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October 31, 2006

London update

After whining about not wanting to stay in Kensington a $131/night bid was rejected for Mayfair/Bloomsbury, though with a "raise your bid by $22 and we'll let you bid again" offer, which tends to mean that one is in striking range. All the same, I knew that Kensington would go for around $85 and the price differential was starting to get to me. Moreover I have a Flyertalk buddy who'll be in London, we'd like to meet up and he is staying in Kensington.

So I relented. Bid $83/night, worked up by $1 intervals, hit at $85 at the Millennium Gloucester. I've stayed there before (it's just fine) and that's where he is as well, so getting together will be easier and it was $208 total for two nights instead of upwards of $320. I'm glad to be staying in Central London on Thursday, but I think it will make less of a difference on Friday especially, when I'm just coming back from Bristol in the afternoon and then heading to Covent Garden.

On top of that, another Flyertalk buddy will be in London at the same time as I found out from my other friend. The funny thing is this third friend just moved to NYC and we've been meaning to get together for dinner for months. So I guess we'll do so in London instead!

As is my wont, I'm enjoyably, stupidly overbooked for this trip.

Arrive London Wednesday morning.

See Lynette for lunch
See Alexander for dinner
See the Wheeldon/MacGregor/Balanchine triple bill at Covent Garden (for Pointe Magazine)

Head to Bristol to visit family Thurs am.

Head back to London Fri afternoon
See Schlepping Beauty (Tamara Rojo and Carlos Acosta) at Covent Garden Friday night.
Drinks with Bryan and Albert afterwards?

I've never seen The Changing of the Guards, so I think I may try to do that Sat morning before heading to Covent Garden again.
Another Schlepping Beauty (Marianela Nunez and Thiago Soares)
I've kept Saturday after the ballet open in case Alexandra is free.

Get on a plane home Sunday mid morning.

It won't all get done, but I'll have fun trying.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 11:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 30, 2006

Todd Bolender (1914-2006) on Agon

In honor of Mr. Bolender's life I'm offering the transcript of the phone conversation we had regarding Agon. It was the only contact I ever had with him. The Library for the Performing Arts has Bolender on film in the 1960 taping of Agon discussed below, and I also recall a very interesting interview with him conducted by Billie Mahoney for Dance On.

Leigh Witchel Interview notes with Todd Bolender (by telephone) on Balanchine's Agon 4/9/97 8:30 p.m. (EDT)

Do you have any idea why you were cast to do Agon?
I haven't the faintest idea.

Do you remember how Balanchine taught the ballet? Counts, Rhythms, Metaphors?
He taught the opening quartet first. The solo parts came later, though he worked very fast.

Were the rehearsals usually full-cast or only specific parts?
Done totally in piecemeal - worked a lot at night, because they were on Broadway and classes were held in the studio during the day. They would work on different sections and in different studios. He recalls many rehearsals being on stage.

Were there specific corrections he gave repeatedly? (i.e. sharper, jazzier - et al?)
He was always after clarity of movement and dynamics, he didn't push with words, just asked you to try again, and he would demonstrate how he wanted it.

Were there changes made in the first year?
"There were no changes I know of until I left. - upon reflection, there was one thing changed in the finale of the trio." It was a minor change, but doesn't remember specifically. [Bolender left NYCB in 1962 - returned in 1971 to dance The Concert] "No one else danced the role until I left, I didn't teach Villella the role. The only person I ever taught a role to was Arthur Mitchell, in The Four Temperaments." [Phlegmatic].

Was the ballet set to counts - were the counts of the ballet always the counts of the score, or did it have an independent rhythm? Were counts added later?
"I got to a point where I simply gave up counting. He taught it to counts, but they were always so peculiar" Milly [Melissa Hayden] and Diana [Adams] insisted on counting - and they were insistent about their correctness. They were counting on stage "to the bitter end." He remembers hearing them hiss their final count under their breath as they took the last pose with the arm across the chest in the opening. "I finally did it primarily by ear, sometimes it would be necessary to close your ears to their counts. I almost never counted anything ever." For the variation, he did it by listening, the relationship to the music was so specific.

How hard was the ballet for the original cast?
"It was 'breath taking'" - very taxing (he remembers always feeling like there was not enough time between his var and the coda in the pas de trois. The female duet is very brief.) "The intricacy of the movement made it exhausting and the precision necessary. I remember working endlessly [with Balanchine on the pas de trois] before performances, even after we opened, on the pas de trois, it was the heightening, to make it even better. And it was always somehow the last rehearsal in the afternoon before performances." Kept trying to refine it. No changes of steps, pushed dynamics.

About how long did it take to make the dance? (The order in which it was made?)
made VERY quickly

Were there changes that occurred in the ballet the first year? Simplifications?
No changes, but as he said, refinements, and Balanchine kept rehearsing it to get specific precise dynamics.

The 1960 filming:

Do you remember anything about the circumstances of the film? Was it a difficult shoot? Was any spacing or steps changed?
"I do indeed, because I lost my shoe at the beginning of the variation - during the drags on the heel at the beginning of the variation, I pulled the heel off." Bolender kicked his shoe off at the grands battement; it shot it into the wings. "John Taras used to say when re-setting 'Agon', 'Now this is is the place where Todd loses his shoe.' That was terrifying to Bolender. 'What do I do? Bend down and throw it off stage?' [The shoe comes off his right foot on the last heel drag. He battements it into the wings a few seconds later when he does a back curve.]

