Monday, March 24, 2014

Enjoying the Paul Taylor Dance Company, as always


Whenever I get the postcard for the new season of the Paul Taylor Dance Company at Lincoln Center, I send an e-mail to IHBB (my impossibly handsome ballet buddy).  Our schedules are always crazy and we procrastinate.  Then TDF has a few dates available and we pounce!  That's what we did again this year, and it may be our modus operandi from now on.  We again got fantastic orchestra seats for the matinee yesterday (last year, we were about 20 rows back, this year we were about ten rows back, just off to the side, in superb seats).  Hurray for TDF and the Paul Taylor Dance Company!

Actually, when I had been looking at this year's schedule, yesterday's matinee stuck in my mind as having a program I'd be especially interested in seeing - it had a premiere and it had two pieces I haven't seen before.  So it was serendipitous that discount tickets turned up.  Of course, I always love a Paul Taylor program, so it probably doesn't matter what pieces are performed, I'm going to enjoy myself.  But I did have a grand time, yet again, yesterday.

photo credit: Paul B Goode
The first piece was ...Byzantium, from their repertory (first done in 1984, music by Edgard Varese).  One reason this piece struck my fancy during my pre-concert research, was because I have studied "Sailing to Byzantium" by Yeats many times in different poetry classes over the years.  I had a favorite professor who taught it in any class he led.  So, I had an image in my mind.  Of course, that image didn't really match what I saw onstage.  :)  In the program, the quote from the poem is the last line: "Of what is past, passing or to come."  And each of the three movements of the piece address those three times. 

The first section was "Passing," and it was an amazingly haunted passage that was full of strength and balance, and contraction and release.  It seemed as if everyone was a loner, yet somehow searching for and moving within a group.  I found some religious imagery, with poses that resembled a cross, and other ritualistic movements.  I was totally confused, yet completely enraptured.  The second section was "Past," and it had dancers in seemingly ancient robes, moving in really fractured and angular ways, making fascinating shapes.  The music rather reminded me of the score to the film Logan's Run (I have no idea why), so the costumes began to remind me of that past meets future vibe as well.  The third section, "Or to Come," combined the first two sections, in that the ancient robed figures were now moving and morphing amongst the loners/groups of the first section.  The robed figures even sort of birthed another robed figure (and how they did that was incredible), who seemed to bring it all together.  Did it symbolize rebirth?  Resurrection?  Who knows?  I sure don't, but my goodness, it was amazing.  It was nearly completely indecipherable to me, but yet I loved it.  Go figure.

photo credit: Tom Caravaglia
After a brief intermission, we saw the second piece, which is a new one that debuted only last fall.  American Dreamer uses the music of Stephen Foster, sung by baritone Thomas Hampson, to depict decidedly American themes and social patterns (the battle of the sexes was a continuing theme).  Each dancer sat on-stage, but out of the dance area, until it was their turn to perform.  They would put on hats or bonnets and moved to the whimsy of the music, with some melancholy underneath.  So even though the pieces were light-hearted and quite amusing at times, there was still a layer of something else underneath.  The bit that was danced to the song "Beautiful Dreamer" was a favorite of mine - I love that song, it's so sad and happy at the same time, and the movements of a man falling in love with three sleepwalkers was sweet and funny, yet wistful and melancholy at the same time.  If this piece doesn't feel as profound as some other Paul Taylor dances, oh well.  I was charmed by it all the same.

photo credit: Michelle V Agins
The third piece, after another brief intermission, was Arden Court (first done in 1981, music by William Boyce).  This piece was full of the joy and brio I associate with a lot of Paul Taylor's work.  Everyone is so open and free, moving alone and with others, with a speed and rapture through space.  It's life-affirming and exuberant, and full of feeling.  Each dancer gets a moment to shine, and then they also move as one entity.  This is such a tight-knit troupe and it's such a pleasure to watch their symbiosis with each other.  Arden Court is a terrific way to end a program, and, again, the audience responded loudly and enthusiastically.  And, to cap off an exciting afternoon, Paul Taylor himself came out to take a bow!  What a thrill!  I was so happy to loudly show my appreciation for him, his company, and his wonderful choreographic brain.  It's amazing to me that all of these ideas and moves and shapes and lives come from the same brain - bravo, Paul Taylor.  You've won me over once more...

