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Arts & Entertainment Preview - October 1999

Dance and Theater
B Y   N A N C Y   D A L V A   &   J O H N   I S T E L

Dream Teams

   Life is a Dream

"Mad or not, my hour is come, and I / Will have my reckoning." So says poor Prince Segismundo in Life Is a Dream, the masterwork of the Spanish Golden Age playwright Pedro Calderón de la Barca. The seventeenth-century dramatist has his day of reckoning this month, when two adventurous directors mount his metaphysical musings on power, patriarchy, and the mercurial nature of reality. JoAnne Akalaitis brings the play to Chicago's Court Theatre (through October 10). At the Brooklyn Academy of Music (October 12-17) the Catalan director Calixto Bieito offers his raunchy Royal Lyceum Theatre Company production, the hit of the 1998 Edinburgh Festival. It's no surprise that enterprising directors fall for Calderón's tale. A Polish king studies the stars and divines that his son, Segismundo, will usurp him, so he locks the prince in a tower to be raised in isolation. When a peaceful succession is threatened by warring factions, he's forced to try letting his son be king for a day. The experiment is a disaster, but not before Calderón has beguiled audiences with Segismundo's hapless attempts to comprehend his dreamlike life. The work, which some claim rivals Lear or Faust, rarely appears on U.S. stages. Perhaps the 400th anniversary of Calderón's birth next year will make more Dreams become reality. -J.I.

His Fair Lady

Suzanne Farrell workshop  

"Ballet is woman," George Balanchine said, and at any point in his life it would have been appropriate to mutter "He ought to know." Famously enchanted by his ballerinas, he married several, beginning-as a young man in Russia-with Tamara Geva. Next came Alexandra Danilova (an "unofficial" wife, owing to the complexities of expatriate life in France). In the United States there were the Hollywood star Vera Zorina, the Native American beauty Maria Tallchief, and, finally, the piquant and enchanting and very young Tanaquil Le Clercq, stricken by polio early in their union. He left her only in hopes of marrying the still younger Suzanne Farrell, who when they met was of an age to be his granddaughter. He courted; she demurred. He choreographed; she danced. He proposed; she married another, a New York City Ballet dancer who was her peer-at least in years. The newlyweds fled to Brussels and the company and choreography of Maurice Béjart. Farrell returned to New York. Balanchine took her back into his company. There has been a tendency over the years to sensationalize this apparently unconsummated affair (given the ingredients, that's not hard to do) and to carry on about unrequited love, May-December unions, and the like. But the Balanchine-Farrell relationship was utterly and publicly fulfilled, in the time-honored way for artists and their muses: in their art. Balanchine made the most wonderful dances in the world for Farrell, and she was the most wonderful dancer. Now she tosses her hat into the ring as a company director, staging dances by Balanchine and Jerome Robbins and an excerpt from Béjart's Romeo and Juliet, suitably enough. (Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C., October 21-24; Modlin Center, Richmond, VA, October 26-27; State Theatre, New Brunswick, NJ, October 29; Bardavon Opera House, Poughkeepsie, NY, October 30. November performances in Pomona, NJ; Philadelphia, PA; Stony Brook, NY; Concord, NH; Bethlehem, PA; and New York City, at the New Victory Theater.) Farrell has her fans rooting for her with all their hearts. She was the ballerina of a lifetime for those lucky enough to see her. Balanchine did not just love her-he showed us why, and how, and let us count the ways. -N.D.

Pret À Porter

   Kiss Me, Kate

Good poetry teachers tell you that if you're going to write about the moon, you must use new metaphors. Take these lines from Cole Porter's popular "You're the Top": "You're a boon, / You're the dam at Boulder, / You're the moon ... over Mae West's shoulder." Somehow a lunar eclipse may never look the same. Because he had enough wit and sophistication to sink a ship, you can make a case that the songwriter was one of the country's best poets. Since Anything Goes in the 1980s, little Porter has gone on Broadway (except for the recent, short-lived hodgepodge High Society). Well, as countless theater scribes will note, it's time to "Brush Up Your Shakespeare." Kiss Me, Kate begins previews this month (October 25) for a November 18 opening at the Martin Beck Theatre, in New York. The musical comedy, which hasn't been on Broadway since its opening, fifty-one years ago, stars Brian Stokes Mitchell and Marin Mazzie, Ragtime's Tony-caliber performers, as the dueling director and his temperamental leading lady. Despite his urbane image, Porter can out-bawdy the bard: "If she says your behavior is heinous/Kick her right in the Coriolanus." -J.I.

Nancy Dalva's essays appear in the magazine 2wice.

John Istel is the editor-in-chief of Stagebill.

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Photo Credits -- Life is a Dream: Douglas Robertson. Farrell: Carol Pratt. Kiss Me Kate: Joan Marcus.
Copyright © 1999 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.

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