Tuesday, 30 June 2009

All that jazz (part one)

Last week....stunk. I don't know if I'll ever get the courage to blog about it; besides, it will just end up being a long self-pitying rant about younger daughter's school. Suffice it to say, I couldn't bring myself to give the staff my usual end-of-year gifts, and I hustled younger daughter out the back to avoid goodbyes.

We bought tickets for the Broadway Across Canada tour of Chicago months ago, planning it for the night before elder daughter's last night in Hades before a brief trip to Scotland. This ended up being on the same day as younger daughter's leaving ceremony, but there's an irritating tale hanging here with which I won't burden you and it may have been a lucky escape anyway.

We've been to about four or five B.A.C. productions in the past year. The casts are Broadway-calibre, but not famous. Chicago is a favourite of elder daughter; jazz is a recent interest of younger daughter (she did a classroom speech on the subject the week before last); I like most things to do with Bob Fosse; and the Resident Fan Boy is usually pleased to have any outing surrounded by his women. However, this evening, there was an unanticipated treat for the RFB -- our Roxie Hart was none other than Bonnie Langford! "Not the Bonnie Langford?" I gasped flipping through the programme for confirmation. Yep. Bonnie Langford as in Mel, assistant to the Seventh and Eighth Doctors in Doctor Who.

Now, for some of you spring chickens who are only familiar with Renée Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones in the movie version, the original Chicago was choreographed and directed (and partially written) by Bob Fosse for his by-then-ex-wife Gwen Verdon who co-starred with Chita Rivera. Neither of the women were spring chickens themselves even in 1975: Verdon was fifty and Rivera in her late forties, though both were still dynamite dancers. So, it was kinda great to see a forty-five-year-old Bonnie Langford in the role of Roxie with Terra C. McLeod as Velma Kelly (she's described as a Montrealer, but I think was born in Oz), Brent Barrett as the slippery attorney Billy Flynn, and Ron Orbach as the pitiable Amos Hart. (Orbach is a cousin of the late Jerry Orbach who was the original Billy Flynn, trivia fans.) Incidentally, I wish you could hear younger daughter's rendition of "Mr. Cellophane". She learned it off the Muppet Show and does it really well, and rather convincingly...

The whole cast was fine, full of those triple-threat types - dancing actors who can also sing. The one distraction is that Bonnie Langford is tiny, and the rest of the cast towered over her. It was particularly interesting to see how they handled the grand Nowadays/Hot Honey Rag duet that comes almost at the close of the show. I don't know if Terra C. McLeod is particularly tall, but Langford barely came up to her shoulder, so the duet was carefully choreographed to minimize this. I think McLeod bent her knees more and the two were often placed not quite in line with each other. It was quite effective. This production is based on Ann Reinking's (another Fosse partner on-stage and off) revival, so the one remaining bit of pure Fosse choreography is the Hot Honey Rag. Now, anyone who has seen footage of Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera performing it, and especially Karen Ziemba paired up with Bebe Neurith, knows that this choreography is a real litmus test for dancers. Bonnie Langford and Terra C. McLeod did fine, and even executed the cartwheels with panache, but if you want to see Fosse precision and have six minutes, please take a look at this:

We were razzle-dazzled anyway and set off into the warm Ottawa night to dream of mayhem, before younger daughter sat out her last day of elementary school in a humidex of 38. Hot honey rag indeed.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Père Pressure

Father's Day has been a bit of a challenge this year. For starters, we celebrated it last Sunday. We didn't mean to; it was just in the kerfuffle of younger daughter's birthday party, I got convinced that June 14th was Father's Day and no one told me different until Thursday, when elder daughter heard something on the TV while studying and checked her calendar. The pity of it was that I was totally bagged last Sunday and while struggling to finish the tie-dyed tee-shirts from the party and distribute them, failed to do much more than give him a card.

Then there's the matter of dealing with the fallout of my own father's death in January and the tragic travesty (to coin an oxymoron) of his memorial service in April. I spent what seemed a large chunk of May composing a letter to my paternal aunt in response to her kindly-meant but rather pious and platitudinous card and follow-up letter. I've had no response to that, but I focused entirely on my good memories, and where he succeeded as a father.

And how do you succeed as a father? A home-spun kind of answer comes in this song by R. Binn and J. Moore (I don't seem to be able to find out more about them) as interpreted by the late great Chet Atkins. Whatever you may think of country music (and it seems to be chic to declare disdain for it), this is quite a performance by a great artist, as he finds the voice of the little boy that dwells within most men: "He always took care of me. He always had time for me." You can catch a glimpse of several famous people during this video, including Vince Gill and Mark Knopfler.

