Sunday, August 22, 2010

A little culture for $25

Earlier today I was complaining to a friend that lately I watch too much TV and never do anything interesting.

As fate would then have it, while walking home a few hours later I noticed a bit of a commotion at the Boston Ballet building. I walk past this building twice a day and often wish I had the chance to go inside. This is where the ballet rehearses, not performs, but occasionally they host events there.

Today was one such occasion. While walking home from the grocery store, I saw balloons and well-dressed people milling about. As I paused to read the program on the door, a woman who looked like Snow White politely asked me if I'd like to see the show. "When does it start?" I asked. "8 o'clock," she said with a smile.

Time was of the essence. I hustled home, stealing a glance at my freshly obtained Shaw's receipt to see that it was about 10 past 7. What to wear? I cursed myself for not being one of those people who has clothes freshly pressed and ready to slip on. I found a silver skirt that I'd forgotten about, a white Banana Republic T, and a black cashmere shawl. I hurried back around the corner, handed over $25, and I was in.

It was exciting just to be in the building. I love ballet, and I'm a bit starstruck by anything that has to do with professional ballet. The building was grubbier than I expected, but I liked the sweeping staircase that led about four stories up to the top of the building. Along the way were plenty of posters advertising past performances, some as old as 20 years. They included numbers to call for more information — a pleasant reminder of the days of seven-digit phone numbers. The prices listed were also a bit nostalgic.

When I finally reached the performance hall, I was a little surprised at the casual arrangement. There were just three long rows of folding chairs, and when I sat down, the woman to my right asked me whom I'd come to support. Not a great sign. Looking around, I guessed that most of these people were probably friends and family of dancers, a feel later reinforced when many bailed at intermission.

The event was the first ever "Massachusetts Dance Festival," which seemed to be celebrating small local dance companies. The event had also included workshops during the day for adults and children. I guessed that most of the performance was going to be modern and contemporary styles — not my favorite, but when they're good I enjoy them almost as much as ballet.

The show opened with a piece from the Lorraine Chapman Dance Company called "Pulp Tango," which saw women — some clad in red dresses, some in black — trying to beguile and yet ultimately, it seemed, get crushed by the only man in the group. It was OK, but I wasn't wowed. Except for one petite, heavily tattooed blonde, none of the dancers really impressed me. I found the piece, which at times featured the dancers pounding the ground and chanting, a little inaccessible, and the male dancer seemed to be having a wardrobe malfunction with his cumberbun.

A second piece, called "As I Remember," from Sokolow Now!, comprised three segments, each with a solo dancer. I liked the second, which featured dancer Courtney Peix, wearing a blue-flowered summer dress, moving to music which seemed cheerful but had dark undertones. At least, that's how it struck me. There was something a bit Lynchian about it, which I liked.

A piece called "Marionette" from BoSama Dance Company featured four female dancers in black-and-white costumes that borrowed a bit from the traditional tutu, the classic French-maid uniform, and something else — perhaps mime-wear. This piece was one of the stronger entries in the show. The costumes, to me, suggested that these individuals had been "done up" for someone else's pleasure, and their dance was comprised of smooth steps and spins occasionally interrupted by an odd droopiness, and by jerky, seemingly involuntary movements.

"Anti-ossification" seemed more performance art than dance. Credited to "Monkey House," this piece opened with one performer crouched on what seemed to be a small stool, but once the lights came up, was revealed to be another person. The topmost dancer, who wore leggings, a backward hoodie and pigtails, moved about the stage liberally but was unable, for the most part, to prod the other dancer from her withdrawn, tortoiselike pose on the floor. This piece, though it was difficult for me at times to see what was going on given the lack of riser seating, seemed to be performed with a great deal of wit and humor.

The evening included many other modern pieces which were, for the most part, not quite my cup of tea. I respect modern dance, but much of the program seemed (to me) difficult to interpret and performed by dancers who, while I'm sure are very talented, didn't quite alight my interest the way almost any ballet dancer usually does. I like ballet both for its aesthetics and also for the incredible athleticism and technical proficiency that even midrange ballet dancers seem to have. This seemed lacking in many of the modern dancers that I saw at tonight's event.

So I count myself very lucky that the evening did include one ballet — "Trauermusick," by the Boston Dance Company. This piece, according to the program, was a tribute to the choreographer's parents and their troubled marriage. It was performed by two dancers (Kristen Lung and Camden Ieradi) clad in simple white costumes. I'm not an expert, but I thought Lung especially was quite good — just about every position she took was beautiful. It made me wish that I went to the ballet more often, and that there were more of these sorts of intimate shows. I would easily pay $25 to watch a Boston Ballet rehearsal, or just part of one. Perhaps now that I have the image of Lung's perfect white toe shoes stepping through my memory of this recital, I will find a way to do it more often.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A waking island

Since I moved to the East Coast from the Midwest 15 years ago, I have never gone home for Thanksgiving — I feel it's just too far to travel for a relatively minor holiday. Instead, I have spent my Thanksgivings with friends and acquaintances. The results have been mixed.

For a few years, I went to a friend's brother's house, where I had a front-line view of the cold war between the brother and his slightly older wife.

Another holiday outing saw me trying to converse with a friend's egg-nog-saturated father who, for what seemed like hours, gave me a one-on-one analysis of his unpublished post-modern play.

And once, at a boyfriend's house, I watched as the eldest brother haltingly told his Jewish parents of his engagement to the gorgeous Pakistani woman at his side. The chillingly offered congratulations were perhaps the least-convincing I have ever heard. As I recall, no one had seconds.

I do appreciate the generosity of everyone who has ever hosted me for Thanksgiving. But I have decided that other people's family dysfunction is a dish best enjoyed sparingly. So this November, I will be flying to the tropics to sip spiced rum punch and swim with the sea turtles.

My destination is St. Lucia. I booked the trip, appropriately, on Independence Day — or, more accurately, the early hours of July 5. After coming home from watching the fireworks display over the Charles River, I began browsing flight-hotel packages. I had already done a bit of research and pricing, but I was surprised to find myself utterly gripped by the desire to book the trip.

I mixed a mango-vodka cocktail, pulled out a credit card, and the deed was done. Now I am busy reading about the beaches, the rainforests, and the literature of St. Lucia. From St. Lucian poet Derek Walcott's Nobel address:

There is a force of exultation, a celebration of luck, when a writer finds himself a witness to the early morning of a culture that is defining itself, branch by branch, leaf by leaf, in that self-defining dawn, which is why, especially at the edge of the sea, it is good to make a ritual of the sunrise. Then the noun, the "Antilles" ripples like brightening water, and the sounds of leaves, palm fronds, and birds are the sounds of a fresh dialect, the native tongue. The personal vocabulary, the individual melody whose metre is one's biography, joins in that sound, with any luck, and the body moves like a walking, a waking island.

Copyright 2009-2010 by Sasha Sark. Please don't reuse without permission.
"West African Dark Blue Cloth" image is displayed courtesy of the Richard F. Brush Art Gallery at St. Lawrence University.