Wednesday, July 21, 2004
And speaking further of that urban immigrant paradise in which I dwell, let me limn a few words in praise of a local institution dear to my hear, Celebrate Brooklyn, an annual summer festival of music with a smattering of dance, movies and other fun in Prospect Park.
In the past couple of weeks, the family and I have seen a bunch of really interesting performances. I am not generally a huge fan of Latin music, which (seriously - no offense intended) sometimes seems to me like it's produced by the yard. But I was blown away by this collection of acts on July 3rd, particularly Cabas, a wild and crazy Columbian pop star who is, I can attest, not just a very pretty face (the screaming teenage girls at the concert can attest to that) but a very talented musician. If you like Latin music, Budweiser sponsors a series as part of Celebrate Brooklyn every year. Last year, the act that most impressed me was Cafe Tacuba from Mexico, though they didn't seem so enormously different from a guitar band like Pearl Jam.
Every year, Celebrate Brooklyn hosts a movie series, including at least one silent film accompanied by live music. This year, the movie in question was Buster Keaton's magnificent Civil War comedy, The General. I'd never seen this film before, and now, having seen it, I cannot forgive myself my negligence. And to add icing to the cake, the accompaniment was by the Alloy Orchestra, one of the most interesting groups around, one that specializes in music to accompany silent films. Their score for Fritz Lang's Metropolis is magnificent, and stands on its own apart from the film (and, if you've seen the film accompanied by that score, the score inevitably and vividly calls the images from the film to mind whenever you hear it).
This past weekend, we took two offerings. First was the Mark Morris Dance Group. Frankly, this was rather a disappointment. Morris's troup appeared a couple of years ago and performed a quite interesting if uneven collection of dances. But this was much less interesting, and frankly not very good. Dancers barely danced at all; they gestured, ran in circles, or stood still. There was considerable reliance on frankly juvenile R-rated humor. And one of the three dances was performed to country-western numbers that, I am quite sure, Morris was mostly interested in making fun of, and in a shallow way. I enjoyed The Hard Nut, Morris's version of The Nutcracker, well enough when I saw it a decade ago, and as I said, his troup's last performance at Celebrate Brooklyn was interesting. But after this one, I rather better understand what Laura Jacobs was getting at in her scathing review of Morris's work in The New Criterion last year.
Finally, we were formally inaugurated into the ranks of Brooklyn parents of young children when we attended a concert by Dan Zanes and Friends. Our nearly-two-year-old son could not stop repeating the name "Dan Zanes, Dan Zanes" all the way to the concert, but he had no real idea of what a "Dan Zanes" might be, and seemed a bit disappointed to discover he was just another adult male human. But once the concert began he was rapt in attention. I fear we have not heard the last of this cheerful fellow in our household.
Performances at Celebrate Brooklyn are outdoors, and frequently go on even in the rain. (Dan Zanes performed partly in a thunderstorm, and years ago when we heard the wonderful Red Clay Ramblers perform at the bandshell, the performers had to ask members of the audience onstage to hold umbrellas over them to protect their instruments. Talk about close to the action!) Prospect Park borders on a variety of neighborhoods, from the relatively upscale Park Slope to Prospect Heights, a mostly middle-class, mostly black neighborhood, to Jamaican and Hassidic Jewish Crown Heights, to other neighborhoods with a variety of ethnic groups and economic classes. Celebrate Brooklyn does a pretty good job of catering to all of these groups and their particular interests. You can pay for membership and get prime seating (and pretty much a guarantee of a seat) or you can just show up at the gate and, if you're early enough, get a seat for only $3; or you can just sit in the park outside of the seating area for free, and enjoy the music from a somewhat greater distance.
This is what city life is all about, and I applaud BRIC (the organization who puts together Celebrate Brooklyn) and the donors who fund their activities (including myself; pat on own back) for making it possible, year after year.