The Casual Blog

Tag: Margaret Severin-Hansen

Buds, laughs, and cries, including Romeo and Juliet (the ballet)

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Sally’s taking a flower arranging class at Wake Tech, and here is her latest project, which I really liked. With spring officially here, I’m very much ready for the big blossoming , and took a Saturday morning walk through Fletcher Park and Raulston Arboretum to see what was up. They’re not here in numbers just yet. But it was fun to take a close look at some things on the point of bursting out.
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Is there anything more boring than people bragging about their marvelous kids? Perhaps hearing people complain about their aches and pains. But other people’s impressive kids are still a serious problem, conversation-wise. Why is it, then, that stories about my own kids are so interesting?

So, sorry, but here goes a proud papa: Jocelyn, having conquered the book publishing business in Manhattan (i.e. getting an entry-level job in ebooks at Macmillan), has now published her first professional writing. It’s a humorous essay about getting the fun of a good cry, which you may read at Quarterlette, a site for twenty-something women. The pay was not good (zero), but she was very excited to be a beginning author. Who knows what comes next? She’s got a piece on online dating in the works, and we kicked around ideas for a funny piece about the annoyances of Facebook.
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At an opposite extreme, there’s a piece in last week’s New Yorker by Andrew Solomon about Peter Lanza, the father of Adam Lanza. Remember Adam, the Sandy Hook killer, who took the life of 26 little kids, his mom, and himself? This is worse than a parent’s worst nightmare. I hadn’t known that he was a high functioning autistic kid who may also have been psychotic. We want to know why he did what he did or what might have made things unfold differently, but there are no full, satisfying answers. Nobody saw Adam’s potential for horrific violence, including the mental health professionals who examined him or his parents. I was moved by Peter Lanza’s struggle with both the pain of loss and profound guilt.
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There’s another good story about death and love called Romeo and Juliet, which the Carolina Ballet performed on Saturday night. We’ve seen Robert Weiss’s choreographed version several times over the past 15 years, and it’s one of my favorites. Shakespeare’s story, it turns out, works quite well without words. The language of ballet is fully sufficient to convey the richness of the trembling, tingling ecstasy of first love, and the explosive violence of feuding clans.

In this production, Margaret Severin-Hansen played Juliet with sweet innocence, and her Romeo, Sokvannara Sar, was strong and sensitive. Their balcony scene was complete, unmitigated, overwhelming love — love that obliterates everything else. Eugene Barnes was a smoldering, intimidating Tybalt. I thought the group sword fights could have used a bit more edge and brio, though I hesitate to say so – I wouldn’t want any dancers to actually get hurt.

Lindsay Turkel was radiant in the trio of gypsy street dancers. We were also happy to see Alyssa Pilger, a corps member and our pointe shoe sponsoree, get a high-profile solo as the Mandolin Girl. She rocked! I’d previously been struck by her beautiful technique, but last night she danced with amazing power, impassioned and electrifying.

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.

Technology, new art forms, food, and ballet

I’m fortunate to have a ring side seat as information technology is transforming the world, but it doesn’t always look pretty. It makes me wonder, at times, whether, as machines get smarter, humans on average are becoming more and more like the race depicted in the wonderful animated picture Wall-E: fatter, lazier, and dumber. But I haven’t given up all hope, and there are some signs pointing the other direction.

A case in point: this week when my son Gabe (pictured here at Alta last week) sent along his first self-produced short video, which is here. He shot it with a tiny body cam over the course of 3 days skiing in Telluride, CO. The finished product reminded me strongly of some of the beautiful skiing we did together. It’s hard to describe the complex sensations and emotions of skiing far from away from the crowd when its steep and deep, but Gabe managed to convey some of it. The flamenco score heightens the sense of edginess — wild joy with stabs of fear.

Good skiing sometimes seems like art, almost like dance, but the work is seldom shared with other humans by the skier-creator. Until recently, filming the experience was a costly and difficult undertaking. In the past couple of years, though, video cameras have gotten much cheaper as well as tinier, and easier to use, and the software for recording and editing has become highly accessible. The tools for communicating the work instantly and almost cost-free over the internet now exist. The learning curve for use of all this technology is short. And so a new class of artist is being born — the skier-auteur. Technology advances are likewise enabling new types of musical expression, and undoubtedly many other artistic expressions. Perhaps the day will come when everyone will be an artist.

Is food art? I argued about this years ago with my friend Tom, a gourmand who took a strong position that great chefs were artists. Over the years, I’ve moved closer to his position. A great restaurant is a multi-media experience, with sets, lighting, sound, and actors, and also smells and tastes.

Last night Sally and I tried a new Thai restaurant off of Moore Square — Fai Thai. It has replaced the Duck & Dumpling, an Asian fusion spot that was one of our favorites, and that we were sad to see close. The emphasis is less on standard Thai fare than on local ingredients and variety. The decor changes involved colorful parasols and lanterns, which were engaging. The menu had fewer vegetarian options than we hoped, but enough to get started. We found the three dishes we tried each quite different and delicious. The spiciness hit the Goldilocks point — not too much, not too little. Our waiter was friendly and attentive, and the manager took some time to talk to us about the aspirations of the place. He appeared to take on board our suggestions for more attention to vegetarians. Thai food fans should try it.

After dinner, we saw the Carolina Ballet perform Carmen. This is the third time we’ve seen the company do Weiss’s ballet, which is one of our favorites in the repertory. Bizet’s music is unforgettable, and the story is sort of perfect for ballet — love, jealousy, death. For all my admiration of Peggy Severin-Hansen’s great talent, I had my doubts about her as Carmen, who is a sensual, cynical heartbreaker. Peggy’s long suit is purity and innocence — the perfect Firebird. Her Carmen was sweeter than normal, not completely cynical, but this turned out to give the tragedy a new bit of bite — more tragic in a way. Richard Krusch as the Toreador was highly serious, and convincing. He’s a fine dancer who keeps getting better. As always, the story ended with a violent shock, but the production was wonderful.