Archive for the ‘Dance’ Category

Pirates and Happy Dust

Well, dear friends–this has been a week of cultural experience! I am now recovering from overstimulation with a healing Dark and Stormy.

1) I have just returned from YET ANOTHER FINE BALLET SHOW, Le Corsaire –and I’m sure you’re biting your nails with anxiety to hear all about it! I must admit that during the frantic applause and loud cheering that ended the show I found myself thinking NEVER AGAIN. The stupid is very strong in this one, and so much of that cursed miming– I had to stop myself from groaning.
But this was the Mariinsky Ballet, and oh my, the dancing is really really fine. One ballet blogger explained the show’s enduring popularity by the fact that “the whole ballet is just a 2 1/2 hour-long choreographed dance-off.” Truly, the astonishing leaps and turns, not to mention the gorgeous acrobatic flexibility and strength of those beautiful dancers made me gasp.

But, that said, GOOD LORD, this show is about girls being sold as slaves, rescued by Brave Corsairs (=pirates), captured again, and then rescued again. LOTS of scenes with those lascivious Turks drooling over the ladies, who obligingly do their charming dances to show how sad they are about being slaves. Including one number where they do a fetching number while BOUND TOGETHER WITH HEAVY ROPES. Oh those KRAZY Russians! The guys wear costumes of an effeminacy that makes the eyes to open wide. These are brave men.
The story is (loosely) based on the poem by Byron.
I think from now on my tickets will be for ballets choreographed in this century.

2) On Thursday I saw a more modest production, a partially staged version of Porgy and Bess–the stage was filled with the orchestra, and the singers acted in front of them with a very few props. I LOVE this show, every song is beautiful. a masterpiece of melody. The show was at the Strathmore, a beautiful concert hall with brilliant acoustics. The singers were unnecessarily miked, and they were dumpy and their costumes were drab–but I have loved this show all my life, and it brought tears to my eyes. The story is grim and it does not end happy, but the music is filled with joy and no one can hear it without rapture. At least, I can’t! And did you know that Gershwin’s will stated that the opera could not be staged except with an all-black cast? Gershwin, our American genius, felled by cancer when he was only 39.
The audience at this show was all ancient, the halt and the lame–I have never seen so many canes and walkers. Perhaps because it was a Thursday night? Perhaps because the parking is free at the Strathmore? I hope it’s not because younger people don’t love Gershwin.
Here is a link to a La Scala production clip; some of these singers were singing at the Strathmore on Thursday.
But just find a recording and listen to it–you will love it, I promise.


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The tender spring and suddenly blooming trees electrified the city–everyone rushed out to see and be seen. And so the traffic was astonishingly vile, and I was almost late for the show at the Kennedy Center. But not!
This was the New York City Ballet, gamely slogging on despite ghastly scandal and lawsuits–a story of truly vile behavior that really, I don’t want to hear any more about. Depressing, deeply distasteful. The worst offenders were fired, though had they been politicians instead of dancers the punishments would surely have been more severe.

Peter Martins was beautiful as a god when he was a young dancer. But he was not a good man.
In ANY case, the company was in town, and I went to see them. They did a collection of dances, and displayed a pleasing athletic grace, and some stunning lifts and leaps.

1. Easy, set to Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs, by Leonard Bernstein
This is a Sneaker Ballet, the lads and lasses in soft shoes and bright pink/yellow/blue outfits. Fun, rather!

2. In The Night, set to various beloved Chopin preludes
The traditional ballet, 3 couples, 3 lovely duets, and I will admit that I dozed a teensy bit in the first couple’s dance, resumed sentience in the 2nd, and was completely exhilarated by the 3rd–OH MY! Such excitement, such swirling skirts, such thrilling lifts! The lady wore a black skirt with red petticoats underneath, and when her partner swept her into the air there was such a heady billow of tulle!

3. The Runaway, set to music by Nico Muhley, Kanye West, Jay-Z, and James Blake
Well, well, rather loud, but not disagreeable. These are world class dancers, and they can do all the moves. But the costumes were NOT becoming. The inspiration was sort of Black and White Japanese Anime, and some were quite witty. But–BLOOMERS! ON THE MEN! With large black NECK FRILLS! These are the fittest, most comely men in the world–but even they looked silly in these dreadful outfits.

4. Something to Dance About, set to various Broadway musical tunes
This gave us the Jerome Robbins dance routines we know and love, with a lady singing the songs on the stage, while the dancers whirled and twined around her. An homage to the the man, with everyone on stage venerating his image at the finale.

But you know what–he is worthy of such praise.

The traffic on the drive home continued horrid. But such a lovely day, it didn’t bother me.

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It is somewhat dispiriting to return from an expensive show (that did not charm me) to find a $100 speeding ticket waiting for me in the mail, souvenir of the drive to the previous expensive show (that also didn’t charm me).
This show was a ballet called Raise the Red Lantern, danced by the National Ballet of China. The story is based on Wives and Concubine (a 1990 novel by Su Tong, astonishingly bleak). There was a 1991 film which I saw but don’t remember. It was much admired.