After the performance, IHBB and I went to Cafe Luxembourg for a tasty post-show repast.  I haven't been there in maybe fifteen years - it was just as charming as I remember it.  One of their special springtime cocktails is a sour cherry margarita, which, hello, has my name written ALL OVER IT.  As do their lobster rolls and frites that I ordered.  Delicious deliciousness after a wonderful dance program.  All shared with a wonderfully IHBB.  It was a glorious Sunday afternoon in New York which reminded me of how lucky I am to live here and share my life with my friends and all the wonderful performers I enjoy.  Happy beginning of birthday week to me! 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Review - Harmony (in L.A.)

When we were tossing around dates for our California trip, when the second weekend in March came up, I thought, hmmm, L.A., March, now what's happening there??  And then I remembered my interview from last summer with one of my idols!  I remembered that Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman had mentioned that their musical would be in L.A. in the spring of 2014.  When I went to the Ahmanson Theatre's website, there it was!  I could see Barry!  I could finally see Harmony!  And so I did...

Harmony has had a very long circuitous path to production - it had a successful production at La Jolla Playhouse in 1997, seemed headed to Broadway, then had much trouble afterwards.  It was fascinating to discuss the twists and turns with Barry and Bruce when I interviewed them last year.  And their love for their musical is palpable.  I had hoped to get to Atlanta to see the first reincarnation of the show, but couldn't get there.  I was oh so happy to finally finally see it last Saturday night.

Telling the story of a real-life German singing group, Harmony is a good old-fashioned musical with gorgeous, catchy tunes and interesting characters.  The story is compelling and the performances are stellar.  If the end result isn't quite as satisfying as the individual parts, well, I wish I could say exactly why.  My inclination is the libretto isn't quite as special or original as other aspects of the musical, but I've been wrong before.

The Comedian Harmonists were a world-famous close harmony singing group out of Germany.  The group had six members, three of whom were Jewish.  The fact that they were singing in Weimar Germany and fell apart because of the Nazi regime automatically makes it a story worth telling.  Told in flashback, however, I'm not sure we quite get the full weight we could.  The first act seems rather rushed, and the group comes together nearly fully-formed.  It's a 'then we did this' sort of act, but the second act, once there's real conflict and tension, is much more moving and intriguing. 

I thought the music was the strongest part of the evening (I guess you shouldn't be surprised, I do so love Barry Manilow, as you all well know).  The music is very tuneful and engaging, and there's just enough flavor of the period to make the songs sound very authentic.  I've heard several of the songs before, because Barry has recorded one or two over the years, but hearing them in context of the story was wonderful.  "Every Single Day," which is a beautiful song in and of itself, works terrifically as our narrator tries to convince the woman he loves that marriage is a good idea; "Where You Go" is a very moving number for the two women playing the wives, and the juxtaposition of meaning between where the two women are in their lives is quite smart. 

photo credit: Craig Schwartz
When the six men sing together as the Comedian Harmonists, the show just soars.  These actor/singer/dancers are terrific, individually and as a group.  The opening of the second act, "Hungarian Rhapsody #20" is so fantastic and probably gives the closest representation of how the Harmonists actually performed.  I will admit that now and then, their big, Broadway singing sounded a little off to me - I would've rather heard a more accurate 30s sound (I have listened to some recordings of the real Harmonists in the past), especially in their group numbers.  But I completely understood why the artistic choice was made not to do that.  It still nagged at my brain, just a tad, though.  "How Can I Serve You Madame" is a fantastic comic number, and the actors pull it off to perfection.  The big payoff ballad for the narrator, at the end of the evening, unfortunately rather reminded me of "Betrayed" from The Producers, but I quickly moved on.  I hope a cast album is recorded, because I would love to listen to these songs again.

