Yvonne Korshak reviews Off-Broadway, Broadway, Film and Art

Tag: Lincoln Center

Review | Oslo | By J. T. Rogers | Directed by Bartlett Sher | Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center

… at the gates of war … 

No conflicts seem more stubbornly unsolvable in modern politics and history than the hostilities between Israelis and Arabs.   How fascinating that there were, in fact, secret negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, enabled by idealistic,  peace-seeking Norwegians, that resulted in a signed agreement in 1993, the first of the Oslo accords.   Oslo tells the that story in such a way that the audience is caught up in the suspense of high stakes history.

We learn early on about two Israeli academics whose research demonstrates that peace between the Israeli and Palestinians wouldn’t just mitigate violence but would benefit both sides economically.  With these studies as a starting point, Norwegians in their country’s foreign service, convinced that giving representatives of the opposing sides the opportunity to know one another personally will enable cooperation, invite representatives of the Israeli government and the PLO to meet secretly in Oslo.

The Norwegians provide a place for talks and human comforts, good drink and food — Norwegian pancakes play a large role in drawing together these diplomatic representatives on a personal, and progressively warmer level.  The diplomats become friends while not “giving in” to one another’s political demands. There’s give and take: they make some compromises but hold their ground on the non-negotiable issues.

As progress toward an agreement is made, diplomats at even higher levels arrive to hammer out the make-or-break details.   The Americans become involved toward the end and – it’s history — the signing of the Oslo Accord took place in September 1993, with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin signing for Israel and Yasir Arafat signing for the PLO, the “first-ever peace deal between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization,” as the playwright writes in his program Note. In a famous photograph, dramatized in this play, Rabin and Arafat shake hands in the Rose Garden of the White House, in the presence of President Bill Clinton.

Knowing the satisfactory, even thrilling ending — which tragically dissipated later, but that’s another part of  history — makes all the more interesting the ins-and-outs and progress and setbacks of the negotiations, through which, ultimately, the PLO agreed to recognize Israel’s right to exist and Israel recognized the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinians.

The characters, in representing historical figures, sometime seem like mouthpieces for their points of view rather than coming to life in their own terms.   Two actors, Anthony Azizi as the dominant PLO representative and Michal Aronov for the Israelis, bring charisma and an enlivening free-wheeling body language to their roles which go far to keep the play from seeming too talky-talky.

The two Norwegians most involved in the success of the negotiations are the most fully drawn as characters but, in terms of what the play’s about, they’re peripheral, so their emotional journeys don’t strengthen the sense of human drama as much as if they were more central.  Oslo is occasionally engaging emotionally, but it’s always interesting as the ideas and interplay, underlined by the life and death importance of a good solution, keep our minds engaged.   You have the sense throughout of learning something you really want to know, and of being glad the author has made that a stimulating event.

Oslo plays at the Vivian Beaumont theater in Manhattan’s Lincoln Center through June 18, 2017. For more information and tickets, click here.

Review | A Minister’s Wife | A Musical Theater Version of George Bernard Shaw’s Candida | Book by Austin Pendleton | Music by Joshua Schmidt | Lyrics by Jan Levy Tranen | Conceived and Directed by Michael Halberstam | Lincoln Center

A big problem for A Minister’s Wife is that, unlike most of Shaw’s plays, Candida is in my view — though others disagree — dated.  It has to do with a woman determining her own fate but the ideas circulating about relationships between men and women, marriage and love, are archaic — and there’s barely a spoonful of Shavian wit.  These problems were evident in the recent production of Candida  by the Irish Repertory Theater , and setting some speeches to music, as in A Minister’s Wife, doesn’t make them go away.

The situation is a love triangle among Candida, her husband the Reverend James Morell, and Marchbanks, a teen-aged poet and household hanger-on.  Candida, who has a good figure and a great head of hair, arrives home from somewhere for a day’s stay.  Morell has been so intensely involved in composing one of his passionate socialist sermons that — much as he adores her — he misses picking her up at the train.  That’s one of Morell’s weaknesses as a husband — he’s too involved in his work.  Oh Oh.

Marchbanks, the boyish, dreamy, idealistic poet who’s in love with Candida seizes the opportunity to woo her with a combination of his own poetic soul and his understanding of her inner woman’s nature, a flirtation Candida enters into in her home and under the eyes of her husband who, understandably, grows angry and, ultimately frightened.

A Minister’s Wife starts auspiciously.  The set, the Morell’s living room/office, is an appealing blend of refinement, education and lived-in wear:  it conveys the Minister’s seriousness of purpose.  Early on, Morell sings, more a recitative than a song but very effective in making real for the audience his powerful sermons — and the Shavian language is up to the idea.  Marc Kudisch’s rich baritone and good looks convey believably and pleasurably his often referred to charisma.

