Tuesday, December 27, 2011

An Ode to the Royal Danish Ballet

I planned to revive my blog after the New Year--after taking a prolonged hiatus from writing publicly, I decided that one New Year's resolution I could gladly keep would be to bring back this virtual project of mine. However, current circumstances have inspired me to fulfill this self-promise a week earlier than planned, and with a more serious post than initially intended.

The present economic woes wreaking havoc across the globe have finally, unfortunately made their way to the little country of Denmark I currently call home. As you can easily guess, this means financial cuts in all professions...and big ones, as recently announced by the Danish government, in the arts. The most recent reports indicate that Det Kongelige Teater will be hit hard by sweeping government cutbacks totalling nearly 100 million kroner, to be implemented over the next four years.

I am not writing to provoke political change (for that is a ship already sailed), or to imply that an artistic profession is above any other. I only write this in the hopes of painting for you a picture of the kind of environment in which I find myself privileged to work, and why it would be incredibly heartbreaking to lose even one part of such a fantastic group of people.

The dedication and work ethic required to become a professional ballet dancer is pretty unbelievable. Most of my colleagues and I have devoted most of our childhoods, teenage years, and adult lives to this one art form. We missed out on normal educations, lazy summers, proms, normal boyfriend and girlfriend experiences. We spent--and continue to spend--hours in front of a mirror every single day, taking class and rehearsing, attempting to create with our bodies an unattainable physical perfection, an impossible beauty. We are the kids who fell in love with ballet and never grew out of it, in the best sense.

There are some people who would argue that ballet--perhaps all artistic endeavor in general--is a frivolous profession in comparison to law, medicine, science, etc. I know this for a fact because I am related to several people like this. I am not writing to declare that what I do is "better" than what anyone else does. I am merely here to say what I, as one corps de ballet member, believe, which is this: for me personally, my profession is not just a job. It is my religion, if you will; it is my hardest, most love-hate relationship, my reason for getting out of bed in the morning. Whether you believe it to be "important" or not is up to you, but regardless of your personal opinion, please know this: ballet is difficult, and not only physically. Other dancers have had different paths; personally, mine has not exactly been spoon-fed. For one, I was not altogether built for ballet (very few, very lucky people are!), and I had to almost work my ass off to get where I am today. I gave up school, much to my parents' and relatives' chagrin; I sacrificed my sanity and physical health for what basically amounted to a four year period in my mid- to late-teens; I matured very early in some ways (discipline; focus; sense of responsibility) and simultaneously fell emotionally behind in many others (boys; puberty; self-esteem).

As a profession, ballet is not an easy world in which to work. As dancers, we are paid very little for a lot of work. We spend most of our days physically and mentally exhausted. Most companies can be cutthroat or catty, and ballet can leave mental wounds as harsh as the physical ones. (Furthermore, we can all throw dreams of becoming foot models out the window.) But we all dedicate a good chunk of our lives to this art form because we truly, deeply, insanely love it. In my case, I know that what I do for a living may not cure cancer or discover a new planet. But in this messy modern world of ours, filled with so much hate and destruction, if I can make a theatre full of people forget their problems for a couple of hours by dancing onstage two or three nights a week with others to create some sort of beautiful escape among so much global ugliness, then I have damn well done my job.

The events which led to my employment at the Royal Danish Ballet were actually quite similar to what we dancers here are facing now; my previous company in America was facing a huge financial crisis, and in a rather unfortunately mismanaged firing process, I was one of the unlucky victims. I found it difficult to leave my friends there, but not impossible; as an apprentice, most of my closest friends from the school were also moving other places as we all found jobs elsewhere, which somehow made parting ways a bit easier. I packed up my life to move to a foreign country where I knew virtually nobody, and found myself with a whole new life notebook to fill.

I quickly discovered that the Royal Danish Ballet is unlike any other company I have ever worked with or heard about. This may read like a Hallmark card, but in my two and a half years here, I have found in my colleagues a second family. To be sure, we are slightly dysfunctional, but most of the best families are. I arrived in Denmark a severly underweight, insecure person with an impenetrably thick emotional wall built up around her heart; I wasn't exactly the type to let people in (or, for that matter, food). A mere two and a half years later, I am physically healthy. I have friends who are as close as, or in some cases closer than, family. I have somehow managed to build myself a veritable life here. I have found someone wonderful to love, and who--miraculously, wonderfully!--returns the feeling. And to top it all off I'm now probably one of the most emotional people working at the ballet. (As one of my good friends put it early on in the season: "Carling cried! The season has officially started.")

