Sunday, October 25, 2009

Twyla Tharp: Speaks Candidly on Creativity and Boxes.

On Tuesday October 13th, Twyla Tharp spoke to a group of USC students, professors, and other members of the USC community at the Bing Theatre on USC's campus through the Visions and Voices Arts & Humanities Initiative. She was promoting her new book, THE CREATIVE HABIT. (Which I will review my signed copy after reading it, look for the review here!) Tharp discussed her long career of dance and choreography. Some highlights include MOVIN' OUT, BARYSHNIKOV by THARP, AMADEUS, and RAGTIME. Tharp has received Emmy's and Tony's and enough "Best Choreography" awards to last a lifetime. Yet she continues on.

She spoke most memorably about how she works alone, and yet with dancers. Tharp must push herself creatively so as to not repeat herself. Even the notion of repeating her works in repertoire is repulsive to her.

Mostly, Tharp's wit and wisdom came through in her speech. She discussed the well-being of American arts as less than stellar. When referring to DANCING WITH THE STARS, Tharp explained that brining the art of ballroom dancing to the masses was great, but the way it is being done, is well, tasteless. She stated sarcastically, "I'm glad!" It seems she fought here with what she is supposed to say: that bringing dance to masses who are otherwise oblivious, is always a good idea. Instead she hints that DWTS is perhaps the wrong way to do this, and maybe even a disservice to the masses and an insult to the dance professionals and the dance world.

Again, Tharp criticizes the pop culture world with reference to Twitter. She describes the need for keeping unfinished work a secret. She claims secrets give the creator energy and spark. If the secret is divulged, it no longer belongs to the creator, but can be misinterpreted, misused, and misguided. Tharp says that Twitter is just a way to divulge secrets, which is counterproductive to the creative process.

Lastly, while Tharp prides herself on being original and never accepting works as they have been done before (for instance, not re-interpreting old, classic musicals, but merely repeating what others have done) she does remind us that we must have a context from which to jump. We must know what has been done before to make something new. We must have an appreciation for the artists, musicians, and historians who have come before us. Tharp, the legendary choreography reminds us that, "to think outside the box, we must start with a box."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

REAL TIME LIVE: Improvised Cinema.

So last night the University of Southern California (in Los Angeles), through their Visions and Voices Arts and Humanities Initiative, presented Finnish auteur Mia Makela's (aka Solu) piece entitled REAL TIME LIVE. Makela has been to many festivals including: Sonic Acts in Amsterdam, Sonar in Barcelona, Transmediale in Berlin and Transitio_MX in Mexico City. Her narratives are often dream-like with minimal abstractions. This genre of performance is named "live cinema." She has written and lectured on this emerging art form.

Basically Makela mixes sound and moving images live in a semi-improvised experience that develops in real time. It's sorta like watching her create a short film in front of us, with only one shot at it. Its interesting. The problems lie in the apparent: there is no story line. Well none that is concrete. You can argue that her images of a woman standing in a field has a plot, but it lacks tangibility. Another issue is the lack of collaboration that makes arts (and especially film) fascinating. The bringing together of many ideas for one product. Also, when one considers improvisation, one finds the first rule (to always say "yes") to be of the utmost importance. And without an ensemble, the improvisation is one-sided and lacking alternative impulses other than the one auteur. While I personally find multimedia experiences to be poignant and unique, this was very high-brow and lacked accessibility.

The key moment (and frankly the most interesting part of the whole evening, in my opinion) was when she wrote the credits (yes wrote, because the film was all made in front of us). She misspelled the word, "audio" and had to go back and change it. Like I said, it certainly is interesting and a valid choice for filmic expression, however the missing collaborative collective really made the evening one sided and even a tad dull. Is there a place for this art in our future? Sure, but it still needs some tweaking to make it collaborative and a bit more accessible.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Museums: Getty Villa in Malibu, California.

The Getty Villa (a second location, not to be confused with the Getty Museum in LA) is a palatial estate that houses Greek and Roman art and artifacts. The museum requires a reservation (though its free) which is great because it limits the amount of visitors so its never over-crowded. The works range from Greek red-figured pottery to famous heads of Alexander The Great. However, the one of the most interesting aspects is the villa its self. The grounds have cafes, restaurants, stores, an outdoor theatre, herb gardens, fountains, alcoves and beautiful promenades. The roman-inspired estate was recently reopened in 2006. While I visited the property in October, I can only presume the spring brings the gardens into full-bloom. If you ever have some time in the LA area, visit the Getty Villa and tour the amazing artwork and incredibly detailed gardens and fountains.

