DURHAM/ DPAC—Hubbard Street Dance Chicago performed a long program in the Durham Performing Arts Center last night for the American Dance Festival: three pieces and two full intermissions, which they’ll reprise tonight. Each of the dances—created by 2012 Scripps/ADF Awardee William Forsythe, Hubbard Street resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo and Israeli choreographers Sharon Eyal and Gaï Behar—could have stood alone on its own. Each certainly contains an evening’s worth of content, but the evening doesn’t suffer in the least from that. Rather, it demonstrates the central characteristic of this repertory company that’s kept Hubbard Street relevant into its fourth decade of existence: versatility.
The program opens with the rare opportunity to see William Forsythe’s coolly elegiac Quintett (1993), created shortly after the death of his first wife. Known for edgy, energetic movement, Forsythe is constrained here—but not restrained. Five dancers cycle through solos and duets marked by high, sweeping, overhead reaches and kicks that succumb to small backwards stumbles. Often this main action is watched by one dancer loitering contemplatively from a dim corner of the stage. Sometimes the watcher springs into a solo, which provides a visual foil for the duet without undermining its almost wistful emotion.
A film projector occupies the right front of the stage, pointing its beam diagonally across the space but projecting onto a convex mirror (the kind that’s mounted where a garage enters onto a street, so pedestrians and motorists can see each other coming) rather than a screen. As the piece develops, and dancers pass through the beam, you can see that it contains an image but you can’t see what the image is until a dancer repositions the projector just before the ending. A grainy, slow-moving cloudscape appears on the backdrop.
You’re watching memory, remembered movement, in Quintett. The projector’s immaterial image, shining invisibly through space, speaks to the emptiness of reminiscence without judging it futile. The mirror, set up as a rear-view mirror might be, acknowledges memory’s distortion.
But the impotent machinery of memory doesn’t matter compared to the fact of an event’s occurrence in time. Sweet, intimate details in the duets shine through to provide genuine emotional connections to the past.
Facing each other at the end of a complicated phrase, one dancer tilts her head down to rest its top on her partner’s chest. Later, a tall, male dancer stretches his arm straight up to hold his hand horizontally flat; his partner glances up at it and leaps to bop the top of her head against his palm. You feel the pleasure of togetherness in these moments. Forsythe’s frank choreography sometimes looks like a pantomime of unselfconscious child-play. He does not wallow in the loss of these moments, even while acknowledging that they’re in the past.
Part of watching Quintett is dealing with Gavin Bryars’ mercilessly repetitive score Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet in which a looped, quavering vocal and a stayed orchestral passage meander around each other, neither exactly in unison nor rhythmically contrary. It’s lonely-sounding music but the looping contains the emotion within the same analytical frame as the action.
Quintett is all about Forsythe resolving the fallibility and power of the past with the fact of the present, and Hubbard Street’s dancers bring the right objectivist approach to the movement. Forsythe will be part of a panel discussion in White Auditorium on Duke’s East Campus on Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.
“This is not a joke!” shouts a bare-chested, protective goggle-wearing Dallas as he holds a lit torch on the stage of Xquisite, a male strip club. Well, Dallas might not be joking, but thanks in part to the actor playing him (Matthew McConaughey), Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike is pretty funny. It’s also well-paced, a lot smarter than it has to be and expertly directed.
Mush-mouthed Channing Tatum plays Mike, a personable hunk who takes off his clothes for money. Tatum’s dialogue with the women he courts and Adam, the kid he takes under his wing (Alex Pettyfer) is relaxed, and feels almost improvised sometimes. The movie looks pretty slick, and has a predictable story about a superficial subject, so this looseness is surprising.
Adding to the unfussy feel, Soderbergh often shoots simple scenes in wide angles, once filling the frame with two conversations at once, among five different people, while maintaining clarity. He uses slow crane shots and long takes alongside moving cars to establish place, when other directors might hack out a frenetic montage. He slows down when others would speed up, even when his characters are actually on speed, reaching crisis and dancing to thumping music. (He also has a lot of fun crosscutting the glut of dance montages with over-serious reaction shots of manager Dallas.)
Soderbergh is one of our only marquee directors whose choices are consistently surprising, reminding us what auteur used to mean: a director who imposes his style on a range of different genres (like Howard Hawks), rather than an industry notable making movies from his own scripts (like James Cameron) or a micromanaging artist creating his own universe across a number of films (like Wes Anderson).
