Performance

Los Angeles Ballet Soars into Fifth Season with Sparkling “Nutcracker”

Photo-1-700x554It is all but impossible to conceive of an American holiday season devoid of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet. The ubiquitous melodies – blaring in various versions from mall loudspeakers, underscoring TV commercials, accompanying passengers in random office-building elevators throughout the country – are as well-known and popular as “White Christmas” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” at this time of year. Yet the ballet was virtually unknown in America until George Balanchine mounted an original production of The Nutcracker for New York City Ballet back in 1954, in an effort to entice a new audience for dance.

Los Angeles Ballet debuted to critical acclaim and audience delight in 2006, with an original staging of The Nutcracker by Artistic Directors Thordal Christensen and Colleen Neary. Considering that the US financial collapse and recession have felled other worthy arts organizations during the years since, the ascendance of a classical ballet company in dance-ingenuous LA is nothing short of miraculous. The LAB audience numbers have increased year after year, with the attendant growth in ticket sales income. Against all odds, this month Los Angeles Ballet offered their sumptuous holiday treat of a Nutcracker to open a landmark fifth season.

This year as always, LAB presented the production in three different locations around LA County: Glendale’s Alex Theatre, UCLA’s Royce Hall, and the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center. Because of the crushing schedule of 9 shows in two weeks, nearly all principal and featured roles were double- and triple-cast. I attended performances in all three venues, which meant I was able to witness the excellent contributions of all solo artists. I must say that, for all the glamour and virtuosity of these soloists, the LAB ensemble dancing is where much of the real magic resides.

Over the past few years, I’ve worn out my thesaurus with attempting to adequately praise the extraordinary LAB women’s corps de ballet. Their gorgeous Dance of the Snowflakes at the end of Act I is about as good as it gets, anywhere. The 12 dancers fill the stage with such synchronous perfection that time absolutely seems to stand still. It’s spectacular and moves me to tears. PS – I wasn’t the only spectator surreptitiously dabbing at my eyes at intermission.

The opulence of the costumes by designer Mikael Melbye got the audience’s attention from the get-go. Murmurs of appreciation greeted the 1912-era formal velvets, furs, magnificent hats and coats adorning onstage guests at the Christmas Eve shebang. The seamlessly high caliber of the dancing to come was presaged in a scintillating “Upstairs, Downstairs” tidbit, featuring two amorous maids with two tipsy butlers. Suddenly, the wizardly Drosselmeyer, played by the charismatic Jonathan Sharp, magically appeared with a trunk full of life-sized mechanical dolls. As these dolls began to move, I found myself hyperventilating with hyperbole.

Returning guest artist Sergey Kheylik remains a crowd favorite year after year, his leaps defying gravity in his role of the Russian doll. Katrina Gould radiated charm in a reprise as the Columbine doll, opposite a witty and stylish Tyler Burkett as Harlequin. In other performances, Columbine and Harlequin were danced by newcomers Isabel Vondermuhll, and Aaron Bahadursingh.

Radiant thirteen-year-old Helena Thordal-Christensen danced Clara with purity of line and professional poise, having first come to the role in last year’s production. Already an accomplished actress, she has added depth and nuance to her characterization of a young girl in the first flush of infatuation. New to the role, Mia Katz showed off clean technique, and a fresh and spunky personality. The Nutcracker/Prince was capably danced by Jordan Veit of Pacific Northwest Ballet School’s Professional Division.

Most of the children I interviewed after the show cited the Mouse Battle as the most memorable part of the show. Standouts as the Mouse King were Craig Hall and Christopher Revels, both of whom admirably negotiated the comic elements of the role along with the fierce leaps.

The sublime Monica Pelfrey returned as Marie (Sugarplum Fairy) in the Act II Grand Pas de Deux. Her partner was Zheng Hua Li, imported from China a couple of seasons ago. Li is that most rare of male dancers – the perfect danseur noble. He is tall and elegant, handsome, wonderfully expressive. His dancing displays great beauty of line, musicality and phrasing; his heroic leaps and turns take my breath away. His sheer physical strength and stamina in the lifts and attentive partnering drew cheers from the balletomanes in attendance.