In the heart of the biggest city of this tiny, cold slice of the planet called Denmark, is situated a stunning royal theatre. This old building has become my second home, and is filled with a group of dancers unlike any other. I have never in my life come across people so brilliantly talented, warm, funny, creative, and incredibly loving outside my own immediate family. I lack a vocabulary adequate enough to describe how amazing it is to work here, or exactly why. I can only say this: I remember my very first company class, when I was in my worst place physically and a very wobbly second worst place mentally, thinking, "God, I'll never fit in here." Two and a half years later, I found myself in company class this morning thinking, "God, it would absolutely break my heart forever to leave these people."

And so, I would just like to say a deep, heartfelt thank you to the Royal Danish Ballet. I may be known as something of a cry-baby and perhaps not exactly one of the "normal ones". Despite this, you have welcomed me, and I have never felt more "at home" away from home than I do now. I can only hope that this post makes others realize how amazingly unbelievable and world-class this company is.  To be a bit more blunt about it, I hope it inspires the Powers that Be (you know who you are) to work creatively to keep together this lovely, fantastic workplace.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

"why are you crying?"

I am a person who can occasionally be one who procrastinates--an eternal believer in the promise and opportunity of "tomorrow" (particularly when it comes to my absolute least favorite chore, cleaning the toilet!). But I broke my personal slowpoke streak and finally got developed the last batch of photos from my trip to Greece this summer. This is a major event.

You see, after a little more than a week enjoying the Greek "mainland," we took a boat trip out to experience island life. After a day and a night on the very popular isle of Santorini (complete with a rented ATV and black volcanic beaches), we took a friend of a friend's tip, and a calculated risk, and made our way to a very small, decidedly non-touristy island a couple of hours from the aforementioned tourist trap. The boat ride from Santorini took just a couple of hours, and suddenly we found ourselves on a slice of paradise with slightly more than 300 residents, but an ample amount of relaxation, sun, clear waters, and general loveliness. What was planned as a one or two day trip turned into a four day adventure, accidents and all.

We left the boat and found a room near to the harbor area--and pretty much everywhere else, considering the fact that walking the entirety of the island took 3-4 hours at most. After settling into the hotel room and enjoying the waterfront balcony view, we rented bicycles and set out with the intention of exploring the tiny slice of heaven we had discovered. Let me preface this tale by saying: I am by no means a very coordinated human being outside the confinements of a ballet studio. I trip over my own oversized feet on a daily basis; I have gotten my shoelaces caught in my bike pedals; most recently (and by this I mean two days ago) I stubbed my third toe into my bathroom floor landing and ended up mopping up blood off the floor for the next fifteen minutes, like something out of Dexter. So renting bicycles with hand brakes on a tiny island in Greece, when I normally teeter-totter around Copenhagen on a mostly-broken Drescoe equipped only with foot brakes, was taking a big chance to being with.

That being said, once we'd settled into the hotel and met the unbelievably genial man-about-the-island (whom we saw countless times over the next few days, performing all kinds of island duties), we set out with the handbrake bikes to explore the island. The sun was shining, the temperature was well above average Scandinavian levels, and everything was hunky-dory. Until I encountered a slight hill. I forgot the handbrake feature of the bike I had rented, and ended up falling sideways and upside down and every wrong way possible, getting sand and gravel in my lovely wounds in the process. In the middle of nowhere, with no one else around to help or witness my moment of extreme klutziness, we managed to find the island health guy. Who turned out to be an older, unshaven, barefoot, absolutely-no-English-speaking man wearing a red jumpsuit and driving a severely fender-bendered vehicle. Regardless of his personal hygiene preferences and his knowledge of my native tongue, the wonderful man with the beard and no shoes got me to the island doctor in less than fifteen minutes; I was literally hyperventilating and could not even faintly recall any of the 89 Greek words I learned during my trip, but my meeting with the flip flop-clad, early-thirties island doctor resulted in a strict prescription to "go in the water." I was dubious, but took a leap of faith. (And, to be perfectly honest, healed my gaping hand and leg wounds faster than I could have wished for!).

