Sunday, 29 June 2008


Every now and then in my life, when the time is so often out of joint (probably due to my less-than-steller organizational skills and self-discipline), I get a little gift of synchronicity. Some time ago, I blogged a bit on William Shatner and his musings on parenthood. This morning, while waiting on the kindness of internet strangers for more internet goodies related to the penultimate Doctor Who cliff-hanger, I checked my "recommended" page at YouTube and found this surreal rendition of Pulp's Common People featuring William Shatner reciting the lyrics with vocal back-up by Joe Jackson, plus Ben Folds on the keyboards:
Good Lord.

And what do I find in the video response section for this? A Doctor Who fan-vid set to the original Pulp recording of Common People. It's a competent effort (I much prefer the original video which was one of the last music videos I clearly recall enjoying), but it's rather fun to see Rose smiling smugly to the line "Everybody hates a tourist, especially when he thinks it's all such a laugh", so in honour of those excited over Rose's return over the final three episodes of this season (which doesn't include me -- although I'm perfectly pleased to see her back), I include it here:

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Enabling Part Two

My second example of enabling in the arts is my fondness for ballet. Sometimes I wonder if it's the moral thing to encourage malnourished women with malformed feet to dance upon their bludgeoned toes for my pleasure. Ballet, it seems to me, is a brief career of self-torture. Mind you, this could be a definition for most careers in the arts, but I still think George Balanchine has a lot to answer for. Furthermore, we're raising another enabler in our household. After the success of the outing to see the HD film of Tales of Beatrix Potter a little over a fortnight ago, we decided to tackle an HD offering of the Royal Ballet's Sleeping Beauty at one of our local cinemas.

I was a bit hesitant about subjecting second daughter to Sleeping Beauty, remembering it as a very long ballet with (how do I put this?) rather a lot of dancing in it. Every time someone finishes their bit, some other character makes a rolling motion above their head which is classic ballet mime for "Please dance!" (or "Were you the last person to use the bathroom?"), to which there should be the classic ballet mime equivalent for: "This is a *&%!# ballet; what do you think we've just been doing here?"

Actually, that's a neat advantage of watching a ballet in a cinema rather than live; you can see the details of the facial expressions, the costumes, and classic ballet mime. (You could see these live as well, but only if you sat close enough to be sprayed by sweat during the pirouettes.) This was a particular pleasure in seeing Genesia Rosato who played Carabosse the wicked fairy.
Oooh, I love a good character dancer. She had fiendish fun parodying the gifts the good fairies had brought, then going into loving detail about the fate awaiting Princess Aurora: "She's going to grow up and be all these lovely things, then she's going to prick her finger and DIE!" For good measure, she arrives in a kind of Harley-Davidson black coach with a bunch of black rats and wears a low cut costume not quite made decent by purple pasties.

Of course, this left stuff for the Lilac Fairy (top picture) to mop up, including a lot of mime explaining that Aurora would not die, made more difficult by the fact that the classic ballet mime gestures for "not" and "die" are rather similar, and furthermore she had to re-explain this in each act: "Okay, remember what Carabosse told you? Now watch carefully: the princess is not going to die. Get it? Not. Die. Not...." All with this rather fixed grin on her face.

Other dancers got to have a little more fun with the mime. The prince got to perform something along the lines of: "Yes, you're the one who has to play Blind Man's Buff with the Countess. That's why I'm the Prince, and you're a nobody." And the Major Domo character (named Cattalabutte, poor fella) demonstrated the difference between "king and queen" (three fingers pointing at forehead) and "princess" (two fingers pointing at forehead) as in: "Gad! Here come the King and Queen!" and "Oh, look! Here comes the jailbait princess..."

Princess Aurora, as I have intimated, is extremely young. And tiny. The dancer who plays her mother looks like a woman of typical height, until Aurora shows up with the other female dancers in tutus (granted, quite a few of them are supposed to be fairies). As a result, when the grieving queen goes to her unconscious daughter, she looks a bit like that Amazonian Madonna in Michaelangelo's Pieta. Alina Cojocaru, the Aurora in this production, is actually 27, but looks about 12. She doesn't dance like a twelve-year-old; she is undeniably a crackerjack dancer, as were all the other principals and soloists, including her dark and brooding prince Federico Bonelli.

