Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Good Thief

New York is slowly being carpeted by fine snow tonight. Not nearly a blizzard but just enough to make a person want to stay inside with a cup of hot chocolate and read an adventure story. Or, in my case, post about an adventure story I read at the beginning of the month. It's the kind of weather that lends itself to adventures of the mind while the body tucked up in a chair.

I can understand why a person would read comparisons to Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson and think that's totally the book for me. What I can't understand is why I would read them and think that. I don't like Dickens at all and I got all of one chapter into Treasure Island. But I read about The Good Thief on some "best of the year" list at the end of 2008, something about the description captured my imagination, and I decided I just had to read it. I think it was the fact that it was set in a kind of alternate New England that appealed to me.

I put it out of my head for awhile but when I saw the paperback (which has a rather less appealing cover) I couldn't resist. Nevermind that I was in the middle of any number of other books and trying to use the library more. I had to buy it because I just knew I was going to love it. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, I wound up disappointed. It's not that I didn't like the book--I did--but that I wanted it to be more than it was.

Tinti creates an engagingly creep, gothic New England full of giants and grave robbers and sinister, behatted men, and it's never short of entertaining. But I wanted the scope of the story to be larger. I wanted to be swept away into the world I was reading about and emotionally invested in the fate of the characters. Instead I felt like it didn't go much beyond a fun, very nicely constructed plot. Which is nothing to sneeze at, really, but I keep insisting on getting my expectations up and then I'm disappointed about books I otherwise would have liked.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Uncommon Arrangements

You would think that a book about marriages within the Bloomsbury group--the famous "circle of friends who lived in squares and loved in triangles"--would be interesting. Or I would think that anyway. At the very least the gossip should be good. So why was Uncommon Arrangements so boring for me?

I'm not hugely familiar with the work of the Bloomsbury group outside of Virginia Woolf--of whom I'm just not hugely fond--but I did visit Charleston a few years back and found the home, long inhabited by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, beautiful and charming and fascinating. It's why I picked up this book. And my enjoyment of that place is also what made me particularly disappointed by how little I liked the book.

A large part of my issue is that I disliked the structure of the book. Each of the seven couples Roiphe discusses gets a chapter of roughly equal length, and these seven chapters are bookended by an introduction and a postscript. This means that roughly equal time is devoted to each couple even though some are a good bit more interesting than others. It also means that while certain people--Virginia Woolf, for one--flit through a number of the chapters, the central couple in each often feels divorced from their social and artistic milieu (two things that are, after all, not so different with from one another when it comes to the Bloomsbury group).

But more fatal still, for me, is the fact that while you'll finish Uncommon Arrangements with a good idea of how people like H.G. Wells and Vanessa Bell constructed their romantic relationships you won't be much the wiser when it comes to the connections between their work and their views on relationships. Roiphe writes with great insight about the feelings, the ideas, the negotiations, etc. that formed the seven relationships under consideration. But she has less to say about the work that keeps us interested in these people. Well, some of them anyway.

It's not particularly fair to judge a book on what you want it to be rather than what it intends to be. But I don't think fairness has much of anything to do with reading enjoyment. And while Roiphe no doubt succeeded on her own terms--by which I mean she examines the nature of marriage by looking at the unusual arrangements of these famous literary figures--Uncommon Arrangements isn't the book I wanted it to be.

Sunday, November 08, 2009


I put Pyramus to sleep on Friday, October 30th and today I picked up his ashes. Which seems terribly final. I was there when he died and they wrapped him up in a towel and carried him away and you would think that would be final enough. But I've been walking in the door every night half expecting him to be waiting for me. The cremation company puts the ashes in a little tin then wraps them up like a gift and sticks a brochure in the bag detailing all the fancy urns you can buy. But lest you think that's rather capitalist of them, the brochure also informs you that there's a private funeral room and an on-site grief counselor. Which all seems over-the-top to me because I don't tend to think of animals as little people. But then again I'm the atheist who needed her cat's ashes so she can bury him in her mother's garden so I don't exactly have a monopoly on logic here.

I'll spare you the stories about what a spectacular cat he was--though they would be true, of course--but I do want to write a little about his death. He was small and sick and mine and I spent so much time in the last year focused on his health that to suddenly find myself free of that concern is disconcerting. It's a lonely thing to suddenly have no beloved obligations waiting at home. When I get up in the morning and realize that there are no pills to be cut into fourths, no supplements to be measured out, no food to be portioned, I'm not quite sure what to do with myself.

I came home that night to all the things that needed to be cleaned up: opened cans of cat food with which I was trying to tempt him, chicken breasts in the freezer that I won't eat, open cans of tuna that I drained in order to give him the tuna-flavored water, clothes on the bathroom floor that I didn't pick up because he'd taken to sleeping on them, litter, his bottles of medicine . . . And then there were the things that I needed to just store away: litter boxes, the scratching post, the cat carrier, the water fountain. It was all a little overwhelming.

All that is taken care of now though. The things that needed to be tossed have been tossed. The things that can be saved for a new cat somewhere down the line are stored in closets and cabinets. So it's nice to have the tin with his ashes in it, tucked away next to the plants because he always liked them and that seems like as good a place as any to keep them for the time being. It's still sad, but it was the right thing to do and the right time to do it, and now at least everything seems neatly wrapped up.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

On the Nobel Prize for Literature

I can't say that I'm ever particularly excited to find out who has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. It just doesn't generally seem like an effective way to discover new authors whose work I'll actually enjoy. There's a nice essay on Literary Kicks though about the predictable dismay--in the English speaking world, that is--that has greeted Herta Müller's win. Dedi Felman writes:
The problem many non-specialists (and here I count a large swath of publishers, press, booksellers, lovers of literature and non-Germanists etc) have with Herta Müller isn’t that she isn’t known. It’s that, at least until they’ve all had a chance to read her and perhaps discover differently, she’s not better loved. She’s critically acclaimed in Germany, but she’s not a bestseller. She’s topical, but it’s unclear whether her writing is all that accessible.
I think it's a good point that gets lost in all the vaguely (or not so vaguely) nationalistic, decidedly provincial hoopla surrounding the award.

Also I totally agree re: the delightfulness of Wislawa Szymborska. Her Nonrequired Reading is just about the most perfect subway commute reading I can imagine. You know, in case anyone was looking for a recommendation.

