Saturday, November 20, 2010

emerson college dancers..a not-quite-review

i never go to modern dance, and i have long since decided that rock is the devil's answer to music and that with the death of irving berlin the last hope of bearable pop music was gone.

and so there i was, in an orchestra seat close to the stage, watching modern dancers dancing modernly to music that, for the most part, ranged from early-ugly to hip hop hideous.  [there was a wonderful interlude of sorts when a bunch of them tap-danced to 'singin' in the rain,'  but halfway through, that morphed into some sort of rap piece, though the dancers tapped gamely on.]

in spite of this, i enjoyed myself immensely.  i was there because some of the members of the 90-person dance club were former students of mine, of whom i am immensely fond [yes, that's right; they were castle kids] who needed a 'supervisor' from emerson's faculty or staff,  because it was held at an off-campus site. since there were three time slots that they needed filled, they were approaching all the credentialed folk they knew.  and i, as always, was putty in the hands of a castle dweller.

actually, they were a pleasure to watch.  they were all clearly talented, and all hard working.  and they included a nice range of dance skills, though it was heavy on the rock-rap modern side.  still there were the terrific tap dancers and, in one piece, three ballet dancers, on toe---to me the most beautiful single position the human body can achieve.  then, creating variation within variation, there was a routine from a guest company, the newly formed cheerleaders club.  i have my political issues with the whole idea of cheerleading, but how could i possibly fault the skill and bravery of these very athletic young women?

it was also fun seeing kids i was used to seeing sporting torn jeans and t- shirts and  stumbling through questions about the Odyssey, now fluidly and confidently moving their bodies into and out of positions that made my own flaccid muscles ache at the sight:, it was what we like to call these days a humbling experience.  i fear that being a 'supervisor' was the closest i'll ever come, or ever could have come, to that suppleness.

i wondered why they were doing their show so far from the campus, and decided it must be because this 800-seat main stage at Roxbury Community College was such a good theatre for a large dance troup.  but when i asked one of the dancers about it later, she said they'd wanted to do it at emerson, but that all the emerson venues had been booked up, even with the three new sites in the old paramount theatre that the college had bought.  it seemed a pity; i thought an emerson performance space would attract a bigger audience.  but i had no need to worry; they had sold out quickly, and were having to turn down reservations.  

still it seemed strange.  last night i had been to a performance at the college's largest theatre, in which another educational institution, the new england conservatory of music, put on a delightful 'magic flute.' this is an old arrangement; i've been going to the NECE's major student performance there every year. but i find it peculiar to see another college's performance at an emerson theatre when an emerson group wasn't able to find space at any of the college's performance areas.  ah well, i'm in neither  marketing nor the performing arts, and their processes are mysterious to me. clearly the somewhat out-of-the-way venue didn't put off dancers or audience members, and there's no question that it's a great theatre for such a performance.  and for myself, i got to sit back and enjoy the show---and to get brownie points for my generosity in doing so!

i do hope that emerson knows how good these kids are, and what a credit they are to the college.  wherever they perform, these are 'emerson kids,' poster-people for what students can do in the extra-curricular vocations they pursue.  what a credit they are to the image of college students!  i left feeling honored to have been part of their club for those three hours.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


i never  used to watch weather--the seasons within each season, the daily differences in apparent sameness. now i watch it all the time. autumn is the most amazing season to me, both for weather and for its memories.  september is the beginning of the real new year.  summer has been quiet, moody, sometimes cruel in its insistence on feeling like vacation when, once you're past grade school, life rarely goes along with the feeling.  you want to be outdoors in the summer, or you want to want to be outdoors.  you feel you should be on the beach, or at least your backyard sipping lemonade from a package that pretends to be real lemonade like grandma used to make, whether grandma ever made lemonade or not.  i have an almost religious attachment to having iced coffee in the afternoon: summer begins with putting coffee cups away and ends with digging them out again.

autumn is a season of renewal as much as of dying, and that commonplace paradox always hits me anew. the leaves are so astoundingly alive in their dying.  add to that the fact that schools begin again and,  far more important to a kid raised right outside manhattan, the theatre season begins.  plays, ballets, operas--all start up again.  even television starts up again.  by the official new year, january, we're jaded and cold and tired.  but autumn is always full of promise.

in my childhood, the thought of school wasn't upsetting, and the thought of theatre was exhilarating. and there was the smell! long before we thought about pollution, everyone in a neighborhood of houses burned leaves in the fall.  for the adults it was doubtless annoying. not for the kids though.  first there was the business of raking the leaves into huge piles which, when you had  formed, you jumped or ran into.  twigs scratched and bugs got into your nose, but lord playing in the leaves was fun!  and then you reraked and rejumped and reslapped the dirt and broken leaves off yourself and then started the whole thing over again, until parents lost patience  and brought out the matches.  and no one minded that we'd lost our game; we knew there were plenty of leaves and lots more piling before the winter began. besides, watching the leaves burn was gorgeous, the color of the leaves and the color of the flames and the smell that was like no other smell in the world, the smell of clean, contained burning.  better even than chimney smoke because it was right there beside you.

