Sunday, November 29, 2009


Tonight I went to see the Beatles show at the Laserium on Hollywood with some friends. It was quite a show. The nine of us made up 3/4 of the audience in this huge old movie theater. I left thinking I had visited 1985, and reminded of how great the Beatles are. They really are. You take that for granted, and then you're forced to sit in an auditorium and listen to their music for 45 minutes and you muse about how they straddled pop and experiment brilliantly. Wow.

On the way there we realized it was the Hollywood Christmas parade, so the streets were closed off and packed with people. When we left the theater, we were in time to see a giant Sam balloon from Dr. Suess, and Dog the Bounty Hunter, who was a crowd favorite. It's truly an odd parade. There were a couple of backpackers who looked like homeless teens walking past, with a black cat tied on top of the bundle. From the front it looked like the cat was balancing of her own volition, but from the back you realized she was tied down. And cats love that--being tied to things, and crowds.

I also saw the Globe's production of Love's Labor's Lost this weekend as well, but I'm hoping to write something more substantial about it. I will say it's quite a wacky show.

I woke up this morning sad that it was Sunday and that I have to go to work tomorrow, but I'm grateful for employment. And I did a lot of clearing this weekend--a friend suggested that I could put a lot of my books in the garage and clean up book clutter. That was revolutionary. My living room feels much larger. I still have a lot of books out, but there's a little more breathing space. More room to read, and more room for more books - ha.

Friday, November 27, 2009

And we're back...

SO, after a brief stomach flu and Thanksgiving, we're back.

I went to see La Danse last weekend, as promised. It's wonderful, though I wouldn't go so far as to say it's the best dance movie ever made, as some have said. If you like watching dancers rehearse, then it probably is. If not, your patience might be tried.

Me, I love watching any artistic process, from weaving to acrobatics, so I was totally into it. Frederick Wiseman followed the dancers around, concentrating mostly on rehearsal and performance of several pieces, including “Genus,” by Wayne McGregor; “Paquita,” by Pierre Lacotte; “The Nutcracker,” by Rudolph Nureyev; “Medea,” by Angelin Preljocaj; “The House of Bernarda Alba,” by Mats Ek; “Romeo and Juliet,” by Sasha Waltz; and “Orpheus and Eurydyce,” by Pina Bausch.

Wiseman follows the dancers around in every aspect of rehearsal, capturing solo time as well, especially of Delphine Moussin as she prepares to dance Medea. We watch her mark her performance, working out details painstakingly as she figures out the character. The choreographer works with her on a final moment, and we seem the discussing a particular gesture, the final gesture in the piece. Later in the film, we watch her dance the role in performance, ending in a the gesture spoken of. It doesn't strike a chord in the rehearsal, but seen in context with a fully committed performer, the moment is spine-tingling.

Also incredible are things like watching Marie Agnes Gillot in a crazy challenging pas de deux as part of this piece, Genus, By Wayne McGregor (not her, but this is the ballet--her portion was full of really close partnering, unbelievably quick isolations, and what looked to me like ballet hip-hop ending with her being lowered to the ground):

And then watching her do this insane number of pirouettes, seemingly endlessly, in Paquita (I think). Even the people watching in rehearsal stop to say how incredible she is. It's astounding to watch what they can do. Here below is the style and the dncer, but not the clip:

What's brilliant about it as well is that Wiseman explores every corner. Silent hallways, building exteriors. And, of course, the artistic director Brigitte LeFevre, who is a force of nature. We watch her talking to dancers, counseling on the phone, in marketing meetings, talking to choreographers. In one session she speaks to a choreographer about the heirarchical nature of the company, and the importance of using an "etoile" (star) in a ballet if you have them, rather than just as part of an ensemble. That, she says, would be like buying a sports car and driving it 6 miles per hour. She's riveting to watch as well.

Wiseman also films the costumers, the cafeteria workers, the janitors, the laborers, and the man who cleans the auditorium. And, without saying anything explicit, you might realize for yourself that the only people of any color are the painters, cleaners, the concierge, and the cashier in the cafeteria. The dancers are all European. As are the choreographers. It's not explicit, but it became noticeable to me, especially considering the young man vacuuming the auditorium had the same build as many of the male dancers. Wiseman shows everything--the water in the basement, and the beekeeper on the roof (what a surprise that was). It's a true documentary--documenting. No narration, no interviews, fly on the wall.

