The Reluctant Writer: Something Else to do When I Should Be Writing

January 30, 2010

Think about W. Heyward Sims & Cage Match: Clarity vs. Chaos

It may just be me, but I think the local visual artist/musician W. Heyward Sims is a bit of a character.  He’s pretty young now, but he already has this quirky, alt-hipster thing going on and, being a woman of a certain age, I can almost see the old coot he is one day going to be.  I like it that the boy has this uncultivated scruffiness about him — affectedness in an artist (in anybody, really) drives me crazy — people need to just be, dammit, and see what happens.  And I like it that he can hold up his end of a conversation.  Hell, I’m thrilled when I can talk to anyone who came out of  the South Carolina public education system and they voluntarily introduce subjects like Mark Rothko and Marcel DuChamp into the conversation.  So, I’m feeling a bit intrigued by Sims’  upcoming show at Frame of Mind.  He’s calling it Cage Match:  Clarity vs. Chaos.  I’m thinking we might just have some thought-provoking art coming our way.

Sims works in mixed media and, from the handful of pieces I’ve seen and heard will be in this show, it looks and sounds like that’s what we’ll get a lot of — think the addition of paper, glass, or even appliance for that matter, to oil, acrylic, or another medium.  I also know for a fact that he is introducing one or more pieces that by their very nature will be controversial.  Hmmm …, art that makes you think, and possibly banter and debate.  I’m down.  One of the pieces already has my feminist ire on end, as much as I appreciate the potential race-relation subtext — without even seeing the piece, it contextually makes me want to laugh at the silly little white  boys I grew up with and the men I fear too many of them became.  But hey, that’s just me — it’ll be interesting to see what other people think.

Thinking is the thing.  The whole premise of Sims’ show demands the viewers to think or walk away confused.  This is good.  I mean, flowers and landscapes are nice but we can all pretty much agree on that.  There’s certainly a place in the art world for pretty.  But what I really like is art that I’m not sure that I like or not.  That sounds antithetical, I know, but think about it.  Isn’t it more challenging to you as a viewer — and more rewarding — if you have to spend some time with a piece of work before you feel like you know it — and possibly love it?

I’m not pretending that the world isn’t full of too many people who feel way too comfortable in their little black and white realms.  It’s easy when you only have two choices to make:  chocolate or vanilla, good or bad, hate or love, right or wrong.  But that kind of artificial reality, and the reticence to recognize that life takes place in the gray areas, is nothing more than a sham existence for lazy people, fearful people, and wimps. As much as those of you who  know what I’m talking about should come out and see Heyward Sims’ show, those of you who don’t, should come and see it even more.

Thinking.  It’s a good thing.

Cage Match:  Clarity vs. Chaos, the February installation in the FOM series, opens on February 4th at 7:05 at Frame of Mind — 1520 Main Street.  See you there.

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January 24, 2010

Looking at LifeChance

It was so nice to see such a great crowd at LifeChance Saturday night — and not just folks who got trucked in, but just a whole lot of people from the community. Here are a few observations:

  • The show was great — I love it that the show even exists and that Radenko Pavlovich brings in such fine talent from the far corners for us to see.  The talent and choreography should help to inspire local companies and dancers, especially the contemporary pieces performed by Lia Cirio, her brother Jeffrey Cirio, and Sabi Varga and James Whiteside.  Lia, who literally just got word that she was promoted to Principal dancer at Boston Ballet, is a force to be reckoned with.  Her exhibition of controlled energy is a tutorial for aspiring dancers — every inch of her body  was expressive and beautiful — not a wasted second or movement in her performance.  Total commitment to the dance — amazing.
  • Brooklyn Mack rocked.  I am completely biased because I love the boy so, but he was totally on — ON, and it was glorious to watch him take in all the love from the audience.  You have to know how humble he is to understand this.  He continues to see himself as a student, as a struggler, as someone who is working so hard to get where he wants to be — no fears about resting on one’s laurels here.  Not all the stars and wannabes from Columbia are this way, so it’s very refreshing to see.
  • That said, who was the chick he was dancing with and where did she come from?  This is a rhetorical question because I know the answer to both of them.  But what I want to know is why she was dancing with Brooklyn.  I’m not going to criticize her and say that she had a bad show — I’m not even going to say the child’s name — I think she just wasn’t up to the part.  Le Corsaire, the pas that she and Brooklyn danced, is all about lightness — we expect our dancers to skitter across the stage — to take flight.  That just wasn’t happening with her last night.
  • OK, and while I’m pretending not to be critical, (should I add a “bless her heart” here?), here’s my take on classical variations.  I ONLY want to see them if they are excellent — not just good.  Because any student of ballet who has been at it a while and has some hope of ever having a career even at a fourth or fifth tier company knows how to execute these classical variations.  They may not be excellent or even very good — but they can get ’em done.  If I want to see a future star of tomorrow, I’ll go watch a class or sit in on a YAGP competition.  For $30 — I want to see a pro.  Like  Meaghan Hinkis out of ABT II who we only got to see dance Don Q. This chick took a part that I’ve seen done way too many times and added her own energy to it to such a degree that I actually liked it.  So many dancers, when they do these tried and true (read dull and boring, imho) classical variations, work so hard to be precise that they suck the very soul from the dance.  This is why I shudder a little bit every time I hear music by Minkus, Asafiev, or Adolphe Adam.  Here’s to being so good that you add your own interpretation to ancient choreography. Go Meaghan Hinkis.
  • I’ve never seen the Trey McIntyre Project perform before, but after watching two of their dancers last night — I’m going to put it on my to-do list effective immediately.  Dylan G-Bowley and Chanel DaSilva brought synergy to the stage last night in a way you don’t always see in modern dance.  Loved it.
  • Can we talk height for a minute?  Little DeeDee Weatherly-Rosner, who went to NCSA with Annie and Bonnie, is s0 short — she’s like a tyke, right?  Well looking at Radenko’s corps last night, DeeDee was, well, she was mid-sized.  For some reason the Columbia Classical Ballet company this year appears to be made up of very talented kinder-gardeners.  This isn’t a criticism — it’s just an observation.  Wee dancers.  Tiny.
  • And speaking of DeeDee — good show, Child.  You stood out on the stage and, as an NCSA mom, I was proud of you.
  • OK, another observation — are we dressing up again?  I say this because, back in the day, LifeChance was the night that we put on the ritz — tuxes and sequins and faux fur (yeah, I know this is magical thinking on my part — I have to pretend that all fur is fake to suppress my compelling desire to drench it in a gooey red substance).  I’m thinking that we started dressing down after 9/11 — is that right?  At the risk of sounding like my friend The Shop Tart, who is clearly the authority on finery, I couldn’t help but notice a bit more bling last night.  And black velvet — which I was even wearing myself — and I loved it –ain’t nothing that feels any better on the bod that black velvet.  I’m OK if we are dressing up again — I was telling Jeffrey that since we don’t go to the Phil anymore that I rarely get to do it up.  To which he replied, Come to the Phil, then.  Probably not.  I’m betting that next year we’ll see more tuxes — which is good for me.   The Beer Doc looks especially fine in his tux.
  • Finally, I just want to give a shout out to Lee Lumpkin — who may be the most generous woman in town.  Her devotion to Radenko and Columbia Classical Ballet is the sole reason that company is alive, especially in the recent economic malaise.  I’m sure Radenko knows this.  Her support has allowed him to realize his dream — and it has allowed us to attend some quite excellent after-parties year after year.  Thanks to Lee and Mike for their hospitality and generosity.  You both rock.

January 21, 2010

Our buddy Brooklyn Mack, Radenko Pavlovich, Simone Cuttino, & LifeChance Ballet this Saturday

If you like dance the way dance is supposed to be, there are two yearly Columbia events you should never miss — when USC hosts the stars of the New York City Ballet, this year on Saturday, March 20th, and when Radenko Pavlovich hosts stars from all over the world at his annual LifeChance Ballet — which is happening this Saturday night, January 23rd.

Radenko, who is known for his European take on classical ballet, has been putting on his annual LifeChance Ballet for many years now, each year with the proceeds from the show benefiting a local charity.  I remember when Bonnie and Annie were young and danced in Radenko’s second company and how exciting it would be for the likes of Pollyana Ribiero and Simon and April Ball to come to town, take class with the kids, and then perform the caliber of dance my kids only got to see when we traveled to New York or abroad.  It was thrilling.

Now, one of their own best friends and former classmates is dancing among those stars himself, and it is even more thrilling to see our buddy Brooklyn Mack take the stage.  Brooklyn started out late as a dancer — he was young and goofy and full of enough ambition to make up for the awkwardness of adolescence.  Radenko would yell at Brooklyn to “point his biscuits!” — referring to his feet that flopped at the end of his long legs.  Brooklyn persevered — never got mad, seldom seemed discouraged, and eventually he improved.  But the thing was, he didn’t stop — he just kept getting better and better and better.  After a few years he followed his friend Mathias Dingman — who we all knew as Matthew back then, a beautiful boy who took to the stage like he was born on it — to the Kirov School for Ballet in Washington, DC.  After he graduated from the Kirov he moved on to the likes of the Joffrey, the ABT Studio Company, Orlando Ballet, and eventually to Washington Ballet, as well as dancing literally all over the world.   But he always comes back — sometimes just to say hello, sometimes to take a class, and sometimes, like this Saturday, to perform.  And Lord have mercy — does this boy PERFORM.

In addition to Brooklyn, Radenko has brought in Grace-Anne Powers out of Montreal, with whom Brooklyn will partner; Jeffrey and Lia Cirio, James Whiteside, Whitney Jensen, Sabi Varga, all from Boston Ballet; Japan’s Aleksandr Buber and Kayo Sasabe; as well as Meaghan Hinkis and Alberto Velazquez, both from ABT II.

Another treat to look forward to is Simone Cuttino’s Tango choreography with ten couples on stage and three women dancing lead.  Simone is Columbia Classical Ballet’s Ballet Mistress and quite a gift to the dance arts herself.  (For a story I wrote on Simone and her husband Walter last year, check out Zen and the Art of Relationship Maintenance at right.)

~~~~~

For information on Columbia Classical Ballet’s LifeChance this Saturday night, call 251-2222 or visit the ballet website at http://www.columbiaclassicalballet.org.

January 19, 2010

Sneeking a peek at the beer book — Bob, Beer, and Me — the Cantillon Brewery in Brussels

The Beer Book is moving along well, though late, and I’m excited to finally see it’s ending on the still somewhat distant horizon.  So here’s an excerpt from the book which takes us to the Cantillon Brewery in Brussels, Belgium where we entered the strangely organic world of  lambic and gueuze beers.  Hope you’ll take a look.

