Letter to a Man

Letter to a Man is the third collaboration between two icons from the world of performing arts – Robert Wilson and Mikhail Baryshnikov. I had the privilege to enjoy all three, in three different corners of the world.

Video Portraits came first in 2013; hosted by Onassis Cultural Centre in Athens Greece, it was an audiovisual feat unlike anything we’d seen before – in that part of the world, at least. A few months later and some three thousand kilometres north of Greece The Old Woman came to town, with William Dafoe joining the party in deSingel, Antwerp’s centre of contemporary arts. And, finally, three years later, a performance at the source, with Letter to a Man marking our initiation to the theatre world of New York at BAM, Brooklyn’s leading performing arts venue. We didn’t know it then but BAM would become a regular ”hangout” where we would enjoy many an entertaining weekend night out.

Letter to a Man is based on autobiographical texts by Vaslav Nijinsky (1889-1950), with extracts from his diaries, written in less than six weeks in 1919 when Nijinsky was already succumbing to madness and trying to record and understand what was happening to him.

In Robert Wilson’s play, each passage is repeated many times in English and in Russian by Mikhail Baryshnikov alone on the set, assisted only by Wilson’s masterfully minimalist – yet grandiose – mise-en-scène on which light, sound, props, movement and text are all of equal importance; and staged to perfection by the Director himself.

Now, I will readily admit I had never been a great fan of Baryshnikov, tilting toward the ethereal grand jeters of the likes of Nureyev rather than the solid, precise movements of Mikhail. Despite his extraordinary leaps, which apparently were higher than Rudolf’s, Baryshnikov always gave me the impression that he was somehow heavier, earthbound.  And I have to take Nijinsky’s brilliance as an establish fact, since none of his performances were ever recorded.

But watching Baryshnikov alone on the stage channelling a lifetime’s worth of earthbound precision, mastering choreography and pantomime, being almost seventy years old and unstoppable, the least I can do is concede admiration. For Baryshnikov rendered Nijinsky’s descent to insanity with the brio and gentleness, compassion and deep understanding, as only another great dancer could.

This is how it began:

”I understand war because I fought with my mother-in-law,” he repeats several times while confined to a straitjacket.

”I am a beast, a predator. I will practice masturbation and spiritualism. I will eat everyone I can get hold of. I will stop at nothing.”

”I am God’s plan, and not the Antichrist’s. I am not the Antichrist. I am Christ.”

Letter to a Man, BAM, October 2016.

It will run in Barcelona on 29 June – 02 July 2017. Details for this and other productions can be found on Robert Wilson’s website.

Photo credits: all, except the last two, photos are by Lucie Jansch.

October 23rd, 2016

Strangers Gate

All strangers are welcome to come together and be strangers no more.

For some, the Gate marks an opening to enter the Park. But on that October evening it became a portal; our opening to a Human Requiem. ”Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem was written not for the dead, but for the living. The composer himself called it the “human” requiem—otherworldly music to accompany those who seek to transcend our human condition. For this unique theatrical choral event staged by Jochen Sandig and gracefully scored for piano four hands and choir, conductor Simon Halsey and Rundfunkchor Berlin craft an immersive experience of remarkable artistry where the standing audience moves organically with the production—and division between performer and audience, life and death, light and dark all seem to dissolve.”~ Excerpt from the programme.

Part of Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival.

Synod Hall, St. John the Divine Cathedral
W 110 St. & Amsterdam Av.

Strangers Gate on W 106 St., is one of the twenty entrances to Central Park that have been named in honour of the population of New York and represent the vision that Central Park is ”the People’s Park”.

October 16th, 2016

A Revelation

Well, it was about time I discovered Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and why it is so popular. I did so  thanks to the stunning, heart warming performance the dancers gave in front of the most expressly adoring audience one could ever hope for.

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”Untitled America” in world premiere opened the evening. Choreographed by Kyle Abraham, it examines the impact of the prison system on African-American families. Performed by a large ensemble of dancers to an ambient music interrupted by spoken word, narrated by former prisoners. The audience was blown away and I thought it was the best possible introduction to Ailey’s eclectic, humanistic style, a style that combines classical ballet with modern and traditional dance moves creating fluid, light yet strong, convincing silhouettes.

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It was followed by ”Awakening”, a ritualistic piece choreographed by the company’s Artistic Director, Kyle Abraham.

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”A Case of You” came next, an intimate, sensual and intense duet, danced to Diana Krall’s version of Joni Mitchell’s song.

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The evening closed with ”Revelations” Ailey’s upbeat signature work which ”using African-American spirituals, song-sermons, gospel songs and holy blues, it fervently explores the places of deepest grief and holiest joy in the soul”.

It closed to a standing ovation and made me want to dance again.

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Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater are performing until December 31st at the New York City Center and their repertory varies depending on the date and time booked. For more info click on the link above.

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At this point, it would be an omission not to mention that our evening was enhanced by an excellent dinner at the renowned Greek restaurant ”Milos”, just two doors away. Although the exorbitant menu prices are prohibitive to those of us with small to medium-sized pockets, an occasion like Christmas eve is always a good excuse for a splurge.

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Image credits:
Different productions, from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater website.
Milos New York, from the restaurant’s website.
Last two images of the performance, from The Humble Fabulist’s archives.

December 24th, 2016