Friday Favorites, 10/27/17

This week’s favorite is La beauté sans vertu by Genevieve Valentine. This is everything (maybe nearly everything?) Valentine likes to write about—fashion, the fashion industry, fairy tales, feminism—rolled up into one gorgeous and dense and prickly story, like a bed of roses. Which is, not coincidentally, a motif throughout the story.

I really have to gush a little about how the story is so perfectly structured. Every sentence is as layered as it is gorgeous. The story overflows with #aesthetic but at no point does that get in the way of the story’s function. Every pretty thing in this story is an important signifier or symbol; it doesn’t just stand there looking nice. That’s harder than it sounds even in a story about the fashion industry. (You wish all your clothes could accomplish the same.)

All right, speaking of roses. La beauté sans vertu is the story of Maria, a 19-year-old model who (with the help of bones grafted from a dead 14-year-old; this is the industry standard) rises to become a star in the House of Centifolia, a couture house. Rhea, the owner of the House of Centifolia, designs a runway show around Maria and her beauty. Then things start to fall apart.

It’s a story about the currency of women’s bodies and how and when they’re valued and what we consider beautiful and why. It’s a deeply beautiful story that understands the price of beauty and who has to pay it.

Reading this story is—to borrow an image from it—somewhat akin to swallowing a rose. Someone will bleed for this. But oh, the beauty of it.

Packing for the studio

Clockwise starting at upper left: Danskin leotard, Mirelle skirt, spare pair of Bloch leather shoes, Capezio transition tights, working pair of So Danca canvas shoes.

(The bag is holding the less crucial and/or photogenic items: spare leos, spare tights, spare skirts, water bottle, light reading material, knitting WIP, and mass transit card.)

Couldn’t attend class this week, sad but しょうがない so I practice as much as I can.

Friday Favorites, 10/20/17

Welcome to Friday Favorites! I’ve decided to start a weekly series where I highlight a short story*—could be past or present—that I love.

I’m starting off with The Weight of Memories by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu. ~2,800 words, science fiction. While sometimes I give content warnings, I’m choosing not to on this one. (Okay, I’m giving one: I personally found the science to be implausible, but that doesn’t bother me in stories so long as the narrative is internally consistent and doesn’t bill itself as hard science.)

This is a story about a violent conflict between memories and experiences—the same memories experienced very differently, with very different results. If we are the sums of our experiences, then is it possible to add up the same things and arrive at two different sums? Yes, says this story, depending on how the addition is done.

As a very visual reader I also loved how spare the story is, and how stark, with almost all the violent bursts of color coming from the memories being relived.

I was also very deeply touched by this story as a Chinese person. I don’t talk about it a lot, but that is my heritage. A lot of awful events (check Wikipedia, I don’t have it in me to discuss) went on over the last two generations, which my family, especially my parents, somehow survived. I grew up never asking about my family’s past because the answer was invariably Yet Another Awful Story. And I feel sometimes—and my parents too—that China is changing so fast that one generation doesn’t understand another, and this story touches on that connection/disconnect as well. I’m shivering as I type those words. Read the story to find out why.

You may look over the above and say “gosh, Kara, that’s a really dark recommendation.” Fair enough. A friend once summed up my authorial obsessions as “memory, death, tragic love.” What is there to say other than … may as well lean in. If you’re on my wavelength, this may resonate painfully but wonderfully for days, as it did and still does for me.

* Okay so in reality I reserve the right to recommend whatever piece of writing I feel like, but for now at least, I want to focus on short stories.

Weekly Ballet Post, 10/19/17

I’ve been doing some workouts in addition to barre practice at home, and I would like to think that’s why I did better at things like attitude and passé this week. I did not try any center work at home (logistics are difficult) which is probably why I totally sucked at center this week. At least I am consistent.

