Saturday, March 21, 2009

things that go 'wow' in the night (or day)!

-jeffery mcnary
A fascination with French and Spanish painters shouldn't lead to a shove off of American artists. Lately I've come into a phenomenal cadre of new and appealing talent, musical, visual, and of stage, screen and the written word. For fun, I'll start a listing of those who defintely merit attention. Lets start with Abigail, as in absolutely... terrific!! Bach surely had her in mind when crafting, "Jauchzet Gott in Allen Landen', and, and, and.....

Acclaimed as angelic and stylish in her interpretations of Bach and Mozart, is equally at home with genres ranging from early plainchant to 19th-century mélodie to improvised avant-garde. Originally from Bartlett, Tennessee, she moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan where, after finishing her bachelor’s degree in vocal performance at the University of Michigan, she served as music director for the Wesley Foundation of First Methodist, performed with the Michigan Opera Theater under Stephen Lord, and was a frequent soloist appearing on premier recordings of contemporary works. In May 2007, Abigail completed her master’s degree in voice at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music where she studied under James Taylor, Ted Taylor, and Judith Malafronte. In addition to participating in master classes with Martin Katz, Stephen Layton, and David Daniels, she has performed as soloist in Bach’s St. John Passion and Buxtehude’s Membra Jesu nostri under Simon Carrington, Mozart Vespers with Sir David Willcocks and again with Sir Neville Marriner, Bach’s Magnificat in E-flat Major with Helmuth Rilling, Beethoven’s Mass in C and multiple Bach cantatas with Yale ensembles, and a program of French Baroque music with the Ensemble Européen William Byrd. Inspired by such ensemble experiences, Lennox enjoys teaching young musicians in the DC area, where she now lives, and engaging in collaborative projects with fellow artists in addition to pursuing a solo career. She made her debut with American Bach Soloists as a soloist in Bach’s Christmas Oratorio in January 2007.
take a listen....
(courtesy of American Bach Soloists)

Monday, March 9, 2009

west side stories

Rekindling Robbins, a Step at a Time
ONCE asked about the impetus for “Fancy Free” (1944), the first ballet he choreographed, Jerome Robbins said he felt compelled to create something different. “I thought, ‘Why can’t we dance about American subjects?’ ” he said. “Why can’t we talk about the way we dance today, and how we are?”
Now, a new generation of dancers is applying Robbins’s question to some of his own work. “West Side Story,” the 1957 musical that changed the way we think about how dance can tell a story, is reopening on March 19 at the Palace Theater. The show is directed by Arthur Laurents, the author of its original book, and Joey McKneely has been charged with the difficult task of recreating Robbins’s choreography for a new American generation.
Unlike other musicals, in which the dancing is, however entertaining, most often a flashy, kick-filled break from the rest of the show, in “West Side Story” it is as essential to the story as the music and the words. “If you remove Jerome Robbins’s choreography, you lose significant plot, storytelling moments, and you lose characterization elements that are set in the dance,” Mr. McKneely said in an interview. “It’s rare that shows have dance as that kind of signature. It’s the emotional glue.”
Mr. McKneely’s task is as hard as it sounds. Like balletomanes devoted to Balanchine many Robbins disciples and fans see every step in “West Side Story” as sacred. But, as Mr. McKneely pointedly asked, “What is the original choreography?”
Sitting in the back of the Palace Theater after a recent rehearsal, he ticked through the many iterations of the show: “There’s 1957, then there’s the ’61 movie,” he said, adding, “then there’s the ’80 revival, then there’s ‘Jerome Robbins’ Broadway,’ then there’s New York City Ballet. So, O.K., all of that is ‘West Side Story’ and Jerome Robbins was around, and he did all of those versions.”
Mr. McKneely, 42, who has worked on Broadway — he made his choreographic debut in 1995 with “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” — and abroad, has a long relationship with Robbins and his work. He worked directly with the choreographer as a dancer in “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway” in 1989 before directing his first production of “West Side Story” at La Scala in Milan in 2000. More recently he directed a European tour of the show on its 50th anniversary in 2007 and an English production in 2008.
Still, to keep the movement as true as possible to Robbins’s original intentions, Mr. McKneely drew not only from his own experience dancing numbers like “Cool” and “Dance at the Gym,” but from the film, a video of the 1980 production and a choreographic manual for the show written by Alan Johnson, a cast member of the original production. The Jerome Robbins Trust and Foundation, which licenses Robbins’s work and safeguards its legacy, was also involved in the process to ensure that the show remains true to Robbins’s spirit.
But for all the efforts to adhere to the original choreography, this “West Side Story” has also been re-envisioned for today’s audience. Many of the lyrics are now in Spanish, and parts of the dances have changed as well to make what the creators hope is a more realistic show.
“You can’t worry about the past,” Mr. Laurents said in a telephone interview. “Jerry was very concerned with why they dance. Why they dance in this version is not the same as why they danced in the others. The theater has changed. You have to reflect that in the dancing and it does.”
Some adjustments were slight (a fist was added to an originally balletic arm movement in the prologue) and some more significant, like those made to the second act ballet, which Mr. Laurents said could look “like a dance concert unless you pull it into the story.”
To make that dance more organic to the stage Mr. McKneely decided not to include the nightmare scene, which retells the deaths of Bernardo and Riff, and to make Maria and Tony front and center in the dance featuring the Sharks and the Jets. “They are generating the ballet,” he said. “It just doesn’t happen around them.”
Adjustments were also made to “America,” as well as to the scene in which the Jets attack Anita, played by Karen Olivo. That moment, which the cast members now refer to explicitly as a rape, has become more violent. “We don’t treat them as lovable little thugs.” Mr. Laurents said of the characters. “We treat them as what they were then and what they are now.”
“Cool,” one of the show’s most technically demanding pieces, is another place where this fresh focus is seen. “The steps are the same,” Mr. Laurents said, “but what is different is the emotional anger that is under it.”
At the second technical rehearsal in early February, Mr. McKneely worked with the dancers on “Cool.” Laptops lay scattered across makeshift tables in the theater, while Mr. Laurents watched and Mr. McKneely gathered the Jets onstage around him. The movements are so familiar: the snaps, the hunched shoulders, the fist pounding into the palm, a pirouette to the ground, and the straight jump up, one leg sideways, both arms reaching up, toward the sky: “Pow.”
Communicating the tension that simmers just underneath the surface in these movements is one of this production’s most difficult challenges. “Build, build, release,” Mr. McKneely coaxed them, demonstrating a jump in front of the cast. “Robbins would do these steps, and you could see the character emerge out of him,” he said later. “Just watching him, he would become each character. So when I teach it, I do it. I do it full out.”
Young dancers were sought to make the production seem more contemporary. More than 2,500 people from around the world were auditioned, and some primary cast members, like Ryan Steele, who plays Baby John, are as young as 18. “When you’re in your early 20s, you still have your hormones flaring, you’re still partying out at night, you’re getting in trouble,” Mr. McKneely said. “The closer you get to that age group, the more in touch in a natural real way they are to those emotions, so you believe them.”
Even with the direction to let go of past interpretations, the pressure to get Robbins right is immense, not just for the choreographer but also for the stars. “A lot of people come here with an idea of what they want to see,” Ms. Olivo said before a rehearsal. “I don’t have the short hair. I’m not in the lilac dress.”
But for all the adjustments, it’s still Robbins’s movements that remain so powerful after all these years. Ms. Olivo added: “I always tell my husband, when I do it right, when I do the choreography right, I feel like I’m flying. That’s Robbins. When you get it in your body and you do it right, or you see someone doing it right, it’s an exhilarating experience.”

Sunday, March 8, 2009

through the doors again

Huxley Archive Goes to U.C.L.A.
Compiled by DAVE ITZKOFF
In an honor nearly as estimable as achieving Alpha-Plus status, the U.C.L.A. Library announced that it has acquired the literary archive of Aldous Huxley, the author of “Brave New World.” Among the materials in the collection are manuscripts and working papers for 12 of his books, as well as 35 essays, articles and speeches; recordings of Huxley reading from his lectures and his 1944 novel, “Time Must Have a Stop”; and love letters he exchanged with his wife, Laura, who died in 2007. The archive also includes personal items like a magnifying glass and wallet used by Huxley, as well as his British passport. Though Huxley was born and raised in England, he lived in California from 1937 until his death in 1963. The U.C.L.A. Library’s special collections department is already home to the manuscripts for “Time Must Have a Stop” and another Huxley novel, “The Devils of Loudon.”

arts uprise!

Israeli Dance Troupe May Draw Protest
The Brooklyn Academy of Music is bracing for protests of the Batsheva Dance Company, an Israeli troupe, this week. In recent weeks during a North American tour, Batsheva, which was to begin a run of performances on Wednesday night, has been dogged by small demonstrations and calls for a boycott over Israel’s actions in Gaza. Fatima Kafele, a spokeswoman for the Brooklyn Academy, said a “small group” had asked the police for a permit to demonstrate on Thursday. She said she did not know the group’s identity. Batsheva and its artistic director, Ohad Naharin, are prominent in the modern dance world and are respected by many critics. Mr. Naharin, through Ms. Kafele, declined to be interviewed but issued a statement on Wednesday saying he forgives and understands “the frustration” and people who “want to fight for human rights.” But he said that boycotting a dance company could not make a difference, and that such energy should be channeled “into getting moderate powers and people on both sides to talk to each other.”

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

as leaders go, so go their statues

MADRID -- Every Nov. 20, for the past dozen years, Sinforiano Bezanilla has visited a pigeon-covered statue of Gen. Francisco Franco to pay homage to Europe's longest-serving fascist dictator.
This year, the sculpture won't be there. Acting on a law passed by Spain's Socialist government, authorities uprooted the statue of the Generalísimo in December from the city square of Santander in northern Spain and banished it to the local museum.
"The left is attempting to rewrite our country's history. They base it on a series of half-lies, half-truths and outright lies," says Mr. Bezanilla. The 44-year-old municipal worker was just 11 when Franco died. But he has read volumes on the former dictator's ideas and is nostalgic for his regime.
More than three decades after Franco died and 72 years after he seized power, Spain is on a controversial mission to expunge the many emblems of its painful past that are still on public display.
While monuments to Franco have lingered long in Spain, other leaders' statues have been toppled soon after their regimes fall -- and each time, the monuments become battlegrounds of history.
The Socialist government says the assorted icons of the Franco regime still on view -- fascist-style eagles, yokes and arrows -- have no place in modern Spain. A year ago, it passed a law to eliminate them.
But the drive -- part of a broader law aimed at redressing Franco-era injustices -- has raised hackles among conservatives who say Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero is reopening wounds they say were healed after the dictator's death.
"The question is whether Spain should be looking at what happened 70 years ago, or whether the government needs to start looking to the future," says Jaime García-Legaz, congressman for the opposition Popular Party.
Nazi symbols are illegal in Germany. No statues of former Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini are on display in Italian streets. But in Spain -- today a modern democracy at the heart of the European Union -- monuments to Franco have remained to this day.
"This is the only fascist regime that has seen its symbols survive into the 21st century," says Alejandro Quiroga, a Spanish history professor at Britain's University of Newcastle.
The emblems have lasted so long partly because Spain's dictatorship, which began in 1936 after Franco's forces won a bloody civil war in which 500,000 were killed, lasted far longer than similar authoritarian states. Spain stayed out of World War II, which toppled Hitler and Mussolini, and Franco managed to rule until he died in 1975.
After a new constitution in 1978, Spain's new leaders decided to bury the hatchet in order to preserve the country's fragile new democracy.
No generals ever went on trial, as generals did in Latin America. There were no Truth and Reconciliation Commissions like those held in South Africa. An abortive coup in 1981 reminded Spain's first post-Franco democratic governments of the danger in trying to hold Franco's regime to account.
"There were other priorities than getting rid of the symbols of the Franco regime," says Jesús de Andrés Sanz, a professor at UNED University who has studied the issue. "The new leaders didn't want to make enemies of the extreme right. There was always the threat of a military coup."
The decision not to look back has had curious effects. Politicians ditched the words to the national anthem used during Franco's rule ("Raise your arms, sons of the Spanish people") but couldn't agree on any replacements. Now, when the anthem is played, Spaniards hum awkwardly or invent their own lyrics.
Despite attempts to sweep history under the rug, the deep and bitter ideological divisions that gripped Spain during its three-year civil war have never dissipated and are evident today.
People whose families fought Franco tell stories of repression, torture and killings. After the war, Franco's Nationalist troops rounded up suspected Republicans and killed tens of thousands. The vanquished were sent to labor camps, where an untold number perished. Their children were often given to families that were supportive of the regime.
Descendants of Franco's side say he saved the country from communism and restored the Catholic Church to its rightful place. In today's Spain, where gay marriage, divorce and abortion are all legal, some conservative Spaniards look back fondly on the dictatorship and say they don't want to be persecuted for doing so. "A lot of people are afraid to express themselves," complains Mr. Bezanilla.
The Socialist government's edict is being followed far and wide. The Spanish enclave of Melilla, in northern Africa, has promised to remove the last remaining statue of Franco on public display on Spanish territory, though it hasn't yet set a date.
Some are dragging their feet. In the southern city of Granada, artists are trying to get City Hall to remove a monument to fascism showing five disembodied limbs in stiff-armed salute. "It is very bothersome that it should still be there 30 years on," says Luis García Montero, a local poet. "It recalls a dark period in this country's history. The time has come to get rid of it."
Campaigners want the government to go further and force town halls to rename the hundreds of streets that still commemorate Franco, his generals or his victories.
Even as Franco's statues are banished to basements or museums, the government has a thorn in its side: What to do with the fascist-style mausoleum Franco built for himself and an estimated 40,000 civil-war fighters?
Bored into the side of a mountain near Madrid and topped with a 500-foot cross, Franco's "Valley of the Fallen" cannot be removed or ignored. At the moment, visitors find no mention of the 14,000 laborers who built the complex in the 1940s and '50s, most of them drawn from the ranks of losing fighters from the civil war. The church there remains an active place of worship.
Mr. Zapatero's government toyed with the idea of turning the site into a museum dedicated to Franco's victims but ultimately ducked the issue entirely in its so-called Law of Historical Memory, passed in December 2007.
Since last year, the government has banned neo-fascist groups from commemorating Franco's death there each Nov. 20. Yet fresh wreaths are still laid on his grave there daily, courtesy of the Spanish state.
For some, the Valley of the Fallen is much more than just a symbol from the past. It's the place where their missing fathers ended up. In a bizarre effort to demonstrate Spain's national reconciliation, Franco opened the mass graves of his opponents at the end of the 1950s and had their remains transferred to the site. Some Spaniards have grown up knowing that their relatives, shot by Franco's firing squads and dumped in mass graves, now lie just feet away from the dictator.
"It's a sick joke, an absolute affront, that they are still in there," says Fausto Canales, a 74-year-old man who has spent the decade since he retired trying to retrieve the remains of his father.
Others want Franco's bones taken out. "We can't forget it is the mausoleum of a 20th-century dictator," says 83-year-old Nicolás Sánchez Albornoz, who himself worked for five months at the site when it was being constructed before finally escaping. "No other European country has a state-financed mausoleum of, say, Hitler or Mussolini."

the art of nothing

Pompidou Centre celebrates half a century of minimalism
By John Lichfield in Paris
Roman Ondak's 'installation' More Silent Than Ever is on show
at the decidedly uncluttered Paris gallery this week
Art exhibitions without exhibits are nothing new. Nothing has been a recognised art form for half a century. But the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris can claim a cultural first this week: a retrospective exhibition of 51 years of exhibitions without exhibits by nine different artists. How can a museum retrospectively exhibit nothing? With great care. The 500-page catalogue costs €39 (£34).
The exhibition, Voids, a Retrospective, fills, or fails to fill, five rooms in the French national museum of modern art on the fourth floor of the Pompidou building. All the rooms are entirely empty. The walls are white. The floors are bare. The lighting has been arranged just as carefully as for any other temporary exhibition. The gardiens (guards) watch suspiciously to make sure that the visitors do not touch anything, or in this case that they do not touch nothing.
The aim of the retrospective exhibition – refused by several other leading museums in other countries – is to celebrate and explore a movement begun in Paris by the minimalist artist, Yves Klein. Klein, influenced by Zen Buddhism, was the first artist to present an exhibition of blank walls at the Galerie Iris Clert in Paris in 1958.
Related articles
Gormley on his plinth: 'I would be very upset if nobody took their clothes off'
Klein's exhibition of nothing has been revived for the Pompidou show (which can be seen, or rather not seen, until 23 March). In theory, the Pompidou is not presenting the same nothing because these are not actually the same blank walls. There are, explanatory panels with the same explanations.
Klein's blank walls are a "specialisation of sensibility to raw materials through stabilised pictorial sensibility". In other words, by seeing nothing, you are encouraged to see everything more clearly.
The Pompidou retrospective also revives the celebrated (briefly) Air Conditioning Show assembled (or rather not assembled) in 1967 by Art and Language, a British artists' collective. The show exhibits air-conditioned air in an empty gallery with white walls. Five curators have worked on the Pompidou's retrospective of nothing art, which includes works – or non-works – by seven other artists: Robert Barry, Stanley Brouwn, Maria Eichhorn, Bethan Huws, Robert Irwin, Roman Ondak and Laurie Parsons.
One curator, Mathieu Copeland, says the exhibition is partly an exploration of art as the rejection of art: a refusal to add to a world already too cluttered with images. "But it is not just a kind of radical, conceptual art. You are also invited to explore, in a very physical way, each different space, all of which have a different texture. It is a true experience."
One of the five spaces is devoted to a work by Roman Ondak, More Silent Than Ever, first shown in Paris three years ago. The room is empty, just like all the others, but a panel tells the visitor that, somewhere in the room, there may be a concealed listening device. The aim seems to be to encourage visitors to examine nothingness very carefully.
A group of 20 teenagers were being shown around the Pompidou retrospective yesterday by their teacher. All, or almost all of them, including the teacher, were dressed in black. Against the white walls, they resembled pieces from a chess set. The teacher, rather convincingly, praised the exhibition while the teenagers tried to stand on one another's feet or trip each other up.
Tom Lubbock: A critic's view
Empty? It depends what you mean. The earliest case was not a room but a piece of music – John Cage's 4'33", where the pianist sits for four minutes and 33 seconds without playing a key. Many say there's plenty to hear in the silence.
The winner of the 2001 Turner Prize, Martin Creed, exhibited an empty room at Tate Britain. Or was it? The lights switched on and off every five seconds. That made it a pretty full, eventful room, no?
These works follow a typical trajectory of modern art. Step by step, from reduction to reduction, we make a clean sweep, from figuration to abstraction, to a uniform canvas, to a blank canvas, and then to a blank wall.
Having arrived at emptiness, fill her up again – with meanings. Sometimes the emphasis is on absence, on contemplating nothingness. Sometimes it's on noticing what you might have overlooked.
Perhaps you should notice all the gallery background noises you ignore. Perhaps you should see that art has its environment, which crucially conditions our experience of it. Or perhaps you should be looking at the only exhibits that remain in your empty gallery – yourselves.
The empties are always going to be full of something. The art consists of working out what.