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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

2012: Don Giovanni, A Space Odyssey

While I was busy relaxing in the hammock over Memorial Day Weekend in Augusta, GA, my talented friend Jessica Robin Trent went "on assignment" to see the Los Angeles Philharmonic's opera performance of Don Giovanni.  Enjoy!

Photo courtesy of Kimberly Brooks
The unique collaboration between director Christopher Alden, Disney Hall architect Frank Gehry’s installation, and Rodarte’s costumes, along with the youthful energy of conductor Gustavo Dudamel, formed a very modern, abstract, provocative and decidedly Los Angeles creation of the classic tale of Don GiovanniThe LA Philharmonic decided to stage only four performances, though I wish they could have scheduled more, as this magnificent creation would surely attract the young audience of which the institution seems to be in want.  In its 93rd season, and with Dudamel on a multi-year contract, the LA Philharmonic is certainly redefining the orchestral experience.

With sweet Sutton bowing out of the performance in favor of going home to Augusta for Memorial Day weekend, I was lucky enough to be a guest in her absence, and was in the delightful company of wonderful women: Kimberly Brooks, artist and founder of the Huffington Post’s art section; and Dr. Charlotte Eyerman, American Director of FRAME (French American Museum Exchange) and independent curator.

The men’s costumes seemed very Star Wars meets minimalist motocross inspired. In other words, very LA. Instead of armor, our Don Giovanni 2012 gentlemen  wore chest and shoulder pieces resembling motocross protective gear, and simple white shoe boots that strapped up around their thighs. Their pants were very sporty: all one color with multiple zippers (white for everyone except the Commendatore, who was in head to toe black).

The collaborative efforts framed by the simple and modular installation, placed Don Giovanni in the vein of a performance art piece as much as it was opera. Composed in 1787 by Mozart with the libretto written the same year by Lorenzo da Ponte, Don Giovanni is certainly a timeless tale, especially when experienced in this version.  Don Giovanni is described to live in a world where everyone exists for him. “If I were monogamous, it would be cruel to all the other women,” says Don Giovanni, defending his lifestyle to his confidante/servant Leporello. Oh yes, 225 years later, how many men today still believe this? There were so many moments in the performance that made me think of a few dear male friends and laugh aloud.

Leporello, performed by American bass Kevin Burdette, truly stole the show for me. He not only has an impressive voice, but is a fantastic comic actor of the very physical sort, often interacting directly with the audience. He at times reminded me of the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. I cannot say enough. He was captivating, and I adored watching him.

“Large women are magic. The petite ones are always charming,” brags Don Giovanni. Soprano Aga Mikolaj’s Donna Elvira was the larger than life shining star of the females. She dominated the stage like a powerful goth queen in her two black lace, silk, jet and Swarovski embellished Rodarte dresses and headpieces.  (The costume changes for Act II were more dramatic for the women, with their hair and dresses becoming more disheveled) Her voice echoed from her soul and made us feel every emotion. Soprano Anna Prohaska (Zerlina) was the most petite opera singer I have come across. Her costume was the only one of pastel coloration and matched perfectly her lilac colored wig by Odile Gilbert. Her wig was fashioned in a loose, tousled manner almost resembling cotton candy. There was a moment where Zerlina danced around quietly by herself to the music, her petite arms motioning slowing much the way one does when dancing to Depeche Mode. I imagined her in the middle of the dance floor at Sunday night’s “Part Time Punks” at The Echo in Echo Park.

Zerlina and her fiancĂ©, Bass-Baritone Ryan Kuster (Masetto) had an incredible chemistry! The very slow-motioned intimate moments between them left our group feeling like voyeurs. Their movements also reminded me of the very slow and beautiful choreography of Tino Sehgal’s “The Kiss” at the Guggenheim. (Kimberly Brooks and I whispered to each other “hot!” as the couple caressed ever so slowly and deliberately.)

Baritone Mariusz Kwiecien as Don Giovanni was the perfectly strong, self-absorbed macho man. In a very overt racy moment, he moved his hand very slowly beneath Donna Elvira’s skirt, up to her thigh, removed his hand and moved it slowly again down his face, opening his fingers at his open mouth. At at that moment, the entire audience loudly gasped, though I am rather sure I may have gasped the loudest. It was quite shocking!

As for the much talked about set design and costumes. I absolutely loved both. There was a sci-fi feel in both. Gehry’s installation reminded me of a deconstructed Kubrick set in the minimal style of 2001: A Space Odyssey meets the starkness of Star Wars scenes filmed in the deserts of Tunisia. The cast interacted very much with the paper sculptures, caressing them and hiding their faces, sometimes their entire bodies, underneath the many folds. The ladies and I discussed the mounds of folded paper to be representative of a woman’s skirting, crumpled bed sheets, and labia. All very fitting for the racy tale of Don Giovanni!.

