Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Tango Lesson

I still remember my first tango lesson. I felt timid at first about being so physically close to someone I barely knew, waiting for his leads and knowing I mustn’t even move without first feeling a nudge, or a turn, or an invitation from him. I waited on the tips of my toes, unsure of myself and what I was supposed to do, but excited by the newness of it all, like an eager pup sniffing out a strange new land. Even during that first lesson, I quickly became enveloped in the elegance, restraint, and subtleties of this beautiful dance, and my love was immediate. Since that first lesson over five years ago, I’ve danced tango all around the world and learned many things from my evolution in the dance. What I love about tango is its subtlety – in the arms of my partner, in the spaces between the dancers on the dance floor, in the silence between two notes in a song – those little spaces are where tango truly breathes and pulses with life. It isn’t through watching the showy performances of the maestros that one learns to dance tango; it’s in the little, intimate moments when you’re dancing with your partner, creating your own movements and improvisations, filling those spaces with yourself and not caring about who’s watching or what they might be thinking of you.

Tango is the poetry of the dance world, and like poetry, it is something that tends to come and go in my life by spells – sometimes I become utterly absorbed in it for months, and other times it won’t ignite the slightest interest in me for a while. For the last several months, I’ve been in the latter category, without any inclination to do any tango dancing at all. Then last week the thought of dancing tango suddenly sprouted in my mind and took root, and I decided that it’s time for me to explore Seattle tango. A tango dance, called a milonga, is like a daybreak – it’s either happy-full and hopeful, or pierced with doubt and needles of anxiety; it can go either way, depending on how you look at it. This past weekend, when I went to Red Tango milonga, it was a bit of both. I arrived feeling unsure of myself, thinking it’s been so long since I’ve danced tango, and I don’t know anyone here, and what if I make a mistake, and so on. I felt unanchored and nervous, flung out of my comfort zone. However, almost immediately the familiar sights and sounds of my favorite dance wrapped a comforting arm around my waist and reassured me that I can do this, reminding me that this is an art form I love. Feeling that old excitement again restored my confidence and helped me forget all about my worries. The DJ played various styles of electronic music, and I took my turns with several dancers, becoming part of the circle of bodies cutting slow trails around the dance floor. I felt lighter and more confident when I walked home after the milonga ended, like I had accomplished something real by pushing past my fear to the open expanse on the other side.

Now that I’ve danced again, I feel like I’ve been released of a continent. Like my very first tango lesson showed me, tango is my dance that has a way of transforming me after just one evening. Lesson learned: always keep dancing.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Thanksgiving Memory

Last Thanksgiving I was in Rome, gorging on pasta and gelato, receiving a “ciao bella” every time I turned around, and exploring cathedrals and museums to my heart’s content. One particularly striking memory from that trip comes back to me: I finished my tour of the sun-drenched Coliseum, waved at a gladiator, and made my way down the brick street to a plaza in front of an art museum. It was just about sunset in late November, and even Rome gets a little chilly in winter evenings, so I hugged my jacket closer to me and watched the medley of tourists and locals strike poses and snap photos. Idly looking around, I spied a somewhat hidden stairway leading up a hill behind the museum, and I took it upon myself to discover where it went. Leaving behind the bleating libertines, I ascended the staircase, stepped onto the patio…...and felt my equilibrium nearly vanish as Rome, breathing the brilliant streams of the setting sun into her ancient lungs, stunned my vision. She was on fire – buildings’ old skins shimmered with the long-lost glow of youth; rivers of color flowed into the skyline, the earth, the people walking down on the street, caressing them with color like a dancer flinging multi-hued saris onto her spectators; the orange sun was huge in the palette of the sky, and it seemed so close and welcoming that I wanted to embrace it, or have it embrace me. But what really brought me to the brink was the flock of birds making their primordial patterns across the sky, their small black forms cutting sharp fractals against the saturated wash. They swooped and rippled and turned all as one, and I couldn’t take my eyes off their completely synchronized dance. I must have sat there over an hour, feeling the chill of the evening creep its way into my skin, listening to the faraway voices of the people below me. Finally, long after the birds settled into their nests for the night, I slowly made my way through the narrow streets of Rome back to my hotel, feeling transformed, yet not knowing in what way.

