“Bayou Fever and Related Works,” an exhibition of twenty-one vibrant collages by the late artist Romare Bearden, is on view at DC Moore Gallery through April 29. Made in 1979, the works were originally conceived of as blueprints for a ballet, the titular Bayou Fever—a performance Bearden hoped would be choreographed by Alvin Ailey but was never produced. The ballet’s storyline involves a confrontation between the “Conjur Woman” and the “Swamp Witch,” who twist in a dramatic struggle for the soul of a sick child deep in the bayou. The collages are exhibited alongside artworks from other years, an effect that accents Bearden’s motifs: powerful women, elders, musicians, rural landscapes, domestic interiors, and religion.
In Soviet Russia, getting a ballet off the ground was no mean feat, as Sergei Prokofiev learned the hard way.
In Russia, during the Soviet era, government control made the challenge of getting a ballet onto the stage no less onerous than being admitted into the ballet schools of Moscow or Leningrad. The daunting auditions of Soviet legend—teachers scrutinizing preadolescents for the slightest physical imperfection—found an ideological parallel in the required inspections by censorship boards at the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky–Kirov theaters. First, the subject of a prospective ballet was adjudicated in terms of its fulfillment of the demands for people-mindedness; the music and the dance would be likewise assessed. There would follow a provisional closed-door run-through to decide if the completed ballet could be presented to the public, after which it would either be scrapped or sent back to the creative workshop for repairs. Dress rehearsals were subsequently assessed by administrators, cognoscenti, politicians, representatives from agricultural and industrial unions, and relatives of the performers. Even then, after all of the technical kinks had been worked out, an ideological defect could lead to the sudden collapse of the entire project.
Bodies as well as plots were changed by politics. The traditional emploi that defined danseurs noble and demi-caractère endured, but emphasis was placed on bigger builds and altogether less softness in the curves. In sculpture, “Soviet man” became like a Greek or Roman demigod, the muscles stronger than steel. So, too, he became in ballet. Read More
Five years ago, I was mugged and beaten in Brooklyn after turning down a quiet street and passing a young couple idling in front of me on the sidewalk. I felt a sudden blow to the back of my head and found myself sprawled on the warm cement, bits of gravel pressing hard into my skin, thinking about something a man told me years earlier when I’d refused his ride home: You are too light-skinned to walk home alone at night in this neighborhood.
I clutched my purse to my chest. In it I had a key to an apartment that wasn’t mine, a debit card, a cell phone, a charger, three dollars. Just let go of your purse, the assumed leader implored, the toe of her boot connecting expertly with my eye socket. Read More
In September, the art historian Douglas Crimp was speaking about his new book, Before Pictures, at the Whitney Museum when the slide projection was turned off and the screen rose, revealing the sunlight bobbing on the Hudson River and a view of Pier 52. It was there that, forty years prior, Gordon Matta-Clark had carved his monumental and illicit work Day’s End in an abandoned warehouse and Crimp had gone cruising for sex. The piers were known to be dangerous, Crimp writes, but at the time he had no fear of them, except the anxiety that their lure was distracting him from his work. Now the seventy-two-year-old was backlit against a thoroughfare of joggers and Citi Bike riders along Eleventh Avenue. The “vast and hauntingly beautiful” structures he describes had long ago been flattened into a parking lot for the Department of Sanitation. Read More
Suzanne Farrell revives a rare Balanchine ballet.
“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
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