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Diary of an American in Finland, Doing ‘Essential’ Work in Ballet



When my phone rang very early on a September morning and a number from Finland appeared on the screen, I immediately thought, “The project is dead.”

Amid the ever-worsening pandemic, I was supposed to be heading for Helsinki to serve as the dramaturge and artistic adviser on a new full-length ballet, “Jekyll & Hyde,” at the Finnish National Ballet. My agent wasn’t keen on the thought of me trying to get to Finland with the virus raging, even if by some miracle, the ballet, which was set to premiere on Nov. 6, was still happening.

The prognosis for the American performing arts was so grim though, I couldn’t even visualize being in rehearsal in my own country again. So I was willfully holding out for Helsinki, for a project that had been in development for over three years.

It was Tytti Siukonen, the ebullient and efficient producer of “Jekyll & Hyde,” on the phone that morning. It took me a moment to realize what she was saying: Everything’s moving forward, and I should book a flight as soon as possible. Val Caniparoli, the show’s creator and choreographer who, like me, lives in San Francisco, had begun creating the ballet on Zoom in May while we were in lockdown; he had made it to Helsinki in August and was deep in rehearsals. Now the rest of us had to get there.

Like much of the world, Finland had locked down for several months last spring. But a combination of factors — including the country’s small population, excellent health care system and trust in government — meant that by summer, the case load was very low and the country was mostly open.

Management and safety experts at the Finnish National Opera and Ballet began creating a “preparedness group” in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Culture, following recommendations from the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, to figure out how to start up again.

But the United States was on Finland’s “red alert” list, so Americans were not allowed in except under extraordinary circumstances. Since most members of the creative team for “Jekyll & Hyde” (including the set and costume designer David Israel Reynoso and the lighting designer Jim French) were American, Tytti was terrified that the project would collapse if the company couldn’t get us into the country.

The good news, she told me on the phone, was that effective immediately, artists could be included in the “special group” category, created for those doing tasks deemed “essential” for a given field. . I took that in for a moment. It was astonishing that the Finns were concerned enough about keeping cultural exchange alive that they would offer artists a special tracking number to get us across their locked-down border. “Really?” I said to Tytti in disbelief. “Yes. Come. We need you.”

I shouldn’t have been so surprised. Art has played a major role in bringing this once poor and isolated country into the international arena, and the government subsidizes culture in a big way. That’s why artists continue to be employed — and why, even though socially distanced performances will never cover their costs, companies in Finland are putting them on, secure in the knowledge they have a financial cushion.

So I went to Helsinki. These are edited excerpts from my daily journal.

Oct. 6: A virtual rehearsal

I book a flight for Oct. 15. I have to get a Covid-19 test 72 hours before flying, self-quarantine for 72 hours upon arrival, and then get a second test — if both tests are negative, I’ll be granted entrance into the opera house for rehearsals.

To catch up on what’s happening, I join a midnight (for me) virtual production meeting with the team for the first time. It’s 10 a.m. in Helsinki and all the department heads and many craftspeople are on the call. I scan the faces of the production-starved Americans onscreen, as we witness a performing arts organization in full swing. We’ve all forgotten what this feels like.

The big issue of the day is the music. Only 30 players can fit into the socially distanced pit, so the sections of the score requiring large-scale orchestrations have to be prerecorded and played on tape; other parts will be performed live. Regardless, the whole score has to be recorded, in case a musician tests positive during the run. The conductor, Garrett Keast, a Texan who lives in Berlin, has only two weeks to rehearse and record the whole thing with two separate groups of musicians. Scary.

Oct. 12: Nasal swabs by the bay

I get tested at a free site run by the city of San Francisco down by the Embarcadero, where you stare at sailboats on the bay as they stick a swab up your nose. Quick and easy — and my negative results arrived via text this afternoon. I guess I’m really going.

