Monday, September 23, 2013

Noel & Me: A Musical Journey

(always providing comfort, on stage and off.)

Last week, a great mentor of mine, and one to countless other artists who grew up on Long Island, passed away unexpectedly due to heart failure. Noel S. Ruiz had an impact on so many lives and shared so much love with everyone around him. For a man with such incredible influence and impact on the young people in his shows, he was never controlling of us. He was a great listener, teacher and guide. He was someone who treated people of all ages with respect and care. I can't really measure the impact of this man on my life. If you want to get an overview of who he was and how much he contributed to the community, please click the link here to get a nice glimpse into what Noel was all about.

What follows here is a personal recollection of the artistic journey we took together from the time when I was in kindergarten through my first year of college. I feel like I should preface all this by stating that there are many people that knew Noel better as a day-to-day person than I did. There are people I grew up with who spent much more time with him in their adult years and got to understand him better and can probably tell you better stories about him as a result. I moved to the city after college, and never really went back and never really developed a strong adult understanding of Noel. In my mind he looms as NOEL, a force of nature and the font of artistry who sits atop the pedestal in my mind (wearing a gold lamé Herod costume, naturally), than just Noel, the man who worked really hard to make his impossible dream possible and had a lot of love to share.

Still, as I have reflected over the lessons I've learned and the gifts I've received from Noel throughout my childhood, I felt moved to write about our relationship and our time together. I am almost overwhelmed with gratitude that I was able to grow up and play in his artistic sandbox with so many lifelong friends. What my life's journey would be like without him, I cannot imagine. I like to make people mix CD's, so as I go along, I'm dedicating a song from each show to him  as a little soundtrack to our lives. I'm not sure anyone is ever going to read all of this, but it felt right to express it. Off we go. This is the story of Noel and me.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

SYTYCD 10: Results FINALE - Everybody Had Matching Towels!

Well, here we are Dance Fans, it's time to wrap this mother up. 2 contempos, 1 hip hopper and 1 tappa tappa tappa remain. Two titles hang in the balance. We'll find out who won in about two hours time, but before that we get to celebrate all the awesomeness that was Season 10.

Cat kicks things off by reintroducing the top 20 (in their original pairings! since we have two original couples left! Although Malece is without Jade who is still injured.) all the way through to the top 4 who are then announced individually. She directs our attention to the Final Judge's Table which this week is comprised of tWitch, Adam Shankman, and Paula Abdul along with our resident judge's Mary, and Nigel. Everyone is dress in their very best finale outfits to mark the special occasion. Each judge will pick a favorite routine for an encore, Cat will pick a favorite, each finalist will pick a favorite and there will be several old and new group numbers. Don't forget the audience vote (HAHAHA!) routine as well. And plenty of montages from across the season. I feel compelled to note that I don't consider these "filler" segments. The montages buy the dancers a little breathing/costume changing times in between partner dances or group numbers and this year especially the padding seems justified.

I wonder what routines will be selected for encores this year. There are so many great ones to choose from starting with Meet the Top 20 week all they way through to the performance finale. I would like to see Travis's Brothers Dance and Amy and All-Star Alex's Bollywood. Also something from Comfort, because she has been an amazing All-Star all season. Encore routines can be a mixed bag. The best routines either have a hard time recapturing the moment, or soar beyond the original once they are free from the pressures of competition. We'll have to see how everything shakes out tonight.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

RAFA-RIPPED OPEN: Final - Nadal d. Djokovic. Our Hero = OUR CHAMPION!!

(King of the Hard Courts!!)

Guys. It really happened. Rafa ripped open the entire field of competitors in his path and now he is the 2013 US Open Champion!!

This championship match was so insane, with both players being stretched to their limits over the three hour plus match time. Ultimately, Rafa won the night over World No. 1 and current-biggest-rival Novak Djokovic with a  6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory. Rafa maintains a perfect 22-0 record on hard courts this season. This also marks his 13th major title (out of 18 finals played). He is now only one major title behind Sampras on the all-time list. It seems clear if he stays healthy he'll pass that number. He's currently four back of Federer.I think that 5 more major titles seems like an awful lot. But Rafa's still only 27 and shows no signs of losing dominance at the French, so it's not impossible. It's Rafa. So you gotta give him a fighting chance. :)

Sunday, September 8, 2013

RAFA-RIPPED OPEN: Semifinals - Nadal d. Gasquet

(Back to the Finals!)

