Saturday, August 25, 2007

Back from Edinburgh!

I'm back from the Edinburgh Festival where I spent the past 10 days working on The Wooster Group's La Didone and still amazed at the scope of the festival--hundreds, no, thousands of events every day. The city is more or less occupied by an invasion of artists.

I had a wonderful time despite being too busy with our show to take much in except a hard-edged Poppea from the Vienna Schauspielhaus and Matt Schickele's engaging pub show. He's a wonderful songwriter and I look forward to hearing more of him in New York!

I was also pleased to see that La Didone was pretty well received by the local press. Here are a few links to reviews, which also include some of the more up-to-date photos.

The Guardian
The Evening News
The Scotsman

And here are a couple of my photos of the work in progress. The Theater, the Royal Lyceum on Grindlay Street, was amazing, with a beautiful interior and a raked stage that made everything look good. First, the balconies:

Outside the theater:

Our crew and their crew hard at work building the grid during load in:

And a shot of our publicity, which shocked each of us as we found it wandering the streets from the theater to the closest coffee places.

One of the revelations for me on this trip was how good the coffee was! I love tea, and I expected more of it, but instead I found a thriving coffee culture that rivaled the Bay Area, with little Italian expresso places sprouting up everywhere and freshly brewed coffee to take away at all the pubs. And the best tea-or-coffee accompaniment I've tried in a long time, caramel shortbread (otherwise known as millionaire's shortbread). Thanks to Kamala for alerting me that it needed to be on my Edinburgh food list!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

What's is all about?

I enjoyed this segment from WNYC's Leonard Lopate show yesterday and one comment stuck with me. Discussing Pilobolus' long-term success, the executive director Itamar Kubovy said that the secret is to create a world on stage that people yearn to join. I think that about sums it up.

Lots of exciting stuff here right now--I went to see the Bread and Puppet show in the Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival today. They definitely made a world on stage I longed to join, in fact I was fantasizing about going up to their barn in Vermont for a summer and working on the show, kind of a semi-grown up collective theater vision of running off to join the circus. It was fabulous, and I hope to blog about it when I have a little more time. Also stopped into the exhibit at the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts on Merce Cunningham and his collaborators. I looked at the first few things, got absorbed in a video, and vowed to come back before it closes in October so I can take the time to really enjoy it and watch some of the footage.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Light Shows & the Sumer of Love

We went to see the Summer of Love exhibit at the Whitney Museum yesterday and I was totally taken with the images and examples of light shows from rock concerts in the late 60s. I had no idea such a genre existed! One of the first pieces we happened upon had these gently undulating ribbons of color that changed fairly dramatically when you watched over several minutes. It was like a music visualization on iTunes, except that these were all made with real stuff: colored liquids and oils, slide projectors, overhead projectors, chemicals making reactions. Color and light actually made from color and light. I hadn't realized how removed from actual stuff we had become until I noticed how shocked I was at the lovely low-tech nature of these works and how gorgeous some of them were. Another fascinating corner of the exhibit was a set of 24 slides owned by Andy Warhol and used in his light shows.

Here's a few good pictures from another exhibit of a couple of years ago, and here's a video made for the Whitney by Joshua Light Show, one of the main light show creators/groups (they now use computers as you'll see if you watch the video through). I was quite taken by the photographs of their work and their group, including one with a whole wall of equipment that reminded me a lot of being on tour.

I also just now remembered being capitvated by a show in the Great Small Works Toy Theater festival a couple of summers ago that was entirely performed on, with and through an overhead projector. Maybe I'll start to look for one, or an old slide projector...

Monday, July 23, 2007

Finishing The Ring

What is the moral of the ring?  Gotterdammerung manages to clear up all the odds and ends of plot while not clearly closing off the meaning, which is great and leaves much food for thought.  Although it seems to me that if you are beset by three ladies on the road giving you advice in chorus, three being the magic number, you had better listen.  

I'm hooked--I am already thinking about the next one.  I was disappointed not to have brought my camera to take a photo of us all out celebrating afterwards.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Ring and I

We're doing the Kirov Ring, the so-called first cycle, and I purposefully haven't looked at any reviews until we finish it tonight.

For me, this is something of a discovery of Wagner. I had watched parts of the Met cycle that was televised in the 1980s, but I didn't get through it and I remember being quite puzzled by Siegfried. I think I might have watched Rheingold and then skipped over Die Valkyrie to watch Siegfried, which wouldn't have made much sense. First of all, I'm sure I got lost in the story, and then I was a teenager, and I don't think I quite got what the Siegfried/Mime scene that begins Siegfried was about, on one level--being a teenager, and an annoying one at that, and then doing some of the things you do to grow up: figuring out who you are, leaving the people who raised you, finding love. Seeing all of the operas in order, live, is a powerful experience. Last night, after the week-long hiatus (Rheingold and Valkyrie were last weekend, Siegfried and Gotterdammerung this weekend) I felt a wave of pleasant nostalgia for the set pieces (oh, our giant humanoid forms! oh look, the little creatures with colored lights for faces, or as someone said in intermission last weekend, the teletubbies!), the characters, and especially the themes, which seem like old friends. It's a remarkable achievement, to create something on this scope, and I'm glad I've found it for myself.

