West LA

LAB Performs Best Nutcracker To Date

Arabian11-122The Los Angeles Ballet opened it’s sixth season last weekend with their annual production of “The Nutcracker. ” A favorite Christmas tradition of many since its popularity exploded in the mid-twentieth century, the ballet draws people of all ages to share in the Christmas spirit.

LA Ballet prides itself on having an original production of “The Nutcracker.” The story-line is the same and if you don’t look closely at the program, you might not even realize the Sugarplum Fairy is now referred to as “Marie” (which was the name of the Clara character in the original E.T.A. Hoffmann story) and her Cavalier is her “Prince.” The dancers in Act II are originally named for presents under the tree (Spanish Hot Chocolate, Arabian Coffee, Russian Candy Cane, and Danish Marzipan), but LAB has shortened them to Spanish, Arabian, Russian, and then a reappearance of Harlequin and Columbine from Act I. And finally, the most visual change is “The Rose” amongst the daisies in what is traditionally called “The Waltz of the Flowers.”

Act I opens with party goers on their way to the Staulbaum house for Christmas Eve. The setting is Victorian and beautiful, and the costumes are exquisite. The lack of dance shoes and dance attire considerably limits the amount of balletic movement in Act I. Clara (Mia Katz) and her youthful friends perform adolescent pointe routines and the young boys entertain with their serious faces and synchronized marches. Peculiar Uncle Drosselmeyer (Nicolas de la Vega) enters, bearing special gifts for the children, enabling the only true dancing in the party scene, when the toys come to life. The Harlequin, Columbine, and Cossack Dolls, danced by Isabel Vondermuhll, Angel Lopez, and Chehon Wespi-Tschopp, all sparkle perfectly in their dances before freezing up and becoming still toys again.

This year’s party scene was the most comedically infused to date, and very enjoyable for the audience. Casting questions arise as we meet Uncle Drosselmeyer, the role that becomes consistently younger and younger over the company’s 6 productions. We wonder perhaps if LA Ballet intends him to be an older brother returning for the holidays in extravagant clothing, rather than an enigmatic Godfather to whom Clara bears a special bond.  Considering the history of the character it is a distracting element to the theatricality of the story.

After the party, Clara goes to bed with her favorite of Drosselmeyer’s bestowments, her Nutcracker doll. Clara is awakened into a magical world where her Nutcracker (Nathaniel Solis) is fending off rats and slays the Rat King. The rats are less than beautiful to watch (although children love them), yet it cannot go without saying how incredibly hard it must be to do chaine turns in a huge rat suit.

The Nutcracker’s victory has not only turned him into a handsome prince, it also has bore entrance to the “Land of Snow” and dancing snowflakes. The Waltz of the Snowflakes is heralded as one of the most beautiful pieces of music in the entirety of the ballet; with snow falling on the dancers for the length of the dance, and flawless unity of the dancers. In the past, LAB has been guilty of the Corps de Ballet of not perfecting synchronization: either the extensions were not the same height, dancers were one beat ahead of the rest, or lines were not straight. But it is breathtaking to see the body of dancers move as a unit and LAB did just that. The only lacking element is the absence of a live orchestra, which means for this piece, an absence of a choral group. It does seem excessive to hire singers for one song of a whole ballet, but there is nothing quite like hearing angelic voices singing to live music  while watching perfect dancing. Wishful thinking for future seasons.

As the curtain opens on Act II, we find ourselves in a Moroccan-esque setting known as the Palace by the Sea (traditionally known as The Land of Sweets). The presents have come to life to dance for Clara, the Prince, and Drosselmeyer. Marie and her Prince perform solos, and due to an injury of principle dancer Christopher Revels, the part of Marie’s Prince was danced by Kenta Shimizu. Shimizu is a powerful dancer from Japan, who flies to LA once a year to perform in select performances for LAB. Although Revels is an excellent dancer, it was a wonderful surprise to find out Shimizu was understudying. His stunning and powerful jumps seem effortless as he soars right through the first piece. The well known “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy” makes audience members sit up straighter in their seat, as soon as they recognize the music, and LAB Sugarplum veteran Allyssa Bross is well equipped for the famous dance. The ballet picks up speed as we move through the dances from around the world. “Russian” (Chehon Wespi-Tschopp, Christopher McDaniel, & Tian Tan) is momentous, but because this is usually the crowd jaw dropper, it did seem to want more acrobatics and dance stunts to wow the audience.

“Arabian” (Julia Cinquemani & Alexander Castillo) was wonderful and impressive; there was nothing lacking here but the marriage of choreography to music. The music rightly suggests that each movement be languid until it hits its full extension. One should feel as if the dancers are moving through molasses while dancing, which makes the dance even more impressive because the muscles cannot rely on momentum to reach the height of their flexibility. Instead the choreography found all the final spots without the liquidity of getting there. The Pas de Deux was beautiful, a little shaky on some of the shoulder jumps but the foite turns by Bross were clean and impressive.

