Our quick weekend trip to Philadelphia was a great success, and overall we had a really nice time. We didn’t head out until around noon on Saturday, arriving at the hotel about 2:30. After checking in, we went for a walk down to South Street and then up the Street to the waterfront, stopping along the way for a cheesesteak at Jim’s Steaks (which is so insanely popular that we waited on line well over an hour). We made our way back to the hotel via Society Hill, taking a lot of photographs along the way (I’ve only put up a few so far, mostly just for the squared circle project) but more will be trickling in over the coming days), in time to change clothes and head over to the theater for the ballet, the primary raison d’etre for the trip.
The order of the three works on the evening’s program were slightly changed Saturday night, possibly because of an earlier Philadelphia Inquirer review noting that the world premiere of 11:11–set to Rufus Wainwright’s music, and our impetus for getting tickets in the first place–was by far the strongest of the pieces (though the New York Times disagreed; my own sentiments are much more in line with the Inquirer). Earlier performances had led with 11:11, followed by an intermission, Peter Martin’s Waltz Project, another intermission, and ending with Twyla Tharp’s 1982 piece, Nine Sinatra Songs. Saturday night the program started with Waltz Project, which I found to be a complete snoozer–quite literally, I kept falling asleep during the hypnotic (Cage, Glass, Gould, etc.) music and mostly uninspiring choreography.
11:11, though, was a sheer delight (though I’d have expected something with perhaps a little less mixed-gender pairing, and some stronger male-male pas de deux, given the obvious homoeroticism of Wainwright’s music). Full of energy, it left me personally feeling more energized than when it had begun, and the dancers really seemed to enjoy it. I hope that the piece gets some broader attention.
Tharp’s Nine Sinatra Songs was pleasant enough, with some particular standouts among the company, though on the whole I felt that the dancers sometimes seemed merely to be going through the motions and the piece a bit dated. All in all, though, I really enjoyed the evening; the Merriam Theater is a really beautiful venue, although the seats felt a little too narrow (and it’s not like Jeff or I are of even average width), and the crowds a little too pushy (in that regard, in fact, the audiences seemed much more rude than crowds in either DC or New York, with even little old ladies unabashedly cutting ahead of us in the will call line, for example).
Yesterday morning we slept in and then had a late complimentary breakfast, and given the incredibly warm, friendly and sociable attitude of the staff at our hotel, the Alexander Inn, the adjective fits in more ways than one, after which we strolled around Center City some more, heading down Walnut Street to Rittenhouse Square and then back by City Hall.
Our final stop before heading back to Arlington was the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which blew my mind. Living in DC, perhaps we tend to be lulled into the frame of mind that the Smithsonian is all the museum(s) one needs. And being asked to pay to visit a museum sometimes feels like an absurd practical joke. After the time we spent in the Philadelphia Museum, though, I almost feel it was overly, perhaps unbecomingly modest of them to ask only a ten-dollar admission; I felt almost like I’d cheated them, or that I’d been the beneficiary of some charitable largesse.
First of all, the museum is itself a solidly and beautifully imposing piece of architecture, with commanding and ever-changing views of the city as you mount its steps (perhaps best-known for the backdrop they provided to Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa). It was made even more dramatic by the golden afternoon light that spilled over the steps and landings, casting the beautiful frieze on the northern wing into sharp relief (pun intended). And inside the halls seem to go on for miles; it was only upon returning home, after having spent three hours inside, that I realized we’d nonetheless missed entire rooms (we didn’t see the Vermeer currently there on loan, for example, or any of the Eakins for which it turns out the museum is famed. The museum is really amazing, though, for the number of rooms that recreate other places: one room, for example, contained three buildings from an eighteenth-century ceremonial Japanese teahouse, another the pillared hall from a sixteenth-century shrine to Vishnu, another the cloister of a thirteenth-century French abbey, along with many others recreating such diverse sites as a Pennsylvania German farmhouse kitchen, a Paris hotel salon, and the drawing room of a New York Fifth Avenue townhouse.
We had a fantastic weekend, and really want to spend some more time exploring Philadelphia. It’s so close, really–just about a two-and-a-half-hour drive–and such a pedestrian-friendly city once there.