The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘dance’

Layla and Majnun

October 17, 2016 | by

Photo: Susana Millman, via

The choreographer Mark Morris’s latest work is a rendering of Layla and Majnun, an Azerbaijani opera composed by Uzeyir Hajibeyli in 1908. This fall it launched Cal Performance’s season, premiering at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley on September 30. Layla and Majnun may be the most exotic and obscure score that Morris (who’s renowned for his eclectic musical taste) has ever set a dance to. No doubt many in Baku would take issue with my characterizing it as exotic and obscure: Hajibeyli’s opus was the first piece of composed music created in Azerbaijan and the first opera in the Muslim world, where it’s still considered a foundational work. Its story is simple: it relates, with mystic overtones and an undeniably fatalistic worldview, the tribulations of a boy and a girl in love who are not permitted to marry and thus die of despair.

Hajibeyli based his libretto on a poem by Muhammad Fuzuli, a sixteenth-century philosopher. Fuzuli, in turn, was borrowing from a set of legends and folktales known throughout the Middle East. Unlike the tragic love stories we’re most familiar with, there’s little in the way of context, at least in this version: no tribal conflict in Verona or East Harlem, no court intrigue at Camelot or Mayerling, no sorcerer or vengeful sprite in sight. Layla’s mom and dad think, with some apparent justice, that Majnun’s a bit crazy. They marry her off to someone else. She dies. He dies. End of story. Given this, and the lack of physical consummation (one reason the tale is sometimes interpreted as an allegory of the spirit), Layla and Majnun is a relatively tame affair in terms of action, however deep its currents of feeling may run. Read More »

Mystique in Spades

September 14, 2016 | by

Suzanne Farrell revives a rare Balanchine ballet. 


Balanchine rehearsing the original production of Gounod with Maria Tallchief.

“Make the tempo be your pulse.” This remark by Suzanne Farrell—at a lecture/demo this past Sunday at New York University’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts—was both an instruction and a philosophy. Farrell, who was George Balanchine’s last great muse and is now, among other things, the artistic director of the Suzanne Farrell Ballet, was there to stage an early rehearsal of one movement from a Balanchine work she’s reviving this fall and to answer questions about bringing lost works back into repertory.

Gounod Symphony was not lost, exactly. Made during the Wanderjahr period of late 1957 and early 1958, when Balanchine returned to his company after having left to nurse his polio-stricken wife and prima ballerina, Tanaquil LeClercq, it has languished compared to the other masterpieces he spun out in such short order: Agon, Square Dance, Stars and Stripes. It fell out of repertory, is rarely performed, and never caught on as an audience favorite, although critics have always been captivated and intrigued. What relation does it bear to its three magnificent counterparts, all so modern, so innovative, so American? What relation to Bizet, as it’s nicknamed, Balanchine’s eternally popular Symphony in C of 1947, his other large-scale tribute to Paris Opera Ballet? What to his other “French” ballets? Was it beyond the company’s performance abilities when it was made? And for audiences, not showy enough? Too restrained, raffinée? Whatever it hasn’t, Gounod certainly has mystique in spades. Read More »

Staff Picks: Stage Fright, Substitute Teachers, Skin

September 9, 2016 | by

Photo: Charlotte Strick

Alex Prager’s brilliant ten-minute film La Grande Sortie in its U.S. debut, is looping in the upstairs screening room of Lehmann Maupin Gallery through October 23. Prager has imagined for us the marvelously grotesque descent of a prima ballerina into a state of hysteria provoked by our worst fears of stage fright. Witnessed through the shifting perspectives of the dancer (the remarkably theatric Émilie Cozette) and her ever more repulsive and hostile audience, the ballerina’s derangement reminds one of a desperate Mia Farrow surrounded by equal parts evil and camp in Rosemary’s Baby. Even on the fourth viewing, my heart rate surged in time with the stabbing string instruments in the film’s score, sampled from Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” and composed by Radiohead’s producer, Nigel Godrich. Layered under these orchestral notes is the amplified tap-tap-tap of scraping toe shoes across the wooden stage, the flapping of the dancer’s tulle skirt, and the noisy fidgeting of her restless audience. I marveled at Prager’s ability to create such a polished and darkly humorous examination of the extremes of human anxiety and artificiality. And the artist delivers up a panic-filled surprise ending worthy of a Hollywood horror flick. —Charlotte Strick

