Seen at the Super Bowl:
Janet Jackson’s right breast. Dunno about you, but the whole halftime bra-ha-ha (as The New York Daily News so eloquently called it), seems a bit bogus on all fronts. What did the NFL and CBS expect when they asked MTV to produce the show? Why are so many people up in arms about a millisecond flash of a portion of a breast during the halftime show of a game featuring grown men pummeling each other and resorting to unsportsmanlike showboating every time they catch a ball or knock it down? Do Janet and Justin really think they're creating art up there? And just what the hell is a wardrobe malfunction anyway? Does our industry really need to catch the blame for something else that the talent can’t seem to do correctly?
Miss Jackson if you're nasty. Photo: Peter Pustavar
Oh, well, let’s move on. There was at least some interesting technology used on the show, including 76 Versa TILE units from Element Labs (which lit up 8 sections of stage along the perimeter of the stage riser--half of them were 8 panels wide, at 40 pixels wide and 5 pixels high and the other half consisted of 11 panels, at 55 pixels wide and 5 pixels high), plus Catalyst Version 3 Media Servers, and the 6kW PIGI projectors provided by Fourth Phase projected on the huge ballons. According to Anne Johnston from Fourth PHase, projectors were rolled onto the field on carts with the set, one projector per screen side, for total of four projectors. Mark Fisher designed the set, which was built by Winky, Michael, and the gang at Tait Towers. Allen Branton was the LD with VLPS supplying the Catalyst units. Also on the lighting team were lighting directors Christian Choi and Kevin Lawson, gaffer David Oakes, and High End Systems Catalyst lead engineer Danny Beardmore. And I'm sure they had nothing to do with the “incident.”--David Johnson
Makin' Whoopee. Photo: Paul Kolnik
Seen at the Ballet: Leave it to Susan Stroman to keep the New York City Ballet on its toes. Central to its centennial celebration of the artistic legacy of George Balanchine is Stroman’s Double Feature, the company’s first full-length ballet since the legendary choreographer’s Jewels debuted in 1967. January 23 marked the world premiere of the piece—a fizzy blend of Balanchine, silent movies, Broadway, and the great American songbook—at the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center.
Stroman, whose five Tony Awards include one for her balletic choreography of the hit Contact (2000), was the natural choice to create a tribute to the Broadway side of Balanchine, who worked on numerous shows between 1936-1951 (and is best remembered there for the show-stopping “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue,” from the Rodgers-Hart collaboration On Your Toes). For die-hard balletomanes, there’s probably a bit too much Broadway and a bit too little Balanchine to make for a truly satisfying evening; Double Feature, with Stroman-isms like dancers lugging props around, could just as easily play at the neighboring Vivian Beaumont Theatre, home to Contact for its two-year run. Most audiences will, however, find much to enjoy in the two halves of the program, which is invigorated by expressive design contributions from some of Stroman’s Tony-winning team from The Producers, and consistently stylish lighting provided by Mark Stanley.
The Blue Necklace. Photo: Paul Kolnik
Double Feature “unspools” as a pair of silent films, with a screen at the back of the stage supplying intertitles. The first segment, The Blue Necklace, is a floridly tongue-in-cheek melodrama about an unwed chorus girl, Dorothy (Maria Kowroski), who abandons her “dark secret,” an infant daughter, on the steps of a church, a fascinating forced-perspective setpiece (pictured, at left) from scenic designer Robin Wagner that recalls German silents as much as the US variety. The baby, named Mabel, is adorned with a blue necklace, a helpful ID tag as she grows up in the unloving care of wicked Mrs. Griffith (surely an intentional reference) and her dread daughter, Florence. Years pass. Now, pay attention: When Mrs. Griffith and Florence are invited to a grand ball by Dorothy, who has become a famous movie star, the stage is set for Mabel, now a young woman, to unravel her birthright…if she can outmaneuver Florence, whom greedy Mrs. Griffith is promoting as Dorothy’s long-lost offspring. This being a ballet (set entirely to the music of Irving Berlin) fancy footwork between her and matinee idol Billy Randolph (not to mention that blue necklace, provided by Larry V’rba) resolves the maternal mishaps.
The performers, under Stroman’s theatrical direction (emphasizing more eye contact with the audience than found in traditional ballet) are uniformly fine. There are two terrific sets of Mabels and Florences, the 10-year-old versions of Tara Sorine and Isabelle Tobias and the 17-year-olds of Ashley Bouder and Megan Fairchild, the latter who, in her key scene, dances very badly (intentionally, of course). A big round of applause went to the Randolph of Damian Woetzel—for how electrifyingly he traversed Wagner’s lush ballroom set, dressed to the nines in William Ivey Long’s beautifully tailored evening clothes. The costume designer takes center stage for the second part of the evening, the comic Makin’ Whoopee, a slapstick piece cued to that famous Walter Donaldson song and his other noteworthy ditties, including “My Blue Heaven” and “Love Me or Leave Me.” Based on the play (and later Buster Keaton film) Seven Chances, the piece spotlights an animated turn by Tom Gold as Jimmie Shannon, who stands to inherit $7 million…if he marries by 7pm that same evening. Which would not be a problem, if only his long-suffering girlfriend (Alexandra Ansanelli) were up for another one of his abortive proposals, the ladies he tries to woo in Central Park (a pleasant Wagner set) were more receptive, and the media hadn’t gotten wind of the story…resulting in all the dancers, including the entire male corps, chasing after him while clad head-to-heel in delightful wedding dresses designed by Long. He could be the next Vera Wang. Best touch: his doggie dress for a perfectly trained Boston terrier that makes several side-splitting appearances during the piece.
