The Casual Blog

Tag: Lindsay Purrington

An eye exam, a veggie burger, and a new ballet

It was a busy week at work, with many new issues popping up as I tried to address the existing backlog. I also made a visit to the Duke Eye Center for an exam in preparation for my eye surgery next week. My ophthalmologist, Dr. Prithvi Mruthyunjaya, seems both brilliant and humane, but his patients have to spend an awfully long time in the waiting room. This was also true of Drs. Denny and Casey. Is this a retinological tradition? Are damaged retina patients more-than-usually patient? Dr. M. described my prognosis as “guarded.” At a number of levels, I felt not so great.

On Friday Sally and I did dinner and a ballet. For dinner, we made our first visit to Chuck’s, a new place on Wilmington Street that features in gourmet hamburgers. We quit eating cows many years ago, and so initially assumed Chuck’s was not for us, but then were told on good authority that they made the best veggie burger in town. It was, in fact, really good. It had flavor and pleasing, chewy consistency. And it didn’t fall to pieces.

The Carolina Ballet led off with a new work called A Street Symphony by Zalman Raffael. It was set to hip hop music, which, as almost everyone knows, is music emphasizing pulsing polyrhythms and rhyming gritty lyrics, and deemphasizing melody and harmony. I developed a taste for hip hop a few years back, when I found the Sirius radio hip hop channels, and found it to be good music for driving a sports car. I liked the raw immediacy and experimental transgressiveness. It is also, of course, good dancing music, but hip hop dancing seems worlds away from the ballet tradition.

Combining radically different movement vocabularies could be a banal experiment or a disaster, but Raffael succeeded brilliantly. His work Rhapsody in Blue, presented earlier this season, was soundly designed and had some marvelous flashes, but seemed more the work of a skilled apprentice than a master. With A Street Symphony, he has arrived, with a strong sense of architecture and humor.

The work is made up of seven songs, with the dancers arrayed in solos, couples, and ensembles. The set and costumes are minimalist, with the women wearing gauzy tutus of various colors pulled above their tights. In the beginning, the pounding rhythm is unsettling, and the first piece, Clockwork, uses a robotics theme that is fairly familiar. But Alicia Fabry’s replicant is both energized and vulnerable, with limbs shooting about at amazing speeds and a startled doe-eyed gaze.

I also really liked Jan Burkhard and Yevgeny Shlapko in Best of Me. Jan is a dancer with an sensual quality, and here she was fearless. Classical dance walks a fine line with respect to sex: it candidly reveals dancers’ bodies and deals with intimate subject matter, but almost never references the act itself, and is careful not to push the red button. But hip hop is sexy, and Jan embraced it. So did Eugene, who had a rangey freedom that recalled the hood.

Lindsay Purrington was really touching and beautiful in Cry Me a River. She did various transformations, including a streetwise tough and a Swan Lake swan. At one point her tutu started to fall to pieces, which added an unplanned degree of tension to the performance, but she dealt with the issue with grace, eventually ditching the thing stage right, and strutting boldly forward. Adam Crawford Chavis lifted her magnificently overhead.

This was unquestionably ballet, with pointe shoes and the traditional vocabulary, but augmented with exciting movements from urban street culture. The most successful dancers seemed to personalize their roles, though some stuck close to the familiar classical lines. For one, Margaret Severin-Hansen, who is a fantastic classical technician, was sharp and intriguing, but seemed to me to hold back a bit from the street. On the other hand, I thought Sokvannara Sar, Nikolai Smirnov, and Cecilia Ilieusiu all found interesting individual ways of combining the upmarket and downmarket.

Anyhow, I really liked A Street Symphony, and also Robert Weiss’s new work Idyll, set to Richard Wagner’s lovely Siegfried Idyll. It featured three couples and flowing lines. I was looking forward to The Rite of Spring, but it came after the second intermission, and I was just too tired to take it all in. Sally thought it too was wonderful.

It’s time to subscribe to next year’s ballet season. We’ve been going on Friday nights for fourteen years and have excellent front-center orchestra seats, but I think we’ll switch to Saturdays. On Fridays I often find myself tired after a busy week that includes 5:30 a.m. workouts, and not always able to hang in there intently for a full evening of beautiful performances. Our NC Symphony subscription has been on Saturdays, and so we’ll have to manage some conflicts, but it seems worth it.

