Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Chaos and Stillness, Meijer Gardens - 3/30/10

The annual butterfly exhibit is in full bloom at the Garden and on a sunny day with temperatures in the 50s, I wondered what the crowd volume would be like. The parking lot was quite full and a herd of humans was wandering all over the lobby when I walked in. Yes, the butterflies were back. As I made my way to the conservatory, people were slowly winding their way through various rooms that ultimately lead you to the butterflies. This circuitous route is always set up, perhaps to avoid having a long butterfly line leading back to the lobby or maybe just for the additional exhibit space.

Upon entry, I was told no tripods were allowed. I didn’t have one along but asked why they were prohibited. Apparently in the past, shutterbugs have set them up hindering crowd movement. Fair enough. So I walked into the very steamy greenhouse and was promptly blocked by a family spread out over the path, and not moving. After a couple of “excuse-me’s,” I could begin to look around for photo opportunities. Butterflies and people were everywhere, slowly fluttering or shuffling along. Additional people-barricades occurred, most revolving around inconsiderate groups. A large baby wagon (two babies) completely obstructed both directions at one point. Having taken a few pictures, I had to get out. Moving toward the exit, I ended up following the baby wagon out. The puller stepped out and stopped, leaving the wagon in the exit door so no one else could leave. This was the last straw - I had to leave the building.

But first I decided to check out the exhibit off the main hall, entitled “Spirit and Form: Michele Oka Doner and the Natural World.” The temperature was cool and the room was empty (except for a security guard), making it the perfect antidote to the heated butterfly chaos. The entire room exuded stillness, the exhibit was sparse, and the works fascinating. Although I will briefly describe a few of them, these bronze and silver creations need to be seen to be fully appreciated.

“Root System” looks like its name and is an approximately 6' by 9' sculpture constructed of bronze. Many of the branches held white candles, only one of which was lit today. It’s a striking piece of work, sort of a tree candelabra.

In the middle of the room is a circular building with a sign saying “Soul Catchers” and a warning about entering (if you dare). Enter this room and you are struck by the small porcelain “heads” hanging on the back wall. There was no further explanation but a reference book quoted the artist as follows: “Soul Catchers have been created from raw materials since primitive times to catch the souls of the sick, hasten their return to health, or imprison the souls of wrongdoers until they repent. Positive and powerful missions.” These “heads” all featured large eye socket openings with the rest of the “face” twisted and disfigured in some way. Powerful indeed. (Unfortunately, no photography was permitted.) *

“Beneath the Leafy Crown” is the name given to the floor of the main building, and it was also created by Doner. It probably does not get the attention it deserves (people generally look up and around them, not down where they’re walking) but it is a thing of beauty. Artist-designed elements have been placed into the floor (terrazzo aggregate, mother of pearl and bronze), and the entire walkway sweeps through the building. Look for it on your next visit.

* Meijer Gardens graciously sent me photos of Doner's work to add, and they are featured below:

Monday, March 29, 2010

Grand Rapids Camera Club - 3/27/10

The club sponsored an all-day photography seminar (9:00 - 4:00) featuring Steve Gettle, a successful nature photographer. About 50 people showed up, mostly club members but a few guests, like us, attended as well.

Steve began his presentation by taking a poll regarding digital vs. film camera users. After discovering that no one in the room still shot with film, he proceeded to discuss the pros and cons of digital. This was a weak beginning for a group that already all shot digitally, but he obviously did not want to divert from his program. He moved on into equipment, exposure, lighting, composition, and the different types of nature photography. Most of the information was very helpful and was interspersed with practical tips.

As we neared twelve o’clock, we were given a break for lunch - 1 hour & 15 minutes. With plenty of restaurants nearby, this was more than enough time. At 1:15 the group was reassembled - except for club board members and the presenter. Around 1:40, they strolled in. The Club President casually apologized but said it couldn’t be helped because the restaurant was jammed. A couple things here: besides being completely unprofessional, anyone running an organization and a seminar, who has any sense at all, would have picked a restaurant that was not jammed. Attendees, who paid money to attend this event, all managed to get back in time. And if this delay was somehow unavoidable, a more sincere apology should have been forthcoming, seeing as the club just stole 25 minutes of our time (Steve is not from Grand Rapids and was blameless).

From there, things went downhill. Steve continued to provide excellent instruction but as he went on, several club members decided they had to comment or pose a question whenever Steve paused for a breath. Questions were mostly irrelevant, e.g., “where can I find information about bird nesting boxes?” This is a photography seminar; perhaps you could research your question on your computer when you get home. Comments intended to be humorous were not, and the sounds of their own voices emboldened them to increase their frequency. We did not pay to hear what club members know and think. These interruptions bogged down the seminar so much that when combined with the tardy lunchers, found us at 4:00 with an entire module untouched on macro photography. At 4:10, I walked out. Not only because I had a six o’clock engagement but also because my anger at these people hijacking the seminar was giving me a headache.

It’s unlikely that I will attend any of this group’s activities again. Besides being rude and unprofessional, they also showed themselves inconsiderate and arrogant. One last example: during an afternoon break, people lined up to talk to or ask a question of Steve. A short line formed. Steve, always polite, answered any questions to the best of his ability and greeted the next person. Just in front of me were two club members who, although cognizant of the line behind them, monopolized Steve’s time until the break was over. Really, people?

P.S. I received a very thoughtful, considerate, and apologetic response from Steve Gettle to this post.

Grand Rapids Symphony - 3/27/10

The concert began with “Don Juan” by Richard Strauss, and the program notes (by John Varineau) were most helpful in interpreting and understanding this lively piece. The music describes Don Juan rushing from one love to another, and also how he experiences each of these loves. This was great musical story-telling.

