Monday, June 30, 2008

Maine (Part III)

On our penultimate day in Maine we went back to Camden and ate lunch in their pretty little park overlooking the harbor.

Then we did a short hike (which my ankle survived, fortunately) up to a low peak with a tower on top of it and a nice view of Camden.

We topped off the day by leaving my brother in the hotel and walking out to the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse, which we could see from the hotel balcony. From the balcony it didn't seem very far, but up close it looked far more like the mile walk that it is.

The lighthouse itself wasn't particularly interesting (you couldn't go in or anything) but the walk was nice. We did see this large spider on the building.
I tried to get a picture where there was an actual reference for the size but the spider moved and I jumped about three feet so it didn't actually come out.

My dad was on some kind of Robert Redford kick and we'd watched The Sting earlier in the week so after the lighthouse we watched Three Days of the Condor, which I could have lived without seeing.

On Friday we had to leave fairly early and drive back to Portland so I could catch my return flight. We did have time to stop in a town along the way, the name of which I forget, to go on a boat tour for Cody. We saw other lots of other boats, lobster traps and buoys, and islands. So not terribly exciting but quite nice.

Actually, that probably describes the trip as a whole. It was nice to get a break and I had a lot of time to read and relax and while it wasn't a thrill a minute or anything it was lovely nevertheless.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Maine (Part II)

As I write this we're in the midst of one of the hardest sun showers I've ever seen. The rain is torrential, but everything is suffused with a golden light that's reflecting off the car windshields and puddles. Anyway . . .

Partway through our trip to Maine, and with my ankle feeling only bad as opposed to awful and looking lightly bruised as opposed to eggplant-esque, we headed up to Bar Harbor and Acadia. All along the way the highway is dotted with lupines (a very washed out picture below, I know).
They're a flower I don't see that often but do particularly love, because my mother used to read my sister and me Miss Rumphius when we were kids.
As a little girl, Miss Rumphius decides to do two things before she dies: travel the world and live by the sea when she is old. Her grandfather makes her promise to also do something to make the world a more beautiful place. And so in her old age she walks around scattering lupine seeds wherever she goes.

But back to Maine. Bar Harbor is a lot like Camden in that it's pretty and quiet and has cute shops and nice little restaurants. And a harbor. My parents came here on their honeymoon.

I was more excited though, to see Acadia, which, as it turns out, is a very genteel seeming national park. My father sister and I started out by going on a bike ride along one of the carriageways built by the Rockefellers.

Along the route we were able to see a neat bridge and a pretty lake, but nothing particularly earth-shattering.

After our biking and a couple side trips, first to the nature center and then to Bar Harbor to grab dinner stuff, we drove along on a greatest hits of Acadia tour. Our first stop was Thunder Hole, which was just gurgling at the time. Thunder Hole is a little cavern at the end of a small inlet. As the waves come in they force air out of the cavern, making the noise. You can just see the cavern in this terrible picture:

Then, we stopped at a cove where my brother and sister got their feet wet in very cold water.

And finally we drove up the edge of Somes Sound, which doesn't look to terribly interesting but is actually the only fjord on the East Coast--and the only one I've ever seen.

Our final stop of the night was Cadillac Mountain, where we watched the sun set.

And then it was the long, late drive back to Rockland, two-and-a-half hours away.

Maine (Part I)

Back in the beginning of June, I flew up to Portland, ME to spend a week with my immediate family. The trip got off to an auspicious start when, walking down the subway stairs, I missed the bottom step and sprained my ankle. I hadn't left myself enough time to hobble home for ice and ibuprofen, so I just tried to elevate it on the subway ride and then used a cup of ice and a bandanna to ice it when I got to the terminal.

The airport in Portland is tiny and pleasant and the city itself is lovely. Good restaurants, nice shops, right on the water . . . if I were a Sabres prospect I'd be pleased as all get out to be playing there this year instead of Rochester. We went to a really neat ocean-themed antique shop among other storeshad dinner with a college friend of my mother's and then drove up to Rockland, where we were staying. My parents and brother were staying in a time share at a resort with a golf course, health center, and pool, while my sister and I camped at a place nearby. It was nice because there was a comfortable balcony to read on while looking out over the golf course to the ocean and we had a little kitchen so we could cook meals.

