GETTY CELEBRATES LATIN AMERICAN ART

The engrossing perspectives of Latin American and Latino Art continue to be unveiled in the ambitious cultural endeavor Pacific Standard Time, LA/LA., as I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU and websites everywhere
 
Underwritten in large part by the Getty Foundation, the exhibits in some 70 cultural institutions are singular curatorial events exploring the traditions of Latin American art and their contributions to art in all the Americas.
 
So much for walls between nations, repressive immigration policies, and the xenophobic views of our embarrassing President Trump, and his gutless and greedy supporters.
 
The sorry situation in the nation’s capitol, I feel, makes it all that important the we celebrate our diversity, particularly in the rich traditions of art. And that is what LA/LA does.
 
Most recently this happily meant touring yet another LA/LA extravaganza, this one to the Pacific Standard Time’s mother ship, the Getty’s Brentwood hilltop museum, Featured there at present are four distinct and strikingly different exhibits.
 
All are noteworthy, but most arresting to me was the exhibit entitled Golden Kingdoms; Luxury and Legacy in the Ancient Americas.
 
With exquisite art works dating back 3,000 years, revealed are a succession of civilizations that obviously valued creativity and enjoyed flaunting it.
 
Of particular interest to me was that metals were used to craft objects of ritual and ornament, not as in most other civilizations, for weaponry, tools or coinage.
 
So we have for example ancient jewel encrusted hoop earrings that would be quite stylish today, and body ornaments that would distinguish a Venice Beach hipster.
 
Displayed in addition to objects in gold and silver are art works made from shell, textiles, and most notably jade. Indeed, jade appears to have been valued more than gold, though the early Europeans did not differentiate.
 
They just plundered everything they could get their greedy hands on while conquering the heathen Golden Kingdoms in the name of Christianity. Millions died, and with them the crafts that had distinguished their civilizations.
 
As for the other LA/LA exhibits at the Getty, they also were fascinating as they were different, but these broadcasts being brief I will have to review the in the weeks and months ahead.
 
However, with the exhibits running into next year, I just might have enough time to see and comment on them all. You should try.
 
 

CELEBRATING LATIN AMERICAN ART

There is much, much to observe at the moment across Southern California’s cultural scene with the launching of what has to be the most ambitious coordinated exhibition ever of Latin American and Latino art, and so I comment this week on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites.

It’s ambitious, challenging, actually an overwhelming introduction for the curious and the casual, and for those more versed. But most of all, it is an appreciation of the rich cultural traditions and contributions of Latin American.

Under the banner of Pacific Standard Time, the effort is branded LA slash LA, and is funded to the tune of $16 million dollars by the Getty, involving more than 70 cultural institutions across Southern California. Think of the Getty and friends as a gentle , rain and the exhibits as wildflowers.

Explored are the diverse topics of design and architecture, art and activism, photography and film, touching upon identity, gender, borders and migration, spanning pre Hispanic and colonial eras, modernism and abstraction, and the very much now.

The monumental curatorial scope of Pacific Standard Time and its respectful recognition of Latin American art actually was begun a half dozen years ago, and before the ugly, hysterical anti immigration rants and reactionary acts of our deranged president.

He talks of walls, while cultural efforts such as Pacific Standard Time celebrate how our hemispheres are linked by geography, climate and economics. Indeed, participating in the exhibits are some 1,100 artists from 45 countries in Latin America, as well as a smattering from elsewhere. It truly celebrates our nation’s rich diversity.

So where to begin? To avoid exhaustion, you, of course, can only take in so much at a time, and at specific places

I began at the County Museum, way back in June, with the exhibit “Home, So different, So Appealing, Art from the Americas Since 1957. “ And right as you enter, hitting you in the face, is an assemblage of personal effects. Talk about the fragments of cultures; they mesmerize.

Also at LACMA now is the exhibit Found in Translation: Design in California and Mexico, 1915–1985. Explored are the reciprocal influences of both lands through four main themes: Spanish Colonial inspiration, pre-Hispanic revivals, folk art and craft traditions, and Modernism.

And there is more at the County, including a retrospective of the art of Carlos Almaraz, one of the more influential activist Chicano artist of the 1970s and 80s, who died too young at 48 .

