Dance at the Music Center Presents: Tania Pérez-Salas’s “Ex-Stasis” and “Made in Mexico” at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles

May 17, 2015

By Jane Rosenberg

In the magnetic opening sequence of Tania Pérez-Salas’s Ex-Stasis, a lone woman stands in a spotlight, long hair shrouding her face. Music erupts and, as a scattering of dancers recline on the stage, watching her intently, she begins her solitary dance. At first her movements appear to be simple rifts on Sixties’ rock or Seventies’ disco. Momentum builds: her arms flap, her head whips, her hair flies, and her torso shudders. Throbbing with intensity, she merges with the pulsing music, becoming a Maenad in a Dionysian revel. Does she express joy, rage, animal desire, or all three at once? It’s a breathtaking foray into raw emotion – a precisely choreographed, yet uninhibited exploration.

If only the choreography continued at this level of investigation – then the ecstasy of Ex-Stasis could have opened our minds and bodies to the rewards and perils of letting go. As it progressed, however, clichés mounted; and the ultimate experience was dampened by a loss of focus owing, in part, to curtains of thin, plastic sheeting used to mostly distracting effect.

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“Ex-Stasis”

 

In one effective sequence, however, the plastic sheeting works as a poetic device. Three female dancers, topless and wearing nude colored briefs, stand at evenly spaced intervals behind the wall of translucent plastic. They press various body parts against the material; they push, claw, and tug at it, turning their bodies this way and that. References abound: fetuses in the womb, hatching larvae, sci-fi creations in the laboratory. The plastic, however, continues to be used scene after scene, and its overuse overwhelms the choreography, which becomes merely a push/pull with the sheets.

When finally an ensemble takes the stage and we have an opportunity to see what the troupe can do, for no discernible reason the dancing occurs behind yet another wall of plastic, obscuring our engagement with the dancers. Even when at rest and hanging in the background, the sheeting distracts us from the dancers. This is partially the fault of the lighting design, which flattens and obfuscates the dancers rather than creating sculptural, solid, and vivid forms.

Tania Pérez-Salas, born in Mexico City, founded her company in 1994. Though they have traveled to dance festivals worldwide, this is their first time in Los Angeles. For their short run at the Ahmanson Theatre, they are performing both Ex-Stasis, choreographed in 2010 and Made in Mexico (Macho Man) from 2014. Though both dances date from the present century they have the feel of decades gone by.

The dance vocabulary used by Pérez-Salas could be a catalogue of popular dance moves from the nineteen seventies: undulating torsos, rocking pelvises, arms held overhead and spun, and the bouncing bodies of boy bands from the sixties. She also favors collapsing bodies onto the floor, all too ubiquitous in contemporary choreography. One might call it Pop Art in dance, but given her statements about channeling emotion and instinct, this seems too intellectual a slant for her perspective on movement.

Made in Mexico suffers most from its references to the past. In her statement of intent she seeks to “illustrate male and female gender roles in contemporary Mexican society as perceived through the culture’s strong emphasis on masculinity…” – a relevant and commendable objective to be sure, but one that suffers from an over reliance on clichés and stereotypes.

Riding a bucking bull or horse, fingers pointing like guns, male strutting and posing, are all movements that conspire to undermine any subtlety Pérez-Salas achieves in the more nuanced segments. What does compel is the coupling of male and female partners in their dominant/submissive entanglements. Office chairs, rolled across the stage, are used to often surprising effect, as they become a third partner in the dance.

Unfortunately, two women, dressed in disco black, dance in a scene that, for me, derails the piece. They strut in high heels and shiny leggings – the image of punk party girls. Reveling in their powerful femaleness, they mouth the words to “Complejo de Amor,” but the impact is lost, made comical by the reference to karaoke. For sheer power and a statement on female gender roles, nothing beats Angelin Preljocaj’s chorus line of women in his ravishing, Les Nuits, as they move from super-model posturings to gestures of domination and anger.

