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Yesterday [livejournal.com profile] davesmusictank shared an article from Psychology Today, on how anti-intellectualism is killing America (and by America the authors mean the U.S.)

One of the things I've noticed over the years is that too many of the US people I know don't develop their own tastes. Now, I'm not talking about my friend set because, frankly, y'all not only have your own tastes you share them at top volume over the internet, and I love you for it. But among the people I know briefly or at one remove or are cousins, I've seen a trend for a good part of my life that certain things aren't "real."

I'm going to use music as an example, specifically two forms I like very much: Opera and Jazz. I can't count the number of times I've heard people say something along the lines of "no one really likes opera." The implication being that if I've said I like opera then I'm either pretentious or lying or both (and in some cases it's not implied it's flat out stated).

But I try to explain that I have my own tastes. I don't like all opera. I don't like all operas by the same composer. I don't like the same composers as my mother and father or my best friend.

When I was tutoring (5th - 8th graders), I would try to get them to tell me what they liked or didn't like as part of a lesson. Most of the time they wouldn't. They'd tell me that they didn't want to go to a museum because they didn't like museums. When I asked which ones they'd been to, they admitted they'd never been to one, but they already knew they wouldn't like it.

If I asked about a specific book or song or whatever, I'd often find them waiting until I said whether I liked it or not so that they could agree with me. I tried to explain that I didn't care whether or not they liked it, I just wanted them to a) give their opinions and b) say why they liked or didn't like it.

This ties back, in my head, to critical thinking. The anti-intellectualism we're seeing isn't new. It may have become more widespread since Richard Hofstadter wrote about it in 1966, but he noticed a history, going back at least as far as de Tocqueville, of valuing the popular above the particular. I'm not saying popular culture has no value. I write fanfiction, for heaven's sake.

In my mind this comes down to taste-shaming. If you don't like country music, you're not a real American. If you do like opera or cool jazz or going to museums, you're not a real American.

(A propos of nothing, there was a discussion at The Guardian last week related to the marginalization of non-white culture in the US. One commenter asked where was Kanye West's country album as if West needed to extend his reach into white culture. For the record, I'd listen to Kanye West's country album. I also like some of his music.)

I can think of no better way to encourage critical thinking than to cultivate one's own tastes. It means listening or viewing or tasting things you might never consider in the normal run of things, but it also means that a person can find the most beautiful piece of music in the world (mine's "The Martyr" by Modern Jazz Quartet. What's yours?) or let her eyes rest on an exquisite painting. It can be as simple as statement as "I prefer Brussels to Paris."

To my mind this is the first step toward defining values and defining values is the required step to being a responsible voter which is the next step toward being a good citizen. It all starts by being able to say, "I like that, and here's why."
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I actually saw this last Tuesday. I enjoyed it very much.

It wasn't exactly modern dance, but it also wasn't ballet. He used the Tchaikovsky score and based a few parts on the Petipa choreography, but Bourne's telling was more straightforward in many ways. Rather than have the last act be specialty dances by other fairy tale characters, it resolved the central story going right back to the original story -- with a little Disney thrown in.
Read more... )
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ETA: Found the names at the troupe's website! Yea, me.

So. One of the things I signed up for years ago was a site called Goldstar. They sell tickets, often at a cut rate (I've even gotten a few for free), with a fee tacked on to cover their expenses. Depending on the venue the fee can be as little as a dollar, though it's usually between $3 and $5. Late last week, I had my usual weekly email with a show called Flames of Desire by a troupe called Tango Fire. If I'd had half a brain, I'd have invited [livejournal.com profile] neotoma, [livejournal.com profile] pleasance, and [livejournal.com profile] greenygal to join me, but possession of half a brain seems to be one of the slower returning parts of my recovery. *sigh*

Anyway, I went last night for $20 and had a wonderful evening. The first act was structured as a history of Tango. The sets were minimal, but effectively used and the dancing as it evolved from Milonga (which is also the term used for dances, but was an earlier form of tango) to street dance to social dance was lovely. The dancers obviously had set couples, but, especially in the group Milonga, changed partners often. There was also male fighting dances with the leg flicks that were half mocking/half teaching patterns.

The second act was pure show tango with each couple doing at least one spectacular specialty and a couple of group dances in varying styles. All of the dancers were spectacular, but the two who caught my eye the most were the tall blonde (Louise Junquera Malucelli: her legs made Cyd Charisse look stubby) and a redhead (Victoria Saudelli) who was absolutely fearless in the the throws and lifts with her partner. Since Ms Saudelli's specialty was performed in a nude body stalking with strategic black embroidery, her dance was VERY memorable. The redhead's partner (I'm sorry to be using hair color to distinguish the female dancers, but the program was unhelpful for differentiating them as it was just a group listing of names), Sebastian Alvarez, was the most memorable of the men.

