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Mirvish announces its season

Mirvish Productions, the mammoth Toronto company that mounts many of the city's largest musicals and plays, announced its new season today. Aside from "Priscilla Queen of the Desert: The Musical" and David hare's "Stuff Happens," the only play in the subscription season, the choices are pretty safe:

"The Harder They Come"

"Stuff Happens"

"Joseph and the Amazing Tecnicolor Dreamcoat"

"Fiddler on the Roof"

"Little House on the Prairie: The Musical"

"Young Frankenstein"

"Priscilla Queen of the Desert: The Musical"

The company will also mount two so-called "bonus" productions, the first of Tracy Letts' smash hit play "August: Osage County" and the second of Caryl Churchill's comedy "Cloud 9." See the Mirvish Web site for more information. Dates and venues are still TBA.

--Colin Dabkowski

Holland Cotter on the end of the boom

A highly recommended read: New York Times critic Holland Cotter's informed and passionate reflection on the end of the current art boom and the possibilities it might create:

It’s day-job time again in America, and that’s O.K. Artists have always had them — van Gogh the preacher, Pollock the busboy, Henry Darger the janitor — and will again. The trick is to try to make them an energy source, not a chore.

At the same time, if the example of past crises holds true, artists can also take over the factory, make the art industry their own. Collectively and individually they can customize the machinery, alter the modes of distribution, adjust the rate of production to allow for organic growth, for shifts in purpose and direction. They can daydream and concentrate. They can make nothing for a while, or make something and make it wrong, and fail in peace, and start again.

Anyone fearing for the future of the arts ought to give Cotter a look. He argues that the art-crash now in progress, like those that came before, is an opportunity to reach down into the muck that is the current art world and produce an entirely new vision. Which, after all, is what art is supposed to be about.

--Colin Dabkowski

YOUR Oscar Predictions Go Here

On the front page of today's Spotlight section, you'll find my 36th annual predictions for the year's Oscars (which are to be handed out next Sunday.) These, to be sure, are not necessarily my favorites in every category but they're my best guesses who WILL win. Since this is a game anyone can play -- and play well -- we're asking you to vote here for your predictions.

To refresh your memory, my choices:

BEST PICTURE: The nominees are "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "Frost/Nixon," "Milk," "The Reader" and "Slumdog Millionaire." My guess: "Slumdog."

BEST ACTOR: The nominees are Richard Jenkins in "The Visitor," Frank Langella in "Frost/Nixon," Sean Penn in "Milk," Brad Pitt in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and Mickey Rourke in "The Wrestler." My guess is Penn.

BEST ACTRESS: The nominees are Anne Hathaway in "Rachel Getting Married," Angelina Jolie in "The Changeling," Melissa Leo in "Frozen River", Meryl Streep in "Doubt" and Kate Winslet in "The Reader." My guess is a flyer on Hathaway.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: The nominees are Josh Brolin in "Milk," Robert Downey Jr. in "Tropic Thunder," Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Doubt," Heath Ledger in "The Dark Knight" and Michael Shannon in "Revolutionary Road." My guess Ledger.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: The nominees are Amy Adams in "Doubt," Penelope Cruz in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," Viola Davis in "Doubt," Taraji P. Henson in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and Marisa Tomei in "The Wrestler." My guess is Cruz.

BEST DIRECTOR: The nominees are David Fincher for "Button," Ron Howard for "Frost/Nixon," Gus Van Sant for "Milk," Stephen Daldry for "The Reader" and Danny Boyle for "Slumdog Millionaire." My guess is Boyle.

And now it's time for a poll of the consensus:

Continue reading "YOUR Oscar Predictions Go Here" »

Homage to Césaire's poetry at Butler Library

When the Martinican poet, playwright, anticolonial theorist and statesman Aimé Césaire died last April at age 94, his legacy was celebrated throughout the Francophone world. He was accorded a state funeral attended by FrenchPresident Nicholas Sarkozy, and Martinque's international airport was renamed after him.
 
This afternoon, Césaire's life and work will be the focus of Buffalo State College's Rooftop Poetry Club as Musa Abdul Hakim, a Césaire scholar and associate librarian at the college's E.H. Butler Library, will present his "Homage to a Combatant Poet: An Aimé Césaire Workshop" at 4:30 p.m. in the International Students Reading Area on the 3rd floor of the library.   
 