Oct. 15: Takeoff

I’ve traveled incessantly my whole career but have forgotten how to pack. How cold is it? What kind of electrical plugs do they use? Is opening night dressy in Finland? (Will we make it to opening night?) Mostly my suitcase is full of protective gear — masks, goggles, food for the plane. I can’t believe how nervous I feel.

Oct. 16: Essential worker, ballet division

I’m sitting (double-masked) at Heathrow Airport Terminal 2, having survived the first leg of the journey. I had a near disaster at the San Francisco airport: When I presented my papers to the staff at British Airways, they told me no one was allowed into Finland except family members.

I gave them my contract and my designation as an “essential worker.” They looked at me in bewilderment: “Essential? What do you do?” I sheepishly explained that I’m the artistic consultant on a new ballet. Silence. The gatekeepers at British Airways cannot not wrap their heads around the combination of “ballet” and “essential.” And they certainly can’t read the Finnish document. Eventually, they figured the idea was so strange it must be true, and they relented.

Oct. 17: “We’re Finns — we like social distancing”

Every seat is taken on the Finnair flight to Helsinki. There’s no social distancing (although everyone wears a mask), and people are milling about in the aisles. Nerve-racking.

When we land, the border-control guard checks my papers and welcomes me to Finland: The combination of “essential worker” and “artist” does not faze him for a second.

On the ride into town, my driver regales me (in excellent English) with stories of Sanna Marin, Finland’s 35-year-old prime minister (who also happens to be a vegetarian, raised by same-sex parents). “She’s not from my party, but I respect her,” he says. “We all do. She’s done a great job with Covid, so we listen to what she says. Besides, we’re Finns — we like social distancing.”

Oct. 17-19: Getting to work

I don’t sleep much because I’m too excited to see what’s happening with “Jekyll & Hyde”; my reward is a four-hour Zoom rehearsal. I love watching Val work — he’s so calm and specific, you can’t guess where he’s going, and then he puts it together, and suddenly it’s all clear. The dancers are fierce and alive. In masks. I long to be in the room.

While I wait to be tested, I walk for miles around the city. Trams are full, kids are in school, everything’s open, restaurants are packed. A hip-hop group is dancing in the plaza. I pass an egg-shaped chapel made from bent birch wood and then a church dug out of prehistoric rock. Inside, people are singing.

Oct. 20: Covid-19 test

At dawn, I go to a neighborhood clinic for my Covid-19 test. Fingers crossed.

Oct. 21: So close …

Tytti sounds upset on the phone. I panic — have I tested positive? The lab didn’t get a decent sample, she tells me. I’ll have to try again, which I do immediately.

But it means I can’t be at the first onstage rehearsal tonight. Instead, I watch on Zoom as more than 100 dancers and crew members cram into the theater to listen to Madeleine Onne, the company’s artistic director, welcome everyone. And then suddenly, 16 asylum beds swirl onstage, forming the mental asylum where Dr. Jekyll undertakes his experiments. I’m like a hungry child with my face pressed up to the window of a cake shop, so close I can smell it.

Oct. 22: An actual live rehearsal

My negative test result in hand, I have a complete day of rehearsal in a theater for the first time in almost a year. Backstage, watching the dancers warm up and the crew set the stage, I feel immediately and blissfully at home.

Val asks me to do some character work with the dancers, who try valiantly to understand what this jet-lagged American in a face mask is saying in rapid-fire English. There are lots of story issues to be solved and transitions to be imagined, but the work feels exactly where it should be. At lunch, we gather in a beautiful light-filled cafeteria and watch tiny dancers eat huge plates of food.

They give me a 10-page document of Covid-19 mitigations to adhere to. I wonder, but not aloud, whether we’ll make it to opening.

Oct. 25: Changing it up

We’ve divided up, so that I work with Val’s assistant, Maiqui Manosa, on coaching while Val continues staging in the studio. The ballet has 19 scenes, and it’s a huge challenge to complete. We make Covid adjustments where necessary. The ballet begins with Robert Louis Stevenson hallucinating from drugs that combat his lung disease; we dissuade the dancer from actually coughing, fearing the audience will think it’s the dancer who is sick and not the character.

