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

February 18, 2010

Joshua Drews, Undefined, 3 Popes, Compass 5, tonight

Fun stuff in Cayce tonight when the artist Joshua Drews opens his show at Compass 5 at 1329 State Street.

The show is sponsored by the Partners at Compass 5 and the newly resurrected magazine, Undefined, with Mark Pointer, Jeffrey Day, and myself at the helm.

Josh is a printmaker who specializes in monotypes — he’ll be offering a talk on his exhibit tonight at 7 pm.  The reception runs from 6 – 8.

Check out Joshua’s work on his website at http://www.joshuadrews.com — see it in person tonight at Compass 5.

The show runs from February 18th – March 18th.

February 17, 2010

Cabaret Comes to Trustus Wednesday night with Marjorie Barnes & Wideman/Davis Dance

If you can tear yourself away from the Olympics on Wednesday night, (did somebody say Tivo?), race on down to TRUSTUS Theatre on Lady Street for a taste of New York City, Columbia Style.  The brain child of former Broadway star – now Columbia arts supporter, Gillian Albrecht, TRUSTUS Theatre presents an innovative series of monthly cabaret events starting Wednesday night with Thaddeus Davis and Tanya Wideman-Davis of Wideman/Davis Dance Company and featuring the huge voice of the beautiful Marjorie Barnes.

Marjorie Barnes may be best known for her work with the musical group The Fifth Dimension (can you suuuuuurry, can you picnic? wo-o-o-ah) — Marjorie replaced Marilyn McCoo in the mid-seventies — but she has also enjoyed a stellar career as a jazz vocalist both on Broadway and throughout Europe.  Among the shows she has starred in are Hair, Dream Girls, Bubbling Brown Sugar, and Pal Joey.

The fund raising event starts at 7:30 and tickets are $30 in advance and $35 at the door, with student rush tickets available at 7 pm at the door. But don’t dally — there were just a few seats left by Tuesday night — and seating is general admission. For tickets call 254-9732.

Watch this space for more info on the upcoming shows.

February 9, 2010

Valentine’s Day = Pressure; What’s Love Fest = Pressure Release

As a woman of a certain age, I’ve suffered through many a Valentine’s Day.

Suffer, you say?  Why, I thought you had married your high school sweetheart — a boy you met on the football field when you were but fifteen years old?  I thought you had never dated another boy since and that you were living happily ever after in a little white house in an enchanted forest? Isn’t all of this true?

Why yes, yes it is. So if someone like me, who is married to the Beer Doctor, who just happens to have exquisite taste in all things romance, jewelry, wine, chocolates, flowers — the whole bit — if someone like me has suffered through Valentine’s Days galore, then please do pity the poor girl or boy who:  doesn’t have a love interest; only has a like interest; isn’t sure where she or he stands on the like/love scale.

The fact of the matter is that, more than anything, Valentine’s Day means pressure — even for those of us long in-love.  If it’s not deciding what to do, because God forbid you act as if it’s just another night, then it is deciding what to do soon enough lest every table in town be booked.  Pressure.  Then there is the question of gifts.  Women are easy — there is tradition behind what women expect from their beloveds on Valentine’s Day — gentlemen may make their choices from any variety of candies, jewels, and floral designs.  For women of the enlightened sect however, (those who recognize that loving and cherishing is a two-way street and that boys like to have love professed to them as much as girls), it is slim pickings.  We can only give so many wallets, money clips, and boxers with hearts all over them.  Women have to get creative.  Personally, I’ve given the Beer Doc so many baskets of craft beers by now that I just can’t go that direction again.  Pressure.

Don’t even get me started on Valentine’s shopping for parents, grandparents, and kids; what to wear over & what to wear under; performance anxiety; and the fact that a major candy holiday comes around in the middle of the biggest diet season of the year.  Pressure.

At least there is something we can do in Columbia that is pretty much pressure-less for those who just have to show up, and a pressure-release once we get there — the What’s Love Fest at 701 Whaley Street — one of the best arts events of the year.

