Category Archives: theatre

Favorite Dance and Theatre of 2012

From revivals and reconstructions to lots of messing with Shakespeare to surreal dance and immersive experiences, this was a great year to go out and see theatre and dance, which I did, forgoing sleep in 2012 for coffee. I’ve listed some of my favorites below and am probably leaving some things out. My goal for 2013 is to get out and see more emerging performances and continue to explore the NYC theatre scene. If you want to join me, that would be wonderful. I’m sure it will be an adventure.

[See Also: Favorite Concerts of 2012Theatre Highlights of 2011]

Einstein on the Beach | Brooklyn Academy of Music

Einstein on the Beach

I’m disappointed in myself that I never really found the time to write down my thoughts on Einstein on the Beach (although I did do an article for ARTINFO on Philip Glass’ talk about the production). Nothing I saw this year stunned me as much as seeing this sprawling, mesmerizing meditation on genius from 1976 revived under the oversight of its creators: Philip Glass, Robert Wilson, and Lucinda Childs. At four and a half hours with no intermission, it’s quite a monolithic piece of theatre (it’s called an opera, yet impossible to classify), but I completely lost track of time in Glass’ famously cycling score (it was hard not to count my steps in rhythm in the following days… 123…456), and seeing Wilson’s wild spaceship with its swirling lights at the end (and a performer clad in black recreating his frenetic flashlight dance) was something I truly thought I would never see in person (this was its first time in NYC in 20 years). I can’t get the music out of my head, and you can be assured that although I haven’t written directly about the beauty of those violin solos rising above the swell of numbers or the sight of a train strangely gliding at glacial speeds onto the stage, it’s haunting everything that I write.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? | Booth Theatre

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Martha and George, sad, sad, sad. Edward Albee’s ferocious Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is back via Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company, and if you are reading this now and are in NYC and have not see it, go. But be warned, it’s not a tame “woolf,” and I definitely lost some sleep after seeing this total wreck of a couple played by Tracy Letts and Amy Morton pull their guests into their brutal games of sadism, landing all their punches. Letts is especially brilliant as George, and knowing that the actor and writer (who penned August Osage County) is from Oklahoma does give me a lot of statehood pride.

Death of a Salesman | Ethel Barrymore Theatre

Death of a Salesman

Remember when you read Death of a Salesman in high school and wondered why those loser characters would ever get themselves into situations with miserable jobs and lousy prospects? Ugh, well, seeing it as an “adult” makes it a lot more depressing, the disappointments of life more personal (this isn’t a cry for help, just that you start to understand how jobs and houses and insurance and all that can fill up idealism when you get out there in the world). This year’s Broadway revival with Philip Seymour Hoffman as Willy Loman was in fact stupendously depressing, with the actor completely embodying the pathetic character that you desperately want to succeed somehow, but you know is doomed to the real, unremarkable, death of a salesman. Between this and Woolf, Broadway this year was breaking my heart, although seeing all this amazing acting made it worthwhile.

Gatz | Public Theater

Gatz

This was definitely the year for intrepidly long theatre, and to go along with Einstein on the Beach‘s over four hour run was the Elevator Repair Service’s Gatzat nearly eight hours. Of course, there were intermissions and a break for dinner, but it was still a lot of time watching each and every word of The Great Gatsby being read on a stage that was decorated to look like the most boring office you’ve ever seen. (Think old computers, towers of files no one will read, dreary gray color scheme.) A large part of the credit for making this compelling theatre was Scott Shepherd, who served as narrator, and thus Nick Carraway, while his coworkers gradually morphed into the rest of the devastating characters, and making me hear Fitzgerald’s words with a freshness that I didn’t think possible.

Roman Tragedies | Brooklyn Academy of Music

Roman Tragedies

Yet another epic! This at five and a half hours long and coming from the Netherlands. Ivo van Hove’s Roman Tragedies combined Shakespeare’s Corolianus, Julius Caesar, and Antony and Cleopatra into one exploration of politics and news media. The audience was able to walk on stage and get a drink, and then huddle around televisions while the action played out around them, all in Dutch. It made for a great visual from the theatre, seeing all these people watching the play on video while the actors yelled around them. Brutus’ eulogy of Caesar became the press conference it was always meant to be, just as Antony’s eulogy perfectly became televangelist-tinged preaching. This deserves some in depth writing sometime, but for now here’s an interview I did with van Hove for ARTINFO that you can read here.