~~~~~

The Cantillon Brewery — Brussels

There is nothing glitzy about the Cantillon Brewery in Brussels.  If you’re looking for shiny stainless steel and squeaky clean equipment, you’ve come to the wrong place.  Think dust bunnies.  Think stray cats rummaging around accumulations of cobwebs and musty smells like peat, compost and orchard floor.  Think reverence for indigenous spiders who keep the brewery clear of other more pesky bugs. Think Mother Nature because, even in the midst of a bustling city, that’s what you’ve got in Cantillon – Mother Nature at work preparing sweet delicacies for those who wait.

Traditional lambic beer, like that brewed at Cantillon, is made from 35% raw wheat, 65% malted barley, and flavorful three-year-old dried hops[1] added at a ratio of 5 grams per liter of beer.  First produced more than five centuries ago, today’s lambic retains much of the same old-fashioned dry, sour funkiness of lambics of old – as long as it is brewed under the same conditions of old – which is exactly how the brewing of beer goes down at Cantillon.

Miraculously.

And I mean that literally.  While the Cantillon brewers certainly know better and are perfectly capable of controlling and orchestrating the product of their labors, they are happy to sit back, wait on nature, then harvest the half-millennium-old extraordinary process in which wild ambient yeasts floating naturally through the air convert barley and the sugars from raw wheat into this unusual, yet elegant brew called lambic beer. Hence the cobwebs, open windows, and dust bunnies visitors find when peeping behind the scenes at the magic that is Cantillon Brewery.

If you have tasted lambic beers at home you may find yourself equating it with fruit – and there’s a good reason why.  Young (year old) lambic and aged (two to three-year old) beers, called gueuze,[2] are often blended with one another to produce a variety of tastes that can range from sparkling and sour, if the young lambic takes precedence, to off-sweet and fruitier, if the gueuze does.  When the young and old beers are blended, the unfermented sugars in the young beer cause a second fermentation to take place in the bottle.  If fruit has been steeped in the beer, as it often is, the process will result in the classic dry kriek beer you may have tasted when sour cherries are used, or frambois when raspberries are the fruit of choice.

According to Belgian beer expert Tim Webb, there are vagaries in the Belgian beer regulations which may create some confusion as to whether or not a brewer has to use spontaneous fermentation for a beer to be considered an authentic lambic.  In other words, some brewers may avail themselves of short cuts by using prepared yeast in the brewing of their beers, rather than the natural spontaneously occurring yeast, endemic to the Senne River valley.

But not Cantillon.

We entered the warehouse-type building somewhat skeptically and stood near the door for a few moments trying to ascertain the procedure for viewing the premises.  A knowledgeable looking guy with a large pallet of empty bottles rolled through just as we were taken note of by one of his few co-workers, given a pamphlet and told to follow the numbers posted along the way for our self-guided tour.

The tour started in the mashing house where wheat and barley[3] are put into a large crushing machine in the middle of the floor to be crushed before they are mixed with warm water in the mashing tun.  The sugar-laden liquid, called wort, which is eventually fermented to produce alcohol, is extracted from the tun then pumped into beautiful red copper hop boilers.  Next, the mashing room led us to the granary, an amply ventilated room where hops, malted barley, and wheat are stored during the brewing season lasting from mid-October until the beginning of April.

But it was in the next room along the route, the cooling room, where we realized how different the Cantillon brewery tour is from many of the generic brewery tours we had been on before, or have been on since.  We accessed the room by climbing a short set of stairs into an attic-like space with shuttered windows in the walls.  Sitting in the middle of the floor was a huge, but shallow, hand-riveted, open-topped, copper vessel, looking more like a sculpture than a tank, called the cooling tun.  The tank was empty while we were there but we immediately knew that we were where the miracle that is lambic beer takes place:  the place where spontaneous fermentation occurs.

Cooling of the wort happens most often during the night and always during the coolest months of the year.  It is then that tiny micro-organisms living in and about the room inoculate the wort with a variety of airborne wild yeasts[4] which will ultimately result in spontaneous fermentation once the wort has been transferred to the oak and chestnut barrels in which the wort will be stored.[5]

We next wondered through the bottling area where Cantillon beers, rather than being capped, are closed with crown corks like Champagne bottles and transferred via conveyor belt to the cellar where they are horizontally stored.  The brief tour ended where it started and we were ready to taste some of the funky, sour stuff we had been learning about.


[1] Until the twelfth century flavors like rosemary and coriander were used where hops are today.

[2] Pronounced “gurze” or “kurze”.

[3] Cantillon has used only organic cereals since 1999.

[4] At least 86 known yeasts are present in lambic beers.

[5] The folks at Cantillon are quick to remind us that in the days of old, all beer was produced by spontaneous fermentation – today, only lambic beer is.

