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Thursday, December 28, 2017

Melinda's Top Ten Cultural Events for 2017

The following exhibits & events are listed in alphabetical order:

1.  Alvin Ailey Amer. Dance Theater premiers Jamar Roberts "Members Don't Get Weary" at City Ctr.

2.  Sebastian Barry discusses his novel "Days without End" at Irish Arts Center

3.  Matthew Bourne's "The Red Shoes" at City Center

4.  Ken Burns discusses his documentary The Viet Nam War at 92ndY

5.   David Hockney at the MET

6.  Edvard Munch:  Provocations at the MET Breuer

7.  New York City Ballet premiers Lauren Lovette's "Not Our Fate" at Koch

8.  New York Philharmonic:  Brahms Symph #2 and World Premier of Bent Sorensen's Evening

9.  New York Philharmonic conducted by Salonen performs Sibelius with Roozeman on Cello

10 Celeste Ng and Jennifer Egan in a Literary Discussion at Symphony Space

.    

Melinda's Top Ten Theater Picks for 2017

The following Broadway & Off Broadway shows are listed in alphabetical order by title:


1.  Actually (off Broadway) by Anna Ziegler  Whats On Stage Award for best new play

2.  Building the Wall (off Broadway) by Robert Schenkkan - Tony Award & Pulitzer Prize winning      
      playwright

3.  Jitney by August Wilson - two time Pulitzer Prize winning playwright

4.  Junk by Ayad Akhta - Pulitzer Prize winning playwright

5.  Pipeline by Dominique Morrisseau - Primus Prize, Jane Chambers Playwright Prize & Obie winner

6.  Sweat by Lynn Nottage - two time Pulitzer Prize winning playwright

7.  The Band's Visit by Itamar Moses

8.  The Children's Hour by Lucky Kirkwood - Critic's Circle Theater Award

9.  The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman

10  Tiny Beautiful Things (off Broadway) by Cheryl Strayed

"LEAP" the Animated Feature of an Aspiring Ballerina with Inspiring Dance Sequences

French directors Eric Summer & Eric Warin have made a charming animated movie due to its creative & credible choreography.  The story itself is flat; two pre-teen friends raised in an orphanage outside France aspire to great heights.  The girl, Felicie (Elle Fanning) wants to be a professional ballerina (despite having any dance training) and the boy, Victor (Nat Wolf) a great inventor.  Both show promising talents while living in a quaint orphanage run by a benevolent nun and cockeyed, hunchback overseer (Mel Brooks).  Felicie & Victor manage a daring escape & hitch a ride into the city of lights. Paris is breathtakingly beautiful but unwelcoming to two ragamuffins.  No surprise that with Felicie's ingenuity, tenacity and unflappability she gains a place in the French Ballet School and the lead role in the Nutcracker Ballet.  The film is set in the late 19th C while both the Eiffel Tower & the Statue of Liberty are under construction.  Both structures are featured in the film.  It's a haven for Victor's apprenticeship and becomes hellish, ridiculous chase scene between Felicie and the mother of her ballerina nemesis, Camille (Maddie Ziegler).  Ziegler is a dancing phenomena who first garnered notice on the TV reality show "Dance Moms".  The too predictable plot pits snobby Camille who was assured of the lead against Felicie.  Felicie finds her footing and the piece de resistance for wanting to dance.  The stereotypical villainous vindictive & wealthy mother is clumsy.  The heartwarming connection between Felicie and the ex-ballerina & impoverished maid to Camille's household is ho-hum.  But, what surpasses the barre is the superlative dance sequences that were made using frame animation on Aurele Dupont & Jeremie Belingard, two principal dancers for the Paris Opera Ballet.  Dupont is the de facto choreographer for the film.  The spectacular dancing is what gives this movie its grand jete' lift.  Kate McKinnon & Mel Brooks add their voices to the assemble'.  The sole pointe for watching this film  pirouettes off the vibrant & professional looking choreography.  Otherwise the movie's story's arch is adagio. Instead, go see the French stop animation film "My Life as a  Zucchini" for the entire family.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

"Jim and Andy and the Great Beyond" A Doc. of Jim Carey Filming "Man on the Moon" - Lunacy Personified

Andy Kaufman and Jim Carey share the same birthday, January 17th.  An interesting coincidence maybe, the doc. of Jim Carey portraying the late Andy Kaufman (b 1949-1984) in the biopic "Man on the Moon," is generated lunacy genius.   Kaufman's comic genius pushed the boundaries of comedy, performance art and role playing into the outermost stratosphere.  Carey's comedic/acting talents are no less stupefying for his ferocious fearlessness performing with no safety net.  Kaufman is best known & beloved for his role of Latka on Taxi.  Andy is also known & loathed for his wrestling antics that took the public down for the count as to the reality of his antagonistic antics and physical injuries.   "Man on the Moon" directed by Acad. Award winning Dir. Milos Forman was released in 1999 earning Carey an Acad. Award for his role.  The movie was not met with great financial or critical success.  Carey's career at the time of making "Man on the Moon" was at an apex atop mega-hit film series "Dumb & Dumber" and "Ace Ventura".   "Jim and Andy and the Great Beyond" is a doc. following Carey's personification of Andy Kaufman that completely eclipses the original movie and shines a strobe light into the psyche & artistry of provocative creative genius.  The original footage of the filmmaking narrated by Carey is exhausting, exhilarating & profound.  The doc. captures two extra-terrestial beings, Carey & Kaufman, being brazen, brilliant, exasperating & beyond the constraints of conventions.  Carey, never going out of character while film also involves portraying the numerous multi-complex characters Kaufman created.  This was an astonishing feat.  Trying to discern the distinctions between the actual individuals, their characters and the characters their characters portray is like stepping through the looking glass and falling down the rabbit hole.  Carey's brilliant commentary, candor & pensive reflections keep the zaniness from over powering the intensive character studies of two unique entertainers whose talented trajectories soar to heights beyond the pull of gravity.  "I can manipulate people's reactions  But, I'm not trying to be funny.  I just want to play with their heads."  (A Kaufman)  "My focus is to forget the pain of life.  Forget the pain, mock the pock, reduce it.  And laugh." (J Carey)  Dir. Christopher Smith stunning doc. "Jim and Andy and the Great Beyond" is a hybrid of humor and human angst.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