To calm my ballerina-related injury fears, the good doctor sent my best man pal out to the island pharmacy for some goopy brown cleansing cream. I waited by the side of the road, perched on a short brick wall, crying and sniveling and waiting for the aforementioned wound tonic to arrive. After half-heartedly petting a couple of (admittedly awesome) stray island dogs, a barefoot, bald man with sunglasses happened to be passing by. I tried to hide my tears, but as anyone who has seen me seriously cry before will attest, this is no easy feat. The man was not an idiot, and saw past my snot-nosed, red-eyed, hiccuping appearance. He stopped and came over to sit down next to me. As a native New Yorker, I just looked at him, raised eyebrows, boogers, sadness, pus-filled wounds and all. And then in broken English, he said, "Girl, why you crying? Look around you!" I looked around, searching for a doctor wearing closed-toed shoes and a white coat, but instead found only sunshine and happy people. He saw my face and continued: "Don't worry. You are in paradise!"

And from that moment forward, I swear to god, I became an island lady. I embraced the sunshine, the lone island ATM, the generally slower approach to life. I enjoyed the fact that internet was not readily available. I learned to love the long walks around the island, especially when they resulted in stumbling upon a tiny private sort of beach. The saltwater was good for my skin, my hair, my feet, and I (literally) soaked it up. The fresh fish on this teeny tiny slice of magic; the Nightmare Before Christmas sort of dead-but-alive plants; the goats and roosters peppered about the island; the hidden sea caves and water in more shades of blue and green than I ever dreamed of; the shocking magenta flowers that popped against the blue-and-white backdrop of the architecture...I loved it all. The idea of camping, of having a boat, of living this slow-motion version of real life, in the middle of absolutely nowhere, became so frighteningly appealing. I left this island with tight jeans, hands and a left leg healed from the saltwater, hair tamed into those seemingly unattainable beach curls, skin softer than I'd felt in years, and an attitude more carefree than I could have ever imagined. There was something about the laid-back, happy-go-lucky nature of the islanders that made me able to spend a good chunk of time on one of the beaches, lying there doing absolutely nothing, and completely enjoying it.

This particular teeny piece of paradise will forever have a place in my heart; both for the warmth and generosity of its people, and for its incomparable natural beauty. I have never before encountered such an unbelievable piece of Eden, and I will definitely leap at the chance to escape to this happy place of mine again. I lack the vocabulary (in any language!) to adequately describe the enchantment of this island, and so I leave you with a few pictures, which will hopefully suffice...

The island, from the dock.

Playing in the (incredibly perfect!) waters...

There were tons of these magic coves along the island.

Well-fed and windblown on "the deaf island."

Daily magic.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


The Royal Danish Ballet's 2011/2012 season begins on Tuesday, and while I am ready and excited to begin work again, I cannot help but look back on the wonderful summer holiday. After a month-long return to the motherland United States, an extra week with my one-of-a-kind family in New York, and a quick stopover back in good ol' CPH, I took a trip with my very best friend to a little place called Greece and escaped the real world for two whole magical weeks.

Forget the sun, the beach, the food, the drinks. There's something about Greece, something that I don't think I will ever have the vocabulary to adequately describe. The people are as warm as the summer weather; the language is as beautiful to listen to as the island waters are to look at. In the face of national economic uncertainty, the Greeks showed no fear, only a love of food, fun, and each other. As someone who has never had an easy time relaxing, and who spent the first two days feeling frantic for not having mastered a very foreign language before arrival, I left Greece with a face full of freckles, significantly tighter jeans, and a strong urge to 'accidentally' miss my flight.

There's "big city" beauty--the nonstop, neon allure of New York or Paris. I always considered myself a true, blue, concrete-loving city girl. I have lived in New York and Miami Beach, and spent summers in San Francisco. I have never met a neon light or a skyscraper I couldn't get along with. I spend most of my time indoors in studios, and my pale skin reflects this affinity for artificial lighting. I have never been camping. I get cold if it dips below summer temperatures, and I can tolerate sweltering temperatures in 10-minute increments in a sauna. I don't pee unless it involves four walls, a door, and proper indoor plumbing. I don't consider bugs to be a satisfactory source of protein, and unless it's one of the approximately eight spiders a year involuntarily swallowed by the average human being, I really try to keep a more-than-safe distance from most insects. In short: I am nobody's nature girl.

