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Thursday, November 30, 2017

NYPhil Rehearsal Brahms Symphony #2 and Bent Sorensen's World Premier Evening Land

Good news - bad news:  Good news, Emanual Ax was on the program to perform Mozart's Piano Concerto #20 (1785).  Bad news, his performance was scheduled after the intermission of the 1 1/2 hour rehearsal of Brahms & Sorensen's compositions.  Unfortunately,  I didn't stay to hear what I'm sure would have been one of the highlight performances for the year.  Nonetheless, Conductor Edo de Waart (b 1941 Netherlands) lead the orchestra in a majestical performance of Brahms Symphony #2 (1877).   Johannes Brahms composed 4 symphonies. All of them are unique in mood & timbre.  Symphony #2 has a joyful and pleasing quality played at mostly fast & steady tempo.  It has a pastoral, serene quality.  Conductor Waart stopped the orchestra only a few times, but with each break, Waart had the orchestra replay the same measures repeatedly.  It sounded as if he was bringing out the string section in the Allegretto con grazioso but then, I don't know so.  I did like hearing the premiere of Bent Sorensen's (b Denmark 1958) Evening Land (2015-17).  The piece was commissioned by the NYPhilharmonic.  Someone got my memo, and the order of the program for the rehearsals was announced.  However, today was a no brainer, no piano, no Ax to grind or tinkle the ivories.  Brahms orchestral piece was played first (easy call) followed by Evening Land.  What I found interesting in addition to being privy to a premiere was the juxtaposition of Brahms' piece & Sorensen's.  Evening Land sounded somewhat as if Brahms's 2nd Symphony was restructured for the 21st C with an edgier and more expansive musical phrasing.  Sorensen's instrumentation was similar to Brahms in his use of strings and horns but he added claves, paper blocks and filled the harmonic blends with timpani, bass & log drum.  The rising crescendos evoked a richer, more ominous & mysterious sense.  Yet, Sorensen's classical construct felt built upon Brahms.  Brahms 2 later symphonies shifted towards a more exhilirating & sombre ambience.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

DAVID HOCKNEY at the MET Retrospective 1960s to the Present - A Delightful Gift on Exhibit

David Hockney (b UK 1937) is an artist whose talents & lifestyle are free of constraint.  The collection contains his iconic pool paintings, double portraits, photo-collages and lesser known sketches & watercolors and some of his most recent works.  The retrospective spans a career infused with a keen interest in conveying motion and the ideal of continuous movement in life.  Many of his abstract & illusionist paintings of the 1960s have never been exhibited.  His "Tea Painting" is constructed in pieces to resemble an actual tea box complete with directions but completely off kilter.  "The Hypnotist" has a man dressed in black directing a lighting bolt into the eyes of an abstract female form dressed in white.  There is a ghostlike image emanating from the man. The scene is poised on stage surrounded by a bright green curtain putting the viewer in the audience.  Many of Hockney's works draw the viewer in. "The Hypnotist" is bewitching & one of several in which he uses a curtain to frame the painting.  "Play within Play" shows a play on stage & a man pressed against a piece of acrylic with his nose & fingers distorted.  There is a lot of clever whimsy & sense of fun in his works. I was drawn to an abstract painting entitled "Shame" (1960).  After reading its title, I deciphered a phallic image & ejaculation.  The 2nd gallery contains landscape paintings of CO & AZ vibrantly painted which contain Native American motifs.  The vivid Aztec palette conveys strength & solitude.  Other paintings from the 1960s show domestic homosexual relationships.  Notice the several portraits of his parents.  Only his mother looks directly at the artist while the father's focus is elsewhere.  I liked the self-portrait sketch (1983) & his sketch of Warhol.  Hockney's fascination with movement is pronounced with images in and around water; the distortions of refraction creates a visceral rippling effect. This is also felt in his photo-collages.  The combined photos establish a kinetic energy.  The CA painting's palettes are cool shades of green, blue, grays lending a calming aesthetic.  Hockney travels through the US and abroad shift momentum towards vivid landscapes.  Hockney paints from his travels & his locales.  The Grand Canyon paintings are glowing & majestic.  The interior paintings from the 1980s show his influence of Picasso & cubism.  My favorite painting was "Mt Fuji and Flowers".  The painting has a 3D affect.  The Japanese vase & white flowers are placed on a window ledge looking out towards Mt Fuji. The more recent works show Hockey as an artist interested in incorporating new technologies.  The iPod works enable Hockney to create actual movements and changes.  Hockney is an artist always experimenting & representing his fascination with his ever changing surroundings.  "If you see the world as beautiful, thrilling and mysterious as I think I do, then you feel quite alive." (DH)  

Natan Sharansky in Conversation: Russia, Israel, and the World Beyond at Roosevelt House

Natan Sharansky (b Ukraine 1948) earned his degree in computer science from the Physical Technical Institute in Moscow.  After graduating he applied for a visa to emigrate to Israel which was denied for security reasons.  Sharansky became active in with the struggle to allow Soviet Jews freedom to exit Russia and simultaneously became a founding member of Moscow Helsinki Group (MHG).  The MHG was an organization joining dissidents representing various social issues.  Sharansky was charged in Russia in 1977 with collaborating with the CIA.   Despite US denials of any ties between Sharanksy & the CIA, he was convicted and sentence to 13 years in the gulag with hard labor & solitary confinements.  After serving nine years in prison Sharansky emigrated to Israel and reunited with his wife and children.  In Israel, Sharansky became an Israeli politician serving as Deputy Prime Minister.  He published his memoir of his life in prison and is now head of the Jewish Agency which facilitates Jews from all over the world to immigrate to Israel.  Sharansky has received both the US Pres. Medal of Freedom & Congressional Gold Medal.  The most notable comments made by Sharansky:
1.  The time he served in prison was the easiest part of life.  He never gave up his integrity.  Being out in the world, doing what is right and doing enough to fulfill one's obligations is what's most difficult.
2.  Israeli politics is challenging because too many politicians are unwilling to compromise.  Also, with the mass int'l immigration, language barriers are becoming an issue.
3. A peace accord would have been attained had Syrian President Assad not been so greedy.  Israel had been willing to release the Golan Heights.  In retrospect, it's fortunate for Israel not to have given up this territory.  It would have made Israel too vulnerable to a nuclear armed Iran.
4. Obama should have held firm on his threat of force against Assad should he use chemical weapons on his own Syrian people.
5. The Jewish Agency has facilitated 3.5 million Jews to move & integrate into Israel.
6. Putin is the 1st non-anti-Semitic Russian leader.  He's made it easy for the Jews in Russia to leave. (It could be argued he is anti-Semite by purging (albeit peacefully) Russia of its Jewish population.
7. There's hope in finding a peace accord with Mubarak, Gadaffi, Assad (all dictators) but Netanyahu is currently the biggest obstacle.  The major terrorist threats stem from Russia, Iran, Syria and Hezbollah.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Danish Film THE SQUARE Thinks Way Outside the Box Directed by Ruben Ostlund

THE SQUARE directed by Ruben Ostlund (b Sweden 1974) is an absurdist art & poignant social commentary that doesn't fit within the bounds of convention. It was awarded the Cannes-Palme d'Or Prize 2017.  The film is an English/Swedish & Danish speaking film that stars American actors Elizabeth Moss as an art reporter and Tery Notary (Planet of the Apes films) as a Neanderthal performance artists.  The male lead is the charismatic Christian (Danish actor Claes Bang) art director for a Danish contemporary art museum.  Ostlund's wickedly humorous exhibition of the absurdity & elitism of the contemporary art world is very biting.  But, it bites off more than it can chew by sludging through the drifts of social disregard for the omnipresent mendicants that remain invisible.  The esoteric & elite modern art world trips over itself in its pretense of cutting edge sophistication.   The gravitas of free speech with limitations becomes too heavy.  The pompous poke at Julian Schnabel made for a good joke.  Media attention at any cost earned a loner kroner.   Moss was underutilized and Notary's baboon act at a fancy art gala went overboard.  Of course, that was picture Ostlund was trying to paint, the inane clamor for contemporary art juxtaposed to the countless homeless in actual dire need.  Still, I will help you by steering you away from this overly pretentious (though not pointless) and ultimately unsatisfying waste of time.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

A Rangers' Come From Behind Win Over the Red Wings in Overtime - HENRIK! ZUCCRAELLO!

