Friday, March 27, 2009

Rambo Solo

I went to see this on Wednesday with Performance Club and think that it was the first thing I've attended with the group that I didn't enjoy. It's not that I hated it or had a particularly negative reaction to it . . . I just found it frequently tedious. At first I thought that the fact that I've never seen Rambo nor have I read the novel, First Blood, upon which it's based might be what prevented me from being more actively engaged. But it turned out that many people were equally unfamiliar with the source material but enjoyed Rambo Solo much more than I did. It might have been partially that I was uncomfortable. We were all sitting on this shag carpet with cushions and unless you were sitting against the wall--which I wasn't--there was nothing to lean against. By the end of the show I was fairly cranky about that.  But at the same time, some of the parts where I was most bored were toward the beginning, before I was all that uncomfortable. 

I think that sometimes it's hard to say why you're bored by something that other people enjoyed. I just had trouble getting into the story and for quite some time felt like I wasn't interested in having it recounted to me. With books I'm pretty comfortable saying that something--however great it may be--just isn't for me. With performance I'm often much more anxious about doing that; I feel as if I'm just missing something or being a lazy viewer. But in this case I think it really is just that the show wasn't my cup of tea and I feel pretty much OK about saying that. 

I'm not saying that the show doesn't have value for me.  There were moments I loved, particularly in the way Zachary Oberzan used his apartment as the setting for the story. There was a very childlike sense of play in his crawling under the futon or pretending the loft bed was a cliff (not to mention throwing M & Ms). In a sense he seemed to be transposing the make-believe games of childhood into an adult setting where they are no longer so normal and expected and where willing co-conspirators are thin on the ground. I haven't gone crawling around on my floor for any purpose other than cleaning it in years, but watching the show reminded me how fun that had been when I was a kid.

I'm also much more interested in Rambo Solo in retrospect than I was while actually experiencing it. As the retelling of the story came to its climax, I became more engaged. I grew interested in Rambo Solo as a portrait of an obsession and I actually wanted to know how it would end, since I didn't already know the story. It's also a testament to the way in which books can influence us. How they can get under our skins and into our heads. Even when they're not very good books. Or at least not of any particular literary value. But by the point when I actually started to be interested in these things my tailbone was killing me and I didn't feel like the payoff was enough for my prior boredom. 

The way I felt was far from universal though, and to read the interesting-as-always Performance Club conversation go here

Also over on the WNYC blog: a post about The Wooster Group's La Didone where the comment thread has focused in part on the use of technology in live performance. I haven't been able to get to the show--much to my disappointment since I thought it sounded pretty awesome--but I've been following the discussion closely as these multimedia, technology embracing performances are something I'm kind of conflicted about. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Bits and Pieces

I just now got around to watching the series finale of Battlestar Galactica and it kind of sucked, huh? I mean, talk about preachy and unbelievable. Which is a shame given that the series, generally speaking, was neither of those things. At least insofar as a sci fi series ever seems plausible, Battlestar Galactica did because it featured great, complex characters who made credible choices. Until they didn't in the end. I mean, it's not totally surprising that the finale was anticlimactic because this season in general has been pretty uneven, I think, but it's still disappointing.

I've read a few thoughtful and interesting reviews of Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones--Daniel Mendelsohn's for The New York Review of Books and Garth Risk Hallberg's at The Millions were particularly good--and yet for all that I'm interested in reading about the book, I find that I have no interest in actually reading it. It's something that happens to me fairly frequently lately.

One book I do want to read is Greg Ames's soon to be published Buffalo Lockjaw. I'm not at all convinced I'll like it, but I'll read it anyway because it's set in Buffalo. And because the cover is really pretty perfect--if slightly cliche--for a book that takes place there. The beer and the font keep the whole snow scene from looking too quiet or classy. Neither of those are very good reasons to read a book that otherwise wouldn't really appeal to me, so we'll see how this goes.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

My Grandfather

I was going to post about books today, but my grandfather died this morning and it seems appropriate to write about that instead. It wasn't terribly surprising as he was both old and unhealthy and I'm sure it must be awful to be blindsided by death so I'm grateful for that, particularly for my grandmother's sake. But, of course, it's still sad.