And we revisited Harlequin and Columbine from Act I which was short and sweet, but jarring to see Lopez’s toes not pointed. The standout of the evening was Allynne Noelle, “The Rose” in the Waltz of the Flowers number. Noelle, backed by the Corps de Ballet dressed as daisies, was the most engaging and in control dancer on the stage. As soon as she entered, eyes were glued to her and as soon as she exited, you wanted her back on the stage. Noelle is in her second season with LAB, and they will be lucky to hold on to her.

The Corps was also flawless and in synch once again. And when the final dances have been danced and Clara bids adieu and returns home, her parents find her asleep on the floor and carry her to bed. The curtain closes after Clara sits up realizing it may not have been a dream, as The Nutcracker and Uncle Drosselmeyer are lit upstage.

LA Ballet performs their best Nutcracker to date, proving they continue to grow and improve into what is sure to be a most promising resident dance company. Later this season they will dance Swan Lake and NextWaveLA, new dances with famed choreographers such as “So You Think You Can Dance” Sonya Tayeh.

The Nutcracker runs December 17th and 18th at UCLA’s Royce Hall and December 22nd-24th at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center. For tickets, visit www.losangelesballet.org

- By Deidre Moore

 

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Film Art House Round-Up: Week of March 25th 2011 – March 31st 2011

Roundup1This week there’s the unrated versions of KILL BILL 1 and 2 at the New Beverly, a STAR TREK series with George Takei, Walter Koenig and Nicholas Meyer appearing in person at the Egyptian, and Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY in 70mm at the Aero on Thursday.

Friday March 25th

EGYPTIAN

7:30 PM: Star Trek Double Feature: STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KAHN (Directed by Nicholas Meyer) + STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK (Directed by Leonard Nimoy) Discussion with actor George Takei between films.

AND

7:30 PM: EVEN THE RAIN (Directed by Icíar Bollaín). New Spanish release with Gael Garcia Bernal; won the audience award at Berlin. Screens again at 10:00 PM and Saturday and Sunday.

AERO

7:30 PM: Tribute to composer John Barry: MIDNIGHT COWBOY (Directed by John Schlesinger) + THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS (Directed by Anthony Harvey).

LACMA 7:30 PM: Classics from La Semaine de la Critique : MORE (Directed by Barbet Schroeder) + TRASH (Directed by Paul Morrissey).

NEW BEVERLY

7:30 PM: Shaw Brothers Night: THE AVENGING EAGLE (Directed by Chung Sung) + DUEL OF THE IRON FIST (Directed by Cheh Chang). Screens again Saturday.

Midnight Screening: FRIDAY (Directed by Mario Caiano).

SILENT MOVIE THEATRE:

7:30 PM: John Cassavetes Closing Night Party: A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE (Directed by John Cassavetes), plus rare film and videos and a panel discussion.

DOWNTOWN INDEPENDENT: 6:oo PM: I WILL FOLLOW (Directed by Ava DuVernay). New indie release. Screens again Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Saturday March 26th

EGYPTIAN:

7:30 PM: EVEN THE RAIN (Directed by Icíar Bollaín). New Spanish release with Gael Garcia Bernal; won the audience award at Berlin. Screens again at 9:30 PM and on Sunday.

AND

7:30 PM: Star Trek Double Feature: STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME (Directed by Leonard Nimoy) + STAR TREK V (Directed by William Shatner). Both screen in 70mm; discussion between films with actor Walter Koenig.

AERO

7:30 PM: Tribute to composer John Barry: DANCES WITH WOLVES (Directed by Kevin Costner).

LACMA

7:30 PM: JORDAN BELSON: FILMS SACRED AND PROFANE (Shorts directed by Jordan Belson).

NEW BEVERLY

7:30 PM: Shaw Brothers Night: THE AVENGING EAGLE (Directed by Chung Sung) + DUEL OF THE IRON FIST (Directed by Cheh Chang).

DOWNTOWN INDEPENDENT:

2:oo PM: I WILL FOLLOW (Directed by Ava DuVernay). New indie release. Screens again Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Sunday March 27th

EGYPTIAN

5:00 PM: EVEN THE RAIN (Directed by Icíar Bollaín). New Spanish release with Gael Garcia Bernal; won the audience award at Berlin.

ALSO:

7:30: Star Trek Series: STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY (Directed by Nicholas Meyer). Screens in 70mm; discussion with Nicholas Meyer follows the film.

AERO

7:30 PM: Michael Caine Double Feature: THE IPCRESS FILE (Directed by Sydney J. Furie) + DEADFALL (Bryan Forbes).

NEW BEVERLY

2:00 PM Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair. Unrated versions of KILL BILL and KILL BILL 2 (Directed by Quentin Tarantino). Screens again at 7:00 PM and Monday-Thursday at 8:00 PM.  Note: Tickets are currently sold out and may be available at the door.

