Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Nutcracker Season is Upon Us!

Will the sugar plum fairy in the NYCB production of the Nutcracker black out her two front teeth at the end of the season? What other innovations are in store? I've been watching dress rehearsals at our local ballet theater, since my daughter is in three scenes. As she said, "Mom, it's really fine--except for the costumes and the choreography." I said: "What choreography?" 
So we had a good MEOW.
I wish the director were as mean as Jerome Robbins, so that I didn't feel guilty running down his complete lack of imagination. But the truth is, he's so nice!--took us parents backstage to show us the sets, offered me a hand as I came down the rickety stairs. Reportedly he is also a dream of a ballet teacher, and that's saying something in our little village of some 700,000 souls, where good ballet teachers are rarer than hen's teeth, and it's best just to traipse off to Düsseldorf if you want a real class.
But if the criteria is interpretation, I'd take an inconsiderate so-and-so like Jerome Robinson or George Balanchine. They might wreak your knees or grope your heinie, but they can make an audience gasp with delight.
Since I'm not about to identify the director, I might as well say everything I think, as a cautionary tale for anyone who might want to produce The Nutcracker:
(1) Pick one interpretation, not two, or six. Clara is an enchantingly pretty eight-year-old, sweet as a sugarplum, who has enough technique to point her toe.  She's a girly-girl, delighted to be whirled off to candyland by decrepit Uncle Drosselmeyer, who provides a prince.
(2) Alternatively: Clara is on the verge of adolescence, and Uncle Drosselmeyer is the seducer who makes sure she enjoys it--versions of this story go back at least to the nineteenth century. In one, Drosselmeyer himself turns into the prince.
(3) Don't have two Claras onstage at the same time--one a grown-up Clara mothering a tiny girl barely old enough to walk, let alone dance, who goes to sleep in her scallop-shell while grown-up Clara dances with the prince.
(4) In the party scene, select EITHER 18th century restoration costumes OR Punk OR Morticia Addams and consort, but not all three.  Leave out the butler tripping over the tiger's head stunt; that belongs in one place only, Dinner For One, and besides, the rug crumpled up onstage.
(5) The Waltz of the Flowers should not begin with a couple of roses flopping to the stage from the rafters, after which the tiny Clara picks them up and then is nearly run over by dancers.
(6) A massive glowing red rose projected against the wall is not an ideal background for The Waltz of the Flowers. 
(7) Vibrating lines reminiscent of discotheque design c. 1972 don't look like they support Clara's boat or sleigh.  How about real waves?
(8) Costumes: Drosselmeyer should not look like Flash Gordon. The  red lightning jutting from his head and the Zebra stripes on his cloak look great--they just don't say Mr. D. The party scene girls seem attired in first communion dresses. Must the rats, who crouch like gorillas, look like them too? Happy Halloween! The Chinese dance costumes are great, but why are the dancers wearing wigs that make them look as though they'd stuck their fingers in light sockets?
This production is saved by the music. The dancers look depressed and no wonder--they have nothing to do: the children in the party scene stand there or rattle presents; the Arabian arrives in a sling from above, flips her arms Goddess Kali-style and does a walkover. The Spanish dancer gets a fouetté or two and a then with a whirl and a balancé, she's out. 
If I were a dancer, what would I want for a director: a really nice dude who makes sure the orchestra doesn't rush the dancers--or an S.O.B. with a brilliant choreographic mind? Are these the only two choices? Great creative minds are not always known for being considerate sweeties. But surely there must be a nice guy or gal out there with talent.

Friday, October 23, 2015

True to Trudeau?

This guy Justin is his mother's son. I know they're all braying his father's name, and they haul in some grandpa on his mother's side who was in the cabinet, but that's hooey. Anyone old enough to remember the grand romance of the twentieth century--the dashing blade of a mature man with the cutely graying sideburns, chasing the lovely teenager, who was born to be wild, knows what I mean. They met at Club Med in Tahiti when she was in a manic phase. Margaret Sinclair wanted to be left to her hippie ways, but Pierre Trudeau led a magnificent chase, and when the couple finally wed--he was 52, she 22--perhaps the hound had momentarily exhausted the hare. She was just starting to wake up when she said, "I want to be more than a rose in my husband's lapel." 
Here's my favorite Wikipedia moment about the two of them:

Though the couple initially appeared to have a very close and loving relationship, the marriage soon began to fall apart . . . Beyond the normal extensive publicity that her high-profile position brought, on a few instances she made her own headlines. Margaret smuggled drugs in the prime minister's luggage, made scantily clad appearances at Studio 54 and tore apart a tapestry in the prime minister's official residence in Ottawa because it celebrated "reason over passion." 

