A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Saturday, February 28, 2009

Yesterday I found myself having a pleasant short walk (a very cold but clear evening) from my house to the Unity Church on Oak and 42 Street. I was going to a Early Music Vancouver concert featuring the Axelrod Quartet the resident Smithsonian Museum of American History chamber music quartet. The Axelrod is headed by our very own Marc Destrubé (Pacific Baroque Orchestra, Turning Point Ensemble and several more etcs!) on first violin. Marilyn McDonald played the second violin, James Dunham, viola and Kennth Slowik, violoncello.

Slowik explained in a charming pre-concert talk with slides and some piano-playing-show-and-tell. The music of the evening consisted of an early and a late Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy ( 1809-1827) quartet for strings and the phenomenal and ever popular Octet for Strings in E-flat Major, Op. 20 (1825). Slowik pointed out that the connection of the evening’s concert to the mandate of Early Music Vancouver was twofold. The concert was being played in instruments more or less from or adapted to the time Mendelssohn’s music was first performed. Thus the sound would be pretty close to what the people of the time would have been used to. Then Slowik told us that Dunham’s viola had been built in the late 1500s!

But this blog is not about last night’s concert per se (even though I enjoyed it immensely), but about two people and the prints of Jack Shadbolt.

I had never been inside this church. There are no crosses that I could discern inside and instead of pews they had upholstered seating much like in a cinema. The only religious symbol I found was a print of a shepherd holding a sheep on altar right. The altar itself was bare except for many plants and the musicians’ chairs. On the side walls I noticed about 16 beautifully framed bold, multi-coloured Jack Shadbolt prints. I was so amazed that I questioned Dr. Stephen Drance, a lover of music who believes in donating money in order to listen to his preferences. “I don’t think it is out of the ordinary, after all this is the 21st century!” While Dr Drance is much older than I am, he is certainly the younger man.

Whenever I go to theatre, dance, opera, ballet and concerts of all types I run into a short friendly French Canadian, Denis Bouvier. I affectionately have given him the nick name of Inspector Clouseau. Bouvier has been with Radio Canada since I first arrived in Vancouver in 1975. He is the “Réalisateur”of a two hour long afternoon radio program called Le pont des Arts. Imagine two hours full of cultural entertainment when the English side, of our local CBC Radio, perhaps features at the most 15 minutes per day!

I like the French word for producer Réalisateur because it is much like it is in Spanish realizador. It means to make true. This Radio Canada producer makes our wishes come true with an enthusiasm that is as palpable as his smile.

As I see that smile on Bouvier’s face I wonder what it is that Radio Canada knows about cultural coverage that seems to elude the English side where culture is placed at the bottom. As a CBC Radio producer told me with a promise to not use his/her name, “In Vancouver and especially in the interior its sports and labour problems.”

I was introduced by Turning Point Orchestra trombonist Jeremy Berkman to a friendly woman, Yolaine Mottet who is the Animatrice for Bouvier’s Le pont des Arts. I asked her point blank what it was they knew about culture and arts programs that the English CBC did not know. She said nothing. I asked her who on the English side would be responsible for the no-culture programming. Again not only did she say nothing but she turned her hands up in a “How should I know?” I have a feeling that many other people challenge her with the same question.

I pressed further. “How can you find people who speak French for you daily programs? You must run out quickly." With that smile of hers she told me that they had interviewed Axelrod Quartet cellist Kenneth Slowik who had not spoken French for some years but magically remembered enough of it quickly, to give them a good interview.

Thinking about Dr. Drance’s liberal non surprise at seeing Shadbolts in a church and mulling in my head Bouvier’s all-encompassing appreciation and love for all art (or at the very least this man has varied tastes) Milton Glasser came to mind. Not Milton Glasser the famous designer of the little red heart of I love NY fame but another who was an important mentor in my appreciation of music.

My Milton Glasser was a Jewish dentist from New York who once told me, “I have always tickled the ivories. I used to when I was a dentist and I keep on now when I accompany Jean on the piano.” Retired dentist Glasser had moved to Mexico City in the early 70s with his virtuoso violinist and violist wife Jean who had been hired as principal violinist for the orchestra of the University of Mexico. The Glassers invited us to their home for pre-concerts which featured Jean’s excellent cooking. We treasured those afternoons at the Glasser and they became our eldest daughter’s first exposure to performed music.

I got into several arguments with Milton Glasser (in the second picture that's my wife Rosemary on the left) about music. I told him I had a preference for Italian baroque and for Bach. “I am not interested in the least in what followed, especially those Romantics.” Glasser with a kind smile on his face told me repeatedly but gently, “You will change your mind one day. Mark my words.” I now realize that at age 31 I was an ignorant, biased and opinionated idiot. There are some (including my wife) who would say that I have not changed except that I am older.

The Glassers had a son, Alan, who was (and is) a plasma physicist of fame. He played the clarinet so when he visited his parents we were exposed to trios of clarinet, piano and violin or viola. This is how I first heard the music of Ernest Bloch. But my favourite was a trio version of Pablo de Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen. One day Milton Glasser sat at the piano and played some confusing music that I almost liked. It was interesting. “What is it? “I asked. It is one of Darius Milhaud’s Saudades do Brazil. He wrote 10. He lived in Brazil for some years and fell in love with it.” In spite of my youthful ignorance I knew that one of my fave jazz pianists Dave Brubeck had studied under Milhaud. Suddenly I could hear a little Brubeck in those Milhaud piano sonatas.

And while I am sure the Glassers are no longer alive in New York, I am sure that in some way, from somewhere they smile upon my more varied and universal tastes in music. Back then I would not have been caught dead listening to a Mendelssohn quartet.

Could it be that it has taken me this long to find out something that the French have always known?

Simone Orlando Blurs It Sharply & God Talks To Me
Friday, February 27, 2009

Last night's premiere of The Goldberg Variations – Side 2: Adam & Eve & Steve, by Ballet BC at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre was a felicitous event. It was more so as my companion was not my granddaughter Rebecca who is suddenly eschewing all dance for the dressing up of celebrities at Stardoll. My companion was her mother, my daughter Hilary, who had not been to the ballet for some time. She greeted The Goldberg Variations and Jean Grand-Maître's Carmen with awe, delight, smiles and contented attacks on our stock of dark bitter chocolate. In short it was an evening that Hilary and I will not soon forget.

