Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Poetry Wednesday: Not Fearing Vikings

Irish Archaeology provides and translates this short poem from the North of Ireland.

Bitter is the wind tonight
It tosses the ocean's white hair
Tonight I fear not the fierce warriors of Norway
Coursing on the Irish Sea.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Bodhi Day

The eighth day of the twelfth month (lunar calendar), today is to remember when Siddhartha experienced enlightenment after meditating all night under a peepal tree.  

Friday, January 23, 2015

Friday Fabulosity: Salome

I have not felt overly fabulous this week, but right now I am preparing to stream Salome from the Wiener Staatsoper, and I'm really quite excited about this.  Catherine Naglestad is singing the eponymous role, and based on youtube clips, she rocks.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Requiescat in Pace

Anime News Network reports that Origa, the gorgeous voice from Ghost in the Shell, has passed away.  We will miss her.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Versus Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries: Victory!

I was sent this reddit page, which demonstrates how some of the best ideas can be found on the internet.  I've been experimenting with bite-sized cheesecakes recently anyway, but making individual cheesecakes in tiny little cupcake papers is a LOT of work and usually results in the crust stuck to the paper, and cutting up a big cheesecake into bitesized cheesecakes is messy.  Fortunately, the internet has the solution of putting a no-bake version of cheesecake into strawberries.

It's really really simple to do, and fast even for someone like me who refuses to make cheesecakes that simple (I always mix ricotta and cream cheese and add white chocolate melted in cream).  Granted, I didn't bother to mush graham crackers for the top, but I was feeling lazy.  It was a little difficult getting the strawberries to stand up to be filled, but I have lots of mini-muffin pans and problem solving skills.  I don't have a pastry bag, but I do have a cookie press with a nozzle sort of attachment, which would have worked except I took too cavalier an approach to thoroughly melting the white chocolate (who cares if there is a piece of white chocolate unmelted inside a strawberry?  It's a piece of chocolate inside a strawberry!) and as it turns out, unmelted chocolates can and will jam inside nozzles.  I resorted to messily spooning cheesecake batter into strawberries, but it still wasn't that messy.

Coring strawberries: easy and fast.  

Small quantities of ingredients mean no need to use non-dishwashable bowls.  

Strawberry which is also a bite-sized cheesecake.  Win.  

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Friday, January 16, 2015

Friday Fabulosity: All of These Worlds

Lucas Green's breathtaking animation of some already amazing visuals from Hubble, Cassini, and others:

How many of these worlds could you identify?  You can check most answers here:

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Swan Lake from Russia, with Love

For the first time in years, I made it back to one of my favorite places in Atlanta, the converted and still part-time shriner temple which is now the Fox theatre, one of the most fun architectural (though, alas, not acoustical, which is why the opera doesn't perform there) buildings around.  Shriners have a seriously fun sense of architecture.  The Russian State Ballet was in town to perform Swan Lake.  There were ballerinas in the lobby in full swan maiden regalia, available for photos and autographs (at a silly price, of course.) After an attempt to be a dignified adult who does not need her photo taken with a ballerina, I abandoned that project and had my photo taken with a ballerina.  She signed it "From Russia, with love!" and drew a little stick ballerina after her name.

Once I have my OWN apartment, which cannot happen fast enough, this will be
a decoration in my dance room. 

It was a simple, actually quite low budget, production of Swan Lake, no programs, recorded music and a rather small ensemble.  Nonetheless, the sets were quite classic, and it's hard to be lovelier than the softly painted forest and lake backdrops of a simple production.  Likewise the costumes were both classic and exquisite.  The Evil Von Rothbart had a feathery headdress, wild face paint, and bat wings.  The swans looked exactly as the swans always look, which is always pretty.  The palace scenes were filled with women in lovely floating dresses, accompanied my swains in velvet tops with sparkles.  Also a jester in red and purple who completely stole the show with comic antics and gorgeous floating leaps.  Though that did, unfortunately, do a little more to show up the prince who has, at best, the personality of mayonnaise.  It's not the fault of the production, it's a problem in the ballet itself.  This prince is boring.  The other inherent problem with the ballet is that invariably Odile is more interesting, and more interestingly costumed, than Odette, but what can you do, while still being faithful to the source material?  Though the production did use one of the alternate endings, in which Odette and her forgettable prince live happily ever after.  I disapprove.  I deeply believe that everyone should die at the end of Swan Lake.  Oh well.