DOWNTOWN INDEPENDENT:

11:30 AM: I WILL FOLLOW (Directed by Ava DuVernay). New indie release. Screens again Tuesday and Wednesday.

Monday March 28th

NEW BEVERLY

8:00 PM Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair. Unrated versions of KILL BILL and KILL BILL 2 (Directed by Quentin Tarantino). Screens again Tuesday-Thursday at 8:00 PM.  Note: Tickets are currently sold out and may be available at the door.

Tuesday March 29th

LACMA

1:oo PM (Tuesday matinee): MARIE ANTOINETTE (Directed by W.S. Van Dyke II).

 

NEW BEVERLY

8:00 PM: Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair. Unrated versions of KILL BILL and KILL BILL 2 (Directed by Quentin Tarantino). Screens again Wednesday andThursday at 8:00 PM.  Note: Tickets are currently sold out and may be available at the door.

DOWNTOWN INDEPENDENT:

7:oo PM: I WILL FOLLOW (Directed by Ava DuVernay). New indie release. Screens again Wednesday.

Wednesday March 30th

AERO

7:30 PM: A HATFUL OF RAIN (Directed by Fred Zinnemann). Actors Don Murray and Eva Marie Saint appear in person for a discussion after the screening.

EGYPTIAN

7:30 PM: Tribute to composer John Barry: WALKABOUT (Directed by Nicholas Roeg).

SILENT MOVIE THEATRE

8:00 PM: THE GODLESS GIRL (Directed by Cecil B. Demille) with live score by the Club Foot Orchestra.

NEW BEVERLY

8:00 PM: Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair. Unrated versions of KILL BILL and KILL BILL 2 (Directed by Quentin Tarantino). Screens again Thursday at 8:00 PM.  Note: Tickets are currently sold out and may be available at the door.

DOWNTOWN INDEPENDENT:

5:oo PM: I WILL FOLLOW (Directed by Ava DuVernay). New indie release.

Thursday March 31st

AERO

7:30 PM: 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (Directed by Stanley Kubrick) in 70mm.

NEW BEVERLY

8:00 PM: Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair. Unrated versions of KILL BILL and KILL BILL 2 (Directed by Quentin Tarantino) Note: Tickets are currently sold out and may be available at the door.

- By Erica Elson

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A Celebration Indeed: Review of Los Angeles Ballet’s Latest

coverI attended LA Ballet’s second weekend of their new ballet Celebration in Redondo Beach last Saturday. This is my sixth LAB performance, though half of them have been The Nutcracker, so it’s extra exciting to see something brand new. I read it would be a combination of George Balanchine and Sonya Tayeh choreography, but that is the extent of my knowledge of what the evening would bring. The program was divided into three pieces, Balanchine bookending Tayeh’s world premiere of My Greatest Fear.

The first piece was entitled Raymonda Variations. Raymonda is a ballet originally staged in Russia at the turn of the century. Balanchine revived the full length ballet in the 1940′s, and extracts of the ballet in the 50′s, 60′s and 70′s. LAB’s extracts consisted of nine of Balanchine’s staged variations. First, an opening piece with corps de ballet (but some are singled out for solos later) in medium flowing tutus, and introduction to the lead ballerina (Monica Pelfrey) in a blue pancake tutu. LAB has very talented dancers. But what I always notice, if my seats are good enough, is how young they are. It’s wonderful to see such fresh faces on the stage, but it comes at a price. The main weakness that I notice at every show is when there are two or three dancers doing a combination across the stage, it is rarely ever completely synchronized. One dancer is a beat behind, one has her arm too high, or one is noticeably better (which reminds me of recitals with standouts, not professional ballet). That being said, the piece was beautifully staged and many of the dances were wonderfully danced.

Pelfrey performed a pas de deux with Christopher Revels that was beautiful. Balanchine’s choreography is so interesting because you could easily mistake the piece for a classical one staged one hundred years earlier. But the lifts and the holds are unique and modern. Instead of Revels’s hands on Pelfrey’s hips to dip her in an arabesque, he does it one-armed, with his right arm across her waist to reach her right side—and the result is stunning. When dancing a pas de deux, most of the thankless work falls on the male dancer. He is there to make his ballerina look good. So he must be solid in all his holds and catches when she balances, or does turns, so she looks clean and controlled. This couple did look a bit shaky, and when Pelfrey performed solos, she was solid and spot on. So again, I think that Revels is a very young dancer, still learning his footing.

Variation V, danced by Julia Cinquemani, was the standout for me. She was perfect. Also wonderful were Grace McLoughlnin and Isabel Vondermuhll—the first with a hop arabesque finale across the stage that I have never seen before, and the second with an extremely difficult turn combination she pulled off brilliantly. If nothing else, Balanchine challenged his dancers and staged many of these variations to stay on pointe during the turns and combinations, which is harder than it looks. LAB took on the challenge quite well, and while the other two pieces looked very impressive, I would wager that this classical piece was the hardest to dance.

