Joffrey’s The Nutcracker

I’m blown away by Joffrey Ballet’s The Nutcracker. What makes this version stand out is that it’s set in Chicago, on Christmas Eve before the Columbian Exposition of 1893.

The shift from Germany to old Chicago was a brilliant idea. Clara’s family is poor and she lives with her family in a (very large) cabin for construction workers. The story remains essentially the same. For Christmas, Clara (aka Marie in some versions) receives a beloved nutcracker, which is broken by her rambunctious brother Fritz. Drama ensues and when Clara finally goes to sleep she has fantastic dreams of the Columbian Exhibition’s White City with Buffalo Bill dancing and a slew of performers from all corners of the globe.

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Tchaikovsky’s music is among my most favorite and is well known even to people who don’t follow classical music. It’s played beautifully by the Chicago Symphony.

The setting and special effects were magical using projected archival images from the actual World’s Fair. The sets in both acts were creative and captivating.

I loved seeing all the young girls dressed up to see this ballet. Their excitement rubbed off on me.

This is a must-see show.

On the Notre Dame Fire

After the horrible fire that’s destroyed much of Notre Dame Cathedral, I’m thankful that I’ve been able to see the cathedral and am noting which cultural sites I’ve put off seeing. I though Notre Dame would always be around. When a building’s been around for centuries, you take their existence for granted. It’s easy to forget that “this too shall pass” applies to everything.

At the top of my list is Chartres Cathedral. I’ve been to Paris and think of visiting Chartres, and wind up postponing it till “next time.”

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I’ve never been to Greece and I would like to see their ancient ruins.

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Monestary, Lisbon

I’ve never been to Portugal, but would to see Monastery of the Hieronymites and Tower of Belém in Lisbon.

Though I lived rather close I never visited Koyasan, a temple town in western Japan.

 

The Kid

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I wasn’t prepared for the pathos of Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid. I didn’t expect the storyline either. In The Kid a single mother gets out of the charity hospital and doesn’t know what to do. Though it breaks her heart, she abandons her baby in an empty car in front of a wealthy home. It’s understandable since her love drops her photo in a fire and when he pulls it out, decides to toss it back to burn.

Yet comedy ensues and much as he doesn’t want the baby, Chaplin’s Tramp is stuck with it. The Tramp lives in a squalid apartment where just about every possession is broken or tattered. Yet he ingeniously manages to care for the baby. I loved how he rigged up a coffee pot to serve as a bottle.

Five years pass and the two are a family. They make money with a scam. The boy, who’s the epitome of a street urchin in looks, throws rocks through people’s windows. A couple minutes later the Tramp appears and he’s in the window glass business so he’ll repair the window right away. However, the local police are soon wise to them.

Meanwhile the boy’s mother has become a successful opera singer and his father, a famous artist. The two meet each other, but since the boy’s gone, there’s no reason for them to rekindle their love.

The story features so much clever slapstick and imaginative moments. It also plays on viewers heart strings big time, yet the film isn’t depressing. Chaplin and little Jackie Coogan are terrific and their story makes a commentary on how orphans and unwed mothers were treated.

Tidbits

  • There’s a 50 to 1 ratio between the footage Chaplin shot and what he used.
  • Chaplin discovered Jackie Coogan, when he saw Coogan on stage at a music hall with his father.
  • Chaplin had been suffering from writer’s block. Then his wife gave birth to a son, who died three days later. That incident sparked this story.
  • Chaplin himself spent time in an orphanage.

Bill Cunningham New York

Bill Cunningham (!) Taking Kate's Picture

Bill Cunningham (!) Taking Kate’s Picture (Photo credit: Shawn Hoke)

Although I read the New York Times online, I had no idea who Bill Cunningham was. Partly, that’s due to the N.Y. Times limit of stories per month. Now it’s 10. Don’t get me started.

Netflix coaxed me into watching the documentary Bill Cunningham New York. What a gem!

Cunningham is a fashion photographer who celebrates how real people dress with style, wit and charm, but there’s more. He lives with such joy because he loves his work. He loves people and he loves simplicity. He is the heart and eyes of “In the Street” and Evening Hours, a column on parties for the beau monde.

The documentary Bill Cunningham New York invites us into Bill’s office and tiny apartment in Carnegie Hall, which is filled with file cabinets holding his prized work of about 5 decades. We get to see him on the street in all kinds of weather as he captures real fashion worn by everyone from socialites to the down and out. One of the great things about Bill is that he doesn’t judge the people, rather he admires and shares great fashion.

I delighted in his quirks. Though Bill goes to all kinds of expensive galas, he scrupulously refuses any food or drink for fear that these freebies might make him beholden. In fact he’s far from a gourmet. He pretty much eats sandwiches, coffee and probably water or other non-trendy beverages. Though he’s enamored with fashion, he pretty much sports the same nondescript slacks, Shetland sweaters and blue workman’s smocks that he found Paris street sweepers wear. Those smocks are durable, have a lot of pockets and cost like $20. When it’s cold, he dons a beret.

Over 80 years old, Bill’s main form of transportation is bicycle. At the time of the film, he’d had 27 bikes stolen and was on bike 28. He rode home at all hours even after his black tie events. At times I wished he’d take a cab fearing that even with his reflective vest some drunk might plow into him.

Everyone who’s anyone in New York seems to know Bill and the film features interviews with the dandies and socialites who seem to dress for him and his paper. The film shows Bill’s neighbors and fellow artists who face eviction as the artists are getting thrown out to make way for telemarketing or other such tenants. (It’s a shame, but the New York Times must pay Bill a decent salary and he’s been in a rent controlled apartment for over 50 years it seems. He’s not spending his money on food, clothes or transportation.)

Even if you’re not a big fashion lover, I think you’ll love watching a man who lives on his own terms with lots of joie de vivre.