Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Grandchildren!

All my parents really seemed to want for Christmas was a picture of their five grandchildren. Time is running out, or so it seems. Mathias has graduated. We were all fortunate that Birmingham Royal Ballet's season permitted time off for Christmas. Many major ballet company's work through the New Year with Nutcracker. This coming spring, Vincent will graduate. It won't be long until such a photo won't be possible. It won't be long until spouses will join the scene. Time just flies by!
Anyway, my mother thought about hiring the local professional photographer to take the shot. Yet, the Papley kids weren't around on Christmas day and their return plans weren't set in stone. So, I volunteered to take the picture. I brought my tripod and SLR camera. I took a roll of 36 pictures. It was cold. The boys were only wearing the green Slippery Rock sweat shirts that were among the Christmas gifts from my parents. They were all shivering. Then I insisted on about fifteen digital images. These are but two of them.
On Tuesday a contact sheet should be ready at Columbia Photo. As long as I get just one good shot, I'll be able to order duplicates and frame them. Basically, I'm counting on this! The results are to be my gift to my family members--late but Christmas gifts just the same!

Last days of Christmas

Most of our Christmas in Slippery Rock revolved around food. We ate and ate and ate. Everything tasted fabulously, so how could we resist! One afternoon we went to Butler and toured a lovely, small, private museum of oriental decorative arts. We stopped at a fantastic toy store to play with all the merchandise too. Yet, we ate on this trip too. We stopped at a place called DINGBATS. How could we resist a photo! The DINGMANS at DINGBATS! Alex even bought a glass tumbler with the logo! All the excitement and eating, however, often found us exhausted. Fortunately, Sonya's dog LuLu is always ready to take a nap with any tired family member!

Christmas in Slippery Rock

We haven't had Christmas in Slippery Rock for ages! I guess that the Kirov Academy of Ballet dictated out holidays for the past six years. My parents would come to DC just like us. We'd celebrate then because making the trip north was just too inconvenient. This year, the first in six, we had the luxury to choose our Christmas plans. We selected VERY WELL!

The meal was absolutely grand. Of course, we really don't know when it started and I'm not sure if it ever ended either. There was enough food to feed a small army. Friends continued to bring even more. We had three bottles of Gluhwein to wash down the nut bread, fudge, cookies, chips, veggies, cheese, pears, oranges, candy canes, etc. etc. etc.

Mathis was selected to carve the turkey. Everyone seemed to have ideas as to how this task ought to be done. However, none of the suggestions made an impact. The "bird" was so perfect that it simply fell apart with the slightest pressure from a fork!
My sister Wanda sent a very special gift to Mathias. She started an afghan for him upon his birth. My mother helped her finally finish the thing in time for Christmas--eighteen years later. He is quite thankful. England is cold and he can really use it. We all roared with laughter at the story, however!

My sister Sonya and Vipin bought new lampshades for my parents. I think the old ones have been around for at least two decades. The change was amazing....."Let there be LIGHT"! We had no snow but still got to enjoy the many birds and squirrels that come to the back door. The weather was so warm that the boys took the motor-controlled boats out for a spin. (These were a gift from my sister Wanda to my Dad). In the mornings, we enjoyed the hot tub. In the evenings, we enjoyed games of Cranium, dominoes, darts, and pool.

Washington, DC

We drove halfway to DC last Thursday. We drove the rest of the way on Friday morning. Steve and I visited the National Women in the Arts Museum in the afternoon. We even joined the membership on a level that enjoys reciprocal privileges with the Corcoran, Phillips, and Textile Museum in DC as well as the Mint Museum in Charlotte. We saw the Book Art show. It is a biennial made up of pieces in the collection. We'd seen some of them. Overall, the exhibit was first rate. I bought the nice hardbound book.

On Saturday, Steve and I went to the American Museum/Portrait Gallery. I've already written about this wonderful experience. Steve left in the early afternoon to pick Mathias up at the airport. I also went to the Bead Museum. It was very small but nice. Then we met at a nearby shop. Steve and I had noticed great holiday sales on winter coats.

Mathias has had his heart set on a cashmere coat since he saw a lovely camel-colored one at Norstrum's when he was only twelve. We promised one for his graduation. Yet, there weren't any coats in the stores last May and by September Mathias needed a television set instead. I purchased the TV last September. Still, we knew he wanted a coat. With the weather in England, he NEEDED a coat. Everything was 50% off.

As it turned out, Mathias opted for the warmed, more durable wool coat. It is long and black and looks fabulous on him. Later that night, we met Kuckeruk for dinner at Maggiamo's in Friendship Heights. We talked ballet all evening. Fortunately, the food and wine was good and the conversation managed not to get too bogged down on technical things. Kuckeruk seems pleased with Mathias' employment with BRB. He had lots of opinions on the Kirov Academy. I was left with an overwhelming feeling of relief. How happy I am to no longer have a child at that school. I don't have to care. I can nod my head in all the right places and sleep without crying with worry!

More From the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Portrait Gallery

I can't call myself an expert when it comes to the Smithsonian's American Art Museum and Portrait Gallery. I've only been there once since 1976. I only managed to see parts of the third floor. I have no idea what treasures await me on the lower levels. I didn't consult the floor plan either. Thus, I have no idea where one museum starts and the other begins. After seeing the Joseph Cornell exhibit. I just aimlessly wandered around. I was star-struck, mesmerized, and unable to focus--just view and enjoy. The images here show one of the ornate columns on the third floor--the only place I went. Another shows the Archives through one of the windows. The tiled floor and the raised walkway are in another. The other pictures show a driftwood horse that stands in a long corridor of twentieth century artwork. I forgot the artist. The multi-colored image is in an almost hidden alcove. It is an installation by Hockney. I accidentally set off the alarms but no guard ever showed up. The strange interior is the view into another installation by a married couple, Kienholz. It was a fabulous rendering using the remains of an old hotel with mixed media. The boot is a "memory jar". Janet Kozachek compared my Icon I, Icon II, and Icon III to the folk art of memory jars. I had never heard of such a thing, but then I found several on display. All in all, I look forward to late February. Steve and I are returning to Washington, DC. Partly, we are coming for two antiquarian book auctions. Partly, we are coming in order to avoid Radenko Pavolvich's LifeChance Ballet in Columbia (a.k.a. the "Brooklyn Mack" show) It would be just too strange to attend, to watch, to wonder....I will be just too wonderful to return to DC, to return to this museum, to try purchasing more engravings. Anyway, maybe when I come back I will find the other floors and make sense of the dual museums under a single roof. As for this visit, it was a fairy-tale come true.

Joseph Cornell

Well, we're back home. I meant to write while on our journey but the timing just wasn't right. My parents only have dial-up Internet service, so the timing wasn't the only problem! I took nearly two hundred images. I deleted most, as usual. It took over an hour to color and contrast correct those that remained. Now, I'm ready to write; but, my mind is still spinning. A neat, orderly arrangement of the past week alludes me. Therefore, I'll try (with Blogger's cooperation!) to post several small thoughts in no particular order.

This first message is both my "beginning" and my "end". It is the reflection of the stained glass dome in the American Museum of Art/Portrait Gallery. The reflection was caught in a large pane of glass in a doorway. The building was once the US Patent Office. It closed for renovations the year Mathias first entered the Kirov. The work was slated to take four years but it took six. Basically, the dual museum re-opened a month or so after Mathias graduated. I'd been in the building in 1976. I remembered liking the architecture. We had joked that this would be the only museum I wouldn't visit during these years.

