Sandrine Cassini & Ballet Victoria Make Me Almost Forget A Toothache
Saturday, October 29, 2011
This is a tough blog to write because I have so many ideas running around in my head and I don’t know which direction to take. As my good friend Mark Budgen
(the eccentric Englishman) is wont to say, “Alex you need an editor.”
I will begin by plagiarizing myself from a previous blog where I write about my first contact with dancer Sandrine Cassini who is my subject for today.
In was sometime in early 2003 that I went to a rehearsal of a Ballet BC program held at the Vancouver Dance Centre on Davie and Granville. I watched all the dancers I knew, flex, bend and stretch. But then my eyes suddenly followed a ballerina who was walking like no ballerina I had ever seen before. I went up to her and introduced myself and asked about her. Her name was Sandrine Cassini and she was French. I enquired as to her training and she told me that she had danced with the Paris Opera Ballet! I became most excited promising myself to ask her in a near future, once I got to know her better about a project I had in mind that had occurred to me the instant I found out she had danced with Paris Opera Ballet.
The graceful Cassini had something which I would simply define as presence and I was not the only to notice it. The then director of Ballet BC, John Alleyne picked her for the principal role of Alberta Ballet’s Carmen choreographed by its director Jean Grand- Maître which had its Vancouver premiere later that year in October.
The Georgia Straight assigned me to photograph the principals, Sandrine Cassini and Edmond Kilpatrick. I took some good photographs of them together and some better ones of Cassini alone. It was after that session that I gained enough confidence to ask her to pose for me as a grown up Degas' Little Dancer Age Fourteen. I had recently read that the little girl’s name was Marie van Goethem and that shortly after she had posed for Degas she left the Paris Opera Ballet and became a prostitute under her mother’s tutelage. I was shocked and saddened. I wanted to do a sequence of photographs in which there was a rosier future for the unfortunate girl.
So 8 years later I drove tonight to North Vancouver to the Centennial Theatre for a Ballet Victoria program called Ballet Rocks – From Bach to Pink Floyd
. I had one of the worst toothaches of my life. Before leaving I had taken a couple of extra strength Tylenols and when no relief was imminent I swished some expensive Calvados in my mouth which deadened the pain a bit. As I was driving (I was driving with precision and not erratically) I was thinking what would happen if for some reason I would be stopped by a policeman who would then notice the alcohol breath:
You see sir, I have not seen the luminous, beautiful and intensely original ballet dancer for many years so I had to drive to North Vancouver. You see sir, I just took a swish of Calvados (that’s expensive French apple brandy to you) to kill the pain. Please do not impound my car. I have to make it to this performance. I promise I will drive carefully.
Fortunately no such thing happened and I arrived on time and enjoyed the fact that parking at the Centennial is free (those North Vancouverites must feel smug about this and keep it a secret). I purchased a ticket smack centre in the first row.
The first dance, Daniela Sodero's The Playground
, featured what in my first impression were 7 performers who were very young and all had glowing smiles on their faces. It initially reminded me of the ballet as it was so many years ago in Vancouver back in the 90s. This impression was to change later on as I grew to appreciate Ballet Victoria’s young company of dancers and in particular in Cassini's choreographed piece The Wall
with music by Pink Floyd's Another Brick on the Wall
. It's such a piece that might eventually, I hope, direct Ballet Victoria into the realm of a more modern ballet.
It was when the music started, a recording of J.S. Bach’s Partita No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1006, played by Hilary Hahn that my world imploded. The music seemed to have a sympathetic (and certainly with no sympathy) resonance with my upper back molar which vibrated much like the Tacoma Narrows Bridge that collapsed in similar circumstances (a sympathetic vibration to wind) in 1940. The pain was excruciating as it drifted to my forehead and even my knees and toes.
The second performance Facets of Light
a premiere by Paul Knobloch with J.S. Bach’s Konzert f-mol BWV 1056 Largo featured Victoria Ballet artistic director (who is also a dancer in the company) Paul Destrooper and Sandrine Cassini changed my awareness of pain.
