Why follow a compass that's lost? The Lost Compass is for people who can't stop travelling, who always seek out the next destination. It's for those who'd rather take a backroad than the Interstate; who wonder what happens when you get off the beaten path and look up an odd nook or cranny. It's about finding the little gems, wherever they may be hidden. It is for those who embrace travel as an experience - not stopping just at a tourist trap, but finding a local cafe, bookstore, or dive bar to stop and talk to the people who make up the town. What happens when the compass' needle spins off you the beaten path? Keep reading to find out.

04 January 2012

Ladies' Night Out - Raleigh

Ballet and crepes - what could be better?  (Or more girly?)
I'm a huge fan of the arts, especially the ballet.  The Nutcracker is a perennial part of my Christmas, and I've drug my poor husband to more than his fair share of other ballets.  Groupon had a great deal a couple months ago - $25 for two tickets to see Cinderella and ballet set to Grieg's Piano Concerto in A Minor at the Carolina Ballet.  My husband had to work that night, so I grabbed one of my girlfriends.  She's a ballet rookie - this was her first ballet.  I was shocked that any American girl could grow up without seeing the Nutcracker at least once!  And considering we left early, got to Durham and found the Performing Arts Center (DPAC) only to realize the show was at Memorial Auditorium... we found our seats 10 minutes into the show.  Pretty good, if I do say so myself!

A bit of background on Carolina Ballet
I'd not yet seen a Carolina Ballet production.  It's basically the state ballet for North Carolina with a strong professional corps of 37 dancers, including 12 principals.  They've been a professional ballet since 1997, previously serving as a regional pre-professional (think AAA baseball) company from 93-97 and a student company when they first opened in 1984.  They're constantly premiering pieces, creating new ballets (Cinderella was basically an in-house creation!), and showing off major and minor works of George Balanchine.  Carolina Ballet is run by Robert Weiss, who worked in the NYC Ballet with George Balanchine for 16 years before bringing his talent here.  Balanchine, who is arguably the greatest ballet choreographer the US has ever produced, was able to create ballets specifically for Weiss, who has taken all of that knowledge and instruction and brought it here, where Carolina Ballet continually premieres new and exciting ballets.  Their repertoire is amazingly large - I can see I'm going to be spending a few more nights in Raleigh this spring!

First up, the ballet!
I was absolutely enchanted by Cinderella.  Check out a brief YouTube clip here!  The music alone was worth the cost of the ticket.  I'm so used to the full symphony treatment for ballets, so an hour long piano solo was a refreshing, beautiful change.  Karl Moraski's score would make Jim Brickman cry (and I'm a huge Brickman fan).  Light, airy, compelling when it needed to be, always filling the air and interweaving with the story, the music was impeccable.  The dancing itself was on a whole other level.  I've seen over a dozen different ballets since college, and I must say that the pas de deux between Cinderella and her prince was the most mesmerizing dance I have ever seen.  You could see in every step, lift, and twirl their hesitance, their shyness, and their growing love.  (I refuse to rant about the futility of fairy tales and the unrealistic standards and expectations they set; instead on this night I let myself get lost in the magic.)  Otherwise, the evil stepsisters and the Prince's friends provided comic relief, the evil stepmother was a bit Mommy Dearest in her own twist, and the other dancers both young and old (students had a small part as the vision of time) did their beautiful best.  Overall, Cinderella was absolutely impeccable.

After a short intermission (and a spilled glass of wine, courtesy of another guest knocking my friend's drink off the railing), they started Grieg's Piano Concerto in A Minor.  Now, I must caveat this part by saying that I love the athleticism, grace, and sheer beauty of ballet - it truly is poetry in motion, if you will allow me to be trite.  However, what I find the most compelling about ballet is its ability to tell a story, to convey emotions all the way up to the rafters without saying a word.  Therefore, I think you will understand me better when I say that I was disappointed in this piece.  There was no story to follow!  It truly is a beautiful piece of music (I have it playing in the background right now), but to me it's not a song with a story in its heart.  Also, it was disconcerting to me that the music for this was not lived, but played on a stereo system.  The quality was okay, but it just missed an essential something by not having live musicians playing.  Therefore, the ballet itself was rather forgettable for me and a definite letdown after the glory that was Cinderella.

Where to go for an after-show dinner? La Creperie!!
I love being in a big city some nights!  When in doubt, I pull out Groupon Now to see what offers are still available to the wandering, munchy-hungry public at 9:00pm.  Although we were in downtown Raleigh, neither my girlfriend nor I were interested in the bar scene that night.  After a few minutes of searching, I found Coffee and Crepes, a creperie in Cary!  I LOVE THIS CITY!  Seriously, where in Fayetteville or Sanford can I find a full-blown Creperie??  I've yet to find one and I've loved crepes since I toured Europe in college. What are crepes, you ask??  They're the most delicious pancake ever!  The batter is much eggier, which gives the crepe a very thin, almost rubbery consistency.  Throughout Europe, there are crepe stands - little pushcarts - where the vendors dole out Nutella and banana filled crepes like they're going out of style.  I'm sure they offer other flavors as well, but that has always been, and will always be, my favorite crepe filling.  Luckily for us, Coffee and Crepes didn't close until 10:30, so I felt no qualms coming in late.  This is the most wonderful end for a ladies' night out!  They offer both savory and sweet crepes, both of which are delectable.  I had the Chicken Cordon Bleu, with thin-sliced ham, brie, and chicken smeared with dijon and wrapped in a crepe.  My friend had the Raspberry Chicken, with grilled chicken breast, spinach, tomatoes, and drizzled in raspberry preserves, which she adored.  We shared a Nutella-banana crepe (of COURSE!), the first bite of which immediately transported me to the steps of the Chartres Cathedral in France, where I first found this creation.  Did I mention it's a coffee place, too?  A decaf vanilla latte washed everything down quite nicely.

There's few ways nicer to explore the girly side of a city than to ditch the husbands for a night and head out, see a wonderful ballet in a beautiful theater, find the most feminine food imaginable, and enjoy the company of a great friend.

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