Tag Archives: amy sedaris

GraHam it up

7 Nov

Boy did I have a busy week!  I attended two very different dance shows and wrote reviews for SeattleDances, which I encourage you to read…because if I didn’t then that would mean I had no faith in my own writing (and I’m pretty sure I’m well on my way to having it).  The first of those reviews was of the Martha Graham Dance Company, of which I have a few “funny me” thoughts I would like to share (link for the entire review at SeattleDances).

Prior to the show, my experiences with Martha Graham were very basic, merely scratching the surface by means of a couple of dance history and technique classes.  I watched Lamentation and Night Journey on film and once had a teacher who taught some morsels of Graham technique in an intermediate modern class, like contractions, triplets…that sort of thing.  So I had some ideas going in as to what to expect, but at the same time my perspective on dance has broadened so much over the past couple of years I knew my reaction to Graham now and especially live, would differ greatly.  This is something I love about being a patron of the arts and balletomane (or in this case, modernomane?)…we’re constantly reevaluating ourselves and get a real sense of how we’ve changed and the progress we’ve made in expanding our horizons.  Fortune cookie wisdom aside, it’s just plain neat.

Back when I was fresh to dance I think my reaction to Graham was unsure and a bit confused and fascinated at the same time.  While watching her company in action the other day, I felt more in tune with how powerful her choreography is.  It was interesting to see the influences upon her and those she passed on, not only upon the choreographers who created the Lamentation Variations, but I even found myself thinking about seeing her in other choreographers’ work (like Balanchine!).  However, speaking of Lamentation Variations, one of said variations was choreographed by dance artist, Richard Move.  When I read his name in the program, I knew exactly where I had seen his name before and almost refused to believe that he and the name in my memory are in fact the same person, but when artistic director Janet Eilber mentioned that Graham had a fantastic sense of humor, I realized it was possible that the idea of not taking oneself too seriously is also a part of her legacy (more on this later).  As a matter of fact, Richard Move is apparently quite the well-known Martha Graham impersonator, to the extent that lawyers of the company even sent him cease and desist letters…but this is not how I had heard of him.  It just so happens that his choreography has been posted in this blog before, as he did the choreography for one of my favorite movies, Strangers with Candy, starring Amy Sedaris, Stephen Colbert and Paul Dinello.  Take a gander:

(I’m not going to bother explaining the premises of the film…you really just have to see it.  Would “yes, she’s a forty-something ex-junkie, wearing a googly eye on her forehead, a fat suit, and they made a battery powered by poop for a state science fair in a racist, quasi-Indonesian presentation” make sense to you?  I didn’t think so)

It’s true…the same guy that did one of the Lamentation Variations, as part of a tribute to mother of modern dance Martha Graham, a piece that was performed on the anniversary of 9/11, also choreographed the above.  Talk about the odd jobs!

However, as I said, Graham actually did have a wonderful sense of humor and wasn’t afraid to mock her own work.  Needless to say, her piece Maple Leaf Rag was my favorite of the evening is now one of my favorite dances of all time.  She revealed a side of herself in that piece that no one would expect, but like Move (or rather the other way around), people are full of surprises and despite our natural tendencies or signature characteristics, everybody experiences a full spectrum of emotion; Graham doing something lighthearted and comical shouldn’t come as a surprise.  What I loved most about this piece was that I could really see myself in it—not that I could do all the movements, mind you—but I actually listen to Scott Joplin rags on my iPod all the time, and love to just be a dancing fool when they come on.  I already described some of the funnier moments in my review, like the crawling along the bar or the woman who does the same phrase across the stage over and over…it’s hard to describe what exactly she was doing not because the movement was complicated but because words truly can’t capture the full effect.  Luckily, there is some footage of Maple Leaf Rag on YouTube, as a part of an interview with Blakeley White-McGuire, who also danced the lead when I saw it.  You can see the specific dancer I’m talking about at 0:40 and 3:50, drifting across the stage like some obtuse jellyfish.

Now imagine her doing that a few more times for good measure and you can begin to understand the humor.  Unfortunately, there is no commercial recording of Maple Leaf Rag available which is a shame because the piece needs to be seen in its entirety needs to be believed (as do the abs of some of the dancers…EGADS!  Let it be known that the Martha Graham Dance Company has some of the most ripped dancers I’ve ever seen in my entire life!).

