Tag Archives: quasi-wife

The Doctor is In

18 Jul

At long last, the quasi-wife has watched Manon!  After insisting for so long that she would like the ballet, she has seen it and the conclusion is matrimonial.  I should be like a ballet doctor or something…study as many ballets as I can and diagnose people who haven’t seen much with the proper remedy.  Enjoy a good story, period pieces, expensive things and consider yourself to be an indecent Francophile?  Take a Manon and call me in the morning.  It’s all a part of a much larger and grander scheme to MacMillanify the residents of Seattle, one at a time (although I’m sure there are many Seattleites who have long enjoyed MacMillan ballets of their own accord).  It’s unfortunate that Seattle doesn’t get exposed to the British choreographers via live performance and I don’t know that Pacific Northwest Ballet would (or should for that matter) change its philosophy on modeling itself after New York City Ballet (although they’ve announced that they will perform Giselle in the upcoming season.  Very out of character but also incredibly exciting).  I’m not even sure PNB even has the resources to pull off a MacMillan full length (damn you privatized funding for the arts!) but regardless of PNB’s artistic direction I will assist in being a catalyst anyway; the demand must be created and like a pyramid, it has to start from the bottom up.  Now that my track record includes an earth-shattering two people, construction of MacMillan monument has begun.

Speaking of catalysts let it be known (or reiterated, depending on what you know) that Manon was the ballet that changed my life.  You know how everyone has that one performer/performance that inspired them and for me it was Tamara Rojo in this role, just over a year ago.  Rojo herself said it in the special features of the DVD that she was similarly inspired, that she had no idea that a story could be told through ballet like it is in Manon and that it was one of the main reasons why she wanted to join the Royal Ballet.  I felt exactly the same way (not the joining the Royal Ballet part, the storytelling thing) and as a result became disillusioned with Russian dancing.  Don’t get me wrong…they have their greats, their moments and some of the most expensive productions in the world but Manon helped me to affirm aspects in ballet that I have come to love.  As I see it in the arts, it’s not a matter of love or hate (although we inevitably have these reactions) but a conscious decision to prefer something over something else.  It’s the kind of preference that has me longing for London, as the Royal Ballet announced they will perform Manon in the spring.  There is little chance for me to go because I’m not a jet-setter who can zip off to London on a whim but OY do I hunger!

At any rate, quasi-wife took to Manon like a bee to honey, appreciative of the ballet as a whole and a fan of the chemistry between Rojo and Carlos Acosta.  It’s something she tends to look for in a ballet (noting earlier this year that the performance of PNB’s Coppelia she saw was lacking in chemistry between the principals) and I’m guessing it’s probably because she has issues with men or whatever.  The point is, while she was skeptical about the romance between Manon and Des Grieux, she found the connection between them genuine.  I had to retrain her way of thinking and forced her to watch the DVD extras which includes a bit where Dame Monica Mason explains that while love doesn’t blossom as quickly as it does in a five minute pas de deux, from a theatrical standpoint the audience accepts it.  It was odd that quasi-wife didn’t quite buy into that, nor did she really buy into the fact that Manon would allow herself to be manipulated by Lescaut for jewels and lavish clothes…but we went shopping earlier that day and between the two of us, one of us bought a one hundred dollar, Donna Karan New York olive green trench coat and one of us did not.  I’ll let you take a wild guess as to who did what now.

Meanwhile, remember in my Chaconne post that partnered pivot I discussed?  Let us revisit the bedroom pas de deux for just a moment…

Wheee!

Like many, quasi-wife found it rather disturbing.  It’s funny to me that Tamara’s feet are so visible throughout the ballet but they don’t come across as freakish until that particular move.  It’s all “she’s so gorgeous!” and then “HELLO.”  She also thought that the rolling movement Manon does in the pas de trois with Lescaut and Monsieur G.M. where she leans forward in an arabesque but then her other foot snakes forward to lead her over Monsieur G.M.’s back disturbing too…I said we could find a third person and try it but she didn’t seem to keen on the idea.  I guess quasi-wife still needs to be seasoned a little to get past odd, perhaps inhuman looking movements to see the beauty and genius of MacMillan’s choreography, but all in due time.  I know for me, the more I watch Manon (and I never tire of it) the more I fall in love with it and understand it on a deeper level.  I was stumped though when she asked me what type of ballet Manon would be and I settled on answering with neoclassical, even though I kept picturing Balanchine’s abstract works.

Despite my obsession with Manon (it is by far my favorite full length ballet), I don’t know that I’ll ever consider myself a true balletomane until I see another run of it and do that balletomane thing where you see multiple casts.  I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t do it when I had the chance…so little did I know at the time.  If I could go back in time, I would have been all over the opportunity to see Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg dance it together.  This will have to do for now:

Illusions of Grandeur

19 Jun

Whether it’s PNB or the Fremont Arts Council putting on a parade of naked, body-painted cyclists in celebration of the summer solstice, Seattleites inject a healthy dose of the arts into their livelihood…but in some cases, not enough.  Thus, the responsibility falls upon me to culture the quasi-wife from a misshapen pearl to a rounder one, since PNB doesn’t really do Petipa as far as I know (unless it’s Balanchine after Petipa).  Don’t get me wrong…she has an undeniable love for classical music for she is no mere flute player; she is a razor-fanged, competitive, ambitious, power hungry flautist.  I mean, who else would borrow music to practice in their spare time for fun?  I did lend the music to her, but is it not she who borrowed it?  In addition to classical music, she dabbles in opera and ballet as well—she too went to see PNB’s Coppélia (a different cast than I saw though, and she criticized the third act for being superfluous) and was supposed to see the Paris Opera Ballet’s production of La Bayadère while she was working in France, but her mother is now undergoing treatment for breast cancer so instead of travelling around after her contract ended, she came home to the Emerald City to be with family and understandably so.

