Fashion Reverie Feature: Andy Warhol’s Letters and Cadillac

Image courtesy of knockturnal.com

Image courtesy of knockturnal.com

America has perhaps lived through one of the biggest rejections in its current political history. Strangely enough this rejection was not based on the majority of the US electorate, but the result of a critical mass that rejected governmental power, as we know it, and opted for the unknown.

Paradoxically, rejection often comes from a fear of the unknown. However, for this recent rejection, the unknown had a wide appeal. That said; rejection is a part of life, and for most artists, rejection is a constant bedfellow. As popular as Andy Warhol was in life and posthumously, early in his career as with most artists of his ilk, he was not immune to rejection. This early rejection and other letters from his archive, housed in the Andy Warhol Museum, is the subject of a traveling exhibit, the result of a collaboration of the Cadillac House and the Andy Warhol Museum.

The “Letters to Andy Warhol” exhibition features rarely seen material from the museum’s archive, including artwork and Warhol’s personal correspondence, plus artistic contributions from several modern-day cultural creators including Brian Atwood, Sienna Miller, Sean Lennon, JJ Martin, Zac Posen, Chiara Clemente, Aimee Mullins, David LaChapelle, Francesco Clemente, Nick Rhodes and more. The “Letters to Andy Warhol” exhibit features five interpretations: Mick Jagger’s letter to Warhol asking the legendary artist to create the artwork for the Rolling Stones’ 1969 “Sticky Fingers” album is brought to life by Sean Lennon via a virtual reality experience; Warhol’s letters to Truman Capote discussing fame, determination and ambition are explored in a short film directed Chiara Clemente featuring Sienna Miller, Zac Posen, David LaChapelle; a letter from the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) rejecting Warhol’s “Shoe” artwork into the museum’s collection is interpreted via an illustrated children’s book by shoe designer Brian Atwood;  and a letter from famed designer Yves Saint Laurent expressing his gratitude for Warhol’s friendship is explored in a portraiture series by writer and author Derek Blasberg.

Images courtesy of Kovert Creative

Images courtesy of Kovert Creative

“This collaboration came [with Andy Warhol Museum and Cadillac House] together to celebrate two American icons. Andy celebrated Cadillac as a brand along with Campbell Soup and Coco-Cola,” detailed Patrick Moore, interim director of the Andy Warhol Museum. “That is where the idea behind this exhibition started, but as we got to immerse more into Andy’s world we developed a deeper relationship. We were really inspired by these letters from his archives, and we realized that some of things that we found in his letters reflect the Cadillac story of today. The Cadillac story of today is about reinvention, perseverance, innovation, and challenge. These are some of the themes we find in these letters that we are bringing to life in a really immersive way.” “This exhibit also demonstrates Cadillac’s commitment to redefining the role of a brand in culture. A brand should be a producer of culture and not just an advertiser who takes advantage of culture. We talk about Cadillac redefining what a patron of the arts can be, and really supporting the arts in an immersive, experiential and added-value way.”

Perhaps, the most innovative feature of the exhibit was the 100 ft., life-size,  illustrated children’s book, “Bobby’s Brilliant Heels” illustrated by shoe designer Brian Atwood with text by JJ Martin. “Bobby’s Brilliant Heels” is about a young boy who likes to dress in and design women’s clothes and how his family and friends support him. The book is loosely based on Brian Atwood’s childhood with shoes produced by Atwood as a part of the exhibit display.

Image courtesy of Kovert Creative

Image courtesy of Kovert Creative

“I was approached by the idea of this collaboration by a friend. The rejection letter that Warhol received from MOMA inspired me to write a children’s book based on the rejection letter. I approached my writer friend JJ Martin because I had never written or produced a children’s book,” explained Brian Atwood. “The book was based around the Warhol shoe photo that was rejected by MOMA. We didn’t want the high heel in the book to be a heel for a little girl, we wanted it to be more contemporary and celebrate creativity” … “This book is also about rejection and redemption. Who would’ve thought that Andy Warhol experienced rejection in his career, but he did. Everyone does, and everyone has to figure out their of moving past rejection, and this book is about that.”

“Letters to Andy Warhol” will be on display at New York City’s Cadillac House through December 26 and then will embark on a national tour. For more information, go to cadillac.com/experience/cadillac-house.html.

—William S. Gooch

Fashion Reverie Exclusive: Laura Michelle Conjures up “Chuck Norris” and the “Rockstars of Fashion”

Laura_Michelle_Chuck_Norris_05The synergy of fashion and music has become such a constant presence in music videos that the hard work, the style options and the delicate balance that’s necessary to create that seamless flow is not obvious to most viewers. Still, when it all comes to gather—which is a miracle in itself—the videos can create an indelible impression in consumers’ memory.

Who can forget Madonna in Jean-Paul Gaultier’s cone-breasted bustier in “Vogue,”  Michael Jackson’s leather jackets in “Beat It,” Toni Basil in cheerleader gear in “Mickie” or Janelle Monae’s androgynous style in most of her videos. Being styled in certain fashion can bring more audience engagement to fashion designers and/or help launch the career of style. (June Ambrose holler!!)

This cross-pollination of music and style has created some iconic music videos. And the evolution of fashion and music continues with Laura Michelle’s new video “Chuck Norris.” And though the Chuck Norris reference doesn’t necessarily conjure up images of high fashion, stylist Jill Christiansen has injected some Alexander Wang, Alexander McQueen, Gucci and some Louboutin’s into this off-beat video.