Well, that just about wraps it up for some insights on Graham, YouDanceFunny style…so I shall give a little prelude as to what’s to come in the near to immediate future.  I’m going to unwisely devote most entries this month to Swan Lake.  First of all (in case you didn’t know), I’ve never actually watched Swan Lake in full (any production), though I have seen my fair share of Black Swan pas de deux, like you do.  Second, I need to know why women in particular are nuttercrackers for this ballet, so that’s my angle in all of this research…extracting the “feminine mystique” by diving head first into the lake of swans.  So I’ve basically hoarded all of the Swan Lake DVDs the library had to offer, might be able to see a few more online and I am ready to bunker down and get to business.  There may be an unrelated post here and there (Pacific Northwest Ballet is doing their run of their Twyla Tharp program and my ticket is for this weekend so a review is to be expected!) but November shall be indeed Swan Lake month.  I’m actually thinking this is a horrible idea, but it’s too late—promises have been made and discipline must be exercised.  Come December, I better have earned my balletomane stripes for taking this project on.

HAVE YOU LEARNED NOTHING ABOUT ME?!?

7 Sep

I’ve been reading Kristin Chenoweth’s autobiography A Little Bit Wicked (along with the actual book Wicked, Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country and Carlos Acosta’s autobiography No Way Home.  This is when it helps to have multiple personalities).  Actually I’ve been listening to it because I got the audio book (come on, with that voice how could you resist?) and although I keep falling asleep while listening to it and sometimes wake up five chapters later, her stories only reaffirm the things I love about her.  And I’m not just talking about my affinity for short women with zesty personalities.  From my favorite celebs like Miss Chenoweth and Amy Sedaris, to many of my bestest of friends who approach a Sylph-like five feet tall (one of whom insists on being 5’1” when we all know she’s 5’¾”.  It’s not like it’s anything to be ashamed of!) .  I have my rage-filled Nacho, sweet sweet Totos, quasi-wife Erina, true-blue Aussie Aiko, and my bestest bestie Arika among others.  Of course I have tall friends too…I’m no heightist, but there is an uncanny (some have said “alarming,” whatever that means) pattern, but did anyone stop to consider that maybe it’s the other way around and they’re the ones drawn to me?

Anyway, it’s a hilarious and inspiring read, and I bring her up here because I’m officially promoting her to slot number one in my pantheon (previously occupied by Amy Sedaris, but never absolute).  Turns out (no pun intended), like many little girls, Kristin was very much into ballet, which her mother apparently felt was an “odd but basically healthy pastime.”  Unlike the girls that didn’t pay attention in class or put in lackadaisical efforts, she was one of the few who hung onto her every teacher’s word.  She doesn’t go too far in-depth about how far she got or how good she was, although she did tell a story about how she single handedly saved the Tulsa Ballet’s production of the Nutcracker when cast as a bunny, she hopped across the stage in character (which she described as a “Victorian Tchaikovsky bunny on Christmas Eve, with Stanislavski devotion”) and put a fallen piece of Christmas greenery into her mouth, carrying the hazardous material offstage so no one would slip on it and then returning to her place.  The then director, Moscelyne Larkin who Kristin is sure to mention was an original member of the Ballet Russes, praised her with a “Brava!”  Clearly, she knows her stuff and would watch dance specials on PBS and read everything she could find about ballet and dance, also idolizing fellow part Native-American Oklahoman, the legendary Maria Tallchief.

I guess it’s not a complete autobiography so much as it is a collection of anecdotes from her life, because she only briefly mentions taking tap, jazz and modern classes when it seems she was actually much more proficient than the book would lead you to believe (the only other dance related story was of her in college performing at an amusement park during the summers, and when she did a “high-kick-fall-into-the-splits,” her character shoe slipped and she did what she calls “the cooter smash,” fracturing her tailbone and apparently giving her the ability to predict the weather from down there).  She discusses in the book, several times, her short lived sitcom Kristin which basically nobody knew about.  Although NBC had bought about a dozen episodes as a midseason replacement, it got pushed into the summer and not only that, it changed timeslots every week and they only ended up showing half of the episodes.  I think it would’ve been impossible to try any harder to make that show even more invisible than it was.  Anyway, even though the last half of the thirteen episodes never aired, somehow someone has put all of the episodes on the tube.  It’s absolutely hysterical, and is completely “her.”  She even gives snippets of her opera background, singing Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen from The Magic Flute.  This is like the equivalent of some actress busting out some castanets and doing the Act I Kitri variation right before the punch line is supposed to be delivered.  Impressive stuff.

