It’s been a long time since I’ve had anyone to watch and talk about films with. Decades ago, I hosted a Cinéma Soirée group one Sunday a month, where six or seven of my women friends got together chez moi to watch a film and share a sumptuous pot luck afterwards. I would choose the film, prepare interesting info about the actors or director, some little known titbits, and why I chose it. It was lots of fun. Especially the eating part.
But so much has changed around me and within me over these many years, especially since the pandemic. And moving through time, as I call aging, has both presented me with new challenges and landed me in a very different phase of my life. I haven’t had anyone to share my love of things that had once lifted my spirits — classical music, film, ballet, poetry. In fact, I was in such a dark place for a long while I’d even forgotten that these things had once meant so much to me.
A little over a year ago, however, I connected with a new friend, really a soul-sister, like me, a lover of Beauty and Truth with whom I now share my appreciation for these artistic expressions. She contacted me after visiting my website, reading my blog offerings, and buying my books. She seems to have a fascination for my bizarre life experiences, and actually understands and resonates with my literary meanderings. And even though we live in time zones six hours apart, with an ocean between us, technology has allowed us to connect easily and often. She’s been one of the greatest gifts to me.
For the last month, I’ve started sharing video files with her from the little I have left of my once substantial collection of dance performances and films, many of which have had personal significance at various times on my journey. I duplicate and upload the current offering to my Dropbox for her to download. Easy peasy. We watch the videos separately, then talk about them together.
We began with ballet, but not purely classical ballet. I’d been a freelance dance writer in South Florida, for a while writing a column for the Ft. Lauderdale News/Sun Sentinel called, Divertissement: An Informal Guide to Dance. I also dabbled in amateur dance photography (see Images of Remembered Passion). And later, in Chapel Hill, NC, I put together and hosted an eight-week Dance Appreciation Through Video series in which I presented a brief history of dance from my then collection of over a hundred classical and contemporary offerings, from Anna Pavlova’s 1907 Dying Swan, through classical ballets performed by the greatest companies and dancers in the world, to contemporary works by Alvin Ailey and Paul Taylor.
The first video my friend and I watched was Baryshnikov Dances Sinatra, a 1989 DVD made from the original 1984 TV episode of the PBS series, Dance In America. The episode was called Baryshnikov By Tharp. The video includes contemporary ballets by one of my favorite innovative choreographers, Twyla Tharp, set on Mikhail Baryshnikov and members of American Ballet Theatre. I love these dances and have been fortunate to have seen them performed live onstage.
The second film we watched was Vitus, Switzerland’s entry into the Academy Award’s Best Foreign Language (German) Film in 2007. It stars Bruno Ganz (think Wings Of Desire) and the amazing real life musical prodigy, Téo Gheorghiu, who was twelve years old at the time.
Elaine Kudo & Mikhail Baryshnikov
in Sinatra Suite
in Push Comes To Shove
And next up is Avenue Montaigne, which I already re-watched last week in preparation for the next filmtalk visit with my friend. Avenue Montaigne, a French language film, is a lighthearted, yet at times poignant story that centers around Jessica, a charming young woman from the provinces who comes to Paris and lands a job waiting tables at a bistro on Avenue Montaigne, the city’s posh center of art, music, and theater. Through her job, Jessica touches the lives of several people, including an actress, a concert pianist, and an art collector, who are each facing life-changing choices as they prepare for a gala night of theatre, symphony, and an art auction.
One of the threads is about Jean-François, a concert pianist who feels suffocated by his life of endless performances in front of the usual formal audiences of wealthy, jewel-bedecked aficionados. He longs to play informally, for hospitals, for schools, for those who have never known and don’t understand classical music.
Although I still love the film, what moved me most this time was the music. It might be the strangely deep-feeling space I’ve been in these past weeks, or the fact that classical music has interdimensional significance to me as I wrote about in my memoir, Rare Atmosphere: An Extraordinary Inter-dimensional Affair of the Heart, but the depth of emotion I felt from the music overwhelmed me.
