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The Woman Who Captured ‘Jaws,’ Then Worked to Undo the Damage


Steven Spielberg needed a real shark. Before the young director began filming “Jaws” with his famously malfunctioning animatronic beast in Martha’s Vineyard, he hired two underwater cinematographers to film great white sharks off the coast of South Australia.

Skilled divers and well-known in their home country, the Australian couple Ron and Valerie Taylor set off to capture the footage that would be used in the climactic 1975 scene in which Richard Dreyfuss’s Hooper, seemingly safe in a shark cage, confronts the monster terrorizing beachgoers.

But, as Valerie Taylor, the subject of a new documentary, said in a recent video interview from her home in Sydney, “You might be able to direct a dog or a human or a horse, but you can’t direct a shark.”

It quickly became clear that the Taylors were battling two unwilling parties: the shark and the professional stuntman, Carl Rizzo, who didn’t know how to dive and panicked at being lowered in the cage. As he waffled on the boat deck, the shark approached, became tangled in the wires supporting the cage and ultimately snapped the empty container loose from the winch, sending it plummeting into the depths.

Ron filmed the whole thing underwater, while Valerie grabbed a camera on the ship and shot overhead. Spielberg was so enamored with the footage of the unexpected turn of events, he had the script rewritten to accommodate it, altering Hooper’s fate from shark bait to survivor as the animal thrashed overhead.

Valerie’s work on “Jaws” is just one chapter in her incredible life, which saw her shift from lethal spearfisher to filmmaker and pioneering conservationist. “She was like a Marvel superhero to me,” the Australian producer Bettina Dalton said. “She influenced everything about my career and my passion for the natural world.”

That reverence led Dalton to team up with the director Sally Aitken for the National Geographic documentary “Playing With Sharks,” which follows Taylor’s career and is now available on Disney+.

Born in Australia and raised mostly in New Zealand, Valerie, now 85, grew up poor. She was hospitalized with polio at age 12 and forced to drop out of school while she relearned how to walk. She began working as a comic strip artist then dabbled in theater acting, but hated being tied to the same place every day.

“I had a good mother. She said, just do what you like. Try what you like. It can’t hurt you and you’ll learn,” Valerie, her statement earrings swinging under her silver hair, told me emphatically. When she began diving and spearfishing professionally, however, her mother was “horrified.” Valerie added, “I was supposed to get married and have children.”

She did eventually marry Ron, a fellow spearfishing champion who was also skilled with an underwater camera, and they began making films documenting marine life together. Valerie, with her glamorous “Bond girl” looks, became the focal point since they could fetch more money if she appeared onscreen. They were together until Ron died of leukemia in 2012.

“Here’s this incredible front-of-house character, and here’s an amazing technical wizard,” Aitken said. “Together, they realized that was a winning combination.”

Not only did Valerie have a magnetic on-camera presence, she had a rare ability to connect with animals, including menacing sharks, which were then little understood.

“They all have different personalities. Some are shy, some are bullies, some are brave,” Valerie said. “When you get to know a school of sharks, you get to know them as individuals.”

After she killed a shark while shooting a film in the 1960s, the Taylors had an epiphany: sharks needed to be studied and understood, rather than slain. They quit spearfishing entirely, and Aitken likened their journey from hunters to conservationists to that of John James Audubon.

“I have that sort of personality that I don’t get afraid. I get angry,” Valerie said. “Even when I’ve been bitten, I’ve just stayed still and waited for it to let go — because they’ve made a mistake.”

Still, she conceded, “I don’t expect other people to behave like I do.”

Her signature look, a pink wet suit and brightly colored hair ribbon, could be seen as a defiant embrace of her femininity in a male-dominated industry, but it was also a simple way for her to stand out in underwater footage. “Ron wanted color in a blue world,” Valerie said. “He said, ‘Cousteau has a red beanie, you can have a red ribbon.’ That was that.”

When asked, she shrugged at the idea that she faced additional challenges as the only woman on boats full of men for most of her life, especially in the ’50s and ’60s, when women were still largely expected to stick to traditional roles.

“I was as good as they were, so there you go. No problem,” she said. “And, although I didn’t realize it, I was probably as tough.”

The “Playing With Sharks” filmmakers, who pored over decades of media coverage and archival footage, described Valerie as someone who faced an uphill battle on multiple levels but who was also seen as an intriguing novelty.

“Of course, she had to fight to be taken seriously,” Aitken said. “She was working class. She was someone who really had very little education. I think the culture saw her as extraordinary. That in itself can be a liberating path, precisely because you are singular.”

When “Jaws” became an instant, unexpected blockbuster in 1975, the Taylors realized that the movie was doing harm that they’d never considered: Recreational shark hunting gained popularity and audiences feared legions of bloodthirsty sharks were stalking humans just below the surface. In reality, there are hundreds of species of sharks, and only a few have been known to bite humans. Those that do usually mistake people for their natural prey, like sea lions.

“For some reason, filmgoers believed it. There’s no shark like that alive in the world today,” Valerie said. “Ron had a saying: ‘You don’t go to New York and expect to see King Kong on the Empire State Building. Neither should you go into the water expecting to see Jaws.’”

In an attempt to quell public fears, Universal flew the Taylors to the United States for a talk-show tour educating the public about sharks, and Valerie said, “I’ve been fighting for the poor old, much maligned sharks and the marine world, in general, ever since.”

In 1984, she helped campaign to make the grey nurse shark the first protected shark species in the world. Her nature photography has been featured in National Geographic. The same area where she and Ron filmed their “Jaws” sequence is now a marine park named in their honor. And she still publishes essays passionately defending animals.

Yet, shark populations have been decimated around the world, primarily because of overfishing, and Valerie said many of the underwater scenes she witnessed in her early days no longer exist.

“I hate being old, but at least it means I was in the ocean when it was pristine,” she said, adding that today, “it’s like going to where there was a rainforest and seeing a field of corn.”

Despite all that’s covered in “Playing With Sharks,” Valerie said, “it’s not my whole life story, by any means.” There was the time she was left at sea and saved herself by anchoring her hair ribbons to a piece of coral until another boat happened upon her. Or the day she taught Mick Jagger how to scuba dive on a whim. (He was a quick study, despite the weight belt sliding right down his narrow hips.) She also survived breast cancer.

Though she still dives, her arthritis makes being in the colder Australian waters difficult, and she’s eager to return to Fiji, where swimming feels like “taking a bath.”

“I can’t jump anymore, not that I particularly want to jump,” she said. “But if I go into the ocean, I can fly.”


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A Trick of the Eye Turns a Luxurious Embassy Inside Out


ROME — In a city of spectacular offices, Christian Masset, France’s ambassador to Italy, has perhaps the most spectacular of them all.

Smack in the middle of Palazzo Farnese, a high-Renaissance masterpiece, his workplace has cavernous marble fireplaces and columns, wall-to-wall frescoes and a central window and balcony, both modified by Michelangelo, that look out onto twin fountains made from ancient basins. On some nights the office lights are left on, giving Romans strolling through one of the city’s most elegant piazzas a glimpse of its glorious interiors.

So it was no small ask when the French artist JR proposed blocking half the view.

“Yeah, it was a long discussion,” the almost anonymous artist said, wearing his trademark fedora, shades and trim beard.

He spoke in front of the Palazzo Farnese on a recent afternoon to inaugurate his new work, a more than 6,500-square-foot, black-and-white trompe l’oeil mural running like a gash, or a rash, up the building’s facade, or more accurately up the scaffolding installed for the palace’s restoration.

“At first,” JR said, the embassy officials told him it was a no go “to cover any of the office.”

