On the edge of your seat

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Jan. 24, 2008

Dear Julie,

Before our performing arts center opened last fall, some people genuinely questioned why Cape Girardeau needed one. After all, theatrical and dance productions had gone begging for audiences at the Show Me Center, our basketball arena.

One of the reasons we have a performance hall made an appearance last week.

The St. Petersburg Ballet came to town to do "Swan Lake." Let me admit to being lukewarm about seeing a ballet that probably ranks No. 1 on any list of warhorses. But when a fine ballet company stops in Cape Girardeau, you go see them. It turns out, you won't be disappointed.

New York City audiences might be accustomed to being in the presence of artistry of this magnitude. We aren't. And DC and I had to travel three blocks to see it.

Women in mink, not an everyday sight in Cape Girardeau, attended "Swan Lake." So did a lot of guys who would rather be eating Buffalo wings. During the second intermission a few complained about the ballet's three-hour length. But the accomplished dancing and the sumptuous sets were easy to appreciate.

My first opera was Verdi's "Don Carlos," which lasted four hours. I didn't expect to be on the edge of my seat the whole time but was.

Great art makes us look, listen and feel.

Maybe people with rhapsodic names like Yulia Prosyannikova, Vladimir Dorokhin and Liudmila Mizinova naturally dance better. The Russian dance tradition might have something to do with it. The ballerinas evoked birds so skillfully and sensitively they made me think of the way the Japanese dancers Eiko and Koma create timeless landscapes on stage. In one dance Eiko and Koma are in skins, like seals basking on rocks. They are motionless until minutes into the dance. Stillness and anticipation become part of the dance.

Having the new performing arts center helped make it possible to get grants that brought professional dancers from Chicago and a top choreographer from New York City here earlier this month. The student "Dance-A-Palooza" show coming at the end of February is going to show it.

The performing arts center is providing many firsts this first year of its existence. The Shaolin Warriors performance might have been the first time someone saw the dance in martial arts. Seeing "Big River" might have been the first time fans of Mark Twain and Roger Miller sat side by side. "Late Nite Catechism" coming up Feb. 1 and 2 might provoke someone to see the humor in religion for the first time.

Seeing the St. Petersburg Ballet in the Show Me Center would be as unenjoyable as watching Monster Trucks compete in the performing arts center. Neither belongs there. You want to be draped in cushioned surroundings to watch finely trained dancers. You want to be encased in steel and concrete for trucks that thunder.

As the year goes by, the performance hall is becoming a real home for the arts. Show by show, patrons have begun to think of it as the place they saw the Shaolin Warriors or "Big River" or "Swan Lake."

In the 1970s, the Fox Theatre in St. Louis was still rundown and in tatters. I saw the Grateful Dead there. They belonged there. Now the finest of fine art belongs here.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is a reporter for the Southeast Missourian.

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