"A Ghost Story" Starring Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara is a Hypnotic Elegy to Life's Legacy

Dir/screenwriter David Lowery (b Amer 1980) has reunited his stars Casey Affleck & Rooney Mara from his previous film "Ain't Their Bodies Saints" which received a nomination for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance (2013).  Lowery's subdued & haunting film "A Ghost Story" received a nomination for the John Cassavetes Award (2017).   You'd think people would've learned by now from other movies such as "Ghost" (starring Patrick Swayze & Demi Moore) if you're dead, go to the light or you'll be stuck in a hellish purgatory.  Casey & Rooney are young couple in love.  You see them cuddling on the couch in their home & sleeping in bed while connected together.  It's while soundly sleeping & tightly knit they hear a loud noise that rouses them.  Casey bravely ventures first with Rooney wrapped in a sheet close behind.  Oddly, there's no evidence of an intruder or disturbance.  Casey casts one lingering look around before shutting off the light.  The two have been negotiating a  move which Casey hinders with his reluctance for change.  Casey is a musical composer with promising talent. Sequential timing in this languid movie is blurred.  He consents to the move but shortly after, he's killed in a car accident feet from his own driveway.   Rooney braces herself to identify the body in the hospital.  Her pain & incredulity are a disquieting mixture of grief and shock.  She covers Casey's face with the sheet then hurriedly walks away.  We're left in the room with Casey's covered corpse.  Only the audience can observe Casey's sheathed body with only dark slits for eyes move stealthily through the hospital.  Casey's shrouded form halts in front of a wall that opens into a brightly lit aperture.  After a few moments when Casey fails to move towards the undulating light, it quickly enfolds & disappears (big mistake!)   Casey remains shrouded and makes his way back to the home he shared with Rooney where he hovers over her.  In this surreal & stunning film we anguish for the ghost whose expressions we can't see but we know he's shackled within a world he can no longer partake.  A bumptious party goer pontificates on leaving behind a legacy while reveling with other party goers in the home from which Rooney has long since departed and to which Casey is marooned.  This eerie & sombre film is too wonderful and unique for most to realize how rare and special it is.  But, "Does anyone ever realize life while they live it…every, every minute."  (T Wilder)

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Extraordinary Elizabeth Strout "Portraits of America" Moderated by the Pompous Antonio Mondo

I'm a huge fan of Elizabeth Strout's novels.  Her brilliant novel "Olive Kitteridge was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and turned into a HBO series starring Bill Murray & Frances McDormand.  Her newest novel "Anything is Possible" was published this summer.  Is it possible that this acclaimed author's talk regarding her writings and "Portraits of America" could be waylaid in anyway?  Sadly, the answer is yes due to  the moderator's missives of questioning & obtuse commentaries.  Monda is the dir. of the Rome Film Festival and his presence should be restricted to film discussions.  But, when you have an exceptional writer & articulate guest, it's best to let them lead the conversation not highjack it.  I found him impertinent referring to her as Liz but this was the least of his crimes.  Ms. Strout came on stage looking striking with her hair up in a loose bun, large frame glasses and black blazer & white blouse.  She began by reading from her novel "Anything is Possible" establishing the unflappability of the young heroine Anna and her family's interesting dynamics.  She confessed to having her own mother issues.  The other book she read from was "My Name is Lucy Barton."  Mondo asked Strout how she would pitch this novel to a publisher today.  I sensed Strout was rankled by this question,"Thankfully, I don't have to pitch my stories.  But it's about a woman becoming herself and rising upwards in life." She shared a family photo that showed her then 2 year old daughter with her own grandmother.  Ms Strout paid tribute to Edna St. Vincent Millay (EVSM) by showing a beautiful photo of her as young girl and told us it was her work which first drew her as a  to poetry & literature.  Her initial aim was to be a poet and she mused about reciting aloud from memory many of EVSM's poems.   Mondo then proceeded to turn the discussion towards film and art asking inane & off topic questions:  her favorite film, least favorite film, favorite movie scene and favorite American artist.  The answers:  "The Sound of Music" because of Christopher Plummer, "The Wizard of Oz" because "Judy Garland creeps me out" the shower scene in "Psycho" and Edward Hopper.  "An evening covering Strout's illustrious career, from her Pulitzer Prize winning book to her latest work" was not the focus of "the intimate conversation."  I doubt Mondo has read any of Strout's works and he didn't expound on her "...renowned work which emulates the rich tapestry of America and underscores the anxieties that impact the greater national mood" as stated in the program.  He botched what should have been a literary & relevant topical discussion into a weak facsimile of James Lipton's "Inside the Actor's Studio."  I will continue to read works by Elizabeth Strout but will stoutly avoid any future talks involving Mondo.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

British Dir Joe Wright's DARKEST HOUR - Deserves Gold Statues for Gary Oldman and Kristin Scott Thomas

This summer we saw the release of DUNKIRK, a historic re-enactment of the brave soldiers stranded on the French shores rescued with the aid of brave British civilians in their small sea vessels.  DARKEST HOUR, directed by Joe Wright (b UK 1972 "Atonement") depicts several weeks in May 1940 when Europe had fallen to the fascist dictator in Germany and Britain was facing what many believed was impending invasion.  Both superb historic WWII epics captures the worst of human brutality and the uttermost of human bravery.  Wright does a superb job in directing a cogent and emotionally stirring film by targeting Churchill during the first weeks of his appointment as Prime Minister of Britain, a time when his assurances & rallying speeches galvanized his nation from the brink of surrender to clamor for war against tyranny at all cost.  Churchill (Gary Oldman in a tour de force performance) is seen in his finest hours with astride his foibles and pants down.  This is not a mawkish upper lip cliched movie.  This is a potent articulate reiteration of some of Churchill's most famous oratorical addresses to never surrender shoring up the barricades for the UK & Western Europe from collapsing to the Nazi regime.  Churchill, is seen as a heavy drinker, & prone to outbursts of anger & humility.  He's also seen as pensive, resourceful & fully aware of the burden he carried  The scene in which Churchill rides London's underground transport & converses candidly with his fellow passengers & citizens is remarkable first of all and extremely stirring.  Churchill's wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) and his steadfast secretary, Elizabeth (Lily James "Downton Abbey") were both admirable & doe eyed in their supportive roles.  King George (Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn) played a more pivotal and poignant role providing Churchill a potent ally.  DARKEST HOUR sheds light on a period in history that wavered most terribly close to a very frightening & disastrous outcome.  (Shame on FDR & the US for deferring to the "Neutrality Acts" at a time when our British ally were relying desperately for our help.)  Churchill's great historic speeches were delivered with the utmost conviction, with utmost consideration inspiring the only tenable outcome.  "You ask what is our aim?  I can answer in a word, victory.  Victory at all cost.  Victory in spite of all terror.  Victory, however, long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival".   A member of Parliament who understood Churchill considered a negotiation with Hitler through Mussolini questioned how he came to alter his stance.  'Those who never change their minds, never achieve anything."

Anselm Kiefer at the Met Breur: PROVCOATIONS

The Anselm Kiefer (b Germany 1945) exhibit PROVOCATIONS opened today at the Met Breur.  The 5th floor of the Met Breur hosts sketches, water colors & oil paintings from his expansive career. The jest of his body of work is determined to unmine the transition years in Germany post WWII that seemed to have been lost in translation & time.  Kiefer's brilliant haunting body of work emotes desolation and destruction.  There is an overall sombre melancholy but do not directly portray gruesome brutality.  The large scale multi-panel painting "Bohemia Lies by the Sea"  (1996) is the only work you see when first entering the exhibit.  This painting is reason in and of itself to come see this exhibit.  The first appearance is deceptively lighter in mood & color palette.   It is daytime and we're place along a narrow road that is surrounded by flowers in shades of pink.  Upon further reflection you will notice there are no trees, or people present and ground alongside is muddy and overrun.  Then it hits you that this is a morose landscape of decimated lands from battles and the pink florals are referencing red poppies that have become synonymous with the lives of fallen soldiers.  Drawing closer you can find facial images that are obscured from a distance.  Kiefer is looking back at WWII in Germany and finding the barren ruins upon which future generations have risen.  Still, there is a flicker of beauty in the incandescent glitter and softer color scheme.  Kiefer wrote the title of the painting at the top which he took from the title of a poem by Ingborg Bachman (b Vienna 1926-1973).   Bachman lived through WWII, Kiefer was born at the end of the war.  Both artists express a longing for what should have been if not for the war and the elusiveness to finding solace & serenity. "If Bohemia still lives by the sea, I'll believe in the sea again.  If it's me, then it's anyone for he's as worthy as me.  I want nothing more for myself.  I want to go under.  Under - that means the sea, there I'll find Bohemia again.  From my grave, I wake in peace.  From deep down I know now and I'm not lost." (I Bachmann)

Melinda's Top Ten Movie Picks for 2017

The following movies are in alphabetical order and are by American directors unless otherwise noted:


1.  Battle of the Sexes

2.  Darkest Hour (British) and Dunkirk (British)

3.  Get Out

4.  Harmonium (Japanese)

5.  Ladybird

6.  Lady McBeth (British)

7.  Loving Vincent (Polish)

8.   MUDBOUND

9.  The Florida Project

10. The Salesman (Iranian)

Lincoln's Warning for America and Other Thoughts-WARNING It was a Bait and Switch and I'm Gonna Bitch

I'm furious with the NY Historic Society's Lecture last night "Le Conversazioni Lincoln's Warning for America and Other Thoughts".  The conversation regarding Lincoln's comments was anticipated as a prescient & sagacious discussion.  Philip Gourevitch, a staff writer for "The New Yorker" was the featured guest moderated by Antoni Monda, a pompous orator credited as being a curator at the MoMA & Guggenheim.  In fairness, they were both pompous & pointless.  But, most egregious is the deceptive derailing of a discussion detailed as..."Young Abraham Lincoln once posed a foreboding question to an assembly of his peers:  What is the greatest threat to the republic?"  The conversation pertaining to Lincoln lasted only 2 minutes.  Gourevitch began by saying Lincoln gave a speech in Springfield {capital of IL} as a young atty. lasting 2 hours which anticipated the pending Civil War.  This was made 50 years after the Amer. Revolution and Lincoln drew from the Revolution which was fading from physical memory saying men of ambition will rise.  Monda said we are now going to see a clip from one of the his favorite films ever made "Greed" an early 20th C silent picture.  How did this connect to Lincoln I wondered.  It didn't, neither did anything that followed; slides of artworks, photos, film clips that had no bearing on Lincoln.  The arrogant erudite opinions on their art selections bore no connection to the evening's topic.  Furthermore, it was a total bore.  I couldn't take it anymore and left within the 1st 1/2 hour.  I wasn't alone in leaving and feeling aggrieved.  The evening was a flagrant ruse.  I felt like a rube.  And, I'm angry and will be getting in touch with personnel at the NY Historic Soc.  A man in the lobby was voicing my same frustration. "What was that? I came to hear what should have been an interesting talk about Lincoln and it had nothing to do with it!"  I said, "I totally agree".  The program was a scam.  The people at the desk shrugged and shook their heads.  Today,  I will speak with the person running the programs and voice my outrage & seek restitution.  I'm scheduled for tomorrow night's program at the NY Historic Society "Portraits of America with Elizabeth Strout." If I don't receive satisfaction from last night's talk, it will be my last.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Italian Dir/Screenwriter Luca Guadagnino's CALL ME BY YOUR NAME - No Shame in Love

