When Maurice Sendak Created a Dark Nutcracker Ballet

Chil­dren are the per­fect audi­ence for The Nut­crack­er. 

(Well, chil­dren and the grand­moth­ers who can’t wait for the tod­dler to start sit­ting still long enough to make the hol­i­day-themed bal­let an annu­al tra­di­tion…)

Mau­rice Sendak, the cel­e­brat­ed children’s book author and illus­tra­tor, agreed, but found the stan­dard George Bal­an­chine-chore­o­graphed ver­sion so trea­cly as to be unwor­thy of chil­dren, dub­bing it the “most bland and banal of bal­lets.”

The 1983 pro­duc­tion he col­lab­o­rat­ed on with Pacif­ic North­west Bal­let artis­tic direc­tors Kent Stow­ell and Fran­cia Rus­sell did away with the notion that chil­dren should be “cod­dled and sweet­ened and sug­arplummed and kept away from the dark aspects of life when there is no way of doing that.”

Tchaikovsky’s famous score remained in place, but Sendak and Stow­ell ducked the source mate­r­i­al for, well, more source mate­r­i­al. As per the New York City Ballet’s web­site, the Russ­ian Impe­r­i­al Ballet’s chief bal­let mas­ter, Mar­ius Peti­pa, com­mis­sioned Tchaikovsky to write music for an adap­ta­tion of Alexan­der Dumas’ child-friend­ly sto­ry The Nut­crack­er of Nurem­berg. But The Nut­crack­er of Nurem­berg was inspired by the much dark­er E.T.A. Hoff­man tale, 1816’s “The Nut­crack­er and the Mouse King.”

The “weird, dark qual­i­ties” of the orig­i­nal were much more in keep­ing with Sendak’s self pro­claimed “obses­sive theme”: “Chil­dren sur­viv­ing child­hood.”

Sendak want­ed the bal­let to focus more intent­ly on Clara, the young girl who receives the Nut­crack­er as a Christ­mas present in Act I:

It’s about her vic­to­ry over her fear and her grow­ing feel­ings for the prince… She is over­whelmed with grow­ing up and has no knowl­edge of what this means. I think the bal­let is all about a strong emo­tion­al sense of some­thing hap­pen­ing to her, which is bewil­der­ing.


Bal­an­chine must have felt dif­fer­ent­ly. He benched Clara in Act II, let­ting the adult Sug­arplum Fairy take cen­ter­stage, to guide the chil­dren through a pas­sive tour of the Land of Sweets.

As Sendak scoffed to the Dal­las Morn­ing News:

It’s all very, very pret­ty and very, very beau­ti­ful… I always hat­ed the Sug­arplum Fairy. I always want­ed to whack her.

“Like what kids real­ly want is a can­dy king­dom. That short­changes children’s feel­ings about life,” echoes Stow­ell, who revived the Sendak com­mis­sion, fea­tur­ing the illus­tra­tor’s sets and cos­tumes every win­ter for 3 decades.

In lieu of the Sug­ar Plum Fairy, Sendak and Stow­ell intro­duced a daz­zling caged pea­cock — a fan favorite played by the same dancer who plays Clara’s moth­er in Act I.

The threats, in the form of eccen­tric uncle Drosselmeier, a fero­cious tiger, and a mas­sive rat pup­pet with an impres­sive, puls­ing tail, have a Freudi­an edge.

The paint­ed back­drops, grow­ing Christ­mas tree, and Nut­crack­er toy look as if they emerged from one of Sendak’s books. (He fol­lowed up the bal­let by illus­trat­ing a new trans­la­tion of the Hoff­man orig­i­nal.)

