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Looking through the window

1 Mar

A couple of days ago I attended Separate Panes, an MFA project by graduate student James Graham of the Ohio State University.  Of course I had no idea what to expect (and it’s always healthier to approach a modern dance with no preconceived ideas), but what I did know was that it would be an installation in Sullivant Library (which unbeknownst to me is going to be gutted and renovated!).  I have to admit, because of my mischievous spirit, installation type live art is…interesting for me.  I so badly want to take it personally as a challenge to see if I can distract the performers and make them laugh.  I’m the kind of person who upon seeing stilt walkers at a park, feel an insatiable urge to roll grapes along the floor, hopeful that I can get them to slip on one.  Sometimes I really am a horrible person although Coyote, the Trickster God of Native American myth would be so proud.  Nevertheless, to his disappointment, logic and sensibility inevitably suppress these impish urges.  One of the dancers told me she would have liked it if more audience members got in her face and told me I should have, but it was more than likely inappropriate, given the atmosphere.

That atmosphere I refer to had an aura that I described as being reminiscent of The Shining.  Empty hallways but instead of gushing torrents of blood there were paper airplanes scattered on the floor, hanging from the ceilings, piled onto a leprechaun-sized chair that was apparently in an elevator that would open at random intervals, with nothing else inside.  That last bit I didn’t see because it was up to audience members to choose what they wanted to look at and where to traverse, so inevitably there was always something to be missed.  It was pretty overwhelming at first but after walking through several rooms it was no different then the act of living itself.  Is there really such a thing as aware or naïve?  Or is the truth simply that we are simultaneously both and neither?  My conclusion was that the pursuit of omnipotence is completely inane.

The first half was listless and dreamy with a handful of dancers (five, if I recall correctly) doing minimal movements, like tearing pages out of a book or scribbling on the walls with charcoal.  There was a soundscape with no specific phrases of music.  It was unnerving as it was meant to be, although I found solace in one room with hanging windows and these peculiar tree branches suspended from the ceiling with piles of smooth, rounded stones on the floor beneath them.  It was stark save for these branch/stone effigies, that reminded me of that ludicrous phrase where one chants “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”  I don’t know what idiot came up with that, but it’s so far from the truth (well, my truth) because in my experiences words hurt more than anything and while the majority of people learn the harmful effects of physical violence it seems less people understand the potential of their words.  Accordingly, those people choose not to take responsibility for the damage they cause.  The torn pages in that room were distressing, recalling all kinds of psychological pain people have inflicted on me.  I don’t like going to that place, but at the same time I’ve always believed that completely forgetting one’s history is the most foolish thing a person can do.  Physical scars are no big deal; in fact the only ones I have are ones I caused myself.  Obviously unintentional…a burn scar from baking blueberry muffins, a scar from when I stabbed my leg from falling onto a picture frame while I was jumping on the couch…you know.

At any rate, there were a lot of wonderful, unexpected moments and not just within the dance itself.  At one point, I was walking in one room that was divided down the middle with a line of book pages and in the very center of the room was a bathtub with a few votive candles.  While I approached from one side of the room, staring downward, so did another figure except from the opposite side, on the other side of the book page line.  We were both looking down into the bathtub and when we looked up, lo and behold it was my dear friend Svetlana.  It was really neat to experience such a serendipitous moment with her in an unfamiliar setting and in that moment I really felt a transcendence from audience to participant.  Later on this would be further emphasized when I was kicked in the elbow by one of the dancers…but I probably deserved it because of my Coyote-inspired thoughts earlier in the evening.  Karma’s no fool…but I am.

It was around that time that the dancers were divided into a duet and a trio, which again was the audience’s choice to view as they pleased.  I had no idea the trio was even taking place until the duet was finished so I only caught a few glimpses, before they all converged in the “window pane/branch-stone effigy room.”  There, the dancing became more visceral with familiar shapes and physicality.  The once scattered soloists that developed into a duet and trio had now found its apex in this room, dancing with strong relationships to each other by grasping hands and weaving between each other or lifting one another onto each other’s shoulders.  Chaos found a rhythm and at one point they formed a circle and my brain, which so naturally organizes things with meticulous detail had its “Hallelujah!” moment.  I also enjoyed the shadow play (thanks to great lighting design by David Covey), because not only did the shadows provide extra movement, what interested me the most was the contrast between stronger shadows and more diffuse ones and how that changes the relationships between the shadows and yet the relationships between the people remained the same.  One dancer, who I shall call the “destructive force” was intensified at some points by the monstrosity and strength of his shadow, while others were meeker.

I wish  I could recommend attendance of this event, but unfortunately I had gone to the last showing so it’s over.  However, one of the dancers told me that she and James will be performing a duet at the Judson Memorial Church (in New York) on March 22nd.  Other works will be presented and there is also a post performance discussion with Deborah Jowitt.  It’s free, so why not go?  I always love to see modern dances because they teach me just as much about myself as do the styles of dance that appeal to me with more ease.  As much as I love to indulge my sense of humor, it’s healthy to learn or remind myself of other emotions I can feel.

Yay modern.

Merce Cunningham: the Legacy Tour

13 Feb

Tonight was the inaugural performance of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s Legacy Tour, which will travel the world (Rome is next, according to the salesman from whom I bought a couple of postcards) performing works from Merce Cunningham’s repertory of modern dances.  I was so honored to be in the audience tonight; to see MCDC perform live for the very first time, to be a tiny part of this historic tour and most of all, honored to have seen Cunningham choreography.  It was a very special occasion (even though I didn’t have time to eat dinner and was starving throughout the show…which I didn’t really notice until after it was over), highlighted by a preperformance talk with Ohio State University’s very own, Karen Eliot (a former dancer with the company) and David Covey (former lighting director) as well as a question and answer session with a couple of the dancers, David Vaughan, the company’s archivist and…a guy with a mustache (regrettably, I didn’t catch his name or role with the company).  There were even showings of Tacita Dean’s Craneway Event earlier in the day (which unfortunately I missed…I had no idea they were even happening) so it was quite the exhaustive Cunningham crash course.  And I was loving every moment (and not missing watching the 2010 Olympic opening ceremonies!).

During the preperformance talk, Karen gave a speech about her experiences as a dancer for the company and it was evident that there was a lot of love and passion for what she learned during that time.  She told us that there was no right way to be an audience member for a Cunningham dance; she would find moments where she would laugh at the way a certain gesture was done but on the other end of the spectrum every Cunningham dance she sees brings her to tears.  She may not have been dancing on stage that night, but she was radiant; it’s so rare to see someone who is so deeply integrated into something they love.  Plenty of people can tell you “dance is the very fiber of my being,” but when it comes to Karen you really believe it to an extent that never occurred to you before and that alone is a precious gift.

David Covey followed with a few anecdotes of his time with Cunningham, from a whirlwind acceptance of the job to the one and only time Cunningham ever imparted his opinion on the lighting design of a piece.  David stressed that Cunningham always placed complete trust in his collaborators and never asked for anything, which is why his one request for David was so unusual.  He asked David to come to the studio at a particular hour, when the sun reflected off the Hudson River and right into the studio, illuminating primary colors on the walls.  Cunningham needed him to see that and while Cunningham normally sat onstage while directing his company in rehearsals, for this particular piece he actually went into the audience to watch, turned to David and gave him three claps of approval.  I wish I could retell the story as he originally did…it was really beautiful.