The Rangers & the Red Wings are facing off in a lot of overtime games.  The Rangers have taken 7 of 13 wins in overtime play with the Red Wings.  Last night at the Garden our NY Rangers got the overtime win coming from behind.  It was looking like the Rangers were iced in the first period by the Red Wings.  The Rangers only managed 6 shots on goal while Henrik Lundqvist staved off 17 shots.  The 2nd period the Rangers started to heat up but the Wings still had far more shots on goal.  The game remained score less in the 2nd period with both goalies playing exceptional defense.  The third period the Red Wings got the red light on within minutes to take the lead.  The Rangers skated hard scoring the tying goal halfway into the 3rd sending the game into overtime.  It only took 37 seconds for the Rangers to score the winning goal from Mats Zuccarello with an assist by Brady Skjei. Henrik Lundqvist had 40 saves on the night.  "It was a great finish by us" said Lundqvist.  Lundqvist came back onto the ice to shouts of Henrik! Henrik!  He waved his arms in triumph and tossed his hockey stick over the glass into the fans.  GO RANGERS!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Stephen Shore's Photos at MoMA Shows the Cool Sixties and Shots of Mundane Solitude

Stephen Shore (b Amer 1947) was on the cutting edge snapping photos of Warhol and 60's celebs in raw black/white small shots.  This series has a hip feel making you feel more like an interloper than in with the in crowd.  Shore's photos in the other galleries include clear gelatin prints, off kilter angles, bright Kodachrome shots, portraits and locals.  Shore shares duo portraits of his parents both in full dress & undergarments, revealing nothing is sacrosanct along including intimate sexual acts.  Regardless, there is a sense of isolation or solitude in most of his photos.  I liked the assemblage of black/white series photos of the Pontiac shown in different proportions.  This quiet medley had a melodic sensibility.  Otherwise, there was also an overall melancholy sense of passing time in posed group photos.   William Eggleston's influence is reflected in Shore's interest with the mundane and ordinary made to appear extraordinary.  What's most impressive are the various trajectories & styles in which Shore's branches.  I was particularly drawn to the photos where a large tree subdivided the surroundings.  I'd preferred the landscape photos taken by Shore.  It's worth stopping in to see these photos through Shore's changing lens.  

Max Ernst "Beyond Painting" at MoMA Surrealist Dada Art a Bit on the Far Side

The Max Ernst "Beyond Painting" exhibit at MoMA amasses more than 100 works (all from MoMA's permanent collection) that include oil paintings, over paintings, prints, collages, illustrations & sculptures.  Ernst (b German 1891-1976) fought for in the German army during WWI.  His wartime experiences were traumatizing.  His artistic expression as a leader in the Dada & Surrealism movements are reflective of hallucinatory & bizarre imageries.  I've never gravitated towards Ernst's works.  Perhaps they are meant to be unsettling and remote.  As you enter the exhibit there is a large photo of Ernst taking while living at Peggy Guggenheim's apartment.  Ernst fled Germany for France during WWII where he was interned for periods as a German nationalist.  He immigrated to the US after WWII.  Guggenheim not only became a major patron of Ernst, she also became his third wife.  I would argue that Guggenheim's promotion of Ernst's work propelled him into the art world.  Although, he did garner attention from Pollack (one of Guggenheim's major benefactors).  I thought the overpainting were the most intriguing & unique works.  And, I appreciated his rubbings of found objects with added embellishments.  Many of the paintings & sketches reminded me of Salvador Dali or Marcel Duchamp but somewhat less compelling.   The sculptures looked similar to those of Picasso.   A large high school group came through while I was in the galleries.  They breezed through the exhibit with disinterest in the collection.  My 2 favorite pieces in the exhibit were collages "Sun & Forest" (1931) using corrugated cardboard and oil painting & "10 Children Frightened by a Nightingale" with figures carrying knives and a minuscule bird in the deep blue sky.  Max Ernst "Beyond Painting" did not stir an arousing exchange from me.  

Monday, November 20, 2017

Korean Filmmaker Hong Sang-soo's Fictional/Factual "On the Beach at Night Alone" Won't Strike Home in US

Hong Sangsoo (b S. Korea 1960) is a prolific and highly regarded screenwriter/director (In Another Country).  His filmmaking accolades have of late taken a back seat to notoriety.  Mr. Hong's professional relationship with Kim Man-hee (b S. Korea 1982) had become personal off-screen. Mr Hong has often worked with the lovely, talented Ms Kim who is a celebrity in S. Korea like Kim K here.  The press has pressed the couple into affirming an adulterous relationship that has gotten mass media attention in S. Korea.  The couple's tumultuous & titillating affair has taken a personal toll on both director and leading actress.  The film is beautifully shot in both Germany & S. Korea.  The story is divided into 2 segments.  The first is set in Germany and the later in a seaside city in S. Korea.  Young-hee (Ms. Kim) is toying with her friend the idea of remaining in Germany & living with her.  The two take long walks in the desolate park & along the cold shore discussing their desires, quagmires of the importance of honesty, companionship and experiencing everything in life before dying.  Other hot topics include eating, adultery & death with dignity set against frigid landscapes.  There is a disconnect between the two women within their friendship.  The film set in Germany ends with Young-hee being carried off from the beach at night by a stranger who had been stalking the women.  The rest of the movie is set in S. Korea where the same enigmatic male appears behind glass as if invisible to Young-hee & her friends.  Here too, she flirts with the idea of living  permanently and coy about her relationship with the director whom she often collaborates.  The two halves of the movie mirror each other in tone, oceanside views and drunken discourse.  The final dinner party ends pitting the legendary director (Mr Hong) across from Young-hee.  They both have at it in their inebriated states; his love has wrought" shame & dying regrets".  Talk about airing your dirty laundry...art imitating life, life imitating art.  I found this confessing too distressing.  I'm not interested in a voyeuristic film of Kim & Kanye bickering over an affair though many here might care.  I don't think the masses here will clamor for Hong's confessional film "On the Beach at Night Alone".    

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Whistling Girl an Irish Jazz Cabaret with Lyrics from Dorothy Parker's Writings at Irish Arts Center

The Whistling Girl was an evening of original jazz music by Trevor Knight on keyboards with vocalist Honor Heffernan.  Heffernan is an int'l jazz singer, actress & recording actress.  The title for the evening is dubbed from the poem of the same title by Dorothy Parker.  The aprapo acronym I would surely name it would be Screeching Girl.  Ms. Heffernan's vocals were strident and grating.  Her persona was a blank monotone.  She maintained a glaring glaze probably meant to emulate Parker's defiant demeanor & disdain for convention.   There was a mordant theme for the macabre.  Parker's syntax of impending death, doom & gloom overshadowed the room.  The intensity of Heffernan's vocals, her sheathing in black garb with drink & a smoke in hand created a bitter & mournful mood.  This served well for "The Siege of Madrid," Parker's postings from the Spanish Civil War with Picasso's Guernica on the screen behind her and "Salome's Dancing Lesson," though using a male's head for a prop was a flop.  Heffernan didn't engage in banter with the audience except to introduce her talented band prior to their finale.  The musicians lead by Knight included Garvan Gallagher on bass, Tom Jameson on drums and Ed Deane on guitar.  The music was a pleasing & interesting blend of jazz that at times was reminiscent of Pink Floyd.  When Knight took over on vocals he reminded me of Leonard Cohen.  The musical score laid the soundtrack for melancholy, Parker's prose its sharp wit but Heffernan's vocals were not a great fit.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

