December Letters: Pennsylvania Ballet’s new regime….

Readers respond about the Pennsylvania Ballet's new regime, Philadanco's 'H-I-S-T-O-R-Y,' Piffaro's German Renaissance Christmas, KIle Smith's Broad Street (Christmas) run, Painted Bride's new direction, sexual harassment and 'Chinatown,' the Emerson Quartet, BalletX's 'Beautiful Decay,' People's Light's 'Aladdin,' the Black Friday Comedy Marathon and Philadelphia's new district attorney.

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Amy Smith

of South Philadelphia, PA on September 07, 2016

What a wasted opportunity when the Pennsylvania Ballet hired Angel Corella. They should have hired Matt Neenan or Meredith Rainey, who were both at PAB during what I would argue were the company's last glory days, and who are local and intimately connected to the company culture. Meredith (and likely Matt too) would also have brought some much-needed racial diversity to the company as well, by hiring non-white dancers. Meredith's post-PAB company, Carbon Dance Theater, was a beautiful group of dancers of color. Pennsylvania Ball;et's dancers should reflect our city's racial diversity.

The writer is co-director and founder of Headlong Dance Theater.

Jennifer Booker

of Philadelphia, PA on September 11, 2016

I've been a Pennsylvania Ballet subscriber and avid supporter for more years than I can recall, but this might be my last year too. For Angel to come in and cut out the heart of the company and act as though nothing is wrong just baffles me. I'm hoping the company shows signs of life again by the end of this season, but it's clearly on life support at this point.

Jake Allison

of Center City/ Philadelphia, PA on September 12, 2016

I'm assuming that the author is an avid Balanchine fan who has never been exposed to other wonderful contemporary choreographers because of Pennsylvania Ballet's previous Balanchine-saturated seasons. Get over it. Ballet is more than Balanchine.

Corella is going to bring new and different to Philadelphia. Transition is always hard, but it doesn't mean that the new dancers aren't of the same caliber as the old guard (they're actually much better-trained and more versatile).

I'm a little confused by the author's enjoyment of Don Q and her subseqent condemnation of Corella. The previous iteration of Pennsylvania Ballet (mostly School of American Ballet graduates) could not have pulled off a virtuoso ballet like Don Q, and the company would likely have had to pull in guest artists to perform Basilio and Kitri.

If you liked Don Q, then you should probably embrace what Corella is trying to bring the the company. Ballet X justly dominates the modern market of Philadelphia, and the author's recognition of this prevents me from dismissing her opinion in toto.

Michelene Murawski

of Philadelphia, PA on March 04, 2017

The above writer went on to attack Sara's sadness when terminated for her use of several extra inches of vertical space. There is only the beginning of my planned reply to Camille, the writer, taking into account the hypocrisy between how sad this writer, Camille, was in the above article and how disallowing she is of another human being, a dancer, an artist, to be sad like Camille herself was - over being jilted by the ticket salespeople. Camille is objecting to Sara voicing on her personal Facebook page NOT EVEN AN OPINION, but how she FELT after a complete surprise that ripped the foundation right out from under her. Sara posted an intentionally vague remark (without reference to the incident, which was deliberately left unsaid to protect the company who didn't protect her). She simply wrote on her own page: "I don't believe in life anymore.”

There is much irony — to be fair, perhaps inadvertent — in Camille fault-finding of Sara's simple utterance. Sara’s misstep, that is, of refraining from utter silence during shocking and excruciating heartbreak (for which she has now apologized profusely at length in his office while in tears to her director, whose response was to refuse Sara's begging for forgiveness, grow angry, and gloat while implying he has succeeded in ruining her, while also stating that everything is better than ever for him).

