Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Talent Show - MoMA PS1

If I don't know you, how much can I find out about you without actually meeting you?  How much can I discern without leaving my computer?  In five clicks or less?  Age?  Marital status?  Financial standing?  Workplace?  Things you don't want anyone (or everyone) to know?  Or, are you an open book and I can watch your home videos on the internet?  Could I discern that your ground floor window's lock is broken from said video?  And that your Facebook says that you're away from said window at a party on Friday night?  In the age of YouTube and the Real Housewives of Every-City-In-America, the line between public and private has been more than blurred; it has been obliterated.  Used to be, we went to the movie theatre to be entertained by professional artists that were filmed acting in roles behind cameras and after much editing.  Now, we sit in our underwear on the sofa and watch the greatest putt-putt shot of all time, the fat lady that dances on her coffee table and breaks it in half, and the teenager that has a conniption because she can't sing a Whitney Houston song.   In the age when any Joe Schmo can film himself doing practically anything, upload it to the internet, and potentially gain overnight fame, folks are literally flocking to play the lottery of internet renown.  Simultaneously, even if we aren't wrapping our most private moments into the world wide web, most of us lead significantly less private lives that we did ten years ago.  I mean, am I the only person that finds it creepy that my computer knows my PREFERENCES?  I'm guessing Victor's computer isn't flashing Frye boots across the screen every day.  If they (whoever "they" are) know that I am obsessed with quality footwear, what else do they know?

A new exhibit at MoMA PS1 called "The Talent Show" explores the struggle that humans have increasingly faced over the past thirty years - a struggle between notoriety and privacy.  How much exposure is acceptable, how much is and should be dictated by the subject, and where does one draw the line between art and gratuitous exhibitionism.   A weighty subject, I'm sure we'd all agree.  Interestingly enough, though, the exhibit, "The Talent Show" in Queens is sometimes a little light on the substance.  The folks at the MoMA did an interesting job of combining the works of eighteen different artists to explore these subjects, and I definitely found a few pieces intriguing, if not touching and thought-provoking, but a few others were, basically, old news.

My buddy, Kimberly from Moxie Street, and I schlepped out to Queens on the 7 train a few days ago to see this new collection of works.  Now, Kimberly is the perfect museum buddy - she knows when to chat about meaning and, most importantly, she knows when to shut face and take in the moment.  I was happy to realize this when we stepped in to the first room of "The Talent Show" and took in an empty, dark room with a spotlight in the center.  We circled the pool of light, stepped into it, pondered its existence, and Kimberly finally said, "It's like what you do every day".  I chuckled.  Yes, I am no stranger to the spotlight.  We looked at each other and shrugged.  Not so exciting.  Or thought-provoking, for that matter.  Hopefully, it would get better.

It did.  A little, anyway.  As much as the exhibit did not live up to my expectations, I would say that it definitely is still worth a trip to Queens, so I won't tell you all about it - go see it for yourself - but I will highlight a few of my favorite pieces.  The first, I would have walked right by, except I heard a thoughtful, "Huh", from Kimberly as she poured over a framed series of newspaper articles.  Turns out, this writer, Sophie Calle, found an address book on the street in Paris.  She copied the pages, mailed the address book back to its owner, and then proceeded to try to get to know the owner of the book through his contacts - without ever meeting the man himself.  Ms. Calle interviewed contact after contact and highlighted one person per day in a published column, all unbeknownst to the address book's owner.  She asked questions about every aspect of his life - we find that he was a filmmaker, an overtly formal individual, and a screenwriter that was, in his contacts' opinion, marginally talented.  After a series of over twenty articles and weeks of prying, Ms. Calle put together a one-paragraph series of phrases that she thought summarized the address book owner's life.  On marble.  She never met him.  Intriguing, I thought, but would I want to be the book owner?  What would my friends and acquaintances say about me?  Did I want everyone in the world to read it without my knowledge?  Did Mr. Address Book Owner have any rights to privacy?  Or would he be interested in exercising them?  I realized I, also, was playing a part in this man's inadvertent exploitation by reading the articles.  For that matter, I am further exposing him by giving more publicity to this work.  Oy.

