Monday, September 23, 2013

It's Official

Looking south along Columbus Avenue from 81st Street. Sunday, 1:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Monday, September 23, 2013. Autumn began officially yesterday afternoon at 4:44. Saturday night brought rain that fell steadily into the very early morning hours that left us with a cooler sunny Sunday, the very last of Summer 2013.

Last Thursday night I went to the New York City Ballet’s Fall Gala 2013.  I’ve written here several times that I am not a balletomane. Even I think it's beginning to sound like too much protesting. However, I’m not. I do approach these performances with a lingering unwillingness to attend. Like a kid whining to his parent “I don’t wanna ...” I step in as my parent to myself. “How bad could it be?” I ask myself. 

However, I do love to watch the dancers and beauty they create with their awesome ability and discipline and commitment to their craft. And, of course, I love the music.
Thursday evening at 6:45 at Lincoln Center, the red carpet is out for the Fall Gala of the New York City Ballet and the photographers are ready.
I remind myself of my good fortune to have the opportunity to see these productions. It is also a great New York moment and it’s our chosen job over here to relate it, or some of it.

Because I’m not a balletomane and not what I would regard as knowledgeable – the same holds true for me for most of the arts, as much as I like them – I worry that I won’t be able to convey the experience properly.

It was a black tie evening and many of the women attending dressed highly for the occasion. Their appearance lends great glamour to the occasion, and for quite a few it can seem like the fashion parade is the draw. Although for many, their appearance is their personal tribute to the ballet and the company.
Walking the red carpet ...
The annual gala always draws a very prominent crowd. After all, the theater is named for one of them – a big supporter of the ballet – David Koch. I didn’t see Mr. Koch Thursday night (which doesn’t mean he wasn’t there) but I did see his wife and I photographed her shoes – as you can see. The dinner after the performance was the fashion celebration. In fact the evening’s program was called “fashion returns to New York City Ballet.”

The Promenade where the dinner was held was very festive and celebratory as you can see. There is an “up” in witnessing this kind of event. Many of the women do look spectacular and that in itself adds a certain luster to the event. It is also a fund-raiser and the funds givers (many of them) are in attendance to enjoy the fruits of their generosity.

I was thinking about that while watching the performances from the First Tier. The sheer manpower before us on the stage and in the orchestra, not to mention all that is concealed behind the curtains and the sets – in this great theater – is an enormously expensive undertaking. If it weren’t for the deep pockets of the raptly devoted and their friends and associates, it just wouldn’t be here.
The tables on the Promenade are set for the guests who will be emerging from the theater momentarily.
And here they are ... meeting and greeting and looking for their placements ...
Ballet today like many cultural activities in the metropolis is big business. It has many objectives. One of the main ones is to encourage people to come. That begins with the children; and exposing them to the wonder and its possibilities. There are many in attendance in these audiences -- especially among the women --  who had studied ballet (or dreamed of it) when they were kids.

The performance opened with the New York City Ballet Orchestra playing “Short Ride in A Fast Machine (Fanfare for Orchestra) by John Adams with maestro Andrews Sill conducting.  When they finished, the entire orchestra departed the orchestra pit. Hmmm ...?

This night was made more special because it involved the World Premieres of three works by three important luminaries in the world of dance, viz., Justin Peck, Benjamin Millepied, and Angelin Preljocaj.
Alexandra Lebenthal. William Ivey Long and Olivia Flatto.
Missy Taylor. Barbara Vogelstein.
Justin Peck choreographed the first piece “Capricious Maneuvers” with music by Lukas Foss. The performance was prefaced by a docu-video on a giant screen of Mr. Peck working with the costume designer Prabal Gurung in the concept and construction of the costume design, and then watching the dancers rehearse under Mr. Peck’s direction. The video was brief but thoroughly informative and interesting. It provided an intimate dimension for the audience to assimilate into watching the finished dance. The music was very modern and so was the ballet. The ballet is not an old fashioned art as some might think; today it is now.

The second piece was choreographed by Benjamin Millipied whom enough people know by now to be a celebrated dancer/choreographer married to a movie star, the beautiful Natalie Portman with whom he has a child. (I didn’t see Ms. Portman on the Promenade either, although I did see her husband, as you can see) but I know she was there.
Charlotte Moss.  
Allison Sarofim. Jean Shafiroff.
The piece began with a video with Mr. Millepied, Marc Happel the Costume Superviser, and Iris Van Herpen, the designer. The costumes were very space-age with a touch of reptilian to these eyes, and the docu-vid on their conception, and making made the ballet performance itself even more riveting – partly because they look so different from the First Tier. The Music was by Nico Muhly and again it was modern ballet. The dancers were wonderful. No, extraordinary. I was completely enthralled for a non-balletomane. So were the rest of the audience, as I could see with my good view of the orchestra. They were with me (and the dancers – and the choreographer and the costume designer).