Sharing piano music, buying a painting, and going to a new ballet

Stuart is not overly excited about our new painting

What does art mean to life? I’ll take a strong position, and say, simply, everything.

My brother, Paul, and sister-in-law Jackie were passing through last week, and we convened for dinner at Zely and Ritz. But first, they came up to our apartment to see the view and have a cocktail. I wanted to play some piano music for them, but hesitated to propose it. Sharing serious music just isn’t something people normally do in these modern times.

I also recognize that for some people it would be an imposition. I think my playing is thoughtful and nuanced, but it isn’t perfect. Even if I were a seasoned professional concert artist, it would still be true that my nineteenth and early twentieth century repertoire would not be to the taste of everyone. Although it amazes me, I understand that some people find it bewildering or boring. I hope this is mostly because of lack of education and exposure — which is one reason I think it’s important to share it.

Fortunately, Paul and Jackie studied music in college and enjoy various genres. And so I played for them some Chopin (the Nocturnes in c-sharp minor and D flat) and Debussy (the First Arabesque). They sounded good, though maybe a little stiffer than when I play for myself alone. Playing for someone else dramatically changes the sensation of making music. Perhaps it’s from adding adrenalin. Things that seemed settled can become unsettled. Sometimes new beauty emerges, and sometimes things fall to pieces. This is one of the reasons I was happy to have these family listeners — without listeners, it’s impossible to learn how to communicate the music. Paul and Jackie seemed to enjoy it, and were very gracious.

At lunch time on Wednesday, Sally and I met at the Adam Cave gallery to look at some paintings. Sally had followed up on a review she’d read with investigation on the Internet, and come up with some works that might work for us by Byron Gin. Adam, the proprietor of the gallery, had agreed to pull together his stock of Gin works, and told us more about the artist. We both felt excited about Three Birds and a Cup, and discussed it more over a lunch at the Remedy Diner (great veggie sandwiches and rock music). The next day, we decided to take him up on his offer to take the painting home and see how it looked before committing.

Three Birds and a Cup, by Byron Gin

I think it’s a touching, slightly funny and engaging painting. The house sparrows look like quizzical house sparrows, but the space looks vibrant blue and gold paint. The yellow cup looks like a cup. The eye and mind shift back and forth between the birds and the cup, and the natural and human world. I find it nourishing and stimulating.

Friday night, we ate at Buku before going to the ballet. It was unseasonably mild, so we sat outside at dinner. Buku has increased its vegetarian offerings, and the ones we tried were good: baba ghanoush, arepas, and lentil wat. I also had the flight of three half glasses of Chilean wines, which were quite delicious.

At Fletcher Hall, we heard choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett speak on the new work to be performed that evening, The Little Mermaid. We’ve liked many of LTC’s works, including Carmina Burana and Carolina Jamboree. She’s a very engaging personality, and articulate and down-to-earth about what she’s trying to do.

She didn’t put it this way, but The Little Mermaid seems designed for ballet newcomers and kids. This was somewhat true of her The Ugly Duckling, but I found Duckling more elegant and touching. Jan Burkhard as the mermaid was lovely and girlish, and fun to watch, and Randi Oseteck as the sea witch was a great villain. And I particularly liked Lindsay Purrington as the sly village girl who tricks the prince. She made the part more sympathetic than the story might have suggest, so that I was sorry when she got her comeuppance. The costumes were mostly delightful. But I found the music intensely cloying, and the narration at times plodding.

The second half of the program was duets of a serious and more classical nature. I particularly enjoyed Lara O’Brien in an intensely tragic Weiss pas de deux with music by Gustav Mahler (one of the true greats). Peggy Severin-Hanson and Marcelo Martinez were powerful and delightful in Le Corsaire pas de deux. It was great to see this significant chapter in ballet history brought intensely to life.

I recently finished reading Apollo’s Angels, a history of ballet by Jennifer Homans. I found some of it heavy going, particularly the early stages, but it was worth it all for the last couple of chapters, including her writing on Balanchine, which was full of insight. It’s unfortunate that she ends the book on a sour note in which she opines that ballet is dying. From where I sit, there’s still a lot of life. I just checked the repertoire list of the Carolina Ballet, and noted that they’ve presented versions of many of the works that Homans discusses and treats as high points of the art. I’m so glad they’re here.