Alternating with Pelfrey as Marie was LAB debut artist Allyssa Bross. Her sparkling personality ingratiated her with the audience no less than her proficiency in the rigors of the choreography. Partnering her, Christopher Revels tears up the stage in a circuit of jumps and turns in which his academic clarity and fullness become charged with a sense of reckless rapture. Christopher revels, indeed. His perfect execution of multiple double cabrioles is seared into my mind’s eye.

Among other highlights was the Waltz of the Flowers by the aforementioned women’s corps de ballet, featuring a shimmering and delicate Grace McLoughlin in her first performances as the Rose. A break-out artist last season in Balanchine’s Kammermusik and in New Wave LA, McLoughlin continues to develop under the inspired guidance of Neary and Christensen. Also dancing the Rose is newcomer Molly Flippen. Both women exhibit lovely extensions and ports des bras, and both dazzle the crowd in a fiendish series of pirouettes and fouettees.

Sergey Kheylik returns in Act II, impossibly airborne in the Russian Trepak. Alternating as his two accomplices in this acrobatic romp were, variously, Tyler Burkett, Aaron Bahadursingh, Craig Hall, Alexandre Scupinari, and Christopher Revels.

Lovely Julia Cinquemani performed a spellbinding Arabian Dance, all liquid extensions and molten sensuality. Sidelined by an injury for a week, Korean ballerina Stephanie Kim made her company debut in the same dance, late in the run. She was magical, sinuous, electrifying throughout the extended pas de deux. Both dancers are partnered with strength and beauty by a majestic Alexander Castillo.

Throughout the production, the entertainment level doesn’t flag for a moment. It’s safe to say that Los Angeles finally is home to the world-class ballet company for which residents have waited for decades.

- By Penny Orloff

Information about upcoming 5th Season LAB productions is available at www.losangelesballet.org.

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Extra! Extra! Expand Your Cultural Nerves with Tickets to Randy Newman!

randy-newman-harps-and-angels-poster_gazette_thumbI’ll be honest: I don’t know much about Randy Newman. I’ve seen Toy Story and loved The Full Monty, but maybe it’s because I’m not originally from Los Angeles (and thus never heard “I Love L.A.” over the loudspeakers at Dodgers games), but I was never really exposed to him as a personality, let alone a singer/songwriter. And I feel left out. I feel as though my body is missing an integral cultural nerve-ending (I scoffed at my friend who, until recently, hadn’t heard Prince’sKiss”).

Now I have my chance though, and so do you (whether or not you’re a Newman newbie). And in fact, it may be our last chance. At the Mark Taper Forum in Downtown, the world-premiere musical Randy Neman’s Harps and Angels has enjoyed a successful one-month long run, which ends this Wednesday, December 22nd, and Fine Arts LA has two tickets to give away to this final performance. Directed by Tony winner Jerry Zaks of Guys and Dolls fame, and starring such names as Ryder Bach, Storm Lange, Adriane Lenox, Michael McKean, Katey Sagal, and Matthew Saldivar, the show features all the Newman hits (“Political Science,” “I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today,” “You Can Leave Your Hat On,” and “I Love L.A.”), and maybe even some you don’t know.

Simply enter your first name, last name, and e-mail address into the form below, and you will be entered into the running to receive two free tickets to Randy Neman’s Harps and Angels on December 22nd at 8 PM. And as always, though especially in the spirit of the holiday season, you will automatically be eligible to win any or all of our next three ticket giveaways. So happy holidays, and enjoy your cultural nerves—whatever those may be.

-By Joshua Morrison

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A Form of Currency: UCLA Graduate Open Studios

dscn1970-e1276139717586It’s all too easy—especially in a city permeated by the entertainment industry and material gain in general—to forget that there are still many artists out there committing their lives to their craft without the slightest hope of a monetary reward, and that there are a vast amount of studios in operation that have absolutely nothing to do with film or television. In fact, at the UCLA Graduate Open Studios in Culver City this past Saturday, I found that there were at least 30 dedicated artists at work who were not only putting their pieces up without price tags, they were most likely taking out student loans to do it.

This is not to say these young practitioners were exercising pure artistic selflessness; the hope, I gathered, as I traversed through the maze of sectioned-off galleries amidst packs of the hippest and most attractive art crowd I’ve seen in some time, was that people would notice the stand-out work, that they would pay attention (as opposed to money).

