Friday, April 10, 2020

Bits of Silver Lining

New supervisor, Frankie
Hope all are staying safe and sane. I realize it's been awhile since I've posted; my brain has felt like mush since Covid began. I’m trying to see the silver lining amid the outbreak, so here goes!

I’m finally getting enough sleep.

I can slow down my reading pace since the library is shut, thus my hold queue is also frozen.

I don’t have to endure subway rides, whether relatively short to work, or longer to/from the upper west side to see shows.

Every time I leave the apartment, I feel a sense of daring and adventure, even if not always in a good way. Going to the grocery store makes me feel like an anarchist; my homemade mask abets that feeling.

I can’t complain about having to go see a long ballet show after I’ve worked a full day, even if this is obviously not a real problem.

Every slight cough from a dry throat makes me think deeply about more serious implications, and appreciative when it turns out to be nothing, as it has.

Thanks to a gourmet food supplier, have discovered nduja—spreadable, spicy salami—and that apparently it will make every dish better. 
Scrambled eggs with nduja

The apartment is cleaner than it’s ever been.

I don’t have to strain my brain setting up my calendar and future appointments.

I don’t have to worry about whether I’ll have my own lane at the swimming pool, or if I’ll get a crappy locker location or a good one.

I don’t have to watch the Mets endure some random, heart-breaking injury or loss or bone-headed trade.

I can watch The Great British Baking Show without guilt.

My cat is getting a lot more attention from me, and vice versa.

What's on your list?

Monday, March 2, 2020

New York Notebook—February 2020

Rotunda. Photo: Erin Baiano
Prior to the performance including Rotunda, Justin Peck’s latest dance for New York City Ballet, Peck appeared in front of the curtain to introduce the “art series” evening which also included Jerome Robbins' In G Major and Chris Wheeldon's DGV. In casual clothes, Peck could’ve (and may have) just hopped off his skateboard on his way to the park. His relaxed demeanor extended to his colloquialisms; he repeated “you guys” numerous times, referring to us in the audience—us guys. This feeling of community, which is tangible in his choreography, perhaps emanates from the company as a tribe, now led by recent company members Jonathan Stafford and Wendy Whelan.

Foremost, Peck’s dances are sociable gatherings, occasions to play or compete—or both. They also demonstrate that his first language is ballet, and dancers are his words, to be pliantly and fluently put to use. His movement can translate “you guys” into expressive phrases that capture that amiability and freshness. As we’ve learned with each new dance he creates, there are several subgenres to his oeuvre, and Rotunda falls within the core bunch of plotless, pointe shoe ballets with a relaxed, warm feeling. The fact that it followed  Robbins’ In G Major underscored the connection between the two choreographers.

Peck’s dances continue to offer up gifts to the dancers. Rotunda gives the unassuming principal Gonzalo Garcia one of his finest, most expansive roles yet. At the piece’s start, he lies onstage alone, to be joined by 11 others wearing Bartelme/Jung’s appealing, variegated tights and tops. The group draws into a cluster, then cleaves into two rings—one led by Garcia, the other by Sara Mearns—which intersect like Venn diagrams, orbiting across the stage, and pulling toward the downstage corners as the groups collectively tendu their feet. Mearns walks as if she’s on the street, sunken into her hips, feet turned out ballerina-walk style, shoulders rolled forward slightly. Her partner in an extended duet, Gilbert Bolden III, is a larger than average, striking dramatic presence, a counterpoint to Mearns' bold demeanor.

It’s not easy to continue to innovate while continuing to create using the well-established ballet vocabulary, but small tweaks dot Peck’s largely effortless syntax: a woman’s slightly bent knee in a split lift, a man doing a split penché arabesque (showing valuable new soloist Jovani Furlan’s flexibility), quick direction shifts following deep pliés. Garcia has a riveting solo in which he repeats inside attitude triple pirouettes and flitting petit allegro variations with ease, showing us the quiet strengths which have been lurking inside of him all along.

Mercy. Photo: Julieta Cervantes
Ronald K. Brown’s Evidence: A Dance Company performed a new work alongside some old favorites at the Joyce. Grace, now 20 years old and commissioned by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, remains one of his finest and most consistently thrilling works. It’s one of the rare dances performed intermittently in New York by Ailey and its choreographer’s native company, giving us a chance to see it in a larger house by a shinier cast (Ailey), and closer up by a group more attuned to the nuances and rhythms of Brown’s lexicon. (Also, for the first time among many that I’ve seen it, the men did not dance shirtless in a section late in the dance, which can often elicit hoots from the audience.) There are fewer—no?—works of dance that evoke more joy than Grace, plain and simple.

The evening led off with High Life, a suite that evolves from traditional song and garb to modern, including the infectious beats of the title genre. The New York premiere of Mercy featured elegant fabric “columns” (Tsubasa Kamei) and somewhat bulky costumes by Omotayo Wunmi Olaiya (who designed all costumes for the program). To mood-shifting music by Meshell Ndegeocello, and led by the dynamic Annique Roberts wearing a dramatic mesh headpiece, the dancers ebbed and flowed across the stage, punching, slashing, spinning, their skirt and tunic panels flying. As a company, Evidence looks strong and  confident, with a luminous relative newcomer in Joyce Edwards—statuesque, silky, quick, and completely magnetic. Hard to believe this still fresh-feeling troupe celebrates 35 years of existence.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Shanghai Ballet's Swan Lake

Shanghai Ballet in Swan Lake. Photo: North America Photography Association
Let’s get one thing out of the way: the Shanghai Ballet’s Swan Lake did not include the swans in the formation of a heart (at least through the curtain call), as their marketing images showed. It did, however, have many, many formations made by up to 48 swans massing on the Koch Theater stage. Mostly grids of incredible precision and symmetry, with subtle arm movements like rippling water, paired with subtle head angles, but also wheels, wedges, and lines, to mesmerizing effect.

Monday, December 30, 2019

2019's Notables

David Byrne and friends in American Utopia. Photo: Matthew Murphy 


American Utopia, Hudson Theater
If you're like me, do you avoid Broadway? Loud music? Overly enthusiastic crowds? No matter, do not miss this show if possible. David Byrne’s sui generis music, Annie-B Parson’s joyful movement, and an energetic, dedicated cast produce one of the best shows in memory.

Houston Ballet, New York City Center
Excellent rep choices for New York, including Mark Morris’ crisp and vibrant The Letter V. And a good showcase for a top-notch company that we don’t see enough.

New Goldberg Variations, Joyce Theater
In a breakout year for Pam Tanowitz, New Goldberg Variations finally made it to New York’s Joyce in full, and did not disappoint. A perfect evening of pure movement, with Bach’s music played sublimely by Simone Dinnerstein, gorgeous costumes by Reid Bartelme/Harriet Jung, and creamy/vanilla lighting by Davison Scandrett.

One & One, Baryshnikov Arts Center
Vertigo Dance Company, based in Israel and led by Noa Wertheim, presented this work, in which the theater’s floor gradually became covered in dirt.

Michael Trusnovec in Pam Tanowitz's All at Once. Photo: Paula Lobo 

Michael Trusnovec and PTDC moving on
You’ll finally stop hearing me rave as much about Michael Trusnovec, because he retired from Paul Taylor Dance Company this year. However, he’ll reprise Taylor’s solo by Balanchine from Episodes at New York City Ballet this spring, if you missed it at the PTDC gala program.
     About a half-dozen additional PTDC dancers retired from the company, whose evolution is fast-forwarding more than a year after Taylor’s death. The change is probably overdue but the delay, understandable. A smart, bold departure under Michael Novak's direction—to add New York performance runs in smaller venues—the Bach Festival with Orchestra of St. Luke's at Manhattan School of Music, and this summer, a slate of early crunchy Taylor pieces at the Joyce, danced by a slew of young talent.


Agnes Denes
A deserved museum-level survey of this pioneer, yet ignored, environmental artist’s work. It  also validates The Shed’s visual arts program, which until now seemed a bit like an expensive extension of the Chelsea art scene.


Underland, Robert Macfarlane
It’s a bit too neat to parallel this non-fiction essay collection to last year’s amazing Overstory (by Richard Powers), but it makes you think about everything underground, probably for the first time. Each chapter treats a totally different subtopic. Truly mind expanding.

Ninth Street Women, Mary Gabriel
This tome looks at the undersung careers of women artists connected to, and mostly left out of, the oppressively macho Ab Ex movement starting in the late 1940s, including a few whose careers were subsumed by their male partners. Lee Krasner, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthal, and Elaine de Kooning.

American Woman, Susan Choi
This 2004 novel captures the desperation and loneliness of being a fugitive from the government, and the thrill as well. I read this because Trust Exercise, Choi’s lauded 2019 novel, had such a long wait list at the library, and am grateful. The latter book is worth a read as well; it’s completely different in tone and experimental structure, revolving around a theater company. 

The Power Broker, by Robert Caro
Okay, I finally read this 1974 monster on urban planner Robert Moses, and it was worth it. Now, moving around the city, I think about his negative and positive impact on the metro area constantly, and how extensive and deep his power ran. Scary and enlightening.


Jane the Virgin
There were many series I watched that came to an end this year, but this was the saddest departure. Gina Rodriguez (Jane), luminous, hilarious, and relatable; Jaime Camil (Rogelio), somehow incredibly self-absorbed yet lovable; Ivonne Coll (Alba), the wise and stern moral compass of the show, whose lines were mostly in Spanish. Structuring it after a telenovela gave it license to be completely over the top while giving audiences the head-snapping plot twists, including serious themes and the all-important nucleus of the daughter/mother/grandmother.


New York Mets
Yeah, they didn't make post-season, but it sure was fun to watch the new kids anchoring this team now, especially Pete Alonso, Jacob deGrom, Jeff McNeil, JD Davis, and Michael Conforto. Real reasons to say "Let's go Mets."

Thursday, December 26, 2019

New York Notebook—Dorrance and Ailey

Josette Wiggan-Freund and Joseph Wiggan in the Nutcracker
There are some compositions that are basically siren songs for dance makers, which simply must, at some point, be choreographed to, rocky shore be damned. There’s Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, Ravel’s Bolero, and Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, which suffers most in redundancy due to the work’s seasonal nature. Over the past couple of weeks, I caught the last two treated by, respectively, Lar Lubovitch for Ailey and Michelle Dorrance/Hannah Heller/Josette Wiggan-Freund for Dorrance Dance. 

The Nut, a Joyce commission, is a joyful, hip, brief addition to the canon. (Its official title is a paragraph, not likely to be printed in full—a wink acknowledging that it will be referred to as the Nut.) Mostly tap danced, with some sneaker-shod street moves, it uses Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn’s “Nutcracker Suite,” a jazzy, brass-heavy, uptempo selective rendition that dares you to sit still. The abbreviated party scene quickly introduces Clara (Leonardo Sandoval)—tall, awkward, with childlike wonder, in a teal chiffon dress. Her parents are real-life siblings and tap power duo Joseph Wiggan and Josette Wiggan-Freund in a killer, swingy half-waistcoat (costumes by Andrew Jordan). Drossy’s arrival signals the shift into fantasy, where the toys and rodents grow, and the rats‚—led by a crisp, snazzy Heller—multiply and intimidate the humans, throwing what look like cheese balls.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Tanowitz's Goldberg Variations—Restoring Faith

Simone Dinnerstein (at piano), Netta Yerushalmy, Jason Collins, Maggie Cloud, and Melissa Toogood. Photo: Marina Levitskaya
When choreographing, Pam Tanowitz doesn’t always give the lead to music, but in the case of New Work for Goldberg Variations at the Joyce, she does so unreservedly. And why not? when it’s Bach’s Goldberg Variations played live—onstage and centerstage—by the brilliant pianist Simone Dinnerstein. The sublime costumes (by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung) and ambrosial lighting (Davison Scandrett) warmly suffuse and complement the piece. Dinnerstein's sensitive, romantic interpretation acts as a gravitational force around which the dancers spin, flit, and play. The 75-minute work is a double dose of perfection if you love dance and music. 

Tanowitz has experimented with ballet and modern over the course of her career, pulling apart conventions, splitting up the body’s symmetry, applying a little bit of “exquisite corpse” to predictable positions and phrasing. In Goldberg, the vocabulary relaxes into what are often basic, fundamental human moves—step-taps, grapevines, loping chassées, jumps. But it’s less of the post-Cunningham analytics that we’ve seen from her before, even if some quirks pop up now and again.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Paul Taylor American Modern Dance—Full Steam Ahead

Rob Kleinendorst and Sean Mahoney in Only the Lonely. Nina Wurtzel.
Paul Taylor Dance Company has been evolving since its founding in the 1950s, but it has likely never undergone an overhaul of dancers like it has over the past year. Without question, I missed the departees during the 2019 fall Koch season of Paul Taylor American Modern Dance (more leave soon)—most of all, Michael Trusnovec, who graced the stage just once in a guest appearance of Episodes at the gala performance (which, hearteningly, he’ll repeat a handful of times with NYCB during its spring season). For the first several of the season’s performances I watched, I could not help but remember how Trusnovec danced a certain role, and tried to not find the current dancers wanting, through no fault of theirs. It took some time, and no one can ever replace him.

But Cloven Kingdom, Piazzolla Caldera, and even Beloved Renegade went on without him. In fact, I was free to watch with care all the new dancers, and appreciate the senior ones even more. The great news is that the company is in fine form, and under Michael Novak’s direction, its artistic mission has become even more relevant and rewarding. (Novak’s retirement from the stage received moderate fanfare; it was the first and last time I saw him dance the lead in Beloved Renegade, which he did quite movingly).