The most heralded 20th century poet of  the French-speaking Caribbean, Césaire (1913-2008) was a major intellectual figure on the world stage -- a confidant of both French surrealist poet André Breton and existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre -- who also embraced politics on the local level. In 1945, with the support of the FrenchCommunist Party, Césaire was elected mayor of Martinique's capital city Fort-de-France and député to the French National Assembly for Martinique. Disillusioned with the policies of the Soviet Union, he broke with communism in 1956 to establish the Martinque Progressive Party, but continued to serve as both as mayor and representative to France’s National Assembly for nearly a half century.
 
In the English-speaking world,Césaire is best known forhis role with fellow writers Léopold Senghor and Léon Gontian Damas in formulating the concept and movement known as Négritude (i.e., the "affirmation that one is black and proud of it"). Césaire's ideas about restoring the cultural identity of black Africans were first expressed in what is considered his masterpiece Cahier d'un retour au pays natal (Return to My Native Land), a collection of verse and prose poems. The work celebrated the ancestral homelands and culture of Africa as well as the heritage of the African diaspora in the Caribbean. Completed in 1939 but not published in its entirety until 1947, it is considered a foundational text of the worldwide "black consciousness" movement.
 
Césaire’s debut as a dramatist in Et les chiens se taisaient (And the Dogs Kept Quiet, 1956) followed as the narrative extension of earlier themes in his poetry and political writings.  His trilogy La Tragédie du roi Christophe (The Tragedy of King Christophe, 1963), Une Saison au Congo (A Season in the Congo,1966) and Une Tempête (1968), a radical adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest, reflected a conscious attempt to turn the literature of European colonizers on its head and depict the subjugated peoples of the world as the true protagonists of their own history.


--R.D. Pohl

Will Google control the future of publishing?

In our first posting of 2009, we hailed October's $125 million out-of-court settlement between Google, the Author's Guild and the Association of American Publishers with respect to copyright and distribution issues involving Google's Print Libraries Project as "perhaps the best news of [2008] for readers and authors." 
 
The project -- which since 2004 has scanned millions of books from three major research university libraries into a searchable database that later expanded to include Google Book Search, a controversial offshoot that brought excerpts of seven million additional titles online under what Google had previously contended was "fair use" -- had resolved copyright issues in a way that promised to produce new revenue streams for authors and publishers and revolutionize access to the entire body of cultural knowledge available on the Web.  
  
But as details of the 134-page class-action settlement and its 15 appendices (all of which you can download at www.googlebooksettlement.com/agreement.html) come under closer scrutiny, many questions have been raised both about the terms of the agreement and its implementation. 

Continue reading "Will Google control the future of publishing?" »

'Action/Abstraction' interview

As a pair of digital companions to my story today on the Albright-Knox Art Gallery's mammoth exhibition "Action Abstraction," I've uploaded a selection of images (above), as well as a segment of an interview I did last week with the gallery's senior curator Douglas Dreishpoon, one of the show's organizers. Dreishpoon has a wealth of knowledge on abstract expressionism, the subject that sits at the heart of this exhibition, as well as the Albright-Knox collection. In the interview excerpted below, he spoke about the show's critical underpinnings, its warm reception in the art world and what the high profile attention means for the Albright-Knox in general.

Click here for a larger version of the slideshow.

--Colin Dabkowksi

Too free with Slee

Penderecki-quartet In today's paper, Garaud McTaggart reviews the Penderecki Quartet at UB  on Friday night, performing in the Slee Beethoven Quartet Series. McTaggart reports that the ensemble, pictured at left, changed the order in which the quartet played the three featured works. The Penderecki chose to play the quartets chronologically -- with the earliest quartet first and the latest quartet last. This was not the order dictated for the concert.

McTaggart makes a good case for the switch in his review. He says it gives the audience a chance to track Beethoven's artistic development.

But I personally I do not like the idea of a quartet messing around with the order dictated by Frederick Slee when he set up this series and gave us the endowment for it. Here's why:

No. 1, as B.B. King would put it, Slee is paying the cost to be the boss. We in turn are paying the Penderecki Quartet to carry out his wishes.

No. 2, our Slee Beethoven series is unique in the world and regarded as prestigious among classical music ensembles. If you're invited and agree to the challenge, don't go changing the rules when you get here.

