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This weekend, I may stop by the Paramount Center's Bright Family Screening Room in Boston to see a free screening of "The Sound of Music." By my calculation, I've seen the film 20 times, as a child and again as the parent of a child. It showed up in my life around the same time as other movie musicals such as "Peter Pan" and "Cinderella" that were made in the 1960s and were on TV each year when I was a kid. That was before DVDs and Netflix (and VHS), so the annual showing was a fairly exciting family event. It was also before replay buttons on remote controls, and I feel sure I watched TV with far more focus and clarity than I do these days when I'm likely to also be tweeting or texting at the same time.
In other words, my little mind was taking in far more information with fewer distractions, and I memorized those musicals in the same way I learned to say prayers at Mass: It was all rote, but the practice with musicals was far more challenging given that they came on once a year and Mass was once (or more) a week.
In any case, it was a testament to just how deeply "The Sound of Music" was embedded in my long-term memory when I recently attended Doug Elkins & Friends' production of "Fraulein Maria" running through Oct. 3 at the Paramount Center in Boston.
Elkins is an award-winning choreographer whose creds come from the break dancing world. For "Fraulein Maria," he combines modern dance and ballet with his street moves and the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein's soundtrack featuring a full-throated Julie Andrews. Which means that when Elkins started popping and botting and ticking as the Mother Abbess in "Climb Ev'ry Mountain," he augmented the song from an operatic pep talk about dreams to a display of just how much tutting a righteous B-Boy can achieve within about a four-foot halo of spotlight. He wore a black and white hoodie - a kind of wimple for the hood couture - and embedded the symbols of the tune (his hands do an itsy-bitsy spider-like move when the refrain is sung) and of contemporary hand jive such as basketball shots and, for lack of a better term, the pinkie-and-thumb-connecting-to-the-mouth-and-ear "call me" action. His moves and the choreography throughout the show were utterly new to me and yet they made perfect satirical sense given my familiarity with the movie.
Elkins is a virtuoso. And he has surrounded himself with a troupe of virtuosic dancers who suggest what it must have been like in, say, Shakespeare's time or in the early years of traveling circuses when you had to be a polymath of artistic ability to be part of the company. Many of the Elkins dancers have had conservatory training. But they are also gymnasts, martial artists, trapezists, break dancers, actors and comedians. Their previous tenures are as varied as the Flying Karamazov Brothers, Bill T. Jones, the Metropolitan Opera and "trained Chris Brown." So there was 20-year-old Gui Greene defying gravity with his airborne power moves performing an "I Am Sixteen (Going on Seventeen)" pas de deux with David Parker, who was swan-like as a corporeal, middle-aged, cross-dressing Liesl. And there's Deborah Lohse who strutted on her tiptoes to connote the high heels her stridently bitchy Baroness might wear but suggesting in elegant slapstick the way Carol Burnett might have played the role had she been cast in the movie instead of Eleanor Parker. I wasn't exactly surprised even as I still gasped during the sentimental duet "Something Good" when Jeffrey Kazin, as Von Trapp, did a full-out run at Meghan Merrill, as Maria, and leapt into her arms for a traditional, though role-reversed, ballet catch.
It strikes me that Elkins takes his street aesthetic to the level of "cultural remix," which his company represents: a diverse group of dancers in terms of race, age and gender roles (plus five Emerson College students who join the troupe for one number). But he also engages in a form of remix in his use of varied dance genres that equally celebrate ensemble and individual talent. From this complicated pastiche emerges an appreciation of the American musical as a form so pliable it breaks down the high-low art rules - ballet meets graffiti dance - and becomes a trope about the elasticity not only of the human body but of a work of art. In other words, "Hamlet" is still becoming "Hamlet." "The Great Gatsby" is still becoming "The Great Gatsby." And thanks to Elkins, "The Sound of Music" is still becoming "The Sound of Music."
And I, for one, can't wait to see the movie for the 21st time.
Photos: Doug Elkins as Mother Abbess by Yi-Chun Wu; troupe photo and Robert Parker as Liesl by Christopher Duggan.
Amazon.com tells Publishers Weekly the de-ranking of gay and lesbian books on its site was a "glitch." Is this PR backpeddling, or a perfect storm of technological error and inept customer service, or could it be that, as a Facebook friend humorously surmised, "a homophobic programmer just got fired"?
Amazon received a flurry of online protests and became the subject of today's biggest Twitter trending topics #amazonfail and #glitchmyass after writer Mark Probst blogged that Amazon had indiscriminately stopped ranking gay and lesbian books because of their "adult" content. (See below.)
Amazon.com is apparently removing gay and lesbian books from bestseller lists, some searches, and sales rankings:
Amazon also swept former NAJP fellow Minal Hajratwala's book Leaving India into its "gay-and-lesbian-and-therefore-adult-and-inappropiate" net. Hajratwala is gay and alludes to her sexual orientation in her writing, but her book primarily chronicles the Indian diaspora and includes no explicit sexual material. She recently logged on to Amazon only to discover that her book had disappeared from searches both for her name and the title of her book:
As if it weren't enough that Amazon has taken over how we buy books, now it's censoring what we buy as well.
That leaves this infuriated writer and reader only one choice: Buy independent...and sign the petition.
(Entry updated thanks to Minal Hajratwala's comment.)
The program will involve two workshops, the first in Wales from May 24-30th 2009, and the second in Washington, DC from June 23-29th 2009.More info here.
Designed to develop coverage and critical discussion of Welsh arts, the program offers participants the opportunity to join intensive transatlantic workshops focused equally on developing their critical abilities, international discussion of Welsh art forms and developing relationships between the media in Wales and North America. The program will also encompass bilingualism and takes as its starting point coverage of Welsh activity in Washington DC during the Smithsonian Folklife celebrations this summer.
Over the course of the program time will be spent in both Wales and Washington DC, with participants attending writing workshops and a variety of performances alongside gallery visits. They will write reviews, discuss their work together and explore the role of the art critic.
How many times have you misspelled a colleague's name in an e-mail because you were too lazy to look it up? How many times have you guarded your beat -- and Rolodex -- from a fellow reporter whose coverage dared to butt up against yours?
How many times have you reached for the phone or keyboard to find out how a laid-off associate is faring in his/her new life away from daily newspaper-ing?
To one degree or another, we're all full of ourselves. It comes with the turf, no? J-school instilled that. Taught us to be driven, persistent ... self-obsessed in the pursuit of the scoop.
The word "collegial" surfaces occasionally, but it comes off as flat, foreign-sounding when uttered by an editor. It's usually reserved for the dreaded performance review.
These sentiments were sparked by the passing of a dear friend named Eirik Knutzen. Eirik, 64, was one of the brave ones. While the rest of us needed the security of a weekly salary and benefits, Eirik, being a singularly independent fellow, flew without a net. He freelanced for almost his entire career.
At one time, he occupied an office in the old Bank of America building in Westwood. That's where I visited him when in town covering this or that press junket. Among his clients, the Copley News Service and Toronto Star, which published his TV dispatches and columns for 17 years. His celebrity profiles -- of everyone from Johnny Carson to Jim Carrey -- ran in most of the papers in this country and, before the advent of Internet thievery, many overseas.
Like most of us in this business, Eirik wasn't a "name," but he was a respected writer who never took himself or the entertainment scene too seriously. It repaid him in full. When he died last month in Rancho Mirage of complications from a long battle with heart disease, his passing went all but ignored by colleagues. (Life partner Lani Young published a lovely remembrance in The Desert Sun.)
"I was very embarrassed by this particular error," said entertainment editor Douglas Cudmore. "We've spoken to those involved and run a correction. Thanks for writing."
Eirik, one of the great iconoclasts, would have managed a pained smile, and then remarked, "You can't fault them for being inconsistent."
A lot of factors coalesced at the very last minute. In September, the president/publisher of the Chronicle announced he would eliminate 80 jobs through buyouts and layoffs. After much hemming and hawing, and conversations with friends and family. I decided to apply Tuesday for the buyout. I heard this afternoon that my request was approved.
Initially I will try recover from the separation, get much needed rest, start crafting a life after the multifurcated schedule I've kept for 33 ¾ years (I started at the Chronicle on Dec. 30, 1974), and taking a delayed trip to Germany. Thanks to everyone who have provided a varied, intriguing and often illuminating classical music scene in Houston. I do plan to continue to enjoy it. Sincerely, Charles Ward
I will be moderating the panel that includes author and Pulitzer Prize winner Margo Jefferson, Metro Weekly editor-in-chief and co-publisher Randy Shulman, and NPR digital media producer Trey Graham.
Find out why we're going on the NLGJA website:
The panel will explore questions including:
• How can we better cover minority artists and how can minority artists get better press coverage?
• How do we ensure that minority arts groups are not relegated to a "special interest" category in the press?
• With the recent cutbacks in arts coverage, how do we ensure the vitality of cultural reporting and give voice to lesser-known artists?
• How do we make minority arts stories accessible to the general readership?
• How do we diversify the pool of critics so that diverse artists and communities receive better representation?
If you have any issues you'd like to see addressed, please send us a comment.
This workshop is part of NAJP's goal that cultural reporting reflect what we term not diversity, but "reality"-- the reality that arts journalism comprises journalists and artists of all races, genders, and sexual orientation.
"NLGJA Goes to Washington" promises three days of hands-on workshops, hot-topic panels, and networking opportunities at the Hilton Washington Hotel. Learn more and register here.
Page had worked for "Get Out," the Tribune's entertainment weekly, for more than five years and had been among a reported 11 people laid off about three weeks ago. The Tribune layoff followed an earlier one a couple of months ago in which four people were dismissed, including the editor of the features department, Cheryl Kushner. The Tribune, like many daily newspapers across the country, has been struggling to adjust to a sharp decline in circulation.Page was also a fellow in the NEA's theatre critic fellowship program at USC in 2005.
On The OC Register's Arts Blog, Bleiberg admits that she is not sure if the Register will replace her with another staff dance critic. She is leaving the Register to join South Coast Repertory as Associate Director of Development.
Another former NAJP fellow Valerie Takahama also left The Register in August, after working there 19 years. She says part of the reason she was let go was that "they felt they didn't need an architecture writer anymore."
Critic Elizabeth Zimmer has just posted the news on artsjournal.com that critic Deborah Jowitt, who for four decades covered dance at the Village Voice, was fired from her staff position -- although she's welcome, apparently, to continue writing as a cheaper freelancer. Quite a collection of critics, those Voicers who've been canned ...
There's a workshop about business journalism, one on health coverage, and even one on - get this - gossip reporting! Remember, like the Olympics, this convention only occurs once every four years.
The NAJP submitted a proposal for a workshop called "Promoting Diversity Through Arts Reporting." And despite having a fabulous panel that included a Pulitzer Prize winner and one of the most respected magazine editors in the country, the selection committee passed over our idea. We wondered what we could have done better, what we could change if we were to apply in 2012. Maybe we just shouldn't submit a proposal about... arts coverage!
What does it say about our field when a group preaching diversity leaves arts journalism out of its own diverse agenda?