With too many artists to mention — but I will say a few names like Bonnie Goldberg, Anastasia Chernoff, Michael Krajewski, Alejandro Garcia, Caroline Hatchell, and Billy Guess; plus performance art à la Wideman/Davis Dance, Unbound and more; music from Danielle Howle, Unresolved and Les Paramours; food, including an offering by Chef Kelly and a cash bar with Magic Hat brew; plus all kinds of surprises, I’m sure — The What’s Love Fest is the answer to the second most stressful holiday of the year.  Simply suit up in something sexy (ok, a little pressure there), and show up.

Below are the details lifted from the What’s Love Fest Facebook page — I hope I get to see you there.

What’s Love? This is What’s Love!
Over 40 visual and performance artists showing You the Love!

SAT. February 13th @ 701 Whaley
The main event:
“What’s Love Fest 2010”
7pm-midnight

Sun. Feb. 14th CLOSING
2pm-5pm

Tickets are $15 advance $20 at the door
Advance tickets:
Sid & Nancy – 5 Points
S&S Art Supplies – Rosewood Dr
Frame of Mind – Main St.
WEB – http://www.palmettonluna.org paypal

It’s Valentines weekend and whether you are single or have a love to bring you won’t want to miss this night of tantalizing art and entertainment!
Sponsored by:
Free Times
Baileys
Magic Hat
Sid & Nancy
Comunicar
Smoke
L.A.Kornegay, Media Productions

SAT. FEB 13th 7-midnight

Music by:
Les Paramours featuring:
Don Russo: Vocals/Guitar
Nick Brewer: Piano
Reggie Sullivan: Bass
Tony Lee: Drums
PLUS
Danielle Howle
Unresolved

Performances by:
Unbound Dance Company
Wideman/Davis
Sherry Warren & Kirrill Simin
Penthouse Playhouse

Also enjoy DR SKETCHY! The most rambunctious sketching session you’ll experience.

ART ART ART ART ART
With sexy, humorous, erotic and romantic art – starting with return artists or “The Love Hangovers”
* denotes part of juried show
Heidi Darr-Hope
Anastasia Chernoff
Melissa Ligon
Britta Cruz
Jeff Smith
Alejandro Garcia
Molly Harrell *
Michael Krejewski *
Melinda Register *
Bonnie Goldberg
Leslie Pierce *
Diana Farfan
Lee Ann Kornegay
Travis Teate
Billy Guess *

“Puppy Loves”
Betsy Newman *
Wade Sellers *
Michael Dixon *
Half & Half – Nick & Sarah *
Ted Sbardella *
Melissa Buckner *
Lindsey Wolf *
Izms of Art – Cedric & Mustafa *
Shannon Purvis *
Roe Young *
Caroline Hatchell *
James Shealy *
Lucy Bailey *
Dawn Hunter *
Sarah Kobos *

Kelly Courtney of Sugarhill will have something yummy and chocolate!

You can also shop for the perfect Valentine’s gift with:
Sid & Nancy
Bohumila Augustinova
Tom Chinn – Love Taps
S&S Art Supplies
Frame of Mind
Danielle Howle – Jewelry

Looking for the perfect Valentines Experience?
How bout the DELUXE LOVE package?
Details coming soon!

What’s Love Fest 2010
Jurors

1. Todd Herman, Chief Curator of the Columbia Museum of Art.
2. Karen Watson, Director of the Sumter Gallery of Art.
3. J.J. Ohlinger, Director of CAFfeine, Contemporary Art Forum in Greenville, SC.
4. Alejandro Garcia-Lemos, What’s Love Jury Coordinator.

This year’s event supports Palmetto & LUNA, a non-profit organization promoting Latino arts and culture in South Carolina. Latino theme not required.

FREE TIMES, Sid & Nancy, BAILEYS, Magic Hat and COMUNICAR are sponsors of the event.

