Photo by Simone Eghera.
Attraction , appearing on Britain’s Got Talent are nine shadow dancers from Hungary who work as full time entertainers. They are truly stunning.
To Emeli Sandé’s “Read All About It,” they performed a poignant and emotional love story which moved the audience and judges to tears.
Everyone knows the music of Bolero. It is very difficult to find anyone, even those who dislike classical music, that haven’t heard it played somewhere. One of the most popular tunes in history, Bolero cemented its place in pop culture with the movie 10 and the iconic Ice Dance routine which won Torvill and Dean their own place in history as well as Olympic Gold.
But what about the man behind this phenomenon? Upon studying the man himself, I’ve come to realize that he was much more than just a composer. Maurice Ravel was a meticulous craftsman, the fastidious creator of some of the most exquisite music ever composed. He believed that there was a perfect solution to every musical problem and that it was his responsibility to polish each new piece until it sparkled like a piece of iridescent jewellery.
This attention to detail extended to all parameters of his life. He was always immaculately presented, wearing the latest snappy fashions topped off by a pair of black patent leather shoes that he couldn’t bear to be parted from.
Ravel’’s dealings with people were invariably cordial and polite, yet he seems never to have become really intimate with anyone. He didn’t marry, and although his somewhat dandyish appearance and notoriously secret private life led some to speculate wildly about his sexual leanings, by his own admission Ravel found the whole idea of entering into impassioned relationships distasteful.
Like anyone else, however, he had his emotional security blankets: he adored animals (particularly cats), children (as long as they weren’t his own), communing with nature and all things mechanical (especially toys).
Stravinsky once referred to Ravel as “the most perfect of Swiss clockmakers”, and in a sense he was right. Yet the cool exterior and careful organisation of Ravel’s day-to-day existence was little more than a façade behind which lay a personality of extraordinary complexity and passion. Ravel declared himself “of the same type as the Romantics”, while emphasising that “one doesn’t need to open one’s chest to show that one has a heart”.
And therein lies the paradox and the clue to Ravel’s musical indestructibility. If you choose to play it cool with a work like Boléro, its remorseless forward momentum is still mesmerizing. But if you really get under the music’s skin, revelling in its hints of decadent jazz and erotic Hispanic sensuality set against the mechanized onslaught of an orchestral army, the effect is devastating. Ravel – a cold, calculating, manipulator of sound? Nothing could be further from the truth.
Ravel inherited an interest in all things mechanical from his father, Pierre, an engineer and inventor who was responsible for, among other things, a motorcar that turned somersaults. His mother, Marie, was of Basque origin, which was a contributing factor to the many Spanish-influenced pieces he produced in later life. From an early age it was music that fired his enthusiasm and at just 14 years old he won a place at the Paris Conservatoire. Although Ravel was neither academically very gifted nor a pianist of any great distinction, his dedication to composing was absolute.
He left the Conservatoire in 1895 and devoted himself to writing music, producing, among others, the enchanting Menuet antique. Two years later, he returned to the Conservatoire and enrolled in composition lessons with Fauré, who was a sympathetic and encouraging teacher. But Ravel’s unorthodox style put him on a collision course with the Conservatoire’s notoriously conservative director, Théodore Dubois.
Incredibly, year after year, the Conservatoire, with Dubois at the helm, refused to award Ravel its most prestigious composition prize, the Prix de Rome. By now the budding young composer had a considerable following in the wake of such early masterpieces as the heavenly Pavane Pour Une Infante Défunte, Jeux d’eau (a glitteringly inventive piece for solo piano), the String Quartet and the ravishingly exotic song cycle, Shéhérazade.
In 1905 he was in full flow, composing the inventive and seductive Sonatine and Miroirs (both for piano) and the Introduction et Allegro (one of the finest-ever works for the harp), among others. Again he entered the Prix de Rome, only to be eliminated in the first round with the stern warning from Dubois that “Ravel may look upon us as old fogies if he pleases, but he will not with impunity make fools of us.”
But this time Dubois had gone too far. There was public outcry at what the newspapers were now calling the “Ravel Affair” and Dubois was forced to stand down, passing on the directorship to Fauré. The resulting publicity did Ravel no harm at all and he soon found himself moving in fashionable circles, widely recognized as both the natural successor to Debussy and France’s most celebrated young composer. Riding on a wave of popular success, Ravel began producing a series of remarkably varied scores that took the French musical world by storm.
First up was the glittering orchestral Rapsodie Espagnole (1907-08). No one had ever heard anything quite like the opening ‘Prélude à la Nuit’, which simmers seductively in the evening air, a tantalising sequence of half-whispered confidences receding dreamily into the distance. Then there’s the ‘Malagueña’ followed by the sultry ‘Habañéra’, which emerges as if through a heat-haze, while the ‘Feria’ finale is all brilliant sunshine, an unquenchable orchestral celebration of the Hispanic world.