But he argued that rerouting the mural around the windows would ruin the optical illusion of a crack that worked like an X-ray, revealing the frescoes in the ambassador’s office, barrel vaults and Doric columns, but also elements from the palace’s past, including a grand statue of Hercules that once stood in the courtyard but is now in a Naples museum.

JR won the argument and the ambassador lost half his view.

“I still have a window,” Masset said with a shrug.

JR’s project is part of Open for Work, Palazzo Farnese’s four-year, restoration of its facades and roof at a cost of 5.6 million euros, about $6.6 million. Flanked by a convent and arguably Rome’s most louche and Felliniesque see-and-be-seen cafe, the sublimely mannered 16th-century palace will be an open canvas during the renovation for contemporary artists playing on its history.

It kicked off on the evening of July 13, when three large white helium balloons, gleaming like moons, suspended a 60-foot cardboard bridge in the air over the Tiber River, fancifully fulfilling an uncompleted Michelangelo project to connect the Palazzo Farnese and the gardens of the Villa Farnesina, another sumptuous property on the opposite bank.

That work, by the French artist Olivier Grossetête, was followed by last week’s inauguration of the JR mural.

Some critics, who find JR’s work more advertorial and obvious than inspired and nuanced, worry that the venerable building is wearing something that it’s too old for, with an unseemly slit up the middle that evokes the outfits of its boozy neighbor more than its stately history.

But the French say they are injecting some life during the architectural surgery and helping, in a spirit of fraternité, to jump start a Roman art scene that needs a little lifeblood.

“We gave a big push. Because I think that the Farnese Bridge and this one are the two biggest projects so far of this kind, in Rome in this period,” said Masset, standing quietly to the side as reporters and photographers clamored around JR.

France’s warm, if somewhat patronizing, helping hand reflects a new political symbiosis between France and Italy under the recently installed, pro-European government of Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who has become the French president Emmanuel Macron’s mentor and wingman. That is a far cry from just a couple years ago, when Italy’s nationalist-populist government made a habit out of knocking France to trumpet its anti-Europe and anti-establishment credo.

In 2019, Luigi Di Maio, then Italy’s powerful deputy prime minister and leader of the populist Five Star Movement, took a road trip to France to meet with a leader of the Yellow Vest protesters who had called for civil war. “Yellow vests, do not give up!” Mr. Di Maio urged, prompting Macron to recall Masset, the ambassador, briefly to Paris in protest.

Back then, Matteo Salvini, the once powerful interior minister and nationalist leader, said France should get rid of its “very bad president.” His fellow League party member Lucia Borgonzoni — then, and still now, Italy’s deputy culture minister — fought sending Leonardo da Vinci masterpieces to France for a major Louvre retrospective.

But on July 14, France’s national day, and hours after the Farnese Bridge project lifted off over the Tiber, Di Maio, now a less-than-powerful foreign minister, attended a celebration at Palazzo Farnese. Salvini now nominally supports Draghi, and members of Parliament in his League party were among those invited to a soiree after the July 21 inauguration of the JR work. They posted selfies with the artist on social media.

Such heady settings are also a long way from JR’s origins. He came to prominence in the mid- 2000s by wheat-pasting his up-close and exaggerated photos of residents of a housing project in a deprived Paris suburb. He went on to produce huge public photo projects in poverty- or conflict-stricken parts of the world, such as favelas in Brazil, slums in Kenya and on the Gaza Strip. Alicia Keys opened his solo museum exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum and last year he designed the 91-foot “La Ferita” or “The Wound,” a similar fault line effect on the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, Italy.

But he said last week that little had prepared him for the ambassador’s remarkable office.

“When I walked in — I was mesmerized!” he said. The palazzo’s frescoes were “the kind of wall painting that inspired me,” he added. “That’s why I do what I do.”

He prepared for the project by studying the Palazzo Farnese facade and hanging around the piazza incognito, which is to say without his hat and sunglasses. But now he was done hiding.

Wearing France standard-issue Stan Smith sneakers, he took a trademark leap in front of the building for the benefit of kneeling photographers and his 1.6 million Instagram followers. He spoke good Italian to the reporters and said “Super” in a French accent to his entourage.

Looking on in delight was Hélène Kelmachter, the embassy’s cultural attaché, who wore artsy eyeglasses with swirling bass clefs for temples, an undulating dress made of ruffled blue ripples and shoes stamped with Wonder Woman’s face.

“Rome is a place for patrimony — is a place of history,” she said. “But history can meet present.”

Switching to English, JR said that the art history crowd may know all about Palazzo Farnese, its papal inhabitants, its Renaissance architects and its astonishing frescoes. But his work, he said, spoke to and grabbed “people who walk by.”

On Wednesday, they walked by to see him.

“Is it you? Yes it is! I follow you on social,” said Valentina Ilari, a 49-year-old lawyer who saw JR in the square. “Can we do a selfie? Would you mind?”

“Si, si, si,” JR said.

“Wait, I don’t know how to do it,” said Ilari, fumbling with her phone. “I’m overwhelmed.”

The ambassador seemed more contained.

Standing with folded hands in a navy suit, away from the scrum, Masset acknowledged that, yes, he felt “a little” regret about the way JR’s mural had obstructed his view. “But when you see the result,” he added diplomatically, “I’m very happy.”


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‘Alice Neel: People Come First’


Alice Neel: People Come First,” on view through Aug. 1, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is a momentous show of more than 100 paintings, drawings and watercolors from streetscapes, still lifes and interiors to the portraits of a veritable cross section of New Yorkers, occasionally nude, that are considered her greatest work.

The largest Neel retrospective yet seen in New York and the first in 20 years, it reigns over prime Met real estate — the Tisch Galleries, typically host to historic figures like Michelangelo, Delacroix and Courbet, and only now to a female artist. This array confirms Neel (1900-1984) as equal if not superior to artists like Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon and destined for icon status on the order of Vincent van Gogh and David Hockney.

Neel’s star has been on the rise since 1974, when, after several decades on the art world’s margins, her confrontational, solidly painted portraits were finally acknowledged with an overdue survey at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Today, she is a cult figure, an early feminist, inborn bohemian, erstwhile Social Realist, lifelong activist and staunchly representational painter who bravely persisted, depicting the people and world around her through the heydays of Abstract Expressionism, Pop and Minimalism.

Her greatness lies in the different levels of reality combined in her art. These include social and economic inequities; the body’s deterioration through time; and the complex interior lives of her subjects. There is also Neel’s own indomitable personality, ever-present in her work; and the dazzling insistence of her paintings as objects. The show is brilliantly installed, seguing from chronological to thematic, linking works early and late and demonstrating Neel’s fluctuations among various realist styles — tight, loose, expressionistic, surreal. The first two galleries encompass works from the 1930s to the late 1950s and show how foundational to her development were New York City — its buildings, problems, people and the neighborhoods in which she lived. There are several middle galleries dedicated to her portraits of the 1960s and ’70s, considered by many to be her best work, but the show affirms that she was outstanding from the start.


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Britney Spears Files to Remove Father Jamie Spears From Conservatorship


More than 13 years after the life and finances of Britney Spears were put under the strict, court-approved control of her father, James P. Spears — and a month after Ms. Spears broke her public silence on the arrangement, calling it abusive and singling him out as its ultimate authority — a new lawyer for the singer has moved to have Mr. Spears removed from the unique conservatorship.

The detailed petition to oust the singer’s father from the complex legal setup was filed in Los Angeles probate court on Monday by Mathew S. Rosengart, a former federal prosecutor and high-powered Hollywood lawyer, who has worked with celebrities including Sean Penn, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Steven Spielberg.