During the remaining few days I had in Rome I returned to that spot at around the same time every evening, but I never had the mesmerizing experience that I did upon discovering it for the first time. The colors weren’t as brilliant, or the birds weren’t dancing, so it wasn’t the same. That one evening was truly a unique memory to cherish. A memory to be thankful for. What memories are you thankful for?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Eating at Serious Pie is a Classy Adventure

Serious Pie is not your typical pizza joint. When I entered its cozy ambiance after getting pummeled by yesterday’s deranged windstorm, I felt like Frodo returning to his hobbit-home after saving Middle Earth and enduring all sorts of cruel trials instigated by Peter Jackson. Fire crackled, soft lights glowed, earthy smells tempted, and gentle music flowed. I was ready to forget all about that evil windstorm and poor Frodo getting bundled up in narcotic she-spider saliva.

At my communal table, where I sat beside a married couple visiting from Anchorage, I enjoyed a light, tasty feast. First I had the Tuscan kale with pine nuts and parmesan – with a surprise burst of citrus to boot! – while listening to my tablemates regale me with stories of man-eating polar bears and -100° temps. Middle Earth indeed; just venture to Alaska! For my happy hour mini-pie I chose the delicata squash, roasted garlic, and gorgonzola lucifero pizza simply because I had to try “Lucifer’s gorgonzola”. Oh man, that crust was crisp, that squash was creamy, and that cheese added just the right tang. A far cry from the greasy vittles of Pizza Hut. Other creative options you can explore to satisfy your upscale pizza cravings include Yukon potato and rosemary, chanterelle mushrooms and truffle cheese, and pumpkin, pork belly, and pistachio. I will never be able to tolerate Elven bread again after these sumptuous morsels.

That was all good, but the dessert truly ruled: olive oil cake topped with spiced apples and soft whip, surrounded by jewels of bright red cranberries. It was the perfect windy autumn day desert. The cake was moist, and the cranberries were tart explosives ricocheting around in my mouth. My palette was so enraptured, I was seriously tempted to publicly lick my plate. Instead, I said goodbye (good riddance?) to my tablemates and received the odd – and slightly offensive – recommendation that I apply for a job at BP. Since the guy worked for an oil company in Alaska, I didn’t tell him what I really thought of that little piece of advice, but between us, I’d rather face the Eye of Sauron.

And one pizza joint to rule them all!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Vampire Milongas and Silent Readings

The first time I entered Salon Canning in Buenos Aires, I experienced the uncanny sensation of feeling like I had been instantly transported to an elitist vampire milonga (a tango dance) in the early twentieth-century, where coven members gathered to lure unsuspecting tourists into a den of chilling fantasy. Turning and staring as one unit when any homo sapiens entered the club, they danced with such eerie, preternatural grace it was almost unsettling to watch. Violins and bandoneons screeched stale music over hushed voices, sliding shoes, and sharp taps of stilettos. The mood was haughty, the air thick, and I just wanted to run the other direction – a legitimate self-preservation response to entering a vampire lair.

At Sorrento Hotel’s Silent Reading Night, I experienced a similar sensation of being transported – only this time I teleported to an elegant Old World gathering where society’s most distinguished elite convened to pore over Tennyson or Wordsworth. Well-tempered Baroque music glided through the fire-lit room, easing all manner of stress built up during the hectic day, as the pretty serving-girl brought tea, or scotch for the stronger palettes. A genteel affair reeking with haughtiness. What would happen, I wondered, if I set my cup down too loudly, or started vigorously chewing gum, or sounded a barbaric yawp? I was half-tempted to do it, just to see their reactions!

Like I felt in that pompous milonga in Buenos Aires, it was all a bit too sterile, too staged and elitist for me to really feel comfortable. I’m with Walt Whitman, who said, “I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable”. Give me the salty throng of La Viruta (another milonga); give me entranced spectators waving their bodies as musicians let their souls bodysurf over upstretched arms; give me the epic roar of live electronic musicians summoning absolute wizardry before my eyes. Those are the experiences I truly love.

I do, however, also enjoy the occasional vampire milonga or silent reading night – after all, there are worse ways to spend an evening.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Ryuichi Sakamoto: An Evening With A Master

Never have the orbits of classical music and electropop collided so elegantly as in the brain of Ryuichi Sakamoto, whose passions spill from his soul onto the keys of his electric Disklavier Yamaha (electric to enable him to play duets with himself on his compositions for two pianos). As a member of Japanese band Yellow Magic Orchestra, Sakamoto was a pioneer of the electronic music movement of the ‘70s and ‘80s, but his enormous talent stretched far beyond those early synthpop days. A modern-day Renaissance Man, Sakamoto’s artistic styles range from the Kraftwerkian electronica of Yellow Magic Orchestra, to Debussy-inspired solo piano pieces, to massive orchestral works, to hauntingly beautiful soundtracks (including Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence; Little Buddha; and Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor).

