Saturday, February 27, 2010

Parsons Dance Company

I watched this interesting DVD that presents seven Parsons Dance Company dances. I had expected a documentary about the company, so was surprised to find that it's seven entire filmed dances. Each is introduced with a snippet from a conversation with the choreographer, but basically it just showcases the dances.

Well, obviously it would be MUCH better to see them live. I found it difficult to watch on my computer. It just doesn't have the crackle and awe of a live performance. Also, it was filmed in 1992 and the video quality and style, as well as some of the dances themselves, had a cheesy 80s feel.

The dancing was still wonderful and engaging and complex and demanding. But I wasn't exactly swept up into the experience.

The dances in this compilation are: "Fine Dining" which was interesting but very, very 80s. "Brothers" which was a beautiful male duet. "Reflections of Four" which was four solo female dances, each done in water and rain. Beautiful, but a little boring. "Caught" which was unbelievable live, and interesting to see again on film (it's the solo strobe light piece). "Scrutiny" which I found so boring I fast forwarded. I hated the music, although I already forgot who the composer was. "The Envelope" which was a very quirky piece set to Rossini. It was like a combination of ballet and some weird 70s avante-garde thing. Or Mummenschantz. I liked it, but confess that I fast forwarded this as well. The final dance was "Nascimento" which was a lovely, colorful, exuberant finale.

The Flying Karamazov Brothers

Last night I saw The Flying Karamazov Brothers' 4Play and it was AMAZING.

I was so dazzled, so purely entertained. I had a big goofy grin on my face for the entire time. I just don't remember when I enjoyed myself so much.

They are incredible jugglers and very warm, generous, genial performers. It was such a pleasure being in the audience. Their humor is very goofball, but also literate and clever. The juggling was phenomenal. Tense, beautiful, and mind-boggling.

I really had a wonderful time.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Two Lovers

Okay, I'm at an utter loss as to what to say about this one. I was pretty immersed in Two Lovers, a somber, bittersweet story about a young man living with his parents who is seriously depressed and recovering from a suicide attempt. During this time he meets two women. A lovely sweet girl who is drawn to him, and who is a close friend of his parents. And then there's *that* girl. The pretty girl who is using him as a shoulder to cry on while she is in a seemingly doomed relationship with a married man.

It's very well done. Joaquin Phoenix plays the lead, and you can feel his pain, his irritation, and his love for this girl. All the other actors are equally good, delivering nuanced, subtle performances.

But, the last five minutes of the film really, really, really threw me for a loop and infuriated me. I don't know if I should say what happens... Well, since no one reads this I'm going to go for it.

At a certain point he realizes it's futile with Gwynyth Paltrow, and he begins dating the other woman. They are happy, their parents are happy. Then Gwynyth calls him when she is in a crisis. Her relationship with the married man is over. Phoenix comforts her and they fuck. He completely drops the other girl who it appears he never really loved. He proclaims his love for Gwynyth, and the two decide to run away to San Francisco together. He buys her an engagement ring. At the time they are supposed to meet she shows up and says she's back with the married guy who left his wife for her. Phoenix is bereft. It is devastating. (although you saw it coming, it's still intense).

So he cries, walks the beach by himself, cries, throws the ring in the sand... then he nearly drops a pair of gloves his girlfriend had given him. The girlfriend he never loved and cheated on. He picks up the gloves, finds the ring, marches back home and gives her the ring. They embrace. The end.

WTF??? Are you supposed to feel happy about that??? The poor girl! If she knew that just hours ago he had proposed to someone else! Who would want an engagement ring under those conditions? He just shakes off the devastation of losing his emotional obsessive crush, just picks up the gloves and says, oh well, I guess it was meant to be the other girl? Jesus! Give me a break.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Advanced Elvis Course

Part memoir, part long poem, part spiritual meditation, CA Conrad's Advanced Elvis Course totally rocks.

Basically it's notes, reflections, and poems about his study of Elvis, particularly his visit to Graceland (and some of my favorite moments were snippets of dialogues with a small gaggle of Elvis fans). Elvis is compared to Jesus and Benjamin Franklin, but really, this a joyously irreverent tribute love made visible through the poet's quality of attention. If that makes any sense...

"This morning I woke up and thought, "maybe I've gone insane? Maybe this is what it is to have gone insane? How can I be sure?" But I haven't... really I haven't. I change nothing, don no special wardrobe, no fasting, no commanding, demanding, nothing like that. I don't even care if I'm the only person who believes in Elvis the way I do, though it's a comfort to have met hundreds who in fact do, people from Israel, people from Australia, from France, from Japan... The beginning of all faith must be like this: Thought silly enough by outsiders to be ignored, and in that special place left to us, we weave the most healing magic, and understand in this beginning, how our collective force creates an egg of warmth, a cycle of radiation that can enter any one of us at any time with a simple focus on that egg and bend the force, and only for the good, and love."

The Alcoholic

Woke up pretty early this morning with a cold/sinus infection or some such unpleasant shit, and read The Alcoholic, by Jonathan Ames. A friend lent me the copy of this graphic novel (illustrations by Dean Haspiel).

I really enjoyed it, but it left me sad and somehow unfulfilled. Most of the material is familiar, a reworking of the stuff from I Love You More than You Know and Wake Up, Sir! But The Alcoholic is darker, more intimate, less humorous, and kind of painful. There is so much loss, and the self-loathing is not quite relieved. There was such a sense of isolation, although it ends on an ambiguous but possibly hopeful note.

When you read someone whose material is largely autobiographical, you really fee like you know them, and I confess after quickly devouring three Ames books this year, I feel close to him. It's a weird feeling, though.


LOVED L'Effrontee! A 1985 French movie starring a very young Charlotte Gainsbourg, it brilliantly captures the painful emotional swings of early adolescence. It was painful, uncomfortable to watch this awkward, moody, very lonely 13 year old girl who becomes infatuated with a conventionally pretty, poised concert pianist also her own age.

Charlotte Gainsbourg carried the film, but every actor was wonderful. Some parts that were particularly difficult: her relationship with an older man; and the intensity of her delusional infatuation. Also, her family is close friends with a little girl who is seriously ill.

Somehow all this melodrama was treated with a light touch, not heavy handed at all. And in the end it's a very sweet, or bittersweet, movie.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Kathy Griffin: She'll Cut a Bitch

Totally loved Kathy Griffin: She'll Cut a Bitch!

Just watched it on Netflix Watch Instantly.

Can't think of much to say about it. It's so fun listening to her; it's like you get to be pals with this famous person talking about other famous people.

I think she's wonderful.

Too tired to write more.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

I just finished reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.

I started it last week; picked up a copy at the Shakespeare and Co. near school. A former student of mine recommended it! (as did a good friend of mine). I finished it at 'Snice, over a bowl of potato leek soup and a cup of coffee. Crying like a baby at my table.

I loved this book. I loved Oscar. Oscar might be one of my favorite characters in literature. I felt so close to him, so much affection for him.

The novel goes into the lives of several characters, not just Oscar, or even primarily Oscar. But he, for me at least, was the heart of the book.

It is a the saga of a Dominican-American family, woven with history of the Dominican Republic and the melodrama of the main characters. Some very, very intensely upsetting scenes of beatings and violence. And then the less world-historic loneliness of the fat nerd Oscar...

The Brief Wondrous Life touched me deeply...

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Eugene Onegin

Just watched Eugene Onegin on DVD. This was filmed live at the Met in 2007. The title character was sung by Dmitri Hvorostovsky; Renee Fleming sang Tatiana, and Ramon Vargas (who I saw in the DVD of La Boheme) sang Lensky.

Somehow I was both very drawn into this opera and very unmoved by it. That is, I had no trouble watching the four hours and 18 minutes of the performance. I was sucked in. On the other hand, I didn't respond to it emotionally; it didn't choke me up the way Der Rosenkavalier, La Boheme, Madama Butterfly, Turandot, and Simon Boccanegra did. Part of it might be that it isn't easy to watch an opera on DVD on my computer. It just isn't that comfortable.

Anyway, Renee Fleming was great. Interestingly, she seemed to sing in a slightly lower register. In fact, I think this opera had a lot of mezzos, and maybe even a few contraltos. It was very pleasant to hear these deeper female voices. Eugene Onegin is a cold character who later feels love and remorse, and while Hvorostovsky had no trouble communicating the chilly aspects of Onegin, the warmer, more passionate and more complex emotions didn't really come out. I find it hard to believe that Hvorostovsky isn't cold and arrogant in real life. Ramon Vargas had an exceptionally beautiful aria right before the duel.

The production was very sparse, which accentuated the drama and the emotion, and Tchaikovsky's music was beautiful. There were a lot of long stretches where there wasn't any singing, just the music moving the story along, and those were very effective moments.

Oh, and I didn't mind the Russian at all.

Friday, February 12, 2010

I'm The Man Who Loves You

Wow. These poems crackle.

Amy King's I'm The Man Who Loves You is chock full of poems that bite, that jump off the page, that kiss you, that slap you. They tickle and sting.

Filled with great lines, this collection is now smeared with my pen marks.

Here's a short poem that grabbed me:

Reader Reliance

I'm making incisions across this room at the waitress
who regrets unmarked moments with each small glance
back. Platonic or semiotic, her eyes hear something.
Night becomes a gesture, a recreation room.
We play poker and ping pong and speak through the iris,
popping beats of intent with seldom-fed words.
Something moves between us, projects us in overlap
with little kid liaisons that sound the future tense.
I'm strident on this point. I stride towards an uncooked
method in you, the jewel sequestered --
now make ready the room and look directly at me,
for I"m also calling on the contagiousness of cuts.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Parsons Dance

Last night, for my birthday, I went to see Parsons Dance at The Joyce Theater. I've wanted to see them for years, and even have a DVD about them in my Netflix queue.

The evening's program was one long rock-opera piece, except it started with what I believe is one of their signature dances, Caught. This short piece features a solo dancer leaping to pounding music in pitch darkness and a strobe light. The timing is so exact that he is caught in midair leaps for split seconds and the effect is that it appears as if he's flying. It was completely gorgeous and astounding.

The rock-opera piece, Remember Me, was not entirely successful. The music was art-rock renditions of opera classics such as the Habanera and Nessum Dorma (both which I now easily recognize), and they were performed by two singers who were on stage the whole time. The music was very, very cheesy and I found the singers presence to be distracting. I just wanted to see the dance.

The dance was amazing. Yes, it had cheesy narrative elements, sort of a love triangle, but the power of the choreography was fantastic and once I got passed the cheese factor I was thoroughly immersed and am now a big fan of this company. Can't wait to watch the DVD and am looking forward to seeing them again some time.

Oh, one thing I particularly enjoyed about this piece was at the end each dancer took a bow and on a the screen behind them their name appeared. I thought it was a very beautiful way of giving them recognition and it resonated with the piece as a whole (Remember Me)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Jacob's Ladder

Jacob's Ladder is one of the scariest, most unsettling, most uncomfortable movies I've ever watched.

Every moment is creepy and fraught. The character's isolation within his hallucinogenic world is unrelentingly heartbreaking. There's no air, no reprieve, no break from the haunting decrepitude.

I had seen this before, years ago on video. I think this was actually my third time watching it. Still, I was so tense I couldn't breathe.

The movie is about a Vietnam vet who appears to be suffering post traumatic stress disorder, but the quality of his "symptoms" go beyond hallucinations and flashbacks. It's as if he's living in nightmare. Every person seems exude evil, every setting seems unforgivingly grim and sinister.

The ending is a bit comforting, and it leaves some questions unanswered. I think the first time I saw it, I was baffled, but it makes more sense now (after several viewings, of course).

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Opera on Tap at Barbes

Tonight I saw Opera on Tap perform at Barbes. The theme for the evening was "Don't Trust Anyone (Much) Over Thirty."

It featured the work of contemporary young composers which was very interesting for me, although I don't have quite the ear for it.

It made me once again realize how much of classical music one unwittingly absorbs from the culture. Because of this, even though opera was initially unfamiliar to me, there actually was an underlying familiarity with the classic classical material, a sort of vague sense memory.

The contemporary stuff I heard tonight is not quite as comforting. It was also unusual hearing everything sung in English, which was surprisingly unnerving. There's something about not understanding the words that somehow draws me in. Ironically, tonight, even though I could understand what was being sung, I didn't really listen to the words. What's more, all the words were adapted from poetry I was familiar with: Shakespeare's Sonnets, Whitman, Creeley.

I don't mean to sound like I didn't enjoy the night. The performances were fabulous, and I did actually get into the music. In fact I was riveted, literally on the edge of my seat the whole night. It was just a very different kind of opera going experience.

William Corbett and Stuart Dischell at Barbes

Earlier this evening I enjoyed a poetry reading organized by Nelly Reifler at Barbes.

I'm a fan of Bill Corbett's literary and understated humor and relish the way he invites you into an ongoing conversation with his poetic lineage.

A few memorable lines:

"Age magnifies failure" and "I always go commando deserving everyone's love"

I hadn't heard Stuart Dischell's work before, and it was a very nice fit with Corbett's. I was particularly taken by a poem about things the writer wants after a birthday.

Some memorable lines: "Should I take the rodent perspective?", quoting a former and influential teacher, "'the secret of poetry is cruelty'" and "It was death in its weather."

Friday, February 5, 2010

I Love You More Than You Know

I enjoyed Ames' collection of essays I Love You More Than You Know, but the experience didn't compare at all to Wake Up, Sir!

I Love You More Than You Know has a few extremely funny essays in it. But most of them are a little bland. Interesting, because Ames is interesting and personable, but not really laugh-out-loud funny. Surprisingly, a few pieces were rather touching and tender. I feel like I got to know Ames, and although I didn't enjoy the ride as much as I did with his alter-ego in Wake Up, Sir! I kind of miss his voice now that I'm done reading the collection.

One thing: a lot of material from Wake Up, Sir! is part of these essays, which were obviously written while he was working on the book. It was kind of disappointing to see him reuse material, but when you think about it, why shouldn't he?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


Today I saw a matinee performance of Wicked with my mother.

The sets and production value were amazing. It was visually stunning and absorbing, fun and complex.

I am embarrassed to say that a number of years ago I actually read the book, so I was familiar with this "prequel" to the Wizard of Oz that chronicles the back story about the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch of the North.

The book was much more detailed and complicated, while the musical drew out the relationship between the two witches.

They did a very, very good job developing this relationship, and it's unusual for a mainstream musical to focus on a relationship between two women. I was very moved at the end, quite choked up in spite of myself.

The music, however, was bland. Nothing really stuck in my head or transported me in any way.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Odetta Dangerfield at Pratt

Unfortunately these pictures taken with my point-and-click camera do not do justice to Odetta Dangerfield's paintings currently on view at Pratt (my pictures are details of whole paintings). Her images are beautifully rendered scenes or captured moments that have an intimate quality to them. They are at once familiar and mysterious, and, as captured moments they evoke a sense of what isn't being shown-- what happened just before this moment, what happens just after it? I guess what I'm saying is in addition to being lovely images, these painting have narrative weight to them that carries an emotional resonance.