May 30th, 2012

Wiscon 36, Friday

On Friday, May 25th, we drove over to Madison for the 36th annual WisCon science fiction convention, at the Concourse Hotel. It was a good day for driving, which was fortunate, since some accident closed the freeway at Oconomowoc, requiring us to take a "scenic route" diversion for part of the way.

Getting to the hotel about noon, we checked in with the con and the hotel with no problems, and circulated through the halls and "The Gathering" before getting some lunch.

The first event we attended was the "Young Victorians" reading at Michelangelo's coffee house, which featured Tiffany Trent ("The Unnaturalists"), Franny Billingsly ("Chime"), and Ellen Kushner and Caroline Stevermer reading from their works. All the readings were interesting. Kushner and Stevermer were particularly entertaining, as they read different character's letters in their epistolary story which will be forthcoming in "Queen Victoria's Book of Spells". We will be looking up all these books.

Dinner break had us back on State Street where we went to a new small Tibetan restaurant "A Taste of Tibet," which had intrigued me by offering Yak meat specials. How often do you get to try Yak over here? I ordered the sizzling Yak platter, which came with a good helping of meatballs in a brown gravy, a generous quantity of noodles, and steamed broccoli, cauliflower, and carrot, augmented with some roasted potato pieces. Yak meat, even done as a meatball, is dry, chewy, and has a strong "gamy", almost sour taste. Interesting, but I don't think I would care to repeat it. Georgie had the Ginger Chicken, which was good and very gingery.

We went back to the hotel and finished unpacking before going down for Opening Ceremonies. Ceremonies this year were brief, with the entertainment portion provided by the Carl Brandon Society Singers (under the direction of Nisi Shawl), who we understood were filling in for another group that had been unable to go on due to some difficulty. The CBS was in good voice and gave us a nice selection of thematically appropriate show tunes.

Next, we cruised parties, stopping in at the Livejournal and London in 2014 parties, and looking in on the rest. Then we caught most of the 2012 installment of the "Karen Axness Memorial/Women Writers You Probably Never Heard Of" panel. I made note of some interesting sounding titles. After that, we took a last check of parties and went to bed.

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WisCon 36, Saturday

Saturday was one of two days at the con that Georgie had 8:30 panels, in this case, "Is a Charitable Society an Unjust Society?", which was inspired in part by the book "Sweet Charity?" which discusses the thesis that a society which relies on charity to meet the needs of the poor and unfortunate is inherently unjust. Georgie, Philip Kavney, Joyce Frohn, Gayle, and Kate O'Brien Wooddell lead a serious discussion with an engaged audience.

At 10 AM, I was on "Designing a Magic System," along with Elizabeth Bear, Alex Bledsoe, Kater Creek, and Catherine Krahe. We had a good discussion exploring many of the different ways magic can manifest in literature, and the limitations that can be built into it so that it doesn't take over the story.

By noon, the Tiptree Bake Sale was open, and that served us as lunch, with some particularly yummy creations on offer.

At one PM, Georgie lead "Sensational Women of the 16th Century." Panelists Cynthia Gonsalves, Angeli Primlani, Valerie L. Guyant, and Betsy Urbik filled the time with lots of great material on Queens Juana "La Loca" of Spain, and Catherine of Aragon, of England; banker and business woman Grasia Nasi; pirate queen Grania O'Malley; and other poets, writers, and courtesans of note.

In the 2:30 time slot, we went to see "Considering The Female Villain." Panelists Valerie Guyant, Richard Chedwyk, Shayla Dunn, Allison Moon, and Rosemary/Sophy gave a lively and entertaining survey of what might be called the current state of feminine villainy, although I would have liked it better if the the panel had reached back a bit further than "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Once Upon A Time," "True Blood," and "Avatar, The Last Airbender," which dominated the presentation.

After that, we took a break from panels and shopped the Dealer's Room, picking up some books from Dreamhaven and Philip Kaveny, and admiring the other things on offer. By that time it was dinner time, and we went out to Kabul Restaurant, a favorite of ours, for a lovely dinner.

Back at the con, we watched the first hour or so of the newly streamlined Tiptree Auction, with Ellen Klages in good form. Over six thousand dollars was raised for the Tiptree fund.

My next panel at 9PM was "Intersection of Trans* and Feminism." I was moderating a panel consisting of Allison Moon, Rachel Gold, and Rachel Kronick, plus a very engaged audience, considering how members of the feminist movement do or do not accept transwomen and how this interaction can be improved for the future. (The discussion centered mainly on transwomen, since there were no transmen in the room--.)

After that, we checked out parties, including the "Goblin Secrets" party, where we made masks for ourselves; the Circlet Press "Adult Hogwarts" party, and dropped in on Tor Books, Scribe Agency, and Haiku Earring before retiring for the night.

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WisCon 36, Sunday

We started off a bit more slowly Sunday morning, with my first panel being "Addiction in Fiction" at 10 AM. Cassie Alexander, Victoria Janssen, Naomi Kritzer, Derek Silver and I spoke to a small but interested audience, comparing and contrasting real world addictions with those invented for plot and character purposes in fantasy and science fiction.

At 1 PM, we went to Tracy Benton's "We're Not Contortionists" presentation, which critiqued the frequently lamentable state of book-cover and comic art which frequently depicts women in anatomically unlikely poses. The enthusiastic cast of volunteer models demonstrated that a surprising number of the poses could at least be approximated, but also demonstrating how even more ridiculous they appear in real life. This was a very good-humored and fun panel.

