Monday, July 11, 2011

Ballet Beauty

Jose Manuel Carreno and Julie Kent

We were in New York a couple of weeks ago and saw the American Ballet Theatre's "Swan Lake" in the beautiful Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center.  I love ballet and "Swan Lake" is one of my favorites.  The music, the dancing, the costumes, the sets.  It is breathtaking.  The ultimate classical ballet.  Jose Manuel Carreno, pictured above, danced the role of the Prince.  This was one of his last performances before retiring from the ballet company.  I was thrilled that were able to see him.

Irina Dvorovenko

The leading role of Odile/Odette was danced by the beautiful Irina Dvorovenko, pictured in the two photos above, who was also excellent.  Coincidentally last week's "Sunday Styles" section of the New York Times featured her in its weekly column "What I Wore."  Turns out that she loves fashion and is often seen about town impeccably decked out.

       Ballerina Irina Dvorovenko at home in a Roberto Cavalli gown (photo from NY Times)

In the interview Irina, speaking like a true prima ballerina, talks about her style:

"For me, a ballerina is an ambassador of beauty on and off the stage.  A ballerina should always be extravagant, enticing, and outstanding."

I was so interested to learn about this great ballet dancer and her life off the stage.  She is married to  Maxim Beloserkovsky, a fellow principal dance at the American Ballet Company.  They have a 6-year-old daughter.  She was scheduled to dance the role of Princess Aurora in "Sleeping Beauty" the following week.  She describes her typical days of ballet practice, rehearsals, dinners with her husband, time with her child, and her obvious obsession with fashion.   Read more here about what this 37-year old principal dancer of the American Ballet Theater wears when she is out and about on the streets of New York.  She is certainly a glamorous ballet star.


When I returned to Los Angeles I began to think about the romance and the allure of the ballet.  I remembered that my daughter had given me a fascinating book about the ballet for Christmas and I pulled it off the book shelf. 

In "Apollo's Angels," historian Jennifer Homans writes a cultural history of ballet, apparently the first ever written.  The book received excellent reviews and was judged to be one of the "Ten Best Books" of the year by The New York Times Book Review.  I cannot wait to read it.  Here is a tantalizing tidbit from the dust jacket:

"Ballet is unique:  It has no written texts or standardized notation.  It is a storytelling art passed on from teacher to student.  The steps are never just the steps -- they are a living, breathing document of a culture and a tradition.  And while Ballet's language is shared by dancers everywhere, its artists have developed distinct national styles.  French, Italian, Danish, Russian, English, and American traditions each have their own expression, often formed in response to political and societal upheavals.

From ballet's origins in the Renaissance and the codification of its basic steps and positions under France's Louis XIV (himself an avid dancer), the art wound its way through the courts of Europe, from Paris and Milan to Vienna and St. Petersburg.  It was in Russia that dance developed into the form most familiar to American audiences:  'The Sleeping Beauty,' ' Swan Lake,' and' The Nutcracker' originated at the Imperial court.  In the twentieth century, emigre dancers taught their art to a generation in the United States and Western Europe, setting off a new and radical transformation of dance."

I look forward to reading Jennifer Homans' groundbreaking work.  It should shed some light on the beauty, romance, and history of the ballet.


On a somewhat related note, Saturday night I watched a very moving documentary on Audrey Hepburn on PBS -- "Great Romances of the Twentieth Century" --  and learned so much about her life.  She studied ballet in London (which makes perfect sense because she was built like a ballerina) and wanted to be a ballet dancer.  She received a scholarship to a ballet company but needed to earn additional money and and so acted in theatrical productions in London where she was discovered as an actress.

The part of the story that really moved me, and there were many, was when she was in the South of France and met the great French writer Colette who asked her to star in the stage production of the book she had just written, "Gigi." Hepburn did the play and was asked to star in the movie version of "Gigi," but declined (Leslie Caron took the part) as she had decided to star in the film "Roman Holiday" with Gregory Peck.  Good decision I think, since she won the academy award for her role in "Roman Holiday" and that film made her a major movie star.   Talk about fate.    

 Audrey Hepburn with the write Colette

In my last blog post I mentioned Colette and her book "Gigi."  And last night Colette popped up on this fascinating show about Audrey Hepburn.  Audrey's unique beauty, elegance, and charm must have attracted Colette.  I did not know that Audrey had starred in the stage production of "Gigi"!  Of course she would have been perfect in that role.

Oh, the interconnectedness of life and the joy of always learning something new!


  1. When I was little, I would play classical music and pretend to be a ballerina - jumping all over the room, from ottoman to chair and back again. Of course it was all in fun as I had neither the discipline nor the grace to actually continue in that profession. I stuck to riding instead.

    I've heard of Apollo's Angels and it sounds fascinating. Give us a review when you're done. I do love your posts!!

  2. Another fantastic post Sunday! I smiled when I read aout Collette as I remember it from your last post. You are so right about makes life so enjoyable when you come across little discoveries like that. I am have not swan like qualities but always wished I had spent my teenage years walking around with a book on my head like so many others did. Coordination would have helped too!

    I am with your posts!

    Jeanne xxx

  3. As you like ballet and Bloomsbury I wonder if you have come across the book Bloomsbury Ballerina by Judith Mackrell. It is a biography of Lydia Lopokova who was a dancer with Diaghilev's Ballet Russes and then married John Maynard Keynes. I read it last year and thoroughly enjoyed it.

  4. Swan Lake is my absolute favorite ballet and one of my favorite pieces of classical music as well. As with all arts, ballet has it's beautiful side, and it's dark side - both of which I find fascinating.
    I had read that Audrey Hepburn wanted to be a ballerina - I think her fate took her in a better direction. So interesting about her and Collette. Like you, the interconnectedness of life continues to amaze me.

  5. Wanted to add that Gelsey Kirkland's book "Dancing on My Grave" was a wonderful book on both side of the art.

  6. Pamela, thank you for your kind words! I also dreamed of being a ballerina, and even took lessons in my twenties. And yes, I will write a review of Apollo's Angels!

    Jeanne, yes, I love all the interconnectedness and it does make life so rich! I also think blogging helps open our eyes.

    Joanne, I cannot wait to find the book you mentioned about Lydia Lopokova. There are many paintings of her by Bloomsbury artists. Would love to learn more about her.

    Kathy, I read "Dancing on My Grave" years ago. What a book! I really enjoyed it.

  7. Loved talking about Audrey Hepburn with you on Sunday. Maybe next time we're together we can watch "Roman Holiday"?


  8. It's a date! I would like nothing better than that! xxoo

  9. Great post yet again! When will we see you in Cavalli?

  10. The interconnections are what makes it all so interesting and I love seeing it through your eyes!! I don't get the Sunday Times any more and always forget to check on line now - will have to go back and see the article. I was away this weekend so missed the Hepburn special - sounds marvelous!! I think I need to put Colette on my summer reading list.

  11. Such an inspiring post -- it makes me think back to my own days as a ballerina, when I learned roles from the very people who once danced them. But whether we're onstage or off, I'm a firm believer in the idea that the beauty we witness becomes a part of us.

    Thanks for sharing these lovely thoughts, Sunday!

  12. I love anything Audrey, she's my muse - so delicate and frail but also strong and so inspiring. I also love Colette's writing, I had no idea Audrey had played Gigi on stage - how interesting. I look forward to reading you review of Apollo's Angels.