Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Recent Life and Art

Dinner and a movie for Valentine's Day, a Pat Metheny concert, and dance choreography by Alvin Ailey hit on three consecutive nights over the recent weekend.   The speed of life often overtakes my ability or desire to blog about it all.  This post is a montage of recent life and art.

The Alvin Ailey performance was supposed to be last Thursday night at the Fox Theatre.  But, it was rescheduled for Sunday evening after we experienced a winter storm here last week.  At our place we got about 8 inches of snow, mixed in with some sleet and freezing rain, between Tuesday and Thursday.  That is the most snow we have experienced here since 1993.

We lost power for about nine hours on Thursday but fortunately it went out during the daylight hours instead of at night when the temperatures were much colder.  It was a bit of an ordeal.  I managed to get into work in my trusty Subaru on Tuesday but I was the only one there.  After a few hours, with the snow falling more heavily, I decided to head back home where Jennifer and I hunkered down for the better part of three days.

We were lucky.  We continued to have power right up until the snow actually ended and bright sunshine came out.  Most of the the majestic whiteness melted within a few hours but it was during that time that the trees and branches all over our county began to snap and fall on power lines.  Over 12,000 people were without power in our immediate area.  Some didn't get their electricity back until the next day.  So, as I said, we were lucky.
The Cherry tree, Leyland Cyprus trees, and shrubs in our back yard were weighted down pretty heavily last Thursday morning.  Some branches snapped on our property which will require some chainsaw work on my part in the next few weeks. 
Our front yard looking south.  It was a winter wonderland for sure.  Very beautiful and peaceful...until I heard the sound of branches snapping.
Jennifer took this nice shot with her iPhone of the snow from our Pole Barn area looking south.  This was about 7:30 AM Thursday.  A half-hour later the skies cleared and bright sunshine caused the rapid melting of the heavy snow.
Anyway, Atlanta was hit pretty hard as well, though they got more ice and less snow than we did. Fortunately, the Ailey performance was rescheduled.  We figured it was due to the enormous number of flight cancellations at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.  Perhaps the dance troop could not arrive at Atlanta in time for what was to be their opening of a four-day stop on their tour.

That performance was supposed to be my Valentine's Day gift to Jennifer.  Well, I suppose it still was, only it would have to wait.  Meantime, Friday came, the snow was almost all gone and my daughter came home from college to enjoy Valentine's Day with her boyfriend.  It was their idea, partly due to their comparative poverty perhaps, to have dinner with Jennifer and me. Sort of a fun double date.

We made spaghetti with toasted bread and Caesar salad. Various chocolates were liberally available before and after the meal.  We sat around allowing them to share stories of their recent college experiences.  Jennifer and I were glad to have them.  If nothing else it disrupted the touch of cabin fever we both had from being shut-in by the weather.  As Friday was Valentine's Day and all four of us enjoy good movies, I suggested one of my favorites, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004).

My daughter was skeptical.  The boyfriend went along to score points with his girlfriend's dad. Jennifer could only vaguely recall the film.  She said I never watched it with her. Maybe that is so but I have seen the movie at least a half-dozen times since it came out.  I figured she must have watched at least parts of it in there somewhere.

Eternal Sunshine has a lot to offer.  One of many excellent screenplays by Charlie Kaufman.  Terrific performances by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet (this is Carrey's finest acting job in my opinion).  It is a non-sentimental, often quirky, romantic comedy that heavily features Valentine's Day throughout the film.  There are more "romantic" films for the romantic day, perhaps, but this film is about "real" romantic relationships, warts and all, and tells an interesting story in an entertaining way without going over the top.  It is touching in a very grounded sense, wonderfully off-beat and funny, somewhat poignant, but with a relevant, fundamental message about love and emotional attraction.

Without ruining anything, the film states that you might be able to forget a person you were once in love with, but you cannot erase the basic attraction, the love itself lingers even as the details of the person dissolve from memory.  It is a heady film with a touch of philosophy, which, of course, does not take any points away from it in my book.  Two quotes are predominant in the film.  One is by Nietzsche, so that is another plus.  There are different ways to translate it but I prefer the version given in the film.

"Blessed are the forgetful; because they get the better even of their blunders."

The other quote is a beautiful, poetic one from Alexander Pope:  "How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot! The world forgetting, by the world forgot. Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind! Each prayer accepted, and each wish resigned."

Jennifer kept saying, "This better have a happy ending" throughout the film.  She and my daughter were concerned that the movie would end up being a downer.  It is a precarious narrative.  But, rather than state the obvious, I just kept telling them it was a great movie and to stay with.  Gradually, as the meaning became more apparent, as it became obvious that memory of people and places and things is more fragile but the emotion of attraction and love is lasting, they started to smile inside and their apprehension subsided.  My daughter crowned the evening with a sincere "great movie dad" when the closing credits rolled to Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometime.  Yes!  See Eternal Sunshine; it is a 9.

Saturday evening was a bit more upscale.  My daughter had to return to college for a party and to cram in some homework (probably in that order) while Jennifer and I traveled into a by now ice-free Atlanta to join some of our friends for dinner and concert.  We enjoyed some Thai food and socializing at Tuk Tuk with its beautiful views of the downtown area.  Then it was over to the Ferst Center for an excellent fusion jazz performance by the Pat Metheny Unity Band.