The Palais Garnier opera house, from when quasi-wife visited Paris.

Although a filmed performance is never the same as live, I thought I’d try to recreate the experience for her and borrowed the DVD of POB’s La Bayadère, with Isabelle Guérin as Nikiya, Laurent Hilaire as Solor and Elisabeth Platel as Gamzatti.  It was a play date of pretend as we had a fanciful Italian dinner (spaghetti and meatballs) and sat in the prime seats (she sat in a recliner…you won’t find one of those in any opera house box!).  Despite my role as impresario educatorio extraordinario, I actually hadn’t seen a full production of  La Bayadère myself, although I knew the basic plot and have of course seen my fair share of variations on le YouTube and I figured that would be enough to get us through without program notes.  I was kind of wrong because we both found ourselves a little confused, but a quick online search clarified what we needed to know (I am without a copy of Clement Crisp and Mary Clarke’s The Ballet Goer’s Guide because I practically had the copy from the Columbus Public Library on permanent loan, such that it never occurred to me that I don’t actually own the book).  I find that a number of ballet DVD’s will often scroll program notes for the viewers during the overtures played after intermission, and I was surprised to find that POB’s La Bayadère did not (and possibly edited out overtures altogether).  I was excited to emphasize the Frenchness of the experience by putting the DVD in French, assuming it would be those program notes that would appear in French, but really the language settings only change the DVD menus.  Lame.

At any rate, the production overall was really quite beautiful and although we decided some elements were kind of racist, we took it at face value—it’s not like La Bayadère was written yesterday with today’s knowledge of what’s politically correct and such.  I don’t think any audience member really expects a ballet to be perfectly cast ethnically so I don’t know that painting dancer’s skin (with the exception of the Gold Idol of course) is really necessary, but I think understanding of the intent eliminates the possibility of fostering racism.  Ballet audiences are smarty-pants…we know.  We know.  Regardless, the costumes were stunning and the dancing sublime.  POB is ridiculously clean and their dancers so well rounded, which of course is best shown in the famous corps de ballet scene in Act III, The Kingdom of the Shades, when the ghosties enter in linear fashion, where replication of near-identical arabesques between each dancer is key.  I figured she would like this scene for its symmetry and orderliness, after all, we’re talking about a girl who calls Storables (a store that sells containers and storage items for the home) a “store after her own heart.”  I told her that the Kingdom of the Shades is probably the most famous corps de ballet choreography, such that scholarly ballet people write papers and whatnot about just that scene.  If someone would like to confirm this for me, do let me know…I prefer to tell truths.  Speaking of smart audiences though, she even got the whole “shades-as-the-puffs-of-smoke-from-Solor’s-opium-hookah” symbolism all on her own!  I tell you, I’m training these little ducklings so well…although she did ask me if this was the only ballet where someone is on some serious drugs and my question to you is who asks that kind of question?!?

Quasi-wife appreciated the drama and beauty of Guérin as Nikiya and the height of Hilaire’s jumps (though she did not care for the character of Solor himself…I believe there were words exchanged pertaining to his passive-aggressive and sometimes negligence).  She also said that Hilaire looked very French (whatever that means) and I too enjoyed the performances of the lead dancers and Platel’s Gamzatti (quasi-wife didn’t like Platel’s bow though).  Platel is exceptional in the grand pas de deux…lithe, cunning and yet sickeningly elated that she has claimed Solor through dastardly means.  She does a unique fouetté en dedans during the coda, whipping into attitude instead of passé which I thought was an interesting touch instead of the usual Italian fouettés.  Hilaire was floatacious in his variation as mentioned earlier.  I found it interesting that he opted for cleanliness and style as opposed to big bravura steps, such as a single cabriole instead of a double, but he finds fifth in the air like no other (it’s unfair really).  However, I find this to be proof that cleanliness and taste always supercedes sloppy fireworks.

Solor and Nikiya variations and coda:

In the end, quasi-wife enjoyed La Bayadère even though I basically insisted the entire time that she would like Manon better.  ‘Twas enough culture for one eve though and Manon can wait since I own it, while the library beckons for it’s hookah ghosties.  If your library does not provide, you can always sate the beast with le YouTube.  If you have just over two hours to kill, follow this link to watch POB’s Bayadère in its entirety.

Meanwhile, you have now participated in our little pretend game as well.  The picture of Palais Garnier from above is actually a photo of the post card quasi-wife sent me from Paris.  Behold!  The power of imagination!

It trickses preciousss!!!

PS. I love to collect post cards people send me…wink wink!

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Coppélia

13 Jun

Sometimes a person will have a day where they always seem to be a half step behind and today, that person was me.  I went to see Pacific Northwest Ballet’s production of Coppélia, with choreography by Balanchine and Alexandra Danilova (who danced the role and helped stage it from memory with Balanchine for NYCB).  According to the program, this is the first time Balanchine’s Coppélia has been performed outside of New York.  ‘Twas a night of firsts because it was also the first time I had ever seen a full length production of Coppélia, which means I have no idea what specific differences are compared to other stagings, but the program does mention that the third act is comprised of entirely new choreography by Balanchine.  Unfortunately I thought the third act was really out of place…but more on that later.