Oct. 26- 28: Our best and worst instincts

Today, I finally get to see the ending. The ballet builds to the moment when Jekyll and Hyde battle it out in a complex duet for two almost naked men. It’s a visceral fight between our best instincts and our worst. I find it incredibly moving to watch these dancers, so vulnerable and so strong.

And then, at night, we gather in a dark theater and start building light cues. I had forgotten the thrill of that first moment when a lighting designer transforms the stage into the mysterious world of our imaginations. It feels miraculous … and also like a profound return to normalcy.

Oct. 29: A first pass

This morning is our first rehearsal with the orchestra. It’s heart-stopping just to walk in and hear musicians tuning. We have to stop and start several times, but by a small miracle, we actually make it through the entire ballet with about three minutes to spare. Madeleine is elated. Now we can finesse.

Oct. 29: A night at the opera

Tonight, I attend the opera! A real live one, called “Jaal” (or “Ice”), performed on the stage where “Jekyll & Hyde” will be, with full orchestra, 100 singers, a new Finnish score and a creative team of female artists. The theater was only about a quarter full — but when the lights went down and those gorgeous live voices began filling the space, I wanted to cry. At intermission, there were pre-ordered drinks waiting at candlelit tables, people talking about the show and taxis waiting outside, just like old times.

Oct. 31: Keeping the story taut

Happy Halloween. Val and I walk home from dinner late at night, trying to sort through Jekyll’s journey in Act 1. A lot of time elapses between when he drinks the transformative potion and when he actually turns into Hyde, so sustaining the drug’s euphoria until his “alter ego” appears is tough. We come up with a solution to try on Monday.

Nov. 2: Pre-election jitters

We’ve now introduced three dramatic “sightings” of Hyde in Act 1, renewed jolts of adrenaline that keep Jekyll’s conflict alive. It works, and we feel jubilant until we remember that tomorrow is the election back home, which immediately floods us with anxiety.

Nov. 3: Synchronicity

A muscular dress run with Cast 3 in the midst of chaotic election news from home. I sit in the balcony and watch the pianist in the pit performing Chopin in perfect accord with the dancer playing Stevenson, though neither can see the other.

Nov 6: Opening night

Everyone is remarkably calm at our final rehearsal. And then suddenly, there we are, in fancy dress plus face masks, holding our breath at 7 p.m. as the lights dim on a night we never thought would happen, in this sane and reasonable country where art still seems to matter.

Lucas Jerkander and Michal Krcmar, our Jekyll and Hyde, find their groove immediately. Even though the theater is at half-capacity (600 people), the energy is palpable. It occurs to me that the story of Jekyll and Hyde is perfect for this moment, in which the highest and lowest of our dueling natures are on full and equal display.

Knowing that my next opening night may be in the distant future, I try to savor every second. After the applause, we all gather backstage, where Madeleine thanks, by name, every single person who created this premiere. And then we elbow bump and go home, elated and grateful.

Nov 7 At 5 a.m., I head to the airport. In line for my Finnair flight, I am surrounded by a group of passengers in full hazmat suits, goggles, gloves, masks, face shields, the works. Who are they? Where are they going? Realizing that the world is suffering through another enormous wave of the virus bursts my monthlong bubble. I close my eyes and try to hold on to the memory of last night. It will have to last me a very long time.

Carey Perloff is a director and playwright who served as artistic director of the American Conservatory Theater for 25 years. She is the author of “Beautiful Chaos: A Life in the Theater.”

By: Carey Perloff
Title: Diary of an American in Finland, Doing ‘Essential’ Work in Ballet
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Published Date: Tue, 17 Nov 2020 10:00:35 +0000

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What could you order from Ansett Airlines’ inflight bar in the early 1970s?




People have always liked to drink on board flights, especially people from Australia. Therefore, it should be no surprise to anyone that there was an inflight bar offering in the 1970s.

Ansett Airlines were a major player in the Australian domestic market up until their demise in September 2001. For many years, there were two domestic airlines, Trans-Australia Airlines (TAA) and Ansett.