Another piece of note was a video montage entitled "The Intra-Venus tapes" by the late artist Hannah Wilke.  When I saw the piece and realized what I was observing, I literally had to sit down (luckily, there was a bench directly in front provided by the friendly MoMA folks).  First impression: 16 video screens simultaneously played seemingly unrelated home videos in a dark room.  I stared for a bit and realized that a recurring character in these videos was a woman that seemed to be sick in some way.  I read a bit about it and sat down.  Hannah Wilke documented her battle with cancer over three years until it took her life in 1993.  The 16 video screens were arranged in chronological order from her diagnosis through her death.  The videos show her running and playing with her toddler daughter and, later, shuffling from bed to toilet, bald, in a hospital gown.  Viewers watch her pull handfuls of hair out of her head on the lower screens while a smiling sunny family vacation simultaneously plays along the top.  It's as if she piled all of her memories on top of each other (her husband facilitated the editing, etc. posthumously).  I was touched, but I couldn't figure whether I wanted to watch or not - it felt much too private.  I didn't want to know about it.  I didn't need to see it.  Or, did I?  It was ugly . . . but somehow beautiful.  On second thought, I wasn't too sure I should be part of this.  Or, perhaps, everyone should.  In my opinion, good art makes one think and feel at the same time.  Having said that, Hannah Wilke had created something exceptional.

While I'd love to describe all of my favorites at the MoMA, I'm sure you all have better things to do with your time . . . like go see it yourself.  I will say, though, that the combination of opinions and differing, often conflicting, artistic approaches to the subject of the exposure of humans is flooring.  Our private moments and feelings are, for lack of a better word, private.  Intimate.  What happens when those private moments become public?  Do they lose their intimacy or is the intimacy shared with the viewer?  How many viewers does it take to make a moment no longer private?  Or is privacy, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder?  Um  . . . yeah . . . I don't know.  Obviously.  Nobody does.  Or, that is, everyone thinks they know, but every individual's answer is different.  And that, I think, is what makes us humans interesting.  And worth observation . . . to a point.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


There are a few things in this world that I can genuinely say I know a lot about.

1) Dance
2) Books
3) Fitness
4) Reality TV
5) Sprinkle cookies

Now, before you judge me, you must realize that the books cancel out the reality TV and the fitness cancels out the sprinkle cookies.  Whatever.  Anyway, a few days ago, I accidentally ran into what is, in my expert opinion, the best sprinkle cookie in New York City.  By far.  You must go try.

Here's the skinny.  I had an audition on 15th and 10th and then had to run by my agent's office on 21st and Park.  If you're a savvy New Yorker, you know that there is no good way to get between the two locations without taking a cab.  I'm allergic to cabs.  And, incidentally, I'm also allergic to the smooshy sofas and chairs in Starbucks and other coffee shops that inevitably have or have had bed bugs.  But, I digress.  I decided to take a stroll between my two locations to avoid spending money to sit in someone else's dried vomit while inhaling the three-days-without-a-shower stench of a turban-wearing English-as-a-fifteenth-language cab driver.

So, I trudged.  In my snow boots.  It wasn't so bad, but by the time I had traversed four avenues, I was starting to get grumpy.  Lo and behold, in the depths of my despair, on the corner of 16th and 6th, I spied a shimmering oasis of butter and sugar.  Bruce's Bakery.  Now, I didn't know Bruce's from any other bakery.  I was just cold and grumpy and I wanted to smell some baked goodness, so I headed in under the guise that I would purchase a cup of coffee.  No.  Not so much.  They had sprinkle cookies.  My favorite thing in the world . . . besides chocolate martinis.  And I had to continue my research, right?  I mean, if I didn't have a sprinkle cookie here, my list of the best sprinkle cookies in New York would be incomplete, and, thus, incorrect, right?  Right.

I decided to look around and ask a few questions.  Apparently, Bruce's is the "Bakery to the stars", has been around since 1970, and sports a wall of photos of celebrities in the store including Jay Leno, Cindy Crawford, Tom Cruise, and Howard Stern.  So, there were stars in the joint.  Okay.  Nice for the tourists, but I didn't care so much about that.  I wanted my sprinkle cookie.  I peered behind the counter at the loaves of challah and wheat bread and spied next to it a sign saying that the establishment is kosher.  Who knew?  Not that I'm kosher, but it's always good to know these things.  In addition, Bruce (obviously, the owner) had recently issued an invitation to "throwdown" with anyone on the Food Network's show, "Cupcake Wars".  This guy is obviously very serious.  As my cookie was being rung up, I inquired as to where Bruce's gets their bread.  The woman in horn-rimmed glasses behind the counter looked deeply insulted and replied, "We make it ourself.  Daily".  Well, excuuuusse me!  I just wanted a cookie and here I have stumbled into a full-out kosher full-service bakery that caters to the stars of New York.  Classic.