In Sakamoto’s oeuvre there is something for everyone’s taste, but his solo piano pieces are the most deeply moving works of his canon. With the calm assurance of a Jedi Master, silver-haired Sakamoto conveys his depth and skill by utilizing simplicity, rather than complications. Instead of twisting melodies into over-wrought contortions, he leaves them whole, pure, largely unadorned, so that their beauty slowly expands in the soul and sprouts indelible roots. He understands that electrifying a listener’s spirit can be done delicately, exquisitely, and slowly. Listen to “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” and “Bibo No Aozora”; let them gently swirl down your basilar membranes to enthrall your essence with lush sound and emotion.

Sakamoto is also an environmental activist: he founded more-trees.org, and is currently pioneering “green tours” which offset massive carbon emissions by planting trees. His most current album, Out Of Noise, combines sounds of the natural world with startlingly new ways of coaxing sound from a piano. For example, the first piece of the concert I saw started with chirping crickets and gurgling water, over which Sakamoto layered the gently cacophonic reverberations he produced by strumming and plucking the piano strings themselves (instead of hitting the keys). With the lid completely off the piano, at first it seemed naked, with Sakamoto transgressing its private quarters like a boozy courtier lifting a woman’s petticoats. However, the reverence Sakamoto showed toward the bare strings turned the act into something much more intimate and moving – a humble encounter, rather than a violation. In this way, Sakamoto demonstrated humans’ varying relationship to nature, showing that it can be healing and gracious instead of careless.

Sakamoto has collaborated with Fennesz (listen to “Haru”) and Alva Noto (“Berlin” made me finally understand Debussy’s quote, “Music is the space between the notes”), among many others. Listen to his music and know that you’re being transported more deeply into your soul by the able hands of a true master.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Escalator Fest, Part 2

The second night of Escalator Fest started off with Climax Golden Twins. They absolutely lived up to their name, providing the apex of the night right at the very beginning. CGT is two guys – one older gent playing electric guitar, a bearded dude on drums – and they give the impression that they’re just two buddies who love to jam together once in a while in a totally improvisational format. Watching them build off one another and follow each other’s leads was like witnessing the most sublime, heavy storm pulsing in the distance, growing progressively thicker and closer until you get swept up in it, so enthralled you barely realize you’re levitating.

Both guys were maestros of their respective instruments. The guitarist played with his mouth, turned the guitar around and played it backwards; the drummer waved his arms around, stood up and clutched cymbals. Thrilling to watch, transporting to hear. It was as if they’ve been to heaven and hell and now they’re back on earth, hungering to tell us all about it.

Now here’s a letdown for you – they don’t have their own music up on their website. However, you should check it out anyway for the “Victrola Favorites Listening Parlor”, which has a collection of old-timey, rare recordings. Listen to “I Wish I Was A Single Girl Again”.

The rest of the evening just couldn’t compare to the spectacle of CGT, and in fact, I felt bad for the bands that had to follow. I’ll try to find some of CGT’s music for you guys to absorb – although, judging from comments on my last post, some of my readers may not share my musical tastes. That’s okay, I’m just trying to introduce you all to some new music and expand your aural horizons. I'm glad you all aren't shy in saying what you really think!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Escalator Fest, Part 1

Last night I attended the first night of the Escalator Fest, a two-day psychedelic music and audio-visual festival. It’s nowhere near as big as Bumbershoot or the Decibel Festival, but it seemed like a good way for me to hear a lot of local bands at once. Dark, heavy ecstasy ruled the night, with bands blending deep, repetitive, primal beats and free-whirling, kaleidoscopic guitar riffs sent spinning through the air. I felt like I was melting through the space-time continuum with a horde of gypsies as my fellow travelers and shimmering shamans as my guides. Here is last night’s lineup, along with my critique and recommendations (click on the links to view their webpages and sample their music):

This Blinding Light combined undulating, consciousness-expanding guitar loops with just enough deep, steady bass and beat to keep us all firmly planted on earth. In fact, the guitarist got a little too firmly planted, as he knocked over an amp during a particularly electrifying riff. A couple band members seemed a bit flustered by the unintentional theatrics, but they carried on to please a now-distracted audience. Check out the first song on their webpage, “”Monochord In Your Eyes”.

Night Beats alternately conjured a dueling band of cowboys and Indians from cheesy westerns, and a motley group of musical gypsies from a 1960s garage. I couldn’t figure out if the drummer was a girl or a boy, but either way, he/she/it pounded out the most slamming, bicep-flexing beats of the night. If it was a girl, she had some pretty impressive guns. Check out “H-Bomb”.