No. 3, you would think that Slee would have arranged the quartets as the Penderecki played them, earliest to latest. That would be the obvious way to do it. But he did not. He took a different way, and when scholars and Beethoven fans have pondered why he did what he did, they have concluded that his order makes sense. Arnold Steinhardt of the Guarneri Quartet, for one, has written about why he respects Slee's order. Other musicians and musicologists have, too.

No. 4, a quartet should have to play the game. Sometimes it's tough. Sometimes because of the way Slee set things up, the musicians have to throw themselves into a deep, unfathomable masterpiece, without any warm-up. That's the breaks. That's one of the things that make the Slee Beethoven series exciting. It would take away the cliffhanger excitement if quartets get the message that the order is optional.

So there it is, my quartet of reasons why I believe the Penderecki was out of bounds last night. As I said, Garaud sided with the quartet.

Garaud and I will hash this out at some point over a beer. Don't worry about us.

But meanwhile, does anyone else out there want to weigh in?

-- Mary Kunz Goldman

Lego madness

Christopher Niemann, an accomplished illustrator and fascinating thinker who occasionally blogs for The New York Times, proves with this genius post that Legos aren't just for kids. His December post on coffee is equally awesome.

--Colin Dabkowski

(Photo by Christopher Niemann, from nytimes.com)

Darth Vader comes to Pittsburgh

Alex Pardee, KIA 150 dpi 

"K.I.A." by Alex Pardee, part of "The Vader Project" at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.

What doesn't the Iron City have?

As if Pittsbugh weren't already cool enough, with its six Superbowl wins and its marginally larger population, the Andy Warhol Museum is launching a lighthearted exhibition featuring everybody's favorite intergalactic bad guy, Darth Vader. "The Vader Project," as it's called, looks at the "the iconic STAR WARS™" -- notice the branding there -- "villain through the eyes of 100 international Pop Surrealist and underground contemporary artists from around the world." So reads a press release for the show, which opens Feb. 28 and runs through May 3.

The whole affair, as it turns out, is sponsored by DKE Toys, a company which produces and distributes all manner of so-called "art toys" that can be manipulated to an artist's personal taste.

As a serious artistic project, "The Vader Project" basically amounts to a creatively amped-up version of painting by numbers. But as an homage to the early "Star Wars" films of George Lucas, it becomes something at least slightly more meaningful, a confluence of creativity and fandom usually reserved for the private havens of teenage bedrooms and basement worktables. I don't know how many hours I spent piecing together a foam puzzule of the Millenium Falcon, but I do remember what compelled me to spend so much time on it: a deep and abiding love for Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Chewbacca and the entire mythological entourage that made up the "Star Wars" franchise.

This is sort of like that, but with actual art involved. And actually not entirely far away from Warhol's idea of art-as-commerce. Check it out at the Warhol website and see after the jump for a couple more images from the show.

--Colin Dabkowski

(Photos courtesy the Andy Warhol Museum)

Continue reading "Darth Vader comes to Pittsburgh" »

'The Diary of Anne Frank' at Ghostlight Theatre

GHOSTLIGHT Features play Wi 
The father/dauther team of Megan and Greg Blarr, staring in the Ghostlight Theatre's production of "The Diary of Anne Frank."

Father/daughter teams on local stages aren't entirely unheard of. There's Gerry Maher and his daughter Eliza Hayes Maher, who often appear onstage together in Irish Classical Theatre productions. There's Saul Elkin and his daughter Rebecca, who've been seen together in shows at Shakespeare in Delaware Park. But perhaps slightly less known is the collaboration between Greg Blarr and his daughter Megan, two frequent actors at the Ghostlight Theatre (170 Schenck St., North Tonawanda).

The actors Blarr will star in a production of "The Diary of Anne Frank," in a production that opens Thursday. Megan will play the role of Frank, the famed Holocaust victim who wrote tirelessly in her journal about the redeeming qualities of the human race. Greg, in a bit of dramatic parity, will play Frank's father, Otto. The show, which premiered in 1955 and has since become a staple for theaters and schools across the country, is set in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam, where Frank was forced to spend her time hiding out in an attic. Before she died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, however, Frank penned what has become a literary classic in the pages of her diary.

The show runs through March 1. For more information, call 743-1614 or visit starrynighttheatre.com.

--Colin Dabkowski

(Photo by Bill Wippert/The Buffalo News)

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