The Sendak-designed cos­tumes are more under­stat­ed, thought Pacif­ic North­west Bal­let cos­tumer Mark Zap­pone, who described work­ing with Sendak as “an incred­i­ble joy and plea­sure” and recalled the fun­ny ongo­ing bat­tle with the Act II Moors cos­tumes to Seat­tle Met:

Maurice’s design had the women in quite bil­lowy pants. So we ripped them out of the box, threw them on the girls upstairs in the stu­dios, and Kent start­ed rehears­ing the Moors. And one by one, the girls got their legs stuck in those pants and—boom—hit the floor, all six of them. It was like, “Oh my God, what are we going to do about that one?” They end­ed up, for years, twist­ing the legs in their cos­tumes and mak­ing a lit­tle tuck here and there. It was a rite of pas­sage; if you were going to do the Moors, don’t for­get to twist your pants around so you won’t get stuck in them.

Rent a filmed ver­sion of Mau­rice Sendak’s The Nut­crack­er on Ama­zon Prime. (Look for a Wild Thing cameo in the boat­ing scene with Clara and her Prince.)

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

The Only Draw­ing from Mau­rice Sendak’s Short-Lived Attempt to Illus­trate The Hob­bit

Mau­rice Sendak Sent Beau­ti­ful­ly Illus­trat­ed Let­ters to Fans — So Beau­ti­ful a Kid Ate One

Mau­rice Sendak Illus­trates Tol­stoy in 1963 (with a Lit­tle Help from His Edi­tor)

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­maol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Watch Awesome Human Choreography That Reproduces the Murmurations of Starling Flocks

A num­ber of chore­o­g­ra­phers have tak­en inspi­ra­tion from the move­ment of birds.

Sadek Waff, cre­ator of thrilling­ly pre­cise “mur­mu­ra­tions” such as the one above, is also inspired by street dance — par­tic­u­lar­ly the pop­ping hip hop moves known as Tut­ting and Toy­Man.

The nature lover and founder of the dance troupe Géométrie Vari­able uses both to excel­lent effect, chan­nel­ing a star­ling flock­’s hive mind with human dancers, whose low­er halves remain firm­ly root­ed. It’s all about the hands and arms, punc­tu­at­ed with the occa­sion­al neck flex.

As he observes on his Insta­gram pro­file:

There is mag­ic every­where, the key is know­ing how to look and lis­ten in silence. Like a cloud of birds form­ing waves in the sky, each indi­vid­ual has their own iden­ti­ty but also has an irre­place­able place in the whole.

To achieve these kalei­do­scop­ic mur­mu­ra­tions, Waff’s dancers drill for hours, count­ing aloud in uni­son, refin­ing their ges­tures to the point where the indi­vid­ual is sub­sumed by the group.

The use of mir­rors can height­en the illu­sion:

The reflec­tion brings a sym­met­ri­cal dimen­sion, like a calm body of water con­tem­plat­ing the spec­ta­cle from anoth­er point of view, adding an addi­tion­al dimen­sion, an exten­sion of the image.

The larg­er the group, the more daz­zling the effect, though a video fea­tur­ing a small­er than usu­al group of dancers — 20 in total — is help­ful for iso­lat­ing the com­po­nents Waff brings to bear in his avian-inspired work.

We’re par­tic­u­lar­ly enthralled by the mur­mu­ra­tion Waff cre­at­ed for the 2020 Par­a­lympic Games’ clos­ing cer­e­mo­ny in Tokyo, using both pro­fes­sion­als and ama­teurs in match­ing black COVID-pre­cau­tion masks to embody the event’s themes of “har­mo­nious cacoph­o­ny” and “mov­ing for­ward.” (Notice that the front row of dancers are wheel­chair users.)

See more of Sadek Waff’s mur­mu­ra­tions on his YouTube chan­nel and on Insta­gram.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Dancer Pays a Grav­i­ty-Defy­ing Trib­ute to Claude Debussy

The Evo­lu­tion of Dance from 1950 to 2019: A 7‑Decade Joy Ride in 6 Min­utes

The Icon­ic Dance Scene from Hel­lza­pop­pin’ Pre­sent­ed in Liv­ing Col­or with Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence (1941)

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­maol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

An Introduction to Japanese Kabuki Theatre, Featuring 20th-Century Masters of the Form (1964)