Jeffertitti’s Nile was my favorite band of the night. They produced a bluesy, danceable set that made a bunch of neo-hippies start twirling around like a maniacal troupe of whirling dervishes. “Mountain Jam” was the best song of the night – atmospheric vocals and guitar with just enough beat to keep your head boppin’ and your feet tappin’. Check it out on their webpage.

Dahga Bloom’s cacophony sounded like a bluegrass band got mixed together with some crazed snake charmers who just never quite found the right notes to produce their magic. A little demented with the singer’s whining la-la-la’s, and catchy only in an annoying way, like a song you dislike but can’t get out of your head. But hey! They had an electric fiddle, and I’d never seen that before, so that was cool! Their best song was “Dhaga Bloom”.

Blood Red Dancers finished us off, and I have to say they were my least favorite. Their instrumentals started pretty good, but then the singer started rasping and croaking into the microphone like a dying Jabberwocky, which just really hurt my delicate ears. I wanted to go up to him and say, “Hey, except for you, your band’s pretty good!” No, I wouldn’t say that, but I really don’t have any song to recommend from them.

So that was the first night of Escalator Fest, complete with highlights and lowlights. I’m going to the second night of festivities this evening, so look for another post tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Film Review: Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go is one of the rare movies that lifted me out of my skin and settled my soul deeply in the body of another person. In this case, the other body belonged to Kathy, a young woman who is part of a government plan that farms children in order to remove and use their organs when they become young adults. The movie begins in an idyllic boardinghouse where the children stay and play until they start their organ “donations”. Kathy and her two friends Tommy and Ruth form a love triangle that bitters their halcyon days with jealousy, betrayals, and typical adolescent angst. However, their heartbreaks are all the more sad and meaningful because everyone knows that early, slow, brutal deaths are their inexorable fate.

In my transpersonal slide into Kathy’s body, I felt all her pivotal moments of grief and elation, as well as her sick reality of having her life and body governed by forces beyond her control. She maintains a grim calmness throughout her ordeals, but one can sense the growing panic and ferine fear at marching one step closer to death every day. But isn’t that what we all do? The three main characters each reveal a different style of coping with that fate – Kathy carries on with dignity while trying to help others, Ruth lashes out at those around her, Tommy alternates between stoic reserve and id-crazed tantrums. One of the most heart-wrenching moments occurs when Tommy – having already donated two organs, knowing he will probably die after his third donation – throws his head back and wails in such an authentic display of agony, anger, and helplessness that I felt like I was losing a few of my own precious organs. If his primal screams don’t make your heart and viscera hurt, then I’m not sure what will.

When the movie ended, the theater was dead silent. No one spoke or even moved an inch. I have never witnessed such a collective stillness at a movie’s end. We all got sucked into the story and the actors’ bodies so deeply that we needed time to reorient ourselves. The characters never really owned their bodies or lives, and that made their boundaries permeable, easy to slip into. Kathy tried to grab hold of her existence, but, like a child riding a bucking stallion, she kept slipping and sliding, unable to sink her fingers in firmly enough to create an anchor. She was simply unprepared to take on the oppressive juggernaut that suffocated her life.

Despite its bleakness, Never Let Me Go, had one shining beam of hope, and that was Tommy’s art. As a child he was teased for his drawings and imagination, so he stopped his creative pursuit. However, he picked it up again in his late teenage years in order to “reveal his soul” and hopefully get a deferral on his organ donations. I won’t tell you whether or not his plan worked because I don’t want to ruin the ending for you, but regardless of the outcome, the message is that Tommy’s art will outlive him and cast an influence over those who view it in the future. He may slowly lose his body, but his drawings and paintings remain intact, providing windows into his life, and the life he could have had. That is the glorious triumph of art – no matter what we lose, no matter what gets taken away from us, our creations remain to reveal our souls. They shine like stars illuminating the galaxy, and they will never let us go.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Cooking Lesson

Okay, my precious peeps, today you’re gonna get a cooking lesson – and I know some of you need it. I recently attended a cooking class in which I learned how to conjure all sorts of delectable seasonal dishes, including Caramelized Apple and Onion Soup (with Parmesan Lace Crisps – a little bonus yumyum); Spicy Squash Butter on Molasses Quick Bread; Green Salad with Gorgonzola, Pear Brittle and Warm Mustard Vinaigrette; and Sweet Potato Gingersnap Crumble. Now doesn’t that get your mouth watering? What a smorgasbord! But now I’m gonna let you down – I’m not going to give you those recipes. Instead, I’m plattering up what I thought was the best part of the class – the last ten minutes when the instructor waxed poetic about all her favorite ways to prepare various fall and winter produce. You know how you sometimes have produce on hand but aren’t sure what to do with it, or you don’t feel like getting into some involved recipe? These little dishlets will solve that problem – and you’ll be healthier, smarter, cooler, and more attractive after eating them. I mean, the instructor got all hot and bothered just talking about them, so she must be on to something…