Monday, October 12, 2009

American Ballet Theatre at Avery Fisher

I found the choice of Avery Fisher Hall as a performance space frustrating. The cheapest unobstructed seats were $40 and while normally I'd just suck it up and deal with the obstructed seats I couldn't do that this time around because I was bringing my elderly grandmother. So that was a blow to the budget. While none of the Lincoln Center buildings I've been in are particularly beautiful, Avery Fisher, with its odd glass enclosure around the auditorium and its mustard-colored seats, is particularly unappelaing. Also, I had an allergy attack while there so that was nice. Still, the hall wasn't entirely without its advantages as we could see well from our seats at the back of the third tier and it was fun to see the dancers warming up during each intermission. Whether they enjoy having an audience for that I don't know—I imagine they're entirely indifferent—but it was an interesting peek behind the scenes for us.

Ratmansky, more than any other choreographer whose work I'm familiar with, is one whose new work I'm always excited to see. Even when he fails ("Pierrot Lunaire," which I found miserable) or gives us a flawed work ("On the Dnieper" which I adore despite its flaws) there's a sense that he's at least trying to do something interesting within the context of the ballet tradition. His dancers seem to relate to one another as people first and dancers second. He puts characters on the stage and then has them interact with one another in ways that seem quite natural. In doing this he clearly gives genuine consideration to who his dancers are and where their strengths and weaknesses lie. They're neither interchangeable nor faceless and so it's easy to care about the people in a Ratmansky ballet. But in presenting these characters he doesn't neglect the need for interesting, varied movement and into his streams of steps he inserts small, happy surprises and motifs to which you're delighted to return. There's a balance to his successful choreography that makes it comfortable to watch without being easy.

"Seven Sonatas" is probably the least ambitious of the Ratmansky ballets that I've seen. He's certainly not reinventing the wheel here. And yet its beautifully crafted. Could it have been a tad shorter--say "Six Sonatas"? I think so. But that could very well be my own personal lack of patience. Although reminiscent of Robbins ballets like the larger "Dances at a Gathering," I think “Seven Sonatas” lacks the (occasionally bitter)sweetness and nostalgia that give that ballet its power. Rather, this ballet feels like it takes place very much in the present with three distinct couples living out their own personal dramas. And yet, because no one exists in isolation in a Ratmansky ballet, these pairs occasionally overlap in the Venn diagrams of community life. Herman Cornejo and Sarah Lane were the flirty fun couple (of course, they're short and in ballet that means they're the fun ones), while Stella Abrera and Gennadi Saveliev seemed weighted down by some undefined sorrow. David Hallberg, meanwhile, was often left searching for an elusive Julie Kent. But over the course of the ballet all three couple step outside themselves to interact as a community. It's an entire small world on stage and you feel richer for having experienced it.

Coming after "Seven Sonatas" Aszure Barton's "One of Three" felt impoverished both in feeling and in movement. It seemed like she didn't quite know what to do with her talented dancers. Why bother using Gillian Murphy if all you're going to have her do is look lovely in a long white dress and lift her leg in the air? Why did all the men seem so interchangeable? Surely it wasn't just the suits. I feel like it's not fair to say only that something isn't interesting, because that's a conversation killer. If you're simply bored by something then what more is there to discuss?But the truth is, I just wasn't interested in this ballet.

The most ambitious ballet of the evening—which followed Clark Tippet's enjoyable, but in my opinion too long, “Some Assembly Required”--was Millipied's “Everything Doesn't Happen at Once.” Although I didn't love it, I also didn't think it was as much of a mess as many of the critics did. Certainly it was the crowd pleaser of the evening and that's not inherently a bad thing. It sent the audience out happy while at least attempting to do something of artistic value and that in itself seems like a plus for an art form that struggles to find an audience and often resorts to impressive levels of tackiness in its attempts to draw people into the theater.

My grandmother and I speculated that maybe the view of this ballet was actually better—clearer, less confused--from our seats than it was from those closer and lower seats that the critics occupy. We thought that from lower down the stage might seem muddled and confused to a greater extent than it did from the third tier. (If this wasn't the case, please don't disillusion me, I'm enjoying that fantasy that I had particularly desirable seats for a change.)

To my untutored eye the ballet had three major problems. The first is that the space was just a bit too small. I don't think that it needs a large stage, but it needs a stage that's a touch larger. The second is that the transitions from section to section seem somewhat slapdash. And the third (which I actually think is the root of the second) is that the central duet is just not strong. All that seems to matter here is the mechanics of the dancing. Marcelo Gomes is a delightfully charismatic dancer with a strong stage presence and yet the only thing the audience gets to see is what he's physically capable of doing. Which is impressive, but he brings so much more to the table. I'm less familiar with Isabella Boylston but she seems like a lovely dancer. Surely she too is capable of projecting more personality if only she's given the material to work with. These problems undermine any coherence and leave the viewer with a ballet that has a lot of excitement but lacks clarity.

That's a shame, because I actually thought there was a lot to enjoy here. Of all the choreographers, Millipied seems to have thought most about how he could use the unusual dance space in an interesting way. I liked that he used white flooring to lend a degree of definition to the performance space and I also liked that he allowed the borders of that space to remain permeable. The regimented way in which he mobilized groups of dancers was intriguing and I loved the way he employed applause-machine Daniil Simkin to add and element of chaos and bringing light to what was otherwise a dark piece.

I thought you could feel Millipied working through problems throughout the ballet. I just wish it were a work in progress as opposed to a finished ballet because I think that what it needs is not a trip to the scrap heap but a little editing and rethinking. Unfortunately, I'm not under the impression that ballet choreographers have much opportunity to revise their work. It's a shame because I think that what we saw should be, "Everything Doesn't Happen at Once: First Draft," and I'd be eager to see the second version.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The National Parks

If you missed the first episode of the new Ken Burns documentary The National Parks--or, like me, don't have a working tv--you can watch it online here.

I've had the good fortune to visit quite a few of the national parks and honestly don't have the adjectives to describe them. They really are spectacular and, at the risk of seeming obnoxiously preachy, something that all Americans should be both proud and grateful to have. So anyway, what I'm saying is that I'm pretty excited to watch the documentary.

Edited to add: Well I certainly hope this improves in later sections because an hour in I am utterly unimpressed. Disappointing.

Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier Nat'l Park

Grinnell Glacier Trail, Glacier Nat'l Park

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Miscellany (part whatever)

1. When The Millions began posting their "Best of the Millenium" list last Monday I was excited that it seemed evenly divided between men and women. Equal representation on a best-of list isn't exactly common. And several of the women were people whose work I'm not familiar with as well. But then 9 of the top 10 were men. So, in the end the panel put together a fairly typical list when it comes to gender representation. And the list put together by Millions readers was roughly the same. I'm in no way criticizing the panelists or the readers; a quick glance at my shelves is enough to remind me that a list I put together would be roughly the same in that respect.