Next up was Georgie's panel on "Baba Yaga and Other Retired Goddesses." Delia Sherman was a very interesting and interested moderator (and later said she'd gotten three new story ideas from the panel--). Georgie, Will Alexander, and Catherine Schaff-Stump talked about the significance of Baba Yaga,and her probable history. In one of those WisCon moments, a Russian woman in the audience was invited onto the panel due to her experience reading Baba Yaga stories as a girl. (Sorry I didn't catch her name, but she let us know that the 'proper' pronunciation is "Baba YaGA' with a stress on the last syllable--.)

After that, we went to the "Honoring Suzette Hayden Elgin" panel, and had a nice, if bittersweet, time, acknowleging this remarkable woman's works. A very good job was done by panelists Margaret McBride, Rachel Gold, Margie Peterson, Maevele Straw, and Amy Thompson. We were able to contribute some personal reminiscences from early WisCon days, which were appreciated.

We took our time getting an informal dinner with sandwiches from Potbelly Deli and ice cream from The Chocolate Shoppe, and still had plenty of time to get back and change for the evening.

We got decent seats for the Guest of Honor speeches. Andrea Hairston gave one of the more entertaining GoH speeches I recall, not surprising, given her work in theater, and her Baptist minister Grandfather. Debbie Notkin spoke with feeling about generosity and gratitude in life. This was followed by the Tiptree Award ceremony, wherein Andrea was given her prizes. By the time that part was over we needed to get up and move, so departed for the Sixth floor and parties until bedtime.

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Wiscon 36, Monday

Monday morning was another early start, with Georgie's panel "Can We Talk?", which dealt with intergenerational communication. There was a gratifyingly large audience for that hour on Monday morning, and Georgie, Beth Plutchak, and Kate O'Brien Wooddell lead a very interesting discussion.

Our last panel was "Religion, Magic, Science, and Politics in Speculative Fiction." Panelists were Jim Frenkel, Alex Bledsoe, Carolyn Ives Gilman, Carol Townsend, and Deirdre Murphy. It was a large panel for a too-large topic. This easily could have been four panels, and the avowed purpose of discussing how to balance these factors in SF and F never really came off, although what did get expressed was interesting to listen to.

After that, we rolled home, tired but satisfied. This year was just a particularly good convention for us: things came together really well, we met people we wanted to talk to when they hadd time to talk, etc. We are, of course, signed up for next year.

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Ballet in Cinema: Royal Ballet, "La Fille Mal Gardée"

May has been a good month for ballet. On Tuesday evening the 29th, we went to see the Royal Ballet's production of "La Fille Mal Gardée."

La Fille Mal Gardée (The Wayward Daughter) is one of the oldest ballets still regularly performed. It was originally conceived by Jean Dauberval, an important choreographer in the 18th century. He is said to have been inspired by Pierre Antoine Baudouin’s La Réprimande/Une Jeune Fille Querellée par Sa Mère (1789), a painting he was greatly amused by. This resulted in a musical pastiche called Le Ballet de la Paille (Ballet of the Straw) which told the story of Lison and Colin and their tricks to get Lison’s mother, the widow Ragotte, to accept their romance. Le Ballet de la Paille premiered July 1789 in Bordeaux. The ballet was later renamed La Fille Mal Gardée. With modern choreography by Sir Fredrick Ashton, the ballet remains in the repetoir of the Royal Ballet and more than twenty-two companies world wide, including the Bolshoi and the Paris Ballet.

The dancing of the Royal Ballet in general, and this ballet in particular, has strong roots in the Chichetti style, the first modern ballet method, which has emphasis on grace and prettiness of stage pictures, as apart from modern Russian ballet, which is distinguished by speed and technical brilliance. In addition, Ashton drew heavily on pastoral and folk dances, so that the ballet includes a clog dance, a Maypole dance, and a Morris dance, among others.

The plot is a simple one: Lise (Roberta Marquez), the "Fille" of the title, loves Colas (Steven McRae), a handsome and dashing swain. Her mother, the Widow Simone (Philip Mosely) prefers that she should marry Alain (Ludovic Ondiviela), the idiot son of Thomas (Gary Avis), the neigboring rich farmer. Lise and Colas snatch embraces under Simone's nose while wedding plans go forward, until circumstances force Simone to accept their love and assent to them being married.

Along the way, there's a lot of fine dancing and good comedy. The first scene, in the farm yard, opens with a dance by a quintet of barnyard fowl. You will never think of "chicken dance" in the same way again--.
Ondiviela, as Alain, has a lot of very eccentric but effective choreography that underscores how foolish the character is. Philip Mosely in the travestie role of Widow Simone played the role lightly, and let the music, dance, and situation set up the comedy for the character. Roberta Marquez acts expressively, especially in the famous "if I were married" mime in the third scene.

The score for this production was based on the 1828 Ferdinand Hérold score, which "mashed up" themes from popular operas such as Rossini’s "The Barber of Seville" and "Elisabetta, Regina d’Inghilterra", Paul Egidi Martini’s "Le Droit du Seigneur" and Donizetti’s "L’elisir d’amore", and was added to by Ashton's collaborator John Lanchbery.

The result was utterly charming, and a delightful evening at the ballet--once the show got underway. The Marcus Majestic cinema at Brookfield seems to have difficulty setting up for these encore showings, so, as with "The Bright Stream" a couple of weeks ago, we waited fifteen minutes past showtime for the staff to get things working. Once that was done, however, things did run without a hitch.

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