From the point of view of this amateur, Kudelka's work consists of an inner core of three dancers, Simone Orlando, Jones Henry and Shannon Smith and an outer frame (much like a beautiful and ornate gold leaf frame at an expensive gallery) of dancers, Marrianne Bauer-Grobbelaar, Alexis Fletcher, Maggie Forgeron, Shannon Ferguson, León Feizo-Gas, Connon Gnam, Peter Smida and Daniel da Silva. This frame of beautiful young boys in short shorts and girls in costumes so light in texture and in substance (designed by Nancy Bryant) revealed more well-formed and muscular thighs (the girls’, I mean, and I must point out that Alexis Fletcher has thighs and legs to compete with those of my idol-of-legs actress Alexis Smith) that I have ever seen in any ballet of memory. It was exotic eye candy with movements that were all classical ballet.

During the action I trained my eyes to blur them out a bit as I was transfixed by veteran dancer Jones Henry whom Kudelka has managed to elicit a performance that would suggest that as soon as Ballet BC secures funds they might have to raise his salary to keep him on! I found myself watching his face as well as Simone Orlando's and Shannon Smith's for the delicate expressions of confusion and doubt (Jones Henry) warmth and understanding (Simone Orlando) and perfect confidence (Shannon Smith). These three, used movements that were striking, in their almost anti-balletic look. They contrasted with the constant swerving and swirling of the outer Corps de Ballet. And I watched, and watched Simone Orlando and how her beautiful dress (for more read below) swished at Kudelka's beckoning much in the same way as so many years ago Lauri Stalling's hair had done so for his 15 Heterosexual Duets. All in all, The Goldberg Variations was an unsettling, pleasing and demanding work with substance in an age that unsettles, pleases with banalities and substance is absent.

I have been upset of late in the knowledge that both the strong Donald Sales and the tall and cool Edmond Kilpatrick are gone from Ballet BC. I feel better. I am a new fan of Australian Shannon Smith who was perfect in his contrast to the pathos of the confused (so wonderfully confused) Jones Henry whose face and a few small and calculated steps seemed to be a window into his soul.

Of Carmen I can only say that Hilary thinks that Shannon Smith is a most manly Don José. Jones Henry pulled all sorts of dazzling veronicas in spite of not having a matador's cape. Makailla Wallace's performance as Carmen's foil, Micaella (the last time around she played Carmen) had shades of that classical ballerina of a Ballet BC recent past, Andrea Hodge who is now the company's Ballet Mistress along with Beverley Bagg.

Of Marianne Bauer-Grobbelaar's Carmen, her red hair and that crooked smile brought me unsettling (the more unsettling for this old man of 66) responses in my nether parts as she reminded me of Vancouver's best ever exotic dancer Tarren Rae. Her performance was as spirited as that of a haughty mustang in heat. But her temper tantrums (only for me I vouch) did not convince me as much as that of the fiery ones of that real kitchen-plate-smasher and Ballet BC's first Carmen, Sandrine Cassini.


Of Simone Orlando's Photo Above, of Nancy Bryant's Wonderful Dress and James Kudelka's Instructions

Years ago when I started shooting variety shows at the CBC when it has just moved to its modern premises on Hamilton Street I had to compete with a few photographers for jobs. The jobs paid well so we all tried to out-compete each other. One of my competition was photographer David Cooper who pretty well shoots most of dance and theatre in Vancouver. Cooper has always looked ahead and he was one of the first to see the rapid preeminence of digital over film. Cooper went beyond even that and learned to make digital montages that were seamless in their perfection. He most certainly has earned his reputation of being the best not only in Vancouver but in the rest of Canada.

While I was wrapping my cameras in thick Argentine wool blankets ( a hole in front for the lens and a hole in the back to look through) to prevent the director from throwing me out for making clicking noises during the show tapings I noticed that Cooper had an expensive and well made Lucite blimp. This device (the best are made in California for professional golf photographers) envelops a camera but leaves room for the photographer's manual control. It was easy to see that Cooper finally abandoned the declining business of TV variety shows and shifted with his blimp to shooting theatre.

When I started shooting dance around 1995 for the Georgia Straight I had to make a decision. How was I going to shoot dancers? Would I try to out-Cooper Cooper and shoot dancers in the air in perfect and graceful poise looking as if they were indeed swans in flight? To begin with I did not have a large studio with a very high ceiling and a coved back wall to give the illusion of an infinite background. Since I have always been a portrait photographer I decided that I would shoot portraits of dancers at rest and I would even avoid dancerly poses.

This decision has served me well until last week when the Straight assigned me to photograph Simone Orlando in her part of the principal dancer of James Kudelka's The Goldberg Variations – Side 2: Adam & Eve & Steve. The shot would involve the only pre premiere look (Thursday) use of the specially designed dress by Nancy Bryant. Kudelka, a man of precision even sent me instructions on how to take the pictures via Ballet BC's most pleasant publicist Laura Murray. In private Ms Murray must have had reservations on how I would take being directed in a shoot considering that in most editorial photographic shoots the photographer must have independence over the organization to be photographed. Initially I was a bit put out but I then decided to rise up to the challenge and that I would try to please a man (I have yet to meet him.) who as artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada would know more about what he wanted in a photograph of the principal female lead of his ballet than I. There was one problem. It seemed he wanted me to do Cooper.

For the first time in many years I was worried, not sure of what I was going to do. What kept me going was the realization that I would have Simone Orlando, all to myself in my studio. No matter how close you sit at a Ballet BC performance or how powerful your binoculars may be, having Orlando in front of you a foot or two away has no comparison. Orlando began to explain what the dance was all about. I had been denied the opportunity to watch a rehearsal. I had nothing to go on. Orlando told me that in this dance she was sort of a Fascist and her moves were un-ballet, quite rigid and soldier-like, but here is the catch, from the waist down her beautiful dark sequined skirt would swirl with the movement. I was to catch both. Then Orlando used a word I have never heard before, "The picture must not be balletic." I asked for clarification. It seemed that the image she had in mind (as well as Kudelka's mind) was a picture that did not show a dancer in graceful flight, all perfect form. I warmed to the idea immediately!

