0

Contemplating My Crazy Weekend Over Matzah

Well hello everyone. The past 72 hours are almost lost to memory, but in an effort at preserving them, here’s an update on what’s going on in my life, AKA why I’ve been such a slacker of late:

Friday: No class, as usual, but an afternoon rehearsal for Saturday’s ballroom showcase with my partner. Then, at 5:30, we initiated about 20 pledges into APO. Immediately following, I went over to Hanna’s place for the first seder, which was a motley collection of ragtag misfits, including my brother from another mother Raimund; Hanna’s son Josh; his girlfriend, Bobbie; her friend, Becca; Haruki, a Japanese guy who is one of Hanna’s tenants; Esti and Gidon, an Israeli couple; Judy, a flight attendant; Bonnie, who I didn’t get a chance to talk to but had a great voice; Helene, an insurance agent, and her lovely mother, Daisy; and from the band, Nick the sax player and Isham and Ibrahim, two Muslim brothers who play percussion instruments. It was the first time sat between a Christian (Haruki) and a Muslim (Isham) at a seder, and I couldn’t have enjoyed it more. It really felt like a community dinner, and Hanna was an excellent hostess and provider of tempeh, charoset, chicken, and potatoes. Raimund made a salmon salad and baked potatoes, Helene and Daisy made a TON of matzah balls and soup, and Judy made matzah meal brownies. I’m not used to musical instruments at the seder, but Isham and Ibrahim did a great job on the bongos and the darbouka while Bonnie played the shaker. It was all just so homey and fun, and inclusive without feeling diluted. A fun time was had by all.

Saturday: Up early to work on my paper, then to the SAC at 10:30 to present it. I was on a panel alongside Jo, a speaker from the art department, and a speaker from the gender and women’s studies department. The theme of the session was minority women and performance, with papers delivered about modern Indian theatre (Jo), Navajo textiles (art department woman), antebellum slave narratives (GWS woman), and mine, reimagining the Gypsy woman. Only a few audience members, but it was special all the same.

Then, after a quick lie-down at home, I was back up at 3 to meet my partner at the SERF for an hour of practice. Then, back home to relax a little and gather up my costume and makeup for the dress rehearsal at 5. Dress rehearsal went really well, despite the fact that not everyone was in costume, which kind of defeated the purpose, but whatever. The formation group did a hilarious jive to “Dear Future Husband,” there was a samba round and a waltz formation. Other dances included a paso doble, a Viennese waltz, and a few different jives. My partner and I ended up with a combination of American waltz, International waltz, rumba, and Israeli folk dance. The performance started at 7:30, and we were fourth. It was so much fun, and we got some good applause, as well as good photos and a video that’s already up online ::cough::lastsemesterschachachastillwaiting::cough::

I left at intermission/social dancing to hopefully catch part of Avremel’s seder for the second night of Passover, and actually came right on time, it hadn’t even started yet. It was very different than Hanna’s seder, but just as special. It was very classy, with cake from New York and fresh fruit as a starter, and just so much food: brisket, cabbage, roasted vegetables, and two different kugels. It was shorter than I thought, but there were a lot of really nice and fun people there.

Today: sleep and grade.

Welcome to my crazy life.

6

Staying In and Getting Real Night, Part 3

And again, not too much of a shut-in tonight, as I actually went to the gym(!) and a 2-hour dance class, but I’m idea-less at the moment (other than needing to spruce up some of my half-finished recent posts) but I thought I’d just take a break and say hey and all that.

I cleaned my apartment this weekend, well, a good deal of it. I can’t say that everything’s off the floor, but my apartment is pretty walkable now. The countertops and tabletops are piled with things, but that’s another issue for another time. The recycling is really piling up, I don’t know why I don’t take it out as often as I take out the trash. I guess it’s because I can just toss the trash bags down the trash chute, but I have to take the recycling box down and actually put everything into the recycling dumpster (recycling bin? dumpster does not sound too correct).

