I miss documentaries, real documentaries, the kind they used to make—educational journeys, full of context, usually investigative and always rendered from objective observation. What passes for a documentary today is often just footage recorded by a camera operator who follows someone around, tediously chronicling the subject’s everyday existence.
Ballet is such a rarefied field that on those infrequent occasions when a mainstream publisher releases a ballet-themed book, we devotees race to read it. Thus I dove enthusiastically into Lauren Kessler’s ridiculous new memoir, Raising the Barre: Big Dreams, False Starts and My Midlife Quest to Dance The Nutcracker. In concise, snappily written prose, it tells the improbable story of how, as a middle-aged woman, Kessler arrogantly decided she would—in nine months—prepare herself to perform in a professional production of the beloved Christmastime classic with Oregon’s Eugene Ballet Company.
I am not a formalist. Frankly, I prefer art that speaks of something other than just itself—which is why I’m ecstatic about the Archibald Motley retrospective currently on view at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art. In 42 paintings by a 20th-century African American artist virtually unknown to average museumgoers, the exhibit puts forth a wealth of ideas that chronicle, satirize and cast a critical eye on the complexities of American racial issues, class divisions, urban life, leisure and modernist artistic expression.
An intimate one-ring affair, the Big Apple Circus—now in its 38th season—nestles every variety of traditional big-top entertainment into a speedy two-hour show, presented under an elaborately outfitted tent in Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park. Perfect for audiences of all ages, this year’s production, The Grand Tour, uses a Roaring Twenties travel theme to showcase a diverse array of thrilling acts, each loosely referencing a different region of the world.
Autumn is a time for diverting discoveries at American Ballet Theatre. In its annual spring season at the Metropolitan Opera House, ABT presents weeklong runs of old warhorses of the classical ballet canon, spotlighting big-name guest artists or homegrown favorites in the starring roles. But fall is different. It’s a time for new works, new company members, new casting and new productions of old ballets. Yet, like the fall foliage, ABT’s glorious emergence of new colors is over very quickly.
For the artsy set, there is no more traditional summertime activity than heading out of the city and taking in a musical comedy performed by Broadway talent in an old barn that has been charmingly converted into a theater. For Philadelphians and New Yorkers, a favorite destination for such outings is Pennsylvania’s historic Bucks County Playhouse, a 1790 gristmill that playwright Moss Hart and Broadway orchestrator Don Walker transformed into a summer stock theater back in 1939.
This month BCP is presenting a hilarious little musical, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Written by Rachel Sheinkin, with additional material by Jay Reiss, and music and lyrics by William Finn, it won a Tony for best book of a musical when it opened on Broadway 10 years ago.
New Yorkers notoriously take their city’s abundant cultural riches for granted. And considering the complacency they exhibit toward Chelsea’s gem, the Joyce Theater, the Big Apple’s dance fiends are no exception. A sterling venue for dance, the Joyce has perfect sight lines, comfy seats, a cozy intimacy, friendly ticket takers who recognize regulars—and the most reasonably priced café in town. Okay, the sound technicians usually overamplify the music, but that’s my only complaint.