And attention can be a form of currency in itself. My colleague Helen, who I attended the event with discovered this fact in the most literal sense. We were vocally admiring the work of Max Rain (a stand-out artist, for sure)—in particular, a photograph of his that shows a piled arrangement of 20 or more dead and deformed rodents he collected as an employee of an animal shelter, the result of which amounts to a kind of macabre yet beautiful collage—when Max himself approached in the most amiable, non-egotistical manner possible in that situation. Helen told Max that if she had money, she would put the piece above her bed, to which he replied, “Really? If you promise to put it above your bed, I’ll give you a print for free.” He wasn’t lying. The mere idea of someone posting his work in their bedroom was, to him, compensation in itself.

I did, however, get a hint from another one of the artists, Sarah Dougherty—an incredibly talented painter who pieces together large LA-set landscapes with found objects, tapestry, and other pop-up book-esque features—as to who the real target audience might be. “We had our professor critiques this week,” she sighed in exasperation to me, going on to explain how most of the reviews were positive, but one in particular had her completely devastated.

Being in the “real world,” or at least the world outside of collegiate critique, it may seem difficult to relate to Sarah’s (or even Max’s) point of view. Who cares what a professor thinks? They’re not making any money either. But when you think about it, our art world—at least the part of it I’m interested in—is not so different from that Culver City rat maze I danced around on Saturday night, snatching up complimentary cheese and wine where I could find it. All artists, for the most part, are not looking to feed their wallets or even their ego. That’s not why they spend hours upon hours, day after day, inside tiny white rooms, experimenting with pigments or tweaking the electrical feeds on video installations. Why do they do it then? The truth is I don’t know. I’m tempted to say sex, but it probably has more to do with communication, putting something out there that’s you, says you—and how can something not be you when you spend that much time and energy on it?—then having someone else come up, take a look, and say, you know, I’d like to post you above my bed. Maybe it does have to do with sex.

- By Joshua Morrison

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Posted in Art, Bring Your Flask, Conceptual, Contemporary Art, Culver City, Film, Food & Drink, Galleries, Installation, Mixed media, Neighborhoods, Painting, Performance, Personalities, Photography, Video Art No Comments »

Engage the Engager! Win Tickets to see Pierre-Laurent Aimard!

image001“I wouldn’t say I’m a pianist – I’m a musician, and the piano happens to be my instrument.” This is a quote from world-famous and widely applauded musician (who specialized in piano) Pierre-Laurent Aimard, and it evinces, in a simple way, one of my main fascinations with those artists who deal in vibrations. They inherently grasp the underlying structure and tools of their craft, and even when they’re just hitting keys on a piano or bowing strings on a cello, they are simultaneously attuning and reacting to a world of sounds. Even anyone who’s ever participated in an amateur garage band before (me) can tell you it’s very hard to play the guitar to a song without knowing the drum beat in your fingers.

And the piano seems to be the epitome of multi-instrumental instruments, as it holds within its audible reach both percussive and stringed qualities, and can, unlike many other species of the orchestra, harmonize with itself at the extreme ends of pitch. It’s no surprise to me that Aimard describes himself as a musician before a pianist, because the more I think about it, the more I realize the piano (or for that matter, any instrument) may just be the musician’s personalized stepping stone to engage with his/her art.

I suppose, then, that leaves us, the listener. How do we engage with these über-talented engagers? Emotionally? Do we feel the music? Intellectually? Do we think about the music? Physically? Do we tap our feet? Or is listening, too, a multi-faceted craft?

If so, we here at Fine Arts LA have your last-minute stepping stone. Once again, two free tickets to see none other than legendary Pierre-Laurent Aimard this Wednesday, December 1st, 8:00 PM, at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Downtown. Aimard, known for both his classic and contemporary performances and recordings, will be performing pieces by Messiaen, Chopin, and Ravel. For your chance to engage (an a strictly non-monetary level), all you have to do is enter your first name, last name, and e-mail address into the form below, and you will be automatically entered into the running. And, as is customary, every person who enters can also win any one of our next three ticket giveaways (it’s happened before). So don’t just be a blog reader, be a blog engager.

- By Joshua Morrison

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Extra! Extra! Zacharias! Zacharias! Ticket Giveaway to LA Phil!