After the release of “Chuck Norris,” Laura Michelle spoke with Fashion Reverie about her personal style and how Chuck Norris served as a reference point for this wacky, but stylishly chic video.

Fashion Reverie: How would you describe your musical style?

Laura Michele: That is always such a hard question because my taste in music is very eclectic. However, my musical style can be described as pop rock. The “Chuck Norris” video is more pop, but the rest of the CD. “Novel With No End,” is more pop rock.  There are a lot of influences in my music. One time on the way to the studio to record I was listening to country music and when I got to the studio my sound came out sounding very country western. So, the technician at the studio said ” No more country before you come into record.”

FR: Your have an eclectic musical style, as well as an eclectic fashion sense. Where does this all come from?

Laura Michele: I have always been really silly and quirky, although I was shy as a child. My Dad was always sick when I was kid so I would use humor to try to cheer him up. So, that is where my quirky side comes from. Plus, my whole family loves to laugh and likes to make jokes.  We are a silly family and that quirky silliness comes out in my music and my fashion style.

12_TopOfTheWorldFINAL2FR: I read in your bio that one of your early musical influences was Donny Osmond in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

Laura Michele: My mom would buy me these CDs and she brought me “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” with Donny Osmond. I must have worn that CD out, playing it over and over again. Once when my family was in Hawaii on spring break we found out that Donny Osmond was performing in the show in Maui. My Dad couldn’t get us tickets and later I found out that that particular performance was the last time Donny sang in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” I also love the song he does in the Disney movie “Mulan.”

FR: Who are some of your other musical influences?

Laura Michele: When I was really little I loved all the music from the Disney musicals. As I grew older, I was enchanted with Celine Dion. I couldn’t have a good day at school unless I started my day listening to Celine Dion. Then, I transitioned to N’Sync and Britney Spears. Now, my tastes are all over the place. I find inspiration from so many artists; there are so many good musical artists on the scene right now.

Image courtesy of Venone PR

Image courtesy of Venone PR

FR: Could you talk a little about your musical training?

Laura Michele: I started voice lessons in the third grade. I started with a guy with named Jim Beckford. I started recording in my senior year in high school. And Beckford taught me a lot about studio singing. I later studied with David Corey in LA and he was been vocal coach ever since.

FR: Why did you choose Chuck Norris as a cultural reference point for this video?

Laura Michele: As I mentioned earlier my Dad was sick for most of life and in the last four years of his life we watched a lot of  “Walker, Texas Ranger” that starred Chuck Norris. And I found out that Chuck Norris also gives a lot to charities and his own foundation. And who is more badass than Chuck Norris?

FR: So in a way in this video an homage to your Dad.

Laura Michele: To some extent, this video does give honor to my Dad. I kept thinking when we were shooting this video about how much my Dad would have gotten a kick out of this video. In the video I am wearing a diamond heart pendant necklace my Dad gave me. There is also a framed photo my Dad and me in several scenes of the video.

Images courtesy of Venone PR

Stills from “Chuck Morris” video. Images courtesy of Venone PR

FR: What are some of your styling choices in this video?

Laura Michele: My taste is very eclectic. There some very 50s silhouettes mixed with rock n’ roll.  That is what I am very drawn to. I am also very drawn to comfort that is one of the reason I love Alexander Wang and he clothes are used quite a bit in this video. In the waiting room scene I am wearing Alexander Wang. Jill Christiansen, my stylist, really understands my style aesthetic and is always directing me to get great garments for my own personal wardrobe.

FR: How did your relationship with Jill Christiansen develop?

Laura Michele: I met her through Matt Beard who is the photographer for my current CD. I have known her for ten years and we hit it off immediately. She is so hard working, really understands my aesthetic and so easy to work with.  Most of all she never tries to dress me in clothes that I am not comfortable in. And consumers can see when you are not comfortable in certain stage costumes or clothes in photo shoots.

FR: You are somewhat of a curvy girl, does being curvy dictate how you choose fashion and which designers you are attracted to?

Laura Michele: I gravitate toward what I like and in reality I really only a size 6. Sometimes because of the curves, consumers think I am larger, but I am really only a size 6.  My style is geared toward more what catches my eye.

Images courtesy of Venone PR

Images courtesy of Venone PR

FR: What’s next for you?

Laura Michele:  I filmed a Comcast on Demand special and that should be airing soon. My new CD comes out August 7. I will be touring and doing shows in the fall and I am already working and writing music for my next CD.

For more information on Laura Michelle, go to www.lauramichelle.com. And to check out Laura Michelle’s “Chuck Norris video, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=5UFllztXKU4

—William S. Gooch

 

 

 

 

 

Fashion Reverie Exclusive: “Devious Maids’” Sol Rodriguez Transitions to American Television and the Big Screen

Image courtesy of the Anderson Group

Image courtesy of the Anderson Group

Latina women are becoming a regular presence on television and the big screen. From the groundbreaking performances of Sonia Braga in the late 80s to Academy Award–winning and nominated performances of Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek, Latina women are making an indelible imprint in Hollywood.

Nowadays, Latina women don’t have to just play the stereotypical exotic, docile beauties or the fiery sex kittens that Rita Moreno and Rita Hayworth played half a century ago. The roles are becoming more diverse and multi-layered, particularly for Latina actresses in their 20s and 30s. And the good news, an accent is not necessarily an impediment.

