Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Swan Song: Retirement of Ballerina Darci Kistler

Last Sunday I attended a historic event: the retirement of New York City Ballet principal dancer Darci Kistler.

Darci was the last in a long string of larger-than-life ballerinas who were hand-picked and trained by the equally larger-than-life George Balanchine.
With the exception of an ankle injury that sidelined her in the '80s, Darci has enjoyed a remarkable 30 year performance career as a dancer at City Ballet, and remains its fastest rising star (from Apprentice to Principal in just 2 years).

This poster of Darci adorned my dorm room walls throughout college:

She's posing as Odette, the lead character from "Swan Lake," atop the surface of The Pond at Central Park, with The Plaza visible in the background. This image, with its illusory magic, always defined for me the best of everything about City Ballet. I cannot imagine a recent City Ballet principal better suited to pose for this iconic photo, and I will treasure it always as a perfect tribute to the city and the art that I love so dearly.

I have been looking forward to her farewell performance for months, but I confess that Darci has never been one of my favorite performers, though I have always respected her deeply.
I frequently find myself longing for glory days which predate my lifetime, and my sense has always been that Darci was great long before I ever got to see her dance (in fact, before I was even born), and that she may have done well to retire several years ago.

Though I don't always agree with his assessments, statements made in NYTimes dance critic Alastair Macaulay's review of Darci's final performance seem to corroborate my personal feelings on her career:
"The film 'George Balanchine's "The Nutcracker,"' in which she appeared as the Sugar Plum Fairy, suggests that her glory lasted until at least 1993. But my memory is that by 1992, her dancing had become scaled down, polite and musically safe. Since then her career has been a long, slow fade... After Sunday’s performance I had coffee with a balletgoer who had become a devotee of New York City Ballet in 1996. I was hoping that he would tell me how the later Kistler had meant to him something of what Fonteyn once meant to me. But in all those years, Ms. Kistler’s dancing had never been one of his reasons to follow the company. Her pale autumn has lasted far longer than her bright spring and summer combined, and I cannot see that since 1992 she has been a good role model for the young."

He acknowledges, generously, her undeniable loveliness:
"Her long, tapering limbs; remarkable breadth of shoulder; loveliness of facial features (and in particular her lips, whose beautiful outline registered in the theater with great distinction); the beautiful pliancy of her feet,"
and noted how, during her farewell performance,
"the light still falls beautifully on the planes of her face."
And yet, the time has come for her to bid us adieu.

Many balletomanes have maintained that as long as Darci dances, Balanchine lives.
I used to think that was true; after all, there is nothing like a direct link to the origin of genius to legitimize the continuation of a tradition.
And yet, as I watched Darci dance on Sunday, I found myself longing for other dancers to join her on stage...Tess Reichlen, Maria Kowroski, Sara Mearns.
And I realized that the tradition will continue, perhaps stronger, after Darci.
Macaulay came to the same conclusion, ending his review by stating:
"With the retirement of this last Balanchine ballerina, we have all moved one generation on in history."

I'll leave you with some photos I took during the farewell:

Final performance bow after Swan Lake, Act IV:

Accepting her first flower, from conductor Clotilde Otranto:

A final cast bow:

A bear hug and flowers from former principal dancer Albert Evans, who retired one week prior:

Getting a lift from past and present male Principal dancers, with other Principals surrounding her on stage:

Baby bouquets from baby ballerinas of the School of American Ballet (where Darci has long been a teacher):

Darci is the youngest child with four older brothers.
Three of them, along with her mother, came on stage and lifted her up, in one of the most fun and touching moments of the evening:

Hugging daughter Talicia:

Showered with falling glitter:

It really was quite a sight to behold:

The sunlight begins to set on Lincoln Center after the farewell ends:

Hoping the best will always be yet to come,

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Food For Thought: Life Advice

As I get older, I find myself lamenting the lessons that weren't taught to me earlier in life.
I'm astonished at the things we're told again and again, such as "High School is the best years of your life."
Honestly, if that's true you should give up at age 18--either you've plateaued as the Prom Queen, or you want to slit your wrists because puberty is painful.

Here are two things I've learned that AREN'T taught but should be:
1) College is a tabula rasa, but not in the way you'd expect.
It's merely a new situation in which you must prove yourself to an entirely new set of people who could care less about your former high school life. Getting into the college of your dreams isn't a guaranteed golden ticket to the life of your dreams. There are no promises once you graduate, even if you have a degree from a prestigious alma mater.
When you embark on your career, you have to start all over again.
You will have to work hard for EVERY success you want until you die.


2) You will always be you.
Even if you get a high-powered job, even if you marry Prince Charming, even if you can shop endlessly and vacation in the most beautiful places in the world...if you are a boring person, you will ALWAYS be a boring person. If you are mean, you will always be mean.
If you pity yourself, YOU WILL PITY YOURSELF REGARDLESS of your external environment (even if it's Madison Avenue or Paris or St. Tropez).
To quote one of my favorite books, Middlesex, "There was nowhere to go that wouldn't be me."
Hopefully you'll be a cool, interesting and generous person, no matter where you are in life.

