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

March 17, 2010

Blogging, ballet & beer — with a perturbed poetry mention

I remember when I used to blog.

I know, it’s been a while.  Coming up on a month, actually.  So many cool things to write about and yet I don’t seem to be doing my job.  When we left off, Bonnie and I were just returning from New York City where it was cold and all Alan Shore-y.  Oh yeah, and a nice man in a bar bought me a drink while I was talking to the Beer Doc on the phone.  That still feels good.  I went out to the Art Bar last night to check out the final poetry slam competition — scouting for an upcoming undefined poetry reading (and by the way, Chris McCormick was robbed!) — and couldn’t find anyone to go with, so I put on my big girl panties and went alone.  Lo and behold, another dude tried to buy me a drink while I was talking to my friend Gillian on the phone.  He was creepy though — cowboy hat creepy, to be precise — so I gave him the Nora look and moved into another room.  (The Nora look is this “eat shite you pathetic fool or I’ll burn your house down” snarl that is passed genetically through the Boiter side of my family.  My dead grandmother Nora had it, and my also late Dad had it, then me, then Bonnie.  Bonnie has actually perfected it — you’ve probably seen it before from one or both of us.)

  In the interim since my last post, the Beer Doc and I spent Spring Break doing some final research on NC and SC beer.  Actually, I’m working on a story for Sandlapper on SC micros and brewpubs — focusing on COAST beer in North Charleston — a wife/husband team who are brewing organic, environmentally conscious beer that absolutely rocks; RJ Rockers in Spartanburg — home of the Son of a Peach summertime sensation; Thomas Creek in Greenville — home of the Deep Water Double Bock which is sumptuous; the Aiken Brewpub, which is in Aiken; and our own local Hunter Gatherer — the place I keep calling “our” pub and for some reason, people who don’t know it think it belongs to us.  I tend to get a little proprietary, I guess.  People who don’t know the Cellar may think I own it, too. 

In any case, much has been written about beer lately and less about my beloved arts.  (No, I don’t own them — it’s a figure of speech.)  However, I have done a couple of reviews for the Free Times of local Columbia dance companies over the past few weeks.  Here’s the piece on Columbia Classical Ballet’s Aladdin, in case you missed it.

And I’ll try to be a better blogger in the future.

 

Issue #23.10 :: 03/10/2010 – 03/16/2010

Aladdin Gives us More — and Less — of What We Expect from Columbia Classical Ballet

BY CYNTHIA BOITER

   

Columbia Classical Ballet’s Aladdin presented itself last Friday at the Koger Center as something big — something spectacular. In many ways, the company met its objective. Resplendent costuming in shimmering warm shades; a multiplicity of dancers at various stages of training; informed choreography courtesy of the rare former dancer who actually knows how to choreograph; delicate women; threatening thieves; and a plethora of adorable children littering the stage.  There is no arguing — it was a big show.

Based ever-so-loosely on a Middle-Eastern folk tale taken from One Thousand and One Arabian Nights (though the characters of Jasmine and a blue Genie do not appear in the story’s history until Walt Disney Pictures adapted the tale in 1992), Aladdin is a classic tale of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back and defeats the evil sorcerer with the help of a genie in a lamp. Choreographed by Classical Ballet resident choreographer Simone Cuttino — a John Cranko Ballet alum — the ballet Aladdin offers quite a lot of dancing.

In the first act, some might argue, it offers too much.

It’s not that exposition in a narrative ballet is a bad thing, but Act I could have used more of the fine-tuning — the winnowing out of superfluous movement and detail — that Act II demonstrated.

In a word, the first act was long.

That said, one of the most aesthetically pleasing parts of the ballet came in Scene Two when Aladdin, danced by Aoi Anraku (a Gold Prize winner in the All Japan Ballet Competition in Nagoya), encounters Lauren Frere’s Goddess of Diamonds and her accompanying attendants (danced by Anna Porter, Renata Franco, Kaori Yanagida, Akari Manabe and Dee Dee Rosner).  Though Anraku rarely demonstrated much commitment to his character, stepping in and out of choreography as if it were a series of disconnected exercises, the women accomplished their parts exquisitely.

