Sunday, July 13, 2008

Le Quatorze Juillet dans la rue Soixantième

O.K., so it's only the thirteenth, not "le quatorze," but there is a Bastille Day street festival on East 60th Street between Lexington and Fifth Avenues, passing, not surprisingly, right in front of the French Institute. And people are having a Great Time! Sure, not everything is French; I saw one stand selling knockwurst in addition to French délices, and there were also Belgian waffles (or, as they spell it, wafel), though I suppose that's close enough. There's even someone playing an accordion! Shades of the Funny Face era. Good spirits abound; it's hot out, but not unbearable, and people seem in a merry mood.

The happy crowds on East 6oth are much more enthusiastic than the dutiful strollers at another nearby street festival, on Madison Avenue between 42nd and 57th Streets. This is the type of project that drives me nuts most weekends, three seasons of the year. They all sell the same T-shirts, souvlaki, sunglasses, tube socks, and suchlike. I hope that the City gets a decent fee for permission to sell stuff at these fairs because they are a huge nuisance to us residents who try to get somewhere. It's of some help that Time Out New York publishes a list of street fairs and festivals each week so that one can plan one's moves. Taking the subway helps, though I don't like to go down there in the hot weather. But anyway, the Bastille Day celebration is fun, even if we already had our own fireworks on a somewhat rainy Fourth.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Ah, Giselle!

Please, please, please look at this wonderful series of photos of American Ballet Theatre's Giselle, performed this week at the Metropolitan Opera House: 

‘Giselle’ - The New York Times > Arts > Slide Show > Slide 1 of 15

The great ballerina Nina Ananiashvili, who has a lot on her professional and personal plates, showed us what talent, sensitivity, technique, and long experience can bring to the iconic role of Giselle. Now in her forties, she can still, as do the best of them, convey the ardor and naïveté of a young girl in love. She looks great, too. This from a dancer who is a national hero in her native republic of Georgia, director of the newly re-formed Georgian State Ballet, and a wife and mother to boot. 

Mme. Ananiashvili (this traditional honorific is still used for divas and major ballerinas) was fortunate in her leading man. José Manuel Carreño, one of Cuba's gifts to us and surely one of the world's handsomest men, was her partner last evening. With José Manuel, one always has the feeling that the ballerina is in the safest and most considerate of hands. And he nailed every dance aspect as well, with seeming effortlessness. He makes every ballerina look good, whether she needs extra help or not. (The photos in the slide show depict the equally talented and handsome Angel Corella, who did the first performance. ABT is particularly rich in great male dancers.)

Ananiashvili's technique remains solid. I have never really cared for the famous series of sautés on one pointe in Giselle's Act I solo—to me, it's a stunt step that doesn't really belong in a Romantic ballet— but she makes them look as good as they possibly can. Mainly, this dancer goes far beyond technique, and the memory that lingers is the wonderfully fluid, supernatural-looking use of her upper torso, shoulders and arms. But look at the photos. The photographer Erin Baiano, a new name to me, has really captured the salient moments of this great and charming old ballet.

Gillian Murphy, as the icy Queen of the Wilis, Myrtha, turned in her usual fine and serious work. (I wrote a profile of Gillian, a lovely and modest young woman, for Dance Magazine some time ago.) She can meet any challenge that almost any ballet throws at her. 

Giselle is one old chestnut that fully lives up to the number from A Chorus Line, "Everything Is Beautiful at the Ballet." It stands the test of time better than any older classic ballet, having the most felicitous combination of subject, scenario, music, and choreography (as much as we can know of the original, dance being such an ephemeral art and no video recording available in the 1840s). Certainly, everything was beautiful last evening. Old lithographs came to life. The legendary 19th-century ballerina Carlotta Grisi, the original Giselle, is shown at the top in an 1844 lithograph by Challamel.

Further re Giselle, I'm reminded of a puckish friend who decided that if Giselle were an opera (actually, there is one based on the same material—Puccini's early Le villi), one of the arias, set to the famous "daisy-petal" theme, would go: "I'm Giselle (la di da); I'm not well...."

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Whatever became of...?

It's been about four years now since I took this photo of a lovely little girl playing violin extremely well in front of the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoe Selo, outside of St. Petersburg. I still regret not slipping her a few coins, which was, natually, the reason she was out there playing. At least it was a beautful early-summer day. One of many regrets. Did slip a few coins to other pretty little Russian children on this trip, which was part of an excellently organized "Russia by River" tour from Moscow to St. Petersburg. I still wonder what will become of this obviously talented child. Would she receive scholarship help to study at one of Russia's many excellent music conservatories? (Even in the darkest and most repressive years of the Soviet era, Russia still produced world-class players; they have one of the truly great musical cultures.) Would she meet the right mentors who could set her on the path to a professional career? At least she was already accomplished enough to be able to play for her own pleasure for the rest of her life. 

Having worked as an editor at a prominent music conservatory, I'm aware of the great numbers of talented and accomplished musicians who are not able to make careers as performers. Fortunately, this school also has courses to prepare students for other aspects of music, e.g., the business and managerial areas. You have to want a musical career "so badly you can taste it" and be willing to slave at relatively menial jobs until you get a break. If you get a break.

This little Russian girl put the finishing touch to a lovely day for a tourist in Russia. I think that she was playing Tchaikovsky. A safe bet, anyway.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Overheard at the Turner Show

A very extensive show of J.M.W. Turner's paintings is now on view at New York's Metropolitan Museum. I've had the good fortune to see many of these previously, at the Tate Britain, the National Gallery, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The show is too large to take in on one visit, and I plan to return. To cite just one painting, you can't look at the masterpiece The Shipwreck too often; it's an experience comparable to listening to Beethoven. 

Tate Collection | The Shipwreck by Joseph Mallord William Turner

When contemplating the painting shown above, I could not, of course, help thinking of Sherlock Holmes's final struggle with Professor Moriarty at the top of the Reichenbach Falls. Though not a Baker Street Irregular, I am just as saturated with Holmesiana as most literate English speakers. As I was standing there, I heard a voice behind me murmur, "Moriarty." Amused, I turned around and said, "I was thinking the same thing. You can never hear the name 'Reichenbach' without Holmes and Moriarty coming to mind." The speaker and his companions smiled broadly.