In response to my salivating over ABT’s recent hire of Bolshoi director Alexei Ratmansky as its resident choreographer and my stupefied confusion over anyone not seconding that emotion (Swan Lake Samba Lady, aka Tonya Plank, and brilliant commenter and blogger Meg respond with a good deal less stupefaction and more penetration here) and my sheepish joy in broadcasting my friend Paul Lazar’s brilliant turn in Mac Wellman’s asteroid play, I received this wonderful comment from dance critic Lori Ortiz today. I thought it deserved a post of its own:
I was curious what a devil’s advocate would say about Ratmansky. I had to read Robert Johnson’s Star-Ledger review and thought to argue, Well, why wouldn’t a youngish choreographer like Ratmansky emulate Balanchine with his “DSCH”? (I’m among the majority who loved it.) I liked the way he updated Balanchine’s “Ballet Imperial” with a post-modern, doubtful eye….I’m so looking forward to his new work with ABT and the upcoming City Ballet commission. Time will tell.
On the subject of friends, I had an enlightening conversation with Luca Veggetti about choreographers, Europe and America, while interviewing him for an article. But I was first besotted, and drawn to cover him, after seeing his “Silence/Text” at the Joyce a few years ago. How do we know the choreographer from the dance? It was tough to be fair when I later reviewed a show he was in. I learned my lesson. I distanced him and regretted that. I’m a fan. Needless to say, critics learn from artists. I was impressed when Claudia La Rocco credited him for insights revealed to her on a topic she was writing about. [Ed. note: I couldn't find that article or post, but here is La Rocco's Sunday Times feature on the increasingly sought-after Veggetti. UPDATE: Lori wrote back and offered this Times article as well.] I’m glad to share my familiarity and partiality to his work.
With this in mind, I want to tell you about the operaat the Miller Theater right now by Iannis Xenakis and choreographed by Veggetti. Veggetti’s way with minimalist movement and decor was a great complement to “Oresteia.” The smallish Miller stage looked grand, like the huge spectacles of the ancient Greeks. He draws from Noh theater, as did Xenakis. Veggetti told me that as an Italian, he learned the classics in grade school. “It’s right there…it’s our history.” The onstage chorus of 36 appeared no obstacle for the dancers. Their movement was surprisingly (given Veggetti’s typical, angular moves) curvilinear, contrasting the straight regiments that were singing in ancient Greek. From memory! The simplified libretto was projected high above. The visuals told the story in explosive, warring, burning, high-key color abstractions projected on a large widescreen. Everyone, everything, shared the stage, recalling the first democracy, and some of the song and dance’s sculptural figures, young and old, performed in the aisles and on raised platforms, in a hieratic fashion. The percussionist was truly a standout. The production– altogether memorable and illuminating.
Thank you so much for your report on Veggetti’s opera–it sounds fantastic. The only other review I’ve found, by Times music critic Allan Kozinn, was irksome in that it mentioned how prominent the dancing was while saying only this about it: “Luca Veggetti, who directed and choreographed the production, found a
fine, expressive balance between fluidity and jaggedness, modern
sensibility and imagined antiquity.” So I’m thankful for the picture. I love the connection you make between all the people onstage and the founding of democracy: Neat. And I too was besotted, or at least highly intrigued, by Veggetti’s “Silence/Text,” from a few years ago.
People, you only have Wednesday (9/17) to catch this massive project–if you’re so lucky. According to the Miller Theatre website, the show is sold out, but the Theatre isn’t so small that there won’t be a few no-shows. It’s just a matter of going early and getting on the list. Hurry, hurry!
About friends who make art we then write about, I know I simplified things in my lead-in to “1965UU.” There is so much to say. To begin, it’s up for debate how “objective”–as I put it–a person’s take on art could or should be. After all, it’s the critic that conjures (for her readers, at least) the object under critique and it’s her particular experience that serves as the conduit for that creation. So what’s objective got to do with it?
Second, one tends to become friends with artists whose values–aesthetic and otherwise–one shares, and often one becomes friends precisely because of that affinity: it’s not an aftereffect. While I might not enjoy the company of every artist I admire, I’m pretty sure that if I didn’t like a person’s work–if I thought it was empty or false–I wouldn’t like the person much, either.
Finally, there are a million distances and proximities we contend with every day that we encounter art–whether it’s coming to the theater tired or sad, or watching with a friend one feels responsible for, or watching alone, or watching while the child somehow seated next to you (because the parent knew better) chomps her way through a bag of chocolate-covered almonds, so that you spend the ballet deaf to the music and thinking not about dance but about parenting (Has it come to this?) and chocolate-covered nuts (I want some).
In the scheme of things, friendship may be the least distraction. But I think readers want to know one’s connections, because otherwise they begin to suspect that you have a whole set of hidden agendas, which runs counter to the point of criticism: not to air your biases or even your beliefs, but to work out an understanding of the art form via your individual experience. There’s a paradox at the heart of criticism, that from the subjective and piecemeal a theory about art, or this art form, or this moment in this artform, will arise that will be valid for more than just you. I have no trouble proceeding analytically from inside to out with friends’ work, as with anyone else’s, but I’m not sure I’d want them to know it–to be reminded how ruthless an inquiring mind can be.
Thanks so much for writing, Lori. You’ve given me much food for thought.