Anyway, Stephen Chesley, my mentor (a great landscape oil painter here in South Carolina who has been supporting himself successfully by his artwork for over 20 years), sent me an email about the Joseph Cornell retrospective. We even had a conversation or two about the man. I pretended the entire time. I didn't want to let on that I didn't know who Cornell was. I didn't want to seem as ignorant and stupid as I felt. I only recognized that the retrospective was being held in the building in which I wanted to return.

Well, I went. It was so strange and wonderful. Joseph Cornell loved all the things that I love. He worked in ways that I now work. He loved ballet, antique prints, shadowboxes, and open-ended projects. He collected ephemera and feathers and sea shells and small mechanical devices. If I had been orphaned, I'd seriously wonder whether Joseph Cornell was on my lost family tree. We are kindred spirits. Wandering through his artwork was both eerie and comforting.

By the way, I still liked the architecture. Why do I call this my "beginning" and "end". Well, it was at the start of our northern holiday journey but it is also what my mind returns to most often. Undoubtedly, the Joseph Cornell exhibit was a most profound and meaningful experience.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

About to leave!

Today is December 21st. Had my life continued down the path of a custom picture framer, I'd have gone to work at dawn after a couple hours of sleep. I'd be secretly counting the hours, hoping to make it to Saturday. Sure, we would be raking in the money, so to speak---if I had lived through this, year after year!

I was reminded of the past holiday rush of framing yesterday. A Christmas card arrived from a former employee who now lives in Colorado. She sent a card last year too. I taped it to the window behind my mat cutter and meant to write. It was still taped there yesterday. I compared the return addresses. They were the same. So, I stopped delaying and wrote a seven page letter last night. I was forced to recall all the things that have happened during the past six years. Early in the letter I wrote:

I have figured out how to tell the story of the past few years……….
Once upon a time there was a custom framer, Susan, she ran a business called Mouse House. She has lots of clients, lots of employees, lots of work, two neglected children, an overworked husband that she kept in the garage, and a business that was increasing steadily. She kept working until she no longer slept. She nearly died of exhaustion. She finally learned that there was more to life than framing. She fired her mat cutter, found jobs for the rest of the staff, downsized the business over the next two years and became a professional artist. The story isn't over but continues with regular posts on her blog:

Of course, I went on with some details about the people she had worked with and about Alex and Mathias and about the house fire two years ago. It really has been a roller-coaster sort of journey. Yet, the thing that has changed the most is ME. I look back and see a transformation from frustrated businesswoman living with the security of paying work to the insecurity of a happy artist exploring a new, creative world. Everything has changed really. My lifestyle has gone from one that was totally regulated to a more bohemian existence. My mind wanders now into the history of art, to influential artists, to creative ideas. It seldom worries about any of the things that filled my head while framing full time.

If the next five years bring as much change as the last five, there is no telling where I'll be! As for today, we are leaving between 3 and 4 PM. I haven't really thought about what I'll pack. I haven't done any Christmas shopping. I won't be cooking or baking anything. There is no holiday stress! I have my sketchbook, the biography of de Kooning that I'm reading, and my embroidery. What else do I really need except the supporting family that is going with me? Nothing!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

"Buildings in Stitches" is on its way to Ironstone Vineyards

I've been worried about the show in California but finally was able to speak with Chris Gomez at Ironstone Vineyards. Everything is now already. Although I don't actually have a contract, both Steve and I feel confident that this is going to be more than a good's going to be absolutely GREAT!

So, today I boxed up nineteen of the twenty-two pieces in the "Elements of Architecture" series. (Three have been sold--two at the Sumter Museum of Art and the other in its gift shop!) I also sent Fantasy City, the largest piece of handwork I've ever made. I sent Elements Quilt, a silk painted and free motion quilted wall hanging; Forgotten Past, two deconstructed oil painting that I free motioned together; and City Street, a piece done similarly to the "Elements" series. Alex helped me drop the shipping packages off at FedEx Ground.
It is really exciting thinking about a show on the other side of the country. Ironstone Vineyards has a remarkable website. My artwork is suppose to hang in their gallery/jewelry shop.
This is suppose to be a link to a 360 degree virtual tour of the gallery/shop:

These are just four of the pieces in the "Elements of Architecture" Series. I will be continuing to create more of these even in the coming weeks. I have already created the designs for about a dozen more. Hand stitching in the van is always the best way to travel!
After I finish all the hand stitching, I place a sheer chiffon scarf over the work and then free motion machine embroider into it heavily. I really love making these. They are all framed exactly alike, mounted on a silk board with a matching silk liner to hold the glass (or plexi-glass, when traveling!) away from the work. If that explanation isn't clear, try this: I put the glass between the liner and the frame! Anyway, they look very nice. I can't wait to see them in Ironstone's impressive setting. There are suppose to be inviting clients, hosting a receptions, etc.
Tomorrow we leave Columbia in the mid-afternoon. We are traveling in the comfort of the utility van! Believe me, this is much nicer than trying to cram all of us and luggage and Christmas gifts into the Scion. The three of us could manage, but we are picking Mathias up at Dulles Airport on Saturday! That means I've got a whole day in Washington, DC! I plan on seeing the Cornell show at the American Museum and the Book Art show at the National Museum of Women in the Arts!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Alex's Hardcore Show

For the past two months, Alex has been busy booking bands and promoting a Hardcore show. It was last night. It was held at CMFA (Columbia Music Festival Association) on Pulaski Street.

Alex booked two bands from western Pennsylvania. He saw them perform while he was there visiting his grandparents over the summer. He booked three local bands too, but one of them had some sort of "fit" last week and refused to share an evening with one of the other bands.

Alex contracted with some kid in Slippery Rock, PA to design the concert's flyer. The first personal check drawn on Alex's brand new bank account went to pay the $10 for this service. Alex went to all sorts of local shows and passed out quarter page fliers for this event. He posted thousands of messages all over MySpace. He got Steve to donate $80 to cover two of the bands. He got his Aunt Sonya and Vipin to donate $40 for another band. I guess when a "gig" only pays that amount, a band can throw a "fit" at the last week and cancel. Going to such a show cost $8. Most of the bands actually make money from the sales of T-Shirts and other merchandise.
Anyway, the event actually turned out fairly well for a Monday, school night. John Whitehead hired two police officers to patrol the place. They looked utterly bored. Many of the guys "danced". In Hardcore, that means they leap, throw punches into the air, spin, and exert tons of raw energy. It looks something like macho-Karate moves mixed with skateboarding tricks (sans the skateboard). Girls wisely don't dance! The music is mostly LOUD. The lyrics are often obscene (if they can be understood) and are generally screamed. Yet, many of these bands actually "sing" about the evils of drugs and alcohol. This is called "Straight Edge" and the symbols for it are "XXX".
Alex was in a full body sweat when I arrived to take a few photos. The bands from Pennsylvania had already played. They were selling T-shirts in the CMFA lobby. They seemed really, really happy. Later Alex said they were elated to have made $50 per band. Some of their other "gigs" on this "tour" had been in coffeehouses with no audiences and no money at all. This is a hard life for the young and hopeful who are committed to their "scene" and can always go home!
Unfortunately, some one found a can of black hair spray and "decorated" the bathroom. Alex will be cleaning and scrubbing this afternoon! In the end, he made $53. He split proceeds with friends that helped set up, clean, and promote the event. Steve and I will delay telling him the "facts of business life". Without family donations and remembering other expenses (like the $10 check and the money Mathias donated from a forgotten piggy bank that was then used to purchase sodas), the event really broke even. Still, for a first show, this was an excellent result!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

To the POINTE: A Nutcracker to Remember

I've seen dozens of Nutcracker productions. I really don't remember my first. I think it might have been an evening in front of the television in the sixties. I lost the plot somewhere along the journey but didn't care. I had no illusions; fantasy didn't have to make sense. If memory serves, I was enchanted. It was "fairy tale" beautiful. I vaguely remember a holiday connection.