"Call Me by Your Name" is an Italian art film.  It's a lyrical expose on love, literature, music, poetry, nature, cuisine and archeological treasures.  The many bounties life offers are presented on a platter.  This scenic film discovers the treasures of finding love & the freedom to experience & express it openly.  It's multi-lingual in Italian, French, German and English that flows fluently utilizing English sub-titles.  The idyllic setting is an Italian chateau during the summer of 1983. The year is markedly shown although there is a timeless aesthetic to the film's look (albeit rotary landlines  & 80's music anachronistic to the era).  The year bears significance marking the burgeoning HIV/AIDS pandemic that took the lives of so many people; mostly gay men.  Oliver (Armie Hammer, "The Social Network") is an American grad student visiting the rural estate of his archeology prof. & patriarch of the Perlman family (Michael Stuhlberg "A Serious Man").  The Perlman's precocious 17 yr. old son, Elio (Timothee Chalamet "Ladybird") is a musical prodigy.  There's a palpable, combative sexual tension that builds languidly over this lush, unhurried film until the inevitable attraction becomes "more than a special friendship."  Guadagnino's film is more layered  than a coming of age, sexual awakening story.  This is a luxurious & sensual film accentuating a cornucopia of life's bounties.  There's ambiguities regarding individual's sexual orientations.  And, an uncertainty if Oliver's dark lesion is a bruise or indicates an AID's sarcoma.   Elio's parents are very compassionate, intelligent and open minded.  They encourage Oliver & Elio to take a short vacation before Oliver must return to the states having noted their fondness for each other.  Their short lived romance leaves Elio morose. Elio's father has a heart to heart talk with him intending to being supportive & to revel in his son's fortune having found love.  Perhaps, the father professes too much.  His son is distressed to unearth the facade of his parent's idyllic marriage.  The film's overriding theme is the loss of time by not living one's life as one's true best self without shame or recrimination.  Oliver brandishes his Jewish heritage but masks his homosexuality.  The Perlmans consider themselves "Jews of discretion".  The last scene is on Hanukah which the family is celebrating with latkes, a menorah & Hanukah gilt.  The hidden message in the homonym of gilt & guilt is somewhat slick.  There is plenty of glorious music. Poetry is read aloud & translated from various languages.  The poetry helps speak for Guadaginino's elegiac & stirring film. "As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live". (Goeth)  "Life belongs to the living, and those who live must be prepared to change." (Goeth)  This film is a sumptuous feast.  It lingers on like an al fresco French meal.  It may lose appeal for those lacking patience & discerning tastes.      

Celeste Ng and Jennifer Egan Literary Discussion was Enlightening , Engaging and Rewarding

Jennifer Egan, author of "Manhattan Beach" and Celeste Ng author of "Little Fires Everywhere" were in discussion with each other regarding their writing processes with insights into their latest novels.  Egan's previous novel "A Visit from the Goon Squad" received the Pulitzer Prize. Ng's debut  novel "Everything I never Told You" won the ALA's Alex Award & the Asian/Pacific American Award.  Ms. Egan, the veteran writer of the two women having published 5 novels requested Ms Ng to be the guest speaker with her.  Their mutual admiration society was earnest & well deserved.  The 2 writers  had a fascinating & frank conversation describing their techniques & tribulations.  To begin the evening, actresses read only a small portion from each new novel.  Having read both, I was impressed by the small portion selected.  Both were significant to the moral dilemma of "Little Fires..." and the main character in "Manhattan..."  Celeste began by lauding "A Visit..." for stretching the boundaries of art & storytelling and then praised Jennifer for her mastery of writing a historic epic novel set in the 1940s.   Jennifer confessed she found writing in a conventional style more difficult than "Goon..."  She writes voluminous pages illegible longhand, then types them out & then begins to draw several outlines.  Her writing & rewriting becomes  subtractive.  With "Goon..." Jennifer said it was easier to write in fragments and then return to them rather than maintaining a continuum in "Manhattan".  She is initially drawn to a time and place and then finds the characters that would fit into an epoch. She knew she wanted a strong female heroine in NY during WWII.   She noted she intended to place the heroine Anna, her severely disabled sister and Eddie, a gangster together on Manhattan Beach.  She admitted it was a stretch.  I found it a preposterous, incredulous scenario but it moved the narrative.  Celeste's writing process is a loose frame work of events and characters.  She then goes back to fill in how the characters relate to each other and how they arrived at their behaviors.  For the most part, Celeste said she has pondered her characters & plot in her head before putting words to type.  The women shared their reliance on being in long term writing groups with the same people.  Sometimes they request the group be cheerleaders and offer only praise on what is working.  Other times, they share a portion of their novel and listen to whom or what their peers become focused.  Celeste said she was directed by her group away from making one of the characters feel too strongly as the aggrieved party in a paternity litigation.  Sometimes, they ask for pressure to hold them accountable for deadlines.  Celeste admits to trying to discern from other writers the magical process that empowers the writer, to which they both resolved is doing the work:  research, writing, rewriting and garnering helpful & supportive editing.  I would very much like to volunteer to be a member of either's writing group.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

