Sunday, March 28, 2010


The boys and I camped overnight with Cub Pack 28 (about seven dads and eight sons) at Santee State Park, which is a wonderfully well-maintained and beautiful wilderness area alongside Lake Marion south of Columbia. We drove down through Elloree and stopped for lunch in Santee, and then motored into the camp area, which was on a bluff overlooking the water. Nearby a well-organized (and amazingly quiet) Boy Scout troop from Summerville operated an efficient camp. The only drawback for our sweet placement was suffering howling winds coming off the lake, which whipped through until around four o'clock in the morning. At times in the tent I thought we were on some mountainside; when we went to bed I feared the tent might not make it through the night upright. It helped lower the temperatures quite a bit, but overall the day was very nice. Luckily I decided to bring along a warmer outfit as well as a blanket. One nice side benefit was that it sounded as if we were next to an ocean, and that helped make sleep very comfortable; couldn't even hear nearby I-95.

The boys mostly played war-related activities all day: building a fort on the banks of the lake (I called it Firebase Santee), marching about, getting soaked in the surf, and going on patrols. They captured a huge dead catfish that floated ashore (and were banned from carrying it up to the campsite). We hiked on the Sinkhole path, spied on an alligator (we were surprised to see one out and about; it seemed to be protecting its nest, so we did not venture too close), and checked out the sinkholes. While hiking, I was bringing up the rear. Chimo said to me, "Dad, if there was a sniper in these woods, you would be the first to go, cause you're the biggest target, and the slowest." We had cheeseburgers for dinner, followed by smores. I even tried a little venison sausage, which wasn't too bad. Basically the boys cavorted, while the dads sat around talking about work, movies, a little politics, and other guy stuff. I got to see osprey. I think the boys and I had a really nice time.

Rain drifted in Sunday morning, but it was mostly light. The boys ate pancakes and bacon for breakfasat. Then they headed off for more maneuvers, while the dads broke camp. Overall, it was a pleasant, relaxing camping trip. I took the boys over to the pier afterwards and let them fish for a while. I don't know how this was possible, but Chimo caught a snail on his hook. On the way back, Joey mostly slept. We stopped for lunch at Ryans.

Friday, March 26, 2010


Would obsession with art provide a good storyline for a movie? Yes, indeed. Especially when three wonderful actors collaborate to present delightful characters. In The Maiden Heist, Christopher Walken, Morgan Freeman, and William Macy are three long-serving museum guards who have become captivated by different pieces of art and are rattled when a new art director sells the collection in favor of a modern installation, and the men are devastated by the news. Then they come up with a scheme to save their favorite pieces. Walken was especially good as the lover of a painting called The Maiden; he spends hours observing it,a nd when he goes home he puts on his beret and reads about French painting. I thought his facial expressions, and dialogue with his wife, were wonderful. Freemen, whose character apppears to be gay, plays his role perfectly. There is a bit of slapstick comedy and wackiness, but it is the interaction of three very different men who find common ground and a common cause that is so great. I highly recommend this movie, for all ages. How the guys didn't garner (at least, I don't think they did) any awards for their performaces, is beyond me.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Read two fairly interesting novels recently. In Pete Dexter's Spooner, the author tells the story of the relationship between a young boy, an odd troubled kind of slacker neer-do-well, and his codependent yet patient ex-naval officer stepfather who connects with the young man but never seems to understand him. Dexter is one of American's best novelists, and the story is humorous and enjoyable. I also read Gillian Flynn's second novel, Dark Places, the story of a young woman gradually coming to the realization that her brother may not have killed their family (he serving a life sentence), and that her seven-year-old testimony against him may have been wrong. You never really get to like Libby, but you want to know what happened. The narrative is told not only through her eyes, but flashbacks told from that of Ben, the accused, and Patty, the mother. It is a pretty good read, and I would recommend it. Slipped in between these novels I read Christopher Moores delicious third novel of wacky vampirism, Bite Me, following on his Bloodsucking Fiends and You Suck. His books are like catnip to me, I just can wait to read them. They are funny and light, and I really like them.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


I saw two willows

rising sun ballerinas

dance in the midlands.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


Had the flow of tears and love displayed after the performance of Aladdin on Friday night actually watered a desert, an oasis surely would surely have bloomed. Although crying is normal for the last show of the season, in this case the tears were shed in sadness for the large number of beloved dancers who are leaving Columbia Classical Ballet for new opportunities and to return to their homes. (See my last post). Renata, Waldilei, Akari, Kaori, Riiko, Zoltan, and Kazuki (all good dancers and even better people) will be missed. I loved watching them on stage. It was hard for me not to join the waterworks.

