Saturday, April 30, 2016

the spectrum

Today I attended the closing performance of the Sarasota Ballet's 2015/16 season.  The performance was held at the Sarasota Opera House.  They danced three different ballets - one from Wheeldon and two from Sir Frederick Ashton.  Totally LOVED one of the Ashton ballets and really liked the Wheeldon one - the other Ashton had issues.   So I had the full spectrum of reactions to the different performances.  More on that later- first some visual tidbits... all from the program for today's performances-

so I completely LOVED Jazz Calendar- seven vignettes for the nursery rhyme above- each unique and imaginative - really terrific

The American was well danced and a lovely performance - with terrific music- no complaints there and a great opening performance to start the program.

The Wedding Bouquet was seriously annoying - and for ONLY ONE reason and that was the libretto. The dancers were wonderful the costumes perfect and the scenery appropriate - but the libretto -first of all why ruin it with a libretto but even more so one penned by Gertrude Stein...that pretentious poseur (wannabee) who has merely the affectation of a poet rather than the talent... just awful! ruining an otherwise excellent ballet. The droning voice of the narrator with his nonsensical repetitions was not to my taste but others reacted more emphatically; I thought the guy next to me was going to leave... his wife made him stay and I think he was very happy he did because he seemed to really enjoy the Jazz Calendar.

another good outing with the Sarasota Ballet - am now planning on getting series tickets next year because there is so little left once the season and series tickets holders buy their tickets - the individual performances have virtually no seats available...

here is the review from Carrie Seidman from the Herald Tribune newspaper about the ballets-