Ravel then pushed Lisztian piano virtuosity to its furthest reaches in the demonic ‘Scarbo’, the final section of Gaspard de la Nuit (1908). Always on the look-out for new challenges, he re-engaged with the sensations and memories of childhood in Ma Mère l’oye (‘Mother Goose’), arguably the most perfect score by this most outwardly “perfect” of composrs.
The hits continued with two more contrasting works: Daphnis et Chloé (1912), a voluptuously sensual ballet score, and the neo-classical poignant Piano Trio (1914).
Just as Ravel was at the height of his powers, the First World War broke out; it caused him such distress that a number of planned projects never came to fruition. Desperate to join his fellow Frenchmen in the field, Ravel was frustrated by not being able to fight due to his small stature (he was five foot four), although he did drive military vehicles for a while at the Verdun front. He lost countless friends during the War, some of whom he remembered in the piano suite Le Tombeau de Couperin – each of the six movements is dedicated to the memory of a friend. This desperate situation was compounded by the deaths of both his beloved mother and Debussy.
Ravel’s despairing outlook is evident in La Valse (1919-20), a pessimistic work in which the dancers emerge out of the swirling mists, innocently at first, until a manic quality begins to take hold eventually driving the whole thing into oblivion.
“We are dancing on the edge of a volcano,” Ravel wrote in his notes on La Valse, quoting the Comte de Salvandy.(Interesting side note - Torvill and Dean used the image of two lovers, unable to be together, casting themselves into a volcano in their famous rendition of Bolero.) His words are an apt description of both his music and Balanchine’s neo-romantic choreography: couples waltzing in a cavernous ballroom where a woman in white is at once horrified and fascinated by the uninvited figure of death who ultimately claims her life.
On the score itself, Ravel described the “whirling” patterns of the waltz almost surrealistically:
Swirling clouds afford glimpses, through rifts, of waltzing couples. The clouds scatter little by little; one can distinguish an immense hall with a whirling crowd. The scene grows progressively brighter. The light of the chandeliers bursts forth at the fortissimo. An imperial court, about 1855.
Since La Valse was already in the composer’s mind at least a dozen years before the Great War broke out, whether or not the shadow of death that hangs over it can be directly attributed to the war is uncertain. However, Richard Buckle has linked it to the mood of futility in Europe in 1914, likening its Gothic theme to Edgar Allen Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death”. According to James Burnett in Ravel: His Life and Times, the music conveys “some indefinable though unmistakable sense of a danse macabre or totentanz…a frenetic energy about it which carries more than a hint of doom.”
Ravel was intrigued by the disintegration of the waltz form, and envisioned La Valse set in the Imperial Court of Vienna in 1855 (its original title was “Wien”). He called La Valse “a choreographic poem…a sort of apotheosis of the Viennese waltz…the mad whirl of some fantastic and fateful carousel.” The orchestral timbres are reminiscent of Rimsky-Korsakov’s. As Lincoln Kirstein wrote, “… the big themes shatter, rhythms dissolve, a persistent beat grows tenuous, and as a succession of feverish motifs dissolve, the climax becomes chaos.”
Feeling decimated and emotionally vulnerable, Ravel withdrew from Paris and took up residence in Monfort-l’Amaury, which would remain his home to the end of his days. His career continued as before, albeit at a slower compositional rate, with the first recordings of his music being issued, constant demands for personal appearances as both conductor and pianist, and a trip to America in 1928.
Creatively speaking, Ravel found it increasingly difficult to connect with the child-like world of innocence that had colored so much of his pre-War music.
In Bolero, the ballet’s dramatic arc—simmering with erotic energy as it builds incrementally from the intimate movements of a solo dancer into a ritualized orgy—is shaped entirely by Ravel’s carefully orchestrated score. This music can still thrill, which is why it has been celebrated in its own right in concert halls, recordings and films since its debut in 1928. Yet the composer never understood what all the fuss was about. “I’ve written only one masterpiece—’Boléro,’ ” he told composer Arthur Honegger. “Unfortunately, there’s no music in it.”
Ravel felt prouder of his other works for dance—such as “Daphnis et Chloé” (1912), for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, and “La Valse” (1920), commissioned by Diaghilev but not produced until George Balanchine comissioned the ballet. In the case of “Boléro,” the composer explained to his friend Gustave Samazeuilh, Ravel had simply set himself a technical task—a study in musical minimalism. The piece would consist of a theme repeated “a number of times without any development, gradually increasing the orchestra as best I can.” If the description sounds mechanical, that was the idea; he even imagined its performance in a factory setting. The music “constitutes an experiment in a very special and limited direction, and should not be suspected of aiming at achieving anything [more],” he told the Daily Telegraph in 1931.
