Day: March 4th, 2007

Bubbles and Ballroom

Sunday, March 4th, 2007 | All Things, Arts, Eats, Film, Friends

The boys and I were tossing around ideas for our Sunday outing when HH came across a writeup on the Gazillion Bubble Show, the American debut production by Fan Yang, “World Renowned Bubble Scientist.”

That Sunday also happened to be the first day of the week-long 20at20 event — during which participating Off-Broadway shows were pricing tickets at $20 apiece, beginning 20 minutes before each show. SYB checked, and lo and behold, GBS  was one of the offerings, effectively cutting the cost per bubble by 2/3. So there we were.

Gazillion Bubble Show

We met at New World Stages — home of the former $2.00/$2.50/$3.00 movie theater — to stake our spots on line this chilly afternoon. By show time, the line stretched a block-long, but we had no problem snagging our quartet of seats.

20at20 line

GBS is promoted as “the first and only multi-million dollar, high-tech, interactive, audience participation, scientific, entertainment stage production, created by using the bubble media, fantastic lighting, lasers and incredible bubble special FX!” Sounded pretty cool, and for a double sawbuck, definitely worth checking out. We entered the auditorium, and as the front rows started filling in, we found ourselves in the funny position of being the oldest in the audience without children in tow. Ha!

Fan Yang took the stage, and opened by introducing how he fell into his unusual line of work. A low production value video, projected onto a pair of screens flanking the stage, narrated Fan Yang’s life story (born in Vietnam and raised in Yugoslavia) and his “philosophy of bubbles.” It was interesting by way of background, but not the main reason we were there.

Bring on the bubbles! Giant and small, bubbles inside bubbles, square bubbles, smoke-filled bubbles, towers of bubbles… it all would have been more impressive had we not already seen much of the same before at Spiegeltent last summer. There were a few neat tricks, though: the laser light “Bubble Rain & Snow Extravaganza” and “Celestial Cloud Rings,” giant soap bubbles sprung like rainbows from giant hoops, towers of bubble domes — all generated with Fan Yang’s own secret formulation of non-toxic, non-staining bubble solution, and accompanied by music from what could have been the Yanni/John Tesh catalogue.

The kids in the audience were thrilled; after every call for volunteers, watching them erupt into shrieking pandemonium, scores of little hands shooting up and waving frantically in the air, was a show in itself.

Fan Yang is the world record-holder in a dozen Guinness categories, some of which sound pretty impressive: “Biggest bubble ever blown” (7.5 feet in circumference), “Most bubbles within a bubble” (11) , and “Largest bubble wall ever created” (156 feet in length). But some of the others are weirdly specific: “Largest number of people linked in a bubble cage” (15 pairs) and “Passage into a bubble hemisphere” seem more like stunts than records.

It is heartening that someone like Fan Yang would be able to parlay his childhood passion into a viable adult career, when he could just as easily have become “that weird guy who really, really, really  likes bubbles.”

March 20-26 is National Bubble Week — who knew?

Early dinner at Hells Kitchen standby Pam Real Thai: Fried curry puffs, steamed chive dumplings, Beef pad key mao (stir-fried flat noodle with meat, chili, basil and garlic) and Chicken pad naam prik pao (sauteed with sweet chili paste, chili, scallion and onion.) Not pictured: Green curry chicken.

Curry Puffs

Steamed dumplings

Beef Pad Key Mao

Chicken Pad Naam Prik Pao

There was some talk of a post-dinner movie, but at 160 minutes, Zodiac  (the one film we could all agree upon) was deemed too much of a commitment. Netflix to the rescue! I had Mad Hot Ballroom  waiting at home in a red envelope, and within minutes we were gathered around my suddenly quaint television set to watch the trials and travails of New York City public school kids in citywide ballroom dance competition.

Watching these pre-teens learn invaluable life lessons through swing, tango, rumba, meringue and foxtrot, we couldn’t help but be enchanted. (In DK’s case, for the second time.)  For many of the youngsters — particularly at Washington Heights’s P.S. 115, where an astounding 97% of the student body lives below the poverty line — the dancing represents a rare chance to excel. I would have liked to see more of the students in their home environments (as in Spellbound )  but the filmmakers do a fine job capturing the feelings of these fifth graders in their playground interviews: we get some glimpses into how they process the places where they live, the pressures they are under, their relationships with the opposite sex, and their hopes for the future. Their dreams are as varied as the kids themselves: from assimilating into a new country, to breaking into the entertainment industry, to finding a husband who is “not into drugs.”

Over the few month period covered by the documentary, we actually get to witness firsthand the changes dance brings into these kids’ lives. Those chosen to compete find themselves embracing something far beyond themselves, driven to accomplish more than their limited understanding of the world ever led them to believe was possible. The effect is profound, and one can only hope it outlasts all the bittersweet tears or the gleam of any trophy.

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