Tag Archives: Dance

April 26th

On this day in 1977 Studio 54 opened its doors to (some of) the public for the first time and for the next three years was the place to be seen in New York City, although it was probably for the best if you were not seen by the police if you were  snarfing cocaine and having a bit of sex in the balconies.

Yes, you can see that man's winky

The building where the nightclub was located is at 254 West 54th Street, which is partly where it got its name. But prior to becoming a big old discotheque, the building had been a theatre – Puccini’s La Boheme played there in 1977 – and then one of CBS’s radio and then TV studios. Under CBS it was called Studio 52 – because it was CBS’s 52nd studio – so when Rubell and Schrager and their other partners bought the building, they decided to use the “studio” and add 54 for its location.

Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager had previously owned a disco out in Queens called the Enchanted Garden, which is nicely ironic when one thinks of how snooty they were about the bridge and tunnel crowd at Studio 54. The bridge and tunnel crowd were and are the New Yorkers from the outer boroughs who travel into Manhattan. Manhattanites can be awfully snobby, but frankly Manhattan is so lush, that one can pretty much understand why. Anyway! The Queens disco had been quite successful and a PR woman by the name of Carmen D’Alessio had even had a couple of parties out there. She liked Steve and Ian’s style so she suggested that they buy the building and open the best club in the world ever. They agreed and that, laydeez and gennelmens, is how the club got to be. How it got to be the success it was, is mostly down to Carmen D’Alessio  who was a shit-hot PR woman and event planner. She got Bianca Jagger to ride a white horse into the club on her 30th birthday and she arranged the opening night guest list, and oh my, what a list it was. Mick and Bianca Jagger, Janice Dickenson (when she was a smokin’ hot model and not the overly-plasticised mentalist she is today), Mikhail Baryshnikov, Debbie Harry, Liza Minnelli, Martha Graham, Jerry Hall, Brooke Shields, Salvador Dali and newlyweds Donald and Ivana Trump among many, many others. Rumour has it that Warren Beatty, Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Henry Winkler and Frank Sinatra were turned away at the door because the doorman thought they weren’t hot enough for the club. Chances are that’s some sort of urban rumour started by  Carmen D’A who knew that the public would eat up the idea of a club so exclusive that some of the biggest stars in the world weren’t good enough to get in. The door charge to get in was $8 and the club held 700 patrons so that amounted to $5,600 a night in cover charges, plus all the booze and shit. Rubell boasted that they made $7 million in their first year.

The club started big and continued big. It also lived most of its short life surrounded by scandals great and small. Within a month of

A montage of wasted slebs and the great unwashed

opening it had been closed down due to its lack of a proper liquor license. They re-opened immediately selling  juice and soda pop until their license came through. After Rubell’s boast of how much money they’d made in a year the club was raided and he and Schrager were arrested for skimming $2.5 million. There was a second raid in 1979 and the pair got arch-bastard and evil fuck Roy Cohn to defend them. On January 18, 1980 they were sentenced to three and a half years for tax evasion and later that year the club was sold. Rubell and Schrager went on to open more clubs and go into hotels as well. Schrager is still doing just that and is a very successful multi-millionaire. Rubell contracted AIDS and died in 1989.

The club only had three years of being at the apex of decadence, but its fame has lived on. In many ways it’s hard to know why. It wasn’t musically innovative; it played disco which was the thing at the time, but it didn’t introduce any new music or new acts. It wasn’t anything special, but the buzz around it was so wild that it was the place everyone wanted to get into and very few did. It was, I guess, the Woodstock of Disco, but with better clothes and coke rather than dope. These days the club is a theatre and most of its patrons are either dead or really boring. Or both. Thus is the merry-go-round of life. We all get a chance to sparkle for a few brief moments and whether we do or we don’t, there’s always a cardigan and slippers waiting in the wings.

Today was the birthday of Douglas Sirk.

His name may mean nothing to you, but if it does, you know that he was the director of such lush and beautifully shot films as All that Heaven Allows, Magnificent Obsession and Imitation of Life, among others. If these mean nothing to you, you may have seen Todd

A still from All That Heaven Allows. Totally stylish and totally OTT

Haynes’ Far From Heaven, which is a total homage to Sirk.  Or maybe you’ve fallen in love with Pedro Almodovar, who cites Sirk as one of his influences and my, can you see it.

Sirk’s films were commercially very popular in the 1950s, but the critics had no time for him, mostly because the films were very woman-centred and about heightened feelings and passion and that sort of thing. But there was far more to them than those short-sighted twats could see at the time. In the 70s a reappraisal of Sirk began and finally – and thankfully before  his death – his talent was finally appreciated by critics as well as the public.

