Tag Archives: kristin chenoweth

Newfangled by Nutcracker

30 Dec

The end of the year is a wonderful thing—looking back at the various milestones and kilometerstones I’ve had, I feel nothing but blessed to be alive to have been through it all. Some marked changes rather than a benchmark experience, with the last of 2012 coming from my recent attendance of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker’. During this unseasonably warm and mild-weathered winter, it dawned on me that I was excited to see ‘The Nutcracker’…because…well…I love it. (There, I said it!) If I was a skilled hiker I’d shout it from the top of Mt. Rainier that I love the Maurice Sendak/Kent Stowell Nutcracker, and this is without the onus of decades of family tradition to twist my arm into feeling this way. Nutcrackers generally fall into two camps of a traditional production like that of Balanchine’s or something loosely in the image of Petipa/Ivanov, and then a myriad of ultra modern stagings (e.g., versions by Mark Morris, Matthew Bourne, and Maurice Bejart to name a few). PNB’s Nutcracker is something in between and I love that it’s unique in that way—it’s evidence that we can re-imagine conventional ballets just enough to infuse them with creativity while never straying too far from the original. Coincidentally, a friend of mine who is attending school at Columbia told me that she saw Ratmansky’s Nutcracker this year, and now home to see PNB’s, she realized the artistic fulfillment the latter provides, while others seem to relegate themselves to a certain level of pageantry. Last year I had written about Sendak’s interpretation of Clara’s dream intertwining with a journey along the Silk Road, and even the second time around I still can’t get over how brilliant an idea that was. May Sendak—who passed away this year—rest in peace.

This year I made it a point to see the seraphic Carla Körbes as Clara, and I even splurged a little on an orchestra level ticket. At fifty dollars, it was the most I had ever spent on a ticket to see PNB, but I wanted to have that experience of seeing the company as I had never seen them before. I should mention that I have in fact seen a few programs from orchestra level—but not from the fourth row! Some people spend their fair share of income to be that close to artists at rock concerts and I’m proud to say that it’s ballet that demands of me a certain proximity to the stage. What else to do but oblige? Inevitably, part of me missed my second-tier nosebleed seat that I had become accustomed to because patterns among the corps de ballet are indeed more evident, but up close you really get to hear that magical pitter-patter of pointe shoes, so there’s some give and take. Unfortunately, a far less ambient addition to the soundtrack came from restless children and when the toddler behind me started screeching during the grand pas de deux, among my sighs of pleasure may have been a sigh of despair. I know, I know, “magical experience for kids” and what-have-you but let’s be real—some kids just can’t handle sitting still for two hours (although, given the heated argument the married couple next to me had during intermission, I had some severe doubts about some adults too—awkward! Gah!). I’m of the opinion that rambunctious kids should live true to their nature; there are plenty of wintertime activities like sledding or ice skating that can tire out even the rowdiest of little folk, and really, at that age they’re practically indestructible anyway so it’s the best time to engage in activities that as adults we have to think twice about (or drink enough) to do without fear.

At any rate, the dancing was superb, and despite numerous performances preceding the one I saw, the company still looked fresh as daisies. I quite liked Jerome Tisserand as the Sword-Dancer Doll (one of the gifts from Herr Drosselmeier), and the Masque—a short pas de trois to a duet from Tchaikovsky’s opera Pique Dame—was a picture of elegance with mile-long arabesques from Emma Love, Price Suddarth, and Steven Loch. Though not original to Tchaikovsky’s score for Nutcracker, I love the inclusion of this music and adore the choreography for it, the style of which is reminiscent of courtly dances. In the larger ensemble pieces like ‘Snowflakes,’ corps dancer Angelica Generosa really stood out to me, which is quite the feat in a literal flurry of fake snow, sixteen dancers, and a lot of allegro work, but Generosa has the most marvelous port de bras—crisp but not forceful and finished with beautiful hands. The ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ was just as pretty, with Margaret Mullin leading the floral cascade with effervescence and lucidity. The “Silk Road” divertissements were great fun, and I especially loved Benjamin Griffiths in ‘Commedia’ as the lead harlequin. Clement Crisp once wrote that the jester is “a despicable figure in all ballets” but he’d be wrong about this one—it was wonderfully appropriate to the ‘Danse des Mirlitons’ (and Griffiths has a wicked penché—I love it when men get to do that!). With a common thread of splendid performances by Körbes as a halcyon Clara, and Batkhurel Bold as a quiet but majestic prince, I couldn’t help but feel an immense amount of satisfaction in being in the audience that night—it was truly gratifying to be treated to such marvelous performances by so many talented individuals.

