An Ecstatic Return for Two Dances by Pina Bausch
For the past week, two dances by Pina Bausch, the German choreographer
and former director of the Wuppertal Tanztheater, who died in 2009, were
performed to sold-out, rapturous crowds at the Brooklyn Academy of
Music. Lines for rush tickets stretched outside the building and, one
night, Mikhail Baryshnikov sat in the audience. The first of these
dances, “Café Müller,” is at once depressive and playful—a haunting,
absurdly comedic, and prop-heavy dance that takes place in a café short
on customers but filled with tables and chairs. The second, “The Rite of
Spring,” is interpreted from and scored by Igor Stravinsky. It’s filled
with brute power and dizzying grace—a death dance punctuated by
Both works highlight that Bausch’s body of work transcends any one
medium: she made what the Germans call Tanztheater—dance theatre—but she
also made cinema and song. Her work contains unbridled and unqualified
expression but it also conveys thought and story and history, with all
the baggage they provide. And, of course, because the work is,
primarily, dance (though there is also talking and groaning and crying
and shouting), its resonances never leave the body even when the mind
can’t quite articulate them. Both “Café Müller” and “The Rite of Spring”
feel crucially modern, as the slipperiness of language and ideology rule
the day and younger generations grasp for other, more expansive ways of
comprehending ourselves and the world we’ve inherited.
Neither dance had been performed in the U.S. since 1984, when both
débuted in New York, also at BAM. But, over the past several years, Wim
Wenders’s documentary “Pina,” from 2011, has prepared Stateside
audiences, especially younger ones, for the beauty and peculiarity of
Bausch’s work. In the film, several of her dances are performed in
perfectly scouted locations, and each dancer who appears—many have been afforded the chance to age with Wuppertal Tanztheater—has a
chance to wax poetic in front of the camera about Bausch’s character,
brilliance, and legacy.
But what’s most interesting about Wenders’s tribute is that the dances
don’t need the aesthetic treatment that Wenders offers. At the beginning
of Bausch’s tenure at Wuppertal Tanztheater, she collaborated with her
husband, the set and costume designer Rolf Borzik (who died in 1980,
seven years after Bausch was named director). Their simple and moveable
dresses, suits, pants, and shirts anticipated the current minimalist
fashion trend across the globe. What emerges through this pared-down yet
expressive design is movement itself. In watching Bausch, you’re not
taken on a journey so much as you’re made aware of one that’s already
under way—things are happening, and you only have to make yourself
available to them.
I attended the opening night at BAM, and, when I arrived, a crowd of
people in elegant, neutral basics stood on the stairs and on the
sidewalk, waiting for the theatre to open. It didn’t exactly feel like
New York; I imagined some film set in a Western European city. It all
would have felt too fashionable, too self-conscious, except that
everyone seemed so excited—grins seemed to spread spontaneously from
face to face. A young couple went over the merits of Pedro Almodóvar’s
inclusion of Bausch dances from “Café Müller” in his film “Talk to Her,”
from 2002. They used words like “sombre” and “vulnerable” and “sweet,”
and I felt transported to an alternative reality in which the overheard
film discussions between immaculately dressed strangers could be earnest
In the theatre, I spotted more than a few petite, willowy women—probably
dancers themselves—who were alert, alone, and faintly smiling. As soon
as the lights went down, the customary beginning-of-show throat-clearing
began, and it is a testament to the emotional and physical variety of
“Café Müller” that the hacking and coughing seemed to have a place, not
only in the room but in the performance itself. “Café Müller” begins and
ends in darkness, with a slender figure in white hobbling through a
room. It’s a dance that emphasizes both hopeless frailty and aggressive
Throughout the piece, a sleepwalking woman (and later a man) moves and
dances determinedly through the café as an attentive man in a suit
scrambles to pull chairs and tables out of her way. Every so often, an
older woman in a messy red wig, a teal dress, a black coat, and
bright-pink heels patters in and out of the room, apparently late for
some meeting that never seems to take place. In another scene, the
sleepwalking woman and her male counterpart are arranged into a kissing
embrace by another man. The man then puts the woman into her partner’s
arms and heads to the door, but her partner drops her. The woman
scrambles back up to hold her partner, and the man comes back to
rearrange them, and the woman is carried in her partner’s arms once
again. This cycle repeats until the man finally runs out and the couple
begins falling apart and rearranging on a loop, without any help, like a
malfunctioning video. The entire piece is scored by sections of the
melancholy Henry Purcell opera “Dido and Aeneas,” and scenes like this
one are painfully desperate and very funny.