WDCH-ImageOccasionally a friend—and even more occasionally, a date—will get in the passenger seat of my car and I’ll turn on the radio. Like most LA commuters, I spend most of my car-time alone, with the windows up, free to listen to whatever cool or un-cool music I  please, and the probability of the radio being tuned into Classical KUSC is quite high. For me, classical music is choice on a long trip down the 10 if only because it’s so unfathomable. Most pop and hip-hop music, though enjoyable and satisfying its own right, I can deconstruct. I can imagine the songwriting process, and in my limited musical ability, fathom the instrumentation. There’s little wonder involved; it’s more nostalgia and/or primal reaction.

But for most friends or dates, the mere sound of strings without vocals or brass without beat incites a confused reaction. They look at me like I’m a pretentious ass, as if just before they entered the car, I had switched the radio station to KUSC, then turned it off so as to trick them into thinking how cultured I really am.

The truth is I am just as confused as they are. Listening to classical music is a slow and constant learning process, at least for me, and I often struggle with what makes these so-called masters—these Beethovens, the Bachs, these Mozarts—what makes them so good. It wasn’t until a few years ago, when I went to my first symphony voluntarily, that I realized the answer: you have to see it live.

And fortunately for you, our dear and patient reader, FineArtsLA is giving you that chance—for free, no less—to experience all three of the big names listed above (well, almost) in one night. This Saturday, October 30th, 8:00 PM at Walt Disney Music Hall in Downtown Los Angeles, world-renowned conductor and celebrated pianist Christian Zacharias leads the LA Philharmonic and mega-mezzo-soprano Susan Graham in a program featuring all music composed within 53 years.  Mozart’s “Ch’io mi scordi di te?“, C.P.E Bach’s “Keyboard Concerto in D Minor,” and Beethoven’s “Suite from The Creatures of Prometheus” make up the bill. All you have to do is enter your first name, last name, and e-mail address into the form below, and you will be eligible to receive two free tickets to this event (as well as be automatically entered into the running for our next three ticket giveaways).

This way, when your friend or date gives you that confused look when you turn on the radio to KUSC, you can simply say, “This is Beethoven. The music we’re headed to go see.”

- By Joshua Morrison

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An Accidental Rave

As a wannabe writer  in Los Angeles who also dabbles in critique, it’s hard not to go see a local theatre production of a really good original play by a really good young playwright, and not get jealous—especially when the playwright is sitting directly behind you. It is even harder to try and write about said jealousy of said playwright in a Hollywood coffee house when you just ordered your vegan chicken sandwich and she walks in the front door, causing your fingers to scramble down the touch-pad mouse of your laptop in time to minimize her headshot displayed overtly on your monitor (not kidding). The name of my apparent stalker is Leslye Headland, and her latest play, which she also directed, is called The Accidental Blonde, an IAMA Theatre production that opened at the Elephant Theatre on October 8th and runs until November 7th.

But back to my jealousy—a fine emotion to cradle when by your lonesome in a dark theatre, critic’s writing pad on the ready, but not when you’re within they eye-shot of the object of your jealousy. Self-consciousness, at this point, takes charge. And so it was with me on a Friday night performance of The Accidental Blonde, amidst a generous theatre crowd, as I sat and read about the woman whose eyes I imagined looming over me like the glowing eye-glasses billboard in The Great Gatsby.

Leslye, as I nervously found out, was not only an accomplished playwright but a hard-working and ambitious one (fuck that). The Accidental Blonde is the sixth installment in her “Seven Deadly Plays” series, each one dealing with a different sin, and all within the context of a young, modern-day scenario (honestly, what kind of asshole doesn’t just give up after the first two?) Not only that, but she currently works on the FX show Terriers, and is in the development phase of creating a pilot for HBO based on Julie Klausner’s memoir I Don’t Care About Your Band, as produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay (both over-the-hill, if you ask me).

The house-lights dimmed (finally, as I could then efficiently scribble down my biting critiques in relative anonymity), and the stage lights went up on two women, Veronica and Lucy, as played respectively by Katie Lowes and Sarah Utterback. What followed was a tightly-scribed dual monologue scene—Veronica at her therapist and Lucy into the off-stage camera of a reality cooking show starring her. While Veronica complains about her obsessive envy over her one-time roommate’s—Lucy’s—newfound fame, Lucy shoots off take after take of practiced on-screen “confessionals,” each one more falsely modest than the next. What’s interesting about the scene is that the two could almost be responding to one another in their separate speeches, yet not in a forced, showy kind of way. The scene does what, in my mind, all first scenes should do: it establishes the tone and theme of the entire play in a succinct, grabbing fashion. Five minutes in, one could already name the deadly sin to be explored throughout: envy.

