April, 2009

Vivaldi’s Latest Makeover

Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons  has been reinterpreted by many a classical musician.  Janine Jansen, Joshua Bell, Sarah Chang, and nearly every recording orchestra have all released CDs of their versions of Vivaldi’s masterpiece.  It is as challenging and as often performed as Swan Lake is for ballet dancers.  Or, it is to classical music what Grand Theft Auto 3 is to video games – omnipresent, talked about, and challenging enough that it doesn’t get old.

French choreographer Angelin Preljocaj is no different, as he uses Vivaldi’s work as the foundation for his newest piece, Les 4 Saisons.  Preljocaj is no stranger to reinterpreting timeless, classic pieces into this own modern, invigorating, sensual choreography.  Famous for his company’s modernized Romeo and Juliet in the late 1990s, his work has recently utilized the musical genius of such composers as Gustav Mahler, John Cage, Igor Stravinsky, and now Vivaldi.  He also choreographed LA Opera’s much talked about production of Grendel in 2006.  Best known for his provocative choreography, colorful (read: bizarre) costumes, and innovative, beautiful sets (designed by French sculptor Fabrice Hyber), Preljocaj has not tempered any of his creativity in Les 4 Saisons.  Performing for a third time at UCLAs Royce Hall this weekend, Ballet Preljocaj has come, with its Les 4 Saisons, to shock, awe, and leave you wanting more.

If you already do want more (understandably), we’ve got a tip – UCLA hosts the company’s rehearsal dance class this afternoon from 4 – 5:30pm and any ticketholder is free to watch company class.  You’ve got to make a reservation, but its free and definitely worth it! For reservations, please call (310) 206-1144.

 

Ballet Preljocaj’s Les 4 Saisons will be at UCLAs Royce Hall on Friday and Saturday, May 1 and 2 at 8:00pm.  For more information, please call (310) 825-2101 or visit www.uclalive.org.

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Save And Misbehave: Norton Simon Museum

We listened and we heard you, dear readers.  We would like to present Save And Misbehave, an ongoing initiative to let our readers know about places around Los Angeles perfect for saving a little money while getting down.

First on the agenda, instead of swinging by your local watering hole for some TGIF happy hour, perhaps it is time to shake it up at the Norton Simon Museum.  The Norton Simon offers free admission the first Friday of every month from 6-9pm, so…ummm…like…THIS FRIDAY!

The Norton Simon Museum is known around the world as one of the most remarkable private art collections ever assembled.  So whether you want to look at the galleries or relax in the sculpture garden, just remember you can always go out for drinks after impressing those colleagues needing a very dry martini.

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The Seafarer: Or if Samuel Beckett Wrote and Directed an Episode of Frasier

Connor McPherson’s Tony Award-nominated play, The Seafarer—which runs until May 24 at The Geffen Playhouse the way an amiable drunk runs into an old friend—starts off an awful lot like a good episode of Frasier (or a good reading of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, depending on your point of reference).  It even stars John Mahoney, who famously played Martin Crane in the much beloved NBC series, and here, too, spends much of the show sitting in a comfortable-looking chair.

Mahoney assumes the role of Richard, the blind-but-buoyant older brother of Sharky, and for the first twenty minutes or so, he could easily be performing an Irish adaptation of his old sitcom self (or an updated version of Hamm, the central character of Endgame), as he whines and cracks jokes at the expense of his quiet and depressed work-horse of a relative.  Even Ivan, the brothers’ loveable old drinking-buddy, who stumbles in looking for his glasses, could pass for a plausible Niles Crane—if Niles were thirty years older, fifty pounds heavier, and 100-times more drunk.

What begins as a playful mix of Frasier-esque banter and Beckett-esque determinism, however, soon takes on the form of an old-school morality play, with the additions of Nicky, and his mysterious cohort, Mr. Lockhart.  Just like the old English poem from which the play takes its title, the main character—in this case, Sharky—meets with a deep and frightening crisis of faith mid-narrative, and spends the rest of the time coming to terms with it.  But of course, it wouldn’t be a true Irish play if those terms didn’t include whiskey, cards, and a lot of fun.

All five actors seem to revel within their respective parts, each finding their niche within the intimidating quintet of talent and running with it.  The mere fact that they don’t get dwarfed behind Takeshi Kata’s incredible, multi-layered set design says a lot for any actor.  Director as well; because under the unseen touch of Randall Arney, these characters seem to breathe with a joy and knowledge of not only Irish culture and drama, but contemporary TV culture as well.  And it’s this inter-weaving of subtexts, of the old and the new, the experienced and the fresh, the wilting and the hopeful, that so brilliantly serves McPherson’s original vision for The Seafarer.