So then it was time for the show.  Now I have to preface by saying that I was a little apprehensive as to how I would react to Cunningham works.  I’ve always known that for me, dance is symbiotic with music.  In fact, as a wannabe dancer I rely on music.  In class I always do what the music tells me to do (which sometimes disagrees with the teacher).  When it comes to timing or imagining a character or wearing a certain facial expression it’s as though the voice of the music speaks to me and I just know what to do.  However, although Cunningham of course used music he had a much different approach.  His dancers rehearse in silence and then music is applied for the actual performance.  The thought terrifies me…but now having seen how the elements can come together, Cunningham has silently put a fork in the road ahead of me.  Should I stay true to who I am or seek out what I understand the least?  In the end, there is no right answer but there is always the choice to make.

The two pieces for the program tonight were Crises and Split SidesCrises was originally performed in 1960 and reconstructed within the past decade to enter the repertory again.  Dancers were dressed in solid colored unitards in red, orange and yellow, in sharp contrast to the plain black stage.  I found myself lost in the music, a sort of rambling of piano works with intermittent recognizable rhythms…and it turns out I was okay with it.  I wasn’t lost in it as I would be say, a Chopin Nocturne, but the cascading piano notes sort of relieved any sense of time and the piece was really a lot like daydreaming.  Karen had seen the piece before and told us it reminded her of human relationships, with elastic bands binding dancers to each other and representing the invisible ties two people have between them.  Her ideas were supported by the way pairs of dancers would manipulate each other and what I found the most intriguing was how unbiased the choreography was.  Some relationships were erotic, others playful, but there were no signs of judgment to tell us which actions were favorable or not.  This idea was emphasized by how Cunningham used ballet vocabulary and lines; the lines and steps were there but there was no intention of telling the audience that such lines were beautiful or a high leg extension was virtuosic…merely present.  I was fascinated by how he was able to strip ballet of its prettiness without making it or even the anti-balletic movements adverse.  The choreography had a pure neutrality that simply said it existed.  I felt the whole experience was beautiful, but definitely not in the same sense as going to see a classical ballet (although one woman did a series of stepping onto relevé in a parallel first position and would hold it; it was incredible in ways I have never imagined).

Split Sides was a piece that utilized one of Cunningham’s most famous tactics, randomization.  A few preselected audience members rolled dice to determine various aspects of the dance tonight.  This is absolutely crazy (in an extraordinary way) to me, because I can’t imagine not knowing exactly what would be performed and then finding out right after intermission.  But the dancers said in the Q&A that they were used to rehearsing both A-B and B-A, so it wasn’t a problem at all (one even said it was exhilarating.  I would stress out until my hair turned white).  So there were two different dances, two different pieces of music, two different sets of costumes (one set in black and white sort of violent paint splatters, the other being sunset tones with black accents), two different backdrops (one a washed out cityscape in cool blues and purples, the other an abstract forest with a suspended full moon) and then two sets of lighting cues.  It would be difficult (if not impossible) to really review or describe this piece because chances are it will be different for anyone else who sees it…but for the way it worked tonight, I surprisingly found myself moved by the very end when one dancer left the stage moving in a peculiar way, to music that didn’t really fit the moment…I likened it to when someone dies young.  It was the same feeling of unfulfillment…not just wanting to see more for the sake of seeing more but the tragic understanding that a finite end has come, without reason.  It was truly remarkable to see the way in which the five elements crystallized before us and to me it spoke again of Cunningham’s extrinisicality towards biases and preconceived ideas.  The fact that all parts of the production were equal, with none of them having anything to do with each other until the dance itself is performed (i.e. dancers rehearsing silence, lighting directors being left to their own devises, etc.) made me feel as though I were watching choreographed life itself.  The elements were separate, but equal, incidental and yet on occasion harmonious.  Life itself is a string of unrelated events that have no meaning and yet they do when we decide to attach that meaning.  Cunningham merely provided the series of events while I attached the meaning.  It was very empowering, which is the magic of being an audience member of a Cunningham dance.

I almost feel like it was quite an accomplishment to have experienced, learned and enjoyed so much in one night…I’m still kind of processing things.  But the obvious should be clear; if the Legacy Tour comes to a city near you, I highly recommend that that you attend!  That’s it…just go.

The Merce Cunningham Dance Company in Split Sides. Photo credit: Tony Dougherty

To download a complete schedule of the Legacy Tour, be sure to check out the Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s website.

Perspective on Winter Perspective

12 Feb

To kick off the pre-weekend, I attended Winter Perspective, the MFA concert for four graduate students of Ohio State University’s Department of Dance.  The concert featured Romantic era ballet solos made famous by the legendary Fanny Elssler, restaged from hieroglyphics (labanotation…you say tomato, I say tomato) as well as contemporary works also staged from notation score.  After intermission (during which I foolishly abstained from using the restroom…it was almost as bad as the time I had a twelve hour flight from Tokyo to Washington D.C. and had the “coveted” window seat, except the ogre man next to me in the aisle seat was approximately fifty feet tall and slept like a baby during the whole flight.  His wall of legs meant that I would have to crawl over him or wake him, neither of which I had the courage to do, so I held it and almost died.), the second act featured brand new works by OSU faculty and graduate students.  Plenty of variety, plenty of good times.

When one thinks of Romantic ballet, the concept is pretty much dominated by Giselle and La Sylphide, or even the dynamic duo of Cesare Pugni (the composer) and Jules Perrot’s (the choreographer) Ondine, ou La naïade (the Frederick Ashton/Hanz Werner Henze Ondine for the Royal Ballet came much later, while Perrot/Pugni’s has been lost.  Pierre Lacotte “reconstructed” Perrot’s Ondine for the Mariinsky, but if it’s anything like his “reconstruction” of Paul Taglioni’s La Sylphide, it’s too grounded in modern technique and most likely an unfortunately inaccurate interpretation of what the ballet could have looked like.  At least we get to hear Pugni’s score for Ondine though).  The title roles for La Sylphide, Giselle and Ondine are all fairies and ghosts, roles that would define the careers of the great Romantic ballerinas such as Carlotta Grisi (the first Giselle), Marie Taglioni (the first Sylphide), Fanny Cerrito and Lucille Grahn (the first Bournonville Sylphide).  Together with Elssler they were the fab five, but Elssler was missing from that picture of her own accord; she had a different style that contrasted greatly with the ethereal qualities of the others.  Elssler even declined to participate in a Perrot/Pugni ballet that Perrot choreographed on the superstars of the time, which would come to be known as simply Pas de Quatre.  Facts aside, Elssler was pretty bad ass for sticking to her guns.

Two character solos were performed, the first being a Polish folk dance entitled La Cracovienne, from Joseph Mazilier’s La Gypsy, complete with boot spurs and snakelike braids down to knee level and La Cachucha, from Jean Coralli’s Le Diable boiteaux.  Both had intricate footwork and a lot of articulation through the ankle and top of the foot in particular.  It looked…hard…I mean, I’m sure it was hard too but to be able to soften through the ankle and move in and out of a fully lengthened foot is not as simple as one would think.  I liked La Cachucha in particular though because it had stronger rhythms that were emphasized by stomping on the heels and castanets.  These dances sort of touched on what made Elssler different, which was an earthier robustness as opposed to light and fluttery.  I think appreciating Elssler’s contribution to Romantic ballet is important in order to understand what else was going on at the time and what wasn’t necessarily mainstream (incidentally, La Cachucha is on YouTube for anyone interested…but I would recommend going to see the remaining shows of Winter Perspective this weekend if you’re in Columbus!).  Regardless, Elssler was wildly famous and toured all throughout Europe, making buckets of cash (almost sounds like she was freelance).  Told you she was bad ass.