It can also be argued that the ballet itself didn’t fully take off until the very end of Act I when the character of Jafar, danced by the Ukrainian Oleksandr Vykhrest — who heretofore had lacked the menacing energy one might expect from a villain — came alive with malice as he danced the lights down on the act. Once the ballet found itself, the remainder of the program was a delight.

The highlight of the night was the desert scene in Act II, when the company rallied to produce a mesmerizing scene of conspiracy and deception. Jasmine, danced by Kaleena Burks (former student of Magda Aunon and Magaly Suarez), demonstrated particularly stunning pointe work and arabesques while committing to her character in a manner she had previously yet to reveal. Vykhrest’s Jafar exhibited not just a capacity for peril, but also for affection, as he pined hopelessly for the princess. Kazuki Ichihashi, in the role of the Genie, might have relied excessively on his turns to wow the audience, but he executed them spectacularly. The lighting, courtesy of technical director and lighting designer Aaron Pelzek, painted the desert scene with subtle, yet beautiful changing hues suggesting the passage of time as the scene progressed.

Why did this simple scene with few props and no stage clutter satisfy so?

Because big isn’t always better. Give me the respect for the aesthetic of dance, the purity of exquisite technique, the confidence of simplicity audiences have come to expect from director Radenko Pavlovich’s classically trained and, usually, impeccably coached dancers, any day. My favorite Pavlovich productions are the ones with little production at all — beautiful, proficient dancers on a bare stage with nothing but a capable lighting director to illuminate their prowess.

We got to see a peek of this local treasure Friday night — but only a glimpse and not nearly enough to last until next season begins.             

Let us know what you think: Email editor@free-times.com.

   

 

 

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.

December 11, 2009

Grey Egg, Hunter Gatherer, Christopher Walken and SNL

Filed under: Grey Egg,Hunter Gatherer,SNL,writing — cynthiaboiter @ 13:00
Tags: , ,

I was just writing yesterday about Columbia’s hidden arts treasures, and here I am again, writing about another group of amazing local artists that many people in town may not have heard of.