I’m not going to add much more. Sirk was a magical film-maker and the best way to get your head around that is to watch some of his films and let the lushness wash over you like a Technicolor ocean of baroque passion. Do it. You’ll love it.

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April 13th

On this day in 1829 Royal assent was given to  an Act that had been passed by Parliament on 24th March. The Roman Catholic Relief Act came into being and from that day forward all left-footers were allowed to be proper auld Papists and they wouldn’t get funny looks for it or suffer in terms of their career or financial prospects. Excuse me while I sew my sides back together. Oh the hilarity!

That'll learn the bog-trotters.

I’m going to give you a bit of background to this, but it will be very much an overview. There is a very good reason for this. Most of the background involves 17th and 18th century Irish politics and believe me, you do not want to go there. I studied this shit in detail and only just came out of it alive. It’s all Penal Laws this and Test Act that and all manner of shenanigans based on being Catholic and therefore not being able to work here, do this thing, vote here, do that thing and oh sweet mother of god and all the saints in heaven! It probably wouldn’t be half as bad, but just about everyone who’s chosen to write scholarly articles on it has decided that in order to show how clever they are they must swallow a dictionary and regurgitate it randomly and with extreme prejudice. So, my readers, that is why we will not be doing anything in-depth about that particular period.

But, unfortunately,you do need a bit of background. As you may or may not know, the British were not overly keen on those of the Catholic persuasion from the time of Elizabeth I onwards. I mean they put up with them, but the whole thing got worse and worse and then they were all over Ireland like a huge fucking rash and they really did not like the Irish Catholics one little bit and before you know it there are all sorts of laws in place that make life slightly more difficult for a Catholic than it really needed to be. First, there are the Penal Laws, these weren’t a new thing in the 17th Century, but after the Irish Catholics supported James II over William and Mary – i.e. the losing side – they were amended a bit more. To be fair, the laws had been at their harshest during the commonwealth of Cromwell, when clergy were expelled and could be executed and at no point throughout most of the century could Catholics take high office, etc. But! From 1691 Catholics had to swear allegiance to W&M if they wanted to be treated right. Most of the RCs did not want to swear that oath. But, to make things more complicated some RC gentry didn’t have to take the oath because they’d surrendered earlier when the whole war thing was going on. Confused? I told you.

The Test Act is more straightforward. If you weren’t a member of the Church of England, you were screwed. It affected non-conformists as well as Catholics, but given the oath from 1673 onwards was this: “I, [Catholic McMinty], do declare that I do believe that there is not any transubstantiation in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, or in the elements of the bread and wine, at or after the consecration thereof by any person whatsoever.” In short, RCs (Roman Catholics, I’m tired of typing out Catholic over and over again!) were to renounce one of the central tenets of their faith and if they did not, they could not enter the military or hold office anywhere, including the Houses of Commons and Lords. [Quick faith thing: transubstantiation is the belief that the bread and wine used during communion turns into the body and blood of Christ. RCs believe this, Anglicans believe that communion is symbolic and no change really happens. Yes, it’s all a bit loop-the-loop, but that’s religion for you].

That’s how it all was at the beginning of the eighteenth century. It got worse. There was a ban on inter-faith marriage (repealed 1778), non-conformist weddings were not recognised by the state, Catholics weren’t allowed firearms (rescinded 1793), disenfranchisement (repealed 1793), exclusion from the legal profession (until 1793) and the judiciary (1829), Catholics could not inherit Protestant property, Catholic property owners had to subdivide their property on death, this  had the effect of breaking up land and property. This could be circumvented if one of the kids converted to the CofI. And more. You couldn’t own a horse worth more than a fiver, you couldn’t buy land with a lease of more than 31 years, you couldn’t gain custody of an orphan unless you paid £500 to a protestant hospital in Dublin. And so on and so on.

I know, this is long-winded, but believe me, this is the shortened version! In very short, if you were a Catholic, you were fuckered

Hardly mentioned here, but he played a major role in telling the UK parliament to think on

every which way unless you converted or pretended to convert. Quite a few took the latter route. And then came the glorious day in 1829 that the Roman Catholic Relief Act was passed. You’ll have noticed that the nonconformists didn’t get off lightly either, but worry not, they got emancipated a whole year before the Catholics. There was a small price to pay. Prior to the Act, anyone who owned or rented land worth 40 shillings (two quid) could vote. After emancipation, the amount was raised to a tenner, which meant that many who had the vote (which they’d got in 1793, you’ll notice there was a bit of emancipation going on then) now lost it.