The irony has to do with Camille's prior article entitled “Ghosted by the Pennsylvania Ballet” and how Camille herself reacts to feeling rejected. Camille's prior article is about her own experience of being jilted by the same organization. A brief diversion: Camille was someone whose identity was not, one presumes, strongly associated with PA Ballet. Sara Michelle Murawski’s was. For Sara, it was happily the centerpiece of her life. One can easily see how much Sara cherished PA Ballet by taking a glance through her virtual reality posts for all of her time there. She certainly provided effusive positivity with countless direct references to the company for which she worked. Much good PR for them! The company that betrayed her on ambush before she was to perform her final Nutcracker. Is all that she did to boost the public reputation to be forgotten and dismissed because it made Pa Ballet uncomfortable for her to show any emotion when the meteor hit her life on December 30th? Never imagining the outrage storm that would follow, Sara ambiguously sought the only solace that came to mind, which was to let her virtual reality friends be aware that she was extremely crushed, given that what she wrote was exactly what she was feeling: a moment of questioning whether life is worth living.

Putting aside the unusualness of Sara's approach to life (in which she has more of a singular vision that most everyone, and it's centered on ballet), which makes what happened to her all the more disconcerting, the act of seeking a sign or a lifeline from others on social media is what young adults of her generation do. They turn to those who care, whomever will listen or relate. The fact that the public found out what it was that devastated Sara had everything to do with the what-it-was, which was handled recklessly on surprise. TO put the fault for that on the recipient of the recklessness is absolutely sickening and hideous at a whole new level. Sara was deliberately graceful enough to refrain from naming any person or organization when she expressed her loss of belief in life.

Sara did not will into being the catalyzing event, would not have wanted it to occur even in her darkest nightmares, and was in no way expecting or or had a sign that could have led her to foresee any hint of a possibility for it. She had been working a grueling set of Nutcracker shows for many weeks, just as described exactly one year to the day by PA ballet with the publicity stunt about Ballerinas Vs. Footballers in Philadelphia. Nonetheless, this surprise and hostile action against a dancer who did the three top female roles through the Nutcracker series entirely contradicted the spirit of that public post of one year prior, which went viral to the delight of PA Ballet's pr team, and which was intended to generate public respect for ballerinas. Sara's elegance exists in the way she took the stage after such a devastation.

Returning to the ensuing older educated woman on younger artist woman attack that followed in the Broad Street Review, by the writer named Camille: Camille, conversely, took to the writing an article against the same company when Camille was angry over being jilted by the seemingly sincere and friendly salesperson upon whom she relied for purchasing her season tickets. Yes, that is devastating. Truly life altering. Camille found fault in Sara's sense of devastation, or to be more precise, in any sliver of self expression by Sara, no matter how vague and necessary. Sara had not pointed a finger or shamed any other being or entity, as Camille, conversely, did in both "Ghosted by the Pennsylvania Ballet" and in "Size Matters" pieces of writing.

Editor's Response

Michelene Murawski is the mother of Sara Michelle Murawski, the dancer who was released in 2016 from her contract with the Pennsylvania Ballet. 

Anthony Masino

of Secane, PA on December 24, 2017

My wife and I were subscribers for well over ten years. We thought the Pennsylvania Ballet was among the best. Over the years, my wife followed the careers of the dancers, and enjoyed watching them grow. We ended our subscription three years ago, when Corella took over. We read about the purge, and my wife was quite upset to see her favorite dancers being "trashed."

After three years, we decided to see the changes and what, if any, improvements Corella brought to this troupe, that we thought was very good as is. We booked box seats for The Nutcracker, a ballet that we've attended four times in the past. We hoped that the new management and directors would, at the very least, keep it as professional as we were acciustomed to, but we had a very large letdown. The precision, the effortlessness, the graceful movement, and the vibrant energy that we hoped so much to see in the new dancers was gone. The dancers seemed to just about know their parts; they could not form straight precise lines; and the angels, who are supposed to glide as their dresses stayed unmoved, were only fair. The last blow, especially to my wife — she remembers more than I do — is the ending. The show seems to have ended without an ending. My wife said she remembers the ending four years ago, when the girl returns to her bed and awakens from her dream.

