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Tuesday, January 12, 2010 11:34 AM
 by Fëanor

Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.

Tagged (?): Art (Not), Awards (Not), Celebrities (Not), Comedy (Not), Dance (Not), Food (Not), Gadgets (Not), iPod (Not), Links (Not), Lists (Not), Movies (Not), Music (Not), News (Not), Recyclotron (Not), Science (Not), Spider-Man (Not), Star Wars (Not), Technology (Not), Video (Not), Video games (Not)
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Saturday, June 20, 2009 08:46 AM
On the Stage - Look Inside (plus an adventure in the Blue Grotto)
 by Fëanor

poppy is a huge fan of a local dancer named Meredith Rainey, partly because he's amazingly talented, and partly because he's totally hot (according to her, anyway). So when she saw he had a solo show, she had to go. Of course I came along. We arrived at the venue (the Community Education Center) a little early. An older gentleman saw us sitting outside and invited us to go downstairs into the basement and check out some art while we were waiting. We like art, so we took him up on his invitation right away. Turns out there's a whole installation down there called Blue Grotto that was full of little signs and lights and found object sculptures and knickknacks, all with a blue color scheme. It was like entering a separate little world. It's very, very cool. Although it was also slightly creepy. The two of us were alone in a rather dark basement, having been invited there by a random old guy. What if he was a serial killer planning to turn us into part of the installation?

Luckily, he was not. Or maybe he was, but we left too quickly for him to prepare a deadly trap for us. In any case, soon afterwards we went back upstairs, paid the entrance fee for the dance, and picked up our programs. We were both disappointed (although poppy more than me, I suspect) when we learned from the program that Meredith had just choreographed the performance and wouldn't be dancing himself. A few minutes later we went inside to see the show.

The theater in the CEC is just a tiny black box kind of deal, with the audience seated on a few rows of bleachers across the long back wall and the padded dance floor immediately in front of them (some of the chairs up front were practically on the "stage"). In the center of the floor was a large (maybe 14'x14'x14'?) open cube made of metal pipes. On the side facing us were two half-curtains, one dark and one light, both transparent. The opposite side was the same but the colors were reversed. The other sides of the cube had only one light colored half-curtain each; where the dark curtain would have been was just an opening. The dancers - one man and one woman - entered from the side of the room. The woman stepped into the cube while the man remained outside. The woman performed a series of gestures while the man seemed to watch her out of the corner of his eye and attempted to mimic her. "No, that's not what I saw," she said. She performed the gestures again, slightly differently this time, as the man continued to mimic her. "That's what I saw," she said. Then the performance began in earnest.

Look Inside is an intense and powerful piece that seems to be about various conflicting dualities: dark and light, motion and stillness, man and woman, love and anger, interior and exterior, looking and being looked at versus seeing and being seen, touching and being touched versus feeling and being felt, the real and the performed, the present and the past. It's about voyeurism, memory, and art. The dancers sometimes embraced passionately, sometimes seemed to be fighting each other in slow motion. They would hold each other tightly, then seem to strike out at each other or push each other away. At other times they stopped moving entirely and simply sat or laid on the ground. Video of the dancers performing was often projected on the cube, sometimes while the dancers were resting, sometimes while they were still dancing. Sometimes the video was of them as they were moving at that moment; at one point it was a reversed recording of them doing a dance we hadn't seen before - later they did the same piece live. There was a particularly moving moment when the video being projected was of the man falling over and over, then suddenly the video of the man landing synced up with the man's live movements, as if the recording had fallen into the present. Sometimes one dancer would point at the other for long moments, as if accusingly, the finger also turning out into the audience. Sometimes the man would reach between the curtains of the cube to try to touch the woman inside, but she would retreat. There were a few really unnerving moments when the dancers walked right up to the audience and scanned us slowly with their eyes, staring right at us. The staging, and the dance as a whole, was powerfully transformed when the male dancer suddenly lifted up the entire cube and dragged it off to the side, slamming it back down to the ground again. Later the dancers transformed things again by picking up the cube and spinning it around so a corner of it was pointing at us, instead of a flat face. Another transformation had to do with the costuming; about halfway through the dancers, who had been wearing simple, all white costumes, left briefly and came back wearing the same costumes, but now in black.