Goals for this upcoming week of home practice:

– 2x back workouts
– 2x core workouts
– 3 home barres (any level)

– 1x spotting practice coupled with chainé turn practice, sigh but I want to start getting better at turns

– Every day:
– 4x passé passing front/back on flat, 4x on demipointe
– 8x passé HOLD on each leg (4x on flat, 4x on demipointe)
– 24x elevé on each leg
– Stretches (all splits, the two hip stretches)

Weekly Ballet Post, 10/12/17

Went back to Hardcore Studio this week, after a week off. During the week I tried to work a bit at home, practicing various basics: brushing with the tendu, not letting the knee fall during a developpé, passés up and down (4x flat, 4x in relevé), and 24 daily elevés on each leg. Not sure which of those was the hardest …

But the best prep I actually did was a lot of practicing how to turn at the barre. Most combinations are done first on the right or left, and then switch to the other side. If you are at the barre, this generally means you need to turn 180 degrees so that you can switch hands (and feet). This is not done casually. No. It is accomplished by some variation on:

1) Rise into sous sus
2) Turn 180 degrees on the working leg (defined as the leg away from the barre) towards the barre
3) Come back down on working leg while simultaneously placing the other leg in front of working leg; now it is the new working leg

I’m not sure if that made sense in writing. It certainly did not in speaking, which is why I spent so much time staring at YouTube and tied my ankles into knots at home trying to practice.

The other hard bit about this turn is you don’t want to start either too close or too far from the barre; otherwise once you finish the turn you will either end up squeezed into the barre or so far away that your arm can’t reach. So you have to place the working foot correctly at the start. Here’s where it came in handy to learn that in sous sus, 1) the toes of both feet are supposed to be aligned (this is a very popular pose for pointe photos, especially from the side) 2) when you rise into sous sus from fifth or whatever, you don’t shift both feet towards the middle; you pull the working foot to line up with the standing foot. Consequently your working leg will be at the same distance from the barre as your standing leg, thus ensuring that once you’ve turned around, you will remain at your ideal distance (assuming that you were at a good distance before the sous sus). Clever, that one. Anyway, this sounds like a very small matter, but I assure you that with the amount of turning there was in class, I felt much less awkward compared to last time when I had zero idea what to do. It also helped with other small turns; having the muscle memory to pivot and close in fifth without thinking too hard is very handy. Unfortunately this bit me somewhat when we did a combination with a passe relevé closing in the back. I think out of eight times, I closed in the front seven times.

Now back to staring at videos trying to learn assemblé, which was whipped out last night and I had never heard of it before. I was able to stay late and get some tips but for sheer patience, nothing beats YouTube for a teacher.

I still have no idea what a “perris” lilac is

So my leo collection is nowhere near epic, but I have definitely expanded from the single black short sleeve Capezio leo that I’d started out with.

In particular, I have (with some embarrassment but obviously not enough to stop me) longed after the leo/skirt outfit worn by certain years/classes of Vaganova swans-in-training. It took me a stupidly long time and much failed googling before realizing they were probably wearing Grishko, which is the Russian ballet brand. Well, Grishko dancewear is not easily if at all available in the states (although their pointe shoes appear to be readily available). P.S. you can find some creepy yet hilariously awful photoshopping if you trudge through their English website in desperation like I did.

An aside: this obsession set in just before Worldcon, so I had the genius thought “Finland is close to Russia, maybe in Helsinki …” and so I spent my first sleep-deprived day pounding some pavement at dancewear stores instead of, you know, going to the con. Anyway it was a bust. I should’ve gone to some panels …

But I was undeterred! And after weeks of googling for various combinations of “cornflower” “periwinkle” “[insert other blue-purple shades here]” “leotard” and “skirt” I hit lookalike paydirt. I am now the proud owner of a Dansko leotard in perris lilac and a Mirella skirt in periwinkle.

Having obtained my objective, the real question is, how shameless do I have to be to go to class dressed like that?! Answer: I have less ballet budget then shame, so I’m not letting these acquisitions go to waste. Do svidanya, see you in the studio.

(Where was the class post last week? Out sick, like myself. Hopefully I will be able to attend a class tomorrow night.)