Our first full day there we spent ages driving around looking for a little sand beach. No one in Maine seems capable of giving accurate directions. We finally found it and it was a nice little spot with a patch of sand, then rocks.
Then we drove up to a little mom and pop ice cream shop that had been recommended to us, only to learn that it was closed on Sundays. So we ate at Dairy Queen instead, which only served as a reminder of how lame Dairy Queen is. Ice milk is such a waste of time.

The next day we went to the Farnsworth Museum. It would be pretty unexceptional, except for the fact that it has the Wyeth Center, featuring a nice collection of work from all three Wyeths. We also saw the house of the museum's founder and went to get our homemade ice cream, which was everything Dairy Queen's wasn't.

After two days of gorgeous hot weather, we ventured into Camden, the beautiful little town where Edna St. Vincent Millay grew up, on a day that was chill and foggy. We ate by the harbor and then explored the town, going through the park and checking out the shops. The Megunticook River flows under many of the shops, and there's even a bookstore where you can look down through a hole in the floor to see it going along its way.

I can see why so many people like to spend their summers up in this area. It's nowhere near empty but it's incredibly tranquil compared to the overheated mess that is New York in the summer.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

La Bayadère

As usual, I go to the ballet and find myself conflicted. I don't know much about Russian, or for that matter French, Orientalism, but the British thought that India had a glorious past but had grown corrupted and degenerate and that it was their duty to return India to its past. The East was seen as a mysterious, feminized world: weak and ruled not by logic but by emotion. British Orientalism and Russian Orientalism aren't one and the same, but this notion of a world of mystery and emotion is certainly present in the ballet. Add to that the hokey "Indian" movements and a bunch of thoroughly Western looking dancers spinning about pretending--in theory--to be from Southeast Asia and you've got something that I wasn't entirely enthusiastic about going to see. Maybe I took one too many colonial/post-colonial courses in college but that sort of stuff generally makes my skin crawl. And I'm not going to lie . . . there were moments that I cringed through. Most of it's just silliness, but the fakirs with their animalistic, bent-legged movements, creeping along the ground on hands and feet are pretty bad. Still, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the ballet.

The first act was . . . not my favorite, although I didn't hate it. I liked Hallberg as Solor. Hhe's more princely than warrior-like but always such a beautiful dancer. It's just that even when distraught he seemed so composed. I also enjoyed watching Murphy's Nikiya. It's so different from what I've seen her in before and while I think it's a role she could more thoroughly inhabit it was interesting to watch. I didn't really enjoy Michelle Wiles's dancing; she seemed terrifically competent but inexpressive. I'd never seen her dance before so perhaps it was just this time, but it seemed so lacking in subtlety. And as mentioned, I wasn't thrilled by the fakirs, in general.

I was excited to see the famous second act with the shades, and I really did love that one. The corps wasn't having their best day--there was one poor girl in the front row during the shades scene who was really having balance issues--but I still thought it was a really beautiful scene. A real antidote for all the silliness that came before. And I very much enjoyed watching the three soloists--Misty Copeland, Simone Messmer, and Melissa Thomas--all of whom I thought were lovely. I particularly liked whoever did the middle variation, but I'm not good at recognizing dancers from up close, much less the Family Circle where I was sitting.

The third act was basically more of the first. There was a candle issue (good thing those are battery powered) as the corps continued to have what was less than a banner night but other than that I did enjoy the dancing. When the world is destroyed it looks a wee bit like the dancers are on the deck of the Starship Enterprise and it's just taken enemy fire, everyone kind of hurling themselves in different directions. Hey though, there are totally worse sci fi shows to be compared to. Overall though, I thought the ballet itself was one of the most enjoyable classical ballets I've yet been to in terms of both the dances and the pacing.