MUDBOUND - Flawless Film of Racial Hatred in 1930'40s of Shameful Past Where We're Still Stuck

The historic fictional film MUDBOUND based on the novel by Hillary Jordan is a brutal depiction of loathsome racial bigotry and the horrors of war.  The movie is set in rural MS in the late 1930s-post WWII and hones in on a black family, the Jacksons and a white family, the McAllans.   The Jacksons are dirt poor tenant farmers working the mud soaked land owned by the McAllans.  The eldest Jackson son, Ransel (Jason Mitchell) and the younger McAllan brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) both fought valiantly in WWII.  They return home changed men but to a hateful segregated Jim Crow south that has remained entrenched in the fabric of Southern life.  Ransel's division was segregated in the barracks, tanks, latrines and even their blood supplies are kept separate.  Of course he is resentful  by the fascist regime still in tact that he & other black soldiers fought against & died for abroad.  Jamie returns to his brother's farm suffering from PTSD.  Jamie's Pappy (Johnathan Banks "Breaking Bad") & brother are racist brutes.  Jamie finds solace in drink & in the camaraderie of fellow veteran Ransel.  Their friendship which must remain covert to avoid violent repercussions is a doomed mission.  Pappy & his cowardly KKK pals find evidence of Ransel's relationship with a white woman which they use to justify the torture & lynching of Ransel.  Jamie's forced to witness though he fights to save Ransel from being murdered by his father & hooded cronies.  The film is remarkably powerful, emotional & convincing.  The cinematography captures the rain drenched, murky terrain.  The actors are all phenomenal.  Laura McAllan (Carrie Mulligan) is married to the loutish older brother and burdened with hardships.  Her bleak circumstances cloud her sensibilities to the sufferings of Mrs. Jackson (an incredible performance by Mary J. Blige) permitting her to subjugate her to servitude.  The emotional core & historic atrocities from this oppressive, systematic persecution rested on the heartfelt performances by Ransel & his parents.  The film directed by Dee Rees deserves numerous honors.  There are other outstanding films that represent a genre of black oppression; a most shameful category.  MUDBOUND resonates the anguish & suffering systemically inflicted on African Americans during this epoch.  What's most glaring is noting current events that show lynchings still occurring.  These may appear differently than the lynchings of the past but perpetrated, senseless & unjustified killings of African Americans still persist today, the majority of which are exonerated.  I praise MUDBOUND for its clear & poignant storytelling that should move the wheels of justice to advance us to a society free of racism & inequality.

Friday, November 17, 2017

WONDER - A Film About an Ordinary but Extraordinary Boy Starring Jacob Tremblay and Julia Roberts

WONDER is a film adapted from the Y/A novel by Raquel Jaranillo that revolves around an exceptionally gifted and emotionally vulnerable young boy, Auggie (Jacob Tremblay, ROOM) born with the genetic disorder Crouzon syndrome.  Auggie tells us at the beginning of the film of the numerous surgeries to improve his breathing, hearing & plastic surgeries to mitigate his facial deformities.  Auggie does things ordinary kids do but he's not ordinary because ordinary kids don't get stared at.  Auggie loves Halloween, Star Wars and wearing a space Helmut that conceals his face.  He's about to start middle-school after years of homeschooling by his mother (Julia Roberts) and he's petrified.  Auggie is blessed with a loving family (father, Owen Wilson) and an older sister, Via (an excellent Izabela Vidovic).  Auggie's gets stared at, bullied and made an outcast. Segments are titled to insure we know from whose vantage we're looking from:  Via, a loving sister who feels (justifiably) that her family orbits around her brother leaving her adrift.  Auggie's mom, whose angst for her son is palpable and does her best (as does dad) to help their son navigate in the world.  And, Miranda, Via's friend who abandons her at the start of school for reasons of low self-esteem.  Auggie is fortunate to have a sensitive principal (Mandy Patankin) and homeroom teacher (Daveed Diggs, Hamilton).  (Unfortunately, Diggs does not have more time on screen.)  Digs provide a moral compass for the class and daily precepts that teach about the kind person we are.  Choosing kindness is the heavy handed precept.  I say choose watching the film with an audience of young adults.  I laughed as the audience jeered at the kissing scenes.  I was aghast at the cheering for the fighting scenes.  (Only the Dad said fighting was bad, after asking Auggie if he won.)  I cried while the crowd was dry eyed during the school's production of OUR TOWN.  Moreover, I was most taken by the cogent condemnation of the parents "{white parents}" whose son is disciplined by the principal for bullying.  The mother had only threats & recriminations for the principal & the school; absolving her son's behaviors.  "White parents!"  Whoa, this was a startling eye opening perspective.  Who else but white, affluent parents would condone their child's aberrant actions and blame others?  The cast & the films' relationships were racially diverse.  (You could argue the parents weren't Caucasian.)  But, what is the precept for elitist privileged entitlement?  Remorse & redemption were perceived by the youngsters.  Still, the astute observation made aloud by students in the audience is duly noted & fairly allowed.

Political Equality Conversation with Prof Danielle Allen and Prof Jeremy Waldron as Part of SSRC

Social Science Research Council (SSRC) is an int'l network whose mission is to promote public awareness, knowledge & debate for an unbiased voice for social justice & nurtures the conditions to enhance & bridge thoughtful awareness & responses worldwide.   The SSRC assembled two prestigious educators & authors to converse on the topic of Political Equality; the anxieties of maintaining a democratic republic.  Prof. Daniel Allen at Harvard & author of Education & Equality (2016) and "Cuz: the Life & Times of Michael A." (2017) spoke first followed by Prof Jeremy Waldron at NYU Law School and author of "One Another's Equals: The Basis of Human Equality." (2017)  Alondra Nelson Pres. SSRC introduced the prestigious & articulate speakers.  Before, bringing them together to address each other's comments and a Q&A from the audience Pres. Nelson said, "It is fair to say that tonight we {those present at Roosevelt House} had a corner on the market of the smartest people in America."  It's also fair to say the conversation of political equalities' in its abstraction & idealism was erudite and complicated for me to stay abreast in its entirety. Prof. Allen addressed the "blind spots" that fostered Trump's election, Brexit and issues of wealth distribution.  The evening's dialogue was a heady & intricate examination of the history, processes, obligations & fallibilities inherent in striving for & maintaining political equality.  The one underlying, vital denominator for political equality expressed by Prof Waldron was civility.  As a joint, democratic society there are demands and expectations of participation made on the individual.  There is an essential binary introspection required between the individual and the vast majority of fellow citizens to imbue our govt. a viable legal system of political equality & justice.  Our social fabric must be intwined with tolerance, reciprocal discipline and mindful respect.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Julliard School Opera Presents Mozarts La Finta Giardiniera

The Juilliard School performed Mozarts La Fanta Giardiniera accompanied by the Juilliard Orchestra.   The evening was a delight upon entering the Peter Jay Sharp Theater.  Four of the leads dressed in period costume were engaged in a playful game of croquet on a mock lawn set.  They also engaged the swarming audience in a silent banter, ladies waving their kerchiefs and men bowing in gentlemanly fashion between soft strikes with their mallets.  The story is one of Mozart's comedic love strewn operas of misdirected & unrequited love.  Darker themes of jealousy & betrayal weigh in but love's cruel fates happily align before the final curtain.  Even in the darker moments of love's angst, these are offset by melodramatic response & comedic observations.  The opera is rich with old-fashioned arias sung with charm and virtuosity by its "young" cast.  The full resonance of these young performers show future promise.  Mozart was 18 when he composed La Finta; fitting that the Juilliard School assumes this operatic marvel.  The simple & clever staging and bright lighting leant a light & airy feeling.  The cast did an admirable job particularly with the ensemble finales.  The two standout artists were soprano Kathryn Henry (Arminda) and Christine Taylor Price (Serpetta).  Opera interlaces the arts of music, vocals & acting.  The acting was persuasive rendering the translations irrelevant, if not a distraction.  (The overhead transcriptions had technical problems.  I prefer not to have text as a distraction).  Tamara Banjesevic (Sandrina) stood out in her portrayal of a woman tormented by Conte Belifore's betrayal.  Special accolades to the Juilliard orchestral performance conducted by Joseph Colaneri.  Maestro Colaneri allowed the beauty of Mozart's musical score to shine without overshadowing the vocalists.   The Juilliard School's Opera was an enchanting, euphoric musical performance.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