Chard: You know how you always just toss those stems out? Well, keep ‘em, because they’re actually quite healthy and tasty – if you like a bit of crunch. You can use the stems in farro salad (or any other type of grain salad, presumably) and soups. Or you can sauté them with garlic and onion for a tasty side dish. As for those leaves, the instructor said to squeeze and “massage” them a little bit before you eat them raw in a salad, as this makes them easier to chew and digest. You can also cut the leaves into long ribbons and sauté them with garlic, onions, apple bits, walnuts, and some balsamic vinegar. So just give those tasty greens a little squeeze, and they’ll be sure to love you right back. Also, with greens in general she said to make sure they’re very dry when you store them (place a towel in the bag with them), and don’t overcrowd your crisper drawer.

Golden beets: Wrap them in foil (with the skin on), roast them in a shallow baking pan with a little water in it at 425° for about 1.5 hours. Then take off the skin and eat them as is, or toss them into risotto or salads.

Parsnip: I’m deeply saddened to say that I’ve never had a parsnip, and in fact, am not even sure what one looks like. That’s going to change, because the instructor called them the “most underrated winter veggie”. Apparently, roasting them makes them sweet, so roast them to your heart’s content and then have yourself some veggie candy.

Pears: Quarter them (leave the skin on), remove the core, and combine them with 3 cups red wine, a stick of cinnamon, and 1 cup sugar. Poach for 20 minutes. She said this is a delicious fall/winter dessert.

Pie pumpkin: Cut it into eights, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and smoked paprika. Place the slices on a baking sheet and brush the tops with oil (don’t use water in the baking pan). Bake at 450° for 45 minutes.

Overripe tomatoes: Use them in tomato sauce. And she said to never store tomatoes in the fridge, but rather in a dark, dry place.

Tomatillos: Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and oil, then roast them (with husks on) at 425°. Mash them and use in salsa verde (a mixture of chopped green peppers, green onions, lemon juice, garlic).

All root veggies: You can slice them very thin (use a mandolin slicer), sprinkle with salt, pepper, and vinegar (any type you’re crazy about) and eat them raw or in salads. The thin slicing process makes them more digestible. Or you can roast them ‘til they’re crispy.

Some miscellaneous tips: smaller produce = bigger taste, so favor the little guys when you’re shopping (ie., instead of going for that gargantuan, head-sized tomato, pick up the little one instead; he’ll be more delicious); try to combine sweet and savory ingredients in your concoctions to give them more depth; think about “umami”, the extra little savory something that will really yummify your dishes. Aged cheeses, mushrooms, tomatoes, soy sauce, potatoes, carrots, and green tea all qualify as umami ingredients. Adding them to your food will infuse savory depth, making your little morsels even more delicious.

Now see, aren’t those some great ideas? I feel so comforted knowing that I have some simple, quick, healthy ideas for munching on my veggies all throughout the dreary fall and winter. Do my readers have any other ideas? Share them in a comment!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Experience Music Project

If/when you come to Seattle, you’ll probably come across the Experience Music Project, one of Seattle’s most popular tourist attractions. And when you see it you might say, “What is that? It looks like the gargantuan, seafaring long-lost love of elegant Space Needle-woman just slumped out of the Puget Sound, crawled over to his lady, let out a dying squall of eternal love, and collapsed in a dead heap at her feet.” And if I happen to overhear your little comment, I will proceed to chide you for your rudeness and vehemently protect the honor of EMP, because even though others may call him a “blob”, or even “The Hemorrhoids”, I happen to love him devotedly. Besides, the French used to hate the Eiffel Tower, and don’t they all feel trés gauche about that now?

Casting aside your heartless judgments, you will probably be enthralled by the exhibits in the bowels of EMP, and you won’t be able to stop saying the word “cool”. First off, you surely won’t miss the guitar statue, a giant vertebra formed of thousands of guitars. Some worker-dude offered to take my picture while standing in front of it, and he told me I looked “very glamorous” and was “a natural”. I didn’t bother to let him know that I’ve had my picture taken, oh, about a hundred thousand times now. Progressing through the innards of my beloved EMP, you’ll see the Jimi Hendrix exhibit, the Northwest Passage (devoted exclusively to northwestern musicians – and there are a bunch of ‘em), and Sky Church, where live concerts go down. But the real heart of the beast lies in the Soundlab, where you can mix, record, play, jam, pound upon, pulverize, beat, or batter all sorts of instruments to your heart’s content. This is where EMP offers up his most precious viscera and organs so you can greedily paw them for your own edification and entertainment. It just wrenches my heart; he’s such a self-sacrificing ogre, precious and endearing like Shrek or Chewbacca.

In EMP’s extremities you’ll find the Sci-Fi Museum, sure to bewonder every boy (or girl) who ever wanted to run around with a terminator or kiss Princess Leia. You will be able to relive all those wondrous moments of childhood when you first saw “2001: A Space Odyssey” on the big screen, traveled under the sea or to the center of the earth with Jules Verne, zipped into the sky with the Rocketeer, or fantasized about being attacked by a 50-foot woman. And just to lure you to come visit me soon – the Battlestar Galactica exhibit has launched! If you haven’t seen that show, watch it first, then come visit me.

As you emerge from the wondrous interior of EMP, I hope you have a newfound respect and appreciation for him and all that he selflessly offers you – fantastic voyages, fond memories of puberty (and you know there aren’t many of those), hours of deep musical absorption in the Soundlab, and all sorts of exhibits to draw you into both local music history and the larger history of music and science fiction. He’s taken you on a wonderful tour, despite your initial skepticism. And anyway, he knows that I personally love the way he looks and wouldn’t change a thing about him. There’s no one else for me and Space Needle – and we know he just loves the tall ladies. J

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Can Can Cabaret

In a narrow, hot, crowded hallway overlooking the stage of the Can Can Cabaret, I’m chatting with my friend when a tiny, black-clad girl with orange and blue eyelids, hot pink lips, and multi-colored hair – shaved on one side, long on the other – squeezes by. “That’s Rainbow,” I tell Tomoyo, and I can’t help but stare, fascinated, as she presses to the dressing room. Rainbow is the choreographer of Can Can, a dance troupe I discovered at Bumbershoot, and she is both a mesmerizing dancer and an ingenious choreographer. Her visions of movement, music, and physical expression range from sensual, to bawdy, to comedic, to downright creepy. As I watch her maneuver through the crowd, I feel her rich imagination and lithe body preparing to explode for the entertainment of the crowd.

But in their intimate, subterranean cabaret, Can Can gives more than just spectacle – they open my mind to the power of bodily communication, and they reveal the rewards of taking a risk by cracking open one’s imagination to expose it to the world. Can Can is cabaret, but what’s really on display is the awesome fertility of Rainbow’s psyche. Through her dance she reveals her own mind – an act of authenticity and vulnerability that characterizes the best artists – and that openness is what makes the show so memorable and inspiring. CCC don’t perform typical cabaret or burlesque routines (well okay, there’s a bit of this ‘n that). Instead they infuse their acts with modern dance, classical ballet, martial arts, world dance, and film allusions, producing an eclectic show that takes the audience into the dance world much more deeply than just a cabaret performance. And it’s all so intimate that my attention focuses even more on those tiny details I wouldn’t notice in a large auditorium - people crushed against me in the hallway, being so close to the dancers that I see the sweat glisten on their bodies, overhearing quiet comments, smelling food as the waiters walk by, feeling the ache in my feet from standing so long in boots.

The music is just as eclectic as the dance styles, and Rainbow really knows how to find the perfect song to fit the movement and tone of each act. Sometimes I ululate to a Journey song right along with the audience, and other times I frantically try to remember lyrics in order to Google them later to find some obscure song. How does Rainbow do all this? She’s like a PhD Renaissance woman of dance, dressed in a sequined red bodysuit.

Some viewers don’t like the weird stuff – during the act where the dancers were wearing white space suits and plastic masks and moving around in strange contortions, one girl commented to me, “this creeps me out”. I was also kinda creeped out, but I believe that was the whole point – to give the audience something unexpected, yet ultimately more revealing of the human mind. Don’t we all have places in our mind that are creepy, or scary, or bizarre? Can Can takes us there, and they do it night after night. I left feeling inspired – and also with the strong urge to find some green and blue eyeshadow and start going by “Mermaid”. J

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Cheap Beer and Prose

The other night I was in need of some inspiration, so I took myself to “Cheap Beer and Prose”, a spin-off of the popular “Cheap Wine and Poetry” series. I didn’t do any imbibing, but I did get nice and satiated with a couple of hours of extremely good dramatic monologue. It was “ladies’ night”, featuring four local mistresses of the written word, and they were absolutely hilarious, sending the crowd into manic fits of Homeric laughter repeatedly throughout the evening.

