The Performance Club

Odds & Ends

Christopher Wheeldon’s Les Carillons. Photo: Paul Kolnik.

1. Last month, New York City Ballet presented its first all-Wheeldon evening.  It was an evening both heady (New works! Star dancers! Return-ish of prodigal-ish son!) and horrifying (Jennie Somogyi tore her Achilles’ tendon on stage during Polyphonia).  Much to think about … but my mind keeps returning to Wheeldon’s newest ballet, Les Carillons, and, specifically, how much it reminded me of Alexei Ratmansky’s choreography – not in a derivative sense, but more as if Wheeldon (who has spoken of how much he longs for creative exchanges with his peers) had been mulling over certain Ratmansky motifs and sensibilities, and was intent on having a conversation with the Russian artist within the world of this new ballet.

And then when I was in Seattle reviewing Ratmansky’s Don Quixote, I couldn’t help but notice that he included an animated moon in his production, exactly as Wheeldon had done a few years earlier in The Nightingale and the Rose. Of course, Ratmansky was referencing Petipa’s designs with the moon, and I don’t even know if he saw that Wheeldon ballet. But but but…

… it makes me wonder (and I was heartened to see that Marina Harss wondered the same thing). And it makes me curious to know to what extent these two are in each other’s heads. Couldn’t some sort of Wheeldon and Ratmansky festival happen at City Ballet, which has by and large inspired their best works? It could be anchored by a collaboration….

2. John Jesurun’s play Stopped Bridge of Dreams and August Kleinzahler’s poem The Strange Hours Travelers Keep were made for each other.

3. February is Wooster Group month!

First, get thyself to the Anthology Film Archives, for a Woosters celebration, including screenings of filmed productions and archival footage, and live readings. And then, once you’ve finished your tutorial, hie thee to St. Ann’s Warehouse, where the Wooster Group is teaming up with Richard Maxwell and his New York City Players on Early Plays.

“Early Plays” from The Wooster Group and New York City Players. Performers L-R: Alex Delinois, Kevin Hurley. Courtesy of The Wooster Group

Much is being made of the differences between the Woosters and the Players. And, yes, fine, those do exist. But for me these are stylistic. Beneath the surface, the two groups have much more in common. Maxwell and the WG director, Liz LeCompte share a fierce desire to let the words of their plays speak for themselves – to really be heard, whether through surprising aesthetic juxtapositions or plainspoken delivery. Because of that shared desire, and because of the exacting vision of each of these artists, the pairing makes grand, perfect sense.

4. I watched the Grammys this month for the first time in years. My god. What a horror show. Jon Caramanica lays it out pretty clearly in this great critic’s notebook. I’d like only to add that it’s sad and fascinating to see how conservative, utterly unimaginative forces play out pretty much exactly the same across disciplines. It’s as if Michael Kaiser were the head of the steering committee. Enough, please, with wanting an art form to stay recognizable.

5. A couple of months ago, I wrote about what I saw as sexism in Theresa Rebeck’s Broadway play Seminar. That essay sparked some interesting debate and responses on Parabasis and at The Economist.

But what really caught my eye was this tidbit on The Wicked Stage, in which Rob Weinert-Kendt said he thought I’d mistaken Rebeck’s portrayal of a misogynistic character as an endorsement ["the all-too-familiar p.i.e. (portraying is endorsing) fallacy"]. I agree with Rob that playwrights should be allowed to depict the world however they see it, and that it’s a big mistake for an audience member to confuse what’s on the stage with what a writer believes. But, for me, Seminar stopped being a portrayal and veered into an endorsement when the play moved from satire to romance in its final scene; this wasn’t a neutral presentation but an affectionate celebration of a sexist man in a position of power. We are meant to be sympathetic to this man.

This is, of course, debatable. (Rob, have at!) But this response to Rob, from David Cote, made me wrinkle my forehead:

Re: Claudia’s piece on Seminar. Agreed. Of course, I’m on record as having loved the play as a well-oiled entertainment. I didn’t interrogate the material’s sexual politics, which means I didn’t get them or I endorse them, I guess.

I find it interesting that Claudia, who normally reviews more experimental, interdisciplinary work for the Times, should hold a new mainstream play up to such standards of social-ethics role-modeling. It’s a satirical comedy, not a position paper on feminism. Characters might say sexist or piggish things; does that make the play sexist? The men are not glorified; they are just as flawed as the women.

Lastly, I wonder if Claudia holds all the work she reviews up to this moral yardstick. When a performance artist such as Ann Liv Young penetrates a fellow performer with a dildo and then shrieks a song into a microphone between cascades of obscenities, is that a negative representation of women? Or, being so grotesque and extreme, does it negate/supply its own critique, thus making it relieving the critic of the need to make moral judgments?

So, obviously David and Rob and I disagree on Rebeck’s treatment of her characters. For me, the two central men are absolutely glorified, and the women are marginalized – one of them is a mere sex-object sketch, hardly developed at all, and the other is in the end dispatched as a lesser artist. (Not to mention the gratuitous nudity and gendered language.)

But, ok, if we disagree we disagree. To answer the question about whether I hold up less mainstream work to standards like this: yes. Here is one example. But I’m totally confused as to why it should be an issue that a critic “hold a new mainstream play up to such standards of social-ethics role-modeling” – shouldn’t this be exactly what critics do? Writers working on Broadway wield a lot more power than writers working on position papers, after all.


  1. [...] responded, as did Isaac Butler. Just read them, I’m too lazy to paraphrase. The reason I didn’t [...]

  2. [...] responded, as did Isaac Butler (mainly approvingly, later in [...]

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