Category: Santa Monica College

Theater review: 'In Paris' at The Broad Stage

April 12, 2012 |  5:45 pm

In paris 1

Even when he’s not dancing, it’s a joy to watch Mikhail Baryshnikov move. He hardly dances at all in “In Paris,” a wispy stage adaptation of Ivan Bunin’s short story that had its U.S. premiere Wednesday at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. Just a spinning flourish at the conclusion of this decidedly minor-scale, though ultimately touching, play.

But this is an artist who has learned to act with his spine. Character is a matter of carriage, posture, physical coordination. Standing still offers him a psychological window — and why shouldn’t it when there are so many possible ways to hold yourself?

Baryshnikov’s physical approach serves him well in a performance piece that doesn’t give him much more than a dramatic scenario to work with. Directed by Dmitry Krymov, who also adapted the text, this production (performed in French and Russian with English supertitles) is long on mood and atmosphere, short on action. It’s really just an outline of a story, given a sophisticated and often haunting theatrical airbrushing.

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Music review: Spectral Scriabin

March 18, 2012 |  3:58 pm

Andjaparidze
“Spectral Scriabin” at the Broad Stage on Saturday night looked  promising, with look, indeed, part of the promise. Eteri Andjaparidze -- a pianist from the Georgian republic with a cult following and now a respected educator in America -- teamed up with extraordinary lighting designer Jennifer Tipton to illuminate a fascinating Russian composer who heard in colors.

Created for the Baryshnikov Arts Center in Manhattan and also presented at Lincoln Center’s 2011 White Light Festival, “Spectral Scriabin” came highly regarded, at least according to its press clippings. Maybe something in Andjaparidze’s brittle and sometimes banal playing or Tipton’s overly subtle gauzy projections got lost in the translation, or in the cross-country transport. But there is more than one way to look at Scriabin.

Born in 1872, Aleksandr Scriabin was a late Romantic who turned Modernist and then turned mystic and died young in 1915. As a musical revolutionary, Scriabin helped move music forward, influencing Stravinsky and Schoenberg and even Henry Cowell’s eclectic California school.

A decade after Scriabin’s death, at the fashionable salons in Paris, London, New York, Chicago and L.A. -- where Duchamp was debated and banned copies of Joyce’s “Ulysses” were circulated -- Scriabin’s music was often played and his mystic chord  mooned over by Madame Blavatsky's Theosophists. The young Elliott Carter and John Cage were Scriabinites. Pierre Boulez has become one in his later years.

But what Scriabin is mostly remembered for today, unfortunately, is his synesthesia (he associated tones with colors) and his mystical over-the-topness. He wrote that he wanted to suspend bells from the clouds over India in his last orchestral work, the incomplete “Mysterium.”

Andjaparidze put together an uninspired program consisting mainly of preludes, etudes, poems and small character pieces. She did begin with the rhythmically advanced, late “Vers la Flamme,” and end with the Fourth Sonata, Scriabin’s first spiritual masterpiece. The pieces ran, one into another, for an hour and were played with the audience in the dark, so that Tipton could colorize the backdrop. 

Tipton’s lighting effects at the very start of Saturday’s recital were splendid. As Andjaparidze began the spooky opening of “Vers la Flamme” in as much darkness as the fire officials allowed (exit signs remained illuminated), her hands were bathed in a ghostly glow. Then the music stand on her piano began to glow. But there was little spookiness to the rushed and squarely phrased playing.

There were, however, sparks. Andjaparidze has fingers of steel and she gets an impressively metallic sound from the keyboard with her sharp attacks. She favors momentum over wistfulness. Early preludes and etudes were treated as showpieces. The Waltz in A-Flat was dizzying. The Poem Languide in B Major was also dizzying.

Tipton’s lighting effects relied on large discs of pastels projected onto to the scrim. Occasionally, but only occasionally, a strong red or blue created a mood. It could be that I was sitting too close to the stage for the pastels to take; it could be that the show was created for a smaller space; or it could be that too much extraneous exit sign light bled onto the stage. But the lighting ultimately put attention on the pianist herself, rather than on illuminating the music.

Now and then, Andjaparidze surprised me. The Andante opening of the Fourth Sonata, which ended the program, was beautifully spare; every note, in this instance, actually glowing. That didn't last. The fast second movement became yet another showpiece, although it did allow Tipton her one great moment. At the climax, the backdrop became a blaze of white light, in a Robert Wilson way (Tipton has worked extensively with Wilson).