I should have known it would be a strange evening because for one thing, the weather was sensational—not a cloud or raindrop in sight.  In Seattle.  Seriously, Seattle.  Good news for commencement attendees at the University of Washington, including my quasi-wife who informed me that Kent Stowell and Francia Russell, co-founders of PNB received honorary degrees at today’s ceremonies.  I should have taken that as some kind of omen…not in the evil sense, only that I was in store for drama.  Unsurprisingly, next on fate’s list was missing the bus I needed to take to get home.  As I attempted to transfer from one bus to another, the bus I needed drove away as soon as I got to its door and with it, my opportunity to get home in time to change into nicer clothes.  I figured it would be better to just make it to the show because in the end, a body in the seat is better than an empty seat waiting for a late body in better clothes.  Changing plans, I made it to the Seattle Center but somehow in between the bus and the two minute walk from the bus to McCaw Hall, I lost my ticket.  Grief-stricken and panicking with bells-a-ringing, I searched my pockets and bag to no avail as time was running out.  Thankfully, the ticket window had my name on file and was able to reprint a ticket for me.

I made it into the theater, aided by the act that the first few minutes were used for an introductory speech that talked about funding and such.  However, as I entered I learned that Carla Körbes and Seth Orza would be replaced by Rachel Foster and Benjamin Griffiths (I didn’t catch the reason why so I don’t know if it’s an injury or what have you).  Now I’ve only seen full length ballets four times in my life and so far half of them had casting changes…I think the odds are against me and of course I was a little disappointed that Körbes wouldn’t be dancing because I was so impressed with her when she danced Terpsichore and she reminds me a bit of Marianela Núñez (who I assume to be a lovely Swanilda).  Casting changes can be a little frustrating but are of course just a happenstance in ballet and honestly, I was a little preoccupied with the fact that I was sweating like a beast since I had just freaked out over ticket issues and basically ran to get to my seat as soon as possible.  Despite my trendy haircut from earlier in the day, I.  Felt.  Pretty. (as in not)

At any rate, the troops rallied and PNB put on a truly lovely production.  Foster was delightful—fussy, clever and she really shone in Act II, during the famous scene where Swanilda pretends to be a doll, starting out with stiff, mechanical movements and melting into human ones as she fools Dr. Coppelius into thinking his doll is magically coming to life.  She was also very crisp in the Act I, with some amazing, lightning quick passé and echappé work.  By Act III, I thought she looked maybe a little tentative in the female variation but I think Swanilda’s variation is deceivingly hard.  It is painfully slow and requires a lot of careful placement and the variation Foster chose to perform was one without the Italian fouettés which I actually think is more difficult because without a flashy bravura step it becomes all about balance and the pointe work.  Griffiths (as Swanilda’s love interest, Franz) did well to partner her and is quite a jumper.  He’s not particularly tall (and by that what I really mean is that he’s short) but he just ate up the stage in travelling leap combinations.  I was really impressed with how clean the jumping was, especially the way he landed in a very secure arabesque out of his cabrioles.  Exceptionally clean beats in his jumps and good control in the series of double tours at the end of his variation to boot (the same music as Aminta’s variation in Sylvia).

Now onto the rest of Act III…okay, so please tell me that not every production of Coppélia has a random attack of valkyrs in the middle of Swanilda and Franz’s wedding?  First of all, I didn’t think there was such a thing as a male valkyrie and it was the most bizarre thing to have them disrupt a wedding, dance and leave (the lead valkyr, which I think was Karel Cruz was on FIRE though…just awesome dancing).  Second of all, it made absolutely no sense.  There really is something to be said for editing a dance because despite Cruz’s prodigious technique the whole scene was just deepening the “WTF?!” frown lines on my face.  Then of course there was the children’s scene earlier on…an army of young girls in neon pink tutus (which clashed with the romantic style costumes in my opinion…I don’t like peas to touch my mashed potatoes and accordingly I don’t like my ballets to contain anachronisms).  I know I know…it’s great that the kids get a chance to participate in a big production and really I should know better than to judge them for bent knees, wonky port de bras and recognize that they’re trying to appeal to larger demographics and spark interest in kids.  But let us recall that children is one of the reasons why I avoid the Nutcracker…I really could have done without them and not because they’re young or because I think bourée on demi-pointe just looks weird, but because they were a little distracting during the solos (I think the characters were Prayer, Dawn and ???) in the third act.  They were given movements and basic formations that cramped the stage a bit  and detracted from the soloists.  For example, one of the soloists was performing a manége (a series of travelling pirouettes that move in a circle) but there was no space for it and the manége ended up too tight to really make an impact.  So I found some of the decisions questionable from an aesthetic point of view but I know the truth to be that ballet isn’t just about aesthetics.

Aside from the strangeness of Act III it really was (is, since they have one more matinee tomorrow) a fine show, with beautifully done sets and excellent dancing (minus one dancer who took an unfortunate spill tonight…I blame myself for that though because I think I brought a strange aura to the building).  Coppélia was made possible by virtue of generous gifts and I hope that’s a sign of more to come *cough MacMillan.*

And as always, kudos to the orchestra.  Live music rrrrrrrrocks!

(Visit Pacific Northwest Ballet’s website for ticket info and other tidbits…Peter Boal’s story about his experience with Coppélia is pretty neat)

Spring is here! New life, new rules.

20 Mar

How better to celebrate my 100th post than on the vernal equinox?  I didn’t plan it this way, and although I don’t have any specific vernal equinox traditions it is a most meaningful day to me.  I love the spring…it’s my favorite season and it’s a time where there we’re surrounded by reminders of renewal, youth, greenery and freshness.  Although we cannot reverse the aging process, spring does inspire opportunities to reinvent thyself.  Perhaps, even more so than New Year’s, when it’s still dreary and cold and really the only thing that tells us it is indeed a new year is just a bunch of numbers.  I prefer the visual and other sensory stimuli spring provides.  Plus, the vernal equinox means my birthday approaches over yonder horizon!