I'll admit, sometimes when I'm watching dance, especially classical dance, I'll get bored and start to drift off. But this piece was so intense, fresh, contemporary, engaging, thought-provoking, and passionate, it had me riveted throughout. There's another performance tonight, and Meredith Rainey is going to make an announcement at a reception afterwards. poppy expects he'll be starting his own company. I hope that's true, and wish him all the best. He's an amazing talent.
Tagged (?): Art (Not), Dance (Not), On the Stage (Not)
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Saturday, November 8, 2008 12:44 PM
Night Out
 by Fëanor

Thursday night poppy and I had a little night out on the town. We went to an Indian place she likes for dinner - Minar Palace - and then headed over to the Wilma to see a performance by local dance company Ballet X. I'd never been to Minar Palace before, but poppy had, and she'd described her strange experience there to me, so I should have been prepared. But it was still weird to walk into this beautiful, expansive restaurant, stylishly designed and furnished - and then be presented with water in plastic cups, and a couple of paper napkins wrapped around plastic forks and spoons. The salads were served on paper plates (which didn't stand up to the dressing that I poured on the salad), the appetizer on a plastic plate, and my mango lassi in a plastic cup. In short, all the plates, cups, napkins, and utensils were disposable. Apparently they do this to cut costs, and perhaps so they can charge less for the food. We also suspect they simply don't have a dish washing machine of any kind. But... c'mon, man! They've got to have a sink back there, and the salads at least need to be served on something a bit sturdier. The wait staff is also a bit odd; the guy we had at our table came back every 5 minutes or so to offer us more water, when it should have been clear, if he'd just glanced over at us, that we didn't need any more. It's nice that he was attentive, but he was attentive to the point of being a little annoying. When I was handing him my empty salad plate, he also pointed out that I should keep my plastic fork for my meal. Which again was nice, but... you can't give me another one maybe? I mean, plastic forks aren't that expensive.

But anyway, these are all minor gripes, especially when balanced out by how incredibly good the food is. Because it is really incredibly good. Possibly the best Indian food I've ever had. We had samosas as an appetizer, and I got a mango lassi to drink and my usual Indian dish - chicken tikka masala - as my entree. poppy's entree was also a masala, but with chickpeas. We also, of course, got a couple of orders of naan, because you can't go to an Indian restaurant and not get naan. I'm not always a fan of samosas, as they have peas in them, and peas are my enemy, but these were so good it didn't matter, especially with a bit of that tasty red sauce. The little salads were light and good, the mango lassi was smooth and delicious, and the chicken tikka masala was perfect - spicy, but not too spicy. Even the rice was excellent - wonderfully seasoned, with some (again, somehow completely inoffensive) peas mixed in. And the price was really very reasonable, considering how much food we got. So I definitely recommend Minar Palace. Just be prepared for the weird incogruity of the disposible plates, cups, and silverware.

Next up was Ballet X. We'd both seen performances by this company before and enjoyed them, so we were expecting good stuff, but this was really excellent. The first and third pieces were both incredibly tense and powerful and full of unease, while the duet in between was very light and fun, to balance out the night. The first piece was a bit tough to take, as the soundtrack included deliberately irritating vocals. It was basically a woman whooping, screaming, and creepily whispering a bunch of repetitive gibberish. I found it grating and it kept me very much on edge throughout the performance; I kept having to deliberately relax the muscles in my shoulders. But of course, keeping you on edge and tense was the point of the performance, and the dancing was excellent and beautiful. The second piece was the story of a playful relationship between a man and a woman. It was nice and fluffy and good, but not particularly substantive. The real jewel of the evening was the last piece, "Steelworks." This had an interesting soundtrack of machine-like sound effects, pulsing noises, and gasping breath, accompanied by repeating sampled audio of people talking about factories and machines. The dancers seemed sometimes to be exhausted workers toiling in a factory, and other times to be the moving parts of some gigantic machine. It's a tense, fast, disturbing piece, full of fascinating combined movements. I don't really have the dance vocabulary to describe it well, but it reminded me of Metropolis, for reasons that should already be obvious. It also reminded me of Russian propaganda films, especially works like Man with a Movie Camera by Dziga Vertov - insofar as it had the same sense of continuous, whirling, mechanistic movement. "Steelworks" is just really amazing and powerful. One particularly disturbing and effective moment I remember is when three dancers had surrounded another and each placed a hand on her, and while she nodded continuously and emphatically, they shook their heads at her just as continuously and emphatically. The sense was very much of a great, soulless mechanism crushing down on individuality. The final moment, wherein a splash of water comes in from off-stage to strike the final dancer on stage, and she's caught in a bright spotlight, made me literally gasp out loud. Really excellent stuff.

So overall, a very good night!
Tagged (?): Dance (Not), Food (Not)
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Tuesday, March 4, 2008 03:25 PM
Last Week(end) Round-up
 by Fëanor

Last week and this past weekend were pretty busy for the poppy/Fëanor household. Here's a litle run-down of some of the more interesting stuff we were up to.