The singing has been good and Siegfried last night really showcased the Mime. But the production leaves something to be desired. The blocking is often inexpressive, and the acting ranges from good to tired. The gesturing in particular The gesturing in particular got on my nerves at the beginning, but it has fallen off as the story has moved from the realm of the gods and giants to the actions of humans on earth, and others who chose to move among them for whatever reasons (the dwarfs, the Wanderer).

I look forward to tonight, though I gather it's the longest one. To prepare, a day of planning good snacks and getting a little exercise and rest.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Poor Languishing Blog

I have been busy, it's true, but that's not a good enough excuse. I started this blog before I had a website thinking it would be a quick way to post photos and thoughts, which it is, but learning basic web design and keeping my site updated has taken more of my "getting the word out on the internet" time than I thought. So the quick recap, since last September I've been directing full time, working on the very exciting project La Didone for The Wooster Group. Also Monteverdi's Orfeo at Stony Brook, David Del Tredici's Dracula (reviewed in The New York Times), and Francesca Caccini's Liberazione, both in New York and Boston. Phew! Then I took my first trip to Europe in seven years with The Wooster Group, followed by a series of vacations. (!)

I plan to get back in the habit of posting, because there's lots going on. We're "doing" the Ring, for one thing, attending the first cycle of the Kirov Ring at the Lincoln Center Festival this year. It's my first Ring and I've only seen one Wagner opera live before, and I am hooked. More on that later, and yes, there are things to say about the gesture.

But here's a chip off the old block photo to keep things interesting. Adam Griesbach, my littlest nephew (littlest for now, in a few short weeks he won't be the youngest) on the dock at our family's cottage on Kashe Lake in the Muskokas. I spent a wonderful week being completely relaxed and unplugged and playing with Peter, James and Adam. Adam sings constantly. And of course he is gesturing. Much to the delight of the opera aunts.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Visiting the Floating Glass Onions

It was a beautiful day on Sunday and we took les parents to see the Chihuly glass exhibit at the New York Botanical Gardens. It was incredible! It's on until October 29th, and there are also lighting the installation some evenings (Chihuly Nights). In the first picture (one of the first pieces in the exhibit) the reflection is as much a piece of art as the glass. Some of these pieces took 6 assistants to install over several days. Mom liked the snaky effect in this one, I loved the way the colors mutated as you went up, from blue to green, and echoed the conservatory setting.

I especially liked the 'floating' walla wallas. Well, actually, they were tethered--they only appeared to float. I guess you can't have hundreds of glass pieces and a glass filled boat floating wherever they want and crashing into each other! The most interesting part about this exhibit though was how the glass interacted with the settings and how it made you look and appreciate the plants (and animals) more. I love this photo because I managed to capture one of the large goldfish swimming around the similarly-colored glass sculpture.

The last installation was a greenhouse filled with these beautiful objects. Are they flowers? Bowls? Canvasses? All this and more. We took about a million pictures, this is one of few without people in it so it looks like it could be in the brochure, IMHO.

The glass chandeliers are a specialty of his, and I particularly liked this one because it looks like a very artful bunch of birthday balloons. Festive!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Manhattan Gesture Mysteries

Am I the only person who follows people around who are making weird gestures wondering what the heck they are doing? Last week I found myself on the block where I am working, about 10 paces behind a woman doing the strangest thing with her left hand. It was a kind of "air piano" movement of the fingers combined with a certain amount of lift and shake of the hands. I thought, keyboard player? High-level executive engrossed in cell phone conversation? Then she switched her coffee cup to the other hand and started shaking out the right hand. Which is when I realized she was carrying a leaking coffee cup.

I promised mysteries, not mystery...the second mystery is that I can now blog from work again. A pleasant surprise, but it begs the question, how long has this been going on? Was my hiatus of the past few weeks then due to a random firewall blip? But there is no need to dwell on this for long, things are going to change in my life very soon that will make all such musings about the IT department at my day job unnecessary.

