Love is a rebellious bird

The Habanera is a famous aria from the opera Carmen, often sung by female vocalists at the height of their profession.

Wikipedia notes,

It is based on a descending chromatic scale followed by variants of the same phrase in first the minor and then the major key, corresponding with the vicissitudes of love expressed in the lyrics.

It has also been arranged for various instruments, and one of my favorites is the arrangement for two pianos done by piano duo Anderson and Roe (jump to about 3:35 for the Habanera theme) and filmed in both the concert hall, with concert grands, and an intimate garden setting on upright pianos:

And then there’s this version, filmed in an old warehouse:

The latter is a clearly nuanced interpretation, with Beaker’s clear soprano declaiming the lines “MEEP MEEP MEEP” and the Swedish Chef’s steady underlying rhythmic background. Animal provides what would be originally the chorus’s interlude, and he provides it with character.

rah rah rah RAHHH!

Beaker’s rose is also a nice touch.

All in all, a truly thrilling performance.


Through the Looking Glass

Part of the reason why I want to study in New York City is because I want to immerse myself in the legendary art museums that are around the city. The Metripolitan, MoMa… I have a friend, a studio art major, who grew up in New York City and assures me that the museums are quite an inspiring experience. In my very tiny home state, there is a distinct lack of art museums. The RISD museum, though it has a decent collection, doesn’t really compare to the Met.

This was why, a few weeks before the end of school, my studio art major friend and I planned a trip to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts during Easter break.

Another reason was to see the highly acclaimed Dale Chihuly blown installation art glass exhibit, fittingly entitled, “Through the Looking Glass.” Dale Chihuly is a glass artist known for his revolutionary designs with blown glass art. His art is not the typical blown glass bottles. Instead, his art is the type that fills a room with a forest of blown glass shapes — truly awe-inspiring.

From the Museum of Fine Arts website:

By 1965, Dale Chihuly was already captivated by the process of glassblowing. Influenced by an environment that fostered the blurring of boundaries separating the various arts, as early as 1967 Chihuly was using neon, argon, and blown glass forms to create room-sized installations of his glass. Although his work ranges from the single vessel to indoor and outdoor site-specific installations, he is best known for his multipart blown compositions. Based in Seattle, Washington, Chihuly works with a team of glassblowers, a process that allows him to work on a grand scale and to explore and experiment with color, design, and assemblage. “Chihuly: Through the Looking Glass” provides an opportunity to see and explore the full range of his artistic achievements by immersing visitors in the beautiful and enchanting environments created through his extraordinary vision.

I had never seen anything like this before. The designs are spiraling, fantastical, and evocative of forests, flowers, and ocean life. My friend and I took plenty of pictures, which do it it little justice. The colors are vibrant, and the displays fittingly used light sources to display the art to their full advantage.

I was a little disappointed that my camera couldn’t fully capture the beauty of these objects. My camera is your typical digital which has trouble adjusting to dark scenes. But here are some of my pictures. The full album on facebook can be found here for anyone interested in seeing more.

For those of you in the Boston area, or anyone planning a trip to Boston this summer, please note that the Chihuly exhibition will be up until August 7.

You won’t be disappointed.

Click photos to enlarge. 

So Much For the Duck

Art is never a passive experience.

When you start a non-profit arts organization, you want something that will not only be fulfilling to all the people involved (dancers, artists, musicians) but an organization which can give something beautiful and meaningful to the surrounding community. It’s not just about giving kids something to do on the weekends or after school, it’s in part about teaching them the value that art can have in the life of those around them — the “perceivers” of the art as well as those making it.

Ultimately, you want it to be an active participation or a dialogue between concertgoer and musician, audience and dancer, gallery visitor and painter.

An exchange…

The State Ballet of Rhode Island, resident non-profit dance company of my home state, is such an organization. Ever since its inception by artistic director Herci Marsden 51 years ago, it has provided a nurturing environment for young dancers to gather and polish their art in the form of choreography as well as motion, and then present the results to the surrounding community. When I was younger, around 10-12, I’d actually been a member, participating in probably three or four of the shows before deciding to do something else.

I was really cute, even though I must have been pretty awful. Even so many years later, I do remember the effort they took to make it a legit ballet performance, rather than a glorified dance recital. My siblings are still active participants, and twice a year, I’ve gone to shows. In the past few years, I’ve noticed that they’ve been making changes, taking steps to “keep up with the times,” so to speak. Some changes were the addition of a Facebook page, another an overhaul of the website, Cultural Enrichment programs at local schools around the state, and still others the addition of several more smaller, more select performances and collaborations placing them in the public eye (such as with the Gloria Gemma Foundation, to mention a recent one).