In a Times interview in 1997, Bausch discussed fear as the primary
emotion of Stravinsky’s “Le Sacre du Printemps.” With “The Rite of
Spring,” she translated that fear into a relentless, visceral dance, in
which men and women are divided into opposing groups, jumping and
spinning and sprinting athletically and anxiously on a sea of brown
dirt. After “Café Müller,” during the intermission, stagehands prepared
the set, laying out an enormous tarp and then tipping over and raking
barrels of dirt with such purpose and synchronicity that the whole
process seemed like an interlude rather than a preparation. Once
everything was set up, many of the audience members who had remained in
the theatre stood and clapped.
Once the performance itself began, it was impossible to look away, even
though there was rarely a single focal point—movement rippled throughout
the stage. At the end of the dance, the Chosen One, plucked from the
group of women, is stripped of her sheer-nude slip dress and put in a
red one. She then performs her final, fatal dance with elegance and
exhaustion, masculinity and femininity, and the full force of unchecked
emotion. The Wuppertal Tanztheater ensemble member Tsai-Chin Yu imbues
the role with a startling, powerful abandon that tears away from the
stark gender narrative that’s constructed by the rest of the piece. At
the beginning of a long, passionate standing ovation, Yu panted and
nearly grimaced, entirely spent and smeared with dirt. But by the end of
it she was laughing, almost bewildered. The catharsis of her solo was
felt by the entire audience, and rippled back and forth between us like
a kind of communion.
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September 26, 2017 at 06:03PM
Royal Caribbean CEO Thinks Hurricane Recovery Will Happen More Quickly Than Expected
Royal Caribbean Cruises CEO Richard Fain, left, with Skift News Editor Hannah Sampson at Skift Global Forum 2017 in New York City September 26, 2017. Skift
— Andrew Sheivachman
The devastation caused by recent storms in the Caribbean has been unprecedented and represent an emerging humanitarian crisis on several islands known for tourism.
Royal Caribbean Cruises CEO Richard Fain thinks tourism will be a catalyst for a sustained recovery by the countries and states that have been affected the most. Speaking at Skift Global Forum 2017 Tuesday morning in New York City, Fain gave his perspective on the potential recovery process and the untold challenges that will emerge during the coming years.
“It’s been a really terrible summer from that point of view,” said Fain, referencing earthquakes in Mexico, hurricanes rocking the Caribbean, and typhoons across Asia. “To see the amount of devastation is just horrible and to see people put out of their homes with their electric grids disintegrated points out the importance of tourism when we talk about these countries.
“I think they will recover much quicker than most people realize, even a place like Puerto Rico which has been particularly hard hit with two consecutive storms. I’ll take a long time to recover but the tourism will come back very quickly because they see the importance of it to their economy… we’ll see that the economy of Puerto Rico, for example, will be much stronger in a few years. The time to get there will be horrific for everyone, but the end result will be a much stronger and vibrant economy.”
Fain also touched on the importance of younger cruisers and the new-to-cruise on his company’s three cruise lines moving into the future. While best known as a haven for older travelers, multi-generational travel driven by onboard activities and amenities represents the most important potential market for Royal Caribbean Cruises.
“Millennials set a lot of the standards that other people follow and, yes, it’s important that we get them onboard,” said Fain. “The fastest growing part of our business is actually family travel. Once we get those children, we own the parents and the grandparents because they have such a good time on the cruise. We are blessed because what we offer happens to fit in with the way people are acting these days. We’ve gone through the different cycles but one of the fairly dramatic changes we’re seeing in society is that the experience is what they are looking for. Fortunately, we happen to be in an industry that offers experience.”
