Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The Art of Burning: The Dilemma of Ideas

Adrianne Krstansky (far left), Michael Kaye, and Rom Barkhordar (far right) in The Art of Burning. (Photo: T Charles Erickson)

Kate Snodgrass’s play The Art of Burning, in production by the Huntington Theatre Company at the Calderwood Pavilion, opens with an exchange between Patricia (Adrianne Krstansky), an artist who is in the midst of a divorce, and Mark (Michael Kaye), who seems to be acting unofficially on behalf of both her and her husband Jason (Rom Barkhordar). I never figured out that part, but the dialogue is tart and witty. Snodgrass has a gift for high-comic repartee and she excels at two-character scenes. The best one is between Mark and his wife Charlene (Laura Latreille), Patricia’s best friend, who has been cheating on him. He’s found out about the affair, she’s put an end to it, and he’s struggling to believe her claim that it won’t happen again. It’s as good a piece of dramatic writing as I’ve heard in the last several years.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Glorifying Intolerance: The Sad History of Banning Books

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Art censorship, especially in cases that did not involve printed books, also once again reveals the limitations and often fortuitous nature of the whole Index project. Condemnations were often delayed for years or even centuries, or omitted altogether, as censors struggled to keep up with the constant flow of publication and creative works. They instead targeted individuals on a selective and often somewhat random basis, according to what came to their attention. Montaigne was quite dismayed by the close expert scrutiny his Essais received on his arrival in Rome, and it must also have been a hawk-eyed reader indeed who managed to pick out a single offending passage in the hundreds of pages of Cervantes’s Don Quixote.
– Robin Vose, The Index of Forbidden Books: Four Centuries of Struggle Over Word and Image For the Glory of God.

Alas, the history outlined in Robin Vose’s harrowing new study of institutionalized intolerance, The Index of Forbidden Books (Reaktion Books, distributed by University of Chicago Press), often veered all the way to the extreme right and even included, on special occasion, bonfires built to incinerate ideas which were deemed too dangerous, or sometimes just too alternative to orthodoxy, to be permitted on the open market of human consciousness. You can imagine how afraid the powers that be must have been around the turn of the first millennium, when the paranoid forces of paralyzing superstition were simply not enough and they needed to resort to more stringent methods of control, such as the complete non-existence of alternate perceptions of reality that ran counter to their own strategic plan for managing moral behaviours and belief systems. The one key ingredient they never quite clarified or explained, of course, was just why the supreme Deity they worshipped, and whose psychic persona armor they were obsessed with forcing down the throats of the entire population of the world, would ever need to be “glorified” in so crass a manner. 

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Lost in Translation: Wayne Mcgregor’s MADDADDAM

Siphesihle November and Jason Ferro in Wayne McGregor’s MADDADDAM. (Photo:Bruce Zinger; Courtesy of The National Ballet of Canada)

"But the people couldn’t be happy because of the chaos.” It’s a line uttered during the course of MADDADDAM, and it comes close to summing up reaction to a ballet where the dance got in a swirl of virtuosic theatrical effects. Based on a trilogy of dystopian novels by Canada’s Margaret Atwood, British choreographer Wayne McGregor‘s lavish three-act adaptation for the stage, a co-production of the National Ballet of Canada and England’s Royal Ballet, commission of The National Ballet, confuses and disappoints. It doesn’t tell a story that’s easy to follow, and it doesn’t use the art of dancing that measures up to the soaring imaginative peaks of Atwood’s speculative prose. Where her novels feel futuristic, McGregor’s ballet, whose world premiere took place at Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre at the end of November, appears curiously anachronistic, being more concerned with scenography – a hallmark of the early-20th-century Les Ballets Russes – than with pushing classical dance into brave new territory.