CHECK OUT THE REFURBISHED GETTY VILLA

It’s May in Malibu, and a little early for the seasonal early morning fog known as June gloom, and also on PCH, a little early for the summer weekend traffic.

Therefore if wanting to get out of the house, I suggest this week on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites perhaps going to a museum. But not wanting to spend hours driving, perhaps consider staying a little closer to Malibu, and visiting the Getty Villa.

Our beaches may be famous, surfing legendary, but among the culturally curious, so is the villa, which located just east of the city line overlooking the PCH, is in effect our neighborhood museum.

And making it particularly attractive these days is its recent refurbishment. It not only seems to glisten a little more in the midday sun after the fog lifts, but also in its evocative and accessible interior, thanks to a new arrangement of the collection.

The fascinating sculpture, the intricate mosaics, intriguing ceramics and transfixing jewelry have all been placed in their respective cultural and historical context. The physical facilities also have been improved. There is more gallery space, upgraded display cases, and better lighting. Though I must add the graphics leading one through the Villa can be improved.

Of course, you can still wander around the galleries, diverted by glimpses of Cycladic figurines and stunning Greek sculptures. But if you look closely and follow the floor maps, revealed is a chronological path through the various ages of classical antiquity: from the Neolithic Period through the late Roman Empire — that’s 6,000 years plus.

But first upon entering under the atrium, to the right is a display labeled “the Classical World in Context,” which should be glimpsed before venturing into the reoriented Villa.

And immodestly also on first floor, are several galleries paying homage to J. Paul Getty. It was his vision that brought the remnants of the country Roman estate buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D., piece by piece, to sunny Southern California, and incorporated with other ancient villas into the museum, which opened in 1974.

What can be missed is the Villa’s inaugural exhibit, “Plato in L.A.” which indulges the visions of several contemporary artists of the philosopher ‘s theories. I’ll just label it a flimflam and irrelevant.

Though having visited the villa many times, I still find it absolutely fascinating, to think of the intricacies of the art and craft of past civilizations placed as they are in a sympathetic setting and cultural context. And when the weather is Mediterranean mild and the sun shinning, the Villa sparkles.

 

 

 

 

DANCE BECKONS

I am happy to report on my arts and entertainment commentary for public radio 99.1 KBU and websites everywhere, that dance is flourishing in Los Angeles. But this frankly has made it a real challenge to keep up with the increased venues.

This is especially a problem if you, as me, love modern dance, melding as it does music, and movement, celebrating the sensuality of sound and the human body, embodying and expressing a range of emotions.

For me, it’s alive as no other art. But sadly I just can’t attend every thing, being just a once a week cultural critic with an aging Prius living on Pt.Dume in the far reaches of western Malibu. Finding time is fine, but getting places is a bitch.

So this weekend it is the hard choice between the L.A. Dance Project at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, and a Kyle Abraham’s program of three premieres at the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA’s Freud Theatre.

Both are promising. According to the advance publicity, Abraham, born into the hip hop culture, “entwines a sensual and provocative vocabulary with a strong emphasis on sound, behavior and all things visual, “ It is personal and provocative, and what you’ve come to expect from the inspired UCLA’s Center.

Meanwhile, at the same time, at the Wallis, premiered are three distinct performance pieces by its heralded company-in-residence, directed by Benjamin Millepied.

Included in particular is the Martha Graham Duets drawn from her magnum Diversion of Angels and Canticle for Innocent Comedians that in part won for her the title of “dancer of century,” and sainthood from her many legions of followers.

The chance to see a Graham creation performed also won me over, if only for the nostalgia. I was smitten seeing her perform 60 years ago, being introduced to her at a performance by a dancer friend of mine at the time in New York City.

And so my choice was the Wallis. The performance is for tonight, and tomorrow, at 7,30, and if you are interested hopefully there a few tickets still available.

And then there is next week at the Wallis, where the celebration of dance continues with an inventive reinterpretation of the classical ballet Giselle. A classical story yes, but expressed in contemporary dance techniques infused with African dance steps,. Have to see that. .

Performances are scheduled evenings, Thursday the 12th through Saturday, the 14th. It happily is on my schedule.

