Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Ballet Maker

George Balanchine
  At the June 1982 commencement ceremonies, Northwestern University gave Maria Tallchief an honorary degree, Doctor of Fine Arts, to be specific. I was a dean then at NU and on stage for those ceremonies. That gave me the opportunity to walk over to where Ms. Tallchief was sitting and to tell her how much I had enjoyed her dancing—in effect thirty years earlier and more. She had been a star with the New York City Ballet which I had attended fairly frequently when they performed in their first New York home, the City Center of Music and Drama—formerly the Mecca Temple. While I had seen a “classical” ballet now and then without getting hooked, I very much took to the concentrated (a feeble one-word descriptor) choreography of Balanchine. I went to many performances, later with Fannia and Douglas Davis, a college friend, a knowledgeable balletomane. That is when I saw Maria Tallchief dance.
   To my knowledge, I never saw Balanchine himself, though he might well have stood near the stage during performances of his ballets. Of those, there were a great many! Gottlieb lists 92 of them,* many of them truly great—more than justifying a claim I have often made, that Picasso, Stravinsky, and Balanchine were the three brightest stars of 20th century art.
   Of these ballets I of course saw a couple of handfuls over the few New York years when we were regulars. There are a some few for which I can even now conjure up bits of moving pictures; among others, the Prodigal Son, Concerto Barocco, and the Symphony in C, improbably set to Bizet’s teenage opus. Especially vivid in my mind is that work’s second movement, with the long legs of Tanaquil LeClercq moving back and forth between two wide circles of arms. This was before the tragic fate that had polio permanently prevent her from dancing.
   After we left New York, no more Balanchine ballets, not counting some seen on the computer. My last visit to see the New York City Ballet live, now at the Koch Theater with its great Nadelman sculpture, was the day after my New York City wedding to Gissa. My old friend Carl Hovde was our witness and the donor of two good seats to the ballet. I am ashamed to say that I do not remember that evening’s program.
*Robert Gottlieb, George Balanchine: The Ballet Maker (Harper-Collins e-books). 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

An Avid Reader

Robert Gottlieb’s An Avid Reader: A Comment

   I am more than two thirds through this most enjoyable book and just interrupted my trek to make a casual check whether others had already made a comment that had popped into my mind. The reviews I looked at were all very favorable—rightly so—check them out, since in no way am I here writing  a review. I must however, briefly tell you what Avid Reader is about.
   While Gottlieb, it’s author, wrote a number of other books, the main thrust of his career was that of editor, first at Simon & Schuster, then for two decades as head of Knopf, followed by a much shorter stint as the boss—to the degree there was such a thing—at the New Yorker, before he returned for a final stint at Knopf. 
   As the editor of a great many books, he of course dealt with a large number of people. But in addition to these, many friends, colleagues and acquaintances of a most sociable author make their appearance in the pages of his book.  If I counted correctly, over six hundred names appear in the index of my e-book of the Avid Reader. If one takes off a generous 15% for persons who are mentioned but are not actors in the narrative—e.g. Theodore Dreiser or Dwight Eisenhower or Marshall Field—we are still left with more than five hundred persons who play one or another role in Robert Gottlieb’s life.
   He was over eighty when he was writing this professional autobiography and it may not be so unusual for someone who has led a long and public life to have amassed that many friends and acquaintances. I don’t really know what might be taken to be normal, or even if there is such a thing. But I am reasonably sure that not that many octogenarians can list anywhere near as many colleagues, friends, and acquaintances and spell their names correctly, variously identify them, and recall the role they played in the author’s Lebenslauf.
   For quite a few there were no doubt records. But I suspect that even those are not to be found in ordered folders housed in labeled file drawers. And for a great many others of the personages named, the there may be stray hints in correspondence or other miscellaneous writings, while a large number of remaining ones had to emerge from a well-stocked memory.

   As you’d expect of a book by a master editor, Gottlieb’s Avid Reader is exceedingly well-written and flows smoothly on, and is never less than interesting.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Believe It Or Not: Ninety Years

February 12, 2017
Abraham Lincoln, born 1809. 208 years old

Rudolph H. Weingartner, born 1927. 90 years old

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Will Trump Self-Destruct?

   I am not a fan of President Trump, to say the least. And I have been reading many pieces slamming him for various sins—all of them he actually committed. My head is full of more remarks of that kind, potentially without end. But after thinking about it, I decided not to throw another pebble into the anti-Trump pond, though I don’t know whether I can stick to that resolve. Instead, the calmer part of my psyche preaches that I should shut up and let matters take their course. That sermon assumes that before long Trump will really mess up and, with luck, self-destruct before his four years are up. My fear is that this outcome is excessively optimistic. But then, somehow—somehow!—I remain an optimist.  

Saturday, February 4, 2017

On Two Trump Significant Actions

The Necessity of Getting Advice
   In the past week or so, President Trump has made two major decisions and acted on them in the form of significant promulgations. He gave an order that radically changes the country’s practices  on immigration and he put forward his nominee, Neil Gorsuch, to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court.
   The latter move was received calmly; there were no demonstrations for or against and the few discussions I have monitored fall quietly into the expected category. Liberals, in this case spokesmen for Democrats, combined a “what did you expect” with the concession that candidate Gorsuch was wholly competent and in the class of acceptable justices of our highest court. A few senators are expected to vote not to  approve him. But that is not so much disapproval of the person than it is payback for the unprecedented way the Republicans treated the nomination that Obama had made to fill that vacancy created by the death of  Justice Scalia.
   Conservatives, mostly Republicans, welcomed Trump’s nomination, praising both Mr. Gorsuch for his judicial record and his personal characteristics. There is no question that after the usual process of vetting such candidates he will be easily approved. That I would vote "no" is of course of no general interest. 
   The reception of President Trump’s order concerning immigrants, mostly Muslims, from seven Middle Eastern countries was anything but calm and acquiescent. While those who voted for Trump appeared to approve  an action he had put forward during the campaign, a huge number of people protested with noisy vehemence emphatic declarations, together with many statements by educators and scientists and others who tend not to join more boisterous opponents.
   Worse, almost immediately a large number of individuals and families were stopped in their tracks and seriously discombobulated, to use too mild a word, at airports, on other modes of transportation and at US borders. To add insult to injury, so to speak, many knowledgeable persons have made the point that this presidential action is grist for the mill of potential terrorists.    
   The title of these remarks suggest another significant difference between these two presidential actions. I feel quite sure that Mr. Trump did not come into the presidency acquainted with even the names of potential justices of the Supreme Court, not to mention their records or the actual persons themselves. He surely sought advice from people whom he trusted to know their way around these elevated legal circles and who had a sense of Trumps ideological predilections. The result was a nomination that was not, as far as I know, actually denigrated by anyone in the know.
   The story about the other presidential action. There is lots of evidence that Trump thunk up, as the kids say, that immigration edict by himself. Maybe he asked a couple of people to help him write it, but it is quite clear that he did not consult any of the many governmental officials who are knowledgeable and experienced in matters of immigration and to whom he has immediate access.

    The whole world knows that last November American voters elected a person without experience in just about all aspects of governing. The one person who does not seem to know this obvious fact is November’s candidate and now the president of the land.