I also find it interesting that more than half of the six books by women on the panelists' list are short story collections. Meanwhile all but one of the books written by a man are novels. The readers list--also featuring six female writers--only has two short story collections by women. But none at all by men. I don't really have an explanation for this, but I do wonder if we, collectively, are judging literature by standards that are disadvantageous to women.

2. Alastair Macaulay seems a little baffled by the reception some of the performances are receiving at Fall for Dance. I think there are a few things at work here:
  • The tickets are only $1o so people are generally going to be happy whether they love something or not.
  • The wine is $2 a glass and nearly everyone is louder after a few drinks
  • To a greater extent than at other dance performance you have a mixed crowd that includes not only people who go to watch dance all the time but people like myself who attend performances regularly but not frequently and people who almost never see dance. So if something features terrible cliches or whatever a large portion of the audience isn't going to recognize that those things are so done.
  • It's kind of a loud, relaxed atmosphere.
I haven't actually seen any of the Fall for Dance shows this year, but hey, that's not stopping me from making conjectures.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Basin & Saddleback

As long as I'm posting Adirondacks pictures I thought I'd throw up a few from the hike I went on back in August...

A view from Basin.

Basin again, with clouds rolling in.

Part of the very steep climb up Saddleback from Basin.

And a view from Saddleback.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Gray & Skylight

Fall is here. I'm listening to hockey on the radio and wearing a jacket to work and this past weekend I went on what I think it's safe to say was my last hiking trip of the year. Also, one of my favorite hikes I've done in the Adirondacks.

I took the train up to Saratoga and met my father there. We then drove to the Upper Works, an abandoned mining town, in the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks.
An abandoned house by the trailhead.

When we went a bit later in the season last year the leaves were mid-change but there was also snow and ice. So we went a few weeks earlier this year in order to avoid the wintery weather, but it also meant going before the leaves really changed. Given that we were backpacking this time around that's a trade-off I'm happy to have made.

Friday afternoon we took the Calamity Brook trail--the calamity was a hunting accident in the mid-1800s--from the Upper Works to the Flowed Lands. I'd never been to the Flowed Lands before but have been a little in love with them despite that because I think the name sounds like something out of the Anne of Green Gables books. Of course the actual origin of the name isn't at all romantic--the lake was formed when a river was dammed up to divert water to a mining company's blast furnaces, I think--but that seems irrelevant.

The Flowed Lands on Saturday morning.

We spent a chilly, windy night in a lean-to at the Flowed Lands and then packed up in the morning and hiked a mile to Lake Colden where we set up camp. I'd been to Lake Colden before--it was the first backpacking trip my sister and I went on, a decade or so ago. It had been a dry summer and the bears were out in full force. At the time they didn't require backpackers to use bear canisters the way they do now and they were getting food off of people left and right (not ours). Also, we didn't particularly know what we were doing and made everything harder for ourselves than it needed to be. So anyway, it had been awhile. It's a beautiful area though and there are a lot of hikes that are convenient from there, so it's easy to see why it's such a popular place to stay.

Lake Colden

Our plan was to hike to the top of Skylight and Gray. As it turns out, that's a pretty easy hike and thoroughly enjoyable. The trail goes up past Lake Tear of the Clouds, which is the highest source of the Hudson River. Also, apparently, where Theodore Roosevelt was when he learned that President McKinley was dying and started his trip to Buffalo.
Lake Tear of the Clouds

The path up to Gray--not a terribly exciting peak--begins just before the lake and is fairly steep. The path to Skylight, which begins shortly after the lake, is probably one of the most moderate trails to a High Peak of the ones I've climbed (not many) and isn't the least bit treacherous. Really, it's just completely enjoyable.
The top of Skylight. You have to stay on the path to avoid harming the alpine vegetation.

And the view is fantastic. Generally speaking, every time I've climbed a mountain in the Adirondacks that's known for it's great view it's been a) surrounded by clouds or b) so fucking miserable weather-wise that I didn't enjoy it all that much. But Saturday was an absolutely glorious day. The view is so much more awe inspiring than it looks in these pictures.
A fraction of the view from Skylight. I think you can see Sawteeth, Basin, and Gothics here. Not sure what else.

We had a lot of time and very little to do on Sunday so we took our time breaking camp and getting set to hike out.
Getting lunch together Sunday morning.

Although warmer than it had been Saturday morning, it was still cold enough that there was frost on the bridge across the end of Lake Colden and ice rimming the edge of the lake. So what better to do than sit around drinking hot chocolate while waiting for it to warm up a little?

All in all a very successful trip.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A couple things that I'm thinking about:

I realize that Patrick Kane looks like a preteen. But nevertheless I'm not sure that "Most Patriotic Grade School Portrait" is a great look for a professional hockey player who will likely be participating in the Olympics this winter. Particularly when it's only one in a series of truly terrible photos. I mean, I'm not insane so I don't expect great things from USA Hockey or anything, but really, someone got paid to do this. I could do better and I'm really not a particularly talented photographer and just barely qualify as knowing how to use photoshop.

Time Out New York reviewed Sondra Lee's new book and said that readers might be familiar with her from the orgy scene in La Dolce Vita. I've seen the movie but certainly didn't remember she was in it. I do, however, remember her as Tiger Lily the Mary Martin starring Peter Pan. My sister and I used to watch an old tape of that whenever we went to our grandparents' country house.
It's been a long time since I thought about it but it's something tons of people watched as kids, no?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Sometimes the internet is an amazing thing...

For some reason today I was thinking about a book I read about fifteen years ago. I couldn't remember the title or the author or the plot. The only things I could remember were that it was about a strange boy and I loved it. It was driving me up the wall though and so I tried googling "young adult book strange boy" and didn't see anything familiar. But then I remembered that the word "alien" came into it somehow, added that to the google search and voila: The Only Alien on the Planet.

Somehow I suspect that this is one of those books that doesn't hold up so well once you're past childhood though.

Monday, August 31, 2009


My summer has been going pretty much the way every other season has been going for the last year, which is to say that, for the most part, if it can go wrong it will go wrong. That applies to things both petty (all the shoes I wear to work are falling apart) and more serious (my apartment is a disaster story and my cat is broken), but to top it all off, I'm in a total reading rut. To be fair, I've actually been having decent luck on the nonfiction front. It's just that my feelings about the fiction I've been reading lately have ranged from indifference, to irritation, to irrational loathing. I have to admit, I was even more than a little relieved to read that other people are also experiencing the reading doldrums this summer. But unfortunately, as is usually the case with the whole misery-loves-company thing, that hasn't made my own problem (or my desire to whine about it) go away. I thought I'd write then, about the last novel I completely enjoyed.