Watching Cassini at first transported me into Santo & Johnny’s Sleepwalk
. I floated and the pain almost disappeared. Then I felt a knot in my stomach somewhere near the heart and I knew the reason I had driven to North Vancouver was justified in spades. I really did not notice Destropper’s partnering, which was most adequate, because my eyes were fixed on a dancer who somehow was more beautiful than I remembered her and her body was tight with shapely thigh muscles. Her hair was pulled back. It emphasized the exquisite narrowness of her face and her prominent Gallic nose.
Watching her dance seemed to stop time for me. Later I thought about the three types of tango dancers I danced with in my past. Consider that I am at best an adequate tango dancer and no better so whatever I may write here should be taken lightly.
Most of my partners (who had to struggle with my adequateness) were easy to maneuver on the dance floor. They were light of feet. Dancing with them was easy. Another few (and these I tried to avoid) were difficult to move, either because they were heavy of foot and build or they were simply smart enough to know that my directions were muddled.
But there was a third type of dancer (and they were few) who were neither light nor heavy. They seemed to offer a slight resistance to my directions. I would call it damping as in a damped spring for a swinging door.
Everybody knows that in Argentine tango
the man is in charge and the woman has to follow a slight beat behind. But I know better. That rare class of woman, one for sure was called Iris
offered this resistance in partnership. She was telling me with her resistance, “Don’t show off. Take it easy. Go at it slow. The pause is just as important in tango as the move.”
Iris’s method is one that I once discussed with Max Wyman
. We are both enamored with Evelyn Hart
. Hart was in town some years ago and it was one of her last performances as a dancer in Vancouver that was the subject of our discussion. Many critics (certainly Wyman was not one of those!) commented on the fact that Hart was approaching an age when she should hang up her dance shoes and dedicate herself to choreography or to teaching.
Wyman and I both begged and beg to differ. We saw in the many pauses that Hart put into her dancing, wonderful gaps between brilliant notes in music. Music without pauses could not possibly sound like music. It would shake us into a Tacoma Narrows kind of collapse and oblivion.
I must add here that I called up Wyman to relate my experience in North Van. His comment was immediate, "Cassini is a very good dancer." When I asked him about that feeling I had when I watched Cassini do her slow dance and compared it to Hart's he told me, "I cannot tell you exactly what that is except to say that it is like falling in love."
Cassini is not 20 like many of those girls in Ballet Victoria whose technique is seemingly effortless. But she must be at the height of her dancing ability and her slowness in Facets of Light
was yes, effortless grace, but an effortless grace that in its slowness was breathtaking. Like Evelyn Hart, perhaps Cassini knows something about “dancing with damping” and has many more years to thrill us all.
I wonder if the folks at the Centennial Theatre had any inkling of this. I did, and was further rewarded with an iPhone snap of Cassini that even though she showed no resistance to pose (no damping) it is about as beautiful as anything I have seen for a long time.
Congratulations to Paul Destrooper and Ballet Victoria for collaborating with a dancer who has so much more to give. And if she is allowed to do so I see a rosy future for Ballet Victoria. As for all those young dancers of the company, quick in their skills, some, I am sure will learn that slowing down can be good.
Carmen and Marie Van Goethem Share a Page
Seeping Blood From the Paris Opera Ballet
Strawberry Crepes and the Sugar Plum Fairy
Blood, Beer, Bernstein & An Old Friend
Friday, October 28, 2011
by John Lekich
|Scott Augustine & Therese von Hartwig|
Alex and I first met Therese von Hartwig when she was a bartender at the Railway Club. Therese had a wonderful smile and a great sense of style. I used to order a beer just to get a closer look at her wardrobe. It was my first – and possibly last – exposure to what I liked to call Schoolgirl Punk. Black leather jacket, black turtleneck, black leotards and a tartan kilt that was a little too brief for the Highland Fling.