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September 26, 2017 at 05:46PM
News: de Thé appointed public affairs director at Europcar
Europcar Group has announced the appointment of Jehan de Thé to the role of public affairs director for the group.
In his new role, 52-years-old de Thé will seek to develop the group’s public affairs strategy with the main objective to promote the group’s expertise in the new mobility markets and to be the link with the public institutions (urban transport, professional and regulation bodies).
He will work closely with all the group’s brands and franchisees.
Expert of mobility jobs, de Thé shared his professional experience between marketing and business development on car rental.
Graduated from the European Business School, he joined Europcar France in 1990 as international marketing manager then he was appointed sales manager for south of France.
In 1999, he became sales director for the broker, holiday-autos.
In 2001, he joined Expedia International to create and develop their car rental program.
After obtaining the IMD’s Leadership Certification in 2006, de Thé returned to Europcar Group and took the position of marketing and e-commerce director.
Since 2012, he has led the development of InterRent, the low-cost brand of the group that he successfully deployed in more than 40 countries.
Europcar – considered the World’s Leading Green Transport Solution Company by voters at the World Travel Awards – is listed on Euronext Paris.
The company is the European leader in vehicle rental service and is also a major player in mobility markets.
Active in more than 130 countries and territories, including nine subsidiaries in Europe and two in Australia and New Zealand, Europcar serves customers through an extensive vehicle rental network comprised of its wholly-owned subsidiaries as well as sites operated by franchisees and partners.
The group operates mainly under the Europcar, InterRent and Ubeeqo brands.
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September 26, 2017 at 05:28PM
Daily Cartoon: Tuesday, September 26th
Emily Flake began cartooning for The New Yorker in 2008, and has had more than a hundred cartoons published in the magazine since.
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September 26, 2017 at 05:21PM
Priceline Group CEO Sees No Big Investments in Blockchain for Now
Priceline Group CEO Glenn Fogel (left) is disappointed in the lack of progress the travel industry has made in personalizing the travel experience. Skift
— Dan Peltier
Priceline Group CEO Glenn Fogel recalled finding himself at an airport recently and receiving a notfication that his flight was delayed. But there was a personalization aspect that was totally lacking because there was no connection to the other parts of his trip that day, such as his car hire, hotel check-in time, and what beer he wanted in his hotel room minibar when he arrived.
In other words, artificial intelligence – which many travel companies are experimenting with to solve dilemmas like Fogel’s – hasn’t yet become effective and helpful in solving challenges while travelers are on the road.
Fogel, while speaking at Skift Global Forum on September 26 in New York City, said that artificial intelligence is huge and that a lot is happening right now with Priceline investing in the technology. The company, for example, recently acquired an Israeli company, Evature, which specializes in chatbots and artificial intelligence.
“Our vision down the road is to have a system when we’re not like the travel agent down the road who always knew you,” said Fogel. “Our new system will get to know you better. Right now when you’re at the airport, you get a notification that you have a problem but you’re not helping me solve a problem. But how close are we to getting there? We’re not so close.”
Fogel’s Not Worrying About Blockchain Yet
Artificial Intelligence is only one tool that travel companies want to use to disrupt their corners of the industry, but there’s no doubt it’s currently one of the biggest tools they’re working on developing. Other technologies like blockchain, for example, are much lower on Priceline’s list of priorities, Fogel said.
That’s because blockchain technology is complex, said Fogel.
“I don’t have any excellent knowledge of how it’s actually going to work at all,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot longer than anyone thinks. Maybe it’ll be helpful and maybe it won’t but we’re going to keep an eye on it.”
Some companies, such as European tour operator TUI, are already using blockchain, and its CEO argues that the new database type will imperil intermediaries and distribution leaders such as the Priceline Group and Expedia.
“We’re not going to be worrying about it tomorrow or pouring a lot of investment into it. Of course our engineers are curious. But from my understanding, they’re saying ‘there are other things you can panic about.’”
Becoming A North American Household Name
Fogel quipped that Priceline’s progress towards making artificial intelligence actually intelligent has been more of a crawl than sprint.
