Channelling Poppa at the Ballet


I started channeling my maternal grandfather during Act II of Caroline’s dance recital last night.  I presume he’d been there all along, but Act II featured the modern dance classes, and he was not impressed. Yes, Caroline’s year end recital had three acts. The Montgomery Ballet’s director, Elie Lazar, feels that the students deserve the chance to participate in a professional performance, and he choreographs the recitals as carefully as the shows put on by the company’s paid ballerinas and danseurs.  Actually, he also invites those performers to choreograph portions of the work, as well, but we’ll get there.

Act I is always Mozart’s Les Petites Riens, which suits this group well, because the performance can be completed in a single act. Act III changes annually. This year, Mr. Elie chose Don Quixote and did the choreography after Marius Petipa’s. (Petipa’s being probably the most famous version of the piece. In dance, if you style your own choreography based on the work of another, then you credit that other.)

 Sandwiched between these two ballets, Act II this year presented the modern dance classes. These are typically choreographed by the company members who teach them. And I thought the dancers did a kickass job. They showed how ballet can fluidly incorporate elements from other dance genres without either mode losing from the combination. I loved this part of the show.

But. Something like one verse into Adele’s “Cold Shoulder”, Poppa told me, very clearly, “Writhing. I’d give it a five on the Bradshaw scale.”

My maternal grandfather has been dead since 2009, but I wasn’t too surprised that he would pop up at his great-granddaughter’s dance recital. I was just rather startled that he’d speak during a performance, even only to me, only in my head, or that he would be watching a full act before Caroline went on. But there he was, moderately annoyed and finding the modern dance section something of an interruption to his evening. And, because this was a psychic sort of conversation, as soon as he spoke, I knew exactly what he meant.

My maternal grandparents were said to be strong dancers, in their day.  They listened to big band, and they knew how to do the Charleston. Their slow song was “Sentimental Journey”, sung by Doris Day, and Mummum used to love watching Lawrence Welk. (Old Lawrence drove everybody else, Poppa included, a little nuts, but we endured it for her sake.) But they also had very clear ideas about dancing. They felt strongly, for example, that it was a vertical event. As soon as a dancer got down on the floor to boogie, Poppa would declare “Bah! Writhing”. They didn’t mind if, say, one member of a duo slid through his or her partner’s legs and hopped right back up again. But if that partner stayed prone or, lord help them, both of them laid down, they were immediately deemed to be “writhers”. Indeed, as far as I know, Poppa considered quite a few ballet moves to be nothing more than writhing, so it’s no surprise that ballet mixed with jazz dancing would produce a degree of irritation.

And Poppa had spoken up just when all the dancers laid down on their backs and rolled over, feet in the air. All of them were down on the ground, and they had just shot to the top of Poppa’s disgust charts.  Now, let me say this again: Poppa was not the sort who would have ever interrupted a performance. That’s much more my style. But I was completely enjoying the show, and it was very clearly Poppa ranking the entire second act based on the amount of time the dancers spent on the ground (too much) and the tonality of the music (not tonal enough, except for Randy Newman’s “When I’m Human” from The Princess and the Frog).  He was grudgingly impressed with the extraordinary dancing and choreography in the “Girls Gone Shopping” scene, though the music (from the film Enchanted) was rated “muzak”. Score one for Miss Molly, anyway. She choreographed a modern dance that he enjoyed. And I agreed with him on the muzak assessment. He only assigned the act’s final piece a one on the Bradshaw scale. The music was called “Moods” , which turned out to be the pieces of well known composers as played on the piano by Erik Satie. (Note – all of this was canned music. No piano player ever materialized, and Adele and Miley Cyrus stayed off in Hollywood or whatever. Perhaps I’m glad for the recorded songs.) Anyway, “Moods” was choreographed by Mr. Elie, and it almost completely passed muster, but the dancers started writhing right at the very end, so it got a Bradshaw strike.

Poppa went away again, or at least got quiet, after Act II, as Act III’s Don Quixote was standard ballet, and the dancers followed the vertical rule much more carefully. Caroline was in Don Q, towards the very end of the night, and she did a good job not only of being patient, but also of nailing her part. (As did her adorable classmates.) They had an entire scene of three or four minutes, and their dance was quite complicated. It was utterly delightful for Scott and I to watch, and Caroline’s beaming smile told me how much she loved being there.

Poppa didn’t say anything, but I know he and Mummum were both proud of her, too. It’s too bad I can’t channel the living grands and great-grands, because plane fares and gas are both equally expensive, and I’m sure they would have also enjoyed the evening. I wonder if Poppa would be willing to go house to house with the highlights reel. Omitting, of course, Act II.

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For the love of Mike, TALK to me! (Concrit welcome on fiction)

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