Flash forward twenty-five years. Alex and I are waiting backstage during the final minutes of the VOA’s production of West Side Story
. We’re close enough to hear a rousing rendition of “Gee, Officer Krupki” And, as waiting for interviews go, there are far less pleasant ways to pass the time.
We’re there to see Therese von Hartwig and Scott Augustine – the young local actor who plays Riff. The leader of the Jets. For those of you unfamiliar with the musical, Riff meets an untimely end. This involves getting his tee shirt smeared with a spotch of fake blood that would do Jackson Pollock proud. That’s where Therese comes in. Having long since abandoned her career behind the bar, she’s now devotes her time to a wide array of activities in the field of stagecraft.
A veteran of many local productions, she’s done everything from set dressing to electrical work. She has more than one responsibility in West Side Story. But the one that interest us most? She’s in charge of making sure the blood effects go off without a hitch.
You can feel Halloween in the night air. And as “Gee, Officer Krupki” draws to a close – complete with a suitably resounding “Krup Off!” - I toy with the idea of calling Theresa West Side Story’s Mistress of Blood
. But the image doesn’t seem to fit. Meeting her again after all these years, she has the same sunny smile. Even the tattoos that decorate her arms remind me of stained glass windows in church.
We pass a pleasant few minutes with Theresa and Scott, who are old friends. They’ve worked together in previous productions but the fake blood is a new wrinkle. Theresa shows me a bag of red liquid with Scott’s name on it. She explains how the bag has to be taped in precisely the right spot under his shirt. “We had to practice with bags of water first,” she says.
I ask the obliging Scott if it was a bit of shock to see the blood on his shirt for the first time. “Definitely,” he grins. “I mean you’re in character. But it’s still a shock to look down and see blood on your shirt.”
We chat for a while longer. And then Theresa gives us one last smile before grabbing a laundry hamper and heading down the hall. “Excuse me,” she says. “I have to go wash out some blood.”
The Rough Caress Of A Perfect Red
Thursday, October 27, 2011
Looking at Scott Augustine’s
(he plays Riff in the Vancouver Opera production of West Side Story) fake “Real Blood brand” in his dressing room tonight with my friend John Lekich and with Therese von Hartwig “The Mistress of Blood.” I could not, but think of things red. When I arrived home I looked at a beautiful book given to me for Christmas in 2005 (at the Railway Club) by my friend and former colleague of things magazines, Kerry McPhedran. The book is all about the dyes from long past until the present that have given us those brilliant reds and sometimes a perfect one.
I happen to have a sample of perfect red. It is a Mexican rebozo given to my mother in Mexico City sometime in 1952. I suspect that the rough fabric rebozo was dyed by the use of that sometimes elusive cochineal (which is what the book is really all about). By the end of the 50s Mexican artisans had probably abandoned the cochineal perfect red to adopt the cheaper and most convenient modern dyes.
The rebozo I keep inside a beautiful chest made from the aromatic Mexican tree called Olinalá. But I take it often to use a prop with some of my portraits and especially with my nudes. Alas I cannot show here those nudes in their entirety because this blog has my self-imposed image censorship. But there are enough pictures for you to judge that this particular red rebozo is as perfect as perfect can be.
Sometimes I incorporate some black stone (also Mexican) necklaces given to me by my friend Raúl Guerrero Montemayor. They photograph as an absolute black.
I foresee that the rebozo and the two necklaces still have much use ahead of them. I am sure that my mother would surely approve how the rebozo roughly caresses the skin of my models. She was a most liberal parent who when not so liberal would have been told off by my grandmother who would have said, “Let Alex be, he and I are both artists.”
The Great Figure
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
For years I admired Charles Demuths’ The Figure 5 In Gold.
