Don Mattingly’s Lovely Mother Ginger

Ha – another instance of the intersection of my two favorite pastimes… Have you guys seen this yet? I just saw it on the news. It’s Don Mattingly (former Yankee, current Dodgers manager), “dancing” the role of Mother Ginger in the Evansville Ballet’s production of Nutz. (Evansville, Indiana is apparently where he grew up.) I love the part where he gives all the signals! And how cute is the little boy in the baseball uniform…

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The Sunset Boulevard Gunman and More LA Traffic Distress

Did you all hear about this? Just wondering if the news made it out of California. It seems like unless a lot of people are killed these kinds of stories don’t make national headlines. Anyway, Friday early afternoon a 26-year-old man – a hipster type from the looks of him on the news – stood in the middle of Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street – a very crowded, touristy part of Hollywood – and began shooting a gun mostly at people driving through the intersection, but at some pedestrians as well. Several people were shot, and one man – a music industry executive driving a Mercedes – is in critical condition. The gunman was eventually shot and killed by the police. From his angry shouting and his failure to drop his weapon at police orders, it seemed to onlookers that it was a suicide, that he wanted police to shoot him.

I happened to be in that part of town right at that time. Yet I somehow missed all of it. When I first heard word of it I was sitting in a film processing shop a few blocks over on Sunset getting headshots I’d just had taken developed (I decided it would be fun and interesting to try to get some extra work while I’m here). I thought it was a joke it seemed so unreal. It also seemed like a crazy ridiculous metaphor of my experience that day, the worst I’ve had yet on LA streets that made me truly not understand how people can live and drive here for any length of time without seriously going nuts.

I’d answered a call for extras the day before. The casting agency decided to take me on. But I had no headshots so the agent referred me to a photographer in Hollywood (an excellent photog, by the way). So his studio was in a cottage, the second of two large cottages situated down a very long narrow driveway off a very busy street. He’d told me I could use the driveway to park in, but if I did, to drive in as far as I could. But the driveway was so long and narrow and there were two cars already parked there. I didn’t know how they’d get out if I parked behind them. I was there early so I drove around and around and around trying to find a parking space on the street – on any street in the area. It was a residential area. Nothing, no spaces at all. So, finally I just decided to park behind the last car in the driveway, hoping the other cars wouldn’t have to leave until evening. I no more than got out when a woman came running out of the first cottage. “Oh, I’m really sorry,” she said, “but could you pull out so I can get out please. I’m so sorry!” I told her not to worry about it at all – I totally understood – then fumbled for my keys, got in my car and backed my Prius out the long long long narrow, narrow, narrow driveway, terrified I’d hit one of the cottages or the brick wall on the other side on the way out.

I made it down okay, miraculously, but then had to back out onto an insanely busy street. I tried to see around the cars parked on each side but couldn’t really see well no matter how hard I tried. So, I just had to take a breath and go very slowly and hope if anyone was coming down the street they’d see me backing out and nicely stop. It worked out, amazingly, but when I drove out my front bumper crashed into the pavement because the driveway’s incline was so high. Ugh… I find this everywhere too in LA – really steep inclines into driveways and parking lots that you can’t help but crash your bumper on. Who designed them, owners of enormous jacked-up trucks?

So, the woman thanked me and pulled away, and in I went again. I’d just parked and gotten out of my car when the guy whose car was still parked in front of me came rushing out of the house next door asking if I could please just let him out before I went inside since he would have to leave in about 15 minutes. I laughed and he apologized. I don’t know why drivers kept apologizing though. It seemed the person who should have been apologizing was the idiot who designed a driveway serving several residences on which only one car at a time could drive.

So, same thing – I tried to back up poker straight so as not to hit anything, risked my back bumper crashing into traffic I couldn’t see, and crashed the front bumper into the steep entrance to the driveway. I drove down the street, got honked at for going too slow, had to go around the corner and come back up the street so as not to block traffic, leaving the guy who needed to back out waiting for me so he could park behind me…

All I could think about all throughout my photo session was how many people I’d have to search for in order to ask them to move their cars so I could get out.

Unbelievably, there were none when I left. My little car was the only one in the driveway. This time the photographer helped me back out. He tried to instruct me on how to turn the front tires just so so that I wouldn’t bump the front again on the steep incline. But I just couldn’t avoid doing that – especially because I was so nervous about backing out onto a crowded street lined with parked cars. This time there was a car coming down the street but he saw the photographer in the middle of the street with his palm up and stopped to wait for me. After that driver waved me on, I continued. But a driver behind him didn’t feel like waiting, and so went to pass him. I guess that driver didn’t realize I was backing out, which is why the guy behind me was waiting. I don’t know what that driver was thinking. I guess he thought the car in front of him just felt like stopping for no reason. Anyway, that driver nearly smashed into me when he tried to pass the car in back of me. Of course another car was coming down the street in the other lane, in our direction, and the car who needed to badly to pass me and the guy in back of me nearly crashed into that car head-on. I really don’t know how there aren’t more car crashes here. I really don’t.

So, after taking my pictures, the photographer had instructed me to take my film down the block on Sunset to have it developed, which I would then bring back to him so he’d help me select a headshot from the proofs. It took me about half an hour to find a parking spot in the shopping center. I even drove down the street to another shopping center – a Rite Aid – to try to find a space. But every parking lot here is just insanely designed. It’s like the designers don’t think of the possibility that every space might be filled and there may, just may be a car driving into the lot trying to park AND a parked car needing to back up out of its space and leave. I mean, unthinkable right, that two cars would be driving in the same parking lot at the same time. There is no room in these parking lots for more than one car to drive in when full. And then when you go to pull out of the lot onto the street, there are so many cars parked on the street, and the lanes are so narrow, and there are ALWAYS ALWAYS cars driving EACH way down these narrow narrow streets. So, you’re going to have a total of four cars on a two lane street – one traveling in each direction, and one parked on each side. These are streets that were meant for two cars only. And then you need to pull out onto this street so you can leave the lot that was full that you couldn’t park in. So, you have to pull out, and you’re going to have a very hard time seeing around the parked cars, and when you finally think you can go because it’s clear one way, of course the car coming the other way nearly smashes into you, often trying to pull into the full parking lot you’re trying to pull out of.

I don’t understand how people do this, I really don’t. It’s like LA is a parking lot in which there can fit 100 cars. But there are 500 cars that need to park. And there’s nowhere else for the 400 extra cars to go. So what’s that going to be like? Yes, nowhere to park, no space to drive around the parked cars. Major major congestion trying to get anywhere you need to go. And major major potholes, these streets are so overused.

Anyway, I remembered a friend’s advice to park in shopping mall lots whenever possible since they’re usually the cheapest (because they usually give you a few hours for free and / or validate for a few dollars off). So, I drove up to Hollywood Boulevard and drove down to Highland and parked in the Highland and Hollywood (H&H) mall. The mall was probably a good 3/4 of a mile from the film processing place. I then walked up and out of the deep bowels of the garage and walked all around, everywhere I needed to go: back to the film processing place to get my finished proofs, back to the photographer’s studio to decide on the headshot, back to the film processing place to get the headshots made, then to the casting agency to deliver the headshots, then back to the mall to have dinner, get validated, and get my car and go home home home!

It was a hell of a lot of walking around – must’ve walked a good five miles in all. Probably more. But it was so worth it; I was so much happier having my Prius safely ensconced in its little space deep in the bowels of the mall. On my way to the casting agency I saw an accident and thought, of course. Of course of course of course. I mean, how not?

Then at the casting agency, headshots finally in hand, while waiting to see the agent, I collapsed onto a couch and nearly fell asleep. Until news of the gunman popped up on the TV and woke me up. And then I remembered the talk of a police shooting in the area at the film processing shop, and I realized, wow, that was for real. I phoned my mom immediately thinking she’d be out of her mind with worry, knowing I was to be in Hollywood that day. But she hadn’t heard the story – she lives in North Carolina. Nor had my dad, who lives in Arizona. I still don’t think anyone outside of CA, outside of LA heard of it.

After giving the agent my headshots, I walked back to the mall, found a nice restaurant for dinner, and sat in a dark corner trying hard to decompress. But it was difficult to do so because it was getting dark outside (ie: after 5) and I started to worry about it being dark and dangerous deep in the bowels of the garage. I tried to hurry and eat. Waiters in LA never rush you, interestingly. It’s so the opposite of NY in that sense. And restaurants are rarely packed, also interestingly, because I always wonder where in the world all the drivers on the streets are going.

Anyway, for some happy reason the mall garage was full of security guards directing traffic. Weirdly, the mall parking lot wasn’t full. There were lots of available spaces. I guess this is another reason why my friend told me to park in mall garages – because others don’t. I thought how nice it would be if there were guards directing drivers searching desperately for parking out on the residential streets and the shopping center parking lots, like the one where I saw the accident. I was glad for their abundance in the mall lot because that meant I was safe.

The mall parking ended up costing me $10 – the maximum rate – even with validation from the restaurant because I was there for so long. But by that point cost was so unimportant. I just wanted to get home. It took me an hour and twenty minutes to drive the six miles back to my apartment because Sunset was blocked off due to the shooting.