Image courtesy of lifetime.com

“Devious Maids” season four image courtesy of lifetime.com

Sol Rodriguez is primed to be one of those Latina breakout actresses. With her new role on the fourth season of “Devious Maids,” this Argentinean beauty will get the chance to show the width and breath of her acting chops.

Fashion Reverie was given the opportunity to chat with Sol (short for Soledad) Rodriguez on the eve of the premiere of the new season of “Devious Maids.”

Fashion Reverie: You are from Argentina; did you aspire as a child to become an actress?

Sol Rodriguez:  I never wanted to be an actor as a child; I just kind of stumbled on it. I moved to Miami when I was a teenager and I signed with a talent agency in Miami to do commercials for extra money. The agency sent me to an acting audition although it was not my intention to become an actress. At any rate, I learned my lines and I got the job that turned out to be on Nickelodeon’s teen show “Grachi.” And I have been in the acting field ever since.

FR: So, in some sense acting was by accident.

Sol Rodriguez:  Exactly. When I got the job on “Grachi” I had never taken one acting lesson. I was studying travel and tourism in college and when I landed the lead role on “Grachi,” I had no time for my studies, so I had to make a choice, and I chose acting.

FR: From “Grachi” you started acting in Spanish telenovelas.  Could you talk about that?

Sol Rodriguez:  From “Grachi” I moved to acting in Spanish telenovelas; three to be exact. And about a year and a half ago I made the big move to Los Angeles to expand my choices of roles.

Moving to Los Angeles was scary. It was like starting all over again because I was working on Spanish telenovelas nonstop in Miami. I had a very secure acting life working on Spanish telenovelas, also my family lived in Miami.

It was a hard decision, but I knew I wanted to work in the American market. I knew the writing and directing in Hollywood was better than what I was getting in Spanish telenovelas. The work on those kinds of soap operas was no longer fulfilling. I am not the typical Spanish telenovela female leading glamorous character with big hair and lots of curves, so the roles were limited to me always playing ingénue supporting roles.

I just wanted more diversity in roles and more opportunity. I grateful for the opportunity Spanish telenovelas gave me, but it was time to move on. I knew I could reinvent myself in Hollywood and go after roles that were grittier and more multidimensional.

Sol Rodriguez as "Daniela Mercado" in "Devious Maids," image courtesy of Lifetime

Sol Rodriguez as “Daniela Mercado” in “Devious Maids,” image courtesy of Lifetime

FR: Let’s talk about your character, Daniela Mercado on “Devious Maids”?

Sol Rodriguez:  She is a new character this season on “Devious Maids.” I play Carmen’s (Rosalyn Sanchez) cousin who has come to Los Angeles from Puerto Rico to pursue an entertainment career. I crash in on Carmen’s life and unintentionally make her life miserable. Daniela is young and very impressionable, and creates a lot of drama. Daniela also finds out that Carmen is not really her cousin, but her mother.

FR: We know that you love clothes because you’ve been voted 10 Best Dressed for the 2013 Latin Billboard Music Awards. That said; who are some of your favorite designers and how would you describe style?

Sol Rodriguez:  I really like Calvin Klein for the simplicity of the brand’s design. The clothes are very easy to wear due to the minimalist aesthetic employed throughout the collections. Also, I don’t like clothes that fit too tightly and you can be comfortable and chic and Calvin Klein allows me to be that.

My personal style is very eclectic. I lived in Guatemala for a few years and fell in love with the indigenous culture, so you will see tribal prints and indigenous designs pop up in some of the things I wear. I like to mix Central American design motifs with vintage clothes from the 90s.

I really like to be comfortable, so you will not see me in high heels unless I am attending a red-carpet event.  I like to wear crop tops with loose-fitting jeans, and tennis shoes. I like to mix in a lot of different style from all over the world that expresses my mood and how I feel.

Image courtesy of the Anderson Group

Image courtesy of the Anderson Group

FR: How would you describe fashion in Argentina?

Sol Rodriguez: Fashion in Argentina is all over the place. I left Argentina when I was eight and I went back to visit when I was sixteen and a couple of years ago, so my opinions are based on visiting, not living there. However, when I visited my homeland, I saw women wearing platform shoes with boyfriend jeans and crazy floppy hats.

Women in Argentina don’t wear a lot of makeup; they prefer the natural look. I never wore makeup until my early 20s, and even now I don’t like to wear a lot of makeup. I guess I get that from my Argentinian roots.

Some of the fashion is very European with very loose-fitting clothes, not showing off your curves. Just dressing to be comfortable with a sense of individual style.

FR: In popular conversation, there is a lot of conversation of there are not being enough roles for Latina women in Hollywood. But we see that changing with “Devious Maids,” and Sophia Vergara in “Modern Family.” What has been your experience?

Sol Rodriguez:  I am very excited to be living in the era where there are more opportunities for Latina women. This progression is very new and I am a part of it!! A couple years ago it was very difficult for someone who looked different and spoke English with an accent. But, that is changing, for me to have such a big role on “Devious Maids,” is incredible, I feel so lucky.

I look Latin, Sophia Vergara, Rosalyn Sanchez and Eva Longoria, we all look Latin, not a European version of a Latina woman. I hope girls we look like me, and have an accent will see that it is possible to look Latina, have an accent and be successful in Hollywood.