That's the part Justin inherited. The passion. Blandly, Wikipedia catalogs the disintegration of the marriage, to the point where 

Margaret had an affair with U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy. She was also associated with members of the Rolling Stones, including Ronnie Wood, and (according to Keith Richards's autobiography, Life) Mick Jagger. Suffering from stress and bouts of bipolar depression, separated from her husband in 1977 and became a much talked-about jet setter. She gave many "tell-all" interviews to Canadian and American magazines . . . 

 But for the real fun go to YouTube and see the one where she announces, "Oh, well, Prince Charles is my buddy.  We haven't every really been alone for a single moment but, well, we hid behind a menu once--I'm the older woman, I'm a month older . . . "

Oh, she's gorgeous--breathtakingly alluring in that, as in so many other interviews. But, now that she's still a month older than Prince Charles, she's become a wiser woman of a certain age. I wish I'd been half that gorgeous when young but I still have energy, maybe because--like Margaret--my grandmother had what was then called manic depression. Doctors didn't know how to treat the illness back at the turn of the twentieth century, but when grandma got to screaming around the house, her family took her to alka lithia springs, somewhere in the piedmont of North Carolina, and she calmed down for a while. Lithium in pill form wasn't much used until about 1949--too late for her

Now, here's my theory: the children, the grandchildren, of folks with this disorder may just have a surplus of energy.  I may be perky, but I'm not so whacked out that I'd spend til my credit card cracked in half and then wake up to notice that I'd purchased  . . .  twelve snakebite kits, a taxidermized fox, precious stones. Kay Redfield Jamison, in An Unquiet Mind, her memoir of manic depression or bipolar disorder as it it now called, details these episodes. Margaret Trudeau's got her own book, Changing My Mind, but she was more a beauty and a performer than a writer. And it's the gorgeousness, this intensity that forces you to look at her face and soothing voice and complete sense of conviction, that she has passed on to her son. Politicians need charm, and Justin Trudeau has it by the bucketful. Let's see what the man does with it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Syrian Refugees, the Nazis, and the Slowly Bubbling Racism

Shocked by the evening news, I asked my sixteen-year-old what he'd heard about neo-nazis working as security guards in refugee housing. He rolled his eyes.
"Mom, what demographic likes to wear a uniform and carry a stick?"
Young men who post on their Facebook pages--Sagt Nein zum Heim--say "no" to the home for refugees--feel invigorated by statements like "Keep Germany White." They crack skulls during their spare time, which is most of their time, since they're jobless. They look like good bouncers, except that they're the ones you'd want bounced.
Aren't the authorities doing background checks? Yes, but only in one state, fortunately the one in which I am living. Why only here? Because here we have enough applicants for the job to be selective--and enough budget to pay them. Those with desirable political attitudes--Welcome, Refugees!--are not, in enormous numbers, signing up to be security guards. Guys who want "no foreigners in our town! In our back yard! Near our kindergarten!" instead apply, and abuse refugees when they can get away with it. A photo of a right-wing extremist working as a security guard in Bielefeld, his foot on the neck of a refugee man lying prone and handcuffed, showed no isolated moment.

It's not just right wing guards--it's the middle class. My son brought home a story: a friend's daughter, studying a technical field, switched degree programs from the "teaching" degree ("Lehramt") to the B.A. She therefore had to take the same courses all over again before taking exams that will probably ask the same questions. The university system has a Byzantine quality, and there's no getting around the problem. She blanched when she discovered that Syrian refugees whose studies were interrupted by war will be allowed to take the exams without repeating courses they've already taken. Anyone should be allowed to take the exams, in my opinion, and I teach in the system. You'll either pass or fail, whether you've taken the course or not. What really got the goat of the young German women was that Syrians are exempt from the tiresome requirement to repeat courses, but Germans and Austrians are not. 
"Austrians!" said she, in outrage. If they can't and she can't, why should the Syrians get this special treatment?
My answer would not please her. But I think it obvious. I'll pose it as questions: Haven't the refugees been through enough? Lost enough time? Why not let them try the exams and get on with their professional lives when they pass, instead of dragging them through an extra three or four years of university courses they have already taken?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

What Can Germans Do For Syrians?