This coming week I have at least two places to go during daytime, both of which, thankfully I can take a bus and a bus / subway to. But I have a third thing I want to do as well – and that I may well have to drive to, which I’m kind of dreading. I could take a combination of three buses, which gets expensive because they don’t have transfers here. So, you have to pay $1.50 each time you board, even if three of the rides are going in the same direction, en route to the same destination. And buses most only run once or twice an hour, and most don’t run after 8 pm. The subway runs much more frequently and is pretty good for the areas it serves, but stops on most of the subway lines are few and far between, so you usually need to take a subway / bus combination. And the trains don’t run all night either.

There are things I love about LA. I actually really love Sunset Boulevard – it goes from the east side of LA all the way to Pacific Palisades, to the ocean. I always try to drive home on that street, even when my GPS insists I should take Santa Monica or Wilshire. It’s like the A train in NYC, passing through practically every neighborhood in the city. It has history and soul. It’s a microcosm of the city. I saw a book the other day in the shop of the ArcLight Hollywood cinema (which is at the corner of Sunset and Vine, right where the gunman was). Each chapter was devoted to celebrating one stretch of Sunset Blvd and highlighting some of the ever so engaging characters who live in its neighborhoods.

I don’t know. I guess I’ll get used to the driving and parking insanity. Maybe. I do desperately wish they’d improve the public transportation system though.

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Los Angeles Ballet’s NUTCRACKER, and More Settling Into LA Angst

Last night was the opening of Los Angeles Ballet‘s Nutcracker. Above photo – of my favorite dance – taken from LA Mommy Poppins.) It had its premiere at the Alex Theater in Glendale, and will be showing again there tonight. Then, it’ll travel to UCLA’s Royce Hall in mid December, and will end at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center at the end of the month. I find it interesting how the productions here seem to travel around the city, in contrast to those of the NY companies.

Anyway, my new Twitter friend, the wonderful Christopher McDaniel, a dancer in the company, generously invited me. And I’m so glad he did because I was worried I would miss getting my Nutz fix this year. The production was fun. This company is much smaller and you can tell has far less of a budget than the two big New York companies. So no live music, no ginormous trees magically shooting through the roof, no Stella McCarthy-designed costumes. But it was a sweet production, and the theater was really packed – mainly with families, I assume from the suburbs. And the audience really seemed to enjoy it. This ballet is all about pleasing children anyway.

The Alex Theater is quite small and every seat is pretty close to the stage, which is nice for a change from the huge NY houses. I think that up close feeling, the feeling that you’re part of the action compensates for theatrics like NYCB’s magic tree.

Here is my extremely crappy night-taken iphone photo of the entrance, which I loved and found gloriously West Coast with its Art Deco-y design and bright sparkling lights noticeable from quite far away :D

The choreography (by artistic directors Thordal Christensen and Colleen Neary) wasn’t as clever and intricately detailed as Ratmansky’s but it was still very lovely classical ballet. My favorite overall was the Arabian (pictured above). The couple entered the stage with the man holding the woman high above his head in a beautifully snaky overhead lift. The female dancer, Julia Cinquemani, was really flexible and long-limbed and she did an excellent job with the part. She also had terrific stage presence, and I’m not the only one who thought so – they got huge applause at the end.

Of course I loved the Russian dance, as I always do. And Christopher was in that one so it was all the more special! There was no Tea / Chinese dance, which I found refreshing because that one always seems to end up embarrassing me with its ridiculous stereotypes.

I found the mouse costumes splendidly creepy – it’s just that those tails reminded me of an appendage to a costume that I saw recently on an episode of the HBO series Bored to Death and, well, eeeek. And when the mice died they did so with their little legs bent and up in air – so real looking, it made me laugh! Mother Ginger was danced by a man, as in NYCB’s, but here he wore an actual gingerbread house as a costume, his head coming up through the chimney. And little children came out of the house and danced. They were very popular, those kids! I think they had lots of family members in the audience :) No ornery little mouse, as in Ratmasky’s.

My friend was impressed with the boy who played Clara’s little brother, Fritz – Aidan Merchel-Zoric. She thought he was a very good young actor.

All in all, I really enjoyed the production and am so glad I went.

But I think for a while going out is going to be a bit fraught with angst for me, until I get used to things more… So, the performance began at 7:30. At 5:00 my friend who I’d invited, who lives in a beach city, called on her cell phone. She sounded a bit frantic. “Tonya?!” she said when I answered.

“Uh huh?” I answered.

“Um, I’m really sorry and I don’t understand this at all and I really don’t know what’s going on, but I’m in my car and I’m getting ready to leave, and I just typed the address of the theater into the GPS, and it’s telling me my estimated arrival time is 8:20 pm?!”

“Three and a half hours? What?” I was as astonished as she. “I’d think you’d be in Palm Springs in three and a half hours.”

“I’d think I’d be in Arizona in three and a half hours!” she shrieked.

Glendale is in northeastern LA, up over the Hollywood Hills, and so on the reverse edge of town from the beach cities. But come on, it’s like 25 miles. It really shouldn’t have surprised me that much. I spent several days this week driving to UCLA, which is diagonally across town for me, and is about 20 miles away, and I’ve spent about three to four hours per day in my car going to and from. Anyway, she told me she’d try to be there as soon as possible, she’d go on back roads and avoid freeways to save time, but she’d perhaps have to pick up her ticket during intermission. I said no worries, but did worry about her sanity after spending a total of seven hours in her car in one day – which is longer than it takes me to get to Phoenix…

Anyway, she drove through town, avoiding the freeways, and got there in two hours, thankfully.

Then, afterward, we had planned to go to a newish cocktail lounge nearby with this supposedly up and coming mixologist. The cocktail lounge was close but not close enough to walk to. But when we looked it up online it seemed like there was only street parking, which may have been a real pain. We’d each be in our separate cars and it might take me a while to get out of the crowded garage near the theater that I’d parked in, and what if there were no parking spaces there, and I didn’t have any quarters for the meters anyway, etc. etc. We ended up deciding to go to the bar of a chain restaurant down the street, that we could easily walk to. And that bar was all nice and good, and we ended up meeting some movie industry people (I’m starting to realize you meet them everywhere) and discussing various flavored ciders and new caloric menu listings now required by law and how horrid it was for the government to require restaurants to shove in our faces just how much we were consuming, and all manner of interesting things … But it still bothered me that parking angst prevented us from going where we’d originally planned to go – the more interesting, newish place with the supposedly brilliant cocktail mixologist, rather than the chain. That never would have happened in New York (my friend happens to be from NY as well, though she’s been here a lot longer than I have).

We were chatting so, we forgot the time and soon it was well after midnight. When we left the restaurant the street was deserted. We agreed to walk together to the parking garage she’d parked in, then she’d drive me to my car in the garage I’d parked in because I was freaking out a bit about walking through a dark garage alone. It all came out okay, but it made me think, what if each of us were covering the performance on our own – or the opening of the new cocktail bar with a supposedly brilliant mixologist – and had to be out late and had to go to our cars alone…

I don’t know, I guess it’ll take me a while to get used to this new life…

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James Wolcott on Deborah Jowitt in the Seventies

I’ve been reading James Wolcott’s memoir, Lucking Out: My Life Getting Down and Semi-Dirty in Seventies New York (photo above taken at the ArcLight Hollywood Cafe). It’s about his life as a writer in New York and his years working at the Village Voice in the magazine’s early days. (He got a job there after sending Norman Mailer a copy of an essay he wrote about Mailer’s appearance on a TV show for his school newspaper and Mailer went wild over it. It’s so hard to believe there was a time in NY when careers were based on talent and not on pedigree and Ivy League schools…)

Anyway, at the beginning, Wolcott describes several of the writers who worked at the Voice back then. Of course I was very intrigued by his words about the magazine’s now legendary dance critic:

“The dance critic Deborah Jowitt had the fine-boned fortitude of a frontier settler with eyes forever fixed on future horizons; her merciful consideration of even the most flailing effort and her descriptive set pieces suitable for framing set her apart from the tomahawk throwers.”

Apart from his brilliant writing (those metaphors, and adjectives!) I found this interesting because it seems that the “tomahawk throwing” form of criticism is so in vogue these days. I guess because in the internet age, incendiary writing begets comments which beget more readers, or ROI or what have you… I’ve had several people (mostly writers) tell me the problem with my blog has always been that I’m not critical enough – I could never be a “real” critic because I’m too nice, and forgiving of crappy art. Those same people are also critical of other, professional critics for the same. But what’s wrong with “merciful consideration” and rich description? Sometimes it’s far harder to try and find the value in something – to try to figure out what exactly the artist is trying to do and to place that attempt in context and describe why it’s worthy than it is to ridicule it or tear it apart. And description – especially of a largely abstract art form – is damn hard.

I feel Wolcott’s words describe Edwin Denby as well, and when I read his small pieces about dance in the forties and fifties, read together in book form one article right after the other, it’s like they tell a story of that era. I wonder if that sense of narrative would be lost in writing that focuses more on attack than on giving the reader an overall picture of what happened.

Anyway, it’s a really good book – Wolcott’s that is – and makes me miss New York – even though that’s not the New York I know, unfortunately.

Now off to a Michael Connelly reading at a Barnes and Noble that is thankfully more centrally located than blasted Santa Monica (even though I love Santa Monica). I still have to drive though. Am still so not used to driving everywhere. Every time I go out I’m still so inclined to walk or take the subway or bus. You just can’t though. They run infrequently or not at all at night and walking is impossible unless the event you’re going to happens to be right in the same neighborhood – and then you still may be walking a mile or so.