Fanny Elssler as Florinda in La Cachucha

So what else…a modern solo dealing with death and another ballet solo, also dealing with death.  The ballet solo was from Antony Tudor’s Dark Elegies, which dealt with a community in mourning (I *think* they were portraying Mennonites…but I always get that kind of stuff wrong) with the soloist surrounded by members of the community who are there passively, merely to provide solace.  I’m not too familiar with Tudor works, but from what I’m reading quickly online and in the program notes he’s sort of championed for exploring “psychological realism.”  I’m not sure I can put into words how I felt about the piece (except that I was definitely feeling I needed to see more), but I liked the coldness of it.  It’s rather stark, and for some it’s a reminder that with mourning comes a sense of isolation, in that nobody else could truly understand your relationship with the deceased.  They’re there, with you, but still distant.  Or perhaps they are the ones who are there and you are the one who is distant.

Next was intermission and then three premieres.  The first, Artemis and Aphrodite in the Garden of Give and Take, choreographed by Melanie Bales on Karena and Jolene, both of whom were fittingly, classics majors as undergrads.  I like to dabble in mythology so I really enjoyed this piece, with Artemis as the bully and Aphrodite as the sweetheart.  It was even reflected in their body language, like during certain unison phrases Aphrodite dances with more an open chest and subtle épaulement while Artemis is much stiffer in the shoulders (and why wouldn’t she be?  Girl is the goddess of CHASTITY…that’s no fun).  It was very much in the character of the goddesses, with Aphrodite being rather naïve, dancing with her golden apple (how soon she forgets that she STARTED THE TROJAN WAR because of that thing).  At any rate, this piece helped inspire a most magnanimous “MFA Project Gift,” where I bought for my friends, three items.  And here’s the secret to gift giving…first, you must begin with three items because good things come in threes.  Here’s my formula:

  1. One item must be universally appreciated. (in this case, flowers…because dancers get flowers.  Something about the ephemerality of cut flowers and a performance, methinks)
  2. One item must be edible. (in this case, I attached a Cheryl & Co. cookie to the gift, because bows are stupid)
  3. Then, and only then have you earned the right to make the last item something you wish to impart to them. (this time it was the novel Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips, SO perfectly appropriate for the situation at hand.  Except Karena already read it…which I knew going in there was a chance she had because she reads everything…but OWN it, she did not)

Oh and handmade cards of low quality are not necessary but highly recommended.  I made a one of a kind card where a pair of giant ballerina legs in pointe shoes were standing on the Sydney Harbor, like the Colossus of Rhodes and the other side was a picture of a dancer holding a giant point shoe, a reference to Sisyphus.  All it takes is some old magazines and a pair of scissors.  Sometimes…I think I’m brilliant.

Back to the concert, the conclusive piece was a somewhat long, but intriguing modern dance, with a series of vignettes that at first I didn’t quite understand.  The music choices and styles of movement for each section seemed disjointed to me, but then I heard from one of the dancers that it was the story of the choreographer’s life, divided into decades, with each person representing an influential figure in the choreographer’s life.  NOW, it all makes sense.  One of the decades was a beautiful pas de deux that was so poetic…I was very moved.

I have much more to say on that dance as well as other pieces that appeared in the concert (one SWEET modern piece with these portable lights that really played with dimensional movement through shadows and due to its unpredictable nature is probably different every night), but really if you’re in Columbus, you should brave the arctic tundra and go to one of the remaining two shows (2/13 at 8pm and 2/14 at 2pm for a matinee, in Sullivant Theater).  I hope I’ve previewed enough to make you hungry to see them…or hungry for a Cheryl & Co. cookie.  Mine today was a buttercream frosted chocolate and peanut butter.

What are YOU doing here?

29 Dec

Well I hope everyone enjoyed their holidays!  Still got New Years coming up (one of my personal favorites) but now we’ve entered that lull of wondering what we should do with ourselves until then.  Me, I didn’t really get anything on my wishlist although there’s still hope for the tote bag…assuming I actually buy it for myself.  Which, I may very well end up doing because I’m making a lot of trips to the library these days and need something to carry books and such in.  They have some plastic bags, but I try not to use them in order to be eco-friendly (you bet I watched Captain Planet when I was a kid), and I’m always afraid I’m going to drop something in the parking lot.  Now that it’s actually starting to snow a bit, the likelihood of such an event increases in probability by much more than I would care to share.  For whatever reason, my ability to dance in the studio does not translate to the mundane movements of life.

‘Tis the season though, for going into bakeries and eating little yum-yums and not give a damn about whether they’re good for you or not and burrowing into blankets to read a good book.  I like wedding cake (the cookies, not actual wedding cake…and I still don’t understand why/how they are called both Italian wedding cookies and Mexican wedding cookies.  That has to be the coincidence of the eon for them to emerge simultaneously in vastly different parts of the world.), gingerbread men and white-fudge dipped Oreos.  Pattycake Bakery, a Vegan bakery here in Columbus (and for the record I am not vegan, but I like to try new things) also makes good sugar cookies, which I bought a few dreidel shaped ones for friends.  I’m pretty sure that during the month of December, these items have zero calories.  However, snacking often goes hand in hand with reading for me (it seems like the most opportune time), hence my trips to the library as well as Half Price Books, a somewhat national chain that sells cheap books.  Some say it’s a pain that they have no computer inventory, but I love wandering through the store looking for some old but not ancient book, with dated photos and even the favored fonts of the time.  Naturally, I gravitate towards the dance/performing arts section and unsurprisingly my latest purchase includes Joan Lawson’s A Ballet-Maker’s Handbook (published in 1991.  Old, but not ancient).  While I normally try to avoid the “How to…” type of book, I was wildly entertained by this find…here’s to hoping it turns out to be a gem.

But it’s funny how dance permeates other spheres in life and this happened when I made my way over to the ancient history/mythology section like you do.  I was browsing the books on mythology which ranged from textbooks students had dumped for cash (not that I blame them) as well as one book that included a personal message from a “Jenefyr” telling a boy whose name I’ve forgotten, that she wanted him to have this special book forever.  During my perusing rituals, I can immediately identify two things…can it be?  Why yes, the female variation from Walpurgisnacht, followed by Mozart’s aria from The Magic Flute, Der Hölle Rache.  Both little diddies are easily recognizable to a certain populace (we know who we are) and I have to say that I took a brazen moment to bask in my geekiness, a new level that can only be achieved when reading up on Greek mythology in an discount book store with no computerized inventory system, while ballet and opera music you can name plays in the background.  If this is a typical day for you, then you are far geekier than I.  Hats off to you…I can only attempt to approach such nobility.