GEMINI STARS/SCORPIO STARS by Gian Marco Lo Forte - Signs of Gay Views and Vulnerabilities

Lo Forte is an NYC writer/director who represents gay perspectives, lifestyles, love & torment.  GEMINI STARS/SCORPIO STARS is musical that mixes social media & performance art as a means of bridging understanding with LGBTQ individuals.  I commend the talented ensemble cast who combined acting, storytelling, multi-media,  choreography, music and vocals.  The production was a dispersed immersion into the interconnecting lives of several friends gathered to celebrate the holidays amongst their haven of friends with whom they formed a "family".  This family doesn't share bloodlines but they share kindred experiences, a history of alienation for their homosexuality and a profound sense of freedom having found acceptance in being their true best selves.  The internet has a major role in the play.  The internet & vlog writing has helped in finding a supportive, relatable community.  The opening video is a friendly & joyous FaceTime of 2 women showing how they each transform from a "dyke to feminine" appearance.  But ubiquitous acknowledgement for the LGBQT community having reached a mass level of acceptance, of tolerance or safety are misleading.  Are gay people disposable in society?  The question poised is met by both a yes & no answer from the cast.  Feelings of self-loathing are obstacles that many gays still grapple.  Lo Forte's clever melange of musical staging & storytelling shares coming out stories & experiences.  The explicit sharing of detailed sexual encounters was off-putting. The highlight of the show was the original songs written & performed by Colombian born Ombro de Oro.  The other artistic standout production  number shared the live actors with a stunning video using the glittery, golden curtain on stage as a flowing ocean.  The choreography simultaneous on stage & in the video was a knockout.  The lesson in self-defense which ended a rather magical & delightful overall performance was exhausting.  But its powerful messaging of dehumanizing the enemy struck a blow.  Wanting to be looked at and admired hit a universal theme performed in an erotic dance by choreographer/performer Daniel Diaz.  The earnest messaging of benefitting by learning from different people was extended to the audience.  All were invited to stay and mingle with the performers after the show.  There was a lot of talent showcased in this motley medley.  I hope these fine actors weren't only singing to the choir.  

Alvin Ailey Premiers Jamar Robert's MEMBERS DON'T GET WEARY - Superb Addition to the Repertoire

Jamar Roberts has been a dancer with the Alvin Ailey Theater since 2002.  Among his many accolades as a dancer extraordinaire he was named "1 of 25 to watch" by Dance Magazine (2007) & graced their cover in 2013.  He won Outstanding Performer at the New York Dance & Performance "Bessie" Awards & was a featured guest star with London's Royal Ballet.  Roberts with his statuesque presence is a regal and versatile dancer.  His artistic skills imbibe a musicality binding movement & music.  Roberts can now add outstanding choreographer to his artistic talents with his premiere for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater MEMBERS DON'T CRY.  This is a remarkable debut for the company destined to become a favored standard amongst its illustrious repertoire.  Roberts didn't  shy away from choreographing to the music of legendary jazz/blues artist John Coltrane.  He embraced Coltrane's "Dear Lord" & "Ole" with soulful elongated notes, complex tonal qualities & astounding syncopation.  The marvelous dancers embodied the music's plaintive sounds, its riff and accentuated expressions.  MEMBERS DON'T WEARY is a spellbinding personification of Coltrane's music.  Every note, every measure pulsated through the dancers extending a visceral sensation. Neither did Roberts shy away from prescient social issues of racial oppression.  The first movement "Dear Lord" pays homage to Alvin Ailey's iconic REVELATIONS.  The dancers are adorned with large floppy hats and move languidly and pleadingly, arms extended upward, moving in groups as a unit.  Hardships, tenacity and kinship are expressed with poignancy & grace.  Roberts is to be lauded for his costume designs.  The dancers wore shifting shades of pale blue to indigo with similar styles enhancing a seamless aesthetic to the choreography.  Brandon Baker's subtle but effecting lighting & scenic design adhere to the movements and story telling of Robert's remarkable work.  The dancing in  "Ole" resonates strong & mournful images of systemic racial strife.  Roberts quotes Ralph Ellison whose words come alive with indelible spiritedness in Roberts astounding art form combining Coltrane's music and the phenomenal Ailey dancers.  "The blues is an impulse to keep the painful details & episodes of a brutal experience alive in one's aching consciousness...to transcend it not by the consolation of philosophy but by squeezing from it a near-tragic, near-comic lyricism."  Applaud Ailey's artistic director Robert Battle who entrusts & supports members of the company to explore their burgeoning talents.  Mr Battle at the helm of Alvin Ailey in searching for talented artists wishing to express their heart's desire nurtured a masterpiece in his own backyard.      