The first "live" Nutcracker performance was likely my third time seeing the art form in person. It was definitely my first full-length ballet. I was pregnant with Mathias. Steve and I had moved to Columbia less than a year earlier. My mother was in town. We booked seats at the Township Auditorium to see the CIVIC production by COLUMBIA CITY Ballet. A young local girl, Mariclare Miranda, was dancing the lead. She was partnered by William Starrett, a guest dancer. It was wonderful, a great holiday treat.

We didn't keep up with the local ballet scene. We didn't know that the "Guest Dancer" was about to take over the company, turn it into a professional troupe, sign his partner for employment, start a conservatory with her, and that any of these events would ever affect us in the future. We are naive, ignorant, and paying customers.

Since then we've seen many, many Nutcracker productions and variations. Christmas could never be without a Nutcracker production again. It is a staple in our family. Yet, I cannot forget the viewpoint I first had, that of the PUBLIC--an uneducated, simple, innocent public.

On Friday, we went to the Koger Center to see Columbia City Ballet, a professional company. On Saturday, we went to the Blumenthal Theater in Charlotte to see North Carolina Dance Theater, another professional company. How can I compare the two? What would I recommend? Why? What makes a "Nutcracker" to remember?

Well, if one has never seen ballet but has an open, creative mind, it doesn't matter what production is viewed. One will find it enchanting, beautiful, and artistic. I did. But, I had no idea how much live music adds to a production. The musicians in Charlotte were wonderful. The conductor was acutely aware of the nuances of ballet and let the tempo be dictated by the pulse of the dancing. In Columbia, however, the music is "canned". At least it wasn't as loud as it had been for Radenko Pavlovich's weekend of dance.

In both productions, dozens upon dozens of children from the associated schools had parts to play. In both, the last names of these children could be found among the donors. In both, the role of Clara went to a non-professional. Yet, I had to check my program at intermission to establish the status of Ellen Hummel who danced in Charlotte. She was quite accomplished, young, convincing in the part, and could have easily been a professional in Columbia's company. She seemed truly at that life stage between childhood and future debutante, happy to play with dolls but ready to turn her attention to male companionship.

Nicole Carrion, however, has danced the same role for six years and hasn't improved noticeably. Her major asset seems to be her short stature. She looks only eight or nine. At least this year, a professional Miranda Bailey, danced the role as a "dream sequence". I think William Starrett should have opted for this dancer instead of the pixie sized amateur from the beginning.

Silas Farley played the part of the Nutcracker prince for Charlotte. He arrived as Herr Drosselmeyer's nephew or assistant. He is being taught to dance and how to mime, but I doubt that anyone had to teach him subtle stage presence. His acting just had to be natural. His longing gaze completed the attraction to womanhood for Clara. He was wonderful.

In Columbia City Ballet's Nutcracker, however, the Nutcracker Prince, the beloved of Clara, is in fact her brother Fritz. Odd. Incestuous. Fritz is usually a younger brother. Charlotte had such a character, Nicholas Wilson. He was great. Jose Serrano had the part for Columbia. I've never liked this plot selection. Yet, I try to remember watching that television in the sixties. I lost the plot entirely and didn't care. Perhaps, with so many viewing, I've grown strangely particular about the story line. Perhaps, however, I'm just not a fan of ones older brother playing the part of one's wannabe love interest.

To continue the comparisons in the first act: Mark Diamond for Charlotte was about the best Herr Drosselmeyer I've ever seen. He infused the part with enough humor to endear the character to anyone. He had magic, flair, and stage presence. He could have danced, having been a dancer, but played the part as a character role. Stann Gyynn, for Columbia, was fun but couldn't compare.

William Starrett's party scene has always been enjoyable. I hate the fact that he cuts the overture to a few bars, however. I didn't mind the maid sipping from a hidden flask the first time but it didn't need to be repeated. I've always liked the role of "the widow", a young lady on the prowl. I understand why Mariclare played it as "Scarlett" after losing Serge.....but.....I'd rather see the black costume instead of the obvious costume references to a civil war movie.

I prefer seein Charlotte's young, beautiful party goers. I don't prefer to see gaudy, overdressed "friends" parading in fake furs and feather boas. Yet, I like William Starrett's attention to Louisa, Clara's older sister, and her dance with the lead cadet. I like the humor. In both productions, the mix of student dancing and professional dancing was excellent in Act I. Both were parties I'd like to "attend". The notion of "Christmas" and "presents" and "fantasy" were introduced perfectly.

The battle scene in Charlotte was the production's weakest moment. The headdress for the Nutcracker was absolutely the worst I've ever seen. The Rat King's head actually fell off. The stage in Charlotte was littered with too many students. They did a good job but were not balanced with enough professional work. William's battle scene was remarkably better. Both productions used a cannon, mice and rats, swords, and had Clara throw her shoe to kill the Rat King. Charlotte's sets were amazingly gorgeous however. I heard that they were painted in France. They must have cost tens of thousands. They helped the otherwise lack-luster battle scene.

Clara, in Charlotte, is transported to the Land of Snow in an amazing half "walnut shell" carriage that flies through the air. She dances with the Snow King and is paired with the Nutcracker prince. William, too, used elements of this popular scenario in this year's Nutcracker. I liked it in both shows. As for the lead dancers, we saw Victoria Cholkas as the Snow Queen in Columbia. When she's been as thin as she is currently, she's generally danced as if tired, weak, and too fragile to enjoy. Underweight, this time she looked pretty good but couldn't compare to Rebecca Carmazzi partnered by Sasha Janes in Charlotte. They were awesome.

Both company's, like almost all Nutcracker's, have an intermission at this point. Both opened with rather expected and boring "heaven" scenes full of kids playing with battery operated candles. William uses more gold lame that I hope is in heaven.

Both company's, like almost all Nutcracker's, include some sort of miming that serves as an explanation for Clara's presence in the dreamland of the Sweets. This is followed by a series of variations, a waltz, and the Sugar Plum Fairy's Grand Pas with the Cavalier. Spanish generally is first, but not for Columbia City Ballet. They start near the traditional end (though I've heard other company's has successfully done this). I still think it is strange to start with the waltz.

Paunika Jones, a former Dance Theater of Harlem principal dancer who came to Columbia also as a principal, was mismatched with Tory Morton in the Rose Waltz. She wore blue, Dew Drop Fairy. She is tiny. She is also African-American. Her training is obvious, good posture and delicate precision. Mr. Morton must be over six feet tall, has a full head of blond hair, and didn't really exhibit any flair in technique or stage presence. I thought the combination took away from the dancing.

