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The Nutcracker: Mouse King / battle scene

As performed by the North Atlanta Dance Theatre, circa 2006. The audio and video quality isn’t the greatest, but for my money this clip’s choreography best captures the scene as I remember it from my own childhood. And since this is dance, choreography wins.

The Mouse King gets to ham it up a lot, and is pretty entertaining.

I’m more than a little disappointed that here in Toronto, the National Ballet of Canada is still cranking out James Kudelka’s bowdlerised version which replaces the “tin soldiers versus mice” battle for one where cat archers fight mouse archers. It’s not entirely clear to me why Kudelka needed to have the toy soldiers excised; E.T.A. Hoffman’s original story (upon which the ballet is based) is called The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. It’s what you might call a key plot point.

Keeping the story but modernising the costumes—bringing them up to contemporary times, as many artistic directors love to do with Shakespeare—would probably have been a non-starter. If that course had been taken, then the title character would look like… well, like that image to the right. And one can imagine how many parents might get the vapours if kids onstage were dressed in ACUs.  Still, it’s a shame to fundamentally alter key scenes just because one deems 19th century toy soldiers less relevant than cats and mice; such is the anemic cultural memory of our times. It is not as if kids have stopped playing at war; the average kid has probably played a half-dozen Battlefield or Call of Duty games on their gaming consoles.

Oh, and because you may find it useful this Christmas season:

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Victorian & Edwardian Actresses

Your correspondent has just discovered a new favourite photographer—Mr. Alexander Bassano (1829-1913)—via a Flickr set of Victorian and Edwardian actresses collected by pufferfish_76.

One’s inner nerd can’t help but marvel at the resemblance actress Daisy Hancox seems to bear to another actress, one Carrie Fisher; albeit some forty years before there was a Carrie Fisher.  Also of note is the timeless quality of the Mary Clare photograph, which seems like it could have been taken yesterday.

Daisy Hancox by Bassano 1916, originally uploaded by pufferfish_76.

Rosie Campbell by Bassano 1919, originally uploaded by pufferfish_76.

Evelyn Laye by Bassano 1917, originally uploaded by pufferfish_76.

Julia James by Bassano 1913, originally uploaded by pufferfish_76.

Mary Clare by Bassano 1914, originally uploaded by pufferfish_76.

Sheila Hayes as Moy Fah Loy in ‘The Yellow Jacket’ by Bassano 1913, originally uploaded by pufferfish_76.

You can also see literally hundreds of Bassano portraits at the UK National Portrait Gallery’s online collection.

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Learn to Dance: Riverdance

I was never a big fan of “Irish dancing”, but I am little awestruck by Fintan Maher’s raw talent in an art form he has never previously studied.  Here he demonstrates how a talented amateur can pull off a Michael Flatley routine in front of an audience.

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Learn to Dance: Lady Gaga—Bad Romance

Your correspondent was blessed by Nature with the rhythm and raw dancing talent of a blindfolded, epileptic bull in a china shop.  But I can nonetheless appreciate the grace and skill required for others to execute complex choreography; so to this end the Company will serve up an occasional series of dance lessons.  Today’s lesson is fellow Canuck Laurie Ann Gibson‘s cheoreography for Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance”, with guest performer Po, of the Teletubbies.

Also a highly faithful rendition by the very talented dancer, teacher, choreographer and law student Marissa Montanez:

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The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there

Carmel Myers, originally uploaded by Chickeyonthego.

As I get older, I am more cognizant of the fact that the knowledge and experience that is bound up in each us is slowly but inexorably drifting toward oblivion.  Even when we consciously leave echoes behind in words and images, the key to unlocking a future reader’s understanding of our times—the context—can sometimes be lost.

When I re-focused my blogging on aviation and its Golden Age (1919-1939), I began to discover patterns and mysteries that are hard for a non-contemporary of the times to grasp.

For example, when poring through images of Hollywood personalities from the 1920s and 1930s, I began to notice that there was an awful lot of promotional photographs of various actresses attired for classical ballet, complete with pointe shoes and tutus:

Mary Pickford (Flickr: Chickeyonthego)

Norma Shearer (Flickr: Chickeyonthego)

Bessie Love (Flickr: Chickeyonthego)

Marceleine Day (Flickr: Chickeyonthego)

Bernice Claire (Flickr: Chickeyonthego)

Polly Ann Young (Flickr: Chickeyonthego)

Helene Costello (Flickr: Chickeyonthego)

Colleen Moore (Flickr: Chickeyonthego)

Elissa Landi (Flickr: Chickeyonthego)


Then as we look at studios’ promotional images into the 1940s and 50s, it appears that actresses only appeared in ballet costumes when their performing arts background specifically included dance, such as Cyd Charisse and Vera Ellen.

Cyd Charisse (Flickr: AliceJapan)

Cyd Charisse (Flickr: AliceJapan)

Vera Ellen (Flickr: Chickeyonthego)

Ronnie Cunningham (Flickr: Chickeyonthego)


Although the popularity of dance has remained at a relatively consistent level throughout North America (and its modern/contemporary forms are even undergoing something of a surge in acceptance due to shows like Dancing with the Stars), ballet has suffered from audience neglect in recent decades.

