All posts by Ben

Cinderella

As a birthday present, my mother took me to see the American Ballet Theatre production of Cinderella tonight at the Met. The last ballet I went to was the Boston Ballet in 2007, for a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that I remember as being performed against a sparse, abstract set. The incredible skill was obvious; the plot much less so.

When the curtain went up tonight (and the translucent screen behind it, one of half a dozen used in the show), I found myself looking at a classic Metropolitan Opera set: richly detailed, filling the proscenium, in a style exaggerated just slightly past photoreal. The three sets (home, forest, and palace) helped a lot, as far as figuring out what was happening.

The story was also a good choice for a reintroduction to ballet, being simple, familiar, and full of clear visual iconography: tattered dresses, ball gowns, sparkling slippers, pumpkins, and brooms. This show, “the Ashton production”, doubles down on the familiar story with simple, broad comedy (the stepsisters were played as clowns by men in drag) and emphatic pure romance. I was occasionally confused, but for the most part it made sense.

Of course, sometimes when I thought I was following along, I got a reminder that everyone else in the room was seeing much deeper than I was. At one point the audience burst into applause and cheers so forcefully that it stopped the show, and the dancers took a bow mid-scene. They did not appear to be surprised. The cause appeared to be a chaînés by Marianela Nuñez, which I guess must be especially difficult.

Overall, it was definitely better than last time. I might even wait less than 8 years before giving it another try.

Review: Jurassic World

To me, Jurassic Park was above all a descent into darkness. The special effects needed the cover of darkness and rain, which conveniently let them set it in a jungle, reinforcing the Joseph Conrad reference. It had quite a bit of comic relief (Jeff Goldblum’s tics, Newman from Seinfeld, and some guy getting eaten in the outhouse), but it was also a movie about hubris, the kind that results in dismemberment. Like a good tragedy, Jurassic Park took its personalities as archetypes, and let them interact to prove the plot. Like a good thriller, you couldn’t be too sure who would get eaten … but like a good Hollywood movie, in the end it was all the evil, irritating, and minor people.

With Jurassic World, the studio figured they could finally make realistic dinosaurs up close, in daylight, and the result is a movie awash with light. One whole terrifying night is skipped without a word (maybe the director’s cut will fix that dramaturgical problem, among others). Even the last night’s action takes place in a brightly lit boulevard, the better to show off their CGI fight choreography.

In the new movie, the characters are all meant to evolve, at least the ones who didn’t start off as images of perfection. They are all tested; some improve and some decline. This is the only aspect of the movie that attempts real drama. In all other respects it is almost pure comedy. Even the action shocks are a bit like physical comedy, because after 20 years it’s abundantly clear that they are never going to gruesomely murder any of their likable main characters.

They can play with tropes (Will the token black guy get killed? No, we’re not doing that anymore; it’s too racially charged.), and self-conscious self-references all day long, but in the end, they’ve made the same old movie again, only brighter and hammier. It’s entertainment, fine, but it’s not movie magic anymore. We know you can make good dinosaurs on screen. Now tell us a new story about them.

Can’t be topped

I had pizza at Juliana’s Coal-Fired Oven Pizza in Brooklyn last night. We ordered your basic cheese pizza with one topping: garlic.

I have never had so much garlic in my life. This was not roasted, marinated garlic either. It was not sauteed, or fried. It was freshly ground, and probably raw when it went on the pizza. It was still highly acute afterward.

Garlic lovers delight; all others make a note.

The Mermaid Parade

When I met up with Chewbacchus in New Orleans, and mentioned I was coming from New York, the first question I got was whether I’d been to the Mermaid Parade. I’d never heard of it, but I made a note. It turns out that all my hippest New York friends were well aware, and some were regular attendees themselves. This year’s was today.

The weather was bad. It rained right up until the starting time, then got drier but stayed clouded. Also, we watched from the boardwalk, which meant that we didn’t get to see any of the motorfloats that participate. Maybe that was for the best.

Anyway, if you want a (slightly sanitized) sense of what it was like, without standing out in the unseasonable chill for 3 hours, here’s a photo album for you.

New shoes

About 10 years ago, my mom bought me a nice new pair of running shoes. This may have been inspired by an incident in college when I ran 5 miles for crew in the only shoes I had on hand: a pair of brown leather Timberland boots.

We went to Bob’s Sporting Goods in Norwalk, and wandered the corn-maze of shoes. After trying on a few different brands I put on an Adidas pair and was instantly sold. Their narrow, cushioned construction exactly wrapped the contours of my feet. They were light, and bouncy. I jogged and jumped around the store feeling like someone had slightly reduced the gravitational constant of the universe.

For the first few years I reserved them exclusively for running, which meant that they were primarily decorative. I had other sneakers to wear for more utilitarian purposes, and my sport of choice involved a boat with built-in shoes. As my other shoes wore out, I started wearing the Adidas more and more. The pleasure of fresh firm padding gave way to the subtler joy of a worn-in contour match. Sure, in the past few months the external ornamentation had begun to peel off, but nothing I couldn’t patch up with a little glue.

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Then on Friday, in the middle of a frisbee game, the right shoe finally, totally self-destructed.

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I looked on the net to see what the closest thing to a Bob’s is around here. All the results for sneaker shops in NYC were lists like this, by shoe aficionados for whom there is no shoe but Nike and Jordan is its prophet, Air be upon him. People who need a swimming pool in their shoe store so they can get set for their whole triathlon. People who get new shoes by trading up, not wearing out. (Yes, there is a premium pre-owned sneaker industry in New York!)

So I went to JC Penney.

Buying shoes at the Manhattan JC Penney is not a premium experience. The sub-basement ceilings are low, and the staff is doing anything other than being helpful. There are only about two short, impossibly narrow aisles of men’s sneakers, roughly categorized by brand but not really sorted or labeled. Most of the shoes seem to have been made with flat, board-stiff soles, for reasons that elude me entirely.

There was an Adidas rack, but it all looked like some sort of fashion-focused mockery of a sneaker, something you could wear to a dance “club”, but not a fitness club.

Somehow, I did manage to find something just about right: a pair of Nike Flex Show TR 3s. (Who comes up with these names?) Light, thin upper for cooling, flexible sole for running, no crazy fashion statements or obviously fragile construction, fits well enough.

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They didn’t make me feel like I was levitating above the floor, and with their white protruding soles they definitely aren’t going to look new for long, but they’ll do … and if not, I’ll go to the shoe store with the pool, and they’ll be a rounding error on the total price.

The Big Show

In the fall, I joined an a cappella group that is Definitely Not Jewish But Just Happens To Have a Lot of Jews. It seemed like a really talented bunch, but seeing as we only had one rehearsal a month, it was unclear how I was ever going to learn enough to be able to perform. Then it began to seem like a moot point, because for 7 months, we had zero performances.

Finally, yesterday, I had my first show with the group, at a Jewish-themed comedy/poetry show in the basement of a comedy club in midtown, the kind of place with folding tables and a two drink minimum. About half the people in the room were there to perform, and the other half were their friends and family. I think most performers would like to be performing for strangers, to prove their popularity, but it’s not all bad: an audience full of people who already love you is a very friendly audience.

It was an eclectic mix of performers, mostly Jewish men and Black women, doing raunchy standup, romantic poetry, and one intensely explicit Holocaust-focused spoken word piece. We were the last act (“and now for something completely different”), with a bunch of completely arbitrary pop music, no theme except that we liked the song. Despite a few false starts and minor anomalies, I think we pulled it off.

Now that we know we can perform, we have to figure out what comes next. No reason to wait another seven months.