It all seems a little too cute, doesn't it? THE ARTIST is a black-and-white silent film, shot in the archaic 4:3 aspect ratio, about the Old Hollywood silent film era. And it's French! And it won the Best Picture Oscar!
I was skeptical, too—this seemed like the sort of artsy, delightfully impertinent gesture the Academy likes to make every few years. But I was wrong. The Artist is a pure delight from beginning to end; a genuinely inspired piece of popular entertainment with bonus resonance for movie history geeks. (Read Laura Boyes's review for the Indy.)
Debuting this week on DVD, Blu-ray and digital, The Artist stars French actor Jean Dujardin as George Valentin, an aging movie star navigating the end of the silent film era. The talkies are coming, bringing with them a new breed of movie star like the young and radiant Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo).
The film follows George and Peppy as their relationship shifts from mentor and rookie to something else entirely. The story is told without dialogue, and with a minimum of intertitles. As such it relies on music, staging and strong physical performances from Dujardin and Bejo and the supporting cast (including John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller and Uggie the dog.)
The real star here, though, is writer and director Michel Hazanavicius, who puts it all together and makes it sing. The Artist is first and foremost a love letter to the history of cinema, reverently evoking the silent film era in both content and form. But it's also a elegantly rounded story, a comic melodrama that earns its laughter and thrills. The movie never feels gimmicky.
The end of film features an extended song-and-dance routine that's among the most joyous spectacles I've ever witnessed on screen. As Dujardin and Bejo cut the rug—they studied tap for five months to get it right—the music and choreography evoke a kind of delirious elation. The dance number seems to echo back and amplify the spirit of the film that's gone before. It's the feel-good moment of the year. Did I stand and applaud, by myself, in the living room? No one can prove anything.
Format: DVD, Blu-ray and digital
Extras: a Q-and-A with filmmakers and cast, about 45 minutes total of assorted featurettes on aspects of the production and another 45 minutes of Q-and-A with the filmmakers and cast.
Steampunk, for those not in the know, is a branch of science fiction that postulates what would have happened if modern or futuristic technology had been created in the past, using the technology and materials available at that time, e.g. steam engines, zeppelins and the like. It’s become a particularly popular subset of science fiction fandom, with many fans creating steampunk-themed outfits and crafts sold online and at shows.
Priest has become one of the most popular authors of steampunk in her “Clockwork Century” series, which began in her award-winning bestseller Boneshaker, about how a massive steam-powered drill unleashes a zombie plague in Civil War-era Seattle.
Priest says that steampunk’s appeal comes from a “perfect storm of pop culture” where people embrace the sense of design and functionality in the old-fashioned technology, as opposed to the sleek, compact style found in Apple-style products. “In that school of design, everything is this sort of pristine, inscrutable box where if you don’t know where to touch it or how to react to it, it might as well be a brick,” Priest says.
“The Victorians, God bless ‘em, thought their technology should be beautiful as well as functional. And we seem to have lost that in the streamlining efforts to make everything look futuristic. I think in one regard, Steampunk is a reaction to that, a way of saying, ‘No, we don’t want something that looks like what everybody else has, that’s flat and inscrutable.’"
So are the fans wearing homemade goggles and railroad pocket watches giving the finger to the iPad?
“I’ll put it this way: If the Victorians made a giant death-ray killing machine, it would look like a giant death-ray killing machine,” Priest says. “It would fill an entire room and have gears and brass and engraving, and would be this enormous, powerful, beautiful-looking thing. If Apple made a giant death ray killing machine, it would look like a button. And I think there’s a sense that something has been lost, and steampunk’s trying to reclaim that a bit.”
All art is to some degree autobiographical. Any creation tells us something about its creator. But some art is more explicit, depicting or revealing the artist as she sees herself, or in the case of Killian Manning’s new work, exploring the milieu that shaped her.
Manning was born in 1956; she is 56 this year. Her age makes looking back and taking stock almost inevitable, and the numerology makes the undertaking feel cosmic and lucky. In her 1*9*5*6 Degrees of Separation, which is the final show in this season's Other Voices series at Manbites Dog Theater, she explains and—yes—celebrates herself by animating a cast of famous 50s characters, and her mother. In fact, the dance-theater work can also be taken as an extended love letter to her mother. At her daughter’s insistence, Cathy Manning joined the cast for their bows on Wednesday's opening night, shifting her feet in the same signature movement that Killian gave character Cathy on stage.
