For the Love of Duke

On Friday night Susan Stroman’s For the Love of Duke premiered at NYCB. Photos above by Paul Kolnik. Top: Tiler Peck, Sara Mearns, and Amar Ramasar; bottom: Mearns and Ramasar. Stroman is primarily a Broadway choreographer (I think her most famous work is probably Contact), and it shows both in her ballets’ strengths and limitations.

For the Love of Duke is divided into two parts. In the first, entitled “Frankie and Johnny … and Rose,” Tiler Peck and Amar Ramasar are Johnny and Rose, a couple in love. They perform a lovely lyrical pas de deux. Then along struts Sara Mearns – Frankie – and Johnny’s attentions are completely lost on her, to the disappointment of Rose. Johnny and Rose are snuggling on a bench together, and when Frankie comes prancing along, Johnny pushes Rose right off the bench, behind it, as if to hide her. Then he does a snazzier dance with Mearns / Frankie, she disappears, and he’s back with Rose … until Frankie comes strutting along again. And so on. At one point, Rose becomes the seductress, and Johnny pushes Frankie off the back of the bench. It was cute, and everyone danced spectacularly, but it got a bit old to me after a while.

The second part – “Blossom Got Kissed” – Stroman had actually choreographed before, creating it for NYCB in 1999. I liked this one better. Both parts, by the way, are choreographed to Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, which is where the title of the whole comes from. Anyway, “Blossom” begins with a bunch of girls all dressed in sassy, jazzy red sitting on a bench tapping their feet to Ellington’s rhythm. Along comes Savannah Lowery as Blossom, dressed in a frilly ballet tutu. She sits alongside them on the bench and tries to tap with them. But she has no rhythm and is horribly off. Then they stand and do a jazzy dance, and, again, she tries to join, but just can’t get the hang of it. She is simply too classical ballet. Lowery was hilarious though and it was funny to see her continually try to get the rhythm and technique of jazz dance right by taking a foot and pounding it down flat on the floor. Then, a group of tux-clad men come along and do some swing dancing with the red-clad women. Blossom again tries hard to fit in but just can’t. Finally, a musician in the band (which was onstage), in the person of Robert Fairchild, comes out from the back of the stage, orders the music changed, and does a sweet lyrical ballet pas de deux with her.

I feel like I’ve seen “Blossom” before because Lowery’s hilarious flat-footedness looked familiar. I liked it better than the first part because to me it was funnier, and the story went a little further.

I think Stroman is very good at creating a story through dance, and that’s what I like about her. You can tell she’s not really a ballet choreographer though. Compared to the first two pieces of the night – Ratmansky’s Concerto DSCH and Wheeldon’s Polyphonia – the actual dance just wasn’t that rich. Still, I think she complemented the program well. It can never hurt to include in an evening of ballet a cute narrative dance with music that’s not usual ballet fare.

As always, I loved Concerto DSCH. Ratmansky was in the audience. I felt the music was played a bit too fast though (conductor was Ryan McAdams, Elaine Chelton the pianist). It looked like Ashley Bouder had a slight mishap, though I’m not sure because I was busy watching Joaquin DeLuz do a sequence of crazy fast steps into a somersault at the speed of light. Andrew Veyette again replaced Gonzalo Garcia, who I am really missing. I hope he’s okay. Veyette is doing a fine job as one of the two playful guys in blue, but there’s this repeating series of throws – where they each kind of propel the other into the air, and I love how Garcia always gets such height when he bounces off the other two.

Tyler Angle replaced Benjamin Millepied, and did wonderfully. I always notice things with Tyler that I haven’t noticed before – like how when he and the girl in green (Wendy Whelan) make their entrance, he’s spinning her around and around, and she looks like she’s hanging on to him for dear life. It kind of sets the tone of their relationship. I always notice the music much more when he dances as well.

Christopher Wheeldon’s Polyphonia is definitely one of my favorites of his. I love the musicality of it, and the originality of the combinations. It’s set to ten piano pieces by Ligeti, who, the program notes, developed micropolyphony – a type of music involving sustained dissonant chords that shift slowly over time. You can really see that “micropolyphony” in the dancing, as the sets of dancers (eight all together, divided into four pairs) begin dancing together in a line but each pair doing something completely different. Then, they eventually come together and dance in unison, but then they drift apart again later. There’s some very clever, almost humorous partnering throughout, but particularly in the second movement, Arc-en-ciel, Etudes pour piano, danced by Maria Kowroski and Jared Angle. I haven’t seen this ballet as often as I would like to. I was going to say I wish he’d include this one more often in Morphoses programs, and then I remembered

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Sample Sunday: Wedding Belle

For this week’s #SampleSunday, here’s an excerpt from Swallow‘s chapter eight, titled “Father Christian.” For a synopsis of the whole book, go here.

I made it to the boutique only ten minutes late. Speed walking toward the glass-doored entrance, I saw Francie inside looking out, peering up and down the street, pacing back and forth, perfectly steady on her six-inch, stiletto-heeled, candy red pumps, her flawlessly coiffed strawberry mane bouncing girlishly with each pirouette. Oh, I pray I’m Francie at fifty, I thought.  New York women never get old, I swear. When our eyes met, she tapped her French-manicured fingernail on the face of her watch, then shook her finger at me in mock reprobation.

“Sorry sorry,” I mouthed, pushing open the door.

“It’s all right, it’s not like there’s anyone else here.” She stood in fifth ballet position and extended her left arm gracefully toward the middle of the store, her frown at odds with her delicate pose. “What is it about getting married here? No one in this city seems to do it.”

“That’s because New York women are all so independent and sophisticated, like a certain fashion maven I know,” I gushed.

“Yeah yeah yeah. Perpetual singlehood has been a real friggin’ joy.” She fluttered her hand about dismissively. “Come on, let’s find you the Audrey dress of your dreams, skinny girl,” she said, pinching my arm. “Geez Soph, you really are losing weight. Look at these little twigs.”

“I’ve lost twenty pounds,” I said. I knew it was getting to be a lot; another ten pounds and I’d weigh 100. But truth be told, I felt like I was really beginning to fit in in New York. It looked rather elegant, if not downright trendy, to be thin here. Still, I knew I couldn’t lose a whole lot more. It had to stop at some point.

“Shit, Soph. What’s your secret? How come you’re keepin’ it from the old lady?”

“Hey, I did tell you; you just weren’t listening.”


“The throat ball. The ‘ball’ — remember?”

She had the loopiest smile I think I’d ever seen.

“Okay, after we’re done here, we’ll go out to eat,” I said. “Then you just imagine a big ole ball in your throat and you choking to death whenever you try to swallow. Beats the hell out of a diet any day.” I couldn’t believe what I just heard myself say.

“Shit, Soph, you’re starting to sound, you know, a little fucked up,” she said, echoing my thought.

“Hello, ladies.” Marlena, with whom I had my appointment, appeared as if out of thin air.  She was sixtyish, immaculately groomed, with snowy whitish-blonde hair, and a full face of makeup that — unlike on me — made her look polished rather than fake. Already I felt like a street urchin with my shiny nose, flyaway hair, and now oversized, dowdy suit.

“You must be Ms. Hegel,” she smiled, cupping my hand between her palms. I always felt so uneasy in places like Saks and Bergdorf, like it was so obvious to all the salespeople that I didn’t belong anywhere near the place. Funny, I wasn’t feeling that so much with Marlena though.

“Um, yes.” I tried to return her smile, not anywhere near as elegantly.

“And you’ve brought your big sister with you. Excellent idea,” she said, extending a hand and smile to Francie.

“Basically,” Francie said, giving her a cursory New York handshake.

“Now you tell me what kind of dress it is you’re looking for, dear,” Marlena began, eyes now focused solidly on me. “Would you like to look at the catalog, or do you have something in mind?” Something about her was so familiar, like she was an old dear nanny or governess or something. Except of course I never had such a person in my life.

“Mmm…” I looked at the four huge tomes on the counter. They looked far too intimidating; we’d have been there all day if I started with them. “I think I’ll start with the actual gowns.”

“That’s perfectly fine,” she sang, with the sweetest of smiles. “Let me just tell you a little about my job here at Bettina’s Bridal. I’m not here to dictate what you should wear. You brides today are more sophisticated, more mature, far more educated than you were in my day,” she chimed in a fantastical voice that sounded like she’d been around for centuries. “You have your careers, you know who you are and what you want out of life, not to mention out of a dress,” she laughed. “You’re not to be bossed around by your mothers, your sisters…” she gave a nod and wink to Francie at this, “certainly not your future husband. This is obviously your most important day. This is the statement that you’re making to all your friends and family, to the world, of who you are.” She positively glowed.

Francie rolled her eyes. Argh, can you say, ‘jaded New Yorker,’ I thought.

When I looked back at Marlena she radiated a fairy godmother smile, and I felt a tear starting down my face. I was so embarrassed I could’ve just fallen to the floor and rolled myself up into a little fetal ball. What was with my total lack of control over my tear glands?

“Oh dear. Would you like a glass of water?” she asked, grabbing a tissue.

“No, no.” I felt like the consummate ass.

“It’s normal, you know, this is quite an emotional time.” She stood smiling down at me, her hands folded in front of her, her long eyelashes glistening, her cheeks glowing.

“Okay.” I took a deep breath, pulling it together. “I have an idea of what I want. Something basic, not really frilly, just simple, but you know, a fabric with a nice sheen.” I had no idea what the hell I was saying. ‘Nice sheen’ – what was that? Such the couture dyslexic was I.

“Sophisticated, elegant, you know, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn. Maybe matte satin or Duchess silk, possibly organza. I think she wants to go with a simple A-line silhouette, natural or dropped waist bodice, attached chapel train, very little if any embellishments.” Thank you, Francie, I thought. Whatever you just said.

“Let’s start here.” Marlena showed me a simple satin dress with beautiful beaded buttons trailing down the back. Only problem with that one was a monster bow right on the butt — made it look like her bottom was a big present to the groom.

