Swan Lake Samba Girl is Taking a Hiatus

Hi guys. I guess it’s obvious by now, since I haven’t blogged since September, but I’m going to need to put this blog on hiatus for a while. I’ve been working really long hours at my law job, and with the little time I have left over for writing, I must work on my novel or it’s never going to get done. Sadly, I have hardly any time for reviewing, or even viewing, dance performances these days.

I’ve been writing this blog since 2006 and I’ve had such a wonderful time with you all. I’ve met so many fascinating people here – from other ballet and ballroom enthusiasts, to professional critics and dance historians, to past and current professional dancers with so much knowledge. Talking about dance with you all has been so educational and enlightening for me – not to mention fun. So thank you!

When I get more time, or somehow figure out how to more successfully juggle my legal work, novel-writing, and dance writing, I will either pick back up here, or I’ll write for other publications. I definitely intend to keep tweeting about dance-related events, so if you’re on Twitter, please do follow me!

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Angelenos Boo Merce!: L.A. Dance Project’s Dramatic Premiere

This past weekend marked the premiere of L.A. Dance Project at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown LA. Of course this is the event – the full-evening debut of Benjamin Millepied’s new LA-based company – that all dance-going Angelenos have been eagerly awaiting. There were two performances: opening night was Saturday; I went to the Sunday matinee. According to reports of Saturday’s performance, Natalie Portman was present, fully decked out in Oscar attire. Robert Pattinson was also there. No report of what he thought though, other than that the evening made clear to him that he has no talent for dance. His words :)

There were three pieces on the program: William Forsythe’s Quintett, from 1993; Merce Cunningham’s Winterbranch, from 1964; and the world premiere of a Millepied dance, Moving Parts (photo above, by Eric Politzer; all photos by Politzer).

By far the most astounding, confounding, spellbinding, brilliant piece on the program was the Cunningham. And for that reason alone L.A. Dance Project proved itself an invaluable asset to its new community. Every critic so far has said the same, so I know I’m not alone in thinking that. But I don’t know how much dance-going Angelenos would agree. During my performance, a woman sitting next to me angrily got up and walked to the back of the theater. Immediately after the dance ended, she cried out, “Thank God!” more than loudly enough for everyone in the entire theater to hear. Many showed their agreement with her as a chorus of loud boos started to emanate throughout the auditorium. This soon was countered by a chorus of cheers. For a moment there was a war going on. I have to say I’ve never ever seen that kind of visceral, dramatic reaction to any dance performance in New York. I’ve never seen that anywhere in response to dance; the only time I’ve ever seen a work of art booed was the Metropolitan Opera’s recent re-interpretation of Tosca.

I mean, part of me was excited that dance could evoke such strong feelings. But part of me was disappointed in the booing Angelenos for not being the least bit open-minded, for not giving the piece even a second’s consideration; for failing to think, “I’m going to go home and look up this Merce Cunningham person on the internet and find out what in the world that was all about.” Cunningham is obviously a master, and I don’t know as much about him as I should. This definitely made me want to know more. It also made me kind of sad that I wasn’t around in the 60s if that kind of art was going on. I wish Alastair Macaulay would have been in L.A. reviewing this for the NY Times. I’d like to know what he would’ve thought – of the piece, and the audience reaction, he loves Cunningham so.

According to program notes, Winterbranch was taken out of the Cunningham repertoire not long after it premiered, so most people probably know nothing about it. It was a collaboration between Cunningham, Robert Rauschenberg, and sound artist La Monte Young. Rauschenberg designed the costumes (all six dancers are in black sweatsuits with smudges of black painted under their eyes) as well as the absolutely brilliant lighting (which was reconstructed for this stage by Beverly Emmons).

At the beginning one dancer (originally Merce himself) slithers across a dark stage carrying a flashlight. Following him, other dancers take the stage, and the piece is basically a meditation on the act of falling and and pulling yourself back up. Dancers sometimes fall quickly and violently, sometimes they fall slowly, as if they’re being crushed by some invisible psychological weight. Sometimes they have difficulty rising; they crawl over each other, they contort their bodies and crab-walk across stage. Meanwhile the stage is dark, except for that brilliant Rauschenberg lighting whereby a light will briefly flash, like a headlight, then fade, then reappear tunnel-like, growing stronger, again like the lights of an approaching car.

About half-way through the sound starts. And, yes, it’s very harsh. Young’s composition is called simply 2 Sounds and those two sounds are: the sound of “ashtrays scraped against a mirror;” and of “pieces of wood rubbed against a Chinese gong.”

Yes, the whole thing was very unsettling. It felt like being caught in headlights, perhaps in a tunnel, or on a dark street, with sound so shrill you couldn’t escape. It felt very industrial, urban, Los Angeles – probably why Millepied thought to bring it here.

Wasn’t Cunningham all about questioning what dance is? Do people really want it to be all about pretty girls doing sexy things? Don’t people want to be challenged? Believe me, the people doing the complaining (mainly about the sound from what I overheard) didn’t look like they’d never been to a rock concert before. And after this ended my eardrums were nowhere near numb.

I think Millepied took a real chance bringing such a piece to a place where perhaps many have only seen classical ballet and popular dance on television. And for that I respect him more than ever.

The other two pieces weren’t quite as strong. I think Forsythe’s Quintett (photo above) meant more if you knew about it, about him, and about his wife who died young of ovarian cancer. It’s a waltz but there are five people – three men and two women. So there’s a woman missing. The music is Gavin Bryars’s Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet, a sweet, folksy choral piece in which the singer keeps repeating that line over and over and over again. The dancing is mainly light and joyful, and the press notes state that he meant it to be a kind of tribute to her. Unfortunately the program notes don’t give out that information, so the audience was unaware.

I kept thinking of Forsythe’s intense, unforgettable installation piece, You Made Me a Monster, another take on the same thing, with a completely different mood, which showed in New York several years ago at the Baryshnikov Arts Center (and which I wrote about here). The dancer Charlie Hodges – my favorite of the six-person dance troupe – reminded me of a similar-looking dancer in Monster. His movement was the most expansive with every motion seemingly filled with intent. And he was the character who seemed to evoke the sole man, the man without the partner. Quintett had much more lightness and fluidity than Monster, and was far more hopeful than tragic, and it nearly made me cry. I’m just not sure if an audience who knew nothing about his wife and the work’s origins, and who’d never seen Monster, would have gotten the same out of it.

Third on was Millepied’s new Moving Parts, a collaboration with the always rousing Nico Muhly, costumers Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte, and visual artist Christopher Wool. I thought the most interesting parts of this collaboration were Muhly’s music – a bold, rich combination – at times mellifluous, at times slightly off-kilter a la Philip Glass – of violin, clarinet, and organ (played spectacularly on the magnificent, elevated organ at the top of the concert hall) and Wool’s artwork, consisting of three large canvasses bearing a combination of letters and numbers. One or two of the six dancers would push the paintings, on wheels, around the stage, the others dancing around them. The dancers wore basic black unitards; and were paired – male and female – by a same colored stripe running along the top of the costumes. Each painting also bore one of those colors. But this color-coordination didn’t seem to have much meaning.

The dancers were all very good – Hodges, Frances Chiaverini, Julia Eichten, Morgan Lugo, Nathan Makolandra, and Amanda Wells, but I didn’t find the choreography particularly intriguing or the dance as a whole to have much meaning. But I find Millepied to be like that – he’s either on or off. This time he was off, but next time he may well be very on.

Nevertheless, every time this company performs, I will always be there. That Cunningham revival made me trust that Millepied will always bring something significant.

Here are a few more photos of Moving Parts, courtesy of the Music Center.

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Is Jack Cole the Greatest Choreographer You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of?

On Monday September 10th Turner Classic Movies will devote an evening to the movies of Hollywood jazz choreographer Jack Cole. The presentation will be hosted by my friend, Los Angeles Times dance critic and founder of the blog, Arts Meme, Debra Levine, along with TCM’s Robert Osborne.

Cole was born in New Jersey and actually began his career as a Denishawn dancer. He was an early dancer at Jacob’s Pillow. He choreographed for Broadway (Man of La Mancha, Something For the Boys, etc.) before moving to Los Angeles to choreograph for film. He worked on many huge films, including Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Some Like It Hot, On the Riviera, the list goes on. Yet, strangely, many have never heard of him. Why?

