Friday, August 29, 2014

Friday Fave: Breathless on PBS Mystery - Masterpiece Theatre

Happy Friday!

My Friday Fave this week is Breathless on PBS Mystery (Masterpiece Theatre).  This is a three episode series set in 1961 London.  The central character a brilliant, charming surgeon in a gynecology ward (Jack Davenport from Smash).  He is in a loveless marriage with a beautiful wife, and he becomes interested in a mysterious new nurse at the hospital. 

Other characters include a vivacious nurse who marries a socially prominent doctor.  The nurse is played by Zoe Boyle ("Lavinia Swire" from Downton Abbey).  Another Downton Abbey actor (Iain Glen, who played Sir Richard Carlisle) is a brooding inspector.

So far the show is more about Mad Men era period detail and soap opera intrigue than mystery ... but it is a wonderfully entertaining program, and one I highly recommend.  The show airs Sunday evenings on PBS.

If you've seen Breathless, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments, below.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

So You Think You Can Dance: Top 4


This week's So You Think You Can Dance was the penultimate episode.  The finale is next Wednesday night.

The show began with a beautiful group dance to "Wind Beneath My Wings" (Ryan Dan Travis) choreographed by Travis Wall.  The leaps and pairings in this number were just lovely.  (Photo above.)

Jesse Tyler Ferguson sat in as a judge.  He is one of my favorite SYTYCD judges.  I love the good natured humor he brings to his comments.

On this episode all the dancers partnered with each other, danced a solo, and danced with an All Star in their chosen dance genre.

Valerie and Ricky did a Sean Cheesman African jazz number to "Voices of Savannah" (D.J. Chus).  It had an animal theme and was a lot of fun.

Jessica and Zack performed a Broadway routine choreographed by Spencer Liff.  It was about an underground rendezvous spot, and it was danced to "Hernando's Hideaway" (Ella Fitzgerald).  I could really picture this number in a Broadway show.  Spencer Liff is one of my favorite show choreographers.

Valerie and Zack performed a contemporary dance choreographed by Tyce Diorio.  It was about a couple in love, and Valerie portrayed a blind woman.  The number was danced to "Pearls" (Sade) and it was really lovely.

Jessica and Ricky danced a Ray Leeper number to "F for You" (Disclosure with Mary J. Blige).  It was full of drama, but not one of my favorite numbers.

Jason Mraz performed his new song, "Love Someone."  I like it - really like his voice!  

Valerie and Jessica performed a Bollywood number by Nakul Dev Mahajan to "Ghagra" (Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani).   I almost always enjoy the Bollywood numbers of SYTYCD, and this number was no exception.  The girls looked like they really enjoyed this dance.

Zack and Ricky performed a Phoenix and Pharside hip hop number about the king of diamonds and king of clubs to "The Antidote" (District 78).  It was hard hitting and athletic and I thought both dancers really did an amazing job working so far out of their genre.  

Valerie and Aaron performed a Broadway style tap number choreographed by Anthony Morigerato to "Love Me or Leave Me" (Sammy Davis, Jr.).  It was a show stopper!   This was another number that would be great in a Broadway show. 

Some clips of Ricky's first audition aired, and then Ricky danced an amazing solo to "Skin and Bones" (David J. Roch).

Ricky and Kathryn danced a Stacey Tookey contemporary number about a man who hit rock bottom and a woman who is an angel helping him.  It was performed to "Not About Angels" (Birdy).

Valerie's audition aired, and then she danced a tap solo to "Valerie" (Mark Ronson featuring Amy Winehouse).

Zack and Aaron danced a Broadway tap number to "Piano Man" (Billy Joel).  This number was choreographed by Anthony Morigerato, and it was about a bartender and customer sharing stories.  The conversation actually took the form of tap.  What an incredible number!  

Jessica's audition played, and then she danced a solo to "It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World" (Juliet Sims).

Jessica and Robert danced a very moving contemporary number to "When I Go" (Over the Rhine).  It was choreographed by Travis Wall.

Zack closed the show with a tape of his audition and a tap routine to "Superstition" (Adam Rafferty).

I really enjoyed this show.  It was probably my favorite episode this season.  I thought the two tap duets (Valerie and Aaron, Zack and Aaron) were real standouts.  I also loved Ricky's solo.

I actually voted tonight - 10 times for Valerie and 10 times for Ricky.  I have to say I also like Zack a lot, and would not be unhappy if he won.

I think this will actually be a very close vote.  I usually watch the show with a group of friends and the four of us had four different opinions about who should win.

Did you enjoy the show this week?  What guy and what girl do you want to win?

Book Spotlight and Author Interview - What Counts Most is How You Finish by Sheila Payton

What Counts Most is How You Finish is a book of short essays that shares ideas for addressing life's challenges. The book (which uses experiences from the author's life and the lives of others) is written with two ideas in mind:
• Each person has to find his or her own way in life
• We can learn worthwhile things from each other

To make it easier to find an essay that can help the reader address life situations in real time, What Counts Most is How You Finish is divided into seven topic areas: Being You, Taking Care of You, Dealing with People, Overcoming Challenges, Staying Focused, Achieving Success and Making a Difference.

