Redemption of a Dogg

When your friend calls and asks if she should get tickets to the Snoop Dogg musical, you say, “YES!” Then once she’s got the tickets all lined up, you ask, “so what exactly are we going to see?”

Turns out that producer/director/playwright Je’Caryous Johnson has created a musical about Snoop Dogg called, Redemption of a Dogg.  Snoop plays himself and Tamar Braxton plays the angel trying to get her wings by helping the D-O-double G set things right.

I would describe the plot as sort-of A Christmas Carol meets It’s a Wonderful Life. Except that it was set at Easter rather than Christmas.  I kind-of would have loved it if it had been set at Christmastime, it could become another holiday entertainment classic like The Nutcracker or Diehard.  But maybe, because we were seeing it just before Thanksgiving that was probably the holiday that I had on the brain.

The inciting action is that rather than going to church with his family, Snoop books a big show for Easter Sunday.  Which of course means that we got a mini concert.  It was so fun, everyone was on their feet.  Then, when Snoop is leaving the gig, he gets shot by some gang members who have had a beef with him for all these years.  As he lays there dying, an angel appears and offers him a chance of going back to change what brought him to that moment.  The best part of this scene to me was the way that Snoop, as he lay there dramatically suffering from a gunshot, was in a very Martha Graham-style posture.  I like the idea that Snoop may have studied Graham technique (he is very graceful).

So, Snoop thinks he knows what he needs to do, and they go back in time to set young Snoop straight.  From here the show gets funny for me in a Scooby Doo kind-of way.  First the designated moment in time will play out, then they (Snoop and the Angel) will arrive and LITERALLY rewind the scene so that Snoop can make the change.  I’m not kidding, the soundtrack plays that cassette tape rewind sound and all the actors move backwards through the scene to where it began.  It is fantastic.  But when they return to the present, it turns out that whatever the change was had unintended consequences.  Snoop’s reactions when this happens are just priceless.  So, they go back again and try something else!

In the end, the moral of the story (my interpretation) is that if you changed your past, you wouldn’t be the person you are today; all you can do is do your best from this moment forward to be the best you that you can be.  Also, to respect your loved ones and not take them for granted.

And then, everyone lives happily ever after!

Neighborhood Art and Walking

There are always so many wonderful activities in our neighborhood. Generally, I neglect to take advantage of any of them. Fortunately, one of my neighbor friends is good at making the most of these opportunities and she invited me along for an open studio tour in our neighborhood the other weekend.

I had no idea how many working artists there are in our neighborhood.  We visited just a few of those closest to us.  Our adventure was also a great chance to get my steps in for the day – bonus!

It was so neat to get to meet these neighbors, be welcomed into their home studios, and learn about their work.

One of the artists we visited is a well-known architect (I recognized his name, but I can’t remember it now of course) who is retired and now makes whimsical found-object art.  Many of his pieces incorporated beer bottle caps.  I told him about the beer bottle caps that I have been collecting for a project that I haven’t started yet. He was genuinely interested and made me promise to come back next year with photos.  So now I have a deadline (which is SO helpful for me).  Don’t worry, I will be blogging about this project once I get around to it.

At another stop the woman told us about how she decided to create “love” themed artwork in order to bring more love into the world. She decided that she would create one piece of “love” themed art every day. I thought that was a very nice idea.  Most of her pieces are fun hand lettering doodles, some more elaborate than others.  It was interesting to see the volume of work she created around just this one idea.  She told us that she found it also served as a mindfulness exercise to remind her to be loving in all her actions daily.  It served as a touchstone for her.

I thought it was very loving when she asked us both what kind of art we make.  Before, I would have muttered some lame excuse that I used to be a dancer, and draw and paint a long time ago, blah, blah, blah.  I have to tell you guys that I had a shiny feeling in my heart when I told her that these days, I was focusing on my writing and that I had started a blog.  It was special for me to be able to have a definite answer about how I’m directing my creative energy.  I still have too many ideas about things that I would like to be creating, but at least now, I have one thing that I have committed to doing regularly.

This woman also had a whole series that she had created on one-inch squares of different kinds of paper.  She said that it was inspired by a time that she didn’t feel like she had time to create art daily.  She decided that she always had at least enough time to create 1” square of art and that some days that would be enough.  When we were leaving, she gave us both a handful of squares and told us that we could also find enough time, energy, and motivation to make 1” of art.  I’m looking forward to designating a week to try it out and will be sure to share the results with you when I do.