The NHL Draft

Now updated with photos. My transfer program still isn't working, but my sister stopped into town on her way to Costa Rica with her card reader, so I was able to get all the images off my camera. (6/28)

So I'm thoroughly behind on blogging because I was out of town, then busy, and then, finally, exhausted. I went to take a little nap between getting home from work and watching So You Think You Can Dance last night and instead I was out for the night by about 6:30. I live such an exciting life. Also, I would like to note that I would have pictures with this post but my photo transfer program isn't working. If I get it figured out, I'll add the pictures in later.

That said, it actually has been a busy few weeks. This past weekend I went up to Ottawa to attend the NHL Draft. Because if you were a hockey fan with minimal interest in any players below the NHL level it would make perfect sense to go watch crusty old people draft 18-year-old kids most of whom will never play in the NHL, right? It's safe to say I was skeptical about the entertainment value inherent in this thing. In fact I had a vivid picture of myself as one of the listeners trying to kill herself in Airplane. Still getting a chance to meet Alix of The Humming Giraffe, Pookie and Schnookie of Interchangeable Parts, Patty of Penalty Killing, and Heather B. of Top Shelf outweighed the potential boredom of the actual event, so off I went. Of course I'm writing about it days after the fact so everything has already been covered by actual hockey bloggers and I'm just repeating what other people have said, but I figure that's OK because being original has never been a hallmark of this blog.

And as it turns out, the NHL draft isn't nearly as boring as I thought it would be. Hurrah! Bettman was vaguely charming while being booed and is, of course, hilariously short, which is extra-obvious in person when tall hockey people are constantly walking past him. Also amusing is that the people running the show regularly spoke to the GMs as though they were unruly children. I suspect that's probably necessary. The first day we were way up in the 300s and could see only well enough to notice when our GMs were on the phone or away from their seat. Although that didn't stop us from attempting long-distance body-language reading. The draft doesn't exactly move quickly in the first round but between the GM watching, looking up players in the Hockey News draft preview I'd picked up, and chatting with each other and the Ottawa fan sitting next to us, we kept ourselves busy and entertained.
(The arena emptied out pretty drastically after Ottawa made their pick.)

Special entertainment props need to go to the Islanders for trading down not once, but twice, and the Devils for deciding that if the Islanders could do that than they could too, thank you very much. Also to John Carlson for handing his coat to Gary Bettman as though Bettman were the doorman. The Sabres did their bit by drafting a giant with their early first round pick. They later returned to their usual midget drafting with their late first round pick. I have nothing but admiration for Regier's apparent commitment to on-ice physical comedy. Seriously, all I want in life right now is to someday see Tyler Myers on the ice with Nathan Gerbe on a regular basis.

The second day of the draft was . . . less interesting. Mainly because with a few exceptions I didn't know who anyone was. But those exceptions we're totally fun. We got to see Alix's cousin drafted and we also got to see a kid Schnookie had run into on the elevator the previous night drafted. And, because we were allowed to sit in the 100s on the 2nd day, we were able to see everything much more closely.
(Regier makes a trade on the second day.)
We could even see the Sabres watching video of prospects before making their selections. We didn't stay for the whole draft, but we stuck it out through the 5th round, which seems pretty good to me.

And of course the off ice stuff--girly drinks, delicious food, and a hockey card games--was a blast. The card game, courtesy of Pookie and Schnookie, was particularly fun for me not only because I love games but because the cards are totally hilarious. Just look at that goalie (he was waived rather quickly). The very best part of the trip, though, was that everyone was just as fun in person as they are online.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Superheros at the Met

When I was younger I read comics constantly. My dad had this great collection of comics from back when the women in comics looked like this:

not like this:

and would therefore have been spared crippling back pain. One of the many things that led me to stop reading comics was the fact that I would look at the costumes and bodies of these women and think, "wow, I'm really not the target audience for this am I?" Granted, a more significant reason was the crappy writing and plotting, but the art was definitely a problem as well. Still, I have an abiding interest in the comic book superhero and his/her place in pop culture so I was totally excited about going to see the Met Costume Institute's exhibition, Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy.

