Hazel Sabas-Gower's "Green"

One of the things I have most enjoyed in the process of becoming familiar with ballet is the moment when ear and eye converge. The dancers invite me in for a synesthetic experience. Yes, the famous Balanchine quote: "see the music, hear the dance..." When I saw Hazel Sabas-Gower's "Green" premiered here in Carlisle last month I was immediately drawn in by the organic beauty of the dancers' movements. The dancing was tremendously expressive and the dancers were like living sculptures. This is a work that could be greatly appreciated photographically. (Go ahead, here are some examples: "Green.")  Yet, I never felt that the experience was synesthetic. The music by Bach seemed just right, but there was something about the way Ms Sabas-Gower choreographed the piece that made me feel the music was acting more like a canvas on which the dancers were painting. That is, the dancers were not illustrating the music, nor was the music narrating the dance. Rather, the music was like a landscape on which, or perhaps out of which, the dancers moved, themselves becoming the landscape. It was quite beautiful.
     Sometimes contemporary dance leaves me cold. It can be overly cerebral, much like abstract expressionist painting. As I was watching "Green" I did not have the sense I was being lectured at. The dance was not challenging the audience with the "do you get it?" pretentiousness that can make some contemporary art insufferable. What I did very much feel was an invitation to consider (reconsider?) our human condition with an open, expansive sensibility. I do feel awe, for example, when I see animals in wilderness settings. Those sightings can be quite special, but I don't suspect the feeling is mutual. How does a coyote experience beauty? It doesn't. What a privilege to be human! That's what I was feeling as I watched "Green."


The Mariinksy Ballet's "Giselle"

Giselle is another good example of how simple, uninteresting surface plots can offer adequate foundations for great art. Yesterday was my first exposure to this ballet and it did not disappoint. The Mariinsky Ballet (the Kirov in Soviet times) at the Kennedy Center. Splendid! Diana Vishneva danced the role of Giselle. I had seen videos of her dancing, so I was not in the least surprised at feeling astounded as I watched her performance. I was surprised, and quite moved, by the breath-taking beauty of the corps de ballet. The group of dancers who performed as wilis, those malignant spirits who torment men, were so beautiful as to be thoroughly implausible. The elegance of their rhythmic synchronization was dizzying. Further, how can mean-spirited ghosts possibly be the source of such beauty? Of course, the storyline is just romantic whimsy: peasant girl falls in love, then drops dead when true (noble) identity of object of love is revealed. That's Act I. In Act II, ghost of girl rises from the dead to try to spare love interest (who is sincerely repentant for his deception), from torments of wilis (the ghosts of women left hanging at the altar). (The wilis force the men to dance until they drop dead! But, the dancing! The dancing really does seem supernatural. Oh, and Maria Shirinkina and the young man with her whose name I don't remember. Their solos and pas de deux in the first act were outstanding! Incredible!


Big Dunce of 2011 #1: Bill Donohue

Bill Donohue, the bully from the Catholic League, seems to be pretty clueless when it comes to art. And the truth. Donohue got his hysteria machine going not too long ago over the case of David Wojnarowicz's video "A Fire in My Belly" at the National Portrait Gallery. The video has a brief scene showing some ants crawling over a crucifix. Unfortunately, the museum caved in to the pressure and censored itself, removing the video from the exhibit. Even worse, they apologized for the "offense". The story is summarized here. The video can be seen here. What would Donahue think about this 17th century painting by Juan de Valdés Leal? Although not easily visible in this reproduction, the decomposing body of the bishop is being merrily eaten by ants, maggots and other little creatures. Is this painting anti-Catholic? Of course not! (In fact, it graces the entrance to the church at the Hospital de la Caridad in Seville, Spain.) Western art has a rich vanitas tradition, and Wojnarowicz's work participates in it. The ants may also call to mind the work of Salvador Dalí, another catholic artist Donohue would unlikely approve of.

Wojnarowicz's video could be offensive to some sensitive souls, but there is a very simple solution: don't watch it. What a shame they gave in like that. Donohue ranted that taxpayers shouldn't have to fund "hate speech." First, it's patently absurd to consider "A Fire in My Belly" hate speech. Second, Donohue lies: the exhibit is privately funded. It's not costing taxpayers anything.

p.d. If you want further evidence of what a thoroughly repulsive character Donohue is, listen here to Donohue poo poo the report releasd last year on sexual abuse by Irish clergy. Truly beyond the pale.


Tahrir Square

The situation in Cairo is simultaneously hopeful and frightening. Mubarak has unleashed his thugs in an apparent effort to crush the rebellion. How the military will ultimately come down remains to be seen. I suspect many generals are weighting their loyalty to the regime. Where lies security? Control? There's a lot riding on the next few days. Mubarak will fall. I'm hopeful that efforts going on right now to intimidate and get rid of foreign journalists and human rights groups will fail. It's easy to see the power of social media--anyone with an internet connection and a twitter account can be a journalist.
Last night (and many nights) I find myself reflecting on the incomprehensible vastness of our universe. Literally mind-boggling. These thoughts often lead me back to the tired idea that in the grand scheme of things we really don't matter. Our insignificance is laughable. Perhaps. But this morning I found myself considering a contrasting idea: smallness is all we have. There is no "grand scheme." This is it. So people standing up for their dignity in Tahrir Square really does matter. The efforts of Egyptian State security to "blow up" civility in central Cairo should be more than enough for the Obama administration to make a more forceful public break with Mubarak. There is no future with him.