Next up was Midori, playing “Concerto for Violin and Orchestra” by William Walton. There aren’t a lot of people who get away with being known by one name (Cher, Madonna, and no, not you Lindsey Lohan), and this “rock star” of the classical world obviously deserves her one-name fame. She was magnificent playing this difficult concerto. But we all appreciated the performance skill more than the music itself. Also, Midori’s dramatic and very active movements proved to be a distraction. In this instance we concluded we’d be better off listening to a recording to fully understand the music. There were magical moments, particularly the short “duets” with the harp and with the cello.

“Scheherazade” by Rimsky-Korsakov closed the program, and was our favorite of the night. It’s a wonderful story: Sultana Scheherazade saves her own life by telling the Sultan an interesting story each night. The Sultan is so fascinated that he postpones her execution for one more day, so he can hear another story (The Arabian Nights/A Thousand and One Nights). It’s a beautiful piece in four movements, and the violin solos represented the voice of Scheherazade (sweetly played by the concertmaster). The percussionists had a large role to play and spent less time sitting back in their corner. David Lockington then surprised all of us with a short, festive encore ("Wild Bears" from Elgar's "Wand of Youth" Suite, information courtesy of Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk).

Interestingly, the men of the orchestra always wear formal tuxedos while the women are required only to wear black. The result is wildly varying women’s attire: skirts, slacks, sleeves of differing lengths and styles, all in assorted shades of black and dark gray. It’s a superficial observation but more uniformity would make a more pleasing presentation.

And speaking of distractions, Ritz-cracker-eating people were with us again, which I will never understand. There were only three of us tonight so we had an empty “buffer” seat between us and our other favorite concert-goers, the sleepers. Only he dozed off this time and not for long periods of time. We thank the percussionists in “Scheherazade” for that.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Forest Hills Community Expo, Grand Rapids - 3/16/10

This was the fifth annual expo and once again it was a great success, at least as it pertains to attendance. Held in the two gymnasiums of Ada Christian School, the event was sponsored by the Ada, Cascade, and East Paris business associations, and the vendors present were mainly drawn from those groups.

Our booth space for The Community, a church of socially-responsible, community-active members, was shared with the Farmers’ Market, sponsored by the Ada Downtown Development. Together with the Farmer’s Market and Ada Township, a children’s gardening program will begin this summer that will coincide with the successful Farmer’s Market, held on The Community’s property in Ada.

But back to the Expo: as one attendee put it, “it’s trick or treating for adults”. Although there’s a special “kids’ room”, the main purpose is to give exposure to local businesses and provide personal customer contact, and yes, attendees get free stuff. It’s a cornucopia of give-aways, ranging from lip gloss, funeral-home consulting, glasses cleaner, body wraps (you will lose 10 pounds in 45 minutes, being pitched by a woman with too much body fat to prove her point), banks, insurance & investment companies, car wash coupons, dry cleaners (25% off whatever you can fit in the give-away bag), bread, pizza, ice cream, soup, plastic firemen hats from the fire department - I could go on ad infinitum. Pens are ubiquitous and I picked up a few of those along with golf tees from an accounting firm.

It’s great fun to meet local business owners and take home a few treasures. How much they benefit from the exposure is for them to measure, and is probably difficult. So long as the booth cost is not prohibitive, it’s probably a worthwhile investment. And fyi, the Farmers’ Market in Ada begins mid-June and will continue through the end of September. The market is a beautiful sight to behold and will be enhanced by the children’s garden booth and additional vendors - shop local!

A Few Favorite Grand Rapids Photos

Rather than just writing about activities or events in Grand Rapids, I thought I would also share some photos taken in Grand Rapids over the past few years. I hope you enjoy them.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Civic Theatre - 3/6/10

If you’ve never seen a production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”, here’s a brief summary: it’s the Biblical story of Joseph and his brothers, taken from Genesis and placed in a world of craziness. The show has a long, interesting history, first composed as a 15-minute program by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice for a high school program in 1968. Over the years, it was expanded, recorded, produced again and again, and was finally promoted as a follow-up to the popular “Jesus Christ Superstar”. It hit Broadway in 1982 and a movie video was released in 1999.

Tonight we watched it performed by a talented group of children and adults, and it was impressive, and yes, crazy, in a Mel Brooks kind of way. The story is completely told through song (transitions provided by the narrator, in song), and quickly and humorously moved through the major events of Joseph’s life. To say that the musical numbers do not adhere to any one style would be an understatement. Suddenly, Joseph's brothers were in Paris performing a sort-of French ballad. Later, while groveling before the un-recognized Joseph in Egypt, they turned in a great calypso/reggae performance.

Children remained in current-day clothing, as did the narrator. The rest of the cast maintained their Biblical-age attire with the notable exception of Pharoah; in what began as a stately Egyptian musical number, complete with two Anubis gods, suddenly became a Vegas-style Elvis impersonator show. The wonderful, singing Elvis-Pharoah (Tom Bush) walked down into the audience and asked a woman to stand up with him. She responded with “are you kidding?” “No, I’m not, Ma’am - that’s how we do it in Egypt.”

Joseph (Addison Reid Coe) did a nice job, although his voice became slightly nasal at times. The time-traveling narrator (Peggy Keuning) had a stunningly beautiful voice that moved effortlessly from one scene to another, defying any range limitations. The brothers gave strong performances and were as adept with a country-western song as they were with a disco number (and we won’t quibble with why Benjamin was included as one of the trouble-making brothers). This was a very entertaining musical, joyful and hilarious, and just great fun to watch.