Lesbian at the Ballet
Pacific Northwest Ballet recently ran the American premiere of Alexei Ratmansky's Don Quixote. For investigative purposes, I invited drummer Benjamin Thomas-Kennedy of Seattle-based stoner-metal band Lesbian—also of Fungal Abyss and (blouse)usa—to accompany me. Lesbian are punishing at times, graceful in others, not unlike a ballet. They're known to play 45 minutes straight without stopping. The plot for the ballet's production is based on an episode from the Miguel de Cervantes novel Don Quixote de la Mancha. For the unfamiliar, Don Quixote is an older gentleman who, along with his trusted donkey-riding squire, Sancho, battles hallucinated giants to win over the admiration of a fictional lover named Dulcinea. The ballet version was fraught with fancy leaping, pliés, fouettés, and grand jetés. Tights were everywhere. The ballerinos' round, thundering bulge-mounds made them look like they had miniature yurts in their pants.
Thomas-Kennedy accepted my invitation to the ballet, no questions asked. As we walked into the glass splendor of the $127 million McCaw Hall, we were a bit out of place. Upper-crusted society conversed over $9 plastic cups of white wine, and congenial, scholarly laughter flurried throughout the air. It smelled of Chihuly. For Thomas-Kennedy, the sights, jetés, and sounds were influenced by the consumption of intoxicants. In an altered state, the elaborate set, bright wardrobe, and soaring leaps must have seemed, as a whole, like a giant, gyrating jellyfish. Ludwig Minkus's score is overwrought and deflating. We watched the entire, boring, two-hours-plus thing. After the applauses, I slipped backstage to interview someone, located a tighted ballerino, and asked, "Is your bulge made out of yurt?" He gave no answer, and I was quickly escorted out of the building. Thomas-Kennedy and I later spoke over $2 PBRs.
What did you think?
The donkey and the cacti were appealing to me. It's definitely something that takes tons of effort and skill to execute.
The program says, "Don Quixote's bravura classical dances showcase soloist virtuosity as dramatically as its mime and humor reveal accomplished character players. At the center of the ballet's passionate Castilian heart, Ludwig Minkus' rousing score endows each scene with rich atmosphere, deepened by Jérôme Kaplan's (Roméo et Juliette) vibrant costumes and amber-washed sets. All elements combine with Ratmansky's innately expressive movement to treat theater-lovers of all ages to a first look at this smash hit."
I wish that's what I'd said. Exactly those words. I change my answer to that—with the part about donkeys. There could have been more donkey.
Who likes this shit? Do you like ballet?
I do actually like ballet. I'm not a connoisseur or anything, but I like it. I've seen shit that's really impressive. The cactus suits were good. [Laughs] Must be hard to do ballet in those. I thought the cacti looked like the art on the wall at Del Taco. There is a Del Taco in Federal Way. I often go there to look at the art.
I specifically asked you to come because I thought you would hate ballet. This interview is fucked now.
I'm not a ballet-hating dude. I know some of the fundamentals, so when I see someone do it really well, I appreciate it. What they're doing isn't easy.
Did you wear the tights?
Not at practice. When I would practice alone, sometimes I would. In high school, it was tough enough just to be there.
You're the drummer of Lesbian now. What made you want to do ballet?
Girls were involved. Turned out I was terrible. I have really bad body awareness, as far as doing ballet goes. I pliéd and pirouetted, sure. But I wasn't a very good student. I was more into skateboarding. For drums, and Lesbian, my body awareness is fine.
Talk bulge. How was your bulge in the tights? The male bulge is a pervading facet of the artistry of ballet.
You have to get creative with the bulge. It's not just going to do it accidentally when you put the tights on. But it comes together if you know what you're doing and you know where to put everything.
Do you think any of the guys in Don Quixote stuffed their bulge?
Probably. With black tights, it's hard to tell. I would. [Laughs] It's gonna be there, so you have to make it your own.
How does Lesbian relate to the ballet of Don Quixote? An older, hallucinating gentleman charging at windmills to win the love of an imaginary woman. [He texts the question to Lesbian band members.]
Dorando Hodous: Divine comedy. Balance of opposing forces, tied by gravity but desiring to soar.
Arran McInnis: We are on an insane quest like Quixote, without end. We're not gonna stop. We're more into interpretive dance/breakdance than ballet.
Which character would Lesbian be? The squire, Sancho? Don Quixote? The fictionalized woman? The donkey?
I think we would spend time in different aspects of all the characters. We're not interested in being one thing. Or staying confined to one certain part of a story. We get in and out.
Sancho has girth. Lesbian has girth. Which came first? Ballet or drums? Or Lesbian?
Drumming came first. Then ballet. I thought being a drummer would help my ballet.
Which Lesbian song relates most to the ballet of Don Quixote?
I'd say "Raging Arcania." We've actually played that one with a chamber group. It's the most arranged piece, and it goes to an epic place. To a big crescendo.
I was going to say "Poisonous WitchBall." What's up with Lesbian these days? What's on the horizon?
We're mixing our third album. Basic tracks were recorded at Avast! Brad Mowen from Master Musicians of Bukkake is going to come in and do some vocals. We've been working on the album for a year or two. It's going to be called Forestelevision. We've been playing it live for a while. It's just one song, one track, about 45 minutes long.
Explain your other band Fungal Abyss.
Fungal Abyss is Lesbian with Nathan Smurthwaite from the Abodox, plus rotating guests. It's completely improvised music. We have no idea what we're going to do until we get onstage and start playing. It's kind of the opposite of what Lesbian is. Lesbian is super-composed, with every note calculated to some degree.
What advice does Lesbian have for aspiring ballerinos out there? [Texted to Lesbian members as well.]
Dorando Hodous: Keep your pineal gland lubricated, because if it dries up, your doorways to the sourcefield will close. Also, oppose deforestation and development of the rainforests. They are ancient, irreplaceable, and more valuable than we can possibly know—outcroppings of mother energy helping this planet breathe and function. Eat cilantro, drink lots of water, and avoid refined sugar for pineal gland/bulge health.