The move, less than two weeks after Mr. Rosengart was approved as the singer’s lawyer, is framed as a first step in a broader strategy to examine the conservatorship, which the filing calls a “Kafkaesque nightmare” for Ms. Spears.

Mr. Rosengart took over as Ms. Spears’s lawyer after Samuel D. Ingham III, the court-appointed lawyer who had represented her for the duration of the arrangement, resigned in light of the singer’s recent comments about her care. In 2008, at the outset of the conservatorship, Ms. Spears had been found to lack the mental capacity to hire her own counsel.

In the filing Monday, Mr. Rosengart cited a section of the probate code that gives the court broad discretion to remove a conservator if it “is in the best interests” of the conservatee, and pointed to Ms. Spears’s recent comments in court as evidence that her father’s role was detrimental to her well-being.

The filing added that “serious questions abound concerning Mr. Spears’s potential misconduct, including conflicts of interest, conservatorship abuse and the evident dissipation of Ms. Spears’s fortune.”

“There might well come a time when the court will be called upon to consider whether the conservatorship should be terminated in its entirety and whether — in addition to stripping his daughter of her dignity, autonomy and certain fundamental liberties — Mr. Spears is also guilty of misfeasance or malfeasance warranting the imposition of surcharges, damages or other legal action against him,” Mr. Rosengart wrote.

Lawyers for Mr. Spears did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday. He has previously defended his care of, and concern for, his daughter.

In an additional filing, Mr. Rosengart requested that a certified public accountant in California, Jason Rubin, be named conservator of Ms. Spears’s estate, which was listed as including cash assets of $2.7 million and noncash assets of more than $57 million.

The lawyer noted, since the court had ruled recently that Ms. Spears had the capacity to choose her own lawyer, she “likewise has sufficient capacity to make this nomination.”

In his petition to remove Mr. Spears, Mr. Rosengart added: “Any father who genuinely loves his daughter and has her best interests at heart should willingly step aside in favor of the highly respected professional fiduciary nominated here.”

The petition was supported by Ms. Spears’s current personal conservator, Jodi Montgomery, as well as her mother, Lynne Spears, who said in the filing that her daughter’s relationship with her father had “dwindled to nothing but fear and hatred” because of his “microscopic control” over her life.

At an emotional hearing on June 23, Ms. Spears, 39, said she wished to end the conservatorship, which oversees both her personal care and estate, without having to undergo psychiatric evaluations; she added that she had not known that she could file to end it.

But Mr. Rosengart said in his petition on Monday that he was for now focusing on “the most pressing issue facing Ms. Spears: removing Mr. Spears as conservator of the estate.”

The next status hearing in the case is scheduled for Sept. 29.

Ms. Spears has long chafed at the conservatorship’s strictures behind the scenes, calling her father and his oversight over her life oppressive and controlling, according to confidential court records recently obtained by The New York Times. Ms. Spears also raised questions over the years about the fitness of her father — who has struggled with alcoholism and faced accusations of physical and verbal abuse — as conservator.

“Anything that happened to me had to be approved by my dad, and my dad only,” Ms. Spears said at the hearing, as she described being forced into a mental health facility after a disagreement at a concert rehearsal.

“I cried on the phone for an hour and he loved every minute of it,” she added. “The control he had over someone as powerful as me — he loved the control, to hurt his own daughter, one-hundred thousand percent.”

At the July 14 hearing where Mr. Rosengart was approved as Ms. Spears’s counsel, she stated, “I’m here to get rid of my dad.” Mr. Rosengart asked for Mr. Spears to resign on the spot; a lawyer for the singer’s father declined.

Mr. Spears, 69, has said instituting the conservatorship was necessary to save his daughter’s life and career during a period of concern about her mental health and substance abuse, and that he has acted out of love, working to protect her from exploitation.

Since 2008, Mr. Spears has overseen his daughter’s finances, sometimes with a professional co-conservator. He had also largely controlled Ms. Spears’s personal and medical care until a personal conservator, Ms. Montgomery, took over in September 2019 on an ongoing temporary basis.

Mr. Spears cited health reasons when he stepped down. But two weeks prior, there had been an alleged physical altercation between Mr. Spears and Ms. Spears’s 13-year-old son. No charges were filed in the incident, but the child’s father, Kevin Federline, was granted a restraining order barring Mr. Spears from seeing the children.

Lynne Spears said in the petition to remove Mr. Spears that the incident “understandably destroyed whatever was left of a relationship between” Ms. Spears and her father.

She added: “It is clear to me that James P. Spears is incapable of putting my daughter’s interests ahead of his own on both a professional and a personal level and that his being and remaining a conservator of my daughter’s estate is not in the best interests of my daughter.”

Conservatorships are typically reserved for people who cannot take care of themselves. Ms. Spears’s case has received scrutiny in recent years because she continued to perform as a pop star — and bring in millions of dollars — while under the arrangement.

“I shouldn’t be in a conservatorship if I can work,” Ms. Spears said at the June 23 hearing, while calling for its termination. “It makes no sense. The laws need to change.” She also requested that those behind the conservatorship be investigated for abuse.

Lawyers for Mr. Spears have called into question the actions of the others involved in Ms. Spears’s care. In a court filing after Ms. Spears’s remarks, which were broadcast in the courtroom and, as she insisted, to the public, Mr. Spears’s lawyers called for hearings to look into her claims.

“Either the allegations will be shown to be true, in which case corrective action must be taken, or they will be shown to be false, in which case the conservatorship can continue its course,” they wrote.

Mr. Spears’s lawyers also denied the characterization that he was responsible for the singer’s recent treatment, noting that Ms. Montgomery had been “fully in charge of Ms. Spears’s day-to-day personal care and medical treatment” for nearly two years, despite some of Ms. Spears’s claims predating Ms. Montgomery’s appointment.

“Mr. Spears is unable to hear and address his daughter’s concerns directly because he has been cut off from communicating with her,” Mr. Spears’s lawyers wrote last month, adding that he was “concerned about the management and care of his daughter.”

Lauriann Wright, a lawyer for Ms. Montgomery, said that Ms. Montgomery had “been a tireless advocate for Britney and for her well-being,” with “one primary goal — to assist and encourage Britney in her path to no longer needing a conservatorship of the person.”

In Ms. Spears’s speech to the court last month, she said she had been forced to perform, take medication and remain on birth control.

Following her remarks, the singer’s court-appointed lawyer, Bessemer Trust, the wealth-management firm that was set to take over as the co-conservator of Ms. Spears’s estate, requested to withdraw, in addition to Mr. Ingham. Outside of the conservatorship, Ms. Spears’s longtime manager, Larry Rudolph, also resigned, citing her stated intention to potentially retire.

Ms. Spears had expressed concerns about her father’s level of control over her for years as part of the court proceedings, which were largely sealed. In 2016, the probate investigator in the case concluded that the conservatorship remained in Ms. Spears’s best interests based on her complex finances, susceptibility to outside influence and “intermittent” drug issues, according to the report.

But the investigator’s report recommended over the longer term “a pathway to independence and the eventual termination of the conservatorship.”


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Booker Prize Longlist Is Unveiled


LONDON — Kazuo Ishiguro, Rachel Cusk and Richard Powers are among the literary heavyweights in the running for the 2021 Booker Prize, it was announced here on Tuesday.

Ishiguro, who won the British literary award in 1989 for “The Remains of the Day,” his novel about a butler who works for a Nazi sympathizer, was nominated this year for “Klara and the Sun,” about a 14-year-old girl who gets a humanoid machine companion to help relieve her loneliness.