Orpheus & Eurydice | Lincoln Center

Orpheus & Eurydice

The Paris Opera Ballet’s first visit to NYC in 15 years included this gorgeous and haunting performance of Orpheus & Eurydice, the Greek story of a man who goes to the underworld to retrieve his lost lover, only to lose her again. As I wrote on my blog back in July, this was the first time I’d ever seen people cry at the ballet, but it was well-earned through the Pina Bausch choreography with its touches of the unsettling surreal and the pounding music of Christoph Willibald Gluck.

Richard III | Brooklyn Academy of Music

Richard III

Kevin Spacey was completely and gleefully insane as the title misshapen king in this Shakespeare tragedy produced by Sam Mendes (who also directed Spacey in American Beauty). He tumbled (literally) across the stage as a sort of disturbing vaudeville-style villain, hunched over with his braced leg and murdering his way to power. The staging was unapologetically bleak, and it will be hard to forget the final scene when Richard III ends up losing his kingdom and life on the battlefield (all for the want of a horse), and Space was suspended by his feet to dangle above the stage.

Les Misérables | Queens Theatre London

Les Miserables

When I went to London in April, I had to work some theatre into my schedule, and there was no question I was going to at least see Les Misérables, my not-so-secret young obsession (which I first saw in London back in… what, 1997 or so? Ages!). I ended up seeing it twice, because why not, and somehow even knowing every single note of the musical doesn’t stop its emotional resonance. Plus, Hadley Fraser as Javert certainly didn’t hurt… PS, you may know there’s a movie out, unless you’re in a media blackout. Can a Broadway revival be too far off?

Sweeney Todd | Adelphi Theatre London

Sweeney Todd

Also while in London I saw one of the most disturbing productions of Sweeney Todd that I’ve witnessed (this is including the John Doyle version, also in London, with a bucket of blood and coffin as practically the sole props). This was all thanks to Michael Ball, of all people. I had no idea the usually bubbly London stage fixture had such darkness inside of him, and it made for an absolutely wonderful and terrifying Sweeney Todd, the barber who drips rubies from the necks of his customers, who are then put into meat pies by his partner-in-crime Mrs. Lovett (who was played brilliantly by Imelda Staunton). Will Sondheim’s grim music ever again sound so delightfully devious?

Sans Objet | Brooklyn Academy of Music

Sans Objet

Sans Objet was one of the coolest things I saw all year. Two acrobatic men clad in suits interacted with a giant robot arm and it was at times ominous and beautiful, and unlike anything I’d seen before. I wrote about it for Hyperallergic in the context of robotics art, and while that was an essential part of it, it also was just a great theatre experience, with a central character that was riveting, even if it was a machine.

The Shining | New York Live Arts

The Shining

This reconstruction of Yvonne Meier’s early 90s dance experience, in which you are thrown, pulled, and pushed through a cardboard box maze teeming with dancers who are equally physical with their movement, was intense. And I haven’t even mentioned the ride there from New York Live Arts in a van with the “naked lady” who served shots of Jameson. I was rather nervous going into this, but it ended up being a total thrill and I would even go again for the first five minutes alone of suddenly being in total darkness with only the sudden flashlights of the dancers to pull you into the labyrinth. (Read my more thorough ARTINFO review here.)

Then She Fell | Greenpoint Hospital 

Then She Fell

A couple of years ago I went to something called the Steampunk Haunted House, and while it definitely was more steampunky than scary, I was impressed with what Third Rail Projects was able to pull off with a limited space and budget in terms of creating a totally immersive experience. So I was curious this year when they were staging an Alice in Wonderland-inspired experience called Then She Fell in an old hospital. It turned out to be an artfully done production, with dancers and actors leading you through mirrors and strange rooms (Lewis Carroll’s room with the floor broken and filled with water that he waded through, floating with messages in bottles that you helped dictate, is one of the most beautiful things I saw this year) where you encountered the White Rabbit, Red Queen, and a couple Alices (all set in a mental hospital). Sure, the pacing wasn’t perfect and there were awkward moments where you were sort of paired up with an audience member in what could have been a more intimate experience with the space, but I was highly impressed. I believe it will be sticking around, so keep an eye out and go if you can!

