When introducing the world premiere of Refractions on Friday, the choreographer Alonzo King of San Francisco's Lines Ballet told the audience to treat the dance as food. Even if the food seems strange, King said, taste it anyways. Since he founded his company 27 years ago in San Francisco, King has blended together African dance, ballet and contemporary movement into the ingredients of his choreography. If Refractions, King's latest work, is food, it is a meal of small plates, some quite delicious, others quotidian, brought course by individual course to the audience. King serves it up with the help of legendary New York jazz pianist Jason Moran, who created an original score for this work that owes much to Charles Mingus.

Capitalizing upon the frisson of traditional ballet and contemporary style, King composes Refractions mostly as a string of little dances: solos and duets, and occasionally duets turned trios, upon the arrival of a third dancer who becomes the principal in the next section. In the opening salvo, David Harvey delivers Caroline Roche literally by the hair, and an off kilter tug of war ensues in which the audience is treated to flexing, torso-thrusting movements that are peppered by Moran's jazzy effects. In ensuing courses, dancers contort, pirouette and leap romantically, thuddingly, or jauntily, in accompaniment to a range of music, including some drums. When the movement and music are perfectly intertwined, this works wonderfully; when they aren’t, there’s a sense of hollow shapes being made on stage without consideration for musical propulsion. Still, King and his dancers often achieve a seamless momentum through some lovely sequences.

King is among a handful of venerable choreographers who first harnessed other genres to create new and "strange" movement out of the familiarity of the classical western art form of ballet. Likewise, Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre and Philadanco combine ballet, contemporary dance, and African dance to varying degrees, and their popularity has inoculated the audience of the notion that melding these dance forms is exotic. In fact, many contemporary dance companies today regularly fuse ballet, modern and non-western dance, and laboratories for dance such as the American Dance Festival showcase cutting-edge choreographers who interweave dance forms to create new movement that is not just beautiful, but that is truly new and meaningful. In Refractions, King has created some tasty food, but strange it is not.

Lines Ballet will tour various cities in Europe and the Unites States beginning in early 2010.

UPDATE: If you're on Twitter, lots of conversation arose out of this piece. Keep up with it by checking out the new hashtag, #followwomenbloggers. Lots of great suggestions for smart, sassy women whose blogs you should follow.

After the release of The Shriver Report, which lauded our becoming "a woman's nation," the media have been abuzz with talk of the gender gap in the American workplace. Joanne Lipman, former deputy editor at the Wall Street Journal and founding editor in chief of the now-defunct Portfolio, wrote an op-ed tempering the soaring proclamations of progress. Then, yesterday, Vanity Fair released a feature by Nell Scovell, one of seven female writers to ever staff Late Night with David Letterman.

Scovell described what she had considered a hostile work environment and noted, of the late night gender imbalance, "There are more females serving on the United States Supreme Court than there are writing for Late Show with David Letterman, The Jay Leno Show, and The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien combined."

And that's not all.

Last week, Technorati released its annual State of the Blogosphere report. Given that women rule the world of social networking, I was interested to find out that the opposite is true of the blogosphere. According to the report, 67 percent of bloggers are men—up a little from the year before.

That's a worse gender imbalance than in American newsrooms, which is saying something. (Mother Jones is a rare exception—by my quick calculation, our editorial department is 61 percent female, but that's hardly the case everywhere.) Women represent only 37 percent of American newspaper staffers, according the American Society of News Editors. And if newspapers are doomed and blogs are to take their place, then this can't be good for the supposed diversity of voices we're getting online.

Music Monday: Can Rupa and the April Fishes Live Up to The Hype?

San Francisco loves Rupa and the April Fishes. The local world-beat ensemble recently garnered a nomination in the alt SF Weekly's annual music awards, and packed the space with adoring fans at a performance piece I attended last week.

Part of the appeal lies in the group's personal narrative, which seems designed to bait music editors: Frontwoman Rupa Marya is a physician; their musical influences include gypsy swing, tango, and polka; they sing in Spanish, French, Hindi, and English.

Luckily, their music mostly lives up to the hype. Marya's vocals are a fine blend of slow-burn passion and buoyant belting, and her backing musicians are highly skilled and perfectly synched.

In writing the music for Death Cab for Cutie's "Narrow Stairs" (2008), singer/songwriter Ben Gibbard holed up in a cabin in Big Sur, California, that was once owned by the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti—and the place where Jack Kerouac wrote his lesser-known 1962 novel Big Sur. Kerouac's pull evidently lingered with Gibbard. His latest project, released last week, is a soft, melodic collaboration with alt-country rocker Jay Farrar titled "One Fast Move or I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur."