If you have the time, across the street from LACMA, at the Craft and Folk Art Museum is the quite timely subject of the U.S. and Mexican border, its imagination and possibility. And to think that this exhibit was put together before the current controversy.

These are just starters, and I will be exploring many others in the weeks ahead. Meanwhile, venture out of Malibu and try to catch a few

 

FORD THEATRES REIMAGINED WITH EDGY PROGRAM

No, I didn’t score tickets to Hamilton last weekend, as several listeners and readers inquired. But I’m continuing to conscientiously enter the lottery for the $10 giveaways, and I did receive an email that a ticket on stubhub was available, for $495.

As I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU, and select websites everywhere, I didn’t bite. Instead for my theatre experience, I calculated that for just a few dollars more I could go to Dublin to take in an attraction or two at the Abby Theatre,

I do note that upcoming there is a production of Ulysses, which is being hailed as a “brilliantly adapted vibrant version of James Joyce’s classic.” Tickets start at 13 euro ($15).

As for last weekend, we did get to Hollywood for an engaging, stage event, in a new venue in the hills off the 101 freeway. (which we note was backing up when we exited at Highland.)

There after making a sharp is the welcoming, Ford Theatres., recently reimagined by architect, Brenda Levin, at a cost of $66 million to a generous county. Is it a coincidence a plaza there was named after the former supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky?

Despite its steep site cut into a verdant hillside, well lit, wide stairways and large elevators make the open air 1,200 seat theatre very accessible. Particularly appreciated are scattered plazas for picnicking., where with packed-in eatables you can also bring in wine or beer. Of course, also at the Ford for feasting before performances are inviting, if pricey, food concessions.

Also welcomed in the auditorium is the theatrical lighting and audio visual systems. No longer heard in the background is the obnoxious 101 freeway. Though a disappointment has to be the seating, which for some reason is not staggered, even just a few inches to the sides, improving sight lines, especially if the persons in front of you are six footers.

It did make viewing the evening’s program a challenge, as was the double bill itself. But if you also welcome the creative and experimental, the program had its rewards. Well deserved credit goes to the Ford, partnering as it has with the Music Center in support of the emerging performing arts. It is effort such as theirs that makes L.A. a cultural haven.

The program featured the Jacob Jonas dance company’s world premier of Pile On, and, yes, it opened with a pile on, not unlike occurs in a baseball game when a player hits a walk off homer, and his teammates bury him in bodies at home plate.

Only at the Ford it was more graceful, as were the individual break-dancing and gymnastics, as if a warmup to a Paul Taylor performance. Nonelessless, it was given a standing ovation. One senses this early experiment will in time morph into a more compelling piece.

This feeling also followed a visual and sound performance by Tim Hecker with Kara Lis Coverdale, and though dazzled by digital compositions, I found the program more noise than music. A lot of smoke, but no fire.

 

 

HAMILTON TICKET MANIA

I’m sorry to report this week on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites that as your intrepid cultural correspondent and avid theatre goer, I unfortunately missed the opening at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood of the much heralded Hamilton, the hit musical fresh from sell outs in New York .

There the contemporary, hip-hop-inflected spin on the story of the Federalist founding father, had been received as something akin to the second coming, and scoring a ticket equal to winning the Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes.

We had considered getting tickets when in New York, but going through the box office was near impossible, and cashing in a 401 for a pair of questionable scalper’s seats not advisable to our financial consultant, and a mortal sin to our cultural faiths.

I also feel it is a bit ironic that the quest for tickets had taken on the mien of a stock market mania – something akin to the Dutch tulip craze in the 17th century– considering Alexander Hamilton was the liberal first secretary of the Treasury, remembered for attempting to bring some financial stability to post revolutionary United States.

Anyway, a New Yorker we know well and respect actually had gone to the opening night, and had judged the production just, “okay”. And the fact is she had only gone because it was a benefit for the praiseworthy non-profit Humanity in Action.

So we decided to wait until it came to Los Angeles, where if you keep tabs on such things, it seems to have been received as perhaps not as a second coming, but a third. The first, of course, being a tenet of pure faith that occurred 2,000 or so years ago and the second, a reception for President Clinton at the home of Barbra Streisand in the heyday of his now lamented administration.