I paid, took my extremely large cookie and one last look around, and headed out to slush through another mile or so of black snow-ooze.  Now, though, I had my baked good to keep me company.  First bite.  Different!  It was significantly heavier on the vanilla flavoring than your average cookie.  And . . . was that fresh lemon zest?  The cookie crumbled in my mouth into a delicious conglomeration of butter, sugar, sprinkles, and . . . pure yum.  The rest of the walk went by in a blur.  I didn't even feel the cold.  Yes, folks.  I had found the best sprinkle cookie in the New York metropolitan area.  Let it be known.  Let the bells chime out.  Best sprinkle cookie ever.  Now, I'm going to the gym.  Peace.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Mr. Balanchine's 107th Birthday

On January 22, the New York City Ballet hosted a celebration in honor of the late George Balanchine's birthday with a full day of performances, lectures, and open classes at the glorious State Theatre in Lincoln Center.  This year would have been the founder of NYCB and School of American Ballet's 107th birthday and decades after its inception, one of the most prominent ballet companies in the world still has a lot to celebrate.  If I may just say it, Balanchine is still genius.  Much like Mozart, Renoir, and Prince (trust me on this one), his work was so ahead of its time that it is, has, and always will be timeless.  Of course, my dancer buddy Erin Bomboy (who, incidentally, is a fabulous ballroom teacher and is working on her masters at NYU) was on hand to accompany me to a day of celebration of this ballet virtuoso.

Of course, the celebratory birthday matinee was sold out, so we entered the gilded theatre and smooshed past innumerable older folks to find our seats high in the third balcony.  I looked around and realized that this was, as many theatre folk would call it, a genuine Q-tip matinee.  Meaning, there were more than the usual allotment of white-haired attendees.  Which made me wonder: why?  Without question, ballet (and not just NYCB) is an art that is mainly enjoyed by the over 60 crowd and the under 18 crowd.  What happened/is happening to the me-aged folks?  Don't they like ballet?  They see bands and Broadway and sports?  Why not ballet?  Who knows.  Anyway, we settled in for an interesting conglomeration of brilliant Balanchine ballets.  As with any genius, Mr. B (as most people called him) had his shining apexes of artistry and his not-so-shining choreographically-kind-of uninteresting works.   Our program included a little of both, but the sum of the afternoon's four ballets encompassed the influence, cultural heritage, and scope of Balanchine's works.

The program started with the flurry of long hair and purple chiffon that is Walpurgisnacht.  I, personally, enjoyed the increasingly free-flowing tour jetes of the large group of women (and the lone obligatory male forklift - hey, nobody said the man who coined the phrase, "Ballet is woman" wasn't a little choreographically sexist).  Bomboy wasn't a fan.  I understand that it was a little repetitive, but I didn't mind it - I was successfully lulled into the strings' and dancers' pas de chat-ing trance.  The second piece, in stark contrast to the first, was Duo Concertant.  My kingdom for a horse to take me back in time to sit in on a Stravinsky/Balanchine/Mazzo/Peter Martins jam session.  Genius soup.  Incidentally, I wonder if they knew back then . . .  Anyway, this ballet is the epitome of collaboration.  A male and female dancer, pianist, and violinist share the stage.  The dancers take turns silently listening to the music and dancing alongside their fellow artists.  I was mesmerized.  Much like the infamous "choreographically silent" ending of Balanchine's Firebird, the dancers are still and listen to the music when we, the audience, must also listen.  They don't dance to the music, they ARE the music.  It was enlightening.