I'll dedicate this to my father's better nature, and to the Resident Fan Boy himself, who, for the record, succeeds as a father and as a human being.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Quand mes genoux deviennent mous... (Cui! Cui!)

I have been searching for this song on the internet for ages, and tripped across it on a new music site I'm trying out called Blip.fm of which I'm still trying to get the hang. The lyrics are cadged off a French web site which wasn't sure of the English sections (but then neither am I, neither of the English nor French which I suspect doesn't matter because the lyrics don't make a heckuva lot of sense). This is a delightfully loopy song and while I know it isn't nineties, Marie, if you played it at that wedding you're going to/went to, I, for one, would dance. If I were invited. And I wasn't. But that's absolutely okay; I'm rubbish at weddings. Particularly my own. (Oh yes, and the first twenty seconds of the video is missing.)

Un rien de babyliss
l'haleine mentholée
vous pouvez danser
bien collés

Si le rimmel glisse
Vos doigts sont gelés
Vous êtes un poil
Plus très très loin
De craquer

Mais souvenez-vous de nous
si un loup vous fait les yeux doux
Mais souvenez-vous de nous
quand vos genoux deviennent mous

(Mosquito buzz and slap)
Encore !
Zoup cui cui cui zahou cui cui

Et un peu de champagne
Ça vous aide à parler
Oui mais les bulles vont remonter
Parlez de vos santiags juste pour meubler
Le crocodile c'est pas si facile pour danser


Hey, grab a girl and bring her round!
Square up; come to the hoe-down!

(country and western)

Swing your partner around and round
A la main left and the boy left town (?)
Dos a dos, do it right,
Or else you won't get none tonight!

Come on, now!
Hit it, René !

(Background conversation which seems to say, in part: "Is that boy sweet on you?" "What?"

Et puis le cœur qui bat
Et le show dans la tête
Les pieds
Les mains
les bras
Et le reste
Sont en fête


And once again !

C'est moi!
C'est moi!

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

I'm always the last to know...

I've just discovered that there's been a blog following the filming of David Tennant's Hamlet which is now in its final week! Among the tidbits of info: Jenny Fava, one of the assistant directors on Doctor Who is also assistant-directing here; it is apparently very well-catered...

You can also follow these "Illumination" guys as well as the Royal Shakespeare Company itself on Twitter, if you like that sort of thing. (I'm still bemused.)

Monday, 15 June 2009

The end of the world as we know it

Throughout May and June, my mind has been taking rather an eschatological bent. No, no, I don't mean the Mayan calendar nonsense (although I firmly believe if the end of the world is predicted often enough, someone's bound to be right). I mean, as the school year draws to a close, so do the events associated with younger daughter's elementary school education. When this happened with elder daughter five years ago, I felt quite a pang, but this time, I feel rather relieved. As usual, I'm rather terrified to be once again stepping out into the unknown, but surely the next school (with a total of twenty students) has to be an improvement on her current school where she consistently falls between the cracks.

Anyway, back to "last things". Last weekend, we threw what we fervently hope was the last theme party for younger daughter. Between both girls, I've given eighteen theme parties. The most nightmarish times were, of course, the years when they overlapped and I spent April and May making lists and buying supplies.

This year, I decided to cheat a little and (kind of) repeat a theme. (I've only done this once before: elder daughter got a Harry Potter party at age eight, and younger daughter had one at age ten.) Five years ago, I gave a "Blast to the Past" party for elder daughter who was then in Grade Six. Her Girl Guide troupe had essayed tie-dying the previous winter, which gave me the courage to hunt down cold dyes, invite thirteen classmates to the house and set them to work on the back deck. It was a breezy day in late April, and their hands were red and raw with the cold, but I was able to send them home with damp shirts in plastic bags with dire warnings written in red about washing the shirts with the family laundry. No parents showed up on my lawn with burning torches and cleaning bills, so I guess it was all right.
This year, however, there were no dyes to be found in Hades. The craft store I had used before has downgraded itself to a drab and depressing home decoration kind of warehouse with shelves and shelves of cheap knick-knacks, and all I had in the basement were two dusty packages of Tintex, one blue and one purple.

I ended up ordering from the Dharma Trading Co.. I gather they are the go-to people for this kind of thing, having been established in 1969 and now operating out of San Rafael, California. You can't get much more hippy-dippy than that. No, really, I mean it. Check out their introduction.

Geez. Well, having terrified myself thoroughly by reading the instructions, I began repeating that well-known mantra from that famous hippy, Eleanor Roosevelt: You must do the thing you think you cannot do.

This is why I spent Saturday morning perspiring through a face mask (provided by the company) while I mixed up urea, the dyes, and a big bucket of soda ash. The Resident Fan Boy chopped up vegetables and decided where to string up balloons which I'd inscribed the night before with various Sixties Slogans.Okay, so we changed a couple.