Image courtesy of the Anderson Group

Image courtesy of the Anderson Group

FR: You love to give back to your community with such non-profits as the International Women’s House and PETA Latino, could talk about that?

Sol Rodriguez:  Actors have a lot of free time between acting and other projects. I have been so lucky to have the kind of life I have, so why not give back to people that are less fortunate. And because I am in a career where I have downtime between projects why not volunteer to charities and give back. I volunteer at shelters in Miami, Atlanta, and Los Angeles.

I have volunteered to help at a pet shelter here in LA. In Atlanta, I volunteered for refugee kids in a shelter. I would help them with homework and social activities. In Miami, I would always rally and protest outside of big circuses against their cruelty to animals.

FR: What’s next for you?

Sol Rodriguez:  I have two English-speaking movies in post-production. I am in “Going Under” with Bruce Willis and the other is “You Are Going to Miss Me.” And I am waiting for the premiere for the fourth season of “Devious Maids” which airs on June 6.

“Devious Maids” season four premieres on the Lifetime Channel on June 6, 9PM, EST.

—William S. Gooch

Bridging the Worlds of Beauty and Gaming: New Makeup Looks by Makeup Bingo

Image courtesy of pakifashion.com

Image courtesy of pakifashion.com

You can watch all the latest YouTube beauty tutorials and scour through Pinterest for makeup inspiration, but there are some days when you can’t quite get your eyeliner right, or can’t decide which shade of lipstick will complete your look. Although makeup generally takes a long time to put on, indecisiveness is probably why women spend an inordinate amount of time in front of the mirror. An article on huffingtonpost.com explains that a large majority of women spend around an hour per day working on their hair and makeup alone.

Women of the 21st century have so much on their plates that they don’t have the luxury of spending hours playing with different makeup styles. Women are constantly on the lookout for beauty hacks and shortcuts because of their hectic schedules.

That said; maybe relaxation and stress relief around your beauty regimen is something that should be considered. And a new and innovative way to shorten and to relax during your morning beauty regimen is by playing bingo.

Playing bingo, you say? Yea, playing bingo!!

Makeup_bingo_01The thought of randomizing styles and techniques through this game of chance seems a little out there; however, it gets the job done and it is not as unusual as it seems.  For the past few years, many have noticed the beauty and gaming industries often crossing paths, as more women join online bingo communities to play beauty-themed games. Bingo sites have also been used as platforms for experts to share their tips. The UK gaming company, Gala Bingo, popular for its ‘refer a friend’ scheme, Bingo Promotions, 52 Lives charity game and extensive online community, previously hosted the international sensation and celebrity makeup artist, Mikey Phillips, to help viewers refresh their looks for the new year. Considering all these things, if there was any game reliable enough to base our makeup routine on, it’s Makeup Bingo.

The rules of Makeup Bingo are quite simple. The first thing you have to do is create your card, which you can either make from scratch or use the card provided by outsidebeautyinsidehealth.com. Number your five styles per category (Eye shadow, Eyeliner, Blush, Lipstick) from 1 to 5, and then roll a die for each to determine your finished look. Don’t worry if you roll a 6. Consider that a free choice for the category.

fashion-girl-makeup-paint-largeAnd bingo you have found a new and innovative to learn about new beauty trends, relaxed around your beauty regimen, as well as found a way to indulge in one of your favorite past times. Beauty and online gaming has never been this much fun!!

—Staff

A Glass Slipper-less “Cinderella”

Cinderella_Prince_02“Cinderella” without glass slippers and a story line where Cinderella is not the main protagonist; that is the “Cinderella” that Les Ballets de Monte Carlo brought to the New York’s City Center.  Unusual, but it worked, well mostly.

Les Ballets de Monte Carlo is known for bringing updated version of classic ballets to New York City. In 2014, they brought their controversial “Swan Lake” to City Center to much acclaim. And where Les Ballets de Monte Carlo’s “Swan Lake,” with a few exceptions stayed true to the traditional telling of “Swan Lake,” their version of “Cinderella” is a unique departure with Cinderella glass slipper-less.

Unlike the more traditional version of the ballet, there are no Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer fairy variations. Instead of using the wonderful Prokofiev score for the fairies who bless Cinderella, the music is used to support the different ball costume changes of the ugly stepsisters. An interesting concept, but for those who are familiar with Sir Frederick Ashton’s “Cinderella,” this reassignment of the score fell a little flat.

Cinderella_Fairy_GodmotherComparisons aside of more familiar versions, Les Ballets de Monte Carlo’s “Cinderella” triumphs in Artistic Director’s Jean-Christophe Maillot’s modern choreography and in the avant-garde, couture-like costumes. Additionally, Maillot’s unique projection of the other characters in the story, i.e., the Prince, the Fairy Godmother, and particularly the Pleasure Superintendents, caused audiences to view “Cinderella in a new way.

Maillot’s choreography was best expressed in the ensemble moments, which was quite a feat in itself in that the City Center stage, compared to larger world stages, was never meant for large group choreography. Yet, Maillot managed to craftily construct choreography that was innovative and clearly defined without the corps de ballet looking cramped or uncomfortable. And his choreography for the male corps de ballet was particularly energetic and robust.

Cinderella_Fairy_Godmother_03Still, Maillot’s choreography for the Pleasure Superintendents (Alexis and George Oliveira) was the real standout of the evening. Maillot injected humor, technical brilliance, and nuance into his choreography for the Oliveiras—even the non-movement moments were interesting.

