Dance Review: Romeo and Juliet

The other night I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to see the American Ballet Theatre’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Performed at the magnificent Metropolitan Opera where classiness and thick, red carpeting abound, this was an excellent occasion on which to take in a bit of culture, and finally utilize my diamond-encrusted opera glasses. OK, I don’t actually own any opera glasses, but the guy next to me had some, and boy did they seem sophisticated and useful. Just being in the theatre at all with its sparkly chandeliers and ten dollar glasses of champagne was itself quite the treat, and combined with the music of Prokofiev, the spectacular talent of the dancers (Romeo: David Hallberg, Juliet: Gillian Murphy), and of course the story written by this one dude Shakespeare, the evening shone with a fabulousness I rarely encounter.

As the audience filed into their seats and I was leafing though the program, I figured it was probably a good thing that I was more than familiar with the story of the ill-fated lovers Romeo and Juliet. Certainly throughout a performance consisting only of dancing and not of spoken lines there would have been moments of confusion and detachment had I not been familiar with the storyline taking place. However, literary knowledge was unnecessary, for it came to pass that the dancers were so amazingly expressive and captivating that they could have been dancing out the story of Tim Allen’s The Santa Clause Three: The Escape Clause and I would have been moved. True, there may not be as many gut-wrenchingly emotional moments in this “film” that there are in Romeo and Juliet (both die at the end), but still, them dancers were real talented. The wonderful score, sets, and costumes were all features that added to the excellence of the ballet overall, but the dancers certainly were the highlight with their passion, energy, and those funny shoes they wear.

One of the things that struck me was the style of ballet that was showcased. Rather than there being immaculate ballerinas leaping to and fro dramatically and wowing the audience with their gravity defying leaps or vomit-inducing spins, the choreographer had harnessed a more expressive, flowy style. There weren’t even any tutus. Instead, the dancer’s strong bodies and dancing skills were used to highlight the intense emotional moments of this classic story, so that parts came across as borrowing more from modern dance than Swan Lake. Not to say that there wasn’t plenty of leaping, lifting, and rapid turning, because there certainly was, but the dancers also spent a lot of time close to the ground, poignantly clenching their fists or gazing into each other’s eyes. There was also a whole lot of swordplay. One grouch in the back was heard to exclaim “Too much dancing, not nearly enough prancing!” During that ever so sad moment at the end where Romeo discovers the lifeless body of his lady, he grabbed up her corpse and wrenched it around the stage, at once hugging it close and trying to recreate those moments of ecstatic dancing bliss they had previously shared. Alas, come back to life she did not. It would have been cool if he had done some of those crazy leaps with a corpse in his arms though.

In the end, aside from being fully captivated for those whole three hours, I had also learned the important lesson that ballet doesn’t have to consist entirely of tip-toed strutting and buoyant leaping. I did leave the place with one question though: “Do the male’s tights have to be skin-colored?”

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Limerick #16

One may choose to ride a horse steady,
To avoid things for which they aren’t ready,
But you’ll serve a jolt hearty,
Or be good at a party,
If instead you run course like an eddy.

Manu Chao

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Back for a second year of celebrating Brooklyn, Prospect Park style, Manu Chao and his band Radio Bemba Sound System drew a diverse bunch of rockers ready to sweat themselves silly in order to shake it to his beats. My land was it uncomfortably hot this evening! People utilized the services of their skimpiest clothing and frostiest beverages in order to survive what proved to be a combination of extreme musical pleasure and hideous bodily discomfort. The crowd was nicely assorted as it contained children, adults, dancers, blanket-warmers, and representatives from many of the music scenes we know and love, including quite the healthy sprinkling of hippies.  You see, Manu Chao and gang enjoy the smoking of a certain leafy, Funyuns-necessitating substance.

All through he DJ opener’s set the rowdiness level was on the rise, and by the end the crowd was shouting “Manu!” and clearly ready for the good (and high) times to begin. After a long, fidgety break and much premature cheering, our heroes emerged from backstage — shirtless and enthused — to an ecstatic burst of energy from the fans. I have to say that this rowdiness, and the musical performance that accompanied it, was not the sort of mood/atmosphere I had expected to encounter. I don’t tend to think of Manu Chao and crew as boisterous rockers who pound out tunes that propel attendees into a moshpit-like frenzy. Rather, when listening I imagine the quietly pleasant streets of some South American or Mexican barrio with children laughing as they play and some wise old man causally picking away at the guitar. Manu Chao’s smooth Latin/reggae sound makes both Clandestino and Próxima Estación: Esperanza excellent summer afternoon albums, and the inclusion of an awesome range of samples (Spanish radio, slide flute, the shrill wail of the Donkey Kong princess) gives them that special touch. But when translated onto the stage, I may as well have been at a punk show. Manu and band were rockin’ something hardcore, much to the approval of the raucous, sweat-soaked audience, and even the most dreamy and casual hits were infused with headbanging. All these factors and talents mixed into one giant sticky pool of entertainment.

