Scènes de Ballet, Divertimento from “Le Baiser de la Fée,” Duo Concertant, and Firebird

The New York City Ballet on Sunday, May 28.

I wanted to go to this particular New York City Ballet program because each segment was set to music by Igor Stravinsky. I knew the company's crisp neoclassic aesthetic would perfectly match Stravinsky's later music, and I was eager to see how the dancers would interpret Firebird, one of the composer's earliest works, written when he still indulged in romantic and primitivist styles. As it turned out, the company's Firebird was the last piece on the program and by far my least favorite of the afternoon. I was sorry to see it all end on such a disappointing note.

X-Men: The Last Stand

In theaters.

Superman Returns had better be a damn good movie. When director Bryan Singer left the X-Men franchise to tackle the Man of Steel, I felt a tiny bit betrayed. He was the one who had introduced me to the X-Men and made me care about them, and now he was leaving them to the tender mercies of Brett Ratner, the director behind such cinematic masterpieces as Rush Hour, Rush Hour 2 and After the Sunset. My reaction was terribly unfair, of course, to Singer and Ratner both, but it wasn't unjustified. I truly wish I'd been wrong, but X-Men: The Last Stand is exactly the blundering, empty action flick I feared it would be.

Whitney Biennial 2006: Day for Night

Survey exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art through May 28.

The Whitney Museum of American Art always intimidates me. I appreciate the hulking, modernist building, but it's not exactly welcoming. It makes me feel small and lowly, unworthy and perhaps incapable of appreciating what lies within. Because of my inferiority complex (and to be fair, I'm easily intimidated, so architect Marcel Breuer is probably not to blame), I put off attending the Whitney's biennial survey of contemporary art until the closing of the exhibition was imminent. But once I accustomed myself to the windowless rooms and low-ceilinged stairwell, I enjoyed meandering among the paintings and sculptures and installations.

The biennial had a theme, "Day for Night," which referred to the artifice of American culture, but I can't begin to think of everything I saw under the blanket of a single overarching idea, however open. I can't even begin to write about the biennial as a whole. Instead, I'm going to write about a few of my favorite works at the enormously varied exhibition.

The Promise

In theaters.

I'm a sucker for Chinese martial arts fantasies, the sort of movies in which warriors fly the air, so courageous and passionate that even the laws of physics can't bind them to the ground. The previews for The Promise made me smile with anticipation. Gorgeous costumes, dance-like battles, mythic stories, and a tragic woman escaping from a birdcage — what's not to love?

A lot, as it turns out. The Promise is no feast for the eyes; it's cheap fast food: synthetic, flavorless and dull.

Liebeslieder Waltzer, The Red Violin, and Evenfall

The New York City Ballet on Saturday, May 20.

As much as I enjoy story ballets, there's something to be said for dance unhindered by narrative or melodrama, dance for the sake of dance, and on Saturday evening, the New York City Ballet showcased that kind of neoclassical dance beautifully.

Great Composers of the Renaissance

Voices of Ascension on Thursday, May 18.

Good choral blend is difficult to describe and even more difficult to develop, but the Voices of Ascension have it. Under the direction of Dennis Keene, each talented singer adopts the same warm, full tone. Singling out an individual voice would be impossible; the choir has but a single voice. For a few moments, the singers are one instrument.

The Penelopiad

By Margaret Atwood. Published in 2005.

Some parents worry about whether reading the original Grimm fairy tales to children is appropriate. My mother was not one of those people. In fact, she went a step further: She read Greek myths to my younger brother and me. Greek myths match Grimm's violence and add sex for good measure. We grew up on stories of young women fleeing lustful gods, children cut down to punish their irreverent parents, and unfortunate mortals turned into bears, stags and trees by vengeful deities — and we loved it.

I always gravitated to the myths and legends about strong women, so Penelope, wife of Odysseus, both impressed and frustrated me. Penelope stood up to the legion of suitors who sought to win her hand — and her throne — in her husband's long absence following the Trojan War. She put them off with clever deceptions and sheer will, but Odysseus simply didn't seem worth the trouble to me. He was unfaithful, selfish and smug, and I felt quite sure that wise, loyal Penelope could do better.

Margaret Atwood seems to have similarly mixed feelings about Penelope, whose story she retells in The Penelopiad.


On DVD. 

The tagline for Ninotchka, released in 1939, was simply "Garbo laughs!" That's all they needed to sell the movie: the novelty of the solemn dramatic actress in a comedy. Even today, the famous scene in which Greta Garbo's stern character finally breaks down is incandescent. She doesn't giggle in a ladylike manner. She howls, her body bent double, her eyes squeezed shut, her hand pounding the table in appreciation. I don't know how anyone could watch that scene and not laugh along with her.


By Octavia Butler. Published in 1979. 

When writer Octavia Butler died a few months ago, her obituaries intrigued me. They described how she used science fiction to discuss individuality and conformity, outsiders and insiders, history, identity, and humanity — all from her nearly unique perspective in the genre as a black woman. This, I thought, was writing I wanted to experience.

Other people must have had the same thought because the library had a waiting list for Kindred, Butler's best-known book. It was worth the wait. Kindred is a perfect example of the best kind of science fiction: The fantastical traits of the genre are not themselves the point but simply a way to get at genuine truths from a perspective realism couldn't achieve.