Saturday, March 18, 2006
Ballanchine was a Russian, one of the legendary choreographers. He once stated, "Ballet is woman," although he was in the midst of developing some of the finest male dancers in the world. His model for them wasn't the "noble partner" of the old-style French and British traditions--dancers who walked gracefully around the stage and whose sole purpose was to catch a ballerina after a leap or lift her when necessary. Russian male dancers are major athletes, particularly those who dance for the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow. They're muscular, incredibly strong and exhibitionistic dancers who thrill by the height of their leaps and an almost violent expression of emotion. Ballanchine's two premier men were Jacques d'Amboise (whose daughter Charlotte is now a big Broadway dancer/actress) and Villella.
As you can tell, his specialty was becoming airborne, and the coiled spring intensity of his work is obvious. He was much admired and loved in the profession, and he makes an appearance in a delightful illustrated children’s book, "The Bungling Ballerinas," by Ellen Shire. The plot is essentially that of the famous Bette Davis movie "All About Eve" set in a ballet company. Like any good children's book, it's filled with lots of jokes and references that only adults will get and find hilarious. Villella appears under his affectionate nickname, Eddie Vanilla.
Fritz hasn't been quite the same since we saw "Brokeback Mountain." Well, to be more precise, he hasn't been quite the same since he saw Jake Gyllenhaal in "Brokeback Mountain." The fact is he's gone ga-ga over the boy. There's now a Jake file on his desktop, and I shamelessly pander to his new obsession by trolling gay blogs and Google images for new, preferably scantily dressed pictures of Jake: Jake stripped to the waist, Jake smiling adorably, Jake staring soulfully into the camera with those limpid blue eyes--that sort of thing. This is all done for love, you understand; I have absolutely no interest in these pictures myself, of course. None. Really.
One of the big hits of the Boston theater season has been the Lyric Stage's production of Edward Albee's "The Goat or Who Is Sylvia." This is late-career, recent Albee (2002) during a welcome and highly fruitful Indian Summer after a period of artistic drought from the late 1970s through early 90s. Written with great assurance, lacerating wit and featuring at least one truly magnificent role, "The Goat" was a huge success on Broadway; bringing it to Boston was a three year long goal for the Lyric's artistic director, Spiro Veloudos.
I saw it last night at the beginning of the last weekend of its run. The house was packed, my complimentary ticket being in the top row with a view down the steep bank of seating wrapped around the acting area that allowed me to realize how similar the Lyric's theater is to one of the ancient Greek amphitheaters. It's an important point--Albee taps directly into theater's well-spring here. Sylvia's a goat for very good reasons--from the satyr dance rituals during the spring fertility rites of ancient Greece descend all of western drama.
Albee writes of Martin, a man who has it all--a prize-winning architect with a perfect marriage, the commission of a lifetime recently awarded, an exquisite home--in other words, exactly the type of "hero" for whom the gods have planned a tragic reversal of fate. And it happens that Martin, on a trip through the countryside upstate of New York City looking to buy a country house for his family, sees a goat on the crest of a hill and falls madly in love with her. From here on, Albee examines all manner of social and personal issues.
It is, of course, the moment of absurdist theater that transforms all of Albee's work at some point in the action. It is as if Martin is struck mad--a favorite tactic of Gods intent on punishing those who grow too great--his vision clouded to all reason. His elegant, witty wife Stevie and their seventeen year old gay son Billy react as best they can. While Martin is the "tragic hero," Stevie is THE role in this play and Boston's great Paula Plum played her to perfection.
The play is never heavy handed or crude in dealing with the subject. In fact, it is humor that drives it forward to the shattering conclusion when Stevie drags the carcass of Sylvia, whom she has murdered, into the living room. She had first heard of Sylvia in a bantering remark made by Martin way back at the beginning when they were sparring verbally about their perfect union. Martin says he's cheating on her with a goat and they both fall into hysterical laughter. Stevie leaves the room and Martin turns to the audience and calmly says you can tell people the truth to their faces but they never believe you. A friend sends a letter revealing the affair to Stevie. There's a confrontation. Why, Martin wonders, would anyone send such a letter. Stevie replies "Perhaps he felt I should learn this from a friend rather than, say, the ASPCA."
I stayed afterwards to congratulate Paula, a friend of many years standing, and Spiro, a former student of mine from my years teaching at Emerson College, who had directed with a sure hand. If she, at least, doesn't win Boston's prestigious Elliot Norton Award again this year for yet another outstanding performance, there ain't no justice.
I particularly like the first pic... it looks like he is wearing a leather harness. Very nice.