The second piece was a world premiere by So You Think You Can Dance choreographer favorite, Sonya Tayeh. Entitled My Greatest Fear, the piece is plainly about death, which was reveled to us before the curtain was drawn. The men wore only tight black pants, and the women wore black leotards so revealing that only a dancer could pull one off. Maybe it’s my own particular taste, but I really do love modern dance in pointe shoes. Modern dance on its own has a tendency to teeter too closely to performance art at times. But when the choreography is modern dance and the dancers are ballet trained and on pointe, it can be so beautiful and emotional. Such was Tayeh’s piece. It begins with the entire cast frozen on stage before going into frantic movements. Throughout, one can feel the heaviness that seems to be carried around on all of their shoulders, which contrasted with the pairings’ lifts, which looked as light as a feather.

Even with the knowledge that the dances were about fearing death, it was hard not to see them as already dead, in a personal state of purgatory. I was blown away with how beautiful the extensions and lines were, especially with the juxtaposition on how pain and ugliness were emanating beneath the surface. The men especially stood out in this number. Tyler Burkett’s solo was exquisite and the partnering was so solid, it really spotlit just how powerful these dancers can be. Tayeh’s piece closed to Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel, which was beautifully fitting to the visual of all the dancers joining to slowly wave to the audience, perhaps letting their limb speak for their body as a surrender flag.

To close the evening was Western Symphony, another Balanchine choreographed ballet. Although I knew it was ballet, I definitely felt like I was watching an extremely well danced version of Oklahoma! and the dancers might break into song with The Farmer and the Cowboy Should be Friends at any moment. A cheesy backdrop of an Old West town was the perfect setting for the saloon girls and cowboys to dance in front of, as they sported all the colors of the rainbow. All but one dancer had black tights and dyed black pointe shoes, giving their costumes the absolute musical theater look. Extremely upbeat numbers were fun to watch and you could not help but to smile at the theatricality of it all. It could be because we live in Los Angeles, where everyone is “also an actor,” but I was delightfully impressed with how much character and sass each dancer put into the numbers. Without it, the dances would have fell flat, even if danced perfectly. Which, for the most part, they were. The company seemed confident, as if they were having just as much fun as we were. That is, after you give in to the extreme goofiness of it all, while still realizing you are at the ballet and not watching the barn raising from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. I found it to be the parts of a musical I enjoy the most, the dancing. It was a happy way to end the evening, but did not stay with me the next day, like Tayeh’s piece.

- By Deidre Moore

For more information on the Los Angeles Ballet, please visit www.losangelesballet.org. Next in their Season 5 lineup will be Giselle in May.

 

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FEATURE: Museums of Los Angeles: Part Three

LACMAWe began these spontaneous looks at three of Los Angeles’ cultural icons with The Norton Simon Museum, followed by The Getty Center. Now we come to the third side of the triangle and I am still trying to define LACMA.  Perhaps that is because I am most familiar with it; spend the most time at it. Of the three museums it is the most diverse in content, the most bureaucratic in design and administration, and also perhaps the most ambitious in its reach. You can go to LACMA’s website and discover the history of its birth on your own. Today we again arrive as a stranger with no bigger an agenda than to see what we can see.

PART THREE:  LACMA

THE LOS ANGELES COUNTY MUSEUM OF ART

Though the newer buildings get the big “oohhhh” when you first arrive at LACMA, it is the old buildings that I find have held up quite well. The Times Courtyard is a wonderful place to gather with a friend and plan your time and what you want to see. If you don’t have an official agenda, you will be surrounded by choices.

The Japanese Pavilion with its Guggenheim-like spiral, the Hammer Building with the most comprehensive collection of Korean art outside of Korea and Japan, the Arts of the Americas Building which has special exhibits on the 2nd floor while the 3rd and 4th levels will take you through both pre and post European influenced art. There, ancient feathered serpents shake hands with Diego Rivera, David Hockney and Millard Sheets give you differing birds eye views of Los Angeles, American landscapes prove equal to the best of the Barbizon, and social realism reminds us that our relatively short history is filled with powerful human stories—Reginald Marsh’s Third Ave. El, Miki Hayakawa’s Portrait of a Negro, Paul Cadmus’s Coney Islandall are grand fine art, and of these last, sometimes I wish LACMA would give them the greater promotion that they deserve.

The two new stars of the LACMA campus are the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, and the even newer Resnick Pavilion. Both are mega-buck ultra contemporary architectural superstars. BCAM, as the Broad is called, is for those who love or who are at least curious about the cutting edges in Contemporary Art. For those who “get it” no more need be said—they will embrace the silk purse while others will hold their nose at the stench from the sow’s ear—and some will see nothing and insist the emperor is naked.  Rapture or anger, you won’t be bored.