Anyway, I was flipping through Mark P.O. Morford/Robert J. Lenardon’s eighth edition of Classical Mythology, looking through the indices (I’m currently reading up on the myth of Niobe…note to self: don’t trash talk Leto) and what do I see…Fokine, Michel.  Of course I jumped the gun and thought “what the hell is Fokine doing in a Greek mythology book?” but of course he had his reasons (as thin as the mention itself was), as Morford/Lenardon devote the final chapter to the survival of mythology through music, dance and film.  It’s a very brief survey of different works that is much too brief and yet still pretty substantial.  Most of the thorough examples are in American dance and unfortunately they glaze over classics-inspired dances overseas, with the glaring omission being Ashton’s Sylvia.  I guess one could put in an argument Symphonic Variations as well, although I can forgive that because how could anyone possibly expect them to have even SEEN it and it’s also possible to argue that some of the imagery in Symphonic Variations is inspired moreso by Greek art as opposed to the mythology itself.  I guess we’ll never know…BUT, it turns out Lenardon is actually professor emeritus of classics at Ohio State!  Small world!  I’ve found his OSU e-mail and I’m quite tempted to write him a letter telling him about Sylvia (OSU’s library has copies of the DVD as well…score!), as his short bio states that “the afterlife of classical subjects and themes in literature, music, film, and dance have also become favorite areas of teaching and research.”  Chances are he may have even written the majority of the final chapters if that’s the case.  I only hesitate because I haven’t watched Sylvia myself, read Aminta the play by Torquato Tasso and I’d feel like stupid if someone has already informed him about the ballet (or if the omission was intentional!).  Not to mention the fact as an amateur enthusiast for the classics, he would probably start saying a lot of things I wouldn’t understand.  The DVD and play I can take care of this week…but whether I should write to him or not?  Undecided.

At any rate, while not specifically a dance related book, I’m always amused how dance osmoses into other things in life…well, the important things anyway.  Sadly, osmosifies is not a word, but Classical Mythology is a thorough reference source and of course I’d recommend it just for the dance portion alone, but I find it interesting nonetheless.  As far as the section on dance is concerned, the authors focus mostly on Greek classical themes in American modern dance, speaking very favorably of Isadora Duncan, Ted Shawn and Ruth St. Denis, and Martha Graham.  Graham’s Night Journey (which I have seen thanks to Dance 161) gets its own special page and everything.  Of course he includes Balanchine’s Apollo, Orpheus and Agon (which I never knew was intended to be a triad of Greek works for NYCB) as well as Nijinsky’s L’Après-midi d’un faune (Afternoon of a Faun) and Vaganova’s Diana and Acteon.  Of the other works listed the one I want to see the most is Graeme Murphy’s Daphnis and Chloe, based on the novel by Longus and choreographed for the Sydney Dance Company.  Maurice Ravel’s score of the same name is stunning, gorgeous, immensely pleasing to the ear and calls for alto flute!  Hardly anything has a part for alto flute!

At any rate, it is a textbook though, so not really something you take with you to read on a beach, but it always seems like a good idea to have a comprehensive and concise source on Greek myths.  I’m just now realizing the scope of what it means to be reading a textbook for entertainment…but whatever.  Here are excerpts from specific performances that the book takes great care to mention, which are Martha Graham and Bertram Ross in Night Journey and Rudolf Nureyev and Svetlana Berisova in his revival of Diana and Acteon.

Rodrigo y Gabriela por favor

28 Nov

Yeek!  So the holidays and visiting friends has made my posts scattered this month.  I would love to return to a sense of normalcy, but December isn’t exactly the most stable month of the year either.  I’ll try though…not that it matters to anyone else, but I get annoyed when I’m spastic because that’s my natural tendency and I struggle with consistency in…well, life, so it’s something I try to work on for myself.  I’ve got a new bunch of new DVD’s on reserve at the library (I also caved and bought the Royal Ballet’s new production of Manon on DVD so that should be arriving any day now…Rojo save us!), but I’m actually in the mood for a music post today.

I’d like to highlight a duo, Rodrigo y Gabriela.  If you follow me on twitter, they are the only group I ever tweet for musicmondays, mostly because I’m pretty sure the majority of people wouldn’t be amused by a tweet like “Leonard Bernstein, Jeremiah Symphony! #musicmonday” or “Emil von Sauer, Piano Concerto no.1 KICKS ASS #musicmonday” and anything remotely recent I listen to people already know about.  But Rodrigo y Gabriela are somewhat obscure, but have a sound most people would enjoy, and as a result they’re gaining popularity in mainstream American media with appearances on late night talk shows and the like (like all good things, Europe appreciated them first).  I however, have been a fan for five or six years now, since the release of Re-Foc, the rerelease of their first album Foc.  I know what you’re thinking…and yes I have impeccable taste, but that’s beside the point.  The duo is lead by Rodrigo Sánchez on lead guitar and Gabriela Quintero on the rhythm guitar (with the occasional guest on another instrument).  They have sort of a flamenco-ish style with latin rhythms and are AMAZING.  I can’t tell you how obsessively I listen to their albums, and they do a fantastic job of having their own, original style, performing compositions they wrote themselves as well as covers.

It was funny looking for dances to their music because there wasn’t very much, but what did turn up was eclectic to say the least.  Who could have envisioned this music would be used for Irish stepdance, breakdance and…jazz/lyrical/modern?  (I hate to say “contemporary” because that was kind of coined by SYTYCD, so I’ll call it “jalyrimo.”)  It’s an odd assortment of styles, but I love to see that because I think it speaks volumes as to the universal appeal of Rodrigo y Gabriela’s music.  Weird, maybe…but it’s incredulously wonderful that so many people have been inspired by them in their own way, and translated that inspiration into their own language of dance.  It’s also great because it breaks this image that Irish dance has to be to Irish music, or that break dance has to be to hip hop, etc.  I don’t think jalyrimo should be one of the select dance forms that’s allowed to experiment with different musical genres.

Without further ado, we have a piece titled Chorine, choreographed by Nicholas Yenson for a BA exam at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance (sounds prestigious to me!).  The piece is danced to Diem, which coincidentally is my favorite track from Re-Foc.  There’s a break in the middle of the song where it just gets in your face and the rhythm is so heavy it’s like you can feel your heart matching the beat.  It is literally impossible to walk while listening to this song on your ipod and not have this insatiable urge to move, and especially at that big feature moment (which is where Yenson performs his solo).  If you don’t have that urge…well, there’s probably something wrong with you.  I can’t really comment on the dance itself, because I don’t really know anything about Irish dance (I have seen Riverdance live though…that was a thrill!), but nonetheless I really enjoyed the performance, so bravo!

Next is another dance form I really can’t (and shouldn’t comment on) which is break dance, set to Diablo Rojo from Rodrigo y Gabriela’s self-titled album.  Double-coincidentally, Diablo Rojo happens to be my favorite track from the second album, with Juan Loco in a close second.  I like the driving, fast and furious music, although it should be known that they do great slower, sort of loungey music as well that’s great to relax to.  You definitely get your money’s worth with a purchase of any of their albums.  Breakdance to Diablo Rojo was actually a really big (and pleasant) surprise for me because it was really unexpected.  The piece (no title as far as I can tell) was performed by the break dance club of Leeds University, for an annual dance show they put on towards the end of the year.  From what I can gather, there are other student clubs including a Modern Dance Society that offer dance classes and then put on an annual show.  I don’t know whether Leeds has a dance department or not (it appears they do), but I’m very impressed that student run organizations put together an annual show and surely have lighting/tech rehearsals, costuming and the like.  Anyway, breakdance isn’t exactly my favorite genre (it’s not that I hate it, it’s just not my thing) but this piece actually gets my “pick of the day” seal of approval, for choosing unconventional music for breaking.  It was fun to watch!