I have to admit, at this point, I figured the dual-dialogue was a bit of a gimmick. I’d seen it done before many-a-times—I’d even tried it myself on occasion—and one introductory vignette done in this style would most certainly prove to be unnecessary by the end, right?

Not right. Often what separates a gimmick from a genuine point-of-view is simply commitment. And whether I liked it or not, Leslye committed. The entire play, with minor exceptions, was done in split-screen, or split-stage. It could very well have been two plays, one concerning Lucy and her venture into reality-show stardom; the other dealing with Veronica and her overwhelming dissatisfaction with her “normal” life as mirrored through the paparazzi lens of her ex-roommate.

I hate to go too much into plot detail—you should really see it for yourself—but suffice to say, about halfway through, I completely forgot Leslye was sitting right behind me. The right-brain/left-brain conceit bounced back and forth like a tennis match, and when, later on in the play, the two halves began to mesh, began to share props and glances, I was reminded of David Foster Wallace at his best, when it seems as though multiple thought patterns are coinciding, even reacting against one another.

To pull off this type of stunt requires more than the occasional Juno-style quip—and there were a few. It takes good direction, and even better acting. Katie Lowes, especially, reveals herself to be ugly in the part of Veronica, something not many actors can do with class. Even when Lowes straight-up masturbates on stage, she keeps it quiet (in the grander sense of the word). She plays the reality of the character rather than that of the actress, which is an incredibly difficult task in front of  alive audience. Sarah Utterback, too, aside from the small gripe I have with her on-stage cooking skills (I’ve worked in kitchens), is quite believable as a bewildered fifteen-minute famer coming to grips with the ticking clock on her celebrity. I was also impressed with Dean Cechvala, the slacker Editor of his father’s magazine, who manages to extinguish the superficial outer-layer of Lucy’s personality, at once making her more human, as well as humiliated.

When the house lights came up once again at the end of the play, I was left with an odd sense of nostalgia for my pre-show envy. The show was terrific and more than worthy of the applause it garnered, but when I looked back at Leslye once more before exiting the theatre, I didn’t feel like writing about her. Because I knew I could only really say good job.

- By Joshua Morrison

IAMA Theatre Presents The Accidental Blonde runs until November 7th at the Elephant Theatre in Hollywood. For more information, please visit www.iamatheatre.com.

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Drawing Deanna Petherbridge

Image29Is it absurdly presumptuous to assert that almost all art—at least in the strictest, most conscious sense of the word (after all, breathing and eating and suckling milk from a breast could all be done artistically)—starts with drawing?  The earliest forms of recorded human communication are in the forms of drawings, whether they be in caves or Egyptian tombs, and often the earliest memories of a great artist are with ink and paper. What is drawing? What really distinguishes it from painting? Is the former just the skeleton of the latter, and if so, who decides when the bones give way to flesh?

Author, artist, critic, curator, professor, lecturer, and Brit, Deanna Petherbridge has spent the majority of her professional life—which includes numerous exhibitions all over the world, an enviable list of residencies at prestigious universities, and notable works of criticism in all sorts of major publications—thinking about drawing. Her latest book, The Primacy of Drawing: Histories and Theories of Practice (as published by the Yale University Press with support from LA’s own Metabolic Studio) not only gives an exhaustive account of Western art history through the lens of the drawing, but also examines the art-form as a vital tool toward problem-solving.

Petherbridge is speaking at LACE this Thursday, October 21 at 7 PM, sketching out (bad pun intended?) some of the main concepts that are detailed in her book. Having only read one of her essays before, I, for one, highly recommend hitting Hollywood Blvd. after work to see her. She has a way of coming off as academic and passionate at the same time; like the best of Freud’s works, both extensively thought-out and curious.

I believe this stems from Petherbridge’s dual role as artist and critic, a sometimes paradoxical cast that LACE has been exploring in their on-going Salon Series, in which artists of differing minds and mediums host events in order to connect more directly with their audience. Her essay “Meditations On a Dirty Word,” for instance, takes time to account for the “deskilled” talents of Jean Dubuffet, Cy Twombly, Basquiat or Tracey Emin, while still, in a sense, arguing for the importance of training in art. Basically—if I may perform a brash and inept summary—Petherbridge believes in the co-existence of skill-based education and ‘genius.’ Active audience and artist.

