FlyOver: June 2009 Archives
Cats: Philip Bimstein, the composer, wrote a piece called Cats in the Kitchen. It was performed during the Music in Time series. It calls for oboe and flute to play along with prepared soundtrack that featured the sound of cats meowing and purring. Meanwhile, Kassys, the Dutch theater collective, parodies in Good Cop Bad Cop the unreality of reality television by imitating cats (and one dog) on stage with projections of the same characters (as people) in video interviews behind them.
Stomping and Clapping: Todd Palmer, the clarinetist, arranged Aaron Copland "Hoedown" for flute, clarinet, two violins, viola, cello, and piano. The piece called for lots of stomping and clapping that raised the excitement level, especially when pianist Stephen Prutsman raised and thwapped his shoes to the floor in appropriately operatic fashion. Meanwhile, Noche Flamenca, the Spanish dance troupe, makes its living stomping and clapping. Those lie at the heart of flamenco, the people's dance.
Popping and Locking: Japanese dancer Hiroaki Umeda combined styles of street dance with light and sound technology to create an entire environment that either engaged you or didn't, depending on your sensibility, I think. Much of his dancing was of the popping and locking sort, but better -- elegant, seamless, and poetic. Meanwhile, the American premiere of Don John by Cornwall's Kneehigh Theatre features a goofy tangent in which a schlubby, lovable and, in the end, courageous character by the name of Allen electrocutes himself twice (he's preparing for his wedding with the Polish beauty Zerlina; she's an 8 while he's more like a 3). With lightning in his veins, Allen proceeds to entertain the audience with a comic break-dancing sequence with his own version of popping and locking.
Dead people: Both fictional and real. Don John, the ultimate womanizer, meets his match when confronted by the dead father of one of the women he ravages. Actually, Don meets him in the middle of a drug-fueled psychosis and anyway, the point is that that's the end of Don John. Over at Story of a Rabbit, Hugh Hughes wraps the story of his dad dying into a story about a rabbit dying, and then all that into a story about the process of telling a story. It's all a lot funnier than it sounds. Meanwhile, the real dead people came into play with the 50th anniversary of Alvin Ailey's dance company. There was a video tribute to the American icon prior to the troupe's stellar performance in the beginning of the festival. Peter Lorre, the classic Hollywood actor, was revived for Addicted to Bad Ideas by the World/Inferno Friendship Society. Another real dead person coming to the fore was Gian Carlo Menotti. Mayor Joe Riley made a big deal about Charles Wadsworth, who's retiring this year, sticking with Charleston after Menotti, in a fit of rage over the role of his lover-son, pressured everyone involved in the American festival to defect to the Italian one. Tim Page, the overview critic for The Post and Courier, rightly noted that Menotti wasn't much good for anything in later years and probably did us a favor when he left.
Distractions: The pianist Stephen Prutsman has stopped playing at least three times due to noisy interruptions. Two of those were cell phones. To be fair, the other was just a squeaky chair, but to him, it must have sounded like a cell phone. Meanwhile, the opening of Dogugaeshi suffered from poor seating design. The festival built an ad-hoc black box at Exhibition Hall at the Gaillard and had set it up to be long and narrow, with the puppet theater at one of the narrow ends of the rectangle. That made it hard to see from the get-go. Moreover, the festival had also arranged two rows of chair per riser, each of which differed maybe by a couple of inches in height. Kindly ushers scrambled to find ways to help people see better, eventually coming on the idea of pillows to boast people up off their chairs. All has been remedied, I'm told. Then over at Beverly "Guitar" Watkins' blues concert, word has it her Telecaster took a shit that night, which explains why her performance was ungodly short. That and the sound guy never figured things out. The poor trombonist was blasting his brains out. Finally, Florin Niculescu's performance didn't get rained out thanks to quick thinking by festival organizers to move it to Charleston Music Hall. Unfortunately, if you were sitting on the orchestral level on the right side, you could hear everything over at Coast, too.