Seeing the ballet again after leaving the company (must have been late 60's, early 70's)
When he saw Agon again, he saw how difficult it was - and how wonderful Tony Blum was in his role. Very pleased to see it performed in such in such a manner. Not sure if he ever saw Eddie [Villella] do it. Might have seen Allegra in the lead, quite different from Diana (majestic, commanding) but quite wonderful (seeing something something so beautiful, but it's inconceivable that it could happen in just that way.) fragile, feminine. Balanchine would often cast a totally different body type as a successor to the role. Did not feel that the performance and quality of the lead affected the other dancers, though "It certainly would have never affected me." He would watch quite a bit (since his part was in the beginning) and loved to watch the work. Liked Watts and Tobias particularly. Was never asked to coach the role, and feels that he would refuse, simply a question of memory. "With Four T's it took me years to learn how to perform that, and it was by doing it over and over again, and with Agon I didn't have that time."

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 8:54 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 29, 2006

Leigh on TV

The miles and points segment is available online.

Alas, it was only 11 a.m. and I still have Richard Milhous Nixon five o'clock shadow. I need a stylist and/or better lighting.

Update 10/30/06: Here's the story on WCBS in New York. It's mostly the same with a few small changes in filler and a different woman in a suit reading the script.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 11:31 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

October 27, 2006

Latest Dance Article

From Ballet Review, Fall 2006 (not available online) on the Joffrey Ballet's "Cool Vibrations" program in Chicago last April:

More than a decade after leaving New York the company is dancing well, is organizationally sound and on impressively solid financial footing. Only a handful of dancers who entered the company before its move are still here but it looks much as it did in New York, including a repertory of varying quality from Ashton and Ballets Russes masterpieces to schlock. The dancers commit top energy to every step they do, which is needed for the lesser works in the repertory, but they will need to change gears when they dance choreography like Ashton’s Cinderella that they don’t need to sell.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 6:59 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 26, 2006

Two updates

Mileage Eggspert:

While talking to Mom today, she exclaimed in the midst of the conversation, “I saw you on TV yesterday!” I didn’t get any advance warning that the segment ran; it sounded from Mom's general description as if they used a clip of me explaining the basics of how to use shopping portals. Mom also said they showed me sitting down at a computer (we had to troop down to the interviewers office to set up that fake shot at the interviewer's desk) and she reported they said I was smart. Of course I’m smart; I’m a mileage eggspert. I wrote to the production company to see if I could get a copy of the clip.


As I thought might be the case, Asiarooms could not get the Bonnington at such a low rate. I booked the Thistle Marble Arch via Octopus for the 22nd; the same offer isn’t there for the 24th-26th. Priceline bidding is harder than it should be; it has rejected up to $125/night ($152 total with fees) and rates aren’t particularly high at some of the common hotels (Thistle Marble Arch, Cumberland, Hilton London Euston) to explain. I’ll bid in $1 increments up to $130 – at that point I will make a cancelable reservation somewhere inexpensive and hope prices break.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 7:56 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 25, 2006

London dithering, again.

Once again I’m dithering on London accommodations.

I will be there in November on the evening of the 22nd and from the 24th through the 26th. Priceline isn’t giving me love. Well, it would give me love if I loved Kensington, but that isn’t the love I want. It’s pretty obvious I could get the Millennium Gloucester for about $85/night plus taxes+fees but staying in Central London last trip convinced me that I just don’t want to stay in Kensington. For me, it would be like vacationing in Manhattan but staying in Queens; I have nothing against it, but nothing I want to do is there.

Usually hotels in the Bloomsbury zone go for around $100-105/night but the counter offers I’ve gotten have been $140 for the weekend and $210 for the 22nd. The usual counteroffer for a $100-105 win is about $10 higher. I’ve bid up to $120; no dice, so I am now looking at other alternatives.

This means scouring the other booking websites; here are my findings.

Three other sites offer opaque booking, Hotwire, Lastminute.com and Lastminutetravel.com or Easyclicktravel.com – their engines are the same. The most useful tool for navigating Hotwire are the hotel lists at Better Bidding, which give some idea what a hotel might be based on featured amenities. 4* in Bloomsbury are offered at $138 on the weekend, but taxes and fees jack that up to $150 or more, which is starting to not be enough of a savings to justify losing control of the process.

Lastminutetravel and Lastminute.com (they are very different sites; try both) offers “Top Secret” and “Off the Record” hotels respectively. Both give enough of a description of the hotel to make a very educated guess what it is – Better Bidding has an invaluable reverse search that takes the URL from Easyclick or Lastminutetravel and tells you which hotel it thinks it may be.

The pickings at Lastminute.com are rather expensive for these days; the Off the Record hotels in Bloomsbury at lastminutetravel.com turned out to be those of the Imperial Hotel chain – several large budget hotels up Southhampton Row and Woburn Place around Russell Square and Tavistock Place. They’re a good location for me, but the hotels themselves get mixed reviews. Price range is between $106 for a single at the Royal National and $148 for a double at the Imperial – in all cases tax and breakfast included.

Two rate comparison websites that are useful are hotelscomparison.com and kayak.com. No booking engine had consistently lowest rates; they each have their own advantages.