Nowhere is this duality of skill and individuality more relevant than in drawing. Because embedded within drawing is a kind of mimesis. Take those early cave depictions of animals and body parts, or the human-like hieroglyphs. Drawing, even in the word itself, involves some sort of borrowing (or stealing). Does this mean that the best borrowers are also the best drawers? And if so, where does originality fit in? More questions. More questions. Maybe Petherbridge can provide some relief.

- By Joshua Morrison

LACE is located at  6522 Hollywood Blvd. For more information on Deanna Petherbridge and the Salon Series, please visit www.welcometolace.org.

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Phantom Disappears Into the Night

Phantom-and-ChristineThe idea of life without Phantom of the Opera is almost as unbelievable as a deformed miscreant in a 19th Century English opera house teaching classical vocal technique to one of the ballet’s mediocre but beautiful dancers.  Yet, that is what makes it a thrilling fantasy. The Phantom of the Opera can’t go anywhere. It can’t say goodbye—that’s impossible.  It is one of the most beloved and celebrated musicals of all time.  Its eerily haunting music, dramatic 19th Century set design, and iconic romance story can’t possible bid us farewell.  Phantom is to the theater what hot dogs are to baseball.  It’s a classic. It’s a staple. It’s so much a part of musical theater that it has become a part of our mainstream sonic culture.  It is blasted out of elevator speakers and played at so many people’s weddings that most of us tend to roll our eyes and classify it as cheeseball.  But that’s not Phantom’s fault! We are to blame for taking something captivating and special and playing it ad nauseum. I have always defended Phantom and will continue to go to bat for Andrew Lloyd Weber’s most successful musical until the day I die.   When I saw the “Farewell” posters flanking Wilshire Blvd, I got excited rather than sad, and I toted my boyfriend (a Phantom virgin) with me to Hollywood’s Pantages Theater.Ever since its 1986 debut in London’s West End, the story about a brilliant, disfigured, and mysterious musical genius’ obsession with a young, gorgeous and recently sexually awakened soprano has mesmerized and shocked audiences.  The combination of the story (drawn from Gaston Leroux’s Le Fantôme de l’Opéra), Charles Hart’s sexy and sensitive lyrics, and Andrew Lloyd Weber’s gorgeous compositions, have made Phantom Broadway’s longest running musical ever. If you have never seen this show (like my opening night companion), do yourself a favor and experience it for the first time. Seeing it again through my boyfriend’s eyes brought me back to the first time that I fell head over heels for this mother of all musicals.

The show begins with an auction of opera house antiques—residual evidence of something traumatic from the past.  The action begins when the auctioneer calls out Lot #666, the house’s signature chandelier.  Something supernatural sparks the lamp into light, and the elegantly oppressive chandelier rises into the air, above the audience, in its original, breathtaking glory.  The constraints of time are removed, and as a collective whole, the audience is transported back to when innocence was lost, hearts were broken, and the unbelievable happened.

As soon as the chandelier lights up the stage, the show moves at breakneck speed, and the action doesn’t stop until curtain call.  This may be one of the quickest-moving shows I’ve ever seen.  Even if you’re one of those people that think of the theater as a good napping place, you can be assured that the non-stop entertainment will keep you awake.

Christine Daae (Trista Moldovan), the heroine of the musical, makes her singing debut in the signature song “Think of Me” after the opera’s lead soprano, Carolotta (Kim Stengel), becomes emotionally distressed when the stage backdrop mysteriously collapses.  Christine, we learn, has a vocal coach she’s never met that she calls “the Angel of Music”—but who she knows is indeed the storied Phantom.  She sings, and everyone is so impressed with her talent that nobody misses Carlotta—except for me, the real person, in the real audience, in the real world. Christine’s voice should be crystal clear and pitch perfect in the world of Phantom, but Trista Moldovan was often airy, flat, or sharp when she needed to be perfection. The Angel of Music is her coach for pete’s sake.

The best voice in this production belongs to Christine’s amour, Raoul (Sean MacLaughlin). Every note he sang was pure beauty, and there were many times that I wished that he had been cast as the Phantom (unfortunately played by word-slurring Tim Martin Gleason).  A voice like MacLaughlin’s should be heard more.  Raoul was my angel of music, and the ladies I talked to in the bathroom line during intermission unanimously agreed.  No wonder Christine fell in love with him. I almost did too.

