Thursday, March 28, 2013

Two Plays

On Sunday afternoon, Joshua and I took Joshua’s sister to Bloomington to catch the matinee performance of Bloomington Civic Theatre’s production of “Moonlight And Magnolias”, a comedy/farce by Irish screenwriter Ron Hutchinson. Sunday’s was the final performance of the Bloomington “Moonlight And Magnolias” run.

“Moonlight And Magnolias” was premiered in Chicago in 2004, and had a brief New York run the following year.

The play tells the story of the frantic efforts of producer David O. Selznick, director Victor Fleming and script doctor Ben Hecht quickly to produce a salvageable script for “Gone With The Wind” during a five-day hiatus in the film’s production.

The outline of the story is based upon true events: Selznick, forced to shut down (at a cost of $50,000 per day) production of “Gone With The Wind” owing to script problems, fired director George Cukor, replaced Cukor with Fleming (pulled from the set of “The Wizard Of Oz”), called in screenwriter Hecht—and gave Fleming and Hecht five days to produce a new script, barring them from leaving studio premises until a finished script was in hand.

I am not confident there is much of a play in Hutchinson’s chosen subject—but, if there is, Hutchinson certainly bungled the opportunity. “Moonlight And Magnolias” is one of the most inept plays I have ever seen performed.

Hutchinson has, fundamentally, written a four-character farce (the fourth character is a secretary who keeps Selznick, Fleming and Hecht supplied with “brain food”—bananas and peanuts—during their five days of confinement). During the farce, entire scenes from the film are acted out; the audience is supposed to find hilarity in the men’s impersonations of Scarlett, Melanie, Mammy and Prissy.

The audience is also supposed to find hilarity in the fact that Hecht has never read Margaret Mitchell’s novel and knows absolutely nothing about the plot and characters he is supposed to capture and recreate in a screenplay. That Selznick and Fleming are called upon to correct Hecht’s many bone-headed misperceptions about the material at hand is intended to be a source of unending amusement.

Onto this supposed “farce”, Hutchinson has added a coating of “serious drama”: while piecing together their screenplay for A Tale Of The Old South, Selznick, Fleming and Hecht discuss anti-Semitism in 1930s Germany and racism in 1930s America. That Selznick, Fleming and Hecht were themselves Jewish is supposed to make their discussions of anti-Semitism and racism “meaningful” and “insightful” to the audience.

As farce, “Moonlight And Magnolias” is simply inept. As comedy-with-serious-undertones, “Moonlight And Magnolias” is flatulent and crude—and surely offensive to many viewers.

I am amazed “Moonlight And Magnolias” is ever produced. The play is unworthy of attention from theater companies or theater audiences. The play’s spotted history should, I would think, be sufficient to scare off producers. (The 2005 New York presentation was very poorly received; a 2007 London presentation was nowise adjudged a triumph, either).

The Bloomington production was not good—but I suspect no cast and no director could bring such feeble material to life. We more or less sat comatose during the entire performance, waiting for our confinement to end.


The Guthrie Theater has imported a theater troupe from Great Britain—called, simply, Propeller—to present to Twin Cities audiences “Twelfth Night” and “The Taming Of The Shrew” in repertory for six weeks. On Tuesday evening, Josh and I took Josh’s sister to a performance of “The Taming Of The Shrew”.

The Propeller productions have sharply divided local critics and audiences. Reviews have run the gamut, from highest praise to most withering dismissal. Word of mouth has been largely negative, much more so for “Twelfth Night” (the preferred choice of the reviewers) than “Taming Of The Shrew” (a production critics singled out for its anti-feminism).

I thought it was absurd for anyone to pronounce the Propeller “Taming Of The Shrew” anti-feminist. The overriding theme of the production was inherently feminist: Kate was portrayed as a sympathetic victim of physical and emotional abuse, viciously mistreated and battered by her brute of a lover, the malevolent Petruchio. If anything, the Propeller “Taming Of The Shrew” was as feminist an interpretation as one is ever likely to encounter.

Propeller’s production was extremely physical, even violent. This was a “Taming Of The Shrew” from the streets of today’s London: ugliness was everywhere, menace threatened to burst through the surface at all times.