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Settling into LA II: Santa Monica, Rose Bowl Flea Market, NoHo Arts Festival, and Universal Studios

Here are some more of my recent LA photos. I guess before really settling in, there’s a period where you just have to be a tourist :)

Most of my friends seem to live near Santa Monica, so I’ve been spending a good amount of time out there. Above is the Pier, where Route 66 officially ends.

It’s a bit Coney Island-esque with the ferris wheel and all (which is lit up at night). Not nearly as fascinatingly cheesy though :) And no Nathan’s hot dogs.

The Pier’s very touristy – mainly filled with souvenir shops and restaurants like this one, called Bubba Gump, and named after the movie, Forrest Gump, and specializing in seafood of course.

Here’s the beach.

And here’s the Third Street Promenade (so named because its cobblestoned street, which goes on for three blocks, is vehicle-free), which is also pretty touristy, with lots of chain stores like Banana Republic and Barnes and Noble and Starbucks.

In places though it kind of reminded me of Vienna, with little cafes and wine bars in the middle of the street.

There were also some street musicians.

And a Christmas tree.

I went to Barnes and Noble for a discussion of LA Noir by three novelists of the genre: Denise Hamilton, Hector Tobar, and Scott O’Connor. It was really pretty interesting and made me feel that LA and NY have more in common than not. It made me feel at home, like readings often do, and made me want to pick up where I left off several weeks ago now with my own writing project.

I picked up one of the short story compilations that the writers contributed to, Los Angeles Noir, and also James Wolcott’s new memoir, Lucking Out: My Life Getting Down and Semi-Dirty in Seventies New York, which I’ve been meaning to get since I first heard about its release. Unbelievably, I hadn’t been in a bookstore since Borders closed a couple months ago.

I have to say, visiting bookstores used to be one of my favorite things to do. They’ve always made me feel safe and warm and un-alone, if I was feeling lonely. But they just don’t make me feel that way anymore. This one was pretty empty, sadly, even on an event night – empty both of people and books. It was also pretty dimly lit – making it hard to find the books you’re looking for; it was as if the salespeople just wanted everyone to leave so they could close and go home. I don’t know, this bookstore actually depressed me.

But hopefully cafes and bars will take over in celebrating and spreading literary culture. Here’s a lively poetry reading at a coffee shop called Priscilla’s back in my hood.

Here are a few photos of my trip to the NoHo Arts Festival last weekend. NoHo (North Hollywood) is kind of a bohemian area that, to New Yorkers, I’d liken to Bushwick. There are lots of dance studios (mainly teaching hip hop and jazz, some ballet), acting studios, very small theaters (as in off, off-Broadway), and a few galleries. For the festival, they had these little stations around town where all passersby could contribute to a work of art.

One of the galleries, showcasing art by those working in theater, and some photojournalism.

Here’s a hip hop singer, Brooklyn J., performing on the mainstage with several female backup dancers.

Here’s a band. Music seemed to be mainly punk and grunge.

The arts festival coincided with a little farmers market, which I guess happens every Saturday near the subway. I was particularly intrigued by this vendor, Homeboy Bakery, who has several lines of products (bread, desserts, tortilla chips and salsa, etc.) for sale at both farmers markets and in local groceries, and whose mission is to help young people from troubled backgrounds stay out of trouble by keeping them employed with creative jobs.

I spent Veteran’s Day at Universal Studios. I’m such a tourist! I couldn’t help it. I hadn’t been there in over thirty years. I think the only parts of the studio tour that are still in existence from then are the Jaws and Psycho exhibits!

I couldn’t get a good shot of the phony shark coming up to attack the tour trolley. In this photo, he’s just set off some explosive device and is now coming for us.

On the ride, they show you via the overhead monitors what the scenes that were shot on the sites you’re visiting looked like in the finished movie. Here’s a photo of the actor from Jaws messing about with the mechanical shark.

Here’s the Bates Motel, where they have an actor playing Norman come out, drag his mother’s body about, and eventually threaten guests on the ride.

Here’s part of a set from a plane crash. I forgot the movie… but this is from an actual plane.

I also sat in on a little demo on how they train animals to “act” in the movies. These animals – dogs, cats (cats are the hardest of animals to train because of their independent nature), birds, an adorable little fox, a little monkey, and a chimpanzee, were so sweet and amazingly well-behaved; kind of made me want to be a trainer…

And on Sunday, I went to the Rose Bowl Flea Market in Pasadena, which takes place on the second Sunday of every month. I’d read a lot about this, so just had to check it out. Plus, I needed to get a few things for the apartment.

The amount of crazy stuff there – it was a hoot! Like these old fire hydrants…

And this piece of furniture that looks like it once sat in a museum, or maybe a hotel lobby.

And all these signs. A couple behind me became quite excited over the Jack Daniels one.

I badly wanted one of these Sixties era yellow lounge chairs! But nowhere to put them…

Or this Freudian-looking burgundy couch.

I needed a couple of end tables, so ended up getting this very art deco-looking piece (whose scent Rhea has approved),

and, though I really have no idea what it is, this piece. All I know is it’s small and has an ornate top handle for carrying that matches its legs, and it has a little door that opens up and provides a little container for books, or in my case a CD player and old CDs. I thought it was fun and very very old.

Finally, back in Burbank, here are some cars at the antique car show held in the Bob’s Big Boy parking lot every Friday night.

Okay, that’s all for now. Next, I hope to visit Hollywood Hills… hopefully to see Stravinsky’s house (see Ballet Lover’s comment on my last post!) And on Sunday, I’ll be going to a dance performance – an actual ballet performance – finally! I’ll be the guest of LA Times writer (and Arts Meme blogger) Debra Levine for the live-streaming of the Bolshoi’s Sleeping Beauty starring our David Hallberg. Can’t wait!

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Finally, Settling into L.A.

Yes – I finally have a decent, stable internet connection and can blog! It’s weird but here you have to kind of figure out what internet speed you need and pay your cable company accordingly. In New York I remember there being only one speed. Weird. Anyway, I think I’m okay to blog now, but I’m still kind of settling in and haven’t seen much in the way of performing arts. I’m hoping that will change this weekend.

Here are some photos I’ve taken so far. I moved out of New York at the end of September, stayed with relatives in Phoenix for about three weeks, then moved to Los Angeles in late October. I’ve been here two weeks now. I really love it. The weather is wonderful: it’s generally warm and sunny with a rainy day thrown in here or there. Temperatures right now are actually low for the season – and highs are in the 60s!

LA is definitely very spread out but it’s not that hard to make your way around – especially with a car. People say New Yorkers take the subway and Los Angelenos (I think that’s the noun) drive everywhere. But I’ve found that’s not necessarily true. I’ve taken the subway twice now, and the buses many times. (In LA the whole transportation system is called the metro, like in DC or Paris). The buses don’t run that often, so if you rely on them you’re probably going to double or triple your commuting time. The subways – at least the red line, which is awesome – run much more frequently than the buses – about every fifteen minutes on weekdays, but they stop running around 11 at night. So you can’t have a huge nightlife. Hopefully, if more people start taking public transportation, the people who run the metro will have incentive to extend the hours and frequency of service.

Anyway, here is the station at the top of the red line, in North Hollywood, or NoHo, as it’s becoming known.

North Hollywood I guess used to be known as somewhat of a gangland, but it’s becoming a burgeoning arts district. There are a few galleries, but it’s mostly dance and acting studios, with some off-off-Broadway-type theaters. And there are some cool-looking clothing stores and cafes and restaurants. My photos of NoHo didn’t come out very well because I went there on one of the grayest days since I’ve been here, but I’m hoping to take better pics over the weekend, when they’re having … an arts fair!

If you take the red line subway south, you end up first in Universal City, which is where Universal Studios is located, then in Hollywood proper, probably the most touristy part of town, but for me important because it’s where all the mainstage, Broadway-level theater is, like

the Pantages Theater, where Twyla Tharp’s Come Fly With Me is currently showing.

And here are some more touristy photos:

You can kind of see the “Hollywood” sign in the background on the hill. I live right over that hill, in Burbank, where many of the studios, including Warner Bros., reside. In fact, I feel like Warner Brothers practically owns Burbank.

You see signs like this everywhere.

But it’s good because you also see surveillance cameras everywhere, with signs warning against trespassers. I’ve been told Burbank is a very safe place, and I think this may be one reason why. Their police force is also supposed to be superb.

But back in Hollywood:

Here is the Grauman’s Chinese Theater, at which many big movie premieres have taken place.

And here’s the Walk of Fame, with all the star names, some of which – many of which – I admit I didn’t recognize at all:

I love my neighborhood, and my building. Here’s a view from my window:

Okay, not the ocean, but I’m very happy with a view of the pool and courtyard!