Here he is with Marilyn Monroe:

So, on September 10th, beginning at 8 pm ET (5 PT), TCM will show four Cole-choreographed films: Tonight and Every Night (1945, starring Rita Hayworth), On the Riviera (1951, starring dancer Gwen Verdon, later famous for being Bob Fosse’s main muse), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1952, starring Monroe and Jane Russell), and Les Girls (1957, starring Gene Kelly).

I’ve heard Debra give several talks about Cole, the latest of which occurred at UCLA’s Hammer Museum a few weeks ago when the museum showed a rather hilarious film called The I Don’t Care Girl starring Mitzi Gaynor. Several dance sequences, which I found brilliant, were choreographed by Cole. Gaynor was there, looking gorgeous I might add – I have no idea how old she is now – and she entertained the crowd with her tales of working with Cole, of learning to dance, and of her film career, with loads of dirty jokes thrown in. She can be quite lewd! But sweetly so.

Anyway, Debra is hugely knowledgeable on Cole. You’ll learn so much listening to her talk about him on TCM. It’s tragic he’s so little remembered now when he worked on such classic films. I hope she writes a biography of him someday. Please tune in!

Here’s a sneak preview of Debra speaking with Robert Osborne:

And here’s a clip from The I Don’t Care Girl:

Go here for more information on the exact TCM schedule, and go here and here for more info on Cole.

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A CHANCE TO DANCE Premieres on Ovation this Friday, August 17

Reminder: A CHANCE TO DANCE, a new show on Ovation TV, where dancers throughout the US audition for and learn a routine created by Britain’s Ballet Boyz to be performed with the SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE TOUR, premieres this Friday evening. The network sent me an advance preview and I really think this one will be better than many of the current shows — a big reason being that it seems to be more focused on – hello- dance. Most of the footage – at least what I was sent – is of Michael Nunn and Billy Trevitt — the Ballet Boyz, both of whom danced with the Royal Ballet — actually rehearsing the dancers. They talk a lot about the choreography, about what they want from the performance, about what makes a dancer captivate the audience, about all the aspects of a show that really make a performance work, including, very importantly, the right music. Trevitt says at one point that great music can save bad choreography but the reverse is not true, which I found interesting…

At one point, one of the men (I think it’s Trevitt again) tells a dancer he’s focusing too much on technique, not enough on performance, which of course I love! As they rehearse the dancers, they’ll call out the name of the ballet steps, giving the audience insight into the dance, into this rarefied world. The backstage melodramatics, at least from what I was shown, seem minimal.

Here are a few clips.

Meet the choreographers here:

One on Trevitt’s dance tips:

Allison Holker’s dance tips (you’ll remember her from SYTYCD)

And a couple funny ones — Trevitt learning to pole dance:

And the two Brits in a Texas road-side shop trying to find clothes that will allow them to fit in with the locals, and a place to go dancing:

For more info on finding your local Ovation station, go here.

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Akram Khan at the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony, Which NBC Inexplicably Cut

Here is part of the Akram Khan piece from Friday evening’s opening night Olympic ceremony that NBC inexplicably cut from its American broadcast. Unfortunately, the quality of this video isn’t terrific – and the posters said they’d put up the latter parts of it later this week – but this is the only copy I could find right now on YouTube.

But why did NBC cut it from the US broadcast? Here’s a short BBC article on Khan’s disappointment and his explanation of the piece. The journalist interviewed NBC but the network still didn’t give a reason for its decision to air a Ryan Seacrest interview instead of Khan. Do they think Americans are too dense to appreciate high art? That we could only appreciate the names and faces we’d recognize from Hollywood? I wonder what else they denied us. I only knew to look for Khan’s piece from the UK-based dance bloggers in my Twitter feed, who tweeted about the performance as it happened, earlier in the day. Because of them, I was so excited to go home and watch it Friday night. Then I became so disappointed by NBC that now I really want to boycott the network. Thank god for the internet. It just makes you realize how biased and incomplete was the news we used to receive in this country.

Here is the Guardian’s Judith Mackrell on Khan’s work and what he added to the ceremony.

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Marcelo Gomes Documentary on Kickstarter!

I meant to post about this much, much earlier but… what can I say; I’m a lawyer working for a big firm right now. So that’s that – things just don’t get posted in a timely manner…

Anyway, of course I want badly to see this particular campaign meet its goal, and it looks like it has! If you want to be a contributor, you have til the end of the month. Can’t wait for the movie!!!

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A CHANCE TO DANCE Premieres on Ovation August 17

A few weekends ago, I was invited to participate (via Skype) on a Dance Critics Association panel about dance on television (read a detailed write-up in Dance Magazine). Moderator Lisa Traiger mentioned this new show, A Chance to Dance, produced by the Lythgoes (Nigel, and son Simon) that was set to premiere soon. So I was really excited when Ovation network sent me more info. It’s going to premiere August 17th on Ovation (an arts and culture cable channel), and appears to be a more arty version of the popular shows like So You Think You Can Dance, or perhaps a kind of combination of that show and Breaking Pointe.

It will follow the formation of a dance company, helmed by Michael Nunn and Billy  Trevitt, the duo behind the well-respected U.K.-based Ballet Boyz. In the first few episodes, they will choose their dancers – and this will be the dance competition aspect of the show. Then, once the company is formed, they’ll begin choreographing and preparing for their first performance. This will take place at the esteemed Jacob’s Pillow, which, if you’ve ever been there, you know it’s the complete antithesis of Vegas, or Hollywood. I love it! The company will then tour with the SYTYCD tour.

Below is the flyer:

I have high hopes for this one; I like the Ballet Boyz. So, mark your calendars. More reminders as the date approaches…

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L.A. Dance Project’s FRAMEWORK at MOCA

Thursday night marked the first of three “sneak peeks” of Benjamin Millepied’s new L.A. Dance Project at MOCA – the Museum of Contemporary Art – in downtown Los Angeles. Millepied danced with Amanda Wells in four different galleries in the museum. At times they were accompanied by a live violinist, who played classical music, and at times, they danced to a voice recording by L.A.-based artist Mark Bradford, who was also there. Natalie Portman was not, or at least I didn’t see her.

Here are some of my photos.

The performance, called FRAMEWORK, lasted about half an hour, and was pretty good. The biggest problem was that it was hugely crowded, as probably anticipated, and it was very hard to see much, at least in the first three galleries. Even if you arrived early and got a good viewing spot in the first gallery, the second the dancers darted to the second room, you were going to now be behind a mass of people. Some people gave up and left. Others ended up turning their cell phone cameras on, and, holding their cell phones above the mass of heads in front of them, watched through the viewer. It was really the only way to see. There were early warnings from security guards that no pictures were to be taken, but either they meant no photos of the art on the walls, or else they realized that was the only way people could see, because soon the warnings stopped.

From what I could see in the first three galleries, the dance was lyrical, balletic, classical. The violinist played classical. But then came Bradford’s voice-over. Bradford is an African-American artist, his work mainly abstract. I don’t remember the soundtrack word for word, but I remember Bradford mentioning that race played a role in his art and that he strove to push boundaries. At that point, Millepied and Wells, two white dancers, were dancing fairly classical western dance to classical western music. So, I found that to be an interesting juxtaposition.

I, and I think everyone around me, enjoyed the performance much better in the fourth gallery, where Millepied broke the fourth wall and began dancing in and around and among the crowd, dancing with us in a way. At this point in Bradford’s voice-over, he spoke about how difficult it sometimes was for him to manipulate a crowd, partly because of his height – he’s a tall, tall man.

Here he is after the performance talking to an audience member.

Millepied was most playful here, and he interacted with the crowd very well, weaving around people, making eye contact, smiling, not touching. People were giggling and having fun with it.

Here’s an up-close photo I got of his torso.

Back in the middle of the floor, he did a few corkscrew jumps and multiple pirouettes and the audience was very impressed. I think he is a mini-star here!