It could have been worse. Jewish MPs were barred until 1858 and atheists until 1886.(Disraeli? You ask. He converted to Christianity).

Now, I’d be very bad if I didn’t point out that despite the harshness of the Penal laws, many Catholics and nonconformists didn’t suffer too much. However, it did create a heinous inequality in a country where the majority were legally sidelined from having a say in the running and future of their own country. The whole period was known as the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland, and it pretty much was.

At this point I could tell you the story of how for a while the nonconformist Presbyterians and Catholics found common cause before the British woke up to divide and rule, but that’s another five million words worth, and I’ve put you through enough already. Let’s just say that emancipation was a long time coming and when it arrived, it was  little too full of compromise to taste like anything approaching victory. Nice thought though. I have it on good authority that the Jewish and atheist recipients felt much the same way later in the century.

Oh and fuckity, fuck, fuck! Before I forget, there was a whole tithe madness thing that went on for a lot longer and led to a bit of a war (or civil disobedience), from 183-1836. When people started getting duffed up and killed by the police for not paying a few shillings of tithes to the Church of Ireland (the one that they weren’t members of), the British government realised that they might have fucked it up a lot little. But that is it for now. I promise.

Today’s birthday is going to be short and sweet, given what you’ve all had to endure, but none the less heartfelt for that.  So, today raise your glasses to the greatest director of musicals who ever lived, Mr Stanley Donen. If you don’t know his name, shame on you. This man gave us Singin’ in the Rain, On the Town, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Funny Face. Granted

Stan the man dances cheek to cheek with his Oscar

I’m  not a fan of the multiple weddings of the country dancing set film, but the others. Oh my. And he directed films without music and dancing too, including Indiscreet, which is just delicious. And he never won an oscar as a director which is an utter fucking travesty. They gave him one of those “Oh you’re old now and we forgot to give you one before” awards, but he has outfoxed them by living for 13 years and counting since they gave it to him.

I love this man, he’s made films that have made me happy and he never once told me I couldn’t vote unless I had 40 shillings worth of land and had to marry my own kind and own a flea-bitten nag. These are fine qualities in a man. Happy birthday, sir, you are a shining example to us all and by golly you choreographed some mighty fine dancing in your time!

He Choreographed this. Worship him!


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March 17th

On this day in either 461 or 493 a chap by the name of Patrick died. Today we know him as Saint Patrick and his feast day is generally celebrated by people getting mortal drunk and dressing like escapees from Planet Green. But what of the man himself, what do we really know about him?

Some people have no shame

The answer is quite simple: not much. One or two things we do know. Probably. The first is that Patrick was probably around later in the fifth century than originally thought. The second is that his story is almost certainly a mixture of stuff about him and another chap who was around before him called Palladius who’d also ventured over to Ireland to get them all Christianised. Amazingly, for someone who lived such a long time ago and who many people think was a made up person anyway, there are two surviving letters which historians are 99.9% certain were written by Patrick himself. It’s from these that we get the definite things we know about him. These are: he was born in Britain to pretty well-to-do parents. He got kidnapped at the age of 16 and taken to Ireland where he was a slave to a Druid chieftain. After six years of being a slave, during which time he did an awful lot of praying, he claimed that God’s voice told him to go in search of a boat that would take him back to Britain. God was right about finding a boat, although it was a bit rough of him to have the boat 200 miles away from wherever it was that Patrick was in Ireland (some think Mayo others think Antrim, one thing is sure; he was definitely in Ireland). Then he had a bit of hassle getting on to the boat having no money or anything to recommend  him, but he got on, had a bugger of a voyage back to Britain – this I can well believe having sailed from Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire, the Irish Sea is an utter bastard – and eventually found his way back to his family.

He didn’t stay with them for long. He had a calling that took him to France where he joined a holy order and became a priest and probably a bishop too, before he decided that he needed to go back to Ireland to get all proselytizing on their Druid asses. The pope agreed and off he went on a date that no one can agree on. Once there, and with the advantage of speaking the Celtic tongue, learned while he was a slave, Patrick set about finding friends, avoiding angry Druid chieftains, preaching and converting the remaining heathens on the island. But here’s the important thing to remember. He wasn’t the first – Palladius had been there before him – he wasn’t the last and he was far from unique in his ministry. I guess the question is, if all of this is true (and it is) why is Patrick this big old saint and no one gives a wet fart for the others. There’s a simple answer for this as well; no one really knows. He was a man of strong belief, who went to Ireland to ensure that Christianity thrived and somewhere along the way he got to be a saint.