The Resnick Exhibition Pavilion is the newest member of the LACMA family and already has had a major success with Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico.  Renzo Piano’s designs for the BCAM and Resnick structures is all 21st Century optimism, colors and shapes and promises for the eyes. And they reflect LACMA’s focus on the future demographics of Los Angeles.

However it is the Ahmanson building that is still the “museum” building at LACMA…the grand lady where you can find a genuine Egyptian mummy and “Jack the Dripper” just one floor apart, and while running from one to the other, have some Tea with Henri Matisse and gawk at Giacometti and puzzle over Modigliani and don’t miss those weird unhappy German expressionists and why did Picasso make all those women look like horses as he went from Neo Classic to Cubism and then to a fusion of both and how can you not see the big black thing in the lobby. The Ahmanson building has it all, plus Hindus and Buddha and a nod to Islam.

The gallery for the Impressionists/Post-impressionists/Paris School is weak. No way around it. And the reason is simple. The Getty and the Simon are the raucous offspring of wealthy individuals. LACMA is the hesitant creation of a city born of orange groves and dreams, trying to puff up its chest and imitate its East Coast peers. The great examples of European Modern Art were mostly bought and sold before LACMA even existed. However given how late it got into the game, LACMA has rolled the stone up the hill and done worthy job for the tax payers and the museum goers.

I want to end this piece with a treasure hunt for some modest works of art that continue to draw me back again and again. I’ll give you clues but you will have to search for them and find them. In the Art of the Americas building is a trio of works hanging side by side, paintings by two students and their teacher: Miki Hayakawa, Yun Gee and Otis Oldfield. I leave it to you to learn the stories behind them. In the Ahmanson on the 3rd floor are two great little paintings, one hung so high up you might need a step stool to find it. They are Painting and Music by Martin Drolling and Palermo Harbor with a View of Monte Pellegrino by Martinus Rorbye. This last one is very small; actually it was a sketch in oil for a later work. However if you can get close enough to see the amazing detail in even this sketch, you will see that this very small painting is every equal to a much larger nearby masterpiece, View at La-Ferte-Saint-Aubin, Near Orleans by Constant Troyon. Lastly, look for a beautiful and almost life-sized bronze, Seated Hercules by Guillaume Boichot, stare into the face and wonder…in wonder.

LACMA is very big and there is a lot to see, worth seeing, worth sharing with people you care about. It has free jazz concerts on Friday nights, and movie programs, and it has places where you can sit and be alone with a piece of art and take your time getting to know it. And if you do that with just one work of art, then LACMA is a success. You can learn more about the Los Angeles County Museum of Art at their website, www.lacma.org.

- By John Ireland

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FEATURE: Museums of Los Angeles: Part Two

tgc5Eric Gibson, in his WSJ review of a new wing in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, writes “…museums are about collecting as well as building…” That is a prime issue in this series covering The Norton Simon Museum, The Getty Center, and LACMA. In the first part of this series I praised the Simon Museum for its intimacy and experience combined with its depth of art. In each of these articles, I come as a stranger to a new city…filled with bias and anticipation…and trying to record what I see as I see it…without anymore expertise than a horny sailor at a fifty-cent peep show.

PART TWO:  THE GETTY CENTER

For me The Getty Center is the quintessential Los Angeles museum: impossible (or at least exceedingly impractical) to get to without using a car. You must wind your way through the Sepulveda Pass and the Santa Monica Mountains that separate the Westside from the Valley. Finally you see it…The Getty Center sitting on a peak, accessed via—what else—Getty Center Drive. Attendants wave you into a gray concrete bunker which becomes a winding Dr. Strangelove-like descent into  the seven-levels of Dante’s parking garage. None of this, however, inhibited the throngs of people who joined me for a brisk elevator ride back up to the planet’s surface.

Bathed in Southern California sun, the tram station looks born in the New Wave French cinema of Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville, François Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 and Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle. Inside a plastic spaceship-subway pod we bumped and curved our way through Salad Nicoise landscapes interspersed with aerial views of the 405 Freeway.

At last we reached Getty Center’s mountain-top main entrance where white stone and chromed steel and blue skies announced that this was Olympus and we should be prepared to walk with the Gods. Yes arriving at The Getty Center is a visual show all its own. The complex of multiple buildings seems even larger because there is nothing else next to it except the wild home of deer and coyote and mountain lions. Los Angeles exists as a far away dream sculpture seen from enormous windows and imposing observation decks.

In addition to the four main halls (named for points on the compass) there are multiple gardens and administrative and research buildings plus studios and an Exhibition Pavilion and a Lecture Hall and an Auditorium and to keep on naming all the features is needless.  I glance left and right…people seem to either rush or move slowly…umbrellas and tables always available for shade and rest…I look up at Giacometti’s enormous Standing Woman I…(my Giacometti is bigger than your Giacometti?)…and for a moment I feel no need to even enter a building. But I do because that is what you do with Museums; you enter to worship the ghosts of your civilization.

