Category Archives: Commentary

CONSTANT STANISLAVSKI (61) ·

It was necessary to enter into the spiritual springs of Gorky himself, just as we had done in the case of Chekhov, and find the current of the action in the soul of the writer. Having made our own a part of the Gorky soul, we would have the right to speak, to interpret the contents, the thoughts, the plot of the play [The Lower Depths], to act simply, without any unnecessary strain or effort, without the necessity of persuading someone, of propagating something. (MLIA)

BOOK: JOAN ACOCELLA ON ‘MARIUS PETIPA: THE EMPEROR’S BALLET MASTER’ ·

A scene in the Kingdom of the Shades from La Bayadère, 1900; from Marius Petipa: La Dansomanie, a two-volume album in three languages published last year by the St. Petersburg Museum of Theater and Music to celebrate the two hundredth anniversary of Petipa’s birth

(Acocella’s article appeared in The New York Review of Books, 12/19.)

Souls in Single File

Marius Petipa: The Emperor’s Ballet Master

by Nadine Meisner

Oxford University Press, 497 pp., $34.95

A scene in the Kingdom of the Shades from La Bayadère, 1900; from Marius Petipa: La Dansomanie, a two-volume album in three languages published last year by the St. Petersburg Museum of Theater and Music to celebrate the two hundredth anniversary of Petipa’s birth

It will surprise many people, but not many dance historians, that the most productive and influential ballet choreographer of the late nineteenth century, the Franco-Russian Marius Petipa (1818–1910), was accorded no biography for more than a century after his death. Dance was central to the religious and patriotic festivals of ancient Greece and Rome, but with the transfer of power to the Christian church, it was pretty much kicked out of the arts. It was too closely associated with bodily pleasure. Social dance probably never died out among common folk. As for the better-placed folk, the processions in which the servants of the French and Italian courts of the Renaissance brought dinner to their guests involved, if not exactly dancing, then a great deal of synchronized gown-swishing and foot-pointing. But dance did not officially reenter the lists of the high arts in the West until the seventeenth century, under Louis XIV. Louis imported music masters and dance masters, mostly from Italy, to create elaborate allegorical ballets, in which he himself appeared. In 1661, he founded Europe’s first proper dance school, the Académie Royale de la Danse.

In those days, dance people, like most other theater people, tended to come in families, including actors and musicians as well, because not all of them had a royal academy to teach them their arts. They learned from their mothers and fathers. Also, there was still a stigma attached to making one’s living on the stage (Molière, famously, was denied a Christian burial), so theatrical professionals often married within their own ranks and thereby created clans.

One was the Petipas of France and Belgium. Their name starts appearing in the annals of the Continental theater at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Marius Petipa was the son of a ballet master (that is, a teacher/choreographer) and an actress; most of his siblings too were theater people. In the beginning, he was not the star of the family. That was his older brother, Lucien, a handsomer man and a far better technician. Lucien was the premier classicist of the Paris Opera Ballet, the oldest and most respected company in Europe. (It was the descendant of Louis XIV’s academy.) He was in demand all the way to Russia, but when Russia called, it is said, Lucien, already in possession of a good job, declined, and recommended his younger brother. Thus, in 1847, Marius Petipa, age twenty-nine, presented himself at St. Petersburg’s Imperial Ballet and was given a one-year, let’s-see contract. As it turned out, he stayed for sixty-three years and was the company’s artistic director—or first ballet master, as they called it—for nearly thirty-five years. In Russia he created more than fifty original ballets, mounted versions of nineteen other ballets, and fashioned dances for thirty-seven operas. Today, the name of Lucien is known only to specialists, whereas Marius is acknowledged as the prime creator of late-nineteenth-century ballet and, one could say, the foremost source of twentieth-century ballet as well.

Still, this did not earn him a proper biography—in any language, not just English—until last spring, with the publication of Marius Petipa: The Emperor’s Ballet Master by Nadine Meisner, a longtime dance critic in London.1 The book is low on analysis, but at last someone has collected the facts—the successes, the flops, everybody’s patronymic—and put them down in graceful English prose.