I think in a previous post I alluded to my posts being sparse this month and although I forget what I said and where I said it, I do know why and in this time of renewal I think it’s a good time to reveal that reason.  I’m packing my life up and leaving Columbus, Ohio and headed westward for the Emerald City…aka, Seattle.  Last weekend I was there looking at apartments and details are all coming together.  I feel really good about this move for many reasons and I feel that Seattle will give me that much needed shot in the arm to renew the search for life, love and happiness.  I don’t hate Columbus…it’s my hometown and I’ve learned to accept and cherish the good, the bad and the ugly.  However, it’s been over twenty years of living here and oddly enough when I realized I was completely fine with spending the rest of my life here, my heart went berserk and told me it can’t do it anymore.  I’ve tried to make things work in Columbus, but have essentially failed (not that that’s a bad thing).  It’s time to do things differently and renew the job search in a new city…job hunting in Columbus only resulted in consistent rejections, and some say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  By the way, tendu anyone?

I have no illusions that Seattle will be perfect, which is the healthiest way to approach anything but there is one thing I am really looking forward to, and that is Pacific Northwest Ballet.  If things go according to plan, I may end up living within walking distance to their studios and performance venue.  PRAISE BILLY ELLIOT!  But why Pacific Northwest you ask?  Well, they are a company that has a strong tradition in Balanchine/Robbins works which brings me one step closer to two things: my beloved Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux and Dances at a Gathering, choreographed by Balanchine and Robbins, respectively.  Believe it or not, I have not seen works by either choreographer live, and while I’ve seen videos of Tchaik and excerpts of Dances from the Jerome Robbins documentary on PBS, nothing compares to live performances.  Much to my chagrin, PNB just did Dances last season…but at least I know it’s in the repertory.  Regrettably, a move to the West Coast takes me geographically further away from potential Ashton works, since ABT is one of the few companies to do them regularly, but one of my best friends has moved to DC and I can crash at her place if ABT or the Royal Ballet tours something I really want to see (although in defense of the West Coast, San Francisco Ballet actually did Symphonic Variations many years ago.  I would love for PNB to learn it though, and have a triple bill of Dances at a Gathering, Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux and Symphonic Variations.  Heaven…on Earth.)

Dreams are dreams though, and I have to face reality.  Reality isn’t all that bad though, because I move just in time to catch the All Balanchine bill with Serenade, Square Dance and The Four Temperaments (Hindemith!  SQUEE!).  I’m beyond stoked for Serenade and The Four Temperaments, and Square Dance I’ve read a little bit about from the book In the Wings, by NYCB dancer Kyle Froman.  It’s mostly eye-catching photography from studios, rehearsals, backstage and such, with anecdotes from Froman about life as a dancer.  He discusses performing Square Dance in the book, and supposedly it’s quite wild.  It’s a really neat book and I like his perspective as a corps dancer.

In addition to PNB though, I really want to get into the Seattle dance scene, because I’d go nuts without some variety and because PNB only does six or seven performances a season.  So I have a request for my readers; if you have any information about other dance companies in the Seattle area and/or upcoming shows I should check out, please tell me!  Also, recommendations for places to take class would be nice too.  Living close to PNB would have its perks but if that doesn’t work out a backup plan for ballet classes would be nice.  And like a check-up with the doctor, I do like to drop in on the occasional modern class to challenge myself in new ways and experience something new.  Oh, and jazz classes!  I did some searching online but couldn’t really find any jazz classes (for adults anyway).  Enlighten me, Seattleites!  I am in dire need of your help!

Anyway, at present I’m a bit busy with moving logistics but there are a lot of exciting things coming up that I will post more about and everyone should save the following dates (I mostly needed to write these down for myself too!).  Next week is a busy one for dance!

March 22ndABT’s Culinary Pas de Deux, hosted by principal dancer Marcelo Gomes and soloist Craig Salstein.  It’s an evening of fine dining and dance and although a $350 ticket is probably not in the cards for many of us, the event will feature a live Twitter feed to dish the dish. 7:00pm EST.   Meanwhile, Marcelo Gomes follows me on Twitter, and that makes me smile. (^-^)

March 24thJerome Robbins’ NY Export: Opus Jazz, the Film airs on PBS.  Check local listings for times.

March 26thDance Anywhere, an event where everyone, whether in private or public stops whatever they’re doing and dances at 3:00pm EST.  More on this in my next post, methinks!

An on the topic of dancing in public and being in Seattle, this is what happened last time I visited the city:

*note that none of those people except me have taken dance classes.  Well, quasi-wife dabbled a little.  Inspirations for the above performance include Donkey Kong for Nintendo and chase scenes from Scooby-Doo.

Time for 2010

31 Dec

Seeing as how it’s time to ring in the New Year, it’s time for some kind of reflection.  Which, for perhaps the first time in my life is going to be relatively easy, because I’ve documented a great deal of the dance related significant events in this blog.  Normally, I can never remember anything, which is part of the reason why I wanted to start a blog in the first place.  It’s part of the double-edged sword when you’re the kind of person who has a lot of thoughts about a particular subject…you tend to forget a great deal of those ideas.  But no longer shall I cast them into the abyss!  So here are my thoughts on a few of things that made 2009 special for me.

1. Blogging

This was the year I started blogging.  It all began when at the beginning of the summer, I went to see the Bolshoi perform Le Corsaire and The Royal Ballet perform Manon in Washington DC.  Two major ballet companies within one week…it was a sweet deal.  Personally, although DC doesn’t have as frequent of performances as New York City, I think DC gets the better end of the arabesque because they get a much more interesting variety of companies.  Since NYC is almost monopolized by American Ballet Theater and New York City Ballet, they don’t always get a lot of touring companies.  Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that…since between the two companies there’s a solid coverage of classics, contemporary works and of course nowhere else can you sate your hunger for the Balanchine repertoire to your heart’s content.  However, both ABT and NYCB make a pilgrimage to DC (I’m pretty sure they go at least once every year), and DC is virtually the only city that ever gets the Mariinsky, Bolshoi and Royal Ballet.  So while shows aren’t as frequent, I think the quality and variety say it all…blasphemous, perhaps, but I would pick DC as the best place for ballet in the US (thankfully, from DC, New York is just a hop skip and a step away anyway).