He also interacted with Bradford’s visual art. He stood in front of a large-scale abstract painting and, as Bradford’s recorded voice said something about how he studied a scene before painting it, Millepied stood squarely in front of the painting and contemplated it.

It’s a short program, definitely worth seeing. It shows on two other Thursdays, which are the nights when the museum is open free of charge: August 2nd, and August 9th. Go here for details.

In September the company has its much anticipated first regular performance in the Walt Disney Music Center hall.

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Breaking Pointe Premiere

So, did you all watch the premiere of Breaking Pointe this week? Thanks to Jeff (who commented on my earlier post complaining that the new TV show Bunheads was unrelated to Sophie Flack’s novel) or I wouldn’t have known about it. I don’t regularly watch the CW network so missed the commercials for it.

I don’t want to judge it yet until I’ve seen a few more episodes. But one thing that surprised me in this first week was how one of the dancers (the clip above introduces them) remarked on how the thing they all strive for is that one perfect moment onstage. It made me think – yikes – was Darren Aronofsky right? Is the end of Black Swan accurate, when Nina’s shrieking, “It was a perfect performance! It was a perfect performance!” that that’s what dancers actually dream of attaining?

I hope not. I hope they know perfection is ass boring. Nureyev was far from perfect. Fonteyn was far from perfect. Natalia Osipova isn’t perfect, Veronika Part isn’t perfect. None of my favorite dancers are technically perfect.

I don’t know. I’ve obviously never been in a ballet company but I’d think a dancer would have deep admiration for a star dancer, say with ABT or the Bolshoi or POB or what have you, and would aim to be like her, would strive to attain her passion and her intensity and her artistry. I didn’t see that at all. But they are probably showing what the producers think will most appeal to a general audience: the competition, the jealousy, the typical boyfriend / girlfriend disputes. Ha, I love the guy with the motorcycle. How Ethan Stiefel :D

Anyway, will definitely keep watching. It’s on the CW network on Thursdays. Check your local listings for times.

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Body Traffic in L.A.

On Thursday night I was invited to an L.A. preview of Body Traffic‘s upcoming New York premiere. They’ll be performing in N.Y. at the Joyce (Chelsea) June 6th and 7th (they just received a $25,000 grant from the Joyce) as part of the Gotham Dance Festival, and I very highly recommend them.

Being new to L.A., this was my first experience with the four-year-old company (which is co-founded and directed by Tina Finkelman Berkett and Lillian Barbeito) and they weren’t at all what I was expecting. (I guess in L.A. I tend to expect to be surrounded by popular entertainment dance – hip-hop, the kind of contemporary modern showcased on So You Think You Can Dance, etc.) This company is more Batsheva, and the work is very intelligently choreographed and intelligently danced.

I don’t want to write much about the program right now; I’m just anxious for New Yorkers to see it and it’s work I think the New York critics will actually like, for a change!

The highlight, for me, was Israeli choreographer Barak Marshall’s And At Midnight, the Green Bride Floated Through the Village Square… which was kind of a cross between a dance and a play with multiple speaking parts (very funny, clever repartee) interspersed with ensemble dance. I loved it. Marshall gave an onstage interview during intermission. He has an endearing personality, as well as a beautiful voice. He sang a lovely, haunting-sounding song for us, in I think he said Yemeni, at the request of the interviewer.

Also on the program was Dutch choreographer Stijn Celis’s Fragile Dwellings, a poignant piece with four dancers dedicated to the homeless people of Los Angeles, and O2Joy by Richard Siegal set to music by Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Glenn Miller, and the Oscar Peterson Trio and just about the best homage to the pure joy of dance I’ve seen.

If you’re in New York, please do not miss them at the Joyce (June 6 & 7)!

To give you an idea, here are excerpts from an earlier Barak Marshall work:

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Los Angeles Ballet’s “Next Wave L.A.”

Last weekend my friend Christopher McDaniel (a fabulous dancer with Los Angeles Ballet!) invited me to Santa Monica to see the company’s “Next Wave L.A.” program. There were four pieces by four contemporary choreographers – including two who regularly choreograph for So You Think You Can Dance. I really enjoyed the whole program. I think contemporary looks very good on this company.

The first ballet was Colony, by Kitty McNamee. McNamee is the artistic director of Hysterica Dance Company, a Los Angeles-based company. She’s choreographed for Julianne Hough, Margaret Cho, Vanessa Williams, Anna Netrebko, and the women of The L Word among others. All of the ballets were on pointe, which happily surprised me, since much of contemporary ballet seems to eschew toe shoes. But other than that, Colony, about a group of men and women who seemed at times at war, at times at peace with each other, bore little resemblance to ballet, instead seeming more modern, with sharp, staccato movements and angular lines. The women wore white, flowing gowns and I found it interesting how the lyricism of the clothing and the women’s free flowing long hair were sometimes at odds with some of the sharp movements.

The second piece was called Duets in the Act of… and was by Sonya Tayeh of SYTYCD. This one was my favorite overall, and the photos posted here (courtesy of Los Angeles Ballet) are from that dance.

There were four duets: “Cold Desperation, “Artificial Seduction,” “Fleeting Nostalgia,” and “False Ego.” Each was lit differently (by Ben Pilat) which helped contribute to the changing moods and tones of the relationships. “Artificial Seduction,” my fave, was replete with lots of snaky, sinuous, seductive moves. I also liked “Fleeting Nostalgia,” where we saw some of Tayeh’s more signature shapes that manage to be simultaneously sad and funny, ethereal but human, like two dancers doing backbends over each other, then walking that way, a bit crab-like. Tayeh is always so original and clever, and intense.

Third on was Sirens, by Josie Walsh, a former dancer with the Joffrey and the Zurich Ballet, who has choreographed for a lot of TV and opera, particularly rock operas. The sires here are those Odysseus encounters, except the men are dressed more modern, in garb that reminded me of cowboys. This piece was really beautiful, with some lovely music by Paul Rivera Jr. that gave it a bit of a new age-y feel.

Last was Be Still by Stacey Tookey, another SYTYCD alum. Hers was a study on time, on the ways it can pass so quickly, how we sometimes want it to, and sometimes long for it just to stand still. There were many literal evocations of time here – like two men swinging a ballerina’s leg back and forth, like a metronome – and many more metaphorical. There would be “fast” dancing – like a group of men doing high corkscrew jumps, long jetes – interspersed with slower, calmer movement, like women standing in place doing port de bras, or very slow-moving floor work.

A Facebook friend, Leslie, asked me if I knew of any videos, particularly of Tayeh’s work with the company. I found a few of the company’s Next Wave rep on YouTube. Here’s one of the season overview:

And here’s one of Tayeh rehearsing with the dancers:

You can find more on YouTube on LA Ballet’s channel, here.

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BUNHEADS

When I first saw the poster for this new ABC Family show a couple weeks ago I got so excited for Sophie Flack, thinking her young adult novel of the same name had been made into a TV series. But as I read more about it, I realized the plot was completely different. Still, the series looks interesting. It follows the path of a ballet-trained Las Vegas showgirl who’s kind of returning to her origins. It’s written by Amy Sherman-Palladino, who studied ballet as a child and created the hit TV show Gilmore Girls. There’s lots of good info about it here. It premieres June 11.

I do think it would be awesome though if there were a TV series that followed pro ballet dancers in a New York-based company :)

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SHIRLEY YOU JEST!

I am very honored to have been asked to help judge the inaugural Shirley You Jest! book awards. It’s open to traditionally and self-published authors alike. So if you’re the author of a comical novel or humorous work of non-fiction, please consider entering! Details here.

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Misty Copeland and FIREBIRD Excerpts Live-Streamed from the Guggenheim

For Californians (like me) who missed Misty Copeland’s Firebird at Segerstrom last month, or for New Yorkers and others hoping to catch a pre-Met season glimpse, she’ll be performing excerpts of it at the Guggenheim as part of the museum’s Works and Process event next Sunday and Monday nights, April 29th and 30th. The event is sold out but will be live-streamed on the Guggenheim’s ustream channel, so everyone everywhere can watch. It begins at 7:30 pm ET, so 4:30 PST, and they usually last an hour and a half. The Guggenheim usually does a good job with these live-streams and if you sign up for a ustream account, you can participate in the live chat. Otherwise, they usually keep the videos posted for a while so you can watch at your leisure.