ZANELE MUHOLI's Imperial Self-Portraits Demand Your Attention and Admiration at Yancey Richardson

S. African born (b 1972) visual artist Zanele Muholi's self-portrait photographs are arresting and majestic representations of women bearing grace & self-assuredness.   It wasn't apparent at first that these photos were all the same individual.  They are the artists' self-portraits, mostly head shots made to appear different by the adornments on their heads.  Cindy Sherman's photographic self-portraits are heavily disguised in costume and make-up to appear as completely different characters.  The collection of Muholi's portraits share more in common.  They represent defiant, solemn expressions of resolute power that engage the viewer.  The various headwear, or hairstyles all portray a regal bearing even the one with a vise on her head.  I thought these photos startling for their reticent fierceness.  They spoke to me of dignity and omnipotence.  However, Muholi shared her intent in a recent article in The Guardian "This is about our lives, and if queer history, trans history, if politics of blackness and self-representation are so key in our lives, we just cannot sit down and not document and bring it forth."  Her photos stunned me with their aesthetic glory and inner strength.  Muholi is a strong advocate for S. African's LGBTQl community.  A community that endures harsh treatment & degradation in her native country.  I didn't view these photos as documentation of oppression rather as  impenetrable images that serve to counter subjective & derogatory exposure of the black, lesbian & transgender individuals living in S. Africa.  

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Celebrating Walter Isaacson at the Crossroads of Art and Science with Special Guests at Hunter College

Walter Isaacson has released his new biography LEONARDO de VINCI (LDV).  Isaacson is Pres. & CEO of the Apsen Institute.  Isaacson was honored last night at Hunter College by a collaboration between the Univ. and the Aspent Institute Arts Program.  The evening was hosted by Damian Woetzel, Director Aspen Institute Arts Program.  Isaacson spoke of da Vinci's inimitable curiosity with science, art and the world at large.  The largess of talented artists that paid homage to Isaacson, da Vinci & creativity was celestial.  It was a privilege to be present for such a remarkable array of artists in various fields of instrumental & vocal music, classical & contemporary dance and physics & mathematics.  A collaboration performed by dancer Lil Buck, physicist/author Brian Green and cellist Andrea Lee performing Saint Saens' THE SWAN was an experience that sparked awe, inspiration & a deeper appreciation for the abilities to create, innovate and participate.  The interrelationship between observing, questioning & being a viable contributor to the world resonated deeply.  There were stunning dance performances by principal dancers from NYC Ballet to the combined creative genius of Balanchine & music composed by Stravinsky.  Lil Buck's dancing personified sound through his innovative movements.  The poignant display of intellect & art was a powerful communique of the cumulative connection between art, science and humanity.  Don't despair for prescient lack of genius insights.  Seeing, questioning & observing are all valuable.  Characteristics not redeemable are inertia & apathy.  "I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply.  Being willing is not enough, we must do".  (LDV)  "There are 3 classes of people, those who see, those who see when shown, and those who do not see."  (LDV)

Sunday, November 12, 2017

MICHELANGELO at the MET on Sundays is Not the way to Go Members Preview Only Please!

MICHELANGELO: DIVINE DRAFTSMAN & DESIGNER at the MET a wondrous exhibit, you bet.  But it's hard to know if you on Sundays even during Members' Preview only.  Only, that's about everyone & their uncle leaving little room to navigate and appreciate the majesty of the pure genius in Michelangelo's drawings, designs and sculptures.  This once in a lifetime show (which all should go) represents a collection upwards of 200 of his works more than half compiled of his most delicate works on paper.  Michelangelo's drawings on paper were made using chalk, ink, charcoal and brush paint.  The curation culls works from Michelangelo's studies as a student along with his mentors.  Other works combine contemporaries of the great artist, works done in collaboration with him and artworks created by his students.  It's fair to say that the draw of the show is Michelangelo and the numerous works by other artists get washed out in comparison.  While this may not be the intent of the curators, because Michelangelo work is sublime it far outshines his contemporaries.  The surplus of works by other artists from this epoch illuminate the genius of this master that sets him apart.  Since it was nearly impossible to appreciate the art amidst the cramming of people in the extensive galleries, I made the utmost of the opportunities to admire this sweeping historical tour de force collection I surmised whether a work was Michelangelo or not.  Mostly, I was able discern the unique talents that set his work apart.  Michelangelo's drawings emanate a luminosity and a virtual sense of the body substance that are imperious.  I was delighted to see Michelangelo's sculptures and the famous "Cupid Kissing Venus".  But, besides the discomfort of the crowds, the faux images of the Sistine Chapel or mock models of the dome diminish the value of such priceless, prodigious works of art.  I'll plan to revisit on a day with less traffic and I'll be able to focus on Michelangelo's works, alone.

SCHOOL GIRLS; or, the AFRICAN MEAN GIRLS PLAY - Strictly Amateur Grift at the Lucille Lortel

Playwright Jocelyn Bioh is an Amer/Ghanian playwright.  Her parents immigrated to the US in 1968.  SCHOOL GIRLS is comedy/drama that attacks an earnest social issue of racial hierarchy within  the black community and on a socially global level. Bioh sets her play in 1986 at an elite private schools for girls in Ghana.  The comedy directed at high school girl clicks ruled by the mean beauty queen teen, Paulina (Maameyaa Boafo) pushes the boundaries of credibility.  The dialogue doesn't register credit.  The 4 other school girls abjectly acquiesce to Paulina demands, insults & boasts seeking to ingratiate themselves.  Paulina reign as queen bee crumbles when a new student, Ericka arrives from America.  Ericka's good lucks & generosity lead to a mutiny of alliances. The classmates revolt against Paulina's imperious & pernicious behaviors knocking her down a few rungs.  But the battles have just begun between the charismatic & beautiful Ericka and Paulina.  A showdown of wills turns ugly as they vie for the title of Miss Ghana.   Eloise (Zainab Jah) a school alum & Miss Ghana 1966 (which she reiterate often) struts into the cafeteria to speak with former classmate Francis now the school's Headmistress (a warm & radiant Myra Lucretia Taylor).  Eloise mirrors Paulina ruthlessness.  Eloise is assigned to select a pageant contest from the school.  She's determined to select the most attractive girl to ensure the title of Miss Ghana 1986.  The win would provide Eloise a large sum which is promised to Francis's school as long as she overlooks the rules.  Ericka & Paulina's contemptuous disregard for each other erupts during the contest.  Headmistress clears the room but for the two girls to resolve their disruptive matter.  They exchange their stories & sorrows but never reach a truce.  Eloise returns with her predetermined selection of Ericka with her "high yellow" skin tone & soft brown hair.  Her fairer complexion imbues a perceived higher social hierarchy than a "darky".  Lighter skin tones among black or dark skinned have been perceived as more attractive & more privileged.  Even Paulina resorts to bleach cream to lighter her dark skin regardless of its physical harm.  The charm of the mean girls scenario is long in the tooth and bloom has fallen off the cast of girls who looked 10 years too old to be teens (a fair criticism).  Both veteran actresses Taylor & Jah gave sterling performances.  The bias & social class system related to skin tone has a long history being immorally imbedded.  Bioh's play meant as a sobering lesson on detestable racial bias misses its mark and receives a C- grade.   Note: Vanessa Williams considered of light skin tone was the 1st black Miss America in 1984.  This past may, Miss Black Univ. of TX was slammed "as not black enough."  I sense the germinations of a talented playwright.  I sense a leaning away from racial bias.  And I have a strong wish for both.    

