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  • Photo: Jesus Vallinas

    Photo: Jesus Vallinas

    Tomer Heymann’s documentary about choreographer Ohad Naharin, Mr. Gaga: A True Story of Love and Dance, begins with a rehearsal scene in which a dancer falls backward repeatedly, as Naharin encourages her to “let go.” This painstaking (and literally painful) process is familiar to most dancers and anyone who’s witnessed the art of making tough choreography look easy. In the case of the iconoclastic Naharin, artistic director of Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company and founder of the Gaga (no relation to Lady) movement technique, the choreography is both incredibly demanding and extremely rewarding, as his dancers and audiences can attest. Mr. Gaga, which delves into Naharin’s creativity as well as his personal life, includes interviews, archival footage and many performance clips. The result is a visually thrilling and soul-satisfying portrait of a remarkable talent and individual.

    Born and raised on a kibbutz, Naharin was an instinctive dancer as a child, influenced by his music-loving mother Tzofia. Home movies show bucolic kibbutz life as an idyllic setting for a creative child. Later, Naharin served as an entertainer in the Israeli Army, during which time he first began to create dances. The choreographer, who narrates much of his own story, explains how the “absurd theater” of performing for soldiers influenced dances such Sadeh21. We also learn via an early interview that he began dancing because of a family tragedy, a dramatic story that will be revisited later in the film.

    Courtesy of Batsheva Dance Company

    Courtesy of Batsheva Dance Company

    Naharin, whose naturally loose and sinuous body was seemingly built to dance, took classes with the Batsheva company after the army. He came to the admiring attention of Martha Graham, then working with the company, which led to a move to New York City where he was accepted at both Julliard and the American Ballet Theater School, despite his advanced age. Later, he was invited to join Maurice Béjart’s Ballet of the 20th Century.  Béjart’s technique, like Graham’s, left him cold and he soon began putting together his own contemporary dances. Around the same time, he fell in love with Mari Kajiwara, a dancer with Alvin Ailey; they married and she joined Naharin’s multicultural troupe.

    As the film shows in myriad clips, his highly idiosyncratic choreography is organic, percussive, repetitive and cathartic. Instinctively drawn to feminine movement, Naharin believes that “Dance in its true form is the opposite of macho.” Though the film highlights Naharin’s prodigious talents, it doesn’t shy away from his failings. An often intimidating taskmaster, he yells at his dancers during a performance. “Don’t fuck with me. My life depends on you,” he reminds them before a show. (No pressure!) According to one dancer, crying and screaming occurred on a daily basis and company members often walked out, but they always came back because “the work was worth it.” Naharin also expresses great appreciation for his dancers, who are selected for their ability to bring something of themselves to his work.

    Photo: Tony Lewis

    Photo: Tony Lewis

    Over the years, the demands of dance took a toll on his body. At one point, told he wouldn’t be able to dance— or maybe even walk—again, due to nerve damage, he began developing Gaga, a healing movement language. Natalie Portman attests to the benefits of Gaga and we see all ages and body types move with abandon in a few class clips. (Today, it’s taught at most major dance studios.)

    When Naharin returned to Israel to direct Batsheva in 1990, he almost immediately transformed the company’s staid, older audience into a young, hip crowd with energetic dances such as Kyr and Anaphase. He became a sort of cultural hero in 1998 when Batsheva refused to perform at the nation’s 50th anniversary celebration after being pressured to wear more modest costumes. The film becomes poignant when Naharin suffers a great personal loss, though he channels his grief (like everything else) into movement and continues working.

    An uplifting film about a man clearly born to move and create, Mr. Gaga is a revealing portrait of a true visionary, as singular and uncompromising as they come.

    Mr. Gaga: A True Story of Love and Dance is playing at the Elinor Bunim Monroe Film Center (Lincoln Center) and Film Forum.