Ansett’s Inflight Bar

At the time, Ansett operated Boeing 727s, Douglas DC-9s and Fokker F27 Friendships on domestic routes in the country. Airline tickets were quite expensive, with tariffs agreed upon by both airlines thanks to Australia’s weird two-airline policy at the time.

While tickets were expensive and food complimentary, you still had to pay for a drink at the bar. Here is an inflight bar menu from the era, showing the drinks available and their prices.

Clearly the pricing is astounding by today’s standards – 30 cents for a beer? I’ll have thirty-three please! I like how Australian gin is 35c while the imported gin is just 5c more. Which would you choose?

You can tell it is from another era as you can buy cigarettes on board. These price up at 45c, a far cry from the extortionate prices people in the west pay these days for a smoke!

Overall Thoughts

The on board offering is pretty comprehensive for internal flights, and I imagine you’d be hard pressed not to find something you might like. In those times, all payments would have been by cash as well, which would have meant a lot of coinage being handled on board.

Of course, things haven’t changed too much over the years. On many airlines you pay for your drinks just as they did back in the 1970s. Shame the prices aren’t the same of course!

Did you ever buy drinks on board flights from the inflight bar back in the day? Do you still? Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.

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Featured image by Daniel Tanner on via Wikimedia Commons.
Menu image by Ikara on Australian Frequent Flyer.

By: The Flight Detective
Title: What could you order from Ansett Airlines’ inflight bar in the early 1970s?
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Published Date: Thu, 19 Nov 2020 15:03:14 +0000

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These Shrimp Leave the Safety of Water and Walk on Land. But Why?




The shrimp stop swimming at dusk and gather near the river’s edge. After sunset, they begin to climb out of the water. Then they march. All night long, the inch-long crustaceans parade along the rocks.

The parading shrimp of northeastern Thailand have inspired legends, dances and even a statue. (Locals also eat them.) During the rainy season, between late August and early October, tourists crowd the riverbanks with flashlights to watch the shrimp walk.

Watcharapong Hongjamrassilp first learned about the parading shrimp, and the hundred thousand or more tourists who come each year to see them, about 20 years ago. When he started studying biology, he returned to the topic. “I realized that we know nothing about this,” he said: What species are they? Why and how do they leave the safety of the water to walk upstream on dry land? Where are they going?

Mr. Hongjamrassilp, a graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles, decided to answer those questions himself. His findings appeared this month in the Journal of Zoology.

Working with wildlife center staff members, Mr. Hongjamrassilp staked out nine sites along a river in Thailand’s Ubon Ratchathani province. They found shrimp parading at two of the sites — a stretch of rapids, and a low dam.

The videos they recorded revealed that the shrimp paraded from sundown to sunup. They traveled up to 65 feet upstream. Some individual shrimp stayed out of the water for 10 minutes or more.

“I was so surprised,” Mr. Hongjamrassilp said, “because I never thought that a shrimp can walk that long.” Staying in the river’s splash zone may help them keep their gills wet, so they can keep taking in oxygen. He also observed that the shells of the shrimp seem to trap a little water around their gills, like a reverse dive helmet.

DNA analysis from captured shrimp showed that nearly all belonged to the species Macrobrachium dienbienphuense, part of a genus of shrimp that live mostly or fully in freshwater. Many Macrobrachiumspecies spend part of their lives migrating upstream to their preferred habitats.

Most parading shrimp that Mr. Hongjamrassilp captured were young. Observations and lab experiments showed that these shrimp probably leave the water when the flow becomes too strong for them. Larger adult shrimp can handle a stronger current without washing away, so they’re less likely to leave the water.

Walking on land is dangerous for the little shrimp, even under cover of darkness. Predators including frogs, snakes and large spiders lurk nearby, Mr. Hongjamrassilp says. “Literally, they wait to eat them along the river.”