Dance class today was pretty fun, but I still feel like…I don’t know, that I got cheated out of dancing as a young’un. I know that not everyone started dancing as soon as they could walk, but some people grew up in families or in places where it was more acceptable/encouraged. My exposure to dance was basically doing the hora on Simchat Torah and maybe some line dances at a bar mitzvah, or doing the middle school slow dance-type-thing. We had a pretty good dance teacher in high school, but I don’t think our abilities (or at least mine) were quite up to par, and only having dance class once every other week didn’t really help. For some people, dancing just kind of sinks in a little more naturally; I’ve known people who’ve told me that they’ve only been dancing for the last few years and they’re already miles ahead of me. Granted, I don’t practice as much as I should, and for my first year, I wasn’t too serious about it because I was settling in and still finding my way around and stuff. I can’t remember if my parents ever offered to send me to a studio, or for classes, other than the occasional performing arts summer camp for a week, but if they did, I should’ve taken them up on it. I don’t think that they did, though.

So…work to do. Other than finding something resembling a summer job and doing more than thinking on my prelims, the workload’s kind of leveled off. I have one presentation next week, and then another the first week of May, but other than that, it’s just teaching (and I’m almost finished grading, only about 20 papers to go). I have a huge stack of library books due, and I’m kind of getting tired of them just sitting there, unread, taking up space and constantly renewing them (having constant renewals is a blessing and a curse) but for some reason, when it comes to reading, I think of something else to do. I hope grad school hasn’t completely killed my love of reading. Even today, I actually scanned a play into my computer rather than reading it, because it was an interlibrary loan and it was overdue (fortunately, they don’t care enough to charge you unless it’s been recalled, so I came out in the clear). I did manage to write and send letters 5 and 6 in my 2016 Blog Friends Pen Pals Challenge (which, if you’re reading this, let me know if you want in because I still only have a few more addresses in my list).

And so that’s tonight. Here’s hoping tomorrow’s classes go well and that this week ends up being a good one for blog-spiration.

1

Nine Thousand Miles

This weekend was a whirlwind, almost lost to history and memory, but I’ll see how much I can resurrect out of it.

Friday: After our final school show, it was officially time for spring break and for hitting the road to Cedar Rapids, Iowa for the Iowa DanceSport Classic, my first away competition. I could not find a partner, so I decided to go TBA, and dance at Bronze level rather than newcomer for the first time. I needed some extra time to veg out, so I ended up leaving Madison at 4 PM with exactly 8600 miles on the car. It was a relatively uneventful trip, and my first time ever seeing eastern Iowa in the daylight. I made it to Iowa City at sunset and almost got into an accident; there’s a road there with two lines going the same direction, yet there’s a divider in between them. So, I thought I could turn left from the right lane. The car in front of me did that about 5 minutes before, and got hit; fortunately, the person in the left lane slowed down so the same didn’t happen to me. I still decided to be the good Samaritan and see if the people who did get into the accident were okay. After a quick sandwich and cappuccino, I met up with Sophia, Dillon, Nicole, and Tim (the first three are from team, Tim is Sophia’s friend) in downtown Iowa City. Sophia, who graduated from Iowa, led us around the campus, and we went to a fun dance club and saw the old state capitol building before heading over to Cedar Rapids to check into the hotel. There were 8 of us in the room; me, Sophia, Dillon, Nicole, Sergio, Ciara, Raunak, and Jameson, and it was like a giant slumber party, complete with attempting to throw popcorn in Jameson’s mouth and making a giant mess, but we did actually get some sleep. Of course, I ended up in between Jameson and Raunak in the king-size bed, so it is debatable as to how much sleep I actually got.

Saturday: Wake-up, get dressed, and make-up by 8:30 for registration only to find out that the events most of us are competing in aren’t happening until 2:30 PM.

Great.

At least we were ready early.

The first activity of the day was lunch with Sophia, Dillon, Nicole, and Sergio, and meeting my partner for the day, Heather from the Iowa team. Our practice went pretty well, and she and her pre-champ friends taught me how to do a reverse turn in samba, which I always wanted to know how to do. Then, at 2:45 (they were running a bit late) it was showtime. I wasn’t too happy with the cha-cha and rumba we did, but I thought our samba and jive were pretty good for only having known each other for 2 hours. I was much happier with our standard, we did a lovely waltz despite starting off time, and our quickstep was not bad. Overall, not the greatest for my first away competition, but next time will be better.

