How did I discover this very under-the-radar tragedy? I went to see Edward Clug’s Carmina Burana the other night–produced by Montreal’s Grands Ballets, along with another Clug piece, Stabat Mater on the program–and when I tried to read about the choreography later, the internet left me very uncharacteristically at a loss.
The first short review I found claimed that “music is the star” of the performances. Which I’m sure made any number of the incredibly talented dancers in the company, not to mention the choreographer, feel super warm and fuzzy inside… (To be fair, yes, the music is amazing, and yes, the Grands Ballets orchestra definitely upped their game and yes the solos were beautiful… Still…) The second review focused on the fact that the choreographer’s main job lay in pulling this star-quality music away from the audience’s common associations with it (ie: big budget action films). At which point I decided to go poking around in the French journals to see what they thought. The Journal de Montréal review contained an interesting reflection on the significance of the massive ring, which formed the majority of the set design, along with lighting. In the choreography, dancers were both pulled to and repulsed by it, which makes sense, given that the circle itself represents the wheel of fortune (O Fortuna, velut luna, etc.). And really, what is one’s fate if not at times times attractive and at other times repulsive? And Le Devoir focused on the sheer number of dancers on the stage, and the effect created by their simultaneous movement: “L’impact vient de la démultiplication, de l’effet produit par le grand nombre de danseurs. La beauté naît de voir un geste sur des dizaines de corps répétés et de la plus-value d’énergie que cette accumulation produit. C’est le levier chorégraphique principal qu’utilise le chorégraphe.” Now, what’s special about the Devoir’s review is that it is pretty resoundingly negative. And that’s fine. And it was a well-written review with a distinct point of view that points out some of the stylistic (Carmina) and sociopolitical (Stabat) problems of the program. But what’s frustrating about this review is that it makes some great points, but it does not quite do the work of taking the ballet on its own terms, in order to judge whether it lives up to its own project. Yes, for example, some of the “humouristic” movements fell flat. I agree. But why did they fall flat? And why was there physical humour in a piece about the suffering of the Virgin Mary (Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater) at all?
Please don’t misunderstand me, I don’t think these pieces represent journalistic “fail” by any means, (maybe the first one). And we all know, from Rory Gilmore, how tough it is to review ballet. What I think has happened is that no one (or no one paid to write in a daily) really knows what’s going on in ballet/dance anymore. Which is to say, I’m not sure that anyone has any language for tying movements of the human body to meaning.
I had the great pleasure of reviewing Jana Beňová’s award-winning novella Seeing People Offa couple of years ago, over at Necessary Fiction. It is an excellent, genre-defying, language-experimenting work with a compelling woman at its centre. So I was very excited to pick up Away! Away! Which is similarly genre-defying, language-experimenting, and also driven by a woman character sorting through a love-life-liberty mire in a thirties-ish kind of way.
As you might have gathered from the title, the book is about forms of escape, both large and small. If you enjoyed Seeing People Off, as I did, this book will be pleasantly familiar. But it also shows a stronger emphasis on the prose-poetry form, and pushes the boundaries of what this form can do, narrative-wise. All of which is to say that, comparatively, this book is more abstract in terms of what (“actually”) happens, but perhaps even more precise in describing the impressions and feelings that accompany what happens.
A quick update on what’s been going on around here…
I wrote my last post on March 31, 2018, which in dog years is basically a lifetime ago, and in human years is also a pretty long time. While I kept reading (oh, I read so many things) I was also caught up in a very busy chapter of my own life. Which left not a whole lot of time to report back on my findings in the literary field.
Well, my kids are now sleep-through-the-night years old, and I have settled in at the (new) job (I started a year ago), and it seemed like a great time to get back to writing about books which, let’s face it, is the only thing I would do with my time if my time were entirely my own. (Reader, it is not.)
Some info about where life has taken me since spring 2018:
Loves, I haven’t written in a while. I know. There you are, sitting around waiting patiently, in quiet desperation, for me to tell you what to read. And here I am, barely able to make it through a page before I have to get up out of my chair and rush with great urgency to feed, rock, hug, wipe, play with, or find something for one of my kids. Here’s my advice–if you would like to spend the rest of your days in uninterrupted reading, do not have children. If you can deal with going through the same paragraph over and over and over again, by all means, reproduce. And for godsake, get a spiffy bookmark and use it with the gusto of a drowning man grabbing a life preserver.
Loves, it’s the end of 2017. That’s right. We did it! (as my toddler says). We walked through this year and we came out unscathed. But we’re still here, we’re still fighting the power, and if you (like me) are someone who has dedicated yourself to words and reading them, and sometimes even stringing them together, you (like me) think that reading and writing (ENGAGING WITH THOUGHTS) are the most important activities, probably now a bit more so than usual. So let’s keep doing it. And by it I mean this. And by this I mean THINKING. A thing that is done primarily through words.
There’s no need to introduce Jane Yolen, writer of children’s and young adult books whose name was pretty much all over my childhood book shelves. She is most famous for writing folklore and fantasy, reinventing classic tales and often paired with illustrators whose work will look immediately familiar to any child of the 90’s. This latest collection is certainly composed of typical Yolen material, but, after reading “A Knot of Toads,” a story featuring a long dormant evil forces brought to life in a small Scottish town, I realized that The Emerald Circus is not for kids at all.(By which I mean kids who don’t have nightlights. Because I definitely needed one.)
The stories are hit-or-miss. Some follow a pattern that, for Yolen, is almost formulaic by now, taking a classic tale and subverting its original intent with adult themes or feminist reprisals. The story “Lost Girls,” about Wendy arriving in Neverland and then trying to unionize a collection of “lost girls” is a great example of this.
To begin, I was wary, as one often is when an author revisits a beloved book so many years later. But let me say up front, for those of you who might also be a bit hesitant about going back to the Owens family two decades after Practical Magic, that Alice Hoffman’s latest novel, The Rules of Magic, a prequel to her mid-90’s hit, is stunning. In fact, it is probably better than the original. (Though, I should interject here and say maybe I’m not the most best person to make that claim, since I always secretly preferred the movie version of Practical Magic already, based, if nothing else, on thephenomenal casting and the addition of a fantastic lady-powered-PTA-turned-makeshift-coven scene at the end.)
The Rules of Magic follows sisters Franny and Jet (who turn into “the aunts” of Practical Magic) as well as their brother Vincent, romping through New York City of the 1960’s and 70’s, discovering their family’s long-hidden secrets and creating a few skeletons of their own for the Owen’s closet. The novel deals quite closely with the famous “curse” explored in the earlier novel, this being that no Owens woman can fall in love, or the man she loves will soon be tragically (and usually quickly) killed. The source of this curse, as family legend has it, was their ancestor Maria Owens, who was burned as a witch by the man she loved and whose child she bore, none other than (actual person) John Hathorne, notoriously sadistic witch hunter of Salem circa the beginning of the 18th century.