Last is jalyrimo, one of them being a complete piece and the other being just some rough phrases, both set to Orion (a Metallica cover), also from the self-titled album.  Orion doesn’t have as much pace as Diem or Diablo Rojo, and is a little more steady and loose which aptly fits the jalyrimo style.  I’m not surprised two choreographers decided to pick the same song, and I’m sure they wouldn’t be either.  The staged performance, Subito, poco a poco, choreographed by Cara Scrementi appears to be at one of the Loyola Universities, so Rodrigo y Gabriela’s music is making its way into the American dance scene.  In Subito, the choreographer intended to include movements that looked like they were being controlled by external forces, which really came through about a 1:20 in, where there these hunched over leg kicks that flick out of nowhere.  Complete opposite from the whooshy, lifted grand battement of ballet.  I think the piece could have been a little more daring if the intent was to “take control of forced movement,” like there’s a part in the middle where the dancers are doing turning leaps into rolls on the ground in a circle, and it seemed a little too geometric to me.  I think the fact that the exact same phrase was repeated in the opposite direction is what made it so mathematical, and I found myself craving a little spontanaeity.  Nevertheless, excellent work.

Rodrigo y Gabriela’s latest album, 11:11 was just released this autumn so it would be unreasonable to expect a dance to any of the tracks already, but I hope we see more in the future.  The concept behind the album is really cool, as each track is specifically dedicated to a musical artist that inspired them.  My favorites include Hanuman (dedicated to Carlos Santana), Buster Voodoo (dedicated to Jimi Hendrix), Triveni (dedicated to Le Trio Joubran), Savitri (dedicated to John McLaughlin),  Hora Zero (dedicated to Astor Piazzolla) and Atman (dedicated to Dimebag Derrell).  I’ve got a lot of favorites on this album, and in my humble opinion it’s their best work yet, with amazing potential for great dances.  A lot of their songs in this album have some bite to them, so choreographers who want something with an edge to it, get on this!  The whole thing is so damn good, that I must insit on  HIGHLY recommending it.  If there were a term that was above “highly recommended” but just short of “mandatory” while still being suggestive with urgency, that’s the word I would use.

Title-ating

21 Nov

I went to another Ohio State University show this night, with the unimaginative title of Resident and Visiting Artists Dance Concert.  But there’s something to be said for a title that just tells you what it is in a few words, unfettered by flourishes trying to express some idea.  Unfortunately I was running late (not a surprise) so I missed getting into the theatre for the first piece and had to watch through a door window.  As a result of my tardiness, I also did not get a program, so as I did with the show earlier, I am going into this review with no information, no ideas, and no titles to clue me in on anything.  But there’s something to be said for that too…the idea of viewing a dance with no expectations (literally).  So it looks like I’m going to have to make up my own titles, although my reactions are of course always my own, and you better believe I believe that we are all entitled to that.  Could renaming the dances for my own purposes be potentially offensive to their respective choreographers?  Maybe…maybe not…it’s not really my problem.

I won’t review every piece (C-bus people should really go see the show on their own…it’s a really good show), just a few highlights of the group numbers to entice the imagination.  The first piece I saw through the window looked really interesting…mathematical formations, Earthy-brown costumes and lots of prayerish gesturing.  And prayer beads.  I shall call it, Goddess Hymn.  Svetlana was actually in the piece so I was mad at myself for missing the direct experience, but she had significant phrases stage left, which was the only side I could see so the glass was half full.  From what I could tell, all of the dancers were female (like that’s a surprise), but the music had soothing female vocals as well.  It was very much a “dance,” with codified movement like arabesque turns, chaînés and grand battements, and yet it was structured in such a way that gave it a real spirituality.  I don’t know if it was specific to any religion, but it felt specific to the sensations of spirituality.  I am not religious (when you have a Catholic father and a Buddhist mother, the last thing you want is more religion!), but I do consider myself somewhat spiritual.  If anything, I say yay Daoism…go with the flow and don’t ask questions because those who know the Dao don’t actually know it.  But the point is, when I see something in nature that pleases me, like a beautiful starscape or a simple oak tree, a certain feeling of spirituality is invoked because I believe those things to be spiritual, and that was something I felt a twinge of while watching this dance.

The piece right after it…er, I think…was Into the Æther (I’ve always wanted to use that symbol), and it was painted in varying shades of cool blues and set to a heinous violin soundtrack.  Like sustained, dissident notes that reminded me of one of my worst fears, which is dying in the vacuum of space.  I’ve never had nightmares of drowning or being burned alive, but somehow the image of my body floating in space is something I’ve unpleasantly dreamt of and fear for no logical reason (as if, I would ever go into space!).  Of course, the music is genius depending on who you are, but we all know me.  At the very least, the music was used effectively.  This piece had a lot of dancers doing some very turbulent and aggressive movement, synching in and out and constantly changing tempo.  This is why I was really getting the image of the sky, because to me, the sky is something scattered, especially as you get further away from Earth, oxygen and other gases become increasingly diffuse.  And yet the sky has this awesome power, arguably the most formidable influence on Earth, but it is a power that can neither be sustained nor harnesses.  It can only conglomerate and dissipate, with no will of its own.  At one point the dancers are following each other in a sinuous line like a current of air, following the same path but not in the same way, and another moment they’re all twitching before crystallizing into a certain pose, like snowflakes, and then evaporating into shapeless vapor.  It was all very atmospheric to me and the creative distance to which one is willing to go in modern dance has to be dependent upon how far into the exosphere one’s imagination goes…too bad neither distance is measurable.  It certainly gives new meaning to the phrase “head in the clouds.”

Me?  I like it terrestrial, with my feet firmly planted on mother Earth.  Hence, simple interpretations and a devout love for ballet.  And there was a touch of that, in a screwball, theatrical staging of a work set to Saint-Saëns’ The Carnival of the Animals.  Despite a nefarious decision to exclude the Aquarium movement (which I can only assume is a personal attack on my integrity), this was the action-packed and comical Looney Tunes performance to the classically romantic music.  I’m not kidding…there was a classic “search” scene, complete with exaggeratedly cautious steps and binoculars, a scene with dynamite, and a Scooby-Doo style chase for the finale.  But it wasn’t just people portraying animals, because there was a turning of the tables as well because most of the characters were actually human.  So it was really like a commentary on the animalistic characteristics of people…or, people, portraying animals, pretending to be people.  You’ll have to choose your own adventure I’m afraid.  With Aquarium absent, Fossils was my favorite musically, and the premise for it was a crotchety ballet teacher, who I shall call Madame Jelena Danyushka Baraksanova, and she basically dictates a class, without words in her old school way.  Of course The Swan was included, and paid tribute to Fokine’s Dying Swan, but with the dancer *ahem* as a child, who can barely walk on pointe, and has epic stage fright, which can only be resolved by a colossal, rainbow colored lollipop.  By the end she does evolve into the more familiar swan, complete with bourées and undulating arms, but instead of the tragic end where the swan settles into that pose on the floor we all know, laying her head to rest with her final breath to trickling piano notes, this swan gets her lollipop, and we are treated to the image of an undulating tongue.  I’ve never seen a tongue choreographed into a piece before, but there’s certainly a first for everything.  P.S. Tortoises will have you laughing until you can’t breathe.

Anyway it was a fantastic show and C-bussers have one last chance to see it on Saturday, November 21st, 8pm at Sullivant Hall.  And speaking of Sullivant Hall, that building needs to get its act together.  Apparently the swan was even questionable to dance for fears that the ill-supported stage would collapse under the concentrated weight of a dancer on pointe.  First of all, that’s one of the funniest images I could ever think of (up there with a mitten exploding because a cricket set one foot in it when there were already too many animals inside) and second, that stage is ridiculous.  Why it was ever built that way, and why it apparently has no support underneath is beyond me.

Mash-up: A dance version of Glee?

