An Excess of Culture

Lance is taking a class this semester on Shakespeare. (It’s the only one of a short list of “required elective credits” that was offered this semester, and he graduates in May, so it had to be that…) One of the ways to get extra credit points is to attend a production of one of the Bard’s plays, and then write a critique. The instructor had suggested that it was not a very good time of year for such productions, but I happened to come across mention of a ballet production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Decorah. (Apparently, they have ballets in Decorah. Who knew?) Anyway, Lance got approval from his teacher and then invited my mom to come along. I invited Tim, as well, but his response was a blank stare and, “Uh… No… Thanks… I’ll pass on this one.” I knew that was what he’d say, but I figured I’d better invite him, anyway. I suppose I invited myself along in the first place, but I don’t think there was ever really a question of me going with – Lance and I just tend to do stuff like that together.

We went out for dinner at Restauration beforehand, which is a very nice little restaurant in the Hotel Winneshiek. Probably sort of ostentatious considering, but we were going to a ballet, man… My mom and Lance both had burgers and fries, and I had some sort of pasta thing I’d never tried before. I think it was “Canneloni”, but I don’t remember precisely. I wasn’t super-impressed, in any case. It was essentially a really thin, kind of tough cross between a manicotti shell and an enchilada, full of spinach, mushrooms, cheese sauce, and covered with “smoked tomato” stuff that pretty much tasted exactly like barbeque sauce. I was not super impressed, in any case.

The ballet was on the Luther campus in the Center for Faith and Life. The place is an auditorium with a big open stage, but they had rigged up curtains and a backstage area for the production. It was a one-night thing, but they had apparently had a ballet workshop for little girls earlier in the day, and were going to have a “Q&A with the Dancers” afterwards. There were a pretty large number of people shorter than 4 feet tall in the audience, in any case.

I am by no means authorized to critique a ballet. There were a few things that I did notice, though:

1) I like artsy stuff. I used to watch operas on TV as a kid because I thought they were cool. I like the idea of a ballet, but had I been watching this on a video I would have been bored and turned it off twenty minutes in to it. Actually being there for the experience, though, was different. It’s a little thing, but hearing the dancer’s feet thump on the stage when they come down for a big leap or having that little thrill that the fairy king might actually drop his 57-lb partner while he’s throwing her around made it much more interesting. I mentioned that to Mom and she said you’re not supposed to be able to hear them hit the ground, but she’s been to the actual Bolshoi ballet in Moscow, so her standards are much higher.

2) It was kind of funny when one of the dancers dance-ran off the stage, and then we heard thump thump thump thump THUMP BANG CRASH from offstage.

3) The guy who played/danced Nick Bottom/the Donkey was a joy to watch. He overacted his part perfectly, and exuded exuberance through all of his acting and dancing bits. His facial expressions were spot on, his dancing was very impressive to my completely untrained eye, and he made the primadonna seem that much more poised and elegant by his silliness.

4) The gal who played Titania smiled the entire time. I don’t know if she meant it – I wasn’t close enough to see if it went to her eyes, but from the very back row of the main floor, I was convinced that she was enjoying her part. She was beautiful, she was elegant, she did incredibly impressive toe work… I was enchanted.

5) The chorus numbers (the fairies in the glade, the humans in the finale) were seriously out of sync during the unison bits. I’ve been in enough music and theater productions that I know you have to know your steps and listen to the music, but you also have to check out where the other actors/dancers are in the line and in the steps to keep yourself on track. Enough practice gets you to the point where you don’t have to look and are still together, but they were not there. They were also not looking – which I understand when you’re trying to keep your head up and forward for the silhouette during an actual production, but I’m not sure whether that was road fatigue, lack of practice, or general company quality. I suppose it doesn’t really matter in Decorah, IA.

Ultimately, it was a fun evening and a serious departure from my usual round of activities!

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