Author Archives: terryvatrt

Romeo + Juliet

Some of the many consequences of the current pandemic are the cancellations of art exhibitions and dance, theatre and music performances.  I had tickets to see Ballet BC perform their new ballet, Romeo + Juliet, on March 14.

Romeo + Juliet, Ballet BC (image by Michael Slobodian)

Romeo + Juliet, Ballet BC (image by Michael Slobodian)

I am a huge fan of this Shakespearean tragedy.  I enjoyed teaching it to high school students (Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?  No, sir, I do not bite my thumb at you, sir, but I bite my thumb, sir.) and I always showed them the gorgeous Franco Zeffirelli film from 1968.  (If you watch the film, look for a very young Emma Thompson as an extra in the ballroom scene.)

Romeo and Juliet, 1968 (IMDb image)

Romeo and Juliet, 1968 (IMDb image)

In 2003, Winnipeg’s Shakespeare in the Ruins theatre company did an unforgettable version of it, set in a downtown parkade.  I think it was one of the most creative and engaging theatre performances I have attended.  Ever.

I enjoy dance, and have a fondness for most classical ballet.  I was looking forward to the show.  The title typography, Romeo + Juliet,  promised a fresh take on the story, just as the film, Romeo + Juliet had done in 1996.  Click here for the movie trailer.  (If you haven’t seen the film, be prepared for the very in-your-face, distopian setting.)

Romeo + Juliet, 1996 (IMDb image)

Romeo + Juliet, 1996 (IMDb image)

Dance Victoria and Ballet BC made the brave, financially challenging and wise decision to cancel the performances, to avoid the spread of the virus.  Fortunately, season ticket holders were given a link to a video of the première performance in Vancouver, on March 6.

I watched the performance twice, before the link expired.  Wowser!  It is, indeed, a creative interpretation of a classic story.  It did not disappoint.

The choreography is by Medhi Walerski, set to Sergei Prokofiev’s score. Walerski is a dancer and a choreographer at the Nederlands Dans Theater.  (May I suggest that if you are going down any rabbit holes today, please avail yourself of the NDT link.)

The show is visually stunning, with the costumes, set and lighting design a collaboration between Walerski,  Theun Mosk, and Pierre Pontvianne.  The minimalist style is a marked departure from many interpretations of other classical “story” ballets, such as The Nutcracker.  Here are a few brief video images that will give you a sense of the style of this production.  I appreciated how the lighting changed, depending on the scene.  The chiaroscuro-style lighting was particularly effective in the ballroom scene, as Romeo and Juliet were spotlit amongst the corps, who sometimes moved in slow motion, and sometimes became completely still, signalling an important moment in time.  It allowed the audience to focus on the couple, and not be distracted by the other dancers.

The set was minimal. The movable rectangles, decidedly coffin shaped,  were symbolic and functional.

The dancers were strong, confident and lyrical.  They were as much actors, as they are talented dancers.  Here is a (too) short video of the creation of the ballet at the Banff Centre for the Arts and Creativity.

Ballet BC, Romeo + Juliet

Walerski uses the corps to express the emotions of the characters.  In the scond act,  when Juliet prepares to drink the sleeping potion, the corps is a shadowed, writhing mass on the floor, and around her. It dramatically represents her fear, anxiety and turmoil. The image of the scenes will stay with me for a long time.

Ballet BC and Medhi Walerski have created a noteworthy interpretation of this classic ballet.  I hope we can all see this as a live performance one day.  In the meantime, one last short video from Ballet BC’s Romeo + Juliet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just when you think it can’t get any worse…..

It’s worse than I thought, and I thought it was awful.  (See my brief post from 2016 here.)  According to a report  published on artnet News….just 11% of all museum acquisitions over the past decade have been of work by women.  Yes, you have (unfortunately) read that correctly.  (No typo:  eleven.)  To add insult to injury ….the number of works by women acquired  did not increase over time.  In fact, it peaked a decade ago.

Go ahead.  Take a moment to let that sink in.

Julia Halperin and Charlotte Burns’ report is worth reading.  It’s a nuanced examination of the reasons why there hasn’t been any progress in gender parity in museum collections.  It’s based on research by Julia Vennitti and part of ongoing research into the presence of female artists’ work in museums and the art market in the past decade.

Perhaps one of the most important observations is expressed by Helen Molesworth, former chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.  The art world is simply not the liberal progressive bastion it imagines itself to be and you can’t solve a problem if you don’t own it.  

It’s true.  I had thought we were making some progress, albeit glacial,  in this area, didn’t you?   But as the report says ….perhaps one of the key takeaways is that the stories we tell ourselves – about our museums and our societies – are not to be trusted.

Sigh.  Just like almost every other issue, we need to dig deeper to discover the reality.

I’ll leave you with some images from the Hilma af Klint show, which I saw at the Guggenheim, NYC, in December 2018. The research indicates that this show …drew the youngest audience of any exhibition since the museum started to measure visitor demographics and drove a 34 percent increase in membership.

Seems like showing work from interesting female artists is a recipe for success and longevity.

Hilma af Klint, Guggenheim Museum, December 2019

Hilma af Klint, Guggenheim Museum, December 2019

Hilma af Klint, Group IX/SUW, The Swan No.13, 1915

Hilma af Klint, Group IX/SUW, The Swan No.13, 1915

Thanks to @artgirlrising for bringing the research article to my attention.

 

 

 

 

 

The Hummingbird Paints Fragrant Songs

Isn’t this a beautiful title for an art exhibition?  The Hummingbird Paints Fragrant Songs was a highlight of my visit to The Outsider Art Fair in New York City in January.

The OAF consists of many exhibitors showing art from self-taught artists  (think Howard Greenberg Gallery selling original Vivian Maier photographs) as well as special programming, on and off the main exhibition site.

The Hummingbird Paints Fragrant Songs was one of the featured Curated Spaces. This compact exhibition was curated by Brett Littman  of the Noguchi Museum in partnership with the Shipibo Canibo Center. It consisted of works by Sara Flores and Celia Vasquez Yui, Peruvian artists.

The Hummingbird Paints Fragrant Songs

The Hummingbird Paints Fragrant Songs

The artists’ process of bringing these works to completion is astonishing. Sara uses natural dyes for the hand drawn works on canvas;  Celia begins her work with shamanistic-like rituals of fasting and abstinence.  All the works are rife with symbolism and patterning specific to their areas of the Amazon.  Please read this brief, but fascinating description of the artists and their work.

The Hummingbird Paints Fragrant Songs, sculpture by Celia Vasquez Yui

The Hummingbird Paints Fragrant Songs, sculpture by Celia Vasquez Yui

The works are exquisitely detailed;  to this viewer they exude a feeling of harmonious energy.

I’m glad I followed the recommendations of others to attend the Outsider Art Fair.  I can now  add the Shipibo Canibo Center to my list of  things to do and see in NYC.  The Noguchi Museum is already on the list.  Next time, I hope.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Agnes Denes at The Shed

Sometimes the best travel recommendations come from strangers.  When I was recently in New York City, another guest at the BnB lodging encouraged me to see the Agnes Denes show at The Shed. “Not to be missed,” he said. (Now, I’ve wasted time and money on other “not to be missed” recommendations – apparently some reviewers and I disagree at the New Yorker – but I had just happily attended The Outsider Art Fair, because of recommendations by three different friends.)

I was intrigued.  Here was an opportunity to see a retrospective at a relatively new, significant arts center….and I’d never heard of the artist.

Perhaps I wasn’t familiar with her work  because it’s not easily explained, or categorized.  It ranges from Philosophical Drawings to the visual representation of mathematical theorems to site specific environmental projects. The Shed did an excellent job of curating the work into (mostly) manageable sections.  (I’ll admit some of the philosophical and mathematical renderings were a bit overwhelming in their complexity and detail. Yes!  You read that correctly. She draws philosophical arguments.)

The Map Projections were more accessible to me.  They are playful, as well as complex, using the earth’s dimensions to mathematically distort it into various shapes.

Map Projections, Agnes Denes

Map Projections, Agnes Denes

Map Projections, Agnew Denes

Map Projections, Agnes Denes

Map Projections, Agnes Denes

Map Projections, Agnes Denes

The curatorial statements indicate her work is dedicated to bettering humanity’s future and that it has an environmental focus.  This is detailed in her many unrealized, as well as several completed outdoor projects.

Tree Mountain: A Living Time Capsule is a wonderful example of her complex thinking, unbounded creativity, and care for people and the planet.  It’s a massive earthworks and environmental installation, where 11,000 trees were planted by 11,000 people.  Click here for a brief (one minute!) video from The Shed, explaining the project.

She may be best known for her project Wheatfields for Manhattan .  In 1982, she and a team of assistants prepared an abandoned waterfront site in lower Manhattan (near the financial district) where they planted and harvested 1.5 acres of wheat.

Wheatfields for Manhattan, Agnes Denes, NYTimes image

Wheatfields for Manhattan, Agnes Denes, NYTimes image

It seems unfortunate that I’d never heard of her work before this retrospective at The Shed.  Agnes Denes reminds me of a contemporary Leonardo da Vinci.  She explores ideas, possibilities (there’s a whole section on housing for the future called Future Cities) and proposes projects to improve and sustain life on earth.  Her works defy easy categorization as they work across multiple genres and disciplines.