The most obvious is the changes that they have been making with the performance experience itself. What about the integration of other forms of art, or taking elements from the past or traditional dance styles, and mixing them with new ones?

With this excitement, I attended the State Ballet of Rhode Island’s spring show, Artists in Motion, on April 30, at Rhode Island College.

I was not disappointed.

The program featured three different one act ballets. Tying them together was the fact that each ballet was choreographed by three different generations of dancers, from Shana Fox Marceau to her mother Ana Marsden Fox to the artistic director, Herci Marsden herself. These three different ballets were unique to each choreographer in terms of styling. Fox, as a person who loves making people laugh, favors simple storylines filled with humor, while Shana tends to go for precise, synchronous movements and beautiful symmetry. Marsden’s ballets are always elegant and deeply passionate. In terms of programming, none of the ballets felt jarring or out of place, and each choreographer used her stylistic strengths to her best advantage.

The first ballet was Ana Marsden Fox’s premiere of Petra and the Vuk, or an adaption of Peter and the Wolf. I always like adaptations when done well. Tradition is good, but adding a new angle to an old ballet is always refreshing. Obviously, Peter was replaced by Petra, played by the talented Holly Fusco. As demonstrated through the title of the play, Fox drew on her Slavic heritage for inspiration, incorporating Slavic traditional dance here and there through the piece. The names of the characters were in Slavic. Even the theme, composed by Prokofiev, was played on traditional Slavic instruments at the outset and near the close. The audience was encouraged to laugh at the duck (charmingly portrayed by Peg Chobanian), cheer when the wolf (Mark Marsden) was captured, and clap in time to the music. I liked it.

Impressions of the Sky, by Shana Fox Marceau, followed. This ballet was a distinctly different style, largely impressionistic rather than having any sort of story line. According to my sisters, the ballet was originally choreographed by Marsden, but in the present, they only had a fuzzy video recording that did little to preserve the original. Marceau decided to do a fresh choreograph around what they could pick out from the old version. Similar to Fox’s incorporation of Slavic elements, Marceau used contemporary dance elements to evoke impressions of the sky, from the rising sun, showers ahead, dusk, storm clouds, the calm before, and lightning (the truly exhilarating Zapped).

I’ve watched a couple of Marceau’s dances before, and was hugely impressed by the sheer energy and coordination. This ballet did not fail to disappoint. Marceau’s dancers are always perfectly synchronized. Every step was exactly in place. Whenever one group left the stage, another group would soon follow. Marceau’s insertion of modern dance elements into classical ballet is successful. Each movement belongs. It brings to mind a tapestry with many threads interlocked. One thread breaks, the whole thing might fall apart. I couldn’t help but feel new appreciation for the work of the dancers in synchronizing the movements, as well as for the choreographer for making such an energetic and precisely woven work. Marceau also showed her versatility as well as her creativity through the haunting and enigmatic section “The Cloud,” where dancer Elizabeth Cyganoski as a solo female dancer danced, yet never touched the ground. At the end, I felt exhilaration, and I think many of my follow audience members did, as evidenced by the cheers that erupted.

Click to enlarge.

Concluding the set was Marsden’s Pictures at an Exhibition, music by Mussorgsky. The piano music was composed after the sudden death of his dear friend and artist Viktor Hartmann. Viewing the paintings of Viktor Hartmann, Mussorgsky was inspired to write his suite, with each piece based on a particular painting by the artist: paintings of sound. This collection became his most famous suite of piano pieces, and is often performed today. I have never played them. The version used for this ballet was probably Ravel’s orchestration.

I tried to go online to find examples of Hartmann’s work, and unfortunately, few survived. However, in other bit of ingenuity, Marsden and several of the company members arranged to have artists in different media (paint, photography, digital imaging, charcoal) from the surrounding community and within the dance program bring in artworks that they had made based on impressions they had gotten from listening to the music. Managed by Peg Chobanian, graduate of Rhode Island College with a studio art degree, these pieces of art were set up in a gallery next to the auditorium for the audience members’ viewing pleasure. Entitled “The Artist Exchange,” this was a successful example of how music, dance, and even visual art can be used in harmony to enhance the experience and expand the dialogue amongst different kinds of artists and audiences members.