So we of little faith missed the opening, have gotten no reasonable invites and not wanting to pay the box office prices of $300 and up. and the scalper prices that far exceed my TOTAL tuition and fees for four years at a Ivy League school. It was $600.

To the credit of the producers, there is a daily lottery for a few teasing $10 tickets. Entering it is relatively simple. Chances of winning very slim. We have tried and lost, but intend to keep trying.

Meanwhile, in reality it appears we will wait until the crowds might diminish before its run at the Pantages ends, or maybe a secret Santa deems to gift us, or just be content with a someday student production at Pepperdine, or Malibu High. Then there probably will be a movie, probably a bad one..

A REVITALIZED FORD THEATRE REOPENS

For those who love music and dance, are adventurous, and willing to fight the traffic on a weekend, you might want to check out a Music Center extravaganza; not at the music center downtown, but in the more accessible Hollywood Hills.

And so I comment this week on public radio 97.5 KBU, and select websites everywhere.

Admirably conscious of the need to go beyond its central campus on Bunker Hill Downtown, the Center is offering three evenings of distinctive productions in the welcoming renovated and reconstructed, John Anson Ford Theatre, in the Cahuenga Pass.

And, yes, you can come early, as you can to its next-door neighbor, the Hollywood Bowl, and picnic, making the evening a social event, and time it to best the traffic. To make things a little more comfortable, for those who do not like schlepping, there are new concessions, serving full dinners.

The 1,200-seat theatre was recently creatively reimagined by L.A.’s premier restoration architect, Brenda Levin. She has fashioned the iconic but ancient Ford Theatre – built nearly a century ago — into a state-of-the-art venue, for both the audiences and performers, with new seating, staging and most critically, theatrical lighting and audio visual systems

Having toured the Ford in the last throes of its $66 million reconstruction, I can’t wait to see it come alive with performances. And neither obviously could the Music Center, under the auspices of a most cooperative county arts commission, in joining forces with the Ford for three evenings, to sponsor what each promises to be a memorable experience.

On stage next Friday, the 18th, will be a dance performance by acclaimed choreographer Aszure Barton, entitled Awaa, which has been described as a powerful journey through music and sound, celebrating sexuality and humanity.

Featured are seven male dancers and one woman, in a performance the San Francisco Chronicle labeled “brilliant” and The New York Times, “audacious.”

Saturday, the 19th features a double bill that includes an original work by the ever-challenging Jacob Jonas. Expect something visual and visceral.

It will be followed by a concert exploring an electronic mix of past and present composition in a melding specifically for the outdoor location of the Ford. Hopefully it will be harmonic, as will be a concluding new age, new music piece.

I expect Sunday evening’s entertainment will be somewhat milder, with songwriter Rufus Wainwright performing a program that includes curated Canadian compositions.

 

 

SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO GO DOWNTOWN

Given the frustrating traffic inundating Los Angeles, my arts and entertainment commentaries on public radio 97.5 KBU and websites everywhere have been on the more accessible cultural venues on the west side.

The sad fact is traffic is the tail that wags the cultural dog in L.A., which for many of us has morphed from our hometown to crazy town.

But sometimes in the pursuit of culture you just have to go Downtown, to the Music Center and the Disney Concert Hall, and just gird yourself for the usual two plus hours in stop-and-go freeway traffic to get there.

Such was an evening recently when we braved the traffic to go the Disney for a stellar program of early cutting edge 20th century music, composed by three brilliant symphonist of the period, Igor Stravinsky, Bela Bartok, and Leos Janacek.

Up to the challenge was the increasing adept and praised Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and for the Stravinsky and Janacek compositions, the Los Angeles Master Choral and four solo singers.

Though without question if repeated curtain calls, standing ovations and thunderous applause is any measure, and my own cheering, the super star of the evening was the astonishing young pianist Yuja Wang.

The 30-year-old Wang is known not only for her musicality, but also for her stunning outfits. She did not disappoint.

Her jaunty entrance in a shimmering, tight, rose gold colored metallic gown, split up to the top of her thighs, stirred the audience. And then there was the four-inch high heels that made you wonder if she could work the pedals, as needed.