Saturday, November 11, 2017

TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS - a Gargantuan Guide to Living & Forgiving a MUST SEE

TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS is a one act play at the Public which is an oration of questions submitted to an advice columnist, Sugar (Mia Vardalos "MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING).  Sugar is the pseudonym for the writer who offers pensive & life affirming responses.  This is not your droll Dear Abby column for the forlorn.  It's a deeply concerted connection between people entrusting the gravitas of their dilemmas & despair with someone who provides life affirming, life changing guidance emanating from her own deep soul searching & empathetic self-examination.  Sugar's sagacious, thoughtful & articulate responses are emotionally arousing.  We see Sugar as a disheveled woman working at home amidst controlled chaos as she ponders the letters she receives.  Three other actors portray multiple persons imploring her introspective counsel & correspondence.  The breadth of the inquiries span a trajectory from the more routine dilemmas of adultery/leaving a relationship to the unfathomable ability to cope with the grief of losing one's child and moving forward in life.   Sugar's responses are lyrical, heartfelt & revealing.  "Be brave enough to let your heart be broken."  "The voice inside of you telling you to go is enough".  Sugar shares her own stories of abuse which relate to help others overcome their pain or quilt.  Sugar informs her readers "We decide who we let influence us." Our experiences are what shaped us."  Sugar is beseeched to reveal her true identity by her devotees though she continuously lays bear her innermost being.  For the father who lost his son at 22 and is mired in grief & unable to obliterate the pain, Sugar is especially sensitive and supportive.  Obliterate is to erase while simultaneously constructing she replies. "Peel back the rage and feel the pure love you will always have as a father to your son, that will never be altered."  Sugar's shared experiences allude to her true identity which she willingly reveals as the writer/author Cheryl Strayed WILD, BRAVE ENOUGH and TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS.  Strayed imparts the wisdom of acceptance, forgiveness and the power to withstand sorrow and go on.  Reach to create something real.  Life is the great unknown unfolding, allow yourself to accept the tiny beautiful things life has to offer.

HALE Film Screening Followed by Panel Discussion led by its Director Brad Bailey

Hale is a brief biopic doc. about Hale Zuckas (b 19440-) born with cerebral palsy and is a world wide advocate for persons with disabilities.   The award winning student film first shows the arduous & time consuming admonitions provided by an aide that enable Hale to function independently.  Hale & millions of individuals with severe disabilities require assistance to survive & maneuver with self-sufficiency.  Hale is a testament to throngs of individuals with disabilities when provided essential accommodations thrive and impact the world.  Dir. Brad Bailey includes archival footage of the 1977 demonstration where over 500 individuals in wheelchairs occupied the San Francisco (SF) Capital leading to reform in legislation.  The disability movement germinated on the Berkeley's Campus during the years Hale was a student. Hale was a founding member of the Center for Independent Living on the campus which became a paradigm for other assisted living facilities.  Hale was the leading activist coercing the SF BART transport system to be accessible for wheelchairs.  Hale articulates using a communication board & a pointer attached to the helmet he manipulates by moving his head.  He was also instrumental in getting the Rehabilitation Act passed in 1973 making it illegal to discriminate against individuals with disabilities.  The Amer Disability Act (ADA) was not passed until the 1990s.  Bailey's doc. & the panel discussion were a cogent reminder no matter race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, disabilities are universal.  Hale Zuckas changed awareness and response to how we view people with disabilities.  Moreover, the legitimate concerns that out of sight, out of consciousness render complacency & failure to acknowledge, accept and provide collaborative services to assist millions of people with disabilities to integrate fully & productively into society.    

Friday, November 10, 2017

3 BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING MISSOURI-Stars Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson Rates 5 Stars

Ebbing, a small rural town in MO is the setting for this extraordinary film that covers a broad plain of emotional territory.  Mildred Hayes (a powerhouse performance by Frances McDorman) is the mother of a murdered teenage daughter who seeks justice that has been a long time, a long time coming.   She pays for 3 large billboards that call out the town's Sheriff Willoughby (a wonderful Woody Harrelson) for failing to make progress finding her daughter's rapist & murderer.  The large billboards are blood red with large black lettering of few words. The signs spur media & focus back on this unsolved case.  The billboards ignite more than renewed interest in the case.  It codifies an alignment of good & evil, justice & injustice.  Jason Dixon (a superb Sam Rockwell) is a racist comic book reading cop who takes sadistic pleasure torturing "people of color" & pistol whipping gays.  The sheriff pays Mildred a visit after the billboards garner attention. He tries to assuage her frustrations.  Willoughby confides he has cancer.  Mildred surprises him by saying she knows. When he asks why are you calling me out she says the buck stops with him and that he won't be of help after he's dead.  However, this proves false.  Willoughby is at the core of the town's decency.  He pumps goodness posthumously through the hearts of others by leaving individuals letters offering hope, compassion & understanding.  Dixon's character metamorphoses the most peeling back layers of hatred & racism.  Mildred remains a fierce & determined mother fighting for justice for her daughter.  Mildred takes her fighting too far; assaulting teens & throwing Molotov cocktails.  She's not intimidated by a priest, a bully or authority.  She still has a son at home (Lucas Hedges). He's struggling with his own grief.  Her ex (John Hawkes) has left Mildred for a 19 year old beauty.  He was an abusive husband & cruel parent.  The entire supporting cast is sensational.  Peter Dinklage plays a guy with a kind heart & a soft spot for Mildred.  Sandy Martin is marvelous as Dixon's mother.  She's passed her DNA of bigotry & hatred to her son.  Yet, Dixon bears strong love for his mother which spills over into empathy & remorse.  The noticeable musical score underlies the emotional arch of the film.  The theological overtones by the film's British dir/screenwriter Martin McDonagh (IN BRUGES) paint an intricate mural of good v. evil.  The gorgeous dimwitted 19 year old ingenue summed the essence of movie brilliantly, "kindness begets kindness".   There's a lot more to be said for this oversized work of genius that ebbs and flows with the flux of being human.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

THE LAST FLAG FLYING Stars Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne and Steve Carell

THE LAST FLAG FLYING is a film that is far reaching in its scope of human frailty, compassion, faith and the inhumanity of war.   First and last, dir/screenwriter Richard Linklater's film THE LAST FLAG FLYING is the finest anti-war ever made.  Linklater's genius accomplishment is achieved without depicting bloody brutal battle fields.  Needless, the casualties of war are forefront under shrouded coffins draped by the American Flag.  And felt by grieving family left holding onto memories & the tightly folded flag that accompanied their loved ones to their graves.   Doc (Steve Carell) is a widower & father of a soldier just killed in Iraq.  He seeks out his old Vietnam army buddies to accompany him to retrieve his son's body for burial planned at Arlington.  Doc hasn't seen his old army pals in decades.  Doc still thinks of Sal (Bryan Cranston) & Rev. Mueller as his closest friends despite the years & time he served in the brig covering for them. The years have wrought changes in everyone's lives.  Sal, the alcoholic owner of a dismal bar tells a forlorn Doc "You're something once and we all become something else."  Doc asks Sal (whom he located on the internet) to come with him & he willingly obliges.  They pull up to a church nearby which Sal is reluctant to enter.  Doc assures him he'll find this interesting.  Much to the surprise of Sal & chagrin of the church's Rev. Mueller, also a former army buddy.  Mueller & his wife invite Doc & Sal back to their home for dinner.  After dinner, a stoic Doc makes his request. Sal the rambunctious member of the group readily accepts.  Mueller declines but is shamed into going as Sal predicted.  So begins a melancholy, motley crew road trip reuniting 3 former servicemen that bonded as "brothers" and bounded them with all who serve in the military.  "Every generation has its own war."  Pain is pain yet lessons gained never derail the perpetuity of war.  All 3 lead actors are outstanding as is the young Marine (J Quinton) assigned to help transport the casket for burial.  Cicely Tyson has a small but pivotal part as the mother of a fallen soldier in Vietnam whose death shackles them all with remorse.  Linklater's flawless direction mires comedy with solemnity.  The levity offers little relief from the unrelenting gravitas of grief.  Questions of faith, trust, propaganda and government duplicity are handled with kid gloves.  The "brothers" served their time for their country.  The only virtuous attribute of war is a camaraderie of covering each other's backs wrought from a coerced common enemy.  But, the toll for war is too heavy a scourge on humanity.    THE LAST FLAG FLYING is masterful film if only it had the omnipotence to overcome war.