Pérez-Salas walks a tightrope in Ex-Stasis and Made in Mexico. She’s caught between her desire to make commentary on male and female stereotypes and the dangers of allowing her dances to fall into those stereotypes. Perhaps one of the two pieces paired with her 1998 work, Waters of Forgetfulness, or The Hours, inspired by Michael Cunningham’s novel, would have been a more diversified introduction to her work from a choreographic, musical, and visual standpoint.

At its best, her vision offers us a theatrical, entertaining, and sensual experience provided by a troupe of committed dancers who manage to carve out their individual personas in these two works. In the future, one hopes that we, in Los Angeles, will see more subtle explorations from this choreographer who clearly has a passion for dance.

Dancers:
Jairo Cruz, Nicole Erickson, Veronique Giasson, Sabra Johnson, Eduard Martínez, Sarah Matry-Guerre, Marcus McCray, Jose Roberto Solís, Diana Sorokova, Po-Lin Tung, Myrthe Weehuizen

Production Ex-Stasis:
Choreography: Tania Pérez-Salas
Music: Meredith Monk, Monolake, Pan Sonic, Chris Isaak, Gustavo Cerati y Digitalverein
Scenography: Juan Alberto Orozco
Lighting design: Xóchitl González Quintanilla
Costume design: Sara Salomon, Miguel Garabenta
Music editing: Tono MX, Claudio Pezzoti y Federico Quintana

Production: Made in Mexico (Macho Man)
Choreography: Tania Pérez-Salas
Music: Nortec Collective, Tropa Vallenata, Todos Tus Muertos, Panóptica Orchestra, Rojo Córdova & Cuarteto Latinoamericano, Javier Álvarez
Lighting design: Gabriel Torres Vargas
Costumes: Cía Tania Pérez-Salas

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Photo by Andrea Lopez, courtesy of Dance at the Music Center

To read more opera, dance and music reviews by Jane Rosenberg click HERE.

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Jane Rosenberg is the author and illustrator of  SING ME A STORY: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for Children.   Jane is also the author and illustrator of  DANCE ME A STORY: Twelve Tales of the Classic Ballets.  

 


An Appreciation: Remembering The King

May 15, 2015

By Devon Wendell

I just cannot process the fact that B.B. King is no longer on this earth. How can it be? It’s like trying to imagine life without oceans, trees, and air to breathe.

No one in history changed the approach and sound of the electric guitar like B.B. King. Sure, there were T-Bone Walker and Charlie Christian before B.B. came along, but no one made the guitar sing like the king did. That bright tone, that fast vibrato, those trills and string bends all made the electric guitar sound even more vocal than the human voice.

B.B. King

B.B. King

B.B. played with a confidence and finesse that has influenced generations of guitarists such as Freddie King, Albert King, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Peter Green, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and just about every blues and rock guitar player that I can think of, including myself. Even Miles Davis claimed to be inspired by B.B. King’s guitar voicings in his autobiography.

My greatest memories of B.B. are personal. After I got my first guitar at the age of 12, I would obsessively practice along with his records, trying to learn every lick. The albums that I focused on the most were Live At The Regal Theater, Live At The Cook County Jail, and Live And Well. I wore those records out. I knew that if I could learn to play that clean and with that much finesse that I could not only be taken seriously by adults, but I could also play in any genre of music.

I was right. After a lot of hard work, I was taken seriously and I could make that B.B. King style fit anywhere. But no matter how much so many of us have tried to imitate his style, there was only one B.B. King. Anyone can discern the copy cats from the real thing by listening to one note. That’s all it takes.

On my 21st Birthday, I spent at least a couple of hours upstairs at The Blue Note in N.Y.C. hanging with B.B. after one of his spectacular performances there. We spoke about music, life, the road and women. He briefly let me play his beloved guitar Lucille and warned me about how the music business can wear you down in time. He was right about everything. I know that more today than I did then. But at that time I felt completely lost. I was head first down in the bottle and had briefly considered quitting music. That changed for me on that cold January night with B.B., and I decided not to stop playing for anything.