To take the picture you see here I exposed 10 frames of 120 Ektachrome 100G. I set my exposure at between f-11 and f-16 knowing that if I set my shutter at 1/2 second, the quartz modeling light of my 3x4 ft softbox would cast enough light to expose the film and blur the skirt. I put a piece of tape on the floor and Orlando moved to the position while I pressed the shutter. Just in case I shot a roll of colour negative which gives more allowance for exposure error. Orlando's favourite from that roll is here. The colour and the look is different from the slide.

I was not entirely alone with Simone Orlando in my studio. We had Ballet BC wardrobe manager, Kate Burrows who brought Orlando a new pair of shoes and did last minute alterations of that sequined dress. With the guidance of the two women I was bound to succeed. I managed to catch the elusive Kudelka backstage (God to many in the ballet world). God spoke, "Alex you got some movement in that photograph."

Mario Hertzberg The Jew & Bishop Richard Williamson
Thursday, February 26, 2009

On April 7, 2007, Holy Saturday, I wrote part of what is below here. I reflected on those words tonight (I am writing this, late Wednesday). I had left much unsaid. I knew I had to somehow correct my mistake of omission. My friend Mark Budgen and I have been following via e-mail, he by the web-based Manchester Guardian, me by the on-line Argentine La Nación, the events that culminated with the expulsion,a couple of days ago, from Argentina of Bishop Richard Williamson a fervent denier of the Holocaust.

Perhaps my grandmother would have been shocked at it all or perhaps her anti-Semitic stance was only a Spanish 19th century upbringing. On Good Fridays, In Buenos Aires around the late 40s, and the beginning of the 50s I was not allowed to turn on the radio and at 3 pm we would kneel on the living room floor in our Coghlan home and she would take us through the Stations of the Cross in Latin. I distinctly remember her telling me how the evil Jews had crucified Him. When describing people's faces she would sometimes say, "She has the map of Jerusalem on her face." Or she would switch to her alternate, “Es un paisano de Jesucristo,” "He is one of Jesus' countrymen."

But she never ever uttered a critical word about my best friend who lived across the street on Melián 2779. He was Mario Hertzberg. He, Miguelito (I have long forgotten his Calabrian surname) and I were inseparable and we were known as the inglesito (the English boy) el tano (the Italian) and el judío (the Jew).

Mario had two brothers but he once showed me the photograph of a third who looked much the same as he did except he was fatter and wore glasses. "That was my older brother but he died at a place called Auschwitz." At age 8 I did not have enough curiousity to pursue the subject any further.

One day Mario and I went to see a Tarzan movie at the Saturday series sponsored by our local Capuchin monks who were building a very large new church next door to the little community center and movie house. They charged us a token fee but we knew our money was going to a good cause. As we left after the show we were approached by a chubby Capuchin who asked us our names. He asked me to what church I went to. When he questioned Mario, Mario replied, "I don't go to church I am a Jew." I will never forget the Capuchin’s smile as he placed his hand on Mario's arm and told us, "We share the same God and that is what is important." I thought about that for the rest of the day but I never confronted my grandmother with what to me was a clear difference of opinion.

I lost track of Mario Hertzberg when I was 21.

When I wrote the above I was candid to a point. But I did not elaborate. I had returned to Argentina from my home in Mexico to do my military service. This was the reason I had given my mother. The real reason was that I was going to search for my father whom my mother and grandmother had abandoned some ten years before in 1954, with me in tow, because he had become an impossible alcoholic. I felt a pull for my father and for Buenos Aires. I was an impossible romantic and I talked about “my country” and “my land.” My father was part of that landscape, the Argentine pampa.

When I arrived to Buenos Aires I searched for Mario in the hopes that he might know my father’s whereabouts. I was immediately offered the hospitality of his home. He still lived on Melián 2779 in Coghlan. His father had died. I was greeted warmly by his mother. Mario had a beautiful girlfriend who looked exactly like Susan Strasberg. While I was being enrolled into the Argentine Navy, I had some time to search for my father. Mario told me had spotted him walking the nearby street of Monroe near the Pirovano Hospital. A couple of times my father had approached Mario and asked him if he knew where I had been taken to. In the end I did locate my father and that is a story I have told before in another posting.

I remember my bed at Mario’s. It had an under sheet and above me was a large heavy duvet. I had never seen or slept under one before. Mrs. Hertzberg told me I could stay for as long as I wanted until I found a place or, worse, was sent to some remote naval base, and, even worse, some antiquated tin can like the battleship General Belgrano.

In the interim I had contacted the Irish branch of my family, the O’Reilly’s and the English branch, the Haywards. My uncle Freddy Hayward, after much persistent nagging on my part, told me that my father had approached him for information on me, “I gave him some money and sent him away.”

Inesita O’Reilly, my godmother and first cousin offered her home for me to stay until my boarding situation was solved. I recall that one of my nephews said something like, “You cannot possibly want to stay in that house with that Jew.” I remember to my embarrassment that I said nothing. One day during the afternoon I left Mario’s house with all my belongings. I did not leave a note. As my grandmother would have said, “Te despediste a la francesa,” or you left without saying goodbye. To this day the Spanish use this expression in commemoration of the hasty retreat of the French army when Wellington’s troops entered Spain. I never saw Mario again. Or at least that's the way I would like to remember it.

One year later, when I was getting off a train in Retiro (I was in uniform) I spotted Mario and he recognized me. I turned around and left the train by another door.

Four years before I had argued with many who confronted me with the news that Adolf Eichmann had been captured and then kidnapped by Israeli agents in 1960.