HIS DARK LAND: A WWI TRAGEDY a Dramatic Reading by Stephen Lang and James Naughton

HIS DARK LAND: A WWI TRAGEDY is the final piece in Stephen Lang's brilliant, historic MEDAL of HONOR trilogy.  Lang is an acclaimed screen (Avatar) & Tony winning stage actor (A Few Good Men).  Lange should be lauded for his brilliant historic writing & creative enactment.   HIS DARK LAND is the final work of his Medal of Honor trilogy re-creating the human response to war.  Lange enacts historic recipients of the Medal of Honor from the Civil War , WWI, WWII, the Korean War & Vietnam War.  Lange personifies Col. Charles Whittlesey who led his men in the Meuse-Argonne Offense in the waning weeks of WWI commonly known as "Lost Battalion".  Lange speaks to the audience through a surmised interview with Damon Runyon (Tony winner James Naughton) a lead reporter of the epoch.  The minimal & effective staging places Whittlesey (a transformative Lang) behind a railing.  Runyon is seated off to the side.  The surreal & solicitous interview between Whittlesey & Runyon is poised on deck of an ocean liner the eve of Nov. 26, 1921, just prior to Whittlesey casting himself overboard.  Runyon beseeches Whittlesey to rectify the public's burgeoning questions. If not to enlighten the public perhaps to unburden the pains of war he carries.  Whittlesey tells Runyon he's a reticent man.  He didn't seek nor desired attention.  Yet, Runyon's gentle prodding stirs Whittlesey to loquacious outpourings to set the records straight.  Whittlesey pontificates with rancor as he expounds on the fighting under sieged by the Germans & cut off from allied support for 5 days.  The fatalities tolled 50% of his regiment.  He spurns the notion he yelled "Go to Hell" to the Germans upon receiving their letter asking for their surrender.  He speaks of his valiant & brave soldiers & with humility of himself.  His ire explodes at the appellation "Lost Battalion".  "We were never lost. We were where  ordered!"  Whittlesey disdains his Medal of Honor awarded for simply carrying out his orders.  History comes alive with a gripping & poignant portrayal that struck with force the turmoil evident under the civilized veneer of a someone suffering PTSD.  Whittlesey served as a pallbearer for the Casket of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery just days before boarding the ship where he would take his own life.  Lange bequeathed the original letter from the German command asking for surrender to a friend. "The suffering of your wounded men can be heard over here in the German lines, and we are appealing to your humane sentiments to stop.  A white flag shown by one of your men will tell us that you agree with these conditions".   Lang began & ended with poetry by Siegfried Sassoon. "Look down, and swear by the slain of the war that you'll never forget." This was an indelible evening; a tribute to Col. Charles Whittlesey, the fallen soldiers of WWI and all who've fought in battle.   It's a potent testament to the tragedies of war and protest to all war.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

METEOR SHOWER on Broadway with Amy Schumer and Keegan-Michael Key by Steve Martin

Steve Martin's new play on Broadway METEOR SHOWER is broad comedy about relationships that fires and misses but also strikes with acerbic insights.  Martin who got his early start in the 70s as a comedienne known for clowning around with an arrow running through his head while juggling bowls in the air.  Martin's comedic talents have matured into a Tony award winner for playwrighting & musical score (BRIGHT STAR).   That's not to say he's strayed far from his wild and crazy humor.    METEOR SHOWER is a one act play with 2 major comedic/actor stars Amy Schumer (Corky) and Keegan-Michael Key (Gerald) and 2 leading Tony winning Broadway veterans Jeremy Shamos (Norm) and Laura Benanti (Laura).  Corky & Norm are a married couple living outside LA in the 1990s who take their new age marriage counseling advice so seriously its becomes gut wrenchingly funny.  They appreciate & acknowledge each other's feelings while holding hands & making eye contact.  They're expecting a new couple to drop by for drinks on the brink of a spectacular spectral Perseid meteor shower.  Their yard & the audience have exceptional vantages to these celestial wonders that occur whether we're aware or not.  Gerald and Laura are the new couple who are about to rock Corky & Norm's world.  The farcical spoof on what makes sparks in a relationship is shockingly funny and before the shtick overstays its welcome & collapses, the deceptively clever play takes an unexpected turn.  METEOR SHOWER is a medley of salacious jokes, absurdists humor and slapstick.  Not everything connects in the play.  Schumer & Key brought their comic kryptonite but Shamos & Benanti's acting outshines.  The play felt off-balance & buffoonish at times.  But the play embraces all its moving parts and will fasten you to its velcro orbit.  What makes for a lasting relationship?  Nothing bonds people together stronger than a common enemy.  Perhaps, Martin's dark comedy has gravitas fired at political commentary.  

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

LADY BIRD - Take Note I Loved It! Stars Saoirse Ronan, Tracy Letts, Laurie Metcalf and Lucas Hedges

LADY BIRD is a coming of age story of a most remarkable high school student, Christine "Lady Bird" (played by Acad Award winner Saoirse Ronan).  "Lady Bird" is the Christine is the name "given to me by me" she tells the Priest (Stephen Henderson FENCES) when auditioning for the senior musical.  What's most remarkable about this unflappable, outspoken free spirit is her relentless spirit to soak up happiness. This flawless film is written & directed by Greta Gerwig (MAGGIE'S PLAN and FRANCES HA).   Gerwig, like her character was born in Sacramento, attended Catholic high school & yearned for more than their provincial lives.  The movie is an exuberant ballad to high school years of self-discovery, friendship, freedoms & the endless possibilities "not that is known of yet!".  Amidst the fun of being young, unencumbered & ready to take on the world, Lady Bird takes on her mother (Laurie Metcalf, TV & Broadway star) with some benevolent help from her father (Pulitzer Prize playwright & actor Tracy Letts).  Lady Bird's audacity, enterprising and boundless energy make her a formidable ally and challenging adversary for her mother.  The mother/daughter dynamics are comically contentious yet their indivisible bonds of love are omnipotent.  The two bicker relentlessly.  Their moments of truce are so abrupt and heartfelt they send you flying.  (The scene shopping together for a dress is hilarious.)  Gerwig captures the broad range of high school angst as well as its glee.  The entire ensemble cast is pitch perfect.  Especially touching are Lady Bird's first boyfriend (Lucas Hedges, MANCEHSTER BY THE SEA) best friend (Beanie Feldstein {Jonah Hill's sister}) and Catholic Headmistress (Lois Smith).   The movie is rich in kindness, acceptance and forgiveness.  It's also entrenched with empathy & epiphanies of other's hardships. "Not everyone is built for happiness".  Above all, LADY BIRD soars with delight.  Ronan & Metcalf should earn Oscar nominations for their outstanding performances which fly on top of a great supporting cast and winning script.   As much as Lady Bird yearns to flee the coupe of her hometown, Headmistress observes from reading her college essay how beautifully she pays tribute.  "Taking notice and loving are not the same" Lady Bird tells her.  Oh, but aren't they asks the wise old dame.  