Dancer Ida Rubinstein had quite something else in mind when she first approached Ravel about doing a project together. And it might be that the doom Ravel refered to in La Valse also subconsciously lies at the heart of Bolero as well. I think that this sense of repetition, of notes increasingly becoming stronger and building to a shattering end, underscores a sense of the continuous march of life itself, where we love, laugh, win, lose, until we reach the final end.
That’s when he came up with the idea for a piece to be called “Fandango” (later changed to “Boléro”), and decided that it would have no distinguishing features other than an insistent theme “of the same genre as Padilla, that vulgar author of ‘Valencia.’” That was just the right musical character to aim for. The ballet’s scenario, by Rubinstein and choreographer Bronislava Nijinska, takes place inside a tavern in Spain, where patrons cheer on a gypsy dancer who leaps atop a table to perform; her steps—and the pulses of male onlookers—become increasingly animated as the music intensifies.
Ravel was buried in the Cimetière de Levallois-Perret in the north of Paris, in a grave beside his parents. It is an unassuming black marble affair inscribed merely “Compositeur Français”. Interestingly, the only other celebrity to have been buried in this relatively small cemetery is the designer of the famous tower, Gustave Eiffel.
To this day, Ravel stuns his listeners by an extreme musicality in various forms: sometimes strict, sometimes exotic, sometimes spare, sometimes lavish. It wasn’t simply the beauty of his works that made him so special: it was the innovative quality they had and the sense of development in his thought and his receptiveness to the influences upon him.
His legacy is his music, which, instead of becoming outdated, have that quality of presenting to the listener something new with each hearing or interpretation through each new generation.
Sylvie Guillem performing Maurice Bejart’s choreography to Bolero, perhaps the closest to the original version.
I was reading the article on this subject and decided to post the 10 paradoxes here along with my personal thoughts. Psychology Today: Psychology of Creative People
1. Creative people have a great deal of physical energy, but they’re also often quiet and at rest.
They work long hours, with great concentration, while projecting an aura of freshness and enthusiasm. This suggests a superior physical endowment, yet it is surprising how often individuals who in their seventies and eighties exude energy and health remember childhoods plagued by illness.
It seems that their energy is internally generated, due more to their focused minds than to the superiority of their genes.
This does not mean that creative people are hyperactive, always “on.” In fact, they rest often and sleep a lot.
The important thing is that they control their energy; it’s not ruled by the calendar, the dock, an external schedule. When necessary, they can focus it like a laser beam; when not, creative types immediately recharge their batteries.
They consider the rhythm of activity followed by idleness or reflection very important for the success of their work. This is not a bio-rhythm inherited with their genes; it was learned by trial and error as a strategy for achieving their goals. Without excitement, it would be difficult to take life on with vigor; without restraint, the energy could easily dissolve.
2. Creative people tend to be smart yet naive at the same time.
How smart they actually are is open to question. It is probably true that what psychologists call the “g factor,” meaning a core of general intelligence, is high among people who make important creative contributions.
The earliest longitudinal study of superior mental abilities, initiated at Stanford University by the psychologist Lewis Terman in 1921, shows rather conclusively that children with very high IQs do well in life, but after a certain point IQ does not seem to be correlated any longer with superior performance in real life.
Later studies suggest that the cutoff point is around 120; it might be difficult to do creative work with a lower IQ, but an IQ beyond 120 does not necessarily imply higher creativity
Another way of expressing this dialectic is the contrasting poles of wisdom and childishness. As Howard Gardner remarked in his study of the major creative geniuses of this century, a certain immaturity, both emotional and mental, can go hand in hand with deepest insights. Mozart comes immediately to mind.
Furthermore, people who bring about an acceptable novelty in a domain seem able to use well two opposite ways of thinking: the convergent and the divergent.
Convergent thinking is measured by IQ tests, and it involves solving well-defined, rational problems that have one correct answer.
Divergent thinking leads to no agreed-upon solution. It involves fluency, or the ability to generate a great quantity of ideas; flexibility, or the ability to switch from one perspective to another; and originality in picking unusual associations of ideas.
These are the dimensions of thinking that most creativity tests measure and that most workshops try to enhance.
Divergent thinking is not much use, though, without the ability to tell a good idea from a bad one, and this selectivity involves convergent thinking.
3. Creative people combine playfulness and discipline, or responsibility and irresponsibility.
There is no question that a playfully light attitude is typical of creative individuals. But this playfulness doesn’t go very far without its antithesis, a quality of doggedness, endurance, perseverance.
Despite the carefree air that many creative people affect, most of them work late into the night and persist when less driven individuals would not.
Vasari wrote in 1550 that when Renaissance painter Paolo Uccello was working out the laws of visual perspective, he would walk back and forth all night, muttering to himself: “What a beautiful thing is this perspective!” while his wife called him back to bed with no success.