Oh, and I saw the announcer in the bathroom afterwards while taking off my makeup, and he said that he saw me and was wondering if I had my eye makeup tattooed on, to which I chuckled “I wish.” At least my eye-makeup game was totally on fleek.

After getting gas and finding some geocaches, dinner was at Jersey’s Pub in downtown Cedar Rapids with Raunak, Jameson, and Ciara. We watched the nail-biting game between Wisconsin and Arizona, and thankfully Wisconsin was around 8 points ahead most of the time, so elite eight, here come the Badgers.

I left Cedar Rapids at about 9 PM, and got home a few minutes before midnight with exactly 8995 miles on my car, and next morning’s trip to the grocery store got me to 9000.

Now, time to get as much work done as I possibly can before heading home on Thursday.

4

Dancing with the Enemy

So, yesterday, after the show, I went to watch the second of four films offered by this year’s Madison Israel Film Festival, Dancing at Jaffa, a documentary directed by Hilla Medalia and starring Pierre Fontaine and Yvonne Marceau. For someone who is a huge fan of documentary films, of ballroom dance, of human interest stories, and of Israel, I have to say that I was let down.

Dancing at Jaffa documents the true story of an intercultural experiment aimed at uniting two groups of children in a very unusual way: through a ballroom dance class. French ballroom dance champion Pierre Fontaine returns to Jaffa, Israel – a suburb of Tel Aviv and the city of his birth – to see how he can best contribute to the people of a divided city in a divided nation. The idea of a ballroom dance class is brilliant, and especially the way he did it, by making Jewish boys dance with Palestinian girls, and Palestinian boys with Jewish girls. Of course, the program does not run smoothly; the scenes where the children meet for the first time are wonderfully awkward, and their reactions are candid and honest. Slowly, though, the resistance to look at, to touch, and to dance with the partner of the opposite sex and religion melts away, and by the end, they all (well, most of them) dance in a competition in front of a crowd of parents, family, and friends from both communities. Other than Pierre, two of the trajectories are those of Noor, a chubby Palestinian girl who can be either incredibly shy and withdrawn, avoiding everyone or hostile and belligerent, attacking and scaring everyone; and that of Lois and Alaa. We do not learn about Noor’s partner, but we do learn that Alaa comes from a very poor Palestinian home at which Lois is shocked, and that Lois’s thing is that she was fathered by a sperm donor, which prompts an adorable scene where she tries to explain to her partner what a sperm bank is, and then is followed by an awkwardly graphic scene where Lois’s mother gives Alaa the intimate details of her procedure and of the reproductive process. She’s a wily one, that lady. Noor’s arc basically ends with her in control of her emotions and actually proving to be a very talented dancer, and Lois and Alaa take us out with a scene where they row Alaa’s father’s boat and it’s all very Hand in Hand and gooey as the credits roll.

The concept of the film is great; cute kids and a fun project. If the synopsis weren’t enough, the trailers made me want to jump right up and buy a copy of the movie for myself. However, as I mentioned before, it was not a cakewalk to sit through.

Okay, disclaimer: granted, I missed the first 20 minutes because I was still at the theatre finishing up with the costumes, but for an almost 2-hour-long movie, missing 20 minutes shouldn’t be that big of a deal, and I was able to get right into it when I walked in. The main criticisms I had were the treatment of ballroom dance, the character development, and the camera work/filming style.

Okay, first, the ballroom dance. Obviously, I was not expecting to watch children do ballroom for two hours straight, because that would be boring, but they could have shown more of that and fewer tracking shots of school buses and checkpoints. The only dances that I counted were merengue (which is not something I know much about), rumba (a different style than what I’m used to, though, and tango. There was a tiny bit of foxtrot and waltz in the scenes where Pierre and his American partner, Yvonne Marceau, were demonstrating for the class, but they didn’t show them teaching it. It’s obvious that the children were not professional dancers or even actors, but I felt like I was either watching them dance the same steps over and over in different settings or just watching them talk about their lives. There was a lot left on the cutting room floor.