My reading has led me to believe that its period of greatest popularity was probably during the early to mid-19th century, when Marie Taglioni‘s pointe work in La Sylphide (1832) heralded the rise of willowy female dancers, pushing men into the background of what had until then been a male-dominated art.  Ballet’s drawing power peaked, then waned across Europe in the late 19th century, although it remained a prominent form of entertainment in Russia and Denmark.  Ballet then had a renaissance in western Europe around 1909, when Sergei Diaghilev founded Ballets Russes in Paris—which was at that time home to a large Russian expatriate community.  Following that, ballet gained wider appeal with American audiences in the 1930s—the upper classes gravitating toward classical ballet, and the lower classes appreciating it in highly bowdlerised forms through Vaudeville and burlesque.  (Robert Allen examines the claim that ballet desensitised American audiences to “leg shows”—which later evolved into burlesque—in Horrible Prettiness: Burlesque and American Culture.)  Ballet had yet another great resurgence in the 1950s and 1960s as choreographers like George Balanchine recalibrated it for mass appeal to Baby Boom audiences.

What is difficult for me—as a non-specialist—to appreciate is whether this flurry of 1920s/30s ballet costuming in studio promotions, but a relative lack of same for the 40s and beyond, is a result of:

  • The studio cashing in on ballet’s genuinely prominent place in the popular imagination of audiences of that time.
  • The studio emphasizing the dance training or natural talent of that particular actress.
  • The studio promoting a dance sequence in that particular film.
  • A limited range of roles and archetypes on offer for young actresses in the occasionally stultifying Hollywood studio system (which was only dismantled in 1946); i.e. “you can be a dancer or you can be nothing”
  • A clever attempt at providing more revealing “cheesecake” type shots without arousing the ire of censors.
  • Some artifact of little-known cultural ephemera, perhaps dance training was compulsory for the non-headline actresses in studio pictures.
  • Some combination of all of the above.

There are many factors to consider, and without knowing in detail the history of each actress and her skill set, it is hard to know where to begin to explore any of the possibilities.  But these are the things one notices when exploring the past, and the context is hard to discover.

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By the Sword and the Cross

In what is surely a case of life imitating the imagination of the Flea, on New Year’s Day, Sir Christopher Frank Carandini Lee, CBE, CStJ, announced that he is working on a symphonic metal album based on the life of Charlemagne (or Charles the Great)—King of the Franks, and foremost leader of a Frankish empire that would later become the Holy Roman Empire.  The album derives its name from Charlemagne’s motto (or dictum), and is due to be released in mid-March of this year; the Manchester Guardian has more details:

“To my surprise and indeed great pleasure, I have suddenly found that there is another string to my bow,” Sir Christopher said in a video message. Due on 15 March, Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross features the 87-year-old singing and acting alongside a full orchestra, choir, and a large cast of undisclosed guest vocalists. “There’s a lot of characters in this particular album,” Lee explained. “A lot. There’s Charlemagne himself of course, which I sing, and then there’s young Charlemagne, Charlemagne’s father, Charlemagne’s brother, … [even] the Pope.”

… “It’s pretty unexpected,” Lee admitted. Although he has previously worked on metal projects – narrating several records by Italian band Rhapsody of Fire, and collaborating briefly with Manowar – he has never released an album before. This particular project resonated not just with the actor’s dark, storm-whipped soul – but with his family tree. “I am through the Carandini family [his mother’s] actually descended from Charlemagne,” he revealed.

“It’s fascinating for me that at this stage in my life, people are beginning to look upon me as a metal singer,” Lee said. “When this comes out as a complete album, it’s going to be sensational.”

— Michaels, Sean.  “Christopher Lee to release ‘symphonic metal’ album.” Manchester Guardian, 5 January 2010.

We at the Company like to think of this as Sir Christopher’s belated apology for that whole Count Dooku thing, not to mention the last half-hour of The Man with the Golden Gun—where Scaramanga gets stupidly himself killed well in advance of the finale, and then James Bond spends a lot of time pointlessly fighting Scaramanga’s pint-sized henchman Nick Nack/Tattoo.

Here are some samples of the tracks on the forthcoming album:

Myspace music playerQuantcast

RELATED: Christopher Lee singing with Italian symphonic metal band Rhapsody of Fire, on their 2005 single The Magic of the Wizard’s Dream.


Also, Cracked magazine has a pretty entertaining overview of Christopher Lee’s life and career.

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Louise Brooks (1906-1985)

I admit (with some trepidation) that I was unaware of Ms. Brooks’ existence until a recent post by James Lileks at The Bleat highlighted one of her performances in Weimar-era German cinema.  A brief Googling indicates that even a quarter-century after her passing, and a full seventy-one years after her last film role, she still draws an ardent fan following today.  One such aficionado is Laura Loveday, proprietor of Louise Brooks Online—also the source of all images displayed below.

Wearing the 1930s equivalent of Princess Leia's gold metal bikini.  Early in her dance career, either with the Denishawn company, George White's Scandals, or the Ziegfeld Follies.

Wearing the mid-1920s equivalent of Slave Leia's gold metal bikini. Early in her dance career, either with the Denishawn company, George White's Scandals, or the Ziegfeld Follies.

Candid shot, c1930s

Candid shot, c1920s


Shimmery "flapper" dress, c1920s

A variant of her trademark bob hairstyle.

A variant of her trademark bob hairstyle, without the usual bangs. c1920s

Studio publicity still for "Rolled Stockings", c. 1927

Studio publicity still for "Rolled Stockings", c. 1927. By Eugene R. Richee.

Still from filmed interview "Lulu in Berlin", shot c1970s but released in 1984.

Still from filmed interview "Lulu in Berlin", shot c1970s but released in 1984.

Ms. Louise Brooks was born 103 years ago on November 14th, 1906, and died on August 8th, 1985.

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