It’s not just Misty performing though; it’s a celebration of ABT’s upcoming Met season. So you’ll see others perform excerpts of the upcoming ballets as well, such as Cory Stearns and Hee Seo in Onegin, Sascha Radetsky in Swan Lake, Craig Salstein and Kristi Boone and others in The Dream, and ABT Studio Company members will perform the Swan Lake Czardas. Also, according to the press release, Roman Zhurbin will perform a special character medley. Hmmm, sounds very intriguing!

Panelists include Copeland, Zhurbin, Salstein, and Reid Anderson, director of the Stuttgart Ballet, and the moderator will be John Meehan, professor of dance at Vassar.

You can also follow on Twitter @WorksandProcess and by hashtag #WPLive. But I highly recommend the live-streaming if you can!

Above photo of Misty Copeland with Herman Cornejo by Gene Schiavone, taken from LA Times Culture Monster.

 

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Ratmansky’s Fantastically Funny, Tim Burton-Esque New FIREBIRD

Thursday night I went down to Costa Mesa for ABT’s premiere of Ratmansky’s FIREBIRD at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. I’m so glad I braved the nearly three hour drive (with traffic; without about fifty minutes) from west L.A. because it was an excellent evening. This is I think Ratmansky’s most theatrical, spectacular ballet – certainly of those he’s done for ABT – and I loved it. (Photo above of Natalia Osipova in the lead role, by Gene Schiavone, courtesy of Segerstrom.)

The curtain opened onto this magnificent set. The prince is supposed to be in a forest searching for his lost beloved, and so strewn about the stage were these fantastically creepy dead tree-trunks with spindly branches that magically sprouted blood red blossoms. I was so enchanted with those tree trunks, which to me resembled a witch’s hand, and the crimson blossoms bright red fingernails. It all had a very fantastical Tim Burton feel.

Then behind a scrim we see the prince, Marcelo Gomes, dressed all in white, searching about frantically for his lost maiden. At one point, he bumps his head into a branch on one of the creepy witch-hand trees. The audience seemed really to appreciate the humor in this; they laughed at this, and laughed pretty frequently throughout.

Soon, a flock of red birds devoured the stage, and Natalia Osipova emerged as their leader, or the most remarkable one, whom the prince became taken with. This was the one problematic part for me. It makes sense to have a flock of birds with a leader rather than one bird, as in I think most versions of this ballet – but the stage here was really too small. Natalia went to take one of her famous leaps but then seemed to hesitate and took it down several notches. There were too many birds, and as she turned to run to one side of the stage, she almost smacked into one of them. I think that set the note for the rest of her performance, because unfortunately, she just seemed to be holding back throughout the whole thing – not only in her solos but also in her pas de deux with Marcelo after her firebird is captured by his prince. I didn’t really see her struggling to be set free, and when she gave him her magical feather, it seemed more an afterthought than in barter for her freedom. Marcelo is ABT’s most dramatic male principal and he kept up the act well, being enthralled with the firebird, but ultimately feeling sympathy for her and setting her free, but you could tell he was also concentrating on making his dance partner feel as assured as possible. I’m sure as they iron out the kinks, Natalia will be perfect though.

Simone Messmer actually stole the show to me. Well, she shared it with David Hallberg (who, judging by the cheers, has quite the fan base in L.A!) Simone danced the role of the maiden who captures the prince’s attention, and she danced it with a really wonderful sense of humor, as she alternated between being controlled puppet-like by a sorcerer’s spell, being annoyed by the prince’s intrusion, then falling for him, then being fought over by him and the sorcerer, who keeps trying to retain his spell on her.

Ditto for David, who danced the part of the sorcerer set on keeping the prince and maiden apart. We first see David’s wicked magician in shadow form, from the back of the stage, which looked both malevolent and funny at the same time. When David emerged, he sported this big green bouffant, and Ratmansky had him chasing the maidens about the stage in this bent-legged run (almost like a Russian folk dancer). He was really both creepy and funny at the same time.

The comedy continued when the firebird returned (after the prince, threatened by the sorcerer, summoned her protection) and compelled everyone to dance themselves silly. It was particularly interesting to watch David here. Ratmansky gave him these rather crazed lightning fast steps danced in place that reminded me of a sequence he danced as the mentally unstable boyfriend in Ratmansky’s earlier ballet, On the Dnieper. There they were meant to convey extreme anger and were frightening because it meant the character was about to become unhinged and violent; but here they’re more funny than scary, and I think that’s what Ratmansky intended. I think Ratmansky is making an actor out of David Hallberg :) He certainly got a great brilliant comedic performance out of Simone.

I wasn’t really a fan of the ending. Prince and maiden danced, sorcerer and firebird, then they switched partners, but the sorcerer tried to reclaim the maiden. Finally the firebird shattered the egg containing the sorcerer’s power and prince and maiden were sweetly reunited. The last scene is of the firebird being held up high by a group of men, in a group lift, heroizing her. I don’t remember the firebird appearing at the very end of other productions, and it felt a little too cutesy to me, or a little too ‘good triumphs over evil.’ I realize that’s the theme of a lot of ballets but I was expecting a bit of a twist here since the whole was more comical and different in tone than other versions.

Other dancers appearing as the firebird later this week are Misty Copeland and Isabella Boylston. I can’t make the trek to Orange County again this weekend unfortunately, but will be really interested to hear what others think of the other casts.

The other two dances performed were Christopher Wheeldon’s Thirteen Diversions and Merce Cunningham’s Duets. At first I’d forgotten I’d seen Thirteen Diversions – it premiered during ABT’s Met season last year. I was charmed by it all over again; definitely one of my favorite Wheeldon ballets. Misty Copeland, Stella Abrera, and Craig Salstein stood out to me. Misty really made that ballet she was so spellbinding as the girl who seems to struggle with herself and her partner. What I like about this Wheeldon dance is that he really allows the dancers to create characters; it’s not just about musicality and creative patterns (although that’s there as well). Craig Salstein was sweetly funny as he kind of flicked his partner off stage and into the wings, so he and his male cohort could have the stage all to themselves.

Duets was first on the program, and it was new to me. It got off to a slow start. It seemed the first two couples were stiff and nervous and just going through the steps without giving them much meaning. But the fourth couple – Xiomara Reyes and Arron Scott – changed the tone when they took one look at each other, as if to say, “let’s go, let’s do it!” and took off on a quick paced, very precisely and charmingly danced sequence of steps. After that, everyone else seemed to unwind and perform more full out and with intention. I’m really beginning to like Xiomara. She and Arron were my favorite couple, but Julie Kent and Jared Matthews got the most applause. At the end of the whole program, David got the most applause – people really love him there.

This was my first time at Segerstrom Center for the Arts. The building is so interesting. The orchestra is on the right half of the theater (if you’re facing the stage) and the mezzanine is a raised portion on the left half. And then the balcony is up above. It’s definitely not as big as the Lincoln Center stages or City Center, but it was packed full of a very enthusiastic audience. It made me wonder if most lived around there or if people often drive down from L.A. I’m sorry, I’m still this stunned New York expat unable to fathom how people can drive three hours a day in gridlock and not go insane!

It was kind of unsettling seeing my favorite N.Y.-based dancers in L.A. I looked around the press section thinking there must be some N.Y. critics there to cover a premiere, but I didn’t recognize anyone and a Facebook friend later told me Macaulay was with her at a N.Y. performance Thursday night. And the one L.A. critic friend I have wasn’t there either. It made me sad. I really miss spotting the writers in the audience, wondering who’s going to write a review, who’s covering for the Times, who’s thinking what, who’ll write what. And most dearly I miss hanging out with my N.Y. dance-goer friends on the Koch Theater promenade during intermissions, or at Ed’s Chowder House or Fiorello’s afterward to discuss a performance, especially a premiere. I guess I’ll eventually make those friends here…

Posted in Dance Performance Reviews, New York Versus Los Angeles | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

ABT is Coming to Orange County with Ratmansky’s New FIREBIRD

How excited am I! This Thursday through Sunday, my beloved ABT will be performing at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Orange County. They’re premiering Ratmansky’s new Firebird – and none other than SLSG faves Marcelo Gomes and Natalia Osipova are scheduled to star! (David Hallberg and Simone Messmer are co-starring.) The two other dances on the bill are Wheeldon’s Thirteen Diversions (photo above, by Rosalie O’Connor, of Marcelo with Isabella Boylston) and Merce Cunningham’s Duets. The latter two I haven’t seen yet since I missed the company’s City Center season last year.

