Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Black Swan

I saw “Black Swan” the other night. I won’t say too much about it, except that I loved it. But then again, it’s about a performing artist dealing with demons and ballet, so it was kind of a done deal. Natalie Portman is brilliant, and I’m sure she’ll be nominated for an Oscar. That she was dancing (beautifully) while playing a character expressing herself in dance trying to find her way into playing a ballet character is incredible; I would have had difficulty enough just being on point. To think that she’d doing all that while balancing her weight on a block of wood….

The movie is intense, thrilling. Aronofsky’s direction is passionate, and the way he films dance is full of emotion – the camera is on stage with the dancer, moving with her. When it’s not it’s intense close-up or full body to get a sense of the movement. The storytelling has a trippy feel to it – you’re never sure what’s happening. It’s apt for the madness that the character is slipping into, and illustrative of the black swan/white swan dialectic that’s set up. It’s frenetic and intimate. Mila Kunis is great as well – actually all the cast is uniformly good; Barbara Hershey especially works playing a mother who could possibly be out of a horror movie. In fact, some friends I saw it with felt it had too much of that element, but I disagree. It’s all working to put the audience as deeply off-balance as the character.

I like intense performance, though – Patti Smith, Karen Finley, etc – anyone who feels like they are going to some other place while performing. I guess that’s what most performers aspire to, but some just seem to push a little more deeply and/or hysterically. Refer back to the Ginsburg thing - ecstasy, trance, intensity - a little much at times, but can also transcend like nothing else. Dance, it seems, is one of the easiest places for that to happen - breaking free/breaking down.

Loved the movie. There’s one moment that was so breathtaking that I’m going back just to see it. I hope she wins the Oscar.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


I once heard a great story about Joanne Woodward. I'm sure it's apocryphal, and I'm sure the names change depending on who you hear the story from. It goes like this: Joanne Woodward thought she had solved all the problems of the world, since she kept having a dream that she solved all the problems of the world. Sadly, when she woke up, she couldn't remember the dream. She even tried orange juice, which supposedly can help you remember your dreams, but to no avail. Someone suggested that she put a pad of paper near her bed to write down what she was thinking, so that night she had the dream, wrote down the idea, and then went back to an assured sleep. When she woke up in the morning, she saw she had written "cottage cheese".

Insert game show "nice try" sound here.

I bring this up because I have pretty active dreams. And by pretty active I mean constant. And sometimes, as happened last night, I'll wake up composing something in my head. Usually, as it's 2, or 4 or some random time, I don't want to to turn on the light and write it down. On certain nights, I actually go pretty deeply into it, waking myself up, and convincing myself I'll remember it in the morning. I never do.

Last night, I woke up with a rhymed couplet in my head, something about a boy named Xander. Since it kept repeating, I woke up, grabbed a pen and paper and started to write on an open page in the dark. At the exact moment I was thinking perhaps this was not the brightest idea since I didn't really know if the page was blank or even I would be able to read my writing, I dropped the pen on the floor. Well, drat. I turned on the light, and managed to stay in bed while wrangling around the floor for my pen. Restful. I found out that the line I was writing was not on a blank page after all, but luckily in the top margin and actually legible - impressive. I turned to a blank page, wrote down the couplet, and then went back to sleep, stopping myself from going further into the idea. I'm getting over a cold. I need the sleep.

Lo and behold, I could not remember it this morning, except for Xander...something. Hopefully when I look at it, it will jog my memory. It won't save the world, but at least there's a record.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Big screens

This weekend, I had HD cable installed, just in time for Harry Potter marathon. Love the movies, love the books. And I usually would not sit around and watch back to back 3 hour movies, but I came down with a cold on Friday night, and so it was the perfect thing to do.

Friday night, speaking of magic, I went to see "Into the Woods" staged by Lucid by Proxy in downtown LA. It was done in a warehouse setting, which I thought worked well for the show. It was very well staged by Calvin Remsberg, and though the space definitely had some acoustic challenges, the people were up to it.

