Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Backstage with Alex and Carolina Ballet's Nutcracker

This is Alex's sixth year performing with Carolina Ballet's annual Thanksgiving production of the Nutcracker. It is the civic company...kids dancing almost all the roles...and their parents in the Party scene...and a few men hired to partner the older girls in the major parts.

Last year I posted impressions and photos. They can be found here.

This year, Alex took the camera backstage during the final show, the matinée on Sunday afternoon.

The day starts with "class" on stage...a time to stretch, get warmed up, practice a bit, and let Alex snap a few shots.

Make-up is a big part of every show. Various parts require very specific make-up. For Mother Ginger, Alex's face is totally white with over sized bright fushia lips.

This is one of dozens of "party girls"...perhaps even Alex's "daughter". In the first act, Alex is a Party Gentleman with a wife and daughter.

Each of the variations in the third act include a group of younger dancers in costumes that dance in the background. This little girl is one of those in the "Chinese" variation. Alex has been in this scene too...one of the men who wheel an over sized tea cup on stage. Inside is the main Chinese dancer. Alex has also been the head of the Chinese Dragon...another "living prop" on the stage for this dance.

Once upon a time, Alex fit this costume...or one very similar. He also performed this part...Nicholas, the nephew of Herr Drosselmeyer who turns into the Nutcracker and fights the Rat King and later escorts Clara to the Land of the Sweets.

This year's Sugar Plum Fairy was Alex Christian, one of Mathias' friend who has trained at English National Ballet School in London and was an apprentice with Houston Ballet. She's just joined Nevada Ballet in Las Vegas. Her partner was Evgeny Lushkin.

Above and below are photos taken from the wings of the Waltz of the Flowers.

Alex really loves this company, the production, the fellowship, dancing, and especially artistic director John Whitehead who is among his greatest supporters!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thanksgiving Week

Here's Steve, Alex, and Alex's girlfriend Erica ready to dig into Thanksgiving dinner. I can't believe I didn't manage a better photo...but I didn't. The turkey, however, looks good. Steve found a nice small one...just ten and a half pounds. Thus, the leftovers only lasted through Saturday.

For Alex, Thanksgiving is Nutcracker time. This is the sixth year he'd performed with the Carolina Ballet, the civic company. In Act One he's a party gentleman...quite handsome in a tuxedo with tails. In Act Two he's a rat...gets blown away by the soldier's cannon. In Act Three he's Mother Ginger...in drag...bright pink and a fancy white wig. There are five performances. Tomorrow is the final one and I'm hoping Alex takes the camera for some backstage candid shots.

Today in my studio I put together a quilt with a Xylene transfer of Bessie Smith in the center. This is surrounded by vintage squares. Of course, this became Shadow's preferred place to sit.

At the Nutcracker we ran into Linda Phillips. She was selling Nutcrackers for the company in the theater's lobby while babysitting her daughter Stephanie's new toy dog. This pet is only 24 ounces...smaller even than my sister Sonya's Lulu! Totally adorable inside a pet purse.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Festival of the Trees 2007

(Above: Alex and his girlfriend Erica in front of my Christmas tree inspired by my Blues Chapel artwork.)

Alex and I have been donating to the annual Children's Hospital charity event, Festival of the Trees, for six or more years. It is very special because Mathias had skull surgery when he was only six months old at Children's Hospital. He was released on Christmas Day. At the time, there were only four beds in ICU. Now there are 18. The event raised over $216,000 last year...plus, the gala is WONDERFUL...black tie (expect for handsome teenagers!). St. Joseph's choir serenades guests into the event. There a mimes, harpist, two bands, excellent food and drinks, photo ops with Santa Claus, and plenty of wreathes and trees available by silent auction. The evening truly ushers in Christmas for us.

(Above: One of many food stations.)

(Above: Another food station...I took these pictures immediately upon arrival; we got there right on time. Later, I couldn't have taken most of these shots due to the crowd!)

(Above: Mimes decorating the center hallway.)

(Above: One of the bars)

(Above: One of the large rooms with Santa Claus and desserts...plus more trees.)

(Above: Shrimp and trees!)

(Above: Our Electric Company didn't want us to forget them...so they created a "tree" of their logo!)

(Above: Draped tables with "table top" decorations...Alex's Blues inspired one is just visible. It sold for $130.)

(Above: This event is in our State Museum...so, here's another bar under a Fiberglas replica of a giant, prehistoric shark.)

(Above: More shrimp in another room with dancing.)

(Above: The dance band...shortly after we arrived the crowds followed and there was hardly a view to the stage!)

(Above: Steve and my favorite food station....sushi!)

(Above: Details of trees.)

(Above: Most of the trees have very specific themes...this one deals with outdoor sports like boating and fishing.)

(Above: This was the strangest theme...Pirates of the Caribbean Christmas tree!)