The Booker Prize’s judges, who are led by the historian Maya Jasanoff, were unequivocal in believing the novel deserved a place on the prize’s 13-strong longlist. “What stays with you in ‘Klara and the Sun’ is the haunting narrative voice — a genuinely innocent, egoless perspective on the strange behavior of humans obsessed and wounded by power, status and fear,” the panel said in a news release announcing the nominees.

Ishiguro’s novel will compete for the prize against Powers’s forthcoming “Bewilderment,” about a widowed astrobiologist struggling to care for his 9-year-old son, and Cusk’s “Second Place,” about a marriage that is disrupted when the wife invites a famous painter to stay.

The Booker Prize is awarded each year to the best novel written in English and published in Britain or Ireland. This year, four of the nominated writers are American, and the 13 longlisted novels are notable for their diversity in topic and tone. The list also includes Maggie Shipstead’s “Great Circle,” about a woman who devotes her life to flying and an actress set to play her onscreen, and Francis Spufford’s “Light Perpetual,” which follows the lives of five children after they are caught up in a World War II bombing raid.

Several of the nominees have a focus on race, such as Damon Galgut’s “The Promise,” about a white family in post-apartheid South Africa, and Nadifa Mohamed’s “The Fortune Men,” in which a miscarriage of justice in 1950s Wales sees a British-Somali man hanged for the murder of a white shopkeeper. Mohamed’s book has won praise here. “‘The Fortune Men’ can be read as a comment on 21st-century Britain and its continued troubled legacy of empire, but also as a beautifully judged fiction in its own right — teeming with life, character and humor,” wrote Catherine Taylor in The Financial Times.

The prize is as well known for creating literary stars in Britain as it is for being awarded to established names. Douglas Stuart won last year for his debut novel “Shuggie Bain,” about a gay child in 1980s Glasgow with an alcoholic mother, while in 2019 Bernardine Evaristo shared the prize for “Girl, Woman, Other” with Margaret Atwood for “The Testaments.”

This year’s judging panel includes the novelist Chigozie Obioma and Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury.

All the books have “important things to say about the nature of community, from the tiny and secluded to the unmeasurable expanse of cyberspace,” Jasanoff said in the news release. That theme was resonant for the judges because of the isolation of the pandemic, she added, which forced them to read many of the books during lockdowns.

The judges will now reread the 13 books before cutting them down to a six-strong shortlist to be announced on Sept. 14. The winner, who will received a prize of 50,000 pounds, about $69,000, will be announced at a ceremony in London on Nov. 3.

The full longlist is:


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Positive Coronavirus Test Halts Shakespeare in the Park for Third Night


The merriment is still on hiatus.

The Public Theater’s free Shakespeare in the Park production of “Merry Wives,” which had already pushed back its opening night by nearly two weeks after its leading man was injured, announced on Friday that it would cancel its third consecutive performance after learning a production member had tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday.

The theater had canceled the Wednesday and Thursday performances at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, in accordance with its existing protocols. It announced on Twitter on Friday that it would call off Friday’s performance as well “to support the artistic and logistical efforts required to restart performances.”

A spokeswoman for the theater, Laura Rigby, said the theater planned to resume performances on Saturday. The production is scheduled to run through Sept. 18, with a special gala performance on Sept. 20.

The theater noted on Twitter that it practiced “rigorous testing and daily health and safety protocols to ensure everyone’s safety.” It said on Wednesday that the cast, crew and staff members would isolate and take additional tests if needed.

Earlier this week the theater postponed the play’s opening night to Aug. 9, from July 27, after Jacob Ming-Trent, who plays Falstaff, sustained an undisclosed injury. (He is recuperating, the theater said, and his understudy Brandon E. Burton will perform the role in his absence.)

The show, a contemporary adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” has been running in previews since July 6. Written by Jocelyn Bioh and directed by Saheem Ali, it is set in South Harlem and represents African immigrant communities not often seen onstage. Bioh and Ali have said they hope the production makes Shakespeare accessible to all audiences, especially people of color who may have been told Shakespeare was not for them.

“We want it to be antiracist,” Ali told The New York Times this month. “We want it to have opportunities for people of color that didn’t exist before.”

In June, the theater announced that it would fill the Delacorte Theater to 80 percent capacity after initially saying it would allow only 428 attendees in the 1,800-seat theater for each performance.

People who show proof of vaccination can occupy full-capacity sections, and distanced sections are available for those who are unvaccinated (and those theatergoers do not need to show proof of a negative test to enter). Face masks are required for people in both sections when entering and moving around, though those in the full-capacity sections may remove them while seated.

On Friday, Rigby said the theater was monitoring Covid-19 cases in New York City and would adjust its policies if needed in collaboration with its city, state and union partners.

The cancellations come amid the rise in cases caused by the highly transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus, which has been responsible for the postponement of a number of stage productions and delays in television and film projects in Europe over the past month. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cinderella” musical recently moved its opening night in London’s West End back about a month after a cast member tested positive, while productions like “Hairspray” at the London Coliseum and “Romeo and Juliet” at Shakespeare’s Globe have also experienced delays following positive tests.

In the United States, the Delta variant is now responsible for a majority of cases, and some experts are recommending that fully vaccinated people wear masks again to protect the unvaccinated.


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How TV Went From David Brent to Ted Lasso


Could David Brent get hired today?

Ricky Gervais, who awkwardly danced onto TV as Brent in the groundbreaking comedy “The Office” in 2001, was recently interviewed about his and Stephen Merchant’s creation. “Now it would be canceled,” he said, meaning a cultural rather than commercial verdict. “I’m looking forward to when they pick out one thing and try to cancel it.”

Gervais later wrote on Twitter that his remarks were a “clearly a joke.” I believe the “joke” part. The “clearly” is debatable, given Gervais’s long history of posturing that his humor is too real for the thought police. Either way, it was an odd claim to make right as his widely praised series was being celebrated for its two-decade anniversary.

But if Gervais did not entirely have a point, he was at least near one. “The Office” might well be received differently if it were released today (if the Ricky Gervais of today would even create it). But the reasons go beyond “cancellation” to changes in TV’s narrative style — which have happened, at least in part, because “The Office” and shows like it existed in the first place.

In TV’s ambitious comedies, as well as dramas, the arc of the last 20 years is not from bold risk-taking to spineless inoffensiveness. But it is, in broad terms, a shift from irony to sincerity.

By “irony” here, I don’t mean the popular equation of the term with cynicism or snark. I mean an ironic mode of narrative, in which what a show “thinks” is different from what its protagonist does. Two decades ago, TV’s most distinctive stories were defined by a tone of dark or acerbic detachment. Today, they’re more likely to be earnest and direct.

You can see this change in the careers of some of the medium’s biggest stars and in its creative energy overall. You could chalk the shift up to burnout with cringe comedies and antihero stories, to exhaustion with the cultural weaponization of irony, to changes in the viewership and creators of TV — to all these and more.

But the upshot is that, if David Brent would be out of place in 2021, it wouldn’t be because of the strictures of some cultural human-resources department; it would be because of the current vogue for TV that says things, for better or worse, like it means them.

Earlier this summer, my fellow Times critics and I put together a list of the 21 best American comedies of the past 21 years. It runs chronologically — I hate ranked lists that turn art into math — which has the side benefit of showing you TV history in time-lapse form.

It kicks off with the likes of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Arrested Development” and the American “Office”: series with comically obnoxious or oblivious protagonists. It ends with the warm dramedy “Better Things” and the coming-of-age buddy comedy “PEN15”: big-hearted shows whose main characters may be imperfect or awkward, but whom you are meant to identify with.

If the patron imp of early-aughts comedy was Gervais’s David Brent — self-centered, desperate to be liked, casually vulgar and insulting to his staff — the essential face of comedy today might be Ted Lasso, the earnest American-transplant soccer coach in England who quotes Anne Lamott, encourages his players to be psychologically healthy and bakes cookies for his boss. He’s so sweet you could box him up like shortbread.

