Monday, April 16, 2018

Nederlands Dans Theater

A few weeks ago (sorry for the delayed post), I saw a performance by the Nederlands Dans Theater for the first time. From the photos I saw online, I knew the show would be modern dance as opposed to ballet, so I was prepared to not like it. But I was pleasantly surprised!

The performance was divided into three different parts:

1. Shoot the Moon


The description of this piece said we would see the many emotions that play a part in relationships. The set was divided into three rooms, and the people in the rooms represented different relationships. The first room seemed to hold a loving relationship; the second showed a couple in conflict; and in the third was a man alone (although he was later joined by one of the "wives" from the other rooms). Doors and a window connected the rooms (the dancers could move in between the rooms that way), and the set would spin so we could see into each room. There were clear story lines happening, which I appreciated; I knew what the piece was trying to say.

But the modern dance aspects that were incorporated into this piece were my least favorite part. There were a lot of "karate chops" or arm movements that mimicked storks' necks; my friend described modern dance as "bendy knees and flat feet," which totally fits what was happening here. Dancers would make weird faces (like in the photos above), and one guy even shouted! In dance normally no one speaks. These parts took me out of the moment of enjoying dance and instead made me think, "What am I watching?" I equate dance with grace, and those awkward movements are NOT graceful.

The music written by Philip Glass was fantastic. It is very romantic, and all I could wonder was how beautiful the dance would have been to this song had Christopher Wheeldon been the choreographer. I love Wheeldon's work (read more about that in this previous blog post), and I think he would have done the music more justice.

Here's a clip of the performance (the shirtless man, Jorge Nozal, is so muscular, and he's going to be 40 this year!):

And here's a video of the music on its own:

2. The Statement

This is probably the most unique piece of dance I have ever seen. Instead of music, the dancers were moving to a script that was read aloud (taped, of course). The scene looked like people in some sort of conference room discussing a war conflict. They danced mostly around the table, but sometimes on top or under it, and they could easily slide upon its smooth surface. Tying the speaking with the dancing told a story that was easy to understand. Dance on its own can sometimes be hard to interpret, but with the spoken words, you could follow along and know what was happening.

Here's a video clip to give you an idea of just how different this piece is from any other modern dance performance:

The movements were staccato, matching the abrupt, short sentences of the script; each movement changed in a jerky but controlled way as each character "spoke." Their movements were so in sync with the dialog: the dancers couldn't "half-ass" the movements, but had to be very precise to produce the right effect.

The characters and costumes were quite androgynous. Both the men and women wore slacks and button-down shirts, and the women wore their hair up. If it weren't for the female voices on the tape, you may have thought all of the dancers were men. 

The most distracting thing was not part of the dance, but rather the audience! Many members of the audience thought moments of the script and the matching movements from the dancers were funny, and they laughed out loud! The characters were "discussing" war; how is that funny? It was clear the viewers completely missed the point. I'm sure all of the dancers were thinking, "Only stupid Americans would think this was funny." I was almost embarrassed to be part of the audience, because it was clear how uneducated or uncultured so many of these people were.

3. Singulière Odyssée

The synopsis of this piece explained that the dancers represented people waiting at an art deco train station. I'm not sure if I would have figured this out on my own. With the explanation, it seems obvious, but without it, I don't think I would have said the setting fit the art deco look, and I may have seen just a costume, not a conductor's uniform (see the photo below).

This was the only piece of the three where I felt like the costumes were actually costumes as opposed to just clothes. Many of the men were wearing dresses, and my friend and I loved the different jacket dresses the women had on. We wanted to wear them ourselves!

Here's the trailer for this piece:

Again, the modern dance movements are not my favorite, and without the synopsis in the program, I would not have known what I was watching. (Let's be honest: even with the synopsis, I was still left thinking, "I'm confused. These people are waiting for a train...? Why are they so intense about it?") I can appreciate this as a piece of art, but it was not as beautiful as other dances I have seen.