Of the big US engines (Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity), Expedia seemed to turn up the best bargains. With all of them you really need to get outside information; their star ratings for hotels seems to be created with a dartboard.

The best possibility on Expedia was a single room at the Strand Palace for $154 including taxes and fees. It will be small, but the location is close to perfect for someone going to Covent Garden. Similar low prices were also found at hotels.com.

Orbitz occasionally has promotional code offerings, but the booking engine itself is rife with inaccuracies; hotels that are available on other sites are listed as without available rooms on Orbitz (which only means that Orbitz no longer has an allotment of rooms)

Octopus Travel and Hotel Club offer an option very useful for the solo traveler to the UK, the separate “twin for sole use” category. Single rooms are like cupboards in England, the ability to get a double room at a discount is helpful. Hotel Club’s rates weren’t the lowest in any category; Octopus Travel had great rates on the Bonnington Hotel, a more modern alternative to the other hotels on Southhampton Row with more facilities as well; but they were “on request” – where Octopus needs to check with the hotel for availability and the Bonnington turned it down. Because I have time, I tried Asiarooms.com, a Singapore based travel agency that Kayak.com turned up with similar low rates for the Bonnington. Like Octopus, they also only have the rooms “on request”. Their inventory may not be different, but it’s worth a try. Octopus also has the Thistle Marble Arch available on the 22nd in a Twin for Sole Use category for $158 with breakfast, taxes and fees included.

If the Bonnington doesn’t pan out at Asiarooms, I’ll make a decision trying to balance location, price and quality. If you're wondering why I'm not investigating B&B's, the truth is I don't like them. Give me a clean, chararacterless hotel with wireless internet access and a good fitness center any day over charm and character. I get that from the city itself, I want my hotel to be a calm, neutral place where I can get things done.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 11:33 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 23, 2006

Love? What's Love?

Greetings from San Francisco! I'm having a blast in warm weather and surrounded by friends. More on that when I return tomorrow.

The fitness room at the Hilton Financial District had tame elliptical trainers that like me. Even my .mp3 player decided to cooperate and play a series of songs I like (Best song for sprinting - Happy Badgers)

When I was cooling down, the .mp3 player considerately played Only You by Yaz from Upstairs at Eric's. That got me to thinking about favorite love songs.

This is different from "hot songs", or songs to dance horizontally by. Those would be Wicked Game from Heart Shaped World by Chris Isaak, More Than This from Avalon by Roxy Music (but were Bryan Ferry and Tiny Tim separated at birth?) and "Down to Zero" or "Love and Affection" by Joan Armatrading. Evidently, the folks at Youtube don't like those songs as much as "Weakness in Me", which gets several slashy treatments, both gay and lesbian. I've selected for you the Jake Gyllenhaal version. Mmmm. Jake.

Back to favorite love songs, besides "Only You", two other songs that came to mind are, appropriately enough, from 69 Love Songs by the Magnetic Fields, Book of Love and Asleep and Dreaming (sorry, can't find it online).

I think there's a pattern to both my favorite hot songs and my favorite love songs. Tell me yours. That's what the comments are for.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 1:09 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 21, 2006

Portland: Coming and Leaving II

Bernie dropped me off at the hotel and I met my friend Joan Schrouder shortly after to go to Oregon Ballet Theatre. Joan is a knitting buddy. She teaches nationally; she and I met a decade ago at Stitches. After a quick Thai meal we walked to the Keller Auditorium. The crowd milling in front of the theater was more dressed up than I had anticipated; I forgot this was the opening night of the season.

When I invited Joan, I described the program as being “a great program for someone who doesn’t get to go to the ballet all the time.” This isn’t an insult; that’s 99% of OBT’s audience. We’re spoiled in the dance capitals. The company was bringing The Four Temperaments and The Concert to Portland for the first time. It was heartening to see the house very full. OBT danced 4Ts as I’ve seen other smaller regional companies do it – like a precious gift. It’s great to see it from a fresher perspective. Francia Russell, artistic director Christopher Stowell’s mother (and director emeritus at Pacific Northwest Ballet) set this version – which is slightly different than City Ballets (think pink lampshades instead of white ones). We know each other tangentially from the series of interviews I did with her in 1997 about Agon and Melissa Hayden’s coaching sessions at the Balanchine Foundation but we’ve talked more often than she’s seen me. I waved at her from my seat and she returned the greeting with the sickly look I recognized from the times I’ve had to warmly greet someone while I was racking my brains trying to figure out who they were.

A group of PNB dancers (I recognized Benjamin Griffiths and Jordan Pacitti) were two rows behind me to cheer on their fellow dancers; sure enough, there was Peter.

“You again!” I pointed at him in mock accusation.

“You’re everywhere,” he said, bemused.

The best part of all was that Joan loved the evening. It’s such a joy to take someone to the ballet that doesn’t usually get to go.

Sunday morning I was scheduled to meet internet knitting buddies at Mabel’s, a yarn shop/café. Just as I was about to find the #4 bus Gary called and asked me if I wanted a ride in the rain. We drove through bohemian neighborhoods across the Willamette River. I met Duffy and Melissa there and we spent a relaxing morning knitting and gabbing. I worked primarily on the sleeve of Owen Robert’s Aran. Duffy was starting the toe of a sock; Melissa was working on afghan squares in a mauve ombre alpaca and Gary was making a very simple scarf but in the most tactile yarn – Jo Sharp Alpaca Georgette. Really tasty stuff; we were all copping a feel. I took a tour round the shop, but beyond the Blackberry scone (thank you, Gary!) and the almond hot chocolate; I remained on my yarn diet.