Eichmann was apprehended by a team of Mossad and Shabak agents in a suburb of Buenos Aires on May 11, 1960, as part of a covert operation. The Mossad agents had arrived in Buenos Aires in April 1960 after Eichmann's identity was confirmed. After observing Eichmann for an extensive period of time, a team of Mossad agents waited for him as he arrived home from his work as foreman at a Mercedes Benz factory. One kept lookout waiting for his bus to arrive while two agents pretended to be fixing a broken down car. An unconfirmed fourth would ride on the bus to make sure he would leave. Once Eichmann alighted and began walking the short distance to his home, he was asked by the agent at the car, Zvi Aharoni, for a cigarette. When Eichmann reached in his pocket he was set upon by the two by the car. Eichmann fought but team member Peter Malkin, a Polish Jew and a black belt in karate, knocked Eichmann unconscious with a strike to the back of his neck and bundled him into the car and took him to the safe house. In the safe house a preliminary interrogation was conducted and it was proved that Klement (Clement) was undoubtedly the Nazi Eichmann.

I argued up and down that no matter how heinous his crimes, Eichmann was an Argentine citizen and the Israelis had denied him due process. My friends looked at me in horror. I remember telling them that the world was black or white and gray did not exist. Things were either this way or that way and the law was the law.

My only excuse now is probably an indefensible and distorted impetuosity of youthful idealism blended with out and out ignorance.

In the picture above, taken on my birthday on August 31st, 1951, the little boy in darkness on the left is Mario. That's me in the centre in the front row and my father is in the back.

Mario, even if it is far too late, I am sorry.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"Use a Butterfly?" Child said.
"No. Mark V."
"Fast or slow?"
"Fast, "Coen said "Where do you hit?"
"At home. I hate the clubs."
Blue Eyes, Jerome Charyn, 1973

There is only one sport I ever excelled at. When I played it, it had the lowly name of ping-pong. Bats where called racquets and they came in two types, sandpaper or a thin rubber surface on both sides. By the time I was really good at table tennis, my bat was a Butterfly with a thick layer of spin-inducing foam, I had to worry about making ends meet. I abandoned the sport. But I have kept hidden in my small repertoire of talents a mean slam that I can pick up with the ball barely over the table and direct it to the opposite side of wherever my opponent might be standing.

I learned to play at St Ed’s in the late 50s and most of my bag of tricks came courtesy of a Hungarian classmate, Istvan Rozanich, whom I always managed to defeat. He would lose his cool. Pin-pong is all about not losing your cool. I would precipitate the situation by taunting him, "ro-sunof-a-beech."

In 1966 on board an Argentine merchant marine Victory ship for three months I learned to play the sport at a table that pitched during equatorial storms. It put the finishing touch on my slam and improved my dancing. Dancing can be helpful in playing the game.

Perhaps my affinity to the game lured me into reading the Issac novels of Newyorican author Jerome Charyn, above. Who but Charyn (a table tennis shark) would ever write a novel, Blue Eyes, about a NY plainclothes cop, Coen, with beautiful blue eyes and a mean chop with his Mark V bat? Who else but Charyn would have his tragic protagonist gunned down while playing the game in a ping-pong club of ill repute?

All the Chinaman got from Coen was grief. “Draw on me Polish. Show me who you are. You have a trigger. Just move your right hand.” Coen held on to the Mark V. He smiled into the Chinaman’s face. Measuring Coen’s smile, the Chinaman understood that there would be no satisfactions for him this far uptown, and he gripped the Police Special with both hands, conceived a target in his head a good three feet around Coen, and fired into the target. The bat jumped over the Chinaman’s ears. Coen felt a crunch from his teeth down through his groin and into the pit of his legs. He tasted blood behind his nose. His shoes were in his face. He couldn’t determine how he had gotten from the table to the wall. He was thirsty now. He remembered a peach he had bought during maneuvers in Worms, a giant red peach, a “colorado” for which he paid the equivalent of fifty cents, because the fruitman swore to him in perfect English that the “colorado” had come from South America in a crib of ice. Coen scrubbed the peach in canteen water, his fingers going over the imperfections in the red and yellow fuzz. He cut into the fuzz with his pack knife, finding it incredible that a peach, whatever its nationality, should have wine-colored flesh all around the stone. He ate for half an hour, licking juice from his thumbs, prying slivers of fruit out of the stone, savoring his own sweet spit. There was blood in his ear when he tried to swallow. His eyes turned pink. His chin was dark from bubbles in his mouth. Only one of his nostrils pushed air.

Blue Eyes, Jerome Charyn, 1973

What does ping-pong mean to Jerome Charyn? In his Sizzling Chops & Devilish Spins – Ping-Pong And The Art Of Staying Alive (2001) he writes:

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp drizzly November in my soul,” writes Melville in Moby Dick, “I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.” But I’m not a sailor and I can’t even swim. When I feel my own damp November, I grab my sports bag and rush to the Bastille, where my ping-pong club is located, on a little side street. I represent the subway workers of Paris and their gathering of clubs, Union Sportive du Metro. I play in a little league, against aggressive youngsters who have a serve that’s so wicked, I can barely see the ball. But it doesn’t matter. My own special racquet is like a samurai’s blade, masked with soft rubber pimples that’s called a picot. I can neutralize some of the youngsters, who can’t seem to solve the riddle of my bat. Others tear right through the soft rubber mask. But it’s a curious sport, were graybeards like myself can compete against the young killer sharks and sometimes win. I live for the sound of the ball, the pock my racquet makes while I bend my skinny knees. The fierce concentration pulls me into the fabric of a whirlwind. I dance. I dream.

In the day that I spent with Jerome Charyn in New York some years ago I learned from him that New Yorkers aren't, but Newyoricans are. He taught me to pour a bit of decent balsamic vinegar on a bowl of blackberries and vanilla ice cream. I found out that he liked to put Roumanians (his spelling) into his novels because he had once lived in a building with many Roumanians. But I was never able to rustle up enough nerve to challenge him to a game of ping-pong. Had I, I would probably not be alive to write this.

more Jerome Charyn

James Kudelka's Shimmering Swirls & Simone Orlando Obliges
Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Amidst all the attention given to the sciences as to how they can lead to the cure of all diseases and daily problems of mankind, I believe that the biggest breakthrough will be the realization that the arts, which are conventionally considered "useless," will be recognized as the whole reason why we ever try to live longer or live more prosperously. The arts are the science of enjoying life.