From a marketing perspective, Fogel also admitted that the Priceline Group also needs to do more to make its brands top-of-mind across North America.
“We’re aware that in places like in North America, we’re not top of mind,” said Fogel. “But one way we’re different than our competitors is that we’re not charging travelers any fee [for vacation rentals or alternative lodging generally]. We need to do a great job so that the American consumer is aware of how great our product is, as anywhere else in the world.
How else will Priceline reach travelers in countries like the U.S. and Canada? Meeting travelers where they likely go every day – such as Facebook and Google – is increasingly important, but the latter still dwarfs Facebook in source traffic, said Fogel.
“With Facebook, we’re continuting to work with them to reach out to their customers to get more people to come to us through Facebook,” he said. “But it’s no secret they’re nowhere near Google when it comes to providing customers.”
Like Artificial Intelligence, blockchain and whatever other popular technology comes next, messaging isn’t as big a part of consumer behavior in North America as it is in other regions, Fogel said.
“But that’s also an area the company plans to experiment more with, said Fogel. “People in America aren’t thinking about messenging platforms when they’re going to travel, but they will down the road.”
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September 26, 2017 at 05:18PM
Equifax CEO Quits Following Massive Data Breach
Almost three weeks after Equifax said that hackers had gained access to the sensitive information of 143 million Americans, the credit-reporting company’s CEO has quit.
Equifax said on Tuesday morning that Richard Smith, who had been leading the Atlanta-based company since 2005, was stepping down. Effective immediately, the 57-year-old will be replaced as interim CEO by Paulino do Rego Barros Jr., who was most recently the company’s Asia-Pacific region president. Equifax said that it plans to conduct a search for a new permanent CEO, and it’s open to candidates from both inside and outside the company.
“At this critical juncture, I believe it is in the best interests of the company to have new leadership to move the company forward,” Smith said in a statement.
According to Reuters, this announcement comes one week before Smith was expected to testify before US congressional committees about the cyberattack. The company is also under investigation by the US Federal Trade Commission. Its chief information officer and chief security officer also stepped down after the hack became public.
Bloomberg reported Tuesday that Smith might get a payout worth many millions of dollars after he quit. Analyst Andrew Jeffrey, who covers Equifax for investment bank SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, was quoted by Bloomberg as saying in as note to investors that Smith’s departure is an “incremental negative” for Equifax because the outgoing CEO “has been integral to Equifax’s impressive decade-plus long growth.” Bloomberg also reported that Equifx shares have fallen 27 percent on Wall Street since the hack was revealed.
Equifax has faced backlash from both the public and government officials for how the situation was handled. A perception that Equifax neglected to care for sensitive information that included Social Security numbers, exposing people to possible serious consequences like identity theft, was compounded by ambiguous wording hinting that if someone signed up for the Equifax TrustedID Premier service after the hack, they would waive some of their legal rights. While the company has backtracked on that language, public backlash has been strong.
“Speaking for everyone on the board, I sincerely apologize,” Mark Feidler, the Equifax board’s new chairman, said in the company statement. “We have formed a special committee of the board to focus on the issues arising from the incident and to ensure that all appropriate actions are taken.”
If you’re not sure if you’re affected by the hack, it could be worth freezing your credit scores in order to keep your information secure.
Feature image by Smith Collection/Gado / Getty Images.
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September 26, 2017 at 05:15PM
News: World Travel Awards touches down in St. Petersburg
World Travel Awards has landed in St. Petersburg, as the finishing touches are put together in preparation of the Europe Gala Ceremony.
The highly anticipated event will take place at the Marble Hall, Russian Museum of Ethnography this Saturday, September 30th, while the official after party will be held in the ballroom at the luxurious five-star Hotel Astoria.
Speaking ahead of World Travel Awards Europe Gala Ceremony, WTA president, Graham Cooke said: “It will be a pleasure for World Travel Awards to visit Russia for the very first time.
“St. Petersburg is one of the most famous cities in the world and this is a fantastic opportunity for the city to take its rightful place as a top rank tourism destination.”
