Went to see Paul Taylor Dance Company at the Music Center last weekend. (A friend gave me tickets because I am the luckiest)
All I knew going in is that Paul Taylor is one of the big names of American modern dance, one of the original artists that established the form, and that he’s still at it, “a living legend” as the Music Center’s radio advertisements call him.
It was a program of three pieces:
Airs first performed in 1978. I liked this one, the friend I brought along didn’t, for him it was just pretty for the sake of pretty.
Banquet of Vultures first performed in 2005. My friend found this one very moving, I was crushed under the unrelenting bleakness and didn’t enjoy it as much.
The third was titled Gossamer Gallants, so during intermission we figured this one would be, like, fancy men in chiffon?
No, omygosh, so much better.
It was flies.
And I don’t mean metaphorical flies, I mean like the dancers were wearing unitards with wings down the back and helmets. Not headdresses! Helmets! Attached via chin-strap!Mounted with big buggy eyes and antennae. Rubbing their hands together the way flies rub their front legs, making these great buzzy gestures, chasing all around.
This was my favorite, not for the dance itself (although I did love it) as much as for the fact that it was made at all.
I mean imagine the pitch for this one-
I’m seeing an oval table with a bunch of people bursting into laughter and shouting “Oh Paul! You are hilar! Flies. You are too funny. Can you imagine? Ha!” and then settling down and sipping their coffee and moving on to the next order of business, only to do a spit-take two days later when they see “New Work; Flies” posted on the rehearsal schedule.
And Mr. T being all ‘I am a living legend! I will do whatever the eff!’
Also I love to imagine the fits that were pitched in the dressing rooms when the dancers tried on their helmets and wings for the first time.
And the first dress rehearsal! Which everyone knows is The Time When All Problems With Everything Are Attributed To The Costumes, Even In Productions Where They Are Totally Normal Costumes And Don’t Have Wings Or Antennae.
Man, to be a fly on the wall for that one.
I think this might be the most well-selected mixed program I’ve ever seen, in that it gave us something lovely, something intense, and something so silly it kinda takes the starch out of the other two, makes you re-see them with a new perspective.


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The little red light

Every theater in the world has one,
and here’s the one at LA’s Music Center:

That’s the view straight up toward the ceiling, the red light is at the edge of the balcony, right in the middle of the house so dancers can spot their turns.
I think I remember reading somewhere that in ye olden times that red light was a candle?
It’s neat to think about dancers checking in with that light throughout time and all over the world.

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Astonish Me

Here is a quote from Astonish Me, a novel by Maggie Shipstead, that made me smile and then reach up and dog-ear the page:

As she pulls open the door to the ballet school, she sees Joan through a studio’s big window, facing the mirror, leading a class of adult women, moms looking for exercise and for some trace of girlhood dreams. They are ungainly in their leotards, wearing slippers, not pointe shoes, and not turned out. But the sight of them is touching, triggers a gloating pride in Elaine that these women wish to do what she does.

Oh Snap, Adult Women! Did You Hear That?! Ungainly! Gloating!
Elaine is not the main character of Astonish Me, but she is my favorite, in part because the actual main character, Joan, kind of pushes the reader away. Even when presented in third person observer mode, Joan’s story manages to seem like it’s being not quite honest.
Which made it hard for me to get into this book. I read along kind of not invested-ly until about sixty pages in, when Jacob, Joan’s husband, explains to Joan only slightly in jest that she has no empathy, she’s a sociopath, and then I was like “aha! I’m not even supposed to like the main character, how bizarre!”
It reminded me a little of The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P, which featured a protagonist so repulsive I kept checking the author’s name to see if it was a man angry at women, or a woman angry at men, and yet it was set in a world as intriguing and just as insular as the world of ballet.
Astonish Me begins with the end of Joan’s career as a dancer. Joan sees the limits of her talent and understands that she will never be more than a member of the corps, so she parlays a pregnancy into a sort of honorable discharge from ballet.
Basically, she breaks up with ballet before it can break up with her.
We spend the book going forward and backward in time, putting together the whole story, from New York in the 70′s, through Paris, Chicago, suburban Southern California, and round-trip back to New York in the 2000′s
There’s a twist ending, but you will have seen it coming by halfway through the book, and you will think No, Surely There Is A Counter-Twist, but there’s not, which is ok because the real strength of this book is in all the different partnerships and pairings and balances and imbalances of power.

Details are: Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead, copyright 2014, published by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House LLC, New York, a Penguin Random House Company
Available for purchase April 8th

And here’s the disclaimer:
Disclaimer: I received a free advance copy of Astonish Me, in hardcover, from the publishers. I was not paid or compensated for my review, but given the book with the hope that I and my readers would love it and with thanks for the consideration.
So let me know if you read it and love it, Gentle Reader!


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Happy 2014!!!!

The Adult Beginner is a little late with the New Year’s post, so here, I got you this card.

You all have a four month head-start on the Adult Beginner, so how are those goals going? How’s the year shaping up?
My big goal for 2014 is to have a nice face.
No seriously,
I’m working on not making hideous grimaces in class.
It’s not easy! Those back-bends we do away from the barre especially, I’m trying to remember to ask my face to relax, and maybe even go for pleasant, instead of shaping itself into a Melodrama Of Anguish.
I think if I succeed with this it’ll be nicer for all of us.
On a related note, one of my non-ballet goals for 2014 is to learn to open champagne gracefully. I’d like to be the kind of woman who places her thumbs on the cork in a way that says, “I am looking forward to sparkling wine” not that says, “oh god, keep it away from my eyes, this thing’s gonna blow, everybody duck and cover.”
Probably will need lots of practice. I’m willing to put in the time.
Last year’s goal was to get back to being hot. Which sounds totally awful and superficial to just say right out like that, but before you judge remember that last year I was a new mom, dreaming of the day when I could get back into pants with closures, let alone pink tights.
So the progress on that is: I am back in pink tights, but sometimes I wear black leggings.
Hotness is relative, ballet class is awesome.