we lived in a lower-middle-class neighborhood in queens, a linoleum rug sort of neighborhood which we believed--i did, anyway--was a 'suburb.'   well, it certainly wasn't the city, that golden dream of a city you could get to in half an hour from the subway, the city that inspired our dreams as much as they did the dreams of kids from the midwest or the rest of the east coast, for that matter.  but in the real city, so vastly superior in my young mind to our cozy-houses home, they didn't burn leaves in the fall, and so  i was happy enough to live outside the dreamworld in that time.  i was lucky too, though i didn't realize it, that large maple trees lined the streets, forming a block-long canopy even in winter, and turned our ordinary street into something spectacularly beautiful.

i missed those maples when i moved away from home, and at first i was disappointed in the less flashy trees in my boston-area homes.  it took a few years living in brookline to start seeing that   the quieter leaves have their own changing beauty.  now it amazes me to look at the yellow leaves falling outside my window and recall how i had never noticed them.  they go from green to light green to dark yellow to light yellow, a little sparser with each iteration.  one tree is a different sort than the others and it's now totally bare, but its neighbor retains its changing leaves, only very slowly letting go of them.

and then there's the magic forest.  i see the magic forest only from the trolley that goes a dozen stops or so above ground before it grinds into the dreary if convenient underworld of the subway.  i always read on subways, partly just for the chance to read, partly because it helps me forget i'm underground.  now i almost never read until we start going under.....there's too much to see in every season.  in the fall, this ride comprises a daily mini-foliage viewing for me. so many different trees and bushes, so many different gradations of autumn! who needs to drive into the country to experience the leaves'  colors? the bush across the street from the elders home is extraordinary, green that begins turning red from the top down, so it looks first like a fringe of red hair, then snakes its way  toward the bottom, streaking the green with odd, living patterns.  the other trees turn mostly shades of yellow and green, highlighted the peculiar reddening bush.  across the street,  the vines climbing up the small white house with the travel agency on the first floor are thick, thicker than the window they cover, and are fire yellow this time of year until they get sparser and sparser and you see the window again, and then they're gone.

but back to the magic forest.  my street is blessedly flat, and thus good for an aging asthmatic who needs to take walks, but right behind it are steep-hilled streets, whose tops you can see nicely from the trolley windows. right at washington street (across from the white house with the vines and the travel agent) the hilltops are covered with multiple trees.  for three seasons, they get so full and so large you can see only the partial facade of one building in their midst, and it is pretty and big enough to be a castle.  i don't know when i decided to people that area with fairies and goblins and bambi-deer and mysterious unnamed beasties, but it grew into my consciousness fully formed, and now each day i find the seat on the train from which i can best see the magic forest.  it is at its most magic in the autumn, with even a few apparent maples in its midst.  20 seconds of  bliss a day....

 the season is turning toward winter now, the leaves thinner and thinner on the branches, thicker and thicker on the ground.  still lovely, but with the death-essence of autumn visible.  more buildings show through the magic forests, and though they are pleasant looking homes, they are not castles or palaces, and no fairy beings inhabit them.  the magic will return for a day or two in winter, and of course there is a regal, stem beauty in bare branches that is its own enchantment.  but the fairies have retreated and the humans have returned to the hill.  the magic of the forest lies fallow, but it waits for spring.  me, i have no time for waiting.  the autumn is leaving, there's a new season to be lived and watched, and cherished.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The season has begun!

ignore this post of you don't care about figure skating.  i'm about to enthuse.

you know how baseball fans get about their sport's season beginning.  and that's just a sport-sport.  figure skating is an art-sport, and i love it for several reasons.  while it's horribly gendered [even to the singles events being called 'the men's' and 'the ladies', and costumes that demand a woman show much more of her body than a man], it's also one of the few sports in which the women's competitions are more popular than the men's, and where male/female teams compete together [dance and pairs]. but shit, this isn't really political for me---it's romantic! i am in love with the sport.

i love its audiences. on the one hand there's a big fuss about patriotism--flags all over, that sort of thing. yet the audiences at the competitions are almost always civilized.  they may clap more for 'their' skaters, but they clap a lot for every skater.  furthermore, they don't get pissed when their skaters make a mistake.  when a skater falls, from whatever country, the audience applauds with sympathy  and encouragement as they pull themself up and begin again.  wave whatever flag you want, it's really the skating, and the skaters, that matter.