So much rambling and nothing to do with blogging…anyway, so I wanted to document the whole experience and did so.  I also joined twitter, even though at the time I really didn’t “get it,” and I figured a couple of my friends would read the blog and that would be that.  Little did I know, that would lead to the catalyst that changed everything.  Somehow, the Bag Ladies over at TheBalletBag found my post on Manon, twittered it and before I knew it, people were actually visiting, reading and more importantly enjoying the things I wrote.  I don’t know how they found my blog, although I really shouldn’t have been surprised considering they’re the oracles of the ballet world…know all, see all (and that’s not an exaggeration).  Regardless, I got a lot of fulfillment from the idea that people enjoyed my writing.  Back in high school, several teachers told me I wasn’t a very good writer and so I kind of assumed they were right.  Fast forward to college and I had professors tell me I had a gift to write.  At first I didn’t believe them, but slowly I got used to the idea and that was the moment it dawned on me why so many people say high school sucks…the majority of the things people tell you there is a load of crap.  So many thanks to the Bag Ladies for helping get my blog out there and to all my friends and readers…you have been a significant highlight for 2009!

2. Sir Frederick Ashton

This was the year I discovered Sir Frederick Ashton (for myself obviously…one doesn’t “discover” a deceased man who is already famous).   I used to think Balanchine was probably my favorite choreographer, but there’s a number of his works that I don’t dislike but don’t appeal to my nature.  Meanwhile, I have yet to meet an Ashton work I didn’t find equally (if not more) musical than Balanchine and Ashton had an amazing ability to incorporate comedy into his ballets.  I have liked all of Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s ballets thus far, with the exception of Romeo and Juliet (and I realize Ashton has done one as well) but I think MacMillan’s ballets have a certain sophistication that…eludes me?  But this doesn’t prevent me (nor should it prevent anyone else) from enjoying his work.  At any rate, I think Ashton was incredibly versatile, and what I love about some of his ballets is that they are very child friendly and yet they can also appeal to the inner child in every adult.  I love his simplicity, clever use of props…just everything about his vision of ballet.  Of course, Symphonic Variations has ascended into the upper echelon of my favorite ballets because it embodies everything I love to see in a dance (my post on Symphonic Variations was definitely one of my favorites of the year).  Heck, 2009 was worth it just for Symphonic Variations alone!  Steven McRae of the Royal Ballet said that dancing it was like a “religious experience”…well Mr. McRae, I can tell you that viewing it was just as spiritual for me (and I didn’t even see it live!).  Man I love Australians.

3. Quadruple pirouette

Hell, that speaks for itself.  Even if it ends up being a once in a lifetime experience, it was worth it.

4. Tamara Rojo

I love you.  That is all.

So what does 2010 hold in store?  Nobody knows for sure…I’m never good with long term planning and I try to allow for spontaneity as much as possible because the older I get the more I feel like planning turns people into these zombie denizens (aka “adults”) that have no sense of adventure in life.  Total buzz kill

However, I do have some exciting (well I think they’re exciting) plans for my blog next year.  I am thinking of doing interviews with dancers…professionals?  Probably not.  But I know a lot of people who dance or are involved with dance in some way and I truly believe everyone has an interesting story to tell even if they aren’t in the upper echelon of whatever it is they do.  I’d like to think that I’m just the right person for eliciting those stories and polishing it for other people to read (and if I can spin it into something funny, then everybody wins).  If I’m not that person…well, I may as well practice so that I can be.

I also will also be begging people for more guest posts.  My quasi-wife Erina, who is currently teaching in some city in France, wants to vacation in Paris when her contract is up at the end of the spring before coming home to the US (and possibly going back under a new contract…but that’s another story.  I wish I knew details, but apparently it’s difficult to get the internet in France).  It just so happens that her end date coincides perfectly with Paris Opera Ballet’s La Bayadere.  I’ve demanded that she go, that it’s an “almost once in a lifetime experience” and to write a review or response of some kind.  I’m really excited for her because she’s seen Pacific Northwest Ballet growing up, but POB is a different beast.  It should be interesting because she’s not really a dancer, or the balletomane who knows the technical jargon.  She has the opportunity to see the production through virtually unjaded eyes, which I find a fascinating prospect.  So hopefully we’ll have that to look forward to…I keep badgering her every chance I get.  I’m *this* close to buying a ticket for her to make sure she goes.

Of course I promise posts a plenty from meself and beyond that I feel so encouraged by the response to this blog, I decided to really pursue a long (but ideally short) term goal, which is to write and publish a novel.  Since I was little, I’ve always known that I wanted to write a book, got discouraged in high school but now I feel that I’m at a point in my life when I can really achieve this.  Personally I don’t think there’s enough dance related fiction out there and the novels that are out there are kind of…melodramatic or dull.  As with this blog I endeavor to write lighthearted entertainment.  Humor is the name of the game and if I can contribute to the dispelling of the image of snobbery in ballet and make it more approachable to the average person, I’d be thrilled.  So 2010…let’s make it happen.  I’m ready for you.  Almost (still lots of research to do!).