All in all, I had a genuinely great time and now have a hard time imagining another Nutcracker living up to this standard and being so enjoyable to me. As I left McCaw Hall for the last time in 2012, I reminisced about how much Pacific Northwest Ballet has made my year so wonderful, and felt a great sense of contentment. Earlier in the year I decreed 2012 as the year of my dreams coming true, as evidenced by the following tweet that a certain favorite celebrity of mine responded to:

Who tweeted @youdancefunny? Kristin Chenoweth, that's who!

Who tweeted @youdancefunny? Kristin Chenoweth, that’s who!

She couldn’t have been more right, as there certainly have been a LOT of “YAYYYYYs” throughout the year! Now, I find myself looking forward to 2013, but with a new perspective on what I want to accomplish. More than ever I feel a need to take decisive action, to do things I’ve never done before, and experience the unknown. It’s exciting and maybe a little scary (actually, a LOT scary), but I think I’m ready—or maybe, I know I’m ready! Regardless, my new Moleskine planner shall provide the inspirational words I need to see every day, with a boldly embossed movie quote that I find accurately describes the outlook I want to have in life:

Immortal words...

Immortal words…

Happy New Year friends! Let’s make 2013 a year of “doing” and not trying, shall we? And thanks ALWAYS, for reading!

-♡-

Steve

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)

My most brilliant idea ever: Hugh Jackman and Kristin Chenoweth should host a variety show together

26 Aug

I think I should take a moment to formally explain my thoughts on what I have alluded to a couple of times of this being the “age of mediocrity.”  I’ve tried to explain this before to friends, and I lost them in the process so I don’t know if this is going to work, but here goes.  The “age of mediocrity” is largely defined by several factors:

The idea of “who you know” as opposed to “what you can do” and the influence of money

This debate is fortunately less discussed in dance since there are always opportunities to prove one’s prowess in auditions, but it can still make or break a career in terms of promoting dancers to principals or helping a company gain exposure.  In other sectors of entertainment the “who you know” manifests in talentless hacks who record albums, a leap onto the silver screen, or otherwise step outside of their box simply because they have the money.  Some who take the risk are actually gifted and know their place in the world…most are not.

Cheap aesthetics over quality

Somehow sex appeal is now being defined by how attractive one’s visual image is, with a complete disregard for personality or talent.  At one time, it was the other way around…the talented ascended the ranks while a pretty face guaranteed nothing.  In dance, this translates to the constant “higher extensions, prettier feet, more turns” yammering that rages on, while dancers with artistic substance are left behind.  Some say those expressive dancers are just bitter…and I say, they have every right to be!

Overdependence on technology

There are a lot of interesting innovations in technology and art, but there is a certain boundary that’s broken when the technology controls the art.  Technology needs to be used more responsibly, not as a parachute to save a falling heap of crap.

The push for versatility

Versatility is awesome.  People can always learn new things and take risks.  But not everyone is indeed truly versatile, and people need to know their place.  Versatility should be the icing on the cake not the crux of one’s career.  Not every musician plays every instrument in an orchestra.

Reality television

There are the shows where stupid people are paid to do stupid things, and other reality shows are what they are because they can be cheaply produced.  In the end, we’re getting what they pay for.  As if it would be some terrible thing to seek real talent and pay them to do what they do best.