Columbia City Ballet then did Spanish "Hot Chocolate" as if the male variation from Don Quixote followed by a crowd pleasing Chinese Tea. Two French chefs bring out a large box filled with cute Bon-Bons. They were all fun. Kelly Whitaker was a fine Arabian Princess showing off one contortionist move after another, typical. I was excepting Candy Canes from past years next.

The costumes were right. That was about it. The music and choreography were straight from Sleeping Beauty. Six girls danced as if needing additional rehearsals. At least it was far better than the shocking, cotton-candy-colored, neon (nearly glow-in-the-dark) wigs from last year. This had been to the proper music but shall I say......WAY OVER THE TOP! From our seats in the back row, I heard a simultaneous gasp of "OH, MY GOD!" So, I can say I preferred the "Sleeping Beauty" Marzipan better than the Cotton Candy, but I'm hoping that future productions find creativity without scaring the public.

Russian Sugar Twists were the last of the variations for Columbia City Ballet. Like many people, this is my favorite. I was looking forward to seeing Willie Moore in the male duet with Maurice Johnson. I knew to expect great barrel turns, fantastic turns, high leaps, and repeated 540s. Willie is a natural at these "tricks". Even at eighteen years of age, he's been quite proficient at the razzle-dazzle moves for several years. I was eagerly ready to applaud but something went wrong about half-way through the music. He was off. It wasn't horrible, but it was noticeable. My heart sunk for Willie. He had to be devastated. He lives to perform. He loves to show off. This was to be his moment. I clapped hard anyway.

Columbia City Ballet had Regina Willoughby as the Sugar Plum Fairy partnered by a lack-luster Peter Kozak. She is lovely to watch. Peter seemed to be trying to execute more than he was capable of doing. I found myself wondering about his age, which is sad. He could have danced without trying to fit in so many "extra" moves. I'm probably writing this so incorrectly that it doesn't make sense. What I'm trying to say is that he should have done all the basic choreography well instead of trying all the fancy choreography and managing it poorly. He seemed to be just going through the moves and had a smile plastered on his face as a requirement, not a true emotional feeling.

As for North Carolina Dance Theater, Spanish was Chocolate, too. We saw Emery LeCrone and Andre Texeria in a sassy duet. It had all the typical flair without looking like Don Quixote. Chinese was also Tea. This was a solo by a very young, petite dancer, Anna Gerberich. She was accompanied by a large group of oriental clad elementary schoolers who made up a pleasing background. Mother Ginger brought in four couples of very young students under her large skirt. The part is much funnier played by a man but Meredith Hinshaw did a fair job. The eight students were all girls but half were dressed as boys. Their attire looked much more like the Marzipan variation done by the Kirov than anything I'd seen as Bon Bons. They did a fair job.

Marzipan was a chorus of three dancers, including Seia Rassenti. Seia graduated with Mathias is is happily working in Charlotte. They were great.

Nicholle Rochelle and Adam Stein smoldered as Arabian Coffee. They were accompanied by several student dancers that knelt on pillows in the background. Frankly, as sexually charged as this scene was it really didn't need youthful on-lookers. The dancing was quite captivating. The audience didn't make a sound. It was also not typical: "let me show you my amazing extension and every weird position possible while doing a split". Sure, there was some of this but the focus was more on the exotic mystery of an Eastern flirtation. The group roared while they bowed.

What is it, however, with the Candy Canes? Charlotte's company used the typical Russian music for Candy Canes. Older students dressed in what looked to be fire-retardant sprayed pajamas accompanied Justin Van Weest onto the stage. His outfit looked to be a white double-knit pantsuit with lime green and pink ringlets curling down is torso and legs. Some of the moves were reminiscent of "Russian" and he did have great presence. He just didn't have fantastic steps to carry it off.

This was quickly forgotten, however, in a superb Rose Waltz done with elegant classical tutus that flowed to the music. The choreography was good. It was just lovely and it led perfectly into the highlight of the evening. Traci Gilchrest is a fabulous Sugar Plum Fairy. Addul Manzano partnered her with strength and handsome grace.

(By the way, I don't want anyone to think that my comments about Paunika and Tory were racially based. The height issue was the main problem but it was amplified by what I perceived as little attention to how the two would look together--romantically, like a couple. I'm not sure from what ethnic background Addul comes--perhaps Cuban? I don't know. I don't care---BECAUSE IT DIDN'T MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE! They looked good together; they connected; they danced both as one and as two individuals attentively presenting one another. )

Anyway, Traci was gorgeous. She danced beautifully. Addul's opening double tour must have over 36" from the floor. He simply defies gravity but his landings are a bit sloppy, his feet seem to slam the floor. The entire Grand Pas was actually quite breath-taking. The "finale" capped off the production. Clara departed in her walnut shell. Then came the bows.

The bowing was interesting for the fact that in Charlotte there were two. Everyone in Act I bowed at the end of that act. Everyone in Act II bowed at the end of that act. It allowed all those children in Act I to have a chance to bow without waiting until the end. It allowed a few more seconds for these kids without making the bowing overly long. I like this idea.

So, in the end.....what makes a Nutcracker to Remember? Which was the better show? Is the comparison even fair?

A Nutcracker will be remembered if the viewers are transformed into a holiday fairy tale and wake up from the experience already planning for the coming year's performance. Both company's manage this. I will return to both.

Which was the better show? Both had good points. Both had weaknesses. North Carolina Dance Theater easily put far better ballet onto its stage, however.

Is the comparison fair? Yes and No.

Yes, because the ticket prices we paid for equivalent seats was the same. In Charlotte we were treated to live music, better dancing, nicer sets and costumes, and the pleasure of a full house (which really does add to the sense of festivity).

No, because the financial base for these two companies isn't even in the same ballpark. Here in Columbia, we've split dance support into two. It is impossible to ask the fewer number of major companies to support two professional companies. Charlotte has a better, healthier business committee on which to draw funds. Plus, they wisely only support one, good company that is carefully monitored by responsible businessmen that understand the arts.

We should be much better ballet in Columbia. The Nutcracker I'd like to remember hasn't been produced yet. It isn't the one starring my son as the Cavalier. It would be a Nutcracker performed by a unified, professional company here in Columbia. A company that paid a small ensemble of talented dancers a living wage. (By the way, Charlotte has nineteen in the company and six paid dancers in their "second" company. Columbia has thirty-two dancers, excluding those listed as "on leave of absence", and seven unpaid apprentices.) The Nutcracker I'd like to remember would be the best Columbia could produce. It hasn't been done yet.

A comment I overheard that was bothering me

To set the stage: Yesterday. I am sick, trying to get over a 24 hour bug. In my studio, behind the walls to the gallery. Working. There is no way to prevent the "salesman's" words from floating into my sacred space. I have only two hours to work. We are headed to Charlotte. There is an exhibit just outside my space.

Salesman, to potential client: Life is too short to sell bad art.
Potential client: That's true.
Salesman: Actually, life's too short to make bad art.
My blood boils. I don't even know why.

Why am I offended? Am I really so insecure? Am I so pathetic as to think that these people are laughing at my work? What's the source of my irritation?