I don’t know what the favorite part of this adventure was for me.  The top things that come to mind are:

  • Meeting new neighbors.
  • Looking at different, interesting artwork.
  • Being inspired and encouraged to create my own work.
  • Spending time walking/talking with my neighbor friend.

A Fun Night at the Theatre

Guys, I saw a really fun play the other night!  We were laughing out loud.  I didn’t look at my watch once, I didn’t start squirming in my seat hoping for intermission, none of that.  The play, by Christopher Durang, is called Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.

It’s about a middle-aged brother and his adopted sister who still live in their dead parents’ home. Then the other sister, who is a successful actress, comes home with her twenty-something boy toy and hijinks ensues.  I went in completely cold, I didn’t look at the program before the show started or anything.  Sometimes that is the best way to enjoy a performance because you don’t bother to develop any expectations about what you think you are going to see.

For me, the play starts off maybe sort-of melancholy, there is a lot of talking about missed opportunities and dissatisfaction with how their lives have turned out by Sonia and Vanya.   Fortunately, all the bellyaching is broken up by shots of wackiness which gives all the brooding a funny air.  And then there is this underlying, irrepressible optimism that is manifested in the character of Irina, the young ingénue from next door.

The highlight of the show by far is the character of Cassandra the housekeeper.  In this production, the role is played by Svetlana Efremova who is just delightful.  She plays this wacky character with effervescence and a graceful physicality.  She’s like a lovely, playful kitten romping in and out of everyone’s drama.  And her Russian accent just makes it so much better.  She steals the show.

I think there are other Chekhov references beyond the names of the brother and sisters, but I’m not enough of a theatre buff to know what they were.  I guess that is a testament to how good the play is because I totally enjoyed it without getting the inside jokes.  If you know Chekhov, you may appreciate the play on a deeper level.

Toward the end of the play, Vanya has this eight-minute monologue about the world that he grew up in.  It was wistful and sweet, and it went on long enough to make everyone a little uncomfortable.  To me it sounded exactly like when Mr. Man goes on one of his “back in the day” rants, which made me laugh.  I guess that everyone has heard someone’s version of that same thing at least a few million times.

If you are looking for a culture fix in the next couple weeks, this would be a fun show to catch.  It was funny.  The acting was great. I really enjoyed it.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at South Coast Repertory through October 21, 2018

World Ballet Day 2018

I found out that October 2 was World Ballet Day and thought that would make a great excuse to talk about ballet today.

First, I had to find out what World Ballet Day is.  The first World Ballet Day happened in 2014. The original host companies participating were the Australian Ballet, the Bolshoi Ballet, the Royal Ballet, National Ballet of Canada and the San Francisco Ballet participated.  2016 was the first year that it became a live Facebook event, the idea being that there would be 24 hours of dance content being presented via livestream. The livestreams include company classes, rehearsal, and other “exclusives.”

This year’s host companies were the Australian Ballet, the Bolshoi, and the Royal Ballet.

The Australian Ballet was established in 1962. Founding Artistic Director woman, Peggy Von Praagh.  She had previously directed Sadler’s Wells Ballet before returning to Australia. I found a fun, short video on their website of one of the ballerina’s prepping her point shoes:

The Bolshoi Ballet was established in Moscow in 1776. The Bolshoi style is described as “flashy” and “colorful” in contrast to the older ballet company in St. Petersburg (originally the Imperial Ballet, then the Kirov, it is called the Mariinsky Ballet these days) which is known for is pure, classical style.

The UK’s Royal Ballet, originally called Vic-Wells Ballet, was founded by Ninette de Valois in 1931. The company was granted a royal charter and its name changed to the Royal Ballet in the 1950s. Ninette de Valois had performed with the Ballet Ruses in the 1920s and credits Serge Diaghilev with teaching her everything she knew about running a ballet company. Alicia Markova and Margot Fonteyn were some of the notable ballerinas that were a part of this company.

I started watching a video of the Royal Ballet’s company class on their website and couldn’t tear myself away (here is the link to their website: *scroll down to almost the bottom of the page). I love ballet class. My feet are already mad at me for just watching the tendus.  However, my thighs assure me that I won’t be getting anywhere near a fifth position.

It turns out that World Ballet Day is not just for ballet.  Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater was among others participating.  I watched a bit of their rehearsal of Rennie Harris’ Lazarus on Facebook.  My first thought was, “there is a reason that rehearsal is rehearsal.” Then they got to a run-through of the work.  It was sharp! I haven’t seen Ailey perform for a while and the last time I did, I was starting to feel that they had come to rely on trotting out their greatest hits. I don’t know how new this work is, but it feels fresh and I really enjoyed. It had the signature Ailey feel without being derivative.

While I didn’t watch anywhere near 24 hours of ballet, World Ballet Day reminded me that there is a lot of dance out there and it’s not that hard to find interesting dance to watch online.  There are a couple of performances here locally in the next couple of weeks that I might manage to get out for.  If I do, I’ll let you know!

A Night at the Theatre

My dear friends invited me to join them for a theatrical performance of Sense and Sensibility. You know I said yes!

I mean, who doesn’t like Jane Austen?  Ok, not everyone likes Jane Austen but she sure beats Charles Dickens, come on. And who doesn’t like the movie of Sense and Sensibility with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet?  You know you watch that on a rainy Sunday every so often.

I was super impressed when we arrived at the theatre by all of the Jane Austen fan club folks in attendance.  I mean, there were outfits and hats and impromptu dancing. It was really very cute.

The production itself maybe didn’t live up to its full potential.

It was three hours long, ok. That is a long time.  And you felt every minute of it.

The actress playing Marianne was clearly a very accomplished theatrical actor and her performance sparkled.  She projected and delivered her lines confidently.  Other members of the cast seemed challenged by the British accent which impacted their delivery.

The “colorblind” casting was an…interesting choice.  I probably could have gone along with it, you know suspension of disbelief and all, but what I can only call “age-blind” casting made it difficult.  When Margaret appears to be the same age as Marianne and Elinor  (whether or not the Dashwood sisters are of three different ethnicities) and Colonel Brandon seems to be the same age as Edward Farris, it gets confusing and for me the plot sort-of fell apart.

Also, many of the actors played multiple roles, which again is the sort of thing that I would try to go along with (suspension of disbelief) except that I really couldn’t tell the difference between John Dashwood, Mr. Jennings, and the Doctor. I still don’t know who the not Colonel Brandon guy in the ball scene was.

At any rate, whatever the production was lacking was made up for by the conversation during the car ride home.  I’ve already mentioned that this is one of my favorite things during ballet season.  Having that time together to be critical and appreciative and constructive and silly made my evening.

We dissected the acting, the direction, the set, and the costumes.  Why make this choice and then not take the logical next step?  If you wanted to play it straight, then why not go super traditional with the sets and the costumes? How interesting would it be if the story was set in another time/place?  When/where would you put it?  For some reason, the mid-twentieth century Southern U.S. comes to my mind. Would you change the script? Cut scenes?  Wouldn’t a re-write of the story be interesting? Like getting West Side Story out of Romeo and Juliet.

Trying to Culture this thing up!

Fourteen years ago, I went up to the Bay Area to visit my mom.  We shopped and we lunched and one night we went into San Francisco to see the San Francisco Ballet perform Romeo and Juliet. Now, I was sure that I didn’t care for the romantic ballets (the full-length story ballets from the late nineteenth/early twentieth century) but that night changed my mind (it turns out that I really just don’t enjoy The Sleeping Beauty but that is a story for another day).

The production of Romeo and Juliet that we saw was enchanting. The performance was beautiful and moving. The music by Prokofiev is everything, it would have salvaged the evening if the rest of the production had fallen short but the sets and the costumes enhanced the plot and the dancing was very good. In particular, Tina LeBlanc was an exquisite Juliet – technically excellent and emotionally expressive, she was truly a great ballerina. After how many years, I still can feel what that performance did for me.

Now, mom is clever and generous and she came up with a brilliant scheme to get me to visit more regularly – season tickets to the San Francisco ballet! It has become a great tradition for my mom, my sister and me.  While I love dissecting the performances with them on the drive home, this is an area where I really have a lot to say. So Wednesdays will be dedicated to “Arts & Entertainment.”

Don’t get the wrong idea, I don’t fancy myself a dance critic. I generally find dance criticism (and most arts criticism) unhelpful to say the least. It makes me crazy to read a review of something by someone who feels entitled to impose their personal biases and expectations on a work rather than at least attempting to intelligently describe a work and evaluate it on its own merit.

I like to be open to different experiences and try appreciate things for what they are. That doesn’t mean that I like it all or always think that a work is well executed. I won’t hold back when I think that elements of a production aren’t up to par but hopefully I will be able to explain my opinion within the context of the form.  I mean, making time to enjoy these things is a luxury, we shouldn’t waste it on something that isn’t the best it can be.

If theatrical dance isn’t your thing, don’t tune out quite yet! Ballet season doesn’t even start until January! I will use Wednesdays to consider all sorts of things – country music, rock concerts, television, books, and probably the occasional motor-sports event. Have you been to Speedway? Don’t make that face, it’s a fun time too!