Throughout the ballet itself, these pieces of art would be projected on the wall whenever the “Promenade” (impression of the composer himself walking around viewing the artwork) was played. There was quite a variety of art involved, and I was amazed at the sheer talent of the artists. This, together with Marsden’s skillful choreography, formed an experience that probably affected me a lot more than I expected. It all started with the paintings by Hartmann. The composer may have painted the characters and scenes of his friend’s paintings into sound, but Marsden brought the characters into life and set them into motion.

click to enlarge

Also, never have I seen such emphasis placed on the music and the genius of the composer than in this ballet. Even several weeks later, I feel emotional just thinking about that final closing scene where the dancers, still in character, come on stage with this long sheet of cloth with the actual notes of the composition (I didn’t bother to check, but I’m taking their word for it) painted on it and dramatically paying homage to the composer by placing the cloth in front of him and kneeling before him in a wonderful act of reverence. You have to see it to believe it. It was a fitting conclusion not only to the piece itself, but the entire program.

So in conclusion, this show was one of the most enjoyable I have been to in a while, and perhaps one of their best in recent years. I would also be amiss if I did not mention the talent of some of the young dancers in the company. They not only have great technical ability and power of expression, but if what I heard is true, they have discipline to get where they need to be, as well as a strong commitment to their art. It is clear to me that SBRI is developing artists who, even if they stop dancing, will always remember this exchange of which they are a part. SBRI is going in a good direction with their thinking, and I am certain that the exchange they have fostered will continue.

Here’s to an exchange…

*Pictures taken by me. Not to be used without my permission, unless you are from the State Ballet of RI. 

For more pictures of the show, check out my public album on Facebook. 

Illusions: Review of Lindsay Aline’s Debut Album

I heard of singer/songwriter Lindsay Aline from a Facebook ad. I just happened to glance over when I was playing Cafe World (don’t judge me) and see her name. I’m all about finding gems of albums and artists that few people have heard about, and which I think more people should know about, and I found her background intriguing. However, I did not get her CD until very recently, when she and her managers sent out a call for bloggers interested in reviewing her debut album, Illusion. I received the album in the mail about two months ago, and since then, I’ve listened to it quite a bit.

Lindsay Aline does not seem to be a person who shies away from heartbreaking honesty. Her biography mentions a fall into disillusionment and discouragement and eventual burnout, a painful situation for any artist to go through. She makes no secret of her struggle to find her voice and regain her love of music. Such experience and maturity makes its way into empowering themes such as those in the title track, “Illusion.”

As for first impressions, I was struck by the beauty of her voice. There is this lovely soaring, ethereal quality to it which reminds me somewhat of Enya. She has cultivated a very pure sound, and I think here is where her classical influence is most obvious. Her voice stands out from a lot of the other artists I know partly because of this very “refined” sound, with a certain calm elegance, for lack of a better way to describe it. I think most prominent artists (Sara Bareilles, Brooke Fraser, Taylor Swift) in the music industry nowadays tend to be self-taught, and Lindsay’s extensive background of arts songs and arias is fairly unique in this regard.

She’s also pretty cute.

Further evidence of her musical training shows. Her diction is very clear and precise. I never have a problem making out the lyrics, and this is a plus because I often feel as if I’m struggling to hear lyrics in otherwise sound albums (Brooke Fraser’s voice is hard for me to make out sometimes). Her range is incredibly versatile: in the title track “Illusion,” her voice soars nearly effortlessly (perhaps there is some tension the higher it goes, but still) into melismas that I can’t even attempt to reach. In the next track, “What Would It Be Like,” her voice dips beautifully into a lower range with more somber thematic material. Though I favor her lower range and wish she would use it more, she does showcase her higher range more.

As an arranger, Lindsay Aline is particularly skilled at bringing together voices and instruments and sounds to forge an unique effect. What stands out to me is the layering of voices in songs such as “Reach” and “Eye Contact.” Linking all these different styles and instruments and sounds is Lindsay Aline’s expressive voice, which remains pure, ethereal, yet strong throughout each track.

However, with all that said, I come to the weakest part of the album: her lyrics. Even before I became a literature major, I’ve loved words. When listening to a pop album, words are what pull me in, even more so sometimes than the beat or the melody. If a song has a good melody but poor lyrics, I might be disinclined to listen to it again. If a song has good lyrics but a blah melody, I might listen to it a couple of times more before putting it aside. If a song has good melodies and good lyrics, that will probably be my new favorite song, and I will listen it to death.

