Saturday, 22 June 2013

Dancing in the dark

On the longest day of the year, the sun was moving to the north-west in Hades, and Beechwood Avenue had a carnival atmosphere due to the Solstice Stroll. The Resident Fan Boy, younger daughter and I made our way to the bus stop amid arts and crafts displays, musicians, and wandering families. Several residents of the seniors home had their walkers and wheelchairs set up at the entrance, soaking up the atmosphere. We boarded our bus and watched the proprietor of The SconeWitch emerge from her shop with a small pyramid of scones. I was rather sorry not to have the time to explore, but we had rush tickets for the National Arts Centre.

The downtown streets were teeming with people out for the first Friday evening of summer: shoppers clutching bags, line-ups for the crowded patios, and young girls decked out in tunics with leggings, shorts and layered tank-tops, the little black dress that still denotes someone on her way for some clubbing. As we crossed Elgin, we could hear music floating from Confederation Park as the annual JazzFest got rolling.

We elected to end our longest day with Hollywood film music, complete with a chorus (actually two combined choral societies), a full orchestra, and five not-quite-famous Broadway performers. It says something about Broadway that people you never heard of still have impressive CVs and a frightening amount of talent. All these singers and musicians were performing movie scores painstakingly recreated by Principal Pops Conductor Jack Everly (who has a pretty stunning CV himself) and others, by watching and listening to these classic films repeatedly to work out the original instrumentation. This was necessary because MGM destroyed the original scores in the 1970s as an economic measure.

The show could have been especially designed for younger daughter. It featured all her very favourites: The Wizard of Oz (overture, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow", and the chorus doing an impressive impression of Munchkins and citizens of Oz); Meet Me in St Louis (overture, a snippet from "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and the whole of the "The Trolley Song"); and Easter Parade. She glowed with pleasure throughout the concert. The Resident Fan Boy, who had had an exhausting and hot day, didn't fall asleep once.

There were a lot of my favourites too, but I realized, as the music washed over me with comforting familiarity, that the memories that came floating back were't necessarily of the movies, although I had seen the original films several times. Take "Singing in the Rain" and "Stormy Weather", for example. Sure, I can see Gene Kelly or Lena Horne in my mind's eye, if I want to, but I'm more likely to remember rainy evenings at the University of Victoria, splashing from the library to the Student Union Building for a dinner break with a friend, whirling Gene-like with our umbrellas, leaping up on lamp-posts (and damn near crippling ourselves), or warbling like Lena.

The orchestra also played "Dancing in the Dark" from The Band Wagon. Did I imagine Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire? I could have. Instead I remembered May 20th, 1989, the day Gilda Radner died. (If you follow the link, you're probably going to have to turn on the video, then put it on pause and allow several minutes for it to load -- it will be worth it.) It was a Saturday and the last live show of the season for Saturday Night Live where Gilda had been a star during the late seventies. It so happened that Steve Martin was guest-hosting, so the opening monologue was scrapped to show a classic clip from a 1978 show. Behind the 1989 Steve, you might be able to spot G.E.Smith who had been the lead guitarist for Hall and Oates and was then the music director for SNL. He had also been Gilda's first husband. What this clip doesn't show is his gentle lyrical guitar solo that took the show to the first commercial break, but if you can spot him, you'll see he's wearing a black arm-band. (Gilda was married to actor Gene Wilder when she died.)

Back in 2013, we applauded enthusiastically and grabbed a cab home, whisked through Byward Market and the jay-walking strollers on their way to dance in the brief dark of the shortest night of the year.

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