That’s the best use of music in The Minister’s Wife.   After that, the music is one note per word, plain up and down the scale repetitive to the point of being irritating, and the “songs” never take flight from the mode of recitative.

And who can take the allure Candida finds in Marchbanks seriously?  For one thing, Marchbanks, played by Bobby Steggert, is fifteen years younger than Candida.  And Morell is a mature, powerfully attractive man to whom his Secretary, everyone who hears his sermons, and Candida herself is attracted.  And although the dialog indicates that Marchbanks has a poetic soul, we never hear him say anything of particular poignancy nor hear any powerful poetry from him — mainly he flirts, speaks disrespectfully to Morell (who has rescued him in from a park bench) and, in between times, languishes.

Candida’s flirtation with Marchbanks, and her density and/or callousness (Shaw can’t seem to decide which) about her husband’s feelings, make her seem silly and small, draining her significance.  Kate Fry as Candida has a pleasant voice but doesn’t bring a dramatic presence to the role that might help us overlook its weaknesses.

When Liz Bates has center stage, she brings the play temporarily to life with her vitality and wit as Morell’s Secretary, “Prossy,” tough-minded but filled with yearning, aided in her moment of liberation by Morell’s Curate, played by Drew Gehling.

The Morell’s children are briefly mentioned but — on the one day their mother comes home — they never appear.  What an error!  They may have been in his narrative way — as children often are — but Shaw should have figured out something better than leaving them out, all the more in a play about who protects whom in a marriage.

Ibsen’s A Doll’s House of 1879 never seems dated, but Candida of 1898, Shaw’s answer to A Doll’s House, does.  Candida is spirited, but not independent-minded, unlike Nora as her personality emerges in A Doll’s House.   In A Minister’s Wife, as in Candida, it all comes down to a very simplified view of who protects whom in a marriage.  I find particularly irksome that the resolution of the story — in the play and musical version — infantilizes the mature Morell;  to me, this comes across as one of Shaw’s peevish complaints about women, masked as a “modern” story of women and independence.

A Minister’s Wife  plays at the Mitzi E Newhouse theater at NYC’s Lincoln Center Theater.

Dance Review | American Ballet Theatre | All Classical Masters | Conducted by David LaMarche | Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center

… a feast …

… although hard on the male dancers …

“All-Classical Masters,” a program of five ballets and ballet excerpts, is a sheer orgy of loveliness.  The dancing, choreography, design, costumes, lighting bring in one sparkling jewel after another — all in different tones and colors.

The choices are over-oriented toward the ballerinas, leaving the great male dancers of the American Ballet Theatre who accompany them with not much more to do than the heavy lifting, even in the selected pas de deux.  Nevertheless … what an evening!

In Allegro Brillante, choreographed by George Balanchine to Tchaikovsky’s Third Piano Concerto, starring Gillian Murphy and Ethan Stieffel, the choreography follows the music with concentrated literalness — one can hear Balanchine drawing his cues from rises and falls, notes and rhythms inTchaikovsky, guiding the dance with a constraint that intensifies the feeling of a tour de force: when it ended, you had the sense that the entire audience had been holding its breath.  The colors are luscious and contrasting vibrant pastels.  The stage seems enveloped in a delicious sheen of lighting and dance.

Things turn darker in “Romeo’s Farewell to Juliet”  from Romeo and Juliet, choreographed by Antony Tudor to music of Delius, starring Xiomara Reyes and Gennadi Saveliev.  The spotlit rectangular, rumpled bed on the dim stage anticipates the stone tomb in the crypt — soft and hard, night an day, life and death are visually crushed together.  Joy and grief share a sharp edge in Juliet’s frantic dancing as Romeo pulls away.  The ballet segment seemed too short to fully develop the emotions yet at the same time one didn’t want it any different.

Thais Pas de Deux is an exotic fantasy clothed in orange and saffron and gold, choreographed by Frederick Ashton to Massenet’s “Meditation,” from Thais.  Hee Seo is picture-perfect as the dark and delicate Thais, partnered with exceptional harmony by Sascha Radetsky.  It’s exquisite.

In the Pas de Deux from Act I of Manon, choreographed by Kenneth Macmillan to music of Massenet, the poet, while furiously engaged in writing, is seduced from his work by the passionate, impatient desire of his lover, the prostitute Manon.  Again, the segment is all about her —  and when we have Jose Manuel Carreno as the poet!  I really would have liked to see more from him.  But Diana Vishneva’s Manon is astonishing.  She’s tiny, flexible, liquid — no bones, it seems, and yet powerful, how is it possible?  And she dances as if hectically possessed — able to twist herself into knots but nothing is tight, flow is everywhere.