- By Josh Morrison

The Seafarer runs at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood until May 24. For more information regarding this show or others, please call (310) 208-5454 or visit www.geffenplayhouse.com.

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I.N.C.O.G.N.I.T.O.

For art auctions at Christie’s and Sotheby’s, the price of a piece of art directly correlates with the value of the artist’s name. In the heat of the auction, the price steadily rises for those feuding “got-to-have-everything” types… You know who you are.

But for Santa Monica Museum of Art’s annual exhibition and benefit art sale, Incognito, it’s a little different.  You only have a group of unlabeled artworks in front of you and a list of potential artists at hand.  Incognito.  The concept is simple.  The artist’s name isn’t revealed until the work is purchased.  And each piece of art is $300 a pop, so you don’t have to engage in a bidding war with your neighbor and watch the price inflate.

That might be a little more than what you want to spend, but the price isn’t too bad for an 8″ x 10″ by one of the 480 emerging, mid, and late career artists.  In fact, by using only your honed artistic instincts, you could walk away with a deal!  There is a catch though.  The entrance tickets come with a price tag, but if you are in the mood for a charitable purchase and a night out, you can always justify it by remembering all the proceeds go right back to the museum.  And if you do end up buying, keep in mind that the work you purchase may end up being worth well more than $300. Consider it an investment.

For ticket information, please call:  310.586.6488.

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Making Fun of You for You

Perhaps it started with Jonathan Swift’s A Modern Proposal, which satirically suggests poor people in Ireland sell their children as food to the rich in order to prevent the children from becoming a burden on their poverty-stricken parents.  Since then, the mid-1700s, readers have found it exciting and sort of necessary to read works that sardonically point fingers at the politics of life, human nature, and actual politics.  Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are our generation’s answer to Mr. Swift – unveiling the ridiculous qualities of politics for what they are.  David Sedaris, similarly, shows us how our everyday lives provide such rich comic material – he points a finger at the hilarious truths of the day-to-day.

Author of such widely read works as NakedMe Talk Pretty One Day, and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, Sedaris has been featured on NPR’s “This American Life” and was hailed by Time Magazine as “Humorist of the Year” in 2001.  His stories’ topics range from growing up in his middle class family in North Carolina, his visit to a nudist colony, his drug use, and the difficulty in learning the language after his move to Normandy, France with boyfriend, Hugh.  Speaking for one night only at UCLA’s Royce Hall, on Wednesday, April 29, Sedaris will read excerpts from new, unpublished works.  While the subject matter hasn’t been revealed, there are a few things you can be certain of – he’ll be pointing a satirical finger at himself, society, and by extension, you and me.  Thank god for people like him; they remind us to have a sense of humor about ourselves and the silly things we do everyday!

 

David Sedaris will speak at UCLAs Royce Hall on Wed. April 29 at 8:00pm.  For more information, please call (310) 825-2101.

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Legends of Los Angeles Past

I know, I know, we are all tired of hearing about the mythicized revival of downtown Los Angeles.  With the exception of the Music Center, the Staples Center and Disney Hall; a handful of top-notch restaurants and bars; and the occasional Twitter-fueled stop by the Kogi taco truck, many Angelenos find little reason to trek across the city–especially since no one tends to carry mass amounts of quarters to feed $4 per hour parking meters.

But alas, there have been recent developments in downtown’s move to be something more for locals and tourists alike.  The $2.5 billion, 4 million square foot mega-development LA Live has popped up providing denizens a commercially minded haven.  Two proposed multi-use commercial/office/residential skyscrapers are set to be constructed along the Figueroa Corridor, one replacing the Wilshire Grand Hotel, and the second is to be built directly across the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Despite new arrivals to the Los Angeles skyline, there have been multiple attempts in the past to bring back the glam and glitz downtown LA originally held in its hey day.  Of course, many of those efforts have gone unnoticed due to lack of funds or community support, leaving many of those spaces vacant and straight up depressing.

But the Bringing Back Broadway project is doing something right. Passing its year anniversary a few months ago, the Bringing Back Broadway project, backed by 14th District City Councilmember José Huizar, is an initiative to revitalize Broadway, a street that intersects downtown with one of the largest concentrations of historic theatres in the nation and the original home of Los Angeles’ vaudeville and cinematic entertainment before studios settled farther west.

Now, Broadway, once considered the retail capital of America, is currently filled with empty ground floor retails shops or stands filled with electronics and cheap clothing.  Few of the lavish theatres of the 1920s offer programming. And parking is a drag.

The Bringing Back Broadway project has laid out an ambitious ten-year plan, focusing on filling up the empty retails spaces, revamping those theatres, providing parking (thank goodness!), as well as resuscitating the Los Angeles streetcar.  This initiative’s leadership is comprised of city officials, private property owners, and other stakeholders, who are making promises, raising funds, and are slowly checking off that huge to-do list even in their first year.