Another Stroman stalwart, Paul Huntley, provided period wigs. The scenery was built and painted by Hudson Scenic Studios, Inc., with additional painting by Scenic Art Studios and additional scenery by Centerline Studios, Inc. The costumes are executed by NYCB Costume Shop, Barbara Matera Ltd., Tricorne, Inc., Euro Co. Costumes, Carelli Costumes, Jennifer Love, Timberlake Studios, and JenKing; millinery is by NYCB Costume Shop, Carelli Costumes, and Rodney Gordon. Video editing is by Paul Ewen. Long is assisted by Donald B. Sanders and the assistant costume designer is J. Kevin Draves.
For all the laughter—the bride jokes are reminiscent of the old lady gags in The Producers—Makin’ Whoopee is uneven, too much of a good thing. For stronger impact, the order of the pieces should have been reversed, with the evergreen Cinderella hook of The Blue Necklace the main course and the looser-limbed Whoopee the appetizer. Still, the standing ovation Double Feature received on its premiere was anything but silent, and this fond and lovingly crafted tribute will likely be heard from again in the NYCB repertory. Additional performances of Double Feature were scheduled for Feb. 3-5.--By Robert Cashill
Osams. Photo: Wahid Ramaq/United Artists
Seen at the Movies: No, it’s not the story of a certain fugitive religious leader and terrorist, but Osama is very much to the point of the cultural conflicts that helped him rise to power. The first film produced by Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban, and only about the 40th movie of any kind made by the country, Siddiq Barmak’s Golden Globe Award-winning feature is about a 12-year-old girl (Marina Golbahari) in Taliban-controlled Kabul who cuts her hair and disguises herself as a boy named Osama. The reason is economic—her father is dead, and with women barred from working, there is no one else to support her and her mother—but the potential consequences of such cross-dressing are far more drastic than, say, those faced by Julie Andrews in Victor/Victoria. Osama keeps you in a state of perpetual dread, and then follows through with a horrifying outcome when the title character’s guise is discovered.
Barmak, whose previous shorts and documentaries were confiscated and presumably destroyed by the Taliban when he fled to Pakistan, employs a plain, straightforward style that’s not very exciting, but effective enough for his purposes. Similarly, the non-professional actors are inexpressive and at times awkward, but the wrenching story carries them through. Osama was shot with Afghanistan’s only 35mm film camera, an Arri BL4, which was repaired with the assistance of Iran’s Ministry of Culture. DP Ebrahim Gharfui, an Iranian whose previous credits include Kandahar and Blackboards, deserves a lot of credit for the success of the movie, bringing it the balance of realistic immediacy and professional polish that is one of the hallmarks of contemporary Iranian cinema. It’s hard to say when we’ll see another film from Afghanistan, but Osama is certainly a worthy start.--John Calhoun
Who’s Doing What: Robert Bell of Entertainment Technology (Genlyte ThomasGroup) reports that he has been hard at work on updates for their new Marquee Console that should be ready for primetime by USITT in March. He is also doing the final proofing of his new book, provisionally titled "Let Their Be Light: Entertainment Lighting Software Pioneers In Interview." The pioneers include Gordon Pearlman, Dave Cunningham, John McKernon, Anne Valentino, Tom Thorn, Mark Hunt, Tom Grimes, Eric Cornwall, Chris Toulmin, and Wayne Howell, as well as a round-up with Richard Lawrence and Philip Nye. The forward is by Richard Pilbrow, a lighting pioneer in his own right to be sure….Sound designer (and former EDDY Award winner) Darron L. West has donned a director’s hat for the production of Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse at the Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis. West has assemble a crack design team for the project: Neil Patel (sets) DM Wood (lights), Helen Huang (costumes) and of course himself for sound. The production runs through March 6….LD Bryan Hartley is off to Europe with Limp Bizkit for five weeks….Upcoming projects from LD Chris Parry include Twelfth Night at Alley Theatre, Houston, Cyrano de Bergerac at the South Coast Rep, and Guest from the Future, the premiere of a new Opera at Bard Opera Festival…Set designer Dara Wishingrad (Tribeca Film Festival) is doing Defenses of Prague at La Mama ETC with costume design by Rosemary Ponzo, lighting design by Russell Drapkin, and sound design by Nick Moore....