Philip Glass on Stage

Had the good fortune to see New York City Ballet this week. They did a Jerome Robbins mixed bill, including his Glass Pieces, which is a wonder. NCYB dancer, choreographer and interim co-director dances and explains a bit of it.


The NY Times on when it was new,

“‘Glass Pieces,” with music by Philip Glass and choreography by Jerome Robbins, is unlike any work the New York City Ballet has ever had in its repertory. At its world premiere Thursday night in the State Theater, Mr. Robbins succeeded in taking ballet into a brave new world.”

Cherry Blossom Time

Things are just about to burst into flower in DC.
A few haiku of Basho to observe the joys of the season…

A cloud of cherry blossoms;
The temple bell,-
Is it Ueno, is it Asakusa?

How many, many things
They call to mind
These cherry-blossoms!

Very brief –
Gleam of blossoms in the treetops
On a moonlit night.

Some more here, on a site called The Culture Trip.

And a print from the Met on the the same theme…

True View of the Pleasure Quarters with Cherry Blossoms in Full Bloom in the Miyozki District of the New Port of Yokohama, Kanagawa

Dance Succession Planning

Fascinating piece in Bloomberg about how modern dance companies, often organized around a single choreographer’s work, can sustain themselves when that person has left the scene. Mark Morris has embraced a time capsule approach, creating works that won’t be performed for decades.

From the article by Pia Catton

“Choreographer Mark Morris just finished creating a new dance in February. And, if it’s anything like the roughly 150 works that made him a darling of the performance world, it will be breathtaking. But this particular piece of modern dance won’t be presented next season. In fact, it won’t be performed for years—maybe 20, possibly 30. It’s intended to give the Mark Morris Dance Group fresh material long after its innovative director is gone.

The Metropolitan Opera as it was in its original home on Broadway. Big changes in artistic leadership, during fraught times, are happening.

Morris, 61, isn’t in ill health. But the idea to save some works for the future came up when Nancy Umanoff, the executive director of his 38-year-old company, was exploring ways to preserve the choreographer’s legacy. That includes not only his body of work, but also a popular school, numerous outreach programs, and the seven-studio Mark Morris Dance Center—which helped anchor Brooklyn’s downtown arts district. In 2017 the company had revenue of $5.5 million from performances.”

Although I long (and happily) out of the arts management game, I do remember how difficult transitions were in any arts organization. The creative impetus of the founder(s), even when it’s not the actual content, as with Morris’s works, is so often the beating heart of an organization that it’s hard to imagine it without it. Yet, if it is to survive, some “what happens after me?” is an essential question.

A Little Ravel for Tuesday

Ravel’s piano music is known for its colorful palette, and its staggering technically difficulty. One piece that is within the reach of mere mortals is the Mother Goose Suite, a set of five character pieces for piano four hands (and later orchestrated as was often the case with Ravel). Although it was originally written for children, it has found a lasting place in the concert hall as well in the hearts of amateurs. (I even performed it in college as part of a student-faculty recital.)

Here it is in a nice performance from Cleveland with pianists Orion Weiss and Roman Rabinovich (who was just in town playing superb Rachmaninoff and interesting if not totally convincing Chopin). Although it is not impossible to imagine a six and seven year old (the ages of the original dedicatees) getting their fingers through this pieces, it isn’t really a beginners’ piece. The subtle touch, and reticent style that these two bring to it, not to mention the impeccable control, are things it seems you’d need some life experience to conjure.

Commonplace Book: Aeneid, translated by David Ferry

Still working my way through David Ferry’s Virgil, wonder, astonishment and beauty; here’s a grim excerpt that shows the vividness and control of both author and translator. Roman, Marble relief fragment with scenes from the Trojan War, 1st half of 1st century A.D., Marble, Palombino, 7 1/8 x 6 15/16 in., 1.1kg (18.1 x 17.6 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Fletcher Fund, 1924 (24.97.11)