It is only recently that I found out (“Ignorance is daring,” so my grandmother used to say.) that the painting was inspired by one of my favourite poets, Williams Carlos Williams
The Great Figure
Among the rain
I saw the figure 5
on a red
to gong clangs
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city
William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)
Sour Grapes: A Book of Poems
Four Seas Company, Boston, 1921
These days I have been thinking about perfect. I have been thinking about perfect reds and now I have been thinking about the perfect orange. There is orange in Demuth’s painting and even if there weren’t many of us would still somehow identify that painting with a local strip bar, the Number 5 Orange on Powell and Main., I do. For some years, and I have not been there of late, there was a reproduction of Damuth’s 5 up on the wall. In fact I always thought that the club may have been called that because of some previous owner’s admiration for 20th century art. I have my doubts but I still like to dream of unlikely coincidences.
It was at the Number 5 (some of us, the real habitués of the joint would have simply said “at the 5”) that I saw some of the most beautiful women I have ever seen and managed to even go backstage, in the dressing room, to take pictures where most men are not allowed.
Now I can recall that just a few years (maybe four) I stopped to see if owner, Tony Ricci
would be there. He was and he treated me to my fave drink, a soda water. We chatted. The economy was beginning to tank and he told me, “ I am too old to change professions. I stay here.” From some hoods that I sometimes have dim sum with I know that the 5 is not doing too badly. But I don’t have the heart to see for myself. The shine is off for me for that whole scene. Perhaps it is my age or that I no longer know the women on stage who at one time might have winked at me or sat down with me to chat.
I understand from an editorial in our Vancouver Sun that one of the few places with a exotic dancer activity is Fort St. John. The reason for this is its proximity to the oil patch. In the past a BC with logging mills was a magnet for bars with beer and exotics. Those days are gone and I sometimes think that if Salome were to travel to our times via Wells’s machine she and her 7 veils would be booed off the stage. Within week she would be attempting to get employment insurance.
For me the whole exotic dancers scene of Vancouver is encapsulated (paradoxically) by this picture of Laura Faye (from Peoria, Illinois) that I took in Las Vegas in September 1984. She had poise, she had elegance, she seemed to like what she did and she was very good at it.
I wonder how many of those few dancers that manage to get work in our BC can assert all that? It would be too sad for me to go and find out. Let the dream of my Laura Faye live on.
Vancouver Opera's West Side Story - A Fresh & Exuberant Performance
Monday, October 24, 2011
"Enthralling and full of boundless energy"
Rebecca Stewart (14)
|Lucia Cesaroni & Rebecca Stewart|
Intolerance, love, heartbreak, prejudice. These are some words that describe the Romeo & Juliet-like musical West Side Story
I witnessed in Sunday's matinee performance at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. I had recently seen the 1961 film version of the original 1957 Broadway musical production, so I had a good idea of what the musical was about, and thought, "Well this is going to be similar if not the same as the movie." I was proven wrong.
The Vancouver Opera indulged me with a fresh and exuberant performance. The stars of the show, tenor Colin Ainsworth and soprano Lucia Cesaroni who play the doomed lovers Tony and Maria, displayed the deep burning love between them from the electrifying feeling when they first saw each other to the sorrowful ending. The lovely duets Ainsworth and Cesaroni sang such as One Hand, One Heart
brought tears to my eyes and an ache in the back of my throat. I could see the connection the two had and knew that it would not last. A character I will never forget is Anita played by Cleopatra Williams. Anita brings fire in her performance with her strong Latin presence and her saucy jokes. The energy she brings to the stage is indescribable, she lights every person next to her.
With joy and as it inevitably fades, comes the moral of the story, discrimination between two races. I was amazed that when I saw the rumbles between the Sharks and the Jets, they didn't seem shocking or new to me. This happens everyday, everywhere whether it be the color of your skin, where you are from from or what you stand for. The play made me cry, it made me laugh. It left me speechless.
|The Preacher of the Opera|
After the show I had the opportunity to meet up with some of the actors backstage thanks to Doug Tuck, the Director of Marketing & Community Programs at Vancouver Opera, and a friend of my grandfather's. My grandfather, Alex, calls Tuck “The Preacher of the Opera” because Mr. Tuck gives pre-opera talks that have become famous for their mix of erudition and humour. We patiently waited for Ms. Cesaroni to undress and remove her bloodstained pale yellow dress from her last scene where Tony dies. While we were waiting, Ariel Barnes the main cellist of the orchestra walked by and was stopped by my grandfather. "Look at those beautiful eyes!" my grandfather said eccentrically. Ari (as most his friends call him) has these light gray eyes that you can get lost in before you remember that you have to breathe. We were told by Vancouver Opera Musical Director Leslie Dala that Ari has the same effect on most women, and apparently on my grandfather, too.
