Hold onto your hats ~ VPAC’s new season!

Dance · Music · Theater

A season at a performing arts center comes to us as a list, perhaps just like any list. But if you pause to peruse the rich offerings on tap at Valley Performing Arts Center in the coming season, 2015-16, you’ll feel the fun.

Arts energy that is fun, youthful, excellent and diverse will emanate from Cal State Northridge’s beautiful performing arts center starting in the fall of this year and rounding the horn into 2016.

THORThe season opens with special event,  Los Angeles dance/acrobatic troupe, Diavolo, tumbling forth to the accompaniment of a live orchestra, the New West Symphony.

It’s the proud creation of VPAC executive director Thor Steingraber. Here follows, from VPAC, “the season”:

VPAC Exclusives
Diavolo/Architecture in Motion – L’Espace du Temps with New West Symphony
The Fab Faux, The Beatles Complete Hollywood Bowl and Dodger Stadium Concerts ‘64 – ‘66
Peter Nero Trio Gershwin in Hollywood
The Orlando Consort’s Voices Appeared – The Passion of Joan of Arc
Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925 silent film) Stewart Copeland, Composer, with Pacific Symphony
John Pizzarelli – Frank Sinatra Centennial Memorial Tributes
Aspen Santa Fe Ballet — Three-year VPAC residency, new works by Latino choreographers

Famous and Fabulous
Megan Hilty in Concert
Ms Lisa Fischer & Grand Baton
Michelle DeYoung
Savion Glover with Jack DeJohnette
Lea Salonga
Patty Griffin, Sara Watkins and Anaïs Mitchell Together on Stage
Dreamgirls read the full story

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Jacaranda’s summer party supreme 2

Architecture & Design · Music


Merry Norris, Patrick Scott, Michael Rachlin, Thomas Aujero Small


Michael Rachlin


Michael Rachlin, Richard Cherry


Luke Maurer, Shalini Vijayan, Alyssa Park, Timothy Loo, Patrick Scott


Alexandria Abramian, Joanna Brody


Shalini Vijayan, Sheila Tepper, Mark Alan Hilt, Fred Strickler


Jennifer Marmon, Thomas Aujero Small


Fred Strickler, Debra Levine


Sheila Tepper, Timothy Loo


Roxie Sarhangi, Victor Alsobrook, Mary Alsobrook, Xaque Gruber


Baisers voles, stolen kisses, Mark Alan Hilt, Sheila Tepper, Patrick Scott

The architectural space of Rachlin Partners in Culver City provided the backdrop for the annual summer party of contemporary classical music society, Jacaranda, on a splendid Sunday afternoon in June. Filling the airspace was the music of Prokofiev and Philip Glass delivered in a blazing mini-concert by string ensemble, Lyris Quartet. Following the concert, the air was immediately replenished with the sound of happy chatter — over cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and desserts. Architect and host Michael Rachlin presented a glimpse into his concert hall projects, notably the recent completed Bonita Center for the Arts.

photo credit, reggie sully

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Review: The History of Black Dance in America 4

Dance · featured · Reviews

It’s a safe bet that many in the audience at Saturday’s vibrant “The History of Black Dance in America,” performed by Central Avenue Dance Ensemble at Cal State Dominguez Hills’s University Theater, while attending an event that celebrated African-American creativity, were nursing bruised feelings over the insane racist violence targeting black people that shamed our nation the prior Sunday, June 17, in South Carolina.

Why wouldn’t such feelings arise? The “Charleston,” the bubbly, fun-loving Ragtime dance named for the Carolinian city where it first surfaced, was among 25 featured dances Ron Parker (producer/director) and Chester Whitmore (artistic director) included in their vastly entertaining multimedia and educational performance-tour. The mission of “The History…”, which Whitmore first created in the 1990s but that Parker, adding historic content, has taken to a new level (and we’re hoping it has a future), is to acknowledge and value the enormity of African-American contribution to American social dance—and by extrapolation, to American society. In achieving this goal, and despite a somewhat rocky road in getting there, the audience-pleasing evening succeeds.

IMG_0021The program opens in great earnestness with an evocation of Zulu warrior dances, with Parker’s helpful textual voice-overs providing useful information and context. The scene then shifts to the New World, the milieu of the plantation, where slave dances were present from the get-go. Outstanding was a labor-dance, “Work Songs,” viewed in a gripping video in which three strong male dancers, Parker, Reginald Thornton and Whitmore, dressed in white tee-shirts, khakis and rope belts, sing and swing mallets to a dirge by Leadbelly. Just amazing.