But this just added to the excitement of her playing the very challenging Bartok Piano Concerto Number One, which she did with verve and dexterity. It was, in a word, breathtaking.

With her energetic attack of the keyboard, she more than matched the percussion-dominated reverberations of the orchestra under the busy baton of an enthusiastic and obviously pleased Dudamel. It took your breath away.

Yes, the Bartok concerto was bookended by a sensitive short Stravinsky requiem, and a spirited, edgy Janacek mass, accented by a striking solo organ movement. Both compositions were engrossing.

But it was Wang that marked the evening as memorable. We flew home to Malibu on the freeway in a state of euphoria.

 

 

 

WALLIS CENTER ACCESSIBLE, ENTERTAINING

Once again I’m braving the traffic on the dreaded PCH, and weaving my way through a congested Santa Monica, and Westwood, to Beverly Hills, and to what is becoming one of my choice cultural venues.: the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.

Upcoming on the center’s schedule is a dance program by the celebrated British choreographer, Mathew Bourne,, entitled Early Adventures, running Wednesday May 17th through Sunday the 21st.

Having heard much about Bourne but never having seen him, I am looking forward to a singular program that features his early works, said to be witty and spectacular. It will be Bourne’s only U.S. appearance this spring, happily in \an inviting venue .

The former Beverly Hills Post Office has been imaginatively recycled into two distinct theatres: the Bram Goldsmith, containing 500 seats but with a rake that leaves no seat more than 50 feet from the stage. Sight lines are great, complemented by pitch perfect acoustics, making it particularly suitable for dance.

More intimate is the Lovelace Studio Theatre, with flexible space and traditional theatre seating and also cabaret style seating.

The parking at the Wallis is also accessible and reasonable , and being closer to Malibu, you do noy have to take the terrible 10.

As for the Wallis’ laudable commitment to dance, the Bourne troupe follows a classic program, last weekend that celebrated the Paul Taylor Dance Company.

Featured was three familiar favorites under the direction of the master himself, now a venerable 86. It was a trip back in time for his many fans.

The program opened with the 1987 work entitled “Syzgy,” which is an astronomical term for celestial bodies at opposite points in an orbit. As one can imagine, the choreography was energetic and athletic, the dancers pliable and playful, lots of squiggly arms and legs, singularly and in chorus, exhausting and entertaining. Loved it.

It was followed by the more somber 1998 piece,“The Word,” a dark score and grim. It sent shiver through me.

In contrast, the last piece was more joyful, entitled “Esplande, created in 1975. ” a celebration of everyday movement in a public space teeming with dancers, echoing with the music of J.S. Bach . You left the theatre uplifted and smiling.

 

 

“INTO THE WOODS” REVIVED WITH VERVE

Spring break for me, thank you, was a most enjoyable writing a remembrance and  gardening at home, and attending the theatre downtown.

So instead of doing a city observed on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites as I do every Saturday, it is an arts and entertainment observed,  happily hailing the current production at the Ahmanson,  “Into the Woods.,”

The revival running until mid May has to be one of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s most fun musicals, a mash up of fairy tales both familiar and fractured, engaging, enchanting, sure to please children of parental guidance age, and also a little edgy, to please hardened adults.

Premiered 30 years ago to much praise on Broadway, it has been a favorite of touring and regional production companies everywhere, and also made into the inevitable Disney movie a few years ago
Overblown with over-the-top performances by superstars Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp, it nonetheless was a much praised commercial hit.

We all know the weaving of the playful story lines,  and the adventures and misadventures of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel,  tested by the all purpose witch, along with a big bad wolf and a bigger giant.

Therefore, to be a critic, in effect an advocate for the theatre goer, one must approach a revival with a wary eye, alert to what makes the production special, and not a forgettable, ho hum, cash cow rip off.

Fear not. It is an absolute pleasure to report this latest revival of “Into The Woods,” brought to L.A. by the Center Theatre Group, is fresh, brimming with a new look and new energy.

On an open bare bones stage, fashioned and played with a charming abandon by the acclaimed Fiasco Theatre company, it is sure to delight even the Sondheim purists.