If the Sarasota Ballet’s home season began with something of a whimper, it ended with an unquestionable bang. “Wheeldon and Ashton,” the final program of its 25th anniversary year demonstrated everything the company has become known for under Director Iain Webb: multi-dimensional dancing, technical and theatrical polish, conscientious attention to detail and, of course, the works of Sir Frederick Ashton.
“A Wedding Bouquet,” Ashton’s 1937 ballet about a wedding party in a French village at the turn of the century, became the latest of the British choreographer’s works (that makes 23) added to the impressively diverse repertoire and I think I can safely say, it is like no other. While I got the impression I may have been in the minority – “Didn’t you think it was a little…busy?” said a fellow audience member, searching for a polite word – I found it Ashton at his best: witty yet wise, comic yet caustic, and driven by characters so cleverly choreographed you could swear you knew these people intimately.
Juan Gil and Victoria Hulland in Sir Frederick Ashton's "A Wedding Bouquet." /Photo by Frank Atura
Juan Gil and Victoria Hulland in Sir Frederick Ashton's "A Wedding Bouquet." /Photo by Frank Atura
Inspired by a scenario written by Gertrude Stein, and with an onstage narration of her modernistic text full of characteristic repetitions, non sequiturs and fractured phrases, it centers on a marriage of convenience between a besotted and vapid bride (Victoria Hulland) and her distraught groom (Juan Gil), increasingly chagrined by the number of his former lovers in attendance at the festivities.
In brief but brilliant cameos, we’re introduced to the eccentric cast, chief among them Julia (Ellen Overstreet), whose obsessive, unrequited, passion has left her in a state of fidgety, semi-psychotic anxiety; Josephine (Danielle Brown), a dotty society dame who over-serves herself champagne and falls, ass-backwards, off a tabletop before being commanded to leave (“Josephine may not attend a wedding!” intones the narrator) and Pépé (Samantha Benoit), Julia’s loyal Chihuahua, who bites at the heels of the heel who has spurned her owner.
It is, indeed, a busy scene, and it would take a second viewing to fully appreciate Ashton’s multi-layered choreography. There are parodies of moments from both “Giselle” and “Les Sylphides,” a pas de deux in which the bride and groom’s incompatibility is underscored by their facing in different directions, and swiftly smooth segues that keep the surface merry while underscoring the acerbity beneath. (“Bitterness is entertained by all,” the narrator repeats.)
Though it was a pity some of the words were obscured by either the eccentricities of the sound system or the volume of the orchestra, the Royal Ballet’s principal conductor Barry Wordsworth -- making his debut as the narrator after listening to countless others fill the role while he wielded the baton – did a spectacular job of matching the rhythmic cadence of the words to the Lord Berners score and the dancers’ movements, amplifying rather than distracting from each.  And while it would be unfair to single out for praise any one of the dancers – the acting and miming prowess was uniformly impressive – it’s hard not to treasure the hilarity of Brown’s credible but overblown drunken antics.
By comparison, the program opener, Christopher Wheeldon’s “The American” -- a visually stunning work to Antonin Dvorak’s sweeping “The American Quartet” -- was all nature, rather than artifice and all genuine, rather than superficial, tranquility. Wheeldon’s choreography mirrors the score, which was inspired by America’s prairies, spilling out over the course of a peaceful, pastoral day in the wheat fields. Known for his elegant, fluid pas de deux, Wheeldon produces another here and Ricardo Rhodes, looking more at ease and unforced than I have ever seen him, and Brown, in another memorable performance, do the adagio movement superb justice, evidencing a trust that allowed for moments of absolute abandon. By contrast,  Gil and Nicole Padilla were spritely, playful and wickedly precise in the rapid-fire allegro.
Ashton’s “Jazz Calendar,” based on the old English nursery rhyme that begins with “Monday’s child is fair of face…” brought the program to a close. With its seven movements representing the days of the week and with almost too-literal interpretations of the rhyme – Thursday’s child (Gil) who has “far to go” spends a lot of time running around and Saturday’s child who “works hard for a living” is personified by (what else?) a bunch of hard-working ballet boys – it is a far more simplistic work than “A Wedding Bouquet,” and veers dangerously close to that “too cute” line Ashton infrequently crosses over.
Sir Frederick Ashton's "Jazz Calendar." / Photo by Frank Atura
Sir Frederick Ashton's "Jazz Calendar." / Photo by Frank Atura
Still the brilliantly-hued costumes (originals by Derek Jarman), the peppy dancing and the large, lively ensemble made for a fitting finale. Better even than the dancing, though, was the Sarasota Orchestra’s sumptuous rendering of Sir Richard Rodney Bennett’s marvelous jazzy score, so well performed I was tempted to close my eyes and just listen.
But that would have meant missing the ultimate moments of a season that has been, by all accounts, one to treasure, a year of growth and accomplishment for a company with ambitions that quite regularly exceed its budget. This was a program that, as it should, left you wanting more, a cliffhanger that only amplifies anticipation for what is yet to come.
Other than disagreeing about the Gertrude Stein libretto - I think the review was really fitting for a terrific set of ballets!

so next week we have National Theater Live at the Historic Asolo and then Phil leaves for the summer/fall not to return from Chicago until November.  I won't leave here until late in May with the girls and will return the very end of October.  Lots of things on our schedules coming up - so stay tuned...

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Chicago mountain climbing

OK - so anyone who has been to Chicago knows that you couldn't find a hill there to save your life. Coming from southern Ohio where hills can be mountain like I always said I couldn't live here if it weren't for the tall buildings - they give the appearance of something besides flat land... unlike Laura Ingalls Wilder - I have never looked for a house on the prairie... other than prairie dogs - which are pretty cute I have no use for flat grasslands- I was raised in green hills and green hills will be one of my two default landscapes of beauty.... the other being the water - from years and years of having family on Anna Maria island and the Gulf of Mexico... So- no desert brown, thank you!

Why - you might be wondering at this point- is she blathering on about hills and mountains? Because Sunday night we went to the closing night of "Alps" the most recent menu at the theater of food called Next Restaurant Chicago.

I would not list it as my favorite menu of the various ones we have attended- but I will say it was quite enjoyable and interesting in its storybook like approach to the food of the Alps.  In the entry a cuckoo clock hangs and snow shoes stand in the corner along with a poster of Chamonix... the air is scented with smoke as if from a wood fire.  When  patrons are seated, the tables (which are wearing their rustic wood tops) are covered with crocheted doilies.  A glass tea pot sits upon the table filled with herbs and around it hangs a tag with the story of stone soup.

