he said, ‘dance for me.’

On Friday I went to see the Houston Ballet’s performance of Marie Antoinette.  The production took place in the recently refurbished Mahalia Jackson Performing Arts Center, a rather elaborate building located rather incongruously on N. Rampart St.

I had never been to the center before (previous NOBA events had taken place in Tulane University’s Dixon Hall), but when I plotted it out on my iPhone, it didn’t look too far from the streetcar stop at Canal St. 

I meant to leave at 7pm, but of course lingered too long over my lipstick, and wasn’t at the stop until 20 min. later.  I barely caught the tram, and stood at the front for a few minutes, sweating and tremblingly shoving small change into the money receptacle.  My carefully coiffed hair was surely ruined; the fact that all the windows were open certainly didn’t help matters further.  It was a bit sad, b/c I had dressed in a new white silk frock from anthropologie, styled my hair, powdered my nose, and now I was sweaty, disheveled, shiny…but that’s New Orleans for you.  The humidity takes no prisoners.

I sat near the front, and after about ten minutes, a homeless man w/ a twisted back, carrying a cardboard box and wearing a filthy baseball cap shuffled up the stairs.  And he sat next to me.  I couldn’t get up of course, w/o looking terribly ill-bred and hurting his feelings.  And I began to get a little bit angry w/ the pair who did move, the others who cast looks of distaste, and the supercilious German couple who babbled ugly words in their ugly language.  He was a human being too, after all!  And he wasn’t mumbling crazily or anything…he just sat with his head in his arms.

Anyway, at some point I resolved I was going to give him a little money.  The smallest bill I had was a $5, so I dug around in my purse, and held it at the ready.  Meanwhile, time was marching on, and I was starting to become anxious as to whether I would make it to the theatre on time.

The homeless man disembarked w/ surprising alacrity, and I had to pursue him a bit before I could slip my small donation into his box, and then trip away across Canal St w/o nary a backward glance.  I don’t want to sound saintly or anything; I mean, I was sincerely hoping he would spend the money on soap.

I made my way to N. Rampart, to where I thought the theatre should be.  It was strangely dark and deserted for a performing arts center, and I reluctantly pulled out my iPhone (I mean, take out fancy gadgetry downtown and you have no one but yourself to blame when you get mugged) to check on my location.  I could see my little blue beacon self pulsating placidly next to the green flag that was supposed to be the center….W/ a sinking feeling, I realized that GoogleMaps had given me the old, pre-Katrina location (I certainly was by a theatre of some sort, but it was all shut up, its doors plastered w/ “Caution” signs). 

I became more and more unnerved as I progressed up the street; it was v. dark, and there were a lot of abandonded buildings, empty, garbage-strewn yards, and eerie parking garages.  Dimly, I recalled having heard some ominous things about N. Rampart.  I was excruciatingly conscious of being a lone, well-dressed female.  Worse, it was almost time for the show to begin.  Luckily, I had some extra cash on me, so I hailed a taxi.  As I was climbing in, a lady in the car behind us called out, “Good, I was just about to tell you it’s not very safe for you out here.”

The driver–an Indian guy who barely spoke English and had no idea who or what Mahalia Jackson was–took me the remaining 6 blocks to the 800’s.  The theatre still wasn’t readily visible, but a couple on the street informed me that I had to go inside Louis Armstrong park. 

Tiptoeing behind a tall man carrying a 40 in a brown paper bag, and trying desperately not to attract attention, I slipped into the park.  FINALLY.  There it was.  I was 5 min. late.  I rushed in breathlessly and was shown my seat (in the center…better than I usually get, but I had gotten a good deal), into which I gratefully deposited my harried self. 

One of the things that struck me right off was the sumptuousness of the costumes.  Maria Theresa’s gown was positively coruscating.  Melody Herrera, a little blonde sylph, made an excellent Marie.  After Maria Theresa had packed her daughter off to France, she whirled tumultuously.  Was it anguish for the loss of her daughter?  Uncertainty over the rectitude of her decision? 

The sets were equally elaborate, which is fitting, given the grandeur and pomp of Versailles.  Marie is upstaged by Mme du Barry in Act I.  Amy Fote as du Barry was incredible, coquettish and graceful and completely charming with her little fan.  The young Louis was also far hunkier than the real specimen; I couldn’t believe that Marie would ever betray him for the count (not that he was bad-looking at all.  No, better to have them both I think). 

During the first intermission, I was still feeling a bit flustered, so I purchased a bottle of water (at an extortionate price, mind you) and a flute of Champagne.  I stood in the corner and tried to call Erin so I could relate to her my adventure; after about 2 min. though, her father called and filial duty dictated that he take precedence, so I had to hang up unsatisfied.  The Champagne helped though, and it was w/ a more contented mien that I traipsed back to my seat in time for the show to resume.

Act II was kicked off by boisterous activities in a pastoral setting.  Interspersed with the classical chaîné turns and pirouettes was mummery and tumbling, complete w/ sparkling ungergarments on display and “drunken” twirls.  The revels cannot last, h/e…Marie’s count is sent away from the court.  The two say good-bye in a sweet, but perhaps in retrospect emotionally void, pas de deux.  Worse, there is revolution in the air.  Ruffians encroach on the stage, driving the courtiers into a small knot.  The slow invasion turns into a full-scale assault.  The Princesse de Lamballe is tormented by the crowd.  I think these sorts of scenes are one of the most difficult to do, b/c they can be laughable if they the drama isn’t modulated.  This was perfect though.  They tossed the dancer about, and dragged her across the stage as she clawed the ground.  Finally they threw her down, and she lay still, limbs akimbo.  The crowd surrounded her, and the ringleader raised a sickle threateningly.  After they killed her, they pulled the king and queen to kneel before them. 

The sky is red throughout Act III.  The act opens at Marie’s trial.  The queen sits erect throughout, her back to the audience.  She is then led to her jail cell.  Here, her interactions w/ her husband are achingly tender.  Her dress is plain and gray–the white is sullied, and how she looks as if she is wearing a funeral shroud.  The part where her son is taken away from her is short…I felt they should have emphasized the horror and agony a bit more (I’m cheerful like that).  Finally, they lead her to the guillotine.  The crowd surrounds her, and we see the blade fall.

Safe in Austria, Marie’s daughter sits at the clavier her young mother had once played, lays down her head, and weeps.

Overall, the performance was v. good.  It didn’t make me cry, h/e, which means that it wasn’t as wonderful as some that I’ve seen (it’s those Russians, man.  No one else comes close). 

It took me a while to hail a cab, but I finally snagged one.  Probably I would have had more luck venturing closer to the quarter, but my evening had already been scary enough, and since by then it was nearly 11pm, I didn’t want to take any chances.  My driver was a young, gregarious half-Ethiopian man.

“So what, was there a party there or something?” he asked, as we pulled away.

“A ballet, actually.”

“Oh, a ballet.  How did you get hooked up w/ that?  I mean, do you have to be invited or something?”

“No, anyone can go.”

“Really?  You can just walk through the doors?”

“Well, I mean, I had to buy a ticket.”

“Oh, a ticket.  Yeah, yeah.”

“What was it about?” he resumed. 

I thought for a moment.  “Marie Antoinette.”

“I don’t know it,” he said.

“Ummm…the French Revolution?”

“French Revolution…” He shook his head and shrugged helplessly.

“That’s okay.”

He deposited me near my apt., safe and sound.  I had survived.  Luckily, there aren’t any more must-see shows coming to town…I don’t know if I would be willing to deal w/ that again.


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