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Two Nights

06.13.2014

At the Lyon Ballet

It was a little like watching a burlesque in slow motion. The music was industrial techno, like, I assume, they play in Berlin. The first fifteen minutes were great, but the thing never sped up, it dragged out for another forty, then abruptly ended. It was as if the dancers were given instructions only for the first few parts, afterwards left to their own sluggish defenses.

Or else, and this is more apposite, as if they’d been drugged, and the intoxicant slow to take effect. Imagery-wise it was dark and comic and ominous and a couple shades of futuristic. Based on the (depressingly–this is NYC, no?) philistine comments of the crowd I overheard walking out, if you were over forty you probably hated the music, but I thought it was great, as well as fitting. The dancers too, were good, but, though they achieve a kind of ecstasy in the end–seemingly handed to them without any effort or volition–they never reach their potential.

They never seemed to reach for anything, which I think was one of the main ideas. In the two most recent modern dance performances I’ve been to boredom has been a key element. That’s not backhanded. Boredom is a legitimate, and necessary, facet of the contemporary arts. In dance, a medium of movement, a medium of the most physically fit forms and strong healthy bodies you’re likely to see in public, this can be painful to watch, similar to those dreams in which you are fleeing but can’t run as fast as you know you’re capable of. In that sense, perhaps the idea of boredom has a greater role to be played out in dance than in literature or film (music is the only major form to so far resist the call to tackle the problem of boredom (is this true?); painting, it could be argued, as well, although I think there’s a heavy dose of boredom in much of contemporary painting, intended or not). Imagine watching a group of taut bodies creeping and twisting in achingly slow motion as a parable for your day in the cubicle, your early afternoons cleaning the house, insomniac evenings surfing the web.

That the costumes were wild and the music driving only extended this effect. Lots of flash and noise in modern culture, little forward progress (I mean that on the personal, the spiritual, level). In the end, our needs are pretty basic, exercise and expression of the mind and body. Unfortunately, our modern instruments and lifestyles tend to channel these into ever narrower conduits. You can shuffle around all you want, busily entertained and shallowly garrulous–none of it gets the blood moving like it should.

[And one more note on the audience (because it feels good to pick on these people). You, who neglected to silence your cell phone, who cough more than a tubercular patient, who, an inveterate whisperer, can’t keep your mouth shut when your concentration lags for even a few seconds–you, who could be heard shifting and sighing and then booing at the close of the curtain–you are neither respected nor countenanced, you are not an arbiter of taste, but the opposite, which I suppose would be an immoral imposter. You lack discernment, tact, and any hint of elegance. You are all New Yorkers who seem to think the fact of living here gives you some cultural clout even when your artistic intelligence remains below the third grade level. It doesn’t. You are annoying fools. I hope to not see you at the next show.]

Carnegie Hall

The last time the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt was in NYC was the year of my birth. A fitting getting-older gift, then, to see him and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra at a gala event at Carnegie Hall. As my first time to this Manhattan landmark, it was a swooning affair. I was very near the stage (Pärt was in the row behind me, toward the middle; directly in front of him was, you guessed it, Keanu Reeves), the acoustics were solid and, except for the couple next to me (I’m not making this up, maybe I attract these buffoons) the crowd was hushed with reverence. Carnegie Hall is one of the last large buildings in NYC to be built entirely of masonry, no steel frame, which, when viewed from the inside, seems incredible. But there it is, anciently-constructed music reverberating off anciently-constructed walls.

Nothing more to say; plenty more to see.

Tallinn Chamber Orchestra

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