As in Shakespeare’s time, all roles were played by males—but, unlike in Shakespeare’s time, there was no attempt to make female characters appear to be women. Propeller’s Kate and Bianca, both jarringly unattractive, were all-too-obviously men, and very masculine ones at that. At the end of the play, the actor playing Kate wore a wedding dress—but atop his head was a butch haircut and on his face was beard stubble.

The purpose of Propeller, I believe, is to offer “cutting edge” productions—but the persons in charge of the company appear to have received their educations from Sunday Supplements. There was no coherency to the production, no penetrating thought behind the staging, nothing original to be experienced. The production was a mere recycling of the practices that dominate contemporary British theater: every line was delivered as irony; nothing said or done was to be taken verbatim; every costume was deliberately multi-decade and therefore impossible to “place”; no one was allowed to be good or selfless or virtuous or sincere. In short, every dogma of the day was observed.

The production also lacked surface sheen, a critical shortcoming that single-handedly made it impossible for me to succumb to the onstage proceedings. The actors were unimpressive if not lame, the blocking confusing, the “look” of the production unappealing and unattractive, the whole enterprise cheap and provincial. I felt as if I were watching something thrown together by prison inmates in some Third World jail.

The Propeller “Taming Of The Shrew” was the sort of production that, by rights, should play to school audiences in Shoreditch—and never set out to tour the world.

Why The Guthrie imported this stuff is beyond me.

Monday, March 25, 2013

You Gotta Love The Guy

After yesterday’s heroics, Aaron Craft told reporters that he had to cut short post-game festivities because he had to prepare for today’s organic chemistry exam.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Blanche And Alfred Knopf

Carl Van Vechten’s famous 1932 photographic portrait of Blanche and Alfred Knopf.

As my father has noted many times over the last ten or fifteen years, there has been a grievous deterioration in what has been coming out under the Knopf imprint since at least the mid-1990s.

The death of Knopf as a serious publishing house coincided exactly with the death of The New Yorker as a serious magazine, hardly a coincidence to anyone following the publishing field.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Publishing Then And Now

American authors are not very durable, and there are no giants in Europe now.

Alfred A. Knopf, Sr., from his intriguing book, Publishing Then And Now (1964)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

28 November 1956: Frank Lloyd Wright Tours Southdale

28 November 1956: an unimpressed Frank Lloyd Wright tours Edina’s new Southdale Mall, the nation’s first fully-enclosed shopping mall.

In a public address that evening, Wright, speaking to an audience of 2500 persons in downtown Minneapolis, described Southdale as “A Flight From Egypt” and declared Minneapolis an architectural wasteland, proclaiming that most buildings in downtown Minneapolis needed to be blown up immediately.

Newspapers of the time reported that Wright’s speech was received with sustained applause.

1956: The Suez Crisis

A British tank in Port Said during the 1956 Suez Crisis.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The SS United States In 1956

The SS United States, the fastest passenger liner ever built, in 1956.

The SS United States provided Trans-Atlantic passenger service from 1952 until 1969.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Waste Of Our Time

On Thursday night before last, my parents, Joshua’s sister, and Joshua and I heard the Chicago Symphony in Orchestra Hall in Chicago, part of a music weekend in Chicago planned around a rare opportunity to hear Pierre Boulez.

A week or two before the concert, Boulez cancelled. The replacement conductor was Cristian Macelaru, Associate Conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Debussy’s “Prelude To The Afternoon Of A Faun” opened the concert. It was a lovely performance, with ravishing winds, of a work the Chicago Symphony can play in its sleep. It made me want to hear the Chicago Symphony musicians in something more substantial by Debussy, such as the composer’s greatest orchestral work, “Images”.

Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 2 followed. Yefim Bronfman was soloist.

I do not admire the first two piano concertos of Bartók, both written in the 1920s, the decade after Bartók's early post-Strauss, post-Debussy works and the decade before Bartók found his own individual variant of Modernism, a variant that carried him to success during the final decade of his life and work.

There is not much for a pianist to do in the Bartók other than play the notes. The work affords little opportunity for individual expression by the soloist.

In any case, Bronfman is a technician; he has never displayed personality or individuality in anything he has played.