“Kind of makes her look like a present,” I said to Francie.

“Well, you are a present, my darling,” she said.

“No, like an object, I mean. Like she has no personhood.”

“Ugh.” Francie rolled her eyes again. Francie didn’t have the most developed feminist consciousness, I kept forgetting. I mean she did, but she just wasn’t schooled in feminist theory, didn’t have the jargon down. Not that I wanted her to though; she was far, far more interesting the way she was!

“Then there’s this nice simple organza ball gown.” Marlena next showed me one with a lacy bodice, cinched at the waist by another bow that led to a poofy floor-length skirt. This one reminded me of the ballet dress I wore for a recital at Phoenix Symphony Hall right before Daddy left. And the cinching bow recalled a bit of the Barium Swallow ordeal. Uh-uh, I shook my head. Far too much baggage contained in one dress.

Then she led me to a plain, but soft and silky, form-fitting gown. But this one had underwire cups stitched on the outside of the fabric.

“Ooh la la, sexy,” Francie said.

“Yeah, for the slut bride,” I whispered to her.

Francie rolled her eyes again. “You have body issues,” she said to me under her breath, her voice trailing off at the end, indicating this was a continuing issue that she intended eventually to cure.

“I don’t have body issues, and I am not wearing a bra on the outside of my dress to my wedding,” I whispered back, smiling over at Marlena, who was looking a bit weary. I was being too picky. I decided I’d try on the next one — which happened to be very pretty, with pearl buttons tip-toeing down the back. It’s just that the buttons didn’t start practically till the waist-line; I had no idea how the thing stayed up and I knew I’d be worrying about it nonstop.

Before I knew it, we’d spent an hour and a half and I hadn’t tried on a single thing.

“Are you sure you don’t want to take a little peek at the catalog?” Marlena asked with a hint of hopelessness. Francie, ever the New Yorker, didn’t bother trying to hide her annoyance.

“Come on, come on, come on, Soph. We don’t have all day. Nothing is going to look right on the hanger. You gotta see it on to see how it hangs on your body.”

Okay, okay. I told Marlena I’d try the first two — the butt-present and the issue-laden ones. She looked ecstatic.

The dresses on display were all in size 10, so Marlena called her assistant, Ruiza, to accompany me into the dressing room. I felt weird undressing in front of her — especially when she motioned for me to remove my bra. She helped me into the butt one, then taped, tucked, tied, zipped and pinned me up. About twenty minutes later, I emerged.

“Wow, very very nice,” Marlena said, walking me toward the three-way mirror.

“Oooh, look at those gorgeous tiny arms,” Francie squealed, squeezing my shoulder.  “Hon, really, another ten or fifteen pounds and you could be a petite model.”

Oh geez. I laughed.  As I stood in front of the mirror, Francie walked around me gazing at the dress. Marlena patted at the skirt. It actually looked quite lovely. I was transformed. Imagine that, mousy me.

“You really do look beautiful, hon,” Francie said from behind, to my reflection in the mirror. Then Marlena turned me to my side, and I saw the blasted bow. It was pinker than it initially appeared, and strikingly different than the rest of the dress. I looked like a baboon in heat.

“I don’t know. I really don’t like the bow.”

“It can be altered,” Marlena and Francie said simultaneously. Yeah, but that would totally increase the price, I thought. But I didn’t dare say it, of course.

“I’ll try the other one.” I went back into the fitting room with Ruiza, underwent the process again with the cinch-waisted Giselle gown. Hmmm, could get used to someone dressing and primping me, I thought. Like Scarlet O’Hara. It was kind of nice, even if initially embarrassing.

After she finished, I headed to the three-way. Ooh, this one looked quite lovely. A little poofy and princessy, but also chic and sophisticated with a more grown-up elegance than had appeared from the hanger. The bow was sweet, much smaller than the other, the same color as the rest of the dress, and was a little off to the side, so not so obnoxious. It was beautiful; I could definitely do with this one. However, one ever so little necessity… had to figure out a way of finding out the price. Of course, there were no tags on anything. I hated it when stores did that.  But I guess I should’ve expected it with a place like this. I hated having to ask.

“That one’s a great deal,” Marlena said right then, as if reading my mind. “Quite a steal at only $5995.”

Yikes. I was hoping to pay a third of that, at most.

“That’s great,” Francie said, nodding at me. I thought I detected a wink as well. “Okay, Soph, off to a good start. We got one possibility. But before you get hooked, hon, let’s look at a couple more.” She turned back to Marlena. “The organza and lace might make it just a bit too frilly. What about something with a little less embellishment.”

“Sure,” Marlena smiled, a bit pityingly, I thought, as if she knew exactly what Francie was hinting at. She led us over to one of the first racks in the store — exactly where all of the silly, frilly, i.e., cheap, stuff was located.

I tried and tried. But nothing looked as good as the $5995. Just as I was about to leave to think over my too-expensive Giselle-before-Daddy-left dress, I remembered the catalog and, ever so stupidly, decided to take a peek.

And of course therein I saw it: the gown that simply stood so far above the rest it was pitiful. The satin-y fabric wrapped around the wearer’s body regally, like a protective sheath. And it had this really extraordinary lace framing device. There were two wide strands of intricately-patterned lace extending the length of the bodice. They originated at the waist, then rose up and above the top of the dress where they fanned out into two pleats flowering just over the top, highlighting the wearer’s chest, and framing her torso. At the waist, they met with several more lace lines that wound around from the back, and at the hip, all lace strands bunched up and overflowed into more pleats that formed sequins, which cascaded all the way down to the ballgown’s train.

The wearer of the gown was a true queen. And, bizarrely, here that wearer was the supermodel from the Vogue ad in the museum exhibit; the one Stephen had said looked like a “Holocaust victim.”

Only odd thing was the gown was rose-colored. I’d never thought of a wedding gown in any color other than white.

“Beautiful, isn’t it? That’s one of our Lacroixs,” Marlena said, over my shoulder.

“It’s gorgeous. But it’s red. It is a wedding dress, right?”

“Oh yes. The most popular color right now in Europe is red. Brides here are a little more conservative. But if you want to make a statement…”

“Do you have it?” I asked. I knew it was probably way too expensive but I really wanted to try it just for kicks.

“Yes…,” she said, her voice inflecting at the end. She looked hesitant.

“Can I try it?”

Marlena smiled weakly. “Sure. It’s just that, well, this one has a great deal more embellishments than… Of course you can, of course, dear.” She started to walk away; I followed.  “It’s in the back. It’ll take some time to get,” she called over her shoulder.

“Hey ready yet, Soph? I’m getting hungry,” Francie called out, posing in front of a mirror with a pearl-white veil draped over her face.

“I’m just going to try one more.”

“One more! I’m really really getting hungry here, Soph.” I hated it when Francie got pissy.

“It’ll just be a sec. Please?” I whined like the child Marlena’d just spent all afternoon trying to make me feel I wasn’t. Francie scowled at me, returning the veil to its mannequin. Just then Marlena returned with Ruiza, the two of them together carrying a veritable body bag.

“What’s in there?” Francie asked, annoyance metamorphosing into intrigue.

“Here it is,” Marlena chirped, as she, Ruiza, and yet another assistant all maneuvered it out of the bag. Once I saw it, I understood why this required a group effort. It was simply huge.  This time it took a full forty minutes to get into it, but not because there was a lot of taping and pinning on Ruiza’s part: believe it or not, unlike all the other floor models, this one was a size four. It took so long because there were so many pleats, sequins, ties, clasps, and buttons for poor Ruiza to figure out.

“Oh my god,” Francie shrieked when I walked out, “You look …”

“Yes, you do,” Marlena echoed, even though Francie hadn’t actually come up with an adjective. “It’s tight, but, wow, not all that much.”

“The color is gorgeous, Soph,” Francie said, brushing the train.

“You think it’s okay that it’s not white and all?” I asked.

“Shut up and look at yourself!” Francie whiplashed me toward the three-way.

When I looked in the mirror, I saw someone else. I was like royalty, someone very special, even beautiful. There’s no such thing as natural beauty, I thought. Designers are the makers of reality, and you just have to be skinny enough to squeeze into the alternate universe they’ve created for you. I had no idea what Christian Lacroix looked like, but I imagined him as this posh but avuncular man plucking at the lace, smoothing out the sides, telling me what a perfect fit it was, how beautiful and smart and charming I was; how I was the perfect wearer.

Suddenly I began hearing my mother’s voice. “Who do you think you are? Some movie star, some Arabian princess?” The same words she used when I’d received my letter from Yale and told her the cost of tuition, and my father went ballistic. A place for high-class people, deserving people, not me.

“Oh Sophier, you’re absolutely mesmerizing.” Thank goodness for Francie’s New York voice trumpeting over Mom’s. I was getting married now. I was a law school graduate. I was an adult. What was wrong with me? “So teeny tiny. Oh you’re so beautiful, darling. You look just like the model. It’s so so SO you!”

“Stephen says that model is a glorified Holocaust victim,” I couldn’t help but blurt out.

“UGH.” Francie screamed, throwing up her hands. “Fff…” she began, then saw my discomfort at her ‘free form expressions’ in Marlena’s presence and altered her tone, somewhat. “Then, my dear, you are a beautiful fucking glorified Holocaust victim,” Francie whispered to me, lips pursed tightly over teeth.

“I need to know the price of this one,” I found myself again blurting out, too needy now to care how poor I appeared. Marlena smiled, pityingly again. She had an answer that I really didn’t need to know.

Photo above of Christian Lacroix and model from Independent UK.

Posted in Body Image, Fashion, Literature / Books, New York, Swallow reviews / awards / mentions / events, The Blogging Life / The Writing Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

NYCB Swan Lake Casting Is Up & There’s an Added Performance!

