« March 2010 | Main | May 2010 »

April 2010 Archives

April 10, 2010

Slide: What Is Out of Focus

What does it mean if the Dresser engaged more with the question and answer period than the performance of a new creative work by an artist of interest? What does it mean if the Dresser even raises such a question? Has she gone soft as a critic? Has she become more conservative in her view of experimental theater? Has her world narrowed down to only certain kinds of exotica?


On April 9, 2010, the Dresser took in Slide, a experimental theater piece co-commissioned by the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center as well as Stanford Lively Arts at Stanford University, Meet the Composer's Commissioning Music/USA program, and six other commissioning groups. (The Dresser assures you, Dear Reader, that she was not intimidated by the large community that gathered around this work seven years in the making, but rather wants to account for how large the audience is for this work.) The creators of the work--Rinde Eckert, Steven Mackey, and eighth blackbird (a sextet of musicians who break convention by not staying in place and do more than play musical instruments)--also convey the action of the work. This means the writer/librettist Eckert, the composer Mackey, and eighth blackbird players perform. Not a problem for the Dresser. She has seen this happen on stage and in film to good effect. Examples that come to mind start with Rinde Eckert's And God Created Great Whales, Horizon, and An Idiot Divine but also include but are not limited to Spaulding Gray's Swimming to Cambodia and any number of Woody Allen's films such as Annie Hall.

These insertions of creators as actors in their performing arts work to create alternate realities. Thus the creators can stare back at the audience (if they are live on stage) or attempt to influence the exactness of meaning in an attempt to understand or control what effect the work has on those who came to watch. By the way, Q & A sessions also work like this, even for creating artists who do not step out on the stage until after the curtain closes on their piece.

The Dresser will not neglect to say there is a musical number called "Stare," which Mackey calls the centerpiece of Slide. He describes this composition as containing "persistent juxtapositions of clarity and blurriness."


REckertbw.jpgWhat's Slide about? If the audience puts their attention on Rinde Eckert, who plays the role of Renard, they will see a psychologist who runs an experiment where he shows participants out-of-focus slides to gauge how much time it takes them to identify the object once it is shown in focus. Next Renard adds a shill who disagrees with the unsuspecting participant to further confound the participant's need to defend his original guess on the unfocused object. One of the things Renard talks about is the "ritual humiliation" of not guessing correctly. Eventually Renard comes to the conclusion, "Some things are better left unsaid. No sense in clearing up the past. Leave questions unasked."

Besides the experiment, the audience sees that Renard has a musical hobby for which he plays the tuba. After he becomes disenchanted with his slide experiment, he fixes on eighth blackbird pianist Lisa Kaplan (she is the only woman on stage) as an object of his unrequited love to stave off his loneliness. By the close of Slide, Renard wants to retreat to the windowless room that he describes as a cheap hotel but nonetheless a comforting place of retreat. (The program notes say this is where he lives.) The Dresser isn't sure, and didn't bother to ask, if Renard wanted the pianist to join the disillusioned psychologist in this room. The Dresser had already retreated into her own head thinking about a scene in Jim Jarmusch's film Mystery Train where a Japanese man shoots photos of an unremarkable cheap hotel room in the United States and when his girlfriend asks why he is doing this, he says, everything else he will remember but this he will forget.

Continue reading "Slide: What Is Out of Focus " »

April 15, 2010

The Exceptional Heroines of Barbara Quick

What do teenage girls read these days? In her day as a teen, the Dresser read such works as J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, The Diary of Anne Frank, and Carson McCullers' The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Were these books written for teenagers? The Dresser doesn't think so. They were written because the author had to write. Well, same with Barbara Quick and her new historical novel A Golden Web. Quick is an author who has to write what her heart dictates.

barbaraquick-06.jpgQuick came to the Dresser's attention with her poetic novel Vivaldi's Virgins. Like Vivaldi's Virgins, A Golden Web is set centuries ago in Italy, focuses on a girl with ambition, and involves various deceptions that the girl must enact in order to advance herself. What's the difference between the two novels? For starters, Vivaldi's Virgins is marketed to an adult audience while A Golden Web is pitched to a teen audience.GoldenWeb.gif

Before the Dresser talks about other differences between the two novels, she wants to pose the following question. Would a fan of Vivaldi's Virgins enjoy reading A Golden Web? Based on her own experience, the Dresser would say yes because there are things to learn. For example medieval university students hired and fired their own teachers. Also the reader gets treated to a close up look at the book industry at that time. How were those illuminated books made? As in Vivaldi's Virgins, Quick agilely weaves in details that she carefully researched.

The major difference between the two novels is that Quick's writing approach in A Golden Web is more direct storytelling and begins in the way a fairytale might. Vivaldi's Virgins blends letters with narrative. In other words, the protagonist writes letters mostly to her mother and we the readers see these letters along with the protagonist's narrative. In keeping with the subject matter, the language is more poetically infused in Vivaldi's Virgins which concerns the life of an artist.

