The Casual Blog

Tag: Lynn Taylor-Corbett

Izzie the cat, questionable executions, and ballet love

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Izzie the cat took her last trip to the vet this week. After almost 14 years together, we were sad. Our pets enrich our lives and make us better, more loving humans, even the ones with mercurial moods like Izzie. One minute, she would be seeking affection, angelically purring, and hissing like a little demon the next. Of course, we probably seemed strange to her.

From time to time I tried to get her to do some modeling for me and my camera, but she never cared much for that. I cannot say that any of my photos quite got her essence. White with black splotches and wings, she was a strange, pretty thing. It will be a slightly different world without her.

Deciding to put down a beloved pet is a hard decision. We considered for a while the evidence of Izzie’s diminishing capacities and increasing behavioral problems, and balanced as best we could the pros and the cons. In the end, we decided it was a good time for her death. But there remains a little nagging discomfort, along with sadness. To actively take on the choice of life or death is unsettling, which it should be.
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This week U.S. fighter planes reportedly blew up several dozen people in a Libyan terrorist training camp. The target was a single Tunisian individual I’d never heard of, Noureddine Chouchane, based on his participation in terrorist attacks in Tunisia. I found this disturbing. Assuming Noureddine Chouchane was a thoroughly evil person who committed heinous acts (we couldn’t possibly get that wrong, could we?), should we be the judges and executioners for all terrorist acts, no matter how far removed from the U.S.? And even if we can justify that, how to justify taking the lives of dozens of other people who, so far as we know, committed no crimes? Do we really think it’s OK to kill all potential terrorists (who are, after all, also potential future non-terrorists)?

The Times had a story this week headlined (in the print edition) “Scars Left by American Bombs Resist Fading, 25 Years Later.” The particular scar in issue was damage from our bombing of civilians in 1991 at the beginning of the Persian Gulf War. We dropped an especially powerful bunker busting bomb on a shelter in a middle class Baghdad neighborhood and killed 408 people, most of whom were burned alive.

I can see how ordinary Iraqis could find this a moral outrage. Wouldn’t anyone? Yet I had never heard of the incident before, and after digging through 25 years of Times coverage on Iraq, couldn’t find an earlier story about it. It makes you wonder whether there are some other military atrocities that even faithful Times readers have not heard about.
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The Atlantic has a good piece by Peter Beinart titled “Why Attacking ISIS Won’t Make America Safer.” Beinart notes that most Americans favor attacking ISIS, but argues that history shows that our military actions in the Middle East have resulted in inceased, not decreased, terrorist attacks. He calls it “the terror trap”: the more terrorists we kill, the more terrorists there are trying to kill us. Beinart doesn’t say this, but I will: the military solution will not work.

On a lighter note: Saturday night we went to the new Carolina Ballet show, Love Speaks. It was delightful! The theme of romantic love never gets old, and it’s right in the sweet spot of this wonderfully talented company. Lynn Taylor-Corbett’s new work has a narrator providing some poetry of Shakespeare, and a sort of Elizabethan look, but also kind of jazzy, with quickly developing flirtations, fascinations, and jealousies. I really liked it. I also particularly enjoyed Jan Burkhard and Richard Krusch in the balcony scene of Weiss’s Romeo and Juliet. It was profoundly romantic.
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Cutting wood, not fingers, trying a good new Italian restaurant, and enjoying the Carolina Ballet’s Carmina Burana, but worrying about the dancers’ low pay

On Friday afternoon a group from the Red Hat legal department worked on a Habitat for Humanity house in eastern Raleigh. It was a warm, sunny day. I managed to work up a good sweat nailing boards together, and pulling apart ones I didn’t line up properly before I nailed them.

I also spent some time cutting boards with a circular saw. My father was a passionate woodworker, and the sound of the power saw brought back childhood memories — of trying to watch TV and not being able to hear it because of the power saw. Dad was always worried that his or someone else’s children would hurt themselves with his power tools. He did not generally encourage visits to his wood shop, and managed to implant in me the idea that little fingers can be sliced off very easily. This is a particularly horrifying thought for a pianist. Thus I was probably a more deliberate sawer than most.

Afterwards, after knocking off some of the sawdust, a few of us had a beer at Sammy’s, a sports bar. We learned that Barrett is coming into the home stretch towards his wedding day, with a Caribbean honeymoon in St. Lucia to follow, and Madeline had decided that her next vacation will be in Curacao. I encouraged them to try some scuba diving. Madeline said that she had some claustrophobia issues and a dread of fish bites, and so she was not overly keen, but Barrett seemed game.

That evening Sally and I tried Tuscan Blu, a new Italian restaurant in the warehouse district. We got there at 6:20 with a view to finishing in good time for the ballet by 8:00, and were the first ones there. It was empty, but we quickly got a good vibe from the friendly staff. When we asked about wine, our server summoned the owner, a big, gray-headed, Italian guy, who, instead of discussing the matter, brought us out a bottle of Italian chardonnay that he said we would like. We did. People began to come in, and the place started buzzing. The olive oil in the salad dressing was excellent, as was the pear and ricotta fiochhi. We’ll be going back.