21 Oct

On Monday I started doing pilates again, and it was rough.  I had been doing them every day for a long time, progressed to more advanced exercises, and then after a vacation just couldn’t get back into it.  So there I was, almost eleven months later, starting all over from scratch with the beginner exercises.  It was sad…I’m so weak, so out of shape, and I was annoyed with myself.  But it’s one of those things where you just have to start again and stick with it, because if you obsess over where you used to be, you’re not going to want to try.  At least it was better than the very first time I did pilates, when I REALLY couldn’t do anything.  Things will come back faster, and interestingly enough I think parts of my core that were dormant have been reawakened.  I tried pirouettes just for funsies, and managed okay triples on both sides.  Given, I was wearing socks on a shiny hardwood floor, but I’ll take it!  There was one 3.5 that even stayed on relevé, so I think this is my body’s way of telling me to work out before it deteriorates completely.  Little gifts like triple pirouettes are only a taste of what’s to come, it promises.

Anyway, today is Wednesday, which for me, is ALL about Glee.  It’s no secret that I am completely obsessed with this show, and to a potentially unhealthy degree.  I guess in some ways it’s what I wish my high school experience was like.  Although I was (and never will be) no singer, I was involved in the geekier stuff like band and theatre that attracted bullying and teasing like a cows to an alien tractor beam.  I don’t know if this show will have any lasting effect on that, but it is my greatest hope that someday, something will change the minds of young people who think it’s acceptable to make fun of others based on what they’re passionate about.  I didn’t choose my talents and it was difficult for me to understand why people were so intent on being merciless towards me.  My senior year I was one of the best flute players in the school, and I was constantly mocked for that and many other reasons (being a minority, effeminate, skinny and unathletic…I was the TRIPLE bullseye).  I know what it’s like to be a Rachel or a Kurt (Kurchel?)…to have talents and a personality that few seemed to appreciate and although I never had a slushie thrown in my face I had plenty of cruelties tossed my way.  I’d be lying if I said it didn’t affect me…on the one hand, putting up with all that crap made me headstrong (maaaaaybe stubborn), but I still have plenty of insecurities.  But this can also be attributed to my zodiacs…the Aries in me always says “GO FOR IT!” but those who are born in the Year of the Rat with wood as their element are incredibly insecure people.  It’s a strange dynamic that I have to go through just to make decisions.

It wasn’t until I started dancing (and this was towards the end of university mind you!) that the repair process even began.  It was through dance that I finally started to appreciate the person I am, regardless of whether other people did or not.  This is why I love dance more than life itself and Glee almost as much as I love dance.  However, as much as I love both, I can’t see them mixing very well.  I don’t think a dance version of Glee would work out, for a couple of reasons.  First, being on the dance team doesn’t qualify as geeky.  Second, and the most important, is that people who sing can come from many different backgrounds, which is the same in dance, but with singing, the uniting force is language, and the spoken (er…sung?) word.  We’re trained as soon as we can make any kind of sound from our mouths to speak a language.  However, the common element between all the different dance forms is movement, which despite being the realm of exploration for modern, is much more obscure because most of us aren’t taught to “speak movement” so intensively.  This is why I feel an appreciation for dance is so necessary for a healthy, balanced life.  Just as one should know how to read, so should they know how to observe communication through dance.  It’s no wonder people often show up to their first dance class, a completely insecure wreck, because they’re so out of touch with their bodies.  Dance/movement training should be incorporated a lot more into schools methinks…I went to public school and we never had anything like that.  But dance education is a completely different beast, for another day.

Listen to what the cast of Glee had to say about their first dance experiences:

This begs the question though of why is dance so invisible in mainstream media?  Why is it reduced to the occasional, poorly done stereotype?  It was interesting to me that ballet and New York are kind of synonymous, and yet Veronika Part’s appearance on Letterman just a few months ago was the FIRST time they’ve ever had a ballet dancer.  WHAT?!?  Really??  We get a few movies here and there, most of them being terrible…why is it so difficult to have a compelling plot involving dance in a movie?  Or why aren’t there any television shows where characters are dancers?  And if there are, why are they always portrayed a certain way?  You know what I mean, there are exaggerated stereotypes, as if being a dancer prevents you from being a socially adjusted human being…like this one episode of Will and Grace where Will was dating a dancer, who said something like “I did a rond de jambe when I meant to grand jeté it was so embarrassing.”  First of all, there is no possible way to make that mistake, and there’s no way a dancer would say that to someone who had no idea what those terms meant.  Boo on you writers, for crossing your fingers and hoping the technical jargon would suffice.  Or how about when that character shows up at Will’s apartment decked in full Nutcracker makeup, jumping up and down at the door, and later on balancés down the sidewalk to catch snowflakes on his tongue.  Professional dancers don’t do that (unless they intend to)!  I do that!  And only because I’m trying to be funny, not because I’m crazy.

It’s about time dance got some decent exposure on television, for what it truly is.  Not as background for music videos, “reality” shows or B-movies.  I wish there was a talk show that invited dancers, choreographers, artistic directors etc. to be interviewed and  allowed audiences to get to know them as people as well as find out more about their upcoming projects.  Kind of like Actor’s Studio, or even better, something laid back like Ellen DeGeneres’ show…and the host should be me because I could use a job.  I’m interested in everything dance, so why not?  Except butoh…sorry, won’t do that again.

And just for fun, Kurt…because we love Kurt.

Danse Homage and the Kristina Isabelle Dance Company, Oct. 16-17

16 Oct

For the first time in months I attended a live dance show (PRAISE BE TO BILLY ELLIOT!), Danse Homage, as presented by the Kristina Isabelle Dance Company (and others).  First I have to say that it felt so good just to be seeing dance on the stage again.  It was a choice between this show and BalletMet’s production of Swan Lake, but I was kind of weirded out when I heard BalletMet had cast two different dancers as Odette and Odile.  Also, when I reserve things from the library I get e-mails that tell me when they’re ready to be picked up, and lo and behold, I got an e-mail yesterday that said a Swan Lake I had reserved was in.  I took it as a sign that I should experience something new and different, because for the most part, Swan Lake is Swan Lake.  Not to mention Columbus is driving me crazy and I spend my days formulating some kind of a plan to get out of here and be anywhere but here, so with that as the theme of life for the time being, I made my choice.  The only mistake of the evening I really made was wearing my skinny jeans, which happen to strangle my fat thighs and restrict my legs from bending too much.

Anyway, the department of dance chair specifically requested that we tweet, call, text, whatever and spread the word about the show, so here’s my leetle contribution.  Kristina Isabelle is a local artist, with a small modern company.  I believe she grew up in the area, is obviously still here (although she earned her BFA from Juilliard) and thus quite invested into the Columbus dance community.  And let me tell you, the Columbus dance community needs her.  Personally, I think it’s kind of dilapidated here (keep in mind I’m getting increasingly bitter, crotchety and anxious to get out by the day), and the survival of dance in Columbus hinges on the Ohio State’s dance department.  Even our major ballet company, BalletMet, is combining with the Cincinnati Ballet to put on Swan Lake.  We just don’t have a lot of resources here, and it kills me.  The arts shouldn’t have to try so hard to survive, which is why this town drives me oh so crazy, because if the arts struggle to survive, I struggle to survive.  Quite simply, without thriving arts, there be no me.  Don’t get me wrong, Columbus has a great art scene…but it’s not enough and I’m wasting away.  Anyway, it’s up to fantastic leadership from a few individuals to ensure that the arts don’t develop a geographic bias.  The work that she’s putting into Columbus is a swim upriver, but she’s doing something great.