The exhibition was simultaneously interesting and disappointing. It was fun to see the costumes from various movies, including the recent Iron Man and some of the fashion displayed was interesting to look at. But it wasn't what I was hoping for. Most of the fashion on exhibit was very literal in the way it used the superhero influences. The pieces mostly looked like costumes, not clothing. I would have liked to see more subtle, wearable influences. It would have made a better case for cross-pollination between superhero comics and fashion and the place of superheroes--or rather the place of ideas about superheroes--within our culture. As is it just seems like a fun chance to display some interesting costumes.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I Know You're Married But I've Got Feelings Too

Here I am, feeling whiny and stuck at JFK because they canceled my flight up to Buffalo and now I'm on one that leaves more than 2 hours later (if it leaves on time). Lovely.

Anyway, enough complaining. I've been listening to Martha Wainwright's new album, I Know You're Married But I've Got Feelings Too and as with her last album, I've got mixed feelings about this one. Martha is a fantastic live performer. She wasn't always--earlier in her career she tended to look miserable on stage and didn't really establish a great rapport with the audience--but she is now. She has this sort of raw, honest quality--or at least her performances can seem raw and honest--that is also quite theatrical when she's singing certain songs. It really separates her from your run of the mill singer-songwriters. The thing is though, that she doesn't seem to be able to transfer the unique quality of her live performances to recordings. I think there are two problems: One is that, while she's a perfectly decent songwriter, she's a more interesting singer than she is a songwriter. She's delightful when she's singing old standards, for example. The other is that her albums are more polished than her live shows and it flattens everything out a bit.

She also doesn't seem to be very prolific. Her first album had some songs from earlier EPs, and that was to be expected. In fact, I was happy about it because some of those songs, like "Don't Forget" are songs I love. But I was a little surprised that this she went back to that well for this album as well. "Jimi" is from her Martha Wainwright EP, which was released in 1999. That same EP gave us "Don't Forget" and "G. P. T." which were on her debut full-length, but those are much stronger songs. This one feels immature. "The Car Song," which is included as a bonus track, if from the Factory EP which was released in 2002. Again, it's something that didn't really need to go on an album as well. (The best song on that EP, incidentally, was her performance of "Bye Bye Blackbird.") "So Many Friends" has also been around for years--I have a recording of her singing it on Routes Montreal in 2004--but is a stronger song and hasn't been released before. "Comin' Tonight" is a song she performed a lot on tours over the last three years or so and it's one I really like. Although for some reason I always thought it was a cover. Apparently I'm delusional. It's quite catchy.

The album also has a couple of covers, one being Syd Barret's "See Emily Play" and the other being the Eurythmics' "Love is a Stranger." I've never heard "See Emily Play" before but it's a nice sounding song in Martha's cover. Taken on it's own her rendition of "Love is a Stranger" is fun, and it's a great song. But it's kind of similar to the Eurythmics version, really, just not as awesome. And her vocals don't match up to those of Annie Lennox. So it just winds up feeling superfluous. Maybe something that it would be a lot of fun to hear her do in concerts but not something that needed to be recorded.

What I'm really interested in then, is all the new to me songs that she wrote for the album. "Bleeding All Over You," the song from which the album title comes, is quite good and lyrically clever. One of my favorite songs on the record. It's followed up by "You Cheated Me," which is totally radio ready. I can just imagine singing along to the chorus while in the car. And unlike some of her songs it works really well on CD and doesn't need a live performance to come to life ("Comin' Tonight" and "Bleeding All Over You" also fit in this "good on CD" category). Another one I really enjoyed immediately is "Hearts Club Band."

