Only the Swans Prevail

Last week I took B-cat to see Coastal City Ballet‘s retelling of Swan Lake at Vancouver Playhouse. Compared with Europe, all ballets and operas in Vancouver are expensive, but Coastal City — being a pre-professional company — is the most affordable option here for classical (story) ballets.

That said, they never seem to have nice costumes. I usually attend their performances with S, and her first remark when the topic comes up is always:

They always dance in T-shirts and pants.

Well, S had to work that day, so she missed seeing Prince Siegfried in tights! And prince boots! The other dancers, though, still look as if they raided some five-year-old’s dress-up box.

Here’s an idea of the group composition in more than one scene:

  • Three men in modern dress shirts and pants
  • Two dancers in lamé ’80s clubwear
  • A handful of women in cheap ballet class dresses or those sundresses with legs (?)
  • One guy all in mesh
  • One guy in an elaborate Romeo shirt and khaki trousers
  • Too many people mixing pieces spanning all eras

It’s even part of the story this time — Siegfried’s entourage finds a chest of clothes in a castle, etc. — but only draws attention to how badly dressed they remain when the story doesn’t require it (and made for awkward on-stage changing). And the corps is more mismatched than their wardrobe. They extend their legs to different heights, wobble when they need to hold still, and fall out of pirouettes or jumps, unable to finish properly. It doesn’t look like they even rehearsed in the same room.

What happened, CCB?

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Maybe it’s bad for their morale that Sakura Inoue and her friends have pretty pancake tutus. As Odette the girl, Inoue is truly regal, i.e. proud, patient, and without arrogance. She dances beautifully. As the swan, she’s more bird-like and expressive than any I’ve seen. The cygnets, too, have surprising energy and perfect coordination; most professional ballerinas don’t manage to be as uniform as these four.

As for the men, what little Diego Ramalho’s Siegfried lacks in technique he makes up for in acting, and vice versa for his buddy (I think… For some reason the programme lists everyone alphabetically, making identification difficult). And poor Rothbart (Tyler Carver) may be the worst dressed, but he is flawless — turns out he’s a guest artist from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

It’s the really good dancers that keep this from becoming a disappointing experience. I wish B-cat’s first Swan Lake were better, but we’d definitely want to see Inoue in other lead roles in the future.

P.S. More than half of the dancers are non-white — how West Coast is that?

Coastal City Ballet’s next production is Swan Lake on June 10 (sold out, it appears).

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He Sees Me Rollin’

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On Feb. 13, I took B-cat to the Richmond Animal Protection Society Valentine fundraiser. We liked the burger buffet and goody bags, made use of the donation cupcake table, and tried the coin toss for booze, but B-cat’s favourite was the guess-the-number game.

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Cupcakes!

Like its high school/office/supermarket variations, this involved a container (an oversized novelty martini glass here) filled with candy (cinnamon red hots), the number of which you’re supposed to estimate. Instead of guessing like anyone else, B-cat the physicist sat down to serious calculation and was only 100 pieces off the total of 2950.

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Cupcake in hell

He won a pretty backpack, speakers, and a large bottle of Grey Goose vodka (from France!). We don’t drink, but he was planning to buy vodka just for making vanilla and mint extracts anyway.

This is what you show kids when they say they shouldn’t have to study math in school “because you never use it in real life”.

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Math, yeah!

 

And When is This Free Thursday

Last Thursday I saw Vancouver Opera‘s free production of Stickboy tailored to high school students but performed for adults (under 35) at a wine reception. Jillian Christmas opened with a spoken word performance featuring two poems I’d heard at Vancouver Writers Fest.

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Wine and cheese: the lavender-streaked cheese that tasted of berries was best. (What was it?)

But first, I have updates on the hellish adventure that is VO customer service. As you may recall, the story began when a rep we shall call Doreen tried to get me to resubscribe to VO by being a bit of a thug. I complained at the next opera; someone told me to email; my email was ignored. In the next chapter, someone at VO saw that blog post and told me to contact them again; my email was ignored again.

Chapter 3: Someone at VO called to solicit donations. I summed up the above as refusal. She transferred me to her manager, who declared she’d look into this and get back to me for closure. Still no word a month later.

If there was any doubt about my tone here or on the phone, let me clarify that I find all this unprofessional and infuriating. I’m glad there’s nothing left in the season but a musical and the Orientalistastic Madama Butterfly, because screw VO.

 

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The stage

As for Stickboy, the music often weakens where it should affirm the words, and at times the piece is less opera than musical. The version we saw has a particularly small cast, which inspires clever stage setup and character changes, but again does not help the sound. The writer (Shane Koyczan) manages to portray the bullying experience among boys in a realistic and moving way, however. The most effective scenes are those that speak more universally of love, e.g. when the Boy and his grandmother pass each other notes under the door, and when the Boy graduates.

So, screw VO, but read about the good things they’re doing with Stickboy in schools.

Black Hole Thursday Wash Away the Rain

A nebula on screen
A nebula on screen

For the early portion of his birthday, I took B-cat to Cosmic Nights: Black Holes at the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre. It was raining so hard he eschewed the motorcycle for a borrowed van. With nice dry feet, we saw the new Black Holes: The Other Side of Infinity film in the dome of the observatory.