For more information
lakorn@bellsouth.net

February 4, 2010

Susan Lenz & Blues Chapel, women’s work, working women, women who WORK & Eboniramm

I’ve written about my friend, local fiber artist Susan Lenz, before — that’s because in many ways she is one of my she-roes.  The work that Susan does resonates with me on so many different levels — much of it going back to the core of who I am.  Many of you lovely readers may know that, in addition to writing about beer and arts and travel, I am also an adjunct lecturer on women’s and gender studies at the University of South Carolina.  I came to this academic place in my life after spending many years studying sociology, focusing on gender roles and women’s experiences.  When I was in grad school in DC, I read Alice Walker’s book — still one of the most important books in my life — In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens.  In this book, Walker talks about how poor, unschooled, and under-valued women have not always had the luxury of canvases on which to express their creativity, and therefore, they captured canvases wherever they could find them.  In the way they planted their gardens, for example, with the deep green of sweet peppers juxtaposed against shiny red tomatoes — in the arrangements of carefully canned produce on their pantry shelves — in the quilts and hooked rugs they made for their homes.  Thus, in so many ways, the work that women traditionally did became, for many women, an expression of the creativity residing in their souls fighting its way out.  This is yet another reason why no one has the right to say what is art or not.  Art is gut and soul — the quilter and embroiderer feel this no less than the ceramicist or sculptor.

Susan Lenz’s primary medium of choice is embroidery.  She calls herself a contemporary embroiderer — I call her a genius.  Susan has taken this traditionally female art medium from the quiet laps of working women (all women are working women — whether they get paid for it or not; and by the way, most don’t) and placed it on the walls of galleries and art exhibits where it rightly belongs.  But don’t expect samplers and doilies when you see Susan Lenz’s work — expect to be moved, shocked, overwhelmed, elated, and devastated.  It can be intense.

Susan’s upcoming exhibit at Gallery 80808 on Lady Street is called Blues Chapel and Last Words.  In it she has taken the images of 24 blues divas and adorned them with the gilded glory anyone who made the contributions they did, deserve.  People like Ma Rainey, Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, and Nina Simone.  Susan has literally coronated these women with golden halos endowing them with dignity, engendering reverence.

I’m lifting the following quote from Susan’s blog —

“Early female blues singers lived in a male dominated society, in a segregated country, and worked in an industry that took advantage of their lack of education and opportunity,” Lenz said. “Physical abuse, drug and alcohol dependence, and poverty plagued most. They struggled, made sacrifices, and sang of their woes. They helped change the world for today’s young, black, female vocalists.”

Last Words, the accompanying exhibit which has been integrated very well into this show, represents the miles and hours Susan spent visiting cemetaries, literally across continents, collecting silken grave rubbings from headstones and monuments then bringing them home and transforming them into 30 art quilts.  The arrangement of the exhibit is such that if Blues Chapel represents the Church, then Last Words serves as the church yard.

The opening of the show is Friday night, February 5th from 6 to 8 pm, with a performance by local blues artist Eboniramm beginning at 7 Pm in conjunction with The Blue Martini, which shares a hall with Vista Studio’s gallery.  Eboniramm will be the lady singing the blues in tribute to the artists we will all be honoring on Friday night.  My friend, the artist Susan Lenz, included.  The reception will end at 8, but the gallery will be open until midnight, and the exhibit will also remain open for viewing as well.  Then at 9, Eboniramm will reprise and expand her tribute at the Blue Martini for a $5 cover charge.

It’s going to be a beautiful night — I hope I get to see you there.

For more info visit Susan’s blog at http://artbysusanlenz.blogspot.com

February 1, 2010

Chef Kelly Courtney

Just in case you haven’t gotten your hands on a copy of the February issue of Lake Murray Magazine, here’s a copy of the text from the article I wrote about our newest gourmand, Chef Kelly Courtney.

Hope you enjoy.

