Tuesday, April 12, 2005

A bit of culture 

Please read this post with a very educated and carefully cultivated British accent. Imagine me, holding a snifter of whatever it is that goes in snifters, sitting in a high backed leather chair, a literary tome open in my lap, as I regale you with my thoughts on the ballet I saw last night.

Yeah, you heard me, I went to the ballet. Ok, cut the masterpiece theatre bit. Let's be real. We both know I haven't got a clue about the ballet, and that I just went to have a nice night out of the house with my wife. We could have parked at the side of the road and counted the cars going by and I probably would have enjoyed it. Nevertheless, I actually have some thoughts I'd like to share with you about the ballet.

Especially if you have kids and are expecting to take them with you to see "Written in the Sand", a new ballet being performed here in Israel. If you want to get right to the bit about taking kids to this ballet, you can skip the rest of my erudition by clicking right over here.

Sharon and I entered the ballet on an emotional high. She had managed to cobble together a tag team assembly of baby sitters at the last minute, and we'd made it to the theatre just as the lights dimmed. Being on time was quite a feat because we had to park the car, eat a light dinner at a hotel restaurant, and walk to the theatre in under 32 minutes.

As the curtains went up, I had already decided I would review the ballet here, but I was going to do it as a "Sports Fan review of the ballet". I figured that would help cover my ignorance. As the dance begin, I was mentally collecting ideas, how I would refer to halftime, and go-to moves, and role players, and ask why they didn't keep score or put numbers on the uniforms so you could tell who was who. If this is all I was thinking about, that should give you an idea how dull the first section was. Very repetitive, standard moves that I'd seen countless times watching my kids' Angelina Ballerina videos.

As the curtains came down on that first segment, I tried to figure whether it was halftime or just the end of the first quarter. We checked the program and found out there were three parts. Sharon translated the little synopses of each of the segments to me, and my eyes kind of glazed over, but I don't think she noticed. I kept nodding my head with interest. I'd like to tell you what each segment was, but frankly, I can't remember. All I know is the first and third were parts of other, bigger pieces, but the second part was some special new piece "written" (conceived? designed? produced? choreographed? what do you do to give birth to a ballet?) by some European guy, maybe from Finland, I'm not sure. It was this piece from which the title "Written in the Sand" was taken.

At this point, Sharon was also not so impressed. She was especially wondering why there was no set, no story line, and especially no sand. The ballet was called "Written in the Sand" and she wanted the sand, and frankly, I don't blame her.

Sharon got part of her wish as the curtains opened once more: there was now some set. It consisted of 3 rocks on the left side of stage (about the size of basketballs) and a screen at the back of the stage on which was projected the video of waves breaking on the beach.

Some dancers came out and started doing very relaxed, wavy kind of stuff, clearly going with the beach theme. They were now wearing beach dresses, and shirts and tshirts, instead of the frilly foppery of the first act. As they danced around the beach, it was much better than the first act, the moves they were doing were more varied and had some point to them, dancers interacting with each other, very beachy, much more sensual than the first act. Enough so that I was imagining if we had brought the kids as we had briefly considered (they love ballet), my oldest, Rachel, would be telling me not to look because it wasn't tzanua (modest). Rachel has her sensors set to a very low modesty threshold.

It was precisely at that point, smack in the middle of the sensual frolick of the beach dance, that the "Gang Rape Ballet" began. Up to that point, there had been little one-minute dance vignettes of lovers flirting, sea horses floating, waves breaking. But now a lone women dancer lay down on the "beach", innocently napping on the sand. Four male dancers entered across the stage and one woke her up, scaring her. She ran/danced around as they started to chase her, surrounding her. As the men grabbed her and started tossing her around, I was suddenly glad we hadn't brought the kids because I would have been marching them right out of the theatre. The scene continued growing in intensity to the point that the ballet dancers actually simulated the final outcome quite explicitly.

I was thinking of the Junior Ballet Cadets, all the skinny little girls I'd seen prancing around in the lobby, waving their arms around and twirling during the intermission, now sitting there with their parents watching a gang rape on the stage, and I cringed. No one walked out. There were kids as young as four in the audience; there'd been no warning of any problematic content. I could picture the smug smirk on some backstage artistic director's face, probably hoping angry parents would come back and complain so he could say "You see? But it was an 8 oclock show, no? What are zee kids doing at an 8 oclock show?" (I imagine he's French, and a he, but he is probably not really French, and may not even be a he).

So, to be clear, if you have children who love ballet, or are even aspiring little ballerinas, do not take them to this ballet, unless you feel that watching the stylish interpretation of a woman being gang raped by four men on stage would be an important formative experience in their artistic careers.

However, addressing the adults now.

I'm not a prude, and do not shelter myself behind the walls. Nevertheless, this scene was quite shocking to me, and I know I wasn't alone because you could hear the reactions from the crowd as the scene played out, little gasps of breath and tongue clucks of disapproval. As dance, it was very well done: they tossed the woman around and it was quite athletic. But as art, it struck me as gratuitously provocative. It had no connection to the rest of the dance, and was apparently done just to shock, which it succeeded in doing. It also managed to suck the life out of the rest of the act, as it meandered on with two or three more little dances in the beach segment before bringing the curtain down once more. As the dancers bowed and took their applause, the largest hand was for the woman who played the rape victim, although I'm not sure why. Sure, she was chased around, thrown around, tossed around. She was the center of attention, but I couldn't remember what she had actually danced, but I thought she should have tried the Nutcracker. Maybe I just missed it.

The third act was a little tamer. In this one, all the dancers, male and female, wore almost the same costume. They looked like aerobicisers, and the dance was a bit like that as well. There was more frolick, this time including two men who danced a little flirt between them, until a woman came between them, and then one of the men danced with her instead. This part of the show was somewhat gender confused, and seemed (to my highly untrained and uncultured eyes) to have the message that it's the beauty of the body, not the gender of the body that matters. But I think by this point I was a bit cynical about the show. It might have just been some nice dancing, with no message. I wouldn't really know the difference.

So, for kids, this is a horrible show. Don't bring them. For adults, it is an adequate evening out, but nothing extraordinary.

That's all for this edition of "A bit of culture". I return you now to the usual lowbrow fare that is posted here.
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