I've been thinking about this since then. I've seen two productions of Nutcracker, recovered from a stomach problem, traveled out and back into state, and still I've been questioning these words and my reaction.

What have I learned?

Well, I'm not really so insecure. I don't think anyone was referring to my work, but I am absolutely certain that this sort of statement ought to make every artist, in any medium, angry. Without the freedom to create "bad art", nothing new and exciting would ever happen. "Good art" doesn't simply flow from the brush of a talented painter or sing from the strings of a brilliant violinist. "Good art" REQUIRES "Bad art". How many horrible, amateurish ballets have I sat through in order to fully understand, appreciate, and appropriately admire a good performance? How many did it take to make Mathias a "good dancer"?

The first part of the conversation might be correct. For the "salesman", life might be too short to sell "bad art". Yet, setting himself up as an expert, he stated the remaining bit as if FACT. It isn't fact. It isn't even slightest true. I resent the misrepresentation. I resent a lie being spoken as gospel truth.

I needed to write these words for a few reasons. First, because the issue has weighed heavily in my mind. Second, because I am about to write my observations of two Nutcracker productions and am struggling with value terms: good vs. bad. And, third, because it is one of the first times that I can firmly say that I wasn't pulled into a wave of negativism by overheard comments.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Friday: Is this the end of the week or the beginning of the weekend?

It's Friday. The week has flown by finishing a few last minute Christmas framing orders and wrapping up loose ends for the upcoming art shows. I came to the realization that I was "done" for now with the Archeology Project. I cannot say why or how this happened. It just did. Like many of my series, there is simply an end. I move on. I've also decided that the Archeology Project will probably not be seen at I. Pinckney Simon's Gallery in January.

The owners really aren't committed to hosting special exhibits. Neither even read the article that Janet and I wrote and submitted to Carolina Arts. I was careful to allow them five days to read it before the submission deadline. It includes their name, location, and hours. Somewhere, someday, I'm going to be artistically involved with a gallery that bears the expenses of an exhibit, writes the articles for publicity, and WORKS to sell my artwork in exchange for the commission. 40% or 50%, it really doesn't matter to me. An equitable working relationship would be nice.

Anyway, I really think my Archeology Project is special. It deserves to be seen properly, as an installation in a location managed by people thrilled to display it. I will wait for this opportunity. Maybe Sumter Gallery of Art will accept our proposal. Perhaps I should submit it on my own elsewhere? Maybe, I will get a chance to fully explore my vision. If I do, I will find my way back to working on it again. For now, it is done.

The invitations for the show are also done. Janet and I split the cost at Kinko's. The front pictures our collaboration called "Indian Dancer". We each have two hundred. I'll likely mail a bunch, but I'm not too excited about drumming up business for this exhibit any more. I'm sort of "let down" about the entire thing. At least this feeling has come over me after all the other work is completed.

The show at Ironstone Vineyards is suppose to open on January 2 and run through February. I am suppose to ship the work on Monday via FedEx Ground (at my own expense, of course). I have no contract. This distresses me. There is nothing on the impressive Ironstone Vineyard website to indicate that my artwork will be on display. The email correspondence has been rather sparse. I have an airline ticket, a rental car, a room, and a ticket to San Francisco Ballet. I'd trade all this in for serious representation at an established gallery. Ah, to dream!

In the meantime, I've gone back to my squares of polyester velvet. Creating more in my "In Box" series has helped. Like most series, this was "done" but I've now returned to it. There is something comforting in the process, like "going home".

So, this is either a Friday that is "ending" a "week" (completing an artistic cycle) or a Friday that is "starting" a "weekend" (beginning an artistic cycle). Probably, it is a Friday that does both.

We will see William Starrett's Columbia City Ballet perform Nutcracker this evening. Tomorrow we will see the same production by North Carolina Dance Theater in Charlotte. This is the first time after six years that we will not be in Washington, DC watching Winter Performance at the Kirov Academy. (I don't miss the nervousness!)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Today we received a wonderful email message with the long awaited images of Mathias as a RAT! (I guess I begged and whined enough!) So, here they are: One is of Mathias the Rat with the Rat King. The other is Mathias and a rat friend with the Rat King. I assume that Mathias is the one in the middle, but who would know for sure?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Construction Crew II: An exhibit at Gallery 80808/Vista Studios

Wim Roefs just opened his own, small gallery in downtown Columbia, SC. It is just around the corner from Vista Studios. He represents about thirty or so artists from South Carolina. He's selected only those with established reputations, generally artists working in university settings or past winners of the state's fellowship award or those selected for the state's Triennial exhibit.

Wim is taking lots of chances opening up a new gallery in the highest rent district of town. His gallery will exist only on art sales. There are no framing services or art supplies. There are no knick-knacks on a sales counter. Everything is up scale. There is no place like it in this city.

Because this new space is small and dedicated to all the artists who have signed with Wim, Gallery 80808 at Vista Studios is still where Wim is mounting special exhibitions. He had several two-week shows last year, had more this year, and is booking into 2007 as well.

The show currently on view is called "Construction Crew II". It features four artists, including art quilter Christine Tedesco. Christine has a decade long relationship with the Arts Commission, has been in a triennial show, and has a nice educational background as a working architect. Her quilts are minimalistic, modern "log cabin" design variations that are somehow compared to the quilters of the Gee Bend in Alabama. She uses only dupuoini silk. The results are quite expensive. Small pieces (approximately 12 inch squares), unframed start at $375. A double bed size quilt cost $6000. There are hundreds of quilters with her abilities both in design and fiber construction. Yet, she's got the nice educational background, doesn't need the money for her work, and evidently was in the right place at the right time.

I had looked forward to meeting her, as I've admired her work for years. She was charming and very, very nice. She paid me the nice compliment of coming into my studio. Her husband, who teaches architecture at Clemson and freelances with her small architecture company, was also quite pleasant. At least two of her pieces were already sold. Wim was doing a good job with his show.

The other artists were Paul Yanko, Virginia Scotchie, and Matt Overend. Yanko is a fairly recent Ohio transplant. He teaches at the SC Governor's School in Greenville. His wife is also a paint. She now teaches at a local technical college along with Linda McCune--who is unbelievable fantastic. I met the wife in the bathroom and we had a great conversation. Paul's work is done by tearing his paintings into tiny pieces and reconstructing them into fields of color, like a large, jagged jig-saw puzzle. Steve actually liked some of them. I was unimpressed but can see how his work would relate well to high-schoolers.

Virginia Scotchie, like Christine Tedesco and I, was also born in 1959. (So was Wim.) She is easily the most reknown of the artists. Her university position has brought her to teaching opportunities in Hawaii and abroad. She just finished a very important ceramic installation in Tawian. Her textures are fantastic. The colors are dazzling. The objects are all based on handmade tools or implements remembered from her youth, like giant funnels and oversized pipes. It all looks very good, academic, and perfect in the pure white gallery setting. At once, any viewer knows "this is art". The prices reflect the implied status. The craftsmanship is top-notch. I find all of it interesting but not as thought provoking as the statements suggest.