Read a preview of Firebird by Joseph Carman here.

This will be my first time at Segerstrom / Orange County. If any of my Angeleno or former Angeleno readers would like to give me advice on the best way to get down there from Century City on a weeknight, I’d be most thankful :) I will most definitely report back, particularly on the new Firebird!

 

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Careening Down Mulholland Drive, and Blue Line-ing to Long Beach

Last weekend was so nice (temps reaching 80!), I had to put work aside and get out and explore more of L.A. Friday evening I took the snaky Mulholland Drive home, which, thanks to a short story by Michael Connelly, I will always think of as Mulholland Dive. (It’s also the title of a surrealist, rather haunting David Lynch film.)

The street wends itself through the entirety of Hollywood Hills, from west to east L.A. and is the official dividing point between Los Angeles (to the south) and the Valley (to the north). Despite its reputation – and I did find it to be frightening at some points, especially when locals fly around some of those precipitous curves and intimidate you into doing the same – it’s more touristy than I would have thought. There are overlooks everywhere, inviting you to park your car and take pics. Which is what I did. Here are some from the east point, right above Hollywood, looking out over downtown.

It kind of looks like Oz, right? Oz in the distance anyway, beyond the cliff.

On Saturday I wanted to go to a beach. I haven’t been to Laguna yet, but after researching it, thought it was something my mom might like to do when she comes to visit next month, so decided to save it. I haven’t been to Venice yet either but just didn’t feel like driving all the way across town again on my weekend. I get enough of the west side on my weekdays :) Ditto for Malibu.

So, I decided to go down to Long Beach, and to take the Blue Line (one of the seven Los Angeles subway lines) to do it. I’m a rather proud rider of the Los Angeles subway. I guess it’s the New Yorker still in me… (It’s actually called the Metro rail but I like to call it the subway :) ) I’ve now taken three of the lines: “my” line  – the Red line, which is probably the most popular, as it goes from the Valley down to Universal City (where Universal Studios is), down through the most touristy parts of Hollywood, then to the trendy Los Feliz, then on to downtown (one of the two big work hubs), and ends at the train station; the Purple line, which is a rather short line and goes to Koreatown; and now the Blue line, which I now know travels not below- but above-ground, and stops first at the Staples Center (which is like Madison Square Garden), then continues on to several more stops in downtown and south L.A., passing through Watts, Compton, and ending at Long Beach.

Curving upward as we leave Long Beach.

This is taken from the Compton station, which is lined with these these big, bold letters spelling the town’s name. I thought they were so artistic. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really get a good picture as the train rolled by, but here is part of the M. I’ve heard Compton is a poor part of town but, if that was ever true, it must have enjoyed a renaissance because it didn’t seem run-down at all. The train passed a big shopping center with a Best Buy and other electronics and high-end stores, and a very snazzy-looking casino.

I found the train ride more interesting than the destination though. I don’t think Long Beach has much of an actual beach; it’s more of a harbor.

…with lots of restaurants and stores.

and a small lighthouse.

and a ferris wheel, which wasn’t being used.

I am learning that much of the food in L.A. tends to be Mexican-ized (this is particularly true of Italian where pasta sauce tastes strangely like mild salsa and risotto like it belongs beside refried beans). I ordered “jerk salmon” at this dock-side restaurant. In New York that would mean the fish would be drenched in that mouth-watering Jamaican sauce that is somehow super spicy, tangy, and sweet all at once. But this was simply grilled salmon topped with mango salsa. Very well-prepared grilled salmon and delicious mango salsa, but IT WAS NOT JERK SALMON!!! Oh well.

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How to Find the Studs in the Wall, How Do Valets Not Lose Keys, and Other Settling into LA Conundrums

Aye, still trying to figure out how to live here… The other weekend I was perusing the antique shops on Magnolia Boulevard in Burbank and this piece of furniture stood out to me. I’ve needed a bookcase since I moved here but I haven’t liked anything I’ve seen in the regular furniture stores. But I loved this one. It’s actually a baker’s rack, not a bookcase, but it serves the same purpose. Plus, ever since shopping the Rose Bowl flea market, I’ve kind of been into unique furniture functioning as something other than it was originally meant for. So I bought the baker’s rack.

But I remembered reading in The Elegant Variation, one of my favorite lit blogs written by a New Yorker turned Angeleno, that when he moved to his new L.A. home, one thing he had to do before loading the bookcases was to earthquake-proof them, meaning fastening them securely to the wall so they wouldn’t topple over in the event of an earthquake.

So this was in the back of my mind when I bought the piece of furniture. The man I bought it from told me no worries, just go to a Home Depot and buy an earthquake proofing packet. It should have everything I need, with instructions. So I did. And the guy there also acted like it should be no big deal; just follow the instructions.

I thought package would consist of some burlap straps which I could tie around the furniture and nail into into the wall. Simple. But so not. According to the instructions, after finding an ideal place to velcro and snap the straps securely around the rack (which was hard because of the rack’s kind of ornate design), I was supposed to screw the things into the wall, for which I’d need a drill of course. But I couldn’t just screw anywhere – I needed to find the studs in the wall so that the furniture would attach to something that would actually hold it, which drywall would not. For this I would need an instrument called a stud-finder. You could also just knock on the wall, but you have to know what you’re listening for – ie: the difference between drywall and a stud – which I most definitely do not. So I bought the stud-finder.

When I got the stud-finder home, I found that it operated on these rather unusual batteries, which I didn’t have and which didn’t come with the instrument, so I had to go out to the drugstore for those. When I finally got the stud-finder all ready to use, I carefully read the back of the package, which contained a kind of hidden warning that you need to be very careful that when the little red stud-finder light goes off, it’s actually a stud it’s found and not a pipe or electrical wire. The stud-finder can easily mix all these up. If you drill into an electrical wire you might be electrocuted and if you drill into a pipe you could really screw up the plumbing. In order to avoid electrocution, the package recommended turning off all electrical outlets. Which of course I needed to operate the drill.

I finally decided to call my management company. I was trying not to be a helpless woman, but, seriously, I have no carpentry skills; this is just way over my head. And I don’t even own this place if I do mess up piping or electrical wiring. I don’t remember the lease saying anything about not letting tenants drill, but I wouldn’t want tenants who know nothing about studs and drywall and pipes and electrical wiring drilling about if I were the owner.

So, a nice man from maintenance came and fixed it up for me. Funny, because he didn’t follow the instructions on the package at all – or even use anything in the package. He just drilled a couple large screws into the wall in strategic places so that if the bookcase were to be volted forward, it would probably be stopped by a screw. Not as secure as the earthquake proof kit, but I guess at this point I’m just not going to worry about it.

When I went to work the next day and told everyone about my angsty weekend, pretty much all of my co-workers laughed, and said they’ve never secured anything into a wall. Most people here don’t, they said – they just figure if it’s a small earthquake like the vast majority are, nothing’s going to happen, and if it’s a big one, we’re all doomed anyway.

So I guess that’s that. Anyway, for better or worse, I loaded the bookcase:

I don’t know what made me think all of my books were going to fit on it. I sold about 80 percent of my print books in N.Y. to the Strand and gave about ten percent more away to Housing Works, but somehow I kept so many that I still have more than will fit in one large floor to ceiling wrought iron case. And of course I’m buying more here (thanks mainly to Book Soup in West Hollywood), which I said I wouldn’t do. Didn’t say I wouldn’t buy books, just that they be of the e-version now.

Speaking of books, I also joined this book club called Ladies’ Guilty Pleasures Book Club, which reads mainly mysteries combined with romance. It’s run by a fantastic book publicist I met here through a journalist networking event named Liz Donatelli.

