By SAUL ELKIN - Special to The News
If we accept the usual dating (from the appearance of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen's prose plays at the turn of this century), "modern" drama is now approximately 100 years old, and what an extraordinary chapter this has been in the 3,000-year history of Western theater.
No previous century has undergone as many drastic changes, as movement has succeeded movement -- realism, naturalism, symbolism, expressionism, surrealism, epic and absurdism, to name only the most prominent. The century also has been complicated by contradictions and inconsistencies within the work of theater artists.
The list of playwrights, directors, actors, and designers who have been most influential in this century is the stuff of college courses and doctoral dissertations. To single out a list of the most important figures of the past 100 years is daunting, and so what follows is from the very personal perspective of one whose career in theater began as a professional actor at age 8 with the fabled Yiddish Art Theatre, followed by degrees in theater at Columbia and Carnegie-Mellon universities, appearances as an actor on and off Broadway, and now happily acting, directing and teaching in this wonderful theater community of Western New York.
1. and 2. Henrik Ibsen and Anton Chekhov: It was "realism" that ushered in this century of modernism, and any list must begin with Ibsen ("A Doll's House," "Hedda Gabler," "Ghosts"), and Chekhov ("Uncle Vanya," "The Cherry Orchard," "The Seagull").
3. Konstantine Stanislavsky: The director and teacher most closely associated with the first decades of the century is Stanislavsky, one of the founders of the Moscow Art Theatre. It was through his attempts to analyze and solve the intricacies of the art of acting that he arrived at his "system" or "method" of training actors through which he exerted an enormous influence on modern theater. Universities and conservatories throughout the world continue to train actors by the Stanislavsky "system," and some of the finest actors of the past half century happily refer to themselves as "method" actors.
4. and 5. Luigi Pirandello and Antonin Artaud: The years between 1910 and 1925 were ones of violent contrasts in which the only common denominator was skepticism about realism and naturalism, and when the impact of innovations in painting by the early cubist and other abstract artists had an enormous impact on theater. The most influential figure of this period was playwright Luigi Pirandello ("Six Characters in Search of an Author") in Italy, and in France a theorist and visionary who continues to have an impact on today's theater, Antonin Artaud ("The Theatre and Its Double").
6. Eugene Ionesco: From the end of World War II we have seen the emergence of a group of theater artists who have radically altered our perception of drama and performance, and perhaps even ourselves. The plays of the "Theatre of the Absurd" as exemplified by Eugene Ionesco ("Rhinoceros," "The Lesson," "The Chairs") shattered the comfortable world of realism where every effect has a cause, in favor of a world in which there are no predictable patterns. The tramps in Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" improvise diversions while waiting for Godot, who never appears. The play ends as the first act ended -- without an ending:
Vladimir: "Well? Shall we go?"
Estragon: "Yes. Let's go."
They do not move.
7. Bertold Brecht: The German playwright/director and theorist Bertold Brecht ("Threepenny Opera," "Caucasian Chalk Circle") redefined theater by alternating the real with the unreal, producing what he referred to as the "alienation effect," and a style of theater he referred to as "epic."
8. Eugene O'Neill: The plays of O'Neill have become the "classics" of this century.
9. Peter Brook: Any list of important theater artists of this century must include director Brook.
10. Honorable mentions: Sarah Bernhardt, Laurence Olivier, Elia Kazan, Marlon Brando and Michael Bennett.
What is clear, however, is that this waning 20th century has been one of innovation like no other. On to Y2K!
Dr. Saul Elkin is Distinguished Service Professor of Theatre at the University at Buffalo, and is founder and artistic director of Shakespeare in Delaware Park.
HERMAN TROTTER - News Music Critic
Serious music in the 20th century could be represented by a pair of bookends labeled "Expressive/Romantic Music," with an outpouring of imaginative, highly intellectual experimentation in between.
Here is a layman's guide to the century's 10 major movers and shakers in serious concert music.
1. Claude Debussy: His 1905 "La Mer" pointed music in the direction of impressionism. Gone were the sonata form structure and the notion of establishing a home tonal center. With Debussy the starting point of music was an elementary sketch from which an entire composition evolved. Debussy's changes were evolutionary, and blurred the edges of tonality.
2. Arnold Schoenberg: He was revolutionary, throwing out tonality altogether and assigning equal value to all 12 tones in the chromatic scale. This was simple atonality. Schoenberg then organized the twelve-tone technique in which compositions begin with the statement of a "tone row" in which each of the 12 tones must be stated before any can be repeated.