None of the pictures above show this, but toward the end of this piece, autumn leaves started falling from the ceiling! The dancers were moving through, on, and among the leaves, which was really pretty. I was afraid someone might slip on the leaves, but everyone was fine.

Such an interesting night of dance! These pieces definitely gave me a lot to think about!

All of the photos are from this page on the Kennedy Center's website:

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Movie Review: A Wrinkle in Time

Image found here
I read this book in middle school, and while I remembered liking it, I couldn't remember much else. So when I saw that a movie was going to come out based on the novel, I wanted to refresh my memory. On my drive to the Steel City Blues Festival in Pittsburgh, I listened to the audio book on Audible, so I was all set to see the movie this past weekend.

Like most movies based on books, there were a lot of differences (or errors, as I like to honestly call them) in this film adaptation. There were bits of this film that were nearly as off-base from the book as the third Divergent movie (which essentially used the same title but changed EVERYTHING else). But I'll keep my list to a top 10 (in no particular order):

They're beautiful, don't get me wrong. But they are NOT what the book's author imagined. Image found here.
1. In the book, the three Mrs.'s are OLD. Like, ancient-old. Like, millions of years old. And they aren't fashionistas, either (continue reading for more on the costumes in this movie). Mrs. Whatsit is described as a "tramp," wearing lots of layers of clothing and rain boots, and Mrs. Who wears her glasses most of the time. This is just Hollywood being its normal ageist self, I guess.

2. Meg has two older brothers. I realize they are very minor characters in the book, but the movie acted like they never even existed. Their characters are completely missing!

Image is a screen shot from here.
3. Mrs. Whatsit turns into a male centaur in the book, not an anthropomorphic lettuce leaf. Like, why?! Centaurs are very cool, mystical creatures, while cabbage leafs...are not. I guess the film makers figured audiences couldn't handle A. a woman turning into a male character or B. a female centaur because then how would they deal with the boobs on the human torso part?! I guess our sensibilities are just too fragile...

Interesting idea, but NOT in the book. Image found here.
4.  While the addition of the flowers that "speak color" is quite imaginative, these creatures are nowhere in the book. The children do use flowers to breathe when flying on the back of the centaur into higher altitudes, but those weren't conscious flowers. I don't hate this addition because it is a neat idea, but it obviously disregards the original work.

Just, no. Image found here.
5. The visit to the medium is short in the book, and she's a regular seer with a crystal ball. The movie decided to make the medium a male yogi (played by Zach Galifianakis) with a beard and man-bun. And while the group visits with him, they have to stand on unsteady rock pillars while balancing on one leg...Um, what? Madeleine L'Engle is rolling in her grave. And the film lingers on this scene for so long. I was thinking, "This whole thing is ridiculous. Move on already!"

This is the only glimpse we get to see of Aunt Beast. And yes, it's just a glimpse, because we RACE through the many worlds the characters visit in the book as if we were in a time lapse film. Image found here.
6. Since we wasted so much time visiting the stupid "Happy Medium," the film had to cut poor Aunt Beast, a furry, tentacled creature from Ixchel who cares for Meg. She's so crucial to the book that Meg bestows this special name upon the creature. How could she be left out?!

Image found here.
7. Mrs. Who's glasses can only be used once, but in the film Meg puts them back in her pocket and never considers them again. They were pretty important in the book, but they're downplayed in the film.
His red eyes are about the only similarity between the literary and film versions of Camazotz. Image found here.
8. The film nearly disregards the book's version of Camazotz entirely! Meg and Calvin are in a field that randomly turns into a forest which is destroyed by a earthquake/twister which they have to fly into in order to be thrown over a wall...WHAT?! Where did this come from? When they make it to the weird Communist town with the identical mothers and children who have no thoughts of their own, I thought we were back on track. But no: we're transported to a beach with TONS of beach-goers, and we lose Charles Wallace in the crowd, and that's where we meet the man with red eyes (not at Central Central Intelligence like we're supposed to). While the children do eat food that tastes like sand in the novel, NOWHERE does that sand actually come from a beach. Please.