Reviving a city center takes serious time, money, and effort as all urban development endeavors do.  But with this cultural investment, we can carefully construct an area with a historic past and a bright future, without the unfriendliness of gigantic advertisements and product endorsements of recent commercial developments.  Bringing Back Broadway smoothly integrates the importance of private and public partnerships to form a seamless city center with both parties satisfied and further more, to create a place where commerce and culture can flourish.

Crossing my fingers and toes, I hope that Bringing Back Broadway brings the sexy back to downtown. Or at the very least, more parking…

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If You Built It, They Will Come

When it comes to gaining inspiration, Los Angeles has a brand new destination that is sure to revive your spirits.  Hidden within the towering buildings, business offices, and outdoor mall façade of Century City is the ‘Hearst Castle’ of photography. Built on the former sight of the Shubert Theater, the philanthropic force The Annenberg Foundation recently opened the doors to a 10,000 square foot exhibition space named The Annenberg Space for Photography. Much more than just a traditional display area for prints, the center offers a digital projection gallery along with a classroom, workshop, and library – all of which invite you to strike up conversation with a neighbor.

Although the building’s exterior shape is square, Los Angeles based architecture firm AECOM designed the interior to resemble the mechanics of a camera. Even the ceiling, inspired by a convex lens, features a central iris-like design that represents the aperture of a lens. It’s easy to put into words how it looks, but once inside, the experience is something words cannot describe.

In the digital projection gallery, two 7’x14’ seamless glass screens have real-projection imaging systems that exceed the level of image quality offered by Blu-Ray players. Watching photographs appear and fade with this caliber of stunning clarity and saturation paired with surround sound music will make your eyes and ears meld into one – in a sensorial, not literal way.

The inaugural exhibit, “L8S ANG3LES” is currently up through June, 28 featuring the breadth of eight internationally famous contemporary photographers whose works capture and celebrate the convolution of the city of Los Angeles. Each photographer embraces the city in such unique ways; it will inspire you to be the next.  Annenberg’s upcoming exhibit, “Pictures of the Year International”, showcases winners of the famous annual photojournalism contest held since 1944 in the Midwest.  The winning images, chosen from over 45, 000 entries each year, are getting their kicks on Route 66 and headed West for the first time since the contest’s inception 65 years ago.

 

- By Gray Malin

 

Annenberg Space for Photography is open Wed-Sun 11am-6pm; Mon-Tue: Closed. Please call (213) 403-3000 for more information.

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From Bell and Bringuier to Mephistopheles in One Night

Joshua Bell, the George Clooney of the violin world, has a swagger.  The problem with his swagger, though, is that he actually has the goods to back it up; he talks the talk and walks the classical music walk.  You can see him in action with the LA Philharmonic this weekend under the direction of Lionel Bringuier.

Assistant music director for the LA Phil, Bringuier conducts as if he’s having a conversation with both the musicians and their instruments.  He conveys each feeling just before the musicians do and with each sad, beautiful violin chord, he looks as if he’ll cry right along with you.

The concert leaves behind canonical Mozart or Bach and instead features enticing and lasting works by Maurice Ravel, Edouard Lalo, Florent Schmitt, and Franz Liszt.  Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso  opens the performance on a disjointed, yet powerful and beautiful note.  Lasting all of eight minutes, it’s not long before Joshua Bell graces us with his presence and performs Lalo’s Symphonie espangole  that, throughout its five sections, has plenty of opportunities for Bell to impress.  Bell’s animated movements (along with his silky, brunette locks) compliment his style of play so well – he commands the violin to communicate his emotion and the audience, in turn, becomes enthralled.  Lalo’s Symphonie espangole is jovial, light, and calmer than the other pieces and has a clear focus on instrumentality.

Following Bell’s dramatic exit, the LA Phil performs Florent Schmitt’s La tragedie de Salome , which undoubtedly steals the show.  Without meaning to trump Bell’s performance, Schmitt utilizes the entire orchestra throughout most of his piece and the result is an overwhelming, intense beauty; the kind of music you let just wash over you.  Lastly is Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No. 1 , which is haunting, strong, and inspired by the German story of Faust – a man who strikes a deal with the devil in return for knowledge.  The legend of Faust has been used by composers such as Liszt, Berlioz, Beethoven, and Wagner, by such writers as Goethe and Thomas Mann, and in such films as F.W. Murnau’s Faust and the recent V for Vendetta. Liszt’s Waltz doesn’t spell the story out for you, but it’s a clear display of his focus on and love of individual instrumentality.