Elder daughter worked her magic, as she has done in the past, festooning the house with posters and streamers. I particularly loved this Rainbow Door she came up with:She wanted to create a Sixties slide-show for the computer, but ran out of time, particularly when our first guest, the notorious Russian Prodigy who has featured in a couple of my younger-daughter's-school-nightmare rants, showed up nearly half an hour early. R.P. settled into the living room and questioned younger daughter in her usual condescending sweet-as-pie manner. I didn't witness this, but elder daughter, who doesn't know Russian Prodigy, reported that she was soon wishing heartily that R.P. "would just leave". She also reported that R.P. ventured upstairs to our bedroom (which has an "out of bounds" sign) several times in search of our cat, but beat a hasty retreat when she realized the room wasn't empty. Another parent has told me that R.P. believes that I hate her and is terrified of me. Pardon me while I take a break for some diabolical laughter.

Anyway, despite the lost sleep, chewed fingers, uncontrollable screaming at inopportune moments (I'm talking about me, here), the party was all right. No one used the squirt bottles of dye as weapons. No one got an unsightly rash. Two little girls spent snack time discussing other birthday parties, none of which had included younger daughter, but she seemed oblivious, and did not lose her composure once, although she may have snapped at me briefly when I was supervising her with the tie-dying.

The next morning, after an evening binging on leftover tortilla chips, I rose bright and early, and carefully following the instructions, rinsed out 13 tee-shirts, laundered them (twice) in the specially-provided detergent, and tossed them in the dryer. It was rather neat to see each little girl's personality emerging from the rivulets of rinsed-away dye and discarded elastic.

See? They're rather like Rorschach tests, aren't they? Can you guess which little girl is impatient to finish, and which little girl spent more than an hour painstakingly planning her design? Which little girl had done tie-dying before, and which little girl is on the autism spectrum?

Maybe it's safer to test me. There were three tee-shirts left over and tons of dye, so despite my aching feet and bone-weariness, I stumbled out back into the mildly humid evening and quickly did the remaining tees. The first is done by twisting the shirt into a cone, the second (my favourite) by folding the shirt accordion-style then tying it in a knot, and the third by wrapping pebbles and twigs into the shirt and sealing the pockets with a rubber band.

Far out. Well, that's it. No more birthday parties. That way, if the world does indeed end on December 21, 2012, I won't have spent the previous spring in a dither of performance anxiety. Okay, I probably will, but it will be about something else.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Pray for me...

For those of you who may be wondering if I've dropped off the fact of the earth (there must be a couple of you), I have 26 hours until nine little girls will be tie-dying shirts at my house. I'm just about to go out and buy food for the flower children. Gulp. Watch this space for an account of the triumph/disaster and the ensuing well-deserved rest/horde of angry parents on my front porch with torches and pitchforks.

What's so bad about peace, love, and understanding? They need to be planned and catered, that's what.

Where's the mind-altering drugs when I really need them?

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Musical Interlude

I'm been struggling to get used to the format of IMEEM, my current substitute in the wake of the demise of Launchcast and the perfidy (frankly) of Last.fm. It's not really what I'm looking for, but is giving me a flawed means of exploring.

The following is not a new discovery, but another old find from my Launchcast days, and when I checked my Facebook profile this morning, this YouTube video of my very favourite Cheryl Wheeler song was there. It is, to my mind, more of a winter song, but the sentiments are seasonless:
Everywhere I turn,
Everyone is lost in this thing
'Cause something feels gone
Life is nothing like we dreamed it might be.
And we don't move forward, can't move back
We hold our hands out,
Hoping for that...

One love, that's all of it
Deep nights and quiet days
Long lovers, old comforts
Feel like some ball and chain.

I guess we're really gettin' old
Always worrying we're wasting our time,
Wantin' somethin' new to hold
Some affair would be the perfect crime.
Long roads crumble, forevers fall apart
One day we don't know
Why we're so far from...

One love, that's all of it
Deep nights and quiet days
Long lovers, old comforts
Feel like some ball and chain.

And if I want you and you want me,
We'll call it love though it might not be.
Hearts on fire, souls in line
Oh, just to know that, just to feel that one more time.

Seems impossible to know
What is real and what is just some restless thing
And our hearts learn slow
All the miseries bad choices bring.
So is it wise or lazy,
Holding tight to what you've known?
And is it brave or crazy,
Searching for some...

One love, that's all of it
Deep nights and quiet days
Long lovers, old comforts
Feel like some ball and chain...

