I feel so badly that I haven’t had time to write very much here lately. Writing doesn’t come close to paying the bills right now (will it ever??) so I do legal contract work, and I have a really time-consuming assignment right now. When I’m between assignments, I’ll try to write as much as I can, but otherwise it’s going to be slow going, sadly…
Anyway, I spent last weekend in Phoenix. I was a guest of the Phoenix Society for the Arts book club whose February read was Swallow! I was so honored, and it was such a wonderful experience. People asked all kinds of interesting questions, and they pointed to specific scenes and characters in the novel that they found particularly entertaining or related to well. One of my early writing instructors – the illustrious James Conrad – once told me that you can tell if people are really into your book if they talk about specifics; if they just say general things – even nice things like “I really liked it,” or “I thought it was really good” – they are probably just b.s.ing. So it made me so happy that people were remarking on how horrible the sister and her nephews were or how wicked Alana was or how they couldn’t believe what Sophie did with the wedding dress or how the judges behaved in the courtroom.
They also asked me a lot of questions about how real everything was – how autobiographical the novel really was. I found that so hard to respond to because the inciting incident – Sophie’s globus hystericus – came from a very real experience, and yet I don’t think there’s a single scene in the book that actually happened, from start to finish. Most of the characters are combinations of so many people I’ve known and then added onto that they’re virtually made up. In order to make something dramatic and interesting that will keep readers’ attention, you really have to work with climax and character arcs and creating a twisting turning plot that will surprise and maybe even shock. You have to make stuff up, and a lot of it or the book just won’t compel readers to turn pages. And then at a certain point you get so carried away with your characters, they start to have a life of their own. And then that removes it further from “reality.” Yet everything is true with that proverbial capital T, you know. Anyway, I got very tongue twisted trying to explain that.
It was such a wonderful experience, though, and I’ll be forever thankful to the Phoenix Society for the Arts for having me, and for giving me such an engaged, inquisitive, alive audience of extremely thorough readers. It was one of the very best experiences I’ve had yet as a writer
That Saturday, my dad took me to downtown Phoenix to see Ballet Arizona’s production of Sleeping Beauty. (This was also with Phoenix Society for the Arts). I was so happily surprised by how excellent the company is! I really didn’t know what to expect, because once you see dancers like Alina Cojocaru and Veronika Part and David Hallberg and Marcelo Gomes in all the main roles, you really don’t know if you’re going to be able to have a favorable response to anyone else. I thought the company very much resembled New York City Ballet, which isn’t surprising since the director, Ib Andersen, was a Balanchine protege and a dancer with NYCB. He really has a wonderful little company of dancers. The principals stand out with their charisma, their very strong dance technique, and their good acting, but without being flashy and star-like – just like NYCB.
I especially loved Astrit Zejnati (above, click on photos for original source) as Prince Desire and Natalia Magnicaballi as the Lilac Fairy. And I thought Tzu-Chia Huang was a very sweet Aurora who acted each of the three acts very well. She and Zejnati got loads of applause in the third act, not surprisingly, for their gorgeous fish dives – and her legs were straight up in the air, like Cojocaru’s. Some of the best fish dives I’ve seen! Her Rose Adagio balances were good – not the best I’ve seen – but she held onto them long enough for the audience really to applaud her. Zejnati is small – he reminded me a bit of NYCB’s Joaquin De Luz – but with a very commanding presence. He was a true prince. And he had the ever so engaging expressiveness of Gonzalo Garcia, and everyone knows how I feel about him It’s so hard for me not to think of dancers back home when I write about dance now – sorry if that’s annoying!
Magnicaballi (above, second photo of Swan Lake, with Zejnati) was one of the most magical, larger than life Lilac Fairies I’ve seen. She reminds me a bit of San Francisco Ballet’s Maria Kochetkova. She was the perfect embodiment of the “fairy godmother” as she blessed baby Aurora with her beautifully eloquent port de bras, countered Carabosse (Nancy Crowley) with a swift but elegant flick of her arm, and she captivated the audience along with the Prince at the end of the Vision scene as she whisked him off to the real Sleeping Beauty.
Ib Andersen has a wonderful company. It’s too bad they don’t have a very long season – they seem only to perform for two or three days every two or three months. They do mainly classical ballet and Balanchine, with some Robbins, and some of Andersen’s own work, which I now really want to see. Fans of NYCB would definitely love this company.