Monthly Archives: August 2007

Looking for Fall

Happy Friday, everyone.

I am not like a lot of people – I get really exhausted towards the end of the week because I usually pack my days and weeknights with activity. Then usually I stay in on Friday (watching TLC’s What Not to Wear in my pajamas), cooking dinner, etc. before I’m up and rearing to go on Saturday morning.

And thank God, theater season is back! The summer doldrums are slowly drying up, and lots to look forward to.

  • SF Symphony tickets now on sale! Go get yours now, here. The season opens with the Opening night gala on September 19, with the beautiful Renee Fleming.Ticket prices make it impossible for me to attend (ranging from $130 – 250), but the program is absolutely fabulous, with a good mix of classics and contemporary (Copland, Ravel, Adams, Puccini, and Prokofiev). Galas should be extravantly decadent, not modest! This one is.

© Berkeley Repertory Theatre. All rights reserved.

And, because it’s a Friday (for no other reason, of course), I’m going to post the following below. Hey, it’s tied to Avenue Q, which is closing at the Orpheum this Sunday. (It also reminded me of a comment Jen made yesterday on this blog.)

Nureyev: The Russian Years

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I caught this fascinating PBS broadcast yesterday (wow! Los Angeles PBS is actually showing something besides Andre Bocelli!) and I must tell you, I was mesmerized. Nureyev is someone I didn’t really know much about. When I was young, we had a laser disc (remember those?) of the Nutcracker Ballet he choreographed with the Paris Opera Ballet, and man, it was WEIRD…starving refugees instead of Arabian coffee? Fighting over food? And we had this coffee table book of beautiful photographs of him and Margot Fonteyn, and the photographer wrote little vignettes about Nureyev, how temperamental he was, etc. And I knew he died of AIDS. And that’s about it! I had seen some footage of his dancing, but compared with the dancers of today, he didn’t quite impress me ;). How can you judge someone’s dancing by video footage anyways? It’s harder to get the electric quality of stage presence off of a shaky video from 30 years ago.

I really enjoyed the PBS broadcast of Nureyev: The Russian Years, because most of the stuff on Nureyev is on his famous partnership with Margot Fonteyn, and his defection from the Soviet USSR. The interviews with his friends in Russia and former dance colleagues was so interesting…his old roommate at the Kirov school, his former female partners, the French dancers. It’s so amazing to see how Nureyev shaped ballet that affected the way ballet has been formed today…the history of it all is so interesting to see. Watching all that rare footage was also very interesting, but I wonder, if Nureyev was dancing on stage today, he probably wouldn’t have made such a big splash on the ballet world. Technique has improved so much; and no one could get away with starting serious ballet training at age 17 like Nureyev did.

But the historical parallels between male dancers since Nureyev are interesting, at least for me: (Nureyev–>Baryshnikov–>Malakhov, Corella, Carrenos?) (Nijinsky’s in there somewhere too) Each generation sets the stage so that the next has to be more amazing than the rest. So with the amazing level of dance there is today, I can be grateful for Nureyev’s contribution to dance as setting the standard back then so we can enjoy dance today.

Some themes struck me between Nureyev and the rest of the male dancers that followed:

1) Defection: Nureyev defected, ran into the arms of Paris officials in order to escape communism. Baryshnikov did the same. Carrenos got lucky and received the blessing of Alicia Alonso to leave Cuba to dance in America. Malakhov escaped the discrimination against foreigners at the Bolshoi to dance freely in America. Corella escaped the torturous practice of soccer playing boys and boys kicking each other in the mouth in Spain to dance on stage. (haha, just joking)

2) Loneliness & Promiscuity: Nureyev had an unfulfilled love life early in his adulthood, and was rumored to be promiscuous. We all know what happened with Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland, and is commonly known to be a womanizer. Malakhov was a lonely child, separated from his mother while attending ballet school. Angel Corella had no friends when he was a child in school, unpopular because he couldn’t play soccer. (Well, I do know that ballet doesn’t make you very popular in U.S. elementary schools)

Some things I learned about Nureyev:

1) He loved wearing tights (making his leg look longer) and was probably the one proponent of men wearing tights that stuck to today. Dang it, Nureyev! Let’s get those guys in pants again…I swear, most of my friends refuse to go watch ballet cuz of those tights. I had an interesting discussion with a swimmer friend of mine; it doesn’t really bother her that those male swimmers wear speedos, but she hates those white tights male ballet dancers wear. That completely doesn’t make sense; speedos show off waaay more skin than tights. I don’t know what it is; it’s like a mental barrier that keeps an audience away from ballet.

