A Dance Critique Posing as a Food Blog

by Marina Chotzinoff

It should be noted that my understanding of the art of dance is philistine at best. One might question why, then, I have the chutzpah to even try to critique a performance of a medium I know little to nothing about. Finally, it would also be noted that this is a food blog and not a blog about any old thing that suits my fancy. And yet I am driven to share my experience of the magical collaboration between Paper Bird and Ballet Nouveau that is “Carry On.” Not only because it was so stimulating and good, but because it might motivate you to remember to go out and be moved by something new. So here is my offer: I will first review our meal at Osteria Marco and then move on to the performance. Deal?

We haven’t been eating out often lately, but a dear friend was in town and had secured tickets to Carry On. From what I had read, it was to be a great show involving Paper Bird and Ian Cooke, a band and performer I happened to see on several occasions open for  other bands. Paper Bird was a band I was naturally drawn to and yet somehow forgot to remember after each performance. This amnesia resulted in me being continually and pleasantly surprised each time I’ve see them. Having not been to many live performances in a while other than plain old concerts, I was really looking forward to the evening.

We chose to eat first unlike my parents and their friends who always ate after a show. They had a select few restaurants (Racines, Cafe Promenade, White Spot) that would cater to you and your show-going entourage at 11 pm with your children running amok and then sleeping on some booth in the back). But I, a girl without a regular haunt, had to go to Open Table, plug in a restaurant near the venue and search for anything available at that time. Osteria Marco it was and a good option, I thought, for having many choices to suit any need.

We arrived with a little over an hour to spare and headed down the steps to the dark and cavernous space. That descent always makes me feel a little gloomy until my eyes and ears adjust and I feel a little more One with the dining space and less sad that I’m not seated on the small patio outside. Otherwise it is a large, but comfortable space and we were seated off the to left in a booth.

Perusing the menu we chose to share a salad and pizza, with calamari to start because I am almost always a sucker for calamari. This is weird because I rarely enjoy the calamari I end up with, but I suppose I continue to hope it will be as good as it could be. We asked our waiter to suggest a good, crisp white that could handle the poached pears in the salad and the fig and prosciutto in the pizza. He came back and proceeded to exhibit an amazing array of fumbling (messed up the vintage, almost dropped the bottle, couldn’t find the opener). In response to our “what’s up man?” he explained he was distracted because the food runner brought a vegan at his table a chicken sandwich and she called him “dumb.” That made me chuckle a little though he did deliver a nice white and if I paid better attention I could tell you what it was (a Sauvignon/Chardonnay blend perhaps). Wine fail. Though I was not intending to share all this anyway.

What seemed like minutes later our calamari and salad arrived together instead of the salad coming with the pizza. Not tragic, but our fumbly server should have known better. Because the calamari was crispy, but buried like a beautiful treasure in a pile of sweet and sour greens, we ignored the salad and dug in before the glazed, fried little rings could get soggy. At first bite it lacked a bit of salt, mostly wanted on the rings themselves under the crispy coating. But after a few bites together with the bitter greens, spicy fresno peppers and a punchy sweet agrodolce vinaigrette, things balanced out and we happily cleared the plate. Other than a similar calamari served with fried, tart lemons at Parallel 17, these may well be the only calamari I like in Denver.

During this time our server returned to comment that he had forgotten the chicken on the salad and did we still want it? “You ARE dumb” I said “of course we want the chicken.” He didn’t think that was funny, though, and whisked away the too-early salad. It promptly came back en-chickened (and maybe adorned with some spit). This, too, I felt wanted for salt, but again blossomed a bit in the eating. Nothing too outstanding, but a decent balance of greens, poached pear, caramelized nut, pungent blue cheese and balsamic vinaigrette.

Our final dish was a pizza of fig, prosciutto, goat cheese, fontina and truffle oil. I had two immediate thoughts on first bite. One, that the slight funk of cheese and truffle oil and meat balanced wonderfully with the sweet fig. A divine pairing, really. But the second thought was that the crust was just….lame. It might only be a simple, thin platform to deliver the love, but the outer edges had a hollow, almost unpleasantly crumbly texture. This didn’t seem possible in a Bonanno restaurant and I had the urge to stand up and ask aloud if anyone else shared our dilemma.

