Update from Italy!

I will make a comprehensive blog post (or several) for our travels and some of our photos once I get back on Easter Sunday. This is turning out to be the most exciting spring break I have ever had! It is nice that we have 4 weeks off for Easter from University of Leeds…

Ciao, friends! I am writing from Rome, Italy! My attempts to blog about each city I visit have been thwarted by undependable wireless internet and time constraints while travelling. We (Pri and I) have had a few set backs to deal with, disappointment because of our tight budgets, and lessons learned the hard way, but for the most part we are just thrilled to have the privilege to be travelling and seeing Europe! On our limited budget, we have been staying at borderline sketchy hostels and subsisting on bread and cheese.  I have to say though, the pizza, espresso/cappuccinos, and gelato are to die for!

Today I spent Palm Sunday at the Basilica in Saint Peter’s Square, where the Pope (Benedict XVI) gave mass.  Although I’m not Catholic, it was impressive to see and hold in reverence the thousands of years of history of the Romans, and the early Christian church. I can’t take credit for planning that out;  it just happened. In fact, I didn’t realize it was Palm Sunday until I saw thousands of  people swarming out of the Vatican people carrying olive  and palm branches.

That’s all for now. I need some sleep and energy to walk more of Rome tomorrow before we leave for Barcelona. So far: York, Edinburgh, Venice, and Rome.

Ciao! xxx Becca

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Spring in Leeds

Sunday, March 7

Aye, mate! It’s that time of year – when the flowers start blossoming, the birds start chirping, and the lambs are frolicking on the hills… Ok, ok, not really. I’m a hopeless romantic in so far as Jane Austin, but not for the changing of seasons. Isn’t this the place where the great English poets that I study were inspired, here on this very island? Yet I come upon some extraordinary paradoxes in the land of the King’s language.

For one, the grass is green all year round. It never reaches permafrost, so even when the snow melts, there is green stubble coming up. And the birds here – I’m convinced they’re confused, because they chirp all winter long, and in the middle of the night! What bird in its right mind chirps in the middle of the night unless it’s an owl?! The flowers, though, are lovely. I am awestruck by the assortment of perennials that have popped up almost overnight. Really, they’re gorgeous. They look like one of those unrealistically perfectly landscaped flower gardens you see in the seed magazines. I know a lot about seed magazines because my mom, bless her, has been for year trying to grow impossible plants in the impossible New Mexican soil.

I guess every region, and every continent has its native plants and animals to suit its own climate and terrain, but England from far back as my knowledge of history goes has been acquiring things from other cultures and lands, a consumer, a trade guru, an international hybridization from other lands. I mean, think about their Chinese inspired Gothic architecture, gunpowder, horses – where did those come from? – spices, tea, even many of their trees and flowers weren’t native – the apple, tomatoes, potatoes, corn came later from the Americas. Jolly ol’ England, you little borrower!

Well, I need to get on to bigger and better things, like reading Lloyd, Pope, Leaper, Finch and Gay, and maybe some Wordsworth… so off to my castle lair I will recline as soon as I make my tea. Proper rest hence I must take so I don’t take ill and spoil my complexion. Good ‘morrow, ladies and gents.

NBT’s Romeo & Juliet

NBT's Romeo & uliet

I was thrilled to see Northern Ballet Theatre in my all-time-favorite ballet, Romeo and Juliet. What could be better than Shakespeare, a live orchestra, and world-class dancing all in one? The last time I saw this ballet was in 2004, American Ballet Theater’s version of Romeo and Juliet at the Metropolitan Opera House. Since then, I have not seen a company that could outdo ABT’s interpretation of Prokofiev’s exquisite score. A few years later, in 2007, New York City Ballet premiered Peter Martin’s interpretation of the love story, using two talented young dancers from the School of American Ballet to accurately portray Juliet as 16-year-old girl.

While a mature dancer lends deeper emotions to the piece than a 16-year-old can, the youthfulness of Juliet’s character can only be expressed by an almost juvenile innocence. You never see a mature looking Juliet. This rule NBT stuck to, casting one of their young looking dancers for the role. However, there was not enough emotion that I would expect a mature dancer to portray.

When you have seen the bond that dancers such as Julie Kent and Angel Corella can create onstage in a manner of a couple hours that leaves you heart-wrenched, it is unfair to compare any other pair to them. The acting and the dancing were astounding for young dancers, but in such a famous classic, it is a challenge enough to create the atmosphere, let alone bring something new to the stage.

Christopher Gable’s adaption of the tragedy does its best to convey the passion and intensity of the story for a smaller cast and stage. His interpretation of the swash-buckling, gypsy bickering scene of 16th century Italy is just as accurate as any other, but sometimes I felt the choreography was not true to the time period. For instance, there were too many lifts and slides in the lotus position. Not to say Gable’s choreography was not effective:

The energy of the masquerade ball with the women swinging their long velvet sleeves with their circular arm movements drew me in, as well as the men’s fiery dance red poles in place of traditional swords. The sets and costumes were accurate for the time period and impressive, but I couldn’t help but notice how Gable tried to make his stage and his ballet different from any other classical version of the ballet that has been done. He bravely incorporated more grounded movements than traditional ballet and played with the levels to create contrast in the dancer’s bodies. That is by means a negative assessment. Gable may be well on his way to paving the way for contemporary dance and classical story ballet to collide.

No wonder this is an audience favorite – the ballet is filled with acting that portrays the story better through movements and gestures than words could ever do. Shakespeare would have been proud.

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I tried to sit back and watch the story unfold, but the dancer and the critic in me wants to pick one dancer and focus on him or her and analyze every move and every step. I can remember how it felt: the swell of the orchestra taking me where the choreography had never taken me before…

The searing lights beat down upon your hair-spray plastered head, the ribbons pinned so tightly in your hair whipping you in the face as your partner pulls you around. He looks so different in his costume than in those gray tights and sweaty T-shirt in the rehearsal studio. The choreography is a breeze since it has been engrained in your muscle memory after weeks of rehearsals. This is the only part you have to focus on your timing: glancing at the couple in front of you out of the corner of your eye, you make sure you line up behind them for the pose on “four!” Then sauté with your partner right away on “six” glissade, feeling his hands on your waist, “seven”, jete into the curtain on “eight!” Slowly he lowers you down onto his chest; you know that the section is over, and for now the rest of the dance the two of you and the five other couples get to sink into the backdrop and cheer on the lead couple like pleasant villagers until the end of the act.

German Night

Flat 10 partied Saturday night to end the month of February. It started as a celebration for Rachel handing in her first draft of her dissertation, and Udo wanted to host a German Fest in our kitchen. So we started off the night with German beer, German wine, German sausages, which I didn’t eat, but made my own soy burger. We all chipped in and made the sides (which wouldn’t have turned out so well without 5 cooks in our crammed kitchen). Homemade Mash and veg accompanied the sausage. Rachel made some German apple dumpling thing she found off a website. I tried to make crepes after our pancake night last week went so well. I can make american pancakes, what could be so hard about making crepe? Clearly, I lacked the talent. (check out my “crepes” below. they’re hardly recognizeable.)

Lots of people piled into our house just as we finished eating. We still can’t figure out where they came from, but we had quite the party for awhile. Rach and I retreated to our rooms to get ready for a night out and let the boys handle getting every one out of the flat. Free shots at one pub, then another, until we found a good place to dance. Was a great flat mate night out.