  • Wednesday night was New Frontier night; see my review here.

  • Thursday night, poppy and my fellow editor from Phillyist, Jill, went to a lecture called The Googlization of Everything, which was an interesting look at the effect that Google is having on us as people, on our culture, and on the way we collect, organize, and value information. Thought-provoking stuff. We were afraid it was going to be terrible when poppy realized during the introduction that the speaker, Siva Vaidhyanathan, is the author of a book that she only got through the opening of before throwing it down and ranting about how stupid it was. Thankfully, Vaidhyanathan is apparently a much better speaker than a writer.

  • After the lecture, Jill, poppy, and I headed to one of my favorite places in Philly - Nodding Head - for dinner and drinks, where we were eventually met by Jill's boyfriend. A good time was had by all.

  • Friday night, poppy and I attended this dance performance. It consisted of two pieces, both of which had interesting technology-related gimmicks. The first dance was performed behind a transparent screen on which images were projected. These images were somtimes simply shapes or lines, but other times they were clearly digital representations of dancers' movements interpreted by motion-capture technology. The lighting for this piece was also interesting; the floor was divided into a grid, and the lighting of each box in the grid was controlled separately, with the color of the light changing box by box throughout the performance.

    The gimmick of the second dance was that the soundtrack wasn't played over the sound system in the theater; you had to either rent a pre-loaded iPod, or download the music to your own iPod before the show. The only thing playing in the theater was a "soundscape" which consisted of some voices and noises.

    Both dances had a lot of neat ideas, but I'm sorry to say those ideas weren't executed particularly well. Also, the actual dancing in both pieces was mostly uninspired and uninteresting. I found the projections during the first performance to be distracting; I wasn't able to focus on the projections and the dance behind them at the same time, and had to look at only one or the other, which was irritating. As for the second piece, having everyone listen to the music on their own iPods was an interesting idea, but in the end it just distanced everyone from the piece and from each other, and made me feel the entire time like the music simply wasn't matching up with the performance at all. In a way, that was kind of the point, as we were asked to set our iPods on shuffle, and there was only a half-hearted attempt made to synchronize things. But I still think we were meant to feel like there was some kind of pattern or connection, and I didn't feel that way at all. The last song in my playlist hadn't even started yet when the dance was abruptly over.

    The whole performance just seemed distant and cold, and it didn't surprise me when poppy told me later that the choreography was done on a computer.

  • Saturday I got to see my brother and my niece, which I haven't gotten a chance to do in a while, so that was nice. And I got to play some games, which I haven't gotten a chance to do in a while, and which was also nice. I was particularly interested in trying out a couple of games I'd bought recently - HeroScape Marvel: The Conflict Begins and Munchkin Cthulhu - and I got to play both of them, so that was cool. I'm a little sad that I wasn't able to get in a game of Diceland, but what can you do? Anyway, as far as HeroScape goes, Peccable and I tried a scenario in which I played as the Hulk (of course), and Peccable put together a team whose only purpose was to take the Hulk down. It was a simplistic scenario, but it was pretty fun, and the game is balanced enough that it remained close throughout - even though the Hulk ultimately triumphed. Go Hulk! I liked very much how the game designers were able to capture the essential elements of the characters and express them in game mechanics; Hulk is able to do his gigantic hops and powerful smashes, and he even gets stronger the angrier he gets. Good stuff.

    As for Munchkin Cthulhu, we actually discovered twice during our game that we were playing it wrong, so maybe it's unfair to give my impressions. But basically it's just Munchkin with lots of funny Lovecraft jokes, and a few new game mechanics revolving around the Cultist class. It's pretty fun.

    Peccable and I also played a game he'd brought called Dungeon Twister that we both agreed was too abstract and complex to be very fun, and then poppy, EverMike, Peccable, and I all sat down together to play another game of Peccable's called In a Wicked Age that was actually a ton of fun. I didn't think I'd enjoy it, because it's a story-telling table-top RPG, and I've pretty much decided that I'm not very good at story-telling games or table-top RPGs, but In a Wicked Age is set in a fascinating, Conan-esque universe, full of magic, and the game is structured in a way that makes it very easy to create interesting characters and an interesting premise fraught with the potential for conflict. Peccable also did a great job of orchestrating things such that the game moved along quickly and was constantly full of exciting drama. I was really impressed with all the ideas we were coming up with, and with how cool the story was that we were creating. At a certain point we had to quit because it was just getting really late, but we might pick the game up again at some point in the future.