A UNESCO World Heritage site, St. Petersburg is home to 36 historical complexes and around 4,000 outstanding individual monuments, magnificent architectural ensembles, beautiful courtyards, splendid parks and unique museums.
St. Petersburg Committee for Tourism Development chairman, Andrey Mushkarev, added: “We will be honoured to host the leading European tourism industry professionals in St. Petersburg.
“We are confident this event will be one of the best in the history of the World Travel Awards and we are pleased to invite everyone to the Europe Gala Ceremony in St. Petersburg, a city that is the pride not only of Russia and Europe, but of the whole world.”
World Travel Awards was established in 1993 to acknowledge, reward and celebrate excellence across all sectors of the tourism industry.
Today, the World Travel Awards brand is recognised globally as the ultimate hallmark of quality, with winners setting the benchmark to which all others aspire.
Each year, World Travel Awards covers the globe with a series of regional gala ceremonies staged to recognise and celebrate individual and collective success within each key geographical region.
World Travel Awards Gala Ceremonies are widely regarded as the best networking opportunities in the travel industry, attended by government and industry leaders, luminaries and international print and broadcast media.
For more information about World Travel Awards, please visit the official website.
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September 26, 2017 at 05:03PM
Limited-Time Only: Citi Cardholders Get Four Months of Amazon Music Unlimited for Free
Citi’s offering cardholders a new way to stream music for free. Beginning Tuesday, eligible Citi cardholders can sign up for a free four-month trial of Amazon Music Unlimited when they join with their card.
In order to take advantage, go to the Amazon Music Unlimited site and enroll in an individual plan. Then, use your eligible Citi card at checkout and enter the promo code CITIMUSIC in order to get the four months for free. You must enroll by 11:59pm PT on November 14, 2017.
The four-month free trial breaks down as a $30 credit toward an Amazon Music Unlimited individual plan, plus new subscribers also get a 30-day free trial. Combined, it becomes a total of four months. According to the terms and conditions, you must be a new Amazon Music Unlimited subscriber in order to be eligible. Eligible Citi cards include all consumer-branded credit or debit cards with the exception of Costco and Chairman Citi Credit cards.
After the four-month trial expires, you’ll need to pay the monthly membership fee if you want to continue using the service. If you’re a Prime member, it’ll cost you $7.99 per month, and for those without a Prime membership, you’ll pay $9.99 per month. Amazon Music Unlimited will give you access to tens of millions of songs, where you’ll be able to listen to any song ad-free at any time.
Featured image by suedhang / Getty Images.
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September 26, 2017 at 04:50PM
Hilton CEO Outlines Plans For ‘Hostel on Steroids’
Hilton CEO Christopher Nassetta (left) said the chain plans to debut several new brands in coming years. Skift editor in chief Jason Clampet interviewed Nassetta at Skift Global Forum in New York City September 26, 2017. Skift
— Patrick Whyte
Hilton is planning to create several new hotel brands in the coming years to fill space in its current portfolio.
Christopher Nassetta, chief executive of Hilton Worldwide, said the company would gradually look to build on its current collection of 14 brands.
The most eye-catching announcement was the plan for an urban micro-brand, which the company will look to formally introduce sometime next year.
“We have a lot of customers that want to now be in these urban environments, that even with our lowest-priced products can’t afford to be in these cities, so we’re giving up a lot of business. We’re not getting customers in that environment through our system early in their travel lives,” Nassetta said in an interview at the Skift Global Forum in New York Tuesday.
Nassetta said the rooms would likely be between 125 and 150 square feet with an emphasis placed on connectability, flexibility and a local vibe.
He added that this would be the “hardest” of the five brands he has helped launch to get right.
Elsewhere, Hilton is planning a new five-star soft brand and what Nassetta dubbed a “Hilton Plus.”
“Probably in the not-too distant future we will create a capstone to our soft brands — that was always the intention. We started with Curio, at the middle we did Tapestry to get three-star, and we always wanted to have a capstone, which would be five-star and sort of have three, four and five stars. So that’s reason close,” he said.
