Saturday, November 29, 2008

Martha Clarke Recreates A Garden of Earthly Delights

The triptych that is the original source of inspiration

Martha Clarke's The Garden of Earthly Delights is now on stage

I have been fascinated with the painting The Garden of Earthly Delights ever since I first encountered it at the Prado Museum in Madrid decades ago. Choreographer Martha Clarke has brought it to life on stage, though I missed its early incarnations at the American Repertory Theatre some 25 years ago.
Picture from the 1983 ART Production

After its initial appearance, it has returned in a full dance production and is now on view at the Minetta Lane Theatre in Manhatttan.

The Crucifixion is suggested, Rex Miller Photo.

Imagine trying to make the images in this stunning triptych come to life. The painter Hieronymus Bosch, or "El Bosco" as the Spaniards call him, certainly had a 21st Century imagination. Spooky film specialists Tim Burton nor Russ Meyer are not even in the same league. But choreographer Clarke take the Bosch vision on with great success, She doesn't try to replicate all the events depicted on the three panels, but uses them as a starting point for the acid-laden artist's version of Paradise, Earthly Existence and Hell. The painting is from the era when true perspective was not yet developed, so to suggest the crowded canvas, much of her action takes place in the air, with phantasmagorical happenings both on earth and in the heavens. The aerial work is stunning.

Simplicity evokes the painting's complexity. Rex Miller Photo.

Clarke worked out he original choreography in the early 80's and showed it as part of the American Repertory Theatre 1983 season. Back then Robert Brustein was artistic director, and he was way ahead of his audiences. It also had a short run at the Minetta Lane Theatre where it was originally slated to run until January 18 but a comment (see below) notes that it has been extended to March 1st. People's memory of it was so indelible that Clarke was continually prompted to undertake the enormous task of restaging it. Fundraising for this project was more difficult than putting the production itself together, the New York Times reported today.

Trees from Martha's back yard decorate the stage. Richard Finkelstein photo.

You can view more of Richard Finkelstein's creativity on his wonderful website. Dance photography is a great creative challenge to get right, and he does it with panache.

At the Minetta Lane Theater, 18 Minetta Lane, Greenwich Village; (212) 307-4100. Through Jan. 18. Running time: 1 hour 15 minutes.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Disney offers free Broadway tickets for children

Mary Poppins on Broadway

It's actually kind of amazing. But Disney has reacted to the economic times with wisdom and what amounts to a huge price cut for its tickets to their three Broadway shows.

Not exactly free, but the next best thing because with each adult ticket you can get one free children’s ticket. It is a limited time offer, and applies to three of its most popular Broadway musicals: “The Lion King,” “Mary Poppins” and “The Little Mermaid.”

The Lion King on Broadway

Now there are a couple of important details. First, the window for buying the tickets is very short. The tickets will go on sale on Monday, December 1 through Dec. 12. During that period, ticket buyers can receive one free child’s admission (18 and under) with each purchase of a full-priced ticket.

The other caveat is that this is just for shows between January 6 and March 13, the slowest months of the Broadway season due to the unpredictability of the weather. There are some dates blocked out, including what is school vacation for some.

The Little Mermaid on Braodway

But should you be able to work around the limitations, you can get one heck of a deal, mom and dad. To claim your tickets, and to find out more about these shows, you just need to visit this special Disney website which has been set up for this promotion.

Broadway's Greed Closes Young Frankenstein

The producers picked a big house and even bigger prices.

I have watched ticket prices for Broadway shows creep up from $1.10 and $2.20 in the late 1950's (for second balcony seats, orchestra was $4.40) to the day a decade ago when they hit $100 for some musicals. I was delighted to hear about Young Frankestein being made into a musical, but when the producers announced top ticket prices of $375 and $400 I knew I would not be going to see that show. Who did they think they were, Cirque du Soleil? The Rolling Stones? The Second Coming of Christ?

I considered the prices they were charging to be confiscatory, and while I understood their desire to reap the unconscionable profits the ticket scalper usually made, they also showed a shameful greed since all the orchestra seats were out of reach, and even the "dress circle" (translation: first balcony) seats were $120.

As if this piggy pricing was not enough, there was also their hubris regarding group sales. They figured they had a show that would reap plenty, so they limited group sales to 50 at a pop on the weekends, and the ticket allocations were very stingy. But they also killed the goose that lays golden eggs for Broadway, and often supports so-so shows just long enough to build the word of mouth.

Cause of death? Miscalculating public reaction to $400 tickets.

Not only did I pass, but they also went on my silent list of productions to avoid, even if they were half price, still a King's ransom for most of us. In the end, all theatre-goers vote with their wallets.

