Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Lido Letdown

Obviously, the best thing to do the night before you get up for a 7:30 am arrival at the train station is to stay up until 2:00 am the night before. I have been making mistakes like this throughout my quarter abroad, but I figured that a cabaret show in Paris was worth the hellish morning after?

Lido was not at all what I expected, and not necessarily in a good way. I was expecting more fanfare, pomp, and - well - glamorous nudity than we observed. For starters, I was told to "dress up", and that this was a pretty major event. Never tell a girl like me to dress up. Result? My fanciest dress, pumps, (nearly) all the glitter I could justify in my jewelry. Then I sat in an empty hall watching a lip-sync? No, not the experience I had envisioned.

Let's get one thing straight: cabaret is art, and I love Roberto for finding a way for us to get in. I wanted to see Lido (in particular) badly when we got here, so I was surprised and happy that Stanford offered us an opportunity to see this unique show. That being said, why would anyone want to watch a live show without live music? The costumes, the dancers, the set were all amazing, but the music was very lacking. Cheesy lip-syncs to obviously-overworked English lyrics really didn't do wonders for a show that could stand on it's own just fine in silence.

Actually, after writing those first few paragraphs, I have drastically changed my mind. Lido wasn't good. I think it wasn't good because no one was invested in the performance. Take, for example, the prima ballerina performing in the recording of "The Rite of Spring" that we watched in class. There, we watched someone literally try to act-out someone dancing themself to death. Lido was the exact opposite. The women had this oddly detached way of looking out into the audience, not rustling the wild plumage of their costumes with sass, but with a sense of resigned indignancy. We were sitting at a table right in front of the stage, but when the female dancers looked at me (especially those in the back with their shirts off), I had the eeriest sensation that they were looking right through me. I imagined them practicing (clothes on?) during the day with the same look on their faces, laughing and joking with the other dancers, but practicing that look into nothing.

Now don't get me wrong, I am not about to preach about how unhappy women in this industry may or may not be. I think working at Lido would be pretty fun. In fact, I would love nothing better than to make money being naked all the time, let alone in a fancy feathered outfit, a pink puff ball, or (better still!) on top of a bronze pyramid. It could be pretty empowering, if that's what floats your boat. 

Actually, I think that the whole decadence and extravagance of the set and production could be what was turning the dancer's enthusiasm down a notch: I think Lido tries to cover too much ground too quickly. The sense of cohesion of the show was off, (which is fine), but I think that might create for the performers an inability to invest in the show without a sense of what the essence of the show really is. (There might be a sense of "what are we doing" "is this important", etc.)

I was a big fan of the classic Lido aesthetic: the one you see on the poster, of the girl's sparkling smile, fake diamonds, and proud plumage. However, they tried to do too much in one go. Lido spanned generations of musical theatre, sports, and circus traditions. There was a horse doing dressage (which disgusted me because he was wearing something very uncomfortable-looking over his hoofs), a tiny ice rink, and waterfalls. There was "Indian" dancing, as well as a set that vaguely reminded me of "Cats". All in all, it looked like the production was stretching itself too thin, sacrificing integrity for variety.

For example, the Indian dance sequence really bothered me. I have been to traditional Indian festivities, and am a big fan of Bollywood film, both modern and classic. What I saw at Lido was a bastardized version of traditional Indian dance, with only the most vapid resonances to true dance tradition (the open palm, rotated wrist with one hand held high over the head and one at the waist was the best they could do). As I was talking to other Stanford students beside me, we also realized that whoever made the costumes had blended cultures from Asia and East-Asia to create an "averaged" look. I call this an instance of Orientalism.

One element of the evening that was not lacking authenticity was the ice skating display in the middle of the show. Truly, the pair on the ice looked very happy to be there, excited, and was very talented. I was amazed that skaters could gather so much speed in such a small area, and execute moves that have a high level of difficulty under such poor conditions (thin ice, which means whatever lines they carved were that much harder to skate over and not get caught on). The audience generally agreed with me, I'd say, and they got one of the loudest cheers of the evening.

I don't really know how to resume my experience at Lido other than saying that, although I had a lot of fun, something about the atmosphere was a little off for me... Maybe it was the champagne, but I had the overall impression that Lido was holding together a very closely-guarded veneer that was broken by the dancers's expressions, and the sometimes-telling choreographic or stylistic elements.

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