This leads into character development. I found it odd that almost nothing was mentioned about Noor’s partner; that would have been a great counterpoint to Lois/Alaa. It is clear that we were supposed to root for Noor, but she seemed like a whiner up until the very last moments. Unlike Lois/Alaa, the Noor scenes always seemed to be about someone other than Noor, and Noor’s relationship with that person (Noor’s mother, Noor’s teachers, Noor’s classmate, Pierre). Also, some of the adult characters were frustrating. Pierre seemed a little full of himself at times; Lois’s mother, while funny, clearly attempted to commandeer a documentary that was not about her; and there was something that one of the teachers said to a class that I thought was incredibly harsh and unwarranted. Also, there were like five different schools, and so many children that we barely knew anyone else’s name by the end.

Finally, the camera work. Pick a style and stick with it. You want to do it as if it’s a real movie, with no fourth-wall breaking? Do it that way. You want heavy confessional action? Do it with all the characters, or at least not just Pierre. And for goodness sakes, decide if you want your voice in it – there was one scene in the Palestinian neighborhood where they were talking to Alaa and some of the other boys, and it was clear that the prompts/questions were coming from the person holding the camera.

I would give it a 2 out of 5 star rating, and that’s only because I just love ballroom dance.

And hello to another six continent day, the first after a few! So, just who danced in today? North America (Canada and USA), South America (Paraguay and Colombia), Europe (UK, Hungary, France, Netherlands, and Czech Republic), Asia (India, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia), Africa (Burkina Faso), and Oceania (Australia and Papua New Guinea).

2

Masterpiece YouTube: Donald O’Connor, Applied Mathematics

Today was a horribly cold and blustery day, the first of the year. Let’s hope this doesn’t mean six more weeks of winter for Madison. I actually had a nice day, though: lunch with 12 friends at Great Dane, and I also got to the gym, which was just about empty, thanks to the Superbowl and the weather. I’ve got a lot on my mind, so to give you a more accurate picture of what it looks like and because I don’t have the wherewithal at the moment to think of something interesting and new, here’s an updated episode of MYT from last September that I’ve been meaning to fix.

Just watch.

That’s So Jacob Presents:

Masterpiece YouTube

Episode 14: Donald O’Connor, Applied Mathematics, Are You With It? (1948)

This, my friends, is talent. No offense to the silver screen stars of today (does anyone even use that phrase anymore?) but Donald O’Connor’s feet have more talent in them than the majority of this year’s Oscar nominees. It’s even more striking in black and white. And yeah, it’s not really about math, but it’s fun to watch and pretend that it’s your math homework.

Donald O’Connor was part of an amazing generation of performers. And when I say performers, I mean performers – people who could sing, dance, act, and had personalities and energies that were just electric. People like Ann Miller, Betty Garrett, Vera-Ellen, Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly. There’s a reason why Singin’ In The Rain is one of the best American movies of all time; it’s because the viewer is drawn into the story and its characters. These days, I feel like popular movies are all pretty much the same animal; remake of a remake of a remake, sci-fi aliens/dinosaurs/warriors, romantic comedy, or screwball comedy. Not to say that they aren’t good, there’s just a certain magic that goes into a musical film; as the characters go through their changes through song, so do you. I think the only major movie that would fit this category is Pitch Perfect, and even that’s pushing it.

Speaking of remakes, I think it’s high time for Are You With It? to mount a comeback. From what I understand, the plot is about a math teacher who joins a traveling carnival. In today’s economy and the worrisome job market, this might be just the thing to inspire people, or at least entertain them.

Or you could just watch Donald O’Connor dance some more.

This episode of Masterpiece YouTube has been brought to you by the Rachel Sweet Pandora Radio channel, which I’ve been rocking out to for the last half-hour while I wrote this.

In other news, I hope that y’all come back and visit even though the January Blogging Odyssey is over. I’ve had a pretty good day though, with five continents reporting in, all but Africa: North America (Canada and USA), South America (Peru), Europe (UK, Belgium, Netherlands, France, Italy, and Liechtenstein), Asia (Israel, India, UAE, and the Philippines) and Oceania (Australia and New Zealand). Tell your friends?