Metheny was an unknown commodity to me until I met Jennifer back in 1987.  We listened to a lot of jazz in the early days of our relationship and still do, usually on Saturday evenings while we are around the house.  Metheny is one of the world's greatest guitarists and certainly his latest band ensemble mixes with him to create some really outstanding music.  Metheny played almost nonstop for about three hours while his band mates occasionally ventured off-stage to allow him to perform either solo or in duos with the other members: a latin drummer, a keyboardist and vocalist from Italy, a versatile wind player who altered between three saxophones and a flute, and a really awesome stand-up acoustical bass player. Together they took Metheny's powerful, semi-improvised and ethereal music to marvelous height much to the delight of the sold-out arena of about 2,000 people.

The personal highlight of the evening for Jennifer and me came with Metheny's first encore when the band performed Are You Going With Me?, our favorite Metheny tune.  During dinner I mentioned that I hoped he would perform that but Jennifer said she did not expect it.  After all, the song came about three decades ago, Metheny's repertoire is vast, winning him an impressive 20 grammys through the years, and he is tireless in the production of new musical material. His latest album, Kin, just came out and the evening featured several pieces from that.  But, Are You Going With Me? is a genuine jazz fusion classic.  The audience roared when his band began playing it after coming back out on stage.  It was a memorable moment from one of the greatest jazz genre performers on the planet today.  We were all lucky to have experienced it.

My Valentine's Day gift to Jennifer this year was supposed to happen Thursday night but, due to the winter storm, it was rescheduled for Sunday evening.  Jennifer appreciates dance, particularly modern dance.  She took years of ballet back in her youth.  I am admittedly a novice in this art form. But, I enjoy watching sculpted bodies in tight outfits creating energy on a stage.  So, we were both looking forward to seeing the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's performance at the fabulous Fox Theater.

We both look forward to being in the Fox whenever we attend an event there.  It is a classic, historic, unique venue. For the Ailey performance we had excellent seats, just 5-6 rows back in the balcony section.  I prefer the balcony to sitting on the stage level in part because you get the full view of the blue skyline, the Arabic motif of the space, and - of course - the "stars in the sky" looking down on you.

The audience consisted mostly of people familiar with dance as a form and with the Ailey troop in particular.  They were electric with anticipation, you could hear it in the general buzz of the crowd and in the bits and pieces of conversation I overheard by those around us.  As the various choreographed dances were expertly performed, they applauded in what were for me unexpected places, though Jennifer and I joined in during moments of obvious skill and fashioned force and grace.

The five performances offered this year in Atlanta individually consisted of different routines, mostly designed by Ailey (who died in 1989) but also featured some more contemporary choreography, some as recent as 2013. Unfortunately, the program we saw did not include the more recent pieces.  It made me wonder what they might be like. We had the pleasure of enjoying some of Ailey's choreographed pieces from the 1970's, however. So, on the plus side, we saw modern dance conceived by the master himself rather some inspired works of his disciples.

The evening began with a several dances Ailey created while working in conjunction with the great Duke Ellington.  Being unversed in dance it is a challenge for me to describe what we saw.  In simplistic terms the stage is devoid of props, the costumes are mostly functional and tight fitting, the mood is created with simple but professional lightning and color projected upon a white backdrop and covered floor space.  In other words, Ailey predominantly worked with figures and motion in open space to create his often powerful effect.  At least in the pieces that we were privileged to see.

Jennifer calls his choreography "asymmetrical". Sometimes all the dancers are more or less doing the same moves but often they are in juxtaposition, a few of them will not do what everyone else is doing, synchronicity is used for transition, group motion is staggered, sometimes seemingly spontaneous, sometimes a bit mechanical.  But always human.  These are beautiful bodies with strong cores and strong, shapely legs, incredibly dexterous and flexible; the upper torso of the male dancers in triangular with broad shoulders and small waists.  The female dancers often dominant the stage and are clearly equal to the men with their ripped upper backs and amazing balance of strength and elegance.

Something that could be called ballet is an ingredient in every Ailey piece.  But these more traditional dance moves are purely transitional, to give balance and refresh the experience before the next multi-faceted influence is introduced.  Having been a drama minor in college I can appreciate the magic of projecting power and vitality onto a stage space and out into the audience.  Ailey was obviously a master at this, reflected in the frequent adoring appreciative applause of the audience. These dancers are marvelously skilled at making imagination come alive and allowing the witness to become immersed in the wonder of precise techniques that generate very instinctual excitement and emotion.

The evening concluded with a performance of Revelations, an important and influential piece of choreography from 1960.  It was clearly different from the other performed works we experienced. Revelations has costumes and props, flowing ribbons, simple banners, and even an umbrella. Nothing too fancy here compared with the other works but this was apparently a deeply personal creation for Ailey, rooted in his religious upbringing, a very soulful relic from the beginning of the modern Civil Rights movement.  It concludes with a very upbeat Rocka My Soul In The Bosom of Abraham in which the audience, most standing and swaying, contributed to the energy of the moment by clapping to the beat along with the performers.

So, on consecutive evenings as it turned out, Jennifer and I got to experience two giants in their very different fields.  Alvin Ailey and Pat Metheny are both world renowned in dance and jazz, respectively.  It was a busier than usual weekend for us, rather chaotic when you throw in the wicked winter weather. But Valentine's Day was a memorable success featuring a great movie, great music, and great dance.

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