Despite mostly faithfulness to the source material and the classic choreography of Petipa (which I honestly don't like) the second act wasn't boring.  The music, while canned, emphasized horns and percussion, which is good because without that the music just becomes impossibly saccharine.  Furthermore, the pas de deux between Odette and the prince was shortened, which helps, in favor of more and more constant movement of the swan maidens.  Any time 15-20 dancers in white move together, the effect is beautiful.  And of course, the famous pas de quatre is still the exact same as the way everyone does it, and it's still cool.

It was the palace scenes that really shone.  In the first act, the prince was dancing with two princesses, each in gold with puffy sleeves, and surrounded by ladies and peasants in white and cream or bronze and brown.  In the third act, the princesses were all properly county coded, and danced by themselves, the Spanish princess with her tambourine, and the Russian princess with her handkerchief (I loved the Russian princess.  Not only was her handkerchief choreography precisely with the music, she had on a white gown with puffy sleeves and pale blue accents.).  They were all quite properly snubbed when the prince declined to propse to any of them despite their really fabulous performances.  When Odile entered, stealing the show in her black tutu with sparkly green wing accents, she brought with her a pair of flamenco dancers as retinue.  The flamenco pair did a balletic flamenco together in black with gold and red accents, and both were phenomenally and skinny and generally impressive and probably evil.

The final act was very anticlimactic for me, because I've seen at least 4 different versions of this now, and I keep waiting for all the principles to die.  I was still waiting for them to die when the curtain went down.  Apart from that, it was a lovely rendition of one of the classics, lovely enough to gloss over some of the weaknesses inherent to this ballet (I think it could really stand some major overhauls to the typical Petipa choreography, frankly.  More swan maidens, less Odette and Siegfried, and more of Odile.  Also, I wish Odile and Odette were two different ballerinas and more attention was paid to Odile.  As Neko-sensei remarks in Princess Tutu, "who is to say that the love of Odile is less pure than that of Odette?").  Regardless of my opinions on the inherent structure of the ballet, it was a joy and a delight to watch the dancers of the Russian State Ballet.  There was one minor bobble--the prince had to put his hand down as he landed a leap and promptly sank into a kneeling position he started to tip sideways--and two minor wardrobe malfunctions.  Von Rothbart's headdress fell off during the first act and the flamenco princess was developing a rip in the back of her skirt.  Live productions are sometimes plagued by such issues, and while I would have appreciated being less distracted during the flamenco performance, overall this was a pleasing production that made me happy.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

In Which I Discover that My Favorite Show Has Been Gutted and Shortchanged, and Decide to Crawl Under a Blanket for the Rest of the Winter

Cirque du Soleil's Varekai came through Colorado Springs at the end of winter break.  Since I did not have filial piety and did not fly home for the solstice revels (because I was afraid of snow) I went to see Varekai instead.  (And drove through not one, but two snowstorms.  The random factors did not align in my favor regarding snow.) 

When Varekai originally came through Atlanta (9 years ago?  10?) I was utterly enchanted.  Varekai is built off a classic fantasy love story, with Icarus crash landing in a magical forest and losing his wings.  But he and a caterpillar girl fall in love, and Icarus learns to walk, and the caterpillar girl turns into a butterfly girl with mad hand-balancing skills.  Add in beautiful music and costumes, clowns that I actually found funny (clowns usually leave me unmoved), the usual Cirque-caliber jaw-dropping acts, and the touchingly sweet interactions of Icarus and the caterpillar girl, and you have my favorite show ever.