2) I love how Nureyev was into other arts and philosophical discussions, away from ballet. I think it really makes for a well-rounded artist and applaud him from stepping away from the world of ballet once in a while.

3) Nureyev proposed to a woman?!? Who knew! The affair with Pushkin’s wife! SCANDALOUS!

4) Nureyev was a diva. Can a male dancer, however famous, still be such a diva today? My guess would be probably not? Who knows :)

Such a tragic life; one fulfilled in his artistic ambitions, but left many behind (Teja Kremke behind the wall in East Berlin, the Russian dancers/partners at the Kirov, his parents) to a life of obscurity. Makes it almost seem like Nureyev made a selfish choice in defecting and leaving everyone behind, while he pursued his dreams. The documentary made it clear it was not an easy choice to make, and he lived with the impact of those decisions for the rest of his life.

Avenue Q, National Touring Cast

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Forgive the PG nature of this ad, which I believe is from London

Something big IS here! The national touring cast of Avenue Q is here at the Orpheum Theater in San Francisco. It’s such a great show, and the touring cast completely rises to the task, and this is coming from someone who saw the original Broadway cast! That’s always something I’m wary about, worrying that the touring cast won’t compare to the OBC. But this show is so funny, and sweetly touching, and the touring cast delivers.

Rewatching it again made me realize how well this musical is written. The lines are so funny, and surprisingly smart. (“Is her name Purpose?”) Who would have ever thought that the Bad Idea bears founded Scientology? Another fun aspect was watching two of my friends experience it. My friend kept on hitting me as she was laughing uncontrollably, and loved Christmas Eve the best.

My favorite parts are when the humor is used to add a poignancy to the “aww” moments. It adds a depth to the moment, and makes the audience members dwell and emphathize on that moment a bit longer. The ability that the puppets have to make you laugh, as you feel their pain, reflects great writing. I watched “Fantasies Come True” with fresh eyes, and while I was laughing at Nicky’s “Come hither” beckoning to Rod and Nicky telling Rod, “You look like David Hasselhoff”, it made it that much sadder to find out all that was all a dream. Also, “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” still remains one of my favorite ambivalent love songs of all time.

I had heard mixed reviews about Kelli Sawyer as Kate Monster/Lucy the Slut, but she was great. I feel like “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” is a litmus test for performers playing Kate Monster, and hers was genuinely touching. (I didn’t understand it though, when the audience members laughed at the line, “There’s a fine, fine line, between love/ And a waste of time”). A standout for me was Christian Anderson, pulled directly from the Broadway cast. His talent really comes out in emphasizing the differences between the multiple puppets he handles, from Trekkie Monster, to the Newcomer. (Did Rick Lyon play the newcomer in the OBC? I thought John Tartaglia handled the Newcomer, but I may be wrong.) Jennie Kwan was on for Minglie Chen as Mrs. T/Bad Idea Bear and others, and did a great job. She did a very sexy Lucy the Slut when she was handling it (as Kelli Sawyer voiced it), mirroring Lucy the Slut’s sexiness with her own body language. Angela Ai portrays a very strong, slightly masculine Christmas Eve (I feel like Ann Harada had a characteristic cuteness to the original character) but her accent came off easier than Harada, although Harada was a better belter. I loved Harada’s long sustained, um, note, in “You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (in Making Love)”.

The touring cast on its own stands well, and delivers a great show. However… going back to cruising Youtube for videos on the original Broadway cast, I was struck with how animated the puppets come alive in the OBC’s hands. It’s all in the tiny details, such as the way that Kate Monster’s hair swings a little more in the hands of Stephanie d’Abruzzo, and the puppets’ bodies seem to extend a little bit more animatedly in John Tartaglia’s hands. I remember when I chatted briefly with John Tartaglia (the original Rod/Princeton), he was very clear on the fact that he was a puppeteer first, before he is a singer or an actor. I really respect the idea that the original Broadway cast were puppeteers first, where it was priority that the puppets come alive on stage, more than the puppets having a stellar voice. I’m sure this trend was too hard to maintain in replacing the OBC (how many people with degrees in puppeteering are there, that can perform these roles at Broadway quality?), but I love how it started that way.

