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Review of the Boston Ballet’s Performance of Bella Figura (2011)

While on my staycation, I decided to take in some of the cultural sights/events around my fair city that it’s normally difficult to find the time to do.  One of these was the Boston Ballet.  I just went with whatever show happened to be playing the weekend of my vacation, and this happened to be Bella Figura–a modern ballet.

Since we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the Boston Opera House at all, we’re just going to hope that my words will suffice in explaining the complete unexpectedness of the ballet.

My friend and I were uncertain as to what, exactly, the ballet was supposed to be about, so naturally we consulted our programs.  The most clear line in the entire description was, “Standing in the darkness and staring into a sharp light with eyes closed.”  There is so much wrong with that sentence.  If you are standing in the darkness, there is no sharp light.  If your eyes are closed, you aren’t staring into anything…..

In any case, the first act opened on a blue background with stools in the back.  The word “the” on a plaque was on the floor at the front of the stage.  This, combined with the dancers’ blue and white traditional attire, conspired to give the appearance of a typical dance studio.  The music was electrical and came from the speakers, not the orchestra pit.  The dancing was firm, vibrant, and called to mind the gang dance scenes from West Side Story.  Simultaneously crazy and choreographed, it elicited pure joy in myself at the playfulness of the whole thing.  I honestly wasn’t entirely sure what the message was, but to me, it was that craziness can be fun.  It ended with one of the male dancers firmly kicking over the plaque.  To me, this symbolized defeating the norm.

The second act consisted of three scenes of pairs of dancers obviously supposed to be emulating romantic relationships.  This was the only act that the orchestra made an appearance for.  All three dances were clearly about romantic relationships, yet each relationship was unique and exquisite.  Of particular note was the second romantic pairing which had a gorgeous moon background, dry ice fog, and the most sensual ballet dancing I personally have ever seen.  It brought tears to my eyes and my friend and I commented to each other that the dances beautifully represented the push and pull, good and bad of all romantic relationships.  It was touching in the pure universality of such relationships.

The third act, however, was quite simply, baffling.  It opened with a set of flashing blue tubes rising from the floor, giving the illusion that the dancers had set up a bomb or something.  The dancers then started dancing in time with the music, which was again pre-recorded, but not with each other.  The lead female dancer then came out in a tribal red skirt and topless.  The men were dancing in, essentially, boxer-briefs, which in and of itself was enjoyable, but evidently the outfit choice was to allow for the men to punctuate their dance moves by slapping themselves on the thigh.  The female lead then danced in front of a curtain with someone else behind the curtain who periodically groped her through the curtain, alternately hiding her breasts and showing them to the audience.  The toplessness came and went throughout the act with approximately six dancers (three male and three female) periodically appearing topless.  The other portions were taken up by dancers who, while clothed, essentially seemed to be doing a more graceful version of the robot.  Frequently during this portion there were three dancers on stage.  The only message I got from this act was that “threesomes can be really fun.”

Overall, I entirely enjoyed my visit to the ballet.  It was not at all the stuffy visit I was expecting.  Our usher was truly an awesome lady who just wanted us to enjoy our afternoons.  Our section was full of other 20-somethings who were capable of both strong emotions and simultaneously didn’t take anything too seriously.  Seeing such disciplined bodies in action was inspiring, and the first act spoke to my preference for alternative music and dance styles.  However, it must be said, what touched me the most at my core was the most traditional portion of the show–the second act.  Seeing relationships played out exquisitely in dance hearkens back to the origins of dance.  It is the second act that would make me go to the Boston Ballet again.

Book Review: The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster

January 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Summary:
The Duchess of Malfi has been widowed young.  She wants to remarry, but her brothers wish for her to remain single.  She enters into a secret marriage and is blisfully happy…..until her brothers find out.

Review:
This classic play, first performed in 1614, is everything you’d expect from the early tragedies.  There’s greed, vengeance, mysterious children, weeping women, and more.  This one is slightly different in that it is drenched in Catholicism and contains a truly evil brother.  I wish I could say this play made me think the way A Doll’s House did, but honestly the only thing I thought was “Man, it sucks to be her.”  It is quite possible that this is one of those plays that comes across better when you see it performed than when you read it.  I found it neither enjoyable nor unenjoyable, and I think that may simply be because at this point in time the tragedy plot seems overdone and completely not shocking.

However, if you find the plot appealing and enjoy a good, old-fashioned tragedy, then you should give this play a shot.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Audiobooks app for iTouch, iPhone, and iPad

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Book Review: A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen

January 18, 2011 2 comments

Summary:
It’s Christmas time and Nora is eagerly getting ready for the holidays with her husband, Torvald, their children, and their friend Dr. Rank when her old friend, Christine, shows up in town.  Christine is recently widowed and is looking for work.  Nora, who appears flighty and silly at first, informs Christine that she saved her husband’s life when they were first married by taking a loan from, essentially, a loan shark to pay for them to take a trip to Italy.  He remains unaware of both the loan she is working on repaying and the fact that his life was ever in danger.  Unfortunately, things come to a head when the man who loaned her the money, Krogstad, threatens to reveal all to her husband.

Review:
This three act play is regarded as possibly the first ever feminist play, so I knew I had to read it.  I was naturally curious as to what feminist issues the play would address.  Although it’s difficult to pin down exactly what it is addressing, the content and the title point toward women being treated as playthings, as men’s own versions of dolls to make do whatever they wish in their perfectly-imagined household.

The three acts are all written so that they may remain in one room.  This is convenient for the actors, of course, but I also personally enjoy seeing a story unfold all in one room.  It takes skill to make that happen, and it makes the whole story feel more personal and urgent.

At first I was annoyed by how Nora allows Torvald to speak to her, addressing her as his “little squirrel” and “songbird,” as well as making it evident he doesn’t think she has a capable brain in her skull.  He is painfully selfish, apparently viewing her entire existence as only for him.  Of course, this is all part of the set-up for the ending, and makes the ending surprisingly enjoyable.

It is a short read, but the play itself takes about three hours to perform, making it an excellent length.  The dialogue and mystery of the debt are intriguing enough to hold one’s attention, as well as not suffering too much from older English dialects.  This may partly be because it is translated from Norwegian of course, but still.

There is one element of the ending that I find confusing, and I’m not entirely certain if I’m supposed to be confused or not.  This combined with some of the more annoying aspects of the first act prevent me from loving the play, but it is still highly likeable.

I recommend this 1879 three-act play to those interested in older versions of the theater, as well as those interested in feminism.  It is not only entertaining, but leads one to consider both gender and marriage roles.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Audiobooks app for the iTouch, iPhone, and iPad.

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