The show featured a fair variety of pieces, of course all under the branch of modern movement, although one was on stilts which was rather unusual.  The first piece was more “dancey” in the sense that it was superhuman and unearthly.  The colors of the costumes were reminiscent of celestial bodies in the universe, and the movement was sensuous with lots of undulations and intimate lifts, but without being skanky.  Then there was a solo…kind of prototypical modern: square spotlights, really aggressive, thrown movements, and technologified mixed sounds for the soundtrack.  Basically the kind of stuff that weirds me out with its intensity, but that’s my nature.  The namesake of the company performed the solo, and she is perhaps one of the fittest women in the world, but when people get in my face, I tend to withdraw.  But that’s me.  Third piece was a male solo on stilts, which scare the crap out of me because I always envision a grape or an olive rolling in front of someone on stilts and then they take a nasty fall.  I don’t know why I can’t get that image out of my head, but stilts freak me out.  Innovative, and I was taking it very literally and getting this injured and angry heron vibe, as if it were caged and definitely mad about it, but had I read the program, I would have known that it was based on Saint Sebastian.  I’m an idiot.  Moving on, the fourth piece featured young dancers from Columbus Dance Theater (but choreographed by Isabelle, again showing her involvement), and watching them made me feel like I was forty years old.  So young.  I think it was a great opportunity for those kids to experience modern dance so early in their dance careers.  Unfortunately I believe Saturday’s show will feature a different piece instead of this one, with everything else remaining the same.  So if anyone in Columbus is interested in seeing the show, Saturday will not have this.

Now the third piece, to Tchaikovsky!  Be still my beating heart!  It was interesting, because there’s moments in the piece where the dancers were scratching themselves furiously, and scratching is one of those things where if you watch it enough, your brain kind of creates an imaginary itch and all of a sudden you find yourself needing to alleviate yourself.  The costumes were pedestrian clothes, the movement more organic and human in nature, which is interesting when juxtaposed to the structure and lyricism of a Tchaikovsky string quartet.  An different take on the emotion of frustration and after the show I was told that parts of it were…“improvised.”  Heed my warning…one should take care to avoid mentioning “the I word” around me, because it strikes fear in the deepest part of my soul.  There are many things I fear in life, and “the I word” is most defos one of them.  I’m like a deer in the headlights, and I freeze in complete terror.  But this is also a large part of the reason why I respect people who are comfortable with it.  Anyway, the night ended with a piece that was…I hate to say, on the long side, but there was an unusual interactive feature where someone in the audience got to choose several pieces of music and the order in which they would be performed.  That’s kind of cool.  However, personally, I prefer continuity in a dance, and the last piece was very disjointed (a perfectly fine artistic choice) and I lose focus.  You’d think the attention span of a squirrel would help in this instance, but it actually makes it worse.  There were a lot of different styles, personalities, solos, group dances…it was a lot like channel surfing, but when I channel surf, I don’t get anything out of it, because all I concern myself with is wherever I stop.

So if you’re in Columbus, please check out their second show on Saturday, October 17th, 8pm at Sullivant Theater.  Be sure to check out the Kristina Isabelle Dance Company’s website as well, if you’d like to know more about their company, her background, etc.  It’s really important that we support local artists, because as I always say, pyramids are built from the bottom up.  No matter which dance artists you think are the best in the world, there is a myriad of bricks on the bottom, many of them unseen, doing hard work to hold them up there, and they need recognition too!

Cracking pigeons are harder than pirouettes Ohio State meatballs

8 Oct

I’ve been really distracted lately, and have too many things on my mind to do a full entry on a single topic because my brain keeps burning out.  So I thought I’d do an easy “search terms” day, to analyze how people are finding this blog and give my take on the topics random people are mulling.

1. Foot joints never stop cracking

Ah yes…the story of my life.  This however, is one of those things that everybody seems to have different opinions on as to whether it’s harmful or not.  I find that a lot of people who have had ankle injuries in the past tend to have some kind of permanent “click” whenever they rotate their ankles.  Both of mine do, because I had a pretty bad ankle sprain from playing tennis, reaching for a backhand volley…and maybe it was the adrenaline, but I actually kept playing the point and when I reversed direction to hit a volley on the forehand side I immediately sprained the other ankle.  There are certain talents out there in the world that need no explanation.  I don’t know why they crack now, but my guess is that there were ligaments that got stretched from the sprains and now they roll over the bones differently then they used to.  Some theorize that ligament cracking is bad, and you have to make sure to strengthen surrounding muscles to support your joints.  Some also say that forcing your joints to crack will also stretch the ligaments in the bad way, but I crack my toes and the middle of my foot all the time and I don’t have hyper mobile feet…but those are a different noise, so take from that what you will.

2. Does ballet fix pigeon toe

You know, oddly enough this seems to bring a lot of little kids to ballet, as parents are concerned about them being able to walk properly or whatnot.  It seems logical enough…if it’s turned in, turn it out, but I do wonder what the science behind it is.  I do think that the muscles can be trained in a way so that someone who is pigeon toed can learn to walk in parallel, and it becomes habitual to the body.  I once spoke with someone briefly who talked about doing physical therapy to correct the alignment of her legs/feet because her knees weren’t tracking over her toes so I would think it’s just a matter of building certain muscles and teaching them to move in new ways on a consistent basis.  She also said it was painful though.  It’s also important to note that pigeon toe can have different causes.  I was pigeon toed when I was little, but for me it wasn’t the feet, but the angle of the hips and knees that created an illusion of being pigeon toed, because when I stand with my knees in parallel my feet (the right foot more so than the left) are actually turned out.  My right knee tracks way over the inside of my right foot, and whatever the structure of my hips and knees is, it’s very difficult for me to turn out.  For those that have seen Return of the Jedi, there’s that battle scene between the Imperial army and the Ewoks, and the Ewoks roll a bunch of logs down a hill to trip an AT-ST (All Terrain Scout Transport), commonly known as a chicken walker, and it sort of wobbles for a moment before finally falling down.  That’s kind of how I lumber around sometimes…very Bambi-on-ice.

3. En dehors are harder than en dedans.

Well, to each his own…but for me (and I would think for most dancers) it’s the other way around.  I really struggle with pirouettes en dedans, I think because I still pick up my hip and it just pulls me off my standing leg.  Somehow, en dehors makes more sense to my body, and I can do some doubles and an occasional triple on both sides, but for en dedans I briefly had doubles only on one side but have since found myself in an “en dedans funk” and can barely manage singles.  I can only assume this must be true for many dancers because it seems like when dancers are doing 5, 6, 7+ pirouettes it’s always en dehors.  Although Vladdy-V seemed possibly more comfortable with en dedans, and everybody has things they’re better at so whoever you are, consider yourself lucky!

4. Pirouette into a stop

Now THIS I can tell you about, because I’ve done it once, in my entire life, and you can bet I remember what that felt like.  This all has to do with the strength of the standing leg (which is why when I did it, it was to the left, as my right leg is stronger) and its ability to maintain turnout while the rest of your body is supported on top.  I’ll never forget that day…ok, maybe I don’t remember the exact date but it was in the autumn of 2008, taking ballet in Jessica Zeller’s class, and we were doing enchaînements, and she asked us to do a pirouette and then place in tendu devant, robbing us of the luxury of quickly ending in a fourth position lunge, or shooting down into fifth.  This might have triggered something for me, like bringing my weight forward just a hair to really get on top of my foot, whereas a fourth position lunge makes us think “behind me” and might encourage too much force.  Whatever the reason, I remember being very careful with the plié because I do tend to use too much force, and thought for “shooting for a single, but spot for a double” and that made me do a perfect (if I do say so myself) double pirouette, where I stayed on relevé and SLOWLY lowered to tendu devant.  Jess even praised me and said “that was the most controlled pirouette I’ve ever seen you do” and when Jessica Zeller says that to you, you remember what you did.  Since then, I’ve gotten better, and have some more control, but have been unable to completely restore that moment of blazing glory.  But pirouettes have a very “square-rectangle” relationship in that yes, many people can do a good pirouette that ends in fourth/fifth and look fine, but anyone who really knows how to finish a pirouette is going to be able to finish on relevé or place in a clean fourth/fifth every single time.  So be a square…not a rectangle.  And work on your singles…they are IMO, the hardest pirouette to master (although some argue it’s a turning balance or whatever, blah blah blah.  Discush for another day!)