Friday, October 2, 2009

FlashForward: The Ironically Unknown Future

FLASHFORWARD aired its second episode last night (October 1st, 2009) on ABC. This new hit television drama stars Joseph Fiennes (recognizable from Oscar winning SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE). It follows Fiennes character as he (and the rest of the world) try to piece together why a massive, worldwide blackout occurred causing everyone to lose consciousness and see their futures.

This plot is very innovative and falls under the unreal tv genre. This genre is for the supernatural aspects of television shows. To be honest, it seems as though ABC is preparing for the end of LOST (their major, and established unreal television show at present, which premieres its final season early 2010). The two shows share similar qualities, beyond the supernatural realm of their narratives. Both shows select a core group of individuals who are "destined" to solve the mystery. In LOST its the Oceanic 6 survivors, and in FLASHFORWARD its the FBI team, particularly the Fiennes character who saw the investigation in his own vision.

Secondly, the two television shows are aimed at the same demographic: the under 35 year-olds. With their sci-fi and conspiracy theory styles, this key audience is satisfied. This is a crucial demographic to win over because they are often the ones who spend more freely. If they spend more freely, the ad execs will raise their prices for ads during the show due to the high demand for this captive audience.

Thirdly, this audience is more likely to investigate alternative ways to access the show's "bible." They will take advantage of conventions, webisodes, fanfiction, message boards, facebook groups, twitter tweets, watching episodes online and the like. These will provide extra information that will give a more in-depth look at the episodes. These alternative ways to surround an audience with the show, which proved very successful for LOST, is just another way to earn more revenue from ad sales and other ancillary products.

And lastly, and most importantly perhaps, just like LOST, FLASHFORWARD has a definite expiration date. ABC chose not to bestow the curse of GILLIGAN'S ISLAND on LOST and have the Oceanic 6 live forever on the island, they knew they need (in order to make the most money through rise of anticipation of the final season) to kill the show at its peak. Similarly, FLASHFORWARD has already proven one major point at which it could be killed: once the mystery is solved, when the characters reach the day they envisioned in the blackout. This is a major concern for the execs up at ABC. Perhaps there will be curve balls to throw this off a bit, but regardless of whether that is in fact the end point or not, there is definitely going to be an endpoint for this new drama.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

On My Own: Fox's GLEE Brings The Musical Back.

Fox's September 30th episode of the new hit show GLEE, entitled The Rhodes Not Taken, proves to be just as bubbly as the first episodes. Plus the cast welcomes brilliant Tony and Emmy award winning performer, Kristin Chenoweth as a guest star. Chenoweth plays a very "super" senior who had previously left high school, but has now returned to finish her requirements for her diploma, but also help the Glee Club.

Chenoweth's combined austere as broadway royalty with her incredibly diverse covers on the show illustrate a trend that GLEE is leading. This trend is bringing back the musical to the masses and Chenoweth is the perfect guest star for this. She encompasses all that is stage broadway but mixed with the covers she relates to the teen audience who, as a whole, are not broadway's main demographic. This musical revival is only present now because musicals were dormant for mainstream audiences for so long. For years the musicals were major blockbuster hits like Gene Kelly's SINGIN' IN THE RAIN and Fred Astaire's SWING TIME. And then the musical was lost for a period with only a few stand alone hits like GREASE or WEST SIDE STORY. And now the musical is trying to make a comeback.

After the unprecedented success of the High School Musical franchise and then the subsequent triumph of HAIRSPRAY, GLEE takes the musical to a bit more of an adult level with more adult content for the teen audience. It borderlines on a teen soap opera with its over dramatic musical sequences that combine the over-the-top qualities of soaps with a smartly and artistically satisfying production value like modern day music videos. This teen audience is, for now, fully satisfied with the hunky guys, the scandal of unplanned pregnancies, the mix of drama with music video styling but will it last? The adults who view the show see the quirky, stylized world and conjure images of the surreal environment of PUSHING DAISIES, with smart, spunky characters. However, my biggest concern for GLEE is that it is too quirky, too stylized, and will end up like PUSHING DAISIES, with a core following that won't see it through a third season, let's hope I'm wrong.