During the first intermission, to honor Balanchine's rich Russian heritage, the audience members of the State Theatre were given shots of vodka to toast to Mr. B's memory.  We all received our small cups of liquid and stood awkwardly around.  Eventually, a random Russian patron on the first balcony got everyone's attention, raised a glass, and offered the appropriate sentiment, "Za vashe zdorovye".  We all echoed his Russian "cheers" and took our (I must say, disgusting) shot of straight cheap vodka.  A communion in pointe shoes.  I felt very lucky to be a part of the celebration.

The crown jewel of New York City Ballet's repertory was, by far, my favorite piece of the afternoon.  A ballet that is the most pure form of collaborative artistry that I have ever experienced: The Four Temperaments.  Now, I consider myself to be a pretty fair writer, but I will not venture to even attempt to describe this piece of genius.  If you haven't seen this ballet, you MUST go see it right now.  See it at City Ballet.  See it on video.  See it on Youtube.  Just do not go to the grave without seeing this ballet.  I know, it sounds dramatic.  Maybe I'm a little passionate about ballet, but Four Temperaments is the most intricate melding of music and dance that has ever existed.  Hands down.  It is a half hour of "what are they going to do next"?  It is a cat's cradle of black leotards, pointe shoes, and Hindemith and you should see it before you see the Sistine Chapel (it's cheaper and closer to home!).  The end.

An unfortunate final piece, Cortege Hongrois, was a tribute to Mr. B's Russian heritage, but fell flat after the greatness that preceded it.  Oh well.  Mr. B's ballets are like chocolate.  If they're not all that fabulous, it's still a good situation.  Bad Balanchine, like chocolate, is still good.  Thanks to Bomboy, we stayed after the show for a Q and A with Peter Martins and a few dancers after the show and then watched the advanced level of School of American Ballet's class.  I could write a novel on what I think about both events.  I won't bore you with details, but I will say that oftentimes, ballet dancers should be seen and not heard.  Also, there are a few different ballet techniques and people are very vehement about which technique they prefer or, in some opinions, think is "right".  I am one of those people.  And I have a lot to say about it.  If you ever see me in person, ask me about it.  Otherwise, I would say that the class we watched was very enlightening as to how Mr. Balanchine trained his dancers to perform his ballets.  And his technique was very specific.  And those SAB folks definitely think they're "right".  All's I'm saying about that.

All in all, it was a brilliant full day of ballet.  Just me, Bomboy, the ten-year-old trina bunheads, and the old folks.  So, here's my challenge to you, readers of the blog.  Most of you are over 18 and under 60, so I challenge you all to go to one live performance of dance in 2011.  Like, just dance.  Preferably ballet.  And if you are feeling specific, see something by Mr. Balanchine because he was truly a genius.  Go see a ballet and I'll dare you to not want to go back for more.  Ochyen Harasho.

Sledding for Grown-ups

Contrary to popular belief and my own intermittent proclamations, I am a grown-up.  I am married, I have lived in New York for over ten years, I pay all my bills on time, and I only rarely cry to mommy and daddy for help on one matter or another.  So, when my friend Brittany asked me to go sledding with her in Central Park, I was a little hesitant to accept the invitation.  I mean, do they even make sleds big enough for my ass?  Though, when she mentioned that we would be bringing her one-year-old little cherub, Max, I responded with a resounding affirmative.  I got it.  We would go and watch the kids sled.  Sweet.

So, after baking and ingesting obscene amounts of Brittany's brilliant mixed berry chocolate scones, we bundled ourselves and Max and headed over, sled in tow, to Central Park.  Now since, as I said, I'm an adult, I am not privy to the Zagat-rated sledding hang-outs in the city.  Apparently, there is a section on the west side of the park near 64th street that folks refer to as, simply, "The Hill" and word on the street is it's the sledding equivalent of Per Se.  And our other sledding cohort, Tiffany, as I was quickly finding out, was a veritable sledding pro, so we trekked to The Hill to join in the winter festivities.