And I have so much within easy walking distance: my new favorite cafe, which serves a huge variety of coffee, tea and hot chocolate and where there are lots of people rapidly clicking away on keyboards (writing screenplays perhaps?); an even closer Starbucks filled with equally interesting people in case I don’t want to walk that far; a nice Japanese take-out place whose walls are covered with pics of the owner posing with famous people and where I’ve already heard one young woman telling the owner about her new TV pilot in the works; two pet stores; two large grocery stores (I met a hip hop dancer in one of them); one big drug store and another smaller and more homey one; a shoe repair and dry cleaner; a bank; the requisite dive bar (this one with karaoke); the requisite (for me) Mexican restaurant; two theaters – one off-Broadway and one off-off; and countless charming eateries, including the oldest remaining Bob’s Big Boy:

There were once many Bobs’ out west but most of them were bought out by J.B.’s, which is what it was called when I worked there as a hostess as a teenager in Phoenix. But they’ve preserved this one pretty well, and even have a car hop out back (where I guess they serve you in your car, if you like – I haven’t tried it), and they transform the parking lot into an antique car show on Friday nights.

Anyway, I have to go to sleep so I can get up early early early and hopefully avoid rush hour traffic to make my way to the west side for an appointment tomorrow morning. More soon!

Posted in Los Angeles, Personal | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Brief Update & Review of Peter Martins / Paul McCartney Collab at NYCB

Hey everyone,

Just a brief update since this motel’s wifi is expensive and not secure: but I now have a car (a cute little Toyota Prius – used) as well as an apartment in LA that I love but that unfortunately won’t be ready for move in for two more weeks. Which means I’m back in Phoenix for the next two weeks, shuffling around between family who have space for me and who aren’t allergic to Rhea and pet-friendly motels. Once I’m settled in to my new place – which, again, I LOVE!!! – I will most definitely resume regular blogging.

In the meantime, I did see the much spoken about new Peter Martins / Paul McCartney collaboration – Ocean’s Kingdom – at New York City Ballet when it premiered a couple weeks back. NYCB has sent me some pictures but I don’t have time to post them now. I will soon! I liked but didn’t love the ballet. I thought the story-line was simplistic and not very compelling and didn’t love the choreography, although there were some good pas de deux between Sara Mearns and Robert Fairchild – the lovers. I very was impressed with Paul McCartney’s ability to create such a rich orchestral score – really lovely. I thought Mearns, Fairchild, Amar Ramasar, and Georgina Pazcoguin all danced very well. Ramasar, who as most of you know is non-white, danced the part of the bad guy… So sigh on that. But he danced very well. For the most part, I wasn’t in love with the costumes, designed by Stella McCartney, except Pazcoguin’s, which was lovely and worked well. I kept worrying Mearns’s was going to come off, an idea my male friend liked and wished would have come to fruition. It didn’t; at least not the night we saw it.

McCartney was in the audience and gave a big wave to the audience when Martins introduced him. He has big, big hair! He doesn’t look his age at all. Martins toasted him not with champagne but with a cup of tea. Alec Baldwin was sitting right behind him in the audience. I don’t recall seeing any other celebs there but I’m sure there were oodles.

Anyway, as I said, I promise to post pictures of that ballet as well as some others from the beginning of the season that City Ballet has sent to me as soon as I’m home and have a secure (and free) internet connection. This afternoon is Charles Askegard’s farewell performance, which I unfortunately won’t be able to see. I hope to see his new company tour LA though, soon soon soon!

Thank you so much for continuing to read my blog, everyone, when I’ve been too busy to post much lately! I very greatly appreciate everyone’s support through this rather huge transition in my life. Thank you again, and will talk soon!

Posted in Dance Performance Reviews, Dancers, Personal | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Table of Silence Project, 9/11/2011

Here are some photos I took of the Table of Silence Project, performed on Lincoln Center Plaza this morning at 8:20 in commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the 9/11/01 attacks. It was about half an hour long, was choreographed by Jacqulyn Buglisi in collaboration with Italian artist Rossella Vassa, and used 100 dancers, some from her dance company, Buglisi Dance Theater, and some from other companies and from Juilliard. The dancers were accompanied by a small band, consisting of a drummer, a flutist, a small choir, and a woman with a wind instrument that looked like a handmade blowhorn. I thought it was really beautiful.

Go here to read about the project’s conceptualization. It’s to be performed in other cities as well throughout October.

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“You Are a New Yorker When What Was There Before is More Real and Solid Than What is Here Now”

It’s time for me to post a link to the Colson Whitehead essay that I link to every day this year, from the 11/11/01 “Rebuilding New York” issue of the New York Times Magazine. I can’t resist. It will always be my favorite essay about New York, and it always makes me cry. Usually makes me bawl actually. I don’t think I should read it this year though. It’ll make me not want to leave New York…

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My 9/11/2001 in Photos

Here are some photos I took shortly after 9/11/2001. The first few are of Union Square, where people – mostly young people – were holding candlelight vigils and making art and debating – not arguing, but just talking seriously about what had happened without blame and anger. It was my favorite place to go in those days following the attacks.

The view from Hoboken, New Jersey, where I was living at the time.

You can see some of the Air Force jets that were patrolling the skies for days after.

I went back downtown about a week later to prepare myself to return to work the following week. I worked two blocks away from the World Trade Center.

This is downtown, very close to ground zero.

Buildings were covered with debris and glass from windows and doors was shattered. People were putting up little signs in the windows and writing in the dust.

In the photo above, the flag is draped over the front of the New York Stock Exchange.

The following weekend I saw a man in Central Park playing guitar and singing John Lennon songs. A group of people gathered to listen.

People were trying hard to return to normalcy, by jogging, rollerblading, just taking walks in the park. But I think we were all really shell-shocked.

A photo from 2000. My friend was visiting from Europe and we went to the top of the Empire State Building. You can see the twin towers in the distance.

A photo from 1996. My mom is up in the South Tower’s observation deck looking out at the Statue of Liberty.

I took this picture, of the North Tower, in 1997.

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More Photos of Marcelo With Cisne Negro

You guys, I am so sorry it’s taken me so long to post these when I promised them, what, over two weeks ago?? I had no idea how much went into planning a cross-country move, especially when working lots of overtime… I’ll try to get caught up on blogging this weekend when Hurricane Irene (keep wanting to call her Irina…) will likely prevent me from running back and forth between my apartment and The Strand, Housing Works, Goodwill, and various Williamsburg used clothing stores bearing bags of books and clothes to sell and donate… I think I’m giving away far more than I’m taking with me.

Anyway, here are more photos of Marcelo Gomes and Charles Yang performing with Cisne Negro two weeks ago at the Joyce. And a couple photos of Cisne Negro’s other pieces. All photos are by Matthew Murphy.

I don’t have much time for a review, but briefly: I loved Marcelo’s Paganini (two top photos). There were quite a bit of tempo changes throughout the piece, and Marcelo executed them all splendidly, as did Yang. The two interacted very well together. It kind of reminded me of Robbins in that sense, the playfulness between musician and dancer.

The bottom two photos are of the company in Calunga, the last piece on the program, which reminded me of a combination of Alvin Ailey’s Revelations and The Prodigal Prince, also performed by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (though I momentarily forgot the choreographer’s name). Calunga was a combination of very Alvin Ailey-esque movement (much of the program was; there was a section in Flock, the first piece on the program, that was almost the same choreography as in end of the first part of Revelations to a tee), with some balletic movement, combined with authentic Brazilian. Throughout there were so many samba steps, I was in heaven :) The company is very athletic, the men were very acrobatic, many of the women were hyper-flexible, some of their arabesque penchees were quite beautiful. The dancers were definitely remarkable even if the choreography could have been a bit richer. I also liked how ethnically diverse the company is – not all whites like other Brazilian companies I’ve seen tour here, but more how I expect Brazil to be!

Sorry I can’t write more. I have to go to bed now so I can get up at the crack of dawn…

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Marcelo Gomes Rehearsing With Cisne Negro

Review of Cisne Negro and Marcelo’s Paganini coming soon but for now I just had to post this beautiful photo (by Mark Squires) of Marcelo rehearsing with the company.

Posted in Dance Photos, Dancers | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Self-Published Success Turned Amazon Poster Girl, Maria Murnane

For you writers and fiction-lovers out there who read this blog, I wrote a profile for the Huffington Post on author Maria Murnane, who originally self-published her novel, Perfect on Paper: the (Mis)adventures of Waverly Bryson (a sweet romantic comedy). After tirelessly promoting the book, and using very clever and original marketing methods, the novel had so much buzz that Amazon picked it up and published it through its publishing arm, AmazonEncore. The book has since been published in Hungarian and German, through Random House, and a film agent is scouting for a film deal. Amazon is also publishing her sequel, It’s a Waverly Life, this November. Ahhh, the success every indie author hopes for :) Here is an earlier review I wrote of Perfect on Paper. And here is my HuffPo profile on Murnane.

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SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE Winner Melanie Moore Explores Reasons for Her Success

On Friday, I was invited to participate in a press conference, via phone, with Melanie Moore, the 19-year-old contemporary dancer from Marietta, Georgia, who just won season eight of So You Think You Can Dance. I thought I’d share some of what she said, especially what she attributed at least some of her success to.

She attributes it to discipline and work ethic, unsurprisingly. She said she and Marko, her partner for the first half of the season, were the only couple to rent studio space outside of the regular rehearsal space they were given by the show’s producers. She and Marko would go to the studio and rehearse for a few hours after hours at the regular rehearsal space were over. They’d stay until about a quarter til midnight and practice over and over again their routine for that week. She’s thankful to Marko, who allowed himself to be pushed so, and said he was a wonderful partner.