“The other one we’ve been working on is, I call it a Hilton plus. A higher level of Hilton. Because we thought there’s a bunch of markets around the country where we think there are opportunities to get a little bit more rate, do a Hilton plus. I think that’s not too far off.”
Nassetta also said Hilton is beta-testing “the connected room,” which is being used currently in some hotels. This smart room would know a traveler’s preferences, among its features.
Nassetta said the chain could launch the connected room globally in 2018.
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September 26, 2017 at 04:42PM
The Cultish Allure of the Creepy Children’s Book “The Lonely Doll”
A couple of years ago, when asked, “If any book made you who you are
today, what would it be?” the musician Kim Gordon cited the children’s book “The Lonely Doll,” from 1957. “It was my first view, my first idea, of New York as a glamorous place,”
Gordon, who grew up in Southern California, in the sixties, told the Times Book Review. “The Lonely Doll,” which is narrated in
photographic illustrations composed by Dare Wright, tells the story of a
doll named Edith, who lives all alone in a house, praying for company, until, one day, two stuffed bears show up and
befriend her. When the elder Mr. Bear leaves on an errand, Edith and her
companion, Little Bear, set off to explore the empty house together. The
book’s cover is rimmed in a bright-pink gingham pattern, but, inside,
the carefully staged tableaux are shot in black and white, the poses of
the toys at once tender and eerie in their precise artificiality. Gordon
admired the gingham apron the doll wore and “the general air of
existential blankness” that pervades the book. “When I tried to read it
to my daughter, Coco, I thought, ‘This is so dark and terrifying,’ ”
Gordon said. “But I’ve met many women who were influenced by that book.”
Indeed, in the six decades since it was published, “The Lonely Doll” has
become a cult classic, beloved especially among a generation of women
artists. The writer
Antonya Nelson, who used to read the book to her little sister, has a short story in which a character named Edith describes “The Lonely Doll” to
a man she’s just slept with—the “stilted” poses of the doll and bears,
“committing the crimes of toys, punished eventually by an even bigger
plaything named Mr. Bear, who bent the doll and little bear over his
knee and spanked them with his paw.” “It spoke an ugly truth that made
sense to me,” Nelson told me recently. The fashion designer Anna Sui,
whose iridescent baby-doll dresses ignited her career, reportedly spent
a decade tracking down a copy of the book, which she remembered from
childhood. (First editions can
fetch hundreds of dollars.) Cindy Sherman, writing about “The Secret
Life of the Lonely Doll: The Search for Dare Wright,” a biography
by Jean Nathan, from 2004, acknowledged a psychic connection to the “obsessiveness
and the role playing” of the author. “Although I never read ‘The Lonely
Doll’ as a child or saw Dare Wright’s photographs before,” Sherman has
said, “it’s as if I somehow did.”
Wright, who was born in 1914, in Ontario, and raised in
Cleveland, worked as a child actor and model for fashion magazines
before becoming a photographer herself. She shot editorials for
publications like Good Housekeeping, converting a closet in her West
Fifty-eighth Street apartment into a darkroom, and in her spare time she
made glamorous self-portraits in gowns and costumes she had sewn. (One
of her photos, showing the elegant author clutching her Rolleiflex
camera, appears on the book jacket of “The Lonely Doll.”) “The Lonely
Doll” was a best-seller in its time, and Wright went on to have a long
career as an author, publishing twenty photo books for children,
including nine more in the Lonely Doll series. But, during her
lifetime, she granted few interviews, and readers knew little about her
until Nathan published her biography, three years after Wright’s death,
in 2001, at the age of eighty-six.