And the shrimp can survive on land for only so long. If the parading crustaceans lose their way, they may dry out and die before they get back to the river. A few times, Mr. Hongjamrassilp came across groups of lost shrimp dead on the rocks, their once-translucent bodies baked pink.

Yet most navigate upstream successfully, and scientists have spotted other freshwater shrimp around the world performing similar feats, scaling dams and even climbing waterfalls.

Leaving the water when the swimming gets tough may have helped these animals spread to new habitats over their evolutionary history, Mr. Hongjamrassilp said. Today, the number of parading shrimp in Thailand seems to be declining. He thinks tourist activity may be a factor, and learning more about the shrimp might help protect them.

The study’s authors made “some really excellent observations,” said Alan Covich, an ecologist at the University of Georgia who was not involved in the research. But understanding why the Ubon Ratchathani shrimp move upstream, and how far they travel, will require more research, he said.

“The most surprising thing to me was that it attracted so many tourists,” Dr. Covich said. He doesn’t know of any other example of people gathering to appreciate a crustacean in quite the same way.

“We have crayfish festivals, we have all kinds of things,” Dr. Covich said, “but generally it’s people eating them, not watching them move.”

By: Elizabeth Preston
Title: These Shrimp Leave the Safety of Water and Walk on Land. But Why?
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Published Date: Wed, 18 Nov 2020 17:02:07 +0000

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Will Aer Lingus launch transatlantic flights from Manchester?




There are reports that Aer Lingus have applied for 1,500 slots at Manchester Airport for the Summer 2021 season. This will allow the airline to base four aircraft there and service flights to the United States.

At present, there have been no press releases from the airline stating what is going on. Even so, it probably makes sense for the Irish airline to do this in the current market.

Aer Lingus And Manchester

From what is known, there will be three Airbus A321LRs and an A330 based at Manchester. These will operate non-stop services to New York JFK, Boston, Chicago and Orlando, and the season starts on 28 March 2021.

With Thomas Cook having gone out of business, there is likely space for another competitor. New York and Orlando will see competition from Virgin Atlantic, while the other two routes have no airline flying at the moment.

Aer Lingus has been connecting passengers over Dublin very successfully from the UK regions for a while now. Due to this, they will have visibility on traffic patterns, potential yields and more, making this an informed decision.

I imagine they also hope to cream off some of the connecting traffic that routes through London Heathrow on British Airways and Amsterdam on KLM among others. It would prove to be quite successful.

Transatlantic Joint Venture Approval

The US Department of Transport has tentatively given its approval for Aer Lingus to join the oneworld transatlantic joint business. This is operated by American Airlines, British Airways, Iberia and Finnair.

These airlines coordinate schedules and pricing, share revenues and expenses. For the consumer, it means more choice – those making a booking on British Airways across the Atlantic will also see options on American Airlines on the BA web site as one example.

Theoretically, it would allow people seeking flights on the British Airways web site to automatically be given options to fly non-stop with Aer Lingus, along with the Manchester-London Heathrow-US city connecting itinerary.

Whether Aer Lingus will join the oneworld alliance, even in a oneworld connect capacity remains to be seen. Frequent flyers would welcome it, especially those in Ireland.

Overall Thoughts

No doubt the boffins have been working behind the scenes to see if the business case for transatlantic flights from Manchester stack up. As things have proceeded as far as a slot application, I would guess chances are good that it will go ahead.

Either way, let’s see if this happens and if it does, whether Aer Lingus will stay for the long haul. If they can make more money elsewhere, they’ll up sticks and leave. Regardless, it is an interesting development in European aviation.

What do you think of Aer Lingus starting transatlantic services from Manchester? Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.

To never miss a post, follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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Featured image by N509FZ via Wikimedia Commons.
Aer Lingus A321neo LR by Pitmanaaron via Wikimedia Commons.
Business class cabin via One Mile At A Time.

By: The Flight Detective
Title: Will Aer Lingus launch transatlantic flights from Manchester?
Sourced From:
Published Date: Wed, 18 Nov 2020 18:03:48 +0000

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