Sunday, June 22, 2008

Four Shows

I saw four shows last week -- that's approaching JW and DR's average for a seven day period. Next week there are three more to come, which has to be some sort of record for me. It occurred to me only last night, when J mentioned that he goes to a lot of shows now that he's with me, that perhaps all of this watching may not be living. The exchange went like this: I said, "When you're with me, you live." He replied, "I at least spectate." I don't know if this was meant as a criticism. It was his life we were talking about. Plus, he seemed to be enjoying himself and had earlier assented enthusiastically to my buying him Counting Crows tickets for his birthday. But I'm not going to speculate about his life or even mine in this space. I'm just going to record what I saw and how I felt about it.

First: Nixon in China. This is my favorite opera of all time, and I have been looking forward to it since I bought season tickets to Opera Colorado last year at this time. I had seen it performed as a concert opera about six years ago, but this was the first time I have seen it staged live. (I first saw a PBS broadcast of the Houston Grand Opera production from the 80s -- but that was years ago and now I don't even have the technology at my house to watch the videotape I made of it). The opera company seemed particularly proud to be staging it -- they've had guys in Nixon masks running about at opera performances and even around town to publicize it.

The company should have been proud. The performance was incredibly successful. The acting was some of the best I've ever seen in opera (I've seen a lot of opera devolve into shtick -- the February performance of Don Pasquale was just that) and the voices didn't suffer for the acting. I think that this sort of performance, where the characters are all based on people from the not too distant past whom we all would recognize, must have great acting. Of course, an opera with a subject like this one could devolve easily into a Saturday Night Live performance -- the staging seems to call for the Nixon character to be just as uncoordinated on stage as he looked on television. But the libretto really liberates the characters from the second dimension and really rounds them out. Each one of them is resolutely in his or her own skin in this opera. Each one of them sees the events of the plot from this or her own point of view, making you wonder some times if any of them are really in the same moral universe. You could really make a case that they are not. Plus, none of them are really occupied with what is happening around them. They are all sort of going through this diplomatic ceremony without any interest in its meaning or any interest in their own role in it. They are merely players. Their inner voices are, paradoxically, what we hear, and they comprise a series of thoughts and memories and feeling that are entirely not about the ceremony in which all of them have gathered to put on. It is such a great opera. I wore a black, mirrored-waist flapper dress by Philosophy by Alberta Ferretti, black Cole Haan high-heeled sandals, and carried a Furla silver clutch.

I saw Blue Man Group in Vegas with my students. I am not sure what to say about it. My impression is that there is supposed to be something more going on than what I think was happening on stage, but it all seemed disjointed. During the performance, words are projected on screen on screen and across the stage. The words that were projected the night I went all seemed to be about communication, about technology, and the convergence of the two to create a world in which all knowledge can be accessed and shared. There were also vignettes about the alienation that technology can produce. One set featured a cafe in the desert, with "neon" signs that continually changed according to the changing character of the diner as it travelled through time. It started off offering gas and food, and ended offering expensive coffee and free Internet.

But what the actors were doing on stage appeared entirely "random," in the words of one of my students. The blue men did skits, made paintings by blowing "neon" paint onto canvas with their mouths, and invited an audience member to the stage, only to have him covered in blue paint, connected to a rope, turned upside down, and pushed into a canvas to create a blue image of his form. Quite a bit was required of the audience in terms of participation. Was this how they were trying to decrease modern alienation and bring us all together? At least four people were called on to stand and wave to the audience during the warm up. Two people, including the aforementioned man, were brought up on to the stage. The rest of us were put to work during the finale conducting five minutes-worth of crape paper pouring over the balcony over our heads and toward the front of the house. The result of all of this is that I remember everything, but have no idea what it all means. I wore my bubble-hem empire waist dress by Velvet, gladiator wedges, and carried my Kooba Olivia bag in lava.

Every time I see Cirque du Soleil, I think to my self that I have to work out more. My students and I saw Mystere in Vegas, as well. It was not as good as other Cirque du Soleil shows I've seen, but it still had everything that I love about that company's product -- a strong background in the European circus tradition, complete with its medieval props and costumes. Cirque du Soleil makes me feel like I've entered into a world created by Goya. Regardless of its title, Mystere was not entirely mysterious, nor was it dark -- which are two moods that I think Cirque du Soleil does so well. However, the movement was incredible, hence my feeling of physical inferiority to the players. Just watching these people, you see how skilled they are -- in dance, in gymnastics, in acrobatics -- all of them seemingly skilled in all types of movement. And all of it is real -- these are technicians. When you see a Cirque du Soleil performance, you don't see half-trained "dancers," you see dancers who have been trained in classical ballet. I wore a gray, silk, Miu Miu dress with empire waist, my gladiator wedges, and carried the Kooba Olivia bag in lava.

I made sure I got home from Vegas early enough to see Robert Plant and Allison Krauss at Red Rocks last night. It was probably the best concert I've ever seen. They performed songs from their album, of course, but they also performed solo songs -- Robert Plant did Led Zeppelin, of course, with Allison Krauss singing back up, and Allsion did bluegrass, including a song from the O Brother, Where art Thou? soundtrack. They had T-Bone Burnett with them, and he did about three of his own songs. I wore skinny jeans, a striped BCBG blouse that ties around the neck, a Stella McCartney canvas jacket, and my blue, sparkly Marc by Marc sandals. I carried the Kooba Olivia bag in lava.

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