Thinking about following New York City Ballet to Tokyo? More almost helpful travel tips

9 Sep

As I sit here anxiously waiting for the season premiere of Glee (and dreading, thus avoiding the premiere of SYTYCD), it looks like ballet companies are continuing with Asian fever, as NYCB will be heading to Tokyo in October to present a bunch of stuff.  I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing NYCB live, and although this needs to change someday it’s fair enough to say that a plane ticket to Tokyo is a LOT more than a ticket to New York.  Anyway, they’re presenting three different programs:

Program A:

  • Serenade – haven’t seen it, bitter about that
  • Agon – seen it on video
  • Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux – saw like a minute of it in The Turning Point
  • West Side Story Suite – seen the movie dance, but not this version

Program B:

  • Concerto DSCH – never seen it
  • Barber Violin Concerto – never seen it
  • Tarantella – saw it on YouTube before the Balanchine Trust got to it
  • Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto no.2 – never seen it

Program C:

  • Walpurgisnacht Ballet – never seen it (apparently, this one is replacing Grazioso)
  • After the Rain – never seen it
  • Dances at a Gathering – never seen it
  • Symphony in Three Movements – never seen it

So if I were me (and I am) and had to choose one night to go, it would probably be Program B.  I don’t really know why, since Program C contains all works I’ve never seen, but the music for Program B seems to be the best suited for my tastes (Barber, Tchaikovsky, Gottschalk and Shostakovich makes for a good night!).  Not that any of this matters since I won’t be going anyway…so on to something more useful.

As I did when I heard ABT and SFBallet were going to China (read that entry here), I shall now write some slightly more useful than useless travel tips for going to Tokyo.  I actually spent a year living in Tokyo and I ADORE the city.  Whereas China is a country of fast paced hustle and bustle, Tokyo is laid back.  My kind of place…most of the time.  There are of course things that drive me crazy, in particular many may notice the snail pace at which Japanese people walk.  They take these itty-bitty steps and kind of mosey along, never in a hurry to get anywhere.  Which is fine and dandy since I consider myself to be on the slow side, but people in Tokyo are fifty times even slower than I am.  You see, the people of Japan love all things cute and for some bizarre reason, walking pigeon-toed is part of that aesthetic (why Fosse isn’t more popular over there, I’ll never understand), hooking an umbrella on one elbow and a huge unwieldy purse on the other.  As we all know, walking pigeon-toed is highly impractical and will drag a gait down to a laborious shuffle.  And when you have legions of these pigeon-toed walkers, a five minute walk to the closest train station becomes a trek where you are forced to hobble with the herd.

However, on the topic of public transportation, the trains are A+ in Tokyo.  It does take some time to get used to though, because the train map is considerably complex, and one must also take into consideration that the train lines lay on top of the subway lines, which have their own separate map.  Navigating the maps can prove to be difficult, although in my opinion navigating the stations themselves is worse.  Tokyo station is this massive who-knows-how-many-floors subterranean fortress, but luckily you probably won’t go there.  Now Shinjuku on the other hand, is a nightmare.  When I first arrived in Japan I had to go to Shinjuku many times for foreigner registration and stuff, or even just hanging out because there’s a lot to do there, and I would get lost every single time and sob hysterically to confused policemen as I tried to ask for directions.  Shinjuku and I have a better relationship now, but it is one that has had its fair share of trials and tribulations.  Needless to say, when you become comfortable with the trains in Tokyo, you’ll feel like you’ve accomplished something in life. 

Night view of Tokyo from Sunshine City Observation Deck.  I'm really proud of this picture, so mock it and I'll pull your hair.

Night view of Tokyo from Sunshine City Observation Deck. I'm really proud of this picture, so mock it and I'll pull your hair.

 (P.S. All pictures in this entry were taken by yours truly!)

As for some of the major tourist attractions in Tokyo, don’t bother with Tokyo Disney.  If you’ve ever been to a Disney theme park before, they’re all practically the same.  The only differences are that Tokyo Disney has a different arrangement of rides compared to the other parks.  There is a park exclusive to Tokyo, which is Disney Sea, and at first I thought people were saying Disney C, which made no sense, but eventually I figured out the land and sea connection.  My stupidity aside, Disney Sea has some unique features but nothing to write home about.  The nice thing about the Tokyo Disney parks is that they’re VERY clean and well maintained, as is all of Japan.  In fact, walking around in public, it is extremely rare to see a trash can (there are recycling bins for plastic bottles though).  Any trash you create, you must carry with you until the opportunity to dispose of it presents itself, so keep this in mind as traverse the streets of Japan.  My last thought on the Tokyo Disney parks however, is to let it be known that if you go as a couple, even if you’re just platonic friends, Japanese people will assume you’re on a date, because Disney is apparently a place to date.  Me and my quasi-wife Erina had no idea, and after our excursion all of our friends kept telling us they didn’t know we were dating.  Neither did we.

Welcome to Aggrabah...city of mystery...

Welcome to Aggrabah...city of mystery...

Anyway, there’s also Tokyo Tower, which has some great views, but there’s really nothing else to do in the area.  Despite the fact that it is indeed taller than the Eiffel Tower, it doesn’t stand out amongst the skyscrapers.  The Imperial Palace is somewhat close, but that’s off limits to the public, so you can only admire it from afar (And should you choose that adventure there is nothing else to do in that parking lot).  So neither are really on top of the list of my recommendations, but if you want a “traditional Japan” fix and don’t have the funds to take a bullet train to Kyoto, Asakusa right in Tokyo is the place to go.  ‘Tis a temple with a lot of traditional shops, snacks, and things to see and do.  Blow smoke in your face, tie a prayer thingie to a tree, that kind of stuff.

Asakusa...this is the postcard shot EVERYONE takes.  The lone white person is my friend.

Asakusa...this is the postcard shot EVERYONE takes. The lone white person is my friend.

This is all you can see of the palace.  Now you don't have to bother with going.