John Maeda
Muriel Cooper professor of media arts and sciences at the Media Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In the last few weeks I have come to understand my failure as a parent. I can use as an excuse the ignorance of youth or the stress of having to find work to explain this failure. I have come to understand that to teach our children an appreciation for the arts, of culture; to inculcate reading habits and a desire to take on challenging pursuits are the responsibility of parents and not of our schools, our government or our media. Schools, governments and the media can only reinforce.

As soon as we arrived to Vancouver in 1975 Rosemary and I made sure that our two daughters Ale and Hilary had swimming, skating and skiing lessons. We suggested and ultimately forced both girls to take ballet lessons at the Vancouver School of Music and we further insisted that Ale take guitar lessons. When Ale wanted to quit her ballet and her guitar we told her she could only quit one of them. She quit her ballet. Their teacher was a martinet who only catered to the students she thought had talent and a potential career in ballet. The woman’s attitude poisoned our two daughter’s appreciation for ballet forever. This does not mean that we didn’t try. Every time a renowned foreign ballet or modern dance company came to town we took the girls. Only one performance remains in my memory and that was Revelations by the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. The black troupe appeared on stage in dazzling all-white costumes and parasols. The rest of the dance companies that came to Vancouver are a blur.

I never invited my daughters to accompany me to classical or baroque concerts. I rarely took them to theatre. My contribution to their “culture” was a curtailment of their TV viewing time although I permitted them to watch Gilligan’s Island as I loved that program, too. I left in a huff (to punk concerts at the Smiling Buddha) when Rosemary and the girls would watch the Oscars, Dallas or Dynasty. My eldest daughter could identify Art Bergmann, the Subhumans and DOA but would probably not recognize the Brandenburg Concertos as such. I was so proud of Ale in relation to the former (the punks) that overlooked the balancing of her education with the latter.

We sent our daughters abroad to help them keep their Spanish fluency. But we did not pursue further cultural diversity even though both girls attended and ultimately finished their high school studies in French Immersion.

It is my belief that I never transferred to them my passion for reading and an interest in jazz, classical and varied music. I was not even able to interest them in photography. Ale, has only in the last 10 years come to share our interest in heavy duty gardening.

I took my girls to ballet and modern dance because I felt it was my responsibility as a father of two girls. I was not remotely interested in dance of any kind.

This all changed sometime around 1995 when I first saw, noticed and fell madly in love with Evelyn Hart. Suddenly I was interested in ballet and in most dance (although I have always excluded tap dancing except when it is Gene Kelley or Fred Astaire in an American musical). I began to explore dance in all its forms in Vancouver. I found there were many dance companies with a varied repertoire. I found out that choreographers like Judith Garay had a bit of Martha Graham in her including a love for swirling and blurring fabric. I actually made an effort, because I was suddenly interested, to find out who Graham had been.

With Ballet BC performances I watched the exciting transition when a brand new artistic director, John Alleyne, slowly and surely dragged his company from 19th century ballet and its swans to the modern repertoire. He choreographed new modern dance performances which broke ground and introduced Vancouver audiences (so lazy for change) to choreographers like William Forsythe and Serge Bennathan.

But there was another choreographer, then artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada, James Kudelka’s 15 Heterosexual Duets that made my head turn and finally make me an unabashed fan of dance. These duets (as danced by dancers of Ballet BC in several remountings of this work) featured 8 couples showing the variety, delights and conflicts of human love and interaction. One of the dances featured a woman with long hair (except once when Alleyne cast Acacia Schachte, a short-haired woman in the part!) who in her movements with her male partner magically swirled her hair swirled not unlike (but please discount my crass comparison!) a very good TV shampoo commercial. Kudelka in this particular duet had almost played God and choreographed hair to his bidding!

I had Ballet BC dancer Simone Orlando in my studio on Saturday. I had been commissioned by the Straight to take her picture for this Thursday in anticipation of her performance of James Kudelka’s The Goldberg Variations – Side 2: Adam & Eve & Steve. She put on a wonderful dress. You cannot see all of it here as it is good editorial manners not to place a picture in this blog that will appear in a magazine on Thursday. In magazine parlance it's called "first rights". The picture here is a different one.

Orlando explained that this dance has her moving almost in a jerky mechanical manner from the waist up, while her flared skirt swirls below. Shades of those wonderful 15 Heterosexual Duets?

The excitement in my anticipation of watching the premiere performance of this dance this Thursday can only be marred by the possible disappointment if Rebecca (11) refuses to accompany me. I can only hope that her mother, my daughter, might just find out soon that the curtailment of TV (computer time, etc) while important is not all if we are to strive to a balanced and rich education for our children. What is important is for us to first become interested and by example to transfer our interest, and who knows, maybe even our passion, to our children. Only when that happens will our Ballet BC, our VSO, our Pacific Baroque Orchestra, our various dance companies and theatre companies, the Vancouver Opera and our many art galleries really be open for business. It is only then when our children (and not only this old man, but at least and at long last) will be positively thrilled at having a real live shimmering ballerina like Simone Orlando in my studio or going to see them backstage. Those who practice the arts in our Vancouver should rightfully be our idols and heroes. They are idols and heroes with no need for red carpets.

But they are in need of our acknowledgment and our support.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Vancouver has always been a frigid place even during those rare days of stifling heat in August. Water from the tap is always very cold (cold in spite of its purity) and Vancouverites are just as cold, too. After many years of living in Mexico City where people hug you or in Buenos Aires where those who you hardly know kiss you, Vancouver is a downer into the cold.

In my 35 years in Vancouver I have rarely experienced out-and-out passion from those who live here. I remember the few times I talked to Alderman Harry Rankin that here was a man with a loud purpose who had passion for what he did. Most of the rest remind me of a Miles Davis muted trumpet.

