Sunday, March 24, 2013

I went to the ballet tonight. We are fortunate, here in New Orleans, not to suffer through performances by a third-rate homegrown ballet company. We don't even try. A few people made an intelligent decision a few years ago. We bring in the best companies to perform for us one night only, then use the funds we saved by not supporting a local dance company to provide free classes and workshops for young people throughout the city. Some of them get dance scholarships or might even end up dancing with a professional troupe.

I should not say "young," since I took a tap class free courtesy of the New Orleans Ballet and New Orleans Recreation Department. We were all over 30, a couple over 50. Anyway.

Tonight, I saw the Martha Graham Dance Company at Mahalia Jackson Theatre. They did sort of a retrospective, starting with her earliest performances, then as a showgirl with the Greenwich Village Follies in the '20s. She personified grief, sitting in a tube-like costume she struggled to escape but could not. I've felt that way before.

Students from Newcomb Dance Program, NOCCA and Lusher (the arts magnet high schools) and the NOBA/NORD programs performed. I supposed many of their parents, aunts and uncles filled the giant auditorium. The performance was completely sold out.

At intermission, I strolled outdoors to admire the restored fountains and ponds. For years after Katrina, it was a mess with fences blocking the park. Finally, I guess, Mayor Landrieu made it a priority to refurbish the park post-Katrina. It looks beautiful now with a brilliant lighted archway on Rampart Street and the azaleas in bloom.

I walked down the steps and started talking to a woman sitting at the edge of the lagoon. Turns out, she is Martha Graham's rehearsal director, Denise Vale. She said she really likes New Orleans. At the Kennedy Center, you overlook the water, but here, you can go right to the edge. I started to say, that design is probably inspired by our natural lagoons, but we were interrupted by an audience member giving an unsolicited critique. He thought he might interpret the choreography for her. I apologized for him. Denise kept her cool.

All week, she had been admiring our neighborhoods and community life. She'd walked over to the Congo Rhythms Festival in Armstrong Park earlier that day where people were enjoying the music, food and dance in the drizzly weather. Living in NYC, you don't have the intimate culture that brings people together. She'd traveled all over the world with the company, but this was something special.

Come visit, I said. It is a perfect place for a long weekend. The city's so small.

People are really real here and nobody cares what you wear. She related to that, saying that in New York, no one will speak to you if you wear the wrong shoes. I'd noticed somebody at the concert hall wearing silver flip-flops.

I told her to visit my blog. Maybe she'll read this. Who knows?

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