The second piece was followed by “Spectral Evidence” choreographed by M. Preljocaj, who is a French born and bred Albanian, and is referred to in the program as “an avant garde choreographer.”
Carmen Dell'Orefice and Paul Beirne. Chiu Ti Jansen and Paola Rosensheim.
The shoes. Lucia Hwong Gordon with Larry and Michele Herbert.
Janet Mock. Darren Walker (right).
The docu-vid for this piece featured the designer Olivier Theyskens, a charming Belgian who has been designing successfully here in New York with Andrew Rosen’s company Theory. It was fascinating to watch Theyskens show Preljocaj and superviser Happel what he had in mind by producing it before their eyes.

Again, as it was with the previous two vids, the audience was drawn into the performance by the side door, so to speak, getting a most intimate glimpse of how and what we were watching came about in the creative minds.

The choreography itself was just amazing. The music – which does not sound musical to these ears but was very compelling and alluring, sounded like something John Cage might have composed. I later learned from the program that indeed, Mr. Cage was the composer, and even Preljocaj who thought he knew Cage’s work well hadn’t been aware of this one. It was a most perfect collaboration between the dancers and the composer.
At table.
Benjamin Millepied and Anne Bass.
There were parts of Preljocaj and Cage’s collaboration that were entirely percussive.  It made me think of Fred Astaire and Hermes Pan who loved to begin their rehearsals, warming up amusing themselves and each other by creating new steps strictly to the percussion. This dance had that wit and joyful enthusiasm.

Modern Ballet. The company and featured dancers were amazing – amazing to consider how they seemed so effortless in performing what was clearly a very complex choreography.

The evening closed with George Balanchine’s “Western Symphony” (4th Movement and Finale), music by Hershy Kay. This ballet premiered at City Center fifty-nine years ago this month (September 7, 1954). Hershy Kay was a well known name on Broadway and in ballet circles in the mid 20th century. He was a much sought after orchestrator of musicals, first working with Leonard Bernstein on “On the Town” in 1944 and many other shows including “Chorus Line” and “Evita” as well as many ballets.
On the Josie Robertson Plaza after the ballet. Full moon over Manhattan on West 65th Street.
Lincoln Center, 10 p.m.
Catching Up. Last Monday night Robert LoCascio hosted a Juilliard Salon at his residence in Turtle Bay Gardens. It was an evening of performances by students of The Juilliard School to celebrate the rich history of the Turtle Bay Gardens community. Guests enjoyed cocktails at Mr. LoCascio’s home and then meandered their way through the lush gardens to a neighboring patio to enjoy the stunning performances from students of Juilliard’s music, drama, jazz and vocal arts divisions.

Performances -- Vocal Arts: Raquel González, soprano / Pierre Ferreyra-Mansilla, guitar ; Aria from Bachainas Brasileiras (Villa Lobos); Selections from seven canciones populares Españolas (de Falla). Jazz: Jordan Pettay, saxophone / John Tate, bass; Chi-Chi (Charlie Parker). Drama: Samuel Lilja / Brittany Vicars in the Balcony Scene from Romeo and Juliet. Music: Fabiola Kim, violin / Ji Young Lee, cello. Passacaglia (Handel-Halverson).
Robert LoCascio's garden before guests arrived.
Among those attending were Juilliard Trustees James and Ellen Marcus and Sanford and Elizabeth Ehrenkranz, and Juilliard Council members Gordon D. Henderson, Terry Morgenthaler. Also attending: Steve Novick, Suzi Cordish, Christina McInerney, Spencer Harper, Chau Giang T. Nguyen, Scott and Madeline Cohen, Richard Foreman and Jelena Guzenko, Augusto Garcia, Monica Greenberg, Lorin Latarro (Juilliard Alum) and Dr. Howard Levy, Richard Ma and Kristy Sundjaja, Ghislaine Maxwell, Peggy McEvoy, Diana Picasso, Theresa Racht, Jennifer and David Raezer, Benjamin Sun, Anika Wolf.
Juilliard President, Joseph Polisi with Robert LoCascio, welcoming the evening's guests. Guests gathered under cascading flowers as Robert LoCascio welcomed visitors to the Gardens.  
Guests gathering to hear Juilliard Dean, Ara Guzelimian recite a passage from E.B. White's Here is New York. Peter and Connie LoCascio, parents of the host.
Soprano Raquel González and guitarist Pierre Ferreyra-Mansilla performing Villa Lobos' Bachainas Brasileiras.
Samuel Lilja and Brittany Vicars performing the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet.
Jordan Pettay, saxophone, and John Tate, bass, performing Charlie Parker's Chi-Chi.
Violinist Fabiola Kim and cellist Ji Young Lee performing the Handel-Halverson Passacaglia.
History. Turtle Bay got its name in the 17th century when there was actually a cove on the East River about where 41st Street is today. Originally the area was a land grant of 40 acres given by the Dutch colonial governor to two Englishmen who created a farm with the same name in the mid-17th century. 

There was a creek that emptied into the cove near what is now 47th Street. In the 18th century, that part of Manhattan – still rural -- became a destination for what we would now call “affluent” city dwellers looking to get away from the squalid heat of summer in the city (which was still well below what is now below Canal Street).
The cove known as Turtle Bay with the creek letting into it, circa early 19th century.
The farmhouse, which was on a knoll overlooking the cove, was later owned by a man named Francis Bayard whose grandson Francis Bayard Winthrop inherited it and owned it until his death in 1817. (history: Mr Winthrop's great-grandfather was John Winthrop, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Bayard Winthrop was also great-nephew of  John Winthrop, son of the aforementioned John Winthrop, who was governor of Connecticut in the late 17th century. The Connecticut Governor Winthrop also owned what is now Fisher’s Island.)

In those early days of the 19th century on Turtle Bay, the neighbor to the north was James Beekman who owned a house “Mount Pleasant,” on a knoll overlooking the river that is now Beekman Place. To the south of  Winthrop’s summer villa was Kip’s Bay Farm.
The James Beekman house, "Mount Pleasant," located on a knoll overlooking the river around what is now 50th Street and Beekman Place.
After the street grid system was begun in Manhattan in the early 19th century, all of the hilly land was graded to create cross-streets, and the land was subdivided for development.  In the late 1860s, after the Civil War, the entire bay was filled in and occupied by commercial development including breweries, slaughterhouses, gasworks, cattle pens, coal yards and railroad piers.

To the west of Turtle Bay, by late 19th century, Second and Third Avenues had elevated train lines, and the Turtle Bay neighborhood became rundown and derelict. The air from the industry along the river, including the coal-burning Waterside Station of Consolidated Edison made the air thick and fetid with sooty darkness. The neighborhoods with the heaviest air decayed along with the pollution.
The north side of East 48th Street between Second and Third Avenues today.
The situation remained thus until 1918 when a far-seeing, community-minded wealthy woman named Charlotte Hunnewell Sorchan purchased eleven of the original brownstones on the south side of 49th Street between Second and Third Avenues, and nine houses on the north side of 48th Street.

By 1920, Mrs. Sorchan had renovated the houses and created the enclave. Her architects refaced the brownstone exteriors with pale stucco and re-arranged the interiors so that the service rooms faced the street, and the living areas faced the backyards which were turned into a community garden now known as Turtle Bay Gardens. Mrs. Sorchan then sold the houses at cost but with property restrictions that kept the “commons” intact. By the mid-1930s, the area had become a haven for dynamic and ambitious young New Yorkers whose presence and maintenance gentrified the entire area and gave it a sophisticated and desirable helt.
Turtle Bay Gardens today.
Pathway leading to bubbling fountain in shared area on Turtle Bay Gardens.
Then in 1948, a few blocks to the south and east of Turtle Bay Gardens, 18 acres of slaughterhouses along the river were cleared, and on land donated by the Rockefeller family for the purpose, the United Nations was constructed -- where Mr. Winthrop’s summer villa overlooked the cove called Turtle Bay a hundred and fifty years before. Within a decade of its  completion and following the removal of the elevated trains two and three blocks to the west, the neighborhood of Turtle Bay became what it still is today – a thriving area of high rise office buildings and apartment houses.

Turtle Bay residents have included E.B. White, Bob Dylan, Katherine Hepburn, Gloria Vanderbilt, Leopold Stokowski, June Havoc, Maxwell Perkins, Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon, Judge Learned Hand, Henry Luce, Dorothy Thompson, Tyrone Power, Ricardo Montalban, Maria Bowen Chapin (who founded the Chapin School), and current resident Stephen Sondheim. This is New York.
The United Nations built on land in the Turtle Bay section of Manhattan, on lands that was once slaughterhouses along the East River.

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