Chef Kelly Courtney and a Manageable Valentine’s Day Meal –

Keep it Simple, Pure & Exquisite

Chef Kelly Courtney’s connection to the land goes back to her childhood in Richland County and rural South Florida where hauling catfish from the water and slicing sugar cane into strips of juicy, sweet candy were her introduction to the perfection of simple local foods. That early appreciation for the pure, simple and exquisite has guided the nationally renowned chef from her Southern roots all the way to presiding over some of the country’s best restaurants, and back again to her South Carolina home. And it is what continues to drive her in her quest for making magical and meaningful meals – especially on Valentine’s Day, when passion and romance are essential ingredients on everyone’s menu.

Named by Food and Wine Magazine as 2001’s best new American chef, Chef Kelly Courtney could easily dazzle her audience with complicated combinations and impossible processes like those she oversaw as Executive Chef at Mod in Chicago or Firefly in Los Angeles. But rather than intimidate, Chef Kelly focuses on empowering her followers by focusing on simplicity.

“So many of the most pure ways of preparing foods are just more meaningful to you and who you are cooking for,” she explains. “Better yet, make the meal together. Plan the menu, shop for your ingredients, and prepare the meal together. Cooking is one of the most passionate ways a couple can spend their time.”

An advocate of sustainable farming and shopping local, Chef Kelly also recommends that cooking couples look first to seasonal produce when planning their romantic Valentine’s meal. “Go with the freshest ingredients you can find,” she encourages. Even in the chill of winter, crispy fresh greens and tasty root crops are still abundant and bursting with more flavor than out-of-season fruits and vegetables which can be stale and tasteless, not to mention shipped from miles away, leaving a carbon footprint that, these days, no one wants to claim. Saturday mornings always find Chef Kelly at the All Local Farmers Market at 701 Whaley Street where she loads up on local breads, cheeses, meats, and produce. After seeing what is fresh and available, she then plans the meals she’ll be making.

“A wonderful way to start preparations for your meal is with a little something to munch on while you’re cooking,” she advises, recommending a slice of local honey comb, dripping with gooey goodness and served on a pristine white plate. Paired with a tasty cheese, served at room temperature so the flavors are at their fullest and richest, the contrast of sweetness and nuttiness is a tempting introduction to the meal to come.

Color is another important consideration when planning a Valentine’s meal. “Most people associate Valentine’s Day with colors in the red and pink family,” she says. “Following this pattern is not only sweet, but it’s sexy, and it’s easy to do while still focusing on fresh, seasonal foods.” Chef Kelly recommends cooking with beets for a slightly atypical, but perfectly fresh and beautiful romantic dinner. “The colors are rich and gorgeous, and beets are abundant during February – it’s a natural choice,” she says.

Another fresh and colorful Chef Kelly recommended option for the day is fresh tuna from your local fish market. “Simple pairings of small plates is the key,” she says.  No one really wants to eat a heavy meal for a romantic dinner – tuna is light and flavorful, also a beautiful color, and easy to work with.”

Of course, no Valentine’s Day dinner would be complete without chocolate and Chef Kelley advises that sweethearts never skimp on quality when purchasing fine chocolates.

“Visit a local gourmet grocer and purchase just a few delicious truffles or excellent-quality chocolate candies containing varying percentages of cocoa content, from thirty to forty to seventy percent,” she says, and serve them on a beautiful plate with dried cherries or candied orange peel. Adding thin slices of a hot chili pepper to the chocolates allows for complementary tastes, as well as a double dose of endorphins – compounds produced naturally by the pituitary gland which resemble opiates and result in a general feeling of well-being.

Whether you achieve it via the food you prepare or how you prepare it, that feeling of well-being should not be underestimated as a necessary ingredient in a pleasant Valentine’s Day dinner experience, according to Chef Kelly. “Cooking with the person you care for is a wonderful way to share the intimacy of the meal and to show them you care,” she says, but it is also fun and it takes the pressure off one individual to perform for the other.

