A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


James Kudelka's Shimmering Swirls & Simone Orlando Obliges
Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Amidst all the attention given to the sciences as to how they can lead to the cure of all diseases and daily problems of mankind, I believe that the biggest breakthrough will be the realization that the arts, which are conventionally considered "useless," will be recognized as the whole reason why we ever try to live longer or live more prosperously. The arts are the science of enjoying life.

John Maeda
Muriel Cooper professor of media arts and sciences at the Media Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In the last few weeks I have come to understand my failure as a parent. I can use as an excuse the ignorance of youth or the stress of having to find work to explain this failure. I have come to understand that to teach our children an appreciation for the arts, of culture; to inculcate reading habits and a desire to take on challenging pursuits are the responsibility of parents and not of our schools, our government or our media. Schools, governments and the media can only reinforce.

As soon as we arrived to Vancouver in 1975 Rosemary and I made sure that our two daughters Ale and Hilary had swimming, skating and skiing lessons. We suggested and ultimately forced both girls to take ballet lessons at the Vancouver School of Music and we further insisted that Ale take guitar lessons. When Ale wanted to quit her ballet and her guitar we told her she could only quit one of them. She quit her ballet. Their teacher was a martinet who only catered to the students she thought had talent and a potential career in ballet. The woman’s attitude poisoned our two daughter’s appreciation for ballet forever. This does not mean that we didn’t try. Every time a renowned foreign ballet or modern dance company came to town we took the girls. Only one performance remains in my memory and that was Revelations by the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. The black troupe appeared on stage in dazzling all-white costumes and parasols. The rest of the dance companies that came to Vancouver are a blur.

I never invited my daughters to accompany me to classical or baroque concerts. I rarely took them to theatre. My contribution to their “culture” was a curtailment of their TV viewing time although I permitted them to watch Gilligan’s Island as I loved that program, too. I left in a huff (to punk concerts at the Smiling Buddha) when Rosemary and the girls would watch the Oscars, Dallas or Dynasty. My eldest daughter could identify Art Bergmann, the Subhumans and DOA but would probably not recognize the Brandenburg Concertos as such. I was so proud of Ale in relation to the former (the punks) that overlooked the balancing of her education with the latter.

We sent our daughters abroad to help them keep their Spanish fluency. But we did not pursue further cultural diversity even though both girls attended and ultimately finished their high school studies in French Immersion.

It is my belief that I never transferred to them my passion for reading and an interest in jazz, classical and varied music. I was not even able to interest them in photography. Ale, has only in the last 10 years come to share our interest in heavy duty gardening.

I took my girls to ballet and modern dance because I felt it was my responsibility as a father of two girls. I was not remotely interested in dance of any kind.

This all changed sometime around 1995 when I first saw, noticed and fell madly in love with Evelyn Hart. Suddenly I was interested in ballet and in most dance (although I have always excluded tap dancing except when it is Gene Kelley or Fred Astaire in an American musical). I began to explore dance in all its forms in Vancouver. I found there were many dance companies with a varied repertoire. I found out that choreographers like Judith Garay had a bit of Martha Graham in her including a love for swirling and blurring fabric. I actually made an effort, because I was suddenly interested, to find out who Graham had been.

With Ballet BC performances I watched the exciting transition when a brand new artistic director, John Alleyne, slowly and surely dragged his company from 19th century ballet and its swans to the modern repertoire. He choreographed new modern dance performances which broke ground and introduced Vancouver audiences (so lazy for change) to choreographers like William Forsythe and Serge Bennathan.

But there was another choreographer, then artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada, James Kudelka’s 15 Heterosexual Duets that made my head turn and finally make me an unabashed fan of dance. These duets (as danced by dancers of Ballet BC in several remountings of this work) featured 8 couples showing the variety, delights and conflicts of human love and interaction. One of the dances featured a woman with long hair (except once when Alleyne cast Acacia Schachte, a short-haired woman in the part!) who in her movements with her male partner magically swirled her hair swirled not unlike (but please discount my crass comparison!) a very good TV shampoo commercial. Kudelka in this particular duet had almost played God and choreographed hair to his bidding!

I had Ballet BC dancer Simone Orlando in my studio on Saturday. I had been commissioned by the Straight to take her picture for this Thursday in anticipation of her performance of James Kudelka’s The Goldberg Variations – Side 2: Adam & Eve & Steve. She put on a wonderful dress. You cannot see all of it here as it is good editorial manners not to place a picture in this blog that will appear in a magazine on Thursday. In magazine parlance it's called "first rights". The picture here is a different one.

Orlando explained that this dance has her moving almost in a jerky mechanical manner from the waist up, while her flared skirt swirls below. Shades of those wonderful 15 Heterosexual Duets?

The excitement in my anticipation of watching the premiere performance of this dance this Thursday can only be marred by the possible disappointment if Rebecca (11) refuses to accompany me. I can only hope that her mother, my daughter, might just find out soon that the curtailment of TV (computer time, etc) while important is not all if we are to strive to a balanced and rich education for our children. What is important is for us to first become interested and by example to transfer our interest, and who knows, maybe even our passion, to our children. Only when that happens will our Ballet BC, our VSO, our Pacific Baroque Orchestra, our various dance companies and theatre companies, the Vancouver Opera and our many art galleries really be open for business. It is only then when our children (and not only this old man, but at least and at long last) will be positively thrilled at having a real live shimmering ballerina like Simone Orlando in my studio or going to see them backstage. Those who practice the arts in our Vancouver should rightfully be our idols and heroes. They are idols and heroes with no need for red carpets.

But they are in need of our acknowledgment and our support.


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