Once again I have been so frantically attending things that I’ve neglected the blog. Here, in summary form, is my attempt to catch up. A few of these items may reappear later in longer, printed essays.
October 10 and 11: I have been following John Heginbotham’s choreography career since he first started doing his own work after leaving the Mark Morris Dance Group, so I was especially glad to be able to witness the triumph of Dance Heginbotham’s performances at the Joyce. One piece on this program, Easy Win, which was choreographed to Ethan Iverson’s music of that name, is the best thing Heginbotham has ever done. The highest compliment I can pay it is to say it lives up to its wonderful score, which ranges all across jazz piano history, from cakewalk and rags to the latest contemporary style. (Iverson is, among other things, a member of the jazz trio The Bad Plus.) The rhythms are extremely complicated, the moods vary intensely from one moment to the next, and it was great to see a dance that captured those felicities so thoroughly. After hearing Iverson play about 10 minutes of the piece at San Francisco’s Jazz Center last summer, I immediately went online and bought a ticket to the Joyce performance this fall; after seeing the dance once, I bought another ticket and went back the next day.
October 14, 15, and 17: Hearing the tenor Mark Padmore sing is always a delight. Hearing him sing three separate nights of Schubert songs, with the piano scores played by the brilliant Kristian Bezuidenhout on the fortepiano, was beyond delightful: it was wrenching, exhilarating, and satisfying all at once. Thanks to Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival, those of us who could squish into Alice Tully Hall (and there were many, many repeat audience members among us) took a journey that progressed from Die schöne Müllerin to Schwanengesang to Winterreise, with each evening conveying a completely different emotional experience, though all were heartbreaking in their own ways. Padmore is an unusually straightforward singer—he puts on no airs, makes no self-dramatizing gestures—but, perhaps for this reason, his ability to grasp and transmit feeling is unparalleled. One of my fellow three-nighters said after the last performance, “I’m afraid we’re in for a post-Padmore letdown,” and she was right: full of events as New York still is, it feels emptier now that we can’t go hear him sing Schubert every night.
October 18: I dropped in on the Archibald Motley show at the new Whitney, and was amazed that I had never even heard of this great twentieth-century painter before. An African-American who spent most of his life in Chicago (his active painting years were mainly the 1930s through the 1950s), he had a style all his own. It was a style, I suspect, that put him out of favor in the emerging Black Power world of the 1960s and 1970s: his black figures, for instance, sometimes have giant red lips, and much else in his work is exaggerated and dreamlike. But he captures as no other painter I know a sense of movement and connection among human bodies, whether they are dancing, arguing, standing around, or just sitting and playing cards. If you are going to be in or near New York this fall, don’t miss this show — and it will give you a chance to visit the new Whitney, which in itself is tremendously exciting, both architecturally and in terms of its public ambitions.
October 23 and 27: I wanted to see the new Mark Morris ballet, After You, that he composed for ABT to music by Johann Hummel, so I got tickets to two different programs. Both (purposely) contained performances of The Green Table, one of my favorite twentieth-century dances; one also contained Frederick Ashton’s Monotones, which I had heard about and wanted to see. The Ashton was the biggest revelation: set to Satie’s Trois Gnossiennes and Trois Gymnopédies, each is more beautiful than the next — literally so, in that I thought Monotones I was the absolute height of grace and intelligence in dance until I saw Monotones II, which instantly took its place. The Green Table was slightly disappointing when Death was danced by Roman Zhurbin, better when danced by Marcelo Gomes, though neither knocked me out the way David Hallberg did in the role a few years ago. Still, I am always glad to see this dance and hear its intense piano score. The Morris was elegant and graceful and is, I think, my favorite of the ballets he has done (I tend to prefer his work for his own company). It got even better the second time, when it was danced by a cast that knew how to echo the Hummel rhythms perfectly. (Why do ballet companies even have inferior casts? Surely at this level they should all be good.) My only complaint about the dance has to do with its name: by emphasizing a single repeated gesture that occurs throughout the dance (the extended arm uncurling forward), the title makes it seem as if this gesture only has one meaning—”after you”—whereas really it could and does have many.
October 24: Sandwiched between my two nights at the ballet was a much more experimental performance put on at BAM. This was William Kentridge’s small-scale opera Refuse the Hour (not to be confused with his large-scale Lulu, which I will be attending in a few weeks at the Met). “Opera” is not quite the right word for this performance, but there is no other that will do—it certainly includes singing of a very high order (and a very strange order, including singing a melody backwards, as in a reversed tape), but it also includes dance, speech, visual projections, and a variety of musical accompaniments and solos. The piece, which is essentially about time, was conceived collaboratively with the historian of science Peter Galison, and both Kentridge and Galison appeared on a panel, the afternoon before I saw the show, that was immensely helpful in untangling what subsequently appeared onstage. In their talk, they touched on the Greenwich Observatory, the forced-air tubes that set clocks throughout nineteenth-century Paris, the playing-backwards of film and recorded music, and all sorts of other things that I was alerted to watch out for in the performance. The piece itself raises many more questions than it could possibly answer, but always in an appealing way, and it seemed to speak to its audience: the startlingly young and hip crowd that attended it greeted the actors at the end with wild whoops of approval.
October 31: I had heard from friends that the Kongo show at the Met Museum was worth attending, so on Halloween my husband and I escaped from our Greenwich Village neighborhood (always overrun by millions during the parade) and headed up to the Met. The Kongo show was indeed interesting, though mainly in an anthropological way—it was a slight violation, I felt, to class most of these religious and otherwise functional things as art, despite their intense visual attributes. But then, having had our fill of the new and previously unknown, we wandered into the old European rooms. The combination of Halloween and the Mets’ (the other Mets, in this city that calls everything that) World Series game meant that the Saturday-night galleries were practically empty, and at one point we had four Vermeers and a Pieter de Hooch all to ourselves. It was like being in our own private palace. And then there was the ride back downtown on the subway, with devils, witches, Spidermen, goths, fake celebrities, and tinseled princesses mingling with the usual crowd of tourists, locals, and homeless people. The whole thing was echt-New York — yet another version of the ever-recurring Metropolitanism.