And there are voices in this dance. In fact, the dance feels secondary to the theatrical exposition (but it is not a drama). After a little introduction, Manning parades her characters onto the stage one by one, and each does a little movement riff by which we shall know them. Manning has chosen these people to represent an imagined zeitgeist of her natal year (and beyond), but it is as interesting to think about who’s not there as who is. The only dance artist included is ballerina Margot Fonteyn. Not, for instance, modern dancer/choreographer Martha Graham, who was certainly making news in 1956. Grace Kelly (Elisabeth Johnson) gets a role, for making the transition from actress to princess, but Ingrid Bergman, who won an Oscar that year for her work, goes unmentioned. The great Beat poet Allen Ginsberg gives what you could call the keynote speech (Derrick Ivey, reciting from "Howl," in the show’s most gripping moments), but there’s no equivalent musical giant like Charles Mingus, who released the amazing Pithecanthropus Erectus album that year. Instead, there’s the young Elvis and his new release, “Hound Dog.” The point is not that Manning’s choices are wrong in any way, but that this is her version of her 1956. She has shaped it to fit the woman she has become.
Manning mixes straight biography with a soft-edged magical realism, some of it quite charming, as when President Eisenhower dances and chats with Cathy Manning, or when J.S. Bach appears to her for a long conversation in which he explains that Killian really is musical, it just all comes out in the dances. There are a number of pleasant and enjoyable dance sequences in this work, but none of them are special, not even Margot Fonteyn’s (and really, she should have been wearing pointe shoes) or the well-conceived duet between Bach (Jonathan Leinbach) and Glenn Gould (Matthew Young).
Most of the cast are not advanced dancers (a fact all too obvious during ADF season), and even if they were, they would still be contending with the concrete floor—it is no wonder if there is a slow tentativeness to their movement. Some of this may have been purposeful, to enhance the dreamy magical quality, but it made for a lack of brio.
Too much good TV, that's the problem. It's impossible to keep up with all the quality series on television these days – Mad Men, True Blood, Boardwalk Empire, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Homeland, Girls. Well, not impossible, but certainly tricky, and you have to give up things like family and daylight.
One show I never miss, though, is LOUIE, the verite-style situation comedy from veteran alt-comic Louis C.K. Season two of the hit FX show is out this week on DVD and Blu-ray, and it's a good opportunity to catch up with this genre-busting endeavor.
C.K. has long been known as a “comic's comic,” which in most cases is code for “not very popular.” But C.K. has proven the exception and has won legions of fans with his comedic style of brutally honest self examination.
In Louie, C.K. plays a fictionalized version of himself as a divorced father of two young girls, plying his comic trade in New York City and occasionally on the road. What's amazing/impossible about Louie is that C.K. has negotiated for near-complete creative control with this show. He writes, directs, produces and even edits each episode.
It's the auteur approach to situation comedy, and it pays off. As with Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm, the show is a remarkably pure distillation of one man's comic vision. Louie has a rhythm all its own, its indie-film vibe cut with the spontaneity of a stand-up routine.
In February of this year, Regan retired after 39 years with the North Carolina Arts Council—36 of them as its executive director. On March 2, just days after her retirement, she and I sat down for a different sort of exit interview in a Morrisville cafe. As lunching office workers came and went (and a cool rain came and stayed), we took an hour and a half for a conversation that was largely about distance: How far the arts have come in North Carolina since her start in 1972; how they’ve managed to come that far, despite the economic turmoil of the past decade and the culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s; and how far they’ve yet to go.
Regan was as graceful and candid as I’ve known her to be throughout our own long conversation over the years. And this time, she was able to go a bit further on the record.
The remarks below are excerpted from that conversation.
INDEPENDENT: Let’s go back to the beginning of your term. Where was the North Carolina Arts Council when you found it?
MARY REGAN: (laughs) In offices in the Heart of Raleigh Motel, which was over on Edenton Street. There was something of an “entertainment house” right across the street, where we saw ladies coming and going. And men. All of the time. (laughs) That was very interesting.
I don’t even remember what our budget was—maybe a couple of hundred thousand dollars.
I took the job just because I needed a job; I didn’t have a clue what it was about or what I would do. I intended to leave in a year and go back and work on Nick Galifianakis’ campaign [a Democratic congressman who lost to Jesse Helms in 1972]. But after a year came, I had really gotten hooked on it. I knew it was a great job.