Friday, December 8, 2017

Edvard Munch Has Much More Punch than a Scream - Must See Show at Met Breur

For those who have lived under a rock, Munch's painting "The Scream" is an iconic image with imitation emoijis.  If you think there's anguish in Munch's psyche you'll be convinced by the many macabre subject matters he paints.  And, you'll perceive Munch (b Norway 1863-1944) as much more than a one painting anomaly.  The dark & macabre motif paintings "Sickness and Death" include paintings of his mother who died of tuberculosis & his beloved older sister who died in her teens.  Both women died when he was a young boy.  "Diseases, insanity, and death were the angels that attended my cradle, and since then have followed me throughout my life." He was an artist full of angst and genius.  The large scale portraits are haunting and mesmerizing.  The galleries have numerous self-portraits made during different periods in his life.  "Self-Portrait With Cigarette" (1895) shows a young Munch mystically appearing out of a dark background with a baffled, uncomprehending stare.  In his later self-portrait "Between the Clock and the Bed" (1940-43) he is a rigid figure standing still in the doorway to a bedroom next to a grandfather clock as if blending in as a piece of furniture.  But, "Self-Portrait in Hell" (1903) is most telling.  Here he is poised nude, his body pale.  His figure divides the painting with mahogany shades on one side and flaming reds on the other casting a red glow on his apprehensive face.  He emotes an acceptance of pending purgatory.  Munch pays homage to Van Gogh's "Starry Night".  He painted a vivid portrait of himself lying in bed, bleeding profusely from his hand while a perplexed female is seated next to him.  He self-inflicted a gun wound after a torrid affair ended.  Still, there are rich landscapes that are serene and enchanting.  "Nature is not only all that is visible to the eye, it also includes the inner pictures of the soul." I favored the paintings where the faces are blurred and figures appear to be withdrawing from view.  As much as Munch battled his demons of depression, drinking and poor physical health, the exhibition is not oppressive.  One comes away appreciating the artist's mastery of color who doesn't shy away from agony, angst and nature's bounties.    

Juilliard Dances 2017 4 World Premieres by Bryan Arias, Gentian Doda, Roy Assaf and Gustavo Sansano

Juilliard has commissioned original works by notable choreographers for the Juilliard Dance Division  since 2002.  This allows for all the students to experience working in a professional creative process. This Fall's program featured works by 4 international choreographers: Bryan Arias (b Puerto Rico), Gentian Doda (b Albania), Roy Assaf (b Israel) and Gustavo Sansano (b Spain).  Despite 4 different nationalities, three of the works were reminiscent of each other.  Assaf's work stood out from the others.  It was an absurdist theatrical performance.  The dancers made various odd monotone sounds in their group formation & humoresque movements.  One dancer sang vocals for "Can't Help Falling in Love".  The dancers recited numerous poetic incantations "If you put anger in it, it becomes anger" "If you put love in it, it becomes love" while moving in sync with their groups.  The dancers all wore androgynous yellow/flesh tone leotards.  One dancer intermittently skipped across the stage reciting "If you put a bow on it, it becomes a bow."  There's another saying, you can put earrings on a pig but it's still a pig.  I did not dig this ludicrous facsimile of dance.  I recalled seeing a work Assaf did for The LA Dance Project "II Acts for the Blind." These works were interchangeable.  I didn't care for either but there's something to be said for the lyrical text in "Can't Help...".  The 3 other works had a common meme of minimal movement, unified formations, androgynous costumes and sombre  glazed emoting.  The most creative of these was Arias' "The Sky Seen From the Moon".  This was the 1st piece on the program and there was a pre-performance onstage before the "official" start for the evening.  I liked the costuming for the dancers in varying billowy pants & tops in a palette of pale grays to indigo.  The costumes & dim lightings cast the illusion of moon's surface.  The small roughly shaped moon suspended from above was repeatedly pointed & alluded to; too obvious.  The 2nd movement the moon was raised and ominous, futuristic lights were lowered casting an interesting oppressive mood.  The surprising juxtapositions of a classical pas de deus was a welcomed change.  And, there was a fabulous male trio who intertwined in a fluid continuum.  Otherwise, if it weren't for the student's enthusiasm, I found the mostly similar aesthetic tedium.  Nonetheless, the joist of the evening was to enhance the Juilliard dance students' opportunities to work on a highly professional level, adapt & hone their skills, collaborate as a group, transcribe the artistic directors' visions and bring their unique interpretations into the mix.  A major objective was to adhere to a uniformed company making it difficult to single out individual performers.  But, I spotted a male dancer from the class of 2018 and a female dancer from the class of 2017 who shone brightly.  

Thursday, December 7, 2017

KEN BURNS discussing his Book Tie in to PBS Series THE VIETNAM WAR at the 92ndY

Ken Burns (KB) is an award winning documentarian of our country's history.  He's an artist, historic & a genius.  His films aid us to ponder, understand, appreciate our legacies on a profound & enriching level.  KBs' PBS series THE VIETNAM WAR is a project he's collaboratively worked on for over 10 years.  He was introduced by Columbia film Prof. Annette Insdorf and an 8 minute clip shown from "Deja Vu" the1st in the 10 segment series of 18 hr. compiled doc.  The beginning establishes the ending of the Viet Nam (VN) doc.  Footage is shown in reverse, bombs rising up from the flaming carnage, soldiers marching backwards, destruction restored, helicopters rising from the ocean onto naval ships when fleeing Saigon and many disturbing iconic images of war's carnage including the killings of civilians.  The sound of a helicopter's whoosh that began in "Apocalypse Now" is heard before any visuals alerting us to what we're about to see.  The opening clip includes US veterans recounting their traumas of war which no one talked about then.  A Vietcong soldier "In war there are no winners, only destruction."  KB called the VN war the most divisive war in our nation since the Civil War.  His is to examine the cruelties & mercies of war, political deceit & integrity, patriotism and the insurmountable agonies of war.  KB used a triangulated perspective {US, north & south VN}.  The jolting interviews, photo compilations & news footage is astounding & heart wrenching. Our involvement in VN was 30 years of failing & suffering spanning 5 presidencies.  Nixon misrepresented  a promise in his inaugural address {seen in the beginning} "An honorable end to the war.  The people of VN, north & south have endured an unspeakable weight of suffering for a generation and they deserve a better fate." The devastating human toll took the lives of 58,000 Americans, & an estimated 3 million Vietnamese.  I was completely fascinated with whatever Burns said.  Unfortunately, Insdorf was in conversation with KB to promote her new film book along with Burn's new book tied to his PBS series; a detriment to hearing more from this extraordinary genius.  KB spoke about the music & sound effects intwined with the doc.  All the royalty fees were waived, including those from the Beatles which is a first.  He credited PBS & corp. sponsors for funding the 30 million expense making the film.  KB said editing is more than 50% of the process it's subtractive  cutting from more than a 1,000 interviews using only 79 Americans and 30 Vietnamese.  Numerous  scholars were used as references but didn't speak on the film.  KB also voiced his contempt for the recent event in Charlottesville.  At Q&A, a student asked him about the influence of his NH alma mater.  He delighted everyone telling her he'd be able to get her in & shared a humbling experience.  He isn't finished with the gist of material in the US.  His next projects are the history of Country Music, Ali & Hemingway.