“Aurora rose, spreading her pitying light,
And with it bringing back to sight the labors
Of sad mortality, what men have done,
And what has been done to them; and what they must do
To mourn. King Tarchon and Father Aeneas, together
Upon the curving shore, caused there to be
Wooden funeral pyres constructed, and to which
The bodies of their dead were brought and placed there,
In accordance with the customs of their countries.
The black pitch smoke of the burning of the bodies
Arose up high and darkened the sky above.
Three times in shining armor the grieving warriors
Circled the burning pyres, three times on horseback,
Ululating, weeping, as they rode.
You could see how teardrops glistened on their armor.
The clamor of their sorrowing voices and
The dolorous clang of trumpets rose together
As they threw into the melancholy fires
Spoils that had been stripped from the Latins, helmets,
And decorated swords, bridles of horses,
And glowing chariot wheels, and with them, also,
Shields and weapons of their own familiar
Comrades, which had failed to keep them alive.
Bodies of beasts were thrown into the fire,
Cattle, and bristle- backed swine, brought from surrounding
Fields to be sacrificed to the god of death.

And all along the shore the soldiers watched
The burning of the bodies of their friends,
And could not be turned away until the dewy
Night changed all the sky and the stars came out.
Over there, where the Latins were, things were
As miserable as this. Innumerable
Scattered funeral pyres; many bodies
Hastily buried in hastily dug-up earth,
And many others, picked up from where they fell
When they were slain, and carried back to the fields
Which they had plowed and tilled before the fighting,
Or back into the city where they came from;
Others were indiscriminately burned,
Unnamed, and so without ceremony or honor.
The light of the burning fires was everywhere.
On the third day when the light of day came back
To show the hapless scene, they leveled out
What was left of the pyres and separated what
Was left of the bones, now cold and among cold ashes,
And covered over the ashes and the bones.

– From David Ferry’s The Aeneid

Daily Prompt

Determined to keep this daily blogging up, I have run into the inevitable [at least for me] writer’s block, and have turned to the people who have a, “365 Days of Writing Prompts” ebook.  Ever the helpful pusher, those people.

These are mostly too personal, potentially pointless, or Pooter-esque for me, but I did like this prompt, so here goes:

Bedtime stories
What was your favorite book as a child? Did it influence the
person you are now?

Like many, E.B. White’s children’s books–Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, and the Trumpet of the Swan--were the guiding stars of my childhood reading. My parents read Stuart Little to me at bedtime in first grade, but I was able to read Charlotte’s Web by myself in second grade, crying the night I finished it, and going down stairs to see my parents. There my father, in a moment that has stayed with me, explained that the wonderful thing about books was that I could return to the start, read again, and Charlotte and the farmyard gang would all be there, and alive as ever.  That both my parents comforted me on crying over a book offered a validation (sometimes missing in other aspects of my childhood) made me realize that reading would be front and center in my life, as indeed it was in theirs.

Whether Charlotte, Wilbur, Templeton and Fern influenced me is harder to discern, but certainly White’s lean, polished, gently humorous prose did calibrate something in me.  It may be hard to imagine the extent to which he was the gold standard for writing in the mid-century.  His essays were given as models for my school writing exercises, and his way of being a writer, complete with his reluctant status as a sage; even leaving New York for a small town in Maine seemed the vision of cranky Yankee ‘lit’ry’ idealism for me.  (That said, I was not exactly hankering to be the next Hunter Thompson or Norman Mailer though. )

He has held up for me, most of all the rhythm of his prose and a style, notable in descriptive passages, where you seldom catch him “writing.” That said, it is odd that he was such a paragon for writing students. What is beautiful about his writing is as distinct to him as a fingerprint: that prose rhythm, and a sense, really a New Yorker sensibility of humor. (Almost completely gone from the magazine today.) The things I loved about him were the things that were most elusive to a beginning writer. The visible bits, structure and rhetoric, which in theory you could take apart and assess, were often  mystifying to me. Even The Elements of Style, which is still a charmer, is a little thin literally and figuratively when it comes to practical writing advice. And what is there, I have practically made a career of avoiding.

Still, the feelings, aspirations, and fantasies of childhood and adolescent reading must stay with any writer, and I’m sure that I’m shaped even by those essays I couldn’t parse.  One thing I suspect: he wouldn’t have abided rambling, self-indulgent blog entries, so best to finish it up, with the the hope that I have inspired you to read the man himself.

