Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Going without embroidery and Swan Lake

(Above: Real swans live in the quays around The Lowry Theater!)

I returned from England on April 6 and posted on my "regular" blog that I'd write seven entries based on my experiences during the week away. I've meant to write; I want to remember; I have the notes and all the photos. If I wait any longer, a month will have passed and I will forget. So, here's the first and second post together.

Going Without Embroidery.
The Ballet
(From my notebook, written while traveling.)
March 31, 2008

This entry begins another segment in my notebook, another adventuresome start into writing and traveling to England. It is hard to imagine that I've flown to the UK twice in the last six months. This is my third visit. I have no hand stitching project with me, no needles for the security guards, no Ziploc bag of yarn...just this "idea book" and a few magazines. My plan is to think and observe and to capture some vague notions for future art work. There must be a foggy vision of some half hidden meaning in my future...something like the unclear design that floated in my brain before I started Decisions, my installation. I am to look for it, new direction...concept ahead of technique, even ahead of design. I want my art to say something. This is much more difficult for me than being excited by some novel product or popular gimmick.


The plane flew all night across the black outside. I sat on the aisle; so, even if there were stars, I couldn't see one. Headphones leaked a static drone. I hate headphones, don't use them...just endure everyone else's pumping frequencies into the air. The televisions were mounted to the seatbacks; they spilled illumination into the darkness. Sleep was impossible. A family sat in the row ahead of me. The baby shifted from moaning to outright screaming for the entire trans-Atlantic flight. I understood. This was eight obnoxious hours...loud, light, boring travel in cramped conditions with strangers. I should have brought a novel. I missed my embroidery. If there was some vision for art, I missed it.

I tried to think of eco-friendly art. "Does the Earth Cry?" This was a line in my book Earth Moods. I thought about rusty bits from the old Cline Steel site wrapped around a vintage table cloth...staining the fabric. Hand stitching is certainly "green". Just a stir of creativity, nothing really captivating.

Our plane was late to Amsterdam. I had just enough time to rush down a hallway of gates and up another one to a bus bound for a parking lot of KLM City Hopper planes. Less than twenty-minutes later I was above the English Channel talking to a nice lady returning after a California holiday. The flight was brief. Customs was a breeze. Within a few short minutes, I'd grabbed my luggage and was on the familiar tubes going to the airport rail station. The ticket I bought included the Manchester metrolink ride from Piccadilly Circus to Salford Quays. The Premier Inn hotel sign was visible from the platform. Mathias had left the room key at the desk.

(Above: Mathias in one of the Act I costumes...not as Benno!...and Laura-Jane Gibson as a swan! Aren't they a beautiful couple. Click on image to enlarge.)

I showered, changed, and headed into a forceful wind outside...looking for the Lowry, a theater in which Swan Lake would be performed. It wasn't hard to find. It's a large, modern complex at the end of the pennisula..steel and windows with brilliant interior colors peeking pink, marigold, electric blue, and royal purple...a blaze of color. I walked around inside the half deserted building that has two eating areas, a small art gallery, a gift shop, coat room, and a box office. The area is heavily industrialized. Old Trapford, the Manchester United soccer facility sits across the choppy water. I finally asked for a public telephone only to realize that I'd left Mathias' number back in the hotel room. I pulled my nerves together, "Where's the stage door?"

(Above: Mathias and one of the other BRB dancers in the costumes of the "ambassadors" who accompany the princesses that come in hopes of marrying Siegfried. Click on image to enlarge.)

I learned a long time ago that "back stage" was not a place I enjoyed. I'd like it if I were invisible...a fly on the wall...but not as a "ballet mom". There is no escaping the fact that I have a son that dances; I just don't want to be known as a "ballet mom". Avoiding such areas has allowed me to keep my distance. I found the stage door.

Inside a nice, black man with a unique, possibly Caribbean accent, went for Mathias. We hugged. "Come on, Mom," he said. He guided me past rolling hangers of exotic costumes, around props, stage doors, crew members talking into microphones about curtains, dancers in every direction. Music hung in the air. We opened another door to a flight of steps and came out in the auditorium. Friend of BRB were watching the afternoon rehearsal. Act III was about to start. I took a seat at the back. Mathias had to go. What an opportunity!

