Wednesday, May 28, 2008

My favorites so far

Posted by John Stoehr on Wed, May 28, 2008 at 11:26 AM

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Here's my unscientific, completely irrational, and wholly subjective list of favorite performances (in the theater/opera/dance arena). They are ranked from highest number (I liked and respected it) to the lowest number (I loved and adored it, recommended it to everyone I saw and even those I didn't).

Please argue with me all you want. That's what lists are for in my view. However, keep in mind this is my heart talking.

1. Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

2. Low Tide Hotel (yes, this is a Piccolo Spoleto performance)

3. Amistad

4. Monkey: Journey to the West

5. La Cenerentola

6. Shantala Shivalingappa

7. I Live Next Door to Horses (another Piccolo event)

8. Boston Ballet

(above image is Sabrina Mandell of Low Tide Hotel by the Maryland's Happenstance Theater and Paul Barritt, smoking a candy cigarette, of 1927 who performed Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The spectacle of Monkey

Posted by John Stoehr on Tue, May 27, 2008 at 10:13 AM

I’ve talked to a lot of people who love Chen Shi-Zheng’s Journey to the West, his collaboration with Britpop composer and singer Damon Albarn and Gorillaz illustrator Jamie Hewlett. What’s perhaps a little surprising to those who love it is how many people are on the fence about it.

No one seems to doubt Monkey's moment has come. It will soon have a much longer life somewhere on Broadway and beyond (likely China). The intersection of acrobatics, animation, mythic storytelling, pantomime, whimsical costumes — everyone agrees that the integration is natural and fantastic.

What I think has these intelligent doubters scratching their heads is why they don’t love it. Some say the fight scenes could be shorter. Others say the costumes were too cartoonish. Others call for a need for more characterization.

These are good, valid points. But I think what's missing so far in the discussion (and I should note that I'm not defending Monkey, just trying to understand it) is the role of values in traditional societies, like China, and the value of the individual vs. community as understood from the perspective of those who made Monkey. It might be just a matter of time before we simply get used to them in the West, like we did with highly stylized and what used to be foreign traits found in things like Pokémon and anime, Nintendo and pocky.

Meanwhile, we're left with the Otherness of Monkey. We have to overcome the apparent and (to us) weird absence of the role of the individual. There's no love song for Pigsy. No dreams to achieve. Even Monkey's redemption isn't all that profound — it's a trifling thing compared to the surrendering of the ego. In the West, when push comes to shove, the individual matters most. In the East, it's community.

The moral is that Monkey stops thinking about what he values and gets in line with the values of society (i.e., redemption, enlightenment). Given this, cartoonish costumes makes sense. They are one dimensional. The lack of characterization makes sense. A focus on individuals would be inappropriate.

Monkey is an attempt as creating pure spectacle — no interior life, no emotional conflict, nothing to overcome. It’s a stunning demonstration of surfaces played out in one dimension. Problem is, spectacle by its nature is impersonal, manipulative. If there’s too much, we can feel hijacked. So I think Monkey should be shorter or have an intermission (probably both). Americans love spectacle, just not too much. Then again, like I said, we might just get used to it.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Laurie Anderson is 'multimedia-free'

Posted by John Stoehr on Mon, May 26, 2008 at 1:59 PM

Dan Wakin, the classical music reporter for The New York Times, observed that "already three productions consciously blur the line between moving images and real life." In particular, he rightly praises the theater troupe 1927 for its stellar production of Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: an "ingenious, macabre little charmer," he writes. CCP critic Jonathan Sanchez called it "so distinctive and so original, so good-natured and lacking in pretension, it defies the typical anxieties of influence. The child-like wonder permeates the theater." But the use of moving images in live performance, one could say, goes back to pioneers like Laurie Anderson, who presents her newest work this week called Homeland.

Anderson has been performing the piece around the world and critics are noting that it's strangely — that is, strange for Laurie Anderson — free of multimedia. While much of Spoleto features a confluence between moving image and real life, as Wakin notes, Anderson seems to be going in other director, a reversal of her rebellious roots that is, given the current context, rebellious in its own right.

After years of being on the margins, Anderson's key trait is now at the center of stage performance. It's to the point, she told me during an interview weeks ago that will run in City Paper on Wednesday, that "the world is filled with screens. Every musical performance uses multimedia now. But they are an ugly distraction most of the time with the wrong tempos.”

The circus opera Monkey: Journey to the West uses video and animation created by Gorillaz cartoonist Jamie Hewlett. Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, a work of “theatrical cabaret” by a theater group called 1927, attempts to parody the film vernacular of silent movies. Marc Bamuthi Joseph, a turntablist, poet, and dancer, uses live video feeds and documentary footage for his show, the break/s. And the classic opera, Rossini’s La Cenerentola, prominently features video.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Tim Page covers Spoleto for the Post and Courier

Posted by John Stoehr on Thu, May 22, 2008 at 8:40 AM

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For the intellectuals out there, this is exciting news. Tim Page, the award-winning critic for The Washington Post, is coming to Charleston to cover Spoleto for the Post and Courier.

I've regularly read Page's work and consider him to be a model critic — even-toned, level-headed, hugely informed, and inexorably opinionated. That, and he's a hell of a writer. The way he writes is at least as valuable as what he's writing about. So for me, this is very exciting. I'll be learning a lot from Mr. Page, and I hope everyone who thinks and writes about — and feels something for — the arts will, too.

Page's appointment also signals a change of attitude at the daily newspaper. For the longest time, Spoleto wasn't taken all that seriously. It was considered a festival for the elites, for outsiders, not real Charlestonians, and so on. But now, Page's appointment shows that the festival is being taken seriously — artistically speaking — on a local level that has been missing till now. I hope this continues year after year. Bravo to managing editor Steven Mullins and staff at the P&C.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Wigging out on post-Spoleto wraps

Posted by Patrick Sharbaugh on Wed, Jun 20, 2007 at 10:08 AM

Spoleto 2007 is an historical artifact at this point, but that hasn’t stopped commentators and critics from picking through the bones and offering up big picture post facto overviews. At The State, arts reporter Jeffrey Day’s wrap landed last Wednesday — the same day as my own postmortem hit the streets — but I just discovered it today through the miracle of Google news alerts on the festival, which I recently set to “weekly” after the crush of “as it happens” mid-festival alerts almost put me into critical cognitive arrest.

Day — who’s been road-tripping from Columbia to cover the festival for nearly 17 years and with whom I traded post-performance notes almost as much as I did with P&C overview critic Josh Rosenblum — makes a good point that I haven’t seen anywhere else: this festival was particularly strong on new music. Even if you didn’t care for Christopher Alden’s Faustus, Philip Glass’ Book of Longing, or the five Music in Time concerts, you gotta give the festival credit for not feeling overly bound to represent the white-wigged* dead guys.

*For this year’s best wigs,  readers are referred to The Cody Rivers Show and Major Bang.

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