I met Bernie and his daughter Gwen at the matinee. Gwen is getting ready to go down to Miami City Ballet to study at the school. Unfortunately but understandably, the Keller auditorium was more sparsely populated than at the opening and the performance was slightly weaker. One of the big differences between a smaller company and a major one is the depth of the company in casting. That’s a direct function of size. OBT may double cast each ballet, but they don’t really have two casts.

After the performance we walked around the fountain directly opposite the theater and I took a picture reminiscent of the Japanese Gardens.


We then went out for the seafood I had been craving at Jake’s. When in Portland, go to Jake's (Yes, it's part of a chain. No, it doesn't taste that way at all.) Get the crab and shrimp cakes, and also the Dungeness Crab Leg cocktail. They go perfectly together. If you ask nicely, the waiters might do half orders (ours added a crab cake to the plate to make for even splitting). I placed myself in the amiably pushy waitress' hands (I like waitresses who tell you what’s particularly good on the menu) and she insisted I have the locally caught wild salmon and then the Chocolate Bag for dessert. The salmon was cedar plank roasted with slight woody tang and exactly as she promised, the chocolate bag containing white chocolate mousse and berries in raspberry sauce was lighter than the description made one suspect. It was an absolutely wonderful meal, as was the company.

On Monday morning the sky began a sodden gray, but as in Vermont, the weather in Portland changes rapidly because of the mountains. It brightened up about an hour later and I had just enough to have time for a walk along the river – the hotel was right next to it. There were flocks of geese, leaves turning colors, boats and joggers.


I bought a blueberry muffin from a shop on the walk and sat down on a bench to watch the river.



By the time I rode back to the airport on light rail it was overcast again, but the scenery was still lovely with grays, greens and yellows. Portland, like Seattle, is a city that prides itself on quality of life; clean public transit and free wifi in the airport. It seems almost quaint to a New Yorker, we don’t do “quality of life” here. But then again, we can’t.

On the walk back from the river just as I got back to the Four Points, I paused to admire a climbing rose on the side of the hotel. Most of the flowers were fading, but lower down one was still in full flower.


It was a lovely way to say goodbye to the City of Roses.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 1:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 20, 2006

Portland: Coming and Leaving I


In four weekends I will have crossed the country three times. You wouldn’t think anyone would do this for pleasure, would you? The oddest thing about this was the productivity of these trips. I get a lot done on the plane and because of the three hour earlier time difference, a lot done in the early morning – knitting, writing and reading.

My route to Portland was an American Airlines transcon to SFO, connecting from there to PDX. I’ve taken the JFK-SFO flight several times before, but this time as I landed I realized my SFO-PDX flight wasn’t on AA metal; it was a codeshare on Alaska Airlines. With a sense of foreboding, I asked the man next to me if American and Alaska were in the same terminal. Of course they’re not. I have just over an hour between flights and headwinds are making the plane 10-15 minutes late. The sprint wasn’t desperate, but it was brisk; I had to leave terminal 3 and walk to terminal 1. You have to leave the secure area, but the buildings are connected by an interior corridor. The route is odd because it passes through what seems like a deserted concourse; you’re convinced you’ve gone the wrong way, but if you press on, the Alaska concourse is there. I had to check in yet again at Alaska and the self serve machine didn’t work, so I needed to wait for the ticket agent. At this point it was 7:24 and the flight left at 8:03. I knew I would make it, but I wasn’t thrilled about having to (politely) get his attention and tell him that I really needed him to check me in. Now. At security – which had a grand total of ONE checkpoint until they took pity and opened a second I showed the guard my boarding pass and he let me jump ahead in line.

Alaska Airline’s flight to Portland isn’t much more than an hour (think NYC to Boston or DC) and getting from PDX to the hotel is simple; the city has comfortable direct light rail for $2. The ticket machines even take credit cards. It took between 30-45 minutes to get to the city center, and a few minutes to orient myself and find the Sheraton Four Points. It was about 11 pm or 2 am in my body. There was one person at check-in. Alas, in front of me were a group of ladies with hairdos. They wanted to know about the garage. They wanted to know about billing. They wanted to know about rollaway cots. I put my head on the counter and started sobbing.

Once the ladies with hairdos were dispatched (it was bloodless) I settled into my room and found a deli a block away. The Four Points is a typical of the brand; smaller rooms and fewer services than a full Sheraton and less public space, but acceptable if you don’t need the services. Both wired and wireless is free, but wireless is unreliable – the signal petered out a few rooms up the hall. Luckily, I keep a 14 foot Ethernet cable packed in my suitcase. The hotel staff is very polite and competent, but there are too few of them. My room didn’t get cleaned the next day until after 6 pm.

I walked around the next morning, and saw a sign for Todai, a seafood buffet that also has a branch in NYC. Mmm. Fish. The buffet was on the fourth floor of a mall, after the meal in my distraction from trying to reach people on my cell phone I went to the bottom floor of the escalator, not realizing it was below street level. I spent five minutes trying to figure my way out of the mall.

