It has been raining here in south Florida. Not so much on my warm Island as in adjacent South Beach or downtown Miami… and not nearly so much as what was seen in Ft. Lauderdale, where they had to close the airport after well over a foot of rain fell in a matter of hours.
Mostly, the rain provided my car with a nice rinse and an opportunity for me to read a book that had been highly recommended.
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus is the book to which I refer. It now sits atop the NY Times Best Seller list, so this recommendation is probably not news to those of you with literary interests. However, in the off-chance that you have not heard of this novel with its laugh out loud approach to feminism, let me introduce you to what I consider to be a very good piece of writing.
I do not read a lot of fiction and that should be taken into account when relying on what you read here. Still, if you took to heart my long-ago recommendations on Water for Elephants, or The Gentleman From Moscow, then you may certainly add this someday soon-to-be-Amazon television series to your list of must-reads.
Not willing to wait for that, I turned to present day Amazon for a peek at the MGM+ series A Spy Among Friends, starring Emmy Award winners Damian Lewis (Showtime’s Homeland/Billions) and Guy Pearce (HBO’s Mildred Pierce). Good stuff in the tradition of many British spy dramas… this one based on the true story of Kim Philby and his defection to the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War. I can certainly recommend it while at the same time cautioning you to be on your toes… this is a low-key spy drama and the mystery of just what is really going on is deliberate, part of which is the non-linear storytelling.
At Sharon’s urging we sampled several episodes of Manifest… an NBC series from a few seasons’ back, executive produced by the very talented Robert Zemeckis. My wife liked the show better than I, which is not to say all that much. I found it to be a rather lukewarm version of the J.J. Abrams ABC series (LOST) and a totally failed attempt at mimicking the HBO series, The Leftovers.
Manifest remained on-the-air for three seasons on NBC and then a fourth on Netflix. Go know. I cannot be asked to account for the taste of the American viewing public.
It is not so much that Manifest is bad… admittedly its sci-fi premise is top drawer… but I found the cast of actors to be mundane and the descent into predictable TV hyper drama… simply hokey. The concept held some promise for consequential and realistic drama, fraught with potential moral dilemmas and opportunities for philosophical and psychological exploration of the lives of the principal characters. That was most likely before some TV hack got control of what was to occur and decided that real human drama just will not work on Network TV without a cop show setting and a caper to be solved weekly (read weakly).
As the guy who made 125 episodes and five movies out of Cagney & Lacey I am clearly no one to squawk about solved capers or cop leads… female or otherwise. But look at my show… even now, nearly a half century later… then look at Manifest and tell me you cannot see the difference. And before I am accused of some kind of bias against cop shows other than my own… Steven Bochco’s Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blues… hell, even his failed Cop Rock are among my favorites. Naked City is one of the best TV series ever, Law & Order, The Wire, Justified, Barney Miller, Saving Grace, Fringe, are all right up there with the best. Manifest is simply not in that league.
In a league of its own is Sentimiento, a ballet choreographed by Durante Verzola. The World Premiere was presented here in Miami by the very excellent Miami City Ballet company that somehow has survived in this somewhat artistically starved part of the North American continent.
It is the general rule that the arts are not something that thrive in this climate. For one thing, museums, opera, ballet, and theatre all have one thing in common: they all need money. Lots of money. Not box office chump change but heavy support from the community and, more often than not, that community is the community of major economic enterprise. American capitalism at the highest corporate level is what makes museums and their theatrical counterparts tick. You cannot support this stuff with tee-shirt sales and receipts from sales of rum drinks.
There is a reason that the world-famous Cleveland Symphony comes from that so/so Ohio town. There is a long list of Fortune 500 companies in and around Cleveland, and there are even more in the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, where there are almost as many major theatres and museums as there are companies to finance them. Miami doesn’t have that kind of economy, or that kind of history; as a result, it is culturally on a very different wavelength.
Maybe that is why it is such a surprise that the Miami City Ballet is so good. It is not my place to get into the details of why that is. I am way out of my pointe shoes on this one. Ballet is simply not my diocese. In fact, I sort of nodded off in the first act (Divertimento No. 15 with choreography by George Balanchine). Anyone should be able to appreciate the sheer beauty and athleticism of the dancers, and there is no quarreling with the music by Mozart or the fine symphony orchestra playing that score. Me? I have trouble with the tutus, the euphemistic sexual innuendos that I have always thought poisoned young girls’ minds about what real life held in store, and… maybe, just maybe, I find myself put off by the thing’s old-fashioned aristocratic origins.
Not at all old fashioned was that part of the ballet program featuring an homage to West Side Story with the original Jerome Robbins choreography. Robbins is a world apart from Balanchine and far more relatable to this old guy, but as good as these young folks were, they had to compete with my memory of their on-screen counterparts… replete with Oscar winners… whose brilliant motion picture performances were further enhanced by multiple takes and even more varied camera angles.
It was the ballet of West Side Story, coupled with the generosity of two out-of- town friends gifting me their tickets, that got me there. It was Sentimiento that brought me to my feet. The dancers, the costumes, the varied musical arrangements for the multiple dance vignettes by pianist Francisco Renno, were a tribute to Miami’s South Beach, Calle Ocho, and the eclectic social and sexual scene that exists here despite the efforts of the state’s governor.
I loved it. And for me to say that about ballet is a lot more rare than a rainy day in paradise.
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