The Eng­lish lan­guage has adopt­ed kabu­ki as an adjec­tive, applied to sit­u­a­tions where exag­ger­at­ed appear­ances and per­for­mances are every­thing. Busi­ness, pol­i­tics, media: name any realm of moder­ni­ty, and the myr­i­ad ways in which its affairs can turn kabu­ki will spring to mind. A high­ly styl­ized form of dance-dra­ma orig­i­nat­ing in the sev­en­teenth cen­tu­ry, it con­tin­ues to stand today as a pil­lar of clas­si­cal Japan­ese cul­ture — and indeed, accord­ing to UNESCO, one piece of the Intan­gi­ble Cul­tur­al Her­itage of Human­i­ty. The world­wide regard for kabu­ki owes in part to self-pro­mo­tion­al efforts on the part of Japan, whose Min­istry of For­eign Affairs com­mis­sioned the half-hour intro­duc­to­ry film above.

Pro­duced in 1964, Kabu­ki: The Clas­sic The­atre of Japan holds up as a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the art, as well as a view of some of the mid-20th cen­tu­ry’s mas­ter prac­ti­tion­ers. These actors include Jit­sukawa Enjaku III, Naka­mu­ra Utae­mon VI, and Ichikawa Dan­jūrō XI, whose stage names reflect their place in an unbro­ken pro­fes­sion­al lin­eage.

In fact, Ichikawa Dan­jūrō XI is a pre­de­ces­sor of Ichikawa Ebizō XI, pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture for his work in kabu­ki Star Wars adap­ta­tions. The gen­er­a­tions shown here did­n’t go in for such pop-cul­tur­al hybridiza­tion, but rather plays from the tra­di­tion­al kabu­ki reper­toire like ShibarakuMusume Dōjōji, and Sukeroku, scenes from all three of which appear in the film.

“Through elab­o­rate cos­tumes and vivid make­up, through beau­ti­ful­ly styl­ized act­ing and exag­ger­at­ed vocal­iza­tion, and high­light­ed with pic­turesque set­tings and col­or­ful music, the kabu­ki actors cre­ate dra­mat­ic effects of extra­or­di­nary inten­si­ty with­in a frame­work of pure enter­tain­ment,” explains the nar­ra­tor. And as in the ear­ly per­for­mances of Shake­speare, all the roles are played by males, spe­cial­ists known as onna­ga­ta. “Because the empha­sis in kabu­ki is on artis­tic per­for­mance, not real­ism, the onna­ga­ta is con­sid­ered more capa­ble of express­ing true fem­i­nin­i­ty than is pos­si­ble for an actress.” This may have struck West­ern view­ers in the 1960s as an odd notion, but the sheer for­eign­ness of kabu­ki — cul­tur­al, geo­graph­i­cal, and tem­po­ral — must have been as cap­ti­vat­ing back then as it remains today, no mat­ter how long we’ve been throw­ing its name around.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Japan­ese Kabu­ki Actors Cap­tured in 18th-Cen­tu­ry Wood­block Prints by the Mys­te­ri­ous & Mas­ter­ful Artist Sharaku

Kabu­ki Star Wars: Watch The Force Awak­ens and The Last Jedi Rein­ter­pret­ed by Japan’s Most Famous Kabu­ki Actor

World Shake­speare Fes­ti­val Presents 37 Plays by the Bard in 37 Lan­guages: Watch Them Online

A Page of Mad­ness: The Lost, Avant Garde Mas­ter­piece from the Ear­ly Days of Japan­ese Cin­e­ma (1926)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

A Dancer Pays a Gravity-Defying Tribute to Claude Debussy

Most dancers have an intu­itive under­stand­ing of physics.

Chore­o­g­ra­ph­er Yoann Bour­geois push­es this sci­ence beyond the stan­dard lifts, leaps, and pirou­ettes, draw­ing on his train­ing at the Cen­tre Nation­al Des Arts du Cirque for a piece mark­ing the cen­te­nary of com­pos­er Claude Debussy’s death, above.

Giv­en the occa­sion, the choice of Clair de Lune, Debussy’s best loved piano work, feels prac­ti­cal­ly de rigueur, but the tram­po­line comes as a bit of a shock.