The most enjoyable thing for me to watch was the capture of that difficult work to make something good great. All the dancers in the film are great, though some are obviously better (you begin to discern that as well). The stars are stars for a reason. But it's thrilling to watch an incredibly gifted performer work to make it even better. I can't remember that ever being captured on film, or at least this well. It's wonderful when two older cantankerous dancer/coaches are arguing about what they like and what they don't, all the while coaching an exquisite dancer about what needs improvement while she's rehearsing.

These dancers are incredible athletes and artists. It's funny--I've been watching So You Think You Can Dance, which I enjoy a lot. After watching the dancers in this film, though, I can see the difference in that rigorous training and work. Not to say the SYTYCD dancers don't work hard, but what an incredible difference having a company that challenges a corps of artists to stretch every muscle and work at their best. I wish we had something like that in this country. It's truly a gem.

Friday, November 20, 2009


So excited - off to see La Danse tonight, so I'll report back. More plumbing mishaps and my own rehearsals and business have stopped some of my writing momentum, but there's going to be much on the horizon, including A Single Man and Nine. Also, really intersted in Jews on film this year--that's accounted for a great deal of my most emotional reactions to a couple of pieces, so I hope to blog about that. As long as the plumbing holds as it's supposed to.

A note about the above--Leonid Andreyev, Russian Writer and photographer. He wrote "He Who Gets Slapped", which I was actually in in grad school (yikes on that one, really), and also developed a color process for film in the 1910s, which is why that color photo is from the early part of the century. I have always wanted that book, but I don't think it's available. Should've bought it in 1989 when we got it in the bookstore where I was working. Ah well, missed chances. Below is a portrait by Repin, who was responsible for another striking painting I blogged about earlier. I guess I have a thing about bearded Russians.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Fantastic Mr. Fox

This was quite a weekend. Friday, my toilet backed up, not from anything I did, but sewage back up from the pipes below. Saturday, the plumbers came over, and stayed for five hours.I found out that my apartment is the end of the line for the sewage system, and that all the tributaries had been blocked. The plumbers were great and conscientious, but still my kitchen and bathroom floors were covered in black sludge, and it was tracked through on the floors.

On the bright side, I was at home cleaning for five hours on Saturday, did some sorting and pitching I've been meaning to do, went to Target and got shelf paper and lysol, and went to town on everything. Today I washed my rugs, I put shelf paper on some cabinets I've been meaning to, and I've mopped my floors and treated them with antibacterial spray about 4 times. So everything is sparkling. IN the midst of the plumbers being here, I was looking for something to do and I peeled a pomegranate, putting the seeds in the refrigerator for use on yogurt, and I also pulled brussel sprouts of the stalk I had bought and sauteed them in a wok with ghee and a little salt.

From this, I found out once again I like to be busy. Again.

And I also learned that sometimes something that seems like a mishap can actually turn out to be a good thing--I have cleaner pipes, cleaner shelves, food for the week, and clean floors.

Work even did that for me--what was a week of anxiety, no sleep, soul-searching turned out to give me a new focus and vision as well as clarity on why I am where I am and if
I am interested in that moving forward. And that I needed.

I suppose I'm trying to relate this to "Fantastic Mr. Fox", the wonder-ful new movie from Wes Anderson--mostly about one supposedly bad experience leading to new clarity. I loved this movie. I didn't know the book, which is surprising since "James and the Giant Peach" was in my top three growing up of repeat reads. And I imagine, if I had read it, FMF might have been the same. I heard an interview with Wes Anderson this weekend, who said that this book was the first piece of property he owned, and that is the copy he kept going back to while making this film. And that's not surprising to hear. The film itself feels well-loved, and I don't think that would have been possible without a deep affection for the source.

It's beautifully shot, imaginatively directed, with a great sense of whimsy, but also of relationships. It feels simultaneously grounded and ridiculous, which for me is the best kind of "kids" movie. The voice talent is spectacular, rooted in the central relationship of Mr. and Mrs. Fox voiced by George Clooney and Meryl Streep. I don't know of two other actors who could have pulled this off. He has to be charming enough to lead an entire brigade, and she has to be charmed enough, but also aware of all his failings. I'm making it sound much more mundane than it plays. He's a reporter; she's a landscape painter. Anderson also has fun with the son, Ash, voiced by Jason Schwartzmann, and his perfect cousin Kristofferson, voiced by Eric Anderson. Also along are Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe and Michael Gambon as a the most terrifying of the trio of villians. It's a can't-lose with the voices, really.

The story concerns Mr. Fox who can't help, well, being a fox. And his existential crisis sets off the action of the film:

"Why a fox? Why not a horse, or a beetle, or a bald eagle? I'm saying this more as, like, existentialism, you know? Who am I? And how can a fox ever be happy without, you'll forgive the expression, a chicken in its teeth?"