There's nothing particularly original about what John Williams does in Augustus. That's not a complaint. I'm just saying that the epistolary novel has been around for about as long as the novel itself, at least in Western literature, and to write about Augustus Caesar is to go down a well-travelled path. But that doesn't matter here.

Augustus covers, roughly speaking, three separate subjects in the life of Augustus Caesar: his rise to power, the exile of his daughter, and his death. John Williams tells the story through letters, diaries, and memoirs. In the first two sections of the novel, these are the works of Augustus' contemporaries. Only in the final section does Williams give voice to the emperor himself.

In his author's note Williams wrote,"if there are truths in this work, they are the truths of fiction rather than of history." Augustus isn't meant to be a biography, fictional or otherwise, and Williams isn't interested in presenting facts. He understands the limits of fiction and nonfiction and chooses not to tell us what happened or why but instead concerns himself with an exploration of power and duty and the sacrifices those twin gods demand. He illuminates the interior worlds that history cannot show us with a broad-minded empathy and in doing so tells us something about who we are--our loves, our needs, our friendships, the way we govern ourselves and the way we are governed--without asking the novel to carry a greater burden than it can bear.

There's something restorative about an author for whom writing is a means of communicating and not a chance to show off their talent for linguistic acrobatics. Williams style is modest and draws no attention to itself. His writing is clean and clear, neither spare nor overwrought but perfectly balanced. This quality seems most refined, appropriately enough, toward the end of the novel, when Williams gives us Caesar through his own eyes.

Letter: Octavius Caesar to Nicolaus of Damascus (A.D. 14)
August 9
Though it was nearly sixty years ago, I remember that afternoon on the training field when I got the news of my Uncle Julius's death. Maecenas was there, and Agrippa, and Salvidienus. One of my mother's servants brought me the message, and I remember that I cried out as if in pain after I read it.

But at that first moment, Nicolaus, I felt nothing; it was as if the cry of pain issued from another throat. Then a coldness came over me, and I walked away from my friends so that they could not see what I felt, and what I did not feel. And as I walked on that field alone, trying to rouse in myself the appropriate sense of grief and loss, I was suddenly elated, as one might be when riding a horse he feels the horse tense and bolt beneath him, knowing he has the skill to control the poor spirited beast who in an excess of energy wishes to test his master. When I returned to my friends, I knew that I had changed, that I was someone other than I had been; I knew my destiny, and I could not speak to them of it. And yet they were my friends.

At this point in the book, we have witnessed the scene where Augustus learns of Julius Caesar's death before. Williams has unfurled the story of the emperor's life already. Early on this particular moment was described by Salvidienus Rufus. He describes a cry, "grating and loud and filled with uncomprehending pain, like the bellow of a bullock whose throat has been cut at a sacrifice," and Octavius alone, "a slight, boyish figure walking on the deserted field, moving slowly, this way and that, as if trying to discover a way to go." But now, with Augustus at the end of his life, we reflect back with all the clarity of hindsight. It's an elegant conceit, and effective because it feels utterly natural. This moment, horrible and marvelous and world-changing, deserves to be revisited and enriched. In his old age, Williams's Augustus can see so clearly, he has become a kind of oracle who knows what will come of all he has built, the limit of his power, and accepts it. It's a beautiful thing in its way.

It's surprisingly hard for me to write about Augustus. Here I have this beautiful object in my hands, this work that is complete and whole, and I find that I don't want to pick at it too much. I've been working on this post for much longer than I'd like to admit (because something with this much time devoted to it ought to be less half-assed). So it goes.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

How I Spent My Weekend . . .

Unfortunately, my camera is broken so this picture was taken with my phone. The tall mountain in the center is, I believe, Marcy (as viewed from Basin). I don't think I've ever been so happy to get out of the city.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Martha Wainwright and Morphoses

I always forget how much I dislike Central Park SummerStage in between visits. The view is bad enough to begin with but once you factor in the number of reserved seats shows like this one have, well, the hoi polloi just isn't going to be able to see that well. And the only time bleachers are remotely comfortable is when you have lots of space around you. Definitely not the case Friday night. Still, it seems churlish to complain about the seating you get at a free show and I am glad I went.

When I first heard about this particular performance I thought it was a fairly odd combination that wouldn't show either party at their finest. Part of the appeal of Wainwright's shows is their slightly ramshackle, undisciplined feel. They tend to be warm and down to earth. And the way she changes up her songs live is another of the delights. For the most part though I think those concerns were misplaced as the show was something of a mash-up of concert and dance performance, with each getting their moment in the sun.

The first half felt mostly like filler on the dance front. There was a nice little solo to "Far Away" and "Whither Must I Wander" was one of those pieces that features the woman being partnered all over the stage and not dancing much on her own to feet, while "Bleeding All Over You" brought us a dance with Teresa Reichlen and four men that showed off her long legs but wasn't particularly interesting choreographically. "Love is a Stranger" was upbeat and fun at least. Wainwright also, to my surprise, played a number of songs without dance accompaniment. I was glad that she replaced "Tower Song" (not one of my favorites of hers) with the more upbeat "When the Day is Short" with her mother Kate McGarrigle playing piano. It's always a family affair one way or another with the Wainwrights.

The second half of the program was more rewarding. It opened with Wheeldon's "Fool's Paradise," which despite its at times excessive partnering is more interesting and innovative than any of the too-brief dances of the first half. It really sort of felt like the dance portion of the program began there. Afterward Wainwright sang a few songs without dancers, including her delightfully over-the top rendition of "Stormy Weather."

And then we got the piece of the evening, the world premiere of "Tears of St. Lawrence," choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and Edward Liang. Here I thought the musical collaboration worked much better than in the first half of the evening--where it wasn't so much a collaboration as the choreographers setting movement to songs Wainwright has been singing for some time--as the greater length gave Wheeldon and Liang time to develop ideas in their choreography and create an arc. At the same time though, I'm left with the same impression I get from so much of the Wheeldon choreography I've seen: It's perfectly pleasant to watch, I'm interested, and then 48 hours later it has evaporated from my memory. Or at least everything but the ending tableau has (both "Fool's Paradise" and "Tears of St. Lawrence" close with scenes that stick in the mind, though in different ways). While I'd be happy to see the ballet again, I'm more interested in hearing the music again. I couldn't focus on it or get an impression of it as a whole to the extent I might have liked and it seemed on first listen to be lovely and moving.

As a side note, Alistair Macaulay complains about the program notes in his review. He actually lets them off easy; the bios on the back were shoddily written as well. Even if the program creators are operating from the assumption that well-written program copy doesn't matter, you'd think they could bother with a spot of copyediting.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Lazy Sunday

Not so much for me (I've been cleaning the apartment) but certainly for him.

Friday, August 14, 2009

I managed to come down with a nasty cold at the beginning of August and as soon as I started feeling fully functional my cat managed to hurt the feline equivalent of his wrist. Which sucks for numerous reasons, including the fact that I had to cancel a trip to the Adirondacks with my father to take care of his pathetic, barely-upright self. And as if that weren't enough to deal with, my mother has been in town. Which is fantastic, actually, because I love seeing my mother, but has also contributed to my feeling like I have a lot on my plate. On the bright side though, I'm more caught up at work than I've been in at least a year. Our summer interns? They are fabulous.

So while I haven't been doing much that's interesting to blog about here in the dog days of summer, I have been reading.

The -Ookies are counting down to hockey with fabulous pictures that make me wish that my camera wasn't broken. And that it was better. And that I could take such nice pictures. And that I had jars of chocolate chips.

The Millions tackled Malcolm Gladwell's (shabby) stab at literary criticism. The main problem, as I see it, is that Gladwell doesn't really seem to appreciate the difference between the kind of fun cultural criticism he normally does and writing about literature. He tackles the two things the same way and treats the characters as if they're real historical people, the novel as if it's artless. And his conclusion is particularly egregious: "A book that we thought instructed us about the world tells us, instead, about the limitations of Jim Crow liberalism in Maycomb, Alabama." Even if we accept the idea that To Kill a Mockingbird "instruct[s] us about the world" in a way that's different than the way that all great literature and art does so--a conclusion I'm not particularly inclined to agree with--we're still left with the fact that telling us about the limits of Jim Crow liberalism in a particular place in time is instructing us about the world. Not the way we're instructed by a history class though--the way we're instructed by a novel: through thoughtful reading and fierce attention.

I'm not fussed about Gia Kourlas saying bad things about the program Tulsa Ballet performed at the Joyce. I didn't see it so I'm not in the position to agree or disagree with her, but if she didn't like it she didn't like it and should say so. But I do wish she hadn't started her review with a somewhat condescending paragraph that begins by saying, "State government doesn’t normally shut down for ballet, but you wouldn’t have believed it judging by the dignitaries who spilled into the Joyce Theater on Monday night," and finishes up by claiming, "It was surreal—the whoops that erupted as the curtain was raised were a bit much—but it was also sweet to see such hometown pride." It just feels to me like she's looking down her nose at the Oklahomans. Of course small cities are proud of their cultural institutions. Of course they're going to come and support said institutions when they perform in a cultural capital like New York. It's a big fucking deal when it's something they only do once every few decades instead of all the time. I can't say I'm at all surprised that Oklahoma bigwigs came. And as for the whooping at the curtain raising . . . yeah, that doesn't surprise me either. People tend to be a bit more vocally enthusiastic outside New York. It doesn't mean they need to be portrayed like they just might be overexcited yokels.

I just read most of Love Begins in Winter. Then it became the first book in quite some time that I actively chose not to finish. Van Booy's writing is full of lovely lines and scenes, moments of genuine beauty, but they seem to come without real regard for the stories themselves. This one for example: "In the far distance, Sunday parked over the village like an old mute who hid his face in the hanging thick of clouds." I don't even know what that means. That it was quiet and foggy? That the author is trying rather too hard on the evocative imagery front? That he thought up that line and had to get it in there no matter what? Some combination?

My big issue though, is that there's so much that just doesn't feel true to me. The story that really killed me though is one that contains a scene wherein the protagonist and her boyfriend go on a trip to the Adirondacks. They hike nine miles “up into the white breath of the mountain” go off trail to a river with a large and flat enough rock for them to make love on, which isn’t soaked although it’s just been raining because “it’s amazing how quickly the sun dries the earth after it has been washed.” Now having spent some time in the Adirondacks I find it hard to believe that if it's just been raining you're going to be amazed at how quickly the sun dries things. Or that you'll feel like said rain has cleaned anything. Because you'll be hiking in mud. And if you've been hiking up for nine miles you are a) on a hell of a long day hike and b) probably not near any rivers large enough to contain a rock that sizable and flat. It doesn't seem real; it feels like Van Booy just wanted the scene. Particularly because while they've been busy having sex and taking a nap, their champagne glasses have rolled off into a rock pool where they stand upright. There, we are told, “Each glass held the weight of an entire river without knowing where it came from and how much was left.” Say what? That sounds nice and serious and all but it doesn't mean much of anything, which is pretty much how I felt about so much in this story collection.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Nimrod Flipout

We had a briefly impressive storm here in New York on Sunday night. I had to run around closing windows and by the time I got to the balcony door--I leave just the screen door shut pretty much all summer, rain or shine--there was a puddle on my kitchen floor. Yesterday morning there were big branches covering the sidewalk near my apartment. I don't think there've been any storms like that in the time I've lived in New York so it felt a little bit like being back in Buffalo.

I finally read a book that cured my case of the blahs. Unfortunately that's because I really didn't enjoy it. It's an awfully slim book--about 160 pages--and yet it includes thirty separate stories. And they all start to seem awfully similar pretty rapidly. The names are different, and the details of the story are different, but really, underneath the frippery, they're the same: anxiety-ridden, jittery, relentlessly modern. The characters are glib and disconnected, the storytelling truncated. And, with the exception of the sameness, there's not really anything wrong with those things. It's a sort of fiction that's not really to my taste, but I think it's good that someone's writing it and I think it engages with the present day in a different way than a lot of the fiction I like best.

At first I thought maybe it was the length, or lack there of, that was giving me a problem. That the stories didn't have a chance to develop properly. But the longer stories--and "longer" is relative here--get tedious quickly. Maybe it's the prose that throws me. It's not a prose style I'm particularly fond of and that probably contributes to my boredom. I'm reading this in translation and speak no Hebrew whatsoever so it's hard to know where exactly the problem lies for me. But nevertheless, the stories have a very distinctive (and consistent) tone.

One story, "Glittery Eyes," starts:
This is the story of a little girl who loved glittery things more than anything else in the whole world. She had a glittery dress, and glittery socks, and glittery ballet slippers. And a glittery black doll named Christy after their maid. Even her teeth glittered, though her father insisted that they sparkled, which wasn't quite the same.
In the story the little girl wants glittery eyes to go with her glittery dress, and her glittery teeth, etc. But she can't have them. Another story, "A Thought in the Shape of a Story" features a similar theme, and that one begins like so:
This is a story about people who once lived on the moon. Nowadays, there's no one up there, but up until just a few years ago, the place was mobbed. The people on the moon thought they were very special, because they could think their thoughts in any shape they wanted. In the shape of a pot, or a table, or even in the shape of flared pants. [. . .] It was all very impressive, all those shaped thoughts, except that as time passed, all the people on the moon came to a kind of agreement about how every thought should look.
There's a man on the moon and he wants to think his thoughts into different shapes. But he doesn't get what he wants. Both stories are about three pages long. They're not next to each other in the book, and are separated by a good number of stories, but they're close enough that you can easily read them in one sitting and they're not the only two such stories in the book anyway. Individually, I don't dislike the stories. In fact I find the ending of the one about the people on the moon oddly, beautifully sad. they're not really as interesting in combination as they are on their own merits.

I think that's what was particularly frustrating about this book for me. Keret has something to say and the skills to say it. But actually sitting down and reading my way through The Nimrod Flipout made me want to toss it out the window. Perhaps it's a book I would have been better off dipping in and out of rather than reading straight through . . .

Friday, July 17, 2009

Mary Stuart

Sunday was my monthly dinner-and-a-show outing with my grandmother--although this time around we daringly mixed things up and made it lunch and a show. We ate at a Greek restaurant on 42nd that had delicious food. More specifically, good baklava (just so my priorities are clear here).

The acting in Mary Stuart was of that stylish, stylized British variety where the audience gets to sit and watch the actors declaim--beautifully, of course--from the stage. It's a sort of acting that I sometimes like and often dislike, but it works quite well when the focal point of the play is a conflict between two of western history's most famous queens. And it's elegantly written and crafted and feels like it should be so much more powerful than it actually is.

Mary Stuart is about any number of things--power, appearances, penance--but one thing it's not about is history. Which isn't a bad thing or a good thing, per se, but I often feel wary of work that seems intent on using history to speak to the present day. And the modern ambitions of Mary Stuart--or at least this production--seem evident in everything from the set (stark, black brick, wooden benches) to the costumes (the men are dressed in the suits of today, although the women are in Elizabethan-style dresses). Yet for all that the show attempts to drag these characters into the present day, the production isn't doing anything innovative or daring and perhaps as a result it feels stranded between the two eras.

In the end though, I'm not sure if my inability to feel anything more than a kind of detached admiration is based entirely on the play itself of if the book reading ennui I wrote about earlier is in fact a more generalized entertainment ennui. That would be too bad.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

A Woman in Jerusalem

I love my family, but oh do they make me long for quiet (well, the loud side of my family anyway, which is the side I mostly spent this latest holiday with). I got home and it was totally quiet and such a relief. Of course my apartment is a train wreck and my cat is essentially dying of a nice heart disease/kidney failure combo (although hopefully he's dying very slowly--keep your fingers crossed, folks) so you can't have it all.

Between the bus rides to and from Virginia though, and some stolen moments during my stay there, I was able to finish A Woman in Jerusalem by A. B. Yehoshua. It's not that I didn't like it, but I had the same problem with it that I've had with most of the books I've read so far this year: I enjoyed it, but I could put it down; it had as its subject an interesting topic, but it never seemed to go as far as it needed to; I wanted to like it but was, in the end, was left with vague feelings of dissatisfaction.

Jerusalem explores issues of societal responsibility, the kinds of love--most particularly those sudden and inexplicable bursts of fellow feeling, sympathy, and affection that can take us unawares--that tend to get short shrift both in literature and in life, and guilt. By identifying the characters by occupation or position in life--the human resource manager, the emissary, the ex-wife, the consul, etc.--Yehoshua seems to be making a sort of gesture toward universality as well as situating his characters within a larger society. It's not an uninteresting set of preoccupations for a book. The problem is that it's so damn tasteful (even the jacket cover is polite). I feel like it's a book that needs a bit of dirt under its fingernails.

Still, I'm beginning to wonder if the problem is really the books or if it's me. Am I too distracted or preoccupied to appreciate what I'm reading? Have I become a lazy reader who wants to be hand fed? Am I just doing a shitty job of choosing books that will speak to me? Whatever it is, I hope my reading luck turns around soon because I could really use some time with a great book just now.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Twelfth Night

Prior to last weekend, I'd never been to Shakespeare in the Park in New York City. I went to the one in Buffalo regularly growing up, but that's pretty different. They use the same set every year, the acting is not particularly good, and you certainly don't have to line up. You just show up kind of early with your lawn chair or blanket and some food and sit on this little slope. At intermission the actors come around collecting donations and while I don't know if it's still there, there used to be an ice cream place nearby in the park and we always made an intermission ice cream run. It's fun and summery and totally laid back.

Getting in line at central park at 6:10 in the morning--and being well back from the front of said line--is pretty much the opposite of laid back. And that's not even taking into account the fact that they have a security guy policing the line and explaining the rules. Which isn't to say that it was a drag or anything. We were right across from a big open space, which was nice.

Right across from our spot in line.

Early in the day the park is full of big dogs running around off leash, and my friend and I had fun watching them play. And there are worse ways to spend a beautiful Sunday then hanging out in Central Park snacking, reading, and playing games. Actually, I can't think of many better ways to spend a Sunday in late June.

We collected our tickets--our seats were near the back but not too far from the center--and walked over to the farmers market behind the Museum of Natural History to buy lunch. A lunch which included some fantastic strawberries. Then right back to the park where we hung out until my friend's parents met us for dinner and the show.

I'd had a nice day anyway, but the fact that this production of Twelfth Night is as good as it is made it pretty perfect. It was funny and full of music and acted with great humor and clarity. I liked the entire cast. Also, this production, which is rather traditional, does a particularly nice job of balancing the comedy with the more serious aspects of the love and loss in the story. And to be honest, I tend to prefer my Shakespeare traditional, particularly when it's being performed in this kind of setting where people just want to enjoy the show after spending a day in line and out in the sun.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the whole day, although it can't hurt that it was such a pleasure just to have a beautiful day after the weather that plagued us for pretty much the entire spring. It's something I'll look forward to doing again (next year).

