Sparky Town Carries On
Hyperbole often accompanies eulogies, with humans’ unwillingness to speak ill of the dead often coloring their reminiscences. But in the case of Linda “Sparky” Mortimer, she was what people describe her as: welcoming, friendly, warm and genuine. And with her death on Monday, Nov. 21, Syracuse lost a loyalist who cooked delicious and healthy food, displayed local artists’ work on her restaurant’s walls and breathed life into an Erie Canal-era building that had seen better days. At the same time, her Sparky Town helped spur the ongoing renaissance of the Hawley-Green neighborhood.
Having set a lunch date with my daughter and a colleague for that fateful Monday, we decided that Sparky Town would be a great place, and not only because I wanted Georgia to meet Linda. The food and the vibe there are unlike any found elsewhere in Syracuse. Alas, when we got there, a sign on the door said “We are closed today. Sorry. ” Only later, via Facebook, did I discover that Mortimer had died earlier that day.
And what a loss. I was fortunate to encounter Mortimer three times, but now I wish it had been so many more. Mortimer opened Sparky Town, at the corner of Burnet Avenue and Catherine Street, on Feb. 20, 2008. Despite a dearth of parking, the spot thrived; recently, Mortimer had obtained a liquor license for Sparky Town and locals were looking forward to late nights in addition to breakfast served all day on Saturdays, humungous cups of really good coffee, named “Sparky’s Blend,” and inventive food with a vegetarian flair.
In fact, that veg-friendly vibe led us to Sparky Town in June for a post-high school graduation lunch for my stepdaughter Jessica. Introducing Jessica and her younger sister Lauren to Sparky, I realized that the act was a formality, literally. There was nothing formal about Sparky, but she took her work seriously, and the community she befriended filled the sanctuary at May Memorial Unitarian Universalist Society during a ceremony in her honor on Sunday, Nov. 27.
Once we settled in for Jessica’s lunch, Mortimer came over and, like a favorite aunt, proceeded to discuss future plans with the graduate, who told our hostess that she would be attending SUNY Buffalo. Genuinely interested, Sparky told Jess the hot spots she needed to hit in Buffalo, especially Delaware Avenue and the area surrounding Buffalo State. And we couldn’t leave until Sparky had extracted a promise from Jess that she would visit at Thanksgiving to report how she was doing.
Alas, that wasn’t to be. When I informed Jessica of the bad news, she reacted with sadness and also regret because she had indeed planned on heading to Hawley- Green over her break to check in. Not to repeat a cliché, but it’s so true that you have to heed the wonderful things in front of you because you never know when they will be gone. In the case of Sparky Mortimer, that is so very true.
Given that, I wish I had taken Georgia to meet Sparky earlier than last Monday. Now she can only go on what I report to her about one of the most genuine people I have ever known. But enough of the selfishness: It’s also a loss for Syracuse that she is gone.
There is good news, however. After being closed for a week to mourn her passing, the staff at Sparky Town, led by her longtime companion and server extraordinaire Lauren Bristol, has reopened the selfdescribed “funky place to meet and eat.”
Georgia and I can have lunch there after all, but it won’t be the same.
For the rest of you, the greatest tribute you can give Mortimer is to stop by, have a bite to eat, grab a cup of coffee, check out a local band or make a donation in her name to SAGE Upstate, Friends of Dorothy Hospice or a charity of your choice. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
The Nutcracker’s Turning Pointe
‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house the Rat King was stirring with his army of mice. Upon their defeat Sugar Plum Fairies danced in the Land of Sweets. All of the fanciful favorites are back in Syracuse City Ballet’s fourth annual production of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. The secret to this holiday classic’s longevity is actually no secret at all.
“I think it’s tradition,” said Katherine Rathbun, artistic director and choreographer for Syracuse City Ballet, formerly known as Upstate NY Ballet. “As soon as you hear the music it’s Christmastime. It has everything from the Rat King to classical ballet to little gingers coming out of a big ginger.”
But some things have changed in the land of sugarplums: This year is the first in decades that the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra will not accompany a professional dance company for their interpretation of the ballet. Remaining, however, are Syracuse City Ballet’s performances this weekend, as well as the return of the Moscow Ballet to the Landmark Theatre for a 1 p.m. show on Sunday, Dec. 4.
A world where Christmas trees are as tall as skyscrapers and toy soldiers come to life is where this ballet, derived from E.T.A. Hoffman’s story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, transports the audience. The story takes place on Christmas Eve when the Silberhaus family, including children, Clara and Fritz, is holding a lavish party. The children’s godfather gives them many toys, including a nutcracker, which Clara embraces.
After the party, when the clock strikes midnight, the toy comes to life and a battle ensues between the Rat King and the Nutcracker Prince and his army. Clara travels to the Land of the Sweets, ruled by the Sugar Plum Fairy in the prince’s absence. The Nutcracker is, in fact, the prince, and transforms in the second act, thanking Clara for saving him. In celebration, there is a gathering of sweets from around the world, and the Prince and the Sugar Plum Fairy perform a final waltz.
