Category: Latino culture

Theater review: 'Hope: Part II of a Mexican Trilogy' at LATC

November 8, 2011 | 10:30 am

It’s hard to twist and shout when you’re trained to duck and cover. In “Hope: Part II of a Mexican Trilogy,” Evelina Fernández assembles a theatrical mix tape of a Latino family facing the Cold War, domestic strife and the infectious sound of rock 'n’ roll circa 1962.

Accompanied by an on-stage pianist, Ben Taylor, the Garcia clan sings, dances and squabbles on Francois-Pierre Couture’s crisp, sherbet-shade house set. Mouthy Gina (Esperanza America Ibarra) dominates younger sister Betty (Olivia Delgado) and brothers Johnny (Keith McDonald) and sensitive Bobby (Dru Davis). Missing from the picture is their father (Geoffrey Rivas), forever stepping out on his wife, Elena (Dyana Ortelli), who turns to a devoted friend (Sal Lopez) for support.

Director José Luis Valenzuela makes strong use of his design team: Urbanie Lucero’s smooth choreography to hits like “Please Mr. Postman," Cameron Mock’s moody lighting, and Raquel Barreto’s costuming create a heightened style. The results are delicious moments like Betty’s wide-eyed phone calls to JFK and Castro to stop the Cuban missile crisis, or Davis crooning “Mister Sandman” as the family sits on their Phoenix lawn in darkness, the electricity bill unpaid.

Continue reading »

Theater review: 'The King of the Desert' at El Portal Forum Theatre

November 3, 2011 |  5:00 pm

King of the Desert
In "The King of the Desert," estimable actor René Rivera traces his path from a San Antonio barrio to the Juilliard School, and rediscovers himself in a solo show of noteworthy interest beyond its self-circumscribed specifics.

Written by Stacey Martino (Rivera's spouse), "King" starts with the house lights up. Bellowing out, "I know who I am!" Rivera enters from the lobby, launching a post-Pirandello monologue that seldom lets up.

"Hamlet" is a repeated motif -- "To be or not to be" en Español comes at the outset -- with Mayan lore, Catholic iconography and Mexican historical figures among the others. Yet what pops are Rivera's deceptively nonlinear anecdotes about growing up in Texas, from his tickling account of playing an avocado in a Thanksgiving pageant onward.

Continue reading »

Astrid Hadad’s musical tour through Mexico in downtown L.A.

October 18, 2011 |  6:45 pm


When performance artist Astrid Hadad takes the stage at downtown’s Million Dollar Theater on Sunday, she may be impersonating an Aztec princess. Or perhaps La Malinche, the Indian lover of the conqueror Hernán Cortés and a symbol of Mexico’s shotgun-marriage ethnic mixing.

Or maybe Hadad will be sporting the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe as she sashays through a musical tour of her tumultuous homeland, spiking traditional tunes like “La Llorona,” “La Bamba” and “La Cucaracha” with pointed new lyrics alluding to the corruption of Mexico’s political elites and to drug-related murders in Ciudad Juárez.

For the 5-foot, fiftysomething daughter of Lebanese-Mexican merchants, satire and criticism are the flip sides of patriotism. Her willingness to point out and poke fun at Mexico’s shortcomings is the fun house-mirror reflection of her deep affection for its tierra misteriosa (mysterious land), as her new CD is titled. Her effusive personality, disarming humor and elaborate costumes take the sting out of Hadad’s commentaries, permitting Mexicans and foreign audiences alike to laugh through their painful self-recognitions.

“I do all this so that young people will know that they have a marvelous country, a country with a very rich culture, with so many things that we need to defend,” Hadad said, speaking in Spanish by phone from her Mexico City home. “We can’t leave it all in the hands of the politicians. I think it’s the people, the civil society, that has to intervene in order for things to change.”

Hadad’s new CD and stage act were partly inspired by recent celebrations of the bicentennial of Mexico’s 19th century War of Independence from Spain, and the centenary anniversary of the Mexican Revolution. While most Mexican politicians toasted those events with predictable pomp and circumstance, Hadad said, few spoke about their country’s enduring problems, “about the exploitation, or about the corruption, or about so many things that never change.”

At the Million Dollar, Hadad will be accompanied by a four-piece live band and will share the evening’s program with vocalist Rubén Albarrán of the Mexican alt-rock band Café Tacuba, who’s embarked on a solo touring show, “Hoppo: Erotic Rhythms.” Both artists also are scheduled to perform Saturday as part of the annual Dia de los Muertos celebration at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Then Hadad will head back to Mexico, where new challenges, and new material, perpetually await.

“I think that when there’s a crisis, artists and creative people want to express themselves and to say things,” she said. “It’s also a manner in which to contribute in order to make things better, no?”


