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“Matthew Bourne’s Early Adventures” is a timeless delight

Sir Matthew Bourne’s only appearance in the U.S. this year is a must see in Beverly Hills

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Matthew Bourne’s Early Adventures through May 21, 2017 at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. (Photo Courtesy Wallis Annenberg Center)

Matthew Bourne, or SIR Matthew Bourne if you prefer to be fancy, is hot.  

I don’t mean that in the way that you’re thinking (although he is an attractive man, to be sure), but that he is probably the most popular choreographer working in the field of dance today   – and not just in his native England, either.  

For thirty years he has created some of the freshest, most energetic, and downright fun dance productions ever imagined, and in so doing he’s widened the accepted boundaries of the art form itself.  He’s done it by relying on a heavy dose of influence from the film and theater he grew up watching and yoking the imagery and narrative focus from those sources to the free-form sensibilities of dance, by fearlessly infusing his work with contemporary perspectives on sex and sexuality, and- perhaps most importantly- by not taking it all too seriously.

Throughout his career so far, both with his own dance companies (originally Adventures in Motion Pictures, now New Adventures) and through his work as a director/choreographer in theater, he has continued to deliver productions that are not only graceful and athletic but clever and amusing, as cheeky and charming as they are sublime.  

Now, as part of a thirtieth anniversary celebration of his company, three pieces from the beginning of Bourne’s career are gracing the stage at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, allowing Los Angeles audiences to see first-hand how his unique approach to the art of dance burst forth in his work from the very first.

Those who are already dance aficionados will need no persuading to jump at the chance to see this marvelous performance, but less well-versed audiences need not fear feeling beyond their depth; Bourne’s work is nothing if not eminently accessible, thanks to his theatricality and his use of popular music and culture to anchor his productions firmly in the familiar and the contemporary.  

Likewise, though all three of these “Early Adventures” are undeniably British in their sensibility, and joined by the common thread of nostalgia for a bygone era, the tropes and social observations with which they bubble are universally recognizable enough to ensure that nobody will feel left out.

First up is “Watch With Mother- Seen but not heard”, a fairly brief 1991 piece about children’s playtime.  Accompanied by the incongruously refined piano music of Bach, Fauré, and Australian composer Percy Grainger, a group of precocious English schoolchildren engage in the standard pastimes, games, and horseplay of a simpler time; they also engage in the kind of cliquish childhood cruelty that seems timeless- though of course, one never doubts that such well-bred youngsters will be civil to their peers in the end.  

Bourne revels in the humor of having adult dancers playing the children, which invites the obvious parallels between the immature behavior of both age brackets, and also invites the audience to recall the childish glee of being naughty (or at least not-so-nice) when noone is looking.  It’s an adorable piece which perfectly sets the mood for the rest of the show.

Next comes “Town and Country- Lie back and think of England”, also from 1991.  A longer segment, this one is a pastiche which explores stereotypes of English character and behavior- particularly among the so-called leisure class- through the romanticized filter of stage, film, and fiction.  

Set to the quintessentially British strains of such composers as Edward Elgar and Noël Coward, it leads us through a series of vignettes depicting English life, first in the sophisticated city and then in the pastoral countryside.  Fanciful and rife with sharp but good-natured satire, these are mostly funny and often hilarious exaggerations of the stiff-upper lip gentility that permeates popular notions of what it is to be British; nevertheless, amidst all the wry social commentary there is room for moments of unabashed sexuality (notably in a brilliantly staged bathing sequence) and unexpected sincerity (in a moving pas de deux between two male dancers).  A wholly satisfying piece that offers a perfect glimpse at Bourne’s blend of wicked wit and tasteful sentimentality, this is the must-see highlight of the evening.

The final section is “The Infernal Galop- A French dance with English subtitles”, dating back to 1989.  As can be inferred from the title, it’s a look at France through the lens of uptight English imagination, featuring all the usual clichés of French culture presented in as exaggerated and cartoonish a style as one could hope.  

An eclectic mix of French music, from Piaf to Offenbach, provides the accompaniment to a parade of hilarious cultural stereotypes; highlights include a dance of seduction set to the iconic tune “La Mer” (in which the sea itself lures a trio of striped-shirted sailors to their doom), a hilariously homoerotic apache dance between two men who meet at a public urinal, and a finale which incorporates the obligatory can-can- performed with a characteristically French attitude of disdain, of course.  

More saucy than shocking, this high-spirited parody provides a delicious and upbeat climax to a performance which, judging by the exuberant expressions of the dancers during the lengthy standing ovation they received at the end, is clearly as joyous an experience to perform as it is to watch.