Bronfman recorded all three Bartók concertos for Sony in a disc released in 1995. Support was provided by Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. That recording, sloppy beyond belief, is the worst integral recording of the concertos ever to see the light of day. It reflected no credit whatsoever upon soloist, conductor or orchestra, all of whom might as well have been sight-reading. If I am not mistaken, the disc won a Grammy Award—and not in the category of Best Comedy Performance.

The Chicago performance was a skilled run-through of the Bartók, nothing more. Anyone hearing the work for the first time would have asked himself, “Why is this work in the repertory?”

After intermission, the orchestra played Bartók’s Divertimento For Strings. It received the finest performance of the evening.

The Chicago strings have a steel-like quality that some persons find annoying, yet the steeliness of the orchestra’s string section worked to advantage in the Bartók Divertimento—the steeliness lended backbone to a piece always in danger of evaporating into thin air. The Divertimento lacks the gravitas and mystery of the composer’s other work for string orchestra, Music For Strings, Percussion And Celesta.

It was in the final work of the program that I most missed Boulez. Stravinsky’s “The Song Of The Nightingale” did not come off at all. It was an isolated series of nice moments that we heard, with some nice work from the winds, instead of a coherent, satisfying performance.

“The Song Of The Nightingale” is not an easy work to bring off—has anyone ever improved upon Fritz Reiner’s 1956 recording with the Chicago Symphony?—and last week’s performance amounted to nothing.

There were numerous empty seats at last Thursday’s concert. It made me wonder whether the concert had not sold well or whether ticket purchasers, disappointed at not hearing Boulez, had stayed home.

If the latter was the cause of the poor attendance, those persons choosing to stay home had made a wise decision.

1942: Speer, Hitler And Keitel

Albert Speer, Adolf Hitler and Wilhelm Keitel in 1942.

Saturday, March 16, 2013


On Monday evening, my parents and Joshua and I went to Saint Paul to hear Anne-Sophie Mutter in recital at the Ordway. We had not heard Mutter since November 2006, when we had attended her all-Mozart recital, also at the Ordway.

Mutter is an incomparable instrumentalist and an incomparable musician. Her interests are wide-ranging, her personality is beguiling, and she is in possession of an original and penetrating mind, all of which may be heard in her playing. As instrumentalist or as musician, she has no peer among today’s violinists.

Mutter eschews the onstage play-acting so many violinists have adopted in recent years. Not for her are displays of dumb-show faces and prance-around-the-stage dance antics that mar the performances of Joshua Bell, Gil Shaham and Nikolaj Znaider, among many others. Mutter allows her violin to do the “expressing”.

Monday’s recital began with a performance of Mozart’s Sonata No. 27 In G Major, written in 1781.

For me, the Mozart was the least interesting performance of the evening. I did not hear the usual “Mutter Magic” in the Mozart, and I suspect Mutter was not yet focused for the night. Mutter is an incomparable Mozart player—the best alive among violinists—and her Mozart on Monday night was more objective than usual, and slightly impersonal, even detached. The ideal tempo was never found—at times, it seemed as if Mutter wanted to move ahead of her pianist, the excellent Lambert Orkis, and at other times it seemed as if Mutter wanted to slow down—and the perfect emotional temperature was never captured. By Mutter standards, the Mozart was a disappointment.

The Schubert Fantasy In C Major, from 1827, followed.

Within the last couple of years, Mutter has become of the belief that the Schubert Fantasy is the single greatest work ever written for violin. Mutter’s view is founded in the circumstance that the Fantasy bears all the hallmarks of late Schubert: it has the widest possible range of emotion; it is of unique and original design (but has perfection of form); and it carries the unparalleled profundity of practically everything Schubert wrote in his final two years.

If one may judge from recorded performances, the Fantasy is not an easy work to bring off. The work has been recorded countless times, by most of the prominent violinists of the last hundred years, and yet none of the recorded performances is satisfactory.

Mutter must have the measure of the work, because in her hands the Fantasy—for the first time—convinced me of its greatness.

While listening, I tried to determine what Mutter was doing that made the Fantasy come alive. My conclusions: Mutter’s sound and tonal coloration were right for the piece; Mutter’s tempi were exceptionally well-judged; and Mutter’s phrasing was extremely detailed and extremely natural. Of greater importance, Mutter knew how to knit into a unified whole the work’s disparate characteristics: its pages of melancholy; its song-like episodes; and its brilliant display passages. Mutter may be the only violinist of modern times who understands the work, and is inspired by it.

