Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Red Shoes

What happens when you pick the el primo dance critic to discuss the vocation of prima ballerinas with an analyst versed in question of the character of maestros who create great works of dance? And what if you do it in the context of perhaps the greatest dance film of all time, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Red Shoes? Martin Scorsese’s recently released print of The Red Shoes provided the occasion for the above-mentioned chemistry this past Saturday at The Philoctetes Center. So what did Joan Acocella of The New Yorker and Leon Balter of The New York Psychoanalytic Institute reveal about the film? That The Red Shoes is based on one of Hans Christian Anderson’s grisliest fables. That the male lead, Lermontov, was based on Diaghilev, the creator of the famed Ballets Russes, for whom Léonide Massine (who appears in the film as Lyubov) had danced, done choreography and commissioned sets by Picasso. That Diaghilev had fired his lead dancer Nijinsky when the latter announced he was getting married, and that Nijinsky subsequently went mad. That Moira Shearer, the dancer who played Vicky Page in the film, had given up her career as a dancer at Sadler’s Wells, where Margot Fonteyn was prima ballerina assoluta, though compromises not of art but of life itself would exact a far greater toll on the character in the film, whose fate is mirrored by the ballerina in Darren Aranovsky’s Black Swan. Acocella invoked the famed Yeats quote, “perfection of the life or of the work,” to explain the predicament of dancers whose devotion to their craft may start as early as age eleven. “Why do you want to dance?” Lermontov asks Vicky early on. “Why do I want to live?” is her reply. The monomaniacal obsession that makes great dancers was explored, along with the psychoanalytic notion that for a certain kind of maestro—the kind that the film describes—the dancer becomes a phallic extension. Central to the discussion was the astonishing, surrealistic disquisition of a ballet called The Red Shoes, which forms the core of the film and which, as a kind of play within a play—similar, Acocella pointed out, to “The Mousetrap” in Hamlet—inevitably illumines the world of movement genius that the movie describes.

1 comment:

  1. Re: art/life

    Though I don’t mean to push the analogy too far, I could not help but think of our master Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura who began severe training in the martial “art” of karate at the age of 11 and who was subsequently shot in the leg in a Brooklyn parking lot—purportedly for rebelling against certain less-than-admirable actions of his teacher Mas Oyama. And could we not say that in his founding and practice of the Seido (“sincere way”) system of karate, Kaicho has admirably fused the notions of an art and a life?


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