The main Saint Patrick’s Day parade occurred yesterday, downtown, but the official parade, which always happens on the 17th is in Dog Town today. Dog Town is an Irish neighborhood that got its name during the 1904 worlds fair, because that is where all of the animals were housed and at night the barking of the dogs could be heard. Yesterday, Dan was entertained by Irish revelers, while riding the subway in NYC. Today, Dave plans on drinking some green beer. In Boston, a Japanese restaurant has been advertising green Sapporo beer, because after he discovered Newfoundland, St. Brennan took the northwest passage and discovered Japan too. On St. Paddy’s Day, everyone is Irish.
We went to the Fabulous Fox last night, to see the latest Broadway musical offering that has come to town, “On Your Feet!”, the Emilio and Gloria Estefan story. This bio-play is part of the current trend in musicals, where a musician’s life story is combined with their already popular catalog to create a winning theater package. Earlier this year, in London’s West-End, we saw and loved “Beautiful”, Carole King’s life story. Showbiz has always loved to tell stories about itself, so this trend comes as no real surprise.
“On Your Feet!”, sports a large orchestra (ten) and an even larger cast. It begins with the two families emigration from Cuba, covers childhood, their early music careers, breakout success, the 1990 bus accident and its aftermath. All of which is punctuated with the steady beat of their popular hit songs. As is de rigueur with these bio-plays the finale is accompanied by endless encores, where all of the hits that you’ve been patiently waiting for are finally performed. It was an enjoyable show and by its end, everyone in the audience was on their feet.
While, searching for a suitable graphic to accompany this post, I happened upon the above picture of a couple of dancers from Bandaloop, an acrobatic dance troupe, They came to town in 2013 and performed around the corner from the Fox, by rappelling down the front face of the twenty-story Continental Life Building. They headlined Dancing in the Streets and seemed a good fit here.
But hopefully not during the pas de deux. We saw the 2015 Broadway musical An American in Paris that was performed at the Fox Theater. It featured lots of Gershwin set to lots of ballet. It was all very professionally done. Still, when compared to the 1951 movie musical starring Gene Kelly, it comes away somewhat lacking. Call me old-fashioned, because when it comes to a stage production that are translated to the big screen, I’m willing to make allowances. It just seems like the natural flow among art forms, but when you reverse the stream, as in this case, it just doesn’t feel quite right. This musical comes away feeling more like a revue than a play. It doesn’t help that for most of the show the back of the stage is filled with a huge backlit video screen. You can see an example of the effect in the picture below. It almost that during the transition from film to live acting the umbilical was never severed.
Another thing that bugged me, even if it was in no way the fault of this show. I’m speaking of the yellow dress that the female lead Lise wears. It kept reminding me of a similar yellow dress that Emma Stone wore in La La Land. Logic and chronology both dictate that if there was any plagiarism of this detail, it was on the part of La La Land and not American in Paris. It was just my misfortune that I saw the two in the order that I did. Still, the coincidence of this dress also serves as metaphor when comparing these two works. They both borrowed from Gene Kelley, but in the case of La La Land this loan resulted in something both original and beautiful. In the case of An American in Paris the result is still beautiful, but not particularly original.
A perennial favorite at Christmastime is the Nutcracker ballet. For many a struggling dance company this show is a real moneymaker and for some companies a real lifesaver too. Each of these instances of the Nutcracker is a little bit different from the others. The Hip Hop Nutcracker is way different from the rest, but it works.
We were a little concerned during the overture, when the DJ (DJ Boo) opened with thunderous takes from old-school hip hop hits that were loud enough to be felt, in addition to being heard. Things soon quieted down though and with the introduction of the solo violinist (David Marks) Tchaikovsky’s music reigned mostly supreme. There were a few hip hop musical stylings and I would have preferred that there had been more, but in this pairing of classical and hip hop, the music was classical, while the story and dance were both hip hop. For example, here is the updated synopsis:
During the annual uptown holiday street party, Maria-Clara (Ann-Sylvia Clark) is upset by her parents’ constant bickering. The mysterious Drosselmeyer (SHEstreet) appears, bringing magical toys to the party. He introduces Maria-Clara to a street vendor selling nuts, who catches her eye, because he is different from the other boys on the block. After the party breaks up, Maria-Clara heads home, but on her way, she runs into the menacing Mouse Crew. The Nutcracker (Josue “Beast” Figueroa), aided by a magic pair of sneakers, defeats the Mouse King (Randi Fleckenstine) and the couple enjoys the romance of winter’s first snowfall.
Drosselmeyer meets Maria-Clara and the Nutcracker and takes them back in time to the Land of Sweets nightclub on New Year’s Eve, 1984. Invisible, the couple watches the party-goers show off the dance styles of the day. Suddenly Maria-Clara realizes she is witnessing the night her parents first met and is overcome by how they were once deeply in love. Back in the present, and with a little more magic, Maria-Clara and the Nutcracker help Mom (Yorelis Apolinario) and Dad (JD Rainey) reconcile. The community joins them in the celebration.
In Hip Hop Nutcracker the dancing was high energy and complemented well Tchaikovsky’s often frenetic music. Considering that there are only twelve dancers in this particular company and most Nutcracker troupes comprise upwards of a hundred dancers, the energy output from these dancers was simply amazing. The peasant dances were among my favorites. We both had a good time and are pleased to go see a performance that was a little out of our calcifying comfort zone.
Anne and I braved the heat, humidity and the humanity of it all, when we biked over to Tower Grove Park for the International Festival today. There we enjoyed plenty of music and dance and food, don’t forget about the food, from all around the world. This year, MODOT tried its darndest to obstruct flow to this annual event by closing a stretch of I-44 and also closing Kingshighway and Grand at either end of this freeway closure. It was like they filled the moat and then drew up the drawbridges. None of the ensuing traffic mess affected us on our bikes, but there sure were a lot of frustrated drivers around. It was a hot one today, but we stopped at the Gardens twice and also the visitor’s center in Forest Park for a cool down, but then don’t you wish that your girlfriend was hot like mine?
“Windmills not Weapons”, unless you are Don Quixote, for whom windmills were armed. Today, the Saint Louis Earth Day Festival was held for the 26th time. It purports to be the second largest Earth Day festival in the country. Anne was still under the weather, so I soloed to the park by bicycle. Hence, the picture of the four young ladies. I think that their costumes were an art project. Quite a few other people were in costume too. With 250+ booths, the venue selection was quite eclectic. Whenever I go to the Earth Day Festival, I always feel that I’ve returned to my happy old hippy Ann Arbor days of yore. There are always plenty on freaks and geeks, artists, naturalists, environmentalist, charities of all stripes, politicos and aluminum siding salesmen at the festival and they are all nicely grouped by category. It makes it so much easier to do your ideological comparison shopping or to find that nice new set of green gutters. Venues that I feel comprise appropriate Earth Day activities include nature and wildlife, wellness, the peace garden, a public forum, energy conservation, eco art, reduce, reuse and recycle. The one person that I saw that I knew was Pat from work. She always volunteers for the Earth Day Festival.
Because Anne was not feeling well last night, I did the dance concert in her stead. Joanie and I dined in Ferguson at a nice little Mexican restaurant called El Palenque, which means the cockpit, as in a cockfighting pit. It is located just south of the Ferguson police station and as such has seen plenty of fighting this last year. Maria, the owner, waited on us. At first business was slow, especially for a Saturday night, but by the time that we were leaving things had picked up. They sell sweets to go and after we had both put down our cash for the meal, we shopped for chocolates. Checking out at the register, there was some confusion and I saw a moment of panic on Maria’s face, when we explained that we had left our cash on the table. She rushed to retrieve the money and then rang us out. The food was good, as was the service and all for a very reasonable price. What more could you ask for?
We got to the Touhill early enough to hear the preshow lecture. One of the directors was interviewed and then entertained questions. I learned that Compagnie Käfig, last night’s performing French hip-hop theater company, is populated by Brazilian dancers and not Algerian as I had earlier reported. The choreographer, Mourad Merzouki, is of Algerian descent and the company might have been all Algerian at one point, but not any longer. The show was performed in two short acts. Each act comprised just one dance. The inspiration for each dance came from the director’s personal observations of the company’s eleven men dancers, all from Rio. The first dance was called Correria, which means foray or raid and is all about the frantic, hectic race of the dancer’s everyday lives. The second dance was called Agwa or water. The director had observed his dancers always drinking lots of water to stay hydrated. The sole prop for this dance were water filled Solo plastic cups, hundreds of them. After the concert, we attended a rave in the Touhill’s atrium. Members of company did b-boying (breakdancing) along with some rather adept audience members.