Mariachi El Bronx: A cross-border love affair

Salvador pop heroes will relive Buenas Epocas at Hollywood Park

Los Amigos Invisibles, at Hollywood Bowl, has a friend in Dudamel

--Reed Johnson

Photo: Mexican singer and actress Astrid Hadad performs her work 'Tierra Misteriosa' at the Teatro Ciudad in Mexico City, Mexico, September 3, 2011. Credit: Sashenka Gutierrez


Monster Mash: LACMA, new movie museum; La Plaza de Cultura in trouble

October 5, 2011 |  7:49 am


Art of cinema: The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is teaming up with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on a new movie museum in the LACMA West building. (Los Angeles Times)

Money trouble: La Plaza de Cultura y Artes in downtown L.A. faces serious financial and organizational obstacles. (Los Angeles Times)

Stalled, again: More details have emerged about the latest setback for the planned Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem. (Ha'aretz)

Generous: Actor Denzel Washington has donated $2 million to his alma mater, Fordham University in New York, to endow its first professorship in theater. (New York Times)

Kaput: An expensive new arts center in Aviles, Spain, designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, has abruptly closed its doors. (The Guardian)

Outreach: The L.A. Philharmonic is launching a music education initiative with Bard College and the Longy School of Music. (Los Angeles Times)

Out: Brooke Shields won't be transferring to Broadway with the musical "Leap of Faith." (Playbill)

Scenic: The nearly three-mile section of Santa Monica Boulevard running through West Hollywood has been named a "Great Street" for 2011 by the American Planning Assn. (Los Angeles Times)

Free: The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore has opened access to 10,000 images from its collections so that the public can download them at no charge and without copyright restrictions. (Baltimore Sun)

Skeptic: Famed artist Gerhard Richter has called the art market "daft" and likened it to the current banking crisis. (Reuters)

Bleeding money: Vancouver Opera finds itself $1.4 million in the red for the most recent fiscal year. (Vancouver Sun)

Also in the L.A. Times: Theater critic Charles McNulty analyzes the work of British theater director Nicholas Hytner.

-- David Ng

Photo: The LACMA West building. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times


L.A. Phil, Bard, Longy launch El Sistema-based music initiative

October 4, 2011 | 11:00 am

The Los Angeles Philharmonic, building on its symbiotic relationship with Venezuela's El Sistema national youth music training program, is partnering with Bard College in upstate New York and the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Mass., to launch a joint musical education initiative.

"Take a Stand" aims to provide a platform of regular conferences and workshops for pioneering classical music educators across the United States, and also to develop a pool of artistically accomplished, socially conscious music teachers through a new Masters of Arts in Teaching degree program that will be developed by the Longy conservatory.

In an interview Monday, Deborah Borda, the L.A. Phil's president and chief executive, said that the new initiative was inspired by a number of the key principles behind El Sistema (The System), which has provided music lessons to some 400,000 Venezuelan youth -- particularly those from poor and underserved backgrounds -- and spawned imitators around the globe. Among its former star pupils is Gustavo Dudamel, the L.A. Phil's music director.

"This is a program that will teach teachers about the very specific musical and social components of El Sistema," Borda said. Dr. José Antonio Abreu, founder of the National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras of Venezuela, as El Sistema is formally known, will serve as the initiative's honorary advisor.

Continue reading »

PST, A to Z: 'Icons of the Invisible: Oscar Castillo,' Fowler Museum

September 29, 2011 |  1:15 pm

Pacific Standard Time will explore the origins of the Los Angeles art world through museum exhibitions throughout Southern California over the next six months. Times art reviewer Sharon Mizota has set the goal of seeing all of them. This is her latest report.

Oscar Castillo's Pacific Standard Time retrospective at the Fowler Museum
In terms of subject matter, the 38 photographs in Oscar Castillo's Pacific Standard Time retrospective at the Fowler Museum fall roughly into three categories: walls, people and cars.

Culled from an archive of over 3,000 of the photographer's images housed at UCLA's Chicano Studies Research Center, the exhibition opens with one example of each: a wall of graffiti in East L.A., a portrait of two tough young brothers in Crystal City, Texas, and a 1972 image of a lemon yellow '47 Chevy, a low-rider, parked in front of a store in Wilmington, Calif. In color, the car echoes the façade's cheery yellow English-language signs; as an example of Chicano folk art, it also complements the other offerings detailed on the store's exterior: tamales, menudo, carnitas, tortillas.