Anyway, their first meeting at which I joined was at this Italian restaurant on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks. It was held on a  weeknight, so I left work as early as I could so that I could find the parking lot. Not so that I could find the restaurant, but so that I could figure out where to park. I’m not kidding. Parking is by far the most confusing thing about this city to me, far more frustrating than driving.

As expected, I found the restaurant right away, then spent the next half hour driving back and forth past it trying to figure out where the parking lot was, or if they had one, and if they didn’t, where else to park. I found several general lots on the street, but I couldn’t gauge how far they’d be to walk. Here, it always seems like something is close by, and then when you try to walk it, you realize the streets are wider and longer than in New York and it’s actually much more of a trek than you thought.

Anyway, I finally found a narrow narrow driveway with an arrow pointing down with the words Panzanella (the name of the restaurant) written underneath, so I slammed on my breaks and turned on my – at that point I think left – turn signal, and when traffic finally cleared, sped into the narrow driveway. The parking was valet only. I figured okay, fine, my first valet experience. More of an expense, but I’m just happy to have my car and myself in the lot with five minutes to go before the dinner’s set to begin. But it made me worry the restaurant was going to be all five course $250 prix fixe plates or something.

Of course the valet wanted my car keys and I was all butterfingers as I tried to detach the car fob from the rest of the bundle. When I finally got it free and handed it to him, he flashed me a suave smile and delicately placed my receipt in my hand. Definitely an actor. But then all throughout dinner I kept wondering how he kept all those keys straight. There were so many cars in the lot. What if he mixed them up?

But nothing to worry about. Entrees in the restaurant were priced in the teens and low twenties and most wines weren’t more than $10 per glass. This is one of the oddest things about L.A. to me: a restaurant doesn’t have to be at all high-priced to have a valet only parking lot. The food was very good, and the valet was really good looking and smooth, and he didn’t lose my keys. And the book club was fun, and I made lots of very cool new friends. Next time, we’re meeting Jackie Collins at a restaurant in El Segundo, which should be a blast!

Posted in Literature / Books, Los Angeles, New York Versus Los Angeles, Restaurants / food | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Rhea’s Laser Light Show

Thought I’d let my cat people readers know about a fun new cat toy that Rhea loves. With my long work hours and kind of crazy commute I’ve been having some issues with kitty lately – namely that she doesn’t want to let me sleep at night because I haven’t played with her all day. I was complaining to one of my friends at work and she asked her sister, who works at a company called Lucky Litter, to send me a couple of play-by-herself cat toys. The company specializes in self-cleaning litter, which I haven’t yet tried.

Anyway, Rhea absolutely loves this laser toy. What I like about it is that you don’t have to flash the wand all about but can set it on a shelf or a table, push the button, and it shoots a bouncing red light all over the place all on its own. So I can just set it up and go do my things and Rhea plays with it by herself.

The instrument the laser emanates from is the cute little white robot-looking thing at the bottom center of this picture.

Fun fun! Thank you, friend at Lucky Litter :)

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Ballet Arizona’s SLEEPING BEAUTY, and Phoenix Society For the Arts Reads SWALLOW!

I feel so badly that I haven’t had time to write very much here lately. Writing doesn’t come close to paying the bills right now (will it ever??) so I do legal contract work, and I have a really time-consuming assignment right now. When I’m between assignments, I’ll try to write as much as I can, but otherwise it’s going to be slow going, sadly…

Anyway, I spent last weekend in Phoenix. I was a guest of the Phoenix Society for the Arts book club whose February read was Swallow! I was so honored, and it was such a wonderful experience. People asked all kinds of interesting questions, and they pointed to specific scenes and characters in the novel that they found particularly entertaining or related to well. One of my early writing instructors – the illustrious James Conrad :)   – once told me that you can tell if people are really into your book if they talk about specifics; if they just say general things – even nice things like “I really liked it,” or “I thought it was really good” – they are probably just b.s.ing. So it made me so happy that people were remarking on how horrible the sister and her nephews were or how wicked Alana was or how they couldn’t believe what Sophie did with the wedding dress or how the judges behaved in the courtroom.

They also asked me a lot of questions about how real everything was – how autobiographical the novel really was. I found that so hard to respond to because the inciting incident – Sophie’s globus hystericus – came from a very real experience, and yet I don’t think there’s a single scene in the book that actually happened, from start to finish. Most of the characters are combinations of so many people I’ve known and then added onto that they’re virtually made up. In order to make something dramatic and interesting that will keep readers’ attention, you really have to work with climax and character arcs and creating a twisting turning plot that will surprise and maybe even shock. You have to make stuff up, and a lot of it or the book just won’t compel readers to turn pages. And then at a certain point you get so carried away with your characters, they start to have a life of their own. And then that removes it further from “reality.” Yet everything is true with that proverbial capital T, you know. Anyway, I got very tongue twisted trying to explain that.

It was such a wonderful experience, though, and I’ll be forever thankful to the Phoenix Society for the Arts for having me, and for giving me such an engaged, inquisitive, alive audience of extremely thorough readers. It was one of the very best experiences I’ve had yet as a writer :)

That Saturday, my dad took me to downtown Phoenix to see Ballet Arizona’s production of Sleeping Beauty. (This was also with Phoenix Society for the Arts). I was so happily surprised by how excellent the company is! I really didn’t know what to expect, because once you see dancers like Alina Cojocaru and Veronika Part and David Hallberg and Marcelo Gomes in all the main roles, you really don’t know if you’re going to be able to have a favorable response to anyone else. I thought the company very much resembled New York City Ballet, which isn’t surprising since the director, Ib Andersen, was a Balanchine protege and a dancer with NYCB. He really has a wonderful little company of dancers. The principals stand out with their charisma, their very strong dance technique, and their good acting, but without being flashy and star-like – just like NYCB.

I especially loved Astrit Zejnati (above, click on photos for original source) as Prince Desire and Natalia Magnicaballi as the Lilac Fairy. And I thought Tzu-Chia Huang was a very sweet Aurora who acted each of the three acts very well. She and Zejnati got loads of applause in the third act, not surprisingly, for their gorgeous fish dives – and her legs were straight up in the air, like Cojocaru’s. Some of the best fish dives I’ve seen! Her Rose Adagio balances were good – not the best I’ve seen – but she held onto them long enough for the audience really to applaud her. Zejnati is small – he reminded me a bit of NYCB’s Joaquin De Luz – but with a very commanding presence. He was a true prince. And he had the ever so engaging expressiveness of Gonzalo Garcia, and everyone knows how I feel about him :D It’s so hard for me not to think of dancers back home when I write about dance now – sorry if that’s annoying!

Magnicaballi (above, second photo of Swan Lake, with Zejnati) was one of the most magical, larger than life Lilac Fairies I’ve seen. She reminds me a bit of San Francisco Ballet’s Maria Kochetkova. She was the perfect embodiment of the “fairy godmother” as she blessed baby Aurora with her beautifully eloquent port de bras, countered Carabosse (Nancy Crowley) with a swift but elegant flick of her arm, and she captivated the audience along with the Prince at the end of the Vision scene as she whisked him off to the real Sleeping Beauty.

Ib Andersen has a wonderful company. It’s too bad they don’t have a very long season – they seem only to perform for two or three days every two or three months. They do mainly classical ballet and Balanchine, with some Robbins, and some of Andersen’s own work, which I now really want to see. Fans of NYCB would definitely love this company.

Posted in Dance Performance Reviews, The Blogging Life / The Writing Life, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

WE ARE THE WEST, in a Santa Monica garage

I had a cool L.A. experience last night that actually felt rather New York-ish. I drove out to Santa Monica to see a band called We Are The West perform in a parking garage below an office building on 7th Street and Santa Monica Boulevard. Above is a photo of one of the two warm-up bands, Zenda Marie, who were also really good and whose lead singer was a charming guy who once lived in N.Y as well (I’m finding a lot of New York transplants here). With the candles, cozy seating, and decorations (including a Mustang, whose front bumper you can kind of see in the lower right corner of the photo), it was a pretty cool venue. Felt very underground.