The Carolina Ballet featured a revival of Carmina Burana and three short new works inspired by a local exhibit of the art of Alexander Calder. This was our fourth Carmina, and I’ve liked it better each time. It is a rich, complex work. Lynn Taylor-Corbett’s choreography melds with Carl Orff’s powerful, strangely ancient-yet-modern choral music in a way that seems organic: it feels as though the music and dance were created together, instead of sixty some years apart. . The performance on Friday had a quasi-orchestra (two pianos and percussion) and the 140-voice Raleigh Chorale, well conducted by Al Sturges, made a big, pleasing sound.

The work opens with a group of male dancers in business suits with leather briefcases, which is both humorous and disconcerting. We quickly realize that it’s about our society, with a range of characters from Wall Street operators at the top to laborers at the bottom. The theme is the power of the goddess Fortuna — in other words, luck. Characters from all walks of life excitedly scratch lottery tickets, and are disappointed, and scratch again. Suddenly, one wins! And his life and the group’s is reorganized. One lover is discarded, another appears, then a child, who a moment later is a young woman. Temptations (lust, greed, etc.) arrive, and corruption develops, followed by pain and loss. The wheel keeps turning, with more rounds of the lottery, and eventually, there’s a new winner.

Yevgeny Shlapko played the Man Who Wins (the first lottery winner) with grace and maturity, and stylish athleticism, and paired well with Melissa Podcasy, who had beauty and depth as Woman Who Yearns. Their Daughter Who Dreams was played for the first time that night by Lola Cooper, who was both funny and graceful in conveying the excitement and storms of adolescence, including having a first cigarette. Marcelo Martinez was Man of Darkness, a personification of evil that was both frightening and seductive. I was very happy to see Alicia Fabry back after her injury as A Lost Soul, a role in which (against type) she projected a tragic neuroticism.

The first half of the program had works by Timour Bourtasenkov (a principal in the company), Zalman Raffael (a member of the corps), and Tyler Walters (now on the faculty at Duke). I particularly enjoyed Lindsay Purrington and Yevgeny Shlapko in Raffael’s piece, The Ghost, with music by Darius Milhaud. Walters’ I Mobile to music by Prokofiev was an intricate, modernist work that connected well to the mobile idea.

Afterwards, we met Lola at Humble Pie and caught up. She told us that there had not been much time to put together Carmina Burana, and she hadn’t had a chance to rehearse with the orchestra. She said she hadn’t tried smoking until the night before, and worried that she might have a coughing problem in performance. We talked about the problem of the extremely low salaries of the dancers, and particularly those in the corps.

This is something that has bothered me for a long time. These extremely gifted young people have spent most of their lives in sustained dedication to their art, and have overcome enormous odds to join the few who are paid professionals. They’re incredibly successful — sort of. They get the satisfaction of practicing their art at the highest level, but get paid at a level that is ridiculously low. Paying for the rent, the car payment, and groceries is difficult, or perhaps just not possible without a second job (which is very difficult to put on top of the time demands of the company) or help from parents or elsewhere. If we care about dance, we need to care about the dancers, and figure out a way to pay them a living wage.

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.

New dancers, and a new restaurant

On Saturday afternoon we went to the Carolina Ballet to see the same show we saw three weeks back, but with different dancers. The first work, the Ugly Duckling, by Lynn Taylor-Corbett, is a bright, jazzy ballet. It’s plainly engineered with children in mind, but the sweetness is balanced by stabs of darkness and menace. We saw Lara O’Brien, the original UD, at the beginning of this run, and on Saturday saw Lindsay Purrington in the title role. It was an interesting contrast. Lara was both regal and comic. There was never a question, though, that she was a swan. Lindsay brought to the surface more of the pathos of the story — the moments of confusion, hurt, and fear — and her transformation into a swan was a difficult journey. I found it surprisingly touching.

Margaret Severin-Hansen and Richard Krusch performed a pas de deux entitled Flower Festival in Genzano. It was very classical, and very beautiful. For moments the law of gravity seemed to be suspended, and the dancers seemed to be impossibly light, almost floating. Peggy is such an awesome technician that she makes you forget about technique, and get to the essence. She projected innocence, charm, and love.

Robert Weiss’s newest ballet is entitled Grieg: Piano Concerto. I played a version of the piece as a young piano student, and have never been overly fond of it since. But Weiss has put its somewhat diffuse Romanticism to good use. The ballet is in parts fast and furious, with dancers shooting about both horizontally and vertically. The allegro ensemble sections seem almost frighteningly complex. There are some wonderful quiet, tender moments as well. On Saturday, Lara O’Brien, Jan Burkhard, and Lola Cooper took the principal female roles, and were lovely. Lola performed the role created for Melissa Podcassy, which includes a long adagio solo. She radiated confidence.

After the performance, we talked for a while with Lola and her father, Brian, who was visiting from New York. She described days of five-hour rehearsals for the next show followed by a two-hour performance in the evening, and then the same again the next day. Grueling, clearly. But she wasn’t complaining.

That evening we ate for the first time at Market, a relatively new restaurant in Raleigh’s Mordecai neighborhood. It features fresh, local ingredients, and has a simply furnished dining room that makes you think organic. The service was friendly and helpful. The had the sweet potato latkes and the vegetarian stir fry, neither of which were like anything I’d ever eaten and both of which were delicious. We split a piece of pumpkin cheesecake, which was also unexpectedly delightful. We liked the place.