Time to Move On, but First, a Fond Look Back

Absurd, funny and affecting: Barnaby Kay, left, and Simon Scardifield in 2004's all-male
Absurd, funny and affecting: Barnaby Kay, left, and Simon Scardifield in 2004's all-male "A Midsummer Night's Dream." (By Richard Termine Via Associated Press)
By Terry Teachout
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, October 2, 2005

Terry Teachout, author of "All in the Dances: A Brief Life of George Balanchine," "A Terry Teachout Reader" and "The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken," started writing Second City, a monthly column about the arts in New York, in the fall of 1999. In September, after six years and 64 columns, he filed his final report for The Post.

"I can't even begin to tell you how much I'll miss Second City," he says. "Not only was it a pleasure and a privilege to report to the readers of one great city about the artistic doings of another, but I learned to love Washington along the way."

Here are excerpts from Teachout's reports on the 10 most memorable events he covered in Second City. "I don't know whether they're the very best things I saw," he explains, "but of the hundreds of performances and shows I wrote about in the column, they're the ones I still talk about the most."

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2000: If I had to see one March event over again, it would be "Fairfield Porter: A Life in Art," on display at the Equitable Gallery. . . . Porter has never been even slightly trendy (it's no accident that this exhibit is being presented by a corporate gallery, not a major museum), but those who love his work, myself included, regard him as one of the half-dozen greatest American painters of the postwar era.

This small-scale retrospective, curated by Justin Spring, author of a newly published Porter biography, makes the strongest possible case for his quiet, airy realism. Every painting has been chosen with scrupulous care, and the full range of his work is on display, from the coolly observant portraits of his family and friends to the near-abstract seascapes of his last years. I can't think of a better show to visit on a busy day: You'll come away feeling as though you'd wandered through a green glade dappled with bright yellow sunshine, and there'll be a big smile on your face.

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2001: I have finally figured out "L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato," Mark Morris's masterly dance version of the Handel oratorio. For some inexplicable reason, I didn't warm to the dance when I saw it at the Lincoln Center Festival six years ago -- it struck me as virtuosic but empty. What was I thinking? "L'Allegro" is a whole world of dance in a single evening, everything from childlike pantomime to knockabout comedy to complex groupings reminiscent of George Balanchine in their control and clarity. I wish Morris's dancers did "L'Allegro" in New York each spring, just like New York City Ballet does Balanchine's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," so that we could all revel in it as often as we want.

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2001: I'm worn out, which is why I didn't want to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art two Fridays ago to hear Eighth Blackbird give the premiere of "The Time Gallery," Paul Moravec's latest composition.

Instead of staying home and going to bed early, though, I faced the music -- and I'm glad I did. Eighth Blackbird is a spiffy sextet from Chicago that specializes in avant-garde music of the old-fashioned, hyper-complicated sort, while Moravec is one of the accessibility-conscious "new tonalists" who are giving contemporary classical music a much-needed makeover. It's an odd match, but Moravec had the clever idea to write a piece that deploys the whole avant-garde bag of tricks -- a multimedia slide show, electronic-music interludes, even a touch of performance art -- in support of a score that is unabashedly tonal and breathtakingly beautiful. I sat on the edge of my seat as each movement unfolded, acutely aware that I was hearing an important new work, perhaps even a masterpiece, for the very first time.

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