It is that same kind of Harry Rankin passion that I have always felt present at the many live Art Bergmann concerts that through the years I have been so fortunate to attended. Unlike Johnny Thunders, Bergmann was a bit kinder with himself. Some of us went to to Johnny Thunders gigs to see if in that particular night he would make his final exit by that chemical high road. Not so with Art. Bergmann may have been loaded at some concerts but he always delivered all he could. All he could was always much more than just about anybody else could deliver stone sober. And then there were those nights when Bergmann would have broken guitar strings. I always knew they would be the best.

I have received several e-mails advising me that Art Bergmann (who has terrible bouts of rheumatoid arthritis) will be in town from his new home in Alberta. He will be playing on Richards on Richards, Thursday, March 26. Do I want to wait until late in the evening to listen to this man play?

On another Thursday, this coming one, I will be attending a sophisticated performance of Ballet BC's Carmen choreographed by Jean Grand-Maitre and James Kudelka's The Goldberg Variations - Side 2: Adam & Eve & Steve. I am sure that I will we wowed by the cool passion of Simone Orlando and the brilliance of Kudelka's choreography. It will be a pleasant evening at the ballet that will lead towards a fireworks finale just a few blocks away a month later. I have a suspicion that if I show up at Richards on Richards and I stare at Art Bergmann enough he just might play and extra fast (and very loud) Data Redux.

And that would be sizzling passion, passion from the heart, at its best.

"video of Goldberg Variations rehearsal Courtesy of Vancouver Sun

Douglas Fairbanks Jr., The Oscars & Simone Orlando
Sunday, February 22, 2009

Yesterday afternoon Ballet BC dancer and choreographer, Simone Orlando faced my camera in my studio. I had my light very close and to one side. The dark side of her face had a luminous triangle of light underneath her eye. This triangle is the essence of Rembrandt lighting. That patch of light, in conjunction with her face, was magic.

Today is Oscar night and our family had an Oscar tradition for many years. It was an evening when my two daughters and Rosemary would go down to the basement (the place where for a long time I exiled our family TV) and watch the Oscars. I was never interested much in listening to actors thank their mothers. I enjoyed not being part of the group. At the same time I could discern a lovely bond among the three women. When Rebecca was born, 11 years ago, all it meant is that the three girls eventually became four. It changed further when Ale, my oldest daughter moved to Lillooet two years ago. I also brought our TV up from the cold into our den. Oscar night became Oscar night at Hilary’s. This involved the addition of yet another girl, Hilary’s mother-in-law.

Today it is even more different as my son-in-law will be there. Does he not know? Rosemary was almost listless about going. As we watch more films in the Turner Classic Movie channel she has even said to me, “I don’t even know who many of those actors and actresses who are nominated are." We both miss Ale.

At lunch today after her piano lessons Rebecca said, “Robert Pattinson is going to be present at the Oscars." Even though I had seen the film Twilight with Rebecca I had no idea who he was. Neither did Rosemary.

On Saturday I told Rosemary to call up Rebecca and ask her if she would want to be my assistant in my studio date with Simone Orlando. Rebecca politely declined, “No, I am going to play outside.”

A couple of years ago I took Rebecca back stage after a performance of Ballet BC. We were met by Simone Orlando who took Rebecca to her dressing room. Rebecca emerged some time later with a pair of Orlando’s point shoes. Rebecca was thrilled. My guess is that she must have placed them under her pillow that night.

I mulled over the above all day today and arrived at a conclusion.

One of the most lasting memories of my childhood (I was 8 or 9) is an image of Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (I did not know it was Fairbanks at the time nor did I care) galloping in pursuit in Los Hermanos Corso (the Corsican Brothers). His face crept up in The Prisoner of Zenda and that wonderful film (one of Rebecca’s favourites) the 1939 Gunga Din with Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen and Joan Fontaine.

I remember drinking Toddy, the great Argentine powdered chocolate with my milk because in the Toddy-sponsored radio program Tarzán Rey de la Jungla which I listened to without fail every week Tarzan told us we could grow up to be strong like he was if we had it three times a day.

I was completely overwhelmed in admiration of Randolph Scott when I saw Colt .45. I saw him in the film because my grandmother loved westerns and we would go and see a string of them (until our stomachs ached) on Avenida Lavalle. It was from my mother that I heard first hand who these actor and actresses were, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Ronald Colman (“His wonderful voice, Alex, his wonderful voice in A Tale Of Two Cities!”), Gary Cooper in Beau Geste, Orson Welles in The Third Man, Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca and the Maltese Falcon, Leslie Howard in Romeo and Juliet, Vivien Leigh in Gone With the Wind, the two sisters, Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine, Ralph Richardson in The Four Feathers, James Mason in The Desert Fox and 5 Fingers. I appreciated all her stories and I agreed with her preferences until she took me to see a film with Katherine Hepburn (who wore pants) and I found myself being confused and repelled. Then my mother placated me with The African Queen and I didn’t find her as scary. Through the years I have never confused the role that Gary Cooper played (ah! that romantic troofer of the French Foreign Legion) with his role as a film actor.

When it came to playing in the garden with my friends with our wooden swords, toy guns and rifles I found that I wasn’t really Douglas Fairbanks Jr, or Johnny Weissmuller of Randolph Scott. I was the characters they played in those films. I was the good Corsican twin, Tarzan, the cowboy with the loud Colt .45s, and Captain Blood not Louis Hayward. My concept of celebrity was limited as we had no TV and I read no magazines or newspapers. My concept of celebrity came from the stories my father and my mother told me. My mother told me of meeting up with Einstein at Princeton. She told me of being on the same ship as the electrical genius Steinmetz. She told me of a crazed piano player of the 20s called Moskosky. I was 6 when, while combing my hair, she told me my hair was like Hitler’s. “Who’s Hitler?” I asked. “A very bad man, “she answered.

My idea of celebrity was connected to what these celebrities did. Fairbanks was an espadachín (swordsman), Scott was a cowboy, Lois Hayward was a dashing pirate. I wanted to be an espadachín, a cowboy, a dashing pirate or a soldier like John Wayne.