In New York City, though the seasons change and you know it from the light and the temperature, you don’t always connect with the change; my usual walk to work doesn’t take me past many trees. Portland was coming into high color in an almost New England manner – maples in scarlet and yellow – and it was my chance to connect with fall.

A friend from Ballet Talk, Bernie, met me in the afternoon for a driving tour of downtown. Portland’s downtown is clean, charming and manageable. It seems to be from two different fin-de-siècles. Yes, we went past Powell’s. Bernie noticed me glomming endlessly on the trees and took pity; we went to Washington Park.


and saw the Rose Garden breathe its last soft sighs before the winter as well as the beautiful Japanese Garden. I’d say the garden is stunning, but it’s too contemplative to describe it that way. It’s on a few terraced acres and has several different aspects.

There are two Zen gardens, one (pictured) of sand



and one of weathered stones. Portland skyscraper seen through Bonsai.


The views everywhere were beautiful. Like the Bonsai, the entire garden was nature forced into ideals; an entire garden rigorously planned, pruned and bound to look “natural”.


Posted by Leigh Witchel at 1:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 19, 2006

Current Knitting: Oooh, baby, baby

Everyone is breeding.

Connie's second child, who when I last spoke to her still had his placeholder name of "Kangaroo," made his debut last Thursday. I didn't know this, but spent most of the flight the next day to San Francisco (en route to Portland) knitting his sweater.


(Apologies, it's not your eyes, it's my lousy camera skills.) The yarn is Emu Superwash, bought in the basement sale room at Romni Wools in Toronto last year on a foray with Stephanie, Danny and Cassandra. Like most machine washable wools and cottons, it was bought with future babies in mind. When I use an ombre yarn, chevron knitting patterns are among the first I try; they tend to make the variegation more interesting.

I'm at the armhole division and was swatching for the yoke. I planned on using trinity (or blackberry, or bramble, or whatever of a zillion names you call it) stitch; in other sweaters it's also worked well with variegated yarns with short repeats, breaking the colors into little multicolored popcorns.

I've done the merest scrap of a swatch here, but I'm already concerned.


That's looking not very bobbly and suspiciously muddy. I may try again because I changed the way I increased for the bobbles. Usually I knit, purl and knit into the same stitch; this time I knit three times into the stitch. It makes a smaller hole, but it also throws the bobble off center, and that may be why it looks wrong. If not, I've pulled out my Walker treasuries to find other patterns to swatch on the plane.

Connie wanted something simpler than the Aran below.


This will now go to Amy's boy to be, Owen Robert. That is how it looked after the flight to Portland. I redid the end of one of the sleeves that wasn't in proportion and flared too much, and finished the other sleeve and it looked like this yesterday:


I'm now working on the bottom border. Connie's reasoning was kind; the elaborate sweater is more meant for a first baby. Indeed it was; it was originally knit for her first child Alex, and set aside about 3/4 done because I thought it would be too small for him (I was wrong, by the way.)

The back:


And in closer detail:


In the office, today was Jennifer's last day; she should be giving birth to Jay Dee in about two weeks time.


The blue hat was my gift; it's yet another toilet paper cozy cap, but topped off with I-Cord. Instead of decreasing down to 6 stitches, I decreased to 12 and worked 3 I-Cords of 4 stitches each, knotting them in different spots.

I made the same hat in the Turkish Fez colors I used in the Knit.1 article for a gift for Alex. I figured with all the attention Kangaroo will be getting, he may need some acknowledgment as well.

In non-baby knitting, the scarf for Rajika was quickly finished and presented to her when we both went to Shen Wei. I thought the brilliant colors were right for her; happily she was delighted.


Currently on the needles, socks for my sister-in-law.


The usual pattern, knit on US1 needles in Brown Sheep Wildfoote; the older formulation that everyone complained about, so I figured I had best knit it to get it out of my stash. I can’t say it is the most wonderful sock yarn I have ever used, but it isn’t the worst. To prevent second sock syndrome, I do each sock part alternatively; first one cuff then the next, then one calf to the heel turning, then the other and so on. It also seems like the socks are more consistent than if I knit the first entirely and then the second.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 11:26 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 16, 2006

Latest Dance Article

Conversations with a Legend on Pandit Birju Maharaj:

Sen, the senior of Maharaj’s students, announced that instead of performing an eleven beat composition, she would perform a new one of nine and a half beats. Nine and a half. I asked a friend expert in Indian dance to count the beats after the performance; it wasn’t possible with English numbers, but could be done with bols. It seemed the performance’s length was because Maharaj was enjoying himself so much that he could not stop.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 1:51 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 14, 2006

New Yorkers are very rare and delicate creatures

As Andrew Holleran said in Dancer from the Dance about Sutherland, we're like sea urchins or other fragile underwater creatures. Remove us from our pressurized environment and we perish.

Greetings from Portland, Oregon. I just spent five minutes trying to figure out how to exit a mall.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 3:47 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

October 10, 2006



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October 8, 2006

Latest Dance Articles - I'm exhausted edition

Two coasts. Seven days. Five performances. Four Articles.

I'm not reviewing anything next week. Yay.

I have two articles this week in DVT. Scenes from the Buffet covers Fall for Dance's program - coincidentally that also contained a dance by PNB.

. . . a choreographer needs to make journeyman works. Even so, bringing to City Center good dancers in choreography that isn’t distinctive enough to hold its own against previous versions makes the company look provincial, and worse, reinforces the stereotype of ballet wasting great dancers on unremarkable dances.

