Things have been jumping here. Actually, I guess they’re always jumping in one way or another, but for the past few days I’ve been unusually busy, even for me, and happy to be.
It all started last Friday when I went down to Washington, D.C., to watch American Ballet Theatre roll out a major dance-reclamation project, a full evening of one-act ballets by Michel Fokine, the once-mighty pre-Balanchine choreographer whose work has mostly disappeared from the international dance repertory in the course of the last half-century. Not that there were any great surprises on the bill (Les Sylphides, Petrushka, Spectre of the Rose, and a revival of Polovtsian Dances staged by Frederic Franklin), but it was still hugely interesting to see a whole evening’s worth of Fokine’s choreography in a single sitting, ABT danced it convincingly, and I got to see Ethan Stiefel and Amanda McKerrow in Petrushka. What’s not to like?
It was also exciting to hear Stravinsky’s music for Petrushka used as an accompaniment to dancing rather than as a free-standing concert piece. I hadn’t seen the ballet in ages (not since the Joffrey Ballet last did it in New York, if memory serves), and though Petrushka is an enthralling musical experience in its own right, it acquires a whole new level of meaning and implication when you can see those matchlessly vital Stravinsky rhythms being brought to visual life on stage, the way the composer intended. I mentioned
the other day that I’d taken a New York music critic to see his very first Balanchine ballets. It was an all-Stravinsky program–Apollo, Orpheus, and Agon–and when it was over he told me that he felt as though he’d never fully understood the music until now. Petrushka is the same way, and as much as I love Stravinsky’s pungent score, I love it best of all in the theater, where it belongs. Cheers to ABT for bringing it back after too long an absence.
(ABT’s Fokine program, by the way, will also be danced at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House as part of the company’s upcoming season, which runs May 26-July 16. Mark your calendar. As my colleague Tobi Tobias pointed out last October on “Seeing Things,” her artsjournal.com blog, “This brave, admirable venture, clearly not driven by the commercial concerns that dominate arts management nowadays, looks like the impulse of an institution trying to retrieve its soul.” You said it, Tobi.)
Back in New York, I saw press previews of two plays. The first was The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,
William Finn’s new musical, which opened last night to reviews that appear so far to be uniformly raving, as well as the kind of press attention, including a New York Times Magazine story, that usually ensures long lines at the box office. I also saw an off-off-Broadway revival
of an Elizabethan comedy, Thomas Dekker’s The Shoemaker’s Holiday, that hasn’t received a major New York production, so far as I know, since Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre presented it on Broadway in 1937. I’m reviewing both shows in Friday’s Wall Street Journal, so I’ll save my own opinions until then. (Watch this space for a taste.)
Sunday was my forty-ninth birthday, and a gaggle of my jazz friends took me to Caf