In Syracuse City Ballet’s performance, Rathbun decided to mix up the plot by having Clara and her older brother enter the Land of the Sweets to make the story more relatable to both girls and boys. There are some parts of the fanciful ballet that Rathbun found difficult to understand, and in Syracuse City Ballet’s production she strives to clear up the ambiguities, like the appearance of the Rat King. It is a dream, after all.The production features professional dancers from Central New York, and students as young as 7 from the ballet school, based at Robinson Memorial Church, 125 Terry Road, Westvale. About 55 dancers populate the production, and they have been rehearsing on weekends since October. Rathbun takes pride that the company is able to give students more intimate instruction than a larger ballet school, and some of her students have gone on to dance in San Francisco and New York City.
Although the ballet school—Ballet & Dance of Upstate New York—is separate from the Syracuse City Ballet company, more seasoned dancers in the company train students in the school to give them the insight and the experience of working as a professional dancer. “Ballet is the most beautiful of the arts, and it combines so many of them,” she said.
For the production, the company has rented some set pieces from Rochester City Ballet and Penny Gilbert, production manager for Syracuse Opera, is building other set pieces. There are some new costumes this year, designed by the ballet company’s costumer, Kristin Pallozzi. A father of one of the dancers built oversized props, including a huge mousetrap and a slingshot that shoots cheese, to add to the holiday mood of the production.
The Syracuse City Ballet was founded in 1997 with the intent of bringing the professional quality associated with the New York City dance scene to the Salt City. The company has consistently performed sold-out productions, including Snow White, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and Romeo and Juliet. “A lot of people don’t know we’re here, even though we’ve done all the major ballets with a full orchestra,” Rathbun said.
Rathbun, a native Central New Yorker trained at the Juilliard School, says The Nutcracker is the company’s livelihood, because it not only helps to pay for other performances, but it exposes people to ballet who wouldn’t normally come. Some of those in the audience may decide to enroll their children in the school.
The company plans to do Cinderella in the spring if ticket sales from The Nutcracker yield the required funding. In the past Syracuse City Ballet has held three productions per year—two full shows and one at the summertime Candlelight Series in Armory Square—but the economic climate has forced the company to scale back. Still, Rathbun insists, every city needs a Nutcracker.
Only three of the dancers in The Nutcracker are from out of town, so audience members may recognize some of their friends and neighbors in the show. Further, even though this is the fourth annual production Rathbun changes elements of the choreography to keep the show fresh and fast-paced. Rathbun said first-timers should prepare to be surprised, because the show is filled with magic and the dancers have been rehearsing religiously.
Performances are Friday, Dec. 2, at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Dec. 3, noon and 4 p.m., at the Crouse-Hinds Theatre inside the Mulroy Civic Center, 411 Montgomery St. Children’s tickets are $10, adult tickets range from $15 to $41.50, and can be purchased at ticketmaster.com or by calling 435-2121.
Tickets to the Moscow Ballet show at the Landmark Theatre, 362 S. Salina St., range from $27.50 to $68. Call 475-7979.
SU Football: Epic Fail
On Oct. 21, the Syracuse University football team was 5-2 and coming off the program’s biggest win in a decade: a 49-23 romp over then-No. 11 West Virginia before 45,265 fans at the Carrier Dome and a national television audience on ESPN.
For a few glorious days, the question wasn’t if the Orange would go to a bowl game, but which one. Heck, with SU playing in the middling Big East Conference, the team and its fans could legitimately entertain thoughts of a Big East title and possible Bowl Championship Series (BCS) bowl berth.
Five weeks later, the Orange is on the verge of a Boston Red Sox-like collapse. SU has lost four consecutive games, including the 30-13 clunker against Cincinnati at the Dome on Saturday, Nov. 26. To finish with a .500 record and even be considered for a bowl game, the Orange (5-6, 1-5 in the Big East) will have to go on the road and beat Pittsburgh (5-6, 3- 3) at noon Saturday, Dec. 3, at Heinz Field (ESPN or ESPN2).
So what happened? How did such a promising season just fall apart? “That is one of the greatest questions I have,” Orange junior defensive end Chan dler Jones said following the Cincinnati game. “I really do not know. That is a great question.”
There are some obvious answers: Dropped passes, ill-timed penalties, shoddy tackling, special teams breakdowns, red zone blunders, and so on … and so on.
But is there something more? Macky MacPherson, SU’s sophomore center and the grandson of former Orange coach Dick MacPherson, insists the collapse is simply a byproduct of a young team that’s still trying to find its way. “You don’t need to be an expert to see that it’s inconsistency,” MacPherson said. “We’ve had sparks of greatness and sparks of utter humiliation. It’s nothing but football.”