B.B. King never gave up in any situation and displayed more true dignity, strength, and humility in the face of adversity and hardship than any musician I have ever met.

That memory still keeps me going strong, even when the chips are down. I still go back to that night when I think of putting down the guitar. What B.B. had passed on to me that night was not mere wisdom, but the strong spiritual connection felt within the heart of the blues. B.B. King’s sound is reminiscent of that feeling we get when we first fall in love. No one could get to that mournful yet celebratory place that is the blues quicker and more gracefully than him.

B.B. King may have passed away on May 14th, 2015 at the age of 89, but his spirit and music will live on forever. I pray that the true king of the blues shall rest in peace. Thank you B.B., for giving me and so many around the world a true purpose in life.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon “Doc” Wendell click HERE.


Live Music: The Real Vocal String Quartet in a Siskiyou Music Project Concert

May 11, 2015

By Don Heckman

Talent, Oregon. “Real Vocal String Quartet.” The words on the program guide seemed almost contradictory. What was it to be? One or the other? A vocal ensemble or a string quartet?

But when the four gifted members of the Real Vocal String Quartet began their concert Sunday night in the performance room of the beautiful Paschal Winery in Talent, Oregon, all the seemingly contradictory aspects of their name immediately disappeared.

The transformation began with “Kyili Turam,” a piece inspired by the Quartet’s fascination with world music, in this case from Macedonia. Starting with a full bodied string quartet opening, the four instrumentalists – still playing — moved close to their vocal microphones and enriched the string sounds with lush, four voice harmonies. The effect was astonishing, orchestral in its size, utterly gripping in its emotional impact. And it was just the beginning of the memorable program offered by the versatile artists of the Real Vocal String Quartet – violinists Irene Sazor and Alisa Rose, violist Matthias McIntire and cellist Jessica Ivry.

The Real Vocal String Quartet at the Paschal Winery

To say that the music was imaginative in every aspect of the word would only begin to describe a program that reached across a boundary-less array of genres. Classical, jazz, blues, Americana, fiddle music, world music and much more, all of it performed via a mesmerizing blend of authenticity and brilliant inventiveness – vocally, instrumentally and in combinations of both.

Titles were either unannounced or identified too quickly to register. But no matter; the significant information resided in the fact that most of the music was original, written or arranged by the four players – offering even more evidence of the expansive skills of this remarkable ensemble.

There were far too many highlights to list in the group’s eclectic selections. One of the most fascinating was a free improvisation, a completely spontaneous, unwritten, on-the-spot, brilliant four part composition. It’s a technique other groups have tried – dating back to the free jazz era of the ’60s. But I’ve rarely heard it delivered with the Vocal String Quartet’s inventive musical authority.

Another piece – violist Matthias McIntire’s whimsically titled “California Residents Blissful Despite Impending Earthquake” – displayed another quality, employing the group’s vocal/instrumental timbres with impressionistic impact.

The Real Vocal String Quartet (Matthias McIntire, Jessica Ivry, Irene Sazor and Alisa Rose)

In addition to their remarkable skills as an inventive musical collective, the four principals of the Vocal Jazz Quartet also displayed unique solo abilities. Each revealed convincing improvisational abilities. The two violinists – Irene Sazor and Alisa Rose – tossed riffs back and forth, slipping and sliding through blues licks, with the ease of a bebop jam. McIntire added an equal jazz authenticity to his soloing. And cellist Jessica Ivry energized the rhythm with Ron Carter-like bass lines interspersed with arching, classical counter melodies.

It was, in short, an evening overflowing with much to enjoy. The Real Vocal String Quartet, despite its seemingly confusing title, left this listener, no doubt among many others, with an evening that will be long remembered.

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First photo by Faith Frenz.