Annie | Palace Theatre

Annie

Here’s something I never thought I would write: the current Broadway production of Annie is actually really enjoyable. I went for the sole reason of seeing Anthony Warlow, who I have adored, but have never had the chance to see as the Australian rarely ventures to the States. He was playing Warbucks, and while my heart fluttered to hear him sing, I found myself surprisingly having a good time as this staging of the orphan classic. Lilla Crawford is great as Annie without being annoying, as are her hard knock friends, and Kate Finneran was hilarious as a bedraggled Miss Hannigan. Who knows, maybe I’ll go again… shock!

Peter and the Starcatcher | Brooks Atkinson Theatre

Peter and the Starcatcher

With its DIY aesthetic and dozen cast members becoming everything from a ship tossed in the waves to a hungry crocodile, Peter and the Starcatcher was an endearing tale of how Peter Pan became Peter Pan. Yes, the humor could be kind of one-off and pop culture heavy (ex: “this is as elusive as the melody in a Philip Glass opera”), but there will never, ever be a hand severing scene quite like that performed by Christian Borle who played Black Stache (and ultimately became Captain Hook). Borle really owned the show (and earned that Tony) with his swaggering and silly pirate leader, with the rest of the cast equally committed to this magical piece of group theatre.

Once | Bernard B Jacobs Theater

Once

I was skeptical about Once. How could the stage version of this film be as good without its talented creators Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová? But Steve Kazee and Cristin Milioti proved to be just as touching as the musicians who meet on the streets of Dublin and fall into a sort of love story, one that’s fated to fragment before it forms. All of the cast played some sort of instrument, which made the stage in a constant flow of music and movement. I hope there can be more musicals like this, that make each song more than just bombastic emotion and instill intensity in the music that is necessary to the story. This is another one I recommend go seeing if you haven’t yet.

Macbeth | Lincoln Center

Macbeth

I will see Alan Cumming in anything, he’s so damn charming. Here in his one-man performance of Macbeth (well, helped by a couple of wandering doctors), he embodied all the characters in a manic ramble held inside a bleak mental asylum. While it might actually have been better if he had a few more people to play off of, I loved watching his quick and chaotic fall through Shakespeare that at the end looped back to the beginning with the reappearance of the two doctors: “When shall we three met again?”

ALSO GOOD:

Believe it or not, this is only a fragment of what I saw this year. Here are some others that stood out: Tribes (wonderful exploration of language and communication and sound design), Carrie (yes, that Stephen King Carrie, with catchy songs and a too-short run), Goodbar (another musical about murder, this with band Bambi bringing lots of glam rock), Book of Mormon (which I need to give another chance, as I felt deathly ill when seeing this, but I could tell through the fever that it has probably earned its hype), The Caretaker (not perfect, as it is with Pinter, but Jonathan Pryce was fantastic), Much Ado About Nothing (staged on Roosevelt Island in the outdoors, highly fun), Into the Woods (in Central Park where the stars behind the stage’s forest made it seem like the production had actually wandered from the woods), Faust (circus-meets-the-devil), Como el musguito (Pina Bausch’s last piece, with the dancers dancing their solos in beautiful cyclones making up for a less engaging ramble of a production)….

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Paris Opera Ballet’s Orpheus & Eurydice

Last weekend I saw something I’d never seen before: tears at the ballet. I was at Lincoln Center to see the Paris Opera Ballet perform Orpheus & Eurydice, an adaptation of the Greek story of the man who goes all the way to the netherworld to retrieve his lost love. There is one condition, however, that he not look back at Eurydice before they are above in the land of the living. Of course, this being a Greek tragedy, Orpheus can’t help himself, and has to watch his beloved disappear back into death forever, and he in turn gives up his life to the first people who will take it.