New York City Ballet has decided to add an additional performance of Swan Lake to its SL run. The added performance will now take place Friday, February 11th, at 8 p.m. It will star Sara Mearns – yes!!!!!!! and will replace that evening’s scheduled performance of mixed repertoire. The company decided to reschedule for the additional performance because of overwhelming demand this year: all of the regularly scheduled performances are virtually sold out at this point. Mearns will also be dancing the first regularly scheduled performance, the Sunday February 13th matinee. During both performances, her Siegfried will be Jared Angle. Casting hasn’t yet been announced for the rest of the run but you know I will post it here the second it is! There will be nine SL performances total, continuing through February 26th.

Go here to buy tickets.

Above photo taken from here.

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“Dance On” YouTube Channel Launches

There’s a new YouTube channel called Dance On. They produce weekly videos summing up or reviewing what happened in dance that week. Looks like it’s focused on popular dance – dance on TV, in the movies, and in music videos. I haven’t had a chance to watch all of their videos but embedded their promotional one above and am linking to their YouTube channel so you guys can check it out for yourselves.

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New San Francisco-Based Ballet Blog, Odette’s Ordeal, Launching

Here’s a new ballet blog to add to your list of daily reads. It’s written by Teri McCollum, who’s a dedicated San Francisco Ballet-goer, so it’s largely based on that company and other dance goings on in San Fran. I’ve been subscribing to Ms. McCollum’s pre-launch emails for a while and can say she’s an excellent writer who comes up with lots of interesting stories. So, welcome to the ballet blogosphere, “Odette”!

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Last Week at New York City Ballet

Last week I went to two performances of NYCB – opening night and Thursday night’s “See the Music” program – and to two of the free all-day Balanchine events on Saturday. First, I’ll talk about the last two since I found them so informative. The free studio talk on Saturday afternoon – Balanchine’s birthday – was moderated by Sean Lavery (former NYCB principal dancer, now ballet master), and included Sterling Hyltin (in Paul Kolnik photo above with Robert Fairchild), Chase Finlay, and Jenifer Ringer. Lavery asked the dancers to talk about their first Balanchine ballets, their favorites, and what drew them to NYCB. Hyltin named as her favorite Duo Concertant (pictured above) which I’d just seen her dance on opening night. She said she liked the syncopated movement, the he goes and I go kind of back and forth movement conversation with her partner, and with the musicians. I really liked it too. The violinist and pianist are onstage (the music is Stravinsky), and I like the interaction between the dancers and the musicians, and between the two dancers, and I like the sharp, angular movement. She seemed particularly animated when I saw it. I love Robert Fairchild and think he’s such a sharp, masculine mover with a presence that commands your attention without meaning to – he kind of reminds me of a less cocky Ethan Stiefel – but she seemed so happy to be dancing this piece that she stood out to me more. It was nice to hear her talk about it.

But what I really loved was the School of American Ballet class taught by Peter Martins. He interacted cutely with the students, particularly “Cyrus,” (at least I think that was his name…) a tall, long-limbed young man who I think will soon be in the company. Cyrus didn’t always do everything perfectly (at least in Martins’s eyes) but he had a charming presence and a great leading-man physique and you can tell he works hard.

Martins had the class demonstrate ballet basics – beginning with the five positions, and they showed us a perfect fifth position (with the toes of the front foot touching the heel of the other and vice versa). More interestingly, he had the class show us the difference between a Balanchine hand and a classical ballet hand. I’d always noticed there was a difference but couldn’t figure it out exactly. God gave us five fingers, Balanchine had said, so we shouldn’t hide two of them. The Balanchine hand shows all five fingers, the classical ballet one only three (with the ring finger and pinky held so that they are hidden from view behind the middle finger).

Martins also had the students show us how Balanchine’s fourth position differed from others’. In Balanchine’s the back leg is straight; in all others’ the back leg is bent. Martins didn’t go into any functional explanation for this – just said “here, we think it looks better.” But I thought about it and thought, wow, it must be hard to take off in a jump for example with the back leg straight. And then I realized that’s partly why Balanchine’s choreography always looks so fluid, like one step leading right into another, without a lot of stopping to build up to a big athletic feat – a big jump or series of turns. Other companies – like the Russians, like the Bolshoi – are all about preparing so that you can do something astounding. So they’re all about the building up.

This was mentioned in the studio talk as well. Lavery also talked about how fluid Balanchine’s movement was, and how, for example, in a lift, a guy would pick up a girl, then take two steps, and put her down rather than walk all over stage with her hoisted above his head. Balanchine wanted her to come up, then down right again, because that was more fluid, rather than have her head bobbing around up there while the guy was running all around with her.

Martins also demonstrated the bows. At City Ballet, he said, we just do them as such, and the girls did a little curtsy with the back leg slightly bent, without going down on one knee. Making fun of the dramatic Swan Lake bows, Martins went all the way down on one knee, exclaiming, “Yes, yes, I know I’m good!!!” while putting his head down, forehead nearly touching the floor, and raising his arms up in back of him like wings, fingers pointed toward the ceiling. It was hilarious.

Anyway, here are a couple more photos of opening night:

Above: Ashley Bouder in Valse-Fantaisie, and below, the cast, including Andrew Veyette, in the same (all photos by Paul Kolnik)

I liked Balanchine’s Valse-Fantaisie (Veyette replaced Joaquin DeLuz – but don’t know why because DeLuz danced Concerto DSCH two nights later) but I really loved the first of the evening, Walpurgisnacht Ballet. I’d never seen Walpurgisnacht before and it’s funny but I always seem to love the Balanchine ballets that are the least often performed. This was really beautiful. It’s from Gounod’s Faust, and features a group of women (and only one man – here Charles Askegard) in deep red dresses, their hair down in the second half as the music increases in tempo so that there’s almost kind of a hedonistic madness in the mood – and the footwork is so intensely complicated and fast fast fast. Wendy Whelan even made a tiny little flub, which I’ve never seen her do before. Crazy! And breathtaking!

And the evening ended with The Four Temperaments. I’ve said before and I’ll complain again that I still don’t understand why everyone goes on about how brilliant this one is. To me, there are supposed to be four temperaments, and the ballet is divided accordingly into four variations after the theme: melancholic, sanguinic, phlegmatic, and choleric. But they all seem to be the same to me. The dance seems one-note throughout so that after the first variation, I’m waiting for it to end. I’ll keep seeing it though, perhaps performed by a variety of companies if I have the chance, and will keep looking for the nuances…

“See the Music” night opened with Faycal Karoui’s discussion of Mozartiana, Tchaikovsky’s homage to / riff on Mozart, which made me appreciate Tchaikovsky even more. Then that piece was danced – by Maria Kowroski, Daniel Ulbricht, and Tyler Angle. Tyler stood out to me. As always, he dances with so much meaning, so much intention, and so much expansiveness. He’s a really beautiful dancer.

Then came Ratmansky’s Concerto DSCH, danced by Wendy Whelan, Ashley Bouder, Joaquin DeLuz, Andrew Veyette (replacing this time Gonzalo Garcia), and Benjamin Millepied. Oh, Natalie Portman was there, albeit late – she came in with a friend after Karoui’s lecture and right before Mozartiana was performed. Then, she left right after Concerto DSCH, after Millepied was done performing, and before the last piece. I thought it was a shame she missed Sara Mearns in the last dance, but a Twitter friend said she had a movie premiere that night, so I guess she needed to leave early for that.

Anyway, as usual, Millepied did not stand out to me, and I couldn’t stop thinking of seeing Tyler Angle in that role before and the way he lunges romantically toward the main girl, making it clear how much he yearns for her. Millepied’s knees nearly touch the ground in his deep steps toward her and it just looks like a dance step, not like anything evoking a specific emotion. As always I loved Bouder and DeLuz in the fast, playfully firtatious three-some part. I missed Garcia – where is he? I hope not injured! – but thought Veyette did a fine job in his stead.

And the evening ended brilliantly with Sara Mearns and Charles Askegard dancing the ballet leads in Balanchine’s Cortege Hongrois, while Rebecca Krohn and Sean Suozzi just as brilliantly danced the folksy Hungarian leads. I really love that dance and it made me all the more eager to see Mearns in Swan Lake!

On both nights, I went with my friend, author Maria Mutsuki Mockett. She writes an author blog but has been attending the ballet much more frequently and is now blogging a lot about ballet as well. She’s an excellent writer, so please check out her blog!

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Giselle: The Royal Versus the Bolshoi

Last Wednesday I went to see the Royal Ballet’s Giselle live-streamed direct from London. Today, I saw the Bolshoi’s live-streamed from Moscow, both via Emerging Pictures’ excellent Ballet in Cinema series. I have to say I think this new series is one of the most exciting things happening in ballet right now, if not the most exciting. You can see the world’s greatest ballet companies perform live in your hometown via your local movie theater (if, of course, you’re lucky enough to have a local cinema that’s participating – and hopefully you are!). Not only do you get to see the live performance, but the camera also takes you behind the scenes to see things even those in the theater can’t see – to the makeup rooms, the rehearsal areas where the dancers are warming up, getting dressed, and sewing their shoes, etc., behind the curtain during and after the performance where you see the dancers prepare for curtain calls, and down into the orchestra pit where camera focuses on the conductor and members of the orchestra. You also get a good view of the theater – from inside the auditorium to the lounge areas, even to the outside front. You really feel like you’re there. And knowing it’s in real time makes it all the more fun. I kept wanting to wave out to the audience members as they took their seats, some looking at the camera. But of course they couldn’t see us…

Anyway, it’s such an experience, and hopefully everyone will be able to have it at some point soon.

So, the Royal’s Giselle: the dancers were Marianela Nunez in the lead, Rupert Pennefather as Albrecht, Gary Avis and Hilarion, and Helen Crawford as Myrtha. Also, one dancer who wasn’t a lead but who I was just really captivated by was Yuhue Choe, who danced the female peasant in the peasant pas de deux.

Overall, I liked but didn’t love this production. My biggest problem was Pennefather, who I just didn’t find at all compelling – either in his dancing or his acting. He was definitely good-looking and had a regal bearing so I understand why they cast him, but his dancing was just nowhere near the level of someone like David Hallberg’s. In the second act in the would-be dance-to-death scene where he went to do his high jumps with the many braided entrechats, they just didn’t look polished or sharp enough. They almost looked fake – like he wasn’t really weaving his feet backward and foreword. I’m sure he was, it just looked sloppy. And as a character his Albrecht didn’t make much sense. At the beginning, when his servant helps him change into his peasant costume, he looks down at the costume, and smiles to himself, pleased. Then, he has fun dancing with Giselle, tricking her with the altered flower, etc. Later, when he’s found out and his betrothed asks him why on earth he’s dressed as a peasant, he immediately laughs it off, and practically runs toward her, kissing her hand. It’s never clear what he hopes to accomplish by pretending to be a peasant and seducing the unknowing peasant girl; what his motivation is for doing any of it. But he didn’t seem particularly dumb or playboy-like either. It just seemed like a role that wasn’t thought-out.

I did like Nunez. I thought she was a tremendous dancer, and she acted very well too. Her mad scene was real, completely believable, not at all overdone, with depth, one of the best I’ve seen. Of course it helps that the camera’s so focused up close on her face! You can easily see the emotions. The only thing was that body-wise she didn’t seem like a Giselle to me. She didn’t seem weak and delicate and fragile. And that strength came through in her dancing too. Her performance reminded me a little of Paloma Herrera’s Giselle. I thought Herrera was terribly miscast. I thought Nunez was such a remarkable dancer though that I was able for the most part to suspend disbelief, more so than with Herrera.

I thought Gary Avis was a really hot, hunky Hilarion :) He’s a very good actor too. I think he was actually the best actor in the whole production. I really believed his love for Giselle, his urgent need to keep Albrecht away from her, and his devastation over what ended up happening to her. And ditto for the Bolshoi’s Hilarion (or Hans as he’s called there), Vitaly Biktimirov – at least in the hot & hunky department. He was a good dancer, but less of a good actor than Avis. I was talking with a friend and fellow blogger, Art, during intermission, and he said he thought the British were simply just trained to be actors as well as dancers, probably because of their history. The Russians weren’t so trained. And I agree with him. The Russians seem to do everything in a very melodramatic, somewhat phony way. I mean, not Veronika Part, not the Russians who come here. But when you see a production by a Russian company it just seems like everything is very performance-y, not natural.

I really loved Choe in the Royal’s peasant pdd and found myself wondering what type of Giselle she’d make. She looked perfect for the part. I thought her dancing was lovely, but I’m not sure if, had she danced Giselle, it would have been at the level of Nunez’s. Has anyone seen more of Choe? She’s a beautiful dancer.

Interestingly, Helen Crawford, who danced Myrtha, was a tiny little thing. Very pretty, very fine features, very delicate-looking. She also had the appearance of a Giselle. She did a superb job though acting the controlling, sometimes damning Queen of the Wilis. It was just interesting casting, though, because all of our Myrthas are the larger, more physically-imposing ballerinas.

I hate to say it, but I really didn’t like the Bolshoi’s very much. But I LOVED their performance of The Class Concert, a one-act that preceded their Giselle. The Class Concert was created in 1960, by Asaf Messerer,  and it’s one of those storyless ballets that takes place in a classroom and that are meant to highlight the magnificence of ballet, from beginning at the barre, and ending with the grand jumps and high overhead lifts of center-work. Kind of like Harald Lander’s Etudes or Christopher Wheeldon’s Scenes de Ballet. Anyway, those dancers are incredible. I mean, I was almost on the floor I was so in awe. From the small children to the young adults doing all the lifts and crazy chaine turns and high jumps – every hip was completely perfectly turned-out, every tendu perfectly pointed, every single body’s form was absolute perfection. They weren’t always moving in unison, but just the perfection of each of them individually made me not care that they weren’t always in sync. It was amazingly beautiful, but in a way, it was also slightly creepy. I mean, to attain that kind of miraculous perfection, you realize these children must do nothing but eat, sleep and ballet every day from the time they’re 2 years old foreword. Talk about Tiger Mothers. It’s a whole Tiger State.

Anyway, their Giselle I felt was lacking. I loved their Albrecht – Dmitry Gudanov. He had everything Pennyfather lacked – at least in the acting. Gudanov had definitely thought through his motivations for the character. Gudanov’s Albrecht was in love with Giselle. His servant tried to tell him he was going to hurt her, but he just blew his servant off. He was reckless but his heart was with Giselle. Later, when the princess, his betrothed, sees him in the peasant costume, at first he doesn’t know what to do, how to act. Then he slowly, begrudgingly takes her hand. But it’s clear he’s not in love with her and he really wants Giselle. He remains torn between her and Giselle even after he realizes he must chose his betrothed – at least for the time being. And then he’s shocked when Giselle reacts so badly. And then he’s devastated along with Hilarion, even going after him with a sword, when she dies. I still wasn’t in love with his dancing, though. Actually, he did everything very very well. He was a very good dancer. What I wasn’t in love with was Grigorovich’s choreography for him. I didn’t feel that the dance to death scene was in any way a seriously dangerous dance. It looked rather lyrical. There were no brises or jumps with the entrechats; instead there was a series of tour jetes back and forth, and they weren’t done particularly fast. It looked like he was flying gracefully through the air not like he was exhausting himself to the verge of death. And when he’d “collapse” he’d go down so lightly, it was like he was going to sleep, like Sleeping Beauty. No crashing to the floor in sheer exasperation ala Marcelo Gomes at all.

But who I really didn’t like was Svetlana Lunkina as Giselle. I’ve heard so many good things about her and my hopes were so high, but now I can’t understand the big deal at all. She seemed really really wooden to me. She really didn’t act at all. Her face was devoid of emotion throughout. And, unlike Nunez or Osipova, or any other dancer I’ve ever seen in the role, her dancing was nothing to write home about at all. She was adequate but she looked like a corps dancer to me. What am I missing? Maybe she was really just having a bad night, because during the wilis scene when she had those several slow turns on one leg, her balance looked very off. I really thought she might actually lose her balance and fall. So maybe it was just the pressure of the cameras and knowing so many people were watching.

Again, I really liked the ballerina who danced the peasant pas de deux – here, Chinara Alizade – and wondered what she would have looked like as Giselle.

Oh, and speaking of the peasant dances: hehe, these were the absolute fanciest peasant costumes I’ve ever seen! Art joked that these were peasants flown in from Paris for the occasion!

I had a blast though. And the Sunday performances are so nice because there are so many more people. I met two new dance fans who regularly read my blog! I felt kind of half-dead today – probably because of a late night last night – but I’m always so flattered when people recognize me and come up and talk to me. I’m always so thrilled to find that people like this blog and find it valuable and my viewpoints interesting and all! So thank you!

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James Wolcott just linked to this video and it’s far too tantalizing for me not to embed it here. Seriously – too cool, huh! I do think Larry Keigwin makes the best promo videos in the dance world.

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This Week at New York City Ballet

I hope everyone had a nice holiday weekend, and happy belated Martin Luther King Day!

Tonight begins the Winter season at NYCB. Highlights for the season will be a world premiere by Susan Stroman on January 28th, and Peter Martins’ Swan Lake in February. I highly recommend seeing Sara Mearns as Odette / Odile (White Swan / Black Swan), especially if you are a new dance-goer in search of a good Swan Lake after seeing the Black Swan film. The Martins production is very modern, and very accessible to contemporary audiences, and Mearns is a beautiful dancer who manages to excel at both roles. Her swan queen is very human, with great emotional depth. She has a way, like ABT’s Veronika Part, of making you feel like you’re inside her character’s world, going through everything right along with her. She’s not just a great ballerina, but a compelling actress, in other words. And her black swan is a thrill. Here’s what I wrote about her last year. I’m not sure yet which days she’ll dance, but casting should be announced very soon. All of the ballerinas will be good (and I’ll need to see Ashley Bouder’s this year!), but try hard not to miss Mearns.

My recommendations for this week are:

January 18 (tonight), opening night, early 7:30 curtain
It’s a mixed rep program including Walpurgisnacht Ballet, Duo Concertant, Valse-Fantaisie, and one of Balanchine’s most revered works, The Four Temperaments.

Thursday night, January 20th, 8 p.m.
Another night of mixed rep: Mozartiana, Concerto DSCH, and Cortege Hongrois. The special things about this evening are that it’s another in the excellent See the Music series, and Millepied is dancing Ratmansky’s DSCH (one of my favorites of Ratmansky’s). Plus, will be interesting to see if there’s any kind of crowd increase for Millepied now after all the fanfare. Also SLSG favorite Tyler Angle is debuting in Mozartiana.

Friday night, January 21st 8 p.m.
Sara Mearns will debut in Concerto DSCH. Also showing are Robbins’ well-loved Dances at a Gathering, and Walpurgisnacht again.

Saturday, January 22nd, all day.
It’s an all-day celebration of George Balanchine, in honor of his birthday. In addition to the regular matinee and evening performances (all Balanchine of course), there’s a movie at 10:30 a.m., a studio talk in the afternoon, and a performance by students at the School of American Ballet at 6 p.m. The movie, studio talk and performance by SAB students are all free but require tickets. Everything takes place in the Koch Theater at Lincoln Center. For more info on the Saturday events, click on the link below.

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Natalie Portman’s Black Swan Golden Globe Acceptance Speech

Did you guys watch last night? I thought she looked radiant, and her speech was really sweet. She seemed genuinely happy about both the film and her personal life. She still seemed to be in a state of blissful shock about the latter. I found the part where she reminded the audience about Benjamin Millepied’s character smirking when Vincent Cassel’s character asked him if he would sleep with Portman’s black swan, then said, “see – he’s a good actor because he really does want to sleep with me!” sweetly innocent, though I can imagine some might have thought it a bit crass or childish. Millepied to me looked a little out of his element though. He looked uncomfortable when the camera focused on him.

Some dance fans on Twitter noted that Portman thanked everyone involved in the film but the dancers. I think that’s more of a testament to the fact that this wasn’t really a dance film – the other dancers had the relevance and necessity of extras – than to any forgetfulness on her part.

Dance film or not, I’m glad she won. I think she was by far the best of the actresses nominated in her category.

And did you guys see Jackie Reyes sitting next to Aaron Sorkin! I know one person did! I guess she’s no longer with ABT though; she’s now a student at Columbia. I wonder why she left ABT. Though she was in the corps she always stood out to me and she was only 24 and had time to work toward a promotion…

I’m also glad The Social Network won so many awards, including the biggest – best film. I think it had the most reach and breadth and depth and importance of the films nominated. It also had great acting by everyone all around, great writing, great story-telling – everything you’d expect an award-winner to have. I wished Jesse Eisenberg could have won for best actor because I think he did a tremendous job. He found the vulnerability in that character and really created sympathy for him – that’s hard to do when your character is generally a supreme jerk. But there was no way with him going up against Colin Firth.

And speaking of social networks these days, I don’t know how many of you are on Twitter, but as I was watching I was following the #goldenglobes hashtag. I love doing that now when I’m watching something popular. I do it often during big sports games now. It’s one of my favorite things about Twitter because you can connect with people all over the country – all of the world really – who you don’t know but who are doing the same thing you’re doing at that moment. And sometimes people say very funny, clever things – especially during a big celebrity fest like this.

Anyway, Twitter puts the “top tweets” on a given subject at the top of its hashtag list. These are usually – or have been in the past – the tweets that have been the most re-tweeted. This is a way of rewarding the funninest, wittiest tweets on something, or a tweet that has resonance to many – people re-tweet and those tweets rise to the top of the list. Well, last night as I was following along on the hashtag, all of a sudden a tweet by Paramount was suddenly planted at the top. And it was obviously an advertisement for one of their films. It wasn’t a tweet that was clever or funny and had been re-tweeted. I assume the studio had purchased it as ad space from the Twitter execs. That’s what it seemed like anyway. And then several tweets like that started appearing at the top of the hashtag list. If you were reading on a cell phone with a small screen, you had to do some real scrolling down every time you refreshed the page to see the newest tweets.

After a while it became annoying and I just stopped following the hashtag. It really kind of saddened me though. What would Mark Zuckerberg say? According to The Social Network, at first he didn’t want advertising on Facebook because he thought it would ruin it by being too intrusive, not to mention corny. And he was right. But at least on Facebook the advertisements don’t interfere with your ability to use the site for what it’s for – to socialize.

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Sample Sunday: Poison Ivy

For this week’s #SampleSunday, here is a passage from chapter four of Swallow, entitled “Poison Ivy.” (For a synopsis of the novel, go here).


Poison Ivy

I met her the following Friday night. Stephen had an alumni cocktail party at the Harvard Club in midtown. I’d only been a couple of times with him, and I really didn’t like the place. The people seemed so arrogant and could talk only about their undergraduate days, even the ones who graduated at the turn of the century — last one, that is. When Stephen would introduce me to someone and they’d ask where I went to college — and they always did — they’d look at me like I was mildly retarded when I answered. And then they’d look at him with these quizzical smiles, like they couldn’t understand what one of their ilk was doing with someone so mentally challenged.

Friday’s mixer was special: a childhood friend of Stephen’s, Alana, had just moved back to town from Oxford, where she’d been studying for an advanced law degree. I didn’t know what to expect. Most of his female friends, family members, and former girlfriends whom I’d met were smart, sophisticated, glamorous, and wealthy with posh educations. In his twenties and early thirties, Stephen was, as he said, “rather female identified,” in that he just had a knack for getting along well with women, and thus couldn’t help remaining good friends with his girlfriends after they ceased to be romantically involved. He didn’t so much have classic good looks as he did this combination of commanding-voiced virility, intellectual sophistication, worldly charm, and older-man protectiveness that seemed to attract women. I wasn’t sure whether Alana was a former girlfriend or a friend. When I asked him, he laughed and said they were like brother and sister and not to worry.

Thankfully, I’d managed to rope my best friend from law school, Samia, into the evening’s shindig. Her fiancé, Roger, was an alumnus of the school, so it worked out perfectly. I hadn’t seen much of Sami lately; she’d graduated a year before I did and had been doing a women’s rights fellowship at Georgetown, but, in a shocking 360-degree turn, moved to New York in the fall to work for a big firm. Since she began the firm job, I’d since seen her all of about twice.

Stephen found us a table smack in the center of the room, smack in the center of attention. One look at the platters and I didn’t even want to think of eating. Nearly apple-sized sushi rolls, grapefruit-sized dumplings, a mangled web of snaky noodles labeled “vegetarian.” But nothing for non-solid-eating nutters. I ordered a Merlot. Heavy reds usually filled me up.

“What do you want to eat?” Stephen asked.

“I’m not hungry.”

“Oh c’mon,” he laughed. “They’ve got soft-shell–”

“No,” I snapped without meaning to. I did like the rainbow sushi rolls — the ones filled with soft-shell crab, which they had in abundance. Normally I would have rushed the table, ecstatic to be there before the crowd, to load up.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m just … kinda nervous.”

Stephen frowned. He knew I felt uncomfortable here, but couldn’t understand why and hated that I did. I worried it was going to cause some friction, but fortunately she arrived just then, or I should say, made her grand entrance.

“Oh my gaaawd! Stevie!” she screamed out, gliding toward us.

She had long, silky blonde hair, which she wore parted practically all the way to her left ear and which would have covered the entire right side of her face if she didn’t repeatedly fling it back. The fling was quite extravagant too: she dipped her head till her chin touched her chest, then with one swift motion swung it up and over until her forehead nearly grazed her back, golden strands cascading. She was tall, with bronzed skin, and wore a champagne-colored silky dress with high-heeled sandals and a blood-red Pashmina — same basic color as mine but a much richer sheen, as it was, unlike mine, most definitely not a discount. She came with an exotic-looking man who had olive skin and jet-black hair, pulled back into a short ponytail at the nape of his neck.

“Oh my gaawwd,” she howled again, throwing the shawl over the back of the chair next to Stephen, thus revealing her quite voluptuous frame — particularly so up top. The sheerness of her dress and its light color revealed two rather pointy nipples. I was dressed in a black suit which now resembled a nun’s habit.

“I can’t fucking believe it,” she hooted, emphasis on the ‘fucking,’ as she plastered a cherry outline of her lips on each of Stephen’s cheeks, peering over each of his shoulders at me.

“It has been a while,” Stephen said, with a cocked smile.

“Too fucking long, baby, too fucking long.”

She had a way of saying ‘fucking’ that made it seem like she wasn’t just using it as an adjective.

“Whew,” she said, plopping down, her D-cups doing practically a full foot-high jounce. “Oh my gawd,” she said once more. “This is Costa, my good friend from Oxford.” She smacked him, rather hard, on the thigh. “Costie, Stephen, my best best friend from home, from Harvard, from life.”

I was beginning to wonder whether she was on something.

“And this must be the Sophie I’ve heard so much about,” she said, frowning slightly at my suit jacket, buttoned practically all the way up to my chin. I self-consciously undid the top button.

“This would be she,” Stephen smiled, putting his arm around my waist as I moved forward to shake Alana’s hand.

“Hello,” Costa said rather demurely with an accent I couldn’t really place.

“Now Sophie,” Alana smacked the table with her hand making her boobs bounce again. “Tell me all about yourself.”

“Well, um…” I hated being asked open-ended questions about myself. “Um Stephen and I met in school … I mean while I was in law school …”

“Right, at Yale. Stevie was afraid he wouldn’t be able to hack law school, so he had to go somewhere that had a no-ranking policy. Too bad,” she said cocking her head and making a faux pout. “Didn’t get the benefit of a real education.”

I began to feel about two feet tall when she burst out laughing, Stephen laughing with her. I then remembered the Harvard and Yale rivalry thing and realized she was joking.

“I stayed at Harvard for my J.D.,” she went on, “I mean after traveling first in Asia then Africa for a year, did a clerkship in the Ninth Circuit, came to New York for a job at Freedes Wyne, who sent me to Oxford for my L.L.M., and now here I am, back in Freedes’ head office to make youngest female partner,” she said in one breath, followed by a full-force hair flip that landed a few strands in the martini glass of the man passing behind her at the moment.

At first he didn’t notice and continued walking, her wet ends trailing along with him, in the glass. But a second later, when she clearly felt the pull, she turned around and said, “Hey!” now calling the guy’s attention to his sullied drink.

“God, you look a certain way and every man thinks it’s his prerogative to just reach out and take a part of you,” she shouted more than loudly enough for him to hear, upon which I, being in his line of vision, was the recipient of his angry glare. Costa and Stephen looked bemused but entertained.

“Oh wow, um, and, um, do you like your firm?” I asked stupidly, trying to calm her and avoid a scene with martini guy.

But, thankfully, I spied just then a petite, multi-pierced-eared woman with bouncing black curls, pulling behind her a small, red-haired, bespectacled man.

“Samia, Roger!” I cried, flailing my arms about madly.

She cantered over, black mane and fiancé flying behind her. When she reached me, she left what I can only imagine by her lipstick to be bright red implants on each of my cheeks similar to those left by Alana on my fiancé’s. I wasn’t sure whether I’d ever get used to the East Coast kissy kissy culture. Out West, we just said, “hey” in greeting.

“Hi, hi, hi,” Sami chirped, sweetly trying to direct her smile to everyone simultaneously as I nervously made introductions. “Did you go to Harvard?” she asked Alana, who nodded. “Oh, well, I’m Holyoke Yale,” Sami continued, extending her hand. “And he’s Harvard Hopkins Princeton,” she said swinging her arm at Roger, smacking him in the chest with the back of her hand. Sami always kind of babbled when she was nervous; she must have thought it would be fitting here to introduce people by their alma maters.