The man in charge of the whole operation, thirdyear coach Doug Marrone, said after the Cincinnati game that he had no explanation for his team’s Jekyll-and-Hyde tendencies. Marrone appeared particularly frustrated because the Orange had a bye week before the Cincinnati game which supposedly gave the team the opportunity to correct flaws from the previous losses to Louisville, Connecticut and South Florida.
SU was also facing a Bearcats team that had dropped two consecutive games since losing star quarterback Zach Collaros for the season with a fractured ankle. “We went back to basics and . . . we weren’t able to execute,” Marrone said. “We’ll look at all the options this week at what gives us the best opportunity, but I don’t have a lot of answers right now.”
Marrone was asked if he could put the first four-game losing streak of his tenure into perspective. Marrone, a former SU player who has repeatedly said that coaching the Orange is his dream job, told reporters that they “have no idea what type of feeling it is.
“Trust me,” he added. “I guarantee you don’t have any idea how I feel, and how I’ve been feeling. I can’t believe that I’ve disappointed the fans, the people, everyone. It’s my responsibility, and that’s why I don’t think people can understand it.
“I care too much about this community, where this program was, where I want to take this program, the administration, the faculty and the players,” he added. “Right now, I feel like I’m letting them down. So you don’t really know how that feels.”
The Cincinnati game—and perhaps SU’s bowl hopes—turned on a 16-minute stretch at the end of the first half and start of the second half. SU kicker Ross Krautman’s second field goal of the game had given the Orange a 6-3 lead with five minutes, 29 seconds remaining in the first half.
SU’s only lead of the game lasted about three minutes. With the help of a 15-yard personal foul penalty against SU linebacker Dyshawn Davis, the Bearcats (8-3, 4-2) marched 71 yards in eight plays. Backup quarterback Munchie Legaux capped the drive with a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Travis Kelce.
Cincinnati’s Ralph David Abernathy opened the second half by returning Krautman’s kickoff 73 yards. Running back Isaiah Pead, who gained 246 all-purpose yards against the Orange, bolted up the middle and raced 24 yards to increase the Bearcats’ lead to 17-6.
“We have re-evaluated several times how we have been doing things,” SU senior linebacker Dan Vaughan said. “We have tried to take new approaches every week and we have been trying to do all the little things. I guess it really comes down to executing when it matters.”
While SU’s offense failed to generate a first down on its first three possessions of the second half, Bearcats’ kicker Tony Miliano added his second and third field goals of the game to boost Cincinnati’s lead to 23-6 with 4:40 remaining in the third quarter. Miliano’s third field goal, a 48-yarder, capped a 20-0 Bearcats run in a 15:49 stretch. The previous week, Cincinnati scored three points against Rutgers in its first game without Collaros.
The Orange answered with a 10-play, 76-yard drive capped by quarterback Ryan Nassib’s 13-yard touchdown pass to tight end Nick Provo. The Orange defense forced a three-and-out on Cincinnati’s next possession, but SU’s next two drives ended on fourth-down plays from the Bearcats’ 37- and 4-yard lines.
“You do not really practice four-down territory,” Nassib explained. “That is something we really have to work on considering it happened to us twice. So it is something that we cannot leave out or take for granted.”
Pead’s second touchdown, a 69-yard catch-and-run from Legaux, sealed the victory for Cincinnati and officially spoiled Senior Day for SU. Before the game, the Orange honored their 18 senior players, including running back Antwon Bailey, who gained a career-high 135 yards on 27 carries and had five catches for 43 yards.
“Of course it crushes me in a way because it is my last game in the Dome along with the rest of the seniors,” Bailey said. “But like Chandler Jones said, we still have everything in front of us. We have one more game. One more game that if we win, we will be bowl-eligible. We still can go out on top.”
To at least have a shot at a bowl, the Orange will have to beat Pitt Saturday. The Panthers lost at West Virginia Nov. 25, but defeated three of the teams that recently beat SU (South Florida, Connecticut and Louisville).
“I told the players afterward, we have opportunities and we have to take advantage of them,” Marrone said. “How many times do you get a chance in the bottom of the ninth to have a chance to hit the ball? It’s not going to be a home run, but for us to go to a bowl game is important. We have to play better, so I don’t know what type of game it’s going to be.”
Orange Slices: With his sixth 100-yard rushing game of the season, Bailey upped his season total to 998 yards and this week will become only the 10th back in SU history to gain 1,000 yards in a season. Bailey also eclipsed 2,000 yards in his career and surpassed legendary Jim Brown to become 17th on SU’s all-time rushing list. . . .
Nassib, who completed 19 of 37 pass attempts for 203 yards, one touchdown and one interception, moved to third on SU’s single-season passing yards chart with 2,460, and he moved into third place on the career completions list with 474. . . .
SU played without junior free safety Phillip Thomas, who was suspended for one year for violation of athletics department policy. Thomas leads the Big East with six interceptions, and SU with 82 tackles.