It struck me, though, again, with Sondheim, that it's almost a different skill than other musical theater - at least presentational musical theater. The voices were uniformly good - a few being excellent - the Cinderella and Rapunzel really worked for me. The performances, though, were slightly uneven, and underscored how hard it is to perform Sondheim, or at least as richly as the text indicates - these are not simple characters; paradoxically I think the solution a lot of the time with him is to just be a real person simply singing - the songs do a lot of the work. I'm sure I'm spoiled from seeing the original and loving the cast, so I have my preconceptions, but I tried to leave those at the door. A few of the performances didn't work as well for me, just in trying too hard, I suppose. It's a strange balance, the characters are archetypes, and some remain that way while others learn something and become something deeper.

On the good side, Cinderella had a gorgeous voice, and got the mix of humor and gravity. Rapunzel, actually, was one of my favorite things in the show, and the people I was with, too. She did exactly what was needed - grounded emotionally, but great timing and commitment. Red Riding Hood came alive in the second act, probably freed of the constraint of having the narrator tell her the story for the first part. Actually, all the cast vocally for the most part was spot-on and it was nice to feel safe - usually my enjoyment of a musical is contingent on feeling safe that the cast is able to sing it with no painful surprises.

I don't have the program with me, but Cinderella's prince/the Wolf was vocally a loose cannon - he certainly has a large voice, but flatted or sharped by pushing too hard - a couple of times in Agony it was just plain wrong, and just didn't go far enough in the characterization for me. He was probably the most disappointing - not awful by any means - he has a beautiful richness to his sound, but just not there. The Baker's Wife was fine - has a good voice and sounded good, but seemed just too earnest, missing a lot of the cleverness and humor - consequently the emotion of that story line was a little lost for me (though you can't help but be shocked in the second act). I didn't get that she was one of the smartest and slyest people on the stage, and that's one of the things I like about that character - and it's needed humor. The witch had a great voice, but just a little too much arm swinging, screaming, and over-pointing for me. It all stops making sense, and it feels like the actor is trying too hard. She did have a great voice for it, though. I noticed, too, that many of the cast hamstrung the jokes by being aware that they were about to say something funny. Kills it every time - good to be reminded of that. I also wanted to just find out what the costumer was thinking with the witch transformation costume - not a good look.

Overall, I enjoyed it, thought it looked great for what was probably a shoe-string, and was engaging. So I'm glad I saw it - it's not often I get a chance to see a large musical. So, yay musicals. I hope they stage more.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Showing up

I have several friends who are doing National Novel Writing Month for November, and a few people have suggested it to me. I'm dragging my feet. I feel like I have a lot of other ideas and things that I'd like to be doing, so adding another just makes me feel guilty for all the things I'm not doing. But then again, most of the job is to sit down and just do it, right?

I got up this morning to meditate at 6:10. I've been wanting to do it for a while, and then I re-read a quote about meditation that I had cut out a while ago and posted on my bulletin board. It said something like you have to give up immediate comfort sometimes for something that will give greater comfort in the long run; you must get up 5 or 10 minutes earlier, foregoing your warm bed, to meditate. Those 5 minutes in bed are comfort for the moment, but the 5 minutes of meditation will have ripples in every aspect of your life. So just show up and do it.

I haven't decided, but I also reread this Martha Graham quote to Agnes DeMille about just doing it that spurred me on as well. She was one tough lady, sounds like.

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. ... No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.

So, I guess you just show up. And the below, also from Graham, sounds like a book in itself - what a harrowing moment and way to put it...

It wasn't until years after I had relinquished a ballet that I could bear to watch someone else dance it. I believe in never looking back, never indulging in nostalgia, or reminiscing. Yet how can you avoid it when you look on stage and see a dancer made up to look as you did thirty years ago, dancing a ballet you created with someone you were then deeply in love with, your husband? I think that is a circle of hell Dante omitted.

[When I stopped dancing] I had lost my will to live. I stayed home alone, ate very little, and drank too much and brooded. My face was ruined, and people say I looked odd, which I agreed with. Finally my system just gave in. I was in the hospital for a long time, much of it in a coma.

Well, I've gotten off the train again. Always happens. Ah well. Art - endlessly interesting.....