But Greece is different. To be sure, we saw big cities. Athens is massive, Thessaloniki and Larissa are true cities as well. But for the most part, I was confronted with a completely different kind of beauty, one with mountains and sand and swamps and stretches of nothingness. I saw dragonflies in shades I never expected, spiders the size of gum balls, more shades of green and blue than I could ever imagine. Each day, I awoke to a clear view of Mt. Olympus and a schedule filled with hours and hours of relaxation. At first, I admit, it freaked me out. I cannot ever just do nothing. And in Greece, the daily schedule read something like: wake up, breakfast, beach, two-hour lunch, nap, beach, snack, do nothing, two-hour dinner, sleep. My stomach was not built for this schedule. The letters weren't letters, and because I love languages (and am a very nosy individual who likes to understand what people are saying and writing) I found my inability to understand or communicate frustrating. I mean, in Greek, my boyfriend's name started with what appeared to be a triangle. That's a shape. Also, I am not a person who does well at the beach; my skin simply can't take the heat (literally) and my mind can't take the lack of activity. I wear contact lenses, so I don't enjoy saltwater, and after an unpleasant childhood encounter with a rabid jellyfish, I'm not keen on swimming too far out. Plus there's the whole existential freakout I have whenever I find myself looking out over a large expanse of water; it's a situation that goes on in my mind something like: "Saltwater oceans are 71% of Earth's total surface, there are over 6 billion people on the planet, Earth is one of nine planets in our solar system, which is part of the Milky Way galaxy, which is one of billions of galaxies in space, which means I am very small indeed..."

A couple of days in, however, and I was hooked. By the end of the vacation, I was expressing a desire to "just bring a tent and camp on the beach" next time we visited the islands. The sun was my best friend; the saltwater brought my skin and feet back to childhood softness; my stomach learned to not only accept but thoroughly enjoy the seemingly endless plates of food involved in daily meals. The ancient ruins nestled among modern villages and cities, the freshest food I have ever tasted, the unbreakable sense of fun everyone I met seemed to have, the addictive sound and look of the language, I love all of it. And the daily small adventures made the trip that much more perfect. My first lesson in the art of drinking raki; the small but Olympic-fast turtle we adopted (until he escaped); running up to the Acropolis with just ten minutes before the last visitors were admitted; tooling around the hillsides of Santorini on an ATV; the small island whose one ATM ran out of cash, resulting in a 1am race onto a visiting ferry for cash; water fights at lunch--I miss the indescribable mix of whirlwind amid hours of leisure. It was infectious. I wanted to be like this, all the time. There was a sense of frantic humor in almost every situation, and I could not get enough.

Vacation cannot last forever. This is why, like Christmas and birthdays and any other favorite time, they are so special. Greece was something I will never forget, and something I hope to repeat very soon. Because for the first time in my life, I spent over an hour in the sun, on the beach of a tiny island in the middle of nowhere, and I didn't feel the urge to do anything or go anywhere. I didn't think. I didn't worry about fitting into skinny jeans, I wasn't nauseous about the releve section in Etudes, I had soft skin and healed feet and no sore muscles. I found my happy place.

After I had a bike accident on a tiny island, I was sitting by the side of the road crying and bleeding while disinfecting supplies were fetched. A total stranger passing by stopped and said, "Why are you crying?" I held up my bloody hands and stuck out my swollen, bleeding and bruised left leg as an answer. He smiled and said, "It's ok, don't worry! Look around. You're in paradise." And so, with another long, busy season ahead, I look forward to it being a great one, with new opportunities and challenges. But in the back of my mind, I will try so very hard to keep that feeling of real, honest-to-god bliss I achieved this summer. ευχαριστώ, Ελλάδα. You taught this neurotic mess to turn off her brain and just enjoy life (and a whole lot of food).

Thursday, July 21, 2011

ευχαριστώ, Ελλάδα

After two weeks in the paradise more commonly known as Greece, I am back in Copenhagen, experiencing the highly expected traditional post-vacation-downer. It was a holiday filled with all the ingredients I love: new places and faces, indescribably delicious food (and a lot of it!), a beautiful foreign language, hours of relaxation, breathtaking landscapes and historical sights, summer heat and sunshine, and the best company possible. It was a perfect mixture of downtime and adventure, and not only was I able to escape reality for a couple of weeks, but I achieved my first veritable tan, learned a new alphabet, and managed to pick up 89 words (tallied during the return flight takeoff, to calm my flying nerves) in a stunning language. I would give anything to have stayed in that bubble of bliss for just a bit longer, but I suppose that is what makes holiday travels so special. It's like when you are younger, and all you want is Christmas every day--it sounds like a fantastic idea. But as you get older, you realize that Christmas is so wonderful because it only comes once a year, because it isn't just an every day thing. For me, Greece shall be the same; it is a Christmas-level sort of place, and I would not have it any other way. Until next time, then, a big fat Greek thank you (or "ευχαριστώ") to everybody there who made my holiday so unbelievably fantastic.