There are a slew of other songs though, that I'm waiting to hear live before deciding on. "Jesus and Mary" is one of my favorite songs on the record in terms of lyrics and I think it's going to be really fantastic live. I've heard some shoddy live recordings and it really seems to have weight and propulsion. "In the Middle of the Night" is one I'm not loving now but think might improve significantly with her wailing it from stage. Meanwhile both "Tower Song" (about September 11th? the war?) and "Niger River" (a love song to her husband) are really lovely and interesting vocally. I love the way she sings, "if I can't have you," on "Niger River," drawing out and contracting words to add texture. So I'm looking forward to hearing those live as well, even though I find the lyrics to "Niger Song" to be simultaneously too self-consciously poetic and too self-pitying. And then there is "The George Song" about which I am wildly ambivalent. So maybe hearing that one will help clarify my thoughts. The only new-to-me song I outright dislike on early listens is "I Wish I Were," which I find boring.

So, you see, I'm kind of all over the place. On the balance I like the record, and I can't wait to go see her perform in July, but I always come away from her recordings wishing for more. I'd love to hear her do a live album, I think. I'd also love it if she did an album of standards at some point. But this will certainly do for now.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Top Girls

I really ought to have read this one before going to see it. And what's more, I'm familiar enough with Caryl Churchill's work that I should have known I should have read the damn thing first. Oops.

The themes of the opening act emerge only gradually, through the hubbub of non-sequiturs, characters talking over one another, and Marisa Tomei's accent. Why are these accomplished women all so unhappy? Again and again, they come back to their lost children, their need to leave home, to be different or leave the strictures of womanhood behind. Everyone but Patient Griselda wants something more, something different from that which most women of their time have. And in seeking it--in desiring it in the first place--they're unhappy.

In the later acts we're not in this surreal world with famous figures in the past but instead looking at the work and family life of a modern career woman--or what was a modern career woman when the play was written in the 80s. It's a critique of a certain kind of feminism--one that's more self-oriented as opposed to community-oriented. It feels a bit dated to me, and also distinctly British in the way it dwells on class issues and how they relate to feminism. It could just be, though, that Churchill's politics are not my own.

Still, it's a smart play and an interesting one, not to mention fantastically acted.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


Stoner doesn't sound like a thriller of a story. Farm boy goes to college, falls in love with literature, becomes a professor but never advances far, gets old, and dies. Fascinating, right? But the people in my book discussion group who had read it loved it, and the man who lent me the book went so far as to assure me it was a page turner. Proof that it isn't the plot that matters? Or, more accurately, that wonderful writers can turn the most unlikely of stories into something truly compelling?

John Williams's prose has a tremendous clarity to it that makes it a genuine pleasure to read. And what matters, in the end, are the people and things that Stoner loves, reading and literature among them. In Williams's hands, the act of reading, the acquisition of knowledge becomes something visceral and physical. Literature has the power to change a person's perception of the world:
In a moment of silence someone cleared his throat. Sloane repeated the lines, his voice becoming flat, his own again.

This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

Sloane's eyes came back to William Stoner, and he said dryly, "Mr. Shakespeare speaks to you across three hundred years, Mr. Stoner; do you hear him?"

William Stoner realized that for several moments he had been holding his breath. He expelled it gently, minutely aware of his clothing moving upon his body as his breath went out of his lungs. He looked away from Sloane about the room. Light slanted from the windows and settled upon the faces of his fellow students, so that the illumination seemed to come from within them and go out against a dimness; a student blinked and a thin shadow fell upon a cheek whose down had caught the sunlight. Stoner became aware that his fingers were un-clenching their hard grip on his desk-top. He turned his hands about under his gaze, marveling at their brownness, at the intricate way his nails fit into his blunt finger-ends; he thought he could feel the blood flowing invisibly through the tiny veins and arteries, throbbing delicately and precariously from his fingertips through his body.

Sloane was speaking again. "What does he say to you Mr. Stoner? What does his sonnet mean?"