If you are unfamiliar with Next- welcome to food as theater, narrative, sensation-al, experiential, thought provoking meals which change three times a year (called a season) as with theater you can buy tickets for a single meal or season tickets.  Each meal has a choice of beverage pairings - generally water, standard, or reserve pairings.  The beverages tend towards wine but include other things that may fit the menu of the "run."

So this menu was kind of homey- storybook Hansel & Gretel wander through the Alps- my complaint about it was that there was too much food at the table at one time- I think the individual dishes would have been better served if they had fewer things going on all at once. This was a different approach to a Next meal - which usually keeps the diner focused on smaller items and awes you with dazzling culinary skills.  If you want to see some of the prior meals - here are a few links- (our first meal: the debut menu Paris 1906) (among our favorites - Chinese) (Terroir- wine focused menu)  (Bocuse d'Or menu) (Trio menu- least fave) (Paris Bistro - better in Paris) (Tapas- yum!)

but on to the most recent dinner - the first meal of 2016 season- Alps

First the full menu and reserve beverage pairings - then it will be broken down into courses with photos-

first courses-

below stones for the stone soup-

the finished soup- a bit on the salty side- not sure where their stones were gathered LOL-

the wine pairings from the Jura- always a good choice...

individual items from the course- among my very favorite - the game bird terrine- was terrific!

now you see why I said there were too many things on the table - this was all ONE course-

the next course-

here the standout flavor was the "liverwurst" top board - right hand side-

the pork belly schnitzel which should have been better but wasn't puffy like a real schnitzel in Austria or Germany would be- kind of dry - which seems impossible for belly...

the Raclette was traditional and had a surprise of fermented mustard greens below the cheese-

maybe the best course of the night - warmed chocolate with black truffles and crispy bits accompanied by green chartreuse... I have personal history with green chartreuse but was able to enjoy a small bit of it - as a digestive this is a terrific drink- if you and your friend drink several bottles over the course of even a long night- not such a great drink... actually sickening LOL literally... ahhh youth!  It was more than 25 years since I last drank green chartreuse and my drinking companion died more than 20 years ago a victim of the AIDS scourge that took so many incredibly bright and talented people from us.  But that glass was raised to my lips with a silent toast to Jon and good times we shared.

then on we went- into a new realm -

our neighbors were seated after we were but had no beverage pairings so they got ahead of us - giving us a preview of our next courses-

here is ours in sequence - smoking the arctic char under glass - and yes we did smell smoke on our clothes after leaving dinner later that night...

as our char was smoking we had an intermezzo of berries-

and an excellent Swiss wine- leaning toward Italian nebbiolo style - with a beautiful silky texture -

the char served-

and hidden under the wooden cooking board was a pot - with a luscious gravy/sauce for our main meat which became a terrific goulash - and was so yummy I forgot to take pictures of the hidden pot and the dish with the sauce served upon it... we just ate! LOL

the texture and temperature of the "salad" were wonderful but the flavor overwhelmed by the citrus elements - too acidic -

heading into the sweets-

really a very very good meal - but different from the previous Next menus- which is a good thing - they certainly aren't in a rut - I just wished this was presented over a few more courses so I could really focus on the specific things we were having rather than feeling like there were so many things at once...

next menu starts next week - South America--- should be interesting - especially if they focus on some of the amazing food coming out of Lima these days - with cutting edge preparations of fresh fresh fish and seafood... along with amazing protein options from Argentina -and the wines! (see prior posts of Argentina wine touring/tasting/eating etc... back in the earliest days of the blog...)

and they round out the season with an homage to The French Laundry- that will undoubtedly be an extravaganza and a HOT HOT ticket to procure on an individual plan ahead...

will give you the run down in late June on the South America menu - our tickets are for our June 26th anniversary dinner!  Stay tuned- we have lots to do before that day arrives....