He creates all the situations that he has to get out of himself, because that's who he is. If he's not wily, he has nothing to do. So an act of theft, which for him is a thrill ride and in his nature, sets of a chain of revenge that effects everyone around him. In the end, everyone probably would have been better off if he hadn't done what he did, but who's to say? Through the actions of Mr. Fox and the events they set off, everyone finds out that the best thing that these animals can do is be the animals they are--that no matter how civilized they are, they'll always revert back to their basic natures. It could be looked at as bleak, but I saw it more that it was necessary for each of them to what they do best when put to the test; by being who they were, they were able to adapt and find a way out of the situation. Those natures are never far. In a brilliant bit, the animals never eat food, even at a table with a suit on, they devour it. By coming back to their animal natures and strengths, they are able to come back to some kind of status quo. And, of course learn something in the process. Of course, you could probably get something else out of it, too.

The animation is careful, hysterical, and meticulous. I can't wait to see it again to just see the details that I missed. The beginning just made me giddy, with a weasel real estate agent, fast-talking squirrel movers, and an adolescent, tooth-brushing fox. But it's the richness of the relationships that will keep me coming back - The chemistry classroom scene alone with a poor Ash realizing he's losing the interest of his lab partner to his perfect cousin is worth the price of admission. It reminds me of what Rankin/Bass did mixed with the sensibility of a Wes Anderson film and Wallace and Gromit. Near the end, in the climax, there's a moment where the film stops and you realize there's more in the world, and that threats lurk - I won't ruin it by telling what it is, since then you'll wait for it, but it's just another great layer in a suprisingly layered, satisfying film. I hope a lot of kids see it.

In the words of Mrs. Fox, "You know, you really are...fantastic."

Monday, November 09, 2009


I had the pleasure of seeing "To Be Straight With You", a piece by the UK based dance theater group DV8. The piece is about homosexual oppression, across the world, but mainly centered in Islamic and fundamentalist Christian countries. It’s true documentary theater; all text came from interviews. It was beautifully done, though I had a couple of moments where I wanted a little more.

The movement was fantastic. One actor did a monologue as a 15 year old muslim boy who was kicked out of his home for being gay. He did the entire thing while jumping rope. The same actor did a monologue of a man explaining his dual life, with a wife and a male lover, while doing intense Bollywood style dance to Shakira –and at one point joined by a man doing the same dance behind him, mirroring him. Not without humor. What blows me away is the acting skill of all the performers while dancing. It is movement, but some of it is just straight out dance. The more static moments of straight theater actually felt a little less effective to me.

It feels odd being critical of this at all, since the subject matter is so serious and pressing. It’s apparent there is a growing Muslim community in the UK, as well as a Jamaican and native Christian community that can be very violent. They address the Buju Banton “murder music”, projecting translations of the lyrics calling for gay men to be burned and killed. Those are heart-stopping. The stories of violence, oppression, and death seem endless, coupled with never-ending hate speech. One segment that sticks with me is a performer speaking the words of an imam talking about reconciling his religion and sexuality and the community difficulties while reacting suddenly from invisible forces bearing down on him and surprising him from all sides. Fear.

The projections used are incredible. There is a spinning globe which a performer uses to highlight different countries and modes of punishment. One man explains his many lives as father, husband, imam, and gay man while walking through borders of a comic book. Two women tell there stories, completely drawn and illustrated but for hands and faces.

The performers are beyond skilled, the movement is wonderful. There were a lot of moments, with the movement itself, where I was astounded they were doing what they were doing.

I would say, as a US viewer, some of the dialects were challenging to understand. And from where we were some of the sound was muddy, but that's probably the hall we were in.

One of the criticisms I have is that the women were underutilized (one astounding sequence had a woman with her arms bent at the elbows, spinning and doing Chaîné turns in an oval shape for about two minutes while speaking the words of a 70-year old rabbi saying “I’m very tired”). The women I was with mentioned it often felt like this in pieces generated by gay men, and I imagine it’s that and just the invisibility in general—in some ways it speaks even more to the oppression.