    Marina Zogbi

     

  • With an unprecedented climate of change and concern dawning in the United States, Art for Progress arts education programs are more essential than ever. AFP is embracing the ever-growing need for alternative and supplemental art, music, theater, and fashion programs for young people representing the voice of true expression in our city. Once again this has been an exciting semester for existing Art for Progress arts education programs in New York City’s public schools, and there are some new programs in the works for the second half of the school year.

    Our flagship music program at Humanities Preparatory Academy, which includes school day sessions as well as after school, is flourishing and has produced and cultivated a bunch of wonderful talent this semester. Everyone at the school is looking forward to the talent show on February 16th, which will include solo vocal and instrumental performances, and a variety of ensemble pieces and even a dance number.  AFP’s after school program at the James Baldwin School is also going strong and was well represented in the recent school-wide talent show on Friday, January 20. Students from both schools have been working hard after school every day, choosing songs and rehearsing. Especially impressive is the spirit of mutual encouragement among the students as the shows approach.

    As for AFP’s Young Adult Music Enrichment Program, tracking is nearly completed on Bronx rock band Statik Vision’s full-length album, and we are preparing to start mixing, while recording sessions for their brother band Big Sweater’s album are in full swing. This week’s sessions focused on the drum tracks for Big Sweater’s song “Platform Stare”, which is sure to be an anthem for our times. Both albums should be ready for release dates this summer, so keep an ear out!

    Unfortunately, as a result of a heartbreaking turn of events regarding budget cuts due to a lack of enrollment at Hudson High School; AFP has had to suspend our program there. This is particularly troubling because the students that had been participating in that program are some of the most driven and engaged I have had the pleasure of working with, so if anyone out there in Bloglandia has a couple thousand dollars they want to write off, please contact me at baritor@live.com. Your contribution would go to cultivate some of the city’s most promising, diverse and dedicated young talent.

    On the upside, we are starting a brand new after school program at Brooklyn’s International High School, and the James Baldwin School is looking to add a new theater arts program. We are also in discussions with the Essex Street Academy to start to implement programs there.

    All in all, as the climate of American education continues to move farther away from the arts, which are essential for cultivating abstract thought and creative, innovative ideas, we at Art for Progress feel the work we are doing is becoming ever more essential and we look forward to pushing against the prevailing trends to support the next generation of New York City’s artists and musicians.

     

    Until next time…

  • Photo: Mark Rogers

    Photo: Mark Rogers

    A solid directorial and screenwriting debut by Australian actor and theater director Simon Stone, The Daughter borders on melodrama, but still manages to pack a considerable wallop. Stone originally converted Henrik Ibsen’s 1884 play The Wild Duck into a production set in present-day Australia for Sidney’s Belvoir St Theatre in 2011. Like that version, some of the original story’s details have been stripped away for The Daughter, yet the film retains a Nordic moodiness. As with live plays, the actors often sell the thing and The Daughter is no exception; Geoffrey Rush, Sam Neill, Miranda Otto and Ewen Leslie, especially, deliver intense performances that make the film’s escalating drama compelling throughout.

    These events are set in motion by Christian (Paul Schneider), who returns to his Australian hometown after 15 years in the U.S. to attend the wedding of his father Henry (Rush)—a wealthy lumber mill owner—to his much younger housekeeper, Anna. There is obvious friction, as the son seems disgusted both by Anna’s age and the fact that his father is still using the car that belonged to his late wife, Christian’s mother.

    Photo: Mark Rogers

    Photo: Mark Rogers

    Complicating things, Henry has just shut down the mill, leading to an exodus of unemployed workers and their families from the town. Christian’s childhood friend Oliver (Leslie) is one worker who hasn’t left; he and his wife Charlotte (Otto) dote on their daughter Hedvig (Odessa Young in a tough role), a bright high schooler who is also very close to Oliver’s father Walter (Neill). The latter, a rough-hewn but decent sort, keeps an animal sanctuary behind the house, where wounded creatures can recuperate. His newest rescue is a duck that Henry has shot. (Yes, the symbolism is pretty thick.)