(Read more)

LET’S GO: ‘THE MIKADO’ FROM THE NEW YORK GILBERT & SULLIVAN PLAYERS, AMERICA’S PREEMINENT GILBERT & SULLIVAN REPERTORY ENSEMBLE ·

(via Sean Katz, Katz PR)

The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players, America’s Preeminent Gilbert & Sullivan Repertory Ensemble, Presents

The Mikado

Novel Production of Enduring Classic

At The Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College

December 27, 2019 through January 5, 2020

(New York, NY – November 25) Since its founding in 1974, the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players (NYGASP) has presented more than 2,000 performances of the Gilbert & Sullivan masterpieces throughout the United States, Canada and England, captivating audiences of all ages. America’s preeminent Gilbert & Sullivan Repertory Ensemble, continues its 45th season with its novel production of The Mikado, one of the most enduring musicals in theatrical history.

With 8 family friendly performances after Christmas, this production, which premiered to critical acclaim in December of 2016, will run at The Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College, 68th Street between Park and Lexington Avenues, Dec. 27, 2019 through Jan. 5, 2020.  Annual favorite special events include multi-generational Bring Your Grandparents Day (Dec. 30 – with pre and post show attractions) and Family Overture presentations before Saturday matinées (Dec. 28, Jan. 4 – musical introduction and plot summary made entertaining and free to all ticket holders).

The New York Times describes this production of The Mikado as “a comic gem” with “handsome designs, sharp acting and impressive singing.”

First performed at London’s Savoy Theatre in 1885, The Mikado pokes fun at topical aspects of Victorian society, but Gilbert & Sullivan cleverly cloak their satirical barbs behind a charming love story set in an imagined town in Japan, and NYGASP continues the time honored tradition of topical updating for a modern audience.  You’re sure to recognize someone on the “Lord High Executioner’s” comical list of people who “never would be missed”.

The show abounds with absurdity and astounding wit, clever wordplay, memorable tunes and endearing characters.  The romantic love story follows Nanki-Poo, the son of the Mikado (the Japanese emperor), who has fled his father’s court in disguise as a “Wand’ring Minstrel” to avoid marrying Katisha, an elderly suitor, and to find and marry his own beloved, the delicious maiden Yum-Yum, one of “Three Little Maids From School”. Yum-Yum, however, is the ward of Ko-Ko, the “Lord High Executioner”, and has become betrothed to him against her will.  As usual in a Gilbert & Sullivan imaginative plot, the tangled web unravels and everyone (well, almost everyone) lives happily ever after.

The NYGASP production features an original prologue that introduces the audience to the real life characters of the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, which originated The Mikado in 1885 London, and emphasizes the work’s satire of human foibles and excesses that transcend generational and national bounds.  The comic opera will feature original choreography and direction by NYGASP Associate Stage Director David Auxier, who also authored the show’s prologue, and Assistant Direction by Broadway performer/director Kelvin Moon Loh.

The show’s cast includes: dynamic bass David Wannen in the title role; clever patter man David Macaluso as Sullivan and Ko-Ko; blustering Matthew Wages as Richard D’Oyly Carte and pompous Pooh-Bah; creative David Auxier as author Gilbert and town leader Pish-Tush; charming John Charles McLaughlin as romantic hero Nanki-Poo, formidable Caitlin Burke as lovelorn and overbearing Katisha; beautiful soprano Sarah Caldwell Smith as self-aware Yum Yum; Rebecca Hargrove as maiden sister Peep-Bo, and mellifluous mezzo Amy Maude Helfer as adventurous Pitti-Sing.

The production will showcase scenery designed by Anshuman Bhatia, costumes by Quinto Ott and lighting by Benjamin Weill.  The Mikado is produced by NYGASP Executive Director David Wannen. 

NYGASP has been hailed as “the leading custodian of the G&S classics” by New York Magazine and has created its own special niche in the cultural mosaic of New York City and the nation.  According to the Company’s Founder/Artistic Director/General Manager Albert Bergeret, NYGASP’s mission is “giving vitality to the living legacy of Gilbert & Sullivan.” He further adds that “everyone loves The Mikado and our new production, with its celebrated premise of imagination, keeps the revered story alive and colorful.”  As for his own participation in the storied production Bergeret states “I’m delighted to once more be involved in elevating the humor and musical values of this evolving and very theatrical production, while alternating on the conductor’s podium with my colleague, Joseph Rubin, as part of NYGASP’s commitment to the future development of the Company”.

