Monday, June 28, 2010

Theater review: 'Speech and Debate' is GableStage's youth movement

Jackie Rivera,‭ ‬David Dearstyne and Ryan Didato
in Speech and Debate at GableStage.‭
(‬Photo by George Schiavone‭)

By Hap Erstein

Although he must have been absent in playwriting class the day they covered creating enticing titles,‭ ‬Stephen Karam demonstrates his skill with contemporary dialogue and the angst of today’s youth in the breezy,‭ ‬comic‭ ‬Speech and Debate.

While more lightweight than GableStage’s usual fare,‭ ‬the production demonstrates the company’s continued interest in new talent‭ ‬--‭ ‬introducing Karam to South Florida as well as three fresh-faced performers who have recently graduated from Miami’s New World School of the Arts.

They play unpopular misfits in a Salem,‭ ‬Ore.‭ ‬High school,‭ ‬geeks who have gravitated to the debate club and taken it over by default.‭ ‬The club and the school newspaper become forums for their crusades,‭ ‬particularly against Salem’s conservative mayor,‭ ‬who opposes gay adoption but apparently has homosexual designs on underage boys himself.

Then there is Mr.‭ ‬Healey,‭ ‬the school’s drama teacher,‭ ‬who has made sexual advances on both male characters‭ ‬--‭ ‬online chat-obsessed,‭ ‬openly gay Howie‭ (‬David Dearstyne‭) ‬and Solomon‭ (‬Ryan Didato‭)‬,‭ ‬an investigative reporter wannabe.‭ ‬The female apex of the debate club triangle,‭ ‬a little dynamo named Diwata‭ (‬Jackie Rivera‭)‬,‭ ‬also has it in for Healey.‭ ‬Not for his unprofessional indiscretions,‭ ‬but because he cannot see that she deserves to be given the leading role in the school play.

Healey may not see it,‭ ‬but GableStage theatergoers will.‭ ‬Rivera has genuine star quality,‭ ‬a charismatic bundle of energy with terrific comic timing and an underlying vulnerability.‭ ‬These qualities are particularly evident in Diwata’s hyperactive rendition of her musical version of Arthur Miller’s‭ ‬The Crucible and a nude‭ (‬well,‭ ‬with flesh-colored leotard‭) ‬interpretive dance.‭ ‬Karam certainly has some offbeat comic notions,‭ ‬but it is the way Rivera puts them across that is most memorable.

By comparison,‭ ‬Dearstyne and Didato come off far blander than desirable.‭ ‬In the only two visible adult roles,‭ ‬a put-upon teacher and a clueless reporter,‭ ‬Patti Gardner manages to make something of the sketchy assignments.‭ ‬In a rare sidestep,‭ ‬artistic director Joe Adler hands over the staging chores to Amy London,‭ ‬who makes some headway in giving the episodic tale some dramatic shape.

The play’s focus is on awkward teens,‭ ‬but the script is more disjointed and awkward than necessary.‭ ‬The alienation of youth is a common theme of young writers,‭ ‬and‭ ‬Speech and Debate does update the topic with references to texting,‭ ‬Google and podcasts.‭ ‬The script feels up to the minute,‭ ‬but it seems likely to become dated soon.

Still,‭ ‬Karam is a writer to keep an eye on and Rivera is the reason to see the production at GableStage.‭

SPEECH AND DEBATE,‭ ‬GableStage,‭ ‬1200‭ ‬Anastasia Ave.,‭ ‬Coral Gables.‭ ‬Through July‭ ‬18.‭ ‬Tickets:‭ ‬$37.50‭ ‬-‭ ‬$45.‭ ‬Call:‭ (‬305‭) ‬445-1119.‭

ArtsBuzz: Rival WXEL bidders to present plans at Boynton meeting

Disc jockey Stu Grant.

Disc jockey Stu Grant,‭ ‬host of the Jazz Impressions show on Saturday nights at WXEL-90.7‭ ‬FM, is in limbo.‭

The Boynton Beach-based station is set to be sold,‭ ‬which will make it an arm of American Public Media and change its call letters.‭ ‬And the future of Grant‭’‬s show has yet to be decided upon.‭

“I‭’‬m hopeful that things will remain the same,‭” ‬Grant says. ‭“‬I‭’‬ve only heard that a decision will be made between three and six months from now.‭ ‬But one thing is certain.‭ ‬If programmed properly,‭ ‬this community,‭ ‬from Miami through the Palm Beaches, can support a full-time jazz radio station and be successful.‭”

Grant's opinion is well-informed,‭ ‬since he‭’‬s been through all of this before.‭ ‬He had a similarly‭ ‬successful jazz brunch program on Love‭ ‬94‭ ‬FM until the station phased out jazz at the end of‭ ‬2008.

‭“‬Let the consultants who did more damage than good to Clear Channel‭’‬s Love‭ ‬94 FM programming be on notice,‭” ‬he says.‭ “‬Your musical suggestions are not welcome if the possibility should ever arise again,‭ ‬by any station ownership,‭ ‬of jazz programming.‭ ‬Along with a handpicked staff,‭ ‬I would be glad to show you the way it should be done.‭”

WXEL’s owners,‭ ‬Miami Shores-based Barry University,‭ ‬sold the radio station in late April for‭ ‬$3.85‭ ‬million to Classical South Florida,‭ ‬a Fort Lauderdale-based station‭ ‬owned by American Public Media Group‭ (‬WKCP-89.7‭ ‬FM‭)‬.‭ ‬The sale was approved by Barry’s board‭; ‬the university will continue to hold the license for WXEL-TV,‭ ‬which can be seen on Channel‭ ‬42.‭

As the sale winds its way through regulatory channels,‭ ‬two local groups,‭ ‬Strategic Broadcast Media and the Community Broadcast Foundation,‭ ‬are each still trying to buy the WXEL radio and TV licenses.‭ ‬Representatives will give presentations to a WXEL Community Advisory Board forum set for Tuesday at the Boynton Beach City Library.

The Community Advisory Board opposes the sale to Classical South Florida for three major reasons,‭ ‬according to Pablo del Real,‭ ‬the board’s chairman:‭ ‬WXEL radio would be owned by an out-of-state entity,‭ ‬that Classical South Florida is only interested in the radio station,‭ ‬and that WKCP broadcasts classical music only,‭ ‬unlike WXEL.

Also last week,‭ ‬Boynton Beach City Attorney James Cherof wrote to the state Board of Education expressing the city’s concern that the pending sale‭ “‬will result in a loss of a local voice and point of view in public broadcasting in the City and in South Florida.‭” ‬The board,‭ ‬which must approve the sale,‭ ‬is scheduled to review the deal in September.‭

Tuesday’s meeting begins at‭ ‬6:30‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬and is scheduled to last until‭ ‬8‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬The library is located at‭ ‬208‭ ‬S.‭ ‬Seacrest Blvd.

Rafael Dávila and Cristina Castaldi in Verdi’s‭ ‬Giovanna d’Arco,‭
‬from the Sarasota Opera’s‭ ‬2009-2010‭ ‬season.‭
(‬Photo by Rod Millington‭)

Sarasota Opera looking for apprentices

The Sarasota Opera said this month it is now accepting applications for young singers who want to be apprentice artists with the company for its upcoming season.

Auditions will be held Sept.‭ ‬11‭ ‬in Chicago at the Nicholas Concert Hall of the Music Institute of Chicago,‭ ‬on Sept.‭ ‬13‭ ‬at the Fielding Recital Hall in the Sarasota Opera House,‭ ‬and from Sept.‭ ‬16-20‭ ‬in New York,‭ ‬at a venue to be determined later.‭ ‬The company is looking for‭ “‬singers who are serious about having careers as soloists in opera and desire further development in their craft,‭” ‬according to a company news release.

Apprentices hired for the season will work from Jan.‭ ‬4‭ ‬to March‭ ‬26‭ ‬at the Sarasota Opera.‭ ‬Stipend is‭ ‬$400‭ ‬a week,‭ ‬with housing and roundtrip airfare to and from Sarasota provided.‭ ‬The opera usually hires‭ ‬24‭ ‬apprentices,‭ ‬officials said.‭ ‬Participants will sing in the choruses of the four winter season productions,‭ ‬receive coaching in musical and dramatic aspects of opera,‭ ‬and perform in musical outreach programs and concerts.‭ ‬The program concludes with an Apprentice Artist Concert at the end of the season.

The winter operas for the company’s‭ ‬52nd season are:‭ ‬Puccini’s‭ ‬La Bohème‭ (‬Feb.‭ ‬5-March‭ ‬19‭)‬,‭ ‬Mozart’s‭ ‬Don Giovanni‭ (‬Feb.‭ ‬12-March‭ ‬18‭)‬,‭ ‬Verdi’s‭ ‬I Lombardi‭ (‬Feb.‭ ‬26-March‭ ‬20‭)‬,‭ ‬and American composer Robert Ward’s‭ ‬The Crucible‭ (‬March‭ ‬5-19‭)‬.‭

Apprentice applications are available through‭ ‬‭ ‬The deadline for submission is Aug.‭ ‬15.‭ ‬For more information,‭ ‬write to artistic administrator Greg Trupiano at‭ ‬,‭ ‬or call‭ (‬941‭) ‬336-8450,‭ ‬ext.‭ ‬420.

― ‬Compiled by Bill Meredith and Greg Stepanich

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Music feature: Conductor, guitarist happy to be touring with Sting

Gordon Sumner,‭ ‬better known as Sting.

By Bill Meredith

Pop music went through the beginnings of a seismic shift in late‭ ‬1976,‭ ‬when the artist formerly known as Gordon Sumner decided to give up a teaching career in his hometown of Newcastle,‭ ‬England.‭

The‭ ‬25-year-old Brit was also a vocalist and bassist who'd taken on the stage name Sting,‭ ‬and he was preparing to move to London as Christmas approached.‭ ‬Playing a farewell Newcastle show with his band Last Exit,‭ ‬he was approached by American drummer Stewart Copeland,‭ ‬then with the group Curved Air.

Within six months,‭ ‬those bands were history.‭ ‬Sting and Copeland enlisted British guitarist Andy Summers and formed The Police,‭ ‬arguably the most important pop band since The Beatles.‭ ‬And like the Fab Four,‭ ‬this trio didn't have a long shelf life‭ (‬1977-1984‭)‬.‭ ‬Things were unraveling by the recording sessions for Sting's‭ ‬1985‭ ‬solo debut,‭ ‬The Dream of the Blue Turtles,‭ ‬but the frontman has since remained not only the trio's most high-profile figure‭ (‬with worldwide record sales of nearly‭ ‬100‭ ‬million‭)‬,‭ ‬but one of the world's most recognizable celebrities.

Having referenced everything from jazz and blues to reggae and world music through his‭ ‬40-year career,‭ ‬Sting's latest recordings have ventured into the classical realm.‭ ‬The‭ ‬2006‭ ‬release‭ ‬Songs From the Labyrinth featured lute-based interpretations of‭ ‬16th-century composer John Dowland's music‭; ‬the‭ ‬2009‭ ‬disc‭ ‬If‭ ‬On a Winter's Night‭…‬ holiday renditions of traditional songs and material by Schubert and Bach,‭ ‬and the new orchestral‭ ‬Symphonicities‭ ‬CD variations on Police and Sting tunes with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra,‭ ‬conducted by Steven Mercurio.‭ ‬All are on Deutsche Grammophon.‭

The‭ ‬Symphonicity ‬tour started in May with a lineup that includes the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra,‭ ‬Mercurio and longtime guitarist Dominic Miller.‭ ‬Sting brings the‭ ‬50-piece ensemble to the Cruzan Ampitheater in West Palm Beach on Friday.‭ ‬For Mercurio,‭ ‬the tour actually presented an introduction to the compositions.
Steven Mercurio.