Hmmm,” Alana laughed, looking at Stephen quizzically as if for interpretation.

“Are you at Lord Pniphken?” Samia asked.

“No, I’m not at Stevie’s firm,” Alana said, looking at Stephen with a somewhat wicked grin that I didn’t like one bit. Perhaps her definition of a sibling-like relationship was different than his. “I’m at Freedes Wyne.”

Her eyes were still focused on my fiancé, who was sitting back in his chair now, seemingly mesmerized by her. He must have caught my glance in his periphery, because he reached for my hand and gave my palm a lovable squeeze, but still without taking his eyes from her.

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Imagine Edward Gorey in Fur Coat and Sneakers, Nightly, at NYCB

I met this writer, A.N. Devers, at a party last week, and when she enthused about a piece she wrote recently for the Paris Review about a favorite writer of hers, the late Edward Gorey (in photo above, from Squidoo) and his fur coat collection, I made a mental note to find it on the web. I’d forgotten, but just remembered to look for it this morning. It’s a sweet piece about her attending a recent auction of his furs where she was determined to hold her own amongst the seriously seasoned bidders and, despite her comparably meager bank account, get herself a coat.

She also mentions that Gorey (who was best known as an illustrator) often attended New York City Ballet – decked out in fur coat and Converse sneakers. This was during the 70s, when, according to some quick internet research I did, he was well known at the ballet, was quite the eccentric, and knew Balanchine. He even wrote and illustrated a book about NYCB, The Lavender Leotard.

(top image from the Winger, bottom two from StoryCulture)

Actually, he wrote a couple books about the ballet.

He also created a poster:

(image from Chisholm online gallery)

He supposedly so loved NYCB he was there every night. He must have been quite the figure in those full-length furs and tennis shoes. Kind of sounds like something out of a Jonathan Ames novel. But this was all in the 70s. Sometimes I really feel like I’m in NYC in the wrong era

Anyway, just found all this interesting and thought I’d share. Is there anyone here who remembers him?

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Is Millepied a K-Fed or a Baryshnikov?

I’ve seen a good number of articles like this one popping up on various celebrity gossip blogs, contending that Benjamin Millepied poked holes in his condoms and is basically just after Natalie Portman for fame and money – I guess like Kevin Federline arguably was with Britney Spears. Millepied has always seemed kind of like a romantic, like a Balanchine, always falling for his muses, so it didn’t really faze me when I heard he was dating the latest ballerina he’d choreographed on. Of course I don’t know him, and everything on those blogs is hearsay. I’m more interested in the public perception though.

I’m just wondering if anyone remembers well the Baryshnikov era. Was Baryshnikov similarly attacked for impregnating Jessica Lange? I was a very small child when that all happened but it seemed like the public just adored him, the two of them together. Or maybe that was just me lost in my little girl ballerina dreams. Actually, come to think of it, I don’t remember when the two first became a couple; I have no memory of him until they’d already split and I was terribly jealous of their beautiful daughter because she got to go to the White Nights premiere with her father in Hollywood. Anyway, if he was perceived differently, I wonder what is different.

In other Hollywood/ballet gossip, Aaron Sorkin is allegedly dating ABT’s Jacqueline Reyes.

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Giselle Live-Streamed into Theaters – This Time by the Bolshoi and the Royal

A reminder that Emerging Pictures will be live-streaming two different productions of Giselle into movie theaters around the world in the next couple of weeks.

On January 19th, the Royal Ballet’s production will be live-streamed from London, and on January 23rd, the Bolshoi’s will air live from Moscow.

If you’re in New York, the showing on the 19th is at 2:30 p.m. at the Manhattan Big Cinemas. It will also be shown later that evening at 7:00 p.m. at Symphony Space (the latter showing will obviously be recorded from earlier in the day).

On January 23rd, the showing in New York will be at the Manhattan Big Cinemas at 11:00 a.m.

If you’re outside of New York, check the website for times and theater locations near you.

Above photo of the Royal Ballet’s Giselle, taken from the Ballet in Cinema website.

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Jittin’ Genius

My favorite from last night’s Live to Dance semifinal. I hadn’t heard of jitting, which he described as a more modern version of the jitterbug of the 50s. To me it looked like original break dancing or krumping without the attitude, but the jitterbug connection makes sense. I loved it. I hope America votes him into the finals.

I wasn’t so in love with the child ballroom duo. Whenever anyone dances to The Beat I just can’t keep from thinking of Yulia Zagoruychenko and her old partner Max Kozhevnikov and whatever’s before me just pales in comparison. Their legwork and some of the partnering was sloppy. I know they’re kids but I’ve seen much better at ballroom competitions.

I am glad the public voted the ballet dancers – White Tree Fine Art – into the semis for next week.

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Jacob’s Pillow Announces 2011 Season With Highlights Including Annie Liebovitz Exhibit and POB

Jacob’s Pillow, the summer dance festival that takes place in the Berkshires, has announced this year’s season. Highlights (to me) include a summer-long dancer photo exhibit by Annie Liebovitz and the Paris Opera Ballet. I don’t have much time to write today, so am including the whole press release here. Click on the link below to view it.

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“Giselle Revisited” Live Chat

So did anyone here participate in yesterday’s live chat? I thought it was a tremendous success, especially since it was the first time the Guggenheim had done it. At one point, there were 364 participants, which the Works & Process people noted was a larger audience than could fit inside the Guggenheim’s actual auditorium. It was fun to see some familiar names from the past – several Winger bloggers, old Winger message board members, and some new dance Twitterers. One commenter (chatterer?) said, it was nice to be able to “talk” throughout the performance, as well as snack! I agree!

If you missed it, the program is archived here in its 90 minute entirety – so have a look.  Peter Boal, Doug Fullington, and Marian Smith from Pacific Northwest Ballet talked about where they found the original sources for Giselle – the choreography and the music, and how they reconstructed it. Boal noted this is the first time an American company has attempted to mount a production of the work as it was originally done in 1841. I found the music section most interesting – the music sounds exactly like the action or the words the characters would speak – as well as of course the dancing. One thing I found fascinating was how the original choreography called for dancing that was much faster, though much closer to the ground. So lots of small jumps instead of high leaps. But some of this crazy fast choreography (that one dancer even had a hard time doing) illustrates that there was once another kind of virtuosity than we’re familiar with today. The longer, higher leaps we see so much of today are, Boal said, the Bolshoi’s influence.

All four dancers were excellent. I’d seen Carla Korbes, James Moore, and of course Seth Orza before, but never Carrie Imler, and she really amazed me. She was one of the few who could actually pull off all those insanely fast steps. I must see more of her.

The full production will take place in Seattle in June. How nice would it be if PNB could live-stream that too?

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Swan Lake Samba Girl Wordle

I found this website on Galley Cat and of course had to try it out using my own blog’s RSS feed. Because it’s only the middle of the night and I really don’t need to be sleeping or anything… Sometimes not being able to tear myself away from the internet is a real sickness… Anyway, if you have a blog with an RSS feed, or any other kind of text (like, from a book), you too can make a Wordle word-picture!

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Don’t Forget About the Guggenheim Live-Stream Later Today

Just a reminder that this evening at 7:30 EST you can watch for free the Guggenheim’s Works and Process discussion of Pacific Northwest’s new Giselle, and participate in a live chat. See my earlier post for deets.

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Jim Carrey as “The Black Swan” on SNL

How much do I love this?! Did you guys see it last night? I hardly ever watch Saturday Night Live anymore, but I kept the TV on after watching the Jets game (go Jets!!!). And I was so glad I did because not only do I love Jim Carrey (and think it’s a travesty he wasn’t nominated for a Golden Globe for I Love You Phillip Morris) but of course I would have missed this most excellent parody. Of course the film is almost a parody of itself anyway (imo) … but we’ve already had that discussion.

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“Live to Dance” Premiere

So what did you guys think of Paula Abdul’s new show, which premiered mid-last week? For people who missed it, it was basically “just” the auditions, but I put “just” in quotes because it seems like this is going to be a rather large part of the show. If I understand correctly, next week will be the semifinals, then the following week the finals. So, short show, right?

The three judges were Abdul herself, Pussycat Doll Kimberly Wyatt, and music / dance choreographer Travis Payne, who’s worked with Michael Jackson, among others. The grand prize is $500,000 and will go to either an individual, a pair of dancers, or a group. Unlike So You Think You Can Dance, there’s no age limit – and contestants ranged from small children to 90-something-year-olds. And any form of dance is acceptable. Abdul said she simply wants to see “amazing people who live in their own unique abilities.”

So the standard for judging seems very subjective, to make an understatement. Plus, there aren’t separate categories for individuals, groups, and pairs – the winner can come from any of the three. I’d think it would be impossible to judge such a competition. Which makes me question again why all these shows are so wedded to the competition format. This one did kind of have a variety-show feel to it, which was nice.

You can’t really judge many of these contestants from any kind of technique perspective. How can you judge the 90-year-old woman who’d been accepted into the Rockettes what – 70 years ago, and who was just picking back up her young adulthood passion, after her lifelong husband passed away. She could barely move but she could move and that was fantastic. Plus her story – her husband went off to serve in WWII and she had to quit dance to work – nearly made me cry.

And then there was the little girl who tried out in – not sure what style to call it – very earthy-looking ballet without ballet shoes – and who I personally thought shouldn’t have advanced to the semis. She was certainly flexible (as most children are) and she could turn, but her feet and lines were a mess and she really needs training. But she wanted it so badly and she was so sweet, and how do you say no to a child?

And then there were all those groups – mostly hip hop, one from Cuba that was kind of Latin / contemporary – and how do you compare the theatrics of those, who take up the whole stage, to what one individual can accomplish on it?