The dome is tiny compared with IMAX/OMNIMAX at Science World or Canada Place, and the relative proximity of the screen to the seats always makes me nauseous. I last went for the Pink Floyd laser light show around 2011 (just before the Space Centre cancelled laser shows), when, with the music both lulling me to sleep and blasting my eardrums, I barely managed to prevent a biohazard for my then-boyfriend and the venue.

Blackhole beer pong
Blackhole beer pong

The volume control and animation are much better for Black Holes, and while B-cat and the UBC astronomer narrating live* for the evening disagree on whether Hawking radiation or white holes, respectively, are the best theory, I enjoyed the clear explanation of this aspect of our universe. If B-cat hadn’t spent months patiently feeding me tidbits of quantum science, though, I wouldn’t have retained much.

*He narrated the presentation before and after the film narrated by Liam Neeson. Surprisingly, Neeson as a narrator is not annoying at all.

We touch a real piece of moon rock
We touch a real piece of moon rock

Most of all, Black Holes is moving. It will make you feel insignificant in the best way while reminding you of the energy and beauty of this cold, vast universe.

I was holding back tears at times.

Blackhole trivia contest (from left: recipient of prize, winner, 2nd place)
Blackhole trivia contest (from left: recipient of prize, winner, 2nd place)

The night also included blackhole-themed painting, beer pong (get the matter across the event horizon!), and trivia contest.

B-cat wanted to observe the game before participating, so he missed the awesome prize of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. In his own round, he tied the person who then beat him at rock-paper-scissors (strangely, being a physicist didn’t help at that), but both of them declined the Star Trek bobblehead and let the loser enjoy it instead. Such sportsmanship!

Five kinds of cheese!
Five kinds of cheese!

Although the Space Centre phrased the ads as if there’d be free drinks, it provided free cheese and chips and charged for beverages. Suited me — we devoured about a kilogram of cheese; I even ate some of the garnish.

Between that and our being late, losing a phone, accidentally throwing two handfuls of marbles off the fabric of space-time model, and misplacing our nebula paintings, B-cat and I are just the worst.

At least, in all the civilizations that probably have existed or will exist throughout time, we probably aren’t. Happy birthday!

Moving marbles showing the warping of space-time
Moving marbles showing the warping of space-time

See Black Holes Saturdays or catch Gentlemen Hecklers mocking Disney’s The Black Hole on Nov. 26 at the Space Centre.

Full Circle (and Vancouver Opera) Disappoint with Words

Two weeks ago, Vancouver Opera came across this post (Summary: I complained about a VO rep we shall call Maureen being rude. VO told me to email them and then ignored my email) and told me to contact them. While I didn’t see the point of complaining again, I thanked them for reaching out and figured they’d finally apologize or give me boilerplate copypasta about their customer service just for the record.

Well, they ignored my email again. Fool me twice…?

For the Pleasure
Quick selfie with the poster

This previous week, I saw Full Circle: First Nations Performance‘s production of For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again at Gateway Theatre. I and all other volunteers at Vancouver Writers Fest got two free tickets, but the room wasn’t full.

[Only the vaguest of spoilers]

The narrator relives various conversations with his mother — as the middle-aged actor morphs, through speech and mannerisms alone, from a prepubescent boy to a college student — before giving her life a (surprise) ending.

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I know, I know, the play is a tribute to a dead mother, and who can criticize someone’s mother?! But as a character on stage, “Nana” (Margo Kane) comes across as such an unintelligent, unfunny (unless physical comedy is your thing) stereotype of a housewife that I was really surprised by the narrator’s (Kevin Loring) spiel about her wit and brilliance. Just because someone gave birth to you, it doesn’t mean you’re capable of breathing life into your idea of her.

As with the opening monologue, every rant, every joke, every idea is stretched too long. The 90 minutes feel like days worth of tedium and cliches. While B-cat finds the 10- to 12-year-old narrator’s vocabulary unlikely, Loring is convincing in his role(s)… except when he’s completely unfazed by his mother’s melodramatic cries about being “pregnant with [her] death”. B-cat and I both notice Kane’s numerous mistakes in speech that are not part of the writing, and I doubt Nana’s slang is period-accurate. Mentions of drawers (as in underpants) and wringers garner dry chuckles from the senior members of the audience, but it’s little more than “oh, I get that reference” a la Family Guy.

Stage set-up
Stage set-up

The ending is B-cat’s least favourite, but, to me, the only worthwhile part. Visually, it’s stunning; if anything, it looks as if the whole budget went into it, because the rest takes place on a too-small platform beneath too-tall walls and harsh, uneven lighting. I love its absurdity and its message about writers and their power or need to rewrite lives or truths, the latter of which writer Michel Tremblay handles more effectively than, say, Ian McEwan in Atonement. (McEwan is better at basic research, though — Tremblay obviously knows nothing about ballet lessons.)

Too bad the rest of For the Pleasure is mostly noise.

[Insert obligatory joke about the discomfort of seeing this play] It runs until Oct. 24, 2015.