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Brazil's Eliane Elias on Piano and Vocals with Amazing Artists at Jazz at Lincoln Center

Jazz at Lincoln Center featured Eliane Elias (b Brazil 1960) on piano & vocals.  The entire first set was music by Bill Evans (b Amer 1929-1980).  Evans was a leading jazz pianist & composer known for inventive interpretations of traditional jazz repertoire.  Elias a multiple Grammy nominee & winner for Latin Jazz is also know for her S. American flourish to jazz compositions.  Evans was known for working with a jazz trio, playing piano with bass & drums.  Elias' first set was performed with drummer Joe Labarbera and bass virtuoso Marc Johnson.  Johnson was part of Evans last jazz trio while in his early 20's.  He is a master on the bass is also the husband of Elias.  The trio's interpretation of Evan's compositions were performed with Evan's lush atmospheric tones with a Latin flair.  The music possessed a rich full bodied resonance.  Elias' virtuosity at the piano is astonishing.  Elias offered an emotional tribute to Bill Evans with a video of him working on his last unfinished composition.  Elias's trio then performed her completed rendition of the piece felt perfectly in keeping with Evans' intent.  The 2nd set brought out a sexy Brazilian Bossa nova rhythm, a different drummer Rafael Barata, Rubens de la Core on guitar and Elias on both piano & vocals.  Bossa nova is a fusion of samba & jazz which originated in Brazil.  Samba is music whose roots stem from S. Africa & particularly the W. African slave trade.  It's imperative to regard the music's history. Elias' vocals embraced a deep modulated pitch which added a very sensual intonation.  There was a cohesiveness to the program's layering of harmonies & melodies with a passionate percussive beat.  I was transfixed by Barata on drums.  He was fascinating to watch.  His facial expressions reminded me of musician & actor Steve van Zandt on the SOPRANOS.  The combined artistic genius on stage especially Elias on piano & Johnson on bass produced exceptionally beautiful jazz with a visceral luxuriant response.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

PoetryFest at IAC Feature Chinese born Poet Sally Wen Mao and Irish Poet Tara Begin

My first exposure to poetry reading (other than slam poetry) was at today's PoetryFest at the Irish Arts Center (IAC).  The first of many more to come.  I was delighted & surprised by both female poets.  I anticipated only Irish poets.  Sally Wen Mao (b China) was raised in Boston & San Francisco.  Her collection MAD HONEY SYMPOSIUM received the 2012 Kinerth Gensler Award.  She read poetry from that & OCULUS to be published in 2018.  She's young and diffident.   Her hesitant & apologetic start was disarming.   Mao said she was glad she was unable to see out into the audience.  Her timid disposition contrasted with her gut punching prose, seditious reflections on her Chinese lineage and the plight of immigrants.   Sally referenced her poems origins prior to reading.  The 1st was saturated with references to blood, slaughter and a barren dystopian land.   She wrote it after the 2016 election using only words never included in a Presidential Inauguration.  RADIATION GIRL expresses her sadness at being rebuffed by her aunt after she visited Japan.  Her aunt warned her not to travel to Japan or touch the Pacific Ocean for fear of radiation contamination.  The ebullience for Japan's natural beauty and immersion in the ocean were pained by her aunt's fear & harsh rebuke.  "Beauty's hazards are real.  I am a mermaid of the ocean".  Mao's timidity aside, she maintained a friendly banter.  "On the internet I saw my face attached to an ad 'Why do people see ghosts'".  This startled her & lead her to consider her aging parents living apart & on their own.  The melancholy poem read "Love has a way of not existing.  Our bloodline ends with my lifeline."  Mae shared a poem from OCULUS titled Anna Mae Wong, a Chinese Amer. actress in the 1920s-30s stereotyped as a maid or murder victim.  It addresses prejudice.  A school girl of Asian heritage eats alone & tormented in class.  A white classmate prods her with needles "Do Asians feel pain as we do?"  This references Shakespeare's Shylock who asks "If you cut us do we not bleed."   Tara Begin read 2nd.  She was born in Ireland.  Begin spoke & recited assuredly with an appealing Irish brogue.  Begin read mainly from her new book THE TRAGIC DEATH of ELEANOR MARX shortlisted for the Forward Poetry Prize Best Collection 2017.   Begin is fascinated with Marx since both have made translations of Flaubert's MADAME BOVERY.  Eleanor committed suicide by taking arsenic the same as did Madame Bovery.  "Madame Bovery's favorite flower are all flowers & favorite color white.  Eleanor's favorite flavor is the orchid and favorite color night."   Begin's other poems were bold and irreverent.  Her polished reading was pleasant to the ear.  But, I preferred the shared intimacy of Mao's readings.  Needless, I enjoyed the poetry readings and will seek out future Poetry Festivals.

ACTUALLY by Playwright Anna Ziegler Accurately Analyzes Sexual Allegations Equality

Anna Ziegler (b Amer 1979) is a brilliant young playwright (PHOTOGRAPH 51 which starred Nicole Kidman).  PHOTOGRAPH 51 deserved a Pulitzer Prize.  Her new off-Broadway play ACTUALLY will garner multiple Obie nominations.  ACTUALLY at MTC Stage II is a small production.  It's a 1 act 2 character play on a minimal set of 2 chairs but it speaks volumes to social injustices, human sufferings, racial inequalities and the ramifications of rape accusations.  The play is set in the present on the Princeton campus.  Tom (an incredibe Joshua Boone, HOLLER IF YOU HEAR ME) and Amber (an equally powerful Alexandra Socha, SPRING AWAKENINGS) are two Princeton freshmen.  Tom is black & the 1st in his family to matriculate.  Amber's Jewish heritage comprises part of her character.  She is adrift, insecure and loquacious.  Amber accuses Tom of rape to Princeton authorities which leads to a hearing by a Princeton panel who will decide Tom's fate.  The verbose play is extremely engaging & insightful.  The tour de force performances paint clear pictures of Tom & Amber's makeup.  Their past histories are cleverly depicted blurring past/present.  Tom's father squandered his opportunity for college.  Now, Tom is determined not to miss his shot.  His past includes an illicit under-age sexual encounter with a teacher at school which leads to her dismissal and his titilating sexual reputation.  Tom's acceptance to Princeton (racial quotas aside) is attributed to his musical abilities.  His act of kindness to a grade school teacher prompted piano lessons.  "I don't pass up on free offers and I don't miss an opportunity to act kindly."  Amber's Jewish, middle-class upbringing doesn't evoke pity, particularly in comparison to Tom's but as we listen to her confluence of conversation (except during sex) her insecurities prod a sympathetic understanding.  She's encountered two sexual encounters before college portray her as a pathetic and willing participant.  Their didactic postulating is pertinent in constructing both individuals.  They share similar misgivings as outsiders trying to fit into campus life.  The backstories & vulnerabilities of Tom & Amber warm us to their innocent flirtations.  There's not a misstep in the avalanche of dialogue that captures our attention from the onset.  The genius of Ziegler's writing warrants credibility for the scenarios that unfold.  All told, this play is compilation of layered social commentaries that float throughout the play and remonstrate the tilted scales of justice while weighing the gravitas of sexual accusations.  ACTUALLY is a literary, socially prescient & thought provoking powerhouse of a play.  Pay close attention to the beginning of the play as it factors in on which side of the fence your views may lean.  ACTUALLY will unequivocally strike an emotional cord that reverberates.  Ms. Ziegler is a phenomenal playwright deserving of accolades.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Dance Archivists Share Their Secrets from Jacob's Pillow, Martha Graham and David Gordon

The noon talk series as part of the Harkens Dance Festival was a discussion from 4 leading archivists of dance for the Public Library for the Performing Arts, Jacob's Pillow, Martha Graham & David Gordon Companies.  These illustrious speakers' work ensures the legacies & factual accuracies  of prominent dance companies.  The advantage of digitized formatting is a vital tool in capturing & storing the ongoing accumulation of choreography, artifacts, photos, notes, costumes and voluminous other materials pertaining to the dance companies, the choreographers, dancers and historic relevance.  A film was shown that was written, directed & performed by David Gordon that provided a scripted dialogue & dance between two people explaining the story he wanted to tell for posterity.  The curator said that the artists methods strive for a continuous enigmatic obvious presentation of dance's impact.  This conundrum beat onward and while I was fascinated with the footage shown, methods of organizing material and the dance presentation of 2 Martha Graham's solos, I was left puzzled.  There was no time left for Q&A.  This is few things I would like to know anyway: how are the materials evaluated & edited, is there a system to pare down material or does everything just keep piling up and what artistic direction do the archivists receive from experts or professionals.  I have more questions and plenty of awe for the processes & practices of archivists.  The title Show and Tell: Archivists Share their Secrets let me to believe there are immeasurable mysteries and secrets to uncover.

