Like Barbara Mandrell, I was a dancer when dancing wasn’t cool. In the 1990’s dancewear wasn’t acceptable going to the grocery store attire and dance shoes were more function than fashion. But now, dancing is everywhere: So you think you can dance, Dancing with the Stars and, I have recently found The League of Extraordinary Dancers or, as us cool kids say, The LXD. And although I don’t usually buy into competitive dance-offs that, as my 16 year-old artiste self would say, bastardize the true nature of the art, The LXD seems different.
If you grow up training to be a trina (dancer slang for ballerina), there are a few roles that you must strive to perform. Sugar Plum Fairy in the Nutcracker. Giselle in Giselle. Odette/Odile in Swan Lake. I have listened to all of those ballets and seen their choreography ad nauseam. That repetition, the culture of ballet training, and, to be frank, the idiocy of the narratives makes me love to hate them. Rarely will you see me excited to buy a ticket to see one of the standard ballets. I have seen almost all of them at least once and that’s good enough for me.
I think, however, that Swan Lake, in particular, holds a special place in my heart and in the collective dance world, as well because it’s the first classical ballet that demonstrates some real depth in the female lead. Not a lovelorn peasant girl whose heart gets broken (Giselle) or a teenage girl who falls in love with a toy (Clara), Odette and her doppelgänger Odile show the power struggle between the innocent and the manipulative, the pure and the provocative amidst a bland Tchaikovsky score and its usual insertion of cultural dances that are in no way choreographed in a way that represents the country. In Swan Lake, the lead dancer becomes interesting. Almost like a person. Imagine that.
When I was watching The LXD tonight, I saw Chapter 3: Robot Lovestory. The first thing that drew me to this one is that there is no dialogue. Commentary in comic book style, but no words. What we see is a man who has been given a second chance at life but who has become a robot, a soon to be robot warrior. (This is where they integrate the pop and lock dancing). He has a nurse who tends to him in order to help him learn to control his ticks but her help is a violation of her orders from the Dark Doctor. Once this is found out, her duties are soon replaced by the Dark Nurse, shrouded in tulle and in black ballet slippers. Of course, the good nurse comes back to save her patient before the Dark Nurse does something dreadful thus the patient escapes.
What does this have to with Swan Lake? I’m getting there.
This sequence demonstrates that the grand tradition of ballet has not died and could, in fact, be interesting if people quit dancing Sleeping Beauty, Balanchine or some other random-ephemeral-I am so clever that no one is supposed to understand me-ballet. Here’s what I ask of contemporary ballet: Can’t it have a good story like this? Can’t it create more ballets with men in the lead roles like this one? I’m telling you — I’m tired of worrying that the 80 pound, 16 year old is going to pass out on stage if she has to do any more petit allegro. Show me some guys who can hover in the air like they’re flying. effortlessly. Why can’t ballet accept that it’s existence relies on its evolution?
Here’s what Robot Lovestory and grand ballet have in common. They rely on dance not music to push the story forward, which is what makes RLS different than the Michael Jackson videos that originally inspired the series. No lyrics to tell us what to feel, SL and RLS work with scores effortlessly. RLS also does a great job creating opportunities for solo, duet, and group sections within the piece, not unlike the corps, soloist and principal dancer structure of a ballet company. For RLS, it’s really not all about the patient. The nurse dances a pop and lock that is equal parts technical, character, and emotion. The Dark Doctor dances as counterpoint and the fellow patients help create an environmental context acting as both dancers and chorus. All of these factors not only build tension and drama for the story but makes it more interesting to watch. In short, RLS is not a 10-minute, self-indulgent solo about nothing. (MM, you know who you are!) I personally like the clever nod to SL when the patient and his roommates perform a contagion of hands mimicking birds flying away.
And so, what I like at Robot Lovestory, is that I still saw Odette and Odile, my favorite ballet characters, as the two nurses fighting over the patient and helping to determine his fate, but, for once, they took the back seat this time. I got my glimmer of pointe shoe and a lot of bourre-ing, but I also got other types of dance, as well. And I really got to see what the guys can do. Although The LXD has a ridiculous shortage of female dancers (I am only on Season 1), I am actually okay with that. I like the idea that guys are getting to see that dance is not about tights. It is just as much about self-defense, expression, and art. True, some of the posturing is ridiculous, but who doesn’t posture?
In general, I really think that people should be watching this part dance – part comic book – part superhero – part mythology series. The dancing is fantastic. The story is interesting. And, did I mention the dancing is fantastic?
Here is a link to Robot Lovestory, it’s only 10 minutes or so. Check it out: http://thelxd.com/episodes/robot-lovestory/
Here is a link to a section from Swan Lake – The love adagio between Siegried and Odette. Makarova even brought a tear to my eyes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-8aDgDOuBs