  • Sunday poppy and I met Debbie and Tim at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and checked out the special Frida Kahlo exhibit they've got going on over there. It was very cool. The exhibit is just about the right size, I think; it's not so large that you feel like you're walking through a maze of rooms forever, but it's also not so small that you feel like you've been ripped off. Plus, there are very few lesser works here; the great majority of the pieces are important and powerful. I wasn't sure going in how much I really liked Kahlo's work, but most of the stuff in there really impressed and moved me (especially works like The Two Fridas and A Few Small Nips). The audio tour was pretty decent, too (and I finally learned the correct pronunciation of her name!). All-in-all, a very good experience. Definitely get out to see it if you can. But try to go on a weekday around 10AM, or you'll have to fight your way through a big crowd.
Tagged (?): Alcohol (Not), Art (Not), Dance (Not), Drink (Not), Food (Not), Music (Not), Phillyist (Not)
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Thursday, December 20, 2007 01:31 PM
The Most Boring Experience of My Life
 by Fëanor

The most boring experience of my life happened last weekend when poppy and I went to see the Whirling Dervishes of Turkey at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. The first part of the show was actually really neat. It was a southern poet reading English translations of the poetry of Rumi to musical accompaniment, provided by a drummer and a cellist. He was a very good reader, the musicians were very good at backing him up, and the poetry was quite lovely. It made me realize how much I miss reading poetry and hearing it spoken.

Then there was a short intermission, and the actual Whirling Dervishes part of the show began. Well, sort of. In fact, a man in a white robe came out on the stage, asked us to please hold our applause until the end, and then performed the traditional Muslim call to prayer, at a very high volume. (Someone behind us complained, "I wish there were subtitles." All I could think was, are you seriously that ignorant that you don't even know the gist of what he's saying right now?) Next a bunch of musicians slowly filed out onto the stage and took their places. Then they began to play, and to sing. And neither very well. Or at least, it didn't sound like it to our Western ears. It was very repetitive, pretty slow, and actually kind of annoying (which, we discovered later, is actually on purpose, to put the dancers in a particular state of discomfort). They played and played. It seemed to go on and on. I nearly fell asleep multiple times. But where were the dervishes? Where was the whirling? Poppy whispered to me at one point, "I think they're invisible."

But finally, finally an older, august gentleman paced slowly on stage, followed close behind by a group of younger men. (At this point, somebody behind me - I'm pretty sure it was the same genius as before - said excitedly, "Look honey! Those are the dervishes!" And then actually repeated this, as if it were not already abundantly clear to anyone not blind or suffering from serious brain damage that these guys had to be the dervishes.) They moved across the stage in a slow, formal way, bowed, and then knelt down. And sat there for a while. Then there was more slow, ritual pacing and bowing. Then finally, some whirling. Slow, boring whirling.

Poppy and I had both assumed that the whirling dervishes, who supposedly are able to turn and turn and turn without falling over because they are in a religious ecstasy, would be spinning very quickly, to fast-paced music, and that it would be physically impressive and visually stunning. Instead, it was slow, repetitive, and dull. They turned in a circle for a while, stood, paced back, bowed, turned for a while, over and over again. And it just went on and on. People started to leave, and poppy and I certainly would have been among them were it not for the fact that our seats were in pretty much the dead center of the row. When it finally did end, we booked out of there as quickly as we could.

Part of what made the performance uncomfortable was the fact that, as we realized rather early on, it wasn't really a performance so much as a religious ceremony taking place on stage in front of us. It seemed very odd to be just staring at somebody else solemnly enacting their religion. Do you clap? When do you clap? The guy had asked us not to applaud until the end, but the end of what? After the musicians stopped playing at one point, the crowd decided to put in a good round of applause, but even as I was clapping along I felt unsure whether I really should have been doing so. And then when the whole thing was obviously done, and everyone was leaving the stage, no one clapped, because there was still this slow procession involving lots of bowing going on, and it seemed wrong to applaud. It wasn't until everyone left the stage and the curtain started to go down that we felt okay to let out another round of applause - right before dashing for the exits.

Definitely a strange experience. If we'd known better what we were getting into, we probably would not have attended. We came out of the building thinking all kinds of really uncharitable things about Islam and Turkey, so if the intent was to foster better relations between our cultures, well, it didn't work out so well.

Still, it wasn't a completely terrible night - anyway, it all added up to a fascinating experience. Plus, now we know never to go near whirling dervishes ever again.
Tagged (?): Dance (Not), Poetry (Not)
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