A lamentation of swans

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Exactly one week from right now, I’ll be suited up as a raven for the world premiere of a flamenco performance, Zorro in the Land of the Golden-Breasted Woodpecker. This show is a mix of Spanish flamenco music with Ojibwa lore, in which ravens represent  message-bearers and truth-tellers. Six of us women form the raven chorus, or, as we like to call ourselves, the murder.

Just as a group of ravens is known as a murder, so a group of swans can be called a lamentation. Poetic, no?

Birds are a natural creature to portray through dance because of their symbolic qualities as well as their movements. (Our raven dances feature large black shawls–common to flamenco and Ojibwa dance, while also being representative of wings–and some of our choreography is meant to mimic the swooping of the flock). So it’s no wonder that one of the most famous ballets of all time is Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, made possibly even more famous by last year’s Best Picture Oscar nominee Black Swan.

One can’t but help think of the gracefulness of swans when watching the long limbs of Gillian Murphy as Odette, the white swan:

The pas de quatre is similarly avian:

Natalie Portman gives her all as the black swan:

And then there’s this Chinese version of Swan Lake, which is just ridiculous. In all the best ways.

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John Galliano’s fall from grace

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Natalie Portman and John Galliano in happier times

After James Franco’s comatose body was wheeled off the Kodak Theater stage last Sunday night I stayed at my Oscar party to watch extra coverage, which included interviews the winners gave backstage. Natalie Portman appeared first on our screen. She looked exhausted, overwhelmed, almost sad. She answered questions in a small voice, most of which concerned her upcoming motherhood (“First of all, I do not know the sex of my baby” she responded to an impertinent question about watching the Oscars in the future with her son). Another interviewer was even more brazen: “You look beautiful in Rodarte. Is your dress a rebuff to Dior’s John Galliano, and what do you have to say about his recent anti-semitic remarks, considering that you are the new spokesperson for Dior’s Cherie perfume?” She looked stunned, frightened, and was quickly assured that she didn’t need to answer. Next question.

Portman issued a statement the following day that she was “shocked and disgusted” by the recent video showing Galliano profess his love for Hitler and went on to say “as an individual who is proud to be Jewish, I will not be associated with Mr. Galliano in any way.”

When Galliano was king

Just as Paris fashion week was getting going, it ground to a halt at the news that John Galliano had been removed from his position as Dior’s head designer due to his racist remarks. Without Galliano at the helm, Dior went ahead with its runway show this past Friday, and his eponymous line held a stripped-down show as well (only nineteen looks were presented at the John Galliano show, less than half of what a normal show might hold). Dior announced today that it would continue to financially support the John Galliano line, though it is unclear for how long. What is clear is that Galliano’s “glorious reign” (as Harper’s Bazaar termed it in a photo spread four years ago) is over. For now.

The New Yorker’s Michael Specter, who wrote a profile of Galliano in 2003 for the magazine, issued a short response last Wednesday to the fashion designer’s implosion. As Specter notes,

The recipe is getting old: take a savant, somebody who plays golf better than any other human, or can cut on the bias, or throws a lot of touchdown passes, and surround him with sycophants and barrels full of money. Praise everything he says or does no matter how solipsistic or selfish. And what do you get? Exactly what the adoring public deserves. Even Galliano’s drug abuse was seen by many of the most prominent people in fashion as an adorable foible, like wearing a monocle or writing with a fountain pen. “Oh, that’s just John,” one of France’s better known fashion people once told me. “Obsessive indulgence is his thing.”

Specter’s profile from eight years ago depicts an extremely hard-working man at the height of his career, whose ostentatiousness was tempered with diligence, his exhibitionism masking a shy demeanor. In a mixture of first and third person, Galliano crowed, “I would never put a limit on my goals. I would love to see what a John Galliano airplane would look like, or a hotel. I don’t want ever to say there is something that John Galliano won’t do.” A sad statement, in light of Galliano’s seeming jump off the diving board of sanity.

Sans crown, Galliano has grown horns

In the New Yorker profile, Galliano praised passing women on the banks of the Seine who had the John Galliano look: savagery mixed with refinement. It is the other extreme of this people-watching that got Galliano into trouble last week. Apparently, he felt personally affronted by a fellow Parisian restaurant-goer’s style, exclaiming, “Your boots are of the lowest quality, your thighs are of the lowest quality. You are so ugly I don’t want to see you. I am John Galliano!” He proceeded to assume that this woman was Jewish, and that’s where the anti-semitic diatribe began.

The New York Times published an op-ed tonight on the similarities between high fashion and fascism: “both surround a cult of physical perfection” and “rely on a handful of oracular, charismatic leaders who issue proclamations to (select) crowds. Fascist leaders offered their followers the prospect of an enhanced, mythic identity — a dream of youth and beauty, the same attributes promised by high fashion.” The French are especially sensitive to such a comparison, as Parisian designers collaborated with Nazi occupiers during WWII so that their city could remain the site of high fashion, a fact many French would prefer to forget.

Fashion is a dominant and powerful industry in our world, catering to the elite and making all of us aware of our hierarchical place. Clothing has been a primary signifier of status since the beginning of mankind–the fact that it continues to do so is a surprise to no one. Fashion becomes dangerous, though, when the superficial superiority imparted by one’s clothing gives that person the license to condemn the flesh of another.

Natalie Portman: best actress?

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I’m not the only one guessing that Ms. Portman will be going home with the Oscar this Sunday. Following is the opinion of Nate Silver, writer for the NYTimes’s Carpetbagger:

Best ActressAnnette Bening won the Golden Globe for her role as Nic in “The Kids Are All Right”, but Natalie Portman has won the majority of awards and the Academy tends to prefer serious roles to comedic ones when the choice is otherwise close. Plus, everyone seems either to have loved “The Black Swan” or thought it so terrible that Ms. Portman deserves some empathy for having competently played such a ridiculous character (guess which group I’m in?). A small factor helping Ms. Bening is that she has twice been nominated before without winning (for “American Beauty” and “Being Julia”), but this is Ms. Portman’s award to lose.”

Natalie has been working as an actress for far longer than most of us probably realize. Here is her audition at 10 years of age:

And from a few years ago, she discusses, among other things, her early days of getting into acting: