Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Midsummer Night's Avatar depression

Tonight I had the pleasure of enjoying the Trevor School’s version of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and now I know what “Avatar” depression is.

I had heard that folks were getting suicidally depressed after seeing “Avatar,” and I couldn’t understand why. When I saw the movie, it inspired me to do things, like fight in a grappling tournament (see my review from Feb 8, 2010). Then I saw this.

The play was set in a mostly bare, open, piece of floor in front of the seats with multi-leveled platforms. It opened with gentle mystical sounds being made by the fairies. A freaky figure, who we would later learn is Puck, entered, moving in a not-quite-human way and observing the audience. A character dressed in shirt and tie then entered, put on a sleeping cap, and lay down. The fairies pulled a strip of paper out of his hear revealing the title of the play.

From there, the play began. The fairies were portrayed by 5 lovely young ladies in motley leather vests, torn stockings, and face paint, contributing as a sort of punk-pagan presence to the proceedings. They served as a sort of Greek chorus, and furniture, and background, and framing device for the entire play.

The performances of the actors ranged from the enthusiastic to the excellent, utilizing the natural talents of the performers well. Notable were Helena’s ballet, Bottom’s gift for physical comedy, and Lysander’s flexibility.

The cast brought an excellent sense of unity to the world of the play. They had a remarkable synergy that enthralled the audience, making us eager to embrace the world in which they lived.

A particularly nice touch was to have Titania enter and relate to Bottom as he went through the suicide scene in the player’s play at the end of the show. It gave a sense of development, and a degree of depth to both characters, and made the play a bit more affecting than a mere comedy.

The last bit of action had the sleeper at the top of the play waking up and finding the banner with the title of the play. This represented the fact that the entire story was a dream, and gave the piece a symmetrical close.

Oddly, while much of the action was very funny, I didn’t find myself laughing out loud as I do at certain TV shows, or as much as the rest of the audience. But at the end, when the lovers had been united in wedlock and the players and done their play, when the lights went down and music came up before Puck’s epilogue, I found a great sadness coming over me. The music was a familiar melody that felt, in context, like a beautiful sunset at the end of a very good day. It was the perfect ending, but it was an ending, and we will never have that day back again.

The effectiveness of the play even came through a sub-optimal viewing set-up. The seats were on a set of particularly deep bleachers of gradual elevation. This meant that the back rows were very far from the action without being high up, and thus their view was were blocked by people’s heads. For a piece with such a strong environment, it would have been nice to be more physically embracing of the audience. Perhaps they could have figured out a way to do it in the round, or to have allowed the audience to sit on the floor within the performance area.

Midsummer Night’s Dream is probably Shakespeare play that is most adaptable to various media. Its location on the borders of a fairyland allows the production a lot of leeway to use its media. It got me to thinking of ways to do it with various movement vocabularies I have been familiarizing myself with lately.

But the fact that I will never be able to recapture the precise magic of this particular production if very sad.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Latest Adventures in Hi-Def TV

When Hi-Def TV became the standard, as regular readers of this blog may recall, I held out to the last minute and beyond (while I tried to figure out why I wasn;t getting a signal) But once I did finally embrace the Hi-Def revolution, I noticed that Channel 5 was duplicated on Channel 9-2, and Channel 9 was duplicated on channel 5-2. It was convenient because if I wanted to flip between chshows on those two channels, or the adjacent channels, I could save one click. Of course it was also a little annoying because when surfing I had two more clicks to go through that were simply du[plicate channels.

Well, now those "2" channels are now blank.

So, what's gonna happen? Are they gonna put new channels there, like 4, 7, 11, and 13? Cuz right now they are two blank black spots on the dial. Couldn't they at least point a camera at a fish tank or something?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Swan Lake: is it ballet?

A friend of mine fwded a link to this video of the Great Chinese State Circus' reinterpretation of "Swan Lake":

This is amazing and beautiful, but is it dance? Is it ballet? There is little chemistry between the two dancers and there is almost no storytelling at all, it's just one amazing move after the other. In that "World Championship of Dance" competition the Chinese had a similar idea: They got the Shaolin monks to string together a bunch of acrobatic martial arts moves, but that's not really dance, is it? Like any art, dance should make you feel something more than "what amazing technique!"

Any partner dance is about the relationship of the characters and the chemistry between the two dancers. Check out these versions of "Swan Lake":

You can't help but feel the attraction and the struggle between the two lovers over their forbidden romance in the first video, and the finale really knocks you out. Every move is a dialogue between the dancers that progresses the story. It's about using the movement vocabulary and physical virtuosity to tell a story, not just impress you with skill.

Just for fun I decided to look up "Swan Lake Pas de Deux," because I understand it is a standard, with traditional choreography. I found this...

...which is another part of the story, and has a "black swan" seducing the hero. Now I want to see the whole thing because I am intrigued by the story.

I searched a bit more and found thwo more interesting versions, this one has no stage set and no chorus...

...and this ballerina is particularly expressive in the same dance...

Reading the comments is very informative and helps the appreciation of the performance and the art. The comments about the ballet are about the beauty and perfection of the dancers, the emotional content of the scene, the expressiveness of the performance, and comparing with other performances. The comments about the Chinese acrobats is mostly "amazing@! Incredible! Did they use wires?" etc