I'm so glad I finally got to see Harmony - I feel as if I got a little window into a hero's soul.  Plus, this is a story worth knowing and telling.  I'm going to try to find the documentary that Bruce Sussman saw all those years ago that led to the writing of the musical because I'd like to learn more.  The million dollar question: do I think Harmony should move to Broadway?  I don't know.  Maybe with some tweaking of the libretto?  I wish I knew.  But if I did, as I like to say, I'd be the richest person in the theater.  I'm also glad I got to see the Ahmanson Theatre - it's a lovely space and the production values there were fantastic.  My seat was great and their website makes ticketing and choosing a seat very easy.

Oh, and another reason this was such a special evening is that I got to see a dear, dear handsome friend from grad school.  I don't get to spend nearly enough time with this gorgeous gentleman, so I'm glad our schedules coincided and we could have dinner before the show.  I even was lucky enough to get chauffeur service to and from my hotel!  AND I got to have that delicious Mediterranean Octopus Salad at Cafe Pinot that I so loved last November!  It was a truly wonderful evening - another happy memory from my few days in Southern California...

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Review - Appropriate


Last night, I made another stop at my favorite place in town (well, one of my favorites, anyway), the Signature Theatre to see Appropriate by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.  I had actually seen this play before, at Humana last year, and I was looking forward to seeing it with a new cast and new director.  It's always interesting to see new interpretations of new plays.  Especially plays I had been rather on the fence about.

I went back and looked at my notes from last year's Humana - one sentence stood out for me, because I felt the exact same way last night: "The characters are sharply drawn, but more detail into the the 'why' instead of the 'what' could push this play into headier territory, in my opinion, of course."  That's how I felt again after I watched Appropriate, as if I had seen a play circle around something instead of delving into something.  And the acting seemed to act around the characters instead of inside them.  Again, in my opinion.  I guess I was just looking for something with more bite.  There's certainly juicy subject matter in there.

photo credit: Joan Marcus
I'm a sucker for a good squabbling family drama - I'm a big fan of several of the plays that the playwright mentions as influences in an article I read, especially the Horton Foote play Dividing the Estate.  And I completely relate to many of the issues touched on in this play; for example, I have family members who refuse to accept responsibility for anything and blame everything on others.  I have family members with completely different memories than mine - my grandfather was an alcoholic when my mother was growing up, so he was a much different man in her childhood than he was in mine, after he had stopped drinking.  So I can definitely relate to some of the characters' incredulity about their father's supposed (or not) prejudices.  But something about how this story was presented failed to really reach me.  I was engaged and entertained, but not touched.  That could be just as much my problem as anyone else's.

photo credit: Joan Marcus
I do think this particular production was more sharply directed than the one I saw previously; the final coda, which had so confused me before, made sense to me last night, though I was disappointed that one of the big 'aha' moments was sort of glossed over.  And I thought these actors were more believable as a family unit, fractured though they were.  I still wasn't sold on one of the actor's interpretations (I didn't like the last actor's portrayal of this same character, either).  Maybe I need to look at the script to see what I'm not responding to in the performance. 

The audience didn't seem to be completely onboard, especially at the beginning (many of them seemed to have baggage they brought in with them from the outside).  There is an extended blackout at the top of the show, and my seat neighbors weren't really having it.  They starting tittering, and talking, and one person started clapping rhythmically, as if they could start the play themselves, which caused more laughter, which wasn't really the way to start this play.  I will never understand audiences - you can't sit still and concentrate for a few minutes?!

Moving on.  I do think this play is well-constructed, with good characters and fine dialogue.  If I think there's more that could've been discovered, well, ok.  That's me.  I do look forward to seeing what this playwright brings us next.  He's mentioned that he's interested in form, and trying new forms in his upcoming work.  I definitely think that will be interesting to see...

Friday, March 21, 2014

Last week in Southern California - visiting the Getty Villa and a little extra

I believe I've mentioned before that when I was growing up, we didn't really take vacations.  My dad was in construction and couldn't really be away from work for very long periods of time.  Our vacations mainly consisted of day trips to amusement parks, though we did take longer trips to Disney and Nags Head when we were adults.  Anyway, I think because I didn't really see much of the world as a child, I'm desperate to see as much as I can now.  And when we're going to a new location for work, I do lots of research on places I want to visit.  Unfortunately, we were much too busy while in San Diego to get to see any of that city.  Hopefully, next time.  But I did want to go somewhere on the last day of our trip since we were taking the red-eye home again.  I asked a co-worker chum if he'd mind driving and visiting the Getty Villa with me.  I was so happy when he said yes.