4. Creative people alternate between imagination and fantasy, and a rooted sense of reality.
Great art and great science involve a leap of imagination into a world that is different from the present. The rest of society often views these new ideas. as fantasies without relevance to current reality.
And they are right. But the whole point of art and science is to go beyond what we now consider real and create a new reality At the same time, this “escape” is not into a never-never land.
What makes a novel idea creative is that once we see it, sooner or later we recognize that, strange as it is, it is true.
Most of us assume that artists—musicians, writers, poets, painters—are strong on the fantasy side, whereas scientists, politicians, and businesspeople are realists. This may be true in terms of day-to-day routine activities. But when a person begins to work creatively, all bets are off.
5. Creative people trend to be both extroverted and introverted.
We’re usually one or the other, either preferring to be in the thick of crowds or sitting on the sidelines and observing the passing show.
In fact, in current psychological research, extroversion and introversion are considered the most stable personality traits that differentiate people from each other and that can be reliably measured.
Creative individuals, on the other hand, seem to exhibit both traits simultaneously.
6. Creative people are humble and proud at the same time.
It is remarkable to meet a famous person who you expect to be arrogant or supercilious, only to
encounter self-deprecation and shyness instead. Yet there are good reasons why this should be so.
These individuals are well aware that they stand, in Newton’s words, “on the shoulders of giants.” Their respect for the area in which they work makes them aware of the long line of previous contributions to it, putting their own in perspective.
They’re also aware of the role that luck played in their own achievements. And they’re usually so focused on future projects and current challenges that past accomplishments, no matter how outstanding, are no longer very interesting to them.
At the same time, they know that in comparison with others, they have accomplished a great deal. And this knowledge provides a sense of security, even pride.
7. Creative people, to an extent, escape rigid gender role stereotyping.
When tests of masculinity/femininity are given to young people, over and over one finds that creative and talented girls are more dominant and tough than other girls, and creative boys are more sensitive and less aggressive than their male peers.
A psychologically androgynous person in effect doubles his or her repertoire of responses. Creative individuals are more likely to have not only the strengths of their own gender but those of the other one, too.
8. Creative people are both rebellious and conservative.
It is impossible to be creative without having first internalized an area of culture. So it’s difficult to see how a person can be creative without being both traditional and conservative and at the same time rebellious and iconoclastic.
Being only traditional leaves an area unchanged; constantly taking chances without regard to what has been valued in the past rarely leads to novelty that is accepted as an improvement.
But the willingness to take risks, to break with the safety of tradition, is also necessary.
The economist George Stigler is very emphatic in this regard: “I’d say one of the most common failures of able people is a lack of nerve. They’ll play safe games. In innovation, you have to play a less safe game, if it’s going to be interesting. It’s not predictable that it’ll go well.”
9. Most creative people are very passionate about their work, yet they can be extremely objective about it as well.
Without the passion, we soon lose interest in a difficult task. Yet without being objective about it, our work is not very good and lacks credibility. Here is how the historian Natalie Davis puts it:
“I think it is very important to find a way to be detached from what you write, so that you can’t be so identified with your work that you can’t accept criticism and response, and that is the danger of having as much affect as I do.
“But I am aware of that and of when I think it is particularly important to detach oneself from the work, and that is something where age really does help.”
10. Creative people’s openness and sensitivity often exposes them to suffering and pain, yet also to a great deal of enjoyment.
Most would agree with Rabinow’s words: “Inventors have a low threshold of pain. Things bother them.” A badly designed machine causes pain to an inventive engineer, just as the creative writer is hurt when reading bad prose.
Being alone at the forefront of a discipline also leaves you exposed and vulnerable. Eminence invites criticism and often vicious attacks. When an artist has invested years in making a sculpture, or a scientist in developing a theory, it is devastating if nobody cares.
Deep interest and involvement in obscure subjects often goes unrewarded, or even brings on ridicule. Divergent thinking is often perceived as deviant by the majority, and so the creative person may feel isolated and misunderstood.
Perhaps the most difficult thing for creative individuals to bear is the sense of loss and emptiness they experience when, for some reason, they cannot work. This is especially painful when a person feels his or her creativity drying out.
Yet when a person is working in the area of his of her expertise, worries and cares fall away, replaced by a sense of bliss.
Perhaps the most important quality, the one that is most consistently present in all creative individuals, is the ability to enjoy the process of creation for its own sake. Without this trait, poets would give up striving for perfection and would write commercial jingles, economists would work for banks where they would earn at least twice as much as they do at universities, and physicists would stop doing basic research and join industrial laboratories where the conditions are better and the expectations more predictable.
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Classic Actresses at Easter Click on pics to view larger image.
From top, L to R - Debbie Reynolds, Doris Day, Lana Turner, Loretta Young, Mitzi Gaynor, Susan Hayward, Ann Miller