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Pull It Sir

The Pulitzer At 100, Released by First Run Features, Directed by Kirk Simon — For the past century, some of the very best American artists—writers of plays, novels and poems, newspaper journalists and their editors, photographers, composers and even cartoonists--have been awarded the prestigious annual Pulitzer Prize. It is a notable achievement to win a Pulitzer, a recognized public tribute for outstanding work; judges for this honor have been criticized when finalists deemed worthy were overlooked. It's too bad that TV news readers, who usually mention a couple of each April's winners, cannot learn to correctly pronounce the name of the prize. It is not "PEW-lit-zer." The man whose very generous bequest created the award suggested … [Read more...]

Souvenirs: Lost and Found

C. Debussy, G. Faure, Z. Kodaly and C. Chaminade, Le Salon de Musique, April 2, 2017— Years ago, while employed in the television industry, we purchased thirty antiques for possible use in a production. These 18th and 19th century furniture pieces—huge armoires, elaborate partner desks, chifferobes, secretaires and vitrines—haunted a dark corner of a stage for months until they were returned to the seller, never used. But while they sat gathering dust, these former possessions of Europe's elite fascinated me. In time I thoroughly searched every nook, cranny and drawer looking for possible hidden compartments, hoping to find a lost bit of hidden history—a story by Oscar Wilde, a letter from Napoleon, a score by Mozart—tucked … [Read more...]

Pink Elephants

Circus Polka, 1942, Fifty Elephants, Balanchine and Stravinsky Team Up— "Elephants never forget", as the old saying goes. And we should never forget one of the oddest moments in the history of elephants, circuses and classical music. April 9th will mark the 75th anniversary of this unique event. In late 1941, choreographer George Balanchine was contacted in New York by John North Ringling with a unique proposition: could a "ballet" be created for his Barnum and Bailey Circus elephants? The idea was intriguing and in January, 1942, Balanchine called his friend Igor Stravinsky who was busy working in Los Angeles. The two Russians agreed on the idea and, for a healthy fee, the composer finished a piano version of what … [Read more...]

Strings on Fire

 Mark Menzies: from the islands...to fragments, REDCAT, February 6, 2017 —                                     REDCAT's February 6 concert, "Mark Menzies: from the islands...to fragments", was quirky, ambitious, lengthy and rewarding. At the outset, not all of the 240 seats were occupied; after intermission, another 50 were empty. Even for those of us who love music, two hours of solo violin/viola was daunting. But the more one focused on Mark Menzies—his calm demeanor, the skills he employed to navigate complex music, the remarkable range of sounds emanating from his instruments—the more involving the evening became. He also had a couple of … [Read more...]

The Russian Evolution

S. Rachmaninoff, P.Tchaikovsky, A. Arensky, D.Shostakovich, S.Taneyev,, Le Salon de Musiques January 8, 2017— Despite its often dark past, the "Russian Bear" has blessed our eyes and ears with great beauty, from the architecture of St. Petersburg palaces, onion domes on Orthodox churches, painted religious icons and the contents of the Hermitage Museum to Faberge's bejeweled Easter eggs and the enduring novels of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Pushkin. Following his 1837 death, it was Pushkin's tales that provided inspiration for a century of artists who created perhaps his country's greatest gift to the world--music. A partial list of notable composers who were born or writing in 19th century Russia includes Glinka, Balakirev, … [Read more...]

Romantic Respite

R.Strauss, X.Schrwenka, R.Schumann, Le Salon de Musiques November 6, 2016— One hour of daylight was taken from us on November 6th in the annual turning back of clocks.  Only two days later, the presidential election would rob almost exactly half the country of the candidate they hoped would win. Depending on one's political persuasion, it would be either the best or worst day in a long, long time. But on Sunday, the 6th, the outcome could only be guessed at, prayed for or feared. One thing, however, was certain: the entire populace, left or right or center, had definitely experienced more than enough pundit-pontificating, TV commercials, flyers in mailboxes, exhorting robocalls, tense arguments and an endless barrage … [Read more...]

Crypto Nazi vs Queer

Best of Enemies, (2015), Directed by Morgan Neville Robert Gordo, Magnolia Pictures — One of the most consequential U.S. elections is only days away. Finally. The past eighteen months have seen constant bickering and insults from the two front-runners, "oppo research" and dirty tricks orchestrated by their campaign teams and an endless stream of threats, leaks, ugly invective and sexual allegations. Instead of a polite exchange of ideas and policies, non-stop "mud-slinging" has clogged cable news networks; as voting day draws near, only the candidates' foibles and flaws are highlighted. People around the world remain perplexed by America's staggering expenditure in electing a president—a billion dollars, per race, … [Read more...]

The Body at the Center

Christian Rizzo / ICI—CCN MONTPELLIER: d’après une histoire vraie — September 15th was the first of four nights of a ballet featuring eight male dancers accompanied solely by two drummers for a 70 minute performance.  Curiosity about how this melange of 16 bare feet and two piles of percussion instruments could entertain an audience for over an hour is what drew some of us to REDCAT. We were not disappointed after the house lights went down and were soon transfixed by what we saw and heard. When the lights came back up, the two-minute standing ovation for the performers was enthusiastic and well-deserved. The choreographer, director and designer of the production is Christian Rizzo, a man with a truly … [Read more...]

Heavy Traffic on The Royal Road

The Royal Road (2016), Written and Directed by Jeni Olson, Wolf Video — The Royal Road is a curious sort of documentary by filmmaker Jenni Olson.  She gives us a lot to see and think about--perhaps two or three elements too many—in just over an hour. Her smart art film is a loving look at San Francisco and Los Angeles with a smattering of U.S. and California history. There are musings about remembered times and places, unrequited romances, a meditation on nostalgia and the internal monologues of a modern Lesbian woman longing for love. Olson is the writer, producer and director as well as voice-over narrator of this ambitious work. But equal credit should be given to her cinematographer, Sophie … [Read more...]

Dancing with Kafka

Der Bau - Isabelle Schad | Laurent Goldring from Théâtre Auditorium Poitiers — The exceptional is what one comes to expect from the programing at REDCAT. Some original presentations during a recent fortnight have included TeatroCinema's ingeniously staged Historia de Amor and an evening of often bleak, always beautiful films by the late director Chantal Akerman. April 17th proved again the daring temperament with a performance by Berlin based choreographer Isabelle Schad and French artist Laurent Goldring. Isabelle Schad has re-imagined an unfinished novella by Franz Kafka, entitled Der Bau (The Burrow). When the lights came up, the only things visible on stage were four or five bunched-up pieces … [Read more...]