So is the acclaimed Dance Theatre of Harlem It will be performing for just two nights, April 20th and 21st, at the Eli and Edythe Broad Stage on Santa Monica. That also should not be missed.

 

 

JASPER JOHNS AT THE BROAD

If post modern and conceptual art leaves you wondering just what was the artist thinking when he or she conceived a particular piece, the Jasper Johns exhibit at the Broad Museum downtown might just provide some answers.

Indeed, if you are at all interested, or think you should be, in the constantly shifting and ever-challenging modes and methodology of the art world, the exhibit, entitled “Something Resembling Truth.”

As I comment on public radcio 99.1 KBU and select websites everywhere, it is a must, and runs for several more months through May 13th, and worth the $25 entry fee. The Broad is usually happily free.

This is an exception, but so is Johns, who at 88 is considered our greatest living artist, as someone once described him, an iconic iconoclast, the father of Pop and Conceptual art. Certainly he is revered among the multi-media avant garde in art, music and dance.

And specifically, if you have been entranced by Johns as I have been for six decades. the exhibit is a most welcomed well organized and explained comprehensive survey, for Johns in his constant experimentations has arguably influenced nearly every artistic movement from the 1950s to the present day.

Beginning with no less a rejection of the Modernist isims of Dada and Abstract Expressionism that isolated one’s aesthetic experience from any cultural context , Johns conversely explored what we actually see.

The curators state in a gallery introduction that “by approaching widely recognizable signs and symbols, Johns sought to make the familiar unfamiliar, inviting viewers to look more closely at what he calls, things the mind already knows.”

Thus displayed, and explained, are Johns widely recognized images of the American flag in a parade of subtle permutations. Also displayed are targets, numbers, maps, light bulbs, and several collages that feature broken school rulers. All of this may be commonplace, but it also cryptic. And Johns is not saying, and is quote suggesting “the meanings may just be that the painting exists.”

But the cultural critic Marc Haefele. says it is sometimes apparent, as in a painting called “In Memory of my feelings.” With a gloomy finish and pathetically dangling fork and spoon, Haefele suggest it evokes Johns’ sorrow over the loss of his longtime lover, the artist Robert Rauschenberg. You get it.

 

THE LOVERS OF VITEBSK AT THE WALLIS

This week it was to the U.S. premiere of the English production of “The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk .” an arresting portrait of the relationship between the Russian born, shtetl haunted, artist Marc Chagal had with his wife of early years, Bella.

And as it seems almost always with the stage production at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, you expect the unexpected. For me, it makes the Wallis along with the UCLA ‘s Art of the Performance the most exciting venues in theatre today

As I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites, I was not disappointed. Though, to be sure, the marvelously acted two character play was challenging, with bursts of dialogue, dancing, and songs exploding on an open stage that shifts with lighting and props to hint of a synagogue, an artist’s studio, wherever.

Challenging, yes, but so was the relationship between Chagal and Bella, fanciful, frustrating, and mesmerizing, certainly to these Russian shtarker’s eyes

With a unique vision Chagal had depicted a magical portrait of his love for his wife Bella, colorfully entwined flying above a Russian fairyland where brush strokes were caresses.

He indeed is once quoted declaring “In our life there is a single color, as on an artist palette, which provides the meaning of life and art, it is the color of love.”  Poetic to be sure, but to the play’s credit also illustrated is the marriage’s turmoil.

Of course the Russia where the couple came of age also was in constant turmoil. There was in Czarist times the pogroms, followed by a world war, a revolution, civil war, and the machinations and madness of an emerging Soviet Union.

For the record, the Chagals left Russia in 1922, for a welcoming Paris, never to return. But Russia never left them, gnawing at their souls, and testing their marriage, to its last days in New York, There escaping the horrors of World War Two the flying lovers eventually landed, and Emma, alas, died.

As a production of the always inventive Kneehigh and the Bristol Old Vic , the play is loosely structured, more of a performance art piece, where knowledge of the Chagals is frankly helpful.

Helping definitely is the multi talented cast: the acting, dancjng and singing of Marc Antolin and Daisy Maywood, the onstage presence of the musicians Ian Ross and James Gow, all under the inspired direction of Emma Rice. .

