Happy Birthday, Barrie Chase ~!

Dance · Film

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Terence Donovan, British photographer who chronicled sixties

Fashion · Featured · Film · Music · Visual arts

Photographer David Bailey (born 1938) is said to have given us a visual vocabulary with which we remember Swinging Sixties London. But he didn’t do it alone.

charlotte-rampling-terence-donovan-archiveThough not as celebrated, Terence Donovan (1936-1996) and Brian Duffy (1933-2010) did groundbreaking work in their own right. All three triangulated fashion photography with movies and pop culture and in so doing, introduced models Jean Shrimpton, Joanna Lumley and Celia Hammond to the world. The indispensable trio caught common visual components of the mod Sixties: young, driven, attractive, irreverent, and fun people.

Their lives behind and away from the camera formed a composite inspiration for David Hemming’s’ character in Michelangelo Antonioni’s movie Blow Up (1966).

A new coffee table volume, Terence Donovan Portraits (Damiani) collects magazine work from 1951 to the 1990s. Donovan’s acute eye, great instincts and improvisational impulses are all on abundant display.

terence-stamp-the-conde-nast-publications-ltdLike Bailey, Donovan came out of London’s tough East End. After military service, Donovan worked in the busy studio of London fashion photographer John French. Bringing a magazine esthetic to newspapers, French posed models in studio settings without a hair askance.

Donovan opened his own studio at 22. He took models out into the street, giving them a sense of context, drama and social realism. As Bailey discovered and made Shrimpton a star, Donovan did the same for the unknown Hammond. Both photographers developed vital collaborations with these models, who were muses and lovers. When Donovan shot a skinny teenager with exaggerated eye makeup in front of a Union Jack, Twiggy was an instant sensation.

sean-connery-terence-donovan-archiveDonovan’s work for Man About Town (later shortened to Town) helped to make the magazine the GQ of Britain. As he had with women, he placed men in street situations, often in gritty East End settings. His spy-themed photo essays pre-dated the James Bond wave and one Donovan model screen tested for 007. The role was given to another London model named Connery.

Terence Donovan Portraits spans many years but it’s the young go-getters of the sixties that are the most vibrant subjects. After 15 years of deprivation, the United Kingdom’s young generation was hungry for any scrap of opportunity and willing to make the most of it: A lean Anthony Newly (’61) stares down the camera through his own hand-framing. Actress Nancy Kwan’s elegant profile (’63) balances her perfectly formed Sassoon cut with a lovely visage. A glowing Patti Boyd (’66) stands on top of the world, having just married Beatle George Harrison. Where Terence Stamp (’67) is both predatory and feral, Maggie Smith (‘64) is a pert sprite. The quiet intensity of fashion icon Mary Quant (‘63) embodies the talent, drive and ambition that infused London in those days.

Donovan’s actress layouts (Sophia Loren, Claudia Cardinale, Julie Christie, Sarah Miles) are empathetic. They’re not divas or sex symbols, just women being themselves and playful at that. Whether Donovan transferred his own sense of optimism and play to his subjects or he just brought it out is moot; the point is his portraits are alive with realness.

Donovan died by his own hand and as he moved on in his post-‘60s work to advertising and videos, he claimed no nostalgia for the decade that made his reputation. Still, it’s not hard to imagine that in the middle of his last bout with depression, Donovan missed that time and the excitement it exuded.


Kirk Silsbee publishes promiscuously on rock, jazz and culture.

Photo credits: Photograph Terence Donovan © Terence Donovan Archive

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Review: ballerina Wendy Whelan in new documentary 1

Dance · Featured · Film

We all have problems, right? In the case of Wendy Whelan, the equivalent of a prima ballerina assoluta if only New York City Ballet had that designation, the problem in dance season 2013-14 was how to gracefully exit the stage and transition to civilian life.

For thirty years, the reed-thin, Kentucky-born ballet-thoroughbred reigned as the paramount goddess of NYCB’s post-Balanchine stable. Whelan was a cult item for ballet connoisseurs: the most limber, the most musical, the most versatile, the most ethereal, she nearly embodied dance-ecstasy as a performer. But as we are repeatedly instructed in “Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan,” a new documentary just screened at the New York Film Festival, for a dancer all things must pass. You don’t get more than thirty years of sustained rapture. You also learn that not only was this great American dancer blessed with a pliant, accommodating body that spared her the debilitating injuries suffered by her peers, she is a super nice person, gracious and beloved by fellow dancers.

Sometimes super nice people don’t make great documentary fodder. And that is unfortunately the case with this unilluminating film that takes a nose-length view of its subject — exercising zero critical distance. Remember Wayne’s World? Welcome to Wendy’s World. Total immersion! Co-directors Linda Saffire and Adam Schlesinger and camera crew track Whelan down city blocks, into taxis, and through wine-and-cheese parties as she gradually faces the waning of her stage career at City Ballet. An end so catastrophic, it’s tantamount to the end of life itself. It’s instigated by an unsubtle nudge from her boss, Peter Martins, who heads up the company and remains, in this movie, a great cipher of the dance world. That negative encounter spurs Whelan’s first-ever injury: a nasty hip problem.

Never had hip surgery? Not to worry. “Restless Creature,” the film, will take care of that. In the making of this movie, Whelan opened her life to a production team that self-reverentially, in a post-screening Q & A, called its format “cinema verite.” In that guise, viewers voyage into the surgery theater and observe Whelan’s beautiful butt go under the knife. It’s a brutal bringing down of an elegant woman. Would that the filmmakers journeyed beneath the surface of her career with the rigor employed by her orthopedic surgeon.

What defines a Balanchine ballerina? How did Whelan advance that definition? What do dance critics think of her? (We see two significant ones in the film, but they are not used as experts.) What were Whelan’s great roles? How do fans feel? Could we witness footage of her dancing at her peak? What special toll does the extreme technique practiced at NYCB extract on body and soul? How did Whelan’s predecessors fare in their retirements? Could Peter Martins have been prodded for more than minimal praise for his great soloist? And not to be a stickler, but how did an artist the caliber of Whelan eclipse counseling services for aging dancers like Career Transitions for Dancers? She readily admits to the camera that, unlike many of her colleagues, she approached retirement with no game plan whatsoever. This makes her appear less like an modern woman and more like a ballet victim — with a serious performance addiction.

These critiques will not put balletomanes off the film. I, too, would not miss it. She remains a dance-world treasure with her recent explorations of contemporary choreography. High praise belongs to film editor Bob Eisenhardt who melded footage like butter. It glides.

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Barbie art – fall sale

arts•meme friend Judy Ragagli, the creator of this Barbie art, is running a fall sale, with discounts and free shipping of her oil paintings, in celebration of the autumn season. Barbie art fall sale | for special prices email JRagagli@mac.com

Looks amazing: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s ‘Babel(words)’@ Lincoln Center 2

Dance · Featured · Language & ideas
I’m interested — who isn’t? — in the changing ways in which society is communicating. And I wonder how dance can play an active role as, increasingly, words matter less and the visual (and visceral) matters more. (A very wise man recently told us, “It’s just words.”) So I’m looking forward to “Babel(words),” a new ...

Ed Wood’s ‘Plan 9’ joins forces with marionette ‘Spooktacular’

Film · Theater
Director/auteur Ed Wood’s low-budget classic, Plan 9 From Outer Space, was loathed by critics upon release. It became a cult classic. The cast of the film included Maila Nurmi, credited as Vampira, and Bela Lugosi, who famously died during production and was replaced by Ed Wood’s chiropractor, Dr. Tom Mason. The making of Plan 9 From ...

Jazz for angels and others at Angel City Jazz Festival 1

It’s been nine years but the Angel City Jazz Festival, the Los Angeles music conflagration built on bringing cutting-edge sounds to the Southland, has not only survived, it has flourished. Impresario Rocco Somazzi, well regarded for the adventurous booking policy of his Rocco Ristorante in Bel Air, embarked on a week-long series of concerts for ...

‘German Currents’ Film Festival reaches 10-year mark

Featured · Film
It’s a decade, this year, for the annual German Currents film festival in Los Angeles, co-sponsored by The Goethe Institute and the American Cinematheque. Fittingly, the program has been expanded to include 10 Los Angeles premieres, peppered with conversations with prolific German directors, writers and actors. Award winning director Wolfgang Becker (“Good Bye Lenin!”) will ...

Jack Cole’s nightclub act: a talk by Debra Levine Oct 25

Dance · Language & ideas
A review headline screamed, “Cyclone Hits Slapsy Maxie’s.” The performance?  Jack Cole and His Dancers at the Wilshire Boulevard supper club in 1948. In the house: Frank Sinatra, Robert Walker, Jimmy Durante, Lucille Ball, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Jimmy Dorsey, Max Baer. Also, according to the review, “Bullets Durgom still without a toupee.” Cole and ...

Bolshoi means BIG

Dance · Film · Language & ideas
Travel back to the Roaring ’20s in Europe with “The Golden Age,” broadcast live from Moscow and danced by the Bolshoi Ballet to music by Dmitri Shostakovich and choreography by Yuri Grigorovich. A stunning cabaret dancer must choose between her love for a visiting fisherman and the leader of a gang, who is also her ...