At heart, the original “Office” and “Ted Lasso” (which just scored 20 Emmy nominations) are both about the importance of kindness and empathy. Gervais’s show may be even more morally didactic; it has a sentimental, even maudlin streak that has become all the more pronounced in his later comedies, like “After Life.” But it makes its case ironically and negatively, expecting you to infer its judgment on David Brent from the reactions of other characters, and from your own.

What was going on at the turn of the millennium? “The Office” and company followed on the “Seinfeld” and David Letterman era of High Irony, a time when a literary device was enough of a cultural concern to inspire magazine covers, books and premature obituaries. They were also of a piece with dramas like “The Sopranos,” which asked you to like watching their protagonists without like-liking them.

Antiheroes existed in art long before Tony whacked his first victim. Dostoyevsky created them; Northrop Frye wrote about them. And earlier TV dabbled in difficult protagonists, like Archie Bunker of “All in the Family.” But they were a harder sell for television, which required much broader audiences than literary fiction — or did, before outlets like HBO came along.

The common thread of antihero drama and cringe comedy is the assumption that audiences could and should be able to distinguish between the mind-set of the protagonist and the outlook of the author. They asked you to accept dissonance within the story and within yourself: You could see Tony as an animal while acknowledging the beast in you that resonated with him, you could see Larry David as a jackass while recognizing that you found it thrilling.

Audiences did not always observe this nuance, which led to what the critic Emily Nussbaum identified as “bad fans”: the aggro “Sopranos” and “Breaking Bad” viewers who just wanted to see Tony bust heads and Walter White science his way to the top of the meth trade, and who got irritated if other characters, fans or even the artists behind the shows suggested that they were anything other than awesome.

You could say that this move away from the ironic and antiheroic modes is a repudiation of the bad fans. But you could also argue that it’s a concession to them — at least, to the idea that good storytelling means that author and character should be in sync.

When you watched “Arrested Development” in 2003, you might love watching the Bluths, but you were under no illusions that you were meant to see them the way they saw themselves. Whereas watching “Ted Lasso,” you believe that Ted Lasso is decent, and so do the supporting characters (even the ones who don’t like him), and so does “Ted Lasso.”

You can even see this arc in the careers of individual artists. Take Ryan Murphy, who went from dark-comic acid baths like the high school satire “Popular” and the mordant plastic-surgery drama “Nip/Tuck” to the idealistic “Hollywood” and the recently concluded “Pose,” a heart-on-its-sleeve celebration of the queer and transgender pioneers of the New York ballroom scene in the 1980s and 1990s. In between was “Glee,” which managed to be savage and sentimental at the same time.

Or consider Stephen Colbert, who spent a decade on “The Colbert Report” playing himself as a blowhard conservative commentator, a deep-cover ironic immersion assignment that required narrative detaching not just from his show but, in a way, from himself. By the Trump era, Colbert was the host of CBS’s “Late Show” — still funny, still cutting, but delivering jokes from his authentic persona, becoming a Resistance-viewer favorite by spoofing the president directly, rather than killing him with fake kindness.

Nothing in culture happens in a vacuum, and here, TV has mirrored other arts. In Bookforum, the critic Christian Lorentzen identified a move in literary fiction away from irony — “a way of saying things without meaning them and meaning things without saying them” — and toward novels with “a diminishing level of ironic distance projected by the authors on their alter egos.”

Nabokov’s “Lolita,” Lorentzen argues, would be received badly today — not so much because its protagonist and narrator, Humbert Humbert, sexually preys on a girl, but because “it’s not immediately obvious that Humbert’s passionate self-defense is part and parcel of Nabokov’s moral condemnation.”

It would be hacky to blame this shift on the internet. But I will be just hacky enough to say that it parallels the internet. Outlets like Twitter promote passionate fandom and unambiguous condemnation — and, because trolls can use these platforms’ anonymity in bad faith, this can lead users to assume that every complex, distanced or sardonic comment is in bad faith, too.

So one can be opinionated on social media, but one is dry or ironic at one’s own risk. It rewards cris de coeur and dunks, unambiguous statements that make clear the writer’s direct moral or judgmental stance. “RTs are not endorsements” is the most ignored statement on the internet outside the Terms of Service.

That doesn’t mean that everyone who uses social media believes that artistic depiction equals approval. But it’s handy for amplifying that belief. As Laura Miller wrote in Slate, authors have changed lines in books because furious readers could not accept that writers might have their characters say things they themselves do not believe. In an era when devil’s advocates are assumed to have satanic agendas, the same goes for the devil’s dialogue writer.

I am, of course, using a broad brush, the only size available to anyone painting cultural trends. Take several steps back, and you can see the pattern; step closer, and you will find plenty of exceptions. The “Sopranos” era also had the heartfelt “The West Wing” and “Friday Night Lights.”

You can also see some interesting cases in the series that fall between the two eras. “Girls,” which began in 2012 and ended in 2017, is arguably a series made in the spirit of the first period that often ran afoul of the expectations of the second one.

Lena Dunham had a nuanced view of Hannah Horvath, the budding-writer protagonist she created and played on the show. Hannah was packed with ambitions and flaws; she was smart and off-putting, righteous and self-centered, struggling and privileged, sinned against and sinning.

But because “Girls” was also marketed as a generational watershed — underlined by Horvath’s hunger to be “a voice of a generation,” a transparently comic line whose irony got lost in quotation — it was often treated as a kind of sincere cultural ambassador for millennials. And when its characters failed to be role models, it went through backlash after backlash focused on their “likability,” something the show’s satire could not be less interested in. (Compare “Broad City,” a great but very different female-friendship Brooklyn-com that premiered a couple years later, which saw its central duo’s stoner-slacker recklessness as straightforwardly liberating.)

“Schitt’s Creek,” last year’s Emmy winner for best comedy, took the opposite journey. It began as a tart, “Arrested Development”–style sitcom about a wealthy family forced to earn their own livings in a small town. But it came into its own — and found a devoted audience — when it shifted into a warm, earnest mode, in which the rich fishes-out-of-water embraced their community, finding purpose and love.

Other times, the shift can take place not just within a show but within its viewers. The American “Office,” which began in the caustic spirit of the original, got sweeter and more sympathetic toward its boss figure, Michael Scott (Steve Carell). And in its streaming afterlife, especially during the pandemic, it’s become a kind of comforting home that fans want to return to over and over, an odd fate for a show whose founding idea was what an alienating kind of surrogate home the workplace can be.

None of this is to say that warm, sincere TV shows are worse, or simpler, or dumber than their more ironic counterparts. Yes, “Ted Lasso” can lean heavily on the sentiment; the new season has a Christmas episode you could frost a gingerbread house with. But it’s far more nuanced than the hugging-and-learning sitcoms of TV’s early years — often challenging whether Ted’s winning-isn’t-everything attitude is the right fit for every situation, and whether it’s even entirely healthy.

For that matter, using irony and discomfort to tell a story doesn’t mean being nihilistic; “The Sopranos” was intensely moral even if Tony Soprano was not. But antihero dramas and cringe comedies became so widespread that they developed their own clichés, just like the older, moralistic shows they reacted against. It may just have been time for the pendulum to swing, for creators to realize that exploring the challenge of being good can be just as interesting as scooping up the 31 flavors of evil.