Everyone can relax; everyone can feel good; everyone can have a Happy Valentine’s Day.

January 30, 2010

Think about W. Heyward Sims & Cage Match: Clarity vs. Chaos

It may just be me, but I think the local visual artist/musician W. Heyward Sims is a bit of a character.  He’s pretty young now, but he already has this quirky, alt-hipster thing going on and, being a woman of a certain age, I can almost see the old coot he is one day going to be.  I like it that the boy has this uncultivated scruffiness about him — affectedness in an artist (in anybody, really) drives me crazy — people need to just be, dammit, and see what happens.  And I like it that he can hold up his end of a conversation.  Hell, I’m thrilled when I can talk to anyone who came out of  the South Carolina public education system and they voluntarily introduce subjects like Mark Rothko and Marcel DuChamp into the conversation.  So, I’m feeling a bit intrigued by Sims’  upcoming show at Frame of Mind.  He’s calling it Cage Match:  Clarity vs. Chaos.  I’m thinking we might just have some thought-provoking art coming our way.

Sims works in mixed media and, from the handful of pieces I’ve seen and heard will be in this show, it looks and sounds like that’s what we’ll get a lot of — think the addition of paper, glass, or even appliance for that matter, to oil, acrylic, or another medium.  I also know for a fact that he is introducing one or more pieces that by their very nature will be controversial.  Hmmm …, art that makes you think, and possibly banter and debate.  I’m down.  One of the pieces already has my feminist ire on end, as much as I appreciate the potential race-relation subtext — without even seeing the piece, it contextually makes me want to laugh at the silly little white  boys I grew up with and the men I fear too many of them became.  But hey, that’s just me — it’ll be interesting to see what other people think.

Thinking is the thing.  The whole premise of Sims’ show demands the viewers to think or walk away confused.  This is good.  I mean, flowers and landscapes are nice but we can all pretty much agree on that.  There’s certainly a place in the art world for pretty.  But what I really like is art that I’m not sure that I like or not.  That sounds antithetical, I know, but think about it.  Isn’t it more challenging to you as a viewer — and more rewarding — if you have to spend some time with a piece of work before you feel like you know it — and possibly love it?

I’m not pretending that the world isn’t full of too many people who feel way too comfortable in their little black and white realms.  It’s easy when you only have two choices to make:  chocolate or vanilla, good or bad, hate or love, right or wrong.  But that kind of artificial reality, and the reticence to recognize that life takes place in the gray areas, is nothing more than a sham existence for lazy people, fearful people, and wimps. As much as those of you who  know what I’m talking about should come out and see Heyward Sims’ show, those of you who don’t, should come and see it even more.

Thinking.  It’s a good thing.

Cage Match:  Clarity vs. Chaos, the February installation in the FOM series, opens on February 4th at 7:05 at Frame of Mind — 1520 Main Street.  See you there.

January 24, 2010

Looking at LifeChance

It was so nice to see such a great crowd at LifeChance Saturday night — and not just folks who got trucked in, but just a whole lot of people from the community. Here are a few observations:

  • The show was great — I love it that the show even exists and that Radenko Pavlovich brings in such fine talent from the far corners for us to see.  The talent and choreography should help to inspire local companies and dancers, especially the contemporary pieces performed by Lia Cirio, her brother Jeffrey Cirio, and Sabi Varga and James Whiteside.  Lia, who literally just got word that she was promoted to Principal dancer at Boston Ballet, is a force to be reckoned with.  Her exhibition of controlled energy is a tutorial for aspiring dancers — every inch of her body  was expressive and beautiful — not a wasted second or movement in her performance.  Total commitment to the dance — amazing.
  • Brooklyn Mack rocked.  I am completely biased because I love the boy so, but he was totally on — ON, and it was glorious to watch him take in all the love from the audience.  You have to know how humble he is to understand this.  He continues to see himself as a student, as a struggler, as someone who is working so hard to get where he wants to be — no fears about resting on one’s laurels here.  Not all the stars and wannabes from Columbia are this way, so it’s very refreshing to see.
  • That said, who was the chick he was dancing with and where did she come from?  This is a rhetorical question because I know the answer to both of them.  But what I want to know is why she was dancing with Brooklyn.  I’m not going to criticize her and say that she had a bad show — I’m not even going to say the child’s name — I think she just wasn’t up to the part.  Le Corsaire, the pas that she and Brooklyn danced, is all about lightness — we expect our dancers to skitter across the stage — to take flight.  That just wasn’t happening with her last night.
  • OK, and while I’m pretending not to be critical, (should I add a “bless her heart” here?), here’s my take on classical variations.  I ONLY want to see them if they are excellent — not just good.  Because any student of ballet who has been at it a while and has some hope of ever having a career even at a fourth or fifth tier company knows how to execute these classical variations.  They may not be excellent or even very good — but they can get ’em done.  If I want to see a future star of tomorrow, I’ll go watch a class or sit in on a YAGP competition.  For $30 — I want to see a pro.  Like  Meaghan Hinkis out of ABT II who we only got to see dance Don Q. This chick took a part that I’ve seen done way too many times and added her own energy to it to such a degree that I actually liked it.  So many dancers, when they do these tried and true (read dull and boring, imho) classical variations, work so hard to be precise that they suck the very soul from the dance.  This is why I shudder a little bit every time I hear music by Minkus, Asafiev, or Adolphe Adam.  Here’s to being so good that you add your own interpretation to ancient choreography. Go Meaghan Hinkis.
  • I’ve never seen the Trey McIntyre Project perform before, but after watching two of their dancers last night — I’m going to put it on my to-do list effective immediately.  Dylan G-Bowley and Chanel DaSilva brought synergy to the stage last night in a way you don’t always see in modern dance.  Loved it.
  • Can we talk height for a minute?  Little DeeDee Weatherly-Rosner, who went to NCSA with Annie and Bonnie, is s0 short — she’s like a tyke, right?  Well looking at Radenko’s corps last night, DeeDee was, well, she was mid-sized.  For some reason the Columbia Classical Ballet company this year appears to be made up of very talented kinder-gardeners.  This isn’t a criticism — it’s just an observation.  Wee dancers.  Tiny.
  • And speaking of DeeDee — good show, Child.  You stood out on the stage and, as an NCSA mom, I was proud of you.
  • OK, another observation — are we dressing up again?  I say this because, back in the day, LifeChance was the night that we put on the ritz — tuxes and sequins and faux fur (yeah, I know this is magical thinking on my part — I have to pretend that all fur is fake to suppress my compelling desire to drench it in a gooey red substance).  I’m thinking that we started dressing down after 9/11 — is that right?  At the risk of sounding like my friend The Shop Tart, who is clearly the authority on finery, I couldn’t help but notice a bit more bling last night.  And black velvet — which I was even wearing myself — and I loved it –ain’t nothing that feels any better on the bod that black velvet.  I’m OK if we are dressing up again — I was telling Jeffrey that since we don’t go to the Phil anymore that I rarely get to do it up.  To which he replied, Come to the Phil, then.  Probably not.  I’m betting that next year we’ll see more tuxes — which is good for me.   The Beer Doc looks especially fine in his tux.
  • Finally, I just want to give a shout out to Lee Lumpkin — who may be the most generous woman in town.  Her devotion to Radenko and Columbia Classical Ballet is the sole reason that company is alive, especially in the recent economic malaise.  I’m sure Radenko knows this.  Her support has allowed him to realize his dream — and it has allowed us to attend some quite excellent after-parties year after year.  Thanks to Lee and Mike for their hospitality and generosity.  You both rock.

January 21, 2010

Our buddy Brooklyn Mack, Radenko Pavlovich, Simone Cuttino, & LifeChance Ballet this Saturday

If you like dance the way dance is supposed to be, there are two yearly Columbia events you should never miss — when USC hosts the stars of the New York City Ballet, this year on Saturday, March 20th, and when Radenko Pavlovich hosts stars from all over the world at his annual LifeChance Ballet — which is happening this Saturday night, January 23rd.

Radenko, who is known for his European take on classical ballet, has been putting on his annual LifeChance Ballet for many years now, each year with the proceeds from the show benefiting a local charity.  I remember when Bonnie and Annie were young and danced in Radenko’s second company and how exciting it would be for the likes of Pollyana Ribiero and Simon and April Ball to come to town, take class with the kids, and then perform the caliber of dance my kids only got to see when we traveled to New York or abroad.  It was thrilling.

Now, one of their own best friends and former classmates is dancing among those stars himself, and it is even more thrilling to see our buddy Brooklyn Mack take the stage.  Brooklyn started out late as a dancer — he was young and goofy and full of enough ambition to make up for the awkwardness of adolescence.  Radenko would yell at Brooklyn to “point his biscuits!” — referring to his feet that flopped at the end of his long legs.  Brooklyn persevered — never got mad, seldom seemed discouraged, and eventually he improved.  But the thing was, he didn’t stop — he just kept getting better and better and better.  After a few years he followed his friend Mathias Dingman — who we all knew as Matthew back then, a beautiful boy who took to the stage like he was born on it — to the Kirov School for Ballet in Washington, DC.  After he graduated from the Kirov he moved on to the likes of the Joffrey, the ABT Studio Company, Orlando Ballet, and eventually to Washington Ballet, as well as dancing literally all over the world.   But he always comes back — sometimes just to say hello, sometimes to take a class, and sometimes, like this Saturday, to perform.  And Lord have mercy — does this boy PERFORM.

In addition to Brooklyn, Radenko has brought in Grace-Anne Powers out of Montreal, with whom Brooklyn will partner; Jeffrey and Lia Cirio, James Whiteside, Whitney Jensen, Sabi Varga, all from Boston Ballet; Japan’s Aleksandr Buber and Kayo Sasabe; as well as Meaghan Hinkis and Alberto Velazquez, both from ABT II.

Another treat to look forward to is Simone Cuttino’s Tango choreography with ten couples on stage and three women dancing lead.  Simone is Columbia Classical Ballet’s Ballet Mistress and quite a gift to the dance arts herself.  (For a story I wrote on Simone and her husband Walter last year, check out Zen and the Art of Relationship Maintenance at right.)

~~~~~

For information on Columbia Classical Ballet’s LifeChance this Saturday night, call 251-2222 or visit the ballet website at http://www.columbiaclassicalballet.org.

January 19, 2010

Sneeking a peek at the beer book — Bob, Beer, and Me — the Cantillon Brewery in Brussels

The Beer Book is moving along well, though late, and I’m excited to finally see it’s ending on the still somewhat distant horizon.  So here’s an excerpt from the book which takes us to the Cantillon Brewery in Brussels, Belgium where we entered the strangely organic world of  lambic and gueuze beers.  Hope you’ll take a look.

~~~~~

The Cantillon Brewery — Brussels

There is nothing glitzy about the Cantillon Brewery in Brussels.  If you’re looking for shiny stainless steel and squeaky clean equipment, you’ve come to the wrong place.  Think dust bunnies.  Think stray cats rummaging around accumulations of cobwebs and musty smells like peat, compost and orchard floor.  Think reverence for indigenous spiders who keep the brewery clear of other more pesky bugs. Think Mother Nature because, even in the midst of a bustling city, that’s what you’ve got in Cantillon – Mother Nature at work preparing sweet delicacies for those who wait.

Traditional lambic beer, like that brewed at Cantillon, is made from 35% raw wheat, 65% malted barley, and flavorful three-year-old dried hops[1] added at a ratio of 5 grams per liter of beer.  First produced more than five centuries ago, today’s lambic retains much of the same old-fashioned dry, sour funkiness of lambics of old – as long as it is brewed under the same conditions of old – which is exactly how the brewing of beer goes down at Cantillon.

Miraculously.

And I mean that literally.  While the Cantillon brewers certainly know better and are perfectly capable of controlling and orchestrating the product of their labors, they are happy to sit back, wait on nature, then harvest the half-millennium-old extraordinary process in which wild ambient yeasts floating naturally through the air convert barley and the sugars from raw wheat into this unusual, yet elegant brew called lambic beer. Hence the cobwebs, open windows, and dust bunnies visitors find when peeping behind the scenes at the magic that is Cantillon Brewery.

If you have tasted lambic beers at home you may find yourself equating it with fruit – and there’s a good reason why.  Young (year old) lambic and aged (two to three-year old) beers, called gueuze,[2] are often blended with one another to produce a variety of tastes that can range from sparkling and sour, if the young lambic takes precedence, to off-sweet and fruitier, if the gueuze does.  When the young and old beers are blended, the unfermented sugars in the young beer cause a second fermentation to take place in the bottle.  If fruit has been steeped in the beer, as it often is, the process will result in the classic dry kriek beer you may have tasted when sour cherries are used, or frambois when raspberries are the fruit of choice.

According to Belgian beer expert Tim Webb, there are vagaries in the Belgian beer regulations which may create some confusion as to whether or not a brewer has to use spontaneous fermentation for a beer to be considered an authentic lambic.  In other words, some brewers may avail themselves of short cuts by using prepared yeast in the brewing of their beers, rather than the natural spontaneously occurring yeast, endemic to the Senne River valley.

But not Cantillon.

We entered the warehouse-type building somewhat skeptically and stood near the door for a few moments trying to ascertain the procedure for viewing the premises.  A knowledgeable looking guy with a large pallet of empty bottles rolled through just as we were taken note of by one of his few co-workers, given a pamphlet and told to follow the numbers posted along the way for our self-guided tour.

The tour started in the mashing house where wheat and barley[3] are put into a large crushing machine in the middle of the floor to be crushed before they are mixed with warm water in the mashing tun.  The sugar-laden liquid, called wort, which is eventually fermented to produce alcohol, is extracted from the tun then pumped into beautiful red copper hop boilers.  Next, the mashing room led us to the granary, an amply ventilated room where hops, malted barley, and wheat are stored during the brewing season lasting from mid-October until the beginning of April.

But it was in the next room along the route, the cooling room, where we realized how different the Cantillon brewery tour is from many of the generic brewery tours we had been on before, or have been on since.  We accessed the room by climbing a short set of stairs into an attic-like space with shuttered windows in the walls.  Sitting in the middle of the floor was a huge, but shallow, hand-riveted, open-topped, copper vessel, looking more like a sculpture than a tank, called the cooling tun.  The tank was empty while we were there but we immediately knew that we were where the miracle that is lambic beer takes place:  the place where spontaneous fermentation occurs.

Cooling of the wort happens most often during the night and always during the coolest months of the year.  It is then that tiny micro-organisms living in and about the room inoculate the wort with a variety of airborne wild yeasts[4] which will ultimately result in spontaneous fermentation once the wort has been transferred to the oak and chestnut barrels in which the wort will be stored.[5]

We next wondered through the bottling area where Cantillon beers, rather than being capped, are closed with crown corks like Champagne bottles and transferred via conveyor belt to the cellar where they are horizontally stored.  The brief tour ended where it started and we were ready to taste some of the funky, sour stuff we had been learning about.


[1] Until the twelfth century flavors like rosemary and coriander were used where hops are today.

[2] Pronounced “gurze” or “kurze”.

[3] Cantillon has used only organic cereals since 1999.

[4] At least 86 known yeasts are present in lambic beers.

[5] The folks at Cantillon are quick to remind us that in the days of old, all beer was produced by spontaneous fermentation – today, only lambic beer is.

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.


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