Mutter plans to record the Fantasy—and I plan to be among the first buyers when the disc is issued.

After intermission came Lutoslawki’s Partita in its violin-and-piano version. The Partita had been commissioned by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra; its first performance had been at the Ordway in 1985 (Pinchas Zukerman had been soloist).

The more familiar orchestral version of the Partita first appeared in 1988, in Munich, with Mutter as soloist—and Mutter has kept the work in her active repertory ever since, often performing it alongside the composer’s Chain II and Interlude (the three works, performed together, constitute a violin concerto in all but name).

In remarkably short time, the Partita has become a classic—and Mutter has become inextricably associated with the work, performing it all over the world. The Partita is now one of Mutter’s calling cards—and, she says, it is the work that opened her mind to contemporary composition, of which she is now a master performer.

Mutter has recorded the Partita in its orchestral version, famously, and her recorded performance is excellent—but her performance on Monday night was even better than her recording. The central Largo is now freer, and carries more tenderness, than the recorded performance, and the brilliant Presto is more sizzling than before, with its Szymanowski-like central episode now thrown into high relief.

The recital concluded with a performance of Saint-Saëns’s Violin Sonata No. 1 In D Minor, from 1885.

I have never much cared for the Saint-Saëns—I have always thought it facile and empty—and I am always disappointed to see the work appear on recital programs. It must be one of those works more fun to play than to hear.

Mutter was the third recitalist in recent years to have closed an Ordway recital with the Saint-Saëns. Joshua Bell had done so in February 2008, without distinction, and Julia Fischer had done so in February 2012, again without distinction.

I was not particularly looking forward to hearing Mutter in the Saint-Saëns. Mutter’s natural realm is Central European repertory; she does not always capture the right fragrance in French music.

The Saint-Saëns turned out to be the surprise of the night. Mutter gave a performance the likes of which I have never heard. It was the most exciting—even thrilling—performance of the evening.

In hindsight, I can see that the formal Classicism of the piece is what appeals to Mutter. The Saint-Saëns allows her to display her command of Classicism while at the same time displaying her personality—and her virtuosity.

All were on abundant display.

Mutter took speeds no other violinist would dare, yet each note was perfectly-placed, and on pitch. There was not the slightest hint of strain.

Every phrase, every coloring, every shading, was minutely characterized, yet the long line was never lost.

Most of all, Mutter seemed to find content in the piece. There was true drama to be heard in the first movement, and genuine emotion in the second. Mutter succeeded in elevating the work beyond salon music, a thing few musicians have managed to accomplish.

Mutter’s was a performance of genius—of a work that probably does not deserve such careful treatment.

At the conclusion, the audience—with justification—erupted. The pianist shook his head in admiration and amazement, while Mutter gave the audience a smile that resembled that of a cat that ate the canary.

There were three encores, two French, surely as follow-ups to the Saint-Saëns: Ravel’s Pièce en forme de Habanera; Brahms’s Hungarian Dance No. 2; and the Meditation from Massenet’s “Thaïs”.

Monday evening’s concert played to a full house. The last time I saw a full house in one of the two main large concert venues in the Twin Cities was, if I am not mistaken, the last time Mutter appeared here: November 2006.

Mutter clearly has a Minnesota following.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Pont Neuf

Pont Neuf (“New Bridge”), now the oldest bridge in Paris across The River Seine.

Pont Neuf was completed in 1607. Its construction required twenty-nine years.

The famous equestrian statue of Henry IV may be seen at the right.

Berlin: 2 March 1943

Joseph Goebbels and entourage touring the burned-out interior of Saint Hedwig’s Cathedral, victim of an air raid the previous evening.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Pleasant Falsehood

The dictum that truth always triumphs over persecution is one of the pleasant falsehoods that men repeat after one another until they pass into commonplaces—but which all experience refutes.

John Stuart Mill

A More Successful Use Of A Restricted Color Palette

Tiziano Vecellio (“Titian”) (1490-1576)
Ranuccio Farnese
National Gallery Of Art, Washington

Oil On Canvas
35 5/16 Inches By 29 Inches


A more successful example of an artist intentionally adopting a very restricted color palette—three colors: rose, white and black—is Titian’s remarkable portrait of Ranuccio Farnese (1530-1565), painted when the sitter was twelve years old. No matter how long one studies the painting, one never believes for a moment that the color scheme is too limited, or that the restricted palette has been deliberately chosen as part of some misguided exercise in “expression”.