“Matthew Bourne’s Early Adventures” is a superb introduction if you are new to the work of this groundbreaking (and much-beloved) artist, but it’s also a great way to fill in the blanks for fans who have been following him for years, but have never been able to see the early stuff that started it all.  

Whichever category you fall into, don’t miss your chance to catch these rarely-seen gems; it’s their only appearance in the U.S. this year, and it only runs through this weekend.  What are you waiting for?  Get those tickets now!

 

TICKET INFORMATION:
Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
Bram Goldsmith Theater
9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA, 90210

Matthew Bourne’s Early Adventures:
May 17 – 21, 2017
Performance Schedule: Wed – Fri at 8pm; Sat at 2pm & 8pm; Sun at 2pm

Single tickets: $39 – $99 (prices subject to change)
Online – TheWallis.org
By Phone – 310.746.4000
Box Office – Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts Ticket Service
9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA, 90210


 

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Movies

‘Everything Everywhere’ does the multiverse right

Quirky film boosted by Jamie Lee Curtis’s ‘feud’ with Marvel

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Ke Huy Quan, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Michelle Yeoh star in ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once.’ (Photo courtesy of A24)

Last weekend, the Marvel Studios blockbuster machine unleashed its latest piece of cinematic eye-and-brain candy, “Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness,” in which the titular hero traverses multiple versions of reality to save the universe from chaos and destruction.

Marvel, of course, didn’t invent the concept of the “multiverse” – in fact, they’re not even the first ones to release a movie about it this year; another multiverse film beat “Dr. Strange” into theaters by nearly six weeks – and it’s been enjoying a slow, word-of-mouth-fueled juggernaut of box office success ever since.

That movie, a genre-bending indie production titled “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” caused a bemusing stir on social media last week, when Jamie Lee Curtis (one of its stars) launched a tongue-in-cheek feud with “Dr. Strange” in a string of Instagram posts. It was all in fun, but one couldn’t help recognizing a sense of authentic pride when she teased, among other things, that her film “out marvels any Marvel movie they put out there.”

Perspective is everything, of course, but she’s not wrong. While Marvel fans will undoubtedly find “Dr. Strange” a satisfying trip into the multiverse and back, the rest of us would do well to seek out “Everything Everywhere All at Once” while it’s still on the big screen – and yes, that even applies to people who couldn’t care less about any universe but this one.

Conceived, written and directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (collectively known as “Daniels” since their early career directing music videos), it’s a fast-paced wild ride that begins in one of the most mundane realities imaginable – the life of a middle-aged Chinese-American immigrant named Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh), who operates a laundromat with her mild-mannered husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), endures strained relationships with her elderly father Gong Gong (James Hong) and her lesbian Gen Z daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu), and faces a tax audit – conducted by a humorless and hostile IRS agent (Curtis) – which could bankrupt the family business. This stressful quotidian mix is suddenly disrupted when a visitor appears, claiming to be from another universe, and tells her that a powerful evil being has undertaken a sinister plot that threatens to destroy not just his universe and her universe, but all the universes. Further, he informs her that she is the only person in ANY universe who has a chance of defeating this malevolent force in battle. Needless to say, she is hesitant to believe him – but it’s not long before she is leaping from timeline to timeline as an unlikely inter-dimensional warrior on a mission to save existence itself from annihilation.

At the risk of making a spoiler-ish statement, that mission turns out to be as absurd as it is apocalyptic. The Daniels’ film – which had been baking in their heads since 2010 – has no desire to ply its audiences with high-tech wizard battles in outer space or any of the other tropes of the sci-fi adventures it simultaneously spoofs and salutes; instead, it draws on a long tradition of existentialist thinking – something that, for obvious reasons, goes hand-in-hand with stories about existing in a reality full of infinite possibilities that all lead to oblivion – to accentuate the ridiculous. One of the worlds we visit, for example, is populated by human beings who have hot dogs for fingers, and that’s just the most blatant of the many delicious absurdities the film serves up. It makes for a lot of laughs, but it nevertheless sets us to ponder the implications of infinite possibility we concoct within our own imaginations.

To that end, “Everything” balances its quirky, surrealist humor by showing us a few more plausible universes, as well. To gain the skills necessary to defeat her nemesis, Evelyn must visit other versions of her life; she experiences herself as a movie star in martial arts films, or a skilled hibachi chef, or a world-class opera singer, and visiting these realities drives home the point that one small decision – like choosing whether to marry someone or not – can divert our path toward a vastly different lifetime. We see the power of the past to shape our future, for better or for worse, through empowerment or regret, and the power in ourselves to change a multitude of worlds with a single choice. Inevitably, too, we see the nihilistic despair that comes of recognizing one’s insignificance in the face of a vast and seemingly uncaring universe; what’s the point of living in a world of infinite potential outcomes if none of those outcomes matter?

