Thursday, July 08, 2010

Bolero and Ida Rubenstein

I love le Bolero de Ravel.

I first heard it at one my best friends place, on Dr Penfield Avenue. We were going to a model UN conference, and I was staying in his apartment for a few days, so we could go out and party with the people from the conference and I wouldn't have to worry about going back home late at night with public transport.

My friend could never wake-up (he still can't). His wake-up alarm was Le Bolero. He would play it 3 -4 times in a row, always sleeping in while le Bolero was slowly trying to wake him up. Laying there, in the floor of his room, half asleep, myself trying to wake up, I heard Le Bolero for the first time. And ever since le Bolero has been a half-dream for me.

Then Pink Martini covered it, and my brother made me discover the cover version. It looped and looped on the computer in the office of my parent's place.

Then on a blog I read about the Russian dancer Maya Plisetskaya and watched her perform le Bolero.

Today I went on Wikipedia and read about le Bolero. I learned it was commissioned by another Russian ballerina: Ida Rubinstein. And this women stole my imagination. She seems to me like she was something else, something from another time and world (which she actually was, considering she commissioned the work almost 100 years ago, that is another time).

I can't exactly say what it was that drew me in, but I think it was mostly this strange painting of Ida:

But it's more than just that painting: it's her name (the combination of Ida and her family name), it's all the other paintings of her, it's her story, it's the fact that she was bisexual, that had wealthy supporters.

And it's mainly the fact that she commissioned le Bolero. It was written at her request, and it was written for her. Ravel had her dancing, her acting, her movements and her figure in mind when he wrote the piece. I don't want to take anything away from Ravel. He is the genius here for having come up with such a beautiful work; but it seems to me that there is something of Ina embedded in this slowly moving piece, in this long and continuous crescendo.

Ina does indeed come from another time. She was born in imperial Russia, she started dancing late, she was showing much skin on stage than what was accepted at the time. She moved to France, she lived through both World Wars. And then she died, not so long ago, my parents were already born.

What is left behind is a mysterious shadow of a woman. It is numerous paintings, black and white photos of Ida, in costume or contorted or playing the mysterious story telling Scheherazade. Maybe she wasn't playing Scheherazade, maybe she was a Scheherazade of her own.

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