The last time I saw my grandfather I had gone out to my grandparents' apartment in Queens for the night. It was during what was the low point in my whole bed bug ordeal. I wasn't really eating and I'd go to sleep by 8:30 or 9 only to wake up at 4 in the morning still horribly tired. And returning to my apartment after work pretty much made me cry. Every day. (Yeah, I didn't deal with that so well. I am definitely not an example of how to handle a particularly stubborn bed bug infestation in an emotionally healthy manner.) Anyway, I was treated for bed bugs late in the day and my apartment was just a wreck. I had to be out for three hours because of the pesticides and the idea of coming back in fairly late in the evening and putting it all back together so I could go to bed was too much to bear. So I put some money and my metrocard in a ziploc bag with a toothbrush and a book that I knew hadn't been exposed to the bugs, changed into freshly laundered and therefor bedbug free clothes, and headed out to Queens. 

My grandmother was just getting over being ill but had dinner ready and over the first real meal I'd eaten in a couple weeks my grandfather told me about the time he'd had "bedbugs." Apparently, during World War II he'd taken a lovely blanket from a dead German soldier. And this would have been great. What luck! But the blanket turned out to be infested with bedbugs. Who migrated over and set up residence in his chest hair. Until he got rid of them by pouring a gallon of gasoline over himself. Now, given that bedbugs don't live on people, I pretty sure what was living in his chest hair was not bedbugs. But a little bit of perspective goes a long way. 

I slept on their couch that night and the next morning my grandfather made me eggs and bacon for breakfast. Everyone in the family always loved when my grandfather made breakfast. My grandparents took such good care of me that day. I'd felt so alone standing in my chemical-filled mess of an apartment, and going to stay with them for the night reminded me of how many people I have in my life who love me and are there for me at a time when I needed to remember that.  So I've been thinking about that a lot today. 

There are so many other things as well . . . all the little and big things that make up a life. But that seems like enough for tonight. 

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


This past Friday I went to see Chautauqua! with Performance Club. I enjoyed it quite a bit. Others did not. There's a lot of discussion going on over at Claudia's discussion post on the WNYC blog. All of it far more interesting than what I could come up with on my own to post here.

I will say that I think my unfamiliarity with downtown performance--and really with performance in general--definitely causes me to miss things but probably also, at times, allows me to enjoy things that people who've seen more don't because it's still all new to me. It's been a lot of fun to discover things that are new to me.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Growth Report

It's a good thing spring is on its way. Winter is hard on my aloe plants, which always look a bit the worse for the wear after months inside. They're happier out on the balcony. And both my bamboo plants are looking a bit raggedy: one because the cat decided to eat off its leaves and the other for reasons unknown. But at least one of my plants is doing surprisingly well. Back in December I mentioned that I had acquired a cutting from my sister's Rat Tail cactus and didn't know how it was going to do. At the time it looked like this:
Well apparently my form of benevolent neglect is right up its alley, because it's at least doubled in size.

Hey, it's the little things, right?

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Such a Long Journey

This wasn't entirely unlike the experience of reading White Tiger in that I was consistently engaged, and I actively enjoyed reading the book, yet at the end I was left feeling like the book was, well, just a book. That's probably not the clearest description. What I mean is that I feel like the best fiction has a life outside the pages it is printed on. It doesn't just capture your interest; it makes the world it describes feel real and immediate. I'm not saying that all the books that do this or great, nor am I saying that the same books will work for everybody, but I do think the feeling I'm talking about is an important feature of the books I love best.