In person, the painting is overwhelming: bold yet subtle, brilliant yet restrained, striking yet thought-provoking. Not only is "Ranuccio Farnese" one of Titian’s greatest portraits, it is one of the artist’s greatest paintings in any genre.

The painting is famed for its psychological insight. Titian caught the youth of the boy as well as his adult-like qualities, unexpected in one so young (a precocious child, Ranuccio was to be named a Cardinal at age fifteen). Raised from birth to hold ecclesiastical office, the Farnese boy was handed his first major church assignment at the age of twelve. The occasion precipitated the creation of this great portrait, a commission by the Farnese family, awarded to the greatest artist of the day.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Expecting Richard Nixon To Peek Out From Behind The Drapes

Ingmar Bergman’s “Cries And Whispers”, from 1972, is a beautifully-lighted and beautifully-photographed film (courtesy of Sven Nykvist).

Nonetheless, the film’s three-color scheme of red (representing death), white (representing the purity of womanhood) and black (representing the power and brute force of men) is far too obvious and far too monochromatic and far too limiting.

The film’s portrait of three oddly-matched sisters is straight from the realm of soap opera, its tale of suffering and redemption so cut-and-dried it might as well have originated in a serialized novel commissioned by women’s magazines.

The film is watchable only because of the craft of Nykvist and the remarkable performance at the film’s center of Harriet Andersson. Andersson is harrowing as the sister dying of cancer; without Andersson’s presence, the film would be pure cartoon. One regrets when Andersson is off-screen, because the actresses portraying Andersson’s sisters are either laughably bad (Liv Ullmann) or sheerest camp (Ingrid Thulin).

The psychology of the film is 1970s through and through. The film’s underlying hysteria—melodramatic and grievance-laden—is taken from news magazines of the period. The film’s jaundiced, cynical view of humanity—a humanity steeped in misery and corruption—is rooted in then-prevalent geopolitics (a time during which the West was believed to be losing the Cold War).

Fundamentally, the film is nothing so much as a Swedish “Parallax View”—shorn of the necessary assassin. Paranoia and dark misgivings are everywhere. Evil lurks around every corner.

Whenever I see “Cries And Whispers”, I keep expecting Richard Nixon to peek out from behind the drapes.

A Pre-Med Student With A 3.9 GPA

I am by no means an Ohio State fan, but I believe it is obvious that Aaron Craft is the finest all-around player in the Big Ten Conference.

This week, sportswriters covering the Big Ten named Craft to the all-conference First Team—yet Big Ten coaches placed Craft on the all-conference Second Team.

Coaches hate Craft because he shuts down an opponent’s highest-scoring guard.

Minnesota had trouble scoring against Ohio State this season. In the only meeting between the two teams, Minnesota suffered its worst loss of the year, 71-45. Craft single-handedly disrupted the flow of the Minnesota offense in that game.

The following game, the Minnesota offense was back on track: the Golden Gophers shocked Indiana, then the nation’s top-ranked team, 77-73.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

“A Practitioner Of The Art Of Taking People In”

You will find in politics that you are much exposed to the attribution of false motive.

Never complain and never explain.

Stanley Baldwin


Stanley Baldwin dominated British politics between World War I and World War II. Three times Prime Minister between 1923 and 1937, Baldwin achieved unprecedented electoral success—because he always told voters what they most wanted to hear. Historian A. L. Rowse, a contemporary of Baldwin, and not an admirer, described Baldwin as “a practitioner of the art of taking people in”.

Baldwin is not viewed kindly by historians. Baldwin’s failure to address the threat posed by a rising Germany in the 1930s caused Baldwin’s reputation to wither little more than two years after leaving office.

Baldwin retired from The House Of Commons in June 1937 at the height of his popularity; by September 1939, with the onset of war, he was viewed as the chief architect of Britain’s imperiled condition as the nation found itself once again at war.

