Now playing at the Walter Kerr Theatre on Broadway.
The philosopher Bertrand Russell once said, "The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves and wiser people so full of doubts." I love that line. I think it has a great deal of truth to it, but it is incomplete. Someone overwhelmed by doubt cannot act, and sometimes circumstances demand action, even if the best path is not apparent.
John Patrick Shanley's play Doubt grapples with that: the morality of acting decisively in a painfully uncertain world. It's a beautifully crafted work, perfect in its ambiguity; when the actors come to take their bows, we still don't know for sure whether the characters acted rightly. We don't know what the truth is. We, too, have doubts.
The American Ballet Theatre at the Metropolitan Opera House on Saturday, June 24.
I don't have much use for this sort of story: A beautiful, virginal young woman, seduced by an unscrupulous man, falls into disgrace and dies tragically — but beautifully, always beautifully — as penance for her sins of the flesh. It's so eye-rollingly Victorian and dull, truly dull, because the woman is inevitably a passive figure, and any story with a passive central figure is going to be dull.
But perhaps only dull from a literary or philosophic viewpoint. Manon taught me that, when it comes to choreography, a passive central figure can be just as beautiful as the Victorians would dream. I might have rolled my eyes at the dated histrionics of the story, but I held my breath at the loveliness of the dancing.
The American Ballet Theatre at the Metropolitan Opera House on Friday, June 9.
Countless little girls attended the American Ballet Theatre's performance of Cinderella Friday night, and I wonder what they thought of it. For those who only know Cinderella through Disney, Sergei Prokofiev's score might be something of a shock. Prokofiev, one of the masters of the twentieth century, was not a bibbidi-bobbidi-boo sort of composer, and he certainly didn't write anything for a chorus of shrill, squeaky mice. His Cinderella is darkly shaded, with some truly eerie moments. The midnight music, marking Cinderella's punishment for breaking curfew, sounds almost menacing, not physically so — this isn't a Grimm story with amputated toes and Hitchcockian birds — but psychologically. Prokofiev understands what it would mean to have the substance of your dreams vanish at the stroke of a clock.
James Kudelka's choreography, given its New York premiere by the American Ballet Theatre, beautifully captures Prokofiev's evocative music. Following the composer's lead, Kudelka eschews both the violent Grimm telling and the syrupy Disney version. His story has a haunting sense of fantasy, letting Cinderella's dreamworld seep into her reality, recede and then re-establish itself with greater strength and new maturity.
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.
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.
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 New York City Ballet on Thursday, April 27.
If I were to pick a composer to write music for A Midsummer Night's Dream, I don't think I would choose Felix Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn, an early Romantic, had a sense of formality, a classical mindset, that doesn't really jibe with the fantastical nature of the Shakespeare comedy. A Midsummer Night's Dream is ultimately about sex and the psyche, and Mendelssohn's music is too prim, conjuring demure Victorian faeries instead of the ribald, sensual sprites of Shakespeare's imagination.
Then again, people commonly interpret A Midsummer Night's Dream as a benign farce instead of an earthy yet contemplative sex comedy, and Mendelssohn's music invokes the former perfectly. George Balanchine followed his lead in choreographing the work that has become part of the New York City Ballet's repertory since its premiere in 1962. It is blithe and breezy, thematically insubstantial but undeniably enchanting, featuring dancers of all ages and skill levels — from company principals to young children from the School of American Ballet.
The Metropolitan Opera on Saturday, April 15.
Le Nozze di Figaro is a soap opera, packed with disguises, infidelities, eavesdropping, improbable revelations and convoluted schemes. Figaro, Susanna, Cherubino, the Count and most of the other characters are content to live in a world of farce, but the Countess transcends the buffoonery of her peers. One of Figaro’s greatest strengths is the tension between the silliness of the story and the reality of Countess’ undeniable pain over her husband’s unfaithfulness. Mozart had the sensitivity to give the Countess dignity, and that choice elevates the entire opera.
The Kronos Quartet and Wu Man, pipa, at Carnegie Hall on Friday, April 7.
I had never heard of the pipa before I attended this concert given by the Kronos Quartet and pipa player Wu Man, but I immediately recognized the sound of the lute-like instrument from countless Asian-themed movies. Part of the joy of the concert, however, was hearing Wu Man play the instrument as part of nontraditional compositions, music that doesn’t immediately bring to mind a watercolor image of a delicate woman in a silk cheongsam.