While the primary audience for What Counts Most is How You Finish is people between the ages of 16-25, the book has received positive feedback from many older than that who say it’s a good reminder for them.

Where to buy the book:

Xlibris Book Store

Author's Bio:

Shelia Payton is an entrepreneur, former newspaper reporter, corporate manager and educator who spent all of her early life and much of her career in a time when people of color and women in this country were pushing for greater inclusion at all levels of society, and seeking greater opportunities to live life to the fullest. Like others in her generation, Shelia had to face and overcome barriers to entering and succeeding in non-traditional jobs, and create a place in civic and leadership settings. Also like others in her generation, Shelia’s motivation has not just been about what she can accomplish for herself, but also how she can open up opportunities for future generations. Shelia’s current focus is on creating books, plays and music that build human connections by breaking down barriers and stereotypes.


I enjoyed interviewing Ms. Payton about this book:
 
What inspired you to write this book?

My oldest niece, Joi Michelle Payton, lived in another state. As she was growing up we didn’t have a lot of face time where I could take advantage of “teachable moments” to share some of my experiences in a way that was relevant to things she was experiencing or had questions about. This fact hit me when Joi turned 13. I decided to write about life lessons I’d learned and the situations that taught me those lessons. What started out as “Letters to My Niece” became a book after I showed some of the letters to others who had or worked with teens and young adults to get their feedback. They told me to expand my audience. I took their advice and also decided to include stories from other people’s lives in the book.

What did you most enjoy about writing this book?

The opportunity to share ideas about facing and overcoming life’s challenges. Life is not one big problem, but it’s not a smooth road either. This has always been true. But there are differences between growing up today and growing up when I was a teen and young adult: everything happens faster today, and there’s information overload that creates an environment in which multiple things are constantly vying for attention or a response. As a result it’s harder to find a quiet place to think, reflect and weigh the pros and cons before making decisions. While it’s true each person has to find his or her own way in life, it’s also true we all can learn worthwhile things from each other. By using real world examples, dividing the book into seven subject categories and making the essays short, my goal for What Counts Most is How You Finish is to provide a real time reference guide that can serve as that “quiet place” for readers as they make decisions and navigate toward a wonderful life.

Do you have a special time to write, or how is your day structured?

Although I don’t have a special time of day to write, late morning and early afternoon tend to work best for me. I have tried to set a specific time to write but, because I work part time and have other commitments, that is not always possible. What I do, however, is try to have quiet periods during the day to allow my brain to work on ideas in the background. During that time I might be doing something else that doesn’t require close attention—washing dishes, clothes, cooking, walking. These quiet times help me start writing immediately when I sit down at the computer because I’ve had a chance to think through ideas.

This sounds like a great, inspiring book for young adults.  What is one of your favorite tips or advice for young readers?

If I were to choose one tip it would be to set and write down goals for yourself, make a list of things you need to do to move toward your goals, do something each week (or better still each day) that moves you closer to your goals, and check off what you’ve done from your list so you can see the progress you’re making. This may sound complicated and time consuming, but it’s not as hard as it sounds. The investment of time made to set goals and list the steps needed to achieve them will help you successfully navigate life’s rough patches. How? By helping you keep your eye on the prize—what you want to accomplish. For example: when you have to make choices in life you can evaluate those choices in terms of whether they hurt, improve or have no effect on achieving your goals. This can help you avoid decisions that could derail your plans. When people put you down or try to discourage you, instead of letting their negativity bring you down you can look at your goals, decide what you need to do next to get where you want to be, and then focus your energy on doing that. Having goals and a plan for reaching them can keep you on track for living the type of life you want to. Put another way, having goals and plans for achieving them is like turning the corner when you’re lost on a dark road and seeing a light off in the distance. Like that light, your goals and plans can take you to a better place.

What is a tip from this book that would also be useful for older readers?

That no matter how old you are you can still grow and learn. Put another way, don’t stop living and learning until they stick you in the ground. Generally speaking, when you’re younger you see the world as interesting and a place to explore. As we get older there’s a tendency to set unnecessary limits—I can’t learn to play an instrument or paint or write or go back to school to become a teacher because I’m too old. If I were to pick two essays from the book that summarize this point they would be “There’s No Such Thing as Can’t” and “Pivot.” The first essay’s title is self-explanatory. The second essay uses three people’s lives to illustrate how anyone can change their life’s direction.

What books have influenced your life the most?

As a teen the Trixie Belden “girl detective” books showed me average girls could be smart and brave. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird introduced me to the power of storytelling based on real life. Langston Hughes’ poetry (in book form) focused a spotlight on beauty and cultural richness that had not been acknowledged in the past, and spoke truth to power. Michael Shaara’s book The Killer Angels showed me how to make history a lived experience. While it is not a book, Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun (whose title is taken from a line in a Langston Hughes poem) showed me the power of stories about everyday people who refuse to accept limits others try to put on their lives.