Just to watch a human body at the outer margin of strength and untrammeled limberness is in itself a thrill but Vishneva extracts meaning from her unique ability.  Her speed and flexibility convey all that is tragic in Manon — socially marginal, non-conforming, and driven to fling herself all the way toward whatever tragedy may take her.

The Dream, choreographed by Frederick Ashton to Mendelssohn’s’s music, is a full one-act ballet after Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, with the wonderful interplay between the “real” human lovers and the fairy world of the woods, Titania’s drugged passion for the donkey-headed Bottom, Puck’s wicked playfulness, and Oberon’s magisterial kingship of the fairy world.  Mist really rises in this totally as-you-like-it dream — the dream as it looks, thanks to Shakespeare, in our communal imagination.

Here at last, in this evening, the men come into their own.  Marcelo Gomes as Oberon covers one end of the Metropolitan Opera’s vast stage to the other — and the whole of his magic realm — with lean mastery.  Julie Kent is pretty as the ditsy — but it’s not really her fault, is it? — Titania.  Craig Salstein is a vibrant, athletic Puck (though his legs didn’t always reach the same positions on the second of his paired leaps).  Good we got to see more of the strength of Gennadi Savaliev (Romeo and Juliet) as the mortal Demetrius.  Isaac Stappas brought out the fascinating incongruity of the human dancer’s body with the donkey’s head — shades of Equus — or rather the other way around.

It’s a joy and a privilege — the best of the best — to see the American Ballet Theatre’s “All-Classical Masters.”  For more information about performances and about the other great artists whose work went into this production, click on link.

Ballet Review | Coppélia | New York City Ballet | Lincoln Center | Spring 2009

The great classical ballets are founded on great stories.  Coppélia is true to form, and enriched with comedy, and some of the most heart lifting music ever written for ballet by Leo Delibes — the “oh here’s where that comes from” kind of music!

The setting is an idyllic central European village during festival time, rendered with a watercolor rich background, sketchy enough to give breath to imagination.  Frantz loves two “women, ” Swanilda (swanny word play on Wagner and Swan Lake) who returns his love, and Coppelia, a full-sized animated doll who sits on a high porch in the home of Dr. Coppelius, her inventor-maker, reading a book (upside down as we find out).

In Act II, Frantz, Swanilda and her friends find their way into Dr. Coppelius’ workshop where Swanilda disguises herself as the automaton, the ruse revealing to Frantz (once he wakes up from Coppelius’ potion) that Coppelia does not exist — not as a real woman — and the lovers are reconciled.  Dr. Coppelius, danced by  Adam Hendrickson, is left holding the limp form of a rag doll.

Thus, with the lovers united, the story thins after Act II but Act III is so filled with gorgeous dancing, including the ecstatic pas de deux between Frantz and Swanilda, that one hardly notices.

The idyllic setting and implausible persuasiveness of the wind up doll might make Coppelia in outline seem a childish story but it isn’t.  All major, and mature, emotions come into play, arrowing upward for Frantz and Swanilda, with Dr. Coppelius a tragic counterpoint.  Flirtation, desire, love, betrayal, jealousy, plans that succeed, plans that go awry, joy and despair:  the issues are fundamental, conveyed with the full depth and breadth of emotion through dance.

Tiler Peck danced the tour de force role of Swanilda that calls on the ballerina to perform full classical ballet and, in Act II, to dance with the mechanical motions of the pretend wind up doll, and even semi-wind up as the ruse begins to deteriorate.  The victory of the real woman over the “doll” in her lover’s affections is a satisfying moment (though we’re never really worried about her) — and a notably feminist theme and outcome for a ballet completed in 1884.  For perspective, Henrik Ibsens’ A Doll’s House was first performed in 1879.

Andrew Veyette was electrifying as Frantz:  he has the strength and big leaps of the great male dancers with an individualizing loose limbed flexibility.  The program notes call Frantz a “country bumpkin” but it’s hard to connect the word “bumpkin” with that kind of dancing — although it’s true, he was taken in by that “doll” — at first.

A classical ballet like Coppelia compells one to compare the physical characteristics of men and women that fuel the soaring culminations of desire.  Voyeurism, yes!  One contrasts constantly the shape of the female torso with the male, the legs, the arms, the neck, the faces as the dancers perform the full range of movements.  These ballets let us have our cake and eat it, too.  The piper is paid by the discipline of the forms and the years of hard work the dancers have invested in their skill.  These cast a permissive veil over sheer elemental eroticism.

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