Up first was Paullette Gaudet, a “licensed barber” (turns out you actually have to be licensed in order to shave a few heads and trim guys' bird nests) who got the crowd roaring with her story about a nudist ex-boyfriend. She was a humoristic little pugilist behind the podium, sending out belly-busting, wind-expunging jabs with nearly every other sentence.

Margot Kahn’s story about meeting a physically perfect yet mentally boorish Brooklyn hunk was slower-paced and more introspective than Gaudet’s aggressively hilarious tale, but it was a nice change of pace. At least it allowed me to catch my breath and recover from Gaudet’s blows.

Wilson Diehl set the best pace of the evening, combining the sharp wit of Gaudet with the quieter introspects of Kahn, making her the perfect comedienne. Her essay about marathons and giving birth (“shooting an eight-pound being out of my once-demure lady parts”) struck the perfect balance of lightness and depth, humor and weightiness – and it definitely made me steadfastly recommit to my decision to never but never have babies.

Finally, Karen Finneyfrock read some chapters from her young adult novel Celia the Dark and Weird, to be released next year. I’d already heard of Finneyfrock before attending the event and I was expecting a lot from her, but she was sadly disappointing. I think it was because her selection just didn’t match the tone of the evening, as it was serious and well, juvenile, being a young adult novel. I know Ff’s good, but I’ll have to explore her other writings.

All in all those ladies provided one frolicking evening, and I certainly got the inspiration I needed. Seattle has a rich cache of local writers, which just gladdens my little bookworm heart, so I’ll be attending many more book events in the coming months – and of course, telling you all about them.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Decibel Festival

I’m going to waste no time in introducing you to some great music I discovered at the Decibel Festival, a world-famous electronic, techno, and dance music festival that happens in Seattle every year. Electronic music is played not with traditional instruments (though they are sometimes used), but with soundboards, laptops, computer programs, and all manner of technology. The concert I attended took place in Benaroya Hall, home of the Seattle Symphony. Pierced, black-clad techno-punks descended upon elegant, pristine Benaroya – an odd juxtaposition – but as I chatted with Milicent, the house manager, she informed me that Benaroya hosts all kinds of music events, and she didn’t seem the least bit fazed by mohawks and tattered jeans. The show, entitled “Tactile Immersion”, was an audio/visual combo, so I felt like I was getting two artforms for the price of one. The lineup was Noveller, Fennesz, and Oneohtrix Point Never, three bands I’d never heard of before (I told you I was branching out!).

Noveller, a young woman from Brooklyn, was…interesting. She created cycles of multi-layered sounds using nothing but her acoustic guitar, some pedals, scissors, a cowbell, and a wad of bubble wrap. It sounds like it would have been intriguing, but she didn’t really grab my attention until her final number, when she finally pulled out her electric guitar and ripped on those strings with a violin bow. That’s what I’m talking about! I felt bad for her because she seemed to cast a soporific spell on the audience – I saw at least six people fall asleep upright, and I definitely heard some snores. It was cruel. She got up on that stage all by herself and tried so hard to present her own creations to a disinterested audience. That takes courage, and I have to give her props for that.

Fennesz. Oh my, I’ve never experienced anything like Fennesz. His music made me feel like the planet was going to rip apart and carry me across the galaxy on my own little piece of it. You might by asking yourself, is that a good thing? Does that mean she actually liked Fennesz? Yes, it is definitely a good thing, and yes, I loved Fennesz. The Austrian guy absolutely enveloped my ears, eyes, and body in roaring, eardrum-splitting, electrified, laptop-ified sound and images. Depth, darkness, jubilation, ecstasy, sweetness, sadness – he beckoned every emotion with his music. The visuals during his performance featured flying, multi-colored globs of paint, and he was the sorcerer igniting the colors' own volition, summoning them to come alive and dance across the screen for him. And he was really loud. I definitely sustained some hearing damage, but the volume only added to the incredible force and power he wielded with his sound. He gave me the “tactile immersion” that the show was supposedly all about, with music so loud, almost painfully loud, that the sound felt like a weighty, physical presence in the auditorium. It was a breathtaking, kinetic experience, and he received such thunderous response from the audience that he performed a beautiful, quieter encore while I wished it would never end.

