Here, There & Everywhere: The 2012 Alpert Award in the Arts

May 11, 2012

By Don Heckman

Herb Alpert has had more successes – creative and financial – than most artists can dream of experiencing.  And to his credit he’s handled them with remarkable finesse and generosity.  Music programs at UCLA and CalArts have benefited from his multi-million dollar grants to each institution.

Herb Alpert

Today, another impressive display of the Alpert munificence took place with the presentation of the 2012 Alpert Awards in the Arts, a combined effort of the Herb Alpert Foundation and CalArts. The Awards, now in their 19th installment, recognize mid-career achievements in Music, Dance, Film/Video, Theatre and Visual Arts.

All of the winners — as well as Alpert, CalArts faculty members and some of the panel members who made the Awards selections — were in attendance earlier today for a celebratory party at the Alpert Foundation offices in Santa Monica. Each receives a $75,000 award.

Jazz fans can be especially pleased that the Music Award was granted to pianist/composer Myra Melford, whose ground breaking, exploratory recordings have provided some of the most fascinating improvisational journeys of the past two decades.

Myra Melford

According to Irene Borger, Director of the Alpert Award in the Arts, Melford was honored “for her ascending and expansive trajectory, and great, generous musical mind…her willingness to dive into the deep end of the pool and her ability to take multiple musical traditions into another sphere.”

Ms. Borger also announced the reasoning behind the other awards:

Nora Chipaumire

Dance: Nora Chipaumire, “for her profound movement intellirgence, steaming hot and extraordinary presence, the dialogue she creates with audiences, and her visceral struggles with critical issues of the day.”

* * * *

Kevin Everson

Film/Video: Kevin Everson, “for his relentless curiosity, sustained inquiry, for elevating the visual power of expressive quotidian gestures of working people, and for his aesthetic caring gaze.”

* * * *

Eisa Davis

Theatre: Eisa Davis, “for her profound multiple gifts as playwright, performer and musician, her portrayal of the complex richness of our American character, and her work’s relevance and epic sweep, expanding our notion of how one might live in the 21st century.”

* * * *

Michael Smith

Visual Arts: Michael Smith, “for subversively using the visual languages of popular and corporate culture to take on big issues, for pioneering narrative within video art practice, and for rendering the everyday as truly strange….”

Alpert’s smiling presence underscored the satisfaction he must feel for the display of yet another of his vital contributions to the arts.  He could, after all, have bought an island (or two or three) in the Caribbean and retired to a life of luxurious beach-combing, painting, sculpting and some trumpet playing on the side.  Not that he’s given up on the latter three.  Not at all.  His fascinating paintings and sculptures are omnipresent in the Foundation offices, his home near Malibu and his Bel Air jazz club, Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. And he and his wife, the gifted singer Lani Hall, continue to record and tour with their stellar group.

But Alpert also expresses his creativity via his beneficence – via his generous financial support for the arts as a vital, continually expressive element in American life.

* * * * * *

Photos courtesy of the Herb Alpert Foundation.

Ballet: The Joffrey Ballet’s “Nutcracker” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

December 3, 2011

By Jane Rosenberg

Whenever I approach a production of the “Nutcracker,” I bring along my seven-year-old self and wait expectantly for the holiday fantasy to begin.  Thursday night at the opening performance of the Joffrey Ballet’s “Nutcracker” was no exception.  I never tire of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s classic tale or of Tchaikovsky’s perfect ballet score, and when the house lights dim, I’m transported, whether to nineteenth century Nuremberg or, as in the case of the Joffrey production, to America circa 1850.

Did the Joffrey production, conceived by Robert Joffrey, with additional choreography by Gerald Arpino, meet my expectations both as child and adult?  The answer is yes and no.  The excitement of Christmas, set in a suitably cozy and inviting house, was conveyed in Act 1; and both Clara, danced on opening night by Anastacia Holden, and Fritz, danced by Ricardo Santos, brought a sense of childlike eagerness to their respective roles.

Anastacia Holden

Holden, petite and believable as an adolescent girl, harmonized beautifully with the real children around her; and Santos was exceptional in his portrayal of her taunting and mischievous brother, adding levity and spice to the scene.

With the arrival of Godfather Drosselmeyer and his nephew, the plot begins in earnest.  Drosselmeyer was intriguingly captured by Michael Smith, playing a younger version of the usually white-haired godfather. This Drosselmeyer was more stage magician than eccentric toymaker, more Johnny Depp than Christopher Plummer.  All was well, and my child and adult selves were content, until I saw Drosselmeyer’s nephew beside Clara.  Though danced competently by Dylan Gutierrez his tall stature was entirely out of scale with Clara’s petite frame.  It felt as if a college grad had crashed a children’s party, and this lack of a believable pairing jarred me throughout.