Type our education system into Google and Autofill will finish your thought: “is broken.” “Is outdated.” “Is flawed.” Any Joe on the street can tell you that. But Nicholson Baker strode bravely into the classroom to see just how defective our schools are: for six months in 2014, he subbed for K–12 teachers in Maine. His new book, Substitute, is a close record of the hairline cracks and scotch-tape fixes that are comprised by a public education. Rather than fulminate or theorize, Baker offers a lively day-by-day account of everything he saw and heard in the classroom. It’s storytelling as commentary, and it means that Substitute’s seven hundred pages fly by, filled as they are with the mulch of student life: the iPad games, the idle chatter, the dioramas and worksheets and silent-reading blocks. Fans of Baker’s know he can elevate any subject—this is a man who’s written compellingly about vacuum cleaners—and the tedium of teaching finds him pressing his gift for metaphor to ever more creative ends: “We all walked to the cafeteria, where there was a massive molten fondue of noise.” Or: “We were swimming in a warm, lifeless salt pond of geopolitical abstraction.” —Dan Piepenbring Read More »

Tap It Out

August 17, 2016 | by

The nonlogic of Dorrance Dance’s ETM: Double Down.

Photo: Hayim Heron.

Dorrance Dance’s ETM: Double Down. Photo: Hayim Heron.

Remember Tom Hanks and Robert Loggia in the movie Big, jumping around a supersize electronic keyboard on the showroom floor in FAO Schwarz? There’s a moment in Dorrance Dance’s ETM: Double Down, just performed at Jacob’s Pillow Dance, that brings this to mind. Seven dancers line up on a keyboard comprising triggerboards all in a row. Triggerboards are, more or less, the uniting principle of ETM: Double Down. They’re musical tiles, perhaps a couple of feet square: both an instrument and a dance floor. Tapping on them with the foot produces notes, or other kinds of sounds, through a computer. During the course of the evening, the sounds and sequences produced by tap dancers on triggerboards are sometimes looped and played back, becoming canons or echoes, overlaying new, “live” sounds. Read More »

American Girl Night

August 3, 2016 | by

Photo: Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

No one could miss the magic. Cool alleys of giant pines wind through the park, the entrance by footbridge leads over a creek; far below, you can glimpse striated mounds accreted by live mineral springs. And then: the stately grounds. Even today, in its celebratory fiftieth-anniversary season, with a new plaza built around stadium-size latrines and concessions selling fried dough, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center maintains some of its Nelson-and-Happy Rockefeller–era allure. The center was built to offer New York City Ballet and the Philadelphia Orchestra permanent summer residencies, and though attendance at dance events and the dance season itself have shrunk considerably over the past thirty years, coming to SPAC still feels eventful. The audience is filled with fans. They dress for the occasion. They know the performers. They roar with recognition when someone introduces the evening’s program. They cheer during curtain calls. They applaud, contrary to City Ballet’s urban custom, when dancers exit, and at the end of each musical section. They even clap for the scenery. Read More »

On Transcribing the Lyrics to Pop Songs

August 2, 2016 | by

A still from “Prisencolinensinainciusol”

Still from Adriano Celentano’s music video for “Prisencolinensinainciusol.”

You really can’t tell what a song is going to look like until you type it, and that fact itself is interesting to me. When you listen to a song, for instance, you don’t know whether its “stanzas” are in quatrains or tercets or what. The stanzas and line breaks you install when you type the lyrics simply were not there before you typed them. They were not in your head, and they were not really in the song either. 

You discover all kinds of things. For example, I recently typed up the words to Cream’s “White Room” (1968). Before doing that, I didn’t know that the song does not rhyme. If someone had asked me if it rhymed, I would’ve had to sing it to find out. It somehow seems like it rhymes? But how is that possible.

I go around telling people that 99 percent of songs rhyme. Is that true? It might not be. Maybe songs all seem like they rhyme, but when you actually check … ? Read More »