Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Obama and McCain differ greatly on the Arts

Americans for the Arts Action Fund compared the two presidential candidates on policies and funding for the arts. Both candidates met with members of the organization in April.

Since February, Democrat Barack Obama had been publishing what amounts to a comprehensive policy statement on the arts and arts education. Here in PDF form are Obama's arts policies. He also has outlined his position on funding the arts in speeches in Texas and Pennsylvania.
Obama has a clear set of priorities for the arts.

After several requests, Republican John McCain finally did state his position on the arts by publishing a short statement in the Salt Lake City Tribune earlier this month.

There was an even more interesting follow up story also by Julie Checkoway. The story, and embedded video, talks about how important the arts can be to our lives. I give kudos to McCain for recognizing his lack of knowledge in the area.

The Democratic Party platform includes a statement on the arts, but the Republican platform does not.

McCain has no use for the arts, nor any policy to support anything to do with creativity in this competitive world.

Perhaps most telling is the voting record of each of the presidential candidates. Obama sponsored the Artist-Museum Partnership Act. McCain has voted for cutting or terminating funding for the National Endowment for the Arts in several different Senate votes. More information is available at www.artsvote.org.

Nothing on the McCain-Pail website about the arts.

When it comes to the Vice Presidential candidates, Sarah Palin offers an interesting contrast. While Mayor of Wasilla she cut funding for the Dorothy G. Page Museum and summarily fired its director, John Cooper. As governor of Alaska, there was a miniscule increase to the state arts council funding - most likely to continue receiving Federal funds - but somehow it ran out of money before the grants could be adjudicated. This article at artNet pretty well summarizes her actions. If she behaves anything like McCain, she will not be in favor for continued funding of the NEA.

Massachusetts Ballot Question 1



Voters in Massachusetts will have a crucial decision to make at the polls in November - and it's not just the presidential election.

Once again, they'll be faced with a proposal to get rid of the state income tax - an initiative that's getting more attention this time around because of the economic crisis.

It's called Question 1 - a proposed repeal of the state income tax and of course, the capital gains tax. The greedy are never satisfied.

Supporters say it will take money out of the hands of Beacon Hill politicians who have done nothing but waste it for years. Ask someone making minimum wage in North Adams who gets fuel assistance, Or a senior who uses the Spitzer Center. Or any teacher.

We have a bridge to fix, a city that is already running on fumes, and don't need to see local aid take another hit.

I think it's a reckless idea.

"This is throwing a bomb into government," said Peter Meade, head of the Vote No on 1 Committee. "If you vote yes, you're voting to increase the tax on your home."

For more information about how this measure will affect your town or city, check out this interactive map and web site.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Touching "To Kill a Mockingbird" at Barrington Stage

The stage set designed by Marion Williams is evocative of the South. All photos by Kevin Sprague.

Although I enjoy reviewing many Berkshire events for Berkshire Fine Arts, I don't always land the plum assignments, and so I had to reluctantly defer to Editor and Publisher Charles Giuliano to review this new production which you can read here. I went to see it anyway, and here's my twitter synopsis: To Kill a Mockingbird at Barrington Stage is wonderful. The in-depth BFA critique will appear in a day or two, but I wanted to alert you to this show - one of the most dramatic and moving dramas Barrington Stage has ever done. Julianne Boyd and her gifted cast certainly deserved the standing ovation they received on Opening Night. And my eyes were wet. Yes, this old cynic was moved to tears by what he saw, and this coming of age story set in the South should strike a chord deep within you, too.

Harper Lee's book, To Kill a Mockingbird has become a classic book, mandatory in High School classrooms, and a still popular motion picture for which Gregory Peck received an Oscar for his role of Atticus Finch. The staged version is not identical to either the book or the film. I found it even more powerful and spellbinding when performed live.

An understanding Miss Maudie (Debra Jo Rupp) helps Scout (Grace Sylvia) and Jem (Christian Meola) to understand their father.
Atticus (David Adkins) is threatened by a lynch mob.
The riveting trial of Tom Robinson (played by Jerome Spratling).
Atticus, played by David Adkins lets out a blood curdling scream when he discovers his children were harmed.
Scout (Grace Sylvia) learns a life lesson from Atticus (David Adkins)

Coming Up: This Wonderful Life, Carousel and Streetcar Named Desire

Barrington Stage has also announed a Christmas presentation of the one-man show, This Wonderful Life for December 3-20 on their Main Stage. It promises to be a wonderful twist on Frank Capra's timeless film, so full of hope and happiness, humor and and holiday cheer.

For the 2009 season, Boyd also plans to direct a fully staged Carousel by Rogers and Hammerstein, as well as the classic Tennessee Williams play, A Streetcar Named Desire. Still to be revealed: the third summer attraction, probably a comedy.

For tickets and information, you can always visit the Barington Stage website.

You can also hear Jullianne Boyd talk about Mockingbird on You Tube.

Columbus Day Weekend

A "Trock" Dancer Prepares

It was both whacky and wonderful in the Berkshires over the Columbus Day Weekend. My friends from Boston could not get a room nearby, so they did not get to enjoy the Trockaderos de Monte Carlo who played the Hunter Center at Mass MoCA in North Adams, MA. It was a great show, and you can read my review here:

Larry Murray's Berkshire Fine Arts Review

Since I wrote it, several people have asked me about some of the more unusual dance phrases I employed in the critique.

