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Archive for the ‘Art and Artists’ Category

The Alvin Ailey dance troupe has just finished its triumphant Washington tour, and I have just returned from watching the show. The theater was packed to the rafters, and many many black families had come to honor the dancers– a very different audience from that with which one normally shares the theater, much more enthusiastic. Cheering and clapping with great good humor at every piece–at every pause even. Not every piece deserved such accolades, but there, let us not be mulish about it.
The first piece (=”Stack-up”) was all bopping and jiving, really splendid stuff, all those dancers out on stage in brilliant colors, displaying such amazing athletic grace, such verve. The second piece (=”Victoria’) not QUITE so fine, the music was squalling away, and there were 3 large white– trees? Constructs? Sort of like the feet of the Eiffel tower. Underneath these edifices, the dancers writhed and moved in astonishing ways but not in ways that one loved so much. I somehow found myself napping a teensy bit. Then, they did a charming piece called Ella, which was simply 2 men moving to one of Ella Fitzgerald’s ridiculous scat singing pieces, silly stuff but very lovable. The audience ate it up. Lastly, they did their standard piece, Revelations, dances to a bunch of spirituals, which seemed to be what most of the audience had come for. Good enough stuff, deep pliés in long skirts sort of thing. But the LAST one was something else–Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham! Worth the price of admission right there. The ladies came on, all dressed in bright yellow dresses with matching hats and fans, holding stools in their hands. And they quivered the fans, and set down the stools and sat on them–and, wow, such moves! And then in came the men, all dressed up with pants and shirts and vests, and my, how they danced!

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Ballet

Tuesday night was ABT night at the Kennedy Center! This time I made it without any undue excursions to Virginia, in a calm and tranquil manner– SO different from a previous event which one has simply REMOVED from memory.
SO embarrassing.
Having parked for a thrifty $16 across the street (MY it was COLD–a short walk but very horrid) I entered the hallowed halls and strolled to my seat.

First on the program was Serenade After Plato’s Symposium, music by Leonard Bernstein, choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky–supposedly an “abstract exploration” of Plato’s themes. All men, except for one electrifying moment when a woman suddenly appears, dances with one of the men, and then disappears. Women=transitory. Thanks for that revelation, Plato! There was some astonishingly beautiful dancing, though if you’d told me they were celebrating the third snowfall of 2018 in Prague or the invention of moveable type I would probably have bought it.


After Plato came a little Chopin, choreographed by Jerome Robbins: a huge grand piano on stage and two lovely dancers doing charming dances to 4 mazurkas and 1 waltz.

Very nice, if not particularly inspiring.

Then came the Challenging Piece–danced to music by Philip Glass, who is not one of my favorites, but let us not be cantankerous for heaven’s sake. The dancers worked hard, and they are very nimble–those beautiful bodies, in perfect alignment, so strong, so dedicated. Misty Copeland starred, a lovely young woman whose excellent moves have made her a principal at the ballet. Apparently this was a role previously reserved for white and Asian women. Her life has not been easy–but dance, dance, she wanted to dance and there she was on stage, those fabulous legs sending her flying like a bird in the air.

Then came the last piece, to music by Benjamin Britten, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon–both favorites of mine. Which was why I was there on a Tuesday night, dooming my Wednesday at work to frightful yawnings and fatigue. The music was so fresh, so engaging, and the dance so fascinating–I was mesmerized. Here is a bit of it–a little fuzzy, but you can see the patterns, the charm: the reason for spending all that money, for leaving the house to travel the wintry world, for facing all those unfriendly people.
Ballet is just so beautiful.

Then back across the freezing street to the garage and home.

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To those who claim I am impatient and intolerant let me just point out: I WATCHED THE ENTIRE MOVIE OF CLOUD ATLAS.

You will ask why on earth I should undertake such a thankless task.

Well, the alert movie watcher quickly understands that the actors have been persuaded to take many different parts in this large trundling drama, each one with its own particular makeup–some of which are so shockingly horrid as make one gasp with outrage! For instance, here is the actor who played Elrond in LotR, garishly tweaked into an oddly ghastly Asian.

So, so…wrong. ALL the actors have been similarly maltreated, but the process which turns westerners into pseudo-easterners is the most vicious. The parade of unbelievably bad transformations was mesmerizing, and it was the game of guessing who they were that kept me watching. For instance, Hugh Grant appears as Greedy Oil Tycoon—and then, as Gruesome Hawaiian Cannibal Chief!

The hours these actors spent being painted and glued—well, well, they get well paid for it, I suppose.

The worst trick is the one played on poor old Tom Hanks—oh my! He looks worse in every get up (SIX of them), and in the persona of a Simple Native sometime in the ghastly future, he not only looks terrible, but he speaks in an ineffably embarrassing sort of Peasant Slang, which a kindly watcher might wish to simply mute the sound on: “Oh, lonesome night. And babbits bawling, the wind biting the bone . . . The fangy devil, Old Georgie hisself. Mm. Now your ear up close, and I’ll yarn you about the first time we met, eye to eye.

Sigh. Still, I patiently watched the whole thing.

