Winter Homebound Antidotes

With the weather still unreliable, what better way to hibernate than snuggling indoors with a good book. I got a plethora of them over the holidays, most of which dealt in some way with my favorite decade, the 1930s- an era with plenty of political and economic turmoil, but which certainly delivered the goods in other ways. With Hollywood's star system turning out classics, composers like Cole Porter and the Gershwins creating the Great American Songbook, a fervently alive Broadway, Deco architecture, superbly streamlined women's fashions that continue to inspire designers today, the best cars and luxury liners, it was an era of unsurpassed elegance and creativity. Comment


Pandering is nothing new in the theater. In fact, "Give 'em what they want" is one of the unofficial mottoes of showbiz. That's all very well when expressed in an excess of dancing girls or chorus boys, but when it comes to political theater, or theater of ideas, one must tread more carefully. Comment

Leaps of Faith

In "Grace," the acclaimed London import now making its US premiere at the Lucille Lortel Theater, religion is a prickly conundrum. And playwrights Mick Gordon and AC Grayling underscore this point straightaway by naming the main character, an ardent atheist and natural science professor, Grace, which, among its myriad definitions, means "touched by God." Comment

Heroic Tenor

The wonderful final performance of "Die Walkuere" on February 9 proved the theory that the most important factor in operatic performance is the conductor. The work was prepared and led for five strong but -- on the live evidence of the second show and from broadcast snippets -- rather odd performances by Lorin Maazel. Comment

Masochism Changes Things

During his stay in the US, German director Max Ophuls wanted to film Honoré de Balzac's novella "The Duchess of Langeais" with Greta Garbo and James Mason, but he was never able to make it. Jacques Rivette's cruel melodrama gives some idea what that film might have been like. His version of the story seems utterly consistent with his long-term concerns, yet at 79, he's still breaking new ground. Comment


Despite empty seats at every performance of Yanira Castro + Company at Dance Theater Workshop, it'll be standing room only for her new evening-length work. A dance installation with an immersive visual and sound environment, "Center of Sleep" features a collapsible, mobile set, with mini-stages that open out and close again. There is no seating, and the audience will have to choose where to stand, when to move, and what, if anything, to do. Comment

Trisha Brown Takes a Bow

Trisha Brown, a founding member of the Judson Dance Theater, helped invent post-modern dancing -- where fluent, energetically ravishing motion replaces the modern dance notion of creatively designed postures. In Brown's lubricated kinetic poetry, bodies let gravity impel them in ways that often look accidental because of the dancers' seemingly casual attack and the physical inevitability of the movement, even though it is carefully calibrated and precisely choreographed. Comment


Despite empty seats at every performance of Yanira Castro + Company at Dance Theater Workshop, it'll be standing room only for her new evening-length work. Comment

Gloomy and Profound

Quiet desperation pulses in the magnificent revival of "Come Back, Little Sheba," now at Manhattan Theatre Club. The play is often considered a mid-20th-century chestnut - remembered mostly for Shirley Booth's portrayal of Lola. Though potentially stilted and slow to a contemporary audience, "Little Sheba" is nonetheless a heartbreaking and powerful work of theater that elevates it beyond a simple period piece. Playwright William Inge didn't shy away from the difficulty of life. He gave us a naturalistic portrait of people doing the best they can. Comment

Problematic Puccini

Even though Puccini's first successful opera is called "Manon Lescaut," the eponymous party girl is not the real protagonist of the work. By far a more interesting character-and the recipient of Puccini's most grateful music - is her lover Des Grieux. Comment

New Mexico State of Mind

Space, color and light merge in little-known works by Richard Diebenkorn, created between 1950 and 1952 as a graduate student at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. This handsome group of 40 paintings, drawings, and gouaches show Diebenkorn finding his way with a freedom and lightness of touch. Warm colors and translucent layers of paint echo the effects of light and air in the surrounding New Mexico landscape. Comment

Truths and Consequences

The first decade of this young, nervous century may be remembered as, among other things, the documentary decade. After a couple of recent "expanded" editions, it seems only inevitable that "Documentary Fortnight," MoMA's annual nonfiction sampling, would by a kind of meiosis now be flanked fore and aft by two other doc assortments, together billed as "Doc Month." It's raining docs. Comment

Extreme Aesthetic

It's hard to make generalizations about a program as broad as the 2008 lineup of "Film Comment Selects," which ranges from zombie movies to experimental documentaries. As I noted last year, the series is far more open to provocation and potential controversy than its big brother, the New York Film Festival. Comment

Capital Collection

City Dance, a 12-year-old repertory company from Washington, DC, made its New York debut at Joyce SoHo, February 1-3, with a program of eight dances by nine choreographers. Note to artistic director -- programming so many works by different choreographers, even brief ones, in a single evening does disservice to the choreography. An audience can't really absorb so many artistic points of view in one sitting, so their attention turns instead to the versatility of the dancers. Comment

Super Nova

The availability of new media technology has been reshaping live dance and performance for more than a generation now. Video, in particular, and digital technologies such as motion capture and 3D animation are increasingly integrated into a genre primarily focused on the living body. With few notable exceptions, this integration has fallen short, with the flesh being overwhelmed by the electronic signal - without intention. Comment


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