As I write this, the L.A. Marathon is being run under my window, and my street has been turned into a big advertisement for Honda. The theme is “The Power of Dreams,” even though dreams are in short supply. What dreams are there in helicopters hovering overhead and an atrociously bad rock band the city has set up to egg on (or bum out) miraculous runners?

The power of dreams is their otherworldliness, a runner's high. Scriabin’s music cannily catches this dream state. Andjaparidze’s Scriabin was closer to a big race to a blazing finish.

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Photo: Eteri Andjaparidze performs "Spectral Scriabin" at the Broad Stage on Saturday night. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times. 

Theater review: 'Our Town' at The Broad Stage

January 19, 2012 |  3:25 pm

Our town 1

Grover's Corners, the fictional New Hampshire community of Thornton Wilder's “Our Town,” uncannily resembles our neck of the woods in David Cromer's starkly sublime and strikingly unsentimental revival, which opened Wednesday at the Broad Stage with Oscar-winner Helen Hunt assuming the role of the Stage Manager.

It's a safe bet that Chicago and New York audiences saw their own reflections when incarnations of this purposefully unadorned production took those cities by storm. Landscape obviously has nothing to do with it. This is a play that has forsworn realistic scenery and props, so there are no purple sunsets or hints of the San Gabriel Mountains off in the distance.

How then does Cromer make us believe that this “Our Town” is really our own? For one thing, you can't help being aware of your fellow theatergoers. The house lights are blazing throughout much of the show and the rectangular playing area, lying between two opposing sets of bleachers and chairs (the Broad has been especially reconfigured for this production), has the effect of subtly incorporating the audience into the acting company.

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Music review: Iranian avant-garde singer Sussan Deyhim smooths feathers on 9/11

September 12, 2010 |  4:27 pm

Deyhim Sussan Deyhim is one of Iran's most potent voices in exile for the simple reason that she possesses a marvelously potent voice. She wails and coos and ululates, the sound of the soul in translation. When she sings low and gravelly, she transforms herself into an earthy, erotic chanteuse. When high, she flies free with the birds.

After leaving Tehran in 1980, Deyhim -- in partnership with composer, keyboardist and electronics conjurer Richard Horowitz -- became an exotic, alluring presence on the New York new music scene. The pair flirted with mass popularity in the 1990s, with an electro-pop/new age/world music Sony Classics crossover project, "Majoun," that should have caught on. In New York, Deyhim has collaborated with the Iranian visual artist Shirin Neshat in politically probing and exquisitely poetic videos and a mystically arresting theater piece, "The Logic of Birds."

Given how seldom she is seen in America these days, Deyhim's appearance with Horowitz and a host of American and Iranian musicians at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica on Saturday night was notable. She chose the date for a reason. The ninth anniversary of 9/11 did not look, in the weeks that preceded it, to be a day of tolerance. She wanted her program to serve as antidote to those who threaten to burn holy books and separate peoples.

And it did, to a some extent. Half of her audience -- the better dressed, more sophisticated half -- appeared to be perhaps Iranian. But ticket prices were quite high, and that should have been a giveaway. This wasn't a new music concert.

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A public policy forum -- with a Broadway melody

May 27, 2010 | 12:15 pm

Oklahoma Fiscal responsibility. Infrastructure. Health and safety. These usually aren't things to sing about -- unless you're Sheila Kuehl.

The founding director of Santa Monica College's new Public Policy Institute wants to get people  engaged and educated about government decisions that affect their lives -- a subject many find eye-glazing.

So Kuehl has decided to enliven things by using show tunes to help get the message across.

The institute will hold a June 16 community forum, "Public Policy on Broadway," in which
the school's musical theater workshop will perform numbers from "Oklahoma!," "South Pacific" and "The Pajama Game" to introduce topics for what Kuehl calls "Socratic dialogues" with the audience.

Kuehl is aware some might consider this approach far-fetched or, pardon the expression, a bit of a song and dance.

"I think it's a very attractive hook," she says, "but it's not a gimmick. Yes, it will be fun, but I chose each number because it's got deeper issues embedded in it. People like Rodgers and Hammerstein all the way to 'Rent' or 'In the Heights' are writing musicals about important ideas that really are public policy."
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