Very sadly, we will not be re-subscribing next season. After reading the history of Corella, it seems to me that he was not ready yet to take control of an already very good troupe. The coaches and trainers he brought in are not up to par, and seem not to demand first-class performance. It seems that the blame for slow ticket sales that the Ballet experienced a few years ago went to the performance directors while it should have gone to the publicity department, which didn't publicize the Ballet properly. Sorrowfully, and with no blame to the dancers, who seem to have the ability but not the guidance, to perform well, we give the new management a sad thumbs-down.

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Margaret Darby

of Center City/ Philadelphia, PA on December 22, 2017

Thank you so much for this great review! The praise is well-deserved, and thank you for recognizing the great James Weldon Johnson, who was overlooked by the Philadelphia Inquirer reviewer. You rock.

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Margaret Darby

of Center City/ Philadelphia, PA on December 22, 2017

Thank you for this review. Although I was not able to hear them, your words remind me of other performances when Piffaro kept me riveted.

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Gail Obenreder O'Donnell

of Wilmington, DE on December 20, 2017

Thanks so much for a lovely article, a look at the musician's Christmas and a vivid portrait — all this and dialogue, too! Merry Christmas.

Author's Response

Merry Christmas and thank you, Gail!

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Victor Schermer

of Philadelphia, PA on December 13, 2017

I agree that the Painted Bride has occupied an absolutely crucial place in the arts and performing arts in Philadelphia, It has brought to our attention works and their creators of great importance and pleasure that we would never have known without the Painted Bride's daring and intelligent programming over many years. Perhaps there needs to be a strong petition to the city to protect and preserve this hallowed institution and its ownership of a property that they designed to house such incredible art, music, dance, etc. Thanks for posting this article.

Lisa Nelson-Haynes

of Philadelphia, PA on December 13, 2017

Although I do understand the sentiment that space/place matters, I think this bold move by the Bride will complement its mission and allow it to go where the art and the artists are creating and contemplating the work. This will ensure the Bride remains nimble and possibly embed itself in communities throughout the region, thus showcasing work to audiences who never even thought about visiting the Bride's space in Old City.

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Barry Washington

of Phoenixville, PA on December 06, 2017

We must also conclude that our shock is disingenuous, to put it mildly. Time and time again we see this shock dissipate into several forms of " It wasn't so bad after all." We minimize or deny the offense and blame the victim. Our lip service to morality is just another form of normative social behavior, like a seasonal greeting. Our naked hypocrisy is behind our outrage. Instead, we should follow the New Testament example, which would lead us reflect, put our rocks down, and walk away— beginning with the older men.

Richard da Silva

of Center City/ Philadelphia, PA on December 08, 2017

Very interesting. One of the most memorable TV viewing moments I ever had is Brian Lamb's interview with the late Irving Kristol, the "neo-conservative" (in domestic affairs), most noted generally for defining a neo-conservative as "a liberal mugged by reality." I don't recall precisely Mr. Lamb's question to the grandfatherly Kristol, but the latter's answer is seared forever on my mind, namely, "Original Sin," followed by a slight pause, and then, ever so calmly and sagely, he added, "We all live with it." Catholic mass always includes the exhortation to "Let us acknowledge our sins." But, boy, how we don't want to.

I never saw Chinatown, so I'm a bit at a loss about the specificity Mr. Rottenberg is referring to. But he is sure right in suggesting that the historical record should in some sense reduce our shock over mankind's continuing misbehavior. Which is not to say we should condone what the Jewish tradition refers to as man's "flawedness," but seek God's help and forgiveness in moderating and overcoming what is unavoidably a perennial and daily problem. On a brighter note, Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, and Kwanza, everybody!

Ann C. Davidson

of Philadelphia, PA on December 09, 2017

Whoever chose the photograph that accompanies this essay is a genius. The smirk on John Huston's face exactly mirrors the smirk often displayed by the current occupant of the White House. And thank you, Mr. Rottenberg, for not shrinking from the history of Chinatown's director.

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Margaret Darby

of Center City/ Philadelphia, PA on December 10, 2017

I so enjoy your writing and this music review is really well done. Thank you.