The choreography for both the Stepsisters and Stepmother also was effective, character revealing and helped move the plot along. Unfortunately, Maillot’s choreography for the Fairy Godmother (Mimoza Koike) though beautiful, at times didn’t go beyond pretty steps that showcased Koike beautiful legs and feet. Koike’s Fairy Godmother was not divinely inspired and lacked an otherworldly charm. Koike’s Fairy Godmother was more space alien than benevolent spirit, which is an interesting concept, but takes some getting used to.

Cinderella_Ugly_Stepsisters

All images courtesy of Alice Biangero

Karole Armitage in her seminal 80’s ballet “Go Go Ballerina” was one of the first ballet chorographers to utilize the pie plate tutu to effect.  I don’t believe any other ballet has had the effect of “Go Go Ballerina’s” pie plate since the ballet premiered in the late 80s. Jerome Kaplan’s version of the pie plate tutu for the Fairy Godmother paired with sequined pointe shoes and sequined, lame bodysuit gave the Fairy Godmother an alien quality. And his architectural, Thierry Mugler–like costumes for the Stepmother and Stepsisters—especially the half faux bustles for the Stepsister—emphasized their dual personality and rigid attitudes toward Cinderella. Also, what worked to special effect was the sparkly lotion used on Cinderella’s feet instead of glass slippers or sequined pointe shoes. Cinderella’s crystallized sparkly feet facilitated a better articulating of Maillot’s intricate choreography than perhaps would been doable in clunky pointe shoes.

Overall, Les Ballets de Monte Carlo’s “Cinderella” has lots of high points, and lived up to what audiences have come to expect from Jean-Christophe Maillot. Re-imaged ballet classics have become the order of the day in the ballet world and Maillot’s “Cinderella” fits right in with those re-imagined classics that actually have box office appeal. Bravo Les Ballets de Monte Carlo!!

—William S. Gooch

 

 

A Ballerina’s Tale: Misty Copeland’s Unlikely Tale of Success

Image courtesy of blackfilm.com

Image courtesy of blackfilm.com

Something is afoot. And it is not the Presidential debates, a recovering economy or the latest salacious Kardashian tale of nudity, broken romance, or media overexposure. Some of the things may be important, but I am talking about something else.

The thing that is afoot is truth. And more and more documentaries are putting the truth, their truth, front and center. “A Ballerina’s Tale” is one such documentary about the truth, and more accurately Misty Copeland’s truth.

Socrates extolled, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” And Nelson George’s truth-telling documentary “A Ballerina’s Tale,” examines the truth behind Misty Copeland’s rise to what some arts critics deem 21st Century breakout ballerina fame.

Image courtesy of hollywoodreporter.com

Image courtesy of hollywoodreporter.com

We’ve all heard the stories about Copeland’s rise from abject poverty to her ascension to become the first African American principal ballerina at American Ballet Theatre. Most folks have seen the Misty Copeland segments on “60 Minutes,” “The View,” and countless other talk shows and media outlets, not mention her internet-breaking “Under Amour” video. A lot of people are aware that she’s toured with Prince, had photo editorials in Italian Vogue, and recently starred as “Miss Turnstiles” on Broadway in “On the Town.”

All these accomplishments are worth noting, and for a ballerina, almost unheard of, especially in this age of short sound bites and 15-minute fame celebs that disappear almost as soon as they’re discovered. Still, George’s documentary goes way beyond Misty Copeland’s cross-pollinated media proliferation.

Image courtesy of nytimes.com

Image courtesy of nytimes.com

“A Ballerina’s Tale” is primarily a story about all the hard work that goes into becoming a world-class ballerina, particularly if that ballerina is a dancer of color. “A Ballerina’s Tale” is also about all the folks, especially the women of color, that have supported Misty Copeland in her groundbreaking rise to ballet stardom.

In “A Ballerina’s Tale” Nelson George brilliantly displays the daily grind of a ballet dancer’s life. From endless rehearsals, to the grueling touring schedule, to costume fittings, to performances, and in Copeland’s case her injured tibia rehabilitation. (Nelson’s capture of Copeland’s comeback from injury performance of “The Dying Swan” was especially poignant.)

For those unfamiliar with the constant pace of a ballet dancer’s life, this documentary leaves no stone unturned and details truthfully that the short moments of glamour and on-stage accolades are the result of an unbelievable amount of grit and hard work. Add the pressure of being a dancer of color in the isolating world of classical ballet and the obstacles seem almost insurmountable.

Image courtesy of img.com

Image courtesy of img.com

Still, this pivotal work goes beyond a dancer’s struggle and hard work. Several documentaries have expertly detailed this road less traveled before. Where “A Ballerina’s Tale” shines and in many ways is unique is in its connecting tissue of a ballerina’s daily grind—in this case, Misty Copeland—and all the women of color who coalesced around her in support of her dream.

From Filmmaker and Author Susan Fales Hill (board member of the Studio Museum of Harlem, and American Ballet Theatre), and Author and Magazine Editor Harriet Cole, to ballerinas Raven Wilkinson (Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo), Victoria Rowell (ABT Studio Company), and Robin Gardenhire (ABT, Cleveland San Jose Ballet), to her manager Gilda Squire, Nelson George ingeniously demonstrates that it takes a village, and in this case some mentorship from accomplished and strong black women to assist Misty at a time in her career when she was floundering.