My review of their hometown program for B-R is considerably more positive.

Birthdays and Repetitions covers Reich@70 at BAM, with performances by Akram Khan and Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker.

“Fase” would have been fascinating if only for the endurance involved. Set to four of Reich’s compositions, “Piano Phase”, “Come Out”, “Violin Phase” and “Clapping Music”, it was about 40 minutes long and was danced by only two dancers. It was quite a feat, not just of endurance.

The article on Pandit Birju Maharaj will come out in the following issue of Danceview Times, and the Pacific Northwest Ballet piece in a future issue of Ballet Review.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at 9:10 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 7, 2006

Recent Priceline Bidding - no bed of roses

My Portland, Oregon, bid on Priceline was not one of my best. It beat other conventional means of bidding but not by as much as I would have hoped.

The most common 3* hotel win in Portland seems to be the Doubletree Lloyd Center; it has gone for as low as $34; the usual win (when there is inventory) is around $41. The Doubletree was sold out on my dates; other hotels don’t discount their inventory to Priceline as strongly. I was creeping up by $2 per bid thinking surely I would hit something by $45. Surely by $55. I didn’t even start to get rebid offers (increase your bid by $22 and we will let you bid again on the exact same bid) until around $62. I continued using a free rebid zone instead (for 3*, Portland has two, Beaverton and NW Portland) and finally got the Sheraton Four Points at $70.

Not great. Sheraton was having a stay two nights, get one free for $130/night, or $260 total without tax, and I would have earned Starpoints. I paid $246 with tax and fees. Because of their versatility, I value Starpoints highly. Had I researched it more thoroughly before my bid; I might have chosen that option once the potential bid crept up so high.

San Francisco has also not panned out completely the way I want. Oracle World has meant there is precious little inventory in the city available either by conventional or opaque bidding. I also realized that if I woke up in a hotel I didn't like on my birthday, I was going to be unhappy. This realization, while sensible and true, is going to cost me. There were scattered rooms at good hotels available; generally not at the hotels websites themsleves, but at consolidators. Last Minute Travel, Octopus Travel, Hotel Club and Quikbook all had options, but HotelRes, a local SF booking agency, has more coverage in the city, low prices and cancelable bookings. I'll make a choice about 4-5 days out between rock bottom (Grant Plaza - $77), budget (King George - $119) and more luxurious (The Donatello - $198) accommodations. If anyone knows any of these hotels, make a comment!

I'm now starting to make reasonably priced cancelable backups the moment I think I might go somewhere to avoid getting shut out by convention bookings. When my dates are firm, I can try undercutting them via Priceline.

I’m working on London bids right now for Thanksgiving. It could be seasonal, but London prices are creeping up; Kensington wins (usually the cheapest in London) are around $85/night. More frustratingly, I’m not getting counteroffers as a matter of course where I once did. It makes bid determination a good deal harder.

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October 5, 2006

Life Imitates Article

While in Seattle, I was working on both an article on caring for knitted items (including washing, storage and avoiding insects) and also this baby sweater:


I had started it three years ago and abandoned it when I thought it would be too small for the baby in question. I was wrong, but didn't find that out until after I has made a second sweater.

The sweater is a rather elaborate cabled affair that feels part Irish, part Tyrolean to me. For the record, the patterns are Moss Diamond and Bobble, Sausage Cable and Staghorn Cable, all from the Walker Treasuries. These pictures are from before I left for Seattle.

On the plane I finished out one of the unfinished sleeves and picked up stitches for the second. Looking at this picture now, there was something there I didn't notice at the time. It's at the bottom right.


See it?


Yup, three years of indifferent storage took its toll. The evil carpet beetles found a spot to munch.


There's what the hole looked like after I had been knitting and handling it a bit and the weak spots gave way.

What to do? Microsurgery. This took double pointed needles and a yarn needle as well. Pick the hole apart until all the frayed and broken area is gone. Leave the threads, don't clip them back. Catch the loops on dpns.


Thread matching yarn through the yarn needle. Duplicate stitch one stitch at the bottom corner, then knit the stiches on the dpn in pattern. At the other side, duplicate stitch to attach the yarn and bring the yarn up one row. Then work in pattern back on the dpns. Continue until all the rows are repaired -


And you can graft the final row together as if you were grafting the toe of a sock. The fix is below the needle. It needs some neatening, and also looks much better at actual size.


This is the back. They frayed sections stay unclipped so they don't work loose.


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October 4, 2006

Latest Dance Article

Minutiae on Shen Wei Dance Arts for Danceview Times.

The four dancers were simply dressed in maroon tops, grey undershirts and brown pants; their movement was slow and meditative. The chanting by Ani Choying Dolma was haunting; sometimes keening and sometimes mumbled prayers. As the dancers rolled and stood again, the flakes fell silently off them like snow and away from them like earthly concerns. They emerged purified.

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October 3, 2006

Leigh's Dance Card - the season revs up

Three performances this week, all on duty for Danceview Times

10/3/06 Reich@70 at BAM - Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker and Akram Khan each perform dances to Reich's music.

10/5/06 Fall for Dance at City Center - a mix including Pacific Northwest Ballet, Random Dance, Christopher WIlliams and Farruco

10/6/06 Pandit Birju Maharaj - a legend of Kathak dance, at Symphony Space

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October 2, 2006



I sometimes wonder about my willingness to travel great distances for only a short period; it took as long to get here as to get to London. It was worth it; Seattle is quite pretty and it was a very productive weekend.