Neither before nor since has a British Prime Minister’s reputation so swiftly and so completely collapsed. For more than two decades after the war, Baldwin’s reputation continued to deflate as Britain engaged in a prolonged series of internal debates, lasting well into the 1960s, examining the question: what had gone so wrong in the 1930s?

The answer, of course, was that Britain had failed to rearm, and thus to thwart a rising Germany before Germany became a legitimate threat to the entire continent.

Winston Churchill had made the correct diagnosis . . . in 1933 . . . and persistently had urged Baldwin’s government to take the necessary measures.

But Baldwin failed to accept Churchill’s advice, and firmly kept Churchill out of his cabinet—because, Baldwin believed, such Churchill-favored policies would prove costly to the Tories at the ballot box.

In Britain in recent years, there has been an attempt—not particularly successful—to rehabilitate the reputation of Baldwin.

American historians have—quite rightly—ignored such foolishness. American historians have always agreed with Lloyd George’s unvarnished assessment of Baldwin, an assessment Lloyd George made one year into the war: “He ought to be hanged.”

Muriel Spark, in her most famous novel, a portrait of Edinburgh in the 1930s, has her heroine repeatedly mock Baldwin for his supposed “reliability” and “safety”. In doing so, Spark plays an ironic, multi-level and delicious game.

Spark’s Jean Brodie is as oblivious to the threat of Fascism as the Prime Minister she holds in contempt—both are practitioners of the art of taking people in—and it is Fascism that proves to be the undoing both of the heroine from fiction as well as the politician from real life.

Imperious assurance, imperious misjudgment, with no thought of inevitable consequence: such are Spark’s themes.

The foolishness of the fictional Jean Brodie led to the death of the fictional Joyce Emily (renamed Mary McGregor in the stage and film versions of the novel).

The foolishness of Baldwin led to the deaths of untold millions of real persons.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Berlin: 15 September 1941

Signs posted on the exterior of the former Soviet Embassy in Berlin warn passersby not to linger—because the building, seized by the German government at the time Germany declared war on Russia (22 June 1941), was undergoing fumigation.

Friday, March 01, 2013


The Joffrey Ballet, in Millicent Hodson’s 1987 reconstruction of Vaslav Nijinsky’s 1913 masterwork, “The Rite Of Spring”, which we saw Tuesday night at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Minneapolis.

Two different presentations of “The Rite Of Spring” had been scheduled for the Twin Cities this season, presumably to mark the work’s centennial.

One year ago, it was announced that Béjart Ballet Lausanne would present Maurice Béjart’s version of “The Rite Of Spring” in Minneapolis in May 2013, exactly two months after Minneapolis was to witness its very first encounter with the Nijinsky original.

Such was not to happen. Béjart Ballet Lausanne’s 2013 American tour was cancelled late last year for budgetary reasons.

I do not regret missing Béjart’s “Rite Of Spring”. The Béjart version has an abysmally low reputation in America—and, in any case, I happen to agree with the view often expressed by George Balanchine: “The Rite Of Spring” cannot be staged to satisfaction, and should be appreciated purely for Igor Stravinsky’s path-breaking score.

In Crisis

On Tuesday evening, my parents, my sister-in-law, and Joshua and I saw Joffrey Ballet dance Millicent Hodson’s painstaking reconstruction of Vaslav Nijinsky’s “The Rite Of Spring”.

Premiered by Ballets Russes in 1913, “The Rite Of Spring” was to receive only ten performances, six in Paris and four in London—after which the ballet disappeared, seemingly forever, first a victim of Nijinsky’s deteriorating relationship with impresario Serge Diaghilev and then a victim of war. When Ballets Russes attempted to revive “The Rite Of Spring” in 1921, it was discovered that no one remembered Nijinsky’s 1913 choreography. The result: new choreography by Leonide Massine was commissioned, the original having been deemed “unrecoverable”.

Hodson’s reconstruction first appeared in 1987. The reconstruction is based upon the original prompt books (bearing no relationship to today’s dance notation), sketches and photographs from 1913, and interviews with surviving Ballets Russes dancers, most prominently Marie Rambert. Most dance experts admire the Hodson reconstruction, and consider it the best realization we shall ever have of Nijinsky’s greatest creation.