See for yourself!

Oh, and for the record, I am SO Kate Monster.

“I’m kinda pretty
And pretty damn smart.

BRIAN
You are.

KATE MONSTER
Thanks!
I like romantic things
Like music and art.
And as you know
I have a gigantic heart
So why don’t I have
A boyfriend?
F$ck!
It sucks to be me!”

This fun show is playing through this Sunday. Go see it!!

Rod

In honor of Avenue Q‘s presence in San Francisco, here’s a really cute Playbill interview with Rod, the closeted Republican senator puppet. Click here to see what his special skill is (removable nipples?), his worst stage mishap, and to find out more about Rod.

Full given name: Rod. I have no last name, in the tradition of Cher.”

Avenue Q plays at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco only until September 2. Be sure to get your ticket for this hilarious show! Click here for more info.

Mozart Dances on PBS

I finally got a chance to watch Mark Morris’ “Mozart Dances” on PBS. I started watching with some reservations, with a warning that his piece is “subtle”. But I ended up watching it, and my reaction was sheer delight. Mark Morris is a musical genius, and his interpretation of the music, through choreography, is so brilliantly literal. (That’s not a bad thing!) It’s not cerebral (where it’s so metaphoric or conceptual that it makes you think really hard), which I found a little surprising although I shouldn’t have been, because his choreography usually isn’t. In the first act, he uses a soloist, Lauren Grant, to represent the solo piano part, with the ensemble members serving as the orchestra. Simple, logical, easy to understand. Other simple interpretations of the music includes the use of a bouree to represent a trill on the piano, and emphasizing a steady bass line in the left hand of the piano by using ensemble members to run in time with each note (this last part made me laugh out loud – listeners are usually oblivious to the bass line of the piano part, but his choreography made me focus on it, and it became so obvious). A yearning lean in the music (rubato) was interpreted by a yearning tilt of the hip. A quick grace note in the piano is represented by a hiccup with the body of a dancer lying on the floor.

Mark Morris’ biggest accomplishment in this piece was that I felt like he was showing me the music. He uses fan kicks (is there a ballet term for this?) in the first act to outline a series of musical phrases, as if he was exclaiming, “This is a musical phrase, oh and here’s another one, and another one.” In the mid-program interview, he knows people accuse him of being a “music visualizer, as if that’s a crime”. This to me is a perfect description, and is a perfect vehicle for his musical genius.

Inevitably, there are always comparisons between Balanchine and Morris. Balanchine, another choreographer known for his musicality, is similar to Morris in that he is also very musical, but there are important differences. I feel like Balanchine was first and foremost a “dance maker”, a master at experimentation with the female line, pointework, and corps work. Music was an integral but served more as a launching pad for his dance experimentation. Mark Morris, on the other hand, is first and foremost a musician. I picture him with musical score in hand as he is choreographing his dances, scanning the score to see what sub melodies he could bring out using the dancers, and to see where the counterpoint of the music is precisely located. You get a sense that both Morris and Balanchine are working beneath the surface of the choreography, organizing and busily arranging, but through different approaches.

Not only does he literally visualize the music, but Morris also reacts to it. When the melody is lush and flowing, he’ll choreograph in jerky movements as if to fight against the flowiness, and the result is a simplification of the music to its downbeats. At the end of a movement in the second act, after the music stops, he will have the dancers react to the ending by doing an abrupt turn in the midst of complete silence. This afterthought, a sort of reaction to the end of a movement, is so unexpected and catches the audience by delightful surprise. He also uses music to show off his humor, which permeates throughout a lot of his work. He mentions in the mid-program interview that there needs to be a little bit of awkwardness in his work. This sort of non sequitur humor can be misleading and sometimes confusing, as viewers try to assign a sort of meaning to it. The way I see it, it doesn’t have meaning, and may sometimes is a reaction to the music (as in the movements that occur after the music stops).