Which brings me to another odd decision, this time a question of production rather than casting.  When the battle of the mice and toy soldiers erupted, where was Clara?  She was offstage – an unfortunate choice. Clara, frightened by the arrival of the mice, is normally left onstage to face the conflagration and witness her beloved Nutcracker about to be vanquished by the Mouse King. The audience feels for her, reacts with her; and Clara, overcoming her fear, throws her shoe and becomes the instrument of the Nutcracker’s salvation.  Instead, here she was ferried on high by Drosselmeyer and “dropped in” to drop the shoe.  It is Clara’s bravery in the face of her fear that makes her truly heroic.  Her heroism is rewarded by a fabulous journey to the Land of Sweets, where her act of bravery is applauded by the inhabitants and the Sugar Plum Fairy.  In this version, when Gutierrez as the Nutcracker prince/nephew recounted Clara’s heroic deed in mime, we could only wonder why she deserved our admiration.

Nevertheless, there’s a lot for any adult or seven-year-old to love in this Nutcracker: the marvelous owl clock, ticking away like Tick-Tock from The Wizard of Oz books; Drosselmeyer’s mechanical dolls in their Commedia dell’Arte costumes; the shimmering Christmas tree that grows before our eyes, the battling mice riding ratback, and best of all, the sixty talented children who perform throughout the acts, along with the voices of the Los Angeles based National Children’s Chorus.

Their rapturous voices are heard in the exquisite music of Act One, Scene Three as twinkling paper snow billows down onto the dancing snowflakes.  Tchaikovsky’s music, interpreted in this production by the excellent LA Opera Orchestra, all but defines Christmas and the marvels of a winter wonderland.  The corps looked sharp as dancing snowflakes led by their Snow Queen, Kara Zimmerman, who also took a sinuous and seductive turn as Arabian Coffee in Act Two. Ricardo Santos, dancing as the Snow Prince, again gives a joyous performance, leaping with exquisite abandon and musicality into his jumps and turns despite the hazards of fifty pounds of paper snow on the stage floor.

The sets by Oliver Smith for Acts One and Two are pleasant enough, but once we arrive in the Land of Sweets, I found myself asking, where are the candy canes, gumdrops, gingerbread, and all manner of sugar that should form the scenery for the divertissements to follow?  After twenty odd years, the wan pink set looked more like a backdrop for a 1950’s variety show than a modern child’s fantasy of candy land.  And yet, the background melts away as we watch spicy Hot Chocolate (Valerie Robin), sultry Coffee (Kara Zimmerman and Fabrice Calmels), playful Tea (Abigail Simon and Ricardo Santos), Russian Nougats (all four marvelously danced by Erica Edwards, Derrick Agnoletti, John Giragosian, and Alberto Velazquez), and charming Marzipan Shepherdesses (a delightful pas de trois for Katherine Bruno, Yumelia Garcia, and Caitlin Meighan).

When Mother Ginger, conceived as a giant puppet by Kermit Love, waddled onstage bearing her little clowns, there was an audible cooing among the audience.  And when scores of children toddled out from under her skirts, so total was the pleasure that when Mother Ginger took her leave, a tiny voice in the audience on Thursday night shouted “ No! Don’t go bye-bye!”

The rapturous Waltz of the Flowers was notable for a lovely pas de trois, but all the dance sequences felt oddly punctuated by Herr Drosselmeyer who, in this version, inserts himself into the proceedings as a kind of impresario – a role normally bestowed on the Sugar Plum Fairy. Victoria Jaini, as Thursday night’s Sugar Plum, was elegant and technically precise, but lacking in poetic nuance.  Partnered by Gutierrez, they proved a better match than his Act One pairing with Holden’s Clara.

Instead of Clara’s departure for home in the usual sleigh, Drosselmeyer and Clara fly home in a hot-air balloon.  A fanciful and inventive touch, I couldn’t help but think of the Wizard and Dorothy.  How about a new production of the Nutcracker set in 1900’s Kansas?  In the meantime, Los Angeles, with its real and imagined seven-year-olds, has the good fortune to have the Joffrey Nutcracker here until Sunday.

Illustrations ©1985 by Jane Rosenberg.  Photos courtesy of the Joffrey Ballet.  Anastacia Holden photo by Herbert Migdoll.


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


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