Street meat, highway-style. On the way to the house after landing in Thessaloniki, we stopped at this kiosk on the side of the highway. People pull over, hop the barrier, pick up some sodas, and keep on truckin'.

A slice of heaven.

While having a φραπές--or, a delicious Greek iced coffee--we saw this magnificent sunset over Mt. Olympus. I'd normally call it "Jesus light," but in this instance, I think "Zeus light" might be more appropriate.

Monkeying around at the Archaeological Museum in Dion.

One of my favorite villages we visited, Paleo ("Old") Panteleimonas. Like taking a step back in time, it was an escape from the escape from reality. Amazing.

1100m up Mt. Olympus. I got a bit light-headed, but a lunch of φασολάδα--fasolada, Greek's delicious national dish--and panoramic views like this one definitely helped.

At Aphrodite's Spring, down the end of this narrow tunnel was a font, out of which poured the clearest, freshest water you'll ever taste. The tight squeeze was worth the reward.

In Athens for the evening, I had to go to the Acropolis. I have no words, except: if you can, you must see this.

Athens, down the rabbit hole...

A trip to the islands, first stop: Thira, aka Santorini. This is the town of Oia by night. Fantastic!

And by morning, the view of Santorini's biggest village, Fira, from the old village of Firostefani.

No, this is not a pool. This is what the water really looks like.

The biggest--but smallest!--slice of paradise of all: Κουφονήσια.

This small island is my new favorite place on Earth. If ever I'm instructed to "go to my happy place," this is where I'll be.

This is just a small taste of my big fat Greek holiday. I cannot say enough how warm the people are, how beautiful the country is, and how delicious the food tastes. If you're ever searching for a perfect combination of relaxation and new adventures, consider Greece. You won't regret it--you'll only regret ever having to come home.

Friday, July 1, 2011


After five weeks away, it is really nice to be home for a week before I take a little trip to another land. Having lived in Copenhagen for over two years now, I can say that while I love this city (or at the very least, really like the whole city and love Vesterbro), it can get claustrophobic at times. Copenhagen is what I call a "little big city." And that's literally what it sounds like: while technically dubbed a city, as a New Yorker I can say with confidence that it is a very small city. To be sure, this is part of its charm, but it can also make me go a bit bonkers after a while. There are only so many times you can bike around the same neighborhoods or sit in the park before it gets a bit monotonous, no matter how lovely the weather might be.

And so it is wonderful to come back to sunny skies and warm weather, and to be able to re-appreciate this little big city I have come to call home. Despite the fact that the entire city seems to be under construction at the moment (see my lovely friend Sandra's blog for more on this!), Copenhagen really is quite fantastic in the summer. Before I go on vacation in a week, I plan to take full advantage of being able to do nothing and anything--and of the summer sales going on right now. So, a little photographic ode to good ol' CPH, as I continue the battle against jetlag...

New street art on Westend, my favorite block in Copenhagen.

"Blomster om sommeren" -- flowers in summer.

I love Vesterbro...

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

savage beauty

After our final performance in New York, our summer holidays began. I kicked mine off by staying an extra week at home on Long Island, enjoying some quality crazy time with my family and boyfriend. Suburban downtime was mixed with a healthy dose of playing New York City tourist: walking around downtown Manhattan, exploring the beautiful new High Line park, eating really excellent food, etc. etc. Aside from generally soaking up New York City, there was one specific thing I had on my agenda: the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

As someone who regularly steps outside her apartment looking like a homeless person (due mostly, I have come to think, to my schizophrenic head of hair), I may not seem like the fashion exhibition type. However, beneath the black-goes-with-black, this-smells-clean ensemble lies someone who is, in fact, a big fan of fashion. When I was 18 and living in Miami, I used to go down to this fantastic small boutique on Lincoln Road to shell out $15 for French Vogue. I could understand maybe three words in every issue, but I would read it like some sort of Bible. And here in Denmark, I will often sacrifice good kroner at Magasin for American Vogue--justifying this purchase as a "slice of home" that I can fully understand. My lack of daily style is not indicative at all of my love for fashion. My mentality is such: had I the funds to purchase the wardrobe I desire, I would readily do so. Since I do not currently possess such gold, and wish to remain out of 'minus,' I make do with the closet full of so-so clothes that I have. And when I do occasionally have money to burn, I carefully select one hopefully timeless item on which to splurge.