Courtesy Dare Wright Media
According to Nathan, the Lonely Doll books were Wright’s expression of
the trauma of an isolated childhood and a life spent under the
domineering hand of her mother, Edie. Wright’s parents divorced when she
was young, and Edie cut off contact with Wright’s father and her
brother, whom Wright didn’t come to know until both were adults. Until
Edie’s death, in 1975, mother and daughter were each other’s primary
companions. In her research, Nathan dug up enough gothic details to
supply a “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” sequel. Edie, a society
portrait artist, often painted Wright’s picture, but depicted her as a
teen-ager even after she entered her forties. “They shared the same
bed,” Nathan writes, but “seemed to have no idea how odd others found
this arrangement.” Wright, physically petite, passing for years younger
than her age, was loved and doted upon but also controlled and
manipulated to an extent that seems to have inhibited her maturation
into adulthood. Her one engagement, to a handsome pilot, was broken off
after her fiancé realized that she was uninterested in a physical
relationship. Later in life, Wright, like her brother and mother, became
It was the overbearing Edie, though, who triggered her daughter’s
greatest professional endeavor. One day, in 1950, she sent Wright a box
containing childhood books and a doll from Wright’s childhood. Edith the
doll, who was named after Edie, was an Italian Lenci creation, her body
made of felt. The material made her inherently “more malleable, more
expressive, with kind of an eerie face,” Brook Ashley, a family friend
who became the executor of Wright’s estate, told me recently. “You could
impose your whole imagination on these dolls.” With her curly crop of
hair, Edith initially more closely resembled Edie than Wright. But, on
her hand-cranked sewing machine, Wright began making miniature versions
of costumes she’d stitched for herself, and paired the doll’s outfits
with a new blond wig and hoop earrings. Edith became, according to
Nathan, an “effigy of her owner.” In one portrait, taken on the beach at
Ocracoke, North Carolina, Edith cradles a conch shell like it is a doll,
while Wright gently tugs in an affectionate gesture at Edith’s hair,
which is pulled into a long blond ponytail to match Wright’s own.
It is tempting to read the Lonely Doll books as a mirror of Wright’s
life—the stifled woman-child playing the role of the overbearing
parental figure upon the lifeless Edith, and expressing, through the
doll, the urges and desires that she never explored on her own. Edith’s
short skirts tend to fly up behind her, flashing her petticoats and
knickers. On the cover of one sequel, she appears gagged and bound to a
tree. In the famously unsettling sequence that Antonya Nelson
commemorated in her fiction, Edith gets a spanking at the hands of Mr.
Bear, a punishment that appeared in the original “Lonely Doll” and was
reprised in later books. When Mr. Bear is shown with Edith bent over his
knee, her skirt hiked up, and his furry paw suspended in the air, aiming
for her bottom, an air of eroticism suddenly intrudes on the tale of
innocent playtime. The figures’ blank faces lend the picture a twinge of
horror; Little Bear, watching, throws up his arms in shock, the only
expression of emotion in the scene. Nathan theorizes that, with Mr. Bear
and Little Bear, Wright was replicating “her own holy trinity: herself,
a brother, and a father.”
There is something diminishing, though, about reading so much of Wright’s work as
an expression of damaged family life, as if she were a child playing
with dolls in a therapist’s office. Wright was a prolific inventor of
images who approached her work like a meticulous auteur. She used
invisible fishing line to hold her models in place, turning Edith’s head
just so—downcast when she is forlorn, cocked to the side to indicate
anger, or perhaps the stirring of a small rebellion. She sometimes
enlisted her mother or brother as an assistant, but she assumed complete
creative control: directing, writing, costumes, lighting, adjusting
sightlines, processing and printing the photographs, designing mock-ups
of the books she eventually delivered to Doubleday for publication. Shot
inside Wright’s apartment, on location in New York City, and on the
docks and beaches of Ocracoke, the books’ skillful arrangements depict
Edith and Little Bear marching through forlorn, foggy fields, chasing a
wild pony, or standing before a towering Brooklyn Bridge. Sometimes Mr.
Bear throws a comforting paw over Edith’s shoulder, and they face each
other, in a pose that looks a little bit like love. More than in an illustrated children’s story, the hand of the author is
palpable in these books—orchestrating, posing, imparting motion,
feeling, and narrative. One can understand why Kim Gordon might find the
original “Lonely Doll” too creepy to read to her daughter, but it’s
equally easy to imagine why the book so captivated her in her youth. The
lonely doll’s pliable form revealed, in every frame, the artistic spirit
of her creator.
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September 26, 2017 at 04:23PM