As you can see, this is an issue that I have a lot of rage over, because like many, I’m sick of low-quality, uninspired entertainment.  This is what keeps me running back to live music and dance, because professional musicians and dancers know how it works.  They know how much work it takes to get to where they are and they understand that once they find their niche, they can venture out and explore, but with realistic expectations.  Personally, I don’t even care if someone is not the best ever, doesn’t have the best lines or technical abilities…just show me something thoughtful, with substance and I shall proceed to enjoy (or ponder…whatever it is you want your audience to do).

There are of course some really talented stars out there, but their accolades are often drowned in really dumb news about celebrities who suck.  For as much as Hugh Jackman is praised, I still don’t think he gets enough credit for what he’s able to do.  He’s the rare talent who IS versatile and yet quite humble (gotta love that Aussie nature…and accent) and respects his place in the world of performing arts.  In an interview on the Ellen DeGeneres show earlier this year, he made it a point to stop the interview to talk about how moved he was when he went to see the Bolshoi Ballet:

He has also mentioned in articles before too that he wanted to be a dancer when he was younger, saying:

In another world, another life, probably growing up in another country, I might have been more of a dancer. In fact I was going down that road when I was about 12.  I was encouraged to do that, and I remember my brother saying, ‘Ah, you poof,’ so I gave it up. I dropped it like a hot rock. I didn’t have the guts of Billy Elliot at the time!

So ten points for the Billy Elliot reference and another fifty for acknowledging the courage of the male dancer.  It really shouldn’t be a surprise that he would be so thoughtful, because he is an earth monkey (Chinese zodiac, not in the Invader Zim sense), and people born in the year of the monkey are known for their intelligence and thoughtfulness.  Coincidentally, I was born in the year of the rat, and I shouldn’t even be surprised that I admire Hugh Jackman because rats, monkeys and dragons are in the same “triangle of affinity,” which means we have a tendency to like each other.  Anyway, even though his brother’s words deprived us of a more technically trained Hugh Jackman (I love that he can hold his own in Broadway jazz, but the image of a Hugh Jackman with ballet bravura is delish), his brother was also a big part of the reason why Jackman went back to the studio, which I found out in a different article:

Six years later, his father took the boys to see the musical “42nd Street.” At intermission, his brother apologized for being such a jerk years before. “He said, ‘Hugh, you should be up there doing that stuff,’ ” Jackman recalls. “It made me tear up at the time — it was a beautiful thing to say — and I actually went straightaway and did dance classes from then.”

Isn’t that the most amazing thing you’ve ever heard?  A commenter on my blog mentioned how sorely missed the variety show is, and I think Jackman is probably the only actor out there who has the ability and magnetic pull of a Dean Martin or Carol Burnett to really be successful at it.  The Austin Chronicle published an interview with Carol Burnett in January about what a variety show would need for success, and she said it would need a host that audiences can latch onto, and great writers with no egos (which goes for the actors too!).  Jackman definitely fits the bill, but I say take it a step further and add a second host.  Another earth monkey…Kristin Chenoweth!  Can you IMAGINE the possibilities if these two were the host of their own variety show?  It kills me that these two are among the most talented people in show business, and I don’t think they’ve ever collaborated on anything (and for the record, neither are among the top 10 paid actors/actresses in Hollywood…it’s sick).  Kristin’s comedic abilities are vastly underrated and both are surely used to improv and live performances thanks to their experience in theater (and not just TV and movies like some actors), and the fact alone that Jackman is 6’2” and Chenoweth is 4’11” has the makings for comedy gold.  I’m seriously five seconds away from starting a petition or something.

 

My two favorite earth monkeys...we know they're friends, could it be just a matter of time before they have a variety show?

My two favorite earth monkeys...we know they're friends, could it be just a matter of time before they have a variety show?

Anyway, just for the hell of it, I love Hugh in this video from the Tonys where he pulls NYCB patron Sarah Jessica Parker up on stage (in a totally Giselle/Sylphide dress I might add) to have a good time (oddly enough, she claims she’s not a dancer…but didn’t she attend SAB for a while?)

“I’m always very nervous about the word dancer next to my name because anyone who’s really trained in dance will go, ‘This guy’s fudging so badly.'”

-Hugh Jackman

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!