 Performances:

Friday, Dec. 27, 2019 — 7:30 PM

Saturday, Dec. 28, 2019 — 2 PM* & 7:30 PM

Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019 — 3 PM

Monday, Dec. 30, 2019 — 3 PM**

Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020 — 2 PM* & 7:30 PM

Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020 — 3 PM

*Family Overture – Sat., Dec. 28 & Sat., Jan 4, at 12:45 PM (prior to the 2PM show) – Musical introduction and plot summary made entertaining for the entire family. Free to all ticket holders.

**Bring Your Grandparents Day – Monday, Dec. 30, at 1:45 PM – Respect your elders with a pre-show Family Overture and a backstage tour after the performance.

Ticket Prices

Orchestra: $95

Balcony: $50

Rear Balcony: $25

*Please note there is no elevator to the balcony*

Special Discounts:  50% off for children 12 and under accompanied by an adult. 10% off for seniors 65 and older.

Order by Phone:  212-772-4448

Order Online:  www.nygasp.org

Purchase in Person:  The Kaye Playhouse Box Office, 68thStreet between Park and Lexington Avenues. (Box Office Hours: Monday-Friday 12 PM-7PM)

Photo: Carol Rosegg

CONSTANT STANISLAVSKI (60) ·

The spectator can make his own conclusions, and create his own tendency from what he receives in the theatre. The natural conclusion is reached of itself in the soul and mind of the spectator from what he sees in the actor’s creative efforts. This is a necessary condition, and it is only when such a condition is present that one can think in the theatre of producing plays of a social and political character. (MLIA)

 

THEATERS IN HUNGARY FEEL THE CHILL OF VIKTOR ORBAN’S CULTURE WAR ·

(Palko Karasz’s article appeared in The New York Times, 12/13; via Pam Green.)

With new rules on funding, the government has taken a further step in controlling arts in the country, prompting an outcry in Budapest.

BUDAPEST — The applause was still going strong after an evening performance at Jozsef Katona Theater in Budapest this week when one of the actors, his shirt and face covered in stage blood, turned to the audience with a request. He asked the theatergoers to gather and pose for a photograph with the cast, hands held up in protest.

The demonstration was an act of defiance against moves by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government to tighten its control over the performing arts by changing the way theaters receive state funding, a significant source of income.

Although the measures, enacted by Parliament on Wednesday, did not hand as much direct control to the government as documents leaked to the news media last week had suggested, the move sent a chill through the Hungarian arts scene. Shows of discontent similar to that at the Katona Theater took place in other playhouses around Budapest, the capital.

“When we defend the freedom of theaters today, we defend the city’s freedom,” Budapest’s mayor, Gergely Karacsony, an environmentalist who is backed by an opposition alliance, said on Monday at a rally against the law.

(Read more)

Photo Credit: Bea Szokodi

CONSTANT STANISLAVSKI (59) ·

True art fades whenever it approaches tendential, utilitarian, unartistic paths. In art tendency must change into its own ideas, pass into emotion, become a sincere effort and the second nature of the actor. Only then can it enter into the life of the human spirit in the actor, the role, and the play. But then it is no longer a tendency, it is a personal credo. (MLIA)

SHAKESPEARE COOKIES FOR THE HOLIDAYS ·

(Marissa Nicosia’s article appeared in Folger’s Shakespeare Library’s Shakespeare Plus, 12/3; via Pam Green.)

Knots, cookies, and women’s skill

A plate of beautifully baked cookies is a wonderful thing. It is a welcoming gesture for guests, it signifies a holiday or a special meal, and it is a demonstration of a baker’s skill at making something pleasing to the eye and the palate. In Shakespeare’s England, bakers in elite households prepared sugar sculptures, confectionary, marzipan, and sweet doughs shaped into knots, twists, and letters.