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Persistence

I am making slow but deliberate promenade towards Back to Normal, after a fairly ghastly surgery on Tuesday.
So I there I was, carefully making my way to the Kennedy Center last night, to see American in Paris. It was BRUTALLY cold in the metropolis last night, dear friends–many degrees below freezing. My brain was not progressing at warp speed, but I gently and firmly made my way through the familiar streets to–WHAT FRESH HELL WAS THIS?? The street that led to the K Center was….CLOSED.
OK. OK!
I would take another route. I inched up to the Circle, noticing many other cars taking a road before the circle, but too slow in the uptake to follow them. Which is why I shortly thereafter found myself BACK on the same track, coming up to the same turn, doomed to repeat my foolishness.
But not so! I had learned! Again inching forward in traffic, I turned on the correct road, proceeded in a slow but determined way and eventually found myself entering the K Center grounds!
AND SWIFTLY leaving them to rocket over into Virginia, having made an ill-considered move which put me onto the bridge and on my way to eternity.
But I foiled eternity, somehow hooking onto Route 50, crossing the Potomac on Key Bridge, and nipping back down Whitehurst Freeway. For the third time. THIS time, I made no mistakes and eventually found myself $23 poorer, car parked within those sacred walls, and myself soberly progressing to the Opera House.
For which, Hosanna!
The show was very nice, lots of color and verve. Probably more vervy with the original performers, but this was fine. I smiled, I applauded, and then I went home.
Success–I congratulate myself!

Next time I shall ask Google before I leave.

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I know many of us–well, some of us–well, a few of us–are eagerly anticipating The Last Jedi (#8 in the Star Wars Saga)! I have recently learned that it is A THING for eminent personalities to don the white helmet and march in step with the storm troopers–and among the throng will be none other than Princes William and Harry!

​Perhaps THAT will change your mind about being such a pointy-headed snooty snob on the topic? NO? Me neither.

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Cultural Event

I’m sure you are all familiar with college theater, which can be surprisingly good–and of course, surprisingly horrid–but which is always available, and very grateful to the wallet. I just attended such a show–of the surprisingly good variety–and during the perhaps a TEENSY BIT long fund-raising spiel that preceded the show, the worthy dean mentioned that tickets for the show cost less than parking at the Kennedy Center. Well of course, MOST things cost less than parking at the K Center, but still, I see his point.

The show was at the Hartke Theater, of Catholic University, where my parents used to take us back in the stone age–they were ever on the lookout for thrifty ways of introducing their children to culture. For more expensive shows, they chose one amongst us on a rotating basis. (I will never forget that black day when the grim chore of child sacrifice to culture fell on me and I experienced Handel’s Messiah for the first time. A quick perusal of the text had fostered the comforting illusion of brevity—HA! A vile trick! I was outraged to discover that having once sung whatever it was–they went and SANG IT OVER AND OVER AND OVER. Hours and hours passed by. The infant Hope fumed.)

So now, some 60 years later, my kindly nephew and his family invited me to see the Hartke Theater’s boffo version of Kiss Me Kate, that grand show. I had seen it at the Shakespeare Theater a couple years ago, and this show was actually more fun, if of course less professional. Fine singing, good sets, and if some of the costumes were heinous, I have seen worse. (Though perhaps not MUCH worse than the fairly ghastly attempt at a cod-piece which possibly was meant to be humorous but which covered the groin like a frontal diaper. Spare my blushes, Catholic University!) However, nothing could be more garish than the costumes of the original production.

One of the songs has aged badly, alas, and is something of a trial for modern audiences-gamely performed by the charming young singers, but they must have had inward misgivings:

I’m a maid who would marry
And will take double-quick
Any Tom, Dick or Harry,
Any Tom, Harry or Dick.
Dick, dick, dick,
A dicka dick,
Dick, dick, dick,
A dicka dick,
Dick, dick, dick,
A dicka dick,
Dick, dick, dick,
A dicka dick!

Which brought to mind a VERY NAUGHTY SONG by Frank Zappa which I will not sully these pages by quoting but will just add a teensy link. I always liked Frank Zappa–what might he have accomplished if he hadn’t died so young!

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The first dance performance of the season–for which I virtuously purchased season tickets, thus demonstrating my support for the arts–was a dazzling performance of The Red Shoes, a full length show based on the old movie. The Washington Post reviewer was disappointed to find it not quite up to the movie—never having seen the movie, I allowed myself to be enchanted.

The show was created and choreographed by that naughty wunderkind, Sir Matthew Bourne–famous for his gay version of Swan Lake. Which, I will own, I did not entirely love. But then neither do I entirely love the traditional version. Quite the reverse, in fact–deadly old chestnut which you would have to pay me to watch. But the Bourne version is not winning my vote either…

However, The Red Shoes is another thing altogether, charming and witty. The music is a mélange of music by Bernard Hermann, who composed scores for films: Citizen Kane, Fahrenheit 451, and many others. You’ll be thinking, whoa, what a dog’s breakfast, but in fact it works very well. The show was absolutely stunning, with gorgeous dance, astonishing sets, deliriously silly and wonderful costumes. Bourne’s dancers are very athletic, and the women are much more, how to put it, voluptuous, than traditional ballet dancers. The dancer playing Victoria Page (= ensorcelled by the red shoes) actually had breasts—unheard of for most ballerinas. Possibly Bourne allows his dancers to eat the occasional cupcake, something which traditional ballerinas can only dream of.

Flamboyant scenes, one after another—dancers rehearsing, cigarettes hanging from those beautiful mouths—dancers partying at the beach, wearing the most amazingly garish swim suits while bouncing matching beach balls–

—and, oh my, the brilliant ballet-within-the-ballet, which at one point became nothing but elegant black silhouettes against a white backdrop. This was a SHOW, comrades. I came out of the theater still smiling.

Next week: La Bayadère. Sigh.

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