And younger daughter? Entranced, even more so than at the Beatrix Potter ballet of two weeks before. We've bought season tickets for one of The National Arts Centre's ballet series. It includes a production of Peter Pan from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Romeo and Juliet from the National Ballet of Canada, and Giselle with lots more adventures in classical ballet mime. I fear we will be enabling throughout the coming winter...

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Enabling Part One

Sometimes I worry that, as a member of the viewing public, I am an enabler. This has been a concern twice this week.

First example: A strange excuse for entertainment entitled How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?. Based on a British series of shows that set up a very public competition for a lead role in a high-end musical, this is CBC's quest to cast the role of Maria in an upcoming revival of The Sound of Music in Toronto.

First off, let me clarify this: I have never watched American Idol nor Canadian Idol. I don't watch So You Think You Can Dance. I don't even watch Are You Smarter than a Canadian Fifth Grader? (For one thing, we don't call it the Fifth Grade in Canada; it's Grade Five.) So, I go into this thing thinking: Younger daughter loves Sound of Music; there'll be Broadway tunes; we can all watch this together.

Okay, so the first two shows are basically documenting the winnowing process. The first concludes with a rather silly reception in London where the twenty hopefuls are called upstairs in twos and threes to be told, on camera: "We don't think you are Maria"/"You could be Maria". Pretty artificial and definitely humiliating for those who don't make it, but perhaps only marginally more brutal than the cattle-calls they've all experienced.

The second show was live-ish. (we have six time zones in Canada, so there was a designated voting time for the great unwashed public.) This featured ten show stoppers in groups of two, followed by some more rather brutal critiques.

Then there was the third show, a third of which was taken up with superfluous footage of the "Marias" in Saltzburg. Why? Presumably because they have the budget for it. The rest was Gavin Crawford, our hapless host from This Hour Has 22 Minutes and Second City among other things, trying to feebly yuck it up while they take an unforgiveable amount of time telling groups of girls they will make it to the next round until the final two are forced into a "sing-off".
After being told by the judges that they are deservedly the least popular.

But, oh no, there's a final bit of degradation. The loser of the sing-off, having had her hopes crushed and her short-comings catalogued, must stay on the stage and have the remaining Marias surround her in a rainbow of dirndl skirts and serenade her with "So Long, Farewell, Au Wiedersehen , Good Night".

No, no, wait. Then Loser Girl has to finish the song with "Good Night...Good Night....Good Night...."

Pardon me, but am I the only person who is appalled? How about if we just go back to public executions, or feeding Christians (or your bêtes noirs of choice) to the lions?

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Party Rats

My horoscope for this week tells me, rather sagely I think, that it will be an up-and-down week and whatever happens is going to happen. However, we can choose our choice of response. This is where we have control in our lives. I've been getting quite a taste of that already and today's a Full Moon so heaven knows what may happen by day's end. I figure if I'm going to blog on the positive, I better do it now...

I succeeded in surviving younger daughter's party. I planned it. I organized it. I ran it. And I did it while pre-menstrual.
Twelve little girls attended, not including birthday girl. I've taken up the rash policy of inviting all the girls in younger daughter's class, with the idea of skirting little-girl-class-politics. This policy seemed less rash two years ago when there were nine girls in the class. There are now seventeen. So I sent out the rather fiddly invitations two weeks ago and waited for responses, half-terrified that I'd only get two (which did happen three years ago when younger daughter was at her previous school), and even more terrified that all seventeen would accept as we usually only get one refusal per year. This year we got four, one last-minute due to a family emergency. Also three last-minute acceptances accompanied with profuse parental apologies and they'd been so busy... And no one else is? Actually, my favourite was from the single dad (not that this is relevant) who told me he was sure his daughter had passed on the acceptance at school. (To whom? The over-worked teacher who knew nothing of the party? My daughter with her memory challenges? What did he think the phone number and email on the mailed invitation with the letters RSVP were for?)
Anyway. We had a Ratatouille party. With real ratatouille. I found two simple recipes, chopped up the ingredients, bagged them and labelled them "Ratatouille 1" and "Ratatouille 2", divided the girls into teams, and crowded them into the kitchen in our semi-detached, where the team captains were passed the baggies to sauté in two saucepans. We then played a kind of team Pictionary game where they drew collages of song lyrics and had the other teams guess while the stews simmered. The girls did a champion job and we had ratatouille for dinner for two nights. I called the activity "Rate-atouille" and the first recipe won out marginally over the second. I think only half the girls volunteered to taste it; the rest tackled "egg-rats" (which you can see in the bottom of the third picture), veggies and dip, crackers and French cheeses, and of course, totally demolished the various bowls of chips. Fine dining indeed.
We had begun the party decorating cupcakes, and finished it with younger daughter blowing out curlicue candles on the backs of ice cream rats with licorice tails and jelly ears. Then she sat down and opened way too many presents. For some reason, the tradition in this neighbourhood is to give three to five presents in one gift-bag, which I suppose is really looking a gift horse in the mouth, but this meant younger daughter received about thirty gifts. She was getting rather overwhelmed by this point, but held it together admirably, although I had to ramp up the prompting toward the end.