Stoner's eyes lifted slowly and reluctantly. "It means," he said, and with a small movement raised his hands up toward the air; he felt his eyes glaze over as they sought the figure of Archer Sloane. "It means," he said again, and could not finish what he had begun to say.
Literature isn't something that Stoner understands but rather something that he experiences. In his introduction, John McGahern quotes from an interview with Williams in which the interviewer asks, "And literature is written to be entertaining?" "Absolutely," Williams replies, "My God, to read without joy is stupid." I feel like that joy permeates this book. Small wonder then, that it came so highly recommended; it really is wonderful.

As a side note, this was brought back into print by NYRB Classics.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Jerome Robbins

During my vacation I managed to finish up Deborah Jowitt's Jerome Robbins: His Life, His Theater, His Dance, which I quite enjoyed. It's very focused on his work, as opposed to the nitty gritty of his personal life, which is great because the former is what I was interested in reading about. Also good because the writing about his work was handled more smoothly--sometimes when writing about his personal life Jowitt starts a thread and then doesn't really pick it up again. Anyway, I'd taken the book out of the library hoping it would help me get a handle on Watermill. It didn't but it was interesting to read it after the all-Robbins program I saw last Friday, just prior to going on vacation. The program was Dances at a Gathering, Other Dances, and The Concert and I loved it.

I think Dances at a Gathering is something I need to see again. It's so long and there's so much to look at that I think I missed things. It was my first (and sadly, last) opportunity to see Damian Woetzel dance, and he certainly doesn't dance like someone who is about to retire--he was fantastic and it's a shame I won't have a chance to see more of him. I also particularly liked Ashley Bouder and Sara Mearns. They're both just so enjoyable to watch dance. I also thought Yvonne Borree was lovely--she was my friend's favorite--although I do understand what Macaulay means when he describes her dancing as small. I liked her anyway. The other dancers I didn't notice specifically but I think that was probably because I was more focused on the whole than on any specifics in this first viewing.

The Jowitt book talked extensively about community within Robbins's ballets, particularly this one, and also the way in which he wanted dancers to make the movement look spontaneous. I'd very much like to see the ballet again with those things in mind.

I was looking forward to Other Dances because Julie Kent was guesting and I think she's just a fantastically beautiful ballerina. I'd only ever seen Gonzalo Garcia dancing with Ashley Bouder, and I think it's safe to say that she and Kent are just a bit different. I couldn't help but feel like I would have preferred to see her dancing the part with someone like Marcelo Gomes. I felt like the connection wasn't quite there with Kent and Garcia and they didn't quite fill the parts, if that makes sense. It must be difficult though, to come in as a guest artist and dance with someone one doesn't normally dance with and have everything be perfect right off the bat.

I loved The Concert. Sterling Hyltin was so much fun in the main role with her big hair all over the place. She was delightfully goofy and the ballet itself was so genuinely funny. Much more in line with Fancy Free than the other Robbins ballets I've seen this season.

Overall, it was such a nice night at the ballet and gave me three different ballets that I'd like to see performed again at some point in the future.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Heading out...

So Friday and today have been, shall we say, not my best days. On Friday I had a dental appointment that was the most painful I ever had. And here everyone said that the procedure is less painful on the bottom teeth than the top. They were apparently supposed to give me Motrin beforehand, but it seems that everyone assumed someone else had done it, and by the time the Novocaine began to wear off, with the hygenist still working away at my teeth, the pain was pretty bad. When they finally did give me the painkillers, just before I left, they gave me 800 mgs, which is the same thing I got when I had my wisdom teeth out. And about an hour and some warm salt water later I could actually function. Which is good since I had ballet tickets with a friend (more on that later).

Then, Saturday, I headed off to the airport so I could meet my family in Maine for a vacation full of hiking and walking about. But I missed the last stair on the subway and sprained my left ankle for what must be about the 10th time. I didn't have time to go home and get the stuff I would need to take care of it properly without possibly missing my plane, so I spent the hour and a half train ride just trying to keep it elevated and hobbling from F to E to AirTrain and through check-in. At the airport, by the gates, I was finally able to buy some ibuprofen and get a cup of ice that I could wrap in a bandanna and use to ice my ankle. It may turn out to be a good thing that I brought extra books on this vacation—rather long books as well. Hopefully it'll improve quickly; I always find it difficult to tell on the first day. And I haven't actually looked at it yet, although even through the sock I can tell it's pretty swollen.

