Friday, February 5, 2016

RVA February Picks

Last week, Husband and I were discussing Valentine's Day plans. I am the planner of our relationship (duh), but I told him that I would much prefer to not plan our V-Day activity for once.

"I'm terrible at thinking of things to do!" he lamented.

I countered with, "Come on, we've been married for 7 years. You know me by now. What do I like to do?"

"Run, run, run," he said.

That's true, but there are plenty of other things that I love to do in our fair city of RVA. In fact, there is often so much going on in just the arts and cultural world that I don't have nearly enough time or let's face it - money - to partake of everything that I want to. Let's not even talk about the food, festival, beer, and wine scenes.

Run, run, run has been all I've talked about thus far in the revival of the blog too. So I thought I might start to try to do a regular entry that highlights a few activities and a restaurant or two to try out in the coming month.

After all, the blog is called run, eat, play RVA.

So, I present to you my RVA picks for February.

Pick 1 - Science Museum of Virginia: The Blackbird Cometh
First two weeks of February

This might be slightly biased as this is my place of employment, but I'm putting it here anyway because when else will you ever get the opportunity to see the world's fastest production plane EVER, used to spy on the USSR during the Cold War, put into a 100-year old train station concourse ship-in-a-bottle-style and then hung from the ceiling very very carefully?

The answer is never. I don't know much 'bout engineering and math (I'm a squishy floofy liberal arts person) but I do know that this entire process is an incredible feat of both - and pretty darn cool to watch even for us plebeians.

Test suspension of the plane will start next week before it is permanently installed, but any day is a great one to come check out the action. Here is today's view - they're working on reassembling the plane - check out the sparks on the left under the wing.

Pro tip: While you're at the Museum, check out a film in the Dome, catch a Rat Basketball game, and make a bee buzzer in the Art Lab (I was the hand model for the instruction chart!).

Pick 2 - Richmond Ballet's Romeo + Juliet
February 12, 13, & 14

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Brett Bonda, Managing Director of the Richmond Ballet, speak at a Lunch Break Science lecture here at the Museum. I've been a big fan of the Richmond Ballet since I moved here 9 (!!) years ago. In fact, one of the first real "fancy" dates that Husband took me on was to go see the Richmond Ballet's production of The Nutcracker in 2006.

But as Brett will be quick to tell you, the Ballet is much more than The Nutcracker- and he's right. These dancers are amazing, phenomenally talented athletes and watching them in the up close and personal Studio series productions is a real treat. They make everything look easy, which is exactly why ballet is so very difficult. Now that I myself am something of an athlete, they amaze me even more.

Also a real treat? The once-a-season big, lavish stage production that isn't Nutcracker. This year's production is Romeo + Juliet, playing very fittingly over Valentine's Day weekend. Even more perfect? Newlywed Richmond Ballet company dancers Valerie Tellmann-Henning and Kirk Henning (whose wedding featured a groomsman dance that propelled them to You Tube fame) are stepping into the roles of the title pair.

All together now - awwwwwwwwwwww!

Brett's lecture reawakened my admiration and love for the ballet and I have since managed to convince Husband that we simply must go see Romeo + Juliet for Valentine's Day. I hope I've convinced you too. If you're a runner, you'll be amazed at the athleticism and precision of the finally honed machine that is a dancer. If you're not a runner, you'll just enjoy looking at all those beautiful machines in their tights...

...and the costumes, and the sets, and the live orchestral accompaniment, and everything else that makes a night at the ballet captivating.

Pro tip: Ticket prices can seem a bit eye popping at first. If you're looking for less expensive options, sit upstairs and don't be afraid to sit in the less-expensive second tier seats. You'll still have a great view of the entire stage and the orchestra pit, as long as you don't sit too far to either side. My favorite spot is dead center of the first row of second tier - lots of leg room, great view, and cheap(ish).

Pick 3 - Richmond Symphony's Rush Hour at Hardywood Series: Stravinsky, Strauss, & Beethoven
February 18

One of the greatest conundrums for symphony orchestra management the world over has been trying to figure out how to make symphony concerts seem less stuffy, boring, intellectual, elitist, etc. All kinds of gimmicks strategies have been deployed in the quest to make symphonies cool.

It's been a tough road.

