Blowing in the wind with Jacaranda


Nine bagpipes keening on the nearby ocean bluff, and twelve strings in a darkening sanctuary will unleash your imagination and cast a lasting spell of intangible magnitude.

So promises Jacaranda in promoting two Los Angeles premieres slated to grace the contemporary classical music society’s 2015-16 season-opening concert.

First up, in a free outdoor performance sure to be a happening, the Jacaranda bagpipers, Matthew Welch, bagpipe leader, will wail Julia Wolfe’s “LAD” on the Santa Monica Palisades bluff — the corner of Wilshire and Ocean at 7:30 pm.

The second half of the program, from Bang on a Can’s (other) Pulitzer prizewinner, David Lang, will be heard in ideal circumstances. Lang’s “darker” to be performed at Santa Monica’s First Presbyterian Church at 8:30 pm, a ticketed concert.

Inhale, bagpipe extravaganza followed by concert | Jacaranda | Sat Oct 17 | tickets

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“A Ballerina’s Tale” special screening, arts•meme to host q & a

Dance · Featured · Film

Just announced by Dance Camera West and The American Cinematheque, a special screening on Tuesday, October 20, at the Aero Cinema in Santa Monica, of “A Ballerina’s Tale,” which will open Friday Oct 23 at Laemmle Theaters.

Following the free screening of the documentary, a Q & A film discussion will be conducted by arts•meme‘s Debra Levine in conversation with former ballerina Robyn Gardenhire, a pioneer in classical ballet’s struggle to attain racial diversity. Robyn is nicely featured in “A Ballerina’s Tale.”

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robyn_072014bwRobyn Gardenhire, a native Angeleno, began dancing at a small school in Compton, California. Receiving scholarships and studying at American Ballet Theater School, San Francisco Ballet and School of American Ballet, she gained her first professional contract with Joffrey II. Robyn joined Cleveland Ballet under the direction of Dennis Nahat. With avant-garde choreographer Karole Armitage she toured Europe. At the request of Mikhail Baryshnikov, Robyn joined American Ballet Theater and then his White Oak Project, working with choreographers Lar Lubovitch and Mark Morris. Ms. laemmle_webad_blackGardenhire was the catalyst in establishing American Ballet Theater diversity committee that introduces minority children to classical dance. She currently serves on the board of the diversity committee of New York City Ballet. She is artistic director of City Ballet of Los Angeles and an classical ballet instructor at the Los Angeles High School of the Arts.

Debra Levine is a 30-year dance critic published in the Los Angeles Times, the Huffington Post, Dance Magazine and her blog arts·meme. In January 2016 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, Debra will curate a full film retrospective of Hollywood dance movies of choreographer Jack Cole.

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How to attend: RSVP for FREE screening mandatory! Password: copeland

A Ballerina’s Tale | Dance Camera West | Aero Cinema | Oct 20, 7:30 pm

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Review: Twyla Tharp’s 50th, reminder of a revolutionary

Dance · Featured · Reviews


photo: Sharen Bradford, New York Times

Watching Twyla Tharp’s 50th Anniversary Tour performance at The Wallis in Beverly Hills was like taking a trip down memory lane with an old friend. (The Wallis co-commissioned the tour with four other presenters including The Joyce Theater in New York.)

The old magic was there in Tharp’s juxtaposition of classical ballet with her trademark shimmies and slouches; the idiosyncratic lifts; the sudden, zany shifts in direction; the elegant and the ridiculous squished masterfully together in a single phrase; the musical reverence and physical irreverence, side by side.

But it was disappointing that what was billed as a celebration of Tharp’s genius didn’t include a revival of any of her greatest works.  “Baker’s Dozen” anyone?  Maybe “Deuce Coupe?” Neither did the lineup include any of America’s most glorious dancers. Remember how she transformed Mikhail Baryshnikov from an Albrecht to an Everyman in “Push Comes to Shove”? This is a choreographer whose eye for casting shaped and reshaped careers.

twyla tharp-2The fiftieth celebration consisted of two new works, not historic reconstructions. Although unmistakably Tharp, they didn’t do justice to the revolution she created early in her career by pairing ballet with the Beach Boys and bowler hats with Haydn.

The evening opened with a brief company dash through “First Fanfare,” which introduced the 12 dancers, followed by “Preludes and Fugues,” set to selections from Book 1 and 2 of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, a “Second Fanfare” and “Yowzie,” set to early jazz.

“Preludes” opened with the beautiful and familiar arpeggios of the Prelude No. 1 in C Major; John Seyla and Savannah Lowery began to dance together in a ballroom embrace. The work has echoes of early masterpieces such as “Nine Sinatra Songs” (1982). No surprise. In recent posts for The New York Times, Tharp wrote that she has a “sperm bank” — a repository of “good material stockpiled but never used” that she dug into for “Preludes.”