Of particular note is that Rice played Emma in the original production of The Lovers 25 years ago, with the writer Daniel Jamieson then her husband playing Chagal.

The production runs for another week at the Wallis, through March 11th, Catch it if you can.

 

ART WORTH THE TRIP

As I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites, I’m a culture vulture, ever on alert, primarily, for what appeals to me, personally, and, secondarily, possible grist for my multi-media mill.

To be sure, many of my selections are arbitrary, and, yes, capricious. How else can explain my recent review of Doggie Hamlet in Will Rogers Park?

Then in deference to my presumed audience there is the consideration of location. I have to weigh whether access to a particular venue is worth, say, suffering traffic, especially to Downtown from my perch on Malibu..

Frankly, it really has to be promising before I decide to drive there. And while I embrace the concept of mass transit, the light rail to Santa Monica, and the bus beyond to Malibu, is not very convenient .

The car in L.A. is still clearly the preferred mode of transportation. You just got to time your trips.

But then there is the production or project you just have to see, and all rational considerations are out the window. That’s the way I feel about several events I’m penciling into my culture calendar, and suggest you might do too.

In Pasadena, on display at the Norton Simon Museum, is one of the rarest and certainly one of the more distinctive of Rembrandt’s many self portraits .

He painted it at the age of 34, and unlike the many that followed, shows the artist comfortable and confident, in his skill and in his self.

Worth a special visit to the museum for it alone, the mesmerizing painting is in the United States for the first time, on special loan from London’s National Gallery, on display until March 5th.

And for all the aggravation driving to an increasingly congested downtown, high on my list is a visit to the Broad Museum, for a blockbuster Jasper Johns exhibit.

On view are more than 120 of his varied paintings, sketches, sculptures, and prints, drawn from a wealth of public and private collections, including, of course, from the Broad collection.

Johns is considered of one of the most inventive and influential artists of the 20th century, making this exhibit a must for anyone interested in art. It runs until May 13th, with reservations strongly advised. I’ve made mine, and suggest you do too.

Now if you are really into art, and Rembrandt, as I am, and really don’t mind traveling, this month in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, you can view up close conservators restoring two masterpieces, (Portrait of a Woman Wearing a Gold Chain and Portrait of a Man Wearing a Black Hat.) It should be fascinating, if you can manage the commute.

 

 

 

A FINAL BOW FOR LEGENDARY GUITARIST JOHN MC LAUGHLIN

It was alumni night at UCLA’s Royce Hall recently, not for graduates of the university, rather it appeared mostly for the alumni of the music scene of the past 40 or so years. They were there to pay tribute to legendary guitarist John McLaughlin, as I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and websites everywhere.

On stage clutching his beloved double neck guitar he is soon to auction, smiling and strutting, the 75 year old bandleader, composer and master musician, played with passion on what was the final stop of his final U.S. concert tour. Eschewing their age, his fans loved it, intermittently standing and cheering.

Proudly promoted by UCLA’S ever-creative Center for the Art of Performance, the program labeled The Meeting of the Spirits was, as expected, memorable.

Indeed it ran more than three hours, ending with McLaughlin repeating several ending refrains, and reluctantly taking a final bow to sustained applause, hoots and whistles. He was exhausted, and so was the audience.

Sharing the stage lit by blinking strobes, was fellow guitarist Jimmy Herring. He and his band the Invisible Whip opened the evening with a sustained sound straight out of the Seventies., and later joined McLaughlin and his band, the 4th Dimension , in a closing, roof raising, reverberating jam session.

Each performer had their moments, and then some. An extended drum set by Jeff Sipe and Ranjit Barot was in particular riveting, running on it seems into infinity, stopping clocks and sapping breaths .

But it was McLaughlin who was center stage, carrying the evening, playing his guitars and leading the ensemble in the pioneering music he created decades ago with the fabeled Mahavishnu Orchestra; “maha,” meaning great, and Vishnu the name of the Hindu deity .

Describe it as rock, fusion jazz, or whatever, the distinctive sound incorporating technical precision and harmonic sophistication, with a touch of Indian scales, propelled McLaughlin into the upper echelon of music. And judging from the audience at his last concert, into the hearts of music fans.

 

“SOMETHING ROTTEN” ROCKS

If you love musicals, but not too much so as not to be amused by their being abused, in good fun, of course.
 
And if you love Shakespeare, but also not too much so as not to be offended to have him paraded as a rockstar of the of the waning 16th century, then you’ll love “Something Rotten”.
 
As I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and websites everywhere , a hit several years ago on Broadway , the musical is now in full blown production at the Ahmanson in the Music Center downtown through the end of the year,.
 
And indeed as in New York, it is a extravaganza, a BIG musical, delivered by a high kicking dance, and high note singing chorus, ever ready it seems to allow the ensemble’s leads to skip and shuffle off stage to catch their breaths.
 
And that also gives the audience a moment to intermittingly stand and cheer, as they did opening night. Obviously, there was a lot of fans and family present.
 
Their enthusiasm echoed the cast’s enthusiasm, staring Rob McClure as Nick Bottom, a struggling writer in the shadow of a supercilious Shakespeare, played to perfection by Adam Pascal. Blake Hammond as the soothsayer Nostradamus deserves a shout out, as does Josh Grisetti.
 
Actually, the whole cast of dozens is deserving, deftly directed and choreographed by Casey Nicolaw, the stage design and lighting , and the costumes ,just fine. All meld magnificently.
 
But if there is problem, at least from this critic’s perspective, it is the story line. Shakespeare envy is just too broad, not very subtle, and the dialogue , sophomoric,: cute but not clever.
 
However, the show numbers mostly were clever, jazzed up parodies of hits of the past. There were winks at “Wicked.” a nod to “Chicago,” a sharp elbow to “Pippin,” a mention of “Cats.” all jogging the memory and prompting smiles.
 
It was in sum a rollicking evening, especially for show musical lovers, so allow me to end with a purloined a line from Shakespeare’s play, Measure for Measure, “All’s well, that ends well.
 
And to be sure, “Something Rotten,” does end well and you’ll leave the Ahmanson smiling.

VIDEO BAND OK GO OFFERS DIVERSION

It’s Fall, and the arts and entertainment calendar is full, with all sorts of offerings to stretch your smarts and delight the senses.  But frankly for me it is a struggle, what with the state of the world.

These days are not fun days, with almost daily assault of our democracy and sense of decency by a dangerous president and his deceitful followers.

Then it seems there is an almost biblical plague of natural disasters and senseless slaughters. This put m in very real need last weekend of some diversion to raise my spirits.

Answering my wish was UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance, with a concert, or was it a happening, featuring the band OK GO .

Whatever, with a bursts of confetti fluttering out over a packed-to-the-rafters Royce Hall, the group performed an immersive medley of their hits against a big screen backdrop that showed their imaginative videos.

Included among the favorites were “Here It Goes Again,” played out on a treadmill, the amazing “This Too Shall Pass,” featuring a fantastic Rube Goldberg machine going full blast, and the most recent, “Upside Down and Inside Out, “ in which the group performed weightless in a Russian jet maneuvering to create a gravity free interior.

If this all sounds wild and crazy, it is. With OK GO you expect the unexpected.

And if you ever wondered how they did what they do, lead singer Damian Kulash tried to explain it, despite an audience of many children who should have been in bed instead of jumping up and down screaming. But so what.

As an immodest Emmy award winner and former Disney Imagineer, I absolutely loved it.

For those who have not monitored what their kids have been watching in the last decade, OK-GO was a rock band out of Chicago 20 years ago that never made it as musicians. Their sound was, and frankly I feel still is, not very different than so many hard driving garage bands.

But in a flash of inspiration when they moved to L.A. a few years later, they started to experiment with video. What emerged is a series of music videos that are pure delights, and wonderfully diverting.

As the group itself describes themselves, they went from OK GO-The-Rock-Band, to OK GO, The -Guys-Who-Make –Those –Art-Project –Music-Videos, to OK GO –The Creative-Guys., employing a bagful of tricks. These include stop motion, optical illusions, mass choreography, and let us not forget exploding paint balloons.