11

Tag, You’re It

So, today we had our dress rehearsal for this weekend’s dance showcase. Last Sunday, a few of us went to Kohl’s to pick up belts/vests/shirts. We purchased 6 items for $146 (saving $181, but that’s beside the point) and when I got home, I just left my items (vest and tie) in the bag, in my car. Today, I grabbed the bag from my car in my rush to get to rehearsal at Memorial Union. As I was putting on the final piece of the costume – my vest – I noticed some weight against one of the sides.

Yep.

They forgot to take the security tag off.

For those of you who do not shop regularly at high-end stores (like Kohl’s), a security tag is a plastic/metal/magnet thing pinned into the fabric. Its purpose is to prevent said item of clothing from being stolen from the store. When the item is purchased, a little magnet at the register pops that security tag right off. If the average person tries to rip it off, it will explode ink everywhere, coating the item and the hands of the person who broke it; I kid you not. If it’s not removed from the garment, the store’s alarm goes off when you leave and all hell breaks loose and that’s when people actually start going ballistic.

Yet, for what it’s worth, I managed to get the vest out of the store with the security tag intact.

I couldn’t very well take it off myself, so I danced through the rehearsal today with it on, looking like some kind of tagged dancing fugitive. I kept having images of it beeping during the performance and some mall cops invading the dance floor and arresting me. Or that it would trigger the building to explode, or something.

But seriously?

You had one job, plastic security tag.

At least now I have an excuse to go back to Kohl’s tomorrow.

 

3

The ASTRonaut Has Landed

Welcome to Baltimore!

That’s what I’ve been saying to people all day.

Yesterday, I flew home, saw my parents for a minute, then headed downtown where I’m attending my first ASTR (American Society for Theatre Research) conference. Which just happens to be here. The conference goes until Sunday, and then instead of flying back to Madison I’ll be staying on here for another week to do Thanksgiving with the family.

ASTR has a very different feel than ATHE so far. Same people, for the most part, plenty of familiar faces, but I don’t really have a “crowd” yet; I guess it comes with being a newbie. But so far it’s been pretty exciting.

The opening session was a plenary with four fantastic presenters from all over the world. I sat and listened near the front with two other conference newbies from London who are in Baltimore for the first time, and we commiserated between speakers.

I learned a lot from each speaker, but the one that affected me the most was a woman from Dartmouth called Maral. At the start of her presentation, someone wheeled on a coat rack with three orange and black costume pieces hanging from it. Before she took the podium, she did a short dance clad all in black.

Her topic?

“Politics of National Dance Dress in 21st Century Jordan.”

Even with no prior knowledge on the subject, her presentation style was unreal. She set the scene at a state event involving a traditional dance performance, and described how the costume designer imagined the dress that was to be worn by the dancers. Only it ended up sounding like two different outfits: one more conservative and one more “European” and “orientalistic” with a slit and long, open sleeves. She spoke about how the concept of “national dress,” though stemming from the traditional abaya, is a fluid concept of Jordan. She talked about it in terms of “temporal continuity of monarchy,” showing the “collective victory of Hussein” down to today, and the connections between costume and economic stability. The dress performed as an embodied entity, to create image, identity, and marketability. The silk and chiffon fabrics and orange coloring echoed the “mystical desert sands” of an Orientalized idea of “Arabia,” and how the ballet slippers that the costume designer insisted the dancers wear on their feet “because bare feet are so primitive and passe” interrupted the Orientalism to endow the outfit to a wider audience, a “globalization on their feet.” Donning the dress, she then repeated the dance, and then speaking about the dress as an “invented subject,” she did the dance a third time, now with interpretation a la “open up, attitude, Martha Graham Martha Graham (that got a giggle from the audience)” and talked about the form and flow.

Overall, her point was that the dress performs subjectivity, between tradition and modernity, in the neoliberal regime. She then returned to her original outfit and gave sort of a reflective summary of her work, which was kind of unnecessary since we just heard it but I guess it communicated her methodology more clearly in case anyone was curious.

I really liked her presentation style, on the whole; the dance and the costume added some jazz to what could have been a boring topic.

Now that I’m really excited about semiotics and phenomenology and performativity and pedagogy, time for bed, of course, to dream about all those things.