    We learn via a telephone and Skype calls back to the U.S., that though Christian and his wife have separated, she was planning to join him for the wedding. When she changes her mind despite his declaration that he’s stopped drinking, it becomes obvious that things haven’t been going so well for him. Clearly uncomfortable in his father’s house, he spends a lot of time leading up to the wedding with Oliver’s close-knit clan and their friends. During one of these gatherings Christian learns that Charlotte once worked as a housekeeper for Henry and he grabs hold of this fact like a starving dog with a bone. Connecting the dots, he begins asking pointed questions and  angrily confronts Henry, believing that his father’s infidelity led to his mother’s unhappiness and subsequent suicide. “It was a complicated time,” Henry tries to explain. “I wanted to be happy.”

    Photo: Mark Rogers

    Photo: Mark Rogers

    Christian is then bent on telling Oliver about Henry’s affair, believing that his friend deserves to know and that the truth will in fact be liberating for everyone involved. As in many a drama, things come to a head during a wedding scene, as Christian—hung over from the previous night’s blowout at a bar—gets re-plastered at his father and Anna’s reception. As things spiral completely out of control, curiosity (and dread) keep the viewer rapt, despite reservations we might have about the plausibility of some of the characters’ actions. (We also find out that Walter once took the fall for Henry when they were in business together, adding to the latter’s list of transgressions and the film’s pile-up of resentments.) When another—inevitable—secret is revealed, things take a turn for the tragic, as the unraveling Christian takes down almost everyone around him.

    Whereas Ibsen’s play highlighted the tragic irony of the those with good intentions, The Daughter focuses more on how the “sins” of one individual eventually wreak havoc on two entire families. As over-the-top as some of the  characters seem at times, and one does lose patience and sympathy, it’s hard not to get caught up in this story of human weakness, shame, hurt and duplicity; themes that are as relevant today as in the 19th century.

    The Daughter opens on Friday, January 27, at Cinema Village in NYC.

    Marina Zogbi

  • Have you seen the movie ‘Hidden Figures’ yet? It’s the first film, with an all female (and predominately black) cast, to remain the Number 1 movie in America for two weeks in a row since 2011’s ‘The Help,’ according to Huffington Post!

    And after Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, the movie is poised to surpass the $100 million dollar mark.

    Yas, kween!

    DF-03283_R3 - Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae, left), Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) and Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) celebrate their stunning achievements in one of the greatest operations in history. Photo Credit: Hopper Stone.

    Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae, left), Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) and Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) celebrate their stunning achievements in one of the greatest operations in history. Photo Credit: Hopper Stone/20th Century Fox Film Corp. h/t Huffington Post

    What’s also extraordinary about the 60s-era gender and race-barrier-breaking movie is the costuming by Renee Ehrlich Kalfus who recently a nomination for Excellence in Period Film by the Costume Designers Guild of America (CFDA).

    #hiddenfigures visiting the set in love with #1960#costumes I loved the #hug

    A post shared by ReneeEhrlichKalfus (@reneekalfus) on

     

    “In many ways it’s not a flashy picture, so the costumes have a fresh reality in a period way that’s not… flashy,” Ehrlich Kalfus tells Fashionista. To create the stunning looks seen in the movie, Ehrlich Kalfus referenced vintage issues of Ebony magazine, while adhering to NASA’s ironclad rules for office attire.

    However, Ehrlich Kalfus managed to find inventiveness and individuality when it came to the film’s vibrant looks.

    Regarding Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson)’s costuming, she adds: “There was some liberty in terms of colors, styles and shapes, because she did make her own clothes and I took advantage of that.”

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    Photo Credit: Hopper Stone/20th Century Fox Film Corp. h/t Fashionista

    Vivid and rich colors abound in ‘Hidden Figures,’ including 60s-era jewel-toned 2-piece suits and soft prints — a sharp contrast to the male costuming of white button-down shirts and black ties.

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    Photo Credit: Hopper Stone/20th Century Fox Film Corp. h/t Fashionista

    Ehrich Kalfus lays out Katherine Johnson’s first moment at NASA in the movie: “When she enters into that place, they don’t want her,” she points out. “They think she’s the janitor. The guy hands her a trash can.” She adds,”subliminally, here she is in this powerful color amongst all these guys who are all just the same.”