United Airlines flight 689 to Seattle involved a plane change at O’Hare but both planes operated with the same flight number. I packed lightly and dutifully put my toiletries in a Ziploc bag as part of our country’s ongoing War on Moisture. Security lines were slightly longer than I recalled but this was a peak time. At 3 pm on Friday it took about 20 minutes from arrival to the gate. I had requested to upgrade my fare with miles, but United had sent the wrong plane; an Airbus 320 that was part of their TED fleet instead of a Boeing 757. TED planes are all coach seating; I got no upgrade but what the hell, the fare was $141 roundtrip. I bet there were at least a few mildly ticked off elite passengers. A fellow in my row was bumped out of Economy Plus into a middle seat of . . .what’s the regular area called? Steerage? Economy Minus? Because of the late arrival of the incoming plane and runway delays at LaGuardia we were nearly an hour late into O’Hare; we arrived in B concourse and my connection to Seattle left from C17 in 33 minutes. I’m glad I packed light. I sprinted to C17 and said to the gate agent, “Hi, I just arrived from the New York leg of flight 689. Do I have time to pee?” Luckily, I did.

The ORD-SEA leg was on the proper aircraft (do they levy a fine for flying an Airbus into Sea-Tac airport, original home town of Boeing?). An hour into the flight I realized that the woman behind me was also knitting a sock, so that led to a very pleasant conversation that passed the hours until landing. We made up time on this leg so I only arrived in Seattle 30 minutes late and took the Kings County public bus into downtown. It’s the most inexpensive way to get downtown ($1.25) but there was quite a cast of characters on the bus; several inebriated vagrants, one of whom shouted “WOLVERINES!” when we hit Michigan Avenue, a pack of black girls jeering the vagrants and in the front several hapless tourists including me, all clutching our suitcases bemusedly. It wasn’t at all threatening. Just odd.

I arrived at the Renaissance Hotel at about 11:30 pm PDT. I left the office at around 1:45 pm EDT so it was more than half a day’s journey and my body thought it was 2:30 am. Though I arrived late, luck was on my side. The nice desk clerk gave me a corner room (perhaps a junior suite? It’s a living room and a small bedroom) on the 21st floor with views.






So they’re of the highway, what the heck. The large buff colored building down the highway at the right is the headquarters for Amazon.

The Renaissance a nice hotel, though about due for a renovation; the decor feels slightly stale. At the price I paid ($65/night), no complaints at all. Free wireless in the lobby; a fitness center on the 28th floor. The fitness center is not great, not merely because the treadmill attacked me without provocation. There’s one Universal weight machine and no bench so weight training is limited to impossible. If all you want to do is use a stair climber or treadmill, it should be fine. There is a pool and whirlpool as well.

My friend Sandi and I met the next day and we caught up and then played tourist. Lunch was at Maximilien in the public market; the food was good, the view of the sound lovely (Sandi obligingly pointed out the mad parasailors madly parasailing in the cold water). The service was fine until when Sandi requested the check and the waiter pointedly put it in front of me because I was the man. Dude, I know you’re French, but it’s Seattle.

We played tourist and walked through the Public Market. I got fresh doughnuts from one stand; Sandi went to her favorite bakery and got croissants; in between we went to a cheese maker. As Sandi noted, they eat well out here. I’ve been to Seattle for only three short visits, but it did seem to be a city that prides itself on lifestyle. After lunch, we did a drive along the water – several different waterfronts. Seattle’s surrounded by them. In the evening, we went to PNB together.

I haven’t seen Peter Boal since well before he left for Seattle; we spotted each other immediately as he came from backstage into the auditorium. It was a warm meeting, but we each were trying to be respectful of the fact that there was a professional conflict; I was reviewing his company. What the hell, at this point I’m used to it. I’ve written my review and honestly believe it’s not different than what I would have written had I not known him. It was not, however, the review I thought I would write. I took a different angle. I assumed I would spend most of the review on Carla Körbes – for a New York audience she’s the most newsworthy thing – but she only danced in In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated and did fine, but she’s not a natural choice for the role; she’s a little too soft. So the review became more general. The company looks fine; rather than coming in and overhauling, Peter has mostly continued the work Kent Stowell and Francia Russell started.

I saw the matinee the following day. Walking there I took Sandi’s doughnut suggestion and stopped off at Top Pot Doughnuts, considered Mecca for the doughnutophile. I had a maple dipped old fashioned and a Double Trouble (a chocolate glazed chocolate doughnut). They were cakey and moist, but I’m about as discerning with doughnuts as I am with wine. I liked the ones I had in the Public Market more because they were still warm.

In the Middle got an electric performance from the first cast. Patricia Barker is retiring at the end of the season (Peter announced her farewell performance, which will be put together by him and Barker – as June 10, 2007); her performance in In the Middle was a fine way to say farewell to the role. Carrie Imler sailed through Theme. No surprise, she’s another CPYB girl; I know of three in the company (Imler, Noelani Pantastico and Kara Zimmerman).