We may not be able to see it, but it plays such an essen­tial role, it’s tempt­ing to call this solo a pas de deux. At the very least, the tram­po­line is an essen­tial col­lab­o­ra­tor, along with pianist Alexan­dre Tha­rau and film­mak­er Raphaël Wertheimer.

Bour­geois’ expres­sive­ness as a per­former has earned him com­par­isons to Char­lie Chap­lin and Buster Keaton. His chore­og­ra­phy shows that he also shares their work eth­ic, atten­tion to detail, and love of jaw­drop­ping visu­al stunts.

Don’t expect any ran­dom boing­ing around on this tramp’.

For four and a half min­utes, Bour­geois’ every­man strug­gles to get to the top of a stark white stair­case. Every time he falls off, the tram­po­line launch­es him back onto one of the steps — high­er, low­er, the very one he fell off of…

Inter­pret this strug­gle how you will.

Psy­che, a dig­i­tal mag­a­zine that “illu­mi­nates the human con­di­tion through psy­chol­o­gy, philo­soph­i­cal under­stand­ing and the arts” found it to be “an abstract­ed inter­pre­ta­tion of a child­like expe­ri­ence of time.” One view­er won­dered if the num­ber of steps — twelve — was sig­nif­i­cant.

It’s no stretch to con­ceive of it as a com­ment on the nature of life — a con­stant cycle of falling down and bounc­ing back.

It’s love­ly to behold because Bour­geois makes it look so easy.

In an inter­view with NR, he spoke of how his cir­cus stud­ies led to the real­iza­tion that “the rela­tion­ship between phys­i­cal forces” is what he’s most inter­est­ed in explor­ing. The stairs and tram­po­line, like all of his sets (or devices, as he prefers to call them), are there to “ampli­fy spe­cif­ic phys­i­cal phe­nom­e­non”:

In sci­ence, we’d call them mod­els – they’re sim­pli­fi­ca­tions of our world that enable me to ampli­fy one par­tic­u­lar force at a time. Togeth­er, this ensem­ble of devices, this con­stel­la­tion of con­struct­ed devices, ten­ta­tive­ly approach­es the point of sus­pen­sion. And so, this makes up a body of research; it’s a life’s research that doesn’t have an end in itself. 

The rela­tion­ship with phys­i­cal forces has an elo­quent capac­i­ty that can be very big; it has the kind of expres­sion that is uni­ver­sal.

Watch more of Youann Bour­geois’ physics-based chore­og­ra­phy on his YouTube chan­nel.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Hear Debussy Play Debussy: A Vin­tage Record­ing from 1913

Quar­an­tined Dancer Cre­ates Shot-for-Shot Remake of the Final Dirty Danc­ing Scene with a Lamp as a Dance Part­ner

One of the Great­est Dances Sequences Ever Cap­tured on Film Gets Restored in Col­or by AI: Watch the Clas­sic Scene from Stormy Weath­er

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

The Mistake Waltz: Watch the Hilarious Ballet by Legendary Choreographer Jerome Robbins

So often mis­takes are the most mem­o­rable part of live per­for­mance.

In Jerome Rob­bins’ The Con­cert (or The Per­ils of Every­body)they’re built in.

The por­tion set to Chopin’s Waltz in E Minor, above, has earned the nick­name The Mis­take Waltz. It’s an anthol­o­gy of screw ups that will be famil­iar to any­one who’s attend­ed a few ama­teur bal­let pro­duc­tions and school recitals.

When the entire ensem­ble is meant to be trav­el­ing in the same direc­tion or syn­chro­niz­ing swan­like ges­tures, the one who’s egre­gious­ly out of step is a guar­an­teed stand­out… if not the audience’s flat out favorite.

Rob­bins gen­er­ous­ly spreads the clown­ing between all six mem­bers of the corps, get­ting extra mileage from the telegraphed irri­ta­tion in every indis­creet­ly attempt­ed cor­rec­tion.

