Just a Watery Trick on Lincoln Center
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Magician David Blaine has concluded his underwater act – and that’s about the best thing that can be said about the whole affair. Mr. Blaine had no business turning Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts into an amusement park. Perhaps more to the point: Lincoln Center’s president, Reynold Levy, was misguided in renting the plaza out to Mr. Blaine and his crew.
Lincoln Center rents its indoor and outdoor spaces for various, appropriate functions, such as music concerts. It also produces its own events, like the popular Midsummer Night’s Swing, which brings hundreds of people into the plaza for nights of outdoor music and dancing.
The guiding impulse for both is to introduce the city’s premiere site for performing arts to as broad an audience as possible – which is an important goal. “The more activity, more spaces with events going on, people coming here, it’s all good for Lincoln Center,” a spokeswoman, Marian Skokan, said. “If it’s a legitimate organization and it’s doing something that’s within our mission as a place where attractions and entertainment take place, we will rent the space.”
But does David Blaine really qualify? This rental was problematic for two reasons. First, it does not follow that bringing people into the square to see an underwater vaudeville act will spark their interest for such things as classical music. Second, on a symbolic level, Mr. Blaine’s show is an insult to the singers, actors, dancers, and musicians who spend their lives in constant, rigorous pursuit of artistry.
On Saturday evening, I spent the intermission of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on the balcony of the New York State Theater. Out on the plaza were at least 100 people gazing at the spectacle of a man in an aquarium, which led me to ask: What are these people doing down there?
One can only hope that a few Blaine-watchers looked up from the plaza and wondered the reverse: What are those people doing on that balcony?
The man floating in the tank had no connection to the truly impressive and magical world on stage that I saw thatnight. Simply putting people in the square does not lead them into the theaters. It may make them less intimidated by the physical space created by the monumental architecture. But their presence is not necessarily accompanied by any information about what’s going on inside. You can more learn about the Metropolitan Opera from watching the film “Moonstruck” than from watching Mr. Blaine bob around.
The second point is symbolic – and, admittedly, more of an emotional response. What is this wanna-be Houdini doing on such hallowed ground? Lincoln Center’s stages and spaces exist for performers who have devoted their lives to artistic expression.
Mr. Blaine’s audience has more in common with Cirque Du Soleil – a glorified Vegas act masquerading as performance art – than anything that happens at Lincoln Center. He should have rented space at Rockefeller Center, a more appropriate space where television reigns and crowds expect to see the unusual. But by inserting himself into the turf of real artists, he set himself up as a legitimate performer.
It’s understandable that Lincoln Center wants to attract a crowd and to bring new audiences to their houses. Anyone who believes that the arts enrich life would agree. But the constituents of the campus all have outreach programs that serve the goals of educating young people and building future audiences. And Lincoln Center does an excellent job of creating an inviting environment that uses the arts as a lure. Go to the plaza during Midsummer Night’s Swing or Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors. The place is packed with people enjoying the arts for free.
But as Mr. Blaine towels off, what will people have enjoyed? A trick, at best. The more important question is: what will Lincoln Center have gained?