Monday, November 22, 2010

"New Yorkistan"

On the drive the work today, I was listening to KPCC-FM, and hear a reference to this New Yorker Magazine cover illustration that included such places as "Kvechnya" and "Khandibar." It was a great way to start the day!

Sunday, November 21, 2010


I can't believe I'd never seen this famous Swiss theatre company, and jumped at the chance to see them this afternoon at Irvine Barclay Theatre. The four 60 and 70-something actors are remarkably spry and produce illusions that demand the audience to use its imagination muscles in ways they probably never have. Though the 90 minute show (with one intermission) gets a bit repetetive, it is mostly comprised of 1-2 minute scenes involving extraordinary costumes & props. They are remarkably un-PC when it comes to scenes involving violence and sex (however mild)--especially for a show marketed for kids & families. No bother: the audience adored them, and was comprised of all ages. I would have to say it is equal parts puppetry and mime--with large scale masks and devices manipulated in clever ways. Mummenschanz has been around since the 1970s, and is the sole non-spoken word theatre company to have succeeded on Broadway (a three year run). Others have emulated and built upon their work, but Mummenschanz is the real deal: high art that doubles as mass entertainment. You can't beat that combination.

Too Drunk--Or just Drunk Enough--to Say I Love You

First, sad news that Caryl Churchill's one-act, Drunk Enough to Say I Love You, closed today at Monkey Wrench Collective--two weeks early. MWC Artistic Director Dave Barton attributes it in large part to the fact that Orange County theatregoers don't embrace politically-themed plays (though this was not marketed as such). I countered to him that it's American audiences who don't embrace political theatre--not just OCers.
I'm familiar with Churchill's plays--saw Frances McDormand in Far Away at New York Theatre Workshop a couple of years ago. Audiences walked out mystified, and though I loved it, I can only say that I understood maybe 10% of her imagistic script. (There was, however, a fabulous scene of chained inmates forced to do a fashion show of Easter Parade-style hats!) Churchill's plays perform linguistic gymnastics--it's like the theatrical equivalent of a Jackson Pollock painting.
Dave Barton thoroughly made this piece accessible and the clarity of Uncle Sam desperately seeking love from those he exploits (and tortures) in the world was an unavoidable political statement that produced shock and awe.
The few who saw it understood that, so Dave's disappointnment notwithstanding, the production was a success.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Irvine Valley College's Dance "Perspectives"

My lunch hour detour to Irvine Valley College's relatively new performing arts center far exceeded my expectations. Full disclosure: I'm not an enormous dance fan. I appreciate it as an art form. I've even seen some of the great artists & companies live, like American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, Paul Taylor Dance Company, Erick Hawkins Dance Company, to name just a few--plus plenty others on video. It just takes a lot to keep my attention riveted, as I'm a verbal-oriented person, which is why theatre has been my artistic medium.
That being said, I responded to an 11th-hour invitation from Marie de la Palme, IVC's Artistic Director, to attend this hour-long performance of 6 short pieces with brief remarks by the choreographer of each. I had met Marie for the first time a few months ago in the ArtsOC offices, but was not familiar with her work.

I have to say that what I saw convinced me that Marie is an extraordinarily gifted choreographer--5 of the pieces (all very different) were hers, and each was substantive in content and in style but, most of all, clear--something I find so often missing from dance works I experience. Some of her pieces are exceptionally acrobatic, and she was fortunate to have two men and a woman who were fully capable of executing her moves.

The one piece by guest choreographer Teresa Avina, "Unplugged," had a terrific concept in which the dancers were turned on and off again (symbolized by light fixtures on their costumes). Avina spoke of wanting to show the distinction between the two: on=robotic, off=fluid. In actuality, there was not as sharp a delineation between the two styles as I thought was called for, but it may have been her intention to be more subtle.

Here's to more lunchtime arts experiences!

2 New Exhibits at Irvine Fine Arts Center

The Irvine Fine Arts Center (IFAC) is one of the few City-operated galleries in Orange County (other notable City galleries are Huntington Beach and Brea). IFAC consistently exhibits work of very high quality, and mixes exhibitions by artists outside the area with works by local artists.

The 2010 All Media Show that opened last night was juried by Karen Moss, Curator of the Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA), so I was especially eager to see what she had found among the many submissions that might meet her rigorous standards. I was not disappointed.

There was extraordinary vitality and variety to the works on display, from the small (a delightful and intricate homage to the pinned insect display boxes seen at science fairs--but created with man-made materials) to the sizable (like a mettalic white sculpture made of styrofoam, fiberglass and auto body paint that burst out from the wall).

I ran into Ellen Breitman, former curator of the OCMA-predecessor organization, Newport Harbor Art Museum, who praised Karen's work on this exhibition.

And then one of the artists, whom I knew previously only by e-mail, introduced himself to me: Emet Martinez, a fine art photographer. Two of his photos were selected for the show, including the Paris street scene above.

IFAC usually opens two exhibitions simultaneously. The All-Media show was in its larger gallery space and an exhibit of works by Bill Jaros in the smaller space. Jaros creates sculptural wall pieces (and some tabletop works), and most of those on exhibit were made of corrugated boxes that had been stiffened into shape using plaster and colorful pigments. If you didn't look at their edges, you wouldn't necessarily have guessed at the original box material. Other works were assembled from wood.

A Virtual Art Opening by Gallery 212

Throughout the past two years of this Great Recession, I have heard people say that there is opportunity in adversity (I prefer to think of it as survival of the fittest). Among those necessarily adjusting to the "new normal" are artists, and I know I'm not the first to point out that they are finding new ways to exhibit and sell their work.

Last night's opening by Gallery212 was a case in point.

Gallery owner Ruth Q. Harrell talked the landlord at Costa Mesa's Back Bay Center into allowing her to hold a one-night exhibition in a vacant unit. She used to have a regular gallery space in Seal Beach, but says she found that most of the sales took place at the opening receptions, making her ongoing lease redundant. So she's gone virtual--it's these days, with periodic artist receptions in temporary spaces like Back Bay Center.

Last night, her "urban gallery with only original art" featured works by Erica Wolfsen, whose small acrylics have been ubiquitous at the Santa Ana Artists Village on Art Walk nights, and an artist named Industry Giant among several others. (I clarified with Ruth that it's "Mr." not "Ms." Giant.)

All the work on display was characteristic of much work I see by young artists these days at such places as The Artery at The LAB Anti-mall and the Santora Building in Santa Ana--fresh and colorful, whether representational or abstract, often resembling iconic artists like Warhol and Rauschenberg or derived from cartoon art, graffiti and commercial advertising. Some were well-executed, others less so, but there was an exuberance to them all. Ruth says she is committed to the work of young artists, and they are fortunate to have someone like her finding new ways to champion them.