So here are a couple of images to illustrate what a ponche and a "fish" dive are.

The ballerina is doing a "ponche" with one leg en pointe and the other pointing at midnight, a feat which i have never seen a male dancer able to perform.

And this is the gorgeous "Fish" Dive, which is as complicated as a it is beautiful and only lasts a second or two.

Another wonderful review of this performance was published by the very astute Gail Burns which you can find here:

Gail Sez Review

While North Adams is in no danger of becoming another Provincetown, it surely was nice to see a little diversity in the artistic offerings. And the sold out houses for the "Trocks" indicates that there is a market here for both more dance, and more camp.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Keeping an Artistic Eye on the Universe with the Hubbble Telescope

With the deployment of the Hubble telescope, the richness of the universe has become a source of artistic inspiration. Perhaps it is because the same parts of the human brain are used for both creativity and analysis. Science and art merge, and both disciplines are grounded in both objectivity and passion - though some will debate this point. The main difference is that science uses analysis and observation as its foundation, art more often depending on emotion and feeling. But there is no doubting the frequent merging of all these elements.

The Hubble Photograph Website

These images are freely available from the Hubble website, and are easily manipulated in graphics programs such as Photoshop. I have only made some minor tweaks to these photographs, and my preferences are layered on top of those made by the scientists who preceded me. The colors we see are rarely the actual ones captured by the Hubble, but rather used to make the structures of space more visible, and one would guess, more interesting.

What I find most interesting about these images is that I have purchased oil paintings with similar themes over the decades, before these images became known. Interesting.

Sturn and its rings.

Three images above: The birth of Galaxies in the Maternity Ward of the Universe.

As good as movies have become, no special effects artist has yet to mimic the dazzling complexity of the Universe.

Above is Mars laid flat like a tangerine peel.

Painting or photograph?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Trocks: Gentlemen Dancers in Tulle Tutus and Toe Shoes

The founder of the Boston Ballet, E. Virginia Williams, danced for the real Ballets Russe de Monte Carlo, the one founded by René Blum and Léonide Massine. It is a company that spawned many imitators. If she was still around today, I would take her to see their satirical successor, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo which makes its Berkshire appearance on October 10 and 11 at Mass MoCA in North Adams. It is a performance not to be missed.

Combining a wicked comic sense of humor with a devoted respect and true talent for classical dance, the all-male, 16-member "Clown Princes of Ballet" dance the fine line between high art and high camp. Presented with Jacob's Pillow, the "Trocks" whom the San Francisco Chronicle calls "one of the great comic creations of the American stage," perform parodies of ballet cornerstones complete with gargantuan toe shoes and diaphanous tutus. They have the ability to turn white ballets black, and to turn women's roles into opportunities for men.

These turbo-charged ballerinas are true athletes, with amazing flexibility, questionable artistic sensitivity, and the ability to spin like tops.

One of the most delightful aspects of the troupe is its outrageous sense of humor. Each of the dancers has a drag, excuse me, an travesti persona, and an alter ego. Take handsome and beautiful Joseph Jeffries for example.

His dancing name is MINNIE VAN DRIVER. Always running from rehearsals, costume fittings and performances, Miss Driver has a strong sense of movement. She has performed world wide and has a natural aptitude for touring. Famous for her beautiful port de bras, she gives credit to her many hours behind the wheel.

His alter ego is WILLIAM VANILLA. Despite the fact that he is American, he is very popular within the company. He is extremely personable, the ballerinas very much enjoy dancing with him, the management finds him agreeable, his costumes are never soiled, his fans admire his directness, he photographs well, he keeps regular hours, brushes his teeth after every meal, and he has never said a bad word about anybody. He will never really understand Russian ballet.

Another popular dancer is Calvin Gentry.

On stage he is known as HELEN HIGHWATERS. This waif was orphaned at the age of three when her mother, a ballerina of some dubious distinction, impaled herself on the first violinist’s bow after a series of rather uncontrolled fouette voyage. Helen was raised and educated with the “rats” of the Opera House but the trauma of her childhood never let her reach her full potential. However, under the kind and watchful eye of the Trockadero, she has begun to flower.

He also adopts the well known name of JACQUES d’AMBROSIA. As such he claims he was originally trained as an astronaut before entering the world of ballet. Strong but flexible, good natured but dedicated, sensible but given to unbelievable flights of fantastic behavior, Mr. d’Aniels is an expert on recovering from ballet injuries (including the dreaded “Pavlova’s clavicle”). The list of great ballerinas he has danced with is a long as the list of great ballerinas who will never dance with him again.

Here is a collection of candid photos of the artists as they carefully prepare for their upcoming appearance.

For Tickets go to the Mass Moca website.

The Trocks on line Website

Some background from The New Yorker

Deborah Jowett weighs in for the Village Voice

Boys who dream of being ballerinas. From Point Magazine.

Pitres a Pointes from Marseille - en français

And from London Ballet.com