In the entire western world, museums must be divided between those that feel compelled to show The Renaissance and those that do not. Yes it was a great time in human history…blah blah blah…but why does so much Renaissance art make me think of cheesy political commercials? (Perhaps because that is what much of it is was?) But this time was different on my trip to The Getty Center—whether it was the specific examples or the setting or the day or the pretty young Asian school girls swirling around like excited butterflies, whatever—I fell under the spell of art that I usually walk quickly past. For now, let me chalk it up to the Getty’s selection. I settled back and enjoyed the details of labor and skill in the amazing varieties of Jesus and his gang and their stories of good and god vs. evil and desire. This was the hip-hop Hollywood of its day and now because it is old and fragile we store it in giant temples such as The Getty Center and we come and look and maybe we even see ourselves in this old stuff. Later we think about it silently while answering email or maybe make a passing remark about it the next day.

Of course, as it was at the Norton Simon, when you turn away from the religious hoopla and sneak into the shadows of humanism, when art and sex conquer Religion, then the Renaissance really comes to life. And in this where The Getty Center excels. The sensual lust that artists masked behind Greek and Roman mythology seduces the viewer and cannot be talked away. It is about being naked, being ripe with desire. It is about blood and the human smells of hate and love.

It is the Getty’s Northern Renaissance works, however—and three by Rembrandt—that left me breathless, specifically An Old Man in Military Costume, Portrait of a Girl Wearing a Gold-Trimmed Cloak, and Saint Bartholomew (this last is a direct link to Vincent van Gogh). And here, for me, is the fascinating conflict between the anti-religious Northern Renaissance and the Holy Roman Catholic Renaissance of southern Europe. All the sexy, exciting stuff is from the heavily religious south and all the beautiful but dry, pinched, tight-ass painting is from the north. And maybe that reflects the modern European political world today—in Germany we have Angela Merkel, a prim matronly woman, and in Italy we have Silvio Berlusconi, a vain lecherous old man. Yes the Renaissance is alive and well in the 21st Century.

If you like modern decorative art (small d and small a intentional) then you can browse La Brea Avenue’s pretentious second-hand stores full of 50’s junk. But if you want to see Decorative Art so insanely beautiful that it drove a nation to murder its King and Queen, the furniture and French Tapestries at Getty Center are awe inspiring.  No Swanson frozen TV dinner short cuts, no phony San Fernando Valley McMansions, no Facebook/IKEA disposable software/hardware…here you will gain a hint of just how grand that period called “long ago” could be. Warren Buffett and Justin Bieber and Mark Zuckerberg all live in Pimple Land in comparison. And until you see this, you don’t know what the word rich means.

For all that Getty Center has, there is also something that it does not have. By the time I reached the art of the 1800s the curators seemed to have run out of inspiration or inventory. Up to that point Getty Center was a thrill ride…and then the ride sort of just…slowed…down.  Yes they have impressionists and post-Impressionists and van Gogh’s Irises, but for this period of art history, the energy just wasn’t there for me.

All museums acquire what they can afford at the time they buy it. That is why West Coast museums just don’t have the…juice, the big stuff you see in East Coast and European museums. The West Coast came late to the party. That’s the reality. And that said, The Getty Center is a wonderful museum and a wonderful experience. If you love art, do not deny yourself a visit there. I went looking for one thing, and was surprised and enthralled by something else.

- By John Ireland

For more information on The Getty Center go to www.getty.edu.

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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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Steampunk Football