In some cases, it’s also a question of who has gotten to make TV since 2001. Antiheroes like David Brent and Tony Soprano, after all, came along after white guys like them had centuries to be heroes. The voices and faces of the medium have diversified, and if you’re telling the stories of people and communities that TV never made room for before, skewering might not be your first choice of tone. I don’t want to oversimplify this: Series like “Atlanta,” “Ramy,” “Master of None” and “Insecure” all have complex stances toward their protagonists. But they also have more sympathy toward them than, say, “Arrested Development.”

Beyond TV, we’ve just been through several years of a political troll war, with hate and vitriol laundered through winking memes and an antihero-styled president who excused his wishes for election interference and an unconstitutional third term as “jokes,” as if his own presidency were a performance he could distance himself from by saying he was playing a character. With the “Joker” era of the presidency given way to one focused on empathy and catharsis, sincerity may be a better cultural fit for now.

But irony and sincerity are themselves not enemy parties. They’re simply tools of art, used to achieve the same ends from different angles: to evoke emotion, to test what it means to be human, to play out ideas and to get people to see things with new eyes. One tool chisels, the other smooths; each does something the other can’t.

TV is richer when it has access to both of them, and fortunately, even in this earnest moment, irony is not dead. This fall, HBO brings back “Succession,” its sulfur-perfumed oligarchy saga that’s part drama, part comedy, part metaphorical news report. A recently released trailer for the third season is a textbook example of the ironic mode, relishing the backbiting and insult-poetry of the Roy family, who are no less despicable for being delightful to watch.

It promises a chaser of bitter absinthe to Ted Lasso’s spoonful of sugar. I can’t wait — sincerely.


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What’s on TV This Week: The N.B.A. Draft and Cesar Millan


Between network, cable and streaming, the modern television landscape is a vast one. Here are some of the shows, specials and movies coming to TV this week, July 26-Aug. 1. Details and times are subject to change.

ANTIQUES ROADSHOW 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings). “Antiques Roadshow” has been a PBS staple since 1997, and while the show still airs its usual episodes, this week it is hosting its annual “Women’s Work” special. The show focuses on celebrating trailblazing women and sharing their stories through their objects and accomplishments. On Monday night, PBS will host two back-to-back episodes of the “Women’s Work” special featuring an archive from the Cherokee poet Ruth Muskrat Bronson, items of the pilot Jacqueline Cochran’s and more.

BUTTERFIELD 8 (1960) 8 p.m. on TCM. Elizabeth Taylor’s performance as Gloria Wandrous in “BUtterfield 8” earned her the first of two Academy Awards for best actress in a leading role — the second was for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (1966). This film follows the glamorous life of a New York City socialite and party girl. As she meets and falls for a married man, things quickly take a turn for the worse and the film finishes with a not-so-happy ending. The New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther wrote, “The ending is absurd.” He added: “It’s the living it up that gets you in this film.”

VICE VERSA: CRUSADERS 9 p.m. on VICE. This week, Vice is releasing a documentary focused on Jehovah’s Witnesses. The documentary will feature interviews with a member who left after seeing how his family covered up abuse within the congregation. Though the organization is typically guarded, Vice gets an inside look through whistle-blowers and leaked documents. The film is part of the network’s Vice Versa franchise, which produces independent documentaries.

N.B.A. 2021 DRAFT 8 p.m. on ABC and ESPN. More than a week after the N.B.A. finals (the Milwaukee Bucks earned the title after beating the Phoenix Suns, four games to two), the N.B.A. is diving straight into its 2021 draft. The draft will take place at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and will be broadcast live. Because of delays and restrictions during the season because of the pandemic, the draft and the official beginning of the off-season are starting later than usual. This also kicks off the N.B.A.’s 75th anniversary celebrations, including the unveiling of a logo in commemoration of the typical 75th anniversary symbol — a diamond.

OLYMPIC COVERAGE All day on NBC. Olympic coverage continues this week with archery, tennis, volleyball, judo, fencing and much more, available all throughout the day and night. Thursday night will be a big night for swimming as the women’s 100-meter freestyle and 200-meter breaststroke, and men’s 200-meter individual medley, 200-meter backstroke and 200-meter individual medley competitions that are held throughout the day culminate in awards ceremonies starting at 9:30 p.m. Find a guide to all the Tokyo Summer Olympics you can watch here.

CESAR MILLAN: BETTER HUMAN BETTER DOG 9 p.m. on the National Geographic Channel. The dog trainer Cesar Millan is back on the small screen this week with his new show, “Better Human Better Dog.” Millan first became known for “The Dog Whisperer,” which premiered in 2004. Since then, Millan has starred in another TV show, “Cesar 911,” and has grown his dog training business. His new show aims to help owners bridge the emotional gap with rescue dogs that are victims of a troubled past. The 10-part show will air on National Geographic and Nat Geo WILD.

BURDEN OF TRUTH 8 p.m. on the CW. “Burden of Truth” returns for its fourth and final season on the CW this week. The show, originally broadcast in Canada through CBC, is a Canadian legal drama that centers on one legal case each season with a focus on social justice. CBC announced in March that Season 4 would be the final one of the show. The CW picked up the show and has been airing it in the United States.

THE LATE SHOW (1977) 6:15 p.m. on TCM. “The Late Show” stars Art Carney as Ira Wells, a detective who finds himself on an interesting journey while trying to solve the murder of his former partner — and meets some eccentric characters along the way. Vincent Canby, the New York Times critic, wrote that the film offered “a languid, fashionably disenchanted view of life and love in Los Angeles.”

36TH ANNUAL STELLAR GOSPEL MUSIC AWARDS 8 p.m. on BET. On Sunday night, BET will broadcast the annual Stellar Gospel Music Awards. The awards show will feature performances by the Clark Sisters, Cece Winans and Kierra Sheard, and will be hosted by Jekalyn Carr and Tye Tribbett. It will be broadcast live from the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville.


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A Vogue Legend, Still Enlarging Circles of Pleasure


When Archie Burnett walks onto a dance floor, he tends to take it over.

That’s partly because he’s a big guy, 6 foot 4 and full of muscle. Especially in the 1980s and ’90s, when he was a mainstay of New York City’s underground clubs, his body was, as he recently put it, “banging.”

A body like that commands attention, but any chance of fading into the background truly disappears when he starts to move. Then he’s a kaleidoscope of long lines and sharp angles. Every moment, he’s ready for a camera to click; every moment, he’s on beat.

His dancing is also knowledge in action. Vogue and waacking, resurgent in popular culture, may be new to some, but not to Burnett. He’s a grandfather of the House of Ninja, a collective of dancers instrumental in the spread of vogueing from ballrooms to videos and fashion shows in the ’80s and ’90s. With Tyrone Proctor, a pioneer of waacking who happened to be Burnett’s brother-in-law, he helped revive that style of flamboyant, air-slicing improvisation, developed in Los Angeles gay clubs in the 1970s. House dance is home territory, too.

A Burnett dance-floor takeover, though, is never hostile. The choreographer David Neumann remembers going to clubs with him in the ’90s. “People would want to battle him,” Neumann said. “But Archie would immediately disarm the person — screaming, slapping the floor, praising them.”

“That’s his attitude,” Neumann continued. “If you are really in the dance, you get props. Now, eventually, he’ll likely beat you, but that’s not his goal. His goal is the joy of dancing.”

Sally Sommer, a critic and historian who followed Burnett to clubs in the ’80s and put him at the center of her ’90s-club-dance documentary, “Check Your Body at the Door,” similarly described Burnett’s attitude in an interview: “It’s about enlarging the circles of pleasure.”

At 62, Burnett is still enlarging those circles — in clubs but also in classrooms. Since the ’90s, as demand for instruction in underground club styles has grown all around the world and especially in Europe, he has become one of the most revered and influential teachers. (“The most significant disseminator,” Sommer said.) Younger dancers lovingly describe him as a fairy godfather, a cool uncle or the best dad ever, as a friend who makes you want to dance even if your feet hurt.

