Monday, February 17, 2020

Long Distance Runner: New Works by Yehouda Chaki

Yehouda Chaki, 1503, oil on canvas, 14 x 12 inches.

“I wonder if I'm the only one in the running business with this system of forgetting that I'm running because I'm too busy thinking. You should think about nobody and go your own way, not on a course marked out for you by people holding water and bottles of iodine in case you fall, and to get you moving again. All I knew was that you had to run, run, run without knowing why you were running.” – Alan Sillitoe
Review of solo exhibition at Odon Wagner Gallery, Toronto, December  5–December 26, 2019.

Yehouda Chaki is a well-seasoned artist in the mature phase of his long career – in his prime, so to speak. During his many laps in the marathon race of modern painting, his skills have been honed the way a warrior’s are: in the intense heat of those fresh challenges faced with each new canvas. But he also knows well why he is running. And it’s not to win anything as simple as a race. He won that race a long time ago. He has become what we all might become if we dedicate our actions to a singular path: almost a balsamic reduction of himself, with each new painting also being an ultra-balsamic reduction of the history of painting per se, purified and reduced to its final essence. All he knows is that you have to paint, paint, paint.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Looking Back, Stepping Forward: A Choreographer’s Greatest Hits

Devon Snell in Echo Dark (2020). (Photo: Ömer Yükseker)

Farewells are rarely easy. But Christopher House, outgoing artistic director of Toronto Dance Theatre, has managed to turn his into a rousing valediction celebrating his 40-year-plus career as an award-winning dancer and choreographer. 

House Mix, the title given to the 100-minute program of past works his 12-member company is presenting at Harbourfront’s Fleck Theatre until Saturday, is one sparkling grand finale, an intelligently curated show of greatest hits that sends House, due to retire at the end of June, off in a blaze of glory.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

The Lucky One: Miss Americana (aka Taylor Swift: Miss Americana)


People often say that you need to be objective to be a good critic, but I’ve often found that being invested in a work can illumine more pathways into what it’s trying to do and how well it succeeds. Of course, it’s not necessarily a “better” perspective, whatever that means, just a different one. Being a Swiftie, I find the Taylor Swift on screen in Lana Wilson’s Miss Americana (2020, a.k.a. Taylor Swift: Miss Americana) to be a familiar presence from all of the interview and behind-the-scenes footage of her that already exists, some of which is used in this documentary. As Swift suggests in an early interview, also included, fame and career longevity have always been on her mind, and the film grounds such abstract musings in raw and emotionally vulnerable moments, captured as they happen.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Timon of Athens: Lonely at the Bottom

Kathryn Hunter in Timon of Athens. (Photo: Henry Grossman)

In Shakespeare’s late, one-of-a-kind tragedy Timon of Athens (now generally accepted by scholars as a collaboration with Thomas Middleton, co-author of The Changeling), a wealthy Athenian given to displays of staggering generosity whose fair-weather friends deny him when he runs into deep financial trouble turns his back on his city and goes to live in a cave. It’s a fable, but still the protagonist’s personality change is so extreme that, for modern audiences at least, I can’t imagine how it would work without a strong psychological reading of his character. When Simon Russell Beale played it at the National Theatre eight years ago under Nicolas Hytner’s direction, Timon’s excessive benevolence was provoked by a desperate need to have people like him, so his eviscerating bitterness in the second half played as fury at being deprived of what he had worked so hard and so continually to secure. Simon Godwin’s new version, which he staged with the Royal Shakespeare Company and has imported to Brooklyn for Theatre for a New Audience, lacks any real explanation for the shift except for the narrative circumstances – and they aren’t enough to make the play work dramatically.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Con Artists: Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite

Choi Woo Shik, Song Kang Ho, Chang Hyae Jin and Park So Dam in Parasite.

Director Bong Joon-ho’s magnum opus Parasite is his first film to break through in a big way to American audiences. His creature feature The Host attracted some attention, and the presence of big-name stars in the (ludicrous) apocalyptic parable Snowpiercer and the (charmless and also ludicrous) children’s environmental parable Okja led to relatively big releases and a smattering of good reviews, but none of those films was taken as serious art. Parasite is being taken very seriously indeed.

Bong Joon-ho’s previous films possessed a cartoonish pulpiness, so it’s no surprise that Snowpiercer was based on a graphic novel. Its plot – an endlessly running train houses what’s left of humanity, divided by economic class – barges ahead like a movie storyboard followed too literally: nothing connects the independently drawn panels. Every new sequence raises all sorts of questions you’re not supposed to ask. The big leaps, broad strokes, and over-the-top “ideas” in his storytelling are meant to appeal to a fanboy’s unquestioning sensibility. His aesthetic could be summed up by a paraphrase of Nike’s motto: “Just go with it.” Parasite, however, aims higher. Here, Bong seems to be attempting a more realistic, more meaningful, examination of class in today’s world, where populism of both the liberal and conservative varieties is challenging the capitalistic status quo.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Sing Street and Porgy and Bess: Birthing a New Stage Musical and Burying a Classic

Sam Poon, Anthony Genovesi, Jakeim Hart and Gian Perez in Sing Street. (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

I caught the sold-out final performance of Sing Street, the stage transcription of John Carney’s infectious 2016 teen movie musical, at New York Theatre Workshop a week ago, but fortunately it’s far from dead; it reopens on Broadway in the spring. This is a lovable show with an energy level that bounces up into the stratosphere, and there isn’t a performer on stage you don’t want to toss a bouquet at. Adapted from the third of Carney’s minimalist musical films, with their distinctive balance of the wised-up and the joyous – the other two are Once (2007) and Begin Again (2013) – Sing Street is set in the economically deflated Dublin of the 1980s. The hero is Conor (Brenock O’Connor), whose parents, Robert (Billy Carter) and Penny (Amy Warren), have decided, in the light of Robert’s recent unemployment, to downsize by taking Conor out of a private academy and enrolling him in a Christian Brothers free state school. His sister Anne (Skyler Volpe) is finishing university; his brother Brendan (Gus Halper), a witty stoner with a close relationship to Conor, has long since bothering even to venture out of the house. (Conor is the youngest.) Their parents’ marriage, never stable, is on the verge of coming apart. Conor’s relocation to Synge Street School, where he immediately runs afoul of the autocratic, sometimes brutal headmaster, Brother Baxter (Martin Moran), might be the last straw, but as it happens he makes musical friends. Conor plays guitar, and Brendan has taken a hand in his rock ‘n’ roll education, so when he becomes entranced by a young woman named Raphina (Zara Devlin), an aspiring model who lives in a home for adolescents from broken families across the street from the school, he pretends he has his own band and invites her to appear in a music video. And then he sets out to put that fictive band together, with his new pal Darren (Max William Bartos) as manager. They rehearse in the home of a boy named Eamon (Sam Poon) whose mother, Sandra (Anne L. Nathan), a local piano teacher, encourages them.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Close Encounters of the Enlightened Kind: Awakening My Heart

Tina Turner shared her own transformative heart experiences with Andrea Miller. (Photo: Nathan Beck).

I wish I had known about Awakening My Heart, this marvelous new book by Andrea Miller from Pottersfield Press, compiling her close encounters with multiple Buddhist luminaries, before I recently completed my new book on Tina Turner’s life and music. Though as a longtime practitioner myself, mostly of a mixture of Zen and Dzogchen, I was, of course, aware of Turner’s many-decades-long affiliation with Buddhist chanting and practice, Miller’s well-crafted conversations with celebrated seekers such as her would have greatly informed the portions of my book devoted to her philosophical pursuits.