(Above and below: The Lowry Theater at Salford Quays outside Manchester.)

The dancers were in warm up clothes. A few of the female soloists donned "practice tutus". It became obvious that this rehearsal for being conducted by Marion Tait, the company's former principal dancer, current ballet mistress, and Siegfried's mother in this production. Her goal was to teach the new conductor tempos for each dancing segment. A pianist provided the music. The conductor scribbled a note or two. Tonight he'd have to remember these subtle speeds while leading the orchestra.

Between Act III and IV a lady walked up the aisle toward me. I knew immediately that she must be Janet McNulty, one of the better writers on the BRB Friends section of
I've so enjoyed her posts since Mathias joined the company. Each one is positive and just glows with excitement...a true fan. "Are you Susan Lenz?" We sat together and chatted. Janet McNulty is even more wonderful in person than her nice writing suggests.

(Above: Mathias and Laura-Jane Gibson with "super fan" Janet McNulty. Click on image to enlarge.)

Watching the rehearsal only whet my appetite for the performance. When it finished, I found myself being introduced as an artist to the other BRB Friends in the lobby. Mathias and Laura Jane finally arrived. Mathias did a quick introduction. I started to extend my hand. Laura Jane initiated warm hug; I liked her instantly. She shook hands with the others. Mathias used his company ID to purchase a discounted seat for that evening. We said good-bye to the "friends"...until curtain time. Over dinner, conversation was easy and natural. Laughter.

I returned to the hotel to change for the show, anxious to see Swan Lake from the start, in full costume, with a live orchestra...especially anxious to see Act see the role of Benno, Siegfried's friend. This is the role Mathias will dance tomorrow. What a wonderful opportunity this first performance was. I got to see the ballet like any other member of the audience before seeing it a second time when all my attention will be on watching Mathias.

Nearly every seat was taken. The orchestra was first rate. Nao Sakuma was positively breath-taking in the dual role of Odette/Odile. She is confident and strong, fragile and timid, everything perfect for two characters....every turn perfect, double and triple pirouettes in a line of fourettes. I adored the character dancing executed by each princess's entourage. The costuming was fabulous, rich and exotic. The end is perfectly tragic. Benno's part is certainly a major one...first on the stage, miming the story, full pas de trois in Act I, joining others in later parts, and finally carrying the dead prince from the lake as the curtain falls. By the end of the performance, I was thrilled and worried...thrilled to have seen the best Swan Lake I've ever witnessed...and worried for Mathias. Mathias, of course, had been mentally preparing for days...actually, he's been preparing for his entire life. With eyes toward a principal position, he's ready for destiny and full of confidence. I could use a little of this attitude in my own art.

Mathias, Laura Jane, and I went for a late bite to eat, then to sleep...which was uneasy despite the lack of it after travel. Visions of dancing drifted in and out of my art, just a touch of worry and excitement.

Mathias' cellphone alarm failed to ring. We overslept...which meant I did, in fact, sleep. We missed coffee with Laura-Jane. Mathias rushed off to ballet class. I went to Bradford...but that's another post. When I returned in the late afternoon, it was time to go to the see Mathias as Benno.

(Above: Mathias and Laura-Jane at Salford Quays. Click on image to enlarge.)

I went by way of the stage door, delivering my camera with hopes for a few backstage photographs. The nice man remembered me and grabbed the first dancer to walk had to be Jamie Bond, the prince for the evening...the elastic strap across his shoulder read, "Sigfried". Mathias didn't use it though; but, my camera served as a reminder. He used his own. Later, he took the ones posted here. He's promised me the ones in the Benno costume this summer.

Meanwhile, I took my seat as soon as the doors were opened. The crowd assembled, filling every seat in view...older people, young couples, a few dads with very young, princess-clad daughters, Indian girls in school uniforms, gay men in clusters, inter-radical families, some dressed to the "nines", others in t-shirts and jeans munching on sweets...a diverse four tiered audience of ballet fans. It was wonderful to see. The lights were dimmed; the conductor applauded; the overture began. Tears welled up in the corners of my eyes as if for the "pre-scene" funeral procession...the dead king being carried across the stage setting up the plot of a young prince being forced to take a bride and become king. The curtain opened and Mathias was first on stage, leading the others, miming the action. All of Act I is about the prince, his situation, his depression, dilemna. Mathias danced the part of a confidante, a best friend but with appropriate respect and a tinge of subservience. His every movement served to clarify the prince's predicament. He tried to cheer the prince with a dance...a full pas de trois, Mathias and two girls. He danced very well. His partnering was strong and graceful. He looked comfortable and confidant. I knew he had to be pleased with his performance. My tears flowed.

