Slow Dancing

On display at Lincoln Center through July 29.

It’s such a simple concept: Director David Michalek filmed solo dancers at an incredible one thousand frames per second and then stretched a few seconds’ worth of footage over a full ten minutes. Each dancer appears several stories high, foregrounded against a stark black background, every moment given meaning and weight by the protracted pace.

Striking and rapturously beautiful, Slow Dancing is the kind of display that holds your attention for ages. (I sat outside for more than an hour before I realized how late it had become.) The dancers represent virtually every conceivable style and genre. Some images look like enchanted still photographs, so gradual and incremental are the movements. Dancers in other sequences move too quickly to create that illusion yet still appear other-worldly, the extraordinarily deliberate speed illuminating gestures and details that might otherwise have been lost in the frenzy.

The return of fun with music videos

“Hey There Delilah,” Plain White T’s; “What’s a Girl to Do,” Bat For Lashes; and “Teenagers,” My Chemical Romance.

I haven’t written about music videos in a while, but the heat and humidity of summertime shortens my attention span and makes bumming around inside on the Internet that much more appealing. So once again, here are a few of the videos that made me pause in my compulsive YouTube clicking.

Bleak House


Contemporary culture often views a drama’s moral complexity as an indicator of its quality. The Sopranos is, I think, one of the best examples of that. We point to how Tony was sympathetic and recognizably human despite the fact that he was a murderous mobster as evidence of the show’s sophistication. Ethical shades of gray have become shorthand for artistic merit, and that’s reasonable, I guess, to a point. Progressing beyond cookie-cutter characters and recognizing the fallibility of heroes require some degree of maturity.

But that line of thinking can easily be oversimplified and perverted. Merely trying to turn an villain into a hero isn’t in and of itself a marker of quality, and using patently archetypal characters doesn’t necessarily indicate a lack of depth or value. I thought about that latter point, in particular, as I watched the 2005 BBC adaptation of Bleak House by Charles Dickens. Dickens is so broad by today’s standards—with saintly, self-effacing protagonists and vile, duplicitous antagonists—and yet Bleak House is a skillfully told, thoroughly absorbing tale. I sped through eight hours’ worth of Victorian melodrama as quickly as Netflix would send me the next DVD.

Moscow on the Hudson

The New York Philharmonic (not the Robin Williams movie, god forbid) on Thursday, July 5.

Programming a relatively casual concert entirely with music by Russian composers is sort of brilliant because much of the Russian canon is quite accessible to a lay audience. Memorable folk-like melodies, dazzling orchestration, and an infectious sense of vigor permeate the catalog. But thinking about that too hard always makes me sort of queasy.

Sure, you see the roots of that open, of-the-people quality in the nineteenth century, when Russian composers, led by Mily Balakirev, championed an essentially “Russian” style that embraced traditional Slavic musical elements. The influence of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, a truly gifted orchestrator, also helped Russian music capture large audiences. But in the twentieth century, musical style became a state matter, with Stalin condemning composers to the gulag for the crime of “formalism.” So when I listen to some of the more crowd-pleasing works of Khachaturian or Shostakovich or Prokofiev, I always wonder, Is this what he would have written if a charge of elitism didn’t carry the threat of death? And if I enjoy it, does that put me in an aesthetic camp with Stalin? I know that’s incredibly silly and simplistic, but it bothers me nonetheless, and it saddens me that Stalin’s shadow still lingers over Russian music, even years after the fall of Communism.

Of course, such self-indulgent, over-serious ruminations are not at all the point of the Philharmonic’s “Moscow on the Hudson” program, part of its Summertime Classics series. That’s just me. And once I got over freaking out over a new bit of trivia (Did you know that the original text for Peter and the Wolf identified Peter as a Communist Pioneer?), I had a good time. It’s hard not to enjoy classical Russian music.


In theaters.

When traditional hand-drawn animation studios suffer, commentators often point to Pixar, the shining jewel of American animation, for an explanation. “See?” they say. “The future is in computer animation. Like Pixar.”

That assessment breaks my heart. How can someone look at Toy Story or Finding Nemo or The Incredibles and determine that they owe their superiority to the use of pixels rather than brush strokes? Of course the animation is visually striking, even groundbreaking, but that’s not what makes those movies worth treasuring. Pixar is special not because they use computers or even because they use those computers well. Pixar is special because the people who work there are great storytellers. It really is that simple.

The studio’s latest, Ratatouille, lives up to the Pixar standard with charm, gentle humor, and a love letter to the enduring joy of cooking.

Romeo and Juliet

Shakespeare in the Park, presented by the Public Theater, on Saturday, June 30.

The tagline for this season’s Shakespeare in the Park is “Free Love.” You see those words plastered on buses and in subway stations, and it strikes me as ironic because Oscar Isaac and Lauren Ambrose, playing the parts of Romeo and Juliet, interpreted their roles with the least amount of romanticism I’ve even seen in a production of the play. In their hands, real love barely figured into the tragedy.

I don’t mean that as criticism. Despite the Prince’s final speech—with its facile “feuds are bad” moral and canonization of the poor foolish teenagers—I’ve always felt that Romeo and Juliet is ultimately about the dangers of rash decision-making, and not just on the part of the title characters. Mercutio’s heedless push to crash the Capulets’ party, Tybalt’s pugnacious insistence of dueling, and Lord Capulet’s impulsive decision to marry off his daughter (despite his earlier vow that he would only do so with her assent)—to name just three examples—all play into the disastrous chain of events that leave not two but, lest we forget, six people dead.

I’m not sure whether director Michael Grief intended his production to be read this way, but in my eyes, Isaac’s Romeo never matured from impetuous to passionate, and Ambrose’s Juliet did so only fleetingly. Partly because of that and partly because of the great use of humor in the earlier acts, Romeo and Juliet became less sentimental, less about love and more about the folly of youth.