Monday, June 29, 2009

Lewis Forever

The most recent Performance Club outing was to see Lewis Forever at the New Museum. While I'm not sure it really went anywhere it was a fun show to attend. We got to color and put together our own stick puppets, drink, throw things . . . I do like it when performers bring that sense of play into their work. And the audience participation was nice, although somewhat undermined by the fact that our actions didn't really seem to have a reason behind them--or at least not a reason that became clear to me. The performance itself lacked cohesion. Some parts weren't terribly engrossing, perhaps because it seemed unclear how they fit into the whole, others were fun (a bit related to Back to the Future, for example), and even oddly lovely. On the balance though I had such a good time though and you really can't complain about that.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The NHL Draft

So here we are, on a Friday in late June, and I'll be watching the first round of the NHL draft tonight. And the thing about that is that the NHL draft makes for truly tedious television. Last year I paid a little bit of attention beforehand since I was going to be at the draft and all, but this year I haven't bothered. My draft prep has pretty much amounted to reading the Interchangeable Parts ladies' Not On the Road with IPB series. Still, there's a lot you can predict without knowing more than 10 names:
  • About 30 18-year-olds, all excited, most awkward will get up on stage and put on a sweater and a cap to pose for pictures.
  • Gary Bettman will be booed. Loudly.
  • Pierre Maguire will make people all over North America uncomfortable. And he will do so with enthusiasm.
  • When Darcy Regier gets on stage Sabres fans will be crossing their figures and toes, hoping that he drafts someone who could not be described as small, or short, or as another member of the fucking midget brigade.
  • I'll spend most of the show wondering what possessed me to spend my Friday night watching this crap.
This prediction gig is easy. You just have to set the bar low.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Woman in the Dunes

My office has summer Fridays, which means I get out at 1:00 every Friday between Memorial Day and Labor Day. And every Friday this year I've made plans about the things I'm going to do with my free time: I'm going to go see the High Line, I'm going to wash my windows, I'm going to find a father's day gift . . . but every Friday I've gone home and taken a long nap. This week I'm blaming The Woman in the Dunes for that. Seriously, even the cover makes me feel like sleeping.

The story here is that an amateur entomologist spends the day at a beach looking for some kind of beetle, only to have the residents of a nearby village entrap him in a pit. There he is to help a woman shovel away the ever-encroaching sand that threatens to destroy her home. He plots various ways to escape--sometimes rather hysterically--only to pass up an opportunity at the end of the book. This is no surprise to the reader, not only because he seems like a fairly incompetent person but also because we were told at the beginning of the book that he was declared dead after being missing for seven years.

For me, the book was mostly a reminder of just how much I dislike novels where symbolism and allegory take precedence over character (and how little I enjoy existentialism in novels). Here we are, the people in the sand pit, endlessly shoveling away a la Sisyphus. Oh, the meaningless of life. The way the daily grind wears down any desire we have for freedom or joy. Blah fucking blah.

I'm being dismissive though, of a novel that doesn't deserve such treatment. It's not a bad book, just not to my taste. Abe is an evocative and stylish writer and the plot is neatly constructed and spare. The sand, pervasive, unrelenting, corrosive, becomes a character. After his first night in the sand pit that is to be his home, our protagonist wakes coated by sand:
Quickly he jumped up. The sand that had accumulated on his face, head, and chest fell away with a rustling sound. Around his nose and lips sand was encrusted, hardened by perspiration. He scraped it off with the back of his hand and cautiously blinked his eyes. Tears welled up uncontrollably under his gritty, feverish eyelids. But the tears alone were not enough to wash away the sand that had become lodged in the moist corners of his eyes.
[. . .]
The whole surface of [the woman's] body was covered with a coat of fine sand, which hid the details and brought out the feminine lines; she seemed a statue gilded with sand. Suddenly a viscid saliva rose from under his tongue. But he could not possibly swallow it. Were he to swallow the sand that had lodged between his lips and teeth would spread through his mouth. He turned toward the earthen floor and spat. Yet no matter how much he ejected he could not get rid of the gritty taste. No matter how he emptied his mouth the sand was still there. More sand seemed to issue constantly from between his teeth.
The combination of the unpleasant nature of the sand and its inescapability is unpleasantly vivid. After all, most things become nearly unbearable when constantly present but anyone who has ever been to the beach knows how badly you want to wash the sand off after leaving. Reading the book I felt itchy and grit-covered myself. And any desire to go to the beach in the near future? Gone. (Convenient given the shit weather we've been having here in New York of late.) For me though, the quality of the writing wasn't enough to make up for the fact that I just didn't care about the characters or what happened to them.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Two Ballets

La Sylphide had been on my (unwritten, highly informal) list of ballets I most wanted to see for awhile now. Alexandra Tomalonis wrote about it extensively in her biography of Henning Kronstam and I've wanted to watch it ever since because I have a weakness for magical creatures and Scottish reels and all that sort of thing.

At its heart it's the story of a man who falls in love with a being that is not quite of this world, and of the tragedy that ensues when he follows her instead of staying home where he belongs. In fairy tales--and La Sylphide, which comes complete with a witch stirring a cauldron and mimed triumphal laughter, feels more like a fairy tale than most such ballets--it's never a good idea to go chasing supernatural beings into the forest.

Herman Cornejo is a dancer I've often felt like I admire more than enjoy. It's utterly unfair of me, but I often find myself distracted from just how good he is by just how small he is.  In this case I wasn't bothered by that, and his dancing was fantastic--as it always is, as far as I can tell--but I didn't believe the character. In her book, Tomalonis quote Kronstam talking about the role of James:
James can be a man who is so infatuated with the Sylph that he abandons everything to follow her. Or he can be a Romantic soul who is looking for the beauty of life and he sees that more in the Sylphide than in a household. Or he can be very impulsive [. . .] James has his doubts, and he has his fears of what he is going to do, but he cannot help himself. Or, if you do it differently, its that he wants to get away. It's not that he is unhappy; it's because he wants to get out. 
What's clear is that there's any number of variations when it comes to the characterization of James. But in all those variations his character is such that the events of the ballet become inevitable. This is who he is and so this is how it ends. The problem is, in Cornejo's interpretation the character of James isn't fully embodied; he's merely a sketch and you never quite know who he is. And that lack of clarity undermines the story as a whole.

Natalia Osipova was more convincing as the sylph. She's a less complex character--a creature really.  And because she's a magical being associated with weightlessness and flight, Osipova's particular talents serve her well. She jumps so high: One second she's on the ground and the next second there she is, hanging in the air, without having seemed to put any effort into getting there. And then she comes down quietly and feather light. It's as though being in the air is the easiest, most natural thing in the world for her. 

So there's a lot to enjoy. In the end though, for all the wonderful dancing--there were also lovely performances from Gemma Bond as James's fiancee, jilted at the altar, and Jared Matthews as Gurn, who loves her (and seems rather more deserving of her love than James--the ballet didn't entirely hold together as theater on Wednesday night. 