She was surprised she’d won. She really thought it would be Sasha, she said, mainly because the judges kept telling her throughout that she was a favorite, and usually favorites don’t win. Plus, Sasha had improved a great deal throughout the show, and audiences love that. They love to root for someone. Another thing she attributed her success to was not allowing herself really to be affected by the judges’ continuous praise of her performances. She knew they could easily jinx her or that she could let their praise all go to her head, but she didn’t allow either to happen. She just took every week as it came, didn’t think about the judges’ comments from the former week, and just tried her hardest to do as well as she could with the new choreography.

Asked what’s ahead for her in the near future, she answered that she’s just going to relax for a couple of weeks. Her boyfriend is returning to school in Georgia and she sweetly said she’s going to help him, let it be all about him for a change. She was nice and polite, and sweet, by the way, without being overly giggly. She seemed very sophisticated and mature.

As for her professional future – she’s currently enrolled at Fordham University as an art major. She may re-think that and major in dance instead. She’d chosen the art major (she specializes in oil paintings, and likes portraiture) after lengthy conversations with her mother. She realized a dance career could be short – she could be injured – and wanted something else to fall back on. After she tours with the show, she’ll move back to NY and likely continue at Fordham, though she’ll also try out with various companies. Her goal has been to dance in a company, since that is what her movement style is most suited to and that is what her dream has been. She’d really love to be able to sustain a living dancing though. She said she’d also love to tour with someone like Lady Gaga (Gaga had made that suggestion when she guested on the show), and she’d love to be in a movie, like Dirty Dancing (director Kenny Ortega had also suggested she might be cast when he guested on the show). She has no formal offers for tours or movies at this point, though. She may want to choreograph at some point. She’s never considered herself much of a choreographer, though she’d like to get more exposure to that, and try. She definitely wants to return to SYTYCD as an all-star. She laughed when she said she told the producers many many times, since making it into the top ten, that she couldn’t wait to return.

The dances she struggled most with were the American-style tango, because of the closed handhold, which was so unnatural to Marko and her. She also struggled with hip hop since it’s so far from her style. But tWitch really helped her when he partnered her. She was extremely grateful to him.

When asked what she planned to do with the award money, she laughed and said she really didn’t know but thought she’d buy a really nice piece of luggage since she expected to do a lot of traveling. The rest she’d probably put away. One of the media participants asked her if she planned to buy something big, like a car, and she quickly said, “No, no. I don’t want to drive. I want to go to New York!”

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My Own “Goodbye to All That”

I copied this post from my lit blog, Literary Aperitif (hence the mention of the Sweet Melissa :) ). I decided to copy it here to explain (kind of) my decision to leave New York this fall. More on that later. I still plan to cover the dance scene, just the L.A. one!

Not that Joan Didion’s writing could ever really be characterized as “sweet” but Pier 1 Cafe on the Upper West Side, at the Hudson River, is one of my favorite places in NYC (or at least it used to be), and thus seemed to be the perfect place for me to go when I wanted to re-read her 1968 essay “Goodbye to All That,” about her decision to leave New York. I needed to contemplate my own reasons for wanting to leave this city, that I once found so electrifying. The Sweet Melissa (prosecco, peach schnapps, and a splash of orange stoli) is simply what I always have there (though the bartenders seem always to forget how to make it).

When I first read “Goodbye” (which is in her essay collection Slouching Toward Bethlehem), I was new here, and very in love with New York. I really couldn’t understand a word of that essay – emotionally, I mean. It’s funny, but re-reading it, I still don’t understand her exact reasons for becoming so disenchanted. Nor do I understand my own. She opens with the words:

It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends. I can remember now, with a clarity that makes the nerves in the back of my neck constrict, when New York began for me, but I cannot lay my finger upon the moment it ended, can never cut through the ambiguities and second starts and broken resolves to the exact place on the page where the heroine is no longer as optimistic as she once was.

She goes on to talk about that exact moment when NY began for her. I remember my moment with clarity too. It was May 1993. I’d just received my masters from a school in New England and I’d decided not to continue on with the PhD. But I didn’t really want to go back to Phoenix, where I’m from. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, just knew that academia was not for me. A friend of mine from grad school had a summer job on Wall Street and invited me to stay with him. We sublet his friend’s East Village railroad-style apartment.

We drove down from Providence, Rhode Island. My belongings consisted of two suitcases of clothes and a backpack of books. After we unpacked the car, we walked around the corner of Avenue A to St. Marks Place, the busiest street in the hood, in search of food. We ended up at a cozy-looking fifties-style diner called Stingy Lulus, with shiny red glitter-covered seats and the most beautiful entertainer I’d ever seen – a statuesque black drag queen with sky-high cheekbones and a gorgeously rich, deep voice. And he wore bright red pumps that reminded me of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. And, cliche as it is, I did have a little laugh to myself: you’re not in Kansas anymore! My New York began with that drag queen.

Nowadays, you might, might find such a thing in a tourist spot. Probably not. But this was not a tourist spot. The park at the end of the block – Tompkins Square – was gated shut at night and surrounded by police in riot gear. There’d recently been a squatter’s riot in the area. People sold crack on our doorstep. My friend suggested we abide by Abbie Hoffman’s dictum and be polite and say “no thank you” to them. He also gave me strict warnings not to walk any direction but west – we were surrounded by very bad neighborhoods: Alphabet City, the Lower East Side, and Kips Bay. Only the west village was safe to venture into. I was simultaneously terrified and thrilled.

Eighteen years and eight apartments later, both of those feelings are gone. My only real fear is that I’ll get hit by a car. Seriously. It seems there are more drivers in Manhattan than ever before and they have no respect for the law – not to mention human life – whatsoever. I subscribe to the Gothamist daily and it seems that every other day there is a report of a pedestrian death due to a vehicular assault. In doing research on NYPD for an upcoming book, I read Paul Bacon’s memoir, Bad Cop, and he said something like 75 percent of all drivers he stopped as a traffic cop turned out to be driving with suspended licenses. I dunno, to my mind that’s pretty astounding.

But the bigger problem is there is no thrill for me anymore. Haven’t seen any theater, any dance, been to any restaurants – haven’t really experienced anything for the better part of a decade that really made me feel the way that drag queen did. Which leaves me complaining ad nauseam about things that bother me – noisy neighbors, lack of space, lack of peace and quiet, year-round unpleasant weather (freezing all winter, rainy and humid all summer), exorbitant rents that skyrocket even during a serious recession, once New York phenomena – like the Halloween parade – overtaken by tourists and thus beyond borified. (I don’t know if it’s a word but if it isn’t, I just made it up.)

A friend recently asked me whether I think it’s more me or the city that’s changed. I’m not sure. Probably both. I don’t remember drivers being so horrible for one thing. This is, of course, the most pedestrian-friendly city in the U.S. I also don’t remember neighbors being so noisy. Everyone in my building used to abide by the 85 percent carpet rule (or, if they didn’t, they at least didn’t stomp around in hard-soled shoes all night) and no one blasted music after 11:00 on week nights. Of course this building used to be filled with young professionals who worked 14 hours a day and then partied outside at bars in their free time. Our shoe box apartments were just for sleeping. Now it seems all the studios in my building are inhabited by couples – and even one by a family with two children (which makes no sense to me at all) – instead of single people. Because there are so many more people here, it’s all the noisier. But a lot of the things – like noise and lack of space – probably didn’t bother me as much at the beginning because I was just so excited to be a New Yorker. They came with the package. The fascination far outweighed the annoyances.

All I know is that I need a break. At least for a while. I have two months before I leave and I’m already having bouts of sadness. New York will always be the place where I first felt inspired and then compelled to write. I’ll continue to write about this city, just from L.A. As one friend said, “perspective.”

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Marcelo Gomes to Dance with Cisne Negro

Although we’re on late-summer hiatus from ballet season here in NYC, SLSG favorite Marcelo Gomes will be performing at the Joyce Theater on August 15th, with the Brazilian modern dance company, Cisne Negro (which means Black Swan in Portuguese). I’ve never seen this company before, but of course am now intrigued. They’re at the Joyce from August 15-20, but Marcelo is only dancing on opening night. He’s to dance a solo, called Paganini, which he choreographed himself but on a female dancer from La Scala Ballet. He’s now re-set the piece on himself. It’s set to violin music, which will be played live by Charles Yang. Go here for more info on the rest of the program.

Here’s a short video clip of the company:

Photos above by Reginaldo Azevedo.

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Disturbing Dancing Dead Squid

One of my Google+ circle people posted this and I’ve been talked into re-posting it here, which I guess is apt, given that this is a dance blog?…

The squid is actually dead but the soy sauce activates its electrons in this traditional Japanese dish, ika-don, or odori-don. Wonder how popular it actually is in Japan? Go here for more info.

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DOVE SEASON by Johnny Shaw & Cadillac Margarita

Still trying to figure out Tumblr… and Google+. Don’t know why they are so hard, especially when I have a ridiculous amount of blogging experience! Anyway, here is my latest post on my Tumblr blog, Literary Aperitif. If you’re a bookish person and you have a Tumblr account, please follow me – or whatever it’s called…

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PORTRAITS IN DRAMATIC TIME on Lincoln Center Plaza

Here are some photos I took of David Michalek’s current installation, Portraits in Dramatic Time, shown nightly on the facade of the Koch Theater at Lincoln Center Plaza. Above is (SLSG favorite) ballerina Alessandra Ferri, apparently in the ending scene from Romeo and Juliet. Commissioned for the Lincoln Center Festival, Portraits is similar to Michalek’s earlier installation from a few summers ago, Slow Dancing, which I wrote about here.