In addition, there were a singer, Jesus Hidalgo, and a live quartet. The singer was good in a strictly tango style. He danced a few steps when called upon and featured as a still centerpiece in one of the group dances in the first act.

The quartet blew me away. The pianist, Matias Feigin, was a steady professional; his one solo was nothing special, but showed off his abilities. The bandoneon player, Clemente Carrascal, was startlingly good. Accordion wouldn't have the bad/dull rap it often has in the US if everyone could play like he could. The violinist, Estafania Corsini, was the only woman and she was excellent in her solos and had some interesting rhythm techniques using the back of the bow and scratching where called upon by the music. My eye, when the dancers were't onstage, was continually called back to the double bass player, Facundo Benavidez. When the rhythm needed emphasis, he used the bass as a percussion instrument, drumming on it in different places and in different ways (back of the hand, tips of fingers, flat slap) to bring out different tones. More interesting to me was the combination of bowing and pizzicato (also used occasionally by the violinist) that had a very different tone from anything I've heard in concert halls or American jazz combos. I noticed that, often, when he was bowing, the Ms Corsini would be pizzicato, and when she bowed, he would pluck. But the technique of bowing then plucking the same string he used made for an interesting sustained note that resonated through the music.

I would like to make one side rant. I'm still on a cane when I'm likely to be on stairs or uneven surfaces. Four people were late to the performance. I was on the aisle, so they had to get through me. I stood and exited the row to let them pass and they were slow, talkative, and disorganized in getting to their seats. I missed most of the milonga group dance (though what I could see was excellent) because they couldn't be bothered to show up to the theater on time.
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Earlier on the day I got my diagnosis, I bought season tickets for this year's contemporary dance season at the Kennedy Center. My first ticket was in mid-September, but I was still recovering from the surgery and there were horrible thunderstorms, so I made the decision to miss it. Based on the review in The Washington Post the next day, it was probably wise. People left early because the work was so bleak.

Hubbard Street Dance is a small company which presented four pieces. None of the music, with the exception of the shortest piece, was particularly memorable. The dancers were marvelous, but the choreographic vocabulary seemed very limited for the first two pieces (Little mortal jump and Fluence). In fact, for these two, the stage was grey, the floor was grey, and the costumes were grey. There were some interesting visual effects in the first one -- a soloist leaping forward and disappearing over the edge of the stage as another dancer leapt up onto a wall at the back of the stage created the illusion of continuous movement, for instance. There was a pas-de-deux that began with the dancers being stuck to velcro walls, too.

Fluence explored romance including a male/male pas-de-deux that was gentle and touching.

The third piece, PACOPEPELUTO, a seven minute series of solos (with a couple of peek-in moments from the other soloists), used flesh-toned (and, yes, I mean toned to the color of the dancer's skin) dance belts as the only costumes which surprised the teenagers to my right. They thought they were seeing nudity at first and were very titillated. The music for this one was 50s pop songs sung by Dean Martin.

All of the pieces had a great deal of energy; the series of solos was witty and fun.

The final piece, Casi-Casa, was originally choreographed for a group in Havana, Cuba. Hubbard Street, according to the program, made changes to it and added some incidental material. This piece had color in the costumes, though, with two exceptions, the colors were very subdued. The overall intent seemed to be a commentary on modern life beginning with a man watching and interacting with a television. The props were minimal, but used to good effect, especially the "vacuum cleaners" used by the women in one section. This segment combined Irish step dancing, references to Scottish sword dances, and the daily drudgery of cleaning with the implication that the women were professional cleaners.

I think it was a mistake to have the short, funny piece before this one. One segment was a pas-de-deux about a break-up. There were titters of laughter in places, and a big laugh from much of the audience when the woman opens the oven and slams down the item she's been cooking. It's a baby (a doll, of course), but she walks off and the man is left in anguish. Had the funny item not been immediately before, I think the audience would have paid more attention to the emotional tone.

I loved the dancing. The dancers moved beautifully, but I was very aware that there was only one person of color in the group, Jessica Tong, whose movement drew my eye even when she was not the intended focus.


Oct. 12th, 2013 09:38 am
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Went to see Velocity DC with [livejournal.com profile] neotoma last night. It was a terrific smorgasbord of samples (or maybe I should use tapas as an example since I enjoyed the flamenco so much) from lots of small local dance companies. The first piece, using black light and suspension harnesses, was a terrific opener. While they revised the stage, a local hand-dance group came out and performed. Hand-dance is the DC equivalent to West Coast Swing, East Coast Swing, or Ceroc. They even showed us variations like birding and skating which were fun to see. The "pre-professional" group at the end were very high energy and quite beautiful dancers. In between, there were only a couple of dances that didn't grab me and make me smile.

We ate at Ping-Pong first. So I guess the analogy above should have been dim-sum.


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