In one scene, at a grand piano set inside a hospital, surrounded by patients wheeled in on beds or in wheelchairs or carting IV drips, shorn-haired children gathered around him, Jean-François begins playing Lizst’s Consolation No. 3, and I absolutely lose it, tears streaming down my face, a six tissue event. It was as if I, too, was hearing the music for the first time. I’ve had this same soul-opening experience when I’ve listened to Chopin’s Etude Opus 25 No. 1 in A Flat Major, or the aching melancholy of his Nocturne Opus 27 no 2, or the second movement of Beethoven’s Pathetique sonata, or Rachmaninoff’s Variations on a Theme by Paganini.
Then, near the end of the film, in the middle of the commanding piano solo in the last movement of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, Jean-François, feeling strangled in his tuxedo, strips out of his jacket, dickie, bowtie, shirt, suspenders, then sits back down at the piano in his undershirt, picks up the dramatic 3rd movement where he left off, and again, I found myself dissolved in tears. The beauty and brilliance and mystery of the music was an unimaginable force. How is something so pure and otherworldly created? Where does it come from? Why does it move me to tears?
My experience again hearing the music in Avenue Montaigne reminded me of having that feeling of wonder and awe so many times, not only listening to classical music, but marveling up close at Michelangelo’s Pieta, or reading Shakespeare’s 29th sonnet, or taking in Monet’s Water Lilies on three curved walls at the MOMA, or watching Baryshnikov slice air in…anything at all.
… lend your ears to music, open your eyes to painting, and … stop thinking! Just ask yourself whether the work has enabled you to “walk about” into a hitherto unknown world. If the answer is yes, what more do you want? —Wassily Kandinsky
Just like I’m allowing myself to reconnect with my love of the arts, I feel that I’ve lately allowed myself to reconnect with parts of my soul expression that are intimately tied to many who bring what I call Great Art into the world, the kind of creation that can lift one to the highest vibration of pure joy, even ecstasy at times. Even though it was not my purpose or my gift this time around, it’s still part of who I am on a soul level. And, despite the face worn in any given lifetime, I have often “recognized” those I’ve journeyed with in other times and places, several who are now “on stage” in one way or another. For decades, I poured my expansive, often unbelievable stories out in poetry and prose and memoir. During the ten years after my memoir was published and it seemed my Muses had abandoned me, I found myself wondering how to even think about things I’d experienced in my past, much of it out of the realm of this “reality.”
My understanding of “reincarnation,” “other lives,” and “soul connections” is not a simple one, and I will save that for another time. But I have come into this life with no great artistic gifts. Although I’ve dabbled in experiencing some of the arts I love, I have the worst feet, toes, and knees for ballet, can only handle the insulting (to both of us) version of Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 9, No. 2 transposed into G major at the piano, and, although I have a fine musical ear, I have absolutely the worst singing voice. Even with writing, I didn’t start seriously writing until I was in my forties, taking my first writers workshop at fifty-one.
But like I’ve come to understand, somebody has to be the audience. And there is supreme joy in listening to the NY Philharmonic play Beethoven’s Ninth, or having been fortunate to see Maya Plisetskaya with the Bolshoi Ballet in 1962 at the old Metropolitan Opera House in NYC, or listening to Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez vibrate the air singing La Wally in the 1981 film Diva.
I have wondered a lot lately about inspiration, creativity, and Great Art. Where do such moving and magnificent creations come from? At times, art has lifted me into a space that is seemingly of this world yet beyond it. A space filled with wonder, possibility, and extraordinary Beauty and Truth.
I will end here with a poem. I have not met the person I wrote it to, yet my interaction with him was as real as the beating of my heart, synchronicities weaving through my days in the most profound ways. Although I cannot prove it, I was told he was intimately involved in the world of classical music. And I was told that after an illness, as he was changing many things in his life, becoming more spiritual, that he was …wondering quite truthfully if he could ever put on his tuxedo again, if he can button up the collar. He is wondering if he wants to. It was less than a month after I heard this that I “found” my way to Avenue Montaigne, and shortly afterwards that I was given this dream.
The other night I dreamed you
followed secret paces behind you through
a ballroom, down a hallway to
an underground pool where you stripped bowtie,
collar, cummerbund, and slipped into the water,
your legs gnarled at first, then unfurling
into a tail of brilliant light.
Are you merman, my love —
curing illness, lifting curses, luring
women with your music (that most of all)?
Even so, I would celebrate the scent of sea,
the thrill of your unfolding, hold fast to the song.
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