Last night Pierre and I indulged in one of my favorite Paris activities - going to the ballet. Yes, I know how culture-snobby that sounds, but in my defense, I know very little about the ballet world and never took classes when I was a kid. Yet I love going to watch it, especially at the Palais Garnier.
A lot of French people may think this 19th century building, also known as L'Opéra de Paris, is a bit over the top. But I admit I'm a sucker for the red velvet chairs, the ornate guilded balconies and the magnificent Chagall mural on the ceiling- not to mention the talent of the dancers, who are arguably the best in the world.
As tickets are not exactly cheap, I often balk at spending 12 euros more for the program (a drop in the bucket, I know) and am left guessing at the meaning at certain pieces. When Pierre and I went to see "Caligula" by former star dancer Nicolas le Riche, we had surprising similar interpretations of the narrative. But looking at the program on the way out, we realized we were totally off-base in regards to the actual 'story'. Now, you can argue that what the choreographer had in mind is secondary to what we took away from it, but for me, trying to figure out what the artist/author intended has always been part of the fun.
So watching a 'pure dance', abstract piece like "Rain" was a different experience for me. I knew from having read an article beforehand that the title "Rain" comes from a novel by a New Zealand writer that had influenced another De Keersmaeker work. However, the article explicitly stated that the story of the book has actually nothing to do with this ballet. And frankly, other than the semi-circular shower curtain-like backdrop, I didn't really see any references to water or rain in the ballet itself, which consists of 10 young dancers coming together and breaking apart in various combinations across a floor painted with lines and geometric figures.
Rather than trying to create any kind of narrative, the choreography seems intimately tied to the accompanying music, Steve Reich's "Music for Eighteen Musicians," which was performed live by the Ensemble Ictus. I don't know how many of you are familiar with Reich's music, which Pierre adores and I lovingly refer to as "that minimalist, repetitive crap." Actually, hearing Reich's music performed live was marginally better than listening to it at home, where I inevitably feel like yanking the CD out of the player, snapping it in half and stabbing Pierre in the eye with it.
Still, the music did start getting under my skin last night with its relentless one-note pounding, until I began to imagine the dancers as musical notes themselves. Suddenly, I began to appreciate the subtle variations in the music as the dancers repeated certain gestures and movements all the while creating new and inventive patterns.
Now I have no idea if De Keersmaeker ever thought of her dancers as musical notes while working on the piece. Maybe they're meant to be water droplets or leaves blown across a pond or maybe nothing at all. The program itself states: "Rain is a 'rain dance', both a diluvian celebration of movement and a timeless, incantatory quest for the golden section and it's perfect forms." And if anyone can translate that into actual English, let me know.
But for once, I was totally unconcerned with what the 'right' interpretation was because as soon as I started imagining the dancers as notes, I was able to distance myself from the more annoying aspects of the music and appreciate the beauty De Keersmaeker's choreography on an emotional instead of an intellectual level. (For those interested, excerpts can be seen on the Opéra de Paris site: http://www.operadeparis.fr) So while I can't claim to be a convert to Reich's music, I did gain a new appreciation of it and of letting my own imagination fill in the blanks.
Where do the rest of you come down on the artistic interpretation debate? Is knowing something about an artist's life or intentions essential to really appreciating his/her work? Is there such a thing as an incorrect interpretation? Is this whole discussion annoying and elitist? (Ok, don't answer that last one.)
For fans of comedy and/or movies, here are 2 consistently entertaining weekly podcasts for your enjoyment. "Comedy Film Nerds" features comedians and filmmakers Graham Elwood and Chris Mancini (plus a comedian guest) discussing film, Hollywood and comedy with honesty, intelligence and, of course, humor.
I admit I avoided this podcast for a while as I thought it was another 'let's trash the latest Nic Cage release' snark-athon (which, let's be honest, has its pleasures) and they are not shy about conveying their contempt for hack directors and cynical marketers who base their movies around what the poster might be. But amid all the jokes, what comes across is their eagerness and enthusiasm for good-filmmaking no matter the genre.
Hosted by comedian Doug Benson, "Doug Loves Movies" is usually recorded in front of a live audience, with the occasional studio session thrown in. Each week, Benson invites a panel of guests (actors, directors, comedians) to talk about their latest projects or the latest movies they've seen and play the Leonard Maltin Game, a Name That Tune-style game-show using movie titles instead of songs.
While best known for his stoner comedy, including the documentary "Super High Me," Benson is also a true film buff who goes to the movies regularly and loves to talk about them (although the non-movie related digressions are part of the fun). Be sure to check out the episodes featuring guest John Lithgow, who remembers nearly everything about the films he's been in, and Michael Rooker, who remembers nothing.
Got a favorite podcast to share? I'm always looking for new ones to make the metro ride go faster...