Lindsay Aline’s lyrics are not horrible, but they could use a lot of tightening up. Certain passages seem clunky and awkward, placed at odds with Lindsay’s smooth voice and her flowing melody.

From “Eye Contact”:

Eyes wander a crowd, search for a match
Heart recognize the heat, another pair trying to catch

This is probably one of my favorites of the album, in terms of melody. However, these lyrics gave me pause. While I can identify with the theme of meeting someone one enchanted evening, I’m not sure the lyrics truly capture this magic. To me, it seems as if a lot of the words were used just to fit the melody, or to make the syllables match, rather than melody into words and vice versa.

In “Please”:

Please, please, please shine again, please
They say that dark is void of light

I want to help, I want to be support

Again, “dark is void of light” was perhaps not the smoothest word choice. Perhaps another word to describe these lyrics is “obvious,” and especially in that last line I used in the example. The expressions and metaphors Lindsay uses can be kind of cliche at times.

Lindsay Aline at her release concert

But I am not here to give a critique her lyrics. In spite of this weakness, I truly enjoyed the first song, “Reach,” with its ultimately upbeat message. And of course there’s “Illusion” as well as the aforementioned contemplative “What Would It Be Like,” which drew me in with its wandering melody and Lindsay’s gorgeous lower register. The more I listened to that song, the more I fell in love with it.

And then there’s “What a Day,” impossibly catchy and with lyrics I can honestly say are truly magical. Set against a backdrop of simple piano and guitar, with Lindsay’s expressive voice, this song truly evoked the feeling of sun, oceans of miracles, and “ends we can’t see.”

I loved it.

In terms of songwriting, Lindsay Aline, though promising, has some ways to go. Even though I am not a fan of her lyrics, I am confident that she will tighten up her records with a little more time, experience and experimentation. I wish her luck in her music career, and look forward to seeing what else she comes up with. I really believe she has a big future ahead of her, and I am sure that she will embrace that future with fearlessness.

*Apologies about the lateness in reviewing! Finals caught up to me somewhat, and though I had notes, I did not have the time to sit down and put them together. To Lindsay Aline’s management team, thank you for your patience!

Samples of Illusion are available to listen on Lindsay Aline’s website here.

To purchase, go here.

Pictures are from website and facebook page, and are used only with Lindsay Aline’s permission.

What does one do with daylight?

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

The Love-Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, by T.S. Eliot

I suppose one of the great questions has always been about what to do with daylight. Musicians are always concerned about time, in more senses than one. Most of us suffer from a lack of it, wishing that there were more hours in the day to do that which has to be done. We need time for creation, for envisioning, for practicing, and for production.

We need to have time to directly face and answer the questions that need answering, and don’t have the luxury of long periods of rumination.

I know relatively little about Modernist poetry except for the important bits. What I do know is that such poetry was the antithesis to Romanticism and its passion and idealism, especially after the events of World War I. Such poetry was written to be deliberately difficult to read and to interpret, with the poet sprinkling allusions to Western literature throughout the work. Eliot seems to expect his readers to understand some of the obscurities he puts in there. Even scholars remark that they can’t “get” all of Eliot.

Another important factor is that a lot of T. S. Eliot’s poetry seems to be a response against an overwhelming sense of isolation and loneliness in society at the time: a loneliness that still exists. Eliot’s “Prufrock” is no exception. The images are confusing, strange, and jarring, as seen in the opening few lines with the comparison of the evening “spread across the sky” to a patient “etherized on a table.” This isn’t the most pleasing image, or the most satisfying one. In fact, it gives the reader a strong sense of dissatisfaction from the very outset, and continues this undercurrent of loneliness, hesitation, and ultimate despair throughout the rest of the poem.

Excerpt from epigraph: Dantes Inferno

This poem is bleak. It’s not a poem written for a distraction during an afternoon tea break. It’s a poem that has to be read over and over before getting some sort of understanding of it. It’s not light, fun poetry, though there is a certain rhythm and flow, a beauty to the construction, that makes it sound nice when you read it.

There are two main interpretations of the poem. One of them is about loneliness: a middle-aged man is interested in a woman, and wants to ask her out but simply cannot bring himself to and ultimately decides against it. The other is on a larger scale. This middle-aged man finds himself faced with the overwhelming question of what to do with his life. Time is passing by, and he simply can’t bring himself to do anything with it, instead choosing to dance around the “overwhelming question” rather than answer it. Either way, he ultimately fails. I think it could be both, though I favor the latter over the former.