So at first I thought that my problem with Such a Long Journey was that I was intellectually engaged but not emotionally engaged, and was privileging the latter over the former. That's probably true to an extent. But the more I consider it the more I think that the real problem lies elsewhere. It seems to me that Mistry undermines the many good things he is doing with his heavy-handed symbolism. His characters have to do double duty as people whose actions evolve naturally and people whose actions are so rife with symbolism that they become weighted down. I want them to be human beings and I want the things that happen to feel like they happen not because they have some preordained meaning but because this is the life the characters are leading. But Mistry forces his characters and events to be more than that in a way that is so subtlety free that it makes them less than human even as it imbues them with meaning. And I spent time thinking about the choices of the author instead of immersed in the world of the book. Something that, for me, is always at least a bit of a disappointment.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Founding Choreographers II and Short Stories

In the past couple weeks I went to a couple of programs at the New York City Ballet, the first consisting of Ballo della Regina, Davidsbündlertänze, and Glass Pieces and the second consisting of Swan Lake, The Steadfast Tin Soldier, Romeo and Juliet, and Slaughter on Tenth Avenue. So no more Vienna, happily. I'm not sure that I was in the mood for any more of that.

I was particularly interested in seeing Ballo della Regina again because although I've seen it before it's always been with ABT on the smaller City Center stage. It was a pleasure to see it with more room to spread out. And Davidsbündlertänze was beautiful although something I need to see again while Glass Pieces was so energetic and felt so much, for all it's Egyptian whatever, like a ballet born from New York. 

I think though, that the program was something that would have been more enjoyable from, well, somewhere other than the cheap seats. It doesn't normally bother me--hey, you get used to your spot--but for this particular program I think the lower angle would have been nice. Partly because I would have liked to see Davidsbündlertänze from closer and partially because I think it would have made the silhouette effect in Glass Pieces nicer. Also, I really need to find my little opera glasses. They're in a bag somewhere in my apartment (much like most of my possessions) but I certainly have no idea where.

I enjoyed the Short Stories program rather less for the most part. I like Maria Kowroski fine, but didn't particularly love her as Odette and I didn't like the corps that much either for all that the choreography they've been given isn't the problem. The way they used their arms felt sort of perfunctory to me and didn't quite create that poetic feeling that Swan Lake seems to call for. And then you've got The Steadfast Tin Soldier which is a nice little bit of fluff and the Romeo and Juliet pas de deux, which was bland through no fault of the dancers. I was glad I went though, because Slaughter on Tenth Avenue was a lot of fun. I'd never Robert Fairchild dance before that I can recall but I thought he was great tapping away. And I'm always happy to see Sara Mearns who I think is wonderful (not exactly a controversial opinion there). I normally think of her as being the perfect dancer for romantic roles and parts that call for a smooth, flowing quality of movement, so Slaughter isn't really something I would expect her in. Yet she was fantastic in it. 

Speaking of dancers doing well in unexpected things, it's something that Macaulay touched on briefly in his season wrap-up of NYCB. But it's mostly other things he wrote that are stirring up the discussion. (A few links to commentary about it:  Turned InSwan Lake Samba Girl, Dancing Perfectly Free.)I don't necessarily disagree with his comments about several of the dancers--in fact I agree with most of them--but I do wish that he'd used the space to write about things he hasn't written much about previously, rather than returning to that well again. Anyone who reads the dance criticism in the New York Times regularly knows how he feels about those dancers. I'd rather not be bored. 

Sunday, March 01, 2009

A Letter

Dear Sabres,

That was a lousy, pathetic excuse for a hockey game. I paid $70 to witness that shit in person and I hope you're properly ashamed that anyone would have wasted their money on watching that. I may have had fun tonight but it was no thanks to you. (Lalime, you're excused. You were fine and it's not your fault the team clearly loves playing like absolute trash in front of you.) 

I mean, the Islanders are the worst team in the league for a reason. And tonight? They played like the Islanders. And yet you were shut out. If I was that shitty at my job I wouldn't have a job. I'm just saying. 

All the best,