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Brenda Dixon-Gottschild

of Philadelphia, PA on December 07, 2017

Thanks for these thoughts, Camille. It's always revealing to read how a work is perceived from different perspectives.

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Michael Cheung

of Media, PA on December 05, 2017

So my ex-friend on Facebook shared this article on his wall and I made some not-so-positive comments on it. The next thing I know, I was unfriended and blocked by him. So this is the only channel for me to respond to comments on mine.

First off, I didn't mean to offend anyone. Everyone has the right to express their opinion. As an Asian (Chinese) who grew up in Hong Kong, I don't have any problem with the play naming an Asian genie "Mai Tai." She is Asian— they'd better not name her Jacqueline Smith! I had been called "Fu Manchu" by different people in Pennsylvania. I usually don't get mad at them because I understand their education levels and experience with the Chinese culture. However, I considered People's Light one of my local theaters, where I went and watched a couple of productions in the last two years. The reason that made me comment on Facebook, which I kind of regretted, is that I don't agree with the article tying the production to politics, like everything nowadays.  It's a play for the holiday; loosen up!

M.J. Sauderton

of Frazier, PA on December 05, 2017

I found this production disappointing for similar reasons. I think some people dismiss cultural stereotypes onstage when something is supposed to be a comedy. "It's just entertainment! What's the big deal?" Well, minstrel shows used to be funny, too. Audiences have evolved since then. I know there are a lot of Asian families in Malvern. I wonder what they would think if they saw this show? How many non-Asian children and families will see this and think it's OK to stereotype entire cultures for a few forced laughs at cheap jokes?

Unfortunately, it's not the first time I've heard about racially and culturally crass stuff happening at this theater, both onstage and behind the scenes. I won't be back. The show wasn't even good. A couple of the older actors were just going through the motions, and the action was so slow. I thought the comedy was corny, not clever. Not like a panto or musical comedy at all.

Samantha Funk

of South Bend , IN on December 06, 2017

You don’t know me. You don’t know my family. You don’t know where we come from. You don’t know my background. You don’t know my experience. You accuse “stereotype” yet are so quick to assume who and what i am.

Author's Response

You are right: I don't know you. And I apologize for jumping to the conclusion that you are Asian American. As I saw it that night, I saw a non-white person on stage being named a Polynesian cocktail  in a fake Arabian location for laughs. In no way did I try to speak of your experience. I am just trying to describe mine.

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Melissa Dunphy

of Philadelphia, PA on December 01, 2017

I read this review days ago, and it has haunted me since. I grew up a Chinese girl in Australia, a country that in the 1980s and 1990s was still stuck pretty firmly in the Yellow Peril myth when it came to Asians (the perhaps equally damaging Model Minority myth had not quite taken hold, as there wasn't yet a sufficiently large Muslim refugee population to pit Asians against). Asians like me had to endure frequent open discussions on the political public stage and in private conversation about how Asians are coming to Australia, changing the (white) culture, and taking jobs that by implication should have gone to (white) Australians.

Like many Asian Australian kids, I was mocked for my last name Shong (usually with ching-chong rhymes), teased with caricatures of slanty eyes (even though my eyes look far more like those of my Greek biological father), and more. I learned to laugh it off and ignore it outwardly, but by the time I was a teenager, I had developed some damaging ideas about my own culture and Asianness that it has taken years as an adult to acknowledge and unravel. I doubt the kind of experiences I had growing up in Australia would be unknown to Asians in this country.

Soooo. This review of this show ... it ... bothers me. Both the review and, from what I understand of it, the show itself. I went to school with a girl called Stephanie Fu, from seventh grade through to senior year. It's a pretty common Chinese last name. I can't stop thinking about a hypothetical little girl called Stephanie Fu in the audience of this show, and what she might be feeling and thinking while watching her name crudely mocked (if you think kids aren't picking up on "eff you," I think you might be a little naive) on stage by white people dressed as classic Yellow Peril archetypes. So, yeah. Haunted.