Monday, 1 June 2009

Crying over spilt milk

It is fortunate, I suppose, when a change in plans for your day is evident first thing in the morning rather than later on. This morning's evidence was leaking steadily over the breakfast table in a ever-widening pool from the milk bottle the Resident Fan Boy had set in the centre in readiness for our bowls of cereal. He was gathering his things to leave for work, and I was about to toss younger daughter's lunch together for her school pack sack, when I suddenly noticed the puddling crisis and shrieked, "What on earth is going on?" The Resident Fan Boy panicked and snatched up the bottle, leaving the jagged bottom lying in a cascade of white. The bottle had been full, of course. We set about rescuing the clutter that always accumulates next to the place mats, then sopping up what we could with paper towels, before coating the table top with wood cleaner, and mopping up the floor. Later, as I transferred dripping towels and place mats to the laundry basket by the washer, I heard a steady plop...plop...plop... There was a drip falling steadily onto one of the cardboard boxes piled in the centre of the basement. Oh gawd, I thought, frantically scanning the pipes that criss-cross the ceiling, before realizing the drips were -- white. Some of milk had dripped through the floor boards. It was, as I said, a full bottle.

So, I had been planning to go downtown this morning, but have elected to stay home and sort through the rescued piles and launder stuff.

I think two posts for a month is a new low for me. It's not that I haven't had anything to write about, far from it, but I've been confronted with a series of hurdles, and somehow settling myself to compose a post seemed daunting beyond words.

Maybe I can catch up a little bit. Last week was the time allotted for the EQAO exams. Now here I will have to struggle not to be sidetracked into a lengthy rant because EQAO stands for "Educational Quality Assurance Office". I don't know about you, but that phrase makes me want to gag and reach for the throat of whatever suit came up with this efficient and expensive way to terrorize students and teachers alike. In Ontario, EQAO means three days of exams, given to Grade Threes and Grade Sixes. Marks from these exams don't count toward grades, and teachers are told not to "teach to the test", but the results are published in the papers and the schools ranked. Somehow, schools in neighbourhoods with university-educated parents do much better on these particular kinds of tests than schools in neighbourhoods with higher populations of immigrants. In the meantime, budgets for the arts and for special education are being slashed. Must...stop...myself...

After eight years hanging around the elementary school, I've noticed that teachers don't have time to supervise any students not taking the exams. Five years ago, I was working in the library when one of elder daughter's classmates wandered aimlessly through. "Where are you supposed to be, luv?" "I don't know..." So, I figured that while younger daughter's classmates engaged in this useless exercise of proving their institution is mostly full of privileged, university-bound kids, I'd simply pull her from school and take her to the Ottawa Children's Festival. In our nine years here, we've never been. It's either been at an awkward time, an awkward location, or both.

On Wednesday, I took her to Oz, an English translation of a French production by the small francophone Ottawa company Vox Théâtre, based on the original Frank L. Baum story, not the movie. And it was charming, very folksy and very Québecois. This You-Tube video of the French production will give you a pretty good idea of the flavour: It's just two middle-aged actors, one playing Dorothy, the other everyone else. They had questions afterward from kids in school groups mostly and one bright spark asked the male actor if he had worn a mask when he played the witch. I think the actor was amused...

The next day, we attended Run Chicken Run by Gruppe 38. This was like Beckett for families. Yes, I mean Samuel Beckett, as in Waiting for Godot and Endgame. Throughout the play, a man inside a sort of bank of hatches lives out a series of fantasies: feeding various farm animals, baking bread, driving a race car, searching for his fishing line under the ocean. The oddest one has to be when he is confronted by several mice who have set up a rave in one of his hatches. We never see the mice, of course, we only hear pulsing techno-dance music and see multicoloured lights reflected in the astonished face of our hero as he pleads with the mice to tone it down. Finally, he gives up, closes the hatch, and turns on the blender... He sticks a finger gingerly into the hatch and it comes up smeared in red which he thoughtfully sucks. There was an age limitation for this production, obviously. Six for accompanied children and eight for school groups. There didn't seem to be any school groups at our show, just what I presumed to be home-schoolers (they kept piping up with questions and comments to their parents throughout the show), and some men from an adult group home who made the most extraordinary noises. Fortunately, since the story (such as it was) was set in a barnyard, the sounds actually fit right in.

Run Chicken Run is based on "a well-known children's song book". It was never explained well-known to whom, presumably to Danish children and their parents. Younger daughter had a marvelous time and later reported to her teacher that this was her favourite of the two plays. For my part, I was seated on an excruciatingly uncomfortable bench which made me feel that my back was bending the wrong way, and yet I was totally engaged in the performance. Surreality evidently suits us.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some more milk dribbles to wipe up and sodden towels to launder.