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

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.)

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

February 10, 2009

Community arts as as family?

I shouldn’t be writing now, and I certainly shouldn’t be blogging — I should be grading papers.  That will come, of course, because it has to.   The students are waiting and they are expecting.  Just like stories I’m writing on deadline or contests I plan to enter.  Those things get done because of external parameters.  Such is the life of the soldier with little self discipline.  It doesn’t torture me anymore.  It just is.  Self disciplined people have their own demons with which to do battle and those of us with less strident crickets precariously perched on our shoulders have ours.  We know our demons — we may not love them or appreciate them, but they’re ours, and we accept them.

Which brings me tenuously to a look at the culture of the arts in Columbia, SC.  Having lived in the SC midlands for over 20 years now and always been a patron of the arts, I’ve been watching the culture for a while.  Though I am a student of the literary arts, dance is the point of departure for much of the art culture that I know intimately.  Our daughters started out as students and one of them became a serious dancer, who danced principal parts as a student at NCSA, then was lured back to USC by a juicy scholarship and the opportunity to learn under Stacey Calvert.  One or both of our girls have danced at some time or another in almost every studio in the city, as serious dancers are likely to do.  Their studies have given me some insight into what happens beyond the studio door.

Which brings me back to the culture of the arts in Columbia, SC and the concept of family.

Columbia has recently enjoyed a dance-happy period of arts opportunities with performances coming steadily for four weeks in a row — Life Chance, then USC Dance Company’s American Treasures, William Starrett’s Off the Wall, and this week, for the rambunctious amongst us, Riverdance is performing  on the same stage as all of the above in the weeks before.  In about a month, we’ll also have the chance to see Simone Cuttino’s staging of the Wizard of Oz for Radenko Pavlovich, followed by William’s full length Don Quixote, then USC’s presentation of the Ballet Stars of the NYC Ballet, dancing along with USC’s company.  I’m probably leaving something out — Carolina Ballet usually brings their group of talented and enthusiatic young dancers to the stage in the spring as well.

Clearly, despite being something less than a southern arts Mecca, Columbia is rich with chances to observe one of humanity’s purist exhibitions of angst and joy — dance.  And to the casual observer, this would be something to celebrate.  But for those of us who are saddened by the lack of comraderie among some of our local dance powers that be, there is often a little less spark to the spectacle due to the dulling nature of the politics that go on behind the scenes.  Grudges, old wounds, misrepresentations, rumours, insecurities and fears abound — less with the dancers themselves and moreso with the big guys, old timers and occasional patrons who must think that one day their loyalty will be rewarded — or maybe that negative energy is good for the soul?

Not me. I often have curious folks from one camp question why I continue to support the other camp despite all the flaws, real and imagined, the curious folks so easily see.

The reason is simple.  Like it or not, the Columbia arts community — particularly those who are, know or love dancers — is a family.  And not just a run of the mill family, but a Southern Family, at that.  All of our members are right out there on display, including extra helpings of crazy aunts who in any other part of the country might be hidden in the attic.

And just like a family, there is no getting away from those to whom you are related.  Everything that is done is done in the reflection of one another.   Sure, you can try to hide.  You can move to another state or studio; you can marry or change your name.  But every single person who has danced, will dance or watched dance in Columbia, SC is connected to one another through training, technique, history and experience.  We’ll all come together at the funerals in the end.

But why wait?  Why not adopt the policy of those competitive California wineries back in 1976 when Chateau Montelena slapped the French wine snobs in the face with the proverbial white glove and went on to win the Judgment of Paris?  Or similarly that of the Pacific Northwest craft beer breweries who, though actively competing for the price of the pint, are positively stoked by one another’s successes?  For those big fish, a win for any ONE in their small sea is worth a win for all.  How nice it would be to hear one Columbia dance artistic director compliment another, or cheer from the audience, or better, encourage his dancers and students to be both patrons and artists.

Because that is what we do when we’re family.  We know one another — we may not love or appreciate one another, but we belong, we accept — we’re family.

Now, I really have to get back to writing — grading.

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