Arts ladies of the weekend 1

Dance · Reviews · Theater

taishaIt gave pleasure, in disparate performances over the weekend, to find and then ruminate on two outstanding players — both exemplary contributors operating in a mixed terrain.

The duo included dancer Taisha Paggett and actress Carolyn Ratteray, both top notch, both, by happenstance, African-American artists.

Ms. Paggett appears to be the muse of the savvy and talented choreographer David Roussève, and that would be a cool thing to be. She led the way, in her stage presence and solid good dancing, ratcheting up Roussève’s full-evening work, “Stardust,” before a very packed and receptive audience Saturday night at the Carpenter Center for Performing Arts in Long Beach.

taisha-2A highly idiosyncratic dance-drama, really the output of a choreographer-auteur, “Stardust” explores, with remarkable integration of action and idea, visions of love — both carnal and romantic — family, sexuality, intimacy, loneliness, and lust. It’s acted out through an imagined character the audience never sees, but experiences via his text-message jottings projected on the stage backdrop. That’s a clever premise in an age in which most of us pass our days relating to invisible-others by typing. The work tours a generational gap, through its tasty music selection — it’s steeped at one end of the spectrum in the deep sentimentality of Nat King Cole singing the (titular) Hoagy Carmicheal song. Roussève creates contrasts, using hardcore hiphop music, to the troublingly harsh, even nasty, reality of contemporary coupling.

The dance concerns the quest for tenderness; violence and abuse figure in.

Bringing just-so musicality and poignant pain to the Carpenter’s wide-vista stage was Paggett, dancing as a soloist, at one point to singing by Ella Fitzgerald. She popped out from an uneven student-y cast — Roussève deserves top dancers and he has worked with them: Cleo Parker Robinson’s group, Ballet Hispanico, the Atlanta and Houston Ballets. An exception was the super-relaxed, funky and unified rendering of Roussève’s hugely romantic group choreography to “Sweet Lorraine,” what a gorgeous, spacey song, just perfect for dancing … really the pinnacle of the evening. Through it, I so enjoyed Paggett’s intelligent, finely etched dancing.

*          *         *

At a Sunday matinee staging of Oscar Wilde’s Victorian parlor drama, “The Importance of Being Earnest,” at Pasadena’s classical theater company, A Noise Within (now in its third season at its multi-million dollar facility, I had my first visit), one particularly skilled player stood out.

gwendolynA mild jolt, initially, to see Carolyn Ratteray, a woman of color, playing Gwendolen Fairfax, the huffy, haughty and righteous love object of John Worthing, known in Wilde’s much-traveled farce, if only temporarily, as Earnest.

As an ensemble piece, the “Noise” production took forever to reach lift-off — it sagged and bumped along a dramatic bottom in the (short) first act, stricken by actor Adam Haas Hunter’s lack of clarity in his stage-setting appearance as Algernon. His enunciation challenged (this improved in act II); his constant motion distracting. Neither of Hunter’s garish costumes worked for me, overpowering, as they did, his performance. Only well into the long second act did tongues loosen and actors align behind Wilde’s familiar zingers so they could reach their mark — as audience brain ticklers. A difficult task in the weirdly configured basement thrust-stage theater of A Noise Within, where gobs of air space loom above actors’ heads as well as in their ‘forward space’  — a big air cavern into which protrudes an oddly designed balcony; it’s all jagged edges. I found it an artless arena, uncozy, neither cool and industrial nor enjoying any decorative niceties (the project shows little evidence of the building’s mid-century-modern roots); it is a sterile promontory. The theater is detached from its lobby by a floor, connected, only, by a single narrow staircase up and down which the entire audience tediously tromps at intermission. Rest rooms are miles away. The afternoon ended in a janglingly noisy parking lot located in the lap of a California freeway… a confusing experience.

As Gwendolen, Ratteray’s upper-crust natterings delighted with their impeccable, sing-song quality; her clarion delivery reenforced by an imposing physical presence. Amusing variations on wide-eyed expressions rolled from her plastic visage; at rest, she wore an gaze so open as to deflect all on-comers. Ratteray’s two big scenes, one with Christopher Salazar, capable and clear as John Worthing, her affianced, the other with Marisa Duchowny as debutante Cecily Cardew, provided the production’s high comic moments, as actors sparred confidently, tossing, as if toys, Wilde’s witty morsels. The show is overall a mixed bag; however, there’s always a pay-off from hanging around with Oscar for a few hours.