A lot of the reviews reflect this confusion on Morris’ non sequiturs. This review asks, “Almost invariably, as you see these, you think: Who in the world but Mark Morris would have thought of fitting that move to this music?” But these movements really fit the music, in a subconsciously logical way. A lot of the reviews focus on Morris’ motifs, but only because they are the most tangible and recognizable element in his work (as if the viewer is saying, “Oh I’ve seen that movement before”.) I see the motifs, and see the creative ways he uses them in different ways that unite the entire piece together across three Mozart pieces. But the important point with this is, the motifs are all used in conjunction with the music, and to interpret the music in creative and different ways. I don’t think he’s using these motifs as if he is conjuring up heaven, or any images such as this.

Another feature I love about this piece is that he uses the exact same repertoire of body movements for both men and female. In this way, I understand why many have commented on the gender role reversal as a theme of Mark Morris. However, I think this is so because he uses both traditional feminine and masculine movements in both men and women. (Side tangent: Nigel Lythgoe would disapprove of feminine movements in male dancers. In fact, I’m sure Nigel would disapprove of Mark Morris entirely.)

Jen sent me this review which calls this piece “a masterpiece, a triumph for the Mostly Mozart Festival, which commissioned it, and one of Mr. Morris’s grandest achievements.” I wholeheartedly agree, it was a marvel to watch.

A quick word on Emanuel Ax: loved his playing, it’s a pity they resorted to quick shots of him crouching in the darkness in the orchestra pit. The most impressive thing was the longevity of his playing, playing two piano concertos and a piano sonata, which is basically three concerts rolled into one. His playing was brought out the deceptively emotionally complex music of Mozart, and displayed rare maturity that comes from witholding from the temptation of melodrama or playing Mozart “straight up”.

The good thing is, Mark Morris is bringing his dance company and performing the same piece, Mozart Dances, at Berkeley in a few weeks. Even better news: Garrick Ohlsson is playing the piano. I am aching to see them, but my bank account is a bit low this month. UC Berkeley students get 50% off!! I think I need to find myself a UC Berkeley boyfriend. If you’re not strapped for cash as much as I am, click here to buy tickets.

By the way, the season for Cal Performances look amazing. Mark Morris, Miami City Ballet, Joffrey, and ABT, oh my!

Look to see if Mozart Dances is airing on PBS in your area, here.

Xanadu, and a dash of Purple

Xanadu is coming to SF! Seriously, talk about suspicions rising when I first heard what this musical was about – disco roller skating Greek muses saving hunky guys in dorky socks? (Reminds me of my reaction to Pirate Queen when I heard about it – a musical with river dancing??) But with the most gushing review I’ve ever read in the NY Times and trusted recommendations, this show has piqued my curiosity. If I were to go to NY anytime soon, this would be first on my list of musicals to see.

Cheyenne Jackson and Kerry Butler in Xanadu

Kerry Butler, with Jackie Hoffman (first one on the left)

Also, The Color Purple tour tickets are available for sale. Coming to the Orpheum Theater, it features my favorite original Broadway cast member, Felicia Fields (who should have gotten a Tony, IMO) as the hilarious and heartbreaking Sophia. The rest of the cast is a stunt casting extravaganza – Michelle Williams (of Destiny Child’s fame) is playing Shug Avery, and LaToya London (from American Idol) is playing Nettie. I suppose they’re hoping that their stunt casting streak is going to hold up, with the casting of Fantasia Burrino as Celie on Broadway.
I have to admit, I wasn’t at first thrilled about seeing this musical on Broadway. I thought it’d be a long drawn out melodramatic Oprah show with music. And, after all, what do I have in common with Celie, who grew up poor and abused? On top of that, tickets were so darn expensive; it’s one of the few tickets I’ve bought at TKTS, where I paid a whopping 3-4 times more than what I usually pay for lottery/rush tickets. But, despite expections, there’s something so universal about the show, which sweeps you up in Celie’s life story. It sounds so corny (in the worst Oprah show sort of way), but there’s something so genuine and earnest about watching someone struggle to overcome great odds and to see people really fight for themselves in adverse circumstances. Embarrassingly, I’ve never cried so much during a show, and I’ve also never been so emotionally moved. Go see it! I’m so glad it’s on tour. The SHN website also has a podcast on behind the scenes for The Color Purple.

one word musicals

On my Myspace bulletins:

One word musicals: No repeats!