The evening had opened with Paul Taylor's Airs which I enjoyed in the sort of abstracted way that I've enjoyed the few other Taylor dances I've seen. His dances have such a sense of fun and play, which I love because being able to depict such things without seeming saccharine is a particular strength of dance as an art form. It also seemed to be a good pairing with La Sylphide in terms of tone. I do prefer the weightier quality his own dancers give his choreography though.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Weird Bugs

I went backpacking in New York and Connecticut last week with my sister, who is currently hiking the Appalachian Trail. I'll write more about it later, but in the meantime, here's a video of some weird bugs (which google tells me are wood wasps). Now if only my point and shoot camera took better videos while zoomed in I'm sure the Discovery Channel would be calling any day now. After all we clearly have the gravitas and calm typical of nature documentarians.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Things That Make a Girl Peevish...

My apartment building has been having water problems pretty much all year and I can deal with that. I can even deal with the brown water and sediment spitting out of the pipes. I felt a little like the Laura Ingalls Wilder of the East Village last weekend when my water was out all day and I was heating water in the kettle in order to bathe and I wasn't totally aggravated although I wouldn't say I was thrilled. But when I got home from vacation today to find my toilet not working, I was not at all happy. I just spent time backpacking, people . . . all I want this afternoon is a toilet that actually flushes without my dumping 5 gallons of water into the tank. 

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

On the Dnieper, etc.

I was at BEA Saturday and am very grateful that my job doesn't actually require me to spend time there, because I find it pretty overwhelming. Also, someone tried to hard-sell me these weird insoles for my shoes. What's with that? Are people at BEA really all about the gel-filled insoles? Somehow I doubt it. Then on Sunday I got all hardcore with my backpacking training and walked about 8 miles. Shock of shocks, I gave myself blisters. So by the time I found myself at the Metropolitan Opera house on Monday night I was very ready to spend an evening off my feet in a darkened theater.

The real draw of the evening was the premier of Alexei Ratmansky's first ballet for ABT, On the Dnieper, which was also the last ballet. I so enjoyed this ballet and, while it wasn't perfect, thought it was very good. The plot is neither awful nor inspiring: A soldier (Marcelo Gomes) returns home from World War I and finds that he no longer loves his fiancee (Veronika Part), but instead wants another girl (Paloma Herrera) who is herself engaged to someone else (David Hallberg). Tragic and not terribly subtle, it's exactly the sort of material from which you expect ballets to be made. But what Ratmansky does with it is often fantastic.

Apollinaire Scherr has a review up on her blog, and I basically agree with her criticisms--the score was too short for the female characters and situations to be fully developed. At times the plot itself seems to rush forward, which goes hand with the previous. "Wait," I wanted to say, "how can they be in love already? They should fall in love longer. This tension should build more." 

But the score is what it is, and the work has so much to recommend it that I can easily overlook those flaws. Both major male characters are fully developed and both have wonderful solos. Alice Munro writes short stories in which she creates an entire world and characters that feel so real you think they must exist, just as they are in the story, somewhere in the world, in just a few pages. They're small miracles of writing; it seems like it should be impossible to get things so exactly right, and yet there the story is in front of you. The solo for Gomes that opens the ballet, and the solo for Hallberg in the second part of the ballet are like that. These characters are real individuals and watching them dance you feel that you understand them; you know who they are. And the community of which they are a part feels genuine in the same way. Ratmansky's characters don't exist in a void: they're interconnected parts of a community.

The great gift of the ballet though is the fact that unlike so many things that ABT dances, particularly the new ballets that are made for them, in On the Dnieper Ratmansky gives the dancers choreography that genuinely utilizes their prodigious abilities. Gomes and Hallberg, who are so frequently fantastic, were as wonderful in this as I've ever seen them (Gomes throughout, Hallberg in that great solo). Ratmansky told Robert Hilferty of Bloomberg that Gomes was, "very inspiring," and it's not hard to understand why. And although their characters were less clearly sketched Herrera was lovely and Part does despair as beautifully as anyone. 

I also thought that, though the lighting could stand to be brighter, the sets were beautiful. I like the cherry trees and loved the fences that were moved around to redefine the space. 

In addition to Apollinaire Scherr's review, Alastair Macaulay reviewed it for the New York Times, Tonya Plank has a post up, and Robert Johnson reviewed it for the Newark Star-Ledger (and hated it to a degree I find utterly baffling, but he also thinks that Ratmansky isn't a "genuine choreographic talent" so we're clearly on very different wavelengths).

And one more note before I move on: I don't know who writes the synopses for ABT's program, but "the villagers enjoy lively dancing and boisterous cheer"? Really? I have every confidence that it's possible to do better.

The evening had started with Balanchine's Prodigal Son, which I was excited to see but found that I didn't love. In retrospect it's not so surprising. When it comes to art movements, I've really never liked Primitivism and I can't say Constructivism drives me wild either and there's an abundance of both in the ballet. And then there was the fact that I forgot my opera glasses and we were sitting so far away (Family Circle). Being closer and able to see more detail would surely have helped, particularly for a ballet like this. 

Michelle Wiles--who I really wish I enjoyed more than I do--just didn't work for me in this role. She's certainly commanding. Particularly so when towering over Herman Cornejo (the size difference there is something else). But I felt like she should also seem alluring and predatory and that really didn't come across. The connection between Wiles and Cornejo seemed awkward but I imagine that will get better in subsequent performances. Cornejo was dancing in place of an injured Ethan Stiefel, and I expect that he and Wiles will polish their performance as the week goes on.

One thing that did help me to appreciate the ballet more than I otherwise would have, was Nancy Goldner's essay on Prodigal in her Balanchine Variations. She writes:
The desire to bring industry and art, the functional and the decorative, under one tent extended to making an amalgam of beautiful and ugly movement, and high and low art--that is, dance and circus.
Thinking about the pas de deux between the Siren and the Son as a circus-like performance, and the drinking companions as grotesques helps me to understand this decidedly unclassical ballet.

About the second ballet of the evening I really have very little to say. Desir was one of those ballets where you can see why it was made but it's awfully hard to figure out why it's being revived or picked up by other companies than the one it was made for. The costumes are pretty, the music is pretty, a good bit of the dancing is pretty (and also pretty repetitive). And that's just about all there is to it. It's theoretically about relationships and desire, but it doesn't feel particularly human or individual. Ultimately it was kind of inoffensively boring. 

The photo for On the Dnieper was stolen from this Wall Street Journal article and the the photo from Prodigal Son from the New York Times review.