Tag Archives: Barry Katz

George Balanchine “And The Others”: The Westport Years

In the early 1950s, according to Barry Katz’s Weston Arabesque,  an “unimposing cottage” at 10 Ridge Road in Weston became, “in a quiet way, the center of the ballet world.” It was home to George Balanchine, perhaps the greatest choreographer of the 20th century.

In 1946 Balanchine had purchased 7 acres of land there, for $8,500. After he married ballerina Tanaquil Le Clercq — she was his 4th or 5th wife, depending on how you count — “they began the arduous task of taming the wildly overgrown property,” Katz writes.

George Balanchine

George Balanchine

“Later that same year they put up a house. It was a modest, one story pre-fab – all they could afford at the time – but it suited their needs exactly. Weston proved to be the ideal retreat from the pressures of the city, and the couple spent as much time there as they could.”

They gardened together, and Balanchine built a tool shed with his own hands. “He was an avid and ambitious gourmet cook, and even enjoyed doing laundry,” Katz says.

“Part of his time in Weston was devoted to reading scores…. And he created new ballets in his head while breathing the fragrant country air.”

In 1956, on a New York City Ballet tour of Europe, Le Clercq contracted polio. She spent the last 45 years of her life in a wheelchair.

Balanchine added a ramp to their Weston house. He did not work for a year after her diagnosis, caring for her himself.

In 1969 the couple divorced. Balanchine had fallen in love with a new ballerina, Suzanne Farrell. But, Katz says, he “always remained deeply concerned for her welfare and stayed in close touch. In fact, he remained close with all his ex-wives.”

That intriguing bit of Balanchiniana is relevant now — 40 years later — because tickets go on sale this week for a new play, Nikolai and the Others. Commissioned by Lincoln Center Theater — with previews beginning April 4 — it takes place in 1948.

And the setting is Westport.

Nikolai and the Others

In Richard Nelson’s play at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, a close-knit group of Russian emigres — including Balanchine, composer Igor Stravinsky, his wife Vera, conductor Serge Koussevitsky, and composer Nikolai Nabokov — eat, drink and talk.

Playwright Nelson imagines the relationships between Balanchine and Stravinsky — and their friends, lovers, wives, ex-wives, partners, supporters and dancers — while the duo collaborates on their historic ballet Orpheus.

The play also examines American art and institutions as the Cold War began, and the State Department’s subtle role in that era’s cultural scene.

While Balanchine spent many years in this area, I’m not sure about Stravinsky, Koussevitsky, or “Nikolai and the others.”

But I remember that Deathtrapthe longest-running comedy-thriller on Broadway — was set in Westport.

Here’s wishing that same luck — удача — to Nikolai and the Others.

Green House

Barry Katz lives at 597 Westport — the new building across from Whole Foods that’s called “the 1st green apartment complex in Connecticut.”

He’d better live there. 

A home builder for nearly 25 years, Katz is now a green construction consultant. 

His most recent project — a book, not a building — was just published.  Called Practical Green Remodeling, it’s a lavishly illustrated, eminently practical guide showing people “of ordinary means” how to lower waste, improve energy efficiency, decrease maintenance costs and create a healthier environment.

All in their own homes.

Katz found his inner green over time.  After reading, attending conferences, and taking workshops and classes about environmental issues and climate change, he built a spec house on Bayberry Lane.  “It was as green as possible, without looking weird or strange,” he says.

The recent blackening of the economy has halted many new building projects — green and otherwise — so Katz turned his attention to remodeling. 

Drawing on his friendships with architects, engineers and consultants in the green building field, he spent a couple of years researching and writing Green Remodeling.  He visited many of the homes he chronicles; others he studied through photos and plans.

The book offers a wide variety of remodeled houses.  Katz found there are many reasons, too, for remodeling. 

Some homeowners want energy efficiency (“the holy grail of green building” is net-zero energy use).

Others care about sustainable materials — using less waste, or avoiding scarce resources.  (For every 6 homes, Katz says, builders have enough scrap lumber to build an entirely new one.)

Some remodelers are concerned about indoor air quality.  “People buy homes to raise families,” he says.  “But there are toxins in the air — from paint, wall coverings, shower curtains — that can harm families.”

Barry Katz

Whatever the reason, Katz has one message:  “It doesn’t really cost money to go green.  In fact, building or renovating costs for energy efficiency are offset by much lower energy bills.”

In addition, Katz says, some green homes sell for substantially more per square foot than others.

So how does our town — environmentally conscious, able-to-afford-these-things Westport — fare, green-wise?

“There are not many green homes here,” Katz says.  Despite easy, inexpensive steps — more efficient light bulbs, programmable thermostats, sealed air leaks — most homeowners haven’t taken them.

Katz is particularly nettled by inadequate insulation.  Even high-end construction, he says, “just meets code.”  Proper insulation can be very cost effective, whether in new buildings or renovations.

Nor is the level of awareness particularly high here. 

“It’s not really up on most people’s radar screens.  People in Westport tend to be environmentally aware, but when it comes to taking conscious steps to make their homes more sustainable, not a lot of them do it.

“They probably think it’s difficult and expensive.”

Westporters write plenty of checks to environmental organizations, he notes.  At the same time, they may opt for a certain ceramic tile because it looks good — regardless of the cost in dollars, or to the planet.

“Why not choose the sustainable way to go?” he asks.

If you’d like to go there — but don’t know the way — Barry Katz will happily show you.

(Barry Katz posts green remodeling tips on his blog:  http://thefutureisgreenblog.com)