From July 28 to Aug. 1, his teaching takes a new form: “Life Encounters,” a show at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in the Berkshires. In it, Burnett and an intergenerational cast of dancers tell the story of his life in dance. (Video of the production will be available on the Jacob’s Pillow website Aug. 12-26.)

They tell that story through dance, with vignettes of Burnett’s high school days, his initiation into underground clubs and vogueing, his first encounter with Europe and experimental dance. These are all scenes of discovery, in which he typically portrays himself as a novice. There’s a lot of humor.

Burnett is at the center, dancing and narrating. His voice is as big as the rest of him, and he’s accustomed to holding forth. Ask him almost any question these days, and his answer is likely to include the phrase “What I tell the kids is …” or one of what he calls his “sayings,” like “you can’t fake the real” and “the club is the classroom.”

The club was his classroom. He had almost no formal training. At first, he cribbed moves off “Soul Train.” Up until 2014, he had a day job with Metropolitan Transportation Authority. (In “Check Your Body,” you can see him washing out subway cars.) Dancing, for him, has been more passion than profession.

Speaking after a recent rehearsal, Burnett said the most important experience of his life started in 1980, when he began dancing at the Loft, the underground party celebrated for its mixed crowd of dance devotees and its spirit of acceptance. “The Loft was a come-as-you-are party,” he said. “It allowed me a nurturing ground to be who I was, even when I didn’t know who I was.”

When Burnett was growing up in Brooklyn, dancing was something he had to do on the sly. His mother, a Seventh Day Adventist from Dominica, didn’t approve. “I wasn’t doing drugs, I wasn’t killing anybody, but she had an issue because I like to shake my ass to a beat?” Burnett said. “She told me I was going to go to Hell, that I should go to God. But dance is like a religion for me. It’s where I feel closest to my spiritual plane.”

His mother wanted him to be a preacher, and in a sense, she may have gotten her wish. Burnett preaches the gospel of the Loft, which is a gospel of love. The message of “Life Encounters” is the message of all his classes: “Live your truth” and “you are good enough.”

There’s not much sadness in the show, though there has been in Burnett’s life. “When AIDS hit the scene, my friends were dropping like flies,” he said. Willi Ninja, who founded the House of Ninja and became famous after appearing in the 1990 documentary “Paris Is Burning,” died of AIDS-related heart failure in 2006. Burnett was his health care proxy. “I had to pull the plug after he went into cardiac arrest,” he said. “Those experiences shaped my idea of friendship and family. I try to spread that love through dance.”

It’s not that Burnett doesn’t teach movement. He tries to teach his students as he learned. “These kids were never raised in club culture,” he said. “They’re seeing it from the outside. But this stuff comes from the inside out. I try to make it as if we’re at a party and I’m inviting them to do what I do” — a mirroring that connects them to the music and to their own responses.

For the cast of “Life Encounters,” rehearsals have been a continuing master class. “Archie is a history bearer and he’s always dropping gems,” said Abdiel Jacobsen, who used to be a member of the Martha Graham Dance Company (and who uses the pronoun “they”). A few years ago, looking for ways to more fully express a gender-fluid identity, Jacobsen discovered encouragement and welcome in Burnett’s vogue and waacking classes. Now a devotee of the Hustle, they do that partner dance with Burnett in the show.

Sinia Alaia (who also goes by Sinia Braxton, Nia Reid and other names) met Burnett about seven years ago, when they were both teaching in Sweden. A recognized diva in the vogue ballroom scene — in “Life Encounters,” she schools the others in sass — she was then in her late 30s and had not been performing and feared doing an instructor demonstration. “But Archie told me, ‘You got this, girl,’ and he breathed that life into me,” Reid said. “It’s when you stop dancing that you feel the aches and pains.”

Getting older hasn’t been easy for Burnett. “I’m my own worst critic,” he said. “If I think of all the abilities I had when I was 20, I’d go insane. But I tried to stop worrying about what I didn’t have and remember what I did.”

What he has are relationships. The cast of “Life Encounters,” he said, is like a “family love affair.” Maya Llanos is the daughter of the D.J. Joey Llanos, a friend of Burnett’s from the Paradise Garage days. Samara Cohen, better known as Princess Lockerooo, is the foremost protégé of Proctor (who died last year). DeAndre Brown (Yummy in the ballroom) was once part of the House of Ninja. Burnett met Ephrat Asherie on the dance floor. “I’ve danced with that girl for 20 years,” he said.

And what he has is knowledge. The playwright Marcella Murray, who serves as dramaturge for “Life Encounters” along with Neumann, said that in doing research for this show, “Archie is the research, this amazing font.”

But it’s not just Burnett’s knowledge about dance that impressed Murray. “We have been having conversations in the arts about how we treat each other,” she said. “It’s been wonderful to see how Archie has moved through the world, and how people want to show up for him.”

“Because we’re all trying to be like that,” she continued, “not just making brilliant art, but being good people who make art. That’s my favorite reason for being glad that people are going to get to see more of Archie.”


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After Two Decades in Music, Yola Expands Her Powers


Calculus is hard. Parallel parking is hard. Meeting and working with people who don’t look like you — that’s a breeze. “It’s. Not. Hard,” the singer and songwriter Yola emphasized during a recent call, clapping her hands in between each word. “I literally came from another continent, and remedied it in six months. Even my manager, from remotely in England, found writers of color for me.”

The music industry promised to face its inequities over the past year in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and decades of complaints that a business built on the creative powers of people of color hasn’t always empowered them. Yola, the 38-year-old country-soul musician who leapt to national attention with a host of nominations at the 2020 Grammys, said one solution is an obvious one.

“When you start feeling in your soul that something’s missing, and that feels gross and weird, then go out in the streets, go to bars with your friends, and just talk to people in the world,” she said, her mellifluous voice building momentum. “Actually ask to work with people that are different, and hire people that are different — and by working and building it into your natural life, you will then have loads of people of color.”

This kind of thinking about big problems — and ways to fix them — went into “Stand for Myself,” Yola’s new album out Friday, as she was navigating another set of sizable challenges: improving on a Grammy-nominated debut LP during a global pandemic.

Yola and her producer, the Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach, like to work out a song in person, so her team underwent extensive coronavirus testing. She was living with a friend, the singer and songwriter Allison Russell, after the sudden travel shutdown left her in between places. She even got accustomed to lighting herself when performing over Zoom. “The first integer of the pandemic was us becoming tech savvy,” she joked.

But finding a way is what Yola has done throughout a musical career that began when she was a teenager. Born Yolanda Quartey in Bristol, England, she worked with groups like the dance-music collective Bugz in the Attic and the electronica stalwart Massive Attack while looking for avenues to pursue her own music. “There wasn’t this wonderful track record of women that looked like me in the U.K.,” she said. “It’s not that there weren’t loads of artists that had potential — it’s just that they were never invested in.”

A pivotal moment came in 2018 when Yola moved to Nashville to work with Auerbach, who owns and operates Easy Eye Sound, a label that specializes in left-of-center Americana artists. “When she walks into the room, she lights up the room,” Auerbach said over the phone, “and she has an uncanny ability to just connect with people.” Their collaboration resulted in “Walk Through Fire,” a record that earned four Grammy nominations, including best new artist. (She lost, to Billie Eilish.)

“Walk Through Fire” was praised for its fusion of Memphis soul and Nashville country, fueled by Yola’s powerhouse voice. But it was guided firmly by Auerbach’s familiarity with his surroundings, and Yola’s lack of familiarity with hers. Yola didn’t pick any of the co-writers on the record; she didn’t even know there would be co-writers until she walked into the studio. Though Auerbach brought in local legends like Dan Penn and Bobby Wood, it was hard not to notice that every writer in the room was not only older, whiter and male-r, but American, too.

