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

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.

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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.

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