(Above: Detail of the skirting for the Pirates of the Caribbean tree.)

(Above: One Thousand Villages is a free-trade chain with an outlet here in Columbia. They always donate a unique tree made from baskets....plus lots of gift certificates are included for other merchandise. In fact, many of the trees come with hundreds of dollars of gift certificates.)

(Above: A more traditional Christmas tree.)

By the end of the gala, my tree had a $250 bid...not bad. I valued it at $400...which is one of the least expensive ones in the event. Yet, I don't go out an solicit businesses for hundreds of dollars of gift certificates. I had 40 fiber ornaments valued at $10 each. The bidding actually stops on Sunday at 4 PM. People attending the gala can "guarantee" their bid at 75% (or thereabout) of the value. So, someone had to bid at least $300 at the gala in order purchase my tree. Alex's tabletop had a "gala take-home" price of $110. It sold that night for $130. Steve returned to the museum on Sunday to check the prices. Unfortunately, whoever bid that night had withdrawn their bid. My poor tree only had $100 on it. Steve bought back the tree for $125. Shadow, our cat, is thrilled to have it back in our living room. I'll likely sell the ornaments at the Artisan Center or something and reuse the tree and some of the ornaments again next year. It is a very good cause, a fabulous evening, and a tax deduction!

(Above: A winter wonderland Christmas tree.)

(Above: A Christmas tree constructed of grapevine wreathes.0

(Above: Only in South Carolina can one find silver palmetto trees for Christmas!)

(Above: Detail of the Chick-Filet Christmas tree skirt.)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Nutcracker Rehearsal

(Above: Alex and his friend Eddie)

What makes these next two weeks really busy are the events in which we are all involved. Thursday is the annual Vista Lights...an art event where all the downtown galleries and studios stay open (including mine), host shows, greet hundreds of people walking through our spaces and trying to talk about our work (and hopefully sell a piece or two). The next night is Festival of the Trees. Saturday is "Art Day"...a family day the continues the art activities of Vista Lights into the weekend. That weekend is also the time that the civic ballet company moves its Nutcracker sets, props, costumes, and company into the Township auditorium for a Thanksgiving week of performances.

This weekend, in addition to setting up at Festival of the Trees, Alex is consumed with Nutcracker rehearsals...the last full cast ones before going on the stage. I went by and took a few shots of the opening party scene. Alex will be wearing a tuxedo, waltzing, and playing the part of a party-goer. Later, he is a rat and Mother Ginger.

Preparing for Festival of the Trees

This was the first of several days during which Festival of the Trees prepares for its Friday night, black-tie gala in the atrium, lobbies, and major passways of the State Museum. Alex and I went to set up "The Blues"...both my tree and his "table top" decoration. There were hundreds of volunteers, donors, and hospital staff people on hand. Last year's event raised over $216,000. Everything remains on display through the weekend. 7,000 people walked through last year. For our donations, we get tickets...which otherwise cost $125 a piece. Television stations cover it. Local celebrities and politicians attend. St. Joseph's choirs sing Christmas carols to to arriving guests. There's valet parking, top shelf liquor, and specialty dishes from area restaurants. Photos with Santa Claus are always fun and it feels like a Christmas party on a movie set. It's all a very big deal.

(Above: Detail of The Blues, a Christmas tree based on my "Blues Chapel" installation. Below: Alex's table top decoration also based on The Blues".)

As high-class as this event is, Alex and I contribute for another reason. The charity is Children's Hospital. Over the years, the foundation has raised the money to improve the critical care unit...a place where Mathias spent his first Christmas. He had skull surgery at six months of age. We are all forever in Children's Hospital's debt.

Of course, there's a lot of "one-up-manship" going on between corporate sponsors. Many of the trees are totally "over the top"...but still mainly decorated with "made in China" ornaments bought wholesale in huge quantities at "market"...the wholesale establishments in Atlanta or North Carolina. Alex and I have always gone for "unique" and "handcrafted"...and the tree is generally on the main entryway...the red carpet. It's there again this year...which made me a little nervous. "The Blues" Christmas tree isn't terribly big. It doesn't rotate on a mechanical device and doesn't include thousands of dollars of "extra" gifts....but it doesn't look like anyone else's creation.

These images are mainly of other donors setting up their trees

(Above: Donated wreathes waiting to be hung in the windows.)

(Above: One of the wreaths already hanging. Below: Volunteers and staff people in the atrium with people setting up trees in the overlooking second floor area.)

(Below: Looking down on the pedestals on which the bidding sheets are held. Each wreathe, tree, and table top decoration has a bidding sheet.)

(Below: One of the most creative trees seen thus far...tennis rackets and dyed tennis balls. The man who made it is also an artist...and the father of a girl with muscular dystrophy who has been treated for nearly 20 years at Children's Hospital.)