What to Watch This Week
While we’re all trying to work out what Stay Alert means, and why my cleaner can come to my home but my sister can’t, here are some soothing remedies for that insidious disease, stir-craziness. There is so much to tell you about this week that choices will have to be made or you’ll never get any sleep.
Thousand Hand Guan Yin
This is a kind of miracle. Before you click on it you need to know only that the 63 dancers in this performance are all deaf. Their unison is directed by signals from the four trainers in white at each corner, which is a kind of dance in and of itself.
What Do We Need to Talk About
The newest Richard Nelson play, one of a series about the same Upstate New York family that he has written for the Public Theater over a number of years, is specifically designed for, and taking place on Zoom, that remarkable new technology which has made lockdown bearable for so many of us. The Apple family, four adult siblings and the live-in boyfriend of one of them, continue their loving and prickly conversations which are so familiar to those of us who find ourselves in very different head spaces from those we love. The youngest sister’s boyfriend is in quarantine in another part of their house but they can all see one another via Zoom, and they pass an eccentric evening in isolation by telling one another stories.
While we’re looking at contemporary drama, Lincoln Center Theatre are streaming Pipeline, their thought-provoking play about race and education from a live performance in 2018. Here, a public school teacher, the mother of a teenage boy who is in trouble for hitting a teacher at his exclusive private school, tries to work through the thicket of his insecurities as a man, as an African-American, and as a child of privilege. This excellent play by Dominique Morisseau lays bare the dilemmas of parents who want the best for their children while aware of the dangers of separating them from their peer group.
Lincoln Center Theater
As an old television producer, I am very conscious that most video today is produced so quickly that little attention is paid to its technical side. This promotional video from Lincoln Center Theatres doesn’t take much time to watch but do take a moment to appreciate the technical expertise of the editing of the piece. We are all receiving dozens of promotional and begging videos daily from organisations asking for donations, either directly or indirectly. Looking at it from a professional viewpoint, this is how it should be done and rarely is.
Das Klagende Lied
If you’re missing the grandeur of classical concerts with all the trimmings, here’s a beautiful performance of Mahler’s Das Klagende Lied from Australia’s Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Full of magic and mystery, Das Klagende Lied (The Sorrowful Song) is inspired by stories from the Brothers Grimm and was, surprisingly, Mahler’s first major orchestral work, a precursor of his epic symphonies. Two full orchestras (one of them off-stage), are conducted by Simone Young, excellent soloists, led by soprano Eleanor Lyons, the combine Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, all from the famous landmark Opera House.
The Tap Pack
You have to love tap dancing for this one. I do, and The Tap Pack are simply amazing. For some odd reason, since the Second World War, the most innovative tap dancing has been coming out of Australia. Almost without exception, all the great tap dancers throughout history have been men. Yeah, yeah, I know I’m going to get dozens of outraged emails citing the really good female tap dancers from Ann Miller to Eleanor Powell but I can cite you right back with at least a dozen male dancers who could knock any of them into next week. However, despite an active current New York cell of great tap dancers led by Savion Glover, the ones who have really made my socks roll up and down in recent years have been Australians. Why? I’ve no idea, but I expect someone out there can tell me about an outstanding Australian tap teacher or two who got it going. One caveat, though. This show takes place in an entirely empty theatre in the cavernous Sydney Opera House. And it’s a bit chilling to see all those rows of empty seats, because it reminds us of what’s going on around us when what we need to do is to forget everything except what these four amazing dancers are doing with their eight feet.
The Longest Time
Some pop songs just lend themselves to choral singing. This is one of them, Billy Joel’s The Longest Time. I’ve been sent several versions and this is the best. It’s by the Phoenix Chamber Choir in Vancouver, Canada, as part of their Social Distance-Sing Project and it has specially written funny lyrics by Nicholle Andrews and Zach Timson. This is a real charmer, each member of the choir in their own homes, with their individual personalities clearly displayed. This is the opposite to a conventional choir performance where the members try to be homogenous and retreat into a common presentation of the song. They sing beautifully despite all kinds of distractions. Some have their little kids and babies, one is getting a haircut from his wife, one is being ‘helped’ by his children’s toys, one is playing percussion on a disinfectant container. No matter what, they keep singing. By the end of the song you feel as though you’ve met every member of the choir individually and you like them all.
Scott Siegel’s Great American Concert Series
Scott and Barbara Siegel are fixtures in the New York cabaret scene, not as performers but as presenters. Somehow they cobble together shows on a shoestring which consist of cabaret artists whom you may never have heard before, singing songs you very likely will. They put on shows using good singers and, this is unusual, they make sure the artists are paid for every performance. At this time, when so many performers are singing and playing for free, this is admirable. Here’s a whole cabaret concert of Great American Songbook.
Tribute to Lynn Harrell – Live With Carnegie Hall
On Thursday, 2pm EST, 7pm BST, Carnegie Hall in New York is hosting a tribute to the American cellist Lynn Harrell. For more than half a century, he deserved his place in the highest echelon of performing artists. A superstar roster of fellow cellists and other musicians pay tribute to his musical life, from YoYo Ma to Mischa Maisky to Alisa Weilerstein to Inon Barnatan. This should not be missed by anyone who loves instrumental music, the cello, or just, as I did, Lynn Harrell.
Hymne a L’Amour
I thought to cap off this week's What To Watch with a simple song, beautifully sung, from the stage version of Piaf, not a musical exactly, but a play with songs. Jenna Russell can sing for me anytime, anywhere. She’s joined here, briefly, by Sara Poyzer and Sally Ann Triplett, and some fine musicians.
Ruth Leon is a writer and critic specialising in music and theatre.