And there being no set pieces, it allowed me to focus on the performances, which were marvelous, most of the actors performing multiple roles with aplomb.

Loved Darick Pead, in 3 roles, including the cow, and also Bonnie Kramer and Anthony Chatmon, He particularly was great as the prince and a wolf, in a great musical. Kudos all.

COMING OF AGE ON STAGE

At the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, a coming of age play in what might be described as a coming of age theatre, entitled Good Grief, now through March 27th. It is written by coming-of-age playwright Ngozi Anyanwu,

No, it is not about the life and times of the cartoon character Charlie Brown. As I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU, radiomalibu.net and select websites, it is about a sensitive, if overwrought, Afro American girl coming to terms with her angst filled life and the tragic death of her puppy love in suburban Pennsylvania.

To be sure, it is the stuff of student drama workshops, where wanna be playwrights and screenwriters are told not to conjure up far away fantasies, but to pen real stories from their budding lives.

Good grist for the Douglas, which was founded to be a stage for new works and new voices, a satellite of sorts for the mother lode Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson and Mark Taper Forum downtown.

Not incidentally, now at the Taper is a riveting revival of “Zoot Suit,” which 40 years ago raised the curtain on the very political and public Latino experience in L.A.

In contrast, “Good Grief “evokes the main character’s Nigerian roots, but is very personal, and to anyone who has been parent to an adolescent girl, very familiar.

She was, shall I say it, a drama queen, lots of exclaiming, and gestures, intense faces, some crying. She loses her best friend, loses her virginity , but not her anxieties.

A grief counselor would have helped, though her caring parents, wonderfully played and effecting, deserved the applause they received during the play.

And you had to like the principal focus of the play, the young girl, acted no less than by Anyanwu, the playwright herself. It was a hell of debut, a high dive or sorts into the professional pool of the dramatic arts.

Perhaps it was the American suburban oven the story was cooked in, but to me the African sauce had a pinch of kosher salt. One could call the concoction “schmaltzy,” a soulful, timeworn tale.

Helping immeasurably was the staging: the spare sets, by Stephanie Kerley Schwartz , assorted costumes by Karen Perry, and the polished, crisp direction by Patricia McGregor. It made for an engaging evening in the theatre.

 

 

 

ALVIN AILEY DANCE THEATRE COMING TO L.A.

I usually don’t do previews of the arts and entertainment productions that interest me, preferring instead reviews. I frankly feel more comfortable lending my opinions to something I have actually witnessed, be it for public radio, and my own enjoyment.
 
But as I comment on 97.5 KBU and select websites, the incomparable Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre is coming to the L.A. Music Center next week is an exception.
 
The Ailey engagement will only be here for five days, beginning March 8, a Wednesday, through March 12, Sunday. My reviews run on Fridays, so I’d have to see it Wednesday, write and record Thursday, for Friday air time.
 
That immodestly is no problem for me, but it means for my listeners and readers if my reviews prompt them to see a performance, they have at best only three days to do it. And further, the chances of scoring what I anticipate will be a very hot ticket, would be a challenge. So this preview will give you a heads up.
 
Further, having enjoyed the dance company since its founding in New York City in 1959, which is when I happened to start writing for the New York Times, I’m confident that the program will be marvelous, just as thy have been for me over these very long years.
 
Indeed, I can close my eyes and actually see in my mind’s eye memorable moments from performances I attended in my distant past. I think the first time was in New York’s City Center, on a cold winter’s evening,.
 
I remember also when after the performance I hurried a block away, to the Carnegie Deli, for an equally memorable cup of chicken soup, equal to my mother’s, and an overstuffed, Pastrami sandwich of crusted, warm rye bread. schmered with Russian dressing. a juicy sour dill pickle on the side. The Carnegie sadly is no longer, a moot point since at my doctor’s advice I can no longer eat fatty, spiced Pastrami.
 
But the Alvin Ailey continues, as one of America’s premier dance companies, presenting I anticipate a challenging program of new pieces, set to stirring music, sumptuously staged, and framed by imaginative sets: an evening to be remember.
 
And according to the program, every performance ending as always with Ailey’s signature “Revelations.” a transcending spiritual drama that if you never seen, you must.  3.3.17