“The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last for ever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year – the days when summer is changing into autumn – the crickets spread the rumor of sadness and change.”

Reasonable Words: Albert Goldbarth

A bit of a literary essay from Albert Goldbarth, a poet I’ve long admired:

“Charles Dickens started work on Bleak House in 1851. If you’re like me and don’t spend all of your free time romping through the fields of etymology, you too may startle at suddenly stumbling on “ganglion” in those 900-plus pages. Like, what?—did he make a quick trip in his time chaise, and return with a shiny copy of this month’s Scientific American, set on appropriating its language? “Refrigerator” is here too: not in the sense of a kitchen appliance, but still…a frisson volts across my spine. (For a thousand more reasons than this, it’s a glorious book. Bill Matthews says, in “Le Quarte Saisons, Montreal, 1979,” “I read Bleak House / a third time, slowly, fondly.”)

Dickens, Meville, Mary Shelley…something in the nineteenth century seems to set a tiny crystal ball in the heads of certain writers. When Wordsworth stares out dolefully at London’s silhouette and frets at its burgeoning changes—the rise of the factory system and market economy; the end of cyclical time; the degradation of child labor; the first industrial pollution; and the rest—it’s almost as if his gaze is so intense, he can see it all unfold like gritted, sooty origami into the centuries ahead, until it is 2006 for him. No wonder he’s so despondent.

I like to teach his daffodils poem, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.” For one thing, it’s a terrific simple example of connotation at work: we only understand the poem if we understand the difference between the negative “lonel[iness]” (line 1) and the positive “solitude” (line 22). The intervening daffodils, of course, are what alchemize one state into the other. Or rather, his recollection of the daffodils. And so it’s a terrific poem, too, for teaching the distinction between a subject (here, the joyous encounter with nature) and a theme (the healing use we can make of a memory)”

I share Goldbarth’s, and the late William Matthews’love of Bleak House too.

Critical Words: Frankenstein

A recent TLS has a knockout review by Frances Wilson of three new books about Frankenstein, a text now at its 200th birthday.  Whole thing behind a paywall, but here’s the lead

Frankenstein’s metaphor

The world’s most rewarding metaphor is now 200 years old. Since his dull yellow eye first opened on January 1, 1818 Victor Frankenstein’s creature has been compared to the Irish mob, the lumpen proletariat, the wandering Jew, and the UK Independence Party. Today he is spokesman for minority rights – including gay and lesbian and those born with disabilities and disfigurements – while his creator is patron saint of Artificial Intelligence, nanotechnology, robotics, bio-hackers, body-shaming and bad parenting. In English departments, where Mary Shelley has a dual identity as the celebrated author of a canonical novel and a woman writer excluded from the canon, Frankenstein is one of the five most commonly assigned texts. Linguistically, we talk about (genetically modified) Frankenfoods, Frankenstorms (stitched together from different weather systems), Frankenbikes (built from different parts) and Frankenbabies (born of three-parent IVF). The books under review here – in which the various Frankensteins are discussed in terms of cultural and textual history, political philosophy, and the life of the author – form a motley crew we might call Frankentexts.


Our celebration of the birth of Frankenstein follows the baby shower held in June 2016 to commemorate the wet weekend two centuries earlier when Mary Shelley first conceived of her story. Another flurry of publications will doubtless appear five years hence, to cash in on the creature’s first stage appearance at the Lyceum Theatre on July 28, 1823, in a dramatization by Richard Brinsley Peake called Presumption; Or, The Fate of Frankenstein which ran for thirty-seven nights and inspired, over the next three years, fourteen further English or French plagiarisms (with names like Frank-in-steam; Or, The Modern Promise To Pay, and Humpgumption; Or, Dr Frankenstein and the Hobgoblin of Hoxton). The tone was set for Bride of Frankenstein, Son of Frankenstein, House of Frankenstein, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Robocop, Blade Runner and The Fly. Frankenstein’s capacity to reproduce is seemingly endless; like aphids, he was born pregnant.

Project Gutenberg has the whole thing, but unclear which version (the original 1818, or the one, in Wilson’s words, the author ratted out on…)

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