We're almost at the end of the road, Ladies & G's. Our Hero, Rafael Nadal continues his quest for title taking the last necessary step to reach with the final. Saturday he won a hard-fought straight set victory over No. 8 seed Richard Gasquet, 6-4, 7-6(1), 6-2. Nadal will play his 18th Grand Slam final, a mark that ties him with Pete Sampras for third-most in history, behind only Roger Federer (24) and Ivan Lendl (19).

Friday, September 6, 2013

RAFA-RIPPED OPEN: Quarterfinals - Nadal d. Robredo

(not a classic, but still a familiar story.)

Wednesday night, Our Hero, Rafael Nadal, tore through his US Open quarterfinal match, totally dismantling his compatriot Tommy Robredo 6-0, 6-2, 6-2 in just 1 hour and 34 minutes. For those of you who like fun sports trivia, it's the fewest games in a US Open quarterfinal since Ivan Lendl beat Derrick Rostagno 6-2, 6-2, 6-0 in 1988. This win extends Nadal's current hard-court winning streak to 20 matches. Sweet!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

SYTYCD 10: Performance Finale Recap - You Betta Shake That Ass, But Don't Land On Uranus!

This is it, Dance Fans. The Final Showdown. The whole season has been leading to this. 2 Contempo girls, 1 Tappa Tappa Tappa boy, and 1 hip hopper boy remain. In the immortal words of Mr. Geoffrey Jellineck, "It's time to see who wants it BAD ENOUGH!" Two of our favorite couples - Aaron/Jasmine and Amy/Fik-Shun - made it all the way to the end together. But now it's every dancer for themselves. Let's get to it shall we!

There's no time for a Final Four routine. But there are pictures of it on the SYTYCD website, so I guess they filmed one and didn't air it? We'll have to wait for the Results Finale next week for that, I guess. Cat comes out looking gorgeous with her golden hair flowing down in curls. She is the most beautiful creature on this Earth. Yes, even more beautiful than Rafael Nadal. She tells us each dancer will dance tonight 5 (!!!) times. Each contestant will have a routine with their original partner, then they'll switch boy/girl partners, then there's also an All-Star routine in the style of their choice, then they'll do judged solos, and then if they haven't completely collapsed, there are final boys and girls routines!

Joining Nigel and Mary on the judging panel this week are Fox Reality Competition Host Extraordinaire Paula Abdul, and Olympic Gold Medalist and gymnastics superstar Gabby Douglas. I'm hoping she'll have more to offer during judging than Carley Rae Jepsen did, but I'm a little concerned she'll fall back on, "You guys did great. I loved it!" all night long. Guys, I hope we get fantastic routines in this finale. Sometimes we get something incredible like Jeanine and Brandon's Paso Doble in Season 5, and sometimes we get strange underwhelming ones like the Little Foxes routine with Sabra and Lacey in Season 3. I want all four of our kids on the hot tamale train all night long!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

RAFA-RIPPED OPEN: Round 4 - Nadal d. Kohlschreiber


Hooray! So last night was my annual trip to the US Open. Despite rain delays that pretty much ate up the entire Day Session, the weather yesterday evening for the Night Session was lovely. Well, it was VERY humid, but the skies were clear and it wasn't windy and Ashe stadium was pretty dry so I score this as a total spectator win. Conditions were much grosser if you were actually trying to compete, as all the players were sweating buckets. We had a great time and as scheduling luck would have it, my buddy Miguel and I got to see Rafa's match! My first time ever seeing him really compete in person. I previously had a grounds pass at the French Open in 2010 for the men's final when Rafa won, and I saw him play an exhibition with Delpo at MSG earlier this year, but this was my first in-stadium Rafa viewing during real competition. Our Hero did not disappoint, beating No. 22 Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-3, 6-1! Woohoo!

(Evening shot of Ashe from Court 17 as the clouds lift on the Night Session.)