For dinner, I wandered to the waterfront because I had a fish craving. I tried Elliott’s Oyster House and spent good money on good fish; a Dungeness Crab cocktail to start and a more elaborate grilled Coho salmon dish. The quality of the both the crab and salmon was quite good, but I still have nostalgia for when there were simple fish dives you could get a plate of broiled fish (and the plate had a blue or red rim), a baked potato in silver foil and two side dishes. I bet Seattle has them; I just don’t know where they are.

I got a tremendous amount of writing finished on this trip; an article on knit care for Knit.1; two pieces revamped from this blog for the newsletter of the Dance Critic’s Association and the PNB review. I even got plenty of knitting done (progress on a pair of socks and a baby sweater – I’ll blog on both soon.) Put me in a clean hotel room with a handsome view and the possibilities are endless.

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October 1, 2006

Out of Britain

The British are still writing about dance as if it mattered.

In the Guardian, John O’Mahony is reporting on Forsythe’s Three Atmospheric Studies, described in its press release as "The most damning comment on the horror, personal devastation and hypocrisy produced in any art form since the Iraq war began." Forsythe has never been one for understatement.

O’Mahony managed to get a written statement out of Arlene Croce that almost replayed the Still/Here controversy of ’94:

Choreographers mix dance with politics because it is the only way to get attention. And get grants too, probably. The importance of a work is equated with the nobility of the sentiment it expresses. I've stopped attending dance attractions because the last thing I want to see is dancers wasting their time on some high-minded godawful piece of choreography. I don't want to be told about Iraq or Bush or Katrina by someone younger and dumber than I am.

Croce’s not one for understatement either. Useless vitriol aside, there is a lesson there. I harp constantly on the best use of a medium. Dance depicts emotional states beautifully. It does facts and figures badly. It can be made to do it by mixing media and using the spoken word or projections, but there comes a point when what a choreographer wants to do no longer wants to be a dance. At that point it’s time to start thinking about doing an essay or a play.

If a choreographer is going to mix media or do topical work, it’s no longer only judged as a dance. Unsuccessful dances that included written narrative in them didn’t fail because the idea couldn’t work, but because they were made by talented choreographers who were untalented writers. In the same way, if you do a dance on Iraq, you need to be as knowledgeable about Iraq as you are about choreography.

In the Telegraph, Rupert Christiansen talks about the British reality series Ballet Hoo and Brendan McCarthy at Dancerdance, which has happily reanimated, takes the opposing view.

I’m sympathetic to Christiansen, possibly because the incomprehension of the difference between professional and amateur is more pervasive in the United States than in Britain. It’s part of our national fantasy that in the same way that anyone can grow up to be president, everyone is interesting and capable of being an artist the moment they put pen to paper, paint to canvas or step on a stage.

Of course, and alas, none of this is true. But when arts advocacy groups talk about the large audience numbers for ballet, that number probably includes all the families that went to see a dance school recital. They may have gone to see a ballet in name, but what they’ve really gone to do is see their daughter on stage in a sequined costume. The moment she gets bored with it and plays soccer instead, their association with the ballet ends. What Christiansen calls “the post-Victorian tradition of self-motivated self-improvement” happened here too, but is dying out. A senior dance writer whose father was a truck driver talks of his family making regular Sunday trips to either a museum or the symphony or the ballet, all from the simple firm belief that culture was self-improvement.

There are plenty of reasons this is dying out. Television isn’t helping; it offers entertainment without effort or expense. Ticket and admission prices are costly, especially for dance and live theater. But I also think the very belief that culture improves one is under attack. This is why I agree with Brendan that shows like Ballet Hoo are important. Christiansen is right that the fantasy that amateur art is professional is debilitating but the art has to be on their radar in the first place. The most important thing we need to do is get parents and children away from their TVs and into museums and the theater. Not only for children’s theater as a franchised extension for TV entertainment – “Dora the Explorer” live on stage! All that manages to do is reinforce TV watching habits – but for them to get used to the theater as a place of communal expression of culture. And therein lies the conflict – whose culture? Who decides?

In Spiked Online, Josie Appleton takes up the culture cudgel with a vengeance in an interview with Jeffery Taylor, “Where are the Margot Fonteyns?” Mr. Taylor is the proverbial Grumpy Old Man. “In my day, our teachers groped and insulted us and WE LIKED IT.” I’ve had inspiring old school teachers and abusive old school teachers. I’ve never heard of a parent who, when the need for touching a student was explained, didn’t allow it. The teachers I recall most fondly (it’s not actually a ballet teacher, but my 7th grade French teacher, Jacob Miller, a tough bastard with a very tender heart known as Jake the Snake) was the most stringently demanding. Kids respond to challenges, especially when they know that the teacher passionately cares.

I recall (happily with amusement; I was 20 by then and was old enough to handle such things) a teacher who taught a stretching class and put his hand right in my crotch to “show” a stretch. I didn’t say anything at the time, but I really wanted to say, “I don’t turn out from there. Really.” A few years later in men’s class I jokingly commented to a friend regarding the teacher, “He’s groped every other guy in the class. I guess he doesn’t like me.”

People aren’t objecting to touching, they are objecting to abusive touching. They are not objecting to demanding the best from a student; they objecting to demeaning, insulting abuse. Abusive behavior in a situation of absolute authority such as dance training is going to happen sooner rather than later without supervision and self-policing. Abusive behavior masquerading as Old School teaching sounds like a bad excuse for not having learned a better way to inspire and motivate students.

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