When I read that Alexander McQueen was the subject of a fashion exhibit at the Met, I was thrilled. From my years of devouring Vogue, I had picked him as one of my dream, fairytale life designers. To me, McQueen's collections seemed more like wearable, almost painfully beautiful art--more so than almost any other designer's. The descriptions of his runway shows made me love him even more; his runway presentations told stories, bringing drama and emotion to the fantastical garments he created. And beneath the masterful execution and magical quality of his collections was always a sense of beautiful darkness, a hint of "savage beauty," as it were.

According to those who knew him, McQueen was a deeply troubled but optimistic person, one with a great knowledge and respect for history, and with an immeasurable imagination. The Met exhibition, stunningly arranged and beautifully comprehensive, shows that with McQueen's tragic death in February of last year, the world lost a true visionary artist. I can honestly say that this exhibit was one of my favorite museum experiences of my life, and I can only wish that I could see it just once more.

Dress, ivory silk organza, Widows of Culloden (autumn/winter 2006-7).

Coat of duck feathers painted gold, autumn/winter 2010-11.

Dress, white cotton spray-painted black and yellow with underskirt of white silk, No. 13 (spring/summer 1999).

"Oyster" dress, ivory silk, Irere (spring/summer 2003).

Dress, black duck feathers, The Horn of Plenty (autumn/winter 2009-10).

Dress, cream silk and lace with resin antlers, Widows of Culloden (autumn/winter 2006-7).

Images from the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

"I find beauty in the grotesque, like most artists. I have to force people to look at things." ~ Alexander McQueen (1969-2010)

summer, summer, summertime...

As the great lyricist Will Smith once wrote, it is now officially "summer, summer, summertime, time to sit back and unwind." After a month-long tour to the good ol' United States of America (and a month-long hiatus from this blog of mine), I am back in Vikingland for a proper Scandinavian sommerferie.

But first, some highlights of RDB's big 2011 tour across America. Following a 17-hour travel day, which closely resembled an inner circle of hell, we started off with a week in Orange County. A week in Berkeley came next; then a week in the motherland's great capitol city of Washington, DC; and finally, a grand finale on my home turf: New York, the city so nice they named it twice. It was a long tour, it was a hard tour, but it was a fantastic, fun way to end a difficult, ultimately very gratifying season. And after having spent an unbelievably hilarious, relaxing, perfect week at home on Long Island with my family following the tour's end, I am now back in Copenhagen to continue enjoying the summer holiday. My jet lag--combined with the wonderfully long Scandinavian sunlight hours of summer--means I'm nearly cross-eyed at this time, but until I get back on European time, some photos from America, to get back in the swing of this blog...

A lovely community garden in San Francisco.

Monkeying around on tour...

It was fantastic to visit San Francisco again, after six years or so.

My first time in DC--heaven for this Bones fan. Agent Booth works here! ;-)

I felt this was only an appropriate pose, considering the circumstances. And considering I'd already made enough bad political puns that morning.

Inspired by the street art near PS1 MoMA.

Situations like this one are why I love love love downtown New York.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Long Live the (Mc)Queen

I am not a fashionista, by any stretch of the imagination: I have been known to wear pajama pants on grocery store runs, and also I own a Snuggie. In my weak defense, my lack of creativity with my daily ensembles mostly stems from the fact that I rarely wear an outfit for longer than my 15-minute bike ride to and from the theatre (and also, the cost of my dream wardrobe far exceeds my anemic funds). But despite my "black-goes-with-everything" amount of effort that I put into my personal everyday look, I do have a typically girlish love and appreciation for fashion, and one of my favorite designers is the late, great Alexander McQueen, whose garments never lack for imagination or drama.