Years ago, Alex found the discarded shards of a Virginia Scotchie piece outside the door to the ceramic studio at McMasters Hall on the USC campus. He was there on his bicycle but called me for a ride. He carefully stashed the broken pieces into my van. This will likely be the only Virginia Scotchie we will ever own. They are a bright cobalt blue, crusty and perfect in the garden. They remind me of my Archeology Project--like they came from some cultural dig into a mysterious, imaginary civilization. I thought this when I first put them in between our herbs. Frankly, I like these broken bits much more than any of the work on display though one "installation" was quite outstanding. (Several pieces displayed on small shelves that proturded from the gallery wall in a large circle formation.)

The other artist was Matt Overend. Wim has shown his work in other exhibits. I didn't like them much then. I didn't care for these either. Then, however, I met Matt. He was funny and likable. As a result, the work grew on me. Steve likes his paintings, especially the matte finish and the texture.

Overall, Steve and I had a great time Friday evening at the opening.

Archeology Project Photos

Sunday mornings are generally quiet inside Vista Studios, even when Wim is having one of his exhibitions. I am usually there alone, working, for hours before another artists arrives. There is a skylight over the atrium. The diffused lighting is great. The space is large. So, I took advantage of this time.
Alex and Steve helped me move our the oak table top from the dining room. The table was a gift from my Great Aunt Janet and Uncle Howard. We've always used it; I truly love its nice, stained wood surface. It was the perfect size, the perfect finish, and was easy to position on my rolling cart once we arrived in the gallery. Steve and Alex went back home so that I could take my time arranging the three vintage suitcases and their contents. I ended up with 110 textiles, 125 small objects (painted and stitched wooden spools and the cute nuts& bolts with yarn), 125 paper pieces, and five books. Technically, I'm still working on a sixth book. I had aimed for more paper pieces, but I obviously don't need more for now! Most of the textiles and all of the paper pieces are completely decorated on both sides.
I spread everything out and then took my tripod and camera up the ladder for a better vantage point. Here are four of the many shoots. I called Steve and Alex to come back, asking that they come before I dismantled the installation. I know that I really only need to please myself with my artwork. I know that I shouldn't allow others to undermine my confidence. I know that I am doing the best I can, that I will naturally improve, and the work I make is GOOD. Yet, living and creating all by myself, just for myself, isn't really enough. It isn't the whole picture either. I needed to share this special piece with my supportive family. I am thrilled to post the images and share it with others. I look forward to comments.
Steve and Alex came, of course, and admired the entire installation from every angle. They helped me pack it all away. Steve suggested the photo of the suitcases after everything was back inside. This project will likely not get a proper place to be shown this January at I. Pinckney Simon's Gallery, but it was still worth making and definitely worth setting up for the pictures.
I still want more. I am thrilled with what I have, but it is still only part of my vision. I can see the canvas tent; a make-shift desk overflowing with paperwork and mysterious maps; a collection of strange, handmade "archeology" tools; and an entire "campsite" for the fictional archaeologist who collects artifacts from imaginary cultures. Hopefully, these images will help me find a way to work toward this ultimate goal and find the museum/upscale (NYC) gallery in which to show it all.

Too Many Thoughts; Too little Time

It's Monday. Steve is at the doctor's office having what they call "an annual physical". Like me, Steve goes once every five years--just before the doctor's office is about to drop us from their list of clients!
The weekend was strangely wonderful. I did get to meet Christine Tedesco. I did manage to conquer most of my personal "demons of doubt." I worked in my studio for nine hours on both Saturday and on Sunday. I got two comments on this blog. One from my wonderful sister Wanda in Germany and the other from Dijane Cervaal, an internationally respected art quilter in Australia. I set up my Archeology Project and took photos. We heard from Mathias. I have more to say on all these matters.....but it's's December.....there's holiday framing to do and a shop to run in Steve's absence. I'll post several times throughout the day and likely into the evening, tidbits at a time.
For now, here are the three pieces I created using Janet Kozachek's little Egyptian inspired blue ceramics. I am calling them Icon I, Icon II, and Icon III. The first, and largest, is actually double sided. The back has a collage on it. The frame actually faces in that direction. The front is actually the "back" of the frame, painted blue, and embellished with an assortment of found objects. Some of these came from the roasting pan in which I had collected things for another series. There's bottle caps, beads, buttons, scissors, bells, feathers, screws, wires, a door knocker, a wooden scoop, a safety pin, and just a bunch of odds and ins. Knowing how much I like trinkets of this nature, Mathias sent me (via Steve) a blue bottle cap that says: The Legendary Hobgoblin. It's on Icon III at the top!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Fragments XXXIII through XXXVI

I remembered having digital images of the identically framed "fragments". So, here they are. I used a piece of Japanese indigo dyed fabric as a base for lots of hand stitching. To this, I added "puff paints", acrylics, and some metallic foiling. My intention was to create something new rooted in something old, to create what appeared like a scrap one would see in a museum, to make a texture that physically looked like a crusty layer of aging.
I think I am posting these in a half-hearted attempt to change my mood. I need to feel better about myself and my artwork, especially this evening. We are going to the opening of Wim Roefs' show, Construction Crew II. It's are Gallery 80808, right outside my studio door. For two weeks, it will surround me.
Wim is quite the salesman, the art curator, the expert foreigner, and is quite authoritative in his opinions. I generally feel like an amateur whenever he's around. There's an arrogance that undermines me. I've even overheard Wim selling artwork by comparing it to the laughable work done by some of the artists renting studio space in the building. That's me. Wim only represents artists with established regional reputations. That's not me.
Yet, I am looking forward to the show. I've admired Christine Tedesco's douiponi silk quilts for years. I've never met this architect who sews on the side. I will likely meet her tonight. She is exactly my age. So is Virginia Scotchie, the internationally acclaimed ceramicist who teaches at USC and just finished a major commission in Taiwan. Her work, too, is part of the show along with Paul Yanko and Matt Overend. I've seen most of the work already. How could I miss it. I see all the installations while I come and go from my studio, almost a safe haven but with no protective ceiling from the salesman's comments on the other side of the wall. I cannot let these words undermine me!

Indian Dancer

Since I mentioned Indian Dancer, I thought I ought to post its image, especially since Janet and I are considering using this for the invitation--another expense we are bearing. Janet made the painting. I made the textile. We worked independantly and simply collaborated by putting pieces together. It was a great way to "break the ice" when we started. I will need another picture though. I only saved one at 72 dpi.