Per­formed well, the silli­ness seems almost impro­vi­sa­tion­al, but as with all of this leg­endary choreographer’s work, the spon­ta­neous beats are very, very spe­cif­ic.

It only works if the dancers have the tech­ni­cal prowess and the com­ic chops to pull it off. Les Bal­lets Trock­adero de Monte Car­lo aside, this can present a siz­able cast­ing chal­lenge.

Rob­bins also felt that The Con­cert should be pre­sent­ed spar­ing­ly, to keep the jokes from becom­ing stale.

Indi­vid­ual com­pa­nies have some agency over their cos­tumes, but oth­er than that, it is exe­cut­ed just as it was in its 1956 debut with the New York City Ballet.

For­mer NYCB lead dancer Peter Boal, who was 10 when he played Cupid in Rob­bins’ Moth­er Goose, has made The Con­cert part of Pacif­ic North­west Bal­let’s reper­toire. He revealed anoth­er side of the exact­ing Rob­bins in a per­son­al essay in Dance Mag­a­zine:

He had the unique abil­i­ty to become kid-like in the stu­dio, gig­gling with oth­ers and often laugh­ing robust­ly at his own jokes. He was cer­tain­ly his own best audi­ence for The Con­cert. How many times had he seen those gags and yet fresh, spon­ta­neous laugh­ter erupt­ed from him as if it was a first telling.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Bal­let Dancers Do Their Hard­est Moves in Slow Motion

Radio­head Bal­lets: Watch Bal­lets Chore­o­graphed Cre­ative­ly to the Music of Radio­head

The Dance The­atre of Harlem Dances Through the Streets of NYC: A Sight to Behold

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Join her Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain: The Peri­od­i­cal Cica­da, a free vir­tu­al vari­ety show hon­or­ing the 17-Year Cicadas of Brood X. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.


Quarantined Dancer Creates Shot-for-Shot Remake of the Final Dirty Dancing Scene with a Lamp as a Dance Partner

1987’s low bud­get sleep­er hit, Dirty Danc­ing, pro­pelled its leads, Jen­nifer Grey and the late Patrick Swayze, to instant star­dom.

Swayze lat­er mused to the Amer­i­can Film Insti­tute about the film’s remark­able stay­ing pow­er:

It’s got so much heart, to me. It’s not about the sen­su­al­i­ty; it’s real­ly about peo­ple try­ing to find them­selves, this young dance instruc­tor feel­ing like he’s noth­ing but a prod­uct, and this young girl try­ing to find out who she is in a soci­ety of restric­tions when she has such an amaz­ing take on things. On a cer­tain lev­el, it’s real­ly about the fab­u­lous, funky lit­tle Jew­ish girl get­ting the guy because [of] what she’s got in her heart.

Near­ly 35 years after the orig­i­nal release, anoth­er gift­ed male dancer, Brook­lyn-based pho­tog­ra­ph­er Quinn Whar­ton, is tap­ping into that heart… and Grey has been replaced by a lamp.

Whar­ton once told Bal­let Hub that his favorite part of danc­ing pro­fes­sion­al­ly with the San Fran­cis­co Bal­let and Hub­bard Street Dance Chica­go was the access it gave him to the great names in dance — William Forsythe, Mats Ek, Christo­pher Wheel­don, Wayne McGre­gor, and oth­ers whose prox­im­i­ty made for “a remark­able edu­ca­tion.”

The first few months of the pan­dem­ic forced him to dance solo, recre­at­ing mem­o­rable film moments in response to a friend’s chal­lenge:

I was hes­i­tant at first but thought I would give it a try to see what I might be able to learn from it. Turns out it was way more fun than I thought and the result was fun­nier than I could have imag­ined.

We agree that his Quinn-tessen­tial Dance Scenes series is very fun­ny, as well as beau­ti­ful­ly exe­cut­ed in the twin are­nas of cam­era work and dance. His self-imposed para­me­ters — no out­side help, no green screen, no film­ing out­side of the apart­ment, and no spe­cial pur­chas­es of props or cos­tumes, con­tribute to the humor.