3. Igor Stravinsky: In 1913 the Paris premiere of his ballet "The Rite of Spring," with its barbaric, pagan fertility rituals and pounding rhythms, caused riots, but it vaulted both both composer and music to a position of undimmed international prominence.
4. Charles Ives: A maverick among the titans, he terrorized the Yale music faculty, then went on to an extremely lucrative career in insurance while remaining a closet composer. Ives went his own innovative way, composing in two keys simultaneously and blatantly intermixing totally different types of music in outrageous but mesmerizing cacophony. When his 1904 Symphony No. 3 premiered in 1947, it won the Pulitzer Prize.
5. George Gershwin: Essentially a self-taught genius who proved that American popular songs can be just as expressive as the finest European art songs, then turned his attention to larger forms. His 1924 "Rhapsody In Blue" made a lady out of jazz by taking her to the concert hall. It was music that exuded the rattle of the subway and rhythm of urban streets. In 1935 he brokered the same marriage between jazz and opera with "Porgy and Bess," but it would be four more decades before it was fully accepted into the world's elite opera houses.
6. John Cage: He was even more influential among his peers than Ives. He produced an enormous body of works, with innovations such as the prepared piano (with foreign objects placed on the strings), chance procedures and indeterminacy, assuring no two performances of a work would ever be the same, and graphic scores rather than conventional notation. Cage constantly called into question the very meaning of music, a quest probably best exemplified by his 4'33" (1952), four minutes and 33 seconds of silence.
7. Bela Bartok: On his pauper's death in 1945, Bartok was revered for striking orchestral works, but many considered his six string quartets (1909-1939) to have put the ultimate 20th century stamp on that venerable art form.
8. Dmitri Shostakovich: At mid-century, Shostakovich was considered a brilliant but bombastic composer whose music often verged on crass. In the reappraisal after his 1975 death, however, his Symphonies 5, 8 and 10 were elevated to masterpiece status. But it was his autobiographical String Quartet No. 8, documenting the terrors of totalitarianism, which opened people's ears to his other 14 quartets, which now hold a place alongside Bartok's.
9. Aaron Copland: He finds a place among the greats for his string of works (1938-1955) that more successfully captured the spirit of America, particularly its open spaces and folklore, than anyone else, perhaps best summarized in the 1944 ballet "Appalachian Spring."
10. Steve Reich and Philip Glass: The other "Expressive/Romantic Music" bookend doesn't represent a single composer. We don't know who the major voice of the early 21st century will be. But these two composers sensed in the 1960s that Schoenberg's serial technique, long favored by academics, was not picking up any general audience and that a return to a simpler means of expression was desperately needed. Their route to simplicity was called "minimalism," the repetition of simple melodic and/or rhythmic patterns that only gradually change. Glass and Reich subsequently moved away from strict minimalism, but their lesson was not lost on many younger composers who have written much audience-friendly music in the last two decades.
By ANTHONY VIOLANTI - News Critic
Country music has come a long way from the banjo and fiddle sounds of the 1920s to the glitter and flash of Garth Brooks and Shania Twain in the 1990s.
Today, country stars set fashion as well as musical trends but tradition remains a vital part of the musical life in Nashville, Tenn., home of the Grand Ole Opry.
Now for a look at the past and present for country's 10 most influential performers of this century, in no particular order:
1. Hank Williams: One of the most important performers in American music history, Williams began recording in the mid '40s and was a country music poet. Williams wrote such masterpieces as "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" and "Your Cheatin' Heart."
2. Garth Brooks: Brooks has sold 89 million records, second only to the Beatles, including the two best-selling country albums ever. He combines rock and pop influences with a country style (two of his most important influences, he has said, were Kiss and James Taylor). Brooks has sold and marketed albums and concerts in rock star fashion, taking country into a new era.
3. Patsy Cline: The tragic queen of country music, Patsy Cline was only 30 when killed in a 1963 airplane crash. Cline made such songs as "Crazy," "Sweet Dreams" and "I Fall to Pieces" into enduring classics.
4. Shania Twain: More pop star than country singer, Twain has used slick videos, sexy clothes and a pop-rock sound to establish a new standard for female country singers.
5. Roy Acuff: A country pioneer who began singing in the 1930s, Acuff had a string of hits with the Smokey Mountain Boys, and later formed the Acuff-Rose Publishing Company with Fred Rose. It became a cornerstone of the Nashville music industry.