    And in addition to receiving a CFDA nomination for ‘Hidden Figures,’ the costumer is also proud of the moment when the real Katherine Johnson saw the gorgeous, female-forward costuming. “They brought the movie down to the real Katherine G. Johnson, who’s 98 years old, and she walked out and says, ‘I wore those clothes!'” Ehrlich Kalfus tells Fashionista. “That was a high compliment that she felt that she saw herself up on the screen, which was wonderful. That’s sweet, right?”

    Right!

     

  • Courtesy of Breaking Glass Pictures

    Courtesy of Breaking Glass Pictures

    How much do we really know someone? That’s the main question posed by Claire in Motion, a quiet, uneasy new film co-written and directed by Lisa Robinson and Annie J. Howell. A sort of hybrid mystery/character study, the movie stars Betsy Brandt (best known for her role as Marie Schrader in Breaking Bad) as a math professor at a Midwestern university whose husband—a fellow academician—fails to return from a hiking trek. There’s no hysteria or big, crashing emotions in this missing-persons drama; conversely, it’s a slowly-unfolding account of a woman traditionally ruled by logic and order, as she comes to terms with the unexpected and (initially) incomprehensible.

    When Claire Hunger’s husband Paul, an ornithology professor and nature-loving survivalist type, fails to return from his solo hiking trek on schedule, she doesn’t immediately panic. That emotion sets in slowly as the days turn into weeks, the police call off their fruitless search, and the couple’s young son Connor (an exceptionally poised Zev Haworth) begins to accept the inevitable—that his father probably died somewhere out in the wilderness. Even then, however, Claire refuses to believe Paul is gone and keeps going back into the woods to hunt for him. (Overcast skies and a slightly greenish palette give everything a heavy, muted tone that accentuates the sense of disquiet.) When the town’s police chief mentions having interviewed a grad student with whom Paul was working on an art project, the usually under-control Claire is clearly rattled.

    Courtesy of Breaking Glass Pictures

    Courtesy of Breaking Glass Pictures

    It’s just the beginning of an uncomfortable, borderline-hostile series of meetings with Allison (Anna Margaret Hollyman, very convincing), an “artist-blogger-inventor” who clearly knew a side of Paul that was hidden to Claire, mainly his interest in art and a desire for freedom. As Connor is drawn to the warm, free-spirited Allison, whose breezy declarations and intense interest in Claire verge on creepy, the latter becomes more upset as she comes to the realization that Paul had some major secrets. (She repeatedly watches a seemingly prophetic home video in which he asks her to look at him. “I am looking at you,” she replies, frustrated. “You’re not, not really,” is his sad response.) Though she doesn’t let on to Connor, who has come to his own conclusions, the grief-struck Claire is profoundly shaken by Allison and her relationship with Paul.

    As Claire’s reserve finally weakens, she starts to unravel and question. At one point she gets drunk in a local bar and runs into an ex-student in the ladies room. “Did I seem to know what I was doing?,” she wonders about the class she taught. That same night she drunkenly philosophizes to a pseudo love interest about her attraction to math as an antidote to all the uncertainty in the world. Brandt is quite good in this role, her watchful, slightly aloof demeanor finally cracking under duress, but never into full-blown hysteria, which would be unnatural for a woman like Claire.

    Courtesy of Breaking Glass Pictures

    Courtesy of Breaking Glass Pictures

    Eventually she seemingly acknowledges realities about both Paul and herself, tentatively accepting the very freedom and uncertainty that’s so foreign to her. Aside from its naturalistic performances and thoughtful, unhurried pace, Claire in Motion boasts realistically flawed characters and a plot that’s mysterious enough to keep us watching and wondering. That’s no mean achievement.

    Claire in Motion opens on Friday, January 13, at Cinema Village and on-demand.

    Marina Zogbi