Angel Reapers

Martha Clarke and Alfred Uhry's "Angel Reapers" American Dance Festival in Durham, N.C.(Photo by Sara D. Davis/ADF 2010)

Finely crafted furniture and harmoniously proportioned buildings are some of the things that come to mind when one hears the name “Shakers.” The Shakers (their formal name was The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing) considered work as a form of worship, a belief reflected in every aspect of their lives, from their simple unadorned furniture to the separate but equal living quarters. They believed in being perfect and in practicing celibacy. This fascinating group of people are the subject of Angel Reapers, a hybrid theatre, music and dance show presented by Arts Emerson at the Cutler Majestic Theatre.

Angel Reapers is choreographed and directed by MacArthur “Genius” Fellow Martha Clarke and written by Alfred Uhry, winner of the Academy Award (Driving Miss Daisy. Yes, this Driving Miss Daisy), two Tony Awards (Parade, which I saw a few years ago at the Boston Center for the Arts and The Last Night of Ballyhoo) and a Pulitzer Prize (not to brag, but last night’s opening was even more fantastic thanks to the presence of Clarke, Uhry and Arthur Solari, the musical director). Angel Reapers isn’t shy to explore and indulge in the many pleasures that the Shaker denied themselves. It is ravishing, seductive, and erotic made compelling by Clarke’s marvelous choreography and the many traditional Shaker songs sung a cappella. Angel Reapers will leave humming one or two of those songs as you exit the theatre. Of this, I’m certain.

Angel Reapers is playing until November 20th. For ticketing information, trailer, and more images click here.

Thank You Paul Goldberger!

Being a tour guide at Trinity Church has its many perks. However, becoming one is a grueling and arduous, but intellectually rewarding journey.  Trinity’s docent undergo a 10 week training course during which one is expected to master the art and architectural history of one of America’s most beloved buildings. Surrounded by H.H. Richardson’s massive Romanesque interior, John Lafarge’s awe inspiring murals, and some of the country’s finest stained glass windows, one of my life long dreams came true on Wednesday November 18, 2009.

Pulitzer Prize winning critic Paul Goldberger, former architectural critic for The New York Times and author of several books including On the Rise: Architecture and Design in a Post-Modern Age and the latest Why Architecture Matters elated (at least I was ecstatic) an audience over 100 people with a lecture titled Architecture, Spirituality and the Challenge of Modernism. Goldberger spoke of the sacred and how it relates to modern architecture and relied on Trinity Church several times  as an example of a building that is “fresh and vibrant [which] transcends our normal sense of time.”

According to Goldberger, architecture must express what is not material, that is, the idea of God. This must be achieved by using the physical to express the transcending. At Trinity Church, Richardson was able to create a work of art by inventing new ways for buildings to inspire and move us. It is a space where time loses its fleeting momentum and grounds each and every one of us who experience its seductive and sumptuous interior.  What architecture has done is to establish a connection between everyday life and the sacred.  Who are we to say that Saarinen’s 1954 Kresge Chapel at MIT, or Safdie’s Class of 1959 Chapel at Harvard Business School or Le Corbusier’s Chapelle Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp are not sacred places? In the end, what makes a space sacred depends on who is feeling the experience. The same way we all experience a building, we can also be moved by it in different ways.

As to the challenges of modernism? Aesthetics have become indistinguishable from the sacred and as an example; Goldberger spoke of Kahn’s Kimball Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas as a model of how art institutions have become the emblems of cultural aspirations. These institutions have chosen to attract the beautiful rather than the divine (to illustrate this point, Goldberger questioned whether the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston is considered a sacred place, to Mrs. Gardner it may have been, to others, it may just be another museum).

As a student and a professional, I have been delighted to meet and take classes with well respected scholars in the field of art and architectural history. Having attended this inspiring lecture by Paul Goldberger was not only a dream come true, but it gave me a reason to continue writing, learning and being a critic. Thank you Paul!