Far more melancholic than On the Road or The Dharma Bums, Big Sur describes a fictionalized (though clearly autobiographical) Jack; his flight from fame to the West, his alcoholism, and his ensuing breakdown. Musically speaking, Farrar and Gibbard's interpretation is lighter than that, even as it pulls various lyrics straight from the text. And while the artists meld well in songs like "There Roads Don’t Move" and "Sea Engines," the overall album feels like the work of two distinct artists.

Five cubicle jockeys simultaneously lip-dubbing a Backstreet Boys song for webcam doesn't sound like the stuff of great video, does it? But trust me. This 4-minute short will make you happy for no good reason, starting around minute 2. Watch it below.

Via Noah Shachtman comes the shocking news that the Pentagon doesn't want its employees ghost riding the whip (or the MRAP, as the case may be). The military is actually encouraging social media, but telling soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines to use it carefully.

None of that means we can't reminisce, though:


Our September/October 2009 Fiji Water expose had a big impact, and it's still going strong. Today the story was tweeted by Fox News anchor Julie Banderas... and by Celine Cousteau, granddaughter of filmmaker Jacques Cousteau and daughter of oceanic explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau. Celine Cousteau travels the world on expeditions, and her family owns the Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort, an "Eco Friendly Resort" on the island of Vanua Levu in Fiji. I'm not sure if the Cousteau resort stocks Fiji Water, but it's good to see the story strike close to Fiji Water's home.

Follow Jen Phillips on Twitter.

A few months ago, Ayn Rand fans made a big stink about "going Galt"—threatening to bring down the federal government (i.e., Obama) by taking their productive genius and going home (i.e., working less and paying less taxes). In another sign that the screw-the-feds fad never really went anywhere, some objectivists with deep pockets have emerged from hiding to funnel more money to the moochers and looters. On Friday, Bloomberg reported that the Roark Capital Group, a $1.5-billion, Goldman Sachs-backed private-equity firm, is making record investments after a couple of slow years. Roark, which owns Carvel Ice Cream and Cinnabon, may be the nation's only investment firm that openly claims Ayn Rand as its inspiration. As it website explains, it's named after Howard Roark, the architect protagonist of The Fountainhead, who dynamites one of his own projects because it doesn't meet his exacting standards.

It's not news that Rand has plenty of acolytes among traders, fund managers, and former heads of the Fed. But as Wall Street Journal columnist and Randian Evan Newmark explains, walking the objectivist walk on Wall Street is easier said than done, even at capitalist bastions like Goldman Sachs—which features a corporate "culture that might have been dreamt up by Karl Marx if he had been more interested in profits than the proletariat."

So how well has Roark Capital followed its namesake's vision? A quick glance at the Carvel website suggests that Howard Roark's violent fastidiousness has not trickled down to the rank-and-file. In fact, company "spokescake" Cookie Puss, with his "tendency to melt under extreme pressure" and "friendliness and constant state of happiness" seems like just the kind of spineless loser Rand detested. His colleague, the "very laid back, nature-loving" Fudgie the Whale sounds no better. I hope that Roark Capital will wake up to this Goldman Sachs-style collectivism and restore Tom Carvel's exacting standards of architectural precision in frozen cake-making. The ice-cream fountainhead awaits!   


Does Polo Ralph Lauren find its models in a prison camp? Nope, it just alters them to look that way. (See the "before" version here.) Maybe uproar over this practice will prompt the company to express futher regrets. Geez! When supermodel Filippa Hamilton, who was fired in April for being "overweight," said that the clothier owes all women an apology, she wasn't kidding. (For the full story, read the Related Stories posts below, top to bottom.) And a hat tip to Photoshop Disasters for posting the ad.

Follow Michael Mechanic on Twitter.

Holy haute couture! Ralph Lauren really doesn't get it. First the clothier sicced its lawyers on Boing Boing, one of the Web's most popular blogs, after a Boing Boing writer reproduced an ad photoshopped by the company's graphic artists to make its model look bizarrely skinny. An indignant Boing Boing declared a culture war against the attempted censorship, and the company eventually admitted that it had done a regrettable job on the ad.

Now, just when you thought this couldn't get worse, it comes out that Polo Ralph Lauren had terminated its contract with the model, Filippa Hamilton, back in April because she was too fat. (Hamilton is 5-foot-10 and weighs 120 pounds.) "They fired me because they said I was overweight and I couldn't fit in their clothes anymore," she told the New York Daily News on Tuesday. (See Hamilton's photo on the Daily News website to see what Ralph Lauren considers "overweight.")

According to the report, the 23-year-old model has worked for Lauren since 2002 and was distraught at being fired by an employer she'd come to see as "a second family." When the altered ad blew up online, she was surprised—and not pleasantly so—to see how her image had been distorted. "I think they owe American women an apology, a big apology," she told the paper. "I'm very proud of what I look like, and I think a role model should look healthy."

 Follow Michael Mechanic on Twitter.