Finally the beautiful Lucia emerged from her dressing room looking a little fatigued but still just as pretty as I remembered her on stage. We were shuffled into her dressing room where Lucia and I posed intimately. We got this picture taken with my grandfather's iPhone. After saying thank you to Lucia for taking her time we headed out.
There is that certain feeling you get being able to meet actors face to face. Seeing them all dolled up on stage as someone else and then seeing the same person being themselves, flaws and all. Not many people get to experience that. I did and I feel thankful for the opportunity.
Light in the Piazza & Mummy's Girl
I Will Go & Sniff Some Roses
My Passion for Fashion
Vancouver Opera's West Side Story, Definitely Not Your DNTO
Sunday, October 23, 2011
|Leslie Dala, Director|
Having a choice between attending a matinee performance of Vancouver Opera’s West Side Sto
ry at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre this afternoon or a celebration of the life of David Y.H. Lui held next door (at the same time) at the Vancouver Playhouse could have been a tough one to decide on. But it was a clear one if I happen to inform you that I shared seats at West Side Story
with my granddaughter Rebecca
, 14 who was dressed to the teeth for the occasion.
And yet there is a tidy symmetry between these two events. David Y.H. Lui
died on September 16 past and most remember him as one of the co-founders of Ballet B.C. This is what Bill Millerd, Artistic Managing Director of the Arts Club Theatre Company said of Lui:
The history of the Arts Club Theatre Company would be very different without the production of “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well…”
that David Y.H. Lui presented at the Seymour Street Arts Club opening in 1972, which went on to run for seven months. As well as putting the Arts Club on the theatrical map in Vancouver, the musical revue introduced to audiences the talents of Leon Bibb, Ann Mortifee, Ruth Nichol, and Pat Rose under the direction of Richard Ouzounian. He will be sorely missed.
Vancouver in our year of 2011 is no longer a city in which arts organizations can be or act 100% independent. I like to think of those famous iconic images of American fighter jets or British bombers photographed with all the people that keep the planes up in the air. Every Vancouver arts organization has a support staff that would amaze most of us.
It is also symmetrically tidy that with the help of Lui the Arts Club Theatre has made the musical a popular feature of Vancouver stage life. And further so that our Vancouver Opera (never known for playing safe all the time) has gone out on a limb with a production that is definitely not an opera but a full blown musical with Broadway production values. Indeed Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story
, with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and choreography by Jerome Robbins was first in Broadway in 1957 and there was a revival in Broadway in 2009.
My granddaughter Rebecca and I watched the 1961 film a couple of weeks ago to get us ready for today’s matinee. I further prepared her (and enjoyed it so much reprising my memories) by listening together two excellent jazz trio interpretations of Leonard Bernstein’s music by Oscar Peterson (killer versions of Maria
) and André Previn (killer versions of America, Maria and Gee, Officer Krupke
). Both albums are in my short desert island music list.
I am happy to report that today’s performance satisfied me beyond my expectations. Rebecca went further and told me she preferred this production to the 1961 film. While watching the very good dancers and the musical interpretation of Berstein’s score by Vancouver Opera Musical Director Leslie Dala and his 30 piece orchestra (more on the orchestra later) I marveled at the lighting and the simple set. All worked well and contrasted with the poor reproduction of people wanting to see a bad film DVD version (not bad but it does not compare with real lights, real music and performers that cast real shadows).