5. Getting into the Ohio State dance program

This is too funny.  I honestly wouldn’t know (I could make some almost-educated guesses) but I do know a lot of people who could answer this.  For undergrads I think they’re less picky and just look for a strong ability to move, particularly in modern.  For grads they also seem to take on a few ballerinas and “token dancers,” like a tapper, b-boy or the occasional traditional folk dancer (in undergrad too), and that person usually is researching their specialty and getting free reign to design a curriculum for teaching a class, while grads who are specializing in ballet and modern seem to be…”monitored” more closely.  Not that the others slack off by any means…sometimes it SEEMS as though they work a little more independently, especially if they don’t necessarily have a faculty member who specializes in their area of dance.  That’s just my impression…but how to get in?  Uh…be really good.  Good attitudes are also valued…never had a dance teacher I didn’t like, which can’t be a coincidence.  The only gripe I ever had was that jazz didn’t really seem to be on their list of priorities.

6. Best Meatballs in New York

If you find out, let me know.  Whether they’re Swedish, with spaghetti or Chinese “Lion head” (獅子頭), I loves me meatballs.

Rattle me bones

4 Oct

First post of October, one of my favorite months of the year!  I’m also writing this on about two hours of fragmented sleep, which is probably not a good idea and guarantees zero well thought out…content…but you only live once.  I love October because it puts me in the mood for many things…the changing leaves (I’ve always loved the smell of dead, wet leaves), anything involving pumpkins, and All Hallow’s Eve.  It doesn’t really make sense that Halloween would be one of my favorite holidays, considering I don’t go trick-or-treating, attend costume parties, or go to haunted houses, but there’s something about the cheery atmosphere, the symbolic characters, the massive amounts of discounted chocolate (the solution to all problems), and yes, pumpkins.  I do think some aspects of Halloween are pretty lame, and the lengths to which some people will go for costumes is wasteful, but I can’t help but admire the festive spirit.  Plus, one of my favorite memories of one of my best friends occurred on a beggar’s night, when a little child jumped out of a bush and startled her, and without thinking she said “God damn you!”  Good.  Times.

In terms of music, Halloween is ALL about Camille Saint-Saëns Danse Macabre for me, one of my absolute favorite pieces of all time.  Although in a past life I was definitely an orchestra patron who walked out of a Stravinsky concert outraged, I was most defos fascinated by Saint-Saëns.  Most balletomanes would know his name from The Dying Swan set to Le Cygne from Le Carnaval des Animaux.  Although, let it be known that Le Cygne is not my favorite movement, but rather Aquarium and Fossiles are instead.  It’s all a part of my geeky nature…just as I had aspirations to see Carlos Acosta, the Bolshoi Ballet, etc. so do I have aspirations to see certain sea creatures, with whale sharks being the current flavor (it was sea otters before, which was accomplished at the Seattle Aquarium where I bought a magnet).  Whale sharks are going to be tricky though because they’re raised in captivity in far fewer places, most of them in Asia, and I’m banking on my best bet being the Georgia Aquarium, which is also one of the few aquariums to house a manta ray.  Ideally, I would love to dive with whale sharks off the coast of Thailand or Australia, but that’s a much more complicated matter.  Anyway, Saint-Saëns, Aquariums, awesome, Fossiles, wonderful, and the latter quotes Danse Macabre in a major key, bringing us back to the original topic.

People who hang with me are forced to pose with dinosaur bones.  And yes, I've made her do this on more than one occasion.

People who hang with me are forced to pose with dinosaur bones. And yes, I've made her do this on more than one occasion.

I was fortunate to play Danse Macabre as a part of an orchestra, although my favorite arrangement is a chamber version for violin and piano, from the album Devil’s Dance, by Gil Shaham and Jonathon Feldman.  Another great track on there is Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Caprice Fantastique, but the whole album is really good and highly recommended, with endless potential for great dances.  As far as Danse Macabre is concerned, I love the time signature (it’s a waltzy three), and the texture is a bizarre juxtaposition of lyrical and bony…a lot like me, which I guess makes it easy to feel at home with it.  It has an element of playfulness to it that you wouldn’t expect from a dance involving death, and interested in seeing how people would interpret this, I of course carried out my usual excavations through YouTube, this time coming up with three unique interpretations.  The first is a fairly run of the mill “the Wilis have come out to play” group dance called La Melodie, and I have to say that I wasn’t particularly moved.  It was a little too technical and got “stuck” in several places, and although not every dance needs a story, I do think that it should evoke some kind of feeling and it was rather flat.  Are the Wilis happy to be playing?  Or are they somber as they journey into the underworld?  In all fairness, the choreographer mentions that it was their first classical work, but I do wish there was some more risk taking.

Next we have a solo from now San Francisco Ballet principal Tan Yuan Yuan, performing a modern solo entitled “Startling Dream,” and accordingly stiffness in her port de bras and the pencil straight lines of her legs were used as a way to convey the awkwardness of the music itself.  It’s an interesting solo, marred by a heinous competition number fluttering from her leotard.  It doesn’t say who conceived the choreography, but I like the real sense of desperation and terror that we often feel in nightmares.  Interestingly enough, I’m not bothered by the lack of a setting, and I think the all black stage enhances the piece, kind of like a body floating in nothingness, which my nightmares sometimes look like.  And sometimes in those nightmares I’m wearing a high cut leotard too.

Last, is a brilliantly disturbing interpretation by a famous Norwegian choreographer, Kjersti Alveberg.  I looked for a website on her, and her bio alone screams “creative mind” (something about her being a gypsy living in the universe of her unconscious where it matters more “who we are than who we want to be.”  She’s deep…and this coming from someone who takes fortune cookies seriously).  Her Danse Macabre is by far the most imaginative and the most grotesque (maybe even too much…I mean speaking of nightmares, her dance might give me them for a week), and her imagery is so creative…reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil but without the concern for acrobatics and impressing audiences, just pure art.  I think it really touches on an innate morbid curiosity humans have, where you can’t look away no matter how unsettling it can be.  It’s an utterly fascinating video dance, although I was a little disappointed with the very end, because the end of Danse Macabre is a cheeky plucking of two notes, which is one of the moments in the music that I find just a little saucy, and pardon the imagery but it’s like a “giving of the finger” if you know what I mean.  It’s a great moment that was purposely edited out, but I have to question that decision.  Tan Yuan Yuan’s solo only used an excerpt and didn’t have this, and La Melodie had it, but didn’t give it enough pizzazz.

So, I’m exhausted, and I’m sorry this entry isn’t particularly funny…when I’m tired most of my humor manifests in slapstick, and I’m glad none of you saw how I tripped coming up the stairs or shampooed my hair twice because I wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing.  And WOW I had a lot of typos…