And then there are the legends. Driving the snakes out of Ireland would have been pretty easy, given that there were none, you or I

Cheer up!

could have done it. Nowadays we realise that this was probably metaphoric and referred to his driving Druidism (one symbol of which is a serpent) out of Ireland. Of course he didn’t do this all alone, but never let the truth get in the way of a reasonably dull story. The whole shamrock thing. Now, we can never know if he did use it to teach the trinity, but if he was canny he may well  have done. The shamrock was pretty important to the Druids as well, it represented life, death and rebirth, so by appropriating it for a Christian use he’d have been giving them a link to their beliefs and making the task of conversion a little easier. And there we have it. There are less pleasant stories that accompany Patrick, stories that he felt compelled to deny in his letters. Rumour had it that Patrick wasn’t averse to a little payback and the odd sale of indulgences and the like. We only know about this because he mentions it. If he did get involved in that sort of thing, he wouldn’t be alone in it, but given the things we do know about him, it seems reasonably unlikely.

So, there it is. Patrick went to Ireland to convert the remaining Druids, but not the whole of Ireland which was pretty Christian already. He wasn’t unique, but for some reason not long after his death he was declared a saint. Getting to be a saint in those days didn’t need to involve canonisation and Patrick, although recognised in the list of saints, has never been canonised. His feast day became a  holy day of obligation for the Irish back in the 17th century, an Irish public holiday in 1903 and before that the first St Paddy’s day parade took place in  – where else – New York – in 1762. Nowadays it’s celebrated all over the world and people do the oddest things. Chicago’s been dying its river green for Paddy’s day since the 1960s and for the past two years the fountain at the White House has been green as well. And of course people dress like giant leprechauns and get stocious. He probably wouldn’t approve, but to be fair he’s hardly the point anyway. Hail Glorious St Patrick and all that, onwards and upwards to a man who really excites my passion.

Today was the birthday of probably the greatest dancer ever to have lived. His name was Rudolf Nureyev and when he defected to the west in 1961 he was a new Russian revolution, this time in the world of ballet.

Did I mention that he was beautiful?

A brief outline of Rudolf’s life would make a great pitch for a film, but no one would want to make it because it seems a little unreal. Nureyev was born on the Trans-Siberian express, he saw his first ballet at the age of eight and decided that was his future. He battled against poverty, his father’s refusal to allow him to do something so unmanly as dance and with his mother’s connivance learned to dance, took as many classes as he could and finally, at the age of 17, was accepted by the Kirov ballet school. He started ballet far too late to become great, his contemporaries at the Kirov had all entered the school seven years earlier; Rudolf should have been nothing, but he became one of the greatest stars the ballet world has ever known.

He managed this because of his determination, his commitment, his passion and a talent that bordered on genius. All of this lived in a body that was perfection in terms of dance and pretty damn fine whatever way you want to look at it. At this point, dear readers, I will give you a tip. If you like the male form and would like to see what Rudi looked like butt-naked and full frontal, do a Google search with the “safe search” off. There are a few photos there that will show you why he was able to carry himself with such confidence and at times arrogance. Not to put too fine a point on  it, Rudolf was packing heat. To any of my male readers who are at all insecure, please do not follow the above instructions. And now to move on!

Nureyev found a champion in Leningrad in his teacher Alexander Pushkin who recognised the brilliance of the raw dancer in his class. With his help and with Rudolf’s own determination to work harder than most of us could contemplate, Rudolf soon surpassed his contemporaries and was dancing leads with the Kirov ballet. In the years before he defected,  he danced the lead in among others, Don Quixote,  Giselle, La Bayadare and Swan Lake. He also had many fans whose reaction to him was similar to the one that awaited him in the West. Nureyev defected because he realised, when he was asked to go back to Russia for a gala performance, while on tour with the Kirov, that once back he would never be able to leave again and he would be demoted in the company so not able to dance leads. His choice was really very simple.