The current creative director of Alexander McQueen, one Sarah Burton, spoke with Vogue recently about several of McQueen's dresses, which are set to be part of the Costume Institute's upcoming exhibition "Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty," opening May 4 at the Met in New York City. Turns out that the stories behind McQueen's designs are as inspired and as dramatic as they look.

The dress below is from the Fall 2006 collection, called "Widows of Culloden." Burton tells Vogue: "The collection was about the 1745 massacre of the Scottish Jacobites by the English, which Lee felt so passionately about because of his Scottish family heritage, which his mother had researched. The women were the widows of the slaughtered army. This dress was actually based on my wedding dress--I got married two years earlier. We had to figure out how to make lace work in the round with those ruffles because Lee hated gathering. So we cut out all of the flowers from the lace and reappliquéd it on tulle to make our own fabric. This is the collection most people remember as the one with Kate Moss in a hologram. Oh, my God, it was so beautiful. He loved that show."

And of this dress, from the "Voss" Spring 2001 collection, Burton recalls: "So much of this show was about the collective madness of the world. It was presented in a two-way mirrored glass box in London, and the girls had bandaged heads, acting like inmates of a mental asylum. Lee wanted the top of this dress to be made from surgical slides used for hospital specimens, which we found in a medical-supply shop on Wigmore Street. Then we hand-painted them red, drilled holes in each one, and sewed them on so they looked like paillettes. We hand-painted white ostrich feathers and dip-dyed each one to layer in the skirt."

Alexander McQueen's designs are beautiful not only for their masterful execution and obvious uniqueness, but because his pieces evoke strong reactions and emotions, and convey a sense of importance and story (if not exactly the tale which inspired the designer). His clothes are art and theatre unto themselves, and for this somewhat self-apathetic fashion lover, worthy of worship, indeed.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

the most beautiful equation

Etudes is an exercise in beauty; to me, its brilliance lies in its choreographic elegance and almost mathematical playfulness of the musicality. The strict counts and clean lines give this ballet a stunning, unexpected quality--in a way, Etudes is the most beautiful science put to music. This got me wondering: is there such a thing as "beautiful" math or science? And my research led me to what many scholars agree is the "most beautiful theorem in mathematics": Euler's Identity.

Named for Swiss-German mathematician Leonhard Euler, Euler's Identity is the equality in analytical mathematics:

where e is the base of natural algorithms (Euler's number); i is the imaginary unit--i² = −1; π is pi.

The reason Euler's identity is considered remarkable is because of its mathematical beauty. The three basic arithmetic operations occur exactly once each: addition, multiplication, and exponentiation. The equality also connects five fundamental mathematical constants:

- The number 0, or the additive identity
- The number 1, or the multiplicative identity
- The number π, ever-present in trigonometry, the geometry of Euclidean space, and analytical mathematics
- The number e, which is the base of natural logarithms
- The number i, or the imaginary unit of the complex numbers

Euler's Identity is a special case of Euler's formula from complex analysis, which reads (for any real number x):

And notably,

since cos π = -1 and sin π =0, then it must be true that

This gives us Euler's Identity:

The simplistic elegance of this equation, in mathematical beauty standards, is stunning; many scholars have waxed poetic about this one equality. A poll of readers conducted by The Mathematical Intelligencer magazine named Euler's Identity as the "most beautiful theorem in mathematics"; in another poll of readers by Physics World magazine Euler's Identity tied with Maxwell equations (of electromagnetism) as the "greatest equation ever". There is an entire 400-page mathematics book written by Dr. Paul Nahin devoted to the identity: Dr. Euler's Fabulous Formula; the tome professes that Euler's Identity sets "the gold standard for mathematical beauty." After proving Euler's Identity during a lecture, Benjamin Peirce, the noted American philosopher/mathematician and a professor at Harvard University, said, "It is absolutely paradoxical; we cannot understand it, and we don't know what it means, but we have proved it, and therefore we know it must be the truth." Perhaps Stanford University mathematics professor Dr. Keith Devlin was most poetic: "Like a Shakespearean sonnet that captures the very essence of love, or a painting that brings out the beauty of the human form that is far more than just skin deep, Euler's Equation reaches down into the very depths of existence."

Etudes has the same sort of clean beauty and technical impressiveness as Euler's Identity, albeit in a completely different way. Etudes takes the precise structure of the ballet class and emphasizes the beauty behind pure technique, much as this equality stresses the importance and beauty of the most basic numbers and functions in mathematics.