Castillo, who began taking photographs of the Chicano community in the late 1960s, has an eye for such visual rhymes, but never lets it get in the way of documenting everyday moments with plainspoken immediacy. Very much in the tradition of street photography (and to some degree, the family snapshot), Castillo's work has a fresh, unpretentious quality that makes you feel as though you just arrived on the scene yourself. More than 30 years after they were taken -- the show spans 1969 to 1980 -- the photos bring to life a tumultuous moment, when Chicanos began to assert themselves culturally and politically.

Oscar Castillo's Pacific Standard Time retrospective at the Fowler Museum There are several images from important protests -- the antiwar Chicano Moratorium march in 1970 and the United Farm Workers’ boycotts of grapes and Safeway supermarkets -- but the most interesting photos are less expected: portraits Castillo took of Chicano journalists and other media workers.

Castillo, who worked for a time as a producer at KCET-TV on the public affairs program, "Acción Chicano," snapped photos of the figures responsible for Chicano-oriented programming in the 1970s. There's actress Carmen Zapata on the set of the bilingual children's show "Villa Alegre," director Sylvia Morales peering into the lens of a camera at KCET, and a remarkable image of musician Daniel Valdez sitting in front of a set painted by artist Malaquias Montoya. Featuring a large Aztec eagle and silhouettes of figures with raised fists, it captured for television a bold, idealistic cultural pride.

The last image in the show's sequence reminds us of the power of this movement. Taken during the Chicano Moratorium march, which turned out to be one of the biggest police melees in U.S. history, it depicts a huge stream of people walking down one side of an archetypal L.A. boulevard. Wide, lined with gas station signs and other advertisements, it looks like a street that another PST artist, Ed Ruscha, might have photographed just a few years before -- except he would've portrayed it as empty.

-- Sharon Mizota

Fowler Museum at UCLA, North Campus of UCLA (Sunset Boulevard and Westwood Plaza), (310) 825-4361, through Feb. 26. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

Upper photo: "Roosevelt High School Walkouts," 1970. Credit: Oscar Castillo

Lower photo: "Crowd at September 16th Parade in East Los Angeles," 1970. Credit: Oscar Castillo

A permanent Asco mural is slated for City Terrace

September 12, 2011 | 10:55 am

Willie Herron 001a
The 1970s Chicano art group Asco, which is the subject of a fine retrospective exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is known for its wry take on the 20th century tradition of Mexican murals. Asco's distinctive versions were at once celebratory and critical of the genre, committed to the public posture of mural art but skeptical of its institutionalized status.

They were also mostly temporal performances acted out by Asco's members, rather than fixed wall paintings meant for permanent display. Somewhere between street theater and living tableaux, these "Pop-conceptual murals" survive today as photo-documents of events that took place more than 30 years ago.

Which is not to say that making wall paintings was alien to all members of the group. Willie Herrón III, one of Asco's four primary artists, painted one of the most noteworthy -- 1972's "The Wall That Crack'd Open," a pictorial cry of anguish painted in response to a near-deadly assault on his brother. Now, in conjunction with LACMA's show, the Getty Foundation and the Culver City nonprofit space LAXART are co-sponsoring a new Herrón mural. Called "Asco: East of No West," it's scheduled for completion in late October.

The twist: This fixed and painted mural is based on Harry Gamboa Jr.'s photograph of "Walking Mural," an Asco street performance. Asco fabricated props, donned elaborate costumes and, on the busy afternoon of Christmas Eve 1972, paraded for bemused onlookers along Whittier Boulevard in East L.A.

Continue reading »

John Valadez mural says 'Welcome to Long Beach'

August 15, 2011 |  2:00 pm


This post has been corrected. Please see note at the end. 

John Valadez acknowledges that his new mural in downtown Long Beach sends a very different message about urban living than some of the provocative paintings he made earlier in his career.

Back in the 1990s, an L.A. Times writer described Valadez as the author of "a body of work that reflects on racial conflict, sexual ambiguity and existential uncertainty."

Well, that was then. Valadez's latest mural, which adorns the new Gallery 421, an assertively upscale 291-unit apartment complex on West Broadway just north of Ocean Boulevard, is aglow with nostalgia and goodwill. It depicts a cheerfully idealized version of downtown Long Beach filled with a happy, rainbow-colored crowd and a radiant beauty queen waving under ochre-streaked skies, where both a blimp and the Spruce Goose cavort.

At the top of the two-panel mural, a flock of pelicans, rendered on laser-cut aluminum extensions, soar outward toward the viewer, approximately 6 to 18 inches from the wall, creating a 3-D effect. The mural's southward-facing panel depicts the now-vanished Rainbow Pier, a popular fishing and rendezvous spot in bygone days, which Valadez's fanciful re-creation populates with flapper-era strollers.

Continue reading »

Recommended on Facebook

In Case You Missed It...


Explore the arts: See our interactive venue graphics


Tweets and retweets from L.A. Times staff writers.