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: http://www.kennedy-center.org/calendar/event/DSDSG#tickets

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

Friday, March 30, 2018

The New York City Ballet at the Kennedy Center

I bought tickets to see the New York City Ballet on a whim when I saw tickets were available through the Kennedy Center's MyTix program. I love to see them when they're in town!

The performance I saw a few days ago was a mix of several shorter pieces. Here was the breakdown:

Divertimento No. 15


Music from Mozart is in this piece, and it is light and fun like many of his other works. But the music was the best part of this. The costumes, designed by Karinska, are very antiquated. I realize this is a classic Balanchine piece, but all of it was SO traditional that it was almost boring (I'll admit I did sleep through most of it.). There's no story to go along with the piece, so all of it just melds together, and there's nothing to keep your attention (except for that one dancer whose shoe kept squeaking!). While I realize that I frequently rant about how modern dance should be more like classical ballet, this was on the other far end of the spectrum because it was TOO traditional.

Here's a video clip from the show to see a bit of the dancing:


Zakouski (which means "hors d'oeuvres" in Russian)


This piece kept my attention much more so than the first one. Immediately as a pas de deux, I pictured the dancers as a couple. The dancers (Indiana Woodward and Roman Mejia) looked like a couple truly enjoying dancing with and for one another; this was more playful than romantic, which I liked. There weren't too many "ballet moves," and I actually thought I could steal some of the moves for when I go blues dancing (see the video below). I really enjoyed this one!

The music was written by four different Russian composers (Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, and Tschaikovsky), but I thought the music sounded more Spanish or Italian. But perhaps this was because of the costumes (designed by Barbara Matera), or because of the knee-slapping that Mejia kept doing (which reminded me of castanets and clearly is not included in Balanchine choreography).

Here's a (shaky, amateur) video clip I found online:


Pulcinella Variations


The costumes for this piece were amazing, and of course they're the first thing the audience notices. As soon as the curtain came up, I heard a million "oohs" and "ahs" over these outfits! These whimsical costumes were created by fashion designer Tsumori Chisato, and I think the audience liked them not only because of their color and creativity, but because they are so unexpected and eye-catching! See the photos below for a closer look.

I even liked the pearly white pointe shoes the women wore.
This was my favorite outfit! I loved the illusion of skin, and I'd never seen half a tutu before!
I liked that each dancer had a chance to show off (either as a solo or in a pas de deux). The dancing was lively and energetic, which was fun to watch. This quote was included in the program book:

"Pulcinella was my discovery of the past, the epiphany through which the whole of my late work became possible. It was a backward look, of course - the first of many love affairs in that direction - but it was a look in the mirror, too." - Igor Stravinsky

Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux


This was another classical ballet (I mean, the music is from the same man who gave us songs of The Nutcracker...). I liked it better than the first piece because, again, as a pas de deux, I can create a story line in of mind of who these characters are and how they connect with one another. The two dancers (Ashley Bouder and Chase Finlay) each took turns one-upping each other, which I thought was fun. The lifts were also very cool, like in the picture below.


In general I liked this piece, but I HATE the stupid bow-tie costume he had to wear (again designed by Karinska). Now that we're in the 21st century, maybe we can start replacing these old costume designs; if we can have works of art for Pucinella, surely we can update these pastel snoozes!

Here's a clip (including one of the cool lifts):


Symphony in Three Movements


This piece reminded me of ABT's "I Feel the Earth Move," which I saw earlier this year, mainly because of the athletic, aerobics-instructor feel of it (even the program notes calls this one of Balanchine's "leotard" ballets). There was a lot of jumping around and hand movements, so I thought this piece was the most modern dance. The piece started with the women in white lined up like Rockettes, and I wish this part had played more on the optical illusion of having so many dancers in the same outfit on stage who could make cool patterns weaving in and out of one another. This wasn't my favorite piece, but it was a little interesting at least.

I'm going to the ballet next week, so stay tuned for that post, coming soon!

*All photos were found on the Kennedy Center website here: http://www.kennedy-center.org/calendar/event/BSBSD.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Recipe: Spiced Orange Olive Oil Cake

Yes, those are unicorn salt and pepper shakers you see in the background.
Baking during snow days is kind of my thing, so the snow day last week was no exception. I had a bunch of clementines laying around, so I looked up recipes that included oranges. I found this recipe on AllRecipes.com. And I realize it looks like bread, not cake, but the recipe called for a loaf pan!


Ingredients
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 pinch salt
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 °F. Lightly oil and flour a loaf pan.
  2. Beat eggs in a bowl until lightened in color. Add sugar, olive oil, orange zest, and five-spice powder and beat until smooth. Fold flour, baking powder, and salt into egg mixture until batter is just mixed. Pour batter into the prepared loaf pan.
  3. Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Remove cake from the pan and cool on a wire rack.
As usual, I changed some ingredients (this time more than usual). I didn't have any olive oil (my roommate had just used the last bit of it), so I used canola oil instead. And I had never heard of Chinese five-spice powder, so I went with all-spice (since that's already a mixture of spices, too). The zest did not work out: I discovered that clementines actually aren't that good for zesting because their skin is not as thick as that of a regular orange. So I substituted two teaspoons of orange juice for the zest.

I'm not sure if it's because of these changes, or something else, but my cake had a fishy smell to it. It didn't taste fishy, but the aroma was so strong that it's all I could think about while eating it. The online recipe did suggest toasting it and eating it with honey, or cutting the cake up into cubes and mixing them with whipped cream and oranges, so I tried both of those. The toasting with honey helps a little bit. but not much. But the latter idea definitely worked!

No more fishy smell! I made mine with Cool Whip and even added extra whipped cream...

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Winter Trip to the National Arboretum

Several weekends ago I visited the National Arboretum. I usually only go there in the spring when the azaleas are in bloom, but my friend wanted to see the Grove of State Trees. Here are some photos from my outing:
While I waiting near the gift shop for my friend, I saw this praying mantis egg sack. These are easy to identify because of their tent-like shape. I hope those babies are okay after the recent snowfall we had!
I thought the leaves on this plant were so pretty. It's called Alkanet, and it was used in ancient Egypt and Greece for cosmetic dyes, mostly for coloring lips and nails.

When we made it to the Grove of State Trees, we were surprised that instead of trees, we saw a stone star and plaques circling it that represented each state's tree. We came to see real trees!
Here's what the plaques look like. They are clearly in bad shape, with cracks criss-crossing the images and words. These aren't even the worst ones: some were missing the picture or chunks of text entirely, and others had temporary paper signs.
Eventually we did find an area that featured some of the state trees. Again we were disappointed: not all of the states were represented, and the handful that were had trees that did not look so good. The trees weren't taken care of when they were younger, and now they aren't healthy as adults. I looked into donating to the Arboretum (they obviously need help!), but they don't accept online donations. If you make it hard for people to donate to you, then of course your plants aren't going to be in tip-top shape!
I had never seen a Kentucky coffee tree before, but the pods were huge!
This is what's inside of the pods. The green stuff is quite sticky. I'll admit that I tried some of it: it doesn't taste too bad, but later I learned that it's toxic. Good thing I only took a quick lick...
I also licked some sap from a different tree in the grove. It tasted like how a pine tree smells, but then it had a really bad aftertaste. I also tried to bite into some sort of seed, but it was WAY too hard to even contemplate eating it. You'd think I would eventually learn not to eat wild things, but I just can't help myself...

So, this was an interesting trip to the National Arboretum, but I think I'll just stick to my annual azalea walk...