More Best’s and Worst’s: Dance World, Family Bands, Phrases

A refreshingly high culture year-end list from Mbird behind-the-scenes man Ken Wilson, aka KW: Dance […]

Mockingbird / 12.10.10

A refreshingly high culture year-end list from Mbird behind-the-scenes man Ken Wilson, aka KW:

Dance World Best and Worst of the Decade


The birth and growth of Suzanne Farrell Ballet: The little ballet company run by George Balanchine’s last muse is only a part-time operation that can’t compete for top talent with neo-classical troupes in New York, Miami, Seattle or San Francisco. But nowhere else do the master’s works look so fresh and the dancers so musical, and Farrell regularly revives forgotten works he made on her. “Apres moi, le deluge,” Mr B. said. But not while Farrell is still coaching.

The loss of modern dance pioneer Merce Cunningham: The last great living 20th century choreographer died in July 2009, and his troupe is on a two-year “Legacy Tour” before disbanding for good at the end of 2011. Bring an I-Pod if you can’t stand John Cage and friends – Merce wouldn’t mind. But don’t miss dance that makes the strange and awkward strangely beautiful, and turns chance operations into serendipity.

Best Dance Video of the Decade / Most Heartwarming Seasonal Entertainment: Virginia Brook’s film, The Nutcracker Family – Behind the Magic. This past decade has seen the release of several excellent DVDs of the 19th century ballet classics, but none gets inside its story like Brooks’ simple look at the kids who dance in George Balanchine’s Nutcracker every Christmas season at New York City Ballet. Without comment, Brooks films children’s ballet mistress Gabrielle Whittle as she auditions and then week after week rehearses Marie, her prince, and their friends in the Kingdom of the Sweets. Whittle is no mother hen; the brave children don’t need one. The short archival clips of grown up Nutcracker vets are sweet, but the kids are sweet and awesome.

The biggest, happiest family in Americana music today: The Levon Helm Band. The drummer for The Band, and one of its three distinctive singers (The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down), Helm lost his voice to cancer, got it back with more character than ever, then blew it out again. His loose confederation of friends often numbers a dozen or more, including a horn section and his daughter Amy, and they take turns singing lead and swapping grins on Band favorites and old chestnuts (Deep Elum Blues, Long Black Veil). Even on nights when the boss can only croak a number or two, it’s not nostalgia, it’s living tradition.

The Most Irritating New Phrase of 2010: “man up.” Hopefully, going forward, the microphone will literally explode the next time a politician uses sitcom-snappy lingo like “man up.”

subscribe to the Mockingbird newsletter


2 responses to “More Best’s and Worst’s: Dance World, Family Bands, Phrases”

  1. Wenatchee the Hatchet says:

    FOr me the personal "worst" in dance was Spectrum Dance Company's Petrushka/Miraculous Mandarin double bill. Resetting Stravinsky's work in an S&M club was lame, absolutely lame. And the Miraculous Mandarin? Tedious. I can't afford to catch any ballet productions now but It was just in the last six years I managed to start attending any dance events at all. I was initially drawn to check out ballet because I dig Stravinsky and fortunately for me Ballanchine's approach to Stravinsky's music seems to have been uniformly amazing. I understand why my friends into ballet said that if I like Stravinsky I can never possibly go wrong with Ballanchine. 🙂

    As for the catchphrase, Mark Driscoll has been using "man up" since 2002. You can be glad you're not in Seattle near Mars Hill if you hate that phrase. 🙂

  2. Ken says:

    Thanks for the great comments, Wenathchee. I hope you get to see Fokine's Petrushka some day, the one Diaghilev commissioned. You can also find it on YouTube.

    You came to Balanchine through Stravinsky. I came to Stravinsky through Balanchine, and now especially love Apollo, Agon, and the violin concerto, all commissioned for or appropriated by Balanchine. As you may know, they were friends and close collaborators.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *