The Reluctant Writer: Something Else to do When I Should Be Writing

January 17, 2010

Rent surprises, criticizing/supporting/being discriminating about the arts, & this awesome young chick at Trustus named Katie Leitner

Who doesn’t love a surprise?  But when the Beer Doc and I scooted down Lady Street on Friday night to finally get a seat to see Rent, I wasn’t really expecting anything surprising.  Having seen it on Broadway several times before, then watching the film a couple of times with the wunderkind, I entered the theatre with a lot of the lyrics already buzzing in my head.  I was just looking for a fun evening to bask in what I thoroughly expected to be some outstanding performances — Dewey Scott Wiley rarely disappoints — and I was prepared for the requisite weaknesses that usually accompany community theatre.  Plus, I had already heard from some reliable sources who know their way around the stage and the audience (aka Larry & Coralee), that the show out-right rocked.

(Disclaimer here — I’ve had the honor of recently taking a seat on the board of directors of Trustus Theatre. What this basically means is that I have agreed to give the theatre some of  my time and my ideas — what this doesn’t mean is that I now have to think or say that everything that comes off the stage is excellent.  I’ve a been a long time supporter of Trustus, along with Workshop, Town, and USC theatre companies, and I will continue to support these companies along with all the artists, arts venues, and arts organizations in town who are brave and generous enough to share their gifts with our community.  Everyone already knows how I feel about negative competition between arts organizations in a city our size.  Way too much energy is wasted on one dance company nay-saying another, or one theatre company patron refusing to attend a perfectly lovely show at a venue different from the company they typically support.  Artists and arts supporters should band together to create a unified front against the ignorant amongst us who believe the arts and arts funding is a waste of time.  Nasty internal criticism within the arts community is tantamount to aiding and abetting any enemy of the arts — and believe me, they are out there.  Discriminating taste is needed and important — but helpful criticism takes a deft and acquired hand.  There is a role for the informed critic — to raise the barre, keep things honest, and piss people off — but that role is not mine. That said, I always have been and will remain a simple supporter of the arts and not a critic, and I will also continue to abide by the good manners I taught my own children:  If you don’t have anything good to say about something, then don’t say anything at all.)

Back to Rent and surprises —

The show started out wonderfully with the full cast opening up the classic Seasons of Love — you know, the five-hundred-twenty-five-thousand-six-hundred-minutes song — with full and melodic vocals — filling up the theatre and putting all of us on notice that this show was being taken seriously by its cast and director.  I had already heard that this was the case so, no surprise here, but still, a sense of pride and pleasure all the same.  And that was pretty much the way it went through the night — Kevin Bush was so professional, as always, reminding me how lucky we are that he is ours.  Lanny Spires knocked Angel out of the park and made me smile that a sweet southern boy from Chapin could pull off a part like that so adeptly.  Terrence Henderson’s voice sounded like warm butter oozing through stacks of steamy sweet pancakes, and I hated it when he stopped singing.  Even the less challenging parts were executed well and I wouldn’t call them weak at all.  In fact, the one weakness in my humble view was one of the night’s two surprises for me and I’m not even sure how it came to be.  Could have been a bad night, could have been poor casting, could have been an actor slipping precariously over the top with her/his performance — who knows. (Again, not my place to say.)

The other surprise is what I want to talk about — her name is Katie Leitner and her role was that of Mimi.  I know from reading my program that Katie is a freshman music ed student at USC, and that she has performed at Town Theatre in Grease, Guys and Dolls, and Beauty and the Beast. I know from Facebook stalking her that she graduated from Brooklyn Cayce High School, that her family is pretty cute, and that she has a sister who looks really familiar — former student maybe?  But I know from sitting in the first row Friday night that this girl has a future in the arts and I hope it’s not just in teaching little children how to play the piano.  Katie’s stage presence reflected great maturity — her vocals were controlled and balanced — beautiful, but never over the top, the way she could have taken them with such an audacious part as Mimi.  She displayed the kind of maturity that allows an actor to both own the stage and share it at the same time — lovely to see this in local theatre, especially in an actor so young.  For these reasons, Katie stole the show.

Kudos to Dewey Scott Wiley — who I have actually never met — and to the cast of Rent.  And best of luck to the young Katie Leitner — I’m looking forward to seeing more of this child on our city’s stages.


Advertisements

January 12, 2010

Review — La Danse at The Nick — (Don’t miss this beautiful film)+ Surprise Romance Columbia Style

Don’t be surprised if you feel oddly out of place when viewing Frederick Wiseman’s film, La Danse, opening at the Nickelodeon Theatre on Wednesday night.  The sensations evoked when watching a Wiseman film must be akin to something one might experience in a limited time travel situation.  Limited in that the subject matter and singular grouping of locations never change – think the various wings and wards of a hospital, the corridors and classrooms of a high school – but approximating time travel in that the viewer may find herself plopped down at any point in a controlled period of time – yesterday, next Thursday, earlier today at lunch – and witness to any variety of the mundane and the exotic – in this case, dying silk in a pot over a gas flame, vacuuming the loge in Paris’s Palais Garnier, or peeking into the sweaty rehearsal of Swedish choreographer Mats Ek’s La Maison de Bernada by the étoiles of the Paris Opera Ballet.