Can’t wait to see what the innovative dance company AteNine will do this weekend at the ever-au courant UCLA for the Art of Performance.

 

 

CONCERT ANTIDOTE FOR WORLD SERIES

This week, something different for my arts and entertainment commentary on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites everywhere. It is needed if only to edge out of mind the homer happy, wacky World Series that ended with a dud.

It’s needed too, if you want to keep abreast of what’s happening in the world of music, and get out of your caves and experience it.

That is what is promised this Saturday, at 8 PM, at UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance at Royce Hall, where appearing will be the Grammy award winning pop rock band, “OK Go.”

The band is perhaps best know for its eye-catching, mind blowing videos. But instead of seeing the iconic videos on the small screen, expect to see them, in performance, in an immersive cinematic environment, being scored, live.

Don’t expect this to be the usual rock show, lots of amped up sound and flashing lights, but a blast from the bands past, and into the future. If this sounds a bit confusing, stay after the performance, when the band will take questions from the audience. And you can catch your breath.

I also look forward to it being antidote for me to the World Series, which frankly left me exhausted, and deserve some mention here.

After all, this commentary is entitled “arts and entertainment observed,” and indeed I have to confess that the unpredictability and drama of the series was for the most part entertaining.

Certainly for me as a critic it had elements of an ancient production, what with fallen heroes as in a Greek tragedy, and the screaming crowds mimicking Roman spectacles.

This despite the crass commercialism and the mind numbing television spots, though happily were long enough to allow breaks from the couch.

Of course I didn’t attend any of the games, what with the obscene ticket prices. If I wouldn’t pay $100 to see “Hamilton.” I certainly wouldn’t pay S1,000 for a questionable seat, and having to fight traffic to get there, and also pay for parking.

Long, long ago I came to realize that the Dodgers despite the smiling face of Magic Johnson had become just another greedy sports enterprise; I think it was about the time it was bought by Rupert Murdoch and then sold to a Boston parking lot owner.

Suffice it to say the Dodgers are not the team I loved with an uncommon passion, the team of Gil Hodges, Duke Snider and Jackie Robinson, when I was growing up in Brooklyn.

There I’d actually take the legendary trolley to the games at Ebbetts Field to see games, having been blessed with tickets scored for hawking copies of the newspaper Brooklyn Eagle .

But those were days past. The present is now, and the future is a concert at UCLA. Life does move on.

 

 

HEADS UP FOR ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT

Observing arts and entertainment might not be the most accurate description of these reports; commentaries or criticisms may be more on the mark.

Perhaps an even more precise, if not pretentious, description, would be “user advocate,” an adage heard in the design and development trade I plied in for years.

While lending some perspective and, wishfully, a dash of poetry to my opinions, my prime intention actually is to alert listeners on public radio 97.5 KBU and social media readers to reasonably accessible venues in our fractured Los Angeles.

With that in mind, I prefer giving alerts to current and upcoming events I think might be of interest to culture vultures, rather than doing a review of something I attended, but no longer is available, the exhibit having been taken down or the production ended.

That is why I gave a heads up recently to the Dorrance Dance Company’s appearance at the always engaging Wallis Cultural Center in Beverly Hills., that was just booked for three days, October 12th through the 14th.

A review at my scheduled times would not have allowed those who might be interested in this different dance ensemble time to make plans and get tickets. There are few phrases as sad in this fleeting world as, “I’m really sorry to have missed that.”

Well, sorry to report, if you did miss the Dorrance, you missed an exciting evening, even if you casually entertained by the magnetism of dance, melding music and movement as it does, in the seductiveness of sound and sight. I happen to love it.

So taking exception to my own guidelines –what are guidelines for but to take exception to– I must give it a review, if only to alert those who might have a chance to see the dance company when they hopefully return to the Wallis, or elsewhere.

The company directed and starring Michelle Dorrance, also deserves it, as does the Wallis for featuring it in its continuing dance offerings for which its theatre is near perfect.

As for the performance, it was great, original and breathtaking, giving the edgy rhythms of jazz expression in the patterned pulse of tap dancing, rising out the traditional club scenes of decades ago, and today’s raw street and subway scenes. Very American, and arresting.