If that all sounds a little too philosophical for your tastes, don’t worry; Kwan and Scheinert pull off the rare feat of encompassing these speculative issues within a story that is not only relatable, but wildly entertaining – and a lot of it has to do with the cast of avengers they’ve assembled.

First and foremost is Yeoh, whose status as a martial arts screen icon is just one of the strengths she brings to the table; her performance is a career-topping triumph in which she commits to making the beleaguered, unremarkable Evelyn palpably and painfully human even when immersed in the most outrageous of circumstances, and in the process gives us the kick-ass heroine for the ages we never knew we needed. As her put-upon husband, Quan is an invaluable asset; the former child actor (who appeared in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “The Goonies” before moving behind the camera for a career as a sought-after stunt coordinator) brings his own history to the mix, too, and brings us an entire array of Waymonds, all manifesting different flavors of his irresistible underdog charm. Hsu contains multitudes as Joy – no spoilers, but her troubled relationship with her mom is not limited to this universe – and screen veteran Hong is full of surprises as Gong Gong. Finally, Curtis uses the various iterations of her frumpy tax accountant to turn her supporting role into a scene-stealing audience favorite.

The fun these performers clearly have with their roles goes a long way toward keeping things light, no small accomplishment in a brainy cinematic excursion like this one. More importantly, they seem to fully understand and embrace what this madcap sci-fi comedy caper is really all about – and that makes all the difference, because “Everything Everywhere All at Once” may be an action-packed adventure dealing in the same epic conceptual scale as “Dr. Strange,” but it’s less concerned with titanic battles and cosmic catastrophes than it is with the very small, very ordinary concerns of everyday human life. Sure, it exploits the multiverse as a plot device to enable its imaginative and far-fetched flights of fancy, and it does so with relish, but it ultimately uses it to remind us – gently, and without laying it on too thick – that we have the power to change our reality with every choice we make.

The fact that it delivers that message in a story that puts Asian and queer characters front-and-center is just another great reason to call this disarmingly oddball movie the brightest gem of the season.

Well, that and the hot dog fingers.

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Books

Danica Roem’s new book is far from a typical politico’s story

‘Burn the Page’ an inspiring, gonzo page-turner

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(Book cover image courtesy of Viking)

‘Burn the Page’
By Danica Roem
c.2022, Viking
$27/320 pages

Party drinking. Heavy metal gigs. People doing yoga to the soundtrack of “The Pursuit of Vikings” by the Swedish metal band Amon Amarth. Car breakdowns. Vivid descriptions of anxiety-induced vomit. More energy than a zillion shots of Red Bull. Inspiring and badass stories that will make you, no matter how cynical, want to tell your own story, be kind to people and work to help change what’s messed up in the world.

This isn’t what you’d find in most politicians’ memoirs. But “Burn the Page” by Danica Roem is far from a typical politico’s book.

Roem, 37, isn’t your usual politician. In 2017, Roem was elected as a member of Virginia’s House of Delegates. In 2018, she became the first out transgender seated state legislator in the country.

Roem was reelected in 2019 (becoming the first trans person to be reelected to state office). She was elected to another term in office in 2021.

On May 9, Roem announced that she is running in the 2023 election for Virginia’s state Senate, the Blade reported. If she wins then, she will become the country’s second out transgender state senator.

In “Burn The Page,” Roem lets us know that running for office, along with many other things in her life, wasn’t easy for her.

She grew up in Manassas, Virginia. After her father died by suicide when she was three; Roem was raised by her mother and her grandfather.

It was hard for Roem to sort out her sexual and gender identity at a time when many queers weren’t out. Heavy metal became a safe place for her (you could wear make-up in a heavy metal band).

Roem graduated from St. Bonaventure University with a bachelor’s degree. Before entering politics, she was a journalist. Because Roem wrote for local papers, she was not paid a livable wage.

“Picture it: a five-foot-eleven, long-haired brunette metalhead trans lady reporter wearing a rainbow bandanna, an A-line skirt, and a black hoodie,” Roem writes about herself as she was in 2016 just before she thought about becoming a candidate for office.

Then, though she had been a reporter for a decade and interviewed governors, Roem had to work two jobs.