Sadly, it did indeed end, and after the riveting spectacle that Fennesz gave, Oneohtrix Point Never was a bit of a let-down. OPN had the darkest, creepiest show of the evening with lots of sinister low bass and strange visuals (it was also literally the darkest show – the only light in the hall was the one emanating from his headlamp). Fennesz was a hard act to follow, and I felt a little bad for OPN when he didn’t get the same enthusiastic response, but he’s up-and-coming in the electronic scene, and he was pretty good. It’s just that Fennesz was so good. He was a musical Tesla, electrifying me the first time, and OPN was, well, playing with just one headlamp. But that’s just my opinion. Check them out for yourself and let me know what you think.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Seattle Music History 101

Before I moved to Seattle I considered myself to be pretty in-the-know when it came to music - I know plenty of classical, rock, jazz, modern, tango, pop, and alternative music, and I also know my way around a piano. Well, after being here just one month my musical ego has been taken down a few notches, and I’ve come to the sad realization that I know practically nothing about music. Seriously, I feel like a music bumpkin compared to some of these die-hard music fans. People here care about more than just the music – they want to know all about the people, events, and stories behind the music as well. They crave new sounds, they adore experimental artists, and they love being one of the first to know about the next great band. Sounds a lot like me!

So now I’m on a quest to expand my musical horizons, and you’re going to be the beneficiaries of my escapades. As I wade through the waters of the local music scene I’m going to let you in on all the treasure I find so that we’ll all be smarter, cooler, and more attractive. But first, a bit of music history. In order to understand the current Seattle music scene, first we have to know how we got here; wouldn’t you agree? So today’s music post will focus on some legendary Seattle-bred musicians from years past, along with my own favorite songs from each of them. Let’s jump in, and feel free to “come as you are”!

Jimi Hendrix: Can you say that you ever thought to play the guitar with your teeth? Somehow it did occur to Jimi to put dentine to string and pluck out those riffs with his incisors, and once you see him do it you’ll understand why the crowds went wild (check out his live version of “Hey Joe” on Youtube). Makes me wonder what other body parts I can use to play the piano. Nose? Toes? But anyway, you also need to see the things Jimi does with his guitar while playing “Wild Thing” live; I’ll just say it’s not called the “guitar sacrifice” for nothin’. I had no idea that guy was so out there. My favorite Jimi song is “Foxy Lady”. I’m comin’ to getcha!

Heart: Okay, it might be a stretch to call Heart legendary, but I like them so much they’re going in this post. Before the sad demise of my little red Mustang, I used to drive around in it while listening to “Barracuda” and feeling like one tough chic. Those Wilson sisters could rock it out right along with the best male rock bands of the time – Ann Wilson is even referred to as a “female Robert Plant” (lead singer for Led Zeppelin) – but unlike many musicians of the ‘70s (except Robert Plant) the Wilsons are still alive and well and continuing to produce music. My favorite Heart song is “Crazy On You”.

Nirvana: I was surprised to learn that Nirvana only released three albums; their influence was so pandemic that it seems like they released a plethora of albums. Nirvana ushered in the grunge movement that overtook the Seattle scene in the ‘90s. Not sure what grunge music is? Just picture head-bangers, crowd moshing (an activity in which audience members fling themselves against each other just for fun), and crowd surfing (being passed overhead from person to person) and you pretty much get the idea. My fave Nirvana song is “Come As You Are”.

Pearl Jam: To be a lead singer, Eddie Vedder sure does have trouble carrying a tune, but man can he write a rockin’ song. His occasional off-key warbling is only part of his charm, along with his curly long locks that I’m sure drove the girls wild back in his heyday. With such awesome song-writing skills, I won’t hold it against him that he struggles with hitting pure tones. Pearl Jam is my favorite of the big grunge-era bands, making it hard to pick just one song, but I’ll go with “Evenflow”.

Soundgarden and Alice In Chains: Two more local grunge bands who electrified the world. It’s funny to look at old pictures of these bands, because all the members look the same – long haired, skinny dudes dressed in jeans and t-shirt (or no shirt at all). That look was all the rage back then, and it kinda makes me wish I’d been here to be a part of it. I’ll just have to dig around and figure out what the next musical juggernaut is so that one day I can say I saw it all happening live. My fave Soundgarden song is “Black Hole Sun”; for Alice In Chains it’s “Black Gives Way to Blue”.

That’s just the teeny-tiniest sampling of Seattle’s music legacy. Over the coming weeks and months I’ll share with you many more of my musical discoveries; we have our work cut out for us! And by the way, the photos are of me listening to my iPod in various locations around the city. Enjoy!