Hairspray – Kristin
Grease – Concha91!!!
cats – david (that’s a musical, right?)
Rent – T0m13
Honk – Camron Fry
Wicked – John (amazing)
Oklahoma! – Warren (reppin BPYT!)
footloose – patrick beltran
Curtains!- justin!
Company-nathan
Hair – Megan
AIDA- Thomas
Carousel – Theo
Evita – Randy
Follies – Bruce
Carnival – Amy (come on Parks, you can do this one!!!)
Blast – Jeremy
Annie- John
Working – Justin
Zhivago~ Stephanie
Oliver! John

The musicals I came up with:

  • Bare
  • Chess
  • Assassins
  • Ragtime
  • Titanic
  • Pippin
  • Gypsy

Am I missing any?? I’m sure I am.

So you think you can dance…

 

 

Happy Friday, everyone.

Ok so I know that this isn’t technically theater, but I just have to blog about a tv show that I started caring about. I only started watching So You Think You Can Dance for one dancer only – Danny Tidwell, who used to dance with the American Ballet Theater. A NY Times Article about him writes, “This summer, however, there is a prince among the rest, whose backgrounds range from ballroom to hip-hop. His name is Danny Tidwell, and though he has strategically placed himself in the category of ”contemporary dancer,” ballet fans in New York know he represents a great deal more.” And so he does. His technique and presence blew everyone else out of the water, and stood heads above the rest of the dancers on this show.

Tonya made the interesting point that yeah, he’s not as virtuosic as David Hallberg, or, as the show keeps trumpeting that dance is an infusion of personality and technique (more emphasis on personality, less on technique), what better example of this than Angel Corella? I rooted for him as for what Danny Tidwell represented, which coincidentally was completely opposite of what the show stands for.

“But [the show is] also outdated and perpetuates many stereotypes about what constitutes good dance (speed is in, subtlety is out), what language is used to describe it and how training makes boring dancers.

The biggest culprit is the show’s executive producer and judge, Nigel Lythgoe, from his implied homophobic comments (he approves of the way the show’s male performers dance like ”dudes”) to his misguided criticism and declarations about what a dancer should be….

In one episode, Mr. Lythgoe declared: ”What I dislike are dance snobs, and those are people who think you need a formal training with years and years of experience before you can be called a dancer.” He continued: ”You don’t just need a formal training. It’s because you have a great feel for dance.””

What a bunch of crock and B.S. Technique and training allows for the personality and the passion and the emotional part of dance that we all love, to shine through. Technique is not about doing plies all day long, but is the basic vocabulary for communicating to the audience, and is absolutely necessary for great dancing. You’d think that Nigel, who’s a social dancer, would know that social dance is all about frame, footwork, and posture – which is technique! The most frustrating and the biggest turn-off of this show really were the judges. I feel like their viewpoints are so narrow, and their use of alliteration in order to sound… cooler? Not sure. It probably also has to do with the assumption that the TV audience needs tricks such as alliteration in order to watch…? Again, not sure.

Because Danny stood for technique and passion and beautiful lines, I wasn’t too surprised that he didn’t win, although until the very end, I was hoping that this (dance) world is a better place than I thought.

Perhaps the real goal of this show was to get people dancing. In that respect, it was semi-successful with me. The show inspired me to strike a few dance poses myself during commercial break (despite the embarrassing fact that I haven’t stepped inside a ballet studio since last winter). I took this snapshot when I still had the hope that Danny would still win

 

 

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I know, I’m a dork

 

Edited to add: Nigel’s words after the taping of the last show: “”I think Sabra winning is good for America,” Lythgoe told People after last night’s live broadcast of the Fox reality show’s finale. “[But] in my opinion [runner-up] Danny [Tidwell] was far and away the best.””

 

The one good thing about this comment is, this is the first time I’ve agreed with Nigel’s words. Unfortunately, it completely undermines the premise of his tv show.