“I’m like, ‘I’m a Black lady from England, we’re going to have to find some middle ground here,’” she said.

Before the pandemic, Yola had just finished filming Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming Elvis Presley biopic — she plays the rock progenitor Sister Rosetta Tharpe — and was preparing to tour with Chris Stapleton. The forced time off allowed her to figure out how to take a meaningful leap forward.

“I realized that I’d been too busy to be creative; I’d almost killed that part of my brain through sheer activity,” she said. “The stillness was giving birth to all of these ideas, and so I started examining what it was that was bringing these ideas back. That meant a lot of experimentation with my writing process — staying up really late, getting into this dazed state — and when I wasn’t overthinking anything, and my brain wasn’t processing anything, ideas would just appear.”

With a better understanding of each others’ abilities, Yola and Auerbach talked about making a more upbeat record, in order to showcase her voice upon the return of live concerts. And after getting to know her new surroundings over the last few years, Yola was now comfortable taking control: She recruited Black and Asian songwriters, was more involved with picking the musicians and revived several songs from her back catalog to finish with the help of her collaborators. The celebratory “Break the Bough,” for example, dates back to 2013, and was massaged to completion alongside Auerbach and the veteran songwriter Liz Rose.

The songwriter Natalie Hemby, who previously collaborated with Yola through her group the Highwomen and worked on several of the new album’s songs, said Yola was wide open to any idea. “She could sing the most piece of [expletive] song and make it sound amazing,” Hemby said. “It’s a little intimidating — whenever you have an idea you think is great, to hear her sing it makes you want to cry.”

Yola’s arrival in Nashville has coincided with the country music industry’s slow-rolling diversification, following decades of very specific (and traditionally white) standards. “She couldn’t be here at a better time,” Hemby said. “A lot of people in this town have been looking forward to this type of change.”

“Stand for Myself” draws from the same Americana soundbook as Yola’s first record, but it’s also shot through with disco and pop. A lush, groovy song like “Dancing Away in Tears” flows into the jangly shuffle of “Diamond Studded Shoes,” which was inspired by her disgust with former British Prime Minister Theresa May’s austerity policies. The lyrics touch on romance, but also her more tumultuous early years — her mother didn’t support her career, and Yola experienced a bout with homelessness in her teens — and the struggle to musically assert herself in rooms that often didn’t care about what she had to say.

“This has been a real traversing era of my life, from who I previously dubbed ‘doormat Yola’ to ‘Yola with agency,” she said. This assertion required a growing acceptance that she couldn’t do it all on her own. “The strong Black woman trope is designed to keep you in a state of service,” she added. “And dare you be so bold to actually go, ‘I’m looking to grow,’ that can turn into people desperately wanting to undo your effort.”

The desire for meaningful community manifests most obviously on “Be My Friend,” a showstopper ballad that features the Highwomen member Brandi Carlile on backing vocals. “No one is singing like her,” Carlile said. “She’s just walking through the world, projecting a very loud perspective that’s super potent and really needed.”

During our conversation, Yola stressed that no matter how stark America’s current racial divide can feel, it’s much different in England, where the necessary conversations largely remain undiscussed. “The reason it feels like a fight in this country is because there’s actually a fight happening,” she said. Diversifying her collaborators helped mitigate a historical workplace inequity, but there was a broader emotional logic guiding her decision — an attempt to further open a musical dialogue to include as many people as possible.

“It’s not that you can’t write amazing songs with people that are different to you,” she said. “But sometimes you need to write about a very specific experience. You need everybody and that’s really what I want to get forward with everything I’m doing. I’m in everyone’s club.”


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The Enduring Whimsy and Wonderment of Eric Carle


Most of his letters — those I have not mislaid in the chaos of my cluttered home — were mailed to me from the Florida Keys, where he lived for “the greater part,” he said, of his final years on the island of Tavernier. He had previously lived for more than 30 years in Northampton, Mass., but now returned there, it appeared, only intermittently.

His health, he told me in 2015, had gone into a serious decline the year before. “I was six weeks in the hospital,” he wrote — “stroke, heart, lung and kidney” — and had “almost died.” But he kept on writing lively and amusing letters, some of them surprisingly irreverent and political. “As far as our dear leader goes,” he said of Donald Trump, “his grandfather should have stayed in Germany.” He asked me, “Did you know that the Heinz tomato sauce guy” (actually, the father of that “guy”) “came from the same village at about the same time” as our dear leader’s family did? His letters were full of odd little detours like this that he found intriguing.

And he kept on sending pictures. One was of a reindeer that had flowers growing from its antlers. Others were abstractions. One was just a swirl of red and purple strokes that looked like squirmy creatures against a yellow-speckled background. Another consisted of vertical and horizontal strokes that seemed to be defying one another.

In the winter of 2018 he told me, “Just bought a red car yesterday.” He said he couldn’t “figure out all the new gizmos” on the dashboard, but he seemed to be exuberant (I hope this isn’t disrespectful), like a very young boy who had been given a new toy. “After cataract surgery,” he wrote, “my eyes are good,” so he was free to drive himself around. Still, he noted, “nature is chipping away at us.” He had lost his wife to cancer more than two years before. “I miss her,” he wrote, “every day and hour.”

When his own death at the age of 91 was reported in the press, many of my readers and old friends and teachers of young children sent me thoughtful emails, because I’d spoken frequently of how much his work had meant to me. It was a teacher in a first-grade classroom in the early 1980s who had introduced me, and managed to addict me, to one of the early Eric Carle books she loved. My memory is fuzzy, but I think the book she showed me was probably “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” I soon discovered others by him in the classrooms I was visiting. There was a book about a “Little Cloud” who wanders off and changes into different shapes: a soft white sheep, a puffy-looking rabbit with long ears. There was a book about a lonely mouse — “Do You Want to Be My Friend?” And, of course, there was the endearing “Grouchy Lady Bug” with big black spots against her shell of red. And one book led me to the next.


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Jackie Mason, 93, Dies; Turned Kvetching Into Comedy Gold


He was born Yacov Moshe Maza in Sheboygan, Wis., on June 9, 1928, to immigrants from Belarus, although other sources give the year as 1931. When he was 5, his father, Eli, an Orthodox rabbi, and his mother, Bella (Gitlin) Maza, moved the family to the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where Yacov discovered that his path in life had already been determined. Not only his father, but his grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfathers had all been rabbis. His three older brothers became rabbis, and his two younger sisters married rabbis.

“It was unheard-of to think of anything else,” Mr. Mason later said. “But I knew, from the time I’m 12, I had to plot to get out of this, because this is not my calling.”

After earning a degree from City College, he completed his rabbinical studies at Yeshiva University and was ordained. In a state of mounting misery, he tended to congregations in Weldon, N.C., and Latrobe, Pa., unhappy in his profession but unwilling to disappoint his father.

Hedging his bets, he had begun working summers in the Catskills, where he wrote comic monologues and appeared onstage at every opportunity. This, he decided, was his true calling, and after his father’s death in 1959 he felt free to pursue it in earnest, with a new name.

He struggled at first, playing the Catskills and, with little success, obscure clubs in New York and Miami. Plagued by guilt, he underwent psychoanalysis, which did not solve his problems but did provide him with good comic material.

Nevertheless, he found it hard to break into the nightclub circuit in New York — in part, he claimed, because his act made Jewish audiences uncomfortable. “My accent reminds them of a background they’re trying to forget,” he later said.


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