Anyway, updates may or may not be scant due to being on vacation—I don't know how much free time I'll have or if I'll have internet access. When I get around to it posts on Top Girls, Jerome Robbins ballets at NYCB, Stoner, and more are coming. I'm sure my one or two readers are delighted...

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Etudes/Rabbit and Rogue

I went to see ABT's mixed bill on Monday night. This is the second time in a short while that I've seen Etudes and one can't help but compare one performance to the other. The ballet opens with the corp doing barre exercises, and in this part the dancers of ABT were less synchronized than those of the Kirov. I mean that in the sense of both timing and style. There was something about ABT's corp that just seemed a little off. Once that section was in the past it improved and I thought they were quite exciting in the rest of the ballet. In the ending section I was also relieved that they were on a much more spacious stage than the City Center one and it looked less like someone was one second away from getting kicked in the head.

Xiomara Reyes danced the ballerina role. I'd barely seen her dance before and I really enjoyed her in this. When the Kirov danced this I saw Alina Somova, and I think it just might be safe to say that they're very different ballerinas. :) Reyes is tiny and compact but seemed so controlled and tasteful while simultaneously conveying real joy through her dancing. Sascha Radetsky, who had the male role that's full of jumping, was also great. Very precise, and sharp, and easy looking. Angel Corella was supposed to perform the male role with all the spinning but did not dance due to illness. (As a sidenote, I really wanted to say that he was scratched due to illness, but I think that might be the hockey fan coming out and maybe that's not what one says when talking about ballet.) Anyway, the idea of doing all that spinning when sick makes me feel sick but I couldn't help but feel disappointed not to see him dance the role. This was my favorite part of the ballet when I Sarafanov dance it with the Kirov and I imagine Corella would have been spectacular. Jared Matthews, who replaced him, wasn't. I'm still not good at articulating what I like and don't like about a performance, but in comparing him to Radetsky I felt like he lacked the cleanness and precision that was so pleasing about Radetsky's dancing. It was almost like his dancing looked a bit smudgy.

Overall I think that I enjoyed Etudes less the second time around and it wasn't the fault of the dancers. I understand what it's about, and I like the opportunity to see some lovely dancing, but the ballet never seems to add up to more than the sum of its parts and become truly interesting.

The second ballet was Rabbit and Rogue, a Twyla Tharp world premiere with a score by Danny Elfman. The ballet is divided into 5 parts: Frolic, Rag, Lyric, Gamelan, and Finale. Stiefel (Rogue) and Cornejo (Rabbit, which incidentally though irrelevantly is conejo in Spanish) danced the leads fabulously, wearing black bodysuits, each with a silver stripe diagonally across the front (Stiefel) or the back (Cornejo). Their relationship is an antagonistic one. They're constantly bothering one another, with Cornejo picking at Stiefel, or posturing, or walking away in a huff. The ensemble in the first section is dressed all in black and continually enters and exits, sometimes moving as a large unit, sometimes not. There is also a quartet of four dancers--Kajiya, Ricetto, Lopez, and Salstein, all very enjoyable. All the women wore fun, shiny silver shoes.

After the Frolic section we moved onto the Rag section; I assume the name refers to Ragtime music as it did have that feel to it. My favorite part of the ballet takes place in this section with Murphy and Hallberg as the Rag couple. Hallberg was also in a black bodysuit, this one with the silver stripes down the side. Murphy was in a sparkly black leotard. They began by dancing a kind of romantic seeming, social dance influenced duet. But part way through Murphy pushed Hallberg away, asserting her independence. Hallberg tries, at first unsuccessfully to get her back, finally succeeding at the end, but not before Murphy has danced brilliantly on her own, showing just how much she can do on her own two feet. The section features everyone but Rabbit/Cornejo, but Murphy and Hallberg are at it's center. I just find both of them such a joy to watch dance, so assured and lovely, and it was fun to see them in this more relaxed, loose feeling work.