Would it be bad to say that I’m glad?  It’s not that I don’t want everyone in town, hell – go for the world — everyone in the world, to know about the band Grey Egg.  It’s just that I realize that the more people who know about them, the more people are going to crowd the already crowded venues when they play their rare gigs, and the harder it will be to get to the bar, much less find a place to sit my weary old butt down.  Eventually, word will get out.  And by out, I mean out of Dodge, out-of-town, out of the South, and before we know what happened, Grey Egg will be crawling up on the stage at the NBC studios in NYC, with Liz warbling her little heart out and waving goodbye to the television audience when SNL signs off — I’m hoping Christopher Walken is the host that night.  I can see him up there, hands clasped before his chest, acting all Walkeny and thanking Grey Egg for being the musical guest on the show.  Seth Myers will have had to absolutely force Sarah and Steve out there and Liz will be standing in the back looking at her feet as the camera pans to her, little wisps of hair sticking out of her braids.   Chris will have missed them by now and shoved Jason Sudeikis aside to reach them and bring John and Amy and Liz up in front of the crowd of comics and writers.  He’ll likely try to ruffle Liz’s hair or something, which is going to really piss her off, and she’ll show him the back of her hand, sure as the world.  Though for the most part a peaceable man, Chris don’t take shit off no little white girl but the cameras are rolling and the last thing he wants to do is disappoint Lorne.  So he just stares off into the audience and pretends that Liz and everyone else in the band is dead. By now though, the applause is getting good to Liz, and she and Amy start doing that little dance they usually do in the bathroom just before the show and Chris just can’t ignore it anymore, so next thing you know, Christopher Walken goes all Deer Hunter Nick on her ass.  It ain’t pretty. Plus South Carolina gets in the news for something stupid again.  So it’s probably in everybody’s best interest for none of you reading this to come out and see Grey Egg perform at 11 pm on Friday night at the Hunter Gatherer on Main Street.  Really, just stay home.

~~~~

Here’s the piece on Grey Egg that I wrote for Stir earlier this year.  It never got published in hard copy, so you might have missed it.  Take a look if you did.

Grey Egg

If you get the feeling, when listening to local Columbia alt band Grey Egg, that you might not be in Kansas anymore, it’s okay.  That was the plan.  For starters, chances are pretty good that the lyrics you’re hearing aren’t being sung in English.  Chances are even greater that you aren’t going to be able to translate those lyrics either – not unless you can get inside the head of band leaders Steve Dennis and Julia Elliott.  And I’m not sure you want to do that.

Listening to Grey Egg perform is reminiscent of traveling abroad or watching the recording of a foreign film, but doing so in the comfort of your own culture.  But rather than hearing French or Farsi or Portuguese, what you hear is a fake language constructed in its entirety by Dennis and Elliott.   Not all of the lyrics are created in the heads of the couple, who literally are a couple having been married, “forever, and ever, and ever,” as Elliot says.  The English language does occasionally crop up in the vocals, sometimes jarring the listener out of that meditative place where ones head seems to hang while listening to Grey Egg’s music and forcing her or him to actually hear the familiar English words.  Luckily, the drug kicks back in pretty quickly though and you soon feel like you’re in some smoky eastern European coffee house, or huddling around the samovar in a Turkish hammam.

The band members themselves are almost as eclectic as their music.  Co-founded in the late nineties by Elliott and Dennis, who began playing as a duo back when the two were small town South Carolina teenagers, the sounds of the band may not reflect the members’ upbringings, but seem oddly at home with the lives the musicians now lead.  And odd ain’t bad.

For day jobs, composer and multi-instrumentalist Dennis, who is also a permaculturalist, works with bass player John Hammond as an heirloom grain processor.  Drummer David Kelly, originally from Rock Hill, works as an historic preservationist when he is not driving the group’s experimental inclinations toward both progressive and psychedelic music a la` late sixties and early seventies.  Both Elliott, who once went by the name Liz, and violinist Sarah Quick, are part-time college professors and when Quick isn’t studying anthropology and ethnomusicology, (she is an expert on the Métis of Canada), she can sometimes be found performing with the South Carolina Philharmonic Orchestra.  Then there is saxophonist Amy Overbaugh who hails from Charleston and, rumor has it, sports a dandy dead toe she only shows to band-mates and friends.

But much of the attention in a Grey Egg concert rests on keyboardist and vocalist Julia Liz Elliott.  She doesn’t just play the keyboards; she plays her voice as well.

“I do use my voice like an instrument, and for some reason have always approached singing this way without really thinking about it.  Recent influences have helped me conceptualize this process more clearly – Magma, Catherine Ribeiro, Yma Sumac,” she explains.  “Steve (Dennis) also does this quite naturally.  I think that’s partially how we drifted into the fake language thing because it is much easier to compose vocals, in terms of sounds and syllables, this way – and then these sounds inevitably evoke specific language groups.”

According to local music aficionado and WUSC Music Director, Kyle Petersen, “Grey Egg is one of those bands that exists outside the normal margins of rock and roll.  Most bands incorporate Eastern elements and dense instrumental passages as diversions from the actual song,” he explains.  “But for Grey Egg, these elements and passages are the primary focus.  It is hard to argue that there is any other band like them on the local scene – they are like nothing else you will experience in Columbia.”