I'd heard about the Getty Museum and the Getty Villa for years, but had never visited.  After seeing the Villa on tv recently, I decided that's where I'd rather go.  And when I saw it was easy to get to, it was a no-brainer.  You have to reserve timed tickets before you go, so I went ahead and picked a 11am timeslot for last Sunday.

I have to admit I was feeling a little under the weather when we set off for the Getty Villa, but I was determined to see and enjoy everything.  Plus, the weather (as it had been all week) was SPECTACULAR, so it was easy to enjoy myself.  Traffic was a little heavier than we expected, so I called the Getty Villa to ask what happens if you're late for your timed ticket - the operator told me it was fine, there was an hour grace period.  Whew.  So we relaxed as we were driving and didn't worry about being right on time.

Driving along Ocean Drive puts you in the mood for a beautiful location.  Just seeing the ocean on one side and the beautiful mountains on the other got us in the right frame of mind.  Then, just driving into the gorgeous estate was an experience - they check your tickets as you pull in, then you pay for parking (the villa itself has free admission).  Easy peasy. 

The Getty Villa is breathtaking.  It's a recreation of an ancient Roman country house, with gardens and fountains and so much art/artifacts (approximately 44,000 pieces!), you can barely take it all in.  Many of the statues were replicas of statues that were at Herculaneum in Italy (we didn't go there when we visited the area in 2007).  You start in a bucolic entry pavilion, which is so beautiful, it almost made me cry.  I definitely felt like I was back in Italy. 

Each of the buildings held different rooms with different eras or types of art.  I think the oldest piece of art I saw was from 5000 B.C.  Incredible.  There was a room devoted to Gods and Goddesses, a Basilica, a room about Dionysus and the Theater, along with Wine in Antiquity (a favorite, of course), Coins/Gems/Jewelry, and tons more.  There was just so much to see and enjoy!  I took hundreds of photos - it's hard to choose what to post and what to leave behind.  Oh well.

After wandering around a couple of hours, we took an iced tea break in the serene cafe, then wandered through the gardens for a while.  All in all, we were probably there for over three hours, then we started to get tired from being in the strong sun most of the day.  We were going to go directly to a movie, but got caught in traffic heading back towards Santa Monica.  Instead, we went back to the 3rd Street Pavilion in Santa Monica, just wandering around and choosing to have a little lunch at Le Pain Quotidien.  It was quite yummy and I forgot to get a picture of my tartine.  Oops. 

After lunch, we decided to again try to make it to a movie.  And we did!  We caught a showing of Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me.  I had thought we would be the only two people in the theater, since it was a lovely Sunday afternoon, but I was pleasantly surprised to see the theater was pretty full.  And we all had the grandest of grand times.  What a fun film.  Elaine Stritch is iconic and like no one else.  It was so interesting to see how hard and implacable she can be, but yet also see her kindness, generosity and her vulnerability.  I think the documentary was put together very well to see all sides of the lady.  At 80 minutes, it's the perfect length, doesn't wear out its welcome and puts you in the mood to listen to some cast albums featuring Elaine Stritch.  Not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

After the movie, it was time to head back into Hollywood, pick up our other work chum and go to the airport.  We were most unhappy to be leaving the beautiful weather in California for the crappy weather in New York, but I have to admit I'm grateful we missed the earthquake that happened not long after we left.  I don't need to experience all of California's features in one trip...




Thursday, March 20, 2014

Last week in Southern California - the food, part two

I need to wax a little less rhapsodic about the food I ate on my recent trip to CA.  I'll try to speed this up:

Thursday morning, we still weren't very hungry after the huge dinner the night before.  So, for breakfast, we just got some coffee and got into the car to go into San Diego proper.  We looked at several venues there, and one provided us with a luncheon, to give us a sample of their food.  We ate on the terrace (did I mention the weather was spectacular the entire trip?) and enjoyed a tasting plate of whipped red potatoes, roasted local vegetables, barolo-braised short rib, lamb sausage, sea bass marinated in white miso and ginger, and a truffle oil potato salad.  Later, we also had a little dessert of rocky road/chocolate malt ice cream with a shortbread cookie.  Everything was tasty, though not of the superior quality of the food the night before.  I'm not a fan of truffle oil, so the potato salad wasn't all too pleasant for my palate, but the other dishes were fine.   Not great.  Fine.