The other thing I felt was that it was a documentary without a form - I didn’t know what the point or the focus was. It had segments, but no overall form, and was an exploration of issues only by accident, not by shape. There were a lot of issues raised from the breadth of the interviews, but since this touched on so many (violence, rape, misogyny, religion) it almost felt diffuse. You could do an entire show about the murder music in Jamaica and men being stoned to death; on women in Africa and sexual oppression; on the double lives of Muslim men; on the growing Muslim community in the UK and intolerance; on closeted gay men beating other gay men out of self hatred (in one heartbreaking scene a man has gone to prison for 4 ½ years for assault on gay men and only once out of prison can he admit he’s gay). So I know it’s probably an impossibility to focus it, but it felt a little like one awful injustice after another. Yes, people were safer in the UK and had asylum, but there is still the brokenness and disappointment. It’s quite intense. The focus, if there was one, was on religious persecution being the base.

I also wanted more physical connection. The women held hands, the men barely touched. Perhaps they’re known for that and wanted to depart? I don’t know, but I do know it would have added a level to have actual physical intimacy on stage. Not only to affirm gay/lesbian desire/affection/eroticism, but perhaps to point out the audience’s own discomfort (if they had it) to gay/lesbian affection and desire. And for a production that had no problem illustrating violence, it seemed squeamish about desire. Maybe like our culture--violence is fine, sex is to a point, but affection is odd and threatening.

Which leads me to the big question— what is this for and will people see this who need to? At least in LA, in a theater that was nowhere near close to sold out, it felt like preaching to the converted. I hope that when it toured in the UK it was seen in schools. The other thing that might have helped would have been more information on how to help. What to do. One prominent activist is interviewed speaking about how he has been harassed and threatened with death. It’s obvious this is life-threatening. I would have thought there would have been a website or instructions on what action could be taken. Maybe that’s just me, but if we’re just watching it, and doing nothing about it, while clucking our tongues, who does that help?

For me, I realized that the company I work for does business with countries where I would be jailed, imprisoned, or put to death. That was disturbing for me to think about. I need my job. I’m sure much of this is coming about now that we are a global culture. Like it or not, we are all connected. And some of this is finding out maybe you don’t necessarily want to be connected. I haven’t figured it out.

I guess I got gratitude for the freedoms we have here, and knowledge of just how precious they are, and how different it is in the UK right now. We’re protected from a lot, I think. And I was reminded of the power of theatre, and why I fell in love with doing it in the first place.

I hope to hell we can keep our freedoms. If nothing else this reminds me of all we have, and why we fight so hard.

Here’s a trailer for the show:

I couldn’t find sequences online, but I did find Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men a film DV8 did from the late eighties. I guess the whole film is loaded on youbtube. Handy

Thursday, November 05, 2009

La Danse

One of my favorite movies of recent years is Tout près des étoiles: Les danseurs de l'Opéra de Paris, a wonderful 2001 documentary about the Paris Opera Ballet. I love it. I saw it twice in the theatre (the dinky Cinema Village in NY), and have seen it on DVD several times. I have a wierd obsession with dance movies, most specifically ballet. I don't know why, and really, why analyze it? The movement is spectacular, and I probably like the military regimen in the service of art. And, frankly, it's astounding what these people can do. And, I do love the Red Shoes - here you can read my hero-worship.

So, I'm basically completely stoked about the new three hour documentary on the Opera Ballet, Frederick Wiseman'sLa Danse, The Paris Opera Ballet. 3 solid hours of watching technically accomplished performers do what they love and talk about it. Heaven.

Here's the trailer

Monday, November 02, 2009


Feel like posting something, so I'll share that I submitted 4 poems to Poetry Magazine. Not expecting much--I don't read a lot of contemporary poetry and much of what I read I don't find interesting--but just the action was nice. Once they're (or I should say if) they're rejected, I'll post them.

It's so easy to submit things on line now. Crazy.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Smackdown '56

Check me out over at the 1956 Supporting Actress Smackdown. Really interesting year, and some movies I'd never seen, like The Bad Seed.

Just saw Michael Jackson's This is It. Not sure I needed to, now that I've seen it. I was told by a lot of people how great it was, and it is, to watch the rehearsals--but I've never been a huge fan. It's clear how talented he is, and how many people are devoted to him, but it's more interesting for me as a look at a talented artist, hero worship, and just how sad the whole thing is. I'm sad for him and his family, but also for all the dancers and musicians who were living out this dream and never got to perform it. It was a rehearsal of the concert, and you realize how thrilling it would have been for all involved. It also struck me how much he lived in fantasy seemingly, even his final song was about a love that saves him and how wonderful it is. By all accounts, though, it was something he never found. Sad story.

I've seem some other stuff, but between play rehearsals and work, I've not been finding the time to write. So, I'll make a point to do that. The one thing I have in my head is sadly getting larger and larger. I'll see if I can get it down and trim it a bit.

Happy reading!