And had anyone heard of that White Tree Fine Art -  the only ballet company we saw? A pair from the company tried out, and the woman said they’d worked with Michael Smuin before he passed away. I hadn’t heard of them before and thought they were decent, but may have been better if they’d just stuck to classical instead of trying to do something more poppy. I know they were trying to show Travis Payne, who was critical of ballet, calling it “extreme,” that they could make it contemporary, but sometimes that can really backfire. I do love that Kimberly Wyatt liked them so much, and snapped at Payne, insisting ballet is the basis of all dance. So ballet fans know we have at least one person in the world of popular dance we can count on!

I don’t know. I’m going to have to hold off on my verdict until seeing more. So far I think it works as a variety-style show, but not so well as a competition.

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I’m on the Lit Chick Show!

I’m very psyched to be this week’s guest on the Lit Chick Show, a wonderful Australian-based literary website, which stands for literary chicks, not chick lit :), and which has hosted interviews with people like Smashwords founder Mark Coker and bestselling indie author Vicki Tyley. A huge thank you to author and host Sylvia Massara for having me!

Check out the show’s archives for other author interviews – they have several months’ worth. And, if you’re one of this blog’s readers who happens to be an author, you can get involved in Authors Helping Authors.

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Cory Stearns Promoted to Principal at ABT

ABT has just announced via Facebook that Cory Stearns has been promoted to principal dancer. Above, as Romeo in photo by Rosalie O’Connor.

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British Ballet Stars on “Black Swan”

“You can tell they did some research. Some of the smaller details, like the broken toenails and the way Nina works on her ballet shoes [scoring the soles, breaking down the blocked toes], were accurate. And I’ve seen dancers get paranoid, just like Nina, when they miss a rehearsal and find someone else has been standing in for them – although obviously not to the point where they smash the rival dancer in the mirror and drag her into the toilet by the ankles.”


Black Swan hasn’t yet opened in the U.K. (it will in about two weeks, according to this post) but The Guardian’s Judith Mackrell invited several top dancers from the Royal Ballet and the English National Ballet to accompany her to a press preview.

They’re all, like Gillian Murphy, pretty critical of the film, calling it exaggerated and cliched. I wonder how the British public will react.

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Writers Cake!

How sweet is this cake! Last night was the annual Writers Room party, where all the books published by Writers Room members throughout the past year are honored. The Writers Room of NYC, by the way, is the oldest and largest writers’ colony in the country. A membership gives you a quiet space in which to write 24/7, seminars and little lectures from time to time, and group readings at local cafes that you can participate in. Those readings have always been really helpful to me.

Anyway, since Swallow was published so late last year, they waited till this year to celebrate it with the 2010 books. I love how they did the cover of the cake – the top layer with images of all of our book covers was actually edible.

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Amanda Hocking Interview

I have an interview up today on the Huffington Post with mega bestselling indie novelist / wunderkind Amanda Hocking (pictured above). If anyone likes to read paranormal romance or urban fantasy, you should seriously check her out. She’s only 26 and she has a number of bestselling books out.

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Guggenheim to Live-Stream “Giselle Revisited” January 9th

Super cool! The Guggenheim has just announced it is going to live-stream its upcoming January 9th Works & Process program, Giselle Revisited, a discussion with Pacific Northwest Ballet artistic director Peter Boal and others from PNB about the company’s new production of Giselle. Of course excerpts will be performed, by principal dancers Carla Korbes, Carrie Imler, SLSG fave Seth Orza, and soloist James Moore (who I also remember liking the last time PNB performed here).

The discussion / performance will be live-streamed direct from the Guggenheim beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, January 9th, at this web channel: The Winger‘s Candice Thompson will lead an online discussion, so people watching via the live-stream will be able to chat with each other in real time.

Click on the link below to see the full press release.

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Is Ballet A Dying Art?

I must confess I haven’t yet read Jennifer Homans’ acclaimed but controversial history of ballet, Apollo’s Angels. I’m working hard on my second novel and have been knee deep in prison and cop memoirs and haven’t had time for much outside reading. I hope to read it soon though.

In the meantime, I have read some of the reviews, including Laura Jacobs’ in the WSJ and Toni Bentley’s in the NY Times. The two reviews focus on very different aspects of the book so it’s interesting to read both of them. Bentley says Homans is best on Balanchine (both Bentley and Homans danced with him). But Jacobs find the earlier sections enlightening as well.

The controversial aspects of the book seem to be toward the end when Homans argues that, for various reason (but according to Bentley many of them being that Balanchine has passed and his legacy is not being kept alive), ballet is a dying art.

I don’t want to go on too much since I haven’t yet read the book, but I will say that ballet seems to be alive and well in many European and Latin American countries. I do notice a real influx of visitors to my blog whenever the big European stars perform with ABT. I don’t think Roberto Bolle, Alina Cojocaru and Natalia Osipova fans think ballet is dying and certainly not because Balanchine is no longer with us. Ballet may be less popular in this country since the Baryshnikov era passed though, and it remains to be seen whether movies like Mao’s Last Dancer and Black Swan can do anything to revive it. I’m doubtful but want to be hopeful. I think it’s more likely that Natalie Portman marrying Benjamin Millepied will draw audiences to ballet than the actual movie will.

But then I recently ran across this interview with Homans over at the Ballet Bag, a London blog. At the beginning of the post, the writers say audiences there have been dwindling a bit and they’re worried about the future of the art form as well. Which scares me.

Anyway, has anyone read the book?

Another thing I wanted to call attention to is the book cover. The top one is the British cover, the second the American. Which do you guys like better, and think will sell more books? Just about every single time I see a European cover beside an American cover, I like the European better. But maybe it’s just me.

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Paula Abdul’s “Live to Dance” Premieres Tonight

Hey everyone, as faithful SLSG reader Jonathan reminded me (what would I do without such people :) ), Paula Abdul’s new TV show, Live to Dance, premieres tonight, January 4th. Check the official site for times.

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Sample Sunday: Sophie’s First Day in Court

Hey everyone,

So for this week’s Sample Sunday, I’m putting up the first part of Swallow‘s Chapter 3. This is where Sophie (a lawyer suffering from Globus Hystericus, the feeling of an imaginary ball lodged in your throat) has her first courtroom argument, and where the ball (whom she personifies as “FB”) first causes problems with something other than eating. A fellow student in one of my first writing classes whose writing I greatly admired and opinion I respected (and who now works for the PEN American Center) said this is where Swallow really began to come to life for him. So, here it is.

By the way, I just want to thank you all, and everyone who’s supported my writing – both the book and this blog – over the past year. The book sold a total of 3,232 copies in its first year out there in the world, and I’ve been told that’s fairly decent for a first novel, especially one that’s self-published, and especially one that’s more literary than commercial. So, including the several hundred I’ve given out to readers who’ve won giveaway contests around the blogosphere and to all the wonderful bloggers and professional reviewers who’ve been so kind by reviewing it, there are nearly 4,000 people out there who’ve read (or have at least downloaded) Swallow. I had absolutely no idea what to expect this time last year – and, to be sure, I’m definitely far behind many self-published authors who’ve sold over a hundred thousand in a year – but I’m really overjoyed with the 4000 readers I’ve had – especially since, going by the reviews, a good many of them are liking and getting something out of the book. So once again, thank you thank you thank you!

Okay, here’s the beginning of chapter three:


Not Exactly Audrey

I knew how horribly oral arguments could go from having watched, in preparation for this day, oodles of them given by my colleagues — mostly by my supervisor Jeannie. Jeannie was in her mid thirties, with radiant red hair shimmering half-way down her back, gorgeous green eyes, and, regardless of what she was saying, always sparkled with never-can-fail attitude, though I was realizing more and more that appellate PDs almost always do – fail to win their cases, that is. Well, we were asking the court to reverse the convictions of people who, at least on the record, could sometimes appear rather unsavory. Anyway, the justice presiding on my panel today — grandfatherly Justice O’Grady — absolutely adored Jeannie. After she’d finished an argument once, he’d pronounced with the proudest of grins, “As always from you, Ms. Davis, excellent argument. Well reasoned, persuasively analyzed, and eloquently rendered. And as always, the Court thanks you.”

“You won!” I’d squealed as we left the courthouse.

She’d laughed. “Sophie, you’re so cute. That was actually the kiss of death.”


“Yep. What he really meant was: ‘your client’s an evil crack-head and if you think for one second we’re letting him out to spread more of his poison throughout our fine city, you’d better think again. But don’t you take it personally dear; you did as well as you could for the bastard.’” She’d laughed.

Okay, I’d thought. I guess you can get jaded with this job at some point.

I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat well in the morning regardless of FB. But I had to force myself to eat a little lest I run the possibility of keeling over with hunger pangs at a quite inopportune time. So I set my alarm for extra early to have plenty of time for the ever so melodramatic production of breakfast. I fixed a tiny bowl of Cocoa Pebbles, figuring their size would make them relatively easy, and, being a childhood favorite, soothing to boot. But no such luck: saliva disintegration took just as long and I ingested just as little.

Funny thing about food, I was beginning to realize, is that, when it took me so long to finish, I was just as full after eating only about twenty percent of what I’d usually eat. I remembered my Calcuttan bean-pole of a yoga instructor once telling Francie and me that this was the ideal way to consume in order to achieve healthy digestion, slow metabolism, and that ever-elusive but so highly coveted female goal: low body fat. But when we’d put it to the test afterwards at a Belgian bistro with Croque Madames and Dutch chocolate waffles — and failed ridiculously — we determined that such a feat must require something our American socio-biological make-ups simply lacked. Of course, it could have been our choice of food. Regardless, we resigned ourselves to the fact that gustatory nirvana never would be ours. Hmmm, things seemed to be changing for me every day…

So, the defendant, the subject of my first argument, was this very polite elderly Jamaican immigrant named Joseph White who’d been convicted of drug possession with intent to sell. I didn’t think he was a drug dealer at all, but simply unlucky enough to be in the proverbial wrong place at the wrong time. Police had stormed his daughter’s apartment to search for drugs, and he was sitting on the living room couch talking to his son-in-law, after his grandson, whom he’d come to see, went to bed. The couch was next to a bookcase whose shelves were loaded with small glassines containing “a white rocky substance” and a scale. Yes, someone in that apartment had a lovely little crack business going, but I strongly believed it wasn’t Mr. White.