Each girl then politely approached me for her goodie bag, thanked me for inviting her, and departed with the appropriate parent. It's a very courteous neighbourhood (except the drivers). I sat down at the computer and waited for the earliest illegal showing of the latest Doctor Who.

I've been planning theme parties for my girls for the past dozen years. For four or five of those years, the girls overlapped and I had to plan two parties within the space of one month. I sincerely hope next year is the last. I mean, each one is a real learning experience, but it's time for the tee-shirt, doncha think?

Afterthought: Re-reading this, I really come across as an ungracious hostess. The girls were pleasant and cooperative, and the usual little guardian angels took turns guiding younger daughter over the social hurdles. I also forgot to mention that the Resident Fan Boy and elder daughter availed themselves and filled in so many gaps, so I could supervise and take pictures. Do I sound a little less peevish now?

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Pirouettes and popcorn

With younger daughter's birthday party in less than a week, I'm battling back the panic with a clever combination of small accomplishments and major procrastination. However, finding a focus for younger daughter's Saturday since her tutor moved away is a weekly must. This week we decided to try one of the artistic offerings at the local cinema. I've noticed them in the paper for the past couple of years. For about twice what you'd pay for a movie ticket, you can go see a sort of one-time-only screening of a recent production of an opera or ballet from New York or London. We decided to take the leap with the Royal Ballet's production of Frederick Ashton's ballet Tales of Beatrix Potter

Younger daughter is thoroughly familiar with almost all the stories, so we set out in the oppressive humidity (which, sadly, isn't nearly as bad as it's going to get) via a thankfully air-conditioned bus to the air-conditioned multiplex at World Exchange in downtown Ottawa (and it better damn well be, at those prices). The higher price gets you greeted at the door of the designated showroom by one of the older ushers, who hands you a programme. We entered to find a sea of white heads. No complaints there; I'm rapidly joining their ranks and they tend to be more considerate to fellow-attendees. To my relief, a number of children, all girls of course, arrived closer to the screening time. This is supposed to be in high definition, but these shows are usually shown in Silver City which has the big bucks equipment, so I didn't notice anything fabulous about the clarity.

Younger daughter was entranced, and I enjoyed the ballet in-jokes: Jemima Puddleduck departs the stage like a combination Dying Swan/Odette; Pigling Bland and his partner use moves from the Sleeping Beauty pas-de-deux. Oh, and the steeper ticket price also gets you an intermission and a bathroom break which is a welcome thing, considering real ballet-goers aren't usually eating popcorn and sipping on pop during the show. It's Sleeping Beauty in a couple of weeks; maybe we'll go.

Now, wouldn't it be lovely if they decided to film David Tennant's Hamlet like this? I understand it's sold out...

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Memed again...

Rob of the madly eclectic blog Eine Kleine Nichtmusik has "memed" me with an interesting one: List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your spring. Post these instructions in your blog along with your 7 songs. Then tag 7 other people to see what they’re listening to.

Shaping my spring? Hmmmn. Well number 1 is easy; I just blogged about it --- You'd Think by Now by Carrie Newcomer, one of those songs that get into the sore spots of your life, then presses down. Lovely song, tough situation to be in...