This is all you can see of the palace. Now you don't have to bother with going.

FOOD.  Food is the best thing about Tokyo, and there are many goods to be had.  Here are some of my favorites:

Okonomiyaki – a pancake-ish thing that has cabbage, meat, and all kinds of different things in it.  The rough translation of okonomiyaki means “cooked to your liking” so whatever toppings you want in it you get.  Then you shmear it with the tastiest Japanese-ified Worcester sauce and Japanese mayonnaise, sprinkle it with dried bonito flakes and dust it with seaweed (nori).  Sounds crazy, but we LOVE it, and most of the time you’ll cook it at the table with friends.  It’s a good “gab over dinner” type of food, and my favorite restaurant for this in Tokyo is called Sakuratei, hidden in the heart of the fashionable Harajuku district.

Okonomiyaki – a pancake-ish thing that has cabbage, meat, and all kinds of different things in it. The rough translation of okonomiyaki means “cooked to your liking” so whatever toppings you want in it you get. Then you shmear it with the tastiest Japanese-ified Worcester sauce and Japanese mayonnaise, sprinkle it with dried bonito flakes and dust it with seaweed (nori). Sounds crazy, but we LOVE it, and most of the time you’ll cook it at the table with friends. It’s a good “gab over dinner” type of food, and my favorite restaurant for this in Tokyo is called Sakuratei, hidden in the heart of the fashionable Harajuku district.

Sushi, although more specifically kaitenzushi.  “Kaiten” means rotating, and “sushi” changes to “zushi” when in a compound word.  Don’t bother with fancy shmancy sushi places, because kaiten is the way to go.  It’s cheap, it’s fresh, and it’s absolutely more fun to do.  You get charged by the plate, and the color of the plate will indicate the price.  You can also order more of something you liked, although a word of caution…you see, my voice is kind of week and doesn’t carry well so I’m used to people not being able to hear me, and so one time I kept ordering hamachi (yellowtail) thinking the chefs couldn’t hear me, but the next thing I know and twenty plates of hamachi are coming down the belt.  Oops.

Sushi, although more specifically kaitenzushi. “Kaiten” means rotating, and “sushi” changes to “zushi” when in a compound word. Don’t bother with fancy shmancy sushi places, because kaiten is the way to go. It’s cheap, it’s fresh, and it’s absolutely more fun to do. You get charged by the plate, and the color of the plate will indicate the price. You can also order more of something you liked, although a word of caution…you see, my voice is kind of weak and doesn’t carry well so I’m used to people not being able to hear me, and so one time I kept ordering hamachi (yellowtail) thinking the chefs couldn’t hear me, but the next thing I know and twenty plates of hamachi are coming down the belt. Oops.

Yakitori, which means “cooked bird” and it’s mostly chicken, but not always.  There’s asparagus, meatballs, even cheese wrapped in bacon, and it is UTTERLY delicious and probably my favorite thing to eat in Japan.  Observe friend Nanna here, enjoying a yakitori of some kind…in response to this picture she said “You know I’m a lady, I like my meat.”

Yakitori, which means “cooked bird” and it’s mostly chicken, but not always. There’s asparagus, meatballs, even cheese wrapped in bacon, and it is UTTERLY delicious and probably my favorite thing to eat in Japan. Observe friend Nanna here, enjoying a yakitori of some kind…in response to this picture she said “You know I’m a lady, I like my meat.”

Shabu-shabu!  Fun to say and delicious to eat.  The Japanese equivalent of Chinese hotpot, except I never got sick eating shabu-shabu.  The broth is different, and you get all kinds of different vegetables like daikon radish and enoki mushrooms, and thinly sliced beef.  You also get an assortment of tasty dipping sauces to enhance your dining experience.

Shabu-shabu! Fun to say and delicious to eat. The Japanese equivalent of Chinese hotpot, except I never got sick eating shabu-shabu. The broth is different, and you get all kinds of different vegetables like daikon radish and enoki mushrooms, and thinly sliced beef. You also get an assortment of tasty dipping sauces to enhance your dining experience.

Indian food.  One of my favorite things about Tokyo is the abundance of Indian restaurants.  This is where Indian Friday began its glorious tradition.  I recommend going for lunch because that’s when they usually offer all you can eat naan.

Indian food. One of my favorite things about Tokyo is the abundance of Indian restaurants. This is where Indian Friday began its glorious tradition. I recommend going for lunch because that’s when they usually offer all you can eat naan.

 Not pictured is yakiniku, or “grilled meat” which is actually Korean if I do say so myself.  It’s mostly beef, marinated in a SEKRET sauce, and you grill it yourself at your table.  Shin-okubo is the Koreatown of Tokyo, and although you may get approached by missionaries, it is the place to go for good old fashioned yakiniku.  Oftentimes lunch specials will be all you can eat as well!

To go with food, you must also drink.  Vending machines are everywhere, and as I said before recycling bins for plastic bottles are the only form of waste receptacle you will find in public.  Japan is not really a place for 100% juice, and what you’ll often find are 2% juice + flavored sugar water drinks, so I would stick with tea if you’re looking for refreshment.  As for nighttime activities there are many izakayas (kind of like a sit-down bar…literally, you sit on the floor) which is great for a group of friends looking for drinks and eats.  Also plenty of bars everywhere, as the Japanese do like their alcohol, as evidenced by the abundance of alcohol in every convenience store.  If you’re looking to extend your nighttime activities into the wee hours and do some dancing, Shibuya station will be the starting point of your journey, as all the good clubs and bars are around there (don’t bother with Roppongi…it’s snobby and expensive).  No need to worry about the walk of shame either…Japan is an INCREDIBLY safe country (no guns) and even women can walk around by themselves at night and not have to worry.  In fact, many intoxicateers will simply sleep outside of train stations to wait for the first morning train, and are never bothered (My friends and I would actually find a 24 hour McDonalds and get a cheeseburger or five).