Second photo by Lenny Gonzalez, courtesy of Real Vocal String Quartet.


Live Music: Deana Martin at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

May 9, 2015

By James DeFrances

Perhaps we should be referring to her as the “Princess of Cool.” Last Sunday night, singer Deana Martin, daughter of the original “King of Cool,” Dean Martin, appeared at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. in Bel-Air. It was an evening of musical enrichment, great food and big smiles.

The adoration Deana’s fans have for her is unmatched by most other performers. At times throughout the night it seemed like a love-fest more than a concert! But Deana has a thorough understanding of what presenting a well-balanced show entails, and therefore she gives the onlookers metered doses from her figurative pyramid of entertainment. Whether it’s singing a song, telling a joke, recalling a story or providing commentary for her photo and video presentation, Deana is in complete control.

Deana Martin

Deana Martin

The room was full of friends, family, and legends of Hollywood’s golden age. Although it was an evening of classics and standards from the Great American Songbook, Deana has a knack for making something that’s very vintage into something entirely current. She also performed an abundance of her father’s songs, much to the delight of the audience, but she placed a very evident “Deana Martin” watermark on the tunes.

Songs like: “You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Loves You” and “Ain’t That a Kick in The Head” were crowd pleasers. Deana went on to perform an electronic duet of “True Love” which she recorded with her father at Capitol Records’ studios. The duet was complete with audio-video monitors of Dean singing with an orchestral backing track. Other tunes that dotted the set list included an engaging version of “Bye Bye Blackbird,” a punch in the face version of “That’s Life” and an audience participation version of “That’s Amore.”

My personal favorite of the night was a tender, slow swing, bossa style arrangement of “Quando, Quando Quando.” The Pat Boone ’60s hit attracted the complete attention of the audience to center stage. And even though ”Quando, Quando Quando” is a song that’s done frequently by other singers, Deana’s breathtakingly good read and stellar arrangement left a vivid memory.

Deana Martin and her band.

Deana Martin and her band.

Expertly backed by a small group of Hollywood A-list musicians – including pianist Rick Krive, drummer Kendall Kay, saxophonist Mark Visher, bassist Chuck Berghofer and guitarist John Chiodini – the only way to go was up. But shows like these aren’t rare occurrences for Deana who, along with her man-of-many-hats husband John Griffith, completes over 280 performances annually all around the globe.

Deana is sprightly, full of youth and a genuinely nice person to strike up a conversation with. Match this with her concise phrasing, great pitch and superb resume and you have a winning trifecta.

Hey, maybe it runs in the family!

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Photos by James DeFrances.

To read more reviews by (and about) James DeFrances click HERE.

 


THE MUSIC CENTER’S 2015-16 SEASON OF DANCE IN LOS ANGELES

May 7, 2015

Los Angeles. This coming season of Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at The Music Center includes Mariinsky Ballet and Orchestra (October 8-11, 2015), the West Coast premiere of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, The Second City (November 6-8, 2015), The Music Center debut of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan (January 29-31, 2016), Complexions Contemporary Ballet (April 15-17, 2016), Compagnie Käfig (June 17-19, 2016), and American Ballet Theatre (July 8-10, 2016).

At the same time, new Music Center initiatives will showcase some of Los Angeles’ up-and-coming dance ensembles, which are forging new ground and attracting new audiences, and provide ways to engage audiences in their own dance experiences. This includes the introduction of a site-specific series, The Music Center Presents Movies After Dark™ (July 13, 14, 20, and 21, 2015). Held on the nights in which The Music Center theatres are typically “dark,” or not in use, Movies After Dark will present works by Ate9, Lula Washington Dance Theatre, Ana María Alvarez, and BodyTraffic. Also presented will be the return of the much-in-demand Dance Downtown on Friday nights during the summer on The Music Center Plaza (June 5 and 19, 2015; July 3, 17, 2015 and 31; August 14 and 28, 2015), as well as Los Angeles’ National Dance Day public celebration (July 25, 2015).