Unlike Slow Dancing, the only two dancers (at least that I’ve seen) in Portraits are Ferri and classical Indian dancer, Savitry Nair, above. To me, Nair was the most mesmerizing, I think because of the intricate (and to me exotic) movements she was making with her hands, but also because of the intensity of her eyes. Patti Lupone (below) was a close second.

Besides the two dancers and one diva, the others seemed to be all theater actors. Like, Slow Dancing, Michalek filmed the actors in a short scene, then slowed the movement way way down for greater dramatic effect. At least that was the intent. I’ve only watched a couple times, and plan to go more, but, as with Slow Dancing, I have mixed feelings. I think Portraits may be able to attract a larger audience than Slow Dancing due to the greater fame of the stars filmed, and Michalek did for the most part choose dramatic scenes, such as the one below of Alan Rickman throwing a glass of water in anger.

Not all of the scenes are quite as action-packed. You’re often looking more at the intricate changes in facial muscles as the actors go from one emotion to the next. I felt like watching Marianne Jean-Baptiste read a letter and Lili Taylor converse with her daughter provided real lessons in acting.

But in other scenes, even if there was some kind of drama, I didn’t always understand what it was about, or the characters’ relation to one another, and consequently I failed to be as captivated by the mini narrative as I would have liked.

Watching and listening to others on the Plaza, I felt like I wasn’t alone in that thought. The big screen captures your attention but oftentimes fails to keep it. Of course I really wanted to shout at people who were only glancing at Alessandra before passing!

I said this with Slow Dancing, and I’m pretty sure these films are moving faster than the original Dancing films, but I still think they’re going just a bit too slowly. It would also provide variety to rotate more between performer-types – like dancer, actor, diva, dancer, actor diva, etc. But as I said, I saw mostly actors here. I also noticed, though, that there are many performers listed on the show’s website that I didn’t see, and I’ve gone on two different nights so far and have seen many repeats, so I don’t know if all of the listed performers are appearing right now…

Anyway, imperfections aside, it’s always wonderful to have something to go to Lincoln Center for and now that ballet season is over, it can be depressing around there. So I’m very thankful for this installation. Perfect for summertime, sitting near the fountain or at the little cafe in front of Avery Fisher Hall, sipping wine or eating Gelato. This is the best part of living in NYC, imo.

Portraits shows nightly through the end of July. For more info, go here and here.

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Yulia Zagoruychenko Auctions Championship Dress to Help Fellow Dancer With Lung Cancer

World Latin champ Yulia Zagoruychenko (whom this blogger adores, as everyone here knows) is auctioning off one of her championship dresses to help friend and fellow dancer Julia Ivleva with her cancer treatments. Ivleva is a pro standard dancer who was recently diagnosed with lung cancer in both lungs, though she’s never smoked and, like all dancers, maintains a healthy lifestyle. It really can happen to anyone… Also like many (probably most) dancers, Ivleva has no health insurance. What a nightmare. There’s lots of money in the world of pro / am ballroom dance (I mean possessed by the students), so I’m hoping people help her out. Here’s the link to Zagoruychenko’s auction. If you can’t afford the dress but wish to donate go here. If all students donated the cost of a private lesson or two, that would be a pretty big sum.

Here’s a video of Ivleva dancing with her partner Igor Litvinov:

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Prince Charles Gets Down with the FELA! Cast

Bill T. Jones’ FELA!, which I raved about here, opened last week at Sadler’s Wells in London. Prince Charles held a special reception for the cast and apparently they taught him a few moves. He actually looks at ease, like he’s having fun! But where are Kate and William?…

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Codfish “Caviar” in Koreatown

Despite the heatwave, last night my friend and I went to Koreatown for some Korean barbecue. I ordered a dish that looked interesting, which was translated as “Codfish caviar and clams.” Hehe, my friend surmised that perhaps caviar meant the entire reproductive organs of the fish. I looked again. It was rather veiny, did kind of look like a uterus and ovaries. It certainly wasn’t what I was expecting – which was roe about the size of salmon! I tweeted a picture and a Twitter friend told me they actually are eggs, along with the egg sac. His father has them all the time, he said. Funny, I thought I’d tried practically everything, but apparently not! Anyway, they didn’t really have much of a flavor to me, but their consistency was similar to English pudding.

Also ordered a glass of plum wine, not realizing I’d get the entire bottle. Even I couldn’t polish off the whole thing :) Best thing we had, imo, were the spicy little sausages, right at the front of the bottom picture. Delic!

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Film of the Bolshoi’s DON QUIXOTE Starring Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev Showing at BAM This Thursday

For New Yorkers: this Thursday, July 21st, Emerging Pictures’ “Ballet in Cinema” series will be showing a repeat of the Bolshoi’s Don Quixote starring Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev – the very same production I’d raved about here. This time, though, they’ll be showing it in BAM’s cinema, beginning at 7 p.m. I highly recommend it if you missed it the first time around. It’s the most spectacular Don Quixote I’ve ever seen and can ever imagine seeing. It’s also exciting because this is the first time a “Ballet in Cinema” production will be screened at BAM instead of the Big Manhattan Theater. Tickets are $24. If you can, go go go!

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Curtain Call Photos of Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev in Ashton’s Romeo & Juliet

Here are some curtain call photos of the recent London performance of Frederick Ashton’s Romeo and Juliet, performed by Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev. My friend was there and nicely sent me his photos.

He says Alban Lendorf (above, in red) was excellent as Mercutio.

Did anyone else see it?

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Vladimir Shklyarov: the Marcelo Gomes of the Mariinsky?

I’m usually not a stage door person, but Friday night, after the Mariinsky Ballet’s second-to-last night performing in New York, I decided to follow some friends down into the bowels of the Met. Actually, now that construction has finished down there, it’s not a maze like before; you just take the elevator in front of the gift shop down and you exit onto an open street; mid-way down is the stage door.

I didn’t actually go to the Friday night performance. I watched the David Michalek slow motion films out on Lincoln Center Plaza (more about that later). But I’d planned to meet ballet-goer friends anyway for late dinner. At the stage door, several of the dancers came out – including our Diana Vishneva, who danced Carmen that night – but everyone (a mix of women, men and teenagers of both sexes) seemed to be waiting for someone in particular. Finally, at the tail end of the string of exiting dancers, he arrived. Vladimir Shklyarov. I knew he was the one everyone was waiting for by the outburst of giggles was followed by a mob-like rushing of the poor guy. Since I hadn’t gone to the performance, I wondered what was so great about him. He seemed like an ordinary guy. He seemed very American. He was wearing his hair in that kind of mussed-up style that is trendy here right now. And he was wearing American style jeans with the low-pockets, suede loafers, and a button-up shirt with the collar up at the top, preppy-like. And when he spoke (at least as much as I heard him),  he seemed to have only a trace of a Russian accent. Seemed like a very nice guy.

The next night I saw him in Balanchine’s Symphony in C, and immediately understood why everyone was going to gaga over him the night before. He only had a small part in the third movement but he stood out so much, he really made that ballet. His jumps are enormous and, more, his personality – that endearing combination of cocky and charming- really shone through, even in the mere ten minutes I saw him dance. How much did I wish I’d seen more of his while the Mariinsky was here??? Well, I’ll know for next time…

Anyway, I found a couple YouTube videos of him:

Other reflections on the Mariinsky’s NY tour: also fell in love with Alina Somova, who danced the Saturday matinee lead in The Little Humpbacked Horse, a fantastical Ratmansky ballet based on a Pyotr Yershov tale. I’ve heard people express dislike of her, but I don’t know what they’re talking about. I absolutely loved her. She’s very flexible and very fast and fluid, so perhaps she can sometimes look a bit like a rubberband. But I loved her lines, and her speed, and her playfulness, and her sweet personality. She made that ballet for me. During lunch after the performance, my friend Art said it depends on what she’s cast in – and this, he thought, was her best. Everyone agreed it suited her. (So fun hanging out between performances with Art, critic Marina Harss, and Emilia from The Ballet Bag! Emilia is originally from Brazil, which I didn’t know :D ) Anyway, I’ll have to see Somova in other things, because from what I saw, I can’t imagine not liking her.

Here’s a video:

And here’s a video of her in Humpbacked, for which, apparently she won an award.

I also found myself smitten with Yevgenia Obraztsova, who seemed really sweet at the stage door as well, and who danced with Shklyarov in Symphony in C. She’s a tiny powerhouse who I imagine would dance well with our Daniil Simkin. She’s very lyrical as well.

I didn’t care much for Ratmansky’s Anna Karenina. (A big thank you to Marie Mockett for giving me her ticket to that by the way!) I have to agree with Sir Alastair on this one. There were some impressive stage theatrics – particularly a rotating train that you see from both outside and in, and some moving images on a background screen that were used to interesting effect – but overall the production didn’t really convey the story. It was more like a series of tableaux than a narrative, which has worked in other productions (a San Francisco Ballet production of an Ibsen play comes to mind) but didn’t work here – maybe because thematically and mood-wise, it was all so one-note: suicide, encroaching death, the aftermath of death, actions leading up to death, etc. But also, I really didn’t find the choreography interesting at all. It was really basic. I mean, many of the lifts were lifts I learned in the ballroom studio for my cabaret routines. You learn all the very basic lifts: the t-lift, the shoulder-sit, the fish, etc. etc. I’d get so annoyed with my teachers for not being more artistic, for not being able to come up with creative partnering that was more evocative of the story or mood we were trying to convey. That’s one reason I left ballroom – I got bored. So I feel like when I see those same basic lifts in ballets created by supposed choreographic greats and produced all over the world, I feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone. This is why I love MacMillan so. None of his partnering is something you’d learn in a studio lesson – it’s specific to the story and characters.

