Tag Archive: Dance

Cats: DVD review

Cats are probably the least domesticated of our domestic animals. Dogs may have chosen to live with us, but they have changed themselves to suit our needs. Cats moved into our granaries when we started storing grain and found the stored grain an outstanding hunting ground.  While they tolerate us, and at times even show great affection toward us, the domestication is on the cat’s terms, not ours.

T. S. Elliott knew this. The cats of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats belong to themselves, not to people, and Elliott actually turned down an attempt by Walt Disney to make a movie of the poems, because he did not want his cats made into cartoon cats. But when Andrew Weber approached his widow about making a musical from the book, with the cats being very much street cats, she agreed that his vision was what her husband would have wished. The result was one of the longest-running musicals on the London stage.

Cats was made into a movie 13 years ago. I watched it a couple of times on PBS, taped it, bought the official tapes from PBS (and was rather annoyed that some of the material I’d taped off-air wasn’t on the official tape) and finally bought the DVD as part of a set of Andrew Lloyd Weber musicals. It’s one of those DVD’s I have played so often I’m worried about wearing it out.

It doesn’t have much of a plot. What plot there is is centered on Grizabella, an old cat who’s had a very good, if slightly shady, life and is now shunned by the other cats. A secondary plot is the kidnapping of Old Deuteronomy by the feline outlaw, Macavity, and his rescue by the kitten prodigy, Mr. Mistoffelees. But the music and dancing are the heart of the production.

Most of the songs use lyrics straight (or almost straight) from the book, but I think my favorite is “Memories,” which along with Grizabella herself, were added. Of the characters straight from the book, I think my favorites are Rum-Tum-Tigger (a tomcat in his prime who’s a rock ‘n roll teen idol) and Mr. Mistoffelees (a kitten with powers he doesn’t quite know how to handle.)

Surprisingly the dancing, while I love it, is not nearly as cat-like as Puss in Boots and the white cat in the ballet, Sleeping Beauty (Opera de Paris.) But the whole performance is still enjoyable enough to repeat.

Brigadoon (DVD)

My taste in movies tends to run to the fluffy.

My parents used to load us all in the old woody station wagon and take us out to the drive-in. Often as not the movie was a musical, and I still love the old MGM song and dance films.

Drive-ins have never been practical in Alaska. If it’s dark enough to see the screen, it’s too cold to sit in a parked car, and most of my movie watching nowadays is DVDs while pedaling away on my stationary bicycle. I still love the MGM musicals, though, from The Wizard of Oz on. Especially Gene Kelley.

I watched Brigadoon the other night, and marveled again at the musical numbers with Gene Kelley and Cyd Charisse. Oh, the sets are rather obviously painted, and the plot is pretty weak, but the dancing is wonderful. Still, I found myself wondering about a few things.

Not the willing suspension of disbelief that always is necessary to enjoy a fantasy. I’m a science fiction author, and that comes naturally. This was more the world building. Where were the children? Brigadoon was supposed to date to a time before the Revolutionary War. At that time, the death rate, especially among children, was high. One result was large families – more than two children per family, because some would not survive to have children of their own. As a result the age distribution should have been skewed toward the young, as it is today in developing countries — lots of children, numerous adolescents, a moderate number of adults, and a very few old people.

Oh, there were a handful of children shown. But for the village to survive, there should have been at least three children – probably more – for each adult woman.

That’s not true today. Most children born today survive to have children of their own – we consider it a real tragedy when they do not. But that wasn’t true in pre-Revolutionary times.

I’ve done a certain amount of genealogy on my own background, and I have ancestors who gave three children the same name, because the first two died. And women died in childbirth all too often – again hinted at by the fact that many of my male ancestors were widowed when the wife died in childbirth, and then remarried.

No, the society shown in Brigadoon is unlikely, to say the least. But that doesn’t make the singing and dancing any less enjoyable.

Well, maybe concerts is the wrong word, but they were more than recitals.

The Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival is far more than creative writing class, though that’s what I have been blogging about for the last couple of weeks. There are classes in all kinds of music, dance and art as well as a few things such as clothing design less suited for public performance, and the final weekend is crowded with events, some of which are good enough to charge for attending. As a Festival participant I can get free tickets for a lot more of these events than I have time to attend, and I spent last Saturday afternoon and evening taking advantage of those free tickets.

First was the opera/musical theater scenes. These were costumed and lightly staged (chairs, tables, portable props but no scenery.) We have a new opera company in Fairbanks, and a musical theater group that puts on two shows a year, but I can’t drive in the dark so I rarely get to see them. This was a wonderful treat for me, lasting close to two hours, with some beautiful singing from Festival participants.

Later in the afternoon was the dancing. Considering the role dancing plays in my fiction, I don’t get much chance to see live dancing. Oh, The Nutcracker is put on locally every Christmas but I have no way of getting to it, since winter performances almost always let out after dark. (I do have three DVD’s of Nutcracker performances, not counting the Suite in Fantasia.)

I did take ballet and tap lessons as a child, but in retrospect I suspect that was a desperate attempt by my parents to do something about my lack of coordination. (It didn’t work.) And about the only thing I remember about the recitals was that my parents made me drink coffee to stay awake. (I still hate coffee.)

But I love to watch dancing, even if it is generally confined to PBS and DVDs. And this recital was definitely worth watching.

Ballet, Modern, Jazz, Swing, Tap, Ballroom and Middle Eastern classes performed and enchanted me. Two things I couldn’t help noticing. First, the participants were generally young. Part of this is undoubtedly because dancing stresses the body, and older bodies simply run out of the ability to perform. Second, there was a distinct lack of male dancers. I saw one in a number of groups who was very good – but with the number of androgynous names today, I couldn’t be sure who he was. Total? Two or three males out of a stage full of dancers.

Anyway I enjoyed it enough to order the DVD – though I suspect the intended buyers were mostly the proud relatives of the dancers.

Finally, after supper at Wolf Run and a tour of the watercolors, sketches, and clothing in the art gallery, I went to the orchestra concert. Again, I was amazed by the quality of the performance. These musicians had less than two weeks to rehearse pieces some of them had never seen before, with a strange conductor (Robert Franz.) Many had never met before Festival. The program started with Mendelssohn’s Calm and Prosperous Voyage. Then two of our guest artists, Routa Kroumovitch Gomez on violin and Alvero Gomez on viola, played in Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola. Jaunelle Celaire and JR Fralick sang selections from Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn, each song preceded by a translation of the German words so we had some idea of what we were listening to. The performance wound up with a wonderful rendition of Prokofiev’s Symphony no 5.

I didn’t get home until almost 11 pm, and since it was a cloudy day, I’m glad the sun wasn’t any lower. Wonder if I can arrange transportation to the symphony concerts and Nutcracker this winter?