 When we arrived on the grounds, Federer was already losing to Robredo over on Armstrong, as a delayed match from the Day Session. There was no way to get into that stadium, as it was already filled to capacity. I don't know that it would've been fun to watch Fed self-destruct like that anyway. Watching it on the big screen while we were eating dinner was shocking enough. We also got to see the very beginning and end of the Raonic-Gasquet match on Court 17 which started just before Nadal's match and ended about 45 minutes after. Court 17 is such a fun court. Not a bad seat in the place. Really great design. Migs and I also hung around to see a bit of the Bryan Brothers doubles match. It's a shame they got such a late start, but I'm glad they didn't get bumped off of Ashe because of the rain.

(Ashe starts to fill up as the players take to the court!)

So now with our Grey Goose Honey Deuce signature cocktails in hand, it was time to take our seats for the main event. OMG, guys. Kohlschreiber! WTF. This dude came to PLAY. Despite my continued suggestions throughout the first set, that he just give up and have the match get to its inevitable conclusion sooner rather tha later, he refused to listen to me. That was really annoying of him.

In the first set, Kohl was hitting truly wicked serves and returns. Rafa's service game was not being threatened. Nadal only faced one break point the whole match and that wasn't until the match was over two hours long and into the start of the 4th set. And Rafa really should've won the 1st set.  He had 3 set points from 0-40 on Kohlschreiber's serve, and couldn't convert them. Then Kohl played incredibly well in the tie break and took the set. The crowd was stunned. I was less than pleased. I had been politely clapping for Kohl's winners during the first set, but that came to an abrupt stop when he won the tie break and did not resume for the rest of the match. Migs continued to clap for Kohl's best shots, but I decided to be civil and not get into a big argument with him about it. 

(There he is! I saw him and the world went away...)

While this drama was going on in front of us, Fed was busy losing on Ashe and lots of people in our stadium were listening to that go down on their headsets. Watching Rafa fall was making for a crazy anxious energy. This was not supposed to happen! All in all Rafa for the match,  was really poor on break point conversions - only 5-21. It was his only weak stat, but it's still an important one. It really wasn't that he was making errors on big points. Philipp was just playing these incredible Rafa-esque shots when his back was up against the wall. Rafa had a a 0-40 opportunity on Kohl's serve early in the second set and again couldn't get it done. Luckily he had another chance later and made it stick.

There was an INSANE first game to start the third set that went on forever and featured a dizzying amount of deuce points (the jumbo screen didn't keep a tally but it was A LOT, evidenced by the astonished groans from the crowd with each missed advantage point) and eight break chances for Nadal. Still, somehow Kohl survived the game. In those three games that I just mentioned, that's 14 missed break points! Rafa remained focused, however and eventually he converted his chances for decisive breaks in the second, third and fourth sets. Victory was his!

I have to say, it's truly a special thing to see Rafa's most unbelievable shots happen live. It's just a different perspective to see it happening right in front of you. They seem that much more physcially impossible. I'm so happy I got to see him win this year!

Next up, Rafa gets Tommy Robredo, instead of our first ever US Open match between Rafa and Fed. Nadal has a 6-0 lifetime record against his elder statesman, but they haven't actually played against each other since 2009. You can only play one match at a time, but Rafa has a favorable road ahead back to the final. Robredo in the quarters and most likely Ferrer in the semis. If he keeps up this level of play and focus, we should see Rafa back in the finals on Monday. VAMOS!!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

RAFA-RIPPED OPEN: Round 3 - Nadal d. Dodig

  (Nothing gets by Rafa in another rout!)

Our Hero, Rafael Nadal breezed through another round of the US Open on Saturday with a comprehensive 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 win over Ivan Dodig. Nadal continued to play with his new-found aggression and offensive shot-making and was never in danger the whole match. He has even not dropped serve yet for the entire tournament!

Tomorrow evening Rafa plays No. 22 Philipp Kohlschreiber from Germany. Rafa holds a 9-1 lifetime record against Philipp and has never lost to him on hard courts. Tomorrow night also promises to be a special night, for it is my annual trip to see the US Open live and I'm very excited to see Rafa in action. I'm begging the rain gods to give me a reprieve and not wash out the match. I still lament that time I was supposed to meet Nadal at his book-signing and stupid Hurricane Irene canceled it and I missed my chance. Please! I'm not even asking to meet Rafa this time! I just want watch him play! Rain overnight when no one is trying to play tennis! I'm begging you, Weather! VAMOS!