THE PARISIAN WOMAN Written by Beau Willimon Stars Uma Thurman and Philip Soo Is Slick Political Goo

THE PARISIAN WOMAN is a prescient American political satire stuffed with countless jabs at the preposterous compass ass in the White House.  Therein lies its wit, which at times is laid on thick.  Perhaps, as a facade for the mildly entertaining soap opera of salacious manipulations to garner positions of political power.  Does this formula sound familiar?   As my clever companion noted afterwards it felt like an episode of HOUSE of CARDS.  Kudos! Playwright Beau Willimon is the creature for the original series HOUSE of CARDS.  PARISON is a pastiche of "HOUSE," "PARISIAN," "DANGEROUS LIAISONS" with added punch at political pundits.  Chloe (Uma Thurman "Dangerous Liaisons") is the glamorous socialite wife of Tom (Josh Lucas "Sweet Home Alabama") a successful, tax attorney aspiring for a seat on an appellate court.  The married couple  understand that love can become something else.  Ambition is their consummate communal goal so  anything goes so long as it propels them up the political hierarchy.   Peter (Martin Csokas) is Chloe's insanely jealous lover who loses his charms when it's clear he doesn't have the president's ear.  Tom entrusts Chloe's adroit social skills to advance his judicial aspirations.  Chloe without a career/children is still held in high regard & demand at powerful dinner party invitations.  Jeanette  (Blair Brown "Copenhagen" Tony Award) a White House insider includes Chloe & Peter to her dinners & seeks to establish a friendship with Chloe.  Jeanette introduces Chloe to her beautiful & brilliant daughter Rebecca (Philip Soo "Hamilton") who recently graduated Harvard Law School.  Sexual secrets abound in the DC town but few are completely shocking.  However, Chloe & Rebecca's video tapped sexual liaisons shock & repel Jeanette.  Chloe wields the threat of revealing these tapes which would only harm Jeanette's daughter unless she ensures the president endorses Tom as the judicial candidate.  The handsome set and clever staging worked well.  The glaring lighting & messaging between scenes highlighted the technology today that wields enormous control to connect & dissect society.   THE PARISIAN WOMAN's political satire was mildly amusing sustained by a fine ensemble cast.  The more understated quick-witted muses on love toppled the Washington play poking fun at a twit who tweets troubling idiocies.   "Jealousy is a luxury for the young."  "Arguing is for married people not lovers."  "Love can sour and hearts get broken."

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Transgender People in the Military: A Conversation with Chase Strangio & Charles Kaiser

The hot topic issue of banning transgender individuals from serving in the military was a focus of the discussion last night with Chase Strange, Staff Atty. with ACLU LGBT & AIDS Project and Charles Kaiser Assoc Dir of LBGT Soc. Science & Public Policy Ctr at Hunter College.  This past August, Trump signed a directive banning transgender individuals from serving in the military in any capacity.  Trump also banned funding for transgender reassignment for military personnel except in cases where treatments have begun & halting treatment would cause health issues. What does this mean? Does this mean transgender individuals serving in the military will be removed?  Their pensions halted?  Clearly, this means war regarding the civil rights of transgender & LGBT people in our nation.  What will occur is murky.  Def. Sec. Jim Mattis has until Feb. 21, 2018 to clarify & implement nat'l policy concerning transgender individuals now serving in the military.  Currently, there are 4 major cases pending in the courts challenging Trump's exclusionary plans which arguably violate equal rights & nondiscrimination statutes.  The history of LGBT in the armed forces has been subjugated to malignant treatment since Clinton's 1994 policy of "Don't ask, don't tell" a cowardly, noncommittal endorsement leaving the door for excluding openly gay individuals from military service.  This US policy was overturned by Pres. Obama in 2010 allowing homosexuals to serve openly.  It's illegal to discriminate against individuals serving in the military on the basis of their sexual orientation.  HOWEVER, this repeal didn't change the policy to permit transgender individuals to serve.  To clarify, Trump is re-enforcing a ban that has been in place and is ensuring transgenders don't obtain the right to be in the military.  Strangio, a transgender male, estimates 14,000 transgender individuals currently serve; the estimate is as low as 4,000.  It could be argued that the legal right to discriminate against transgender individuals may have been obscured by representing Chelsea who was convicted of leaking classified information.  She was charged with 22 counts of espionage & plead guilty to 20 charges.  She received a 35 year sentence in July 2013.  Obama commuted her sentence in Jan 2017.  She was released this past May.  Last night Strangio didn't clarify the ACLU's decision to represent her.  I found his impassioned statement from an article in May 2017 "It is a remarkable gift to the world that Chelsea will be able to grow & fight alongside us for justice...Her fight to be herself, to access the medical care that she needed, & to gain her freedom have transformed law & society for the better.  The urgency of those fights for so many in our communities will continue and Chelsea's past & future will no doubt be a critical force in moving towards a more just society for everyone."