‭“‬I didn't even really‭ ‬know Sting's music before this,‭”‬ says the genial,‭ ‬54-year-old‭ ‬New York City-based conductor.‭ “‬We'd never met.‭ ‬I may have heard a few of his songs,‭ ‬but I only really knew of him as a personality.‭ ‬The two sides that brought us together were Live Nation and Universal.‭ ‬Live Nation handles the nuts and bolts of the tour,‭ ‬and when Sting wanted to use a philharmonic,‭ ‬Universal was in charge of the classical element‭; ‬taking care of the orchestra and conductor.‭ ‬The people there knew me,‭ ‬and so far,‭ ‬the tour has been terrific.‭ ‬We're having a ball.‭"

Miller wasn't all that familiar with Sting's catalog,‭ ‬either,‭ ‬when he was in a similar position‭ ‬20‭ ‬years ago.

“I had a jazz and classical background in the‭ '‬80s,‭”‬ said the‭ ‬50-year-old guitarist,‭ ‬who's been with Sting since his‭ ‬1991‭ ‬album‭ ‬The Soul Cages.‭ ‬“But I ended up working with‭ [‬former Police‭] ‬producer Hugh Padgham on a few projects.‭ ‬One‭ ‬was Phil Collins‭' ‬1990‭ ‬album‭ ‘‬But Seriously,‭’‬ which ended up being a huge success.‭ ‬Hugh told Sting about me‭; ‬I went over and jammed with him,‭ ‬and here I still am.‭ ‬At the time,‭ ‬I liked The Police and I liked Sting,‭ ‬but I wouldn't have called myself a fan.‭ ‬I've certainly become one,‭ ‬though,‭ ‬because these are really great songs.‭ ‬You can play them any way,‭ ‬including with an orchestra,‭ ‬and they'll stand up.‭”

Part of the reason that Sting's songs translate into the classical realm is new arrangements.‭ ‬The composer cast a wide net for reinterpretations,‭ ‬and drew it back with gems by Vince Mendoza,‭ ‬Michel Legrand,‭ ‬Rob Mathes,‭ ‬Jorge Calandrelli,‭ ‬David Hartley,‭ ‬Bill Ross,‭ ‬Nicola Tescari,‭ ‬Robert Sadin,‭ ‬and Mercurio himself.‭ ‬The conductor earned his master’s degree from Juilliard in‭ ‬1982,‭ ‬was mentored by Leonard Bernstein,‭ ‬and has worked with the New York Philharmonic and operatic vocalists Luciano Pavarotti and Andrea Bocelli.‭ ‬Hardly a classical elitist,‭ ‬Mercurio was not only open to working with a pop star,‭ ‬but excited at the prospect after their first meeting.

‭“Everything happened so quickly,‭” ‬Mercurio says.‭ “‬Sting lives over at Central Park West,‭ ‬so I went over and we discussed his ideas for the tour.‭ ‬I told him what I could help him do,‭ ‬and one thing was to bring the orchestra to him,‭ ‬which made him feel more comfortable.‭ ‬As a composer and arranger myself,‭ ‬he knew I could also help modify and adjust the pieces as he saw fit.‭ ‬We're continuing to do that.

‭“‬The biggest challenge is probably not losing the integrity of the original pop songs,‭ ‬while not making the orchestra subservient.‭ ‬We didn't want a pops concert,‭ ‬or a rock show where the orchestra is playing whole notes and just humming in neutral.‭ ‬We wanted it to be close to‭ ‬50/50,‭ ‬and I think we've achieved that.‭”

For Miller,‭ ‬that means having to make his voice heard in the modification process.

“I'm hoping that the arrangers won't recognize their arrangements by the end of this tour,‭”‬ he says with a laugh‭ (‬and a lasting British accent from his London days that belies the fact that he was born in Buenos Aires‭; ‬attended high school in Wisconsin,‭ ‬and currently lives in France‭)‬.‭ “‬They were asked to do a job,‭ ‬which they did really well.‭ ‬But we're playing the songs,‭ ‬so I'm trying things that might influence Sting and Steven to rethink them.‭ ‬They change and evolve as we go,‭ ‬the same as in a rock band.‭ ‬If the orchestra were a keyboard player,‭ ‬we'd be doing the same thing.‭”

Mercurio canceled summer performances of Verdi’s‭ ‬Rigoletto with the Italian Teatro L'Opera company,‭ ‬among‭ ‬other projects,‭ ‬to conduct the‭ ‬Symphonicity‭ ‬tour.‭ ‬He recalls its initial rehearsals as brief yet productive.

‭“‬We had a week in New York a few months ago‭ ‬where we went through‭ ‬28‭ ‬songs,‭” ‬he says.‭ “‬We kept‭ ‬26‭ ‬of them.‭ ‬But we adjusted both the orchestrations and the forms‭; ‬redid introductions and codas,‭ ‬thinned things out and added things.‭ ‬Sting got excited after that,‭ ‬and started suggesting other tunes.‭”

Miller says rehearsals‭ “‬were‭ ‬really good and a lot of fun.‭ ‬What a luxury to rehearse with an‭ ‬orchestra.‭ ‬And what an expense‭!”

The‭ ‬2007-2008‭ ‬Police reunion‭ ‬tour,‭ ‬by contrast,‭ ‬featured fewer musicians and expenses but significantly more tension.‭ ‬Though he playing some of the same songs,‭ ‬Sting has referred to the experience as‭ “‬like going back to a dysfunctional marriage.‭”

For the‭ ‬Symphonicity tour,‭ ‬Mercurio's arrangements‭ ‬include Sting's solo offerings‭ ‬You Will Be My Ain True Love and‭ ‬When We Dance.‭ ‬It was also his idea to preface Mendoza's arrangement of‭ ‬Russians with the coronation scene from Mussorgsky's‭ ‬Boris Godunov.

‭“‬There were so many arrangers‭ ‬that it was like a big pile-up,‭”‬ says Mercurio.‭ ‬“I think there are six different ones on the album alone,‭ ‬but they were all coordinated by Rob Mathes.‭ ‬He produced the record and did‭ ‬35‭ ‬to‭ ‬40‭ ‬percent of the arranging.‭ ‬My job with him was to make sure that all the arrangements fit this size orchestra and‭ ‬worked well for Sting.‭”

The‭ ‬Symphonicities CD,‭ ‬to be released July‭ ‬13,‭ ‬features Police hits in‭ ‬Roxanne,‭ ‬Next to You and‭ ‬Ev’ry Little Thing She Does Is Magic,‭ ‬as well as a lesser-known gem in‭ ‬I Burn for You.‭ ‬The other tracks are all Sting solo efforts,‭ ‬including‭ ‬Englishman in New York,‭ ‬We Work the Black Seam and‭ ‬She's Too Good for Me.‭ ‬Yet the tour was scheduled well before the CD was even considered.

‭“‬Once Sting started hearing the arrangements with the orchestra,‭ ‬he‭ ‬said,‭ '‬We have to record this,‭’” ‬Mercurio says.‭ “‬We were just scheduled to tour before that.‭ ‬So we went to London to rehearse for a week after the initial rehearsals,‭ ‬during which time other songs were added and the original tunes were adjusted more,‭ ‬and then we did the recording.‭ ‬After that,‭ ‬we did warm-up gigs in Germany and Morocco,‭ ‬then started the official tour on June‭ ‬2‭ ‬in Vancouver.‭”

Dominic Miller.

‬While Mercurio has familiarized himself with Sting's music through the prism of a‭ ‬45-piece orchestra,‭ ‬Miller is the musical director for his accompanying smaller touring lineup,‭ ‬which includes vocalist Jo Lawry,‭ ‬bassist Ira Coleman,‭ ‬and percussionists Rhani Krija and David Cossin.‭ ‬The orchestral context may be different from his norm,‭ ‬but Miller has grown used to change with Sting.

“‬I don‭'‬t really see a huge difference,‭” ‬he says.‭ “‬This job has always been interesting,‭ ‬challenging and taxing as a musician,‭ ‬because you're always evolving.‭ ‬And this is my biggest challenge in‭ ‬20‭ ‬years with Sting.‭ ‬The difference is that we now have an orchestra,‭ ‬which I see as just like having another instrument,‭ ‬although they don't jam‭! ‬Bands like Deep Purple and Metallica have played with orchestras,‭ ‬but they've been more like separate entities.‭ ‬In our case,‭ ‬the band and‭ ‬orchestra are very merged.‭”

Neither Miller nor Mercurio will be able to merge with their non-Sting musical endeavors any‭ ‬time soon,‭ ‬since a European‭ ‬Symphonicity‭ ‬tour will start in September after the North American dates conclude.‭ ‬The oft-nylon-stringed guitarist recently released his seventh solo CD,‭ ‬an electric,‭ ‬fusion-influenced instrumental effort that was produced by Padgham called‭ ‬November‭ (‬Q-rious‭)‬.‭ ‬Yet he has no time to tour in support of it.

‭ “‬I have some momentum going with my band,‭” ‬Miller says,‭ “‬particularly in Europe,‭ ‬the Middle East and the Far East.‭ ‬But I've put that on hold.‭ ‬I might be able to do some midnight shows along the way,‭ ‬but then again,‭ ‬I have the best day job in the world‭! ‬I've never passed up an opportunity to work with Sting,‭ ‬and never will.‭”

Mercurio's latest recording is the‭ ‬2006‭ ‬orchestra-and-vocal CD‭ ‬Many Voices‭ (‬Sony‭)‬.‭ ‬He's currently trying to find time to complete a four-movement symphony inspired by Eugene O'Neill's work‭ ‬The Last Will and Testament of an Extremely Distinguished Dog.‭ ‬O'Neill dedicated the piece to his wife after the death of their family pet in‭ ‬1940,‭ ‬and Mercurio's wife presented him with a copy upon the loss of theirs.

‭“‬It's called‭ ‘‬A Grateful Tail,‭’‬ and most of the movements are almost done,‭” ‬Mercurio says.‭ “‬It's the third movement,‭ ‬with the O'Neill text in it,‭ ‬and the first movement,‭ ‬an eight or nine-minute allegro,‭ ‬that I'm trying to find time to finish.‭ ‬Some of the movements have already been performed and gotten a great response,‭ ‬so the entire symphony‭ ‬will be recorded and presented.‭”

All in good time,‭ ‬however,‭ ‬since both conductor and guitarist seem to enjoy being part of their current Sting with strings movement.

‭“‬It's been very exciting,‭” ‬Mercurio says.‭ “‬It's great to watch people react,‭ ‬and the response has been phenomenal.‭ ‬A lot of Sting's audience doesn't usually experience an orchestra,‭ ‬but at the end of shows,‭ ‬they're telling me,‭ ‘‬Wow,‭ ‬the orchestra really rocks.‭’‬ I've done six productions of‭ ‘‬Rigoletto‭’‬ already,‭ ‬but this was a unique experience that I felt was,‭ ‬ironically,‭ ‬even more artistically interesting.‭

“Everyone involved in this wants to contribute and get it right.‭ ‬I don't think musicians are as judgmental anymore,‭ ‬thankfully.‭ ‬They're more three-dimensional now.‭ ‬They know that you can play pop music brilliantly,‭ ‬and you can play Mozart badly,‭” ‬he says.‭ ‬“And that doing this the right way is more fulfilling.‭”

Miller even says that‭ “‬Sting's compositions aren't that different from Bach's.‭"

“He doesn't play it safe,‭ ‬and he inspires us not to,‭ ‬either.‭ ‬He did‭ ‬a lute album,‭ ‬of all things‭; ‬re-formed The Police,‭ ‬and did a winter album.‭ ‬He's done risky things,‭ ‬and I stand by him.‭ ‬I wouldn't necessarily compare Police songs to Bach,‭ ‬but really good composition is indestructible.‭ ‬Which made this a fantastic opportunity.‭”

Sting and the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra perform at‭ ‬8‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Friday,‭ ‬July‭ ‬2,‭ ‬at the Cruzan Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach.‭ ‬Tickets range from‭ ‬$27-$157‭ ‬and are available through Live Nation.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The View From Home 9: New releases on DVD

By John Thomason

‭ (‬Criterion‭)
Release date:‭ ‬June‭ ‬22
Standard list price:‭ ‬$36.49

This two-disc Criterion reissue of one of the greatest‭ ‬– if not the greatest‭ ‬– films of the‭ ‬1990s replaces the‭ ‬out-of-print edition from Facets,‭ ‬and hopefully a new crop of young cinephiles will discover it.‭ ‬Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami wrote and directed the film after reading a short magazine article about a‭ ‬man named‭ ‬Hossein‭ ‬Sabzian,‭ ‬who was‭ ‬arrested for impersonating well-known Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf.‭ ‬Sabzian convinced a family‭ ‬he was Makhmalbaf,‭ ‬and this being‭ ‬the pre-Google age of the late‭ ‬’80s,‭ ‬they believed him.‭ ‬They‭ ‬even letting him live in their home for a few days after the promise that‭ “‬Makhmalbaf‭”‬ would shoot a movie in their house,‭ ‬with themselves as the cast.

Kiarostami soon found out Sabzian was no run-of-the-mill con‭ ‬man looking for money to steal‭; ‬he was an obsessed moviegoer who felt a deep sense of himself in Makhmalbaf‭’‬s‭ (‬and Kiarostami‭’‬s‭) ‬films and relished the illusory power of living in the auteur‭’‬s‭ ‬shoes‭ ‬– and in his psyche.‭ ‬Close-Up is Kiarostami‭’‬s exploration/re-creation of the events leading up to,‭ ‬and including,‭ ‬Sabzian‭’‬s fraud trial,‭ ‬with the principal players all reprising,‭ ‬and reliving,‭ ‬their real-life encounters.

Part documentary,‭ ‬part dramatic reenactment,‭ ‬there has never been anything quite like‭ ‬Close-Up before or since its release,‭ ‬and that‭’‬s partly what makes it so special.‭ ‬It examines the manipulation of reality and the‭ ‬nature of the documentary film,‭ ‬and how people change and adapt in‭ ‬the presence of a camera.‭ ‬Sabzian is a character more worthy of our pity than our scorn,‭ ‬and Kiarostami treats the disturbed man with empathy and even‭ ‬understanding.‭ ‬After all,‭ ‬Sabzian‭’‬s‭ ‬rationale‭ ‬– cinephilia as justification for fraud‭ ‬– is almost romantic at a time of all-digital movie theaters,‭ ‬disappearing arthouses and dwindling art-film distribution.

The bonus features make this release an essential addition to your collection,‭ ‬even if you already own the Facets‭ ‬DVD.‭ ‬Criterion has a charming little habit of tossing compelling,‭ ‬unreleased early features from prominent directors on bonus discs with little fanfare‭ ‬– see Jim Jarmusch‭’‬s‭ ‬Permanent Vacation and Richard Linklater‭’‬s‭ ‬It‭’‬s Impossible to Learn to Plow From Reading Books,‭ ‬on the‭ ‬Stranger Than Paradise and‭ ‬Slacker DVDs,‭ ‬respectively,‭ ‬and here they‭’‬ve thrown us a real gem:‭ ‬The Traveler,‭ ‬Kiarostami‭’‬s first true feature and a movie for which Sabzian,‭ ‬in his trial,‭ ‬confesses his love.‭

The black-and-white,‭ ‬verité-style film anticipates Kiarostami‭’‬s breakthrough feature‭ ‬Where Is the Friend‭’‬s Home‭?‬ by focusing its narrative on a rural child‭’‬s quest,‭ ‬this time to earn enough tomans to steal away to a major soccer‭ ‬match in Tehran‭ (‬you can also draw a direct line from‭ ‬The Traveler all the way to the similarly themed‭ ‬Offside,‭ ‬a masterpiece directed by Jafar Panahi‭; ‬the best films about children in the world continue to be produced in Iran‭)‬.‭ ‬Gently criticizing economic disparity and the unfairness of the world,‭ ‬The Traveler is an unabashedly inspiring movie in which the character‭’‬s journey is far more important than his destination.‭

Close-Up‭’‬s second disc provides more than‭ ‬90‭ ‬fascinating minutes of reflection and analysis from Kiarostami,‭ ‬Sabzian and Sabzian‭’‬s friends and neighbors:‭ ‬It‭’‬s a sort of documentary post-mortem of the world after‭ ‬Close-Up,‭ ‬divided into three featurettes.‭ ‬In the documentary‭ ‬Close-Up Long Shot,‭ ‬made six year‭’‬s after Kiarostami‭’‬s film,‭ ‬Sabzian remains a pitiful soul,‭ ‬but he‭’‬s filled with poetic insights.‭ ‬He candidly admits that‭ “‬I let my love for cinema destroy my life,‭”‬ just before the director‭’‬s camera lingers on a copy of the Koran that rests atop an instructional book about making movies on Super‭ ‬8.‭

Sure enough,‭ ‬some time later,‭ ‬as Kiarostami recounts in a newly recorded interview featurette,‭ ‬Sabzian‭’‬s life would end at‭ ‬52,‭ ‬and it was the cinema that killed him:‭ ‬He collapsed into a coma at a subway station on the way to meet film students who were to film him before he was to meet Kiarostami for a retrospective screening of‭ ‬Close-Up.‭ ‬With this grim endnote in mind,‭ ‬I‭’‬m left wondering if there has ever been a film that so eloquently expresses the immense power and influence of the very medium.‭ ‬Close-Up‭ ‬belongs at the Met and the Smithsonian as much as it does your Netflix queue.

Bluebeard‭ (‬Strand‭)
Release date:‭ ‬June‭ ‬22
SLP:‭ ‬$21.49

Admirers of Catherine Breillat know the French director as one of the cinema‭’‬s foremost purveyors of frank deconstructions of female sexuality and gender representation.‭ ‬That said,‭ ‬her latest film‭ ‬– an arch,‭ ‬emotionless rendering of Charles Perrault‭’‬s bloody fairy tale‭ ‬Bluebeard‭ ‬– may seem an unusual choice for the director.‭ ‬More straightforward than not,‭ ‬her terse adaptation lacks key Breillatian themes,‭ ‬namely the uninhibited sexuality that dominated even her repressive period piece,‭ ‬The Last Mistress.‭ ‬Bluebeard cuts between a poker-faced retelling of the‭ ‬1697-set Bluebeard fable,‭ ‬about a young girl betrothed to an ogreish aristocrat,‭ ‬and a more modern depiction of two adorable French girls who discover the Perrault text in their mothers‭’‬ attic.‭ ‬The contemporary story has an appealing sense of comic spontaneity,‭ ‬even when its frequent interruptions desensitize‭ ‬us to the‭ ‬17th-century drama and remind us we‭’‬re watching a movie‭ ‬–undoubtedly a deliberate distancing device on Breillat‭’‬s part.‭ ‬Bluebeard is,‭ ‬like much of Breillat‭’‬s oeuvre,‭ ‬more engaging as intellectual theory than entertainment.‭ ‬It‭’‬s an interesting work,‭ ‬but because it fails to provoke or subvert the gruesome folk tale in any way‭ ‬– feminist or otherwise‭ ‬– I couldn‭’‬t help but see it as a missed opportunity for the normally confrontational auteur.

Le combat dans l‭’‬ile‭ (‬Zeitgeist Films‭)
Release date:‭ ‬June‭ ‬22
SLP:‭ ‬$22.49

An esoteric soundtrack and luminous black-and-white photography mask a rather conventional story in French director Alain Cavalier‭’‬s stylish debut feature,‭ ‬Le combat dans l‭’‬ile.‭ ‬When‭ ‬abusive militiaman‭ ‬Clement‭ (‬Jean-Louis Trintignant,‭ ‬The Conformist‭) ‬is framed for an assassination attempt by the leader of his extremist political organization,‭ ‬he flees to Buenos Aires to kill the man.‭ ‬His wife Anne‭ (‬Romy Schneider,‭ ‬Cesar‭ & ‬Rosalie‭)‬,‭ ‬hiding in Paris,‭ ‬kindles a new romance with Clement‭’‬s old friend and modest printer Paul‭ (‬Henri Sierre‭)‬,‭ ‬who brings out the radiant stage actress Anne had long repressed.‭ ‬When Clement finally returns,‭ ‬he naturally wants his girl back,‭ ‬leading to a bloody duel between the two men.‭ ‬Released in‭ ‬1962‭ ‬at the height of the French New Wave,‭ ‬Cavalier‭’‬s film found itself lost to history amid the Godards,‭ ‬Truffauts,‭ ‬Malles and the other darlings of hip Francophilia.‭ ‬Its narrative and obligatory political ambience may come off‭ ‬as‭ ‬a bit rote today,‭ ‬but like many of those masters‭’‬ films,‭ ‬its formalism feels every bit as‭ (‬post)modern as the day it was released.

Green Zone‭ (‬Universal‭)
Release date:‭ ‬June‭ ‬22
SLP:‭ ‬$17.49

There‭’‬s an inherent problem with Paul Greengrass‭’‬ Green Zone,‭ ‬and it‭’‬s not the shaky,‭ ‬adrenalized,‭ ‬faux-realistic camerawork that‭’‬s become the filmmaker‭’‬s signature‭ (‬though viewers who succumb to frequent motion sickness‭ ‬might want to avoid this one,‭ ‬ditto to the director‭’‬s‭ ‬Bourne movies‭)‬.‭ ‬The problem lies more in the screenplay,‭ ‬about a courageous whistleblower‭ (‬Matt Damon‭) ‬from the U.S.‭ ‬army‭’‬s team of WMD hunters who works to expose lies and corruption surrounding the Bush administration‭’‬s justification for war in the early days of the occupation of Iraq.‭ ‬Most of the chief characters have real-life counterparts who have been written about extensively in books such as Bob Woodward‭’‬s‭ ‬State of Denial and Rajiv Chandrasekaran‭’‬s‭ ‬Imperial Life in the Emerald City,‭ ‬the latter of which inspired Brian Helgeland‭’‬s script:‭ ‬Damon‭’‬s character is modeled after chief warrant officer Richard Gonzalez,‭ ‬Greg Kinnear‭’‬s inept Pentagon bureaucrat is clearly based on Paul Bremer,‭ ‬Amy Ryan‭’‬s muckraking journalist is almost certainly Judith Miller,‭ ‬etc.‭ ‬Because the story is based on such recent‭ ‬– and widespread‭ ‬– public knowledge,‭ ‬the amount of suspense,‭ ‬twists and dramatic tension is almost nonexistent‭; ‬forget any chance of new revelations about the whole sordid affair.‭ ‬Still,‭ ‬Greengrass tries his darndest to turn Helgeland‭’‬s moral lecture on the war crimes of the previous administration into a straightforward action movie,‭ ‬and at this he mostly succeeds,‭ ‬despite scattered bouts of hand-cam incomprehensibility.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Weekend arts picks: June 25-27

Ryan Didato,‭ ‬David Dearstyne and Jackie Rivera in Speech‭ & ‬Debate.
‭ (‬Photo by George Schiavone‭)

Theater:‭ ‬Gable Stage’s Joseph Adler is often eager to showcase new talent,‭ ‬as he does with Stephen Karam’s Speech‭ & ‬Debate,‭ ‬which features three recent graduates of Miami’s New World School of the Arts‭ ‬--‭ ‬Jackie Rivera,‭ ‬Ryan Didato and David Dearstyne‭ ‬--‭ ‬in a quirky,‭ ‬contemporary comedy about geeky high schoolers growing up and fitting in.‭ ‬Karam may still need some seasoning as a writer,‭ ‬but his is an original voice that may actually attract young people to the theater.‭ ‬It is certainly not his fault that he is eclipsed by Rivera,‭ ‬a genuine find,‭ ‬as a misfit with her heart on her sleeve,‭ ‬who belts out some very funny songs from a potential musical version of Arthur Miller’s‭ ‬The Crucible.‭ ‬Call‭ (‬305‭) ‬445-1118‭ ‬for tickets.‭ ‬– H.‭ ‬Erstein

Joan Rivers in A Piece of Work.

Film:‭ ‬As the title of the new documentary about the pioneering female comic Joan Rivers puts it,‭ ‬she is unquestionably A Piece of Work.‭ ‬From the scary opening extreme close-up of her in the makeup chair to her comeback on Celebrity Apprentice,‭ ‬this biographical look at what makes Joan tick covers all the important bases‭ ‬--‭ ‬the suicide of her husband Edgar,‭ ‬her career boost from Johnny Carson and her subsequent hostility towards him,‭ ‬her talent-challenged daughter Melissa and her vast collection of jokes on note cards.‭ ‬The film is a bit long,‭ ‬but those who see it are bound to gain a new admiration for Rivers.‭ – ‬H.‭ ‬Erstein

Duke Ellington‭ (‬1899-1974‭)‬.

Music:‭ ‬In the last decade of his composing life,‭ ‬the great jazz master Duke Ellington turned to music for the church,‭ ‬writing three oratorio-style pieces he called Sacred Concerts.‭ ‬This Sunday,‭ ‬excerpts from the Second Sacred Concert,‭ ‬which premiered at New York‭’‬s Cathedral of St.‭ ‬John the Divine in‭ ‬1968,‭ ‬will be performed at St.‭ ‬Paul‭’‬s Episcopal in Delray on a program with two other jazz works of high ambition:‭ ‬Oscar Peterson‭’‬s‭ ‬Hymn to Freedom and Louis Armstrong‭’‬s version of‭ ‬Go Down,‭ ‬Moses.‭ ‬Four soloists‭ ‬– Sophia Beharrie,‭ ‬Ed Pierson,‭ ‬Anita Smith and Margaret Schmitt‭ ‬– will‭ ‬join the combined choirs of St.‭ ‬Paul‭’‬s and Delray‭’‬s Temple Sinai,‭ ‬and the St.‭ ‬Paul‭’‬s Jazz Ensemble,‭ ‬for‭ ‬the‭ ‬concert,‭ ‬which begins at‭ ‬4‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Sunday at St.‭ ‬Paul‭’‬s.‭ ‬Tickets are‭ ‬$15-$18‭ ‬and can be had by calling‭ ‬278-6003,‭ ‬visiting‭ ‬,‭ ‬or simply showing up on Sunday.‭ -- G. Stepanich

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Music review: Atlanta Symphony violinists do right by Prokofiev

Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953).

By Greg Stepanich

Sergei Prokofiev didn’t write a great deal of chamber music,‭ ‬but his two string quartets,‭ ‬two violin sonatas‭ (‬one originally for flute‭) ‬and piano quintet are marvelous works,‭ ‬and worthy of the repertory status that only the violin sonatas currently appear to have.

The same goes for the‭ ‬Sonata for Two Violins‭ ‬(in C,‭ ‬Op.‭ ‬56‭)‬,‭ ‬written in‭ ‬1932‭ ‬for a French chamber music series in Paris.‭ ‬It’s a fascinating,‭ ‬absorbing piece,‭ ‬and Tuesday night at Persson Hall it received a standout performance from two members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

Jun-Ching Lin (at right) and Jay Christy,‭ ‬who are part of the faculty for this summer’s Stringendo School for Strings at Palm Beach Atlantic University,‭ ‬were right in tune with the Prokofiev,‭ ‬and not just in the numerous bits of tricky intonation at the ends of phrases,‭ ‬in which the two players have to end up on the same pitch.‭ ‬They were right in synch with the spirit of this piece,‭ ‬which covers a good deal of dramatic and emotional ground,‭ ‬and does so in the Russian composer’s most pungent harmonic idiom.

Both men are fine players who demonstrated complete command of their instruments,‭ ‬and worked well together,‭ ‬trading motifs and themes seamlessly.‭ ‬Especially noteworthy were the second movement,‭ ‬which opened with a savage,‭ ‬but precise ferocity in which the little minor-key melodic fragment was hammered out with impressive force.‭

The slow third movement was played with wonderful,‭ ‬sorrowful contrast,‭ ‬lullaby-like and tender,‭ ‬and here,‭ ‬too,‭ ‬the primary melodic materials were clearly marked out.‭ ‬It’s worth noting that there are frequent ostinato patterns used as accompaniments in this sonata,‭ ‬and both men took turns shifting from lead to support and back again with expert fluidity.‭

The outer movements were just as striking,‭ ‬the first for its shape-shifting harmonic structure and its treacherous unison high-note summits,‭ ‬and the finale for its crisp,‭ ‬martial vigor.‭ ‬This was a splendid performance of this fine piece,‭ ‬and a pleasure to hear.

Lin and Christy (at right) were joined by violists Renata Guitart and David Pedraza,‭ ‬and cellists Jonah Kim and Hector Ochoa,‭ ‬for the early,‭ ‬ravishing String Sextet No.‭ ‬1‭ (‬in B-flat,‭ ‬Op.‭ ‬18‭) ‬of Brahms,‭ ‬composed in‭ ‬1859.‭ ‬This is one of Brahms‭’ ‬finest youthful pieces,‭ ‬and it’s pretty hard to resist‭; ‬this performance won fervent applause,‭ ‬and in general it was well-deserved.

Much of the more extroverted writing in this piece features the two violins and the first cello,‭ ‬with the second used more like a bass.‭ ‬Kim,‭ ‬the first cellist,‭ ‬a Lynn University student who already has an international career,‭ ‬was central to the success of this performance,‭ ‬playing his solo passages with a compelling,‭ ‬intense accuracy.‭ ‬The six players offered a pleasing blend as an ensemble,‭ ‬and clearly communicated with each other to make tempo and dynamic changes smooth.

The performance as a whole also had a feeling of bigness and force,‭ ‬though in the first movement,‭ ‬the little four-note motif that appears throughout the work was a bit too heavy on its first appearance,‭ ‬and there were some questionable intonations across the ensemble in the opening minutes as this particular ship of state righted itself and found its sea legs.

The second movement,‭ ‬a magnificent theme-and-variations that has a strong mid-18th-century flavor,‭ ‬was played with huge,‭ ‬aggressive attacks on the chord changes,‭ ‬which helped evoke the antiquarian sound of which Brahms was so fond.‭ ‬Kim’s solo first variation was right on target,‭ ‬and while the violas had some difficulty with exact tuning in the folk-style major-key variation at the end,‭ ‬it still came across with great effectiveness.

Lin showed his skill as a leader in setting a delightfully appropriate lightness and relaxed tempo for opening of the third-movement scherzo,‭ ‬and of crafting the speedier tempo for the trio.‭ ‬The finale had the same kind of heavy stresses as the first movement,‭ ‬and when it got to the fugue-like development section,‭ ‬with its accented three-note anchors,‭ ‬it was just short of over the top.‭ ‬But it was tempestuous and exciting,‭ ‬and a fine conclusion to an excellent reading of this sextet,‭ ‬and of the concert.

Tuesday’s program opened with the popular Rondo from Paganini’s Violin Concerto No.‭ ‬2‭ (‬in B minor,‭ ‬Op.‭ ‬7,‭ ‬La Campanella‭)‬,‭ ‬as arranged for viola by William Primrose.‭ ‬Pedraza was the soloist,‭ ‬accompanied by pianist Liera Antropova.‭ ‬Unfortunately,‭ ‬this piece was not ready for public performance,‭ ‬though it had glimmers of what it could be when Pedraza gets it under his fingers‭; ‬Antropova did yeoman service in keeping the music on track.

The Stringendo series of faculty concerts closes next Tuesday with music of‭ ‬Luigi Boccherini:‭ ‬the String Quintet in C‭ (‬La musica notturna delle strade di Madrid,‭ ‬G.‭ ‬324‭)‬,‭ ‬played by violinists Patrick Clifford and Belen‭ ‬Clifford,‭ ‬violist Renata Guitart,‭ ‬and cellists Claudio Jaffé and Jonah Kim.‭ ‬Kim solos in the Fantaisiestücke,‭ ‬Op.‭ ‬73,‭ ‬of Schumann,‭ ‬accompanied by Liera Antropova,‭ ‬followed by the Schubert Piano Trio in B-flat,‭ ‬Op.‭ ‬99,‭ ‬with Clifford,‭ ‬Jaffé‭ ‬and Antropova.‭ ‬The concert begins at‭ ‬7‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Tuesday in Persson Recital Hall on the campus of Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach.‭ ‬Tickets are‭ ‬$15‭; ‬call‭ ‬803-2970‭ ‬or visit

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Book reviews: Two good novelists go seriously astray with latest efforts

By Chauncey Mabe

If Harold Kushner had been a literary critic instead of a rabbi,‭ ‬he might have asked,‭ “‬Why do bad books happen to good writers‭?” ‬And if Leo Tolstoy had also been a critic,‭ ‬he might have answered,‭ “‬All good books are alike,‭ ‬while every bad book goes bad in its own way.‭”

These bloody thoughts are occasioned by Henning Mankel and Jim Crace,‭ ‬novelists of proven quality who have recently produced very bad books,‭ ‬indeed.‭ ‬Of course,‭ ‬Tolstoy’s resonant but simplistic bifurcation is no more true of books than it is of families.‭ ‬So let us begin by considering what the new novels by Crace and Mankel have in common.

Each author attempts something new.‭ ‬Mankel,‭ ‬Sweden’s most famous living crime novelist,‭ ‬tries to cram a Micheneresque indictment of colonialism,‭ ‬with much globetrotting and historical backstory,‭ ‬into the narrow confines of a police procedural.‭ ‬Crace,‭ ‬an award-winning Britsh litterateur,‭ ‬assays a thriller with faint sci-fi overtones.

Mankel’s strengths include an engaging narrative voice,‭ ‬and he uses it to great effect in the early sections of‭ ‬The Man From Beijing,‭ ‬where we’re shown a wolf gnawing on the murdered body of an elderly man‭ (‬from the wolf’s point of view‭!)‬.‭ ‬Soon it’s revealed the victim is only one of‭ ‬19‭ ‬people butchered in a remote Swedish hamlet,‭ ‬all pensioners except for a‭ ‬12-year-old boy.

It’s a splendid set-up,‭ ‬baroque and lurid,‭ ‬and Mankell keeps it grounded by his keen eye for dour Swedish character and social detail,‭ ‬and his way with pungent and credible characters.‭ ‬Indeed,‭ ‬in Vivi Sundberg,‭ ‬a stout,‭ ‬no-nonsense provincial detective in her mid-‭’‬50s,‭ ‬he has created a fascinating protagonist‭ – ‬who,‭ ‬alas,‭ ‬he promptly abandons.

Instead of burrowing ever deeper into this remote corner of Scandanavia,‭ ‬with Sundberg as our guide,‭ ‬Mankell supplants her with the much less interesting Birgitta Roslin,‭ ‬an urban judge on medical leave who takes an intrusive interest in the case even though it lies far out of her jurisdiction and despite being warned off by local and national authorities.

Worse,‭ ‬Mankell opens the narrative up like a Russian nesting doll.‭ ‬Soon he’s in‭ ‬19th-‭ ‬century China,‭ ‬with the story of three peasant brothers.‭ ‬Then it’s the American West,‭ ‬where a sadistic Swedish project manager abuses the Chinese laborers helping build the intercontinental railway‭ – ‬then back to China,‭ ‬with a band of Swedish missionaries.‭ ‬And there are fequent forays to modern Beijing,‭ ‬not to mention Africa,‭ ‬where the Chinese seek to secure energy and mineral reserves.

‭As long as Mankell remains in Sweden,‭ ‬his story has the ring of deep authenticity.‭ ‬But while his narrative verve never deserts him,‭ ‬he has little feel for the American West,‭ ‬and his presentation of Chinese characters is hackneyed to the point of racial stereotype.‭ ‬One villain wields a sword,‭ ‬like a medieval warrior,‭ ‬while another seeks to assassinate an enemy with ground glass hidden in food‭ – ‬something I haven’t seen since I read Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu novels at the age of‭ ‬12.

Moreover,‭ ‬Mankell’s plot hinges again and again on unlikely coincidence,‭ ‬with the climax decided by the abrupt intervention of characters hardly hinted at before that moment.‭ ‬Key characters take drastic action with little coherent motivation,‭ ‬as when a villain murders his most loyal and effective henchman for no apparent reason.‭ ‬I could go on.‭ ‬Almost everything that happens outside Sweden is caricature.


A Man Booker finalist and three-time Whitbread Award-winner,‭ ‬Jim Crace certainly knows how to write a muscular and compelling sentence,‭ ‬as well as how to move a narrative forward in admirably subtle ways.‭ ‬But none of that saves‭ ‬All That Follows.

Indeed,‭ ‬prose quality aside,‭ ‬not one thing about this low-wattage thriller is authentic.‭ ‬Set in‭ ‬2020,‭ ‬its hero is Leonard Lessing,‭ ‬a successful jazz sax player nearing his‭ ‬50th birthday.‭ ‬Full of self-regard,‭ ‬but maddeningly irresolute and timid,‭ ‬he’s unhappily married to a demanding woman who’s fretting about the disappearance of her estranged daughter.

On a newscast,‭ ‬Lessing recognizes the leader of a terrorist band who has taken hostages somewhere in suburban Britain.‭ ‬It’s Maxie Lermontov,‭ ‬an American anarchist he knew as a young man,‭ ‬a former romantic rival.‭ ‬For no good reason,‭ ‬Lessing visits the scene of the hostage crisis,‭ ‬standing behind police barricades,‭ ‬befriending the teenage daughter of Lermontov and his old love interest and generally behaving like a dull fictional character in an irrational search for psychological motivation.

Lessing is the single most irritating aspect of‭ ‬All That Follows,‭ ‬but by no means the only one.‭ ‬His approach to the teenaged girl is supposed to be ill-considered and wreckless,‭ ‬but it’s actually creepy,‭ ‬with Lessing no less despicable for not acting on his dirty-old-man impulses.‭ ‬When the action goes back in time,‭ ‬to‭ ‬2007‭ ‬and Austin,‭ ‬Texas,‭ ‬the narrative enters a bogus fugue.‭ ‬Crace is as awkward and unconvincing in Bush’s America as Mankell is in modern Beijing.

Crace’s decision to cast‭ ‬All That Follows as a near-future thriller is profoundly misguided.‭ ‬Really,‭ ‬I’m heartily sick of serious novelists playing with genre tropes as though they can be picked up and put down at will.‭ ‬On the contrary,‭ ‬sci-fi,‭ ‬fantasy and crime fiction require total commitment,‭ ‬just as serious literature does.

Not for one instant does Crace make us believe that by‭ ‬2020‭ ‬we’ll have solved the energy crisis,‭ ‬while his‭ ‬2007‭ ‬radical political operatives are actually cut-and-pasted from the Vietnam War era.‭ ‬All That Follows would be far more convincing if it were set in the present day,‭ ‬with Lessing’s youthful Texas sojourn taking place around‭ ‬1967.

‭ But even then,‭ ‬the novel would still have this limp dishrag of a main character.‭ ‬His arbitrary heroics in the final act would remain ludicrous,‭ ‬and the happy ending,‭ ‬with none of his stupid and selfish actions reaping the consequences they deserve,‭ ‬would still be risible.

The Man From Beijing,‬by Henning Mankell.‭ ‬Translated‭ ‬from the Swedish‭ ‬by Laurie Thompson.‭ ‬Knopf.‭ ‬$29.95.‭ ‬366‭ ‬pp.

All That Follows,‭ ‬by Jim Crace.‭ ‬Nan A.‭ ‬Talese/Doubleday.‭ ‬$25.95.‭ ‬223‭ ‬pp.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Film Q&A: Nicole Holofcener and Catherine Keener, on collaborating

Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt in‭ ‬Please Give.

By Hap Erstein

There’s Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro.‭ ‬There’s Tim Burton and Johnny Depp.‭ ‬And on the female side,‭ ‬there’s Nicole Holofcener and‭ ‬Catherine Keener:‭ ‬Film directors‭ ‬and the actors with whom they frequently collaborate.

Keener has been in all four of Holofcener’s films‭ ‬--‭ ‬Walking and Talking‭ (‬1996‭)‬,‭ ‬Lovely and Amazing‭ (‬2001‭)‬,‭ ‬Friends with Money‭ (‬2006‭) ‬and her latest,‭ ‬Please Give,‭ ‬which opened over the weekend.‭ ‬In March,‭ ‬during the Miami International Film Festival,‭ ‬the two women sat down with Hap Erstein to talk about the film and their long-running collaboration.

Erstein:‭ ‬How did this collaboration begin for you two‭?

Holofcener:‭ ‬I saw her in a movie and I kind of stalked her,‭ ‬found her agent and gave her my script.‭ ‬She responded to it,‭ ‬we hit it off right away,‭ ‬but it took many years to get the financing.‭ ‬Then when we made the film,‭ ‬we became friends.‭ ‬I never planned to put her in all my movies,‭ ‬but I just couldn’t not.

Erstein:‭ ‬So as you gather material for the next movie,‭ ‬do you now think,‭ “‬How can I make this a Catherine Keener character‭?”

Holofcener:‭ ‬Actually,‭ ‬if it’s a character that‘s somewhat based on me,‭ ‬I generally think of Catherine,‭ ‬because she’s definitely played me,‭ ‬as much as a person can play me in a movie.‭ ‬But I don’t start out that way.‭ ‬I definitely go with thoughts and themes that are important to me and then see who fits.

Erstein:‭ ‬Catherine,‭ ‬when you first read her script for‭ ‬Walking and Talking,‭ ‬you didn’t know her at all,‭ ‬did you‭?

Keener:‭ ‬Nope.‭ ‬But I was drawn to the writing and it made me think:‭ ‬I would love to hang out with this woman.

Erstein:‭ ‬So you certainly did not think this would become a long-term collaboration.

Keener:‭ ‬No,‭ ‬she didn’t have the movie financed or anything.‭ ‬She just said,‭ “‬I want to make this and I want you to be in it if it happens.‭” ‬And it wasn’t until a couple of years later that it happened.‭ ‬And it was quite a struggle to get me,‭ ‬to convince investors to go with me.

Erstein:‭ ‬What makes Catherine an ideal actress for your films‭?

Holofcener:‭ ‬It’s a really hard thing to describe,‭ ‬but,‭ ‬first and foremost,‭ ‬she’s really natural.‭ ‬She doesn’t have a movie voice,‭ ‬or a movie face,‭ ‬nothing’s fake.‭ ‬Of course she has good takes and bad takes like everybody else,‭ ‬but generally she is really natural,‭ ‬no mannerisms.‭ ‬She really listens,‭ ‬to me and to the other actors.‭ ‬She’s very present,‭ ‬she’s got a great sense of timing and humor,‭ ‬which is really imperative,‭ ‬because the material can be so serious and self-involved and self-conscious,‭ ‬but if the actor has a sense of humor,‭ ‬it gives it so much more.

Erstein:‭ ‬Do you think of her as a muse‭?

Holofcener:‭ ‬Yeah,‭ ‬sure,‭ ‬absolutely.‭ ‬I mean when I’m writing something and I hope that she’s going to be playing it,‭ ‬I think it helps make me a better writer,‭ ‬when I think about how she would say it.‭

Keener:‭ ‬And she is a muse for me as well,‭ ‬because when I’m reading‭ (‬a script of hers‭) ‬and I’m working for her,‭ ‬it just takes me to more creative places in my head.

Erstein:‭ ‬Do you feel more proprietary about making a film of Nicole’s,‭ ‬that you are more than just a hired hand in a movie‭?

Keener:‭ ‬No.‭ ‬I don’t feel any ownership at all.‭ ‬I’m still just her minion.‭ (‬Laughs‭)

Holofcener:‭ ‬She still absolutely looks for my approval.‭ ‬She wants to make sure she’s doing it the way I want her to do it.‭ ‬She could have a lot more freedom than she takes.

Keener:‭ ‬I’m not interested in that,‭ ‬though.‭ ‬I like it this way.‭ ‬I think actors need directors.‭ ‬I know that I do.

Nicole Holofcener.

Erstein:‭ ‬Is Catherine playing a role that represents you in‭ ‬Please Give‭?

Holofcener:‭ ‬That character is definitely the closest to me compared to any of the other characters.‭ ‬I struggle with being a successful person with lots of money compared to everybody else.

Erstein:‭ ‬You don’t feel you deserve it‭?

Holofcener:‭ ‬It’s a struggle.‭ ‬It’s not that simple.‭ ‬Yes,‭ ‬of course I deserve it.‭ ‬If anybody deserves it,‭ ‬why not me,‭ ‬right‭? ‬But the way it works is just so crazy and wrong.‭ ‬There are so many starving hungry people everywhere.‭ ‬I live in L.A.‭ ‬and they’re everywhere.

Keener:‭ ‬We live in expensive houses,‭ ‬but we can look outside and see so many people who are poor,‭ ‬disenfranchised.

Erstein:‭ ‬But you chose to set the film in New York,‭ ‬which is almost one of the characters.‭

Holofcener:‭ ‬I did that because the city was an important part of the story when I first created the characters and the situation.‭ ‬I really couldn’t imagine it anywhere else.‭ ‬I wanted that elevator,‭ ‬I wanted them to have to get in the same elevator,‭ ‬to have their doors right next to each other.

I tried to figure it in my mind in L.A.,‭ ‬because I didn’t want to leave my kids,‭ ‬but it just wouldn’t work.‭ ‬It had to be New York.‭ ‬And I grew up in New York and that’s where this part of me came from.

Erstein:‭ ‬That reinforces a comment I’ve often heard,‭ ‬describing you as a female Woody Allen.

Holofcener:‭ ‬Y’know,‭ ‬I think it’s because I’m a New York Jew.‭ ‬Seriously,‭ ‬I think if I wasn’t those two things,‭ ‬you wouldn’t hear those comparisons.‭ ‬But then,‭ ‬I would be a very different person,‭ ‬and maybe I’d make different movies.‭ ‬I mean,‭ ‬if I were Cybill Shepherd,‭ ‬so many things would be different.

Plus I grew up watching and revering his movies.‭ ‬I remember seeing‭ ‬Manhattan and‭ ‬Annie Hall and‭ ‬Stardust Memories so many times,‭ ‬they have to be an influence,‭ ‬consciously or unconsciously.‭ ‬And having such neurotic,‭ ‬but really sympathetic,‭ ‬deep characters in everyday life.‭ ‬They have such problems in Manhattan,‭ ‬and it’s so absorbing.‭

Erstein:‭ ‬How do you develop a film‭? ‬Do you collect ideas and characters until you have enough‭?

Holofcener:‭ ‬Pretty much.‭ ‬I have an idea,‭ ‬and then I think I have an idea for a couple of characters and if it lasts more than a day,‭ ‬I’ll sort of expand on that the next day and then after a few weeks if it still seems interesting to me,‭ ‬I just start writing.‭

And I don’t really know where it’s going to go when I start writing,‭ ‬but I like to have some idea of maybe the first few pages.

Erstein:‭ ‬The movie opens with shots of women having mammograms.‭ ‬That’s as close as I’ve ever been to seeing the test given.

Holofcener:‭ ‬Well,‭ ‬let me tell you,‭ ‬it’s really a G-rated version of a mammogram.‭ ‬They really flatten the boobs like a pancake.‭ ‬It’s so weird.‭ ‬I really wanted to do that,‭ ‬I wanted to show that it really hurts,‭ ‬but I couldn’t let that happen.‭ ‬In retrospect,‭ ‬I wish I hurt a couple.‭ ‬So you haven’t really seen a mammogram.

Erstein:‭ ‬Were those professional actors‭?

Holofcener:‭ ‬Those were actual,‭ ‬real boobs.‭ ‬They were extras,‭ ‬and they got paid as extras.‭ ‬I signed a thing that said their heads would not show in the same shot as their boobs.‭ ‬Like we might have used them again later that day on the street.‭ ‬The call for those extras asked for all shapes and sizes,‭ ‬mostly‭ ‬50‭ ‬and over.

Erstein:‭ ‬What ties all the characters in‭ ‬Please Give together‭?

Holofcener:‭ ‬I think that Catherine’s character and Amanda‭ (‬Peet’s‭) ‬and Rebecca‭ (‬Hall’s‭) ‬character have a similar theme,‭ ‬that they all want to be good and what that means for each of them is different.‭ ‬Because‭ (‬Amanda and Rebecca‭) ‬had a mother who abandoned them by killing herself‭ ‬--‭ ‬I think children feel that that’s their fault that there’s something wrong with them‭ ‬--‭ ‬and Catherine’s quandary is more contemporary,‭ ‬it’s more in her life right now,‭ ‬not necessarily a childhood wound.‭ ‬But the fact that they are going to be the people they want to be,‭ ‬sort of let off the hook.

Erstein:‭ ‬On behalf of pudgy men everywhere,‭ ‬I’m so glad that Oliver Platt‭ (‬Keener’s husband‭) ‬has an affair with Amanda Peet.‭ ‬But what is her motive‭?

Holofcener:‭ ‬I think that Amanda Peet’s character instantly envies Catherine’s character and looks up to her.‭ ‬Catherine has whatever Amanda does not have.‭ ‬Husband,‭ ‬children,‭ ‬money.‭ ‬Amanda doesn’t feel beautiful,‭ ‬although she is very beautiful.‭ ‬And I think having Catherine’s husband hit on her is the ultimate compliment.‭ ‬She’s desperate and lonely and insecure.

Erstein:‭ ‬Why do so many of your characters have self-image and assurance issues‭?

Holofcener:‭ ‬Characters that don’t have them are probably not very interesting.‭ ‬I mean,‭ ‬everybody has self-esteem issues in some areas,‭ ‬don’t they‭?

Erstein:‭ ‬Talk about the involvement of Sony Classics Pictures.

Holofcener:‭ ‬They financed the movie.‭ ‬They also financed‭ ‬Friends with Money.‭ ‬They didn’t even come to the set.‭ ‬I say,‭ “‬Aren’t you guys interested‭?” ‬They said,‭ “‬We trust you.‭ ‬It’s all right.‭” ‬And they don’t tell me what to cut or anything.‭ ‬It’s amazing.

The movie only costs‭ ‬$3‭ ‬million,‭ ‬and it’s not my first film.‭ ‬My last film made them some money,‭ ‬although they were very hands off on the last one,‭ ‬too.‭ ‬I think once they decide to trust you,‭ ‬they just trust.‭ ‬And it wasn’t a great deal of money.‭ ‬I’m very,‭ ‬very lucky.‭ ‬I think I’m in a very rare situation.

I wish I could have shown more of the city.‭ ‬With more money and time,‭ ‬I would have more exteriors.‭ ‬I would have seen that the art department had a lot more money and time.‭ ‬To go really nuts on the furniture store.‭ ‬Or the apartment.‭ ‬But everybody was limited.‭ ‬But in the end,‭ ‬I don’t think it really mattered.‭

Erstein:‭ ‬Do you think of‭ ‬Please Give as a departure for you‭?

Holofcener:‭ ‬No,‭ ‬a departure for me would be a movie without a joke.‭ ‬Or a thriller.‭ ‬A highly stylized movie,‭ ‬something like that.

Erstein:‭ ‬Is it getting any easier to get your films financed and distributed‭?
Holofcener:‭ ‬No.‭ ‬But it’s still difficult.‭ ‬A lot of studios tell me they want to make my next movie,‭ ‬but when they see the script,‭ ‬they say,‭ “‬Maybe not this one.‭ ‬We mean the next next one.‭ ‬The one that‘s going to make a lot of money.‭ ‬The one that I can really see on the page better than this one.‭”

You know,‭ ‬they want me to make a thriller.‭

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Dance review: FCBT's 'Dream' a nice climax to sharp, entertaining show

Rogelio Corrales and Lily Ojea in‭ ‬A Midsummer Night‭’‬s Dream,
‭ ‬at Florida Classical Ballet Theatre.‭
(‬Photo by Janine Harris‭)

By Greg Stepanich

Over the years I‭’‬ve seen a number of ballet companies that feature a large contingent of children,‭ ‬and usually that means there‭’‬s a good deal of wiggle room for the kids in the presentation,‭ ‬which allows things to be not-so-precise but irresistibly‭ ‬crowd-pleasing.

But Colleen Smith‭’‬s company,‭ ‬the Florida Classical Ballet Theatre,‭ ‬doesn‭’‬t do things that way.‭ ‬In a Wednesday afternoon performance at the Eissey Campus Theatre in Palm Beach Gardens,‭ ‬the troupe‭ ‬– including all its younger‭ ‬and older‭ ‬members‭ ‬– demonstrated a thorough,‭ ‬deep discipline that let viewers take in the‭ ‬broader‭ ‬visual aspects of its work:‭ ‬precisely designed,‭ ‬colorful costumes,‭ ‬plenty of movement without mania,‭ ‬and smart bits of stage business with simple props such as old-fashioned beach parasols.

The FCBT also showed that it‭’‬s possible to create a thoroughly entertaining afternoon of traditional dance with relatively modest means if your dancers are talented enough and your choreographic planning is carefully thought out.‭ ‬Which they are,‭ ‬and which it was.

The major work on the program was‭ ‬A Midsummer Night‭’‬s Dream,‭ ‬which Smith patterned after Sir Frederick Ashton‭’‬s‭ ‬The Dream,‭ ‬but the afternoon opened with two original ballets,‭ ‬the first of which was‭ ‬From Head to Toe,‭ ‬a six-person interpretation of Eric Carle‭’‬s‭ ‬1997‭ ‬book‭ ‬by that name‭ ‬for toddlers.‭ ‬Set to three movements from Shostakovich‭’‬s‭ ‬Jazz Suite No.‭ ‬2,‭ ‬Smith‭’‬s ballet played two principals‭ ‬– Lily Ojea and Marshall Levin‭ ‬– against four supporting women,‭ ‬all of the dancers dressed in late‭ ‬19th-century on-the-town style.

Carle‭’‬s book is about motion,‭ ‬and getting its readers to imitate the actions of the animals within,‭ ‬such as a gorilla thumping its chest.‭ ‬Smith translated the actions in the book into the ballet,‭ ‬but it wasn‭’‬t noticeable in a didactic way:‭ ‬at one point,‭ ‬the four women did a kind of shoulder and body shimmy,‭ ‬and at the end,‭ ‬they lay down on the floor and wiggled their feet,‭ ‬as Carle calls for in his final pages.‭ ‬But it was the total effect of this‭ ‬slight but well-crafted piece of dance‭ ‬that was most memorable,‭ ‬with its green-and-pink color scheme,‭ ‬its carefully calibrated movements,‭ ‬and its sense of smart fun.‭

The second original ballet,‭ ‬Tidbits and Doodles,‭ ‬is unfortunately named for such an expertly designed piece,‭ ‬one‭ ‬that could profitably be exported to other youthful classical companies‭ (‬maybe it needs a punny name,‭ ‬something‭ ‬like‭ ‬Taking It Littorally‭)‬.‭ ‬It‭’‬s a‭ ‬1920s-era beach scenario choreographed by Smith and the dancers to ballet sketches by Mozart‭ (‬K.‭ ‬299c‭)‬,‭ ‬and it was nothing short of delightful.‭ ‬Three tiers of dancers in different age groups from teens down to elementary school moved in and out like‭ ‬cheerful platoons,‭ ‬with the older girls making good use of white parasols,‭ ‬opening and shutting them quickly at one point as they exited the stage.

There were all the clichés of the boardwalk of a distant day,‭ ‬such as striped cabanas,‭ ‬bodybuilders‭ (‬a funny Eric Emerson‭)‬,‭ ‬multiple beachballs,‭ ‬and‭ ‬seaside‭ ‬hucksters,‭ ‬such as in‭ ‬the main event of the dance,‭ ‬which had to do with a showman‭ (‬Levin‭) ‬offering‭ ‬$1‭ ‬views‭ ‬of a live mermaid‭ (‬Ojea‭)‬,‭ ‬to the gullible astonishment of the crowd.‭ ‬Like‭ ‬From Head to Toe,‭ ‬this ballet also had lots of fourth-wall shattering as dancers routinely engaged the audience with direct looks,‭ ‬especially here,‭ ‬when the whole company offered a collective mouths-agape as they discovered that the mermaid and her handler had slithered away.

And as in the first ballet,‭ ‬Tidbits featured a constant variety of dance steps as groups of performers moved in and out of the scene‭; ‬you noticed the‭ ‬pliés and‭ ‬en pointes,‭ ‬but they came‭ ‬across as natural,‭ ‬not fussy,‭ ‬and in the service of a general style of movement across the stage that was busy without being hyperkinetic or aggressive.‭ ‬It all flowed like the water near the imaginary shore,‭ ‬testament to how the formal language of ballet‭ ‬can bring a sense of grace and control to what in several cases here had to be ideas generated by youthful dancers who didn‭’‬t want to stand still.

After intermission came‭ ‬A‭ ‬Midsummer Night‭’‬s Dream,‭ ‬which like Ashton‭’‬s version focused on the forest magic of‭ ‬Shakespeare‭’‬s play.‭ ‬Ensemble work here from fairies to rustics was uniformly good,‭ ‬and there was fine dancing from the lovers‭’‬ couples‭ ‬– Jared Jacoby and Jessica Haley as Lysander and Hermia,‭ ‬Ben Slayen and Cassie Robinson as Demetrius and Helena‭ ‬– and from Levin as Bottom,‭ ‬who offered charming business while wearing his donkey head,‭ ‬scratching his back on a tree and munching food from an outstretched hand.‭

Katherine Davis made an excellent Puck,‭ ‬nimble and light-footed as she could be,‭ ‬perfectly underlining the quicksilver nature of this character with athletic but delicate steps.‭ ‬Rogelio Corrales made a strong Oberon,‭ ‬and Ojea a splendid Titania,‭ ‬especially in the climactic‭ ‬pas de deux to the celebrated‭ ‬Nocturne‭ ‬from Mendelssohn‭’‬s popular score.‭ ‬Ojea ended the duet with three perfect,‭ ‬elegant splits,‭ ‬a coda of sheer loveliness to the one major moment of old-fashioned‭ ‬balletic high style‭ ‬on‭ ‬the program.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Weekend arts picks: June 18-22

Vanille‭ ‬(2010‭)‬,‭ ‬by Marcus Bickler,‭ ‬of‭ ‬Tamarac.

Art:‭ ‬Painters,‭ ‬sculptors,‭ ‬photographers and other artists in this state look forward every year to the All Florida Juried Competition and Exhibition,‭ ‬and next week,‭ ‬the‭ ‬59th edition of this oldest such Florida contest opens at the Boca Raton Museum of Art‭ ‬for a run of seven weeks.

This year,‭ ‬almost‭ ‬1,400‭ ‬entries were received for the contest,‭ ‬which was judged by New York-based curator Linda Norden,‭ ‬whose CV includes stints at Bard College,‭ ‬the City University of New York‭’‬s James Gallery and Harvard‭’‬s Fogg Art Museum.‭ ‬Norden chose‭ ‬91‭ ‬artworks by‭ ‬80‭ ‬artists for the exhibition,‭ ‬which opens Tuesday and runs through Aug.‭ ‬8‭ ‬at the museum in Mizner Park.‭

Cypress Harvest‭ (‬2008‭)‬,‭ ‬by Allison Parssi,‭ ‬of Wellington.

Opening along with the juried show is the biennial Boca Raton Museum Artists‭’‬ Guild exhibition,‭ ‬which will feature work by‭ ‬50‭ ‬professional artists who are members of the guild.‭ ‬Paper sculptor Francene Levinson won first place in the exhibition,‭ ‬which was judged by Carol Damian,‭ ‬curator of the Frost Museum of Art at Miami‭’‬s Florida International University.

Admission to the museum is‭ ‬$8‭ ‬for adults,‭ ‬$6‭ ‬for seniors,‭ ‬and‭ ‬$4‭ ‬for students.‭ ‬Hours are Tuesday through Friday from‭ ‬10‭ ‬a.m.‭ ‬to‭ ‬5‭ ‬p.m.,‭ ‬and Saturday and Sunday from noon to‭ ‬5‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬For more information,‭ ‬call‭ ‬392-2500‭ ‬or visit‭ ‬

A scene from Toy Story‭ ‬3.

Film:‭ ‬By the time a movie franchise is on its third installment,‭ ‬the creativity and quality have usually disappeared.‭ ‬But Pixar Animation,‭ ‬which is generally resistant to sequel-itis,‭ ‬waited until it had a strong script and a reason to make‭ ‬Toy Story‭ ‬3‭, and the difference in their approach is evident throughout the funny,‭ ‬yet dramatic,‭ ‬exhilarating and occasionally tear-jerking computerized tale of growing up and moving on.‭ ‬You see,‭ ‬Andy,‭ ‬the owner of Buzz Lightyear,‭ ‬Woody the Cowboy and all the other playthings,‭ ‬is now old enough to head to college,‭ ‬and his toys become endangered when they are accidentally sent to a day care center where the tots manhandle them badly.‭ ‬OK,‭ ‬you’re right,‭ ‬they have to band together to make their great escape,‭ ‬but the way it is done‭ ‬– in relatively subtle‭ ‬3-D‭ ‬– has to be seen.‭ ‬It’s early,‭ ‬but it looks like the animated feature Oscar has just been won in a lock.‭ ‬At area theaters now.

The cast of And the Tony Goes To‭…

Theater:‭ ‬Florida Atlantic University’s Festival Rep is a local summer tradition‭ ‬that can be erratic,‭ ‬but usually features some emerging talent worth watching and professional guest performers like Bruce Linser,‭ ‬who are always assets.‭ ‬This season’s menu will feature Shakespeare’s audience-friendly comedy‭ ‬A Midsummer Night’s Dream‭ (‬opening next weekend‭)‬,‭ ‬Donald Margulies‭’‬ less-well-known comedy adventure‭ ‬Shipwrecked,‭ ‬and it kicks off this Saturday with‭ ‬And the Tony Goes To‭…‬, a revue of songs from Tony Award-winning shows,‭ ‬from‭ ‬1947‭’‬s‭ ‬Kiss Me, Kate to‭ ‬2009‭’‬s‭ ‬Billy Elliot.‭ ‬The rep runs through July‭ ‬25.‭ ‬Call‭ (‬800‭) ‬564-9539‭ ‬for tickets and info.‭

Cellist Iris van Eck and pianist Misha Dacic.

Music:‭ ‬The Chameleon Musicians series at Fort Lauderdale‭’‬s Leiser Opera Center has been going for eight seasons now,‭ ‬and now it‭’‬s starting to branch out into the summer.‭ ‬Founder Iris van Eck,‭ ‬a Dutch-born cellist,‭ ‬offers a Chameleon‭ ‬recital on Monday night at the Broward Center for the Arts‭’‬ Abdo New River Room.‭ ‬Joined by Serbian-born pianist Misha Dacic,‭ ‬van Eck will present an all-Chopin concert in honor of the Polish composer‭’‬s‭ ‬200th birthday.

On the program are the‭ ‬Introduction and Polonaise Brillante,‭ ‬Op.‭ ‬3,‭ ‬the great Cello Sonata,‭ ‬Op.‭ ‬65,‭ ‬and the‭ ‬Grand Duo Concertant,‭ ‬written by Chopin and his French cellist friend,‭ ‬Auguste Franchomme,‭ ‬on themes from Meyerbeer‭’‬s opera‭ ‬Robert le Diable,‭ ‬which at the time‭ (‬1832‭) ‬was a popular sensation.‭

The concert is set for‭ ‬7‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Monday in the Broward Center‭’‬s Abdo New River Room.‭ ‬Tickets are‭ ‬$30,‭ ‬and can be had by calling‭ ‬954-462-0222‭ ‬or visiting‭ ‬

Music review: Violist shines in Telemann at Stringendo concert

Violist Stanley Konopka.

By Greg Stepanich

A violist for the Cleveland Orchestra made a persuasive case for the power and versatility of his instrument Tuesday night during a performance of a Telemann concerto at Palm Beach Atlantic University.

Stanley Konopka,‭ ‬who has been assistant principal viola of the Cleveland since‭ ‬1993,‭ ‬was one of two members of that orchestra featured in Tuesday‭’‬s concert,‭ ‬the second program of four with faculty members of PBAU‭’‬s Stringendo School for Strings‭ ‬summer‭ ‬music camp.‭ ‬Konopka played the German Baroque master‭’‬s concerto in G major‭ (‬TWV‭ ‬51:‭ ‬G9‭) ‬with an‭ ‬11-piece string ensemble as the final work on the concert at Persson Hall.

Konopka has a big,‭ ‬beautiful sound,‭ ‬and he plays with force and verve,‭ ‬which might be one of the reasons his viola speaks so well.‭ ‬His‭ ‬digital‭ ‬technique is impressive,‭ ‬too,‭ ‬with the fiddle-style patterns of the second movement clean and right in tune,‭ ‬and the rushing scales of the finale‭ ‬properly joyful and athletic.‭

The familiar third movement showed off the loveliness of Konopka‭’‬s tone,‭ ‬and the Stringendo faculty string players accompanied with a gratifyingly full sound that avoided the overly restrained approach you sometimes hear in performances of Baroque music.

The concert opened with another Cleveland player,‭ ‬cellist Alan Harrell,‭ ‬in the early‭ ‬Introduction and Polonaise Brillante,‭ ‬Op.‭ ‬3,‭ ‬of Frédéric Chopin.‭ ‬Most of the Polish composer‭’‬s music was for piano,‭ ‬of course,‭ ‬but through his friendship with‭ ‬French‭ ‬cellist Auguste Franchomme,‭ ‬he wrote a handful of cello and chamber works,‭ ‬including a fine Piano Trio and the great but neglected Cello Sonata at the end of his composing career.

Harrell,‭ ‬accompanied by pianist Liera Antropova,‭ ‬brought a large,‭ ‬intense tonal quality to the playing of this flashy showpiece,‭ ‬even‭ ‬giving the pizzicato accompaniments under the pianist‭’‬s statement of the main theme a noticeable flourish.‭ ‬Harrell has plenty‭ ‬of technique and interpretive panache,‭ ‬and that came across well,‭ ‬but in the trickiest higher passages,‭ ‬his footing was less sure.

Antropova played the virtuosic piano part ably and accurately,‭ ‬if not with a great deal of sparkle.‭ ‬Both musicians gave the Chopin a strong performance,‭ ‬though I‭’‬m guessing it was probably a rehearsal or two away from the thoroughly polished reading it might have received.

The other piece on the program was one on of the chamber music masterpieces of the‭ ‬20th century,‭ ‬Dmitri Shostakovich‭’‬s Piano Quintet in G minor,‭ ‬Op.‭ ‬57.‭ ‬Antropova,‭ ‬Harrell and Konopka were joined by violinists David Mastrangelo and Renata Guitart for‭ ‬this work,‭ ‬which‭ ‬has all the dark lyricism,‭ ‬bumptiousness and dramatic punch of Shostakovich‭’‬s best music.

At their best,‭ ‬the four string players‭ ‬blended lusciously in the slower pages,‭ ‬and in the rough-and-tumble scherzo they gave their repeated,‭ ‬hammered chords plenty of firepower.‭ ‬In the fourth-movement Intermezzo,‭ ‬though,‭ ‬which is in large part a violin solo,‭ ‬first violinist Mastrangelo had some intonation trouble in the final moments,‭ ‬which took away from the sorrowful effect of the movement overall.

Still,‭ ‬the five musicians had a good handle on the quintet‭’‬s many moods,‭ ‬and judging by their smiles,‭ ‬seemed to particularly enjoy the fifth and final movement,‭ ‬which fades away in a serene,‭ ‬major-key,‭ ‬almost offhand manner before expiring in a‭ ‬plucked-string whisper.‭ ‬If it was an unremarkable rendition of the quintet,‭ ‬it was nonetheless solid,‭ ‬and the players managed to get Shostakovich‭’‬s message across capably and effectively.‭

The Stringendo chamber music series continues with another faculty concert at‭ ‬7‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Tuesday at Persson Hall on the PBAU campus.‭ ‬Members of the Atlanta Symphony will be on hand for music by Paganini‭ (‬a viola arrangement of the Rondo from his Concerto No.‭ ‬2‭)‬,‭ ‬Prokofiev‭ (‬the‭ ‬Sonata for Two Violins‭) ‬and Brahms‭ (‬his String Sextet No.‭ ‬1‭ ‬in B-flat,‭ ‬Op.‭ ‬18‭)‬.‭ ‬Tickets are‭ ‬$15.‭ ‬Call‭ ‬803-2970‭ ‬for more information or visit

Thursday, June 17, 2010

ArtsPaper Interview: William Kentridge, on looking, drawing and knowing

William Kentridge.‭
(‬Illustration by Pat Crowley‭)

By Amy Broderick

“Every so often,‭ ‬a painter has to destroy painting,‭” ‬Willem DeKooning said of his fellow abstract expressionist,‭ ‬Jackson Pollock.‭ “‬He busted our idea of a picture all to hell. ‭ ‬Then there could be new paintings again.‭” ‬In the same way,‭ ‬William Kentridge has revolutionized the practice of drawing.

Using charcoal on paper,‭ ‬repeatedly erased and redrawn,‭ ‬as the vehicle for animation,‭ ‬Kentridge has revolutionized the form and brought it to a new level of regard,‭ ‬as an ambitious and respectable end-in-itself in the contemporary visual arts.‭ ‬In the process,‭ ‬the South African artist has emerged as one of the world's most prominent and relevant visual artists.

The intense physicality of Kentridge's work,‭ ‬in which his building up and breaking down of the surface,‭ ‬and his methodical rearrangement of elements,‭ ‬are clearly visible,‭ ‬mirrors the intensity of the content. The stories that unfold within his drawings,‭ ‬films,‭ ‬objects and performances explore complicated social struggles and national histories,‭ ‬as well as the efforts of individuals to locate themselves within these trying circumstances.

A major exhibition of Kentridge's work,‭ ‬William Kentridge:‭ ‬Five Themes,‭ ‬curated by Mark Rosenthal,‭ ‬adjunct curator of contemporary art at the Norton Museum of Art,‭ ‬is now touring the United States.‭ ‬The exhibit debuted in San Francisco and traveled to West Palm Beach,‭ ‬where it coincided with Art Basel:‭ ‬Miami Beach. It closed May‭ ‬17‭ ‬at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Artist and professor Amy Broderick recently spoke by phone with Kentridge,‭ ‬who was at work in his Johannesburg studio.‭ ‬Intelligent and quietly pensive,‭ ‬he shared his thoughts about the risks and rewards of drawing without a plan,‭ ‬and how looking helps us to piece together who we are. ‭ ‬

Amy Broderick: Drawing is so often seen as being something personal and intimate,‭ ‬really done by artists for themselves. In making your drawings for projection,‭ ‬were you consciously trying to shift the practice of drawing into a different,‭ ‬more public role‭?

William Kentridge: No,‭ ‬I think I was drawing because that's all I could do. I was no good as a painter,‭ ‬so it's got to be drawing or nothing. But the drawings for projection,‭ ‬those are drawings to be filmed,‭ ‬so they simply had to be of the right scale that I could work with. If they're too small,‭ ‬then all the lines become too crude. And because there is a lot of erasure in the drawings,‭ ‬the minimum thickness of the line was given by the thickness of an eraser.

So in other words,‭ ‬if I didn't want there to be a huge white line or huge expanse on a sheet of paper,‭ ‬it had to be a large sheet of paper,‭ ‬so it could register as a relatively fine line. So that it was a coming to terms with the fact that the drawings were about‭ ‬4‭ ‬foot-by-5‭ ‬foot,‭ ‬rather than designed necessarily to work on that scale.‭ ‬But it also changes‭ — ‬when you're working with your knuckles or your wrist or your arm‭ — ‬the scale of a drawing. If you work really small,‭ ‬then you may be drawing with your knuckles,‭ ‬and that’s when you get very uninteresting.

Felix Crying‭ (‬1998-99‭)‬,‭ ‬drawing for the film‭ ‬Stereoscope,
‭ ‬by William Kentridge.‭

Broderick:‭ ‬Given the fact that your drawings are so physical and so grand in scale that way,‭ ‬and it seems as if you draw with your whole body,‭ ‬I'm wondering how your theatrical training has influenced the way you use your body when you're drawing.

Kentridge: Well,‭ ‬I think it does,‭ ‬in the sense that it's very clear that when the drawings really happen,‭ ‬there are some gestures which are actually the sweep from your waist outwards,‭ ‬and there are some which originate more with your elbow,‭ ‬and some which do happen just in the wrist or the knuckles. But generally speaking,‭ ‬it's at its best when there is a much less conscious connection between your body and the charcoal,‭ ‬and you take it on trust that somehow your range of muscles is going to get the charcoal to move in the right way,‭ ‬rather than knowing a predetermined path and programming your muscles to move the charcoal along that path. Relaying that somewhere between your eye and the hand,‭ ‬there's a different intelligence at work.

Broderick: That makes me wonder that when you're at the paper working,‭ ‬how is your drawing mind different from your everyday mind‭?‬ How does your frame of mind change when you're actually in the process of making‭?

Kentridge: It changes a lot. For example,‭ ‬if I have to sit and work at my desk,‭ ‬sitting at the desk like I'm sitting now,‭ ‬there is a very limited range of ideas that come to me,‭ ‬and all ideas that come are ones that I've already had. Some people are able to sit at a table,‭ ‬writers for example,‭ ‬and construct new images and new worlds through their activity of internal contemplation. For me,‭ ‬that's something that might happen through the physical activity both of drawing at the paper,‭ ‬but particularly with the films with the stalking of the drawing‭ — ‬the walking backwards and forwards,‭ ‬walking around the studio,‭ ‬the approaching the paper,‭ ‬the walking back to the camera,‭ ‬reapproaching the paper‭ — ‬that somewhere in that walk is a generation of ideas.

And secondly,‭ ‬very much from the actual marks on the paper,‭ ‬new ideas suggest themselves,‭ ‬sometimes connected to the drawing that you're working on,‭ ‬sometimes absolutely connected to a drawing that may come much later in the film,‭ ‬or may not be in the film at all.

Broderick: The way you talk about the physical activity that happens in between the marks that you make,‭ ‬I often think about your drawings,‭ ‬your sheets of paper,‭ ‬the way printmakers think of plates. The way you work them and build them up and break them down.

Kentridge:‭ ‬There is a similarity between printmaking and this kind of drawing.‭ ‬Obviously,‭ ‬with an eraser it's easier to alter a drawing than it is with a burnisher and scraper to alter an etching,‭ ‬but it's not essentially different. Both of them are about a built-in provisionality. The image is provisional through quite a late stage in its process. Now,‭ ‬etching requires an interesting division between the drawing and the print,‭ ‬between what you're are drawing on the plate and what comes back on the print. And there it goes through kind of a strange alchemy of pressure on the etching press. With these drawings for film,‭ ‬you have got the strange alchemy of the drawing,‭ ‬and then the filmic mode,‭ ‬whether it's captured digitally or captured on celluloid,‭ ‬and then its projection. So in each of them is kind of a distancing that happens between the drawing and the finished object,‭ ‬film in one case,‭ ‬the print in the other. That's an important kind of syllogism.

Broderick: Thinking about the provisionality and the way these drawings exist to be looked at,‭ ‬I'm struck by how you employ a lot of machines for looking‭ — ‬the camera,‭ ‬the stereoscope,‭ ‬the telescope‭ — ‬and how making animations seems very democratic,‭ ‬since these films can essentially be viewed by vast numbers of people all at once.‭ ‬But on the other hand,‭ ‬when a person looks through one of these machines like a telescope or stereoscope,‭ ‬the view is only available to one person at a time.

Kentridge: That's an interesting thing you say that the telescope is only there for one person at a time. It is. There's a strange‭ — ‬not anomaly,‭ ‬because it's not anomalous at all‭; ‬it's the way the world is‭ — ‬the strange separation between objectivity and subjectivity in all,‭ ‬the whole category,‭ ‬of sight. For example,‭ ‬you have one image which people are looking at. That single image is in fact radiating out from itself thousands or an infinite number of possible images for reception,‭ ‬because when your eyes look at an image,‭ ‬that's one particular viewpoint picking up that image. So it is an individual solo viewing,‭ ‬but as you said,‭ ‬it can be viewed by thousands of people.

And in the same way,‭ ‬the binocular is a very particular viewing instrument that one person looks through.‭ ‬But it's used as an object when it's drawn as a metaphor for that gap between the individuality of looking‭ — ‬that is your particular retinas that are picking up the image that is only there for that very specific angle.‭ ‬But everyone around,‭ ‬in other words,‭ ‬has their own unique view which is waiting to be received.‭ ‬Now,‭ ‬for example,‭ ‬it's a little bit like you've got the cloud of the Internet above,‭ ‬and you've got your particular screen on which you are looking at it.

I did a project once which involved a projection on a ceiling in Holland,‭ ‬and all the viewers sitting on the floor‭ ‬20‭ ‬meters below the ceiling had small mirrors.‭ ‬Now you could either look up to the ceiling,‭ ‬lean your head back,‭ ‬and you'd all be seeing exactly the same image on the ceiling,‭ ‬and it seems like everybody looking at the same thing.‭ ‬Or,‭ ‬everybody could turn inwards to their own particular viewing device,‭ ‬which was the small postcard-sized mirror on which they could see the whole ceiling as well,‭ ‬reduced to the scale of that postcard mirror.‭ ‬So you had both this mixture of a communal looking up into the ceiling and the individualized looking down below.

So,‭ ‬I think the different viewing devices which are present in the work do refer to that,‭ ‬the activity of looking,‭ ‬the kind of the energy you put into looking individually,‭ ‬as well as it obviously being all this democratic emanation of film or an image of the world outwards to everyone.

World Walking‭ (‬2007‭)‬,‭ ‬drawing for the
Italian finance newspaper‭ Il Sole‭ ‬24‭ ‬Ore,‭
‬by William Kentridge.‭

Broderick:‭ ‬And the way you present your imagery‭ — ‬not just in the mirrored piece that you mentioned,‭ ‬but also in the anamorphic drawings,‭ ‬where you draw a distortion that is made right in reflection‭ — ‬you seem to be asking the viewer to straighten things out for themselves. ‭ ‬You seem to trust the viewer.

Kentridge:‭ ‬Well,‭ ‬it's not just a question about trusting it,‭ ‬because you can't resist it.‭ ‬That's a secondary question to what I've just been describing,‭ ‬and that has to do with understanding the agency we have with looking.‭ ‬Looking becomes natural.‭ ‬Let's assume it's a natural activity‭ — ‬the world is there,‭ ‬it gets received by our eyes,‭ ‬and that's it. What the anamorphic drawings and the stereoscopic drawings similarly do,‭ ‬is give you a direct anomaly.‭ ‬The stereoscopic drawings are in one way clearer. You know you're looking at two flat images,‭ ‬which are either drawings or photographs,‭ ‬in my case drawings,‭ ‬and you understand your left retina is seeing one,‭ ‬and your right retina is seeing the other.‭ ‬You know you're looking at flat drawings.‭ ‬Your brain constructs these two drawings into a three-dimensional image.

Now,‭ ‬when you normally look at the three-dimensional world,‭ ‬it doesn't seem like your brain is doing anything because it is a three-dimensional world,‭ ‬and you're seeing it as three-dimensional.‭ ‬But in fact,‭ ‬what your brain is always doing is taking a flat image from your left eye and a flat image from your right eye and constructing this illusion of depth,‭ ‬which does seem to correspond to the way the world is made.‭ ‬So when you do that in a drawing,‭ ‬what you're bringing attention to is that activity that we do as viewers. In this case it's in a kind of heightened activity,‭ ‬because we're aware of the difference between the two-‭ ‬and three-dimensionality between what we are looking at and what our brain is seeing,‭ ‬but it's decidedly a heightened example of what we do when we look anywhere.

And it's about making sense of clues that we get visually from our retina.‭ ‬We get a number of different images and clues,‭ ‬but the sense of the world that we get from it,‭ ‬we are constructing continuously. That's what the anamorphic drawing is about. I mean on the one hand,‭ ‬it's a trick,‭ ‬it's a game. You look at the image on the flat table as it's projected,‭ ‬and it's completely distorted. In the mirror it looks corrected,‭ ‬and we believe the mirror more than we can believe the table.

Broderick:‭ ‬All this seems to suggest that the world does not necessarily provide us with the true facts,‭ ‬but that we have to create truth in our own mind as we live.

Kentridge: Well,‭ ‬that's definitely what we do when we're looking at anything,‭ ‬taking different fragments and constructing possible coherences from them.‭ [‬We go‭] ‬backwards in history to understand our story,‭ ‬and in the very moment where we take clues that we've got and try to understand what people are saying or what we are looking at,‭ [‬we anticipate‭] ‬the future. ‭ ‬So I think that is a central thing that I'm interested in.

Broderick: Given the fact that these fragments and memory and loss and our relationship to history,‭ ‬that these are prominent themes in your work,‭ ‬it also seems that the way you make your work with individual marks or fragments of paper becomes a powerful metaphor for that.‭ ‬Even the way ghost images are left on the page when you erase.

Kentridge: The ghost images and those things are sort of a fortunate,‭ ‬I mean,‭ ‬they're central,‭ ‬but they were in a sense fortunate byproducts. They weren't things I decided or chose‭; ‬they were what was left when the work was done. But I certainly think they obviously do carry with them various associations,‭ ‬thematic associations,‭ ‬and then these do become part of the work as well. So at the moment,‭ ‬I'm working a lot with fragmented images constructed out of different pieces put together of ink wash drawings.‭

I'm not sure yet what the difference is between drawing these on all these different sheets of paper,‭ ‬which I'm doing,‭ ‬or if I simply drew them as one large sheet of paper,‭ ‬but they do feel different. But at the end of the process,‭ ‬maybe it will become clear what the difference is.‭ ‬I am not trying to first work out what the meaning is before the work is done.

Bridge‭ (‬2001‭)‬,‭ ‬sculpture by William Kentridge.‭
(‬Photo by John Hodgkiss‭)

Broderick:‭ ‬That's an interesting approach that you take. I often try to convince my students to enter the process of art making without knowing what’s going to happen. Is that ever a difficult point of view for you to maintain,‭ ‬this idea of entering the work without a plan‭?‬

Kentridge:‭ ‬It can be,‭ ‬because sometimes you arrive with rubbish at the end‭; ‬it doesn't always turn into sense. Sometimes it does,‭ ‬but sometimes you realize you're not going anywhere,‭ ‬or the idea of the strategy is stronger than what actually comes out of it. But it certainly for me is an essential strategy to have,‭ ‬to find ways of working in which you cannot anticipate all the elements.

Broderick:‭ ‬Is that part of what prompted you to be an artist,‭ ‬that it is a line of work where that uncertainty is permissible‭?‬

Kentridge: Yes. I think it's a line of work in which uncertainty is permissible,‭ ‬where making up the world or constructing the world is a virtue rather than a vice. If you were,‭ ‬say,‭ ‬a historical scholar,‭ ‬or a lawyer,‭ ‬in both cases one would be thrown out of the profession if one worked as an artist does,‭ ‬which is to allow us all to invent things,‭ ‬to fill in gaps and have a healthy disregard for the authenticity of impulses and sources.

Broderick:‭ ‬And yet do you see any connections between your sense of purpose as an artist and say,‭ ‬your parents‭' ‬sense of purpose as lawyers and advocates‭?

Kentridge: There may be.‭ ‬At the end of the day,‭ ‬it may come down to the somewhat different ways of approaching ideas of truth or knowledge,‭ ‬the one that's kind of subject to rational dispute at the end,‭ ‬and another way that kind of goes around questions of rational dispute. It’s a question also of saying that without that program of rational reflection and checking,‭ ‬can one still arrive at knowledge‭?‬ That's kind of the big open-ended question of all these years of work. ‭ ‬

Broderick:‭ ‬In conjunction with that big question,‭ ‬what do you think are the primary ethical or social or even creative responsibilities of visual artists‭?‬

Kentridge: The essential responsibility is to work well,‭ ‬and hard,‭ ‬and a lot,‭ ‬and look at the work once it's made.‭ ‬In the end,‭ ‬the work shows who you are,‭ ‬and you can fool it for a certain time,‭ ‬but if you are a shallow or a pretentious or a vain person,‭ ‬that comes through in the work. If there are other elements to you,‭ ‬then those also come through in the work.

But to try to set the program in advance‭ — ‬to say,‭ ‬this will be my moral program,‭ ‬and this will be the ethical program,‭ ‬this will be the political program‭ — ‬in the end,‭ ‬the bad faith comes through.

Amy Broderick is an artist and writer who currently is associate professor of drawing and painting at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. She regularly exhibits and delivers lectures about her work locally and nationally.‭ ‬Visit her at‭ ‬