Editor's Response

You will be pleased to learn we have an essay on just that topic in the works right now.

Chris Braak

of East Norriton, PA on December 01, 2017

It seems a little surprising that even given we're talking about one of these "traditional, old-fashioned, mostly a bunch of dumb jokes for kids" shows that we're going to let obviously racist caricatures (a villain straight out of a Yellow Peril serial from the 1930s, an Asian princess named after a Tiki Bar cocktail) and obviously transphobic ideas (a man in drag tromping around in combat boots) go by without any sort of condemnation. I understand, of course, that the idea behind a "holiday panto" like this is to juxtapose crudity with the solemnity of the season. But now that it's the 21st Century and we know for sure that there's no such thing as ironic bigotry — that it's just the back door into the house of ordinary old bigotry — surely we ought to be calling out writers like Reading and Pryor for wallowing in this kind of bullshit, rather than excusing it as part of the form.

Given the fact that this is meant to be a goofy, irreverent show, and there's no obligation at all to adhere to either the original text (itself a racist, orientalist inclusion into 1001 Nights) or to whatever terrible things that the British thought were funny 200 years ago, doesn't that mean that the authors had a wealth of choices for jokes they could have made that didn't trade on dehumanizing crap

I'm extremely disappointed that People's Light thought this kind of stuff was OK, and similarly disappointed that there's anyone inclined to let them get away with it.

Quynh Mai Nguyen

of Philadelphia, PA on December 05, 2017

"Fu responds to our villain’s welcome by saying, “Not ‘boo,’ but ‘Fu’ — spelled eff you,” one of many clever moments that likely sail over kids’ heads," writes Mark Cofta. Hardly clever. In fact, uncultured and downright degrading.

When I was a child, adults would ask for my name and I would respond, "Mai." They would look at me, pause and say, "Yes, what is your name?" Confused, I would repeat myself and say, "Mai." Eventually, I'd realize they didn't understand that my name is actually "Mai." When I went to college, adults still didn't understand that my name is "Mai." Frustrated and embarrassed, I began going by my other name, Quynh, because I thought it was more American and it would help me acclimate. After years of unraveling my shame and embarrassment at being Vietnamese American and having more pride in my culture and where my family comes from, I now introduce myself as Quynh-Mai.

I understand how a play on words can be funny. But why does it have to be at someone else's expense? I hope that my experience gives others insights on why this is not acceptable.

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Rich Rubin

of Guerneville, CA on November 23, 2017

I'm not sure why the rant against a very esteemed improv group (it's not like it's a review, the event hasn't happened yet). Is this some would-be satire that missed its mark? Did you audition for them and get rejected? Not to mention: "Clamor of Harpies, an all-ladies improv group, is onstage at 9:25 a.m. on Friday, promising `big ideas and unapologetic voices,' two things we’ve recently had quite enough of from women." Did a woman really write this? While your editor is on Twitter doing a great job of calling out misogynists, you're actually posting this?

Editor's Response

This is from our What’s New What’s Next section, which contains all previews. Clearly, it’s a joke, and we are all fans of improv, especially the improv in which our social media manager performs.

Beth Jana Eisenberg

of Philadelphia, PA on November 23, 2017

Is this real or satire? It’s not a review, right? It’s just an opinion based on a description they have read online? An opinion based on words that attempt to describe a thing? I’ve never met Alaina Mabaso, but based on her name alone, she sounds really great. Based on her actual writing, she seems like a snore. But her name is delightful!

Author's Response

I think we’re living in a world that’s gotten so extreme that we can’t trust ourselves to determine satire from reality. In this case, PHIT Comedy is an excellent group, and I personally hope women in comedy (or anywhere) with big ideas and unapologetic voices get as much airtime as possible.

As for my name — thank you! I like it, too. Whether or not I’m a snore is something only readers like you can judge.

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Joseph Glantz

of Levittown, PA on November 21, 2017

Nice article. I think there are actually a number of conservatives who understand the limits of incarceration.