As the story progresses, we start to realize that the Phantom is completely insane. We learn that Phantom is a musical prodigy and brilliant magician who was born with a disgustingly deformed face and escaped from a traveling freak show where he was abused and ridiculed most of his life.  Phantom’s attempts to woo Christine by kidnapping her and holding her captive in his sewer-lair prove fruitless.  Phantom’s life-size doll of Christine in a wedding gown is a major no-no in getting a girl to like you.  Perhaps in Victorian England people were a bit more forward, but good grief that was creepy.  As Christine’s youthful curiosity takes hold of her, she rips off the Phantom’s mask, and the audience learns that to call the Phantom emotionally unstable would be a gross understatement.  As he lies on the floor, reaching out to Christine for compassion and acceptance, you realize that Phantom just yearns to look normal and be loved, and Lloyd Weber’s beautiful music demands that your heartstrings be panged.

Christine longs for a life with a man that can give her a future, a man who lives among other men, a path that is more accepted: she wants the pretty boy, not the Phantom.  Trista Moldovan’s duet with Sean MacLaughlin in “All I Ask of You”  is a highlight of the show—not because of the song, which of course is stunning, but because of MacLaughlin’s flawless performance.  The omnipresent Phantom learns that his flame is hot for another.  Of course, being a total psychopath and outcast, he is unable to deal with feelings in any rational or productive way, so he goes batshit crazy and wills the chandelier to plunge dangerously over the audience.  It’s on.

The second act moves so quickly that your head whirls. Traps are laid, deceptions are had, and the conflict builds to a subterranean showdown between Christine, Raoul, Phantom, and the Victorian equivalent of a SWAT team. In the end, surrounded by police and with capture apparently inevitable, Phantom fools us again, disappearing into the night and leaving only his ivory mask.

I went to the Pantages Theater with every intention but to say farewell to this passionate, spirited, and deeply layered show.  Go fall in love all over again, but don’t ever say goodbye. Phantom should not—and will not—go anywhere.  As long as musicals are playing and people are attending the theater, there will be a place for Phantom. It is indeed the angel of musical theater.

-By Brittany Krasner

The Phantom of the Opera is playing at the Pantages Theater on Hollywood Blvd. through Halloween (October 31st).  For tickets and more information, please visit www.pantages-theater.com.

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Extra! Extra! An Angel Spreads His Wings and You Win Tickets!

Corella-GKPD-logoI once read somewhere that the job of the ballet dancer was to create the illusion of weightless-ness—an earthly angel floating and spinning above the ground, free from gravity’s shackles.

Fortunately for the Corella Ballet Castilla Y León, a young but internationally acclaimed ballet company from Spain, they have an Angel looking after them. Ángel Corella that is. A principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, Corella returned to his home country in 2001 to start the kind of institution that simply did not exist when he was growing up: a classical dance school, and more importantly, an affiliated Spanish-based company for the students to aspire to. The school, called La Foundación Ángel Corella, is now almost ten-year-old and teaches everything from technique to history to lighting design. The company, however, is only about three years old, as it took Ángel (a legitimate star in the ballet world), along with his family, approximately eight years of “extremely hard work” to get it off the ground. Initial auditions were held back in 2007 before the company even had the money the support themselves.

Many were dubious of Angel’s ability to sustain a successful ballet company, especially out of Spain, and amidst a tanking global economy. But today, the Corella Ballet Castilla Y León has 45 dancers, most of them Spanish in origin, and is widely considered to be one of the most exciting troupes performing in the world. In a sense, Angel is just doing his job by providing the illusion of weightless-ness.

So to show our support, FineArtsLA is giving away two tickets to see the West Coast debut of the Corella Ballet Castilla Y León, only their second appearance in North America on Saturday, November 6th at 7:30 PM at the Ahmanson Theatre. Among the pieces to be performed are Soleá—a pas de deux choreographed by flamenco legend María Pagés, which stars Ángel and his sister Carmen—a couple of contemporary works by Christopher Wheeldon, Stanton Welch’s Clear, and the Bruch Violín Concerto Nº1 as choreographed by the award-winning Clark Tippet. All you have to do is enter your first and last name into the form below, along with your e-mail address, and you will automatically be in the running to win not only these tickets, but also our next three give-aways (not bad). Just consider us your guardian Ángels (okay, that was bad).