January 17, 2010

Rent surprises, criticizing/supporting/being discriminating about the arts, & this awesome young chick at Trustus named Katie Leitner

Who doesn’t love a surprise?  But when the Beer Doc and I scooted down Lady Street on Friday night to finally get a seat to see Rent, I wasn’t really expecting anything surprising.  Having seen it on Broadway several times before, then watching the film a couple of times with the wunderkind, I entered the theatre with a lot of the lyrics already buzzing in my head.  I was just looking for a fun evening to bask in what I thoroughly expected to be some outstanding performances — Dewey Scott Wiley rarely disappoints — and I was prepared for the requisite weaknesses that usually accompany community theatre.  Plus, I had already heard from some reliable sources who know their way around the stage and the audience (aka Larry & Coralee), that the show out-right rocked.

(Disclaimer here — I’ve had the honor of recently taking a seat on the board of directors of Trustus Theatre. What this basically means is that I have agreed to give the theatre some of  my time and my ideas — what this doesn’t mean is that I now have to think or say that everything that comes off the stage is excellent.  I’ve a been a long time supporter of Trustus, along with Workshop, Town, and USC theatre companies, and I will continue to support these companies along with all the artists, arts venues, and arts organizations in town who are brave and generous enough to share their gifts with our community.  Everyone already knows how I feel about negative competition between arts organizations in a city our size.  Way too much energy is wasted on one dance company nay-saying another, or one theatre company patron refusing to attend a perfectly lovely show at a venue different from the company they typically support.  Artists and arts supporters should band together to create a unified front against the ignorant amongst us who believe the arts and arts funding is a waste of time.  Nasty internal criticism within the arts community is tantamount to aiding and abetting any enemy of the arts — and believe me, they are out there.  Discriminating taste is needed and important — but helpful criticism takes a deft and acquired hand.  There is a role for the informed critic — to raise the barre, keep things honest, and piss people off — but that role is not mine. That said, I always have been and will remain a simple supporter of the arts and not a critic, and I will also continue to abide by the good manners I taught my own children:  If you don’t have anything good to say about something, then don’t say anything at all.)

Back to Rent and surprises —

The show started out wonderfully with the full cast opening up the classic Seasons of Love — you know, the five-hundred-twenty-five-thousand-six-hundred-minutes song — with full and melodic vocals — filling up the theatre and putting all of us on notice that this show was being taken seriously by its cast and director.  I had already heard that this was the case so, no surprise here, but still, a sense of pride and pleasure all the same.  And that was pretty much the way it went through the night — Kevin Bush was so professional, as always, reminding me how lucky we are that he is ours.  Lanny Spires knocked Angel out of the park and made me smile that a sweet southern boy from Chapin could pull off a part like that so adeptly.  Terrence Henderson’s voice sounded like warm butter oozing through stacks of steamy sweet pancakes, and I hated it when he stopped singing.  Even the less challenging parts were executed well and I wouldn’t call them weak at all.  In fact, the one weakness in my humble view was one of the night’s two surprises for me and I’m not even sure how it came to be.  Could have been a bad night, could have been poor casting, could have been an actor slipping precariously over the top with her/his performance — who knows. (Again, not my place to say.)

The other surprise is what I want to talk about — her name is Katie Leitner and her role was that of Mimi.  I know from reading my program that Katie is a freshman music ed student at USC, and that she has performed at Town Theatre in Grease, Guys and Dolls, and Beauty and the Beast. I know from Facebook stalking her that she graduated from Brooklyn Cayce High School, that her family is pretty cute, and that she has a sister who looks really familiar — former student maybe?  But I know from sitting in the first row Friday night that this girl has a future in the arts and I hope it’s not just in teaching little children how to play the piano.  Katie’s stage presence reflected great maturity — her vocals were controlled and balanced — beautiful, but never over the top, the way she could have taken them with such an audacious part as Mimi.  She displayed the kind of maturity that allows an actor to both own the stage and share it at the same time — lovely to see this in local theatre, especially in an actor so young.  For these reasons, Katie stole the show.

Kudos to Dewey Scott Wiley — who I have actually never met — and to the cast of Rent.  And best of luck to the young Katie Leitner — I’m looking forward to seeing more of this child on our city’s stages.


January 16, 2010

Poetry from my 30s

Filed under: Cynthia Boiter,poetry,writer's life,writing — cynthiaboiter @ 01:02
Tags: ,