The past few years have revealed some surprising new directions for Grey Egg, a name chosen for the band because it “somehow captures the notion of a green world in decline,” Elliott glibly shares.  Kelly and Hammond didn’t actually join the group until 2006, and the quartet recorded their more electric CD titled Indoor Ski together in 2007.  Violinist Quick and saxophonist Overbaugh came on board a year or so later, and all six musicians will be featured on their new CD, entitled Albumen, which will be out this summer.

“We’re also starting to be more bilingual,” Elliott says.  “For us, this is a process that usually involves composing the vocals the old way via sounds, but then translating as much of that as possible into English.  More than half of the vocals in the upcoming CD Albumen are in English.”

Rare bird that the band is, it’s not easy to catch it about town.  You’ll most often find the group performing at Hunter Gatherer, or sometimes at the Art Bar or the Whig.  According to Elliott they only make forays out-of-town to Asheville, Athens or Charleston on occasion.  But the sure sighted will be able to spot them this summer when they settle in for a performance at the Art Bar on June 27th.  Until then, check Grey Egg out online at www.greyegg.com or www.myspace.com/greyeggmusik

September 26, 2009

The Producers = Good Stuff; Theatre Etiquette = Seriously Disappointing

It was so nice to have a date with my husband last night.  It is the rare Friday night when Bob isn’t doing the doctor thing in the ER (curing diseases, saving lives, blah, blah, blah), so tonight he got to choose which of the three local theatre productions we would see after our visit to Hunter Gatherer for what is, no contest, the best hamburger in town.  Seriously, what does Joe put in those burgers that makes me sigh so much when I’m eating them?  Bob’s choice was The Producers at Workshop Theatre for our Friday night date.  For one thing, Barry Sparks had tipped me off that this production offered one of the best casts the city has seen in some time, and when Barry says that, I listen.  And he wasn’t wrong. 

First of all, you have to know what you’re going into here.  We’re not talking Elizabethan English.  Remember the camp fire scene in Blazing Saddles when Slim Pickens served his crew of cowpokes a big ol’ mess of beans for dinner?  And remember the sound effects that ensued soon after dinner was done?  Well, if you thought that was offensive then you might not like The Producers, given that Mel Brooks is responsible for both bits of theatrical genius.  But if you thought it was offensive AND funny, then you’re in the right line.

Workshop Theatre’s production of The Producers was strong on cast, music, set and costuming.  It did as much as anyone can expect with what Mel Brooks has to give.  While there really wasn’t a weak link to be found in the cast, two people stood out last night with stellar, professional performances — Kevin Bush in the role of Leo Bloom, and Kyle Collins playing Franz Liebkind.  Both of their performances made me comment several times throughout the night that we could easily be watching them in one of the kitschy off-Broadway theatres in NYC’s West Village.  They were both true to their characters, delivering the kind of almost-over-the-edge camp a comedy like The Producers requires.

Unfortunately, while our theatre experience wasn’t ruined by some of the off-stage events of the night, it was seriously hampered.  I try not to go negative when it comes to local arts — my philosophy being that there are enough truly anti-arts advocates out there just waiting for critics to deliver them ammunition they can use to argue against the cost of the arts to schools and the government, at large.  But I’m not complaining about the arts here, I’m perturbed with the arts patrons, so I hope you’ll pardon my whining.

First, texting.  It is bad enough when students at USC text during plays and performances — but when the adult woman sitting beside me continuously reads texts throughout the show, shining her lighted phone screen like a torch in my eyes, there is absolutely no excuse for that. 

Next, getting up mid-show and leaving the theatre is no less than poor etiquette, but still the kind of thing that I imagine sometimes must happen.  Someone has a tickle in their throat and rather than disturb other patrons throughout the performance, they choose to disturb them once and take their leave.  Or someone else begins to feel ill and quietly excuses herself with as little disturbance as possible.  But last night, there were a good half dozen people who chose to make their row mates stand to allow them to leave and then — get this — stand to allow them to return to their seats later in the show. And guess who the person was who set last night’s trend?  Texty woman in the seat beside me.   And at first, she didn’t even bother to leave the theatre to take care of her urgent matter.  She actually went to the back and stood with her voice projected against the wall and took her cell phone call while the actors on the stage continued with their performance.  (I hope it was my dirty look that sent her out  the door.)   

I don’t know how the information can be gotten out there — we obviously cannot count on common sense — but somehow we must educate our fellow patrons on the proper behavior at a theatrical performance.  To begin with, no texting.  Ever.  It is rude, first and foremost, and it is distracting to other theatre goers and, I suspect, potentially to the actors themselves.  Next, if you absolutely must leave your seat — then leave it.   But in doing so you have unfortunately relinquished your right to sit down for the remainder of that act.  You may retake your seat after intermission.  But to ask other folks to either stand so you can retake your seat, thereby blocking other people’s views as well as interrupting their enjoyment of the play yet again, or to allow you to bump and bustle them while you mangle their toes and crush their purses with the extra pair of feet you are introducing to their row space — that, my friend, is not acceptable.

So folks, either pass the word or pass the dirty looks when unacceptable behavior is displayed in our audiences.  We create the theatre culture that our city will be known for — let’s up the sophistication level a bit so we can all enjoy a culture of which we can also be proud.  (In the meantime, if one of the good people from Workshop Theatre could squirt a little oil on that squeaky back door, that would help matters immensely.)

Blog at WordPress.com.