Curtain Up

September 30, 2009

Sometime in the 1970s or ’80s,
I was watching Merce Cunningham in a solo onstage. He was skimming across the floor when suddenly a baby in the audience let out an unhappy howl. Most dancers would be so concentrated on performing that they would ignore it, or somehow block it out. But Merce just smiled. It was such a special moment, a spontaneous expression of his being totally aware of his surroundings rather than in a rarefied atmosphere. It was as if he were saying, I’m in the same world you are in.

Well, Merce is no longer in our world, and we are the poorer for it. On our “Transitions” page, I take a look at the revolutionary impact he’s had. Part of his legacy is that he always made us think about the relationship between art and life—which for me was crystallized in that split second when he gladly welcomed unruly life.

With the recession, art and life don’t always cooperate, and the shakiness of art institutions makes us all shaky. It’s no secret that many dance companies are having a hard time. In “Dance Matters,” you’ll find out how Oregon BalletTheatre saved itself by the skin of its teeth. Another company with rough patches in its past (a more distant past, though) is Pennsylvania Ballet. Read Brenda Dixon Gottschild’s “On Solid Ground” to learn how Roy Kaiser has led this com­pany to survive and thrive.

Like PAB, Miami City Ballet is rooted in the Balanchine aesthetic. The dancers have not only risen to the technical challenge of Balanchine’s ballets but also embraced a broadening repertory. Case in point is our cover subject, Jennifer Kronenberg, a striking dancer with a terrific range. Dazzling in “Rubies” from Balanchine’s Jewels, at home in Giselle, she was also chosen by Twyla Tharp to star in her recent creation for the company, NIGHTSPOT. In “More Than a Balanchine Baby,” Guillermo Perez traces her path from being a kid playing in the streets of Queens (as did MCB director Edward Villella before her) to being a ballerina who meets every challenge head on.

Just like that wailing baby in Merce’s audience, we all have emotions within us that potentially disrupt our art. In “Why Her and Not Me?” Rosalynde LeBlanc writes beautifully about the ugly emotion of jealousy. We’ve all been there, but we usually keep it under wraps. These difficult feelings are inevitably part of the balance of art and life that we deal with every day.

Photo: Merce in
How to Pass, Kick, Fall, and Run, Nov 1970, Brooklyn Academy of Music.