I’m not entirely sure why the performing arts take such a long summer break in New York. If you’re a sports fan, there’s something for each season, and summer is very busy for rock and pop tours. But if you like theater, dance, opera (and even the visual arts, as museums don’t open big shows), you’re out of luck in the hot months. There’s very little from late June to August, then suddenly everybody’s trying to open something or other between mid-September and November. It’s crazy, I tell ya! So what do we have to look forward to this fall?If a trend emerges so far, it’s the confirmation of a certain safety, both formal and thematic. I don’t know if it’s the result of the economic downturn or the consequences of a spreading curatorial timidity—likely a combination of both—but the big institutions are playing it safe. Broadway is crowded with new shows based on popular movies (Shrek, Billy Elliot, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas), risk-adverse revivals (A Man for All Seasons, American Buffalo) and classics we’ve seen a million and one times in the past few years (Hedda Fricking Gabler, The Seagull). When you charge upwards of $100 for a ticket, you don’t want to take the risk of challenging your audience, I suppose, but I’m not sure this is a worthy gamble in the long term.
Meanwhile, this fall the Metropolitan Opera is squeezing the NY premiere of John Adams’s Doctor Atomic and its first production staged by Canadian genius Robert Lepage (it only took what, 15 years?) in the middle of star-studded warhorses like Lucia di Lammermoor, Don Giovanni, La Gioconda, Madama Butterfly and La Traviata.
Those looking for live entertainment that does more than provide a soothing interlude between dinner and bedtime must look hard, though of course some rising stars are confirming their status: For instance, the local experimental company Radiohole is putting on an eagerly expected show at the Kitchen (a venue that will also welcome the return of maverick dancer/performance artist Ann Liv Young) while the irreplaceable St. Ann’s Warehouse welcomes the return of its acclaimed Scottish import, Black Watch. The shows I look forward to the most are by writers and directors who have a real vision—and that’s something usually missing from the Met and Broadway.
Vision can usually be found at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which this fall offers high-quality fare but also seems to retreat from its mission as an explorer of the unknown (unknown in America, that is). BAM’s Next Wave Festival was conceived as a platform from which New Yorkers could discover new artists. But the big names this season are the likes of choreographers Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Bill T. Jones, Edouard Lock and Pina Bausch—all of them very familiar. This of course does not detract from their quality; it’s just that there are plenty of experimental choreographers whom we’ve never seen here. And while I’m thrilled to see European directors like Aurélien Bory and Ivo van Hove this fall (plus BAM’s Harvey may well be my favorite theater in New York), the Brooklyn institution is reaping the seeds sown by others, as Bory and van Hove’s American careers have been nurtured by the New Victory Theater and New York Theatre Workshop, respectively.
All right, enough staring into the crystal balling—though it’s a fun hobby we shouldn’t leave to sports fans. We’re in September, things are about to seriously heat up, and we’ll have plenty to talk about as the next weeks unfurl. Let the games begin!