Oh, yeah. . . the show itself was very nice, despite a few missed parts (in which ad libbing ensued), an occasional muffed lift, a slightly awkward landing. Aladdin was full of color and movement, and it was a real delight. Cudos for whomever painted the backdrops, because they were beautiful. Overall, the costumes were very nice (well, ok, I wasn't all that wild about the peasant smocks), especially those of the ballerinas (after the opening scenes). I thought the white headresses on the peasant guys, however, looked a bit like mammy caps (think GWTW). These minor distractions aside, I thought the dancing was wonderful and the crowds seemed to enjoy both shows. I was worried that children during the outreach performance might not stay with it, but they remained captivated, and it is a wonderful thing to have youngsters getting an introduction to the arts.

The best performance (for me) was put on by Waldelei Goncalves as the genie (in the morning session). I have watched him dance for three years, and he never really got the opportunity to shine like he did in this show (although he was good in all his shows), but he was perfect in this role and he really danced wonderfully. . .expressive, strong and sprightly, and clearly enjoying himself on the stage. He seemed to be having more fun than almost anyone. Although he claims it is his last time (he will turn instead to teaching) , I hope he relents and keeps on dancing, at least a little bit. He and Renata are such warm spirits and ambassadors for dance, and legions of youngsters will benefit from working with them.

The regulars were great too. Lauren, Kaori, and Akari were beautiful, as usual. There were times when a few dancers seemed to be going through the motions, as enthusiasm lagged (particularly in the second show), but no doubt that was a result of burdened hearts and weighing down spirits. It is the first time I recall seeing Aladdin, and some parts were hard to follow (I thought it was odd they used a metal pail in the first scene), but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I suspect dance critics with more experience than myself might find things to complain about, but I was delighted. And there were little parts (miscues) that made me smile. As when, during the rehearsal the ballerinas got their jewel baskets messed up and hilarity followed. Or when a younger dancer strayed out from the wings and gestured wildly to the other side, I guess because someone missed a cue. I keep telling my son that mistakes are part of dance, in fact, are part of every artistic endeavor, and that when one is made, the performer should just carry on as if nothing unusual happened. He will learn. Joey had a small part, but I thought he did well. He was critical of himself (grading himself as a C in the morning, a B+ at night), which shows me that he is aware that he has much to learn, but that he felt good on the stage. All the kids did well. When the littlest tots (as always, a crowd favorite), in their green outfits clamored out for their part, I quipped to a parent backstage, "There goes Pavlovich's Thundering Herd! (think Marshall University)." They were so cute.

OK, now it is time for me to find my Kleenex! :) I know there will be many more great dancers to see and meet in the future, but I will really miss this ensemble.

Friday, March 5, 2010


In my relatively short (about five years) association with the Columbia Classical Ballet, mostly as a parent and fan, there has been much joy and learning, getting to know a diverse and frequently changing cast of characters, and coming to understand better the hard work and beauty of dance, sometimes from a privileged position (such as standing in the wings backstage or watching rehearsals). The CCB has over this period done a wonderful job of blending the talents of young American dancers with a flavoring of worldwide talent. But there has also been occasional sadness, bordering on loss for me, as change is a certainty. For instance, when Brazilian brothers Junior and Humberto quietly snuck off a few years back, like ghosts in the night, to join other companies, I was dismayed and disheartened (though I understood the dynamics and was happy for them as well). Every year I suffer a sort of melancholy as a dancer or two that I have come to know or enjoyed watching perform, leaves for a better opportunity or to return home. But this year, like a flash flood in a western arroyo, the landscape of local dance has been scoured and swept downstream. So it is with much trepidation and sadness that I go to see this weekend Aladdin, knowing that when the final curtain falls, several of my favorite dancers are headed off to distant parts of the globe. My spirit is darkened, my heart pained. I already miss them.