She included subtle nods to dance greats who have inspired her: Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Jerome Robbins and George Balanchine. There was a brief but unmistakable Graham contraction up from the floor; spaciousness and stillness to honor Cunningham; three men in playful Robbins style set to ”Fugue in D Major;” and complex groupings and counterpoint to honor Mr. B.

The work ended with the same Bach prelude with which it began, but now all 12 dancers were in a circle before pairing off into a reprise of the opening ballroomy dance — a tender, wistful close.

“Yowzie” was a drunken caper, with the rather too deadpan Rika Okamoto as the drunkest of all. In zany patterned costumes by Santo Loquasto that featured skirts over pants and brighter-than-bright colors, the company tripped, fell, staggered and swooped, egging each other on to ever more fanciful slapstick. Ron Todorowski was terrific in a campy romp for three guys and a girl.

In both works, I found myself flagging half way through, hoping for a new Tharpian surprise that never came. She has admitted to hewing to the old. When she’s tried something new, as in “The Princess and the Goblin,” which I saw performed by Atlanta Ballet in 2012, she’s created works we’d rather forget.

You can tell that this touring company is a pick-up ensemble and not a group that’s bonded as Tharp’s own company did in the 1970s. Nonetheless there was fine dancing from Amy Ruggiero (all compact technique and spitfire personality) and the tall, mop haired Todorowski, who pairs a shruggy, Tharpian upper body with long legs, solid technique and a sense of humor. The rather opaque Nicholas Coppula had flashes of elegant classical form, and Tharp’s “tall girls,” Kaitlyn Gilliland and Lowery, oozed leggy seduction in “Yowzie.”

We could have wished for more, much more, from Tharp, but if this is what she has to give at this point, let it serve as a reminder of the great times. Her genius and legacy in American dance are undeniable. On Sunday, sadly, we saw only a shadow of it.

Gillian Anne Renault has written about dance for the Los Angeles Daily News, Herald Examiner and artsATL in Atlanta . 

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Gehry! Museum of California Design honors architect/designer

Architecture & Design · Featured
A great party approaches at the end of October: Bill Stern’s annual fundraiser to support the virtual Museum of California Design. This year ‘s great ‘get,’ the honoring of the sage and visionary architect and designer Frank Gehry, who will be granted the Museum’s 2015 Henry Award for Outstanding Contributions to American Design by a ...

Sir Ken Robinson on the arts, at TedX Fulbright conference 4

Featured · Language & ideas
Parrying as an event host with the estimable educational thought-leader Sir Ken Robinson at the recent TedXFulbright Conference at The Broad Stage in Santa Monica (Sept, 26, 2015), I so enjoyed Sir Ken’s thoughtful and inspiring words about the arts: I talk a lot about creativity, but I’m very keen not to conflate creativity with ...

Raymonda “likes” Jean de Brienne’s profile picture

Dance · Language & ideas
In this image from Act I of the Mariinsky Ballet’s “Raymonda,” the heroine’s faraway beau, Jean de Brienne, sends his honey a Medieval version (a kind of tapestry that gets unfurled) of his Facebook profile picture. From her posture, don’t you think she seems to be giving it a “like”? I do.

Mariinsky’s massive, still relevant, “Raymonda” at Segerstrom

A whirlwind weekend included the privilege of watching the great dancers of the Mariinsky Theatre deliver a rarity: the full three-act version of Petipa’s Hungarian-themed, “Raymonda,” which the massive dance troupe exactingly performed, a tad jam-packed, on the Segerstrom Hall stage. It went beyond a complete balletic experience; it felt like a life experience to ...

Jack Cole choreography for GILDA set to sizzle on UCLA Film Archive big screen

Dance · Film
mame black strapless 6 rita hayworth gilda
Do you enjoy this classic image of Rita Hayworth as GILDA? It’s a capture from the iconic high-end striptease, “Put the Blame on Mame,” choreographed by Jack Cole, the genius dance maker who rocked Hayworth’s world at Columbia Pictures in the 1940s. Cole’s dance numbers (“Put the Blame on Mame,” “Amado Mio“), in aggregate, catapult ...

What a week! Los Angeles blossoms in the fine arts

Architecture & Design · Dance · Featured · Music · Reviews · Visual arts
I’ve inhabited Los Angeles more or less, since 1989. The city’s rich art existence, long undetected, has kept me busy and happy here. There is little doubt, however, that something arts-phenomenal is happening right now in our city. It must be true; the New York Times is sputtering about it all the time. In fact, ...

Congratulations, Raven Wilkinson, recipient of Dance/USA 2015 Trustees Award

Two of classical ballet’s loveliest and most well-spoken ballerinas, American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Misty Copeland in a charming interview with a woman on whose shoulders she stands, the pioneering African-American ballerina Raven Wilkinson. Photo credit, Raven Wilkinson portrait, Andros on Ballet