A little something today because I’m feeling brave.

~~~~~

Home No. 5

~

I know the harnessed poet in the

wild-eyed boy, Southern man.

The lips of his woman taste of

honeysuckle and late-August muscadines.

Her back sways like the loblolly,

quivers like cane,

arches like that old barn cat.

~

His woman’s arms wrap as warm as Granny’s

line-aired crazy quilt, stitched from

Momma’s white baptismal gown,

Aunt Ellen’s faded calico-peach apron,

Great-granddaddy’s worn broadcloth shirt.

~

I know the Southern poet man — the way

he eats his supper like a sacrament.

Sopping up pot-liquor with powdery flat biscuits

until his tin plate shines.

Holding blackberry seeds on the

tip of his tongue until the bitter cuts

through the sweet and he has to swallow,

but he knows he has eaten it,

good.

~

He breathes in heady chow-chow, pickled preserves, cayenne

and smiles as the blazes rush through his chest

and lap at his nostrils and toes.

He wants to turn to the river and dance in the

must of the leaves and the left-fruit

beneath the coppice of trees.

He wants to

dance.

~

The wide-eyed Southern man-poet

loves his children

like good dogs.

His momma

like Jesus.

His home

like a well-shifted shed.

~

I know the southern boy-poet and his stars.

How, each evening, he takes them

from an icy Mason jar,

buried by the chimney at the old home place —

bricks asunder, foundation nearly gone —

and places them,

just so,

in the pitch-black Southern sky,

where he commands them to

shine.

~

And for years, they would.

~

I know the Southern poet-man,

whose travels have led him into and out of the woods,

long past pondering the mystery,

to the place where old boys

die.

January 14, 2010

Be true to your school, I do, they dance, no day but today, & Beer! Beer! Beer! — + strings & jeans

It seems that life is getting back to normal these days — the parties are over, the garland is down (most of it, anyway), and the routine is starting to set in — if you believe in routines, that is.  I’ve never been one to dig into the rut — too claustrophobic for me.  I can see why some folks find the rut functional –it’s safe and can be comforting, I guess.  But if the rut gets too deep, it becomes harder and harder to see out of it and the next thing you know, it becomes a maze — and then — you’re trapped.

I’ve always been a fan of second and third careers, changing majors mid-stream, and letting the flow take you where it may.  Life never gets dull — it’s a sin to be boring.  That said, this is what we’re doing this weekend, starting tonight.

On Thursday at 7, my eldest and her beloved are going with me to see the Women Gamecocks play some mighty bball at the Colonial Center.  The Beer Doc drags me to as many of his little sporty events as he can, but never seems to be going in the direction of the arena when the Big Girls play.  Yesterday, after mentioning that the guys were playing LSU last night and that we should all Go Cocks and the like, one of my new students, the amazing Ms. Ebony Wilson who happens to play guard for the Women Gamecocks — and no, don’t give me any of that “lady” Gamecock crap until you’re ready to call the boys the “Gentlemen” Gamecocks when they play ball — asked me if I was going to their game tonight.  Zap!  What kind of Women’s Studies instructor am I if I don’t go out and support some of the toughest and most talented women of the university?  So, I’ll be there waving the garnet foam finger that Annie gave me for Christmas — Gamecock women are #1, in my book now, and Ms. Ebony Wilson happens to wear a #1 on her jersey.  Tonight’s game will be preceded by the best chee-boogie & brew in town at my beloved Hunter Gatherer.

And then there’s Friday night.  If you read my last blog & review of the film, you know that I’ll be attending the 5:30 showing of La Danse at the Nick, which will be preceded by some used-to-be surprise nuptials of two dear friends.  For all intents and purposes, the I dos are still a surprise if you haven’t been formally invited to the wedding or if you aren’t friends with the folks — of friends with their friends — on Facebook.  So, everything that I wrote yesterday still stands if you find yourself still in the dark — and I hope to see you there. In the light, before the film starts.

But for me and the Beer Doc, we’ll be darting out the back door of the theatre about half way through so we can grab some snacks and libation before we head down to TRUSTUS to see Rent.  This will only be like my umpteenth time of seeing this play, all other times on Broadway, but I am just so excited about seeing Kevin Bush play Mark — a role that both he and Doogie Howser were made for.  It only runs through next weekend and tickets are slim pickin’s, so if you have your heart set on going, as well you should, call the theatre at 254-9732, and beg Joe for a ticket.

After Rent we hope to make it down to CMFA at 914 Pulaski Street to take part in my friend Aaron Pelzek et. al.’s artist-driven extravaganza, Playing After Dark #4 — Free Form.  Aaron and buddies have brought together an awesome group of artists who will bring you everything from art-in-the-making via my friend Karen Storay, to Sherry Warren’s choreography (also my bud), a local band called The Noise, puppetry, poetry by Charlene Spearen (yes, a bud), scenes from Jaques Brel is Alive and Well — a play I was just writing about in the Beer Book, oddly enough, and, hell, I don’t remember — a bunch of stuff.  My friend Jeffrey wrote a nice little ditty on this event on his blog at http://carolinaculturebyjeffreyday.blogspot.com/.  The shenanigans start at 7:30 — which is why we’ll be coming in at the tail end, but never fail — the whole shebang is going to crank itself back up again Saturday night at the same time, same station.  Tickets are like $5, so seriously, head out to this event and show some love to local artist driven arts.  It’s the way it should be.

Which brings me to Saturday — the day of the second annual Columbia hosting of the World Beer Festival at the Columbia Convention Center.  There are two sessions, afternoon and evening.  Having made the mistake of attending as many sessions of beer events as offered before (read about this in Bob, Beer, and Me, coming out this spring/summer, by god!), we will only be attending the afternoon session — after which we will promptly crawl to our hotel room in the Vista and snooze until the evening festivities commence with yet another freaking basketball game — the Gentlemen Cocks, this time.  Is it possible to OD on sports?  Is that something that happens to the hard-core — read Beer Doc — or has he developed an immunity or a tolerance — built it up in his system, as it were, leaving him protected while his neophyte woman remains susceptible to sports poisoning and may just have to sneak out at half time, already clad in her blue jeans, to the Koger Center for some strings?  It is time for the Philharmonic’s Beethoven and Blue Jeans, after all.