I also wasn’t too enthralled with the Mariinsky’s Carmen Suite, choreographed by Alberto Alonso. There was a big round mat in the middle of the stage where the dancing – most of it by Carmen alone, some of her dancing duets with men – took place. There were chairs setting on a raised platform that encircled the mat, and the men sat on the chairs and watched her. My Carmen was Ulyana Lopatkina (who was also my Anna Karenina), and her dancing to me looked, in Carmen, very gymnastic. But I think it was the way the stage was set up – it looked like a gymnastic mat – and she kept doing these standing poses that reminded me of a gymnast about to take off in a tumbling pass during a floor routine. It was another ballet that didn’t focus so much on recounting a narrative than creating a feeling, a tone, through vignettes. It worked a little better here than in Karenina, maybe because it was a shorter piece, but I think the gymnastic thing, and the overall creepiness of the men sitting in their chairs just watching her, didn’t really work for me.

Favorites were definitely Little Humpbacked Horse and Symphony in C.

Here are a few more stage door photos:

Yevgenia Obraztsova.

Yuri Smekalov.

Danila Korsuntsev.

And princess Diana, who is even more beautiful up close than she appears onstage.

Wish now I’d have gone every night. Trip to St. Petersburg… :)

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Literary Aperitif

Hi guys – I’ve just begun a new Tumblr blog, called Literary Aperitif, pairing two of my loves (other than dance of course): books and booze. I wanted to call the blog something along those lines but didn’t realize there were about 100,000 websites, meetups, blogs, books, book clubs, webzines, and what have you, all with variations of that name… Anyway, I plan for that one to be photo-heavy, minimalist on words (unlike this blog :S)

Sorry once again that I’m so behind here. Part of the reason for that is that I write so many review-style posts, and it really takes a long time (as opposed to posting pics and doing mini photo-based essays, which takes virtually no time at all). And I haven’t had a lot of time since I began working full time plus again. Nevertheless, I maintain fantasies of spending this weekend blogging about: the Mariinsky at the Lincoln Center Festival, the Royal Danish Ballet’s recent visit to NY, the Paris Opera Ballet’s Children of Paradise (streamed live via Emerging Pictures’ Ballet in Cinema series), the Bolshoi’s Swan Lake (ditto), a wrap-up of American Ballet Theater’s Met season, a wrap-up of So You Think You Can Dance thus far (including what’s been said during some of the Friday afternoon over-the-phone press conferences I’ve participated in each week with the eliminated contestants), and the Manhattan Dancesport Championship held in Brooklyn last weekend. Okay, I’m obviously not going to get to it all this weekend – especially when I have more Mariinsky to see tomorrow and Saturday – but I’ll have material for the rest of the summer, if you can bear with me that long :)

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Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg Guest Star in ABT’s SLEEPING BEAUTY

Curtain calls photos taken by my new balletomane friend, Andrea.

I have to confess, Sleeping Beauty is probably my least favorite ballet. I like the Aurora / Prince Desire wedding pas de deux, with all the gorgeous fish dives, in the last act but I could do without the rest. I just don’t have a big appreciation for sustained balances on pointe and all of the fairy variations and all that.

BUT, I have to say, Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg, guest starring from the Royal Ballet in American Ballet Theater’s Met production showed me this ballet in a new light. As I said on Twitter, I feel like I now know how Sleeping Beauty is really supposed to look!

I did see Cojocaru last year (without Kobborg), but I think because I was sitting in orchestra and because it was my first time seeing her and was just getting used to her, I couldn’t stop focusing on piddly things like her feet / shoes.  Now that I’m used to them, and because I was farther up, in dress circle (my friend, Marie, gave me her tix because she had to fly last minute to Japan and couldn’t use them – thank you Marie!) I just focused on her brilliant dancing. She’s somehow so precise and does such stunning things and makes such stunning lines while making it not about doing these stunning things but about the character and about bringing her sweet story to life. That’s a crazy run-on sentence but you know what I mean? In the “Rose Adagio,” while circling around in those repeated turns while being passed from cavalier to cavalier, she’d just flick her leg up so high and so fast whenever a cavalier took her hand. I was so awed. And she has the most stunning arabesque in attitude while she’s being promenaded about by those cavaliers. To me, those fast, high, perfectly done lifts of the leg and her gorgeous arabesque were more magical than the sustained balances on pointe (which is what most hardcore ballet fans seem to adore in this ballet).

And during the wedding pas de deux, when Kobborg dipped and dropped her into a fish dive, her legs went up so high in the back. And they were perfectly crossed. And the dip was so fast. It was stunning! Sorry I keep using that word; it’s just the word that best expresses how I felt the whole night. The other dancers – the American trained ones – don’t do those fish dives that way. They take their time raising the ballerina and then fluidly taking her down into the dive. I think that’s the influence of Balanchine, where every movement’s supposed to seamlessly melt into the next and nothing is supposed to look “posey.” But I like it so much better the way Kobborg and Cojocaru did it. So much more … stunning! Okay, I’ll stop…

But my friend Natalie and I weren’t the only ones wowed. This is what I love about sitting up higher. I feel like the orchestra is filled with people who fall asleep and with critics. Higher up is where the real fans sit, and Natalie and I were sandwiched in between these giggly twenty-something girls who nearly blasted out of their seats every time a lightning speed develope or fish dive happened, and this tattooed construction-worker looking guy who was there on his own and who followed Cojocaru’s every movement with his binoculars and nearly burst my left eardrum with his applause at the end. I so love these people :)

Kobborg totally reminded me of NYCB’s Gonzalo Garcia, who, everyone who reads this blog regularly knows is one of my favorites. His expressiveness, his devotion to his partner, his immense charm and the way his personality really shines through from far away – I really loved his Prince Desire. On the way out one of my friends said he loved Cojocaru but found Kobborg to be not as stellar as some of the ABT men like Marcelo Gomes. That’s totally true, but what I loved about Kobborg was how he let her have her night, how everything he did was to showcase her. I love Marcelo and David Hallberg and all the ABT men of course (of course!) but sometimes it’s nice when the guy doesn’t steal the show and just lets the ballerina shine. But it wasn’t like he wasn’t as good as she was, just that he was letting it be all about her. Of course they’re now engaged so a little romantic sentiment could be at play :)

Anyway, a few more pictures:

Martine Van Hamel was perfect as the wicked fairy Carabosse. And, I think I’m the only one who feels this way, but damn do I love that costume! It’s very Helena Bonham-Carter / Tim Burton… Actually it’s very Helena Bonham-Carter at the Oscars…

The whole cast. Thank you again to Andrea for the first-row pics!

The rest of the cast was very good as well. In particular I loved Yuriko Kajiya as the Lilac Fairy (she was a last-minute replacement for Maria Riccetto). She stood out to me more than she ever has before; for once I realized that she has a real stage presence. Maybe it was being up higher?… All the fairies were very good – Misty Copeland, Simone Messmer, Luciana Paris, Renata Pavam, and Hee Seo (who should be promoted to principal soon!), and Daniil Simkin and Sarah Lane were, as expected, a lot of fun as Bluebird and Princess Florine. I think they tried to give Kobborg and Cojocaru the best supporting cast possible.

Anyway, that’s it for New York. ABT season is now over. The company is on to L.A. and Japan. And here in N.Y., we’re on the Mariinsky next week at the Lincoln Center Festival. And then ballet season is over for the summer.

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Jose Manuel Carreno’s ABT Farewell

Thursday night at the Met, Jose Manuel Carreno, a longtime favorite of mine, gave his farewell performance with American Ballet Theater. (He will dance a few more performances with the company as they tour Los Angeles and Japan later this month, and he ended up filling in unexpectedly for an injured dancer in Saturday’s matinee, but Thursday was the night ABT celebrated his illustrious career).

He danced Swan Lake with Julie Kent as Odette and Gillian Murphy as Odile. Of course Odette and Odile are danced by the same ballerina but this was a special performance and so he chose to have not one but two ballerinas he’s often partnered throughout his career as alternating white and black swans.

Above photo is of the white swan pas de deux with Julie Kent. Below is of the black swan pdd with Gillian Murphy. All photos are by Rosalie O’Connor.

And below, of his curtain calls.