During the intermission, Janet McNulty and other "friends" handed out compliments. One among them subtly reminded me why I'm not part of such a group. Much of her comments crossed a line into gossip. She spoke as if everyone knew that David Bintley favored certain dancers, especially certain female body types. She actually said that shorter guys have greater advantages due to this favoritism, and she asked me what I thought...right in front of the others. In my quirky way, I made a joke of myself...feigning total "ballet stupidity". I said I'd happily trade my "imperfect" shape for any one of the shapes on they all looked "perfect" to me. I said that I thought all the taller guys likely wished to be shorter...that all the shorter guys likely wished to be taller...and that I thought the majority of the men were all within an inch or two of one another anyway. Each time this lady said something, I was uncomfortable; I think some of the others were too. When asked if I'd be returning for the next day's show, I simply said that I didn't have a ticket.

I thought about such it doesn't reflect well on the gossiper. I thought about this attitude ostracizes the speaker. I thought about myself and my silly bouts of fear and envy in the art world. I know I must rid myself of such attitudes. As an artist, I can't force the world to accept me. I can't force inspiration. The only path to success is personal acceptance and personal satisfaction. Happiness breeds more happiness. Mathias is a witness to this. His confidence and hard work pays off. No amount of bitterness will help him progress in this or any other ballet company. This is just one of the many reasons he is pure joy to watch dance...even through my nervousness! He was great. He'll continue to grow and improve. The evening was a slice of heaven.

(Above: Old Trapford...across the water from the Lowry. This is the soccer stadium for Manchester United. Mathias toured it one of the days we were there. He's a fan!)

Steve and I in Stephen Chesley's studio

Our friend Stephen Chesley took these photos during the Artista Vista art reception. Obviously, we were having a great evening!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Blues Chapel in Edgefield...a video!

Blues Chapel in of the votive candles

Blues Chapel in Edgefield


Over the weekend I packed the van. The church pew has been inside my van for over two weeks. It seemed the only place to store it. In the meantime, Steve worked with the iPod...checking the Blues music, the wiring, and the speaker system. "Church bulletins" for the pews, exhibition brochures, a new resume and list of included work, and a new sign were printed. New votive candles were purchased. Everything was ready to go yesterday morning.

We leisurely drove to Edgefield, South Carolina. It's a little over an hours drive. The installation went as smoothly as I'd hoped. Everything looks wonderful....except the electrical outlets. There was no way to effectively hide them....unless I create, perhaps a bucket of additional artificial roses slightly sprayed with black paint....something to think about.

There's a very good chance the the exhibition will be extended. This would be a wonderful opportunity for the Region 2 Discovery Center to publicize the show. It would also allow me to simply move these pieces directly to the larger exhibition scheduled for Pickens County Museum. I hope this works out.

This is the first time I've hung Bessie's Quilt, The Madonna of the Blues icon, and the fifteen pieces in the series "Elements in Blue". There will be a reception but the dates haven't been finalized yet.

We only used one string of twinkle lights but it was exactly enough. The wooden offering plates are also new to the installation. They've been borrowed from my neighbor. In each one is an old 45 record onto which I collaged a Blues label.

The "church bulletin" and fans sit on the pew. The bulletin reads like a Sunday service...with two "readings", hymns, a homily, a note of floral dedication, and a benediction. Obviously, the hymns are lyrics to Blues songs. The readings include the mission statement of the AME Church. The homily is a thumbnail of each of the twenty-four Blues singers with a brief biography. There's a mention of Mother's Day too...which is a day during the exhibition. I used a verse suggested from an AME church website for this occasion....strong, powerful, and very appropriate to the spirit of this installation.

The music is set on a low volume but is clearly the Blues....Bessie Smith, Big Mama Thornton, and Nina Simone.

I took a few videos with my camera and will try posting them too.

I hope everyone seeing this exhibition is moved.