Friends at an izakaya.

Friends at an izakaya.

A night under the stars in Tokyo.  Don't worry, they were there before our dinner and after.  I told you Tokyo is perfectly safe!

A night under the stars in Tokyo. Don't worry, they were there before our dinner and after. I told you Tokyo is perfectly safe!

As for shopping…lots to buy!  Harajuku is the fashion district, a labyrinth of clothing shops and crepe stands.  Crepes are actually the only food you will ever see Japanese people eat in public, while walking.  In Japanese culture, eating while walking in public is simply not done…you should always sit down.  But with crepes, it’s perfectly acceptable and you can choose a more savory crepe with a hot dog or tuna salad inside of it, or a sweet one with ice cream or custard topped with syrup, fruit, or nuts (mine was always strawberries with vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup.  I know…boring.).  I always enjoy a good trip to Harajuku and you’ll see some “interesting” characters dressed in strange garb…I don’t even know how to describe them, and unfortunately I have no pictures, but people watching is a cherished pastime while travelling these streets.

If you’re looking for more high end shopping, try Ginza.  Japan is known for its pearl industry, more specifically the Mikimoto brand.  Lucky for you, I once watched an entire 20/20 special (or something like that) on Mikimoto pearls and their grading system.   Their finest pearls are graded as a triple “AAA,” and are white with a slight rose finish to the iridescent luster.  Pearls of course come in various colors, and Mikimoto has a fine selection of white, champagne, pink and probably black as well, but if you’re in the market for black pearls the best hail from Tahiti (don’t ask me why I know that).  Fascinated by the Mikimoto brand, my friend Liz and I would peruse the display cases and of course I took a few photos (with their permission of course!  Although the store clerks happily obliged, I could sense the confusion in their replies).  We even asked if Liz could try on one of the necklaces and I snapped a photo of that too.  But check these puppies out:

Over $10,000 on the left and a cold 5 on the right

Over $10,000 on the left and a cold 5 on the right

And of course there are all the “cute” things in Japanland, home of Hello Kitty.  My friend Liz here stands in a little shop, next to a display of hand towels, each from a different city in Japan.  Japan is very into things that are exclusive to various regions, like certain fruits or cuisine.  The best part about going to Tokyo is that you don’t have to go to all of the other cities to try “Hokkaido special melons,” “Nagoya special misokatsu,” “Nakatsugawa sweet marron,” “Okinawa pineapple,” etc. because pretty much all of it is available in Tokyo.  So try some green tea chocolate from Kyoto or an Osaka style okonomiyaki and buy yourself some souvenirs that are supposedly exclusive to these regions.  Who’s to be the wiser?  (Besides me)

Hellooooooooooo kitty!  (and beware of stray cats in Japan...they yowl and have gang wars and fight crows.  I wish I were kidding)

Hellooooooooooo kitty! (and beware of stray cats in Japan...they yowl and have gang wars and fight crows. I wish I were kidding)

Unfortunately, NYCB will be in Tokyo in October, and Japan’s iconic cherry blossom festival is in early spring.  But October is a great time to see the leaves changing colors, which you can see at Japanese gardens or take a train ride an hour or two out into the mountains for actual wilderness.  In my first Japanese culture class, my professor told me that in Japanese gardens the keepers will often rake up the leaves, select a few choice ones and “scatter them with intent” so that the garden still maintains some sense of naturalness.  Although judging by the effort, it just seems tedious to me.  Anyway, because chances are you won’t be in Japan this coming spring, I don’t mind sharing a couple of my cherry blossom (sakura) photos with you.

Shinjuku Park, Tokyo

Shinjuku Park, Tokyo

Ueno Park, Tokyo

Ueno Park, Tokyo

And last but not least, I shall tell you about my FAVORITE thing to do in Japan, which is purikura (short for “print club,” with a Japanese accent).  They’re like photo booths and you can find them at arcades and “UFO Catcher” places (the Japanese equivalent of claw machines where you can catch stuffed animals and plush toys), but are infinitely superior in every single way.  It’s an actual experience…there’s better lighting, different backgrounds, sometimes a “blue screen” like a movie, and other camera effects.  After the pictures are taken, you go around to the side of the machine where your pictures will pop up on a screen and you can use a touch screen to select the pictures you want, write things in, add borders and various stamps, make them glittery etc.  Then the machine prints out a sheet of your artwork with an adhesive backing for you, and the Japanese are always sure to have a table nearby with a pair of scissors so you can cut the pictures apart and share your sticker pictures with friends.  I was (still am) OBSESSED with doing this.  It’s super fun and cheap entertainment (400 yen per shoot).  Although, guys should be aware that groups of men are not allowed in the photo booths by themselves.  Apparently Japan was having problems with perverts taking pictures from underneath girls’ skirts while they were in photo booths, and you know how it goes when it takes only one person to ruin it for everyone else.  So now, men can only enter photo booths if they are with a girl (girls can of course enter by themselves).  Sexist and unfair, but it is what it is.  Besides, if you look like a foreigner, you can pretend that you can’t read, go in and get away with it anyway.  Regardless, we’re talking some high tech stuff here…you can even have the machine e-mail the pictures to a Japanese mobile phone, which I did and now share with you:

Work it work it!     Good times...

In short (or not), I love Tokyo, miss it very much and could go on and on but won’t (I didn’t even begin to talk about the bakeries!).  Instead, I shall leave you with a picture that I took at the Nagoya Aquarium for your amusement.  Plus Glee is starting and I need to wrap this up!

I want one.

I want one.

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)