In the Varekai I love we start with Icarus falling out of the sky.  The forest inhabitants run off with his wings, and Icarus mourns them with an aerial net routine.  I've been told (but have not confirmed) that the original Icarus was a child acrobat in Saltimbanco.  He certainly had that boneless flexibility of those who start young!  Anyway, it put net on my wish-list of aerial equipment.  Then we start to meet the forest inhabitants: a grumpy figure with a light bulb on his head, the caterpillar girl, bees (water-globes) and some foot-jugglers, and then (just as our principals get interested in each other), the caterpillar girl is kidnapped and pulled up to the roof in a transparent cocoon (where she hangs for the rest of act 1 and the first part of act 2).  Then her kidnappers perform a 4-woman trapeze act.  This is one of the two best trapeze acts I have ever seen (the other was the 2-woman trapeze act in Saltimbanco).  The coordination was flawless, the styling was powerful and direct, and the shapes you can make with four bodies, instead of just one or two, are much more complex and intriguing.

Varekai continues as we meet more inhabitants of the forest: a lake full of happy critters doing acrobatics, a juggler (parrot, maybe?) in bright blue and green, two flyers who do a duo aerial straps routine: again, amazing technique,  and powerful, direct choreography using two bodies to explore angular symmetries, like figures from an Egyptian frieze.  Also a figure on crutches, who does an entire routine on crutches, barely brushing his feet on the stage at all!  Through all of this Icarus is slowly learning to walk, and the caterpillar girl watches from her prison/cocoon.  But then the cocoon opens, and the caterpillar girl, now a butterfly girl, explores her new strength with a hand-balancing act.  (I have confirmed that the original butterfly girl was the hand-balancer from Quidam, and she goes to eleven as far as both acting and hand-balancing are concerned).  I really liked how this was played, that the butterfly girl explored her own strength first, and only when she's done do we get back to the romance.       

Then at the end, the party!  With Russian swings, and leaping off them into large nets, because it's fun to fly!  And we, the audience, love to see people fly, preferably with nets!  And Icarus and the butterfly girl finally get to sit together and watch!

I was prepared for the original cast to have switched out by now.  But I was not prepared for how the show has been whittled down.  The 4-person trapeze act is gone.  The solo replacement has astounding technique...but this is a case where four people are more interesting than one, no matter how talented the one.  The happy lake critters and the aerial straps and the foot-jugglers are still excellent, but the crutches act has lost the floating look and relies much more on feet.  And overall, everything was rushed through and overplayed: the clowns didn't make us wait to get the joke, the interlude scenes were shortened (and for why?  The music is so lovely I am happy to watch a giant firefly balloon drift about the stage; we can wait a little longer for the next act), Icarus was not convincing about learning to walk (I think he kept forgetting?), and, worst of all, the new butterfly girl has not been taught to stop looking at the floor while performing.

I know that abhinaya (the art of expression) is difficult: movement, speech, costumes, and innermost self*.  I struggle with this in every routine, to actually make something worth watching, not just posing to music.  I fail a lot.  In many ways, a purely technical challenge is easier!  (And I also do weird things with my face when I'm concentrating.  Fortunately I have Elisheba to yell at me about this.)  But.  And but: if you are in Cirque du Soleil, and I am not, you should be better than I am at this.  That is why we amateurs dream about being in Cirque: because you are supposed to be the best.  Not necessarily the world's most flexible or strong (although I suspect you often are), but the best at telling us an amazing story through your performance.  

*angikam, vachikam, aharyam, satvikam

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A Corporation Does Something At Least A Little Right

HP provides a prepaid UPS label to ship old printer cartridges to recycling.  Since there are no drop-off locations near this corner of the howling desert of Wyoming, I appreciate this.   

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Road Trip Physics

I was driving through a snowstorm yesterday: the dry, powdery kind with 56 km/hr winds sending snow sheeting at right angles across I-80 (and whipping the world into the resemblance of what happens if you drop a cake onto a towel full of powdered sugar when driving into the wind on I-25N).  I really needed an autopilot so I could take video of the interference and turbulence patterns created in the snow streaming across the asphalt by passing trucks: the patterns were much, much clearer than in my lab's ripple tank.  Fluid dynamics are awesome!   

Friday, January 2, 2015

Friday Fabulosity: Dresses!

One of our recent nobel laureates accepted her prize in a gown that depicted the grid cells that she discovered.  I deeply love Dr. Moser.

Meanwhile, in robotic spiders, this dress would be the best defense ever against people who are not respecters of my personal space, and I want it.