Okay, it took a while to make and eat the scones.  And we had to catch up beforehand, so it was a little late when we got to the park.  And by a little late, I mean . . . practically dark.  There was still one lingering adorable little family there when we got there, though, making good use of an old fashioned runner sled.  As we picked our way through the gates, a boy of about five was taking a fairly speedy head-first slide down the slope while his rosy-cheeked Eastern European mother videotaped.  Cute.  I surveyed the situation.  Big hill: check.  Trees to dodge around . . . check.  Luckily, though, someone had placed large bales of hay in front of the most prominent timber so as to buffer any errant young ones barreling toward it at a quick pace.  That was all well and good, but as we stepped off the sidewalk, I realized why The Hill had less reservations than Per Se on this particular evening.  It was covered in ice.  Tiffany gingerly stepped onto the innocuous-looking white stuff in her grey knee-length fur-lined fabulous boots and skidded not unlike Bambi for a good half minute.  "Holy crap, you guys, this is slick!"  I held on to a nearby tree to keep from skidding while I put down my bag.  Yes, it was.  Really slick.  "This will be a fast run", said Brittany.  What?!?!?  Why in the world had I done this as a kid?  This sledding crap is dangerous!!!!  What if I were to have fallen off?  Or run into a tree?  Or run into someone else?  I could have broken something!  (Someone check my birth certificate - I think I just became everyone's mother circa 1980).

I struggled to stand.  All right, let's put this kid on a sled, send him down, and go eat more scones.  Wait.  I looked at Max all snuggled up in his snowsuit.  He couldn't do this by himself.  (Dude, whatever, I don't have one, I don't know about them.  Do you know how to work my Kindle if you don't have one?  No.  I didn't think so.)  So, Brittany hopped on the sled, put Max on her lap, and headed down the steep incline.  I was genuinely scared for them both.  Seriously, when did I become such a pu#!y?  Regardless of my inhibitions, they pushed off and sailed to the bottom in a mess of "whee" and giggles and managed to avoid all trees, humans, and other objects that could cause them harm.  Okay.  All good.  Here came the hard part, though.  Getting back UP the hill.  Brittany gathered her sled and her offspring, trudged about two steps, and slid.  Not so cool when you're toting a kid.  I decided to head down to grab the sled so she could concentrate on holding on to Max.  Yeah . . . You know when there is somebody drowning and they say to throw them a rope instead of jumping in the water WITH them?  So that then there aren't two people drowning instead of one?  Well, I apparently forgot that rule.  So, I slid down slowly on my ass, trying not to scrape the butt of my new AG jeans and ended up S.O.L. at the bottom of Mount Kilaman-ice-o just like Brittany.  Good job, Michelle.  Eventually, it appeared that the most efficient way of scaling said Hill was to kick a hole in the ice, step into it, and then kick one above it, etc.  We got the hang of it and finally joined Tiffany at the top of the hill who was, incidentally, still slipping on an average of about once per minute.

"Who wants to go next?", Tiffany blurted.  I looked aghast.  What?  Wasn't that enough?  Brittany wisely decided we shouldn't take Max down again, but Tiffany, in her little designer boots and newborn deer legs wanted to attempt this?  For fun?  Well, I figured that was her prerogative.  She hopped on and slid down while lassoing some imaginary polar bear, yelling "yee haw", and proving her sledding prowess.  When she reached the top, she handed the sled to me.  "No thanks, I'm a grown-up that makes a living on her unbroken legs.  Thank you", I thought.  What I said was . . . "Okay".  Yeah . . . I never said I was good with peer pressure.  I sat gingerly down and felt the plastic sled start down the hill.  Uh oh.  "Hit it!", squealed Tiffany.  I scooted forward and proceeded to speed down the hill.  And hit every man-made mogul on the way down.  I am told I actually got air.  Hey, nobody told me how to steer!  I could feel the chilly wind on my face and my heart in my throat.  I sped down the ice while clutching the rope for dear life.  In spite of a slightly bruised ass, I reached the bottom invigorated.  I was alive and in one piece and it was actually . . . I'd admit it . . . a little fun.  Okay, I can see why I did it when I was a kid.  I gave a little celebratory backbend on the ground and made better work of getting to the top than the first time.  All right, fine.  I'm a grown-up and I go sledding.  Is there anything wrong with that?  NO.  I didn't think so.  We took a few more turns and parted ways with rosy cheeks and sore bums.  And perhaps a little younger than before.

So, I guess grown-ups can go sledding.  Fine.  And have fun.  And not die or break a leg.  But, I would definitely recommend going when the snow is a bit fresher and The Hill is a little less like Mount Vinson.  But, I would recommend going.  At any age.  Just wear jeans that you don't like too much.