Recently Bob Sillerman, Mel Brook's producing partner publicly repented these pricing strategies. But it is too late, it has spread to other shows as well.

Nevertheless, when this Broadway monster announced it is closing January 4, after 30 previews and 484 performances, I felt a bit of poetic justice had been served.

A spectacular show, but grossly overpriced.

Now I know how difficult it is to raise money for Broadway shows, and how important recoupment is. Young Frankenstein has supposedly recouped its investment. But the audiences, at least those who are residents of the city and surrounding areas are not exactly having an easy time of it these days. Ignoring the impact these pricing decisions have on traditional audiences is important, for by making prices not just high, but unreasonable to boot, is killing Broadway.

More Casualties to Come

Closing dates have been announced with glum regularity lately: Older shows, such as "Hairspray, "Monty Python's Spamalot" and "Spring Awakening" are finishing their runs. New shows, such as "13" have already departed, as well as the critically maligned and artistically mangled "American Buffalo." David Mamet, what were you thinking with that cast of second-tier TV and movie stars. I could understand John Leguizamo, he can act, but Cedric the Entertainer? Haley Joel Osment?

Still, some shows thrive

And yet, the news isn't all grim. Limited-engagement fall revivals of "Speed-the-Plow,""The Seagull,""All My Sons" and possibly "Equus" are at or near recoupment of their $2 million-plus production costs. And "Billy Elliot" has turned into the first big musical smash of 2008, getting great notices and doing hefty business.

Best of all, three of them are plays, not musicals. Imagine that. Times are changing.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Julian Kuerti's BSO rescue has unintended consequenses

The father and son duo of Julian and Anton Kuerti in action

Unintended consequences. When Gennady Rozhdestvensky decided to walk out on his commitment to conduct last weekend's BSO concerts, Julian Kuerti stepped in and rescued the day.

But In order to do this, Kuerti then had to bow out of his appearance this week with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. He was scheduled to appear there with his dad, renowned Canadian pianist Anton Kuerti.

Wednesday's concert, entitled Kuerti: Father and Son, was meant to be a two-generation classical music collaboration. But Kuerti, assistant conductor with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, had to step in there instead.

Earlier this summer, Kuerti also filled in for an ailing James Levine as conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for early July performances in the Koussevitzky Music Shed at Tanglewood. Kuerti is the BSO's Assistant Conductor.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Time for you to retire, Rozhdestvensky!

His Majesty, The Petulant Maestro Rozhdestvensky

The Boston Symphony Orchestra, one of the most conservative and polite arts organizations in the entire country witnessed a temper tantrum of seismic magnitude when Gennady Rozhdestvensky, a 77 year old Russian conductor of the old school threw a hissy fit and refused to lift his baton to conduct his contracted performances.

The reason was simply stunning. On a stroll around Symphony Hall he noticed a poster in which someone else's name - cellist Lynn Harrell - got placed above his own. This might have been due to the fact that the concert was part of a series called "The Cello Shines" but for the star conductor, that was beside the point. Then, when belatedly looking over the BSO's promotional materials, he discovered other artists with bigger photos, longer descriptions, and, heaven forbid! larger type.

This lack of deference so angered and insulted the old Soviet Bear that he did the same thing any petulant child would do, he simply refused to go on as scheduled. He took the next plane back to Moscow.

Good riddance. Any mature person would have fulfilled the contract, and not pulled such a stunt. In fact, most conductors are under professional management, and their contracts usually include clauses regarding promotion, just like a rock band. Perhaps he should get a new management company. If any would have him after this stunt.

The Boston Globe lost no time in reporting the diva's temper tantrum:

Jeremy Eichler's report in the Boston Globe

Perhaps the good news out of this is that a young conductor, Julian Kuerti, got a chance to show his stuff and received a warm welcome as a result. So something good came out of this.

Of course this contretemps pales in comparison with the Vanessa Redgrave flap of 1982. The actress Vanessa Redgrave brought suit against the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) for canceling a contract for her appearance as narrator in a performance of Stravinsky's "Oedipus Rex." BSO cancelled the performance in response to public protest over Redgrave's participation because of her support of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Vanessa Redgrave today

The organization was quite different in those days, naive even, as this quote from Time Magazine clearly demonstrates:

Thomas Morris, general manager of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, is a dedicated man of music who has scant interest in more mundane subjects like politics. He reads newspapers "as little as possible," he says, and "I don't pay much attention to television." So no one was more surprised than Morris at the furor that ensued in March 1982 after British Actress Vanessa Redgrave was hired to narrate the B.S.O.'s planned production of the opera-oratorio Oedipus Rex. Redgrave, as anyone who does read the newspapers should know, is a Trotskyite and ardent supporter of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and her selection immediately inspired an outcry. Faced with protests from musicians, threats of violent disruption, and possible withdrawal of funds by Jewish orchestra patrons, Morris canceled Oedipus, casting Redgrave into the wilderness.

