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.