However, ‘tis the dance I must draw your attention to, and one of the best scenes is the catalyst and opening of the show, where as an aspiring actress from Oklahoma, she fails to get a job at an audition.  The audition is a little tap diddy, and we get a rare glimpse at her doing a pretty substantial tap number.  Perhaps she does more tapping in some of the Broadway shows she’s been in (apparently one time her and Idina Menzel started doing a tap dance onstage in Wicked because a gel on the lights was burning and making noise like a jackhammer and they could only wait it out), but again, I’ve never been to New York.  Anyway, this scene really needs to introduction and is the quintessential epitome of “You dance funny.”

“Mistake or intentional…you’ll never know.”

Words to live by.  Be sure to watch full episodes on the tube (user above has episodes 1-6, and you can find 7-13 here) and give her book a whirl.  You won’t regret it!  (If you’re curious, the title of this entry came from episode 5)

Amy Sedaris can tap…can you?

31 Jul

“Wonky…that’s French.”

-Karen Eliot

I know ballet is all for increasing range of motion, but as someone who started as an adult and is trying to simultaneously increase RoM as well as build strength, it can be really annoying.  I’ve been working on stretching my hip flexors more, after I found a really good tip in an article for equestrian riders.  As dance people know, sitting tightens your hip flexors, and riders do a lot of sitting, so they need to stretch in order to avoid the laundry list of back problems, hip, knee and foot problems that can happen as a result (reason #56932 to treat your hip flexors well…not just for a pretty arabesque!).  We all know that lunges help, but what the article stressed was really engaging your abdominals while stretching (oops), slightly turning in the leg behind you (double oops), squatting further down on the leg in front to increase the stretch and not by arching the back (triple oops) and raising the same arm of the leg behind you in order to increase the stretch through the side of your back (oops²).  After a few weeks of doing this at barre while the teacher demonstrates, after long periods of sitting and whenever I’m warm, I think it’s made a visible difference.

The thing is though, anytime you increase flexibility your body has more to work with and has to reorganize itself.  The process of finding that all over again is a beastly one.  Today the disease manifested itself in wonky pirouettes, which for the first couple of months in the summer had been going really well…I wasn’t too forceful with singles and doubles were getting cleaner.  But NOW…even trying to demi-plié in fourth for the preparation isn’t working.  It doesn’t feel right anymore…and forget about grande plié in fourth (but really, does that EVER feel right?).  This whole ordeal has been making me feel really nervous about pirouetting at barre especially, and today I managed it on the right side (weird) but my typically better left side was an epic fail.  Plus I smacked my fingers on the barre a couple of times, and of course it was at one of the metal center barres which are even more unforgiving than the wooden ones.  The second time I bludgeoned my pinky, I somehow managed to jerk it backwards and smack my elbow on the barre too.  That takes a special talent.

Speaking of special talents, I would like to take the time to highlight one of the goddesses in my pantheon, the specially talented comedienne/actress/entertainer/author, Amy Sedaris.  For whatever, reason, I have a fondness for short, funny women.  A good number of my closest friends are short women, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that I fancy the likes of an Amy Sedaris or a Kristin Chenoweth (who has a maltese named Madeline Kahn Chenoweth and I too once had a maltese not to mention Clue is only one of my all time favorite movies EVER…oh divine Ms. Chenoweth).  Anyway, Amy’s book, I Like You, is practically my bible; I adore her ridiculously senseless sense of humor, baking without perfection and makeshift crafts.  Now, she recently had a role in that movie Dance Flick, which despite my obsession with Amy, I probably won’t go see because I don’t do those parody movies, but she was on Letterman around the time it came out a few months ago, putting hardly any effort into promoting the movie, but what she did reveal was a very special talent for tap dancing. (jump about 4 minutes in if you just want to see the dancing…but feel dirty and ashamed if you do)

It’s like she’s channeling Eleanor Powell.  If you enjoyed Amy’s dancing, then you’ll like watching her perform a traditional Indonesian dance in this clip from the Strangers with Candy movie.

Strangers with Candy also starred Stephen Colbert, who is also a gifted dancer.  Check out his ballotté into a series of double rond de jambe en l’air with a promenade.  That’s some complicated work right there.

And on a completely related note, I’m watching The Soup on E! as I write this and Joel McHale just mocked that banshee Mary Murphy for her shrieking, and called Kayla and Brandon’s disco methamphetamine-inspired.  Oh I love that guy.  And he’s from Mercer Island!