image4At LACMA on Saturday night, a girl in a white Victorian dress sat on a bench with her hands folded, looking pissed off. A photographer from the clothing company Clockwork Couture stood a few feet away.
“Want to sit in her lap?” the photographer asked me.
“I think I’m okay,” I said. The girl looked so familiar, I had to ask. “Have you ever watched True Blood?” I asked.
She stared at me. “I know what you’re going to say,” she snapped. “Lorena, right? I hear it all the time.” She looked coldly into the camera as it flashed.
I guess I don’t blame her for being pissed off. I would be too, if I had to pose with bystanders at the fourteenth annual LACMA Muse ‘Til Midnight event, where the clothing was Victorian, the food supplied was chips and salsa, and there was an open bar. The tickets were $40 for non-members, $25 for Muse members, and it was hard to see what all the fuss was about.
The event sounded great, in theory: a neo-Victorian dress-up night at the museum, coinciding with the Thomas Eakins and Catherine Opie show, Manly Pursuits. Eakins painted wrestlers and rowers in intimate situations in the late 1800-early 1900’s, while Opie currently photographs teenage football players and surfers. Connecting the two artists requires a stretch of imagination, but the show is a valuable statement about the forced efforts and vulnerability of masculinity.
However, the Muse ‘Til Midnight event didn’t have much to do with the show, or with anything at the museum. The event was described by a Yelp user like this: “A full line-up of entertainment with open bar in an unique environment for $25-$40? On a Saturday night? In Los Angeles? Even including parking? Do I need to keep asking rhetorical questions?” Unfortunately, the event became a Los Angeles situation in which too many good ideas were not executed properly, with too many people in attendance to leave such margin for error.
After waiting in a long line, guests were ushered into the museum’s main plaza where Dusty and the River Band played and video projections flashed on the walls. Two performers on stilts made their way through the crowd, surrounded by a thick circle of photographers, documenting the “insanity” for various nightlife blogs. Two stilt-walkers, a couple of dancers and some people in costumes didn’t seem like enough to justify paying $40, but let’s not forget about that open bar, which included “100% Agave Tequila, Blackheart Spiced Rum, Hpnotiq Liqueur, Pernod Absinthe, and FIJI Water.” It seems that people will spend any amount of money to get sloshed while wearing a corset.
Maybe next time, LACMA should make dressing up for the event mandatory, as the people who were wearing full neo-Victorian garb looked to be having the best time. Many people wore costumes from Clockwork Couture, a “steampunk” line that mixes Victorian clothing with modern touches, while others had improvised their own costumes. A thin blonde woman and her chunkier date wore matching top hats and lace-up boots, trailing long feathers behind them. Another woman wore a corset and a matching flowered neck brace, and many men (and women) sported fantastic moustaches.
At ten o’clock, everyone was ushered into a much longer line leading to the roof of the Penthouse suite, only accessible by an elevator. (Too bad for the claustrophobes.) The roof offered a nice city view of the Variety building, along with some mysterious devices, including a giant telescope and various contraptions used to “measure electrical phenomena.” A stage was set up for a burlesque show, and a dancer in chalky makeup tiptoed around the crowd en pointe as flashbulbs popped all around her.
Nearby, a man wearing suspenders rested his foot on a stack of pillows. “I sprained my foot, but this is awesome,” he declared, looking at the dancer. “Look at this. Look at her. Can you believe it?” I could believe it, though next time I would prefer to look at photos of the event rather than attend. Despite the congestion, chips and salsa, long lines and limited number of performers, it seemed like many people had a wonderful time. Never underestimate the power of a little absinthe.

- By Cassandra McGrath

For mose information about LACMA, and any upcoming Muse events, please visit www.lacma.org/membership/Muse.aspx, or call 323-857-6000.

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You’re Just Projecting

450Randy and Jason Sklar, better known as the Sklar Brothers, even better known as the hosts of the only ESPN Classic show I’ve ever watched on a regular basis—Cheap Seatsand possibly best known as the Cain and Abel of Hollywood agents in HBO’s Entourage, got their comedic starts amidst the burgeoning “alternative” comedy scene of mid-90’s New York. Back then and over there, such now-defunct clubs as the famous Luna Lounge used to hold regular open-mic nights, where names like Marc Maron, Greg Fitzsimmons, Louis CK, Dave Attell, Sarah Silverman, and many, many more once tuned their respective crafts. The Sklars didn’t immediately fit in. In fact, they stood out, and in a bad way. They’re identical twins, which, in the eyes of the comedy club weary, was synonymous with hacky—not far off from ventriloquism, as both shticks tended to traditionally rely on the straight-man/wacky-man dynamic. In interviews, Randy and Jason have talked about their initial struggle against this assumption, not so much with their audiences as within their act. They had to work hard to eventually to find their patented rhythm of completing one another’s sentences, riffing on topics the other brings up, never disowning their uncanny likeness, yet never relying on it either. Basically, they had to find their true collective self, a feat which simply would not have been possible without the open-mic.

These days, the Sklars still perform almost everywhere in Los Angeles, but have also transitioned into the world of film and television, an industry with lots of microphones (as well as projectors, the mic’s visual equivalent), few of which are “open,” almost none of which are free.  Hence, “Open Projector Night,” hosted by Randy and Jason Sklar, this Tuesday, August 17, 8:00 PM at the Hammer Museum. Free popcorn, cash bar, and a first-come-first-serve policy for any under-ten-minute film or video out there, these semi-regular nights have developed a reputation for rowdiness, rudeness, and yes, even the occasional cinematic gem. Come screen-test your private masterpiece (submissions begin at 7 PM), or just support your local filmmakers by getting drunk and voting them off the docket completely.

The Sklar Brothers, more than most, know what its like to struggle for an identity, and they’ve kind of made an on-screen career out of it (not to mention, paved the way for stellar teams like the Walsh Brothers). So if you’re tired of being constantly confused for someone you’re not, of having to dress different to stick out, of explaining the subtle yet imperative dissimilarities between you and that other idiot, just leave it in the hands of Sklars. They may not love your work, they may make some clever jokes at your expense, but they’ll at least give you a mic.

For  more information about “Open Projector Night” and Hammer Public Programs (all of which are free), please visit www.hammer.ucla.edu, or call 310.443.7000.