Dance at The Music Center 2015-2016 Season

Mariinsky Ballet and OrchestraAlexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella (Southern California Premiere), October 8-11, 2015, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at The Music Center

St. Petersburg, Russia’s world-renowned Mariinsky Ballet (formerly the Kirov Ballet) opens the season with the Southern California premiere of its celebrated work, Alexei Ratmansky’s Cinderella. Set to Sergei Prokofiev’s haunting score, performed by the Mariinsky Orchestra, Ratmansky’s Cinderella takes a fresh look at the classic story-ballet with vibrant choreography, feisty humor and a glamorous 1930s twist. Commissioned for the Mariinsky Theatre and premiering in March 2002, the ballet launched Ratmansky onto the world stage. He weaves together a magnificent array of different styles that are interpreted through virtuous classical language along with a monumental, dramatic score. The result is a fresh, witty and sardonic account of the story. Ratmansky combines the grand spectacle of ballet from Soviet Russia with innovative choreography that has a contemporary edge, offering audiences endearing characters and a sense of sophistication.

Cinderella is portrayed as a lonely dreamer and her stepmother as a vicious, tantrum-prone social climber. The choreography builds to a pas de deux of aching beauty and tenderness between Cinderella and her prince. The performances are complemented by spectacular sets and costumes that portray a more modern world of the 20th century. The Washington Post said, “Ratmansky’s treatment echoes the sharp and piercing modernism in the score…” while The New York Times said, “[Ratmansky] appreciates how Prokofiev’s ballet is poised between touching romance and biting sarcasm.”

Founded in the 18th century and originally known as the Imperial Russian Ballet, the Mariinsky Ballet is one of the world’s leading ballet companies. Valery Gergiev is artistic and general director of the Mariinsky Theatre.

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Hubbard Street Dance Chicago + The Second CityThe Art of Falling (West Coast Premiere), November 6-8, 2015, Ahmanson Theatre at The Music Center

In an example of contemporary dance meets comedic excellence, Dance at The Music Center presents Hubbard Street Dance Chicago + The Second City, with a unique collaboration, The Art of Falling, from two of Chicago’s most creative and compelling companies. This lively, charming and sometimes absurd performance is the brainchild of five choreographers, four writers and more than 30 dancers and actors. Helmed by Jeff Award-winning director Billy Bungeroth, The Art of Falling combines contemporary dance with comedy in three distinct, interwoven storylines punctuated by short vignettes. The cross-disciplinary creative collaboration spotlights the improvisational nature of contemporary performance. “Second City may have pioneered sketch comedy since its formation in 1959, but this latest collaborative project takes the art form to visually spectacular and emotionally satisfying new heights,” proclaimed The Huffington Post, while the Chicago Tribune praised the performance as “Hugely entertaining and strikingly emotional…not-to-be-missed.”

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s core purpose is to bring artists, art, and audiences together to enrich, engage, educate, transform and change lives through the experience of dance. Currently celebrating its 37th season, Hubbard Street continues to be an innovative force, supporting its creative talent while presenting repertory by major international artists.

Rooted in the improvisational games of Viola Spolin, and founded by Spolin’s son, Paul Sills, along with Howard Alk and Bernie Sahlins, the Second City opened in Chicago in December 1959 and began developing its entirely unique way of creating and performing comedy.

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Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of TaiwanRice (The Music Center Debut), January 29-31, 2016, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at The Music Center

Making its Music Center debut, Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, Asia’s most renowned contemporary dance company, and the first contemporary dance company in any Chinese speaking community, presents a stunning production of Rice. With dancers trained in meditation, Qigong (an ancient form of breathing exercise), internal martial arts, modern dance and ballet, Cloud Gate Dance Theatre transforms ancient aesthetics into thrilling original performances that integrate the use of spectacular visual sets.