Video: It's getting rarer that the performing arts don't include video now. The Ailey company used it to pay tribute to its founder. Story of a Rabbit used video, as did the dancer Hiroaki Umeda, Addicted to Bad Ideas, Dogugaeshi, and Good Cop, Bad Cop. This counts under moving images but not video per se: Pianist Ramberto Ciammarughi did a recital that evoked the great Hollywood soundtracks featuring Hollywood's great but unheralded concert pianists.
Barnyard animals: I already mentioned cats and dogs, but there's more. Obviously, Story of a Rabbit counts. But so does Deuce Theatre's political satire The Emperor Is Naked? a fictional land peopled not with people but with "sheeple." Composer Philip Bimstein's piece called Garland Hersey's Cows uses various recorded sounds of cows doing cow things. You'd be surprised how cool-sounding harmonized moos are. Dogugaeshi features mostly beautiful slides to tell the story of the art form, but it also features a beautiful silver-maned, golden-toothed fox.
Trash: One of the "cats" in Good Cop Bad Cop gets stuck in a trash bag. It's hilarious and nearly worth the price of a ticket (nearly worth it; fortunately, there's much more). Meanwhile, a turning point in Don John occurs when one of his conquests, drunk and essentially out of her mind, finds a revolver in a trash bag. And finally, the last trash reference comes from a headliner writer for The Post and Courier who thought "'Don John,' brash; 'Rabbit' trash" would be clever atop mixed reviews of both Don John and Story of a Rabbit by Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Tim Page. There's a special place in Hell for headliner writers like that.
Untethered writers: 2008-2009 has been brutal to media people who covered Spoleto for years and years. I have met journalists and critics who used to represent venerable newspapers like The Post and Courier, The State in Columbia, and the Charlotte Observer, but who are now flying solo. If you Google "Spoleto Festival USA" in the news section, you'll find mostly articles in The Post and Courier (done by stringers, mostly) and City Paper (which were also written by freelancers, but not mostly). The times they are a-changing.
Originally published in Charleston City Paper
Reality TV isn't really real. Maybe you've noticed. It's more like an enormous vetting process that demands, if not humiliation, then a deep and abiding display of humility before the eyes of God, America, and Simon Cowell.
If you can endure that, and game the rules a bit, too, you might be a star.
Ironically, those rules can have little to do with the task at hand. Judges for So You Think You Can Dance, for instance, have shown less interest in a contestant's dancing ability than in his or her willingness to mug and preen and be subjected to all manner of invasive interrogation: Show us your dirty laundry or pay the price.
This was brought into sharp relief in 2007 when Danny Tidwell, an elite dancer and former member of New York's American Ballet Theater, was ridiculed by judges for appearing to be, as he awaited their decision, "God's gift to the world." He flew in the face of television storytelling convention -- arrogance is always a thin veil for deep-seated insecurity. If you don't show your true self -- the self that is ostensibly, in Tidwell's case, a vulnerable little boy -- you're not being true to yourself or to the rest of America.
And that, my friend, is bad TV.
Such is the power of television that it makes even elite dancers like Tidwell behave in ways inconceivable before his appearance on the show. And it's this power to manipulate people into pretending to be something they are not that fascinates Liesbeth Gritter.
Gritter is a founding member of Kassys, a Dutch theater company based in Amsterdam. She and partner Mette van der Sijs are making their American debut during Spoleto with the premiere of Good Cop Bad Cop.
They travel around the world creating abstract works for the stage, using live acting and lots of film to exploit the bizarro world between the authentic self and the invented self.
Their production, called Good Cop Bad Cop, was inspired by reality TV, which, while commonplace in the U.S., is still somewhat novel in the Netherlands. Gritter, being relatively new to its perverse appetite for humiliating otherwise proud individuals, believes TV encourages fear of being normal. Good Cop Bad Cop therefore examines what ordinary people do in extraordinary situations, like a reality TV show.