Meanwhile a great blog found while browsing last week, on a favorite subject of mine, the Happiness Project. Do check it out!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Walking Meditation

I spent this weekend at a wonderful meditation workshop in the city which was intense, difficult, inspiring. We sat and walked, and during the walking meditation you focus on the sensation of your feet contacting the ground. I had a clear sense, during one wonderful bout of walking, of feet communicating with earth--a feeling of gesturing and receiving sense impressions, or more, through a totally different part of the body. I was kind of blown away by the experience.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Mysteries of Conducting

An excellent article in The New Yorker (August 21, 2006) by Justin Davidson on the art of conducting, and the mystery of the personal language that each conductor develops to control the whole vast range of musical elements. Sadly I can't link to the actual article because it doesn't seem to have been posted. I particularly liked James Conlon's observation that "a maestro's gestures fall into two groups, which might be described as 'Get ready!' and 'Go!'" It's worth checking out.

On a personal note, I discovered last week that I can no longer post from work. Ah, the joys of the firewall. This just means making sure blogging is my @home computer list (for those of you into GTD) where it has now been entered. We shall see...

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Gorilla Gestures

No, I don't mean excedingly large human gestures! Check out this wonderful website by Joanne Tanner on gestures observed in gorillas, particularly at the San Francisco Zoo. I was particuarly entranced to find that one of the gorillas has a gesture of looking at her wrist, as if looking at her watch (the "wrist glance") to indicate a delay in action. They must see many visitors a day do it, after all.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Drips and more

I went to see the Jackson Pollack exhibit of works on paper at the Guggenheim yesterday. The reproduction above of "Untitled (Green-Silver) ca. 1949" was a favorite, and I definitely enjoyed going back to look at it after looking at some of the one and two color works--it was like the most extravagant burst of color after these more concentrated works. I especially liked the teal-green hue, which is a little muted on-screen.

My favorite was a black and red on an ivory background (Untitled, ca. 1948-49) which definitely had three figures on it, in back, all created out of lines. Funny how three figures immediately suggest a love triangle! Two closer, one farther away... The black lines that made them up plus the layers of red on top were like the traces of gesture, made by gesture. I especially loved that some of the red lines, up close, were a line of tiny ink spirals, like a telephone cord, from far away appearing like a thicker line.

A great antidote to a week in beige cubicle land and a wonderful thing to be in the presence of such passion to fill the page, to create, to detail. Inspiring.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Benjamin Bagby's Beowulf

We went to Lincoln Center on Saturday night to see and hear Ben Bagby perform the first third of Beowulf. It was amazing: as a performance, as a story, as a feat of memory and stamina. Over 1,000 lines of text (and I have trouble memorizing 15 lines!) in Old English, spoken, sung, declaimed, and everything in between. I was really moved by the story, too, the hero who sees a problem and decides, even though the monster Grendel isn't his own problem, that he should offer to deal with the situation when the king's men prove unable to help, even though it might cost him his life.

I saw Ben perform this once before maybe 8 years ago, at the Amherst Early Music Festival, I believe. His performance has developed a lot and is totally embodied physically with a wonderful play of gesture and facial expression to match the amazing variety of vocalizing. He uses his right hand to play the harp, and then to gesture, sitting almost all the while on a small bench. So the movement is very limited, and yet...clear, telling, exciting. I especially liked the many ways he managed to eat his hand and paw his face while imitating Grendel devouring the sleeping warriors, but also striking was Beowulf removing his helmet and his sword before the battle (because he has decided to do battle with his bare hands) and the way the repetition of the gesture of supplication or address to the gods created a gestural refrain through the piece. The shadows cast by his little footlights silhouetting his gestures were a nice addition to the performance.

I want to know what happens next--there were enough little hints as the narrative came to a close that sent me riffling the bookshelf to see if I had kept my tattered copy of Beowulf, and I think the sad answer is, no, I did not. I'll have to add it to the summer library list. Meanwhile check out the website where you can see upcoming performances, pictures, and purchase a DVD.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Great Moments in Gesture: the Kiss

So, my favorite "gesture" from The Elixir of Love that I was assisting on last month (New Jersey Opera Theater, directed by David Grabarkewitz) and that closed yesterday was the kiss. Is a kiss a gesture? I think it can be, in both the looser sense of "what a nice gesture!" and the more strict sense of physical expressiveness I am more likely to use. The characters use it to express themselves when words fail them, when knowing what to do fails them, and it certainly acts through the body on another person...a kind of gestural duet. This particular kiss managed to be both much awaited and come as a huge surprise, because all through the show Adina and Nemorino are fighting tooth and nail, even though he is in love with her and we come to see that she loves him, too. It got a different reaction from the audience each night: applause one night, a hushed "awww" the next, a moment of total silence on the third and last night, at least from where I was offstage right, a collective catch in the throat. But each time it was simultaneously shocking and satisfying, thanks to the set up and the moment's truthfulness, and I think these effects crashing up against one another made for another Great Moment in Gesture that I was happy to be able to witness four times over. I discovered that sticking around for the run of a show can be fun! I haven't had the opportunity or the need to do it for a while but hopefully there will be more assistant directing in my future so I'll be doing this a little more often and allowing the show, once completed, to work on me.