His hard­work­ing, dis­em­bod­ied, com­par­a­tive­ly well-cov­ered haunch­es elic­it laughs when seen next to the much skimpi­er orig­i­nal cos­tume of Flash­dance’s “Mani­ac” scene, above. 18-year-old star Jen­nifer Beals had three dance dou­bles — Marine Jahan, gym­nast Sharon Shapiro, and leg­endary B‑Boy Richard Colón, aka Crazy Legs of Rock Steady crew. None of them appeared in the orig­i­nal cred­its because, as Jahan told Enter­tain­ment Tonight, the pro­duc­ers “did­n’t want to break the mag­ic.”

In oth­er words, a lot of steamy 80s-era fan­tasies cen­tered on Beals are now known to be a case — pos­si­bly three cas­es — of mis­tak­en iden­ti­ty.

Whar­ton’s quar­an­tine project afford­ed him a chance to come at John Tra­vol­ta from two angles, thanks to the dis­co clas­sic Sat­ur­day Night Fever and Pulp Fic­tion’s twist sequence, a sur­pris­ing­ly pop­u­lar fan request. Though Travolta’s dance train­ing was lim­it­ed to child­hood tap lessons with Gene Kelly’s broth­er, Fred, Whar­ton prais­es his “seri­ous range.”

Whar­ton cites the inspi­ra­tion for one of his less­er known recre­ations, direc­tor Baz Lurhman’s first fea­ture, Strict­ly Ball­room, as a rea­son he began danc­ing:

My dad loves this movie and as a kid I can’t count the num­ber of times that I watched it. It’s so much, loud, brash, exu­ber­ant …It also allowed me to bring back my favorite part­ner.

Quinn-tessen­tial Dance Scenes is on hia­tus so Whar­ton can con­cen­trate on his work as a dance pho­tog­ra­ph­er. Watch a playlist of all eight episodes here.

See more of his dance pho­tog­ra­phy on his Insta­gram page.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

One of the Great­est Dances Sequences Ever Cap­tured on Film Gets Restored in Col­or by AI: Watch the Clas­sic Scene from Stormy Weath­er

The Pow­er of Pulp Fiction’s Dance Scene, Explained by Chore­o­g­ra­phers and Even John Tra­vol­ta Him­self

The Icon­ic Dance Scene from Hel­lza­pop­pin’ Pre­sent­ed in Liv­ing Col­or with Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence (1941)

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine, who can occa­sion­al­ly be spot­ted wan­der­ing around New York City in a bear suit, in char­ac­ter as L’Ourse.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Watch the “Greatest Juggler of the Ages,” Frances Brunn, Perform His “Painfully Exciting” Juggling Routine (1969)

When John Rin­gling North, then pres­i­dent of Rin­gling Bros. and Bar­num & Bai­ley Cir­cus, saw a pair of Ger­man  jug­glers and acro­bats per­form in Spain, he imme­di­ate­ly invit­ed them to join “the Great­est Show on Earth.” A broth­er and sis­ter team, Fran­cis and Lot­tie Brunn would aston­ish audi­ences. In 1950, the­ater crit­ic Brooks Atkin­son called Fran­cis “the great­est jug­gler of the ages. Not many peo­ple in the world are as per­fect­ly adjust­ed as Mr. Brunn is. He will nev­er have to vis­it a psy­chi­a­trist.” If phys­i­cal grace and bal­ance are reflec­tive of one’s state of mind, maybe he was right.

When Lot­tie left the act in 1951, Fran­cis went on to pop­u­lar fame and even more hyper­bol­ic acclaim. “After he per­formed before the queen of Eng­land in 1963, The Evening Stan­dard called his show ‘almost painful­ly excit­ing,’” Dou­glas Mar­tin writes at The New York Times.

“Try­ing to describe Brunn’s act is like try­ing to describe the flight of a swal­low,” writes Fran­cis­co Alvarez in Jug­gling: Its His­to­ry and Great­est Per­form­ers. He became a reg­u­lar per­former on The Ed Sul­li­van Show, “played the Palace with Judy Gar­land,” notes Mar­tin, “and went twice to the White House, where Pres­i­dent Dwight D. Eisen­how­er pro­claimed him the best jug­gler he had ever seen.”

None of this should bias you toward the tele­vi­sion per­for­mance, above, of course. (How many jug­glers could Eisen­how­er have seen, any­way?) Judge for your­self. By way of fur­ther con­text, we should note that Brunn was known for per­fect­ing “an aus­tere but demand­ing min­i­mal­ism. He was fas­ci­nat­ed by con­trol­ling just one ball, and vir­tu­al­ly com­pelled audi­ences to share this fas­ci­na­tion.” Or as Brunn put it, “it sounds like noth­ing, but it is quite dif­fi­cult to do prop­er­ly.” As any­one (or vir­tu­al­ly every­one) who has tried and failed to jug­gle can attest, this descrip­tion fits the art of jug­gling in gen­er­al all too well.

Brunn made it look laugh­ably easy: “Large num­bers of objects posed scant prob­lem. He was believed to be the first jug­gler in the world to put up 10 hoops,” Mar­tin writes. He also liked to incor­po­rate fla­men­co into his act to com­pound the dif­fi­cul­ty and the grace. “I do not con­sid­er myself doing tricks,” he said in 1983. “There is one move­ment for eight min­utes. It’s sup­posed to be, let’s say, like a bal­let…. I would love if the audi­ence is so fas­ci­nat­ed that nobody applauds in the end.” Brunn, I sus­pect, nev­er got to hear the sound of stunned silence after his act.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Watch the Ser­pen­tine Dance, Cre­at­ed by the Pio­neer­ing Dancer Loie Fuller, Per­formed in an 1897 Film by the Lumière Broth­ers

One of the Great­est Dances Sequences Ever Cap­tured on Film Gets Restored in Col­or by AI: Watch the Clas­sic Scene from Stormy Weath­er

Dis­cov­er Alexan­der Calder’s Cir­cus, One of the Beloved Works at the Whit­ney Muse­um of Amer­i­can Art

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

The Evolution of Dance from 1950 to 2019: A 7‑Decade Joy Ride in 6 Minutes

I see Michael Jack­son as a dance style, okay? — Ricar­do Walk­er 

Ricar­do Walk­er and his Crew’s The Evo­lu­tion of Dance, 1950 to 2019 will make you regret every minute spent hug­ging the wall in mid­dle school.

The break­neck, 6‑minute romp led by dancer, chore­o­g­ra­ph­er, and Michael Jack­son imper­son­ator Ricar­do Walk­er, not only show­cas­es the all-male Brazil­ian crew’s tal­ent, it makes a strong case for throw­ing your­self into some seri­ous dance floor silli­ness.

The Crew, formed by a mutu­al pas­sion for the King of Pop’s moves, is plen­ty cool, but their will­ing­ness to ham their way through “Flashdance…What a Feel­ing,” the “Macare­na,” and Dirty Danc­ing’s “Time of My Life” sug­gest that the joys of dance are avail­able to ordi­nary mor­tals such as our­selves.

They cavort in sag­ging ear­ly 90s-style Ham­mer Pants for “U Can’t Touch This” and don West­ern wear for Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” the most recent num­ber on this musi­cal tour.

Troupe mem­bers Gabriel Zaidan and Alexan­dre “Lelê” Mayrink seem unham­pered by van­i­ty, toss­ing their envi­able locks into the 35 cos­tume changes’ goofi­est styles.

The Crew took 16 hours to get the video in the can on a day when one of their num­ber felt under the weath­er, and they had to be out of the stu­dio by 7pm. (Our com­pli­ments to the edi­tor!)

While such hits as Chub­by Checker’s “Let’s Twist Again,” Jackson’s “Bil­lie Jean,” Madonna’s “Vogue,” Beyoncé’s “Sin­gle Ladies,” and — who could for­get? — “Gang­nam Style” instant­ly sum­mon a peri­od, the 90s place­ment of Tom Jones’ sig­na­ture tune, “It’s Not Unusu­al,” is throw­ing view­ers for a loop.