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Everyone loves getting stuff in the mail,

Especially when it’s an advance copy of a novel involving a ballerina and the words “infatuation” “scandal” and “tempestuous”.
Hells yes!

Review coming soon, peeps and peep-ettes.
Btw, it totally delights me to see “Adult Beginner” handwritten on a package from Knopf. Just totally. A real person at a major publishing house picked up a red pen and made that book appear on my doorstep. Probably not the same person who contacted me and actually made it happen in the first place, but still, that little human detail is neat. And I’m glad it made it through the postal system addressed that way.
Deets are: Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead, hits bookshelves April 8, 2014.

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Plz help a reader with her Pirouette Problem!

Got this email from a reader.
Let’s called her K-boom.
K-boom needs pirouette help, you guys.
K-boom says:

“I’ve been taking classes seriously for 2 years, 2-3 times a week. I am the ONLY person in my class who cannot do a pirouette. I can balance in passé, spot etc. but I cannot do even one turn. Its gotten to be a “thing.” Two teachers have said its all in my head since I have the requisite skills but its getting ridiculous. I mean, I actually felt like crying from frustration in class last night. The more I practice, the worse it gets. Basically, what happens most of the time is I “fall” out of the turn when I get halfway around. I have also fallen on my ass more times than I care to admit. I am hoping if you make this a post, lots of people will write in with advice and it will be the turning point (pun intended) of my life.”

What do you think?
I asked for more specific info on how the pirouettes are being taught and stuff and K-boom elaborates:

“I have 2 different instructors and they both do them differently. One does them from fourth, the other from fifth. Fifth is just a disaster for me. I can’t get enough “umph” to get up and around. With fourth, I do better but its still pretty bad. When we do them from fourth, we tendu to the side, go into a wide fourth with back leg straight, turn en dehors and land in fourth with the front arm slightly higher than when we started.
It is not like I am making the same mistake every time. Sometimes, I just feel tired at the end of class and can’t get up to a strong passé. Other times, I feel strong until I start turning and then I “fall out” of passé (sometimes right on my ass). So sometimes it feels like a strength thing and sometimes a balance thing. I also had a knee injury last year (not serious, just overuse) and even though it is healed, I sometimes find I am babying it–afraid to do anything that might cause it to twist/torque. Probably that hesitation is a factor. When I videotaped myself (yes, truly obsessed…) I could see that I am not getting into passé fast enough. I also do not keep the leg that is in passé turned out so as I turn– it ends up facing forward instead of the side.
The frustrating thing is, I practice, practice, practice. I have good teachers. I can stand in passé in releve with good balance when I am not going to do a turn. As I am typing, I am processing and thinking that it is a combination of strength, balance and fear of hurting my knee. Ugh. What to do…”

What to do indeed????? If you have ideas, (and I know you do because you’re awesome) please share, let’s Be That Turning Point! Yeah!

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Sidewalk’s for regular walking

We were doing waltz steps around the room in ballet class the other night, regular ones, and then the turning ones, and three things happened:
Thing 1. I was wearing a ball gown, in my mind.
It had a massive skirt, and with every slow step of the slowwwww-quick-quick that is the waltz, I would use my whole leg all the way from hip to toe to push the weight of that full skirt and all the ruffled underneath layers of petticoats, I’d push it all forward and then during the quick-quick I’d catch up before the heavy skirts fell back into place.
Also, I was keeping my weight slightly forward (with a very straight back because imaginary corset), partly so I could peer over the skirt, and partly to make sure the entire ballroom wasn’t missing out on how the imaginary low-cut bodice was presenting my fabulous rack.
Thing 2. I figured out the mystery of the waltz: it’s just walking.
Just regular old left-right-left-right, but with a count of three to confuse everything.
I’ve been doing the waltz correctly pretty much for a while now without thinking about it or knowing how I was doing it right, just doing it and trying not to ruin it with thinking, but then we did this adorable thing where we all held hands and waltzed around in a circle and then changed direction, like something out of a Botticelli, and I didn’t know what we were doing at first so I was just walking, just regular walking, and then started walking in time to the slowwwww-quick-quick of the music and then was like WHOA. STOP. HOLD THE PHONE.
Thing 3. I shared this waltzing revelation.
This one girl was getting called out, and of course when you get called out during the waltz it does not help At All, and I know because that was me all the time, I’d be, like, adding a hop or trying to sneak in another step and he’d be like, “My Dear! Your right foot! Your right foot!” And I’d be like OMG STOP I HAVE NO RIGHT FOOT THEY ARE ALL LEFT FEET.
So after class I told this other girl about how the waltz is just walking, and Dude, Gentle Reader, I felt really hesitant about even bringing it up, I mean, I’m not the teacher, and maybe she was over it and just wanted to go home and look it up on YouTube or forget the whole thing and who am I to give tips anyway, it’s not like I’m even slightly an expert, but I told her anyway,
And she was like, what do you mean, walking? And then tried some more and was like, Oh FFS. It’s Walking!
Seriously though, it’s just walking. My mind is still kind of reeling.

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