Created by Founder and Artistic Director Lin Hwai-min, who has been heralded as one of the most important choreographers in Asia, Rice was inspired by the landscape and story of Chihshang in the East Rift Valley of Taiwan, a farming village that was tainted by the use of chemical fertilizer, but which has now regained its title as the “Land of Emperor Rice” by adapting organic farming methods. Lin’s creation includes exuberant, powerful movements that are woven into his story of the land and the contemplation of the destruction of the Earth. To emphasize the messages, the production uses projection of vivid video images of flooding, growth, harvesting and the burning of the fields. The soundtrack mixes Hakka folk songs, Western opera, Taiwanese and Japanese drums and the sound of nature – wind, rain and thunder recorded on-site.

Rice was heralded by The Guardian as “a sharply moving synthesis of man and nature, east and west, death and rebirth…Lin’s own song of the earth.” The New York Times said, “Lin Hwai-min has succeeded brilliantly in fusing dance techniques and theatrical concepts from the East and the West.”

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Complexions Contemporary BalletProgram TBD, April 17-17, 2016, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at The Music Center

New York-based Complexions Contemporary Ballet is a contemporary ballet company run by two esteemed alumni of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Artistic Directors Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson. Founded in 1994, the Company has a focus on reinventing dance with an emphasis on the artistic and aesthetic appeal of the multicultural. The Company combines technical precision, athleticism, passion and the occasional pop song, using 20 incredibly trained classical and contemporary dancers.

Winners of many awards, including The New York Times’ “Critics Choice” Award, Complexions has appeared throughout the United States and internationally. Heralded by the Washington Post as “Cross-cultural ballet with attitude…wearing toe shoes has never looked like so much fun,” the Company creates an open, continuously evolving form of dance that reflects the movement of the world and all of its cultures as an interrelated whole. According to Rhoden and Richardson, dance should be about removing boundaries, not reinforcing them, and should transcend a single style, period, venue or culture. The Company will deliver an exciting genre-bending performance that blurs the boundaries of ballet and contemporary dance.

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Compagnie KäfigKäfig Brasil and More (To Be Announced) (The Music Center Debut), June 17-19, 2016, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at The Music Center

In a Music Center first and making its Music Center debut, Franco-Brazilian Compagnie Käfig will explore the confluence of the many arts subgenres that have contributed to the development of Hip Hop globally. Established in 1996, the Company flavors its works with dare-devilish circus skills, street dance, martial arts and the fun and energetic Hip Hop vocabulary. Compagnie Käfig brings the street to the stage with an all-male cast of 11 dancers who combine Hip Hop, Capoeira, Samba, electronic music and the Bossa Nova for a performance that showcases astonishing acrobatic skills along with energy and invention.

Led by Artistic Director Mourad Merzouki, who applies a multidisciplinary approach to the exploration of Hip Hop, the company will present Käfig Brasil, a rhythmic and muscular dance that the Times Union said is, “…animated by waves of energy, as if volts of electricity were travelling from muscle to muscle and limb to limb. Then that tightly controlled power explodes into fireworks.”

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American Ballet Theatre – Mixed Repertoire including Firebird (The Music Center debut), July 8-10, 2016, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at The Music Center

The 2015-16 season of Dance at the Music Center concludes with five performances by American Ballet Theatre (ABT). ABT Artist in Residence Alexei Ratmansky brings his choreographic vision in a full evening of works, including his 2012 Firebird and a selection from the Company’s 2012-2013 presentation of Ratmansky’s Shostakovich Trilogy. Ratmansky’s reimagined Firebird, set to the iridescent music of Igor Stravinsky and performed by a live orchestra, tells an enchanting tale of a mythical bird who possesses magical powers and helps two lovers overcome an evil sorcerer.