How did that old chest­nut wind up between Madon­na and Back­street Boys?

By virtue of its first stu­dio ver­sion, released in 1995 as part of the com­pi­la­tion album The Leg­endary Tom Jones — 30th Anniver­sary Album, that’s how.

Pri­or to their vir­tu­oso turn in the Evo­lu­tion of Dance, 1950 to 2019, the group guid­ed view­ers through the Evo­lu­tion of Michael Jack­son’s Dance. (Jackson’s influ­ence is also evi­dent through­out the for­mer, earn­ing him 4 nods.)

For those whose feet have begun to itch, chore­o­g­ra­ph­er Walk­er teach­es a Mas­ter Class in Michael Jackson’s dance moves for $100.

Songs used in The Evo­lu­tion of Dance — 1950 to 2019 — by Ricar­do Walk­er’s Crew

00:03​ — 00:13​ — Singin’in the Rain — Gene Kel­ly

00:13​ — 00:23​ — Hound Dog — Elvis Pres­ley

00:23​ — 00:30​ — Tut­ti Frut­ti — Lit­tle Richard

00:30​ — 00:35​ — Let’s Twist Again — Chub­by Check­er switch to col­or

00:35​ — 00:45​ — I feel good — James Brown

00:45​ — 00:57​ — I Want You Back — The Jack­son Five

00:57​ — 01:09​ — Stayin’ Alive — Bee Gees

01:09​ — 01:16​ — Danc­ing Machine — The Jack­sons

01:16​ — 01:20​ — Shake your Body — The Jack­sons

01:20​ — 01:24​ — You’re the one that I want — John Tra­vol­ta, Olivia New­ton-John

01:24​ — 01:31​ — Time of My Life — Bill Med­ley, Jen­nifer Warnes

01:31​ — 01:46​ — Bil­lie Jean — Michael Jack­son

01:46​ — 01:55​ — Rhythm Nation — Janet Jack­son

01:55​ — 02:03​ — Foot­Loose —  Ken­ny Log­gins

02:03​ — 02:13​ — Thriller — Michael Jack­son

02:13​ — 02:18​ — What a feel­ing — Irene Cara

02:18​ — 02:22​ — U can’t touch this — MC Ham­mer

02:22​ — 02:31​ — Black or White — Michael Jack­son

02:31​ — 02:42​ — Vogue — Madon­na

02:42​ — 02:51​ — It’s not unusu­al — Tom Jones

02:51​ — 03:02​ — Every­body — Back­street Boys

03:02​ — 03:13​ — Macare­na — Los Del Río

03:13​ — 03:26​ — Crank That — Soul­ja Boy

03:26​ — 03:33​ — Sin­gle Ladies — Bey­once

03:33​ — 03:46​ — Bye Bye Bye — NSYNC

03:46​ — 03:54​ — Ragatan­ga — Rouge

03:54​ — 04:04​ — Gang­nam Style — PSY

04:04​ — 04:15​ — Despaci­to — Luis Fon­si

04:15​ — 04:25​ — Uptown Funk — Mark Ron­son , Bruno Mars

04:25​ — 04:34​ — Par­ty Rock Anthem — LMFAO

04:34​ — 04:43​ — Can’t Stop The Feel­ing — Justin Tim­ber­lake

04:43​ — 04:51​ — Watch Me — Silen­tó

04:51​ — 05:03​ — Swish Swish — Katy Per­ry

05:03​ — 05:17​ — In My Feel­ing — Drake

05:17​ — 05:35​ — Old Town Road — Lil Nas X

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

How Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” Video Changed Pop Cul­ture For­ev­er: Revis­it the 13-Minute Short Film Direct­ed by John Lan­dis

The Dance The­atre of Harlem Dances Through the Streets of NYC: A Sight to Behold

Twerk­ing, Moon­walk­ing AI Robots–They’re Now Here

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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