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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Five thoughts about Conan on TBS

Posted by on Thu, Nov 11, 2010 at 9:17 PM

  • TBS/ Team Coco
Conan O'Brien returned to the airwaves on Monday night, and he—and I—couldn't be happier. After three nights, here are five observations:

1. The bearded O’Brien looks happier than ever. I always thought he looked uncomfortable on The Tonight Show, so frankly, I stopped watching. (Maybe he shared my foreboding about that whole thing.) And it’s nice to have Andy Richter out from behind that announcer’s podium and back on the couch, where he belongs.

2. The set looks scary huge. The big-screen effects behind his desk are amusing; it was fun to see Tom Hanks getting drenched by a whale “breaching” in the “ocean” (starting at minute 7:30 below) on Night 2. Conan’s close proximity to his adoring audience raises the excitement level, too, and I hope he embraces the opportunities there.

3. His pal Jon Stewart must have winced a bit the next day. Stewart nudged past Leno and Letterman in the October ratings thanks to the big momentum he’s been rolling on since he announced that D.C. rally. And then—BAM!—along comes Conan, and he clobbers them all.

4. Jay, and maybe even Dave, just became several degrees less relevant. I say “less relevant” because I reluctantly include the still very funny Letterman in that assessment. Forget Leno: He’s ir-relevant. Ah, sweet revenge.

5. It’s not the best late-night talk show. Jimmy Fallon’s 12:35 a.m. show on NBC has the best musical guests, the funniest skits, the best celebrity impressions and the most creative ideas for integrating the audience and guests into the fun (beer pong with Betty White, anyone?). That’s cool; Conan has his work cut out for him, and now that he’s no longer trying to court Leno’s lame audience, the long, lanky clown enjoys some much-needed leg room.

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Eggers sunnyside up at Duke

Posted by on Thu, Nov 11, 2010 at 1:50 PM

Dave Eggers spoke at Dukes Page Auditorium last night
  • Dave Eggers spoke at Duke's Page Auditorium last night
The theme of writer-humanitarian Dave Eggers's talk to a large audience at Page Auditorium last night was simple and almost shockingly optimistic: "We are a nation that instinctively wants to help people," he said early on. "This is still, and I think always will be, the most welcoming country in the world."

Anecdote after anecdote exampled Eggers' stance, from changing someone's flat tire to tutoring kids (which is what his San Francisco literacy project, 826 Valencia, has been doing since 2002) to saving lives after Hurricane Katrina. Eggers, who was at Duke to speak about his new book, Zeitoun, invoked the words of one of his heroes, Studs Terkel: "I've always felt," Terkel said, "that there's a deep decency in the American people and a native intelligence—providing they have the facts, providing they have the information."

Continue reading…

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Shaolin Riverdance? The amazing Mr. Cherkaoui and Sutra at Carolina Performing Arts

Posted by on Thu, Nov 11, 2010 at 9:10 AM

  • Andree Lanthier
Carolina Performing Arts
@Memorial Hall, UNC Campus
Nov. 10-11

Belgian choreographer-performer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui has one of the most graceful, flexible and articulate bodies on the world stage. His aesthetic—at least as expressed in Sutra, an hourlong entertainment created with the support of British dance presenter Sadler’s Wells—doesn’t bother to temper this facility with subtlety or nuance. “I feel like I just saw a Chinese version of Riverdance,” one theatergoer was overheard to say at Wednesday night's show.

As the performance concluded, the audience rose up for a noisy standing ovation. Popping out of their seats in a single lighting-fast move, all were no doubt inspired by the martial-art pyrotechnics of the Shaolin monks who’d just wowed us with the mind-boggling speed, power and complexity of their movements.

  • Hugo Glendinning
In Sutra, Cherkaoui has chosen to cast himself as a bendable, yogi-like clown protagonist against a unified corps of 17 formidable young male warriors from China. He comes across as a slightly alien, Western weirdo, sometimes watching from the periphery, sometimes wandering among their midst. “He’s so creepy,” whispered a woman during the performance.

An adorable miniature monk, backflipping boy prodigy brings a third dimension to the alien-Euro-guy vs. sacred-Asian-army duality; squaring out the drama are 16 man-sized rectangular wooden boxes, which are dragged, propped, dropped and stacked to form a dizzying array of landscapes and images during the performance.

The highlights of Sutra come when performers from among the monks are given solo time on the stage. During these moments, the Shaolin tradition blends with choreographic sensibility to communicate astounding elegance, complexity and power with directness and simplicity.

There is one more performance tonight at 7:30. Ticket info is here.

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Monday, November 8, 2010

How can you stay in the house... and how can you leave? Ralph Lemon at Duke

Posted by on Mon, Nov 8, 2010 at 2:04 PM

Ralph Lemon
  • Photo by Frank Oudeman
  • Ralph Lemon
Ralph Lemon: How Can You Stay in the House All Day and Not Go Anywhere?
Duke Performances
Reynolds Industries Theater
Nov. 6

“We had a lot more walk-outs last night than usual,” said lighting director and production manager Christopher Kuhl prior to the Saturday night performance of New York-based choreographer Ralph Lemon’s How Can You Stay in the House All Day and Not Go Anywhere? “Ralph is interested in it. He likes to track when people leave, when they start texting.”