But the law says he can be convicted of possession with intent to sell just because he was in a room where the contraband was in open view, even though no one saw him so much as touch the stuff and he had a totally innocent reason for being there. I argued in my brief that the search warrant said a confidential informant had been in the apartment three times and saw two black guys in their twenties with long dreadlocks weighing and packaging the crack. That description fits the son-in-law to a T, but certainly not bald, 73-year-old Mr. White. At trial, the defense attorney asked the judge to make the informant testify so he could tell the jury what the people looked like whom he saw. But the judge didn’t want to jeopardize the informant’s identity by making him testify in open court. And his testimony, the judge said, wasn’t necessary since Mr. White could be found guilty of possession just because he was in the same room with the drugs in open view. In my brief, I argued the judge’s ruling was wrong: the jury should have been able to hear from the informant that he saw other men packaging those drugs for sale. I think that would have been crucial information in determining whether Mr. White himself was guilty. He was on trial, after all, not the son-in-law.

I’d had it pounded into me ad nauseam by my colleagues that you’re not supposed to get attached to the client or let yourself feel too strongly for his innocence because you can get too emotionally involved in his plight and get really upset when you lose. Which I understood. But I also felt that there wasn’t much of a point to doing a job you weren’t really compassionate about. And it was hard because Mr. White was the sweetest, most nonviolent man and so not a big-time drug dealer. And I felt like his situation was the result of something a family member did. Like he had any control over whom he associated with by virtue of biology.

Cedric, the doorman of Stephen’s building, was on duty bright and early. He was the strangest-looking man: ghostly pale skin, no eyebrows, and could honestly be anywhere in age from 20 to 55. And he always shot me the nastiest glares — at least I perceived them that way.  Nearly made me cry when I’d met him while visiting Stephen one weekend during school, with his slow, full up and down followed by a decidedly disapproving frown delivered straight to my eyes. Of course I was a dowdy backpack-bedraggled student then. But even after I moved in and started wearing more polished business attire, he kept it up. And he always gave Stephen a polite “Mr. Walsh” address, accompanied by a professional nod, but never a greeting for me. Not that I’d want him calling me “Ms. Hegel” though; I’d feel so silly I’d surely laugh. But I could have done without the “dear lord, what troglodyte has moved in and desecrated my building” look.

So, professional and polished though I thought I was, Cedric’s admonishing up and down frown that continued through my entire journey from the elevator, around the lobby corner and out the front glass door, should’ve come as no surprise. But it still unsettled me, as always.

Next to our building was a frame shop. Through the window you could see a huge mirror framed with brilliant gilding, where I often took a quick peek at myself to ensure I wasn’t as hideous as Cedric would have me believe. One of the first things I noticed about New York was that mirrors are everywhere — on the streets, in restaurants, in the lobby of every building.  Stephen always said they’re to create the illusion of space, which I’m sure is part of it, but I think they really exist to encourage the vanity that IS this city. Well, fully-acclimated participant in the Vanity Fair was I: I stood squarely in front of the mirror, squinting at myself through the metal bars of the gate still latched securely over the front windows since the shop hadn’t yet opened for the morning. My long brown hair was held neatly behind my ears by a pink silk scarf whose edges daintily brushed my shoulders, evenly-trimmed bangs grazed my big Audrey eyebrows, cat-eyed knock-off Chanel sunglasses looked deceptively posh, tiny pearls on earrings matched those on necklace, scarlet raincoat was as of yet unwrinkled, facial t-zone as of yet un-shiny, pumps as of yet unscuffed. I looked just fine. Cedric could eat it.

I sauntered into the courthouse an hour early. The courtroom doors weren’t open yet, so I darted straight back to the lawyers’ lounge — the supposedly cozy waiting area with couches and the like. Having thought, comfy chairs or not, how much I’d be freaking out when I was here for my first argument, I’d dubbed this the “freak out lounge.” And freaking out I was. I slinked into a couch cushion, unbuckled my briefcase, and began reading my already memorized outline.

Nearly an hour later, the bailiff popped his ruddy face into said “freak-out lounge” to say  the courtroom doors were now open and calendar call was in fifteen. I decided to sit in the front row, where I had an ideal preview of which justice would sit in which elephantine black chair, as indicated by their nameplates. I’d seen everyone on this panel before, except newly appointed Justice Adele Parks, who, according to the nameplates, would sit second from left. I began another read-through of my outline, when I saw Jeannie breezing over, all confident smiles.

“Hiya,” she said patting my shoulder. “How ya doin’?”

“Ugh, Okay,” I said rolling my eyes. “Nervous.”

“You’re gonna be great. I know it, you know it,” she laughed, shaking her head at my absurdly over-highlighted outline. “I’m going to sit in back. Pretend I’m not there. You’re gonna knock ’em dead,” she said, giving my shoulder one final pat, before skating off.

“All rise, all rise,” the bailiff cried, and I felt like I was going to lose the few Cocoa Pebbles I ate.

The justices glided in in their flowing black capes. There was wizened Justice O’Grady first, followed by short, bald, angry-looking Justice Boyd, then haggard Justice McKinley, who appeared to have just climbed out of bed, and lastly Parks, the only woman on my panel, who I was hoping would be a liberal, underdog-sympathizing ally, even if her sympathy was for the new, nervous female lawyer. She had batty eyelashes, flowing black hair, a flawlessly lipsticked mouth, and was about fifty years younger than the others.

“People versus Joseph White,” O’Grady hollered before I could even take a breath and brace myself.

I walked to appellant’s podium, careful not to trip over nothing — like my own feet — not because I’m usually clumsy, but weird things seem to happen when I sense a plethora of eyes on me. The Manhattan Assistant District Attorney, ADA Claudia Gromes — a fiftyish woman with grayish brown hair tied into a taut bun, and dressed in a matronly navy suit, approached the podium next to mine, looking very unafraid, very serious, very mature. I hoped I wasn’t too much of a contrast. All butter-fingers, I fumbled a bit with my outline before getting it into position on the podium, then looked to Justice O’Grady for his “Thou Shalt Begin” cue. He nodded.

“May it please the Court.” My voice was shaking but not as badly as I’d expected. “I am Sophie Hegel, from the New York City Public Defender’s Office, and I represent appellant Joseph White.” So far so good.

I began my argument, trying to space my words and look into the justices’ faces, unnerving though they may be. Boyd, whose feet couldn’t reach the floor nor head the headrest, spun around repeatedly in his mammoth chair. McKinley couldn’t curtail continual wide-mouthed, tonsil-revealing yawns. And O’Grady remained face-down, looking into an open notebook, head resting in open palm, a pen in hand, appearing to be completely immersed in a doodle.

I was becoming dejected over how uninterested they seemed in my client’s case when Parks pounced.

“Counselor, a C.I. only need testify if his testimony is pertinent to the ultimate issue in the case.”

Her voice was so loud and authoritative, so final. She seemed to glare at me. I wondered what I’d done.

“Well, here the infor…” I began.

Suddenly I felt him, FB, raising his knuckly little head. This was the first time I’d sensed him when not eating. It confused me.

“Excuse me. I’m sorry,” I said. “Uh, in this case, the informant’s testimony would have been probative of whether other people had dominion and control…” My voice was weakening.

“No, no, counselor,” Parks blasted. “The test is whether the C.I.’s information is probative of the ultimate issue – which is whether your client had constructive possession of the drugs that were found, after all, right in front of him.”

Okay, female judges are not more sympathetic. I succumbed to a stupid stereotype.

“Well, Your Honor…” I said hoarsely, struggling to force words out around FB. “This goes to the ultimate issue, which is appellant’s possession. If others were seen packaging the drugs on other dates, then he didn’t have…” I realized I was talking loudly, but I had to get the words out.

“We’re not talking about other dates. We’re talking about on this date, the date on which your client was arrested, on which date he was found by the police to be within a number of inches from a bookcase containing — containing what? Dostoevsky?” A snicker emanated from the back of Boyd’s chair, which in its current rotation, was presently facing the back of the room.  “Shakespeare?” she continued. Laughs now from the courtroom audience. O’Grady’s face sank deeper into his hand, and he shook his snowy head. I felt my face redden. “No. Containing what? Containing five entire shelves of crack, another of empty Ziplocs and a scale. The jury can find your client constructively possessed the drugs by testimony regarding the amount of space between him and the contraband.”

I couldn’t believe she was so hostile, even using sarcasm, in court. I opened my mouth, trying to ignore FB’s pulsing, hoping he’d let me get through this. “Um, well it was…” I was still hoarse. “The testimony was…” I had to get the words out. “RELEVANT,” I unintentionally shouted, “to whether…”

“But counselor, the test isn’t simple RELEVANCY.”

Oh no, the way she highlighted the last word indicated she thought I was challenging her by raising my voice.

“It’s whether it’s PROBATIVE of the ULTIMATE ISSUE,” she continued. “We can’t allow our C.I.s’ confidentialities to be compromised for any little reason. The term ‘confidential’ means something, does it not?”

More stifled laughs from behind me. She was so angry, seemed to take this so personally. And I was becoming the same. Someone’s freedom wasn’t just “any little reason.”

“Yes, Your Honor, but…” I squeaked, sounding like a child’s squeezable doll, which is exactly how I felt.

“Counselor, we have your argument. We’ll take it under advisement. Please be seated,” O’Grady said, now peeking up and looking exhausted.

I knew you weren’t supposed to keep talking after the presiding judge told you to sit. I obeyed, feeling dumb, powerless, and deeply sorry for having botched Mr. White’s case.

“Thank you, Your Honors.” I tried to smile. O’Grady gave me a conclusive nod. I could already see the written decision affirming Mr. White’s conviction, Parks authoring.

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