There are times I wish I had been introduced to dance as a child; that some special connection had been discovered in me (such as happened with my son) so that I could have possibly found a hidden talent for movement and the stage. But no, my interests lay elsewhere, and I treasure them; but I have been increasing enamored by dance and dancers, enjoying the motion, color, precision, and presentation. Inwardly, there is something that pines to be included in such a group (particularly if related to the arts). Maybe it is jealousy of their talent, possibly borderline infatuation and awe (and that goes for anyone who special skills). I always felt that way, even when I was in school; I seemed to know the members of each clique, but was never allowed into any inner circle. And of course, I am an outsider to the special world of ballet---not part of the close-knit fraternity that bonds dancers (like soldiers or cops), that allows them to mesh as a team despite petty rivalries or personality clashes. Only wealthy patrons and backstage support seem to be allowed into that fellowship in any true measure; the rest are often treated with varying levels of attention---from polite disdain to near contempt---for usurpers are not of the chosen. Some dancers do not respond to a friendly salutations, or shy away when approached, and many simply ignore the "lesser" folk. A few I have met surely fit the description of divas, and others sometimes seemed cold and superior.

But the last few years at CCB have been wonderfully different, largely due to the warmness and friendliness of a select group of dancers who embraced my sons and, happily, me. Just as the Teixera brothers were departing, I was introduced to a couple (part of a incoming group of dancers) who also hailed from their homeland. Almost immediately Renata Franco and Waldilei Goncalves welcomed this outsider, just as they seemed to acknowledge everyone, with warmth, class, and good humor. Their first year here was a challenge for them, but they persevered. I enjoyed visiting them and seeing how they were doing. In many ways, they became the beating heart of recent companies. For three years I greatly enjoyed their friendship. I will miss Waldilei’s impish grin and easy manner, his salutation "Hello, Jim," whenever he saw me and came over to chat. I don’t think I ever saw him angry or frustrated (though I know he was at times). He even humored me by listening to my music suggestions and ideas on dance. Renata has that inner spirit of a mother and teacher, and I smile inside when I think of how special a life their children and future students will have with them. She reminds me in many ways of my mother. She served as the ballet mistress this past season and was beloved by her students. The couple returns to Belo Horizonte, Brazil, to teach ballet, settle down, and begin a new life. I hope perhaps one day I can send my son down there for a year or so of training from them, should he stay in ballet. Through them, in part, I have come to enjoy the combination of modern and classical ballet, as promoted by groups such as Groupo Corpo, which hails from their hometown.

Also leaving CCB are a trio of beautiful and talented Japanese ballerinas, as well as one Japanese male dancer. I will miss the striking elegance and shy friendliness of Akari Manabe, who seemed to anchor the company on stage with her graceful movement, long arms, and ever-beaming smile. I loved sections where she and Kaori Yanagida danced together. Of all the dancers leaving, she seems to be the one who would most like to stay (although I could be wrong) in Columbia. I imagine that plenty of companies, in the United States and overseas, will be jumping at the chance to get her to join them.

Although I less often spoke with Kaori, she also was always pleasant and cheerful. She will be returning to Hungary with Zoltan Boros, who also danced with CCB. Both have been strong performers in the company, and I know they made many friends here. I suspect their sojourn in Eastern Europe will be short, as certainly they will get plenty of offers worldwide.

The two other Japanese dancers to depart are, Riiko Kitayama, who returns to Canada (though there is the chance she may return) and Kazuki Ichihashi, who joins a company in his homeland. Kazuki got a little more attention and did some really fine dancing; Riiko will be best remembered as the Chinese dancer in the Nutcracker. I had the pleasure of meeting her mother as well.

I’m not sure who else will be leaving the company, and surely there will be new faces. There will be a different feel next year. I suspect the company will take on a less diverse flavor, at least for one year. I hope CCB continues to draw talented young dancers to Columbia. And thank goodness for Facebook, where I will continue to follow their careers when I can.

Monday, March 1, 2010


Tobias Wolff’s In Pharoah’s Army is a well-written, entertaining, and humorous account of the author’s army career and service as a young artillery (translator) lieutenant attached to a unit in South Vietnam, a stay that included his participation in the infamous Tet Offensive. Comprised mostly of short anecdotal stories, the book reveals both the horrors and humor of participation in war. Some stories were especially good, such as (with his sergeant) his appropriating a color television during a bustling trade in "war mementos") so that they could watch Bonanza and his saving a small puppy from the spit. He seems brutally honest in his descriptions of his actions (including noting that he literally shit in his pants after a grenade failed to explode under his truck), the behavior and attitudes of the local population, his less-than-sterling performance (which included the shelling of the nearby town), and his family and relationships (including his scam-artist father). It has been drilled in my head that Tet was a lesson for the Americans, but Wolff points out that it was meant to be a lesson for the South Vietnamese. I enjoyed this book and recommend to readers who want to learn more about the war.