Dancing between lights and shadow

It’s telling that that the Alonzo King LINES ballet now called “Constellations” was originally the named, in a Dali-esque phrase, “The calming effect of shadow dispersing clarity,” as Alonzo King reveals in the pre-curtain talk; he is a poet of words as well as bodies. This ballet is a collaboration with artist Jim Campbell, who worked with LED-lit spheres to create nets and screens that serve as backdrops for the dancers, who also interact with individual spheres during the ballet. It all comes together in a graceful, powerful, surreal ballet: the rawness of the dancers’ bodies in minimalist costumes, the technology elements, the striking soundtrack. The dancers move to ambient and electronic soundscapes, which suddenly give way to Russian Orthodox choral music. In some scenes,  mezzo-soprano Maya Lahyani joins the ensembles on stage in a commanding red gown.

I had never seen the LINES company, which falls closer on the spectrum to Jiri Kylian than to the Balanchine lines of the San Francisco Ballet Company. The dancers are constantly moving, an arm changing direction while the torso continues the motion. They seem to be boneless one minute, angular the next. The electronic elements in the ballet never overshadow the dancing, but the interaction is beautiful. At the opening of the ballet, the spheres seem to hang like fireflies over the dark stage. Dancers touch or toss or roll the individual spheres or step through the LED netting. In one scene, a dancer creates fire-dancer-like light trails with the LED spheres he holds, and is eventually backlit by a fire-evoking LED screen that “ignites” out of the darkness behind him, eliciting gasps from the audience.

For me, the most spine-tingling scene in “Constellations” happens when 3 male dancers move in front of a bright LED screen to a soundtrack of swishes and cutting swoops. There is something slightly menacing and martial in this minimalist arrangement. It is not until low-resolution bird silhouettes start sweeping across the LED screen that the sound resolves conclusively into wing beats.

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Exorcising heartache with Fiona

Fiona Apple does not write happy songs. Her songs range from quietly melancholy to rip-your-heart out painful. They are confessional and raw and not pretty. A couple days ago, I heard her live for the first time at the Mesa Arts Center near Phoenix with my best guy friend. We’ve had our share of late nights with gin and tonics, discussing our latest romantic woes and looping Fiona songs. We were long overdue for this concert.

Hearing Fiona Apple live takes gut-wrenching to a whole new level. She does not so much sing the songs as channel them, like malevolent spirits. She moves jerkily, swaying, or tapping her feet, or swinging her hips rhythmically, as if possessed by the lyrics and by the raw emotion they conjure. Even in the recordings, the rawness can’t be completely polished away, but live, the music comes out with growls, shrieks, a not-always-tonal force of pure feeling.

The concert is emotionally draining for me not only because of Fiona’s delivery, and her lyrics, but also because of my long history with her music. I caught on late, by the time her album “When the pawn…” had already been out over a year. I first heard “Fast As You Can” – which happened to be the concert’s dramatic, backlit and strobe-accented opening number – and fell for her completely. Her music got me through some painful breakups and heartache, and I constantly return to and reinterpret her lyrics as my life experience shifts. It’s hard sometimes to identify with Fiona – some of her songs are so tortured that you want no part of them, you look at them from a distance and feel relief at the smallness of your grief by comparison. Other times, her lines summarize your experience so accurately it’s jarring. Take “Used to Love Him”, which she also performed that night as I mouthed along with all the lyrics:

So why did I kiss him so hard
Late last Friday night
And keep on letting him change all my plans
I’m either so sick in the head
I need to be bled dry to quit
Or I just really used to love him
I sure hope that’s it

Late at night, listening to a song like that on repeat, there is no need to say anything else.

Gaultier at the De Young

My review of The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk:

Visiting the De Young’s current exhibit, The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk, is like falling down a rabbit hole to a world where high fashion and street fashion, Victorian and 21st century mix freely, where gender is fluid, and where the word “overdressed” is not in the vocabulary. Walking out,  the visitor is left pondering one’s suddenly rather bleak-seeming wardrobe, but also the potential drabness of his or her personality – “Would you dare wear these clothes, given the chance?” the exhibit seems to ask.

Read the rest: Nonconforming Beauty: Gaultier at the De Young