The evening began whimsically enough with a video piece featuring 102-year old Walter Carter—Lemon’s muse and mentor, now deceased—wearing a silver spacesuit. Seated beneath and to the left of a large screen, Lemon spoke generously and openly; giving us full, intimate view of his intellectual inner workings, creative impulses and personal losses.

  • Photo by Ralph Lemon
The video screen sailed away and Lemon’s chair and mic were removed, opening a view to the completely bare stage. One figure sauntered out into the void. Thus commenced the choreographic meat of the How Can You Stay, a 20-minute, exquisitely wrought chaos of flailing, falling, pushing and enduring that Lemon and the six dancers call “the wall.” Bare once more, the stage gaped at us while the sound of weeping echoed from the walls. Slowly, performer Okwui Okpokwasili edged out into the dim light, her back to us, shoulders heaving with emotion.

From about midway through “the wall” and throughout the performance, dark silhouettes began to rise from seats in the audience and scurry up the aisles to the exits. Singly, in couples or small groups, souls simply got up and left the theater. These shadowy rustlings and quiet disruptions temporarily backgrounded the stage action, yet they were eerily in harmony with the strong currents of grief and dissolution that propelled it.

It takes a measure of depth and strength to deal with the radically disorganizing principles that Lemon harnessed for How Can You Stay, and, well, not everyone could hang. Too bad, because those who bailed early missed Jim Findlay’s magical animals: Silvery projections of creatures and birds that wandered silently on to the stage, waited patiently with us for a while, and then stepped quietly back into their invisible homes.

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Saturday, November 6, 2010

Revolutionary satire? Or satire on revolution?
Little Green Pig's NIGHT BEAST at Manbites Dog Theater

Posted by on Sat, Nov 6, 2010 at 11:36 AM

Gil Faison, Utrophia Robinson and Regenna Rouse in the world premiere of NIGHT BEAST.
  • photo by Jay O'Berski
  • Gil Faison, Utrophia Robinson and Regenna Rouse in the world premiere of NIGHT BEAST.
2.5 stars
(out of 5)
The Theme is Blackness Festival
Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern
Manbites Dog Theater
Through Nov. 6

Had he lived long enough, Marx may well have updated his famous epigram that history repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce. By now, might he not have easily added that, by the third time, it starts to look a lot like Tarantino—or in other words, an unlikely combination of the two?

That’s my initial response to the world premiere of NIGHT BEAST, a new adaptation of an unproduced 1968 screenplay by Ed Bullins. A Little Green Pig revival of the dark comedy GOIN 'A BUFFALO by the playwright, once a minister of culture for the Black Panthers, was well received in 2008, and understandably inspired this return engagement.

The auteur of RESERVOIR DOGS—and, of course, the self-styled hommage to blaxploitation films, JACKIE BROWN—was already on my mind after filmmakers Jim Haverkamp and Alex Maness’ crunchy little coming attractions trailer for an upcoming play by Howard Craft opened the evening at Manbites Dog Theater. The comic book-themed short was riddled with riffs on PULP FICTION and studded with regional stars, and came immediately before a rare curtain speech by director Jay O’Berski, who referred to what we were about to see as “an hour-long joyride.”

Unfortunately, “joy” is a bit too unqualified a response to the work in question.

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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Dancing toward solidarity: sensational Billy Elliot at DPAC

Posted by on Thu, Nov 4, 2010 at 5:32 PM

Hes not that kind of contender: Billy (Giuseppe Bausilio) and George (Joel Blum)
  • Photo by Michael Brosilow
  • He's not that kind of contender: Billy (Giuseppe Bausilio) and George (Joel Blum)
5 stars
Durham Performing Arts Center
Through Nov. 14

Most of us will never know the kind of community solidarity that features so movingly in Billy Elliot The Musical because most of us in "right-to-work" North Carolina have little experience with organized labor. But the real-life British coal miners’ strike of 1984-85 that forms the backdrop of this rousing story heralded a lasting change in the relations between labor, capital and government.

When British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her gang broke the coal miners’ union, they destroyed livelihoods and towns, but in the northern England county of Durham, where Billy Elliot is set, the community rallies behind its striking miners, exercising their ferocious wit to keep despair at bay. The Durham of this story is filled with strong men who do the hard dirty work that keeps society moving. But always there is someone who doesn’t fit the pattern, and that is Billy. Sent by his rough-edged father to learn boxing and man up, Billy accidentally finds himself in a ballet class, and finds his dream.

Of course, he has to hide his secret love of pirouettes, but like all big audacious dreams in movies and musicals, his passionate artistry eventually works its magic on all around him. Billy becomes a talisman of hope to people who have little left to hope for, and they pitch in their bits from the dole to make it come true.

All this could be terribly sappy, but it is not. It’s inspiring. And, replete with good acting to Lee Hall’s script, pithy songs set well to Elton John’s tunes, strong dancing, fabulous sets, perfect costumes and excellent lighting effects, it’s a class-A entertainment. Nor has it been overly sanitized. The violence of the strike has necessarily been stylized into dance numbers, but choreographer Peter Darling and director Stephen Daldry have kept the dark thrills of battle in the encounters between riot police and strikers, and there is still plenty of mildly salty language.

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