Monday, November 22, 2010

To See or Not To See?

That is the question. Luckily, in this case the answer is simple: SEE! I am referring to Seattle Shakespeare Company's current production of Hamlet, which is running through December 5th. Although Hamlet is undoubtedly my favorite of Shakespeare's plays, I have never seen a live production before, and although I've watched three of the movie versions, have not been entirely satisfied with any of them.

This time, however, I was more than satisfied. This was a lean, intelligently interpreted production of Hamlet, where the actors (Darragh Kennan in the title role) spoke their lines as if they were living them, not reciting them. There was room in this Hamlet for laughter and rumination and accusation and that wonderful ambiguity that I have always loved about the text. Is there a more profound text in the English language? Hard to say. Seeing the play and experiencing the text as a living thing, I remembered reading it for the first time in high school English. Back then, I thought about the play all the time, like a fever. A couple of years later, I came back to it again and felt the same. "Hamlet" is gloriously ambivalent; at the same time, Shakespeare creates the first truly modern character to look piercingly through the centuries and grapple with the vagaries of life and death, action and thought. Hearing some of the most famous sentences of our language being spoken aloud had an almost totemic quality to it; I heard audience members murmuring in recognition at "Frailty, thy name is woman" and "To thine own self be true" and the countless other lines that have entered our shared experience of this language. It was powerful: a sacred text brought to life, all wrapped together with the physical action and the audience--rapt, leaning forward.

There are things in heaven and earth not dreamt of in our philosophy. It's nice to be reminded of that now and again.

(photo credit:

Saturday, November 13, 2010

All Tharp, All Awesome

The Pacific Northwest Ballet comes through again, this time with an entire program featuring choreographer Twyla Tharp. I can't choose a favorite between the second and third pieces performed: "Afternoon Ball" and "Waterbaby Bagatelles." The first highlights alienation, almost unbearable tension, and a sort of juked up, spastic movement. The two male leads really interested me: one becomes a protoganist, torn between the other creatures of the street and an imperiously elegant and ghostly waltzing couple. The other, cloaked in baggy flannel, wheels almost dangerously about the stage, dragging his arms and legs as if they are unfamiliar appendages; then, he suddenly breaks into fluid movement and glides smoothly, in control. My heart was in my throat.

The Bagatelles represent seven short pieces, collaged together with different music for each piece. The imagery delights: identical ballerinas dressed as synchronized swimmers; male dancers leaping shirtless and giddy; a dangerously sexy and sinuous duet between principals Karel Cruz and Carla Korbes. Visually, parallel tubes of fluorescent lighting hang suspended over the stage, and rotate down, up, and to different angles throughout the seven pieces. Sometimes the lights made me think of the ocean floor, and other times, as they were lowered, I thought of a confining aquarium and the artificial lights creating the look of "aquamarine." It's an interesting way to play with the space of the stage itself, reminding the viewer of its temporal limits, even as the dancers' movements are so joyously extended and boundless.

I am in love with the ballet. Every performance has left me with something to ponder (or, let's face it, a crush on one of the dancers.) If you happen to live in Seattle, treat yourself!