American Ballet Theatre’s “Firebird”

Firebird takes audiences on an extravagant adventure. The ballet received its world premiere under the title L’Oiseau de Feu by Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes in Paris on June 25, 1910, with choreography by Mikhail Fokine and scenery and costumes by Alexander Golovine and Leon Bakst, and premiered in the United States as Firebird with the same company in New York on January 17, 1916. Firebird, with choreography by Adolph Bolm and scenery and costumes by Marc Chagall, first entered the repertory of ABT on October 24, 1945, at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. This new production, with choreography by Ratmansky, had its world premiere in Southern California at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa on March 29, 2012. The Los Angeles Times said, “…choreographer Alexei Ratmansky has updated the iconic ‘Firebird’ into an extravagant and fanciful adventure…” while The Wall Street Journal called it “…a freshly told fantastical tale.”

Recognized as one of the premier dance companies in the world, American Ballet Theatre brings the highest quality dance and dancers to audiences across the globe. Under the artistic direction of former ABT Principal Dancer Kevin McKenzie, the Company remains steadfast in its vision as “American” and continues to bring the art of dance theater to the great stages of the world.

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Season tickets/subscriptions for Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at The Music Center are on sale now. For information, call (213) 972-0711 or visit http://www.musiccenter.org/1516dance

Firebird photo by Gene Schiavone


The Herb Alpert 2015 Award in the Arts

May 1, 2015

 By Don Heckman

Herb Alpert

Herb Alpert

 

Herb Alpert’s at it again, encouraging young talent to display their skills by acknowledging their abilities with supportive rewards.

Today, in a lunch at the Herb Alpert Foundation in Santa Monica, the 21st annual Herb Alpert Award in the Arts was presented to five exceptional mid-career artists.

The awards recognize past performance and future promise to artists working in Dance, Film/Video, Music, Theatre and Visual Arts; an outstanding candidate in each genre receives a prize of $75,000.

Herb Alpert with winners Maria Hassabi, Taylor Mac, Sharon Lockhart and Julia Wolfe

“It’s exciting,” said Alpert, “to be able to support these five unique artists who are always on the hunt for something they don’t yet know, something real that touches us in a deep place. Whether they are writing a concerto, making a film, an installation, a ruckus or a dance, they always look for something special and original to say. These are artists with the passion, talent and the restlessness that never makes them stop. They HAVE TO make art not just for themselves… but for all of US.”

The five 2015 winners, with the Alpert panel’s explanations for granting the awards,  are:

DANCE:
Maria Hassabi, for changing the nature of spectatorship, for challenging conventional ideas about performance, for stripping away busyness and the ornamentation of dancing to allow for rare contemplative experience.

FILM/VIDEO:
Sharon Lockhart, for her films which combine structural rigor, formal exactitude, exquisite beauty, intimate attention, commitment to a cinema of duration, and a sympathetic ethnographic eye in a post–minimalist aesthetic entirely her own.

MUSIC:
Julia Wolfe, for her fresh, uncompromising artistry, her vibrant, direct, and emotionally powerful works generous and bold in spirit and her engagement with socially conscious issues, a tradition that is passionately and unapologetically American to the core.

THEATRE:
Taylor Mac, for his fierce, disarming, beautiful, transgressive, emotionally vulnerable work; for social critique disguised as glitter, ambitious scope, and for effervescently rearranging audiences perceptions while creating a great time.

VISUAL ARTS:
Tania Bruguera, for the complexity, longevity, and urgency of her work, for her strong formal clarity and ongoing contribution to international conversations on freedom of speech and illegal immigration. The panel honors her for her commitment to resisting market pressures in order to seek an ethics of what art can do, and recognize the innovative ways she has reinvented the language of activism within contemporary culture.

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Herb Alpert photo by Faith Frenz.  Group photo by Steve Gunther.


Books: Brian Arsenault Takes on Kafka’s “The Castle” and Writes To Son Brent About It

April 29, 2015

By Brian Arsenault

Hey Brent,

You asked me to tell you more about the class I’m taking on Franz Kafka’s The Castle. I’ll start with Ed. who’s teaching, or rather leading, the class.