We drove to a couple more hotels, had some more snacks and drinks (from my brief visit, I conclude that Marriott serves better hummus than Hilton. Very scientific, I know. Maybe I'll put photos of all the snacks at the bottom, so you can get an idea of how much we were being wooed.).  We ended our evening in La Jolla, which is just so scenic and gorgeous, it's not right.  So beautiful, from the hotel, to the main drag, to the restaurant where we had our dinner: George's at the Cove.  We got a fantastic table on the terrace, right in the corner, with an amazing view of the sunset on the ocean.  There really aren't any words for how beautiful it was.  I'll put more photos of the view at the end.

The dinner was also as lovely as the view - for appetizers, we got the crispy calamari and the bruschetta.  Sorry, no photos.  Both were delicious.  The bruschetta was topped with butternut squash puree, fried sage, goat cheese and roasted grapes.  When you combined all of those tastes into one bite: WOW.  It was wonderful.  For my entree, I got the spaghetti with clams, roasted tomatoes and roasted garlic.  Yum yummy, from start to finish, though I was a little unhappy to have gotten a plate with an unopened clam on it.  They should've checked that a little more carefully.  But the dish was delicious.  And for dessert, I got (and shared, thankfully) the Meyer lemon cheesecake with blueberries.  Delicious.  So light and lemony, it was the perfect creamy finish to dinner.  Thumbs WAY up for George's at the Cove.  WAY up. 

Friday, we were feted with breakfast at another venue looking to gain our business.  We ate on another gorgeous terrace - the breakfast was delicious and fresh.  It seemed like it would be heavy, but it was light yet filling.  They served grilled french toast with a blueberry and tequila compote, quiche lorraine, chicken sausage and roasted potatoes.  They also served bloody marys with crab legs and shrimp (I passed - it was a little early for me).  But it was a nice breakfast to start our long day.

After driving to Newport Beach and taking a delightful boat ride around the harbor, we ate at a new Rick Bayless restaurant, Red O.  SO good, with stunning architecture throughout the building design.  I love Rick Bayless and his food.  Our table tried the guacamole sampler (sorry, no photo), which was wonderful.  My favorite was the guacamole with pomegranates.  Terrific.  For my lunch, I got the soft taco platter, which had three soft tacos, filled with grilled white shrimp and mango salsa.  Is there anything in life that can't be made better by mango salsa?  I don't think so.  The dish also came with earthy rice and beans.  Again, a delicious meal that looked like it could be heavy, but was instead just right and very satisfying. 

More snacks and more cocktails were thrown at us at other venues - we were approaching food coma and stomach overload.  We finally drove down to Hollywood for our final destination and considered skipping dinner.  Then, of course, we were feeling a tad peckish around 9pm, considering we'd been eating every fifteen minutes or so on this trip, so we went to The Counter, near our hotel.  The Counter also has a restaurant in my work neighborhood, but I've never been there before.  It was all new to me.  I liked the 'build your own sandwich' thing.  I ordered a grilled chicken sandwich, with cheese and BBQ sauce, alongside shoestring french fries.  Just exactly what I wanted.  The brioche bun was very nice, the BBQ sauce was smoky but not spicy, and the chicken was very juicy.  All around, a very nice sandwich.  Now I'll have to go try the one by my office.

Saturday brought another business breakfast, but I didn't get any photos.  I wish I had taken pictures of the doughnuts filled with ham and cheese!  Seriously!  That could be my favorite combination ever!  If they would just send me a box of them, I might force my work chums to decide on that location.  :)  The rest of the breakfast was tasty, but hello. Ham and cheese doughnuts.  There's nothing more to say.

I'll save my Saturday night dinner tale for when I post about the new musical I saw in L.A.  You can wait, right??  :)