This latest attempt by Richmond Symphony, however, is working. Plop your orchestra among the barrels (literally)  in one of the hottest craft breweries in Virginia, shorten the concert format to an hour, offer a single low ticket price, and allow your audience to talk amongst themselves and relax while they enjoy a beer and the music.

Voila - sold out concerts.

Steven Smith conducts the Richmond Symphony at the
January Rush Hour concert at Hardywood Craft Brewery.

Husband and I attended the January concert, which sold out a week in advance. Don't expect to sit down; the orchestra is squeezed into the cask room (technical term?) and there is room for about 30 chairs which all get spoken for pretty quickly. If you want to pay special attention to a piece, you hang out in standing room only in back of the cask room and if you don't want to pay rapt attention, you head to the tasting room where you can still hear the music in the background but are free to socialize. I admit to paying rapt attention to 2 of the 4 pieces in January and spending the rest of my time chatting with former coworkers and other friends that I ran into purely by coincidence.

This is a great option for those who might not think that a symphony concert is up their alley- it's a no pressure, casual environment where you can pay as much, or as little, attention to the concert as you want to. It's only an hour long and the price is unbeatable at $15. And if you end up hating it, at least there is beer.

(But you won't hate it.)

Pro tip: Parking at Hardywood can be tricky for event nights. Try to get there at least 30 minutes early. If you want one of those coveted chairs, better make it 45 minutes at least.

Pick 4 - Virginia Museum of Fine Arts: Rodin Evolution of a Genius
Through March 13

Just about everybody knows this guy:

The Thinker at the Musee Rodin in Paris
(September 2013 visit)
But do you know the guy behind The Thinker?

Auguste Rodin was a fascinating figure for many reasons and the VMFA exhibit does a great job in giving you an inside look at his revolutionary (for the time) artistic process. For example, did you know that Rodin wasn't the one hanging out with the chisel and granite or casting his creations? Rodin actually completed his work in clay and then employed a whole workshop of highly skilled artisans who cast and chiseled his clay models into the bronzes, plasters, and marbles that usually see. I was very surprised (and slightly disappointed) to learn that; I'd always imagined Rodin sitting at the base of the Gates of Hell, chisel in hand with brow furrowed, trying to decide his next move.

He was also a big recycler - using figures and body parts modeled for previous projects to Frankenstein together new works. As you move through the exhibit, it becomes a fun game to spot the recurring cast of characters and limbs.

Even if artistic process doesn't exactly inflame your passion, you should take the time to go check out this fantastic exhibition, which features many pieces from the Musée Rodin in Paris. Per usual, VMFA delivers us humble Richmonders a once in a lifetime chance to have a personal encounter with master pieces that others travel thousands of miles to see.

I left with a new vision of Rodin (covered in clay and plaster dust; no chisel) and an education on the technique of sculpture, along with an tongue-in-cheek and vastly overpriced but irresistible pad of Post-Its from the exhibit shop, featuring The Thinker and what else - thought bubbles.

I haven't been able to bring myself to use them.

Detail from a bronze cast of The Kiss

Pro tip: Though it closes in March, I recommend going now before everyone else realizes that they've procrastinated too long and are about to miss their chance. The audio tour (free from the iTunes app store) really adds to your understanding of the exhibit. Download it before you go, because there is little to no cell phone reception in the exhibit itself.

Restaurant Pick - Whisk

Because delicious, spot-on croissants and coffee await.

But don't roll up post-run in your sweaty clothes... you will immediately feel out of place and underdressed. The café space is small, white, clean, and pretty quiet even when the seats are full. To give you a feel for the vibe, when I was there, a guy wearing a suit at a table nearby was eating his muffin with a fork.

To say I felt very conspicuous with my unwashed hair, leggings, and sweater is an understatement. A grungy, casual coffee spot where you can blend in and barely hear your conversation over the roar of the grinder (a la Lift) this is not. But that's part of what makes it a nice addition to my rotation of breakfast spots. Just wash your hair, put on some real clothes, and enjoy a perfect croissant or breakfast soufflé.

I was dying to take home some macaroons which called to me from the cast for the entire duration of my hour-long breakfast date, but I managed to ignore their siren call. I don't think I'll be able to do that next time.