Transforming the viewer into the voyeur is, to a great degree, the point of documentarian Frederick Wiseman’s films.  And he has made almost forty of them, with objects of study ranging from a hospital, high school, racetrack, or zoo, to welfare, meat, the deaf, and domestic violence.  In every case, Wiseman settles himself for four to six weeks at the particular institution under observation, with very little preparation, and simply begins filming.  When he accumulates a hundred or so feet of film, he stops.  Then the real work of cutting and editing and arranging begins.  The result:  a brilliant amalgam of recorded experience, often poignant and beautiful, yet completely lacking in contextual information, exposition, or any kind of narrative arc.

La Danse (2009) is Wiseman’s latest effort in the observational mode of film-making, sometimes called direct cinema, and it may be his most beautiful.  His subject matter this time is the day-to-day activity under the roof of the neo-Baroque architectural masterpiece that is Paris’s Palais Garnier, the home of the famous Paris Opera Ballet.

Wiseman drops us in to the commotion of the ballet company as it prepares for six upcoming performances : the afore-mentioned Mats Ek project from the Cullberg Ballet, based on the Spanish play, La Casa de Bernarda Alba (The House of Bernard Alba) by Federico Garcia Lorca; Orphée et Eurydice (Orpheus and Eurydice) by the recently deceased Pina Bausch, famous for, among other things, her influence in the development of the Tanztheatre (dance theatre) style; Pierre Lacotte’s  restored classic Paquita; Angelin Preljočaj’s contemporary ballet, Le Songe de Mérdée; the German choreographer Sasha Waltz’s abstract setting of Romeo and Juliet to a Berlioz symphonic score rather than the traditional Prokofiev; and, the sleek 1967 version of Casse-Noisette (The Nutcracker) by Rudolf Nureyev, rather than Petipa, which most Americans are accustomed to seeing.

In French with English subtitles, Wiseman brings a heavily-detailed intimacy to this project, often shooting from the vantage of just outside the door to the activity he wants us to see.   We are literally peeking in – spying on what’s going on.  What we get to see is not the always perfect presentation the Paris Opera Ballet puts on stage.  We are privy to the imperfect rehearsals, dancers actually learning the choreography, complaining about their corrections, becoming frustrated with themselves, their partners, and their ballet masters.

But there is far more than dance to Wiseman’s film, as his camera plays homage to almost every brick in the building of an arts institution:  the custodians, the costumers, the painters, the Director of Dance, Brigitte Lefévre, whose stylish red coiffure shows up in frame after frame – even the beekeeper on the roof.  One scene takes us meticulously through the mid-day meal as dancers approach the cafeteria and we are shown shots of their various entrée choices, the boredom on the cashier’s face as she collects money, the dancers leaving full and fresh and ready to rehearse again.

And then there are the dancers.

The Paris Opera Ballet company is divided into five ascending tiers for dancers, beginning with the quadrilles and rising to the etoiles – the stars, or principal dancers of the company.  Wiseman makes use throughout the film of a camera angle which shoots down one or another exceedingly long hallway and forever up exhausting stairways, perhaps as a metaphorical commentary on the inordinate work which goes into becoming a member of this prestigious company.  As viewers we get to see the likes of such luminaries as étoiles Marie-Agnés Gillot, Laëtitia Pujol, Aurélie DuPond, Agnés Letestu, Delphine Moussin, and more.  And ultimately, we get to see these amazing talents present the product of their labors under Marc Chagall’s glorious opera house ceiling.

I have had the good fortune to sit under the largest piece of work of my favorite artist, Marc Chagall, before and witness the Paris Opera Ballet in person.  I remember the massive six-ton chandelier that drops from the Chagall ceiling’s center – not literally, mind you, though the 1896 accidental crash of one of the Opera House’s chandeliers did inspire Gaston Leroux to pen the classic Phantom of the Opera. And I remember the gilded Grand Staircase, the Grand Foyer, and all the gold and velvet and overwhelming sumptuousness.  I remember seeing for the first time, Le Jeune Homme et la Mort (The Young Man and Death). But with dance, it’s difficult to remember more than the sensations you experience as you watch it.  Sure, your mind captures images and freezes them in time – the height of a grand jeté, the pristine stillness when, en pointe, a dancer exquisitely pauses between phrases – no movement, time stands still.

Watching La Danse brought this all together for me – it connected the dots in my memory, gave me context and background and a renewed appreciation for what makes the best of the best – the best.  It made my heart swell.

Don’t miss the opportunity to be a voyeur and see the Paris opera Ballet backstage and on-stage in La Danse, showing at our Nickelodeon for the next week.  For tickets, contact the Nick at www.nickelodeon.org.

~~~

And if you love dance in Columbia like I do – if you love the people who dance it and the ones who do the work that allow them to – then make your reservation for the 5:30 show on Friday evening, January 15th.  Larry is doing a pre-talk and there is an absolutely beautiful surprise which I promise you will warm your heart until the day you die.  It’s a secret – I can’t say more.  But I can say, don’t miss this film and please do try to make it on Friday at 5:30.  You won’t be disappointed.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.