I keep wanting to answer the question of my nervous student, who wondered, "Can we take a whole country into Germany?"
Yes, and here's how we're doing it.  My local church (denomination unimportant) has a parish hall that seats around 100. So a lady active in various church groups invited 70 refugees from the recently-erected tent city, people who trekked and were smuggled and walked and God knows how they finally got here, but they did, within the last few weeks.
I got to the parish hall around three in the afternoon, with my daughter, who was deciding whether she'd play the violin. I brought my tap shoes and a chocolate cake. By the time I got there, so many cakes lined the tables that I had a hard time finding a place for mine. There must have been fifty cakes there. German ladies know their cake, believe me. Also coffee, of course, and tea. About thirty Germans, mothers, a few fathers, children, were sitting having their cake and coffee and wondering whether the Syrians would come. 
What if they had no transportation? What if they didn't get the invitation? Security's tight at the tent city--so tight that the grandmotherly lady who made up the laminated posters inviting refugees was not cleared to enter the tent city. She had to hand over the posters to somebody who, she discovered, did not put them up. 
But then the Syrians arrived! Almost all were young men and not all were Syrian, although to a man they were refugees. I counted one or two women. Once everybody was seated, the German ladies got really busy handing out cake.
The minister welcomed everybody and detailed services, religious and otherwise, that the church can offer--young peoples' groups, German lessons, computer services  . . . . then a volunteer translated everything into Arabic, and after that I translated everything into English. 
Then it was back to entertainment. A girl played the violin; her sister accompanied her on the piano. Then more announcements were made about the weather--Gee, it's getting cold here! We know you're used to warmer weather, and Germany isn't usually so cold in October! So eat cake, please, and drink your tea or coffee, and by the way, containers of warm clothing can be found at the local school at the following hours . . . . that announcement was translated into Arabic and into English.
Then came more entertainment: a local troupe did some hip hop.  That woke up everybody! The guests cheered, whipped out cell phones and took pictures.  I got up and tapped the shim sham shimmy. More cheers--then the Syrians took the stage and did some dancing of their own. The minister was very happy about all this--he wanted intercultural, he wanted everyone welcome regardless of religion, and all this was happening.
Only one or three pieces of cake were left over at the end.
Guests left happy.
Guys who arrived looking stunned, blank, and continued to look stunned, blank, through the serving of the coffee and the cake and through the first several announcements were smiling by the time the dancing was over.
So, Germans--and Americans, you too, please:  if every household baked one cake, if every church, synagogue, mosque, house of worship of any or all denominations, offered a friendly afternoon with good eats and good tea and coffee and friendly offers of help with the local language plus donations of clean, seasonally appropriate  clothing--all this would not cost anyone a lot of money, and it would make the world a happier place.

Friday, October 2, 2015

The World's Unlikeliest Couple? Fran and Kim Hit It Off

Did the pope really shakes hands with Kim Davis? (He says. She says he hugged and and thanked her for her courage.) Say it ain't so. “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” said Francis about a year ago. Has the spinning of that question been too liberal for the pope's tastes? Did he want to show the intolerant the same tolerance he's been showing the damned? The meeting has all the trappings of the illicit--both sides admit the two met, but their go-between slunk back into the shadows.  Did his Holiness hope Kim would re-join her parents' Catholicism? I'd like to think that he wants to show friendliness to the misguided and pities her, and that he thought the story would be a bigger one if he declined to meet her. Kim, who wants attention very badly got to grope the hem of his garment and dream; Francis probably sighed, asked God to send her some wisdom, and took a nap. But don't forget, he gave her jewelry: two very pretty rosaries, and those rosaries got plenty of photo ops. They're darling! So tasteful! Kim can go home starry-eyed and have vivider dreams; Francis can go home and forget all about her, and really--the thing did just end like an illicit tryst.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

If Donald Trumps, Should I Become a German Citizen?

Ask Francis Underwood. Or Machiavelli. Or Edward Snowden who, I  am pleased to see, has a Twitter account. Maybe I'll get one, just for you, Edward, and I'll think about acquiring a smart phone, too. But I still write in ink, in a Moleskine notebook. That gives me a feeling of privacy, even if people dig it out from where it's well hidden and read it, and shame on you if you do. 
Kevin Spacey has just revealed that when Francis Underwood breaks the fourth wall, he's talking to "one person, and one person only: Donald Trump." Clearly Trump, for whom life remains a game, is taking notes, unless that's too scholarly an activity for him. He grins, glues his comb-over down, and vaults back into the ring after each gaffe, leaving us all gasping and wondering how he gets away with it.
The land of the free and the home of the brave isn't America. America is the land of the NSA and the home of the rich. Angela Merkel, aka Mutti Theresa, if you've seen a recent issue of Der Spiegel, is setting an example that Americans would do well to follow by electing Hillary Rodham Clinton. Women really should rule the world, and besides, Bernie Sanders just doesn't cut it for me. He's full of dreams, and he loves to tell the truth--ambitions I applaud entirely for persons like myself who aren't politicians. If you want to be a writer, you've got to dream and tell the truth. But if you want to be a politician, you absolutely must learn to lie, and Bernie can't quite do that, at least not obviously. Trump is over the top, right up there with Joseph Goebbels who notoriously--but alas, truthfully--remarked: If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic, and/or moral consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State. And Trump is the State, the old plutocrat.

Hillary knows how to lie just enough to fix things. Bernie doesn't, in my opinion. Trump isn't nervous, unlike the other two, because he's just enjoying the game. He dines with Francis Underwood, Machiavelli and Joseph Goebbels in the finest restaurants in Hades. As he would probably tell you himself, the climate there may be warm, but the company is better than that of Heaven.