Sweets were an occasion for British women to not only show that they were excellent bakers, but that they were masters of other handicrafts such as sewing and writing. In her book Pens and Needles: Women’s Textualities in Early Modern England, Susan Frye explores the deep and pervasive connection between sewing and writing in Renaissance culture. She writes, “Women from a variety of backgrounds created needlework pieces that placed accepted subjects in every room, that helped to clothe themselves and their families, and that declared the family’s social status, even as they may be read as personal and political expressions” (116). A woman’s style of knotting thread and creating samplers, or needlework pictures, was an indication of her class and taste. It was as individualized as handwriting. Likewise, as Wendy Wall shows in her book Recipes for Thought: Knowledge and Taste in the Early Modern English Kitchen, handwriting and needlework were connected to culinary skill. Although elite women employed cooks in their households, the lady of the house might personally participate in the preparation of finely shaped delicacies. Recipes that instructed cooks to shape soft dough or marzipan into “knots,” asked bakers to draw on their experience knotting thread as well as writing “knots,” meaning elaborate circular flourishes or majuscule and miniscule letterforms (Wall 143).

(Read more)

FRANK GAGLIANO:  ON  RENÈ AUBERJONOIS ·

By Frank Gagliano, 12/10

The death of actor Renè Auberjonois (at age 79) is another sad RIP instance of a recent extraordinary theatre personality who once touched my life. 

In 1968, John Lahr asked me to take over an Adult Ed class he was teaching in Dramatic Lit, at NY’s Hunter College. I had never taught anything, anywhere before — and was nervous. I decided to start the class with “King Lear” because I had just seen the production at Lincoln Center, with Lee J. Cobb as Lear. Renè Auberjonois was the very physical, very clear spoken, very funny, Fool in that production. 

I invited Mr Auberjonois  to the class. He accepted. I wish now I could remember the one question about his role and about the Lincoln Center production that I was dying to ask him — and DID ask him in the class; but I can’t recall it. I do know that Mr. Auberjonois delighted the class with his Shakespeare/Lear/intellectual, and practical theatre, expertise, and that his appearance stimulated and relaxed me into opening myself up to a life of teaching, as well as writing.

And in reviewing the Clive Barnes 1968 NYTimes review (which beautifully brought to life that production), from the list of players in the review, I discovered that there were actors in that Lear that had been in my plays; and that John Gleason (who had designed the lighting for my “Father Uxbridge Wants To Marry” Off Broadway, had done the lighting design for “King Lear.” It was probably Gleason who helped arrange for Mr. Auberjonois to visit my class in 1968. Gleason (who died young) was a close associate and colleague of that rare man of the theatre, J Ranelli, who died some weeks ago, and to whom I paid tribute in Facebook last week. J had a more involving through line in my life than Renè Auberjonois. But that opening touch of Renè Auberjonois . . . Well . . 

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/08/obituaries/rene-auberjonois-dead.html

Photo: https://www.aspenideas.org/speakers/rene-auberjonois

FOR ENTERTAINING MUSICALS, LOOK NO FURTHER THAN … PARIS ·

(Laura Cappelle’s article appeared in The New York Times, 12/5; via Pam Green.)

The genre has long been seen as minor in the French capital, but a string of English-language productions is creating a pleasingly upbeat dynamic.

The answer is unlikely to be musicals. While one of the genre’s ancestors, the 19th-century operetta, once thrived in France, musicals have long been considered minor in this country, which prizes conceptual seriousness over entertainment onstage. Yet a string of successful English-language productions has jazz hands and fidgety feet working their way into the local parlance.

“An American in Paris,” back from a Tony Award-winning Broadway run and an international tour, is competing this month with a sparkling new revival of “Funny Girl” at the Théâtre Marigny. And the two productions share a producer who has played a major role in the wave of musicals in Paris this past decade: Jean-Luc Choplin, who directed the Théâtre du Châtelet from 2004 to 2017 and is now leading the Théâtre Marigny down a similar path.

While some production companies have translated American musicals into French in recent years, Choplin has invested in English-language productions presented with subtitles. It’s a sensible choice, because the upbeat earnestness of the genre sits awkwardly with the taste for irony that is built into French discourse.

(Read more)

Photo: The New York Times

CONSTANT STANISLAVSKI (57) ·

On that occasion so important for me, at that performance in the dawn . . . the trees, the air, the sun hinted to us of such real, beautiful and artistic truth which cannot, because of its aestheticism, be compared to that which is created in us by the dead wings of a theatre. Let the artist who paints the scenery for the stage be great, but there is another, all-powerful Artist who acts in mysteries and ways unknown to us on our superconsciousness. (MLIA)