SF Ballet at Stern Grove

Rory Hohenstein in Lubovitch’s Elemental Brubeck, with the SF Ballet. I love the tilt of Frances Chung’s head and the forward line of her body and the buoyancy of her arms in the back left.

Oh crap, I knew the one show that I missed would be pitch perfect. I went once to the Stern Grove Festival a few years ago, and although I had a great time, it is a bit of an ordeal. Parking was a nightmare in addition to getting there a few hours early and fighting traffic. Moreover, we ended up sitting on tree roots. (I don’t remember seeing the stadium seats that are in the pictures this year! Maybe it’s a new addition?) I was trying to decide if I should go this year, but with a wedding on the same weekend, I decided to pass.

Another factor on why I didn’t go is represented well by this picture. If the program isn’t right, the ballet isn’t going to capture the attention of picnickers that are busy eating and drinking wine. But this year, SFB picked an excellent program. Spring Rounds is definitely not my favorite piece, and never a piece I would pick to see indoors again, but I can see how this would work really well in an outdoor setting, as well as Lubovitch’s Elemental Brubeck.

The San Francisco Chronicle doesn’t review a lot of the Stern Grove performances, but they reviewed this one. They even wrote about Jen’s favorite dancer, Jaime Garcia Castilla (“Jaime Garcia Castilla’s line was pure gentility.”) I suppose that I have to console myself with the thought that there’s always next year??

ballet talk

Hi, this is Jolene with your Monday Evening Ballet News. First up: some admittedly old news, as written in the NY Times:

Dancer Pleads Guilty

Nilas Martins, a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet and the son of Peter Martins, the company’s master in chief, pleaded guilty yesterday in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct stemming from his arrest there on July 3, when he was charged with felony possession of cocaine. City Court Judge Douglas Mills sentenced Mr. Martins, 40, to 40 hours of community service and ordered him to undergo a drug and alcohol test. Outside of court, his lawyer, E. Stewart Jones Jr., said Mr. Martins welcomed the test. “He does not use drugs,” Mr. Jones said. “He has not used drugs. He will never, ever use drugs.” He added that Mr. Martins took the plea to protect another, unidentified person who was with him in his car when he was arrested by a passing police officer in Saratoga Springs, where the company was in summer residence.

First thought: wow, Nilas Martins is 40. Second and a more lingering thought: I was shocked to be directed to this story on Tonya‘s blog a few days ago. It’s very Dancing on my Grave, and seems more undignified since it happened to the boss’s son. I hate how his lawyer is quoted to have said, “He was in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong person“, as if he could have prevented it if he had hidden it better. I have no idea how rampant drugs are in the ballet world, and maybe this sounds completely naive, but to be a principal dancer at the NYCB is so prestigious. So many dancers would kill to be in your place, you’d think you’d behave better. (Maybe the pressure’s off if your dad is the boss? Call me cynical.) Also you’re such a hero that lots of people look up to, you’d think it’d be hard to take advantage of.

It’s unfortunate that in this article his partner in the car remained unidentified, but was identified elsewhere.
It seems grossly unfair, especially if the lawyer’s statements aren’t true and Amar is a scapegoat.

Onto other news: Gonzalo Garcia, former poster child of the San Francisco Ballet, is joining NYCB as a principal dancer! It’s exciting news, and I’m curious about NY’s reception of him. In the past few years, he’s been plastered all over the city on SF Ballet posters, and often opens many programs at the SF Ballet. However, seeing him recently, I’m missing a little bit of the fire that he’s so famous for, and sometimes even looked bored onstage. A little push might be good for him. Perhaps he needed a little bit more of a challenge or competition, and a change of scenery will be good for him? I hope so! I know he has it in him, it’d be great to see him dance in NY sometime soon.

It reminds me of something I’ve thought of before – the biggest difference between principal dancers and Broadway leads are job security. Broadway shows can close very soon, in which everyone involved becomes unemployed, and often their current show is seen as an audition for their next show. This is incentive to “bring it” every night. Dancers on the other hand, when they reach principal status, have reached their holy grail, and there is nowhere higher to go from there. Perhaps this can allow for a sense of complacency, although many principal artists never succumb to this.