Just as contemporary crowds flock to the Louvre today to catch a glimpse of DaVinci’s “Mona Lisa,” during the 19th century, there was one painting that stood out amidst all the rest as the most captivating work of the “Grand Tour.” The artwork, falsely identified as Guido Reni’s 1599 portrait of Beatrice Cenci attracted visitors from all around the globe and spawned numerous copies. Writers such as Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville all documented their journey to Rome to see the painting. Hawthorne wrote in his travel journal that the painting’s “spell is indefinable, and the painter has wrought it in a way more like magic than anything else I have known.” The work appears in two of Edith Wharton’s novels and provided the inspiration for Percy Shelley’s 1819 drama “The Cenci.”
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Choreographer Pam Tanowitz and pianist Simone Dinnerstein tackle Bach’s equally canonical and intricate “Goldberg Variations” in a collaborative piece entitled “New Work for Goldberg Variations.” Tanowitz’s company performed the new piece this past weekend at the Hopkins Center for the Arts. The performance proved to be a testament to the value of contemporary re-invention of an age-old piece.
Italian writer Elena Ferrante’s operatic Neapolitan Quartet, a series that spans four volumes and six decades of friendship, traces the intertwined lives of characters Lila and Lenù. The series begins with Lenù and Lila’s childhood as they grow up in a poor Neapolitan neighborhood and traces their subsequent lives as wives, mothers and ultimately lonely old women. The quartet is a series of cyclical events encapsulated in a larger cyclical narrative structure. The first book of the series, entitled “My Brilliant Friend,” opens at the fourth book’s close. Rino, Lila’s son, telephones Lenù to tell her that his mother has gone missing. At the end of the final book, entitled “The Story of a Lost Child,” there is no answer as to where Lila has disappeared. However, Ferrante writes such a thorough description of Lila’s character and psyche throughout the series that, in the final book, it makes sense as to why she erased herself. It seems not to matter where she’s gone. Lila is mean, whip-smart and down-trodden — how could she not want to disappear, how could she not want to melt into what she calls the “dissolving boundaries” of her complicated world?
“What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realized it sooner.” – Colette
“Late at night my mind would come alive with voices and stories and friends as dear to me as any in the real world. I gave myself up to it, longing for transformation,” quips Winona Ryder as the enviable Jo March in the 1994 film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s coming-of-age classic “Little Women.” Just as Alcott’s Jo sought to find her place in the world, so too does Lara of “Girl” strive to establish herself as a woman and artist. With “Girl,” Flemish director Lukas Dhont offers a more contemporary coming-of-age story whose plot turns on the very idea of self-driven metamorphosis. “Girl,” a deceivingly simple title which contains multitudes, is the story of 15 year-old Lara, a transgender girl from Belgium who, like Jo March, longs for transformation. Lara does not only yearn to change her body, but wants more than anything to become a ballerina. The movie frames a period of major transition for Lara: she’s just moved to a new city, is living in a new apartment, is preparing for transition surgery and has begun training at the prestigious Royal Ballet School of Antwerp.
Saturday’s World Music Percussion Ensemble performance was an important one for director Hafiz Shabazz — his 108th and final concert before retiring after more than 30 years as director. And for Shabazz, it was fitting that the performance was intended for children. Parents and grandparents filled the audience of the HopStop family show, crowding together on the floor with kids on their laps — but not for long. Soon, the kids were up and dancing to the energetic rhythms of Shabazz’s group.
Dartmouth professor and best-selling novelist Alexander Chee’s new book “How to Write an Autobiographical Novel” is a collection of 16 nonfiction essays. The language is beautiful, the subject matter variegated and the insight profound. The essays are ordered chronologically, tracing Chee’s life through personally and politically transformative moments. While “How to Write an Autobiographical Novel” follows Chee’s journey as a writer, the book also details Chee’s many roles as student, cater-waiter, activist, gardener, lover, friend and teacher. In writing about his own selfhood, Chee explores large-scale political issues: the AIDS epidemic, the Iraq War, the 2016 presidential election. This book is a deep dive into Chee’s craft, a political thinkpiece, a memoir and a call to action.
Lauren Groff, a master of evocative prose and unexpected narrative twists, has a new book coming out this summer. Groff’s “Florida,” a collection of short stories to be released June 5, is her first work since the much acclaimed 2015 novel “Fates and Furies.” The new volume explores the themes of motherhood, mental illness and the general plight of being human. While we don’t know much about “Florida” beyond the publisher’s note, a look back at Groff’s most recent work — which then-President Barack Obama named his favorite book of the year — can help set our expectations for the collection.
In a performance entitled “Trigger Warning” on Tuesday night in Brace Commons, powerful poetry duo Mother Tongue made one thing clear from the beginning: They will not remain in the margins. These poets — Rachel McKibbens, 2009 Women of the World Poetry Slam champion, and Dominique Christina, twice a winner of the same contest — aren’t performers who beat around the bush. They come at the bush head-on, with equal parts confidence and vulnerability.
Shortly after the curtains opened, South African instrumentals and the voices of Dada Masilo’s dancers overtook the first notes of Adolphe Adam’s original composition for “Giselle.” The dancers were splayed and widely stanced in silhouette against a gray-green William Kentridge illustration of South African marshland. This was not “Giselle” as we know it, but a new, lively and vibrating work.
S-Town, a podcast released in March 2017and hosted by “This American Life” producer Brian Reed begins as a true crime story. The direction of the podcast, which is produced by the company behind “Serial” and “This American Life”, soon shifts to become a complex character study and modern Southern gothic tale of an eccentric, brilliant and troubled man named John B. McLemore, who is a resident of Woodstock, Alabama.