If the Dresser finds fault with anything about A Golden Web, it would only be the title of the book. Personally, the Dresser thinks Quick could have devised a more alluring title. This one sounds like a video game for girls. That said, the Dresser has nothing better to offer without a long session of sitting zazen.

Nancy White in her book Sun, Moon, Salt has a lot to say about the difficulty of becoming and being a woman. This poem particularly speaks to the physicality of the life Alessandra Giliani chooses for herself in Quick's novel. Alessandra, an unusually intelligent girl, knows at the age of fourteen that she wants to be a doctor. She had to perpetrate lots of secrets to get herself the education necessary. Here's what Nancy White has to say about girls today.


She won the bloody birth and her mother
sliding past in a scream. She won milk from aching
breasts, love's merciless
gum and nip, the tyranny of the soft
brown button. She won the occasional touch
for her insatiable skin and the air
in which to puke and pee. She won
sleep's soft black socket.
She won day after day right out of the grudging sky
and first furious steps across
the room, father's hand to dangle on
from sink to stove. She won her run
right down to the mailbox hanging empty.
Hard things to chew, blades
to hold. She won her mother's no,

her father's yes, a cup to fill and pour.
She won a dress that showed her legs and shoes
for other girls to envy. She won eyes
upon her, a careful slowness when men
came to see her father's cabinet.
At school a silence against the army
of dangers, the eyes along her hem.
She won the moment where she began
to think, to close
the funnels and pipes leading to that lamp,
her body, and also clothes
like black sacks in which to store the prize.
She won a Greyhound trip alone, three hours
to tell her life so far to the interested woman
on her left and, when they stopped,

a sliver of dry and salty cheese.
She won in secret
things nobody ever named,
claimed the red beat, and that heavy spongy hill,
and the tunnel she'd once descended. She won
back her veins pounding at the pinpoint
center of the world, congratulated and
exacted herself, finger by finger. So, she won
quiet. And she won through to not
winning. To Eve sucking on a nectarine. And a pot
in which to cook strong soup, and leaves, furled and fallen,
the road going home in the half-light. She won
the whole mapless mountain and the churn of tart regret
just starting to curdle, already
gathering to yellow, to clean.

by Nancy White
from Sun, Moon, Salt

Copyright © 1992, 2010 Nancy White

April 21, 2010

Shadowboxer: Joe Louis Fights His Ghosts

While the Dresser has done things like played lacrosse for a semester in college, donned the white jacket to fence, and participated in endless games of murder ball, she has never been into the martial arts and certainly not boxing. Therefore, what would she think of an opera based on Joe Louis, the world heavyweight boxing champion from 1937 to 1949? On April 18, 2010, the Dresser heard and saw Shadowboxer, an impressive world premiere at the University of Maryland's Clarisse Smith Performing Arts Center. Winner.jpgThe work is by composer Frank Proto and librettist John Chenault under the stage direction of Leon Major and baton of conductor Timothy Long.


OldJoe-Family.jpgChenault anchors his poetic libretto about the larger-than-life boxer, nicknamed "the brown bomber," through the memories of a sick old man confined to a wheelchair--Louis at the end of his life and now a shadow boxer fending off the ghosts of his former days. The audience learns that Louis came into the ring with stringent rules that helped promote him as a clean-living and honest fighter, who did not gloat over a fallen opponent. While Champion Louis did not smoke, drink, or do drugs, he was frequently seen in the company of white women despite having a loving wife and supportive mother. His fights with the German boxer Max Schmeling put the eyes of the Nation on him as a political warrior against the Nazi government. However, Louis's military service demonstrated that the people of the United States were still racially prejudiced. By the end of Louis's life, his wife Marva had divorced him twice (Louis was married four times though that is not brought out in the opera), he was in serious debt to the Internal Revenue Service, and he had a severe problem with hardcore drugs like cocaine. ThreeBeauties.jpg


Frank Proto creates a large classical soundscape for Shadowboxer. His music is complex and has accents that remind the Dresser of Benjamin Britten in Britten's less melodious moments. As a counterbalance to this classical schema played by 41 pit musicians, Proto positions eight jazz musicians on stage with the 15 cast members and twelve choral singers. The jazz occasionally breaks through in numbers like one sung by Louis's mother Lillie.


The voice of Soprano Carmen Balthrop (Lillie) interrupts Louis's first fight with Max Schmeling (Louis loses) with profound emotional weight--"Don't kill him," she pleads. Although bass baritone Jarrod Lee as old Joe and tenor Duane A. Moody as young Joe perform credibly, the star of this production is undeniably Carmen Balthrop who understands the nuances of Proto's music. Mezzo-soprano Adrienne Webster as Marva, especially in duet with Balthrop ("a dream of Sunday punches") provides a strong performance.

Continue reading "Shadowboxer: Joe Louis Fights His Ghosts " »

About April 2010

This page contains all entries posted to THE DRESSING in April 2010. They are listed from oldest to newest.

March 2010 is the previous archive.

May 2010 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.