Curiosity, live chamber music, and wonderful ballet

Curiosity killed the cat, but I’ve come to see curiosity and openness to new experiences as major contributors to happiness. This week the NY Times science section had a story that supported this view. The story by John Tierney focuses on “novelty seeking” as a personality trait. According to one study, persons with the highest life satisfaction were those who scored high in novelty seeking and balanced that trait with high levels of persistence, meaning staying with an effort when there’s no immediate reward.

The same study mentioned a third trait associated with those who flourished most, in terms of health, friends, and emotional satisfaction, which it labeled “self-transcendence.” This is “the capacity to get lost in the moment doing what you love to do, to feel a connection to nature and humanity and the universe.” Tierney cites research indicating that novelty seekers exhibit more personality growth as they age. But it is also associated with such problems as gambling and drug addiction, compulsive spending, and criminal behavior. Too much of a good thing, perhaps.

I’ve noticed that lately I’m getting more and more enjoyment from music and dance, which may derive from persistently seeking novel forms and self-transcendence. I’ve been getting out to more live performances these last few years, which helps. I heard an interview with James Levine, the great conductor, in which he compared a recorded performance to music to a post card of a scenic view — that is, a pale reflection of the live event. That may be an exaggeration, but I think he was right that there is no good substitute for live performance.

And so Sally and I made our way to Fletcher Hall last Sunday afternoon to hear one of the world’s premier piano trios, named for its members: the Kalichstein- Laredo-Robinson Trio. They were master musicians and played an excellent program of Mozart, Debussy, Richard Danielpour (b. 1956), and Ravel. Laredo (violin) and Robinson (cello) have been married for 35 years, and the Danielpour piece was a duet written for them entitled Inventions on a Marriage. It covered a range of moods, from passionate to tender to humorous, and the musicians were, as you’d expect, in intimate communication.

Unfortunately, the audience was sparse — about 160 people. I felt embarrassed on behalf of Raleigh that there weren’t more people to hear these truly great performers. As a member of the board of the sponsor, the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild, I felt some responsibility. Afterwards, several board members exchanged emails theorizing about what happened.

Did we not publicize the event enough? I think we did not. Is the audience for this music disappearing? I sincerely hope not, but I guess it’s possible. Chamber groups like string quartets are what TV ad writers plug in when they want to quickly depict the opposite of cool and hip. And they aren’t really wrong. Unlike things that are cool, chamber music is not instantly accessible. It takes years of training and devotion to play, and it also takes education and experience to enjoy. Those of us who have been privileged to have such education had better figure out some way to educate others, or we may lose something precious.

Enjoying ballet also requires some amount of education and experience, although it doesn’t rank as high on the endangered-arts list. I’ve been fortunate to have had early exposure, starting with my sisters’ elementary ballet recitals and continuing through high school at the N.C. School of the Arts. I got to see George Balanchine’s New York City Ballet and other great companies. And I’m continuing to learn from watching the work of great choreographers and dancers, and also reading. I’ve almost finished Apollo’s Angel’s, Jennifer Homan’s impressive, and daunting, history of ballet.

On Thursday we went to opening night of the Carolina Ballet’s new program, Balanchine Rarities. The program opened with three short but very technically demanding Balanchine works. The dancers were beautiful, even in sequences that seemed designed to test their physical limits. I especially enjoyed A la Francaix, a piece in the playful spirit of Jerome Robbins’s Fancy-Free, with two rambunctious sailors, a fun-loving Flirt, a Dandy with a tennis racket, and a diaphanous Sylph, who competes with the Flirt for the Dandy. Jan Burkhard was delightful as the sexy Flirt, and Lindsay Purringon found a sweet combination of elegance and humor in the Sylph. Eugene Shlapko was athletic and funny as the Dandy. He’s getting better and better.

At intermission we talked with Lola Cooper, who had the night off. She was fighting a bad cold and losing her voice, but excited about working with Marina Eglevsky, who staged the Balanchine works. We also talked with Alicia Fabry, who had broken her right metatarsal the previous week during rehearsal. She was in a plastic cast and using a crutch. Poor thing! She said the break could have been worse and did not require surgery, but would take several weeks to heal.

The company also performed Lynn Taylor-Corbett’s Lost and Found, inspired by the 9/11 attacks and set to piano music by Robert Schumann. It is a elegaic work, somber but beautiful. The last work was Robert Weiss’s Moving Life to piano music of Erik Satie. Roy Dicks’s review in the News and Observer singled out Cecilia Iliesiu for her performance, which I thought was fitting; I also thought she seemed like a rising star.