After running in and dropping off a coat closet of old coats at the Art Bar last night — thanks to Chris Bickel for his generous offer of collecting a scad or two of coats for the cold during karaoke — I felt the yearning for the good Art Bar people in my soul, so the night should finish us up, just a few blocks from our hotel, at the best place to be in the city after 1 am.  We are so lucky to have that place.  Really, take a minute and thank your maker for the Art Bar.

Whatever your drug of choice, get drunk on the goodies going on in our beloved city this weekend.  I’ll see you around town.

Cheers, Y’all.

January 12, 2010

Review — La Danse at The Nick — (Don’t miss this beautiful film)+ Surprise Romance Columbia Style

Don’t be surprised if you feel oddly out of place when viewing Frederick Wiseman’s film, La Danse, opening at the Nickelodeon Theatre on Wednesday night.  The sensations evoked when watching a Wiseman film must be akin to something one might experience in a limited time travel situation.  Limited in that the subject matter and singular grouping of locations never change – think the various wings and wards of a hospital, the corridors and classrooms of a high school – but approximating time travel in that the viewer may find herself plopped down at any point in a controlled period of time – yesterday, next Thursday, earlier today at lunch – and witness to any variety of the mundane and the exotic – in this case, dying silk in a pot over a gas flame, vacuuming the loge in Paris’s Palais Garnier, or peeking into the sweaty rehearsal of Swedish choreographer Mats Ek’s La Maison de Bernada by the étoiles of the Paris Opera Ballet.

Transforming the viewer into the voyeur is, to a great degree, the point of documentarian Frederick Wiseman’s films.  And he has made almost forty of them, with objects of study ranging from a hospital, high school, racetrack, or zoo, to welfare, meat, the deaf, and domestic violence.  In every case, Wiseman settles himself for four to six weeks at the particular institution under observation, with very little preparation, and simply begins filming.  When he accumulates a hundred or so feet of film, he stops.  Then the real work of cutting and editing and arranging begins.  The result:  a brilliant amalgam of recorded experience, often poignant and beautiful, yet completely lacking in contextual information, exposition, or any kind of narrative arc.

La Danse (2009) is Wiseman’s latest effort in the observational mode of film-making, sometimes called direct cinema, and it may be his most beautiful.  His subject matter this time is the day-to-day activity under the roof of the neo-Baroque architectural masterpiece that is Paris’s Palais Garnier, the home of the famous Paris Opera Ballet.

Wiseman drops us in to the commotion of the ballet company as it prepares for six upcoming performances : the afore-mentioned Mats Ek project from the Cullberg Ballet, based on the Spanish play, La Casa de Bernarda Alba (The House of Bernard Alba) by Federico Garcia Lorca; Orphée et Eurydice (Orpheus and Eurydice) by the recently deceased Pina Bausch, famous for, among other things, her influence in the development of the Tanztheatre (dance theatre) style; Pierre Lacotte’s  restored classic Paquita; Angelin Preljočaj’s contemporary ballet, Le Songe de Mérdée; the German choreographer Sasha Waltz’s abstract setting of Romeo and Juliet to a Berlioz symphonic score rather than the traditional Prokofiev; and, the sleek 1967 version of Casse-Noisette (The Nutcracker) by Rudolf Nureyev, rather than Petipa, which most Americans are accustomed to seeing.

In French with English subtitles, Wiseman brings a heavily-detailed intimacy to this project, often shooting from the vantage of just outside the door to the activity he wants us to see.   We are literally peeking in – spying on what’s going on.  What we get to see is not the always perfect presentation the Paris Opera Ballet puts on stage.  We are privy to the imperfect rehearsals, dancers actually learning the choreography, complaining about their corrections, becoming frustrated with themselves, their partners, and their ballet masters.

But there is far more than dance to Wiseman’s film, as his camera plays homage to almost every brick in the building of an arts institution:  the custodians, the costumers, the painters, the Director of Dance, Brigitte Lefévre, whose stylish red coiffure shows up in frame after frame – even the beekeeper on the roof.  One scene takes us meticulously through the mid-day meal as dancers approach the cafeteria and we are shown shots of their various entrée choices, the boredom on the cashier’s face as she collects money, the dancers leaving full and fresh and ready to rehearse again.

And then there are the dancers.

The Paris Opera Ballet company is divided into five ascending tiers for dancers, beginning with the quadrilles and rising to the etoiles – the stars, or principal dancers of the company.  Wiseman makes use throughout the film of a camera angle which shoots down one or another exceedingly long hallway and forever up exhausting stairways, perhaps as a metaphorical commentary on the inordinate work which goes into becoming a member of this prestigious company.  As viewers we get to see the likes of such luminaries as étoiles Marie-Agnés Gillot, Laëtitia Pujol, Aurélie DuPond, Agnés Letestu, Delphine Moussin, and more.  And ultimately, we get to see these amazing talents present the product of their labors under Marc Chagall’s glorious opera house ceiling.

I have had the good fortune to sit under the largest piece of work of my favorite artist, Marc Chagall, before and witness the Paris Opera Ballet in person.  I remember the massive six-ton chandelier that drops from the Chagall ceiling’s center – not literally, mind you, though the 1896 accidental crash of one of the Opera House’s chandeliers did inspire Gaston Leroux to pen the classic Phantom of the Opera. And I remember the gilded Grand Staircase, the Grand Foyer, and all the gold and velvet and overwhelming sumptuousness.  I remember seeing for the first time, Le Jeune Homme et la Mort (The Young Man and Death). But with dance, it’s difficult to remember more than the sensations you experience as you watch it.  Sure, your mind captures images and freezes them in time – the height of a grand jeté, the pristine stillness when, en pointe, a dancer exquisitely pauses between phrases – no movement, time stands still.

Watching La Danse brought this all together for me – it connected the dots in my memory, gave me context and background and a renewed appreciation for what makes the best of the best – the best.  It made my heart swell.

Don’t miss the opportunity to be a voyeur and see the Paris opera Ballet backstage and on-stage in La Danse, showing at our Nickelodeon for the next week.  For tickets, contact the Nick at www.nickelodeon.org.

