The Festival of Nations

Brazilian Samba Dancer

The Festival of Nations is always held at this time of year in Tower Grove Park. In the past, the weather has been abominable, usually both hot and humid. Not this year though. You couldn’t ask for better weather than today’s. Anne and I bicycled to the festival, thus avoiding its chronic parking problems. We arrived early enough to beat most of the crowd. We filled up on Jamaican BBQ rib tips that came with a side of cabbage. Properly fueled, we toured the arts and crafts booths. We saw a few things that we could have bought, but in the end, we came up empty-handed. After all of this tough shopping, we replenished ourselves with Nepalese samosas. There may not have been any heat or humidity, but there was still plenty of humanity and as the crowd closed in, we grabbed some lawn space and watched a few of the many musical acts that the festival hosts.

The first act that we saw was a Mexican mariachi band. They had all of the little kids in the audience up and dancing when they played the popular song, Baby Shark Dance, which of course Anne knew all about. Next up was a Filipino dance group. This group seemed representative of many of the performers that we’ve seen over the nineteen years that we have been going to this festival. Focused on maintaining cultural heritage amid America’s melting pot, it featured mainly children, mainly girls, who have been taught some of the ways from the old country. I especially liked what I call the candle dance. I would look it up on the festival’s website, but as you can imagine, it is being slammed now. In this dance two young women, each hold two red candles, with a third balanced on their heads. The question arose as to whether those were real candles or faux LED candles? Zooming in on one, I could see the melting candle wax which then begged the question, after each performance, do they have to pick wax out of their hair? The final act that we saw is the pictured Brazilian samba dancers. The high energy lead dancer stole the show. After them, with feet that had gone to sleep, I unsteadily got to my feet again and we stumbled back to our bikes.

With all of the rancor that is daily being spewed forth from the #RacistInChief, this day’s interlude offered a welcome relief. It felt like a balm, to see so many people, of so many nationalities, celebrating together. People of every race and ethnicity cooking and eating together, singing and dancing together and most importantly talking and being together. Love can conquer hate. So, let’s do it!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

Irish Dancers

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.

On Your Feet!

Bandaloop Duo — Way Up on Their Feet!

 

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.

Even Ballerinas Fart

American In Paris Poster

American In Paris Poster

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.

American In Paris Opening Set

American In Paris Opening Set

Hip Hop Nutcracker

Fabulous Fox

Fabulous Fox

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.

Fox Lion

Fox Lion

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.

Heat, Humidity and Humanity

Okinawan Dancers

Okinawan Dancers

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?

Russian Dancer

Russian Dancer