The highlight of the evening, for some, was Joshua Bell’s encore performance during which he played “Yankee Doodle” in every way imaginable.  He moved quickly, slowly, and through every octave a violin is capable of in an impressive show of creative ability. My money is still on Florent Schmitt, though.  I have a feeling that guy’s got a whole new level of posthumous celebrity coming to him.

 

Joshua Bell and Lionel Bringuier’s concerts continue tonight (Friday, April 24), Saturday, April 25, and Sunday, April 26 at Walt Disney Concert Hall.  For more information, please call (323) 850-2000.

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I Have To Sing About The Book I Read

festival-of-booksBook lovers of Los Angeles rejoice!  That event you look forward to every year is almost here.  That’s right, this weekend, April 25th and 26th, is the annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at UCLA.

Since it began in 1996, the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books has sought to bring readers and writers together.  An entire weekend surrounded by books, authors, and other readers, it’s everything a book-worm could ask for.  And really it doesn’t matter what kind of reading you are into as the book fair features something for everyone; whether it be fiction, cook books, graphic novels, or political writing.  As you trek across the UCLA campus it’s hard not to find something to feed your reading addiction.  There are readings and panel discussions to attend, plenty of books to buy, and you might just bump into your favorite author.

The Festival of Books always features a healthy amount of writers, and this year is no exception as 450 will be in attendance.  Besides the normal allotment of Southern California based writers, this year’s book fair also features appearances by Ray Bradbury, Arianna Huffington, Robert Pinsky, Marilynne Robinson, and Wells Tower.  But the real highlight, especially if you have fond memories of reading as a child, might be Eric Carle, author of classics like The Very Hungry Caterpillar and The Grouchy Ladybug.

If you like reading, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t attend to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books this weekend.  Besides being one of the city’s preeminent literary functions, it’s also practically free.  And if you’re worried about the weather, well, rumor has it things are going to cool down this weekend.  So head for Westwood and bask in the glory of the written word.

-By Bryan Hood

Note: For information on tickets visit the Festival of Books website.  Don’t worry they’re cheap, like 75 cents a piece.

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The Rehearsal’s the Thing Wherein I’ll Catch the Conscience of the King

The play-within-a-play is a common theatrical device, maybe most memorable in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but just as evident in a show like Tina Fey’s 30 Rock.  Authors, screenwriters, and playwrights alike all seem to enjoy the interplay of an artificial reality within a larger artificial reality—and for good reasons too.  It allows the creator to explore the differences between the inner and outer selves, to illustrate the theatrics of everyday life, and of course, to comment on his/her own work (or creative masterpieces) as it plays out for the audience.

At a point during French playwright Jean Anouilh’s The Rehearsal—which runs until May 24 at A Noise Within in Glendale— we see this first hand as an actress…who plays an actress…who plays the Countess questions her husband, the Count (Robertson Dean), about whether or not his love interest in the play, Lucile, has become his love interest in real life. He responds with possibly the best line in the show: “Life is very nice, but it has no shape.  The object of art is actually to give it some and to do it by every artifice possible—truer than the truth.”  This one sentence summed up the entirety of the engaging two-and-a-half hour production; that oftentimes the ‘fake’ is more meaningful than the ‘real.’

The Rehearsal’s setting is a perfect example of this paradox; it takes place in 1950s France, but since the play-within-the-play is set closer to the 1750s, the characters seem much more themselves when disguised beneath the wigs and gowns of antiquated aristocracy.  In fact, the wigs only come off when we meet the impetus for the show’s conflict, Lucile, who never wears a wig herself.  She, unlike the rest of the Count’s hoity-toity social circle—his wife the stuffy Countess, the airhead Mistress, the Footman buffoon, or the drunken, manipulative Hero —is soft, naïve, and caring.  And it is due to these exact qualities that the Count falls deeply and openly in love with Lucile—much to the chagrin of the others.  The remaining scenes of The Rehearsal are not so much concerned with rehearsing as they are about winning over the romantic sentiments of the newly transformed Count—and by any means possible.

For the most part, A Noise Within’s recent rendition of this tragic farce, smoothly directed by Julia Rodriguez-Elliott, is right on the mark of what one wishes to see out of good, classical theatre—tight and assured performances, witty dialogue, transformative costumes and set-dressing, and maybe the most heart-warming in these times: a packed house on the second weekend.  If artifice does indeed give way to truth, then Rodriguez-Elliott succeeded in bringing true theatre to Los Angeles–even if it was just a rehearsal.

 

- By Josh Morrison

 

Jean Anouilh’s The Rehearsal runs until May 24 at A Noise Within, located at South Brand Boulevard in Glendale.  For more information, please visit www.anoisewithin.org, or call (818) 240-0910.

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