In the vein of supporting legitimate advice over fluffy adages and throw-pillow embroidery maxims, I wanted to pass along an amazing list I recently discovered (via my friend AW). Check it out, and, if anything appeals to you, take the lessons to heart:

"20 Things I Wish I'd Known at 20"

by Mighty Girl

Nothing but love,

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

SPECtacular Warby Parker

A few weeks ago my eyes were acting up and I was relegated to wearing my glasses for several days.
I *HATE* my glasses.
The last time I wore them for an extended period of time was also involuntary:
During the writing of my senior thesis.
I repeat, I *HATE* my glasses.
Needless to say, there are numerous bad associations with my specs.

However, since my prescription has changed (it's IMPROVED, if you can believe it) since my college days, I need a new pair; digging them out of the archives whenever I have an ocular emergency simply won't suffice anymore.

While in theory few things are more dashing than Prada or Chanel, I know that glasses sold under those names are licensed, and have no more to do with the couture design ateliers than the cheapy glasses on the back shelves.
So I searched for inexpensive yet fashionable alternatives.
Et voila: Warby Parker.

Warby Parker is the brainchild of 4 Wharton grads.
Since the company is exclusively e-commerce, they cut out the costs of a brick & mortar joint.
No middle man. Just them and the customer.
Thus, every chic pair is an unbelievable $95.
You heard me.
Better still?
Like TOMS shoes, for every pair of Warby Parkers you buy, the company donates a pair of glasses to someone in need.
(The Bunny says this is a marketing gimmick. But 1) I appreciate persuasive marketing, and 2) if I have to spend money I might as well be socially conscious while doing it, non?)

The really fun part about purchasing from the site is the interactive website, which allows you to upload photos of yourself and virtually "try-on" the glasses.
I've narrowed my options down to three pairs, having virtually tried them on 3 different photos of myself: left angle, right angle, and hair pulled back:

The Elbridge

The Japhy
(More height in the lens.)

The Zagg
(Frame is more square and bigger all-around. A nod to hipster nerd specs.)

Cast your vote in the comments and help me decide which ones to order!
My four-eyes only have eyes for Y-O-U, Readers.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Trip to Rabbit Island

Last weekend the Bunny and I made plans to visit the Central Park Zoo and then sample BBQ vendors from all over the country at the annual Big Apple Barbecue.
Unfortunately, to the former, the annual Puerto Rican Day parade seized Fifth Avenue (making access to the zoo virtually impossible), and, to the latter, the weather was rainy and not ideal for waiting in line...even for delicious, delicious pulled pork.

Being the ever resourceful New Yorker that he is, Bunny suggested on a whim that we travel to the New York Aquarium at Coney Island!

For only $2.25 in Metrocard fare and a pleasant 45 minute subway ride through Brooklyn, we were transported to a different world.
Different, that is, except for the streets bearing the same names:

(In Manhattan I live off of "Bowery")
and...well, another Puerto Rican Day celebration:

Nevertheless, it was clear that we weren't in Manhattan anymore.

I always feel exhilarated by colorful boardwalks and the architecture of amusement parks:

As I said, it was raining. We brought our umbrella but other visitors made do with items at hand: a pizza box (at left) and a towel (at right):

We wandered in the drizzle down the long boardwalk to the Aquarium:

(I AM the Pout-Pout Fish!)

Swimming in the same tank as these gentle turtles?
This guy:

Those teeth and crazy eyes don't put any stereotypes to rest...

These swirling iridescent fish created a visual worthy of a Little Mermaid "Part of Your World"/"Kiss The Girl" montage:


I learned something amazing about seahorses:
They hook their tails to plants and to one another to gain leverage in order to search for food. In this instance, two seahorses (one, at left, almost entirely camouflaged with the sand) wrapped their tails to create enough weight to sink to the bottom of the tank and poke around.

Dwarf Caiman! (So still, we were initially concerned that he might be dead):


Honestly, who doesn't love starfish?

I spotted a baby starfish in the anemone tank:

Once we satisfied our thirst for marine education, I forced Bunny into the requisite visit to the Gift Shop, and made him model the fine merchandise:

(Sadly my powers of persuasion were null when it came to purchasing the shark backpack and gator visor.)

Perhaps the best discovery of the day was this kosher vending machine in the cafeteria:

Open "24/6." Bahahahahahaha. GENIUS!

After leaving the Aquarium we returned to Luna Park (where the rides are) and I challenged The Bunny to a rousing game of Whack-A-Mole.

First to 150 points wins!

Sadly, my score is the one at right.
Nevertheless, The Bunny selected for his prize a pink gorilla and GAVE IT TO ME!
My hero!

My Dutch friend, KS, recently taught me how to say "Bunny" in Dutch: Konijn.
It turns out that Coney Island got its name from the old Dutch Conyne Eylandt (modern Konijnen Island) : "Rabbit Island"!
So apropos for me and my Bunny.

If you find yourself in the area with nothing to do, today (June 19th) is Coney Island's annual Mermaid Parade, complete with costumes (and a lot of drag)! Should be fun.