The difference then between my concept of celebrity and Rebecca’s is that she does not want to do what Lindsay Lohan might want to do in a film, or be who Lindsay Lohan is in a film. Rebecca wants to be like Lindsay Lohan (the Lohan of celebrity magazines and TV programs) or even Lindsay Lohan herself. For Rebecca the celebrity is the person herself and not the role.

This means that Rebecca at age 11 does not associate with or want to be a ballet dancer like Simone Orlando, or a young pianist (she studies the piano) she might have seen on a program, or be a young female doctor working in Africa or be a hot young tennis player playing in the Australian Open. She doesn't even want to be actress. This is because in the celebrity age we live in she wants to be just the celebrity. there is to be no consideration of the role of that celebrity, be it an actress, athlete, scientist etc.

I may be off the mark when I equate Rebecca playing the computer game of dressing up celebrity girls and women with the game of playing being a celebrity who is dressing up for an Oscar night.

The aches and pains of endless rehearsals of a ballet dancer are too far from the idea of celebrity. When Simone Orlando was in my studio I could admit she was beautiful, intelligent and a super star of ballet. It was not important to me. What was important was that she is a ballerina. She has a skill that takes effort and time to achieve. Perhaps like Rebecca I don't think of all that effort. I think of the magic of being a ballerina, of being a dancer. It's not about Randolph Scott being a actor that acts. It's about Scott being the cowboy. It is about Simone Orlando being a dancer not a dancer who happens to dance. It is almost as if I could dream of riding that horse like Douglas Fairbanks Jr. I could somehow be Orlando's partner in a ballet in another time and place. Has our celebrity world dampened our ability to dream?

There are no more soldiers, swordsmen, cowboys, and private eyes. There are no more Pavlovas and Artur Rubensteins. There are celebrities and us.

And put another way I am into the dancer that is Simone and not as much into Simone the dancer.


Previous Posts
Les Filles Du Roi - Three Points of View

I traced the line of the horizon, thin and fine

From a Tiny Mollusk to Flamenco

The Dechronization of Sisyphus & the Epistemology ...

A Weed is a Weed - Not Always

Margot Kidder & the Flag - October 17, 1948 – May ...

Happy Parenting Day!