Getting Ready for Two Shows

I finished Elements of Architecture XXI (pictured) for the show at Ironstone Vineyards in California. Since three have been sold from the series, I have eighteen to be sent. They are all nicely framed with plexi-glass, ready to make the trip. I plan on shipping them by late next week.
Part of me is nervous, thinking I need more work. Yet, I will also be sending a few other, earlier architecturally based embroideries. Part of me is nervous because I really only have scant email correspondence with the vineyard, no formal contract and no provided funds for shipping. I have an airline ticket (again, my expense) to go to a reception that, as far as I know, has no set date. The arrangements are just not as "professional" as I'd like them to be.
I've been pushing these fears to the back of my mind. No matter what, I'm now going to California. I will find a way to make this an artistic adventure. Steve purchased a ticket to San Francisco Ballet's The Sleeping Beauty on my last day there. Hopefully, I will see Joseph Phillips dance. His mother Linda gave us advice on which seats to buy.
The other piece pictured here is Oriental Fragment. It is headed to the Archeology Project at I. Pinckney Simon's gallery in January. I really had no intention of making this my "stand-out" piece, but Steve found some exquisite, real silver moulding in the garage. It was leftover from a job framing one of Linda Fantuzzo's oils. There was just enough to go around the piece. Although it looks perfect, it is a bit "heroic" in scale. So, I choose this image to accompany the press release/article. I also picked Calligraphy VI, the one with the dragons. Indian Dancer, one of our collaborations was another image. Janet selected her images. Yesterday, I sent the article and all five pictures to Carolina Arts, the Vista Guild website administrator, and posted things on the Columbia Record, an online local newspaper site. It takes up to 24 hours for postings to appear on the Columbia Record. I will check later today.
I am getting worried about the presentation of my Archeology Project. I. Pinckney Simon's Gallery doesn't have a dedicated area for exhibitions. Is there going to be a place for it? Will it be seen? Will it carry off my intentions? Who knows? I've been telling myself not to worry. The act of creating the work really has been much more important to me than this show! I've always planned to continue the project beyond January, to make the work into a total installation. I've envisioned a museum setting. That really is where this belongs and ought to be seen. So, why am I so worried? I guess it is just the pressure of getting ready for two shows at once.
Today I plan to set up the Archeology Project in my studio or somewhere that will permit me to adequately photograph it! It did look quite nice yesterday in Dunn's Chapel. Even if it doesn't end up in the gallery, I've got my other work. I've got five pieces framed from the calligraphy series, a set of four identically framed "Fragments", Oriental Fragment, another "Fragment" (can't remember the numeral!), and the matted/shrink-wrapped pieces from the calligraphy project. I'm not really even represented by the gallery, only Janet is! I shouldn't be worried; I just am!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Archeology Project Debuts for a Senior Citizen's Church Group

Today I spoke for a senior citizen's group at Dunn's Chapel in West Columbia/Congaree, SC. I was suppose to talk about "Preserving Memories" because I did this seven or eight years ago for another church affiliated senior group. The presentation included basic information about shadow-boxing keepsakes, the use of acid-free mats in framing, and the properties of UV glass for photography. I made suggestions about digitally scanning old newspaper articles and talked about which glues were acceptable in scrap booking. How boring. I was dreading it.

I decided to change the program. There wasn't a contract; there wasn't a paycheck; and the entire allotted time was but forty-five minutes. I decided to be me: Susan Lenz, artist.

Part of the change came about because of a client that recently said, "Oh, I don't know anything about modern art, but I know what I like". This is such a stupid statement, especially since it probably isn't even true. Most people just don't possess the vocabulary to express what it is that they like and what it is that they don't like. If, in forty-five minutes, I could get just one person to see my work as both "beautiful" and "modern", I would have done something! If I could break down a single barrier, it would be worth it. This also gave me the opportunity to set up my Archeology Project on a nice, big round table and watch people look at the work!

Today is "Pearl Harbor Day" but the program was started with the pastor reading the passages from the Book of Luke regarding the nativity. So, I started with....."Here we are, two thousand years later...." In that sense, Pearl Harbor really wasn't very long ago and all these elderly people were quite MODERN themselves. I mentioned that most 20th century art for me was textbook learned. For them, they lived during the hey-day of Abstract Expressionism. Then, I told them that I was an embroiderer and gave a brief demonstration of heat-activated techniques. They were, by and large, interested, even excited. This led into the terms "mixed media" and "installation". I ended by inviting them to look at my altered books and my Archeology Project. It went well. It was great to see how all these little pieces would look when set up together.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Hurrah for Wanda!

I learned that even my husband didn't read my blog one single time while he was in England. This means, of course, that Mathias rarely does either (though I think he occasionally looks at the pictures!) I seldom receive comments but my sister Wanda sent one this week. HURRAH FOR WANDA. Thanks so much!

Steve returns from England

Steve's flight was over a half hour late getting into the Columbia airport, but he arrived safely which is really my only concern. We went back to Longhorn's for another steak dinner and to talk about the trip.
I didn't get my "rat" photo but one is promised. Steve talked in detail about Birmingham Royal Ballet's large stage, its mechanical rats, the heavenly swan that soars overhead bringing Clara to the stage (dream sequence), the fabulous dancing, how great Mathias looked, and about a nutcracker toy that is wired to "magically" come back together after Fritz has broken it. The live music was wonderful, a treat we rarely get here in Columbia. The printed program is gorgeous. It includes a past image of rats. Now I REALLY, REALLY, REALLY want a photo of Mathias in one of these costumes!
Later in the evening, Alex gave me a MySpace lesson. I've had a MySpace for months and months. Alex created it for me. He has posted mini-videos of my altered and artist books and of Blues Chapel on it. He dreamed up the login information including the password. He probably told me about it, but I forgot. Recently, Tom Ogburn sent me a message announcing his MySpace but I couldn't click onto it because I wasn't "signed in". Of course, I didn't know how to sign in, send a message, accept new "friends" or request to be a "new friend". I needed this lesson.
The best part of the lesson was learning how to go to Mathias' and Alex's MySpace and being able to see the images posted there. I found this picture of the BRB Capulets. For those who might not know which is Mathias (in case I actually do have non-relative readers!), Mathias is the third from left--the one needing to shave!
MySpace is a link from this blog!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

We Return to Nutcracker on Saturday night

Alex and I had invited Shih-Huai to dinner after Friday night's Nutcracker. There was a cast party so he had to refuse our invitation. We asked if he'd like to go the next night. He seemed thrilled. Alex decided that he'd simply see the entire show again.

I had gone to me studio after our return from Charleston and wasn't willing to give up that much of my creative time. I had my meeting with Janet Kozachek in my studio at 5:30 PM. We discussed our collaborations, digital images, and exchanged a few more found objects. It had been fun. The Midland Clay Arts Society was just wrapping up their weekend holiday sale in the gallery. I even won a door prize (third year in a row that I won something!) It was a nice vessel again. Thus, I have all handmade pottery for my paint brushes.

Alex walked from home to the studio. He tried to tempt me to go to the theater early. Finally, I gave in--half way. I would come for the second act. He would silently send me a telephone call at the beginning of the Snow Scene. I would not answer it but know this was my signal to come. Alex walked the rest of the way to the Koger Center. I gave him $5 for the cheapest ticket but Jack Sloan, one of the company's board members, gave him a much, much better ticket for free. Alex was elated.

I estimated the time for me to go home to change, got the call, and met Alex in the theater just as intermission was ending. We sat with Willie Moore and Jose Serrano and one of the soloists from City Ballet as well as some of Alex's friends from CMFA. We all clapped for Shih-Huai because he really was the best part of the production. The cast was different. Again, I wished the program had been more informative. The costume was completely different for the girl dancing Arabian. It had to have been someone else but there was only one name. Who was this? She did a good job, whoever she was. The Sugar Plum Fairy was Reka Gyulai, who was quite good too though I preferred Talin Kenar.

Leonid Flegmatov was the Cavalier. It wasn't good. He acted as if he'd forgotten his variation. Much of the time he seemed in preparation for a movement. He started his grand pirouttes after the music and ended them before it completed. His menage was laughable. On a diagonal sequence across the large stage, he performed a series of small inconsequential steps and then did one jete that wasn't even parallel to the floor. It was all very odd. I didn't like his dancing at all. Yet, the second act, overall was even more enjoyable with the second viewing.

