It’s ballet week for me! First, it was “Anna Karenina” put up by the National Finnish Ballet as part of the Arts Festival, and then it was the Japanese movie “Dance Subaru!”. I’ve always wished my mother enrolled me in ballet during my childhood years because I thought it’s so pretty to be able to dance. The common reason I was given then was that I will end up with thunder thighs and calves when I stop dancing. I guess looking at some real-life examples, it seems true to some extent, but it still hasn’t prevented me from wishing.
Now that I’m in my adult years, learning ballet would require time commitment, which I am unable to fork out, so I guess I’ll have to contend with living out my childhood dream through the ballet put up by the professionals.
I’ve never watched a ballet performance before so I may not understand the choreography and jargon for ballet. Because I am familiar with the story, I pretty much could understand what is going on. With no dialogue, a lot is deduced from the body language of the dancers, and the emotions on their faces.
I had my first encounter with “Anna Karenina” when I was in secondary school, (if my memory didn’t fail me). We were watching this movie in class for some reason, and I found it quite fascinating, even though I couldn’t quite understand the nuances totally at that time. Then I came across the book and bought it because I was familiar with the name, but it was a thick book and very difficult to read because the language was translated from Russian and it was weird. It took me several years to finally finish it. To put it simply, the story is about a married woman who was torn between two men in a time and place where the morals and societal boundaries were firmly in place. In defending her right to love, she is forced to give up her position in society and her son. After which, she grew increasingly paranoid that the the man she chose and loved was no longer attracted to her the way he was before. The culmination of incidents left her in a state of confusion and saw her ending her life tragically.
To present such an emotionally nuanced story through ballet didn’t quite work for me that night. Don’t get me wrong, the dance was brilliant, but it simply wasn’t the best way to tell the story. Petia Ilieva played Anna and she danced beautifully, but it was hard to feel the complexity of the emotional struggle through someone so distant (even though I was fifth row from the front). For someone who might not have read the book or watched the movie, the choreography does give the audience an idea of the dynamics of her relationship with the men. When Anna was romancing Count Vronsky (performed by Nicholas Ziegler), both Illieva and Ziegler would wrap around each other effortlessly, moving like a single body, limbs displayed in long, languid movements. When it came to Anna and her husband, Illieva still moved with much grace and fluidity, but such moments were short and often interrupted by her struggle to get away.
The tragic ending didn’t have as much impact as it does on film, but the solo sequence by Illieva was tormenting and made believable the need to end her life the way she did.
There was a table outside the theatre that was encouraging members of the public to be premium members of the National Library Board with a promotion of being able to borrow unlimited DVDs for a 2 week period, extended also to existing members. I signed up on the spot and borrowed 5 titles, with the original “Anna Karenina” I watched many years ago amongst the pile! I hope to share my reviews on them soon.
Dance Subaru! on the other hand was a little disappointing.The predictable plot of a young girl who had a passion for dancing, yet was unable to receive proper training due to familial objections, motivated by the common dream shared with a loved one who did not live long enough to see the dream fulfilled and finally going against all odds to realise her dream would be forgivable, if there was more dancing. Good dancing that is. DBSK made a cameo appearance, which fell flat because it did nothing to move the story along. The female lead Meisa Kuroki who plays Subaru is pretty but perhaps a little too cool to interest me beyond Act 2. The girl who played young Subaru was more interesting to watch, and danced better too. Sure, Subaru is an arrogant rebel but to share the same dream of ballet with her mother and brother, both of whom she lost to the same type of cancer at a young age and then growing up in a cabaret, where ballet dancers perform strip tease, I would think there would be more underneath that steely exterior that drives the need for her to prove herself and achieve her dream.
However, the lessons in this movie are valuable. It teaches perseverance and emphasises the need for performers to achieve a clear state of mind that is highly charged for optimal performance; the importance of being consciously aware of the people and emotions around us (i.e. message in the air) and keep your friends close but your enemies closer. Unfortunately, the story which is primarily character driven needs someone with dance steps to wow if their goal was to make an impressive Asian dance movie. After a while, it began to feel a little contrived to hear the rest of the cast complimenting Subaru for her great dancing when there wasn’t much to see. What she lacked in the technical department, she was supposed to make up for it emotionally, but lest for the last act, the rest were just too bland for my liking.
But don’t take my word for it, watch it and tell me what you think. 🙂