Nicholas Roerich’s original stage and costume drawings survive, so recreating the ballet’s design was the easiest part of Hodson’s project. The stage designs themselves are unremarkable—Roerich was more design historian than artist—but the costume designs are sensational, based directly upon ancient sources chronicling pagan Russian customs and traditions. To Americans, the costumes bear an uncanny resemblance to American Indian dress, lending credence to the theory that American Indian culture originated in Northwest Asia.

Nijinsky’s ballet is more than historic artifact; it is a timeless work of art, fully worthy of revival. Part I (“The Adoration Of The Earth”) is slow-moving and insufficiently atmospheric, but Part II (“The Sacrifice”) is powerful if not thunderous, and grips an audience’s attention from first to last.

Nijinsky’s choreography dispensed with Classical ballet vocabulary. The choreography is turned-in as opposed to turned-out, upper-body carriage is irrelevant, and technique is gravity-centered as opposed to gravity-defying—all of which has enabled some to argue that Nijinsky was the true originator of modern dance.

I find such a claim absurd. In creating “The Rite Of Spring”, Nijinsky was not creating a new art form—he was merely crafting a one-act story ballet typical of the period, albeit one devoted to primitive subject matter. There is little dance vocabulary that appears in “The Rite Of Spring” that was not already in use in Mikhail Fokine’s “Firebird” and “Petrouchka”.

Given the importance of the original “Rite Of Spring”, it is odd that only two companies have mounted the Hodson reconstruction: the Joffrey and the Mariinsky Ballet. I would think the Hodson reconstruction ideal for the repertories of American Ballet Theatre, The Royal Danish Ballet and The Paris Opera Ballet—and I would think that the ballet would be in constant demand by audiences everywhere.

Nonetheless, most ballet companies, American and European, have ignored the Hodson reconstruction—and both the Joffrey and the Mariinsky seldom remount their productions, making audiences wait years between revivals. Until Tuesday night, I had never had an opportunity to see the Nijinsky original (my parents had seen the Hodson reconstruction, danced by the Joffrey, a year or two after its unveiling). I wonder whether I shall ever have a chance to see it a second time.

The Joffrey performance was perfectly acceptable—“The Rite Of Spring” does not, by current dance standards, demand virtuosity—but I would love to see the Mariinsky in the ballet. Mariinsky dancers would be able to bring a depth of expression to “The Rite Of Spring” light years beyond what the Joffrey dancers were able to muster.

In the pit was a local student ensemble, the University Of Minnesota Symphony Orchestra.


Preceding “The Rite Of Spring” were two other ballets.

First was a 2012 ballet specifically created for the Joffrey by Australian Stanton Welch, Artistic Director of Houston Ballet. Welch’s was a schlock ballet, set to a schlock score by John Adams, and the Minneapolis audience ate it up. It is hard to avoid schlock ballets these days (just as it is hard to avoid ballets set to music of Adams)—and the Joffrey, always the Western Hemisphere’s leading purveyor of schlock ballets, held true to form by offering the Welch.

Next was the ubiquitous “In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated”, from 1987, by William Forsythe, whose “non-ballet” ballets I have never admired. It is hard to avoid Forsythe’s work these days, too.

The art of ballet has been in crisis since April 30, 1983, the date of George Balanchine’s death. For the last thirty years, choreographers have been operating in three self-limiting and self-defeating genres: (1) the neo-Balanchine ballet; (2) the schlock ballet; and (3) the “post-modern” ballet, in which Classicism is mocked. Until a great figure arises and reinvents the art form, nothing will change: the art of ballet will remain in the decadent state in which it now finds itself, and the audience for dance will continue to dwindle.

The Joffrey is not in good shape. Among regional companies, Houston, San Francisco, Miami and Boston can dance rings around the Joffrey. The two giant New York companies operate at levels countless leagues above the Joffrey’s.

The Joffrey has a very ragtag—and startlingly unattractive—group of dancers. The dancers are ill-trained and ill-disciplined, and would be near-laughable in anything requiring rigorous Classicism (which—wisely—the company has always avoided).

Were it not for the Joffrey’s periodic exhumation of important historic works, the company would be little more than a bad joke—and in need of permanent retirement.

Also in need of retirement are the stringers used to cover dance by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and Saint Paul Pioneer Press.

More provincial coverage of dance cannot be found elsewhere.