We all know that he exploded onto the scene soon after his defection in 1961. By 1962 he was partnering Margot Fonteyn at the Royal Ballet, a partnership which would bring the best out of both and crown both their careers. He gave the 43-year-old a new lease of life,

The body

she gave him stability; to each other they were everything. As much as either could earn as a dancer separately – and they were large sums – they could earn more than their combined individual values together so magical was their partnership. You can see just a tiny piece of that in the video I’ve put at the end of this paean to Mr Nureyev. But there was more to him than his artistry as a dancer. Rudolf had an incredibly good memory for anything he saw danced. Because of this he was able to recreate dances he had seen or performed in Russia, some of which had been lost or unknown in the west. Choreography was incredibly important to him and as his career as a dancer developed so did his career as a choreographer. Through this he increased the role of the male dancer in ballet to become more than just a support to the ballerina. He did this for himself of course, but he also choreographed for the male dancers in the corps de ballet and his influence has meant that men now have a far greater role in ballet. He was also interested in other dance forms, taught himself modern dance and modern ballet and incorporated some of this into classical roles. And all the while he danced and danced and danced, probably more than any other professional had before or has since. Cliché time: he was a bleedin’ force of nature!

Rudolf was also a difficult man. Imperious, arrogant, prone to losing his temper. But, for all this, all of his dance partners have spoken of his gentleness, patience and kindness to them. The same was said of him by the dancers under his directorship at the Paris Opera Ballet in the 1980s. His imperiousness was saved for those who didn’t understand the driving force of his life or who got in the way of it. I say that’s fair enough and more of us should be like that!

Nureyev's grave. The carpet is a mosaic copy of one of his favourite Kilim rugs

In his final years, Rudolf was often too weak to dance. He was diagnosed HIV positive at some point in the late 80s. He refused to talk about it or believe that it was as serious as it was. Of course he tried the drugs that were around, but to no avail. He died in 1993 at the age of 54, far too soon and far too young.

You can all breathe a sigh of relief now because I’m nearly finished. I just need to say happy birthday to the man I first saw dance on the television when I was a little girl and who I fell in love with. I wanted to dance like the women he danced with, but most of all I wanted to dance with him. I never got to see him live and I’ve never got to dance like his partners, but in my dreams I do. Thank you for the beauty, Rudolf, thank you for the dreams and happy birthday you wonderful, crazy Tartar!

 

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March 2nd

On this day in 1717 The Loves of Mars and Venus opened in London. It was the first ballet to be performed in Britain.

The ballet was created by John Weaver who was a dancer, choreographer and pantomime performer. Up until The Loves of Mars and Venus the “ballets” that had been performed in Britain contained singing and speaking. Despite getting a good reception, no one was that bothered about seeing any more ballets and the art form pretty much petered out in the UK until the 19th century. Hardly surprising, given that the performers wore masks, heavy clothes and the women pranced about in high heels. La Sylphide it was not. In fact, although dance  historians like to have a little jig of joy about this early ballet, it’s hard to know why. At this stage of the evolution of ballet the female dancers could barely move, their “prancing” about was very limited; the masks worn by all the dancers

Louis XIV giving it large in his ballet gear

meant that you might as well have been looking at a big old puppet lumping about the floor.

There is very little evidence left of Weaver’s ballet. We know that it was based on classical stories, that people quite liked it and there was no singing or speaking, but that’s it.  It wasn’t until much later in the century that the first ballet that is still performed was created. That was La Fille Mal Gardée, although to start with there wasn’t any getting up en pointe and gliding around. The first dancer to do that was Marie Taglioni in about 1822. She was also the first dancer to perform in something akin to the modern tutu. She did not dance The Loves of Mars and Venus because she thought it was shit and she didn’t want to hide her face behind a mask.

Before we leave the hallowed world of skinny bints and men whose padding gives the impression of a mighty large package, I should tell you that before ballet got professional and really rather good, people like Louis XIV would get up and prance around in ballets. If anyone was fool enough to tell the Sun King that his performance was a bit flat he would hand them over to Mazarin, who had learned how to be a really good torturer and henchman under Cardinal Richelieu.

Although the ballet  has not been performed or thought about for nearly 300 years, it is understood that some idiot told John Gray about it and told him he should write a book about it. We all know what happened next.

Today is not the birthday of

Sam I-Am,

So no mention of green eggs and ham.

But Dr Seuss today was born

He had no teeth so could not eat corn

Dr Seuss liked hunting for strange imaginary creatures

But he  soon knew how to rhyme

And that he did all  of the time

He saw a cat

He saw a hat

We all know what happened  after that.

He then had an idea about a Grinch

Who stood far higher than an inch

And stole a special  holiday

A particularly jolly day

He liked to write  exciting stories

Wasn’t bothered by  silly glories.

He was a most admired chap

He would never give  you the clap

So send some happy cheer his way

On this his very special day

Be glad, be funny and be gay

And all that merry type of stuff

And as a final by the way

Old Seuss did really love the muff

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