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Liz Gerring Dance Company Performs HORIZON at the Joyce - Modern Dance to Rejoice

Artistic director Liz Gerring's HORIZON (2015) is a one hour modern dance that moves through time and space with exhilarating and dazzling choreography.  Working with her longtime musical collaborator, Michael Schumacher, they create a strong kinetic energy that is equally powerful in the subtlest movements and in the maintained staid positions.  The skillful dancers are astonishingly strong and lithe.  The original & interesting pairings all combined to create a celestial sense of boundless energy countered with a retracted pull of gravity.  The set was cleverly lit with subtle changes in hue and a constant horizontal white light at a height just above the reach of the dancers.  The costuming of varying athletic & street clothing also benefitted the multiplicity of the composition while connecting a harmonic balance.  The 7 dancers, 3 women & 4 men, are all to be commended for their athletic ability and musicality.  The tumbling gymnastics seemed a bit jarring to the fluidity of the composition.   Bravo though to a creative collaborative work of music, staging & choreography by Ms. Gerring and her Dance Company; a fervent voice in the world of modern dance.  The one hour HORIZON seemed to rise and set fleetingly.  As Ms. Gerring explains, "There is an inherent pleasure in watching bodies move.  It's the pure human spirt of just moving and to me there is something really noble about it."  Ms. Gerring has praise for her dancers, "Just the fact that these dancers have committed themselves to what they are doing, that is beautiful."

British Playwright Lucky Kirkwood's THE CHILDREN - Brilliant, Blistering and Unsettling

THE CHILDREN by Lucky Kirkwood (b UK 1984) is a play with a radioactive power that gets under your skin leaving an indelible mark.  It's both an understated & fierce play that acts as an  awakening and a reckoning.  Kirkwood's scathing writing holds us accountable for our lives and the lives we leave for the next generation.  The three character one act play is set in a cottage in the English countryside not far from a nuclear power plant.  The play opens with Rose (Francesca Annis) bleeding profusely from her nose while Hazel (Deborah Findlay) tries her best to stem the flow while apologizing for having caused the accident.  Rose inadvertently startled Hazel with her surprise visit after not being in touch for 30 some years.  The clever set of a ramshackle kitchen cottage is poisedw off kilter and framed with a dark border.  This adds to the taught feelings of constraint and mounting tension.  Rose's visit Hazel & her husband Robin (Ron Cook) is unexpected and perhaps somewhat unwelcome.  The loquacious banter billows from the mundane questioning regarding Hazel's children leaking towards the toxic underlying vitriol that has poisoned their relationships.  Rose, Hazel & Robin were all among the technical engineers that launched the nuclear power plant decades prior.  It just recently had a major meltdown.  Mayhem and destruction plagues the area from its radioactive release threatening lives & sustainability.  Over the drawn out course of tea to supper to lights out, much is revealed including the adulterous affair between Rose and Robin.  Hazel raised 4 children while working at the nuclear plant.  Hazel & Robin are also grandparents.  Rose remained childless.  Rose's inquiries after the children & grandchildren is the harkening to one's legacy and the responsibilities of leaving a viable world for the future.  Rose voluntarily returned to aid in the clean-up and is seeking other volunteers.  She is seeking those who are older or without children to replace younger workers.  The clean-up will most certainly be lethal for those involved but left unresolved, a massive fatal fallout will occur.  Kirkwood's multilayered messaging is carpe diem; dance, love, live a life that is constantly moving.  Moreover, she's sounding an alarm.  Kirkwood rings the bell loudly to take ownership of the shit we've left behind and clean up our messes before there isn't a future left for our children & our children's children.  "I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee." (Donne)   THE CHILDREN is a play for all to see.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Guillermo del Toro's "The Shape of Water" Stars Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer and Michael Shannon

Guillermo del Toro's (b Mexico 1964 "Pan's Labyrinth") film "The Shape of Water" is a fantasy love story that shimmers with magic and shaded by prejudice & hatred.  Giles (Richard Jenkins) narrates this love story immersed in covenants & theology.  Giles is the artist neighbor & confidant to Eliza (Sally Hawkins) the heroine of this mythical movie & unlikely love story set in the US in the early 1960s.  Eliza is mute, not deaf & not "dumb" as she is pejoratively referred to by a co-worker who keeps tabs on the interracial friendship between Eliza and Zelda (Octavia Spencer).  The women work the midnight shift cleaning up at a mysterious & ominous scientific lab.  Zelda & Giles have endearing friendships with Eliza and are able to interpret sign language.  All 3 are treated as subterranean citizens; Eliza for being mute, Giles for being gay and Zelda for being black.  Director/screenwriter Guillermo del Toro (b Mexico 1964 "Pan's Labyrinth) submerges racism, homophobia, sexism and US/Russian enmity leagues beneath a fanciful, imaginative story of love & loss, tragedy & delight.  An unlikely friendship is formed between Eliza and an amphibian aqua man creature capable of understanding language, emotions and music.  Strickland (a most menacing Michael Shannon) is the ruthless, sadistic head of operations.  Strickland captured this creature from the Amazon's where he was worshiped as a god and brought him back to be studied by the military; mostly to gain an edge over the Russians who've leaped ahead of the US in the space race.  Eliza & Zelda are assigned to clean the lab where the amphibian is being held and tortured by the villainous Strickland.  Strickland's tormenting the amphibian costs him two of his fingers.  Eliza befriends this magnificent looking "ET" creature who bears all the traits that define one as human including humanity & healing powers.  When Eliza learns Strickland plans to dissect the amphibian she enlists the help of her friends and the unlikely aid of a Russian spy who has spied on their burgeoning relationship.  The look of the film has a magical, neon glow.  The acting by the incredible cast creates   a plausible credibility to this fanciful, farfetched semi-erotic fairy tale.  The actors forged sympathy for the characters and their pitiful plights.   The mores to be garnered from "The Shape of Water" leak through in droplets.  Guillermo anchors a "Splash" ending.  "The Shape of Water" resonating beauty is formed by refracted glares at hatred seen through a misty magical lens.   "Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty."