In step with the holidays

November 23, 2011

Oy, it’s been a year. We’re beleaguered. Beaten up. Depressed by the economy, distressed by political dithering, swirled by tornadoes, slammed by hurricanes, shaken by earthquakes. Things must have been better, once — when we were blithely pre-supercommittee, pre-Sandusky, pre-Occupied. Right now we’re on our way to a blue Christmas even Elvis wouldn’t want to sing about.

But there’s unsurpassing joy in giving — and this year, more than ever, the best thing to give is joy itself. Where better to find it than in music, art, books and movies that transport us to sublime heights the real world can’t?We asked our critics for suggestions of bonbons from the worlds of pop culture and art, and they responded with gift ideas guaranteed to provide a flush of sensory pleasure, a glow of humanistic compassion — heck, maybe just an honest laugh.

GO TO: Art | Dance | Film | Music | Pop culture | Television | Theater

Stairway to heaven

What better way to toast the tail end of Ginger Rogers’s centennial year than by treating someone special to this comprehensive collection of the films she made with Fred Astaire? She was his moonlight; he was the spark to her slow burn — and together they swept the movie-musical genre to its artistic high point. Here’s 10 DVDs’ worth of proof — including “Top Hat,” “Swing Time,” “Shall We Dance” and “Roberta,” with Lucille Ball in a cameo as a Parisian model. (“Astaire & Rogers Ultimate Collector’s Edition,” Warner Home Video, $55.99)

Lightning in a book

With provocative candor and insights, Carolyn Brown’s 2007 memoir, “Chance and Circumstance: Twenty Years With Cage and Cunningham,” takes you into the eye of the storm that was mid-century avant-garde art. Brown was Merce Cunningham’s dance partner from the founding of his company in 1953 until her retirement in 1972, and there is no better witness or guide to the choreographer’s fearless flamethrowing that expanded what dance can be. For the modern-dance fan, the balletomane (lots of juicy ballet dish here!), the art lover: Feel what it was like to be in the studio with John Cage, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Antony Tudor, Margot Fonteyn and other cultural giants — and to be snubbed by George Balanchine, to whirl alongside the Rockettes and to swallow other ego-busters in the quest for survival as a dancer. (Northwestern University Press, $26.95)

Happy feet

When pounding the pavement during New York’s Fashion Week started wreaking havoc on my kitten-heeled feet, I stumbled — literally — across Okabashi shoes in an Upper West Side drugstore. Result: instant and prolonged relief, thanks to arch support and little massaging bumps. These plastic slides are great for walking and maybe slow dancing. Plus, they are made in America, recyclable and less than $20.

Sarah Kaufman received the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism and has been The Washington Post's dance critic since 1996. But after logging serious sit-time in opera houses, church basements, fairground tents and lawn chairs, what moves her most is seeing grace happen where she least expects it.
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