We Are The West is a two-man band – Brett Hool and John Kibler – whose music I find very poetic, which makes sense since Hool was in Columbia’s MFA program where he focused on poetry. (I know him through a New York artist friend, and he invited me to the event via Facebook). They seem to have a very loyal following and have played in upstate New York and the Netherlands as well. Below are a couple of videos, the first shot in that same Santa Monica garage a few months ago, and the second in the Netherlands.

New Haven by We Are The West from kristopher Kasper on Vimeo.

Posted in Los Angeles, Music and Opera | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Made My Acting Debut, on Gloria Allred’s WE THE PEOPLE!

This week I made my TV acting debut on NBC’s We the People With Gloria Allred. Several weeks ago, a casting agency I registered with sent me to audition for a part on the show.

I ended up getting cast as a plaintiff who was suing the owner of a small airline for emotional distress and the cost of her therapy sessions after her vibrator accidentally went off in her luggage. The baggage check guy alerted the airline owner who made my character take out the vibrator in front of everyone on the plane, to her great humiliation. It’s based on a real case.

Haha, my first Hollywood experience, my first role, and this is how I’m cast! It felt very Jonathan Ames! So I did it. And it was a lot of fun, and a really interesting learning experience. I figured, so L.A., right?! I don’t know how much acting I’ll do – what I really want to do is write, but I wanted to see what it was like on a TV set, how things were done, what auditions were like, etc.

Anyway, it aired this Thursday afternoon on NBC. I’m working a job with long hours right now, but fortunately a very nice co-worker who lives close to the office let me use her apartment on my lunch hour to watch the show. Of course all I could do was stress about how neurotic I came across with my shaky voice and how drab I looked, but that was the character, so it was all good. I thought we all – the airline owner, the baggage check guy, and I – came across as very real. So I’m actually pretty okay with the way it turned out despite my blah look.

It’s funny that I’m a former litigator and have courtroom experience. And Gloria Allred is such a huge personality here. So very cool that my first gig was in a courtroom, being on her show!

Anyway, if it ever goes up on YouTube or NBC’s website, I’ll embed or link to it. I don’t think it’s up yet, but if you see it please let me know! The episode is called “Batteries Included.”

Posted in Los Angeles, Media, Personal | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Happy B-Day, Mr. B

Today is George Balanchine’s birthday. Thank you to Toni Bentley for reminding me with her sweet email and link to the beautiful video below:

Posted in Dance News, Film / DVD / YouTube / Livestreams | Tagged , | 9 Comments

Palm Springs Film Festival, With a Stop at Cabazon

I spent this past weekend with my dad in Palm Springs. He came down with a group and invited me to meet them, which, now that I’m in L.A., was pretty easy. It was the last weekend of the two week-long film festival there, so we caught a few movies. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see either of the two dance films showing. One was Pina, by German filmmaker Wim Wenders, a biopic – in 3D – about Pina Bausch, which I know is coming to L.A. and which I definitely plan to see. The other was a Russian movie called My Father Baryshnikov, about a Soviet era student at a strict Russian dance academy who pretends that his father is Baryshnikov. It looks like that one toured the arthouse film circuit in N.Y. in October, but that was my moving month, so no wonder I missed it. Did anyone see it?

But I did see a film that involved dance – namely Allegra Kent. Bert Stern: the Original Madman is a pretty good documentary of the photographer, who is most known for having taken the last pictures ever shot of Marilyn Monroe (for Vogue). He photographed numerous famous women, like Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Kate Moss, Twiggy – the list goes on and on and on… and Allegra Kent, to whom he was married for a time and with whom he has three children (two of whom were interviewed in the film, along with Kent). He is also, I guess somewhat infamously, known for taking those Marilyn Monroe-esque photos of Lindsey Lohan for New York Magazine a few years ago. Finally – and most interesting to me – he’s also known as a great innovator in advertising for some now iconic photos he took for Smirnoff Vodka, mainly of the Egyptian pyramids, very coolly reflected upside down through a martini glass.

I guess it’s no surprise that Allegra Kent was attracted to him – he came across in the film as a huge womanizer, much like Balanchine. He calls women saints and man their slave. How Balanchine is that! And his womanizing is of course what led to their divorce… He says in the movie that the moment he saw Kent, he thought she would make a wonderful mother, and she did indeed become the mother of his only children. But he didn’t really want the children, he later admits. He didn’t know what to do with children.

He also admits he was greatly drawn to the beauty of the women he photographed, and wanted to have sex with (or “make out with” as he called it) the vast majority of them. But he admits he seldom wanted anything more; he never wanted to marry them, or be more to them than a lover. This is what, he says, made him the photographer he was.

It’s a very honest film. A very straight depiction of a man who seems very shallow emotionally, but was an artistic genius.

Anyway, I tweeted a bit about the film, and one of my friends, who’s a dancer, said he’s reading Allegra Kent’s biography and, according to it, Stern is a horror. I can believe he must have been a horror as a husband. But interestingly Kent says only nice things about him in the film.

It’s really Stern who makes himself look bad regarding Kent. When she confronted him about his relationships with other women, he remembers, he threw it back on her saying she let men (in the form of dancers) touch her all day. When she finally asked for a divorce, he thought how dare she; she couldn’t do that to him.

Their oldest daughter tells the filmmaker (Shannah Laumeister, formerly one of Stern’s  models as well) that she is really a daddy’s girl, and her daughters – still small children – echo her, giggling that they are grandpa’s girls too. But the younger daughter, who also seems very genuine, and a bit more shy than the other daughter, tells Laumeister she never really got along well with her father. She had a bit of a weight problem, though I still thought she was a lovely young woman. But I wonder if that has something to do with her father not getting along well with her, given the way he seemed to think about women.

Anyway, very interesting film and definitely worth seeing if you have the chance. I found Stern to be annoying, shallow, and very unlikeable as a person, and still a genius, an artist and an innovator.

I also saw Haywire, Steven Soderberg’s latest, starring Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Michael Fassbender, and Channing Tatum. This was almost the complete antithesis of the Bert Stern film. Women here are all powerful but not because of their looks. I loved loved loved this movie! Finally, a female James Bond! And Ms. Carano supposedly did all her own stunts! But I don’t think I will ever stop loving Ewan McGregor, even when he plays the “bad guy.” :) This one’s opening all over the U.S. very soon.

Finally, I saw a Belgian film called The Invader, by visual artist Nicolas Provost. I joked on Twitter that it was one of those European films filled with gratuitous nudity, gorgeous cinematography and no plot whatsoever. A friend from graduate school promptly reminded me via Twitter that those were exactly the kinds of films I used to love (and would make her watch ad nauseam with me). I do still love them! It’s kind of funny though because now that I’m a writer (or trying to become a writer or whatever) I wonder how one pitches that kind of thing…

Seriously, I really enjoyed The Invader – about an African immigrant trying to create a new life for himself in Belgium, and meeting women, and having fantasies (I think) and getting into fights with men who were trying to manipulate him (the outcomes of which may or may not have been fantasies), etc. Beautifully shot, which I guess makes sense since Provost is a visual artist. And the actor playing the main character, Issaka Sawadogo, is absolutely captivating.

Anyway, Palm Springs itself was really lovely – it was the first time I’ve actually been there, though I’ve driven by many many times on Interstate 10. Here are some photos (it was a bit overcast, so they didn’t come out all that well):

A very popular diner called Sherman’s near the main theater and festival center.

The main street – Palm Canyon Drive.

I was very attracted to this cute little smiley face atop a yogurt restaurant.

Sonny Bono was the major of Palm Springs. Here is a statue of him on Palm Canyon Drive.

You can tell you’re getting close to Palm Springs when driving on I-10 because you begin to see these modern windmills.

On my way back to L.A., I couldn’t help stopping at Cabazon, a town just west of Palm Springs that boasts the largest dinosaur replicas in the world, designed by Knotts Berry Farm sculptor Claude Bell. I remember Dinny, the apotosaurus above, so fondly as a child. We took many vacations to L.A., Anaheim, or San Diego, and on the drive over from Phoenix, I’d always be on the lookout for him. Whenever I saw him, I knew we were almost there.

Inside Dinny’s belly there’s a little gift shop.