Jessica Robin Trent
Additional Photos courtesy of Autumn de Wilde/Rodarte

Thursday, May 24, 2012

It's in the Bag

What girl doesn't want a new handbag?  Especially when that bag helps bring an art into a child's life that normally wouldn't have?  Welcome to P.S. Arts Annual Bag Lunch.

With over 200 designer bags up for grab, guests can either "buy it now" for 20% off the retail price or start the bidding at 60% off the retail price.  100% of the proceeds go to P.S. Arts. And those funds support their program which brings in music, drama, dance and the visual arts to public schools all over the Southern California and Central California area.  Salaried Teaching Artists teach in the school for the entire year, teaching art disciplines to over 11,000 students.  The best justification for shopping!

Jewelry Designer Kimberly McDonald and Sydney Holland
And the event is always beautiful, this year held at the home of Shanna Brooks in Beverly Hills.  Guests walk the grounds sipping cool beverages and perusing the merchandise.

Sponsored by Dior, guests are also treated to a gourmet "bag lunch" and sit at impromptu spots at tables on the lawn.

Friends, Vicki McCarty Lovine, writer and Kimberly Brooks, artist

This is such a fun and profitable event that I look forward to each year.  I would urge arts organizations to use this as inspiration to host a similar event.  This party is fun, but it is clear that everyone is there to support the cause and celebrate having ARTS IN SCHOOLS!

The beautiful crocodile Francesco Santoro came home with me!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Louis Vuitton-Marc Jacobs; Two Worlds Collide

When making an innovation cake, it may be the best recipe to blend Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs together.  Of course the people at LVMH probably knew that, considering that Jacobs is Creative Director of Louis Vuitton.  But to put the two together in a museum exhibition is exquisite.  It is thoughtful.  Provoking.  Symmetrical.

Housed at the important and royal Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris, the "Louis Vuitton-Marc Jacobs" exhibit is only capable of inspiration, irritation and isolation.  Walking into the show, the bottom floor is filled with LV treasures, but it begins by telling the story of an era.  I was drawn to the doll's trousseau.  I always loved playing with dolls as a girl - perhaps that is why I love to collect and fill my closet with beautiful things.  Living the fantasy of a ten-year-old.  But to understand what M. Vuitton was facing as he tried to perfect the trunk was enlightening.  So many bits and pieces that were not so collapsable or rollable (as I prefer to pack my things).  

These garments were large and substantial. They required a ship.  And a serious trunk with drawers and removable pieces and jewelry boxes.  They carried quality not quantity.

But there was innovation in what M. Vuitton was doing.  Not only did he personify and characterize trunks, but he made them interesting and beautiful.  He made them a source of wonder for where the traveler was going.

Walking the exhibit you hear the trace calling of John Adams' The Chairman Dances: Two Fanfares for Orchestra leading you up the stairs to the Marc Jacobs portion of the show, you are transferred to a different world entirely.  Disparagingly so.  You are led to the world of video installation screens by curator, Pamela Golbin.  Meant to look like those of a Tumblr page, it is a collage of moving videos and still photographs providing a glimpse of Mr. Jacobs' inspirations. Also a musical collage, songs like It's A Hard Knocks Life, Louie Louie, Gypsies: by Cher, Memories: by Barbara Striesand emerge over.  And videos with scenes from movies like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Belle du Jour, Wizard of Oz  mixed with scenes from South Park, The Simpsons, Studio 54 and more, all create an image board of beauty.  Wonder.  Oddity.

I think I had died and gone to heaven.  And then came the reality of the ridiculous bags.  I guess they are a staple of LV.  A must have.  A Nutcracker of fashion.

But the clothes were shown beautifully in glass cages in various forms.  I particularly enjoyed the animal mannequins - the caged panther was delightful and evocative of something.  Our own imagination?

Finishing through the "peep show" of Mr. Jacobs' collections, as if it were something naughty to see or to be protected from the view of everyone, I escaped unscathed by waving nurses without faces, but with recognizable nurse hats spelling out "LOUIS".  The "VUITTON" missing.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

ABT: The Spring Gala

New York has a leg up.  I'm not sure what it is about this city, but it reigns supreme in all.  It really can do no wrong in shopping, visual art, cuisine, and of course dance.  Monday night was American Ballet Theatre's Opening Night Gala - and I hate to miss a good party...