I’ve taken literature courses with Ed before: Kerouac’s The Road, Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio so I knew the course would be worth it.

Like Kafka, Ed’s a Jew and he started us off with what he self consciously acknowledged would be a Jewish interpretation of the novel, if indeed it is a novel (more about that later). Ed said that an essential aspect of Jewish life since Biblical times was the lack of “a place to stand,” a place to belong, a place of permanence.  Suddenly main character K’s relentless attempts to belong in a community that does not seem to want him took on a new meaning.

It also seemed to me that, agree or disagree with him, Netanyahu’s ferocious attempts to secure Israel’s continued existence made greater sense than ever. He will battle to hold on to a homeland, a place to stand, a place to be, against all enemies and one in particular. Iran, with its avowed intention to remove Israel from the earth.

Not being a Jew, though, I had to seek my own meaning, not in contradiction but in my own frame of reference. And what I found was the world turned upside down, with conventional reality no sure barometer of truth.

In Voltaire’s Candide, passengers on a ship without food calmly discuss cutting off one buttock of an attractive young lady to roast. The discussion seems reasonable enough; the collected crew and passengers are basically agreeing on a course of action that will save all. Yet they never seem to consider that their meat will involve the horrible mutilation and almost certain death of a young woman.

In The Castle, a family’s fortune is ruined and they become despised outcasts because one of two sisters, Amelia, declines the salacious written advances of an elderly member of The Castle‘s officialdom. What becomes the focus of the community’s ire, seemingly irrationally, is Amalia’s rudeness to the messenger by tearing up the note and throwing it in his face.

Somehow, in a single long monologue, the other sister, Olga, shows K that, looked at a certain way, the whole incident was Amelia’s fault and the family’s fortunes would have been saved, even advanced, had she gone to the offending official. It’s all very reasonable except Amelia would have had to accept thorough degradation. That never comes up.

We also learn throughout the novel, and particularly later on when our assumptions are all challenged, is that what was clear from K’s perspective was not at all the viewpoint of others in the village. A point Ed wonderfully illustrated when, after a particularly vigorous class discussion, he pointed out that we were all coming at the same information from the different slants of our backgrounds and perceptions of reality.

Kafka might have chuckled at that though I don’t think he chuckled often. What he did, though, was have a successful career in business where he was thought effective, efficient and kind but he considered himself a terrible failure.  Regarding his writings, Kafka asked that after his death everything should be burned.  He was only 42, long suffering from tuberculosis. A friend, fortunately, preserved Kafka’s writings and sought their wide publication.

The Castle is not an easy read, far from it. It is dense, repetitive, frustratingly vague, full of subtle twists and turns. The young grow old, the angelic turn soiled, even doorways are lowered as people pass through (Lewis Carroll anyone?)

High art is often difficult. If one considers Vince Guaraldi, say, as compared to Thelonious Monk it’s easy to like, and I do, those cheerful, youthful, Peanutsful melodies of Guaraldi. Monk on the other hand can be a difficult listen, with all that dissonance and melodic shifts. Yet there is little doubt which is the greater artist.

A friend of mine who has also taught me a great deal about literature says he thinks in 50 years no one will read Joyce or other challenging writers. Our devices will hand us ongoing easy entertainment and we just won’t make the effort for the hard stuff. I think he’s a bit pessimistic but I worry about how right he might be.

Finally, is The Castle a novel? That same question has been asked of Joyce’s Ulysses. Neither conform to our notion of a linear storyline which is a basic tenet of what we think of as a novel. Neither provides full resolution of the conflicts and issues within. Neither writer may think there is a resolution.

I think Ed said it best. One reads The Castle for the details, for the differing perception on what is real and what is illusion. The person K seeks most in the book is the elusive Klamm. I read one critic who said Klamm is a Czech word, or close to it, for illusion.

And in Chapter XX we find:  “illusions are more common than changes in fortune-”

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To read more reviews, essays and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


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