The ballet is–very colorful.
There were red lanterns.
There were Chinese opera scenes, which possibly were correctly performed–most of us in the audience had no idea. Though, there were a lot of Chinese Americans there, drinking it all in. Maybe the Chinese opera bits were just the thing for them. Not so much for me, though it was very colorful, as I said.
There was a strident soprano making loud sounds in the background, which did not appear to me to always be exactly in tune, but then, I have no education in Chinese culture.
There was a lot of percussion and fairly uninteresting music–but again, I have no education in Chinese culture.
There was also a certain amount of ensemble dancing which could have used a little more rehearsal, perhaps. Still, very dramatic.
At least there was the program, always dependable for a laugh: “On the wedding night, despite her desperate resistance, the bride becomes overcome by her tragic destiny.” Which is to say, IS RAPED. And when the lovers are killed at the end:” “Feudalism strangles their young lives and beautiful love.” The story was set in the 1920’s.
Well, it ended eventually, and I drove home. On the way home, the last bit of Don Giovanni was on, a splendid opera.
And, not a bit out of tune.

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Having prudently determined to save $6 by eschewing the outrageously priced Kennedy Center garage ($23!!) I bravely walked all the way from the $17 garage to the theater IN MY HIGH HEELS.

Women are so brave, don’t you think?

I regret to say that the show –Harlequinade by the ABT–was not worthy of this mighty effort. It’s a piece of antique fluff, lovingly brought back to life from what seems to me well deserved oblivion. Harlequin and Columbine and Pierrot and Pierrette–old fashioned in our grandparents’ time, remembered these days in British pantomimes perhaps, though no where else.
THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS were obviously spent on fabulous costumes–spangles! feathers!–and thousands of hours spent in grinding rehearsals. The story concerns a miserly father, whose servant Pierrot wears that white outfit so traditional to mimes and clowns (with sleeves extending beyond his hands, an odd look).

Mean dad won’t let his daughter Columbine marry her beloved Harlequin; there is an aged wealthy suitor–well, well, such stuff. You will not be amazed to hear that Harlequin wins his lady and all ends in celebration.

When I add that there was a huge group of children dancers, each laboriously outfitted in miniature versions of the grown up costumes, and all prancing about doing many many SO adorable dances, you will instantly perceive how truly saintly I am become–did I storm out of that place and go home? No, I did not.
Perhaps it was the high heels..
Though, there was some truly brilliant dancing–sparkling and crystalline, quite astonishing. Mostly it was bland sugary stuff–but every once in a while, those dancers filled the theater with joy.

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When I was a little girl, my family lived in Greece–such a paradise it was. My wonderful parents, my siblings, our dog–a life filled with brilliant happiness. Over 60 years ago now, but still I remember family picnics on beaches by the turquoise sea, biking in the leafy city, games, and dinners, and good times.
And the sound of old Greek music is the sound of happiness to me.
YES, yes, I know it often reminds one of the bleating of a discontented goat, and it does go on a bit.
BUT, to me the sound is wild and joyful, and of a piece with all human music: how BAD she treated me, how SAD I am, but let’s dance, let’s drink!

Those singers​ are all gone now, but their grandchildren, their great grandchildren, still sing these songs, still dance these dances.
Or at least, I like to think they do. ​

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Today I had tickets to the Mark Morris Dance company, at the Kennedy Center.
I am not a fan of Mark Morris, but I recognize that he has created some truly beautiful moves. I didn’t love his version of Nutcracker (“The Hard Nut”) but it always gets great reviews–other people love it.
This show, called Layla and Majnun, is based on an Azerbaijani opera that has roots in ancient Persian poetry– a sad tale of love lost.

This modern dance adaptation included the Silk Road musicians and famed Azerbaijani singers Alim Qasimov and his daughter Farghana Qasimova, performing on stage.
We heard the whole song cycle before the dancers came out. The music is impressive, dramatic and tragic, long held notes, quavers, odd chords.
Nice, but a little, well, LONG.
The translation was not inspiring:

“My soul is on fire because we are apart
I want to join my beloved…

Then more musicians and more singers came in, and the dancers.
The men wore long blue coats over loose white trousers, and the women wore singularly unattractive orange dresses. It happens that orange and blue is one of those combinations that I particularly dislike, but I earnestly strove to overcome this shaming prejudice.
The dancing is pleasingly symmetrical, with patterns emerging and repeated, handed back and forth between the men and women.

What was odd was how seldom a man and woman actually danced together–no duets here. Constantly, they would surge towards each other and then–pass by.
Morris explains:

“In Romeo and Juliet, the lovers have one night of fabulous teenage sex, and then they die, and that’s perfect. But this is beyond that. And that’s because God eludes them. In the end they drop their bodies and become pure spirit. It’s about infinity.”

Infinity is all very well, but I miss the duets. And, Romeo and Juliet (Macmillan’s choreography, to Prokofiev’s score) has the most beautiful duets in the world.

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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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