Performed inside the Metropolitan Opera House in Lincoln Center, over three thousand people are in attendance, and of those about a thousand are there for the gala dinner after.  It is a night that brings out the stars, in dance and screen.  It is truly a celebration of the great world of dance and the stunningly beautiful company that is ABT.
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The fun part about going to the opening night gala is that you get to see a sampling of what the season has in store.  Plus most of your favorite dancers dance that evening.  This year the performed sections from Le Corsaire, La Bayadere, Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, Don Quixote and more.

 My favorite was the Pas de Deux from Flames of Paris - danced by Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev.  They are both power house dancers, and he reminds me of a mini Misha.  He flies at great height and takes risks at every turn - which may have caused the quick spill he had, but he wowed the crowd even more after getting up and continuing. Natalia is one of the great ballerinas of our time.  Her ability to play roles like Firebird and then also Giselle is astonishing, and if you see her dance you will never forget her signature leap.  My other favorite of the night was Polonaise D'Enfants, performed by dancers from the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School.  Ranging from little guys to teenagers, these students are confident and electric on stage.  I especially love the tiny ones.  They are so sweet yet so beautiful to watch. One thing that was certainly missing was any work featuring their men without partners in tutus.  ABT is known for its great male dancers, thank you to Mikhail Baryshnikov, and I would like to see at least one work that showcased this.

Honorary Chair, Caroline Kennedy

Jessica Stam
After the performance guests are herded into a tent behind Lincoln Center.  With Honorary Chairs Michelle Obama, Caroline Kennedy, and Blaine Trump, you know this is going to be a swinging afair.  This year did not disappoint.  Though I thought the decor was a little limp, the food was tasty and the band was fun.  Who doesn't like to foxtrot to My Girl and then turn around to disco to KC and the Sunshine band?

I had all my men at the table wear red socks to honor the Red or Black Tie attire
Dancers Mary Kuusisto and Tiel Vicky
In my Couture Gaultier with friends Olivia Ucko and Catharine Soros
Such a fun night, and even better that it raised 1.8 million dollars to support the Company and its Education and Community Outreach efforts.  I'm a fan and can't wait for next year, but I do hope to see more from their vast collection of choregraphy besides the big greats.

Friday, May 11, 2012

To Bill Maher

I am a Democrat.

This is one of the charities of my choice.
(by the way it houses the LA Philharmonic not the LA Symphony)

This is another.

And here is another.

One more.

In your latest show (please everyone read the transcript of episode 247!!!) you trash charitable giving to the arts and argue that gifts to the arts should not be tax deductible. But modern civilization relies upon the gifts of its people to provide beauty and promise to everyone.  I support that calling.  As a dancer from just about birth, I have been privileged enough to study dance with greats like Bill T. Jones, Betty Jones of Jose Limon, Violette Verdy, Patricia McBride (one of the great Balanchine dancers and legacy teachers), Merce Cunningham, and the list goes on.  I have done these things as a student.  I remember making $150 a week, living in New York City as a nanny and spending every cent I had on my dance education.

I also attended Davidson Fine Arts School in Augusta, GA.  Davidson is an award winning public magnet school that introduced me to all genres of the arts.  There I studied Shakespeare, Bertolt Brecht, Tennessee Williams, Sophocles, Thoreau (on whom I wrote my college entrance essay).  It is a magnet school available to any student in Richmond County that shows an inkling of talent and dedication to the discipline of learning an art form.

I was the Executive Director for the Augusta Ballet for three years in Augusta, GA.  We tried to rely on performance tickets sales only, but that is surely impossible.  Watching the decline of the National Endowment for the Arts during my tenure as Director of Development for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company was not only sad for me as a taxpayer but also devastating as an artist.  I can only write that without the tax deduction for charitable donations, our country will be without ballet, without art museums, without theater, without Mozart, as you pointed out.  And any research study that is worth its salt out there confirms that all of these things only enhance the learning and development of our children.  The children that we want to grow up to help other children with disease, without homes, with horrible living conditions that could only be imagined with empathy, with a spirit enlightened by the arts.

You are wrong Mr. Maher.  Terribly terribly wrong.  What is great about this country, that I love and admire so very much, is that we support and lift up organizations that would die and become a withered hand without the support of its people.  And for peanuts we support the most inventive and vibrant arts communities in the world. In a fifteen trillion dollar economy, Americans give just seventeen billion dollars a year to the arts, so the tax deduction on these gifts costs the government just $5bn a year. For $5bn of lost tax revenue we get the world's greatest symphonies, dance companies, and art museums, supporting the most dynamic new artists on the planet. And though you may think that you help our country and our world to persuade people not to give to these institutions, you are indeed bringing down society with these barbaric ideas.