The Bolshoi’s Rebuilding Program

The Bolshoi Ballet brand has been seriously degraded in the past decade. “The ballet company was booked into dubious venues – Las Vegas, the Royal Albert Hall – by dodgy impresarios; tours by troupes styling themselves Stars of the Bolshoi proved to be anything but.” Now though, the company has taken some significant steps in restoring its honor.

In Santa Fe: A Biennale With A Coherent Message

Biennales are generally big agglomerations of a lot of “stuff” that rarely works together to deliver a coherent statement. But “last weekend, in a minor miracle of contemporary curating, New Yorker Robert Storr opened the fifth Santa Fe biennial, titled Disparities and Deformations: Our Grotesque. Storr’s show, held at a contemporary art center called Site Santa Fe, channels the unnatural elegance of Raphael’s Vatican decor, almost 500 years after the Italian master’s death. At Site’s invitation, Storr has brought together 53 contemporary artists whose works speak to one another, and to how the ancient notion of the grotesque pans out today.”

UK’s Latest “Big Project” Disaster: Diana’s Fountain

London’s memorial fountain to Diana, Princess of Wales, opened only last month by the Queen, has turned into a disaster. “The £3.6 million fountain, supposed to express Diana’s spirit and love of children, is closed indefinitely over the school summer holidays after three people were hospitalised in accidents while paddling, among them a child who had to be treated for a head injury. It is the third and most serious stoppage, following break downs due to a malfunctioning pump and ‘a rogue leaf’. An urgent investigation is now under way.”

And This, 007, Is Called An iPod…

“When the engineers at Apple originally designed the iPod, it’s doubtful they thought of their gizmo as a potential security risk. But in corporate and military circles, that’s exactly what the digital music player has become. Circles like Britain’s Ministry of Defence (MOD), which last week added the iPod to its list of restricted devices.” At issue is the ease with which an iPod user can download information of any kind (not just songs) from other machines.

What Makes Chicago More Deserving Than Toronto?

“Last night Chicago threw a spectacular party to celebrate the opening of Millennium Park, an extravagant and stunning waterfront development that features two flamboyant new creations by celebrated architect Frank Gehry… And in a few years, another Great Lakes city hopes to celebrate its first Frank Gehry building. That city, of course, is Toronto. But Gehry, who was born here but left at the age of 18 for Los Angeles, recently he made it clear that Toronto has no right to consider itself architecturally on the same plane as Chicago… The problem with his home town, in his view, is that the mindset is too conservative, too timid, too restrictive.”

America’s New Culture War, As Viewed From Britain

“If it is true to say in the run-up to the 2004 presidential election that America has never been more politically divided, then it is equally true that the battle for control of the country’s cultural landscape has never been more bitterly fought… Ironically, the push for more controls on what is shown [on television] is coming largely from right-wing, religious politicians and organisations who have long argued that market forces should prevail in every aspect of society: education, healthcare, social services – everything except broadcasting, it seems.”

A Direct Theatrical Assault on Guantanamo

“British judges rarely inject themselves into politics. Even more rarely do they directly attack foreign governments. But on Nov. 23, 2003, Lord Justice Johan Steyn, Britain’s third-highest ranking judge… delivered a blistering attack on what he saw as the ‘arbitrariness’ of the detentions and procedures involving international individuals held by the United States military at the naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba… At the time, the judge had no idea that, in less than six months, his words would be turned into the moral center of an intensely provocative, artfully conceived and rapturously reviewed piece of modern political theater, written, rehearsed and produced all in a matter of weeks.”

Is Political Comedy Being Reborn, Or Just Getting Shrill?

In a time of unusual partisan divide in the U.S., it’s no big surprise that some comedians are increasingly bringing their personal politics into their acts. But whereas political comedy has historically been focused on general themes so as not to appear to be overwhelmingly targeting any one ideology of individual, the new generation of political stand-ups are exceedingly personal. On the left, Janeane Garofalo and Al Franken rail against President Bush and the neoconservatives they believe pull his strings. On the right, Dennis Miller uses his CNBC talk show to ridicule the Democrats’ lack of toughness and original ideas. But is it still comedy, or just a new method of attacking the opposition?

A New Generation Of Iraqi Art, Heavy On Despair

“The war in Iraq has been especially disillusioning for young Iraqi artists, many of whom believed the American promises of freedom. As the old order fell, they sat in their cracked-window studios and at paint-splattered easels and dreamed of an Iraqi renaissance.” But the despair which is now gripping the ‘liberated’ Iraq is overwhelming any thoughts of such a rebirth of culture, and the work of an Iraqi artist is now likely to reflect “the mayhem of a suicide bomb, the agony of a mother who has unearthed the dusty bones of her son, the confusion of his country today.”