~~~

And if you love dance in Columbia like I do – if you love the people who dance it and the ones who do the work that allow them to – then make your reservation for the 5:30 show on Friday evening, January 15th.  Larry is doing a pre-talk and there is an absolutely beautiful surprise which I promise you will warm your heart until the day you die.  It’s a secret – I can’t say more.  But I can say, don’t miss this film and please do try to make it on Friday at 5:30.  You won’t be disappointed.

January 10, 2010

On the new USC semester, hibernating adjuncts, Pliny the Elder, and Fat-Tailed Dwarf Lemurs

Filed under: Holidays,USC,writing — cynthiaboiter @ 14:40
Tags: , ,

It hasn’t even been four weeks, really, since I turned in my final grades, stacked my notes and books in the least dusty of the corners in my office, and changed the time on my alarm clock to “whenever.”  And even though it wasn’t long ago enough, it still feels like longer than it was.  That’s because Christmas break for college students, professors, and instructors isn’t like Christmas break for American children.  For kids, it’s two weeks solid — unless your break starts on a Saturday — and really, why don’t all Christmas holidays always start on a Saturday, affording kids at least the illusion of an extra weekend without classes?  Otherwise, you just get two of everything — two Saturdays, two Sundays, two Thursdays.  And those days go by fast!  You’ve just finished making out your Christmas list when, suddenly, you’re opening presents, wadding up the ripped up remains of meticulously creased and taped packages, making room in your toy box for new junk, and just about the time the wheels on your Tonka truck start to spin with ease, you find yourself sitting dope-eyed at the kitchen table eating oatmeal and heading out into the cold January morning to go back to the same old unfulfilling drag that is elementary education.

Ick.

For college kids and the kids who teach them though, Christmas break goes on just long enough to start feeling routine, then, whack, it’s time to start getting up early again, packing up all your little ditties in a satchel, and hauling your sore head back into the lab rat race.  But there is this time of fantasy that sneaks in sometime after Christmas is over and just before you absolutely have to have your syllabus completed.  Yeah, you have things you should be doing — things that need doing, but not so much that absolutely has to be done.  Right. This. Minute.  That’s when you pick up that novel you’ve been wanting to read, try to catch up on your tivo’d sit-coms, think about exercise.  But mostly, that’s when you hibernate.

As with pretty much everything out there in the world of culturally interpreted science, there’s a lot of mythology about hibernation; do bears actually hibernate and the like.  Pliny the Elder wrote about the hibernating nature of swallows — they don’t, of course — and that’s another good reason to question thousand-plus-year-old history, as if the Apologists weren’t enough.  And for years, there was the question of whether primates hibernate.  Turns out the Fat-Tailed Dwarf Lemur of Madagascar is all about hiding in a tree trunk for a good seven months out of the year and snoozing, so yeah, primates do.  But here’s the thing — so do academics, especially the adjunct kind, and I’m betting there are plenty of other primates who do so when the chance arises, as well.  A lot of what Christmas and Thanksgiving is about is eating large amounts of food and storing energy in fat deposits during a period of pseudo-dormancy.  Throw in some bedroom slippers, left overs, and boxed editions of series like the Office or Ally McBeal, and neither woman, monkey, nor man find it easy to move very much.

So, just as it ultimately does for the Fat-Tailed Dwarf lemur, the sun rises significantly for me and thousands of other USC kids and the kids who teach them tomorrow morning.  Like most of us, I love/hate the beginnings and endings of semesters.  A case of vertigo has kept me even more cave-bound than usual the past few days — and made me miss too many fine things going on in town, so I’m wondering whether Wee Blue Bug II will even run tomorrow morning, or if either of us will be able to find our way back to campus.  But, like the salmon, the sea turtle, and yes, even the sparrow, we’ll find our way along migratory paths determined long before us.

So, for those of us who must crawl out of our hibernation caves and back to the Ivory Tower tomorrow morning, I wish us well.  Happy Semester, USC Students, Faculty, and Staff.  Let’s be careful out there.

