Sunday, November 04, 2007

On the town

Insane weekend of cultural stimulation! Some quite lovely things, too...

An altogether charming Korean comic martial arts-type theatrical extravaganza called Jump at the Union Square Theatre. (Hmmm, that reviewer is giving only the most backhanded compliments--I thought it was absolutely delightful!) A particularly pleasing combination of athletic feats, goofy humor and generally surreal atmosphere, including a large proportion of audience spots taken up, on the night I was there, by extraordinarily youthful Korean military cadets in uniform--the plot (a visitor courts the pretty daughter, then two robbers break into the house) is chiefly pretext for a series of increasingly outrageous gymnastic routines--I pretty much loved it, although I had to exercise my stony-faced-don't-let-performer-catch-your-eye skills to avoid getting roped in during various audience participation stunts.)

Then a seriously must-see production, I cannot remember when I last saw something better than this: The Brothers Size at the Public Theatre. Really altogether magical! Everything about it is great: the writing, the acting, the set and use of space, the integration of music and movement. A story about two brothers, narrated in a largely non-naturalistic idiom (including characters' uttering of stage directions--this is interesting to me, I've got an ongoing obsession with questions about first- and third-person narration and the respective underpinnings of novels and plays)--but the vividness of the language, the force of the acting and in particular the real emotional affect made this absolutely irresistibly good. Altogether most exactly what I enjoy and admire in a play--go and see it if you get a chance...

(The staging and set reminded me rather of my friend David Gammons' Titus Andronicus in Cambridge this past spring--Dave's production was literally in the round, with seating on all four sides, whereas this one was only three, but similarly situated in fairly raw space and using elemental materials--sand, stone, water--to conjure up a semi-magical physical setting that also contours the otherwise slightly unmanageable space of the theatre itself. The play's material and themes are in another sense very obviously reminiscent of some of those August Wilson plays I've been thinking about, twentieth-century American aftermath of African diaspora--only the idiom could NOT be more different, it is most interesting--a strikingly original and appealing mode, in any case...)

(Oh, this play really was wonderful ... a wonderfulness further accentuated by the contrast to a fill-in-time movie shortly beforehand, Dan in Real Life. The fact that Steve Carell's playing the lead gave me quite the wrong impression of what this would be like--it wasn't awful, fairly watchable on the whole--but the proportion of humor to sentiment is all wrong--sort of sub-Hannah and Her Sisters-type stuff--a generous viewer would give the film the benefit of the doubt and say it's slight but well-intentioned--a harder-hearted observer will be tempted to guess that the movie is the result of cynical and interested calculations of a remorseless but not very interesting kind...)

Also I saw very appealing live music and another performance of Nico's ballet, which struck me as even more lovely this time round--the orchestra was slightly less abysmally falling short of the expected standard, but also my eye was more appreciative of the visual nuance.

(I still think ballet has too much clapping and too many intermissions. And the third ballet this time round was utterly and comically awful, too--Agnes deMille's Fall River Legend, a rather long and not-Edward-Goreyish-enough- if-they're-going-to-have-her- whacking-an-axe-around ballet about Lizzie Borden killing her parents. We had contemplated leaving in the second intermission--I was sort of glad we hadn't if only to have witnessed this massive exercise in misguided sensibilities, it really was just what I do not like!)

Usefully this time round the ballet that preceded From Here On Out was Balanchine's Ballo Della Regina. I do not really enjoy the aspect of such things that involves listening to an undistinguished performance of a relatively hackneyed piece of classical music (Verdi in this case), it seems to me difficult to pull this off successfully, but the dancing seemed to me lovely (I am not equipped, really, to evaluate it, I am almost completely ignorant of ballet!) and it worked as a delicately instructive tool because of the ways Balanchine radically revises but also hews to a late-nineteenth-century Russian idiom--it made Benjamin Millepied's comparable adherence to but also departure from the very strong twentieth-century ballet tradition much more accessible to the casual viewer than when the piece was performed in the sequence I saw it in last weekend.

(Do they really just haphazardly allow them to come in random order?!? There was no discernible logic for ending with this Lizzie Borden one this afternoon, really it would have been a better and clearer and more coherent performance just with those first two...)

(Here was the Times review from earlier this week, which includes better description than I can give of the Millepied-Muhly collaboration. The only thing I really want to say about it, other than observing general loveliness, is that it happily reminded me of swimming--especially there is something particularly of the butterfly stroke in the arm motions Millepied gives to his dancers! This is an obtuse but heartfelt observation--really my main mode of access to ballet these days, other than through the music, is that yoga and swimming are the two things I do that make you think about muscles in interesting ways and attend to what can be done with them...)

Final ritual grumble: the weekend track work they're doing on the 1 line is going to tip me over into an utter nervous breakdown! I had three important things to be on time for on Saturday (well, to tell the truth, it is always important to be on time!), and I was late for all three, by progressively greater intervals. I had to wait more than forty minutes for a train the third time round! And before that I had already been obliged to take a ruinously expensive uptown cab to get to my swimming lesson on time when I realized (already cutting it rather close by that point) that the uptown entrance at 23rd St. was closed because there were no local trains running in that direction along that particular stretch....

Aside from the real inconvenience to those who have to wait at the other end, being late makes me more anxious than anything else I can think of, so for purely selfish reasons alone I am outraged!

(Addendum: I already know that swimming is basically the most extravagantly expensive enterprise I have undertaken in recent life, this is just another instance of the way it draws you in to unexpected layings-out of cash...)

(Silver lining of train delays: I had time to finish a really excellently enjoyable bit of light reading, Liz Williams' Snake Agent--perfect dystopian near-future supernatural police procedural, with demons--really of course a book like this is very enjoyable coming from the hands of anyone reasonably competent--but Williams is far more than competent, so the results are peculiarly enjoyable. Book recommendation courtesy of the proprietor of The Dizzies, whose encomium upon this series can be found here.)

A great weekend, but I must get back to work now!