At this point we were in danger of being late and had to rush our check, walk briskly to the car to deposit our leftover pizza and hurry to the theater. On our way, being a bit chilly, we shared my shawl and warmth. While crossing the street some guy drove by yelling BOOO!!!! BOOOO!!!! practically leaning out of his car window. Other than being completely stunned I recall hoping he’d somehow bonk into something while still half out the window.

And I have to say the angry feelings are still with me. I wish I’d had an idea as balsy and amusing as a cousin who had pulled over to scrawl “BOO!! HISS!!” in pink spray paint on the Focus on the Family highway sign. But I was left seething instead and for the duration of our walk we brainstormed a number of ways that the average citizen could experience that side of  idiotic hatred first hand. It is clearly not something that we can inflict on everyone against their will but, oh, what a difference it might make.

Well that fury fueled our pace and we made it just in time as the lights dimmed, the music began and the voices poured out to fill every part of me. And here is what I am a sucker for:


indie folk

romantic drama

dancing that seems weightless and easy that I know in my soul I could never do, but for that hour and a half I can lose myself in

any real passion, illustrated

This show delivered on all fronts and then some. The harmony of voices and arrangement of music could almost be felt in its depth and texture. Go ahead and click this link to hear some of what I’m talking about. To this the dancers added an extra layer to the story joining and separating, rolling, floating and illustrating a story of love and heartbreak.

The pairing of vintage 20s outfits with music both familiar and new continued to change shapes and energy. Making use of a super glossy floor, the dancers were reflected and took on even more complex shapes as they were intertwined and moving across the stage. Occasionally there were some odd little frog kicks which made me feel the same way I do when flipping though fashion magazines. It was something I didn’t get but assumed others “in the know” did or why the hell would they do it? But frog kicks aside, the motion and grace and symbiotic relations between the groups and then individuals was mesmerizing and I wondered briefly why I was never as spellbound with dance as a young girl as I was at that moment. Because this was magic the way you experienced it when you were six. Untouchable, yet all encompassing.

Not normally comfortable sitting still for long, I found myself aware at some point that I wasn’t feeling so twitchy. I never once looked at the program to see where we were or how long I had to sit there. And thinking back on the fluid movement and resonant sounds I have a clear picture still. I was so eager and wanting to share that experience with more people and was stunned to realize it was a one night affair. That all those people spent all that time choreographing and arranging and practicing for a single night was mind boggling. I certainly hope they will perform again or, at the least (and less fabulous) provide a video.

Most of all I am thrilled to be reminded of an experience I have dipped into here and there. An art form that is exciting to watch and get lost in. If it wasn’t technically good or if there are dancer people who poo poo it, I suppose I’d eventually take an education. But for now I am happy to be in my ignorant bliss of a wonderful evening.

My one main complaint about the set or visuals were the photographs and video projected on the wall. A black and white tree, and moving train hoping to also conjure a time in the past looked like an average quality video and could have easily been made spectacular by simply hiring Gary Isaacs to do them. This seemed so obvious to me I could almost not stand it. Alas, it was not so.

At the end I stood with everyone in an exuberant standing ovation and carry still the overall goodness of Carry On.

    2 comments on “A Dance Critique Posing as a Food Blog

    1. Regna jones on said:

      Happy to be “that dear friend” I loved every moment of our evening and marvel at your wit and ability to put into words the visseral experience of both the food and the performance. As for the booing we received, I can only say thank you for having the wardrobe to wrap us both up in friendship and fun. Can’t wait for our next pairing and the opportunity to share such lively and lovely company.

      • Marina Chotzinoff on said:

        Right back at you dear! I am enjoying the final tastes of treats you brought from Paonia- the Bliss sauce particularly. Blended it up with artichoke bottoms, mayo and dutch cheese for a wonderful app. I certainly hope to see you both much sooner than later!!

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