The “Cakewalk” shows up. Such an important dance moment, it had its start as slaves clowningly mocked, through movement, their pretentious white owners. But it rapidly crossed back to white performers spreading the dance in proto-vaudevillian music halls (that pattern, in a nutshell, the history of black social dance). Then follows a parade of dance-floor fodder: “Walking the Dog,” Foxtrot, Big Apple, Lindy Hop and tap-dance show-stopper, “Shim Sham.” Fun costumes add interest – feather boas, gloves, parasols, flouncy skirts, bowler hats.

IMG_0579The program goes beyond its “showcase” format; it pleasantly pushes an educational agenda, keeping at bay anger that impinges at the edges. Everything is celebratory. A revelation comes in learning that ballroom dancing, the rarefied romantic pas-de-deuxs in which Fred and Ginger, Vernon and Irene, and Marge and Gower are considered masters, had credible contributions by a pair of venerable African-American artists who, due to the intimacy of the form, were marginalized: Margo Webb and Harold Norton.

The program’s equally wonderful second section – who wouldn’t have a ball knowing that disco dancing is coming their way — unleashed the Latin influence and, naturally, that’s when the sizzle set in. Thornton, a simply superb mambo dancer mesmerized, scoring well beyond his genre as a blazing IMG_0385performer. Another highlight was an earthy and elegant tango delivered by Ron Parker and Kiana Stringfield. Here Parker, a stellar partner, danced his best. Then came a crazy tango-derived “Urban Ballroom,” viewed in video (this breaking of the live performance format didn’t disturb me, but, hey, I pass half my life on youtube.com). I was flabbergasted by “Urban”‘s relentless creativity as Ta Ronce Allen and Mike Tyus entangled to a schmaltzy love song.

Kizomba, from Angola, just incredible: three women in black and boys in open shirts and white hats, fabulous, undulating, steamy dancing, again, tango footwork on display.

When the silver disco ball descended, and on flickered the colored lights, a lot of baby boomers felt very happy. But before “Saturday Night Fever” IMG_0589kicked in, meet the seminal movie’s choreographer – Lester Wilson, an African American.
The hard-hustling performers of the Central Avenue Dance Ensemble spanned a very wide range of dance levels, nonetheless every performer on stage delivered winningly and crossed the finish line, no small achievement throughout 25 numbers.

The production needs work! Better dancers, more clarity of imagery, whether still photography or video. It’s too long, not by much, but a few numbers could go. The written program, while a good start, needs citations and crediting. It feels like a lot of uncredited borrowing was on that stage, from choreography to video to text.

In short, “A History of Black Dance in America” needs what nearly every valiant dance production in our culture needs – an infusion of funds. But what it has on its side is forceful, undeniable and true – and that would be history.

Photo credit: Gayle Goodrich, for Central Avenue Dance Ensemble

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Interviewing top television talent Jeff Eastin

featured · Language & ideas
On arts•meme, we keep a pretty strict focus on the performing arts, sometimes neglecting our most respected and hardest working of artists: writers. We recently interviewed one of the top successful writer/producers now working in the hot medium of television. He’s Jeff Eastin, and his series, “Graceland” launches into its third new season Thursday night ...

The death of a dancer: Albert Evans

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Go “South” for the summer

The turn of the calendar page into full-fledged summer has many people hot and bothered. That’s why a fun evening at the Velaslavasay Panorama, part of the Mush! To the Movies! series co-sponsored by Los Angeles Filmforum, is just the thing. Go see South, aka “Endurance,” (UK, 1919, 81 min., restored digital projection), a silent movie ...

Buy me! Marlon Brando’s 1969 Harley Davidson

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Hepworth’s beautiful “bird” nests in Los Angeles

Visual arts
hepworth - bird
Concurrent to a retrospective of the esteemed artist’s oeuvre at Tate Britain, on view, a distinguished sculpture, “A Bird Form,” at Leslie Sacks Contemporary in Bergamont Station, Santa Monica. “Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture for a Modern World” opens at the Tate this week, the first major Barbara Hepworth exhibition in London for almost 50 years. It ...

The French named it … let’s see how they do it … film noir

french film
The French coined the term “film noir” (both for dark plot lines and shadow-soaked visuals). In a land that reveres cinema like no other, France has hidden in its oeuvre crime films and dark melodramas that capture the essence of noir. A series spooling at the Aero Theatre this weekend, “The French Had a Name ...

Bawdy, bodacious broads on parade

featured · Film · Language & ideas · Theater
Author/radio host Sandra Tsing Loh presents her solo comedy act, The B**** is Back: An All-Too Intimate Conversation, inspired by her best-selling memoir The Madwoman in the Volvo: My Year of Raging Hormones. For mature audiences. From 1906 through the beginning of television, Sophie Tucker and her bawdy, brash, and risqué songs paved the way ...