6. Johnny Cash: A contemporary of Elvis at Sun Records, Cash went on to popularize country and rockabilly. His early songs included "I Walk the Line" and "Folsom Prison Blues." Cash moved on to make such songs as "Ring of Fire" and "Sunday Morning Comin' Down."
7. George Jones: The roots of country are in his music, filled with twangy guitars, nasal vocals and tales of lost love and whiskey.
8. Merle Haggard: Like Jones, Haggard is a throwback to the hard-drinking, hard-living old days. Haggard honed his singing skills at San Quentin prison. His tales of love, loss and America are heard in songs such as "Okie From Muskogee," "Big City" and "Misery and Gin."
9. Alan Jackson: A young, handsome singer with a traditional country sound and affinity for George Jones. Among contemporary country stars, he has remained truest to country's roots.
10. Willie Nelson: One of the great songwriters and performers in country music. Nelson wrote "Crazy" for Patsy Cline and "Hello Walls" for Faron Young in the early '60s. He became best known when he crossed over to the pop charts in the mid '70s with albums such as "Red Headed Stranger" and "Stardust." Nelson's scratchy, worn voice radiates with authenticity and emotion.
By AMY COHEN - News Contributing Reviewer
From Balanchine to Baryshnikov, who were the movers and shakers of contemporary dance? Like Barbara Walter's "10 Most Beautiful People" list, this group is as subjective as is the definition of dance itself.
1. George Balanchine: Long before Bruce Springsteen became known as "The Boss," there was a different man who was known by the same name -- George Balanchine. Almost singlehandedly, Balanchine transformed the face of American ballet in the 20th century. Balanchine once said that his public "would remember the steps, but they will forget the idea." He was wrong. Today, Balanchine's vision of America dancing remains as alive as the steps that are performed.
2. Martha Graham: The founder of modern dance in America. What could be more influential than that? Dancer, choreographer, teacher, she ranks with a handful of 20th century artists who broke traditional molds and created a new form of expression. A visionary, she brought freedom of movement and emotion to dance, calling the dancer, "the athlete of God."
3. Isadora Duncan: As the first modern dancer in America, Duncan rejected the constraints of classical ballet, taking inspiration from the waves of the sea and the flight of the birds. She believed in movements that freed dancers from a strict classical vocabulary. Her influence was widespread and laid the foundation for modern dance in America.
4. Alvin Ailey: A world-class choreographer and pioneer in the world of dance, he formed the first black dance company sent abroad by President Kennedy's International Exchange Program (1962); it was also the first black modern company to perform at the Metropolitan Opera (1983). Ailey's signature masterpiece, "Revelations," spoke about the black experience in America in a way that transcended race or gender, and may well have been seen by more people than any other ballet created in the century.
5. Katherine Dunham: One of the first pioneers in Afro-American dance, she has had strong ties to Buffalo. Her belief in the continuity of black dance in America has led her in the last decade to Gemini Dance Theatre's Steve Porter, who has helped to continue her legacy.
6. Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov: Hailed as two of this century's greatest dancers, Nureyev and Baryshnikov defined the term ballet "star." Both defected from Russia, Nureyev in 1961 and Baryshnikov in 1974, hoping to find greater artistic freedom in America. The world's fascination with these two dancers lies in part to their tremendous talent and in part to their personal magnetism, as both became international sex symbols.
7. Edward Villella: Long considered one of America's most celebrated dancers and a protege of George Balanchine's, Villella has an astounding list of accomplishments. As a principal dancer in the New York City Ballet, he was also the first American male dancer to be asked to perform an encore at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow.
8. Paul Taylor: He has often been called our greatest living choreographer due to his use of contemporary music, energy and freedom of movement. Taylor's influence has trickled down to small regional companies, making them accessible and versatile.
9. Bob Fosse: When you think of Broadway, you think of Bob Fosse, who left a permanent stamp on the face of American theater. As a choreographer for hits such as "Pajama Game," "Damn Yankees," "Sweet Charity," "Pippin" and "Dancin", Fosse's ability to bring tap and jazz into the lives of millions of Americans is undeniable. In 1973 he had the distinction of winning the three highest awards in three different media -- a Tony Award for the musical "Pippin," an Oscar for the film "Cabaret," and an Emmy Award for the television special "Liza with a Z."
10. Patricia McBride and Suzanne Farrell: Two quintessential Balanchine ballerinas who translated Balanchine's vision with breathtaking beauty and grace.
One more. Fred Astaire: Mikhail Baryshnikov once called Astaire "the greatest dancer in the world." Many would agree that his suave, sophisticated style and smooth technique transformed American dance.