalk is my kryptonite.

Yeah, but without its existence, where else would we get to see stuff like this?
posted by miss lynnster at 11:27 PM on March 13, 2008

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