The Lyric section involves Rabbit and Rogue (again pestering one another) with the quartet and the women of the ensemble. Then came the Gamelan section. Apparently Gamelan is a kind of musical ensemble and I assume it is related to the music we were hearing at this point, although I'm not at all familiar with it. Here we get the Gamelan couple as the focus although everyone outside the Rag couple makes an appearance. The Gamelan couple was Paloma Herrera and Gennadi Savaliev, who were also very good and had the most balletic feeling choreography of all the leads. The couple appears in white and silver, with Herrera wearing a white dress that came down to about mid-thigh. The women of the quartet also wore white dresses which were nearly identical but came down to the knee, while the women of the ensemble were in dresses that, though also in the same style, went down to the ankle. The men wore white shirts and silver leggings. The Gamelan couple seemed to project more calm and less personality than the Rag couple.

Finally in the finale the dancers all appear on stage together, with on man--I'm not sure who he was--interceding in the bickering between Rabbit and Rogue and forcing them to work together partnering the same woman. And so it ends on a note of conciliation, with everyone on stage dancing together and our two heroes having buried the hatchet and decided to be friendly.

I guess, first, that it's hard not to feel fortunate while watching Ethan Stiefel, Herman Cornejo, David Hallberg, and Gillian Murphy, along with other excellent dancers, all at once. Tharp is fun and high energy and while this isn't my favorite work of hers that I've seen (and I've seen very little) I did enjoy it quite a bit. It's a little bit too busy--too stuffed with dance that doesn't perhaps have the room to breathe that it should--and a bit too long. I think it would need more differentiation in tone to pull off the length. But Tharp also really gives her dancers a chance to shine--which they did--and has moments of inventiveness, musicality, humor, and fun. The relationships and interactions among the characters give us a few really nice moments and the dancers are something else, so I'll take it. The Danny Elfman score is a delightful mishmash that sounds like one of his movie scores. If you've seen a movie he's done the score for I'm sure you can imagine it.

Photos stolen from review.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Swan Lake

Now that Wendy and I have been attending the ballet somewhat regularly for a year we've actually gotten to the point where we occasionally choose what day to attend based on who is dancing rather than which day is most convenient to us. We'd never seen Veronika Part dance before but we wanted to see David Hallberg and I'd heard nice things about Part in Swan Lake so it seemed like a good choice. Then, a couple days ago, we read a review in the New York Times in which Macauley's comments about Hallberg could safely be described as rapturous, so that was nice.

We went to a Saturday matinee so of course the family circle was stuffed to the gills with kids. I was a bit worried but it was actually probably the least obnoxious ballet audience--quiet and complaint free--I've been a part of in the last year or so. Lively, of course. During the Black Swan pas de deux one little girl was dancing along, bopping up and down in her seat (she was sitting somewhere where this didn't block anyone's view). It was nice to see people so enthused.

Anyway, about the dancing . . . Hallberg was wonderful, as expected. He seems so easy and natural; his body always looking like it just belongs in whatever position it's in at a particular movement. Part isn't exciting the way Diana Vishneva is, particularly as Odile, but she's an exceptionally beautiful dancer and in terms of line and movement seemed a good match for Hallberg. (As a side note, I also enjoy how non-stick-like she looks.) I enjoyed both her very stately and dignified swan queen--as Odette she was distinctive and really seemed to capture the mood of the music--and her openly malicious seductress. The fouettes seemed less climactic then they have when I've seen them previously but the full portrait she created was marvelous.

I wish the final act wasn't so rushed feeling in comparison to the others. Then again, that's certainly not a new complaint and overall it was a very nice afternoon at the ballet.

Pictures stolen from the websites of the New York Times and ABT.


Despite being named after the protagonist of a famous love story, Pyramus couldn't be called a classy cat. But lately he's taking it to positively dog-like levels:

He's actually not the first cat I've had who enjoyed drinking from the toilet either.