Friday, March 25, 2022

Aiming High: The National Ballet of Canada’s Mixed Program

Jillian Vanstone and Harrison James in After the Rain. (Photo: Karolina Kuras, courtesy of The National Ballet of Canada)

A departure, a beginning, a wobble, a blast from the past. The ebb and flow of life united four works seen on the mixed program that the National Ballet of Canada presented at Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts last week. Amid two world premieres – one each by company principal dancer Siphe November and guest choreographer Alysa Pires – was the company debut of Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain, and a reprise of Kenneth MacMillan’s Elite Syncopations as the evening’s frolicsome conclusion. But one at a time.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Post-What: Just What Was Modernism, Anyway?

“By 'modernity,' I mean the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent, the half of art whose other half is the so-called eternal and the supposedly immutable . . . “ – Charles Baudelaire, poet of the inexpressible.
It is very important, perhaps even crucial for some of us, that we come to have a full and clear grasp of what modernism actually was before even dreaming of approaching the thorny question of what so-called postmodernism might mean. Let’s not be too hasty here. Like most advanced forms of alternative thinking, at least on the surface, modernity emerged as a discussable notion during the mid-19th century in Europe, specifically France, which had already long established itself as a vanguard socially, politically and culturally, especially with the invention of the camera in about 1840. But also like most advanced ideas, the concept of the modern was imported by America and drastically enhanced before being blown up to global proportions.

In the context of art history, modernité, and the designation of modern art covering the early period from roughly 1860-1870, first entered the lexicon in the head, hands and pen of French poet Charles Baudelaire, whose 1864 essay entitled “The Painter of Modern Life” tossed his invented neologism like a conceptual hand grenade into the cultural marketplace. The radical symbolist poet, and possibly the first modern art critic, referred to “the fleeting, ephemeral experience of life in an urban metropolis and the responsibility which art has to capture and explore that experience.” 

Monday, March 21, 2022

Acting and Actors – The Method: How the Twentieth Century Learned to Act

The 1935 Broadway production of Awake and Sing!

The Method: How the Twentieth Century Learned to Act by Isaac Butler (Bloomsbury Publishing) is a gossipy, entertaining and informative history of Stanislavskian acting – how it developed in Russia at the Moscow Art Theatre and how two of Stanislavski’s associates, Richard Boleslavsky and Maria Ouspenskaya, imported it to American shores, where, through its dissemination by the Group Theatre in the 1930s, it became the Method. Butler has rounded up an impressive amount of material and presents it coherently and compellingly. I didn’t realize how little I knew about the tensions between Stanislavski and the M.A.T.’s co-director, Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko; about the role each of the personalities who were drawn into Stanislavski’s circle played in the development of his approach to acting; about the effect Stalin’s rise to power had on the M.A.T. generally and on Stanislavski specifically – or certainly about Boleslavsky’s intriguing and rather crazy biography. No account I’ve read deals so clearly and in such dramatic detail with the break in the Group Theatre, when Stella Adler, its most gifted actress, challenged the weight Lee Strasberg, one of the company’s co-founders, placed on affective memory, where the actor digs into his or her past to unearth emotional dynamite to blast open a scene. Adler and Strasberg became the most important American acting teachers of the twentieth century. The Method’s examination of the differences in their styles and approaches and that of Sanford Meisner, another Group alumnus who became a famous and influential teacher, is fascinating. He identifies Adler’s greatest quality as her gift at script analysis; her book, compiled posthumously from her class notes, on Ibsen, Strindberg and Chekhov, and to a lesser extent the one on American playwrights, bear him out.