Alex and I took Shih-Huai to dinner for steak at Longhorns. We learned that UCLA upset USC and laughed about football, ballet, life in Columbia, etc.

Columbia Classical Ballet's Nutcracker

On Friday night Alex and I went to see Radenko Pavlovich's Nutcracker at the Koger Center. Shih-Huai Liang, a former Kirov Academy student who graduated the year before Mathias but stayed at the school last year as an "apprentice", is in the company and managed to leave three tickets at the will-call office for us. Alex invited Erica to join us. Frankly, we needed something entertaining to do. Earlier in the afternoon I had my "issues" with CD burning. We'd been in a panic and Erica didn't even have time to go home to change. She wore my black cashmere top and black sandals with her designer jeans. We were anxious to relax and simply watch the dancing.

The program answered many of our casting questions but posed several others. There was an announcement thanking Anne Richardson of Richland District Two school district. I'm assuming the corps dancers came from there but I'm really not sure. The main girl for Arabian was clearly not a high-schooler but is also not in the company. Later we saw Stacy Calvert waiting to congratulate a dancer. Perhaps this girl is a USC dance major? The program indicated that there were two casts but did not say on which night which dancer was to perform.

We arrived with at least a half hour until curtain. While reading the scant program, I thought back to last year's Nutcracker. The second act had been quite nice but the first was downright boring. We watched the party goers parade across the stage infront of the curtain for longer than is usual. There was almost no dancing until the "solider" music started. We had to endure watching all the party goers return back across the stage as they left. Most of the first part seemed to be "wasting time", getting through the manatory music, waiting for the dancing to begin.

Then I thought about the "nightmare" sequence. Someone told me that Paris Opera included large-headed monster-like figures that scare Clara in the opening of the second act. The costumes looked poorly made and cheap. These "heads" were so large that it made dancing impossible, just semi-choreographed running around in circles chasing the little girl. I was happy to see that Radenko had eliminated this part and opted for a typical angelic dream of heaven.

Finally the overture started. As usual, the music was too loud. The lighting on the curtain was odd. Then I recognized it as the "bats" that start Dracula or Frankenstein or even Jekell & Hyde. Alex and I giggled a bit. The party-goers all took their time making the way to the Stahlbaum's house. Happily, the dancing started almost immediately. There were "Big Party Girls" and "Little Party Girls" and three party boys. These groups all took turns, just like civic productions do--allowing all the kids to have a moment to shine. Yes, this was more of a student recital worked into a ballet, but at least it was something instead of the boredom we were shown last year. In fact, some of the young dancers really exhibited potential. Zach Hartley played the part of Fritz. He has talent but it is hard for me to judge. He looks about ten or eleven. He is thirteen. Another boy was put into the Stahlbaum family as "Heinrich" but he didn't appear with his family at the end. Odd. Morgan Lumpkin did a fine job with the Columbine solo. Easily, however, the best segment was Shhih-Huai's Harlequin. The audience paid attention and applauded warmly.

The Battle Scene can be quite a mess in a civic production, too many rats, too much "smoke" effects, too many three year old mice, etc. This show had but two rats. They were quite entertaining. One was Humberto Teixeira and the other was Shih-Huai. (This was his third costume of the evening as he started out as a party gentlemen before changing into the Harlequin.) The mice were all keep in a group and ushered on and off stage by an adult. The soldiers, more students, were orderly. The nutcracker and the Rat King (Andrei Saraev) had their battle. Oddly, the Rat King stabbed the nutcracker. We never saw the transformation into a would-be prince. Instead, a wooden nutcracker was used henceforth. There was but one slight mishap, a rat tripped over a mouse but somehow they managed to get the child off the stage.

Nothing was used to bring us to the Land of Snow. The curtain went down and then up. We were there. Clara wandered in with the toy nutcracker at the end. The Snowflakes must have been the Richland Two School District students. They were very, very good, well practiced, and it was nice to watch. The leads were good too.

The Second Act gave students an opportunity to be angels and play with battery operated candles. Parents in the audience roared with approval. Clara wandered in again as the scene changed without much transition into The Land of Sweets. Characters for each of the variations introduced themselves to the audience. Then, Clara mimed the battle scene to the SugarPlum Fairy. The variations then re-introduced themselves to Clara. Finally, all the music was used up and we arrived for Spanish, which was called Spanish Sangria.

We saw Daria Sokolova dance with Leonid Flegmatov. Leonid alternated the part with principal dancer Mikhail Ronikov. These were the only two company members that didn't seem to have at least five or six roles in the program. Unfortunately, the white shirt was miles too large for him and took away from the dancing. There was little partnering and less geniune energy.

The major problem of the evening was one of those unfortunate technical ones during which one can't help but feel terribly for the dancers involved. The four (probably Richland Two students) accompanying the Arabian dancers took their positions on stage with their hands above their heads in a typical eastern style when the incorrect music started. The music stopped. The dancers stood still. A minute past. More incorrect music. Another minute. Even my arms began to ache for those on stage. Finally, they bowed and departed. We all clapped furiously. Finally, the correct music started. The lead dancer, Jeanette Medina, likely a USC dancer, was quite good being partnered with Junio Teixeira.

The best part of the evening was undoubtedly Shih-Huai Liang partnering Morgan Lumpkin and Daira Sokolova in Marzipan. As they came on stage I crossed my fingers with hope. Yes, it was the choreography I watched in person when Mathias was thirteen and have rewatched frequently in video tape. It was the Kirov Marzipan. I love this variation. The audience did too. Shih-Huai was excellent. The girls were excellent. We roared Bravo through our applause.

Mother Ginger and the Bon-Bons is always a fun treat. The clown-like black & white costumes on the little girls are darling. Chinese Chopsticks featured two of the apprentices, Christina Fipps and Leigh Hartley (who was also Louisa) jumping around on pointe. Radenko's Russian choreography is great. They forgot to list Shih-Huai as one of the four men dancing though.

We saw Reka Gyulai as the Dew Drop Fairy. The lead flowers were Daria and Morgan. The rest of the corps were likely the Richland Two students but there were a number of older elementary schoolers in pale pink, the flower buds. The dancing was a nice blend of recital-like work coupled with more proficient dancers.

Talin Kenar was the Sugar Plum Fairy. She was partnered by Mikhail Ronikov. She did a lovely job and is quite a beautiful girl. He dances well but seems to have lost an energetic flair. His variation just seems like a series of big, open leaps executed adequately but with no special purpose.

The music changes abruptly with the lights. Clara is fetched by a night-gowned women holding another battery powered candle. The stage is almost entirely dark. The curtain is lowered. It raises for the bowing.

All in all, we really liked the performance. It had some problems but they were rather minor. The biggest problem isn't one that can be easily fixed. There are simply too few dancers in the company to mount this production without the use of lots of kids and amateurs. There is a "civic" quality to the whole and too much time spent waiting for the music to get to the part that's been rehearsed as dancing. Yet, the dancing was enjoyable. The program wasn't boring.

We went to Hunter-Gatherers for dinner and saw Gina Langston. She was suppose to sing with the band performing later that night (starting around 11 PM) but the band opted for her to join them on the 15th. I didn't even know she sang!