2017

Film

The Young Pope HBO limited series. Written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino.

The Young Pope, widely greeted and at the same time widely dismissed as merely a visual spectacle, actually accomplishes something considerably deeper. It does for the papacy what Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor (1987) did for the decaying Ching dynasty and what Roberto Rossellini’s The Rise of Louis XIV (1966) did for the Sun King. In a lavish, slow-motion ritual where the protagonist is encased in a cocoon of surreal pomp and majesty, The Young Pope brings to bear the full panoply of cinema to ask how human existence created such a bizarrely inhuman situation.
Art

The Museum Workout, Monica Bill Barnes & Company, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

I saw Monica Bill Barnes & Company a few years ago when the troupe performed Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host which I found very entertaining. This experience was just as engaging but in a very different way. About fifteen women gathered before the museum opened and were ushered to the Education Area to put away coats and anything else we'd brought. We were told to wait "and stretch if you like." After a brief introduction from Robbie Saenz de Viteri, the company's Creative Producing Director, we were led to the foot of the great stairs where Monica Bill Barnes and her longtime dance partner, Anna Bass, both in sequined gowns and sneakers, greeted us.
Music

Memorial Hall, Chapel Hill, North Carolina – Two Orchestras, East and West

I had the pleasure of visiting Chapel Hill at a festive, eclectic time early last December. It was exam week at the University of North Carolina. This won't quite be a review as a result—more a series of hopeful impressions from that impressive musical crucible. Old friend Tonu Kalam, who leads the UNC Orchestra, and new wife Karyn Ostrom, who plays violin in it, pulled out all the stops for my visit. In the course of several days, I took in Kalam's orchestra at rehearsal and concert, witnessed a conducting class, attended a student chamber recital and heard the China Philharmonic perform a new concerto written for UNC pianist Clara Yang. I came away impressed, as I always do at UNC, rejuvenated by the high level of musical interest and talent at play on campus.
Art

Bill Viola: The Moving Portrait: Smithsonian: National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC, November 18, 2016 – May 7, 2017.

Bill Viola, one of the most sought-after artists internationally, early selected a contemporary medium to address broad humanistic questions. Embracing global perspectives that include Christian theology, Zen Buddhism, and Islamic Sufi mysticism, his videos address our hybrid existence as matter and thought, our memories, empathy with others, and transitions through birth, death and aging. Organized by Asma Naeem, curator of prints, drawings and media art, in consultation with Viola’s creative partner, Kira Perov and the Bill Viola Studio, the exhibition displays eleven works that span the artist’s early career to the present. Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery, expressed his delight in inviting “visitors to enter the museum’s newly created media galleries to experience portraiture in its most telling and current form: moving revelations of the human body and spirit that befit our digital age.” In the accompanying 20-page brochure, Naeern provides a contextualizing overview; the artist comments simply on the action in each piece. The viewer is encouraged to make associations, a direction Viola advocated in an earlier interview: “images have their life because they’re untethered and free floating” (video: Bill Viola and the making of Emergence by Mark Kidel, 2003).
Theater

New Ohio Theatre presents George & Co. in HOLDEN, written and directed by Anisa George

J. D. Salinger has been dead for seven years, and his admirers have long given up hope of an unpublished masterpiece emerging from the bunker in which he spent the greater part of his last forty years, struggling with drafts, ideas, and obsessions. His much-publicized life in isolation, where he vainly attempted to wring out another success of the order of The Catcher in the Rye acquired a universality as a Promethean myth of the agonies of the creative life. Whether the artist manages to keep inspiration alive or has in truth dried up, life is by no means easy. Salinger's was a particularly American myth, foreshadowed by Ernest Hemingway and his decline in his later years and perhaps Melville, by those would discount Pierre and The Confidence-Man.
Theater

Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, Cheek by Jowl, at BAM

The Winter’s Tale has had a checkered career over the centuries. Its bipartite structure, with two lines of action, separated by many years, of strongly contrasting character offended the Aristotelian canon all-too-blatantly for the classicizing generations of the Restoration and Enlightenment. Acts I through III have every promise of ending with the most bitterly tragic outcome. This current is diverted to a happy ending in the last two acts, introduced by yet a third genre, the pastoral, in a staged enactment of a sheep-shearing festival. When the play began to find its way to the stage in the later eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, producers and actors saw in it a vehicle for over-the-top, classically inspired spectacle, as well as one of the great Shakespearean roles, Leontes, who is Iago and Othello rolled into one. It provided a powerful vehicle for Garrick, Kemble, and Kean. And three rich female roles as well, None of which were lost on the great actresses of the past 250 years.
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