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.”