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In Print: Jacob Samuel’s “Outside the Box”

25The Edition Jacob Samuel exhibition, titled “Outside the Box,” celebrates LACMA and the Hammer Museum’s joint acquisition of the collection of 43 print portfolios produced by Jacob Samuel in collaboration with a host of international artists from 1988-2009. Samuel generally works with intaglio techniques, such as aquatint and engraving, but his deployment of these techniques is as varied as the group of artists he has worked with over the twenty-two years of his studio’s existence. Above all, he responds to each individual artist’s concepts and visions, helping them translate their practices into a reproducible medium. Samuel offers expertise and guidance, but in his own words, he “just show[s]up.” The finished prints themselves run the gamut of styles, from abstraction to representation, from seeming spontaneity to carefully planned and arranged wholes, from the organic to the mechanical. This range of practices and subject matter makes for a compelling exhibition.

Among the most intriguing portfolios were those that emphasized process or performance. Marina Abramovic’s Spirit Cooking, as its title implies, was envisioned as a metaphysical cookbook of sorts. The images themselves are sometimes gestural and indexical—images were scratched into the ground with the artist’s fingernail, or spit bites performed with actual spit, or handprints done in acid-resistant ground. The images interact with the printed text, complementing it with gestural impressions that somehow relate to the words, and by creating a rhythmic separation that distinguishes one ‘recipe’ from the next. Ed Moses’ Abstraktion and Apparition is a series of etched abstractions that seem at once spontaneous and carefully crafted. Spontaneous, because the organic forms recall abstract expressionist paintings, and crafted, because these images are executed in a highly process-driven medium.

Also on display is Samuel’s expertise and skill as a technician. James Welling’s Quadrilaterals and Jene Highstein’s Five Works both rely on dense patches of black without irregularity, while the images from Josiah McElheny’s White Modernismare barely there, ghostly white on white forms. Joe Goode’s Storm Trees series features fluid and amorphous illustrations, while Barry McGee’s Drypoint on Acid prints rely on a process that allows the artist to draw directly onto the plate, mimicking the original pencil drawings.

Jacob Samuel is an interesting figure—a master printer whose collaborations have intersected the careers of some of the most celebrated artists of the day—and “Outside the Box” tries very hard not to let you forget it. Certain placards perhaps go into too much detail about superficial aspects of Samuel’s relationships with the artists (i.e. Did you know he shares a common interest in jazz music/rock music/surfing with artist X?). Certainly Samuel’s resume is impressive, and the brief documentary and interview in the exhibition brochure explain how these relationships are important, but at a certain point the information begins to seem gratuitous or redundant.  This criticism is minor compared to the depth and breadth of work on display.

- By Joe Capezzuto

“Outside the Box” will be on display at the Hammer Museum through August 29th, 2010.  The work on display can be seen atwww.editionjs.com.

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Painting With John

2010-07-08-InventionofAnimalsI first caught wind of John Lurie as the stubborn, stone-faced proto-hipster in Jim Jarmusch’s essential, second feature, Stranger Than Paradise. In this film, the life of his character, Willie, is rudely interrupted by a surprise visit from his Hungarian cousin, Eva. The magic of this oddly entrancing movie lies in Willie’s subtle—if unwilling—acceptance of his own blood.

Following many more memorable film roles, a successful music career (in addition to writing and performing for his band, The Lounge Lizards, he composed the theme for Late Night with Conan O’Brien, along with the scores to a bunch of excellent movies), and a cult TV-show—Lurie has had to deal with a much more serious life interruption. He has been  suffering the debilitating symptoms of what he believes to be advanced neurological Lyme disease. And starting about four years ago, it got to the point where he couldn’t even play music anymore.

Stuck in his room, bored and in tremendous pain, Lurie began to paint, at first to simply concentrate on something besides his symptoms. Eventually, though, he began to use paint to express his inner-self—something only music could fulfill for him before. And while the results of his efforts in no way relieved him of his physical ailments, they did attract a lot of attention, and help launch yet another artistic career.

On view until August 7th at Gallery Brown in west Los Angeles, John Lurie: The Invention of Animals shows off his latest works. With such reliably clever and stinging titles as “The Skeleton in My Closet Has Moved Back to the Garden” and “The Spirits Are Trying To Tell Me Something But It’s Really Fucking Vague,” Lurie’s paintings seem to be directly related to his condition, failed attempts at escape maybe. According to him, “I am sure having the outlet helps me in some way. I know that when I got really sick and had to stop playing music that it was an unbearable loss. I never thought that painting could come out of my soul in the same way. But I think that it does at this point.”

To me, I know I have a hard time looking at Lurie’s visual work without sensing that same stone-faced Willie somewhere in there, slowly coming to terms with the disturbing though beautiful facts of his blood.

- By Joshua Morrison

For more from John Lurie, also check out this great interview on the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tanja-m-laden/speaking-with-john_b_640096.html

John Lurie: The Invention of Animals is on view until August 7th at Gallery Brown, located at 140 S. Orlando Ave. For more information, please visit www.gallerybrown.com, or call 323-651-1956.

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