The moment for the crying came at the end of the three act performance at that fatal moment, at least from the woman next to me, but the whole ballet was emotionally stunning. The ballet was choreographed by Pina Bausch, who passed away in 2009, but a documentary on her evocative dance choreography called Pina, which I highly recommend, came out last year to an incredibly enthusiastic reception, so the interest in her work is high.

It was first performed by the Paris Opera Ballet in 2005, but was originally choreographed and staged by Bausch in 1975 (this performance was also the first time for the Paris Opera Ballet to come to NYC in 15 years). However, it hardly looks its age and felt energetic and fresh from as soon as the curtain opened on the haunting first scene, where a suspended woman draped in a shroud was upstage from a frozen bride perched high above the writhing dancers, while a strange dead tree was horizontal to their left. The whole production was beautifully presented, and I think that some moments of it will be unsettling me for a while. The main characters were played by both dancers and opera singers, who mirrored their emotional movements, while a choir and pounding orchestra performed from the pit.

The ending and the beginning were the most powerful, both emphasizing the themes of grief and death that punctuated every scene. Even if you did not know the story, or didn’t care about ballet, the sense of longing between the trembling Eurydice at the end and cowering Orpheus would grab you. And the music by Christoph Willibald Gluck… it doesn’t let you go.

Anyway, I could type for ages on this and never adequately convey the gorgeous grief of Orpheus & Eurydice, so maybe this will help:

And if you ever get the chance, please go and see this! And I really must get out to the ballet more. I had no idea what I was missing.

 

Tagged

Manhattan Cocktail Classic at Sleep No More

I remember the first time I went to see Sleep No More, the immersive theatrical take on Macbeth, over a year ago, I thought I might need to go just one more time to wrap my mind around what I’d witnessed. Now, somehow, this Monday I reached my tenth visit, yet the show still holds some mystery and draw in its beauty that has yet to fade for me. I haven’t done a recap in a while because I feared they might get a little repetitive, but this ended up being one of my favorite evenings, and there are details I want to remember.

This particular visit was especially wonderful, as it was part of the Manhattan Cocktail Classic, a festival of events revolving around glorious mixed drinks, and was featuring Bowmore scotch whiskey cocktails all evening. I love scotch whiskey perhaps as much as I love Sleep No More, so I did not doubt it was going to be an enjoyable experience, yet I wasn’t prepared for quite how extraordinary it was. I went with my friend Sean who hadn’t been before, and we found ourselves checking in with the first round of guests. After quickly drinking a Taxidermy After Dark cocktail (I mean, it was pretty much named so that I would consume 20 of them), we found ourselves in the elevator. I love to arrive early as you get to experience the space alone before the crowds later in the night, although this night it never actually got that busy. It was probably the best audience I’ve experienced, aside from the guy who shoved me into a wall to get a one-on-one with Malcolm (I hope that he then enjoyed being shoved into a wall himself), but I didn’t see one person check their phone and the linked couples were rare. The first round of the ballroom scene where many of the characters arrive for a party had only a few other people watching, and Lady Macduff actually walked over to pass out into my arms since I was the only person on her side of the ballroom.

“Macbeth seeing the ghost of Banquo” by Théodore Chassériau (from WikiCommons)

What I continue to find fascinating about Sleep No More is how from different angles a scene can change, how different characters and the actors who play them can alter your perspective on this tragic story. I found that often I was watching a scene with a character where previously I thought the other character was alone. I even discovered a whole room that I had no idea existed, which is insane for how much time I’ve spent in this space. (Technically, over a day.) This happened when I followed Banquo, who I later found out was played by the extraordinary dancer Tony Bordonaro. I guess I had never stuck with this character long enough for his whole arc (the characters go in roughly hour-long loops of the performance which repeats three times), and was just blown away by the gorgeous, acrobatic movement throughout the choreography. It’s been a while since I was dancing, but having done ballet, pointe, and lyrical for about ten years I still have a great admiration for how good dancers can make precise control and challenging movement look so fluid and natural. (Actually, between Sleep No More and seeing the film Pina, I’ve decided to start taking dance again, although modern instead of ballet.) For those of you who haven’t read Macbeth recently, Banquo receives a prophecy, like Macbeth, from the witches. However, his is that he himself will not be king, but his descendants will be. Macbeth murders Banquo in his quest for power (in Sleep No More this is one of the more violent scenes), although his son Fleance escapes. Banquo’s ghost later shows up to haunt Macbeth, also depicted in Sleep No More in an unsettling fashion.