2. Well, as I blogged yesterday, we've just seen The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and while the music isn't the strongest point of the show (songs are pleasant enough, but the overall humour is what makes the show entertaining), I have had the theme song stuck on the brain (watch for special guest Al Sharpton in this excerpt performed at the Tony Awards):

3. I'm been turning to The Proclaimers for comfort quite a bit this spring, but I really have a soft spot for "When You're In Love" from their Perseverance album: "Romantic love rots your brain, no doubt about it/ You're out of your mind..." Oh darlin', no truer words spoken (or sung):

4. For some Can/Con, I've been singing Had Enough of You Today, my favourite song from Bark by Blackie and the Rodeo Kings (a sort of folk/rock/country super-group comprised of Stephen Fearing, Tom Wilson, and Colin Linden - okay, they're reasonably well-known as solo artists in Canada). Can't find a decent You Tube performance of this rocker so the 30 seconds at will have to do. I think this is Tom Wilson's song (ooh, just checked and he co-wrote it with Davor Valuma [a record producer in Vancouver] and Bryan Potvin of The Northern Pikes -- no wonder I love it!) and he wrote it after a road trip with his mother and his ex-wife, but we've all had days like this. Love the grrrrind...

5. I was listening to Colin Murray's "In the Company of" on BBC radio with guest star David Tennant, and right afterwards they played this amazing song, "Oxford Comma" by Vampire Weekend: Just to give the illusion that I'm in the know...

6. I've loved "Face the Face" by Pete Townsend for years, but lately have been attempting to find a clean version of the original video, which features, among other things, a turn by Pete's daughter. All I can find is this posting with the first verse missing: Oh hell, let's jive!

7. Another one I loved for years is the Rankin Family's version of Ho Ro Mo Nighean Donn Bhoidheach. I just heard a version in English yesterday "Ho Ro My Nut-Brown Maiden" which was all testosterone, lust, and thrusting. Maybe that's how it's supposed to be sung, but I adore this dreamy wistful interpretation with its lovely harmonies and round-like ending:

So there, I guess, is my musical spring this year. It's actually not the meme that's tough; it's the tagging. I tend to "lurk" at most blogs, and those where I actually speak up are darned busy blogs. Darnit, I'm only going to tag three people. (Does this mean I'll die at midnight, or lose a million dollars or something?) I tag Vanessa of Stopping to Eat the Roses for her no doubt interesting perspective from her perch in the Philippines, Jonas of Poetry in Motion who has recently rejoined us in blogger-land, and Jane Henry of Maniac Mum who, as a writer and mother of four, clearly doesn't have enough to do. Now I suppose I have to go tell these lucky people that they're "it"....

Monday, 2 June 2008

Broadway Across Canada - Putnam County Spelling Bee

The Resident Fan Boy and I decided to splurge and purchase season tickets for the whole family this year for Broadway Across Canada (evidently the Canadian subsidiary of Broadway Across America). This has been the first year I've even been remotely interested in the offerings. I'm particularly looking forward to Spamalot in the fall, and Wicked may be just the ticket to ease the heartbreak of having to return to Ottawa after six weeks in Victoria this summer. The first show was The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and in a way, this was the kicker. Younger daughter loves spelling bees. There was a spelling bee in the Peanuts movie A Boy Named Charlie Brown, and she astonished her godmother by insisting on coming along to Spellbound at the University of Victoria's Cinecenta when she was seven.

In preparation for the show, I ordered the original cast soundtrack, and played it during dinner. It sounded pretty pedestrian to me, so when we headed off yesterday in the rain to catch the bus, my expectations weren't high. We have a loge for the matinée showing, another splurge, but the privacy is easier on us and second daughter who then has a totally unobstructed view of the stage. We were uneasy when the National Arts Centre ushers tried to encourage us to take seats in the orchestra section, saying there were "sound problems". The Resident Fan Boy and elder daughter were all for heading down, but I said, dammit, we have loge seating, far forward --- how bad could the sound be?

The answer turned out to be: not a problem at all. We could see from our vantage point that the Southam Hall theatre was disappointingly sparse, presumably because this show hasn't had quite the same buzz as the really big Broadway productions. But you know, what the soundtrack CD didn't convey was how very funny this show is. Part of the hilarity comes from the inclusion of four ringers amongst the spellers. I'm not sure if they were chosen from the audience beforehand, but they didn't appear to be actors, although all of them were reasonably attractive, seemed quite comfortable on the stage, and took the jokes at their expense ("She won her local bee by spelling her own name.") without a boggle.

The actors themselves were your usual frightingly talented musical performers, able to sing, dance, act, and improvise. And we heard everything quite clearly. I saw elder daughter laughing easily throughout and younger daughter held up her two favourite puppets so they could see, and told me afterwards, "My favourite bit was the stars." Not quite sure what she meant by that. I'll have to ask her.