Is there a moment you can remember as a turning point, or the moment you realized you had to stick around?
Not really. I think I could have been torn away, but because of the things going on at the time, I thought this was a good place to be.
Edgar Marston [Executive Director of the Arts Council from 1968-1973, and director of the NC Division of the Arts, 1973-1978] was such a visionary. Everything was very experimental then. We’ve tried to remain experimental through the years, but back then, there was no mold; everything we did we kind of invented.
We carved out for North Carolina a role as a leading arts council, as far as doing community development, working out in the communities. Some arts councils started off just funding major organizations in the cities. But the early leadership understood: If they were going to be able to make it within state government, they had to be serving the whole state.
All of our programs were public value programs. In the last 10 years, that’s become a popular term, almost as if were some new thing discovered to do. We were into public value from the very beginning; we just didn’t know to call it that. We wanted to be at the table (in state government) with the rest of the sectors in the state. Public value was our hook.
The original indie quirk movie, director Hal Ashby's HAROLD AND MAUDE has been re-issued this week on DVD and Blu-ray by the Criterion Collection, whose boutique home video releases are little artifacts of film goodness in and of themselves. The special edition features new digital restoration, a remastered soundtrack and a booklet of archival interviews and essays.
Watching the movie again for the first time in 20 years, I must admit my first thought was, “Hey! Wes Anderson made a movie in 1971!” Anderson has long acknowledged Ashby as an influence, but the connection is never more conspicuous than in the first darkly comic scenes of Harold and Maude.
Bud Cort plays young Harold, adrift at age 19 among the meaningless riches of his wealthy family. Harold is obsessed by death, and likes to stage elaborate fake suicides to get the attention of his distracted, society-obsessed mother. (“Are all these suicides for your mother's benefit?” a shrink asks Harold. “No,” he replies. “I wouldn't say benefit.”)
In Jim Jarmusch’s film Coffee and Cigarettes, Iggy Pop and Tom Waits discuss how great it’s been to quit smoking and then commence to light up; the joke is that it’s OK for them to have one now, because they don’t smoke. This deceptive notion that we can separate who we are from what we do is darkly dramatized in Canada, the quietly riveting new novel by prominent American writer Richard Ford.
At what point does a decent person bending the law become a criminal? The elusiveness of the threshold accounts for how Bev Parsons, an almost imperceptibly shifty Air Force veteran with charming Southern manners, raising an awkwardly fitted but functional household in the 1960s, comes to be imprisoned for bank robbery alongside his wife, casting his teenage children adrift. Bev knows that he’s not the kind of man to rob a bank. “This was, of course,” his son Dell reflects with characteristic pith, “his great misunderstanding.”
Dell’s implacably calm, lyrically plainspoken voice is our sole guide through the story, and his ambiguous insights as an adult never dispel the teenaged wonderment fogging the experience that forever broke his life in two. “First,” he begins, “I’ll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later.”
Each of these sentences looms over one of the book’s two main parts, which are followed by a short epilogue. The robbery is the unmovable center everything else revolves around, at least in Dell’s analysis. The murders, for us, are the engine of suspense.
Just ask Rebus Works owner Shonna Greenwell. Today, the men of local wrestling outfit GOUGE Wrestling will be smashing and bashing outside her arts and crafts gallery, entertaining spectators as they take part in another one of Rebus Works’s Food Truck Rodeo.
So, just how did an art gallery owner hook up with a bunch of tights-wearing bruisers? Well, for starters, she lived next to one for years.
“Count Grog was my neighbor,” says Greenwell, referring to the wrestling manager and GOUGE commissioner. She got invited to one of their shows back when they were performing over at the Berkeley Café. Greenwell, who was dabbling in photography at the time, found them to be the perfect photo subjects.
“These guys, or men and women, would completely go into this other ego or other personality, and it was always your classic, like, good vs. evil,” she says. “And they would get the crowd riled up, and you could get all your frustrations and everything out. You could yell whatever you want and basically cheer for whoever you wanted as well.”
Greenwell got the GOUGE crew to perform outside Rebus Works for one paid event, but it turned to be, in Greenwell’s words, a “borderline disaster.” She forgot that because Rebus Works is located below the Boylan Street Bridge, passersby could watch the action from the bridge and not pay a dime.