What are your hobbies and interests outside of writing?

I’m a sports fan and a culture vulture. I enjoy watching sports (especially basketball, football, tennis, track and field and gymnastics.) I downhill ski. I love the arts—theatre, music, dance, visual arts, books. And, I love to travel. Most times I pick a destination I haven’t been to before. I like learning about the area, its culture and history, trying new foods, and doing and seeing things I hadn’t experienced before.

What is your next writing project?

I have several in mind, but the most likely is a young adult fantasy book series in which the main characters’ lives are transformed by their experiences in another world and time. I also will likely start doing research on my next play—one that, again, is based on a moment in history.



Monday, August 25, 2014

Music Monday - "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" - The Four Freshmen (1960)

I heard "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" by The Four Freshmen on the radio over the weekend and found it charming.  This song was on the 1960 album First Affair.  The Four Freshmen were a vocal jazz group that had wonderful harmonies.  They have an old fashioned sound and remind me of some of the great Big Band era vocalists.  This song was originally recorded by Frank Sinatra with the Tommy Dorsey band, and there was even a Polka Dots and Moonbeams fabric pattern promoted to go along with the song.  I love everything about this song ... it sounds like something that would have played at a dance on Father Knows Best.  Can't you just picture Betty Anderson slow dancing with a prom date to this number?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

So You Think You Can Dance - Top 6

It's already the penultimate episode of the season.  How is that possible?  The summer has gone so fast!

The show opened with a hip hop number to "Hide" (N.A.S.A.).  It involved glow-rings, half-masks, and a lot of fast movement.  The choreographer was Nick Demoura.

Cat Deeley announced that the dancers would perform three numbers tonight:  one with a fellow contestant, one with an All-Star, and one solo. 

The guest judge this week was Christina Applegate ... always a great addition to the judging panel.

Ricky and Valerie danced a Broadway number choreographed by Spencer Liff.  The song was "I've Got the World on a String" (Frank Sinatra), and the dance involved a swing, with retro Broadway style costuming (flowing dress for Valerie).  It was fabulous -- and my favorite number of the night.

Jessica and Casey danced a disco number by Doriana Sanchez to "Dim All the Lights" (Donna Summer).  It was fast and fun with lots of lifts.  They did a great job.

Ricky performed a solo to "My Tears Are Becoming a Sea" (M83).

Zack and Jacque danced a foxtrot choreographed by Jean-Marc Generaux to "Anything Goes" (Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga).  It was not great - sort of a flat number without a lot of connection.

Jessica danced a solo to "I Was Here" (Beyonce).

Valerie and Twitch danced a wedding theme hip hop number choreographed by WilldaBeast.  The song was "Yeah" by Usher.  It was very sharp hip hop including some crumping.  I prefer lyrical hip hop (i.e. Tabitha and Napoleon), but thought Valerie did a good job.  (Twitch, of course, is a superstar!)

Casey danced a solo to "Lay Me Down" (Sam Smith).

Valerie danced a solo to "What I Like About You" (The Romantics).  (One of my favorite 1980's songs, which predisposes me to like the dance.)

Jacque and Will danced a Sean Cheesman contemporary number to "99 Red Balloons."  I really like Will, but was not a great fan of this number.  (I also prefer the original version of "99 Luftballoons.")

Zack danced a solo to "Butterfly" (Jason Mraz).

Jessica and Ade danced a Ray Leeper number about a club in Tokyo.  The song was "Boneless" (Steve Aoki, Chris Lake, and Tujamo).  Ray Leeper is not one of my favorite choreographers, and this dance was no exception for me ... it was very busy but didn't have a lot of substance.

Jacque danced a solo to "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" (The Andrews Sisters).  Good for her, doing a dance out of her usual classical ballet style.  I enjoyed it!

Ricky and Anya danced a foxtrot choreographed by Jean-Marc Generaux.  He remarked that the foxtrot is originally from Cuba, which interested Ricky (he is Cuban-American).  That is neat - I had no idea.  The song was "Dare (La La La)" by Shakira.  Ricky just excels in every style of dance.

Casey and McKenzie danced a contemporary number by Stacy Tookey.  The dance was about having just one day left with the person you love.  The song was "Over You" by Ingrid Michaelson.  I think this was one of Casey's best performances - well danced and very emotive.

Zack and Fik-Shun danced a hip hop number choreographed by Phillip Chbeeb.  It was inspired by an ink blot test and danced to "Sail" (Awolnation).  The choreography was very striking and unique.  

Finally it was time for the results.  Cat said that the following dancers were safe and will dance in the finale next week:

Jessica
Ricky
Valerie
Zack

This means that Casey and Jacque went home tonight.  I am a bit surprised that Zack made the final 4 over Casey, but I am glad he did.  It is great to have two tappers (Jessica and Zack) in the final 4.   

Next week the guest judge will be Jesse Tyler Ferguson (yay!) and the all-stars will be Robert, Kathryn and Aaron.  Jason Mraz will also sing.

This was a very dance-packed show.  I am happy with the final 4.  What do you think?