January 6, 2010

McCormick, Hartvigsen, Buckner, Dickey — the art of the spoken word at FOM

I’m pretty excited about the presentation of spoken word art this Thursday night at Frame of Mind.  In addition to Cassie Premo Steele’s readings, which I recently told you about, three exceptional poets in their own rights will be sharing their work — and each has an impressive background in poetry with unique experiences to offer the listening audience.

In all likelihood, those of you who are into Columbia poetry will have already heard Christopher McCormick read.  Chris created the Art Bar’s VerseWorks poetry series back in September 2007 and, still today, Tuesday nights find Chris and his family of brethren and sister poets offering up the spoken word to the drunk and sober alike.    A self-professed combo meal of science nerd, IT geek, and  juggling poet, Chris is also a single father who still finds time to lead zombie parades about the city when the need arises.  Like many good poets, he has written all his life and even studied poetry under the late, great, and oh-so-straight James Dickey who, despite his bad comb over,  (I’m sorry — there’s a good comb over?), was the recipient of a number of honors including a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Book Award, and an invitation to read his poem, The Strength of Fields, at the inauguration of my favorite president, Jimmy Carter.

According to Chris, who visits the Lord every Tuesday night during VerseWorks at Columbia’s Church of Free Speech, “I used to write to get the attention of girls.  Now I write because spoken word poetry is my favorite form of honesty — because I have found a true diversity and acceptance in this community that doesn’t exist anywhere else.  Oh, and also to get the attention of girls.”

What say Ladies?  Let’s give the boy what he’s looking for on  Thursday night at FOM.

~~~~~

Kristine Hartvigsen came to poetry later in life, having her first poem published in Brett Bursey and Becci Robbins’ The Point, in 1993.  Like Chris, Kristine also developed a relationship with the Art Bar and took over hosting their Open Mic poetry nights from 1997 – 1999, during which time she also published a monthly newsletter for poetry called Aurora Borealis. Since then, Kristine has built a career in prose, serving as editor of South Carolina Business Magazine and Lake Murray – Columbia Magazine, in addition to single parenting her exceedingly creative son, Colin.  A regular by night at local readings, Kristine spends her days fighting the good fight for the environment as marketing communications manager for the South Carolina Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.  I can’t wait to hear what she brings to the event on Thursday.

~~~~~

The final poet offering up her wares of words is Zen massage therapist, Melissa Buckner.  Poetry has been a part of Melissa’s life as long as she can remember, her first poetry seeing print in the USC -Sumter literary magazine, Sandhill. Hiker, songstress, Usui Reiki healer, Melissa describes herself as a Bohemian hippie living the life she wants to live.  She spent five years living in Prague, learning the Czech language while teaching English as a second language to impressionable Czech youth.  It was during her ex-pat days that Melissa published her first book of poetry, Little Bruises and Bits of Jade.

Here is one of my favorite poems from that collection —

~~

Yes, It’s Me

by Melissa Buckner

~

yes, it’s me

whispering poetry

slipping lines fluidly

one by one

counting lips

strands of silken

sleepy halo

speaking to each

curling sigh

~

calming skin

wishing words

spread willing

beneath

~

forefinger crisp and pink

smile closing upon the spine

knuckles kneading a song

~

one in two part harmony

swoon

I pretend to rest

~~~~~

Looking forward to seeing your smiling faces on Thursday night for Susan Lenz, Cassie Premo Steele, Chris, Kristine, & Melissa, and Heidi Carey playing the cello.

~

Until then — here is James Dickey’s poem delivered in honor of President Carter.

~

The Strength of Fields

by James L. Dickey

… a separation from the world, a penetration to some source of power and a life-enhancing return …

Van Gennep: Rites de Passage
Moth-force a small town always has,
Given the night.
What field-forms can be,
Outlying the small civic light-decisions over
A man walking near home?
Men are not where he is
Exactly now, but they are around him    around him like the strength
Of fields.    The solar system floats on
Above him in town-moths.
Tell me, train-sound,
With all your long-lost grief,
what I can give.
Dear Lord of all the fields
what am I going to do?
Street-lights, blue-force and frail
As the homes of men, tell me how to do it    how
To withdraw    how to penetrate and find the source
Of the power you always had
light as a moth, and rising
With the level and moonlit expansion
Of the fields around, and the sleep of hoping men.
You?    I?    What difference is there?    We can all be saved
By a secret blooming. Now as I walk
The night    and you walk with me    we know simplicity
Is close to the source that sleeping men
Search for in their home-deep beds.
We know that the sun is away    we know that the sun can be conquered
By moths, in blue home-town air.
The stars splinter, pointed and wild. The dead lie under
The pastures.    They look on and help.    Tell me, freight-train,
When there is no one else
To hear. Tell me in a voice the sea
Would have, if it had not a better one: as it lifts,
Hundreds of miles away, its fumbling, deep-structured roar
Like the profound, unstoppable craving
Of nations for their wish.
Hunger, time and the moon:
The moon lying on the brain
as on the excited sea    as on
The strength of fields. Lord, let me shake
With purpose.    Wild hope can always spring
From tended strength.    Everything is in that.
That and nothing but kindness.    More kindness, dear Lord
Of the renewing green.    That is where it all has to start:
With the simplest things. More kindness will do nothing less
Than save every sleeping one
And night-walking one
Of us.

My life belongs to the world. I will do what I can.


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