More on Ratmansky, writing about the work of friends, and–new!–Luca Veggetti’s “Oresteia”

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:

Dear Apollinaire,

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 opera at 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.

Dear Lori,

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.


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  1. says

    Hey Apollinaire … well, I had never met Paul Lazar before last week (which is kind of strange considering how often I’ve seen him, reviewed him, etc., and what a small world we all operate in), and I was absolutely over the moon (pun intended!) for “1965UU.” You can read some of my thoughts about it here if you want:
    but, more to the point, you can see the incredible drawings done by the director’s young daughter. I wish I could hand in drawings as reviews more often – though mine wouldn’t be so beautiful and evocative as these, I’m afraid.
    “Imagine Beckett by way of Monty Python, or the Little Prince, but after he grew up and no one thought he was so cute anymore though he still had an arresting angle on things.” – that pretty much says it!
    On another topic, I’ve been meaning to email you forever about your Forsythe post in August [], in which you wonder why no one talks about him being a genius showman. It made me laugh, because I just reviewed that show in July for Musical America, and this was my lede:
    Bizarre “Czar” Gets His Way, as Usual
    By Claudia La Rocco
    July 23, 2008
    NEW YORK — William Forsythe is an odd couple all by himself.
    There is Forsythe the intellectual, puzzling his way through esoteric explorations (the history of cherries in painting, for example). And there is Forsythe the showman, wowing the audience with grand theatrical concepts and virtuosic choreographic displays.
    Sometimes the two Forsythes don’t play nicely, and the result is a production like “Three Atmospheric Studies,” his biting, 2006 indictment of war that was a bit too heavy-handed to achieve lift-off as a sensual theatrical creation. But when Forsythe harnesses his opposing energies, what an experience!
    On Sunday, the Royal Ballet of Flanders performed his monumental 1988 work, “Impressing the Czar,” wrapping up a four-day debut stint at the Lincoln Center Festival. Prior to Royal Ballet of Flanders Director Kathy Bennetts gaining permission to revive “Czar” in 2006, the ballet hasn’t been seen in its entirety since 1995. (Bennetts is a former FORSYTHE ballet mistress.)
    No czars were in attendance, as far as I could tell, but I can’t imagine that they wouldn’t have been impressed by this dizzying patchwork. Witty and ravishing by turns, the two-and-a-half hour rumination on classicism and the politics of art shows Forsythe at his idea-juggling best; even if the eye is occasionally overwhelmed, you never get the sense that he has lost track of the many balls he has thrown up into the air. …”
    [Apollinaire responds:]
    Claudia! hello, hello! Long time no see. (That’s b/c of me: been holed up at the tippy top of towering offices for the summer).
    Am happy you have been “over the moon” about “1965UU.” (The show begs for puns, doesn’t it?)–and the child drawings are enviable. Thank you for the post–I somehow missed it. Readers, in case you missed my plug a few months ago (was it?), the estimable Times regular Claudia La Rocco has a fantastic blog on WNYC at (It’s now merged with the other arts blogs, but if you click on Claudia’s byline, it will bring up her posts–on all kinds of performances, including dance.)
    And, Claudia, I also missed the Forsythe review–my God, what kind of a blogger am I? Though my ‘plaint about the way critics tend to construe Forsythe is of longstanding, so you, then I, hardly make a dent.
    Will link that post ( to this comment. It’s too bad requires subscriptions, though if that’s what gets the writers paid, it’s all for the good.
    But what I really should have linked to in that summer ballet roundup–have just added the link now–was your Times review of Veronika Part in “La Bayadere” this June at the Met. [] I DID read that, and loved the way you laid out the controversy for civilians. It’s a great approach, that kind of summary before digging into the performance at hand. It really brings the non-fanatic into the very heat of things. Brava!
    bestest, a

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