- By Joshua Morrison

The Corella Ballet Castilla Y León performs at the Ahmanson from November 5-7. For more information, please visit www.musiccenter.org.

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Franzen’s Freedom Isn’t Free

franzen1Jonathan Franzen is conducting a reading from his long awaited novel, Freedom, tonight, Thursday, September 16th, at the Aranti/Japan America Theatre on 244 San Pedro St. in Downtown. It will be interesting to see who shows up since Franzen is a bit of a controversial figure. And I think the warring views on his standing within the American literary tradition can be boiled down to three camps: the Franzen nuts, the Oprah Winfrey freaks, and the bitter elite.

The Franzen nuts—to whom I must confess to being closest in sentiment—believe that the 41-year-old writer of 2001’s The Corrections is our generation’s Great American Novelist, (there is even a recent Time Magazine article about Franzen titled exactly that). They think his ability to combine sprawling, politically-aware narratives with deep, human characters is unmatchable in our time; that he the great Messiah of serious fiction writing. And yes, I agree that The Corrections—along with many of his shorter, more personal pieces in both How To Be Alone and The Discomfort Zone—is more applicable to my own life than any other piece of contemporary literature I’ve read. My friends and I will find ourselves arguing about which charcter in the Lambert family we like the most or are most like (for me, it’s Chip, no question). But many of these Franzenites haven’t read his earlier two novels, The Twenty-Seventh City and Strong Motion. I’ve only read the first, myself, and while it’s entertaining and contains much of the same aspects as The Corrections, it doesn’t feel as courageous. While reading, I never said to myself, “Oh my God, he did it.” The experience of The Twenty-Seventh City, for me, and I imagine many other devout fans who discovered his book-ography in reverse order, was one of realization: that’s he’s not a infallible genius. He, like his best characters, is flawed.

Which brings us to the Oprah-naughts. These are the people, mainly women, who regard Winfrey, not Franzen or any other actual author, as the great Messiah of contemporary literature. And anyone who crosses her path, whether it be James Frey or Jonathan Franzen, gets burned. The Franzen incident is quite dated by now, and anyone who’s actually taken the time to look into it, would know how utterly ridiculous the debacle really was, but it doesn’t change the fact that the shadow of Oprah still follows him to this day. (My well-read mother didn’t recognize his name until I brought up her name in association). Yet, I think even Franzen would be the first one to admit that Oprah helped him more than hurt him (in fact, he has accepted Oprah’s offer to put Freedom in her book club). He sold far more books because of it, developed a reputation, and awoke an historical literary debate in mainstream society: whether books should be art—and thereby too special for the plastic sticker of the Oprah Book Club—or merely entertainment.

Franzen brings up this debate over and over in his collection of essays How To Be Alone, and I think he tends to fall in the middle somewhere, that books are important and should be treated as so by the author, but never at the expense of the reader. Freedom, from all I’ve heard and the little I’ve read, is the closest he’s ever gotten to “the reader,” in both prose style and regard for entertainment value.

But as soon as someone as famously “elite” as Franzen starts to use more colloquial vocabulary, out storm the bitter class of critics and college professors. A recent review of Freedom by B.R. Myers in The Atlantic, a magazine which has published Franzen in the past, proved just as much. Myers insists that Franzen is overrated, and as opposed to the Messiah-lauding crowd, indirectly blames him for the demise of classic literature. Myers critiques the author’s use of words and phrases like “fucked,” or “she’s into him.” Myers even brings up the supercilious argument that every time someone reads a book like The Corrections or Freedom, they are missing out on a chance to read a classic like Madame Bovary (though couldn’t one argue just the opposite?). What I believe this reaction stems from is fear: the fear that books may just start to matter on a grander scale than in the annals of academia. So many people these days, including myself, bemoan the increasing attention deficit disorder of the American public, but fewer people allude to the possibility of a human reaction against it. As Franzen says himself, “We are so distracted by and engulfed by the technologies we’ve created, and by the constant barrage of so-called information that comes our way, that more than ever to immerse yourself in an involving book seems socially useful.”

- By Joshua Morrison

The reading begins at 8:00 PM at the Aranti/Japan America Theatre located at 244 San Pedro St. For more information, please visit www.jaccc.org/jonathanfranzen.php.

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