Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The new world.

Spent the first half of June blisfully blanking out the PhD in sunnier climes across the pond, on a giant family holiday. So very needed, after the travails of field season, and all the more fully enjoyed.

Every time I visit New York I like it more and more. This time round it turned out to be a great cultural tour, my parents being very enthusiastic about such things. All these things I'd not done on previous visits because I was being a cheapo student got done and were really totally worth it.

My second evening there we went to Carnegie Hall -- just a block away from my sister's place! I love that people are living and there are corner delis selling flowers and pastrami sandwiches literally next door to the hall, yet you step inside and it is hallowed as any other great performing venue brooding darkly over a rain-soaked square -- and watched the Emerson String Quartet play the entirety of Beethoven's, no prizes for guessing, string quartets. Starting at 5pm with a dinner break at about 6:45 and starting again at 8pm, this was something of a marathon, but it was amazing music, amazingly performed, and I'm glad I went. It is probably a good thing it was Beethoven and not, say, Schubert, because Beethoven is always complex (and sometimes humorous) enough to keep you awake!

Also trips to Broadway, once to watch Journey's End, a British import: 4 men in a WWI trench talking to each other, largely about how scary dying is and how nevertheless sometimes you ought to go and get yourself killed anyway. Pretty grim-sounding, I know, but it was actually quality theatre, if only I hadn't been jetlagged and perhaps if I'd been male I might have loved it (the boyfriend did -- I wonder what they teach you in NS, hee). A second, more jovial time, to watch Spamalot! So daft you couldn't help enjoying yourself. Enjoy I suppose is the key word here. Sometimes I am a bit of a theatre snob and feel that at some point at least you should also be moved and awed, but I know that I really shouldn't turn up my nose at bad puns (at one point after a rather Tarantino-style fight scene somebody wanders across the stage gathering arms for the poor...) because I do still laugh! :)

We also queued for 5 hours in Central Park, along with many other patient people with picnic blankets, food delivery from the local deli, and a couple of dogs, for free Shakespeare in the Park tickets. It just seemed like something you should try once, and it wasn't at all the ordeal it might have been (other than the temperature -- we ended up making a playlist of sunny songs on my iPod to ward the cold off), and the play actually turned out to be really excellent. I thought it was an incredibly accessible piece of Shakespeare -- I suppose Romeo and Juliet is fairly accessible anyway -- but still it seemed particularly modern in this production. The outdoor theatre and the revolving stage with a giant pond in the middle were also something to be seen. There were even celebrity actors, although the only one I actually knew was Camryn Manheim (The Practice), who was a fantastic Nurse.

Finally, and I've saved this for last because nothing triggers fangirl reactions in me quite like this, was the ballet. I had never been to the Metropolitan Opera House before and it was simply gorgeous. Everything an opera house should be, red velvet and gold everywhere, and the foyer with all those gorgeous curving staircases was a work of art in itself. We saw a new production of the Sleeping Beauty. Great costuming, fireworks for Carabosse, loads of wire flying (woo!) -- it was definitely a big one for the kids. But also, of course, there was also Paloma Herrera rock steady in the Rose Adage, Angel Corella whizzing off his trademark lightspeed turns, and Sascha Radetsky (yes, he of Center Stage) seeming to literally defy gravity in his Bluebird brises. Despite enjoying it, though, I felt it didn't quite have the magic of the Royal Ballet's Nutcracker, nor any of the more modern ballets that I love.

And so I had to go again! We were wandering by the Lincoln Centre one evening at the appropriate time when a funny feeling came over me and I had to go and find out what was on. And it was Manon, the MacMillan ballet that I had yet to see. And so the boyfriend in an act of tremendous kindness and understanding actually encouraged me to abandon him on our last evening in New York and go to watch the ballet instead. Er... so I did. (Oops... but he likes bookshop browsing. ;)) I shall resist going into yet another MacMillan related rave, I've done them too many times on this blog, but I loved it, it was all worth far more than the last-minute-$25-student-ticket price I paid to sit ten rows from the front. To be honest it's a bit of a fragile story, but with choreography like this it was all okay. MacMillan's ability to draw little character vignettes never fails to delight me -- I particularly enjoyed Lescaut's (Sascha Radetsky again after Ethan Stiefel injured himself in Act II and couldn't continue beyond the intermission -- the drama! though I didn't even notice he was injured) drunken bits in Act III. But of course, Manon is a ballet built on pas de deux for the central pair. I had the incredible luck to find myself watching Alessandra Ferri and Roberto Bolle dance these exuberant joyous unrestrained declarations of love and passion, weeks before Alessandra was to retire (which she has done by now), replacing Xiomara Reyes who unfortunately was also injured. Again, surely the best spent $25 of my life. Roberto, whom I'd seen just a few weeks before in London, seemed almost too tall for Alessandra, but I did still like him very much. He has such really beautiful lines and is a gorgeously clean dancer, although I sometimes felt that he has yet to gain the maturity of interpretation that dancers like Jonathan Cope bring to the dramatic MacMillan roles. Alessandra was, quite simply, wonderful. Small and girlish and mature all at once, in a body made for ballet and perhaps an intellect made to act dramatic roles. But of course Manon is, after all, her role (she was MacMillan's muse before Darcey). It seemed strange to be watching these two ballerinas retire at the same time, both still totally at the top of their game, and it is a shame to see them go, but I'll count myself lucky that I did manage to watch them.

I've ended up writing far more and far too haphazardly than intended about the cultural New York experience, so I'll have to leave the rest to another time. But in case I never quite get round to it, the rest was eating: Grimaldi's for definitely the best pizza in New York, the Brooklyn ice cream company next door for fantastic simple ice cream, Joe Shanghai still for its amazing xiao long bao, Burger Joint for the most unexpected yummy hole-in-the-wall burger experience ever, and Han Bat for late night satisfying Korean.

And to think today I had to have a ham, egg and tomato sandwich from EAT for lunch. Sheesh.