furthermore, the sport keeps becoming more and more international in terms of the skaters themselves.  the more open a country is about the rules of citizenship, the  more you find, say, an american skating for australia.  the big skating countries have lots of terrific skaters; some of these, if they can, move briefly to another, smaller or less wealthy country and skate for that country. which is great, as it gives very good skaters a chance to compete, the smaller  country a place in the games, and the audience a greater variety of excellent skaters.
some skaters have dual citizenship. any jew, for example, is considered a citizen by israel.  if they choose, and some have done so over the years, they can skate for  that country. dual citizenship isn't always necessary or possible.  canadian tanith belbin skated with her american partner for months; then, for olympic eligibility, she applied for and eventually got american citizenship. aliona savchenko, originally from one of the old soviet union countries, married german coach and former skater ingo stoia, who paired her with german skater robin szolkowy and they skate for germany.  italian american sylvia fontana skated for italy for several years.

i was reminded of this tonight watching two new sister-and-brother dance teams, both literally japanese-american.  maya and alex shibutani skated for the US; and Cathy and Christopher Reed skated for japan.  (the older reed will soon, at 22, have to choose which country to remain a citizen of; her brother will face that decision later).  i love the implicit slap in the face to chauvinism. the great dancer nureyev once said that as a dancer, he had no country; his country was dance.  that seems to hold true for a  lot of skaters as well.

skate america is the 3rd of the 'grand prix' contests, and the first i've gotten excited about as i watch. in this post-olympic year, there are lots of new skaters in the senior ranks, and some are amazing.japan's kanako urakami is a great, exciting new 'lady', following in a tradition that began over a decade ago with midori ito and has continued with  fumi susguri, miki ando,  and mao asada, to name a few.

dance, at the moment, is even more interesting.  for years there have been 3 dance performances in a competition: compulsory, original, and free. the compulsory was a holdover from the days when singles and pairs had compulsory figures, which basically meant skating over and over the same figure 8.  the compulsory dance was more interesting, because it was an actual dance, but watching dozens of teams do precisely the same minute-long routine gets pretty tedious--and it seemed oddly out of balance with the other disciplines and their short and long programs.

.rather than drop it completely, the international skating union has combined it with the old original into a short program [mirroring the short program of the other disciplines].  now each dance team must incorporate the exact same dance into a short program of their own choice.  if it sounds like it should be awkward, it has been so far, a bit.  a different one of a specific series of compulsory dances is chosen by the ISU each year, and it can be hard to fit the steps of that particular dance into one's short program.  but these folks did wonderfully, and for many it was seamless: if you didn't know it was happening you wouldn't notice it.  it worked least well with the first american team, who chose a rock n roll theme--the Golden Waltz simply doesn't lend itself to rock.  but it blended quite beautifully with jazz in the Reeds' number.  the Shibutani's did a waltz theme, wisely and elegantly , as did the breathtaking new canadian team, weaver and page. the top americans, meryl davis and charlie white, are ahead so far; less exciting to me than the other teams, but plenty good. and these are just the short programs. i can't wait for the long ones!

i'm a happy puppy!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

perfectly choreographed

switching trains, in a hurry. scurry down stairs from green line to red line. wait a few minutes, impatient. train arrives. wait for exiting passengers. holly emerges. quick surprise, quick smiles, quick hug. i run into the train, holly runs up the stairs. wonder if she's grinning too.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


This has been my mantra these past few weeks.  Alas, reality rears its sorry head.  this time, dewey has won, all over the place.  a few democratic wins as of 11 p.m.,  and so far no worse than we thought it would be.....

silver lining?  at the moment, at least, in spite of the Brown win in the last special election, massachusetts is earning its liberal reputation.  barney frank stays in congress, and he's a great fighter.  and deval patrick remains governor!  maybe not the world's most leftist liberal, but we had years of republican governors, and the survival of even a moderate democrat is good news.

further, as the msnbc pundits keep reminding us, now the republicans are going to have to live up to their promises.  but these have been pretty vague--when they have to decide specifically what 'discretionary spending' programs to cut, it may be dicy for them.  ditto for the jobs that don't materialize.  obama may have been a disappointment to many of us who saw him as the great, post-bush hope, but the tea party and the conservatives who have used it have been promising the moon, with not much of a program to get us there.

the morning will be interesting.  it's rare that i go to sleep dreaming of harry reid, but tonight that dreary little man is the closest i can imagine to a prince charming-----and that ghastly, heartless coward engel , who can't even face reporters with semi-challenging questions, is a pretty good imitation of a dragon.

it's  time for a new New Left to arise and take up the good fight!