A Palace of Parallam

Patience on the Psychiatric Couch & the Good Life

San Telmo - a Gevabox & a Surprising Image

1/15/06 - 1/22/06

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11/30/08 - 12/7/08

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12/21/08 - 12/28/08

12/28/08 - 1/4/09

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6/21/09 - 6/28/09

6/28/09 - 7/5/09

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7/19/09 - 7/26/09

7/26/09 - 8/2/09

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12/27/09 - 1/3/10

1/3/10 - 1/10/10

1/10/10 - 1/17/10

1/17/10 - 1/24/10

1/24/10 - 1/31/10

1/31/10 - 2/7/10

2/7/10 - 2/14/10

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12/19/10 - 12/26/10

12/26/10 - 1/2/11

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1/30/11 - 2/6/11

2/6/11 - 2/13/11

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2/20/11 - 2/27/11

2/27/11 - 3/6/11

3/6/11 - 3/13/11

3/13/11 - 3/20/11

3/20/11 - 3/27/11

3/27/11 - 4/3/11

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11/27/11 - 12/4/11

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12/18/11 - 12/25/11

12/25/11 - 1/1/12

1/1/12 - 1/8/12

1/8/12 - 1/15/12

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1/22/12 - 1/29/12

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10/21/12 - 10/28/12

10/28/12 - 11/4/12

11/4/12 - 11/11/12

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12/30/12 - 1/6/13

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1/20/13 - 1/27/13

1/27/13 - 2/3/13

2/3/13 - 2/10/13

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2/17/13 - 2/24/13

2/24/13 - 3/3/13

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3/31/13 - 4/7/13

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10/20/13 - 10/27/13

10/27/13 - 11/3/13

11/3/13 - 11/10/13

11/10/13 - 11/17/13

11/17/13 - 11/24/13

11/24/13 - 12/1/13

12/1/13 - 12/8/13

12/8/13 - 12/15/13

12/15/13 - 12/22/13

12/22/13 - 12/29/13

12/29/13 - 1/5/14

1/5/14 - 1/12/14

1/12/14 - 1/19/14

1/19/14 - 1/26/14

1/26/14 - 2/2/14

2/2/14 - 2/9/14

2/9/14 - 2/16/14

2/16/14 - 2/23/14

2/23/14 - 3/2/14

3/2/14 - 3/9/14

3/9/14 - 3/16/14

3/16/14 - 3/23/14

3/23/14 - 3/30/14

3/30/14 - 4/6/14

4/6/14 - 4/13/14

4/13/14 - 4/20/14

4/20/14 - 4/27/14

4/27/14 - 5/4/14

5/4/14 - 5/11/14

5/11/14 - 5/18/14

5/18/14 - 5/25/14

5/25/14 - 6/1/14

6/1/14 - 6/8/14

6/8/14 - 6/15/14

6/15/14 - 6/22/14

6/22/14 - 6/29/14

6/29/14 - 7/6/14

7/6/14 - 7/13/14

7/13/14 - 7/20/14

7/20/14 - 7/27/14

7/27/14 - 8/3/14

8/3/14 - 8/10/14

8/10/14 - 8/17/14

8/17/14 - 8/24/14

8/24/14 - 8/31/14

8/31/14 - 9/7/14

9/7/14 - 9/14/14

9/14/14 - 9/21/14

9/21/14 - 9/28/14

9/28/14 - 10/5/14

10/5/14 - 10/12/14

10/12/14 - 10/19/14

10/19/14 - 10/26/14

10/26/14 - 11/2/14

11/2/14 - 11/9/14

11/9/14 - 11/16/14

11/16/14 - 11/23/14

11/23/14 - 11/30/14

11/30/14 - 12/7/14

12/7/14 - 12/14/14

12/14/14 - 12/21/14

12/21/14 - 12/28/14

12/28/14 - 1/4/15

1/4/15 - 1/11/15

1/11/15 - 1/18/15

1/18/15 - 1/25/15

1/25/15 - 2/1/15

2/1/15 - 2/8/15

2/8/15 - 2/15/15

2/15/15 - 2/22/15

2/22/15 - 3/1/15

3/1/15 - 3/8/15

3/8/15 - 3/15/15

3/15/15 - 3/22/15

3/22/15 - 3/29/15

3/29/15 - 4/5/15

4/5/15 - 4/12/15

4/12/15 - 4/19/15

4/19/15 - 4/26/15

4/26/15 - 5/3/15

5/3/15 - 5/10/15

5/10/15 - 5/17/15

5/17/15 - 5/24/15

5/24/15 - 5/31/15

5/31/15 - 6/7/15

6/7/15 - 6/14/15

6/14/15 - 6/21/15

6/21/15 - 6/28/15

6/28/15 - 7/5/15

7/5/15 - 7/12/15

7/12/15 - 7/19/15

7/19/15 - 7/26/15

7/26/15 - 8/2/15

8/2/15 - 8/9/15

8/9/15 - 8/16/15

8/16/15 - 8/23/15

8/23/15 - 8/30/15

8/30/15 - 9/6/15

9/6/15 - 9/13/15

9/13/15 - 9/20/15

9/20/15 - 9/27/15

9/27/15 - 10/4/15

10/4/15 - 10/11/15

10/18/15 - 10/25/15

10/25/15 - 11/1/15

11/1/15 - 11/8/15

11/8/15 - 11/15/15

11/15/15 - 11/22/15

11/22/15 - 11/29/15

11/29/15 - 12/6/15

12/6/15 - 12/13/15

12/13/15 - 12/20/15

12/20/15 - 12/27/15

12/27/15 - 1/3/16

1/3/16 - 1/10/16

1/10/16 - 1/17/16

1/31/16 - 2/7/16

2/7/16 - 2/14/16

2/14/16 - 2/21/16

2/21/16 - 2/28/16

2/28/16 - 3/6/16

3/6/16 - 3/13/16

3/13/16 - 3/20/16

3/20/16 - 3/27/16

3/27/16 - 4/3/16

4/3/16 - 4/10/16

4/10/16 - 4/17/16

4/17/16 - 4/24/16

4/24/16 - 5/1/16

5/1/16 - 5/8/16

5/8/16 - 5/15/16

5/15/16 - 5/22/16

5/22/16 - 5/29/16

5/29/16 - 6/5/16

6/5/16 - 6/12/16

6/12/16 - 6/19/16

6/19/16 - 6/26/16

6/26/16 - 7/3/16

7/3/16 - 7/10/16

7/10/16 - 7/17/16

7/17/16 - 7/24/16

7/24/16 - 7/31/16

7/31/16 - 8/7/16

8/7/16 - 8/14/16

8/14/16 - 8/21/16

8/21/16 - 8/28/16

8/28/16 - 9/4/16

9/4/16 - 9/11/16

9/11/16 - 9/18/16

9/18/16 - 9/25/16

9/25/16 - 10/2/16

10/2/16 - 10/9/16

10/9/16 - 10/16/16

10/16/16 - 10/23/16

10/23/16 - 10/30/16

10/30/16 - 11/6/16

11/6/16 - 11/13/16

11/13/16 - 11/20/16

11/20/16 - 11/27/16

11/27/16 - 12/4/16

12/4/16 - 12/11/16

12/11/16 - 12/18/16

12/18/16 - 12/25/16

12/25/16 - 1/1/17

1/1/17 - 1/8/17

1/8/17 - 1/15/17

1/15/17 - 1/22/17

1/22/17 - 1/29/17

1/29/17 - 2/5/17

2/5/17 - 2/12/17

2/12/17 - 2/19/17

2/19/17 - 2/26/17

2/26/17 - 3/5/17

3/5/17 - 3/12/17

3/12/17 - 3/19/17

3/19/17 - 3/26/17

3/26/17 - 4/2/17

4/2/17 - 4/9/17

4/9/17 - 4/16/17

4/16/17 - 4/23/17

4/23/17 - 4/30/17

4/30/17 - 5/7/17

5/7/17 - 5/14/17

5/14/17 - 5/21/17

5/21/17 - 5/28/17

5/28/17 - 6/4/17

6/4/17 - 6/11/17

6/11/17 - 6/18/17

6/18/17 - 6/25/17

6/25/17 - 7/2/17

7/2/17 - 7/9/17

7/9/17 - 7/16/17

7/16/17 - 7/23/17

7/23/17 - 7/30/17

7/30/17 - 8/6/17

8/6/17 - 8/13/17

8/13/17 - 8/20/17

8/20/17 - 8/27/17

8/27/17 - 9/3/17

9/3/17 - 9/10/17

9/10/17 - 9/17/17

9/17/17 - 9/24/17

9/24/17 - 10/1/17

10/1/17 - 10/8/17

10/8/17 - 10/15/17

10/15/17 - 10/22/17

10/22/17 - 10/29/17

10/29/17 - 11/5/17

11/5/17 - 11/12/17

11/12/17 - 11/19/17

11/19/17 - 11/26/17

11/26/17 - 12/3/17

12/3/17 - 12/10/17

12/10/17 - 12/17/17

12/17/17 - 12/24/17

12/24/17 - 12/31/17

12/31/17 - 1/7/18

1/7/18 - 1/14/18

1/14/18 - 1/21/18

1/21/18 - 1/28/18

1/28/18 - 2/4/18

2/4/18 - 2/11/18

2/11/18 - 2/18/18

2/18/18 - 2/25/18

2/25/18 - 3/4/18

3/4/18 - 3/11/18

3/11/18 - 3/18/18

3/18/18 - 3/25/18

3/25/18 - 4/1/18

4/1/18 - 4/8/18

4/8/18 - 4/15/18

4/15/18 - 4/22/18

4/22/18 - 4/29/18

4/29/18 - 5/6/18

5/6/18 - 5/13/18

5/13/18 - 5/20/18