Through it all, both band and audience made it clear that toking the herb was fine by them. Indeed, vibrant hoots and cheers were to be heard at every mention of this beloved pastime, which means about every five minutes. Everyone shouted along joyously and coughingly through mentions in songs such as “Me Gustas Tú,” “Clandestino,” and “Bongo Bong” with its clever double-meaning. This laid-back mentality shone through as Manu announced his words of hope for the future of human kind, suggesting that we fight violence with schools, and stop dicking around with other countries unnecessarily. He spoke words of shame towards “Mr. White House” and his dictator-like governing, and it became clear that this politically-conscious musician was more than just catchy tunes and showmanship. Stoners are funny.

And so, this truly was a night of extremes. Extremely severe heat and sweatiness, extremely awesome music, and extremely high fans. I think my friend summed it up nicely when she was heard to say “I like the Latin beats” Good times.

Weeds: The best show ever made

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Marijuana-related entertainment carries a bad reputation, and with semi-good cause. What with Cheech and Chong numbers 2 through 18, Dude, Where’s My Car? , Evil Bong (some movie we spotted on the TV Guide channel, probably while drunk, and decided to Netflix, but which nearly destroyed our will to live), and any of the other millions of lousy stoner flicks out there, someone not familiar with the genre might be inclined to dismiss it altogether. This would be a terrible mistake, however, as this hypothetical person would be missing such film classics as Half Baked, How High, Killer Bud, and of course the masterpiece known as Harold and Kumar go to White Castle. And, okay, I’ll give you Up in Smoke, though I have to admit that, rewatching their films these days, Cheech and Chong are less funny to me now that I’m not 15.

But finally there is a TV program that brings some dignity to the world of marijuana, and of course some daring and controversy-courting comedy as well. First of all, I should comment that the opening credits are just lovely, especially during the second season, when the theme song, “Little Boxes,” is covered by a bevy of musicians, among them Elvis Costello, Jenny Lewis, Regina Spektor, and Death Cab for Cutie. The song, originally performed by Melvina Reynolds, perfectly introduces the perfect, 1950’s-style, picket fences mentality at Agresta (the gated community in which our scene is set), and simultaneously laments its conformity-producing powers.

The brilliant cast includes Mary-Louise Parker as protagonist Nancy Botwin, Elizabeth Perkins as the delightfully malevolent neighbor Celia Hodes, and of course the ever-hilarious Kevin Nealon, who surprised everyone, including me, by turning in an amazing performance in this show. Nancy’s scheming and freeloading brother-in-law Andy is played with endless charisma by good-looking Justin Kirk, and as Conrad, Nancy’s obvious love interest-to-be, Romany Malco provides more eye candy, as well as that whole nice guy thing. Kudos as well to the fine actors who portray the children of Nancy and Celia. They all act much wiser than their years, with excellent comic timing, no less.

But the real star of this show is a little friend called Mary Jane. The premise, you see, is that Nancy was recently widowed, and has a huge mortgage and two kids to raise, with few marketable skills. So she takes to dealing pot, buying from Conrad’s sassy business partner and aunt, Heylia James (played by Tonye Patano), a character who becomes increasingly important as Nancy’s business grows beyond what she ever anticipated. Twists and turns abound in this show, as does irreverent and oft-shocking humor. There’s also sex a’plenty for those of you out there who are fond of sex, though it is always presented in an unusual and thought-provoking fashion (you’ll have to watch the show to see what I mean). Guest stars such as the always-fabulous Zooey Deschanel, whose name always reminds me of bechamel sauce, keep things fresh and add wacky side-plots to the mix.

In conclusion, you don’t have to be a pot smoker to enjoy this program, though it would probably add to your level of interest in that aspect of the show, which is actually downplayed much of the time (Nancy herself rarely smokes the stuff, so most of the time it’s Kevin Nealon who adds the pothead humor in his comic relief scenes). Even the most stiff and unhip television viewer is bound to get hooked once the drama gets going, especially anyone who likes crime-related shows like The Sopranos. In conclusion, go watch it now and keep this awesome show on the air. Why? Because we said so.

Guess Which Celebrities are Dirty Scientologists?

L_Ron_Hubbard Wiki

So here is an interesting thing for those interested in learning more about the Church of Scienturdogy (which could be a good name for the study of feces, should it ever become a college major…and if it did, Liz would be the first person to sign up for classes!).

The following link is a Wikipedia list of celebrities known to be Scientologists.  While it is neither complete nor up to date, I was certainly surprised by some of the listings.  Who knew that not one but two members of the cast of That 70’s Show worshipped The ‘Ron?  I certainly didn’t.

Click here to view the galería de cacahuetes.

P.S. Don’t forget to check out my review of the BBC’s Scientology and Mespecial, which you can watch on YouTube.  Hooray for the modern age!