Image found here.
9. Everything about Calvin is wrong. He's supposed to be an athletic red-head, not a scrawny, tiny-wasted boy. And in the movie he meets Meg and Charles on the streets of a town that looks like L.A., not in a forest like in the book (a creepy old house makes way more sense in the middle of the woods, like it was in the book). His sweatshirt comes and goes throughout the film (huh?), AND he never gets to kiss the girl (since when have movies left kisses out? They usually add too many in!). Poor guy.
Image is a screen shot from here.
10. The mean girl, Veronica Kiley (played by Rowan Blanchard), gets a lot of screen time. While we know in the book that Meg gets picked on and she doesn't play well with others, we don't actually find out the insecurities of her tormentors (i.e. Veronica's eating disorder) or any details like that. Perhaps this is meant to show that no one is pure evil? Or that we should be sympathetic to mean people because they probably have issues we don't know about? (cue MESSAGE) Meh, she just didn't add anything for me.

But there were some positives. The little boy who played Charles Wallace, Deric McCabe, was FANTASTIC. I'm not sure if it's just that he's young, so his acting for his age seemed really impressive, but I thought he did an amazing job. And when Meg meets IT, the brain at Camazotz, she doesn't just see a brain, but she's actually inside of it, surrounded by gray matter and firing synapses. That was cool.

The costumes (outfits designed by Paco Delgado and the film's makeup department led by LaLette Littlejohn) were by far the best part of the movie. Even with the inaccuracies, I truly appreciated how beautiful the three ancient star-beings were portrayed. You'll note that most of these photos came from articles that delve into the great fashion and make-up from the film.

Mrs. Whatsit - Reese Witherspoon
This is the first of the three characters whom we meet in the movie (and the book). She is supposed to be the youngest (although, again, still very old), so her casual manner makes sense in the movie.

In the book Mrs. Whatsit does admit to stealing sheets from a neighbor, so I liked this nod to the novel. And that fishtail braid is on point (even if it is a little mermaid-y). Image found here.

This ethereal look is so pretty! Not many people can pull off blue lipstick, either. Image found here.
Mrs. Who - Mindy Kaling
I knew Reese Witherspoon and Oprah were in the movie, but I didn't know Mindy Kaling would be the third woman in this trifecta. Her outfits seemed to be inspired by the Far East, and I loved how colorful they were. In reading several articles, her fashion is supposed to reflect her knowledge of many different cultures around the world, and her subdued makeup (relative to the other Mrs. W's) has a doll-like look, meant to make her more approachable to the children.

This patchwork ensemble is beautiful. We meet Mrs. Who under a quilt, so this is a nice tie-in. Image found here.

This outfit is truly a piece of art, but why she had to wear those crazy hips in a scene when she would be running is beyond me. Image found here.

This vertical rainbow skirt is amazing! And the Slinky hairdo was the most unique of all. Image found here.

Mrs. Which - Oprah Winfrey

I think Oprah may be the main draw for this movie. Who doesn't love Oprah, especially after her moving Golden Globes speech? Her voice was perfect for Mrs. Which, and her wisdom from reality translated seamlessly into her character. Oprah told Vanity Fair that she thought of Mrs. Which as "one part Glinda the Good Witch, one part Maya Angelou." Plus, who else can pull off all that glitter?!

Derrick Rutledge, Oprah's personal makeup artist, made each set of eyebrows with rhinestones and pieces of metal, placing them on pieces of lace before attaching them. Source here.

The glittery fabrics and makeup were inspired by the fact that Mrs. Which used to be a star. Image found here.

This was my favorite look, especially with that long braid. The eyebrows each took two hours to make, and the technique to erase Oprah's natural eyebrows is quite complicated! Image found here.
This film is certainly beautiful to watch, if nothing else. It's not that I wouldn't recommend the film (I was entertained), but you won't miss anything if you decide to wait 'til it's on Redbox.

PS: While writing this blog post, I discovered there are Wrinkle in Time Barbies!

Image found here