I kept looking at my granddaughter hoping that she would be able to discern the difference between listening to the fidelity (as in high) of live music and its poor remote relative the MP-3 file.
There was a moment during the duo, Tonight
, between Tony ( played by fine voiced tenor Colin Ainsworth) and Maria (a sultry and thankfully most unnatalie Lucia Cesaroni) when a couple of spotlights cast shadows on the walls behind them that were virtuoso lighting and had my eyes glued to the wall and not to the actors!
This musical production, one that perhaps could not have been performed by the Arts Club Theatre at the Stanley, would have been a loss to all of us had it not been for the Vancouver Opera’s decision to be just a bit more adventurous. That they have should I hope bring lots of money into their coffers and would further hope that they dare to seek adventure again.
I cannot stop here without singling out at least some of the performers. When Rebecca met Scott Augustine who plays the Jet leader, Riff, backstage, she said, “I like you more than the film version Riff.” Dani Jazzar as the Sharks leader Bernardo (and Maria’s brother) was big, strong and just right for that Latino part.
From our row (the 13th) Cleopatra Williams who plays Anita, Bernardo’s girl, looked a bit like Helena Bonham Carter but also was the sexy stereotype of the Latin woman and she did this well while at the same time convincing me that she truly understood the love that Maria had for the man (in this musical the men are all boys) that had killed her Bernardo.
And then there is the choreography of Jerome Robbins and the dancers that interpreted his moves. That for me was almost the best. What was the best? Wait for Gee, Office Krupke
with its baudy lyrics. It is a hoot. That’s the best!
West Side Story
|Ari Barnes, cellist, Rebecca was in awe|
will continue until October 29 with a matineé on the 29th.
I asked Rebecca to accompany me to look over the orchestra pit where I pointed out my friends, trombonist Jeremy Berkman, Bass trombonist Sharman King, cellists Peggy Lee and Ariel (Ari) Barnes. I heard her gasp as she saw Barnes ( later musical director Leslie Dala told me, “Ari has that effect on most women who see them.
Backstage I noticed that Leslie Dala’s hair was looking very longish, a sort of like his fellow Hungarian Franz Lizt. Dala gave Rebecca and I a most interesting account of Lizt’s virtues.
I was happy to read up in the surtitles that Martha Lou Henley
had generously contributed to today's performance.
And finally out of curiosity and in the vein that I began above about arts organizations not being able to exist in isolation I asked Jeremy Berkman (Co-Musical Director of Vancouver’s Turning Point Ensemble) how many of the musicians there today were part of the ensemble. Here is his emailed reply:
I hope you and your daughter [sic] enjoyed (I know that's not the appropriate word) West Side Story. It was great to see you - and in response to your query,
Members of the Vancouver Opera West Side Story Orchestra (30 players) with some sort of Turning Point affiliation:
Current Core Members:
Ari Barnes, Cello
Caroline Gauthier, bass clarinet
Jeremy Berkman, Trombone
Ingrid Chiang, Bassoon
Founding TPE member (no longer in core)
Peggy Lee, Cello
Players who will join Turning Point at some point in the 2011/12 season
Mark Ferris (Vancouver Snapshots) and Andrea Siradze (Folk Songs) Violins
Tom Shorthouse (Jump for Joy) and Jim Littleford (Vancouver Snapshots) Trumpets
Sharman King Trombone (Jump for Joy)
Peggy Lee, (Jump for Joy) Cello
Turning Point will present Folk Songs: featuring a live performance of Luciano Berio's thrilling composition based on his "original" folk songs - with guest Canadian Soprano Fides Krucker (who performed the work under Berio's supervision extensively in the 1990s) - and a new work Vancouver based composer Dorothy Chang - Three Windows. Nov. 9/10 at the Fei and Milton Wong Theatre- SFU Woodwards.
But let's give the last word to Leslie Dala, " Alex we (Vancouver Opera) were around before the Turning Point Ensemble." But you know what I mean? Right? The rhino and the little bird have to work together.
Turning Point Ensemble
Finger Snapping Cool