Skipping my Nutcracker review, I decided to just relax and enjoy some of the Christmas specials we are being delighted with on TV. This year the BBC has stepped up it’s game by heavily promoting dance with Nureyev: Dance to Freedom earlier this month, Carlos Acosta’s Carmen on Christmas Day, and Darcey’s Ballet Heroes. The latter inspired us to write an article of who are our ballet heroes…
If I am quite honest with you, for me it feels silly to list who are my ballet heroes. First of all, I am not a dancer. Second, I just got heavily involved with ballet about a year ago. And finally, my heroes would probably be my grandfather or my father. Don’t get me wrong, I do admire some ballerinos – past and current – and thanks to them I wish I had pursued that career path, but c’est la vie.
Anyways, now that the purpose of this blog post has shifted a little bit, I thought to share some of my thoughts about Darcey’s Ballet Heroes.
Overall the special was really insightful and I was glad that a lot of dancers from different times, countries and companies were featured. When I read about this special back in November, I was glad that people are noticing that men are slowly overtaking the spotlight in ballet. Ever since I got into ballet, I do hear about great prima ballerinas like Bussell, Osipova, Zakharova, Kent, Fonteyn, just to name a few – but what about the men?
The special started with Darcey introducing the viewers to the Russians from the 20th century – Nijinski, Nureyev, Baryshnikov and Mukhamedov. With Nijinski it was explored how he became the first male dancer to become a star; actually out of the four listed, he was the one mentioned the most. For me it was a disappointment that they didn’t highlight how Rudolf Nureyev changed ballet for future generations like men being more athletic, switching from trousers to tights, and standing in demi pointe in order to make legs look longer. Mukhamedov remembered his time at the Royal Ballet, but alongside Baryshnikov, for me they were showcased as the two Russians who defected from the Soviet Union.
One part I did enjoy was learning about Bournonville method and how it is being used at the Royal Danish Ballet. I always find it exciting learning about the techniques taught and used by the different schools and companies around the world. However, Erik Bruhn and Rudolf Nureyev’s love story overshadowed this section. I thought this was how men changed ballet and not exposing their dirty laundry.
You can learn more about August Buornonville’s method on the video below from the Royal Opera House featuring Johan Kobborg.
Of course some Royal Ballet stars made a special appearance; Anthony Dowell, Carlos Acosta and Edward Watson. But when talking about the future of ballet the person featured was Eric Underwood… okay… please don’t hate me for this. I do think Underwood is a great contemporary dancer and his caterpillar in Wheeldon’s Alice in Wonderland is probably one of the highlights next to the Mad Hatter’s tapping tea party, but to me he simply doesn’t scream future ballet star. I would have liked to see someone like Alexander Campbell, Matthew Ball, Ryoichi Hirano or even Vadim Muntagirov featured, as they all excel in both contemporary and classical roles.
One person probably missing from all of this was Sergei Polunin. Yes, the bad boy of ballet always gets praised for being the youngest ever Principal at the Royal Ballet, every mayor company invites him as a guest artist, and the media and public seem love him despite his “bad” behaviour. Another surprise was not mentioning Xander Parish or David Hallberg and how they are dominating the Mariinsky and Bolshoi ballet respectively.
Maybe the name Darcey’s Ballet Heroes was a bit misleading, because she never explained how all the men influenced her life, with the possible of exception of Acosta and Mukhamedov since she has danced with them. However, the message of the special was loud and clear! Ballet has shifted in the last century and it can be a career pursued by both men and women. I liked how it was mentioned that men were once props but now make dull princely roles into characters that make you feel the same emotions as Giselle, Odette, and Manon.
I do hope that non-ballet fans enjoyed this special as much as I did and opened their minds to not judge when a boy says they want to be the next Billy Elliot.
Maybe after this I can finally start using my tights and tutu without any judgement…