The environmental projects, conceived in the 1980’s,  provide excellent models for similar kinds of projects.  It’s important that The Shed is highlighting this work.  Perhaps we accept the ‘better late than never’ view, and hope individual, civic and political awareness is raised and inspired. (If, indeed, art can or should be political.  I suppose that’s a topic for another time.)

Here is another brief video from The Shed, summarizing Denes’ work, and touching on a few images from the show.  The exhibition, Absolutes and intermediates, runs until March 22.

 

 

Swoon worthy art

Do you have a favourite piece of artwork that you make a point of visiting, whenever you find yourself in a certain gallery, or in another city?  I have several;  they seem to act as touchstones for me.  Perhaps they give me a sense of familiarity in a foreign setting  as I explore new things.  This impulse certainly speaks to the power of good art to inspire me, and reassure me.

At one of my favourite small art museums in New York City,  The Frick Collection (I know, I know, it’s impossible to choose favourites in NYC!) is a Rembrandt van Rijn self portrait from 1658.

Rembrandt van Rijn, Self Portrait, 1658, The Frick Collection

This painting almost makes me swoon….and I don’t swoon easily.   In person, it appears luminous. Technically speaking, it is gorgeous: the rich colours, the play of light and dark, and the composition guide our attention to his hands, and his steady gaze.

Rembrandt was about 50 years old when he painted this self portrait.  Not only does the painting reflect his technical virtuosity , but it provokes a strong emotional response.  He portrays himself confidently.  He is dressed sumptuously.  With a staff and his hat, he seems ready to meet anyone and any challenge in the world.

He looks directly at the viewer.  He certainly engages this viewer, who feels an uncanny connection to this man.  His gaze seems open, and honest.  It appears that he acknowledges, and accepts, the complexity of life.  Does the set of his mouth suggest a bemused attitude, or a resigned one?  Whatever the interpretation, the portrait exudes humanity, warmth and  life.

The next time you’re in New York, you might want to drop into the Frick, and experience this portrait.  As far as I know, it’s on permanent display….and rightfully so.

 

 

Travel through time with Boom X

All live theatre is an act of courage, wouldn’t you say? In some ways, it’s risky for everyone: the performers, writers, producers as well as the audience.  As an audience, we expect to be entertained, inspired, and challenged in exchange for our time and money.  The creative team displays the product of months (sometimes years) of work, distilled into a couple of hours of live performance, subject to amateur criticism, dismissal or rejection.

It’s a precarious situation.  Despite all of the challenges, live theatre continues, thank goodness.

This week, I had the privilege of attending a presentation of Rick Miller’s BoomX at the Belfry Theatre.  I made a point of going to the show because I had seen one of his previous shows, Boom.  I remember it being a creative, interesting and thoroughly entertaining performance.  Maybe you are familiar with Rick Miller, as his show MacHomer, originally performed at the Montreal Fringe Festival, has been presented in 130 countries.  (Yes, one hundred and thirty!)

Rick Miller wrote, directed and performed in all of these shows. Click here for two very brief trailers for the shows, Boom and BoomX.  It will help you get a sense of his many talents, and the tenor of the work.  The shows are well researched;  I particularly liked the inclusion of Canadian content.  It’s a multi-disciplinary, fast-paced  performance, with a variety of visual and sound effects. Miller welcomes us –the audience–into the performance.  It ends on a thoughtful note as Miller speaks about the merits of live theatre.  I left the show looking forward to the final instalment of this trilogy of plays.

Actually, I may go to see it again.  There’s still time as BoomX continues to Sunday, August 18 at the Belfry Theatre in Victoria, B.C.

 

 

 

 

Adieu Mary Oliver

I was sad to learn that the American poet, Mary Oliver, died in January.  Her poetry was remarkable in its simplicity and truthfulness.  Wild Geese, published in 1986, is one of her most famous poems.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Wild Geese illustrates her deep connection to the natural world.  She lived simply to pursue her life’s work of writing poetry.  Despite many accolades earned, including The National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, Mary Oliver shunned the limelight.  By all accounts, she was most comfortable in the woods.

At Blackwater Pond
At Blackwater Pond the tossed waters have settled
after a night of rain.
I dip my cupped hands. I drink
a long time. It tastes
like stone, leaves, fire. It falls cold
into my body, waking the bones. I hear them
deep inside me, whispering
oh what is that beautiful thing
that just happened?

Click here for a rare interview, a 2015 conversation between Krista Tippett and Mary Oliver for On Being. Whether or not you are familiar with her poetry, it’s a fascinating discussion of a life wonderfully lived.

 

Photo of Mary Oliver by Rachel Giese Brown