Anyway, let us step back from the Shakespeare recaps and return to Sleep No More, which is much more an interpretation of the mood and tone of Macbeth than a chronicle of each of its plot points. I oddly found myself alone watching Banquo in some of the most striking dances, including a writhing, tortured scene that occurs during Duncan’s murder and a gravity-defying dance in a coat room. I realize of course that the dancers perform whether or not anyone is watching in Sleep No More, but I still felt really honored to witness these amazing performances with silence around me. This all led to the room I had never seen, where I found myself alone with Banquo, who removed my mask and revealed that I was in fact Fleance. I will not spoil exactly what happens, but I did end up with ashes and oil on my hands. Whether or not this was why when I found myself right after dancing with the Boy Witch he could not stop laughing I’m not sure. Maybe he thought I had been digging around in the graveyard.

I roamed around for a while after that, taking in the space without the usual swell of people. The other character who I really spent a significant amount of time with was the Taxidermist. You can return to my original choice of Bowmore cocktail and leave your surprise there. The guy who was playing him this night, and I didn’t see him after so I’m not sure of the name, was so wonderfully creepy. He was cleaning bones in the taxidermy shop and drooling everywhere, and also chipping out pieces of marrow and eating them. He even played a shoulder bone like a violin with a file, making a dreadful screeching noise, and then put all the bones in a glass cabinet while experimenting with the different horrid creaking noises the lid could make. For some reason, everyone else in the audience left. At one point he reached over and felt my spine, testing the size of the bones, and then gripped my arm and brought me into a dark room where he seemed to look over other aspects of my skeleton. I thought of how the Irish Giant must have felt when gazed at by the anatomist John Hunter. Other strange stuff happened, and it was definitely more sinister and creepy than my encounter with another taxidermist during a previous Sleep No More visit. I love how different actors interpret the characters. Yes, the choreography and paths are the same, but just like Macbeth read by one actor can be dramatically different from the next, so can dance and the spirit of the characters.

Although I had intended to take a break at the bar for another cocktail, the time got away from me and I found myself at the end. I was transfixed watching the final banquet scene and thinking about the hours before and didn’t realize that Mrs. Danvers, the maid referencing a character from Hitchcock’s Rebecca, was standing beside me until I felt hands on my shoulders and saw her cowering behind me so she didn’t have to watch the horrible conclusion to Macbeth’s murderous journey. (I feel fine spoiling the end of a 400 year old play, so sorry if you did not know that Macbeth dies.) She ended up escorting me to the hotel lobby where the after party was to take place and left me with an ominous letter from Macbeth to Lady Macbeth.

The after party was fantastic. Every drink I had was delicious and I definitely have to do more Manhattan Cocktail Classic events next year. I regret that I missed their gala in the New York Public Library, because in addition to Sleep No More and scotch whiskey, I also take great joy in books and old libraries. Sometimes I am amazed at how many passionate obsessions I can contain within my head.

So will I go again? Well, that’s actually already been decided as yes and there are tickets to my name. I won’t give you the date so you won’t stage the intervention. But as long as it stays open and it continues to wrap me in its world I will not regret more visits. It’s interesting how it has made me think about engaging with art in other contexts as well. I was at the opening of Tom Sach’s Mission Mars exhibit at the Armory last night (don’t worry, I’ll definitely post more about that soon), and felt like the decision to give my mind over to it as an immersive experience where we totally believe people are about to go to Mars was a continuation of my mindset from the night of Sleep No More before. (Or is that called a hangover? I don’t know…) It also makes me think of my own art, and how I want my writing to not be confined to some screen, but a living thing that changes a mental reality, if only for a brief moment.

For my previous recaps of Sleep No More, click here.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 51 other followers