Wednesday, June 2, 2010

I'll take Manhattan

I just got back from Memorial Day weekend in Manhattan, where I spent a decade of my life, so I will "blog nostalgic" in the next few entries. As soon as I landed, I was walking at double speed and scouring Time Out New York so that I wouldn't miss a beat; however, I soon realized that several years in Florida seemed to have altered my energy level and my ability to look past the garbage and the City smells to which I was formerly relatively oblivious.

A friend of mine told me of two welcome additions in recent months, the David Rubinstein Atrium at Lincoln Center, which offers half-priced day-of-show tickets, and Le Pain Quotidien in Sheep's Meadow. Both of these discoveries greatly enhanced my weekend, as we scored 8th row seats for the New York City ballet and delicious organic coffee smack dab in the center of the park (no need to run to Starbuck's anymore when frolicking in the park). Incidentally, I noticed that nearly everyone I saw in the park was carrying a cup of coffee, so Le Pain Quotidien is to be commended for recognizing the need for caffeine among the nature-seeking City dwellers.

The night I attended, the New York City ballet performed Donzietti Variations, which I saw last month at the Sarasota Ballet, so Iain Webb put me ahead of the game. It was interesting to compare the two versions. The most notable difference was the significance of the live orchestra. There is no question that the swells of music permeating throughout the theater added an important dimension to the performance. For the most part, other than a slightly different costume choice, the interpretations were largely the same. But, I was thrilled to see such a beautiful piece a second time. The company also performed "NY Export: Opus Jazz," to which I had also been introduced in Sarasota at this year's film festival. I was lucky enough to catch the film, "NY Export: Opus Jazz," which was created by two members (one former, one current) of the New York City ballet company, Ellen Bar and Sean Suozzi, and the filmmakers with whom they collaborated. They also screened "Ballet in Sneakers," a short documentary about the making of the longer film, which gave me a lot of insight into Robbins' 1958 piece. At that screening, I saw several of the dancers in our company gathered around Bar, and it was delightful to see the connection among this group of uber-talented dancers. So, once again, my experiences in Sarasota prepared me for the evening's performance. Seeing the piece a second time did not detract from my experience in the slightest; and in fact, it was enhanced because I could compare the two versions, one shot in empty spaces around New York City, including a warehouse, an old gymnasium, and most amazingly, the High Line (the newest park in the City, which is entirely above ground on a former railroad track). I learned that the pas de deux, "Passage for Two," which forms the centerpiece of "NY Export" was one of the earliest performances by a black man and a white woman dancing together. Both of the productions I saw (film and live) adhered to this tradition, and the performance of this portion of the piece on the abandoned railway prior to the renovations, was truly inspired. It brilliantly captured the precariousness of the relationship between the dancers, whereas the performance in the theater, as beautiful as it was, was not as fully realized as the sequence in the film.
Perhaps part of what made the film's rendition of "Passage for Two" so intriguing was knowing the history of the time period. In the same year that Robbins debuted this piece, Mildred Jeter, an African-American woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, were married in DC and then moved to Virginia, where interracial marriage was not permitted. It was not until 1967 that the United States Supreme Court determined that this law was unconstitutional and struck it down. So, the performance of this achingly human piece, particularly on the dilapated highline, with a couple of different races, has a very special meaning. The two dancers performed it nearly emotionless, allowing their bodies which moved tentatively together to reflect the attraction and the fear that they seemed to be feeling. At the close of the piece, the male dancer walks off into the sunset leaving the female dancer crouched on the tracks. This underscores how difficult a relationship between men and women of different races would have been at that time. Additionally, given the current climate regarding the constitutionality of same sex marriage, this look back at our history as a country is quite poignant.
I will have more on the rest of the trip in my next post.

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