The Importance of Being Earnest | A Noise Within | thru Nov 22


photo credit: Craig Schwartz

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Swans of Hollywood & Down Under

Dance · featured

Footlight Parade-1933-Chorus girls


In anticipation of The Australian Ballet’s “Swan Lake,” which will open the season of “Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center.”

Swan Lake | The Australian Ballet | Dorothy Chandler Pavilion | Oct 9 – 12

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Houdini’s Hollywood hijinx revealed @ the Barn


Terror Island (1920) Ad_1
It’s not widely known that magician/escape artist Harry Houdini produced and starred in several silent films, including two features for Famous Players-Lasky Paramount.

Terrorisland13Yes, in his spare time (i.e., when he was not tied up) Houdini was a film pioneer. It’s a story that John Cox, a screenwriter and blogger at wildaboutharry, will soon unlock, unchain, liberate, release and set free at the season opening event at Hollywood Heritage‘s DeMille-Lasky Barn.

John’s talk will feature rare photos, as well as film clips of Houdini in action. The evening includes a screening of “Terror Island” (1920), one of Houdini’s legendary films produced by Jesse Lasky.

We’re going!

Houdini in Hollywood | Evening @ the Barn | Hollywood Heritage | Oct 8

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Dhani Harrison honors his Beatle dad @ Valley Performing Arts Center 1

It was beyond beautiful, a huge pleasant jolt, in the midst of a wonderful, sold-out “The Fab Faux” Beatles tribute performance last night at Valley Performing Arts Center, when guest artist, Dhani Harrison, pictured at left, took to the stage. The only offspring of ‘the quiet Beatle’ strummed his guitar and honored his father by ...

Ted VanCleave’s tough photographic vision of Los Angeles 2

Architecture & Design · Visual arts
Cosmo Lofts, Hollywood
I deeply respond to photographer Ted VanCleave’s recent “Concrete Porn ~ Buildings & Bridges” series, a visual homage to that most unyielding of building mediums, concrete. “My love of concrete architecture began when I visited the Pantheon in Rome. I was in awe of the beautiful, massive concrete dome which is still the world’s largest ...

Great performances overcome ‘Otello’ racist legacy @ ENO 2

Music · Reviews
ENO Otello - Allan Clayton (c) Alastair Muir
I find Shakepeare’s Othello problematic in the extreme, all the racist references in the text, the historic use of blackface, the desperate fragility of a black man so easily duped by a white conniver, the hysteria around strong and bestial black hands closing around the white neck of the blameless Desdemona, even more so when ...

arts·meme to bring Chakiris, dance, more, to MoMA Oct 26-27 4

Dance · featured · Film · Visual arts
I am thrilled to announce my participation in three wonderful events hosted by the hallowed film department of New York’s Museum of Modern Art. It’s the 12th annual “To Save and Project” film preservation festival. The three events fall in the Festival’s opening weekend. The first, Sunday October 26, 2014, is a screening of LA ...

Critic’s round-up: Indian Jazz Suites, Laguna’s ‘Stars of Dance’

Dance · Reviews
L.A.’s big dance weekend — it had the dance-infatuated scampering up the heights of Bunker Hill, across the Cahuenga Pass and down Laguna way — has come to its close. Certainly the big draw of the weekend was the launch of a new contemporary dance company, Ezralow Dance, an event that also closed the Ford Amphitheatre ...

Flying men of Hollywood dance

Dance · Film
Is it a bird? Is is a plane? No, it’s a Hollywood dance man, flying. Like this? Read more: Ailey guys fly

Review: Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre’s “Dancing at Dunbar”

Architecture & Design · Dance · Reviews
“It’s site-specific work, so feel free to walk around so you can see,” offered choreographer Heidi Duckler at the outset of Saturday night’s “Dancing at Dunbar” performance by Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre. In doing so, she encouraged her audience to remain active during the site-driven dance event. A full spectrum of Duckler fans and curiosity-seekers ...