My friend Tatiana was kind enough to lend me her copy of George Balanchine by Robert Gottlieb, part of Harper Collins' Eminent Lives series. This is the same Gottlieb who used to edit the New Yorker; it turns out he was very involved with New York City Ballet. I knew bits and pieces about Balanchine; that he was Georgian, that he was married to Maria Tallchief and Vera Zorina, that he was involved with the Ballet Russe under Diaghilev and worked with the baby ballerinas. I'd been thinking of him lately because the baby ballerinas are old ladies or dead now. And I've always felt performances by NYCB to be much superior to American Ballet Theatre. No doubt there are plenty of balletomanes (I'm not one) who disagree with me. But in this succinct biography, there are plenty of things that I learned. Balanchine worked with Ray Bolger on three shows: Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, Keep Off the Grass (no, I'd never heard of it either) and Where's Charley? I watched the movie of Where's Charley? a gazillion times when I was a teenager, and "Once in Love With Amy" is just a gem, the way that Bolger and the music and the dance all come together. I also learned that Edward Villella was not from an exotic place, but from Bayside, Queens. He looks like he should be, right? And that Balanchine had an incredible amount of respect for Fred Astaire, to the point where he was shy about meeting him. Balanchine credited his excellent English to lessons that Lorenz Hart (can you imagine) gave him during On Your Toes. In his later years, like W.B. Yeats, Balanchine resorted to monkey-gland injections to rejuvenate himself. It was these that were thought to cause the Creutzfeld-Jacob disease (Mad Cow disease) that eventually killed hi.
I have had a subscription to American Heritage for years. Sometimes it's kind of annoying (too many articles about wars, few or no women writers), and the number of issues seems to shrink each year. The latest issue is the Summer one, and there are two interesting articles in it (link above). The first is a history of baseball ("Play Ball!" by Harry Katz) that traces its origins back to 1787 and the publication of A Pretty Little Pocket Book (a reprint of a British book), which has a poem and an engraving about base-ball. That's way before Abner Doubleday, isn't it? The second is an article about Herbert Hoover, "The Wrong Man at the Wrong Time" by William E. Leuchtenburg, which covers his presidency and defeat by Franklin Roosevelt. The parallels between the severity of that financial crisis and the current one are pretty chilling. I grew up in Cleveland, and I knew from asking my mother and grandmother something about the great depression. What I didn't realize was that in 1932, the year my mother was born, the unemployment rate in Cleveland was 50%. In Toledo, it was 80%. It's difficult to imagine, isn't it? So things still aren't as bad as they might be.
I always thought that there ought to be a novel like "Every Man Dies Alone"- one that really conveys the permeating fear of living in Berlin under Hitler. I'd had that thought for years, and I've finally found it (link to Times review above). In reading about the author (Hans Fallada is a pseudonym for Rudolf Ditzen, and if you remember your Grimm Brothers well, you'll know the source), I don't think I'd want to ask him over for dinner. But the novel is really extraordinary, and maybe it couldn't have been written by the kind of man one might want at one's dinner table. The only thing I can think about to compare it to is this: Peter Carey writes about anxiety in "Oscar and Lucinda" better than any fiction writer alive. Fallada is dead, but that's as well as he's able to pin down the many faces of fear. And luckily he is served very well by the redoubtable translator Michael Hofmann. Hofmann's translation of "The Radetsky March" a few years ago made me think I'd read a different novel from the old translation. Hofmann does not make false steps, he isn't fussy; in short, you never feel like you're reading a translation. The larger photo is Hofmann, the smaller is Fallada. My biggest problem at the moment is who to give the book to- my brother, or my former roommate. They'll both love it.
The New York Times has sold the 96.3 FM bandwidth of their remaining radio station to Univision, for a new Spanish language radio station. Link above. The call letters will remain as a classical music station run by WNYC at 105.9, at a much-reduced signal. The rumors have been floating around for months, but I was hoping that they could hang on to it. Guess not.
Right before I went to Providence, I saw "Downfall," a German/Austrian production about Hitler's last days in the bunker in Berlin. Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel and written by Bernd Eichinger, it is partially based on the book by his secretary, Gertrud (Traudl) Junge. They appear to be very careful about historical detail. Bruno Ganz looks nothing like Hitler, but five minutes into it you are convinced that he does. Corinna Harfouch plays Magda Goebbels (I don't think I'd ever seen her before), and she's really arresting. You can't take your eyes off of her. And as heinous as the murdering of the children is, you don't doubt that this woman is capable of it.
I must say that I had such a great group of kids on Saturday for the writing monologues workshop. They ranged in age from mid-teens to early twenties. They were focused, talented, respectful of one another and incorporated my notes into their second drafts effortlessly. I was really impressed. And Executive Director James Robinson and Program Director Arthi Sundaresh could not have been more helpful. I only hope that I can teach there again some day.
Next Saturday, I am fortunate enough to be giving a monologue-writing workshop at Youth Pride Rhode Island (link above). It's the first of twelve creative workshops offered for free for youth 13-23 years old. You can get a registration form on their website. Youth Pride's mission is to "provide support, advocacy, and education for youth and young adults throughout Rhode Island who are impacted by sexual orientation and gender identity/expression." The executive director is my long-time friend and favorite theatre director, James Robinson.
I have had items printed in the New York Times twice in my life. The first was back in the late 1980s. I was the Theatre Access Project (TAP) assistant at the Theatre Development Fund. TAP makes discount theatre tickets available to disabled people; they also sponsor sign interpreted performances of Broadway shows. In an effort to increase our mailing list, I sent out press releases. A chunk of one ran in the old Friday Theatre column. A few weeks ago, my neighbor and I were complaining about the rooster that lives three buildings away. The rooster starts crowing around 5 or 5:30 AM, every day. We have see him, out in his yard (if I crane my neck out over the fire escape). He is a good-looking rooster, nice shiny red feathers. He would not be out of place on a piece of Italian ceramics. But I'm not in Umbria (I wish!), I'm in Brooklyn, and I enjoy my sleep. The upshot of the chat with my neighbor was that I'd write the Times' FYI column. Which I did, and my unattributed question ran last Sunday. My shrink even noticed it, without prompting. Even one of my more favorite blogs, Brownstoner (http://www.brownstoner.com/brownstoner/archives/2009/06/28-week/) picked it up. The FYI column did not run today; I'm wondering if last week was the end of it. The Times seems to be changing so quickly, it's hard to keep track. It did tell me that keeping the rooster is totally illegal. So I admit it- I'm the one who fingered the rooster.