Now Morris, 40, and his colleagues are paying for their naiveté in Boston federal court, where Redgrave is suing the B.S.O. for breach of contract and violation of her civil rights. In testimony that was by turns rambling, deft and once even tearful, Redgrave, 47, argued that the cancellation of her $31,000, six-performance contract effectively blacklisted her for more than a year. The orchestra "may not be E.F. Hutton," her lawyer told the jury, "but when it talks, people listen." Redgrave testified that she was turned down for a role in a Broadway production for fear that her appearance would invite demonstrations. At one point, said the actress, who won a 1978 Oscar for her role in Julia, she was so desperate for money that she agreed to appear nude in an as yet unreleased film called Steaming, for which she earned $100,000.

Redgrave got strong support from Peter Sellars, the artistic director of the Kennedy Center theater in Washington, who would have been in charge of the Oedipus production. Canceling performances because of potential political disruption sets a "dangerous precedent," Sellars testified. "If the Boston Symphony acts this way, no artist is safe."

The Original Time Magazine article

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Gilbert and George - Dynamic Duo or Geeks in Tweeds?

The two British artists, partners in both life and work, have been together for more than forty years, and in that time have been called everything from "brilliant" to "boring". Perhaps that is because so much of their art is both accessible and homoerotic, making their work very popular among the masses, yet a bit of a sin in the world of contemporary art. It is not that the art world does not like gay artists, rather more a protective reaction that overtly homoerotic subject matter makes the horsey set nervous and gives many galleries the vapors. Gay art as a result is usually ghettoized with only a few of the most outrageous (Mapplethorpe) and deeply closeted (you know who you are) making it into the mainstream world.

Rep. Barney Frank and Herb Moses were once lovers and are still friends.

We may have just elected a black President, but nobody mentions a same sex couple in the White House. We may have come a long way baby, but don't push your luck, guys.

Gilbert and George have an endless "World" of Ideas

There is a thriving gay art world nevertheless, and so when an exhibition of the work by the gruesome twosome opened at the Brooklyn Museum it was met with disdain by the New York Times and delight by the gay press. The exhibition of George Passmore and Gilbert Proesch originated at the Tate in London, and it combines both the fresh and lush appeal of fresh faced young men and the repulsive inclusion of blood, vomit and feces.

"Blooded" upon the innocent, or as baptism?

They have used these elements since the 19080's and it is clear to me that Andres Serrano took his cues from there, and was simply more perverse, invoking the gag response in many viewers of his latest work.

"Naked" and very perverse

There's a perceptive review in Berkshire Fine Arts talking about some of Serrano's latest work using crap. In terms of the pop-art approach to collages, there is also the riveting work of Miroslav Antic now at the Kidder Smith Gallery.

"Existers" might be a sociological statement.

Gilbert and George from the outset wanted to move beyond the stifling and precious confines of the art world and have practiced what they call "art for all" since their beginnings. Gilbert was born in Italy and George in Devon and they met at the St. Martins School of Art in London where they studied sculpture together.

Perhaps there is no there "There."

In 1969 they launched their career as The Singing Sculpture since they were both their art and makers of art. "Underneath the Arches" where they broke into vaudeville song and dance became their signature piece. They were known to perform this ditty over and over while on tour, sometimes for eight hours at a time. You can still find their performances on You Tube to get an idea as to their upbeat approach to both art and life.

"Wall" could refer to both physical and psychological barriers between people.

Their works are planned very carefully, and often are a series of two to four pieces on a theme. In Shitty Naked Human World (1994) the artists are once again the subject. There are a series videos on how they create their final products at the Tate Museum site. That they are more likely to use graph paper in planning out a canvas is no surprise, though their use of Photoshop to execute the final product might upset those who prefer brushes.

As you can see by the various images their work runs from the commonplace to the unexpected. They use iconic political and religious symbols, as well as views of the people and places they see on their way to and from home. Some even look like sexual advertisements, others like they might be the storyboard sketches of filmaker John Waters.

"Hope" could be a campaign poster for Obama.

"Fear" might be a political statement as well.

“Gilbert & George” is on exhibit until Jan. 11 at the Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway, at Prospect Park, (718) 638-5000.

Brooklyn Museum link

Monday, November 3, 2008

It's time to vote!

One More Day!

Les Miz as Broadway for Barak

I think a vote for Obama is a vote for competence and decency to return to the White House. Whether you agree or not, it is time to decide.