"People are asked all the time to comment in news stories about things
they know nothing about," Gritter says. "But because they are on TV,
they feel compelled to talk about something, even when what they are
saying is actually saying nothing at all."
When Ezra Pound said, "Make it new," he was urging modernist artists, mostly poets, to find value in the past from the point of view of the present. Orchestras and dance companies have done just that, but over time, they eventually inverted Pound's edict, as if saying to living composers and choreographers, the oldies are the real goodies.
So orchestras and dance companies have become, over the past half century, more like cover bands. All method and technique, but little creative spark. Why dick around with the new and convince your donors to give it a try, when you can offer Beethoven and Brahms? And The Nutcracker? Don't even think of it. Those tutus are here to stay.
Benoit-Swan Pouffer understands how art sometimes becomes a sacred cow. The artistic director of Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, which performs for the first time at this year's Spoleto Festival, is keenly aware of stagnation.
"Our mission is to bring attention to new work by international
choreographers," Pouffer says from Switzerland. "We try to make a
comprehensive environment for them to work. They are all different, and
the dancers are all eclectic, and, somehow, it all works."
(Note: As you can see from the mess below, this story got some facts wrong. Since posting this story, new and correct information has come to light. In an effort to be honest and transparent, I have struck-through the errors and indicated the corrections by using italics.)
Like you need more evidence that the media world is changing.
We noticed early on that the 2009 Spoleto Festival USA has been conspicuously absent from the pages and website of The New York Times. There was a piece on Wadsworth's retirement two weeks prior to the start. The only item after that came today, relaying the news of Wadsworth's successor, Geoff Nuttall. Then again, everyone knew that around 9 p.m. Sunday when the festival PR people sent out a media blast making the announcement.
Sources inside the festival say no amount of effort could get the
Gray Lady to send a reporter or a critic. (Correction: PR director Paula Edwards told me Spoleto had no luck persuading the newspaper to come down; when I asked if the reason stemmed from the paper's struggling financial state, she said yes. I have since learned from a colleague at the Times that this is not true; Spoleto's programming wasn't compelling enough to warrant sending anyone to cover the festival).
Not Wadsworth's retirement,
not the American premiere of Don John, and not the re-staging and re-visioning of an obscure French opera, Louise. In retrospect, though, we might have seen this coming. The Times reported a loss of $75 million for the first quarter of the year.
And last May, the paper sent a reporter and not a critic (Clarification: My colleague tells me the reason for sending a reporter and not a critic has nothing to do with finances; it has to do with last year's news story on the reunification of the American and Italian festivals). The Post and Courier's
Adam Parker was the only reporter from a print publication to attend
the festival's annual board meeting on Memorial Day. The pressure to
maintain its visibility in the media is so strong that festival
officials were disappointed that City Paper didn't attend. 2009 may be the first year since Wadsworth began the chamber music series that someone from the Times has not been presence. (Correction: This is not the first year the Times has not sent a critic or reporter). I know it's the first time in recent memory (Clarification: this is my memory which has shown on this occasion to be unreliable). Such is the state of even the august Times that it can't afford to send a critic down for a few days (Correction: see first correction above). Evidently, it's watching every penny (Correction: see first correction above).
(I regret the above errors and any harm they may have caused.)
Thank you for your review of Revelation. I am happy to hear that you have taken such an interest in the custom device that I use as an integral part of performing the work. As your friend Ron Wiltrout noted in his separate posting, I am usually extremely forthcoming about the nature of my work and even the specifications of my tuning system. However, the original form of the device that I use was invented by my mentor La Monte Young, and upon entrusting me to use it, he specifically requested that I keep the technique absolutely confidential. So I hope that you will understand that under the circumstances I will not be able to email you a photo. Nonetheless I greatly appreciate your support and enthusiasm about the work. With all best regards, MichaelOriginally published in [*Charleston City Paper*](http://posting.charlestoncitypaper.com/Spoletobuzz/archives/2009/05/29/spoletos-closely-guarded-secret?cb=c0d567691a78ad5a5e5e2e3a155506fe)