She drove a 1992 Dodge Shadow America and worked at a kebab shop for $5 an hour.

Along with the kebab gig, Roem worked part-time for a local paper. When she interviewed for the job, the editor, Roem writes, asked her why “the fuck” she wanted to work there. She had no health insurance.

Roem feels bad, she writes, about behaving like a “lady dick” then, because she was so exhausted. For good measure, a “transgender rights organization in need of a storyteller,” she writes with sardonic humor of her 2016 life, “passed her over…for another transgender storyteller with flashier credentials.”

As if things didn’t suck enough, Roem hardly ever got to see her partner or step-daughter because she was commuting so much for her jobs. 

But, despite those hardships, “Burn the Page” isn’t a pity party. It’s a kick-ass account of how Roem has reclaimed her story and got things done.

When members of the anti-queer Westboro Baptist Church protested Roem, the heavy metal band Lamb of God led some 200 protesters with kazoos in a counter demonstration. 

As a legislator, Roem has worked not only on LGBTQ issues, but on traffic congestion, Medicaid expansion and other issues that impact her constituents.

“This is a book about both the importance of the stories we tell one another,” Roem writes, “and the power in setting fire to the stories you don’t want to be in anymore.”

As the anti-LGBTQ laws being passed nationwide make all too clear, transphobia still exists. But there is power in shaping the narrative about your life. “Everytime you share your own story,” Roem writes, “you do something to counteract another narrative that sometimes lurks in the shadows and other times is not so subtle.”

 “Burn the Page” is an inspiring, fun gonzo page-turner. It’s a must-read.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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Books

‘Queer Country’ explores origins of growing genre of music

Tracing an evolution, from k.d. lang to Lil Nas X

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(Book cover photo courtesy of University of Illinois Press)

‘Queer Country’
By Shana Goldin-Perschbacher
c.2022, University of Illinois Press
$110 hardcover; $24.95 paperback/288 pages

Two steps.

This way, two more that way, tap your heels together, step-and-bow left, step-and-bow right, turn and again. Eventually, you’ll get the hang of doing this and you won’t bump into everybody on the dance floor. Also eventually, you’ll see that country music has a place for you even when, as in the new book “Queer Country” by Shana Goldin-Perschbacher, you never thought you had a place for it.

Usually, when one thinks about country music, rural living comes to mind: cowboys, pick-ups, Christian values, conservatism, heartbreak and honky tonks. Stereotypically, few of those things have seemed LGBTQ-inclusive and listeners might have felt unwelcome, were it not for today’s boundary-breakers and “queer country,” which, says Goldin-Perschbacher, is becoming more of a music category with fans. 

Goldin-Perschbacher is quick to say that “queer country” is not a genre on its own. Some out musicians might closer identify themselves with Americana or folk music; k.d. lang’s music is more countrypolitan, but with humor; and you can attend queer Bluegrass festivals, if you want. None of this defines the various artists: In many ways, LGBTQ artists have really had no other options than to embrace all labels. 

Then there’s the issue of how to do queer country: Goldin-Perschbacher refers often to Patrick Haggerty, who was the first gay artist to officially record the album “Lavender Country.” He recorded it in Seattle, shortly after Stonewall; at that time, Haggerty was especially determined that his album be honest and sincere in its reflection of gay life – things that continue to concern queer artists who use irony, drag, and camp in their work. 

And there’s that struggle to go mainstream. Goldin-Perschbacher writes about k.d. lang’s career and how it progressed. You’ll read about Chely Wright and Lil Nas X and how they used non-traditional ways to rise to stardom. And you’ll read about many artists who do what seems best for them, and count LGBTQ listeners and cis audience members among their fans.

There really is no way “Queer Country” could ever be considered a “beach read.”

This isn’t the relaxed, rangy kind of book you want to sunbathe with; instead, author Shana Goldin-Perschbacher speaks to the academic, rather than the casual listener, with language that seems to fit better in school, than in sand. The analyses border on the high brow just a bit, with some amount of repetition to underscore various points.

Even so, this is an important work. 

In writing about this almost-hidden branch of country music, Goldin-Perschbacher also tells of the efforts she’s made to help some artists to gain a wider audience. This lends more of an insider feel; the intimately extensive interviews with artists, and excerpts from other works, let readers know that they should keep their eyes (and ears!) open.

 Give yourself some room to absorb, if you tackle this book. It’s not for everyone, but C&W listeners and “queer country” fans may find it necessary. Step one is to find somewhere comfortable to sit. Reading “Queer Country” is step two.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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