And yet, it expresses a helplessness that many can identify with.

The particular passage quoted at the beginning of this post happens to be an allusion to the book Ecclesiastes, from the Old Testament:

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens.

Spoiler alert: he doesnt

Clearly Prufrock has a good point: there is a time and a place for everything that needs to be done. However, the problem is that he uses it as a rationale for delaying what should be done, whether it’s asking that girl out, or actually finding some purpose for his life. He repeats the statement “there is time, there is time” over and over, this repetition juxtaposed by his lament that he is getting old.  As the reader “sees” Prufrock pacing back and forth upon the stair, wondering about the question on his plate, wondering how he should begin, the reader can’t help but be frustrated by his indecision to do whatever it is he’s thinking about doing.

Time is indeed running out for him after all.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair…

He seems to be trying to stretch out the little time he has left, dragging the moments out until it has passed and there is only empty rationalization. His obsession with time can be explained by his vivid awareness that he has little left. His indecision is not helping.

Poems like this beg the “overwhelming” question of this day and age: But what if there is no more time? If then, what have you done with it? In some senses, this poem offers a challenge to the reader to make what they will of what they have.

When have we been guilty of thinking that there is time, when in fact time is running out?

Near the end of the poem, Prufrock states that he is not the tragic hero. He’s not Prince Hamlet by any means… he reduces himself to first the “attendant lord,” the adviser, and finally the fool. Perhaps what he is coming to realize is that the real tragedy is in not taking the courage to do anything, until it is too late and time has run out for him. Perhaps in that sense, anyone can be the tragic figure for simply letting time pass by, as Prufrock has done.

There’s a fantastical line near the end about Prufrock watching mermaids singing on the beach, and then realizing, crestfallen:

I do not think that they will sing to me.

Time. Of it I have little.

Ultimately, the great question may be whether by the end of my life, I have dared to take risks… whether I have done not only that which I am supposed to do but that which I want to do…

Do I dare?

strike up the band and make the fireflies dance

I really like this song for some reason.

Oh, kiss me beneath the milky twilight
Lead me out on the moonlit floor
Lift your open hand
Strike up the band and make the fireflies dance
Silver moon’s sparkling
So kiss me

I think I am half hopeless romantic, half pragmatic planner who lays all her options out on the table and thinks them through.

It’s a strange combination.

I’m a risk taker in the sense that I’ll take some really wild risks.

I’m cautious in the sense that I’ll stop to think: “is this reasonable? Is this fair? Is this best?” I do have a tendency to over think. You should see how reasonable I am when it comes to thinking about future options, though I have to remember that everything could change in a heartbeat (and did). You should see me evaluate all my options for graduate school. What career should I choose? Which would be better suited for me? Etc etc etc.

The wild risk is that I’m aiming for Columbia University, in New York City.

But I’ll think nothing of falling in love with someone who probably won’t love me back.

What about you?

All photos are under a CC license and used with permission. Click photos for credits.

Shall I at least set my lands in order?

Buildings burn after an earthquake near Sendai Airport, northeastern Japan March 11, 2011. (REUTERS/KYODO)

I sat upon the shore
Fishing, with the arid plain behind me.

Houses are in flame while the Natori river is flooded over the surrounding area by tsunami tidal waves in Natori city, Miyagi Prefecture, northern Japan, March 11, 2011, after strong earthquakes hit the area. (AP Photo/Yasushi Kanno, The Yomiuri Shimbun)

Shall I at least set my lands in order?
London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down

A whirlpool is seen near Oarai City, Ibaraki Prefecture, northeastern Japan, March 11, 2011. (REUTERS/Kyodo)

Fires burn in the port area of Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture following an earthquake in northeastern Japan, March 11, 2011. (REUTERS/KYODO)

Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina*
Quando fiam uti chelidon–O swallow swallow
Le Prince d’Aquitaine a la tour abolie

Houses are swept by a tsunami in Natori City in northeastern Japan March 11, 2011 (REUTERS/KYODO)

These fragments I have shored against my ruins.

A view of flooding and destruction in Natori city, Miyagi prefecture, Saturday, after a tsunami was unleashed by an 8.9 quake. (Picture from CNN)


*From Dante’s Inferno: “Then dived he back into that fire which refines them.”
**Quando… : “When will I be like the swallow [so that I can stop being silent]?”
***The Prince of Aquitaine in his ruined tower
Complete text of The Waste Land. Excerpts from section V: What the Thunder Said
Pictures from, compiled by Alan Taylor