Walter Isaacson in Conversation with Neil deGrasse Tyson on Leonardo da Vinci at 92ndY

Walter Isaacson (WI) has been busy promoting his new, anticipated biography on Leonardo da Vinci (LDV).  I've seen him in conversation with Charlie Rose, Tavis Smiley & was excited to hear him speak with astrophysics rock star Neil deGrasse Tyson (NDT).  Who better to elicit scintillating banter on the very interesting historic artist/scientist subject LDV than NDT (2 intriguing intellects for the price of 1 + the book).  A seemingly brainiac bargain but I had several beefs with last night's program at the 92ndY.  Why?  First, the program got off to a late start & the intros were interminable, besides their bios were listed in the program notes.  Secondly, there's a trope to WI's scope of bullet points he's made repeatedly.  I'll make a cogent summation of the take aways from WI's multiple talks.  The subjects for WI's biographies share a commonality of innovation & genius.  The attributes posed for stimulating creativity & intellect are curiosity & astute observation.  And, yes, these skills can (& should) be nurtured.  WI spoke of the epoch in which LDV lived as being tolerant of eccentricities.  We're informed LDV was illegitimate, a vegetarian, openly gay, left-handed and a flamboyant dresser.  WI spoke of the astounding features of the Mona Lisa and the Salvator Mundi paintings.  The Salvator Mundi painting (which he's seen) is the only privately held, authenticated LDV painting known in existence.  It is estimated to sell at auction for upwards of 150,000,000.  LDV did not make distinctions between science or art but considered them both cross disciplinaries.  Lastly, NDT introduced WI as the featured speaker but he felt intrusive and failed to ignite additional insights from WI that he's expressed previously.  If I hear WI mention LDV's fascination for finding the size of a woodpecker's tongue again, I'll go bonkers.  NDT said he & WI met 6 months previously when they were both appointed to the same Board by the Sec. of Defense for innovative ideas towards maintaining our defense.  Here's where we could really use creative ideas that lead towards peaceful resolutions.  As for WI's book I took home, I think I've garnered the highlights.  I'm no longer curious to read it for myself & will put it on the shelf.  

Thursday, November 2, 2017

NYPhilharmonic Rehearsal of Gershwin's RHAPSODY in BLUE - Just What NYC Needed

Today's NY Philharmonic was a jubilant concert highlighting the talents & indomitable spirit of New Yorkers.  The program was Bernstein & Gershwin under beloved maestro Alan Gilbert.  Bernstein's composition PRELUDE, FUGUE, and RIFFS (1949/55) featured phenomenal clarinetist Anthony McGill.  The composition resonated with Gershwin's energetic pulse.  The auditorium was packed.  New Yorkers came out to savor Gershwin's masterpiece RHAPSODY in BLUE (1924).  This classic which only gets better with time, captures the rhythm and energy of our great city.  Pianist Makoto Ozone was sensational.  Conductor Gilbert rehearsed the piece in its entirety.  There was no need to stop, it was perfection.  After the horrific attack on Tuesday, today was a wonderful way to embrace & appreciate great music that embodies the unflappability & resilience we share as a civilized, humane community.  BRAVO!

Ailey's Season Preview for the Lucky Few-I'll Tell You to Look for...

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is about to open their home season at City Center which is always a heralded display of the most amazing dancers, barre none.  I was one of the lucky ones who got a sneak peek at portions of world premiere works and new productions of the company's repertoire.  The three new productions for previous Ailey performances are THE GOLDEN SECTION by Twyla Tharp (2006), SHELTER (1992) and STACK-UP (1982) which makes you want to stand up and dance in the aisle (if not on stage with the dancers).  All three are exceptional dances worth seeing again with a new spin.  The 2 world premiers will be VICTORIA by Spanish choreographer Gustavo Ramirez Sansano's and MEMBERS DON'T GET WEARY choreographed by Ailey's own dancer extraordinare, Jamar Roberts with music by John Coltrane.  Roberts has choreographed for Ailey II.   This is his first work for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.  Artistic Director Robert Battle is credited with bringing in many new works from a broad range of national & international choreographers and for mentoring & encouraging company members to expand their artistic abilities.  Jamar Roberts use of legendary jazz composer John Coltrane's music was a miraculous personification of every rich & luxuriant note.  The tempo of the dancers was more languid than most Ailey pieces and this proved an ingenious trajectory utilizing the dancers' versatile  artistic prowess.  I had a visceral response to every elongated movement.  The dance had an elasticity that pulsed, accentuated and contracted to Coltrane's soulful sounds.  The new Ailey season is upon us which is reason to celebrate.  

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

American Foreign Policy in the Age of Trump Discussion with David Sanger and Ricard Haas

The topical & auspicious talk at the NY Historical Society last night was "American Foreign Policy in the Age of Trump".  The two distinguished foreign affairs experts were Pulitzer Prize winning journalist & Nat'l Security Correspondent for the NYT, David Sanger and Richard Haas, Pres. of the Council on Foreign Relations.  The talk began with an acknowledgement of the terrorist attack on our city that killed 7 people earlier in the day.  Haas asked Sanger if it were possible to stop terrorist attacks.  The answer was a resounding, no.  Tactical terrorists acts, the deliberate crashing of a vehicle into a crowd or stabbings with kitchen utensils cannot be eradicated.  But a massive terrorist since 9/11 has not occurred due to heightened national security measures.  The balance between individual liberties 7 security are continuously being offset.  The indictments of Trump's former campaign mgrs. was the next subject.  Metaphor had been recognized as a person who courts autocrats.  He had dealings in the Ukraine & with Trump on the eve of his accepting his party's nomination.  The approach by Russian intelligence to interfere was said to be their typical modus operandi used since Stalin.  The US becoming an isolationist country under Trump was brought into the banter.  Valid concerns were mentioned with Trump stepping back from France, NAFTA and Iran.  Int'l successions; Brexit and Catalonia are adding to a spreading break away movement.  Both agreed matters of such utmost importance should not be left to nat'l referendums.  They believe if another vote were held today on Brexit, the UK would not pass it. The upcoming Presidential trip to Asia is of utmost concern.  North Korea is a volatile crisis.  The likelihood of a "Fail Safe" scenario with South Korean sacrificed for Los Angeles has frightening credibility.  The possibilities of the US & NK blundering into an atomic war are alarming.  Clinton & GW Bush were faulted for not having made positive inroads with NK during their presidencies.  Trump must navigate US/China strategies carefully which may prove disastrous.  There is a recent insurgence of Maoism in China.  We've seen in Afghanistan that an ungoverned global region will fall to Isis.  Most worrisome at present were said to be Yemen & Syria.  Before Q&A they noted that this was the 1st time that the Middle East was not part of the conversation.  However, Israel & Hezbollah were among the 1st questions which has no short term peaceable resolutions.  They needed the evening by warning that gerrymandering is a real threat.  A takeaway from the evening are the dangers of a centralized technology which can be  hacked & controlled.  The safety measure they ascribe is a paper trail to back-up & verify votes.  The major take away, the world is further & further away from being a safe place today.