Mr. Rex was built years later, so I don’t remember him. I think he might have scared the wits out of me as a child though.

When I tweeted photos of the dinosaurs, a friend told me they were featured in the movie PeeWee’s Big Adventure, which I haven’t seen.

There’s also a creationist museum off to Mr. Rex’s side, which I didn’t have time to visit. A strand of creationism postulates that dinosaurs co-existed with humans.

And there’s a little place to eat in front of Dinny. Ominous-looking clouds, huh? Unbelievably, I didn’t hit any rainstorms on the way back to L.A.

Posted in Art / Architecture, Film / DVD / YouTube / Livestreams, Los Angeles, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“The Suspect” Now in the Kindle Store

Hey Everyone — Just to let you know, my new short story, “The Suspect,” is available now in the Kindle store for 99 cents. I plan to put it up, in ebook form, in other online bookstores shortly. It’s my first real piece of crime fiction, which I’m really kind of psyched about. It’s a short story, and I think works as a short story, but will probably become part of a longer project I’m working on. Anyway, if you have a Kindle, I’d love to know what you think! If you’re a reviewer and have a Kindle or Kindle-compatible e-reader, I’d love to send you a free e-copy.

Though there’s no dance in this story, I am (of course!) planning to weave dance into the longer project I’m working on. And I promise, nothing Black Swan-esque :)

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Lula Washington Dance Theatre’s Kwanzaa Celebration

Last week my friend Debra Levine invited me to another dance performance; this one by Lula Washington Dance Theatre, who were giving their annual Kwanzaa celebration concert. This was one of the most enjoyable dance performances I’ve seen thus far in L.A. There were many pieces on the program – twelve in all! – and we were there for over three hours. The dances were mostly either African or American modern or a combination of the two, with some ballet thrown in, and music ranged from Fela Kuti to Steve Reich to Quincy Jones’ arrangement of Handel’s Messiah, to a live Samba band with a medley of conga drums that really made you want to get up and join the dancers. Most but not all of the choreography was by Ms. Washington, and one of my favorite pieces – a modern dance one from 2005 – was a very moving tribute to American soldiers, For Those Who Live and Die For Us.

My other favorite was Washington’s 1995 Harambe Suite (all of the photos posted here are of this dance), which encompassed the entire third act. There were a group of what I interpreted to be head tribesmen and women dancing at the back of the stage, behind a table bearing religious candles and celebratory food. A choir dressed in colorful, flowing African garb stood to the side and sang and danced. Children, one by one, would run onstage holding a corn husk or other item of food, which they would take to the table to add to the feast, before going to the center of the stage and breaking into a celebratory dance. Their dancing was accompanied by the singers as well as a live band, seated on the side of the stage opposite the choir.

Some of these kids were AMAZING – seriously; they are going to be stars! There was one little girl, named Tyler, who was the daughter of a professional dancer in the troupe, who just really blew me away. She had so much rhythm and was a real natural. She’s small now but is going to go far. And there was an older boy, a teenager, who could do some of the highest jumps I’ve ever seen. He also did this incredible back bend, bending his knees to lower himself slowly all the way to the ground, only to lift himself back up again by the strength of his legs alone without touching the floor. People went wild. It was incredible.

After the children, the adults came one by one to center stage and danced as well. They’d dance solos, eventually in groups. The children then came back out as a group, accompanied now not only by the choir and the drums but by the audience’s applause as well. After a while, the audience got up and danced at their seats, cheering all the way through.

Not every dancer was perfect – and some of the little kids you could tell were just embarking on their dance training, but that wasn’t at all the point. The evening was just a pure and simple celebration of movement, of being human. So perfect for the holidays.

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Happy Holidays, Everyone!

I always like to use a photo of Alvin Ailey’s Revelations for my happy holiday post but I saw this one, of Hope Boykin in Mauro Bigonzetti’s Festa Barocca (photo by Steve Vaccariello), and decided it was bright and festive. Change is always good, right…

I can’t believe it but this was the first year I’ve missed Alvin Ailey’s City Center season in many years – as long as I can remember. The last few months were such a whirlwind for me though it doesn’t really seem like Christmas. It’s probably also the weather: it’s supposed to be 75 degrees in L.A. tomorrow- by far the warmest Christmas I’ve had since I left Phoenix two decades ago.

Anyway, happy holidays, everyone! And thank you so much for continuing to read my blog despite the sometimes rather huge gaps between posts due to my move :)

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RedCat, Ohad Naharin, and the Beauty of Downtown L.A.

Last Friday night, my friend Debra Levine invited me to a winter dance concert by students of CalArts (California Institute of the Arts, a prestigious arts college here), at  the RedCat in downtown L.A. For New Yorkers, the RedCat reminded me a lot of the BAM’s smaller Harvey theater. It was about the same size, very low-key, and had a very similar, comfy cafe / bar off to the side.

There were four pieces on the program, all of them modern: Yes Is Not Passive, by Stephanie Nugent; The Sea, the Sea, by Colin Connor; and two by Ohad Naharin – Humus and Echad Mi Yodea. I’d never seen Echad Mi Yodea before – and it’s one of the pieces Naharin’s most known for. I don’t know how I’ve missed it, but I do think I’ve seen excerpts. Anyway, it was by far my favorite piece on the program. Here’s a version, performed by Israeli dancers. In the version I saw, everyone was dressed in full black suits, black shoes, and hats. They all stripped down to their underwear by the end, except for the dancer in the front right-side chair, who kept falling at the end of each line. I really loved this piece. So much energy and layered with meaning.

I also liked Yes Is Not Passive, the first piece. There were many different parts, but my favorite was a solo where one man – Jose Luis Trujillo – simply stood in front of the audience and shouted “Yes” so many times his voice became distorted and his contorted face nearly began to melt with sweat. It reminded me of William Forsythe or Pina Bausch. Captivating.

I was also captivated by the architecture of downtown L.A. This was the first time I’d been to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (an opera house where ballet and other kinds of dance performances take place), and the gorgeous Walt Disney Concert Hall (pictures below). So so so stunning!

All of the buildings together were very much like Lincoln Center, except with that breathtaking architecture, far more magical. I was really truly blown away. I was also blown away by how dead it was. It really broke my heart that there were so few people out and about down there on a Friday night during holiday season when you’d expect there to be concerts and performing arts events galore. (Bill T. Jones’ Fela! is playing in one of the buildings.) L.A. is definitely a very different town from N.Y. in so many respects.

Afterward, we went to a small, popular hole in the wall in Little Tokyo (also in downtown) where I had the best meal (salmon teriyaki) I’ve had since I moved here. And after that Debra drove me down the east side of Sunset (the only stretch of Sunset I hadn’t been on) to the trendy neighborhoods on that side of town: Los Feliz, Echo Park, and Silver Lake. Echo Park looked pretty happening and like a place I wouldn’t mind living. And it’s very close to Dodger Stadium :)

Posted in Art / Architecture, baseball & ballet, Dance Performance Reviews, Los Angeles, New York Versus Los Angeles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Pasha Gets His Own Show!

With my move, I didn’t have time to keep up with it, but this season Pasha Kovalev was a professional dancer on the British TV show Strictly Come Dancing (which our Dancing With the Stars is modeled on). He danced with British celeb Chelsea Healey (photo above).

It’s just been announced that he and another pro dancer from that show, Katya Virshilas, will get their own tour this spring. They’ll be performing in various theaters in England. Local dancers will join them, but they’ll be the headliners. Hope it’ll eventually come to the U.S.

Makes me so happy to know that Pasha’s doing so well with his career. I wonder what Anya Garnis is up to these days. I don’t know of Virshilas. Any of my ballroom peeps familiar with her?

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Roberto Bolle’s Fridge

In a recent issue of the Italian magazine Corriere della Serra, Roberto Bolle (along with several other celebrities) revealed the contents of his refrigerators – both the one he keeps in his New York home, and the one in his Milan kitchen. The blogger Gramilano has nicely translated. (Above photo from Gramilano as well.)

So, he’s one of those dancers who’s a real health nut. He eats seitan :)   Seriously though, I think seitan is actually quite good. But I’m not sure what he means by not being able to buy mineral water in the United States…

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