Image courtesy of wsj.com

Image courtesy of wsj.com

At the core of all the support and hard work is Misty Copeland who throughout the many setbacks and challenges is relentless in her quest and lights up the screen with her 40-watt smile. And, true to form, the dancing is revelatory. Isn’t all truth!!

“A Ballerina’s Tale” is currently playing at the IFC Center in New York City. For more information go to, aballerinastale.com.

—William S. Gooch

Company XIV: A New Kind of Cinderella

 

Image courtesy of Phillip Van Nostrand

Image courtesy of Phillip Van Nostrand

Company XIV has garnered a reputation for taking traditional ballet and fairy tale classics and reinterpreting these storybook and ballet warhorses through their own special lens. Their “Nutcracker Rouge” takes place in a burlesque hall with the Sugarplum Fairy in a G-string and pasties. “Snow White” has dwarf puppets, opera singers as clairvoyant mirrors, as well as other nontraditional elements. (Innovative and beautifully rendered, it was a unique way of interpreting “Snow White.”)

In the history of Cinderella ballets, the classic story has been re-interpreted from a wide range of perspectiveS, themes and choreographic points of view. There is the Nureyev/Paris Opera Ballet version of Cinderella getting a movie screen test in 1930s Hollywood. The Lyons Ballet’s Cendrillion version revisited the classic as poupee dolls.  And who can forget Matthew Bourne’s version with Cinderella set during World War II.

Image courtesy of Mark Shelby Perry

Image courtesy of Mark Shelby Perry

With so many nontraditional, brilliant versions of “Cinderella,” it is a real accomplishment and triumph for Company XIV’s version to have its own innovative structure around “Cinderella” among the pantheon of nontraditional attempts at this ballet classic. In Company XIV’s version, surprisingly, Cinderella is not the protagonist. In fact, there’s a couple of main characters with the Stepmother front and center. Add in A Prince that is an expert acrobat and trapeze artist and operatic, acrobatically inclined Stepsisters and you have a Cinderella production that definitely breaks the mold.

Though these characters reinterpretations and Company XIV’s unique melange of dance styles always creates interesting theatre, at  times, there were too many disparate elements in this production. Pointe work, burlesque, opera singers, acrobats, and a few baroque dance elements are difficult to combine into a seamless artistic expression. And this time around, Company XIV struggled, well slightly.

Artistic director Austin McCormick over the years has become more adept at combining disparate dance and theatrical elements. The penultimate triumph of McCormick’s marriage of dissimilar and unequally yoked bedfellows was Company XIV’s “Le Serpent Rouge.” However, the company’s “Cinderella,” at times, missed the mark and was a bit ragged. Still, there were some shining moments.

Davpn Rainey as the Stepmother. Image courtesy of Mark Shelby Perry

Davpn Rainey as the Stepmother. Image courtesy of Mark Shelby Perry

Davon Rainey’s characterization of the evil Stepmother was one of those shining moments. In spite of being an en travesti role, Rainey was neither feminine or Rupaulesque. (Imagine a male Supermodel in five-inch heels.) Rainey was mostly glamorously self-absorbed, and this was good thing. McCormick’s pointe work for his dancers as horses was also brilliant. The choreography for the Stepsister’s dancing instructors was bold, frenetic, innovative, and well performed. The trapeze/acrobat elements were also phenomenal. The musical numbers and music choices were superb, as always. And lastly, Zane Pihlstrom’s costumes, or lack of thereof, were not only titillating, but also helped move the plot along.

The production’s  sticky moments were evident  in the plot, which would have been hard to follow if you didn’t already know the story. And there was absent McCormick’s genius Baroque parterre and petite allegro choreography. (Something the company has become expert at executing.)

Image courtesy of Mark Shelby Perry

Image courtesy of Mark Shelby Perry

Overall, this is a worthwhile production and with some tweaking and editing Company XIV’s “Cinderella” will be a powerful addition to the company repertoire. Now maybe, Company XIV should tackle “Swan Lake,” —hint, hint.

—William S. Gooch

Misty Copeland’s Met Debut in “Swan Lake”

 

Misty Copeland in "Swan Lake." Image courtesy of elle.com

Misty Copeland in “Swan Lake.” Image courtesy of elle.com

The Metropolitan Opera House debut of Misty Copeland in American Ballet Theatre’s production of “Swan Lake” last Wednesday (June 24) was everything it could and should be —an afternoon filled with palpable emotion—deafening, ecstatic applause at her first entrance, as the Swan Queen, and at the conclusion of each section. As a fitting coda, it was announced today (June 30) that Copeland has been promoted to principal dancer, making her the first African American ballerina to reach the top at the 75-year-old company, considered one of the top ballet companies in the world.

Paying homage during that historic performance last week was a star-studded audience (Judith Jamison, Debbie Allen, Star Jones, Jacques d’Amboise, and Damian Woetzel) all in attendance to see the woman who has become arguably America’s biggest ballet star of the moment.

Curtain call tributes by two historic African American ballerinas—former Houston Ballet star Lauren Anderson and former Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo ballerina Raven Wilkinson—celebrating Copeland’s achievement further cemented the significance of the occasion, the first time a black woman has starred in this role for a major American company at the Metropolitan Opera House.

And, yes, there was a glorious, thoughtful, often moving, always intriguing performance by Copeland. That this, the dancing, is mentioned last by no means signals that it is the least important. If this were anyone else, the actual dance performance would be, easily, the most important thing.

Misty Copeland and James Whiteside in "Swan Lake." Image courtesy of Gene Schiavone

Misty Copeland and James Whiteside in “Swan Lake.” Image courtesy of Gene Schiavone

But Copeland’s debut at the famed Met, though not her debut in the role (she first performed it with ABT in Australia in January and was featured in a Washington Ballet production in April) was a moment filled with historical significance. New York, after all, is universally recognized as the dance capital of the world; particularly with ABT— recognized as one of the worlds most renowned companies with its own storied history.

And, too, there was the significance in performing “Swan Lake,” one of the most famous and most challenging roles in the classical ballet idiom. In performing the dual roles of the good and pure White Swan Queen—Odette, and her evil alter ego —Odile, a ballerina is tested with not only bringing a multifaceted interpretation to the ballet, but in showcasing the prodigious technical abilities that call upon the full spectrum of classical ballet’s pyrotechnical feats.

Finally, there are numerous backstage tales in ballet lore of black women being told to lighten their skin with powder or otherwise denigrated for having dark skin that might somehow mar the look of the ballet’s white-costumed sections.

So into this gulf of legend, expectations and history leapt Copeland on that historic Wednesday afternoon. And from her first entrance to her last leap in the ballet’s final scene, Copeland’s every move was met with ecstatic roars of approval.

To cynical observers, this may simply have been the overenthusiastic result of months of hype. Copeland, is after all, a media darling.

Misty Copeland and James Whiteside in ABT's "Swan Lake." Image courtesy of Gene Schiavone

Misty Copeland and James Whiteside in ABT’s “Swan Lake.” Image courtesy of Gene Schiavone

 

Her story is compelling stuff—a glamorous ballerina, tapped by the superstar musician Prince; a muscular beauty in pointe shoes in a now famous Under Armour underwear ad about embracing one’s uniqueness; a life story of growing up poor and shuttling between welfare hotels with her family while studying ballet at a local Boys and Girls Club. And yes, a black woman in an overwhelmingly white ballet world who has unabashedly declared that she wants to ascend to the top of the classical ballet world.

But Copeland is a lovely dancer who has, with each new plumb role, demonstrated promise, and a real sense for finding the nuances of a character. As seen in her debut in “Romeo and Juliet” and here, in “Swan Lake,” the test now will be to see how well and how deeply Copeland can plunge into the roles she’s been given.

In her New York City “Swan Lake” debut, it was, somewhat surprisingly, the soulful White Swan, where she made the biggest impact. We know Copeland as a technical powerhouse. But her White Swan was a creature of great sensitivity and vulnerability.  It was an interpretation that still needs room to mature and grow. But some things, such as the use of her arms and her well thought out approach to the White Swan’s mystical power already are being employed to marvelous effect.

Image courtesy of Gene Schiavone

Image courtesy of Gene Schiavone

Surprisingly, Copeland’s Black Swan was somewhat lacking. True, she did not complete the traditional 32 fouette turns associated with the superhuman dazzling power of Odile. That, alone, wasn’t the problem. Many a ballerina has either stumbled through these turns or, opted to substitute pique turns entirely or, like Copeland, halfway through the sequence.

But Copeland’s Black Swan, though sharp and filled with attack and cunning, didn’t seem as thoughtfully considered as her Odette had been. It’s almost as if Copeland had focused on her Odette so much that her Odile was a bit of an afterthought.

True, some aspects were obviously given due consideration, such as Odile’s taking direction from the wicked von Rothbart who has sent the Black Swan to trick the Prince into breaking his vow of love for the White Swan. But, this is one aspect where Copeland still has work to do to complete her interpretation of the dual role.

Image courtesy of wsj.com

Image courtesy of wsj.com

However, there’s no question that Copeland deserves more opportunities to deepen her interpretation and grow in this and other roles. Many had speculated that she would soon be elevated to principal dancer status. Tuesday’s news confirmed the rumors. Regardless of her official rank, there’s no question that Copeland is more than just hype. She is a dancer who is showing a tantalizing potential for artistry.

—Karyn D. Collins

Ballet Hispanico: Latin Enough for All

Image  courtesy of Michelle Tabnick Communications

“El Beso” image courtesy of Michelle Tabnick Communications

How does a dance company maintain its signature aesthetic while moving into the 21st Century and expanding its audience demographic? That is a question that Ballet Hispanico may have grappled with in the past but has now solidly put to rest.

Recently, in a Q&A after one of the company’s recent performances at the Joyce Theater in New York City, an audience member expressed concern over the fact that Ballet Hispanico’s current repertoire seemed neither very balletic or culturally Latin in scope.  This conundrum of sorts begs the larger question of what is the definition of Hispanic in today’s culture and the dance community at large.

Should the repertoire of the Dance Theatre of Harlem only include works that are based in African American culture; should a flamenco dance company only perform traditional flamenco dance works, or should the New York City Ballet’s repertoire be made up mostly of ballets by George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins? And are audiences disappointed and nonplussed when they get something more than the names of certain dance companies imply?

Based on the repertoire presented by Ballet Hispanico at the Joyce Theater, artistic director Eduardo Vilaro has not only maintained the signature aesthetic of Ballet Hispanico established by founder Tina Ramirez, but expanded the company’s repertoire to include ballets that stretch the  dancers and reflects a modern Hispanic world. Latin culture goes beyond lacy mantillas, flamenco, folklorico dances, the Latin ballroom dances of the salsa, baso doble, cha cha, and samba, or swarthy men in boleros strutting around with machismo.  Hispanic culture embraces a huge range of movement styles, cultures and musical influences beyond the recognizable iconic images and sounds.

Image  courtesy of Michelle Tabnick Communications

“Conquer” image courtesy of Michelle Tabnick Communications

That said; the expansion of Ballet Hispanico’s repertoire was most evident in Miguel Mancillas’ raw, athletic “Conquer.”  “Conquer” explores the rawness and potentially unbridled inhibition that can be found in organic movement.  This dance work also examines how uninhibited movement can be a commentary on how humans can use power and possession to manipulate and control space and other people. This is a powerful dance piece that demands a high level of virtuosity.  Standout dancers in this work were Christopher Hernandez and Christopher Bloom.

Image  courtesy of Michelle Tabnick Communications

“El Beso” image courtesy of Michelle Tabnick Communications

Gustavo Ramirez Sansano’s “El Beso” does employ familiar Hispanic icons, but mostly in the set design and music. Angel Sanchez’s asymmetrical, fluid costumes with trending cutouts demonstrates the melding of the old and the new which is so evident in this work. “El Beso” or “The Kiss” presents itself in variety of incarnations; men kissing women, women kissing men, same sex kissing and affection, unwanted kisses, stolen kisses, and a sundry. The movement style of this work is very much in the vein of Twyla Tharp’s “Push Comes to Shove,” minus the pointe shoes. Still, “El Beso” perhaps has more warmth than Tharp’s “Push Comes to Shove.” Standout performers in “El Beso” were Min-Tzu Li and Jamal Rashann Callender.

One of the newest acquisitions in the repertoire, “Show.Girl,” examines the Latin female identity as seen through Miami’s cabaret or showgirls—a culture that is still thriving in Miami. The coquettishness and cattiness speaks to the games that women play with each other and themselves in their quest to define themselves. Miami-based choreographer Rosie Herrera brings in a lot of Latin Quarter elements into this ballet, from beaded, sequined showgirl costumes and headdresses to big white feather fan dances to gestures and stances reminiscent of showgirls from the 50s and 60s.

"Show.Girl" image courtesy of Michelle Tabnick Communications

“Show.Girl” image courtesy of Michelle Tabnick Communications

Though this piece is heavily influenced by the Latin nightclub culture of Miami, many of the movements and performance art influences come straight of a Pina Bausch Wupperthal Theatre dance work.  The standout dancer in “Show.Girl” is undoubtedly Jessica Alejandra Wyatt. With her retirement from the stage, she will be well missed.

Eduardo Vilaro’s assemblage of works that speak to the breath and depth of Latin culture demonstrates that dance, like culture, is ever evolving. And while the past should be honored, it is no place to live. Disappointed that Ballet Hispanico is not Hispanico enough, humm, check your culture quotient!!

—William S. Gooch

Peter Fletcher’s “Simple Gifts”

 

Image courtesy of Peter Fletcher

Image courtesy of Peter Fletcher

Every time classical guitarist Peter Fletcher appears at Carnegie Hall, he has a packed house. Whether audience members are hearing him for the first time or were so enraptured by his technical skill and poised delivery that they’ve become diehard fans, Fletcher understands how to put together a repertoire that keeps audiences wanting more. And that is his genius.

On April 11, 2015 Fletcher’s program contained the standard fare of baroque music transcribed for the guitar, Edvard Grieg pieces—of which he is one of the few guitarist that includes transcribed Grieg works in his repertoire—and of course, the  expected classic Spanish guitar warhorses. This varied assemblage of classical music from a wide range of periods and styles is part of Fletcher charm and for those who have astutely followed his career an expected eclecticism.  Interestingly, for this Weill Recital Hall performance Fletcher included some musical works that were unusual additions and also demonstrates that Fletcher is beginning to focus his attention on educating audiences on the wide range of music that can be transcribed for classical guitar.

For those avid Peter Fletcher fans it is obvious that the man has technical acuity that goes beyond many classical guitarists currently heard in recordings on in recital halls. And, while Fletcher does include works that display his immense pyrotechnical skill set, he seems currently to be more focused on expanding the classical guitar repertoire.

Peter_Fletcher_03Case in point, “Simple Gifts,” the well-known Shaker hymn, on this occasion transcribed by John and BJ Sutherland is not a work that is associated with classical guitar. However, in this outing Fletcher’s gentle and somewhat transcendental rendering of this familiar Shaker hymn proves that his choice in nontraditional material fits within the scope and evolution of where classical guitar is heading.

Other highlights of the evening were “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” Hector Villa-Lobos’ ever popular “Prelude No. 1,” and the surprise of the evening, Niccolo Paganini’s well-known “Caprice No. 24,” transcribed by Fletcher.  “Caprice No. 24” when played on classical guitar takes on a different nuance and mood. Fletcher’s transcription rendered this familiar work more warmth with darker tones than traditionally played which perhaps is due in part to the warm tones of classical guitar but should also be attributed to Fletcher’s ingenious and superb transcription.

In this outing, Fletcher’s “Simple Gifts” appear to be the great joy he gives to his devoted fans and newcomers combined with his gift of expanding the classical guitar repertoire. Well done, Fletcher!!

—William S. Gooch

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