Friday, July 22, 2016

LC Fest: Japan's Takarazuka Revue takes on "CHICAGO"

Started by a railway magnate in 1914 to attract tourists to the hot springs town of Takarazuka, the all-female Takarazuka Revue has grown into a true cultural phenomenon, with a devoted fan base that clamors for the company’s sparkling adaptations of classic Western and Japanese stories, movies, and plays, and a cultural influence that extends into the realms of anime and manga.
--from "Takarazuka: A History"

Granted, I did not have the best vantage point for Japan's Takarazuka CHICAGO, seated near the rear of the Koch Theater's hall (my bad, I guess, for waiting too late to try for a press ticket). From there, I could see, very well, that Takarazuka Revue's cast--nearly all women, often taking male roles--had brought their sharpest knives to the Fosse (via Ann Reinking) banquet. But I couldn't make out facial expressions or the subtleties of gaze and body talk that usually connect and even bond me to performers and the characters they play. I struggled to recover some sense of the 1975 Kander-Ebb-Fosse musical I had seen and enjoyed only in its 2002 movie version. It didn't help to have to continually aim my gaze nearly to the ceiling, away from those distant faces, to catch whatever English supertitles I could catch. I felt lost and got lost more often than I'd care to admit.

At the outset, the CHICAGO of Takarazuka CHICAGO seemed sluggish. Post-intermission, though, it took on a certain charge, and I did get a kick out of Saori Mine (playing flashy, celebrated celebrity lawyer Billy Flynn) and the moxie of foxy Roxie Hart (played by Hikaru Asami) and Velma Kelly (Yoka Wao), our two vaudeville-era lady killers. But I did not really start rooting for Takarazuka Revue until the hard-working performers lowered the curtain on CHICAGO and gifted us with one their famous encores, a show in itself.

To Takarazuka Revue, "encore" does not mean one or two quick, rousing sendoffs. Oh no. It means a string of numerous songs, each a mini-production with different performers, about twenty minutes more of material--Takarazuka's own material, this time, and what material! Glittering light effects sweeping the theater's walls and ceiling; sexy, romantic tangos between women dressed to the nines; Vegas showgirl feather costumes and Rockettes-style lineups. It's also fun to notice how audience members, many of them Japanese or Japanese-American, recognize and hail specific players as they take the stage for their encore segments.

As I giddily discussed this, via Facebook app, with a Takarazuka fan who has seen the troupe in Japan, we hit on the same explanation for why these encores slay. It's really hard to separate how gaudily over-the-top they are from the exquisite technical excellence of the performances. Your brain instinctively says, "Wait, no. I can't believe this," but you're grinning. Confections coming after the dark meal of CHICAGO, they feel like acts of sincere generosity, feel-good rewards and guilty pleasures. Each number is bite-sized but packs a lot of calories, and everyone goes away richly fed.

The North American premiere run of Takarazuka CHICAGO continues at Lincoln Center Festival through Sunday. Remaining shows are:

Friday, July 22, 7:30
Saturday, July 23, 2:00
Saturday, July 23, 8:00
Sunday, July 24, 2:00

Note: The show runs roughly three hours with one intermission.

Get information and tickets here.

David H. Koch Theater
20 Lincoln Center Plaza, Manhattan

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Billy Name, 76

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Patti Smith, Mariachi Flor de Toloache at LC Out of Doors

Patti Smith and band
rocked the 2016 Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival.
photo ©2016, Deborah Feller

A perfect evening for Lincoln Center Out of Doors. Rain-free skies. July heat and humidity simmering at a comfortably mellow pitch. A pleasant crowd. Even the festival's security detail--with its new entrance gates and bag-checking procedures--kept things moving with cheerful efficiency.

Patti Smith, as I knew she would, had brought us good fortune.

More good luck arrived with Smith's opening act, Mariachi Flor de Toloache, New York's first and only all-women mariachi troupe. (Their eponymous debut album received a 2016 Latin Grammy nomination for Best Ranchero.) They offered original songs, traditional tunes, Nirvana and Led Zeppelin covers and Coltrane's "Afro-Blue," all with superb musicianship and mariachi flavor and warmth--trumpet, guitarrón, vihuela and violin blending peppy rhythms as gorgeously flutey voices ascended.  They took Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies" at a frisky pace, voices now a bit reminiscent of the Andrews Sisters. It was a little offbeat, spine-tingling and irresistible. The audience fell in love.

A taste of Mariachi Flor de Toloache performing on NPR:

Following a surprisingly quick break, Smith--mindful of LC's strict runtime policy--fondly admonishing her audience to not "mill around like a herd of turtles." Then she offered a passage from Just Kids, her beautiful remembrance of life with Robert Mapplethorpe. But her incantations (Ginsberg's "Howl") and rocking out with Lenny Kaye to "Dancing Barefoot" and "Summer Cannibals" brought the turtles rushing to the edge of the stage, phones aloft, as "Ghost Dance" rang into the night.

It was a night for calling up our holy dead--from Mapplethorpe to Ginsberg, yes, but also Amy Winehouse (a tribute to her called "This is The Girl"), Prince (a decidedly sultry "When Doves Cry"), Jim Morrison ("Break It Up") and her beloved late husband Fred "Sonic" Smith ("Because the Night"). If I recall, I might have heard a little George Harrison snaking through "Beneath the Southern Cross."

Aside from the sorry state of our politics--Smith, of course, took a few moments to excoriate Trump and the GOP and insist we use our People Power to do better--Smith very much had death and the passage of time on her mind. She startled me with the choice of "The Last Time" by The Rolling Stones, because she made me hear its refrain as a song of uncertainty about what time remains. It recalled that moody standard from way back in the '30s, you know, that goes, "For all we know, we may never meet again...."
We won't say goodnight/Until the last minute/I'll hold out my hand/And my heart will be in it
For all we know/This may only be a dream/We come and we go/Like the ripples of a stream
My heart clenched a little as I listened to the band lace into The Last Time. Smith was having fun with it but also making me imagine saying goodbye to this extraordinary being whose wit, spirituality and life force has always brought her audiences renewed belief and just the right jolt of energy in the nick of time.

I don't think the sensible and fiery Patti Smith is going anywhere anytime soon, though, and she later told us as much:

"I'm getting old," she roared, as we pumped fists into the air. "And I'm going to get fuckin' older!"

Words to live by.

* * * * *

Lincoln Center Out of Doors runs through August 7. All events are free. For schedule information, click here.

Damrosch Park and other Lincoln Center venues, Manhattan

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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Presenting new work by art collaborators Twig and Lux

(photo: Dan Safer)

Readymade sculpture/ installation created last night by Twig and Lux.*

Water bowl, two food bowls with cat food, bear toy,
carrot toy with feathers, shoe lace, Santa hat on placemats.


*We are now assuming this is solely the work of Twig,
with perhaps occasional assistance from Lux.

-- Dan Safer, director/choreographer, Witness Relocation

* * * * *

My review:

Just the right combination of balance and asymmetry. Light and shadow on the wall; the moon-like water bowl. A haiku-like suggestion of season (Santa hat) and the passage of time (half-eaten food) plus samples of metal, wood, fabric and plastic, the real (the inclusion of one of the artists) and the fake (soft toys). It's quite a composition.

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John Gruen, 89

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