The performance was spectacular but not flawless. Jose danced wonderfully. I’ve personally been more moved by his performances in Romeo and Juliet and Manon, but then I’m more a fan of modern ballet choreographers like MacMillan, than classical ballet. I wish he would have danced one of those as his farewell but I totally understand why he chose Swan Lake – it’s only the quintessential ballet after all :)

The best part was Act III, with Gillian as the black swan. It was just amazing feat after amazing feat. I swear I’m pretty sure I saw Gillian put a quintuple pirouette in between her fouettes; there were definitely quadruples in there. I wonder sometimes if Natalia Osipova has not substantially raised the bar for this kind of thing. I feel like everyone’s trying so hard to do as many athletically stunning things as they can. I honestly almost screamed when she threw in the quintuple. Can you imagine someone actually screaming in the audience in the middle of the performance? Glad I managed to hold it in :) Suffice it to say Gillian was definitely a thrill, and Odile is her forte. She did have a tiny stumble toward the end, coming out of the fouette sequence, but I’m not one to care about things like that. I personally care more that a dancer takes chances than plays it so safe she fails to move or wow the audience (as I think I’ve said a few hundred times by now on this blog). Then Jose followed her crazy fouettes with a turn sequence of his own, with more multiple pirouettes thrown in. It also seemed that some of their assisted pirouettes went on for, like, five minutes! At the end of the pdd, the applause went on for quite some time.

I should say, every time Jose did any kind of solo, no matter how small – a few turns, a few jumps, anything – the audience went crazy with applause. As they did when his Siegfried first entered the stage. I thought for a minute the orchestra was going to have to stop the story for him to take a bow, but he kept on going with the action, in character.

So, Julie Kent’s white swan: well, I think she is an absolutely beautiful dancer, and she does things that Sara Mearns and Veronika Part and other ballerinas I love as Odette either can’t or don’t do – like the fast tiny fluttering of the feet that really make her look swan-like, or the super quick changes of the feet between her traveling passees that make it look like she is really a swan about to take off in flight. Her legs and feet are super strong and she can attain really surprising speed and precision at certain points. And I was sitting in the back of the orchestra and I could still see that incredible footwork. And yet somehow I’m not nearly as moved by her as by Sara and Veronika. She doesn’t make me feel her pain or take me into her world the way they do. Maybe she’s just not as powerful an actress, although I thought she was very good in Lady of the Camellias. I thought Jose generally partnered Gillian better, which is interesting because she’s a larger ballerina. He lifted Julie high above his head just beautifully, but then there were some moments that the assisted pirouettes that went on forever and a day with Gillian were more problematic with Julie. At one point, Julie veered sharply to one side and I worried she’d fall. But she didn’t.

Still, it was a beautiful performance all in all.

This was my first time seeing David Hallberg as von Rothbart. (You can see him in one of the curtain call photos above, in the purple). He’s a beautiful, beautiful dancer. Seriously, I don’t think any man can dance as beautifully as David Hallberg, and I’ll go to any ballet with him in (with good choreography for him of course), just to see that. But. I like Marcelo Gomes better. I know that’s controversial, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’m not really a fan of classical ballet partly because of this (judging by the difference of opinion between myself and my classical ballet-fan friends), but I just don’t like black and white. I prefer sexy, charmingly dangerous von Rothbarts, not pure evil von Rothbarts. And David was evil. The way he masterfully whipped around that purple cape, the way he worked his facial muscles into a hard hard look, the way he approached the queen and each woman at the ball with intention, the way he pointed straight at poor Siegfried when he first arrived with Gillian. He scared the hell out of me. And I guess if you think von Rothbart is pure evil and should be portrayed as such, then there’s no one more perfect than David to dance him. The evil is tempered a bit by David’s beautiful dancing, which made him the second best von Rothbart in my opinion, just because it added a nuance that otherwise wouldn’t have been there. But Marcelo’s v.R.’s sexiness, his irresistible charm, his deviousness, make him so much more deliciously dangerous.

I was a slight bit disappointed in the curtain calls. I think I was spoiled by Julio Bocca’s farewell being my first at ABT. That man was such a prima, his curtain calls went on forever, ending with him in underwear (well, tights), taking his time drinking a beer, then dousing himself with it. Or was it champagne he poured all over himself? (Will have to look back at my old blog post.) Anyway, it was all as if to say, I’ve had a blast here, I’ve worked my arse off, and now I’m so so ready to let loose. This all would have been inappropriate for Jose though, especially since his two daughters came out onstage with him at the end, sharing his bows. So sweet. But yeah, no getting plastered and prancing around in underwear for him. Marcelo, David, and Cory did hoist Jose over their heads, as David and Marcelo did Julio.

A couple ballerinas from the past – Alessandra Ferri, Susan Jaffe – presented him with bouquets. And Julio himself was there as well. He walked out onstage toward Jose doing a hip-shaking little rumba. Almost all the principals were onstage at the end – Paloma Herrera in particular was dressed to the nines, which was sweet since she was one of his main partners. I didn’t see Diana Vishneva or Natalia Osipova or Michele Wiles. I was hoping Carlos Acosta might show, but no such luck.

Jose’s daughters are really beautiful. Afterward some friends and I went to Ed’s Chowder House for drinks and snacks and we were debating whether the older one was his stepdaughter with Lourdes Novoa or biological daughter. Does he have one stepdaughter and two biological daughters or one of each? Anyway, the littlest daughter looks to be a teenager now. She’s really beautiful. But she was just a baby not so long ago. I guess time does go by when you’re not paying attention. The audience didn’t seem to want to say goodbye. Finally, the curtains went down and the lights went on, management making clear it’s over, folks, go home. But people kept standing there kind of dumbfounded.

Well, I’m really going to miss him. I’m going to miss him as Basilio in Don Quixote, I’m going to miss him as both the harem owner and Ali the slave in Le Corsaire (like Marcelo, he’s endearing in every single role he has – how can one be an endearing  harem-owner? I have no idea, but just watch him), I’m going to miss him as Des Grieux in Manon, I’m going to miss him as Albrecht in Giselle (I think he was the only one who still did the Baryshnikovian brisees in his near dance to death scene instead of the entrechats), I’m going to miss his sexy cocky Latin sailor in Robbins’ Fancy Free, I’m going to miss his sexy cocky leading man in Tharp’s Sinatra Suites, and most of all I’m going to miss his Romeo. In most recent years, he’s been the oldest dancer in that role, and somehow the most boyish, the most innocent, the one who’s made me cry the most times at the end in that crypt with his Juliet draped lifelessly over his arms.

Well, I still have memories. And YouTube videos :)

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Natalia Osipova in ABT’s Coppelia

Photo by Rosalie O’Connor of Osipova in Coppelia, which I wrote about in my last post.

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Paloma Herrera Celebrates 20 Years with ABT

Photo by Rosalie O’Connor.

On Saturday night, Paloma Herrera celebrated twenty years with ABT. Her celebratory performance was Coppelia, which she danced with Angel Corella, in one of the only performances he’ll be seen in at ABT this season, sadly. I realized how much I missed him Saturday night. He’s got to be one of the most endearing, charming, downright lovable dancers ABT has ever had. I hope he dances more often next year. And he can still deliver, particularly on the turns – the fouettes, and particularly on partnering. He polished off a one-handed lift with Paloma no problem. And he’s not a big guy. “That’s pure technique,” said the critic sitting next to me.

Paloma danced really beautifully too, and I realized Saturday night what a remarkable dancer she is. She did some beautiful balances, seemingly without shaking one iota. And she did an amazing sequence of fouettes where she didn’t bring her non-standing leg all the way around but kept it barely bent and at her side, making those whipping turns so much harder. She got loads of applause. She’s particularly suited to a role like this, and like Kitri in Don Quixote. The pair could easily have danced that one too since they’re pretty much known for DQ. They used to be THE couple at ABT years ago, and now she’s celebrating 20 years with the company and he’s off in Spain starting his own. And all the young ones have taken over :)

And the night before I saw two of those young ones: Natalia Osipova and Daniil Simkin (pictures hopefully coming soon!) My friend (who’d seen the Bolshoi’s Nutcracker via Emerging Pictures with me) and I agreed that the Russians can just do those extremely sharp, staccato doll-like movements better than anyone. Of course they just seem to know how to put on a show in general better than anyone. Ballet to them isn’t just about technique and perfect dancing, it’s above all a show.

Anyway, Natalia is superhuman. She really is. No one can jete like her, and I think I’m going to have to include men here. Daniil was absolutely superb in his solos, and he’s known for being a jumper, but I swear when she jumped and he followed her with a jump, hers were higher. I almost fell out of my seat. And her “doll-come-to-life” in the second act – I’ve never seen anyone genuinely look so toy-like. Even the children in the audience were enthralled; you could hear a few actually laughing themselves silly throughout the entire second act. When do small children maintain interest throughout an entire act of a ballet? Maybe the parents were Russians and knew Osipova would pull it off :)

Osipova’s definitely not perfect and she was going so fast in a series of spins across stage she had a little stumble on one. But who cares? I’d so much rather someone put everything they have into a performance than play it so safe it just fades away. Seeing Herrera in the role after Osipova made me realize that Osipova’s just always going to do things more stunningly than others (at least for the most part). Not necessarily with better technique or more beautifully but more stunningly. That’s the kind of dancer she is. But that definitely doesn’t mean that no one else has anything to offer.

Anyway, back to Paloma. So, during the bows, each of the principals came up on stage and gave her a bouquet, which was followed by a confetti shower. She and Angel got several curtain calls, not surprisingly. I think all serious, longtime ABT fans miss Angel and their performance together was a bittersweet reminder of this kind of “changing of the guard” that’s going on at ABT. Afterward, I went with a group of friends to Fiorello’s, across from Lincoln Center, for drinks and dessert, and she came in with two people who I assume were her parents and sat down at the booth next to us. Our ballet gossip promptly ended but what a special end to a fabulous evening for us.

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